(Originally posted 20 July 2014 on tumblr)
Young-do called Sang-joong while his driver pulled the car out of the restaurant parking lot. “Baek Jong-shik was more than a little happy about the idea of ousting my father,” he said as soon as his vice president picked up the phone. “I expected him to ask for something upfront, but apparently the pleasure of getting rid of my father is ‘more than enough payment’ for him.”
He managed to keep his voice neutral, even though he was disgusted by the conversation he had had with the older man. Apparently Dong-wook had stolen away Jong-shik’s mistress once, and Jong-shik had been looking for a way to repay the favor ever since. Young-do remembered that woman—his dog had to bite her three times before she finally left. The moment she stormed out of the Choi estate had before been a memory of triumph, one of his hardest-won victories when it came to his father’s women.
(“Are you sure you want to send your dog away?” Kyung-ran asked when Young-do returned. “There’s enough space for him here, in the backyard. It’s your house, too.”
“It’s your house,” Young-do countered. It came out sharper than he meant it to thanks to the shame and guilt pressing heavy across his shoulders. “And he’s never played well with women.”)
“What about Min Seung-hyun?”
“He still thinks he’s a better golfer than he actually is.” It had been a serious blow to Young-do’s pride to let the man outperform him this afternoon, but pride was a small thing to sacrifice if it meant he could get the support he needed. “He agreed to back me, with the understanding that I will owe him a favor somewhere down the line. He said he would begin sending his own feelers out to the rest of the board members. So did Baek Jong-shik.”
Ambition and petty revenge weren’t the best ways to build a long-lasting alliance, but Young-do had to work with the tools he had at hand. If only he could have gotten Pyo Sook-ja solidly on his side, he would be in a much better position. She had the kind of clout he needed behind him. Few members of the board or the major stockholders actually liked her, but they respected her and her influence.
What could he offer Sook-ja to get her on his side?
Young-do shook the question away. It wasn’t something he had to figure out a solution to at this specific moment. Maybe something would come to him after tomorrow’s meetings, when he had a better idea about who he could count on. He filled in Sang-joong on the appointments he had managed to line up on Sunday, and Sang-joong, in turn, confirmed which of the major stockholders would be available to meet with him in the upcoming week, in between Young-do’s normal managerial duties at the hotel and his schooling. Their conversation lasted all the way until the driver pulled up to Kyung-ran’s house. Young-do exited the car, sent the driver on his way, and punched in the code that opened the front gate.
He didn’t head straight into the house, choosing instead to linger in the front yard. Most of the house was dark, but warm light illuminated the windows in his mother’s bedroom, which meant she was still awake. Kyung-ran had left the front porch light on for him as well. He hadn’t told her that he was going to stay the night for certain; he wondered if she always left the light on for him, just in case.
For a moment, he wished he didn’t have a hotel suite he could crash at whenever he wanted. What would it be like, to live like Cha Eun-sang, to have just one place to always go back to, where someone would always be waiting for him?
On a whim, he checked his phone again, but there still weren’t any texts from her. Of course there wouldn’t be any. Neither of them had anything to say to each other, not until he could figure out what he should redeem her favor for. And then they would be done with each other. Possibly forever, since she and Hyo-shin weren’t dating.
He left that thought in the yard and headed on inside.
Young-do had barely exchanged his shoes for slippers before he heard his mother’s footsteps on the stairs. “It’s me,” he called out.
“Welcome home,” Kyung-ran said when she reached the bottom of the stairs. She was ready for bed, hair loose around her shoulders, in her usual nightgown and robe combination. She was smiling, too, and it almost hurt to see how happy she was. “Two nights in a row? To what do I owe this honor?”
Guilt. Fear. A desperation to protect her. “I wanted to take you out to breakfast tomorrow to repay you for the home-cooked meal this morning. Where would you like to go?”
“I can’t, Young-do, I’m sorry.” Her smile slipped away. “Dal-ja’s children have been sick all day. I’m covering her shift.”
Young-do bit back his first and second response. It was ridiculous to be jealous of a café, and it was childish to be angry that his mother refused to be hands off with the business she had worked so hard to build. Young-do had washed dishes, delivered food, worked at the front desk, and a hundred other tasks that were technically beneath him as the heir to Zeus Hotel, so why would his mother be different? Kyung-ran had, repeatedly, refused to accept any monetary assistance from him, even if it meant she could step out of the mundane management tasks and take a wider view of the café’s potential.
“How about next weekend?” he asked instead. “I’ll set aside some time for you.”
“I’d like that.” She stepped forward to give him a hug, and Young-do obligingly bent down so she could kiss his cheek, too. “Good night.”
“Good night, Mother.”
He watched her head back up to her bedroom, but he lingered downstairs for a while. He scrounged up a piece of paper and a pen and wrote a note for the maid. The woman would be back tomorrow afternoon—she spent her time off with her family in the countryside—but if he remembered correctly, Sunday was when she did the weekly grocery shopping.
Mother had to pick up an extra shift this weekend, he wrote to the maid. He took the time to ensure that his handwriting was legible, not his usual, impatient scrawl. Be sure to serve her favorite side dishes for dinner. She needs to keep up her strength.
He added a few more instructions afterwards, folded the note into quarters, and slipped it under the door to the maid’s room. Only then did he head upstairs to get ready for bed. He needed a good night’s rest if he was going to be ready for the next one-on-one meetings with members of the board.
Rachel spent her Saturday evening at home in the living room, nursing a glass of wine and poring over the latest project emails from Professor Kosugi on her tablet. This particularly tricky assignment helped Rachel weed out several of the students. That left her with a total of three whose work was good enough, whose vision was broad enough, and whose eye for detail was keen enough that they would be worth recruiting for work at RS International as junior designers.
But Rachel wanted someone who could launch an entire new brand. Would any of these students, fresh out of school, be the kind of people she could entrust with such a huge undertaking?
She didn’t know—couldn’t know, without meeting any of them face-to-face and seeing their work in person. Some people could thrive in an academic setting but still crumple when faced with the pressures of corporate demand, when gigantic sums of money and entire companies were on the line. It would be impossible to go to Japan without her mother noticing, and if word got out that Rachel was possibly recruiting without the blessing of the company…
She had a maid bring her another glass of wine and spent the next hour compiling all of the photos Kosugi had sent her for those three students into electronic portfolios so she could look through them easily. She got rid of all but the best photos and started making notes on each student’s strengths, weaknesses, where she envisioned them fitting into existing RS International brands, and what she thought they could do if given a clothing line all their own. It wasn’t very detailed, but it was a great exercise to organize her thoughts and put things into some semblance of order.
It was a great way to distract her from the fact that Lee Hyo-shin still hadn’t responded to any of her texts. She had only sent him two others over the course of the afternoon and evening, but every hour that passed without a response was one that increased her annoyance slightly. Liveshoots, she reminded herself, were notoriously awful, and it was unlikely Hyo-shin had any time to eat a proper meal, let alone respond to casual texts from an acquaintance. If his schedule was the same as it had been last weekend, he wasn’t even a third of the way through his thirty hours without sleep on set.
Rachel lost herself in her work, and she didn’t even notice the time until she heard the front door open. She saved her work, closed the programs, and then pulled up her browser. It only took a few quick taps to get to the home page of her favorite stock market analysis website and select one of the articles at random.
Lee Esther stepped into view a few seconds later, and one of the maids materialized from some forgotten corner of the penthouse to whisk her jacket away. Her sleeveless sheath dress was a stunning red—the collection would be out in stores next month—and the pearls hanging from her ears, neck, and wrist were only a few weeks old. The clutch purse was an older favorite, but if Rachel knew her mother, it would be shelved soon. No matter how much Esther loved an outfit or accessory, the head of a fashion empire couldn’t ever wear anything older than six months without speculation that she was losing her touch. The only time Rachel ever saw her mother looking less than perfect was at the spa or when she was sick enough that she couldn’t go in to work.
The fact that she was back before eleven meant that she probably hadn’t been meeting her lover. Esther never said much about her sex life other than to tell Rachel not to be worried if she didn’t come home or that she was going on a weekend trip, which suited Rachel just fine. She wasn’t interested in having a stepfather, and as long as she didn’t have any details about the man—or men—her mother saw, it meant it wasn’t serious. Esther knew how to be discreet, and, just as importantly, she afforded her daughter the same respect.
Not that Rachel had dated anyone seriously since Shi-hyun, and only a handful of them had been interesting enough to take to a hotel room. None of them had been worth the time for a second liaison.
“Welcome back,” Rachel said. She set her tablet down on the coffee table and did not miss the glance Esther gave it. “Did you have a good night?”
“I did. You?”
“It was relaxing. Should I have someone bring you a glass?”
Esther shook her head, but she did take a seat on the opposite couch, which meant she wanted to have an actual conversation, not a brief exchange of words. “You’ve been checking on the sales data a lot. Are you that worried about the jackets’ performance?”
So someone had been reporting on her. Rachel wasn’t that surprised. In all likelihood, it was probably Min-ah—she had been one of Esther’s assistants ever since Rachel was in junior high, and no amount of brilliance on Rachel’s end could overshadow that kind of loyalty. “No. I’m just doing my job as the team leader on this project. The fire on Monday has made this product placement more difficult than I anticipated, and I felt the need to keep a closer eye on everything.”
“You broke even tonight,” Esther said, and she actually smiled. It was only the faintest upturn of her lips, but it was a definite smile.
The smile wasn’t as much a surprise as the implication behind it—that Esther had taken an interest in how Rachel was handling this crisis and thought that the achievement was something worth noting. More importantly, that it was something worth telling her daughter directly.
It was an unexpected, but not unwelcome, revelation.
They talked a while longer about the jackets, their buzz online, whether or not A Daughter’s Revenge would crack 40%, and the investigation into the warehouse fire. Esther did, eventually, call for her own glass of wine, and their conversation slowly drifted away from the cold facts of business toward the more human facets. Rachel talked about the difficulties she had encountered lately in being a team leader and managing people who were older than her, and Esther opened up with a few anecdotes from her early days of management.
By the time Rachel had finished her wine, she decided to take a risk. It was only a matter of time before whoever was reporting on her figured out she was working on a side project. She would much prefer to control the spin of that information. “Are you busy tomorrow?”
“I don’t have anything scheduled.”
Which meant that she had nebulous plans, but no confirmations. It also meant Esther was willing to make accommodations tomorrow, if Rachel had something worth her while.
“I’d like to pitch an idea to you for what I’d like to do after I’ve wrapped up the product placement,” Rachel said. She kept her voice neutral, as if this entire project weren’t something she had spent a better part of a year on. “It’s just in its beginning stages, but I’d like your feedback on it. We could spend the morning at the spa, and I could walk you through it.”
Esther studied Rachel for a long moment before she set down her empty glass. The smile that crept back into her expression did nothing to offset the speculation in her eyes. “Will ten work for you?”