(Originally posted 31 Aug 2014 on tumblr)
It was the cramping in his legs that finally pulled Young-do out of sleep. He opened his eyes, disoriented by both the ache and his positioning, but it only took a few seconds for memory to filter through. Young-do had fallen asleep at his mother’s bedside, holding her hand.
Now her bed was empty and unmade, and Young-do had his fingers curled in the sheets. The house around him was silent, which meant his mother wasn’t anywhere nearby. The blanket she had draped over his shoulders slipped to the floor when he straightened up.
The tenderness of the gesture should have been reassuring, but all Young-do could remember was that she had tried to eat a meal with him before she walked out of his life.
He tried to get to his feet. The flood of pins-and-needles pain forced him to sit until it passed enough that he could stand on unsteady legs. His hips felt oddly, almost painfully, loose, but Young-do ignored that in favor of hurrying downstairs.
When he heard the murmured voices of his mother and the maid coming from the kitchen, it felt like he could breathe again. She hadn’t left. Not yet, at least, which meant there was a chance that he could persuade her not to.
Young-do peered into the kitchen. Kyung-ran and the maid were both seated at the table, Kyung-ran still in the clothes she had fallen asleep in, the maid in one of her normal, conservative outfits. They had a pot of tea between them along with a half-eaten box of pastries. The box sported the logo of a nearby bakery—one of his mother’s favorites, if he remembered correctly. Had the maid picked them up yesterday, or had she actually ventured outside earlier this morning? Were there still reporters at the gate?
He must not have been as quiet as he thought he had been, because Kyung-ran glanced in his direction. Her fingers flexed around the cup, and Young-do swallowed. He couldn’t find any words despite his desperation to say something, anything.
The maid was a little slower, but when she spotted Young-do, she stood up and bowed politely. “Good morning, sir. Please, have a seat.” She didn’t wait for a response or acknowledgment, merely clearing up the space she had occupied and placing those dishes in the sink.
Kyung-ran set down her cup. The smile she offered him was a poor imitation of her usual one, but Young-do didn’t care. Anything was better than the expression she had worn when he walked out of the house yesterday.
It took more courage than he anticipated to walk into the kitchen and take the seat across from her. He had never seen Kyung-ran looking so disheveled before: hair frizzed from sleep, clothes rumpled, dark circles under her eyes. It made her look fragile and unprepared, and Young-do fought hard to ward off his instinct that he shouldn’t burden her with anything for fear she couldn’t handle it. He laced his fingers together to keep from forming them into fists.
I might have refused to get involved with Zeus Hotel this time, but that doesn’t mean I’m useless, ignorant, or incapable.
The maid set a plate and cup in front of him. “Is there anything else you need this morning? If not, I’ll start cleaning.”
Kyung-ran shook her head. “Thank you, Mi-ran.”
The maid bowed again before making a quick exit.
“I’m sorry, Mother,” Young-do said. He didn’t care how roughly the words came out; he desperately wanted her to believe him. “I’m sorry for keeping all of this a secret. I’m sorry for walking out on you yesterday. I’m sorry—”
Young-do stopped speaking when she rested her hand on his.
“So am I,” Kyung-ran said. “I’m sorry I haven’t been the kind of mother you could depend on.”
He couldn’t deny that statement, and part of him felt all the worse for it.
She squeezed his fingers. “I’d like to try being that kind of mother to you. Will you let me?”
“I managed to get a new phone right before I came here,” Hyo-shin told his therapist. His nails bit into his palms, but he couldn’t get his hands to relax. He had given up on trying to keep his voice even over ten minutes ago. “And then when I got here, the receptionist said my father called as soon as the clinic opened and told her I wasn’t going to be seeing you anymore. She said you didn’t let her cancel my session.”
“You’re an adult,” Jae-sung said. It was the first time he had spoken since Hyo-shin had fallen apart in his office. “It is up to you about whether or not to continue care here, not your parents.”
“I want to. I need to. When we’re done, I have to give her my new payment information. I just—they took my deposit money.” The sound that escaped wasn’t quite a laugh. He almost wished that it was. He wished that he didn’t feel like he was just one more piece of bad news away from coming apart at the seams. He wished he felt like he had any sort of control right now, but he couldn’t get his mind to settle, let alone manage his nausea.
Hyo-shin hadn’t eaten because he knew that whatever he swallowed would come back up in short order. It was difficult to force himself to sip the water Jae-sung had given him. “Even if I reported the theft to the police, it would take me months to get it back.”
“Do you have a place to stay until you find a new apartment?”
“I have some friends who could probably put me up.”
“Have you talked to them yet?”
“No,” Hyo-shin admitted. “I don’t—what am I supposed to say? That my parents hate me so much they’d rather see me on the streets than doing something I love? That they’re trying to kill me?”
His voice cracked at the end. Hyo-shin grabbed for his water bottle and took a few desperate gulps. The cold water mixed with his embarrassment and fury and shame, and he had to squeeze his eyes shut afterwards to keep it all down.
“You don’t have to explain in that much detail,” Jae-sung said. Hyo-shin hated how calm his therapist sounded about all this. It made him feel like he was overreacting to everything. “Only what you’re comfortable with.”
“None of this is comfortable.” Hyo-shin opened his eyes again, but he kept his focus on the water bottle. He didn’t know if he could deal with the compassion or sympathy he might see in Jae-sung’s face. “I know it’s not a flaw to tell others you need help, I do, but I can’t—” He rolled the bottle between his palms while he tried to find the right words. “It feels like I’ve lost, somehow. Even though they know a lot about my problems, I’ve just spent so much time pretending that there was nothing wrong. It’s like I’ve wasted all that effort if I’m honest. That I’ve wasted your time by melting down like this. I was doing so well the last couple of months, and now…”
Jae-sung waited a few moments, letting the silence stretch between them. Once it was clear that Hyo-shin couldn’t go on, he said, “You are never a waste of time, Hyo-shin.”
By late Monday morning, Eun-sang and her coworkers had eliminated the Chungs as the people behind the manipulation of the Ministry of Justice, which left just the Hongs and the Pangs. They were coming ever closer to an answer. President Park had even arrived early with enough coffee for everyone who was working on the project to give them a few words of encouragement and an assurance that they had his support. The caffeine boost had worn out, unfortunately, and Eun-sang turned away from her computer screen to give her eyes a rest. She laced her fingers together and lifted her arms up as high as they could go, reaching for the ceiling with her palms up. Her knuckles and shoulders cracked. She held the pose for a count of ten and then shook her hands out when she let go.
She spun around in her chair to face Yoo-mi’s desk. “Yes, Writer Nam?”
PD Yoon was standing over her shoulder, one hand on her desk so he could balance as he leaned in to look at whatever was on her screen. Neither of them looked as tired as Eun-sang felt, though PD Yoon was a bit ragged around the edges. At least neither of them had awful breath. Eun-sang had seen both of them retrieve toothbrushes and toothpaste from their desks earlier that morning. Their years of broadcasting experience meant they were prepared for eventualities that Eun-sang hadn’t even considered, including all-nighters in the office. She had made a note in her phone to buy an extra toothbrush, a travel-sized toothpaste, and a comb to stash in her own desk. A blanket would be nice, too.
PD Yoon straightened up and took off his glasses so he could rub the bridge of his nose. That was never a good sign. “Come here.”
Eun-sang steeled herself and hurried over, wondering what bit of information they wanted her opinion on this time. A couple hours ago they had asked her about a particular business retreat in 2015, which she had attended with Tan, but the information she had been able to give was limited. The Hongs and the Pangs weren’t connected to Jeguk Group; she had very limited interactions with either family.
“What is it?” she asked when she got closer.
“This article just showed up online,” Yoo-mi said as she waved Eun-sang over to the other side of her desk.
The moment Eun-sang saw what was on Yoo-mi’s screen, her stomach dropped. Yoo-mi scooted her chair out of the way of Eun-sang’s frantic grab for the mouse so she could scroll through the article:
Zeus Hotel’s Choi Young-do and Attorney General’s Son Dating Kim Tan’s Ex-Girlfriend?