Dividing Lines: Chapter Twenty-Three


(Originally posted 14 Sept 2014 on tumblr)

Young-do let his lawyers take care of writing the statement for the press. They all were much better at deliberately crafting denials and carefully selecting words in order to seem impartial and honest, even when they were writing nothing but lies. He told them what points Eun-sang had wanted him to include in the statement and let them know they needed to give him their final draft for approval in forty-five minutes.

Kyung-ran sat with Sang-joong at the table in Young-do’s office. She took notes on a small pad of paper while the vice president continued getting her up to speed on everything that had happened in the last week. They kept their voices low enough that they weren’t a distraction to Young-do while he made his phone calls.

The morning’s calls with major stockholders and board members hadn’t gone as well as Young-do had hoped. Baek Jong-shik was still amenable to backing Young-do—the man had sounded positively delighted at the idea of ousting Dong-wook right before his release from prison—but Min Seung-hyun was displeased about being lied to. His reprimands had been sharp and on point, and Young-do hadn’t been thrilled when the man had compared his deception to some of Dong-wook’s own maneuverings.

“You and your father are too alike,” Seung-hyun had said before he hung up. “I can’t be an ally when you treat me as a pawn.”

Lee Sang-hyun had been just as honest: “It would take far fewer votes to oust me from the board than Dong-wook. Can you make the risk worth it?”

Pyo Sook-ja had not answered either time he called. He left polite messages both times, and in the second one he offered to visit her if she was not well enough to leave her house.

The final draft arrived on his desk forty minutes and one contentious phone call later. Young-do made a few modifications to the statement with a blue pen, and then he gave it to his mother for her opinion. That had earned him a small smile and several suggestions that he told his lawyers to incorporate into the statement.

Shortly after one of his lawyers read the statement to the press, Rachel called. Young-do grimaced when he saw her name on the display because it wasn’t until that moment that he realized he hadn’t responded to the voicemail she had left him yesterday. Just an hour ago he had offered to send Eun-sang a car as a friend, yet he hadn’t responded to Rachel’s own offer to help him in what ways she could.

“Good afternoon, sister.”

“Don’t even start with me, Young-do,” Rachel said. She had certainly inherited her mother’s ability to turn every syllable sharp and cold. “I warned you about letting your unresolved teenage angst distract you from your father’s release from prison, and now you’ve added a dating scandal on top of everything? I can’t believe you actually called her, of all people, to go gallivanting around the city last night. Do you not understand you could lose control of Zeus?”

“I’m fully aware of how precarious my position is,” he said and ignored the concerned look that got from his mother. He turned away from them so he could focus on his own conversation. “She was an opportunity to get out of the hotel for five minutes, and I took it.”

“If you had wanted out, I would have helped you. Myung-soo would have, too.”

It wasn’t difficult to tell when Rachel was just angry and when she was angry and hurt, or at least Young-do was certain he could differentiate between them after all these years. There was hurt behind her fury now, and guilt crept up on him. He had risked a lot to ask Eun-sang if she would be willing to be his friend, all while forgetting about the friends he already had.

He might have risked too much, depending on what the press and the public were going to say about Eun-sang and the bizarre love triangle they imagined she was in with him and Lee Hyo-shin—

“Then what does that make you for giving Lee Hyo-shin a ride and agreeing to two dates with him before he even mentioned my father?”

I think Hyo-shin sunbae really likes Rachel. Don’t tell her about what you misunderstood last night, all right? And if you did, then go tell her the truth.

—“Hyo-shin sunbae is not dating Eun-sang, no matter what those pictures looked like.”

“He’s not dating me, either,” Rachel all but snarled. “He changed his number, and once again I didn’t make the notification list.”

Young-do didn’t have time to dwell on that statement because Rachel plowed straight on ahead. “Are you going to keep being a stubborn, love-sick idiot, or are you going to let me help you?”

“I thought you said you wouldn’t be able to offer much help.”

Much isn’t the same as any. Stop playing with semantics, Young-do, I’m not in the mood for it.”

“Whatever you can give me, I’ll take.” His phone beeped then with an incoming call. “Hang on,” he said, and when he pulled the phone away from his ear to check the caller ID, all his breath left in a rush.

Pyo Sook-ja.

“I’ve got to take this,” he told Rachel. “I’ll call you back, I promise.”

He hung up as soon as Rachel acknowledged his words and, after a second to compose himself, took the boardwoman’s call. “Thank you for returning my calls.”

But it wasn’t Sook-ja who responded. “My grandmother is resting right now,” said the pleasant voice of Ryu Ha-sun. “This morning was difficult for her, but she asked me to get in contact with you.”

Sook-ja had only ever delegated responsibility to others when her health was very poor. Young-do waved his arm until he caught Sang-joong’s attention. The vice president stopped talking, and when Young-do gestured him over, Kyung-ran followed.

“I’m sorry that she’s ill,” Young-do said. He found a piece of paper and a pen and scrawled Sook-ja sick so Ha-sun calling for them to read. “Is it serious?”

“It’s always serious, not that she’ll admit to it.”

“I’ll have flowers sent over.”

Sang-joong rested his fingertips on the edge of Young-do’s desk. Kyung-ran frowned at the message and folded her arms.

“Don’t. She hates flowers. She would much prefer a bottle of single malt Yamazaki.”

“I thought her doctor had her on a restricted diet.”

“Doctor Moon is no longer working for us,” Ha-sun said, and Young-do wasn’t certain what to make of the odd undercurrent in her tone. “She found a doctor that was more…sensitive to her preferences.”

“Shall I send a bottle, then?”

“It wouldn’t hurt at this point.” Ha-sun was quiet for a long moment. “Young-do, my grandmother would like you to have dinner at our home tomorrow night. There are some issues she said she would like to discuss with you, in person, about your father’s release from prison. Are you available?”

Young-do refused to sound too eager at this opportunity. “Of course. What time?”

Hyo-shin flopped back onto his bed and let go of his new phone. He kept his eyes on his ceiling and took slow, deep breaths to ward off his nausea. Jae-sung had gone over coping techniques with him again at the end of the session, not because Hyo-shin didn’t remember how to do them, but because he needed to be reminded that he could do them and they could work.

It was still hard to believe it right now.

He swallowed hard against the bile in his throat. Eun-sang had said she was fine, but all his mind could conjure up right now were all the times she had insisted everything was okay when it was obviously not. She would lie to him about it in order not to burden him. She hated being in the tabloids. He shouldn’t have asked her to switch the movie night over here. With Tan out of the country, tonight was going to look like a double date.  He should—

It took more effort than he wanted to admit to wrench himself out of that particular spiral. He pressed the heels of his hands over his eyes and forced himself to focus on the pressure and his breathing.

In and out.

Counts of eight each way.

In and out and in and out.

He lost track of time as he compressed the world until nothing existed outside of his skin. Not that his churning stomach or racing mind were any safe haven.

It was ridiculous how quickly he was falling apart. It had only been two days since his parents had refused to give him their blessing, two days with fewer than six hours total of sleep, mere hours since he found out how thoroughly his parents had cut him out of their lives, just a few minutes since he found out what was happening online.

When had he become this weak? When had he—

Hyo-shin tried to claw his way out of that line of thought and was only partially successful. He reminded himself that the pressure over this confrontation with his parents had been brewing for years now, that it had been intensifying ever since he took the Legal Education Eligibility Test earlier that summer. He had prepared for this as best he could by scheduling weekly therapy appointments and letting Tan know what he was going to do. He had set aside money, picked the right time so they couldn’t pull him out of school—

He should have planned better. He should have anticipated that they were going to punish him. He should have found a different apartment and moved into it before he told his parents. He needed to email his professors, let the production team know what his new number was, start searching for a new place to live, go to the store to get boxes so he could pack, look up what the tabloids were saying about him and Eun-sang and Young-do, text everyone else in his contact list to give them his number, find something to eat, go to class, get off his bed and do something because things were only going to get worse if he didn’t start moving.

Eventually, his stomach settled enough that he could risk sitting up again. He sat cross-legged on his bed for several minutes and cobbled together a plan of action he thought he could handle. Food was off the list for now (maybe he would be ready to eat by tonight, when everyone came over), as was going to class. The idea of braving any members of the press who might be lying in wait outside his apartment building just made his nausea worse.

Instead, Hyo-shin forced himself to grab his tablet so he could send each of his professors a brief email to explain that he would be missing class for the rest of the week and asking if they would accept his homework late for partial credit. He almost hoped they wouldn’t. It would mean he didn’t need to worry about making it up later.

Then he texted Assistant PD Go to let her know he had changed numbers. Her curt response—Don’t do unnecessary things like this when we only have a few days of filming left—almost made him gag. His fingers fumbled with the unfamiliar phone when he sent back an apology, and he decided then he didn’t have the stomach to update anyone else, not today. He was not going to be able to handle a bombardment of texts, not even simple okays or sounds goods.

Between other tasks and much-needed moments to regroup and start again, Hyo-shin lost the rest of the afternoon. He ignored the texts he got back from Chan-young and Bo-na and only sent a brief I’m busy right now, why don’t you ask Eun-sang later? text to Tan when he tried to call. At some point, the driver from the delivery service showed up with the moving boxes he had ordered.

By the time, Eun-sang, Bo-na, and Chan-young knocked on his door, Hyo-shin was on his last reserves and only a third of the way through packing his kitchen. Only Eun-sang smiled when he opened the door; Chan-young looked worried, and Bo-na looked like she was ready to bulldoze her way through anything or anyone who got in her way. That was probably why Chan-young had taken one of Bo-na’s hands instead of helping Eun-sang carry the takeout bags.

“How bad is it out there?” he asked as he let them inside.

Bo-na sniffed. “They were worse after they caught me and Chan-young kissing when he was released from the army.”

Hyo-shin thought back to that media circus and decided the comparison was not precisely reassuring. The way Eun-sang’s smile slipped didn’t help, either.

He led them to the living room, where Eun-sang quickly set up the food on the coffee table. It was simple, quick fare: a variety of kimbap and a small container of mandu. No alcohol this time, which was probably wise. Hyo-shin normally had to be careful of how much alcohol he drank because of the medication he took, and in his current mood, he might lose track of that. She had substituted soda instead.

Hyo-shin took a seat on the couch while Eun-sang passed out the wooden chopsticks and napkins. He expected them to space themselves out as they normally did, but instead he found himself across from all three of them. They reminded him of the time he had gone into his first college interview, where he had faced down three people and cracked under the weight of his parents’ expectations.

None of them had touched their chopsticks yet; Hyo-shin set his down. “You should eat since I’m going to be putting you to work tonight.”

“I’ve hired a moving company for you, sunbae,” Bo-na said. “They’ll be here tomorrow morning, before your first class. By the time you are done with classes on Wednesday, everything will be in your new place.”

The offer hit him hard, and it took a moment for him to find his voice. “I don’t have a place yet.”

“Oh.” Bo-na considered this for a moment before she smiled. “I’ll get you a hotel suite, then.”

Eun-sang turned to Bo-na and gave her a skeptical look. “Lee Bo-na, you can’t just put sunbae up in a hotel suite. Do you want to get pulled into this love triangle, too?”

“It doesn’t matter to me,” Bo-na insisted. “Everyone knows I only love Chan-young.”

“The tabloids won’t care. Think of what they’ll do to Hyo-shin sunbae if they find out you’re paying for a hotel for him.”

“But the vacation home is too far away for sunbae to get to school easily—”

“I am sitting right here,” Hyo-shin cut in. “Don’t you think I ought to have some say in the matter?”

Eun-sang had the grace to look a little embarrassed; Bo-na eyed him like she was ready to violently overturn any of his objections, at least until Chan-young leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. She subsided a little then, but Hyo-shin knew she wasn’t about to let it go so easily.

“I’ve already spoken to my dad,” Chan-young said as he turned his attention back to Hyo-shin. “We have a spare room. Would you like to stay with us until you find a place of your own?”

The question hung in the air for several seconds while Hyo-shin tried to figure out a response. “Why?” he finally asked.

Of everyone in their group, he was the least close to Chan-young. Their friendship hadn’t really started until several months after Hyo-shin was discharged from the army, and even now Chan-young was much closer to Eun-sang and Bo-na than either him or Tan. It wasn’t a surprise that Bo-na offered to use her money to solve his problems, but for Chan-young to invite Hyo-shin into his home—

“You’ve been a good sunbae to me, ever since I entered high school,” Chan-young said. He squeezed Bo-na’s hand, but kept his eyes on Hyo-shin. “You helped me out once, and I’ve never been able to repay you for that.”

It was little short of a miracle that Hyo-shin didn’t flinch, and he was grateful he hadn’t eaten anything yet.

“Are you the person I should be thanking for not being invited to sit with Young-do today?”

Chan-young smiled faintly, though it did little to help Hyo-shin settle his stomach. “Besides, we both go to SNU. We can carpool to school, if sunbae is willing to give me a ride.”

“Sure,” Hyo-shin said. He ignored the curious looks from Bo-na and Eun-sang and was grateful that Chan-young did the same. “I—yes. I’ll stay with you. Thanks.”

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4 thoughts on “Dividing Lines: Chapter Twenty-Three

  1. Gwynne & Her Drama says:

    Thank goodness for Bo-Na and Chan-Young! I get a little weepy when friends decide to take care of each other, not matter what. And poor Rachel. Her BFF forgot she exists the same day the guy she’s liked for years changed his number and forgot to tell her. ;_;

    • Audrey says:

      Bo-na and Chan-young are the best. *nods sagely* And the men in Rachel’s life clearly don’t deserve her. At all.

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