Solution #1, Problem #2

Work Text:

"Oh!" said Myeong-ran. "Eun-seol-ya!"

Eun-seol looked up from her laptop. Her eyes ached and she'd a faint sweetness still on her tongue. Myeong-ran, sprawled across the bed, pointed at Eun-seol and grinned. She'd forgotten her magazine.

Eun-seol shook her head. She turned back to her computer. The open document stared at her. Solutions for Presentation - Tomorrow!!! blinked steadily at the top. Beneath that, she had: nothing.

"Of course it is," she said. She banged her fingers on the keys. "Now help me think of something. Ah, really, there isn't enough time!"

Myeong-ran slipped off the bed again; she took her magazine with her. "Not that." She poked Eun-seol with the magazine. "The limbic system's amygdala. Is it his?"

Eun-seol stared at her in horror. Her heart punched her ribs. Myeong-ran loomed before her, yet all Eun-seol could see was Cha Ji-heon, red-eyed and curly-haired, leaning against her in the back seat of the car, shadows everywhere, his thigh warm against hers. Ahhh, Eun-seol thought, why had he said that!

Myeong-ran narrowed her eyes. "It is his!"

"No, no!" Eun-seol clapped her hands over her ears. She squeezed her eyes shut. If she could not see, if she could not hear, then it wasn't real. "I don't want to think about it! I can't think about it! Don't say any more!"

"Hey," said Myeong-ran, and she settled closer to Eun-seol. She slapped Eun-seol's wrist until Eun-seol lowered her hands. Myeong-ran frowned. "Is he sexually harassing you? If he's sexually harassing you—"

Eun-seol fluttered her hands. "No! What's gotten into you? He isn't harassing me!"

"But if he is," Myeong-ran persisted. She lifted her fist.

Eun-seol pushed her away. "Go! If you won't help me think of anything then go write a fan letter to Hyun Bin. Or look for a job!"

Myeong-ran clicked her tongue. She rose. "I was only looking out for you."

And it was true, Eun-seol knew. Who was it who had stood beside Eun-seol all through high school? Who had helped her teach the boys from Daeju High School to keep their hands to themselves? She scrubbed at her nose.

"I know, I know."

Myeong-ran slapped Eun-seol's back in passing. The bathroom light clicked on.

"If you ever need help killing him—"

Eun-seol laughed. She rearranged her legs, bringing her knee up, and rested her chin on her knee. As she did this, she said, "Just one good punch would knock him out. Turn off the water when you're brushing your teeth!"

The cursor blinked, one-two, one-two. There and gone again. Eun-seol folded her arms around her leg. The white of the screen burned her eyes, so she closed them. The car had been dark, thick with night and with Cha Ji-heon's breathing. He'd dozed, after he'd said-- Well. He had dozed. Mouth slack. Street lights flashing across his face. The car hummed along. His head swayed. A sort of sleepy calm washed over her; that was the makgeolli.

"I'll think of something," she'd said to him. "Trust me."

How could he say no when he slept? His mouth wrinkled then smoothed. The car turned a corner, and Cha Ji-heon fell sighing across the seat. The far door caught him. What if she had asked for soju instead of makgeolli? Eun-seol covered her mouth and turned to the window. She'd a vision of Cha Ji-heon wrapping a tie around his head and stripping off his sports jacket and (the most shocking thing of all) asking everyone in the bar to shake his hand. Her reflection in the window was distorted. She grinned at it.

"No Eun-seol," Cha Ji-heon had murmured then.

She'd turned, but he was only dreaming.

"I'll think of something," Eun-seol said again.

She opened her eyes. The document waited for her. Cha Ji-heon was probably sleeping now, lulled into peace by rice wine. Cha Ji-heon had probably forgotten all about the presentation. She should have stopped him after the sixth bowl. Vengefully Eun-seol wished him nightmares of giving the presentation in his cartoon boxers and his cartoon boxers alone. Then she sighed.

Eun-seol wrote:

Solutions for Presentation - Tomorrow!!!

• Turn out lights

She thought of Cha Mu-won sporting a Pororo mask and hit the delete key.

• Turn out lights
• Record video presentation to play instead

What if they'd questions? A recorded video couldn't answer the board members. Cha Ji-heon couldn't, either, she thought. Not in person.

Not in person, she thought. She squinted at the last line. A video presentation, or—

Eun-seol jolted and banged her knee on the desk. Falling over on her side, she fumbled for her phone. Her knee throbbed.

"What is it?" Myeong-ran leaned out of the bathroom. She'd a bit of toothpaste on her lip. "Are you all right?"

Waving her off, Eun-seol stuck her phone to her ear. Pick up, she thought, pick up, pick up— "Don't you dare be asleep, jerk!" she said as the phone rang and rang.

Myeong-ran shrugged and disappeared back into the bathroom.

The phone rang again, then for a moment: silence. Eun-seol held her breath. The line clicked.

"Eun-seol!" Cha Ji-heon said.

She said, "Sir—"

"Why were you eating lunch with Mu-won?" he demanded.

Eun-seol blinked. She took her phone from her ear, looked at it, and then put it back. "What?" she asked.

"Why? Why? Is it because you see Cha Mu-won as a man? He isn't a man," said Cha Ji-heon. "He isn't even human. He's a snake, or maybe a robot."

"Cha Ji-heon-ssi," Eun-seol ordered, "stop talking and listen to me. I have an idea for the presentation."

"What?" Cha Ji-heon shouted. "What? I can't hear you. Hello? Hello! He! Llo! He—he—llo!"

Then he blew air out noisily between his lips and hung up on her. Eun-seol stared at her phone.

"Did you blow a raspberry at me?" she demanded. "I'm trying to help you, you—you—"

She raised her phone to throw it and paused. Clarity returned. No. She wouldn't let him beat her like this. No Eun-seol was a professional now. She was a professional, and she was going to save this presentation, and then she was going to bend his arm behind his back until he cried.

Eun-seol dug up her bag and stuffed her phone and her laptop into it. Myeong-ran finished up in the bathroom as Eun-seol was putting on her sneakers.

"Are you going out?"

"Mm." Eun-seol pulled the laces tight. "I'll be back in a little bit."

Myeong-ran looked her over. "Aren't you going to change your shirt?"

"It's only to Cha Ji-heon's," Eun-seol said.

"Ah," said Myeong-ran. "Do you need back-up?"

Eun-seol slung her bag over her shoulder and showed Myeong-ran her fists, the fists that had bloodied countless noses and seen countless arms wrenched out of joint.

*

Eun-seol reshouldered her bag and crossed the street to the main gate. The guard posted looked up, squinted at her from under his cap, and smiled.

"No Eun-seol-ssi?"

She handed him her ID and he handed it back before waving her through. Her bag, so laden, thumped against her side as she started up the hill. The jog from the bus stop and the night air had cleared the last lingering traces of fuzz from her brain. The house rose before her; the second floor's lights blinded the stars.

Eun-seol started down the path. Twisting to check for her phone, she spotted the ajumoni crouched before the dog's house. The old housekeeper had spotted Eun-seol, too, and now she set her hands on her thighs as though to stand.

"Hello, ajumoni!" Eun-seol bowed quickly and held her hand out. "Please don't get up."

"Ah—"

The woman hesitated a moment then nodded. Resting, she looked at Eun-seol in her jeans and her pineapple shirt. The back of Eun-seol's neck prickled. Why hadn't she changed?

"You're out very late," said the ajumoni. "Has my—boss' son forgotten something?"

"Oh, no, it isn't anything like that," said Eun-seol. "I just needed to talk to him about the presentation tomorrow."

"Hmm," said the ajumoni. She looked Eun-seol over again. "Well, go inside. He should be up."

Smiling, Eun-seol bowed again. In the cool air of the house, she looked down her front at her shirt. With sweat still beading her throat from the summer heat, she wondered how she could have said something like only Cha Ji-heon's. Only her boss. Only her boss, who lived at home with his father, who owned the company.

Eun-seol shook it off. She set her jaw and gripped the bag's shoulder strap tightly. The hallway was dimly lit, she'd seen the ghost of light through the glass, but she knew the way without thinking. For some reason - she could not think why - it unsettled her. Thin shadows moved before her.

At Cha Ji-heon's bedroom door she touched the handle. Her fingers stilled. The bag on her shoulder was like a stone, weighing her. If she opened the door— She frowned. No. When she opened the door, what was she to expect of him? Sleeping, or perhaps—

Her fingers tightened on the handle. In the department store, he had panicked. His fingers, when he'd held her, had dug into her back so her shoulders ached. Eun-seol threw the door open.

Cha Ji-heon looked up from his video game. His eyes and mouth rounded and then narrowed. She sagged against the door.

"No Eun-seol!" he said. He made it sound like both an accusation and an admission.

Eun-seol advanced on him. He clutched the controller to his chest. His legs came up, his feet facing her. She flicked a loose hank of hair over her shoulder. Cha Ji-heon's dark eyes went wide again, but his nose scrunched.

"What are you doing here? Are you going to punch me again? I haven't given you permission!"

He kicked his feet at her.

She dropped her bag on the couch beside him and then she, too, dropped onto the couch. Eun-seol said, "Make more room."

Cha Ji-heon was still a moment; then he lowered his legs. He'd shed the jacket, but not his pressed trousers. His long, bony feet were bare. Eun-seol ripped her laptop from her bag.

"There isn't anything we can do," he said. "I already told you this."

Exasperated, she turned on him. Cha Ji-heon had pressed into the far corner of the couch. His shoulders bent in toward his chest. There was something almost puppyish about the way he looked at her: wary, but hopeful, too. She was not going to think about it, absolutely not. She wasn't going to think about it. She didn't want to think about it. Instead, she said,

"I promised I would find a solution, didn't I? Here."

She turned her laptop toward him. Cha Ji-heon leaned forward. His face was slightly flushed, and the curls nearest to his ears were half-flattened from where he'd slept on them.

"What?" She looked back at her laptop. When she'd rebooted the session, the document had returned. Hurriedly, Eun-seol minimized it. "No, ignore that; it isn't important."

"Turn out the lights?" he asked, even more indignant. "No Eun-seol! Have you forgotten that the darkness is my enemy?"

"Of course not," she said hotly, though she had. "How could I forget? I hardly got any sleep thanks to you!"

Her tongue twisted up against her teeth, too late. She'd slept beside him on the floor that night for how long, she couldn't remember; she'd woken to his breath on her cheek, his mouth nearly at her nose. She didn't want to think of that either.

"I didn't get any sleep at all," Cha Ji-heon said, which was a lie. His knee nudged hers.

Eun-seol stabbed at the top of her laptop's screen - at the webcam. "Teleconference," she said loudly.

"What?"

His knee moved away. The absence made her leg itch.

"The solution!" she said, even more loudly. "See—" She pulled the webcam up, and her face flooded the screen, her face and Cha Ji-heon as he leaned over her shoulder. "This way you can give the presentation but you don't have to be there."

If she had turned her head just so, she would have seen the smile; but the webcam showed it to her just as well. Cha Ji-heon's breath caught - when had he drawn so close that she could feel his stillness against her arm? - and then he lit.

"No Eun-seol! You're really—"

He turned. She turned, too. Their noses bumped. Cha Ji-heon was still smiling. His eyelashes drooped. Eun-seol followed them. In the office when he had asked her if she had ever seen him as a man, he had looked at her lips and then her eyes and her lips again. He'd a small indentation at the corner of his lip, where he'd bitten it.

Cha Ji-heon jumped away from her and off the couch. He fussed with his t-shirt, straightening it as if it were a coat.

"Of course, I would have thought of it, too," he said as he pulled his collar even. "It's so obvious."

Eun-seol ran her hands over her hair once, twice. She very resolutely did not think of many things. It was only Cha Ji-heon. Obnoxious, childish, clingy Cha Ji-heon.

She gestured to the laptop. "Let's take care of this before tomorrow. Okay?"

"Ah," said Cha Ji-heon. "Yes." He squared his shoulders. "No Eun-seol. You have to stay until this is done. No quitting because you're tired."

"Okay, okay, I know," she said, "but only if you stay, too."

"Of course I'm staying," he said, as if she were the child. "This is my job, too, No Eun-seol."

She scoffed and made as if to throw the controller at him, but he had turned to get his laptop and missed the charade. Eun-seol scooted to one end of the couch, making room for his return; then, after a moment's thought, she put her laptop down in the middle. Not that she needed it there, but.

"Ya, Eun-seol," said Cha Ji-heon, returning, "move your computer! I don't have enough room."

"There's more than enough room," she protested. "Move the pillow, see!" She leaned over and knocked it to the floor.

He pouted at her. His jaw jutted. Eun-seol turned to her computer, fiddling with the touchpad.

"But where do I put my computer?"

"Stop whining," said Eun-seol. "You're a grown man, aren't you? Just sit. Put it on your lap!"

"Grown man," he muttered, but he sat. He struggled with the cord. "Why, do you think I'm cool again?"

Eun-seol hunched her shoulders. Honestly, why did she have to keep thinking of these things? But he had been cool, standing up to those reporters even though he was so deathly afraid of speaking to crowds.

She stabbed at the keys. "Just open your laptop. All right?"

He made a face again, his lips pushing out, then he flipped the computer open. His thumb pinched the corner of the screen. His nails, neatly clipped, were nevertheless uneven.

"Ah, really, Eun-seol!" she said under her breath.

"Hm?" said Cha Ji-heon.

"Nothing," she said. She mustered a smile. "Are you ready, sir?"