Her earliest memory that she could recall was when she would spend her days with her mom in the studio. She could remember the smell of oil painting, canvas, wood, and the rose perfume her mom loved the most. She could hear the sound of the curtains flowing, the brushes against the canvas, and her mom's sweet voice. It was a blurry memory but the one she cherished the most. She had witnessed the vivid brightness of life slowly fading away on her mom's face. The last memory of her mom was the loving soft touch on her cheek, her last words drowned in the back of her mind. She couldn't understand, but she could see the tears falling down her dad's face afterwards.
Her following memories were spending her days in her dad's study. The grief was an ever present shadow on his face. There was still a safe company before her bedtime, albeit less in number. The smell of old books, wood, and leather became her long lost best friend. It was a blurry memory but she cherished it all the same. She didn't know when it changed, her memories turned foggy, maybe it was after the additional grief of losing another family members in the following year.
She didn't understand it back then, still couldn't process what she saw and the emotions that came with it. But her dad took it hard, slowly becoming colder day by day. She noticed the mourning and strangers in suits haltingly taking her dad away, no more bedtime stories and silly fun things for her. Her kingdom that used to be bright and homely, felt haunting. So she learned to hate the mansion that no longer made her feel like a princess, curse the old money and the expectations. But she grew up anyway, as time waits for no one.
Her childhood later on was filled with strings of school tutoring, music and art courses, and business lessons. So she learned to rebel a little more each day, wanting a little taste of freedom. Arguments with her father would echo the hallways of the empty mansion, both of them were too stubborn and prideful.
The door to the study bursts open, Shuhua walks purposefully to the figure sitting on the desk and slams the papers, "What is the meaning of this?"
Mr. Yeh looks up from his laptop screen, "It is what it is. I'm delegating you."
She puts her hands up in frustration, "I can read that. Why South Korea?"
He sits up straighter, "Because our most critical business expansion is there."
"Language! I will not tolerate disrespect-"
"-in this house. Yes, whatever. If you want me to manage the most critical one, you'd send me to China. Is it the extra business opportunities scouting?" Shuhua laughs bitterly. "Is everything about money to you? I have to find out via email of my job transfer. Good to know I'm not worth your conversation anymore, Father." Shuhua knows he dislikes the name.
He clenches his jaw, "It's the most effective and direct approach."
Shuhua scoffs, "I can't say no, can I?"
The resolved look on his face is enough to say it all. Shuhua doesn't want to argue any longer. Honestly, the idea isn't half bad, she too wants to get away and Seoul is a preferable choice. She just enjoys riling her father up.
Shuhua turns around quickly and heads for the door. She doesn't even look back to say, "Oh, and tell your men to at least look less like freaking bodyguards. I can't even go out in peace." She slams the door on her way out.
Mr. Yeh sighs and sits back on his lavish leather chair. Talking with his daughter is a draining experience. The conversation surprisingly went quickly, which is indication enough to know that she didn't dislike his decision.
She knows her family is wealthy, but flying with a private jet alone is an overkill. She will be lying if she says she's not excited. She fishes out her phone to text her best friend, the only one that she has. 'Remember your promise of treating me food for the whole day if I’m in town? Prepare your wallet, I'll be seeing you tomorrow, bitch.' She lays back on her chair and closes her eyes, a little crook is visible on the corner of her lips.
Shuhua met Yuqi during her university days in Oxford. She was sent by her father to attend the business program, much to her dismay. She rebelled of course, saying she didn't want to choose business. To which her father simply told her to just get joint honors. How could she possibly combine business and art courses? But Shuhua was too stubborn to not try. I could just join art club or sneak into their classes.
Fortunately she got a say in choosing her accommodation, so she chose this one bedroom apartment of an old classical building off campus, but still within a walking distance. She really loved that place, filled it with knick-knacks of her choosing, finally having a place that felt a lot like home. This was her first time being away and alone from Taiwan, also her first time interacting with her peers. She hadn't been living an isolated life per se, she socialized occasionally with other elites her age whom she found rather dull and shallow. She didn't expect to get a friend, but it changed on her first month there.
She had been researching for art classes that were open to public for a week now, this was number two on her list. The first one didn't match her schedule. She was contemplating if this was the correct building when someone slammed into her.
Yuqi knew that this was her fault entirely because she was distracted searching for her phone in her messy bag. But why was she the one laying on the ground. Damn, that person has a solid body. "Shit, I'm so sorry. I'm-" She looked up when she heard a girly giggle. Holy shit, am I dreaming?
"I should be annoyed but you're the one on the ground." The pretty girl had a melodiously light voice. She was Asian but it was really hard to deduce where she was from because her English had no distinctive accent. A hand was offered in front of her, so Yuqi took it gladly.
"Thank you, I swear I'm not usually this clumsy." She was fully standing but still clasping the hand that helped her. The pretty girl had an amused smile on her face. "Ehm, I'm Yuqi." She shook the hand awkwardly.
"I'm Shuhua. Are you okay? You look winded."
Yuqi smiled sheepishly, "I should be the one asking. I'm okay, just my pride that's hurting."
Shuhua looked intimidating, there was just something about her aura or her posture that screamed proper, but her eyes were bright and curious. So Yuqi asked and asked, and Shuhua answered and answered, thus they bonded. Shuhua was the first friend she made after moving to Oxford, attending computer science program with her full scholarship. She was so happy when she found out Shuhua was Taiwanese. It was like fate that they met.
Yuqi lived on campus with another roommate, a mysterious one, as she hardly ever saw her. Shuhua actually talked a lot, but never about herself, which irked Yuqi. But she noticed from the way she spoke formally and concisely, the way she walked, ate, or even sat, she was from upper class family. Then on one summer day, something happened. Both of them were typing away on their laptops at a coffee shop near campus when Shuhua's exasperated voice surprised her.
"Are you kidding me?"
Yuqi looked up to Shuhua staring pointedly to someone behind her. "What? What's wrong?" Yuqi turned to look behind her and around. She only saw customers lining up to order. "Shu?"
Shuhua sighs dejectedly, "Father sent me bodyguards again."
Wait what. Father? Bodyguards? "Uhh... what?" Yuqi turned around again to look for something, anything. That's when she noticed two muscular men queuing. "You mean those two?" She pointed at them.
Shuhua swatted Yuqi's hand away, "Stop pointing. But yes, those two men."
Yuqi put the incident in the back of her mind, thinking it was a usual occurrence with upper class family. But then another incident happened. Yuqi was volunteering to organize the LGBTQ+ event on campus when another volunteer walked up to her.
"Yuqi, you and Shuhua are close right?"
The guy excitedly showed Yuqi a piece of paper. Yuqi's eyes bulged out of their sockets, "Five thous- What the fu-"
"Shh, tone down your voice. She gave me discretely, so she must not want anyone to know."
Yuqi read the paper again, it was a donation of five thousand pounds to their community from Yeh Financial Charity. Later on, Yuqi asked Shuhua who only shrugged her shoulders and said, "Father sends me excessive amount of money to barter for his love and attention. I just donate some of it. Tying his company charity to lots of LGBTQ+ and other asian communities is a hobby of mine."
Yuqi just shook her head, "Shuhua, you're really something."
Shuhua just laughed, "Don't go soft on me, Yuqi."
"No, I mean it. You're a really great friend. I am thankful to have you in my life. I love you."
Shuhua was as red as tomato and stuttered, "Song Yuqi, y-you-"
"Awww, the proper Yeh Shuhua is stuttering." Yuqi had a pillow hitting her face hard after that.
“This size does not fit my Asian body. And what’s with this cheesy art. I just want cool looking tops.”
Yuqi had been whining consistently in the last thirty minutes of shopping at the thrift shop. “Cool looking tops that are within budget,” Shuhua revised.
“Hey, not all of us is loaded.”
“I told you, we can use this card to practically buy any clothes.”
“You can’t do that.”
Yuqi knew Shuhua meant well, she’s just not entirely experience in the art of having friends. “Because I am your friend, and friends don’t throw money to their friends.”
“But you let me treat you food.”
“It’s a different matter, Shu,” Yuqi was starting to lose her cool.
“Alright, I’ll put it into your ‘Yuqi’s Guidebook to Having Friends’.” Shuhua ran her hand through the tees hanging on the racks. “This is hurting me. If you want cheap cool tops, we can just buy plain ones and printed my art on them.”
Yuqi gasped loudly, “Oh my God!” She clasped Shuhua’s shoulder excitedly. “You’re a genius! Yes! Let’s do that.”
So that’s how their small business started. Yuqi wore one of the tees that had her best friend’s art printed on it when a friend asked where she bought it. Ever since then, their business grew from word of mouth, just small scale as they could only do it in their spare time. But they had fun selling the clothes, university student budget friendly.
Yuqi even made a website and instagram page for it. They decided to release in themed volumes with limited quantity each, so it wasn’t taking too much of their focus on studies. They named their brand Idle, taken from them doing the business during their idle time.
Shuhua didn’t really want the money at first, “I don’t really need the money.”
“It’s not about the money, Shu. It’s about people appreciating your art.”
They put it on hold during their final year. Both were feeling gloomy because graduation was months away.
They were lounging in Shuhua’s living room, taking a small break from deadlines. Yuqi practically lived with Shuhua at this point.
“What are you gonna do after this?” Yuqi asked seriously.
“You know how it is. Father will make sure I have a strategic position in the company. What about you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe an office job back in Beijing. What do you want to do tho?”
Shuhua went quiet for while, “Does it matter?”
Shuhua looked hopeless and it did something to Yuqi. For as long as she knew her, Shuhua never complained or cried. This was the saddest look Yuqi had ever seen on her. “It does to me.”
Shuhua gave a grateful smile, “One thing for sure, I’m going to miss you.”
Yuqi got up from sprawling out on the sofa to lay on top of Shuhua and hold her tightly, “Aww, I am gonna miss you too.”
“You’re heavy,” But Shuhua made no move to push Yuqi away.
“Do you want me to try to apply for your company?”
Shuhua was taken aback at that, “I appreciate that, but I don’t even want to work for my company.”
“You know, old money, the history and all that.”
“Then don’t work there, we can continue our business. I know it’s not a lot of money, but you love it.”
Shuhua felt a prickle in the corner of her eyes, so she held Yuqi tighter to distract herself from crying. “Tell you what, let’s table this talk when our initial plans fail.”
“I’d like that.”
After graduation, Shuhua went back to Taipei and Yuqi went back to Beijing. They have been keeping contact ever since, even went on vacation together.
And here she is now, on the plane to Seoul, meeting her best friend again. Shuhua feels her phone vibrate.
‘Holy shit! You’re coming? You’d better not stay for less than a week like last time we met.’
‘It all depends on the food. So choose wisely, Song Yuqi.’
Shuhua looks out the window, a giddy feeling is stirring up inside of her. It’s been a while since she feels this happy.