Jinki wiped the towel across his forehead. He wasn’t sure how much of the sweat was from the bright stage lights or from the debate itself.
“I didn’t realize how tough of an opponent Choi Minho is.”
“What are you talking about? You made your points better than he did,” Jonghyun said fixing his bangs in front of the mirror.
“It isn’t what he said, really, but more how he acts. I don’t think his expression ever changed. It was intimidating.”
“Ah, I see what you’re saying. I guess we’ll see if it affects the polls tomorrow.” Jonghyun stepped away from the mirror. “You ready to go down there now?”
Jinki was about to answer when a shriek came from the open doorway, followed by a frantic slapping of shoes against the concrete floor. A small, pigtailed head rammed against his thigh and peeked up at him.
“Hello Hana,” Jinki bent down and gave her a one-armed embrace. “Did you watch me?”
Hana shook her head. While Jonghyun laughed loudly, Jinki put his hands to his face and faked a sniffle.
“My own daughter doesn’t support me. What am I going to do?”
“Hana, are you making your father cry again?” A deep female voice said. Jinki looked up at his wife, Juri, who was standing in the doorway. She was fixing her shawl, which she had worn to help cover up her black strapless dress. There had been a small argument between her and Jinki earlier over whether the dress made her look fat. Jinki had made the mistake of saying her plumpness was one of his favorite things about her.
“She was. She’s a mean little girl. Right?”
Hana ignored him and hugged Jonghyun’s leg tightly. He picked her up and put her on his hip. As she gave Jonghyun kiss on the chin, slamming the rest of her head into his face in the process, he couldn’t help but feel a little jealous.
“You’re going to be late for the reception,” Juri said.
“No, I’m not.” He put the towel down and got up. “Come on, Jonghyun.”
Out in the hallways, Jonghyun and Hana were engaged in a deep conversation about what color he should dye his hair to. Hana insisted on pink.
“I don’t think pink would look good on me. You should have seen me when I had gold hair, though. I was very handsome.”
“I didn’t think so,” Jinki said.
“You're just jealous because you couldn’t pull it off,” Jonghyun shot back. “I bet I have a picture of your attempt somewhere.”
“I hope you do, I want to see it,” said Juri. Jinki shook his head.
They continued to make their way to the convention center’s banquet room, where a reception was being held for the candidates and their staff. Distinct groups had been formed around the table of food, with few people wandering out of them. Jinki’s group was no different. As he joined them, he received the usual complements on his speaking.
When things had settled down a bit, he scanned the room. Directly across from him was Roh Jungwook’s dejected looking group. Further down was Choi Minho and his staff.
Jinki paused to get a look at his opponent. On stage he had been focused, but now he looked distracted. In the short time that Jinki watched him, he checked his phone twice.
Besides Minho, he also recognized another face. The man was on the fringe of the group, talking to someone with closely shaved hair.
Jinki tapped Jonghyun’s shoulder. Jonghyun stuffed a petit-four into his mouth and turned around.
“Is that Kibum?”
Jonghyun followed Jinki’s gaze.
“Yeah, it is,” Jonghyun said past the cake.
As if he sensed that he was being talked about, Kibum walked away from the other man. His eyes flicked around as he looked for his next target, then widened a little when he saw Jinki. He smiled and waved. Jinki motioned for him to come over.
“How’d you get in here?” Jonghyun jokingly asked once Kibum had finally made his way to them. Kibum gestured to a press pass hanging around his neck.
“I’m on business.”
“They’ll let anyone in, then?”
“Ha ha,” Kibum glared at Jonghyun before turning to Jinki. “It’s been a while. How’s the election going?”
“Fine. I’m very busy these days.”
“So am I. I have another function after this one, so I’ve just been making my rounds.” Kibum looked down and let out a higher pitched “ohhh” than his voice appeared to allow. The cause was Hana, who was standing in between the three. “You’ve gotten so cute. How old are you?”
Hana stuck up four fingers. Kibum clapped and then straightened up.
“Well, I’d better get going. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around. Bye bye.”
Jinki could have sworn Kibum winked, but he couldn’t think of a reason he would do it and so let it slide.
But what he couldn’t let slide was the fact that Kibum was there. He spoke this concern out loud to Jonghyun.
“You remember that article on Roh Jungwook, don’t you? Kibum was the one who wrote that. I guess his magazine has some election coverage now.” Jonghyun paused and crossed his arms. “I don’t think he’s a threat to us, but we should be careful around him.”
“You two are really close. He wouldn’t seriously do that, would he?”
Jonghyun frowned. “I don’t know.”
There wasn’t much time to reflect on this, however, as others came over to talk to him. Just as one idle conversation was wrapping up, Minho approached him. Jinki felt his stomach drop a little, but stood his ground.
Minho spoke first.
“You’re a very good opponent.”
“So are you. I know I’m not supposed to admit it, but it was a challenge facing you.”
A small grin formed on Minho’s lips, catching Jinki off guard. “I’m looking forward to next time.”
Jinki nodded. Minho bowed and headed for the exit. Going through those doors for home sounded like a good idea to him. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to act on the idea when yet another person introduced themselves.
Minho was breathing heavily. He had run the entire way from the parking garage to his apartment door. When he had gotten the door open, the first thing that greeted him was the apartment's warm, fragrant air. He quickly walked through it to his bedroom and turned a lamp on.
Both boys were sleeping deeply. Junsu had the blanket completely over his head, which was how Minho normally found him. Minki was near the edge of the bed, his arm dangling over the side.
Minho quietly changed into sleep pants and went over to move Minki away from the side of the bed. He also took the blanket off of Junsu’s face and pushed back his sweat-soaked hair. He shut off the light and lay down on the bed.
Even though he knew it was hopeless, he called Sunhee again. When he got the voicemail, he pushed the “end’ button.
After he shut his eyes, the mattress springs creaked and a warm body snuggled next to his.
The text message had simply read “come over”, but it was all Jonghyun needed.
There was little Jonghyun liked about Kibum’s apartment. The interior decorating was dark, refined, and orderly. It was meant to show off high taste, but it mainly emphasized that the place wasn’t lived in. This was close to the truth, but he didn't want to be reminded of it.
The only places where he could find Kibum’s personality were in his large clothing closet and in his music collection. He was standing before the latter, putting an R&B CD into the player. As the beat began to leak out of the speakers, Jonghyun collapsed on to the couch and loosened his tie. He glanced at his laptop bag and thought about the work he needed to get done.
It could wait, along with Jinki's question about trusting Kibum. He shut his eyes and started singing to get away from those thoughts.
When he first met Kibum, he had been singing, too. He had left his dorm room door open while he cleaned up the remains from a party the night before. It was when he was bagging the last beer bottle that he saw Kibum standing out in the hall. Kibum hadn't even tried to pretend he wasn’t staring and instead gave him a little smile and clapped. They had become friends on the spot, but he couldn’t remember exactly when they started dating.
This lapse in memory wasn’t completely his fault. Their relationship had never been stable. With only one exception, they would take a break at Kibum’s suggestion, usually so he could run off with someone else. Jonghyun would tell himself he wasn’t going to take him back, no matter what Kibum said or did, yet he had failed to follow through with that promise every time.
If only he had a stronger will, he would still be with Buja and Kwangho.
His voice faltered, then became louder.
It was almost one in the morning when Kibum came home. He swayed a little as he took off his shoes and then almost tripped over the rug. Despite this, he remained upright and walked as straight as he could.
Just like his muscle control, his thinking wasn’t coordinated. It took him a moment to register Jonghyun’s sleeping form on the black leather couch and another to remember why he was there.
Kibum approached the couch and kneeled before it. He brought his hands to the front of Jonghyun’s pants, but his fingers were refusing to move correctly. Getting the button undone required his total concentration. When he was finally ready to move on to the zipper, Jonghyun’s eyes popped open and his body flinched away from Kibum.
“What are you doing?” Jonghyun asked as he rose. His breathing was faster than normal.
“What do you think I’m doing?” Kibum was becoming annoyed fast. He hadn’t done anything wrong. Jonghyun should have known why he wanted him there.
Kibum wasn’t understanding why this was a problem. “I only had a few drinks.”
“I don’t care. I told you I don’t want to be near you when you’re drunk.”
Kibum allowed himself to fall back on his rear and glared up at Jonghyun. Jonghyun put his feet on the floor and dropped his head against his open palms.
“What’s your problem?”
“I’ve been thinking,” answered Jonghyun.
Kibum moved closer and put his hands on Jonghyun’s knees. Jonghyun didn’t move them away.
“So what if I’m a little drunk. You’re already here. And you’re obviously stressed out.”
Jonghyun ran his hands down his face before letting them drop into his lap.
“Fine. Just ask me or something next time.”
Kibum smiled. In the end, he always got his way.
Kibum wasn’t feeling so great when his phone started ringing a few hours later. Without opening his eyes, he rolled over to his nightstand and grabbed the phone.
For a second, Kibum was as confused as the caller. Once he pulled the phone away from his ear, he realized he had answered Jonghyun’s phone. According to the screen, it was Jinki was on the other end.
“I don’t have the wrong number, do I?”
“No, no. This is Kibum.”
“Yeah…I must have grabbed Jonghyun’s phone by accident last night. We went to a bar.”
“Oh,” Jinki chuckled before going on. “Can I have your number, then, so I can call him?”
Kibum glanced at his own cell phone on the nightstand.
“I can call him for you. It’ll probably be easier.”
“Well, whatever works. Thank you.”
Glad his lie had worked, Kibum rose and looked around. Jonghyun was nowhere in the room, but Kibum knew he hadn’t left because his clothes were still on the floor and he could hear the shower running.
Slowly, he got out of the bed, his hand over his stomach in attempt to make the queasiness go away. A few heavy steps and he was opening the bathroom door. Steam rushed about him and clung to his bare skin.
The shower curtain was pulled back and Jonghyun poked his head out. His hair was washed flat and a few white lines of shampoo streaked down the side of his face.
“I just spoke to Jinki. You need to call him back.”
Jonghyun’s eyes widened.
“You answered? Damn it!” The curtain was shut.
“Don’t freak out.” Kibum walked up to the shower and peeked in. Jonghyun was vigorously rubbing his head, trying to get all the shampoo out. “I told him we accidently switched phones. You and I were out drinking last night.”
“So he doesn’t know anything?”
Jonghyun stopped assaulting his head and shut the water off. He grabbed a dark red towel off the rack and stepped out of the shower. Kibum watched as Jonghyun began to dry himself off. Although he wasn’t in the same shape as he had been fifteen years earlier, his muscles were still well-defined.
“Have you lost weight?” Kibum asked.
Jonghyun wrapped the towel around his waist and went to the sink. “Yeah. I probably need to cut down on going to the gym.”
“And the tanning booth. You’ll get leathery if you keep going so often,” Kibum added.
Jonghyun, in the middle of brushing his hair, looked at his arm.
“It’s better than being as pale as you.”
Jonghyun put the brush down and checked his face in the mirror, running two fingers down his cheek. He then left the bathroom. Kibum followed and watched as he started to punch in Jinki’s number on his phone. He remained in the room for the entire call, which was mainly about the overall opinions on the debate.
“Things are looking good,” Jonghyun said after he was done. He was grinning. “I really think he can win this election.”
Kibum simply nodded, not feeling the same joy as his partner.
“So, what exactly do you gain from this?”
Jonghyun’s smile faltered and his tone turned defensive.
“Not much, I guess. I’m just helping Jinki out. I don’t see a problem with that.”
“Are you ever going back to music?”
“I thought I told you not to bring that up anymore.”
Kibum shrugged. Jonghyun should have figured out by now that he wasn’t going to bypass issues just because he’d been asked to. But, he also didn’t need to push it. He had gotten the reaction he wanted.
“Do you want some tea before you leave?”
Jonghyun leaned over to grab his pants from the floor.
“No. I need to go to work. “
“As I said, you presented your viewpoints well, but you need to make more eye contact with the camera.”
“Good. I want to see you start doing it.”
Minho threw the phone into the passenger seat and slammed on the brakes at the same time. He had been listening to Chunghoon since he left his home. Traffic had slowed down, which made the entire thing more unbearable.
In the back seat, Minki and Junsu sat still. Their black school uniforms exaggerated how solemn they were.
The silence was broken by Junsu.
“When’s mommy coming back?”
Minki punched his younger brother in the arm, causing Junsu to shout.
As they fought, Minho wondered if he should lie or tell the truth. He still had no idea where Sunhee had run off to, much less how long she planned to stay away.
“I’ll have to ask her,” he finally said. “I’m sure she’s visiting your grandmother. You know how worried she gets about her.”
“She gets worried about everything.”
“Shut up, Junsu!”
“It’s okay, Minki. I want you two to be able to talk about anything bothering you.”
No one spoke again until Minho stopped in front of the school. It was one of the best private school in the city. Minho had gone there as a child. Merely seeing part of the building brought up many childhood memories.
“Kwangho beat us here,” said Minki as he unbuckled his seatbelt.
“We must be late then,” Junsu exclaimed.
The car rocked back and forth slightly as the two boys got out. They waved at Minho before running up to a skinny boy with glasses. By the time they passed by the school gates, all three boys had their handheld games out and were laughing. The scene contrasted sharply with their conversation about Sunhee, the mood of which he was still trapped in.
He drove off when the boys had entered the school.
Taemin yawned. He had gotten up early again to film a press statement for one of the major news channels, lying that they were very pleased with the results and were looking forward to future debates. In reality, the polls showed a slight decrease in the support for Minho and much of the focus on the debate's events was on Jinki. Taemin had been listening to Chunghoon’s stern, angry voice ever since he had gotten into the office.
Besides answering a few phone calls, Taemin wasn’t doing much work-wise. He was busy, however, searching through pictures of women in various states of undress. His girlfriend had told him that she had a picture somewhere on the site, but so far he hadn’t found it. Not that he was complaining about it, though.
“Are you researching new ways to get more voters?”
Taemin jumped and clicked out of the screen. He turned around to see Minho standing behind him, grinning. Taemin grinned back, hoping to hide his embarrassment.
“I swear I do work sometimes.”
“Looks like you’d better do that,” Minho said, gesturing towards Chunghoon with his chin. Chunghoon put down his phone and crossed the room towards them.
“We didn’t do too badly this time around, but I’m sure we’ll learn from our mistakes,” Chunghoon said without any greeting. Minho’s grin was completely gone and Taemin suppressed a groan. The urge to make some disappointed sound increased as Chunghoon looked directly at him. “Did you find that information for me?”
“I could only find marriage and divorce records.”
Taemin typed on his keyboard and brought up his notes on Jinki and his top aides.
“Kim Jonghyun. He’s Lee Jinki’s top aide.”
“I want you to find out who his wife is and contact her.”
Taemin frowned. “What do I say?”
Chunghoon’s expression clearly told Taemin how stupid the older man thought he was.
“Just ask her a few general questions about Mr. Kim, say you’re from Key or some other magazine. If she sounds promising as an information source, just arrange to meet her.”
When Chunghoon started speaking to Minho, Taemin looked up Kim Buja and found her phone number. He wasn’t comfortable with calling a stranger to talk about her ex-husband, but it was a task he couldn't escape. It was better to just get it out of the way, preferably with Chunghoon around so he could see the woman’s reaction.
After a few rings, a soft, pleasant voice answered. Taemin felt even more nervous than before. How should he start the conversation?
“Hello, my name is Lee Taemin. I’m a writer for Key magazine. I was wondering if you’d give us a statement on Kim Jonghyun for an article we’re doing?”
“You said you’re from Key?” Some of the sweetness had dropped away from the voice. Taemin wondered if she had already been contacted by them.
“I see. I don’t have anything to say to you. Goodbye.”
She disconnected the call before Taemin could say anything else.
“Well?” Chunghoon asked, flipping through some papers.
“She said she didn’t want to talk to me,” Taemin said.
“You should have left your phone number with her in case she changed her mind.”
From Buja’s tone, he wasn’t expecting this to happen, but he apologized anyway.
Kibum was flipping through a rival magazine when his phone rang. The number was almost as unexpected as Jinki’s had been.
“Hello Buja. How have you been?”
“I was doing well a few minutes ago until someone claiming to be from your magazine called me.”
Kibum put the magazine down and started playing with his earring. “No one should be calling you.”
“Well someone did. He said his name was Lee Taemin.”
“Oh,” Kibum uttered when he remembered Taemin was the staffer he had spoken to the day before. “I’ll straighten that out.”
There was a pause. Kibum was about to say good bye when Buja spoke again, the irritation gone from her voice.
“Have you seen Jonghyun lately?”
“I have. Why do you want to know? Did you do something?”
Buja laughed guiltily. “I asked for more money.”
“That explains some of the attitude he’s been giving me.”
“I know he’s not going to give me enough, though. Can you send me some?”
Kibum snorted. “No.”
“It’s not for shopping. I actually need it.”
“I’m sure you’ll be fine without it.”
“...I’ll tell Jonghyun everything.”
“Go ahead, but it’ll only affect you.”
“Yeah, okay. What if I called that Mr. Lee back and told him about you and Jonghyun? It was obvious that he was looking for something.”
Kibum pressed his fingers to his forehead, where his headache was beginning to come back. He could tell she was starting to get desperate, but he didn’t realize she was that desperate.“How much do you want?”