When his boyfriend stands him up again, Haje Young decides to meet his twin brother for a drink instead. On their way home, Haje, his twin brother,and their best friend get into a tragic road accident. Right after his brother's funeral, someone tries to kill him and Haje makes a terrible discovery. To make it worse, he doesn't trust the man who saves him or the Foundation he works for.
A car honked in the distance. The wind blew hard, breaking against the skyscrapers of Colston city. On the roof of an eight-story building, the wind ruffled the tablecloth covering a small round table set for two. The rose in the vase danced in the wind, resting after a few minutes. Lonely, abandoned, Haje Young sighed, like his heart.
He had spent the whole afternoon making chicken cordon bleu; the counters in his kitchen were a mess. A bottle of merlot sat on the table ready for dinner. His boyfriend however -he glanced at his watch- was three hours late. It was almost ten o’clock. His chicken and his mood were ruined. He was done with Levin Cooper.
Haje strolled to the railing and stared down at the busy street below. Levin was a cop for the Colston Police Department. Criminals tended to be more important to Levin. He understood that, but seriously, the man could try to make it to one dinner. Gripping the railing tightly, Haje took in a deep breath and screamed out.
“I hate you Levin Cooper.”
Somehow, that declaration made the night seem easier. He’d thought he and Levin could make it work. He worked long nights at his job too. He was a computer programmer working for the Strassen Foundation. There were projects that took up his time for days too. When he’d met Levin, their weekly trysts had worked quite well. Meeting at each other’s apartments whenever they managed time off had been reasonable. One year along and he’d started feeling like he and Levin might actually work if they tried harder. Maybe go beyond sex and have an actual relationship.
Apparently, he was wrong.
Haje stepped off the ledge and headed for the table. He took the wine bottle and left the plates, the vase, and the tablecloth. He didn’t care if it rained. This night couldn’t get any worse, he decided as he entered his apartment.
Another broken heart, he thought sadly.
He was grateful for his job with the foundation. It afforded him the spacious apartment. Going down the stairs that led to the roof, he descended into an airy living room. He crossed the wooden floor to a cozy dining room and into a pristine kitchen. Dirty dishes littered the white marble counters. He ignored the mess and began a search for the corkscrew. Just because Levin wasn’t showing up, didn’t mean he should ignore the wine. Where was the cock screw anyway?
Rummaging through knife drawer, he scowled when his phone buzzed. Probably Levin finally canceling their dinner, hadn’t the man ever heard of calling ahead? He got his phone from his pocket and glanced at the caller ID.
He answered the call and wedged the phone between his ear and shoulder.
“How do you always know?” he asked continuing his search.
“Come out with me,” Shin said cheerfully. “You don’t need him in your life, Haje. Lev is an asshole.”
“I’m happy with my wine bottle.” Haje mused at how easy it was for Shin to know exactly what how he was feeling.
“Drinking alone is depressing. Leave the wine, get in your car. Come to Ricky’s and I’ll make sure you get good hard liquor.”
“Shin,” Haje complained not ready to face people. He’d been holding on to Levin a bit too hard. He needed time to pity himself and maybe-
“Come on, Haje. If you don’t show up, I’m getting Virgil to drive me over there. I’m pretty wasted right now.”
Haje sighed and dropped the corkscrew on the counter. “Fine, as long as you’re buying drinks.”
It took him ten minutes to drive over to Ricky’s on Wilson road. He parked his car across the street, walked in to the warm atmosphere and stopped. Music in one corner of the bar -a live rock band- he ignored them and turned in the opposite direction. He heard Shin and Virgil before he spotted them playing darts.
His twin brother was in a black muscle shirt and khakis, his feet in sandals. Long dark hair caught in a messy ponytail. A shot glass in one hand, Shin threw a dart on the board and jumped up in excitement when it hit bull’s eye.
“Pay up,” Shin said holding out his hand to Virgil.
Haje shook his head when Virgil pulled out a hundred bucks from his pocket and slapped it onto Shin’s palm.
Virgil glanced up and grinned. “Look, its little Shin.”
Haje laughed at the description. Shin turned around and saw him.
“Haje,” Shin exclaimed. Shin’s face lit up with a wide smile and he rushed to hug Haje. “You came, I didn’t think you would. I was about to make Virgil drive me to your apartment. We’re going to find Levi and beat the crap out of him for hurting you.”
Haje rubbed his brother’s back. “There’s no need to punch him out.”
“No one messes around with my brother,” Shin declared his voice slurred. He pulled back and held out his drink. “Here, drinks on me tonight.”
Virgil came over and patted his back. “I had to restrain him from getting behind the wheel twenty minutes ago. He kept saying Haje is not feeling good.”
Haje sighed and slipped onto a stool at their table. There was a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels, Shin handed him a glass and poured him a drink.
Haje tossed it back, grimacing as it burned down his throat. “How long have you guys been in here?”
Virgil shrugged glancing at Shin. Haje frowned not liking the look in Virgil’s eyes. There was something wrong.
“Shin?” he asked.
Shin grinned and ruffled his short black hair. “We are just taking a break from the lab. I miss you lil’ bro, we don’t get to see each other anymore. Have you been well?”
Haje poured himself another drink and tossed it back. “I haven’t seen my boss lately. He’s too busy with you people underground. I hope the project you’re working is worth it. I’m practically running the Tech department alone. Mom called, she wants to see you and Nora.”
Shin groaned. “Nora and I broke up two days after my mother met her.”
Haje chuckled. Their mother was on a mission to see them married. She couldn’t believe her children were still unhitched at the ripe age of twenty-eight. As far as their mother was concerned, it was unheard of. It didn’t help that he kept telling her that he was gay. She believed that if he married the right girl, he would change his mind.
“Well, the moment you enter the house, she’s going to have a new date lined up for you.” Haje warned his brother with a tight smile. “I still can’t get over the last date she dragged me to.”
Virgil laughed taking the darts he’d placed on the table. “I would have loved to be a bug on the wall to see that.”
Haje shook his head. “My poor date was a pretty little lady who’d just graduated from college. She was also conned by her mom to go out with me. We ended up at a bowling alley.”
Shin slumped onto a stool and sighed. “Mom thinks we should each be married and have five children by now.”
Virgil laughed and ordered another bottle from a passing waiter. Haje quickly lost himself in Virgil and Shin’s jokes. They played darts and drank too much. He forgot about his non-date and smiled as Virgil regaled him with tales about Shin at work. They left the bar at around one o’clock. Virgil supported Shin to a black company car waiting at the curb. The Foundation gave the top researchers drivers especially when they were working on a project.
“Haje, get in,” Virgil said once his brother was inside. “You can’t drive home like this. You’re drunk. I’ll make sure your car gets dropped off at your apartment.”
Haje shrugged and entered the car after his brother. Shin drowsily shifted so that his head rested on Haje’s shoulder.
Virgil got in beside him and closed the door.
“Haje,” Shin said quietly when the car started for Haje’s apartment. “There’s something I have to tell you. Something-
He didn’t get to finish. The driver applied the brakes abruptly, the momentum sending them forward. Haje clung to his twin’s shoulders to keep him steady since none of them was wearing seat belts.
“What’s going on?” Virgil shouted in irritation. The driver turned to explain, but a large truck smashed hard into the car on Virgil’s side.
Haje held on to Shin his ears ringing as metal grinded against metal. The car kept moving to the side. The truck disappeared for a moment and Shin tried to open his door, before he could get the handle, the truck returned sending their car into the air. Haje tried to grab Shin but lost his hold when the car over turned and he passed out.
His body was on fire when he woke up. Pain everywhere, he tried to open his eyes but bright lights burned him. They were everywhere. There as something tight tied around his neck, he felt like he was choking. He tried to lift his hand to pull it off, a face loomed over his head shouting orders…he faded away.
He woke to numbing pain. Haje opened his eyes and stared at the unfamiliar ceiling. He was on his back, every part of his body throbbed. The pristine white ceiling was foreign, definitely not his apartment. Seconds passed and a set of bells and whistles went off. His heart was pounding a mile a minute. It didn’t help when he tried to talk a tube in his mouth stopped him.
Plastic, he couldn’t taste anything but plastic and cotton. Couldn’t move, couldn’t…he tried to sit up. He coughed, and tried to pull out the tube in his throat. His body felt foreign. His left arm wasn’t responding right and the fucking ceiling was all wrong. The beeping noises filled his head grating against raw nerves. Gentle hands caught his and his mother’s face appeared above him.
“Haje, you’re safe,” she said. “You’re in hospital, you just woke up. Nod once if you can hear me, honey.”
He closed his eyes and nodded for her. He could hear her. He just didn’t understand why he was in the hospital, or why a tube was down his throat.
“Relax the nurses are going to take care of the tube.” Seol Young held his right hand with both of hers. Her touch gentle as though she was afraid to break him, there were tears in her eyes, he wanted to know why.
“Haje,” Seol kept saying as a horde of nurses rushed in followed by a doctor.
His mother disappeared. The doctor shone a light into his eyes, nurses pulled out the tube. It tickled his gag reflex, his chest burned at the resulting heave. More prodding on his chest, his right leg and his left arm, he scowled when a nurse stuck a thermometer into his ear.
Questions, he frowned at the stern doctor looming over him.
“How many fingers am I holding up?” A kind voice asked. He couldn’t reconcile the stern face with the voice.
He stared at the doctor’s fingers for a moment. When he tried to answer, his throat was dry. He cleared his throat twice before he managed a rough ‘three’.
The light returned and he scowled when it hit his eyes.
“What is your name?” the doctor asked.
His mother had disappeared behind a nurse. She would have already told them his name. Why were they asking? Turning to his left, he found her standing on his left by his head. He sighed in relief and tried to take her hand with his left. His hand wouldn’t move. He glanced down to find his left hand in a cast.
“Your full name, son,” the doctor insisted.
He frowned at the annoying doctor. “Haje Young.”
The doctor smiled and jolted down a note in his clipboard. “When were you born?”
“July, nineteen eighty-five,” he answered. “I have a twin brother, Shin.”
His mother sobbed beside him, her fingers caressing his hair gently.
“That’s very good, Haje,” the doctor said encouraging. “Now, what is the last thing you remember?”
Haje stared at the doctor, his mind blank. He couldn’t remember. Panic set in and that awful beeping noise returned. The sound filled his head even thought it was switched off almost immediately.
He remembered Levi standing him up. Shin had called him over for drinks at Ricky’s Bar. He closed his eyes and the sound of clashing metal filled his head.
“The accident…,” he whispered. That’s why the hospital beeps were hurting. The car-, he opened his eyes and sat up abruptly. Pain lanced through his chest and he cried out in pain.
“Shin,” he managed through the pain, pulling at the wires on his chest. “I was with Shin and Virgil. I have to see them. Mom-
“Please lay back, you’re going to hurt yourself again,” the doctor insisted. “Mrs. Young, he has to calm down and lay back. Or we’re going to be forced to sedate him.”
“No.” He protested turning to his mother. “Please mom, where’s Shin? Is he alright?”
“Shh…,” Seol soothed. “Lay back, honey. You’re not ready to get out of bed-
“I have to see Shin,” he insisted pushing down the covers awkwardly.
“Please calm down, first,” Seol begged. “Calm down, Haje.”
“Why are you here with me? Where’s Shin? I want to see him. We were in the car and-, is he in the next room? How bad is he hurt?”
Seol looked at the doctor, her gaze devastated. The nurses left the room quickly and he lay back on the pillows fear taking over. His pain faded away when his mother turned to look at him.
They’d covered Shin’s body with a white sheet. The morgue was cold. He stared at the single sheet wondering if it was enough to keep his twin warm. His mother pushed his wheel chair closer to the gurney and he stopped it with his feet. There was no way he was going to see his brother while he sat in a wheel chair.
“Haje,” Seol said quietly.
“Help me up,” he insisted. She sighed and locked the wheelchair. They’d fought about his request to see Shin. She’d kept insisting he needed to remember Shin when he was alive, but she was missing the point. He still couldn’t believe his twin brother was dead.
Seol wrapped an arm around his slender waist as he stood. Pain lanced through his right leg and chest. His left arm cradled against his chest. The doctor had told him his leg would heal faster than his arm since he’d broken his arm. He had bruised ribs and a deep gash on his right upper thigh where a piece of metal had lodged into his thigh. His face hadn’t escaped; there were cuts and bruises on his forehead and jaw. Pain stabbed through his body as he took slow steps to the gurney. His mother made sure he would keep his balance before she nodded to the morgue attendant.
The woman in scrubs gave him a short sympathetic glance before she pulled the sheet back to reveal Shin’s face. The loud crash in his head was deafening. Shin lay on the metallic gurney, his skin so pale, Haje could barely recognize him. He searched for the laugh lines that always played along the corners of Shin’s eyes and wished for the beginnings of the smile that appeared whenever Shin saw him.
“Little Shin,” his twin would always say.
Shin had come first. Once they’d argued about that and Shin had promised he’d go last. Why was it he was standing here staring at Shin’s body now?
“Shin,” he said his voice husky with painful emotion. “Wake up, hyung.”
“Haje,” Seol said softly, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Your brother is gone from us now.”
He shook his head, reaching out to touch Shin’s cold jaw. The same jaw he saw when he looked into the mirror. He wanted to look at Shin and see his own eyes laughing back at him.
“Hyung,” Haje said tears filling his eyes. “Mom, Shin won’t wake up when I call.”
“Oh, Haje,” Seol managed wrapping her arms around him. She pulled his head down to her shoulder making his tears slide down his cheeks.
His gaze on Shin, he broke down and cried. A world without Shin, he clung to his mother, he just couldn’t imagine such a bleak world.
Seol carried Shin’s ashes in an ornate metallic urn. Haje walked beside her, supporting his weight with a walking stick. His right leg was hard to walk on, the gash on his thigh throbbed with each step despite the painkillers. Behind them, family, friends and co-workers followed as they headed to the lakeshore and the gentle sweeping water. Haje swallowed down the lump in his throat. He’d woken up every morning this past week hoping he was dreaming. That Shin would appear at his bedroom door with a lazy grin and tease him for crying so much.
“Haje,” Seol said his name quietly. “Scatter your brother’s ashes, honey.”
He blinked black tears. His mother was holding out the urn to him. He stared at the smooth shining metal and his heart rebelled. Christina, his mother’s housekeeper took his cane standing close to make sure he kept his balance. Taking the urn holding Shin’s ashes, he met his mother’s gaze. She nodded in encouragement and fought the urge to scream. Gritting his teeth, he limped to the water’s edge, waves teasing his highly polished shoes; he closed his eyes unable to go farther. Not because of the pain in his leg, no, it was the pain in his heart.
Shin, he thought holding the urn against his chest.
A heavy black button down sweater hid the cast on his left arm. He couldn’t hold the urn and open it at the same time. Thankfully, Christina came to stand beside him; she touched his shoulder gently before she opened the urn for him. Fresh tears filled his eyes and he tried not to let them fall. It seemed like all he did these days was cry. Having his brother reduced to ashes in an expensive urn felt too cruel.
An injustice, he thought.
Shin should be standing beside him skipping stones over the surface of the lake not about to dissolve in the water. Anger swept through him and his hands shook. He limped into the water uncaring for his shoes or trousers; he kept walking until the cold water reached just below his knees.
“Shin,” he said quietly. “I should have let you come to my house. I should have made us stay longer at the bar. I’m so sorry.”
Blinded by tears, he held out the urn, upending it to allow the wind to sweep his brother’s ashes into the water. He would have stayed there watching Shin’s ashes fade in the water. However, his leg hurt, his head was pounding and he just wanted to sleep until the pain in his heart killed him.
He slowly limped back to the beach, Christina took the urn from him and handed him his walking stick. He didn’t want to talk to mourners. Their words of comfort would never ease his pain. He headed straight for the black limousine his mother had arranged for the funeral.
“You’ll keep staying at home with me,” Seol said when she joined him a few minutes later. “I don’t want you to stay in your apartment alone.”
“I’ll be fine alone, Mom,” he protested.
He looked out the window, watching mourners get into their cars and drive off. They’d go back to their houses, and talk, they’d pity him and his mother for their loss. They’d move on, forget Shin. He swallowed bitter anger at that thought. How was he supposed to let Shin go? Why had he survived instead of Shin?
Shin was smarter than he was. Shin was the lively one, the one everyone loved because he made everyone feel comfortable. Why Shin? He stared out the window unseeing; the tears he’d been fighting were back. He blinked hard, determined not to cry anymore.
That’s when he saw the man leaning on a black Mercedes parked two spaces away. There was no other car between the limousine and the Mercedes. Short dark hair, and dark eyes, the man was in a long black coat, the collar lifted up to brace against the wind. A shudder ran through him as he realized he’d seen the man before.
At the hospital, when his mother had been helping him walk around the halls for his daily exercise. Always watching, Haje thought.
He reached for the door handle ready to get out and ask whom he was-
“Are you listening to me, Haje?” his mother touched his knee. “What’s the matter? Are you in pain?”
“No,” he turned to assure her. By the time he turned back, the mysterious man had entered his car and was driving out of the space. “Mom, did you see that man? Who is he?”
“What man?” Seol asked leaning forward to have a look. He sighed because there was no point now. “I don’t see anyone honey. This is why you should be at home with me. You don’t look well enough to be alone.”
“Mom,” he started to complain tired of this argument.
She’d gotten him from the hospital and driven straight to the Young home on Lakeshore Blvd. His mother had shut him down every morning when he’d woken up ready to move back to his apartment in the city.
He turned to look at her, his argument dying a sudden death. His mother was wearing a brave face but he could see dark shadows under her eyes. She looked elegant in a simple black dress with a black peacoat, her hair held back in a sleek bun.
Elegant and fragile, he thought.
She’d lost a son. Seol was in crisis too. Shifting on the comfortable back seat, he reached out with his good hand and took her right hand.
“I’m sorry, Mom. I’ll stay until my leg heals. How are you holding up?” he asked gently.
She patted his hand gently. “I’m afraid to let you out of my sight, Haje.”
He sighed; the police were scaring her again. He still couldn’t remember much about the accident. The crashing metal, fear, bile in his mouth as he realized they were in trouble, those feelings were engraved in his brain, but not much else. The police kept saying they were investigating a homicide. Virgil’s driver died of a gunshot to the head and the semi that crashed into them had disappeared. Both Virgil and Shin had died from intensive injuries from the crash. A freakish miracle had ensured his survival.
The cops thought it was murder, he thought they were crazy. Who would want them dead? Seol was officially not sleeping at night. Who could blame her? Why would anyone want to murder his brother and Virgil?
“Nothing will happen to me,” Haje assured his mother.
“I almost lost you,” Seol said bitterly. “Until the police figure out what’s going on, you’re not safe outside the house. I can’t lose another son.”
“Mom,” he sighed.
She’d lost her husband four years ago. A difficult time, Haje thought remembering his father’s struggle with cancer. He and Shin had kept his mother going through that horrible time. Shin’s energy had kept him going. Now they were just the two of them.
“Haje,” Seol said quietly, squeezing his fingers. “Don’t leave the house just yet, okay? Stay at home with me.”
He’d stay as long as she needed. The drive back home took fifteen minutes. His parents had purchased the house when he and Shin had been five years old. The two-story lakeshore house was familiar, nostalgic. A safe haven, whenever things didn’t make sense in his life, he’d always come back here for comfort. Limping into the foyer, Haje glanced up the stairs expecting to see Shin appear at the landing. They’d made it a habit to slide down the balustrade to the bottom to his mother’s chagrin.
“Are you hungry?” Seol asked behind him.
Christina walked in behind them, taking Seol’s coat. Her eyes were red as though she’d been crying. “I made some bean soup last night. I can make sandwiches and coffee.”
“I’m not hungry.” Haje started toward the stairs. “I think I’m going to go take a nap.”
“You didn’t have breakfast. Those meds you’re taking need you to have food in your stomach,” Seol complained as Christina headed toward the kitchen.
“I’ll eat when I wake up,” he promised starting the long climb up the stairs.
On his way to his old bedroom on the second floor, he stopped at the closed-door right before his. Shin’s room, he hadn’t entered it since he’d returned from the hospital. Staring at the handle, he opened the door abruptly. He paused at the doorway.
It was like walking into a time capsule. A large white telescope by the wide windows, Shin had loved laying back on a chair and watching the stars. The large desk against the wall right by the windows was laden with books. There was a wooden box beside the books filled with wires and all kinds of knick-knacks. Shin loved collecting small gears, screws and strange buttons. He’d loved discovering the little gadgets Shin made using the things in that box. Growing up with Shin the engineer had been an adventure. Always making strange gadgets to do funny little things, he almost smiled at the memory of his toy soldiers shooting paper bullets.
He ignored that table and the open notebooks on the desk. Instead, he walked to the four-poster bed and climbed on. He dropped his walking stick on the carpet floor and lay back on the pillows. He smiled when he saw the painting of the Milky Way on the top panel of the bed.
Shin had called it their secret. He and Shin would lay back on the pillows late at night whispering dreams to each other, telling tales of starships and far away worlds.
He closed his eyes remembering those happy memories. He fell asleep dreaming about Shin.
He woke up hours later choking. He couldn’t breathe, there was darkness, and something heavy was holding him down into the bed. Panic struck as he realized someone was smothering him to death.