He knows, why doesn’t he just say it?
Richard had offered the familiar faint smile and motioned to answer the question the moment it emerged from the mouth of the manicured host.
That was 10 seconds ago, at 3:59.30. In 20 seconds he could, he should, walk away with the car, the holiday, the huge cash prize.
Everyone saw the faint smile, the same sign of assurance Richard had displayed for the four previous days, when he had breezed through the country’s biggest quiz show and into the grand finale.
The live audience saw the smile, the viewers at home saw it too.
So why won’t he answer?
“20 seconds Richard,” chirped the host.
I can’t, Richard thought. I can’t admit to knowing this. I did it, and if I admit to knowing the answer, they’ll know that I blew the family fortune.
He was sure his sister had busted him once, stumbling upon the second phone, the second laptop, the Korean dictionary and file after file of images of attractive young women. Luckily for Richard, she didn’t realise the files were devoted to only one woman. Instead, she suspected her brother of hiding what any 27-year-old male would hide under lock and key, not the secret to the greatest tragedy to beset their family.
Richard claimed he had flown around South Korea to chase funding for a new business venture, not to chase Taeyeon, the lead singer of Girls Generation.
He was to woo her, seduce her and make her his bride.
The family didn’t know how the money had been lost. They’d reluctantly agreed to lend Richard a portion of the trust for his ‘business venture’, thinking him fiscally naïve, not deluded enough to actually believe any of his famous fantasies.
“15 seconds,” Richard heard through the throbbing in his head and the duelling combatants who’d planted soap boxes on opposing sides of his conscience.
“You can’t. Don’t answer,” came one salvo.
“But the money. This is the amount you lost and you know the answer,” came the counter-attack.
“You’ll break your parents heart”
“Take the money and find an excuse. You’ll think of something”
“10 seconds. Can our carry-over champion do it ladies and gentlemen?”
“Shut up, smarmy git!” Richard shouted, confused as to whether this has been directed at the host or the residents of the soap boxes.
“Don’t do it.”
The pain and anguish and the bitter internal struggle were painted in increasingly reddening tones across Richard’s face. Light bounced off the beads of sweat dotting his forehead and the audience began to whisper to each other.
“…but he knows…”
The money, so much money, he thought.
Don’t, don’t you dare say anything.
“What do I do?”
“Five seconds Richard, do you have an answer?”
Taeyeon. Taeyeon. Her name was on his mind. Her name was on his lips.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1…the clock struck four.