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After hearing Kim Hannah’s brief explanation, Seol Jihu couldn’t help but be a bit puzzled.
Apparently, Kim Hannah was faced with the words, ‘Is there a need for him to go to another company? Bring him to Sinyoung.’ The person who said this was supposedly Yun Seohui, Sinyoung Pharmaceuticals’s top-level executive.
“So… I’m going to become affiliated with Sinyoung?”
Kim Hannah swirled her chopsticks around the ginseng chicken soup, her ponytail dancing in the air.
“I told you before, right? That those with the authority to invite Earthlings to Paradise have the duty to develop a safe environment for Earthlings to cross worlds.”
“Think about it that way. Nothing more, nothing less. You said you were going to the place I recommended you, so Sinyoung basically volunteered themselves. Frankly, it’s not a bad deal. In fact, it’s a great one.”
It seemed Sinyoung stepped up when nobody asked them to. Of course, they couldn’t force Kim Hannah to invite Seol Jihu or force Seol Jihu to accept their offer.
“Right, there’s no problem on the surface….”
Kim Hannah suddenly grabbed her chopsticks as if to split them in half.
“But it still feels like shit.”
She then furrowed her brows and bore her teeth.
“That bitch. Do you know what she said? ‘Oh, Miss Hannah, don’t you think you’re being a bit too greedy?’ Fuck her. What business does she have with my belongings? I’m the one who got that gold stamp, and I’m the one who’s contracted to you. That fucking whore.”
The emotions behind her voice surpassed the level of rage and resentment and treaded into the level of abhorrence and cursing. It seemed Kim Hannah’s pride had really been hurt.
“Anyways, there’s no problem on the surface, but you still need to stay sharp. This gives them a point of contact with you.”
“Do I have to go to them? Can’t you just say I declined their offer?”
“There’s no reason for you to.”
“Well, you could always say it’s personal preference.”
“That’s true, but that will only create more enemies for you. Plus, it will trouble me too.”
Seol Jihu was about to say, ‘But why would it?’, but he swallowed his words back down. He made a somewhat meek, helpless expression.
“I’m just finding it hard to understand….”
“Did I… do something wrong?”
Kim Hannah’s eyes widened. Seol Jihu twirled his spoon around as he continued.
“Why is everyone so bent on harassing me? I, I just wanted to save them, that’s all. I didn’t have other intentions. It’s true that I just did what I wanted at the time, but it’s not like I hurt them or inconvenienced them somehow.”
“I’m busy trying to mind my own business, yet….”
“That’s just how Paradise is.”
Kim Hannah looked at him bitterly and quietly cut him off.
“The world isn’t as simple and clear as you think. I can guarantee you one thing.”
Seol Jihu asked. Kim Hannah hesitated for a long time before finally opening her mouth.
“Wait. Even if you don’t do anything, there will be people who curse you. The more famous you get, the more hate you’ll receive. Some people will even resent you. That’s not the end of it. There will be a ton of people who are going to try to use you, even if you didn’t do anything wrong.”
“But, but why?”
Seol Jihu looked visibly confused.
“Because you’re trying to jump ahead.”
Kim Hannah said with a bitter smile.
“That’s just how the world is.”
She muttered in a low voice. She wasn’t done yet.
“That’s not all. Even on Earth, there are thousands of incidents people find hard to understand. For example, a serial killer randomly murdering people. Assailants don’t care about the victims’ intentions at all.”
“Just look at celebrities. Sure, some of them might deserve the hate they receive, but there are a lot more who don’t. Do you know why haters leave mean comments or attack them on their social media? It’s simple. Because they’re unhappy, because they want attention, because they’re bored, because they don’t like the way someone looks, because they just want to argue, because they’re jealous. There are countless reasons.”
Seol Jihu was at a loss for words. He still couldn’t fully understand, but he couldn’t think of anything to say either.
“…Don’t worry about it too much.”
Seeing Seol Jihu’s depressed expression, Kim Hannah remarked as if to console him.
“You know who I am, right? I’m your protector. I’ll make sure no harm comes to you because of this, so don’t worry.”
Kim Hannah seemed to have a plan from the way she was talking. Seol Jihu nodded his head, feeling somewhat apologetic in his heart. He wasn’t comfortable seeing Kim Hannah run around trying to clean up the mess he made.
After a moment of silence, Kim Hannah opened her mouth.
“Anyways, let’s stop talking about that now and move onto something else. You.”
“I thought you’d fool around more in Paradise. I’m surprised you actually came here at the right time.”
Kim Hannah cleaned the table and put a big basket on top of it. The basket was decorated with flowers and a ribbon, and two bottles of wine could be seen inside. Seol Jihu could tell they were high-class wines just by looking at their labels.
“Wow, what’s this? They look expensive.”
“Dom Perignon, Rose Vintage 2004. It’s not that expensive, about 500 thousand won per bottle.”
“Never mind that. Here, write.”
Kim Hannah handed him a pen and a simple but beautiful letter. When Seol Jihu stared at her blankly, she muttered as if she was looking at a fool.
“Don’t you know what day it is today?”
“It’s not my birthday, at least. Ah, is it yours?”
“No, mine is August 1st.”
“Then… a celebratory day for me getting a job?”
“Are you crazy?”
Kim Hannah narrowed her eyes and chuckled.
“Geez… do you really want to reconcile with your family?”
Seol Jihu tilted his head. His father, mother, older brother, and younger sister… none of them had their birthday in May.
“Today is your parents’ wedding anniversary. Wedding! Anniversary!”
Seol Jihu’s eyes widened.
“How do you know something I don’t?”
“Oh please, I investigated your background for half a year. Besides, how do you not know your parents’…. No, never mind. I guess I expected too much from a gambling addict.”
Kim Hannah shook her head before throwing the pen and letter at Seol Jihu. Of course, Seol Jihu wasn’t really sure what to do with them. Never mind knowing what to write, he wasn’t even sure if he should go visit them.
‘Do I have to go?’
He suddenly remembered the last time he visited them.
[Stop fucking wasting my time, okay? You think I’ll fall for your lies again?]
[Horse racing? Or sports betting?]
More than a few weeks had passed since then, but thinking about that day still pained him, like his heart was being stabbed by a knife. Also, it made him afraid.
“Come on, what are you waiting for? Write. Let me see what you can come up with.”
“Um, you know….”
Seol Jihu forced a smile and carefully opened his mouth.
“Can I send this through their mail? I’ll even pay extra to get it to them fast.”
Hearing this, Kim Hannah glared at him sharply. Seol Jihu flinched and quickly continued talking.
“I mean, today is supposed to be a happy day for them. If I go, I’m only going to ruin the mood. I don’t even think they’ll let me in.”
Kim Hannah frowned and folded her arms.
“If you have a brain, use it. You’re already a piece of trash. If you were in your parents’ shoes, what would you think if their trash of a son sent a single letter by mail for their anniversary? You think they’d go, ‘Oh~ Our son is taking care of us now that he’s financial stable~ What a good boy~’, huh?”
Seol Jihu had nothing to say to Kim Hannah’s sarcastic remark.
“To your family, you’re still a gambling addict. Don’t you want to escape from that image?”
Seol Jihu barely eked out an answer. Kim Hannah pointed to the basket with her chin.
“Then take this and go tell them. Look at them in the eye and beg for their forgiveness. Isn’t that the least you can do as their son?”
Seol Jihu could only wordlessly wet his lips.
“You’re joking, right? Do you have any idea how long it takes to heal a wounded heart? Begging for their forgiveness dozens of times might not be enough, but… mail?”
Kim Hannah snorted as if she just heard the most absurd joke in the world.
“And let’s get this straight. Just like you said, they might not even let you in. You’ll definitely ruin the mood if you go. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. You don’t want to go because you know how they will treat you. You’re avoiding them.”
Seol Jihu felt dazed by Kim Hannah’s violent flurry of facts.
“No, that’s not-”
“You really are a bastard, aren’t you? After leaving them with so many wounds, you’re scared of getting yelled at? Are you for real?”
“What? You think I’m exaggerating? You want me to stop? Fine, do what you want. They’re your family, not mine.”
“…Okay, okay, I get it.”
In the end, Seol Jihu gave in and grabbed the pen. Seeing him take the letter, Kim Hannah snorted once again.
“What matters is you going to see them. And make sure to write each word carefully and cleanly. What heals a wounded heart isn’t time or medicine. It’s sincerity.”
Seol Jihu pouted his lower lips but began to slowly move the pen in his hand. Seeing him wrecking his brain trying to come up with the right words, Kim Hannah smiled secretly.
She had made thorough preparations for their meeting. She had answers ready for anything they might ask, including information regarding the company that ‘hired’ him and the source of the money he previously received. She even prepared a formal suit for him to wear.
Of course, it wasn’t a brand new one. The collar of the dress shirt was loose, and the suit jacket gave off an aged smell. Simply put, it was the suit of a typical company employee working overtime every day. That was the hardworking company employee look Kim Hannah was going for.
‘Do I have to go this far?’
Seol Jihu couldn’t help but wonder, but he still did as Kim Hannah said and waited until it seemed like the right time to visit.
The sun was setting, and the sky was dyed in orange light. It was a little past seven. He had purposely avoided visiting them during dinner time. Given what he knew about his parents’ personalities, he knew they would be having a celebratory dinner.
Rather than coming before dinner time and making it difficult for them to swallow food, he judged it would be better once they had time to digest what they ate.
‘Calm down, heart, please.’
As familiar buildings came into view, his heart pounded harder and harder. He had experienced the same feeling once before, yet fear flooded in like a tidal wave.
He knew what would happen, but he couldn’t help but remain a little hopeful.
‘Don’t expect anything, don’t expect anything.’
He recited the same line over and over again in his heart like it was some sort of a magical spell. Before long, he arrived at his destination.
He carefully opened the main gate and walked up the staircase. He legs moved quickly at first, but when he arrived at the front door, they slowed to a pause.
With a briefcase in one hand and the basket Kim Hannah prepared in the other, Seol Jihu stared at the closed door for a long time. His pounding heart didn’t slow down and only got faster. He was even beginning to worry that it would burst out of his chest.
He smacked his chest a couple times and pressed the doorbell after much deliberation. Ding, ding The ringing sent a shiver down his spine, almost like it was an alarm alerting the start of his execution.
A queasy feeling was beginning to well up inside his stomach when….
The ringing ended. He pressed the doorbell again, but he couldn’t hear anyone coming to the door. The front door remained shut.
‘Are they out?’
Given the occasion, it would make sense if they went out for dinner. Once his thoughts reached here, he suddenly felt air leaving his body, and a sense of relief rushed in.
‘What should I do?’
Should I wait? Or just leave the basket here? Seol Jihu paced back and forth in the hallway for dozens of minutes before finally deciding to place the basket in front of the door.
After putting the letter he took great effort to write between the flowers, he turned around. It was then.
“Yeah, so I….”
He could hear the sound of harmonious talking coming from a distance.
“I was almost disappointed when you said you couldn’t make it.”
“Sorry, something came up suddenly….”
The sound quickly grew louder.
“You resolved everything?”
And it soon approached the main gate.
By the time Seol Jihu snapped out of his daze, they had already gone inside. For some reason, Seol Jihu was looking for a place to hide. Of course, there wasn’t anything like it.
“Wait, why is the main gate open…?”
“Did you not close it on your way out, Oppa?”
“Wait, maybe someone came?”
Seol Jihu began making his way down when he ran into them. The moment the six pairs of eyes discovered the youth, their harmonious chitchat stopped.
The first one to speak was Seol Jinhee.
“The hell? Why is that son of a bitch here?”
Her curt tone stung. Seol Jihu was just as flustered as anyone else. He somewhat suspected that this would be the case, but on top of his father, mother, older brother, and younger sister, Yoo Seonhwa and Yoo Seunghae were there as well.
The six of them seemed to have returned after eating out. As the youth wasn’t expecting to meet them this way, he only stared at them in a daze. Seeing this, a brown-skinned middle-aged man opened his mouth slightly.
But that only lasted a moment. His face quickly distorted, and he immediately shut his mouth.
He gave the youth a sharp glare before stomping up the stairs silently. After that, he didn’t look at the youth, much less talk to him. He purposely ignored the basket in front of the door and pressed the doorlock password.
As the youth was about to turn into a fish out of water, a nostalgic voice flowed into his ears. His mother was looking up at him with an entranced look.
“Aigo, aigo, my little son….”
She staggered up the stairs and was about to grab his hand when his father threw the door open and shouted.
“What are you doing!? Come inside!”
Startled, the mother’s complexion distorted.
“What are you doing?”
“What do you mean what am I doing? Why don’t you ask that bastard!?”
When the youth’s father came outside and began approaching him with his fist clenched, his mother quickly stepped between the two of them.
“Calm down. He came to visit us.”
“Visit us? So what!?”
“Dear, can’t you tell Jihu’s been walking on eggshells since a while ago? How can you just ignore him…. Don’t you feel bad?”
Ha! A loud snort followed.
“You’re the problem. How many times have you been tricked until now? You still don’t get it? This bastard isn’t a human being. He’s just a piece of trash. He’s worse than a beast.”
The atmosphere quickly changed for the worse. Perhaps because loud voices were flying back and forth, Yoo Seunghae hid behind her older sister, and Seol Jinhee watched the spectacle with a satisfied look on her face.
Everyone had different reactions, but one thing Seol Jihu could be sure of was that they were looking at him with eyes that seemed to say, ‘Why did you come?’
This is why I didn’t want to come.
Facing the looks of scorn and being battered by coarse condemnation, Seol Jihu closed his eyes tight. His father and mother were still arguing.
“He said he quit gambling and is working hard now.”
“And you believe that? Ah~ The casino ban? Seorak Land isn’t the only casino in Korea. It’s obvious what he’s up to. Do I need to spell it out for you?”
“Stop it, would you!? He already paid back what he owed. He even came to see us with a gift knowing it was our anniversary. We should at least hear him out.”
“Paid back what he owed? You want to talk about money? Fine.”
Thud! The door shot open. Loud stomps rang out, and something smacked Seol Jihu’s face.
Seol Jihu opened his eyes, only to see an envelope falling down with a wad of cash inside.
His father yelled with his finger pointed at him.
“You think the past’s all gone and done now that you returned the money? You want to go back to acting like a son?”
“Shut it! Don’t call me father. I don’t remember having a bastard like you as my son!”
His thunderous roar made his wife flinch. Seol Jihu opened his mouth as calmly as he could.
“Father, I’m sorry, I….”
“I told you to shut it!”
He yelled as if he didn’t want to hear a thing. His anger didn’t seem to reside after all that yelling as his breathing continued to get rough.
“You. I told you before, didn’t I? That you should never do anything ever again to make you apologize or give an excuse.”
His growling way of talking made Seol Jihu shut his mouth.
“Y-You shameless son of a bitch. You think money was the problem? You think everything’s over after throwing us an envelope of money without even a simple explanation!? Huh!?”
“I told you to shut up. I dare you to open your mouth again. I’ll rip it to shreds.”
“Now screw off! I don’t want to see you again!”
Eii! After a loud grunt, Seol Jihu’s father turned around and stomped into the house. His mother chased after him to plead with him. Soon, loud arguing rang out once more, and Seol Jihu bit his lips from rising guilt.
They must have been having fun. I shouldn’t have come.
A heavy silence descended. Seol Wooseok, who was standing still a distance away, scratched the back of his head. Looking at his younger brother standing there like a stone statue, he opened his mouth.
“…You came from work?”
“…Huh? Oh, um, yeah.”
Seol Jihu nodded with a dazed look. He might be mistaken, but Seol Wooseok’s voice seemed to have gotten a tad gentler.
“You should have come a bit earlier. We went to the place you like.”
“Yep. You love their naengmyeon.”
“Ah… well, if I came earlier, you guys probably wouldn’t have eaten anything.”
Seol Wooseok chuckled bitterly.
Seol Jihu swallowed hard. How long had it been since he last held a conversation with his older brother? He didn’t know what to make of it.
Seol Wooseok glanced at the basket in front of the door and opened his mouth.
“Are you busy today too? You’re not planning on going back after just dropping this off, are you?”
“…No, I’ve been waiting for you guys to come back.”
“Then come in.”
Seol Wooseok held up the black plastic bag in his hand.
“Come eat some dessert. It’s ice cream.”
Seol Jihu blinked repeatedly. For a moment, he doubted his own ears.
“I… I can?”
“You came to talk to them, right?”
“God, spare me the bullshit.”
At that moment, a sharp voice cut in between them.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Seol Jinhee walked closer with a sneering smirk on her face.
“Stay out of this, Oppa. Hey, can’t you take a fucking hint?”
She raised her hand and poked Seol Jihu’s chest with her finger. In truth, it was closer to a stab as he flinched in pain.
“You saw what happened last time and you still came? Don’t you get it? ‘I know how they’ll treat me, so I shouldn’t come here again. That’s the least I can do for the people who were once my family’. Didn’t something like this pop into your head? Huh?”
Poke, poke! Because of Seol Jinhee’s repeated stabbing pokes, Seol Jihu stepped backwards without even noticing it.
“If you paid back your debts, please disappear from our lives. You saw how you ruined the atmosphere, right? We’re happy and healthy without you, so why do you come and cause this mess?”
Seol Jihu couldn’t deny it. He could still hear his parents arguing inside the house.
“You. Get. It. Now? Stop trying to crawl back in and fuck off. And don’t ever appear in front of us again. Okay? You get me?”
Poke! Seol Jinhee suddenly stabbed his solar plexus, causing him to bend down and groan.
Seol Wooseok stepped in, unable to watch this any further. However, Seol Jihu raised his hand and stopped him.
He rubbed his solar plexus and forced out a smile.
“I’ll go back for today.”
“Not just for today, but forever. Please.”
Leaving behind Seol Jinhee who harassed him until the end, Seol Jihu staggered towards the staircase. He felt like his brother and sister would start fighting if he stayed any longer, so he figured it would be better for everyone if he just left now.
But just as he was about to walk down the stairs, his eyes met Yoo Seonhwa’s. She seemed to be at a loss for what to do, but she was clearly looking at him with mixed feelings of pity and sympathy.
Unable to endure the sense of humiliation that dawned on him, Seol Jihu quickened his pace. It was then.
He turned around hearing Seol Jinhee’s voice.
Whoosh- The basket came flying towards him.
Clang! After hitting the corner of the concrete stair, the wine bottle shattered with a loud bang. The liquid dripping out from the broken bottle wet the letter Seol Jihu wrote, and the petals of the flowers danced in the air before scattering everywhere.
“You’re going too far!”
“You’re the one to talk, Oppa…!”
The brother and sister finally began fighting. Seol Jihu blankly stared at the liquid spreading out on the concrete before squatting down.
He picked up the flower petals and the pieces of broken glass. He then heard the sound of someone’s footsteps rushing down the stairs. This person squatted down across from him.
“Don’t pick up the broken glass. It’s dangerous.”
Ssk, ssk- She spoke as she swept the broken glass together with her hand. This young woman with long, flowing hair was Yoo Seonhwa.
“Wait here. I’ll go bring a vacuum cleaner.”
Yoo Seonhwa’s hand paused. The piece of broken glass in Seol Jihu’s tightened fist dug into his palm. Blood dripped down to the ground. A crimson liquid began to spread out, and Yoo Seonhwa jumped in surprise seeing the youth’s trembling hand.
“Go back. I’ll clean it up.”
Seol Jihu murmured quietly.
“It’s fine. You can go back.”
“Please, go back. Please.”
Seol Jihu’s calm voice only made Yoo Seonhwa look at him with sorrowful eyes.
He clenched his teeth. Soon, after picking all the flower petals and pieces of broken glass up from the ground, Seol Jihu staggered off like a drunk.
During that entire time, his head remained tilted down.
Time passed and darkness descended on the streets after dusk. Under a streetlight illuminating a street, Kim Hannah stood leaning against her car and looking up at the night sky. It wasn’t until footsteps neared her that she lowered her gaze. Seeing a youth walking closer with a basket in hand, she smiled brightly.
She waited until he got closer before finally opening her mouth.
“If you keep staring at the ground like that, you’re going to run into something.”
The youth came to a stop. Kim Hannah could hear him inhale a small breath.
“…You were waiting?”
Surprisingly, his voice seemed fine.
“I came just in case you ran off elsewhere. Well, judging by that basket, it looks like you really went.”
“You don’t have to keep tabs on me. What are you, a stalker?”
“Stalker? I prefer the word, protector.”
Kim Hannah said with a languid smile.
“How was it?”
“I’m sure you can tell.”
“I can. But do you regret going?”
Seol Jihu didn’t immediately reply. Kim Hannah patiently waited for him. After about five minutes of silence, he finally opened his mouth.
“You know how I… I lived like a piece of trash?”
“In the past.”
“I made a lot of wrongs, too many to be forgiven with just one or two apologies. I deserved everything I got today.”
“Well, you and I both know that.”
“I know I deserved it….”
His voice began to tremble.
“I know I’m the one who’s at fault.”
His shoulders shook.
“I know… all that….”
After listening to him for a while, Kim Hannah took her back off her car and slowly walked forward. She bent forward and looked up at the youth whose face was lowered.
Tk, tk. Seeing the drops of tear flow down his already-wet cheeks, she smiled.
Kim Hannah hugged the silently crying Seol Jihu and patted his back.
“You did well, Jihu.”
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