“It’s just… why would someone like her…"
Seol Wooseok was so stunned that he couldn’t form proper sentences. He started mumbling gibberish about whether everything was just a dream and not really happening.
‘Why is he so surprised?'
"Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. Really! A board member taking such interest in a mere employee… Not to mention she’s a direct family member. Just what on earth did you do to make her this friendly with you? I almost thought she was your girlfriend.”
Seol Jihu paused his breath.
'A board member?'
He had definitely heard that a team leader would come to meet them. The thought that something was very wrong with the situation crept into his mind. Seol Jihu barely swallowed the questions he had from blurting out.
‘A board and a direct family member?’
“Well this is rather unexpected. Do you know her too, Hyung?”
“Of course I do. Our research institute is also involved in pharmaceuticals. You’d be a spy if you didn’t know Yun Seohui."
He had braced his heart for the worst possible scenario, but he almost screamed the moment he heard his brother mention the name ‘Yun Seohui’.
"I still can’t believe my eyes."
That was exactly what Seol Jihu wanted to say as well.
Seol Wooseok waved his hand, and they finally stood up from their seats. After repeatedly shaking his head, Seol Wooseok’s gaze landed on the coffee that Seol Jihu had ordered. Seol Wooseok carefully picked it up and after feeling it up for a while, he licked his lips and took a large sip through the straw.
"Anyways, it’s a relief."
"It should be fine if you’re on Yun Seohui’s side. I don’t know for sure since I’m not a member of Sinyoung, but I still reckon you took a safe bet.”
Seol Jihu slightly gaped his mouth.
"You believe me?"
"…I have to believe."
Seol Wooseok continued while taking glances at the direction Yun Seohui had disappeared to. Seol Jihu didn’t know what exactly was happening, but he decided to think it of it positively. After all, Yun Seohui’s appearance made his brother firmly believe in his employment at Sinyoung.
"Yeah… I have to believe but…."
After a long lull, Seol Wooseok who had repeatedly opened and closed his mouth began to quietly speak.
"Can I be frank?"
Seol Jihu expressed a silent affirmation knowing that what followed would be bitter words.
"Our family is living without any major problems right now.”
Seol Wooseok played with his cup as he continued in a deep but clear voice.
“It’s not that we didn’t have hard times, but we’re living a decent life by supporting each other. And it’s actually a much more stable life than before.”
"Mother does worry about you often since you’re still her child that she gave birth to, but…”
To his family, Seol Jihu was a harbinger of misfortune. Without that misfortune, they were able to find a certain amount of happiness. That was what Seol Jihu interpreted from his brother’s words.
“I think I can understand what Jinhee feels. Our family has been somewhat peaceful without you, but the moment you came back, you brought trouble and chaos.”
It was a fact that he couldn’t deny. Not only did he personally witness it, but he was also the very source of the problem.
"Well, that’s just our family’s position, myself included. From your point of view… Yeah. Looking at you today, I feel that you must have been disappointed that day. You must have mustered up a lot of courage to show up.”
"N-no, it’s not like that, Hyung."
Seol Jihu was about to say something, but he stopped, seeing Seol Wooseok raise his hand.
“Of course, you’re also to blame. You know our father’s personality more than anyone else, don’t you?”
"And you remember what he said?"
Seol Jihu made a bitter expression. How could he forget?
[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?]
“He has a fiery personality, but I fully understand why he was so angry. I’m only now able to think about your point of view after seeing everything with my own eyes. We didn’t have anything to base our beliefs on back then.”
"No matter how positively I try to think of it, what you did was rude. No matter how busy you were, you should have had time to at least make one call.”
"Or do you still think that we should have desperately clung onto you and kept in contact? Like before?”
Seol Jihu shook his head.
Seol Wooseok was right. There was no room for excuses. He was the one asking for forgiveness, and the choice of accepting his apology was with his family. No matter how he looked at it, his actions then weren’t that of a person seeking forgiveness. Like the old adage, the customer should not act like the owner. Like his father had said, what would his family have thought of him just leaving behind a bunch of money without any explanation? He had realized this too late.
Seol Wooseok took the silence as him reflecting on his actions. He clicked his tongue and put down the empty plastic cup.
"Let’s do it like this."
He continued after letting out a deep sigh.
"The money you gave us, we’ll take it. We still have a bit of debt. We’ll use that money to clear it. And the remaining money, I’ll put it into our parent’s or our family’s savings account.”
This was better than nothing, Seol Jihu thought.
Seol Wooseok was not done talking. He could hear him take a deep breath.
"If you want, I’ll try to arrange a meeting.”
Seol Jihu’s eyes widened.
Seol Wooseok made efforts to continue speaking composedly.
"Don’t misunderstand. Seonhwa and mother, I don’t know, but father and Jinhee, I don’t have any confidence. But I’ll still bring it up somehow…”
He looked agonized.
Seol Wooseok couldn’t continue and bit his lower lip. The sounds of a plastic cup getting slightly crushed and teeth grinding could be heard at the same time. In the heavy atmosphere that made him feel his innards were shrinking, Seol Jihu could not open his mouth.
"People around me said…"
Seol Wooseok continued.
“That I was stupid. They’d say, after being fooled dozens of times, just how many more times I’d have to get betrayed to come to my senses.”
'How many more betrayals…'
He had no excuses to offer. Without anything to say, Seol Jihu stared down at the table.
"But the reason I met you today and am saying all this is…”
Seol Wooseok’s voice gradually became smaller.
"…Because I know you were a decent guy.”
Everything suddenly became clear.
“And it’s also because I know that before you fell into gambling, you were a wonderful little brother that I couldn’t be more proud of.”
“That’s right. When Aunty and Uncle passed away in an accident… when I was a self-centered brat that only cared about myself…. when Jinhee was too young to know anything, at that very young age, you stepped out to take care of Seonhwa and Seunghae, gently persuaded us to not make them feel uncomfortable, and brought our parents joy and laughter…”
Seol Wooseok stopped speaking and gently shut his eyes.
Seol Jihu did the same.
That was right. There was definitely a time like that. A time when all of them had gathered together around Seol Jihu’s warmth when they were all confused and hurt from the sudden accident.
“Well, your mischiefs were a little over the top… but you were a really, really good person.”
Seol Wooseok gave a powerless smile that contrasted with his stern face.
“Whenever I remember those times… I get this urge to believe in you one last time…”
And he suddenly lowered his head.
“My little brother."
Seol Jihu barely managed to croak out a reply.
“If you deceive our family and betray us once again…”
Seol Wooseok spoke out his words one by one.
"Then at that time… I don’t think I’ll be able to hold on either.”
And he finally revealed his true feelings.
It was only then that Seol Jihu realized what Seol Wooseok was afraid of. The unexpected confession and the sight of his brother’s neck trembling while he talked caused Seol Jihu’s face to harden.
“Hyung. I really…”
Seol Jihu was about to say, ‘I really don’t know how to say it. I’m sorry. I’ll seek forgiveness no matter what it takes—’ before suddenly stopping.
He saw Seol Wooseok clenching his teeth.
He had come here with the resolve of getting cussed at. It would have been better if that were the case. He couldn’t fathom what his brother might be feeling as he talked to him, so Seol Jihu didn’t know what to do.
"Can I… trust you?”
So he changed his words.
"Don’t expect anything."
Seol Wooseok’s eyes widened.
"And you don’t need to persuade them.”
"What do you mean?"
Seol Jihu calmly opened his mouth to explain as Seol Wooseok’s voice rose.
“What I’m saying is, I don’t even have the right to have anything expected from me at the moment."
Seol Jihu could clearly draw the relationship between him and his family now.
That of a perpetrator and his victims.
Even if the perpetrator became regretful and sincerely sought for forgiveness, there was no law forcing the victims to accept that apology. Seol Jihu may have quit gambling and repaid all the money that he borrowed, but the wounds that he had afflicted in the past went deep and did not disappear.
Seol Jihu spoke with a never-before-seen expression.
"There’s a verse in the Bible.”
"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you. Matthew 7:12.”
"What’s this all of a sudden?"
“I know that I've already received enough care back when I fell into gambling. Much more than enough, actually.”
Father, mother, brother, sister, Seonhwa, and even Seunghae. The six of them tried their hardest to save him, but the one who rejected their help was Seol Jihu himself.
"To suddenly ask them to give me another chance or to trust in me once again… that’s just shameless.”
"So what do you plan to do?”
Seol Wooseok asked with a softer tone.
Seol Jihu replied without hesitation.
"Now it’s time for me to serve them.”
If his family wished so, Seol Jihu would unceasingly seek forgiveness several hundreds of times, even if it took him over 10 years. Through whatever method it took, until their hearts were pacified.
"So what you’re saying is—"
Seol Wooseok spoke to confirm.
“That if there isn’t anything to expect in the first place, there won’t be any disappointment.”
"And you’ll continue to serve… or treat us regardless and will leave the choice of receiving that to us.”
"And if we end up not accepting you?”
Seol Wooseok asked sharply.
What will he do when they won’t even accept his apology? This was also simple.
He wouldn't appear in front of them ever again like they wished for. That was the greatest service Seol Jihu could do for them, and he did not want his family to be divided and have their peace destroyed. He would lay everything down and wait for his family’s decision.
All of this was according to the Golden Rule, so Seol Jihu responded in a soft, unwavering voice.
“I’ll never resent my family, ever. I was the one who threw away my chance. And it’s all my fault that I’m receiving this treatment.”
Seol Wooseok stared at his little brother who let out a deep breath. Hearing that he would serve them made him feel a bit weird.
"…Are you serious?"
He wasn’t so stupid to not understand what he meant.
"Do you really think that?”
Seol Jihu silently nodded his head.
Seol Wooseok who had been staring dubiously let out a slightly hoarse voice.
"Okay, I understand.”
His face seemed a little more relaxed.
"If you really think that way, then I won’t try to persuade them.”
"So when is your first act of service going to be?”
At the sound of the voice that had a tinge of playfulness.
"When I clear my debt."
Seol Jihu showed a faint smile.
“I think that’s the minimal qualification.”
Seol Wooseok who had been nodding his head suddenly made a small smile.
He let out a small laugh.
And he put down the crumpled plastic cup and held out his hand.
"Then, do your best.”
Seol Jihu, who had an expression of being caught off guard, carefully grabbed the extended hand. He hadn’t known, but the hands of his brother which he hadn’t held in a long time were warm.
The brothers firmly shook hands for a while.
After parting, Seol Jihu made a call to Kim Hannah on his way home. He wanted to thank her and ask her something while he was at it. But he could only hear an endless dialing tone, and no matter how much he waited, the call didn’t connect.
He didn’t think that Kim Hannah schemed what happened today. It was rather highly probable that Yun Seohui intruded by her own will. The results weren’t too bad, but the question of why she decided to show up still lingered in his mind.
'I don’t know.'
He would probably find out later.
Mumbling the words to himself, Seol Jihu messed up his hair. He had just completed a major task, so he didn’t want to overthink things. His whole body felt drained and his legs were shaking, but he felt completely different from before. Did he feel lighter?
His phone suddenly rang. He hurriedly turned on the screen, thinking it was Kim Hannah, but it was a text from his brother. The text said to go home safely and work on staying healthy.
Seol Jihu opened and closed his right hand twice before replying to the text with a smile on his face. Then he stopped in his tracks and tilted his head up. Looking at the blazing red sky as the sun slowly set made his heart feel relaxed.
He didn’t run away.
He had conveyed his stance to the best of his abilities. Just that alone made him feel that today’s meeting didn’t turn out too bad.
It wasn’t hard. So why had he avoided it so far?
A moment later.
Seol Jihu boldly stepped forward, feeling the gentle wind brush against his body.
Finally, it finally felt like he returned to Earth.
After concluding his problems with his family, Seol Jihu spent his days productively. If there was one thing that worried him, it was the fact that Kim Hannah could not be reached. But she had said so herself that she would be busy and there was also the possibility that she had already entered Paradise, so he decided to wait.
Besides that, he had a lot of things he had to think about concerning the status of his body and had to somewhat plan his future growth direction. But this didn’t mean that he holed himself up in his room lazing in front of his laptop.
If he needed a change of mood, he would go out for a walk or buy items to take to Paradise. One day, he spent the whole day just to buy presents for people. He had heard that several people had put front a tremendous amount of effort to save his life, and it didn’t feel right to just show his gratitude with words alone.
And when he got bored, he toyed around with Phi Sora.
[Excuse me. Is this Seol Jihu’s phone? If it is, please reply back.]
Speaking of which, he had forgotten to reply.
Seol Jihu was about to reply, ‘Who is this?’, before thinking it was too bland and wrote a new text.
[Is this you, Soojung?]
[So it is Soojung! Soojung, it’s me, Oppa. You finally decided to contact me?]
[I’m not Soojung. I believe I’ve mistaken the number. Sorry.]
And Phi Sora stopped messaging him from that point on. She didn’t respond no matter how many texts Seol Jihu sent her.
'You’re going to ignore me, huh.’
Seol Jihu’s lips curled up into a smirk.
[Event! Make a nickname for people with the last name ‘Phi’! The person who submits the most amazing nickname will be given a vacation voucher at a Phi-summer resort! Ex: Phi-ji, Phi-shi, Phi-za, Phi-cock, Phi Colo….] 
A reply immediately arrived.
[Who are you? Are you that person?]
[No. I’m Chubby.]
[Chubby? What bullshit is this. Are you Seol Jihu?]
[No. I’m Chubby.]
[Fuck, what’s with Chubby. Dear, it is you!]
[I guess I’m caught! Actually, my first name is Deer, and my last name is Park. Nice to meet you, I’m Deer Park.]
Buzz buzz buzz buzz!
The phone violently shook. But because it was obvious what he would have to hear if he picked up, he calmly pressed the decline button.
[What? Did you go crazy? Are you texting me after gulping down soju with a spoon? Or did your brain get fried? Are you a fucking 1-year-old child? Why are you being so childish…]
And because he didn’t accept the call, he received a long text filled with all sorts of profanity.
Seol Jihu’s fingers started typing without reading the rest.
[Aigoo~ This young’un has one heck of a foul mouth. Ahem. Don’t be so mean. I almost sulked.]
[Sulk or not, do whatever you want. And what do you mean, mean? You’re the one who joked with my name!]
Buzz buzz buzz buzz!
His phone started to violently ring again. Pressing the decline button, Seol Jihu giggled to himself as he wrote another text.
[I’m going to go back tomorrow.]
[Fuck! Pick up the fucking phone, you son of a bitch!]
After laughing like a steaming pressure cooker for a while, Seol Jihu threw aside his phone and went under the blanket.
He fell asleep under the symphony of buzzing sounds. The fact that he pissed off Phi Sora filled him with so much glee that he slept soundly without waking up even once during the night.
And then the night passed and morning came. Finally it was the day he could go back to Paradise.
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