The time was 6 p.m.
Seol Jihu finally arrived at his parents’ house.
Stopping in front of the main entrance, Seol Jihu stood still for a long time with his head dropped.
His heart pounded from fear of what was to come.
Looking back, every time he came back home, he had left thinking, ‘I shouldn’t have come.’
Would it be any different this time?
He didn’t think so. That’s why he hesitated.
Standing like a stone statue for some time, a laugh escaped Seol Jihu’s mouth.
In Paradise, he was a hero who was welcomed and acknowledged by everyone. But on Earth… he was no different than unrecyclable trash.
That’s what made him laugh.
“What are you doing there?”
Seol Jihu raised his head.
How long had he been there for? Seol Wooseok was standing on the staircase, looking down at him.
“You said you’d be here by six. Were you just standing there for thirty minutes? Did your shoes get glued to the ground or something?”
Seol Wooseok chuckled before coming down and opening the main entrance.
He scanned Seol Jihu from top to bottom, then whistled.
“Iya~ You’re all dressed up in a suit. Is it because it’s Mother’s birthday? I see that you brought gifts too.”
“Well, it’s Mother’s birthday and it’s also been a while…”
“You have something for me too?”
“Of course. It’s nothing expensive though, so don’t look forward to it too much.”
“Haha, thanks. You just came back from overseas, right? Aren’t you tired?”
“Didn’t you say you went on a business trip? You didn’t go overseas?”
Seol Wooseok asked with widened eyes.
Seol Jihu shook his head.
“No, it was domestic. I never went overseas. Though, I might relatively soon.”
“Ah… I see. It was so hard to get in touch with you that I figured you weren’t in Korea.”
“Ah, that makes sense.”
Seol Jihu nodded strongly.
“Even the Reserve Forces called, you know.”
“Ah, don’t worry about that. I took care of it. Sinyoung has a workplace reserve force unit, so I’m transferring there.”
“You should have done that earlier. Anyway, let’s go in. Mother’s been waiting for a while now. Seonhwa and Seunghae are here as well.”
Seol Wooseok looked back at the house and then pulled on Seol Jihu’s arm. The latter resisted slightly and objected.
“Hyung, wait. I gave this some thought, and—”
“It’s fine. I already let them know.”
“But today’s supposed to be a day of celebration. I can come back some other time…”
“Today is a day of celebration. That’s why we should have more good things happen. Are you really going to go back after coming all the way here?”
Before he noticed, Seol Jihu found himself walking up the staircase and standing at the front door.
Seol Wooseok punched in the password while holding onto Seol Jihu’s arm.
“You told me, remember? That you’d visit once you finished paying off your debt.”
“I know. You must be uncomfortable. But there’s going to be no end to this if you keep putting it off because of guilt. If you really want to seek forgiveness, don’t run away. We can’t forgive you if you don’t come ask for our forgiveness.”
Seol Jihu couldn’t argue because he knew his brother was right.
“Come in. And this time, make it clear. That you quit gambling and are working diligently.”
Seol Wooseok said encouragingly, then turned the doorknob.
Seol Jihu still hadn’t prepared his heart, but the door opened cold-heartedly.
He first saw a middle-aged woman fidgeting nervously in deep concern. She jolted when she saw the door open, and her jaw dropped when she caught sight of Seol Jihu.
Seol Jihu’s mouth opened slightly, but no sound came out.
Seol Wooseok said clearly.
“Aigoo, aigoo, my son… my second baby…”
Seol Jihu’s mother walked up to him and squeezed his arm.
“Aigoo, how can you not call even once until now? Do you have any idea how worried I was?”
“I’m sorry. I should have come visit sooner…”
“He said he wouldn’t show up until he paid off his debts. I’m sure he’ll visit more often from now on.”
Seol Wooseok said with a smile.
Their mother couldn’t take her eyes off her second son, whom she hadn’t seen for a long time.
Staring fixedly, she reached out with her hands and gently caressed Seol Jihu’s face.
Seol Jihu stiffened up at a loss for what to do. Seeing her eyes glistening with tears, he felt guilty just meeting her eyes.
“Mother, the food is going to go bad.”
Thankfully, Seol Wooseok stepped in.
“Ah, I almost forgot.”
She laughed cheerfully.
“What am I doing just making you stand there? Come in, Jihu, come in. Let’s eat first.”
Seol Wooseok passed the baton to his mother, and Seol Jihu was pulled inside once again.
His heart beast faster and faster and his mind was in chaos.
But when he arrived at the dinner table, his heart sank.
Three people were already sitting at the table.
Yoo Seonhwa, who was staring at him calmly; Yoo Seunghae, who was nervously clutching her older sister’s hand; and Seol Jinhee, who was glaring at him fiercely.
He couldn’t see his father anywhere.
“Sit here, Jihu. You must be hungry. Hurry and eat.”
His mother pulled out the chair next to Yoo Seonhwa.
Seol Jihu couldn’t sit right away.
He hesitated while looking at the shopping bags in his left and right hands.
“It’s fine. Hurry and sit.”
Noticing his hesitation, his mother urged him again with a gentle voice.
“Hmph,” Seol Jinhee snorted. But just as she was about to say something—
“Hey, what did you bring?”
Yoo Seonhwa beat her to the punch.
“Hm? Ah, it’s Mother’s birthday, and…”
“You brought sweet potato cake? It’s handmade too. It must have been expensive…”
Seol Jihu was a bit taken aback that Yoo Seonhwa was talking to him so nonchalantly.
“It’s better than the one I or Wooseok Oppa brought, and sweet potato cake is your favorite too…. Mother, why don’t we use Jihu’s cake for the birthday song later?”
“Of course. But jeez, he brought so many things. He could have come empty-handed…”
“Eii, it’s Mother’s birthday. I can tell Jihu’s spent a lot of effort picking these out.”
“So embarrassing… Anyway, give those here and take a seat. I’ll go put the cake in the fridge.”
“N-No, I’ll do it.”
Seol Jihu tried to head to the kitchen, but he was stopped by his mother as she took the shopping bags from him.
“Sit. We’ve been starving waiting for you to come.”
Yoo Seonhwa tapped on the seat, and only then did Seol Jihu hesitantly sit down.
The six people finally sat down around the dinner table.
“Ah, I’m starving. We can eat now that Jihu’s here, right?”
Yoo Seonhwa said casually as an awkward silence filled the atmosphere.
Seol Jihu’s mother smiled brightly and nodded.
“Of course, go ahead. You too, Jihu.”
“Wow, you really pulled out your best recipes for Jihu. Everything looks amazing.”
Only when Yoo Seonhwa nonchalantly mentioned this did Seol Jihu see what was actually on the table.
All sorts of delectable dishes were laid out on the table.
They were all food that Seol Jihu loved.
“Thanks for the food~”
Yoo Seonhwa said in a bright voice and reached her chopsticks out.
Yoo Seunghae, who kept stealing glances at Seol Jihu, also carefully picked up her utensils.
Seol Wooseok also took a spoonful of soup, then grinned.
“This is great. Having Jihu here really changes the flavor.”
“Wooseok, when did I…”
“If only you showed off your skills normally. Hey, you should try some too. It’s incredible.”
Seol Wooseok said casually. Thanks to him, the cold atmosphere seemed to melt bit by bit.
Seol Jihu carefully picked up his spoon before pausing.
A stinging gaze pierced his face.
Seol Jinhee was glaring at him with an expressionless, spiteful gaze.
Although her mouth was tightly shut, Seol Jihu didn’t need to hear her out to know exactly what she was thinking.
‘What qualification does someone like you have to eat Mom’s food?’ must be what she’s thinking.
Recalling the highway rest area incident, Seol Jihu was about to place down his spoon, when—
“What’s up, Jinhee?”
Yoo Seonhwa said to Seol Jinhee.
“You should eat, too. The food’s going to go cold. You don’t want to miss it.”
“It’s good! Why, are you feeling unwell? Do you want to go rest inside your room?”
Seol Jinhee heaved a dumbfounded sigh.
She took her eyes off Seol Jihu just barely, then picked up her chopsticks in a snatching motion.
Yoo Seonhwa glanced at Seol Jihu fidgeting with his utensils before picking up a large, juicy piece of steamed short ribs.
“Anyway, aren’t you being too adamant? I thought you’d call me at least once.”
“The offer I made. You know, about working at the cafe together. Eh, judging by that face, you must have forgotten all about it.”
Seol Jihu blinked twice. He vaguely remembered Yoo Seonhwa making such an offer. He had forgotten about it because he had no interest in it.
“Ah, I found myself with a large sum of extra money some time back because Jihu paid off his debts in one go.”
As everyone’s gaze fell on Yoo Seonhwa, she explained as if it was nothing.
“I tried to coax him into running the business with me.”
Seol Wooseok looked shaken. Their mother was shocked, and Seol Jinhee was alarmed.
“U-Unni, are you serious? Are you crazy?”
Yoo Seonhwa ignored her and continued.
“But he declined right away.”
“Yep. I thought he’d take the bait if I waved it right in front of him, but he refused right away. I thought he was just acting proud and would call me back in a couple of days, but never mind calling, he didn’t even text me.”
Their mother’s complexion brightened.
Seol Wooseok nodded his head in satisfaction, clearly thinking, ‘I knew it. I was right.’
Seol Jihu looked at Yoo Seonhwa in a renewed way.
He didn’t expect this at all.
He was prepared for the worst given all the horrible things he had done to Yoo Seonhwa, but for some reason, she was welcoming him.
He could tell just by how she covered for him.
“You must really like your current workplace.”
Yoo Seonhwa removed the bone from a piece of short rib, cut it in half, and placed one into her mouth and the other on Seol Jihu’s plate.
“…Yeah, it’s hard, but fun. I’m enjoying it there.”
“That’s not good. If you enjoy working too much, you’ll become a workaholic.”
Yoo Seonhwa smiled bitterly, then gestured at his bowl of rice.
Encouraged by her consideration, Seol Jihu took a spoonful of rice. And when he placed the steaming rice into his mouth along with the well-cooked braised short rib, he closed his eyes unknowingly.
Seol Jihu found the food delicious without even the slightest exaggeration.
It had been so long since he had his mother’s homemade food that he almost teared up.
His pounding heart had also stopped.
That wasn’t all.
“Oh yeah, how did you end up getting into Sinyoung?”
“Yeah, tell us a bit about it. I’m sure Mother is dying to know as well.”
Yoo Seonhwa and Seol Wooseok talked to him constantly. Seol Jihu knew they were trying their best not to make the atmosphere awkward.
Thanks to their show of goodwill, Seol Jihu opened up more and more.
“I just got to know them through work…”
“Actually, what I want to know is how you know Director Yun Seohui and Manager Yun Seora.”
“Huh? How does Hyung know Miss Yun Seora… or rather, Manager Yun?”
“You weren’t picking up my calls at all, so I called your company and your manager picked up. She praised you like there was no tomorrow.”
“Yep. She was so excited when she was talking about you that I thought she was bragging about her own kid. She sent a card and a present for Mother’s birthday too. Also, she said you saved her life? What does that mean?”
“…She said all that, huh.”
Seol Jihu shook his head. He appreciated Yun Seora’s compliments, but it seemed she said something unnecessary.
Seol Wooseok observed Seol Jihu carefully, then asked.
“Speaking of which, there are some things I heard through the grapevine… Do you have something big going on at work?”
“I know you’re in Miss Yun Seora’s team, but Miss Yun Seohui was pretty close to you too. I don’t know the details, but I heard Sinyoung’s inner structure is complex. Director Yun Seohui had everything under her grasp, but I also heard Manager Yun Seora is doing quite well recently.”
Seol Jihu blinked. His older brother knew Sinyoung’s inner hierarchy better than he thought.
“How do you know all that?”
“I’m the manager of Haesol Research Institute. I hear news about people in the same line of work whether good or bad. Especially if it’s a large corporation like Sinyoung.”
That made sense.
But Seol Jihu couldn’t help but wonder if Seol Wooseok was probing him because he was also an Earthling.
“I’m not a fan of this Yun Seohui person.”
At that moment, Yoo Seonhwa cut in.
Seol Jihu furrowed his brows.
“You know her?”
“No, how would I know her?”
“Then why do you say that?”
“No reason. I just don’t like her name. But don’t forget it. You know my intuition is pretty good, right?”
Seol Jihu acknowledged it readily.
“Still, don’t worry too much.”
“Oh? Where is this confidence coming from? Aren’t you just an employee?”
When Seol Jihu spoke plainly, Seol Wooseok showed a hint of surprise.
“Well, to tell you the truth, that problem was a bit stressful in the beginning.”
“I’m sure it was. Office politics are like that.”
“I wasn’t a fan of that. You know, other people forcing me to take a side when I just want to focus on my work.”
“Not something you can control, is it?”
“That’s why I gritted my teeth and swore to get strong so as to avoid any underhanded schemes.”
“Oh? You’re talking like you got yourself a strong backer.”
“I wouldn’t say that… but I can just quit if things go wrong. There are plenty of people who want me.”
Seol Jihu muttered as he stuffed his mouth with a spoonful of rice.
Talking while eating made the food all the more delicious.
Their mother gently closed her eyes as she watched Seol Jihu, Seol Wooseok, and Yoo Seonhwa chat.
She was indescribably moved.
Just how long had she waited to see this scene once again?
She felt like she returned to the happy days of the past.
However, her jubilant mood died down when she saw the empty seat at the table.
Soon, she got up quietly, making an excuse of going to the bathroom. She then opened the master bedroom door and went in.
Inside, the father of the family was lying on the bed, watching TV.
“Dear, are you really going to do this?”
She sat down on the corner of the bed and pleaded.
“Jihu mustered up his courage to come. He’s walking on eggshells because you’re not there…”
“At least come show your face and hear him out. Seonhwa said she offered to have her cafe be signed under both of their names and that he declined right away. The old Jihu would never have done such a thing.”
There was no reply.
The father continued to watch TV with a stone-cold expression.
He muttered gruffly in reply when the mother raised her voice.
“I’m doing what you wanted, aren’t I? You told me not to come out.”
“I don’t wanna see that bastard’s face either. Just seeing him drives me mad. What, you still want me to come out?”
He said curtly.
“I’m only holding it in because it’s your birthday and because Wooseok begged me when he never once made a request of me his entire life. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have let that bastard step one foot inside this house!”
“I’m boiling with rage right now, but I’m suppressing myself. If you understand that, don’t ask me to come out. I feel like I’m going to blow up every time I hear his voice.”
With that, he turned around and faced the wall.
The mother tried talking to him a few more times, but he didn’t even reply and only raised the volume of the TV.
In the end, she sighed and left, quietly closing the door behind her.
She returned to the dinner table with a troubled look on her face, then met Seol Jihu’s eyes.
She quickly put on a smile.
“You’re eating well. Doesn’t Sinyoung feed you?”
“N-No, I eat every meal. I guess your food is still the best.”
“Haha, do you want more?”
She took Seol Jihu’s bowl without even waiting for a response and filled it with rice until it formed a small mound.
It was a lot, but Seol Jihu didn’t refuse. He felt like he could eat however much he wanted because the food was better than anything he had in Paradise.
It was then.
“Mom, do you hear these squeaks?”
Seol Jinhee asked, taking advantage of a brief lull in their conversation.
“Squeaks? You mean like a mouse’s?”
“Yep, I think there’s a rat stealing our food.”
She spoke as if she had been waiting wholeheartedly for this moment.
Seol Jihu paused.
The atmosphere suddenly froze.
Though she didn’t say it outright, everyone knew who she was referring to.
Seol Jinhee raised the corner of her mouth. She had been gritting her teeth looking for an opportunity to cut in, but couldn’t because of Yoo Seonhwa and Seol Wooseok constantly talking to Seol Jihu.
“You’ve eaten enough, so why don’t you go back? Way to be so tactless. I don’t know what I expected from a rat.”
“Where’d you lose your conscience? On one of your thieving sprees? I’m surprised you can swallow all that food. I guess you’ve forgotten about all the shit you’ve pulled.”
Their mother shouted.
Seol Wooseok’s voice also turned cold.
Seol Jinhee twisted her mouth defiantly. Giving a sidelong scowl at Seol Jihu, she turned to Yoo Seonhwa and raised her voice.
“Oh yeah, Unni! What happened with that?”
“You know what I’m talking about. I introduced you to a guy last time, remember?”
Seol Jinhee smiled.
“It’s about time you get yourself a man.”
“That Oppa is super famous in my department. He was the campus model! His face and figure are top-notch, his personality is great, and he’s from a wealthy family. He wasn’t interested in other women, but when I showed him one of your pictures, it was love at first sight for him—”
Tak. The sound of chopsticks hitting the table rang out.
Seol Jinhee trailed off before she could finish saying, ‘He begged me sooo much~’
Yoo Seonhwa was staring at her with an expressionless face.
Seol Jinhee knew Yoo Seonhwa well enough to know that this was what she did when she was angry.
“…Yeah, you did introduce him to me. Without me ever asking for such a thing.”
Her voice was cold.
“I clearly rejected him, saying I didn’t have the time to be dating because I was busy with opening my cafe. But you gave that psycho son of a bitch my cafe address as well.”
“Then he actually came to the cafe and asked to see me, giving your name as reference. I told him there was a misunderstanding and told him to go back, but then he freaked the hell out and threw a fit, so I had to call the cops on him. I thought I already told you.”
“No, I mean…”
“You apologized to me multiple times for that incident. Saying you didn’t know he was like that. You also said you’d never do it again, remember?”
“You and I both know this, and it should be a thing of the past, so why are you suddenly bringing it up?”
Seol Jinhee became lost for words. To be completely honest, she was trying to provoke Seol Jihu, knowing how much head-over-heels he was for Yoo Seonhwa, but Yoo Seonhwa’s reaction was slightly different than what she was expecting.
“You’re obviously trying to provoke Jihu or make him uncomfortable. But that’s the best you could come up with?”
Seol Jinhee frowned as Yoo Seonhwa exposed her intent in a sharp tone.
“Do you have to put it that way, Unni?”
“Why? Am I wrong?”
“Unni… Are you fine with this? Why are you doing this? Are you two back together or something?”
“That’s not something for you to worry about.”
Yoo Seonhwa replied coldly.
“I understand that you’re angry. Then you should talk to Jihu afterward. What are you doing at your mother’s birthday celebration? Don’t you see her face? Have you thought about her feelings?”
“Be quiet. Don’t raise your voice.”
Seol Jinhee clenched her teeth.
“The matter between Jihu and me is something for us to deal with. You don’t need to butt in unnecessarily. Don’t try to use our relationship to vent your anger either. Got that?”
Yoo Seonhwa said decisively.
She was the same, both now and in the past, and hated others interfering in her relationship.
Seol Jinhee shot up from her seat angrily.
She was so frustrated that her eyes were welling up in tears.
Not having expected to be treated in this way, she grew spiteful and glared at Seol Jihu hatefully. Then, just as she was about to hurl more insults—
“Try saying just one more thing.”
Yoo Seonhwa shot back at her sharply.
“Leave if you’re not going to sit still and eat quietly. Don’t ruin the mood.”
Seol Jinhee turned around and ran off at the speed of light.
Koong, koong, koong, koong! Loud stomps rang out consecutively from the stairs.
KWANG! It was then followed by the sound of a door being slammed shut.
Still, Seol Jinhee had achieved her intended goal.
The joyous mood had plummeted to a new low.
“Why’d she have to bring that up all of a sudden? Ehew…”
Seol Wooseok murmured as he locked his fingers behind his head.
Seol Jihu said with a bitter smile.
“Don’t be too harsh on Jinhee. It’s my fault anyway…”
“Well… the highway incident was really bad…”
Seol Wooseok scratched his head.
“…Anyway, now that we’re on this topic, what about you? Do you have a girlfriend?”
Seol Wooseok asked to liven the atmosphere again.
“There’s no way he does…”
Yoo Seunghae muttered softly. Seol Wooseok widened his eyes, hearing her speak out for the first time.
“Jihu Oppa having a new girlfriend?”
“Why? Jihu’s not bad, and I’m not just saying this as his older brother.”
“No, that’s not the problem.”
“Mm… how should I put this…”
Yoo Seunghae trailed off as she stole glances at Yoo Seonhwa.
“I doubt anyone can handle Jihu Oppa at this point… Thanks to a certain someone…”
“What are you trying to get at, Seunghae?”
Yoo Seonhwa asked kindly. She spoke with the voice of an angel, but Yoo Seunghae hiccuped and shook her head immediately.
Then, she shut her mouth.
Even then, she continued to give Seol Jihu pitying glances.
But thanks to Yoo Seunghae, the atmosphere livened up a bit, and Seol Jihu showed a faint smile.
“No one has asked me to officially go out yet. I haven’t really thought about it either.”
“When you say ‘officially’ and ‘yet’, does that mean you have someone in mind?”
Yoo Seonhwa asked in a playful tone while giving him a coy look.
Seol Jihu felt a prick in his conscience.
“S-Someone in mind?”
“You’re avoiding my eyes. It must be true then. Why, did you meet a pretty, kind-hearted, big-breasted woman who spoils you at your work?
Seol Jihu jumped in a startle.
“S-Spoil me? N-No, I was scolded not that long ago.”
“Uh, he’s at the company as a consultant of sorts… He’s old. A grandpa. He’s usually strict and serious, but he’s still nice to me. I love working with him.”
“Mmn, since you’re saying all that… I can picture what kind of person he is.”
Yoo Seonhwa nodded her head.
“He seems like a nice person. You should heed his advice. Treat him well too. Don’t disappoint him.”
Yoo Seonhwa smiled faintly.
“Just my intuition.”
She looked at Seol Jihu and winked.
Though there was a bit of a hiccup, the dinner ended without a hitch.
Seol Jihu washed the dishes, Seol Wooseok prepared fruits, and Yoo Seonhwa cut the cake.
The group gathered around the table to sing ‘happy birthday’, then they took some time to open up the presents Seol Jihu brought.
As he brought a gift for everyone, the atmosphere was quite lively.
Seol Wooseok took one look at his new wallet and swapped out his money and cards on the spot.
Yoo Seonhwa looked at a pair of underwear and nodded her head approvingly.
Yoo Seunghae twinkled her eyes looking at a brand new makeup set.
Everyone seemed happy.
Seol Jihu responded to their words of thanks with a silent smile.
It was fun, but a little unfamiliar at the same time.
He recalled such a sight being common in the past, but now, having everyone laughing and talking in one place seemed new.
What was important was that the thought of returning to Paradise was nonexistent in Seol Jihu’s current mind.
He found it mysterious no matter how much he thought about it.
It was at this moment that he caught sight of his mother happily hugging the red pajamas he bought her.
He bought other, more expensive things for her as well, but she was examining the pajamas excitedly like it was some sort of treasure.
Staring at her blankly, Seol Jihu quietly said.
“Hm? Yes, son?”
“There’s… something I want to tell you. To be honest, I…”
‘Huh?’ Seol Jihu doubted his ears.
He instantly raised his lowered head. His mother was looking at him with a gentle smile.
“I heard everything from Wooseok. Aren’t you working for a proper company now?”
“And you paid off your debts.”
“And you really quit going to the casino?”
“Yes… I won’t go to the casino ever again. Until the day I die.”
“Good. Then it’s fine.”
She smiled brightly.
“Wooseok said it was true too, and that’s enough for me. There’s nothing else that I want. I always knew my son would eventually pull himself out of the mire.”
Seol Jihu dropped his jaw, then closed it again.
He couldn’t look his mother in the eyes.
Looking back, she was always like that. Loving, trusting, and supporting him unconditionally.
He had let her down and betrayed her countless times. Just how much did he hurt her with his actions?
[You don’t understand your parents’ feelings even the slightest bit…!]
It was just as Jang Maldong said.
His mother must have a lot of things she wanted to say, yet she prepared a feast because he came back, and showed unwavering love for him.
Seol Jihu couldn’t begin to fathom just what she must be feeling on the inside.
He could only clench his teeth and cover his face with his hands.
“Don’t worry. I’m really fine. I’m your mother. If I can’t understand your feelings, who would?”
She gently patted his back.
“You just have to make sure never to do it again…”
While Seol Jihu did his best to pull himself together, she gazed at the master bedroom.
A deep sigh escaped her mouth in secret. She clearly looked like she wanted her husband to come out.
Noticing this, Seol Wooseok slowly sat down next to Seol Jihu.
“Wooseok, it’s fine. Don’t—”
“I just have something to talk to Jihu about real quick. What are you going to do?”
Seol Jihu slowly raised his head and looked at the master bedroom. He knew his father was home.
It was just that…
“You’re going to see him, right?”
Seol Jihu didn’t answer.
Instead, he slowly got up from the couch.
He walked toward the master bedroom.
Seol Wooseok told him.
Jang Maldong also told him.
To see his parents.
To at least give them a proper explanation.
Though he thought this— Seol Jihu stopped in front of the door.
It wasn’t that the thought of going back didn’t cross his mind.
This was enough for him to go back and tell Jang Maldong that he went to see his family.
Maybe this would be better for everyone involved as well.
Such temptations made him hesitate.
But every time he tried to rationalize his thoughts…
[Saying something so laughable… Are you in any position to be making that decision…?]
[You almost ruined other people’s lives as if your life wasn’t enough, and you’re saying what?]
[You think money was the problem? You think everything’s over after throwing them an envelope of money?]
Jang Maldong’s scolding resounded in his head like thunder and scattered the vile thoughts away.
Though his hands started to shake, though his heart began to pound, Seol Jihu took a deep breath.
Seol Wooseok and Jang Maldong seemed to be pushing his back to hurry up.
Following this force, Seol Jihu knocked on the door and turned the door in a trance.
As the master bedroom door opened, he slowly walked in and closed the door behind him.
A movie was playing on the TV. It was a famous movie that even Seol Jihu recognized.
Seol Jihu stared at the TV endlessly before slowly turning his gaze.
His father was lying on the bed, staring fixedly at the TV screen.
He must have heard the knock or the sound of him coming in, yet he wasn’t even sparing him a glance.
He cursed him out in the past but didn’t ignore him. Like the saying, indifference is more fearful than criticism, his intent was clear.
Never mind ignoring having a second son, he was refusing to even acknowledge his existence.
‘Just what should I say?’
Seol Jihu stood silently for a while at a complete loss for words.
Eventually, he decided to get his honest thoughts off his chest.
“I’m not saying that I am ashamed of getting addicted to gambling and hurting everyone.”
“Of course, I regret that too… but I’m ashamed that I only came to see you now.”
His father still didn’t say anything.
He must have steeled his resolve to ignore anything Seol Jihu said as he kept his eyes fixed on the TV.
“To be honest, I didn’t want to come.”
Seol Jihu continued quietly.
“You were the one who said so, Father. That I should never do something to feel sorry for again. But I couldn’t keep that promise, so I figured… maybe it would be better if I never showed up in front of you again.”
Suddenly, a scoff rang out.
“Well, you thought well.”
His father finally spoke.
“That’s the best news I’ve heard all day. So then what’s the reason you crawled in here?”
“If you did as you said, I would have at least thought you had a sliver of conscience left in you.”
“…Because I was ashamed.”
“If you know that… No, never mind. I’m done being tricked by your words.”
“To tell you the truth, I got scolded. I even got beat up.”
Seol Jihu smiled faintly.
It was a sorrowful smile.
“There’s an old grandpa at my workplace. I told him about my situation… and he got furious and raised his cane at me. He said I shouldn’t be making the decision so shamelessly when I almost ruined other people’s lives. Strangely enough, he said the same thing you did. That I shouldn’t think this matter is done and over with just because I returned the money I owed.”
Seol Jihu lowered his gaze.
“That I should put myself in your shoes… So I did. And I finally understood how much of an idiot I was back then.”
Right, Seol Jihu felt a lump in his heart whenever he thought about his last visit. It was so stifling and suffocating that he wanted to run away, saying it wasn’t going to work out.
No, he had been running away.
[Back then I, what? I? See that!? You caused them so much grief for years, yet you’re not even thinking about their feelings and only thinking about yourself!]
After being scolded by Jang Maldong, he suddenly had a different thought.
‘Have I… ever begged for their forgiveness?’
No, he never did.
He never said that he was wrong, that he was sorry.
Afraid of being rejected, he made excuses for himself, thinking someone like him didn’t deserve to be forgiven. So, he never said it out loud.
He just hoped his family would understand him after seeing his money, after seeing him timid and scared.
…What a goddamned fool he was.
During a brief lull, a sound floated out from the movie playing on the TV screen.
—How can you forgive him?
—Even if I want to, I can’t.
—That guy said he’s been forgiven already.
Seol Jihu spoke.
“In the movie… the female lead goes to the prison where the murderer who killed her son is locked up.”
“But what the murderer says to her is pretty shocking. He says that God already forgave him. Even though… before forgiving himself or seeking God for his forgiveness, he should be asking the victim for forgiveness…. I initially cursed him out, seeing how he unloaded the burden from his chest on his own. But when I thought about it carefully…”
Seol Jihu gave a bitter smile.
“I was no different than the murderer.”
“I wasn’t in any position to be cursing anyone. I’m ashamed that I learned that only now.”
In truth, Seol Jihu knew that doing this wouldn’t change anything.
Perhaps he might never repair his broken relationship with his family.
But he refused to run away any longer.
He deserved to be cursed out, he deserved to be ignored, and he deserved to be beaten.
Since he treated his family like trash, it was only right that they treat him like trash as well.
That was the Golden Rule that he decided to live by.
“So I’m finally ready.”
Seol Jihu spoke.
“In front of my family… I’m ready to live as a criminal for the rest of my life.”
The father’s eyebrows twitched.
“There’s… a lot I’ve wanted to say after seeing you. I wanted to make excuses… that I paid off my debts, that I quit going to the casino, that I’m living my fullest life with my own abilities. But…”
Seol Jihu swallowed hard.
“There’s something I need to say before any of that.”
At the same time, he slowly got down on his knees.
He placed his hands on the floor and bent his back until his forehead was touching the ground.
He finally poured out the sincerest words from the bottom of his heart.
At that moment, the father’s eyes turned to the side, albeit slightly.
Seol Jihu clenched his teeth.
With a trembling body, trembling hands, and a trembling voice… he said again.
“I’m… really sorry… Father.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
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