“I deposited some money into your bank account.”
Just as they arrived near the transfer gate, Kim Hannah told Seol Jihu.
He had been dazedly looking at the massive oval-shaped portal and was caught off-guard. His eyes widened in surprise.
“Money? But, I haven't….”
“It's not the contract signing fee. You'll only get that after signing the contract.”
Kim Hannah cut him off before he went any further.
“Just think of it as a small gift from me saying thanks. I'll be able to move around a bit easier now all thanks to you.”
“Uh, sure…. But, is it okay for me to receive this money?”
“Of course. This is the reward that you totally deserve, so don't sweat it and spend as you like.”
“What do you mean, thanks? I should be the one thanking you. Anyways, go confirm it once you arrive on the other side. I've taken only a little bit out of my own allowance, so don't get your hopes up too much. In any case, there are things you gotta take care of first, am I right?”
She was right about that. Not only did he have financial debts to pay off, but there were also other forms of debt he had to clear up.
“Thanks, I appreciate it.”
“Okay. You can spend it in any shape or form you want, but put out the urgent fires first, okay? Not on useless stuff. Making sure that there won't be any trouble back on Earth is one of the tenets the Earthlings must adhere to.”
Seol Jihu stood before the gate. The blue-colored substance gently waving in front of him emitted a blindingly arresting light.
“It should be around the middle of April when you return. I'll spend another day here before going back to Earth. I'll give you a call in… about eight hours later in the Earth time.”
Seol Jihu's attention was focused solely on the portal in front of him, and he could just barely nod his head to show he had heard her, before he cautiously stepped forward to enter. Almost right away, the back of his left hand began emitting bright light, and then, an even brighter light, powerful enough to blind the onlookers, swallowed him.
As the youth was gradually enveloped by the brilliant light, Kim Hannah shouted out while waving her hand.
“You better answer my call, okay? If you don't, I'm gonna march straight to your home! Seol Jihu!”
As the sensation of being sucked in took over, Seol Jihu closed his eyes.
When he opened his eyes, he could see the familiar sight of his rented room.
He was inwardly worried whether he could really come back home, and that he'd not end up in some weird destination instead, but the end result was a resounding success. Seol Jihu didn't know who that man was, but that guy definitely did calculate the coordinates accurately.
His relief lasted only for a brief moment, however. Seol Jihu frowned deeply and covered his nose. A seriously foul stench suddenly assaulted his senses, that was why. When he swept his gaze around, he couldn't help let out a shocked gasp. This place was an utter mess.
He opened the windows to let the fresh air in. Seol Jihu took a deep breath and wordlessly studied the streets outside. He spotted college students giggling and talking among themselves as they walked, a taxi slowly driving down the hill….
He could more or less appreciate the fact that he was back on Earth for real.
'What time is it?'
Seol Jihu instinctively rummaged through his pockets only to realize that his phone was nowhere to be found.
He remembered that the mobile phone was one of the items prohibited from entering Paradise. Which meant that it had been left behind in front of Yu Seon-Hwah's place a month ago. He probably left his bank card there as well.
Thinking of confirming the time, Seol Jihu had no choice but to switch his old laptop on. It was thickly coated with dust, but thankfully, it turned on without a problem.
17th April, Monday
'I was summoned on the 16th of March….'
It seemed that the time difference between the Earth and the Paradise being around 1 to 3 was correct. Now that he confirmed the time, Seol fell into a slight dilemma.
'What should I do now?'
It wasn't that he had nothing to do, but he had way too many things to do, instead.
There was a reason why Kim Hannah told him to come back to Earth. She demanded that he made sure accessing Paradise from Earth would be a trouble-free affair moving on. If he was reported as missing for some reason, then there would be a lot of headaches for everyone involved.
In that regard, one could say that Seol Jihu was already able to move around quite freely. Unless he was the one contacting them first, his family or Yoo Seonhwa would never call him on their own volition. They hadn't called him in the last few years, after all. Even his close friends stopped talking to him a long time ago.
'….Wait, that's not something to be happy about, is it.'
He needed to right all the wrongs he committed, one by one. And in order to do so, he needed money. He could now understand why Kim Hannah left him with some cash.
Seol Jihu connected to the internet wirelessly. He accessed his bank account online, and when he saw the amount there, he gasped out in shock.
“What?! ₩150 million?!”
It was a sum with seven zeroes. He was thinking of a couple thousand at most, so this amount completely shocked him.
“What the heck…. That woman, she said it's from her allowance, so how come….”
Since he didn't know how much Kim Hannah made in a month, or how much her combined asset could be, perhaps it wasn't that strange for him to react in this manner.
Seol Jihu continued to look at the laptop's monitor and not long after that, spotted the transaction history of Yoo Seonhwa transferring ₩2 million. That sobered him up in an instant.
He had returned the money in cash, but he had 'borrowed' from her lots more besides that amount. When he checked the transaction history for the past three, four years, a bitter chuckle escaped from his mouth.
'I have to pay her back first.'
It took him quite a bit of time to tally up every cent he owed, but he persevered and carried on.
'Dad paid back around ₩28 million…. Mom, ₩16 million… Hyung lent me 2.2 mil… Jinhee, 600,000…. Ah, right. I stole her laptop and her car too.'
He had already sold the laptop at a flea market, and he left that car in a pawn shop near the casino. As the details of his past wrongdoings reared their ugly heads in his head, his guilty conscience swelled up uncontrollably. He might end up paying back more than necessary, but he didn't want to ask anything from them in return.
He finalized the amount he took from Yoo Seonhwa and got a nasty shock.
'I, I borrowed this much from her?'
Even a casual calculation said it was around 46 million. He had no idea during the time when he was taking small bites here and there, but now that he finished tallying them up, the amount was no laughing matter at all.
'Where did she even find that much money to begin with….'
Seol Jihu sighed. Suddenly, the amount of ₩150 million seemed rather inadequate. Of course, he wasn't going to hold back here. After all, only by resolving all of his previous financial indiscretions, would he be able to properly move on and take the first step in his new life.
'In any case, I don't even have a phone or my bank card….'
If there was a silver lining here, then that would be him having only his phone and the lone bank card he frequently used on person that day. He managed to dig out his nearly-forgotten wallet from the corner of his room and put on his shoes, before taking his leave.
The first place he stopped by was the bank. He immediately got a new card to replace the lost one, and paid in full ₩30 million he borrowed from the money lenders. And then, he withdrew the rest of ₩120 million in cash. He got 24 bundles of ₩50 thousand bills, each bundle containing 100 notes.
He grabbed a taxi as soon as exiting the bank.
He had taken care of the most urgent fire first.
His pockets were full, too.
His next destination?
Obviously, it was the casino.
As soon as he arrived at the Seorak Land Casino, Seol Jihu asked the security staff to ban him permanently from entering the premises.
Fearing that he might run into someone who recognized him there, he hurriedly stopped by the nearby pawnshop to recover the car. The interest had piled up pretty high, but he was happy enough to get the car back. His little sister used to go on and on about driving, so their father went and bought this car for her when she got admitted to a very famous university. It may not have been an expensive model, but it had sentimental value.
Now that he had a car, he no longer needed a taxi. While driving back to the family home, he stopped by at a computer store and bought the latest, top-of-the-line notebook as well.
Seol Jihu parked the car at an adequate-enough place, and he walked up to the front gate of the family's house as his heart pounded away.
He saw the doorbell, but his hands didn't want to rise up.
He briefly entertained the idea of leaving everything behind here and just leave before he was seen. He didn't think about the possibility of this event happening, but now that he was here, he no longer felt confident enough to face his family.
He spent the next several dozen minutes in front of the house. His hands repeatedly rose up to the bell before falling back down again. In the end, though, Seol Jihu took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
Maybe his knocking was too soft because there was no reaction.
'Maybe no one's home?'
He swallowed his saliva and slowly keyed in the door code. He then heard the gate unlock.
He cautiously stepped inside the building, but then, he had to come to an abrupt stop. A man wearing a pair of glasses stood on the stairs to the second floor and was looking back at him with an unfriendly expression on his face.
He was Seol Wooseok, his older brother.
“Y, you haven't left for work yet….?”
Seol Wooseok glared at him before silently turning around and going back upstairs.
Soon, the sound of a door slamming shut that was loud enough to make Seol Jihu flinch, resounded out.
His expectations took a knock just now, but then again, he was in no position to expect anything else to begin with. However, he still wanted to apologize. He figured that it'd be for the best to finish his thing and leave as soon as possible.
He placed an envelope filled with money in front of Seol Wooseok's room and then headed straight to his little sister's room.
He found Seol Jinhee sound asleep on her bed wearing nothing but a sleeveless shirt and underwear. She was drooling, too.
'Yeah, skipping Monday morning lectures was an important ritual for her, wasn't it.'
Regardless, she possessed keen senses. Seol very carefully pulled the sheets to cover her up, then placed the laptop on her desk. He pulled out the car keys and ₩5 million and tucked them inside her handbag too. And just as he was about to creep out of her room….
Her voice still sounded sleepy, but at the same time, it was also definitely not friendly.
“What do you want?”
Accompanied by the sounds of fabric rustling, Seol Jinhee kicked the sheets and got up. Seol Jihu flinched slightly.
“Y, you were awake?”
“Who the hell are you to enter my room without my permission?”
She stepped away from the bed and strode towards him. Then, her eyes fell on her desk.
“I was wondering what the hell you were doing…. You came here to give me this?”
“Huh? Uh, yeah.”
Seol Jinhee began frowning as if seeing his face made her nauseous.
“What a joke.”
She suddenly grabbed the laptop and threw it hard. It landed on the ground with a loud thud and bounced around.
“Take it and get lost.”
“W, wait. Jinhee..”
“Jinhee, my ass. I don't care, so get the hell out of here, right now!!”
She stomped in closer to Seol Jihu and angrily pushed him. He wasn't planning to resist her in the first place, so he backpedaled several times before landing hard on his butt.
Not even bothering to see if he was hurt or not, she snorted derisively and picked up her handbag.
“What a fucking joke. What, you finally won some money at the casino? Why else would a damn thief like you suddenly think about his little sister?”
Her expression remained mocking as she took a look inside her handbag…
She saw the bundle of bills amounting to ₩5 million as well as the car keys, and she cocked up an eyebrow. She blinked a couple of times and then lifted her head.
She wasn't speaking to Seol Jihu.
Before anyone noticed, Seol Wooseok was entering the room with an envelope in his hand.
He was worried that Seol Jihu might cause a problem and quickly came here, but upon encountering a situation that could be described as the total opposite to what he was worried about, all he could do was to alternate his gaze between his siblings.
“….What is this?”
His voice sounded hard and firm. He threw the envelope on the floor, causing the bills inside to spill out. Seol Jinhee's eyes widened.
“What, what the hell?! How much is this?”
She began counting, then her jaw nearly dropped to the floor.
And then, she looked back into the handbag.
She then remembered the car key and the laptop as well.
“Ha… you must have hit a jackpot, huh?”
“Jinhee, return everything back to him.”
When Seol Wooweok spoke in a cold tone, Seol Jinhee shot a glare at him.
“Why? Are you mad?”
“It's obvious. He got this money through gambling.”
“It's still money, isn't it? No! I won't give it back!”
Seol Wooseok reached out to snatch the cash away from her hands, but she yanked the handbag away and the envelope with money in it before shoving them both underneath her clothes to hug them tightly.
“You really want that dirty money?”
“Dirty or not, this money rightly belongs to this family! It belongs to us in the first place, don't you get that? Don't you know how much dad and mom are struggling nowadays?”
When the two Seol siblings' emotions began running high, Seol Jihu hurriedly intervened and separated them apart. He didn't come here to watch them fight. He at least needed to resolve this misunderstanding before doing anything else.
“Hyung, Jinhee, you guys got it wrong. I didn't get that money through gambling.”
Seol Jinhee stopped arguing with her oldest brother and spun her head to face him.
She snorted as if the whole notion genuinely made her laugh.
“If you were planning to lie, then make it more convincing, okay? Ah, maybe you stole this? Did you rob a bank or something?”
“I'm telling you the truth.”
Seol Jihu pleaded with a frustrated expression on his face.
“I stopped gambling. I've already asked the casino to ban me from entering the place. And the money's from a commission… No, it's from the work.”
“You stopped gambling?”
“A lifetime ban from entering the casino?”
Seol Wooseok and Seol Jinhee asked at the same time.
“I stopped gambling about a month ago. And today, I came here straight after asking Seorak Land to permanently ban me from stepping foot in that place. Please believe me.”
Seol Jihu explained as clearly as he could. However, it wasn't the issue of them not understanding him, but rather, everything to do with trust.
“So, what you're saying is, you stopped gambling, you voluntarily asked to be permanently banned, and this money is legit, is that right?”
As if he found the idea just too unbelievable, Seol Wooseok asked again.
“Stop fucking wasting my time, okay? You think I'll fall for your lies again?”
Seol Jinhee retorted derisively.
“Oh, so, when we begged you to get the entry ban, you didn't even pretend to listen. And when we tried to do it for you instead, didn't you throw an almighty tantrum? You expect us to believe you now?”
“Hah? How dare you make that face in front of me?! What? You thought that just because you brought home some money, I'd start fawning all over you or something? You thought I'd start calling you Oppa again? Stop dreaming, you bastard. This is this, and that is that. This money is something that belongs to this family to begin with!”
Seol Wooseok cut his little sister off there.
“….I'll confirm it.”
His glare was full of suspicion as he switched on his smartphone. Three, four ringings later, Seol Wooseok opened his mouth.
“Is this the Seorak Land? Yes, yes. I'd like to ask for a person to be banned from entering your…. Ah, I'm his older brother. His name is Seol Jihu…. Come again?”
Seol Wooseok's voice became progressively louder.
“He asked to be permanently banned? Today? Personally?”
Seol Jinhee quietly listened from the side and became dazed herself.
“In, in that case, is it possible to find out when was the last time he entered your…. Yes, the last time…. It was the sixteenth of March?!”
A short while later, Seol Wooseok hung up. Seol Jinhee's attitude had softened a tad, but she still continued to glare at Seol Jihu.
Seol Wooseok spoke up as if he was still unconvinced.
“….I still can't believe this.”
“Hyung. Really, I….”
“No, wait. Fine. Let's say you were telling the truth. Then, just where did you get this money from?”
“Uh? That, that's from….”
“I heard that Seonhwa gave you 2 million a month ago.”
‘He knew about that?’ Seol Jihu could only open and close his mouth, unable to say anything.
“I also heard that you returned everything later that night, too…. You didn’t have a single coin to your name, so how can you earn this much money in a month without resorting to gambling? Not only that, you brought a laptop and a car key.”
They were rather sharp and pointed questions. Even Seol Jinhee found it strange after hearing them.
“Wait, this is that super expensive gaming laptop….”
She began taking a closer look at the thrown laptop, and sure enough, her suspicion grew even stronger.
Seol Jihu realized his mistake, then. Should he chalk this one to his desires getting the better of him? He remembered his little sister loved to play games, so he shelled out over ₩3 million to buy the best gaming laptop found in the shop. How could he have ever guessed that the damn thing would end up being a potential source of trouble?
'What should I do now?'
In the end, he had no choice but to bluff his way out of this one. If he hesitated and wasted time here, they would start suspecting him with something else completely unrelated.
“That's why I'm here today, to talk to you about what's going on.”
He carefully squeezed out each and every single word. If he just said whatever that came to his mind, they would latch onto the holes in his story pretty quickly. So, Seol Jihu cautiously chose what he wanted to say.
“I was introduced to a job through a person I know. It pays quite well.”
“Just what kind of work pays this much?”
“Oh, that. I got lucky, that's all. Something big happened and I received a large bonus.”
“….Horse racing? Or sports betting?”
Seol Jihu rubbed his face. He got to confirm one more time what his family thought about him. But how could he blame them? He deserved it, after all.
“This money has nothing to do with gambling.”
“You. Can you repeat everything you said in front of mom and dad?”
Doing that was a part of Seol Jihu's original plan, but it had changed now. His hyung or his little sister might not be able to spot the fault in the story, but he could foresee his father asking many uncomfortable questions already.
“I'd like to do that, but I have to go.”
“He'll be home soon.”
“It's only because I'm really busy. I was working outside the office today, that's why I'm here. So, please, speak to dad for me. Please?”
“What do you want me to say to him?”
“Very soon, I'll be going out of town for a while. The duration could be as much as one, maybe over two months. You won't be able to contact me during that time, but don't worry about me.”
He managed to explain, albeit just barely. Both Hyung and his little sister still seemed confused, but there was no helping it. Seol Jihu couldn't tell them anything concrete even if he wanted to.
“I gotta go. I'm running behind schedule. I'll come by next time to properly greet mom and dad.”
Seol Jihu forced out a smile and bade his goodbyes. He opened the door, climbed down the flight of stairs, and opened the front door.
But, until he closed the door….
Never mind trying to stop him, he couldn't even hear them call out his name. Of course, he used the excuse of being busy, but still….
For some reason, he felt like all his vigor was leaving his body.
[You thought that just because you brought home some money, I'd start fawning all over you or something?]
His sister's words, spoken to him when his mind was in too much of a chaos to hear her, finally landed their lethal blow.
As if they knew that he deserved the pain, the blow landed real hard and deep.
'I wanted to…. apologize properly….'
He was too busy coming up with excuses that he couldn't even get to say sorry once.
His first step didn't work out as he wanted to, but he still had one more person to apologize to.
Seol's head remained lowered as he trudged towards the nearest subway station.
His shoulders drooped powerlessly, too.Previous Chapter Next Chapter