Chapter 449. While He is Gone (6)

Dusk slowly set in as the sun set, burning the whole world in its twilight hue.

“Yes, Unni, I’m almost there. I’m at the hospital’s parking lot right now.”

Tang. A somewhat annoyed girl closed her car door and turned around. The girl, wearing a blue and white striped t-shirt and high-waisted spandex shorts and holding her phone between her shoulder and cheek, was none other than Seol Jinhee. She threw her car key in her handbag and walked to the elevator.

“Yeah. Ah, the elevator’s here.”

Seol Jinhee took out the phone that was wedged between her shoulder and cheek and got on the elevator.

Ever since Seol Jihu was hospitalized from an accident, members of the Seol family had been taking turns to look after him.

Although the hospital’s nurses were on standby 24/7, Yoo Seonhwa said they couldn’t rely on them fully and that at least one of the family members should be with him.

As such, Seol Wooseok, Yoo Seonhwa, and the mother and father took turns acting as Seol Jihu’s guardian, but because they were all working adults, it was difficult to maintain their rotation every day.

Since Yoo Seunghae was too young for the job, Seol Jinhee, who was a college student, would take over from time to time.

“Ah, I can hear you again. Yeah, I’m here.”

Seol Jinhee walked toward the hospital room after leaving the elevator.

“What is he doing?”

She threw the backpack she was wearing in the corner somewhere and glanced at the sickbed.

“He’s sleeping. His eyes are closed. Okay, okay, I’ll lower my voice.”

Just like she said, Seol Jihu was lying in his bed quietly with his eyes closed.

“I got it. Stop worrying so much. It’s midnight, you know. You should get some rest too. Don’t you know your voice is really hoarse?”

Seol Jinhee shook her head while staring at a wall clock.

“If you’re worried, just send me a text… Hmm? Who? …Uh, okay. I just have to make sure she doesn’t get anywhere near him?”

‘I don’t know who this is, but it looks like she messed with the wrong person. I’m the crazy bitch in here.’ Seol Jinhee craned her neck out of the room and giggled to herself as she looked left and right.

“I am a little nervous though. If Unni of all people calls this girl a crazy bitch… No, that’s not what I mean.”

Seol Jinhee could only hang up after more than ten minutes passed since she got inside the room.

“Argh, I have a quiz in two days too… How can there be a quiz every single week?”

Seol Jinhee grumbled quietly and then yawned. She tapped on her mouth to force a playful vibration. It was then that her eyes suddenly widened.

Seol Jihu, whom she thought was asleep, was looking at her.

“…Just so you know.”

An awkward silence flowed for a moment. Soon, Seol Jinhee spoke with an apathetic face.

“I’m only here because I feel bad for Mom, Dad, Wooseok Oppa, and Seonhwa Unni. So don’t misunderstand…. Hoit.”

Seol Jinhee bent down and pulled out the rollaway bed designed for patients’ guardians. Just as she was about to sprawl down on it, she flinched.

Seol Jihu was smiling.

The smile on his lips was faint, almost looking like it was fake, but Seol Jihu was undoubtedly smiling while looking at her.

“What? What’s so funny?”

“…Thank you.”

Seol Jinhee’s eyebrow went up.

“Well… you came to see me when I was hospitalized too. I’m just here to repay the debt.”

Seol Jinhee snorted and plopped down on the rollaway bed. Seol Jihu twisted his body slightly.

“What? You don’t need to get up, so just stay put. I’ll be quiet too.”

“No, it’s about the restraints….”

“…Why? Do you need to go to the bathroom?”

“They’re uncomfortable… I can’t sleep because of them… I keep waking up….”

Seol Jinhee raised her head and observed Seol Jihu closely.

Yoo Seonhwa made things sound extremely grave, but he seemed better than she expected. He was smiling and talking properly.

But then again, given how eccentric Yoo Seonhwa became when it came to Seol Jihu, it wasn’t so strange for her to act like this was a life-or-death sickness.

‘I heard he’s been pretty calm….’

Seol Jinhee hesitated a bit before the corner of her mouth curled up.

“I’ll release you if you can answer just one thing honestly.”

“?”

“Are you dating someone from the hospital? Not with Seonhwa Unni, but a patient.”

Seol Jihu stared fixedly at Seol Jinhee.

“Seonhwa Unni told me something funny. There’s a girl your age in this hospital, right?”

“….”

“Apparently, she comes here whenever she has the opportunity. I heard she was pretty crazy, asking about your name, what you usually do, what time you sleep, and all sorts of things.”

Seol Jihu shook his head slowly like he didn’t know what Seol Jinhee was talking about.

“…Well, I guess there’s no way Seonhwa Unni let her see you. You probably didn’t even know about it.”

Seol Jinhee quickly lost interest and yawned again.

“Anyway, I’ll let you go for now, so just sleep. I’m going to stay up all night to study for a quiz, so don’t even think about sneaking off. I’ll put the restraints back once I see you fall asleep.”

With that, Seol Jinhee undid the restraints on Seol Jihu’s body.

“Don’t try anything funny. I’ll hit the nurse call button right away.”

After firmly laying down the rules once again, Seol Jinhee leaned on the back of the rollaway bed and turned on the laptop she brought along.

Now free, Seol Jihu shuffled around a little before tilting his head. Now that he thought about it, there was one person that he was reminded of.

“That girl….”

Seol Jihu turned to Seol Jinhee but closed his mouth. Seol Jinhee was concentrating on listening to an online lecture with her earbuds and an open textbook on the side.

Seol Jihu lay down on the bed again.

The moment he turned around, the smile on his face vanished completely.

*


How much time went by?

The lights in the room had been turned off, making it pitch-black.

Only a faint voice flowed out from Seol Jinhee’s earbuds.

Seol Jihu remained awake and was staring outside the window at the night sky.

‘I’d rather die than live like this.’

He suddenly had such a thought. To be more precise, the thought had been popping up in his head ever since he was offered to go on a trip.

One day, he had suddenly lost himself. It wasn’t as if he lost his memories completely. There were a few things he remembered here and there.

But even those memories were hazy, and the rest were completely blank. He couldn’t remember anything, no matter how hard he tried to recall, and only painful headaches ravaged his head.

That wasn’t all. He sometimes became anxious even though he was sitting thoughtlessly under the influence of drugs. His heart would pound, and his breathing would become ragged.

He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but it was as if there was something inside him telling him to do something. If he didn’t do it before it was too late, then it felt like something irreversible would happen.

But the problem was, he didn’t know what to do.

And it was this sense of disharmony that tormented Seol Jihu the most. He detested it.

Whenever he saw himself being so antsy and nervous without a proper reason, he wondered if he had indeed gone crazy.

Every day was painful, scary, and nerve-wracking. Rather than living like that….

[When I’m feeling down and low, I find that the best solution is to go on a trip.]

A trip.

[Should we go?]

[On a trip, I mean. Should we just leave?]

Right, maybe it was better to just go on a trip.

[But you have to make some preparations beforehand.]

[Because you won’t be able to leave in that state.]

That was the case until a few days ago. Because Yoo Seonhwa was keeping an eye on him 24/7.

[So smile.]

[Smile even if you feel sad, and then you can go on a trip.]

Seol Jihu turned his head to hide his face and gave a sideways glance. Seol Jinhee’s head had dropped down in front of her laptop. Seol Jihu could hear her faint snores. It seemed like she was exhausted.

After closely observing Seol Jinhee for some time, Seol Jihu moved his gaze back to the window.

‘Today….’

It was then. The moment he looked outside the window, the night sky suddenly turned white. For that split second, the world seemed to stop.

Inside the frozen time, Seol Jihu felt like he met a pair of eyes. The white thing fell down in an instant.

It all happened in the blink of an eye.

Seol Jihu’s eyes widened a second later.

Then….

Koong.

His body shuddered at the faint sound that rang out.

‘Did I hear wrong? Did I see it wrong? No, I didn’t. Maybe I heard wrong, but I definitely didn’t see wrong.’

Arms stretched out like a bird soaring through the sky, a fluttering white patient’s robe, and eyes that were hanging down like her fluttering hair….

Seol Jihu unwittingly raised his upper body in a hurry. He staggered off the bed and opened the window. He looked down, but a protruding wall was covering the view to the ground.

The hospital was still silent. Seol Jihu, who was standing like a stone statue, slowly turned his head.

“Mmn….”

Seol Jinhee wriggled. Seol Jihu waited for his younger sister to stop moving before quietly leaving the room.

Perhaps things would have been different if he never saw her. But when he looked outside the window, he coincidentally saw it.

He knew it was an excuse, but the scene felt so much like fate that Seol Jihu felt himself walking up the stairs as though he was bewitched.

Seol Jihu’s destination was the rooftop.

It should be closed off at night, but it was open tonight for some reason. Not only that, a section of the fencing that served as secondary protection was cut.

Near the hole was a bar cutter that was clearly thrown away by someone. At the very least, it wasn’t an object that belonged inside a hospital.

One step, two steps… Seol Jihu felt his lower belly churn the closer he walked to the fencing. He then walked past the hole, stood in front of the guardrail at the edge of the rooftop, and looked down.

From there, he could see it clearly — an unmoving bird lying far below in the distance.

He had not seen it wrong.

Someone had died.

No, perhaps the person was alive, just not moving.

Seol Jihu suddenly felt his insides twist and turn. Intense vertigo swept over his brain. His vision shook, and his body trembled.

But then, he suddenly remembered the sight he saw previously.

That woman… seemed to be smiling.

[Do you want to go with me?]

It was the woman he met on the rooftop. She must have been waiting to go with him but gave up due to Yoo Seonhwa’s meddling and went ahead by herself.

Seol Jihu suddenly got curious.

Was it good? Was that why she was smiling?

Because she arrived at her desired destination?

What does it feel like to go somewhere no one knows about?

All sorts of thoughts swirled inside Seol Jihu’s head, and the more he thought about it, the calmer he became.

His hands stopped trembling. Then, all his thoughts converged into one.

‘A trip.’

Seol Jihu’s eyes turned hazy as he looked down in a daze.

‘Should I…’

Go too?

As he thought so, his body was already going over the guardrail.

He knew this wasn’t the right thing to do. No matter how he sugarcoated his excuse, he knew he was simply escaping reality.

It wasn’t as if he didn’t feel guilty. But the moment he stood at the edge of the rooftop…

‘I don’t care.’

Seol Jihu forgot about everything.

He stopped caring about anything else.

His vision blurred, and his hearing deafened out. He did not even hear the screaming of the wind.

As everything became hazy, Seol Jihu felt a sense of boundless freedom blossoming from the center of his heart.

“Ah…!”

Right, this was it. This was the feeling!

He was not unfamiliar with this feeling of freedom, which seemed to liberate him from pain. The familiarity soothed his mind and body.

‘Right, this is it….’

Going on a trip was the right answer.

‘Let’s go…!’

Seol Jihu spread out his arms. He opened his mouth and took a deep breath. Then, he lowered his body, feeling a sense of freedom enveloping him.

His line of vision tilted slowly, and a delighted smile spread across his face.

Right now, Seol Jihu was truly the happiest person in the world.

“HEY…!”

That was, until he felt a hand pull him back. Someone had grabbed and pulled on his shirt violently.

Seol Jihu felt his body fall.

Not forward, but backward.

“Are you out of your mind!?”

A high-pitched scream struck his ears at the same time that his back went back over the guardrail and hit the rooftop.

He saw a familiar face through his intensely shaking vision.

“You…!”

The person, clutching onto a cellphone in one hand and panting angrily, was none other than Seol Jinhee.

Seol Jihu’s face was pale under the moonlight. His widened eyes showed how surprised he was.

However, Seol Jinhee was even more surprised. After rushing up to the guardrail to block the way, she subconsciously turned around and looked down.

She must have seen what was below as her pupils dilated.

“W-What….”

She must have remembered Yoo Seonhwa’s warning then as her body shook.

“You….”

Seol Jinhee glared at Seol Jihu with her throat trembling.

“You son of a bitch! Are you mad!? Come here. No, wait, get out first!”

Seol Jinhee tightly held onto Seol Jihu’s arms even as her heart pounded crazily. She spat out one curse after the other while dragging him outside the fencing.

The only thing on her mind right now was to get down from the rooftop.

Seol Jihu resisted slightly, but his struggles were meaningless with his weakened body.

Seol Jinhee dragged Seol Jihu down the stairs with unforeseen strength. As soon as they went back into the hospital room, she threw him inside and angrily swept up her disheveled hair.

The shock she received must have been tremendous as she was still panting heavily.

“Huu, huuuuu!”

It was thanks to Yoo Seonhwa that Seol Jinhee woke up. Her cellphone rang when she didn’t reply to Yoo Seonhwa’s text message, and that was when she realized Seol Jihu wasn’t there.

At a loss for what to do, Seol Jinhee rushed up the stairs at Yoo Seonhwa’s urgent yelling. And when she saw Seol Jihu going over the guardrail, she ran in fright and pulled him in.

If she was even a step late…. She didn’t even want to imagine what would have happened.

A heavy silence flowed in the atmosphere.

Seol Jihu was looking down at the ground with a blank face, and Seol Jinhee was gritting her teeth.

Yoo Seonhwa was right. Seol Jihu’s condition was serious. He was only pretending to be alright.

A person with depression would indeed show a sudden change in attitude after resolving to commit suicide. This was because they already sorted out their thoughts and threw away any lingering attachment and obsession with living.

People around them would see this and be relieved, thinking that the person got better. And that was when they would get hit on the back of their heads.

“I had a feeling you were faking that smile…!”

What happened just now was precisely this. Seol Jihu had smiled at Seol Jinhee and talked normally, all to trick her into being relieved.

“You bastard…. Was giving me the highway trauma not enough for you…?”

How would she have felt if she spent the night sleeping and found Seol Jihu’s corpse in the morning? Perhaps it wouldn’t have been as bad a few months ago. No, even then, it would have felt shitty. And she likely wouldn’t have been able to forget about it for a long time.

Seol Jinhee closed her eyes shut. After a moment of silence, she let out an empty chuckle. She tilted her head up, looked up at the ceiling, and heaved out a long sigh.

“…Fine.”

Then, she opened her mouth.

“I lost.”

A chilling voice came out.

“Do it. I won’t say anything from now on, so just do it, you bastard.”

Seol Jinhee glared at Seol Jihu with her eyes wide open.

“What, you want to go right now? You want me to take you there?”

She picked up her handbag and then bit her lower lip.

Seol Jihu was currently barred from entering the casino. Seol Jinhee scratched her head with all ten fingers before abruptly grabbing her laptop.

After typing furiously for a second and clicking with the mouse here and there, she threw the laptop over to Seol Jihu.

“Here. Be satisfied with this for now, and we can call Seorak Land tomorrow for their gambling education program. The ban can be lifted if you take the program three times, right?”

Seol Jihu dazedly looked up at Seol Jinhee.

“Do it. I lost.”

Seol Jinhee gestured with her chin with her eyebrows raised sharply.

“You can register and play. It’s well-explained, isn’t it? You can put money into your account. Or what, do you not have any money? You want me to give you some?”

Seol Jihu looked down at the laptop, a hint of fluster appearing on his otherwise blank face.

What was shown on the screen was an illegal online gambling site. He had never used it before, but he had a general idea of how it worked.

Seol Jihu subconsciously put his hand on the mouse.

“Good.”

A snarky remark flew out.

However, Seol Jihu did not move the mouse. He remained frozen no matter how long Seol Jinhee waited.

“Come on! Do it! Why aren’t you!? If you wanna kill yourself because you can’t gamble, then just do it!”

Seol Jinhee screamed and then plopped down next to Seol Jihu with widened eyes. She grabbed the mouse and moved it forcefully.

“Do it! Hurry up!”

She tried to press the register button for him, but the mouse cursor moved left and right. Seol Jihu had resisted her subconsciously.

“What the hell do you want?”

Seol Jinhee frowned.

“What, you have the courage to jump off, but don’t dare to do this!?”

When Seol Jihu’s hand tried to squirm out, Seol Jinhee tightened her grip on his hand.

“No….”

“Then what!?”

She scanned left and right with a flashing gaze before spotting a cellphone.

“Ah, so gambling over the internet doesn’t feel like the real thing? Then do you want to go to Seorak Land? I heard illegal gambling is bustling around the area. Is that where you wanna go?”

“….”

“Fine. Sit tight and wait. I’ll look into it right now.”

Seol Jinhee bent down to grab the cellphone. She was also no longer in the right mind.

Seol Jihu blankly stared at his younger sister as she reached down to grab the cellphone. He then dropped his head.

No. This isn’t it.

“I swear to god if you don’t go…”

Seol Jihu flinched just as Seol Jinhee grabbed the cellphone and growled.

Plop. A teardrop fell from Seol Jihu’s eye. Then, as he shut his eyes tight, hot streams of tears flowed down his cheeks before converging at his chin and falling to the bed.

“No….”

He murmured softly.

“It’s not this….”

He wanted to say that this wasn’t about gambling. But, he didn’t know what to say.

“I can’t….”

If he had to describe it, it would be the same as the other times. He was trying to do something, but his body was vehemently rejecting it.

“I… can’t…”

It was as if his body was saying…

“I absolutely… can’t…”

That this was the one line he must never cross.

Because if he did…

“Gamble….”

Then he would never be able to go back.

He felt like an ending more pitiful than death would be waiting for him. He felt like everything he held dear would crash and burn…

Seol Jinhee dazedly stared at Seol Jihu, who was silently crying. Her hand slipped off from the back of Seol Jihu’s hand, and his hand then naturally fell off the mouse.

—…Jinhee.

Yoo Seonhwa’s voice flowed out from her cellphone. She had never hung up. After looking at her phone, Seol Jinhee glanced back at the door at the sound of a ruckus.

The dark hallway lit up, and the sound of people running in a hurry rang out.

Seol Jinhee’s trembling lips shut close.

“…Then…”

Seeing colorless streams of tears flowing down Seol Jihu’s face, Seol Jinhee’s eyes also welled up with tears.

“Then… what is it…”

“….”

“If it’s not gambling either… then what is it…?”

“….”

“Why are you doing this…?”

Only the sobbing of the brother and sister rang out from the dark room.

*


Morning dawned in Paradise.

Roe Scheherazade woke up and quietly left her bedroom. Her complexion was bright, perhaps because she got a good night’s sleep for the first time in forever.

On any other day, she would have sat down somewhere in a daze, wandered around the city, or walked to the city wall to watch the executions.

But today was different.

Roe Scheherazade took a long bath as soon as she got up. She walked around naked every day after becoming the only one left in the city, but today, she even adorned her royal attire. She then combed her disheveled hair and returned to her previously virtuous, well-kempt appearance.

Once the preparations ended, Roe Scheherazade entered the royal palace with dignified steps.

“Hmm….”

After sitting down in the grand hall and writing something, she finally put her pen down.

“That should be good enough….”

She read over the paper she wrote on and nodded her head.

“…I’m sorry.”

She then gave a lonely smile and apologized alone.

“Please don’t be too harsh on me.”

She sighed after putting the paper down on a table inside the grand hall.

“I was planning on ending everything yesterday…. It’s just….”

Roe Scheherazade’s eyes clouded up like her blurring words.

“He said so too. That this method is wrong, even though anyone would sympathize with me and understand me.”

Roe Scheherazade heaved out a deep sigh.

“When I heard him say this, at first I thought it was really heartless. My head understood where he was coming from, but you know how the heart works.”

She smacked her lips while talking to herself.

“But when I saw that woman… how should I say this, I felt jealous.”

She suddenly snickered.

“She just looked so beautiful…. Jealousy truly is a scary thing. She was so dazzling that I am compelled to do this despite knowing it’s too late…”

Roe Scheherazade shook her head disapprovingly while raising her hands to her neck.

“Of course, I know I can’t become that woman at this point… but I have come to want to make a small change in the way things are done.”

She took off her necklace and dropped it on top of the paper.

“Well, my goal remains the same though.”

She smiled sweetly and then got up.

“Now then, it’s time I go beg for my forgiveness.”

She then walked to the entrance of the grand hall and got on top of a chair she had prepared beforehand. She hung a noose around her neck and kicked the chair without a moment of hesitation.

Next, Roe Scheherazade’s body dangled in the air.


*


A few days went by.

Just like Roe Scheherazade said, the vast barrier that was enveloping the city disappeared. Without Gorad Boga, the city was bleak and dreary, like a deserted town.

There wasn’t anyone left around the city. It was because they had to move in a hurry as the Parasites had finally conquered Odor a few days ago.

But, there was one person who remained in the otherwise lifeless area.

Yun Seora had not forgotten about Roe Scheherazade’s words. And the moment the barrier disappeared from the city, she entered the city and ran.

She ran toward the Scheherazade Royal Palace.

*


The morning sky was clear and quiet, but SY Hospital was buzzing. It was because of the incident that happened last night.

Police, hospital employees, and reporters looking to get an exclusive scoop crowded the hospital. Amidst this chaos, one taxi drove up the hill that was strewn with a line of police cars.

An old man got off the taxi and entered the hospital through the crowd.

Wearing a fedora and a navy suit, the old man walked steadily with a cane.

With a thick book held tightly in his hand.

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