“Ah, ah, sh*t. It hurts!”
“You need to go to the hospital. You’re bleeding a lot.”
“Ah, I can’t go to the hospital, that’s why I came here! Be gentle!”
“What did you do wrong that the police chased you? Did you steal a motorcycle?”
“No! Do I look like a delinquent? Stealing a motorcycle? They chased me just because I was racing with some other kids. If that gets to my old man, he might really kill me this time. Or he might lock me up somewhere like an island.”
Sunwoo looked at Hee-won with a stiff face.
“Why are you acting like this? Why are you so surprised?”
“Are you scared of the person you call ‘old man’?”
“He’s scary. Have you seen a person pointing a gun at his own child? Hunting is our old man’s hobby. There are three rifles on the wall of his study. At least I try to please him, but Dan Taeju doesn’t give in at all. One of them might really die someday.”
Just then, Taeju, who had been woken up by the noise from the floor below, came down the stairs. One side of his hair was standing up from being pressed against the pillow, and he was wearing black sweatpants with nothing on his upper body.
“Call me ‘hyung‘, you son of a b*tch.”
He slapped Hee-won’s back of the head hard enough to make a loud sound.
“And don’t just say anything. Sunwoo-ssi believes everything.”
“Who is this woman?”
He went somewhere and plonked a medicine box on the table.
“Girlfriend? She said she wasn’t your girlfriend?”
When Taeju made a ‘tsk’ sound and furrowed his brow, Hee-won quickly shrank his neck.
“She said she wasn’t your girlfriend.”
“Just know it that way. And she’s older than you. Call her ‘noona’.”
Hee-won chuckled and looked at her. He was a boy who laughed mockingly, and his face looked just like Dan Taeju’s.
Outside, it was a faint dawn. If it were Umyeon Island, it would already be time to wake up and eat breakfast, but here, no one said anything even if you slept until the sun was high in the sky.
Sunwoo pulled the thin blanket up to her neck. She wanted to toss and turn more, but she was not used to the air conditioner, so it felt chilly and cold rather than cool. She wrapped herself in a blanket, got up, and stared up at the ceiling-mounted air conditioner for a while. She couldn’t figure out how to turn it off as it was out of reach and there were no visible buttons, no matter how much she looked.
Giving up on turning off the air conditioner, Sunwoo, curled up like a caterpillar, got up and opened the terrace window wide. Despite the early hours, warm air rushed in.
She saw a tall man running up from the hill below. His thin T-shirt was soaked with sweat and clung to his body.
Every morning at dawn, Dan Taeju would run out like that and come back after an hour or two. It was puzzling how he could run so lightly with such a large body. He seemed overflowing with energy.
He ran all the way to the front door, flipped back his hood, and stood on his knees. After catching his breath for a moment, he looked up, and their eyes met. Before she could hide inside, he waved his hand for her to come down.
When she went down to the kitchen on the first floor, he was standing in front of the refrigerator drinking water. Sweat dripped from his wet hair, ran down his cheek, and hung on his chin.
“Why are you like that?”
Feeling a little embarrassed about being wrapped up like a caterpillar with the blanket up to her head, she slowly unwrapped the blanket.
“Are you cold? Was the temperature a bit low?”
He muttered to himself, then opened the refrigerator and placed the side dish bowls on the island table.
“I asked the housekeeper. She said you weren’t eating. She said you’re going to starve to death like this.”
She had only avoided the place because the housekeeper kept asking her with sparkling eyes what her relationship with Taeju was, which made her uncomfortable.
“No, I’m not.”
“Do we need to eat, Sunwoo-ssi? Or should we not eat?”
His tone was funny, and she chuckled.
As if measuring the thickness of her wrist, he curled his fingers and gently held it. As he approached, his heated body temperature also came closer.
“But like this?”
Heat was radiating from his entire body.
“Don’t think about hiding in your room until you finish all of this. I’ll come down soon to check.”
After placing a spoon in her hand, he turned around and stripped off his T-shirt over his head. He had a broad back. Due to the sweat, his shoulders and back shone like a bronze statue with a good luster.
As he walked and moved, the muscles on his back writhed like waves. His spine was deeply carved and the muscles attached to the sides were distinct. He opened the door at the end of the kitchen and threw his T-shirt into the washing machine inside.
“Can I touch it once?”
He burst into laughter. It was a laugh of disbelief.
When he turned around, his body was even more impressive. From the long and straight bone structure on his shoulders to the muscles that extended to his chest and stomach through his arms tangled like chains. Everywhere, looked hard, healthy, flexible,and strong.
“I just want to touch it.”
She reached out and pressed his shoulder firmly. As expected, it was hard. Due to the sweat, the skin’s surface was slippery.
“I smell sweat.”
He paused as she brought her nose closer. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
“It smells like wood.”
Then she flattened her palm and put it on his thick chest.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
The beating of his heart was felt so vividly in her palm. Her fingertips, cold, felt tingling, and she bit her lip slightly. Somehow, it seemed like this man’s vitality was transferred to her heart, making it beat powerfully.
His gaze, staring down at her, felt a bit persistent, but she pretended not to notice. She was about to touch the split part of the muscle connecting his stomach and chest with her finger, but he took a step back.
“You’re quite fearless.”
His voice was soft.
“Do you feel safe because I said I won’t lay a finger on you? You’re not just trying to see how far I can endure, right?”
The moment she lifted her head to look at him, she felt something drop in her chest. Sunwoo took a step back. His pupils were calm, but they were as restless as the heat flowing from his body.
“Don’t cross the line.”
He said and gave a slight smile. That smile was perfectly affectionate, so it felt rather contrived. Goosebumps rose from her arm.
“What happens if I cross it?”
“I might swallow you up.”
He climbed the stairs, taking two or three steps at a time. While eating, it felt as if Dan Taeju’s body heat remained in her palm. And it was hot.
In the spacious hall of the hotel basement, black marble sculptures sparkled under the chandelier light. A voluptuous jazz singer took the small stage and created a decent atmosphere, but no one was listening to her song.
The second basement floor was a hall for the general public. And above that were glass rooms for VIPs, circling the hall in a round shape.
Taeju threw his turned over cards on the table.
“Dan Taeju, you’re not in good shape today. I’ll fold too.”
The smell of marijuana from the guy sitting next to him was overpowering.
“Smoke a little less. My head is dizzy. Smoke a regular cigarette, you crazy b*stard.”
Another guy at a different table seemed to be bothered too, shaking his head and showing annoyance at the guy smoking marijuana.
“I got this approved for medical use. Don’t nag me.”
“Don’t give me that medical crap. This is Korea, you know? Then go to America and smoke it.”
It was a place where the children of conglomerates, who argued and quarreled, would all come out to enjoy their weekend.
In fact, most of them came out to hold cards half-heartedly, share trivial chit-chat with each other, or just drink. But considering that these people would each take a place in the future, they couldn’t be completely ignored.
Taeju was just sitting there, losing some money he had casually brought after a few months, just to keep up appearances.
“Oh, do you know Lee Sang-cheol?”
“The three-term congressman? I know him. Why him?”
“He comes here every week. What a drunkard he is in his old age. I should never grow old like that.”
“You’re funny, man. That guy has been famous since his youth, you know. It’d be hard to find something he doesn’t do – gambling, marijuana, alcohol, women.”
Taeju gestured to the waiter who came into the room while overhearing their conversation. The waiter approached and handed him a glass of on-the-rocks whiskey that shimmered amber colored.
The five sitting at one table were from the same high school, some from the same university, and around the same age. On the surface, they were friends.
“You look tired?”
At someone’s words, he responded without even looking in their direction.
“Unlike you leisurely guys, I go to work.”
“Oh, that’s unlucky.”
The guy next to him chuckled at the lame joke.
“I heard rumors that your company was going public. How much percentage of the stock did you release to investors? Let me have a bite too. Surely your family doesn’t hold all of it?”
“Desire what’s desirable. I doubt the opportunity will even reach you. There’s Chairman Dan behind this guy. Do you think they would release that due to lack of funds?”
“That money isn’t free. I also use it to pay the highest interest.”
Taeju gulped down the whiskey in his glass.
“I heard something too. You’ve been visiting undeveloped islands these days. What is it? Why are you being so hush-hush?”
“In the early days, there was nothing but gangsters playing loan sharks or land dealers to lay the groundwork. That’s what your father is good at.”
The atmosphere around them became tense with the sudden interjection. It was Jang Dae-won, the son of a councilman who also worked as a secretary to his father.