“There’s no need to look at me like that. I can’t just leave work and come here every time Sunwoo-ssi can’t be reached.”
At Sunwoo’s question, he also stopped.
“Is it because… in case someone who doesn’t want me to go to trial might kidnap me? Are you worried that I might not be able to go to trial?”
Since she had said that Taeju’s goal was to buy that island at a bargain price by linking all the people in the island. If the person who is to testify is compromised, then the plan would also be compromised?
“Yes, you’re right. So don’t wander around alone. And don’t drink with strangers.”
Sunwoo walked back towards the apartment.
“She’s not a stranger. We exchanged phone numbers and I know her name is Kim Hyo-in. She’s a friend.”
“You even exchanged phone numbers… You’re talking like she’s a friend. She looks like she has a bad personality at first glance.”
He muttered in a rather rough tone. It was strange why he was speaking so badly about her friend.
Before they knew it, they were in front of the apartment.
“So why did you come here? Why did you call?”
Whether it was because of the alcohol or because she was not yet used to the elevator, she wasn’t sure. As they quickly ascended to the 30th floor, her ears felt blocked and she felt dizzy, so Sunwoo rested her forehead on his shoulder.
“I just did.”
“To have sex?”
Both of them spoke at the same time. He looked down at her with a strangely stiff face when there was no response.
“Do you think, Sunwoo-ssi, that I only think about sleeping with you whenever I see your face? Do you think my head is filled only with that, like a dog in heat?”
He was the one who said that.
“So it’s not?”
Strength went into the hand that was holding her shoulder.
He pressed the front door password and opened the door, pushing her into the house. When she turned around, she met his gaze. His gaze felt as if it had a physical form, piercing her.
He was really angry.
And with that, he closed the front door and left.
She woke up early in the morning, ate a tomato, cleaned, and took a shower, and if she waited, her tutor would come and give her lessons. She was not only teaching her to study so she could take the GED, but she was also learning about life in general.
And she learned quite quickly.
“The weather is really strange. The fog is so thick it’s like night, right? Doesn’t it look like a scene that could be in a horror movie?”
During a short break, her tutor, Sung-eun, muttered while looking out the window.
“It seems like it’s going to rain more even though the rainy season is over.”
It had been cloudy since dawn, and the outside was covered in faint fog. Even though the sun should have risen by now, the ash-covered streets were faintly lit by the red lights of cars.
“Wow, it’s an espresso machine that looks like it should be in a coffee shop. It looks really nice. You must really like coffee.”
Sung-eun admired the espresso machine placed on one side of the kitchen.
“I haven’t tried it yet.”
Jin-hyuk had insisted on getting it, so she got it, but she hadn’t thought about using it.
“Huh? Why did you buy a machine and not use it?”
“Ah… it just happened that way.”
“Then can I try it? I used to work in a coffee shop for a long time, so I’m good at extracting crema. I don’t have a certificate though. Do you have beans?”
“The ones they gave me when I bought the machine should be in the drawer below.”
While Sung-eun was happily cleaning the machine, grinding the beans, and brewing coffee, she opened the window.
There was always thick fog on the island. It crept in with a frightening momentum, like a living creature, roamed the island, and seemed to colonize by adhering.
It sometimes felt creepy and harsh as it crept in without missing a small crevice and finally clung to it. And that gloomy energy seemed to seep into the people as well.
“Here you go.”
At Sung-eun’s voice, she snapped out of her thoughts. Sung-eun, who had approached her side, offered her a mug. The coffee with a cream-like foam swirled in the cup.
“Thank you. It smells good.”
The coffee was bitter and savory. She felt warm and calm as she took a sip.
“This is a really good machine. I’ll make you a cup every time I come. As an excuse, I’ll have a cup too.”
Sung-eun laughed playfully.
Not long after the lesson ended, her phone rang. Taeju’s name appeared on the screen.
– You’re done with the lesson, right? I sent a car, so get in and come.
“Going to where?”
– Let’s have lunch together. You haven’t eaten yet, right?
What does he mean by lunch? It’s still 11 o’clock? When she didn’t respond, he urged her.
– Why aren’t you answering?
“I got it.”
She had not been going out at all these past few days. Although he said he would assign someone to her, there was no significant reason to go out with a stranger following her.
Standing in front of the mirror, Sunwoo applied the lip gloss she had impulsively bought a while ago. It was just a lip balm with a hint of red, but seeing her shining lips through the mirror, she wiped it off with a tissue. She felt foolish for wanting to look good in front of him.
She was afraid she might end up clinging to Taeju’s leg out of sadness, knowing it was all going to end anyway.
She couldn’t trust herself. Her heart was so fragile that she felt like she might cry in front of him, while saying to her that it was over now.
She really hated that.
While being dragged up the hill of the island barefoot, even from that distance, Taeju had hit her hard with just his large shadow.
He had saved her and taken care of her. Whether it was out of necessity or exploitation, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that he did it.
So it was an irresistible force that her heart kept leaning towards him.
She couldn’t stop it. But even so, she was determined not to cling to him when he said, ‘That’s it.’ And ended it.
She hated that more than anything else.
“I can do it well.”
She smiled in the mirror.
Despite Taeju’s harsh words, his laughter was genuine, and he dismissed her with an aloof expression. She intended to practice daily to appear composed, hoping to emulate his behavior. The mere thought of it set her heart aflutter, but Sunwoo straightened her posture and exited through the front door.
“Shall we go?”
A bodyguard was already waiting at the front door. Since a while ago, whenever she went out, a bodyguard has regularly followed her at a certain distance. She was familiar with his face after seeing it a few times, but it was always awkward to have to do this.
“Um… where are we going?”
“I received a call to escort you to the company.”
The bodyguard, who hid his expression behind sunglasses, was a man who only spoke when necessary. She was also a quiet person, so the car was silent on the way to the company.
“You can go up to the 31st floor.”
The bodyguard who drove Sunwoo and arrived at Taeju’s company dropped her off at the main entrance and headed to the parking lot. Taeju’s company looked no different from the tall buildings she had seen from her apartment window. The front was made of glass and it was very high.
Perhaps they had contacted each other in advance, and she was able to pass through the entrance as soon as she mentioned her name.
“Which floor are you going to?”
As soon as she got on the elevator, the man standing in front of the buttons asked as if he would press the floor she was going to.
“I’m going to the 31st floor… but there’s no floor indicator.”
“Huh? Oh, that’s a place where general employees can’t go. If you’ve come to see something there, you should take the private elevator on the side…. There’s a separate key, didn’t you receive it?”
“No. Thank you.”
She shook her head and got out of the elevator. Almost at the same time, the elevator next to her opened and Seo Jin-hyuk came out with a broad smile.
“I was wondering if I had to walk up and get flustered.”
“Didn’t the boss tell you in advance?”
Seo Jin-hyuk smiled faintly as if to say that was just the way Taeju was, and Sunwoo should understand. There was only one button in the elevator.
“He’s in a meeting right now. I just went to check the atmosphere and it seems like it will end soon.”
When they got off on the 31st floor, several offices separated by glass and partitions were visible along the corridor. Jin-hyuk led her into Taeju’s private office.
“Wait here for a moment, the boss will come.”
“Thank you. Oh, Secretary Seo. You know the coffee machine you recommended? My tutor made me coffee and it was delicious.”
At Sunwoo’s words, Jin-hyuk gave a thumbs up and left the room.
Taeju’s office had a similar atmosphere to his home study, but it was much larger. There was another door on one side, and inside, there was a large sofa set on both sides of a round table, possibly for entertaining.
The entire side of the office was made of glass. Standing close and looking down, it was dizzying.
“Boss, I’ve left the Macau revenue analysis table on your desk. Please review it. And you have a meeting with Chief Kim from BS Bank in 15 minutes.”
“Postpone it for another 15 minutes.”
The heavy sound of footsteps and the alternating voices of Seo Jin-hyuk and Taeju were heard.
“Huh? Now? Yes, I understand.”
With Jin-hyuk’s perplexed voice, the door swung open and Taeju strode into the office. He took off his jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt after noticing her.
“You seem very busy.”
It was unclear why he had suddenly called her to the company when he was so busy. Was it really necessary to have a meal? It was surprising.
“Oh, I’m busy.”
“Do you have time to go out for a meal?”
He dialed the intercom to give instructions outside and pointed to the reception room inside. In a few minutes, two employees left a few large paper bags in the reception room and left.
“Come in and sit down. We only have 30 minutes.”
He opened the bag, took out a lunch box, and placed it in front of her. The transparent lid had an English word that seemed to be the name of a restaurant. There was faint steam inside, as if it had been put in while it was hot, and the lunch box itself was still warm.
A large steak, a colorful salad with unknown ingredients, sauce, grilled bananas and potatoes, and bread topped with fluffy white cheese filled the table.
The dishes were made of paper and plastic, but it seemed like they had been brought from the menu of a quite famous restaurant.
“Do you eat like this every day in company?”
“I usually eat in the company cafeteria.”
He had to go to a meeting with a bank employee in 30 minutes, so he really called her just to have lunch with her.