“At that time, it was even in the news, it was a big deal, you know. Anyway, for us, those days were good. As long as the chairman stayed healthy, the mansion would be empty for weeks on end this year and we’d also get some free vacation.”
Mrs. Seo said while chewing on her buttered toast. Manager Yoon, who was sipping her coffee, squinted his eyes and pursed his lips.
“No, but this year is a bit different because the young master in the annex is here. No matter how much the two of them love their golf, when the chairman called the him back from the United States, I thought they might pass Lady Shin’s birthday this year quietly, but look what happened.”
“Why did the chairman called him back?”
Hearing Ms. Yoon, the other staff members looked at her with puzzled gazes.
Most of the employees working in the mansion had been working for over ten years already, but among them, Manager Yoon had the longest tenure. As she was in charge of the main house’s affairs, she was closely connected to the inner workings and closely guarded information of the main family. She lowered her voice and whispered.
“The young master mother’s memorial day is the same as Lady Shin’s birthday.”
The employees who had been listening to Manager Yoon all gasped in surprise. Leeseo also held her coffee cup with both hands and looked at Manager Yoon with slightly widened eyes.
She had heard that Kwon Tae-gyeom’s mother had passed away in the United States, but the exact date of her memorial was not something she knew. When she was young, her mother and the mansion’s staff would never involve her in such conversations, and it had been out of her interest while she was away at college.
“It may sound like a hush-hush topic, but the dates are indeed quite exquisite that I remembered it exactly.”
“Oh my, what a coincidence of dates. How lonely must he feel, staying alone in the annex on his mother’s memorial day? Doesn’t he perform ancestral rites or something like that?”
“Do you think the master would do something like that with his personality? There probably wasn’t anyone in the United States who could teach him to take care of such rituals. If he’s that concerned, Mrs. Seo could go and take care of it.”
Mrs. Seo, who had a sad expression on her face, clasped her hands and shook her head.
“Oh, stop it. I’m too scared of the master. Just thinking about how he lost his mother at a young age and growing up lonely in a foreign country makes my heart ache. But when I’m in front of the master, my legs strangely go weak.”
“That’s true. He has an aura that makes it difficult for people to approach him, like he’s somehow draining people’s spirits. I don’t think anyone here feels comfortable dealing with him.”
The employees nodded their heads in agreement.
Leeseo listened to the employees’ conversation with one ear, thinking about Kwon Tae-gyeom. She felt an unusual sense of relief knowing that she wasn’t the only one struggling with complicated family emotions that were difficult to explain.
It had been over a week since she had last set foot in the annex. No one called her arbitrarily or asked her to do strange tasks. She had a truly peaceful daily life.
But why do I feel this way…
Avoiding him and distancing herself had been her plan, but she couldn’t understand why she now felt pushed away by the man instead. As she pondered this inexplicable discomfort, like the sticky humidity of the rainy season clinging to her body, Leeseo sipped her coffee.
“What are you going to do today, Leeseo?”
Mrs. Seo’s voice broke into Leeseo’s thoughts, which had been lost in contemplation. Leeseo suddenly looked up. The other employees were already preparing to clean up the table and leave.
“It’s been a while since you had a day off. Don’t just stay cooped up at your home, go out and get some fresh air. Maybe meet up with some school friends.”
“Yeah, that’s what I plan to do.”
Leeseo nodded with a compliant expression. Today, she was planning to meet her father.
– The next stop is Seoul Detention Center.
The announcement voice echoed through the nearly empty bus. Sitting in the back, Leeseo tapped her transportation card and pressed the stop button. Outside the bus window, a familiar yet strange scenery passed by.
The last time she had been here, it had been in the midst of a blooming cold snap, but now summer had taken over. The lush green leaves on the trees swayed gently in the lukewarm breeze, and the sound of cicadas filled the air. Leeseo got off the bus in front of the stark building that stood out against the clear, high sky.
It was hard to believe that half a year had passed since that incident. Last winter, Leeseo’s father, Hyun Gyu-cheol, was imprisoned at the detention center after causing a fatal drunk-driving accident.
He had been driving under the influence, speeding, and hitting a passenger car in front of him. The victim was seriously injured and rushed to the hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery, but later died.
Just one day after the accident, her father was arrested by the police. The accident had occurred on a car-exclusive road from Incheon to Seoul, and during the subsequent police investigation, he claimed that he on his way back home from a casino in Incheon, when the accident happened.
It wasn’t until after the accident that Leeseo knew that after his mother’s death, Gyu-cheol had been gambling, going back and forth between casinos and illegal gambling dens across the country every weekend. He gambled away her mother’s insurance money and all of their meager savings.
Since the car he was driving at the time of the accident belonged to the company, a reporter who was stationed at the police station and caught wind of the situation and published a sensational article. ‘The drunk driving fatality caused by Chairman Kwon’s chauffeur’ was briefly featured on the society pages of major online news portals, but was promptly deleted within minutes after the GK Group communications team intervened.
The company promptly dismissed Gyu-cheol and quietly covered up his employment with the company. Instead, they secretly transferred a substantial severance package into Leeseo’s account. Despite the objections from those around her, Leeseo insisted on donating all the money to the victim’s family.
The staff at the mansion were furious that they couldn’t give her practical advice, telling her to stay out of her father’s case. Mrs. Seo, in particular, was particularly heated. She felt sorry for her, telling her not to do anything foolish, and chiding her for her overly kind and weak-hearted nature.
But in truth, Leeseo knew she was not a completely virtuous person and her actions were nothing more than an act of selfishness to ease the burden on her heart.
Coincidentally, the victim had been a senior at the same university as Leeseo. He had just completed six years of pharmacy undergraduate studies and was on the verge of graduating and taking the national pharmacist exam when he met his untimely and senseless death.
Leeseo couldn’t free herself from the weight that pressed on her heart. She couldn’t bring herself to go to school and act like it had nothing to do with her, so she took a leave of absence from school and ran away from her daily life.
Today was the third time Leeseo had come to the detention center. A blue leaflet fell from somewhere and rolled down the detention’s stairs. On the previous two occasions, Gyu-cheol had refused to see her.
Leeseo couldn’t forgive her father for his cowardice, for doing something so horrible and then hiding inside the detention center and making no excuses. She resented him. She wondered if screaming at him would make her feel better. Perhaps that’s why she had come all the way here.
“I’d like to request a visit with Hyun Gyu-cheol, please.”
Leeseo handed her ID to the reception desk. With her eyes fixed on the monitor, the employee tapped away at the keyboard, then handed the ID back over the counter and spoke in a businesslike tone.
“Mr. Hyun Gyu-cheol is currently having a visit with another visitor. Each inmate is only allowed one interview per day. Next time, please make an appointment in advance.”
“Another visitor? May I know who it is?”
“I’m sorry. I can’t disclose the visitor’s list.”
The employee had firmly concluded their conversation and gestured behind Leeseo. Following her gaze, Leeseo turned her head and there was someone standing behind her, waiting for their turn at the reception desk. Leeseo picked up her ID and stepped away from the counter.
Another visitor? Who could it be?
She had prepared herself for the possibility of being denied another visit this time, but the unexpected presence of another visitor intrigued her. She wondered who Gyu-cheol was meeting with when he refused to see her, his only family member willing to see him.
As she nervously tucked her ID back in her wallet, Leeseo quickly hid behind the wall. She recognized the face of the person coming down the stairs.
Both of the people coming down the stairs in conversation were people she knew, and she stole a glance at Mr. Gong Jihoon, dressed in his usual black suit and carrying a thick briefcase, as he pushed his glasses up slightly on the bridge of his nose.
But come to think of it, there was no reason why it should be strange to see him here. Mr. Gong was not only responsible with the mansion but also responsible for image management and post-processing for the entire Kwon family. Mr. Gong was also in charge of Gyu-cheol’s case.
Leeseo had heard that the company had faced embarrassment due to the accident since Gyu-cheol was driving a company vehicle at the time. Therefore, a senior attorney had been secretly hired to handle the case, which was currently in the middle of a trial. This was to thoroughly establish that the accident had nothing to do with the group.
Could that person be the attorney handling the case?
Leeseo turned her head slightly and looked at the man who was coming down the stairs alongside Mr. Gong.
He was undoubtedly one of the guests Leeseo had seen at the annex, as Taegyeom’s guest. Dark skin, slightly droopy eyes. He had unzipped his pants in the open stairwell and was clinging to the woman’s back…….