“That's odd…” Baek Hyeon-Jeong muttered.
It was still early in the morning.
She didn't even need an alarm clock to go off before waking up; such was the warmth of the morning sunlight peeking through the curtains.
However, she still couldn't help but notice that something was off.
She felt refreshed from a good night's rest, and the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee greeted her as she left the bedroom.
Baek Hyeon-Jeong had to admit the coffee beans her husband had bought and brewed produced some of the finest tastes she had experienced.
Too bad the cost-to-benefit ratio was the absolute pits!
Despite feeling pretty good, Baek Hyeon-Jeong still felt that something wasn’t quite right.
It was as if something was missing.
“Ah!” She gasped after finally figuring out the reason.
Her steps took her to Kang Jin-Ho's room.
Her son hadn't come home by the time she turned in for the night.
However, it didn't matter what time Kang Jin-Ho came home, as he would always be up before Baek Hyeon-Jeong in the morning.
Strangely, though, her son was nowhere to be seen this fine morning.
Baek Hyeon-Jeong should have noticed it right away, but with Kang Jin-Ho serving in the army for the past few months, she had gotten too used to waking up alone in the house.
As a result, she was slow to notice the unusualness of this particular morning.
“Maybe Jin-Ho didn't come home last night”
Her son had always been by-the-book, so he would have sent at least a text message if he had to stay out for the night.
However, he didn't do that, which meant...
Wondering if her son had been involved in some kind of accident, the worried Baek Hyeon-Jeong hurriedly opened the door to Kang Jin-Ho's room.
She discovered her son lying on the bed asleep while hugging his blanket.
“What's gotten into him He actually overslept...”
Baek Hyeon-Jeong couldn't remember the last time she saw her son's sleeping figure.
As a matter of fact, he seemed to be always 'awake' since the car accident.
Kang Jin-Ho had always gone to bed later than her, but he would always wake up earlier.
‘It must have been tough for him to be in the army that my boy is...'
Baek Hyeon-Jeong sighed deeply.
Her son would wake up every morning before sunrise like clockwork, yet he was oversleeping today.
It must be proof of how difficult the army had been for him.
Kang Jin-Ho might have said everything was fine, but that couldn't have been true.
How could serving in the military not be difficult and tiring Her boy had probably put up a facade.
“Jin-Ho” Baek Hyeon-Jeong called out to her son while gently stroking his forehead.
Kang Jin-Ho’s eyes snapped open right there and then.
“Jin-Ho, are you not feeling well”
I'm fine.” Kang Jin-Ho quickly sat up and looked around.
'Did I oversleep'
It seemed that way.
However, he wasn't remotely surprised by it.
After all, last night's treatment had exhausted a huge chunk of his mental strength.
Kang Jin-Ho glanced at the clock and confirmed that it wasn't that late.
He jumped out of bed and said to Baek Hyeon-Jeong, “Mother, I'm going to wash up first.”
“You should stay in bed for a bit longer if you're still feeling tired, Jin-Ho.”
“I'm fine, Mother.
I had a good rest.”
Actually, Kang Jin-Ho's body was still aching in various parts, and the feeling of lethargy was still bugging him, but he knew that sleeping some more wouldn't improve his condition at all.
The qi depletion-induced exhaustion could only be mended by absorbing and circulating more qi.
Baek Hyeon-Jeong sighed.
Let me prepare some breakfast for you, at least.”
“I know you need to head to work soon, so don't worry about me, Mother.
Please go ahead and have breakfast first without me.
I'll find something to eat after I’m done washing up.”
“Don't say that! I want to enjoy a nice little breakfast with my son, so let me do this, at least.”
Kang Jin-Ho chuckled at that.
“In that case...
Can you get me something simple and easy to eat Thank you.”
“Of course, my boy.” Baek Hyeon-Jeong patted her son's back reassuringly.
Kang Jin-Ho quickly headed to the bathroom while feeling somewhat bashful.
'My vitality has been damaged, it seems...'
Kang Jin-Ho under the shower noticed the damage to his body.
After stepping out of the shower stall, he stared at his reflection in the mirror and saw his sunken eyes.
As it turned out, he really wasn't imagining it.
His body had lost a lot of its vitality.
He had resolved himself to do whatever it took, but now...
He suddenly had the feeling that the task ahead was maybe a lot harder than he had initially bargained for.
Repeating Sister Yi's treatment for the next few days could potentially turn him into a mummified husk.
Kang Jin-Ho smirked a little at that image floating up in his mind.
Despite the exhausted state of his body, his head felt more refreshed than ever.
Perhaps, his mind was at its clearest since he started his leave.
Then again, he knew what he had to do, and that eliminated any uncertainty in his heart.
Kang Jin-Ho left the bathroom and was greeted by a feast laid out on the dining table.
He nearly stumbled on his feet as he muttered in a fluster, “M-mother, I only wanted something simple…”
Baek Hyeon-Jeong looked troubled as she rubbed her chin.
“Well, I was trying to prepare a simple meal, but somehow... Mm, you think it's not enough”
Are you raising a pig instead of a human being’
Kang Jin-Ho stood there and silently wondered if living in Zhongyuan for too long had warped his understanding of the word 'simple.’
“What's this Are we having a party” Kang Yu-Hwan walked out of the bedroom and almost freaked out at the sight of the feast laid out on the dining table.
Baek Hyeon-Jeong shot a reproving glance at her husband.
“It's because Jin-Ho looks tired, you know.”
“Mm” Kang Yu-Hwan studied his son's face for a bit before furrowing his brow.
Didn't we tell you to drink in moderation Look at how poor your complexion is.”
“My apologies, Father.” Kang Jin-Ho didn't say anything even though he could tell that a misunderstanding was developing here.
Kang Yu-Hwan continued, “It's fine to hang out with your friends, but at least try to come home on time, son.
What time did you come home last night”
“It was around three in the morning.”
“I'm not going to criticize you too much since you're on leave and everything, but...
You could've called us if you were thinking of coming home that late, son.”
“Also…” Kang Yu-Hwan crossed his arms as if he was getting ready for some serious fatherly lecture.
“What are you doing The food is getting cold!” Baek Hyeon-Jeong suddenly yelled at him.
Kang Yu-Hwan flinched and hurriedly shrunk back.
“L-let's eat, son.”
Even if it was her husband, Baek Hyeon-Jeong still released a dense killing aura of a mother who could not accept her boy getting scolded right in front of her eyes.
Kang Yu-Hwan grumbled softly, “If you coddle a kid like that...”
“What was that, dear!”
“...They'll grow up to be a splendid adult, honey.” Kang Yu-Hwan changed his tune while staring back and forth between his wife and son.
Now that he thought about it—wasn’t Kang Jin-Ho simply too...
'square' and uptight So much so that Kang Yu-Hwan had to wonder if they were actually related by blood.
Kang Jin-Ho looked at his father and asked, “Father, I don't see Eun-Yeong...”
“She didn't come home last night.”
Kang Jin-Ho's brows twitched.
“But, she's still a high school student...”
Kang Yu-Hwan sighed deeply.
“I agree with you, son.
But what can I do when she wants to stay in the agency's dormitory due to her busy schedule If we were opposed to her dream of becoming an idol from the start, then sure, we could have told her to stop.
But it feels wrong to criticize her after coming this far, doesn't it That's why we haven't said anything to her yet.”
“Jin-Ho, you know I'm not a patient person, right If this continues, I might lose my temper and do something regrettable,” Baek Hyeon-Jeong spoke as her face reddened from anger.
Kang Jin-Ho inwardly thought that he had to act before his mother lost her composure.
Having a career and enjoying it was great, but a high school student frequently not coming home and sleeping outside sounded way too problematic even to Kang Jin-Ho.
Thus, he slowly nodded.
“I'll have a word with Eun-Yeong later.”
“You will That's great.” Kang Yu-Hwan broke out in an unfatherly grin that could only be described as gloating.
That was because he knew Kang Jin-Ho's threats were far more effective than anything he or his wife could come up with.
Kang Yu-Hwan could already picture his daughter's sulky, tearful face as she whined away.
Let's dig in, then.”
Kang Yu-Hwan was leisurely enjoying his breakfast with his family, but then a thought suddenly popped up in his head, and he had to do a double take on the feast.
'Wait a minute.
Such a feast as breakfast'
Hadn’t his wife nonchalantly tossed him a single slice of bread every morning while saying, “You're not the only one working in this family, dear!” until yesterday Not only that, but hadn’t she been yelling at him about how other wives around her age wouldn't even bother to do that After recalling that scene, Kang Yu-Hwan sneakily dabbed away at the corners of his eyes because suddenly found himself becoming a bit teary.
For some reason, it felt like his wife was getting more crotchety with age.
How unfortunate it was for Kang Yu-Hwan, though, as he knew Baek Hyeon-Jeong wasn’t wrong.
Nowadays, she was playing a far more active role in running the cafe than him.
The truly vile, vicious attack involving facts left Kang Yu-Hwan unable to even squeak out a word of complaint.
He could only sit there and appreciate the precious presence of his son.
By sticking close to Kang Jin-Ho in any way possible, Kang Yu-Hwan should at least be able to enjoy some warm food for the next few days.
Jin-Ho, I—” Just as Kang Yu-Hwan was about to say something, Kang Jin-Ho suddenly got up with his empty bowl in his hand and headed to the rice cooker.
Kang Yu-Hwan was only on his second mouthful of food, yet his son had already emptied out his bowl of rice.
“Jin-Ho Your appetite seems to have improved after joining the army, son.”
“It seems that way, Father,” Kang Jin-Ho replied while bringing a mountain of rice back to his seat.
After settling down, he began literally shoving food into his mouth.
Kang Yu-Hwan cleared his throat.
“Ahem. Anyway, having you around is great, son.
After all, I get to eat warm food like this in the morning.”
“Having a simple breakfast is for the best, Father.”
‘Jin-Ho, you're on your second helping.
Besides, let's see if you'll think the same once you get to my age.
Let's see if you’ll still think having a simple breakfast is great or not.’
Kang Yu-Hwan was about to express his dissatisfaction, but he lost his timing when Kang Jin-Ho got up from his chair.
“Again” Kang Yu-Hwan's eyebrows rose up.
Three helpings for breakfast Did his son get possessed by the spirit of gluttony
Something seemed a bit weird, but Kang Yu-Hwan wondered if his son's appetite had grown 'organically' after experiencing a hard time in the army.
But then, Kang Jin-Ho polished off the third bowl of rice in the proverbial blink of an eye and began scraping the bottom of the rice cooker for some more as if he hadn’t had enough.
Cold sweat trickled down Kang Yu-Hwan's back.
“Son, did you starve yesterday”
Kang Jin-Ho didn't reply to his father's question.
Instead, he turned his attention to his mother.
“Excuse me, Mother”
Baek Hyeon-Jeong replied while blinking her eyes nonstop, “Y-yes, son”
“Do we have some instant rice here” Kang Jin-Ho asked with a slightly expectant face, even though he had already emptied out the rice cooker.
“Yes, we do have some.
Let me warm one up for you right away.”
It's fine, Mother.
Please tell me where it is, and I'll take care of the rest.”
“It's in the cupboard over there.”
Kang Jin-Ho nodded and headed straight to the cupboard near the sink.
He quickly found two packets of instant rice there, then shoved them in the microwave.
“Son, didn't you say you wanted a simple breakfast” Baek Hyeon-Jeong muttered in a dumbfounded voice, but Kang Jin-Ho feigned ignorance of his parents staring at him.
After breakfast, Kang Jin-Ho had to stoically endure Kang Yu-Hwan's scolding as a loving father about how his appetite might obliterate the family's fortunes.
He saw off his parents as they left for work, then changed into streetwear himself.
It wasn't as if he had things to do outside, but he figured staying put in the house the whole day wasn't the right way to enjoy his leave.
Resting at home might be a good way to recover from fatigue, but Kang Jin-Ho could simply circulate his qi to refresh himself in one go.
As such, staying at home doing nothing would be too boring for him.
Where should I go'
The place he thought about going to was his university, but that didn't mean he had someone to meet or talk with there.
He suddenly remembered someone when he thought about school, so he picked his phone up and dialed a certain number.
A short ringtone later, Han Se-Yeon's voice came from the other side of the line.
- Are you on vacation
- When did your vacation start
“Maybe three days ago”
- Is that so
Kang Jin-Ho thought that Han Se-Yeon's voice sounded stiffer just now.
“I was wondering if you wanted to meet up.”
- I'm busy during the day.
I might be available in the evening, though.
Will that be fine
“Yeah, it's fine.”
- Where should we meet, though I don't mind if it's near your house or the campus.
“I'm also fine either way.”
- I see.
Then, how about that place near the campus I often hang out there, so they know me pretty well, you see.
At what time, though”
- At six.
I'll see you then.”
The call ended there, and Kang Jin-Ho pocketed the phone without giving too much thought to the conversation that had just ended.
Even so, something didn't feel quite right.
'Did something happen to her'
For some reason, her voice sounded cold.
Had she always sounded that way Considering how good Kang Jin-Ho's memory had become, he wouldn't have felt this way if Han Se-Yeon had always sounded so cold and distant.
He kept thinking that something was off, but he brushed that feeling aside and quickly stepped out of his house.
Should I go and wait for her on the campus'
Kang Jin-Ho didn't have anyone in the university he thought of as a friend, but he figured it might be a good idea to show his face at least once there.
But then, he remembered it was Saturday today, so he could only groan loudly.
Now that he thought about it, his circle of acquaintances was extremely small.
Park Yu-Min and the Three Musketeers, which included Jeong In-Gyu, were the extent of his friend’s list.
Other than Park Yu-Min, it felt a bit too awkward to hang out with the rest of them.
Which meant the only people Kang Jin-Ho could potentially meet up with were Park Yu-Min and Han Se-Yeon.
Kang Jin-Ho carefully weighed his options until he realized that...
he didn't have that much of a choice.
After a lengthy groan, he slowly trudged over to the garage.
Kang Jin-Ho rode on the Golden Elephant for a long while before arriving at the Seongsim Orphanage.
After parking his ride in the usual spot, he stepped inside the building while thinking he was spending more of his vacation time in the orphanage than in his home.
However, what choice did he have
The kids weren’t even showing much of a reaction anymore even when he entered through the doorway as if his presence had become a normal fixture around here.
It was as if the overly enthusiastic welcome Kang Jin-Ho had encountered on the first day had been his imagination.
While feeling like his status had rapidly fallen from that of a super-rare loot to a miscellaneous item in an RPG, Kang Jin-Ho walked past the disinterested children and headed to Park Yu-Min's private room.
Unfortunately, even Park Yu-Min stared at him with a somewhat unimpressed expression.
“You're here again Don't you have any other places to go, Jin-Ho”
“Well...” A cramped smile formed on Kang Jin-Ho's face.
He couldn't help but feel just a tad bit miserable.