“A-about that…” Seo Sang-Do trailed off and grabbed the soju bottle.
His hand was trembling so much that he almost lost his grip on the bottle.
Seo Sang-Do did not fill his glass but instead drank straight from the bottle. Shocked, Ha Jae-Gun tried to reach out and stop him, but Seo Sang-Do had already emptied the bottle.
“Ah! I’ll have another bottle of soju, please!”
“I shouldn’t have asked that question. I’m really sorry. Please slow down, senior.”
Seo Sang-Do did not listen but opened up the new bottle of soju.
Ha Jae-Gun managed to catch him, stopping him from drinking. “You’re drinking too fast.”
“I’m fine, so let go.”
“...Then please drink from the glass.”
“Alright. I’ll drink from the glass, so let go.”
Ha Jae-Gun slowly loosened his grip on Seo Sang-Do’s arm and eventually let go. After much thought, Ha Jae-Gun added, “It might be extremely rude of me to say this, but… I’m worried for you. You might have developed a dependency on alcohol.”
“I’ll take care of my own health.”
“Please go to the hospital with me.”
“If you say anything like that again, I'm going to leave.”
Why was Ha Jae-Gun’s persuasion not working?
The walls of time that Seo Sang-Do had surrounded himself with were sturdy. Ha Jae-Gun couldn't break through them on his own.
Seo Sang-Do filled his glass to the brim and downed it at once. He didn’t touch a single piece of the snack and emptied three shots at once.
Finally, some of that annoyance seemed to have gone away, and his breathing began to calm down as well.
“I’m sorry.” Seo Sang-Do looked at the old menu panel and said, “I just had some painful memories come back to me… As you said, my relationship with my father isn’t that good.”
“I apologize for making you feel uncomfortable. Let’s talk about something else.”
“I think that’s for the better.” Seo Sang-Do let out a huge sigh and nodded. A faint smile then appeared on his expressionless face.
“What does your father mean to you?”
Why would Seo Sang-Do ask Ha Jae-Gun such a question? Ha Jae-Gun was slightly taken aback at his question but remained composed and replied, “I respect him very much.”
“I see. That’s right, a father should be like that,” Seo Sang-Do murmured as if those words were for himself to hear. There didn’t seem to be any sarcasm in his tone. He then picked up the soju bottle and asked once more.
“This question might come off as rude as well…”
“It’s alright, please ask away.”
“Does your father love you, Mr. Ha?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Are you certain?”
“Yes, I’m certain,” Ha Jae-Gun answered without hesitation.
Seo Sang-Do watched Ha Jae-Gun with subtle envy. “I’m envious of you, really.”
“...I’m not sure if it’s right for me to guess, but I’m sure your father loves you as well.”
“Forget it. That’s enough.” Seo Sang-Do snorted and waved his hand dismissively.
Ha Jae-Gun went silent at Seo Sang-Do's fierce tone of vice.
Ha Jae-Gun had a spoonful of the hangover soup and then changed the subject.
“About your father’s keepsakes.”
“I’m still holding onto them. If you want, you can still take them back, but can I still raise Rika? I’ve grown fond of her, and she’s like my family now.”
Ha Jae-Gun had been thinking about this for a long time; it did not come to him randomly. Although they were items that gave him godly abilities, he was prepared to sever any feelings he had with them They belonged to Seo Gun-Woo, after all, so it was only right for him to return them to his son.
“I can’t believe you still have them…”
“Because they belong to your father.”
Seo Sang-Do raised a finger up in front of him and shook it.
“They are off my hands from the moment I left them at his grave. My answer is still the same as when you first brought them to me. Do whatever you want with them.”
The second bottle of soju was emptied. Squinting his unfocused eyes, Seo Sang-Do seemed confused about where to look. His alcohol-drenched lips hung slightly open as he continued. “I almost never saw him around throughout my life. I would only meet him maybe twice in a year…? I’m not even sure where he had been working away so hard all his life…”
“Did he like traveling?”
“Well, maybe. The important thing here is that he had never told me anything before. Even on the day he passed…”
“So you have no idea where he was on his last day?” This question was something that Ha Jae-Gun had wanted to ask if the opportunity arose.
If what he had seen in his dream was the exact same hit-and-run that Seo Gun-Woo had encountered, then he definitely would like to check it out.
He was extremely curious about the unknown man’s identity and what that man had taken out from Seo Gun-Woo’s bag.
“No. I don’t know who he went to meet… or even where he went… He was with the cat, Rika, but I can’t get any sort of explanation from her either. Maam, another bottle of soju here.”
The lady who was washing dishes took off her gloves and gave Seo Sang-Do another bottle of soju.
Seo Sang-Do opened it as hot tears welled in his eyes.
“There was one day when I was so drunk that I saw my father—”
Seo Sang-Do's forehead struck the table.
Ha Jae-Gun drank a glass of soju. He had no idea where and how to unravel Seo Sang-Do’s love and hatred for his father.
Meanwhile, rain was starting to fall outside.
“It’s nice to see you and talk face to face.”
“You’re so spontaneous. I can’t believe you didn’t mention anything and called me saying that you’re already at Incheon Airport. Do you know how surprised I was?”
A sweet jazz melody was playing in the background. The warm amber light gently illuminated the bar.
Oh Myung-Suk sat at the end of the bar counter. Meanwhile, the short-haired lady next to him was his old classmate and lover, Chae Yoo-Jin—a publishing agent based in the United States. She had visited Korea from out of the blue.
“Let’s have a toast. You like vodka, right?”
“Not really. I’ve changed to drinking soju after meeting and drinking with the writers.”
“You’re quite the commoner as the next successor-in-line of OongSung Group. Let’s order soju, then.”
“Stop teasing me. Now tell me, why did you suddenly visit Korea?”
Chae Yoo-Jin downed a straight shot right away. She then said without a change in expression. “Because I miss you.”
“I’ve said it. I came because I miss you.”
Oh Myung-Suk laughed, speechless.
As she accepted the next glass poured by Oh Myung-Suk, Chae Yoo-Jin smiled happily and said, “The release of Writer Ha Jae-Gun’s Gyeoja Bathhouse is close. I’ll be extremely busy for the next few months once I get back to the U.S. In other words, this is sort of like a vacation, even though it’s just for two days.”
“You’ve come a long way just for a two-day vacation. How are the people in Knobble?”
Knobble was the name of the largest publication company in the United States, and Gyeoja Bathhouse was going to be published through them. Ha Jae-Gun had been notified of it as well.
“They do things neatly, and they are open to opinions as well. If they weren't like that, they wouldn't have become what they are today."
“What about the timeline?”
“We’ll be hitting a million copies soon. And the movie will be premiering two days later, right? I’ll be heading back to the U.S. after watching the movie, so make time for me that day. I don’t want to watch the movie alone.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll get a VIP seat for you.”
The two drank another glass. Chae Yoo-Jin touched one cheek that was slowly turning red and looked at Oh Myung-Suk. “You’re still handsome as ever, our Oh Myung-Suk.”
“I’m quite good-looking.”
“Nah, your younger brother Myung-Hoon is better looking than you are.”
“I admit that. Myung-Hoon’s looks don’t fall short of anyone wherever he goes.”
“You must know that you’re complimenting him too much.”
“It’s not because he’s my younger brother, but objectively speaking…”
“Ah, fine. Myung-Hoon is the most handsome, so let’s stop there and have a toast.”
Chae Yoo-Jin cut Oh Myung-Suk off and raised her glass.
Oh Myung-Suk grinned and clinked glasses with her.
“Ah, I’m getting drunk.”
“I’ll send you back to the hotel. Sleep early today.”
“What’s after that?” Chae Yoo-Jin asked with a provocative look.
Oh Myung-Suk could already tell she was being mischievous and playful. He replied calmly, “I’ll go home and sleep, too.”
“You’re boring. Do you want to sleep with me in my room?”
You're drunk. I’ve been feeling lonely these days, so don’t provoke me with those jokes.”
“I’m not joking. Really.” Chae Yoo-Jin hooked arms with Oh Myung-Suk.
Her familiar scent and warm body temperature made Oh Myung-Suk see the past flash across his eyes. He had broken up with her because he couldn’t handle the reality back then, but it seemed that he still couldn't quite reach her even after so many years.
Oh Myung-Suk’s face naturally turned somber. He soon became conscious of Chae Yoo-Jin and relaxed, but Chae Yoo-Jin caught the changes in his emotions.
Chae Yoo-Jin unhooked her arm and looked down.
“I shouldn't play such jokes anymore. You're not fun.”
“What are you saying? Why are you so serious?”
“I must be tired. I should get going now. Let's keep this for next time." Chae Yoo-Jin picked up her bag and stood up.
Oh Myung-Suk regretted failing to keep his expression in check.
"Thanks for today. I'll take the taxi back, so you should head back, too," Chae Yoo-Jin said.
"Don't you know that we're going the same way? Let's go together."
Oh Myung-Suk dragged Chae Yoo-Jin over to his car, and they got in the back seat together.
The chauffeur hit the road, driving through the autumn rain tonight.
Chae Yoo-Jin looked out the window. She didn't say even a single word throughout the drive. Oh Myung-Suk was also organizing the memories and thoughts in his head that he couldn't say a single word.
"Thank you for sending me back."
"Yeah, have a good rest; I'll call you later," said Oh Myung-Suk.
Chae Yoo-Jin stood there hesitating, and then she suddenly added with urgency, “It's not because of you that I'm feeling depressed.”
Oh Myung-Suk turned around in a daze.
Chae Yoo-Jin’s teary eyes turned into crescent moons as she smiled. She patted the corners of her eyes and said, “I’m blaming myself for not being more feminine.”
“Yoo-Jin…!” Oh Myung-Suk took a step forward.
At the same time, Chae Yoo-Jin took a step backward.
“See you tomorrow! Don’t bring the emotions of today over tomorrow, alright?” Chae Yoo-Jin didn't give him any chance to speak and quickly headed into the hotel.
There were many people walking through the entrance, so Oh Myung-Suk couldn't chase after her.
Just then, the phone in his pocket vibrated, pulling Oh Myung-Suk back to reality.
It was a call from his father, Oh Tae-Jin.
— I called because you’re still not home yet. I’ll hang up if you’re still working.
“No, Father. I was just meeting a friend.”
Oh Myung-Suk didn't reveal that he had met Chae Yoo-Jin. Although Oh Tae-Jin was a relatively supportive father, Chae Yoo-Jin was an exception.
— Alright. Don’t drink too much.
“I didn’t drink a lot. I’m about to head back now, too.”
— Really? I’ll be at the study, then. There’s something I want to discuss with you.
Oh Tae-Jin’s words most probably meant that he wanted Oh Myung-Suk to look over the work that he had been working on recently. Oh Tae-Jin had recently been working on a new full-length novel. This was something only Oh Myung-Suk knew.
“I’ve said this before as well; the introduction draft was great, Father.”
— I need to feel relieved about it. My stamina has dropped, and I think that this is going to be my last novel.
“How about asking other writers or editors to take a look? You trust my judgment too much.”
As Oh Myung-Suk said that, Ha Jae-Gun came to his mind. He had been working with Ha Jae-Gun for quite some time now, and they could already be considered friends. Oh Myung-Sul also believed that Ha Jae-Gun was the best writer in Korea.
— All right. Let’s talk about that, too, then. Hurry up and come home.
“Yes, I’ll be back soon.”
Oh Myung-Suk hung up the call and looked at the hotel once more. He very much wanted to walk through those huge doors and head to Chae Yoo-Jin’s room, but he had no choice but to turn around for now.
“Jae-Gun hyung, we should get going. We might get stuck in traffic.”
“I’m all done. Let’s go.”
Today was the premiere day of Gyeoja Bathhouse.
As usual, Ha Jae-Gun had arranged to watch the movie with his family. As his driver, Lee Yeon-Woo was all prepared and had been waiting for Ha Jae-Gun.
“I’m so happy, hyung. You hit a million copies sold for the movie on the movie premiere day! Kya~!” Lee Yeon-Woo said excitedly as soon as Ha Jae-Gun stepped out of his room.
It was news that had appeared all over the internet this morning.
“I hope the movie does well, too. I just hope we'll get twenty million views and hit five million copies sold for the book,” Lee Yeon-Woo added.
“Stop with the fuss already. Let’s go now.”
Ha Jae-Gun bent down and put on his shoes. At the same time, the doorbell rang.
Ha Jae-Gun quickly opened the door to see a delivery man carrying a few cardboard boxes.
“Excuse me, is this Mr. Ha Jae-Gun’s house?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
“You’ve got a delivery. Please take this.” The delivery man handed Ha Jae-Gun a small paper box and turned around in a hurry.
Ha Jae-Gun looked down at the box as the delivery man’s footsteps grew distant.
These three words were written on the box.