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    Loves Error

    It was as if she had already known he would come. Jin looked around and then shifted his gaze to the closed examination room.

    “You asked the doctor for shampoo, right? Here, this product is good.”

    Lee Seolhwa came around the desk and handed him the shampoo with a flourish. Jin awkwardly lifted the corners of his lips.

    “The doctor is in, right?”

    “Are you here to see the doctor? Oh my, but Nari isn’t here.”

    Lee Seolhwa smiled as she glanced at his feet.

    “Well, as a special treat, I’ll give you a 5,000-won discount.”

    Jin felt a bit uneasy. Seeing her blocking the way to the examination room made him feel even more so.

    “Since you’re giving me a discount, I should at least thank the doctor.”

    Jin turned toward the examination room.

    “I’m the one giving the discount. Nari’s father!”

    Seeing Lee Seolhwa quickly approaching as if to stop him, Jin was now certain. For some reason, the doctor was avoiding him. Had he made some mistake yesterday? Or had he pried too much into Dr. Han? If that were the case, he should at least have the chance to apologize.

    Jin knocked on the examination room door.

    “Oh, I don’t know. Doctor, this is all I can do.”

    Lee Seolhwa muttered towards the door. Jin waited for the door to open. He waited persistently, even considering passing the time by reading the shampoo ingredients. Just as he began to read the first line, the door clicked open. The first thing he noticed was Han Naeyoung’s red-rimmed eyes instead of the usual white gloves.

    “You… came.”

    Jin stepped inside and closed the door behind him.

    “Is something wrong? Your face….”

    Just like that day. That was all he said. Han Naeyoung looked up at Jin holding the shampoo with a serious expression. It seemed like he was pointing out that Han Naeyoung didn’t look well, just like the day they met at the courthouse.

    Han Naeyoung, not knowing how he looked, turned his gaze away. Jin almost apologized for any mistake he might have made yesterday but stopped. Contrary to his expectations, Han Naeyoung’s expression and behavior didn’t show any hostility.

    “So, what brings you here?”

    He asked why Jin had come to the examination room when his purpose seemed to be the shampoo. Jin took a step closer to Han Naeyoung, who had distanced himself. Han Naeyoung’s eyes briefly twitched. Without Nari around, he couldn’t ask for a consultation, and if he needed a reason to visit in the future…

    “Dr. Han.”


    “I’m just asking out of curiosity, but do you have any friends around here?”


    Han Naeyoung blinked at the unexpected question. Jin glanced at his gloves. He seemed to understand what that glance meant. Given his severe germaphobia, he likely didn’t have any friends, not even outside the neighborhood. Han Naeyoung had no intention of lying.

    “No, I don’t.”

    Jin spoke to the straightforwardly agreeable Han Naeyoung.

    “Then, how about we become friends?”

    What do you think about that? he asked. Han Naeyoung remained silent, his mouth closed.

    Friends…? The only connection he had with Jin was Nari. Even calling that a connection was a stretch. Given Nari’s robust health, trips to the animal hospital were rare, and they had no professional relationship. Serving as a juror, which had led to their chance encounter, wouldn’t happen again for another five years.

    He couldn’t fathom why Jin wanted to be friends. Surely, it wasn’t for the reason he was thinking, right? But it couldn’t be. Han Naeyoung looked at Jin with a slight hint of displeasure.

    “That’s all just an excuse.”

    Jin muttered, as if confessing.

    “I’m interested in you.”

    There was no time to even mull over the exact meaning of his words.

    “Enough to use a lame excuse like needing shampoo.”


    Jin held up the blue bottle, momentarily speechless. He understood what Jin meant by saying he was interested. The question about whether his romantic interests were male or female was already unusual. Jin’s interest in him was somewhat anticipated. After all, someone wouldn’t invite a standoffish, germophobic person like himself to dinner without some interest.

    Jin was straightforward and assertive about his feelings. However, Han Naeyung had shown him nothing in return.


    “What do you mean, why?”

    “How can you say you’re interested in me when you barely know me… I don’t understand.”

    “Do I need to know you well to say that?”


    Han Naeyung knew he had no chance of winning this argument with Jin.

    “On the flip side, have you ever thought about getting to know me?”

    Aren’t you curious about me? Jin smiled at Han Naeyung, who had retreated.

    “I know you’re a good person. So…”


    Jin was about to step closer to Han Naeyung, who was staring at his chest, when his phone rang in his pocket. Seeing the emergency line on the caller ID, he clicked his tongue silently.

    “Answer it.”

    If he suggested taking the call later, he might receive a look of disdain. He didn’t want to be seen as a slacker. Jin told Han Naeyung to wait a moment and then answered the call.

    “Yes, this is Jin.”

    – Prosecutor, you need to come quickly!

    As expected, Lee Inyoung’s voice sounded urgent.

    “What’s going on?”

    Jin asked, looking at Han Naeyung.

    – It’s… It’s best if you hear it directly.


    Jin ended the call and put his phone back in his pocket. He still stood in the same spot, but now he met Han Naeyung’s gaze, unable to hide his regret.

    “I’ll come back after work. If that’s okay with you, Dr. Han.”


    Han Naeyung didn’t have time to respond.

    “I won’t be late.”

    Jin placed the shampoo and some money on the examination table.

    “I’ll pick this up in the evening.”

    With that unilateral promise, Jin left the examination room. Han Naeyung took a deep breath.

    A good person, a straightforward man, someone who reached out to him despite his aloofness, a law enforcer he so despised. Jin was all of these. And here he was, always wearing gloves to hide his tainted hands.

    Jin seemed to think of him as soft and fragile, like tofu. If he knew about the malice inside him, if he discovered the cunning calculations he made to avoid being caught by a prosecutor like Jin, would he still be interested?

    If he knew about the scars on his back, would he still call him soft like tofu? The sea foam is always white, but who knows what lurks beneath the black sea? If Jin were to see beyond the white foam and look into the deep sea, he would be disappointed.

    Han Naeyung covered his pale face with his hands, looking at himself in a small mirror. The faint smell of cigarette smoke lingered like a memory.

    ⋆. ݁⭒

    Han Naeyung stood at the bus stop.

    He waited for the bus with his face half-buried in a black scarf. There was a direct bus to his destination, but he deliberately transferred three times. He paid for each fare in cash.

    “Hey, we need to go straight there. Do you know what time it is?”

    “You said you’d buy me tteokbokki.”

    “What time do you think it is to be asking for tteokbokki?” 

    “You’re a liar, hyung!”

    The two brothers, holding hands, were bickering under the electronic display board. They both seemed to be in the upper grades of elementary school. Contrary to the usual pattern where the taller one is the older brother, here, the younger one was taller. The older brother, looking up at the display, tilted his head.

    “Hyung, did the 72 bus pass by already?”

    Han Naeyung shifted his gaze from his scarf to the older brother.

    “Not yet.”

    Because it was late at night, the intervals between buses were long.

    “Thank you.”

    The older brother, bowing his head, fidgeted with his phone, seemingly checking the bus route.

    “Hyung, call mom. Tell her to bring tteokbokki.”

    “She’s waiting at the bus stop. Stop whining already.”

    “Then let’s buy some on the way home.”

    “Do you want to keep this up? What if we run into bad people on the way?”

    “Then we’ll just call the police with our phones.”

    The younger brother waved the phone hanging around his neck.

    “Just eat it tomorrow. You’re going to fall asleep as soon as we get home anyway.”

    “No! I’m not going to sleep!”

    From a distance, the 72 bus was approaching. The two continued to argue, seemingly having forgotten about the bus they needed to catch. Han Naeyung spoke to the two boys.

    “The bus… it’s here.”

    “Shut up! If you ask for tteokbokki one more time, you’re not getting any tomorrow either!”

    His voice was drowned out by the older brother’s shout, so he pulled his scarf down to his chin.

    “The bus.”

    “Oh, you’re right. Thank you.”

    The two boys waved at the approaching bus. Han Naeyung watched them board before checking his watch. 11:05 PM. It was late for children to be out, but their parents were waiting at the stop, so there shouldn’t be a problem. He pulled up his scarf again and bit his lip.

    I miss you. I miss you so much. I’m so unbearably lonely, Jaemin.

    I can no longer remember the warmth of your little hands, but the image of your pain is so vivid that my eyes blur whenever I think of it.

    Hyung. His younger brother called with a clumsy pronunciation. A small hand clutched his worn shirt. I’m scared, hyung.

    I’m scared, Jaemin. I hope today’s person is kind. The last person even gave us chocolate. I wish it were him again. At least he didn’t hit us. He held his brother’s hand tightly. With a creak, the door opened, revealing a man with a kind expression smiling at them.

    Creak, bang! The door closed. Escaping the moldy room and taking the elevator up led to a soft bed and delicious drinks. And his brother taking off his clothes.

    “The bus will arrive soon.”

    The announcement from the electronic display made him rub his eyes. Something wet and sticky came off on his gloves. The hard lump in his chest made it difficult to breathe. He couldn’t speak. He assumed his younger brother also knew that what they were told was a lie.

    His brother’s wide eyes showed he believed the lies, hoping to escape even greater suffering. If there was anyone who deserved to have their tongue cut out, it should have been him for not telling his brother the important truth.

    Han Naeyung got on the bus and looked out the window. The bus passed by the imposing courthouse. Sitting in the very back, Han Naeyung pulled out a yellowed piece of paper from his pocket.

    The person the client requested to be tailed is searching for Lee Kyungchul after being released.

    He smirked, hidden behind his scarf. “Don’t laugh at others’ misfortunes,” was the philosophy of his father, Han Sungkwon. But just this once, he had to laugh. Not even God could blame him. His barely lifted smile trembled slightly.

    “I won’t be late.”

    Perhaps that was why he arrived later than expected. Despite saying he would return in the evening, he kept the clinic open until 9 PM, but he did not come. When he didn’t show up, he might have felt relieved.

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