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    “I think I fell down a slope and hit a rock or something. From then on, my memories gradually… Since then, my memory has been gradually… Uh, I don’t really know how to explain this. The last thing I remember keeps changing. I have recordings on my tablet, but when I listened to them later, I couldn’t understand anything at all.”

    “Don’t you even remember what you said yourself?”

    “Yes. And I’ve forgotten everyone’s faces and names too. Including my own.”

    My eyes drifted away from the doctor in front of me toward the man grilling meat. Do gangsters have secretaries too? No, even a secretary wouldn’t go this far. Why was he doing everything? I want to do it. I want to go over there. I never even hugged anyone when I was young, so I don’t know how long I’m supposed to stay like this.

    The delicious smell of meat sizzling started to fill the air. I wanted to sit properly at the table, but did we really have to do this here in the restaurant? Couldn’t the examination wait until tomorrow or later at home?

    “When was the last thing you remember?”

    “Before the midterm exams in my first year of high school.”

    “What?”

    “Ouch.”

    Suddenly my forearm was tightly gripped, causing a sharp pain. It had to be the bruised arm that was grabbed. He let go quickly when I frowned, but the pain lingered. It wasn’t just the sudden grab, but the strength of his grip that surprised me. Despite his large and rough hands, he had always been gentle with me, so I guess I thought it wouldn’t hurt at all.

    “Why?”

    “You said earlier…”

    Tae Seong-je slowly examines my complexion again before speaking cautiously.

    “You said you remembered taking the midterms.”

    Me? Did I say that?

    Ah, look at this. This is how I keep scarily forgetting things.

    “Doctor. This is regression, right? Right? I’m not going to become senile at this rate, am I? Surely not, right?”

    I’m only twenty, no, twenty-one years old. I reached my trembling hand out to the doctor. But the hand that suddenly grabbed it was the person behind me, which I tightly held onto out of anxiety. I almost teared up. However, the doctor didn’t answer and just kept glancing behind me, making me want to throw away the trust I had built up at this meat restaurant. No, why does he keep looking at this person instead of the patient?

    I pulled my knees up to block his view like a human shield. It seemed he was afraid because this guy looked like a gangster, but they probably hadn’t talked to each other. Why was he so scared of someone who just looked like a gangster? That gangster grilling meat was working harder than the restaurant staff.

    “Doctor, so? Are there cases like this? If so, were they cured? Were there people who were cured?”

    “What are you doing? Sit down.”

    “Just a moment.”

    Does it matter if I’m sitting or standing right now? My head is the problem!

    “Can just bumping my head cause this?”

    “….”

    The doctor slightly lowered his chin and raised his eyes. Ah, I guess it wasn’t ‘just’ after all. Acknowledging that I calmed down. When I behaved, the doctor laughed softly for the first time. I must look ridiculous. It’s true; with one person pulling me to sit and the other resisting, it must be a sight.

    “There are similar cases. For example… ”

    Speaking in a more relaxed expression than before, he examined my legs at the same time. I listened attentively to the doctor’s words. But my focus was completely scattered by the person gently caressing my knees with a serious expression. After glancing at Tae Seong-je’s solemn face, I looked up at the empty ceiling instead. Worrying too much made my face flush. Even if I’m injured, it’s an overreaction to make such a fuss just because I stood up briefly on my knees.

    “Anyway, please come to the hospital tomorrow. You showed similar symptoms around this time two years ago, so we should check if it’s a recurring condition.”

    Two years ago? When I was a high school senior? No, he said I’m twenty-one now, so that was my freshman year in college. I don’t remember anything like that, so I’m completely lost about what he’s talking about.

    “You’re saying I had this before too?”

    “…”

    “Was I sick? Did I have some illness?”

    Seeing the doctor’s surprised expression, I turned to look at Tae Seong-je. The way he looked at me, seemingly unsure how to explain, made me feel like the floor was sinking. It would be a different story if it wasn’t because I hit the back of my head against a rock that my head became weird, and I was originally like this. Was this an incurable disease? Can’t it be fixed? Everyone’s uncertainty only made me more anxious. As soon as my mind started racing, blood began dripping from my nose.

    “So was I originally like this too?”

    “…”

    Covering my nose and mouth with both hands, I grimaced. When my condition is bad, my whole body aches like I’ve been in an accident, making me feel like dying.

    “It’s okay. As long as you aren’t stressed… This will be fine if you aren’t stressed.”

    “This?”

    “…”

    When I showed my blood-stained hands and asked if this was okay, his expression froze stiffly. Seeing his speechlessness, I clenched both fists tightly. I don’t know who I’m venting my anger on. I was wondering if he was giving me tissues or something, but what I actually caught was the strap of my bag. Why give me this? Before I could react, Tae Seong-je carefully grabbed my chin and pulled me toward him. His movements were meticulous as he pinched my nose and wiped away each drop of blood.

    Drained of energy, I slumped my shoulders. Seeming to pity my state, the doctor carefully spoke up.

    “Even if the wound on your head is difficult… we may be able to remove the scars on your face. These days, everything is possible.”

    “It’s okay…”

    It seemed like he was trying to console me, but I didn’t find it very comforting. I didn’t really need that since I thought the scars on my nose bridge and under my chin looked quite cool in their own way. Besides, my insides were already a mess, so what does the outside matter?

    “Why. Hyung will make sure he erases everything cleanly.”

    “No, it’s alright.”

    I straightened my slumped body and frowned. When I pushed away the person trying to naturally embrace me again, he gently stroked my head like calming a child.

    “I’ll have him make sure your head has no scars either.”

    “But the doctor said it can’t be done.”

    “No, he’s a quack.”

    Tae Seong-je’s inconsiderate remark made the usually mild-mannered doctor’s face twist in annoyance for the first time. Why call a competent doctor a quack? I was flustered, but Tae Seong-je didn’t seem to care and was busy wiping his hands and making wraps with the meat.

    “Oh, what is it? I can eat myself.”

    I’m not a child, why is he trying to feed me?

    I wiped my hands clean and ate on my own. I have two working hands, so why wouldn’t I use them? As I ate diligently, I felt a bit uncomfortable. Receiving medical treatment while eating is a treat you wouldn’t get anywhere else, but there’s probably a reason why it’s not common practice. Eating like this was uncomfortable, and the setting was awkward.

    The well-cooked pork ribs with cold noodles were tasty, but—

    “Shall I take another look at your legs?”

    I’m grateful he’s carefully examining me from every angle, but I’m getting a bit annoyed as I can’t concentrate on eating. Anyway, after all the tests were done and only Tae Seong-je and I were left in the room, I let out a satisfied breath after ordering and eating another serving of rice until I was full. At least I don’t seem to have any stomach issues, which is a relief.

    “Did you finish eating?”

    “Yes.”

    “You really ate everything.”

    I belatedly felt awkward at his meaningless exclamation. I ate too heartily in front of someone else.

    “You should eat too, hyung. Should I order 3 more servings? I’m sorry. After starving for so long, my body can’t seem to resist feeling hungry anymore.”

    “…You are starved for a long time?”

    “In the mountains? Yeah, pretty much.”

    I shrugged my shoulders as I drank a glass of water. I had planned to write an autobiography after coming down and include a section like ‘Everything Edible in the Mountains’, but there was hardly anything to eat, so that wasn’t possible. Fortunately, I had some combat rations, so I held on for a while, but in the end, I just continued to starve and only drank water.

    “Ah, I’m full.”

    Being full makes my heart feel generous. The drowsiness lifted as my energy returned, putting me in a good mood. That’s right, just as living is better than dying, being alive is far better than being in pain. If I can manage my daily life, that’s enough. There will come a time to heal. Anyway, I’ll think about it tomorrow.

    I opened the door energetically and closed it again. Even though I tried not to dwell on it, I still couldn’t get used to the room being full of men in black suits.

    “Would you like to eat more?”

    Don’t take me for a pig. Just because I closed the door again doesn’t mean you can treat me badly.

    “Instead of that, let’s go eat some Korean beef. Shall we go have some?”

    …That’s treating me badly in another way. If I develop bad habits from this, I’ll have no excuse. Shaking my head, I opened the door again and the men started standing up one by one. Whenever our eyes met, they all bowed their heads. Ah, looking at them now, they seem like uncles I haven’t seen in a long time. I don’t even remember feeling that initial tension when I first saw them.

    After blankly staring, I stretched out fully. Let’s just go home.

    “Boss. Can I borrow your slippers for a moment?”

    “Yes, yes. Use the ones down there.”

    I picked up two pairs of slippers that were lying around and put them on. They were small so my heels stuck out, but it didn’t hinder my walking. And it’s better than being carried out. With my limping legs, I went outside and lightly stretched.

    The night sky was the same as when I used to finish all my studying at the reading room and leave. It wouldn’t be any different even if I went to university. But I never felt like admiring the sky back then.

    “There are lots of stars in the countryside.”

    “Yeah…don’t do that.”

    He was slowly raising his hand toward my waist. When I firmly brushed it away, a bitter voice came from above my head.

    “You can’t stand properly.”

    Is he trying to use this as an excuse to evoke my sympathy? If so, that voice is wasted. I’ve made up my mind not to give in anymore. If I pretended to give in, I might end up stuck without any way out, so I decided I needed to be firm from the start.

    I spoke to him while deliberately looking straight ahead at the empty road.

    “I know you date me. I understand, but not with the me right now. How we treated each other before has nothing to do with me. So don’t act like you normally do.”

    “Yeah. Got it.”

    “Thanks for understanding, but don’t hold my hand.”

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