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    “Have you finished eating?”

    I quickly dodged him as he reached out to rub the corner of my mouth. He didn’t seem to care either way and even served dessert. I was about to decline but sat quietly instead. Wow. The tomatoes looked shiny and tender as if they had been sweetened whole after peeling.

    “You’re eating well. Is it delicious?”

    I nodded readily. Maybe because it’s easy to swallow. It goes down smoothly. I was planning to just empty four plates since I was full, but the person who had been quietly watching me eat the whole time asked:

    “Should I bring one more?”

    “…”

    I nodded slightly, thinking I could eat about five. I was told to wait, so I emptied my bowl and waited when I heard a bird chirping somewhere. There were no people around, and it was so quiet that I felt like I was relaxing in a traditional Korean-style hotel. Although one-sided communication was uncomfortable, once I fully recovered, it would become very convenient. The meals might even turn into a seven-course meal.

    I couldn’t deny the feeling of being on an unexpected vacation. I should contact home soon… I closed my eyes and opened them when I felt someone approaching. Tae Seong-je, who seemed to have relayed a message through the door, sat down beside me and placed the back of his hand on my cheek. His eyes were careful as if trying to measure my temperature. I stared at those eyes. Whenever I looked at him, I felt a strange sensation.

    Even if I don’t have any memories, does my subconscious remember him? While I couldn’t take my eyes off him, he also kept looking at me even after taking my temperature, and I don’t know what he was thinking. Just when I felt trapped in an eternal moment, there was a knock on the door. It had been happening for a while, but as if confirming my suspicion, there was another knock. The strange atmosphere and the seemingly eternal moment were instantly broken.

    No, it surely hadn’t been that long. Feeling embarrassed, I focused on eating the snack. Soon after clearing the table, a tray with a packet of medicine and water appeared. The pills looked different in color and shape from the ones I took yesterday.

    “It might make you a bit sleepy, but take it.”

    I blinked silently, looking at the medicine and then at Tae Seong-je. He gently stroked my ear once and then roughly ruffled my hair. Even that wasn’t with much force, but remembering the strange atmosphere from earlier, my shoulders tensed up.

    “They say you’re sicker than you think. So, let’s take the medicine well.”

    Where? No, why won’t he tell me where and how I’m sick? Although I felt frustrated, I took the medicine without protest. There’s no way they’d give me something bad for my body.

    “Here, to cleanse your palate.”

    “…”

    It was a candy. I wasn’t thrilled about being treated like a child, but my hand was already unwrapping the candy. As I sucked on the candy rolling in my mouth, I tasted the characteristic sourness of lemon mixed with sweetness. I closed my eyes for a moment, but when I opened them again, it was already evening and dinner was being served. No, it wasn’t just “a bit sleepy.”

    I woke up in a half-asleep state and ate egg porridge, abalone porridge, and mushroom porridge. I also ate finely sliced grilled eggplant and pumpkin for dessert. I don’t know if they examined me while I was sleeping, but there were new bandages that weren’t there before, and there was a smell like that of a hospital. Is it possible to treat someone without their consent? Can they do that? As I pondered these questions, he gave me more medicine, saying it was for the evening.

    If I take this, it’ll probably be morning right away. Eating, sleeping, then eating and sleeping again – how is that different from being a pig raised for slaughter? I pushed away the medicine, meaning I wouldn’t take it, and a short warning sound came from his mouth.

    “Don’t be stubborn about something like this.”

    And not telling me where and how I’m sick isn’t being stubborn? Without looking at him, I got out of bed. My body ached from lying down for too long. I lightly rotated my shoulders and swung my legs as if kicking. While stretching, he spoke in a firm voice.

    “Come here.”

    I shook my head to show I didn’t want to. Come here, no, I told you to come, I said no… Our silent standoff and glaring contest continued until his low voice, devoid of inflection, resonated.

    “Seo Seung-won. Listen while I’m asking nicely. Do you think I’m giving you this to harm you? You said you’d listen well. Is this what you call listening well?”

    “…”

    If he wanted me to listen well, he should explain things properly first. I flinched, then gathered my resolve and stared at him. He subtly tried to control things his way, but did he think I’d just stay quiet? And what is this, is he my lover or my father? It’s confusing. He should pick one. And I never said I’d listen well, what’s he talking about?

    “Ha, Seo Seung-won, you.”

    Instead of losing, he glared fiercely and showed no signs of backing down. As I stood my ground, he put his hands on his hips as if in disbelief.

    “So this is how you’re going to be? After how well I’ve treated you. …This is how you act?”

    “…”

    “… If I ask you to take the medicine nicely, will you take it obediently?”

    “…”

    “…What if I beg?”

    Why doesn’t he just tell me where I’m sick? Now I’m the one who’s exasperated and frustrated. I gave up the confrontation and looked around to find my bag. It’s right under my feet, as the saying goes ‘it’s darkest under the lantern’. But was my bag always like this? I was suddenly surprised by how dirty it was. Like an out-of-place spot the difference puzzle, it was tattered here and there, in terrible condition. I should throw it away.

    First, I opened the bag and poured out all the contents inside. Among the contents pouring out, I found a laptop and a tablet. I didn’t have my phone, but I had installed PC KakaoTalk on the laptop, so I could use it to contact others even if I forgot my phone number. It was essentially a top priority item.

    I tried turning it on as a test, but as expected, it didn’t light up. While I was wrestling with the uncooperative electronic devices, Tae Seong-je casually came to my side and peered over. I gestured to him, pretending to repair the tablet while he was flipping through a notebook. Then, seeing a pen rolling around, I decided there was no need for body language and immediately snatched the notebook from his hands. Ignoring his outstretched hand as he asked for it back, I wrote a short note in the corner margin.

    <I have my limits too.>

    “… Would you like to take medicine first?”

    He seemed more compliant but still a bit sullen.

    <In exchange, please have these repaired. Neither powers on, so they might be completely broken, but I want to see if the data inside is intact.>

    “What’s inside?”

    <My memory.>

    “…”

    <I kept forgetting things while stranded, so I was afraid I might forget everything and recorded what I could remember. I want to listen to it once, thinking it might help me remember.>

    “…Alright. I’ll look into it.”

    Actually, I was planning to take the medicine. To quickly recover from this condition, I need to take the medicine and rest well. Still, I acted this way because I wanted to make demands and gain some leverage, even if it was through this method. Maybe he would have helped without conditions, but seeing him back down as if he had lost wasn’t all bad. After tidying up my bag, I sat on the bed and quietly took the medicine.

    ***

    Despite the thick curtains making the room as dark as night, it was clearly morning. I could see faint light through the gap in the not-fully-closed curtains. See? I knew it. I knew I’d sleep really well. I curled my body into a ball without taking my eyes off the dim light. The more I focused on the sunlight seeping in, the more my back hunched. I would have continued if it weren’t for something hard touching my hip.

    “…”

    I could hear steady breathing near my ear, and his breath brushed against my neck. It was clearly someone else’s breathing. Usually, I’d wake up still under the influence of the medicine, but not this time. I was wide awake. An ominous feeling crept up my spine, and I started sweating profusely from shock. The room was maintained at a comfortable temperature and air quality, so there was no reason for cold sweat.

    Meanwhile, my waist felt heavy. I looked down, but it was dark, and the blanket covering below my chest made it hard to see. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I stared intently at my waist area, and I could vaguely see what looked like a thick, muscular forearm.

    As my mind froze and I was about to freak out, a muscular arm pulled me firmly around the waist.

    “Mmm…”

    “…”

    My face heated up at the deep sound, and I immediately held my breath. Otherwise, I would have screamed. Crazy. Flustered, I tried to awkwardly slip out of bed, but apparently, I had been sleeping on this person’s arm, because as soon as I moved, I was caught again. Each arm wrapped around my side and neck, chaining me down.

    Just as goosebumps started to rise, I felt the soft sensation of lips and breaths on my neck. The rough part of the lips touching the back of my neck made my body keep twitching. Plus, feeling that heavy, hard sensation against my backside again – oh god, this is insane! Finally unable to bear it, I broke free from Tae Seong-je’s embrace.

    Gasping for breath, I hid my flushed face behind my forearm defensively. The lingering feel of the soft kisses on my neck and the blatant erection wouldn’t leave my mind. I was unable to get out of the shock easily and stumbled for a moment.

    The blanket slipped off as he slowly got up. I could see his skin gleaming in the faint streaks of light. Ack! Why is this guy naked again?! I coughed like crazy and fumbled on the table for water. Clutching my chest, I gulped down a lot of water. My heart felt like it was about to leap out of my mouth. I was so startled that I instantly went limp below.

    “Don’t scream. You’ll hurt your throat more.”

    While I was panting heavily, he showed a trivial concern. How absurd. Embarrassed by my ragged breathing, I covered my mouth, but my gaze slipped downward without me realizing it. …Even with clothes on, I thought he looked a bit seductive, but without them, he was downright sexy. The sight of his muscular chest glistening in the morning sun, tapering to a narrow waist, was incredibly provocative. I had to make a great effort to stop my gaze from wandering to even more precarious areas.

    As I stuttered and licked my dry mouth, I grabbed my bruised thigh tightly as a thought crossed my mind.

    “Please.”

    “Hmm?”

    “Please tell me you’re wearing pants…”

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