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    I couldn’t calm down easily. Although it wasn’t something I should have been so surprised about, my reaction was excessively intense, and I felt a bit embarrassed. After calming down, I felt most ashamed about raising my voice too much. Even the soreness in my still-swollen throat added to my awkwardness.

    Then I frowned deeply. Thinking it over again, it seemed like it was okay to be more startled.

    “You’re not angry, are you?”

    But before I could get any more angry, I felt his hand gently stroking my hair and his low voice being so kind. The rising heat within me cooled down again, leaving me unable to speak. Even without looking, I could tell he was waiting for my response.

    “I think the joke was a bit much, but I’m not angry.”

    After hesitating out of embarrassment, I answered belatedly. He poked the back of my neck and asked:

    “Then why aren’t you looking at me? People should talk while facing each other.”


    He had a point, so I found myself at a loss for words. It felt pointless to resist, so I turned to face him, almost getting lost in his gaze. It’s unbelievable. Can a person be this compatible with water? Tae Seong-je was lying on his stomach on the bed, resting his chin on his hand and silently looking down at me. He looked so good that if he had to be immortalized as a historical scene in a masterpiece painting, it should be this very moment.

    Water droplets clinging to his hair flowed between his protruding knuckles, down his wrist and muscular thick forearm, before disappearing into his sleeve. His body is as impressive as his face, leaving me in awe rather than feeling envy or jealousy. Ah, unlike what I thought, I didn’t know he was someone with such a strong playful side, but now that I think about it, someone with a face like that should have some human qualities. As I was trying to understand this, he suddenly cupped my cheek.

    “Sorry. I guess I got too relaxed this morning. I didn’t mean to joke around like that.”

    Unable to bear the close distance, I ended up swallowing hard. Just as I was newly realizing that a man’s face could be a weapon, his lips touched my other cheek with a soft peck. …What?

    “I really won’t do it again.”


    I flopped down on the warm floor and fumbled to touch my cheek. I’m so dumbfounded I can’t say anything. No, his words and actions keep contradicting each other.

    He kissed me so casually and then just left, making me question if I had imagined it. But the throbbing of my thoroughly kneaded cheek and the lingering sensation of lips on the other cheek suggested it wasn’t just my imagination.

    “If you’re going to keep talking with that throat, at least drink some water regularly.”

    “Thank you…”

    While I was zoned out, a glass of water was delivered right in front of me, but I just held it quietly. Even though I want to drink water, I can’t move. The kiss has completely shut me down. A soft peck on the cheek or something like that was just child’s play, so why am I freezing up over something I’ve even received on the lips before?

    Ah, I had forgotten about the kiss on the lips!

    My face heats up even more than before. It shows no signs of cooling down, so I thought drinking water might help, but it was useless. Maybe cold water would be better. Or maybe getting some cold air. Come to think of it, I haven’t been outside for days while being treated. I was feeling sore, so I thought I should go for a run.

    “Can I go outside for a light run?”

    “Don’t push yourself. You’re not fully recovered yet.”

    “What about a walk?”

    “You can walk around the room. It’s cold outside. You’ll catch a cold. Don’t go out.”


    If I end up spoiled, it’s all because of this hyung. There’s a limit to overprotection. Well, if your lover went missing and came back, I guess you might act like this. I was about to insist on going out until the end, but I just went back to bed instead. I wasn’t sleepy and didn’t want to lie down, but I covered myself up to my head with the blanket. Since facing him and being in the same space suddenly makes me self-conscious, hiding like this is the only option.

    It was a forced comfort, but it seemed to be quite helpful for my mind and body. But that didn’t last long either. A strange standoff began with the blanket between us. I felt a presence right in front of me and wondered what it was, but there was no sound, just a sense that he was quietly watching. I couldn’t even see his shadow through the blanket, so I didn’t know if he was standing or sitting. Why is he doing this again, making me self-conscious?

    “Should we go out for a bit today? To get some fresh air.”

    He just said it wasn’t allowed, and now this. What’s he plotting to say such a thing? I lowered the blanket slightly with suspicion and saw Tae Seong-je shining even in the backlight.

    “Want to go to the sea?”

    “…What? The sea?”

    “Don’t you want to see the sea?”

    “I… I do want to see it.”

    Now? Suddenly? It was natural that I couldn’t readily say yes. I hadn’t checked what happened after I went missing, nor had I contacted anyone. Why would I think about the ocean now? I should contact my father soon. But I don’t want to… I ended up avoiding it because I didn’t want to contact him. Still, even in that situation, the sea…

    “Even if you sleep the same, sleeping in a room with a view of the sea will feel less stuffy.”


    “What do you want to do? Want to go?”

    “Y-yes, I want to go.”

    The sea. It had been so long since I’d been to the sea. My heart raced with excitement. I was sensitive to heat, so I preferred winter beaches to summer ones. I loved the sound of cold waves and the chilly sea air. I also liked dipping my feet in the cold sea and counting seashells rolling on the sand with my toes.

    “Let’s leave right after breakfast.”

    “Are we really going?”

    “Would I joke about that? Also, let’s not take medicine today.”

    I didn’t understand why he was giving me so much good news all of a sudden. I went to wash up, leaving him laughing heartily, then uncharacteristically stared at myself in the bathroom mirror for a long time. I also casually responded to his frequent attempts to talk through the door. It was quite hard to hide my improved mood.


    Right after breakfast, my foot.

    “You lied…”

    “Stop grumbling and put on another pair of socks. It’s cold outside.”

    How could he deceive me with such a straight face? I should have known when he said it wasn’t good to get in the car right after eating, which was a laughable excuse. He handed me some kind of test paper, saying to solve it until the food was digested, but even after I finished it, he said he wasn’t ready to leave yet and told me to solve another one, resulting in us not leaving until after lunch.

    I glared at him as he wrapped a scarf around my neck. Go ahead, tell me to work on another one since my food hasn’t been digested yet.

    “What’s with the sour attitude after doing so well?”


    I had solved them well, as he said. The psychological test questions weren’t very interesting, but it had been a while since I’d solved anything.

    “Was it because we were leaving late?”

    “…It was because of the clothes.”

    “Clothes? What about them?”

    Tae Seong-je began to carefully look at me from head to toe with a puzzled look. Incredibly, he didn’t seem to find anything strange. Actually, the late departure was the real issue, but I didn’t want to be caught feeling disappointed about leaving late like a child, so I changed the subject, but this situation was ridiculous in its own way.

    “Are you cold? Want a hat too?”

    “No, I’m hot. I don’t feel the cold much. Let me take off one of these jackets or at least the vest. I feel suffocated.”

    “No. You’ll catch a cold.”

    That should be my line, considering I’m the one wearing seven layers. It was absurd. He was only wearing one coat casually.

    “We’re going to be in the car anyway. Do I really have to wear all this?”

    “If you catch a cold while you’re still recovering, it’ll be harder. Just listen to hyung.”


    His worry seemed to be based on experience, leaving me speechless. Complaining about feeling sick seemed like it would make me a criminal. In the end, I waddled outside without being able to retort, and the cool, fresh air touched my cheeks. It had been a while since I’d been outside. Unlike the warm room, the outside was indeed chilly, befitting February. Even seeing my breath come out white made me happy, improving my mood considerably.

    Taking a deep breath and enjoying the winter air to the fullest, I looked at his back seriously.

    “…So there were no shoes? Not even slippers?”

    “Nope. None. Hurry up and get on my back.”

    It was a moment when I missed my worn-out and dirty shoes left at grandmother’s house.

    “Once we’re out, let’s go buy shoes right away.”

    “We’ll see the sea first.”

    No matter how he tried to hide it, he was always doing things his own way. I sighed and obediently climbed onto his broad back. The ride was still steady and stable, without any shaking. It wasn’t a palace, but I felt like people in hanbok might jump out at any moment from the countless hanok houses. Ironically, despite the enormously wide grounds, there wasn’t a single person in sight besides us. It was so quiet that it felt like a deserted palace where everyone had died, or like an empty movie set. It didn’t look like a home at all.

    “Where is everyone? Is it always empty at this time?”

    “They’re all here. They’re just hiding because they’re shy.”

    I knew he was joking, but I found the idea somewhat cute. I hadn’t realized it when we were alone in the room, but now this vast house felt unexpectedly desolate and lonely, which made me feel uneasy. That room he said he used as a child—even that was too big for a child to use. I at least had a younger sibling so I wasn’t lonely, but this hyun must have been alone, which made me feel sorry for him. …Why did I just assume he was an only child?

    1. Hanok is South Korea traditional houses
    2. Hanbok is South Korea traditional clothes

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