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    2. Shadow 2 (Part 9)

    “Hey, Sejin. What did you buy with the thousand won you picked up?”

    He knew that the thousand won bill that had fallen near the school gate belonged to Lee Haegyun. However, he didn’t feel any guilt picking up what they had dropped. Sejin was too hungry to refuse the one thousand won.

    “Show us quickly. We made a bet on what beggars buy when they pick up money. Did you buy bread? Or tofu? Bean sprouts? By the way, my bet is on tofu. If you didn’t buy tofu, you’re dead meat.”

    But it hadn’t been dropped by accident. They had deliberately left the one thousand won there. Hearing Kim Byungjun’s words, Sejin frowned.

    They wanted Sejin to feel ashamed, but unfortunately for them, Sejin wasn’t the type to be embarrassed by such things. What dominated Sejin at that moment was a sense of revulsion toward the idiots pestering him with their stupid faces. He was sick and tired of it. Lee Haegyun and Kim Byungjun’s bullying wasn’t new, but Sejin couldn’t understand why they wanted to go to such lengths to humiliate him, even staging little scenarios.

    Don’t they have anything better to do?

    Just as Sejin sighed and bowed his head, the SUV parked on the street started moving with a loud noise The deafening sound made Sejin turn his head as if in a trance. Lee Haegyun, who had tapped Sejin’s shoulder, continued to nag him.

    “F*ck, just tell us already, will you?! Sejin, I won’t ask for the thousand won back. Just tell us. Huh? Can’t you at least do that much for us?”

    As Sejin remained silent, Lee Haegyun continued to laugh and teased him. The familiar way they addressed him made Sejin’s lips tighten.

    Sejin-ah, hurry.

    Seeing Lee Haekyun shake his shoulders with a disgusting expression of feigned affection, Sejin felt more irritation rather than shame.

    He was utterly fed up. What was the big deal about having a bit of money that made Lee Hae-kyun treat him with such contempt and bully him? Sejin wanted to bash his head in.

    Sejin gripped the large radish inside his bag. It was the largest thing he could buy for a thousand won at the supermarket. He could have bought high-calorie ramen, but he figured the radish, which was twice the size of his face, would do a better job of filling his stomach.

    How much would it hurt if he hit them with this?

    Sejin wondered as he tightly held the radish.

    ‘You need to fix that temper of yours.’

    His mother’s nagging echoed in his mind, but he couldn’t pay attention to that now. Sejin was hungry, tired, and irritated. He couldn’t think about the future. Planning and taking action were luxuries for people who had the time. Sejin had no such luxury.

    Just as the impatient Sejin was considering hitting Lee Haegyun’s group with the radish, an SUV roared loudly, accelerating off the road and onto the sidewalk. The force with which it seemed like it would crush him at any moment left him frozen in place.

    In that split second, the license plate caught his eye and looked familiar for some reason. Sejin remembered where he had seen that car before. The unique number 1818 was unforgettable. The SUV that seemed about to run them over was the same one that had been parked next to a gangster’s white Lamborghini.

    “Ah!”

    Whether by misfortune or fortune, the SUV came to a sudden stop right in front of Lee Haegyun and Kim Byungjun. Expecting a collision, they had fallen to the ground, covering their faces with their arms, while Sejin stood frozen, unable to think of avoiding it.

    Surely not.

    Despite seeing the 1818 plate, Sejin denied his own suspicions. There was no way the man who had left so heartlessly would come looking for him now. However, Kwon Sejin, who soon confirmed the man getting out of the car, his scowl became even fiercer than when he had seen Lee Haegyun’s group.

    It really was him. The human trafficker.

    “Sejin-ah.”

    The man called his name in the same gentle voice he used when he had threatened Sejin with his mother while inside his car. Sejin resisted the urge to throw the radish he was holding at the man’s car hood and instead met his gaze.

    His face was just as handsome as it was on the day they parted. His thick black hair slightly covered his eyebrows, and his sharp, slender not-so-thick eyebrows stretched out elegantly. His smooth, long eyes without double eyelids met with his pitch-black pupils, giving off a coldness like winter wind. Just looking at him, tilting his head slightly, made Sejin feel like he was inside a movie scene.

    Annoyingly handsome.

    Sejin bit his lip as he glared at the man.

    “Get in.”

    He didn’t say anything further. Sejin, of course, didn’t budge either.

    Why now?

    When his mother pleaded with him so much, he just made a face of displeasure.

    He kicked me out and left me on the street, and now he wants me to get in?

    Am I supposed to just come and go as he pleases?

    What right does he have to order me around…

    Sejin fumed inwardly but soon had no choice but to give in after hearing the man’s next words.

    “I wasn’t lying about what I said in the car. Get in while I’m still being nice.”

    “……”

    Sejin remembered very well what he had said in the car. He had said not to act so shamelessly because he didn’t know what he might do to his mother. Sejin clenched his teeth so hard that his jawline became visible. He glared at the man, resisting for a while, but eventually took a step forward.

    Lee Haegyun’s group was staring at him and the man alternately with dumbfounded looks on their faces. Leaving now would only cause a commotion at school later, but he had no choice. For Sejin, his mother’s safety was the most important thing.

    “Kwon Sejin!”

    Ignoring Lee Haegyun’s call, Sejin got into the passenger seat of the SUV and slammed the door shut as if he intended to break it. Then, before the man could press the accelerator, he fastened his seatbelt. It was because the man drove like a madman. He fixed his gaze straight ahead and kept his mouth shut.

    Lee Haegyun’s gang was lying on the sidewalk, exchanging quick words among themselves. It was obvious they were chattering about how a beggar like him knew a man who drove such an expensive car.

    Pathetic idiots.

    Sejin turned his head with a sneer. At the same time, the man started the engine and began to reverse their direction without hesitation. His driving, as usual, lacked any sense of caution. Once the car was back on the road and accelerating toward somewhere, the man spoke.

    “You got out so confidently, acting like you had a plan, but all you did was sleep out?”

    “What?”

    “Is being a homeless person your career aspiration?”

    Not only did he look irritating, but his words were also annoying. Sejin whipped his head around to glare at the man who was treating him like a homeless person.

    When he thought Sejin was a girl, he pretended to be all kind and sweet. But ever since he found out Sejin was a boy, not once had he smiled. The man had a cold, indifferent face, as if he had no attachments to the world, making sarcastic remarks. Sejin, feeling a surge of anger, snapped.

    “What does it matter to you if I sleep out or if I steal? Why? Did your underlings go and tell on me again? Are you here to get rid of me because you’re afraid your building’s value will drop? If that’s the case, then drop me off in front of that restaurant. I’ll sleep out there.”

    At his brazen mumbling, the man furrowed his eyebrows slightly and turned his head to look at Sejin. His face was filled with displeasure, and just seeing it made Sejin’s insides burn with rage. Although he was grateful to the man for letting him see his mother, he couldn’t understand why he kept meddling in his affairs.

    The man had been the same way back then. Asking if he had a place to stay, mocking him for having no plans at eighteen.

    Who did he think he was? What did he know, being a loan shark…

    As Sejin met his gaze, his lips trembling with suppressed anger, the man, who had been receiving his gaze for a moment, sighed as if he realized it was pointless and softened his expression. His cold face turned gentle, and he spoke to Sejin as if to soothe him.

    “Come to my house. Stay there.”

    “……”

    Sejin was so taken aback by those words that he opened his mouth in disbelief. The man had ignored his mother’s pleas and now was pretending to be kind. However, Sejin had no intention of falling for it.

    Even if the man had agreed to Kim Hyunkyung’s desperate request that day, Sejin wouldn’t have followed him. This was the same person who had tried to sell him, thinking he was a girl. Sejin had no intention to live in the same house with a human trafficker. Though he hadn’t said anything, his mother would have undoubtedly told him never to enter that house if she found out. Sejin immediately retorted.

    “Are you crazy?”

    However, the man chuckled as if he expected this answer and looked back at Sejin. His relaxed demeanor annoyed Sejin even more. He didn’t like the way he smiled, as if he knew everything.

    Not wanting to talk to him any further, Sejin closed his mouth again, prompting the man to turn his gaze forward and ask.

    “Are you going to live as a homeless person for the rest of your life then?”

    “……”

    Kwon Sejin didn’t respond.

    He did have a plan, of course. He wasn’t homeless without any countermeasures, as the man seemed to think. There was a youth shelter not far from Shinsa Capital. On the day he met Kim Hyunkyung, after getting out of the man’s car, Sejin had headed there.

    Sejin knew about the shelter because of a person he wanted to kill. A few years ago, Sejin had taken Kim Hyunkyung out, unable to bear the drunken violence of his father. They had sought shelter, asking to stay for just one night, but had been turned away because they were a mother and son together. They had been too imperfectly unfortunate to receive help.

    He had completely forgotten about that incident until it came on his mind on the day he met his mother again. Thus, on Wednesday, Sejin went to the shelter for help. However, the shelter, which was called a “youth protection shelter,” couldn’t help Sejin right away either. It was because they were at full capacity. There were so many unfortunate kids in the world that Sejin felt slightly bitter. It was absurd to think how miserable one had to be to get some immediate help.

    In any case, Sejin had been enduring at the Shinsa Capital building because he was told that a spot would open up in about a week. He had no intention of being homeless forever, contrary to what the man thought.

    Once he got into the shelter, Sejin had a plan. He intended to attend school while staying at the shelter and work part-time. He would have meals at school during the weekdays and work full-time during the holidays to save money. Of course, the problem was that it was hard to find a part-time job.

    “Kwon Sejin, answer me. I asked if you have no other options besides living as a homeless person.”

    “Why do you keep meddling! I have plans too!”

    The man was persistent. When Sejin kept his mouth shut, he kept nagging him as if he were a pitiful person. Eventually, Sejin shouted angrily and yelled as he explained his plan. As expected, his response was not favorable.

    Cheon Sejoo looked at Sejin with an expression far below his expectation. Then, running his hand through his hair, he sighed as if it were absurd and pointed out.

    “Do you think a shelter is some kind of free accommodation? How many days can you stay there? A month? Two months? I guarantee they’ll tell you to leave after a week.”

    The certainty in the man’s voice was evident.

    What does he know?

    Sejin got angry at the words of someone who seemed to have lived a comfortable life.

    “So what business is it of yours?”

    However, the man was unyielding. Ignoring Sejin’s outburst, he continued.

    “Do you think you’re the only kid who ended up with bad parents? There are countless kids who want to get into shelters like that.”

    “Don’t call it ‘parents’! The only wrong one I’ve ended up with is that b*stard Kwon Yongbeom.”

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