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    Loves Error

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    1. Shadow 1 (Part 3)

    “It’s been a few days.”         

    “Has it been about three days…? Three days is four days, right?”

    “It’s three days, you ignorant b*stard.”

    Kim Donggil laughed at Cheon Sejoo’s sarcasm. Soon, a strange sigh poured out from Donggil.

    “Ah, that kid’s got an unusual temper. Even when we tell her to go home, she just screams to be taken to her mom. Seriously, it’s no joke. She’s been sitting there without budging, and if we tried to make her leave, she’d probably call the cops, so we just left her alone.”

    “Does she not have a home now? So even if she wants to go home, she can’t.”          

    Someone interjected behind Kim Donggil’s rambling voice. When he turned his head, it was one of the big guys who had been wiping the sofa while watching them. Puzzled by what he meant about her not having a home, Cheon Sejoo stared at him, and the man explained with exaggerated gestures.

    “No, the other day when we went to collect the money from her place, there were other guys there besides us, you know? Those guys from Haechan. Those motherf*ckers got there before us, trying to take the deposit and the ahjumma away, so I knocked them out with my fists and took her. When they tried to take the kid instead, I told them they’d be dead if they touched her. I told them to take the deposit and get lost, flipping them off as I left.”

    [T/N:Ahjumma – a term used for old lady.]

    “Kim Maenggi, you actually earned your keep for once.”

    Hearing the man’s boastful words, Donggil grinned and gave him a thumbs-up.

    Cheon Sejoo cursed inwardly. It seemed that the child’s only guardian had been dragged into the establishment. They probably wouldn’t be able to leave until the debt was fully paid off. The conclusion is that there is no home to return to for that child.

    Cheon Sejoo, feeling a headache coming on, took a cigarette from his jacket and bit it. Inhaling deeply as Sunhyuk lit it for him, he asked in a causal tone.

    “Where did the child’s mother go?”

    “Oh, she was lucky. She went to Ehwagak. There was a seat available in the kitchen.”

    [T/N: 이화각 (Ehwagak) seems to be a chinese restaurant. But I’m not entirely sure.]

    If one had borrowed heavily from loan sharks elsewhere, whether it be the child’s mother or the child themselves, they could have been sold off to loan sharks and still had money left over. However, Shinsa Capital didn’t go as far as dealing with human trafficking. If the man who borrowed money did that much, it was a good thing. Besides, the child’s mother was also lucky. Although she couldn’t communicate with the outside world, it was said that Ehwagak was a place where, by working hard, one could pay off their debts and even receive retirement benefits.

    However, even that was only applicable to adults who were worth the money, and there was no place for a useless kid who wouldn’t be of any help there. Since the Haechan guys took the deposit from them, the house would have been empty by now. It was certain that everything of value had been sold off. With no home, no money, no parents, and no means to protect herself, the child had nothing left.

    Cheon Sejoo regretted his recent decision up to that point.

    Ah, d*mn it. I should have just ignored it.

    He smoked a cigarette and recalled the eyes he had glimpsed earlier. It was a gaze full of resentment. He felt like he wouldn’t be able to get the child off from that spot with any excuse. What should he say to be able to get the child out of here before Han Jonghyun arrived?

    As he pondered, Sejoo asked.

    “Did you feed the child, at least?”

    “I don’t know. Since the second day, after Youngjun gave the kid some bread and got ignored, she hasn’t even looked at him. Hmm, come to think of it, it seems like I didn’t see her leave that spot….”

    So, it seems that the child had gone without food for four days. A sigh escaped involuntarily. Cheon Sejoo looked at Kim Donggil with a pathetic expression, who had nothing better to offer than them.

    “Are you guys f*cking kidding me, don’t you have any common sense?”

    “What’s that supposed to mean. I know what ‘aged kimchi’ is.”

    “This guy is really…..”

    [T/N:In the first sentence, the phrase “측은지심” (common sense) is a term referring to basic or practical intelligence.

    In the second sentence, Donggil responds to the question about common sense by mentioning “묵은지 (aged kimchi), but in this context, Sejoo refers this to someone who is unaware or ignorant/no common sense. Donggil mistaken Sejoo’s question and thought he meant ‘age kimchi’]

    If he continued speaking, it seemed like his blood pressure would rise and he would have to go to the hospital. Sejoo, with an annoyed expression, threw a cigarette butt near Donggil’s shoes and stood up. Ignoring Kim Donggil who was trying to stop him and Moon Sunhyuk greeting him, he walked out of the office.

    When he pressed the number button, the elevator on the 10th floor came down at a speed so slow. Cheon Sejoo became absorbed in his thoughts as he watched the numbers gradually decreasing.

    At first glance, she seemed to be around fifteen. No matter how crazy Han Jonghyun was, he wouldn’t touch such a small kid. He was lecherous, but not a rapist. It was obvious that if he intervened here, he would end up suffering unnecessarily due to groundless worries.

    Well, let’s just go home then.

    Cheon Sejoo made that decision and got on the elevator. He pressed the button and tried to divert his thoughts elsewhere. However, when the door opened on the first floor and he saw the black figure still crouching in the hallway, all his thoughts vanished.

    Cheon Sejoo walked down the hallway as if possessed. He whispered to the child standing in front of him.

    “…Get up.”

    The child, who had crouched down to protect herself from the merciless world, looked so small that it looks like she could be lifted with one hand. Cheon Sejoo had seen a child with a similar appearance in the past. He knew what choice a child abandoned by the world for four days would eventually make.

    If someone had reached out to that child at that time, would the outcome have been different? Because of that question with no answer… Cheon Sejoo couldn’t just pass by the child.

    “Get up.”

    “….”

    At the repeated words, the child raised her head. The eyes of the two met. Cheon Sejoo could see the intense vigilance towards him in her transparent and clear eyes. Belatedly, he remembered his appearance. Messy hair, shirt with the top button undone, bruise on the neck, it was clear he looked suspicious.

    Tsk, he sat down in front of the child with a cold expression. He ran his fingers through his hair, trying to tidy up his appearance to present a more neat impression to the child.

    Despite being covered by the hood and hair, the child’s face was remarkably beautiful. Her long eyes were delicately drawn as if with a fine brush, with drooping eyelashes and cold, firm cheeks. Her dry lips added a lifeless quality to her pallid face. She emitted a fragile atmosphere, as if she might shatter if touched. It was certain that she would grow into a stunning beauty as an adult.

    [T/N: I’m gonna use ‘her’ to refer to ‘him’ however, in the original text, neutral term was used to refer Sejin, I will change it as soon as he found out he’s actually a guy]

    Confirming the child’s face up close made it seem like speaking to her was the right decision. He was conviced that someone like Han Jonghyun, a lecherous man, wouldn’t just pass by such a beautiful child. Cheon Sejoo realized he had no choice but to stay and wait for him to come before he could leave, so he scrutinized the child without any chance of escaping.

    “Get up. You said you want to see your mom. Let’s go.”

    He spoke softly and smiled at the child. Cheon Sejoo had never been ignored by a woman when he spoke like this. Even though she was a child, she was no exception. The child, who had been silent, finally spoke.

    “…Are you going to take me to her?”

    However, she suddenly spoke in informal language.

    Moreover, perhaps because she was starving, her husky voice had a strangely androgynous sound.

    She must be a girl, right? Cheon Sejoo looked at the child with that thought. But no boy could be that pretty. She definitely seemed to be a girl.

    Cheon Sejoo nodded at the child’s question. However, despite the positive answer, the child did not get up right away. Instead, there was a soft rustling sound as she tightened her grip around her knees, pulling herself into an even more hunched position. The child, now more curled up, scrutinized Cheon Sejoo with a sharp gaze.

    “Who are you?”

    Yes, he knew it wouldn’t be easy. Sejoo sighed inwardly and put on his most harmless smile possible. Calming children wasn’t a difficult task for him, having done it many times at the orphanage. He responded in a gentle voice.

    “I’m just a person who works here.”

    However, his attempt to lower himself as much as possible was met with a sharp retort.

    “You’re lying, aren’t you?”

    “What?”

    Sejoo now understood what Kim Donggil meant when he said that the child’s temperament was unusual. She had no qualms about speaking informally to an adult. One would expect her to be intimidated by someone much larger than herself, but she showed no signs of fear.

    “You said you were taking me to mom, that’s a lie.”

    When he tilted his head as if he didn’t understand what they said, the child locked eyes with him. It was as if she was trying to see through him, trying to expose his lie. But Cheon Sejoo wasn’t flustered enough to reveal his true feelings to the pale-face little girl. With a wry smile, he responded to her prickly remarks.

    “What would I gain by lying to you?”

    “…If you do something bad to me, I won’t just let it go.”

    The expression on the child’s face seemed like they were ready to hit or slap him.

     Do I look like such a bad guy? …Well, maybe.

    Sejoo chuckled self-deprecatingly, realizing that he might appear like a thug in the child’s eyes. He soon rummaged through his jacket pocket and took out his wallet. From there, he retrieved his ID and handed it to the child without hesitation.

    “If I lay a finger on you, you can take that and go report me to the police station. Tell them everything you want about how this guy touched me. Say that I lock you up, starve you, and say I hit you.”

    “…Is this forged?”

    To ease the suspicion, Cheon Sejoo had handed it over, but faced with even greater doubt upon its return, he chuckled in disbelief. He didn’t expect to be doubted to that extent. Staring in disbelief, he watched as the child examined his ID card from all angles, blew on it, and even rubbed it with their hand before finally tucking it back into his hoodie pocket. It seemed like she finally acknowledged its authenticity.

    Nevertheless, not completely dispelling her guard, she cautiously stood up from her seat and distanced herself from Cheon Sejoo. It was like the stray cat that used to appear in the backyard of the orphanage when he was young. It wasn’t until three months after he gave out some snacks that the cat approached him finally with its tail raised.

    But now, he couldn’t afford to wait for three more months. Cheon Sejoo checked the watch on his right wrist and belatedly stood up. He thought she was quite small when she was crouching, but when the child stood up, she was quite taller than she looked. Cheon Sejoo remarked with surprise.

    “Let’s go see your mom, I’ll tell her. Uncle is quite busy.”

    “I’m going. But don’t call yourself uncle. I’ve never had an uncle like you.”

    “….”

    The little one was not at all happy. Looking down at the child, who seemed inclined to refer to even the older staff at the noodle shop as employees rather than aunts or uncles, Cheon Sejoo couldn’t help but chuckle in bewilderment. Then he sighed inwardly upon realizing that the burly men from Shinsa Capital were calling themselves “uncles” to the debtors’ children. The child must have witnessed those “uncles” taking her mother away right before her eyes. The mere mention of “uncle” was enough to make her sick.

    What should the child call him then? He gently touched the child’s cheek and tried to estimate her age before asking.

    “Then, what about ‘oppa’?”

    “….”

    However, the child’s reaction was worse than the mention of ‘uncle’. She glared and bit her lips as her face turned red, as if holding back curses. She’s a difficult child…

    With a resigned smile, he just nodded, as if there’s nothing he could do.

    “Okay, this Sir is busy. So, let’s go quickly.”

    Only then did the child’s wrinkled eyelids relax a bit. Cheon Sejoo turned towards the exit.

    As they exited the building, he saw the Lamborghini parked in the same spot as before. Cheon Sejoo frowned at the sight of the plastic cup still rolling on the sidewalk. He gestured to the guarding man standing at the entrance to clean up the trash, but the oblivious man just bent over and shouted.

    “Sorry, sir!”

    “….”

    D*mn, he should have made him stop calling him “sir.” Irritated, Cheon Sejoo turned his head and felt someone’s gaze on him. He discovered the hidden hatred in the boy’s eyes as the man passed by. It didn’t bother him much. There were plenty of reasons for the child to hate them.

    Cheon Sejoo pushed the child into the passenger seat and got into the driver’s seat. But as he started the engine, he noticed that the child was struggling to fasten the seatbelt.

    “Just pull the one behind you and plug it in down there.”

    The child grabbed the belt behind her shoulder at Cheon Sejoo’s words. But she didn’t know where to plug it in, and the belt kept sliding towards her side. It was a common sight for people who had never seen a 4-point safety belt before. Cheon Sejoo watched her struggle and tried to explain, but the child still didn’t understand where the belt should go. Frustrated, he sighed and leaned over.

    “I’ll do it. Give it to me.”

    The child hesitated before handing him the belt. Cheon Sejoo stretched it out and pulled the clip, then reached between the child’s legs to plug it into the buckle.

    “Don’t…!”

    Startled by the sharp scream, Cheon Sejoo sat up straight. A chilly silence filled the car. Meeting the child’s gaze, who was now glaring at him with a face that looked like he was about to cry, Cheon Sejoo realized that the child had misunderstood his actions. A chill ran down his spine.

    “Sorry, the buckle is here.”

    He urgently spread his legs, feeling like human trash, and pointed to the safety belt buckle lying between his thighs. Even though he confirmed the buckle’s position, the child did not easily relax her guard. Cheon Sejoo, who watched the child with a fierce expression awkwardly pulling the belt with a strange gesture, soon started the engine as soon as a clicking sound was heard.

    He apologized to the child once again and then stepped his foot on the accelerator. He was exhausted before he even started.

    “What do you want for lunch? You haven’t eaten properly for days.”

    Cheon Sejoo, who felt the need to warm up the chilly atmosphere, spoke in a somewhat affectionate voice. The child did not respond immediately. Cheon Sejoo did not expect for any answer either, as he seemed to know the child’s feelings riding in his car right now.

    Nevertheless, compared to the sharp attitude, she easily got into the car.

    Just from their eye contact, it seemed like there would be a long struggle…

    As the traffic light turned red and the car stopped, Cheon Sejoo  glanced at the child. Catching a glimpse of the pretty face even in passing, he suddenly realized he didn’t even know the child’s name, so he asked.

    “What’s your name?”

    “…Kwon Sejin.”

    “It’s a pretty name.”

    In response to his praise, Sejin once again glared at Cheon Sejoo with a cold gaze. He couldn’t just compliment him casually when he was putting up thorns at his every word, as if he were a hedgehog. Cheon Sejoo pretended not to notice that gaze and stepped on the accelerator again.

    Silence flowed in the car. It was about 10 minutes after they started that he heard Sejin’s voice again.

    “…I don’t have money to eat.”

    Suddenly, he wondered what that meant. Then realizing that it was an answer to his question earlier, Cheon Sejoo smiled. He turned his head to look at Sejin and said.

    “I’ll buy it for you.”

    “It’s okay.”

    Although the child expressed refusal, Cheon Sejoo thought it was a polite gesture and brushed off Sejin’s words with a smile. He tapped the handle with his fingertips and pondered. He had been starving for days, should he feed him to death? Or should he feed him something hearty like ox bone soup…

    Thinking it would be better to ask directly, he opened his mouth.

    “Would you like some ox bone soup, or do you prefer seolleongtang? Either way.”

    [T/N: Seolleongtang is a traditional Korean soup made by boiling beef bones for several hours until the broth becomes milky white. Known for its rich and hearty flavor, and it is often enjoyed as a comforting meal, especially during cold weather.]

    “I said I’m not eating. “

    He asked kindly, but the response he received was a cold rejection. Cheon Sejoo stared at Sejin while stepping on the brake. A chilly face was looking back at him. He felt the presence of the towering wall that the child had set up.

    Feeling a sudden headache, Cheon Sejoo parked the car on the side of the road and unbuckled hid seat belt. He fidgeted with his cigarette for a moment before finally taking his hand off it and asked Kwon Sejin.

    “Why aren’t you eating?”

    “… I don’t want to owe someone like you.”

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