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    I went outside to the car and opened the door. I brought back the bag of bread that was thrown on the backseat. I ate one croissant with milk and tore open another bread. The more I felt lonely, the more hungry I became.

    I turned on the TV to fill the empty house with human voices. I tuned into a cheerful variety show and ate my bread. Suddenly, the flour dough I was chewing seemed to trigger a stomach cramp. I rushed to the bathroom and vomited what I had eaten. Just when I felt miserable, my phone rang.

    [I’m sorry I showed up unannounced, I didn’t mean to put you on the spot].

    As I read Han Jae-yi’s message, a pang of guilt struck my heart. What should I reply? If I say it wasn’t troublesome, he might come again. If I ask him to stop coming, he might really stop. It felt like a matter of life and death to me.

    [You don’t need to apologize. Take care.]

    I sent a vague reply, indicating I wanted to end the conversation. It didn’t work.

    [When will your appointment end tomorrow?]

    I lied. I needed to make an appointment, but I could only think of one person. I opened a chat with Cho Min-woo and Jeon Seong-wook. I clicked the name “Cho Minwoo ” and opened a private chat. I said what I thought I could say.

    [Are your hands okay?]

    The number 1 next to the message quickly disappeared.

    [Not at all. It got infected and swelled up like crazy.]

    I was momentarily shocked and flustered. What should I do? Should I take him to the hospital? While searching for nearby emergency rooms in a flurry, he sent another message, teasing me.

    [Just kidding.]

    Then he sent a photo of his thumb wrapped in a bandage. It seemed like he was fine.

    [That’s a relief. Would you like to have lunch together tomorrow?]

    I felt nervous for no reason, even though it wasn’t even asking for a date. Since the flight to Hanoi was canceled, he might have the day off until tomorrow. There was a possibility of being rejected, but I had no other choice.

    [I have a club meeting tomorrow]

    Even on an unexpected holiday, he seemed to be the kind of person who would make an appointment right away. Resigning to my fate, another message came.

    [Would you like to come with me? It’s a shooting club, and guests are always welcome. We’ll have dinner together afterwards.]

    I wondered if it was really okay for me to join, but it wasn’t the time to question such things. I immediately agreed and also sent a message to Han Jae-yi.

    [I’ll probably be back after dinner.]

    He didn’t reply, so I assumed he was either driving or had already checked into his hotel.

    I received another message from Co-pilot Cho Min-woo, saying that he would pick me up at my house at 3:00 pm tomorrow, accompanied by a video of a lion, bear, or whatever animal was dancing around. Thinking he had a really fun personality, I turned off my phone screen.

    * * *

    The next day, after a quick lunch, I was smoking a cigarette on the balcony. I saw Co-pilot Cho Min-woo’s foreign car pull up in front of the villa. He had several hobbies, mostly related to leisure sports. Today, he said several people would gather to shoot at a shooting range and have a betting shooting competition. Just the thought of shooting made me eager.

    “Do you have experience with firearms?”

    “Yes, I have a license. There’s a hunting area next to the training range, so I’ve been there quite often.”

    “Oh, good. Let’s go in.”

    The place he parked the car was an indoor shooting range. Inside, he exchanged greetings with four acquaintances who seemed quite familiar, judging by their informal speech.

    “We’ll split into two teams, each with five shots per person. The losing team buys dinner.”

    “Do we have service missions?”

    “We do. Let’s make those worth 10 points.”

    I roughly understood what they were saying. They seemed quite serious about it, taking out goggles, earplugs, and other gear from their bags. Their preparations seemed thorough. Hmm… I started to feel like I might be causing trouble.

    “You three, you’re all set up like that. Dong-jin, me, and the captain will be on the same team, right?”

    “Yes.”

    I had no way of knowing how good Co-pilot Cho Min-woo was, but it was clear that he had taken me under his wing, so I knew I had to give it my best shot. I had only shot a handgun a few times before. Most of my experience has been with rifle hunting guns and outdoors.

    The first member of the opposing team took aim at the target. He fired five shots and scored decently. The first shot hit the bullseye, earning him full points.

    Next, a member of our team took the gun. Even with earplugs, the sound of the gun echoed through my eardrums like an explosion. Those watching leaned against the back wall, applauding and cheering with each shot fired.

    Before I knew it, it was my turn. Holding the practice gun provided, I aimed at the target. I had some confidence in my eyesight, so I decided to trust it for once.

    “Hey- well, with your height, your posture is perfect.”

    One of his acquaintances praised me from behind. With Co-pilot Cho Min-woo loading the gun for me, he handed me the pistol with a smile.

    “I score well if I can think of someone I hate so much I want to kill them.”

    I laughed heartily at his joke. A new target appeared, and I held my breath for a moment. Someone I hated enough to kill? There was one person. I aimed all five shots in succession at the face that floated in the center of the target. All I could think was my own damn self. Except for one shot, all were bullseyes, earning me full points.

    “Oh…”

    “You’re on a roll, huh…”

    In a flash, the opposing team member who had taken his turn whistled and handed me the pistol. I stepped back and watched as he shot. He seemed to be the ace of this group. Perhaps spurred on by the challenge, he also fired all five shots in rapid succession. It was a perfect score of 25 out of 25, with not a single shot off target.

    “Oh… this might put pressure on Min-woo, huh?”

    The ace chuckled calmly, lowering the gun and stepping back.

    “I can’t do rapid shooting. You know that.”

    Co-pilot Cho Min-woo smiled and put his foot on the firing line. True to his word, he took his time with each shot. Not bad, but it looked like it was going to be a close tie. With one last shot left, Co-pilot Cho Min-woo called out to someone.

    “Hey, boss, throw me that mission.”

    The boss, who had been watching us from the counter, nodded. The bull’s-eye changes and a small cigarette bites the pin and comes down on target. I can barely see it from here. Surely he couldn’t hit that?

    I watched with a puzzled expression, but Co-pilot Cho Min-woo winked at me. Then, without a moment to catch his breath, he fired the last shot. The cigarette filter burst precisely, earning him 10 points.

    “We won, haha.”

    The way he said it, as if he expected it but didn’t realize it, was not unfamiliar to me now.

    The group headed straight from the shooting range to the sashimi restaurant. As we were ordering drinks,  Co-pilot Cho Min-woo, poured water into a soju glass. He said he had to drive, and I wasn’t in the mood for alcohol either, so I ordered sparkling water.

    In fact, sashimi is still a foreign food for me. In Germany, where there isn’t much sea, it’s hard to come across fresh fish, unless you’re in a Japanese restaurant where you’re going to spend a fortune. I once read that South Korea ranks in the top three for seafood consumption in the world. I was quite surprised to see it ranked higher than Japan.

    When I tell these stories, everyone listens to me in wonder. Since I don’t have much to talk about, I always use things I’ve read as conversation starters. I felt lucky to love books. Otherwise, I might have not been able to say a word anywhere I went.

    As we ate together, I learned the true nature of this gathering. I thought they were quite close acquaintances, but to my surprise, it turned out to be just an internet community meeting. Co-pilot Cho Min-woo mentioned that he participates in over ten of these club activities.

    “Your stamina is impressive. It must be tough to adjust your condition due to jet lag.”

    “Yeah, it is. I’m thinking of cutting back now.”

    I expected him to brush it off, but surprisingly, he was admitting it readily. Cho Min-woo’s answers are always interesting. He often says things that you don’t expect.

    “By the way, I’ve registered at the fitness center you recommended. It’s got great facilities.”

    “Yes, it’s a newly opened place, so it’s nice. Let’s go together next time. It’d be nice to see each other more often outside.”

    “Me?”

    “Yes.”

    Looking at his smiling face, a pointless thought crossed my mind. It was somewhat amusing to entertain such thoughts without even taking a sip of alcohol, but I couldn’t help but wonder if he was interested in me. His peculiar attitude and gaze that had always felt strange to me made me uncomfortable, but I really doubted it. Despite knowing it wasn’t the right occasion to bring it up, I mustered the courage to ask what I had been curious about for a while.

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