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    After Nam-woon finished washing up, a small, round dining table was placed in the middle of the room. On the table, adorned with a pretty floral pattern, sat a large bowl, from which steam rose from the white rice within. Kwon Seo-oh was nowhere to be seen, having stepped out for a moment.

    Following Nam-woon, Se-han emerged from the bathroom, wiping his wet face with his shirt, revealing his round, protruding belly. Scanning the room and noticing his brother was absent, Se-han grabbed Nam-woon’s hand.

    “Wooni Hyung.”

    “Huh?”

    “Come here, please.”

    Nam-woon followed Se-han’s small hand to a large shelf lined with numerous plastic bottles. His eyes widened in surprise.

    Huh? This is…

    The bottles were filled with rice. An excited Se-han said,

    “You gave us so much rice, Wooni Hyung, we can eat a lot!”

    “Really?”

    “Yes! Hyung and I worked really hard to fill these up!”

    Se-han, hugging a bottle, shouted proudly. Nam-woon responded with a smile. Squatting in front of the bottles with Se-han, Nam-woon asked hesitantly,

    “Se-han, did, um, your brother like it too?”

    “Oh, my Hyung was like this!”

    Se-han’s eyebrows shot up as he mimicked an angry tone.

    “What am I supposed to do with something this big? There’s nowhere to put it! This little rascal!”

    “Your brother said that?”

    “Yes! I secretly heard everything.”

    Se-han quickly changed his expression and giggled.

    “We had to find bottles because they would spoil in the heat. We went looking for them everywhere.”

    Nam-woon hadn’t thought about the shortage of bottles.

    “Grandpa Namnam gave us the most.”

    “Oh, I see.”

    Nam-woon felt pleased that the rice he provided was being well eaten, but also felt sorry for the brothers who had to search for bottles in the scorching sun. And Kwon Seo-oh, who had firmly decided to throw it away, now seemed somewhat cute for storing it so well in the bottles. Nam-woon chuckled to himself,

    “He’s like a child.”

    Seo-oh returned with a cucumber, washed it, and placed it on the table. Se-han and Nam-woon sat down at the table, their hair sticking out in all directions after just washing their faces.

    The table, usually occupied by only Seo-oh and Se-han, had plenty of space, but with three people, their knees touched. Seo-oh sat as close as possible to Se-han to avoid contact with Nam-woon. Se-han seemed delighted by the suddenly cramped space.

    “Let’s eat.”

    “Let’s eat~!”

    Following Nam-woon, Se-han exclaimed. The meal consisted of just one cucumber and three bowls of kimchi fried rice, without even an egg for breakfast.

    Despite the modest meal, Nam-woon ate heartily, puffing his cheeks with food. Se-han, not to be outdone, chewed noisily, smearing red rice grains around his mouth and cheeks. After cleaning his last spoonful of rice, Nam-woon took out his phone to answer a call. “Uh, uh, okay.” Repeating the same words, he ended the call with “I’ll be there now” and stood up.

    “I have to go now.”

    “Mister Woon, are you leaving already?”

    Se-han asked with a sad face. Nam-woon patted Se-han’s small head and smiled.

    “Eat well. I’ll come again.”

    At that, Seo-oh snorted. Nam-woon looked apologetically at the empty rice bowls.

    “Well… I’ll do the dishes next time I come.”

    “Next time? Are you crazy?”

    “I’ve eaten well. I’m leaving.”

    After Nam-woon left, the house returned to its usual quietness. However, Se-han’s face was much brighter than usual.

    “I wish Mister would come to our house often.”

    “Se-han.”

    Seo-oh spoke as he removed a grain of rice from Se-han’s mouth.

    “I told you not to get close to that man.”

    “……”

    “We won’t let him in the house anymore, so don’t ever get close to him.”

    “Why can’t I be friends with him?”

    “Something dangerous, like last time could happen to you. So you have to be careful with that person…”

    “I don’t want to.”

    “What?”

    Seo-oh was taken aback by Se-han’s firm response. Clutching his small spoon tightly, Se-han looked defiantly at his brother.

    “I don’t want to. I know that person used to bother us. But he doesn’t do that anymore.”

    “Kwon Se-han.”

    “Wooni Hyung isn’t a bad person! You don’t know because you weren’t there!”

    “Hyung? Why do you call that man Hyung?”

    Seo-oh frowned and grabbed Se-han’s shoulder.

    “Kwon Se-han, have you met that guy alone?”

    Seo-oh asked sternly, but Se-han didn’t answer the question and instead said something else.

    “He’s nice to us, right? He didn’t bother me or Hyung today, he just stayed quietly and then left. Please, Hyung…”

    “Kwon Se-han! You don’t understand. That person is…”

    “You’re the one who doesn’t know!”

    Tears welled up in Se-han’s large eyes.

    “When you weren’t there, Wooni Hyung stayed with me!”

    “…What do you mean by that?”

    Seo-oh’s eyes widened. Se-han stood up and shouted at Seo-oh,

    “I’m always alone. When I play at the playground, when I come home, when I eat, when I do homework, I’m always alone!”

    “……”

    “You’re not there! You’re always too busy! Even when I want to play, you don’t play with me! Wooni Hyung stayed with me. When I was playing alone, he played baseball with me, and when I was eating alone, Wooni Hyung bought me jjajangmyeon(black bean noodles)! And Wooni Hyung doesn’t even leave after taking me home! He waits until I turn off my room light, then he goes to his own house!”

    After finishing his outburst, Se-han sat on the floor, crying pitifully,

    “I like Wooni Hyung… waaah… You’re the bad one… Huhuhu, I’m always alone…” he sobbed.

    Seo-oh’s face twisted with sadness as he listened to Se-han’s crying.

    ***

    Nam-woon went to pick up his car from the pork belly restaurant where he had passed out the day before. Unexpectedly, the parking time had extended, costing him a hefty parking fee. Nam-woon, now in his car, headed to a toy store near the office he had seen before.

    “Welcome. Are you looking for something?”

    “Do you have puzzles here?”

    “Yes, right this way.”

    The clerk led Nam-woon to the puzzle corner, where he pondered his choice. After carefully browsing for a while, he finally spoke up.

    “Give me the easiest one.”

    “Who will be doing it? If you tell me the child’s age, I can recommend one.”

    “It’s for me.”

    “Excuse me?”

    “I’ll be doing it.”

    The clerk, still smiling, paused for a moment before picking up a small puzzle.

    “How about this one? It’s perfect for beginners. The difficulty level is low.”

    The picture was of a cake. It definitely looked easier than the one he had done with Se-han. He took it and turned to the cashier when a puzzle with a baseball player caught his eye. Nam-woon picked it up as well.

    “I’ll take this one too.”

    Se-han would probably like it. Nam-woon’s lips curled slightly into a smile. He left the store, swinging the shopping bag, and headed to the office. Upon entering, several subordinates were pacing nervously around the office, just as before. Yong-deuk, who had been waiting for Nam-woon, quickly approached and bowed.

    “Sir, you’ve arrived.”

    “What’s the situation?”

    “We can leave in an hour. He’s currently at the golf course.”

    Nam-woon took out his phone to check the time and asked,

    “What about the money?”

    “We’re short at the moment.”

    Nam-woon knew he had to face Chairman Seok at some point. With the system now in power-saving mode, it was an opportune moment. The meeting was sooner than Nam-woon had anticipated, but it was better to face things head-on. If it was inevitable, it was better to confront it sooner rather than later.

    “Let’s go.”

    Nam-woon left, stepping past the worried faces of his subordinates.

    ***

    “Young master, we’ve arrived.”

    Nam-woon adjusted his shirt collar as he got out of the car. Yongdeuk quickly followed behind him.

    “Even so, he’s usually in a good mood after playing golf, so if you speak well, he might extend the payment deadline.”

    All the money that had been collected was brought, but it was still less than the amount due. What would Chairman Seok, that old man, say?

    As they entered the gray building, several burly men in black suits checked Nam-woon’s face and lightly bowed their heads. Nam-woon approached the door. One of the subordinates standing in front knocked on the door with a gruff voice.

    “Chairman, the young master has arrived.”

    A deep, low voice from inside responded,

    “Let him in.”

    Yongdeuk watched Nam-woon move with a worried look.

    As Nam-woon entered, a man of average build dressed in golf attire stood with his back to the window. He slightly turned his head, and Nam-woon bowed respectfully.

    The man walked forward, and as he emerged from the shadows, his face became visible. His hair, swept back without a single strand out of place, was stark white, and his face was wrinkled, yet he did not look frail. On the contrary, he seemed quite the opposite.

    His sharp, snake-like eyes stared fiercely at Nam-woon.

    “Have you arrived?”

    The man, already seated in the place of honor on the sofa, gestured with his chin for Nam-woon to sit. Nam-woon silently took a seat on the sofa next to him.

    Seeing Chairman Seok in person, sweat formed on Nam-woon’s hands. His heart pounded as much as, or perhaps even more than, when he was chased by loan sharks in the past. This man was the real deal.

    “It’s been a while.”

    “How have you been?”

    “I’m always the same. But it’s quite something for my only son to come to see his old father, enough to make ghosts weep.”

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