Kang Jin-Ho spoke in a serious voice, “It's about my sister, Eun-Yeong.”
“...Oh. Of course.
What happened” Jo Gyu-Min replied, barely managing to hide his disappointment.
“She frequently doesn't come home at night.”
“...Oh.” Jo Gyu-Min sighed under his breath.
'Yup, he's starting again...'
Why did Jo Gyu-Min get the feeling that talking to Kang Jin-Ho sometimes was similar to convincing an obstinate grandpa And that feeling seemed to get a lot more... intense when the topic was Kang Eun-Yeong.
Even though Kang Jin-Ho looked like a handsome modern young man, why did he have to be so stuffy and old-fashioned
Jo Gyu-Min took a deep breath, then was about to reply with, “Mister Jin-Ho, it's her schedule that's—”
However, he was abruptly cut off by Kang Jin-Ho.
“Mister Gyu-Min, a high school student is not coming home at night.”
“But, as an idol—”
Jo Gyu-Min clamped his mouth shut since he knew what Kang Jin-Ho wanted to hear was right now.
He was thinking of standing his ground and refusing to humor Kang Jin-Ho this time, but...
Now that this young man had come out so strongly like this, what choice did Jo Gyu-Min have “...I'll adjust her schedule so that she will come home on time from now on.”
“I'll leave it to you.”
Jo Gyu-Min's head faltered, his face reddening from all the dissatisfaction.
He finally managed to rein in his unhappiness before asking, “But, Mister Jin-Ho”
“Right now could be the most crucial period in Miss Eun-Yeong's career.
You do know that I'm not trying to get rich by overstuffing her schedule with a ton of work, don't you”
“Of course.” Kang Jin-Ho nodded.
Kang Eun-Yeong making a killing didn't mean Jo Gyu-Min would reap the benefits, after all.
“If you understand that, please also try to understand how important a single photo or a video shoot can be for Miss Eun—”
“I told you, she is not coming home at night.”
“...I see.” Jo Gyu-Min's head faltered again.
Talking to a wall might be more productive than this.
While feeling pity for Kang Eun-Yeong's career and sympathy for himself, Jo Gyu-Min slowly nodded in resignation.
I'll adjust her schedule.”
Well, what choice did Jo Gyu-Min have When told to jump, it was his job to ask, “How high” anyway.
However, he had something to say, “By the way, Chairman Hwang wishes to treat you to a meal sometime.
Can you find some spare time before you go back”
“Huh...” Jo Gyu-Min dazedly muttered.
He had asked for formality's sake, but to think he would be refused this quickly and resolutely! In all honesty, he had never even expected to be rejected in the first place.
And that left him rather flustered.
“W-why Are you that busy H-how about tomorrow evening”
“I'll be spending it with my family.”
Of course, spending some quality time with one's family was important.
However, hadn't Kang Jin-Ho spent almost ten days nonstop with his family until now
To think that a South Korean would outright refuse an opportunity of a lifetime called 'Being treated to a nice meal by Chairman Hwang Jeong-Hu!’ Even the President of Korea would unhesitantly seize this chance as if his life depended on it.
Jo Gyu-Min felt an onset of migraine approaching him while imagining himself explaining this to Hwang Jeong-Hu.
Kang Jin-Ho glanced at Jo Gyu-Min sitting there like a dumbstruck moron, then got up to leave.
I'll get going first.”
“A-allow me to accompany you.”
“No, it's fine.
I brought my bicycle with me. Ah, I almost forgot.
Please take my bicycle in for repairs after I go back to the army.
It's creaking a lot recently.”
‘...Mister Jin-Ho, you can buy a new one, you know You're swimming in money, so why...‘
‘Why are you thinking about repairing and stuff’
Jo Gyu-Min quashed the voice in his heart and said something else, “I'll take care of it.”
“Well, then.” Kang Jin-Ho briefly bowed his head and exited the cafe.
Jo Gyu-Min gulped down the cup of half-melted iced Americano in one go and groaned deeply.
That tasted quite bitter.
“...I guess the magical girl concept is out of the question, then.”
It seemed Jo Gyu-Min would have to let go of one of his dreams.
A couple of days later, in front of the Kang family's residence...
Baek Hyeon-Jeong worriedly addressed her son, “Be careful on your way back, son.”
Kang Jin-Ho coolly nodded.
Kang Yu-Hwan was next.
“Jin-Ho, you know I can drive you there.”
I'd like to stop by somewhere while on my way, after all.
You don't have to come with me.”
“You won't have trouble finding your way back, right”
Please don't worry.”
Kang Eun-Yeong, with a deeply pouting face, decided that now was a good time to land some blows and went on the offensive.
“Wowsers, Oppa Now that you're in your uniform, you look like a dummy!”
Kang Jin-Ho shrugged his shoulders.
“I don't care.”
“You're totally an uncle now! An ahjussi!”
“I guess so”
“...Urgh!” Kang Eun-Yeong stomped her feet in frustration.
Her irritation level was about to explode from how her schedule had been unceremoniously cut down against her will.
However, when she complained and resisted the change, her talent agency could only repeat that they simply had no say in the matter.
As for the culprit behind all this, Kang Jin-Ho, he was like an immovable steel wall.
Kang Jin-Ho cocked his brow ever so slightly.
“I told you to stop, have I not”
“...Yes, sir!” Kang Eun-Yeong immediately tucked her tail firmly between her legs in defeat and started kicking the blameless ground.
She used body language to express her dissatisfaction, but too bad for her, Baek Hyeong-Jeong and Kang Yu-Hwan were quite pleased with how things had turned out.
“Who knew it'd be this easy” Baek Hyeon-Jeong chuckled softly.
The two of them were now thinking they had wasted too much time on a problem that would have been resolved in a heartbeat just by talking to their dependable son.
Kang Jin-Ho bowed to his family.
I'm going now.”
Be safe out there!”
“Oppa, take care, okay!”
Kang Jin-Ho bade goodbye and climbed into the backseat of Jo Gyu-Min's car.
Park Yu-Min was riding in the back as well.
Kang Jin-Ho lightly tutted.
“You didn't have to come, you know.”
“Nah. My friend is heading back to the army, after all.
I couldn't come and see you when you got your leave, so the least I can do is see you off.”
I'm not a little kid.”
“Even so,” Park Yu-Min replied firmly.
He had been feeling guilty about not paying Kang Jin-Ho a single visit while his friend was serving in the army, and that was why he pushed pretty hard to get some time off today just to say goodbye.
Kang Jin-Ho asked another question, “Has the date for Sister Yi's surgery been decided yet”
I heard it this morning.
It has been scheduled to take place in three days.”
Be by her side, okay”
“Yeah, I will.
The nursing teachers have started their work from this morning, too.”
“Good to hear.
If something happens, you can discuss it with the proxy director here.”
I'm the former proxy director.
I have resigned from that post a long time ago, after all.” Jo Gyu-Min chuckled before continuing, “You can talk to me anytime, Yu-Min.”
“I will, Mister Jo.”
“Don't just say that.
I'm being serious.
I have Mister Jin-Ho's bank card with me, you see Don't hesitate and tell me if you need something.
Since it's not my money, you can bet your bottom dollar that I'll be very generous.”
Park Yu-Min could only make a cramped, uncomfortable smile at that.
That was because he had heard that the wages for the newly-hired nursery teachers and the cook were coming from Kang Jin-Ho's pockets.
Kang Jin-Ho noticed his friend's expression and said, “It's not because of you, Yu-Min.”
“If I was worried about your life and no one else's, there are lots of other ways to help you.
In other words, what I'm doing isn't for you but for the kids at the orphanage.”
“Thanks…” Park Yu-Min nodded quietly, knowing his friend wasn't the type to lie.
If Kang Jin-Ho were doing this out of his concern for Park Yu-Min, he would have told his friend to quickly reach the top and pay back the debt as soon as possible.
That was his style.
Yet, he continued to say that wasn't the case, which could only mean he really was looking out for the orphanage's children.
Park Yu-Min sighed softly.
“It's probably a lot of money, though...”
It's not a lot.”
“In any case, I'm grateful.”
“Why are you thanking me, though” Kang Jin-Ho cocked an eyebrow as if something dissatisfied him.
“Let me say this again, I'm not doing this for you, so you don't have to thank me.
Even if we become estranged for some reason, I'll still support the orphanage regardless.”
“Yeah, I know.
That's why I'm grateful.”
Kang Jin-Ho tutted loudly, thinking that words weren't getting through to Park Yu-Min.
So, he cleanly gave up convincing his friend and changed the topic.
“Give me a call when Sister Yi's surgery ends.”
I'll definitely call you.”
They chatted for a while before arriving at the orphanage.
Park Yu-Min climbed out of the car and waved his hand.
“Take care now, okay Oh, and I'll be rejoining my team tomorrow and start practicing again.”
“Good to hear.
I gave it a go earlier myself and discovered how difficult it was to get your game sense back on track.
That's why you gotta get back as soon as possible.”
Park Yu-Min smirked and replied, “Yeah, I heard about that.
Apparently, you got totally annihilated”
“Wow, so embarrassing.”
“...Let's get going, Mister Gyu-Min.” Kang Jin-Ho hurriedly avoided the gaze of the grinning Park Yu-Min and urged Jo Gyu-Min.
The older man could only wryly smile while depressing the accelerator.
Park Yu-Min watched the car drive away and sighed deeply.
What a pain he can be sometimes.”
Kang Jin-Ho was annihilated by the pros on the first day of playing the game after his return.
True to his personality, though, he rediscovered his previous skills in just three days and proceeded to mercilessly slaughter many pros daring to challenge him.
Although he ran out of time and couldn't jump back into the ranked matches, Kang Jin-Ho still left behind a historical record of twenty-two straight victories against the top pro gamers in the country, and in the process, he reminded everyone that the Killoccupation Era hadn't ended yet.
“...I better step up my game, too.”
He had always been grateful for everything his friend had done for him.
And he also wanted to be more like Kang Jin-Ho if he could.
To be able to hold his head high in the presence of such a friend, Park Yu-Min wanted to be better than Kang Jin-Ho in at least one field.
And that would be the world of pro gaming.
Park Yu-Min waved his hand one more time at the car in the distance.
Jo Gyu-Min looked at the rearview mirror and asked, “Aren't you rueful about today”
“What do you mean” Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head slightly.
“I mean, you're returning to the service, yet you look so calm about it, you see.”
“I don't see a reason why I should be nervous.”
“...As expected of you, Mister Jin-Ho.” Jo Gyu-Min chuckled and shifted his focus back to the road ahead.
Kang Jin-Ho stared outside the car's window.
Their vehicle had already driven past the Civilian Control Line to keep traveling up north.
The sun was still blazing up in the middle of the sky, but they were inching ever closer to Kang Jin-Ho's base.
However, he didn't particularly feel unhappy about it.
Of course, that didn't mean he had stopped thinking about the loose ends he was leaving behind.
Sister Yi and Han Se-Yeon.
For Sister Yi, there wasn't much Kang Jin-Ho could do now.
It was impossible for him to stay and watch until the end of her surgery, as he was a soldier.
Besides, he had done everything he could already.
For now, he had to trust other people to finish the job.
However, the matter with Han Se-Yeon was different.
'Because we were immature, huh...'
Han Se-Yeon said that what happened between them was because of how young and immature they were.
That argument might apply to her but not to Kang Jin-Ho.
His real mental age was even older than his own father's, after all.
Maybe it happened due to Kang Jin-Ho's lack of readiness to accept other people.
And this led to unintentionally hurting Han Se-Yeon.
He couldn't help but think this way—that he should have done better somehow.
'I still have a long way to go...'
He was still lacking in so many areas.
He lacked understanding of other people and the world in general.
However, he wasn’t in a hurry to understand everything.
It was as Sister Yi had said.
Rather than impatiently rushing ahead to achieve something, Kang Jin-Ho now knew that there was another way.
And that was to step back and wait—to persevere.
Kang Jin-Ho wasn't going to mindlessly adhere to that logic, of course.
However, knowing he had more choices now had calmed his heart down, helping him to be more at ease.
'It's too late now...'
Even if there had been another way to deal with Han Se-Yeon's matter, it was too late to mull over it now.
Getting hung up over the past was foolish, anyway.
Kang Jin-Ho leaned back and closed his eyes.
He should start focusing on living out his military life instead.
Jo Won-Gu warmly greeted Kang Jin-Ho back in their living quarter.
How was your leave”
Kang Jin-Ho replied in his usual flat tone, “It was fine, sir.”
“Did you get to eat lots of delicious food”
Jeon Hyeok-Su butted in.
“This brat! Sir, look how much fatter he got during his leave! Even though it has only been ten days!”
Jo Won-Gu stared weirdly at Jeon Hyeok-Su.
Can't you see that Jin-Ho has actually gotten thinner”
“Eh Oh, now that you mention it...
Hey, Jin-Ho, what were you doing outside Did you find yourself a girlfriend or something”
Jo Won-Gu tutted loudly.
“You dumbass! Jin-Ho already has a girlfriend!”
“Oh, really This brat never said anything, so I had no idea, sir. Heeeh~, could the reason for your weight loss be that you were busy doing you-know-what” Jeon Hyeok-Su sneakily asked with a nudge-nudge, wink-wink.
Jo Won-Gu nearly blew his top just then.
“You moron! What are you saying to a kid!”
“Eii~. But sir, Jin-Ho isn't a kid, you know.
I mean, he's over twenty now, isn't he Even if we call him our dear maknae, he's still a man leading a love life, no”
Jo Won-Gu kicked Jeon Hyeok-Su's backside.
Not out of malice, though.
“You and your big mouth...!”
Despite getting his ass kicked, Jeon Hyeok-Su still cackled away as he asked Kang Jin-Ho, “Okay, so~, did you have lots of fun with your girl”
Kang Jin-Ho replied flatly, “We broke up, sir.”
“Yeah, of course.
You had... Eh”
“Sir, we broke up.”
The surrounding atmosphere cooled down in an instant.
“O-oh, I see.
Sorry to hear that.”
Everyone in the room began sending gazes of pity in Kang Jin-Ho's way.
However, the person in question was puzzled by their sympathy and had to look around himself.
“What's the matter, sirs”
You know.” Jeon Hyeok-Su sheepishly looked away.
“Kuh-hmm.” Jo Won-Gu suddenly cleared his throat and approached Kang Jin-Ho.
Come with me for a sec.
I gotta interview you.”
“Sir I think I misheard you.”
“I gotta interview you.
You know, a face-to-face talk.”
“Oh, I see.
Of course, sir.”
Kang Jin-Ho was practically dragged away by the squad commander to somewhere more private and had to explain how and why he had to break up with his 'girlfriend.’ That wasn't the end, however, as he also had to prove that he wasn’t psychologically impacted by the breakup.
When the 'interview' was done, Jo Won-Gu wrapped his arm around Kang Jin-Ho's shoulders and spoke in a reassuring voice, “I'm not doing this because we're scared of you going AWOL, Jin-Ho.”
“Every soldier who breaks up with their girl goes through this process, you see We have plenty of hot-headed morons in this place, after all.
You get what I'm saying, don't you”
“I do, sir.”
Anyway, be strong, soldier.”
Later that night, Kang Jin-Ho's seniors suddenly began buying him all sorts of frozen foods and ramen.
He stared at the unexpected pile of food before him and sighed deeply.
'...I shouldn't have said anything.'
Today had to be the first time since his return to the modern era that other people were looking at him with such pity.