The living room reverberated with a sharp crack, the sound of friction slicing through the air. Yoon Hyun-seong, a mere eighteen years old, cautiously turned his head back, his heart pounding in trepidation. Before he could fully recover, another harsh strike landed on him.
Crack! Thud! Crack!
The relentless barrage of slaps seemed never-ending. His hands were clenched tightly behind his back, the strain almost unbearable. Despite his tall and robust frame, enduring his father’s merciless blows in stoic silence proved agonizing.
Trying to summon strength into his legs to withstand the assault, his body wavered involuntarily. Once flawless cheeks, devoid of any blemish, were now swollen and crimson. He didn’t dare check, but the inside of his mouth must have been torn as well.
Hyun-seong, gritting his teeth, finally let out a muffled groan, unable to suppress the pain any longer. His once neat and tidy forehead, concealed by bangs, was now in disarray. His eyelashes trembled slightly.
Min-sik, his father, frowned and delivered a few more blows before finally releasing his grip. His own palm was flushed from the force of the strikes.
Hyun-seong closed his eyes, stifling the swirling emotions rising in his throat, and slowly straightened his body.
His name, spoken with irritation, jolted him to attention. Slowly raising his eyelids, he found himself facing the stern countenance of a middle-aged man—neatly groomed hair, slick with pomade, and a meticulously tailored three-piece suit completing the look.
Even in his forties, Min-sik never overlooked his self-care or physical fitness, and it was clear that Hyun-seong had inherited his height and robust build. The impact of such a man deliberately wielding a hand, however, was beyond imagination.
Min-sik slipped the watch he had taken off back onto his left wrist and began to speak. “Is life so mundane for you? Or did you yearn to rebel against your father? Or perhaps, did you experience puberty later than others?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Then why did you do something to upset me like this?”
Casually flicking his hand, Min-sik tossed a piece of paper at Hyun-seong’s face. The thin paper swished and fluttered before landing on the floor.
It was the September evaluation sheet, and among the scant ten grades listed, one number stood out like an ugly duckling.
Language – Grade 2.
Since entering high school—or perhaps in his entire life—it was the first time Hyun-seong had received such a grade.
In the realm of perfection, Min-sik had always maintained an unshakable position, never allowing anyone to surpass him. The modifier “perfect” seemed destined to precede his name, a testament to his meticulous nature.
Hyun-seong couldn’t bear to be left behind by anyone, even as an illegitimate son. He adopted his father’s unwavering pursuit of flawlessness, refusing to touch anything that fell short of perfection.
“Mock exam, grade 2,” Min-sik lamented, his voice tinged with disappointment. “Is this what you call a grade? I fail to comprehend, Hyun-seong. All I see is rebellion against me.”
His son replied, his tone measured, “I will be more careful.”
“Do you wish to leave such a glaring flaw in your life? Very well… Tsk. We must communicate better.”
Min-sik expressed his contempt openly, clicking his tongue in disapproval. To some, his philosophy might seem harsh, but he believed that climbing to the top of the food chain required wielding the whip, even if the target was his own flesh and blood.
As the tension hung in the air, the sound of the front door opening broke the silence. In-hwa, who had returned after being out, nonchalantly handed her bag to the housekeeper and shifted her gaze between Hyun-seong and Min-sik.
“What’s going on?” In-hwa’s voice cut through the tension, her eyes darting between the two men.
“Take a look for yourself. How have you been disciplining the child?” Min-sik retorted.
“Why is my parenting being questioned now? Let me see.” In-hwa bent down and picked up the discarded report card from the floor, her expression growing increasingly disapproving. She couldn’t help but wonder why Min-sik had been so harsh on their son since the early evening.
Briefly glancing at her son’s disheveled lips and reddened cheeks, In-hwa turned her gaze toward Min-sik. The situation, though not entirely surprising, was still troubling.
“I understand, but you need to show restraint. Didn’t you say not to hit his face when disciplining him? It’s neither a weekend nor a school holiday. If the homeroom teacher notices something amiss, what do you think will happen?”
“Don’t make it complicated. What’s the use of trying to discipline him while shielding the pretty parts?” Min-sik’s response lacked any hint of remorse.
“As if it would end well if rumors start spreading that the top student in the entire school is involved in violence. Hyun-seong, you better shape up by tomorrow morning. Go study. And what’s this about getting… Grade 2?” In-hwa’s frustration seeped into her words.
With a sigh, In-hwa declared her exhaustion and left the room. Min-sik, in turn, pulled a cigarette from his pocket and headed toward the front door.
Left behind in the vast expanse of the living room was silence.