Every detail had fallen into place, but Hyun-seong couldn’t predict Min-sik’s reaction. Yet, deep down, he had known what to expect. Still, he refused to fully surrender his hopes for his parents’ attention and affection. At just eighteen years old, he wasn’t ready to let go of their love entirely.
He should have realized that clinging to hope was a futile existence, a torment in itself. He bit his lip, attempting to suppress his emotions, but a bitter smile tugged at his lips. How deeply could this feeling fester within him?
“Auntie,” he called out softly.
“Yes? What is it?” Mrs. Jang responded.
“Auntie… you’re a kind person. You mentioned having a son, right?”
“Yes, my son. He’s twenty-four now, six years older than Hyun-seong.”
As the conversation shifted to her son, a faint smile graced Mrs. Jang’s lips. Despite his tough exterior and lack of communication, the mere thought of having a child filled her with strength. Hyun-seong turned his gaze slightly and met Mrs. Jang’s eyes, his voice a quiet murmur as if he were speaking to himself.
“Auntie… I believe you would have been a wonderful mother to your son.”
“Not really. Well, I should have done more for that to be true. When parents are incapable… their children end up suffering twice as much.”
A tinge of bitterness settled on Mrs. Jang’s face as she pondered the question. Would she have been a good mother? The answer eluded her, lost in the complexities of her life working in the Yoon household for the past few years. In this place, South Korea’s class-based society still cast its shadow. Despite the abolition of formal statuses, an invisible pyramid structure persisted, its transparent walls dividing people in ways that seemed impenetrable.
“Still, I…” Hyun-seong’s voice broke the silence, and Mrs. Jang, roused from her thoughts, looked at him.
“I envy your son,” he continued.
“If you were my mom, would I have been happy too?”
His words carried a depth of emotion too intricate to express fully. Mrs. Jang found herself without a response. The burden an eighteen-year-old shouldered and the weight he would have to carry into the future were beyond her imagination.
As Hyun-seong pressed the ice pack against his cheek and closed his eyes, he softly repeated the word “happiness,” a seemingly simple two-syllable word, yet brimming with profound meaning.
He didn’t wish to be the coveted lucky four-leaf clover that everyone sought. He simply longed to be an ordinary but warmly cherished three-leaf clover.
Outside the window, the scenery grew dim, gradually veiled in darkness. Night had arrived.
Apologies for the mistake. Let’s correct that.
“I’ll have… a strawberry frappuccino. Yi-soo, what do you want to drink?” Min-seo asked.
“Just an iced Americano with an extra shot,” Yi-soo replied.
“Again? Please try something different. You always get the same Americano. Don’t you get tired of it? There are so many delicious drinks with lots of whipped cream on top.”
Inside the bustling café near the Southern District Prosecutor’s Office, people crowded together, taking a break from their busy day. After waiting in line for ten minutes to place their order, Min-seo and Yi-soo glanced around the bustling space.
“It seems busier than usual today,” Yi-soo remarked.
“Yeah, I wonder why. By the way, Yi-soo, are you working overtime today?” Min-seo asked.
“Well, not for too long, just a couple of hours. There’s somewhere I need to go,” Yi-soo replied.
“Where? What are you going to do?” Min-seo’s curiosity got the best of her as she leaned against the wall, waiting for their drinks. It was unlike her to be so inquisitive since she typically went straight home after work. Yi-soo sensed her gaze and casually cleared her throat.
“Well, it’s just… with Yoon Hyun-seong,” she admitted.
“Yoon Hyun-seong? Have you made any progress since that day? Why are you meeting him? Wedding preparations? Is there something going on between you two?” Min-seo bombarded her with questions upon hearing the name. Her voice grew so loud that people within a one-meter radius turned their heads to look at them. Yi-soo startled, bringing her index finger to her lips in a hasty shushing motion.
“Shh, please keep it down! People are staring at us.”
“Oh, right… But really, meeting Yoon Hyun-seong alone? What’s going on, what’s going on?” Min-seo gushed.
“I’ll tell you later. Our coffee is ready,” Yi-soo replied calmly.
Min-seo was the only colleague who knew about their relationship. After all, she was the one originally supposed to be engaged to Yi-soo. Thanks to the talk about their engagement within their families, Min-seo treated Yi-soo like an ally.
With a curious and eager expression, she held the takeout cups in both hands. “When and where will you tell me? What time is it now? Oh, we have only 10 minutes left for lunch!”
“I’ll tell you slowly. I’m not going to run away.”
Ding. They opened the café door, stepping into the warm and stuffy air outside. Yi-soo, having received her cup of coffee, headed toward the entrance of the Prosecutor’s Office. Meanwhile, Min-seo seemed to be lost in her own imagination.
She’s always so curious, Yi-soo thought with a hint of a smile.
Despite that, Min-seo was an irresistibly charming friend, and she couldn’t bring herself to dislike her. That’s why they had maintained their relationship since law school until now.
As she sipped the cold coffee, a chilling sensation suddenly ran down Yi-soo’s spine.
…What’s this? she wondered.
At that moment, she stopped in her tracks and turned around. It felt as if someone’s persistent gaze was engulfing her entire being. Goosebumps formed on her arms, and an unsettling feeling washed over her.