He’s so different now… It’s no wonder he can’t recognize me, Yi-Soo thought to herself. She had always worn an upside-down black hat and thick glasses with high prescriptions. Her only connection to Hyun-seong was watching him from afar as he delivered a speech as the representative of their graduating class. They had never truly interacted. Yet, Hyun-seong had occasionally occupied her thoughts during the early hours of the morning. Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine that she would be standing before him, holding an engagement contract.
Now is not the time to get lost in personal emotions, Yi-Soo reminded herself, trying to regain her focus. Her top priority was to find a way to access the secure USB belonging to Yoon & Kang and send its contents to her sister.
Lost in her mixed emotions, Yi-Soo watched as Hyun-seong meticulously read through every word of the contract. Once he finished reviewing it, he neatly placed the three pages back into the envelope.
“Give me your number,” he suddenly said.
“My number?” Yi-Soo questioned, caught off guard.
“Do you know my number?” Hyun-seong continued, his habit of abruptly cutting off his words and focusing on key terms evident. It was a conversational style that some found frustrating, yet others had grown accustomed to over time.
Yi-Soo blinked, then pointed to the phone number on her business card with her index finger. “It’s right there, so feel free to contact me first.”
A chuckle escaped Hyun-seong’s lips, amused by her audacious response. She was bold in many ways, and that’s what intrigued him. He had a deep aversion to pretentiousness and artificiality, and he had no interest in passive women. In that sense, the engagement contract with Yi-Soo didn’t seem like a bad thing at all.
“Seo Yi-Soo, the prosecutor,” Hyun-seong uttered, his expression nonchalant, as he tilted the whiskey bottle thoughtfully. The amber liquid cascaded into the transparent glass, and Yi-Soo held her breath, eager to hear his next words.
Alcohol had always been her weakness, and even the potent aroma of the high-proof whiskey made her feel slightly intoxicated. Hyun-seong, still aware of Yi-Soo’s presence beside him, subtly nodded towards the door, indicating that their conversation had reached its end.
“Well, you can go now. That’s all,” he remarked.
“Is it over?” Yi-Soo asked, a tinge of uncertainty in her voice.
“Is there anything else you need to say?” Hyun-seong inquired.
“I’ve expressed everything, but…”
“If we’ve covered all the essential points, then you should leave. I’ll be in touch in a few days, so make sure to answer when I call,” he instructed.
It was a one-sided dismissal. Yi-Soo had done her best to secure his signature on the contract, yet she couldn’t help but feel a hint of awkwardness. However, considering Hyun-seong’s reputation for being self-centered and cold-hearted, the fact that he hadn’t torn up the contract held its own significance.
Yi-Soo attempted to rationalize the situation and gracefully descended from the high bar chair, bidding her farewell with a gesture. Instead of acknowledging her farewell, Hyun-seong retrieved a cigarette case and lighter from his suit jacket.
A clear, resonant note tinged in the bar, marking the end of their conversation.
“Well, unfortunate things remain the same, whether it’s four years ago or now…” Yi-soo murmured, her words hanging in the air as she pushed open the door and left. The bartender, who had been waiting outside, hurriedly stepped forward to bid her farewell.
Although it was summer, the night air carried a lingering chill. Exhaustion seeped through Yi-Soo’s entire being as she made her way toward the parking lot. The path ahead, just a single step away, felt uncertain and unpredictable.
As soon as she entered her front door, Yi-Soo kicked off her heels and entered the living room. It wasn’t a brand-new place, but the 15-square-meter studio apartment in downtown Seoul served as her cozy abode. It may not have been spacious, but it was a decent space for her to live alone.
“I’m so tired…” she sighed, grateful that it was finally the end of the workweek. Yi-Soo made a resolution to sleep soundly like a log on Saturday, but her phone began to vibrate and ring, interrupting her plans.
A simple name appeared on the screen in large letters: ‘Ahjussi’ (meaning ‘Uncle’). Yi-Soo blinked, her eyes fixed on the display, then pressed the green answer button on her phone.
“Hello,” Yi-Soo greeted as she answered the call.
“Yeah, Yi-Soo. Are you done with work?” her uncle asked.
“Yes, Uncle. And how about you?” she replied.
“I just got home too. I’m planning to go hiking early tomorrow morning. Have you had dinner?”
A gentle voice emanated from the phone, prompting a wry smile to grace her face. She brought the phone closer to her ear and sat on the edge of her bed.
“I haven’t had dinner yet, but I actually wanted to talk to you today. There’s something I need to tell you, Uncle.”
“Really? What’s the matter? Did Chief Shin bother you by any chance?” her uncle asked with concern.
“Oh no, Chief Prosecutor Shin always treats me well. Nothing out of the ordinary at work,” Yi-Soo assured him.
For a moment, she hesitated, her calm smile fading momentarily. She had taken the plunge to discuss this with him, but she wasn’t sure how to broach the topic.
“Um, Uncle. It may come as a surprise, but… I think I need to get engaged,” she finally confessed.
Silence filled the air, and Yi-Soo scratched her cheek with her index finger. It was understandable that her sudden announcement caught him off guard, considering she had reached out after two weeks and sprung the topic of engagement out of the blue.
Yi-Soo proceeded to explain the situation briefly to her adoptive father, In-seong.
“On the surface, it’s an engagement, but I plan to end it from my side after a year. It’s difficult to explain all the details… But it’s definitely not leading to marriage. I thought you should know, Uncle,” she disclosed.
He paused for a moment before responding, “Is this something you can’t discuss in detail?”
“Yes,” Yi-Soo affirmed. “Once things settle down, I will definitely explain everything. I’m sorry for causing unnecessary worries. It feels like I’m burdening you.”
He, who had reached out to Yi-Soo when she was just a child in an orphanage, continued to care for her like a loving father even after she grew into an adult. In-seong’s unwavering support played a pivotal role in shaping the person she had become, Prosecutor Seo Yi-Soo.
Her decision to pursue a career in law and enroll in law school was fueled by her desire to follow in In-seong’s footsteps as a prosecutor.
“I’m sure you have your reasons, Yi-Soo. Whatever choice you make, I will trust and support you. But more importantly, take good care of yourself, eat well, and get plenty of sleep. You know that, right?” her uncle reassured her.
“Yes. Thank you. I’ll contact you again. Have a good hike tomorrow,” Yi-Soo replied gratefully.
“Okay. Go inside and rest well,” he advised kindly.
After ending the call, Yi-Soo placed her phone on the floor with a thud. She let out a deep sigh and proceeded to dampen her face and upper body, seeking some relief. Finally, she plopped down onto her bed.
“I must be doing okay…” she whispered to herself, her voice filled with a mixture of emotions. Perhaps it was due to the complex feelings swirling within her, but the white ceiling above her seemed higher than usual.