chapter 3
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Two months had passed since Park Dong Hoon and Lee Ji An, each on their own yet simultaneously, decided to fight for their happiness. Despite the exceptionally difficult circumstances, they resolved to take small steps toward fulfilling the promises they had made before Ji An’s departure to Busan.

Rightly so, there was no time to waste. The marriage between Park Dong Hoon and Kang Yoon Hee was but a facade, known only to those closest to them—excluding his mother and son. There was no chance to reverse or forget her betrayal. Such things might be forgiven, but one cannot reconcile with the fact that she was in the arms of another man—in this case, Do Joon Young, despised intensely by Dong Hoon. This was insurmountable. Thus, their feelings flatlined on the barometer of love, and Dong Hoon recognized that maintaining this pretense was futile.

This decision unleashed the potential of dormant feelings towards Lee Ji An, yet the dilemma was that complications arose, not only from the age difference but also because his appearance had been marred by an accident, and there was no guarantee he would still look presentable, let alone resemble his former self.

Despite these new circumstances, he did not give up. He allowed Ji An to draw closer and himself took tentative steps towards her. He had undergone several grafts on his face and neck which, for now, aimed to restore some mobility and mimicry, the ability to speak and eat. Therapists were impressed by his determination to improve these abilities.

As for his appearance… It was not good, unfortunately. This was no longer the face once beloved by family and friends. All that remained were his eyes; the rest was a vast scar from the injuries sustained. No one spoke of it, but Dong Hoon did not recognize himself in the mirror. Every morning, as he looked at his reflection, he had to repeat several times:
„It’s not a big deal! It’s not that important…”

His mother sometimes wept because of this, his brothers tried to ignore it, as did his friends. It was harder for his son, who struggled to accept his father’s new look. Yoon Hee had even enrolled him in therapy to deal with the evident trauma, without telling her husband. She decided never to cause him any more sorrow or trouble, and she adhered firmly to this resolution. However, it did not change the fact that she looked at his unfamiliar, deformed face with sincere pain.

Park Dong Hoon had already undergone initial consultations for facial correction through plastic surgery. Yoon Hee had found and scheduled him with the best clinic specializing in such traumatic corrections. The first of these surgeries was set to take place in a week, and everyone awaited it with hope yet tinged with apprehension, as is common with the anticipation of surgery.

Dong Hoon himself maintained a positive outlook. He believed the worst was behind him and that from now on, things could only get better. Ji An effectively supported him in this belief, completely disregarding his appearance. For her, what mattered was his personality, his heart, gentleness, and sensitivity, which she had long cherished. And the face… Well, it was just a shell. She valued more his gaze, which could express such deep feelings, and now it was even stronger since he no longer had to maintain the previous distance.

Yes, our Dong Hoon had learned to openly show her what he felt, and with this transformation, he felt truly wonderful. But we shall write more about this transformation a little later.

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Since Dong Hoon had left the hospital and returned to his bachelor pad near work, there was hardly a moment when someone didn’t drop by to check how he was coping and if he needed anything. He himself was reluctant to venture out into the city, for his appearance drew stares that he found uncomfortable. If he really wanted to, he ventured out after dark, donning a baseball cap to hide the unsightly scars and his disfigured face. It wasn’t pleasant, but he was learning to cope and not to dwell on it.

Today, too, he felt a need to stretch his legs and was about to leave when Gi Hoon appeared, visibly in a foul mood.

„O hyung! Heading out?” he asked, finding his brother just by the door.

„Ne! Thought I might go for a run,” Dong Hoon surveyed him with a discerning look—he could tell something was off. „Is something wrong?” he inquired.

„Can I come with you?” Gi Hoon volunteered.

„Sure. Let’s head to the park and you can tell me what’s going on,” Dong Hoon said, locking up the apartment.

Gi Hoon followed obediently to the elevator and then towards the park. They didn’t speak along the way. Sometimes, just being together was enough to feel better. Today, the youngest brother needed that support, so Dong Hoon patiently waited for him to reveal what was weighing on his mind. As they walked, he suspected it might be girlfriend troubles, since their relationship wasn’t the easiest, complicated further by their personalities and the industry they both worked in. Though romantic troubles weren’t his forte, he wanted to support his brother by simply listening.

When they reached the park, they sat on a secluded bench. Dong Hoon remained silent, but it was clear he was kindly waiting for his brother to open up.

„Hyung,” Gi Hoon stared somewhat distantly ahead, „do you remember an actor named Lim Seung Kyu?”

„Of course,” the reply came quickly. „Wait, didn’t he commit suicide recently? While I was in the hospital?” Dong Hoon immediately recalled the headlines that had been everywhere some time ago.

„Yes… unfortunately, he did,” Gi Hoon said with a constricted throat, surprising his older brother.

„Did it affect you?” he asked, to encourage him to express the painful feelings that clearly tormented him.

„Affect me? That’s putting it mildly, hyung!” Gi Hoon suddenly became animated. „I still can’t accept it! A day or two before his death, I was supposed to call him and offer him the lead role in my series. I knew he was going through a trial, and people in the industry had turned their backs on him to avoid losses—now words poured straight from Gi Hoon’s troubled heart—I can’t remember why, but I didn’t call him, and then the terrible news came…” he broke down crying.

Dong Hoon said nothing but enveloped his younger brother in an arm. He cried for quite a while. When he had calmed a bit, he continued.

„Maybe, if I had given him that role… maybe he wouldn’t have done it… I keep thinking about it… constantly, hyung!” he looked pitifully at his brother. „And now it’s too late… It’s definitively too late! I can’t help him anymore… He’s gone!” Tears broke free again from the heart of this otherwise tough guy.

„Did you know him well?” Dong Hoon asked.

„We met a few times at parties. We got along well. We were on the same wavelength. I think he liked me, too. We exchanged contacts, and I even mentioned that I’d soon have a proposal for him. You know, he was a really great actor. I wrote the role in the new series specifically for him…” he paused and blew his nose loudly. „I could have at least texted him or sent a damn email, but no! I wanted to surprise him!” Gi Hoon’s temper flared. „You have such an idiot for a brother, hyung! I don’t get that the important thing is NOW! You have to show support immediately to someone who needs it. Don’t wait until you can do it with a flourish!”

Dong Hoon started to worry that his brother might lash out at himself, which happened in extreme cases when he couldn’t handle his emotions.

„You couldn’t have predicted this,” he consoled him. „And your intentions were good,” he patted him on the back.

„Good intentions! Good intentions! Bullshit! I wanted to play the hero, the savior! And he needed just ordinary kindness, a phone call, a message saying I was on his side… Those simple gestures, the kind Ji An knew how to give…,” he referenced the time when Dong Hoon learned about Yoon Hee’s infidelity and his heart was shattered, and she managed to make him breathe and keep living with little things.

Dong Hoon recalled that morning when they returned as a trio from a night of brotherly talks, and he received such a comforting message from her. That’s why he felt the pain of not being able to support his acquaintance similarly, and everything in this case ended tragically.

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„See, hyung,” Gi Hoon continued, „I did some research into the last months of Lim Seung Kyu’s life. I was so haunted by what could have driven him to end his life, especially since the drug case he was nearly winning wasn’t the real reason.”

„And?” Dong Hoon wanted his brother to spill everything, hoping it might bring him some relief.

„I’m not entirely sure, but it seems he got entangled with a strange woman who at some point gave him a suspicious pill, which started the whole drug scandal. Later, it turned out—this woman was blackmailing him by claiming that someone else was blackmailing her.”

„Hold on, Gi Hoon,” he interrupted, „I’m getting lost. What was his relationship with this woman? How did the police learn he was taking something? And explain again, who was blackmailing whom?”

„It appears they might have been having an affair. I saw (now probably deleted from the internet) footage of him embracing her, caressing her in some odd gatherings. Some reports reached the police, and one officer leaked the information to the media, which is how the drug scandal broke. The police tracked down two women; one owned a venue where Lim Seung Kyu frequented, and the other somehow seduced him. It was she who posed as the supposed blackmailer trying to extort a substantial sum from him since he was a celebrity, but she told him over the phone that she was the one being blackmailed, threatened with exposure of their affair. You get it?”

„I think so, but it all seems very complicated,” Dong Hoon admitted.

„It only seems so,” Gi Hoon, who had his own theory, asserted. „In my opinion, Seung Kyu realized he’d been duped. Moreover, the police were already onto this blackmail, and it was about to go public. I think it was about his unfortunate affair. Remember, he has a wife, also an actress, and two teenage children! Hyung, that’s where the main issue lies. Understand?”

„Indeed, it’s a serious matter,” Dong Hoon conceded.

„Furthermore, imagine this—he starred in two dramas that were literally anatomies of marital infidelity, except his roles were always the victims of such betrayals. So, he had emotionally and mentally dissected the feelings and destructive consequences of such tragedies. I reviewed key dialogues, and they are so emotionally charged, it breaks your heart. For instance, his wife in the series, apologizing for her infidelity, outright says she seriously thought about killing herself out of guilt for hurting him and from shame. If you want, I can show you those scenes, or you can watch the dramas yourself.”

„OK. If you want, I’ll watch them,” Dong Hoon listened patiently to his troubled brother.

„So, I believe the reason for Lim Seung Kyu’s tragic decision was guilt over the affair, the realization of how much he had hurt his wife, the shame of being seduced by such a foolish and vicious woman, and the shame before his audience, for whom he was a role model. He might have also considered financial factors, but those were probably less significant.”

„Maybe he hoped that if he died, the investigation would close, and the affair wouldn’t come to light,” Dong Hoon observed.

„Possibly. I consider that too,” Gi Hoon agreed. „But ultimately, nothing can be done for Seung Kyu now… Nothing…” He again sank into sorrow, regretting that it was all irreversible and beyond repair.

„It really is very sad…” Dong Hoon summed up.

„Do you think, hyung, if I had reached out to him earlier with my offer, would it have changed anything?” Gi Hoon asked suddenly.

„Hmmm, hard to say…” Dong Hoon didn’t want to push him back down the spiral from which he had slightly emerged. „It seems to me you weren’t close enough for him to confide in you about the real reasons for his despair and intentions…” he said, monitoring his brother’s reactions.

„But it might have given him some hope, right? Eh, anyway, it doesn’t matter now! I need to pull myself together. Thanks for listening, hyung! I feel a bit lighter, as my Yu Ra would say.”

„But write this conclusion down somewhere in gold,” Dong Hoon noted.

„What conclusion?” Gi Hoon was taken aback.

„That if you can support someone in a tough spot, don’t hesitate and don’t wait for a better time because there might not be one! Comfort that person right away! Sincerely and simply!”

„Ah, right! That will be my rule now, and I’ll spread it in my projects,” Gi Hoon promised.

„Shall we head back, then?” Dong Hoon felt tired.

„Ne! Kah jah!” Both stood from the bench and made their way back to Dong Hoon’s apartment.

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„Will you come up with me?” Dong Hoon asked as they reached the door of his building.

„Got any beer?”

„There might be some left.”

„Then I’m coming with you,” Gi Hoon’s mood had slightly improved. He felt as though he had shed a significant portion of the burden he had arrived with.

They entered the apartment, and Dong Hoon headed straight for the bathroom, allowing his brother to fend for himself in the kitchen. When he emerged, Gi Hoon was already lounging on the sofa, sipping soju instead of beer.

„Changed your mind?” Dong Hoon inquired.

„No, but I couldn’t find any beer, so I opened the soju. Is that a problem?” he asked cheekily.

„No beer?” Dong Hoon was surprised. „I was sure I had some left.” He checked the fridge, then the cupboard. „Indeed, there’s none. Will you pour me some from your bottle, or should I open another?”

„Get your own,” came the decisive reply. „I have a feeling we’ve got more to talk about,” he said, pouring another glass.

„About Lim Seung Kyu?” Dong Hoon prodded.

„Ne! There are a few other things bothering me… Can you handle it? Aren’t you tired?” He looked at his brother with genuine concern.

„Go ahead. I’ve been resting long enough,” Dong Hoon wanted to keep the atmosphere light.

„For instance, where were Lim Seung Kyu’s so-called fans when the media and police were all over him? What were all those damn fandoms doing, the ones who used to scream and squeal whenever he showed up in public? Isn’t it all sick and driven by business? I mean, by a very sophisticated business exploiting sociotechnics and manipulation? Suddenly everyone went quiet… disappeared… I didn’t see a single one in the recordings outside the police station or the prosecutor’s office. I’m seriously analyzing these fan movements now, and I’ll probably use the conclusions in one of my projects.”

„I’ve long concluded that celebrities are literally enslaved by their fans. They can’t fully be themselves, show any weakness, ugliness, they can’t make mistakes, or do other generally condemned things. They’re made into 'gods’ that are literally worshiped by so-called fans, all to keep the business rolling. Which, unfortunately, leads to huge frustrations for these poor souls, and increasingly to suicides and suicides of very young people who can’t withstand the terrible pressure and life under a magnifying glass.”

„Wow, we really went there!” Gi Hoon noted. „We’ll have to come back to this because today I still want to focus on Lim Seung Kyu.”

„OK. What else is troubling you?” Dong Hoon asked.

„If the reason for his decision to die was guilt and shame over an alleged affair… I say alleged because we can’t be sure—would my offer have meant anything to him?”

„I wanted to make you realize, in my opinion, it might have pleased him a bit, but it’s unlikely that it would have deterred him from suicide,” Dong Hoon asserted.

„Chincha? Do you really think so?”

„Remember, I was also betrayed, and I clearly remember Yoon Hee telling me that when she found out I knew, she wanted to kill herself. She couldn’t bear the pain she had caused me, and on top of that, she felt immense shame. I think she didn’t go through with it because of our son and because neither I nor you showed her contempt or condemnation. It wasn’t easy, but we didn’t do that, so somehow she survived. And she wasn’t a celebrity!”

„You’re probably right,” Gi Hoon poured himself a last glass of soju. „By the way, I’m really impressed with how both of you handled that,” he added.

„We haven’t quite handled it,” Dong Hoon also poured himself a drink. „I think it’s time for a final breakup. I can’t go back to her. Love her, trust her, treat her like I used to… I just can’t, Gi Hoon…” he now fell into a foul mood.

„I know. I understand, hyung,” Gi Hoon looked at him attentively. „But you have Ji An…” he continued to gaze at him and went on, „I watched her in the hospital, and I’m sure she loves you! And has for a long time, hyung. Don’t you think it’s time to say it out loud?” His question hung in the air like an accusation.

„Not today, young one,” he heard a quiet but firm statement. „Not today. I need to be sure I’ll return to some semblance of my old self. That girl doesn’t deserve an old man, battered by life and an accident. I need to sort myself out a bit. Understand?”

„In my opinion, she doesn’t care about your looks, hyung! She got to know you really fast and you definitely didn’t get into her heart because of your external charm,” Gi Hoon could also be painfully honest, as it turned out.

„Not today, please,” Dong Hoon suddenly seemed to lose strength. „I’m tired,” he declared as he stood up. „I’m going to bed. You can crash on the sofa,” he said as he walked off to his bedroom and quietly closed the door, a trick he’d learned from Ji An.

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She returned from work exceptionally quickly today. The subway and bus seemed to arrive as if on cue, and the crowds were thinner than usual. She entered her service apartment, which was bright, clean, and very comfortable—a stark contrast to the den she once inhabited. Its only fault was that it was not in the Hoogye district, for which she continually longed. If it were up to her, that’s the only place she would seek residence. But a service apartment is a service apartment, and there’s no use complaining—especially since the standard was truly high and the fees were merely symbolic, deducted from her salary.

Ji An put the kettle on to make some coffee. She placed her phone on the kitchen counter, pulled out the earphones, and continued listening to what was happening with Dong Hoon. Since his discharge from the hospital, she had his permission to eavesdrop on him. They had both grown so accustomed to it that it had literally become second nature. It made her feel more at ease about him, and he finally parted with the loneliness that slowly, but inevitably, pushed him toward depressive states.

Now, against all logic, he breathed deeply, felt eager to live, and to face the challenges associated with returning to normalcy. He had an angel on his side who not only knew him like no one else but also loved him with genuine, selfless affection. He often wondered what he had done to deserve such favor, but so far, he had found no answer. If anyone knew that he allowed such a young woman to listen in on him, they’d likely think him mad, but for him, it was the truest form of therapy against loneliness, pain, and feeling worthless. Ji An, watching from the background, was both a balm and a lifeline for Dong Hoon. But let’s return to her and her apartment.

She had just changed into her home clothes, placed her coffee on the table, and settled comfortably on the sofa. Initially, she thought about turning on a drama to detach a bit from reality, but she heard that Dong Hoon’s younger brother had come over, which piqued her interest. The brothers’ conversation was so captivating that Ji An no longer thought about watching television.

She couldn’t even remember when she began to like Gi Hoon. It was probably during Dong Hoon’s hospitalization. She received a lot of positive energy and approval from him. She felt accepted by him and sensed that he understood the complicated emotional situation she and Dong Hoon were in. She was sure he was on their side.

Today, in the conversation between the brothers, she saw Gi Hoon from another perspective. She understood that he was just as sensitive and intelligent. She sympathized with the situation he found himself in and admired how he handled it. She was glad he had such a brother before whom he could open his heart and be understood and comforted. It deeply moved her. And as she listened to their conversation, she suddenly heard her own name and the context in which it was mentioned. She was so overwhelmed that she literally froze. She wondered whether to stop listening, but something held her back. It was as if she heard Dong Hoon’s voice:

Don’t hang up…

So she listened until the end when Dong Hoon, moved by his brother’s words about her, got up and went to his room.

Did you hear? – he asked unexpectedly.

She replied by text, as she usually did.


Gi Hoon, like you, doesn’t beat around the bush but hits straight from the shoulder – he sighed – Weren’t you upset?

No – came another text – He’s right. I don’t care about your age, your life’s journey, others’ opinions, and lately, how you look or will look – she quickly sent another text.

Ji An – he sighed heavily – you’re impossible! Really, nothing deters you about me…

Exactly – she replied – The more you try, the closer you are to me. I can’t help it.

Alright, let’s end for today. I’m really tired and going to sleep. Sorry I didn’t even ask how your day was. Aren’t you mad?

No – appeared on his screen along with a smiling emoji.

Let’s talk tomorrow, okay?


Then, good night, Ji An! Get some rest!

Goodnight, ahjussi – was her response.

Ahjussi… ahjussi – he sighed dissatisfied – when will you stop calling me that? Don’t answer, I’m falling asleep…


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Within minutes, Ji An heard the tranquil breaths of Dong Hoon.


„He was truly exhausted,” she thought.


„Once, he could sit in pubs or with his brothers till dawn, then head to work or sometimes to soccer practice. Now, after the accident and a long hospital stay, he’s lost his stamina.” Ji An pondered this absentmindedly as she tidied her tiny kitchen and prepared her clothes for the next day. „After all, he had brushed with death, and recovering from the injuries he sustained was a monumental effort for his body.” Her thoughts continually circled back to Dong Hoon. „How can he doubt that his scarred face is a problem for me? If it is, it’s only because of his physical pain and his self-consciousness around people because of his appearance. I must dispel these thoughts from his mind as soon as possible.” This last thought served as an aside to the main monologue she was conducting with herself.


She hung up a complete set of clothes for the next day’s work and lay down in bed. On the nightstand lay her phone, live-streaming Dong Hoon’s snores. Ji An was addicted to this. Falling asleep to the sound of his breathing was soothing to her…

In the middle of the night, some distress suddenly woke her. As she came to, she heard that something was amiss with Dong Hoon. He seemed to be struggling, muttering in fright, occasionally crying out. Ji An sprang to her feet, quickly donned the outfit she had prepared the night before, grabbed her purse, and rushed out of the apartment. She managed to hail a taxi and, within ten minutes, arrived at the building where he lived.

Fortunately, she knew the codes to both the building’s lower doors and to his apartment. He had given them to her when he left the hospital, saying, „So you won’t worry too much about me,” when she looked at him, shocked. She didn’t even press the doorbell or knock. With trembling hands, she accurately punched in the numbers and briskly opened the door. She ran straight to the bedroom, forgetting that Gi Hoon might be sleeping in the living room.

Dong Hoon was no longer thrashing on the bed as she had heard over the phone, but he was still restless, sweaty, and tense. Ji An turned on the bedside lamp and paused, wondering what to do. Ultimately, when she was sure there was no grave danger and Dong Hoon was breathing relatively calmly, she didn’t wake him. She sat down on the floor, leaning her back against his bed, and didn’t notice when she fell asleep.

She was awakened by a gentle touch on her shoulder by Dong Hoon, who was shocked to see her as he woke up.

„Ji An! What are you doing here?” he asked, visibly surprised.

„Oh! Ahjussi! How do you feel?” she responded with a question to his question.

„Normal,” his surprise lingered, „Why do you ask? Did something happen?” he began to worry.

„No, no!” she quickly denied, „Just that, I heard you last night thrashing about in bed, shouting and…” she looked at him uncertainly.

„And what? Come on, spit it out, girl!”

„And you were sobbing. I got scared and came over to check on you,” Ji An stood up, stretching her body.

„I don’t remember anything. Jin-jja!” Dong Hoon sat up and pulled Ji An to sit beside him. „Didn’t Gi Hoon hear you come in?”

„Aigo! I completely forgot about him!” Ji An covered her mouth. „How will we explain what I am doing here?”

„We won’t explain,” Dong Hoon smiled lightly at Ji An’s concern. „I’ll wake him up shortly and send him off to work, and you sit here quietly. Let’s play at conspiracy,” he was evidently amused.

Ji An wasn’t having as much fun as Dong Hoon, but decided to follow his lead. Fortunately, she was dressed in clothes suitable for going straight to work, and from here it was much closer, so she wasn’t worried about being late. Her only concern was that Gi Hoon might come in and discover her, which would be extremely embarrassing. She preferred to avoid that.

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„Eeruna!” Dong Hoon clapped his brother on the shoulder, „Wake up! Time for work! Don’t you have a meeting today?” he tried in vain to rouse a sleepy Gi Hoon.


„Hyung, just five more minutes…” Gi Hoon pleaded, not even opening his eyes.

„Eerunaaa! You still need to stop by home to freshen up!” he encouraged as best he could. „I’ll make you coffee, but get up!”

„You’re like mom,” Gi Hoon’s voice was less drowsy now, „She never lets me sleep in a bit longer,” he complained, but he opened his eyes and sat up on the sofa.

„No easy way out, young one. It’s always best to get up straight away and not allow yourself to become too lax—I always did.”

„But now you can sleep as long as you want…” Gi Hoon pointed out.

„Would you also like to go back to those days when you didn’t have to wake up in the morning?” Dong Hoon countered, „Have you forgotten what it was like to be unemployed?”

„Alright, you win,” he conceded and dragged himself to the bathroom.

Meanwhile, Dong Hoon prepared two coffees, placed them on the coffee table, and began to drink his own. When Gi Hoon emerged from the bathroom, Dong Hoon asked:

„Don’t you want one of my T-shirts or a shirt? I have fancy boxers too,” he added teasingly.

„I managed. Do you have to be so snarky?” Gi Hoon joined him and eagerly took a sip of the hot, black, strong coffee. „Oh, delicious! Thanks! That’s exactly what I needed…”

„How are you feeling today?” Dong Hoon inquired.

„Hmm, a bit better,” he admitted, „talking to you always helps me see my problems differently and eventually find a solution. Thanks, hyung!”

„Who are you thinking of casting in the role Lim Seung Kyu was supposed to play? Got any ideas?”

„Yes… Last night before I fell asleep, I thought of Kim Rae Won. He’s about the same age, has a similar height and build, and most importantly, he’s also an excellent actor. Do you know him?”

„Not personally,” Dong Hoon smiled, „but I’ve seen him in a few roles and indeed, I must admit, I liked him. It’s great that you’re moving forward. You’ll definitely handle it, young one. It’s nothing big!” he added his favorite life motto.

As they finished their coffee, Gi Hoon stood up and asked:

„Maybe you could lend me your car? It would be faster for me…”

„No problem. I hardly use it anyway,” Dong Hoon agreed without hesitation, „but bring it back after work.”

„Don’t worry, hyung. I’ll drop it off in the evening.”

Dong Hoon went to the hallway cabinet and pulled out the keys from a drawer.

„It’s in the underground parking. Can you find it?”

„Cool. Sure. Thanks!” Gi Hoon grabbed the keys and put on his shoes. „I’m off then! Have a good day, hyung!”

„You too! And drive safely, young one!” Dong Hoon heard as he was almost out the door.

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Dong Hoon waited a little longer, then glanced out to the street to make sure his brother had driven away. Only then did he open the bedroom door. Ji An stood by the window, and at the sound of the door, she turned around, a hint of anxiety in her movements.

„I don’t know what your car looks like, ahjussi,” she smiled, „I was watching to see if your brother had left, but I wasn’t sure.”

„I’ve got myself a blue KIA Sportage,” he announced from the doorway, „come, I invite you for some morning coffee.”

„I don’t have much time left, but I’d really enjoy a coffee. May I use the bathroom first?” she asked.

„Of course! Just wait, I’ll give you a clean towel since Gi Hoon probably soaked the ones that were there,” Dong Hoon reached into a drawer and handed her a sapphire towel— „and do you need a toothbrush?”

„I do,” Ji An was impressed by Dong Hoon’s presence of mind and the calm he maintained despite the rather unusual situation.

The toothbrush too was a beautiful shade of blue.

„Do you always buy everything in blue shades, ahjussi?” she looked around and only now noticed that the bedroom walls were light blue, and the living room was painted in a slightly darker shade of blue.

„It just so happened that this color has stuck with me for some time,” he admitted, „it puts me in a good mood…” He looked at her a bit uncertainly, „it reminded me of the sea you had in abundance in Busan…” His gaze lingered on Ji An longer than intended.

She returned his look, holding his gaze steadfastly. As you remember, she never had a problem with that. It was usually Dong Hoon who shied away from her emotion-laden stares, but now he was the one initiating them. It wasn’t easy for him, but since he had decided to slowly draw Ji An closer and allow himself to more clearly express his feelings, his words about the sea in Busan were no accident.

Suddenly, he felt as if a small, invisible barrier in his heart had cracked, from which warmth spread throughout his body. They stood for a moment in silence. She with a blue towel and toothbrush, he in a blue pajama, and around them burst delicate vibrations of hidden longing, forgotten hopes, past closeness, and a new wave of emotion. Suddenly those mutual looks, filled with deep connection and unspoken words yet, paused them in a safe and quiet moment, somewhere between the sea breeze of Ji An’s love and the cracking shell of Dong Hoon’s suppressed feelings.

„I’ll go to the bathroom now,” Ji An finally broke the silence, though her heart pounded so loudly she feared he might hear it. With the last bit of her sanity, she tried not to throw herself at him, though everything, everything drew her towards him.

„The door on the right,” Dong Hoon managed to say, then headed towards the kitchenette.

The vibrations shattered into several centers and continued to pulse with emotions within Dong Hoon’s small, blue apartment. Even the rich brown aroma of coffee blended harmoniously with them and lingered like a legato over the new melody that he had so timidly released from his heart moments ago.

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Recently, Gi Hoon had seldom been home. His project had entered an intensive phase of production, so he spent most of his time at the agency and on location. He would sometimes drop by late at night just to catch a few hours of sleep, then wake around noon, eat quickly, and return to work. Hence, the brothers’ mother had yet to find an opportune moment to inquire about the woman Dong Hoon had mentioned while he was in the hospital. She herself was gradually forgetting to ask.

However, this time, the youngest brother came home in the evening and had no plans to go out again. His mother prepared dinner for them, and as they ate together, Gi Hoon reassured her that the younger brother was doing well.

„Everything’s fine with him, oma. He’s in good spirits, eats his meals, and follows the doctors’ recommendations. He just doesn’t like to go out during the day because the furtive glances from people make him uncomfortable.”

„I expected as much,” the elderly lady admitted. „People can be so foolish sometimes, and anything out of the norm arouses their unhealthy curiosity. Poor child,” she sighed.

„Before long, oma, it will get better. Once he has the plastic surgery, he should look much better. I’ve read about the clinic where his sister-in-law managed to get him a spot. They have excellent achievements, especially with facial trauma patients. They really know how to reconstruct their appearance beautifully. When I have a moment, I’ll show you on the internet the miracles they perform.”

Gi Hoon, turning the conversation, asked, „Oma, do you know who Ji An is?” She had just remembered the name, and her son paused, chopsticks midway to his mouth, and looked at her in shock.

„Aaa! Ji An…” he stammered, hastily concocting some plausible story, „Ji An was his former employee who helped him a lot when he was trying for the director position—and he helped her too.” He decided to stick close to the truth.

„But why would he call out her name in his sleep and apologize?” his mother persisted.

„Omaaa, you know how dreams are—there’s little logic in them. And when someone has been through a trauma like our hyung, crying, restless sleep, and nightmares are part of that state and should be considered normal,” he reasoned, hoping she would buy his explanation.

„Well, maybe you’re right. I’ve never heard of such a woman, so she probably isn’t anyone special, just someone who appeared in his dreams.”

„Exactly,” Gi Hoon confirmed, relieved. „And you know what, oma, I wouldn’t talk too much about those restless dreams to him. Why should hyung get even more agitated?”

„That’s why I’m asking you, not him, you silly boy!” she concluded, and he breathed a sigh of relief.

They finished their meal together, and Gi Hoon settled down on the sofa to watch television while his mother busied herself in the kitchen. „The danger has passed… for now,” he thought as he flicked through the channels, looking for something interesting. „But hyung will have to resolve this increasingly uncomfortable situation soon. Mom doesn’t know about Yoon Hee’s infidelity or that they are practically living separately, not to mention his growing feelings for a new woman. My director’s intuition warns me this could lead to a very strong conflict, not in a drama, but in our real, very personal lives! Once he returns from the surgery, he’ll have to do something about it!” Gi Hoon finally settled on an interesting movie, relaxed, and focused on the screen.

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When his mother retired to bed, Gi Hoon turned off the television and retreated to his room to work on several critical aspects of the new production. The most pressing task was to find a replacement for Lim Seung Kyu. He hadn’t felt up to it until now, but today, after the last conversation with his brother, he felt it was high time to address it. The team was awaiting new directions.

He wasn’t the only one scouting for an actor who would meet his expectations and… would agree to take on the role and fit it into his schedule. His colleagues had suggested a few candidates, but Gi Hoon had already set his sights on a particular 'victim.’ He was seriously considering the accomplished actor, Kim Rae Won, who was roughly the same age as the deceased, only three centimeters taller, and also one of the most intelligent artists, a quality Gi Hoon valued highly.

That evening, he intended to review Rae Won’s acting portfolio and scenes that best showcased his capabilities. He turned on his laptop and attentively watched selected films and series, focusing on specific episodes and scenes. After two hours, he was convinced that Kim Rae Won could handle the role he needed to cast. The remaining question was whether he would accept and if his schedule could accommodate their already nearly finalized timeline.

He made notes, recorded the contact information for Rae Won’s new agency, and planned to instruct his assistant the next day to pursue him. Fortunately, she had a knack for such negotiations and was very persuasive, boasting nearly a hundred percent success rate in such tasks. He was heavily relying on her once again. He didn’t want to sift through and analyze another round of candidates for the third time.

Once he finished, he called Yoo Ra, knowing she should also have completed her day’s work on the set she was currently shooting.

„How’s it going? Have you wrapped up for today?” he asked as she answered.

„You have timing!” she laughed. „The director just called a wrap until tomorrow, and we’re free,” she updated him.

„Tired, huh?”

„Cheom,” she admitted.

„Go to the hotel, take a hot bath, and tuck yourself into bed!” he instructed. „I forbid any late-night drinks and chats with the crew! Got it?” he said sternly, aware of his girlfriend’s tendency to socialize, which then impacted her performance and energy— „Arraso?” he added, as he hadn’t heard a response.

„Arraso! Arraso!” she agreed. „And what were you up to today?”

„I was at the agency working on the details of the new production. I’m at home now and just finished assessing another candidate for the lead role. I know who I want now!” he boasted.

„Who did you pick?” Yoo Ra was eager to know who might be her next co-star.

„Drumroll… I’m thinking of offering it to… Kim Rae Won!”

„Wow! I’ve always wanted to act alongside him!” Yoo Ra exclaimed excitedly. „Really, Kim Rae Won?”

„Yeah, are you excited?”

„Definitely! I really want to meet and work with him! Do you think you have a chance to land him?”

„We’ll see. I’ll assign the mission to Ji Woo tomorrow, and I’m really hoping she can persuade him.”

„That’s awesome!” Yoo Ra was thrilled. „Oh, I’ve reached my room now!”

„Then take care of yourself and get some rest!” Gi Hoon felt tired himself. „I’ll let you know how it goes tomorrow.”

„Alright! Jaida!”

„You too! And remember, I love you!” Gi Hoon was embracing one of his new resolutions, which was to show his affection more openly to his loved ones. Nice, right?

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