Descent of the Demon Master - Chapter 114
– Where are you?
“I’ve just arrived,” said Kang Jin-Ho to Han Se-Yeon on the phone. After leaving the orphanage, he stopped by his house to get a change of clothes, then hurried his way to the university. Her timing was impeccable because he was about to reach the campus’s vicinity. Even though there were still around thirty minutes left, she seemed to have arrived ahead of time, just like him.
– I’m at the cafe.
“Which cafe is it?”
– The one right by the front gate, the Dreamer.
“Got it.” Kang Jin-Ho ended the call there. He set out to locate the cafe and found it on the second floor of a building facing the university’s front gate. He walked up the flight of stairs and opened the door to enter the cafe.
Han Se-Yeon sitting at one of the corner tables raised her hand. “Over here.”
“Mm…” Kang Jin-Ho walked over to her table and sat on the opposite side.
Han Se-Yeon tilted her head. “Aren’t you going to order something?”
“…I guess I should.” Kang Jin-Ho got up and headed to the counter to order a cup of Americano. With a vibration bell in hand, he settled back down.
Seeing Han Se-Yeon after several months away gave him this impression of… How should he put it? Her atmosphere seemed to have changed. No, wait. Rather than that, she seemed to be oozing a similar atmosphere to what she had been several years ago.
Han Se-Yeon was the first one to break the ice. “How was the army?”
Kang Jin-Ho replied with a shoulder shrug, “It’s just another place with a bunch of people.”
“Ohh? That answer sounds just like you.” Han Se-Yeon cackled softly.
Kang Jin-Ho slightly narrowed his eyes. “What about you? How have you been?”
“Me? Well, I…” Han Se-Yeon’s words drifted away. After a few seconds of silence, she finally tried to say something, only for the bell to interrupt her.
“Hold on…” Kang Jin-Ho got up and headed to the counter to get his coffee. When he returned, he couldn’t help but notice how awkward the atmosphere at the table had become.
A cramped smile floated up on Han Se-Yeon’s face. “Geez, it kinda feels weird after not seeing you for so long. Doesn’t it?”
“You think so?” Kang Jin-Ho asked while scanning the textbooks in front of Han Se-Yeon. “Were you studying before I got here?”
“Yeah. I didn’t have anything to do, you see. So I figured I’d study for a bit, although it’s not going well.”
“You know, just. It’s hard to concentrate for some reason. Besides, I’m trying to study on a Saturday. Little wonder it’s not working out.”
“I see. Makes sense.”
Han Se-Yeon stared at Kang Jin-Ho’s face and asked in a low voice, “When did you start your vacation?”
“Three days ago…”
“Hmm…” She slowly nodded in understanding.
Kang Jin-Ho leaned back on the couch while distracted by the coffee’s gentle aroma. He thought it was pretty good. What wasn’t so good was…
‘I… can’t think of anything to say to her.’
He was confident about describing military life for hours on end, but no sane woman would be interested in such stories. At least, that was what he had heard. However, Kang Jin-Ho had been stuck in his base for the last few months, so rather unsurprisingly, he didn’t have anything interesting to talk about that wasn’t army-related.
Han Se-Yeon took a sip of her drink, then she asked once more, “Did you meet up with Yu-Min already?”
“Is that so?” She slowly nodded again, then clamped her mouth shut without saying anything else. An awkward silence settled between them as only the music being played in the background registered in their hearing.
“What about school? Are you doing okay?” Kang Jin-Ho broke the silence first this time.
Han Se-Yeon replied with a disinterested tone, “It’s fine. Nothing special.”
“What about your classes?”
“It’s all first-year stuff, anyway. It’s not that hard to follow, you know. Everyone’s doing it, so there’s not much to it.”
Kang Jin-Ho couldn’t help but feel that their conversation kept getting stalled for some reason. It also felt weird trying to find the next topic to talk about, so he chose to wordlessly drink the Americano instead.
After taking another sip of his coffee, Kang Jin-Ho quietly asked Han Se-Yeon, “Have you had anything to eat yet?”
“Then, let me buy you dinner. Shall we go?”
“Sure, why not,” Han Se-Yeon replied casually. However, she remained sitting on the couch.
“You don’t want to go?” Kang Jin-Ho, already up on his feet, asked her in an uncertain voice.
Han Se-Yeon silently stared at him before sighing. “Jin-Ho…”
“Sit down for a second, okay?”
Kang Jin-Ho wordlessly sat down again. He sensed that something serious was about to happen, judging from Han Se-Yeon’s tone and expression.
Han Se-Yeon continued in a low voice, “I know I should’ve told you, but… It didn’t feel right, so I couldn’t tell you earlier.”
“Did something happen?”
“No, it’s not that.” Han Se-Yeon picked up a cup of now-cold lemon tea and drank it down before slowly putting it down. Seeing how hesitant she was, even Kang Jin-Ho began to feel a little frustrated. She sighed and finally said, “Do you still remember what I told you before you enlisted?”
“Before I enlisted, you say?”
“I told you, didn’t I? If you call Yu-Min first when you start your vacation, I’m going to kill you.”
“Really?” Kang Jin-Ho coughed to clear his throat just then.
Now that he thought about it… He could kind of remember hearing her say that. The situation back then had been a little too chaotic to keep track of, and he had largely forgotten about things that happened in that period. After she reminded him, though, he could definitely remember it now.
“I’m sorry. I was—”
“Stop. I didn’t bring that up to get an apology from you.” Han Se-Yeon played with the straw in the lemon tea. “Whether you called me first or not is not important here. It simply indicates that I don’t have a high enough priority in your mind. That’s all.”
“So, yeah. That’s about it, really. I get it now—I’m nothing more than that.”
“No, hang on. That’s not it…” Kang Jin-Ho sighed. “I heard from my father that something has happened to Yu-Min. That’s why I called him as soon as I started my leave. And I was busy trying to deal with the crisis at the orphanage.”
“Ng, sure. I understand. There must have been an emergency. A good justification, too. You aren’t the type to act without justification, after all.” Despite nodding in acceptance, Han Se-Yeon’s tone remained the same. “Even if that’s the case…”
She silently stared at him for a long time before she eventually continued from where she left off. “Were you so busy that you couldn’t spare a couple of minutes to call me?”
“I get that things had been hectic for you. However… I still don’t see a reason why you couldn’t have given me a call unless I had never been in your mind until this morning. Am I wrong?”
“I’m sorry.” Kang Jin-Ho sincerely apologized. He sobered up upon listening to her and saw the mistake he had made.
“I know you’ve never been the type to sweat over stuff like that. To tell you the truth, I used to think this way. Ah, this guy is seriously indifferent about everything. And I have to deal with it somehow.” A sad little smile slowly formed on her face. “As it turns out, though… That wasn’t true. Rather than indifferent, you were simply not interested.”
“No, wait. That’s not true.” Kang Jin-Ho quickly denied it. Unfortunately, what Han Se-Yeon had said as a follow-up took away his willingness to deny her observation.
“Have you ever thought about me while serving in the army?”
“Mm, well, I…”
Should he nod here and say yes? Indeed he could do that if she had been asking him whether he had ‘thought about’ her. However, he knew that the ‘thought’ in Han Se-Yeon’s question didn’t mean that. And that was why he couldn’t bring himself to answer.
Han Se-Yeon continued to stare at him. “You know, I heard something not too long ago. It’s not that you are indifferent, but more like you’ve met someone you can be indifferent to. Human relationships are always relative, and the dynamics will vary depending on how the other party reacts to you. That’s what I heard.”
“I know this is my fault…”
“No, it’s not. And I’m not here to point out who’s at fault, either. It’s…” Han Se-Yeon looked a little frustrated just then. She sighed before continuing, “That’s not what I’m trying to do here, Jin-Ho. I’m merely analyzing our situation. It’s kinda funny, isn’t it? I’m not even your girlfriend, yet we’re discussing stuff like this because you forgot to call me first. Yeah, it’s funny, alright.”
Kang Jin-Ho didn’t say anything and simply stared at Han Se-Yeon. He had already realized that she wasn’t simply whining to him, which was why his attitude had become much more serious.
“When I think about it, you, me… I think we were both too young. I was too impatient while you were just too indifferent. Instead of arguing whose fault it was, we… We simply didn’t know how to be more considerate toward each other. As for me, I foolishly believed that you’ll like me back unconditionally since I like you.”
“But then, I realized something at the end of the day. Because I liked you… I think I had lost a lot of what made me who I am.”
“All the friends I thought I was close with are gone now. My immature dream of making it as an entertainer was also abandoned long ago. And… After following you to the same university, I’m now all alone.”
“I’m not resenting you, Jin-Ho. It’s not your fault, and no, I’m not blaming you in a roundabout way, either. What I’m trying to say is…!” Han Se-Yeon’s voice trembled a little just then. “Ever since I got close to you, I began to lose myself. My old, confident self has disappeared. I don’t know when that happened, though. Do you know what was the first thing I thought about when you left to join the army?”
Kang Jin-Ho silently shook his head.
“It was… What am I supposed to do now?”
“That’s right. I asked myself what I was supposed to do without you around. It’s not, ‘Oh, Jin-Ho’s in the army now. I hope he’s doing okay,’ but… I didn’t know what I was supposed to do after you disappeared from my life.”
Kang Jin-Ho silently listened, knowing that she wasn’t just speaking to him but to herself, as well.
“And so… I wanted to rediscover myself, Jin-Ho. I wanted to go back to being the ‘Han Se-Yeon’ of the past. Back to being the girl overflowing with confidence and optimism.”
“I… see.” Kang Jin-Ho slowly nodded, unable to say anything else.
Han Se-Yeon was right. Park Yu-Min’s life had turned around for the better after getting acquainted with Kang Jin-Ho, but Han Se-Yeon had never… received anything from him.
Kang Jin-Ho believed that he hadn’t harmed her. However, if she thought that spending time with him was the cause of her grief, then… Then, she had a point there.
“I’m a girl who can’t do anything without Kang Jin-Ho around. Yet, there I was, trying to make you see me in a different light. Now that’s strange, don’t you agree? If you want to stand next to someone, you gotta possess the right qualifications first. You need to be in the same class as them first… I kept thinking that I knew you and that stupidly made me believe everything would be alright. However, if my goal was to be your girlfriend, I should have become someone suitable for you..”
“I never once thought that way before, Se-Yeon.”
“It’s what I’ve been feeling lately…”
Kang Jin-Ho suddenly felt his throat burning in thirst. Despite how hot his Americano was, he gulped it down like a cup of cold water.
Han Se-Yeon didn’t mind that and simply continued, “I… I want to study, look after myself better, and… And become someone better than what I am right now. You know?”
Kang Jin-Ho could understand her wish. He felt rueful, and his heart ached, but he could still fully understand what Han Se-Yeon was saying to him.
“It all sounds so funny after saying it, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s so dramatic, right?” Han Se-Yeon sneakily raised her sleeve to wipe away at the corners of her eyes.
Kang Jin-Ho wanted to kick himself for being unable to say anything right now.
“So, like, what I am saying is… I want us to be just friends from now on. Even though we’re already friends.”
Han Se-Yeon stared deeply into Kang Jin-Ho’s eyes. “Do you have anything else to say?”
“I honestly don’t know what I can say,” Kang Jin-Ho replied with a shake of his head.
“Right. I thought so.” A bright smile suddenly bloomed on Han Se-Yeon’s face. However… Was Kang Jin-Ho mistaken when he thought that bright smile came across as very… sorrowful?
“I think we were too young and immature. You, me… If only we had been older, maybe a little wiser, then… We could have been something, you know?”
“I’ll leave first, Jin-Ho.”
“But, what about dinner?”
Han Se-Yeon chuckled while covering her face and tidying up. “No thanks. If I have dinner with you in this state, I’m gonna get indigestion later. Anyway, enjoy your military vacation, Mister Kang Jin-Ho.”
“Okay, you… take care.”
“Later…” Han Se-Yeon muttered and left the cafe.
Kang Jin-Ho saw her covering her face as she stepped outside the doorway, but he couldn’t do anything. He just sat there like a statue before eventually looking at the ceiling in a daze.
‘It’s… a lot harder than I thought.’
Living, maintaining relationships… Just trying to do those simple-sounding things turned out to be so difficult.
Kang Jin-Ho staggered back to his feet and slowly trudged his way outside the cafe. His meandering steps eventually took him to a nearby smoking area, where he silently mouthed a cigarette.
‘I… I’m sorry.’
She said they were young and immature, but… Truth be told, it was Kang Jin-Ho’s fault for creating this situation. If only he had paid her a little more attention… If only he had opened his heart just a bit more, he wouldn’t have hurt her like this.
It seemed that he still had far too many things left to learn.
His connection to Han Se-Yeon wouldn’t just scatter away into the ether like the gray cigarette smoke, but they would never be able to go back to how they used to be. That knowledge felt like a leaden lump in Kang Jin-Ho’s chest.
“I’m really sorry…” Kang Jin-Ho mumbled as he stood there like a statue.