Descent of the Demon Master - Chapter 82
In a busy cafe somewhere…
Park Yu-Min was the first to ask, “How have you been, Se-Yeon?”
Han Se-Yeon replied nonchalantly, “I’ve been alright. It’s still the school vacation right now, so I’m just passing the time lazing around. Oh, and I’m studying for the TOEIC test, too. What about you, though? Isn’t the autumn season about to start soon? Aren’t you really busy these days?”
“Nah, I still have a little bit of time left.”
“Oh. But that means… in a little while, it’ll get really hard to meet up like this, doesn’t it?”
“Eh-whew…” Han Se-Yeon groaned grandly. “Jin-Ho’s in the army, and you’re too busy to hang out… I’m the only one with nothing better to do. If I only knew this would happen, maybe I should’ve stayed close to my other friends.”
“Are you saying that to make me feel bad?”
“I guess lots of things happened way too quickly for me. I still can’t get my thoughts straight.”
Park Yu-Min could only look at Han Se-Yeon sitting across him with pity. It had been only two weeks, yet her complexion looked quite poor. Her skin was puffy and scratchy, while her usually well-combed hair looked disorderly with misbehaving hair strands jutting out from here and there.
Her appearance could be explained away by other things, but the lack of vigor in her face was the definite proof Park Yu-Min was looking for. “Se-Yeon… Were you drinking?”
“Are you insane?” Han Se-Yeon stared back at him in dismay, then threateningly shook her fist at him. “Hey, what do you think I am?!”
“Uhm, well… Your complexion looks just terrible, that’s why.”
She pouted. “That’s because I didn’t bother to put on my make-up.”
“Wha—wait, so your looks were all thanks to make-up doing its thing?”
Did Han Se-Yeon diligently hide her real face beneath all the layers of make-up since her high school days?!
“Well, I won’t deny that. Though… make-up can only go so far if the real face ain’t supporting it, know what I mean? You think ugly ducklings will suddenly transform into swans with some foundation cream plastered on their faces?”
“W-Well, you do have a point there…” Park Yu-Min mumbled out his reply. Seeing how vigorous her response had been, maybe Han Se-Yeon wasn’t feeling totally depressed.
She took a sip of her drink and asked, “How’s Jin-Ho? Did his enlistment go okay?”
“Yeah, more or less…”
“You went there too, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. Why didn’t you come with us, though?”
“Jin-Ho’s mom and dad were there, right? What would I have said if I went there, too? I certainly can’t tell them I’m Jin-Ho’s girlfriend now, can I?” Han Se-Yeon shook her head.
“Well, why not?”
Han Se-Yeon smirked at Park Yu-Min’s innocent-sounding reply. “It’s not true, so how can I?”
“I thought you two were going out?”
“We’re neither here nor there right now. Well, Jin-Ho hasn’t said anything concrete yet, but… What else can I do but assume that?”
“That indifferent idiot…” Park Yu-Min could only facepalm himself. Not giving a firm answer even as he was heading off to the military? Imagine being the person who had to anxiously wait for his reply. No wonder Han Se-Yeon looked so bad.
She sighed. “So, I was thinking of studying abroad for a while.”
Park Yu-Min was taken aback. “Really?”
“Yeah. Attending university until Jin-Ho’s back means I’ll be graduating two years after his return. Then, we’ll get separated again as a member of society and him as a university student. And there might be other problems to consider, too.”
“Oh. I guess that makes sense.” Park Yu-Min nodded in acceptance.
“I heard that lots of guys come back from the service and immediately break up with their girlfriends. Thinking about how I might become one of the statistics in two years makes me nervous, Yu-Min.”
Park Yu-Min gently chuckled. “Jin-Ho isn’t proactive enough to do that.”
Han Se-Yeon asked back in uncertainty, “You think so?”
“Only those with lots of drive or have too much interest in girls will cheat on their girlfriends, you know. Can you imagine Jin-Ho doing that? He probably can’t even be bothered to meet other women.”
“That does sound like Jin-Ho,” Han Se-Yeon muttered while nodding.
A girl who had always been evaluated as pretty by everyone she met had tried so hard with that guy. But the latter was like a stone Buddha with an unyielding heart of indifference. As such, it was totally unimaginable for Kang Jin-Ho to suddenly go mushy in front of some other random girl. Besides, Han Se-Yeon didn’t want to imagine it, either.
She cautiously piped up. “But… You know how girls just stick onto him, right?”
“That won’t matter since the dude in question finds them annoying.”
Han Se-Yeon narrowed her eyes and glared at Park Yu-Min, clearly unimpressed by his attitude. “Why does it sound like you trust Jin-Ho more than me? Wait, are you two dating for real?”
Park Yu-Min yelled at her, “How can you say that?!”
“I’m just jealous of you two, that’s all~! The super-duper loyal spouse is sitting right in front of me, yet here I am, stupidly wagging my tail for no reason at all.”
“Urgh…” Park Yu-Min groaned helplessly. He could sense Han Se-Yeon’s concern for Kang Jin-Ho’s well-being hidden in her whining tone. Still, that didn’t change the fact that her current attitude felt a little off to him. He massaged his temples and asked, “Why are you so angry, Se-Yeon?”
“You know… Being alone makes me think about stuff.”
“What were you thinking about?”
Han Se-Yeon wordlessly stared outside the cafe’s window. She remained like that for a while, then turned her head back to look at Park Yu-Min while resting her chin on her hand. “Yu-Min?”
“What does Jin-Ho mean to me?”
“What are you on about, all of a sudden?”
“It’s not sudden, you know…” Han Se-Yeon sighed softly under her breath, her expression gloomier than before. Park Yu-Min couldn’t think of any comforting words and silently waited for her to continue. “I keep thinking about this. Jin-Ho hasn’t promised me anything, and he doesn’t really want something from me, either. But… my crush on him makes me jittery for no reason, and I cling to him like an eyesore.”
Feeling flustered, Park Yu-Min tried to say something to comfort her. “B-But, uhm… Right, Jin-Ho never pushed you away while saying he doesn’t like you, did he?”
“Mm… I think you misunderstood something, Yu-Min.”
Han Se-Yeon explained it in a firm voice, “I’m not disappointed by the fact that Jin-Ho hasn’t shown any signs of liking me. No, it’s the opposite.”
Park Yu-Min made an utterly confused face and tilted his head. “What are you talking about?”
“It could mean Jin-Ho never liked me, to begin with.”
“You said it yourself, right? Jin-Ho never pushed me away.”
“Yeah, I did…”
Han Se-Yeon looked downcast. “Think about Jin-Ho’s personality, though. If some other girl throws herself on him and says she likes him, do you think he’ll push her away?”
“Huh…” Park Yu-Min was momentarily left speechless.
“See what I mean?” Han Se-Yeon sighed.
“Yeah, I understand now.”
“Until not too long ago, I figured he’s just too indifferent and he doesn’t know how to pay attention to other people. Even after all that I did, he still hasn’t noticed anything. That’s what I figured. But… In the past two weeks without him around, I began looking back at myself more critically. I dunno when it happened, but I started thinking—maybe Jin-Ho doesn’t like me after all…”
Park Yu-Min helplessly scratched the back of his head. Stuff like this was a bane of all single guys like him. He had no experience in romance, so why was this girl trying to consult him about her love life?!
He barely managed to think of something to say. “There’s no way Jin-Ho dislikes you, though.”
“Sure, he should like me. As a friend.” Han Se-Yeon’s tone remained resolute. “What Jin-Ho feels about me is akin to a deep friendship, you know? And I think it’s nothing more than that. In that case, is it right of me to keep holding onto him?”
Park Yu-Min pouted at her. “What exactly are you trying to say here?”
“Nothing. None at all. It’s just that I wanted to vent to someone. If our status quo continues, Jin-Ho will never reject me. He’s that type of a guy, after all. However, if a girl he really likes shows up one day… We will both end up unhappy. Jin-Ho and I.”
“Why does it sound like you’re looking for an excuse to dump him first?”
“An excuse?” Han Se-Yeon spat out a low sigh. “Yu-Min, listen…”
“Yeah, I’m listening.”
“No matter how scandalous of a woman I am, the guy I like is currently serving in the army, and two weeks ain’t long enough for me to start having other thoughts.”
Park Yu-Min sheepishly looked away. “My bad. I crossed the line there.”
“Saying stuff like that also hurts my pride, you know? I gave him all the signs and even outright said I liked him, but Jin-Ho, he… It’s like, I’ll have to accept that he doesn’t objectively have that kind of feelings for me. That seems to be the truth, so what can I do?”
“But isn’t it because Jin-Ho’s an utter idiot in stuff like this?”
Han Se-Yeon revealed a look of contemplation before asking, “Do you really believe that?”
“Mm.” Park Yu-Min slowly rubbed his face.
‘I’m only making things worse here, aren’t I…?’
Honestly speaking, he did think Kang Jin-Ho was like that. But now that he had a chance to think it over, he also started to realize that something didn’t feel quite right.
Park Yu-Min had been slagging his friend off for being slow-witted and indifferent all this time, but didn’t he know better than anyone that Kang Jin-Ho was definitely not slow or insensitive?
Without anyone asking him, Kang Jin-Ho went out of his way to support the financial upkeep of the orphans and the relocation of the orphanage itself. He even showed up in the orphanage when Park Yu-Min wasn’t around to take care of all the sundry chores despite no one telling him! Kang Jin-Ho was meticulous like that. In fact, he could tell that something had happened simply from Park Yu-Min’s expression and he even resolved the problem for his friend. If the ‘Kang Jin-Ho’ Park Yu-Min knew and the ‘Kang Jin-Ho’ who treated Han Se-Yeon lukewarmly were the same person, how could the stark difference in his attitude be explained?
‘Wait a minute. Has Jin-Ho ever called Se-Yeon first of his own volition?’
Kang Jin-Ho sought out Park Yu-Min first several times before, but he never did the same with Han Se-Yeon. And it had always been Park Yu-Min chiding his friend and sneakily pushing him toward Han Se-Yeon.
Park Yu-Min’s expression became serious after realizing this. Han Se-Yeon noticed the change and sighed. “See? You also think the same now, don’t you?”
“Wait for what?” Han Se-Yeon pouted when Park Yu-Min got flustered. She leaned back against the chair. “So? Can you blame me for not feeling okay?”
“What’s your plan now, Se-Yeon?”
“What else? I’ll have to wait a little while longer.” She frowned deeply as if the frustration was getting the better of her. “I might be ranting like a jilted lover out of frustration, but I know myself. I’ll probably go gaga again after seeing Jin-Ho’s face, or if he even gives me a crumb of hint that he likes me back. Knowing that, I don’t even know what to think.”
“Hmm…” Park Yu-Min once again failed to think of something to say and comfort her.
Han Se-Yeon tried to sound positive. “I think my self-esteem’s gone down a lot lately. I need to be better than this to stand proudly next to Jin-Ho, but… I’m just hopelessly waiting for him to notice me instead. No wonder it hasn’t been working out. So maybe it’s about time I start putting in the effort myself.”
“If things don’t work even then, there’s no helping it, right? Clinging on to something that doesn’t work until the end will only make me and Jin-Ho unhappy, I think. I’m definitely not that stupid, though. Am I right?”
“Mm…” Park Yu-Min sipped the cup of Americano while looking at Han Se-Yeon pouring her heart out. “Thanks to one guy, so many people are having a hard time, huh.”
Park Yu-Min turned his head and looked outside the cafe’s window. Now that he had a good idea of what Han Se-Yeon was feeling at the moment, it became harder to look straight at her face. He sighed once again.
‘I wonder, is he doing well?’
For some reason, he began to worry about Kang Jin-Ho.
Han Se-Yeon broke the moody silence first. “By the way, aren’t you gonna get a girlfriend yourself?”
Park Yu-Min stared at her weirdly. “What, me?”
“Yeah. It kinda feels like you’re totally not interested in that, you see?”
His expression rapidly crumpled in displeasure. “I don’t even know if I could date myself!”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“You should’ve said that after introducing me to someone first!”
Han Se-Yeon ruefully retorted, “You know I don’t have any friends left.”
In the not-too-distant past, Han Se-Yeon used to command a crowd of female admirers, her groupies, but now? How did she end up in this state? Park Yu-Min had to wonder.
“When I was with you and Jin-Ho, I never felt bored or lonely hanging out with you two. But I’m already wondering if I made the right choices in life, even though it has only been two weeks since Jin-Ho left to join the army.”
“That goes to show how much we’ve been relying on him, though,” Park Yu-Min replied with a distant look on his face.
“I guess so?”
In only two weeks, the void Kang Jin-Ho left had grown large and hollow enough to be noticeable.
Park Yu-Min sighed and spoke up. “Anyway. We gotta perk up somehow. Jin-Ho’s getting his vacation in three months, and he probably won’t be too happy to see you half-dead, right?”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Han Se-Yeon replied with barely any energy in her voice.
Park Yu-Min suddenly felt an ominous foreboding while looking at her. A corner of his chest felt tight after realizing that this could be the beginning of things going wrong for them.
‘Jin-Ho, hurry up and come out soon.’
Park Yu-Min found the world without Kang Jin-Ho harder to deal with than he had previously thought. To him, Kang Jin-Ho was his best friend in this world, a trusted pillar of support that he could always lean on.
‘I hope he hasn’t caused a scene yet.’
After imagining Kang Jin-Ho doing his best to adapt to military life, Park Yu-Min was suddenly overcome with unexplainable anxiety. He ardently prayed that Kang Jin-Ho wouldn’t accidentally extend his service duration and get discharged on time.
1. “TOEIC” is the abbreviation for Test of English for International Communication, a test devised by Educational Testing Services, an organization based in the US. ☜