The Encounter (4)
Time went by quickly.
Before welcoming his first official university holiday, Kang Jin-Ho had to navigate through the campus festival, midterms, and the semester-end exams.
Quite a few events happened along the way, too.
One of them was Kang Eun-Yeong steadily preparing for her debut.
It was decided that she would debut as a solo artist, but the reason for that was a bit vague to tell—it could be because of her sudden transfer or everyone involved finding the idea of her joining another group troublesome.
Still, she was quite talented and skilled, so the opinion of the management was that she should be able to carve out a decent solo career.
The conversation Kang Jin-Ho had back then went something like this…
“Debuting solo, is it?” Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head.
Kang Eun-Yeong nodded enthusiastically.
“You'll be by yourself performing on stage?”
“Yeah, that's what debuting solo means! Code's director said I'm one of the most promising talents he has ever seen in a loooong while!”
Kang Jin-Ho rubbed his chin.
“Hmm, that's unfortunate.”
Kang Eun-Yeong was confused by his response.
“Huh? What is?”
“If he's lying, then I feel sorry for the director trying to make you feel better.
“If he's telling the truth, then what?” Kang Eun-Yeong's eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“If he's not lying, I must express my condolences to the crumbling standard of the current pop music scene.”
“Mm?” Kang Jin-Ho looked back at his younger sister.
Kang Eun-Yeong growled like an angry beast.
“Let me hit you three times.
“Uh-huh! A man shouldn't back away like that! Uh? Stop right there! Come back here, now! Hey!”
The next event of note was Jo Gyu-Min transferring to a new post at Jaegyeong University.
The original plan was for him to occupy the seat of Chief of Administration, but he vehemently opposed that idea after having his eyes opened to the greatness of doing nothing during his tenure in the high school administration.
He eventually settled into his new, weird-sounding post as the campus administration office’s vice administrator.
The conversation between Jo Gyu-Min and Kang Jin-Ho went along like this…
“Vice administrator, you say?” Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head.
Jo Gyu-Min nodded with pursed lips.
“Yes, that's correct.”
“Was there such a post in the administration office?”
“If there isn't, we can simply create one.
Isn't that how a fancy-sounding job title is born?” Jo Gyu-Min replied in a matter-of-factly way.
Kang Jin-Ho looked at him weirdly and asked, “What exactly are your new duties, Mister Gyu-Min?”
“My job is to resolve any difficulties, dissatisfaction, and hardships you might encounter, Mister Jin-Ho.”
“In other words, you do nothing, basically.”
That's true at the moment,” Jo Gyu-Min replied, then he coughed to clear his throat.
“Yet, you still pocket your monthly wages, I presume?”
“I feel I should be more forthcoming since it's you, Mister Jin-Ho.
My annual salary is quite high among the employees of Jaegyeong,” Jo Gyu-Min sounded just a little proud while replying.
However, Kang Jin-Ho tutted while sounding unimpressed.
“By the way…
Why are you taking out your phone, Mister Jin-Ho?”
“I wanted to speak to the Chairman, you see.”
Jo Gyu-Min's brows rose up slightly.
“My heart aches at this scene of needless waste in manpower and finances, that's why,” said Kang Jin-Ho, then tapped on the 'Call' icon on the phone's screen.
Jo Gyu-Min jumped up to his feet.
“Huh?! Why are you doing this, Mister Jin-Ho?! Have you already forgotten that I brew you top-quality coffee every morning! H-How about you put down the phone first, and we talk? I even repaired your bicycle as well! Please remember that! The Golden Elephant! Don't you remember who bought that bike for you?! M-Mister Jin-Ho, wait!”
The third event of note was Kang Jin-Ho's mother, Baek Hyeon-Jeong, quitting her job to help Kang Yu-Hwan run his shop full-time.
The cafe was experiencing an acute shortage of manpower while its monthly revenue had been steadily declining for some time.
Unable to believe in her husband's ability to run a business, she decided to get her hands dirty to fix the issues.
On one particular afternoon…
“Dear?! Where have you been!” Baek Hyeon-Jeong shot a reproving look at her husband as he tried to sneak back inside the cafe.
He stuttered ungainly, “W-well, I just popped outside for a…”
“Don't you get that the owner going missing frequently is why customers have stopped coming?!”
Kang Yu-Hwan was left stupefied by his wife's aggressive yelling.
“H-hang on, I was gone for only a…”
Baek Hyeon-Jeong let out a loud sigh.
“Uh-whew! I was an idiot to trust you and leave the cafe in your hands!”
“W-Wha—it really was only for a minute or two, so why…”
“Since you have too much free time on your hands, go and wash the dishes in the kitchen!”
“Yes, Ma'am.” Kang Yu-Hwan dejectedly slunk off to the back of the cafe.
The Seongsim Orphanage hadn't changed much in that period.
The only notable change would be the orphanage's employees paying visits to old folks living in the surrounding area, something Kang Jin-Ho used to do in the past.
With the orphanage's director as the lead, teachers gathered in groups of twos and threes to visit old folks living alone.
This was made possible after the orphanage found itself with enough manpower to look after the children.
The director knocked on the familiar red gate and called out.
“Granny, it's me.”
A shrill yell came from behind the tightly-shut door, “I told you to stop coming here, didn't I?! There's nothing for you here, so go away, will ya?!”
“It's alright, Granny.
I didn't come expecting something from you, but to give you something instead.
We've cooked some side dishes and wanted you to have some.”
“Why do you keep bringing those terrible tasting stuff here?!”
The director faintly grinned.
“Oh? Should I take them back, then?”
The granny's voice sounded a little flustered.
“You already brought them here, so why do you want to waste your energy by taking them back?!”
The director covered her face and gently laughed.
“I see… Then, I'll leave them out here.
Granny, are all the dishes already washed? Do you have enough spare rice?”
“Stop meddling and mind your own business!”
The granny angrily shouted from behind the door, “Eh-heeey! Go away, will ya?! Stop coming to my place, and go to Old Man Park's place next to mine, okay?! That old man looks like he might kick the bucket any day now!”
The director nodded in understanding.
“Oh, I see.
In that case, Granny, we'll come back another time.”
“Don't come! I beg you, do not come anymore!”
See you later, Granny.”
“Are you deaf or something?!”
Jeong In-Gyu was still repeating his high school senior year.
Unfortunately, his grades showed no signs of improving despite studying the same curriculum for one and a half years now.
“Did you get your mock test results back?” Kang Jin-Ho asked while tilting his head.
Jeong In-Gyu tearfully shot back.
Are you really my friend?!”
“What do you mean?”
“Why did you even ask me that?! So what if I got my results back? What's your problem?! Why do you even care about my scores?!”
Kang Jin-Ho was slightly taken aback.
“Mm? I was just…”
Jeong In-Gyu's voice got louder and more heated.
“Mock tests or whatever, it's just all a trial run! Yes, that's what it is.
Let me tell you, I shine the best during the real thing.
Yeah, that's exactly what I am!”
Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head again.
“Hmm. But, during last year's real exams, you…”
“Jin-Ho, just go away, will you?”
Kang Jin-Ho narrowed his eyes.
“Could it be that your grades have gotten worse?”
“Leave me alone! I don't wanna see you again!”
Han Se-Yeon was inspired by what she had done for the Seongsim Orphanage and tried to apply for dual majors in Business Management and Social Services.
However, after learning that freshmen like her couldn't do such a thing, she did something that really suited her personality.
The professor stared at Han Se-Yeon.
“Excuse me, miss?”
“Can you tell us the answer to this problem?” the professor asked while pointing at the blackboard behind her.
Han Se-Yeon smartly replied, “Yes.
I believe the underlying issue is psychological.”
“Correct… Mm? By the way, which year are you from, miss?”
Han Se-Yeon faltered at that sudden question.
“I want to award you extra scores, so I need to know, you see?”
The professor tilted her head in confusion.
“What's the matter?”
Han Se-Yeon suddenly got up and bowed deeply.
“I'm so sorry, professor! My name is Han Se-Yeon, and I'm actually from Business Management! I was desperate to attend your lectures, so I just sneaked in.
The professor's confusion deepened.
“You could've applied for my course, though?”
“I'm a freshman, you see!”
The professor had a look of understanding on her face.
“Well, I find your courage commendable, so I'll let today's matter slide.”
“However, I'll do roll calls from now on.
So, you better be present next time as well.”
A certain person was working away silently in a place that no one paid much attention to.
The manager of the Office of Secretaries called out to that certain person.
Choi Yeong-Su replied loudly, “Yes, sir!”
“Are you done organizing the documents I asked you for last time?”
Here they are,” said Choi Yeong-Su while bringing a large pile of documents from his desk.
The manager took a gander, then muttered quietly, “Who told you to organize them like this?!”
Choi Yeong-Su faltered ever so slightly.
I shall do it again.”
“Hey, I was just kidding, so relax.
This is pretty good, actually.”
The manager sighed at Choi Yeong-Su's stiff attitude.
“I don't mind that you're a hard-working type, but fella, you're a bit too stiff.
You'll stumble and fall sooner or later if you don't relax.
The more urgent you feel, the slower you should do something.”
However, Choi Yeong-Su's reply remained stiff as always, “I see.
I'll remember that, sir.”
“You're only twenty this year, right?”
The manager spoke as some concern crept into his voice.
“Others your age must be having fun like there's no tomorrow, yet you're here, working your butt off.
Isn't it difficult?”
“I'm fine, sir.”
“Guys over thirty run away from this job because of how hard it is.
People think working in the Office of Secretaries is a fast track to success.
When you peel back the layers, though, we, the secretaries, have got to deal with all sorts of sundry chores.
That's what our job is.”
Choi Yeong-Su stood at attention and replied, “But sir, I like doing this.”
“I don't get you…”
“As I said before, kids your age should be having fun and adventures and whatnot.
And I personally think that's how things should be.
That's why I don't get your willingness to do this difficult work at your age.
If you're hurting for money, there are always other options.
Besides, I heard you haven't even gone to a university yet.
Getting an order to let a high school dropout work here is highly amusing in itself, but I find you even more interesting for working without a single complaint.
Hey, could you be a hidden child of one of the directors or something?”
Choi Yeong-Su could only chuckle wryly.
“Then, why are you here?”
“I have something I must do, you see.”
The manager leaned forward in his seat.
“And what would that be?”
“Apologies, but I'm unable to tell you that…”
“Fine, fine! You're no fun, kid.
Anyway, the Chairman will arrive soon, so make sure that the report is ready ahead of time.”
The manager clicked his tongue.
“If you fail to do it right like the last time, I'm gonna put you through hell, got that?”
Leave it to me.”
Fine! Let me tell ya, you're one amazing kid.
I'm beginning to respect you even more.”
Choi Yeong-Su smiled stiffly.
“Thank you for the praise.”
The most notable event during the period, of course, was Park Yu-Min reaching the finals.
Kang Jin-Ho and Han Se-Yeon arrived at the tournament venue and had to push past a huge crowd to get inside.
Han Se-Yeon scanned the distant stage.
“Can you see Yu-Min anywhere?”
Kang Jin-Ho glanced around before replying to her, “Yeah, I can see him.”
“Sheesh, were you born with a hawk's eyes or something? Can you really see him?”
“Yeah, I can.”
Han Se-Yeon pouted unhappily.
“But, I can't see anything down there, though.”
Kang Jin-Ho shrugged his shoulders.
“You can always watch the match on the big screen.”
“I didn't come here to watch the game, you know! We're here to cheer Yu-Min on, right? Urgh, this is why I told you that we have to come here early!”
Han Se-Yeon unhappily reminded him.
“The sooner we arrive, the better our seats will be! That way, we'll be closer to Yu-Min during the match.”
But Kang Jin-Ho was confused by her words.
“Mm? There's no reason for that, though?”
“What do you mean?!”
Kang Jin-Ho pointed to the front.
“The seats nearest the stage are reserved for family members, after all.”
“That's where our seats are.
We can just go take them any time we want.”
Han Se-Yeon nearly stumbled on her feet.
“W-Who told you that?”
Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head.
“Yu-Min did, of course.”
She began puffing her cheeks.
“You know, it feels like you two always leave me out of whatever you are doing.”
“Do we?” Kang Jin-Ho faintly smiled and led her toward the stage.
The security guards stopped them, but a quick explanation of who they were with the help of their IDs resolved the issue.
They were then led to the reserved seats right next to the stage.
Han Se-Yeon spotted the orphanage's director and greeted her with a bright smile.
“Ma'am! You arrived before us?”
Good to see you two again.
I'll be honest, I'm too nervous to watch.”
“Even so, it's great to have you here, Ma'am.
Yu-Min can finally relax and compete to his fullest potential.
Let's cheer him on together, Director!”
“Yes, let us do that.”
Han Se-Yeon turned her head.
“Hey, Kang Jin-Ho! You cheer, too!”
“No need,” said Kang Jin-Ho as he sat down on his assigned seat.
Han Se-Yeon glared at him.
“Why not? Why don't you want to cheer your friend on? Yu-Min worked hard to reach the finals, you know?”
“He's going to win whether I cheer him on or not.”
“Wha? Don't you know that his opponent is no pushover? He's the previous tournament's winner, you know?”
Kang Jin-Ho tutted and shook his head.
Yu-Min will win regardless.”
“And how can you be so sure?”
“It's obvious, that's why.”
Han Se-Yeon nearly threw up her hands in the air.
Pray tell, what is obvious, good sir?”
Kang Jin-Ho grimly replied, “No one in this world is good enough to beat Park Yu-Min… aside from me.”
“You know, I think your condition qualifies as a mental illness at this stage.”
Kang Jin-Ho confidently harrumphed.
“Just wait and see…”
However, the match didn't unfold as he had predicted.
Currently, it was right before the start of the third round in the five-round match.
Park Yu-Min had tasted an overwhelming defeat in the first two rounds.
He couldn't even do much during those two painful defeats, too.
Han Se-Yeon glared at Kang Jin-Ho.
“Hey, it's your fault for jinxing it, you know!”
Kang Jin-Ho groaned softly.
He could see Park Yu-Min inside the competition-use gaming capsule, frozen stiff in nervousness like a deer in the headlights.
Even though the second round had ended, Park Yu-Min remained inside the capsule and continued to stare at the monitor in a daze.
Anyone could tell his current state from the stupefied look on his face.
Han Se-Yeon bit her lower lip.
“Oh, no! Look, I think Yu-Min's too nervous! What should we do? He can't hear us from here!”
“Is that right?” Kang Jin-Ho narrowed his eyes, then called out his friend's name.
Park Yu-Min sitting inside the capsule was jolted awake.
Kang Jin-Ho continued.
“What are you doing?”
Park Yu-Min turned his head and stared at Kang Jin-Ho.
“Are you done warming up your wrists now?” Kang Jin-Ho mouthed those words while pointing at his own wrists.
Park Yu-Min nodded in silence.
Kang Jin-Ho grinned.
“Then you're finished messing around, right?”
At that provocative question, a grin began forming on Park Yu-Min's face.
This was the 'Heavenly Mind Communication' technique at work.
If Kang Jin-Ho willed it, no soundproofing could stop his voice from reaching his target.
“In that case, it's time to start winning.
You losing is the same as me losing.
And I hate losing more than death itself.”
Park Yu-Min cackled, then he said something.
Han Se-Yeon saw Park Yu-Min’s lips move, but she couldn’t hear him, so she asked Kang Jin-Ho.
“What did he say?”
“He said some insolent things.”
Han Se-Yeon smiled while glancing back at Park Yu-Min.
You've grown a lot, haven't you?”
Kang Jin-Ho nodded in agreement.
He's grown so much that it's getting harder to handle him these days.”
The flow of the match changed from the third round onward.
Park Yu-Min's previous powerless display during the first two rounds was nowhere to be found.
He maintained a steady, sturdy defense against the enemy raids and used just one powerful counterattack to win the round.
In other words, he had returned to his usual self.
Han Se-Yeon grinned at that.
“I think Yu-Min has sobered up now.”
“It's about time,” said Kang Jin-Ho with a deep grin of his own.
Park Yu-Min was a friend he met through a strange set of circumstances.
Yet, look at the kid—there he was, competing on the main stage to become the best in Korea.
He was trying to become the best in esports, a profession that most of the world hadn't fully embraced yet, and the amount of effort Park Yu-Min had put in to reach this stage must be comparable to the top athletes of regular, normal sports.
Park Yu-Min was giving his all to stand at the top right now.
Han Se-Yeon tilted her head a little.
“Since when did our crybaby Yu-Min become such a cool guy?”
“You think he's cool?”
“Mm…” Kang Jin-Ho chuckled softly while studying Park Yu-Min closely.
By now, Park Yu-Min had completely regained his confidence.
The fourth round was easily won by him after he went with an early-round rush to rout his opponent in one go.
And just like that, the final match went down to the wire.
The hoarse voices of the commentators fervently explaining the situation echoed in the tournament venue.
Their voices were audibly ready to give out, but the commentators remained professional and continued to commentate the match while cheering for each contestant.
Even though this was a competition involving a 'mere' computer game, tens of thousands of people had descended to the venue to cheer on their favorite finalists.
The final round was a nail-biting affair, a battle of titans deserving of its spot in history.
No matter who won, it would not be seen as an injustice or an incorrect outcome.
Kang Jin-Ho bore witness to this spectacle.
On a realm where he couldn't reach stood his friend, Park Yu-Min, displaying his utmost best.
“Hmm. He’s kinda cool, I guess?” Kang Jin-Ho smirked softly to himself.
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