To School (1)
“Where have you been?!”
“Mm?” Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head the moment he stepped into his hospital room.
But that was because a teenage girl was shouting unhappily at him.
She must be around fifteen, maybe sixteen? She wasn't the prettiest girl in the world, but her facial features certainly could qualify as a cutie.
“Who are you?”
The girl cocked her head and walked up to him.
“Did you really lose your mind?”
“You can't even recognize your own little sister now? You've really lost your mind, haven't you?!”
“My little sister?” Kang Jin-Ho slightly tilted his head.
A younger sibling, was it? He indeed had a younger sister in the past.
His memories could still faintly recall that, but…
'Did she really look like this?'
Her face seemed somewhat different from what he could remember, so this…
The last memory Kang Jin-Ho had of her was from when she was older, but that still couldn't explain the inexplicable difference between this girl and the younger sister in his recollections.
He muttered quietly, “Your face is a bit…”
She almost blew her top just then.
“What? You can't even recognize your own sister because she got some make-up on?!”
Her yell made him take a closer look, and he finally noticed some stuff plastered on her face.
That wasn't the important part of this conversation, of course.
No, the actual bit of importance was this girl being his little sister.
She frequented the offices of talent agencies, hoping to become an idol one day—only for the car accident to cut her life short.
'Could she have become one if it hadn't been for that accident?'
Kang Jin-Ho's family had already fallen into financial trouble by the time she lost her life.
That was why he thought that it would have been unlikely for her to become an idol even if that accident never happened. Money was necessary, lots of it, for someone to achieve their dream. Money also happened to be one of the things that the Kang Jin-Ho of the past never possessed.
He nonchalantly asked her, “What brings you here?”
“Wha…? Maybe you've really gone crazy?”
His sister crossed her arms in front of her chest.
“You thought that I won't come and see you when my one and only big brother got into an accident? Mom should've just told me about what happened, but she didn't do that so I’m here now.”
“You weren't at home?”
“The group was going to Japan for a tour and told me to come with them, kinda like a field trip or something.
But it was a field trip only in name, you know! They totally used me as a tour staff! Basically, I worked as an unpaid gopher.”
“Eh-whew! I was so depressed, you know.
But when I got home, I found out that the dude also known as my older brother got himself into a car accident! I came running here in shock, but I only stumbled upon an empty room here!”
Kang Jin-Ho chuckled wryly.
It seemed that the ability to nag was hereditary.
“What about your school?”
She shot back.
“My dreams are more important than school, you know!”
Kang Jin-Ho shook his head.
“Even so, you should attend school.”
“We have already talked about this, so what's gotten into you?”
“Go back to school.”
Kang Jin-Ho's younger sister, Kang Eun-Yeong, stared weirdly at her older brother.
It was weird for him to not immediately recognize her, but it was even weirder for him to bring up a topic that the family had already discussed.
But the weirdest part about this whole thing was how he spoke.
Her older brother had never been a man of many words, but after the accident, he…
His manner of speech seemed to have gotten very strange.
“Oppa, are you really okay?”
“You'll regret it later on.” Kang Jin-Ho's expression hardened.
“Whatever your dream is, treading a different path from everyone else will result in you losing so many things.
Reaching your dream depends on you, but if it's possible, try to go for both.”
“M-mhm…” Kang Eun-Yeong inadvertently nodded in agreement.
Something unexplainable and heavy in her brother's voice made it impossible to talk back to him.
'This is so weird…'
Mom said that Kang Jin-Ho's memories had become wonky for some reason and that observation seemed to be spot-on.
Otherwise, it would be difficult to explain how anyone could change this much practically overnight.
“Eun-Yeong, you were here?” Kang Jin-Ho's mother stepped inside the room and greeted her daughter.
“It's good that you're here, Eun-Yeong.”
Kang Eun-Yeong pointed at her older brother.
“Mom, there's something strange about Oppa!”
Mother hurriedly yelled at her.
“Watch what you say, Eun-Yeong!”
“Keep your mouth shut, will you!” His mother's sharp voice was effective in shutting Kang Eun-Yeong up.
Her experiences told her that trying to argue back now would only grant her the taste of hell later.
Kang Jin-Ho's mother turned her attention to him.
“Jin-Ho, nothing happened while I was gone, yes?”
“By the way…” His mother's glare instantly sharpened.
“What happened to your arm?”
“I got injured a little.”
“Mmm…” Kang Jin-Ho pondered if he should be honest here.
The past him wouldn't hesitate to speak the truth, but the current him had already recalled the valuable lesson of keeping certain things to himself depending on the situation.
“Well, what happened was…”
Before he could come up with a suitable excuse, though, someone else intervened on his behalf first.
The door opened, and a doctor in a white gown and nurses stepped inside.
Kang Jin-Ho's mother greeted them.
“Oh, Doc! Hello.”
“Hello, ma'am.” The chief surgeon bowed his head a little to return the gesture, then shifted his attention to Kang Jin-Ho next.
Kang, I heard you injured your arm earlier.”
“Yes, I did.”
“I also heard that you got treated in the ER.
You don't mind if I take a look myself?”
“No, please go ahead.” Kang Jin-Ho presented his bandaged arm.
The chief surgeon confirmed the status of the wound and then turned his head toward Kang Jin-Ho's mother, a grin attached to his face.
“You raised a brave son, ma'am.”
“I'm sorry? Not sure I follow?”
“Oh, I guess you haven't heard about it yet? Actually…”
His mother's brows rose up higher and higher as she listened to the chief surgeon's explanation.
And eventually, she quietly addressed her son.
Have you lost your bloody mind?! What on earth were you thinking?! What would you have done if you got hurt! Thank heavens that nothing bad happened in the end! But what if you got hurt badly and died! N-no, wait! You're already injured! Even though I told you so, so many times by now…!”
Cold sweat began trickling down Kang Jin-Ho's forehead. His mother looked genuinely enraged as she began nagging him to hell and back.
Her hand was also hovering close by to land a critical blow at any moment now.
haha…” The chief surgeon witnessed this outburst and tried to sneakily back off as a sheepish smile formed on his face.
“It seems that I unnecessarily…”
“You too, Doc! As an adult, you should be scolding a child for doing something so dangerous! That wasn't being brave, so why are you praising him as a brave son and whatnot?!”
That wasn't my original intenti…
Y-yes, n-no, well… Uhm, you see…” The chief surgeon's slip of the tongue was richly rewarded with a bucketful of scolding.
With an awkward smile, he hurriedly escaped from the room.
Kang Jin-Ho's mother shifted her attention back to Kang Jin-Ho.
“Do you understand what I'm trying to say, Jin-Ho?!”
“Talk is cheap, Jin-Ho!”
“No, I really do understand.”
“…Yes, Mother,” Kang Jin-Ho replied, inwardly thinking that he was prepared to jump into the fire if his mother demanded proof of his understanding.
Honestly, he was ready to do anything to escape from this situation.
“I'll be watching you, Jin-Ho.
And you, Eun-Yeong! Come with me this second.”
“But Mom, why me…”
“You dare talk back to me?!”
“N-no, Mom! I'm coming!” Kang Eun-Yeong suddenly shot a glare at her brother before hurriedly following her mother outside the room.
Kang Jin-Ho spat out a groan filled with genuine relief.
One more round of nagging like this, and he might start bleeding from his ears.
'I've grown soft.'
There was no need to nag anyone back in the Demon Cult.
If you got a mission, a successful completion would be rewarded handsomely, while failure would be met with harsh punishment.
Back then, no one dared to make long, tiresome essays filled with excuses to him, and that seemed to have weakened Kang Jin-Ho's immunity against nagging even though he must've heard plenty of it from his mother in the past.
He could hear the conversation between his mother and younger sister beyond the doorway.
They tried to keep their voices low and inaudible from the room, but too bad for them, Kang Jin-Ho's hearing was far more sensitive than they could have imagined.
“You gotta watch what you say to your brother, okay?”
“Your brother is clearly confused right now.
But you keep saying that he's strange and all that.
That'll only make it more difficult for him!”
“What do you mean, confused?”
“The doctor told me that his memories are incomplete right now, but it's not that serious, and he should go back to normal soon enough.
That's what's going on.
And that's why you must stop calling your brother strange and stuff.
“Got it, Mom.”
Kang Jin-Ho smiled wryly.
'Amnesia, is it?'
This seemed to be the answer that everyone had settled on to explain the difference between the past Kang Jin-Ho and the current one.
Medically speaking, that was probably the most logical explanation available.
Kang Jin-Ho would've preferred to be suffering from amnesia if he was being honest.
Too many memories of gangho flooding his mind only made his recollections of the modern era fuzzy and blurry, after all. Moreover, he also had a feeling this certain aspect of him wouldn’t improve in the future.
He could acclimatize to his surroundings, but even Kang Jin-Ho wouldn't be able to revive his long-forgotten memories.
A short while later, his mother and Kang Eun-Yeong stepped back inside the room.
Kang Jin-Ho glanced at them before looking outside the window.
Time would solve all of his current problems… Thankfully, he had plenty of time on his hands.
Kang Jin-Ho frowned slightly.
He could hear people whispering behind his back for the past couple of days whenever he walked around in the hospital.
Most nurses and assistants working in the hospital were women.
Nothing was as effective as them when it came to spreading gossip everywhere.
The news of Kang Jin-Ho beating up a serial killer had already traveled to all corners of the hospital in less than half a day.
Thanks to their loose lips, he now had to do his hardest to ignore all the curious gazes burrowing into his back whenever he was out and about in the hospital.
Since they showed no animosity, he found it hard to tell them to get lost.
His discharge was scheduled to be on the following day.
His wound was almost fully healed now, while the knife cut to his arm wasn't serious enough to warrant an extension to his stay in the hospital.
Meaning, he had no reason to stay here.
“Outer Space Oppa!”
Kang Jin-Ho heard a familiar voice and turned his head to find Ji-Eun jogging toward him.
She called out to him again, “Oppa!”
“Ah! I forgot to bring you cola this time.
You don't mind, right?”
Kang Jin-Ho shook his head.
“No, it's fine.”
From the sound of it, Ji-Eun must've viewed Kang Jin-Ho as some kind of a robot with cola as his energy source.
Ji-Eun continued. “Anyway, what a relief that I ran into you, Oppa.”
“What do you mean?”
“I'm moving to another hospital tomorrow, you see.”
“Mom said that we'll have to move somewhere else, even though I don't wanna…” Ji-Eun muttered with a dejected face.
She seemed less than enthusiastic about moving hospitals.
Then again, trying to get used to new nurses and doctors would be difficult for a young girl like her even at the best of times.
Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head.
“Isn't it fine to just not go?”
I cried and said no, but Mom scolded me with a smack.”
“I see,” Kang Jin-Ho replied as a faint smile crept up on his face without him realizing it.
It seemed that all mothers were the same, no matter who they were.
“What about you, Oppa? Aren't you gonna get discharged?”
Ji-Eun replied with a grin, “Really? That's good since I'm leaving tomorrow, too.
I mean, if I'm gone, and you're left behind by yourself, it's kinda uncool, right? You'll get lonely without me, too.”
She seemed to be under some sort of misunderstanding, but Kang Jin-Ho didn't try to correct her.
“Oppa, I…” Ji-Eun suddenly stopped talking and clutched her chest.
Kang Jin-Ho's expression hardened.
“Does it hurt?”
“…No, it's fine.” She pretended to be fine, but even a blind could tell that she was in trouble.
She definitely was in pain.
Kang Jin-Ho reached out.
“Let me see.”
“What are you doing?!”
Kang Jin-Ho's extended hand was about to pull up her shirt, but Ji-Eun's sharp yell jolted him awake.
He quickly pulled his hand back.
She cried out, “Pervert!”
“It's a misunderstanding.”
“Never mind! I'm fine.
This happens now and then.
But it's getting more frequent lately…”
“Mm…” Kang Jin-Ho slightly nodded and focused his senses on Ji-Eun's figure.
He noticed that the qi flow near her chest was clogged.
Placing his hand on her chest would get him a clearer picture of her condition, but he didn't want to attract unnecessary attention right now.
I'm going back to my room now.”
“Doctors get mad at me if I wander around for too long, you see…
My condition got worse lately, and if I try to leave my room, they’ll start nagging the heck out of me.”
“Mm…” Kang Jin-Ho watched Ji-Eun walk away but he suddenly called out to her.
“…What would you like to do if your illness is cured?”
Ji-Eun burst into a peal of laughter.
“That's so obvious! I wanna go back to school like everyone else, you know? I wanna go out and have fun, too!”
“Okay! I'm going for real now, Oppa.”
Kang Jin-Ho wordlessly watched Ji-Eun's back in the distance, then slowly nodded his head.
“Like everyone else…
An ordinary life…”
He knew better than anyone how painful it was to be unable to lead an ordinary life.
Kang Jin-Ho reaffirmed his resolve, then turned around to leave.
However, his steps suddenly came to a halt as his head shifted back to Ji-Eun in the distance.
A quiet little murmur escaped from his lips.
“What happened to the honorifics, though?”
It seemed that the two of them became friends without him noticing it.
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