Joining the Military (1)
“I'm home,” said Kang Jin-Ho as he stepped through the front door.
Baek Hyeon-Jeong welcomed him.
“You are late today, son.”
She made a somewhat uncomfortable expression and rebuked him.
“I'd like you to stop saying sorry in response to everything I say.
Can you do that for me?”
I'm sorry that I…” Kang Jin-Ho quickly caught himself apologizing again and clamped his mouth shut.
Baek Hyeon-Jeong narrowed her eyes and stared at him for a bit, so he tried to smile brightly back at her.
“I'm about to join the military, so I guess I'm a bit nervous, Mother.”
“I see.” She pouted a little, then walked up to her son to pat his shoulder.
“By the way, my son?”
“Next time, when you want to make a big decision, I'd like to be a part of it.
For instance, like enlisting.”
Kang Jin-Ho clamped his mouth shut again and silently listened.
“I trust you since you are smart and resourceful enough to deal with most things yourself.
However, sometimes it feels like I'm being left behind, and that makes me sad, son.”
“That wasn't my intention, Mother.”
Baek Hyeon-Jeong ruefully smiled.
“I know that.
I know very well that my child isn't like that.
I'm just saying, that's what it feels like sometimes.”
Kang Jin-Ho wasn't sure what to say to her.
He still found it challenging to empathize with someone else's feelings.
It was not like he had lived his life all alone, and he certainly had interacted with other people before, yet Kang Jin-Ho still had a hard time figuring out other people's hearts.
'Is it because of my time in the demon cult?'
Kang Jin-Ho believed he was different from other demon cult members with broken personalities since he joined the cult as a boy with an already-matured adult's mind.
However, that experience still left some marks on him, it seemed.
Then again, Kang Jin-Ho wasn't living a 'normal' life during his first life, anyway.
Baek Hyeon-Jeong continued.
“I still think you should've at least told me, your mother.
Or you think I'm wrong?”
Kang Jin-Ho briefly pondered deeply, then nodded in acceptance.
“I was being thoughtless, Mother.”
If the true meaning of 'being a family' extended beyond simply living under one roof, then perhaps Baek Hyeon-Jeong was right.
A family should butt heads and decide on big, life-changing decisions together.
Kang Jin-Ho readily accepted his lack of consideration on this one.
Please come over here for a second.”
Kang Jin-Ho quietly approached his mother.
She gently hugged him and patted his back.
“You used to be so small, yet you're already old enough to join the army…
I feel a little rueful about you leaving, even though other boys all have to go there…” Baek Hyeon-Jeong sighed, the end of her sentence blurring from teary emotions.
“It's not like I'm leaving tomorrow, Mother.”
“Yes, that is true.” She released him and lightly dabbed the corners of her eyes.
Did you have supper?”
“Yes, I did.”
Get some rest, son.
Your dad is asleep now, so be careful not to make too much noise.”
“Of course.” Kang Jin-Ho bowed deeply, then headed to his room.
He closed the door behind him, put his bag on the desk, then laid down on the bed without changing out of his street clothes.
He briefly pondered washing up first, but his thoughts were still too messy, and they didn’t permit him to do anything else.
– Did you really think you were the only one who managed to return from the past?
The fedora-wearing stranger said those words, leaving Kang Jin-Ho's mind in a whirlpool of confusion.
So he wasn't the only one who went through… that? His thoughts were chaotic.
How could it not be when he had always believed his experience to be unique, something that no one could possibly understand.
That was why he never once entertained the idea of confessing the truth to another person.
If he did, others might see it as a drunken rant or a whimsical fantasy…
Or maybe, they might even label him as a nutcase.
Besides, nothing would've changed even if people believed his story.
His life had already taught him that humans would thoroughly ostracize individuals who were too different from them.
That knowledge led him to believe that no one would empathize with his story.
Other 'returners' aside from himself had appeared on his radar.
'How much of that man's story can I believe, though?'
Of course, Kang Jin-Ho wasn't naive enough to believe everything he heard from a stranger.
He slowly raised his hands and ruefully rubbed his face.
Regret was already filling him up; he shouldn't have let that fedora-wearing man go without extracting more information out of him.
Then again, the shock had left him unable to think straight, so it couldn't be helped.
If what that fedora-wearing man had said was all true, then he and his friends would someday reappear before Kang Jin-Ho's face.
Whether it was to reconcile or to simply eliminate him, they should show up without fail, so it might not be too late to respond accordingly when the time arrived.
Kang Jin-Ho finally finished organizing his thoughts, then he glanced outside the window.
He tightly clenched his fists as the sight of the starless night sky entered his view.
'It's not like I don't understand why.'
Even Kang Jin-Ho was left shaken this badly.
The mere knowledge of there being other people who could understand and sympathize with his horrifying experience had left him feeling chaotic.
Of course, he could accept the possibility of other returners seeking out those with similar experiences to form a bond and build a base of influence with.
Those people might be better than Kang Jin-Ho's family and friends when it came to truly understanding him.
Kang Jin-Ho sat up and picked up his phone.
He played some music stored on the device, then put it somewhere near his head.
As the music quietly wafted around the room, he lay back down and closed his eyes.
'Do not get shaken up, Kang Jin-Ho.'
Whether such people existed or not…
Whether people who could understand him existed or not wasn't important to him.
The important point to remember was that he was Kang Jin-Ho.
Moreover, he was currently living a life that was up to him.
As long as he didn't forget who he was, he shouldn't worry about his situation or any strange changes.
He closed his eyes and forced himself to sleep, even though he wasn't sleepy at all.
Unsurprisingly, he didn't catch a wink and had to watch the light of the day break free from the distant horizon.
“Enlistment?!” Chairman Hwang Jeong-Hu freaked out at the sudden news delivered by Jo Gyu-Min who visited him first thing in the morning.
“He's going to the army?!”
Jo Gyu-Min nodded.
“And why did you only report this to me today?!”
Jo Gyu-Min flinched at the Chairman's angry scolding and hurriedly lowered his head.
He was slightly miffed about being on the receiving end of his boss's ire since Kang Jin-Ho was at fault, not him, for not saying anything about his sudden decision to enlist.
However, Jo Gyu-Min's job was to figure stuff out like that beforehand, so he had no excuses to offer.
Jo Gyu-Min quietly muttered, “My apologies, sir.”
Damn…” Hwang Jeong-Hu grunted while rubbing his temples.
Now, this news had totally taken him by surprise.
A grave expression formed on Hwang Jeong-Hu's face as many thoughts quickly filled his brain.
A young Korean male could not avoid the draft as long as he had a healthy body.
Even Hwang Jeong-Ho had experienced military life, too.
And yes, his sons also went there without exception.
He used to think enlistment was an obvious rite-of-passage that every man should go through, but now? He was having some serious doubts about it.
He raised his head and looked at Jo Gyu-Min.
“Is there a way out of this?”
“Sir, when you say 'out of this'…”
“A way to dodge the draft, that is.”
It was now Jo Gyu-Min's turn to feel confused.
His boss, Chairman Hwang Jeong-Hu, was someone who had always placed strict importance on sticking to the rules.
Other chaebols enjoyed all sorts of preferential treatments and exploited various illegal means and loopholes in the law to benefit themselves, but Chairman Hwang wasn't like that.
He hated such privileges with passion.
He was a true self-made man who started as a son of a poor family right at the bottom of society.
Moreover, on his way up the social ladder, he competed with countless many bastards protected by 'special privileges' and had to fight against all kinds of unfair nonsense.
No wonder he gritted his teeth at the mere prospect of exploiting loopholes in the law.
Of course, other people respected him precisely because of his stance.
But now, he was talking about extralegal means with his own mouth?!
Hwang Jeong-Hu seemed to have noticed Jo Gyu-Min's confusion because he explained himself in a somewhat sheepish voice, “If it was my children or my grandkids, or even myself, I'd have them enlisted without thinking twice about it.”
“I believe you'd do that, sir,” Jo Gyu-Min replied calmly.
Such things had already happened, after all.
Hwang Jeong-Hu groaned.
“However, Kang Jin-Ho is a special case.”
Jo Gyu-Min nodded in agreement at that assessment.
“This matter also has implications on my personal well-being.
No matter what, I need that young man.
Honestly speaking, I want to keep him by my side and monitor him 24 hours a day to ensure nothing happens, but…”
“…?” Jo Gyu-Min couldn't understand that sentiment.
Then again, he didn't know the true relationship between Hwang Jeong-Hu and Kang Jin-Ho, so his confusion wasn't all that surprising.
Hwang Jeong-Hu groaned even deeper.
“Of course, I know I'm being unreasonable.
What I'm really worried about here, though, is whether Kang Jin-Ho can adapt to the institution called 'military' or not.”
“Ah!” Jo Gyu-Min gasped after finally realizing the worry in Chairman Hwang's heart.
In a certain sense, Kang Jin-Ho was a very unrestrained person.
And in another sense, he was basically a troublemaker.
He hated illogical things and didn't take kindly to others trying to pressure him through violence.
However, the institution called the South Korean military deserved the label of the most insane illogical place on Earth.
Would someone like Kang Jin-Ho be able to adapt to life in such a place? Even a blind could see how that might end.
“This is a big problem, sir.”
“Yes, it is…” Hwang Jeong-Hu sighed while pulling out a cigarette.
He lit it up and took a deep puff.
“A difficult problem, indeed.
Yes, a tough headache…”
What could happen when the existence called Kang Jin-Ho encountered the South Korean military? This was a problem that had to be stopped from happening, regardless of what it would cost.
Jo Gyu-Min spoke, hoping to sound optimistic, “But, sir.
He has been doing okay in his social life so far.”
“That's because nobody has tried to suppress him through power until now.”
Hwang Jeong-Hu slowly shook his head.
“I also haven't fully analyzed the person named Kang Jin-Ho.”
After seeing it for yourself, you must have some idea.
People like Kang Jin-Ho will bounce back harder the more you try to suppress them.”
Jo Gyu-Min's expression became grave.
“You're right, sir.”
“Unfortunately, there are far too many idiots in our military who would try to deal with everything through force.”
Jo Gyu-Min nodded with a pained look on his face.
After all, he did experience the Korean military's 'quirks' before, too.
Hwang Jeong-Hu spoke in a grave voice, “It'll be too late to deal with an incident after it has already happened.
So one must strive to ensure that no incident would happen in the first place.”
“As such, Gyu-Min.
You'll have to roll your sleeves up this time.”
“I'm sorry?” Jo Gyu-Min tilted his head in confusion.
Hwang Jeong-Hu took another deep drag of his cigarette and exhaled the smoke.
“Find a way.
Come up with an alternative.
At the very least, we need to create some kind of a safety net so that Kang Jin-Ho can go through his military life without any serious trouble.”
“Sir, I'll get on it.”
“I'll give you permission to use whatever resources at our disposal.”
“Thank you for your consideration, sir.” Jo Gyu-Min bowed deeply.
Hwang Jeong-Hu silently waved his hand, indicating that it was fine for him to leave.
Once Jo Gyu-Min exited the chairman's office, Hwang Jeong-Hu spat out a lengthy groan.
“It would've been nice if only that man was more opportunistic…”
If Kang Jin-Ho had called and expressed his unwillingness to join the army, Hwang Jeong-Hu would have done anything to make that happen.
As long as it wasn't illegal, he would have found a method to get the exemption.
There were methods like acquiring American citizenship or finding an alternative way to serve the country.
Considering Kang Jin-Ho's personality, though…
Hwang Jeong-Hu knew full well that it was just a pipe dream.
“What should I do…”
Hwang Jeong-Hu was supposed to go to Kang Jin-Ho once a month to receive his treatment.
That didn't seem like much of an issue since he could just pay him a visit every month.
However, that wasn't the only problem he could foresee.
“Hmm… If only I had someone helping me from the inside…” Just as Hwang Jeong-Hu muttered, his eyes flickered brightly, “Aha. So, there was that way. Fufufu…”
Hwang Jeong-Hu's expression brightened as he leaned against the chair.
Almost at the same time, Jo Gyu-Min heading to the Office of Secretaries felt an unexplainable chill and began to shudder.
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