On Leave (2)
Time flew by in the proverbial blink of an eye.
Before long, a hundred days had gone past since the enlistment, and Kang Jin-Ho was about to embark on his first leave.
“Maknae, have you finished your preparations” Jeon Hyeok-Su asked while looking at Kang Jin-Ho.
“And you have also memorized everything you're not supposed to do outside, right”
“That means no fighting and no driving.”
“So How do you feel Is your heart fluttering and stuff” Jeon Hyeok-Su wrapped his arm around Kang Jin-Ho's shoulders and began yapping away.
I don't feel anything in particular.”
“Seriously You know, I couldn't sleep at all the night before my first leave.
I got waaay too excited for that.”
Jo Won-Gu butted in next.
“For me, all I could think about was eating good food outside.
I even made a list of all the food I'd eat during my leave.”
Corporal Kwak Hyeon-Wu sighed and recalled his first time, too.
“As for me, I was looking forward to meeting my girlfriend outside for the first time in months.”
Jo Won-Gu stared at him pitifully.
“But you are single now, aren't you”
“...Sir, let's not go there.”
“Cheer up, Corporal.”
“Sir, please drop it!” Kwak Hyeon-Wu stormed out of the living quarter as tears began pooling around his eyes.
Jo Won-Gu tutted loudly.
“That kid's way too soft, I tell ya.
He ain't the only dude who had to break up with his girlfriend while serving in the army, after all!”
Jeon Hyeok-Su tried to defend his fellow corporal.
Corporal Kwak really liked that girl.”
“What does it matter if it's only one-sided”
From the sound of it, Jo Won-Gu didn't seem to be in the mood to offer solace to his heartbroken junior soldier, as guys breaking up with their girlfriends was a common-enough occurrence in the army.
“Besides, it's about time he stops making a big deal out of his breakup.
That was during his hundred-day leave.
He has already become a corporal, yet he still hasn't gotten over it”
He really, reaaally liked her, that's why."
“As I said, what's the point if it's only one-sided” Jo Won-Gu tutted again, then walked up to Kang Jin-Ho.
“Private Kang Jin-Ho, sir.”
“Enjoy your time outside, okay”
“And don't forget to say hello to Miss Se-Ah on my behalf, too.”
Kang Jin-Ho stared back at him without saying anything.
Jo Won-Gu frowned a little.
"Jin-Ho, it's about time you accept the truth."
“...Sir, I think I'll start cleaning the floor again.”
“Why do you keep cleaning all the freaking time!” Jo Won-Gu blew his top, but Kang Jin-Ho cleanly ignored him and escaped outside the living quarters.
That was when he ran into Ju Yeong-Gi in the corridor.
"Hey, Jin-Ho." Ju Yeong-Gi waved his hand first.
"Want some smoke"
“I told you, I'm quitting.”
"Don't be like that now.
This hyung kinda feels restless, you know.
So humor me for a bit, and let's go for a smoke break."
“Hmm...” Kang Jin-Ho sighed.
He didn't really have a reason to refuse, anyway.
Ju Yeong-Gi took the lead, and they headed to the smoking area before settling on an unoccupied bench.
“Here.” Ju Yeong-Gi handed over a cigarette.
Kang Jin-Ho wordlessly accepted it before mouthing it.
After Ju Yeong-Gi lit it up, he took a deep puff.
Despite not having smoked in over two weeks, the dizziness he felt during his first smoke after returning to the modern era didn't rear its ugly head.
Ju Yeong-Gi asked quietly, "So...
Is it doable"
Kang Jin-Ho glanced at Ju Yeong-Gi.
“Military life, I mean.”
You just do it.”
Ju Yeong-Gi smirked weakly at that nonchalant reply.
Even he knew that asking Kang Jin-Ho such questions was dumb.
Drop Kang Jin-Ho in the middle of a war zone, and he would simply mutter, “I just have to do it,” before massacring all the enemies like the Korean Rambo or something.
“...Honestly, I don't know how I'd have endured until now without the hope of my leave coming up,” said Ju Yeong-Gi as he took a drag of his cigarette.
Kang Jin-Ho was slightly taken aback and stared at him, finally realizing that Ju Yeong-Gi's face seemed to have gotten a little wane in the past few months.
Ju Yeong-Gi came across as a confident; nay, brazen, sort of a person back in the boot camp, but now...
His dispirited demeanor was painfully clear to see.
Kang Jin-Ho thought that asking about it might be a good idea.
"Did something happen, Yeong-Gi"
“Not really.” Ju Yeong-Gi exhaled a long trail of cigarette smoke, and it lazily drifted away in the air.
“Let's just enjoy our leave, yeah”
"...Sure," Kang Jin-Ho muttered quietly.
Something must have happened, but the person in question was unwilling to talk about it, which left Kang Jin-Ho with no choice but to back off.
If Ju Yeong-Gi wanted to get stuff off his chest, he would no doubt do that sooner or later.
Suddenly, Kang Jin-Ho realized something.
He seemed to have changed a lot himself.
The past him would have never asked someone first out of concern.
It was just not his style to butt in on other people's business.
In fact, the past him wouldn't have helped out even if someone directly asked for his assistance.
Did he finally get used to the ways of the modern era Or was it simply the case of him regaining his old, old self Kang Jin-Ho couldn't really tell just yet.
Ju Yeong-Gi took another puff.
You're heading to Seoul, right”
“Let's go together, then.
I gotta use the KTX terminal in Seoul first, see”
"Got it." Kang Jin-Ho nodded, then got up from the bench after finishing his smoke first.
However, Ju Yeong-Gi remained sitting on the bench and mouthed another cigarette instead as Kang Jin-Ho stepped back inside his living quarter.
Kang Jin-Ho glanced at him for a second or two before closing the door behind him.
Be safe on your travels, soldier.
And don't cause an incident, too.”
“Understood, sir.” Kang Jin-Ho bowed his head and bade goodbye to the duty officer before stepping outside the base.
Ju Yeong-Gi walking next to him asked in a slightly concerned voice, "How are we going to Eastern Seoul from here I heard that people usually call for a cab."
Kang Jin-Ho shrugged his shoulders.
“We'll catch a bus.”
“And I'm guessing you know where the bus stop is”
It's supposed to be down by the road.”
Ju Yeong-Gi groaned loudly.
"...Gee whiz. You really are an easy-going dude, aren't ya"
Kang Jin-Ho didn't see why they should be worried, though.
A bus was bound to show up if they waited, and getting on it would surely take them to their destination in Seoul.
Unfortunately for him, though, Kang Jin-Ho didn't get to ride on a bus.
That was because he found a sedan waiting for him right outside the guardhouse.
“You're here” Jo Gyu-Min climbed out of the driver's seat and smiled brightly.
Kang Jin-Ho looked at him weirdly.
“...What brings you here, Mister Gyu-Min”
“I'm here to take you back to Seoul, of course.
Please get in.”
This situation made Kang Jin-Ho ever-so-slightly uncomfortable, but sending away Jo Gyu-Min after he took time out of his schedule to come all this way didn't seem like the right thing to do, either.
I'll take up on your offer, then.” Kang Jin-Ho didn't say anything else and headed to the waiting car's backseat.
He opened the door, then glanced at Ju Yeong-Gi.
"Uh O-oh, sure." Ju Yeong-Gi was confused by this development, but he still followed Kang Jin-Ho into the backseat.
"...Whoa, this car looks expensive.
Wait a minute, Jin-Ho I didn't know you were a young master from a wealthy family."
“This isn't my family's car,” Kang Jin-Ho replied with a shake of his head.
Of course, he didn't bother to reveal a small fact that a car incomparably more expensive than this one was parked in his house right now.
For him, there was no point in doing that.
Jo Gyu-Min climbed into the driver's seat and asked, "How did you find your military life so far, Mister Jin-Ho"
“It's nothing special, actually.”
The car got into gear and smoothly took off.
Jo Gyu-Min looked into the rearview mirror and continued to chat away, “Knowing your personality, I figured you'd run into lots of trouble in the army, but it sounds like you're adapting a lot better than everyone expected.”
Kang Jin-Ho didn't reply and chose to watch the scenery pass by.
Is my personality that bad'
Then again, famous martial artists from both the righteous and the demonic sects united under one banner to eliminate him back in Zhongyuan.
That might be all the proof he needed to confirm that his personality wasn't exactly friendly.
Moreover, it wasn't like he had lots of friends during his first life, either.
Kang Jin-Ho shook his head, then changed the topic.
“What about Eun-Yeong”
“...She's in the middle of forcibly changing her concept.”
Kang Jin-Ho nodded in satisfaction.
Jo Gyu-Min watching through the rearview mirror could only softly sigh.
'Even though she could've reached the top in a heartbeat...'
Did Kang Jin-Ho not understand how important—and difficult—it was for an idol to grab the public's attention Only by promoting and working crazy-hard when the going was hot could an idol safely claim a spot in the public consciousness.
Dozens of idol groups debuted in a year, but only one or two could survive at the end of the day.
The entertainment world was that ruthless.
We need to make hay while the sun still shines, but this...'
Jo Gyu-Min was dissatisfied, but he knew that such logic simply did not work on Kang Jin-Ho.
After all, he had only allowed Kang Eun-Yeong to become an idol since she earnestly desired it, not because he was a fan of idols.
Jo Gyu-Min buried his dissatisfaction deep inside his chest and changed the topic.
“Should I drive straight to your home, Mister Jin-Ho”
“No, please stop by at a train station first,” said Kang Jin-Ho while shifting his gaze to the driver's seat.
“A train station, you say You mean Seoul Station”
“Yes, that one.”
Jo Gyu-Min glanced at Ju Yeong-Gi through the rearview mirror.
I'll head there, then.”
As for Ju Yeong-Gi, he seemed to have been suppressed by the black business suit-wearing Jo Gyu-Min's aura and was quietly cowering in the corner of the backseat.
The car drove on for another two hours before finally reaching Seoul Station.
Ju Yeong-Gi quickly exited, then looked behind at Kang Jin-Ho.
Enjoy your leave, okay”
"Yeong-Gi, want to have lunch with me before you go"
“Nah, it's cool.
I wanna get going pronto.
It's not like your offer doesn't sound tempting, but I wanna go home right away.”
Since my leave ends sooner than yours, I guess we won't return to base together, huh When I come to Seoul later on my way to the base, I'll give you a call, okay I'll take up on your offer, then."
Kang Jin-Ho wordlessly watched Ju Yeong-Gi coolly wave his hand and disappear into the station's doorway before climbing back inside the car.
Ju Yeong-Gi asked from the driver's seat, “Is he your friend, Mister Jin-Ho”
“He's an acquaintance from the same boot camp.”
“Hmm. Despite his rough countenance, he is unexpectedly polite.”
“That's what's so amusing about him.” Kang Jin-Ho chuckled softly.
Jo Gyu-Min nodded while starting the car again, the destination this time being Kang Jin-Ho's home.
As they drove, he addressed Kang Jin-Ho again, “Mister Jin-Ho, Chairman Hwang was wondering when you'd stop by to see him.”
“Please inform him that I'll come at the appropriate time.”
Hwang Jeong-Hu had already come to Kang Jin-Ho's base once before.
His original plan was to simply register like any other visitor would and step inside the base, but that could have turned the whole place upside down.
Kang Jin-Ho didn't want that, so he managed to talk the chairman down and asked the brass for a temporary leave.
Then, he left the base during that weekend to perform the procedure.
It had been quite inconvenient, but he had no choice.
I need to find a solution to this problem...'
In all honesty, there was no need for Hwang Jeong-Hu to receive treatment once every month.
Kang Jin-Ho just threw that out there to be on the extremely cautious side, but the chairman took that as gospel, and now, it was too late to take what he had said back, leading to his current situation.
The 'treatment' itself was as simple as cleaning the blood vessels to prevent them from getting clogged again.
Yet, the chairman seemed to have believed it as a heaven-defying treatment worthy of his obsession, so Kang Jin-Ho found it rather hard to reveal the truth.
'Maybe I should tell him that he can get the treatment once every two months.'
That seemed like the quickest solution to prevent Hwang Jeong-Hu from showing up on the base every month.
Jo Gyu-Min continued, “Chairman is worried about you, Mister Jin-Ho.”
"Well, he's a kind person, to begin with, after all."
"No, I mean it, Mister Jin-Ho.
Did you know that he tried to enlist me in the army just so that he would have someone to feed him inside information"
“Enlist you But, didn't you already serve”
“As a non-commissioned officer, of course...”
Kang Jin-Ho was left speechless.
To think that Hwang Jeong-Hu had actually cooked up a scheme to send one of his underlings to the military academy.
Without a doubt, that old man was...
“...I'm sure he was just kidding, Mister Gyu-Min.”
"If Director Baek hadn't intervened at the last minute, I'd be in the academy right now, in the middle of my training, Mister Jin-Ho.
Do you know what the chairman told me He said he'd take care of assigning me to the same corps as you, and I should simply focus on getting good grades!"
Kang Jin-Ho spat out a long, long groan.
Why did it feel like Chairman Hwang was being fussier than his own parents “I don't know what to say other than I'm sorry.”
“...Just know that I'm also having a hard time over here, please.”
“I'll definitely remember it.” Kang Jin-Ho quietly stared at the back of Jo Gyu-Min as he drove the car.
Hwang Jeong-Hu might have ordered him to be here, but...
When Kang Jin-Ho thought about it, Jo Gyu-Min had been around since Kang Jin-Ho's high school days, and he had been looking after his needs more than anyone else.
Their car eventually reached its destination.
Kang Jin-Ho exited, then bowed deeply in Jo Gyu-Min's direction.
"Thank you for everything."
"No need to mention it, Mister Jin-Ho.
Please enjoy your time off."
“Drive safely.” Kang Jin-Ho nodded, then stepped inside his home.
Jo Gyu-Min watched the front gate close, then pulled out his phone.
"Chairman, it's Jo Gyu-Min speaking.
I've just finished giving Mister Jin-Ho a ride to his home, sir.
I'll return to the office now."
“I'm home,” said Kang Jin-Ho as he stepped inside the house.
His mother rushed up to him in unbridled joy now that her son had finally returned home for the first time in months.
Kang Jin-Ho had to work hard to calm her down, and only then was he free to enter his room.
The first thing he did after putting his luggage down was switch on his phone, which was already fully charged and ready for its owner.
His parents hadn't canceled the service as Kang Jin-Ho would have wanted to use his phone during his leave.
He thanked them in his mind while dialing Park Yu-Min's number.
“It's me, Jin-Ho.”
- Oh, hi.
Wait, are you out on your, uh, army vacation
- Already I'm sorry.
I was too busy, and I didn't realize it.
Besides that, where are you now”
- Me I'm in the orphanage, of course.
Kang Jin-Ho turned his head and glanced at the clock.
It was still lunchtime, and Park Yu-Min being in the orphanage during the middle of the week was rather concerning.
“...I'm on my way there now.”
- Huh N-no, it's fine, Jin-Ho.
You got your much-deserved vacation, right Stay home and get some rest.
You can always stop by later, like in the evening.
“No, I'm on my way now.” Kang Jin-Ho ended the call there and swiftly changed his clothes.
Baek Hyeon-Jeong noticed her son stepping out of his room, so she asked him, “Jin-Ho Are you going out somewhere”
I'm planning to stop by at Yu-Min's place."
"We'll be having dinner as a family tonight, so please don't stay late, okay"
"Understood, Mother." Kang Jin-Ho said goodbye and headed to the garage.
He stood there and stared at his white wedge-shaped supercar, then...
'Too much hassle, so no.'
He completely ignored it and picked up the Golden Elephant tucked away in the corner instead.
Gripping the bicycle's handles for the first time in months felt quite good.
Time to go.”
Kang Jin-Ho unhesitantly climbed aboard the bike's saddle.