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1. A Man in the Neighbourhood
“The tenant will be moving into the basement today.”
Eungyo’s eyes flickered to the counter as she poured fresh coffee beans into the clean grinder early in the morning.
Just as Kim Haeda stamped a coupon for a regular customer and held it out, his characteristic dimple graced his cheek.
Regardless of age or gender, no one she had ever encountered could resist the enchanting allure of Kim Haeda’s captivating smile.
“In the basement warehouse?”
The store was brimming with the heady scent of freshly brewed coffee, thanks to the new beans. With a nod, Eungyo expertly poured the espresso into the cup, brimming with ice.
“Yes, so remove the stuff.”
“All of them are trash. You know, it belongs to Lee Dohyun.”
“But you still have to clean it up.”
“Kim Haeda, that is not fair. Do I need to clean it up even though it doesn’t belong to me?”
“It belongs to your ex-boyfriend, so of course you should clean it up.”
A plate of cookies and a cup of iced coffee that the customer had ordered were waiting for Kim Haeda to serve them as part of his service in front of the pickup desk. With a charming smile, he waved his hand in a way that was so innocent, it captivated all the women.
What if Kim Haeda did not have all the perfect conditions to become a boyfriend? Eungyo believed that if he wasn’t the building owner who rented the house to her at a very affordable price, that smile would have excited her greatly.
Of course, even if she died and woke up, that wouldn’t be possible.
“I’m going to take out the trash and then head upstairs.”
“What is the scheduled time for the appointment?”
“Hurry up and go. And next time, say you’re not going to volunteer or whatever. People are not working for free.”
She retrieved the rubber gloves and positioned herself in front of the sink. Then she turned on the tap and started washing the cups.
“It has been quite some time since the professor last reached out to me personally. As a startup, we need to offer assistance.”
“You are very kind. Then, get some beef and come eat it. Have you forgotten how rich Seonggeun’s family is?”
“How did I forget? I’m going to eat well.”
Eungyo, with a grin on her face, tightly tied the garbage bag and stepped outside into the radiant sunlight. After discarding her pay-as-you-go envelope in the designated area, she playfully created a shadow with her hand and scanned the surroundings.
211-5, ○○-dong, Seoul.
Kim Haeda bought the current building three years ago for the surprising reason that it was love at first sight.
After six months of renovations, he successfully opened a café on the first floor. Eungyo was graciously given the second floor as her dwelling, while the basement served as a roasting room and storage area.
How is it possible for her to be a tenant in a place that has been abandoned for three years? Is he really in need of money?
She rested her hands on her waist, exhaling a sigh of relief.
‘When are we going to clean up that place?’
She enjoyed being here. Right from the start, it was clear that things were anything but perfect.
Just as she was about to begin her Korean literature studies fresh out of college, she had the chance to meet a man.
He was a strikingly attractive man who effortlessly captured the attention of those around him, and he was kind. Simply put, she wasn’t his ideal match.
Their relationship was clear and comfortable, strong enough to withstand three long years together. He didn’t turn away, and he didn’t tie her down either. To begin with, he was not the kind of person who easily got caught up with others. The relationship was so permissive that it seemed like indifference.
Might it be the cause? One day, they suddenly broke up without notice.
Kim Haeda dismissed it as ‘ghosting’. There are many ways to break up, but he stuck a dagger in her heart. His words condemned breakups during journeys and underwater ventures, deeming them the actions of the lowest of the low.
It was an exceptionally tough day for her at the time; at most, it could be called a heartbreak or something.
Kim Haeda persuaded her to open her cafe by arguing that it was the best way to deal with the pain of a broken heart. Her life flourished, not only due to her astute business partner but also to the success of her temporary work.
In short, it was a bravo to capitalism and long-lived financial therapy.
Nevertheless, whenever she thought of Lee Dohyun, she couldn’t help but feel a tightness in her heart.
Traces of renovations now linger in the building’s basement. The wretched memories Lee Dohyun left behind were rotting in the basement.
As she stared down the basement stairs with her hands tucked in her pockets, someone passed by behind her. He was a man with a strong scent of fabric softener.
When she caught sight of him walking into the cafe, he seemed to be a customer…
The refreshing scent that wafted through the air was a stark contrast to the musty summer and pulled her out of the abyss of reverie.
A man tall enough to obscure Kim Haeda’s face loomed by the counter, perusing the menu with a swift glance before darting across the room.
He seemed to be searching for someone.
She considered going inside and helping Haeda for a moment, but then changed her mind.
Even so, the message from her sunbae that she should never be late was plastered all over the window.
Eungyo waved her hand at Haeda, who returned her eye contact, and then climbed the stairs to the second floor.
“Thank you, Eungyo. If it weren’t for you, I would have been in real trouble.”
Lee Seonggeun places a cooled yoghurt in front of Eungyo, who gazes around the recording studio with awe and a smile on her face. Then he placed a straw in the drink and handed it to her.
“No biggie. The professor asked me to do it, and anyone could have written a script similar to this one.”
“But it’s not easy to see, thanks to our famous wordsmith.”
“Don’t lavish praise on me. It’s really not a big deal. But… when will you be recording?”
“Oh, my friend who will be narrating has just arrived. The professor also recommended him. Is it ridiculous, by the way? I can’t believe it.”
“I know, right? Sculpture and narration don’t match each other well.”
“See. Surprising, isn’t it?”
When Lee Seunggeun got up after checking the message on his phone, the door to the recording studio swung open, and someone walked in.
“I’m sorry. I’m late, bro.”
“Uh, no. Thank you for coming. Isn’t it hot outside?”
“I came with a car, bro.”
They said he was volunteering his talent for narration, and the man’s voice was remarkably deep, with a mysterious resonance.
Eungyo focused her gaze on the script, desperately hoping that the other person would walk past without noticing her. However, the man who greeted the recording studio engineers one by one stopped in front of Eungyo.
To begin with, she didn’t go to school together with him or even know each other, but she’s his sunbae. As she raised her head with an awkward smile in a feeling of awkwardness, a softly curved black eye met her gaze from above.
For a moment, Eungyo felt the inside of her throat tighten.
“Hello… I am Jung Eungyo.”
“I am Lee Jaeheon, sunbae.”
“Ah… It’s been a long time since I graduated, so just call me by my name.”
“But how can I do that, sunbae?”
A smiling man extends his hand as if inviting a handshake. As she held his hand, she couldn’t help but notice its unusual coldness and was struck by the peculiar mood.
What was this sense of discomfort?
She must admit that the smile she had just seen felt familiar. Despite his somewhat intense expression, he possessed a strikingly attractive face that exuded a sense of fear. No matter how hard she tried to recall, she couldn’t think of anyone who was as handsome as this person, and so it goes for every famous face.
“Shall we record it right away?”
If it weren’t for one engineer’s guidance, it was clear that she wouldn’t have been able to take her eyes off his face.
As he leaned down to meet her gaze, he gently set down the disposable cup he had been holding in his hand. The calloused and greasy fingers, along with the large hands of a labourer, felt sexy.
Eungyo was inwardly embarrassed.
Water droplets have formed on the surface of the transparent plastic cup and have pooled on the table.
As soon as her eyes caught the Cafe Haeda logo on the cup holder, she instantly recognised the source of unease permeating the recording studio.
The fabric softener has a strong, invigorating scent that doesn’t suit the midsummer heat.
“Don’t tell me that person before…”
In a state of disbelief, she couldn’t help but laugh as she tightly gripped the script, completely engrossed in Lee Jaehyun’s voice emanating from the speaker.
The promotional narration commenced with a captivating poem penned by the esteemed poet, Park Jun. As she listened to the man’s voice read softly and calmly, but not dryly, the fur on her body stood on end. It was a pleasure that felt like a cathartic experience.
Raising her head, she fixed her gaze on the man on the other side of the glass wall. It seemed like their eyes met, but it turned out to be a trick of the mind. Because he won’t be able to see the outside from the inside.
The cold air blowing from the air conditioner was accompanied by muffled whispers of people and weak exclamations. As she was beginning to feel suffocated by the slight tension, which felt like an itch on her skin, the PD raised his hand.
“Let’s go one more time. Starting with the third paragraph, the ‘hopefully’ part.”
Accordingly, the man in the room awkwardly scratches his temple with a puzzled expression. He said he would do so with a rather pure and refreshing expression.
Eungyo let out a long, inconspicuous breath, then slowly unfurled her fingers, revealing the script she had been holding tightly. The script’s rolled-up surface had a slight fold, concealing the moisture-soaked and crushed paper.