Chapter 2 – A Wound That Never Healed (2)
“What’s the problem? It’s not like this was our first time stuffing animals.”
“No, it’s not that, but…”
Of course, it’s not the first time! It was their grandfather who taught them to hunt and stuff animals since they were teenagers. In particular, Tae-jun, who showed the greatest talent, started making stuffed animals when he was 15 years old.
But isn’t that limited to the “loot” hunted?
Disassembling and skinning the body of a prized pet was unimaginable. Besides, why would he do that on the night before the engagement ceremony?
Looking around the hall with disdain, Tae-jun said, “I need some quiet. Call me when the atmosphere is a little more to my liking.”
“You mean empty and silent?” Lee said playfully, but when Tae-jun’s face remained stoic, he added, “But we are having a party right now!”
Tae-jun shrugged before saying, “It seems like someone would still enjoy this party without me.” He pointed to someone and Jae-won Lee tuned to see who it was.
A couple of meters from them, in the centre of the hall, Si-yeon was enjoying champagne with her chin up. Draped in an Oscar de la Renta, she flashed the brightest smile and basked in the attention she was being showered.
When Jae-won whipped his head back to address the man he was talking to, Tae-jun’s broad, retreating back was already facing him. Left alone so suddenly, he could only massage his temple in annoyance. He didn’t even wait to listen to what I had to say!
“What just happened?”
“Mr. Lee, what’s going on with the CEO?” And just like that Jin-wook Jeong was in front of him.
“Nothing. Don’t mind him. He’s always moody around this time of the year.”
Every year, around this time of the year, the Seoin Group of Companies held its annual event; only this time clubbed it with the engagement. And every year, Tae-jun attended it with the same vapidity and loathing veiled by his insouciance. But there came a time when it all changed drastically, and it was still fresh in Lee’s memory.
Four years ago, his cousin had fallen seriously ill. It was quite bizarre since Tae-jun had always been healthy as a horse. In fact, since they were kids, he was the one who rarely contracted cold and fever. He had a sound immune system.
He was sulking and utterly desolate. Life seemed to be sucked out of him. Thus, his illness was only an eventuality. Noticing the sorrow that was plaguing his grandson, Chairman Seo placed a shadow next to Tae-jun to get to the bottom of it all. And it was not long before the truth came to light—Tae-jun had a woman who died in an accident.
All the family members were anxious that he would follow the precedent of his father, Jeong-hoon Seo, who went crazy over women, abandoned his family, and even died.
Fortunately, Tae-jun returned to his usual self, as if nothing had happened. But once a year, he would be sick and distant like this. Like what his father did, he’d isolate himself and avoid everyone… he was mourning. The wound caused by the woman’s loss had never healed.
Jae-won asked Ji-wook while he was at it. “You said you didn’t know the woman either. Are you certain?”
“I’ve told you before. I don’t know anything about it. He’s such a private person, keeps things to himself.”
In particular, Tae-jun’s secretary, Jin-wook Jeong, had been by him for almost two decades. Though they belonged to the same company, there was an implicit rule to never mix business with personal affairs. Hence, employees never intruded on each other’s territory.
About the woman, as much as he could, he’d always kept his mouth zipped.
What kind of woman was she? Jae-won Lee could only sweep his hair away. Years passed, and he still had not found an answer to this question. What was she like?
To Jae-won, even if he had grown beside him, Tae-jun had always been an object of awe. Since their growing years, this cousin had baffled him even in the most prosaic matters. And all along, his admiration for him had only deepened.
Tae-jun was Chairman Jung-ho’s Seo only “Seo” grandson. Since childhood, no matter what, he had never been swayed or touched nor had he ever revealed his feelings. Thanks to his strict upbringing and the immense pressure weighing on his young shoulders, he was the epitome of apathy.
As such, Lee would often wonder if Tae-jun even had a heart. If so, was the blood flowing properly? And, was it red?
It was only natural to be curious about the woman who captivated such a man. After all, it was the first time his cousin had shown emotions.
Jae-won’s gaze rested on the vivacious women at the centre of the hall. He looked torn as he quietly watched Si-Yeon who was oblivious to her fiancé’s absence.
Upon leaving the banquet hall, Tae-jun received a call from one of his subordinates.
“There is no need to negotiate further with them. Yes, I’ll step in if it gets more complicated. That’s how we must deal with it,” he said with a slight sneer.
It was not an easy problem as three competitors were vying for the same new sites as the pharmaceutical company. It was a dog eat dog world, and ruthlessness was the byword. Tae-Jun was a capable leader, not just because he was honed to inherit the mantle, but also because he had the innate capabilities.
Even so, someone as nonchalant as him, couldn’t evade stress. By the time he came to the end of the call, he craved cigarettes; so he fished one from the inside pockets of his tux.
As he tried to light the tab in his mouth, he soon remembered the hotel’s rules about indoor smoking, his hand ceased in motion. His patience was at its limits.
I’m getting sick…
Throughout the evening, Tae-jun had been forced into little chats, walking around like an exhibit. He had endured it as much as he could, just for the sake of maintaining the darn image. Now, he was feeling suffocated, his chest seemed to be clogged.
I need to get some fresh air and clear my head.
Even though it was quite late, the lobby was still teeming with guests, attendants, and the press.
He got off the elevator with his trademark nonchalance and set foot in the lobby. Right at that moment, a woman brushed past him, talking on her cell phone.
Irritated, Tae-jun turned to her. However, his eyes widened when he caught a glimpse of the passing woman’s profile. Her voice chimed in his ears…
His gaze was glued to her back. Great disbelief hitting him at once.
A tall woman, her long hair tied in a single braid that ran down her skinny back, wearing an expressionless face exited the hotel.
It’s her. No, it can’t be!
However, before he could regain his senses, the name of the woman he lost years ago escaped his lips.
Hye-yeon Jin… He’d never thought he would hear himself say this particular name again.
The doubtful tone soon changed to a desperate shout.