Chapter 3 - Trapped
Woojin wondered whether the three years they spent believing that they were all each other had meant anything at all to her.
He wasn’t that love was something that could change within a day.
Woojin had no way of knowing.
“Why are you still trembling, Shin Woojin? Do you not have any pride? You’ve gone mad.”
Woojin, alone in the office, gritted his teeth. He was experiencing many conflicting emotions like a swirling storm.
* * *
The interior of the reception hall in the annex of Hotel Marlena was the symbol of opulence. The luxurious chandelier and other decor prevented anyone from daring to make contact with any of the objects within. The workers, including Hyein, were already inside, busy preparing for the event.
‘Marlena’s trademark… what a proper description. It’s extravagant.’
Hyein recalled an article that she had read one day. The lavish reception hall was the pride of Marlena. An individual couldn’t make a reservation for this venue unless they were a VIP of this hotel. Despite the strict threshold, it was always completely booked.
How rich were these people to be willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for half a day’s worth of rental fee just to have a meal with their family? It was something that Hyein had never even dreamt of doing.
“There’s a list inside the art catalog. They’re paintings that the Madam likes. Be careful not to forget any of them.”
“Understood. Leave it to me.”
As soon as the curator handed her the catalog, Hyein began cross-checking the actual pieces with the names of the works written on the sheet. They were ink paintings belonging to Korea’s best and most famous painter. The lines were slightly rough, but ironically, they made the painting look dignified. As she observed the paintings, the thought of Woojin with his very sharp impression yet strangely elegant features came to her mind naturally.
‘How could you greet me and ask how I’ve been so casually?’
When he asked her to bring the painting to his office, she had hoped Woojin would clarify what had happened eight years ago. She thought at the very least she would get an apology.
Of course, she had said some cruel words to him on purpose to hurt him as much as possible when she broke up with him. Compared to the pain he had caused her, it was nothing.
She was convinced that Shin Woojin had no guilty conscience for ruining a person’s life and then lying so nonchalantly.
Hyein shook her head to rid herself of any thoughts about Woojin. She finished cross-checking the paintings. At the center of the venue, there was a canvas. She noticed something strange when she stood in front of it. There was something off about the way the paintings were arranged.
Something was not right here…
Hyein slowly stepped back with her head tilted, trying to capture the overall composition.
One step, two steps. All the paintings were gradually within her field of vision. Hyein continued to take a couple of steps backward. As she did so, she lost her footing.
“Huh? Oh, oh…!”
Suddenly, someone had grabbed onto her waist.
The very first thought she had was, ‘I’m still alive!’ If she fell and suffered from a concussion, then…
Hyein saw stars. A refreshing scent tickled the tip of her nose, but she didn’t even recognize it as she was in a state of shock.
“Thank you. Thank you so m-”
Hyein turned around and came face-to-face with Woojin, who was standing there expressionlessly. Naturally, she expected it to be one of her colleagues but they had already left the scene.
Hyein apologized and tried to walk away as casually as possible, but Woojin stopped her. When she walked to the left, he followed. She tried to walk to the right side, but he also followed her. There was nowhere for her to go. Eventually, she gave up trying to escape from Woojin.
“Is there something you’re not satisfied with?”
“Is this how you thank the person who helped you, Ms. Seo? Regardless of whether or not I’m satisfied?”
“I clearly remember thanking you and excusing myself.”
“And then you immediately tried to run away, or did I see something wrong?”
Hyein was at a loss for words. She couldn’t tell what he was thinking about. They were almost like strangers, both unable to understand each other.
“It’s because I’m busy. Please move,” Hyein requested, but as if it went unheard, Woojin took a step closer to her.
“Why are you doing this again?”
Woojin was even more speechless now. Instead, he responded with his actions. He, without any hesitation, approached her. Hyein, as she backed away from him, was driven towards the wall. To make matters worse, her back was close to touching one of the ink paintings. If she were to damage the paintings, she wouldn’t be able to pay for the damages even if she saved up years of her salary.
“Director…! You can’t…”
It wasn’t long before a shadow cast over her face. Woojin’s head tilted towards her slowly. It looked as if he was about to kiss her.
The flustered Hyein shut her eyes tightly, warning him not to come closer.
Before Hyein could react, she could feel Woojin’s upper body near her face. However, even after she stood frozen for a long time, their lips did not touch, and she only heard the sound of his low, heavy breathing. Hyein slowly opened her eyes and saw Woojin tilting his head.
“What are you doing?”
“I’d like to ask you the same thing. Why’d you close your eyes?”
Woojin nimbly removed the long white thread that was on Hyein’s shoulder and stuffed it into his pocket. It seemed to have gotten there while she was moving the canvases.
Hyein’s face turned pale as she watched him, realizing that she had misunderstood him. Her body remembered Woojin’s habit of tilting his head right before he kissed her. She mistakenly thought that was his intention. She realized that there was no way he would do that since they had already broken up. However, Hyein realized that too late.
“I was so surprised because you suddenly came at me.”
“Ah, surprised…” Woojin repeated amusedly.
Woojin’s flat tone made Hyein’s face redden with embarrassment.
“If you have no business with me, please do not hinder me and move aside.”
Hyein, who was stuck in this situation, demanded Woojin to back off. The problem was, however, that he didn’t pay any attention. In the end, Woojin had cornered her to the wall next to the painting and blocked off all her exits.
Hyein looked around embarrassed, then remembered everyone had already left. Eventually, her resentful gaze turned to the man in front of her.
“You’re making me uncomfortable by doing this repeatedly.”
While she complained about her discomfort, his large hand traveled to her collarbone. Woojin seemingly decided to tidy up her uniform. He even removed the thread from the place where her name tag used to be. Hyein’s thick eyelashes trembled.
Woojin said in a languid tone that he didn’t seem to realize, “I recommend reading our hotel code of conduct when you’re free. The uniform is the face of the hotel, so I hope that it’s as tidy as possible.”
She had, of course, planned to tidy herself up once she was done with her job.
Just as Hyein tried to refute him, the door to the reception hall suddenly opened.
Before long, an elegant middle-aged woman appeared. She was beautiful, but the atmosphere around her was as cold as ice.
The both of them, who were practically inches apart, heard the sound of another person’s arrival. They looked at the door at the same time. The woman in high heels stopped in her tracks and stared at the two of them as if she became aware of their presence.
The flabbergasted woman slowly approached the two.
“Are you really dating someone?”
Her tone was filled with heavy criticism. The middle-aged woman stopped before them and inspected Hyein from head to toe. Her displeased look made goosebumps rise on Hyein’s spine.
“She’s right around this height,” the woman’s hand gently brushed past Woojin’s shoulder and headed for Hyein’s crown as she measured her height.
“Pale skin, big eyes, long eyelashes… Would you look at that? She’s quite pretty, eh?”
Afterward, her manicured hands moved to the back of Hyein’s head. Then, in a swift yet powerful move, she loosened Hyein’s ponytail. Hyein’s long hair fluttered down, and her eyes widened in shock.
“Even the length of her hair perfectly matches the description. Is this really the girl?”
When the woman asked, Woojin responded with a puzzled look.
“You describe the same woman over and over again every time you reject the daughters of the prime ministers and officials that I’ve set you up with. To think she’s right here! How could I not be surprised? I thought you only said that to run away. I didn’t think you would be describing an actual person. Darling, come on, won’t you answer?”
“I didn’t realize that the person I was describing was her.”
When he finally replied, the middle-aged woman became rather excited. Her brash gaze was once again directed to Hyein even before Woojin could finish his sentence.
“Young lady, I’m Woojin’s mom. Since this is our first meeting, I have a few questions for you. That’s fine with you, right?”
“Pardon? Oh, uhm…”
The woman took the opportunity to ask Hyein, who was caught off guard by her eagerness, “what do your parents do? Where is your family from? What’s your education level? You don’t look young, so you must’ve studied up until a master’s degree? Since you’re wearing the hotel’s uniform… are you doing some hotel management training here?”
“Are there perhaps any close relatives that I might know? A high-ranking official, maybe? I don’t judge others based on their profession. Specialized skills are, of course, necessary in society. Legal professionals, medical professionals, I accept them all.”
Woojin breathed in deep and shook his head. Then he pulled his mother’s shoulder towards him.
“Mother, isn’t this rude for your first meeting? You’ll run out of breath. The person you should be asking is me.”
“I can’t do that. When I think about how many years I’ve spent worrying about your marriage, I… Let me go!”
Woojin held his mother’s arm firmly and yanked it towards himself. The lady shook him off fiercely. Right then, she raised her hand and swung at Woojin’s face.
A deafeningly harsh slap was heard.
Hyein, who barely managed to hold on to her rationale, assessed the situation carefully. Blood flowed from the corner of Woojin’s lips, torn by her fingernails. At some point, the lady’s eyes were focused on the person next to her.
“Ms. Seo, please leave.”
“I haven’t heard a single answer. Where do you think you’re sending her off to?! Are you ashamed of her? Judging by how that girl carries herself, I can immediately tell. I bet she has nothing. She’s poor, isn’t she? How could you fall in love with a low-level employee under you…!”