My plan was to drive to the terminal where we could take a bus back home, but instead, the car drove past the terminal and kept going in a different direction. I realized this once the car entered the freeway.
Are you thinking it took me way too long to realize that? Well, I disagree.
“Sunghoon, Sunghoon! What is that over there?!”
Because I was preoccupied with Rangii, sitting on my lap like a tyrant on her throne, as she bombarded me with questions on every single fascinating thing she saw.
“That’s called a train and it’s like what we’re riding in right now, but the simplest explanation is that a bunch of cars are put together and go on a fixed road.”
“Ohhh! So that’s what it is!”
She was amazed since the moment the car started moving. What’s this? What’s that? She always asked me those questions even though Saehee was available, leaving me unable to spare even a thought for anything else. And because there were fewer new things to look at after entering the freeway, I was able to ask Saehee a question.
“Hey, I want to know something. Where are we going right now?”
“We are going to the Young Master’s kennel.”
I’m not such an impatient man that I would reply in anger with, “Did you just call my house a kennel?!” Instead, I leaned in towards Saehee and spoke in a hushed voice.
“Isn’t this a chauffeur service? Didn’t it cost a lot? Do phantoms have a lot of money?”
Saehee ignored my concern for her spending and spoke in her usual tone.
“There is no need to lower your voice, Young Master. The one driving is aware of our true identities.”
Surprised, I looked at the driver. The driver who initially looked like a harmless older man suddenly looked like a middle-aged phantom.
“Are phantoms these days able to get driver’s licenses?” I asked him.
“Hahah, I’m a normal human.”
The driver laughed whole-heartedly, and I looked back and forth at the driver and Saehee.
“We have lived on this land for over four thousand years. Since ancient times, the leaders of humanity knew of our existence, and we have received assistance from them in various ways.”
“…That’s hard to believe.”
“Should we lose our tempers, their positions would be endangered. If the Master were to leave the mountain, something of that magnitude would be child’s play.”
Isn’t it a bit disingenuous to make it sound like they’re helping you willingly?
“You’re saying such scary things as easily as ever, Saehee-nim. And that’s why we work to create a satisfying environment in the present for the greatest phantoms.”
Affable lines formed around the driver’s eyes.
“Though I don’t believe I’ve ever seen that little kid before…”
“I’m not a little kid!”
Rangii lost her temper and shouted. She’s definitely a little kid. The old man laughed loudly and acknowledged her words.
“Haha, please excuse me, young lady. But what kind of phantom are……”
“Since when did we give you permission to open your mouth, human?”
The air stood still at her scornful, pointed voice. This naturally caused me to freeze as well, and Rangii tapped my arm, playing with it. While I was stuck like that, the driver calmly replied.
“Ah, please excuse my rudeness. It just seemed like you were in a better mood than usual. I will focus on driving.”
Please do that, old man. Unlike the him, I don’t have a lot of experience with phantoms, so if things like this happen often enough, I’ll end up with bodily problems. Like in my heart. Like in my heart. Like in my heart.
“Saehee, Sunghoon’s gotten all hard!”
“In times like this, you should stroke his body with both your hands.”
Ah, I just noticed something. Saehee hasn’t called Rangii Master even once since earlier. Is that why Saehee was intentionally ignoring Rangii’s questions? In case she accidentally called Rangii Master? Is that why she got angry just now as well?
…The thought ‘is Rangii’s leaving Jirisan actually a big deal?’ melted away like snow on a summer’s day as Rangii fidgeted with my chest and stomach with her hands.
“What do you think you’re doing?!”
“Ah, you’re back to normal.”
Rangii let out an unidentifiable low grumbling sound and leaned her face against my chest.
“Since Sunghoon’s body has gotten softer, I’m going to try to sleep for a bit.”
What’s gotten softer, huh? I’m always a soft man.
“Sleep when we get there.”
That’s too quick! Is she pretending to be asleep? But seeing her right now with her eyes closed, sleeping happily, I’d feel sorry to wake her up even if she was pretending. I had no choice but to leave her be.
I sighed and lowered my voice so I wouldn’t wake her up.
“Really, stop being so spoiled.”
Rangii’s tail danced a little.
Are you really asleep?
My dad is a novelist. He has enough of a fanbase to eke out royalties, but he’s a terrible author whose poor sales mean he can barely afford to take care of himself. This means we rely on Mom to pay for the majority of our household expenses. Thankfully, she has a very high income, so my family can afford our own house in Seoul with a small yard outside. We may not be rich, but I always thought we were happy in our own way. Except…
“What a tiny house.”
Don’t insult someone’s house, you brat. Rangii said something incredibly rude the moment she saw my house, and I grabbed her by the ears atop her head and squeezed them to a 3/4 beat.
“You little brat, what do you think you’re saying about my house?”
Of course it’s small compared to grandpa’s estate, but do you have any idea how hard it is to keep a house like this in Seoul?
“Ow-ow-ow-ow-ow!! I-I’m weak in my ears!”
She looked like she was in serious pain, so I let go. Rangii protested while feeling her ears with her hands.
“But if Saehee and I are going to live with you while we raise our kids, it’s clearly too small!”
Huh, is that so? Based on what Rangii said, it’d be my family of Dad, Mom, and me, along with Saehee and Rangii, making it five people. Add to that kids, and it’d be seven at least, so the house really is too small…no, that’s not right!
“There is no need to worry, Master. By then I will have saved up enough for the sake of the Young Master who is too incompetent to own a house.”
That day won’t come, so there’s no need to make such a plan. I pushed aside talking with these weird phantoms for later and rang the doorbell.
“Whoa! It made a fascinating sound. What is that?”
Rather than answer, I looked at Saehee. Saehee avoided my gaze. She did it so naturally that I almost didn’t realize she deliberately looked away. Does that mean you want me to talk?
“It’s called a doorbell. You use it to tell the people in the house that you’re there. In your case, it’d be like having a servant say, ‘I’m here,’ but instead, it’s a machine.”
“Ah, so that’s what it is?”
Rangii nodded and stared at the door.
“But why isn’t anyone coming out to greet us?”
That’s exactly what I’m thinking. Why isn’t anyone opening the door? Maybe they went out for a bit? It’s not that I don’t have a key, but it was a pain to have to take it out. While grumbling to myself, I opened my backpack, got the key, and opened the front door.
“I guess nobody’s home. Let’s go inside.”
“Ah, wait a second.”
At Rangii’s words, I stopped before the threshold to the yard.
“It appears that there is no protective magic around the house.”
Well, of course. There’s no way there would be. Or, what, do you want me to get a shaman to perform an exorcism?
“Isn’t it common sense to feel uneasy when in a house like this?”
I never imagined there would be a day when you’d talk about common sense.
“In that case, I’ll lay down the most minimal defense.”
While saying that, Rangii plucked out a strand of hair and blew. I felt an inexplicable sense of worry, and it turned out I was right to do so.
This may be sudden, but do you like tigers? Because right now I’m not talking about the tiger phantom who’s puffing out her modest chest with an ehem~ but real tigers. I like them. They’re cool, fearless, and look impressive. But that’s only when they’re on TV or in a cage at the zoo; when a tiger’s prowling around your front yard, it’s not the same!!
The tiger roared. The idle thoughts that cluttered my mind flew off into the heavens, bringing me back to face reality. I put my hands on Rangii’s shoulders.
“Hey. If my eyes are working properly, then it looks like one of your hairs transformed into a tiger.”
“That’s right. Now we’ll be safe.”
I tried to follow the sage wisdom that patience is a virtue and keep myself from hitting Rangii on the head.
It didn’t work.
“What about this is safe?!”
“Why’d you hit me?! If anyone comes to our house and tries to do evil things, then this child will…”
“I know BS when I hear it!!”
Surprised that her bragging led me to yell at her, Rangii yelped and her hair stood on end.
“How do you think it’s okay to keep a tiger in the middle of Seoul?! Did it run away from the zoo? Do you want to go on the Nine O’Clock News?!”
A Tiger in the Heart of Downtown! Do you want me to end up with a mosaic blocking my face and a machine altering my voice, you brat?!
“S-so this won’t do?”
“Of course not!”
“But I thought that since there are lots of tigers in Seoul, one more wouldn’t make a difference…”
Even during the time when Seoul did have a lot of tigers, I think having a tiger act proudly as a guard wouldn’t comport with common sense.
“All the tigers in Korea have already gone extinct. You can only see them in zoos now!”
Rangii’s face paled.
“N-no way. How such a thing happen to my kin?”
…Ah, that’s right, she’s a Tiger. I didn’t think that because she was the same species, she’d be shocked at the tigers dying out. That was my mistake. So, with Rangii on the verge of tears, I patted her head and spoke in my most comforting voice.
“I-I know that it’s terrible, but this happened a long time ago. I’ll teach you about it after I study history…”
“Then there is no helping it. Even if I must pull out all my hair here, I will make it so that my kin thrive upon this earth.”
Just who the hell was I worrying about?
“Don’t! Just don’t!!”
Are you planning on releasing a pack of tigers in Seoul? Also, if you pulled out all your hair and became bald, you’d look…no, that doesn’t matter. Since Rangii’s a phantom, a small change in appearance wouldn’t cause any problems at all.
I let myself get a little off topic, but I’m bringing us back to the tiger that’s yawning as it sprawls lazily across the lawn.
“First thing’s first. Do something about that thing. Are you trying to get me in trouble?”
“Hmm. Then there’s no helping it.”
Rangii lowered her body and snapped her fingers. Where there was once a tiger was now a tiger cub…
“Now there’s very little difference in appearance from a cat. This should be enough to…”
“Are you kidding?!”
I squeezed her ears really hard.
“Awoooo. Sunghoon’s a meanie. I did this all for you, so why are you bullying me?”
Rangii, who just turned the tiger back into a strand of hair, hugged herself to Saehee’s chest as she glared at me. She looked adorable, like a kid who went to her mom—I mean older sister—after being punished. Although that’s really what happened. (tn: sister can also mean a woman who is older than you.)
“Master. Although it is a pity, the Young Master is correct.”
“But what if…”
What’s going on? Saehee cut Rangii off.
“Do you remember what the Young Master said before we arrived here?
Rangii stopped whatever it was she was about to say and nodded. …What did I say again?
“Thus, there is no problem with us doing nothing.”
Rangii’s tail swayed from side to side.
“But isn’t Sunghoon a normal human?”
“He is the one who accepted you, Master.”
“Is a human’s strength not measured by the strength of his heart?”
“Yeah. That’s right!”
“But if you are worried, I will lay down some small spells.”
At those words Rangii nodded her head.
It feels like you two are talking about me while also ignoring me completely, so when can I join the conversation? Although the truth is I don’t want to join in. Could a human’s strength not be the strength of his heart after all~?
I gave up on joining the world that was their world of conversation and I opened the front door. Someone naturally followed me.
I intentionally raised my voice as I entered, but it was strangely quiet in the house. If Dad were here, he’d have said:
“You brat. So you fell for my trap!”
And if Mom were here, she’d have said:
“Well aren’t you late, my son?”
They would have said something like that, but…could it be? I opened the shoe cabinet. Dad’s sneakers weren’t there. Neither were Mom’s business shoes! I took off my shoes and entered the living room. My eyes fell on the large sheet of paper on the living room table. I held up the paper and read the message written on it.
“Something urgent came up so I’m leaving the house for a week. I’m taking your dad with me, so take good care of the house and have Rangii sleep in my room. And don’t go and carelessly make me a grandmother, got it?!”
“I want to become a mother soon.”
I ignored Rangii who was peering over my shoulder and took out my cell phone. Although I thought of Narae the second I opened saw my phone, I decided to take care of the most urgent problem first. It wasn’t that I was scared of Narae’s reaction, but my mom was acting like a total…no, if I were to accidentally use such a word on Mom for real, I’d end up in a world of hurt, so I should use family-friendly words. Since the first thing I’m going to do is call my mom who was absent due to her work.
[The number you have called is currently out of range…]
How far away do you have to be for the signal not to reach? I called Dad.
[The phone you are calling is currently off, so please record your……]
“Why do you look so frustrated?”
Rangii poked me in the belly as she said this. You can only say that because you don’t know the crap situation I’m in.
“The Young Master is contemplating what wicked things he will do to the Master because his mother and father are gone.”
“I’m not, okay? Besides, you’re here, too!”
“Am I also a target?”
“Don’t look at me with such obvious disgust! That’s actually hurtful!”
“As you wish, Young Master.”
I never thought I’d live to see the day when I’d find Saehee’s expressionless face to be one of warmth and kindness.
“In that case, I shall go unpack the luggage.”
Saehee held the bag in both hands and walked past me. I wondered how Saehee knew here Mom’s room was when this was certainly her first time here, and she opened a door. Except it wasn’t the door to Mom’s room.
“Hey! That’s my room!”
I yelled out in an attempt to stop her.
“I am aware of that.”
Saehee admitted the intent behind her crime.
“The strong stench of chestnut flower emanating from this room told me that.”
She just stomped on a delicate adolescent boy’s emotions.
“W-w-what are you saying?!”
“Why would there be the smell of chestnut flowers? Are you growing a chestnut tree in your room?”
How should I respond to Rangii, who asked that question entirely innocently with a question mark above her head? Of course, my worries were unnecessary.
“When a man becomes sexually aroused, he…”
“Hey! Have sex-ed when you two are by yourselves!”
The heck does she think she’s saying in front of me?!
“It is by hiding such things that one becomes a sexual deviant like the Young Master.”
As convincing as she made that ridiculous statement sound, in response, I took up my battered adolescent boy’s emotions in an attempt to fight back.
“It’s not something to hide, but it’s not something to talk so openly about either!”
“What’s wrong? What in the world are you talking about for your face to get so red?”
In the midst of this chaos, Rangii looked back and forth at Saehee and me, an innocent, clueless expression on her face. I was digging my own grave. I should try and get out of this situation before anything else.
“This is the room you two will be using. It’s my mom’s room, so don’t mess with anything in there!”
I pointed at my mom’s room, the one diagonally across from mine.
“I’m going to go wash up while you’re unpacking, so don’t do anything weird.”
I kindly took Saehee’s bag, put it in Mom’s room, and went to the bath…actually, I was about to go when I noticed Rangii staring intently at me. So I put my washing on hold and asked her:
I thought she was going to ask if she could use the bathroom first or something, but what she said shocked me to my very core.
“Why do you constantly wash away your scent so pointlessly?”
“Isn’t it inconvenient to wash so that your scent goes away?”
“…Explain to me what’s so inconvenient about it.”
“Your scent is used as a warning to those that enter your territory.”
Ah, so that’s what she meant.
I realized that my impression of Rangii up until now was mistaken. I had thought she was a kid who didn’t know anything about the world, but she isn’t a kid. She’s just an animal. A wild tiger.
I never imagined she wouldn’t understand the concept of bathing.
“Let me ask you this. Does that mean you didn’t take a bath yesterday?”
“Do I have to?”
“Okay. That’s enough.”
With Rangii’s sparkling eyes looking up at me, I gave up on talking to her about this and decided to speak to her guardian.
At my scream, Saehee stuck just her head out of my mom’s room and replied with her eyes on me.
“What is the matter, Young Master?”
“Teach her the importance of bathing! Right now!”
“As I have no need to bathe, I am unaware of the importance of bathing.”
Hey, is that something for a woman to say? Ah, the truth is that, in terms of sheer age, she was an old ha…
“Young Master? I must inform you that it is very easy for me to guess what you are thinking with that wrinkleless brain.”
She’s psychic. She’s a ghost and a psychic.
“Whatever, just bathe Rangii!”
“The Young Master can do that himself.”
“Why don’t you?”
“I am busy. And also…”
Saehee spoke with the most serious expression I had ever seen.
“If I get water on me, I get wet.”
Ah, that’s true. I understood. So I’m the one who has to wash Rangii. There’s no helping it. Then…wait.
“The heck does that mean?!”
“If I make contact with water, my body gets wet.”
Of course you’re going to get wet if you touch water!
“No, I mean, what are you trying to say?”
“That if I touch water, I get excited.”
Okay. I now understand what she’s saying.
“Are you screwing with me?”
“It is the truth.”
Maybe I should pour a bucket of water on her.
“And so, I shall continue what I was doing.”
Saehee’s head went back into the room. If she doesn’t want to do this so badly, then I can’t force her. I’m definitely not saying this because she scared me when she looked at me threateningly with that emotionless face.
But even if Rangii’s a tiger, at this age she probably knows how to bathe herself. On the off chance, I asked Rangii:
“Do you know how to bathe yourself?”
“I took baths often in my spirit form. First I put saliva on my front paws like this……”
I grabbed then lowered Rangii’s hands after she licked her hands. As a human being—as a civilized man—I couldn’t bear to allow this to continue.
“I get the picture. So does that mean you’ve never taken a bath in human form?”
“That’s right! How’d you know?”
This wasn’t something I wanted to know. This meant that I was the one who had to bathe her. But no matter what Rangii truly is, right now she’s a girl. Something about having a high schooler bathe a kid who looks like she’s in the third grade is dangerous. At the same time, if I don’t do this, then she won’t take a bath for the entire time that she’s in human form. Or I could actually let her continue her cat bath. That…wouldn’t be okay.
Yeah. I should think of it like that. I’m not giving a little girl a bath, I’m giving a tiger that hates baths a bath. Yeah. She may look like a girl, but on the inside, she’s a tiger…I mean, I am bathing Rangii.
I am giving a tiger a bath.
I went behind Rangii’s back and lifted her up by her armpits. Rangii’s tail stuck fast to her belly.
“W-what are you doing?”
“Time to take a bath.”
“Ehhh? Why now? I don’t need a bath.”
“Okay, okay. But I do, so just do it with me.”
“S-Saehee! Say something to Sunghoon!”
Saehee didn’t answer. Ah, it’s hard to hold her up when she’s struggling.
“Stay still, you brat.”
“This is just a spirit body, so I don’t need a bath!”
Hm? That was actually pretty persuasive.
“Despite being a spirit body, the spirit bodies of great phantoms such as yourself are already similar to physical bodies, Master. Your body will get dirty just like a human’s.”
Unprompted words came from the other room. With her fur on edge, Rangii shouted back.
“Saehee, damn you! Are you betraying your master?!”
“This is for your sake, Master.”
“But I don’t want toooowaaaah!!”
There was no reply. So you’re ignoring the words of Rangii, your master? Aren’t you being a bit petulant? Saehee aside, Rangii was clearly against taking a bath even though she needed one. I wasn’t going to let her weasel her way out of this. I immediately grabbed Rangii, who was furious at Saehee’s betrayal, and brought her into the bathroom. I put Rangii down, locked the door, and proceeded to undress. Rangii was watching me do that with a sullen look on her face.
“What’re you doing?” I asked. “Are you going to take a bath with your clothes on?”
“…Why is everyone around me trying to make me miserable?”
“We’re not trying to make you miserable; we’re doing this because we care about you. And just so you know, I hate girls who don’t bathe.”
I casually ignored Rangii’s pouty whining.
“More importantly, get undressed.”
“…Isn’t showing your naked body to others embarrassing?”
After what happened before, that’s not really for you to say.
“If a girl your age had something called common sense, then I’d be embarrassed. But right now, I see you as an animal, not a girl, so there’s no problem.”
Though if anyone saw me like this, standing tall with not a part of myself covered, I’d be labeled a pervert.
“You said another hurtful thing.”
What can I do if it’s the truth?
Rangii, apparently done whining, began to undress layer by layer.
“Put your clothes on top of the drawer.”
While Rangii was undressing, I turned on the water and got the temperature right. Well, it’s summer, so it should be okay for it to be a little lukewarm. And when I got it right…
“I took everything off.”
I heard Rangii’s voice. I turned around and saw Rangii standing with not a single piece of clothes on her just like the first time we met. She unbraided her hair and it fell strangely to cover certain necessary parts of her. Unfortunately, this phenomenon caused my imagination to run unnecessarily wild. …Well, since the one I’m looking at is Rangii, it’s not like it matters to me one bit.
Her exposed skin, the parts not covered by her silvery-white hair, glowed with what I could only describe as the youthful qualities of a child. Almost like a baby’s. Her skin looked so soft that I felt as though I would leave teeth marks on her skin if I were to bite her a little. That aside, I was a little surprised to find that Rangii actually had curves. Her chest was just barely beginning to develop, and her hips curved in so that her butt looked a bit more…no, just what am I doing, staring so intently at Rangii?
“What am I supposed to do now?”
I was about to tell her to sit down when I realized something. There was only one bath stool in the bathroom. I couldn’t let her sit on the floor, and it’d feel off to stay standing. I was naked, so if I stayed standing during the bath, then while she was sitting, Rangii might accidentally touch my big magnum…I mean, my important bits. If I had known this was going to happen, I would’ve at least brought a towel. No, going this far only to do that would mean defeat. I have no idea where this defeat would stem from, but it’d still be defeat. I’m going to wash this naked girl while I’m naked. But I don’t feel embarrassed. It’s not even weird. She’s just a simple tiger!
…Yeah. She’s Rangii. A tiger. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about!
“I’ll wash you, so sit here.”
I spoke while slapping my thigh.
“…Sometimes, I’m not sure what kind of human you are.”
And I have absolutely no idea what kind of phantom you are.
Rangii trotted towards me before sitting atop my thigh with her back to me. Her long hair tickled where it touched me.
But you brat, why’re you spreading your legs? Given the way the human body is designed, it was natural for her to keep her legs spread when she was sitting on my leg, but something about her position seemed incredibly dangerous…
Meh, whatever. I should just focus on giving this brat a bath.
I turned the showerhead so that lukewarm water fell onto Rangii’s head, when…
Rangii practically screamed as her fur stood on end, her tail sticking straight up.
You mean this is hot? But I thought I made it pretty lukewarm. Could it be because kids have sensitive skin? I made the water a little colder.
“Is this okay?”
“Y, yeah. It’s okay.”
What a relief. But her long hair seems like it’ll take a lot of work to wash. I pushed down on the shampoo pump several times and lathered it over her hair.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going to wash your hair so close your eyes. It’ll sting if it gets in your eyes.”
I didn’t pay attention to Rangii’s reply and continued my work. Bubbles appeared, and I moved the suds down until I squeezed the ends of her hair.
“It smells weird.”
“I told you to close your eyes.”
I moved my hands back to her head, and, thinking I might as well give her a scalp massage, I began squeezing with my fingers.
“Uwaaa. It feels really good.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
Rangii relaxed her body completely and leaned her back against my chest. Thanks to that it got a lot harder to wash her hair. But still, it didn’t feel bad. Because this meant she was willing to entrust her body to my hands. Plus, it was better than her jumping around.
I more-or-less washed her hair so now all that’s left are her strange ears, but… I figured it’d be okay to wash them just like her hair, but when I pressed against the base of her ears, I triggered a catastrophe.
“Unyaa?! I-I’m sensitive there—kyaheeng! Eyes! My eyes! It stings, it stiiiings!”
She opened her eyes in surprise and, in a 2-hit combo, the shampoo went into her eyes, causing her to struggle and slip off her chair to land butt-first on the floor before I could catch her. Ouch, that looked like it hurt. Before Rangii had the time to register the pain, I set her once again on my lap and grabbed her flailing hands to stop her from rubbing her eyes. You have shampoo on your hands, so rubbing your eyes will only make it worse! Rangii understood my intentions differently
“Uwaaang. Sunghoon is, Sunghoon is being naughty. Uwaang.”
Meanwhile, the area she’s sitting on can also be called naughty.
If someone saw me like this, I’d commit suicide.
“Don’t say something so easy to misunderstand!”
I hugged Rangii around the waist, forcing her to sit up, before immediately turning on the water. I poured water from the showerhead onto Rangii’s face, then rubbed her eyes myself. Rangii then stopped crying. Whew, looks like the most urgent crisis was averted. To prevent a second disaster, I flipped her hair back so that it wasn’t in her face and spoke to her.
“Hey, you brat. I told you not to open your eyes.”
I saw Rangii pout through the reflection in the mirror.
“It’s not my fault! You were the one who thoughtlessly touched the base of my ears, wasn’t it?!”
“I bet you’re the first per…I mean, first phantom to ever pitch a fit over getting her ears touched.”
“When we change into human form, we become sensitive there, so you’re wrong, Sunghoon!”
…Is that so? So that’s universal in phantoms. I gained useless information.
“Fine. I’m sorry, so let’s rinse your hair. Make sure to keep your eyes shut. If you open them, it’ll sting just like before.”
The pain of the soap getting in her eyes must still have been fresh in her mind, because she tensed up her whole body as she kept her eyes shut. There’s no need to be so afraid.
I brought the showerhead above Rangii’s head again. I ran my fingers through her hair to wash away the shampoo. Great, this should do it. I moved Rangii’s hair back again.
“You can open your eyes now.”
“Huwa. Taking a bath in human form felt unexpectedly good.”
“Well that’s a relief.”
“Please do this for me tomorrow as well.”
“You can’t see tomorrow from today.”
“What does that mean?”
It means I don’t care whose body gets wet or not tomorrow.
“More importantly, I washed your hair, so now let’s wash your body.”
“Hm? We’re not done?”
“Were you planning on leaving after only washing your hair?”
You need to wash your body too.
I wetted the shower towel and rubbed several pumps of body wash on it to create a lather. Rangii must not have noticed them while I was washing her hair because she had her eyes shut, but she stared at the bubbles, thoroughly intrigued.
“It’s very pretty. What is that?”
I need to explain what these are, too?
“Soap bubbles. You rub this on yourself when you’re taking a bath.”
I explained using vocabulary on the level of an elementary schooler’s.
“So these are called soap bubbles? It’s so fascinating how they don’t disappear as quickly as water bubbles.”
Rangii reached out and played with two huge handfuls of soap bubbles. She apparently liked the slippery texture because she laughed, going ehehe like a little kid. No, she wasn’t laughing like a little kid, since she was a little kid. I blew on the soap and while Rangii was preoccupied with the bubbles flying from her hands, I grabbed Rangii’s arm and rubbed the shower towel against her arm.
Huh? Why’d she suddenly shout like that? Rangii grimaced and pulled back her arm, then she turned her head back to look up at me.
“What are you doing all of a sudden?! It hurts!”
“…I’m giving you a bath.”
“Then why was it so painful?”
No, no. It couldn’t have been painful. It wasn’t like she was taking a shower after surgery. I rubbed the shower towel against my arm. It was nothing. I grabbed Rangii’s wrist again and pushed it softly.
“Ow-ow-ow! Didn’t I tell you it hurts?!”
Rangii’s skin turned red.
…Is this for real? Do I really have to believe that her skin is so sensitive that rubbing a shower towel softly against her is enough to make her skin red? What phantom has skin like this? Shouldn’t she be at the level where a sword stab would only elicit a response like, “Huh, that left a small scratch”?
“Why would you scrub my body with the tool that makes soap bubbles? Isn’t it obvious that it would be painful to do that?”
“No, this isn’t the thing that makes soap bubbles. It’s called a shower towel, and after making the bubbles, you use it to clean your body.”
Rangii was shocked.
“You mean you clean your body with something so rough? That’s impossible. Is that a lie meant to trick me?”
“What would I get out of tricking you?”
The doubt in her eyes didn’t disappear. Hey, just what the heck do you think I did to you? I dragged the towel over my arm, making sure Rangii was watching. Her eyes remained narrowed. I then rubbed it quickly over my chest and neck. Only then were Rangii’s suspicions assuaged.
“It seems you weren’t lying. But I cannot rub my body with something so rough.”
“…Can’t you just bear with it? There’s that saying that maturity only comes after pain, after all.”
“I’m already an adult!”
No, you’re clearly a kid.
Rangii protested while showing me her red forearm.
“If I bathe using that shower towel thing, then my body will turn this shade, will it not? I don’t want to show such an ugly sight to my future husband! It’s not because it hurts, not in the slightest!”
A great phantom that has lived for over four thousand years threw a tantrum and refused to bathe. Seriously, it’s laughable that this is the tiger from the myth.
But still, Rangii had a point. If it hurt to take a bath, I wouldn’t want to take one either. When I was a kid, I was scared of my dad’s scrubbing towel, too. Since it’s come to this, maybe I should just wash her by hand…
…Huh? Ah, that’s right. I could always do that.
“Then there’s no helping it.”
Rangii began to wag her tail. Hey. It tickles. Stop.
“I’m going to wash you by hand.”
Rangii was stunned speechless, and I spoke to her while openly while rubbing bubbles on my hands.
“That’s perfect, right?”
“N-no. Is there really a need to go so far?”
“I have the bad feeling that if I don’t take this opportunity to teach you how to bathe yourself properly, then something seriously terrible will happen.”
I got the sense that she wouldn’t be staying at my house for only a day or two, so I had to use this chance to thoroughly educate her. For something like this, once should be enough.
“B-but touching me with your hands? Isn’t something like that embarrassing?”
She sure picked a weird time to care about that when she’s sitting naked on my lap.
“I’m not embarrassed.”
Because the one I’ll be washing is Rangii. Yeah. That’s right. I’m doing this to a tiger, to Rangii. The massive tiger phantom whose true form is Jirisan. …I get the feeling that I’m practically committing self-hypnosis, but since it’s the truth, it shouldn’t matter. Yeah. Absolutely no problem. Not a single one. Just don’t think about it.
But what was I thinking about again? Ah, I was going to soap up Rangii.
Using my hands, I began rubbing soap on her.
Rangii was shaking as her fur stood on edge. Her hatred of bathing was almost on the level of a cat’s. With the utmost care, I stroked her body. Starting with her hands, I moved to her arms then her armpits.
“Kyahaha, that tickles!”
I went past her shoulder and around her neck to rub both sides. I got more bubbles then put them on her back.
I was touching her spine, but she let out a weird sound.
“I should hate being washed, but your hands feel so strangely good that my head is going fuzzy. Was taking a bath always supposed to be like this?”
“Well, I heard somewhere that baths cleanse the soul.”
Though I have no idea where I heard that.
“…This might become a habit.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
I got more bubbles, and this time I rubbed them on her front. I stopped for a moment as I got close to her chest, but I resumed. I’m not doing anything weird. There’s nothing wrong with giving that adorable Rangii an enjoyable bath. Yeah.
I felt like I got the core concept wrong, but ignored it. I got the feeling that if I remembered what was wrong, I’d be crossing a river I couldn’t hope to return from.
Her tail stuck straight up, tickling my chin.
“What, does it tickle?”
Rangii nodded, her face blushing red.
Though her breasts are incredibly small, they definitely do exist. Though I can’t help but feel…a little sad that her belly is softer than her chest. Okay, now that I’m done soaping her upper body, all that’s left is her lower half…
No, no. No matter how much I think Rangii is a tiger, there’s no way. No way. There are certain things that one simply cannot do as a human being, and this is one of those things.
She was making noises like she said, and I leaned her back against my chest, hugged her with both arms, and put her down by my side.
She leaned against my chest, her head in a daze like she said, and I hugged her with both arms and put her down next to me.
“There. Wash yourself like that and do the rest yourself.”
“…You’re not going to do the rest?”
Why do you sound so disappointed?
“I need to bathe myself too. Here, this is the body wash. If you press the thing on the top, then the water that makes bubbles will come out, so rub that on your hands and wash yourself.”
Rangii started washing herself with the soap. I felt an abundance of fatherly pride—wait, that’s not right. I was overjoyed to see that Rangii learned something. Maybe this is how a dad feels when watching his kid.
Any paternal sentiment aside, I needed to focus on washing my own body. Just as I was about to rinse my soap-covered body, Rangii sat quietly on my leg, her butt, slippery with soap like the rest of her body, resting in my lap. She didn’t even give me time to say a word about her behavior as she acted as if that particular spot naturally belonged to her. …I was willing to overlook her behavior just this once since she learned to enjoy taking a bath, but there was one thing I couldn’t ignore.
“Why’re you looking at me?”
“I like looking over here more.”
I was generous today.
“Do as you please.”
Well, this actually might not be too bad.
I finished bathing Rangii and even dried with a towel before putting on underwear and a pair of shorts. I looked around for clothes for Rangii to wear when I realized that there was no way Rangii would have known to bring her own clothes.
“Wait there for a bit.”
After effectively telling Rangii to Stay! I opened the bathroom door and called out Saehee’s…what the heck is she doing?
“…Hey, didn’t you say you were busy?”
“Are you using your eyes, Young Master? As you can see, I am busy.”
Saehee was sitting on the sofa, watching an anime on TV. If she were just watching TV, I wouldn’t have gotten this upset, but she had in her hand was one of my dad’s favorite bottles of plum wine and scattered atop the table were two or so more empty bottles of plum wine. She drank from the bottle even as she said that.
…So, what was that? You’re busy?
“You sure look comfortable for someone busy at work.”
“I need information on how the world has changed. My knowledge is already outdated by three years. Ah, this cartoon is funny.”
She looked like a middle-aged lady having a drink after a long day of work…
She’s like a ghost as usual.
“Why did you call for me, Young Master?”
Seeing her expressionless face completely devoid of any intoxication despite drinking two bottles of plum wine, I unconsciously became less upset. Could I be at the bottom of the food chain in this house?
“…Whatever, just give me clothes for Rangii.”
“As you wish.”
Saehee got up from the sofa, went into Mom’s room, and brought out an outfit identical in both design and color to the one Rangii just had on. At this point, I had no choice but to respond.
“Is that all the clothes she has?”
“This makes it easier to animate.”
“…The heck kind of nonsense is that?”
“It is something from a cartoon I just watched.”
At this point, all I could do was pray that she would gain something other than useless knowledge. I took the clothes from Saehee and turned to look at Rangii. And there…
“…Hm? What’s the matter?” she asked.
Rangii was playing with a pair of my underwear—not the pair I had worn earlier, but it was definitely mine.
“Hey. That’s not supposed to go on your head, and don’t put your hand there! And it’s not food, so don’t put it in your mouth!!”
“I-I know that.”
“I was simply curious.”
“Curious about what?”
Rangii looked away. She didn’t say anything. Which meant her being curious was a lie.
“…Let’s just get you dressed for now.”
I handed Rangii the clothes Saehee gave me, but Rangii just blinked those shining eyes and stared at me. Don’t tell me…
“Do you not know how to dress yourself?”
“There’s really nothing you don’t know about me, isn’t there?”
My heart sank in stark contrast to Rangii’s obvious elation. It had only been two days, but I’d already pretty much figured out what kind of kid she was. She was a kid who never received any education on everyday tasks. I opened the bathroom door and shouted for Rangii’s guardian.
I couldn’t even remember how many times I’d yelled her name.
Saehee, the educator and caretaker of Rangii, didn’t even look away from the TV when she answered.
“Did I not tell you I was busy? Have you already forgotten?”
“Don’t give me that! How busy can you be if you’re watching TV while drinking?!”
“I am busy.”
I nearly exploded with rage when I saw Saehee drink from the bottle. But right when I was about to give a harsh reply…
“Is Saehee drinking alcohol?”
Rangii asked this from behind me. Great. I should use Rangii. Though she looks like a little brat, she’s actually a great tiger phantom and the master of Saehee, so she should be able to stop Saehee from giving ridiculous excuses.
“Then that means she’s really busy.”
But Rangii betrayed my expectation beautifully.
“Saehee uses the energy from alcohol to do tiresome tasks. She only ever drinks when she has to do stuff like that, so right now she must be really busy. You shouldn’t bother her over something so trivial.”
Getting you dressed isn’t trivial to me.
“Thank you very much, Master.”
Saehee gave me a sideways glance with a smile on her face. Ah, for some reason, it felt like I was defeated. I should just give up. Birds of a feather flock together. Phantoms are probably like that too. I sighed.
“Can you dress yourself…actually, never mind. I’m wishing for too much from a kid who has underwear on her head.”
“I-I was just curious!”
“Like I said: about what?”
Rangii blushed and kept silent.
“All right, so I’ll get you dressed.”
I kept my gaze as far away from Rangii as I could while I got her dressed. Even so, I found that her clothes were incredibly soft and light. What in the world were they made from? I should ask them when I get the chance. I didn’t know how to braid her hair, so I decided to just leave it. It shouldn’t be a big problem. My empty stomach came first.
“Let’s eat dinner.”
Rangii’s eyes were sparkling. Rangii’s tail moved in waves, up and down.
“If you are finished, I shall prepare dinner.”
Saehee downed another drink, but what she said made me curious.
“What exactly were you doing until now?”
“I cannot answer.”
“What are you, a celebrity on TV?”
“Don’t worry. Everything Saehee does benefits me in the end,” Rangii said.
That “in the end” part didn’t sit well with me. In this world, the ends don’t always justify the means.
Anyways, I didn’t know if she was really doing work or not, but Saehee offered to take time off from her work to make dinner, so I might as well check the fridge. I went grocery shopping the day before going to the countryside, so there should be enough ingredients. I opened the refrigerator door.
There was nothing. It was empty. There was only kimchi, water, and plum wine. I closed the door. I thought about how this could have happened.
Mom. There was no way a huge eater like her would leave anything. But eating three days’ worth of food in a single day seemed excessive. I glared resentfully in the direction Mom was, but of course that didn’t change anything.
Yeah. I’m a man who expects the unexpected. If we’re all out of groceries, I just need to buy some. I have a credit card given to me specifically for household necessities.
“I’m going to go to the supermarket for a bit.”
Rangii’s ears pricked up.
“Are you going to the market?”
I got a bad feeling.
“I want to go too!”
Please spare me. If I take you with me, I’ll look like an old, unmarried lady taking a little kid grocery shopping.
“It’ll only be gone for a bit, so just wait here.”
“Ehhh, no! I want to go, too! I want to see how this world has changed with my own eyes!”
Rangii grabbed my hand and jumped up and down in a tantrum. Ahh, having a kid throwing a tantrum even though I was so young made me feel like a housewife…no, I should think more positively. Yeah. Considering she’s my young bride, going shopping with her makes me feel like a husband…except that’s complete nonsense. The only wife for me is Narae.
Ah. I just realized that I needed to call Narae. Her anger should have died down by now, right? Maybe I should call her today. …I mean, after I deal with Rangii, who’s been sticking to my hand like glue.
“Fine. Let’s go, let’s go. We can just go together.”
Rangii smiled and clung to me. With Rangii hugging me by the belly, I unconsciously patted her head. I mean, I did that because she was just so cute. Seriously.
“Ah, hide your tail and ears for now. You can hide them, right?”
Rangii tilted her head to the side
“Why do I have to do that? I’m proud of these…”
“If you can’t, you’ll have to stay here.”
I came to regret taking Rangii grocery shopping with me not even five minutes after we left the house.
“Sunghoon, Sunghoon! What is that? The power of lightning is running through that strange column!”
“It’s called a utility pole. It brings electricity to every house through wires…”
“Wow. What’s this black thing? Is it a curse meant to weaken the power of the earth?”
“What do you mean a curse? It’s called asphalt, and it’s meant to make it easier for people and cars to move around.”
“Amazing! I never imagined that humans would disregard divine providence to such an extent!”
“You seem pretty happy despite that. Shouldn’t this make you a little sad?”
“Why do you say that?”
Rangii’s beautifully braided hair quickly unraveled and formed into a question mark.
“Please, I beg of you, act like a human when you’re on the street.”
“Isn’t that why I hid my pride and joy, my ears and tail?”
That’s right. Her white tail and ears were hidden, so Rangii just looked like an adorable little girl in eye-catching clothes…except if only that were true. Just the color of her hair was attracting attention from passersby. Because isn’t having silvery white hair with black stripes abnormal? And add to that her cuteness.
The outlandish color of her hair attracted the gazes of the people around us, and it was her cute appearance that cemented their gazes onto her. People would even turn around, stop in their tracks, or say things like “she’s so cute~” “I want to take a photo~” “I want to touch her~” and change direction to walk towards her. Thank God no one actually did any of this stuff.
With Rangii already attracting so much attention, just the thought of her making a question mark with her hair was disastrous.
“Because even like this you’re attracting attention.”
“What does that mean, I’m attracting attention?”
When Rangii tilted her head and looked up at me, I got the feeling that the people who were following us for some reason shouted out “kyaa” or “uwaa.” …I’ll just ignore that.
“Hm? Sunghoon, what’s wrong?”
She asked me while pulling on my hand.
“Am, am I dying of moe?” (tn: as far as I know, this is correct lol)
“Oh my god~ I want to take her with me~”
I can’t hear them. I’ll ignore them. I said I can’t hear them. If I let this continue something bad really may happen so I should tell her the truth.
“It’s because you’re cute.”
“Because I’m cute…?”
Rangii suddenly went poof! and steam rose from her head after she heard what I said. Let me be clear: that was just a figure of speech. Her face blushed bright red.
“D-did you just say that I’m cute?”
“Yeah. You’re attracting attention because you’re cute, so don’t do anything…”
I wasn’t able to finish my sentence. Because Rangii jumped up with unbelievable strength and wrapped her arms around my neck.
“I’m happy! I’m so happy! You’ve finally fallen for my charm!”
I think you’re mistaken about something.
“The hell’s that guy?”
“Should we kill him?”
They misunderstood what was going on as well.
I have no idea what these thoroughly mistaken people might do at this rate. Hey, hey. Your stares are freaking me out. For now, we should run away for the sake of my safety. I hugged Rangii, held her to my side, and…
It feels like I’ve been sprinting a lot lately.
It was right after I was able to escape from Rangii’s impromptu fanclub that I realized something. I had passed the usual supermarket I go to—the supermarket where I collected a ton of points. …This was all Rangii’s fault. Just wait and see if I ever go shopping with you again.
The cause of this situation was already on her feet and gave a carefree response.
“That was fun!”
“Ah, was it?”
I was about to die from exhaustion. Well, it wasn’t Rangii’s fault that I had to run like this…or was it? I decided to ignore the question of whether this was Rangii’s fault or not. Yeah. Because this was the only way I could keep my sanity intact.
That aside, I’d better go to the nearest supermarket and then go back home using deserted side streets. Because otherwise, I’ll probably have to hold her and run like that again. I held Rangii’s hand and continued the conversation we’d been having earlier.
“That aside, isn’t it bad for phantoms like you if humans ignore divine providence like you said? Aren’t you all basically a part of nature?”
“That isn’t the case.”
Rangii’s answer was clear-cut.
“We are children of chaos. If divine providence were broken and corruption increased, this would be a suitable environment for us. If, by chance, the children were to no longer keep themselves hidden as I do, this land would become a bountiful paradise for my kind.”
Paradise for the phantoms? That’s horrifying. The person who’s going to teach her what love is had better show up fast. Otherwise, this land will become a phantom paradise like she said. And the one who was still on the fence about creating a phantom paradise or not then said this:
“…Why is there so much food on the street?”
Having seen plump chickens—I mean pigeons—walking on the street, Rangii began to drool and her once hidden tail pointed skyward…
I immediately grabbed Rangii’s tail.
“Put your tail back, you brat.”
She put her tail back inside her clothes. With her hands covering her butt, she bounced up and down and shouted at me.
“Can’t you touch it a little more gently?!”
“Never mind that. What would you have done if someone saw you stick your tail out?!”
“…Did I do that?”
Rangii laughed, going “heheh,” and scratched her head.
“I had no idea.”
Maybe I should overlook it this time. Since there’s no one around here to have seen her. Instead, I should give her a proper warning.
“Also, you can’t eat the things on the street.”
“I can’t eat them?”
Rangii sounded disappointed, but I drove this point home.
“Those things are dirty. If you eat it, then you’ll get a stomach ache.”
“…I don’t want to get sick.”
I want to know what kind of phantom would get hungry at the sight of pigeons on the street, seriously.
A Mart. It was an overly large market to go to just to buy groceries for dinner, but I was surprised to find how easy it was to shop here. The only problem was that there were so many people. But isn’t there the saying, to hide a tree, hide it in a forest? It was actually a blessing that there were so many people: Rangii attracted much less attention than when there were fewer people.
That was a lie. People’s gazes were so concentrated that they practically stung. I swore to myself that I would never take Rangii with me outside again.
I put a 100 won coin into the slot and pulled out a cart.
“Are you going to ride in that?”
Rangii shared her personal interpretation of my actions. It seems like she came up with that conclusion because kids her age were riding on the carts and their parents were pushing them, but…well, she’s not wrong. But I don’t want Rangii riding in the cart. She’s heavy.
“No. You put your stuff here.”
“Is that so?”
Those two amber eyes were asking me, “Then why are those kids riding on it? It looks like fun, but you’re saying I can’t?”…could this be the phenomenon where a pet can communicate telepathically with its owner?
I doubt it.
“You can ride in it, but only kids do that. Or do you want to get on?”
“I-I don’t. I am not a child, so I won’t ride in it.”
But I immediately regretted my words.
“This! I want to eat this!”
As soon as Rangii entered, she grabbed my hand and dragged me to the deli. She looked like a tiger that hadn’t eaten in three days. I stopped Rangii who was merging with the refrigerator by grabbing her by her waist and moving her back.
“Hey, you dummy. That’s premium meat, premium.”
“Premium? What’s that?”
“It means it’s from cows that were raised in Korea. It’s the same as saying the beef is expensive. And I can’t buy anything expensive.”
“You don’t have enough money?”
The truth is I could buy it. But for housewife-like reasons, I couldn’t allow it. Because I don’t eat this kind of expensive meat even on holidays. …I mean, I’m not a housewife, but still.
“Then what about that?”
Rangii pointed at a different type of meat. It was shank meat meant to be used in stews.
“So you’re okay with anything as long as it’s meat.”
“I like bear meat the most!”
“…But it’s forbidden to hunt bears.”
“Hm? In the place where I lived, Saehee would sometimes catch one and……”
Is the disappearance of black bears in Jirisan your fault? No, back then when she served bear gall bladder, Saehee said something about revenge for the papa bear……
I stopped thinking about it. In this world, ignorance truly can be bliss.
I asked the butcher, who was watching Rangii with contented eyes, for a pound-and-a-half of marinated pork and put it in the cart. If I had time, I’d season it myself, but there just wasn’t time to fully marinate it. Because of my stomach. Okay then, all that’s left is…
“Sunghoon! What’s this? It looks weird!”
With a can of something sugary in my hand, I saw Rangii shouting out my name, and I got the feeling that Rangii would make grocery shopping much more disastrous than normal.
In the end, I decided to put Rangii on the cart. Since I’d rather the cart get a little heavier than for Rangii to become even more excited.
“Don’t move outside of the cart. Stop kicking. Stop shaking the cart. Just stay still, ya brat! Are you a kid?!”
“Ah, so I can’t do this?”
What kind of magic could be within Rangii’s gaze as looked up at me? My anger subsided when I saw Rangii look even a little dejected.
“No, that’s not what I meant. It’s dangerous to do things like that. It’d hurt if you fell from there.”
“That would never happen.”
Having heard Rangii say that so naturally, I felt like teasing her.
With a bit of effort, I tilted the cart to the left!
“Wah! Wah!! Wah!!!”
Rangii was in a daze and grabbed on tight to the cart to not fall off. Uhahaha! This time to the right!
She threw herself to the other side. Uhahaha. You little brat. Are you sure you won’t fall off now?
I was scolded by the old saleswoman.
Having spent 30 minutes buying basic ingredients for dinner, I felt like I was going to collapse right away. Because we created enough of a disturbance to be considered a nuisance to their business. Thank goodness the other shoppers just laughed it off. For whatever reason, Rangii was smiling delightedly.
“Heheheh. That was fun.”
“Is that so?”
I couldn’t say anything to Rangii who looked so happy.
“Let’s go together next time as well. There are so many interesting things.”
My inability to speak became a thing of the past.
“But why not?”
“You see, you…”
You attract too much attention and lack common sense, so it tires me out. I was on the verge of saying that.
Is that an angelic voice I just heard behind me?!
Narae was standing there, wearing a dress that gave off an air of purity and with a small bag over her shoulder. Could this be fate? We didn’t even talk about meeting up together, but we still met, so we must be a fated couple…is what I would think if only she hadn’t sent that text.
“When’d you get back?”
“Ah, just now.”
“I told you to call me when you got back to Seoul.?”
Narae’s glare turned sharp as a knife. Crap. Come to think of it, she did say that. But the text Narae sent was…
[Die. Just die there.] Because of that, I was so scared that I didn’t even think of calling her.
“That’s because I just got back.”
“What’s that in your hand?”
“Ingredients for dinner.”
“And you just came back?”
Is my brain on Rangii’s level?
“No, you see…”
I should apologize. The only answer I can give is an apology.
“I-I’m sorry! I was scared that you’d be angry, so I wasn’t able to call. I’m really sorry.”
Narae went hmph and crossed her arms.
“What could you possibly have been scared of?”
Right now, you look plenty scary.
Are phantoms really the only beings capable of killing someone with just their glare? With my lips feeling dry, I shook in fear, trembling as I tried to think of an explanation.
If I told the truth—that I was too busy with Rangii to call her—then Narae would probably get genuinely angry. Because it’d sound like I was just using Rangii as an excuse. And then help came from an unexpected source.
“Sunghoon, who is this woman?”
Good job, Rangii. So even you can be helpful. I tried to change the subject by introducing them to each other. If only Narae hadn’t responded to Rangii, that is.
“I’m Sunghoon’s friend. Who are you?”
“I am Sunghoon’s fiancée.”
I was mistaken. As if she could ever be helpful. Rangii just poured oil onto a burning house. Even though it was the middle of summer, I felt a chill go down my spine. I messed up. I forgot that this brat thought of me like that. Narae started to tap her foot on the ground, clearly bothered.
“Fiancée? What’re you saying? Since when did you have a fiancée?”
This is the first time I had ever heard Narae’s voice so ominous.
“Also, there was that little girl on the phone who said something about being naked…”
“Uwaaa! It’s not what you think!”
“It’s okay. Even if you are to become Sunghoon’s concubine, I am generous enough to understand.”
Can you not see how I’m trying to defuse the situation right now?
“C-concubine?! What the heck? Seriously, what?! Why would I ever do that?!”
I did my best to hold in my tears after receiving the shock that my ten-plus years of love for Narae was rejected before I could even confess my feelings.
I pulled on Rangii’s hand, widening the distance between her and Narae, and bent down so I could whisper into Rangii’s ear.
“Hey, I’m going to tell her you’re my cousin, so just go along with it.”
Rangii puffed out her cheeks in a pout.
“Why do I have to do that? After all, isn’t it true that I’m your fiancée?”
It’s also true that the fiancé didn’t know he had a fiancée until yesterday.
“If you don’t plan on making more trouble for me, please do this. Okay?”
“…Okay. I do not plan on causing distress to the one who will become my husband.”
Though she had a sulky look on her face, I was relieved to find that she understood. I held Rangii’s hand and brought her back to face Rangii.
“Looks like your secret meeting is over.”
Uwagh. Narae’s pointed remark was hurtful.
“No, it’s not like that. Please listen to what I have to say, Narae-nim.”
Narae glared at me as I told her the lie I had thought up.
“Rangii’s my cousin, and ever since she was younger, she’d follow me everywhere and say things like that. Okay? You know how it goes. It’s like when a kid says ‘when I grow up I’m going to marry Dad~’ ”
You keep quiet. Just think about whose fault it is that I have to make excuses like a guy who was just caught two-timing.
Narae narrowed her eyes. Her eyes looked like that emoticon with its eyes a pair of furious, thin lines. When I joke about it with my friends, I call it her death glare. Narae’s really scary when she looks like that. How am I going to survive this?
“If that’s what you’re saying, then okay. You pretty much never lie to me.”
It looked like the angelic Narae was going to accept my last-minute excuses. Miss Narae, a true angel.
“So, because you’re lying to me, I can’t overlook this. I want to go to your house and listen to what you have to say in detail. That’s okay, right?”
When did she become a fallen angel?
“Um, now’s not a good time. Everything’s a mess, and I’m not ready for guests…”
“That’s. Okay. Right?”
With Narae-nim staring daggers at me, I couldn’t do anything but obey her.
There were two of us when we left, and our party increased to three when we came back. I couldn’t help but sigh at this turn of events.
“She seems too strong-willed to become a concubine. Won’t you reconsider?”
Rangii’s lowered voice brought me back to reality. What I had to think about was where I was going to find Rangii’s true partner. Maybe in an elementary school.
And I forgot that there was one more thing I had to think about.
That’s right. Saehee was at home. Despite her true identity, Saehee looks like someone our age!
Saehee, who was previously doing nothing but watching TV, opened the door for the angry yet also lovely Narae, Rangii, and me. She also helped by guiding us to the table and seating us.
Going in order counter-clockwise, Narae, Saehee, and Rangii sat together with me. Even in this situation, I was a little happy to have Narae sitting next to me in my house after so long. She hadn’t visited once since we entered middle school.
Narae pinched my side. Did she read my mind?
“Shouldn’t you answer my question now?”
I wonder why I can’t say I’m relieved she can’t read my mind?
“Ah, yeah. But it might take a while.”
Narae softly bit her lip. It’s a little habit that she does when she gets angry. That means she’s extremely angry.
“I don’t care.”
Upon seeing not a hint of give in Narae’s face, I thought as hard as I could about how to explain. It’ll probably be best to give a lie as close to the truth as possible.
Yeah. Everything should work out if I tell her that Rangii is my cousin who lived in grandpa’s estate, that Saehee is her bodyguard and caretaker, and that some stuff happened, so Rangii came to Seoul with me.
After coming up with all this within one second, I wondered if I was a clever mastermind.
“I am the Master’s maid.”
Seeing as how Saehee just organized all my thoughts in a few words, I had to wonder if Saehee was a god.
Did you start pinching me harder?
Ah, she’s responding to Saehee’s unusual word choice.
“Who are you calling your Master?”
“It seems you have misunderstood. My master is Rangii-nim. And there is no need to use honorifics to me.”
“But this is the first time we’ve met.”
Although she gets easily misunderstood because of her fierce appearance and harsh tone, Narae is surprisingly very polite. To the point where, even if they look alike in age, Narae feels the need to use honorifics.
“There is no need.”
“There is no need.”
Ah, there it is. Saehee used her expressionless face to force Narae to agree with her. When I was struck by that face, an unidentifiable force made me unable to speak, and I felt that force even though I wasn’t the target of her gaze.
Narae nodded with a bitter look on her face. I wondered if I could finally relax a little after what just happened, but Narae was always a very strong-willed kid.
“But when are you going to explain to me why these girls are in your house, Sunghoon? You weren’t planning on avoiding that topic, right?”
I did plan on that. She got me. I was going to give a pathetic, half-formed excuse when Saehee spoke up.
“At the behest of the Master’s venerable guardian, who had to go on an overseas business trip, we are staying with Young Master Sunghoon, the one whom Rangii got along so well with.”
My mouth fell open. I never imagined Saehee would so skillfully explain this for me.
“I’m having a bit of trouble buying that.”
“That is how it is.”
Narae and Saehee’s eyes clashed in midair. Dang, I really don’t want to be anywhere near them.
“Okay. This seems like a family problem so I won’t pry. Sorry about that, Sunghoon.”
Narae released her hand from my side. Now I just might survive. I didn’t say this before, but my side was hurting all this time. Out of Narae’s sight, I secretly gave a thumb up to Saehee for a job well done when…
“And the Master is the Young Master’s fiancée.”
It seems like I’ll have to reverse the direction of my finger.
I shouted without thinking.
Narae was pinching my side when Rangii said this:
“That’s the truth. Sunghoon is the man that will become my husband.”
Rangii lit a fire…
“Due to the oath sworn by her late father, the Master and the Young Master have been betrothed since before they were born.”
And Saehee fanned it into a blaze.
Won’t someone save me from the midst of this chaos?