Namjoo stubbornly retained the shield around her until Jongin was gone. The door clicked. No more chilly wind running circles through her studio. At last, she was alone. By herself. A frequent place Namjoo had acquainted like a dear friend.
Her lower jaw seemed to clack. The teeth snapping loudly into the upper row. It came slow then in a rush. Namjoo finally covered her face as her shoulders viciously shook.
Her dear brother was still going through so much. Death was proving not to be such a peaceful place for him at all.
At the dinner table, Jongin silently ate. Robotically shoving one spoonful and another into his mouth. On the other side Nagyeom and Jeonghun were giggling. So bubbly. Carefree. His brother living his full life with a wonderful woman next to him.
His brother. Alive. Healthy and well.
Jongin swallowed his food thinking about the report in his briefcase. Kim Chanu was five years older than his sister. He had been a talented student with skills of a baseball player that could have gotten him into university on a scholarship. He wouldn’t have needed to rely on his wealthy parents to fund his high education. An outgoing young man who must’ve been sought after by many girls, liked among his peers. In the summertime he joined the sports camp and spent months away from home enjoying extracurricular activities. Came one day when he tragically ended his life.
The absence of a brother in anyone’s life was always daunting. Especially after many years growing up together. Even fights and arguments become fond memories later in life.
Jongin glanced at his laughing brother. And he was grateful such a man was alive. In difficult times Jongin received immense comfort from him. Sometimes, no words were needed. Like a sixth sense honed between siblings, a thing only possible between siblings. Jeonghun coming to talk to him whenever he was down. Say things like, I’m here for you. Respecting and not probing until Jongin was prepared to share.
True. He was so lucky to have such a brother.
Laying in bed that night Jongin watched the full moon radiate whiteish rays into his room. Remembering the hopelessness on Kim Namjoo’s face. Coming with so much desperation to meet him. Today she had turned him away with a great amount of resentment.
He wondered about the pastor who had been ready to beat her. Her very own uncle.
This construed a very uncomfortable picture in his mind. Once more he thought about his happy brother. Well and alive.
Kim Chanu, dead.
Damn it. He had work early tomorrow. Flinging the covers over Jongin climbed out of bed, dressed, pulled his coat on, and left the house in the middle of the night. Few traffic populated the roads, so Jongin arrived easily at the brown building. Tonight, his car was the only one at the curbside.
Walking right up to the door, Jongin knocked.
“Hello?” he called out when no one answered. “Anyone home?”
He knocked. Pounded the door some more. Jiggled the doorknob without thinking.
“I’ll call the cops if you try that one more time.” A voice made him turn. Beneath the glowing streetlight Namjoo stared at him. A plastic convenience store bag dangled at her side.
“What are you, trying to break in?” she mocked.
“Uh…well…I…” he was tongue-tied. Didn’t expect her to be outside. Since it was like this, there was no solid excuse to make.
Giving him no air to think, she brushed by. “You’re not invited into my house.”
Jongin watched her disappear into the shadows of the alley. Briefly scoured the surroundings. Dim buildings. Gaping windows where on the other side only darkness existed. A landfill of snow stretched around him like glacier. The wind blast past. No other life was breathing. Kind of creeped out he scurried after her. Arriving in time to find her flicking the lights on in the studio that reeked of chemical and paint.
Compared to earlier, Namjoo had cleaned up. Jongin saw two dents in the walls. One he’d made. The other possibly from before him. The broken canvas still sat on her easel crookedly. That was where Jongin’s eyes landed. Observing. Recognizing the shade of his umbrella. The snow shower that day. The trench coat resembling his very own. Bringing his gaze down to his coat to certify it.
The man on the canvas was him.
He watched Namjoo set down the bag of junk and settled crossed legged beside it. Popping open a bag of chips she helped herself. No invite for him. Next, a diet soda can gasped open hissing a light sizzle.
“Do me a favor and close the door on your way,” she said serving him not one glance.
Jongin entered politely shutting the door behind him.
“It’s an hour to midnight, prosecutor.” Namjoo reminded like he may have lost his sense of timing. “To what do I owe your visit at this hour?”
Standoffish. He got that much, but didn’t know why.
Unsure if he should sit Jongin remained standing. Coming up to the canvas he asked, “Did you paint this?”
Namjoo glanced up at him through half lids which could more or less be considered a glare. “What do you want?”
His lips parted. He thought about it carefully. “I was worried, so I’m checking on you.”
Spitting a scoff, Namjoo meanly shut him down. “Don’t bother.”
Perplexed, Jongin started taking a step forward preparing to lecture her about mannerisms. He didn’t. Deducing there was a reason to suddenly putting up a wall Jongin chose not to press.
Tampering her anger laced tone just a notch, she said with clear hints of blame, “You don’t believe me.”
Drawing his lips together he stared down at her. Chips and soda. Junk and sweets in the plastic bag.
“Are you hungry?” he asked.
Namjoo flashed him eyes full of heat. “I don’t want your kindness if you have no sincerity to offer. If you were worried, well, I’m sorry to disappoint. But I’m well and alive.”
Calmly listening he took note of every syllable, hearing the rancid emotions bursting through each one. Kim Namjoo was in a very unhappy place. Jongin would be unwise to meet her head on. He had to stay even-tempered. That was his job and duty.
“I never said I didn’t believe you.” Jongin softly laid it out. “I need you to understand that I’m an outsider. You’ve told me the bare minimum. It’s unlikely I will see the whole picture by reading a few articles. The best I can do for you, is investigate places in the legal system where you’re not permitted. Since I see you’re energetic, I’ll let you enjoy your midnight snack.”
He pivoted. Paused. Sighting the broken canvas again.
He had to. “Can I take that?”
Namjoo’s eyes slid toward the canvas beneath burrowed brows. “It’s trash.”
“Then since it’ll be garbage soon, I’ll take it out for you.” Namjoo frowned the entire time, but didn’t protest when he really left with the painting.
It went right on his desk when he returned home. Leaning lopsided against the wall, but he’d figure some way to fix that. Standing back Jongin took a minute to fully digest