Red Mansion Chapter 22

Author: nicotine

“Meow.” A cute meow was heard near the ears. The broad shoulders, buried in the pillow with the face buried, stirred. Laughter, as light as the wind, followed. His voice cracked, probably because he had just escaped from sleep.

“Meow.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

The cat, with thick gray fur, answered while pressing its paws against the soft blanket.

“What time is it?”

Cheongrim, sweeping his disheveled hair, picked up the cellphone on the pillow. It was just past 9 in the morning. There were two missed calls from Sung-kyung. Cheongrim chuckled.

“The children of the new country.”

Reaching out, he stroked Mero’s head for a while, as if the cat understood it as praise. Mero closed its eyes and tilted its head slightly. It seemed to take it as a compliment. Cheongrim continued to gently pet the small creature attached to his palm.

The air conditioner breeze swept evenly over the bare back. Cheongrim stroked the smooth fur a few more times before getting up.

“I’ll feed the cat.”

The small footsteps following closely behind near his ankles were cute. After preparing the cat food and changing the water in the bowl, Cheongrim made a cup of coffee and sat on the sofa. Mero followed him everywhere, meowing and chatting.

“Alright, go eat.”

As they laughed and talked, Mero casually headed to its dining table. The sound of Mero munching on its food was delightful, and Cheongrim swallowed a sip of sweet coffee.

So far, there had been no one as attentive to Cheongrim’s words as Mero. Since bringing it home, there hadn’t been any major accidents, and from birth, it had followed Cheongrim just like that. Occasionally, if there were strangers, it might not come out to greet them, but that was understandable since it was a timid one.

“Take your time eating.”

The back of the head twitched vigorously. Although Mero couldn’t speak, wouldn’t it know? It needed to listen well to survive in this house. Cheongrim gazed at the rounded bundle of fur for a while.

“Oh.”

Then, suddenly remembering something, he raised his upper body, which had been leaning on the sofa. At the considerable movement, Mero turned with a moist mouth. At the words, “Keep drinking,” it obediently lowered its head toward the water bowl. This time, Cheongrim suppressed his movements and reached his hand into the drawer of the living room table.

“Kim Sung-kyung, Kim Sung-kyung…”

He rummaged through envelopes with several names written on them. There was Park Eunho for room 110, and between them was the name of the troublemaker who had messed with Sung-kyung. He hadn’t had a chance to check that one yet. There were not just one or two things to see, and they kept being pushed to the back.

He pulled out a yellow envelope with ‘422 Kim Sung-kyung’ written on it and took out a three-page document. While glancing through the pages, he passed a sip of coffee. Although some time had passed since he received these documents, at that time, he had only confirmed the name and age. He wasn’t particularly curious about information regarding Mart No. 3.

“422 Kim Sung-kyung, 23 years old. No birth registration record.”

Wasn’t it said that he entered the mansion right after birth? It was plausible since he had spent his entire life here. Cheongrim lay on the sofa for a long time, lifting the paper high and reading it aloud. The sound of the cat chewing on its food could be faintly heard.

“For the past two years, operating Mart No. 3 on behalf of parents with deteriorating health. Attached is the record of visits to the hospital for room 109.”

He casually flipped through the paper with an indifferent touch. Detailed records of the expenses and hospitalizations that had been covered with medicine were written. With so much money being spent, was it not enough to borrow more, and that’s why he was doing medicine deliveries?

“Damn, it’s ridiculous. A disease that ends when you die.”

Cheongrim’s father had been the same. They had sought out good medicine and hospitals belatedly, but it had been futile. Some doctors didn’t know the diagnosis, and some said it seemed like a side effect of the medicine. He had also heard that living in Red Mansion for too long could be the cause of the illness. The mansion, where hundreds of people gathered, was full of unhygienic and dirty things. Overcoming an illness that lingered within such a place was impossible. By now, Sung-kyung’s parents were likely experiencing gradually stiffening bodies, and it must have been difficult to maintain a sound mind.

“Enduring well for two years.”

His father hadn’t even lasted six months. Cheongrim casually tossed the paper under the sofa and covered his forehead with his arm, closing his eyes. Tack-tack. The light footsteps of someone stepping on the rug could be heard, and soon, something warm and gritty touched his fingertips.

“What’s this? Did you finish it all?”

Mero licked Cheongrim’s fingertips, which were spread out on the sofa. Cheongrim let the cat do as it pleased. Whether it was expressing gratitude for the meal, Mero licked his fingers a few more times.

“Go play.”

Greenish eyes turned toward Cheongrim. Mero, blinking slowly, meowed and lightly brushed its body against his fingertips. Its tail swayed gracefully, drawing a smooth curve. After displaying a few more cute antics, the furry bundle headed straight to the cat tower near the window. It then climbed to the highest point, elegantly lifting its front paws.

Cheongrim shifted his gaze back to the ceiling. The first thing that caught his eye was the ornate chandelier. Cheongrim’s taste was firm, evident enough for even his twin brothers to acknowledge. Opulent, vibrant, and things that exuded an air of affluence. Everything inside the house reflected that. Even the attire received extra attention. Perhaps it was because he had seen too many pitiful scenes while living in Red Mansion until his father passed away. He detested anything shabby and old-fashioned.

“At the age of twenty-three, I might have lived here too.”

Perhaps he had crossed paths with moldy corridors or broken stairs everywhere. Cheongrim and Sung-kyung’s ages weren’t that different. He recalled the face of Mart No. 3. His face was pale, with shadows cast over, clean yet marked with numerous scars.

“Aren’t you applying the ointment?”

Lately, every time he saw Mart, it seemed to be wearing bruises and scars. There didn’t seem to be any intention to treat them, nor did he appear to want to hide them. His bloodless, pale face was always calm. Even when delinquents bossed him around, he moved sluggishly. He didn’t know how to dodge accusations skillfully.

However, that indifferent gaze was always fixed on himself. The shoulders, motionless at his words, flinched, and the concealed pupils flickered beneath the long hair, while the white face that had been pale turned red. Cheongrim liked that. The fact that all emotions and thoughts revolved around him.

Although there were occasional habits that needed to be corrected, Mart remained within Cheongrim’s acceptable standards. If not, there wouldn’t have been any attention given to a shabby kid like him. He wouldn’t have considered getting involved any further.

“…”

What happened that day was purely impulsive. For some reason, being soaked in the rain made his heart race. The lips that had been bitten once felt peculiarly redder. He became curious about how hot it might be. How much higher temperature could it be below?

On a night when the rain was falling, the air in Mart was damp, and both of them were soaked. The face of Mart, hidden behind the hair, didn’t look bad that day. The mole beneath the eyes felt unusually seductive. That’s why. For the first time, he had a desire for the body of a man whose interests he had never considered in his lifetime.

He recalled the slight curve that clung to the skinny body. The thigh inside, reddened by the presence of his genitals, revealed itself clearly when he pulled back his waist. The entrance, quivering as he withdrew, exposed amidst the mess with splashes of mud. White socks entangled around his ankles, soaked and disheveled. The white nape of the neck, reddened and sweaty. The moist inner walls tightly clenching every time they were invaded.

“Ah, I should take a shower.”

Perhaps because it was morning, his blood quickly warmed as if about to boil. When Cheongrim abruptly stood up from the sofa, the cat cast a curious glance at him. Their eyes met.

“It’s hot, right?”

The green eyes persistently observed Cheongrim’s back as he headed to the bathroom. Just like Sung-kyung’s gaze.

-Where are you?

“I’m going to Red Mansion.”

Cheongrim opened the driver’s seat door with a creak. His twin brother Gyurim was on the other end of the call.

-Today? Why there?

“Just because.”

-Just because it’s raining?

The questioning tone sounded incredulous. Cheongrim recalled the Red Mansion surrounded by a high fence, the pitiful Mart No. 3 shop inside the dilapidated building. Dusty ice cream freezer came to mind. The illusion of a fan blowing lukewarm air onto his face, providing no relief whatsoever. Cheongrim, savoring the taste again, pronounced sweet words.

“I want to eat ice cream.”

The reaction of not understanding was expected. Why would he want to eat what they sold there when he could afford expensive ice cream? In response to Gyurim’s skeptical words, Cheongrim just laughed.

“Because I was born there, maybe caught nostalgia.”

It was inevitable as he was from Red Mansion. Saying that, Gyurim felt disgusted.

-Why look for nostalgia in a place like that? I fixed that a long time ago. I don’t even want to visit there occasionally; it makes me sick.

“So, don’t come now.”

Whenever something happened at the Mansion, the twins always took action. Being the only younger brother, he was quite at the mercy of the troublesome brothers. Whether they felt sorry for not taking care of him properly when they were young or were worried he might do something crazy again. Although it might seem excessive, Cheongrim just laughed at Gyurim’s words.

– I don’t know. Anyway, let’s have dinner with Surim. There are things to discuss.

“Sure, got it.”

They decided to exchange details of the time and place through text. As the call ended, a missed call notification from Sung-kyung popped up. It seemed like it was already the top of the hour. Without responding to Sung-kyung’s third missed call, Cheongrim started the engine.

Leaving the studio, it didn’t take long to reach Red Mansion. Initially, there weren’t many cars passing by the area. Incidents of stopping passing cars to extort money or even hijack the vehicles occurred occasionally, making it risky. The police tended to overlook incidents involving Red Mansion residents, keeping them quiet.

When Red Mansion first appeared, there were frequent protests calling for its demolition. However, due to the violent actions of gang-like residents, it didn’t last long. Even at that time, the police maintained a lukewarm attitude. Since it was private property and having them all in one place seemed advantageous to the police, they didn’t intervene much. From an outsider’s perspective, Red Mansion was like a free prison.

As time passed, the area around Red Mansion turned into a desolate wasteland. It became a forbidden zone where even sober individuals hesitated to set foot.

“Why is it raining like this?”

It was the beginning of the late monsoon, but the raindrops were particularly heavy. Despite the wipers trying to steal the raindrops, the visibility was not perfect. In such circumstances, staying home would have been the best option. Why did he bother to drive out in this pouring rain? Cheongrim didn’t bother to find a reason for now.

After parking the car in the emptied space, he stared at the entrance of the building. Memories of a few nights ago came to mind. The night when he ran to the building entrance in the rain. Then, thoughts of Sung-kyung, who got soaked to the bone, crossed his mind. Did she clear away the bicycle that he had run over?

“Why does he act like that?”

He had never encountered someone as stubborn as her. Even if he threatened her, she would just laugh sinisterly, easily revealing what was beneath when told to undress, and shamelessly making inappropriate remarks.

He wanted to know what was going on in her head. Even if he had to break her skull to find out. With such thoughts, he opened the umbrella. He didn’t get wet when he was alone.

The corridor was noisy with the sound of rain. Mixed within was the sound of an argument.

“He doesn’t have it.”

“There’s nothing to not have, you bastard. Did you even lick his foot? Speak up.”

Cheongrim, who shook off the moisture by tapping the large umbrella on the floor, listened intently.

“If I did, so what? Why does it matter?”

“Touching the medicine turns you into a corpse here. But you? You walk out fine, eyes wide open without going crazy. What’s wrong with you? Let’s experience it together, huh?”

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nicotine

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