In the car, which was driving along the edges of the mountains, I stretched my cramped toes.
The place at the end of the destination was a villa, located in Gangwon-do.
Even though occasionally admirable sceneries passed by beyond the glassed windows, I was relaxed enough to adore it.
I was anxious about whether the long wig was still on my head, my ruffled skirt looked ridiculous or whether I would be able to walk in those tight, stuffy shoes.
Nobody said anything, but still, out of uneasiness, I pulled on the hem of my skirt.
I was living a difficult life by the summer of age 22.
Since I was born into a poor family, I had to give up a lot of things.
Whether it was school, friends, and other things as well.
With each centimeter my height, I had to give each item one by one and all I had left by the end of it was my maturity, my mother, and my younger brother.
I could endure it, even though I blamed it on our helpless state.
I held hope for a while that I would be able to achieve and experience many things once I would become an adult.
Since there was nothing left to lose, it would be better to achieve some change.
But I was still unworthy of that embellished imagination.
As my mother handled two sons on her own, the disease managed to manifest and settle inside her body.
“You are very late.”
The doctor, with a tired face, said nonchalantly.
Even though he discussed other ways of treatment he seemed to swallow the words, “It would still be useless.”
Even though the possibility was close to 0%, we still didn’t want to give up.
But even that small probability cost us too much.
I stopped Geonwoo, who wanted to quit school once and for all to provide the medical expenses.
However, I stopped him and worked on anything I could get my hands on.
When my body was about to crumble down from overworking and lack of sleep due to the workload I couldn’t get used to, a man wearing a crisp white shirt approached me.
He bought a picture of a familiar girl.
It has already been 10 years since the girl in the picture passed away.
Although, her name Han Jiyoung was clearly remembered.
When I was younger, we lived together like siblings in a shabby neighborhood.
She was my neighbor.
It was not that we did not become close because we got along well but the reason we stuck along was sole because of her grandmother.
When my mother would leave in the morning because of her work, the younger me and Geonwoo would be the only ones left behind.
There was no way I could look after an infant.
Jiyoung’s grandmother looked after us all day, then.
It was no different, for several years to come.
Since everyone was on a par in terms of struggles, it was a kind of neighborhood where everyone was cold.
However, in that same kind of place, it was unique to have Jiyoung and her maternal grandmother, who were kind.
Unlike us, Jiyoung had a father but they were not better off than us.
His father was an infamous scumbag in our neighborhood.
He would show up once in a blue moon and then prefer to be off the grid for the rest.
When that scumbag would choose to return for a day, both Geonwoo and I were unable to sleep because we would hear the cacophony of furniture breaking, echoing throughout.
Jiyoung and her grandmother died in that bastard’s hands.
When that man would return sometimes, he would break things without fail and beg for money.
But, when his fuss was up to no avail and there was no chance of receiving money, he couldn’t swallow his anger and lit the house on fire.
Since it would take time to maneuver through the neighborhood so by the time the fire truck arrived the house was already bursting into flames.
The man who visited me introduced himself as Jang Myeongsoo and I received his business card.
I know I would never have a relationship with him.
“Taewon Group’s Vice Chairman”.
The card I received was crisp and I stared blankly.
Jang Myeongsoo proposed something strange, that I should feign as Han Jiyoung and feed stories about her maternal grandmother to his father.
If I said so, it was a story as old as time.
In a chaotic time of his father’s life, he lost his parents early and Jang Myeongsoo’f father owed Han Jinyoung’s grandmother.
Now that he was not long for this world, he regretted how he couldn’t repay her favor and hence asked his son to look for Han Jiyoung’s grandmother.
Even if she had passed away, he at least wanted to see her daughter.
By the time Jang Myeongsoo set out to search for them, they had already passed away.
But he wanted to appear as a filial son so that his father wouldn’t be disappointed, his face wrinkled with worry as he thought of it.
He made a face that I understood, as he did not feel sorry for Han Jiyoung but was worried more about his father.
He was rather hinting at something obvious.
Along the lines of, do what you are told if you get what I am saying.
In conclusion, it wasn’t the moving love for his parent but the money that convinced me.
Even if the proposal was as persistent as it was, I had nothing to lose.
Jang Myeongsoo promised a good bag if I succeed, but if otherwise, I would get away with a small compensation.
But I was at the point where I would be able to sell my body if anyone wanted to buy it.
I replied that I would do any ridiculous work that was offered.
Even though I was skinny but not short enough to pass off as a woman.
Jang Myeongsoo remarked that his grandfather’s eyes were blurry, however, I secretly wondered if it would have been better if he prepared another stand-in.
Anyway, Han Jiyoung wouldn’t have many memories of her grandfather because the latter passed away when she was young.
However, if another woman was chosen and was taught the knack of things, she would have made a better Han Jiyoung.
But those smug thoughts disappeared without a trace when I met Jang Myeongsoo’s father, Jang Chulwoong.
I anxiously began to make up all sorts of difficult scenes inside my head.
It should be a touching rendezvous with a gray-haired old man wearing socks.
However, in reality, the old man sitting in a wheelchair looked with a morphed expression.
“You are Han Jiyoung?”
As if he was interrogating me, his voice was pressuring.
I had the smothering feeling of being caught.
Perhaps it was because of the shoes I couldn’t get used to that I stumbled out of the car.
But if I think about why I participated in this ridiculous show it was because I couldn’t be helped by those discouraging jobs forever.
I am Han Jiyoung.”
I tried my best, by fixing my tone and greeting politely however the old man just guffawed.
He, who was looking for the caretaker’s daughter for so long, didn’t seem the least happy.
The old man reprimanded Jang Myeongsoo, who was standing beside me.
“I see you don’t even have the sincerity in you to find a similar child anymore.”
I could roughly gauge why he said that.
There were many others before me.
That was why I was forced to dress up as a woman, for a ruse.
Even though I might have not been related by blood, he desperately needed someone who was close to Jiyoung’s grandmother as she was.
Jang Myeongsoo was flustered, as he tried to persuade his dad.
This time, it’s real.”
Chairman Jang replied sarcastically and then asked me.
“Where is your grandmother’s birthplace?”
I couldn’t even remember my grandmother’s birthday so how would I remember someone else’s grandmother’s birthday, who even passed away 10 years ago?
As I cluelessly tiptoed around what to say, the impatient old man clicked his tongue and shook his head.
Even though I knew there wouldn’t be a confirmation, it was different from what I imagined.
I darted my eyes at Jang Myeongsoo.
He assured me before that if I spoke like Han Jiyoung that would be enough, but it wasn’t mentioned that I would have to go through an audition for the role of Han Jiyoung.
But Jang Myeongsoo was looking at Chairman Jang’s expression.
Chairman Jang scrutinized me multiple times before rolling his wheelchair and disappearing inside the villa. Should I chase and persuade him or it’s okay if I return like this?
I knew that the world is a complex place and a few words were enough to receive compensation.
As if Jang Myeongsoo read my mind, he tipped his chin and said.
“Still, I will have to see how it plays out over three to four days.
So you can go in.”
Jang Myeongsoo’s secretary carried out two carriers from the trunk and lent them to me.
The paraphernalia inside were all the things needed for the dress up and that was all.
I received them, thinking that one carrier would be enough, after determining the prior atmosphere.
Whether I would be reliable or I should set my expectations aside entirely, I wondered.
Jang Myeongsoo tapped my shoulders as if to cheer me on, and returned back to Seoul.
I was left alone in the large garden.
“I understand you.
Until now, No…I already know.
I don’t even believe it anymore.”
The helper lady who helped out with house chores wore a complex expression.
I was a guest only in name, and I was left alone at the large dining table.
Unlike what Jang Myeongsoo expected, Chairman Jang was sure that I was a fake so he didn’t have his first meal with me.
“What number am I?”
“The fifth, most probably?”
The woman, wondering if the sixth will follow soon, replied bitterly.
There were four people.
It was such a number that even Chairman Jang had enough of, and I had nothing else to add.
But alternatively thinking, he might have been so desperate to meet Jiyoung, that he ought to give the fifth a try.
It was the same for Jang Myeongsoo as well.
Even though he failed several times, he continued for another time, and it was certain there must have been a great reason behind it.
As Jang Myeongsoo remarked he would see it play out for three to four days, Chairman Jang didn’t kick me out as of yet.
But I didn’t bump into him.
Since the old man had an age almost nearing his death, old Chairman Jang lied on his bed most of the time.
Even if I did see him from time to time, there was no chance to talk to him.
I could have tried talking to him but I was stubborn in not telling Chairman Jang that I was half-real.
It wasn’t because of my nonsensical conscience.
The fact that I wanted to be accepted as the real one and to confess that I am fake, wasn’t that different.
I was unconsciously waiting for a chance to reveal myself to not.
On the third night, I was informed by the helper to see myself out by the next day.
If I didn’t use my chance then, I wouldn’t have an opportunity in the future to do so.
I approached Chairman Jang who was out for an evening walk.
Chairman Jang was aware of my presence, however, he kept quietly staring at the sky.
I called out in the most polite voice.
I thought of those people who might have already done the same before me.
“Right, what do you want to say before you leave?”
It was as if he was implying, I will hear you out on what you have left to say for the last time.
He already had the walls around his wall erect so high that it would not be easy to make him think otherwise.
Even though he might have spent a lot of time with Jiyoung’s grandmother, it was still a long while since he had last talked to her.
There was no guarantee that Jiyoung’s grandmother in my memories would be the same as the one in Chairman Jang’s.
Actually, I don’t remember it well.
I was only 10 at the time.”
If Jiyoung was alive, it would have been like that.
Jang Myeongsoo informed Chairman Jang of everything except her life and death.
After the accident, when Jiyoung, her mother, and her grandmother passed away, Jiyoung’s father fled from the police and then died somewhere.
But, Han Jiyoung was the sole survivor of the fire and then moved to the USA.
She went to a school there and on her summer vacation, she came to visit Korea for a while.
It was as if making an excuse for her disappearance naturally after summer ended.
Whether I could spend the summer there or not, would be decided in a day.
Chairman Jang would never believe me but I continued speaking regardless.
“So, grandfather, I would like it if you tell me more about her.”
When I urged him for an answer, Chairman Jang chortled loudly for the first time.
But I worried for nothing as the Chairman obediently spouted those old stories.
It wasn’t because he accepted me as Han Jiyoung.
As if he was stringing the memories along, he rambled off with the one he reminisced often.
Surprisingly, Jiyoung’s grandfather that I remembered and Chairman Jang remembered were similar, more than I expected.
Especially the prank of offering apricots which appeared delicious but were inedible from within so I laughed inadvertently.
I also once received a scrumptious-looking apricot from grandmother once.
However, the bitter and sour taste was so strong that it still made me cringe.
“If you already know these stories from Jang Myeongsoo, why are you laughing? I also told stories about her to him.
If I knew he would use these stories against me, I would never have opened my mouth.”
The four people who came before me had learned all the stories and Chairman Jang rambled the same stories like a parrot.
Even though he made a scowl, realizing how I knew the tidbits, his face was more relaxed than before.
I continued, that my brother and I as if they were our neighbors, were actually victims of the same prank.
Chairman Jang agreed, half-believing it.
She was the type to be satisfied by applying what she had learned.”
I told him about Jiyoung’s grandmother as much as I had recalled of her.
Even though she was poor, it contrasted with her kind and charitable personality.
Jiyoung’s mother didn’t earn that much, though.
Grandmother liked pulling our legs, she liked animals although she couldn’t get close to them and she was a person who was surprisingly a bit of a coward.
It was a place where nights got colder, though it was summer.
Chairman Jang sat in the garden, as it eventually got late, he started coughing and returned to his room.
I talked about a lot, however, Chairman Jang didn’t seem to retract back his stance.
The next day, I carried my luggage and placed it, where Chairman Jang was already sitting at the dining table, strangely.
As if he didn’t change his mind, he asked if it would be okay to talk over lunch for the last time.
Since I didn’t press to stay, Chairman Jang seemed to already withdraw his deep doubts towards me.
I thought about approaching him one more time because then I could save my mother.
During the span of time, I tried to rack my brain about what to say and I couldn’t concentrate on my meal.
Chairman Jang coughed and then pointed at my chopsticks.
“Why are you holding your chopsticks like that?”
I had a weird habit of holding chopsticks, as I would spread my index fingers as if shaking them.
I didn’t have the intention of fixing the habit because I always was in a rush while I had my meals, trying to save time.
So, my habit of holding chopsticks went unperfected.
While staring at the unattractive way how I held my chopsticks, Chairman Jang questioned me.
I only realized then that I picked up the chopsticks in the same clumsy manner.
“I learned it from my grandmother.
She said that when she was young, her second finger was once bitten by a tiger so she couldn’t use it.”
I remember questioning how my grandmother could survive after her second finger was bitten off by a tiger.
I remember doubting it a lot.
It was true that she was hurt, implied by the small scar.
That time, Jiyoung’s grandmother used to hold her chopsticks in the same way and it merely rubbed off on me.
Hearing the story, Chairman Jang erupted in a big laugh, while clapping his hands.
“It wasn’t a tiger, was it?”
At my question, Chairman Jang waved his hands.
“It wasn’t a tiger of course.
It was a rabbit.
She wanted to give it some grass and her finger went with it…no, but she boasted about it?”
I couldn’t help but laugh along.
Rather than a rabbit, I thought it would have been a wild cat, at least but to think it was a herbivore….The reason Chairman Jang held on to me was that he was convinced.
After he was done with the meal, he remarked that his son did something he liked in a long time and retreated to his room.
Jang Myeongsoo was elated.
He didn’t hesitate to compliment me for deceiving his father, skillfully.
After hearing the news, he visited the villa several times with a satisfied expression on his face.
Chairman Jang, whose doubt cleared up, treated me like someone of his blood, and there would not be any further problems spouting up by the end, if my identity went undiscovered.
The people at the villa didn’t seem to care much and I thought I was in a better state.
It was smooth sailing until Jang Myeongsoo appointed me a new task.
As usual, after meeting Chairman Jang with a serious expression he beckoned me to a remote room on the second floor.
Worried that there might be perked ears, he let his Secretary guard the door.
After opening the window, he lit a cigarette.
He looked unsettled.
I anxiously worried that my identity was discovered, he spoke to me in an awkward tone.
“He liked you more I thought.”
His tone was half-absurd.
I couldn’t easily accept the fact that Chairman Jang liked me more than I imagined.
But I understand.
Despite the fact that Chairman Jang was rich, he was just a simple old man.
He had a son who only came to discuss business matters and his grandson who was growing impassive.
However, Han Jiyoung, I, put up with his humor and stayed by his side so he couldn’t help but shower me with affection.
Jang Myeongsoo gave up beating around the bush and shoved the unsmoked cigarette on the ashtray before speaking.
“The talk about your marriage will soon come up.”
“Stall the time in a vague manner.
Tell them you’ll think about it.
You can’t turn it down straight away.”
“Who’s the partner? Won’t they reject me anyway?”
Saying that I would think about it and dragging it out wouldn’t be hard.
But if the other party rejected me then and there, that spiel would end.
Jang Myeongsoo pressed the middle of his forehead as if his head was hurting.
My second son is staying in the USA.
He is different from the first son.”
I came across Jang Myeongsoo’s son when he visited the villa.
He had a tall stature and a cold expression drawn on his face, and I had the impression that he didn’t smile much.
In particular, he didn’t defy his father and with the manner of a thoroughbred, he served under the shadow of Jang Myeongsoo.
He knew who I was and sometimes helped me in my fraudulent activities.
It was as if he was adhering to the advice of fixing one’s posture.
If the second son was any different than the first, then he wouldn’t condone any such scam.
“So, don’t make any reason to call him here and continue doing what you were doing.”
It was as if Jang Myeongsoo trusted me more than his second son.
It was a situation that would get more chaotic, the more people were involved so I nodded in silence.
After some weeks, as Jang Myueongsoo previously mentioned, Chairman Jang brought up the marriage proposal.
I didn’t know if Chairman Jang was old fashioned and it was a culture to be married like that, but he continued speaking about marriage without considering the will of the one involved, which was his grandson.
“Among my grandchildren, there is someone of great character, His name is Jang Yoosung and what do you think of taking him as your husband? Jang Myeongsoo also agreed.”
I was suddenly curious.
If I was really Han Jiyoung and Jang Myeongsoo would think that a poor girl was suitable, would the marriage really proceeded without Jang Yoosung’s opinion? I wanted to ask the person if he wanted to marry me but that might be a problem.
If I contacted him for such a reason, it might sprout some trouble.
How can I marry a person I don’t even know the face of?”
I was curious after hearing it twice.
How handsome was he, that he beat Jang Myeongsoo’s first son in terms of looks? It was a given that he must have been really handsome.
If I say so naturally, I might seriously consider it.
In regards to marriage, this person with such a face had the best chance.
Born in that kind of house with such a face and also studying at a famous university in the USA, I never thought I would say this but the world is really unfair.
“He is really handsome.
How is he, personality-wise?”
In half-sincere admiration, I asked the usual question.
As if Chairman Jang couldn’t hear, he grimaced.
“Perso!!nality!! This person’s personality.”
“Is my hearing aid broken? Where did Secretary Kim go? Secretary Kim! Secretary Kim!”
The hearing aid that didn’t even exist finally broke down.
Chairman Jang ignored me and began to look for Secretary Kim.
“Geez, I’m tired.
Jiyoung-ah, I should head for a nap.”
Chairman Jang who seemed flustered as Secretary Kim didn’t appear, turned his wheelchair and headed towards his room.
In this unfair world, there was something Jang Yoosung didn’t possess.
Chairman Jang didn’t squeak a peep about Jang Yoosung’s personality but it was not difficult bringing up the topic of marriage.
“Even though I don’t know how that person is, grandfather is a good person.”
At my despicable words, Chairman Jang laughed at it.
I couldn’t see that active side of him when I first saw him.
Fortunately, Chairman Jang didn’t press me to make a choice.
My real age was 20 but Han Jiyoung, who I was pretending to be, was barely 20.
Chairman Jang acknowledged that she was at an age where she could properly consider marriage.
As Jang Myeongsoo wanted, the time seemed to flow without hesitation.
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