Chapter 102

Byungsoo couldn’t tell if he was drinking hot chocolate through his mouth or his nose, his brain went into overdrive as he looked at Maru. Some kid he met for the first time in his life was buying him hot chocolate for no reason. In the past, he would’ve drank it happily with no worries at all, but right now he was trying to figure out why he was being given this drink. He didn’t like how far he was thinking into this, but that didn’t change the fact that this was what he was thinking right now.

“I ended up hearing your phone call a moment ago.”

“......”

Embarrassment washed over him immediately, to think that the fact that he was a horrible son got exposed in school….

“Do the others bully you a lot?”

“...N-no. They don’t.”

Byungsoo felt a chill run down his neck. Maybe the delinquents sent this guy to test him? Changhu could easily do that to him, he closed his lips tightly and smiled. At the same time, Byungsoo curled up his toes from the sheer amount of shame he felt.

“Saying yes is always difficult.”

“W-what are you talking about? They’re all nice people. You’re not even from my class. You don’t know what my class is like. They’re all… Good people.”

He started saying all sorts of stuff to cover for himself. The only thing he got better at after entering high school, it looked like, was lying. Much unlike his grades, unfortunately. His mind is an utter mess, Byungsoo continued speaking good things about his friends with as much passion as he could gather. Funny thing was, talking like this was actually starting to reduce the amount of anger he felt at them. That’s right, they were all nice people from the start. I’m the weird one. Changhu’s the same. He wouldn’t be like this if I did a bit better.

After repeating the same words over and over again, Byungsoo stood up from his seat, saying he would leave. So who cared if this was Changhu’s test? He didn’t do anything wrong, he should be able to go home safely.

“You might actually start thinking that for real if you keep brainwashing yourself like that.”

Byungsoo turned to look at Maru, who was staring directly at him.

“Brainwash? I really...”

“There’s no better method of brainwashing than repeating lies to yourself.”

“I never lied.”

“Is that so?”

Maru suddenly walked over and put a hand over Byungsoo’s shoulder. What was this guy thinking?

“Changhu’s probably still at the school entrance.”

“W-what?”

“You said you guys are friends, right? Let’s go.”

“No!”

“Why? I thought you were friends?”

“Y-yeah, but we aren’t that good friends.”

“Friends are friends, though. Come on, let’s go talk with him.”

Byungsoo gritted his teeth and pushed Maru away. He realized he made a mistake, but this was better than getting dragged away to Changhu. Byungsoo apologized immediately.

“Sorry, I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

“I see what you’re thinking. You think I’m with Changhu, don’t you? I’m not with him. I’m actually here with you because I want to silence him before he goes wild.”

What in the world was this kid talking about? He’s here to silence Changhu? Byungsoo couldn’t understand what Maru meant by that. What could a victim like him even do?

“Don’t you imagine it often? Fighting back against the guys that bullied you?”

“.....”

“Coming to school isn’t very fun anymore, is it? You just want to go home, staying in school just makes you feel more painful. You just end up expressing your anger at your poor parents.”

Byungsoo’s stomach turned, it felt like he was close to throwing up. He could feel anger and resentment boil up inside of him. How dare this kid act like he knows everything?

“You must be treated like an idiot at school. You don’t even have friends to go back home with. You don’t even know how much money they took from you at this point, do you? Since calculating just got too painful at some point.”

“.......”

“You must think of the past a lot. I used to have so many friends in middle school. Ah, were you perhaps bullied in middle school, too? Did you ever have a single friend in your life? Is it that bad?”

“N-no, it’s not...”

“You had friends in middle school?”

“Yeah.”

“Pft.”

Byungsoo gritted his teeth hard enough to hear it creak, the other boy’s laughter was making his head start to swim. How dare this kid…

“You’re lying. You were probably bullied your whole life. You just look the part. You were bullied in elementary school, too, weren’t you? You were probably that kid who would get awkward whenever the teacher singled you out. Be honest with me. You were alone for all of your life, weren’t you?”

“I wasn’t.”

“Wasn’t? There you go, lying again.” “I really wasn’t. Even I, back in middle school...”

“Even I? Eh? That’s an odd choice of words. So you’re being bullied now? You just said you had a lot of friends though. So you were lying, after all?”

Byungsoo became dizzier the more he heard Maru speak. Why was this kid being like this? What did he do wrong? He really did have a normal life in middle school. He played soccer, he went to PC bangs, and he went out to play with his friends on the weekend. He wasn’t lying. In fact, his friends just called him not long ago. He wasn’t making any of this up. For the first time, Byungsoo raised his head, and whispered bitterly.

“What do you know?”

He ended up spitting those words out in bitter anger. Maru’s face turned into an angry frown, which woke Byungsoo up immediately.

“I… That wasn’t what I meant, I was thinking of something else. I’m sorry, I’m not lying.”

“Why do you get so defensive?”

“......”

“Don’t you have something else you want to say?”

“That’s...”

Maru’s frown disappeared off his face, Byungsoo sighed in relief. Thank goodness, it didn’t look like he would get hit.

“The fact that you’re lying tells me you feel pain from the truth. Saying the truth is difficult, isn’t it? Neither of us has that kind of bravery, after all. But there comes a time where we have to gather up our courage and say the truth. Don’t you feel like you’ve been driven to the edge of a cliff sometimes?”

Even in the loud classroom, there was no one who greeted Byungsoo. Byungsoo also thought it was normal to not be talked to. As a matter of fact, he got scared when someone talked to him. What were they going to make him do now? What did they want from him this time? The classroom made Byungsoo feel like he was choking. Whenever he was inside, he counted each second, each minute, waiting for the hours to pass.

‘I guess I’m at the edge.’

Recently, the stories of students who committed suicide didn’t sound like such a foreign idea to him. Of course, he didn’t like the situation he was in. Who would? He wanted to struggle, and try to make a change in his life but lacked the courage. His voice always crawled somewhere deep in his body, sitting there until it eventually transformed into anger and hatred. Anger that he expelled to his mother. He knew this was wrong, but he didn’t know how he would change anything.

“I know why you didn’t say you dislike your situation. No, why you couldn’t say it. After all, if you could say whatever you wanted from the very start, you wouldn’t have a single worry in the world.”

“...What do you want from me?”

Byungsoo was confused. He would honestly feel better if someone like Changhu was beating him right now. In his head, he could tell where Maru was trying to go. But he didn’t have the courage to say that with his mouth.

“I can’t do anything. I’m a coward. I’m just… dumb. No matter what the other kids say to me, I can’t say anything back. Even when they take money from me, I can only smile. If I don’t, I’m just going to get hit, so how am I supposed to fight back?”

He felt the strength sap from his shoulders. He just said whatever came to his head and he felt embarrassed. He felt pathetic for saying something like this. Maru probably thought of him as a bug at this point.

“Done.”

A happy voice. Maru was smiling.

“What’s done?”

“That’s good enough. That’s how you take your first step. And once you take that first step, everything else just becomes that much easier.”

“What did I do?”

“Talk. Talk honestly. You can only lie if you still have a place to run to. If you really get pushed to the edge, that’s when you start doing drastic things. Most people just end up giving up on themselves since that’s the easier option.”

“...What are you trying to say to me?”

“Don’t you feel alone at the edge of that cliff?”

* * *

Byungsoo always felt nervous when he came to the back of the school, he didn’t have any good memories here. As a matter of fact, this was where all of his bad memories began. At the beginning of the school year, he got dragged here by the school delinquent and ended up parted ways with his 30,000 won.

“Why are we here?”

“We need to prepare if we want to start something.”

Maru stepped closer.

“Put some strength in your stomach.”

“What?”

“Did you?”

“Y-yeah.”

Immediately, a loud ‘pow’ hit Byungsoo’s ear. Byungsoo dropped down with a frown. He couldn’t breathe for a second.

“How is it?”

“Kah, kuh. W-why are you being like this, all of the sudden?”

Byungsoo stood back up with a hand on the wall, his body was trembling in fear. Did he get tricked? Thankfully, Maru didn’t hit him again.

“It doesn’t hurt enough for you to die, does it?”

“That’s obv...”

“Now, hit me.”

“W-what? Why would I?!”

“Just do it. Ball up your fist real hard. If you keep it too loose, you might hurt your hand.”

Maru taught him how to hold a fist, and pointed at his stomach. But what kind of a sane person would go around hitting other people?

“I’m not interested in fighting them, I don’t want to. If you’re trying to teach me how to fight, it’s pointless.”

“Who told you to fight? I just want you to know what it’s like to hit someone, and what it’s like to be hit by someone.”

“Y-you really want me to hit you? That’s dangerous.”

Maru shrugged before pointing at his stomach one more time. In the end, Byungsoo punched with a deep frown. A much weaker ‘pow’ sounded, and Maru continued talking with a dull expression.

“You’re afraid of getting hit, right?”

Byungsoo nodded, he was afraid of getting hit, that’s why he was always subservient to others.

“You’re afraid of getting hit because you don’t have the courage to hit back.”

“Courage to hit back?”

“Right. You don’t have the courage to fight back, so you become afraid of getting hit.”

“That’s inevitable, isn’t it? I can’t fight.”

“I’m not telling you to fight. Fighting is pointless.”

“Then?”

“You need to learn to be patient, knowing you can hit back.”

“Stay patient?”

“The other kids aren’t going to stop hitting you. They aren’t going to flinch even if you try to fight back. As a matter of fact, trying to fight back is only going to make them happier.”

“...Nothing’s going to change if I just keep getting hit.”

“Of course not. But once you have the confidence to fight back, that’s when your voice can finally be heard. Since you know you’ll get hit anyway.”

“I can speak back to them?”

Maru nodded.

“But that’s not going to do anything to them,” Byungsoo said.

“No, there comes a point where your words carry greater power.”

Right then, Maru took out a little plastic stick from his pocket. When Maru fiddled with one of its buttons, a sound started playing from it.

“Our voice.”

A pretty clear voice came from the device. There were other noises mixed in there, but the conversation from a moment ago was recorded perfectly.

“Are you...”

“This is the reason why I need your help, but you do need some courage to be able to speak while holding this in front of them. Courage isn’t anything special, though. It’s enough as long as you can be honest with yourself. All you have to do then is to say the words that pop up in your head.”

Byungsoo gulped.

“Are you telling me to be honest in front of them? Then...”

“You’d get beat up like never before.”

“Hey!”

This guy was being unfair. He was asking Byungsoo to do the difficult things. If Byungsoo actually followed through, he would get in big trouble. If he told them to pay him back, to stop bullying him, and to stop hitting him, he’d get a punch thrown at his face in an instant. Maru put the recording device back in his pocket.

“You made your bed, so you might as well lay on it.”

“You’re telling me to deal with it myself?”

“Right. You were honest with me, so I’ll be honest with you as well. I can’t help you with everything. That’s impossible. Some things can only be attained through sacrifice.”

“You’re saying I have to get beat up for this?”

“Yeah.”

“But it’s just voices. What will we do with that? And if they learn about what I did with it… I wouldn’t even be able to come to school anymore.”

Horrible. If the delinquents found out he tried to fight back, they wouldn’t just stop with a normal beating. He was being told to do something that dangerous? Something that could make him get bullied even more?

“Evidence is the most important thing when it comes to school violence. It’s incredibly important to get evidence over how much money they took from you, how long you’ve been bullied, and how many people bullied you.”

“But all that would just end with a scolding from the teacher! What about after that? Then I would...”

“Who said I’d be going to the teacher?”

“Then what?”

“We wouldn’t be doing this if we wanted to finish this with the school. If we start something, we might as well see the end of it.”

Maru spoke with an annoyed look, which somehow made a chill run down Byungsoo’s spine.

“There are a lot of kids that are being bullied by Changhu, actually. This will be pretty worth it if we go through with it.”

“What are you thinking of doing…?”

“Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?”

Maru took out the recorder again.

“I just want to show them that the law is much more powerful than a fist.”

“Law? W-what, you want to sue them or something?”

Maru nodded calmly. Did this guy even know what he was talking about? Suing? That kind of stuff only happened in the world of adults!

“I’m going to explain to you what I can do, and what I can’t do. If you like what I tell you by the end of it, take the recorder. If you don’t, just give me a signature when I write a petition. I can always leave the act of recording to someone else.”

Byungsoo looked at the device with trembling eyes. For some reason, he felt like he could trust Maru, despite meeting him for the first time today. It didn’t look like Maru was being lazy about this, either. A recording device… where did he get a hold of that?

“Will you really help me?”

“It’s a win-win situation, really.”

Byungsoo thought to himself for a bit, it didn’t take him long to come to a decision. He already hit rock bottom a long time ago, he really didn’t have anywhere to go from here. If he was going to be bullied till the end anyway… He might as well go out with a bang. He was scared, but with this guy helping him, he had the support to pull it off. Byungsoo grabbed the recorder tightly from Maru’s hand.

“I’ll do it.”

“Listen to what I have to say, first. Oh, don’t grab that so tightly, by the way.”

“Why?”

“It’s not even mine, and it’s also eight hundred thousand won.”

“E-eight hundred?”

Byungsoo let go with a flinch. Just what was this guy?

“Anyway, I’ll explain what we’re going to do.”

Maru began talking with a serious look.

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