Chapter 112

A bright neon light was flickering through a hole in an old sign for a jewelry shop that had one of its letters missing. Right next to the sign was the ever-familiar spinning pole of a barber shop. Maru really was standing next to a series of very old buildings. Based on how they looked very unnatural next to the other apartments, these buildings would probably get cleared out for renovation in the near future.

“Hah.”

Maru gathered his hands and blew a puff of air into it. He was being way too irresponsible. Calling a girl out at 11pm at night… That didn’t look good, no matter how he thought about it.

“But...”

He couldn’t help it today. He knew she wouldn’t be happy, but he had to do it. He needed to hear from her. And he wanted to convey this feeling he had to her as well. It was starting to snow a little harder now, the snow was starting to stack on the floor below him.

‘First snow, huh.’

He’d seen news a while ago about the first snow, but to him, this was what first snow was. He tried catching a piece of snow, just like he did when he was a child, and the snow maintained its shape for a second before melting in his hand. He watched the snow melt for a second before trying to catch some more. Right then.

“Are you a kid or something, getting excited over snow like that?”

She was standing next to him already, holding a scarf in her hand. She wore pink pajama pants with a blue padded jacket over her, and Maru’s eyes drifted over to her feet. The ankles that were exposed to the open air seemed pretty cold. Maru grabbed her hand.

“W-what the.”

“It’s cold. Let’s go somewhere first.”

“You said you wanted to say something though.”

“What?”

She started slowly moving along with him, and the two of them went into a nearby fast food store. It was a 24 hour restaurant, which probably explained why there were so many people there.

“You want anything to eat?”

“You’re gonna get fat if you eat at night.”

“What about hot chocolate? Drinks are fine, right?”

“They’re basically the same thing...”

She didn’t say no, though, so Maru ordered it. A bulgogi burger, a nugget set, and a hot chocolate. He had a piece of bread as he talked with Daemyung, but that had turned out to be way too little. Just as he finished ordering and decided to turn around, he felt someone poke at his back. She was looking at the menu with a slightly bitter look.

“That.”

She was pointing at the burger the franchise released a while ago. Maru ordered the burger for her with a smile.

“It’s okay, as long as you eat before midnight, it might as well be zero calories.”

“Who says that kind of stuff?”

“Mm… someone I know really well.”

You.

She used to say this almost every time she had a night snack. After they got married, she even went so far as to say that it was fine to eat as long as she ate before 1am.

“Well, that’s very irresponsible,” she said, trembling a little bit from the cold.

Maru had to wonder what kind of a face she would make if she realized she was the one who used to say that line.

“Go up first, I’ll bring the food later.”

He sent her upstairs first, waiting for the food before going up himself. There were a bunch of college students upstairs. They were probably taking a break after studying all day. Some of them still had their textbooks open.

“Over here.”

“It’s your fault if I get fat.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll exercise with you.”

She was sniffling a little bit, so Maru took off his jacket to cover up her legs.

“It’s cold, you should’ve worn thicker clothes.”

“I didn’t have time because someone decided to call me out right away. That person has no manners, seriously.”

“Yeah, sounds like an asshole.”

“Oh, so you know?”

“That’s why I’m thankful that you came out.”

She took a sip of the hot chocolate with a frown, as the college students behind them began leaving together. A minute or two later after they left, an employee came up to clean up after their mess with a sigh.

“So, what did you want to say?”

She took her lips off of the cup as she asked. Even now, Maru was just messing with the burger in his hands.

“If you don’t have anything to say, I’m leaving.”

For a person saying that, she looked like she’d really settled in. Maru rested his chin on his hands and looked at her.

“Why did you start acting?”

“...Did you call me out on a cold winter night just to ask this question?”

When Maru simply shrugged, she pouted angrily as she looked at him. Maru looked back without saying anything, and their eyes met. To Maru, she almost seemed like the only person colored in in this gray world around him. The second floor had been very loud the entire time, but he couldn’t hear anything anymore. He probably wouldn’t be able to hear anything until she decided to speak.

She didn’t talk, though that pout of hers started disappearing after a few seconds. Her frown had disappeared as well. Now, she was looking at him quietly. Again, a word bubble popped up above his head. Again, Maru decided not to read it. He simply waited until she decided to open her mouth.

“...I’m gonna say this now, but don’t do this ever again. I’m not going to come out the next time you do this.”

“I promise.”

“Hah. I don’t know what’s going on, but I get you’re not just playing around. What happened?”

“It’s just...”

“...Will my answer help?”

“Maybe.”

She squinted a little bit before looking outside. Maru followed her gaze outside as well. It was snowing outside. Snowing so much that it almost looked like a massive white curtain was being draped over the earth.

“I made up my mind when I first went to a theater with my dad. I wanted to stand on stage.”

Her eyes seemed to be searching the skies as she put the word “dad” in her mouth. Maru knew, of course. He’d never met her father even in his previous life, her father passed away when she was in her first year of middle school. Even in his fading memories, this he remembered clearly. The day when he proposed to her, she had cried and told him there was somewhere she needed to go.

That place was the mountain where her dad was buried. That was the first time Maru managed to meet her father.

[Dad, this is him. He said he would make me happy. He’s said it with such stubbornness in his voice… It’s him.]

Maru looked at her hands. They were trembling ever so lightly as they rested on the table. He couldn’t just leave them to keep trembling like that, so he put his hands lightly over hers. She looked at him with surprise in her eyes, but Maru didn’t retract his hands, and the trembling stopped.

“My dad… worked at a publisher. He wanted to be an author, but he gave up after a few slips. He still liked literature though, which is why he went to a publisher. That’s where he met my mom.”

She was speaking almost as if she was recalling something she had read a long time ago. Maru nodded along, silently.

“Both of them were really into art. In fact, I used to go to art exhibits more often than anything else when I was young. It was boring, obviously. I couldn’t say anything, I couldn’t run, and I couldn’t brag about it to my friends.”

She smiled lightly, seemingly remembering that exact moment in her life.

“When I told my dad I was bored, he said we might as well go somewhere else.”

“That must have been the theater.”

“Yeah, I still remember it. The lady who was giving out tickets, the small path into the theater, the seats that were stuck very closely together. The purple lights above, and the actual play itself. My dad really was something else. He took me to small theaters, big theaters, you name it. After a certain point, plays ended up becoming my dream. I started wanting to be on stage myself and speak to the audience, so I joined a children’s theater when I was in middle school. We practiced a lot together, despite the fact that there wasn’t a proper teacher.”

“Was it fun?”

“Very. I still talk with those kids. The ones who found an acting club at their schools all joined, as well.”

She kept talking with a bit of sadness left on her face.

“There’s no amazing reason why I took up acting; it just kind of happened. But I’m grateful that it did. Grateful that my dad introduced me to acting.”

“Acting… must be precious to you.”

She closed her mouth for a second, before replying ‘it has to be’ very quietly. Her face seemed like it could explode into tears at any moment.

“It’s one of the few memories I have left with my dad. Of course… It’s very precious to me now.”

She squinted to prevent her tears from falling. Be it now or in the future, the fact that she cried whenever she talked about her dad didn’t seem to have changed. Maru couldn’t just keep watching her crying, so he raised his hand to wipe away a single tear running down her face. She watched him dumbly for a second, another tear running down her face.

“Sorry for asking you a question like that.”

“......”

They didn’t talk for a moment, and Maru took the time to organize his thoughts while she calmed herself down. Before he came here, there were a lot of things he wanted to say in his mind, the number only increasing after they met. But right now, there was only one thing he wanted to say.

He knew saying it would make him seem incredibly rude and ridiculous; however, Maru was unable to think of anything else he could say. After all, this was the one thing that was the most perfect thing he could say in this moment.

“This is why guys carry a handkerchief around. Too bad I don’t have one.”

“Take one around with you next time.”

She smiled again. After that, they continued eating their food making some small talk. At some point, the burgers had cooled, and the nuggets were cold, but the meal was still delicious. Maru smiled as he watched her finish her burger and begin eying some of his nuggets and fries.

“So why did you start acting?”

She was asking a question with ketchup stuck next to her mouth. Maru pointed at it to draw her attention to it, but she didn’t understand. In the end, Maru took out a tissue to wipe her mouth with it himself.

“...I’m not a kid.”

“I know.”

Maru gathered the trash onto the tray in front of them as he spoke.

“I didn’t start acting naturally like you did. I started with something very specific in mind.”

“Specific? Are you planning on becoming an actor, too?”

“Not really.”

“Then what?”

“I just decided to use it as a stepping stone. A meaningless stepping stone. I could’ve used anything other than acting to use as a stepping stone, but I picked acting because it seemed appropriate.”

“What do you mean? I don’t get it.”

“Obviously. That’s because I don’t get what I’m saying either.”

“What?”

To explain this, they would have to talk about his memories and his past life. But he would get sent to a mental asylum the moment he said he’s her future husband. That’s why he could only pass it off like this.

“Hold on. I don’t get it, but you don’t really care about acting, is that it?”

“Kind of.”

“Then why are you acting?”

“Because I need it.”

“Why do you need it?”

“Because a person very important to me is doing it.”

He was both the high schooler Maru and the middle-aged Maru. Maru’s memories were that of his high school self, but his personality was closer to his middle-aged self. When Maru paid careful attention, he realized at some point that his self was split into two. He probably didn’t notice because he hadn’t paid too much attention to it. Then again, how many people would be suspicious of themselves in this life to begin with?

‘If it wasn’t for Daemyung, I wouldn’t even have thought about it.’

In the beginning of the school year, he’d thought about how to achieve his dream. But at some point, he’d given up on his dream altogether. He’d decided that he would need to find a way to survive the coming future. But in his heart, his young self was still screaming. His young self wanted to help others and act mature to look good in front of others. His young self who wanted to chase a dream was still there. On the other hand, his adult self was there as well. His self that seeked safety more than anything.

Perhaps acting was a result of his younger self conflicting with his older self. On the surface, he thought of acting as just a method of being able to meet her. But inside, Han Maru was excited about being on the stage. Daemyung had told him before that he was like a Han Maru that acted the role of Han Maru. A middle-aged man who was in a shell that was his high school self. But after a certain point, that shell that was himself was starting to disappear. Han Maru was starting to become Han Maru.

Maybe all this time, Maru was afraid of how he was starting to like acting. Because on the inside, he just wanted to keep his family safe. But recently, that mindset was starting to break. He was caring more about acting. He started because of money, but now he’s realized what it felt like to be on stage. He realized that his desire to be on stage was only growing even more over time.

What started off as a simple stepping stone to his goal was starting to grow into something even more. It was a dangerous sign. He’d realized that the stories of the ghosts of Hyehwa station didn’t even sound bad to him. Was this okay? Maybe he should give up acting right now and do something else altogether. That would be better for her, wouldn’t it?

He was scared.

Daemyung’s words cut into his heart deeply. She was starting to become a stranger, someone who didn’t matter in his life at all. That scared him a lot. He didn’t even think about it because he was scared. Because it was easier to simply think that she would be his no matter what happened. He needed to face reality now, though. Maybe it was too early. He didn’t even know what kind of a change this would bring. But he needed to say it now. He needed to bring about a change in his life.

“I like you. I really… like you.”

Among all the words in the dictionary, that was the only thing he could use to convey his feelings.

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