Chapter 128

Her friends were waving to her with concerned faces. These were the same friends who she would laugh out loud with while walking together on any other day. Seeing their concerned expressions, she couldn’t help but feel supported and loved. She was blessed to have people who cared for her.

"See you tomorrow,” she said as she got on the bus.

She hadn’t gone straight home after school in a while. Even when she didn’t have scheduled practice sessions, she often visited the acting club room after school to hang out with other members. However, today, she was quietly going back home.

Before the bus took off, she leaned onto one of the poles. She thought of Maru. If he was here, he would have held her hand without any word.

'How did this relationship move so quickly.’

He was a weirdo who went up to her and asked her name, then there was the time he professed his feelings for her, and now he was someone that gave her comfort whenever she thought of him. She cried a little last night after speaking to him over the phone. When he said she shouldn’t cry, she felt a sense of release and cried.

The front of her nose started tingling again. She always cried like a fountain on the anniversary day of her father’s passing. She thought she was okay, but her eyes were truer to her feelings.

‘Eek.’

She felt that she’d start crying immediately, so she forced herself to smile. Taking out her cell phone, she called her mother.

"Mom, I’m heading home. I’m thinking of buying some barbeque chicken. What do you think?”

- I’ve already bought some.

“Oh, really?”

- Buy some strawberry milk.

“Okay”

They didn’t have anything special planned for the anniversary. Her father enjoyed barbeque chicken and strawberry milk, so they decided to eat those at home today. Though it’s the anniversary of his passing, they rarely spoke about him. This was a silently acknowledged rule between her and her mother. Once they started talking about their father… a river of tears would burst out.

'Mom really cries a river when she cries.’

Her mother was usually very proper and strict. When she’s speaking with an editor, she even sounds intimidating. However, whenever her father was brought up, her mother would wither and become lifeless. It was as if her soul had left her body to float around outside. That’s why she tried to avoid bringing up her father. It’s his anniversary day, but any mention of him was avoided as much as possible.

She got off the bus and bought some strawberry milk from the corner convenience store. She carried the milk in a plastic bag in one hand while stuffing her other in her pocket. While the plastic bag made a crinkling noise whenever it swayed, she started humming a tune.

Um-mm…heung. It was a tune she hummed since she was a little child. Her father was the source. Whenever her father was focused on something, he would hum this tune. It wasn’t a popular nursery rhyme or song, but it was a tune most people would feel familiar with. Her father’s habits had now become his daughter’s. She walked up to the elevator humming the tune but stopped immediately once inside. The tune reminded her of her father. She often saw her mom humming the tune while looking out the window and inevitably crying.

“I’m back,” she said aloud after opening the door.

Her mother, who was seemingly wrestling with her laptop in the living room, looked towards her and smiled.

“And the strawberry milk?”

“Of course, I bought it.”

“Then let’s eat dinner.”

Today was the anniversary day of her father’s passing.

It was barbeque chicken and strawberry milk day.

And.

It was the day to hold back tears.

* * *

“Is that your plan? Tell the teacher everything? You think our homeroom teacher will understand any of this? He’ll probably see this as an opportunity to get us all suspended. But you’re saying we should tell him everything? Aren’t you even considering what would happen to our class representative?”

“Hey, why are you bringing up the class representative? Why do I need to be considerate towards him?”

“Considerate? When did you become so childish?”

“Lee Seulmi. Watch what you say.”

“I should have known once I saw you befriending and hanging around those guys. This selfishness is the real you, right?”

“Me? You think I’m selfish? That fucker is the one who’s selfish!” Maru shouted while huffing and puffing.

Yoojin shrunk back inside. For a brief moment, Yoojin broke out of character after seeing his fiery stare. If it was the character Seulmi, she wouldn’t have backed down. Actually, Seulmi would have instantly replied back. However, for that brief moment, Yoojin broke character and felt her body stiffen from Maru’s stare. Once she realized what was going on, Ganghwan has already said “Stop there.”

"Since it’s not the actual run, we’ll stop here. Everyone, gather around.”

Yoojin bitterly smiled. The instructor recognized what happened quickly, there was no way that anything would pass by his discerning eyes. She felt exposed from the quick recognition and action from Ganghwan, she felt embarrassed and a little ashamed.

"Is it because bully #3 is not here? Why are all the bullies without energy today?”

"There’s a break in the flow of our lines, so I don’t think we can help it.”

"That’s why I’ve been reading bully #3’s lines for you guys.”

“C’mon instructor, it’s different hearing the lines in a man’s voice. Plus, your voice is so deep.”

Everyone started giggling, Yoojin included. Ganghwan conducted practice and his instruction in a relaxed, comfortable way. He gave precise feedback when needed but was mostly easy-going during practice.

"Yeah, I guess so? Still, let’s focus. There’s exactly 29 days left. Let’s be more careful and focused.”

"Yes, instructor.”

“And Maru…” he said while gesturing with his finger to come forward. Maru, who was in the back, walked to the front.

"Don’t put too much force into your acting. Are you trying to pick a fight?”

"It’s the scene where we fight, though.”

"It’s a good portrayal, but you need to understand where you both are emotionally. Although you’re both angry at the situation with the student representative, you were both happily walking back from the cafeteria in the previous scene. There needs to be a reason for such a powerful show of emotion. This is especially true for the character Chuljin, who’s been on friendly terms with everyone. Obviously, Chuljin goes astray towards the latter half of the play, but we’re only at the transition phase right now. If you go full on angry right now, then it’ll have to be much worse later on. This play isn’t that twisted and cynical.”

"I understand.”

"You did well to hold back when I told you to do so before, but you’ve seemed to have reverted to old habits recently. If you show strong emotions at logical times then there’s no worry, but if you’re getting swept up in the heat of the moment then you’re overdoing it. You have to better control your emotions.”

"It’s difficult.”

"Anyone can scream or cry. But few people can cry while smiling or laugh while crying. If you can convey sadness with a blank face, then you can say that you’ve become an acting god. Let’s go slowly. Develop the character and then release your emotions. Okay?”

"Yes, I’ll do that,” Maru answered as he nodded his head in agreement.

Yoojin was jealous of Maru. Ganghwan had two ways of giving advice. He could go with the flow and comfortably speak as he did with the bully characters or be detailed in his explanation to an individual, as he did with Maru. When he was largely unsatisfied, he would go with the flow and give general feedback, but when he gave specific feedback, it meant that he was satisfied with everything else outside that one detail.

"And Lee Yoojin.”

"Yes?”

"Don’t get surprised. Do you understand what I mean?”

"… yes.”

"For the most part, you did well. But you were definitely losing to Maru right now. He can’t control his emotions well right now, but it’s also a problem if you can’t appropriately react to that. If you guys can match each other’s level of emotional output then there could be some positive synergy, but just now you lost the initiative, causing your character to wilt. Your character was domineering over Maru just a moment ago. Once you lost and got pushed into a corner, I couldn’t enjoy your character anymore.”

"Just now… It was my fault.”

“If you know then I won’t waste words. You’re smart, so you should understand what I mean. And student representative!”

"Yes!”

"You little… come over here.”

Ganghwan put on a playful face while shaking a leg. The actor playing the role of student representative gave a smile and walked forward.

"Aren’t you motivated? You need to ignite a fire in your stomach and bring it outward. You saw those two next to you, right? Han Maru and Lee Yoojin. If you’re not careful, your main character role will become a side character to those two. You know how important your character is, right? Your character is supposed to ramp up the anxiety and nervousness level. But you’re standing back and losing? You can’t do that. You can’t! You should be the one oppressing those two. Take that to heart when you’re acting. Act as if only you can shine in this play.”

"Yes!”

"And…”

Yoojin drifted away from the ongoing conversation and started to reflect on what happened between her and Maru. His stare was unsettling. When he started ramping up emotionally and shouted, she froze. She felt as though he was going to rush at her at any moment. The acting seemed too real. If this were easy, then anyone could be an actor.

Acting is a form of lying, an actor portrays a character in the character’s made up personality within a fictitious world, but one cannot truly impress by just lying. Only when a lie is wrapped up in some truth does it become effective. Then what truth could she find. The answer was emotion.

She needed to wield her emotions to transform a lie into a truth. Maru excellently showcased this transformation.

'Alright. So, you want to compete, huh.’

She became determined. To combat the intensity of Maru’s emotions, she had to face him with as much intensity. Until Ganghwan says, “Don’t overdo it,” she was planning to meet Maru’s force with force.

* * *

'The heat’s certainly rising.’

Maru felt Yoojin’s glaring stare, he waved his hand towards her in response. He meant it as a gesture to stop staring so intently, but she must have taken it a different way. Her pretty forehead scrunched up, forming deep lines. He felt guilty for no apparent fault of his own.

"Maru.”

"Yeah.”

The actor who played the student representative called Maru. His name is Kang Baekjoon. Wearing frameless glasses and having wavy hair, this amateur acting group member was like the real life Chuljin. Though there were only 12 members in the acting group, there were already some cliques that formed, but Baekjoon was able to join any clique fairly easily.

"Should I be more abrasive?”

"I don’t think the instructor meant for you to go in that direction.”

"I know. It’s just that I need to act a little psychotic, but it’s too difficult. If I yell and scream, won’t it seem like a couple of screws are loose?”

"That might work.”

"So, you know the scene when I get hit by the bullies and you come in and speak to me like you knew something like this would happen.”

"U-huh.”

"Can you push me at that moment? I’m not exactly sure where we’ll end up on the stage, but can you try doing that without blocking the audience’s view?

"Okay.”

The placement and pathing of the characters were not set yet. Outside of the larger storyline, Ganghwan’s teaching style left much of these smaller details up to the actors to resolve. Each of the actors were responsible to find the most effective pathing and positioning on stage.

"Hey Yoojin!” Baekjoon called out.

The homeroom teacher was also a main character, but his scenes rarely overlapped with these three other main characters. Maru, Yoojin, and Baekjoon gathered together.

"Why did you call?”

"Let’s figure out the positioning and pathing for this scene.”

Baekjoon grabbed her shoulders and moved her around the stage like a mannequin before putting her at a spot in the corner. She crossed her arms and stuck out her lips.

"You want me to just stand right here?”

"I need to see how it looks, so just indulge me for a moment.”

"Ugh, just hurry it up.”

"Okay.”

Maru looked over and smiled. Baekjoon knew how to interact with others without making them feel uncomfortable.

"Let’s say our lines and start moving around. You both cool with that?”

Maru nodded his head and stood next to Yoojin. They flatly stated their lines since they were focused on pathing. Maru slipped past Yoojin and stood in front of Baekjoon.

"Why are you looking at me like that? You think this is funny, huh? A fucker like you will never know how miserable it is for me.”

Baekjoon read his lines as if he was fighting through tears. Maru felt awkward, as he had flatly stated his lines before this sudden outpouring from Baekjoon. It seemed like Ganghwan’s advice made an immediate impact on him.

"Should I push you at this moment?”

“Yeah.”

"How hard?”

“A little hard, at least with enough force to push my shoulder backwards.”

Maru put his hand on Baekjoon’s shoulder and gave a strong push. Baekjoon suddenly cried out, “Woah woah!” as he tumbled on the ground.

“… a little less force,” Baekjoon said as he stood up.

Maru looked down at his hand.

'My body has certainly gotten stronger.’

"Your thick forearms are definitely not just for show. You surprised me there. It felt like I was lifted into the air,” Baekjoon said as he chuckled.

Controlling his strength, Maru pushed again. It must have been the right amount of force as Baekjoon took a couple steps back and then delivered his final lines. He then exited the stage. As he came back on stage, Baekjoon gave Maru a thumbs up.

“This should work out, right?”

“As long as the instructor okays it.”

“Alright, I’ll go ask him right now. Thanks Yoojin!”

Baekjoon happily skipped towards Ganghwan.

Maru felt that he was seeing the real-life version of Chuljin and smiled.

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ensj's Thoughts

These chapters were translated by PlumpCat99, while ensj was out on personal business.