Chapter 142

Maru exhaled behind the curtain. His breath felt sticky, almost as if there was still something stuck in his lungs.

'Phew, this is hard.’

He felt stuffy. Maru thought back to the advice he heard all along. Don’t get overexcited. He got on stage thinking that and didn’t forget that advice even as he got off. Maybe it was because of that, but every one of his actions felt tiring. It felt like his arms and legs were chained up with steel bindings. He barely managed to stop himself from trying to get closer with the audience. Maru breathed slowly, trying to calm himself.

“Good job.”

“How was I? Did I make any mistakes?”

“Not at all. You were amazing.”

Iseul gave him a thumbs up. Maru stood up straight as he looked back at the stage. Yoonjung and Joonghyuk were making their way out, their characters were a married couple. Joonghyuk was the weak husband and Yoonjung was his powerful, dominant wife. The rest of the play was coming along smoothly.

“I’m next. Hah...”

Dojin shook his shoulder lightly. His character was one that teased everyone else with a smile on his face.

“Just do as you normally do.”

“That’s what I’m hoping.”

Dojin licked his lips nervously. He looked too nervous… Maru stood right in front of the boy, who looked back at him dumbly.

“Why are you so nervous?”

“...I feel like I’m gonna make a mistake.”

Dojin opened his script. Just where did that laid-back self of his disappear to? He was even starting to make Iseul, Taejoon, and Yurim start freezing up themselves.

“Oh, yeah. You moved in? That rice ca… ah, crap. Why am I being like this?”

He must’ve bitten his tongue or something. He moved onto his next line quickly, as the stage got ready to switch to the next scene. Dojin would have to step out once the two seniors on stage get back. If Dojin was sent out like this right now, he’d most likely just stare dumbly at the audience. That was no good. What could Maru do?

He couldn’t just erase the boy’s nervousness. If he could do that, he’d practically be god. He just had to distract Dojin into focusing on something else.

“Hey.”

“Yeah?”

“Clench your teeth a bit.”

Dojin followed suit like a little kid. After confirming it, Maru slapped both of Dojin’s cheeks lightly. It wasn’t painful, despite the loud noise it made.

“.....”

“Just say your lines. Don’t try to overreact or do anything dumb.”

“...Yeah.”

“Want me to do it one more time?”

“No, I’m fine. I got it.”

Dojin walked forward, massaging his cheeks a bit. Yurim, Taejoon, and Iseul looked their way curiously from the back.

“What, you need one too?” Maru asked.

“Pft. I’m fine. I’m not frozen up like someone over there,” Iseul noted.

At that…

“Who’s frozen up? I’m just a tiny bit nervous, that’s all.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Do well, then.”

“I know.”

“I’ll give you an award if you do well.”

“What is it?”

“Want a kiss?”

Iseul grinned playfully, but Dojin managed to answer her surprisingly calmly.

“It’s a promise.”

He was getting very bold now. On the other hand, Iseul was looking at Dojin dumbly. Dojin’s legs stopped trembling; Maru nodded at the boy. Yoonjung and Joonghyuk had just come back.

“Phew, I’m leaving.”

“Yeah. Good luck.”

Dojin stepped out with wide footsteps.

“What’s up?” Yoonjung asked.

“I helped him come to his senses.”

“Really? Good job.”

Yoonjung pat Maru’s shoulder as Maru watched Dojin from the side. Dojin would have a thirty-second monologue, he would need to fill up the stage for the 30 seconds that Geunseok was absent for. Dojin coughed and began to talk. His first sentence was a little cracked, but the rest was fine. The lines he must’ve practiced for god knows how long filled up the stage.

Maru could still see a hint of nervousness from Dojin, but it was barely noticeable. The boy’s voice didn’t carry a hint of it, as a matter of fact. Just as he continued watching Dojin on stage, someone grabbed his shoulder.

“Good job, you guys.”

It was Miso. All this time, she was running around behind the stage checking if everything was okay. She looked calm, but Maru could tell that she too, was a little bit nervous. Nervous just like the rest of them.

“You guys are doing perfect. Just keep going exactly like this, you guys are at your best right now.”

Miso wasn’t holding back with her compliments, which inspired the club members to nod energetically. Miso told them the play wouldn’t take much longer before moving elsewhere. Maru followed her.

“Are we fine like this?”

Miso carefully looked over Maru for a second, Maru looked into Miso’s eyes. A word bubble popped over her head.

[Is it alright to tell him this?]

Surprisingly, she was nervous on the inside too. Very unlike her. This was why Maru didn’t actually like this ability. It let him know too much about the people around him and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Humans, to him, only looked as natural as they did when they were composed of 80% truth and 20% self-preservation.

“If you’re asking if there’s a problem, then no. You’re fine.”

“You know that’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking if my acting is satisfactory to you.”

Maru was still unable to judge himself fairly. Then again, self-evaluation was probably amongst the hardest things a person could do in the world. That’s why Maru needed someone else’s feedback, he was curious. What did his restrained self look like to the audience? Would it be fine to keep going like this? He needed an answer.

“You’re kind of like a kid when it comes to this.”

“Asking about things you don’t know is a privilege of the children, isn’t it?”

“What do you think? Are you satisfied?”

“I… don’t know.”

“I’ll change the question, then. Are you having fun?”

He didn’t even need to think about that question. He nodded. Miso grinned at him brightly in response.

“That’s all there is to it. Don’t try to chase after perfection, you’re just an amateur.”

“But then the results...”

“Maru.”

“Yes?”

“Don’t try to go so fast, you’re doing well enough as is. I know you’re frustrated, but your character isn’t anything special. You’re not meant to garner attention. That’s why we told you to restrain yourself. But! You’re already garnering attention as is. The audience might become too attached to you if you go further from here, and that would only manage to hurt the play.”

Miso lightly patted Maru’s shoulder.

“Is that a good enough answer?”

“No. But… I understand it to an extent, now.”

“You’re too much. Bring out your everything when you’re able to control yourself perfectly. Not even amateurs do things when they know they’re not ready. That’s just an idiot at work.”

With that, Miso walked away elsewhere. An idiot… Maru scratched his eyebrow. He honestly didn’t really know right now. Could he keep going on stage like this, feeling really stuffy inside like he was now?

‘Well, she said I’m fine, so whatever.’

If you’re sick, go to the doctor. If your car breaks down, go find a mechanic. If you have questions about acting, go ask your instructor. The instructor said he was fine, so what could he do? Especially when that instructor was a pro like Miso.

“Hah!”

Dojin quickly hid himself as soon as he got off the stage, he immediately started huffing like he was out of breath.

“How was I?” he asked.

“I didn’t see,” Maru responded with a smile.

“Ugh, you turd!”

“But looking at the audience, I think you did alright?”

“R-really?”

Dojin flicked his head back to look at the audience, his nervous expression straightened immediately. Maru could tell why pretty easily. The man in the front, the one with the particularly scary face, was smiling.

“We can go... right?”

Dojin was asking the question to everyone around him. No one asked him ‘where’ they were going. They all knew what he was talking about.

“Of course.”

“I won’t be able to sleep if we don’t go to the finals.”

Plus, the fate of their auditorium was at stake this time. No matter what happens, they need to go to the finals. They needed something they could use to appeal to the school.

“Maru, it’s your turn.”

“Yeah.”

Maru got ready to go out again. This time, he was doing a baton touch with Daemyung. He could see an angry student walking towards him from the stage. He slowly took off his first step as well.

“Good luck.”

“Of course.”

They exchanged a short greeting as they passed. For some reason, the stage in front of Maru didn’t look so empty, despite no one being there. Probably because of the amount of passion that got spilled onto the stage seconds before. He could still feel energy emanating from the empty stage.

“They’re very stubborn, aren’t they? My goodness, I felt so frustrated looking at them from off the stage.”

Maru would collect the passion that’s left over on the stage, gather it, and pass it onto the people in the next scene. To do that, he needed to abandon his desire to show off. He couldn’t fill up the stage as much as he wanted to just yet. For now, he needed to listen to the instructor. Hopefully he could go wild some day in the future, but today, he needed to be calm.

‘It’s still fun being up here, though.’

The feeling of the wood under him was great. The heat of the light above him was nice. The silence on the stage felt good. The gazes from the audience felt exhilarating. Acting… was exhilarating.

“I wonder what these people are going to do next. I can’t wait. How do you guys feel?”

* * *

Geunseok was good at acting, Suyeon could tell that the moment she saw the boy. The others were alright, too. More than alright actually, she was pleasantly surprised. They were quite harmonious together. Most high school plays were a little lacking by nature, but this school was different. Instructor Miso was definitely quite talented.

To begin with, the woman was asking Suyeon about what she wanted to do with Geunseok. She was sharp. Probably the reason why the club turned out to be so skilled as well, but there was one person Suyeon was more concerned about.

‘Han Maru...’

The boy she first saw when she met Ganghwan. She was unsure what Junmin meant by him being odd, but she understood the man perfectly now. If she saw skill from Geunseok, she saw possibilities from Maru. Right now, Geunseok was objectively better than Maru. On the other hand, Maru had a skill that Geunseok didn’t have. She might simply be mistaken. This was her first time seeing him act, after all.

‘But I have this feeling.’

Feeling. There was no other word that was as iffy as it. Suyeon only reserved this word for those she believed held more value than they let on. She could tell if she was right after some time, but for now, she was sure that Maru was different. Suyeon tapped at her lip lightly with her index finger. She was thinking. Calculating. How long would it take for her to establish a relationship with Maru? What could she gain from it?

The abacus in her mind quickly came to a conclusion: It would be profitable.

Suyeon felt a need to agitate Geunseok even more. If she used the boy well, she could establish a relationship with both Geunsoo and Maru.

‘Speaking of which, how could he just completely ignore me like that?’

She was ignoring Geunsoo because she didn’t want to greet him first, but Geunsoo didn’t even seem to notice her. It was a little humiliating, but for now, she put Geunseok higher on her list. She would have a lot of fun breaking him down.

‘I’m getting a lot out of this.’

It was a good day.

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