Chapter 162

Maru’s ears itched for some reason. Was someone insulting him behind his back? He stood up from the bed with a stretch. The view outside the window was like a canvas, everything was so white the grey road that the shovelling truck swept was looking alien.

“Laziness is good.”

Looking back, he’s tried hard enough already. He was way too busy for a normal high schooler, maybe this was god’s way of giving him a break. He might as well take full advantage of it. He reached out to pick up a banana, eating a tropical fruit in the middle of winter... What an odd situation. He picked up his book as he ate. Just about everyone who would come to visit him already left. He told his family to not worry about him, so he should be free all day. After turning a few pages, Maru looked up from his book.

‘I wonder if she’s doing well.’

1pm. About the time where everyone was together, Miso might’ve already started talking. Right now, she had to play the bad cop. After all, people hated being the target of suspicion. Having to take on this role was no easy burden for her. It would’ve been better for Taesik to have taken this role, actually. He was the advisor of the club and Miso was technically an outsider.

Emotionally speaking, Miso was a lot closer to the club. In terms of asking such questions, Miso was definitely the person for the job. Plus, she cared about the club more than anyone else. She probably felt personally responsible for what happened, but that didn’t change the fact that Maru was sorry for making her do this.

“...Ah, is she actually insulting me behind my back?”

That would explain the bad dreams he had last night, he could just see Miso gritting her teeth in his head. But so what? That was her job as an adult.

“...Being a kid is the best.”

Maru took a bite out of his apple.

* * *

Daemyung first wondered why the second years all came back with a frown. Just what did instructor Miso ask them? He only realized now why the second years all looked so annoyed and slightly offended a few minutes ago.

“I’m suspicious of Maru.”

He legitimately couldn’t understand what Miso said. Did he hear her wrong? No, judging by her expression, he clearly didn’t.

“What do you...”

“Maru was the one who was on the 5th floor when the fire started. You know what the implications are.”

“Instructor.”

“Be honest with me. Aren’t you suspicious?”

Daemyung liked instructor Miso, she was always very passionate and he respected that. He always enjoyed her difficult and strict practice sessions because he could feel her passion. He’s never seen her badly once in her life. But right now… he despised her for the words that came out of her mouth.

“Are you being serious?”

He’s never gone against an adult, he’s never refuted what an adult told him. He used to always think adults were always right. But what’s this? Did instructor Miso really suspect Maru? He was confused. Here he thought she would always support him.

“Yeah. It just makes sense. You guys were on the first floor and Maru was on the fifth floor. A fire started. What does that make you think?”

Miso crossed her arms. Did she really think that? She was truly worried about Maru just yesterday, she even said that it was a relief that Maru didn’t get really badly hurt. She was also truly mad at Maru, mad at him for being reckless.

Could a person like that change her behavior just like that? Was she really speaking the truth? She usually didn’t talk like this either. She wasn’t the type to call in people one by one to interrogate them, she was the type that spoke her thoughts and asked the same of others. If she was really suspicious, she would’ve asked Maru on the spot yesterday at the hospital. If he said no, she would’ve just dropped it.

A person like that… calling people one by one to talk in secret? That wasn’t the way she worked. Instructor Miso hated doing tasks that took a lot of work. This type of strategy, this roundabout way of reaching their goal rather than running straight for it… The one who usually worked like this was…

“Um, instructor.”

“Yeah?”

“Can I make a call?”

“To who?”

“Maru.”

“What?”

“I won’t tell him what you told me. I just want to ask him something. Is that fine?”

“S-sure.”

Daemyung walked to the corner of the room before calling Maru, who picked up the call with a dazed voice.

“Hey Maru.”

- Yeah?

“Can you be honest with me?”

- If you’re asking me that with no context at all, I’m going to have to tell you no.

“I hope you can still be honest.”

- What’s this about?

“You asked instructor Miso to do something regarding the fire, didn’t you?”

He didn’t get a response back for a while. Did he get the wrong impression?

- Man, I keep noticing this, but… You’re really sharp.

“Does that mean...”

- You got it. I think you know why as well.

“Y-yeah, a little.”

Maru must’ve wanted to believe that it wasn’t a club member who started a fire as well, but he needed to prove that was the case first. Daemyung understood that feeling all too well. In fact, he completely agreed with finding evidence instead of just blind faith. Assumptions made about him were how he was hurt by others until middle school, after all. He’s fat and slow, so it’s okay to bully him. It’s okay to bully him because he’s ugly. Daemyung grew to hate assumptions because of it.

“There can’t be anyone in the club who did it though, right? That doesn’t make sense at all.”

He thought he’d get a response quickly, but Maru stayed silent for a surprisingly long time. That could only mean one thing.

“Wait, do you actually...”

- Please play along with my game for now. I do have a proper plan in mind.

“Do you actually think one of us did it?”

- I’m just being open to all possibilities. I don’t want to be blindsided.

Maru sounded almost pained when he said that. Did he go through something in the past?

“Alright, fine. I’ll keep quiet for now.”

- Thanks.

“But tell me next time. I don’t know if I can help but… I really don’t want to get tricked by a friend.”

- Yup, got it.

Daemyung hung up and started thinking. Did Maru already have a suspect? Or was he really just being open to all possibilities? How was he planning on finding the perpetrator anyway? He only had questions. Then again, he was never able to figure out Maru’s plans until the boy was completely finished. That was the case with what happened before their summer vacation and that was the case with the school violence incidents as well.

‘I just hope he doesn’t use himself as a target.’

Maybe Maru didn’t even care about becoming a target of hatred. Daemyung started thinking. Creating a situation where you become a target of suspicion and using that? He wouldn’t even think about doing such a thing, personally. But Maru did, he differentiated between what and what not to protect. Then, it seemed that Maru classified himself as something he didn’t have to protect, he would protect those around him rather than himself. That behavior has lessened recently, but it definitely hasn’t disappeared. In fact, he still looked like he was working very hard for someone. Though Daemyung wouldn’t know who that someone was until Maru talked about it.

“Looks like you heard everything from him.”

“...Yes.”

“Please play along for the time being. We might as well finish this now that we started.”

“Do you think the perpetrator is in the club, like Maru?”

“No, I don’t.”

Miso seemed confident.

“Now. Bring me the next person. Two left now?”

“Yes.”

“That Maru’s definitely working me to the bone. I’m going to tease him a ton when I go visit him.”

“He’s still a patient, so please be gentle...”

Daemyung smiled awkwardly. Just before he walked out, he turned around to ask a question.

“No one’s been suspicious yet, right?”

“Of course.”

“That’s good.”

Daemyung gave a glance at Geunseok as he stepped back into the auditorium. Geunseok got up to go to speak with Miso next.

* * *

“Maru?”

“Yes. What do you think?”

Geunseok closed his mouth. Maru? A fire?

‘Well, it’d be good to hear, honestly.’

He really didn’t like Maru, the boy was annoying from start to finish. It’d be great if someone like that was the perpetrator, but he had to shake his head in disagreement here.

“He’s a bit annoying, but I don’t think he did it.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“Alright. Anyone else you’d be suspicious of?”

“I don’t really know. But I hope you know that I didn’t do this. You should know that I’m working very hard for the club.”

Miso nodded, gesturing for him to get up.

“Yurim’s the last one, right?”

“Yes.”

“Bring her over.”

Geunseok came back to the auditorium, none of the club members were talking. Then again, they were all pretty shocked by Miso. There was no reason for any casual conversation to be taking place. He called out to Yurim, the girl flinched like someone who just got woken up.

“Why are you so surprised? You’re next. Go.”

“...Okay.”

Yurim barely managed to stand up, she shook off Soyeon when the girl tried to help her. Did they fight? Yurim walked out of the auditorium with a dark look.

* * *

Yurim felt even more nervous than the first time she got on stage. What was instructor Miso planning inside? No one told her what had happened. But, given their expressions, it couldn’t have been anything good. She opened the door, instructor Miso was sitting down with her arms crossed. There was a chair in front of the instructor, so Yurim took a seat before anything else.

“I’ll make this quick. Just listen to my opinion and tell me what you think.”

“Yes.”

“I’m suspicious of Maru.”

The hair on her arms stood up. What did Miso mean by that? She looked at the instructor with trembling eyes. Why was the instructor suspicious of him?

This was a chance.

She was sick of feeling so nervous, she wanted to be done with this. It felt like she would go insane if this dragged on for any longer. Miso was suspicious of Maru, agreeing with that outright would make her look suspicious. Maybe she could imply her agreement a little bit instead?

There was no proof that she did it anyway. Right. If she says it might be Maru here… the nervousness inside her disappeared. This was a chance. A chance granted to her by the heavens.

“Yurim?”

“Y-yes?”

“What do you think?”

“Um… I...”

She felt conflicted, but her feelings quickly got swept over by the desire to feel comfortable again.

“Maru’s suspicious for sure. I’m not saying he did it of course. It’s just… anyway, there wasn’t a fire until we came down, but the fire appeared when he went up.”

“Right? I thought so too.”

Miso immediately put a small smile on her face, the woman was clearly a bit happy to hear this. Maybe this would go over more easily than Yurim first thought?

“Do you think the same way as me, instructor?”

“Mm, yes. Pretty much.”

“Maru hated acting at first. He just joined out of the blue. Plus, remember when he said those mean things to all of us? He might actually be a bully inside.”

Yurim closed her mouth in surprise. Maybe she went a bit too far here? Thankfully, instructor Miso was still smiling kindly.

“I heard your opinion well. You can go now. Do keep this to yourself though.”

“Of course.”

That’s good, instructor Miso was suspicious of Maru. Yurim really might’ve let out a smile if she wasn’t still in front of the woman. Instructor Miso stepped back into the auditorium after a brief wait.

“Good work, guys. You can all go home now. See you in two days.”

Everyone got up with dissatisfied expressions. They all left the auditorium one by one with their bags. Yurim approached Geunseok, but the boy left telling her that he was busy.

‘Can’t be helped.’

If she pushed the boy further, he’d hate her. She ignored Soyeon calling out to her and walked to the bus station. She really wanted to sleep, it felt like she could finally get some good sleep for the first time in a while. Right then, she got a call.

“Instructor?”

- Yurim, where are you?

“I’m at the bus station.”

- Can you wait? I want you to go somewhere with me.

“What?”

Instructor Miso’s car rolled right up to her.

“Get on.”

Yurim got on and the car took off immediately.

“Instructor.”

“What?”

“Where are we going?”

“Hospital.”

“What?”

The hospital? Were they planning on punishing Maru? Good. She was starting to look forward to getting there now.

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