Chapter 178

“You weren’t planning on telling them you studied hard at the library, were you? There’s no way you’d be that foolish.”

“S-stop spouting bullshit.”

“Ah! One more. I noticed your parents didn’t come to nationals last year. How cruel of them. Or… did you perhaps not tell them? I think almost everyone’s parents came except yours.”

“They were just busy...”

“Alright then. I might as well call them and say you’re doing an excellent job at acting. I’m a friend after all.”

As soon as Maru opened his phone, Geunseok dashed forward, eyes wide with a hint of insanity. Jiyoon froze, terrified.

‘Senior Maru!’

Just as she thought Maru was in trouble, he stepped forward and thrust his shoulder forward, striking Geunseok squarely in the chest. Geunseok crashed backwards with a gasp. Jiyoon covered her mouth in shock as she watched Geunseok on the floor. The boy struggled for air, all the breath knocked out of him from the collision. Maru crouched in front of Geunseok and patted his back.

“You idiot. How would I even know your parents’ phone number? You’re so bad with stuff like this.”

“Cough, cough.”

Geunseok was starting to regain his breath at this point, but his eyes were full of tears. Maru pulled him up by his arm, handed back his bag, and brushed him off. Jiyoon was afraid that a fight would break out again, but Geunseok only observed Maru’s movements warily.

“Geunseok, why don’t you just cool down at home today, and we’ll talk it out tomorrow? We have a lot to talk about anyway, I can only take your childishness for so long.”

Maru loudly slapped Geunseok’s back, the boy jumped before silently slinking away. Jiyoon stared at Maru, dumb-founded. She had thought they would start throwing punches like the other boys she had seen in school, but none of that took place. It was a brief conflict, but Jiyoon couldn’t help but feel it had been a dirty one. That wasn’t a fight just now, it was a…

“Sorry, you were surprised, weren’t you?”

“What? Ah, n-no.”

“You’re probably not going to hand in that registration form, are you?”

Maru scratched his eyebrows with a troubled look. He was quickly returning to his normal, relaxed state. Jiyoon looked at the form in her hand. She originally came to turn it in, but now she just wanted to leave. She had been insulted by the one person she admired and the senior in front of her scared her as well. Although the club didn’t seem safe, it felt wrong to just say no and leave right away, so she tried to change the topic instead.

“U-uhm, is there no one else here other than me?”

“Unfortunately. I thought we succeeded in promoting the club, but it’s too bad. Ah...”

Maru smiled.

“Thanks for what you did this morning. You made our performance a huge success.”

“...You knew it was me?”

“When you were being carried or when you were in front of me?”

“Y-you saw?”

“I saw your friends running. They were fast.”

She thought he hadn’t been able to see her. Jiyoon sighed dejectedly, it felt like a dark secret of hers just got revealed.

“I’m joking. I didn’t actually see. I just heard from the other two later. Here, since you’re here, have a bottle of Yakult.”

“Ah, yes.”

She didn’t feel relieved by his words at all. Maru opened the clubroom door and Jiyoon saw a full row of Yakult inside, each with a straw inserted in them.

“What are you going to do with all of that?”

“Guess I’ll give it to the third-years. I can’t drink at all myself.”

“.......”

She felt a little bad after that, but it seemed rude to give the Yakult back, so she drank it anyway. She exhaled loudly after finishing the bottle.

“You didn’t have to drink it so fast.”

“What? Ah, I’m sorry.”

“It’s nothing to be sorry for.”

“S-sorry.”

Maru didn’t seem to like her attitude and pouted, causing Jiyoon to tense up nervously.

“I know I might be overstepping my boundaries here, but I’ll say this. Don’t say sorry habitually like that. You might not be able to apologize properly when you really need to.”

Maru took the Yakult bottle from her hands and Jiyoon almost said sorry again as she covered her mouth in surprise. Maru smiled at her and at that moment Jiyoon felt the nervousness flee her body completely. This person may be intimidating, but he had a gentle side, she knew that for sure now.

“Um, senior.”

“Mm?”

“Can I ask you something?”

Maru nodded, Jiyoon’s question was simplistic but important.

“Is it possible to become an actress through hard work? It doesn’t have to be a major character or anything. I just want to try being on stage.”

She was surprised at how easily the words flowed from her mouth, she hadn’t dared to speak like this when faced with Geunseok. Jiyoon watched Maru’s mouth with bated breath, she couldn’t wait to hear his response and she hoped he would encourage her again.

“No one would know the answer to that.”

“...What?”

“There’s definitely a chance you might not make it even after trying hard. After all, there’s a lot of people who fail despite trying hard.”

Jiyoon nodded in understanding. Thinking about it, he was right. If everything went perfectly, simply because people tried hard, then no one in the world would be sad. Geunseok was correct. She didn’t have talent, so hard work would be useless for her.

“It’s the same as what we did earlier today. The three of us stood in the cold for an hour, but nothing came of it. You appeared, but you aren’t about to register, so it’s ultimately pointless.”

“I’m sorry.”

She shook her head immediately since he had told her to stop apologizing, but the apology had already left her mouth.

“Did you see us on stage?”

“Yes.”

“Thanks. It must’ve been quite amateurish.”

“Not at all! I enjoyed it very much. Really.”

Both the actors and the stage shone brilliantly back then. She wanted to join them, but it looked like she’d have to give up on that dream.

“I’ll come to watch when you guys are on stage again. Really.”

“Thanks. That’d be great.”

She thought about leaving then, but something rose in her chest. She had been told the same thing twice in a row, that some things couldn’t be accomplished with only hard work. Was that really the case? Then what of the people who actually did try hard? She wanted to speak up, but she lacked the courage to do so. She stayed silent, not knowing what to do for a few seconds.

“In reality, the phrase ‘hard work’ is a trap.”

Maru spoke as she grabbed another bottle of Yakult from the clubroom. He offered her a third, but she shook her head.

“What do you mean, a trap?”

“You can’t be an actor without hard work, it’d be impossible. ‘You can do it with a bit more hard work’. You know, stuff like that. Why do you think people say these things?”

Jiyoon pondered for a bit before answering.

“To cheer up those who work hard.”

“That’s the trap.”

“What?”

Work hard, try harder, and harder, and harder. How were these words a trap?

“The phrase ‘hard work’ only exists for those who watch the people that try hard.”

“Those who watch?”

What was he talking about?

“Let’s say there’s an important test happening. You end up passing that test with hard work. Then you’d hear people around you say ‘See? Hard work pays off.’”

Jiyoon nodded, she’d heard that phrase countless times in her life, ‘hard work pays off’. She had to wonder how many people hadn’t heard it before.

“Then, on the other hand, won’t the people say ‘you just didn’t try hard enough’ if you fail?”

The idea that hard work pays off and someone failed because they didn’t try hard enough sounded logical to Jiyoon.

“Do you know how easy it is to say these words? The phrase ‘hard work’ contains both success and failure. That’s why you can easily tell people who already work hard to work even harder. Because the phrase works for just about any situation. If things go well for you, it’s thanks to hard work. If things go poorly for you, it’s thanks to the lack of hard work.”

She suddenly felt betrayed by the phrase, to think that was the reality of it…

“There’s no good analysis required when you use it. It just crushes everything and instantly justifies what you said. How great is that? It’s incredibly difficult to give people a good answer to their current situation. After all, you would need to analyze everything about what they’re going through. But the phrase ‘hard work’ just lets you skip all of that. You failed your test? You didn’t try hard enough. Your English sucks? Try harder. You keep failing your interviews? Maybe you didn’t try hard enough compared to the others?”

Strangely, Maru’s expression changed as though he had sinned against someone.

“The phrase is like an escape route. It lets you judge someone without knowing anything about them. You don’t have to think hard about their issues at all.”

Maru scratched his head with an apologetic look.

“I’m the same, actually. I want to give you a good answer, but I’m still very lacking. In the end, I can only tell you to try hard. But I hate having to say that, because if it turns out that your hard work was for naught, then no one would be there to pay you for the time you’ve wasted. That’s why I don’t talk optimistically. I’d rather tell someone that hard work might not pay off. It’s the least I can do.”

Jiyoon stared at Maru, who shrugged back. In the end, he was saying the same thing— that he didn’t know what would happen—but the way he conveyed it was completely different from Geunseok. His words reassured her more than anyone else’s.

“So my hard work might not pay off.”

“That’s right.”

“But it also might pay off?”

“Eh… so what I’m saying is...”

Before he could finish his sentence, Jiyoon handed him her registration form.

“I’ll try. I-I can’t talk very well and I’m very shy, but I’ll try my best.”

“Did you understand what I told you?”

“Yes!” “...Are you sure?”

“Yes!”

She didn’t care if she couldn’t stand on stage. It felt like she’d have a great time if she could work with a senior like this one, and hey—she might actually be able to get on stage again!

“And senior?”

“Y-yeah?”

Maru looked at her awkwardly.

“Were you there on the stage at Anyang during the competition in December?”

“I was. Since my leg was fine back then.”

“What role did you take back then?”

“Me?”

Maru took two steps back before jumping up from his spot, he ambled playfully for a bit before raising his hand into the air. He motioned as though he was grabbing something from the air, then bowed deeply. Jiyoon instantly recognized who he was.

“I did something like this. I wonder if you can remember me.”

“The one that spoke with the audience...”

“Oh, right. You barely remember, do you? I didn’t have a name. Just a teenager.”

She couldn’t suppress her smile. The person from back then wasn’t Geunseok, it was Maru. Her heart seemed to be melting, her dream was coming back to her. If this person helped her, she’d be able to flourish for sure. At the same time, she found herself becoming flustered and didn’t think she could even look at Maru.

“I-I’ll be leaving now.”

“You’re leaving? Why don’t you have some more Yakult...”

“No, no. I-I’ll be going now.”

Jiyoon turned around with a bow, her smile didn’t disappear even as she descended the stairs. She was unable to keep her heart from pounding in excitement, she couldn’t wait to experience what the club had to offer.

‘I can do it. I can do it!!’

Jiyoon bounded down the stairs in delight.

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Chapter was edited by pugba.