He felt humiliated. He wouldn’t be this embarrassed if this happened just between him and Maru, the problem was that their junior was standing behind him. Thinking of how he was humiliated in front of something he was actively looking down on angered him to no end. He kicked a trashcan next to the bus station, looking at the trash spill out made him feel a little bit better.
“Hey, you bastard!”
Just before he could leave, he heard a deep voice from behind him. It was a scary-looking old man, Geunseok glanced a few times before picking the trash up.
“It was a mistake. Just a mistake.”
Geunseok smiled awkwardly as the man scanned him. He was swearing as much as he could inside, but he couldn’t show this on the outside; today was an unlucky day. Once he came back home, Geunseok opened the door with a frown, he kicked his shoes off and tried to get in. Once he saw his father reading the newspaper in the living room, he straightened his shoes carefully.
“You came back early.”
“I was going to pick up a notebook from home.”
His father gave him a nod, the man was still looking at the newspaper.
“I enrolled you in an academy. Go there.”
“It’s a Chinese language academy, English isn’t enough nowadays. You need English as a base and Chinese as a secondary language.”
Geunseok was about to say self-study was enough, his father slowly closed his newspaper and looked straight forward. The man’s eyes, shining behind his gold-rimmed glasses, was full of disappointment. Geunseok closed his mouth straight away.
“You made a face very similar to ‘that guy’ just now.”
‘That guy’. There were many people his father referred to as ‘guy’, but there was only ever one ‘that guy’. Geunseok’s brother.
“What, you want to rebel against everything I say and leave the house, just like him?”
“Then what should your answer be?”
“I’ll go to the academy.”
“Of course you will.”
Only then did his father looked away, his father folded the newspaper and took out a wallet.
“Here. Take this. A reward for taking first place amongst all of the first years.”
His dad was giving him a card. A black card.
“You’ll need a lot of money if you want to hang out with the smarter kids. Don’t make them pay for anything, always offer to pay. That’s how you start differentiating yourself from them. You can only make real friends once you get out in society. School friends? Such things don’t exist. The only people you can find in school are competitors, people you need to beat. Rise in the society that the winners have built and make your mark in it, only then can you make friends. Don’t waste your time on emotions, not if you don’t want to end up like him.”
Geunseok took the card with both of his hands. The card only granted him more freedom, so why did it feel more like chains?
‘But I can’t do anything about it. So be it. I’ll keep on living like this.’
He bowed and walked back to his room. Once he put down his bag, he let out a deep sigh.
What a shitty day. It felt like his dad was mad because of Han Maru. If only the boy didn’t get in his way… Geunseok chewed on his fingertips as he took out his phone, he punched in Suyeon’s phone number and started a call. Suyeon delayed their lesson for two days and went radio silent. He thought he’d be able to meet her just the next day, but she didn’t send him anything.
- Excuse me?
- Yeah. What?
Suyeon was breathing incredibly heavily. Geunseok rolled his eyes as he spoke.
“When can I get my lesson?”
He was annoyed at everything, he felt like meeting Suyeon was the only way to rid himself of this annoyance. Suyeon would use her maturity to console him well, like always. But…
- I’m not planning on doing any lessons for a while. You’re talented, so learn by yourself for a bit.
“What? What do you...”
- I’m busy. Bye.
With that, she hung up. Geunseok caught an old man’s voice from the other side just before the call ended. Bang. Geunseok punched his table angrily. He flinched in surprise and looked at his door. His father didn’t hear, did he? He put his ear against his door nervously. Thankfully, all he could hear was the sound of classical music. A sigh of relief slipped out of his mouth before he sat down on the bed. Everything had wrong today. Today was easily one of the worst days of his life.
‘Han Maru, that bastard… He’s not going to tell on me, is he?’
If his father finds out about him acting… He didn’t even want to imagine the consequences. He still remembered his father from back then, the man delivered an incredibly hard slap to his brother’s face when he came back during college. Geunseok felt like his heart was going to stop whenever he remembered the pair of blood-shot eyes that his father used to glare at Geunsoo at the time.
“He can’t know.”
Geunseok had a plan, Junmin promised a reward if he brought in results by his third year. A full scholarship was one thing, but he was also promised a network of actors and even a chance to act on a big project. Geunseok saw his future in that promise, he would be a star outshining all else. Money, women, and fame would follow him on this path.
His father didn’t suggest any particular path to follow in life, all the man wanted out of him was ‘success’. To his father, the easiest path to success was in studying. Even after Geunseok’s brother left home in rebellion to this philosophy, his father didn’t even bat an eye. In fact, the man said that his brother would come crawling back in just a few days. Ten years passed by like that and his brother was still a no-name actor.
His father was correct, foolish challenges held no meaning. Perhaps things could be different if success was guaranteed, that’s why he thought he’d be able to persuade his father with Junmin’s contract. Junmin was well known within the entertainment industry, someone who had connections with many huge companies. His father should be accepting of his actions if Junmin was backing him.
But now was not the time. Right now, Geunseok had nothing to show. If his father found out about him doing acting at this moment, the man would say ‘use that time to study’. Of course, Geunseok didn’t have much affection for acting. It didn’t really matter if he went into acting professionally or if he just studied, but if he took the latter route, he wouldn’t be able to get in the spotlight. He wanted recognition, rather than just to earn a lot of money. Just look, even at his position right now, he was able to be with a beautiful, charming woman like Suyeon. There were just too many things to lose if he left a field like this.
‘I just have to stay quiet just this once.’
If he lay low a bit, then Maru would cool off as well. He could use the juniors then to attack Maru, the idiot would explode just like last time, because he was a ‘guardian of justice’ or whatever.
“Alright, I just have to endure just this once. That’s all I need to do.”
Maru and the girl who was hiding behind him… He could just expel them to the stage manager roles. Honestly, he was more pissed at the girl. He wouldn’t even have gotten into a fight with Maru if she stayed silent. Right then, he heard the front door open. There was no way his mother was back already. Did his father order delivery food? Just as curiosity seeped into his head, he heard a voice.
“Father! It’s been too long.”
A bright and jovial voice, it was his brother. A frown instantly formed on Geunseok’s face. How dare his brother sounded so happy, especially when he was practically kicked out of the house? Was he just trying to show off? How pitiful. His dad should shout soon enough. Or perhaps his brother would get slapped again.
But all he heard was silence. What was going on? His dad wasn’t someone who could endure an occurrence like this for very long.
“Let me introduce you. This is senior Lee Junmin, someone who I greatly respect. I believe he’s around your age?”
“Hey, watch your language, Geunsoo.”
“It’s fine, senior. I was practically born like this from the start, so my father should understand. Isn’t that right?”
Geunseok widened his eyes. Junmin? He slowly opened his door and peeked out through a small crack, it really was Junmin. He was holding tomato juice, a long-time favorite of their father.
“Who are you?” his dad asked stiffly.
Then again, there was no way his dad would look too kindly on an acquaintance of his brother.
“My name is Lee Junmin. I work in the entertainment industry. Geunsoo kept begging me to come, and I acquiesced. Pardon my intrusion.”
His father looked at Junmin for a second before letting him take a seat. As soon as they sat down, Junmin took out a piece of paper from his bag.
“This guy was saying some odd things about how he needed to show you this contract.”
“What is this?”
“Please read it.”
Geunseok could see his father read the contract slowly. What was it about? After what felt like forever, his father slowly put the paper down on the table.
“You must’ve suffered quite a bit because of my foolish son.”
“You’re right. He’s very childish even at this age.”
Geunseok was shocked, his father was smiling, brightly at that. His father took off his glasses before continuing.
“You see, I’m someone who absolutely despises failure. I was born in what seemed worse than even the city sewers and grew up selling gum and cleaning shoes on the streets. Back then, I only thought of one thing. Success. Money.”
Father looked at the contract again, the smile on his face only deepened.
“No matter what other people may say, money comes before all else. After all, you’re worthless without it.”
“You are correct.”
“I succeeded, at least to a degree. I studied in that pool of mud, using a piece of charcoal as my writing utensil. I used my first pencil until it literally crumbled in my hand. I studied and studied to get where I am today. To me, studying is the easiest way to success. That’s why I was furious when that guy told me he’d succeed through acting, because I knew he wasn’t stupid. He just wouldn’t listen no matter how many times I told him to study.”
“So he was stubborn since back then.”
“Right. That’s the sort of boy he was. I still remember when he ran out of the house. He told me he’d succeed with acting back then. I felt like he was rejecting my entire life right then. Ridiculous. Was success through acting easy? Not at all. The way I see it, succeeding through art in this country takes a ridiculous amount of work and luck. Don’t you think so?”
“That’s why I waited until he would come crawling back to my house. I trusted that he would come back to study. But he didn’t. Not even after ten years.”
Geunseok’s brother smiled brightly.
“Twelve, to be exact. I’m thirty one now.”
“You’re already that old?”
“Of course, father. I’m already starting to get wrinkles just like you.”
An unthinkable number of jokes were being exchanged between the two. Their father, who should’ve stood up flaming with rage at any other point in time, smiled brightly. Because Junmin was here? No. Geunseok’s father wasn’t one to care about who was watching when he got mad.
“Twelve years. After all those years, he finally brings home success.”
“How is it? Don’t you think he’s lived a worthwhile life, with this? Well, while money isn’t the sole metric for a person’s entire life, it is a decent metric, after all.”
“You are right. Not many people can score something like this in their early thirties. This is a success, for sure. Indeed.”
Father pushed the contract back towards Junmin. Geunsoo was the one to retrieve it.
“We’ll take off, then.”
His brother stood up from his spot, Junmin seemed a bit confused.
“Of course we are. Father, I can go, right?”
His father put on his glasses again before replying, the smile from before was wiped off from his face.
“Leave. I don’t want to see you ever again.”
“At least I didn’t get slapped today. That’s a success in my book.”
His brother turned around with a grin. Right then, Geunseok’s eyes met with his brother’s. His brother shrugged before stepping outside.
“Please take good care of him from now on.”
His father bowed towards Junmin once his brother went outside. His father, bowing? Geunseok felt his head turn blank, he’s never once seen this in his life.
“You don’t even have to ask. Geunsoo has a very good head on his shoulders.”
“I see. He was very free from a young age for sure. He did everything by himself. That’s why I disapproved of him. Because it felt like he was constantly trying to escape my grasp.”
“Even so, don’t you feel proud now watching him succeed like this?”
“There’s no parent who would feel anguish at their children’s success. However, I do feel a little annoyed that he succeeded without my help. It feels like he’s completely escaped me at this point.”
“Boys only miss their parents once they leave their homes. I tried to send him over by himself today as well, but he was very embarrassed.”
“Haha, embarrassed, after hurting me like so all those years ago? What a bad child he is.”
“Probably because he takes after you.”
“He takes after me, you say?”
“Where do you think that stubbornness and strength from your younger years went? He probably knew himself that studying was a safe route to success. He would’ve just found it boring.”
Junmin stood up from his seat, prompting Geunseok’s father to follow.
“Here is my business card. Let’s go for a drink sometime. I feel like we’ll get along.”
“This is the first time I’ve gotten a business card from someone in the entertainment business.”
“What an honor.”
The two men walked to the front door, smiling like they were very old friends. Geunseok closed the door with a trembling hand. This wasn’t right, his brother shouldn’t be the one to get recognized by his father.
“Ah, your second son, by the way.”
He could faintly hear Junmin’s voice. Geunseok felt a bolt of lightning strike his head right then.
“How do you...”
“You didn’t hear? The boy’s under my tutelage for acting at the moment.”
“Aha, I see.”
“Please come to my theater together with him when you get the time. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.”
“I understand. I’ll try to make time.”
Geunseok heard the front door close, he gripped the door handle of his room with trembling arms. Right then, the door barged open. His dad was staring at him with a cold expression.
“You lied to me.”
“Your brother rebelled against me, but at least he didn’t lie.”
Geunseok kneeled. His father quietly entered the room and closed the door slowly behind him.
“We should talk.”
Click. The door closed behind them.Previous Chapter Next Chapter