Chapter 22

Dojin’s eyes were sparkling with curiosity, whilst Daemyung looked around worriedly. That alone spoke loudly of their personalities.

“Alcohol?” Daemyung asked. Maru nodded.

“Where did you get it?”

“I took it out of the fridge.”

“Won’t you get yelled at?”

“That’s my problem, not yours. You ever drink before, Daemyung?”

“Nope, never.”

Maru handed the can over.

“Drink.”

“…..”

“Don’t worry, it won’t kill you,” Dojin said, looking like he wanted to try it himself.

Daemyung took a small sip of the beer.

“Ugh, bitter.”

“Is it?”

Dojin tried a sip of it himself.

“Ugh, what’s up with that flavor?”

“What?”

“No, I mean, don’t actors enjoy beer when they have it in movies? What kind of a flavor is this?”

“Just means you two are innocent.”

Maru took a big swig of beer himself. His 45 year old self could go strong even after 4 bottles of soju. His body was just tolerant of alcohol. That didn’t change much after coming back to the past.

“You like that stuff?” Dojin frowned.

“I’m not innocent like you two.”

“What the hell are you on?”

“You’ll see why this is tasty when you start suffering a bit more. Thinking badly about alcohol just shows how healthy of a life you two have.”

Maru handed the beer over to Daemyung.

“Think you can talk now?”

Daemyung shook his head.

“Have some more, then. It’ll help. Makes the cold go away as well.”

Daemyung closed his mouth and started chugging. Gulp, gulp. The beer can was emptied within seconds.

“I didn’t mean for you to just one shot that… You okay?”

“Eh? Yeah. I’m fine, I think.”

“For now, sure. Let’s walk a bit.”

The three of them strolled around the park for a few minutes.

“Hey, check Daemyung out,” Dojin pointed.

Daemyung’s face turned pink. Not completely red, but sort of pink.

On the other hand…

“Dojin, you’re so red,” Daemyung commented.

“What, me?”

Dojin was red as a tomato after a single sip.

“You should probably not drink too much in gatherings, man.”

“What? Wait, hold on. I’m red? Really? I feel fine.”

Dojin touched his cheeks a little bit and jumped in surprise.

“Hey, I’ll just do another quick lap. Man, why am I like this?” he started walking away fanning off the heat from his cheeks.

‘Is his liver bad?’

Maru decided to refrain from offering the guy alcohol from now.

“Is he fine?” Daemyung asked.

“He’s fine. Alcohol’s just not for him. How do you feel, though?”

“Eh? I feel fine. Ah, my mouth feels a tiny bit numb, though. Like the time when I got anesthetics for getting my tooth pulled when I was young. That reminds me, I was really happy back then, right? Confident, that’s the word. I didn’t even know why other kids were so afraid of the dentists. I would tell everyone else stuff like ‘why are you so afraid of dentists? I don’t even cry when I’m there!’ Hah, and now I’ve become like this…”

Daemyung started rambling on. He didn’t seem to realize it, but the alcohol definitely had an effect on him. Maru listened to him speak for a little bit. He’s never seen Daemyung be like this before. The boy was even excitedly making hand gestures for each word.

‘They’re all stories from elementary school.’

Daemyung probably became introverted some time in middle school.

“And then my desk partner in 3rd grade told me that I looked funny.”

The boy’s shoulders drooped noticeably. His voice had become a lot more quiet, too. So this is it, huh.

“The day was normal. I looked fine, I think. But she told me that I looked funny. After that, everyone started saying I looked funny as well. They probably meant well. But… I couldn’t just laugh about it. Maybe because it’s true? I mean, I do look like a dumbass.”

Daemyung smiled awkwardly. He turned to look at Maru, who just stared back without any emotion on his face.

“Keep going.”

“Eh?”

“I’m listening, so go on.”

“……”

Daemyung continued after a moment of hesitation, recounting what happened afterwards, and how he started getting bullied.

“It feels really bad to be bullied. But I couldn’t do anything about it, because it was my fault to begin with. I mean, I look funny. I can’t even refute it, either! I was begging to be bullied.”

Daemyung stopped to look at Maru, who motioned to keep going. He hesitated, though.

“Anything else?”

“Eh?”

“Anything else you wanted to say?”

“Eh…”

“So that’s it?”

Maru looked at Daemyung for a second. Did Daemyung sober up, or had he just become self-aware as he spoke? The boy looked a lot more nervous now.

“…Funny, isn’t it? I’m being so depressed over something that just kind of had to happen. I mean, I look like a retard. It was bound to happen. But it’s okay now. I feel fine. I have friends now. Friends who listen to me.”

Daemyung smiled. But his shoulders were still drooped just like before. Maru looked into the boy’s eyes. He didn’t want to see a word bubble or anything. He didn’t need it. He wanted to see a reaction.

The boy looked down without being able to meet his eyes.

“Daemyung.”

“…Sorry.”

“I had this friend a long time ago who told me this. You might not change as a person from the people you associate with, but your friends could still drift away because of them.”

Maru stood up over Daemyung. He straightened the boy’s shoulders.

“You should sit more comfortably.”

Daemyung relaxed in his seat. He still looked awkward. Hands clasped together, over his knees. He looked just like a new soldier.

“Impressions of you can change depending on who you hang out with. Some people might think of you as studious, others might say you’re awkward. You haven’t changed at all. It’s just your surroundings that makes you look different.”

“……”

“People are very opinionated. They like getting involved, whether it be in a good or a bad way. That just can’t be helped and you can’t stop them from judging you.”

Daemyung nodded.

“You’ll just have to learn to live with it. There’s something important, though.”

Maru raised his fingers and formed a ‘T’ shape out of them.

“This horizontal finger here represent what people of you.”

Maru raised his finger upward like a see-saw.

“Some of them might be good,”

This time, he moved it down.

“Others might be bad,” he continued, “unfortunately, you can’t control it. After all, you can’t control other people, right?”

“Yeah…”

“But look here, this finger in the middle.”

Maru put his vertical finger straight in the middle of the horizontal one.

“If you keep a good balance, there’s no way people’s impressions of you can lean too much towards one place. But what do you think would happen if that balance disappeared?”

“People’s impressions of you… will change.”

“That’s exactly it.”

Maru put away his fingers.

“Some people know exactly what to do to always get good impressions out of people. But we can’t all be like these people, right?”

“Right.”

“Normal people have to learn to live normally. That is, they need to find their balance. People normally have their balance set from the time they’re born. It’s very hard to shake them off of it. But there’s one thing that can very easily shake you off.”

“…What is it?”

“You should know better than anyone.”

“……”

“What was that? Weirdo? Lookin’ funny? I feel like there were more.”

“……”

“Nothing in the world can hurt you more than yourself. If you’re the one messing with your own balance… It can get very dangerous very quickly.”

Maru recalled some of the words Daemyung were called in the past. All the negative words the boy spouted before about himself. He’s always called his bullies the ‘cool kids’ whereas he was nothing more than the ‘fatty’. Maru’s seen too many people broke themselves like this in the past. Especially his fellow bus driver who ended his own life back in the day.

“Then… what should I do?”

“Don’t know. I’m not you. You should be the one thinking about it. What were you like before you started putting yourself down? Try to become like yourself from that time again. It’ll be hard, I know. People don’t just change in a day.”

“……”

Daemyung looked even depressed. He must be thinking about a lot of things.

* * *

Daemyung thought about a few things. Things that made him completely forget about the cold. He looked down at his hands. They were chubby. No, fat. How much did he weigh again? It felt like every day, he grew a few centimeters more sideways. That too was his fault, really.

“I was thinking as I was playing a game a few hours ago. Maybe video games are just a form of escapism for me. Since I can act more freely in a video game than in real life.”

“Mm.”

“Maybe I wouldn’t be so fat if I used that time to play sports. I wouldn’t be such a damn pi… No, I’d be skinny like you, even. Hah…”

Daemyung scratched his head. He felt like he realized something.

“I decided. I’m gonna quit gaming and start playing sports. Maybe other people would look at me differently then? Yeah. I’ll be more confident then.”

Right. He could become more confident. He was thankful that Maru was willing to listen to him talk. It’s been a while since he was able to be honest with himself.

He should treat Maru to something sometime.

But… Maru wasn’t looking at him so kindly, he realized.

“I told you, didn’t I? People don’t change that easily. Though… If that’s what you’ve decided for yourself, I won’t say anything about it. Ah, I guess I already did, didn’t I?”

Maru smiled awkwardly. What was wrong about his resolution?

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