“Keep your promise, okay?”
Bada became a little proud of herself as she held up her four test papers. She scored above 90 points for all of them.
“There are two days left. I’m really going to be in the top 5,” she made a resolve as she left.
“Did you do something to her?”
“Then did she grow up all of a sudden?” Maru’s mother looked at the door puzzledly.
“You’re starting your exams today aren’t you?”
“You should do the basics at least, okay? That’s if you don’t want to be seen with contempt once you enter society. Movie shooting is good and all, but since you’re a student and all….”
“Yes, yes, Mrs. Lee. Don’t worry about that. Your son isn’t that stupid. Rather than that, mom, you aren’t going anywhere this evening, are you?”
“I don’t have anything after work. What is it?”
“How about father?”
“Your dad should come home after work as well.”
“Why do you ask?”
“I have something to talk about with you two.”
“Something to talk about? What is it?”
“I’ll talk about it once I get back from school. If you see entitled customers at the mall, then don’t listen to that person’s request. We’re well-off enough that you don’t have to work, aren’t we?”
“Worry about such things after you grow up. You should get going. You might be late.”
Maru’s mother saw him out until the door closed. Having brought his bike outside, Maru rode it to school. The head-of-the-year teacher, who would usually be standing guard catching any misfits, couldn’t be seen today.
“Wanna go to the PC bang after tests?”
“But hey, did you study?”
“Do you think I did?”
The atmosphere was definitely not as serious as normal schools. All he heard as he went up to his classroom after locking his bike was which PC bang they were going to go to today.
“Maru, did you study?”
“I did, a lot.”
“You believed that?”
Dojin put his thumbs up, saying that Maru was a true friend. Dojin’s desk was clean, despite the fact that other classmates at least had textbooks open on their desks due to conscience. Dowook and Daemyung were looking at their textbooks, revising.
“The first and second in the class sure are different.”
Dojin tried to interrupt the two by poking on their waists, but the two did not budge.
“Don’t try to drag others into hell with you and just sleep.”
“Dammit, you’re saying that to me as well? Are we still friends?”
“If a friend requires failing life with you, then I’ll politely stop being friends with you starting today.”
Maru smiled and rebuked him. Dojin eventually took out a notebook and started revising as well. Although his handwriting was neat in the top left corner, it became illegible around half way through. That was the result of dozing off halfway through writing notes.
“I can’t read a single thing.”
“Then memorize this. This is for last-minute cramming.”
Maru threw him a notebook. It was his notes that he wrote throughout the night after coming back from Seoul yesterday.
“Traitor. You did study after all.”
“Don’t talk back at me and start memorizing. Culinary arts require brains as well. In this world even chefs require degrees you know?”
“I’m gaining experience by cleaning dishes like the masters on TV, you know? To hell with studying.”
“What if you end up breaking up with Iseul?”
“Stop bullshitting and get studying. Remember the history teacher’s words when he said he’ll beat you up with a PVC pipe if you don’t get above 60 points.”
“You’re right. I almost screwed up there.”
As PVC pipes were very common in engineering schools like this one, most teachers loved to use them as rods of love. One of the teachers even wrapped a pipe with tape and praised it for its striking feel. Of course, the students preferred getting hit with PVC pipes as well. It was hollow, so it was loud but it didn’t hurt that badly. In contrast, wet hardwood produced almost no sound and hurt like hell.
“I might actually end up dying if the history teacher decides to hit me for real.”
“So memorize those well.”
As they would be able to attend junior colleges even if they don’t do that well, there weren’t that many people focusing on studying. Only the students aiming for full universities within Seoul were revising really hard. After morning homeroom, tests began immediately.
“Don’t roll your eyes. You’ll be consulting me if I hear you rolling your eyeballs around.”
The teacher appeared with a cue stick.
Maru heaved a deep breath out before reading the test papers. The first subject was Korean. These were mostly common sense questions that he didn’t need to revise to answer. He marked the answer sheet and then started resting. He could hear Dojin having trouble with his test.
“Put your pens down. The ones in the back row, collect the tests.”
The first period ended without a hitch. The ones that actually revised properly took out revision materials for the next test, but most of them just went around marking their tests.
“Hey, hey, hey! I got 80 points!” Dojin shouted excitedly.
Most of them scored above 80 points.
‘I knew it.’
The teachers gave out hints for the test starting a week prior. It was easy enough to get points by just memorizing the stuff they taught during that period. Moreover, the Korean test was really easy this time around. Naturally, the average scores would be really high. However, tests were made to differentiate the top from the rest. In this case, even a single point would be the deciding factor in grades.
“What the heck is this….”
This was the result of downward equalization. Like this, the ones that actually revised hard would be at a disadvantage since a minor mistake would cost them dearly.
“Ah shit, I’m doomed.”
Although this was an engineering school, it wasn’t that there weren’t any students that studied. Maru made a bitter expression as he watched some of his classmates dejected. Those people entered this school with a purpose. They were plenty capable of entering normal study-focused high schools, but they entered this school with the mindset that they want to be the head of the snake rather than the tail of the dragon. However, they would become the tail of the snake with a slight mistake, so they were really on the edge.
“What the heck? Everyone got 80 points. What is going on?”
Maru covered Dojin’s mouth and gave him an intense glare. Dojin also became quiet after seeing someone studying hard. The noisy classroom quietened down in an instant.
“Let’s give them some quiet during the exam period.”
“Yeah, we should.”
Everyone was aware of each other’s circumstances. From that moment onwards, the class became quiet in order to not interrupt others from revising. Maru smiled after seeing that.
“These kids might not have the smarts, but they’re all kind people, yeah?” Dojin also smiled as he said those words.
After a break period, the next exam began, which was maths. Although there were some students that solved problems until the very end during the Korean exam, maths was different. Maru, who was sitting at the very back, saw that the majority of the class slumped down and fell asleep within the first 10 minutes. Even the teacher, who came to supervise them, was dozing off at the front. This class wasn’t nervous about the test at all. Everyone was dozing off just like the class right after lunch.
Dojin, who sat next to Maru, was rolling an eraser he cut into the shape of a hexagon. Passion could be felt from the way he did his tests. Dowook and Daemyung seemed to be solving the actual questions. Since both of them were smart, they would be able to get some good results.
Maru also solved the questions he could answer before slumping down. He only found it pathetic that his smarts didn’t work in this area.
* * *
“Why did they have to include the weekend? Shouldn’t they let us off on the weekend at least? I don’t know who made the time table, but that guy must be evil.”
“You’re saying as though you’ll actually study for the tests during the weekend?”
Maru pushed Dojin’s back. The tests for Thursday were over. Now, they had tests on Friday, Saturday and Monday. Although Maru could read the teacher’s intentions of trying to bring up the test scores by putting the weekend in the middle, it was unknown if it would actually work.
“I got three wrong.”
“Daemyung, let’s go to the library.”
Dowook and Daemyung went to the library in high spirits. The usually naive-looking Daemyung was gone, and Dowook looked sharper than ever today.
“Don’t they get tired of that?”
Dojin clicked his tongue and went to the computer department where Iseul was. Maru also took his bag and left the classroom. Usually, he would go to the library along with Daemyung and Dowook, but his desire to study fell dramatically after receiving that contract form. Now that he decided that he would be an actor in the future, he just had to study enough that it wouldn’t become a hindrance. He walked down the staircase where he met Jiyoon and Aram on the second floor. The two juniors came to him from their friends when they saw him.
“Seonbae, did you do well on your tests?”
Maru shrugged his shoulders.
“How about you two?”
“Don’t even talk about it. The class is in an uproar thanks to Jiyoon’s notes. You see them over there? We’re all going to Jiyoon’s house to study. Oh, we don’t have any meetings at the acting club during exam period, right?” Aram asked. Maru nodded back at her.
“Good. Jiyoon, let’s go. My mom told me that she’ll buy me clothes if I can get over 80 points average on midterms.”
“Al-alright. Seonbae-nim, please excuse us.”
“Okay, work hard.”
Jiyoon looked quite bright. It seemed that the pressure she felt during every exam period was gone. Since she was a meticulous person, she would be able to get a good score if she did the tests in good condition.
‘I wonder how Bangjoo is doing.’
He went to the central door and changed his shoes when he heard a loud voice from the school field. Some students were playing soccer despite all the exams going on. Bangjoo could be seen among them. He showed incredible skill and passed by many defenders and shot the ball into the net. He looked happier than ever.
“...Looks like he gave up already.”
Maru headed home with a small smile.
* * *
“The read-through will start at 11, and after that, there will be a meal with the journalists. It won’t be that long, though.”
“To think that the journalists will actually take videos of our read-through… Things have changed a lot these days.”
“That’s true. These days, they sell things called DVDs which include not only the movie, but the making film and some commentary from the director or the actors. The read-through is being recorded for the same purpose.”
“Are you talking about CDs when you say DVDs?”
“Yes, that’s right, sir.”
Moonjoong nodded his head in acceptance. Although he was using the laptop that his daughter had bought for him, it was mostly used for checking emails. Although people around him were willing to teach how to use it properly, Moonjoong refused them all. He felt as though he was becoming an idiot when he stared into a small screen for a long period of time.
“I’ve quit smoking, but I habitually pick one up during reading, is that fine?”
“That’s not a problem. The atmosphere isn’t that strict.”
“Sheesh. I’m just worried that I might screw up my lines out of embarrassment.”
The young fella laughed quietly. This was his manager that Junmin had sent him. He stayed by his side for a few days after saying that he would look after Moonjoong to the best of his abilities. Moonjoong first liked his attitude, and liked him more when he found out that he had a deep knowledge about acting. The more he got to like this young manager, the more he realized how great Junmin’s human resources were. Junmin knew too well which person to put where for them to bring out all of their skills.
“Sir. You should leave after a warm breakfast.”
The two left after eating breakfast made by the manager. Inside the car, Moonjoong quietly flipped over his worn out script. From how he could clearly read the text despite the rumble of the car, he felt that today was going to be a good day.
“I think I’ll visit the supermarket before I go.”
“The supermarket? If you need anything, I’ll go buy it for you.”
“No, this has to be done by me.”
“Very well, sir.”
The manager stopped by a nearby supermarket. Moonjoong went to the groceries section with the manager. They saw tangerines behind the watermelons. Although it wasn’t the right season for tangerines, they looked quite delicious as though they were grown in a greenhouse.
“This is good,” Moonjoong bought three nets of tangerines before returning to the car. He took out one of the good ones and gave it to the manager.
“Although it’s for a short time, please take care of me.”
“Yes, sir. Thanks for the tangerine.”
Moonjoong nodded his head.
“Since I’ve finished bribing you, let’s get going.”
“Haha, that was a bribe?”
“Yes of course. Since you received one from me, treat me well, okay?”
Moonjoong smiled while looking outside the window.
* * *
-Let’s go together.
That text arrived while he was still getting changed. Maru replied to Yoojin’s message.
-Are you a kid? Why should we go together?
-Shut up and come to Gangnam station by 10.
Maru frowned and called Yoojin.
“Oh? She’s not picking up.”
He briefly wondered if he should go by himself, but decided to obediently go to Gangnam station after thinking about the consequences. Her threat of occupying her every weekend so that Maru and she wouldn’t be able to go on dates was quite a scary one.
He put his script inside his bag and had a look at the time. It was 8:30 in the morning on a Sunday, and the weather was sunny.
‘Let’s go then, shall I?’
 Top 3 (bullshit) lines said by teachers in high school. “I can hear you chatting all the way from the faculty office!” “I can hear your eyes rolling, focus on your tests!” “I haven’t seen a guy as bad as you in my twenty years of being a teacher!”. So yeah, apparently, teachers can ‘hear you roll your eyes’ aka hear you peeking at other people’s tests
 I’m not sure what it’s like these days, but relative grading used to be the norm in Korea.
Dowook is actually quite smart, huh...
Things I italicize:
Korean terms & places & locations smaller than cities (e.g. Gangnam station, PC-bang. Hanbok, etc). So Seoul is not italicized...
her when referring to Maru's GF
Accents for speech (rarely)