Green leaves started sprouting on the thin trees that the faculty planted last year for landscaping the school premises. She stood next to the tree that wasnext to the school gates. The rays of the sun hit the leaves swaying in the wind, and the bits and pieces of the rays hit her face. Although the weather was hot, she hummed according to the rhythm of the rustle of the leaves. Why was it that she had fun while doing nothing? Was it because of Han Maru?
When she checked the time on her watch, she found that it was nearly one o’clock. As she didn’t have a lot for breakfast, she was very hungry. She decided that they should first go out to eat. She started walking towards the bus stop under the shade of the school walls.
‘He should be here soon, right?’
He had called a few moments ago that he was almost here. She tiptoed near the bus stop before going to the convenience store right behind it. After smiling at the lady that greeted her, she bought a can of milk tea. Did Maru like this though? After hesitating for a moment, she bought two. She decided to drink them both if he didn’t like them.
Just as she wiped off the droplets of water on the surface of the can, she saw the 82 bus approaching from afar. It slowed down as it approached the bus stop before spitting out some people. Maru was among them.
She waved her hand while holding the can in her hand. Maru crossed the road and came towards her.
“It’s hot. Why are you outside?”
“It’s not that hot,” saying that, she offered one of the cans to Maru.
Maru thanked her before drinking it.
“Do you like milk tea?”
“No,” he replied without hesitation.
“Then why are you drinking it?”
“Because you gave it to me.”
She made a hollow smile when she heard Maru replying so nonchalantly.
“Have you had lunch?”
“Not yet. What do you want to eat?”
Was there anything more important than deciding on a menu for lunch? She thought deeply as though she was solving the last question of the English exam. Maybe some light bunsik? Or should they look around some more on high street? Did the others say that the newly opened store was good?
After thinking for a while, she asked Maru, who was just watching her without saying anything.
“Where do you think we should go?”
“I’m fine with anything. Don’t you have a place you want to go? I thought you wanted to eat pizza last time.”
She clapped and nodded her head. She was reminded of the newly open pizza store on high street. According to her friends that had already visited that place, their pizza dough was thin and crusty. Since they said that the salad was good as well, there was no reason to hesitate.
She grabbed Maru’s hand and walked forward. Since they decided, they had to be quick. She led Maru through the streets and over a pedestrian crossing. The streets were no longer filled with houses and they changed into shopping blocks. Although it was only one in the afternoon, students wearing uniforms filled the streets. They were all students going to schools around this area that had finished their exams.
‘There might not be any seats if we’re late.’
Her friends that visited that place after school told her that they were only able to go in after 30 minutes of waiting. She grabbed onto Maru’s hands as she walked. Although she felt nervous holding his hand just until a few months ago, it was natural to her now.
“Why are you in such a hurry?”
“It’s a popular place, so we might have to wait outside if we don’t go in time.”
She struggled through the students that packed the streets and entered rodeo street. Clothes stores filled this street. She entered a small alley between the clothes stores. The alley was filled with dirt, trash and air conditioner outdoor units. Although this was a shortcut she would never use, she had no choice for today.
“This is where you wanna go?”
Hearing Maru’s question, she nodded vigorously. She dragged the hesitant Maru and ran across the alley.
“Is it worth all this effort to eat it?””
“My friend told me it was good.”
Maru smiled as he followed.
After exiting the alleyway, the first thing she saw was the pizza store sign that was colorful compared to the stores on either side. In front of the store was a menu board. The menu board seemed to be hand written by the owner with pastel-tone chalk. She inwardly approved of the exterior of the shop in her mind as she walked towards it.
As she entered the shop, the door made a jingle sound due to the bell and a lady wearing an apron greeted the two. The counter was right next to the entrance. In front of her, she could see people at their tables eating their meal as well as the kitchen that was open for all to see. The cook that was cooking something in front of the burning oven could be seen.
“Is there an empty table?” Maru asked.
The lady tiptoed to see inside the table area before going through the memo papers on the counter.
“There’s one empty table. This way.”
The table area was quite wide with 20 or so tables and only three were empty. As two of the empty tables had the ‘reserved’ plate on it, there was only one empty table. She stroked her chest in relief after seeing some students that entered right after her. Had she not taken that shortcut, they would have had to wait.
“See that? We were almost too late.”
She felt a little proud. Taking his seat, Maru replied to her with ‘you’re the best’. She opened the menu which was on one side of the table and decided on a pizza to eat. As for spaghetti, she decided on a basic tomato spaghetti. For her drink, she chose a cup of strawberry smoothie.
She smiled when she smelled food. She could hear faint chatting noises as well as cutlery noises.
She smiled as she drank the smoothie that came out first. It had just the right sweetness. She spoke as she fiddled with the straw.
“How did you do on the read-through?”
“So-so. I was a little nervous, but I think I did fine.”
“You sound confident. Oh, have you seen sir Park Taeho?”
“Did you get to talk to him.”
“We exchanged a few words during the audition.”
“How was he up close? Was he cool like he is in the movies?”
“He’s just a chubby middle-aged man.”
“He’s like that for now. He gained weight for the role.”
“...I wonder if he looks cute or not.”
“I don’t know what you’re imagining, but he should not look as good as you think he is. If you’re so curious, go watch the movie once it’s out.”
She pictured a chubby Taeho in her mind. Taeho played a lone prosecutor that fought against crime in a movie that was released last year. The lone wolf-like figure couldn’t look cooler. Although he was past 40, his handsome looks didn’t deteriorate but matured even further and he looked incredible. Such a person had gained weight, huh.
‘He’s a cool actor, so he must look cute.’
“Please be careful, it’s hot.”
The pizza they ordered came out. Just as she had heard, the dough was really thin.
“Give me your plate.”
Maru cut a slice of pizza and put it on her plate. Although he was quite mean at times, he was really caring when it came to things like these. There was a slice of pizza on her plate. Although there was a fork and a knife, she grabbed the end of the dough with her hands. Pizza was best when it was eaten with hands.
The crusty dough and the soft cheese on top. She made a happy expression as she bit into it.
She understood why her friends had praised it so much. Although the cheese was a little salty, the button mushroom neutralized that and the taste was deepend even more. Although it seemed like a bland pizza on the surface as it didn’t have that much topping, the combination of the sauce, the cheese and the mushroom were really good and she felt that any other topping would have broken that ensemble.
“This is decent.”
Maru seemed satisfied as well. If the picky Maru acknowledged this, then it must be a really good pizza. While at it, she ate a portion of the spaghetti as well. The semi-crushed cherry tomatoes added just the right bit of sourness and she didn’t get bored of it.
Food was the best form of happiness. Just as she drew some more of the spaghetti to her plate, a hand appeared in front of her eyes. The hand, holding a tissue, slowly approached her face before wiping off her mouth.
She raised her head a little. She saw Maru putting down the tissue he was holding. Usually, Maru would tell her that she was acting like a child, but today, he just looked at her without saying anything. She looked at Maru who acted as though nothing happened.
“What is it?”
She smiled and shook her head. So he could be caring at times, huh?
After eating all the food, they stood up from their seats. As it was a satisfactory meal, they thought that they should visit again.
In front of the counter, she took out her wallet. As she had been saving up all this time, she was fine with paying.
However, before she could even take out any money, Maru held out the card first. She took out some bills saying that ‘please take this not that,’ but Maru stopped her.
The employee took the card and did the transaction. As she couldn’t pay she decided to give the money to Maru instead.
“I’m not fine with it though.”
After signalling the employee that she was sorry, she took Maru outside. Even outside, Maru put his hands behind his back so that she couldn’t give the money to him.
“Are you really going to do this?”
She looked at Maru with dissatisfaction.
“I feel sorry now.”
“What do you feel sorry about?”
“You’re the one spending money all the time. And this is how you act all the time as well. How many times do I have to tell you that I don’t like being treated?”
They were both students without much money. She wanted to split the dating costs half-half. Some of her classmates said that the boy obviously has to pay all of it, but she didn’t agree with that. She thought that if both parties liked each other, they should split the cost and the burden as well. How was it love if only one side took losses?
After scratching his brows for a while, Maru took a step towards her.
“It doesn’t matter to me.”
“I feel sorry though.”
“What do you feel sorry about?”
“That you’re the one taking care of all the costs.”
“If it’s like that, you don’t need to be sorry.”
Hearing his words, she frowned. Just as she was about to say something to him for making her repeat herself, Maru closed in on her before hugging her. At that moment, her head turned blank. She forgot what she was going to say and became absent-minded. Then, she realized that they were in the middle of the street and that there were others who were looking at them. She screamed in her mind and was about to push Maru away when a low voice entered her ears.
“It’s fine since I’ll have the money be our shared asset once we get married.”
She couldn’t exert any strength into her hands anymore. His words were just absurd. M-married? Shared assets? Those words filled her mind, and at the same time, her face felt hot as though it was about to burst.
She saw that Maru was smiling at her right in front of her. Then, that guy continued.
“Oh my, how bold.”
At the same time, Maru took a step back and hugged himself as though he was some embarrassed girl. She felt her last strand of reason popping and swung her arms.
* * *
Maru held out the contract form he received to her as she clearly looked like she didn’t believe it. She started reading the contract with a sour face. It seemed that she was still angry because of the hug from before.
“So it was real.”
She blinked several times as she gave the contract back. Maru shrugged.
“So you’ll be working for JA Production in the future?”
“If there aren’t any hiccups, then yes. I heard that I’ll have things to do once the movie is over.”
“That’s kinda neat. A company, huh.”
She looked at the contract form with complex feelings. As Maru was well aware of the fact that becoming successful as an actress was her dream, he could guess how she felt.
“I’ll pave the way for you so do your best to follow me.”
“I’m not going to walk on a path that somebody else set for me.”
She smiled again. Maru put the contract back inside his bag.
“Then I guess you’ll be busy once work starts coming your way?”
“I’m not so sure about that. I guess it depends on how well I do.”
“So we won’t get to meet once you become a popular star, huh?” She pouted.
“I’ll just date you publicly.”
“Easy for you to say.”
“Actually, it might be better to just broadcast our engagement ceremony to the public. If I become famous enough, the journalists will come flocking, right? I guess I won’t need to prepare anything.”
“Just get ready for it.”
“The engagement ceremony.”
“You must be out of your mind.”
After chuckling to herself, she looked away and asked in a tiny voice.
“...Are you serious?”
“When was I ever not serious?”
“Hey, we’re only in our 2nd year of high school. Engagement and marriage and things like that are just….”
“It might be unexpectedly soon, you know? If it was the old days, we would have gotten married already and have two kids….”
“S-stop! Don’t go any further than that.”
She had turned beet red. Maru felt like teasing her more and did his best to hold them in. If he went any further, he might actually get a slap on the face.
“So for the time being, I’ll take care of the expenses. It’s natural for the one earning money to pay. If I become penniless later, you can just take care of me at that time. Simple, isn’t it?”
“When did I ever say that I’ll be taking care of you?”
“Then I guess I’ll have to be careful not to run out. I have to keep taking care of you in the future.”
Maru tilted his head to avoid the napkin that was flung at him. These napkins were getting faster and faster every time, and she might as well join the girl’s baseball club.
Maru stared at her who was avoiding his gaze, drinking coffee.
If there was a face that he would never get tired of seeing, it would be hers.
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