Chapter 28

Studying, chatting, and then going home. Occasionally visiting PC bangs and bathhouses with friends before coming back home to study. By the time Maru was done with his studies it was already 11 at night. He would blog a little, surf the web for a few minutes before going to sleep at midnight. He could hear his computer’s fan whirling in the background.

Maru stared blankly at his monitor for a second before pulling out a book. It was something he borrowed from a nearby library. He tried to find a few “self-improvement” books, but couldn’t find many of them. Come to think of it, there was no such thing during this time.

From the time Maru started working in a company all the way to becoming a bus driver, he had read a pile of books as high as him. Reading this many self improvement books lead him to one conclusion.

Self improvement books were just books about successful people reminiscing about their past.

“But I keep reading them again and again for some reason.”

One of the books he remembered most had a Japanese author: The Morning Person. The trend of this era was being active in the morning. The idea that the early birds would succeed was the prevalent thing in this time. Maru turned the page. He knew every word the author would say after each page, but still read it anyway.

It was 1am by the time he finished the book. He set it next to his bed before falling asleep. Today was a productive day. So why…

“Why did it feel so unfulfilling?”

It feels like he was on a highway with nothing around it. He knew he wouldn’t be taking any detours as long as he was on this highway. Despite that, he couldn’t help but look at people driving on the twisty local roads. At the people who were enjoying the scenery to the fullest, going on an adventure following where the road was taking them.

Being late to their destination didn’t matter, as long as they managed to arrive in the end. The only problem is…

“When you run out of fuel.”

Having to watch other people zoom by you as you sit on the road completely out of fuel. Maru closed his eyes again, this time accompanied with a bitter smile. Today, too, he realized living again wasn’t such an easy thing after all. A quiet air descended down on his room.

* * *

Time passed quickly. The entire class was used to school life by now. None of their previous confusion was here now. Everyone was in a friend group of their own, friend groups that’s been around long enough to last the entire year now.

It was currently the end of April. Maru looked out at the window as his two friends sat next to him, with bread in one hand and chips on the other. Countless students approached them asking for a bite, but Dojin shooed them all away.

“I asked for this burger from the guy at the store. Ugh, you beautiful little thing, you.”

Dojin offered Maru half of the burger with a grin. Maru accepted with a quick thank you.

“This guy needs to lose weight. At least, according to instructor Miso.”

“Just a little more, she says. Ugh.”

Daemyung sipped on water sadly. They both seemed to be working at the club well. Dojin and Daemyung both became actors. According to them, Miso told them to practice the characters they wanted to play. They both tried for the more important side characters, but failed just like that. In the end, they ended up becoming passenger 1 and co.

“I have no idea why I can’t even memorize such simple things.” “My head is still drawing a blank in front of the teach. I can’t do anything.”

Teach, huh. They seemed to have gotten closer to her. Then again, it was pretty inevitable with them getting together almost every day. Sometimes they would get together for lunch as well. Of course, Maru had no idea what they were doing. He usually just showed up on Saturdays to read a few lines and make a few props.

[You can leave now, Maru.]

That was the most he would ever get out of Miso. 5 o’clock on full school days, and 3 o’clock during half days. Miso would always tell him that when the clock reached that time. At that point, Maru would grab his bag and just leave. There were other things happening in the auditorium, but Maru has never bothered to stay.

“Is it alright?”

That was the only thing he found himself saying because of that. Is it alright? There was not much else he could ask, since he had no idea what was going on behind the stage.

“I’m dying, man.”

“So tired...”

The response from his friends were always the same as well. Always a variant of “I’m tired”. But Maru could tell that their expressions had changed. They were definitely experiencing progress. Maru took a big bite out of his burger. He’s regretted deciding to stay on the sidelines a few times after that day. Especially whenever he looked at his club members laugh about a script he knew nothing about. Then his regret would multiply even more.

But he was fine now, having gotten used to it.

“Work hard, alright? There’s only a month left, right?”

“Yeah, just about a month,” Dojin responded, sucking away at his fingers.

“Man, I’m so nervous. I hope we get into at least 8th place.”

Maru already knew about the story as well. In the city-wide competitions, 16 teams out of 80 schools would qualify for the regionals. The first and second place in the regionals would then be able to move onto nationals. It was a pretty tight schedule, especially with 11 club members and a single helper.

They might be able to take care of the costumes with the ones made by their seniors, but the props had to be made from scratch.

“Class is about to begin, man.”

“Here, have some of this, Maru.”

Maru slipped the bag of chips Daemyung gave him under his desk. To think the kid was able to control himself… He must be quite motivated.

‘They’re all doing very well.’

Again, that slight feeling of loneliness came over Maru. Though, having a few of the chips did help get rid of it.

‘I should just stick to doing what I can.’

He’s already made his decision a month ago. Thinking about it any further was just unhealthy.

“Yo Dowook, I need my notebook back.”

“Sure.”

Maru turned to look at where the voices came from. He could see Dowook give back a notebook to a friend. He’s melded into the class very well since then. He got mad every once in a while, but nothing big.

Dowook would look away whenever their eyes met. He seemed like he wanted to say something, but refused to say it himself. What a complicated kid.

The class door opened with a creak, and the teacher finally walked in.

* * *

“Hard at work, huh?”

Mom walked in with a smile. For the last two months, Maru was living by the same pattern over and over again. School, library, gym, study. It was no surprise that his mom would say something like this to him at this point.

“But… there’s nothing happening, is there?”

“What’s happening?”

“Mom’s happy that you’ve matured, but you know… It’s a bit sudden.”

Mom put down a bag of chips on Maru’s desk. He looked up at his mother, who gave him a slightly awkward smile.

“Just talk to me if there’s something going on, okay?”

“Alright.”

“Good.”

Mom closed the door quietly on the way out. By the time she was halfway through closing, she called out to him.

“I’ll knock from now on.”

“It’s whatever.”

Maru exclaimed at amazement inside. His parents were very perceptive about how he changed. Then again, he was the same with his daughter. It would actually be strange if they didn’t notice something. Mom probably thought that Maru just matured all of the sudden. It probably felt surprising to her.

Well, equal parts surprising and disappointing. Maru was well acquainted with the feeling of watching a child leave their parent’s grasps. That feeling of learning that their children didn’t need them anymore.

“I… should treat them well.”

Thousands of thoughts passed by in his head. He didn’t really feel like studying anymore today. He closed the textbook and laid down on the bed with a new book. This one was an autobiography written by an actor. The man was apparently famous, but Maru had no clue of who he was. He just picked it up because it was in the recommended section.

Maru started turning the page. After a while of it, he turned off the lights. Today was also a good day. Probably…

* * *

The weather was warm enough for Maru to bike without gloves today. It’s been awhile since he last did it. He could feel the rubber rub at his palms.

The weather was much better now. It will be May soon. People were starting to dress lighter outside. It really was the season when people started transitioning back into their usual jackets.

The bike chains rattled under him. Maru pedaled wondering if he needed to oil the damn thing today. Speaking of which, today was a day for the students to spend on their clubs. The acting club, too, was gathered completely on the 5th floor auditorium.

The two things he had on him were book he was reading last night, as well as a bottle of water. Not much has changed for Maru despite the lack of classes. Most of the props were done now, and all there was left to do was to practice acting. Maru parked the bike at the school and started up the stairs. He could hear the soccer club shouting amongst themselves outside.

They probably bet a lot of money on the oncoming match.

He could hear singing as he came up to the 5th floor. The music club, no doubt. Right next to it, he could hear the toy club mess around with a bunch of things in their room. The entire floor was loud. Only by the time he came to the middle of the floor could he finally starting to hear the acting club.

“Stretches first, and then we’ll start.”

“Yes ma’am!”

He could hear the students talking brightly behind the door. The club was supposed to meet at 9am. Maru took out his phone to make sure one more time. 8:50am. Everyone was trying very hard in the club.

Maru opened the door with a strange sense of nervousness.

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