Maru walked forward as he talked about a TV show he watched during the weekend. Joohyun stopped walking and spoke,
“Hey, do you have something to ask of me?”
“Was it obvious?”
There was a faint smile on Maru’s face.
“It’s strange because you’re suddenly acting like we’re on close terms. You gave me silent nods as a greeting during the read-through. Anyone would realize something’s up.”
“Not everyone thinks that way. There are plenty of people who just avoid others because they don’t want to change how they act towards certain people.”
Maru started walking again.
They left the main street and entered a narrow street with a lot of commercial buildings on it. The street was filled with students. As she had tied her hair and was wearing a baseball cap, no one recognized who she was. Actually, people didn’t normally recognize celebrities. Just slightly changing the image created by the angle of the camera, the lighting, and the makeup would make them into completely different people, so just wearing normal clothes and putting on a hat was enough to fool most people.
Joohyun boldly walked next to Maru.
“So, what was up with that just now?”
From what Joohyun saw of Maru, he was a kid who was rational and had a clear view of the world. Such a kid had changed his attitude and approached her warmly. Even considering that he had a favor to ask of her, why would he act like that?
“Because I don’t know you that well, senior.”
“You don’t know me that well?”
“Yes. Judging from the conversation we had on the school stairs that day, you are a person with a clear philosophy. At the same time, you’re kind enough to give out advice to young people who you haven’t met before. However, the you portrayed by the media is very different. Even now, the first related search term when looking up your name is ‘blunt speech’. Also, people like Ahn Joohyun for her cool image. From what I gathered on the internet alone, you’re someone that speaks what’s on your mind even at public events. To put it in a good way, you stop at nothing, however, when putting it in a bad way, you’re complacent because of it. But when I saw you at the get-together, you were kind enough to tell a friend of mine your phone number and even joke with her. The disparity was so great so I felt a need to probe you out.”
Maru turned left. The street changed from being filled with bars to a street filled with shops that sold grilled meat. The setting sun and the smell of grilled meat. This was a very common food alley.
Joohyun nodded her head when she heard Maru’s words.
“We haven’t met each other that many times, but the difference in impression is different every time I met you. That’s why I tried changing this time. I was trying you out to see which approach you prefer.”
“Which approach I prefer?”
Joohyun stopped walking. The word ‘prefer’ was definitely something that could be used between people. Preference was an important indicator when expanding human relationships into business. I prefer working with him, I like the way she works - these were the basics of human business. What was strange though, was that the words came from a high schooler.
“I don’t know anything about you after all. The thirsty shall dig the well. We might come across each other more in the future, so I should get to know you, don’t you think?”
“Well. Who likes a kid who approaches it like that?”
“You think so too? I tried my best but it looks like I failed.”
Maru spoke as though nothing much had happened.
“And so, you’re going back to the way you were before?”
“If that’s what you’re comfortable with.”
“Hey, you’re quite good at humoring people. I thought you were a more stuck-up person.”
“Me? No way. I’m ready to bow my head down at any moment. My knees are cheap as well.”
“That’s different from my first impression of you.”
“Did I look that stuck-up?”
“Even your appearance tells me that you’re stuck-up. But if you have such a mindset so early on, you’ll have a tiring life, you know? Isn’t it better to live a simple life when you’re young? I mean, things like probing people out and humoring them according to their preferences can be left for later.”
“That varies from person to person. There are plenty of people who can’t do that even after they grow up.”
“Are you saying that to me?”
Hearing those words, Maru turned his head around before scratching his eyebrows. He started walking slowly. Joohyun also stayed quiet and just followed him. As this place had the cheaper restaurants, more students could be seen as they went further.
Just as she was following Maru, Joohyun felt a sense of déjà vu. She thought that they had passed this place before. When she thought more about it, it wasn’t just her imagination. They had actually walked past this place before.
Joohyun looked at Maru. Did he forget where he was going?
At that moment, though, she saw that Maru was looking straight into her eyes. Due to the sudden gaze, Joohyun tilted her head.
“I asked you if something happened when we met, didn’t I?”
“And I acted kindly, to which you said that it didn’t suit me.”
“Why do you think I did that?”
Maru pointed sideways. He was pointing at a cosmetics shop, and that shop had brought out a table and was selling their products on the streets. What Maru was pointing at was the mirror on that table. Joohyun walked past the students that were trying out some lipsticks on the back of their hands as she looked into the mirror.
“Uhm don’t pus… ah, it’s nothing.”
The girls spoke with annoyance since Joohyun bumped into them, but apologized when they looked at her face.
Joohyun raised her head to look at the employee in charge of the table. When the two met eyes, the employee flinched back.
Joohyun had a look in the mirror again. A woman with a scary gaze was looking back at her from the inside. The shade from her baseball cap and her narrowed eyes from the rage she felt couldn’t make her look angrier. She wasn’t conscious of it. As an actress, she didn’t even know what kind of a face she was putting on. She felt embarrassment at first, and felt shame when she realized the reason she was making such an expression.
Joohyun smiled in vain as she turned around. She thought that she was over it, but it seemed that her deep emotions didn’t think the same. Until the very moment she arrived at this place in her car, she was thinking about the president that looked at her with indecent eyes. That president’s face reminded her of the man in her past, and that man in the past made an indecent grin as he stroked her legs. The days of shame became vivid to her again, and Joohyun had arrived here in her car full of annoyance.
She thought that she was perfectly over it. She believed that she hadn’t run away, but that she completely disdained them. No, she thought that she had won. She wouldn’t have to be involved with that disgusting man again, and she also had the confidence to make such a person never think about such a thing again in his life if she came across one. The past was just the past. She thought that it was alright since she was no longer as weak as she was before. However, the woman inside the mirror had cruel eyes.
The truly strong laugh and smile. That was because they knew that whatever harm that came their way was unable to harm them. However, the weak barked. They barked while praying that the danger wouldn’t come their way. The woman inside the mirror was on her guard in order to hide her weakness. It was the worst kind of gaze.
Joohyun pushed down on her cap.
“Should we walk another round?”
“Looks like we should.”
So this was the reason he kept taking detours. Joohyun sighed. If she met her little brother in her current state, she would have given him an unpleasant experience again. Showing him her weak side once was enough.
Maru bought a sports drink from a nearby vending machine.
“I was making such a disgusting face. No wonder people didn’t recognize me.”
Joohyun smiled in self-loathing as she drank the sports drink. Maru, who had been staying quiet while standing next to the vending machine, spoke,
“Bangjoo, he’s a good kid. He depicts his sister as some kind of a freakish monster, but people would never even talk about someone else if they truly hated them. He’s a good little brother that likes his big sister. I thought that he was a good junior without any problems but I came across something strange about him today. He’s too cheerful regardless of the moment. It’s quite strange. It’s like he thinks that he can’t be dejected. Putting it that way, the fact that he can’t reduce his voice is probably also related to this.”
Maru drank his drink in one gulp and crushed the aluminum can with his hands.
“But when I had a look at your face today, I think I know why. Actually, the reason I called you here was because of two things. One was that I wanted you to teach us some tips and tricks for acting as a senior to a junior, and the other was that - I know it might be rude of me to do this but - I wanted to talk to you regarding Bangjoo.”
Joohyun leaned against the wall and looked down at the canned drink. She could see the drink making waves inside the can. When she stared at the drink long enough, she saw the man with the disgusting smile inside that hole. She immediately threw the can on the floor and stomped on it with her shoes. She heaved out a deep breath, which made her feel better.
“If he looks that way, then it’s probably because of me.”
“Hm, I had my thoughts, but it looks like you know something after all.”
“Of course I do. Haa, perhaps it was negligence on my part. At that time, I was busy taking care of myself. Also, Bangjoo, that kid is quite reassuring. He has done everything since he was young, and he didn’t cry when he was in front of me. He was able to cook and do the laundry ever since he entered elementary school, and he never came to me for homework. After entering middle school, he had become the perfect single man. Perhaps I might have become relieved in one corner of my heart since he was like that. Ah, he’s okay. He’ll do fine on his own.”
The day that nameless president stroked her body, and she shook off his hands with the resolve to die, her brother had seen her in the state where half of her soul had escaped her body. That boy silently cried in front of her locked door. He kept standing there throughout the night. During that time, she bashed her head into a wall and spent time severed from the rest of the world in order to forget about that horrific experience, as well as to find a new path forward.
She stood back up again while resolving to herself that she would never be hurt again in the future. Right now, she realized that it was just her way of escaping reality, but it didn’t matter. What was important here was her brother. Was he really okay during that horrible time?
When it became morning, her little brother started the morning for her with a brighter expression and a more energetic voice. Seeing him act that way, she was relieved and just went about her day as usual while not thinking much about it. However, he was just an elementary school kid back then. Would he really have spent the night up without any side effects at all?
Was Bangjoo really okay that day?
“So that’s why you’re caring so much about us? How kind of you.”
“Uhm, honestly speaking, Bangjoo needs to do well in acting. A friend of mine wants the grand prize this time. So we’ll have to fix Bangjoo. Each person we lack is a step further from reaching that goal.”
“So you’re worried about your grades rather than about someone else’s family?”
“I’d appreciate it if you say that I’m worried about both.”
“Hey, you’re quite a cold kid.”
“The only people that can be at ease because they’re pursuing profit is a coward. Rather than that, can we get going? We’ve been walking around several times already. If you’re okay, we should really get going.”
“Phew. How’s my face? Does it still look scary?”
“No, it’s pretty.”
“Why don’t you come up with a better lie?”
“Usually, I’m good at lying, but it’s not working for some reason today.”
Joohyun heaved out a deep breath before straightening her back. It seemed that it was about time she had to face the really important problem that she had been subconsciously avoiding this whole time. Now that she thought about it, she rarely had a proper talk with her brother. Perhaps it was her that had been avoiding it this entire time. She must have been running away because the events of that day might pop up if they kept conversing.
“Let’s have a talk after today’s stuff is over.”
Maru smiled as he spoke. Joohyun smiled as well. Just what was this kid? Well, there was no way someone ordinary would have said the same thing as Haejoo.
“Hey, do you know who Jung Haejoo is?”
“It’s fine if you don’t know.”
Joohyun pushed Maru’s back and told him to lead the way.Previous Chapter Next Chapter