Chapter 30

The rooftop was pretty breezy. Miso opened it up for the two of them with the rooftop key she got from the faculty. She must’ve told them she wanted it for practice.

“Are you busy?”

“Why would a student be busy?”

“Izzat so?”

Miso walked towards the railings. She put her hands over the concrete fence and looked down at the field below. Maru walked up next to her as well. He could see the sun beginning to disappear over the horizon. Below, he could see the members of the soccer club talking loudly with each other with snacks and drinks.

“Your stamina’s pretty good, right?”

“Well, I am young.”

“Young, huh.”

Miso looked towards him. This one… felt different. In the auditorium, she was king. Eleven people followed her words like the bible, and one sentence from her had the lot of them groveling for forgiveness. There, she was always confident and strong, even unfeeling towards the slightest bit of regret whenever she swore.

But right now, she was…

‘She’s having difficulty talking?’

He could see it from the way she moved. The way way her lips were twisting, and the occasion sigh. Plus,

[This boy’s so difficult.]

The word bubble basically confirmed everything.

“What, is there something above my head?” Miso asked when Maru glanced at the bubble.

“...Just a mosquito.”

“Ah, sure.”

“I thought you had something to say?”

“Something to say...”

Miso twirled her hair with a finger with a groan.

"What the hell are you?”

“Excuse me?”

The question came out of nowhere, but it felt like a strong jab towards Maru.

“I’ve never seen such a depressing high schooler in my entire life. Is something happening at your home or what?”

“Both of my parents are doing fine, and there’s nothing especially distressing going on right now.”

“Look at you, sounding like an old man.”

“...Is that so?”

Well, she wasn’t exactly wrong. He did try to act his age when he was talking with kids his age. But whenever he talked with adults? He didn’t even try. Maybe his 45 year old self came out completely raw in front of them.

That would explain why his mom acted the way she did at his room last night. Dowook had yelled at him about this as well. Telling him to stop acting like a damn know-it-all. He couldn’t help but smile a little when he thought about that.

“The hell?”

“It’s nothing. I just thought of something funny. What was that thing you wanted to tell me about, though? It doesn’t seem like you just wanted to critique me on my line reading.”

“...Did you come from the mountains or something?”

“No way.”

“Do you live with your grandfather?”

“He’s passed away long ago.”

“.......”

“What do you want to tell me?”

Miso sighed deeply before turning to look at him.

“I’ll just be straight here. Are you going to just keep sitting there?”

“Me?”

“Yes, you.”

Miso crossed her arms.

“I’ve taught a lot of kids in the past. By your age, no matter how mature they are, they still feel a tad bit young in some areas. It can’t be helped, they just don’t have enough experience in life. That’s why kids your age care so much about belonging to a group. They want to get that feeling of ‘I’m doing the same thing as you!’ Those who are outside of that group typically feel left out and nervous because they didn’t manage to get ‘in’. ”

Miso let out a small ‘tsk’ under her breath. She was feeling annoyance at the fact that she had to explain everything.

“Kids like you always come out when I decide to take care of clubs. Kids that always stand to the right. I just ignore them. Why? Because I know that they’d either leave the club or join the left. It’s not that hard to change clubs after all.”

She looked a little bit worked up.

[What am I doing in front of a kid?]

A pink word bubble popped up when their eyes met. Maru once thought that the color might have some kind of a meaning behind it. Seeing how the color of the word bubble was universally pink, though, he figured that it was just god’s preference or something.

“But you… You aren’t either of those things. No, that’s wrong. You just keep wanting to be neutral. You’re balancing that feeling of wanting to be in the club, but not wanting to participate very very well. Most kids make their decision in just two weeks. You...”

Miso took off her hair tie annoyingly. Her yellow hair fluttered with the wind on the rooftop. She looked like a jellyfish, Maru thought, as opposed to a pretty lady. Though he wasn’t sure why that was the first thing he thought of.

‘I guess she’s a pretty jellyfish.’

“Again!”

“What?”

“You were thinking of something else again.”

She was really good at this. Maru supposed it was to be expected from an actor.

“Well, yes.”

“I knew it. Talking with you just doesn’t work. Aren’t you scared of me?”

“Well, sort of.”

“It’s really weird. How are you so calm for a high schooler? It’s been a month. No, more than a month. How are you not doing anything after all that time? I thought you’d just quit. But you’re still not late to the club meetings, and you’re even participating every once in a while. Despite all that, you never cross a certain line. Almost as if you’re very comfortable with where you are now.”

Miso grabbed the railing and shouted ‘gah!’ into the air. The kids at the field started looking around in confusion. Maru pulled her back a little bit from embarrassment, eliciting yet another a reaction.

“Oh lord, you’re driving me crazy,” Miso sighed with a defeated look, “do you know what they call people in their forties?”

“Unconfused (不惑).”

“...Do you know what it means?”

“As I understand it, it’s the age when you’re so focused on life that you never lose your sense of judgement.”

“Damn it, that’s exactly what I thought when I saw you. Unconfused. You seem very unwavering in your ways.”

“That’s a good thing, isn’t it?”

“It’s good. Sure, it’s great. But it’s a little too much in your case. I’m aware I don’t know much about you, but...”

Miso took a deep breath before continuing.

“You act like a person who knows the world will end tomorrow or something.”

* * *

Too much, huh. That was the thought circulating in Maru’s brain as he unlocked his bike. She wasn’t wrong. He always thought about his next move. He was trying his best in studying. Not to the point of getting nosebleeds. He tried that three weeks ago before realizing he definitely wasn’t cut out for that amount of studying.

People say that anything is possible if you try hard enough. That studying was one of those things as well. Being good at studying wasn’t a product of talent, but hard work. Maru only figured out the truth to this statement as he grew older. What he was told was just something the adults made up for the kids.

The kids who are good at studying worked hard. The kids who didn’t were just lazy. It was a really easy way to measure kids. It was like handing a bunch of kids a basketball for the first time and telling them to score. Sure, some would make it. The rest wouldn’t. It was obvious. Of course everyone would expect most kids to fail. But as soon as that basketball changed into a pencil, that all went away.

You need to be able to dunk too!

There’s no way you can’t do this!

That’s what the adults always said. Maru said it often as well.

“Never realized that I just couldn’t do it.”

If only he had money or power. Then he’d be able to let his kids do what they really wanted.

Ah. That’s when Maru realized.

[You act like a person who knows the world will end tomorrow or something.]

He was still thinking of his future family. Of his future wife and daughter. Maru got on his bike. He was thinking of the present, but his eyes were dead set on the future. He just didn’t care about his current situation in life because he was so concerned with something so far away. That was the only reason why he didn’t feel any strong emotions towards the club…

‘I was just too focused on something else.’

His mouth was turning dry. This was the reason why he felt so empty despite having productive days. Why he felt so cold and unfulfilled despite accomplishing things one by one. Why he was so nervous.

“What do I want to do?”

The question came at him yet again, stronger than ever. Dream. That word… Maru started pedalling. He needed to talk with someone.

* * *

Maru took a shower the first thing after coming back. He stepped out to the market nearby to pick up some snacks. Onion chips and shrimp chips. As he killed some time watching TV after coming back, his sister arrived home. She came over to him as soon as she saw the chips.

“Can I have some?”

Maru shook his head.

“Sorry, these are for someone else.”

“Someone else?”

His sister stood up annoyedly, and stopped away with ‘fine, be that way’ under her breath. Another two hours passed. The clock was nearing 8 now. Mom came back, had her dinner, and went straight to bed. He could hear her tired breaths from the other room. More time passed.

His sister came out of his room with a yawn after using the computer. She stared at his snacks with a devious look for a few seconds before going back to her room. The weekend drama finished, and the clock pointed at ten. Mom came back out to the kitchen.

“Don’t sleep too late.”

“Don’t worry.”

“What are the snacks for, by the way? TV?”

“No, they’re for drinking.”

“...Just go to sleep.”

“Ok.”

Maru changed the channel after mom went back. Another hour passed. The door opened, and a man enters with a deep sigh. It was dad.

“Dad.”

“Ah, yeah. Maru.”

“You’re back now?”

“Yes, I am. You were watching TV?”

“No.”

“Then?”

“I was waiting for you.”

“Me?”

Dad’s eyes widened in surprise. Maru took off dad’s factory coat for him.

“Here, wash up first.”

“S-sure.”

Dad stepped into the bathroom with a surprised look. Maru took out a few beers and two bottles of soju from the fridge. Along with two cups and two shot glasses. Dad looked even more confused after coming out. Probably because he noticed two glasses.

“Dad.”

“Yeah.”

“Please teach me about alcohol.”

“What?”

“You told me last time to ask you to teach me how to drink.”

“Y-yeah.”

Dad sat down in surprise. To think his son would come to him like this all of the sudden… Maru opened the bottle of soju and started pouring. He poured only half a shot for his dad.

“It’s late, so I’ll just give you half.”

“...Sure.”

Dad grabbed the soju bottle with a smile and poured Maru half a glass as well.

“Thank you.”

After a small clink, the two of them took their first shot together. Maru opened his mouth after pouring the second shot.

“I had something I wanted to ask you, dad.”

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