Chapter 40

His brother didn’t contact the family again after that. Geunseok only learned this later, but his brother had gone off to do military service during that time period.

His dad’s fury was inevitable. After all, his brother practically disappeared for two years, before saying he wanted to drop out of college and become an actor.

To others, it seemed that his brother just wasn’t cut out for studying. After all, the man couldn’t stay still for even ten seconds. His father often said even if studying wasn’t all there was to life, it was still important to know the basics. So his brother always ended up doing the bare minimum. And every time, he would complain about studying to Geunseok.

Despite the five years that passed since then, Geunseok still remembered those words. He remembered how he responded, too.

“But mom and dad are happy if we do it.”

And his brother said:

“But it’s boring even if they are happy.”

In the end, his brother argued with their dad for a year straight before going to an engineering school. Apparently he won his dad over with the words, ‘I’d rather become the head of a snake rather than the tail of a dragon’ back then.

Geunseok could somewhat remember what his brother was like in high school. He remembered his mother saying ‘You were only six then. You can remember it?’ when he asked about it.

In any case, during that time his brother would come back home late everyday. He got into a lot of fights because of that, too.

Yeah, they really did fight a lot, didn’t they?

Geunseok thought of what happened during his brother’s senior year. His brother and his dad were arguing about academics vs acting again. That was probably the first time his dad hit his brother.

He remembered it really well. His brother’s face snapped sideways, and his mom dragged him into his room. He caught a glimpse of his brother as the door closed. Smiling. Victoriously.

After that night, dad didn’t say anything more to his brother. Dad didn’t even budge when his brother invited him to watch his play.

Until then, Geunseok had never seen his brother’s play. His mother wasn’t brave enough to go watch the play dad was furious about, and he didn’t really want to see it either. Around then, he was going to a small academy right before entering elementary school. It became routine at the house to see his brother come back to the house covered in sweat an hour after him.

At the time, Geunseok couldn’t understand his brother for the life of him. He wasn’t stupid. Geunseok knew that for a fact. The man would memorize entire scripts in a single sitting.

Brother was eerily focused when he looked at the script. If he spared some of that energy for studying, surely mom and dad wouldn’t have had a problem with him acting. But his brother didn’t care. It was almost as if the time spent studying was time wasted on him.

That winter, brother got accepted into a no-name college. Dad clicked his tongue annoyedly, but still offered to cover his son’s tuition. He must’ve been pretty happy on the inside. Mother also repeatedly said ‘you should study for real now that you’re in college.’

Brother just nodded.

Geunseok could tell pretty easily that his brother had no intention of listening to her. That was also the winter when Geunseok finished studying the rest of the coursework for elementary school. At that point, it became his goal to study middle school material while in elementary school. Even his teachers at the academies praised me.

“Your son is very smart,” the man said over the phone.

That was the day Geunseok attended a buffet with his parents. His brother didn’t come. Brother was in the acting club even then.

“Good job, son. Good job.”

“Geunseok, did you want anything as a present?”

Geunseok’s parents were beaming. Praises upon praises came on his way. He loved studying. It wasn’t that hard, and it made his parents happy. That was the day when the three of them went to the department store to buy his presents. His dad didn’t hesitate to use his credit card, and his mom bought him all the toys and clothes he wanted.

Why didn’t his brother study? It was so easy! His brother was just so strange to him. That day when they got back home, he found his brother cooking instant ramen for himself.

“If only he could take after his younger brother,” his dad commented.

He felt conflicted from hearing this. He was happy to be recognized by his parents, but at the same time, he felt sorry for his brother.

Maybe that's why Geunseok felt the need to walk up to him while he was eating.

“Bro, do you want me to teach you how to study?”

Dad laughed joyfully, and mom smiled as she said “Geunseok’s all grown up now, trying to take care of his elder brother already” from the back.

Back then, he really did just want to be helpful. No, he was just trying to feel prideful after hearing so many praises from his parents. In any case, his brother looked up at him quietly for a second.

Geunseok thought his brother would get mad. Or just keep eating his food with a sad look on his face. But his brother didn’t do either of those things.

“Hey, little bro, this is pretty tasty too, you know? Want a bite?”

* * *

Geunseok’s brother declared that he would leave the city for his college afterwards. He wanted to live by himself there.

Around the end of december, he also told the family that he would be performing in a play hosted by the city. Of course, their dad ignored it completely.

Mom had changed a little bit, though. She finally gathered the courage to try watching a play by her son. Dad didn’t say anything about it. He probably allowed it since this was going to be brother’s last play.

“Geunseok, do you want to come too?”

Geunseok nodded without hesitation. He was pretty curious too. Just what was it about acting that made his brother give up studying? The two of them went to city hall, where the play was taking place. They went to the waiting room first to find Geunseok’s brother.

Geunseok stood on his toes, trying to find his brother in the crowd. It wasn’t very hard, since the person in question was in the spotlight then.

His brother was… shining. Everyone was looking at his brother. A single word from him either simmered the room with a nervous air, or caused it to explode in joyous laughter. Even at Geunseok’s young age, he was able to tell how important his brother was here. It was almost like looking at a completely different person. Even his mom seemed surprised. Thankfully, his brother noticed them on his own. He walked up to them and told them in his usual tone of voice,

“Well, enjoy the show.”

Geunseok realized then that his brother wasn’t any different now than he was inside the house. The only thing that was different was how he looked at his brother.

Soon, the play began. Brother was… amazing, to say the least. That memory didn’t last long though. His brother left for college shortly afterwards, and Geunseok returned to his routine life of studying.

He felt great whenever his teachers praised him at school. That was the only thing he studied for. Praises.

While the other kids were struggling with addition, he could tell them about stuff like equations. He wrote his name in Chinese characters and introduced himself in English as well. Even the other kids told him he was amazing.

It felt great to be the center of attention. He didn’t want to forgo this feeling. Tests, quizzes, homeworks… he made sure to always score full points on them. His parents always showered him with praises when he showed them his tests. Along with presents. That feeling was exhilarating. He felt like he was loved by everyone.

By his third year of elementary school, he completely forgot about his brother’s play. The only thing he saw in that year was his brother leaving home after declaring that he was dropping out of college.

How disappointing.

Geunseok would try harder to make his parents happy.

With that, he graduated elementary school. He finished his placement tests for middle school perfectly as well. Again, his parents were ecstatic. That’s when he formed a plan in his head.

Everyone would love him even more if he went to a good college. He studied and studied, and took his first test in middle school.

And…

He got in 5th place in the class. For the first time in his life, he wasn’t in first place. 24th in the entire grade as well. The hair on his back rose up. Suddenly, he felt scared. This wasn’t good enough. This wouldn’t do anything at all.

That night, he received a bored response out of his dad for the first time.

“Good job,” he said.

And that was all. No praises, no gifts. He felt nervous. He grit his teeth and got to studying. Even when his friends wanted to play, he refused them and studied as much as he could.

Each nosebleed gave him a high, almost as if he got himself a new achievement.

It was a symbol of his at school. Each red dot on his notebook gave him confidence.

And then… the finals came. Maybe it was because he slept late studying, but he failed on the very first day. He didn’t even have to look at his grades to know. He double checked his answers with his friends, and his score only came out to about… a 70.

It felt like the world was crumbling around him. He got a 70 on all of his subjects. His friends almost looked like they were making fun of him. His teacher’s warm gaze suddenly seemed so very cold to him. He couldn’t talk to his friends on his way back home.

He came back home and showed his mom the tests. Mom sighed. She didn’t say anything else.

“How is it, mom?” he asked nervously.

Mom could only respond with a very quiet voice.

“Try harder next time. 70 is a bit low, isn’t it?”

Geunseok couldn’t sleep at all that night, and he failed the rest of his tests that week. 70s across the entire board. He came in 26th in the entire class. He failed completely. His entire life plan was in ruins. He couldn’t even hope to go to a decent high school with these grades.

He was a loser. A failure.

That 70 should have never existed in his gradebook. Even now, he could see his parents sighing.

He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t get praises like this. He couldn’t… get loved like this.

It was a stupid concern, he knew that. But at the time, he was very desperate. Desperate enough to want to kill himself. Because a Geunseok that couldn’t get praises may as well stop existing. Right around then was when he thought of his brother.

He called his brother’s former college, and through his brother’s friends, he managed to contact the man. He didn’t even know what to say, or what he even wanted to hear. His brother asked him what was wrong. He didn’t respond, and just hung up.

He couldn’t think of anything to say.

The next day, on a Saturday morning, his brother came back home.

“You’re fine, you’re fine,” brother said, gripping his shoulders tightly.

It’s fine. That’s when Geunseok realized that… the only thing he ever wanted to get wasn’t praises. He just wanted to hear that everything was fine. How did his brother know? He asked with tears streaming down his face.

“Your breathing just sounded so hurt over the phone. You think I’d be a brother if I didn’t notice? An actor, even?”

His eyes were the exact same as 6 years ago, when he was eating instant noodles at home.

“Do you want to go watch a play?”

Geunseok nodded without hesitation. That was the first time he ever visited Hyehwa station. The streets were filled with people who had the same sort of energy as his brother. They moved like him, talked like him, and had the same eyes as him.

They were alive.

That day, Geunseok managed to find his dream. Maybe it was just a stupid dream. Maybe chasing after his brother’s shadow wasn’t all that great. But it was his decision to make. To keep that dream.

He would do things differently, though.

He kept studying. His grades got better again. Some way or the other, he managed to come in first in the entire school. His parents and teachers started praising him again. But this time, their praises all felt fake to him.

Then, the third year of middle school came.

Geunseok decided to attend an engineering high school. It wasn’t that difficult to convince his dad. He just said that by going to an engineering school, he could have an easier time going into a better college.

He didn’t say anything about acting. He knew how his dad would react if the man knew about it.

He would… probably get a slap in the face. That was fine. He’d keep on smiling regardless. Because he would be able to keep on doing what he wanted.

* * *

“Ah.”

Geunseok exclaimed to himself as the club rested after their first reading session. The boy had an epiphany. Dojin stared for at him for a moment out of curiosity.

“What’s up?” he asked, earning a smile from Geunseok.

“I found my reason to keep smiling after getting a slap in the face.”

...What the hell was that about?

“Enough resting! Come over here!”

That was when Miso called out to the group again.

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