Chapter 43

It was June. The impatient students were already going to school in T-shirts - one of the positives of not having uniforms. Since Maru didn’t get cold very easily, he decided to wear a T-shirt himself.

He rode his bike with earphones. The scenery swooshed by him rapidly. He could see a kid walking by while holding his mother’s hand in the morning sun. He was wearing a yellow bag with a little yellow hat. They must be going to kindergarten.

‘Come to think of it, why use yellow all the time?’

Before he knew it, he had reached school. He got off his bike and walked past the disciplinary teacher casually. The man smiled at him, looking at his short hair.

Maru never really cared for hairstyles, always opting for the short sporty ones. As he parked his bike, he noticed Dowook doing the same as well.

“Nice bike as always,” he called out.

“Go buy one yourself, then.”

Dowook turned around with a little smile. The boy would’ve ignored Maru in the past, but at this point they were finally starting to exchange greetings. After that incident, Dowook had stopped being a delinquent altogether. He seemed to be melding in with the rest of his class pretty well, too.

Of course, he was still going back home alone.

Maru walked into the class and threw his bag onto his desk. Dojin shot him a tired greeting from his desk.

“Mor...ning.”

“Why do you look so spent on such a joyous Friday morning?”

“...Practice sapped me yesterday. I came back home at eleven last night. I dreamed of instructor Miso swearing at me.”

Dojin shivered, revealing a dark pair of eyebags.

“Two days left, huh,” Maru commented.

“One, actually. If you count today.”

“Come on, the day hasn’t even started. How are you guys, by the way? Doing well I hope?”

It was three weeks ago when he heard of them doing their first run. That was the beginning of May. The time when he first visited the kindergarten with Soojin.

He knew that the club was doing actual dress rehearsals at this point. With all the props and costumes and everything. They even visited the actual auditorium where they’d be performing. According to Dojin, the place was “disgustingly big”.

It was a vast space with 500 seats. Of course it would be intimidating to the kids.

“Perfect? Hehehe, perfect...”

Dojin seemed to be bordering insanity at this point. Maru spent some time watching the club during their practice sessions. For sure, the club members had changed. Firstly, they were all strictly off-book, with the exception of Miso.

Maru watched one of their runs before. Everything from the start to finish was flawless. Good enough to make him almost clap subconsciously. They must’ve been trying hard.

After the run, the club members would immediately grouped together to critique each other’s work. Miso only intervened when they got stuck on something.

‘So the practice they do after I leave was the real thing.’

The actual dress rehearsal probably began after 5pm. Of course, he didn’t actually know if this was the case. He could only hazard a guess from looking at Dojin’s current state.

“O-oh, morning.”

Daemyung stumbled over to the two of them from the front of the class.

“Hey, what’s up with the two of you looking so tired? You guys are performing in just two days.”

Maru pressed his friends’ shoulders lightly with a reassuring face.

“Right. Two days.”

“We’re gonna work our asses off.”

“You sounded pretty damn tired when you said your lines yesterday.”

“No you.”

The two of them looked at each other for a second before sighing and taking out their scripts.

“Should we do some reading?”

“Guess we have to.”

Maru’s two friends started analyzing the script that they’ve studied all these months.

“Work hard.”

Maru left them to it. He was busy with his own stuff as well. While the club was busy practicing for the competition, Maru’s time was spent on helping Soojin run her puppet plays.

He actually got a call from her early in the morning yesterday. It would seem that she received word that it was a school holiday. She immediately asked him where he lived when he dazedly said he would help.

As he looked at the time after ending the call, the doorbell rang. Soojin was here before he knew it. Right then, he could catch a glimpse of Miso’s expression.

She was starting to resemble her friend.

Maru left a note on the table and left with the woman. They were headed to an orphanage. According to her, they didn’t have any other time to do it since the orphanage was closing soon.

They arrived barely in time in Daejeon. The first thing Soojin did was hug the principal of the orphanage and cry together. They seem well acquainted with each other. Maru just watched the two of them awkwardly.

Preparations were quick to start, as Maru realized why they came here in a small van instead of the usual car. An incredible amount of toys and dolls were stored in the trunk, along with clothes and food. That did make him wonder.

Just what was Soojin’s day job?

“Me? I do a bunch of things. Hehe.”

Hehe? How was he supposed to connect that laugh with all that money of hers? In the end, he just gave up on thinking about it. She was probably born with a silver spoon in her mouth.

The orphanage took care of kids under 7 years of age. They had teenagers in the past, but after coming under hard times, they had to start sending the children away to other places. It was quite a bitter story.

“We don’t even call this place an orphanage anymore. It’s just daycare.”

The middle-aged principal smiled sorrowfully as she touched upon the rusty doors. Soojin said she wanted to give the children here their last memories before the orphanage closed down for good. It was a small forgettable event for the children, but hopefully it could make the moving experience a little bit better for them.

Soojin really was the definition of a selfless person. The show began after the three of them moved all the gifts inside. The moment Soojin entered the building, the children shouted ‘wah!’ with joy.

The lady was popular just about anywhere. Popular amongst children and adults alike. Then again, who could hate such a hard-working, cheerful lady like her?

Maru ended up working incredibly hard that morning. Before he knew it, it was already noon. He gave each of the 37 children in the orphanage their personalized gifts. Each of the boxes even included a message from Soojin. He couldn’t even imagine how much work that must’ve taken. The boxes were all even individually wrapped, with each of the gifts catered towards for each child.

“They’re probably going through really hard times, having to start over and all. I want to give them a good memory they can reference in those times. Hopefully they can look back to this moment and think ‘life was good’ at some point. Then again, they might not even remember this at all.”

Maru could easily feel how much Soojin loved each child. She knew each of the 37 kids by name. She must’ve had some special memories attached to this place.

“This was actually my home,” she said, seemingly reading his mind.

Ah. Maru never would’ve guessed from her personality and usual demeanor. She just seemed like the type of person who’s never gone through any hardship in her life. Soojin took this as a chance to speak a little bit more about herself.

“I met my parents when I was just about your age. They were good people. They scolded me when I deserved to be scolded, and they hugged me when I really needed it. They changed my perspective of hating my birth parents to being able to forgive them. That’s when I realized that I wanted to be like them. Even though they’re both far better people than I could ever be.”

Maru realized that was why Soojin’s smiles never once seemed light to him. Under those smiles were a lot of past hardships. She managed to overcome her pains and changed herself. Her adopted parents probably helped a lot in the process, but she was ultimately able to change because of herself.

Maru stopped himself from saying ‘that’s amazing’. That didn’t seem like quite the fitting reaction. He didn’t want to judge all of her life with just a few words. So he just decided not to say anything.

In the afternoon, they held a barbeque party in the backyard of the orphanage. There were enough meat and vegetables to feed 30 adult men. The kids all laughed and talked as they ate the meat Soojin grilled for them.

“Tiring, isn’t it?” Soojin asked.

“Yes, it really is.”

“Pft. That’s what I like about you, Maru. You’re very honest and direct about everything.”

“I’m good at lying. I just know when to lie and when not to.”

7pm. By then, everything was cleaned up and the kids were all sleeping together in their rooms.

“Thank you for everything.”

“No, thank you for everything.”

The day at the orphanage ended as it began, with the principal hugging Soojin. The two of them made their way back up to Suwon in a hurry.

When they came back home, Soojin gave Maru a white envelope. Maru refused immediately. He didn’t want to get paid for something like this.

He did it because he wanted to. Plus, he learned a lot from doing this as well. He was able to learn the basics of plays from this. As a matter of fact, this was the type of stuff you would normally pay to learn.

But Soojin was stubborn. She tried to hand him the envelope even as he was getting out of the car. She even said she wouldn’t go home if he didn’t take it.

“I was the one who made you work without any prior notice. So I should obviously pay you for it. This is the rule for adults. You’re an adult too, right Maru?”

She sounded like she was trying to console a child. Maru had to give in with that. He took the envelope, telling her he would use it well. He waved her off and walked back into the house.

Of course, his mother tried to ask him just where in the world he was all day. Instead of giving her a proper response, he just gave her the envelope.

He thought there would be 30,000 won in there at best, but there turned out to be a whopping 150,000 won in there instead.

“What in the world did you do?” mom asked.

“...Work?”

All that was just yesterday. Maru was also understandably tired this morning.

* * *

Several minutes before their 5th class began, the advisor for the acting club came to call on the three of them.

Maru, Dojin, and Daemyung followed Taesik up to the auditorium.

“I never thought I’d rather be studying instead of doing this.”

“Me too. Thinking of looking at instructor Miso is just...”

The school must’ve given them permission to skip class since the preliminaries were just two days away. Taesik told the three of them ‘work hard, all of you’, and Maru’s two friends nodded in response.

Everyone else was already gathered in the auditorium, including Miso. Even Soojin was there, along with an unfamiliar man.

“Hey, Maru,” Soojin waved.

Thanks to her, he got the attention of the entire club. Maru waved back awkwardly with a smile.

“What the, you know that lady?” Dojin asked, nudging him from the side.

Maru just said he kind of knew her and walked over to the rest of the club.

“Maru, you come this way,” Miso pointed at the man next to Soojin.

The man was just around 175cm in height. Similar to Maru’s height now. He had a decent frame, with a very well defined face.

Then there was his eyes.

Playful, yet focused eyes immediately told Maru that this person was someone special.

“We meet again,” the man said.

Again?

Maru had heard that voice before. Back then at the…

“Ah, you were at the Blue Sky theater...”

“So you remember. Nice to meet you. I’m the big brother of Geunseok over there, Hong Geunsoo,” the man grinned.

Maru’s jaw dropped a little bit. He definitely remembered this person. The star of the future. This was the person who starred in 5 movies that raked in 10 million views each. A person who single handedly carried the movie industry even at the age of 50. Memories from the past started flowing out once his identity was established.

‘That’s right, I was listening to this person’s radio as I drove the bus.’

But that didn’t last long. His memories immediately faded and disappeared. But he was still able to remember what the man looked like at the age of 50. A very handsome gentleman who exuded a noble aura.

“What, surprised that I’m so handsome?” Geunsoo asked, after noticing Maru’s stare.

“So this is what you were like around now.”

“What?”

“Oh, it’s nothing.”

So the actor, famous for his serious roles, was actually quite a lighthearted person in the past.

“Now then! Let’s begin.”

Miso grabbed everyone’s attention with a clap. The air in the room suddenly grew tense.

“We only have a few dress rehearsals left. Let’s make this perfect.”

“Yes!”

The club members started moving with a confident response.

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