Chapter 47

“Plays?”

Bada couldn’t quite wrap her head around that word. Plays? Her brother? Since when? Why? She knew he was doing volunteer work recently, but she didn’t know it had to do with plays.

Her brother was supposed to be playful and mean.

He was supposed to be her number one enemy.

But something was different now. He changed. He cooked meals and even did the laundry. Since when did he learn how to use the laundry machine?

When her brother told her to get out of her room for a second so that he could vacuum it, Bada had to seriously start thinking about where her real brother went. Maybe he was switched with an alien?

Why else would he be so nice? He was studying hard to boot.

[Bada, mom believes you’ll do everything on your own.]

Mom would always tell Bada that whenever she saw brother studying. Normally, Bada would feel annoyance upon being compared, but she couldn’t refute it at this point.

“I might be late, so be sure to get yourself some food without me. Call me if you’re planning on going somewhere. Try to come back early,” Maru said as he put on his clothes.

Recently, Bada’s started seeing little bits of their dad coming from her brother. It was weird. Then again, she was starting to get used to it too.

“Are you going to be really late?”

“Dunno. I’ll have to see when the event ends.”

Maru raised his head for a second as he tied his shoes.

“You can tag along if you’re bored.”

Bada vigorously shook her head. That sounded absolutely horrific. Going somewhere with her brother? No way in hell! She’s gotten lost under his watch enough times already.

“Watch the house for me, then. Oh,” Maru took out a bill from his pocket and handed it to her, “use this if you need it.”

Bada could only stare at that point before shaking her head.

“What’s up with him?”

It honestly might be better if he returned to his old annoying self.

* * *

Maru’s jaw dropped when he got off the bus. He hadn’t thought that there would be this many people here for the competition, since it was only the preliminaries for the regionals. The cultural center was filled to the brim with all sorts of people.

There were people in casual clothes, people in suits, and people in military attire.

All students, of course. They must’ve come in their costumes.

“Good luck!”

“Good luck, Gunjung high!”

“Bunjung high! You’ll get number one again this time too!”

There were students cheering their teams on here as well. The teachers around them were telling the kids to be quiet, but their eyes told another story.

“You’re here?” someone called out from behind.

It was Daemyung, dressed up in a suit. Dojin was there too.

“Dang, I can barely recognize you,” Maru noted.

Both of them had their hair done and had a bunch of makeup on them. They looked a bit awkward in their costume, but that was only really because of age.

“Cool, right?” Dojin asked. His dark eyes were contrasted by his pale cheeks.

Their makeup was probably there to show that they were portraying two tired salarymen.

“Yeah, you look good. Where are the others?”

“In there. We can only go into the waiting room when it’s our turn. That’s why everyone’s outside. ”

“Do you know how many teams are here? There’s so many people.”

“21 schools and 300 participants, I think. That’s what some guy told us earlier.”

Probably over 500 if you included everyone else.

“Here, take this. It’s a pamphlet I found at the entrance,” Daemyung said.

Maru was greeted by a short introduction on all the participating teams, upon opening the pamphlet.

The competition would go on for 3 days. By its end, 5 teams would qualify to compete in the national competition. Maru moved over to the place where the club was stationed. He found the lot standing next to one of the buses in the parking lot.

“You’re here?”

“Welcome.”

The first and the second years greeted him in their costumes. They looked much sharper than usual, partially thanks to their full makeup.

“Cheer us on, please?” Yoonjung said with a wave. While Joonghyuk greeted him with his eyebrows. Minsung and Danmi, on the other hand, were busy checking each other’s lines.

“I’ll be sure to cheer all of you on, so make sure to get first place.”

“Right! Of course we’ll win! I’ll cry otherwise.”

Knowing Yoonjung, she really might just do that. In comparison to the confident second years, the first years were just looking at the entrance of the cultural center nervously. Dojin and Daemyung included.

“Hah… We wouldn’t make any mistakes, would we?”

“That would screw us big time.”

“Dang, what do I do? I can barely remember my lines.”

The group of first years were getting rowdy in their unrest. Their time were spent frantically memorizing their lines, save for Geunseok and Iseul, who were trying to meditate a little.

Maru approached Geunseok.

“How are you doing?”

“Nervous. I have a lot of lines.”

The boy must’ve been feeling the same as all the other kids despite his complexion. Maru lightly squeezed Geunseok’s shoulders.

“Just do whatever you want. That’ll be enough.”

“Right. You worked hard too. Our set wouldn’t look this good if it wasn’t for you.”

Geunseok pointed to the props for the ‘store’ leaning on the door. Maru smiled. His own props would be on the stage soon. Though he didn’t participate directly, it still made him feel satisfied with his work.

“Soon, I’ll finally start to follow my brother’s footsteps...”

Maru turned to look when he heard the other boy whisper. The boy firmly shut his mouth afterwards though. Was it for self-encouragement? Perhaps something else?

‘Why does he look so nervous though?’

Geunseok looked like he was going to collapse right there and then for some reason. Much unlike himself from just a few minutes prior. But before Maru was able to figure out what that nervousness was about,

“Blue Sky team from Woosung Engineering high school, please enter!”

One of the staff members had come to find them. The club members jumped into standing positions immediately.

Maru grabbed hold of Geunseok one more time before he left.

“Show me everything you’ve got.”

He decided not to say ‘do well’, since he felt like it would only pressure the boy. Only then did Geunseok’s tension lessen as he nodded with a slightly more relaxed face.

Perhaps that earlier nervous expression of his was just a one-off thing.

“You should go to the audience seats. Take a look at how great they’ve gotten,” Miso said, patting his back.

Maru nodded. He wasn’t planning on missing any of it. The club worked very hard for the past 5 months. He had a sneaking suspicion that they’d be able to qualify with ease as long as they don’t make any noticeable mistakes.

He could see Soojin and Geunsoo walking from where Miso was previously. By then, the woman had already entered the building with the club.

“Let’s go. We have to see how good they are.”

Geunsoo said, doing a slight stretch with his arms. Soojin walked in with a small smile on her face.

They were first to go in the competition.

Maru had no idea if this was a good thing or not. But in any case, the play had already begun. People were beginning to stream in through the doors one by one.

There were already a few people in the front seat. They were probably judges.

“Oh, I know that mister,” one of the kids said, pointing at a middle-aged judge.

Some of the older ladies began to speak amongst each other. They were talking about the morning dramas he was a part of in the past.

“Hold on, I’m going to go greet them real quick.”

Geunsoo walked towards the middle-aged man, who stood up excitedly. The two shook hands after some small talk.

“Here’s a decent place. Let’s sit here,” Geunsoo said after coming back.

The man took his place in the middle of the seats. Maru and Soojin decided to follow. Since this was just the regionals, the school didn’t send any students to cheer for the club. Apparently that would only happen if the club managed to qualify for the nationals.

“Um, senior?” Maru asked.

“Hm?”

“How was Geunseok this morning?”

“My brother? Why?”

“It’s probably nothing, but he seemed really nervous a few minutes ago. I was just wondering about that.”

“......”

Geunsoo closed his mouth tightly. That didn’t bode well at all.

“To be quite honest, I’d love it if my brother didn’t come into this industry.”

Maru wasn’t very surprised to hear this. This ended up surprising Geunsoo in turn.

“You noticed?”

“It really sounded like the stuff you told me at the restaurant was directed towards your brother.”

Geunsoo knew the industry very well. He did experience all of it first hand. He probably didn’t take it too well when his brother tried to get into acting.

‘I would try to stop my sister if she said she wanted to be a driver, too.’

Maru knew first hand how disgusting the industry was. Like anyone else, he wanted his family to have a relatively easy time in their lives.

“You caught on quite well. As expected of the boy Miso has her eyes on. You’re right, I don’t want my brother to try to imitate me.”

Imitate? That’s a strange way to put it. It didn’t sound good at all.

“My brother… is smart. He went into an engineering high school when he could’ve gotten into any other better school. I was pretty upset when I heard about it. Why? Because I was the one who exposed him into acting to begin with.”

Geunsoo leaned back on his chair, and lowered his voice.

“Geunseok is a very timid child.”

“Excuse me?”

Timid? Him?

“I don’t mean timid in that he’s very quiet or reserved. By timid, I mean… he’s incredibly susceptible to external influences.”

Susceptible to external influences. Maru nodded. He understood that meaning perfectly.

“He doesn’t know what he wants to do, because he’s so conscious of other people. He ends up trying to fit himself into a mold that other people make for him. You know what that kid told me when I asked him why he studied all those years ago? He told me he studied to get compliments.”

“Ah...”

The source of Geunseok’s nervousness was starting to reveal itself.

“My brother no longer craves my parents’ attention due to a small family incident. But...”

“He ended up looking up at you instead. Craving praises from you.”

“That’s right. My brother is incredibly smart. He’s good at studying, and he’s physically very blessed as well. I was actually pretty surprised at how good he was at the last dress rehearsal. Especially since I never taught him anything. Yet he already had all of the basics down. He must’ve studied hard.”

So Geunseok managed to get that good just by teaching himself, huh.

Geunsoo frowned dejectedly.

“I came home immediately when Geunseok told me he was going to go to the high school I graduated from. Ah, you asked me how he was this morning, right? I live separately from him, so I have no idea. But in any case, I started arguing to him right there. I asked him why he wanted to be an actor all of the sudden. Then...”

Geunsoo put a hand over his face and sighed deeply.

“He told me he wanted to follow me in my footsteps. He said the people at Hyehwa station that day shone like stars on the stage. He wanted to be one of those people. That’s fine. That’s fine and all, but… He’s missing one critically important thing to complete the equation.”

“Resolution,” Maru found himself blurting out.

Geunsoo looked at Maru with narrowed eyes as he nodded.

“That’s exactly right. My brother is just looking at the best possible outcomes. He doesn’t even stop to think about what would happen if he fails. It’s pretty obvious why. The boy has only experienced failure a few times before. But I know. I know that if he begins slipping once, he would never recover. There was a time when he did a little bit badly on his first day of tests in school. It wasn’t anything big. He would’ve easily gotten into the high rankings if he made up his mind for the next day. But he thought it was all over right there. Because he’s never been scolded over anything, a single failure ruined him completely.”

“Did you take care of Geunseok after that?”

“Of course. He called me and just sobbed silently over the phone. I briefly heard him whisper that he even wanted to kill himself. He doesn’t seem to remember that, though. I practically ran over home to tell him that he was fine. He recovered really quickly after that, which made me feel pretty proud. I felt like I did a proper job as a brother. That day, I took him to Hyehwa station. He found himself a dream that day. A dream that was incredibly small… and easy to be broken.”

“Did you try talking to him?”

Geunsoo shook his head.

“Nope.”

“Why?”

“The boy’s fully relying on me now. It’s good that he’s released himself from craving our parent’s praises, but he’s stuck to me now.”

“That just means you should’ve tried to solve this by talking.”

“That’s not possible. My brother can’t be reasoned with right now.”

Geunsoo crossed his arms and turned to look back at the stage. The stage managers were doing final checks of all the equipment.

“He’s still a kid. He may look mature due to his appearance, but he’s still incredibly childish inside. My brother’s life is built on praises. Everything he does is purely to get praises. That hasn’t changed. The only thing that changed is whom he wants to get praises from. It’s become an eternal cycle. Trying to change that with just words?”

Geunsoo turned to look back at Maru.

“The one thing that separates humans from animals is the power of communication. But humans aren’t very logical at all. While all of us try to seek facts and reality, but… Just take a look at the news for a few minutes. You’ll end up seeing all sorts of crazy people. In the end, words only really carry their meaning in certain situations. Which means… What really changes people aren’t words, it’s experience.”

Geunsoo sighed. The man hoped to see his brother fail. So that’s what was up with his troubled gaze back at school. But there was still one thing Maru was curious about.

Geunseok’s acting was perfect. He was great during all of the rehearsals. There were a lot of people here in the audience, but Maru didn’t doubt that Geunseok would do well.

But Geunsoo was here to see Geunseok fail. That was the only reason why he was here.

Did that mean Geunseok would fail?

Geunsoo continued talking after a small pause.

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