Beep beep beep - three beeps sounded. Maru took a deep breath as his eyes stayed shut.
‘My nose feels dry. I should watch out.’
He sat up, feeling the air that was quite chilly. He had put his phone on top of the shelf so that it was out of reach from his bed. That was done in order to prevent himself from turning it off while half-asleep. He reached out and grabbed his phone. The time displayed on the screen was 6.
He turned off the alarm and did some light stretching around his neck. After that, he lied down on the mat he laid on the ground before sleep and started stretching his muscles, which were still half-asleep. He stretched his legs out by locking his fingers and pulling on his knees, then turning around to do a cobra stance to relax his waist. He felt his dull senses wake up one by one as he breathed consciously. Maru’s mornings were always systematic.
After stretching, he went out to the living room. As it was Sunday, the house was still dark. He took a glimpse at the skies between the closed curtains and saw that it was still purple. It was winter, so there was still some time until the sun rose.
He washed his face and changed his clothes. He took out his trainers from the shoe rack and put them on before leaving the house. When he went down the stairs, he saw that the snow hadn’t melted yet. He walked past the snow that had been blackened from all the surrounding dirt and grease and took the path to the mountain. This path was paved for the residents of the apartment near the residential area.
His breath turned slightly white. Maru started jogging. The cold air made him wake up completely. After running for around 10 minutes, he saw a hiking trail with wooden stairs. He greeted the elderly that came from the top before starting to climb up.
He made some sounds as he moved. An actor had to be capable of speaking clearly even while moving, and practice was the only way to reach that level. He relaxed his shoulders and focused on the sound. If he messed up the vocalization, he would start to tense the wrong muscles. Once he did that, he would easily tire himself out and maybe even damage his throat.
A warm breath climbed up his throat. He remembered to expand and relax his throat as he voiced out. When he saw someone approaching him from afar, he became awkward and smiled before practicing again. As he didn’t have a suitable place to voice out all he wanted to, he had to risk some embarrassment.
After arriving at a place where he could look down at the apartment complex, Maru stretched his arms out before taking in a deep breath. When he was climbing up, he limited his voice to a certain volume so that only he could hear his own voice, but now, he was going to raise his voice. He placed his palms on his stomach to check the tension of it as he voiced out. He continued his vocal exercise while imagining that he was pulling out his voice from somewhere deep. All the breath in his body turned into sound and spread around.
When his breath filled up to his throat, he took in a deep breath then voiced out the lowest note he could do. His voice nearly sounded like breathing. He started off with a ‘huh’ sound before eventually changing it to an ‘uh’ sound.
He felt a presence around him, but he couldn’t stop. A man in his fifties walked past him while coughing.
After finishing his exercise, Maru greeted the man who was stretching nearby him. The man asked what he was doing.
“It’s a vocal exercise.”
“Are you preparing to become a singer?”
“No, I’m an aspiring actor.”
“Ah, alright. Do your best with that.”
He often encountered these kinds of situations, so he just smiled and focused on practice.
The elder said that he never skipped vocal practice for even a day. Even when he was hospitalized, he said that he opened the window in the ward every morning and practiced. Thanks to that, he was cautioned by the nurse a couple of times, but the elder always smiled back before continuing his practice. The figure of the elder who told him that there was nothing scarier than being lenient on yourself left a deep impression on him.
After sufficient practice, he climbed down the mountain. It was 7, and the sun was rising. Once he returned home, he took a shower before turning the stove on when his parents’ bedroom opened. He said good morning to his mother who went to the bathroom with a tired face before making breakfast. He knocked on Bada’s door to wake her up, but he didn’t get any response as he had expected.
“Wake Bada up and eat breakfast.”
He saw his mother out as she went to work before washing the dishes. After looking at the clean dishes, he knocked on Bada’s door once again.
“I’ll eat it later.”
“Eat it when it’s still ready.”
“Gosh, stop nagging me!”
He kept talking to Bada, who was grumbling, to get her to come out. He fled to his room when his sister ran towards him like an angry dog baring its fangs before getting breakfast ready for her.
“You should start waking up early now since you’re going to be in high school and all.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“Why are you nagging me in the morning? Even mom doesn’t nag me these days, who are you to nag me?”
“I took over from mom, satisfied?”
Maru took out an apple from the refrigerator before peeling it. He sliced it to bite size pieces before putting them on a plate.
"I heard you said that you want to go to cram school, right?"
“Yeah. All of my friends are going to one, so I thought I should go to one as well.”
“Make sure you do your research before registering for one.”
“One of my friends told me about one, so I’m going to try that place out.”
“How far is it from the house?”
“It’s right in front of the school. I’ll be able to go there right after school. I thought I wouldn’t bother going to one if it was too far, so I looked into nearby ones.”
“But hey, why am I reporting to you about all this?”
“It was you who blurted everything.”
“That’s true. Oppa, give me some water.”
It was ‘hey’ or ‘you’ when she didn’t need him, and ‘oppa’ when she needed him. Maru poured a cup of water before putting it down in front of Bada.
“I’m going to go to school so do wash the dishes before you get yourself comfortable.”
“School? Are you going to practice?”
“When does it end?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Buy some Bungeo-ppang on the way back. I want some.”
“But it’s right in front of the….”
“I don’t want to leave the house. It’s cold.”
Maru sighed and told her to clean the house in exchange. Bada seemed to have some sense of shame left as she nodded.
“Look after the house. Don’t order things for lunch, warm up the soup and eat that instead.”
“I get it already so get going.”
“Also, don’t forget to lock the door. When I saw the news recently….”
Bada waved her hand back and forth. Maru looked at the clock in the living room. It was 10 past 8. It was about time he left.
“Don’t end up burning the soup while watching TV like last time.”
“I get it already!”
She answered properly, but Maru couldn’t help but feel that she was unreliable. He looked at the sour Bada once before leaving the house.
* * *
The phone alarm entered his ears. It was Red Star’s new song. Lee Heewon closed his eyes and hummed along with the song.
“Ah, the song is good.”
He briefly thought that he should get up, but decided to keep listening since the music was so good. When he followed along with the addictive lyrics, the song soon ended. Heewon opened his heavy eyelids and reached out to find his phone. After finding his phone next to his head. Heewon grinned and opened the folder phone. With his eyes closed, he pressed some buttons on the phone. Menu, four, and then two buttons down and then ok.
Red Star’s song started playing again. Heewon put on a satisfied smile and put down the phone.
At that moment, he heard a knock on the door
“Hyung, you up?”
It was his younger brother’s voice. Heewon wondered if he should answer or not for a while.
“Hyung, I can hear the song.”
“You must be mistaken.”
“Hyung, it’s morning. You should get up.”
“Can’t I sleep a little more? It’s Sunday.”
“Didn’t you say that you had practice for a play? You told me to wake you up yesterday.”
“Ah, right. Practice.”
“Then shouldn’t you get up?”
After replying, Heewon buried his face in the pillow. He thought that he would have no more wishes in his life if he slept like this for just ten more minutes.
His younger brother sounded dejected. Heewon curled up in sadness. He covered his face with the blanket and stayed still like a log. Soon, the door opened.
“Get up, hyung.”
“Just ten more minutes.”
“No, you said you need to go to school. You must keep your promises,” said his brother calmly.
Heewon looked for a retort, but couldn’t find any.
“Then do you want to go in my stead?”
“I’d love to if I could, but you know I can’t.”
“Then just five more minutes.”
“Alright. Just five more minutes, okay?”
“Yeah! Just five more minutes.”
Ah, what an angel. Heewon smiled and grabbed his phone again. He didn’t get tired of Red Star’s song no matter how many times he heard it.
He could hear the sound of boiling soup through the slightly open door. Heewon sniffed. So breakfast was doenjang-jjigae today, huh. He tried poking his feet out of the blanket.
“Whew, so cold.”
There were still three days until December. Heewon thought that the weather was too cold as he sat up. The cold air brushing under his arms made him shiver.
“It’s so cold,” he said as he left his room.
His brother, who was doing the dishes at the sink, looked at him before going to his room.
“You should put this on. It’s cold.”
He put on the vest that his brother gave him. It was quite warm as though it was kept under a blanket. He sniffed as he sat down on the floor. On the table were side dishes made by his brother. He used his fingers to eat the stir-fried anchovies. The slightly salty taste was delicious. When he did that a few times, his brother glared at him. Enduring the gaze, he put a slightly larger anchovy in his mouth. It was delicious.
“Here, hyung. Your rice.”
There was a fried egg on top of the rice. The yolk was half-boiled. When he poked it with the spoon, delicious-looking yellow yolk seeped between the rice grains.
“Hyung, you should eat quickly and wash yourself.”
“I still have plenty of time.”
“I thought you had to go by 9.”
“Did you have a look at the time?”
“...You should eat quickly. You might be late.”
Heewon glanced behind him. The clock that had been here since they moved, which made weird cuckoo noises every hour, was nearing 9. The minute hand was just going past the number 8.
“There’s still 20 minutes left.”
“You’ll be late if you get washed.”
“Then I’ll just go without taking a shower.”
“There’s a bird’s nest on your head, you know?”
“I heard that bird’s nest is trendy these days.”
“Says the TV.”
“I never heard that before.”
“That’s because you don’t watch TV. So don’t just read books and watch some TV, okay?”
Heewon took the opportunity to play Red Star’s music from his phone.
“I think people should focus on eating when they’re at the table,” said his brother with a rather serious face.
Heewon hesitated before turning off the music. His brother nodded with a smile.
“How long are you going to practice today?”
“I’m not sure. It might take a long time.”
“I’ll eat lunch by myself then, okay?”
“You should come with me.”
“Why? I don’t have anything to do there.”
“You can watch from the side.”
“I’ll be inconveniencing everyone.”
“Why do you think that? The people in the acting class all like you, you know?”
“I still can’t. You’re doing practice, aren’t you? It must be rude for someone unrelated to be there.”
“No, it’s not.”
Heewon frowned before eating a spoonful of rice. He truly thought that everyone liked his brother.
“You should eat some soy-pickled garlic as well.”
“But it’s too spicy.”
“It’s good for your immune system. Consider it medicine and eat some. Also, the owner lady gave us this because she cares for us. We can’t throw it away.”
Heewon looked for a way to avoid eating it, but he had no choice but to put some in his mouth when his brother looked at him. When he chewed on it, the taste of soy sauce and spiciness filled his mouth.
“This really doesn’t suit my tastes.”
“It’s good for your health. We can’t have you becoming sick.”
After breakfast, Heewon went to the bathroom.
“That doesn’t look so bad.”
He put some water over his face before pressing down on his hair with some water on his hands to straighten it out. He couldn’t wash his hair in weather like this. It wasn’t because he couldn’t be bothered, but because he had to be careful to not catch a cold, so he could make an excuse like that to his brother.
After wearing a hoodie, he put the hood over his head. With that, he could fool his brother perfectly.
‘This is good.’
He left the bathroom with a satisfied smile.
“Hyung, you forgot this.”
Just as he was about to go out, his brother handed him his script. Now that he thought about it, he forgot to put it inside his bag after reading it last night. ‘Hwasoo High Lee Heewon’ written in large letters on the cover felt rather embarrassing.
“I won’t lose it even without my name on it,” he said to the perpetrator that wrote his name on it.
His brother smiled at him without a word.
“I’m leaving then. Don’t forget to eat lunch.”
“Alright. Don’t skip lunch either.”
“Okay. Ah, should we order fried chicken for dinner?”
“We’re almost running out of this month’s expenses that we got from our aunt. We need to save up.”
Heewon said ‘but the chicken…’ in a small voice.
An image of a chicken drumstick lingered in front of his face.
“But since it’s the end of the month, and we saved some last week, I think we can order one,” said his brother with a smile.
Heewon’s expression visibly became better as he looked at his brother. His brother nodded slightly.
“Fried? Or sauce?”
“I’ll order half-half.”
“As expected of my Haewon! How smart.”
Heewon said goodbye to his brother before leaving through the door. He climbed up the stairs of the semi-basement and basked in the rays of the morning sun. Just then, he heard the door opening behind him.
“Hyung, you forgot your phone.”
Heewon smiled and took the phone that his brother gave him.
 Word used here refers to paternal aunt.
Why do I keep thinking of otokonoko when I think of caring little brother that does housework? onii-chan
So we're introduced to another pair of characters. Heewon and Haewon, who seemed to have lost their parents (expenses received from aunt). What an unrealistic little brother. Bada sounds much more realistic (though annoying for sure)
Not another pair of names that's basically the same. Also, this chap made me hungry.