Chapter 48

“My brother likes being judged. He exhilarates in the fact that he’s better than others. That’s why he enjoys getting tested most of the time. But...”

Maru understood just what Geunsoo was worried about.

“He’d dig his own grave the moment he makes a small mistake.”

“He might’ve changed a little bit since middle school. But traumas of such calibre don’t get fixed very easily. If he’s recovered, then it’s something to be celebrated. But I personally think he’s going to suffer from quite a bit of humiliation today.”

“But at the same time, don’t you want him to succeed? You must know better than anyone how exhilarating it is to be an actor.”

Geunsoo grinned at that.

“You’re right. I would love to see my brother go through the proper steps and become an actor. I want him to experience failure and utter hopelessness. Only then can he start thinking about acting more seriously. He’s already experienced failure in studying before, so he’s fine if he fails in it again. But what about acting? Tests are like a duel with your own self, but acting is different. The pressure from the audience can’t be ignored.”

“You sound pretty confident that Geunseok would fail.”

“Who knows? He might not. But something tells me that won’t be the case. It’s not like knowing that changes anything though, so I’m just waiting.”

The man sounded pretty calm, but it was obvious that he was feeling nervous himself. He was tapping his arm with his finger constantly.

“It’s strange, isn’t it? I don’t want my brother to take up acting, but I would love to get on stage with him. That’s exactly why he needs to suffer from failure. If he manages to stand back up by himself afterwards… Then the monster of acting would really reach out to him. That’s when I really plan on helping him out.”

The doors of the auditorium closed right then, with the speakers saying the first play was about to begin. Maru noticed the judges in the front taking out their papers. Maru thought for a second about how Geunseok would be right behind those curtains just now.

‘Hold on.’

In the future, Geunsoo becomes an actor who makes a permanent impact on the world of Korean entertainment. Then what about Geunseok? Maru didn’t recall seeing the name anywhere.

It wasn’t because he couldn’t remember the name in his memory. Quite the contrary. In the future that Maru knew, Geunsoo mentioned in an interview about a brother that was working as a normal salaryman.

“What if he doesn’t end up being able to recover, and… tries to rely on you again?”

“I’ll have to console him again. He’s family, after all. I’ll stop him from going into acting, though. This industry isn’t a very kind one, especially not for kids like Geunseok. If you want to achieve your dreams, you need the courage to be able to give it up. Those who can’t will be used and used until they get thrown away. I don’t want my brother to live a life like that.”

Geunsoo ended the conversation coldly with just that. A person who wants to chase their dream should have the courage to give it up. Maru didn’t expect to hear his father’s exact words here.

When the lights in the auditorium turned off, the audience became quiet and directed their attention to the stage. Geunsoo looked at the stage with short huffs. He was glaring intensely, like an appraiser at an antique store.

Maru decided to just focus on the show for now as well. There was nothing he could do right now. Perhaps Geunsoo’s worry for his brother didn’t warrant another thought. Maybe the play could end perfectly, and Geunseok would be able to chase after his brother with no worries.

But the nervousness Maru felt from Geunseok this morning, and Geunsoo’s reaction held bad omens.

‘Hopefully things will end well.’

The only thing he could do was to pray.

* * *

Yurim was momentarily confused about where she was. The moment she looked out to the audience seats, she became unable to breathe. There were a lot of people there.

They were all here to see their play. That alone made her feel incredibly nervous.

‘Calm down.’

She gripped the phone next to her on the desk. This phone held a special meaning to her. Back when Yurim was still in the second grade of middle school, raving about her new phone, a black van stopped in front of her.

Several men in black shirts stepped off, asking her where the nearby elementary school was.

Right then, the first thing her mind thought of was the recent string of disappearances in the news. Something about people snatching middle schoolers to send to some far-off island. Yurim looked around in fear, but there was no one around and it was late in the day as well. She regretted everything just then.

She should’ve listened to her mom. She should’ve come back home early.

The men in black slowly approached her. She couldn’t move. She was paralyzed in fear.

The phone rang right there. It was mom.

That woke her right up. She screamed at the men and backed off. The men didn’t give chase. They got right into their cars and ran away. Yurim hadn’t let go of her phone since. It was her lucky charm. Without it, she wouldn’t even be here right now.

‘I can do it.’

She gripped her phone tightly. It calmed her a little bit. Some of her friends thought she was weird for being so attached to her phone, but it couldn’t be helped. Being without it made her feel really nervous.

Right then, someone’s hand touched her phone hand gently. It was Soyeon. The first friend Yurim made in high school. The girl was a great person who cared about Yurim’s well-being.

“We can do it.”

“Yeah.”

It was difficult for her to make friends after that incident, especially due to the reserved nature she developed from it. But Soyeon approached her first. Yurim recalled the girl’s words upon their first meeting. ‘Your hair’s such a pretty color,’ Soyeon had said.

Yurim put down her phone. With her friend by her side, she wouldn’t need to worry about anything.

“Fighting.”

“Yeah, fighting.”

Right then, they got the signal to get ready. The two of them took a deep breath in together.

“Come over here,” Miso called out.

The twelve of them all gathered at once.

“I’m not going to tell you to do well, or not to get nervous. You’ll see when you get on stage that things will be different from before. But it’ll be alright. Just throw yourselves in there. You’ll find that your body reacts almost on its own thanks to all the practices you’ve done. Don’t let fear and nervousness paralyze you. Take it all in. It’s only natural to feel afraid.”

Clap clap!

Miso stretched her hand out to the middle of the circle after a short clap. The twelve hands all gathered in the middle with it.

“Blue Sky!!”

“Yeah!”

Yurim felt the nervousness melt from her body with just that. The others must’ve felt similarly, judging by their smiles.

Except…

‘Eh?’

Geunseok looked a little strange. He didn’t look nervous. But he seemed to be putting on some sort of an air about him.

“Geunseok, I told you, didn’t I? Don’t try to do well. Just do what you can. Trust in all the work you’ve done till now. Understand?” Miso asked. She seemed to have noticed as well.

Yurim decided to stop worrying about it. Right. She’ll just try to reap the rewards from the practices.

“The show is about to begin,” one of the staff members reminded them.

Now, this was the true beginning.

* * *

Geunseok thought that this was his first step to becoming more like his brother. Since these were the exact steps his brother once took, Geunseok would have to as well. After getting first place here, he would go onto nationals and get first place there.

“Phew.”

The lights on the stage turned on, the sofa and the table shining under it. The sounds from the TV started playing as well.

It was no different from the dress rehearsal. There was no need to tremble.

Geunseok could see the audience seats from the curtain. Out of everyone there, the three people at the front stood out to him the most.

In the meantime, Minsung and Joonghyuk’s scene began. At the same time, the trio’s pens started moving in their hands. Even from the dark audience seats, the shiny reflection from the pens stood out to Geunseok.

‘They must be the judges.’

There was a need to look good in front of these people, Geunseok decided. He would try to direct his gaze to them as much as possible, to make himself more memorable to them.

‘It’s my turn.’

He stepped in after confirming that Minsung left the stage. His steps were natural. Good. As long as he kept going like this, nothing would go wrong.

* * *

The show was going on perfectly. Each scene transitioned seamlessly. The pronunciation and the projection of the club members were great as well. Their movements seemed experienced and natural, too.

Clearly, this was the result of their practices.

They really were doing it perfectly. At this rate, the entire thing would finish without a hitch, and the entire crew would be greeted with applause in the end.

Maru turned to look at Geunsoo. The man looked… conflicted. He looked at Geunseok whenever it became the boy’s turn to take the stage. Whenever Geunseok finished a monologue safely, Geunsoo would sigh in relief.

“It’ll end well, don’t worry,” Maru whispered.

Geunsoo just smiled lightly in response.

* * *

“Kids these days are so irresponsible!”

Dojin and Daemyung stepped onto the stage with a big footfall. Geunseok could only applaud the two in his head. They came in so cleanly. Even better than usual. He really felt like he was getting scolded by adults here.

Perfect. The play today was perfect.

The two friends behind him spoke out in unison. He’d heard the same line over a hundred times already.

Again, perfect.

Geunseok glanced over at the judges sitting in front. He couldn’t discern their faces, but he did see one of them nod in satisfaction. Good. They were doing well.

‘Nice, we’ll be able to score nicely.’

The play was reaching the climax at this point. As long as he did everything well from now, they should take first place with ease.

‘Maybe I’ll even get an acting award.’

Geunseok’s brother had gotten all sorts of acting awards straight from the regionals all the way to the nationals. He even received the award for best actor in the nationals.

Getting an award here was the least Geunseok could do. He’ll get one for sure. He didn’t feel nervous at all. As a matter of fact, there was only confidence in his head. He’ll be the one to end this play perfectly for sure!

“Waaaah!”

Somewhere out in the seats, a kid cried out. Where? Geunseok turned to look at the audience. There was a kid on one side. The mother quickly took the boy outside. Not a big problem. But right then, he noticed something.

‘Why’s it so quiet?’

He couldn’t hear his friends talk. They should be saying their lines about now. What’s up? They had all simultaneously stopped speaking for some reason.

He felt his insides start to burn furiously. What, they forgot their lines just because of a single kid? Unacceptable. They couldn’t move on unless someone finished here. Geunseok looked in front of him. If he looked back now, the others would only get more shocked. The only thing he could do was trust that the others would remember their lines.

Right then, his eyes met with one of the judge’s.

It was an interesting feeling, like a single spotlight was focused on just that judge. He could see the judge’s expressions clearly, even. The man had a very big frown on his face. That was bad.

There was no helping it now. Geunseok decided to turn around to let the others know about their mishap.

But right then, someone grabbed his shoulder. This wasn’t in the script. Why? As soon as he turned his head, he realized exactly why.

Taejoon was looking at him wide-eyed, with Iseul quickly saying ‘h-hey Jungsoo, are you mad because of the mister?’ at him. That line wasn’t in the script.

At the same time, he realized something.

His friends weren’t the ones who missed a line.

It was him.

* * *

Maru scratched his eyebrows as he closed one of his eyes. He couldn’t bear watching for much longer. But at the same time, he knew he had to keep watching. In the end, he just decided to close one of them to try to keep his cool.

Geunseok messed up his timing. The problem was, he didn’t even know that his timing was off. The first thing he did when the kid cried a while back was to just stare at the kid. In that short while, Taejoon and Iseul had already finished their lines.

After that, Geunseok just stared forward silently. Just what was he looking at?

“Kids who grew up on praises can’t live without it. That’s how they were raised, so they become sensitive to people who judge them. Of course, it’s important for an actor to be aware of what the audience is thinking. But the most important quality of an actor is to be in sync with other actors on the stage. An actor too focused on the audience won’t realize his mistake when he makes one. A common mistake amateur actors make.”

Geunsoo stood up, and quietly left the auditorium. The time Geunseok looked at the audience silently was around 15 seconds. Those few seconds of silence felt incredibly long to the audience.

“What the?”

“DId something happen?”

“What’s he doing?”

People started whispering all around Maru. The audience were sensitive to changes on stage. They could very easily catch onto an actor’s mistakes. They knew instantly that this silence was unintended.

In the end, Iseul stepped forward. But by then, it was all too late.

‘It’s not like we can criticize them, though. They’re just beginners.’

As a matter of fact, Iseul probably deserved praise for having the courage to step in like that. The girl opened her mouth. Geunseok’s shoulders shook a little bit, and the boy finally managed to look backwards. He seemed to have realized what happened.

The boy stuttered out a few words in shock. His charisma from seconds before was nowhere to be seen. Very uncharacteristic of who he was playing.

If Geunseok behaved like this in the beginning, things would’ve been fine. Jungsoo started off as a nervous boy after all. But they were stepping things up into the final scene at this point.

The main character by now should’ve matured, and have the convictions to go toe-to-toe against his father.

But Geunseok stuttered nervously just now. The entire character of Jungsoo just crumbled right there. The structure of the entire place collapsed. But worst of all, Geunseok was just staring into one section of the audience as if he was frozen.

Maru realized what was happening. The boy was looking at the judges. Almost as if he was trying to say that all this wasn’t supposed to happen.

And then, darkness.

It was the last scene. The table in the middle of the stage was set up. The conversation here would mark the end of the play.

Maru sighed. The seed of nervousness lingering from Geunseok this morning had finally bloomed.

“...Hopefully they don’t get too set back by this,” Soojin whispered.

She was looking at the stage with a saddened look.

The lights turned on again, illuminating the actors who were seated around the table. And a few minutes later, the play ended.

The club members all stepped into the stage joyfully with a calming music playing in the background. They looked like they completely forgot about what happened moments prior. Geunseok stepped onto the stage after everyone else.

He looked like he was utterly dead inside.

The club bowed towards the audience. Maru bowed towards the club members in return.

Good work for the last three months.

And with that, the first play on the first day of regionals in the Southern part of Gyeongi province came to an end.

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