Chapter 49

“It’s hot,” Maru noted, staring up at the sky.

The blazing sunlight was making his shadow look longer than normal. Grayer, too. Even the shadow started to look a bit lighter from how bright the sun was. Some of the students were even coming to school in gym clothes. Since shorts weren’t allowed by the school, they just decided to come in gym clothes instead.

Maru had done the exact same as well. It was mid-July. The students were only a week away from starting their summer vacation, the weather has turned the school into a giant steaming pot.

As a matter of fact, it was so hot that even the disciplinary teacher didn’t leave the building all day. Thanks to that, the students who had their hair done were able to proudly walk into the school without any worries.

“Summer vacation can’t start soon enough.”

After all, the best part of being a student was their vacation. Maru parked his bike and ran inside. The cold air was a huge relief.

“Phew, I feel so much better.”

Maru sat down to look at the seat next to him. It didn’t look like Dojin came to school just yet.

“Ugh, it’s so hot.”

Daemyung came over from his row to sit at Dojin’s seat. After the play, Daemyung had gained some of his weight back. He didn’t look very fat though. Just a little bit chubby.

“The fan on the front row isn’t working.”

“You have a window though.”

“The window’s only letting in hot air. It’s insane.”

Daemyung fanned himself with his mouth half-open. There was a little picture of a computer pasted onto it. He must’ve gotten it near an electronic market or something.

“You got an extra fan?”

“No, you want to use this?”

Daemyung offered his fan, but Maru shook his head.

“You've been eating a lot of tasty stuff recently?” Maru asked.

“Hahaha, yeah, I’ve eaten a fair bit. Been craving a lot.”

“Try to cut down a bit. You look perfect right now.”

“Yeah, for real. If I try to lose some again for practice...”

Daemyung’s face fell a little bit the moment he said the word.

Practice.

He hadn’t spoken the word in a while. The door to the classroom opened with a creak. It was Dojin. Daemyung stood up from his seat with a smile.

“You barely made it..”

“Man, I ran like I was going for a home steal. I flipping thought I had the alarm clock set, but when I woke up, it was eight already. I barely ate breakfast and just bolted it.”

Dojin collapsed on his seat. Daemyung fanned Dojin lightly from the side.

“Did you play games last night?” Maru asked.

“It was intense last night. Right, Daemyung?”

Daemyung nodded with an excited grin.

“We ended up catching a boss we were waiting for. It’s a popular one, so it was super hard to try to catch it.”

“We were lucky yesterday. Dojin managed to find it first.”

Right then, the rest of the kids in the class walked towards them. They seemed to have played the game together. Maru smiled looking at the familiar scene.

“The drops were so trash though.”

“Ugh, and I used so many potions too...”

“For real.”

“It did drop a lot of cash though. We should try again.”

“You should join us too, Maru,” Dojin offered.

Maru received the offer several times in the past. In his previous life, he probably would’ve played the game as much as he could from the open beta period.

He was still playing the game now, but only up to an hour or two a day. He couldn’t catch up to the other kids. In the end, his friends were way above where he was currently.

“RPGs are no good for me. Too much grinding. I’ll just play whenever I feel free.”

“Ugh, bro, I told you that I can grind for you.”

“Just carry me bro.”

The kids laughed in unison. Maru looked at his two friends for a second. This scene had become their daily life again. Contrary to last month, when they were gripping their scripts with passion.

“What are you thinking, Maru?” Dojin asked, waving his hand in front of Maru’s face.

Maru blurted out what was on his mind without really thinking about it.

“How long are you guys planning on just reading your script for the club?”

His two friends fell completely silent after hearing his words. That was a mistake, Maru realized. The two still haven’t recovered after the play last month.

Daemyung was the first to break the silence.

“We’re thinking about entering the teen acting competition hosted by Gwangho University.”

“Still?”

“Yeah.”

“Is it because of Geunseok?”

“......”

They became silent again. The bell for the first class rang right then. Daemyung smiled awkwardly before returning to his seat. Maru turned to look at Dojin, who smiled similarly, before taking out a piece of candy.

“Want one?”

“Sure.”

“Here.”

Dojin popped a piece in his mouth himself and fell silent. Maru looked at his two friends. Their minds seemed to have come to a pause after the regionals last month.

* * *

At the play a month ago, the first thing Maru saw at the waiting room was Geunseok collapsed on the wall, with the club members looking at the boy.

“If it wasn’t for that kid, if it wasn’t for him… The judges...”

Geunseok wasn’t able to raise his head. He was just repeating the same words over and over again. The club members didn’t look mad at all, they looked like they needed explanation. They didn’t understand what had happened.

Just what caused the perfect Geunseok to make such an amateur mistake?

That day, the club split apart. Miso didn’t try to assemble the club members either.

[Trying to come together on a day like this would be too cruel for that boy,] Miso had said.

The club met together the next day in the club room. The members tried to console each other saying that they would do better next time.

But the look of “how?” would still not leave their eyes. Geunseok’s mistake was just that shocking to them.

Nothing changed since then. They spent a full week consoling each other. And on the day when the results of the competition got announced, the club met again. Taesik, the teacher, was the one who announced the results. He told the club that this was a good experience for them, and that they could do better next time. But ultimately, he said the club failed to qualify.

Geunseok cried. He said in a sobbing voice that he was sorry. Daemyung was the next to burst into tears, with Yurim following the two of them. The eleven members of the club got together to console each other. Maru didn’t join in. Instead, watching from the side.

He had no place with them. They could only console each other because they worked together for the full three months. Maru didn’t have the right to cry or get angry together.

Joonghyuk was the first to recover, saying that they should practice for the other acting competitions coming up later this year. Namely, the college acting festival. It was nothing compared to the national one, but it was the one competition that started soon after the regionals.

The competition was also well-known as the ‘losers’ festival’.

As the club members nodded at Joonghyuk, Maru noticed Geunseok saying something from the corner.

[If it wasn’t for that kid...]

The boy was repeating the same words from before. It didn’t look like anyone else picked up on it. Right then, the two’s eyes met. Geunseok flinched like a surprised kid and lowered his head. Perhaps what he said just then was what he truly felt about the competition.

After that day, the club completely disappeared from the auditorium. They met on the weekends occasionally just to do some reading, but not much else. They didn’t need much practice, since they would go into the college competition with the same play from before.

There was a change, though. Miso stopped coming.

Perhaps the change should’ve been expected. She was only really here to help the club along for their regionals after all.

[I’m going into a different project this time. I wasn’t going to do it, but well, I have some time now,] Maru recalled her saying.

She tried not to show it, but Maru did detect a great amount of disappointment on her face. She loved the club more than anyone else. The loss of the club this time was probably very saddening for her as well.

Once Maru thought about this much, the door opened, and the teacher walked in. The first thing the middle-aged man said after walking in was “open your books”.

Time to focus on the class.

Maru took out his book from his desk.

* * *

It was lunchtime. Any other time, the students would have rushed towards the cafeteria, but this time everyone was walking like zombies.

It was hot as hell.

“Oh my god, it’s so hot.”

“Seriously...”

“Saying that’s only going to make it worse. Just imagine it’s cold.”

“You sound like my dad.”

“I mean, there’s a reason adults say these kinds of things.”

Maru fanned with his hand as he spoke. The summer heat lowered his appetite, and the lunch menu was also unappetizing. He was craving meat quite a bit today, but… The school decided it was time for a vegetable party.

“Braised potatoes and braised lotus root. Anyone want to trade?”

“Pass.”

“Yeah, I’m gonna pass on that too.”

The food at this school was somewhat edible, but the braised potatoes were by far the worst. The crunchy potatoes and watery sauce made the braised dish unappetizing. In the end, the dish just tasted like a whole bunch of raw potatoes.

“Huh?”

Daemyung pointed at Geunseok in front of him. The boy was going to the cafeteria with his friends. Behind him was Yurim and Soyeon.

“Am I imagining things? Why are the three of them so far apart?” Dojin said, narrowing his eyes.

Maru couldn’t help but think the same thing. The three of them were very good friends with each other. But the group seemed to have an awkward atmosphere today. Yurim and Soyeon still looked like they were good friends. But there was definitely something going on with Geunseok.

Dojin ran forward, coming right up between Yurim and Soyeon. What a social kid. He immediately waved his hand towards Daemyung and Maru. The two girls waved towards them as well.

“Let’s go.”

“Sure.”

Maru and Daemyung made their way over to the trio.

“Braised potatoes today.”

“Soyeon, want some of my share?”

“I like eating, but it’s a hard pass on that.”

They were talking about the potatoes here, too. Maru glanced over at Geunseok in front of him. The boy looked back after joking around a bit with his friends. Their eyes met. Maru raised his hand in a greeting, and the boy awkwardly did the same.

Geunseok’s definitely changed. Outside of the club, he smiled a lot, and became casual. It wasn’t like he started talking a lot more, but he was definitely more social than he was in the auditorium. But look at him now. He looked like a kid who did something wrong, not knowing what to do next.

Maru turned to look at Yurim and Soyeon. The two also had awkward smiles on their faces. There was definitely a barrier between the three of them. A pretty big one, too.

“Did you guys have a fight?” Maru asked.

He knew that he probably shouldn’t be asking something so personal, but he felt something strange was going on between the group.

The two girls shook their heads vigorously in response. Yurim, in particular, shook hard enough to make her hair flutter wildly.

“Nothing’s happening, nothing.”

Yurim clenched her phone incredibly tightly as she spoke. There was no way she would look convincing doing so. It would be rude of him to pry further though, so he decided to continue walking into the cafeteria silently.

“There’s something going on, isn’t there?” Dojin whispered.

“Let’s stay quiet for now. They’ll handle it among themselves.”

“Mm.”

Maru looked at Geunseok in front of him. The smiling boy didn’t look as comfortable as he made himself to be.

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