They cleaned the stage and moved away the props. The hospital mark that was painted on a piece of wood, and the makeshift bed they got from god knows where. The elements that made up the stage felt foreign to Maru. That couldn’t be helped. While the rest of the club members prepared for the play, he was at Film or on a set. He bought some of the props, but the props that were made with effort clearly didn’t have the slightest traces of him.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
After watching everyone surround Aram and give words of encouragement for a while, Maru started moving by himself. He carried the wooden frame out, then the makeshift bed. He greeted the next group of students coming up to the stage for their play and cleared out the rest of the props. Around that time, the other club members started moving as well. As Aram hadn’t finished crying yet, she was sniffing as she moved the chairs.
-The next performance will be….
An announcement about the next performance started flowing out of the speakers.
“Well done. Also, Aram, you don’t need to cry. Why are you crying? We haven’t even got the results back yet. You did well.”
Taesik encouraged everyone. Suyeon wasn’t here. She apparently had a shoot.
“I ruined everything because I almost made a mistake,” said Aram while panting.
When she looked like she was about to cry again, the others all surrounded her once more. Even the people that told her that it was okay and that they did their best, had red eyes as though they were about to cry. Even the usually cold Dowook seemed to be sharing their sentiments as he clearly seemed to be holding back something to the point that his Adam's apple was trembling.
After watching everyone encouraging each other for a while, Maru started moving the props onto the back of the truck first. He moved quietly so that the others wouldn’t notice. When he loaded about half of the items, the other club members approached him.
“Seonbae, let’s do it together.”
“Why are you doing it alone?”
They started moving the props onto the truck. As they didn’t have a lot of things for the set nor a lot of props, they were able to finish rather quickly.
“I’ll go ahead by myself first, so take your time. Once you arrive, let’s go get something nice to eat.”
Taesik departed first with the truck. Daemyung led the rest to the bus stop. While they walked, Aram seemed to have calmed down as she no longer cried. Jiyoon and Aram were walking hand in hand and Jiyoon kept talking to her, seemingly to distract her from depression.
“You never know what will happen. We did really well today, so we might be able to win against Hwasoo High. Isn’t that right, seonbae-nim?”
Bangjoo used his usual loud voice to ask Daemyung. Daemyung made a confident expression and said ‘of course’.
“That would’ve been the case if I did a little better back then,” said Aram as she lowered her head.
“Hey, I did several times better than usual, so we’ll go to the finals no matter what you say. I could feel the examiners looking at me all the time. Also, you ‘almost’ made a mistake, you didn’t make one for real. No wait, who cares if you did? I was great. Seonbae-nim. Isn’t that right?” Bangjoo asked for agreement as he raised his head.
Daemyung gave a thumbs up. Jiyoon also clapped and agreed.
“Rather than you, Bangjoo, I did well.”
Even Dowook, who usually didn’t go along with pranks, chimed in this time. When Bangjoo and Dowook were arguing about who did better, Aram eventually chuckled.
“Did you just laugh? You laughed, didn’t you?” asked Jiyoon as she swayed Aram’s arm back and forth.
The laughter, which was as contagious as a sigh, quickly spread amongst everyone else, and the acting club returned to the usual, fun acting club that could be seen back at school. Aram still seemed a little cautious, but she did not mention that it was her fault anymore. After chatting for a while, they patted each other’s backs and made relaxing smiles. Maru could see that they were truly caring for each other.
Maru watched that scene from a few steps back. The cries and sighs of regret after the performance, as well as the encouragement and the smiles of harmony that followed suit, were emotions that only they could share. It would be deception if he cried amongst them, and it would go against his conscience to laugh amongst them. He wasn’t qualified to join them and discuss the performance together.
Envy - Maru envied the club members in front of him right now. He tried imagining himself in that group, smiling and chatting with them. Maru thought that sharing heated emotions with someone else was an incredible thing, but he eventually just chuckled and dismissed that thought.
It was instead him who had to apologize to everyone - he thought as he made a bitter expression while putting his hands inside his pockets. Between the acting club and studying, Maru chose studying. Making a choice did not mean choosing both sides. It meant abandoning one thing completely, and Maru decided to abandon the acting club. He did make some time to visit. He participated in practice, and he also helped them out by buying them props. It was a suitable compromise after his decision, but the results weren’t that good.
The sense of regret in his heart.
When Daemyung told him that they should watch Myunghwa High and Woosung High, he should have persuaded otherwise. Gambles usually ended in failure, and last minute cramming only added to the confusion. However, he could not stop him. In fact, he even agreed that they should watch the other two schools. This was because he was suspicious. Not of the acting of the other club members, but of his own acting. The suspicion naturally gained by those that did not practice enough made him unable to believe the things he had done until now which induced the decision of the wrong choice.
Would things have been different if he focused on the acting club more? Maru hypothesized such a situation, but he soon shook his head. The only thing gained from looking back at the past was the meaningless resolve to do better next time.
‘That’s just being greedy.’
He did not regret choosing to study over club activities. He had definitely gained a lot from Miso’s classes, and he had learned what it was like to stand in front of the camera through various auditions and playing characters in the field. He had definitely chosen the more profitable path if he looked at the bigger picture that was his life. Maru had already imagined that something like this would happen when he told Daemyung that he might not be able to frequent the acting club.
Feeling the same emotions as someone who put in 100% effort while he himself only put in 50% was not possible. That was definitely being too greedy.
“Seonbae, come here quickly.”
“Seonbae-nim! Run! The bus is coming!”
Maru nodded as he looked at his juniors waving at him.
He felt very sorry since he neither felt sad nor happy even though the stage had ended. He got on the bus and grabbed the handle. The others stood together at the back and were now talking comfortably.
“Thanks for your work,” said Daemyung as he walked up to him.
Maru only replied that he did nothing.
“Do you regret it?” Daemyung asked.
Maru looked at his friend’s face. He then slowly gave an answer.
“No. I don’t regret my decisions, as sad as it might sound to everyone else.”
“That’s good. I thought you were regretting it.”
“You know I’m not such a romanticist.”
“Well, I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” said Daemyung with a smile.
“How about you? Do you have anything to say to me?”
After thinking about it for a while as he looked out the window, Daemyung replied,
“I do, a lot, actually.”
“Yeah, there’s a whole lot. How would it have been if you showed up to practice more often? How would it have been if you talked with everyone else more? How would it have been if you taught them in detail and guided them? Instructor Suyeon was definitely a good instructor, but we didn’t work with her that much. In fact, your explanations often sounded easier than hers. I feel like many things would have changed if you showed up more often. Everyone else should be thinking the same thing.”
He paused and spat out a deep breath. Maru did not speak. Daemyung’s words hadn’t ended yet.
“That doesn’t mean I hate you. In fact, I’m angry at myself. I feel sorry towards everyone as well. I should’ve done better to fill your absence so that we wouldn’t have to be as urgent before the performance, but I wasn’t able to do that. I keep thinking now that we should’ve spent more time practicing, that we should’ve concentrated more, things like that. If I did, maybe I would’ve trusted everyone to stand on stage and perform just like we’ve been practicing.”
Daemyung bitterly smiled.
“It seems like Aram felt something after looking at Heewon’s acting. She tried to do something better in the middle, and it didn’t go as she had intended. She didn’t reveal any mistakes, but everyone felt that they might really make a mistake at that rate. Even I was frozen stiff. How much better could the others be?”
The bus stopped. People got off and got on. Along with a beep, the doors closed, and Daemyung continued speaking,
“Perhaps what I should have said before the performance was not to watch the two other schools and try to learn from them, but that we should trust in what we have done.”
After saying those words, Daemyung shrugged once. Maru tapped Daemyung’s arm with the back of his hand.
“It would be interesting if the results were actually good.”
“True. It would be great if it was like that. We could just laugh it off and say that we were worried for nothing.”
After saying those words, Daemyung pointed at the rest of the members talking at the back. Maru shook his head.
“Alright, see you after we get off.”
Daemyung walked towards the back. The club members stared at Maru, and Maru just waved his hand to tell them that they shouldn’t mind him. He could also see Daemyung stopping Bangjoo from walking up to him.
Maru watched the scenery outside flash by. The last stage he could participate in as a member of a high school acting club was now over. He wasn’t planning to participate in club activities in his 3rd year even if he put his name on the list. If they asked for help, he might give them a helping hand, but he would never lead them by any means. Today was the last day he participated as an actor. Although the results weren’t out yet, he could intuitively feel it. There was no way the audience wasn’t able to realize the discrepancy when he was able to feel it on the stage. He thought that they might have a chance of competing against Hwasoo High for 2nd place if they finished the performance with that momentum, but it was very unlikely that they would win against Hwasoo High’s dominating performance with one that became stiff halfway through the play. There was no need to mention Myunghwa High either. They were just on a whole other level.
He rolled that word with his tongue for a while. The times that would never come by again had gone past, and now he had to face a world he had never experienced before.
“What a pity.”
If the acting club was to become a memory for him, it would’ve been better if they won instead. What was he supposed to say after he got off the bus and ate together with everyone else? He could neither say that they did well nor that they should try better next time. Just as he was looking outside in a daze, the other club members had come up to him and were staring at him.
“It’s because of you, seonbae.”
“You should’ve looked after us more often.”
He looked at his juniors with a rather dazzled expression. After saying a word each, they grinned as though they were done before pointing at the door.
“What are you doing, seonbae? We’re here.”
“Get yourself together.”
“Let’s get off.”
The three juniors got off and Daemyung got off after them.
“Looking cool can come later, you idiot. Get off, we’re getting food.”
Dowook smiled and slapped Maru’s head. Maru chuckled and got off the bus.
The club members were standing in a line at the bus stop.
“Maru, let’s go.”
Daemyung directed his gaze next to him.
The juniors were all waving at Maru to come.
Maru scratched his eyebrows and started walking.
The words that ‘kids know what they need to know’ flashed in his head.
Oh, and one more thing,
‘They are better than adults’ - that as well.
 Author’s mistake. It’s clearly meant to be Hwasoo High here.
Or this? The tarot card was referring to how he didn't know the state of his own club?
Seems like the acting club arc has finally concluded after 400+ chapters. Very nice.