Chapter 50

“Let’s go up.”

The trio started moving before the class bell rang. On their way up, they met Taejoon and Iseul. The two of them waved cheerfully at the boys.

“Are you guys doing anything after school?” Iseul asked.

The three of them shook their heads.

“Let’s go to a karaoke bar then. Down?”

Iseul stared at them intensely. The girl had a knack of always getting what she wanted. The way things looked right now, the three of them would have to attend the karaoke bar this evening no matter what.

As the group talked, they reached the fifth floor auditorium. A month ago, the auditorium would’ve been filled with Miso’s shouts, but not now. When they opened the door, they were greeted with the second years.

“Come here.”

The first years sat down in a circle. Maru joined in as well. There was no reason for him to sit elsewhere, since they pretty much stopped practicing at this point. They just made small talk here now.

“It’s getting pretty hot, isn’t it? Good thing we can use the auditorium. Being in the club room at this hour would be horrifying,” Joonghyuk said with a grin.

The whole group laughed lightly in response. Despite the smiles, Maru caught a faint scent of unease in the air. Probably because the group wasn’t laughing for real.

“Now then! Our ever-rich senior Joonghyuk will be providing the club with drinks again!”

Minsung stood up with a shout. He, too, must’ve felt the heavy air in the club. Joonghyuk immediately started arguing about why Minsung included himself in the group of ‘Joonghyuk’s juniors’. The other boy just feigned innocence playfully. The first years smiled, lightening the mood a little bit more.

Right then, the first years from the faculty of design walked in. Geunseok was the first to come in, with Soyeon and Yurim following close behind.

“Welcome!” Yoonjung greeted the three. She moved aside a little to make space for them.

Maru observed Yurim for a second. The girl was looking down at the ground like a shy kid. Presumably because of what happened earlier.

“Hey.”

“Ah, um, hey.”

The girl spoke only when Maru greeted her. As expected, she was gripping her phone this time as well.

“Alright, let’s start off with a reading for today as well,” Yoonjung said with a clap.

After failing at the regionals, all they could do were readings. They didn’t even do it for long either. Just once most of the time, and twice if they felt good enough. That was their entire practice for the week.

Once the reading was finished, the group started talking for a bit. They updated each other on what has happened recently, and how the week was for each other. Just a small tea party between the club members.

The passion from before was nowhere to be seen.

Maru understood completely. They were all tired. People couldn’t run forever, after all. They needed rest.

‘Not like I can intervene either.’

He was well aware that taking a longer rest would only make it harder for them to start seriously again, but he didn’t really feel the need to explain it to them. The club worked harder than anyone for the past three months. They would eventually get over their feelings of defeat, humiliation, and sadness. Practice would resume, and they would return to their passionate selves once again.

Maru believed in them, so he saw no point in worrying about it. The reading began shortly after Yoonjung’s clap. The club members weren’t posturing any of the movements, but they did make eye contacts. They carried emotions in their voice after quietly communicating with each other with their eyes.

Their skills were clearly displayed with their composure. The experience from the past three months were clearly beneficial for them. They failed at qualifying for nationals, but surely they could go for an award at the college competition.

Eventually, it became Geunseok’s turn to speak.

“Yes. I understand. I’ll do it.”

The pronunciation, volume, and emotion that Geunseok put into the line was flawless. But there was one thing missing. The boy’s eyes were stuck right on the ground. Yoonjung’s eyebrows flicked up in annoyance. She tried to say something, but she was stopped right there by Joonghyuk.

This situation repeated itself for the past month. If anyone pointed out Geunseok’s mistake, then the club would inevitably have to talk about the incident from a month ago again. This was too much for anyone in the club to take. Joonghyuk must’ve realized that bringing it up would only serve to develop a chasm within the club.

Maru’s eyes met with Joonghyuk’s. The older boy’s eyes seemed to be asking him if they should give Geunseok more time. Right then, an angry voice came from a place no one’s expected.

It was Soyeon.

“Hey, Geunseok, we’re supposed to be reading.”

“Eh? Yeah. I’m reading. Why?”

“Why? Can’t you see what’s happening? The seniors are all just looking at you right now.”

Soyeon looked pretty savage in all her fury. The girl glared at Geunseok. Yurim, who was sitting between the two, just grasped her phone with a troubled look. The air in the club fell by a few degrees right there. Joonghyuk couldn’t do anything at this point either.

“Geunseok! We know you’re hurting a lot by this. But how long are you planning on staying like this? Can’t you think about us? You don’t think we’re hurting at all? You’re not the only one that failed this. We all did.”

Geunseok’s head flicked up in surprise. He lost the calm and reserved attitude he usually held, instead he looked like a surprised child who didn’t know what to do.

That surprised everyone. Even Soyeon.

“Sorry, I’m sorry,” the boy started apologizing.

He sounded like he didn’t expect everyone to be like this either. Some people in the club sighed annoyedly. Geunseok’s face fell to the ground again, making the entire club fall completely silent.

“Now, now. Let’s focus. We slipped just once. It’s not over yet. Lots of competitions to go to in the future. There’s no time to be depressed, only to practice.”

Joonghyuk stepped in to try to mediate the situation. His calm, confident voice aroused nods from everyone in the room.

Everyone except Geunseok, that is. The boy was still staring down with his two fists clenched tightly.

“I’m sorry. Because… of me… If it wasn’t for that kid then, if it wasn’t for that kid, then… I wouldn’t have been such a drag to everyone...”

“Geunseok, Soyeon just said that because she was a little frustrated. No need to get so down like that. We’re not saying that you did badly, but that it’s still not over yet. Come on, raise your head.”

Geunseok raised his head slowly. His brows were drooping downwards in shame.

“Let’s eat something after we finish reading. The atmosphere feels so annoying right now.”

Minsung took over from there. It was a common tactic that the seniors would use. They would have Joonghyuk speak some serious words and Minsung trying to lighten the mood. Usually, Yoonjung would handle what Minsung was doing here, but clearly she was in no position to do that right now.

The club looked like they somewhat recovered with that. Some of the members were starting to smile again, and they looked at each other with trust in their eyes.

Maru received some of those gazes as well.

As they did so, the club tried to pull together Geunseok again. The boy looked a little better with everyone consoling him.

“I’m so sorry. We would be at the nationals by now if it wasn’t for that kid.”

“Don’t worry about it. That’s all in the past. It was your first role as a main character in your first play. Anyone would’ve made mistakes. I’m actually pretty happy. At least we managed to get all the way to a full curtain call. Right guys? Haha.”

Danmi wrapped the entire situation up. Even Yoonjung was smiling, talking about how excited she was then. The club members all smiled excitedly.

Watching all this, Maru just smiled bitterly in the background.

‘So this is how things are going to be.’

Taking care of wounds is a good thing. Putting medicine on a wound before an infection breaks out is a thing that anyone should do. But if the wound is already infected, the first thing a person should do is to try to assess the wound. They would have to see if the wound could be treated, or if it should be cut out altogether.

Maru understood Geunsoo’s worries from the other day only then. His words about Geunseok being a child was completely correct.

One of the key traits of children was shifting the blame to others. After all, taking responsibility for their action is an incredibly difficult thing to do. It was something that only adults could do. And right now, Geunseok kept on saying ‘if it wasn’t for that kid’ repeatedly. Come to think of it, he repeated the same words back then in the waiting room as well.

Thinking that you weren’t the cause of a problem was a very comforting thing to do. Geunseok often felt very mature due to his appearance and actions. People around him probably treated him as an adult because of this. As a matter of fact, the boy was probably trying to shift the blame exactly because he didn’t want to break his usual image.

[My brother hasn’t failed many times before.]

The kid was probably afraid of the sudden responsibility that he had to take care of. This was an entirely different kind of responsibility from what Geunseok had to deal with in the past. The test was entirely his fault, so he couldn’t shift the blame anywhere. But this time, there was a target he could shift the blame to. Plus, the weight of the responsibility this time was much bigger than it was back when he failed his test.

3 months of time, multiplied by ten people.

Perhaps Geunseok was desperately trying to find something to blame for some breathing room.

Maru stepped back for a second to observe. The club was licking each other’s wounds, telling each other that things would be fine tomorrow.

But was that really the case?

[There’s nothing worse than trying to help him when he falls. If that happens, he’d just tell himself he can’t stand up by himself when he falls again next time, and give up.]

A voice popped up in Maru’s head. He couldn’t remember who it was from. Probably from someone he met in the future. The eleven club members smiled even more brightly now. They were laughing, too.

It’s fine. It’s going to be fine.

That was the only thing they were saying. No one was claiming that these lazy practice sessions were acting like poison to the club. Did they not understand? Or were they just being willfully ignorant?

“Now then, juniors! Who’s willing to go to the mart for a bit? Joonghyuk’s paying!”

As always, the club was starting to shift over to a tea party again. Maru stood up from the back.

“I’ll go.”

“By yourself?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll go with you.”

“It’s fine. I’ll go alone.”

“Really?”

“Yes. It looks like you all have a lot of things to say to each other at the moment. It doesn’t look like I should interfere, so I’ll go alone.”

Maru slowly scanned the eleven club members who were staring back at him. Some of them looked away from him in shame. Joonghyuk was the first to look away, with Iseul smiling awkwardly at him afterwards. Yurim gave a similar smile as well. At least they seemed to know what was wrong with the club.

“I’ll be back.”

Maru stepped out with the money in hand. The choice was up to them now, whether they wanted to keep applying medicine to their wound, or to assess it properly.

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