Chapter 52

Joonghyuk glanced at the smiling club members. The room became silent for a second after Maru left, but they soon returned to their usual, casual selves, talking about things that happened a few days prior.

Joonghyuk was joining in as well. He was just talking about stuff that came to his mind, like what movies he watched during the week, and what new snacks he binged on this time around. No one in the room dared say that there was something wrong with the atmosphere.

Today especially, Joonghyuk felt the auditorium was incredibly large. Back when Miso first came to the club, she told them that her objective was to make the auditorium feel very small and cramped to them. As she told him, the boy had never thought of the auditorium as being large and spacious during the last three months. But a month after they failed at the competition, the auditorium felt larger than a soccer field to him.

‘Should I tell them?’

One reading session, some small talk, no more practice otherwise. In his head, he still remembered the script and blocking. Right now, if someone told him to act on cue, he had the confidence of being able to do it relatively well.

He just didn’t know how long that confidence would last.

‘Maybe even now...’

When skill is rooted in your casual behavior, you could call it confidence. Without that skill, though, you could only call your demeanor arrogance. Did the club have confidence right now, or were they just soaking in arrogance?

In the midst of talking, his eyes met with a first year’s. It was Yurim, the girl with the phone. She was looking at him with nervous eyes. She was definitely thinking the same thing Joonghyuk was thinking right now.

Is this okay?

He turned his head to look at Iseul. The girl was sending the exact same signals. The others seemed to realize that they were on a rotting tightrope as it was already.

'Everyone probably knows, actually.’

This time, he turned to Yoonjung. She was talking about a dream she had yesterday very loudly. She was overdramatic most of the time, but things seemed especially worse this time around. She was even tapping Danmi’s shoulder, trying to get a ‘am I right?’ out of the other girl. Perhaps she was smiling with the feeling that they were on thin ice as well.

* * *

“So I had this thought.”

‘What am I doing?’

“It was so funny.”

‘This isn’t right.’

“No, for real.”

‘This isn’t right at all.’

Yoonjung clenched her mouth shut after a loud laugh. Her thoughts weren’t matching with her words at all. This wasn’t the time for making casual talk. They shouldn’t be acting like this right now. She was thinking of a bunch of things right now on the inside, but she couldn’t help but say things that were unrelated to acting right now.

She was getting nervous. That stale air within the club didn’t leave even after a full month. Whenever the club began talking casually after the reading session, Yoonjung was assaulted by nervousness. She was scared that the silence between the club would last even longer.

Starting from a month ago, there were moments where the entire club would go silent looking at each other. Whenever this happened, Yoonjung found it extremely hard to breathe. So she would speak even louder than before to prevent everyone else from recognizing that silence. But she was clearly reaching a limit here. She didn’t even know what she was talking about at this point. Why was she caring so much about her lunch from yesterday again?

To Yoonjung, the club was a precious place. She adored the process of setting up a play from scratch, despite the fact that she was never able to complete one during her first year. Just the fact that she could smile together and cry together with other people made her happy.

But what was happening now?

She was feeling bothered and annoyed in the space that she’s loved so much. At this rate, she might actually suffocate in the club. Back in the past, she would go to the club whenever she could to talk to club members. But what about now? She started attending the club exclusively on the weekends. How did this happen?

* * *

‘Mm.’

The auditorium was quiet ever since Yoonjung closed her mouth. It wasn’t a silence that came from comfort, but rather awkwardness. The silence was so encompassing that members of the club started dividing into smaller groups.

Iseul looked to her side. The three students from the faculty of design were sitting apart from everyone else. Yurim was saying something quietly to Geunseok, while Soyeon was looking at the two in annoyance.

Taejoon was smiling, but his smile looked like one born from habit. Danmi and Minsung were whispering something to each other. Iseul couldn’t hear them, but judging from their expressions, they were probably talking about the current situation of the club.

And then there was Joonghyuk. The boy was looking at everyone with trembling lips. He looked like he had a lot to say, but the words seem to be stuck in his throat. Whenever her eyes met with his, he would just smile bitterly.

‘Hm, I feel like I should say something, but I don’t really want to.’

Iseul didn’t join the acting club because she was interested in acting. She just wanted a new experience. She already had a rock solid future set aside for her, which was to inherit her family’s restaurant.

Iseul grew up with the smell of soup in her neighborhood. She would wake to the visage of her father slicing meat, and her mother making kimchi. She naturally grew into the mindset that she would have to inherit the restaurant after them.

Iseul loved the potent smells of the bone broth boiling in the background, and that of meat that rose up when they boiled it. She adored the spicy, sour smell of the kimchi that they made. She had no qualms about inheriting the restaurant after her parents.

That’s why she didn’t even think about going to college. She promised herself and her parents that she would help them out with the restaurant full time after her graduation.

Maybe it was because of that, but Iseul thought that her high school life should be bright and flamboyant. That’s why she decided to join the acting club to begin with.

Just a month ago, she was very satisfied with her decision. Her muscles were constantly screaming at her in pain, but all she did in response was to smile. Memorizing difficult lines only made her more and more excited instead of getting her annoyed at herself. Handling costumes reminded her of the doll house play that she enjoyed in her childhood, and touching up the set props made her feel like a skilled carpenter.

Everything was a new experience to her. Back then, she thought joining the acting club was the best decision that she could’ve ever made. But what about now?

All they had left were boring reading sessions, casual talk she could make with her friends, and a few snacks.

‘This is boring...’

What the hell was this? Everything about the club suddenly felt so gray.

‘It’d probably be hard for us to return to that time, huh.’

Iseul turned to look at Geunseok. The shining star of the club suddenly became such a boring person. Well, maybe her first impressions of him were false from the beginning. He just looked… so desperate to defend himself right now.

'To think the lead actor would become like this...’

The acting club was finished for her. Worst of all, instructor Miso stopped coming as well. Just the instructor’s absence alone degraded the club like so.

'I’m not sure what I can do either.’

'Geunseok! Stop acting like a child! Let’s practice!’ Saying that was easy enough. What came after was the real problem.

Would the resulting play really be fun? Plus, if she said those words now, Geunseok would just leave the club right there. Without the main character, the play couldn’t run at all.

‘I guess I’ll find a different club.’

This club’s finished. At least, that’s what Iseul thought.

* * *

Dojin, on the other hand…

‘I wonder where I should farm today.’

Was thinking of other things.

* * *

Maru opened the auditorium doors. The place grew completely silent during the time he was out. The members were further spread out as well.

“Finally! You’re here!” Dojin called out with a happy face.

Maru didn’t know what the other members were thinking, but he could say with absolute certainty that Dojin didn’t have a care in the world.

‘Definitely not the type to ever get stressed about anything.’

The members started talking again when Maru put the snacks down in the middle. Nothing more than small talk, of course.

“You have good taste,” Yoonjung said, grabbing one of the snack bags.

Maru shrugged. That particular one Yoonjung picked up was the brand one she said she hated just a few days prior.

“Time’s passing pretty nicely, isn’t it? It’s already three,” Yoonjung said, pointing at a clock.

A few of the members nodded with an awkward smile, while others didn’t even bother responding. Yoonjung continued talking with a weird smile on her face. Just like yesterday. After another two more hours, the club would finish its activities. After that, the members would leave the auditorium with sighs of relief.

Maru scratched his head for a bit. He did feel a bit embarrassed to actually stand up and say something about this. But he really couldn’t let this pass, especially with Taesik asking him to solve the situation.

“Let’s practice.”

The entire club looked at him curiously. They all had the gazes of ‘why are you of all people saying that?’ on their faces.

“We got exactly two hours. Why not just get one more practice session in?”

The members looked at each other confusedly. Yoonjung nodded cheerily and grabbed her script, with the other members grabbing their own slowly.

“Might as well start reading. Maru’s right, we should practice.”

Yoonjung sent a few signals over to Maru as she did so. During reading sessions, Maru was in charge of all the sound effects and notifying scene changes. The reading would start when he says ‘the sound of the television starts playing’.

“No, not a reading,” Maru responded.

“Huh?”

“A proper practice session. You know, a run.”

Maru threw his script off to one side and looked at the eleven members.

“A proper practice session?” Yoonjung was the one who responded.

“Get the proper motions in and everything. I’ll watch from the audience seat.”

“What?”

“We’ve all been doing just reading for the past month. It’s about time you try to act it all out again. Before you forget.”

Maru scanned the club. They were all looking at him with annoyed eyes. He didn’t have the right to say stuff like this, after all. Even so, Maru asked the entire club to practice.

“We’ve practiced enough.”

Yoonjung was tightly gripping her script. Her eyes were shaking lightly. Maru looked deep into her eyes.

[This isn’t right. I should be listening to Maru.]

Humans are creatures of habit. Once they get used to doing something, they don’t try to stop. For the last month, the acting club developed a habit of making small talk and having an extended tea time. Coming out of that routine meant… change. At the same time, a fracture in the club.

Maru nodded, receiving disapproving gazes from most of the club. As he thought, these kids weren’t dumb. They knew exactly what was wrong with the club. They just couldn’t do anything about it, out of the fear that voicing the problem would only make things worse. In the end, they decided that keeping things the way it was would be the best course of action.

Maru scratched his eyebrow and repeated one more time.

“Let’s practice. Before the club becomes even worse than it already is.”

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