Chapter 53

“Worse than it already is?”

Yoonjung stood up, clenching her script tightly. The atmosphere of the club turned cold and silent. This much, Maru already expected.

“It’s been a month since you guys did proper practice. Summer break is a week away, and then it’s time for the competition. Am I right?”

“Y-yes.”

“So you should practice. We don’t have much time left. It’s July 15 today, and vacation starts on the 22nd. The competition begins in the beginning of August. We just have two weeks left.”

“We’re already perfect,” Yoonjung claimed.

Her eyes were trembling, though. Maru had to wonder what the girl was feeling on the inside right now.

[Maru’s right. We need to practice. But if I agree with him here...]

She knew they needed practice. But she couldn’t say it. Poor girl. She was worried about the same thing everyone else was worried about here.

For a moment, the club members turned to look at Geunseok, who promptly looked down at the floor again.

“They say your body is the first to know if you skip practice for a day. Your friends are the second to know, and thirdly, the entire world. It’s just a saying, sure, but there’s a reason it exists. You know we’ve been playing around for a full month now.”

“Playing around? We’ve been doing reading all this time,” Yoonjung said, showing Maru her script.

To Maru, she just looked pathetic.

“Do you like plays, or do you like the club?”

“...Eh?”

“When you first came to our class, you said you needed students to make a play with, right?”

“R-right.”

“I’ll ask you again, then. Do you want to make a play, or do you want to keep the club going?”

“Well...”

Yoonjung wasn’t able to answer him. Maru knew very well what her answer was. She was a passionate girl. She was honest in the face of acting. Obviously, she would like to make a play with other students.

But unfortunately for her and the second years, they shared a similar trauma amongst each other. From the event that broke the club last year. That was probably what kept the second years silent. From the fear that they might destroy the club by trying to solve it.

Until now, they probably weren’t able to think about this thanks to Miso’s intense training. But now, they were leading the club once again. They had more to think about.

Ironically, they were letting the club fall to ruin because they loved it so much.

“I must sound incredibly rude to all of you. You’ll think that a mere spectator overstepping his boundaries. That’s fine. I know very well that I have no right to get myself involved here.”

It was indeed very rude for a spectator to involve themselves. To begin with, Maru’s never even experienced this entire ordeal with them. The difference between people who experienced something versus people who never experienced it was incredibly big.

0 and 1. The difference between something existing and not existing.

Maru only ever observed how hard these club members worked. Never once did he actually take part in their pain. That’s why he had to endure the stinging gazes of the club without saying anything. Maru looked down for a second. His two friends were looking at him strangely.

If even his friends were looking at him like this... He didn’t even need to look to know what the others were looking at him were like.

“But as a spectator, I can tell you with confidence that if there’s one thing that I’m good at, it’s spectating. Right now, the club is a complete mess. The fact that the second years are having to be mindful of what the first years are saying is a testament to that fact.”

Minsung’s eyebrows ticked upwards in anger.

“Hey, Han Maru.”

“Apologies. But I’ll listen to what you have to say later. You must be feeling this to a degree as well. You should know better than anyone that if this keeps going on, the club would be in ruins. If you’re a big fan of the tea time club that this place is becoming, then I have nothing to say to you. You’ll be able to perform the play, sure. But it’ll be very different from the play you were practicing a full three months for. Like I said before, even normal people can tell the difference if a pro stops practicing for three days. We’re amateurs. Amateurs who rested for a month. Do you really think that reading… Hah. Do you think that reading words on the script is the same thing as actually acting it out on stage? What the hell was all that practice on the stage a month ago about, then?”

“You really...”

Minsung tried to stand up, but got stopped by Joonghyuk. Maru gave Joonghyuk a curt nod before continuing.

“I’m well aware of what you’re worried about.”

Maru looked down at Geunseok. The boy slowly raised his head, feeling the gaze on him.

“You. Do you even want to do acting?”

“...I do. Obviously.”

“That should be enough, then. At least you say you want to. Though I’m not very sure if that’s how you really feel.”

Geunseok’s face stiffened. Yurim stepped up to defend him.

“Um… Aren’t you being a little harsh? Geunseok also tried hard as well. He’s suffered a lot. Can’t you at least try to comfort him?”

That was strange. Yurim wasn’t the type to say her opinions often. Did she like the boy?

“Everyone’s been comforting him for a while. But personally, I can’t comfort and cheer someone who isn’t actually apologizing for his mistakes.”

“Not apologizing? But Geunseok...”

“Have you ever heard him saying sorry? Can’t you remember what he’s been saying whenever that event gets brought up?”

“......”

Geunseok opened his mouth when Yurim fell silent.

“I apologized. I was very sorry for the rest of the club, so I kept...”

“Shifting the blame. You’ve never actually apologized.”

“Me?”

Geunseok looked up stiffly, seemingly unaware of what he did.

“It’s true that you made a mistake back then because of a crying child. The cause of your mistake was the child. But if an actor on a stage made a mistake because of an audience member, the fault lies in the actor for being unskilled.”

“But the kid crying wasn’t my fault.”

“What about blankly staring at the judge afterwards? What about you acting like the entire play was over because of that one mistake? Do you even remember what you said in response to Iseul’s line?”

“T-that...”

“Even a first-timer who has never looked at the script would’ve done better than you.”

“Hey! Maru!”

Yurim shouted angrily. She immediately looked away, surprised by the volume of her own voice. Her face had gone completely red from embarrassment.

A fracture. Wherever Maru looked, there was a fracture in the club. It looked like they were about to collapse at any moment. The atmosphere the second years tried so hard to maintain was crumbling everywhere. Maru felt the club members glaring at him even more so than before. Even the second years were angrily looking at him.

Understandable. Despite being a club member, Maru had no part in any of this.

‘I’m losing out on a lot by doing this.’

If it wasn’t for Taesik’s request, or hearing that Miso cried, Maru wouldn’t have done this at all. But now after receiving the request, he had to see it through to completion.

“Are you going to keep playing around? You must be doing this knowing that you’re going to lose all future competitions, I assume?”

“Han Maru!”

Yoonjung stepped forward. Her eyes were colored with anger and shame.

“I wasn’t supposed to be the one giving this speech. This was your job. Are you a fan of the good old tea time club? Fine, then. I’ll gladly buy snacks for you any time. I’ll gladly talk about the food I ate just yesterday like you’ve been doing. I won’t say a word about acting. Is that what you want?”

“We could’ve handled this without you doing this.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes!”

“So why didn’t you?”

“...We were going to. Once Geunseok calmed down.”

Maru shook his head.

“More excuses. Geunseok shifts the blame to the kid, and now you’re shifting it to Geunseok. Everyone’s just blaming each other. What are we supposed to do, then? I guess we have to catch that little kid and get an apology out of him?”

“Stop saying that!”

Yoonjung shouted, throwing her script on the ground. Maru smiled bitterly inside. This was why people hated whistleblowers. The bitter truth never felt good to hear.

“You were just refusing to see the truth. Out of the fear that the club would just fall apart like last year. Why didn’t you nudge the club forward? Why didn’t you ask to practice?”

“Stop spouting bullshit. We’re watching all of you carefully. We just didn’t say anything because we were waiting for the right moment.”

“Waiting for the right moment? How? You saw, didn’t you? You can wait, despite seeing what was happening with the club?”

“Yes.”

“Well in that case, I can only say that you’re blind. You just pretended to see things. You need to look at this at face value. Impartial, without any personal opinions clouding your judgements. If you just take a second and take Geunseok’s pain, the club members, the event from last year and such out of the equation, things become a lot easier to look at. All we have here is a club that doesn’t practice. A club that just goes straight home after 5pm. A club that, despite all its current problems, talks about winning its next competition like it’s eating a piece of cake. Even a kid can see that there’s a problem with this.”

Maru looked down for a second with a sigh. He came up here with his mind already made up to do this, but it was still very hard. He wasn’t made to say stuff like this.

‘Well, I’m here now, so might as well.’

“Let’s make it clear once and for all. Are we here for tea time, or are we here to make a play?”

He had nothing to say now. Maru picked up his script, and dragged his chair into the middle of the auditorium. He opened the seat back up where Miso always used to sit, and sat down.

“So, are you going to practice?”

Maru looked at the eleven people in front of him. Save for a few exceptions, everyone looked very pissed. He managed to get himself ingrained into all of them as an annoyance who only knew how to talk, no doubt. Not that they were wrong.

“Fine! I’ll do it! We’ll do it!”

The second years got up first, and stepped onto the stage with their arms crossed. The first years followed suit. Daemyung and Dojin gave Maru a small smile before getting to their positions.

Now, the three students from the faculty design were all that were left. Soyeon was the first to step up. Yurim and Geunseok glared at Maru for a second before taking their positions as well.

“You better watch carefully. We didn’t just play around for a month. Even if we did, the three months of work we put into this wasn’t just for show. You probably don’t know that. After all, you never worked as hard as us. We still remember how difficult those practice sessions were. Practice, now? There’s a reason why we only did reading sessions until now.”

Yoonjung spat out words like a venomous snake. Despite her words though, she didn’t look angry at all. She looked pretty apologetic, actually. Maru understood. She was still a high schooler. She didn’t really know how to hide her real thoughts, and that was fine.

Maru closed his mouth and gave them a nod.

“Please show me that my worries were unfounded.”

“Gladly.”

The eyes of the eleven members shone. Maru started the play off by saying the words, “the sound of the television starts playing”.

The play was messed up from the very beginning. The student who was supposed to walk in first came in a little bit late, because he didn’t care so much about where he was standing on stage. He looked very awkward with his acting as well.

Maru noticed the faces of the ten students outside of the stage stiffen immediately.

It’s been a month. A pretty short period of time. But that was also the time it took for the club to get completely settled into their play.

The play continued straight to its end, just like a real run. Geunseok finished his monologue in the end, and…

“The sound of the television starts playing again.”

Maru raised his head. The club members were looking at each other with a troubled face. That is…

They all looked like they just chewed on shit.

“Absolutely perfect. I can say with certainty that you’ll win at the college competition with this.”

Might as well go all out, since he started this to begin with. Maru left his script on his chair and walked back to the spot with all the snacks. He picked up one of the bags and started eating.

“Come back here. You clearly don’t need practice. Yoonjung was right, you guys are at the peak of your skills right now.”

“......”

Maybe he was being a little too rude here? Maru flinched a little on the inside, but it was whatever. He made sure that the club wouldn’t become a casual place for tea time with this. From here, it would be up to them to go back to their usual practice sessions, or…

‘To just give up.’

The auditorium was silent, save for Maru’s crunches every once in a while.

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