Chapter 57

Maru looked sideways for a second. It’s been thirty minutes since he gave Miso some medicine. It was about time the woman started recovering. Right as he thought so, the woman’s eyes started to open slowly.

“Hah.”

Miso sat up, letting out a very drunk sigh.

“Are you okay?”

“Nope, I want to hurl.”

“Okay. Can you do it over there in the corner, then?”

“......”

“Please don’t look this way. No, seriously.”

“Why are you always so cold… Uurp.”

Miso put a hand over her mouth and rushed over to the corner. Maru noticed the people in the vicinity slowly leaving the area. After hearing the disgusting noises Miso was making, Maru put a finger into his ears to stop some of the noise.

“Hah. I feel so much more alive.”

She came back with a much brighter expression than before.

“I gave them pigeons some food. I did good, right?”

“.......”

“That was a joke. Come on, can’t you at least fake a smile?”

“Well, you DID feed them after all.”

“Wow, that’s rude.”

“You just realized? Well, I’m leaving now.”

For sure, he would leave this time. Maru stood up from the bench like an athlete about to take off. But this time as well, Miso pulled him back.

“I told you, we need to talk.”

“It’s been 30 minutes.”

“I’m sorry about that. I’m much better now, so just sit down for a bit.”

She smiled, feigning complete innocence. Yup, that just told Maru that she was still drunk.

“Hah. Was this how you treated Taesik as well?”

“Why are you talking about that now?”

“Well, you know. I can kind of see why he doesn’t see you as a woman.”

“...You…!”

Maru sat back down on the bench. The air was cooling down even more. The moon was up in the sky. He could see people enjoying the night air in the streets, while a very energetic, emotional woman sat next to him. What an odd situation he was in.

“I’m sorry.”

Right then, he heard a small voice. Maru turned around, sensing how delicate the voice was. Miso was looking at him with pouty lips.

“I heard from Taesik about what happened.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I know what made you say those words. So… I’m sorry. That should’ve been my job. It should’ve been… an adult’s job.”

“Oh, just that? That was why you were crying?”

“I wasn’t crying.”

“Wipe those tears before you say that.”

“......”

Miso wiped away her tears without saying another word. What a nice lady. She was incredibly honest, especially for her age. By that age, most people realized how much of an impact words could have on other people. So most of them would use nice words or speak in roundabout ways. Because the truth always hurts, and no one enjoys feeling hurt; that’s why the truth is never spoken directly.

‘I was the same.’

Several times in the day, to his wife, to his daughter, to his friends, to his boss, to his customers, he would say meaningless ‘feel-good’ words. He ground away the sharp edges of his speech until it looked like blooming flowers.

Perhaps he was afraid. Afraid of the looks he would get by saying the truth.

“So...”

Maru cut the woman off.

“I’m fine.”

“Eh?”

“I’m fine. I didn’t do anything that would require me to apologize or receive an apology for. It just happened because it had to, you don’t need to worry about it.”

“But...”

“It’s all in the past. Plus, the club’s doing much better now. No problems, and everyone’s happy. Isn’t that right?”

Right. Everyone was happy.

“But what about you?”

Maru scratched his eyebrows.

“Well, you know I’m always fine. No matter the season or the weather.”

“Maru.”

“I really need to go now. I want to spend the last two days of my break well.”

Maru stood up from the bench. Nothing changed for him. He would still help out the club here and there after school started. It was within the rights of children to be easily angered. It was also an ability of the children to easily get rid of their anger. After school starts, Maru should be able to do just fine in one corner of the club.

“You… You really don’t want to go into acting seriously?”

“You’re pretty stubborn, aren’t you, instructor.”

“Answer me.”

“Remember what Geunsoo told me? The monster of acting chooses its victims. It doesn’t look like I was chosen, unfortunately. I definitely do enjoy it. I’m going to follow big sis Soojin after school starts to help her whenever I have the time. But no more than that.”

Maru didn’t know what he wanted to do just yet, but acting definitely didn’t seem to be a safe option to him at the moment. If he really wanted to go down that route, he’d have to be as insane as Miso. But honestly, right now he held only a little interest in acting. He wouldn’t particularly care if he stopped now.

“I’m going to study as much as I can right now. Safety first.”

“Is it because of money?”

“Yes. I want to earn money safely.”

“But you’re still young.”

“Age doesn’t equate to wealth. Just because I’m young, doesn’t make failure a good option. People often say suffering is good when you’re young, but maybe success at a young age is even better?”

“You can succeed with acting.”

“At the same time, I can become a meaningless part-timer by the age of thirty as well.”

“That’s the same even if you decide to become a salaryman.”

“Let’s just say it has more to do with probability.”

“You’re basically an iron fortress, aren’t you? I saw a tiny crack before the break. As I thought, the event at the club...”

“That has nothing to do with it. I’m young enough not to be affected by something so small. I just realized something as I was working in my part time job. Earning money is difficult. I shouldn’t try to bet my life on luck.”

“You’re just seventeen...”

“I might as well be a great seventeen year old.”

Maru stuck his hands into his pockets.

“I’ll be leaving. Please take care. Ah, also. If you’re trying to really get together with Taesik, you need to stop approaching him in such an iffy manner. That guy’s denser than a rock in that department. You just need to go right into it.”

Miso’s face reddened significantly. It seemed that the word Taesik was a magical word that just shut her right up. Maru turned around after saying his goodbyes. Right then, Miso stood up from her seat.

“What if you could do acting, not worrying about money at all?”

“Is that possible?”

“What if it is? Would you do it then?”

“They said pipe dreams are no good for you.”

“Don’t avoid the question!”

Maru thought for a little bit. Acting without worrying about money. That was definitely a charming idea.

“I wouldn’t hesitate.”

“Alright.”

She seemed to have made up her mind about something. Maru didn’t understand. Why was she so attached to him? Just what about him made her want him so much?

“Instructor.”

“What?”

“Why are you giving me so many chances? I’m not that motivated or desperate to go into acting.”

“That’s exactly why.”

“What?”

“It’s exactly because you’re not desperate.”

“.......”

“And the monster inside me is whispering. It wants me to catch you. Geunsoo told you, right? That acting chooses its own victims.”

Miso grinned deviously.

“I think my eyes are pretty good at judging people, and you just happened to get caught up in it. You need to be on the stage. You need to do acting. Trying something for the first time is incredibly different from not trying it at all. I’m going to put you up on the stage, even if it becomes the last thing I do.”

Was she just saying that in her drunken stupor, or did she actually prepare those words beforehand? Maru had no way of knowing, but he could easily tell Miso was being dead serious here.

“Well… do what you want, I guess.”

Maru turned around. As far as he was aware, Miso might just forget about this entire conversation after sleep. Maybe she was saying all this just to make Maru confused.

Vuun, his phone started ringing.

“Yes, mom. No, I’m coming back now. Okay, good night.”

As Maru thought, he got a call. No matter how old he got, he would always be a child to his parents. Maru quickened his pace, feeling a little sorry about making his parents worry.

* * *

Taesik got out immediately after receiving the call. He saw Miso sitting at the bar that was playing light jazz. Since he knew the bartender, he gave the man a curt nod.

“You’re here?”

Miso waved. Surprisingly, she wasn’t drunk just yet. Taesik sat down next to the woman. The bartender slid him a Jack Coke and some canapes. ‘It’s on the house’, the man whispered.

“I met the kids today.”

“The acting club?”

“Yes.”

“How were they?”

“Well, you know.”

Miso’s pouty face turned into a smile. Taesik retracted his previous statement. The woman was a little drunk. Thank goodness she wasn’t completely hammered, though.

“Teacher.”

“What is it?”

“Maru… said he was fine.”

“......”

That must be why the woman seemed so sad and lonely when he entered. Taesik took a sip of his Jack Coke. He wasn’t a fan of drinking, but he felt like he had to today.

“It’s all my fault. I looked down on him.”

“Looked down on him?”

“It’s a strange way of putting it, but I don’t know how else to explain it.”

Miso’s eyes glimmered under the bar’s moody lights. Taesik looked forward, trying to ignore those eyes.

“When I asked Maru to handle the acting club’s problems, I didn’t expect him to do such a thing. I just wanted him to make them be a little more aware. You know, to say stuff like, ‘you need to practice’, or ‘this isn’t right’, or something. Saying that is more than enough. Especially out of a high schooler. After all, stuff like that isn’t easy to say at all.”

“You thought that Maru would stop after presenting the problem to them?”

Taesik nodded.

“That’s right. I asked him to fix it, but I didn’t expect him to restore it. I expected him to stop after making the club start to fall apart faster and I’d step in to help. Before that, I couldn’t step in at all. If I tried to mess with the club without even knowing what was happening with the kids… They would stop caring about the club altogether.”

Taesik shrugged at Miso.

“But look at what happened. Maru was even more aware of what was happening than I thought. He knew how to fix it, too. He resolved the situation like an adult.”

“...To become an object of hatred.”

“That’s right. The club needed a reason to stay together. Back then, they were together, but they had no reason to be together. Maru decided to provide them a reason in the simplest form possible.”

“Why would he!”

Miso angrily snatched Taesik’s drink to take a sip from it.

“Why does he always try to solve everything by himself? Why? Does he know he’s going to become a loner if he does that? Does he want to play the hero role? He has to be feeling lonely.”

Taesik shook his head.

“That’s what I thought too. I thought he’d be lonely. But after I talked to him last time, I learned something. Maru never sacrificed himself. To begin with, he never felt lonely.”

“What are you talking about? I saw everything. The kids just stopped talking when Maru came. I know it’s not their fault, and I know kids are all like that in their age, but...”

Taesik told Miso to calm down, causing her to pout again. She looked like she was about to cry. Taesik was used to the situation. He just patted the woman’s shoulders lightly.

“Maru was even more mature than I thought. He might even be more of an adult than me.”

“....Did he really say he wasn’t lonely?”

“I told you, didn’t I? I talked to him. He told me that loneliness was only felt by people who weren't alone from the start.”

“What in the world...”

Taesik sighed.

“You knew Maru always drew a line with the club, right?”

“Of course.”

“Maru… never felt attached to the club.”

“......”

“He also told me that playing a villain wasn’t really a bad thing. Someone had to do it, so it might as well be him, he said. He was actually feeling a little apologetic for going overboard in the situation.”

Taesik’s shock from hearing that still hasn’t left him. Maru told him those words without a single hesitation in his voice. The boy actually looked incredibly calm when he said it. Almost like there was… not just a mature person, but a fully grown adult who has already walked down the path of life before, dwelling inside the boy.

“He was worried for me and you as well, by the way.”

“What?”

“He was worried we might start blaming ourselves. You in particular, he thought would feel sorry about pushing what you thought was your job to him.”

“Ugh, he should worry more about himself.”

Miso took a fresh sip of the Jack Coke with a confused look on her face. Taesik ordered some juice from the bartender. He didn’t want Miso drinking any more than this.

Miso downed the entire glass of juice in one shot before shaking her head.

“Alright, screw it. I take back what I said about being sorry. I’m really going to go for it now.”

“Instructor Miso?”

“Never felt like he belonged in the club? So he really drew a line right there, huh?”

Miso started spitting out words into the air. Taesik could only smile awkwardly looking at her eyes. They seemed pretty dangerous.

“I’m going to put you on the stage, just you watch! Ugh, so you think you’re the only person who can act like an adult?! Do you even know how sorry I was?! Ugh, give me back my feelings!”

Miso seemed like an iron fortress when she was teaching, but in her private life, she was nothing more than an overgrown version of her high school self. Without realizing it, Taesik put a hand over Miso’s round head and started patting her. Like he would a dog.

The woman immediately calmed down. Her reddened face turned to look at him. Taesik coughed awkwardly and tried to take his hand off, but Miso was a step faster.

His hand was caught in hers.

“Teacher.”

“Ye-yes?”

“No more trying to be so formal.”

“...Instructor Miso?”

“You know, today… Maru told me one thing.”

“W-what did he tell you?”

Without saying another word, Miso put her lips straight over Taesik’s.

“Flipping finally. It’s been way too long,” the bartender let out.

Taesik was as confused as he could be. All he could see was Miso’s smiling face in his vision.

“He told me to just go for it. I did well, right? Hehe.”

And then she collapsed into his arms. All Taesik could do at this point was look at the grinning bartender with a confused face.

* * *

Later that night, Maru got woken up by the multiple notifications coming from his phone. They were all messages from Miso.

[I always get what I want.]

And.

[I followed your advice, so you follow mine too.]

Which turned into.

[By the way, isn’t Taesik oppa so cool?]

Lastly.

[Hahahahahahahaha.]

“What the hell?”

Maru turned off his phone and got back into his bed. Exactly ten seconds later,

“Wait, oppa?”

He couldn’t help but laugh a little.

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