Chapter 58

Going to work and going to school. The one thing that doesn’t change about life is how bothersome both of these things are.

“So hot,” Maru noted to himself.

There wasn’t any wind today, but the air felt hot enough to melt the tires already.

‘You are working way too hard,’ Maru thought, looking up at the sun.

Maru pedalled harder, cursing the August sun as much as he could. Suddenly, he had to squeeze the brakes when he saw something on the road, a roadbike.

After waiting for a few more seconds, he saw Dowook step out of a nearby shop with a drink.

“It’s hot.”

“......”

Dowook stared at Maru for a few seconds before stepping back into the shop. After a few seconds, he stepped back out with two drinks. Maru caught the flying can with his hand.

“Yeah, it’s hot,” Dowook responded, and started walking his bike.

Maru caught up to him with a grin.

“Thanks for the drink.”

“You weren’t looking at me asking me to buy it?”

“Oh, you buy people things when they look at you? Learn something new every day. I’ll be staring at you a lot buddy.”

“...Idiot.”

Unlike in the past, Dowook wasn’t sizing Maru up and down in an annoying manner. Maru was actually a pretty big fan of Dowook. At their age, it wasn’t uncommon for students like them to try to step into delinquency to escape their routine life.

As a matter of fact, Maru had a good mind to assume that everyone must’ve done something similar at some point in their lives. The real problem laid in the question if these people ever got back to their normal lives afterwards.

Before summer break started, Maru noticed Dowook apologize to some of the kids he bullied during the semester. Watching the boy apologize by himself where no one else could see him left a bit of an impact on Maru. Not even adults could apologize easily. To adults, apologies were just a way of trying to save face.

Adults would apologize without a moment’s hesitation when there was an audience. Without one, they would become arrogant and haughty.

In that sense, Maru could tell that Dowook wasn’t all that bad of a person on the inside. They don’t interact much, but Maru still felt a good vibe from him.

Right then, Maru’s eyes drifted over to Dowook’s bike. For some reason, he started thinking of the gas station manager he worked for. Now that he looked at him… their faces were similar, too.

“Do you have an older sister, by any chance?”

“Why?”

“Just curious.”

“...I don’t. Have one.”

For a second, Maru noticed a twinge of sadness, anger and nostalgia on his face. It surfaced so quickly that Maru almost didn’t catch it. As he looked into the boy’s eyes.

[Why’s this guy asking about my damn sister?]

“Oh, I see. By the way, did you do the homework?”

Maru changed the topic. Dowook had a sister. He knew that for sure now. But the boy didn’t want to talk about it, looking at his expression and his manner of speech.

‘So he has issues with his sister, too.’

Maru could somewhat tell why Dowook was being so rough just then.

“I did. Why?”

“I did it too. Nice.”

“What the hell? Are you trying to go anywhere with this?”

“Me? I just want to talk to you.”

“Ugh. I’m going first. Don’t talk to me.”

“Sure, sure.”

Dowook pedalled forward after looking at Maru like some sort of an alien creature. Maru followed after a small shrug.

* * *

“Lord, why is it so hot already? It’s just morning.”

“Oh, welcome!”

Maru sat down on his seat after catching Dojin’s happy greeting, along with his flying candy.

“Dude, were you okay back there?” Dojin asked.

“Back there?”

“Back when you went somewhere else with instructor Miso.”

“Oh, yeah, I was totally fine.”

“...Really?”

Maru nodded with a grin. He knew why Dojin was so worried. For now, Maru was basically excluded from the club. He did what he did knowing fully that this would happen though, so he was fine.

To begin with, he was never that deep in with the club anyway.

“I’ll just have to be quiet for a while, if I don’t want to be hated that is.”

“Wow, you’re quite something.”

Daemyung walked over to the two of them from his seat as well.

“Sorry, Maru. I should’ve been on your side back then.”

“Come on, guys. Why so sad in the morning? There’s nothing wrong, and there’s going to be nothing wrong, so it’s all good. Don’t try to make things even more awkward by playing sides. You guys just focus on making a decent play, ok?”

“S-sure.”

Maru gave Daemyung’s belly a light slap. They were definitely good friends, seeing how they took the time to ask him if he really was okay. That was probably why people said high school friends last a lifetime. Because they truly cared.

“Sit down, you asses!”

The homeroom teacher burst through the door, making Daemyung run over to his seat hurriedly. The teacher began the class by saying a string of useless, predictable words.

Ah, summer break was truly over.

* * *

“Maru.”

Taesik called Maru as he was headed to the cafeteria. It was lunch time. Maru told his friends to go without him, and walked outside the campus with Taesik. The teacher asked Maru if he wanted to eat anything as they entered a restaurant.

“I’d prefer to hear about what you have to say, rather than talk about what I want to order.”

“Can we order first, though? I’m hungry. You should eat too. I’ll be paying, so order however much you want.”

“That last line’s really only reserved for barbeques, isn’t it?”

“Hmm, is it?”

Maru ordered a tuna kimchi stew with a slight grin. Taesik ordered the same thing.

“I wanted to say thank you for now, Maru.”

“Is that about instructor Miso?”

“Ah… well, there’s that too.”

Taesik’s cheeks turned slightly pink. Maru smiled proudly.

‘They are definitely a couple now.’

Though Maru had no idea how far along they are in their relationship just yet.

As they talked about Miso for a few moments, the stew they ordered came out. Maru dumped his bowl of rice into it before talking again.

“Good to hear. But you’re not here to just show off, are you?”

Taesik nodded.

“I wanted to properly apologize. I’m bribing you a little as well, so I’m hoping you’d accept it.”

“Bribing with just stew? That’s a little cheap, isn’t it?”

“Is it?”

“Haha, that was just a joke. But like I said, you don’t have to worry about it. I did that because I wanted to. I’m not pathetic enough to shift the blame elsewhere.”

“I honestly didn’t think you’d go this far. I’m both thankful and a little ashamed as a teacher.”

“Well, things would’ve been different if I knew them better, but… to be honest, I don’t know them all that well. It’s really the difference of being one and two steps away.”

“Was… it really that easy?”

Maru took a bite of his food.

“Well, that was exactly why I did it. Because it really was that easy.”

At the same time, Maru remembered something. It was back when he was told that his paycheck would depend completely on how servile he was towards his boss. When he almost quit out of sheer rage, the faces of his wife and daughter floated into his vision. At that moment all the anger inside him dissipated, and his brain immediately started to calm down.

Compared to the humiliation, anger, resentment and desperation he felt back then, this was nothing more than a joke. It wasn’t like antagonizing the entire club was going to endanger his livelihood. This was just a minor event.

“You didn’t feel disappointed?”

“When my friends didn’t side with me?”

“Yes.”

“Teacher, do you decide if someone’s your friend solely based on whether or not they take your side?”

“...I asked you a stupid question.”

Maru had to admit, Taesik was a good teacher. The man didn’t take his students’ words lightly, instead using it as an opportunity to learn. It was something that only teachers who respected their students could have.

“You really are a teacher, teacher.”

“Haha.”

“If I ever get a daughter, I’d love to leave her in your hands. You’d listen to her words at face value.”

“That was a pretty decent compliment, I’ll have to admit. Do you want to eat anything else?”

“I did notice that a restaurant next to this place sells really good beef.”

“That’s… a little too much for my wallet, I’m afraid.”

Taesik smiled awkwardly in response.

* * *

Nothing changed. School food was still alright most of the time, except when potatoes were on the menu again. The old man at the school store would still throw you a burger with incredible accuracy after taking the payment. The floor of his class was still cold, the air hot and filled with sweaty smells. Students still rushed to the cafeteria come lunchtime, and come break time they would all rush over to the school field. By the time the last class came around, everyone struggled to stay awake, almost as if they simultaneously took a dose of melatonin.

There were a few things different, of course. The greenery outside the class was starting to turn brown. The gym that was under construction was finally opened, but use of it was still prohibited for students. The yellowed curtains of the class were finally washed for once. The fact that this would be the English teacher’s final year teaching after getting her second kid was a change as well.

“Hey, Dowook! Let’s go to the store!”

“Sure.”

And there was the fact that Dowook started getting along with the rest of the class as well.

“Yo, guy with the big head, can I borrow a thousand from you?”

The fact that Changhu, the class bully, started to become more overbearing was another change as well. Maru looked out the window with his chin resting on one hand. It was the last day of August. A saturday.

“Let’s go, Maru,” Daemyung said, pulling on his arm.

Maru followed his two friends with a yawn. He cursed the heat for not leaving despite it being so close to september as he stepped up to the fifth floor.

“It’s hot.”

“For real, so hot.”

The trio greeted the first years they ran into at the entrance, and entered the auditorium. The second years were standing next to the windows in their gym clothes. The first years stretched gently as they made their way over to the group. Maru joined in.

“Be sure to drink a lot of water as we train, alright? We don’t want any of you getting too dehydrated,” Yoonjung said with a clap, making the first years respond with an enthusiastic shout.

Maru responded quietly before making his way over to the audience seat. Like always, he picked up a book he had been reading and opened the page he was on last time.

Nothing changed.

And nothing will change.

Things will continue to move, calmly and peacefully. He occasionally noticed Geunseok and Yurim stare at him, but he could easily ignore that. Or just smile back in response.

Grin.

The couple turned away their heads. Nothing special.

“The instructor’s coming today, to help us prepare for the nationals in winter.”

If the national competition held in august by the national theater association was the biggest competition for acting held all year, then the one held in winter was the follow-up. It wasn’t all that different from the august one in the sense that it was also funded by the government. As a matter of fact, the payout from this one was actually bigger due to the involvement of various companies.

If the fall national competition was about honor, the winter one was about money.

The club members began practice. They were nothing like their former selves during the regionals. Everyone was going about their duties with passion and energy. The lot of them suggested switching things up to doing a different play for the winter competition. They’d have to talk it out with the instructor, but the idea of doing a different play pretty much seemed like a fact at this point.

Maru turned the page of his book. Before they started making props, there wasn’t much for him to do, save for reading his book and pondering by himself.

‘This is pretty nice.’

Recently, Maru started gaining an interest in reading classics. He read a lot of books in his past life, but they were mostly about self-improvement. From the time when all he wanted to do was follow the recipes for success given to him by other people.

‘Well, now I have all the time in the world.’

Maru wasn’t that interested in self-improvement books anymore. He’s realized how pointless they were. Instead, he decided to try and get a glimpse at the lives of his ancestors. The reason behind classics were their unchanging values and rules about the world, after all. There was value in reading it.

As Maru turned another page, with the club members acting as his background music, his phone dinged. When he flipped his phone open, he found that the message was from a person he had been expecting all along.

[I’m coming!!]

It was a short message.

“As I thought...”

Maru shook his head, thinking of the blonde lady who would soon come open the door to the auditorium with a bang.

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