Chapter 75

Refusal. That was the answer Junmin had in mind. He did like how bold the boy was. But that boldness needs a reason.

2 billion won. He could give up that money if someone he knew really needed it. He had that much money. But this was an investment, which was an entirely different story. Junmin saw talent in Maru. The boy would shine like a star as long as he invested time.

Junmin arrived first at the cafe, 30 minutes before the promised time.

“Oh, you’re here again.”

“The tea here tasted good, that’s why.”

“Thank you.”

Miso’s friend, was it? Junmin took his seat as he exchanged a smile with the female owner. Across the street from where the cafe was, he could see a pet shop. Two baby beagles were scratching the display window furiously.

Junmin liked dogs. To him, they symbolized eternal, innocent love. The poor things loved their owners no matter what. Every time Junmin stepped into his home, his heart would calm down upon being greeted by their tail shakes.

“Here is your coffee, and this is a cupcake that I tried making recently. I’d love it if you could give me some feedback.”

“Thank you.”

Free food was always welcome, no matter when he got it. Junmin drank a little bit of his bitter coffee and looked down at his cupcake. It was topped with a mango mousse.

“If only he had the motivation.”

The kid that asked for the money didn’t seem at all desperate. He was probably interested in acting, that must be why he was in the club. But if Junmin were to ask him if he would throw his entire life into acting, the boy would surely answer ‘no’. Maru seemed to be thinking about many things. Junmin had no idea what the boy was thinking of, but he knew for sure his thoughts were far different from others his own age.

Of all the thoughts that the boy had, what percentage of it was about acting? So far in his life, Junmin’s managed to excavate many stars. He could even brag about it if he wanted. Right now, if you turned on the TV, at least one out of the ten stars that appear in advertisements would be someone Junmin found.

The world of acting was all about feeling. It was impossible to become confident about anything in this business through numbers alone. Do handsome people become stars? Do talented people become stars? No. Even if you had both, you were more likely to disappear as nothing but an extra. It was impossible to predict or measure anything in the world of acting. In this world, Junmin wanted to become a standard.

- The actors who go through Junmin become a star.

Hearing that line was pretty much the single reason Junmin was alive. Hearing that line felt better than anything to him. After all, hearing it validated the entirety of his life. It made his hard work worth something.

‘The boy’s talent is a pass, at least according to my standards.’

That alone was reason enough for investing in Maru.

‘But it doesn’t seem like acting is everything for him.’

Geunseok and Daemyung felt like they were willing to throw their lives into acting. Geunseok was a little bit unstable, but that could easily be fixed with time.

‘If only I could get some of Daemyung’s passion and stick it into Maru.’

If he could do that, Junmin would’ve accepted Maru’s offer in a heartbeat. That was just how talented Maru was in his eyes. Every fiber of his being was screaming that Maru was going to be a star. But logic told him to reject the boy. Junmin trusted his head as much as he trusted his feelings, so he decided to think for now.

About halfway through his cupcake, Maru arrived.

“I thought I was late after seeing you in the cafe.”

“I was just thinking about something. Sit.”

“Yes.”

Maru sat on the other side. It’s only been a day since the last time they talked.

“About yesterday, my answer is...”

“A rejection.”

“So you knew.”

“It’s probably not a matter of trust or credit, but a matter of passion. Personally, I thought money wouldn’t be a problem for you. I thought you just didn’t think well of my lack of passion.”

Maru spoke as if he knew everything from the beginning. If the boy asked Junmin to reconsider, he would’ve left immediately. Strangely enough, the boy instead chose to explain Junmin’s thought process in great detail. Due to this, he felt compelled to ask Maru a question, despite knowing he would forfeit the lead in the conversation as a result.

“So why did you make that suggestion, in that case?”

“That was just a reason to get us started talking.”

“The money, then?”

“Just one of those nice-to-have things.”

Maru grinned. Almost as if he didn’t want the money to begin with… No, almost as if he wanted the money dearly, but he was willing to give it up just as easily.

“I must’ve looked like a person with a lot of choices in life to you.”

That was correct, it was the single reason why Junmin was ready to reject Maru. Because Maru didn’t look desperate at all. Maru seemed ready to move onto things other than acting in an instant if he felt like it. It didn’t matter how much talent he had if he had no passion to actually work on it. In that sense, Maru was a failure in Junmin’s eyes.

“Don’t you think it’s good to have a lot of choices, though?”

“It’s difficult to succeed in just one field even if you spend all your life in it. Why would I trust a person who’s not willing to throw his life into any particular field, and only care about getting insurance instead?”

“You think I won’t do anything once I get my insurance.”

“Yes. I can throw away my money if I want to. Even most production companies, no, all kinds of groups out there throw their money away to raise individuals. It’s like an investment. But in this case, the losses are massive. After all, you don’t know what might happen when you raise individuals.”

“But if you raise one right, that one person could easily make you an incredible amount of money back.”

“That’s right. That’s why so many places are willing to pour money into raising people.”

“But you’re not looking to make a profit, are you? I thought you were raising people to prove yourself of your talent. Am I wrong?”

Junmin leaned back on his chair. He was initially planning to leave right away, but the conversation was becoming interesting. A kid who was easily thirty years younger than him was somewhat aware of how he operated.

“I have a question.”

“What is it?”

“If you were to be born again, would you live the same life you lived till now?”

“If I was born again?”

“Yes.”

It was an odd question, but Junmin started thinking about it. How was his current life? He was satisfied now, but he didn’t want to waste away his youth again as he did. It took him 15 years of life as a no-name actor for him to reach where he was now. He didn’t want to go through that hell again. If he got born again, he’d use his current talent to…

“But, you won’t have any knowledge or information that could better your life when you’re born again.”

That changed a lot of things, Junmin began thinking again. That notebook of his that carried 55 years of his life… If he were to throw all of that away and start over, what could he do?

“Lottery?”

“Definitely not.”

“Stocks?”

“Not possible. The only thing you have in your memory is a rough understanding of how you lived so far, and a few memories about those who were close to you. For example… A forty-year-old man is sent back to the past, only with the personality he’s cultivated to that age. Without any information that could help him.”

“Hm.”

Coming back to the past, only feeling like he succeeded at something by the end...

“I’d feel nervous. Overwhelmed, actually. My head is full of experiences, but I can’t access it.”

“You’re thinking about it seriously, I see.”

“Imagination like this is very important to humans, especially in this field.”

“I’ll be waiting for a response.”’

“Drink some coffee or something. This might take a while.”

Junmin crossed his arms. He could pass answering this question with a smile, he could even scold the boy for asking such a useless question; but doing so would make him a hypocrite. If he couldn’t take a boy’s question seriously, what right would he have in accusing the boy of not being serious for acting?

‘What an interesting kid.’

He thought for a few minutes about how he’d choose to live out his past. Eventually, he settled on one answer.

“I’d invest a bit of my time into everything out of nervousness. The life I’ve lived before would only become poison for me.”

Junmin put his arms on the table.

“Let me ask you a question, then. I hope you can be honest with me here. Why are you in the acting club?”

“I have a girl I like who does acting. I’m doing acting because I feel like this would be a nice point of connection. Of course, I actually do have an interest in acting, I just haven’t found a reason to become passionate.”

“How interesting. A girl? Kids nowadays are pretty fast with this stuff.”

“In the medieval era, people married when they were teenagers. Maybe we just became slow?”

“Hahaha, fair enough. Good. I get it. I know what kind of person you are. You don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket, is that it?”

Maru nodded. The way Junmin saw it, this kid was acting as the example from the question earlier. Filled with nervousness about the future.

“I’m not that smart. I can read books about philosophy and whatnot very easily, but apart from that, there’s not much I can do. I can’t let my family starve, though, so I’m trying to study Chinese. But I don’t think I’ll go anywhere with it in the long run. I don’t think I can succeed with studying either. Just a semi-average student in the long run? That’s why I’ve been thinking of going to the factory my dad works at. I should be able to work right away in October if I do. I was just planning on settling in as a CAD programmer there after graduating. It’s not a life full of excitement, but at least with this, I should be able to feed my children in the future.”

“That’s pretty detailed.”

“As you said, I’m nervous about my life. I tried making preparations with various things in mind, but I have my limits.”

Junmin noticed Maru balling up his fists. How interesting. Just where did a creature like this come from? Maru’s character was so unique that he was starting to want the boy. Almost enough to pay the boy that 2 billion won.

“What makes you think you’ll succeed in acting?”

“I don’t think I will.”

“What?”

“I’m simply placing my trust in you, and my instructor. In other words, I’m betting my life on you. And in the end, I don’t want to risk my entire life on a bet.”

“So in the end, everything comes back to that 2 billion.”

Junmin took out a napkin from the table. He wrote a very rudimentary contract on it with his pen.

“From what you’ve said about your factory plans, can I assume that you’re not thinking of college at all?”

“That’s right.”

“So the third year of your high school must be very free.”

“I’ll have a lot of time to invest in things.”

“Don’t you have to prepare for working in the factory?”

“No, that won’t take long at all.”

“Sounds like you’ve tried it before.”

“I haven’t, but I have a feeling that I can get used to the work fairly quickly.”

Maru grinned. Junmin stopped writing and handed the napkin to Maru.

“You aren’t annoyed by the medium of the contract or anything, are you?”

“The physical contract doesn’t matter, what I trust is your name.“

“You’re surprisingly good at flattery. Not at all like a normal high schooler.”

As Maru read the contract, Junmin sipped his coffee. His offer shouldn’t be too bad. After all, he would be paying for the boy’s time for the next three years.

“We can come up with a secondary one next time.”

“This sounds good.”

Maru folded the napkin and gently tucked it into his pocket.

“When I was speaking with your friends, I told them this. I’ll support you, so try your best. I said this because they were still amateurs. But you’re different. I see you as a pro. So...”

Junmin finished his coffee before continuing.

“Raise your price. Enough to make me want to buy you.”

Junmin stood up from his seat. He felt good. It felt as though there was a rush of adrenaline whirring his brain vigorously. He hadn’t felt that in a very long time.

“That should be good enough to make you care about acting, right?”

“Yes, it is.”

“You’re materialistic.”

“Yes, I am.”

Materialistic. Junmin smiled internally. He didn’t hate that word. In fact, he kind of liked it.

“Are you familiar with Confucius’ sayings?”

“Of course.”

“Yes. I used to be a fan of a lot of his sayings. Especially the one about winning against yourself, and targeting something greater. It’s something that many adults like to talk about.”

“Right.”

“But recently, I started identifying with a different saying, “To hold close the reality, and further from yourself the ideals.” That sentence probably isn’t supposed to be very materialistic, but it is to me. I like chasing after money. That’s why I don’t feel bad when people call me materialistic.”

Maru smiled brightly, making Junmin shake his head.

“I can’t wait until the three years pass. Show me how much you’re capable of growing. If you’re capable, I’ll write you that secondary contract on the other side of the napkin. Otherwise, it would all end there.”

“I’m satisfied, since I’m not losing out on anything. It does make me somewhat greedy, though. Are successful actors all capable of using this much money at once?”

“Think of me as the odd one out. You probably won’t find many people like me in the whole of this country.”

“So I guess I’m pretty lucky, then?”

“Lucky?”

Junmin laughed.

“We can see if that’s really the case in three years. You better use those years wisely. After all, I did buy them.”

Junmin stepped out of the cafe with a grin. The autumn air felt very fresh to him, especially today.

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