Chapter 76

“This might not be it.”

Miso thought as she looked down at the packed lunch she made. She made it for Taesik, but it somehow didn’t fit her. She tried making it after seeing a couple do it in a TV show, but after actually making it, she realized she was too embarrassed to actually give it to the man. Plus…

“I wonder if it’d taste good to him.”

Miso stepped out of her house with the lunch in her hand. On her way over to the car, she sent a quick text message to Soojin.

[I tried making it the way you told me yesterday. Tastes nice. Thanks.]

When she got in her car and revved up the engine, she got a call from Geunsoo. What did he want so early in the morning?

- Is practice for the club going well?

“No problems here. Why? You worried for your brother?”

- ...How is that kid, anyway? Is he focusing well?

“He’s doing well, thanks to the new competition. He’s pretty soft on the inside though, it really surprised me.”

- Please take care of him. He’s never done anything by himself before, he’s going to need all the help he can get.

“You worry too much. Why don’t you just call him?”

- I already have too much on my plate as it is, you know. Plus… I don’t think I can be a good support for my brother anymore.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

- Don’t worry about it. In any case, scold him when he deserves it, and make sure to praise him too. He really needs it.

“Don’t wanna. I’m just gonna scold him all day because of you.”

- That honestly doesn’t sound half bad either.

“Well, I’m hanging up now. I have to drive.”

Miso revved up her car after hanging up. The trees outside were starting to wither in preparation for the winter, quite a lot of them were already completely bare.

“Machines fueled by praise are kind of hard to deal with.”

Miso knew very well what Geunsoo worried about. After all, she’s almost spent a full year with the kids at this point. Geunseok was a smart kid. He knew exactly what to do at a given moment, and he always managed to please. That sounded good and all, but there was a problem.

“He doesn’t have a sense of self.”

The boy only lived through the eyes of the others. Miso personally wanted to completely fix up the boy’s personality, but she couldn't do that. That was a problem for Geunseok himself.

‘His pride is the issue.’

How could these two brothers born from the same parents turn out so different? That was a huge mystery to Miso. Geunsoo’s personality was very well developed from a young age, to the point where people called him a lunatic at school. The guy did as he pleased, while Geunseok, on the other hand, seemed calm and well-mannered. But on the inside, the boy was completely empty. A common trait seen in kids who got raised on attention.

Geunseok probably didn’t even know what he really wanted to do. After all, the boy only lived to satisfy his parents.

“Maybe it was because of Geunsoo.”

Perhaps the parents raised Geunseok like a puppet, after seeing how Geunsoo turned out. The boy was probably brainwashed with his parent’s sweet talk. It was a little sad to think about, but Miso had no intention of sympathizing with the boy.

‘You’ll have to find a good motivation for yourself if you want to keep acting.’

Junmin decided to give Geunseok a chance. After all, the boy had talent. But as soon as Junmin realizes that the boy is nothing but an empty can incapable of finding motivation, he would abandon ship. If Geunseok wants to become a true actor, he’d first have to work on finding motivation for himself.

“Well, at least he’s talented.”

But that talent is useless without real motivation. They were fine for the next competition, but Geunseok would have to start working hard by the one after that.

“What the hell happened with that kid, though?”

Miso took out her phone as soon as she reached a red light to send a message to Maru. The boy asked her for Junmin’s number two months ago. What in the world did the two talk about? She was curious as hell, but the only response she received from Junmin was to “ask the boy himself”, while Maru just refused to say anything.

“Ugh. What the hell are the two doing together?”

As she thought, the car behind her started blaring its horns. Miso threw her phone to the seat next to her and pressed the pedal.

* * *

Soojin stood up after lying down in a daze for a while. Her body felt heavy, almost as if she was sinking in a swamp. She couldn’t just keep sleeping though, so she decided to take a shower for now. Soojin avoided the little dolls she started making last night to enter the bathroom.

She turned on the showerhead on max heat, and threw her body in. After a while, she exit the bathroom wiping her reddened skin with a towel, and looked down at the phone next to her notebook. Her phone was blinking, showing her a new message arrived. Soojin tied up her hair with the towel before reaching for it.

The first message was from Miso, thanking her for the recipe from last night. When the woman asked her for it last night, Soojin started wondering if Miso got a girlfriend. She didn’t want to make Miso angry with that question though, so she just gave away a decent recipe she had. Soojin flipped to the next message with a small smile.

“.....”

Soojin bit her lips as she read the words on the screen: ‘Are you doing well?’ She tried to write a message in response, but she kept making typos. It made her pretty annoyed for a brief second, but she managed to finish her sentence regardless.

[I’m doing fine.]

A new message came a few minutes after her response.

[Why don’t you come back home? We miss you.]

Soojin stared at her screen for a few long minutes before moving her fingers again.

[I’m busy. I’m sorry.]

And a new response.

[I see. Stay healthy.]

Soojin threw her phone on her bed. The phone bounced, landing straight on the floor. Soojin’s body felt heavy again. The shower she took had no effect on her. Soojin kneeled and hugged her knees. Her dad probably wanted to say a few more things to her. She could just feel his emotions emanating from his texts.

“Hah.”

Soojin felt awful. She felt mad at herself, because she knew she was at fault for feeling awful to begin with. She wouldn’t feel so bad if she received a response for the mail she sent a while back. She knew she shouldn’t feel like this, but she just couldn’t help it. Soojin put on her clothes almost as if she was controlled, and picked up her dolls.

“I should… play with the kids.”

Today, she once again filled her car with dolls and headed to the kindergarten. That was one of the few places where she could feel safe, and at the same time, repent.

She should smile.

Soojin smiled. She smiled as brightly as she could. Surely the kids would like it. Right as she entered her car, she got a message from Maru.

[I arrived in Suwon station.]

Soojin slapped her cheek to snap herself out of that daze, and looked at the back mirror. She looked a little sadder than usual, but she didn’t look all that strange.

[I’ll be there soon.]

She started her car as soon as she sent the message.

* * *

“You worked hard.”

“You too, Maru. I’ll see you next week.”

“Sure.”

Maru watched Soojin drive off in her red car before turning away. He started doing this to gain an interest in acting, but at this point, it’s become a habit. It was still fun, so he didn’t feel like it was a waste of time at all.

‘Today was pretty nice.’

Soojin looked quite nervous in the morning, but she calmed down a lot after receiving a message. She should be able to sort out her problems from now on.

It was 2pm. The day ended surprisingly quickly, so Maru decided to buy a toast sandwich from the station before going home. Right then, he noticed two familiar faces in the distance. It was Geunseok and Yurim.

* * *

“Oh, it’s Maru,” Yurim said.

Geunseok looked at Maru with an uncomfortable expression. The boy was walking towards the two of them with a toast sandwich in hand. Yurim tried to remove her arm from Geunseok’s hand, but he tightened his grip.

“Date?” Maru asked.

Maru was a strange kid. The guy complained about the acting club arrogantly, but never actually left. As a matter of fact, he was even attending practice now with a role. Geunseok thought Maru’s character was nothing special, but quickly realized that wasn’t the case after a while of practice. Instructor Miso gave Maru a difficult character for sure.

Geunseok, for one, couldn’t understand what instructor Miso was thinking. Why did she give such an important character to a guy like him?

‘Why not me?’

He got the main role just like last time, but he didn’t feel good about it at all. Maybe it was because he was only getting criticisms recently. Instructor Miso never complimented him for anything, despite showering everyone else around him with praises. In that sense, Geunseok didn’t like Maru. The guy never got scolded.

“Good times. Hope you have fun.”

Even those words sounded almost like mocking to Geunseok, which made him twist his lips in annoyance. Geunseok pulled Yurim closer towards him.

“Let’s go.”

Yurim spoke to him in a sweet manner.

“He’s probably like that because he’s jealous, right?”

“Probably.”

“Of course he would be. You’re just too cool, Geunseok.”

It was a bit embarrassing to hear, but Geunseok didn’t hate hearing that. Yurim looked at him. She only took care of him, not others. Plus, she was pretty cute.

‘Big sis Suyeon would probably be better though.’

Geunseok’s gotten a little tired of Yurim recently. The girl was just too attached to him. She treated him almost like her phone that she always used to fiddle with. On the other hand, big sis Suyeon takes the lead pretty well. Every second he spent with Suyeon wasn’t boring at all.

‘Then again, Yurim needs me.’

Geunseok walked towards a popular pizza place nearby, with Yurim still stuck next to him.

* * *

“See you tomorrow.”

Yurim headed home after saying her goodbyes to Geunseok. She could head straight home if she went through the alleyway, but she decided to take the long route home using a bigger road. Even now, she was afraid of walking by herself in the dark, especially without Geunseok.

She comforted herself by clutching her phone.

‘Geunseok’s so helpless. He can’t do anything without me.’

Whenever she was with Geunseok, Yurim felt like a mature woman. Someone who could face adversity and actually win against it. Through him, she gained stability as a person. As she passed over a footbridge, she noticed someone underneath.

“Thank you! Come again!”

It was a girl. Iseul, actually.

“Eh?”

“Oh? Yurim!”

Iseul came over first. Yurim was actually a bit uncomfortable around this girl. First off, she was prettier than her, and Geunseok tended to sneak a glance at the girl every once in a while as well. Well, they were still in the same acting club though.

“You live here?”

“Yeah. My parents run a soup place. Smells good, right?”

Yurim wasn’t a big fan of how pork stock smelled, but she nodded with a smile for now.

“Want a bowl? The others are all here too.”

“Others?”

Yurim took a small peek inside. There were a few people sitting in the near-empty restaurant eating. That round boy over there was Daemyung, opposite him was Dojin. And…

“Soyeon’s… here, too.”

“Yeah. I invited them since they said they like soup. Taejoon’s coming, too.”

“I-is that so?”

Suddenly, Yurim felt excluded. It was fine if the other kids were there, but… Soyeon, too? The girl didn’t even say anything to her.

Yurim gripped her phone. And here she thought Soyeon was her best friend in school. This was too much…

“I have to go home.”

“Really? You should say hi to them before...”

“No, it’s fine. See you tomorrow.”

“Y-yeah. Sure.”

Yurim tried to hide her pout by walking away, she was disappointed. How could Soyeon hang out with the others without even telling her?

“And I thought she was a friend.”

As she thought so, she noticed a phone call she forgot to pick up from this morning. It was from Soyeon. She ignored it because she was busy hanging out with Geunseok at the time.

“...She should’ve at least texted me. Isn’t she just ignoring me at this point?”

Yurim immediately felt worse. She felt like she needed to talk about this to someone. Like always, she started typing Geunseok’s phone number on her phone.

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ensj's Thoughts

Iseul’s parents run a restaurant that only sells a particular type of soup known as “Soondae gukbap”. Soondae is a type of pork blood sausage, and gukbap simply means “rice and soup”. Google it if you’re curious!