Chapter 82

Ansan Art Center. It was completed fairly recently, so the facilities were pretty clean. The cultural festival that began here two days ago was filled with both artists from abroad, and from local areas, making the place shine both day and night. By the third day, the festival decorated by clubs all around the region was opened exclusively for the locals.

At the stage outside were several bands playing music, from bands in middle school all the way to bands of middle-aged men. They were showing off their skills on the instruments that the city provided. On the other side, merchants sold various snacks under white tents. There were a lot of kids running around the place, hyperactive from the cotton candy in their hands. Right next to them was a man in a clown suit handing balloon toys to children.

“Hey! There’s a pretty lady over there drawing caricatures for people. Let’s go!”

Daemyung stared at Maru as Dojin grabbed his arms. The boy clearly didn’t seem to want to go, but Maru just waved his hand with a smile.

“Have fun.”

Daemyung disappeared off with Dojin. Their play was set to start at 4pm, so Miso allowed the club to have fun till 2pm. The club members were all enjoying themselves in their makeup. Maru, of course, was no exception.

‘Nervousness… I don’t have any at all.’

The first stage, first play. Maru felt as clear as ever, and his condition was great. When he closed his eyes, he could visualize all the steps he would need to go through to perform the play.

‘I wonder what it would feel like to be on stage.’

The puppet plays he did with Soojin was fun. The reactions from the children were always very dramatic, so Maru tried to make them smile as much as possible. Today, he was performing not in front of children, but in front of an actual audience of varying ages. What would that feel like? Would he go on stage feeling nothing, just like Ganghwan said? Or would he feel an intense feeling of satisfaction?

‘I don’t really think I’d feel anything.’

The play would begin, and finishing it would definitely make him feel something. He decided to invest the three years of his life into acting, after receiving that 300 million won. This was the first real challenge Maru’s ever taken on in this life, so he wanted to succeed if he could.

Excitement. Maru wanted to feel his heartbeat thumping. Excitement that he rarely felt since he came back to the past. He’s felt it once on the day of starting anew, once when he saw his young mother, and once when he saw his young wife. Was his sense of emotion just dulled? He realized that he was very calm, and always very logical about the way he conducted himself. It almost felt like he was missing something as a person.

‘Did I become a pessimist?’

What was the Maru of his previous timeline like? He couldn’t remember much, but he did remember this. The Maru of that time smiled a lot more than this. He also cracked a lot of dumb jokes, too.

What about now?

The one thing he talked the most about are the necessities, and the one thing he thinks about the most is efficiency. He always put off things that didn’t fit in either of those categories. As a matter of fact, he couldn’t even remember the last time he played a videogame. When was the last time he read a novel? During March, he tried to limit his time playing videogames, but nowadays he lost that interest completely.

Maybe it was because he had a goal now?

Well, in any case, he had no idea if this change was for good or bad. Perhaps he gained this sort of calmness after experiencing death, not that he could ask anyone about it.

Maru took a look at the band playing right now. They were beating their drums, twanging their guitars, and expressing with all their energy that they were alive at this moment. The claps from the audience, the shouts, and the music. The noise was a testament to the fact that all of these people were alive. This was heat, the type of heat that made your heart beat fast.

Maru looked down at his hands for a second. He was calm. Even with the beat of the music playing so loudly, both his body and mind were incredibly calm. Since when was he like this? Since when did his body become so boring? Maru walked a little bit closer to the source of the music. Despite it being mid-fall, the outdoor stage was brimming with heat. Maru walked into the crowd of dancing people, he started dancing with them; he beat his feet against the ground to the beat of the music. He raised his hands to the sky and shouted. He grinned in excitement, just like the people around him.

And yet, excitement would not come. His body didn’t respond a single bit. Maru stopped and looked forward. It felt like the shouts and the music around him were becoming quieter. He felt like a foreigner. Someone who felt alien amongst all the sounds and smiles.

‘I became boring.’

Forty-five years old… That shouldn’t have been enough to make him like this. Surely he wasn’t as emotionless as this. Why did the world today seem so colorless to him?

“Well, at least I’m not broken.”

He came here after death. In the process, he was given a few abilities. Perhaps this calmness was one of them. The thought comforted him a little, but he did feel nervous at the fact that he was no longer normal. For some reason, the faces of several people started floating up in his mind. Miso, Ganghwan, Junmin, Geunsoo. Perhaps he listened so intently to what these people had to say because he admired them? Or maybe he wanted to imitate these people who were colored so brightly among everyone else?

He had no idea.

His head felt dizzy all of a sudden, he came all the way here just so that he could make her happy. Everything he’s done till now was for her happiness. Finding a dream, trying to make money, and even doing acting. All of this was done for her.

- Motivation isn’t that easy to find.

Maru thought for a second, maybe the fact that his motivation was so clear was a problem. He might be nervous. He did receive 300 million won, but that wasn’t enough in the grand scheme of things. If he were to think of the future, and the future of that future, he couldn’t help but get nervous.

Should he be satisfied with his life now? Was there anything more he could do? Maybe there’s a way to be more efficient now, for a better future?

He felt like he was choking. The sounds around him that felt so far away started affecting him negatively. Loneliness in a way that he’s never felt before started pressuring him from all sides. He had to stop thinking. He needed to get away from this place, where there was no music, no people, no anything. But just as he was about to walk out,

“Eh? You are!”

A smiling girl was looking at him. Suddenly, it felt so much easier to breathe. The music around him started sounding fun again. The voices of the people around him started making his heart beat. The change came quickly. Maru couldn’t even think anymore. All he could do was grab the girl’s arm and run outside.

“W-wait!”

He was aware of just how rude this was, but he didn’t want to stop. No, he couldn’t stop. He ran outside the stage with the girl in tow. She was wearing casual clothes today. When he paid attention, he could also see makeup on her face. Makeup for the stage.

“You surprised me.”

When Maru let go, she looked at her wrist before looking at Maru again.

“I-I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to do that.”

“What were you trying to do, then?”

She sounded pretty annoyed.

“No, it’s just… I’m sorry. I wasn’t right in the head just now.”

“Well… you didn’t look very good, so I’ll let it pass. But again, why are you trying to be that polite? I thought we were the same age, at least from when we last talked.”

She spoke with a smile on her face. She was probably referring to the time when they last met at Hyehwa station.

“Oh? That makeup… You’re playing today?”

“Ah, yes. That’s what ended up happening.”

“What the, you were an actor too? You should’ve told me, I had no idea! I was wondering why some dude asked for my name out of nowhere last time. You recognized our uniform, didn’t you? Of course, you did, we got first place on the nationals! Hum hum!”

The girl raised her head proudly. She was like this from the past. Her expressions always became so diverse when she talked about acting.

“Well, let’s put it at that for now, sure.”

“Anyway, what was that just now? You surprised me.”

“It might sound weird, but I couldn’t breathe.”

“Couldn’t breathe?”

“Yes.”

“So what does that have to do with me?”

“Mm, well… it’s just… Well, there’s a reason for it, I swear.”

“Be honest with me. You’re trying to ask me out, aren’t you? This is what it is, isn’t it? Isn’t it?”

...That’s right, he forgot she was like this. It was a bit of a surprise, but a welcomed one nonetheless. Her unchanged personality helped him calm down.

“That was a joke! Of course, you wouldn’t be doing that. What school are you from, by the way? I heard there were four teams going today.”

“Woosung Engineering High.”

“Ah! Blue Sky!”

“You knew about us?”

“Of course, our seniors told us that you guys used to be famous. Ah, was that rude?”

The girl said ‘sorry’ with an awkward smile.

“You really should be more casual with me, though. We’re the same age after all,” she continued with a pout.

That pout… he recognized it. She only did that when she was embarrassed. Seeing that same pout all over again calmed him down even more. At least she hasn’t changed from this mess.

“Where were you!”

Her friends walked up to her in a half jog, and scanned Maru suspiciously.

“Ah, you’re that...”

“Strange guy from before.”

“Right?”

Strange guy. That was understandable. He just disappeared last time after asking for a name.

“What the, since when were the two of you so close?”

A girl who seemed to be the teasing type poked at her playfully. She crossed her arms before replying in a slightly annoyed tone.

“We met by chance. Actually, he dragged me here out of nowhere.”

“What? Dragged?”

The other girls immediately turned fierce upon hearing that word, Maru could only smile awkwardly. She noticed what was going on pretty quick, and jumped in between the two with a smile.

“Don’t look at him like that. It was just a small thing.”

“What the, that’s suspicious. Why are you helping him?”

“I’m not helping him, you guys are just being weird here. Nothing’s happening, so just go on, now.”

She pushed her friends away and started to get further away from Maru. Maru clenched his fists. That’s right. This was just a small thing, something that could very easily be forgotten. But he didn’t want to keep it like that. He didn’t want his meeting with her to just be something so forgettable.

A spontaneous feeling erupted from his chest. For the moment, Maru decided to let his body go along with the flow of this feeling. For the first time after starting his second life, Maru became emotional.

“I’ll come to find you in the future! My name is Han Maru, don’t you forget it! Maru, meaning the sky. And...”

It’s also a name you liked for sounding so odd. Maru was unable to say those last words, but he trusted that the feeling got through to her.

And…

“What the, what the. What did he say just now?”

“Whoaaa. What the heck.”

The girls were going wild.

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