Chapter 84

She was fixing up her makeup in the makeup room, brightening and shading areas around her eye and mouth to accentuate her expressions.

“You’re thinking of him, aren’t you?”

She stopped fixing her makeup and looked sideways. She could see her friend grinning at her ear to ear. She tried to say “what?” at the girl innocently, but her tongue betrayed her intent.

“W-what?”

“See? You’re being suspicious. Be honest with me here. You met him before, haven’t you?”

“No, I haven’t. That was my first time seeing him.”

“Boo, liar. So this is your second meeting, and he just confessed right there and then?”

“That wasn’t a confession!”

“That’s a confession no matter how you look at it.”

The other club members came over to check out what the noise was all about. There were even second and third years in the mix.

“What the, what the. Did someone confess to you?”

“By who?”

“Senior, please!”

This is the time to stop the talk, not keep it going like this! She raised her voice a little, but all that it accomplished was to widen everyone’s grin.

“See? That isn’t very like you, getting agitated like that. Which means...”

“There’s something really there, huh? Hohoho.”

Cats. She was surrounded by a group of cats. Ones that found a piece of juicy fish in the midst of them. She closed her mouth tightly and looked into the mirror. She knew it would be pointless to try to argue here. She’d only be feeding them if she did.

“Now now, stop there.”

Right then, the club president stepped into the fray. She was a beautiful girl pulling off short hair with a rather large physique.

The president was actually one of the people she respected. The girl managed to get an acting award twice in the nationals so far, after all. She wanted to become a good actor like the president.

“The team before us finished their play. It’s our turn, we should get ready.”

“Yes.”

So the play ended. For some reason, she thought of that boy for a second. Maru, was it?

“How’s Woosung high? They were going to the winter competition this year, weren’t they? How are they compared to us?”

One of the second years asked the president. The president had a habit of watching other teams’ plays. It was a pretty amazing feat. Despite having to act in just a few minutes, the president wasn’t nervous at all.

“Hm, how are they, huh...”

The president raised her glasses up to her eyes.

“I don’t think we have to worry about them.”

* * *

Dojin felt horrible. Not because of his nervousness, not because of the audience’s cold reactions. He stared at Soyeon, Taejoon, and Maru through the side curtains.

‘......’

Nothing changed. It was the same as every other run. Soyeon and Taejoon were acting as usual. Soyeon played the grumpy old grandma, and Taejoon acted out the weird old grandpa. There were no mistakes, either. The play was going smoothly, but… Something was wrong. The fact that Dojin was unable to figure out what was wrong was starting to tire him.

“Damn old man!”

Soyeon stood up from her seat and stomped towards Taejoon. Taejoon quickly ran away behind the shop prop. A light laughter came from the audience.

‘And here I thought this was a pretty fun scene in the audience.’

The reactions weren’t so great. Was this it? Was he feeling bad because of the audience?

The actors on stage moved away, and darkness enveloped the stage. Right after this darkness, Maru always appeared. Maru stepped past Dojin with some very casual steps. Dojin quietly whispered “good luck” to the boy.

But Maru didn’t seem to hear him. Maru was only focused on the stickers on the floor. Like a very, very angry person. Dojin felt a chill run down his neck. It was starting to tingle in nervousness. Maru’s focus seemed pretty frightening to him. Why did it feel like he was focused to the point of not being unable to hear anything else?

“Hm, hm!”

Maru’s cough on stage marked the beginning of the next act. Dojin took a look at the audience. Right then, one of the kids pointed at Maru and shouted, “he’s here!” Since this was a festival, many parents brought their kid with them. So far, they had all been watching quietly, but one of the kids ended up getting loud. Dojin felt his heart drop.

A deja vu.

Dojin thought back to what happened in the summer. A single kid was all it took to turn Geunseok into a bumbling fool. He just stood looking at the audience forgetting everything for ten seconds. Would Maru be like this too…?

“What a bright kid.”

‘What?’

Dojin looked at Maru with his jaw dropped. Maru walked to the edge of the stage to wave his hand back to the kid, and spoke with the kid’s parents. Dojin looked at the scene dumbly. The kid’s parents were smiling. He couldn’t see them in the darkness, of course. But he could hear them laugh.

Reactions gave birth to more reactions. More kids started waving their hands at Maru, almost as if they were in a children’s play. Dojin reminisced about a Peter Pan play he once saw as a child. For a second, he could see Peter Pan from his childhood in Maru’s smile.

It took 5 seconds for Maru to interact with that kid. Thinking about having that time filled with silence was enough to make Dojin feel a little faint.

“Do you know? Dalseok-dong has a very smart friend living in it. But this guy’s kind of stupid, despite being so smart. What am I talking about? Well, see for yourself.”

Maru was a little bit faster than usual. He was probably making sure he’d still be on time. It didn’t feel unnatural at all. It was almost as if that kid from earlier was a part of the play. The lights faded, and Maru disappeared. Then, an ambient blue light depicting the nighttime came on. It was Daemyung’s turn to come on.

“Phew.”

After coming back, Maru leaned back on the wall and took a sip of water.

“Nice reflexes.”

“It was nothing. How was it, by the way? Not too awkward?”

“Not at all.”

“Good to hear.”

Maru looked at the stage with his arms crossed, Dojin decided to switch his attention as well. The audience seats became a little bit loud. The parents must’ve given up on trying to control their kids. Indeed, Maru’s performance from a little earlier made everyone get a little bit more relaxed. Some of the kids were even saying hello to Daemyung.

Seeing that made Dojin a little nervous again. The play was going well so far, so why?

‘Calm down, just be yourself. No more, no less.’

Dojin chewed on some gum. There was still some time before his scene. Even athletes liked to chew on gum to calm down, so surely this would help. Daemyung started his monologue on the stage. His stupid words and dumb logic were the comedic highlights of this scene.

‘Daemyung’s good at acting.’

Dojin knew that for sure, since the boy was one of few people that Miso wouldn’t scold. Even now, Daemyung’s lines were coming out very naturally. There was nothing wrong with the boy’s acting. But…

‘There’s no reaction from the audience.’

The audience was silent. Some kids were waving their hands still, of course. But for a comedy, no one in the seats was actually laughing. Was that why Dojin was nervous? He wouldn’t have felt this way on the last play they did. But then again, that play wasn’t a comedic one at all.

‘So this is the kind of pressure comedians feel.’

The audience that doesn’t laugh, and the comedians that have to make them laugh. Suddenly… Dojin felt afraid of the stage.

“Move.”

“Y-yeah.”

It was Geunseok’s turn to be on the stage. The boy stepped out with a confident look. Looking back, all the club members were engrossed in looking at their script. They all looked fine so far. But how would they feel once they saw what the audience was like?

‘I shouldn’t have looked.’

Dojin was quickly regretting having seen the stage.

* * *

“This is...”

“A complete mess.”

Miso didn’t miss the two men next to her talking. A mess. She would’ve tackled them any other time, but right now, she had to agree.

‘Ugh, this is bad.’

Indeed, the stage was a complete mess. Everyone was acting pretty well. No one was making any mistakes, and the rhythm of the play was very well maintained. Overall, the play was being performed very well. Enough to make Miso proud. But she couldn’t smile at all.

“There’s a gap.”

“They should get rid of it.”

Geunsoo and Ganghwan were talking, Miso shook her head annoyedly.

‘This isn’t good at all.’

There was one note in the song that stood out from all others. It was hard to notice, but it was easy to feel that there was something wrong when you listened to it.

‘Han Maru.’

Miso looked at the stage with a sigh. That one note that stuck out… That was the issue.

* * *

“We don’t have to worry?”

She put down her lipstick to look at the president. The president nodded vigorously.

“Are they that bad?”

“No, they’re good.”

“Eh? So why...”

“Mm, well...”

The president thought for a bit before making four students of similar height stand in a line.

“How is it?”

“What?”

Some of the club members couldn’t understand the question.

“How are they, when you line them up like this?”

“I mean… It looks nice since they’re all the same height.”

This time, the president stood in the line. The tall president looked like the odd one out, now.

“What about now?”

This time, all of the club members answered.

“You don’t fit in there.”

“That’s exactly it.”

“What?”

“I don’t know how to put it in words, but that’s how it feels. Woosung high’s very obviously good at acting. Even I can see that. Everyone in that club feels well-practiced. But… When they’re together, they feel odd. Nothing fits.”

“They can’t cooperate?”

“Not exactly. You’ll be able to get it when you see it. They’re good, but they’re also bad. I don’t know how else to put it.”

Good, but also bad. She tilted her head to the side in confusion. What in the world did that mean?

* * *

Curtain call. Soyeon grabbed Taejoon’s hand and stepped forward. Holding hands with him made her feel a little nervous, but she realized there was no reason to be when she was walking out on stage.

Applause.

Soyeon blanked out when she was greeted with applause. This was her third time experiencing it, but she still wasn’t used to it. It made her think, so this is why people do acting.

“Good work. Really,” Taejoon whispered to her.

Soyeon could feel her cheeks redden, so she just kept looking forward. The club members stepped forward one by one, and lastly, Geunseok bowed to the audience. This was the first curtain call. After all of the club left the stage, Maru ran into the stage hurriedly.

“Hey, guys! What about me?!”

Maru ran into the stage shouting. He did a quick kowtow to the audience before running straight back out, that was the end of the curtain call. Soyeon could hear the audience laughing outside. Did they have fun? Did they laugh a lot? She couldn’t see what the audience was like since she was so busy acting. Just saying her lines were hard enough.

‘I should congratulate everyone.’

But as soon as Soyeon turned around, she noticed everyone had very uncomfortable expressions on their faces.

“Phew.”

Everyone was sighing, as a matter of fact. Soyeon turned to look at Daemyung.

“What the, what happened?”

“...We didn’t get good reactions.”

“Ah.”

Only then did she remember what the audience was like during the play. She only heard one or two people laugh silently. There wasn’t the expected amount of laughter during any of the comedic highlights. Did they fail? How did they not make anyone laugh in a comedy?

“Well, at least Maru made them laugh.”

“They also laughed at some of the other scenes,” the other members said.

Everyone knew this wasn’t enough to satisfy them, though, so they all just went back to sighing.

“Let’s move it. The other team’s coming soon. Everyone, get to work, we need to get these props out of here.”

Joonghyuk refreshed the club with a clap of his hand. The club members went back out to the stage with a heavy heart.

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