Chapter 85

Maru ran into her again as he cleaned up the stage. She looked a little awkward in her heavy makeup. Probably because she was applying so much makeup on such a young face.

“Good luck.”

“Y-yeah.”

She seemed to be avoiding him a little. Maru scratched his eyebrows. Well, after saying something like that, it would’ve been weirder if she wasn’t being awkward. But at that time, he just wanted to deliver his feelings purely towards her. It could’ve been pretty embarrassing for her, but judging from her expression, she didn’t seem to dislike it.

At this point, Maru pretty much gave up on chasing after a pure teenage relationship. He was a little bit too old for that at this point. Sometimes, knowing so much was only painful to Maru.

‘Well, at least she’s pretty.’

Seeing his wife’s younger self made his heart beat with an odd, exciting feeling. It wasn’t that his middle-aged wife wasn’t beautiful, but the beauty of her younger self was shining much brighter.

‘That’s vulgar, Maru. Absolutely vulgar.’

Well, for now, Maru told himself that he was still an animal, and he couldn’t help but think what he thought. He decided to be honest, his wife was more beautiful when she was young. For a second, he could hear his middle-aged wife chide at him with annoyance in the background. Something about living happily with a young woman.

“Maru, bring that over here.”

“Yes.”

The club members were busy moving around after the play. That was one of the few charms of a teenage competition, everything from making the props to setting it up on stage had to be done by the club. In this play, much of the props were made using wooden planks, so the bigger props had to be moved with at least three or four guys.

“The girls should take care of the trash.”

The next team came up to set up once they cleared all of their props. She was busy setting up as well.

“Oh, it’s Myunghwa high.”

“Isn’t that where the girls Maru tried to talk to went to?”

Dojin and Daemyung were talking as they looked at the girls. Maru took his two friends that were staring at the girls and moved them away from the stage. The stairs below were filled with little bags of props. The club members started removing their costumes as well. Maru’s costume was just his everyday clothes, so he didn’t really need to change. He’d look the same as usual once he removed some makeup from his face.

“Good work! No mistakes this time at all! Hahaha! Good job, good job!”

Yoonjung went around patting the shoulders of the students around her. The club members started smiling one by one as well as they shook off the last vestiges of their nervousness.

“You did well too, Maru.”

“I thought I might make a mistake, but it went smoothly, thankfully. The audience laughed a bit as well.”

“...Yeah, at least they laughed. Ugh! Why couldn’t they all laugh loudly like they’re supposed to, am I right?”

Maru felt a bit of strangeness from Yoonjung right then. There was a slight pause. Right before Yoonjung opened her mouth again, she closed her mouth with a bitter smile. What did her expression mean?

“Good work.”

Miso stepped into the waiting room before Maru had the chance to respond to Yoonjung. Geunsoo and Ganghwan followed close behind.

“You should know him since you saw him last time. This is Yang Ganghwan, an actor. He came here to give you guys advice, so clap your hands.”

The club members clapped loudly.

“Alright, let’s get out of here first. The next team is about to come. You two! Come, help.”

Ganghwan and Geunsoo stepped forward, muttering “are we slaves or something?” under their breath.

“So you were dragged in here by instructor Miso.”

“Does it look that obvious?”

Maru moved a plank with Ganghwan on the other side.

“Aren’t you busy?”

“I’m pretty much unemployed, since there aren’t any plays willing to take me. I’m just living off of the money I get out of mentoring you.”

“So you need to look good in front of me, then?”

“Yes, your majesty.”

Ganghwan hoisted one of the props on a 1-ton truck with a grin.

“Anyway, how was your first play?”

“I thought I would be really nervous, but I was okay. I did feel nervous, but it was a good one.”

“That’s good. At least you’re not afraid of the stage.”

“That’s a thing?”

“It is. Well, it’s really just a fear born out of peer pressure.”

“Peer pressure.”

“A lot of times, guys that speak better than Marlone Brando in the waiting room turn completely mute on stage. They get pressured into silence by the eyes of the audience. A lot of them manage to get over it with practice, but sometimes, they just leave the industry completely.”

“You have to be born with it.”

“Kind of, yeah. In that sense, you’re blessed.”

At some point, they managed to move everything onto the truck.

“I’ll be going first, so follow me. You guys, split up into Geunsoo’s car and Ganghwan’s car,” Miso said as she got on the truck.

Maru looked at Ganghwan, who was smiling in irritation.

“I knew she’d do this when she told me to bring my car. Get on. Ah, try to bring girls, got it?”

Ganghwan walked to his car with a wink. Maru decided to take those words to heart, and collected exclusively men.

“...What kind of a pepper field did I step my foot into?”

“Yeah, what the hell? It just smells of peppers here.”

As expected, Dojin got along really well with Ganghwan.

“Eh? What happened to that chubby kid?” Ganghwan asked as he looked at the back seats.

Maru pointed at Geunsoo’s car behind them.

“Over there.”

“A baby pig in a field of flowers… My god.”

Ganghwan shook his head disapprovingly.

* * *

Daemyung fixed his eyes to the right window. He didn’t dare look to the left of him. Iseul was just sitting right there next to him. How did this happen?

“What are you looking at?”

“T-the sky.”

Daemyung’s heart was beating too fast with Iseul talking to him. He was fine during practice, so why?

“Doesn’t your neck hurt? You’ve been like that for a while now.”

“Yeah. T-the sky’s pretty, so I’m fine.”

“That’s pretty amazing.”

He couldn’t even move, with all of them crowded in the car like this.

‘Maru...’

To think that’s what he meant when he said, ‘lucky guy’. Daemyung could only sigh whenever Maru pulled pranks like this. As he continued staring outside, he heard someone next to him speak.

“We’re missing something.”

It was Danmi. Missing… Daemyung nodded. The play was successful. They didn’t make any mistakes, which was the goal. But that’s not all there was to a play, was it?

“I didn’t notice anyone laughing during my scene. I thought my scenes were pretty funny, too.”

“You were definitely funny.”

Danmi shook her head at Iseul’s words.

“The audience clearly didn’t think the same. But Daemyung managed to get a few reactions, I noticed?”

“N-no, they must’ve been laughing at how I looked.”

“Why are you being so self-conscious. You did well.”

“Maru did better...”

“Maru did better, but he’s got the advantage of being a character with short lines that talks directly with the audience. I think in that sense, you did better than him.”

Daemyung nodded for now, but he couldn’t agree. Wasn’t Maru’s role difficult because he talked with the audience? The rest of the club could just interact with each other, but Maru had to talk to the audience from within the realm that was Dalseok-dong. Daemyung believed that to be the reason that made Maru’s role difficult.

“Good work, all. There are some regrets, but it wasn’t awful like last time, was it? Come on, smile, all of you.”

Yoonjung turned around from the shotgun seat to look at them. She was always very energetic. But for some reason, it kind of felt like she was squeezing all the energy out of herself today. Daemyung smiled awkwardly at her before turning to look out again.

‘Did we… do well?’

Just eight months ago, Daemyung had no idea what a play even was. Five months ago, he was afraid to be on stage. For sure, he’s improved. So why did he feel so oddly irritated inside? It felt like his heart was filled with emotions that failed to explode outwards. If only he managed to do that on stage…

‘Why couldn’t I do that?’

Daemyung turned to look at everyone else. Yurim and Iseul looked the same as usual. As a matter of fact, they looked as if a burden was lifted from their shoulders. While Danmi, Yoonjung, and Soyeon all looked like they lost something. Why?

Daemyung thought a bit before opening his script with a surprised expression. He needed to confirm something. After he scanned the entire thing, he realized what happened.

Was it just coincidence? No, it couldn’t be.

‘All of us, the ones who feel iffy about the play, always had scenes right after Maru.’

Daemyung thought back to the stage. He could see the quiet audience. Then, a spotlight. Maru came on stage, and caught their attention. With his character’s unique charm, he managed to make them laugh. As Daemyung observed, he realized exactly what went wrong.

‘I was hurried. And I had this feeling that I could be like him, too.’

Maru was definitely good at acting. But his level of skill still seemed easily achievable. Because of that, Daemyung ended up stepping on stage with a very high level of confidence, and put in more energy than usual.

‘And all I got was a quiet audience.’

Was that why he was disappointed? All he had to do was act a little better.

‘The seniors probably feel the same.’

Right then, Danmi opened her mouth with an embarrassed expression.

“Hah, actually… I was a little intimidated when I saw Maru act. I thought I’d get compared.”

“What?”

Daemyung felt odd hearing that. Intimidated?

“You didn’t feel that way?”

“I thought I could be around that good as long as I worked hard. Didn’t you feel that way, too?”

“Not at all. People laughed at his scenes, but they didn’t laugh in mine. There’s a difference in our acting, and that intimidated me. I even thought to myself things would’ve been better if… Maru acted normally.”

“Normally?”

“What I mean is… Ah, I don’t know. It just felt really uncomfortable acting today. That’s just how I felt.”

Danmi muttered, “disgusting, aren’t I?” under her breath.

“Why are you all being like this? We did fine!”

“Yeah.”

Iseul and Yurim butted in with a confused expression.

“I understand how Danmi feels,” Soyeon said.

Everyone had different opinions. Why? Some people thought Maru’s level of acting was achievable, and others thought he was like a distant star. Why was that? The person in the driver’s seat answered that question.

“It’s because he’s right in the middle.”

Right in the middle? Daemyung could somewhat understand what Geunsoo meant by that.

* * *

Miso watched the kids move the props, before calling Geunsoo and Ganghwan towards her.

“You all think similar, right?”

Ganghwan nodded.

“Yeah, we’ll have to get rid of it, or try to bring the other side up. But right now, I think it’d be better to get rid of some of Maru’s acting.”

“Geunsoo?”

“I think so, too. That's the fastest way to balance things.”

Miso turned to look at Maru with a complicated expression.

“If you’re going to be good, why can’t you just be really good? Do you really have to be iffy like this?”

The three people sighed simultaneously.

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