Chapter 88

It was November.

The closer the day got to the 13th, the quieter the rest of the school became. It was even forbidden to talk on the fourth floor where the third years were. For years now, the principal and the faculty worked as much as possible to change the image of the school from a school for delinquents to a school for scholars. At this point, the fact that those who stayed after school to study had the benefit of air conditioning. This right would soon get passed down onto the second years and the first years as well.

“At this rate, our school major would change from engineering to humanities,” Dojin said, rolling the candy on his tongue.

He could see a few kids gripping onto the textbook despite it being break time. They were students who came here trying to get into engineering colleges in the future. Despite having good enough grades to go to a decent school in Suwon, these kids came here instead. So that they could become the head of a snake instead of the tail of a dragon.

“You bastard, why don’t you play around a bit during break time? You study too much.”

Changhu was going around picking fights with all the studious kids. They just promptly ignored him, though. Almost as if they didn’t care about the abuse they received from him. After all, the only reason why they were at this school was to go to a better one. Changhu probably knew that messing with them would be no fun as well.

“Go to Seoul university, why don’t you.”

Changhu scanned the room for other targets with a mocking smile.

“Changhu! Let’s go!”

“Yeah.”

Changhu left once the kids from other classes called him.

“That bastard, he’s always like this.”

“Don’t worry about him, picking a fight with a dog is just a waste of your time.”

“I’m fine, since he doesn’t really talk to me nowadays, but I still feel nervous. Especially with what he said...”

“The fire at the auditorium?”

“Yeah.”

Maru turned his head to look at Changhu outside. He stopped picking a fight with them recently, probably because he found more friends. Especially since Dojin became a lot composed lately as well. This was a good sign, Maru wasn’t a fan of having to deal with delinquents himself.

‘A fight between kids is definitely scary, after all.’

Adults had a lot of things to consider. They would consider their losses first before fighting, but kids were different. The smarter ones also knew that they wouldn’t be severely punished for committing felonies as well. Even if they put a kid in a wheelchair, they would probably just have to spend some time doing volunteer work. Changhu knew that very well himself, which was what made him very hard to deal with.

“If he gets in my way again...”

Dojin cracked his fingers with a frown.

“Stop it. I thought you graduated from that stuff already?”

“That’s true, but...”

“Just focus on work. Don’t bother wasting your energy on other things.”

“I know, I know.”

“Good. Ah, right. Did you see that message by the way?”

“About how the prelims got pushed to December?”

Maru nodded. The competition that originally had its prelims in November and the main competition in December got pushed back by a month. Something about the location, according to Miso?

“More practice for two months, huh. Not like there’s anything more we can do.”

The club was repeating runs of their play after that one festival, enough to start acting in their dreams. Dojin muttered a few words of annoyance under his breath before turning to look at Daemyung. Maru recently noticed that the boy’s eyes towards Daemyung had changed quite a bit.

“Did you two fight?”

“What? No way. Me? Fight who now?” Dojin asked with a smile.

“With Daemyung. You guys aren’t talking much nowadays, right?”

“Ah, right.”

Dojin may have dismissed it, but his expression clearly said something different. Did something bad happen? Dojin avoided Maru’s gaze for a while, before finally giving in.

“I’ll buy you some hot chocolate. Can we step outside?”

* * *

Right outside the school where the school store was, was a little vending machine. One that sold little cups of hot chocolate and iced tea. To the students, this place was a sort of a pit stop. According to the rumors, the person who maintains this vending machine was rich enough to own land in Gangnam.

“Maybe I should try putting a vending machine in a school as well,” Dojin let out.

“What are you talking about, all of a sudden?” Maru said, taking a sip of his drink.

“It’s nothing.”

“You’ve been using that phrase a lot recently, now that I think about it. Here I thought the person called Han Dojin was someone with a very vocal mind.”

“Was I?”

Dojin looked down at his drink. his face reflected through the brownish liquid. Whenever he looked at himself through a mirror, he used to think he was pretty well off. Nowadays, though, he looked very ugly through the hot chocolate.

It was lunchtime. Despite winter being so close, the field was still filled with students playing soccer. Dojin looked at the soccer ball flying across for a second before opening his mouth.

“I’m jealous of Daemyung.”

He immediately regretted speaking, but it was already too late. Dojin shrugged and sipped on his drink. It felt bitter.

“Did something happen?”

Strangely enough, Dojin felt it would be alright to talk to Maru about this. It felt like the other boy would say something helpful for him.

“It looks like… Daemyung signed a contract with some sort of company. His college is going to be paid for, and he’s going to have a job afterward as well.”

Right when he said this, he noticed Maru looking away for a second. What was that about? Maru opened his mouth after a few seconds.

“So, you’re jealous of that? The scholarship?”

“No, not that. Just, um, you know. He was a little iffy-looking when we first met him.”

“He had all the characteristics of a victim of bullying. He was one, too.”

“Hey! He’s a friend, you know!”

Maru grinned at Dojin’s angry words.

“At least you think of him as a friend, then. Thank goodness, it’s not as bad as I thought.”

...Hearing that made Dojin a bit mad. Come to think of it, the other boy always seemed to know what the people around him were thinking.

Maru felt like a friend who wasn’t a friend, someone more akin to an older brother than anything.

“Who said he wasn’t a friend? It’s just… I felt so annoyed at myself. My middle school life was a mess, so I decided to come here to change things, but here I am. Nothing happened for the first year of high school. I didn’t study, I didn’t do anything special, nor did I win any awards. It’s not like I’m good at something, either.”

“And suddenly seeing Daemyung, who you looked down on, suddenly doing well made you jealous?”

“Hey, that’s a very mean way to put it. It’s not like that. I’m just disappointed in myself.”

“Be honest here. If you want to fix a problem, you need to know what the problem is beforehand. There’s a bunch of people in this world who live better lives than you, but that didn’t seem to bother you until recently. You suddenly got angry at yourself after hearing that Daemyung was doing well?”

“Yeah! Fine! I’m jealous! I hate him! Is that enough?”

He shouldn’t have asked Maru for help. He expected to hear some words he didn’t want to hear, but not to this degree…

‘...No, maybe I wanted Maru to say something like this to me.’

He was jealous of Daemyung. He was annoyed, too. Even someone like Daemyung managed to find a life for himself, and what was he doing?

Dojin’s true feelings revealed itself for a split second, making Dojin frown bitterly.

“If you knew what I was just thinking about, you’d think I’m complete trash. Good god.”

“Something about someone like Daemyung doing well, but you can’t?”

Dojin looked at Maru dumbly.

“H-how did you know?”

“They say people only manage to communicate about 30% of information through words. The rest is carried through expressions, gestures, and the context of the entire conversation.”

“Hah. Could you not tell Daemyung about this? I’m totally trash, aren’t I? My friend is doing well, and yet all I can think is… ugh.”

“You always feel worse when you hear someone close to you is doing well. The feeling of jealousy is worse depending on how well you know the person.”

“Don’t you feel anything about this? After hearing about Daemyung’s opportunity?”

Dojin was curious about what Maru thought. Was he really the only one who thought like this? Right then, Maru looked away with an awkward cough. For the second time. Dojin realized then that information really was conveyed mostly through expressions and gestures.

“...You too?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“You! When?”

“Mine’s actually supposed to be a secret. Ah, Geunseok probably got a similar contract to Daemyung, though.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“No way.”

Dojin suddenly felt very annoyed. What was he talking to Maru about this for?

“Don’t try to hurry,” Maru said.

He continued after crushing the empty cup in his hand.

“Life doesn’t always work the way you want it to. You can prepare all you want for something, but half the time, it doesn’t go the way you want it to.”

“That doesn’t help me at all, you know? Ugh, I feel like I’ve been betrayed. So I was just getting left out here?”

Maru laughed a little, which only managed to provoke Dojin more.

“You guys can only say that because there’s someone watching out for you. I’m… I just get annoyed. I’m working just as hard as you, but… This just feels like wasted time.”

“I guess it’s fair to see it that way..”

“Ugh, aren’t you supposed to say something encouraging here?”

“If people could change just through words, I’d use all of those words on you right now, but people don’t change that easily. Plus, you don’t need any advice or encouragement. You didn’t do anything wrong, nor is there anything wrong about the way you think. Daemyung and I were lucky, so we got chosen. Who knows when this luck would leave us?”

“But you guys ended up getting something anyway.”

And he was the only one left where he originally started. While his two friends were advancing on and on.

“What do you want me to tell you?”

“......”

Hearing that left Dojin a little lost for words. He was just annoyed. He knew he didn’t have the right to complain because he never prepared for anything or ever had any goals. Yet, he felt like he was betrayed somehow. He thought his two friends would be by his side forever, and yet…

“It’s normal to feel jealous, but try not to hang onto that feeling for too long. Don’t try to lie to yourself either. Don’t try to ignore Daemyung. Stuff like that is what ruins relationships. So just do what you’re good at doing: being honest. Go to Daemyung and talk to him about it. He’s probably a little worried as well.”

“Hah, but that makes me look like the pathetic one.”

“You were, though.”

“You...”

“But… thanks.”

Thanks? Dojin looked at Maru oddly.

“Thanks for telling me your thoughts. I know that’s a very difficult thing to do.”

Maru turned around after patting Dojin’s shoulder.

“Plus, I think it’s good that you’re worried about this at your age. But don’t try to look too far ahead into the future. You’re just a high schooler, and life isn’t so easy that it will always follow your plans. If you’re willing to make plans for yourself, you have to be ready to see those plans get broken.”

“You say that, but you’re doing a lot of things already, aren’t you?”

“Me?”

Maru turned around with a slight grin.

“Well, I’m doing this because I know a bunch of things. So I’m trying it all.”

Know a bunch of things? Dojin thought about those words for a second before frowning.

“Ah, whatever. I’m just going to say I’m jealous that you guys are doing well. So what if I feel pathetic? I should talk to Daemyung about this as well.”

“There’s the Dojin I know.”

“But if you guys do well, I’m going to leech off of you two hard. You better be prepared.”

“Any time. I’m willing to feed a friend whenever I can.”

Something told Dojin that Maru was being honest. Perhaps Maru would really lend him a room if he really needed it.

“Come. It’s practice time already.”

Maru gestured towards the stairs.

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