Dojin’s eyes were sparkling with curiosity, whilst Daemyung looked around worriedly . That alone spoke loudly of their personalities .
“Alcohol?” Daemyung asked . Maru nodded .
“Where did you get it?”
“I took it out of the fridge . ”
“Won’t you get yelled at?”
“That’s my problem, not yours . You ever drink before, Daemyung?”
“Nope, never . ”
Maru handed the can over .
“Drink . ”
“… . . ”
“Don’t worry, it won’t kill you,” Dojin said, looking like he wanted to try it himself .
Daemyung took a small sip of the beer .
“Ugh, bitter . ”
Dojin tried a sip of it himself .
“Ugh, what’s up with that flavor?”
“No, I mean, don’t actors enjoy beer when they have it in movies? What kind of a flavor is this?”
“Just means you two are innocent . ”
Maru took a big swig of beer himself . His 45 year old self could go strong even after 4 bottles of soju . His body was just tolerant of alcohol . That didn’t change much after coming back to the past .
“You like that stuff?” Dojin frowned .
“I’m not innocent like you two . ”
“What the hell are you on?”
“You’ll see why this is tasty when you start suffering a bit more . Thinking badly about alcohol just shows how healthy of a life you two have . ”
Maru handed the beer over to Daemyung .
“Think you can talk now?”
Daemyung shook his head .
“Have some more, then . It’ll help . Makes the cold go away as well . ”
Daemyung closed his mouth and started chugging . Gulp, gulp . The beer can was emptied within seconds .
“I didn’t mean for you to just one shot that… You okay?”
“Eh? Yeah . I’m fine, I think . ”
“For now, sure . Let’s walk a bit . ”
The three of them strolled around the park for a few minutes .
“Hey, check Daemyung out,” Dojin pointed .
Daemyung’s face turned pink . Not completely red, but sort of pink .
On the other hand…
“Dojin, you’re so red,” Daemyung commented .
Dojin was red as a tomato after a single sip .
“You should probably not drink too much in gatherings, man . ”
“What? Wait, hold on . I’m red? Really? I feel fine . ”
Dojin touched his cheeks a little bit and jumped in surprise .
“Hey, I’ll just do another quick lap . Man, why am I like this?” he started walking away fanning off the heat from his cheeks .
‘Is his liver bad?’
Maru decided to refrain from offering the guy alcohol from now .
“Is he fine?” Daemyung asked .
“He’s fine . Alcohol’s just not for him . How do you feel, though?”
“Eh? I feel fine . Ah, my mouth feels a tiny bit numb, though . Like the time when I got anesthetics for getting my tooth pulled when I was young . That reminds me, I was really happy back then, right? Confident, that’s the word . I didn’t even know why other kids were so afraid of the dentists . I would tell everyone else stuff like ‘why are you so afraid of dentists? I don’t even cry when I’m there!’ Hah, and now I’ve become like this…”
Daemyung started rambling on . He didn’t seem to realize it, but the alcohol definitely had an effect on him . Maru listened to him speak for a little bit . He’s never seen Daemyung be like this before . The boy was even excitedly making hand gestures for each word .
‘They’re all stories from elementary school . ’
Daemyung probably became introverted some time in middle school .
“And then my desk partner in 3rd grade told me that I looked funny . ”
The boy’s shoulders drooped noticeably . His voice had become a lot more quiet, too . So this is it, huh .
“The day was normal . I looked fine, I think . But she told me that I looked funny . After that, everyone started saying I looked funny as well . They probably meant well . But… I couldn’t just laugh about it . Maybe because it’s true? I mean, I do look like a dumbass . ”
Daemyung smiled awkwardly . He turned to look at Maru, who just stared back without any emotion on his face .
“Keep going . ”
“I’m listening, so go on . ”
Daemyung continued after a moment of hesitation, recounting what happened afterwards, and how he started getting bullied .
“It feels really bad to be bullied . But I couldn’t do anything about it, because it was my fault to begin with . I mean, I look funny . I can’t even refute it, either! I was begging to be bullied . ”
Daemyung stopped to look at Maru, who motioned to keep going . He hesitated, though .
“Anything else you wanted to say?”
“So that’s it?”
Maru looked at Daemyung for a second . Did Daemyung sober up, or had he just become self-aware as he spoke? The boy looked a lot more nervous now .
“…Funny, isn’t it? I’m being so depressed over something that just kind of had to happen . I mean, I look like a retard . It was bound to happen . But it’s okay now . I feel fine . I have friends now . Friends who listen to me . ”
Daemyung smiled . But his shoulders were still drooped just like before . Maru looked into the boy’s eyes . He didn’t want to see a word bubble or anything . He didn’t need it . He wanted to see a reaction .
The boy looked down without being able to meet his eyes .
“Daemyung . ”
“…Sorry . ”
“I had this friend a long time ago who told me this . You might not change as a person from the people you associate with, but your friends could still drift away because of them . ”
Maru stood up over Daemyung . He straightened the boy’s shoulders .
“You should sit more comfortably . ”
Daemyung relaxed in his seat . He still looked awkward . Hands clasped together, over his knees . He looked just like a new soldier .
“Impressions of you can change depending on who you hang out with . Some people might think of you as studious, others might say you’re awkward . You haven’t changed at all . It’s just your surroundings that makes you look different . ”
“People are very opinionated . They like getting involved, whether it be in a good or a bad way . That just can’t be helped and you can’t stop them from judging you . ”
Daemyung nodded .
“You’ll just have to learn to live with it . There’s something important, though . ”
Maru raised his fingers and formed a ‘T’ shape out of them .
“This horizontal finger here represent what people think of you . ”
Maru raised his finger upward like a see-saw .
“Some of them might be good,”
This time, he moved it down .
“Others might be bad,” he continued, “unfortunately, you can’t control it . After all, you can’t control other people, right?”
“But look here, this finger in the middle . ”
Maru put his vertical finger straight in the middle of the horizontal one .
“If you keep a good balance, there’s no way people’s impressions of you can lean too much towards one place . But what do you think would happen if that balance disappeared?”
“People’s impressions of you… will change . ”
“That’s exactly it . ”
Maru put away his fingers .
“Some people know exactly what to do to always get good impressions out of people . But we can’t all be like these people, right?”
“Right . ”
“Normal people have to learn to live normally . That is, they need to find their balance . People normally have their balance set from the time they’re born . It’s very hard to shake them off of it . But there’s one thing that can very easily shake you off . ”
“…What is it?”
“You should know better than anyone . ”
“What was that? Weirdo? Lookin’ funny? I feel like there were more . ”
“Nothing in the world can hurt you more than yourself . If you’re the one messing with your own balance… It can get very dangerous very quickly . ”
Maru recalled some of the words Daemyung were called in the past . All the negative words the boy spouted before about himself . He’s always called his bullies the ‘cool kids’ whereas he was nothing more than the ‘fatty’ . Maru’s seen too many people broke themselves like this in the past . Especially his fellow bus driver who ended his own life back in the day .
“Then… what should I do?”
“Don’t know . I’m not you . You should be the one thinking about it . What were you like before you started putting yourself down? Try to become like yourself from that time again . It’ll be hard, I know . People don’t just change in a day . ”
Daemyung looked even depressed . He must be thinking about a lot of things .
* * *
Daemyung thought about a few things . Things that made him completely forget about the cold . He looked down at his hands . They were chubby . No, fat . How much did he weigh again? It felt like every day, he grew a few centimeters more sideways . That too was his fault, really .
“I was thinking as I was playing a game a few hours ago . Maybe video games are just a form of escapism for me . Since I can act more freely in a video game than in real life . ”
“Mm . ”
“Maybe I wouldn’t be so far if I used that time to play sports . I wouldn’t be such a damn pi… No, I’d be skinny like you, even . Hah…”
Daemyung scratched his head . He felt like he realized something .
“I decided . I’m gonna quit gaming and start playing sports . Maybe other people would look at me differently then? Yeah . I’ll be more confident then . ”
Right . He could become more confident . He was thankful that Maru was willing to listen to him talk . It’s been a while since he was able to be honest with himself .
He should treat Maru to something sometime .
But… Maru wasn’t looking at him so kindly, he realized .
“I told you, didn’t I? People don’t change that easily . Though… If that’s what you’ve decided for yourself, I won’t say anything about it . Ah, I guess I already did, didn’t I?”
Maru smiled awkwardly . What was wrong about his resolution?