“It’s hot,” Maru noted, staring up at the sky .
The blazing sunlight was making his shadow look longer than normal . Grayer, too . Even the shadow started to look a bit lighter from how bright the sun was . Some of the students were even coming to school in gym clothes . Since shorts weren’t allowed by the school, they just decided to come in gym clothes instead .
Maru had done the exact same as well . It was mid-July . The students were only a week away from starting their summer vacation, the weather has turned the school into a giant steaming pot .
As a matter of fact, it was so hot that even the disciplinary teacher didn’t leave the building all day . Thanks to that, the students who had their hair done were able to proudly walk into the school without any worries .
“Summer vacation can’t start soon enough . ”
After all, the best part of being a student was their vacation . Maru parked his bike and ran inside . The cold air was a huge relief .
“Phew, I feel so much better . ”
Maru sat down to look at the seat next to him . It didn’t look like Dojin came to school just yet .
“Ugh, it’s so hot . ”
Daemyung came over from his row to sit at Dojin’s seat . After the play, Daemyung had gained some of his weight back . He didn’t look very fat though . Just a little bit chubby .
“The fan on the front row isn’t working . ”
“You have a window though . ”
“The window’s only letting in hot air . It’s insane . ”
Daemyung fanned himself with his mouth half-open . There was a little picture of a computer pasted onto it . He must’ve gotten it near an electronic market or something .
“You got an extra fan?”
“No, you want to use this?”
Daemyung offered his fan, but Maru shook his head .
“You've been eating a lot of tasty stuff recently?” Maru asked .
“Hahaha, yeah, I’ve eaten a fair bit . Been craving a lot . ”
“Try to cut down a bit . You look perfect right now . ”
“Yeah, for real . If I try to lose some again for practice . . . ”
Daemyung’s face fell a little bit the moment he said the word .
He hadn’t spoken the word in a while . The door to the classroom opened with a creak . It was Dojin . Daemyung stood up from his seat with a smile .
“You barely made it . . ”
“Man, I ran like I was going for a home steal . I flipping thought I had the alarm clock set, but when I woke up, it was eight already . I barely ate breakfast and just bolted it . ”
Dojin collapsed on his seat . Daemyung fanned Dojin lightly from the side .
“Did you play games last night?” Maru asked .
“It was intense last night . Right, Daemyung?”
Daemyung nodded with an excited grin .
“We ended up catching a boss we were waiting for . It’s a popular one, so it was super hard to try to catch it . ”
“We were lucky yesterday . Dojin managed to find it first . ”
Right then, the rest of the kids in the class walked towards them . They seemed to have played the game together . Maru smiled looking at the familiar scene .
“The drops were so trash though . ”
“Ugh, and I used so many potions too . . . ”
“For real . ”
“It did drop a lot of cash though . We should try again . ”
“You should join us too, Maru,” Dojin offered .
Maru received the offer several times in the past . In his previous life, he probably would’ve played the game as much as he could from the open beta period .
He was still playing the game now, but only up to an hour or two a day . He couldn’t catch up to the other kids . In the end, his friends were way above where he was currently .
“RPGs are no good for me . Too much grinding . I’ll just play whenever I feel free . ”
“Ugh, bro, I told you that I can grind for you . ”
“Just carry me bro . ”
The kids laughed in unison . Maru looked at his two friends for a second . This scene had become their daily life again . Contrary to last month, when they were gripping their scripts with passion .
“What are you thinking, Maru?” Dojin asked, waving his hand in front of Maru’s face .
Maru blurted out what was on his mind without really thinking about it .
“How long are you guys planning on just reading your script for the club?”
His two friends fell completely silent after hearing his words . That was a mistake, Maru realized . The two still haven’t recovered after the play last month .
Daemyung was the first to break the silence .
“We’re thinking about entering the teen acting competition hosted by Gwangho University . ”
“Yeah . ”
“Is it because of Geunseok?”
“ . . . . . . ”
They became silent again . The bell for the first class rang right then . Daemyung smiled awkwardly before returning to his seat . Maru turned to look at Dojin, who smiled similarly, before taking out a piece of candy .
“Sure . ”
“Here . ”
Dojin popped a piece in his mouth himself and fell silent . Maru looked at his two friends . Their minds seemed to have come to a pause after the regionals last month .
* * *
At the play a month ago, the first thing Maru saw at the waiting room was Geunseok collapsed on the wall, with the club members looking at the boy .
“If it wasn’t for that kid, if it wasn’t for him… The judges . . . ”
Geunseok wasn’t able to raise his head . He was just repeating the same words over and over again . The club members didn’t look mad at all, they looked like they needed explanation . They didn’t understand what had happened .
Just what caused the perfect Geunseok to make such an amateur mistake?
That day, the club split apart . Miso didn’t try to assemble the club members either .
[Trying to come together on a day like this would be too cruel for that boy,] Miso had said .
The club met together the next day in the club room . The members tried to console each other saying that they would do better next time .
But the look of “how?” would still not leave their eyes . Geunseok’s mistake was just that shocking to them .
Nothing changed since then . They spent a full week consoling each other . And on the day when the results of the competition got announced, the club met again . Taesik, the teacher, was the one who announced the results . He told the club that this was a good experience for them, and that they could do better next time . But ultimately, he said the club failed to qualify .
Geunseok cried . He said in a sobbing voice that he was sorry . Daemyung was the next to burst into tears, with Yurim following the two of them . The eleven members of the club got together to console each other . Maru didn’t join in . Instead, watching from the side .
He had no place with them . They could only console each other because they worked together for the full three months . Maru didn’t have the right to cry or get angry together .
Joonghyuk was the first to recover, saying that they should practice for the other acting competitions coming up later this year . Namely, the college acting festival . It was nothing compared to the national one, but it was the one competition that started soon after the regionals .
The competition was also well-known as the ‘losers’ festival’ .
As the club members nodded at Joonghyuk, Maru noticed Geunseok saying something from the corner .
[If it wasn’t for that kid . . . ]
The boy was repeating the same words from before . It didn’t look like anyone else picked up on it . Right then, the two’s eyes met . Geunseok flinched like a surprised kid and lowered his head . Perhaps what he said just then was what he truly felt about the competition .
After that day, the club completely disappeared from the auditorium . They met on the weekends occasionally just to do some reading, but not much else . They didn’t need much practice, since they would go into the college competition with the same play from before .
There was a change, though . Miso stopped coming .
Perhaps the change should’ve been expected . She was only really here to help the club along for their regionals after all .
[I’m going into a different project this time . I wasn’t going to do it, but well, I have some time now,] Maru recalled her saying .
She tried not to show it, but Maru did detect a great amount of disappointment on her face . She loved the club more than anyone else . The loss of the club this time was probably very saddening for her as well .
Once Maru thought about this much, the door opened, and the teacher walked in . The first thing the middle-aged man said after walking in was “open your books” .
Time to focus on the class .
Maru took out his book from his desk .
* * *
It was lunchtime . Any other time, the students would have rushed towards the cafeteria, but this time everyone was walking like zombies .
It was hot as hell .
“Oh my god, it’s so hot . ”
“Seriously . . . ”
“Saying that’s only going to make it worse . Just imagine it’s cold . ”
“You sound like my dad . ”
“I mean, there’s a reason adults say these kinds of things . ”
Maru fanned with his hand as he spoke . The summer heat lowered his appetite, and the lunch menu was also unappetizing . He was craving meat quite a bit today, but… The school decided it was time for a vegetable party .
“Braised potatoes and braised lotus root . Anyone want to trade?”
“Pass . ”
“Yeah, I’m gonna pass on that too . ”
The food at this school was somewhat edible, but the braised potatoes were by far the worst . The crunchy potatoes and watery sauce made the braised dish unappetizing . In the end, the dish just tasted like a whole bunch of raw potatoes .
Daemyung pointed at Geunseok in front of him . The boy was going to the cafeteria with his friends . Behind him was Yurim and Soyeon .
“Am I imagining things? Why are the three of them so far apart?” Dojin said, narrowing his eyes .
Maru couldn’t help but think the same thing . The three of them were very good friends with each other . But the group seemed to have an awkward atmosphere today . Yurim and Soyeon still looked like they were good friends . But there was definitely something going on with Geunseok .
Dojin ran forward, coming right up between Yurim and Soyeon . What a social kid . He immediately waved his hand towards Daemyung and Maru . The two girls waved towards them as well .
“Let’s go . ”
“Sure . ”
Maru and Daemyung made their way over to the trio .
“Braised potatoes today . ”
“Soyeon, want some of my share?”
“I like eating, but it’s a hard pass on that . ”
They were talking about the potatoes here, too . Maru glanced over at Geunseok in front of him . The boy looked back after joking around a bit with his friends . Their eyes met . Maru raised his hand in a greeting, and the boy awkwardly did the same .
Geunseok’s definitely changed . Outside of the club, he smiled a lot, and became casual . It wasn’t like he started talking a lot more, but he was definitely more social than he was in the auditorium . But look at him now . He looked like a kid who did something wrong, not knowing what to do next .
Maru turned to look at Yurim and Soyeon . The two also had awkward smiles on their faces . There was definitely a barrier between the three of them . A pretty big one, too .
“Did you guys have a fight?” Maru asked .
He knew that he probably shouldn’t be asking something so personal, but he felt something strange was going on between the group .
The two girls shook their heads vigorously in response . Yurim, in particular, shook hard enough to make her hair flutter wildly .
“Nothing’s happening, nothing . ”
Yurim clenched her phone incredibly tightly as she spoke . There was no way she would look convincing doing so . It would be rude of him to pry further though, so he decided to continue walking into the cafeteria silently .
“There’s something going on, isn’t there?” Dojin whispered .
“Let’s stay quiet for now . They’ll handle it among themselves . ”
“Mm . ”
Maru looked at Geunseok in front of him . The smiling boy didn’t look as comfortable as he made himself to be .