Life, Once Again! - Chapter 112
A bright neon light was flickering through a hole in an old sign for a jewelry shop that had one of its letters missing . Right next to the sign was the ever-familiar spinning pole of a barber shop . Maru really was standing next to a series of very old buildings . Based on how they looked very unnatural next to the other apartments, these buildings would probably get cleared out for renovation in the near future .
“Hah . ”
Maru gathered his hands and blew a puff of air into it . He was being way too irresponsible . Calling a girl out at 11pm at night… That didn’t look good, no matter how he thought about it .
“But . . . ”
He couldn’t help it today . He knew she wouldn’t be happy, but he had to do it . He needed to hear from her . And he wanted to convey this feeling he had to her as well . It was starting to snow a little harder now, the snow was starting to stack on the floor below him .
‘First snow, huh . ’
He’d seen news a while ago about the first snow, but to him, this was what first snow was . He tried catching a piece of snow, just like he did when he was a child, and the snow maintained its shape for a second before melting in his hand . He watched the snow melt for a second before trying to catch some more . Right then .
“Are you a kid or something, getting excited over snow like that?”
She was standing next to him already, holding a scarf in her hand . She wore pink pajama pants with a blue padded jacket over her, and Maru’s eyes drifted over to her feet . The ankles that were exposed to the open air seemed pretty cold . Maru grabbed her hand .
“W-what the . ”
“It’s cold . Let’s go somewhere first . ”
“You said you wanted to say something though . ”
She started slowly moving along with him, and the two of them went into a nearby fast food store . It was a 24 hour restaurant, which probably explained why there were so many people there .
“You want anything to eat?”
“You’re gonna get fat if you eat at night . ”
“What about hot chocolate? Drinks are fine, right?”
“They’re basically the same thing . . . ”
She didn’t say no, though, so Maru ordered it . A bulgogi burger, a nugget set, and a hot chocolate . He had a piece of bread as he talked with Daemyung, but that had turned out to be way too little . Just as he finished ordering and decided to turn around, he felt someone poke at his back . She was looking at the menu with a slightly bitter look .
“That . ”
She was pointing at the burger the franchise released a while ago . Maru ordered the burger for her with a smile .
“It’s okay, as long as you eat before midnight, it might as well be zero calories . ”
“Who says that kind of stuff?”
“Mm… someone I know really well . ”
She used to say this almost every time she had a night snack . After they got married, she even went so far as to say that it was fine to eat as long as she ate before 1am .
“Well, that’s very irresponsible,” she said, trembling a little bit from the cold .
Maru had to wonder what kind of a face she would make if she realized she was the one who used to say that line .
“Go up first, I’ll bring the food later . ”
He sent her upstairs first, waiting for the food before going up himself . There were a bunch of college students upstairs . They were probably taking a break after studying all day . Some of them still had their textbooks open .
“Over here . ”
“It’s your fault if I get fat . ”
“Don’t worry, I’ll exercise with you . ”
She was sniffling a little bit, so Maru took off his jacket to cover up her legs .
“It’s cold, you should’ve worn thicker clothes . ”
“I didn’t have time because someone decided to call me out right away . That person has no manners, seriously . ”
“Yeah, sounds like an asshole . ”
“Oh, so you know?”
“That’s why I’m thankful that you came out . ”
She took a sip of the hot chocolate with a frown, as the college students behind them began leaving together . A minute or two later after they left, an employee came up to clean up after their mess with a sigh .
“So, what did you want to say?”
She took her lips off of the cup as she asked . Even now, Maru was just messing with the burger in his hands .
“If you don’t have anything to say, I’m leaving . ”
For a person saying that, she looked like she’d really settled in . Maru rested his chin on his hands and looked at her .
“Why did you start acting?”
“ . . . Did you call me out on a cold winter night just to ask this question?”
When Maru simply shrugged, she pouted angrily as she looked at him . Maru looked back without saying anything, and their eyes met . To Maru, she almost seemed like the only person colored in in this gray world around him . The second floor had been very loud the entire time, but he couldn’t hear anything anymore . He probably wouldn’t be able to hear anything until she decided to speak .
She didn’t talk, though that pout of hers started disappearing after a few seconds . Her frown had disappeared as well . Now, she was looking at him quietly . Again, a word bubble popped up above his head . Again, Maru decided not to read it . He simply waited until she decided to open her mouth .
“ . . . I’m gonna say this now, but don’t do this ever again . I’m not going to come out the next time you do this . ”
“I promise . ”
“Hah . I don’t know what’s going on, but I get you’re not just playing around . What happened?”
“It’s just . . . ”
“ . . . Will my answer help?”
“Maybe . ”
She squinted a little bit before looking outside . Maru followed her gaze outside as well . It was snowing outside . Snowing so much that it almost looked like a massive white curtain was being draped over the earth .
“I made up my mind when I first went to a theater with my dad . I wanted to stand on stage . ”
Her eyes seemed to be searching the skies as she put the word “dad” in her mouth . Maru knew, of course . He’d never met her father even in his previous life, her father passed away when she was in her first year of middle school . Even in his fading memories, this he remembered clearly . The day when he proposed to her, she had cried and told him there was somewhere she needed to go .
That place was the mountain where her dad was buried . That was the first time Maru managed to meet her father .
[Dad, this is him . He said he would make me happy . He’s said it with such stubbornness in his voice… It’s him . ]
Maru looked at her hands . They were trembling ever so lightly as they rested on the table . He couldn’t just leave them to keep trembling like that, so he put his hands lightly over hers . She looked at him with surprise in her eyes, but Maru didn’t retract his hands, and the trembling stopped .
“My dad… worked at a publisher . He wanted to be an author, but he gave up after a few slips . He still liked literature though, which is why he went to a publisher . That’s where he met my mom . ”
She was speaking almost as if she was recalling something she had read a long time ago . Maru nodded along, silently .
“Both of them were really into art . In fact, I used to go to art exhibits more often than anything else when I was young . It was boring, obviously . I couldn’t say anything, I couldn’t run, and I couldn’t brag about it to my friends . ”
She smiled lightly, seemingly remembering that exact moment in her life .
“When I told my dad I was bored, he said we might as well go somewhere else . ”
“That must have been the theater . ”
“Yeah, I still remember it . The lady who was giving out tickets, the small path into the theater, the seats that were stuck very closely together . The purple lights above, and the actual play itself . My dad really was something else . He took me to small theaters, big theaters, you name it . After a certain point, plays ended up becoming my dream . I started wanting to be on stage myself and speak to the audience, so I joined a children’s theater when I was in middle school . We practiced a lot together, despite the fact that there wasn’t a proper teacher . ”
“Was it fun?”
“Very . I still talk with those kids . The ones who found an acting club at their schools all joined, as well . ”
She kept talking with a bit of sadness left on her face .
“There’s no amazing reason why I took up acting; it just kind of happened . But I’m grateful that it did . Grateful that my dad introduced me to acting . ”
“Acting… must be precious to you . ”
She closed her mouth for a second, before replying ‘it has to be’ very quietly . Her face seemed like it could explode into tears at any moment .
“It’s one of the few memories I have left with my dad . Of course… It’s very precious to me now . ”
She squinted to prevent her tears from falling . Be it now or in the future, the fact that she cried whenever she talked about her dad didn’t seem to have changed . Maru couldn’t just keep watching her crying, so he raised his hand to wipe away a single tear running down her face . She watched him dumbly for a second, another tear running down her face .
“Sorry for asking you a question like that . ”
“ . . . . . . ”
They didn’t talk for a moment, and Maru took the time to organize his thoughts while she calmed herself down . Before he came here, there were a lot of things he wanted to say in his mind, the number only increasing after they met . But right now, there was only one thing he wanted to say .
He knew saying it would make him seem incredibly rude and ridiculous; however, Maru was unable to think of anything else he could say . After all, this was the one thing that was the most perfect thing he could say in this moment .
“This is why guys carry a handkerchief around . Too bad I don’t have one . ”
“Take one around with you next time . ”
She smiled again . After that, they continued eating their food making some small talk . At some point, the burgers had cooled, and the nuggets were cold, but the meal was still delicious . Maru smiled as he watched her finish her burger and begin eying some of his nuggets and fries .
“So why did you start acting?”
She was asking a question with ketchup stuck next to her mouth . Maru pointed at it to draw her attention to it, but she didn’t understand . In the end, Maru took out a tissue to wipe her mouth with it himself .
“ . . . I’m not a kid . ”
“I know . ”
Maru gathered the trash onto the tray in front of them as he spoke .
“I didn’t start acting naturally like you did . I started with something very specific in mind . ”
“Specific? Are you planning on becoming an actor, too?”
“Not really . ”
“I just decided to use it as a stepping stone . A meaningless stepping stone . I could’ve used anything other than acting to use as a stepping stone, but I picked acting because it seemed appropriate . ”
“What do you mean? I don’t get it . ”
“Obviously . That’s because I don’t get what I’m saying either . ”
To explain this, they would have to talk about his memories and his past life . But he would get sent to a mental asylum the moment he said he’s her future husband . That’s why he could only pass it off like this .
“Hold on . I don’t get it, but you don’t really care about acting, is that it?”
“Kind of . ”
“Then why are you acting?”
“Because I need it . ”
“Why do you need it?”
“Because a person very important to me is doing it . ”
He was both the high schooler Maru and the middle-aged Maru . Maru’s memories were that of his high school self, but his personality was closer to his middle-aged self . When Maru paid careful attention, he realized at some point that his self was split into two . He probably didn’t notice because he hadn’t paid too much attention to it . Then again, how many people would be suspicious of themselves in this life to begin with?
‘If it wasn’t for Daemyung, I wouldn’t even have thought about it . ’
In the beginning of the school year, he’d thought about how to achieve his dream . But at some point, he’d given up on his dream altogether . He’d decided that he would need to find a way to survive the coming future . But in his heart, his young self was still screaming . His young self wanted to help others and act mature to look good in front of others . His young self who wanted to chase a dream was still there . On the other hand, his adult self was there as well . His self that seeked safety more than anything .
Perhaps acting was a result of his younger self conflicting with his older self . On the surface, he thought of acting as just a method of being able to meet her . But inside, Han Maru was excited about being on the stage . Daemyung had told him before that he was like a Han Maru that acted the role of Han Maru . A middle-aged man who was in a shell that was his high school self . But after a certain point, that shell that was himself was starting to disappear . Han Maru was starting to become Han Maru .
Maybe all this time, Maru was afraid of how he was starting to like acting . Because on the inside, he just wanted to keep his family safe . But recently, that mindset was starting to break . He was caring more about acting . He started because of money, but now he’s realized what it felt like to be on stage . He realized that his desire to be on stage was only growing even more over time .
What started off as a simple stepping stone to his goal was starting to grow into something even more . It was a dangerous sign . He’d realized that the stories of the ghosts of Hyehwa station didn’t even sound bad to him . Was this okay? Maybe he should give up acting right now and do something else altogether . That would be better for her, wouldn’t it?
He was scared .
Daemyung’s words cut into his heart deeply . She was starting to become a stranger, someone who didn’t matter in his life at all . That scared him a lot . He didn’t even think about it because he was scared . Because it was easier to simply think that she would be his no matter what happened . He needed to face reality now, though . Maybe it was too early . He didn’t even know what kind of a change this would bring . But he needed to say it now . He needed to bring about a change in his life .
“I like you . I really… like you . ”
Among all the words in the dictionary, that was the only thing he could use to convey his feelings .