Life, Once Again! - Chapter 734
“Don’t get nervous. If you get stuck, apparently, it’s better to move on to the next question and come back to it later. Don’t mismark the answers when you finish the questions. Don’t leave the marking until the end of each exam and remember to do it from time to time.”
“Seonbae, you look more serious than we do.”
The colleagues of the acting club giggled in front of the school gates. It was 7:50. It was about time to go inside.
Gaeul grabbed the hands of the graduates that came to cheer her on. It wasn’t just the seniors that graduated last year. Those that graduated two years ago could be seen in front of the school gates as well.
“Good luck with your exams. I’m sure you’ll do well.”
Gaeul nodded as she listened to last year’s club president’s words. Although the weather was cold, her palms were sweaty. This exam would change her whole future. She hoped and prayed that the friends that she had spent the last three years with do well on the tests.
“Seonbae-nim, we’ll go in now.”
“CSATs are nothing, so don’t be too nervous. Honestly speaking, it’s easier than doing a play. If you take the test with that mindset, I’m sure you’ll get the grades you want.”
Leaving behind the encouragement of the seniors, she walked inside. Even though she only took a single step inwards, it felt like the air had changed. The stifling and heavy air filled the school campus.
“I’m going to go drinking right after this.”
One of her friends, who had brought beer to the school field trip, fired herself up saying that she was going to go to a bar right after the tests. The joke that came just as she was about to feel nervous relaxed her tension.
“Yeah, let’s try going, whether we get caught or not.”
“Since we’re going, we should be celebrating.”
Gaeul calmed down her breathing and walked down the corridor. She was assigned to a different classroom from her friends. Before she entered class 3, she had a hug with the friends that went to class 2. Good luck; you too – they each wished other luck, then she entered the classroom and sat down. The cold sensation of the wooden chair pierced through her body. Her mind cleared up in an instant and it finally felt real that she was taking the CSATs.
She calmed her breathing and took out her revision notes. The department of theater at Chung-a university, which she was aiming for, decided their entrants by basing 50% on the CSATs and 50% on a practical exam in the A sector. No matter how high her practical exam results were, she would not be able to pass if her CSAT results were bad. Considering that the department of theater did not accept any pre-enroll students, it was likely that the CSAT results would decide everything. She practiced acting at the agency while studying Korean, social studies, and English during her free time. As for math, she planned to just answer the questions she could and forget about answering the difficult ones.
The scores of the students that enrolled last year were: 98 points for Korean, 67 for math, 60 for social studies, and 73 for English. During her mock exams, she got higher than the criteria scores for last year. As long as she did just as well as that, she wouldn’t have a problem with the CSATs.
It was 8:10. The entry time for the examinees was up. Students wearing earbuds started studying with their revision notes. There were 30 minutes until the start. Feeling the tension in the air through her skin, she started studying when her phone started vibrating. She had forgotten to turn it to silent. Gaeul quickly opened her phone.
-I know you told me not to contact you, but forgive me since today’s an important day. Good luck. I’m sure you’ll get in.
She stared at the screen for a whole minute in a daze. She could practically hear Maru’s voice. She had to look at her revision notes beneath the phone, but she couldn’t move her eyes away. She hesitated a little before putting her fingers on the keypad.
-Is that what’s important right now? You can send a text any time. But to take that test that will happen in 30 minutes, you’ll have to wait 1 whole year. You never know what will happen to you in that year.
The rabbit had spoken. Gaeul settled her mind. She was about to turn it on silent, but she instead turned it completely off.
Maru had given up on going to college. Although he was the one who said that they should enroll at Chung-a university together, the situation had changed. He started walking down the path of an actor properly. The field was calling him, so college was nothing. Gaeul was surprised at Maru’s unstoppable progress. Even without a college background, he would definitely be able to succeed as an actor.
She was still far from being a match for him. Gaeul looked at herself. She did not have the courage to give up on college. Although she managed to smoothly sign a contract with an agency, she had no work yet. It was natural. It was a reckless decision to use an actual high school girl to play a high school girl in a field where people in their mid-twenties or even their early thirties, played such roles.
Gaeul also tried to give up on enrolling in a college and tried to take various auditions, but she changed her mind after hearing Gyeonmi’s advice. The connections tied to the major college theater departments couldn’t be looked down upon. As she wasn’t confident in her skills, Gaeul decided to look at the future.
She also dreamed of going to the same college as Maru, becoming a campus couple, and enjoying college life while taking the same lectures as him, but that was already out of reach. Maru had skipped college and stepped into society. Although Maru was always ahead of her, he felt even more distant now.
-That’s why you need to work even harder. How long are you going to keep feeling unconfident? You must pass the tests, hone your skills, and become acknowledged by those around you. You can meet Maru at that time. You didn’t cut contact with Maru with a half-assed mindset, did you? You have to do it when you have to. If you adhere to a strong resolve, there is bound to be a reward for it.
The rabbit was entirely right. Gaeul decided to forget about immediate happiness for the distant future. If she met Maru and spent time with him right now, she might feel happy, but she would definitely regret it if she watched as the gap between them widened. She did not want to feel the regret of not having been able to try harder.
Yes, this was for both of their sakes. Gaeul pushed her phone deep into the depths of the desk drawer.
* * *
“Seonbae, we’ll be off now. You’re coming to school tomorrow, right?”
“Then see you tomorrow. Bada, you too!”
Aram and Bangjoo got on the bus. Maru took Bada, who was whining about the cold, to the bus stop that was across the road.
“DNA is amazing. Soojin-unni and Dowook-oppa are both pretty and handsome.”
“That’s a pity. The Han family is kinda far off from beauty.”
“Of course not. It’s fine because I take after mom. It’s just you who has a scary look.”
“Father will feel disappointed to hear that.”
The bus arrived. The empty bus once again made him realize that today was the day of the CSATs.
“Did you two fight?”
He heard that voice behind him. Maru turned his head around. Bada was talking to him while looking outside the window.
“I said, did you two fight?”
Maru did not answer. He immediately realized what she was talking about, but he did not know what to tell her. Did they fight? Or were they fine? Maru was unable to find out the truth behind this small farewell.
“Did you do something wrong?”
“Then did unni make a mistake?”
“Then what is it? Isn’t Gaeul-unni taking her CSATs today?”
“She is. She’s probably staring at the test papers real intensely right now.”
Maru opened his phone again. It was 9:30, yet he hadn’t gotten a text yet. Did she not read it? Or could she not read it? While he was wondering about the possibility of ‘could’ vs ‘did’, he folded his phone and his thoughts completely stopped.
“Should we order Jjajang-myeon for lunch?”
“Why are you talking about something else? What’s really going on? Is it serious?”
“I’m not sure.”
“You aren’t acting like yourself. What’s up with you? You don’t know the reason, and you sound like you don’t want to know about it either.”
Maru faintly smiled. He knew the reason, and he going crazy because he was dying to find out, but he wasn’t in a situation where he could approach the matter so carelessly. His life, which had repeated for perhaps dozens, and maybe even hundreds of times, had always gone past the point of ‘marriage with Gaeul’. The result always ended in destruction. In order to several that ring of life that ended and began anew every time he died, he had to do something about this situation that even the masked man had no clue about.
Since this was the turning point of his life – well, several lives – he could not act carelessly. When he thought about how meeting Gaeul and asking her why she put some distance between them might trigger his life to return ‘back on track’, he couldn’t decide so easily even if he wanted to ask her everything.
Perhaps this was the first time they walked their own separate paths in their numerous lifetimes. If they kept walking down the path set in front of them, he would have enrolled in Chung-a university and their relationship would deepen until their eventual marriage. He might have arrived at a crossroads because he chose a different option during the process of losing and regaining his memories or while his personality underwent a change.
To sum up the current situation with the help of Occam’s razor, the conclusion was that he wanted two things: One was to end these goddamned reincarnations, and the other was to get connected to Gaeul.
He also thought about giving up on Gaeul. There was a huge urge within him since there might be a different ending awaiting him if he turned his heart away from her now that she was putting some distance from him. However, it was impossible to give up. Despite the fact that he realized that he was trapped in this endless, horrific cycle, his heart deeply longed for her. Whether it was due to the feeling of love that stemmed from one lifetime’s love or deep emotions that resulted from an endless number of lives, he did not know, but he felt like he wouldn’t be able to stop the human Han Maru from being attracted to her as long as he was alive.
If she truly told him that she did not like him, he might be able to give up at that time. A corner of his heart wanted such an end.
“Anyway, don’t break up half-assedly and resolve it properly. I like Gaeul-unni quite a lot.”
“Don’t just answer me. Well, I’m sure you’ll take care of it on your own.”
Maru looked outside as he uttered a slow breath. The pale streets looked especially chilly today.
* * *
“How was it?”
“I think I did Korean well. How about you guys?”
“I found it hard.”
Gaeul briefly talked to her friends before preparing for the next test. She had a good feeling about Korean, the first subject. She did not get stuck reading any of the text, and she solved the questions with confidence. She didn’t get stuck on any of the questions, so she could probably look forward to a good score.
She felt nervous because she was studying alongside her acting practice, but Gaeul was confident that she could make it. She was revising using her notes when she remembered the phone that she handed in before the start of the test. Phones and other electronic devices were collected for the purpose of preventing cheating.
Would he perhaps feel sad that she didn’t reply? Gaeul wrote down the name ‘Han Maru’ in the corner of her notes. She felt really apologetic since it was her who told him that she wanted to have some distance, and now, she didn’t even reply to his encouraging text. It was likely that Maru felt disappointed.
-There you go, getting distracted again. I told you this is not the time for that. You can meet a man anytime you want. But right now, you’re at the crossroad of your life. Romantic relationships are good and all, but are they more important than your life? Are you going to marry Maru? You’re not, are you? There’s no guarantee that he will protect you for life. Of course, he might have told you that he wanted to get married to you, but do you think he thought that for real? You should remember that Maru loved to joke around with you.
The rabbit always popped out whenever she thought about Maru.
“Recently, I feel like you don’t like Maru that much.”
The rabbit didn’t say anything. Gaeul waited for the rabbit to speak before shaking her head. Just as the rabbit said, this wasn’t the time to be doing this. She had to revise for one more minute to increase her math scores. Although she had half-given up, it would be great if she got one extra point.
-He’s not the only man in this world. It’s just you who feels like he’s special because it’s your first romantic relationship. With more experience, you should be able to find out that there are many more men who are better than him out there.
“What do you know? Who are you really? I get that you’re giving me all this advice for my sake, but why are you really doing this?”
-I’m not important. What’s important is you right now. You live your life. Don’t do things that you might regret later.
“Yeah, I shouldn’t.”
Gaeul gripped her pen. Time was ticking. It would be no use to regret later. People only lived once after all.
-Yes, now, there is only one life.
The rabbit quietly spoke.
 College applications are divided into two major methods. One is the ‘official enroll’ (정시 Jeong-si), and the other is the ‘pre-enroll’ (수시 Soo-si), those who have gained an entrance in the pre-enroll are not eligible to apply for the official enroll (people who have passed are also those that flunk their tests on purpose). The official enroll is further divided into three ‘sectors’, A, B and C. An applicant can apply for two universities in each sector. The criteria that these universities put out on each sector might be different. The general rule of thumb is to be ‘conservative’ on the A and B sectors, and ‘just go for it’ in the C sector (the C sector tends to have a big reserve list)
 CSAT is largely divided into five subjects: Korean (this includes literature, non-literature and grammar), Mathematics, English (these are worth 100 points each), and two ‘research’ subjects, worth 50 points each, for a combined total of 400 points. The two ‘research’ subjects are social/humanities subjects if your high school major is humanities, and science subjects if your high school major is sciences, and job knowledge subject if you’re someone like Maru and is from an employment-focused high school. From 2017 onwards though, Korean history became mandatory for both majors, bringing the total to 450 points. After the five (six from 2017) major subjects, they could then choose to take extra subjects for their specific enrollment requirements like a 2nd foreign language/hanja.
 Combined scores for both social/humanities subjects.