Life, Once Again! - Chapter 774
Gaeul touched the part of her face that touched her phone. She felt as though she felt his breath. Maru’s voice hadn’t changed at all. It neither became higher nor lower. The only thing she could feel in the word ‘come’ was a sense of welcome. She thought about what sense of welcome that was; as a friend? Or as a former lover?
She dried her hair with the hairdryer and chucked the towel into the laundry basket. A bottle of facial essence caught her eyes, but she lacked time. She sat in front of the makeup desk and moved around busily. She had to admit it. She was in a hurry right now.
She put on her clothes and got in her car. She started driving towards the place that Heewon told her about. She felt like she had ignored some traffic lights on her way there, but she couldn’t remember clearly. Only when she parked in front of the restaurant did she realize that she had been speeding. Before she got off, she saw the reflection of her lips through the rearview mirror. It looked paler than usual. She hurriedly took out some lipstick and applied it to her lips. This time, it looked too thick. She sighed and got out of the car. She realized that nothing she did would satisfy her.
She could feel her heartbeat from her soles as she stepped on the stairs. She felt as though her entire body had become one giant heart. She felt a little dizzy as the blood vessels throughout her body sent all the blood to her head. She even became worried that she might look a little too red right now.
She opened the door and went inside. The restaurant was pretty quiet. Recalling that they were in a room towards the inside, she started moving. Some of the customers who were drinking seemed to have noticed who she was, but they didn’t follow her. She lowered her head a little and entered the corridor where there were doors placed throughout. After checking through the small window on the door, she found Heewon and Haewon. She looked over to the other side. She saw Maru, with a cup in hand.
“You called for me and didn’t even come out to get me?” she said as she went inside.
She felt more nervous than when she first started playing the role of a lead character in a drama. She tried her best not to look nervous. She curled up her toes and sat next to Maru.
“It’s been a long time,” Maru said.
“True, it has,” she replied as she looked into his eyes.
She was nervous to the point that her neck became tense when she made eye contact with him, but she soon felt okay. The ballooning sense of nervousness that she had when she arrived at the restaurant had popped and disappeared all at once.
“How have you been doing?” Gaeul asked.
Maru crossed his arms as though in deep thought before slowly replying ‘so-so’.
“Sorry for calling you out so suddenly, Gaeul-noona.”
There was a different perpetrator, but it was Haewon who apologized instead.
“I was just about to eat, so it’s fine. It’s boring to eat by myself. Did you order everything?”
“We only ate a little so that we could eat with you when you come. Oh, here’s the menu. You can order what you want. Today, it’s on my brother.”
“Looking at the menu, I see that all the expensive stuff has been ordered already.”
Gaeul looked at the food on the table. They were all the expensive foods at the bottom of the menu.
“Someone’s treating me, so I might as well get something expensive,” Maru said.
Gaeul only ordered a bowl of salmon salad.
She reached out for the chopsticks in front of her. When she tried to grab it, Maru pulled back one of the chopsticks. What entered her hand was a small wooden stick that had lost its pair.
“It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” Maru said as he waved the other chopstick around.
Gaeul felt like time was going backwards when she looked at him smiling like a child. He would often give her just one single chopstick like a child and then act like she should try stealing the other one from him in an unknown restaurant, in a bunsik restaurant, and even an expensive-looking restaurant. When he did, she would grumble but still play along. Sometimes, she would sometimes hit him. Gaeul reached out for the chopstick in joy as though she had found her graduation album covered in dust. Maru would pull back again in a prankster manner, and she would complain….
The chopstick that should not be within her reach entered her hand so easily. He did not pull back the chopstick. He put it on his palm and started talking to Heewon as though nothing had happened. Gaeul gathered the two chopsticks together and put them down. Good memories were probably called ‘good’ because they were meaningless. The ‘he’ and ‘she’ who played around in the past had become a different ‘he’ and ‘she’ with the passage of time. What did she expect? She was such a fool.
They chatted as they ate. The man next to her got on her nerves like a gas stove she had forgotten to turn off at home, but she didn’t show it on her face. When they made eye contact, she made a clueless smile and looked at him for about 2 seconds before turning to look at the brothers on the other side or at the food. I don’t feel anything either, she wanted to express that with her body.
“I’ll go make a call for a minute.”
Haewon took out his phone and stood up. He looked cautious as though he was about to call someone high up.
“I’m off to the bathroom. Maybe it’s the food, but it keeps gurgling in my stomach.”
Even Heewon left.
Gaeul put the salmon salad she ordered in her mouth. The salmon was mushy and the dressing was sour. It didn’t fit her tastes. Although the salad wasn’t to her taste, she kept stuffing it down her throat, begging for Heewon or Haewon to come back.
“Aren’t you eating too much?”
Just as she was reaching out to the beef tataki, she had to stop. Gaeul looked next to her. Maru’s face, which she proactively tried to push outside her vision, could be seen clearly. Her lips fell apart slightly before sticking again. She stayed still, not knowing what to do, before realizing that she had to do something and so spoke whatever was on her mind,
“I’m going to put on some weight.”
“What a tremendous amount of confidence you have. I’m dying here trying to lose weight. I gained some weight because I went on an eating spree.”
“I see. I didn’t know because I wasn’t that interested.”
The part of her ego that wanted to cut off this conversation generated some unnecessary words. She had no talent to unspill the spilt milk. She just placidly moved her chopsticks. Should I just stand up and leave right now? Would it be strange to put a phone against my ear when it didn’t ring? Why am I so uneasy right now? She had all kinds of thoughts.
“It’s been three years, hasn’t it?”
“It has been three years.”
“I did plays after getting discharged in Daehak-ro. I became pretty popular, and the tickets sold well too.”
“Really? You should’ve told me about it. I should have gone to watch you.”
She knew the plot of the story and all the characters in it, but she put up a pretense of cluelessness. For a brief instant, she wondered what kind of expression he would put on if she told him that she made a visit on the last day of his performance, but she didn’t put it into words.
“I watched the drama you were in in the military. It was pretty good. You even received a prize, didn’t you?”
“Yes. The rookie actor award.”
“How was it?”
“It was good. It’s something that I can only get once in my acting career. I was grateful.”
“Man, it’s pretty amazing. Someone who used to do plays like me is so far ahead of me. Not only are you on TV, you even got a prize. I should do my best to catch up.”
“Catch up to what?”
Gaeul snapped the chopsticks down on the table. Maru, who was leaning on the desk with his hands locked, glanced at her once before looking up at the ceiling.
“It’s the duty of an actor to chase the actors they admire. I should do my best to become like you or Heewon.”
“Do your best? At this point?”
Her words kept containing thorns. She couldn’t calm down. He was in Daehak-ro in the year leading up to his military service. Although he said that he wanted to consolidate his foundation, to Gaeul’s eyes, he was wasting time not doing anything back then. Even when she asked why, he did not reply. Around that time, she started the shoot for ‘Flaming Lady’, and Maru practically cut off all contact. The only news she got of him was the day before he went to his military service; the news being the breakup announcement.
“I have an advantage since I went to the military early. I just need to keep going forward now. I got an opportunity too.”
“So what, that’s why you went to the military without telling me anything? Because of that meager advantage?”
“Hey, the military is nothing much. Also, I just told you that we should break up the day before, so how am I supposed to tell you that I’m going to the military right after that?”
“Nothing much? Going to the military for two years is ‘nothing much’ to you?”
“Why are you so angry? It’s all in the past.”
Maru smiled as though he was clueless. Gaeul could feel the lump in her head cool down in an instant. Having turned into a block of ice from a lump of fire, her feelings that were boiling with rage, disappointment, and longing decreased to the extreme lows.
“Let me ask you something since it’s all in the past. Why did we break up?”
“I think it was just a natural order of things. We each needed some time to think, but that time just became longer than necessary.”
“Is it because I stayed distant from you?”
“No, it’s not like that.”
“Then what? If it’s not that, why did you not look at me again when I approached you again?”
“Just like you had your own reasons for staying distant from me, I probably had my reasons as well. I don’t remember the reason anymore though. Maybe I was just immature.”
“Immature? Han Maru was?”
“We were both children. Maybe that’s why we broke up: because we were kids.”
“Can’t you… can’t you just tell me that you got fed up with me?”
She felt incredibly calm. She didn’t know where all the fear she had before she asked had gone. Like she was right now, she felt like she could calmly walk into a lion’s cage in a zoo. Gaeul wanted to know what Maru was feeling. More so than the reason they broke up; more so than the reason why he didn’t reply when he was in the military; and more so than the reason he didn’t look for her after getting discharged, she wanted to know what Maru felt when he announced the breakup.
Maru wordlessly gave her a napkin. She didn’t know what that meant until she looked down. A teardrop fell onto her hand. Only then did Gaeul realize that she was crying and that she was clasping her hands so tightly that her veins had popped out on both of her hands. Her head felt clear was because the heated emotions escaped through her tears. She tried to grab the napkin with shaking hands, but she couldn’t do as she wished.
It was then that Maru’s hand approached her face.
Maru’s head slowly touched her face.
“You haven’t changed; your tears react faster than your words.”
Maru put the napkin on the table.
“What kind of answer do you want from me?”
“The reason we really broke up.”
“If God told me not to meet you, would you believe it?”
“Just tell me you got fed up with me instead.”
“Let’s stop. You’re going to cry again.”
“Tell me you broke up with me because you got fed up with me. Or tell me you got another girl instead. Tell me, SOMETHING… so that I can accept… so that I can hate you… so that I can no longer think of you.”
Maru smiled awkwardly and scratched around his eyes. His smile was gentle yet iron-hard. He opened up possibilities but did not tell her the truth.
“You’re not telling me anything.”
“…Because I don’t have anything to tell you.”
“I see. That’s how it is. That’s what happened.”
Gaeul picked up the napkin that Maru put down and wiped her tears. She wiped her lips with the wetness until all the red on her lips was wiped away.
“Thanks for the food today.”
“Heewon’s the one buying, so tell him.”
“True, I should do that. I’m leaving.”
“I’ll greet you warmly when we meet next time.”
“I’ll reply warmly too.”
“Goodbye,” Maru said as he turned his face away.
Gaeul pulled on the doorknob with all of her might.