He always appeared wearing a suit with the sleeves worn out. I noticed him, who was only a guest since he stayed in the theater even after the play ended, or to be precise because he was staring at me. That persistent gaze happened again and again for a few days. At first, I thought he was an ordinary salaryman, but he appeared in the theater regardless of weekday or weekend, morning or afternoon. Around that time, my thought that it was simply my misunderstanding that he was looking at me turned into assurance.
He came today as well. He always sat on the same seat, placed his briefcase of unknown contents on his lap, and looked at the stage. I showed up for a brief moment before the play started, and indeed, he looked this way. Rather than feeling unpleasant, curiosity came first. At first, I thought he was simply a fan, but his gaze wasn’t entirely gentle, so I changed my mind. Why would a man in his early thirties visit this specific theater so often?
“That man came here again today.”
The people of the troupe started noticing his presence as well. As he always sat on the same spot even when the seats were almost empty, it was natural for the other members to be conscious of him as well. He quietly watched the play and kept his seat until the very end before disappearing without a word again.
By this point, worries that he might be a threat had been thinned out, but the curiosity still remained. Did this place have an importance to him? But then, how would you explain the stare he always gave me?
The man once again sat on the same spot as though to indicate that he would be there next week and even the week after that.
“It’s a bit strange.”
“He’s staring at you weirdly too. Should we report him?”
The opinions of the other members of the troupe became worse by the day. The other members had also found out that he was staring at me until the very end.
“He doesn’t look like a bad person.”
I calmed down the others who asked me if I was okay. I might get an earful that I’m immature, but no malice could be felt from that man.
“If you say it’s okay, then it should be fine, but he’s still suspicious. He came here so many times already and is always staring at you. There’s nothing bad to be gained from being careful.”
“Anyway, if you feel like anything’s going to happen, call out to us, okay?”
Those were Jincheol-oppa and Jinjoo-unni’s words. Everyone in the troupe, including those two, did not look at the man in a good light. He was an appreciated customer who raised their sales, but everyone agreed that they should be suspicious since he always looked at one person.
That evening, after the play ended and they said hello to the audience, I did not step back and walked towards the audience seats instead. Leaving behind the panicking troupe members, I walked up to that man, who sat down on the very left seat of the third row. He slowly raised his head and looked at me.
“You have something to say to me, don’t you?”
I don’t know where I got the courage to do that. The leaving audience members gave glances before moving towards the exit. Listening to the quiet footsteps of the other people, I stared at him. From up close, I found out that he had a sharp-looking face. Just changing that worn-out suit would make him give off a much better impression.
“Hello? Didn’t you have something to say to me?”
Looking at him, who didn’t speak a word, made me a little annoyed. He definitely should have something to say. At that moment, he stood up with the briefcase. I had to tilt my head backwards from looking down. Having stood up, he had quite a tall stature. I was momentarily at a loss because he felt completely different from when I looked at him from the stage, but I soon got myself together. Since I decided to make a judgement today, I wanted to get an answer out of this man regardless of what I had to do.
The man, who was staring at me, turned around. He then walked in large strides as though to run away. Looking at the man heading for the exit in a daze, I snorted before following him. I’m seeing the end of this today.
I walked out to the streets without even changing out of my costume. It didn’t look that out of place since it was a contemporary play, but thanks to my thick makeup, I attracted a lot of gazes. I chased the man walking in large strides and grabbed his shoulder. The man slowly turned his head around before walking forward again. Having been ignored twice, I felt annoyed. What frustrated me above everything was that this man clearly had something to say to me, but kept trying to avoid me.
I lifted my skirt a little and started running. I blocked the man’s path and stared at him while panting. The emotionless expression on the man’s face finally turned into panic. Seeing that expression, I felt good since it somehow felt like I won.
“You have something to say, don’t you?”
I asked once again. The man’s gaze started wavering everywhere. It was quite unexpected. Unlike how he looked, the man became flustered quite easily. I thought that he’d be more rational and heavy, but the way he panicked was kind of flabbergasting and somehow relieving.
“If you don’t talk to me now, I will never talk to you again. If you’re a man, then be a man and talk to me. I’ll listen to you.”
I tensed my eyes and glared at the man. The man’s tightly sealed lips slowly parted.
“...small for you.”
I couldn’t hear what he said at the beginning.
I somehow ended up sounding nitpicky, but I had no time to think about that. The man’s words were just too unexpected.
“That stage is too small for you.”
-This is the man who said to our Haejoo that the stage is too small. Well then, why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself?
The camera turned to Junmin in his younger days. Junmin looked at the camera with a cold expression.
“Wow, that man looks scary. If I actually looked at him in real life, I might have turned my eyes away. Heck, I’m doing that now too,” Jiseok said.
Daemyung, who was staring at the screen in a daze, put down the sliced bread and spoke,
“M-Maru. Is that president Lee Junmin?”
“So he was like that back then too, huh.”
“Human nature doesn’t change that easily. He looks like he became a lot softer over the years. The president in the video looks like he’s on edge.”
It felt like Junmin’s sharp aura was being scattered in this space, transcending ten-something years of space and time. It was clear from the video, so it would’ve been even worse for the people there. Most people probably avoided Junmin.
-You’re making that expression again. Uhm, bro, everyone here knows that you can’t lift a finger against Haejoo, you know?
-Oppa, why don’t you act like you look? You look like the kind of man who would subdue back alley delinquents with just your eyes yet you just melt in front of Haejoo.
The conversation was completely different from what he expected. Junmin also seemed to have felt awkward and left the frame. The camera tried to follow him, but he seemed to have run out of the practice room as only the doors could be seen. The conversation between the members continued out of frame for a while. Like that, about two minutes passed before Junmin appeared at the entrance again, seemingly being pushed by someone. The one who was struggling to push Junmin’s wide back was none other than Jung Haejoo.
-Stop running away. It’s been more than two weeks since we’ve known each other. Why do you keep runnin away every single time? Is it okay for the man who told me that he’d help me become a superstar to be so shy?
Haejoo stood in front of the camera while holding onto Junmin’s wrist. Maru pressed the pause button there. Junmin in an awkward posture and making an awkward expression was something unimaginable right now. As the representative of JA, Lee Junmin always met other people with smiles, but he was the kind of man to harbor several snakes inside him, wasn’t he? The man who even had the devilish Suyeon under his complete control, was helpless against a woman, and had that sort of expression? That was beyond fresh, it was shocking.
“That was unexpected.”
Maru looked at the two people on the screen for a while before pressing the play button. He was expecting to see Junmin leading Haejoo with meticulous planning, but the reality was that Junmin looked rather shy and Haejoo looked rather bold.
“That’s the president, right?”
Daemyung asked in a very different tone from before. Maru couldn’t reply. He was also wondering if that man was a doppelgänger or something.
“President? Wait, do you mean president Lee Junmin from JA?”
“He feels very different. I’ve never seen him in person, but I’ve always thought of him as a scary man. But he looks like a rather gentle person in reality, huh?”
Probably not - Maru and Daemyung replied at the same time. Jiseok tilted his head before focusing on the video.
“So that ahjussi over there is your president, oppa?”
“Yeah, he is.”
“Looks like he wasn’t well off back then. Look at that, his suit is all worn out.”
Like what Bada said, the Junmin on the screen looked quite far from being rich. Compared to the current him, who always wore neat clothing, albeit not ‘brand name’ stuff, there were a lot of differences. Perhaps the only thing the two had in common was their stubborn expressions. However, even his expression turned weird like it was a malfunctioning computer whenever Haejoo was next to him.
‘So you become such a simpleminded man when you stand next to the person you like.’
Jung Haejoo loved Lee Junmin, and Lee Junmin likewise loved Jung Haejoo. This was something he heard from director Park Joongjin. Of course, he couldn’t find out what they felt for sure back then. He couldn’t transcend space and time to go back to that time, so he could only try to arrive at a conclusion as a third person.
Despite that, Maru could sympathize with the two people, no, with Lee Junmin on that screen. A man who loves one woman is bound to show their emotions through their eyes after all.
“It looks like the president likes that lady, right?”
“I have to agree.”
Those were Jiseok and Bada’s words. Daemyung didn’t say anything, but he probably had the best understanding of the exchange of feelings shown in the video out of all of them.
“We’re not trying to watch other people’s love history, so let’s focus on the content.”
Maru watched on. After a commotion, everyone except Junmin and Haejoo, who were in front of the camera, left the practice room. What was funny was that Jincheol said that he turned the camera off before leaving. Making assumptions, it seemed that the other members were playing a prank on them to peek at what the two were doing.
-You should get used to it now. How can you be so hesitant when you told me you’ll teach me?
-Like I said, we shouldn’t do it here and find somewhere quiet to...
-What? Do you know that you sounded very indecent just now?
-I didn’t mean it that way.
-Yeah, I’m suuure you didn’t.
-I said I did not.
-You’re trying to be angry again. Fine, I’ll trust you this time. Anyway, let’s start practice. It’ll be hard for you to coach me once the other people come back.
Haejoo smiled before distancing herself from the camera.
-Should I continue what I was doing yesterday?
-Yeah, go ahead.
Maru focused on the screen. Would Haejoo’s acting have changed after Junmin’s coaching? Haejoo started acting the prostitute that she played before. She tried to seduce an imaginary man with a smile on her face, but her unique clean image still remained with her, making her not seem like someone who sold her body at all. It felt like a child was wearing adult clothes and was trying to play a prank. The tone of her lines, her gestures, and her expressions didn’t look wrong, but the combination of all of them simply couldn’t be called good in any way.
-How is it?
-It’s still terrible.
Junmin spoke firmly without hesitation. For that moment, he looked like the man who founded the current JA. Haejoo shrugged without a shred of disappointment.
-Ahjussi, am I no good after all?
-No, it’s not like that at all. You’re filled with potential. You just need to learn how to bring that out.
-I don’t come here just to play around. My life’s on you.
Maru almost dropped the remote from his hand. Having said something tremendous like it was nothing, Junmin also seemed to have realized the meaning behind his words and started explaining.
-I-I don’t mean something personal, no wait, I guess it is personal, but not anything romantic, nor am I saying that you should leave your life in my hands.
While he was making excuses, Haejoo suddenly burst out laughing.
-Ahjussi, you know that you look very stupid now, right?
Maru wondered how Junmin would react if he saw this video. He was very curious, but Junmin might dissolve the contract there and then, so he decided not to try.
“Your president seems like an interesting person.”
Jiseok spoke while giggling.
“Looks like time changed a man a lot.”
To be exact, it was a certain incident that changed him. Ice age probably overcame his face after Jung Haejoo’s death. Lee Junmin should’ve changed after that incident.
Maru leaned back on the sofa.
Lee Junmin and Jung Haejoo, the story between the two had just begun.