Translated by: ShawnSuh
Edited by: SootyOwl
When Juho and the boy went into a common fast food chain, they were welcomed by its distinct deep fried smell. There were part timers in their yellow-and-red uniforms working busily at the counter. Juho got in line to order. The cashier seemed to be around his age, but it might have been her thick makeup.
The line was not very long, so he was able to order quickly. His eyes met with the cashier's. Her eyelashes were smothered in black liquid, and he was given a nonverbal signal to order. She was quite unfriendly, but he ordered a combo meal, paying no attention to her attitude.
"What are you getting?"
Juho and the boy each paid for their own meal. As Juho finished paying, the boy handed her a ten dollar bill. With an insincere tone, she asked him to wait about five minutes and then handed him the change. However, he wasn't moving for some reason.
"You didn't give me the correct amount of change."
"I'm supposed to be getting forty cents, but you gave me eighty. You must have gotten one of the coins mixed up."
With a bitter look, the cashier took one of his coins back and exchanged them for the proper amount. There was definitely something different about that guy. Heck, he even tried to take three dollars that he found back to the police station. He must not like getting any more or less than what he's due.
After they each received their buzzer, the two went up to the second floor and found a table by the window. The restaurant was not very crowded. In the distance, there were two couples in their suits who appeared to be corporate workers.
As the two waited silently for their buzzers to go off, the boy suddenly started talking, "What's your name?"
Juho realized that they hadn't introduced themselves to each other.
"Juho Woo. How about you?"
"I'm Pil Sung Choi."
"I don't recognize the uniform. Where's your school? I'm a freshman. Are you older than me?"
Pil Sung shook his head and said that he was in the same year.
"I'm from a neighboring town."
He made it sound like it was not a big deal. Seeing how he had caught Juho near the front gate, he didn't seem to know anybody at the school. He didn't seem like he knew the neighborhood either. The only thing that had brought him to Juho's school was a dated rumor about Yun Woo. He seemed like a doer.
"So, you just blindly made your way here?"
"I took the subway."
Their conversations crossed, and Juho stopped talking. That moment, their buzzers started vibrating. He stopped Pil Sung getting up from his seat and went down on his own to pick up their meals.
"You came a long way. Stay here."
Since he was hungry, Juho took a big bite out of his burger. It tasted like how he expected.
"So, is Yun Woo really not in your school?"
"Nope. We did have an impostor, but she confessed," Juho explained without getting into a lot of details.
"That rumor's kind of dated now. You must have heard it late."
"I have no friends around."
As if he were talking about the weather, he sounded humdrum. Juho found his attitude odd.
'He doesn't look like he's rough around the edges. Could it be his personality? Either way, it's not a good subject,' he thought.
He took a sip from his drink and asked, "So, what did you mean by rival?"
"It's exactly as I said. I'm going to be Yun Woo's rival."
He sounded determined this time. 'Yun Woo's rival. He could not look any more unrefined chewing on his burger.'
"Is that what a rival means to you? Did you think about Yun Woo's perspective?" Juho said with a smile.
"That's why I came here, to see what that person looks like."
"So, did you accomplish what you came for?"
His thick eyebrows scowled a little.
"I'm still not giving up being a rival," he said stubbornly.
"How come?" Juho asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Why do you want to be Yun Woo's rival?"
"Because I also write."
Juho was slightly surprise. Of course, he assumed that the boy was also a writer when he first said the word 'rival.' Yet, hearing it from him was a different experience.
He was a writer too. He was Juho's age. Yet, he boldly declared himself to be Yun Woo's rival.
"Everyone seems to think of Yun Woo as this mysterious, unreachable person."
"Is that so? I'm not sure."
"You're not sure?"
After some time thinking, Pil Sung said, "My friend lives far away."
His answer was far from the subject they had been on, but for now, Juho listened.
"We'd been close since elementary school. We moved up to high school together, but we ended up in different classes. I adapted, but he was bullied."
He picked up a french fry and put it in his mouth.
"It didn't matter that I was at the same school. Even when I told the teacher, it only went as far as a warning. What's funny is that both my friend and I received warnings. 'Be aware of the trends. Don't show off. Get used to people calling you names that you don't like.' It sounded like we were the ones at fault. I was so pissed, but the teacher was looking the other way. So what could I do? My friend ended up transferring to another school, and I was left alone."
He explained that in the process of standing up for his friend, he naturally grew apart from friends he was close to previously. He was alone.
"That's when I saw the name Yun Woo. It was in the school library. I had been thinking about why things happened the way they had, but it felt like that name would give me an explanation."
"So, did you get an explanation from that author, Yun Woo?" Juho asked.
Pil Sung shook his head, "No."
'Of course.' He chugged his drink. Meanwhile, Juho ate a French fry. Somehow, Juho felt empty on the inside.
At that moment, Pil Sung continued,
"It was still comforting. You're supposed to be next to the person you're comforting. So I don't feel that Yun Woo is distant."
"I wanted to be like Yun Woo, but obviously, I'm not Yun Woo. So I'm going to be his rival."
It still didn't make sense entirely, but if that was what he wanted…
After a brief pause, Juho took another bite of his burger. He was getting excited.
'Stay calm,' he reminded himself. The lettuce in his burger felt refreshing for no apparent reason.
The two quietly finished their meal. When they were down to a few pieces of french fries, Pil Sung asked, "So what's the Literature Club like? Do you have to run everyday?"
"Nope. We ran earlier because we were learning how to write vividly. You sprint with everything you have, and then you get to writing right away. Well, I was dying, so I couldn't even finish my sentence."
"Trust me. It's usually worse."
Pil Sung seemed interested about the Literature Club, and Juho told him about what they had learned from Mr. Moon: word gathering, transcription, composition topics, charades… etc.
"Not too long ago, Mr. Moon even brought his goldfish in its bowl. We were learning about catching external and internal characteristics of what we were seeing. Towards the end, he told us to write from the perspective of the goldfish."
He thought about what he wrote then, 'Gaping. Feed me.' It had been something to that effect. Pil Sung's eyes sparkled as he listened to Juho.
"Did you not join a Literature Club in your school?"
"We don't have one."
"That's a bummer."
"I go to a culture center on the weekends instead. Sometimes, there are lectures given by famous authors."
He listed the names of the authors. Dong Gil Uhm was one of them, and Juho was familiar with him.
"How how was Dong Gil Uhm's lecture?"
"It was edifying for the most part. Half of the people were falling asleep though."
"It must have been boring."
"I enjoyed it. It kind of sucked that there were no breaks in between."
Juho was able to picture the scene. Dong Gil Uhm had a tendency of being serious about every matter. He probably spent a lot of time preparing for the lecture. Then, he probably poured out everything he had prepared.
Juho imagined Dong Gil delivering a lecture with his distinct, rigid expression.
'Actually, Dong Gil and Pil Sung are kind of similar in some ways,' he thought. They were both sincere and doers. The difference was that Dong Gil was cold, and Pil Sung was hot. It was the difference between being cold-hearted and passionate. As he was in his thoughts, Pil Sung started talking.
"Can you show me what word gathering looks like?"
"There's no reason for me to say no."
Out of his bag, Juho took out a notebook and handed some of the pages with his writing over to Pil Sung. At that moment, his phone rang. It was a picture message from Seo Kwang.
The picture was filled with the excited looks of the four club members with a large plate of tteokbokki in the middle. There was text underneath.
'I'm worried that you might be starving somewhere. Fritters were on the house by the way.'
By contrast, Juho took a picture of his nearly finished combo meal and sent it to Seo Kwang.
'Thanks for your concern,' he wrote.
Juho lifted up his head after sending the message. Pil Sung had come uncomfortably close to him, and Juho pulled away out of reflex. Pil Sung drew even closer with his hands on the table.
'What's gotten into him?' Juho thought.
"Is there a problem?"
"You decided what?"
"To be your rival."
"I want to be yours and Yun Woo's rival."
"... I didn't know being a rival worked like that." While looking at his paper in Pil Sung's hand, he asked, "Did you like what I wrote?"
A direct answer.
"I'm flattered, but I'm not into rivalry. A rivalry is only valid when both parties recognize each other as rivals."
"Don't worry. My goal is to be a world renowned novelist. Once I accomplish that, both you and Yun Woo will come to recognize me, whether you want to or not."
"I admire your confidence."
Pil Sung wasn't entirely bluffing. The evidence was in the fact that he had ultimately accomplished his objective. He had wanted to see Yun Woo and he had met Juho.
As Juho pulled away from that reckless boy, he suddenly realized why he had felt a sense of déjà vu when he had first met Pil Sung.
'Bestselling author, Sung Pil.'
"Pil Sung. Sung Pil."
"Hm? Who's Sung Pil?"
'Of course! Pil Sung Choi was Sung Pil.' Juho had only seen his face in his profile picture before. Now, he looked much younger, and his eyebrows were much thicker.
'I knew I'd seen him before,' Juho thought.
He was looking at the face of a celebrity author as a teenager. The memories of Sung Pil slowly came back. Once the wall had come down, a wave of information flooded into Juho's mind.
That boy was going to be the next big-name author after Juho. He was Sung Pil himself, who debuted as a novelist at the age of twenty.
When Juho had wandered about the streets as a homeless man, Sung Pil had secured his place as one of the best authors the country had to offer. Juho smirked.
That incredible author had come looking for him, wanting to be his rival.
"Maybe this is an honor."
Juho looked out of the window for a moment. The traffic lights had turned green. People were crossing the streets.
"OK. From now on, I'm calling you Sung Pil."
"Why is that?"
"Instead of an answer, I'll give you my number, as a rival."
Juho took out his phone. Sung Pil asked no more and nodded with a joyful look on his face.
Chapter 34 - He's Nearby (2); The End