Chapter 7 - First and Last Friend
I remembered that the kids watched me struggle with the answer with annoyed and anxious eyes. I swallowed once and I thought my lukewarm spit tasted strangely sweet. Then I scraped a finger along my desk.
Nahoon Kim asked me. “Why did you?”
Just like back then, the people in the studio all stared at me. The kid’s comment that I would have experienced “that kind of thing” the most among them was correct. I went through “that kind of thing” so much that I was sick of it. I grinned brightly at the people in the room.
“Because back then, I was an outcast in my class.”
‘So I had no opportunity to chat mindlessly with the other kids in my class,’ was what I was going to say next, but a bewildered “Cut!” interrupted me, and all the audio was cut off.
I still wasn’t sure if the kids chatting with me were “real” or if it was a trick of the ghosts. My life was always like that. It was sudden with neither a beginning nor an end.
“I would say… right now.”
The only thing that lasted in my memory was the image of the Child who smirked at my answer, the one who asked me if I experienced any of that before. The Child’s eyes were completely black, with no whites.
* * *
“Haeseo.” Someone patted my shoulder, waking me up. When I looked to the side, the man whispered in a voice so nobody else could hear, “How could you fall asleep so easily, when you’re the reason we have to retake the whole scene?”
The man had bold eyebrows and a low nose bridge. I wasn’t very well acquainted with him because it hadn’t been that long since we met, but I knew him well. He was the younger brother of my one and only friend. He also knew me well because my friend told him about me.
Before he died from a car crash, my friend was a famous solo artist. He didn’t have stage fright, but he had a fear of meeting people face-to-face, so he worked with his brother as his manager instead of someone from his management company. After his older brother died, the younger one didn’t step foot near any broadcasting company. This time was an exception he made for me because I was close to his older brother when he was alive.
My friend’s name was Yeonseon Ham, and his younger brother and my temporary manager was Hyehyun Ham.
There was a story behind why both brothers had feminine names. Their parents were told by a fortune teller that the brothers would have short lives. If they were advised to give their sons girls’ names despite being boys because then, the grim reaper would get confused and there would be a delay in reaping their souls.
Although, that seemed to be for naught. Ultimately, Yeonseon died at 25 years old.
Yeonseon was my first and last friend. I was probably Yeonseon’s only friend too. Thanks to his social anxiety of sorts, most of our communications were through texts and calls, but I was still the closest person to him other than his immediate family.
“It wasn’t my fault. It was because Miss Goyeon started crying when she heard I was an outcast. It wasn’t even that scary of a story.” I leaned back on the sofa and stretched. Even though the show was only for an hour, the recording took all day. There were breaks in between, but I still ached and throbbed from sitting in one position for too long.
The studio was quiet during this unscheduled break. I saw Goyeon Lee fanning her ruddy face with her hand and her makeup artist fixing the makeup that washed away in the corner of the room.
I didn’t know, but apparently, Goyeon was bullied during middle school. On top of being nervous, she was frozen with fear while listening to scary stories, so it seemed like her recollections of her past made her burst into tears. I remembered seeing tears rolling down her cheeks as she apologized profusely to the staff.
She couldn’t meet eyes with me at all. I felt a bit sorry because I didn’t mean to make her cry. I said, “I brought up something I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry.”
In response, she mumbled, “It’s all right, I’m fine.” Afterward, she avoided sitting near me.
The atmosphere of the studio was quite menacing. The producer was working dispassionately and almost automatically, the cast was inexperienced and awkward, plus there was an unexpected detour from the laid-back script. To top that off, the tepid air that made me doubt that the air conditioner was on added to the irritation in the atmosphere.
This mood was bound to ruin even the most well-prepared recording. Hyehyun Ham sighed as if he knew that today’s recording was a flop.
“All your luck might escape.”
“All my luck is already gone.” Hyehyun retorted.
“Liar,” I said as I laughed. “You wanted to see me. Yeonseon told me. You talked nonstop about how you wished I went back on stage, didn’t you? Isn’t that why you agreed to listen to my request to become my temporary manager? You secretly like that you’re here like this.”
“…” Hyehyun didn’t seem to know how to respond because he frowned and looked down at me.
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