To School (5)
The next day...
Kang Jin-Ho emitted an overwhelming aura as he walked up to Jeong In-Gyu.
“W-what the heck!” The latter flinched at the intimidating aura and stumbled back.
What on earth had gotten into this guy all of a sudden!
Kang Jin-Ho wordlessly glared at Jeong In-Gyu before finally saying something.
“Are you going to the PC Room today, too”
"No, I gotta go to cram school," Jeong In-Gyu replied without a moment's hesitation.
That swift counterattack left Kang Jin-Ho speechless as he faltered on the spot.
Jeong In-Gyu asked back, "What's the matter"
“Wait, did you spend the whole night playing practice matches because you couldn't accept yesterday's loss You can't be that narrow-minded, right”
Kang Jin-Ho's figure froze like a statue.
Jeong In-Gyu dismissively chuckled.
"There's no way.
The master of games, Kang Jin-Ho, would never do that.
Am I right"
You were serious yesterday You...
were not going easy on them!”
Cold sweat began trickling down Kang Jin-Ho's forehead.
Jeong In-Gyu stuttered, “Y-you...”
“It's fine if you're not going!” Kang Jin-Ho quickly turned around to walk away.
“Really now, just what's going on with him...” Jeong In-Gyu dazedly muttered to himself while staring at his friend's back.
He slowly shook his head at how Kang Jin-Ho's anger could clearly be felt even from behind.
“But, I need to go to a PC Room!”
Kang Jin-Ho couldn't think of a way to vent his frustration.
Even if he hadn't operated a mouse in decades, he still figured that things would work out one way or another.
But he was quickly proven wrong.
One needed to pour in a lot of effort to revive his forgotten skillset.
So, he spent the whole night practicing like a mad man, but now...
There was no way to show off all of his hard work How could something so insignificant be capable of making him this unsettled
While he sat there, unable to calm his heart, Lee Tae-Ho called out his name.
Tae-Ho was a part of the 'Four Musketeers,’ which also consisted of Jeong In-Gyu, Oh Min-Jae and Kang Jin-Ho.
“Mm” Kang Jin-Ho looked up.
Lee Tae-Ho sat on Kang Jin-Ho's desk before speaking what was on his mind, "We're thinking of going to karaoke, so, like...
Why don't you come with us"
The word, 'karaoke’ managed to trigger the reminiscence of a long-forgotten past in Kang Jin-Ho’s mind.
Singing, was it
After suddenly finding himself in Zhongyuan, Kang Jin-Ho obviously didn't have a single thing from the modern era on him other than faint memories of a song he had heard a long time ago.
Humming that song to himself whenever things got too difficult or lonely was his only retreat from the storm.
That was how it was during his early years in Zhongyuan, but as his status began rising higher in the later years of his life, he gradually forgot about that song.
His memories of the modern world had mostly faded away by then, and he also didn't have the mental leeway to sit around longing for the modern way of living, either.
Somehow, though, the word 'karaoke' seemed to have triggered the longing he often felt back in Zhongyuan.
'Karaoke, is it'
Kang Jin-Ho suddenly wanted to sing again for the first time in ages.
He nodded to express his participation.
“Okay, I'll go.”
Lee Tae-Ho suddenly wrapped his arm around Kang Jin-Ho's shoulders, a sneaky grin forming on his lips.
When the latter cocked an eyebrow with an expression that seemed to be asking what had gotten into him, Lee Tae-Ho quietly whispered the true reason for this invitation.
“Se-Yeon will be joining us too, you see.”
“I see.” Kang Jin-Ho nodded disinterestedly as he had nothing else to say.
It didn't matter to him whether she came or not.
He just wanted to sing, that was all.
The classes eventually ended, and kids going to karaoke began to gather.
Kang Jin-Ho didn't particularly recognize anyone in the group besides Lee Tae-Ho.
Han Se-Yeon was the obvious exception, though.
He found it rather interesting that he instantly recognized her.
Considering that he initially couldn't fully remember Jeong In-Gyu, that girl's face must have been branded quite deeply in Kang Jin-Ho's memories.
He must have been really smitten with Han Se-Yeon back then.
“You're also coming, Jin-Ho” Han Se-Yeon asked, looking a little surprised.
Kang Jin-Ho briefly nodded.
“Yes, I am.”
She muttered softly, "I think it's my first time going to karaoke with you, though"
"Is that so" Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head in slight confusion.
His younger self seemed to have some feelings for Han Se-Yeon, yet they had never gone to karaoke together How strange, since the young Kang Jin-Ho of the past enjoyed mingling with other people. Did that mean that he had actively avoided hanging out with her
'Maybe I was too timid back then'
Kang Jin-Ho believed himself to be a pretty outgoing person in the past—at least that was what he remembered.
But it seemed that he was rather hopeless when it came to chatting up with girls. The thought of that brought a smile to his lips.
“What's funny” Han Se-Yeon asked him.
“No, it's nothing.” Kang Jin-Ho shook his head.
The funny thing was that even the current Kang Jin-Ho was no different.
If someone asked him whether living in Zhongyuan had upped his tolerance toward the opposite sex or not, he would have to say no.
Then again, that part of his life was basically a series of harsh training and life-or-death battles, which wasn't exactly conducive toward having a stable relationship with a woman.
Women were just a way to vent one's stress in the den of testosterone, otherwise known as the Demon Cult.
It was impossible to find some kind of psychological comfort from them in such an environment.
The halls of the cult were too slippery and dangerous, like a thin ice sheet, to share one's heart with anyone, after all.
Lee Tae-Ho looked at the gathered kids and declared, “Everyone's here, so let's get going.”
The kids followed him along, and not too long afterward, they reached a bustling high street.
“Mmm...” Kang Jin-Ho was inwardly surprised by the sight of the tightly-packed buildings and the crowds of passersby.
'I'm feeling out of place again.'
Even though he had been away for decades, for him to feel this way...
The hospital and the school buildings were by no means small.
Not to mention that he had also witnessed all those skyscrapers on the side of the road while riding in his mother's car.
Hence, he didn't think that this sense of disharmony would attack him again.
But now that he stood here...
So much about this place felt alien to him, enough to make him wonder if he really did live in this world before.
Lee Tae-Ho asked him in a puzzled voice. “What's up”
"It's nothing," Kang Jin-Ho replied with a shake of his head.
He had also realized how contaminated the air here was.
The neon signs on both sides of the street blinked madly as if they were trying to steal his attention and confuse him.
And then, various noises of singing and the whispers of people were coming from seemingly everywhere!
Kang Jin-Ho muttered quietly, “Am I in Hell”
“Don't mind me.” Kang Jin-Ho shook his head again.
Since he had lived for so long in Zhongyuan, where man-made sceneries were a rare sight, he figured that his uneasiness in this environment was to be expected.
Wouldn't someone living in the mountains for decades feel this way after suddenly coming to a large city
"Fuu..." Kang Jin-Ho quietly sucked in a deep breath.
The dense crowd passing by him on all sides continued to breach his territory, thereby getting on his nerves somewhat.
People of the modern era seemed to totally disregard the concept of personal space, judging from how they didn't care even after brushing past the shoulders of others around them.
'Am I the outlier here'
Kang Jin-Ho had always felt like an outsider in Zhongyuan, but even after coming back home, it still felt like he was in the wrong place.
This indescribable awkwardness left a bitter taste in his mouth.
One of the kids shouted, “We're here!”
Kang Jin-Ho wordlessly followed his fellow students and entered the karaoke lounge.
Once they stepped inside the private booth, he felt the imaginary pressure on his shoulders lighten up.
He slumped deep into the soft cushions of the couch.
“Why does he look like he's about to conk out already” Han Se-Yeon muttered, prompting other kids to chuckle.
Kang Jin-Ho paid them no mind, simply leaning against the couch and staring dazedly at the ceiling.
'It's still not easy...'
Things were bound to improve gradually, but he still found it difficult nonetheless.
He knew that time would take care of everything, but the real question was if he could hold on until then.
One of the kids happily addressed his friends.
“Alright! Who wants to go first”
Refreshments were brought into the booth, and the lights were turned off, signaling the start of the festivities.
The loud rumblings of the speakers as the kids sang tried to torture Kang Jin-Ho's hearing, but he thought that this much was bearable.
Every now and then, tone-deaf pig squeals would force him to frown deeply, but wasn't that part of the whole karaoke experience
“Jin-Ho, are you going to sing”
"In a bit," said Kang Jin-Ho before following Lee Tae-Ho to the bathroom.
He strangely felt the urge to relieve himself even though nothing too stressful had happened so far.
As he was answering nature's call, Lee Tae-Ho called out to him cautiously.
“Wanna smoke” Lee Tae-Ho pulled out a cigarette from his pocket.
'Cigarette, is it...'
Kang Jin-Ho’s eyes narrowed when he suddenly remembered that he used to smoke a bit back in his high school days, ostensibly for 'stress relief.’ Moreover, after the accident, smoking became even more important to him than having decent meals.
After all, he didn't have much of an avenue to vent his stress thanks to being a paraplegic back then.
Although it wasn't good for one's health...
It would be a lie to say that he wasn't interested.
What was so great about this thing that he had to smoke it so religiously in the past
"Alright." Kang Jin-Ho accepted the cigarette and lit it up.
"Cough! Cough! Ahhh-choo! Bleeergh!"
“Hey, man, what the...
What's suddenly gotten into you!”
Lee Tae-Ho jumped back.
Kang Jin-Ho barely managed to collect himself in the end.
His bloodshot eyes glared straight at Lee Tae-Ho next.
“...You should quit smoking, Tae-Ho.”
“Have you gone crazy for real”
"Urgh..." Kang Jin-Ho was about to discard the cigarette in pure disgust, but something made him take one last drag.
A lingering feeling, perhaps He must have gotten used to it because it didn't taste so bad the second time.
However, it didn't take long for a dizzy spell to hit him.
"Why do I feel light-headed"
“That's why we smoke this sh*t, right”
“But, this isn't what I remember...”
“What do you mean”
"Never mind." Kang Jin-Ho stubbed the cigarette and quickly stepped outside the bathroom when the choking smoke became unbearable.
This experience failed to enlighten him on why his past self smoked this crap so much.
Lee Tae-Ho caught up to him and asked.
“What's wrong Acting like that was your first cigarette and all…”
Just, you know." Kang Jin-Ho smiled wryly and stepped back inside the private booth.
His schoolmates were in the middle of a sing-along.
The mic was currently commandeered by Han Se-Yeon, her choice of tune being a high-energy track by a popular idol.
Both boys and girls were dancing around the room, seemingly soaked in the atmosphere.
Kang Jin-Ho found this scene rather amusing to behold.
All of them had come here to have fun, yet something about this whole thing seemed a little unnatural and stiff.
Rather than these kids genuinely having fun...
How should he describe it They were pretending to have fun
'Are they trying to look good to her'
The 'her' in this case was Han Se-Yeon, of course.
She was a bit of a celebrity in the school, so it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that many kids wanted to look good in front of her.
Besides, this sort of thing happened all the time wherever humans lived anyway.
A similar thing had also happened back in the Demon Cult, involving an expert named Mellow Demon.
Despite being a demonic art practitioner, he didn't know his place and held a deep fascination with art.
He hypnotized himself into believing that he was an excellent painter and would sometimes proudly exhibit his works to others, too.
Whenever that happened, the onlookers would trip over themselves to praise how wonderful his paintings were. As such, Mellow Demon's mistaken belief about his abilities as a painter was further solidified by their praises.
That was until Kang Jin-Ho saw one of his paintings and brazenly commented, "My foot can draw better than you."
Today, something similar was unfolding in this karaoke lounge as well.
“Hey, you're better than an actual singer!”
“I heard you got scouted by an agency! They want you to become an idol, right”
"You might be better than the Super Girls, Se-Yeon!"
Han Se-Yeon grinned softly as praises were heaped on her.
"Don't be absurd, guys.
You're making me blush!"
“We're being honest, though!”
Kang Jin-Ho couldn't help but smirk faintly.
Even a professional singer evaluated as trash was better than an amateur.
A pro idol was filtered from a huge pool of talented hopefuls via a stringent selection process, after all.
Sure, some pro idols weren't exactly up to snuff, but to say that Han Se-Yeon was better than them Her own abilities weren't good enough for that kind of evaluation.
“Jin-Ho, you wanna have a go” Han Se-Yeon, perhaps wanting to change the subject, called out to Kang Jin-Ho.
“Sure, why not.”
“Hurry up, will you You haven't sung anything so far.”
"Alright. Mm..." Kang Jin-Ho opened the song list and browsed for that one song.
Eventually, he found the song that he used to hum whenever his loneliness had gotten the better of him.
"Can you start the...
Homecoming for me"
"Let's see, what's the track number..." Lee Tae-Ho found the track number and got it started on the karaoke machine.
The prelude commenced without any fanfare.
Kang Jin-Ho sucked in a deep breath, then held the mic close.
He began singing the first verse, only for the crowd to erupt in laughter.
“What is he doing”
Kang Jin-Ho was somewhat off-key, and his rhythm was also strange.
However, for some reason...
They all forgot to laugh as the song continued.