The entire house is too lustrous, what with all the blinds of the large windows open, letting the gleaming morning sun inside. It hurts Jiyong’s eyes, and he heads for the only room he knows for sure won’t be as unbearable to look at—his bedroom.
He blinks a few times once inside. There are orange lines across the unmade bed and the floor from the slightly open shutters. Jiyong waddles over to the window, to shut them all the way, not allowing a sliver of light inside.
Once it’s dark enough for his taste, he collapses onto the bed and immediately falls back asleep.
He wakes up several times throughout the day. Each time he ends up in the bathroom, on his knees by the toilet.
Jiyong thinks he’s reached a point in his life where he knows that saying “I’m never doing this again” is pointless; he doesn’t lie to himself so childishly.
He knows it will surely happen again.
But those are the perks of adulthood: freedom and independence. Jiyong can spend his Sunday afternoon with his head in the toilet if he so pleases.
That entire day feels like a fever dream, just travelling between his bedroom and the bathroom, subconsciously taking note of it progressively getting darker outside each time he wakes.
By the time he truly falls asleep, a deep sleep with no disturbances, it’s pitch black outside.
* * *
When he wakes up that Monday with more than forty missed calls, Jiyong knows he must have ed something up.
He decides to call back the first person on the list.
When he picks up, Youngbae skips over any greetings, “You forgot about Seunghyun’s thing, didn’t you?”
“No, no, of course I didn’t,” Jiyong is quick to reassure, and he’s startled by the hoarseness of his own voice. “Which thing?”
“You were supposed to be at his office two hours ago,” Youngbae informs. He seemed to have paused when he first heard Jiyong’s voice too, but perhaps he’s too irritated to show concern.
“Yes, I knew that,” Jiyong says, rolling out of bed and going over to his closet to grab something to wear.
He is so ed.
The soonest he can be at Focus Records is in another hour, and that’s not including the time it will take him to get ready.
“Just go.” Youngbae doesn’t wait around, only hangs up.
It’s a miracle he arrived without any major or minor accidents on the way; his arms are shaking like guitar strings after a powerful chord. Jiyong stays in his car for a second longer, just gripping the wheel and trying to will his arms to stop trembling.
Realizing how late he is, however, he opts for keeping his hands in his pockets the entire time; that ought to do it.
He isn’t stopped at the entrance. He receives greetings from everyone who passes him. Some are surprised. He doesn’t blame them. Jiyong hasn’t made an appearance in this building for over a year.
He keeps his gaze ahead as he walks, he doesn’t look at the polished front desk, the marble floor that perfectly reflects everything atop it, not at the leather armchairs or the coffee and vending machines.
He only looks at the elevators, hoping to end up having one for himself.
He isn’t that lucky.
A girl slips inside right after him. At first they stand next to each other in silence, with the elevator music making the tension greater. Then she dares break the silence with a hasty,
“Welcome back Mr. Kwon.”
And Jiyong isn’t entirely sure how to respond to this. He goes for a strained smile and a barely noticeable nod. He isn’t in the mood for small talk, especially one of that kind.
She seems fidgety, flicking the edge of a paper in her binder.
Jiyong steals a glance at her nametag. He thinks he remembers her; wasn’t she an intern when he’d left? She seems to have been promoted.
The ding saves them both.
“Bye,” Jiyong says, not even looking at her, as he exits. He hears her say it back, and then sighs as he walks away.
The only sounds in the office are that of Seunghyun typing hastily, and Jiyong’s foot tapping nervously against the carpet.
He can only imagine this is some sort of punishment.
He tried apologizing when he entered, but Seunghyun quickly cut him off with a “Don’t bother,” and he hasn’t spoken since.
Jiyong keeps glancing at his wrist watch. It’s been ten minutes, two more than the last time he looked.
“It seemed urgent,” he tries again. He simply isn’t comfortable with the silence. “The email did; or rather, it was the fact that you even sent it. Since when do you email me?”
When Seunghyun once again doesn’t respond, Jiyong mutters, “I thought, it must’ve been something important…”
After a particularly loud click of the mouse, Seunghyun leaves the computer and spins his leather chair towards Jiyong.
“I’ve been thinking a lot,” Seunghyun starts, as if Jiyong has said nothing at all since he entered, “about your career.”
Now it becomes evident where this conversation is going. Jiyong doesn’t even need to be there to hear it, he knows exactly what Seunghyun is about to say, and in fact, he would much rather not be here at all.
But he doesn’t interrupt. Seunghyun is already pissed.
“I hope you realize that the only thing keeping you afloat is your brand. But just that alone isn’t enough, not without any new content.”
Jiyong’s patience betrays him once more and, against better judgment, he ends up interjecting, “I told you already, I refuse to crap out new music just to stay relevant.”
Seunghyun sits up a bit and it’s as if his glare is melting Jiyong’s skin off. “I called you here today because I have a solution. I took your wishes into consideration, because despite what you think, I do listen to you.”
Along with his leg bouncing, Jiyong is now playing with the ring on his thumb.
“Alright, and what’s this glorious solution?”
Jiyong thinks he hears Seunghyun exhale, as if in relief. As if he’s glad to be given a chance to speak without much immediate resistance on Jiyong’s part.
“Things have changed since you’ve gone away,” he says.
Jiyong doesn’t appreciate the prologue, he wishes Seunghyun would cut to the chase.
“Yes, you have a new secretary.”
“What?” Seunghyun waves dismissively. “Yeah, but that’s not what I—Listen. We took in some new artists.”
Jiyong isn’t sure how he’s supposed to feel about that, or if he is supposed to feel anything at all. He doesn’t, anyway. “Oh,” flatly.
“…and, there’s this kid.”
As Seunghyun goes on to tell Jiyong how great he is, how enthusiastic and full of ideas, how similar their styles are, how much alike they actually are, Jiyong’s ears start buzzing. Because he thinks he understands what Seunghyun is suggesting, and he isn’t too happy about it.
He stands, picks up the ashtray from Seunghyun’s desk and starts pacing.
“You want me to work with some rookie?” He says, searching through his pockets.
“Not some rookie, Jiyong. He’s something else, and I really think he could help—”
With a cigarette between his teeth, Jiyong turns and spits out the words, “Help me?”
“It’s something to be considered.” Seunghyun already seems exhausted.
After lighting his cigarette Jiyong shoves the lighter back into his pocket. “When have I ever needed help!? I do things alone, I always have and I’ve been doing just fine so far—”
“So far, yes. But you have to admit that things are different now.”
Jiyong doesn’t want to admit it. He wants to pretend that he’s still himself, that the past year and a half of his life haven’t completely drained him.
Of course things are different.
It’s not like he hasn’t tried to create in all that time, it’s just that all of his attempts have been futile. He’s reached peak art block, the kind where it feels like something tangible. Like a glass wall between him and his creation, that he keeps slamming against helplessly. He can see his masterpiece through the wall, but it’s blurry, shapeless and unreachable.
“I just need more time,” Jiyong says at last. This is a lie. He has no idea if he’ll ever overcome this blockade.
“There isn’t any more time.”
Jiyong cracks his knuckles. He stands in front of the large window, stares at the building on the other side of the street. He exhales, watches the smoke spill over the glass before him.
“He gets a boost by having my name next to his on his debut album. What exactly do I get out of this deal?”
“Part of the burden off your shoulders,” Seunghyun offers.
Seunghyun reconsiders his response. “You get to be reminded what it’s like being passionate about music. You get to keep moving forward.”
Jiyong glances at him, and he hates Seunghyun’s smug, yet anticipating, expression.
He bows his head, chin pressed to his chest. Debating his options, he watches the thin line of smoke climb up from his cigarette towards the ceiling. There aren’t many options, really. And he fears that Seunghyun is right about this whole thing.
“Jiyong… You’ve reached a point in your career where you need to compromise.”
He sighs, straightens up and turns to face his friend and manager.
With a heavy heart, Jiyong says, “Fine, let’s compromise. When can I meet your kid?”
To his surprise, Seunghyun immediately reaches for the phone on his desk, tells his new secretary to get him.
“He’s here?” Jiyong asks.
Seunghyun nods. “Don’t worry, he hasn’t been waiting long. I gave you a false time, I knew you’d be late. Then again, you exceeded expectations.”
Jiyong stares for an astonished second, and then he cracks a smile. “You .”
Seunghyun’s shoulders relax as he grins back. Jiyong walks over to sit on his desk and offers him a cigarette. With this change of atmosphere, the brief wait, thankfully, isn’t spent in silence.
When the door opens however, both of them go silent. Jiyong turns to have a look at the newcomer, his colleague-to-be.
He greets them both formally, and as he straightens from his bow, Jiyong spots the bleached hair, the lip ring, the quirked smile that is now faint and nervous; the hideous leather jacket Jiyong has slept on in the diner.
“Jiyong, this is Song Minho.”
The only consolation is that Minho seems just as shocked as Jiyong.
He puts out his cigarette in the ashtray. “...Song Minho?” He says, with interest.
The boy nods. Seunghyun calls him and he steps forward from the doorway, closing the door behind him. He reluctantly takes a seat opposite Seunghyun, in the armchair where just a few minutes ago Jiyong sat.
Minho’s leg is bouncing. He doesn’t seem to be aware of it, but it infuriates Jiyong.
Jiyong somehow wills himself to go through the formalities, exchanging contacts, wishing each other the best and promising to work hard. As for the project itself, they agree to let time decide that. “I don’t want to push either of you,” Seunghyun says. “What I have in mind is an album, but you start working on some songs and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Jiyong isn’t sure it will go anywhere. Throughout the meeting, he kept glancing at Minho, who never looked back at him. The tension was thick between them. Jiyong knows that he will have to set some things straight if he wants to work with this kid.
Because Seunghyun was right, as much as it pains Jiyong to admit it. He needs this, he needs new content. His hands are tied.
After it’s done, Seunghyun dismisses Minho. Jiyong attempts to slither his way out as well, but Seunghyun stops him.
“Something’s going on between you two. There’s something you’re not telling me,” he says.
Jiyong balls his fist, rests it on the doorframe. “Minho and I, we… We’ve met before.”
Seunghyun raises his eyebrows. “You have?”
“Yes. Now, do excuse me.” And without giving Seunghyun a chance to speak again, Jiyong walks out.
Because he can’t let Seunghyun know. He can’t let anyone know that he’s still going out, partying, drinking when he’s supposed to be recovering, when all of his friends think that he is.
Jiyong goes home to sleep some more.