Jiyong was surprised by Minho’s demeanour as they’d continued working. It was... completely normal. He’d expected Minho to sulk or show at least faint signs of irritation, but there were none.
Furthermore, Minho remained coolly professional. Jiyong was somewhat used to being praised, you see. Not enough to give him a huge ego, not if you ask him anyway, but enough for it to be odd when it isn’t happening.
The email that Jiyong receives from Minho somewhere throughout the night explains both of these, to Jiyong confusing points.
Jiyong squints at it after having just woken up. He’s thankful not to have been woken up by a call in the early morning, but he still needs to deal with Minho as soon as his eyes opened.
There’s an attachment named future hit.mp3. Jiyong frowns.
He mutters a what the as he reads through the email,
Dear Mr. Kwon,
I hope you don’t mind me tweaking my own song despite your warnings. Hopefully it meets your standards.
That little .
Jiyong sighs, rolls onto his back and tosses his phone. It bounces off the mattress and settles a bit farther from his pillow.
The opening notes roll off from the speakers and fill the room. Jiyong closes his eyes. As soon as Minho’s voice is audible, Jiyong can picture him in the box, lips close to the mic, doing those little dances of his. It had taken him a while to start dancing when they’d been recording. The first few takes he’d been stiff, his voice had been uncertain too. But in time, he loosened up and Jiyong is now able to see him, clear as day; swaying his hips, with his thumb hooked to his belt loop.
Jiyong’s eyes snap open. The song is good. More importantly, it’s finished and good.
Once the beat dies down, Jiyong grabs his phone and calls Minho. Lying on his back, he runs his free hand through his hair, and there’s just the slightest hint of a smile on his lips.
When he answers, there is also a hint of a smile in Minho’s voice, “Hello?”
“You son of a ,” Jiyong chimes. “How did you do it?”
“Well... Let’s just say you were right when you said that Mr. Choi likes me.”
Jiyong presses the heel of his palm to his forehead and he smiles, just a little wider than he expected. “You’re saying that you went behind my back, with my best friend?”
“You two are so ed,” through stifled laughter.
Minho doesn’t respond. Jiyong finds it amusing.
“The song is amazing, Minho.”
“Thank you. I hope you’re reassured about my abilities.”
Jiyong lets his arm drop above his head, onto the pillow. “There’s such a thing as beginner’s luck. We’ll see what you do with that other thing you’re working on.”
Minho chuckles and Jiyong’s eyes slide shut. “Just let me ask you something else.”
“What is it?”
“When did you do this?”
“Overnight. Mr. Choi had a very quick response, I think he doesn’t sleep. Either way, he agreed that it would be funny to set up this surprise for you.”
“Alright, alright, you two caught me. But Minho?”
“Don’t let me catch you working overnight again. Or plotting behind my back.”
Jiyong can nearly picture Minho standing up straight and saluting. “Understood.”
* * *
He needs to catch up with Minho. The drafts for Minho’s next song are already promising, meanwhile Jiyong doesn’t have another idea.
Then again, while he might not have an idea, he does have… something.
Jiyong has an old inscription buried in the bottom drawer of his desk, under many filled notebooks and crumbled papers. Years ago, when he’d written it, there had been something holding him back from throwing it away. The piece of paper sits there still, like a timed bomb waiting to go off.
This piece of writing is a skeleton in the closet that Jiyong isn’t ready to take out yet.
Therefore, he is in need of something completely new. He doesn’t want to recycle old verses.
He lies on his beige couch, blowing smoke towards the ceiling. His hand keeps twitching, grabbing his phone, and tossing it back onto the couch.
The feeling is a nagging one, the need to just talk.
After days of the same routine, a tiresome cycle that no one is a part of, one starts to feel lonely. After days of oversleeping, having no appetite or energy to cook, lying around until the evening and only then remembering to try and get some work done, ultimately failing and forcing himself to eat whatever he can find. After days spent in a room with shut blinds and filled with smoke, Jiyong feels like he will certainly go insane.
Unfortunately it isn’t as easy as picking up the phone and calling someone. With every single name on the screen there is something that prevents him from calling.
He doesn’t want to speak to Minho. They are not nearly close enough for Jiyong to let him have any insight into this side of his life.
He can’t talk to Seunghyun because that man has enough on his plate as is. He’s already way too involved with Jiyong’s mental instability, and quite frankly it’s uncomfortable for everyone. Because no matter what a great friend Seunghyun is, Jiyong knows he can’t help.
He wouldn’t dare impose on Youngbae and Hyorin again. They’re focused on their careers, too busy leading their own lives to fix someone who is broken beyond repair.
He doesn’t have it in him to face Daesung. He worries too much, and takes on responsibility too easily, but once he realizes that there’s nothing he can do, he is quick to feel dejected. Jiyong doesn’t want his pity.
And that would be all of his closest friends. The only people who would potentially be allowed to be close to Jiyong when he’s at his worst, all stricken out.
Jiyong sits up, staring at the name on his screen.
He can’t say things were very bad the last time they’d spoken, but she certainly wasn’t happy with him. Not only that, but he had acted like quite the .
He isn’t sure why she would answer. Why she would be willing to talk at all.
But desperate times call for desperate measures.
He dials the number.
Falling back onto the couch, Jiyong shuts his eyes tight like one does when expecting something terrible or unpleasant to happen to them.
“Well this is a surprise,” Chaerin’s voice is icy.
“Hi… I know, I’m—sorry for calling out of the blue. I think—” he pauses. He figures, since he’s calling after such a long time, he shouldn’t start off with his own needs and wishes. “How’ve you been?”
“Cut the crap, Jiyong. You need something, don’t you?”
Harsh. But Chaerin isn’t someone easily tricked.
“Okay, okay, you caught me. I don’t need anything that would cost you too much, although I suppose that depends on the perspective.” He sighs. “I just need some company.”
Jiyong tries to make his breathing less audible in the silence that occurs. He doesn’t want Chaerin to hear it.
“Yeah, it must be really bad if you called first,” she says.
Jiyong opens his eyes only to roll them. Maybe this wasn’t worth it, maybe asking for help is overrated. Maybe it’s safer to wallow in self-imposed isolation.
And then, “But you’re lucky that I’ve missed your stupid . I’ll be there in a few, and don’t expect me to drive home at some ungodly hour. You better get my pillow ready.”
Jiyong is in a state of disbelief. He huffs, his lips stretch in a relieved smile. “You’ve got it. And bring me something to eat, my kitchen is empty.”
“I don’t do your grocery shopping for you, Kwon Jiyong,” Chaerin says, walking in with grocery bags.
Jiyong bows his head, feigning remorse. “My apologies. But thank you for the effort.”
He helps her unpack. Quietly doing domestic tasks with someone is oddly soothing. However, after the task is done, the silence becomes overbearing.
Jiyong pours both of them a drink. They move to the living room. Jiyong lights a cigarette.
“Do we do small talk?” Chaerin asks.
“We haven’t seen each other in a while. I want to know how you’re doing,” Jiyong says.
She sighs. She helps herself to Jiyong’s cigarettes. “I’m good, I guess. Everything’s more or less the same, but I like that.”
Jiyong hands her the lighter. He wonders if it’s alright to ask. But before he gets to think about it too much, the sentence is already leaving his mouth, “Are you seeing anyone?”
Chaerin’s eyebrows shoot up and she takes a sip of her drink. “Absolutely not.” She pauses. She stares ahead, a look that Jiyong knows well. Contemplating. “I met someone though.”
Jiyong tilts his head, resting it on the couch. “Do tell.”
Chaerin shakes her head. “We met at some bar and nothing really happened other than we exchanged numbers. We’ve been texting, but I doubt it’ll be anything serious. Haven’t had our first date yet.”
Jiyong nods. “That’s fair. At least have some fun if you can.”
The half smile Chaerin gives him has a little bitterness to it. “What about you?”
“What about me?” Jiyong plays dumb.
“Are you seeing anyone?”
Chaerin laughs. Jiyong doesn’t. He chugs his drink down. That joke may have been funnier if he wasn’t lying, if a year ago wasn’t the last time he’s gone to therapy.
“Fine, point taken. How’s that going though?”
Jiyong curses himself and his wit, he curses his mouth that is always faster than his brain. He doesn’t want to talk about this. If he hadn’t given that snarky and brilliant yet horribly timed response, Chaerin wouldn’t have asked.
“Good,” he says. He desperately needs a change of subject. “Got any schedules anytime soon?”
Chaerin watched him for a moment. She leans over to shake ash off her cigarette into the ashtray. To Jiyong’s relief, she doesn’t try to return to the topic of therapy. “I’m taking a little break. However…”
Their eyes meet. Chaerin smiles and shifts on the couch so that she’s facing Jiyong. “I shouldn’t talk about this, but I might be working on a clothing line.”
Jiyong grins and he leans in, lightly punching her shoulder. “Look at you! That’s amazing! You gonna call me to model?”
Chaerin raised an eyebrow, lips pressed into an apologetic smile. “It would be female clothing.”
“You’re right, that’s never stopped you,” Chaerin says.
Jiyong grins. “Well, what else can you tell me about the line?”
“You’ll have to find out just like everyone else,” Chaerin hums.
“So you don’t know either.”
Chaerin makes a face at him. They burst out laughing.
Jiyong runs a hand through his hair and he fixes his gaze on Chaerin. “Since we’re talking about secret projects…”
Chaerin raises her eyebrows quizzically.
“I’m working on an album. At least I think that’s what it’ll be.”
Chaerin doesn’t say anything. When Jiyong dares to look at her, he sees her smiling. “You’re coming back,” she says. Jiyong can’t place whether it’s disbelief, relief, excitement or all three that he hears in her voice.
He only knows that her smile is bright.
Jiyong lets his head fall back. He looks at the ceiling and thinks, it, if there's one reason to go through with all of this, it's for her smile.
He straightens up, looks at Chaerin, attempting to give a smile of his own. “I guess I am.” Before sipping once more, he adds, “Not alone though.”
Chaerin's eyes widen in an expression that's both exaggerated and holds sincere surprise. “You? Working with someone?”
“Yup,” Jiyong pops the p.
“One collab, or?”
“The whole thing.”
Jiyong shakes his head. “That's what I thought too. Turns out…” He suddenly leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees and holding his glass with both hands. “It was all Seunghyun's idea. He tried to cushion it, but basically he didn't believe I could do it on my own. And yet he wanted me to return. So that’s what he came up with, working with someone. Even though he knew I'd hate it.” This is when Jiyong's voice is the loudest. It's when his voice is the most agitated, when his arms are most tense, when his knuckles are white with how hard he's gripping the glass.
And that's when he unravels, when his shoulders fall and his expression of anger melts. That's when his voice quiets down. “It works.” Jiyong lifts one hand to his face, shutting his eyes tightly. He mutters a frustrated, “.”
“Hey, it's alright.” Jiyong feels the movement on his right. He feels Chaerin's thigh pressing to his side, her hand on his back. “I'm proud of you. This is a good thing, you know? It’s normal for working to be difficult at this time and I’m happy you accepted the help.”
Jiyong huffs. He doesn’t need to say anything for Chaerin to understand.
“You’re not weak for it, Jiyong,” she says.
“I don’t want to talk about this,” Jiyong says through his teeth.
Chaerin moves her hand, gently smacking him up the head. “Don’t be like that. This is the most I’ve heard you talk since… Well. In a long time.”
“I can talk. Just not about this.” Jiyong sits back, leans against Chaerin as if she were a couch cushion. “Tell me something about yourself again.” He closes his eyes. “Anything.”
And Chaerin does. Because she wants to trust Jiyong that he knows what he needs.
Eventually however, she urges him to go to bed. And maybe because she’s so persuasive, he agrees.
Chaerin sleeps in a silk night dress that reaches down to her thigh. Jiyong sleeps in a large shirt. They share his bed, like they have many times before. They haven’t done that in over a year, and it gets Jiyong down, just a little, but he’s just happy to have her by his side again.
For the first time in a long time, Jiyong wakes up feeling rested. Not very well rested, it could definitely be much better, but he’s grateful at least that his head isn’t filled with cotton and that his eyes aren’t glued shut. He’s grateful for no infernal dream. Opening his eyes, Jiyong hopes to see Chaerin, the person who he has to thank for feeling better, even if temporarily.
But she’s nowhere to be seen.
He sits up, rubs his eyes and looks around the room. He’s ready to go looking, when she walks in. She’s happy to see him awake it seems, judging by the bright smile she gives him.
“Great! I was afraid I’d have to wake you up. Let’s go get breakfast.”
Jiyong sighs, rubs his eyes again. “I can’t. I still have a wholeass song to write.”
“Hey. Did you call me or did you not? You’re in my care now and I decided that it’ll do you good to get out a little.” She stretches out her arms, beckons him once. “Come on, up. It’ll be fun. Allow yourself to take your mind off of work for a little while and I promise I’ll have you home in time for you to keep at it.”
Jiyong watches her, slumped over, unimpressed and limp. When he woke up rested, he didn’t have an outing in mind. He just thought he’d preserve the energy.
But in reality, there’s no turning down Chaerin. And so he takes her hands, lets her lift him off the bed.
* * *
Chaerin keeps him busy the entire day. It’s somewhat frustrating having someone who knows you so well. Helpful at times, but at the moment, so horribly frustrating. She knows exactly how to work her way around getting his mind off of what has been eating away at him.
By the end of the day, he’s ready to try again.
* * *
“A masterpiece, that’s what it is,” Jiyong finishes the sentence for him. He didn’t expect to be so pleased with his own work, but he ought to be after the time he spent on it. The entire night, most of the morning, and the time it took to edit and wait for Minho’s response.
He loves most of what he’s created in the past. But this is so much more like him, just the kind of you he’s been trying to tell the world for so long.
He already has a taunting melody in his head, accompanying the defiant lyrics.
“Bold is the word I would’ve used,” Minho says and the melody stops playing.
Jiyong outstretches his arm in a welcoming gesture that Minho can’t see over the phone. “Bold is my middle name, isn’t it?”
“I suppose so,” Minho says. And after the slightest moment of hesitation that sticks out like a sore thumb, he adds, “I like it.”
“Alright, what’s up. Spit it out.”
“It just… doesn’t fit the theme of the rest of the album.”
Jiyong huffs. “That’s a flimsy excuse you’re using instead of telling me what’s really wrong. You know very well our album doesn’t have a theme or a concept.”
“Maybe I’m still looking at it from my perspective. You know—first album, writing about what’s safe, that sort of thing.”
Jiyong stands in front of his full-length window and stares out of it, lips pressed together. “Truly, you are. Don’t worry about it, no one will be surprised if I get rude.”
Jiyong thought that the conversation was done, that the song called Middle Fingers Up will go into the album without further discussion.
When he receives a call from Seunghyun, he can’t say he’s very happy.
Seunghyun explains to him that it wouldn’t be good for Minho to have such a song on his first album. That it’s too much. That he can always save it for a different project.
And all the while Jiyong only thinks about how Minho should have ing told him all of this himself.
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Jiyong says, “But how do you even know about the song?”
There’s a sigh on Seunghyun’s end of the line. “Minho told me. He wanted me to talk to you. Jiyong—”
“Uh-uh. I’ll call you back.” He hangs up and dials Minho’s number.
As soon as Minho picks up, Jiyong gets to the point,
“Hello, darling. Care to tell me why Seunghyun just called me to talk about my song?”
Minho doesn’t respond. Jiyong is lacking in patience. He continues, “We talked. Did we not talk, Minho?”
“We did,” Minho mutters.
“Did you not tell me that it was okay?”
Once again, no response.
There’s that familiar twitch in Jiyong’s arm and this time he does nothing to repress the outburst. He slams his fist against the nearest flat surface which turns out to be a wall.
“I didn’t know how to say it,” Minho stutters. “It’s—difficult talking to you.”
“Oh really? Well, it’s equally as difficult talking to—let alone working with—someone who’s ing dishonest and a ing coward! What did I tell you when you went behind my back? Did I not tell you never to do it again!?”
“I’m sorry—” It strikes Jiyong that the noise that cuts off Minho’s sentence is the sound of his breathing. Minho is beginning to hyperventilate.
This, hearing him choke on his own breaths, cuts Jiyong’s anger short. He swallows. “...You okay?”
“I’m sorry,” Minho chokes out. “Can I call you back? I’m so sorry—”
“Of course you can. It’s fine, Minho.”
Jiyong isn’t sure if Minho even heard his reassurance because in that moment he hung up.
Jiyong curses himself as he paces his living room, waiting. Why did he get so angry? He knows that Minho is an anxious person, why did he go off like that?
Jiyong stops, staring ahead of himself.
He begins to recall all the mandatory educational presentations he’s been forced to attend. Long-term drug abuse may cause anger issues and violent outbursts.
He’s done his best to suppress the memories of rehab, but sometimes they surface. Every time he shows a symptom, they resurface.
It doesn’t make him any less angry. It only redirects the rage towards himself.
While he waits, he goes to the kitchen to get an ice pack for his hand.
His phone rings and Jiyong practically jumps to answer. “Minho?”
“I’m sorry,” he says again, much more calmly this time. “I should have had the guts to talk to you openly. I should have gotten over my discomfort. I liked your song, I did, I was just worried about how it fit into our album. Mr. Choi then thought it was also inappropriate… I’m sorry for creating this situation for you.”
Jiyong tries to remember some exercises for calming down his anger, and when he finds none, he tries to apply the exercises he’s learned for dealing with anxiety to this situation. He breathes. “It’s fine, kid. I’m—I got too angry with you, I should have understood how you felt. Are you okay?”
“Oh… Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Must be why it’s difficult talking to me, huh?” Jiyong lets out a bitter laugh.
Minho laughs too, nervously.
Jiyong clears his throat. “I’m sorry for snapping.”
“It’s fine… I still want to make it up to you. I’d like to take you out for street food, if you’re free. Remember, you once asked me what’s there to do that…”
“...that doesn’t require much money,” Jiyong finishes the sentence, recalling their conversation in Jiyong’s studio. “Yeah, I remember.”
“We can talk face to face that way.”
Jiyong lets out a breath. “I’d love that.”
* * *
“I’m sorry about your song…” Minho mutters.
The two of them are walking, side by side, down a quiet street in Minho’s neighbourhood. It isn’t somewhere Jiyong would be caught dead hanging out, but this was all about new experiences.
Jiyong shrugs. “I can always save it for a different project. It’s my problem, so don’t apologize.”
Minho nods. “And, um… What are you going to do for this project?”
“Well… I have no idea.”
“Oh…” Through laughter, Minho adds, “I really feel bad now.”
The corner of Jiyong’s mouth quirks up. “Don’t feel bad. I’m just burned out.”
“Well, maybe you don’t have to do anything,” Minho says carefully. “Remember what we talked about, nothing is set in stone. We don’t have to make a full album, we’ll just see what happens.”
Jiyong raises his eyebrows. “Do you have another song?”
“Well, yeah, but—” Jiyong opens his arms in a gesture that’s supposed to say everything. “I don’t have to use everything I have,” Minho insists.
Jiyong shakes his head. “We started it this way, so we’re doing a full album. Don’t encourage my whinging.”
“It’s not whinging. Creative block is a . It’s okay to take your time, you know.”
Jiyong gives a forced smile. “Thank you. I hope… I hope I can figure something out.”
“I’m always here to help.”
Jiyong can’t take this conversation anymore. “Tell me about something,” he says.
“Like what?” Minho asks.
“I don’t know.” Jiyong takes out his cigarettes, lights one up and offers one to Minho. The younger shakes his head politely. “Like… School? There’s always something to say about that. Although you might have to forgive me for not having any insight on the matter, I finished college four years ago.”
The corner of Minho’s lips quirks up. “You’re forgiven.”
And with that Minho goes off about his favourite subject down at the academy. He starts off hesitantly, with pauses and glances Jiyong’s way to check if he’s rambling too much. It’s a little frustrating, seeing as Minho is so knowledgeable about a topic that Jiyong cares a lot about, yet he keeps interrupting himself out of insecurity.
At some point however, Jiyong nodded and told him to go on enough times to make Minho realize that he doesn’t need to stop and check if Jiyong is still interested in the story. And once the topic derails from the confinements of Minho’s academic expertise, Jiyong is able to join in on the conversation.
At some point the conversation derails into more mundane territories, which is when Minho mentions how much he misses his cat, Johnny. There’s something very endearing in the way Minho talks about her, although Jiyong can’t help but note how Minho doesn’t mention missing the rest of his family, or even wanting to go visit.
Jiyong decides not to pry. He understands complicated family dynamics.
This is how they pass the time until Minho takes a turn into a poorly lit street, most of its light sources coming from the larger one it opens up to on the far end. There is just one little shop with a window for ordering food and a few standing tables nearby on the sidewalk.
Their conversation cuts short as Minho turns around, walking backwards towards the window. “You need to try the tteokbokki, it’s my favourite.”
Jiyong shrugs in agreement. He’s enjoyed this outing so far, Minho has been doing a good job of distracting him. Tonight he doesn’t care what he puts into his stomach.
Minho spins around and comes to a halt in front of the window, resting his forearms on the bar. He asks Jiyong if he wants anything to drink, orders, begins some small talk with the person working there who appears to be his friend.
Jiyong stands to the side, looking to the left at the river of people, students and tourists mostly, flowing by on the main street.
Eventually Minho parts ways with the counter and approaches one of the tall tables on the sidewalk. He puts one plate of tteokbokki on it and goes back for the drinks. Jiyong walks over the table and rests his forearms onto the red surface. He stares at the plate, at the steam rising from it into the air. He tries to ignore Minho’s friend from the window and the way his gaze lingers.
When he hears the can pop open, with the hissing sound of the bubbles, Jiyong realizes that there is only one plate, only one portion. He straightens up, grabs a plastic fork.
“Do we share?”
Minho shakes his head.
“I thought it was your favourite,” Jiyong says.
Minho drinks from his can. He puts it on the table and holds it with both hands, looking down through the little hole as if it holds all the secrets of the universe. “Yeah, that’s why it always ruins my diet.”
Jiyong frowns. “What diet?”
Minho shrugs. “Just trying to lose some weight for my debut.”
Something pierces Jiyong’s gut. Red fills his vision, alarms going off in his head. He remembers, suddenly, every time Minho has turned down an offer to be treated to a meal. He remembers their first meeting at the Japanese restaurant, how reluctant Minho had been to order anything. At the time Jiyong thought that money was the problem, but now he realizes there was much more to it.
“Don’t do that,” he says sharply. “It will backfire, you’ll yourself up unnecessarily. Trust me on this.”
“I’m making sure to stay healthy. Don’t worry.”
Jiyong stares at Minho. He’s lying. Or rather, he doesn’t know what he’s saying. Jiyong too thought that he had everything under control when he was starting his journey that eventually landed him in a hospital.
But it’s not his job to be anyone’s babysitter or nurse. Quite frankly, he has enough on his plate, he doesn’t need anyone else’s.
He shrugs. “Alright. Your problem. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” And he starts eating the tteokbokki.