I - The Muse (DK)

Because I'm Your Home || Seventeen One Shot Collection

With a natural inclination towards the arts, I knew that my calling in life would be to attend SNU's College of Fine Arts. And all was fine at the beginning. But art is not like science, or engineering, where every problem can be solved by an equation and rigorous calculations. No, once you get art block, you're done for. 

I hadn't realized I had the worst art block of my career until a week ago when my Studio Practice professor gave us our next assignment to be handed in tomorrow: the representation of love. I watched as every student grabbed their sketchbooks and began to quickly draw out drafts for their creations, while the word "love" roamed in my head. How was I the only person in the entire class that had no idea what to do?

Stay calm, cool, collected, I reminded myself. Ideas didn't come naturally sometimes, and that was why brainstorming was invented. Michaelangelo didn't come up with the Sistine Chapel overnight, and neither should I.

After procrastinating and failing to come up with anything for almost a week, I was beginning to sweat. Now with only one day left until submission, I thought I could just submit a blank canvas with a single dot and make up some kind of bull interpretation. Maybe that's why people gave overly detailed explanations for such simple works of art: they had to create something for the sake of creating it. If only my art could be worth millions for minimal effort.

Of course, I brainstormed by inspiring myself based on what others were doing. But nothing spoke to me. Don't get me wrong, every work of art made by my fellow students was beautiful and detailed different kinds of love, but they all had something in common: every depiction had at least two people in it. By the last canvas, all of the paintings and drawings were starting to blur together.

I was, for lack of better words, in deep .

"Just, grab your notebook and go take a walk," my friend Somin said. "Some fresh air will do you good."

With my overflowing sketchbook under one arm and an iced latte in my hand, I made my way down the steps of the Fine Arts arts building, and once I stepped out of its shadow, I was greeted by the warm afternoon sun. Late spring was absolutely heavenly in Korea and my favorite time of year. Everything was in bloom after a bleak winter, and I felt like life could begin again.

The campus was bustling with students, some on a walk with friends or a loved one, others rivaling Olympic athletes as they rushed to class. The number of times I had to pull that as well was too high.

The best spot to think on campus was under the plum blossom grove, just a five-minute walk from the art department. Everyone gathered there when the blossoms were in full bloom, but at this time of year, there weren't many flowers left on the trees. Plum blossoms, sometimes mistaken for cherry blossoms, were usually a darker pink color and made such a beautiful contrast against the green grass.

I settled down at the foot of the biggest tree of the small orchard. There weren't a lot of people with it being the middle of the day, but once the clock would hit 3 PM, I was sure that waves of students would come out here and join me. Which meant I only had about two hours before my peace and quiet would be disturbed.

I spread my notebook on the grass and sipped my latte as I looked around. The fresh air was helping me clear my mind, and I was starting to feel something at the edge of my mind, like a word you forget and it just ends up at the tip of your tongue.

It took me a moment to realize I had been staring at the same guy for a solid five minutes. He was standing a few feet away from me, his face turned towards the sun, soaking up its rays. He had a wide smile stretched on his thin lips, a pointed nose, sharp jawline, and tousled brown hair with a middle part. He was... Quite handsome. Actually, he was really handsome.

My fingers found my pencil, and while I continued to down my drink, my hand began to work on a sketch. I drew an outline of his silhouette before working on the details of his face, glancing up from time to time at him. He still hadn't moved, and it was almost as if the universe delivered him to me.

The sketch, though done quickly, was in fact quite good. I wasn't a person to brag, but I was proud of my ability to sketch people. My professors always complimented me on the fact that I was always able to capture human emotion perfectly in my creations. I chuckled a little to myself; if only I could do that with love.

When I glanced back up, the man was gone.

I stared at my drawing, the idea at the edge of my mind slowly taking shape of a human silhouette, but it was still too far, too blurry, for me to actually put it on a canvas.

"Hey, that's really good-!"

The latte and sketchbook slipped from my hand as I screamed, sending coffee all over me, my sketchbook, and the man who was squatting behind me. The same man that I had been sketching for a solid 15 minutes.

"Oh my God-" I tried to rub the coffee out of my eye. "I'm so sorry I-"

"It's alright, no harm done!" He smiled so brightly at me I thought I was going to go blind. And surprisingly he wasn't angry either. "I shouldn't have sneaked up on you, but I got curious when I saw you furiously scribbling in my direction."

He reached over and grabbed my sketchbook, and I looked it over. The paper was thick enough so that the coffee couldn't seep through the rest of my drawings. The sketch of the man, however, was mostly covered by a large brown splotch.

"Ugh it's ruined," I groaned. "I was going to give it to you as thanks for being my model."

His eyes widened. "You mean I can keep this?"

I blinked. "But it's ruined...?"

He shook his head and ripped the page out. "It's amazing, thank you! I'm Dokyeom by the way." He stretched his hand out, and when I shook it as I introduced myself, our faces scrunched up. Both of our hands were sticky from the latte. I couldn't help but laugh sheepishly.

"So do you usually draw strangers so that you can approach them? I promise you, you could've just said hi," he laughed. My cheeks tinged pink and I pretended to look through my sketchbook to make sure there weren't any other coffee stains. Thankfully, everything was fine.

"No, I came out here for inspiration," I said. "I just... I saw you and thought I needed to sketch you. But still no inspiration."

Dokyeom sat down next to me and wiped the coffee dripping down his chin with his sleeve. "Inspiration for what?"

"Painting major." I pointed to myself. "I have an assignment to create a representation of love."

He raised his eyebrows. "That's not easy."

"Tell me about it." I rolled my eyes. "I've got-" I looked down at my watch. "Less than 15 hours until the deadline and absolutely nothing."

"Why don't you paint a person?" He waved my drawing. "It's clearly your forte. If I could draw people like you, well I'd open a museum and charge 50 a ticket."

I laughed. "Thank you, you're sweet. But all the students I've seen are drawing couples or family for this assignment, and I was hoping I could be a bit more... Innovative."

"I mean..." He bit his lip and tilted his head. "With not much time left, I don't think you can be picky with your subject matter."

"I know you're right, but my stubborn is set on being different."

He laughed. It was loud and bubbly and infectious. It also brought a smile to my face, and some part of me thought his laugh was familiar. I noticed I hadn't gotten all the details of his face, like the little mole on his left cheek, or the sharpness of his cheekbones... My mind was working again and I hadn't realized we were sitting in silence until my eyes met his.

"Sorry, I think I'm out of my mind." People didn't usually fluster me, but he was doing a very good job in just a little bit of time. And I think he knew about it because he was grinning at me.

"I never thought I was good enough to be a model for a painter, but if you think I'm worthy, then I might just volunteer," he laughed. His eyes turned to crescent moons when he smiled widely, and it was quite charming.

"Modeling requires quite a long time of posing, think you'd be up for that?" I asked.

Dokyeom shrugged, then smiled. "I don't have anything better to do today." He tapped his chest. "Think of me as your muse for your art block."

It wasn't exactly what I wanted, as I didn't want to feature people in my depiction, but as he said, I didn't have the luxury to be picky anymore. And he was willing to pose for a few hours, so really, I should've been on my knees thanking him. I had a model, the canvas and supplies were back at the studio, now all I needed was a concrete idea.

"So what would you say represents love?"

Dokyeom threw ideas left and right, but all of them fell a little short for me. I felt bad, mainly because it felt like I forced him to do this. This was supposed to be my assignment, my creation, and I was even being picky with what a stranger was so kindly suggesting to me.

If I could meet art block in person, I'd kick it.

"You know," he started. "Whenever someone talks about love, I think of Scarface."

"The... The movie about the drug lord?" God, did I just ask a total nutcase to be a model for my project?

"Yeah, you know when they're in the car and Manny asks Tony how he knows that the girl likes him?" I'd never seen the movie, so I had no idea what he was talking about, and I think it showed on my face. "Well, Tony tells him the famous line..." He pursed his lips, his voice low and gruff. "The eyes, chico. They never lie."

Oh. I recognized the quote, I didn't know it was from Scarface.

And then the idea at the edge of my brain took shape so quickly, it almost gave me whiplash.

"DOKYEOM-SSI. YOU GENIUS." I grabbed him by the shoulders. I could almost kiss him. "COME ON WE GOT WORK TO DO!"




While I sent Dokyeom to wash off the coffee on his face and change into one of my painting shirts, I looked for a canvas for my creation. The image was so clear in my mind that it scared me, and I was itching to begin sketching the draft. Among the numerous different canvases available, I started with a standard one at first, but for some reason, it still didn't speak to me. I felt like a psychic who hovered her hand over tarot cards, trying to see which one felt the warmest. I pushed some canvases aside when my eyes fell on the perfect one. It was the biggest panoramic canvas the studio had, and it was the one.

The door to the studio opened and Dokyeom slipped in, wearing my black shirt with paint splattered all over it. It was the best I could do, and it was a better option than his coffee-stained one. At least this one was dry, and fit him quite right.

I pulled up a chair next to my easel and motioned for him to sit down. My hand was almost shaking when I picked up my pencil and my sketchpad. Without hesitation, I began to pose Dokyeom in various angles, gently moving his body to represent the vision in my mind. Our proximity took me aback for only a moment when our eyes met again just like they did not long ago. Heat warmed up my cheeks and I cleared my throat as I gently moved his head by pushing on his jaw.

"Listen," he started as I continued to try and position him. He moved against me to turn his head to the right side. "This is my best side, so if you want the painting to come out as handsome as the model, then this is it. Unless you're going for a more Brad Pitt style." He turned to the left. "Then definitely this side."

"If that's Brad Pitt, then what's the right side?" I raised an eyebrow.

"Well, Lee Dokyeom of course."

I chuckled and moved him to look to the right, and he started grinning.

"Okay." I sat down on my stool, the sketchpad placed on my knees. "Let's do this."

My hand moved quickly, drawing out rough lines of his basic anatomy. I just needed a good rough draft, then I could get to my canvas. As I continued to draw, I noticed Dokyeom kept glancing at me, despite facing elsewhere.

"You know what?" I held up my pencil. "Move your head to face me."

He did as he was told, and then the gears in my head began to turn. "Never mind, have your body face me." Dokyeom moved his legs to the front. "Okay, just keep looking at me and keep your head up." A smile tugged at his lips, and I almost missed it. "What?"

"Must be my lucky day."

"Why do you say that?"

"I get to stare at a beautiful girl without being called creepy."

I almost snapped my pencil in half. The laughter that bubbled up in my chest wasn't cute, it was of the incredulous snorting kind. And I couldn't make it stop.

"Oh please." I tried to take in a shaking breath. "I look like I went through a wood chipper." And that was putting it lightly. Because of this assignment, I wasn't able to sleep, didn't have much of an appetite except for a daily coffee, and hadn't washed my hair in a week. I didn't need to look amazing for painting, so I just had an old paint-splattered t-shirt on just like the one I had given Dokyeom. Basically, I was lucky if security didn't mistake me for a hobo. "If you think you're getting a pay raise for flattery, I'm sorry but I'm an art student." Meaning: I didn't have an extra dime on me.

"Wait, I'm getting paid?" Dokyeom blinked.

"Of course, I wouldn't make you sit here at the last minute for hours on end without some compensation."

"I get paid to stare at a beautiful girl? Have I won the lottery?" he flashed me a smile. I rolled my eyes and got to work again, tearing the used page out and throwing it towards the trash. Dokyeom screamed bloody murder and I almost fell off my stool.

"DON'T THROW IT OUT!" he got up and retrieved the crumpled paper. "Can I keep it?"

"Uh... Okay fine, but please don't move." He held his hands up and returned to his seat, placing the paper under his chair.

"Why put it in the trash when maybe in 20 years these drafts will be worth thousands of dollars after you're a renowned artist?"

I threw my head back and laughed. Dokyeom had this strange uplifting spirit about him, and it made me feel good. After the terrible week that I had, this was much-needed motivation.

"So what are you studying?" I asked as I was tracing the lines of his neck.

"Sculpture actually," he replied. I stopped sketching.

"You're a Fine Arts student too?" I raised an eyebrow, and he nodded.

"In my 3rd year. You know, come to think of it, my next assignment requires a model too."

My hand moved to draw the sharp angle of his jawline. "Alright, if I get through this assignment with a B, I'll volunteer to be your model too."

"You do know you have to be in the , right?"

This time my pencil snapped in half. He laughed.

"You don't have to do it," he continued. "Not everyone is comfortable with it, and I totally understand. But even though I'm being paid, I'm going to take a rain check on the favor you owe me for this."

I thought for a moment, lost in the shading between his neck and jawline. "I'll do it."


"I've always wanted to try it, so why not?"

Dokyeom's face lit up. "Oh that's... That's really great. You saved me so much trouble, it's so hard to find someone who's willing to do it... Of course, if you change your mind just let me know a bit in advance."

We fell into a comfortable silence as I finished my sketch, but even then I wasn't satisfied. I was too far from him to fully capture what my vision was, and so I scooted so close to him I had to put my knees in between his. I handed him the no-good sketch and he placed it under his chair. My fingers reached for his face to move him again, and his flesh raised in goosebumps.

"Your hands are cold," he laughed sheepishly.

"Oh God sorry I have poor circulation-"

He brought my hands between his and rubbed them to create friction. His hands were soft and gentle, and I almost reached back for them when he let go of me.

"This is the last time I'm sketching a draft," I said. "I'm sure about this one, then I move to the canvas."

"That's a shame. It's nice to see you so up-close."

"Are you always a flirt?" I tapped my pencil against his nose, and he laughed, his eyes turning into crescent moons.

"I'm in a good mood today," he said.

As I continued my sketch, I hadn't realized that I began to lean into him, studying his facial features with great intent. He didn't move though, and for a moment, I thought he was too scared that I'd hit him if he did. Which was true, I hated when models moved too much. I didn't even notice his knees were pressing against mine as I drew nearer, but I did wonder if my breath smelled like coffee. Oh God, what if I repulsed him from that alone? Not to mention my current state looking like a discounted Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus. If my main goal was to get him to fall for me, I was doing a poor job.

The last part of the sketch was the lips. And I made the mistake of looking at them from up-close. His mouth pulled into a smile, and he couldn't stop, which resulted in him laughing.

"I'm sorry, you're so close and you keep looking at my lips, it almost looks like you want to kiss me."

My face turned an ungodly shade of red. "That's- No that's not- Dokyeom, you are a model, and I am an artist, I would never-"

"I'm only teasing you, I know. You think sculpting is any different?"

The thought of him staring at my body for hours on end sent my mind into overdrive, and I got up from my stool.

"I think it's time for a break-" I took a few steps away from him, fanning myself. Then I glanced down at my watch. "WE DON'T HAVE TIME FOR A BREAK!"

I skidded back onto the stool and stared at his lips, but he was still laughing and smiling and it was making my life harder (although, he did have a beautiful smile). He pursed his lips at me and I recoiled, laughing and hitting him on the shoulder.

"YAH!" We were both laughing then.

"Okay okay I stop," he said, but was grinning like a moron at me. Fine, if he couldn't stop smiling, then the painting would be smiling as well.

Dokyeom had really nice lips, thin on the upper lip and a little bit thicker on the bottom, smooth, with two defined peaks. As I got lost in thought, I realized how easy it was to talk with him, like he was an old friend. Come to think of it, he did remind me of someone from my childhood...

"Where are you from?" he asked.

"Mapo, you?"

He raised his eyebrows. "No way! Me too! Were you near Sangam?"

Woah, had we already met in the past? "Yes!"

"I knew it!" He clapped his hands, and I almost smacked him for moving so much. "I knew I recognized you, I must have seen you at the arcade."

That... Was impossible. Because I never stepped foot in one till I was much older, and we had moved away from Mapo. "Nice try," I laughed.

He pursed his lips again, breaking my concentration. "Then it must have been the fish market."

"Oh you're right," I said and shaded in his lips. "I was 5 years old and selling mackerel in my ahjumma pants."

And finally, the draft was complete.

"What do you think?" I flipped the sketchbook towards him.

"Woah." He took the sketchbook in his hand. "Are you sure this is me?"

"If you tell me you hate it, well it will break my heart but I still have an assignment to finish." I got up and walked over to my canvas.

"Maybe this isn't the right angle," he said. "See, I'm telling you, the Brad Pitt side is much better than the front angle, you know I think you should do that instead."

Was he... Was he saying he wanted to stay longer?

"So you don't like it?" I asked.

"God no, just this sketch alone is absolutely masterful." He got up and walked over to me to stand in front of the canvas. "I can't wait to see the finished product."

"I'll see you tomorrow then," I said and took my sketchbook back.

"Tomorrow? You don't need me to stay?"

"Nope, we're done," I said. I had to get the buckets of paint from the storage room. This size canvas took an ungodly amount of paint, but thankfully I didn't plan on using too many colors.

"Ah." He looked around. "Well, is there anything I could help you with?"

"Actually, the paints. Help me get them here?"

Dokyeom took the black and white cans, while I got my primers and extra-large brushes. Everything was set up, and I was ready to go.

"So, good luck," Dokyeom said. I bowed and thanked him, then grabbed my primer and brush. I hadn't noticed he was still lingering until he said, "Hey I was wondering if you're not too b-"

"If I get a good grade on this, you can have the painting," I said as I pushed my sleeves up. "I think it's going to turn out great. Not sure where you'll put such a big thing..."

Dokyeom chuckled weakly and nodded. Then, without another word, he left the studio.

My hands moved quickly to add the base on the canvas, but all that sketching made my hands sore. I glanced at my watch and there wasn't much time left until the deadline, but if I didn't take any breaks, I could almost make it.

Of course, I couldn't reveal everything that I wanted to do with my idea. Once I only had the eyes left, I grabbed the large standing mirror in the corner of the room and brought it over so that it would stand just a little off the side of the canvas, and I finally sat down. It was a bit unsettling to see a giant Dokyeom staring back at me with completely empty eyes, but with a bit more patience, my project was going to come together beautifully.

I paused as I stared at myself in the mirror. The concept of love was so subjective, so vague, that I wasn't sure if my interpretation would be apparent to its viewers. But I had to try anyway. My grade, and reputation, were at stake.

With a deep breath, I began to work on Dokyeom's eyes, trying to not move too much when I glanced back at my reflection in the mirror.

The eyes, Dokyeom. They never lie.




The door bursting open made me fall off my stool. I didn't remember when, or how, but sometime when the sun was creeping over the horizon, I had fallen asleep. I didn't even notice I had a blanket over my shoulders and wondered how it got there.

"OH, DEAR!" My professor exclaimed. "You look absolutely dreadful. Were you working on the assignment all night?"

My voice came out hoarse. "Yes. It's done though."

I turned to look at it, and as the students slowly filed in for the 9 AM class, murmurs filled the room. Everyone crowded around my painting, and now, in the broad daylight, I could fully appreciate my literal work of art.

The panoramic canvas was colored in black and white and featured Dokyeom from the neck up. The focus, however, was on his eyes: seeming absolutely ordinary and sparkling at first, on closer inspection, there's a silhouette of a woman in their reflection. And it was his smile that really completed the painting. It looked like he was transfixed by the person he was looking at, completely, and utterly, in love.

Kind of exactly the same way he was looking at me last night.

"Well I'll be," my professor sighed. "Isn't that just beautiful?"

"Wait a minute," Kibum, one of the students, spoke up, "Isn't that the TA?"

"The who-?"

"Is that you in his eyes?" Jaebum pointed out.

"Uh yeah-"

"Are they dating?"

"Are we what-?"

The door creaked open again, and Dokyeom walked in. He was wearing a white dress shirt with black pants and held a briefcase in his hand. He greeted the professor with a bow and handshake, then his eyes found my painting, and he went completely still.

"No more dawdling everyone, get your pieces ready and I'll be going around to grade them!" The professor clapped her hands.

"Wait!" Jimin called. "Do you get extra points for drawing the TA? That's like, so unfair if he's her boyfriend."

The professor threw her head back with a laugh. I was still trying to process the entire situation when she said, "Not at all. Either way, extra points won't matter if you already have an A+." She gave me a wink and flounced away towards the other students.

Dokyeom approached me, his shoulder brushing against mine. He took a moment to appreciate my painting of him, a smile stretching on his lips, no doubt realizing what Dokyeom in the painting was really looking at.

"It's even better than I imagined," he said. "Since you got an A+, do I get to keep the painting?"

A series of emotions passed over my face. First, embarrassment, as I was inches away from his face for a long amount of time and I only realized that fact at that moment. I was so caught up with completing the painting, I completely disregarded all acceptable social norms with complete strangers and personal space. Second, confusion, as I had heard before that he was our TA, but never saw his face so I never made the connection. And finally, embarrassment, again, because I made it look like he was in love with me.

"Which also reminds me..." He leaned down to whisper in my ear, "I'll see you next week for the modeling session, Daenamu-ya."

The entire universe stilled at that moment. I hadn't heard that nickname ever since I was a child. I used to munch on bamboo shoots like they were chocolate, hence the nickname. But there was only one person who ever called me that. And it had been over 16 years since I last saw him.

My first love.

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