“Dum, dum, dum, dum … no. Dum-dum de dum-dum … no.” Blaine taps his toe, trying to find a groove with the rhythm tickling his head, but he can’t get the two to sync up. The song he’s been forcing himself to write sounds like it’s in 4/4 time when he hums it, but his body insists it’s in ¾ time. He should go with his body over his head, trust his instincts instead of thinking it to death, but his attempts at giving himself up to intuition over intellect are becoming frustrating. He’s been pounding away at this song since high school. As far as he’s concerned, it’s the one. It’s been niggling his brain, flowing through his veins, and bubbling in his stomach for most of (what he can call) his musical career, entirely formed and just waiting to be put down on paper.
So why can’t he write it!?
He scowls at the sheet of manuscript paper on his lap, the lines written over and erased so many times that a few bars are absent, the page worn in spots where his pencil has ripped through, causing him to jot a few notes on the thigh of his khakis. “Dum, dum-de, dum … no. Dum, dum, de-dum, dum. No! Dammit, dammit, dum-de-dum dammit!!”
Blaine snaps his head back and stares up at the sky above, taking a deep breath to clear his muddled head. He can just barely make out the thread of music that he’s been attempting to write, hidden underneath something else he’s been working on for the toilet cleanser account that’s supposed to be paying his rent. As Blaine tries his best to lure the strain out from the nether, it mixes with the tune he’s composing for Lysol’s newest campaign, and the two jumble together in an unpleasant, unoriginal soup.
Blaine hates writing jingles, loathes them with every fiber of his being. When his brother suggested it as a stepping stone to mainstream songwriting, Blaine thought it a good idea. A foot in the door. At the very least, what harm could it do?
What it did was quell his natural creativity. Instead of thinking in terms of rich, complex melodies and dramatic, heart-thumping basslines, every song that pops into his head is a catchy, upbeat knock-off of his more original work.
And it’s killing him.
Unfortunately, he won’t be able to go back later on and re-work those jingles into the songs they were meant to be. Once he sells the rights to them, that’s it. They’re no longer his in the legal sense. He’d be looking at huge series of lawsuits if he did.
If he has to write another jingle, if he has to bastardize another one of his songs, he’s going to rip his face off.
As it is, if he doesn’t find a way to make his big break, he’ll be living off of the lifetime supply of dog food he got as a perk from his last jingle … for the dog he doesn’t even own.
But after spending the last few years since graduating Oberlin carving a living out of peppy, nauseating ear-worms, he swore this Lysol jingle would be the last one. He should be excited that he’s about to break free into the solo career he’s been dreaming of, but he can’t even pen his first song. He feels backed up against a wall – no way of going forward, but with no want to return to his roots.
Not moving forward, not going back. That makes him pretty much stuck where he is, and not just in Ohio, but in this park. He better get comfy on this bench, because when he can’t pay his rent, that’s where he’ll be sleeping from now on.
At least he’ll have dog food to eat.
He glares at the crumpled manuscript paper, and the mess of notes he’d hoped would magically become his first great hit while he was busy feeling sorry for himself. In his right frontal lobe, where his sanity had started to slowly drip away, a blockade to depression that he’d been futilely patching with positive thoughts and inspirational clichés crumbles.
And he starts to lose it.
“Forget it!” Blaine mutters, angrily tearing the sheet of music into pieces. “Just forget it! This is useless! So frickin’ useless!” He rips the paper again and again, each individual little piece until it’s a fraction of what it once was. At this point, watching his hard work torn to shreds doesn’t even break his heart, the feeling of decimating it with his own bare hands so satisfying. He knows that later on, he’ll look back at this moment and weep, but not over the loss of this one sheet of paper and the work it represents.
But because of how thoroughly he’s given up on his dream.
“I am so done! I’m never going to write anything worth listening to! I’m going to spend the rest of my pathetic life writing shampoo commercials and dog food jingles! This is not the life I want!”
Luckily, the park at this hour is fairly empty. The people who are there, jogging along the path that winds past his bench, have their headsets on and their eyes trained ahead, more focused on their workouts than on the rantings of a furious ex-songwriter.
Maybe he should give in and work at his father’s office. Sure, he’d start off at the bottom, sorting mail and picking up coffee, but eventually he’d become partner – after a decade or so. He’d have a career, a stable income …
… a future.
But can he go backwards and go forwards at the same time? He doesn’t see how that’s possible. The point of following his passion was to pave his own way, make a mark on the world that the Anderson family has never made.
But, most importantly, he had wanted to be true to himself.
Working for his father is security, yes, but it’s also the easy way out.
And if he takes it, he sees himself hating his life every day until he dies.
Okay, Blaine, you’re being a little overdramatic, he thinks, considering the squares of paper in his hands. You’re only twenty-six. Your life isn’t over yet. Nowhere near it. You don’t need to be a famous songwriter to love your life or pave your own way. You can be a teacher, or a doctor, or … or a something. You’ve got time. You’ve got options. Not becoming a songwriter … that isn’t the end of the world.
Blaine sighs as he thinks it. No, it isn’t the end of the world.
But it sure as hell feels like it.
He stands from the park bench, the papers in his hands weighing him down as he rises to his feet, the gravity of what he’s just done, what he’s just decided, doing its best to pull him under. But he can’t let it. He can’t let setbacks ruin his life. Move forward. That’s been his mantra since high school. When he’d lost opportunities, when his brother moved away, when his parents got divorced, when he was bullied so badly he had to switch schools: move forward, he always told himself. Don’t look back.
So he doesn’t look at the scraps of sheet music as he tosses them into the trash.
Because that would be the same as looking back.
He takes one step away, then another, till he’s practically storming off, figuring that if he keeps going, he’ll figure it out. He’ll find a solution to his problem. He’ll think of that one other thing he could do for the rest of his life that won’t feel like a prison sentence, which is difficult seeing as being a songwriter is literally the only thing he’s wanted to be for as far as he can remember.
Or he’ll walk all the way to New York, change his name, become a vagrant, and disappear.
Either way, problem solved.
Loyal to his mantra, he doesn’t look back at the bench where he was seated moments ago, so he doesn’t see the pieces of his manuscript lift from the trash can, spiraling as if caught by a small cyclone, and blow away with the breeze.
He also doesn’t see the man wearing bright white shorts and a white tank-top barreling in his direction; chestnut-colored hair and pale, freckled skin glowing beneath the afternoon sun; skating down the jogging path on gold pinstriped rollerblades; traveling so fast that he wouldn’t be able to stop in time if he tried.
And he doesn’t try.
He seems to be aiming for Blaine, sea-blue eyes locked on him like a target.
The man doesn’t bump into Blaine. He crashes into him, like a bolt of lightning zipping down from the sky. The collision reverberates through Blaine, makes everything from the soles of his shoes to his back teeth vibrate with its intensity. But, astoundingly, he doesn’t fall to the ground. He absorbs the hit. It goes straight through him, filling him in a way he couldn’t describe if he had to.
He should be in pain, but all he feels is heat.
He turns to see what hit him, and is confounded to discover himself wrapped inside another person’s arms.
“Wh---what the …?” Blaine stutters. “Hey!”
The man doesn’t respond, staring shamelessly into his shocked gaze. Blaine can’t decipher the expression on the man’s face, nor his shy but confident smile. He doesn’t appear angry, or scared, or the least bit repentant.
Oddly enough, he looks like he’s been waiting to crash into Blaine his entire life.
“Hey,” Blaine repeats in a softer voice. “Are you … are you all right?”
The man nods, running a single hand up Blaine’s spine till it comes to rest at the base of his skull. Without a word, the man leans forward and kisses him. The touch of his lips is electric, an actual spark crackling across Blaine’s skin before the man goes deeper. Blaine doesn’t object. He can’t think to; he doesn’t want to. This has to be the most exciting, most mesmerizing kiss Blaine has ever shared with anyone, and with a total stranger … even if the man doesn’t exactly act like it.
The man doesn’t pull away when he finishes kissing Blaine, lingering within the reach of his mouth as if he belongs there.
“Who … who are you?” Blaine asks, grasping for the chance that he might know him, that this might not be the beginning and end of some random occurrence, but picking up where something from his past left off.
The man shakes his head, smiling playfully. “Don’t lose your head,” he whispers in a voice so beautiful, so unmistakable, Blaine knows he’s never heard it before in his life. He presses one more kiss to Blaine’s lips, too quick to even qualify as a peck, then takes off, flying down the jogging path like a streak of pure energy. Blaine spins to watch him, but he skates too fast. If Blaine didn’t know better, he might have sworn he saw a trail of light behind him.
Blaine opens his eyes wide to track him, but in a single blink, he’s gone, all gorgeous eyes, vintage skates, soft lips, and golden trail of him. The man evaporates out of sight before he hits the bend, and suddenly, Blaine’s head is filled with music.