The one thing in his life that Dongho’s always been sure of is music - his capability of making it, his talent in performing it, and his love for it. He loves everything about music, and since he was young, he knew that it was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life, and he knows he’s lucky that he’s making a life out of it.
But with the rate he has been going the past few years, he’s finally reached the slump that his seniors have been warning him about. And now, sitting alone in his studio, his notebook blank, his computer left untouched, he wonders if he’s going to be able to keep on creating music that he would be proud of.
“I think you should take a break, I’m sure the company would understand.”
That’s what Bumzu told him two days ago, something he immediately dismissed, saying that they shouldn’t worry about him, that he’d get over this soon. But he’s now actually considering it, because although it hurts his pride, he knows there’s no other way for him to be able to get out of this slump but to take a step back.
Because the past three years, he moved towards his dreams without a pause, working his way to get recruited to a company, successfully composing for top artists, seeing his songs reach the top of the charts. He’s seen as one of the youngest sought-after songwriters in the country, but now he’s facing a hurdle that he never thought he’d meet.
After producing song after song, almost having been a contributor to a hit song every month, Dongho hasn’t been able to write a song for an entire two months.
So he grabs his notebook, swallows his pride, walks towards their CEO’s office, and gives himself a deadline.
One month to find a muse, one month to be able to write again.
Much to his own surprise, he’s spending the first day of his break outside his apartment. Yesterday, as soon as he finished talking to their CEO, he sent a message to his friends about it, who both immediately asked him to meet the next day.
So he’s on the way to Garosugil to have brunch with Minki and Minhyun, two of his closest friends from college. He hasn’t seen Minki in months, because Minki had been in Japan for work. And it’s his third time seeing Minhyun this week, because technically, Minhyun is his co-worker.
The restaurant Minhyun chose is an almost hidden bistro at a side-street. It’s no surprise that Minhyun knows of such a place, after all he has to often choose less-crowded places, else he’d immediately be recognized.
Minhyun and Minki are already there when he arrives, and they greet him with equally mischievous smiles that raise a red flag in his head.
“Wow, I can’t believe you’re finally on your first non-holiday break.” Minki says as soon as he takes a seat.
He rolls his eyes, without really saying anything because Minki isn’t wrong.
“I know. I can't believe he's finally on vacation, a month of not seeing him in the company building seems nice." Minhyun teases.
He makes a move to hit Minhyun, who on impulse easily deflects it.
"Well, at least I know who isn't getting the song I get out of this hiatus then." he quickly bites back, making a face at Minhyun, who's already lifting a hand to flick his forehead.
"God, I can't believe you two still act like this." Minki notes exasperatedly, gesturing for the server to place their orders.
Despite the petty bantering, Minhyun is actually one of his closest friends. It just so happened that their clashing attitudes always get them into these nonsensical arguments that puts Minki on edge, wanting to bash their heads together or something along those lines.
"Anyway, so where do you plan to go? Jeju? Osaka?" Minhyun asks, as soon as they've placed their orders.
Dongho hums in response. He hasn't really thought about it much. Minhyun's suggestions aren't bad, maybe he could go home to visit his mom or fly to Japan with Minki when he leaves again for work in a week. The possibilities are endless, but there's something that's telling him to stay for a bit more.
"I'm not sure. Maybe I'll visit my mom during the last week, but for now, I'll probably just go around Seoul. Maybe Gyeonggi-do? Somewhere close for a day trip or something like that." he says, taking a sip of his iced americano.
Minki nods but gives him a knowing look, "You're still thinking of work aren't you? You don't want to go far, so you can easily come back when the company calls you?"
Dongho takes that in and wonders if that was it. He's a workaholic, as Minhyun would not-so-fondly call him. And it's true, because he was the type who'd work himself to the bone and would feel proud after pulling all-nighters. He usually takes on project on top of project, because he’s so worried about missing any chances that he could let go of. So was he really worried that he'll miss out on opportunities when he leaves for a month?
"Maybe." he pauses. "But my gut is telling me I wouldn't have to go far to find what I'm looking for."
Back in college, whenever his classmates called him a musical genius because all their professors and most of their seniors simply adore him and his work, he would often laugh and dismiss the praises. Because whatever he is then and now, never came easy. If you listened to his first few demos, you’d cringe, because they’re nothing like his chart-dwellers. He worked hard, even though at some points, his direction became uncertain.
Back when he just graduated top of his class and all, after sending his demos to various companies and getting no response came the disillusionment. He honestly thought then that it would be so easy to sell his songs, but it wasn’t. So at that time, he had to compromise.
So for around three months, the months that led up to getting an offer from his company now for a bunch of his songs, he worked as a vocal trainer at a music academy. He had worked with around fifteen trainees from different companies.
And his first and last student there was Lee Daehwi. Back then, he honestly thought he was still too young to be training anyone. But the kids that came in and out of the academy were much younger than he was. They were mostly high school students, and there were even middle schoolers here and there.
With how he dressed and styled himself back then, with his initial stoic demeanor when placed in foreign environments, he completely understands why the kid was utterly terrified of him.
But soon after, Daehwi became too comfortable with him. Becoming like his annoying little brother that he left in Jeju. And they bonded over their discovery that they both produce music.
It's been more than three years since then, and Daehwi is finally debuting. They've kept in touch all these years, and Daehwi's sudden request for Dongho to visit him in the studio is not surprising at all.
Dongho was actually supposed to produce a track for the debut album of Daehwi's group, but upon discussion, they decided to shelf it and save it for the next album. Daehwi already sent him the track he's having trouble with even before he went on this month-long break that's currently on its fifth day, but they only had the time to meet today, so Dongho already had the chance to review it.
“I listened to the bit you’re worrying about over and over, and it sounds good. But I do get what you’re saying, maybe lower the bass? So it won’t overshadow the melody.” he says as he taps his pen on the table to the beat of the song.
Daehwi immediately lights up, quickly working on what Dongho suggested. Dongho smiles at the younger's enthusiasm, remembering how he used to be this critical of his own work. He still is, but he's learned through the years that sometimes overthinking his own work only halts his creative process further.
"Hyung! This is it!" he hears Daehwi exclaim by his side.
Daehwi heaves a sigh of relief and smiles brightly at him, "You're a lifesaver! Thanks for coming here even on your break."
"Oh! Hyung, come see our dance practice too. It starts in a bit." Daehwi adds.
Dongho doesn't have anything much to do, so he agrees. He still doesn't have much planned, and surprisingly, that doesn't bother that as much as he thought it would.
He isn't a planner by any means, not when Minhyun exists in their friend group. He often does things on impulse too. The next thing he's planned for himself is a weekend trip to Daejeon, a trip that would still depend on his mood in a few days.
So he follows Daehwi to their practice room, and he sees that Daehwi's members conversing with someone whose back is turned away from him.
"Dongho hyung is here!" Daehwi says, rushing towards his members, who all greet Dongho from where they are with a bow. Youngmin, the leader of Daehwi's group and a close acquaintance of his, waves excitedly.
But it wasn't their greetings that grab his attention, it's the person who turns around to look at him. He's faced with a familiar face that brings back memories from his past. And he’s immediately taken aback, because after all these years, despite what had happened, even after everything he had said and done, Jonghyun still smiles at him with the same warmth he thinks he doesn’t deserve.