[moodboard by cata]
~ ~ ~
Removing a heavy and odd-shaped backpack from the overhead compartment of an airplane was, arguably, the most awkward position to be in—objects “may have shifted during flight,” and when Jeon Jeongguk popped open the overhead compartment, he learned quickly why flight attendants regurgitated the same message that he blissfully ignored. His shifted backpack slid right out onto the bill of his black baseball cap like something out of a cartoon, nearly knocking him over.
“Sorry, sorry,” he apologized to other patrons in the vicinity as his back hit the edge of the aisle seat opposite his seat, and he caught his balance and dragged the backpack down his face with a grunt before hugging it to his chest and then heaving it onto the empty seat in which he had been sitting a moment ago.
“I don’t want to hear it,” Jeongguk sighed as he adjusted his cap, one elbow resting on the seat of the businessman in front of him. From the middle seat, Kim Seokjin leaned back with his arms crossed, standing up but angling himself as he looked over at Jeongguk.
“I just spent a few hours in the middle seat for you.” He gestured to the backpack Jeongguk was embracing. “That’s karma.”
“Just disembark the goddamn plane,” Jeongguk sighed, and Seokjin snickered.
“Language. Someone might recognize you.”
“Someone might recognize you,” Jeongguk mocked under his breath, and Seokjin punched his shoulder as Jeongguk snorted and began to waddle down the aisle towards the exit doors of the plane. He bowed to the flight attendants, and then he walked down the ramp towards Incheon Airport with Seokjin in tow, the two of them constant and bickering travel buddies. Seeing as Seokjin was Jeongguk’s manager, he was in charge of always looking out for Jeongguk’s well-being, but that didn’t mean that Jeongguk couldn’t take the shit out of him whenever the opportunity presented itself.
“Do you want to go to the studio, or straight home?” Seokjin asked as they walked through the busy airport on their way to baggage claim. They had each checked one bag for the flight from Tokyo back home to South Korea, and Jeongguk also had to fetch his guitar. He hated having to trust an airline to keep it safe, but he had very little choice in the matter, seeing as no airline would let him purchase a ticket just so his guitar could be buckled into the window seat (he had tried that once).
“Don’t know. Are you going home?” Jeongguk asked, and Seokjin snickered.
“After following you around Tokyo for a week and fighting a hoard of screaming girls? I love you, but I’m going home,” he declared, and Jeongguk grinned, remembering the very moment he had been attempting to shop for a new jacket and about six girls had come barreling into the luxury brand store. Poor Seokjin had really taken the brunt of it, but it made for good stories.
“Yeah, fair. You can just take me to the studio.” Jeongguk scooted past a mother with two excitable children, and he and Seokjin cruised their way through all the rigamarole of returning to South Korea before stopping at baggage claim. Jeongguk grabbed his duffle bag and embraced his guitar like a lost child when it came around on the conveyor belt, and then he and Seokjin exited the airport into the warm, early June air. Seokjin pulled out his phone, likely to check if the car was close by, and Jeongguk fiddled with the straps of his backpack by his waist, his brain still buzzing despite its mushed state.
The trip to Tokyo was meant to have brought inspiration and motivation to Jeongguk. He was self-made, after all, which meant that he was autonomous in his creative process for the most part. After finishing his military service at nineteen, he had plucked up the courage to drop five songs about heartbreak and the woes of being a teenager that he had written and produced and sang onto SoundCloud, thinking that maybe a few of his friends would listen. Twenty-four hours later, his friends had casually spread around his music like wildfire, letting it seep into the black hole of the internet.
It took just a few days for Jeongguk to explode onto the social media scene. He had gained momentum like an avalanche, shifting from shy university student to shy underground singer with a massive following. His four mixtapes and handful of one-off singles had tens of millions of hits. He had migrated to Spotify about four years ago after being signed to a label and had three million monthly listeners. Perhaps his music wasn’t played on the radio, but his millions of followers on Instagram and Twitter paid no mind to that. They latched onto Jeongguk because of his relatable lyrics, commiserated with him, felt like they were in his mind.
It was without a doubt the Virgo in him, but as a perfectionist to a fault, Jeongguk tried to do it all. He had started out on his own—he wrote every lyric. He composed every song and played the piano, guitar, or the second-hand drum machine. He produced, he mixed, and he sang. Creating the music was nice, but singing was where Jeongguk found his home. His life plan was to sing until his voice gave out on him, until he could no longer make melodies and harmonies through song, until his body was too weak to do so. And encouraging that mindset was one Min Yoongi, CEO and producer extraordinaire.
“Why are you here? Didn’t you just get back from Tokyo?”
“Didn’t you?” Only two minutes after being dropped off, Jeongguk threw his backpack onto the floor by the black leather couch and plopped down, sprawling out and staring at the back of Yoongi’s head. Yoongi had all of his computer monitors spread out before him, headphones around his neck as he clicked away. He held up a finger over his shoulder to Jeongguk, and then he pressed a button to speak into a microphone.
“You can come out.” He released the button, and then he spun his chair around and faced Jeongguk. He was wearing a grey beanie over his blonde hair, but he yanked it off and yawned, ruffling his hair before jamming the beanie back on his head.
“You caught the earlier flight, I see,” Jeongguk commented, and Yoongi adjusted his black GENIUS LAB ENTERTAINMENT shirt while nodding. He was the founder and CEO of his own little label, and he was also a sought-after producer in the industry. The moment he had heard Jeongguk’s teenage SoundCloud ventures, Yoongi had contacted him through direct messaging on Instagram to meet. Jeongguk hadn’t been too interested in being signed to a label until he had met Yoongi in person. Then, with stars in his eyes, he had promptly picked up and moved to Seoul just to sign with Genius.
“Had to be back early. I had a recording session,” Yoongi said, and right on cue, the door opened.
“Well, look who’s back. Have you written your next seven albums?” Kim Taehyung grinned and dropped down onto the couch beside Jeongguk, spreading his legs wide enough that he had to throw one of them over Jeongguk’s thigh.
“I fucking wish,” Jeongguk grumbled, pressing his fingertips against his eyes until he saw flashes of silver. He kept his eyes closed as Yoongi began to play back a lovely R&B-type song that Taehyung was recording for his sophomore album. Taehyung was Yoongi’s first catch, the first artist signed to the label, and he had something of a cult following across Korea and into Japan. He was also shockingly handsome with a wicked sense of humor, and Jeongguk knew damn well what he and Yoongi did when no one was looking.
“Jeongguk is in the middle of an identity crisis. Be nice,” Yoongi said as he slipped his headphones back on and started clicking away again, dropping Taehyung’s vocals into the right place and playing it back repeatedly. Taehyung patted Jeongguk’s thigh.
“What, did you hit a wall?” he asked, and Jeongguk pulled the brim of his cap even further down to cover his eyes. When Jeonguk had first met Taehyung, they hadn’t gotten along well, their personalities clashing, Jeongguk far too shy and Taehyung far too brash. But in the few years that they had been around one another, they had grown to understand how the other functioned, knew each other’s sense of humor and limits.
“I don’t have anything to write about,” Jeongguk complained, and Taehyung hummed.
“Been there. I’ve had material lately, though,” Taehyung said, and Jeongguk saw Yoongi pause for a moment before sighing and returning to his work. Jeongguk didn’t ask, but he knew that Yoongi and Taehyung’s relationship was tumultuous at best. All he knew was that one night a year ago, they had both gotten drunk and had ended up fucking on the couch of Yoongi’s studio, and neither one of them had willpower, because they kept falling back into bed with each other. Yoongi wanted to date Taehyung. Taehyung refused. But they couldn’t break it off.
“Would you like to share some of your experiences with me so that I can write songs about them?” Jeongguk asked, and Taehyung snorted.
“You’re not stealing my material,” he said with a grin.
“Taehyung-ah. Back in the booth,” Yoongi said, waving his hand without even looking. Taehyung scowled, but then he turned to Jeongguk.
“Just watch a drama or a movie and write about what you watch,” he suggested. “You always write songs like you’re sharing your diary. Try something new.”
“That’s not how Jeon Jeongguk functions,” Yoongi said, eavesdropping. Taehyung leaned against the doorframe, tilting his head to the side as Jeongguk raised his eyebrows with a tiny smile, wiggling his heels against the carpet.
“He usually functions as a pain in the ass,” Taehyung said, and Jeongguk lunged like he was going to chase, so Taehyung let out a laugh as he ran his fingers through his dark purple hair and disappeared back into the recording booth. Yoongi turned his chair back around, elbows on his knees as he stared Jeongguk down. He was only twenty-eight but absolutely brilliant, a mentor to Jeongguk.
“You want to do anything with those two songs we wrote?” he asked, cracking his knuckles.
“Two songs,” Jeongguk repeated crankily. “Two songs, hyung. We were in Tokyo for days and I was supposed to be inspired, and we finished two songs. And they both suck.”
“They don’t suck.”
“The melodies are okay, but the lyrics are subpar.”
“They’re not subpar.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“They’re just different,” Yoongi finally said, and Jeongguk threw up one hand. “What? They are. I mean, you wrote about being in a hotel room and missing someone who doesn’t even exist. You’re writing from a different place. You’re not dating anyone. You’ve written everything you could about life’s current bullshit. And you’re not the kind of person to write peppy, happy, inspirational lyrics.”
“This is the first time I’ve been in this situation,” Jeongguk said, frustrated. “I’m usually always on a roll. I’ve never had a block like this. I should just date someone and break-up with them for the sake of a damn album.”
“Well, if you were okay with just singing anything, it wouldn’t be a problem,” Yoongi pointed out. “I could write you nine or ten songs for an album in a week, all bangers. But that’s not your vibe.”
“What, so I’m weird because I like to write about things that actually matter to me?” Jeongguk asked, pained. Yoongi chuckled, wiggling his chair.
“You do need another break-up,” he teased as he turned his chair back around. “Try a new angle, Jeongguk-ah. Love might be interesting. Maybe your fans want to hear something fresh.” He pressed a button. “Okay, Tae. Can we, uh… let me get the harmonies for the bridge.”
Tired, Jeongguk snatched up his backpack with a grunt and shrugged it onto both shoulders, and then he nudged Yoongi’s shoulder and waved to Taehyung before leaving the small recording space. As he did, he pursed his lips and pulled out his phone to take a quick video of the front entrance to Genius Lab Entertainment, captioning it with “back at it” before posting it to his Instagram story. Then he clicked onto Twitter and lazily lifted his phone at a decent angle, tucking a bit of his blonde hair behind his ear underneath his hat and taking a quick picture of himself and then posting it with a few emojis. His phone began to blow up, but Jeongguk never paid much attention to it. He locked his phone and tucked it away, and then he ducked into the parking garage of the building to grab his car so he could drive home.
Jeongguk’s apartment was in Gangnam, and it was pretty new. When he had first moved to Seoul at age twenty, he had found a tiny shoebox of a studio apartment and had slept on the couch, forgoing a bed and using a towel as a pillow instead. Now that he was twenty-four and earning a decent living, he could afford a few splurges, like his Mercedes and a two-bedroom apartment.
Ordering food for delivery used to be one of Jeongguk’s favorite things to do, but more recently, he had started attempting to cook. He had bought nice pans and a great knife and had just admired them in his kitchen for so long without touching them, but now he was cooking basic Korean meals for himself in his attempt to remain fit.
The mundane, everyday tasks were what felt good. Jeongguk had spent his first year in Seoul running on fumes, thinking that he had to sleep at Genius in order to make decent music. He had quickly learned that pouring water into a bucket full of holes never worked. Slowly but surely, he was starting to cut back on some of his bad habits, but overthinking and obsessing over his craft was not one of them.
“The fuck is this?” Jeongguk murmured to himself while lying in bed that night, scrolling through his phone. He always dumped lyrics into his Notes app, and he read:
Woke up and reached out to your side of the bed
Wanted warmth but the pillow was cold instead
Thought you’d stay, smell the coffee at 8am
Did I dream up your touch in delirium?
Jeongguk was fluent enough in English to write lyrics in the language and he often put out songs in strictly Korean, strictly English, or a mix of both. It helped broaden his audience, but the lyrics on the screen in front of him were horrific in his mind. Disappointed, he locked his phone, tossed it onto the nightstand, and rolled over so he could sleep, trying not to laugh at himself for writing such dreamy lyrics.
The other side of the bed was always cold.
Jeongguk was not one to really indulge in all that Seoul had to offer, but sometimes, he woke up in the mood to do something good for himself. The next day, he rolled out of bed closer to one in the afternoon, fighting exhaustion, and he decided while in the shower that it was a good day to go to a yoga class. And he knew exactly where to go.
OHM Yoga was in Gangnam, and it was one of the more popular spots to practice. Jeongguk had never thought of himself as being a yoga person, but he had been sweet-talked into it by arguably the most important person in his life. Only then had he managed to see the benefits of attempting to meditate and stretching his limbs in directions he had never assumed they would stretch. He had tried all sorts of yoga, but it was hot yoga that had grabbed him by the throat and refused to let go. There was something about sweating profusely until it dripped into his eyes that made Jeongguk feel like he was both productive and successful.
The class was at three o’clock, but Jeongguk slipped into the hot studio late, as he always did, right when the opening meditation had begun. He had made it a habit to walk in late and stay in his ending savasana long after the class had dismissed, because once upon a time, he had been recognized to a point where it had disrupted the flow of the class. Quietly, he rolled out his mat in the back corner, grabbed his blocks and yoga strap from the shelves, and settled into a kneeling position, hands resting palms-up on his thighs. He cracked one eye open and snuck a peek at the instructor, and then he smiled and closed his eyes again.
“...And of course, if ujjayi breathing is part of your practice, you’re welcomed to begin with that. Inhale through the nose, exhale with the mouth closed, dragging the breath at the back of the throat as you do.”
Jeongguk slipped into his preferred breathing pattern until the meditation was over. He went through every pose, every motion, every downward dog. He nailed his tripod headstand, held his eka pada koundinyasana longer than ever before, managed to grab his big toe in his king pigeon pose before collapsing sideways like many of the other students. By the time class was over and he was drenched in sweat, he felt completely satisfied.
“I’ll come around and place a cool towel over your eyes. If you would prefer to not be touched or would prefer the towel to the side, please place your hand over your abdomen.”
Jeongguk kept himself sprawled out, and a cool towel that smelled the lavender was placed onto his face over his eyes and forehead. He felt an extra flick against his forehead, though, that made him smile, even in his exhausted state.
With one final collective “ohm,” class ended, and Jeongguk collapsed back onto his mat with his eyes closed, listening to the footsteps all around him, the quiet chatter of students packing up and heading out. When he sensed enough silence, Jeongguk opened his eyes.
“Oh, fuck,” he gasped, recoiling.
“Language.” Park Jimin was standing right overtop of Jeongguk, straddling his hips with one foot on either side of Jeongguk’s mat, and he was grinning happily. His black hair was a bit sweaty and stuck in his eyelashes, and he was wearing a black t-shirt and black yoga shorts. He was also bent at the waist to be right in Jeongguk’s face. “Not in my classroom.”
“You gave me no other choice.” Jeongguk twirled his lukewarm towel and whipped it against Jimin’s calf muscle. “Good class.”
“You face-planted in your eka pada koundinyasana.” Jimin straightened up, hands resting on his hips as he rocked back and forth slowly to stretch. Jeongguk lifted one knee in a threat, and Jimin snickered and backed up to avoid any pain to his groin.
“Really good that you, the certified instructor who spent time in fucking Goa to train, are commenting only on my face-planting,” Jeongguk retorted.
“Your king pigeon was kind of like an awkward bird,” Jimin replied as he strolled over to grab some of the cleaning supplies, completely ignoring Jeongguk’s bellyaching.
“I missed you so much, hyung,” Jeongguk said loudly, and Jimin let out a laugh, padding barefoot across the floor with the mop to clean the floor before the next class in fifteen minutes.
“I haven’t seen you in a month, fool,” Jimin replied. “Is that what best friends do? Ditch each other for four weeks? All that time apart, and for what?”
“You know I just came back from Tokyo,” Jeongguk complained, rolling over to grab the sanitizer spray for his mat.
“Was it a success?” Jimin started to mop the floor from the far corner.
“Guess how many songs I wrote?”
“I was close,” Jimin said with a shit-eating grin. “Come on, you only wrote two? You were on a roll there for a while. You said last time I saw you that you wanted to put out more than an EP this year. What’s going on? Inspiration not hitting?”
“Not even a little.” Jeongguk rolled up his sanitized mat with the sling and threw it over one shoulder. “You should’ve seen some of the lyrics I was writing. I thought Yoongi hyung was going to gag.”
“It couldn’t have been that bad.”
“You’re right. It was worse,” Jeongguk dramatically said, and Jimin rolled his eyes. “Can I do my handstand?”
“Before I clean that part of the floor? Yeah. Do it the right way, or I’ll mop your face.”
Jeongguk got close enough to the wall, and then he bent at the waist and pressed his hands into the floor. With as much strength as he could muster, he kicked up into a handstand, and then his heels hit the wall with a dull thud.
“Your back is completely bowed.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Jeongguk straightened himself out and fixed his arms and shoulders, and then he started to test his balance bit by bit. “Hyung said that I need another break-up. He was kidding, but I think he was also mildly serious.”
“What, Mingyu dumping you and then you producing a banger of an EP wasn’t enough for him?” Jimin asked, still mopping the floor as Jeongguk watched upside down. “How many men does he want you to date?”
“He was kidding. It was actually my suggestion,” Jeongguk laughed. “But that would make this my fourth release based on real-life heartbreak, and I don’t know. Just feels a bit… like I’m whining.”
“I don’t think your music sounds like you’re whining,” Jimin replied. “Your music is always beautiful, Korean or English.”
Jeongguk immediately fell out of his handstand and collapsed to his knees, hearing Jimin laugh. With a groan, Jeongguk rolled and rose tiredly to his feet, grabbing his mat and towel and water bottle again. Jimin completed his mopping, and then he paused just short of Jeongguk and used the bottom hem of his shirt to wipe at the bridge of his nose, giving Jeongguk the perfect view of his best friend’s slim waist and toned stomach. He was only human, after all, and window shopping never hurt anyone.
Jimin was two years older than Jeongguk, and about four years ago, Jeongguk had met him at a coffee shop in Gangnam—repeatedly. Jeongguk had just come to Seoul to pursue music after being dragged in by then-stranger Yoongi, and he had picked his spot for coffee. Every morning, he had run into a cute but flustered guy always in work-out clothing and always on the run. Jeongguk, who had been dating a fellow aspiring singer named Jaehyun at the time, had politely kept quiet for two months before finally asking the guy’s name and ordering him a coffee when the guy had forgotten to bring his wallet or phone into the coffee shop with him to pay.
Jimin was a yoga instructor who taught dance classes on the side. He had done his military service at eighteen (like Jeongguk had) and had immediately jumped into university. He had been studying health science when Jeongguk had first met him, and now he was thriving, doing exactly what he had always wanted to do. Jimin had taken keen interest in Jeongguk, and they had become fast friends, mixing their friend groups every once in a while. Jimin was loyal and steadfast and a relentless tease with a soft side and a wild streak, introspection and outrageous humor, and the ability to hold his alcohol better than anyone Jeongguk knew.
Jeongguk hadn’t met Jimin in some fantastic, you-have-to-hear-this-story kind of way. It wasn’t a tale he would tell at parties. But if anyone were to ask him about his best friend, his mind would go to Jimin instantly, and Jimin tended to do the same. No matter how many days or weeks they went without communicating, they could bump into each other at a hot yoga class and fall right back into old habits.
“Thanks, but it sounded like crap this time around,” Jeongguk replied. “The beats aren’t bad. The actual music itself? Pretty decent. The lyrics and the melody, though… garbage. I don’t know. I feel like I’ve written so much about heartbreak that it’s like—like a sponge that’s been wrung out.”
“There’s the poet. Emily Dickinson has been awfully quiet,” Jimin teased, opening the sealed door to the air-conditioned lobby, where lo-fi music was playing softly over the speakers. “You want to get a smoothie with me? Or are you busy?”
“No, I can do a smoothie. Is hyung paying?” Jeongguk grinned, and Jimin rolled his eyes.
“Say the guy who just bought himself a Mercedes,” he said, and Jeongguk snickered.
“Okay, fine. My treat, since I ditched you for an entire month.”
Jimin slipped behind the front desk and clocked out, and then the two of them made a beeline for the changing room, where they both showered off and put on clean clothes to avoid walking around the streets of Gangnam drenched in sweat. Jeongguk made sure to put on a bucket hat as well, because although he wasn’t anywhere near idol status, his face was recognizable enough these days.
Neither Jimin nor Jeongguk left any room to breathe in the conversation as they walked to the shop and grabbed their smoothies. As one of them sipped, the other talked, and sometimes they interrupted each other. Jimin told hilarious stories about his yoga teaching woes. Jeongguk told stories about his failed attempts at high notes in recordings that had Jimin in near tears from laughing. Jimin told Jeongguk all about how his ex from three years ago, Kim Namjoon, was planning some nature walk for his two-year anniversary with Jimin’s roommate and close friend, Jung Hoseok. Jeongguk had even written songs about it a year ago—he had asked for Jimin’s thoughts about watching Namjoon fall in love with someone else, and Jimin had delivered beautifully. Jimin and Namjoon were thick as thieves still, a couple that had turned out to be better as friends. Rather, on the plus side, Jimin thoroughly enjoyed watching his panicky roommate get all flustered at Namjoon’s quiet demonstrations of love.
“So you’re back in Seoul?” Jimin asked as they began to walk towards the yoga studio together. Jimin didn’t have a car and preferred to walk or bike everywhere using public transport when necessary, and Jeongguk knew Jimin biked to work.
“For the time being, yeah,” Jeongguk said, kicking a pebble along as he walked alongside Jimin. “I’m not going anywhere until I figure out the angle for this album. I’ve run out of heartbreak material, so I’ll just have to buckle down and find another way. My fans are getting antsy.”
“Your fans would wait an eternity for you,” Jimin said. He knew Jeongguk’s artist woes inside and out and had been there to see Jeongguk go from semi-internet phenomenon to full-blown rising star. In more ways than one, Jimin helped Jeongguk stay grounded in reality. Were it not for Jimin, Jeongguk likely would have let his anxiety take the wheel and steer. He always teased Jimin for saying that yoga was the key to relaxing, that a good diet would help. But in the same breath, Jeongguk did absolutely everything Jimin suggested, and it always worked.
“Someone left a comment the other day asking if I could break their heart, because then I’d put out new music,” Jeongguk dully said, and Jimin snickered.
“You know people on the internet hit new lows in desperation when they have no life outside of Twitter,” he replied, and Jeongguk grinned.
“This was Instagram.”
“Even worse,” Jimin lamented, and they both burst out laughing. Jimin sighed and linked his elbow with Jeongguk’s, and Jeongguk smiled. Jimin was naturally affectionate with a sunny disposition and outlook on life. Jeongguk was likely one of the only people who knew how much Jimin had cried when he and Namjoon had broken up. Perhaps it had been inevitable, but the heartache of going from lovers to just friends was something Jeongguk could hardly imagine. In all of his relationships, he had gone from lovers to strangers, virtually cutting people out of his life when things ended or watching them cut Jeongguk out of their lives.
“So, are we going to get a drink sometime together?” Jeongguk asked. “Go to a club? It’s been forever.”
“Yeah, I could use a drink,” Jimin said as they rounded the corner of the yoga studio where his bicycle was chained up. “Maybe Friday?”
“Friday’s good. Just tell me when and where to meet you.”
“Done,” Jimin said, swinging one leg over his bike. “If you come up with any songs by then, call me. You know I’ll always listen to them.”
“Thanks, hyung,” Jeongguk said in gratitude, and then he ducked to avoid Jimin swiping him in the head as Jimin set his feet on the pedals and rode off, Jeongguk turning over his shoulder to watch his best friend soared down the street, standing up on the pedals with the wind blowing through his hair.
“Let me do it again.”
Jeongguk kept the left side of his headphones off his ear as he listened to the playback of the floaty piano tune he and Yoongi had composed in Tokyo. There was a downbeat in the bass, and then Jeongguk’s vocals for the final chorus began, lyrics in Korean about how the brilliance of the sun couldn’t compare to the person he loved. Listening carefully, Jeongguk closed his eyes, and then he began a new ad-lib that he hadn’t done two minutes ago.
“Ah, shit, that’s not it,” he said, cutting himself off. He knew Yoongi would trash that take right away. “Should I go with more of an ‘ah’ sound, or a ‘woah’ sound?”
“I think a ‘woah’ sound would be better,” Yoongi replied, always open to giving his advice. “The first ‘ah’ ad-lib was fine, but go for ‘woah’ this time and see what you think. And can you not stick to the melody so much?”
“Yeah yeah, okay. Let me think. Let me…” Jeongguk gripped the music stand while staring down at his own handwritten lyrics, humming to himself and cutting himself off when it didn’t sound quite right. Yoongi was patient as always, and he waited until Jeongguk glanced up and pulled off his grey slouchy beanie to tousle his longer blonde hair.
“You ready?” Yoongi asked through the microphone. They had been in this position a thousand times. Yoongi and Jeongguk had the perfect rhythm in the recording booth, always able to feed off each other’s energy and read each other’s minds as they worked through the song. Yoongi was quick with laying out the vocals and always had suggestions ready. Jeongguk typically walked into the booth knowing what he wanted to get out of the session. They always indulged each other, and that was what made them a dynamic duo.
“Ready.” Jeongguk cracked his neck and pulled his beanie back on, and then he slipped the headphones over his right ear and gripped the music stand with one hand, listening intently as the playback started. Then he did exactly what Yoongi had suggested, going for more of a ‘woah’ sound, running parallel to the melody but throwing in some high notes to add more texture, turning ‘woah’ into ‘ooh’ when he went into his higher register.
“Nice. Come here.”
Jeongguk tossed the headphones and exited the soundproof booth, and then he turned the corner and hung onto the doorframe, listening as Yoongi played back the final chorus of the song. Jeongguk nodded along, finally used to hearing his own voice. When he had started, he had recorded his vocals and had only ever listened to them once to make sure he wasn’t too flat or too sharp. Then he had pretended they didn’t exist, hating the sound of his own voice. After signing with Genius, Yoongi had gotten him a vocal coach for a year just so Jeongguk could get comfortable with his personal sound, and it had worked wonders.
“I like that. That ‘woah-oh-ooh-ooh’ part,” Yoongi commented, using his finger like he was climbing the musical scale himself. Jeongguk hummed, satisfied.
“Yeah. We can keep that. Do I need to add a lower register harmony?” he wondered. “Also, the humming in the first verse. What should we do with that?”
“Get back in there,” Yoongi sighed, grabbing his iced Americano and taking a sip as he gestured. Jeongguk tapped the doorframe and scooted back into the booth where he knew he belonged. In an attempt to make himself look productive, he grabbed his phone and snapped a picture of himself with the headphones on one ear while pressing his lyric sheet to his chest, and he posted it to Twitter and Instagram simultaneously with the caption “new vibes.” The likes poured in immediately, but none of the strangers enjoying his photo knew what kind of new vibes Jeongguk was exploring.
They say they’re okay with something new, but they’re the first to judge me if it’s not what they expected, he thought anxiously, listening as Yoongi rewinded and found the part where Jeongguk had to add his harmonies in. When Jeongguk was in the middle of recording, he glanced through the window and saw Taehyung standing there with his arms crossed, wearing nothing but high-waisted black tapered pants and a white cropped t-shirt, black-framed glasses pushed up into his hair.
“Taehyungie hyung,” Jeongguk said sweetly into the mic, and he saw Taehyung snicker.
“You’re about to ask me for background vocals, aren’t you?” he said when Yoongi pressed the button.
“Just a few, if hyung loves me,” Jeongguk said as cutely as possible, knowing Taehyung was a sucker for it. Their relationship consisted of Taehyung demanding that Jeongguk act cute before getting a bite of food and Jeongguk acting cute when he wanted something from Taehyung, and Yoongi hating both of them.
“...What do you need?” Taehyung yanked open the sealed door of the booth and slung his arm around Jeongguk’s waist. They were used to doing each other’s background vocals. Yoongi had several other vocalists with Genius, but Taehyung and Jeongguk liked each other enough to spare favors every now and again.
“Can you just sing this?” Jeongguk asked, and then he pointed to his lyric sheet and sang what he wanted Taehyung to repeat in his beautiful baritone voice. They had vastly different styles, but when they sang together, it just worked. Taehyung was intuitive and a natural-born singer, too, so he sang what Jeongguk asked in only two takes and walked out of the booth after ten minutes.
“So?” Yoongi spun his chair as Jeongguk collapsed onto the couch at the end of his session. With a groan, Jeongguk lifted his legs up and threw them over Taehyung’s lap, and all Taehyung did was lift his arms while texting before resting them on Jeongguk’s shins.
“So what?” Jeongguk asked, his head on the armrest as he tugged his purple plaid flannel so it wasn’t wrapping around his body.
“What do you think?” Yoongi asked. “You wrote the lyrics. You came up with the piano riff and the melody. We have the vocals now. Do you like it?”
“It’s…” Jeongguk sighed. “I don’t know, hyung. I want to be like ‘hell yeah, approve it for the album,’ but I’m not really sold.”
“Are you being whiny?” Taehyung asked impartially, because he knew how picky Jeongguk was about what five or six songs went onto his little albums.
“No. I’m making my first full-length album, hyung,” Jeongguk replied. “All I’ve done are mixtapes and EPs and mini albums, that kind of vibe. I have to come up with nine or more songs that I fucking like, and I currently have one that’s just okay.”
“It’s only been seven months since your last release,” Yoongi pointed out.
“Yeah, and I’m not planning a release until my birthday, which means it’s been almost an entire year since I’ve put out content,” Jeongguk replied.
“You’re too hard on yourself,” Yoongi said. “Don’t fall into the trap of releasing content just for the sake of releasing content, Gguk-ah. You’ve done tons of little shows and fan meetings and TV spots. Your campaign for LGBTQ-plus youth was a huge success. Just breathe, yeah? You don’t have to suddenly come up with the perfect album.”
“I know, but that’s the problem,” Jeongguk sighed, pouting for a moment. “It’s time for me to actually put out an album, and there’s an expectation. I can’t just sing about the same old shit anymore. I wrote my way through three break-ups and threw in some shit about life. I’m trying to change up my sound without losing myself, you know?”
“I told you to try a few love songs,” Yoongi reminded Jeongguk. “You’ve only done one or two in the past, but one of them was about loving someone you couldn’t have, and the other was a filler song.”
“Yeah, but the first one is one of my most popular songs,” Jeongguk recalled. “I don’t know. I just need to experience it, you know? I need to go through it to write about it. The music has to mean something.”
“This song is pretty good, though,” Taehyung argued, gesturing vaguely to the recording booth. Jeongguk had named the song ‘Icarus,’ just because it dealt with the sun and had a more heartbreaking undertone to it.
“It’s average,” Jeongguk said. “Like, if I had an album with eight songs, I could throw this one in as the ninth without feeling shitty about it. But I’m trashing the other one we wrote in Tokyo, and now I’m down to nothing with three months until my release.”
“We haven’t exactly scheduled it with your team,” Yoongi mentioned. “So three months is just tentative. You could push it off.”
“Is this my vibe, though?” Jeongguk asked Yoongi. “You have the final say. I know I’m going for different sounds, but the lyrics and melodies… is this my vibe?”
“Your vibe is chill with insane vocals,” Yoongi supplied. “You haven’t changed. You’re evolving. There’s a difference. You’re not recording things in your bedroom closet anymore, you know? But I still think you have to start expanding. You have to approach your writing process differently.”
“I thought Tokyo would help,” Jeongguk sighed.
“I did, too,” Yoongi admitted. “But I think it just clogged you up even more.”
“Well, what could you do to find inspiration?” Taehyung wondered. “Do you need to meet someone at a club? Do we need to reconnect you with one of your exes? Do you need Yoongi hyung to flirt with you?”
“I’d love to see hyung flirt with me,” Jeongguk said as Yoongi groaned and Taehyung grinned. “I’d rather go to the dentist than reconnect with one of my exes. And meeting someone at a club is just so cliché. I’ve done that before. My second EP was basically my ‘fuck you’ message to Jaehyun. I don’t really know how I could do it again without repeating myself.”
“The struggle of being an artist,” Taehyung sighed. “We always think that the next project has to be bigger and better than the last one.”
“I’m meeting Jimin hyung tonight for drinks,” Jeongguk said, speaking to the ceiling. “Maybe he’ll know what to do.”
“Yeah, where’s he been lately?” Taehyung asked, because he and Jimin were friends thanks to Jeongguk. “It’s been months since he’s been around.”
“He always knows what to say to talk you off the ledge,” Yoongi teased.
“He’s a problem-solver,” Jeongguk agreed. “I went to his hot yoga class the other day, and he said some good things. So maybe he’ll have ideas.”
In fact, Jeongguk was banking on it. His friendship with Jimin was the epitome of mutually beneficial. They both had a deep understanding of one another’s struggles and mindsets. Jimin was great at providing solutions to problems Jeongguk presented, and Jeongguk was great at providing quiet emotional support when Jimin was having a tough time. They looked out for each other, got drinks when they needed to talk, went on vacations together, infiltrated each other’s careers. Jeongguk had been Jimin’s guinea pig during his yoga teacher certification course. Jimin had provided Jeongguk with content for his music, as well as feedback, for years.
“Hey! Good timing!”
Around nine o’clock, Jeongguk hopped out of his taxi in front of the building full of flashy shops and restaurants right near Itaewon Station, and on cue, Jimin came from around the corner, probably where he had left his bicycle. He was wearing ripped jeans and an emerald green sweater with the sleeves pushed up, his black hair pushed back off his forehead with just his fingers and falling back into place as he walked. Jeongguk hadn’t changed out of his outfit from being at the studio—his loose light-wash jeans and white t-shirt with a massive purple plaid flannel and the same slouchy beanie. They were both used to meeting at The Attic, because some of Jeongguk’s first little public gigs had been there, and Jimin had always done his best to attend.
“This is cute,” Jimin complimented, tugging on Jeongguk’s flannel. “How’d your recording session go?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Jeongguk sighed dramatically, leading the way up the spiral staircase to the front door. The Attic was always busy on a Friday night, and tonight was no different. There was one table available by the window that overlooked the main road, and even though it wasn’t a seat at the bar, Jeongguk and Jimin agreed immediately to take it. The girl led them there in the dim lighting over all the chatter as the guitar-singer duo on the little stage began their next song.
“Drinks?” the girl asked.
“Can we grab some of the spicy cheddar popcorn? That and two beers. Um…” Jimin glanced at the menu and pointed, and the girl nodded and walked off. Jeongguk trusted Jimin blindly when it came to alcohol choices, so he didn’t even question it.
“Namjoon’s taking Hoseok on the nature walk tomorrow,” Jimin offered, elbows on the table, fingers laced together, both thumbs pressed to the underside of his chin. Jeongguk surveyed his best friend across the table, one of the dim amber lights illuminating one side of his face. Every once in a blue moon, Jeongguk had a moment where he admired how beautiful Jimin was. He had the pretty facial features of a doll but the ability to go from puppy dog eyes to eyes ablaze with fire. He carried himself with confidence, especially when he walked. And even in the simple moments, when all he was doing was sitting in a dark wine bar, Jeongguk admired him.
“How do you feel about that?” Jeongguk wondered as the girl came back with two bottles of beer and a wooden bowl full of spicy cheddar popcorn.
“Weird,” Jimin admitted. “Mostly because Namjoon roped me into it so he could really surprise Hoseok. And it just made me think about the time he woke me up early so we could climb a mountain together and watch the sunrise.”
“I remember those pictures,” Jeongguk recalled, picking up his beer. “He’s happy, though.”
“I know he is. And I’m happy for him. And it doesn’t bother me or upset me anymore. It’s just one of those things,” Jimin said, picking up his bottle and tilting the neck towards Jeongguk. Jeongguk met him in the middle for a toast, and then they both took a sip. “You know what I mean?”
“I know what you mean.”
“You wrote, like, five songs about it.”
“All overplayed on my Spotify playlist.”
“Don’t embarrass me,” Jeongguk moaned, and Jimin snickered, grabbing a handful of popcorn and tossing it into his mouth with his head back, still grinning. Jimin always took it too far. He sometimes played Jeongguk’s music during his yoga classes (even when Jeongguk was in the damn room) and had choreographed to it in the past when he taught dance, and Jeongguk had hated every single second of it, even though it was quite flattering.
“So what’s wrong with the song you worked on today?” Jimin asked as Jeongguk ate some of the popcorn.
“Everything,” Jeongguk said lightly, and Jimin rolled his eyes.
“That’s what you always say, and then you wake up the next morning and listen to it again and you text me like, ‘hyung, this doesn’t suck as much as I thought it did.”
“No, this one genuinely sucks.”
“You know Shakespeare with that drama?”
“Shut up,” Jeongguk said with a laugh, because only Jimin could get away with saying such things. “Just listen to it.” Jeongguk pulled out his phone, opened the file, and slid his phone across the wooden table towards Jimin. Jimin picked up the phone, held it to his right ear, and leaned back with one arm crossed, eyes narrowed as he listened. Jeongguk busied himself with his beer and some more popcorn until the painful three minutes passed. Finally, Jimin set the phone back on the table.
“It’s not that bad.”
“It’s horrible.” Jeonguk snatched his phone back and locked it with gusto. “And you know it. Those are the lyrics of an amateur. There’s no heart to it. I’m just writing shit for the sake of writing it.”
“Why are you having so much trouble this time?” Jimin wondered, cocking his head to the side.
“Because I’m not writing about sad shit,” Jeongguk said, crossing his ankles under the table. “I’m supposed to be trying something new. All I write about is toxic relationships and break-ups and seeing your crush at a coffee shop with someone else.”
“Okay, but ‘I Know Your Coffee Order’ was one of your biggest songs.”
“Yeah, but that was because Yoongi gave me a track and I wrote the melody and lyrics in thirty minutes after running into Jaehyun with some other guy at my coffee shop,” Jeongguk explained. “It just exploded out of me, you know? I was still in that mindset. That made it easy to write.”
“So what you’re saying,” Jimin slowly said, “Is that you just want to create music by experiencing things?”
“It makes it easier,” Jeongguk replied. “If I go through it, if I have that first-hand experience, the song means something. I don’t want to write meaningless songs with flowery, poetic lyrics if it’s just coming out of my ass.”
“If you’re only writing it so that it’s a hit.”
“Exactly. So when hyung sat down with me in Tokyo and asked if I was willing to take a different approach, I was like, okay, sure. I’ve written about life struggles and toxic exes, right? So why don’t I write about love? Seems easy enough.” Jeongguk stared blankly at Jimin, and then he dropped his forehead onto the table with a hollow thud as Jimin laughed.
“Oh, you poor thing,” he said in a singsong voice. “You’ve been in love before.”
“Once, and just barely,” Jeongguk complained, thinking about his ex from his teenage years, Yugyeom. “I lost my virginity to the guy and thought that was love. That was five years ago. I know myself better now.”
“I don’t think you’ve ever told me that story,” Jimin said with a grin. “You losing your virginity.”
“I bottomed and it was awkward as hell because Yugyeom had no idea what he was doing,” Jeongguk replied, watching Jimin’s grin widen. “Not enough lube and not enough stamina. Trust me, it’s not a great story.”
“Sounds like a banger.”
“I wish I’d been banged,” Jeongguk said, and he and Jimin both burst out laughing, picking up their beers at the same time. Jeongguk set his bottle down after taking a sip and said, “So now I’m trying to come up with ways to write decent songs.”
“Find someone to date,” Jimin suggested, shrugging. “I mean, what kind of songs about love do you want to write? Have a few one-night stands. That’ll make for good material.”
“I’ve done that,” Jeongguk replied, amused that his friends always used a one-night stand as a possible solution for his creative block. “You can only write so many songs about one-night stands before it gets repetitive. ‘Hey, we just met in this club with all these flashing lights but you look hot and we hit it off right away, so take me home.’ They’re all the same.”
“So date someone.”
“Easier said than done.”
“I’m sure anyone would love to date you.”
“Yeah, sure. ‘Hello, can you date me so that I can write songs?’” Jeongguk mocked himself, and Jimin chuckled. “I’d feel like I was hunting. I don’t know, hyung. I just need to find someone who knows something about love to share their knowledge with me, or show me.”
“No one knows anything about love,” Jimin said poetically. “Pretty sure we all just pretend that we do. Love isn’t this concrete emotion that we can define. So you’re probably not going to be able to find someone who’s an expert.”
“So what if you date me?”
“Come again?” Jimin raised one eyebrow, picking up his bottle to take a swig. Jeongguk, however, suddenly forgot that his drink existed.
“Maybe I’ve been going about it the wrong way,” he said with his elbows on the table, staring at Jimin like seeing his best friend in a new light suddenly. “I wrote great music after my break-ups because I’d been through it. I experienced it first-hand. I had all those emotions, all that shit in my life that I needed to cope with. I knew how it felt.”
“Where is this going?” Jimin asked.
“So if I write great music after experiencing a break-up,” Jeongguk explained, “then maybe I need to experience love to write about love. Not that anyone would be really falling in love, but if you…” Jeongguk ran his hand over his mouth, sitting back, his brain aching with thoughts. “If you pretend to date me, show me what it’s really like, I could do it. I could write songs about what I’m experiencing.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Jimin said without sugarcoating it. Jeongguk clicked his tongue and pitched forward again.
“You have experience, though,” he pointed out. “Don’t you? With being in love. With showing someone what it’s like to be loved.”
“I… guess,” Jimin cautiously said, still eyeing Jeongguk warily. Jeongguk sipped his beer and waved his hand.
“No, listen,” he insisted, setting his bottle down. “I want to release an album around my birthday. That’s three months away. Three months, hyung. If you could just—all you have to do is give me those experiences. Pretend that we’re dating and show me what it’s like. It’s like acting. Play the role. Help me try something new. And if it fails, then whatever. I’ll push my album back until December or something until I find some other inspiration.”
“So what, all I have to do is take you on a few dates?” Jimin asked, brow furrowed skeptically, elbows on the table with his fingers laced together and his chin resting on top of his knuckles. “Woo you and flirt with you and then send you off to write a few songs?”
“And what if it’s awkward? What if we’re not into each other like that?”
“I’m not asking either one of us to be into each other,” Jeongguk emphasized. “I’m asking you, as my best friend, to help me with some method acting. Help with my creative process. Just like I helped you get your yoga certification.”
“I knew that would come back to bite me,” Jimin muttered, and Jeongguk grinned. About a year ago, he had been Jimin’s go-to guy, and Jimin had begged Jeongguk to attend as many of the yoga classes he was teaching as possible while he was training. Jeongguk had loyally and faithfully attended dozens of classes despite his busy schedule just so that Jimin felt comfortable, so that he had someone to look at for reassurance while he was teaching.
“Hyung, it’ll be so easy,” Jeongguk said with earnest. “Three months, that’s it. And if I write enough songs to make an entire album, it could be less than three months. I just need inspiration. I need something better than watching other people be in love, or whatever the fuck Yoongi and Taehyung have going on.”
“That’s what normal people do,” Jimin teased, and Jeongguk pouted purposely, sticking out his lower lip. Jimin scoffed, rolling his eyes as he sat back and crossed his legs at the knee, surveying Jeongguk over the bottle he was lifting to his lips again. “Fine. I’ll entertain this for a minute. Tell me what you want.”
“Just three months,” Jeongguk repeated. “Take me on a few dates. Call me pet names, feed me strawberries, I don’t know. Treat me like I’m the boyfriend of your dreams, and I’ll see if I can write some music based off of it.”
“Boyfriend of your dreams,” Jimin muttered, snickering. “Look, it’s easy enough. We hang out all the time, so all I’d have to do is up my game. But I don’t understand why you’re asking me to do this. I mean, besides being your friend, I don’t really think I have a lot of qualifications to be a fake boyfriend.”
“Yes you do,” Jeongguk argued. “I knew you when you were dating Namjoon hyung. I saw you two together. You treated him like gold. You were so good at it, hyung. So if you can just show me a little bit of that, I bet I could come up with some music.”
“This is the plot of a bad Hallmark movie,” Jimin commented, pinching his bottom lip between his thumb and pointer finger with raised eyebrows. “You realize that, right?”
“Well, I’m out of options,” Jeongguk replied. “I’ve tried writing shit based on what I see from other people, and the lyrics are awful. I’ve tried pretending that I’m in love or that someone’s dating me, but it’s shit. I’m not that kind of person. I wrote kick-ass music because I got dumped, or because I did the dumping. But I don’t want to keep recycling the same old boring shit, you know? You can only write so many songs about break-ups and shitty exes.”
“So you’re going for the opposite,” Jimin slowly said.
“Exactly. If I don’t step out of my comfort zone now, when will I?” Jeongguk rhetorically asked. “Look, all I’m asking is for a few dates, a few nice moments. And I trust you, so that’s why I’m asking you. Will you do it?”
Jimin rolled his eyes and then pressed his tongue into his cheek pensively, drumming his fingers on the table.
“Fine.” He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them, his gaze was locked on Jeongguk, his fingers still. “I’ll be your fake boyfriend so you can write songs. But three months, Jeongguk-ah. That’s it. I’m cutting you off. And lower your expectations.”
“You’ll actually do it?” Jeongguk grinned, biting his bottom lip in anticipation. “Seriously? You’ll star in my bad Hallmark movie?”
“Jesus Christ,” Jimin groaned as Jeongguk snorted with laughter. “Yes, fine. I’ll do it. But only because we’re already friends, and I owe you one.”
“You’re joking,” Jeongguk said, thrilled.
“Yeah, April Fool’s,” Jimin deadpanned, and then he chuckled. “Look, you said it’s only for a few months. Can’t be that difficult to fake it. And it might be stupid enough to work.”
“Hyung, you don’t have to if you’re not comfortable,” Jeongguk said, offering a way out. “I’m not going to force you to do anything. I’m just asking because I’m out of options, and I just want to try a different approach. See if it works.”
“It’s not that I’m not comfortable. It’s you,” Jimin emphasized, his small smile vaguely fond. “And you’re my best friend. I know how you are. You can’t even sing cover songs if you don’t relate to the lyrics in some way. And I can’t blame you for that. Just means that you connect with the music.”
“A few dates,” Jeongguk repeated. “Hold my hand or take me to see a movie. I don’t even care. Take it to the extreme. Keep it lowkey. Do whatever. I just—all I need are the experiences. And if we do it for a few weeks and it doesn’t inspire me to write any music, I’ll just break it off. No big deal.”
“That’s fine. But you’re going to have to have some free time,” Jimin warned, raising his eyebrows in amusement. “You have to be a good fake boyfriend, too.”
“I’m a great boyfriend,” Jeongguk said, and Jimin made a drawn out noise like he was trying to decide if it was true or not, so Jeongguk kicked him under the table, and Jimin burst out laughing.
“I’m kidding, I’m kidding. You’ve always been very sweet with your partners,” he complimented, and then he drank the last of his beer. “Alright. Next… Tuesday night. You busy?”
“I’ll take you on a little date on Tuesday night,” Jimin said, and Jeongguk stifled a laugh. “A test run. Dazzle you and woo you until you write seventeen songs just about the stars in my eyes.”
“You know what, hyung? I fucking hope so,” Jeongguk said, and Jimin rolled his eyes with a smirk, running his fingers through his black hair.
“Life is never dull being your friend,” he teased, shaking his head. “This is almost like that time you said, ‘hey, come to Paris with me for this gig,’ and it was just because you didn’t want to go to Disneyland alone.”
“Well, I wasn’t going to go on the teacups by myself.”
“You spun them so fast that I almost puked.”
“And we had fun,” Jeongguk emphasized as Jimin laughed. The two of them had been on a variety of adventures together over their years of friendship, and if Jeongguk could say one thing about himself, it was that he was never really predictable. Jimin tended to have a bit more structure in his daily life, but he was always suspiciously willing to take a chance on whatever ridiculous idea Jeongguk had.
“Just keep Tuesday night free,” Jimin said with a sigh, rolling his eyes yet again. “And come to my Monday night yin yoga class.”
“Yin yoga puts me to sleep.”
“That’s literally the point.”
“I hold a pose for five minutes and I’m out like a light.”
“I’ll just smack you.”
“Seems a little violent for such a peaceful practice,” Jeongguk teased, and they both laughed as Jimin beckoned to the waitress for another round. Jeongguk grabbed a handful of popcorn, giddy as he sat back and munched, watching Jimin pick at one of the bumper stickers on the wooden table as he told Jeongguk that he wanted to run a handstand workshop soon. And Jeongguk listened intently, focused only on the fact that Jimin had agreed to pretend to be his boyfriend for the sake of a potential album.
Jeongguk slept through half of the yin yoga class on Monday night, but he was in attendance, always loyal to his best friend. But then Tuesday came, and all Jeongguk got was a text message from Jimin warning him to be ready around eight o’clock. Jeongguk asked a thousand questions—what was he supposed to wear? Would it better if he disguised himself? How much did Jimin care about being recognized? Were they going to a public space? But Jimin only told him to shut up, so Jeongguk had to take a stab in the dark at what to wear. He opted for comfortable black pants and a white t-shirt tucked in with a dark grey knitted sweater, and then he paced his apartment nervously, chewing the skin off the inside of his mouth and cracking his knuckles.
When he had told Seokjin about his plan, Seokjin had glanced up to the heavens and mouthed the word “why?” before sighing and shrugging and saying that Jeongguk was nothing if not ambitious. When Yoongi had heard, he had just laughed, shoulders shaking, calling Jeongguk “dedicated” and waving him back into the recording booth. When Jeongguk had told Taehyung in passing, Taehyung had hardly even blinked. He had just hummed and said that he thought it was a good idea, but that was Taehyung—another person willing to do whatever it took to get a song right. Taehyung had also had a hickey on his neck, so Jeongguk knew that he had likely had another little tryst with Yoongi that was probably punctuated with a lack of communication.
Jeongguk had spent Saturday and Sunday calling himself a fool for even bringing up the idea to Jimin, but he figured that he was just overthinking, as he was prone to doing. They had been friends for years and had done some ridiculous things together and for each other, but was this too much? Was Jeongguk crossing a line? Jimin knew that Jeongguk was deep into his music, so perhaps that was why he had been so willing to help without even taking time to consider alternatives. To Jimin, it was probably just a job with a deadline, a favor for a friend, because a little extra flirting couldn’t possibly be harmful. To Jeongguk, it was a means to an end, and entertaining the idea of a boyfriend was easy enough. If Jimin held his hand or took him on a romantic date, Jeongguk would be able to dream up some metaphors to weave into lyrics. He’d have that experience to carry into his creative process.
“Shit,” Jeongguk murmured when his intercom system began to beep at him close to eight o’clock. He pressed the button to unlock the main entrance doors, and only a minute later, there was a knock on his door.
“Hey.” Jimin smiled, standing in the doorway. He was wearing a pair of khaki linen pants and a white V-neck t-shirt with a navy jacket, handsome as ever. “Can I come in?”
“Yeah, come in,” Jeongguk offered, opening the door further. Jimin had been to his apartment dozens of times, so he kicked off his shoes and made himself right at home on the couch. Jeongguk plopped down beside him, rubbing his hands on his thighs distractedly.
“I figured we should sit down for a second and talk about it before we go,” Jimin said. “Just maybe figure out some of the things that you might want. Go into more detail.”
“I don’t know, hyung,” Jeongguk said with a small laugh. “I don’t have any expectations. All I need is a few good dates. Some romantic moments, you know? So I can write about love, or about—shit, I don’t know. Anything but a shitty relationship.”
“You’ve written lyrics about love before,” Jimin reminded him.
“And how many of those lyrics made the final cut?” Jeongguk asked, and Jimin conceded with a hum. “They’re never good enough. Yoongi never likes them. My lyrics about heartbreak are always better, and for a reason. So if I’m going to grow myself as an artist and make a full-length album, then I need to be dedicated to it and figure out a way to make it work. That’s why I’m asking someone I trust.”
“Fair enough. Okay. Well, look, I have a pretty simple date in mind for tonight. It’s like a test run,” Jimin explained. “We’ll see how things go, see if you feel inspired. If it sucks, you can call it off.”
“Deal. Now let’s go. The taxi is waiting downstairs.”
“Taxi?” Jeongguk repeated.
“Taxi,” Jimin confirmed.
“This isn’t weird, is it?” Jeongguk asked right away, and Jimin snorted as they both stood up and put their shoes on.
“This was your idea, genius,” he said. “Give it a chance before you call it weird. I’m supposed to sweep you off your feet, remember?” Then Jimin extended his hand, and Jeongguk stared at it. He hesitated for a moment, but then he cautiously took Jimin’s hand, lacing their fingers together, his hand engulfing Jimin’s even though Jimin was the one who led the way to the elevator.
“I know it was my idea, but it still feels weird,” Jeongguk admitted as they stepped into the elevator, still holding hands.
“I don’t know, it just does. I didn’t really expect you to agree to it, so it’s throwing me off a little. But, I mean, I didn’t have any luck writing over the weekend, so it’s still worth it. I really appreciate it, hyung. That you’re helping me,” Jeongguk rambled, and Jimin chuckled.
“You’re my best friend, Jeongguk. It goes without saying. But from this point forward, I’m afraid I can’t call you that,” Jimin said with a dramatic sigh. “You’re now officially my boyfriend.”
“Does that make today our anniversary?”
“What’s today, the thirteenth of June? Sure. Happy anniversary,” Jimin said with a grin as they reached the ground floor and walked hand-in-hand to the taxi. Jimin held open the door for Jeongguk, and Jeongguk stumbled slightly before realizing what Jimin was doing. He ducked into the taxi, and Jimin followed after him, shutting the door.
“We’re not going far,” he promised, and then he reached over and set his hand onto Jeongguk’s thigh, massaging it briefly. Jeongguk pursed his lips as he set his hand on top of Jimin’s, and then they both looked at each other and snorted, fighting back laughter so that the taxi driver didn’t think they were crazy. Jeongguk stared out the window as he absentmindedly traced his pointer finger over Jimin’s knuckles, trying to reason with what was going on. He had asked for this, but Jimin was just jumping in with very little preparation.
“Oh, I see what this is,” Jeongguk said with a grin as the taxi pulled up to the curb right along the Han River. Jimin smiled as he paid the fare, and he reached down between his legs and lifted a backpack that Jeongguk hadn’t seen. They both hopped out of the taxi, Jimin shrugging into the backpack, and at the curb, Jimin held out his hand again. Jeongguk took it, trying not to overthink.
“Just a late-night picnic on the river,” Jimin said as they walked together. “Very typical. This is like a rite of passage for most couples, isn’t it?”
“I’ve actually never done this,” Jeongguk said, and Jimin glanced at him, surprised.
“Oh? Even better.”
Jimin led the way to a spot on the grassy hill overlooking the river, and Jeongguk stood by and watched as Jimin laid out a blanket before sitting down cross-legged. Jeongguk joined him, the breeze from being in proximity to the water pleasant. Jimin started to pull things out of his backpack—a container full of sweet strawberries, some whipped cream, some soju. He presented each item theatrically to Jeongguk as Jeongguk suppressed a laugh.
“Soju first?” Jimin offered, and then he poured a shot for each of them. “To our first date.”
“Cheers,” Jeongguk said, tapping his glass against Jimin’s before they both tossed back the contents of the glass. Jeongguk sat cross-legged and leaned back on his palms, admiring the view. Jimin then popped open the container of strawberries, chose one he liked, pinched it by the stem, and held it up to Jeongguk’s mouth. Jeongguk almost opened his mouth to accept it, but then Jimin turned the strawberry and shoved it into his mouth, pulling the stem off with a flourish and a shit-eating grin as he chewed.
“Wow,” Jeongguk said loudly as Jimin laughed. “So much for feeling like a date, huh?”
Jimin grabbed another strawberry, and then he set one hand on Jeongguk’s shoulder. Jeongguk had very little time to prepare, because Jimin swung his leg over Jeongguk’s crossed legs and knelt straddling him, looping one arm casually around Jeongguk’s neck and holding up the strawberry to Jeongguk’s mouth.
“How about now?” he asked quietly, his fingernails scratching the hair at Jeongguk’s nape. Jeongguk blinked up at his best friend in shock, eyebrows raised, watching the grin spread across Jimin’s face. “I can be good at this if you have a little patience.”
Jeongguk didn’t say a word. He just opened his mouth, and Jimin popped the strawberry in, letting Jeongguk bite into it so Jimin could pull the stem off. The strawberry was sweet and tangy, but Jeongguk couldn’t focus, because now Jimin was just casually sitting in his lap, grabbing the container of strawberries and the little container of whipped cream. He dipped the strawberry into whipped cream, and then he looked back to Jeongguk.
“Cat got your tongue?” he asked, eating the strawberry with one hand cupping the back of Jeongguk’s neck.
“No. Just… getting used to it,” Jeongguk finally said, feeling like his voice was strained. My best friend is sitting in my lap. On purpose. I asked for this. What the fuck was I thinking? Did I really think I could handle Park Jimin sitting in my lap? Am I a moron?
“Feeling inspired?” Jimin asked with a grin, reaching up and tucking Jeongguk’s hair behind one ear with gentle fingers.
“It’s been ten minutes.”
“Good. I have plenty of time. This or that? Piercings or tattoos?” Jimin asked, and then he offered Jeonguk a strawberry with some whipped cream on it.
“Both.” Jeongguk ate the strawberry, and Jimin rolled his eyes.
“That’s not the game, babe,” he said, and Jeongguk promptly choked on his strawberry and started coughing. He heard laughter as Jimin rubbed and thumped Jeongguk on the back in a soothing fashion. Jeongguk grabbed for the soju and poured a shot, and then he downed it and sighed, his throat clearing up.
“Sorry,” he apologized, blinking rapidly.
“Don’t apologize. This is pure entertainment for me,” Jimin said, grinning. “You could fight fire with fire, you know. Now choose. Can’t have both. Tattoos or piercings?”
“Piercings. Waking up early or staying up late?”
“Staying up late,” Jeongguk said, and then he finally came to his senses and decided to do what Jimin had recommended—get comfortable. Fight fire with fire. He gingerly looped one arm around Jimin’s waist, and Jimin didn’t stop him. In fact, he looked rather amused by Jeongguk’s countermove.
“Me too,” Jimin agreed. “Rich and famous or rich and anonymous?”
“Rich and anonymous,” Jeongguk said without hesitation, and Jimin agreed.
“Kiss on the forehead or kiss on the cheek?” he asked, his eyes sparkling. Jeongguk narrowed his eyes suspiciously, and then, in one swift motion, he cupped his hand at the back of Jimin’s head and bent it just enough so he could press his lips to Jimin’s forehead. Jimin let out a laugh of surprise, smacking Jeongguk’s chest.
“You asked,” Jeongguk said innocently. “I answered.”
“Sneaky,” Jimin said, and then he climbed off Jeongguk’s lap and settled onto the blanket again. But as he reached for the soju, he swung both of his legs across Jeongguk’s lap, and Jeongguk let him do it. “You were worried.”
“In the thirty million text messages you sent to me,” Jimin teased, pouring another shot. “You were worried that someone would recognize you if we were out in public, and then they’d harass you about me. Do you still feel that way?”
“Yeah.” Jeongguk watched Jimin pour soju into his glass. “It’s not that I’m super famous or anything. I just… I don’t know. I don’t want to exploit you or anything.”
“Jeongguk, we’ve literally gone on trips together before,” Jimin said with a small smile. “I’ve been a guest star in your social media posts on more than one occasion. It’s not like nobody knows that I exist.”
“Yeah, well, maybe I like keeping you to myself,” Jeongguk blurted out. There was a moment of silence as Jimin turned his glass around in his hand, staring at Jeongguk with a tiny smile on his face.
“You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?” he asked quietly. “About having a pretend relationship just so you can make some good music.”
“You know I’m serious.”
“And you really trust me to be the one to fake it all for you?” Jimin asked, fiddling with Jeongguk’s fingers as he spoke. Jeongguk felt like he was short-circuiting suddenly, because lyrics were raining down in his head like a monsoon, flooding his brain in an endless stream.
“It’s already working,” Jeongguk said, and Jimin whipped his head up in surprise.
“Really. Can you give me a minute to write something down?” Jeongguk asked, and Jimin nodded, letting Jeongguk reach for his phone so he could furiously type out what was trapped inside his brain. He was silent for five minutes, typing and typing as Jimin politely busied himself, and then he tossed his phone to the edge of the blanket, his heart pounding excitedly. He grabbed Jimin and tugged until the two of them fell onto their backs on the blanket, staring up at the stars, and Jimin rolled onto his stomach, slinging his arm across Jeongguk’s chest and gazing down at him.
“Told you I could be good,” he said with a grin. “Now come to my handstand workshop that I’m planning.”
“This was a set-up,” Jeongguk griped immediately, and Jimin laughed.
“Wow. My own boyfriend won’t even come to my workshop.” He pouted larger than life and pretended to cry, and when Jeongguk nudged his forehead with one hand, Jimin laughed again and collapsed, burying his head onto Jeongguk’s shoulder. “Shotgun relationship, huh?”
“I told you it’s already working,” Jeongguk murmured, closing his eyes.
“So will we have a second date?”
“Yeah.” Jeongguk opened his eyes, his mind racing. “Come over on Friday night. I’ll cook dinner for you.”
“Ooh, how romantic,” Jimin teased, propping back up on one elbow, some hair falling into his eyes as he smiled. With one arm bent behind his head, Jeongguk reached up with his other hand and pushed the hair away from Jimin’s eyes, even though it fell right back into place. “I’ll be there.”
“Have I ever told you how much I appreciate you?” Jeongguk said, and Jimin rolled his eyes, though he looked rather pleased.
“Don’t get sappy now.”
“Well, you are my boyfriend,” Jeongguk said as Jimin groaned. “And yes, I’ll come to your damn handstand workshop.”
“Yeah, of course I will. As long as it’s on a Saturday.”
“Then I’ll be there. Now—” Jeongguk grunted slightly as he struggled to sit up, and then he grabbed the strawberries and whipped cream. The moment Jimin sat up, Jeongguk dipped his finger into the whipped cream and put a dab onto Jimin’s nose, and Jimin didn’t even swat him away. He just glared at Jeongguk as Jeongguk snickered. “Let’s finish these strawberries.”
The strawberries slowly disappeared alongside the whipped cream, and the soju bottle was drained. Jimin tangled his legs with Jeongguk’s legs as they ate and swapped little stories, Jeongguk talking about the interviews he had coming up in the next few days and the small pop-up show he was doing at a bar on Thursday with no notice. Jimin talked about the hip hop class he had to teach on Thursday and how Hoseok kept interrupting Jimin’s morning meditation by letting his dog, Mickey, into the room.
“So.” Jimin rolled and knelt on the grass so he could roll the blanket up while Jeongguk packed the backpack. “What did you think? Good first date? Did I pass your test? Am I an acceptable fake boyfriend?”
“Well, seeing as we have a second date on Friday, I’d say it’s a good start,” Jeongguk said, and this time, he was the one who offered his hand, his brain still buzzing loudly. “You’ve got to have some kind of magic going on. I’m convinced.”
“That’s very poetic of you,” Jimin teased. “Why’s that?”
“Because we had one little date and now I have a thousand ideas in my head,” Jeongguk said, and Jimin rolled his shoulders back proudly.
“And we’re just getting started,” he said with a grin. “You said I could take it to the extreme, so brace yourself. Your first full-length album is about to be a fucking masterpiece.”
“You just want to take credit for it.”
“I should be the first person you thank in your notes,” Jimin declared, and Jeongguk burst out laughing as the taxi pulled up to the curb. The ride was five minutes back to Jeongguk’s apartment, where Jimin had left his bicycle. He would only have to bike about ten minutes to get to his building.
“Seriously, Jimin hyung.” Jeongguk leaned one shoulder against the outside wall of his building as Jimin unchained his bike. “This is exactly what I needed. Just a spark of inspiration. Something to get me going. I’ve been stuck for weeks. So thank you.”
“It’s nothing.” Jimin avoided eye contact as he shoved the chain into his backpack, sounding a bit tense, but then he cleared his throat and glanced up at Jeongguk. “I’m just…” He slowly gripped his handlebars. “Helping my friend. Right?”
“Yeah.” Jeongguk shoved his hands into his pockets as Jimin nodded.
“You seemed to think that I know something about love,” he commented, swinging one leg over so he could perch on the seat. “Is that because of Namjoon? Because you watched me break off a long-term relationship where I was really in love?”
“You were the only example I had of what love looked like,” Jeongguk quietly said. “And I sat on your couch and got drunk with you a hell of a lot after you two broke up. And the things you said… you can’t fake that. So yeah, I do think you know what it’s like.”
Jimin pulled his bottom lip between his teeth as he surveyed Jeongguk in the amber yellow of the streetlights, eyes slightly narrowed. He then licked his lips and sighed.
“Okay. I’ll, uh… I’ll see you on Friday, then?” he said in a questioning tone, and Jeongguk smiled.
“See you on Friday. Hyung?” He waited until he locked eyes with Jimin. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me. It’s you,” Jimin said vaguely, but Jeongguk understood. He watched Jimin push off and pedal down the street, and the moment Jimin disappeared around the corner, Jeongguk ran right into his front door and fumbled with his key fob until the lock beeped. He didn’t have time for the elevator, not with the amount of adrenaline coursing through his veins. He barreled into his apartment after taking the stairs to the fifth floor, kicked off his shoes messily as they flipped in loop-de-loops, and then he yanked out his phone and grabbed for his favorite notepad, where he hand-wrote all of his lyrics. His hand shaking, he grabbed a pen, and then he propped his phone up and began to copy down what he had written back by the river:
The space between my fingers was meant for yours
Overboard, I’m not bored, think I’ll ask you for more
Sweet divine, lips on mine, no, that’s just in my head
Real or not, I forgot what it’s like, things look red
Shoot the breeze, wind in whispers, we talk about anything
Worries in your eyes, you can lose them in mine
It’s a slow, slow fall to the bottom
And a smile so familiar, but the line
That you said as a joke put my heart in a chokehold
I’m here. Are you here? Shit, I’m already sold.