Minho sat in the Cheoltu seat.
“I think I’ll be done sooner than I was expecting, so let’s go to Once when I finish.”
Minho focused his concentration and he had won about 60 rounds of Cheoltu combat by 2:00. Iseol started joining in playing as well. Minho suggested that if she won a game it should count double, and the production team gladly allowed it.
They didn’t think a girl would be that good at this game.
The production staff flinched as Iseol got five consecutive wins, and they quickly inserted an expert. The master expert who won last season’s Cheoltu competition and who would never lose began his interview.
Minho gave Iseol a high five for her win and spoke as he saw the interview.
“It’s obvious just by looking that he’s too much for her, so give him to me. Then you’ll be able to get a picture out of it.”
The production staff pretended not to hear and turned away. Iseol grabbed Minho’s arm to say it was okay.
“If I lose, then I lose. I’ll think of it as a learning opportunity, oppa.”
“Ha, you’re so kind and nice.”
Minho was convinced and stepped back since he was on track to reach the goal.
The master expert chose a Brazilian dreadlocked character as the opponent for Iseol’s Chinese girl. He fiercely cornered her from the beginning and took the victory.
“Wow, you’re really good.”
Iseol, who lost the first round, smiled brightly and looked over at her opponent. The master expert’s determination to win at all costs was immediately crushed by her smile which could melt snow in spring.
“Ahahaha. Is that so?”
“You’re the best in here, aren’t you? Please go easy on me.”
The master expert gave Iseol a timid smile in response.
“No problem. Since there’s a big difference in skill levels, I won’t use the feet then.”
The expert spoke without fully thinking it through, but his character was one that mostly used a type of footwork called Capoeira. After his third consecutive loss he gave up the victory to Iseol.
“Thank you for going easy on me.”
“Not at all. I can’t win against those skills. Ahaha!”
The production staff could only watch helplessly as they saw the expert disappear, scratching his head.
“Producer Doh, if this keeps up it’ll be over soon. We have to find a way so….”
The staffer turned his head as he spoke but stopped short, seeing the monitor seat empty.
Producer Doh who hadn’t budged when Iseol sang was now behind her cheering her on just because she was good at the game.
The production staff made a decision.
“Mr. Minho will do the last 10 victories by himself.”
Producer Doh, standing among the spectators, walked over as he shook his head.
“Tell Minho to stop. We’ll go with her for the last ten victories.”
The staffer looked over at Producer Doh as if he’d heard wrong.
“You don’t know what the viewers want.”
“What do they want?”
“A gamer girl.”
“I think the viewers I’m thinking about and the viewers you’re thinking about are different, Producer Doh.”
Producer Doh let the staffer’s words in one ear and out the other. Then he gestured to Iseol telling her to continue.
Iseol won against the last contestant and reached 100 wins before 3:00 pm. Minho cheered, watching from behind.
‘Clear it While It’s On. It’s been 5 hours and 48 minutes since the game was turned on. Since we reached 100 Cheoltu victories it’s fin~ished. See you next time….’
The announcer’s remarks that would be broadcast on the show played in Minho’s head automatically.
“Good job, Iseol! You’re the best, the best!”
Minho raised his hands in the air, happy to be leaving the arcade. Iseol asked in a whisper, as she saw Minho react so happily when all she did was enjoy the game for one hour.
“This really turned out well, right?”
“Definitely. Not many people on this program get to leave before dinnertime. Oh gosh, you’re fantastic.”
Iseol glanced bashfully over at Minho who was patting her head.
“Shall we go to Once now?”
‘Clear It While It’s On’ coolly ended filming once the player hit the goal, so cleanup began right away.
Minho picked up the keychain to return it as Iseol packed up her guitar.
Producer Doh was sitting in front of the Cheoltu machine, enjoying a round to say goodbye to the blonde girl character.
“This helped me a lot, Producer Doh.”
“You did well too. If I’d known you played Cheoltu that well I would’ve gone with 200 wins.”
“Don’t say such horrifying things.”
“Tell Ms. Iseol thank you for appearing.”
He took the keychain out and set it next to Producer Doh, but Minho’s gaze stayed on the doll’s eye. It was a hollow stare that seemed as if it would suck him in right away. It felt like the other eye would shoot out an anti A. T. field if the bandage was removed.
[You won’t die. Because I’m protecting you.]
Minho nodded to what the character said and he replied.
“Thank you for your help. Sincerely. Goodbye? It’ll be a brief goodbye. You might hate me saying this bu…..khup!”
Minho hastily covered his mouth when he spewed out those words. The keychain’s effect that he’d been repressing came surging back when he was off his guard. He was babbling like a middle schooler hitting puberty.
Producer Doh was moving the lever with both hands and looked at Minho nonchalantly.
“So, you’re suddenly ‘out of the closet fan,’ ninggen.”
Minho replied in language he didn’t even understand and was terrified out his wits so he quickly took his hands off the keychain. Luckily the cameras had all withdrawn. It was only Producer Doh who was watching.
“I’m…gonna go. Let’s pretend this conversation didn’t happen.”
“Don’t be shy. Let me know if you get up the courage. I’ll introduce you to some good stuff.”
“No, thank you. So then….”
Producer Doh waved a hand at Minho who hurried off.
Minho’s gaze remained on the keychain next to Producer Doh as he left the arcade with Iseol.
3:30pm. Cafe Once was quiet.
The musician performance times were later at night so Minho and Iseol got permission from the cafe manager to use the stage and went right into producing.
“From here we’ll use the guitar percussive to keep the beat up down up down. And if the drum follows along dudum tss~”
Minho stood next to the stage and awkwardly mimicked the instrument sounds, caught up in the music. Iseol who was playing the melody of her new song laughed as she saw him swing his hand in the air, indulging his imagination.
Minho broke out of the fantasy and spoke.
“I think it’ll be good to go in the direction to maintain your emotions for this song.”
“I think it’s best to let your smooth and pretty voice be heard clearly.”
Iseol’s face went red as Minho complimented her voice and the song arrangement flowed as smoothly as running water.
“Let’s see. The accompaniment will be simple with just guitar and drum, and synthesizer. You said your company got instrumentalists? Tell them you want to go with an acoustic feeling.”
The time flew by as they got down to earnestly discussing the song.
“…Don’t try to spread your vocals into other elements, and we’ll just differentiate the section where you need to sing delicately and part that feels mournful.”
“Oh my! How do you know my song better than me? It feels like you refine the sections that are sloppy to make them more sophisticated.”
“Oh? Just somehow.…”
“It’s really amazing. How did you study music?”
“That’s uh… Iseol….”
Minho scratched his head as Iseol gushed compliments. He couldn’t really say that it happened naturally since Iseol’s musical tendencies so perfectly matched those of the cafe owner’s wife.
“Your music is good, that’s why.”
“You’re saying that again!”
“It’s true. I can’t see other people’s music as well as yours.”
“It’s just my music, right?”
Did he imagine her face brightening as she heard this? Minho pointed to the clock that showed it was close to 5:00.
“There’s one hour left so go and prepare for rehearsal.”
“You’re going to come watch, right?”
Iseol gazed at him with her eyes filled with expectation. Minho beamed a smile and answered,
“Of course. It’s your stage.”
“That’s a relief. Hold on a sec, oppa. I have something to give to you.”
Iseol took something out of her pocket and held it out.
In her hands was a handmade invitation.
-HY Music Street Performance. Iseol’s Special Event with producer Minho Kang! Starts at 18:00.
The performance location and time were written in tiny letters on the palm-sized card. On one side was a cute drawing of Iseol playing the guitar and Minho composing.
It felt more like a letter written with sincerity rather than an invitation card.
“I had some time this morning so I made it. If you didn’t say you would come I was going to give you this and keep insisting.”
A smile naturally formed on Minho’s face at the way Iseol’s sweet heart revealed her intentions.
This was more than a simple invitation to Minho; it was a present that made him happy. The last time he could remember receiving a letter was when he was serving in the army. The letter addressed ‘Hello mister soldier’ was from an unknown elementary student.
“I’m no producer. I’m just a neighborhood oppa.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Anyway, thank you.”
Iseol jumped off the stage with the guitar on her back. She lost her balance and stumbled, crying out. She flailed to regain her balance and Minho grabbed her arm.
“You’re really clumsy, actually.”
Iseol ducked her head and blushed red as an apple as Minho took the guitar off her back.
“I’ll hold it for you.”
“You can’t go on stage if you fall on the way there. What will I say if you hurt yourself after you came to help me with my program?”
Minho strode ahead. Iseol blankly stared at his back. Then she made a small fist and shouted “Yes!” at this unintended but wonderful result.
“What are you doing? There’s one hour left.”
Minho opened the cafe door and called to her, and she hurried to follow.
The street performance location in Hongdae was already crowded with people. A great number of fans had come, hearing the rumors that high-profile artists from HY Music would be appearing.
There was a crowd of people camping out in front of the stage truck, so Minho went around to the tent behind the truck. As he walked he looked over the cast banners on the side of the truck.
“Hyoryung nunim appears today too. I was a huge fan once.”
“Hyoryung sunbaenim treats me really well. Shall I introduce you to her once I get to know her a little better?”
“No. No need to do that. I was only thankful to her in high school when she dressed really coldly even in the winter time. But now there’s a bunch of idols I’m thankful to.”
Iseol laughed with a pfft. Minho stopped in front of the tent and handed her the guitar.
“Iseol, you should dress warmly in the winter time and the summer time. Because people will like you sufficiently regardless.”
“Even if I sweat a lot?”
“Even if you sweat a lot.”
“I will. Heh heh.”
“Good luck on stage.”
Iseol enthusiastically waved her hands as she disappeared. Minho waved his hands as well and turned around. Then he flinched as he saw a man standing behind him staring right at him. In this huge crowd of people, he was glaring right at Minho.
‘Did I accidentally bump into him?’
The man was in his early thirties and wearing a neat suit. He walked over to Minho.
“You are Mr. Minho Kang, correct?”
“Do you know me?”
“I’m Kyungmin Jung from HY Music.”
Minho looked at the business card the man handed him and was surprised to see the title “Producer.” Surprise turned into shock as he saw the image on the cell phone Kyungmin Jung held out.
The video playing on the screen was a recording of Iseol and himself performing their duet that morning. The number of views was fairly high for having been posted just a few hours ago.
“I want you to take your hands off Ms. Iseol.”
Object: Producer Doh’s character keychain.
Effect: Grants outstanding abilities having to do with fictional female characters of one’s fantasies.