Note: This story was my contribution to the TaeNy thread 1727th page celebration at Soshified.
You can enjoy the celebration with stories from various authors here.
Love Me Back To Life
“You’re getting too thin these days. Here, eat.”
Tiffany looked up at the friendly face. She managed to whip out a tiny shaking smile.
Her phone went off and its vibrations nearly sent it off the edge of the table in front of her. Ignoring her surroundings – especially the living aspect – she took it in her hand, thumbed the screen, and pressed its chilled surface to her ear.
But there was no one there. No voice came, no soft sound of breathing, no city rushing in the background. The line went dead after three seconds ticked by slowly and silently, only counted by Tiffany. She lowered the phone, returning it to the table, and patiently crossed her hands over each other beside it.
Not long ago, or maybe it was centuries ago by now, the call would have been different. A light voice would have asked if she wanted to go have lunch at a new restaurant, or would tell her that the bouquet of flowers she received at work came with a bonus at home. Even recently, she would have put down the phone and put up walls around her heart as the soaked-up tears made it swell. But the tears had all broken through her barriers now, and washed away the strain, the way her muscles contracted, the way her stomach clenched, when her thoughts turned to somebody that she used to know. So she sat, gazing into space, letting her mind’s eye freely see somebody where somebody used to be.
The voice came again. She absently turned her unfocussed gaze back to the friendly face, which now had grimly pursed lips and pitying eyes. She sighed, letting her breath be emptied from her body and letting her mind once again see somebody that she used to know.
She pretended not to hear what people said when they stepped away from her, around a corner, to whisper their concerns. She acted as if the snatched sentences didn’t enter her thoughts. As if she never knew that they all thought she was in a hopeless state, waiting for nothing, trapped in a rut, no longer moving. She didn’t know that a certain somebody was just being cruel, calling her, making her think there was something left.
Tiffany picked up her keys from the little bowl by the door, her lips twitching for a moment as she remembered how a certain somebody had reacted when it had first appeared in her house – “Really, Tiffany? That’s such a cliché!” – But it had been said with a delighted glint. She loved things that were considered a cliché, because they had become so clichéd that no one did it anymore, which made them special once again. Somebody had loved that stupid clichéd little bowl for her keys. Somebody had loved her.
Tiffany closed the door behind her, cutting off the words “she needs to get out more” that were being said inside the house between people who spent entirely too much time there themselves. She zipped up her jacket and made her way down the path to where her car had frosted on the side of the road. It was hard to open the door, as it was every winter, and she gave the handle a yank that she had perfected over the past two years of living with it.
The drive to the studio was quiet, as expected. She hadn’t bothered to turn on the heater. It would take so long to rattle into life that by the time the weak waves of heat started to be released, she would already have reached her destination. Out of the corners of her eyes, she saw the empty streets, the dark shop windows, the street lights flickering on.
Pulling into the parking lot, she noticed an unfamiliar car parked in one of the spots against the building’s white exterior. A reflexive frown settled on her brow and she manoeuvred her car to park beside the stranger. The windows of the car were blurred with frost, much like her own car’s windows, so she stepped out and leaned closer. With the edge of her jacket’s sleeve, she rubbed at the glass, peering as it slowly became clearer.
“Um, can I help you?”
Tiffany spun around, her sleeve sliding off the window causing a squeal, her exhalation of surprise visible as her breath reached the cold air. She was met with the curious expression of a good-looking girl.
“O-Oh, sorry… Is this your car?”
The girl nodded, still looking at her curiously. “Yes. Can I help you with something?”
Tiffany shuffled away from the car awkwardly, making her way to the entrance of the building while shooting half-glances at the girl. She was petite, wrapped in a faded duffel jacket, her caramel-coloured hair tied in a loose ponytail. The girl watched her go, still with that same expression of curiousity on the features of her youthful-looking face.
Tiffany shut the door behind her and took a deep breath, pocketing the access card that had allowed her entrance into the building. She wondered what the girl was doing there.
The dance studio was usually not very popular at that time of the evening, when it was turning night, and especially not in winter. She would know; she had always been one of the strongest campaigners for not going to the dance studio on such cold, dreary days. Somebody always had to drag her there, which had always amused Tiffany as that particular somebody was so lazy the rest of the time. But then she had found out exactly why that certain somebody had been so eager to go to the dance studio as often as possible, and that wasn’t amusing at all.
The lights in the main practice room were still on and she guessed that the girl who had just left had forgotten to turn them off.
At first Tiffany had not liked dancing at all. She wasn’t good at it. She could learn the moves as well as she liked, but her body just wouldn’t move right all the time. She wasn’t horrible, but she didn’t quite satisfy her own standards. It had been almost two years of trying to move like their dance instructor when she found that somebody, in particular, wasn’t all that keen on her attempts to copy, preferring the original instead.
Tiffany slipped a CD from the rack against the wall and opened the stereo’s disc tray. There was already a disc inside and she frowned again. The girl she had met outside must have been very forgetful. There was no case for the disc, which made her frown even more, so she delicately placed it on top of the rack before entering her CD.
She let the first track play and stretched her shoulders absently as she made her way to stand a few feet from the wall-length mirror. She thought of her membership contract with the dance studio, which would expire soon if she didn’t renew it, and she thought about whether or not she would want to renew it. Her eyes traced her reflection, and she sighed. Her jacket fell to the floor and she began to stretch in earnest.
Dancing reminded her of the circumstances of her own broken heart, but it also made her forget everything around her, even just for a little while. And even if she wasn’t exactly the best at dancing, it had become a part of her life now.
She didn’t notice the figure stopping at the door. She didn’t hear the rustling of the faded jacket as the girl leaned against the doorway and crossed her arms. She didn’t sense the curious gaze examining her as she moved with some warm-up dances.
The girl smiled to herself, her eyes retaining the light of curiousity. She watched until Tiffany made her first mistake, and kept watching with interest as Tiffany repeated the same move and tried and tried again until she got it right.
She spared a glance for the clock on the wall. It was getting beyond late. Time had passed already, the same songs running over and over through the speakers of the stereo as the CD spun on repeat.
The girl stretched her own muscles, which were stiffening after standing against the doorway for so long. She shook her head at her own behaviour and shot another curious look at Tiffany. Then, with another little smile, she turned and left again without retrieving her CD, making a mental note to tell the new dance instructor that she had forgotten it.
As Tiffany drove through the darkened streets much later, she decided to turn on the heater for the first time in an age. A long drive around would give it time to warm up, and give herself time to try stopping her thoughts.
With very little idea of where she was and where she was going, Tiffany drove through the city for as long as she could. She slumped in her seat when the car came to a standstill and stared at the red haze of the stoplight through her slightly fogged-up windscreen. Idly, she wondered if it was time to go home.
But home was so much colder.
The haze turned green, leaving Tiffany awash in the light. She blinked, but didn’t move. There was no one else in the area. She slowly absorbed the solitary state of her presence before eventually shifting her car into gear and moving on.
Her eyes were drawn to a lit-up sign further along the street; a deeply black background bearing a bright blue border and the word Night. It was simple, basic, and subtle. She pulled over beside it.
Night was a nightclub of sorts. It was dim and dusky inside, with jarring bass-heavy music and writhing, alcohol-filled bodies on the dance floor. Tiffany made her way around the edge of the mass and reached the bar, which had a dark wooden surface littered with damp drink coasters and peanut crumbs. The bartender gave her a charming smile which she barely registered before turning back to watch the dancers from her new point of view.
A few of the people seemed to have actual skill with dancing, but her eye travelled to a familiar-looking girl not far away, who was holding a video camera and focusing it on one dancer in particular with a look of concentration on her face.
It was the girl she had bumped into at the dance studio earlier. Tiffany followed the direction of the girl’s focus and watched as the dancer switched into a routine with steadily increasing difficulty that she performed flawlessly. The people around the dancer moved back and watched her dance, whooping and clapping at the surprise performance.
Tiffany turned her gaze back to the girl, who was grinning proudly. She guessed they knew each other. With a frown, she turned to the bartender and finally ordered a drink.
The dancer finished her set, and was applauded by those around her. A few clapped her on the back and she was beaming as she thanked them, and handed out what seemed to be business cards. Before long, she went over to the girl and high-fived her happily.
Tiffany paid no mind to it, staring into the liquid of her drink, leaning on the bar with one arm. In her mind, she replayed what she had seen of the dancer’s performance, the techniques and stages of the routine. She wondered if she was willing to risk trying it herself next time she went to the studio.
The voice came from beside her, and she looked to see that girl again, smiling at her.
“Um… hello,” she replied uncertainly.
“My name is Taeyeon,” the girl said, holding out her hand, still wearing that smile. She seemed perfectly at ease introducing herself to a stranger in a nightclub.
Tiffany blinked and took the hand, shaking it lightly. “I’m Tiffany. Nice to meet you.”
Taeyeon’s smile widened. “Tiffany. That’s a nice name. I’m pleased to meet you, Tiffany. Did you see my friend dance?”
Tiffany nodded slowly, wondering what Taeyeon wanted from her. “Yes. She’s very good.”
“She’s the new dance teacher at the studio where I saw you earlier today.”
Tiffany raised her eyebrows. “Oh, I see.”
Taeyeon moved to lean against the bar, facing her and crossing her arms across her chest. Her peaceful smile stayed on her face much like the look of curiousity from the first time they had seen each other. Tiffany looked away, unsure about making eye contact, and toyed with her glass again.
“You seem unhappy.”
Tiffany’s head shot up again, staring at Taeyeon. “Excuse me?”
Taeyeon seemed to realise the impact of her behaviour.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to overstep the boundaries here,” she said quickly. “I just noticed it seems as if you’re lacking something in life. I hate seeing someone feeling empty and hopeless. No matter how creepy it makes me seem right now.”
“Well, I’m afraid it’s a little too creepy for me, Taeyeon,” Tiffany said, straightening up from her position. “I should get going.”
Taeyeon looked disappointed, and stood up properly too. “I’m sorry, Tiffany. I guess that was a little too forward.”
She tucked a lock of her caramel-coloured hair behind one ear and her expression became thoughtful as she regarded Tiffany again.
“Give me another chance?” she asked quietly.
Tiffany hesitated, taken aback and uncertain of what Taeyeon wanted or how to respond.
Taeyeon stuck her hand out again, still looking thoughtful.
“Hello stranger, I’m Taeyeon,” she said. “I noticed you from across the bar. Have you ever been to the dance studio on the other side of town? It just so happens my friend and I are here tonight doing some publicity for it.”
Tiffany regarded the girl solemnly. She waited for a while to see how long Taeyeon would stand there in that exact position. She took a sip from her drink, and eyed their surroundings deliberately. Then she took Taeyeon’s hand, giving it a light squeeze, and said, “Okay, Taeyeon, be creepy.”
Taeyeon smiled. “You know the great thing about nightclubs like Night? It’s a whole other world. We don’t know each other, but we can get to know each other. You can talk to me because you need someone to talk to, and I can listen to you because I want to hear what’s going on in your mind. And then we can go back into our other, separate worlds, feeling less empty.”
They watched each other quietly, and Tiffany slowly let go of Taeyeon’s hand. She leaned against the bar again, with her back to it this time, and held her drink as she watched the other people in the club with feigned interest to make it seem like Taeyeon’s words had not affected her in the slightest. She was aware of Taeyeon beside her, ordering a drink from the bartender, and sipped her own drink as she glanced at the girl from the corner of her eye. A new smile was on Taeyeon’s face.
Here Tiffany was, in some random nightclub in a part of town she did not know, talking to an overly friendly stranger, about to open up about the bleeding of her heart. She gulped down the rest of her drink, set the glass down on the bar, and turned to Taeyeon.
“Okay, Taeyeon,” she said firmly. “We’re in that whole other world now, right? Well, I feel like love is not as great as people think. It hurts, and it lies, and it changes. There’s nothing there in the end.”
Taeyeon regarded her quietly for a moment, her expression serious.
Tiffany blinked. She was used to people telling her it wasn’t like that and that she would feel better soon. “What?”
“You’re right,” Taeyeon repeated, giving her a small smile. “Love is not as great as many people think it is. It is wonderful and it is agonizing, and sometimes it does go away and sometimes it was never really there. But that is also the nature of life, and that doesn’t automatically stop us from living. Love hurts but we don’t stop loving.”
Tiffany frowned. “But I want to stop. I don’t want to be in this place anymore, Taeyeon.” She felt the tears well up in her eyes as her walls crumbled in the middle of Night. “I don’t want to be hurt like this again.”
Taeyeon stepped closer, and put her hand gently on Tiffany’s shoulder. “No one wants to be hurt, Tiffany. I said love is like life, but there’s one difference. When you die, it’s impossible to be brought back to life. But when love has died and you feel like you’ve died with it, you can be loved back to life.”
Tiffany just stared at Taeyeon. The atmosphere of the bar slowly crept back into her awareness, the heavy music thudding in her head, the happy drunken people’s shouts and laughter assaulting her ears, the heat of so many bodies in one space smothering her. She felt Taeyeon’s hand squeeze her shoulder and saw the caring look in her eyes.
“Do you need some fresh air?” she asked kindly. “We can go outside. Or you can. I promise I won’t try anything.” She grinned sheepishly.
Tiffany smiled faintly at the look on Taeyeon’s face. “No, it’s okay. I mean, I’m not afraid of you, Taeyeon. Let’s – Let’s go outside for a while.”
The cold night air was a relief, washing over her and making it easier to breathe. Goosebumps rose on the skin of her bare arms and she thought of her jacket, lying discarded in her car because she had known it would be warm in the nightclub. She was still aware of Taeyeon beside her, as they stood outside the building in companionable silence, listening to the muffled sounds from the nightclub and the distant noise of passing cars. Feeling Taeyeon’s eyes on her, Tiffany turned to face her. She was looking thoughtfully at the way Tiffany hugged herself to keep warm and it made Tiffany wonder if the girl was about to offer her own thin jacket.
“Is it really possible to be loved back to life when love hurts?” Tiffany asked quietly.
Taeyeon’s eyes moved to meet hers, and a gentle smile appeared on her lips. “That’s just how love is. It’s incredibly complex, yet so simple; hurtful, yet healing; and absolutely, utterly ridiculous. Yes, love can bring you back to life when love has killed you.”
“I find that hard to believe,” Tiffany replied, sighing. “Thanks for trying to make me feel better, Taeyeon.”
Taeyeon raised her eyebrows. “I know it’s hard to believe. That doesn’t make it impossible.”
The doors of the nightclub opened and a gaggle of people burst out, laughing uncontrollably with each other. Taeyeon and Tiffany made room for them to pass. After she watched the group stagger along the street, Tiffany turned her attention back to the girl beside her and chuckled bitterly.
“Forgive me for thinking your opinion is a bit naïve,” she said. “I guess I just can’t believe it no matter how possible it may be.”
Taeyeon just smiled silently. She slipped her hands into her pockets and tilted her head back to stare at the dark, empty sky above them, where the stars would have been visible were it not for the so-called light pollution of the city. She took a deep breath, and let it all out in a sigh.
“You know what?” she murmured, closing her eyes. “Those stars up there are exactly what I mean. The stars are always shining but we don’t see them until it’s very, very dark. If we’re in a place like this where they’re hard to see, then we need to change our position. And if we don’t look up at the sky, we never even stand a chance of seeing them.”
She opened her eyes and looked at Tiffany.
“Do you get what I mean? When you’re hurting like this, that’s when you can see what love really is, but you have to look at what’s there.”
Tiffany blinked and craned her neck to look up at the sky. She remembered what it was like to see the stars, glittering and mysterious and beautiful, so far away and yet feeling so easy to reach at any moment. It had been a long time since she had seen the stars, and she wondered if they were still there.
“I miss them,” she murmured absently. “I miss seeing the stars, Taeyeon.”
A gentle hand touched hers, warmth entwining with her fingers, and she turned her head to see Taeyeon’s smile.
“Come with me, Tiffany,” she said. “Let me show you the stars.”
Standing on a hill outside of the city and holding hands with Taeyeon as they looked at the bright galaxy above them, Tiffany thought that perhaps it was just because she had been in another world that she was now feeling so light, and soft, and content. She almost didn’t recognise the feeling anymore. But her burden had been lifted, no longer pressing down on her shoulders, and that somebody she used to know no longer had a place in her mind’s eye. Instead, she turned her gaze to Taeyeon, who quietly, peacefully stood beside her. That night, she saw the stars again, she saw life again, and she saw love.