“Hey! I hope I’m not too early…”
“No, no, it’s fine. Come on in!”
Taeyeon’s heart was beating at a rate slightly faster than usual. She could feel it, at first, as a light vibration in her chest. It started about a second after she saw Tiffany on her doorstep and it seemed well-set to continue for a long, long time.
“The others might be a little late.”
“Ah, okay. Um, so what’s the plan for lunch? Need help setting up?”
Her hands shook for the first few minutes as Tiffany joked around and chatted happily with her in the kitchen. She almost dropped the ingredients a few times, but finally she got more used to the reaction she had to Tiffany’s presence. She even managed to chop some of the vegetables without injuring herself.
“I’m really looking forward to today,” Tiffany said as they covered the bowls of prepared ingredients. “I’m sure we’ll all have fun.”
The remark put a smile on Taeyeon’s face. She, too, was looking forward to the afternoon; these were the people who were most important in her life right now, and she was determined to make it a memorable time. She wanted something she could remember for the rest of her life, no matter what happened; something she had clearly been lacking in the first part of her life – or rather, someone.
Looking at Tiffany now, humming to herself as she tidied up in the kitchen, Taeyeon knew that this was a person she wanted to be able to think of forever. Despite having only properly met Tiffany less than a week ago, something about her infectious happiness, warmth and friendliness felt so familiar to Taeyeon that it was almost as if she was a part of her life already and would be for a long time.
Such thoughts were perhaps a little intense in usual new relationships, and Taeyeon was well aware of it, but she kept an eye on Tiffany with an almost expectant interest.
“You okay there?”
Taeyeon blinked. Tiffany was done, and was watching her with her hands on her hips and the beginnings of an amused grin on her lips.
“Ah,” Taeyeon said, realising she had been caught staring. “Sorry, I just spaced out for a minute there.”
The way Tiffany raised her eyebrows and nodded confirmed that it had indeed been a minute. A blush lit Taeyeon’s cheeks and she abruptly turned to lead the way to the living room. Tiffany spent a good few minutes intently examining her DVD collection, humming appreciatively at a few.
“You should let me borrow some of these sometime,” she remarked, tapping her finger on the DVD in her hand. “I’ve never heard of them, but they seem good.”
Taeyeon could not deny it; she liked that Tiffany was taking an interest in her interests. It gave her heart a light, fluttering feeling and at the same time, she felt like melting. She figured this was something akin to the experiences of first love that she had seen and read about, and that thought alone made her feel weird about the process of starting her life again at her age.
But she simply dismissed it. She was already well used to the special world she inhabited. The sound of her doorbell ringing gave her a pleasant distraction, and she went to greet her friends.
The first thing she noticed was that Jessica and Yuri were standing within a one metre radius of each other. This in itself was a rare sight; she hadn’t seen them so close since the time she stumbled upon their private moment. Now, here they stood, with only Sunny between them, on the same doorstep of her home. Sunny was beaming.
Before Taeyeon even had a chance to return the greeting, Sunny shot inside and headed straight for the living room. She was no doubt hunting for Tiffany. Yuri and Jessica shuffled awkwardly, staring at Taeyeon.
“Hi, guys,” Taeyeon greeted.
“Hello,” Jessica replied tightly. Yuri just nodded, and gulped; it seemed she was too petrified to speak.
“Well, come on in.”
Taeyeon stepped aside and watched with great amusement as both of her guests waited for the other to go first. They each made halting little twitches when it seemed like the other wasn’t going to go, before waiting again, and twitching again, until finally Jessica clicked her tongue in frustration and strode through the doorway.
Yuri and Taeyeon both watched her go before looking at each other.
Taeyeon smirked. “Hey Yuri.”
Yuri glared, and pushed past Taeyeon. As she closed the door, Taeyeon smiled to herself; maybe she could get some teasing done – as long as Yuri didn’t totally freak out.
A small dog had taken the living room as his new playground when Taeyeon returned to her guests. The little ball of curly black fur hopped around the humans, tongue wagging as he entertained his new friends. She stood by the doorway and watched for a while as Tiffany and Sunny laughed and played with her pet, while Yuri and Jessica sat on opposite ends of the couch and stared off into space. It was quite a scene, after all. There was a great contrast between the excited playing on one side of the room and the dull silence on the other.
Taeyeon sighed. She had her work cut out for her.
“This little guy is so cute!” Tiffany cooed. She ruffled the dog’s fur and blew him a kiss. “What’s his name?”
“Ginger,” Sunny answered before Taeyeon had even opened her mouth. “Don’t ask me why, I used to wonder if Taeyeon was colour-blind when I first heard it. Anyway, he’s being all cute and cuddly now but he can be a real little rascal. Right, Taeyeon?”
Taeyeon shrugged and smiled sheepishly. “He has his mischievous moments.”
“Oh, I know exactly what you mean,” Tiffany enthused. “My little puppy acts like a total angel at times and then he goes and pees on the carpet or chews my shoes. They’re real little imps. But I think they’d get along well together!”
Sunny smirked, precisely as if everything was going to some sort of plan, and glanced knowingly at Yuri. Yuri, on the other hand, looked painfully stiff as she attempted a flash of a smile in response. Sunny sighed and turned to give a different pointed look at Taeyeon.
Taeyeon rolled her eyes and clapped her hands together. “Okay, let’s start having fun!”
It started small, with pointed actions of avoidance whenever they ended up close to each other, and a rigid effort to look anywhere but each other. After only a short time cooking together in the kitchen, Yuri tried so hard to keep her distance that she dropped a bowl of chopped onions on her own foot. And that was when things started going downhill at a rapid pace. Yuri’s face was painted with a deep red blush of embarrassment and self-loathing as she cleaned up the mess, despite the light-hearted nature of the others, and while she was overly conscious of Jessica in that situation, Jessica was acting as if absolutely nothing happened. But the damage was done – Yuri was now so conscious of herself and Jessica that she burned her finger on the frying pan. This was followed by accidentally breaking the tap at the sink when she went to run cold water over her finger, which led to a great spray of water that completely soaked Jessica who had been right in the line of fire on one side of the sink.
In a way, Taeyeon mused half-heartedly, it almost represented the fall of their relationship.
Yuri was terror-stricken as she stared at Jessica. The water was still leaking from the broken sink, and Sunny leapt to it and began trying to repair the damage in any way possible. Taeyeon looked from Yuri to Jessica, eyeing the thin line of fragile tension that zipped in the air between them. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed that Tiffany was frozen as if she was unsure of the situation. Jessica blinked.
“Sorry,” Yuri blurted.
The sound of rushing water faded as Sunny managed to stop the flow. The following silence was only penetrated by a few feeble drips, and flavoured with an indecipherable iciness coming from the unspeaking Jessica.
“Sorry…” Yuri repeated, quietly, turning her eyes away from Jessica’s blank gaze. She shifted uncomfortably. “Sorry.”
Jessica inhaled and exhaled at a moderate pace. She waited another beat, and then she responded.
“It’s okay,” she said in a hollow voice. “It’s fine.”
Ginger chose that moment to leap into the kitchen, thinking the lack of activity meant that the humans were free to play with him now. He bounded over to Tiffany, who knelt down to pick him up and shush him softly, and she glanced furtively at the others before taking the dog with her into the living room.
The interruption went unnoticed by some; Jessica simply brushed her wet hair out of her face and kept her eyes sharply trained on Yuri.
Yuri tried to recover. She steeled herself. “I’m really sorry. It won’t happen again. Is there any way I can help you?”
Jessica raised an eyebrow. “Help me? No thank you. And don’t worry if it happens again. I’ll just forgive you again, like I always do.”
The look on Yuri’s face was truly pitiable. A frown clenched her brow and for a moment it seemed like she might cry, before she started trying to hide behind a mask of indifference. She turned away, busying herself with tidying up the kitchen.
“Taeyeon?” Jessica asked softly. There was the slightest note of a tremor in her voice. She cleared her throat. “Where’s your bathroom, please?”
Taeyeon regarded the scene quietly for a moment before stepping to the doorway. “I’ll show you.”
They left Sunny and Yuri behind, and Taeyeon knew Sunny was going to have a talk with Yuri. She glanced at Jessica beside her, and wondered what she should say. Was there any point in trying to talk to her now? For all she knew, the situation would get worse and worse until it reached boiling point if she tried to say anything about it now. Direct confrontation was perhaps a bit too soon. She sighed wearily as she opened the bathroom door and gestured for Jessica to go ahead.
“Sorry about this,” Jessica murmured, her voice muffled by the towel she used to dry her face. “I’m not sure why I came today. Sunny just kind of kidnapped me.”
“You have nothing to be sorry about, Jessica. I wanted you here, and I want you to stay. This was no big deal; the rest of the day will be fine. Right?”
Jessica just shrugged. She carried on drying herself.
“Listen, Jessica,” Taeyeon started hesitantly. “Sunny told me a little about what happened between you and Yuri.”
Jessica froze. Slowly, she looked at Taeyeon. “What?”
“Don’t be upset! I was worried about you both, and I still am. I just want you to be happy.”
Jessica didn’t respond immediately. She carefully and neatly folded up the towel and placed it on the edge of the sink. Then she turned to fully face Taeyeon, her expression cold and empty.
“Taeyeon, I appreciate that you worry about us. But if you invited me here just to mess with our relationship, I would like to leave now.”
The silence was tense. Taeyeon’s eyes widened. She had in a sense invited Jessica here as part of her effort to repair their relationship. What had she been thinking? Even just after deciding that it wasn’t her business, she had still taken their personal matters into her own hands as if she had a right to do so. No matter how much she cared about the happiness of her friends, she couldn’t help but feel dread at the realisation that she had overstepped her boundaries.
She opened her mouth to respond but was interrupted by movement from the doorway. Yuri appeared, looking exhausted and grim. She kept her eyes locked on Jessica, paying no attention to her friend.
“Don’t get mad at Taeyeon, she’s just trying to help us.”
Jessica sighed. “I know she is. I’m not mad. I’m just tired. I’d like to go home now.”
Yuri nodded. “Sure, just run away again. That’s all you ever do these days.”
The air crackled. Daggers rose in Jessica’s eyes and were aimed at Yuri with a cold, sharp edge. Taeyeon first wondered if she should try to leave, but Yuri was still in the doorway, and she didn’t think it was really a good idea to leave them alone at the current time. Trapped between a rock and a hard place, she tensed herself to intervene if it got bloody – which, judging by the look in Jessica’s eyes, was not entirely unlikely.
“What did you just say?”
Yuri wore her mask well. “You heard me.”
Jessica scoffed, and the sound echoed faintly. “You’re hardly one to talk to me about running away, after what you did.”
Yuri shrugged. “It’s true for both of us now, don’t you think?”
“Hardly. I’m still here. I was always still here, standing and waiting for you. Can’t you see?!”
“I see,” Yuri replied, sounding strained. She started shaking, as if the mask she wore was about to crack already. “I see that you think you should hurt me in order to get me back. You’re running from me, poking me with a stick from a distance. Why could you never just come up to me and tell me directly? If I’m going through so much pain, is hurting me more really the answer you choose?!”
“I have no choice! I lost you and I didn’t have any choice about that either!”
They were shouting now, screaming. Every now and then a splinter of pent-up pain would slice along the edges of their words. It was really happening, Taeyeon thought, they were really going to lay it all out at that exact moment and let loose. On the one hand, she figured it would be healthy for them. But on the other hand, it would be make or break. Any hope for reconciliation was faced with a chance of total desolation. Above all, she wished she didn’t have to be awkwardly standing off to one side with no escape.
“Are you really trying to make it sound so easy?” Jessica continued, stepping closer to Yuri. “Do you think it could be easy? Are you capable of that?”
A deep sigh racked Yuri’s body, and she deflated, letting her mask drop. “I don’t know. And that’s just the problem. I don’t know anything at all right now. But I’ll be succinct; it’s an improvement, don’t you see? I used to think I knew something. Now I’ve accepted that I don’t.”
Jessica frowned, but not because she was angry or confused. It was the look of someone who was absorbing an important fact that changed everything. Eventually, Jessica hung her head and relaxed her shoulders.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Yuri didn’t hesitate; she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Jessica in a tight hug as they shared their feelings without words.
Taeyeon blinked. Her head felt incredibly heavy, and a dull pain was starting at the base of her neck. She squeezed her eyes shut and massaged her brow, trying to make the thick thumping cease, but it grew stronger as she stood in the resounding silence. She cracked her eyes open again to look at Yuri and Jessica – over Yuri’s shoulder, she spotted Tiffany. Tiffany, who stood there uncertainly, met her gaze.
The air snapped and changed.
Yuri shoved Jessica away again. “It’s too late!”
Tiffany was pushed out of the way as Yuri stumbled past. The front door smacked against the wall as Yuri fled the house.
It didn’t take long for Jessica to follow; whether she was intending to go after Yuri or not, she stormed past Taeyeon and Tiffany before they had recovered and disappeared out the door.
Taeyeon ran after them, but at the door she was held back by a grim-faced Sunny who met her confused expression with a sigh of reluctance.
“I’m sorry, Taeyeon, but you shouldn’t run after them,” she said softly. “Just leave it.”
“Leave it?! I can’t! It’s my fault they got into this fight; I have to go after them –”
“Don’t, Taeyeon. Please. I just don’t want you to end up in the same situation as Taeyeon and Tiffany.”
“I-” Taeyeon was about to try to free herself from Sunny’s grip when the words sunk in. She frowned deeply. “W-What? What did you just say?”
“I said, I don’t want you to end up in the same situation as Yuri and Jessica,” Sunny replied sadly.
Taeyeon blinked. Her body went slack, causing Sunny to let go of her arm and give her a solemn look. But Taeyeon just blinked again, and shook her head slowly.
“Yuri and Jessica,” she echoed. “You definitely said Yuri and Jessica. For some reason… I don’t know… I thought you said… But no, you said Yuri and Jessica.”
It was Sunny’s turn to frown. “What? Are you okay?”
“Y-Yeah, I’m fine. Um. I’m fine. Look, I’ll go talk to Tiffany, she must be feeling kind of uncomfortable. Can you just make sure they get home safe?”
Sunny eyed her for a moment longer before nodding. “Okay.”
The door clicked shut behind Sunny and Taeyeon stood alone in the silent hallway of her house. Sunny’s words were echoing around her mind – not only did she mishear the names, but she also couldn’t understand what Sunny was trying to say. The same situation? She and Tiffany were nowhere near anything like Yuri and Jessica’s level of relationship complexities. For one thing, they had only known each other for a week.
In fact, now that Taeyeon thought of it, she didn’t remember much of Tiffany from her time in the BA course. She threw her mind back to the previous year, searching for a sighting or a mention of Tiffany Hwang.
She found no such recollection.
Her mind was spinning. There was too much going on; the conflict between Yuri and Jessica, the strange confusion of names amongst Sunny’s other baffling words, and the overwhelming feeling that something was wrong, that something wasn’t right with her sparse collection of memories. Something was missing, and something else was hiding just on the edge of her mental vision. She felt almost as if it was all a dream, and its borders were getting blurry –
The ruckus in her head stilled. She turned her head. Tiffany stood there, at the end of the hallway, one hand still on the doorway she had just passed through. Her face was beautiful, the perfect expression of concern, confusion, wariness. Taeyeon got hung up on the way her lips were parted, and finally realised that the faded foundations of her world had solidified again with the colour of Tiffany.
She smiled. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
Tiffany returned the smile a little hesitantly. “Sure?”
Taeyeon nodded. She waved her hand dismissively. “I’m fine.”
Tiffany smiled a little stronger, and straightened up. She started fiddling with her hands, and Taeyeon remembered how awkward she was likely feeling after witnessing the explosion of Yuri and Jessica.
“Sorry about that,” she apologised sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to make this an uncomfortable day for you. I just wanted to help them sort out their problems, but I guess I greatly underestimated everything.”
“It’s okay,” Tiffany responded. “It’s fine. Maybe I should go home, so you can help your friends.”
“No! I mean, no, you don’t have to go. There’s not much I can do for them right now anyway, I should give them some time to cool off. Stay a little while longer. If you don’t mind…We can even watch one of those DVDs you were looking at.”
Tiffany’s eyes curved as she replied, “Okay. Okay, I’ll stay with you.”
Taeyeon expected a lot of tension at work after that weekend. She arrived on Monday with the hope of establishing the situation before approaching either Yuri or Jessica, but to her surprise she found only Sunny there.
“Uh, where are the others?”
Sunny looked up from the magazine she was flipping through. “My guess is Yuri thought Jessica would show up so she stayed home and Jessica thought Yuri would show up so she stayed home. These foolish kids.”
Taeyeon was relieved by Sunny’s light-hearted attitude. “So… how bad is the damage from Saturday’s fallout?”
Sunny whistled. “It’s pretty bad, my friend. Don’t think you’re getting off the hook easily. You should have heard some of the things Yuri said about you on her way home.”
“So they got home safely, then? Both of them?”
“Yeah, I dropped Jessica home first because she lives closer, and then I circled back to find Yuri stomping all over the streets. They’re quite a pair, those two.”
Taeyeon hummed absently. She unpacked her things and settled at her desk. As she booted up her laptop, she glanced over the edge of the screen, eyeing the two empty desks on the office floor. She sighed. Thinking back to all the fun times she’d had with her friends, she could only hope that she hadn’t ruined the friendships she felt lucky to have.
[9:12:09am] Taengrrr: Yuri? How are you?
She didn’t expect a quick reply, or any reply at all. But she figured it was worth trying, and if no conversation came of it, at least her message would show Yuri that she cared.
A beep brought her attention to her phone.
Hey… are you at work yet?
Yeah… what’s up?
Just wondering if your friends are okay… I saw how torn up you were over what happened on Saturday.
Taeyeon took a moment to smile quietly to herself. Talking to Tiffany really could make her feel better about anything. There was just so much to love about her.
They’re not here… I sent a message to Yuri, but I’m not getting my hopes up. I think I’ll call them both later… is that a good idea?
Ah, asking my opinion? >_<” I think you should do what you feel is best. I’m sure that wouldn’t hurt. ^_^
Taeyeon bit her bottom lip to keep from grinning.
Can I call you?
If you’re free….
Taeyeon jumped up from her seat, which naturally caught Sunny’s attention, but she dodged any questions and stepped out of the office to lurk by the elevator as she tapped the ‘call’ button.
“You really called me at work… is this part of your job, young lady?”
Taeyeon grinned. “Of course. It’s the most important factor for this business. What are you doing?”
“Ah, I’m just kind of sitting in my car, prolonging my free time before I go to work. Well, I’m already late so I guess it isn’t really free time, but I’ll take what I can get.”
“Having a tough morning?”
“Mondays are always tough… It’s so hard to get started. I just… Well, I guess I can talk to you about it, I think you’d understand…”
“Ever since we went to that recording studio, and you encouraged me to sing… I’ve been thinking about it constantly. I finally managed to stop thinking about that and then you came along and just brought it all out of me again.” She laughed briefly. “I never would have guessed this would happen. Here I am, finally settling into the life I have to lead and then I’m just totally disarmed by you. Isn’t that crazy?”
“I don’t think so,” Taeyeon murmured. “Tell me about your dream.”
“You even know which buttons to push… Okay, I’ll let myself talk about it just this once. You’re really something, you know, Taeyeon. So, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a singer. Simple enough? But my father disagreed, and… well, at first I fought back, but… you see, my mother died when I was young. It was a very hard time for me and my father. And something about the look on his face when I was fighting back against his wishes just really got to me. How could I do that to my own father, who’s been through so much?”
A heavy, heart-filled sigh reached Taeyeon’s ear through the phone. She clutched the device tighter, and frowned. Phone calls had never been so impractical before; she strongly wanted to see Tiffany face-to-face.
“So I ended up here,” Tiffany continued. “Now I’m sitting outside an office building, dreading the day ahead and it’s only the start of a week full of days like this, followed by weeks more of this and months and years…”
She went totally silent, and Taeyeon knew she was holding back her tears.
“Listen, Tiffany,” she said firmly. “Take a deep breath for me. Now listen. Your father wanted what he thought was best for you, and you wanted what you thought was best for you. I… look; it’s hard to say this properly over the phone. Just… Hang in there? At least until I can see you again. Can you do that?”
Tiffany chuckled lightly, and sniffed. “Yeah, I can. Thanks, Taeyeon. Thanks for trying. Are you free tonight?”
Taeyeon relaxed. Tiffany was strong. “Of course.”
Sunny’s face when Taeyeon returned to her desk was mischievous to say the least. She acted indifferent at first, but the second Taeyeon sat down, she shot over and perched herself on the edge of the desk with an impish smile.
“Early morning phone call, huh? Who with?”
Taeyeon clicked her tongue. “None of your business.”
“My dear little friend, you should have known that those words would only confirm that you were talking with Tiffany. If it was Yuri or Jessica, you would have told me.”
And there was no one else it could have been, Taeyeon added in her mind. She just shook her head, smiling slightly, and started to get her things ready to do some work.
Sunny drifted back to her desk, singing “Taeyeon has a girlfriend” just loud enough for her to hear.
Taeyeon laughed quietly to herself. She shuffled her paperwork and turned to face her laptop.
[9:25:02am] The Kwonster: I’m fine. I’m just going to spend all day sleeping.
Yuri’s reply curtly rejected any conversation, but Taeyeon was relieved that she was okay. And the fact that she had responded at all seemed like a good sign in terms of the status of their friendship.
Ginger was pleased beyond belief when Taeyeon came home and immediately put him on a leash. He bounded around, yapping happily, as she drove him to the river, and he leaped out at high speed when she opened the door for him.
Tiffany was already waiting, with a tiny bundle of white fur in her arms, on a bench further along.
“Ginger, meet Prince Fluffy.”
Taeyeon couldn’t help but laugh at the name, but the seriousness of Tiffany’s demeanour brought her to a standstill.
“Seriously? His name is Prince Fluffy?”
Tiffany cradled her puppy closer and snuggled him. “Don’t listen to her, Prince, you have a lovely name.”
Taeyeon snickered. “Sure, sure.”
Tiffany poked her tongue out at Taeyeon. “You called your dog Ginger with no clear motivation at all!”
“Ask any dog on the street, they’d rather be called Ginger than Prince Fluffykins.”
“It’s just Fluffy! I call him Prince all the time, anyway.”
Prince took this opportunity to wiggle out of Tiffany’s arms and plop on to the ground. He approached Ginger slowly but confidently and the two dogs became acquainted.
Taeyeon unclipped Ginger’s leash, setting him free, and watched the two little animals race away.
“They grow up so fast,” Tiffany sighed wistfully, watching them play.
Taeyeon chuckled as she sat down beside her on the bench. “Oh, so you’re one of those people who treat their pets like their own children, huh?”
“Oh and I suppose you don’t?”
“Of course not, I’m much too young and hip to be Ginger’s mother.”
They watched the dogs for a while longer, smiles on their faces, before Taeyeon spoke again.
“So, how was your day?”
Tiffany shifted, brushing off lint from her pants and crossing her legs. “It was okay.”
Taeyeon eyed her intently for a moment. “Wanna talk about it?”
She took a breath, and turned to face Taeyeon, as if she wanted to say something, before she stopped and just smiled again. “Yeah, I want to talk about it. But not yet. Not right now.”
Taeyeon nodded. “Alright, I understand.”
She was wrapped in absorbing warmth. Tiffany was hugging her, as her arms came around Taeyeon’s shoulders and squeezed her gently. Taeyeon closed her eyes and returned the embrace immediately, a blissful feeling washing over her.
It was a warmth she had not experienced before.
Looking back on her past didn’t take Taeyeon very long. There was only so much to see when she looked. But sometimes Taeyeon would stare at the horizon of her memories, back where it all started, the moment her eyes snapped open and the blackness dissolved to show the dim, discoloured hospital ceiling at night. With a turn of her head, she had felt the fear seep in and begin to crackle and hiss. It was worse than just waking up with no idea of where she was. It was waking up with no idea of anything at all. A complete emptiness. It was waking up a hollow wreck, alone and afraid and seeing no beginning. Where did safety lie in a situation like hers?
As she lay on her bed that night, she watched the ceiling above her. It was different. It seemed more solid somehow, less like an abandoned wisp of some departed cloud. Somehow she got a strange feeling; Tiffany. It was all because of Tiffany. Ever since she met Tiffany that day in the coffee shop, things had been changing. Her world seemed thicker, stronger, and more familiar. She had experienced a similar feeling before, when dreaming. This was the feeling that she got when she delved deeper and deeper into a dream, making it seem more and more as if it was where she belonged.
It was the feeling that came just before she desperately needed to wake up.