Rêveur (there is a tomorrow)

Even after making the decision to grab Tiffany’s hand and pull her away from the altar, Taeyeon found herself still in her white-cushioned seat, her insides quivering and her palms sweating in clenched fists. Her gaze was fused to Tiffany’s veiled face, trying to trace her familiar beloved features, trying to spot the tears wetting her soft skin. Taeyeon knew Tiffany was going to cry. They had talked about it three days earlier, holding each other and hoping time would no longer pass.

“I’ll be a mess,” Tiffany had said matter-of-factly. “They’ll have to scoop me out of an ocean of tears when they try to give me to him.”

Taeyeon let her eyes slip to the floor beneath Tiffany’s feet, imagining a puddle there. A small voice in the back of her mind gave a faint laugh of half-hearted amusement at the thought, and she finally admitted to herself that it was time to hurry up and do what needed to be done.

The droning voice of the preacher was muffled in Taeyeon’s ears as her heartbeat shook her whole body. She clenched her eyes shut and took deep breaths, earning some concerned glances from those around her, before her eyelids flickered open and she locked her stare on Tiffany’s face again.

Taeyeon tripped over her own chair and three others in her row, accidentally hit an old lady with the purse dangling from her flailing arm, and more or less shoved Tiffany off balance, but somehow she managed to get a grip on Tiffany’s hand – albeit it a clammy grip – and yanked her along on a stumbling, bumbling run out of the church.

Tiffany’s wedding dress rustled loudly as they ran. It was the only sound in the church besides their laboured breathing, until they heard the voice of Tiffany’s father booming “What the-” and then that was cut off as they reached the outside world. Taeyeon tried to run across the gravel in her heels without twisting her ankles, but Tiffany didn’t waste such time and kicked them off immediately, ignoring Taeyeon’s concerned look at her bare feet on the stones.

“It’s really not important right now, Taeyeon,” she gasped as they sped across the ground.

They hit the pavement, reaching the deserted street, and came to a sudden halt. Taeyeon tried to catch her breath, and Tiffany did the same while tugging her veil off her head with her free hand. Taeyeon looked down at their interlaced fingers and couldn’t stop the smile that reached her lips. It had seemed impossible to hold hands with Tiffany ever again.

Tiffany briefly attempted the impossible task of making her dress manageable for running and hurriedly glanced over her shoulder at the church. Very soon, some rather unhappy people would storm out of that small building. She turned her head and met Taeyeon’s gaze. Time seemed to slow for a moment as she saw Taeyeon’s smile and felt the gentle squeeze on her hand. She took a deep breath. For a moment, everything seemed as close to perfect as it had ever been.

Then the doors of the church slammed open. Taeyeon and Tiffany didn’t look in that direction, taking off immediately, heading to the nearest corner and skidding around it. Taeyeon let her shoes drop off her feet as she scuffled, and picked up the pace. They flew down the street, feeling the pressure on their lungs, the fluid movement of their limbs, and the strange grins that spread across their faces as they made it further and further away.

They rounded another corner and Taeyeon spotted a bus that was coming towards them. She tugged on Tiffany’s hand and pointed down the street, then waved at the bus to signal it when they were almost at the bus stop.

It was a scramble to find some money, while Tiffany continued to glance in the direction they came from, as they stood in front of the tactfully silent bus driver. Finally Taeyeon found her money squashed in the corners of her purse, and they settled down in the very back of the empty bus. Taeyeon peered through the windscreen ahead as the bus started moving, eyeing the suited men who were sprinting down the street. As the bus passed them, she kept her eyes on them through the side windows, and was very happy when they did not even spare a glance at the scuffed old bus that tottered along the street.

She met Tiffany’s stare again, and felt a feeling spread through her being that sent tingles through her nerve-endings as those warm eyes curved.

Taeyeon and Tiffany were free. Freedom involved intertwining their fingers, and holding each other in a lengthy embrace, and sharing a kiss while grinning like maniacs.

And as it turned out, freedom also involved sitting on a low wall outside of the bus centre building in their formal attire, avoiding the strange looks they received, and flicking through a map of bus routes while dipping fries into tomato sauce and swaying their bare feet back and forth.

“How about here?” Taeyeon suggested, pointing at a blue dot.

Tiffany shook her head. “Too close. And we’ve gone there before, so they might think to look there.”

Taeyeon brought the map closer to her face again, intently examining each line and dot. Tiffany watched her, a faint smile on her face, before taking another one of the fries. She dipped the tip in the tomato sauce and held it up, using it to poke at Taeyeon’s lips.

Taeyeon took a bite of it without looking away from the map, pretending to stay straight-faced when she felt like beaming. Tiffany laughed at her attempt to stay cool, which was foiled by the pleased blush that had appeared on her cheeks, and she finished the rest of the fries by herself. She leaned on Taeyeon, wrapped her arms around the petite body, and closed her eyes with a happy sigh as they shared warmth in the slowly fading sunlight.

“You know what,” Tiffany said suddenly, without opening her eyes or stirring at all, “let’s just get on any random bus going out of the city. Don’t look at the name of the route or any indication of the destination.”

Some nearby buses rumbled to life. Taeyeon considered the proposal for a moment. Then she neatly folded the map and tossed it onto the ground beside them nonchalantly.

“Let’s go!”

Upon reaching their destination – a small indiscriminate town far, far away – in the middle of the night, Taeyeon and Tiffany were well aware of their bare feet, and the lack of coverage provided by their formal dresses. They stood, shivering, at the bus stop, and gazed around at the darkness that now surrounded them.

With a sigh, Taeyeon squinted down the street at some distant lit-up signs.

“Hotel Rêvasser. Well, the name is French…What does that sound like to you; shady or fancy?”

Tiffany’s teeth chattered as she followed the direction of Taeyeon’s eyes. “Could be either, really. How much money do we have?”

A brief flick through the notes and coins in Taeyeon’s collection and a grimace when presenting her credit card left them with thoughtfully pursed lips. They shared a glance.

“Shady or not, let’s take a gamble.”

“Do you think they sell socks?”

They discussed which kinds of socks they would like to get as they made their way down the street. It was a quiet night, and they held hands as they strolled, casual despite the pressing cold air and unfamiliar surrounds. They didn’t contemplate much further than that.

The hotel, as it turned out, was not shady but it was not exactly fancy either. It was small, cosy, and clearly not high-end. Taeyeon flicked out her credit card. Tiffany yawned, politely hiding her mouth with her hand. The desk clerk took half a look at the wedding dress and bare feet and popped a bubble with his gum, blinking slowly.

“Just the one night?” he asked.

Taeyeon glanced at Tiffany, who raised her eyebrows in response. They both shrugged, and turned back to the desk clerk.

“Let’s make it two nights for now,” said Taeyeon, and he nodded in response.

The mini fridge had little packets of nuts in it – mixed peanuts and almonds – and a few tiny cans of different flavoured soda. Taeyeon huffed and pouted, considering her options before grabbing a diet soda and flicking the door of the mini fridge shut while she got up. As she popped the top, the bathroom door opened and she turned to see Tiffany stepping out with her head covered by a towel.

“Should we just skip dinner? I’m exhausted and we don’t really have any money,” Tiffany said, voice muffled by the towel until she lowered it and sighed.

Taeyeon was grinning at her, soda halfway to her mouth. Tiffany raised an eyebrow.

They had decided to push the credit limit on Taeyeon’s overused card just a little more with two shirts from the souvenir shop in the hotel, which the clerk kindly opened for them without question. Tiffany’s grey extra -large was meant to cover as much of her as it could. The edge reached to just above mid-thigh, and this fact made Taeyeon very appreciative of the shirt, which also had ‘rêveur dans un rêverie’ written in the perfect position on Tiffany’s chest.

Tiffany rolled her eyes and flung the towel onto Taeyeon’s head, covering her. Taeyeon yelped and started struggling with it.

“Fany!” she whined. “I almost spilled my soda!”

“You weren’t listening,” Tiffany copied her whining voice. “I said we should skip dinner. Are there even any restaurants that deliver this late at night?”

Taeyeon tossed the towel away, shrugging, and finally took a sip of her soda. “We probably could’ve found something. But you’re right; I’m not really hungry either. Let’s just go to bed.”

“Yeah,” Tiffany yawned. She felt Taeyeon’s eyes on her again as she made her way over to the bed, and added, “Let’s sleep.”

She heard Taeyeon sigh and mumble incoherently, bringing a smile to her face as she climbed into bed. She fluffed her pillows intently before settling on her back and letting her muscles relax, sighing contentedly. Out of the corner of her half-closed eyes, she watched Taeyeon move around the room, picking up the towel she discarded and hanging it tidily on the towel rack, finishing off her soda in a quick gulp and tossing the can in the recycling bin, folding their dresses neatly over the back of the small armchair. Her new shirt, white with a charcoal-style sketch of a lion on the back, covered her a bit more than Tiffany’s, its edge almost brushing against her knees.

Finally, she was done. She turned off the main light at the switch by the door, and the room was plunged into darkness. Tiffany moved to flick on the bedside lamp, but before she got to it Taeyeon already bumped into something and hissed a curse. She limped towards the bed when the dim lamp shed some light, and her pout made Tiffany giggle.

“Don’t laugh,” Taeyeon complained. Her feet were cold against Tiffany’s legs as they tangled together under the blanket.

Tiffany just beamed at her. It didn’t take long for Taeyeon’s pout to turn into a smile, her frowning brow clearing. She reached over and turned off the lamp. They wrapped their arms around each other, pressing together, and adjusted to the warmth.

“I had a really good day today,” Tiffany mumbled into Taeyeon’s shoulder.

Taeyeon laughed briefly, muffled by Tiffany’s shirt. “You make it sound like we just went on a picnic date or something.”

Tiffany shifted her leg slightly into a more comfortable position, thigh over Taeyeon’s hip, and wiggled a little. “Well it wasn’t exactly a conventional date, no, but I quite enjoyed it in the end.”

“Good,” Taeyeon murmured. She moved her arm so that she could stroke the back of Tiffany’s neck with one hand. “I love you.”

There was silence for a while as Tiffany tried to fight off drowsiness for a while longer, and then she muttered, “I love you too,” and fell asleep. Taeyeon grinned widely, trying not to laugh out loud, and squeezed Tiffany one last time before closing her eyes. She dozed off with the smile still on her face.

Tiffany briefly woke a short while later and murmured, half-asleep, “We forgot to buy socks.”

Taeyeon just grunted, still asleep. They both settled into their dreaming again.

In the morning, Taeyeon was the first to wake. Tiffany’s soft snores hummed against her ear, and she bit back a smile. Tiffany would get annoyed if Taeyeon brought this up in conversation later, as she always did, but she did so enjoy teasing Tiffany about her snoring. While Tiffany considered it one of her unattractive traits, Taeyeon found it absolutely adorable and it made her want to squeal and squish Tiffany in a tight hug.

Tiffany snorted suddenly, turning her head away, and shifted her body. Her mouth fell open slightly, turning her snores into measured breathing. Taeyeon watched her, lips curved. The sight of Tiffany fast in a deep sleep was the best way to start the day. And she could think of a few ways to carry on the goodness, too.

She rolled her body on top of Tiffany’s, letting her muscles go loose so she pressed down onto her with all her weight. She counted down in her head – 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – before Tiffany jerked awake and yelped, “Bwa wha? What the – Taeyeon?”

Taeyeon laughed, and pushed her palms against the mattress on both sides of Tiffany as she raised herself. She gave Tiffany a quick peck on the cheek, and then on the lips, and said, “Good morning!”

“Ugh, I told you not to wake me up like that anymore,” Tiffany whined, giving Taeyeon a slap on the butt with one hand, and then she rubbed her own face as she woke up more. “I’m gonna get a heart attack one of these days.”

“Mmm,” Taeyeon replied, kissing the soft skin just under Tiffany’s chin a few times.

Tiffany stretched a little, muscles thrumming with the move, before settling into the bed and sighing. “What time is it.”

“I dunno,” Taeyeon answered disinterestedly. Her lips brushed over Tiffany’s skin, took hold of the curve of her jaw. “It’s morning.”

“I can see that,” Tiffany stated. She circled her arms around Taeyeon’s petite waist, pulling her closer.

“Well then,” Taeyeon said.

She kissed Tiffany full on the mouth, slowly and intently stroking every millimetre of her lips with her own. The sound of their breathing was interrupted briefly by the creaking of the bed as Taeyeon shifted her hips, and it made them both giggle.

“Shall we,” Taeyeon tugged at Tiffany’s bottom lip, “dance, milady?” Her hand brushed over Tiffany’s hip, moving up along the side of her torso, stroking her ribs.

Tiffany rolled her eyes, slipped her hands under Taeyeon’s shirt and said, “That was so lame. You suck.”

They moved slightly, and Taeyeon grinned widely at her remark. “Yes, I certainly do.” She winked, causing Tiffany to burst into laughter and tug her body closer.

“Well then,” she whispered, and kissed Taeyeon.

Tiffany was dancing as she brushed her teeth when Taeyeon stepped out of the shower later. Their eyes met in the mirror and Taeyeon wore a heavily judgemental expression while Tiffany shot her a tooth-paste smirk and poked her tongue at her.

“And you call me a dork,” Taeyeon scoffed, raising her nose in the air because she was clearly more dignified. She started to wrap the towel around herself, and then she suddenly pounced on Tiffany from behind and enclosed her in the towel too, like a blanket over their shoulders.

Tiffany exclaimed, “Hey!” and immediately struggled against Taeyeon’s hold, making her laugh evilly. “You’re getting my shirt all wet!”

Taeyeon nipped at Tiffany’s earlobe and gave her a satisfied nod in the mirror’s reflection. “All is well with the world, then.”

Tiffany let out a brief laugh. She finished brushing her teeth and bent forward to wash out her mouth, Taeyeon still latched on to her back. When they straightened up again, Tiffany sighed wearily as if she was cursed forever, and Taeyeon kissed her on the neck. She pushed her chin into Tiffany’s shoulder and stared at her as if she was examining Tiffany from a hiding place.

For a while, they watched themselves in the mirror. Tiffany started to sway them side to side, leaning her head on top of Taeyeon’s.

“I can’t believe we did it,” Taeyeon murmured. “We finally got away from those people.”

Tiffany closed her eyes. “Yeah. I can’t believe it either. And what are we going to do now? We can’t go back, but we don’t have any clothes or money or a place to live. We need to tell our bosses we’re not coming back, and we need to get new jobs wherever we settle.”

Taeyeon smiled. She closed her eyes too, and she pressed her mouth against Tiffany’s shoulder. “We’re going to settle somewhere.”

“First things first,” Tiffany said, her tone professional. It was time to make things happen. “We should call our friends, and our bosses. And you should call your landlord. Let’s get things sorted out back there, and then we’ll take a look around town, shall we?”

Taeyeon let go of Tiffany, and started to dry herself with the towel. “Let’s.”

It took them half the day just to attempt the first step of the plan. Their friends were, understandably, under the impression that they had gone nuts and their plan was impossible. After much discussion, during which at one point they were asked if they were on drugs because they sounded so calm, their friends grudgingly accepted the situation and agreed to help them tie up loose ends. Taeyeon’s landlord was not impressed with her declaration of abandonment, but since she arranged to have her things moved into a storage facility by a friend, he had no choice but to let her go. Their bosses, on the other hand, were absolutely furious and threatened to sue. When those calls ended, they put the phones down – Taeyeon’s cell phone and the hotel phone for Tiffany – and decided to avoid thinking about that for the moment.

“I suppose one day we will have to go back after all,” Taeyeon mused. “I’ll need to go sell all my things in person, I can’t possibly ask anyone else to do that.”

Tiffany sighed heavily, and threw herself backwards onto the bed. “I guess. I’m kinda glad I was still living with my parents. Okay, now we need to sort out some clothes. We can’t go out in shirts or formal dresses. How are we supposed to get some clothes, and with what money?”

Taeyeon flopped down beside her, and they stared up at the ceiling.

“Let’s max out my credit card,” she suggested. “And that’s my only idea. Lol.”

Tiffany cringed. “Please don’t start speaking in text language again. It was painful enough the first time you did it.”

Taeyeon just shrugged and smiled. They lay together in silence, thoughts drifting into blissful emptiness. After a while, Tiffany’s breathing became laced with a hint of a snore, and Taeyeon turned her head to see her sleeping. She quietly got off the bed and grabbed a towel to wrap around her waist. Wearing the shirt and towel, she gave her hair a quick run-through with her fingers and snuck towards the door. Tiffany wouldn’t be keen on the idea of Taeyeon going out in just a towel and shirt, but they needed clothes so Taeyeon took her chance to look like a weirdo.

She did max out her credit card, as per suggestion, and she brought back a mediocre supply of shorts and shirts and two pairs of sandals after chickening out and ducking into the souvenir shop instead of going in search of a real clothes store like she intended to. The hotel clerk was not at all fazed by her appearance and gave her a discount on the clothes, most likely out of pity.

Tiffany was playing a game on Taeyeon’s phone when she entered the room, and she barely glanced up to acknowledge her when the clothes were dumped next to her on the bed.

“You’re going to use up all my battery,” Taeyeon observed. She slipped off the towel and grabbed a pair of shorts. “I don’t have a charger.”

Tiffany shrugged. “Least of our worries, tbh.”

Taeyeon froze with one leg still in the air. “Wow. You’re right, it is painful.”

“Ikr,” Tiffany said. She finished her game and tossed the phone onto the mattress, then started picking through the clothes. “This is what you got? You went all James Bond secret super-spy on me just to go to the souvenir shop downstairs and get unfashionable, ill-fitting atrocities with cheesy one-liners on them?”

Taeyeon zipped up her shorts and nodded. “Yep. That’s why you love me.”

Tiffany eyed the way Taeyeon’s too-big shirt was caught in the zip and sighed. “Yep. That’s why I love you.”

“Still wanna go check out the town?” Taeyeon asked over her shoulder as she went to get another soda out of the mini fridge. “Hey, wait… did you eat all the nuts while I was out?”

“Maybe,” Tiffany mumbled.

“Maybe what?” Taeyeon looked at her. “Maybe you still want to check out the town or maybe you ate all the nuts while I was out?”

“Meh,” Tiffany responded, rolling around on the bed. “What’s with all the questions, geez. Is it illegal to eat nuts now. Come on, help me choose an ugly shirt and we’ll go check out the town.”

There was a hiss as Taeyeon cracked open a can of soda. She took a sip as she stepped over to the bed. With two fingers, she picked up a shirt, draped it neatly over Tiffany’s head, and stepped back to admire the look.

“And that,” Taeyeon concluded, “is why I love you.”

They took note of the memorable points in the area around the hotel so that they didn’t get lost as they wandered idly down the street. Tiffany fidgeted with her clothes for a while, trying to make them look at least a bit cute, and laced her fingers with Taeyeon’s as they looked around.

“Let’s spend the last of my cash on ice cream,” Taeyeon suggested, eyes twinkling as she gazed at an ice cream shop further ahead. “I think it’s a good investment for our future.”

“Help, my lover is a five year old,” Tiffany muttered. “Hey, you forgot to get socks earlier. Again.”

“Meh,” Taeyeon responded, and dragged her into the ice cream store.

Taeyeon’s hands were sticky from ice cream residue when they left the store, and her pockets lighter, but they held hands anyway as they continued their exploration.

“So, what are our criteria for a settling-down place?” Taeyeon asked. “Big town, small town, nice people, mean people, many clothing stores, many options for random fun, places to work, places to sleep?”

“Big, nice, many, many, yes, yes,” Tiffany answered absently, craning her head to look further up ahead. “Does that look like an ATM to you?”

“Yeah but we can’t do anything with an ATM,” Taeyeon said.

“No, but an ATM means a bank and a bank means my bank account.”

“Uh, maybe. If it’s the right bank. And you have no identification.”

“Just watch,” Tiffany replied, and she pulled Taeyeon along to the bank.

It took some negotiating, and a phone call to the branch in their home town where Tiffany knew the branch manager personally, but eventually she was granted access and immediately transferred all of her money to Taeyeon’s bank account. They withdrew some cash and left the bank with smiles on their faces.

Tiffany swung their arms as they walked, looking undeniably pleased with herself.

“Now we can really get the plan into action,” she said happily.

“And go back for more ice cream,” Taeyeon added, steering them in that direction. “Honestly, since when is one cone enough for a fully grown adult human.”

“Fully grown adult,” Tiffany echoed blankly.

“Yes,” Taeyeon said. “Yes, fully grown. Adult. Thanks for saving us from my broke-ness, by the way. I knew having a rich girlfriend would come with some benefits once the over-controlling parents were out of the way.”

“Mmhm,” Tiffany answered. She was eyeing a nearby clothes store with perceptible eagerness. “Let’s ditch the ice cream for now and go get some real clothes.”

Hours later, they trudged back to the hotel, laden with bags and their stomachs full of junk food. They checked out the other hotels on the street, which was clearly the tourism centre of the town, as they passed, and criticized their options.

“What would you rank our current hotel?” Taeyeon asked, shifting a bag to her other hand.

“Three out of five. The mini fridge only had a few nuts and sodas in it, and they don’t even do room service. I mean hello? That’s just unacceptable.”

“I quite like it, though,” Taeyeon said. “The clerk is nice. Did I tell you he gave me a discount on the clothes? And he didn’t even check you out when you were in your dress. A man needs a lot of self-control or homosexuality to keep from openly gawking at your physical assets.”

“That’s where the three comes from – and because he didn’t check you out either – and they lose two for lack of food.”

“How about that place we saw on the corner? It looks pretty luxurious, and now that we have your piles and piles of money safely in our possession, we could totally go rock-star on their honeymoon suite.”

Tiffany snorted as she slid their hotel card key through its slot. “Somehow I can’t imagine you willingly breaking other people’s possessions for absolutely no reason.”

Taeyeon pouted, following her into their room. “I totally could. I’m really badass, you know. Well, you do know, you’ve slept with me.”

Tiffany laughed briefly. She dumped her bags onto the bed and turned to cup Taeyeon’s cheek with one hand. “Oh, honey. Let’s not go there.”

Taeyeon gasped. “What is that supposed to mean!”

Tiffany grinned and kissed her on the lips sweetly. “Hush now, baby. Let’s try on our new clothes.”

Much later, as they curled up with each other in bed, Taeyeon turned her head so that her face was no longer pressed into Tiffany’s chest and she whispered, “By the way, you snored last night.”

“I did not!”

“Did too.”

“Did not!”

“Did too. And that’s why I love you.”

“Pfft! Don’t even try that with me, buster. You don’t love me for my snore.” She tried to squirm away from Taeyeon, but was locked in a tight embrace.

“Yes I do,” Taeyeon whispered happily. “I love your snore very, very much.”

“Ugh, you are insufferable,” Tiffany grumbled. They cuddled closer, drifting off in their warmth and comfort with each other, and Taeyeon was almost asleep again when she heard Tiffany whisper, “And that’s why I love you.”

She turned her head again; keeping her eyes closed, and murmured, “I like this. Let’s settle here.”

“Await the results of my thorough analysis,” Tiffany said immediately. “Then we’ll talk. Now go to sleep.”

Taeyeon complied, after giving Tiffany a quick kiss in the dark.

They ended their first full day of freedom contented, as dreamers finally in the dream they had been dreaming for so long, and knowing there would be a tomorrow.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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Love is so bad. (Part 1)

Zero

Taeyeon tried to open the door three times before she smacked it with her palms and cursed it blue. The wood didn’t even shake, and she was sorely tempted to hit it again just because it was too strong. She spun on her heels and shot her glare around the hallway.

It was 1:54am on a Wednesday, and she did not have her keys. In fact, she had very little at all beyond the clothes on her back, and it was an issue at the forefront of her mind as she searched for some magical solution to all her problems. Problems which began three years ago, really, and culminated in her presence trapped in front of her apartment door in the middle of the night.

She whipped her phone out of her pocket, swiped it and tapped a few times on the sizeable screen. When it informed her that the call was being placed, she held it to her ear and closed her eyes tightly.

“Hello?” The feminine voice was groggy with sleep. “Who what wha?”

“I need the key to my apartment I gave you,” Taeyeon hissed.

“What?”

“The key,” Taeyeon repeated, “to my apartment. I gave you a copy.”

“Wha-Who is this?”

“Taeyeon,” Taeyeon barked. “This is Taeyeon, and I need the key to my apartment that I gave to you, Sunny, last year, on planet Earth.”

“Oh, I should have known it was you.” Sunny yawned. “Well, I don’t know if I still have it, I mean I never even used it once.”

Taeyeon opened her eyes, frowning. “I gave you that key for emergencies.”

“Yeah, and there was never an emergency, so… Anyway why do you want that at two in the morning? Some of us have to get up for work in like four hours. You included.”

Taeyeon sighed. She ran a hand over her face and settled into the familiar motion of rubbing her temples. With only four hours before she had to get ready for work, there didn’t seem much chance of getting the promotion that she was being reviewed for. It was meant to be decided on the same day that was starting with Taeyeon trapped in a dingy little hallway with no sleep and no interest in living any more.

“I’m locked out,” Taeyeon breathed. “I don’t have my keys. Do you still have that copy or not?”

Sunny was silent for a moment, and the gears in her head were almost audible as she contemplated. It was the middle of the night, in the middle of a working week; here was a phone call full of angst and undisguised anger; her best friend, who was usually in bed by now after a grandmotherly quantity of calming hot chocolate, was locked out without her keys.

There was a rustling through the phone as Sunny got out of bed, and then she was rummaging through a drawer that was clearly designated for random junk. Sunny mumbled something, muffled, before there was a clanking of keys and she said, “Got it. Be there soon.”

And the call was over. Taeyeon lowered her phone to her side, and rested her body against the door that she still slightly wanted to abuse. She tilted her face upwards, took a deep breath, and closed her eyes. The light from the ceiling covered her, blanketed her eyelids, and its muted brightness still managed to remind her of Tiffany.

Tiffany, Tiffany, Tiffany. She used to think it wasn’t a very good name, perhaps because she had only encountered it on fictional hookers and annoying sugar-smeared children. She also used to think there wasn’t just one woman who could claim the title of most beautiful. Both these ideologies were completely thrown out the window at four o’clock on the afternoon of a tranquil summer day when she held out her hand for a stranger to shake and was greeted with the words, “Hi, I’m Tiffany!”

That day, three years ago, was the day Taeyeon woke up. It was as if everything she was up to that point was some strange being that she didn’t even recognise, couldn’t understand why she had been like that. She used to shake her head at herself, wondering how she was that person when she could have been this wonderful, beloved and loving thing that she became.

“Tiffany, Tiffany, Tiffany,” Taeyeon cursed. She moved her head and banged it against the door, and she clenched her jaw so tightly she imagined her gritted teeth might shatter to pieces.

The fingers of her one hand curled, nails scraping against the door, and she tried to stop herself from shaking, but her eyes were heating up and the tears were waiting, just waiting for her to let go, to burst.

She inhaled deeply, feeling her muscles tense, and she didn’t cry. She hung her head and took quiet breaths. For a long time, she stood still, her body as stiff as a statue, and her mind was full of static. She didn’t want to think of Tiffany any more, she couldn’t. One more thought and she would melt. Tantalisingly, she heard a whisper of a memory, the sound of Tiffany’s voice, and she forced it away so that the laughter cut off and disappeared and she felt her head buzzing furiously.

Then there came a noise from the end of the hallway, and the elevator opened to reveal Sunny who was looking ruffled and shaggy in her crumpled pyjamas and an old jacket.

“Finally,” Taeyeon muttered.

Sunny stopped in front of her and gave her a cold look. “Excuse me? Don’t get all ungrateful now. Move so I can unlock your door for you because I am the best friend in the universe.”

Taeyeon slunk away, hunching her shoulders as she watched Sunny turn a key in the lock and push the door open.

“I expect a full explanation,” declared Sunny, “and some hot chocolate.”

Taeyeon blinked at her wearily. She wasn’t in the mood. Now that her door was unlocked, her dark apartment was beckoning, and all she so desperately wanted to do was drag her heavy body inside, curl up on the freezing cold kitchen floor, and disintegrate. But clearly her face betrayed her anti-social, anti-living inclinations, because Sunny gave her a stern, hard look, and grabbed her arm to pull her into the apartment.

The lights flicked on as they made their way further inside, Sunny’s fingers finding the switches easily. She kicked off her untied shoes at the door and Taeyeon released herself from her friend’s grip to slouch away into the kitchen. She absently filled the kettle with water and turned it on, and crumpled ever so slightly around the edges when she let herself breathe again.

Sunny’s hand came to rest on her arm, and she looked up in the now lit kitchen and met the concerned gaze.

“What happened?”

Taeyeon sighed. And she sighed again. Her shoulders shook with the force of her exhalations, as if she could break her lungs and stop breathing before she had to speak one word of her pain. Sunny gripped her in a tight, warm hug, and gently rocked her side to side.

“Tell me,” she said.

“Tiffany,” the name spilled from Taeyeon’s weakening lips, “Tiffany.”

“What about Tiffany?”

“She broke up with me.”

Sunny froze while Taeyeon melted. Releasing the words let Taeyeon’s last defence fall. There was no more support for denial; she could no longer muffle the truth, keep it from hitting her again. Sunny moved back a little, tightening her hold on Taeyeon’s upper arms, and her expression was one of shock.

Three years. Three years Taeyeon and Tiffany were in a relationship. Their connection was quick to spark, intense in development, and after three years of settling into something powerfully solid, it was impossible to imagine the bond breaking. Or it had been impossible to imagine, but here was a broken Taeyeon to show for it.

“What?”

“Tiffany broke up with me,” Taeyeon blistered, anger suddenly boiling in her gut. “She fucking broke up with me. Tiffany.”

The name was becoming more and more like a swearword with the vehemence that propelled it. Sunny couldn’t help but flinch. She had heard Taeyeon say Tiffany’s name in many ways in the past; curiousity, admiration, adoration, passion, tenderness, annoyance, concern, longing, and a comfortableness that came from voicing a word so often that it became a part of her mouth. This, whatever it was, sent a shiver of fear down Sunny’s spine.

“W-Why?”

“Nothing, I don’t know, I don’t want to talk about it.” Taeyeon turned, ripping herself away from Sunny, and yanked a cupboard open to stare blankly at the mugs lined up inside. Her back was ramrod straight, her body stiff, her muscles tensing up tighter bit by bit.

Tiffany’s excuses stormed into her thoughts. All the words, all the shapes her lips formed as she spoke her poison, as she shattered and crushed and killed Taeyeon.

Three years ago Taeyeon scoffed at her old self when she changed into another person because she fell in love, and on this night she changed into another creature altogether and the harsh bitterness was just as strange as the sweetness had been.

She clawed at a mug, a hideously pink mug with a stupid, ugly little yellow puppy on it that had a moronic, fucked up little grin, and she clutched it and her body flowed as she swung it at the wall.

“What the fuck did you mean when you said those things?!”

She grabbed another mug, pale white with a weak, shitty red heart, and it shattered into dust against the fridge.

“Found someone else – what is that shit supposed to mean?”

Her fingers slipped on the third mug with its blue and pink swirl and those scratchy uneven letters that spelled a lie, wickedness, and the mug broke jaggedly in two against the edge of the door.

“I hate your stupid mugs, Tiffany,” Taeyeon hissed, but her hiss crackled and her voice wavered. “I hate the stupid mugs you made for me in your stupid pottery class and I hate how you were so adorable when you said you wanted to try pottery just for something new, so cute every time you presented me with a new gift made by your own hands. I hate you so much, Tiffany.”

And finally the anger burst into something she was avoiding. The tears that built up and pressed against the inside of her skull broke from her eyes and took her along in the flood. She fell to her knees as the heat from her gut that kept her muscles tight and her body stiff finally faded.

“Tiffany,” she sobbed, sinking into the floor, “Why did you say those things, Tiffany.”

Sunny stared at her friend for a moment longer, stunned, before she made her way through the debris and joined her on the floor. She wrapped Taeyeon into another hug, and made gentle hushing sounds.

“Just breathe, Taeyeon, just breathe,” she murmured. “Take a deep breath and let it all out.”

“I don’t wanna breathe anymore,” Taeyeon whimpered. She slumped further down, pressing her face into the floor. “I don’t want to breathe. She is my reason to breathe; now she’s blocking my throat and I can’t breathe without her, I don’t want to.”

Sunny hushed her again, mind racing in panic. She wasn’t sure what to do. Here they were, in the early hours of the morning, on a cold kitchen floor, and she couldn’t tell if Taeyeon was likely to do something horrible. She wanted to help her friend – she knew it was impossible to just get her to calm down, but she hadn’t even processed what had happened.

“Do you want to tell me what happened, Taeng?” Sunny whispered, stroking Taeyeon’s back. “Just tell me how you ended up here at two in the morning without your keys.”

“I left them in her apartment. I was going to stay over tonight, we were – she said she couldn’t sleep without me, so I went over – but she – she looked at me and she just….”

Taeyeon’s body shuddered with another sob and Sunny tightened the hug.

“We were in her bed, just talking about stuff, I mentioned my promotion t-today and she said good luck and then it was quiet for a while and she sat up, and she turned to me, and she said she needed to tell me something.”

Taeyeon clenched her eyes shut, wishing she could squeeze herself out of existence.

She was back in that dark bedroom, the street light from outside mostly blocked by the curtains, and Tiffany stroked her hair and she breathed a soft whisper that made Taeyeon’s lips curl into a smile. Her hand rested on Tiffany’s stomach, she was surrounded by Tiffany’s scent, her warmth. She mumbled her thanks, and slipped into silence as her breath matched Tiffany’s. The warmth shifted and faded as Tiffany sat up, making Taeyeon let go of her, and her profile was briefly visible in the darkness before she turned her face towards Taeyeon again and muttered in a strained voice.

“And she said –”

Tiffany said, “Taeyeon, I don’t love you anymore. I found someone else.”

Taeyeon broke for the hundredth time that night, the words burning her flesh anew as she echoed them.

“What does it mean?” Taeyeon whispered. “She found someone else. How the fuck does she find someone else? How does she stop loving me? Why? Why would she make me hers so entirely and then just stop, and find someone else?”

There was no answer. Sunny sure as hell didn’t know how to answer that question. Tiffany’s behaviour didn’t make sense. Her understanding of Tiffany that developed over three years just did not match with what happened. Now, on the one hand she didn’t want to give Taeyeon false hope by suggesting Tiffany didn’t mean it, but on the other hand she felt she couldn’t accept it either.

“What happened then?” she asked, looking at Taeyeon. She was relieved to find her friend no longer sobbing, and yet the emptiness didn’t seem good either.

Taeyeon gripped the bed sheets in her fingers, nails catching on the fabric, and she willed her body upright, and she hoped to whatever deity may exist that Tiffany was not being serious at all. And she asked Tiffany to repeat herself, and Tiffany repeated herself, and Taeyeon searched for a way to cover the fresh cut on her heart. She laughed it off and cried just as quickly. She begged, she doubted, she shouted. Tiffany stared at her, blank, quiet, and then she closed her eyes. Taeyeon stopped.

“She was quiet for a long time,” she whispered, meeting Sunny’s eyes. “And I was just hoping and hoping that she would say that she still loves me. Even though the pain had already crushed me, I just wanted her to say that she loves me.”

But she didn’t.

“I ran.”

Taeyeon moved out of Sunny’s embrace, and rolled onto her back on the floor. She stared at the ceiling. She closed her eyes. She took a deep breath, so deep she thought it might explode her lungs at last, and then she let it all out.

“I love you, Tiffany,” she whispered on the cusp of her breath. “And it hurts so much. And I hate you, because I love you.”

She brought her arms up over her face, smothering her eyes, and she took another trembling breath and let it out.

“Love is so bad.”

_____________________________________________________________________________

The Monster

“This is not what I wanted.”

Tiffany leaned back against the grey brick wall, relying on its harshness against the thin fabric of her clothes. With her eyes squinted slightly to fend off the icy, biting breeze, she glowered at the building on the other side of the street.

“I didn’t want this.”

She ran a hand through her hair, feeling the way the strands fell again to brush against her pale, cold neck. A sigh racked through her chest. Her eyes slipped shut.

“But I guess this is what the monster wants.”

She laughed a brief, bitter sound. And with a single sudden push, she moved on, crossed the street, and entered the building.

“Morning, Tiffany,” greeted the first voice of the day. Her lips cracked, shaped a smile which she knew seemed charming and friendly, and she half-bowed half-nodded in reply. The process continued; greetings bled out from her as she made her way along.

“Aren’t you cold?”

Her body swivelled, her blank eyes met the curious gaze of another. “What?”

Taeyeon gestured in the general direction of the outside world. “It’s cold today. You’re barely wearing anything suitable for this weather. Aren’t you cold?”

Tiffany blinked. Her eyes curved as her cheeks did too, giving the most disarming and relaxing smile she could. “Oh, I’m fine.”

Taeyeon’s gaze was sharp, and assertive. She didn’t buy it. She never did. No matter how many of any smiles Tiffany whipped out, no matter how much it seemed true, Taeyeon knew Tiffany’s monster, and she showed that she had one of her own behind those eyes.

Tiffany turned and walked away.

“I know you think I’m crazy,” she had said once, “You can call me crazy all you want, but that’s nothing. I’m just friends with my monster, that’s all.”

And there was only ever silence in answer.

“Stop holding your breath, Taeyeon. You can’t save me.”

There was always someone waiting for her when she left the building. Many people, in fact. A small crowd stood off to one side, gawking and whispering and sounding shocked to be in her presence. She could almost hear their hearts racing from where they stood. Then there were the two or three who stood on the other side of the street, boring into her with dark stares from wide eyes. They were the ones who would be waiting for her at her apartment building by the time she got there. One of them would be in the row of cars that always hugged the back of her vehicle.

That would make the monster grin and puff its chest proudly. Look at this, it would say, look at my subjects worshipping me. It would strut around like she did when she was on stage. The stage was the monster’s kingdom. They love me, it would whisper, they all love me.

She flashed her fans a beaming smile and slammed the car door shut after her.

The key was jammed into the ignition and she tugged at the seatbelt with one hand, and then the front passenger door clicked open and Taeyeon flopped into the seat. She gave a wave outside and shut the door. In the muffled stillness in the car, Tiffany didn’t move as she looked at Taeyeon questioningly.

Taeyeon took a breath before meeting her eyes. She smiled. “Hi. Wanna have dinner tonight?”

“Not particularly, no,” Tiffany replied. She buckled her seatbelt and turned the key.

“Aw come on, just for a while,” Taeyeon persisted.

Tiffany looked at her again, frowning. Was that a glint she saw in the corner of Taeyeon’s eyes? Was she up to something mischievous again? Or was this just the familiar paranoia that trailed in her monster’s wake. She sighed.

“Fine, whatever,” she conceded. “Where?”

“At your place,” Taeyeon said as she buckled her own seatbelt.

Tiffany blinked, surprised. “I doubt I’ll have anything to cook with. You wanna pick something up on the way?”

“Nah, it’s fine, I’m sure we can dig something up at your place,” Taeyeon said, turning her eyes to look in the side mirror. “Let’s go before they try to take advantage of your unmoving car.”

Tiffany scoffed, but she eyed the people outside and drove the car onto the street. She knew Taeyeon thought a lot more about the chance that one of those twinkle-eyed fans would lash out in a manner more harmful than their intention, and even though Tiffany knew the risks well enough, she didn’t let it bother her all the time like Taeyeon did. Perhaps her sedation came from the monster’s pacing, back and forth behind her gaze.

At the red light, Tiffany let the car slow to a stop, and she curled her hand on the gear shift in anticipation of moving again soon. She didn’t like driving a lot, in the sense that it wasn’t something that entertained her, and something about the boringness of it all just got to her. Impatience bubbled away inside her as she listened to the imaginary sound of seconds ticking away in her head. She sighed.

Taeyeon reached for her hand, fingertips lightly and slowly tracing the ridges of her knuckles.

“How have you been lately?” she asked, and her voice was as soft as her touch. “We haven’t talked in a while.”

“I’m fine,” she replied curtly, eyes drilling a hole into the robotic red light ahead. “Busy, as usual.”

“Yes, I’ve been hearing a lot about your work,” Taeyeon said.

Tiffany glanced at her and saw the small smile that curved the corner of her mouth. She turned her head back to the light. Taeyeon’s hand moved, sliding along Tiffany’s skin to twine their fingers together loosely.

“You always work so hard,” Taeyeon murmured, switching her gaze to Tiffany’s face, eyeing the line of her jaw.

Tiffany made a small sound of acknowledgement in the back of her throat. The light flickered to green, and she shook away Taeyeon’s hand so that she could change gears faster.

“How about you?” Tiffany asked.

“How about me what?” Taeyeon returned, her head back and her eyes closed.

“Taeyeon, you can’t expect people to tell you how they’re doing and then be unwilling to grant them the same courtesy. How are you?”

One shoulder shrugged half-heartedly. “I’m fine. I’m just the same old Taeyeon.”

Tiffany had no reply to that. She wasn’t so sure. In many ways, Taeyeon was still the same Taeyeon she had known for so many years, who could see right through her into the core of her soul and had done so many times already, but she knew something was different, and if it wasn’t Taeyeon then it had to be something about the connection between them. She knew Taeyeon liked her in a way that was nowhere near as simple as that word made it seem. There was a complexity that there didn’t always used to be. Several layers deep within their relationship, where the monster had not yet been able to reach, Taeyeon was doing something new. And perhaps at times Tiffany got a slight fluttering feeling that it could be exciting, too.

But, as always, there was the monster. And a change in the connection she had with Taeyeon would not be appreciated by the monster at all. Tiffany saw very little space between herself and that monster, and it had been so for a long time before Taeyeon.

Taeyeon locked their fingers together again at the next red light, and Tiffany thought that maybe Taeyeon really was trying to break free of her own monster. Or perhaps she already succeeded.

She thought so even more when Taeyeon stepped up behind her while she was looking into her fridge, and wrapped her arms around her waist and leaned their bodies together. Having the warmth of another person pressed against her own body was not something Tiffany was completely unfamiliar with, but it was not something that she experienced often, either. She had slept in the same bed with Taeyeon before and woken up from her exhausted sleep to find limbs everywhere. She and Taeyeon had shared the same simple skinship that others had. And yet there was a difference here, again, with the way Taeyeon’s palms brushed over her hips and her fingers curled against her stomach.

“What are you doing?” Tiffany asked quietly. Her monster tensed, and so did she.

“All you have in your fridge is an avocado,” Taeyeon remarked. Her voice was unusually close and it took Tiffany a moment to adjust.

Her mind began to influence her to move away, and then her mind let her sink into Taeyeon’s hold, and then the monster tried to pull her, and then the monster’s grip slipped.

And then Taeyeon turned her around and kissed her. There was no pause, no intense look, barely even a breath – she just brought their mouths together and hugged Tiffany’s lips with her own. Her thumbs brushed over Tiffany’s lower back, spreading some warmth through the thin fabric of her shirt, and she pressed her lips tighter against Tiffany’s.

“Just focus on me,” she murmured, and the vibration of her speech reached Tiffany’s mouth.

“Mmm,” Tiffany said for some reason that she was not aware of. Her eyes were still open and she looked at Taeyeon’s face, everywhere in her vision, before closing her eyes and frowning slightly.

“Focus on me,” Taeyeon repeated. And then she began to really kiss her.

For a time, it was as if the monster was gone; there was Taeyeon, there was Tiffany. Taeyeon rubbed and tugged at Tiffany’s lips with her own and her fingers stroked Tiffany’s back. Tiffany took a deep breath, shuddering, and felt as if she was inhaling Taeyeon. Her hands clutched at Taeyeon, pulling her closer, curling her arms around her body tightly. She imagined for a moment that Taeyeon was where the monster used to be, and she pressed their bodies together and desperately wanted Taeyeon to be inside her soul.

Taeyeon didn’t pull away when Tiffany cried. She dragged her lips over the corner of Tiffany’s mouth and up along her cheek, and she kissed the tears, taking the wetness into her own mouth. Her hands spread flat and strong against Tiffany’s back, fingers pressing along her spine between her shoulder blades and lower, anchoring her and holding her there.

“I love you,” Taeyeon breathed as if the words escaped her heart with the exhalation of her lungs. The warmth coated Tiffany’s skin. “You are not your monster.”

Tiffany pushed herself against Taeyeon first, shaking, and then she pulled herself away. Her eyelids fluttered open, and her gaze was solemn. Taeyeon met her eyes with her own quiet earnestness, and they both knew what the other was struggling with.

Tiffany’s monster returned, and its heaviness sunk into her, and she got a feeling in her heart much like the realization that her life had just ended. She shook her head, and she blinked; there was the monster, there was Taeyeon. Both were causing her to fight against the world and against herself – but one wanted the power and the fame and the acknowledgement of the world’s attention and adoration, and one wanted her.

Tiffany closed her eyes, and Taeyeon held her, and the monster goaded.

She whispered, “This is not what I wanted.”

_____________________________________________________________________________

3:09am

Taeyeon stared at the red numbers for a little while longer. They carried much weight, being such a familiar sight, and her eyes focussed so much on their LED existence that she wondered if they might blind her.

Then she flicked her gaze away. It trickled a short distance from the alarm clock, and landed on Tiffany’s back. Her long hair was messy, tossed about, her face turned towards Taeyeon, her cheek pressed into the pillow. The slow, even strokes of her breath ghosted over the knuckles of her hand which curled near her chin.

Taeyeon shifted to coil on her side, and watched the rhythmic movement of Tiffany’s breathing. It was a warm night, the room was stuffy, and the soft thin sheets only came up to just above the curve of Tiffany’s lower back.

She compared the sight of a peaceful Tiffany to the situation they were in an hour earlier, after Tiffany landed face first on the bed with a tired sigh, when Taeyeon stopped massaging her shoulders and slipped her hands elsewhere. The crease between Tiffany’s eyebrows was lesser, the muscles in her jaw relaxed, her breathing unfettered, the beats of her heart slow.

Her skin glowed, glistened ever so slightly, in the light of the robotic numbers on the other side of the bed.

Taeyeon lifted her head. She leaned forward. The scent of Tiffany’s skin met her, and she stilled for a moment so that she could be absorbed into the warmth that reached her from Tiffany’s body. Her mouth grazed the curve of Tiffany’s shoulder, bottom lip catching and rubbing.

The most delicious taste.

She closed her eyes briefly, and pulled away. She lay on her side again, staring at Tiffany.

Taeyeon knew she would not get enough sleep.

The tips of her fingers moved, traced the protrusion of Tiffany’s shoulder blade, following the corner, the solidity of Tiffany’s flesh and skin anchoring Taeyeon’s touch. There was so much warmth. Taeyeon closed her eyes, letting her finger trail along the bumps of Tiffany’s spine.

She stopped when she reached the edge of the sheets, and spread out her hand wide to cover Tiffany’s back as much as she could, the contact spreading an ebbing heat along her hand. Then she opened her eyes again.

She tightened the muscles of her hand slightly, as if to clutch Tiffany in her palm and hold her. Tiffany’s body stirred as she breathed, inflating and deflating; slowly and absently, now taking Taeyeon with her.

Her gaze fixed. She didn’t blink. She wondered. Tiffany’s eyelashes were just long enough to touch her cheek. One side of her mouth was a tiny bit slanted, the muscles softer.

The mirror corner of Taeyeon’s mouth curved.

Tiffany woke. Half. Her eyes opened slightly; blearily she blinked at Taeyeon and made a soft noise. Taeyeon just smiled. Tiffany reached out, gripped Taeyeon tightly and tugged. Taeyeon shifted, and was blanketed in Tiffany’s embrace.

Numbers flickered. 3:09am. Taeyeon and Tiffany slept.

_____________________________________________________________________________