“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.”