“I need a girlfriend.”
Taeyeon looked up from her book as Tiffany sat down beside her, dumping her bag onto the table and letting out a deep sigh.
“I need a girlfriend,” Tiffany repeated, giving Taeyeon a look. “I’m sick of being so lonely all the time.”
Taeyeon raised an eyebrow and blinked. “Lonely? I think I might be offended, since you spend all of your time with me.”
Tiffany sighed again and looked away. “You know that’s not what I mean, Taeyeon. I need another kind of intimacy.”
Following a brief pause, Taeyeon slipped a bookmark between the pages of her book and carefully laid it on the table beside her empty coffee cup. She crossed her hands over each other and took a moment to consider.
“And you don’t mean just physically, do you?” she asked.
“Nope,” Tiffany replied nonchalantly. She fiddled with the strap of her handbag. “More than that. Although that is a factor.”
Taeyeon nodded. “I see. Well. How do you propose to achieve this goal?”
Tiffany rolled her eyes. “Here we go. Time for geeky, logical Taeyeon. Give me a second, I’ll go get some coffee.”
Taeyeon watched as Tiffany pushed back her chair and left for the counter. Geeky, logical Taeyeon was the one who always helped Tiffany solve problems. The simple, straightforward, almost scientifically methodical approach made everything clear and plausible. Throughout the years, dilemmas about school, family, career, and relationships had all been put through the Taeyeon thought machine and resolved to within a satisfactory outcome; but truthfully speaking, Taeyeon had no idea what she was doing – in a case like this, especially. Having never been in a relationship, never felt love for anyone but Tiffany, she felt unqualified for this situation. Regardless, she was prepared to fulfil the stereotypical role of the helpful best friend who carried her unrequited secret love.
From the moment they had met during the warm evening many summers ago, Taeyeon had known she would fall in love with Tiffany and would live the rest of her life in that way. Somehow she knew Tiffany would flit between boys and then girls but never fall back onto her silent best friend. She had felt, already, from that first sighting of Tiffany’s beauty both external and internal, that she was going to have trouble holding on to gravity for every day of her future.
“Let me guess, we start with Step One, right?” Tiffany returned with her cup and got settled again beside Taeyeon. “A proper description of the actual goal including benefits and time frame.”
Taeyeon nodded absently, her eyes drawn to the movement of Tiffany’s hands as she ripped open the tiny packet of sugar and stirred it into her coffee. “Right. Step One.”
Tiffany took a deep breath. “Well, I need a girlfriend. So the target is a girl, the benefits are love and intimacy and all those other relationship things. I’m not getting any younger so let’s say within one month. How’s that?”
The way the foam of the coffee brushed against Tiffany’s lips as she took a sip was like a meeting between clouds and angels. Taeyeon would cringe at this thought later, but to her Tiffany’s lips were nothing short of heavenly and no cheesy words would diminish this feeling. With an effort, she directed her eyes away from Tiffany’s face and played with the little teaspoon from her own finished coffee.
“Be more specific about this person. Or would any girl do?”
Tiffany scoffed. “Okay, good point. I’m not that desperate. But I don’t really have a particular type either, so how would I be more specific?”
Taeyeon left the spoon alone to one side and carefully folded her napkin into a tiny triangle as she answered softly.
“What is love, Tiffany? How do you know when someone loves you – when someone is in love with you?”
Tiffany bit her bottom lip and frowned slightly. She lifted her coffee to her lips before pausing and lowering it again, deep in thought. Taeyeon unfolded her napkin and started folding it again slowly.
“Why do you always ask such difficult questions?” Tiffany sighed, taking a sip from her coffee and looking dejected.
Taeyeon laughed. “I’m sorry. Well, don’t rush yourself for an answer on that one. No matter what people think love is or how to see it, love can always come in some unexpected form from someone you never would have thought.”
“So I’m looking for love with no idea what I’m looking for and it could end up being something else entirely? Great.”
Taeyeon looked up, and reached over to tuck a strand of Tiffany’s hair behind her ear in a familiar motion. Tiffany leaned her head slightly in Taeyeon’s direction at the affection, and seemed a little less gloomy.
“Everyone is stumbling through life as blindly as you, Tiffany,” she murmured. “Some find love along the way.”
Her fingers travelled from behind Tiffany’s ear, along her jawline, and stopped at her chin. With the pad of her thumb, she gently wiped away a tiny bit of foam from Tiffany’s lip. The actions made Tiffany lick her lips self-consciously and bite the inside of her cheek. Taeyeon removed her hand. She re-organised the things on the table and they sat together in companionable silence for a while.
“So, did you hear about the party tonight?” Taeyeon asked. “You should go. There’ll be people there.”
Tiffany smiled at Taeyeon’s wording. “People. Right. Well, I don’t know if I feel up to it anymore.”
Taeyeon looked up, frowning. “I didn’t get you all depressed now, did I?”
Tiffany didn’t answer, though her lips became slightly pouted and she fiddled with her coffee cup. Taeyeon grinned. Never in all her life would she get tired of that cuteness, this she knew for a fact.
“It’s not like it’s hopeless now. I just meant you should perhaps be looking around with an open mind, without expectations, with more awareness. By no means should you feel obligated to stop looking.” Look at me.
Tiffany turned her gaze back to Taeyeon, still looking doubtful. “Really?”
Taeyeon blinked and took a deliberate breath. “Really. Come on, let’s get some dinner before we go.”
There were indeed people at the party, as she knew there would be, and though she came with book in hand to keep her comfy in her solitary corner, she knew she would be keeping an eye on Tiffany all night – as she had done for so many nights already. As was bound to happen with a social butterfly at her side, she spent the first several minutes smiling at a range of vaguely familiar faces and laughing at the small talk before it was deemed that their arrival at the party was complete.
Taeyeon checked out the people around them intently.
“Well, you should be able to get a good start here,” she said to Tiffany. “Have fun.”
She turned to leave Tiffany to her socializing, but she was stopped by a hand on her wrist.
“Wait. You’re just leaving me to do this alone?”
Taeyeon raised an eyebrow at her. “Um, that’s kind of how it is, you know. You’re looking for a girlfriend, which makes the total amount of people in that equation exactly 2. No awkward best friend there.”
Tiffany bit her bottom lip, and Taeyeon’s knees went very weak very fast. She mirrored the action briefly, knowing Tiffany wasn’t looking, before taking a silent shaky breath and stabilizing her heart again.
“But, I don’t know what to do… I’ve never tried to, you know, deliberately present myself like this to strangers…” Tiffany’s voice drifted away.
Taeyeon considered this for a moment. Tiffany stayed staring at her feet, still holding on to Taeyeon’s wrist, and bit her bottom lip again. Without another moment’s hesitation, Taeyeon spoke.
“Tiffany. If you’re looking for someone to fall in love with you, the advice ‘be yourself’ has never been more applicable.”
The eyes that met hers were blinking in surprise. But in them she saw the familiar sparkle that lit up any darkness, and a smile reached her lips.
“You’ll be fine,” she murmured. “Come get me when you’re ready to go home. Maybe we can get some ice cream somewhere before we sleep. Okay?”
Tiffany beamed and her grip on Taeyeon’s wrist tightened considerably for a moment. “Okay. Thanks, Taeyeon, just really… thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she whispered. So very welcome, to everything that I am.
She saw Tiffany again an hour later, laughing by the beer keg, resting her hand briefly on the arm of a tall, athletic young woman who was clearly utilizing a few choice pick-up lines that Tiffany chose to respond to.
Taeyeon checked the time on her phone, played one of its games for less than a minute, and returned to the pages of her book.
“Tae,” came the curling voice a long time later. “Tae, can we get ice cream now?”
Tiffany was drunk, more than just a little, but she was happy. Taeyeon could almost see the slip of paper with its scribbled digits burning a hole in Tiffany’s pocket, because the smile on that face was undoubtedly one of excitement, warmth, satisfaction, an afterglow of well-done flirting that made Taeyeon go down a brief slope of disappointment.
“So how’d it go?” she asked, the obligatory enquiry that fell from her lips more than enough times in the past. Zero would have been enough. She became used to it.
Tiffany paused in the consumption of her double-scoop vanilla ice cream cone and pondered, eyes on the table, gaze on the memory of that other girl’s face, mouth curving a ghost of the smile. She stayed silent for a while, and then she took a deep breath – it was enough to make Taeyeon close her eyes briefly in anticipation of what was to come, because it was the kind of deep breath that came from a reminiscence of delight.
“It went,” Tiffany said, smile growing, “well. It went great, actually. She’s great.”
Taeyeon nodded, paying attention to her own ice cream for longer than was strictly necessary.
“I got her number,” Tiffany supplied unnecessarily, conspiratorially, like a sneaky schoolgirl about to lapse into giggles after kissing a classmate behind the gym. “She seems really cool.”
Taeyeon raised her eyebrows, focussing again on her ice cream. “Cool. Hmm.”
Tiffany echoed her expression. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Taeyeon shrugged, keeping her eyes directed securely at the table-top between them. “Nothing.”
The atmosphere that followed their exchange illustrated that it was anything but nothing. Tiffany cleared her throat so pointedly that it surely held the daggers that would soon be in her eyes.
It wasn’t the first time they had that conversation. Though Taeyeon resigned herself to the life of the unnoticed best friend who was tortured and toiled to make their love happy without receiving a wish, there was always this instinct to scoff whenever Tiffany found someone else. Usually it didn’t appear until Tiffany was about to get more serious with someone, but it was late and Taeyeon was tired, and she didn’t know why she’d suggested ice cream when it was winter, because now she had an ache in her skull.
“It didn’t sound like nothing,” Tiffany said, right on time, voice frosty. Her ice cream was done.
Taeyeon shrugged again. She finished her ice cream, wiped her hands, stared at the ceiling for a good few moments. “It’s nothing.”
Tiffany huffed, and crossed her arms across her chest. “It’s never nothing, Taeyeon. What is it this time?”
“Nothing,” Taeyeon insisted, “It’s just…” she trailed off.
Tiffany stared at her. “Yeah? What?”
“Well,” Taeyeon said, stretching out the word, gesturing vaguely. “You know.”
Tiffany glared. “Don’t give me that again. What is it?”
“It’s just…” Taeyeon said again. “She’s ‘cool’, right?”
“Well you know how cool people are,” Taeyeon said, trying to push it all out as fast as she could. “The kind of people who end up described as ‘cool’… they do tend to be jerks, don’t you think?”
Tiffany rolled her eyes. She got up off the couch – with only a slight wobble, a sign of her lessening intoxication – and started pacing over the carpet of their shared apartment.
“So now you’re saying she’s a jerk,” she said, tone slicing through the air, “right after I told you how great I think she is.”
Taeyeon shrugged, but Tiffany wasn’t intending to let her speak.
“Is this another one of your system theories?” she pressed on, waving her hands, rolling her eyes again. “Another little method you come up with for disapproving of everyone I’m interested in – you know you said you would help me find someone, you know how much I want and need this, you said you would help but then the first thing you do when I find someone is you put them through your little computer head and cough out a little lab result that says cool people are jerks. What if I had said she seems like a sociopathic serial killer, would that have come up with a higher grade, like sociopathic serial killers tend to be puppy-saving firefighter nuns, would that have been good enough to pass through your little frame?!”
Taeyeon blinked. This was new. It wasn’t the first time they had talked like this where she implied disapproval of Tiffany’s chosen interest, but it was the first time Tiffany flipped out and ranted about it. In the past, she got frustrated, they ignored each other for a couple of hours, sometimes Tiffany said that Taeyeon would be proven wrong, sometimes they just pretended there was no disapproval and eventually the attempted relationship fizzled out.
This didn’t fit into the frame Taeyeon had become comfortable in, the template for the process of Tiffany’s romantic ventures. So much for solving a problem.
Tiffany threw her hands up in exasperation. “And now you’re silent again. You know what Taeyeon, sometimes it’s worse to say nothing than to say the wrong thing, and you’ve just been doing both this whole time.”
Taeyeon blinked again, rapidly. “W-what? What whole time? What?”
Tiffany rolled her eyes again, waved her arms with frustration, stamped her feet heavily for a moment, and then she stepped forward, reached out, took hold of Taeyeon by her jaw and pulled her up – and she kissed her.
Taeyeon’s brain melted faster than her knees. She struggled to stay up, weak, confused, so incredibly warmed by Tiffany’s glorious mouth. Who knew it felt so amazing to kiss Tiffany? It felt amazing to have her right there, pressing against her, holding her up, kissing her with all of her focus, and finally Taeyeon caught up. Her knees locked into position and she closed her eyes.
She was still trying to remember how to breathe when Tiffany pulled away, at which point it all came rushing back, literally, and they both stood with slightly too heavy breathing and stared at each other.
“…What?” said Taeyeon again, baffled.
Tiffany’s eyes widened, and then she relaxed into a smile and tucked her arms around Taeyeon’s neck to lean on her. “Need a repeat?”
“I- Well, yeah, but also – clarification?” she sounded uncertain.
Tiffany sighed. “I always thought you were smart, Taeyeon. You’ve been here for me for so long, being somebody I can lean on, helping me out with your calm, level-headed rationalism that cleared up so much confusion and stress. I wouldn’t be here without you. And yet, you keep thinking you’re not worth as much to me as I think you are. You’re not just my best friend, Taeyeon, you haven’t been for a long time. I just wanted you to convince yourself of that, build yourself up, believe you can do that thing that you always thought was crazy – reveal your true feelings to me openly and honestly.”
Taeyeon gazed at her. “Oh?”
“But I got impatient. You’re a bit of an idiot sometimes, aren’t you?”
Taeyeon thought about it; all the time she spent constructing her little box of a best friend doomed to unrequited love, and settling into it quite comfortably but for the odd straying of a limb that still wanted to reach higher. And she thought about where she was now, standing in their apartment, with Tiffany right there in front of her – on her – waiting to be kissed.
And she nodded decisively. “Yeah, I’m a bit of an idiot.”
Tiffany grinned. “And now you’re mine. Right? Do you get that now, that I’ve been wanting you to let yourself love me?”
Taeyeon smiled. “Yeah, I get it. Maybe you should take over the advisory role, I think your system is much better than mine.”
“Oh, and what system is that?”
“The grab and kiss system.”
It didn’t take long for Tiffany to agree.