Taeyeon fiddled with the switch, making the window buzz down and then rapidly change course to go back up just before it reached home. The song on the radio faded into a new one and she adjusted the tempo of the window’s whirring to sort-of almost match the beat. She bobbed her head along, pouting her lips as if to whistle but without making a sound; not because she couldn’t whistle, but because she didn’t know the melody – she would say – and actually because she could whistle but it was really difficult. Her eyes quickly flicked around to make sure there wasn’t anyone lurking nearby. Maybe she would try it in a moment, she decided, while there was no one to see her scrunching her face and twisting her mouth in an attempt to replicate the correct formation for whistling.
The front passenger door of her car clicked open and Tiffany rustled as she entered. She juggled three expensive-looking bags of shopping between her hands and her lap before turning to stuff them onto the back seat. Taeyeon ducked as one came close to her face, and stopped whistle-pouting to look disgruntled.
“Why did you buy so much stuff?” she grumbled. “And why didn’t you just open the door to the backseat instead of beheading me?”
Tiffany settled in her seat, arranged her purse on her lap and removed her sunglasses to make it clear that she was rolling her eyes.
“Whatever,” she said flippantly. “You’ll love it when you see what I got, anyway.”
“But you took so long,” Taeyeon whined. “I was bored.”
“No one ever said you had to wait in the car,” Tiffany replied, whipping out a small mirror to check her hair. “You could have just come with me. You would have liked the dresses at this store; they had one that I thought would look especially good on you.”
Taeyeon narrowed her eyes suspiciously, even though her gaze was firmly set on Tiffany’s lips. “You said you would only be gone for a minute, so I thought it would be fine to just wait in the car. I didn’t realise this was going to be a big shopping trip. I’m still in my pyjama pants.”
Tiffany shrugged, put away the mirror, and fastened her seatbelt. “Your loss.”
Taeyeon sighed. “If I had known you would be like this, I would have kept my licence a secret from you till the day I die.”
“You’re always so dramatic. Come on, let’s get going. Get some food from that chicken place before we go home.”
She started fiddling with the radio, changing the stations, and Taeyeon pouted briefly to herself before starting the engine. As she made her way out of the parking lot, Tiffany settled on a station and started to quietly sing along to the song. A smile slowly turned the corner of Taeyeon’s mouth as she listened. Tiffany noticed it, and looked out of the window as they reached the streets.
“So, uh,” Taeyeon started awkwardly, then cleared her throat, and spoke again, “um, so. How’d that thing with, uh, with your dad go?”
Tiffany stopped singing along, going silent for a moment. “It was okay. He’s okay. He’s fine.”
Tiffany reached over and switched off the radio with a sharp click. Silence filled the space it left behind. She took a deep breath.
“You don’t have to ask about it,” she said. “You know you don’t. I’ll talk to you when I need to.”
Taeyeon glanced over at her for a moment, saw the troubled look she had expected, and tapped the steering wheel nervously.
“I know,” she replied. “I know you will. But, y’know, when? When will you need to talk to me about this?” When will you need me?
“Now’s not a good time to say these things, Taeyeon,” Tiffany said firmly.
She turned her head away, eyeing the monotonous grey scenery outside, and Taeyeon could hear her make a deliberate effort to regulate her breathing. She knew Tiffany was trying not to cry.
“Sorry,” Taeyeon mumbled.
They reached their next stop without speaking. The engine cut out and Taeyeon left the keys in the ignition as she stepped out of the car. There was no sound other than the clicking of the door handle and the snap as it closed behind her. She didn’t even care that she was still half in her pyjamas.
She knew Tiffany needed some time alone. In the past, she would have cursed herself for reminding Tiffany about things that made her tear up, but she had reached a point where her fear of losing Tiffany overwhelmed such concerns. She was beginning to fear that the longer Tiffany avoided talking about whatever issue she was dealing with, the further away she was moving from Taeyeon.
“Can I take your order?”
“Two number fives and a large eight, please.”
And Taeyeon didn’t ever want to lose Tiffany. Tiffany was the only one who could effortlessly inspire her to get out of her car and walk into a fast food restaurant to order their favourite meals while still wearing mostly her pyjamas and looking unkempt.
She was singing along to the radio again when Taeyeon got into the car and dumped the food on the backseat next to the clothes.
“Ah, finally,” she paused from her singing to gaze appreciatively at the bags of food. “Now home, driver.”
Taeyeon snorted. “Yes, ma’am.”
The next day Tiffany pulled Taeyeon out of bed early in the morning and reminded her to wear something that didn’t have tiny cartoon ducks on it. She bundled Taeyeon into the car and persuaded her to take them to the mall again, and proceeded to drag Taeyeon around by the hand to show her the dress she had mentioned and about a hundred others too.
Taeyeon sighed to herself before continuing to eat the ice cream cone Tiffany had encouraged her to buy. Tiffany was almost done with hers, her eager brown eyes already looking around them for the next thing they could do, and her enthusiasm made Taeyeon feel weary inside.
“Fany,” she said, wiping her hands, after she finished her ice cream. “Why are you so energetic today?”
Tiffany frowned at her. “Am I supposed to be otherwise?”
“No,” she said slowly, “I guess not, but I thought you wanted to be lazy this week. It’s our last week of break after all. Now all of a sudden you’re hopping all over the place instead of being a blob in front of the TV like you planned.”
Tiffany shrugged, standing up. “I don’t know. I just felt like hanging out at the mall with you. Hey, come on; let’s go to the photo booth!”
Taeyeon groaned. She was very familiar with Tiffany’s love of taking photos when hanging out with friends, and they visited the photo booth at the mall many times during their friendship. But it had been several months since Tiffany last pushed her into that booth. Taking a photo in the photo booth felt like something they hadn’t done since they were children. The thought left Taeyeon eyeing Tiffany contemplatively as she pressed the screen to alter the settings.
She wanted to ask. She really wanted to ask. But she remembered what Tiffany had said and how she reacted yesterday when Taeyeon asked. Tiffany would tell her eventually, although she had no idea when and it was hurting her that Tiffany wasn’t telling her, so she would just have to wait.
Their hands linked, fingers weaving together, and they shared a warm smile.
Taeyeon thought about that smile about a million times as she went to her parents’ shop the next day to help out. She absently shifted small rectangular boxes from one place to the next, idly twiddled with a pen at the counter, quietly stared into empty space, her eyes blank and her mind clouded by Tiffany.
From the moment she met Tiffany, she knew everything was changing. She knew, without a second guess, that Tiffany was not just Tiffany. Tiffany was someone she had yet to find the right words for, and Taeyeon sensed she would be trying to find those words for the rest of her life and that was just fine by her. When she thought of Tiffany, she sighed, but the breath she took before she expelled it consisted of air that made her throat tingle and inflated her heart. Maybe a few words came to mind. But there was something deeper that she would analyse during every moment she spent with Tiffany.
She got home, kicked off her shoes, knelt down to arrange them, and flopped herself onto the couch, limbs sprawled, eyes closed, head hanging off the back of the couch, mouth slightly open as she became a blob of mush. It wasn’t long before footsteps came and stopped, and the couch dipped as a warm body came to rest right beside her.
Taeyeon cracked open an eye. She didn’t need to. She hadn’t even needed to hear the voice. The warmth, the movements, the feel of Tiffany’s body nearby was familiar, an instantly recognisable shift in the air. But she wanted to see her. She wanted to run her gaze from those eyes to those lips and trace the outlines of her face.
“Hi,” she murmured. She closed her eye again and shifted to get more comfortable.
Tiffany sighed. She slumped against the couch, her shoulder to it and her face towards Taeyeon. Taeyeon knew Tiffany was staring at her, so she waited for her to stop as she would eventually. But after a long, long time, she wondered if Tiffany had just fallen asleep in that position, so she turned her head and opened her eyes a little. Tiffany was still staring at her. They both frowned.
“What’s up?” asked Taeyeon.
“Are you happy, Taeyeon?”
Looking back on it later and many times throughout the future, Taeyeon would stop her memory for a moment, frozen on Tiffany’s expression as her lips completed the formation of these words and her voice stilled.
Tiffany sighed again. A proper, deep, heavy sigh. She inhaled at length, and she let the breath gush out of her body as if she chased it away.
“Are you happy? Doing this? Being who we are?”
Taeyeon sat up. She shrugged. “I guess. As close to happiness as I know.”
Tiffany bit her bottom lip. She chewed it, and Taeyeon let it happen for a while because she knew it was a good way for Tiffany to dispel her immediate stress, but after a few moments she reached out and traced the line of Tiffany’s jaw, by her chin, with the tips of her fingers. Gentle. Tender. The biting stopped.
“Hey,” she said softly, “what’s wrong? Will you talk to me now?”
Tiffany shook her head quickly at first, then stopped, and shook it again just slightly. “N- I don’t know. Maybe. Not yet. Or yes.”
Taeyeon couldn’t help but smile a little, but her eyes were sad as she stroked Tiffany’s cheek absently. They watched each other for a while, quiet and slow, before Tiffany blinked away some tears and took a breath.
“What if I changed? Would you still be happy?” she whimpered, closing her eyes. She sniffed.
There was barely any time for Taeyeon to finish processing the question before Tiffany started to cry, shoulders shaking, hands moving to cover her face. Taeyeon scooted closer, wrapping her arms around her immediately, clutching her tightly.
“Hey, hey, what’s wrong?” she murmured. “Change? What are you talking about?”
Tiffany just shook her head, bumping it against Taeyeon’s chin, and didn’t answer. Taeyeon shifted so that she could fit their bodies together better, and kissed the side of Tiffany’s head.
“Would you?” Tiffany whispered again, voice thick with tears.
Taeyeon frowned. She contemplated the question. Would she be unhappy if Tiffany were to change? Many scenarios went through her mind, imaging all the ways in which Tiffany could change and how she would react to each. She thought of how they laughed in the photo booth, how she got out of her car in her pyjamas, the way Tiffany always fiddled with the radio in her car as soon as she got in it. Whenever they got their favourite meals from that fast food restaurant, Tiffany would eat hers at first with great excitement, and then settle into a kind of blissful stupor, staring blankly at the TV as she chewed. Taeyeon laughed at her the first few times, but then her laughter faded into a smile and she would just feel warm, looking at Tiffany.
“Only if you hated me,” she said softly. “If you changed in a way that meant you didn’t want to be around me anymore and I lost you, then I would be unhappy.”
Tiffany held onto Taeyeon, tight enough to squeeze the air out of her. She sniffed one last time and then took a slow, calming breath.
“I broke the washing machine.”
Taeyeon stared. She blinked. “Excuse me, what?”
“I broke the washing machine,” sobbed Tiffany. “I’m so sorry!”
Taeyeon shook her head, trying to clear her confusion. “Wait, this is what you’re so upset about? How did you even break it?”
Tiffany sniffed. “I may have accidentally put some cinnamon in the part where the soap should go…”
Taeyeon’s eyes nearly boggled out of her head. “What?!”
“And,” Tiffany whispered, hanging her head, “and some fake snowflakes.”
“What the hell-”
“I’m sorry, Taeyeon! I know we can’t afford a new one right now, and I know we both promised when we moved in together that we’d never ask for help from anyone but I couldn’t just – I felt so bad about my stupid accident – I had to ask my dad for some money.”
Tiffany’s eyes were still swimming with tears and she grabbed Taeyeon’s hands.
“Obviously he wanted to take some time to gloat that I’d finally had to ask for help, but there’s no way I would let that stop me. I knew I had to make it up to you. So, finally I got the money and I’ve ordered the new one. I know you usually do your laundry on a Saturday, which is tomorrow, but the new machine won’t be here until next week so I had to let it out now and tell you what I did. I’m so sorry –”
She was cut off by the press of lips on hers. Taeyeon was kissing her. She pulled back, shocked, and they stared at each other.
Taeyeon smiled. “I cannot believe you were seriously so dramatic about that. Fany, it’s just a washing machine. I mean, I’d be interested to hear how you ended up putting cinnamon and fake snowflakes in there, but –” She huffed, and shifted, and held on tightly to Tiffany’s hands. “Damn, Tiffany. Do you have any idea how much I love you right now? You were so worried about that promise we made, so secretive about asking your dad for money. Geez, I thought he had cancer or something!”
Tiffany blushed, her eyes wide. “God, no, it’s nothing like that. I’m sorry for over-reacting, I just…”
“Okay, enough apologizing.” Taeyeon laughed suddenly. “Man, this is crazy. Tiffany, you made a mistake and you fixed it and you felt guilty about it and you owned up to it. And you were selflessly thinking of me the whole time; thinking of us. I really, really love you.”
Tiffany stared at her, thinking of all the things she was feeling and wondering if and when and what she should ask. Then Taeyeon kissed her again, and again, and finally she just smiled because that’s what she really wanted to say, to show; her feeling of happiness. And relief that Taeyeon was not mad. In fact, Taeyeon was something else entirely, and it made her giddy with excitement.
“Really?” she asked, anyway, maybe because she was working up to some other words.
Taeyeon grinned. “Really.”
And Tiffany finally told her, “I love you, too.”
Thanks to Jae for the wachine machine, Ryuu for the cinnamon, and wuliff-senpai for the snoflaeqs