Wintering

1

“I’m glad we’re able to help you, Tiffany,” said the man sitting behind his expensive desk in his expensive office. The walls were decorated with framed photographs of him and his celebrities. “You were a promising trainee, and you became part of the family.”

Tiffany returned a tight smile. “I’m grateful for your help, sir. It means a lot to me.”

And there wasn’t anywhere else she could go, nowhere that she really wanted to go. Not yet, at least. Her knee was injured so deeply over a year ago, and when the ensuing storm faded she found herself without a job and with a dream lying melted in her palms, but she couldn’t let go. So she came back, and she knew from the moment she stepped in the building this morning that this life would always be like a drug to her.

She tried the normal things; a brief stint at a night school to attempt a certificate, a lengthy consideration of various universities, a couple of employment trials at supermarkets – and the heated debate with her family about returning to the States. She didn’t even want to have it as an option. As far as Tiffany was concerned, she left home at the age of 15 and she was not going to throw away three years of pain and tears just to slink back and become someone less than a shadow of what she fought for. Even if she knew she could never have her dream the way she wanted it, she knew she could have some of it, and it drew her in snugly.

“I know you’re a highly determined, organized, and intelligent young woman,” the man continued. “These are perfect traits for a manager in this industry. You never know what could happen in the world of entertainment.”

She bit back a bitter laugh. “Oh, I’m aware.”

He looked sheepish for a moment. “Anyway, I’m also pleased that you decided to pursue this new career with us. I’m happy to have you here in any capacity.”

Tiffany smiled again, and it reminded her of the days when she first started training here. Well, a few days after she started training, because in the very earliest days she was subject to the usual insincerity and petty quips that came from the teenagers around her. But after she passed their tests and flew through their hoops, she became known as that foreign girl with the beautiful smile.

“You’ll be working with Taeyeon, I don’t know if you remember her…” the man’s voice brought Tiffany back from her thoughts, and she blinked.

She did remember Taeyeon.

“Oh, has she…?”

“No, I’m afraid not,” he replied quickly, looking sad. “Like you, she suffered an accident. She has some problems with her lungs now. She can still sing casually, and she’ll be able to live a full life, but she would never be able to keep up with the strenuous vocal demands of an idol in this industry.”

Tiffany felt a distinct sense of disappointment and sympathy. Taeyeon had become a good friend during training, albeit the type of friend who still had a lot of closed-off secrets, and Tiffany was a genuine fan of her voice. To hear that Taeyeon’s voice would never be heard by the crowds of people out there, and would never receive their appreciation or open their souls – it truly tugged at Tiffany’s heart.

“Yes, it’s incredibly unfortunate what happened to you both,” the man behind the desk said, and sighed. “But luckily she also decided to join this company in another capacity, and we’re all very excited that you will both remain part of our family. We still remember the old days when you two were like peas in a pod – inseparable! So we couldn’t resist the opportunity to put you two together in a team again.”

Tiffany smiled a little, and so did he. She couldn’t help but take note of the number of times he had said ‘we’.

“And in a way, we hope it will give you both some comfort as you travel in your new direction,” he added.

“Well,” Tiffany said, her smile growing, “if she’s anything like she used to be, we’re going to have a wonderful time together.”

“Excellent,” he said, sounding pleased. “We’ll tell you both about your duties at a later time, when we’ve arranged all the paperwork and so on. Maybe you would like to catch up with each other first, find out what’s been going on since you last saw her.”

Tiffany thought of Taeyeon, small and quiet but funny and playful, and she nodded slowly. “Yes, I think we definitely have a lot to talk about.”

She found Taeyeon in much the same place she would have been years ago; a practice room. It was empty of anyone else, and Taeyeon stood by a piano and flicked through sheet music. Her back was to the door, but Tiffany had seen enough of her face when they were trainees to know what kind of expression she would have right now. Bliss.

“Hi.”

Taeyeon jumped in surprise and swivelled to see Tiffany at the door. After a moment, her look of shock was accentuated with confusion.

“Tiffany…?”

Tiffany’s smile faltered slightly when she heard Taeyeon’s voice. It was different. It had lost some of its fullness, its rounded edge; it no longer seemed connected to Taeyeon’s throat as if a string of her voice was being tooled out with every word. Her neck was wrapped in a thick scarf.

“Hey,” Tiffany said, quieter this time, softer. She stepped closer and her smile returned in full force. “How have you been?”

Taeyeon’s gaze moved over Tiffany’s body, taking in the tiniest ghost of a limp at the steps that were taken, but more interested in drinking in the sight of a long-lost friend.

“I’ve been okay,” Taeyeon answered. She looked up, into Tiffany’s eyes, and grinned at last. “It’s really nice to see you again, Fany.”

Tiffany didn’t hesitate at all. She pulled Taeyeon closer and wrapped her in a hug. “I missed you.”

It was true. She didn’t realize how strongly she felt it until now, when she was able to see and hold Taeyeon again, but during the loneliest nights of her life since the injury she would always wish that she had Taeyeon there to talk to.

Taeyeon returned the hug after a moment of silence, and their warm bodies rested together. “I missed you too.”

They held each other for a long time, getting used to the sound of shared breathing and the heaviness they both carried from their broken dreams. Tiffany wanted to talk about it, and she knew Taeyeon would not want to. She shelved it and moved out of the hug to flash another smile.

“Come on, let’s go get some coffee.”

At the coffee shop they teased each other for abandoning the strict dieting regimes they were trained in, and they both got a muffin with their coffee because they had learned the value of enjoying something simple sooner rather than never.

Tiffany couldn’t keep her eyes off Taeyeon as they sat at a table in the corner and picked at their muffins with their fingers. Taeyeon had always seemed reserved about certain things, and now she seemed more reserved than ever. She was hiding her scars firmly, and Tiffany could imagine her pushing against a door to keep it shut. But she wouldn’t bring it up, at least not yet. It was the first time they saw each other in more than a year, and they were about to work together as managers for idols in the Korean entertainment industry that they had fallen from. She still had not removed her scarf.

“So, are you seeing anyone?” Tiffany asked, and took a sip of her coffee.

Taeyeon snorted. “No. I’m not interested in dating anymore.”

Tiffany raised her eyebrows. Taeyeon had never exactly been as boy-crazy as other trainees (and Tiffany) but they had their fair share of giggling conversations about weddings and the perfect date. The change must have happened after the injury. Tiffany stared at Taeyeon, wondering if it was alright to ask her what the injury was.

Taeyeon smiled at her, and she decided it could wait.

Afterwards, they walked along the path by the river, and breathed the fresh evening air. It didn’t take long for their hands to find each other, but neither made comment on it as they laced fingers together.

“So, do you know anything about the idol we’ll be managing? Is it a group?” asked Tiffany, watching the water walking alongside them.

Taeyeon coughed for a moment, before recovering and flashing a smile in response to Tiffany’s concerned glance. “It’s okay. No, it’s not a group; at least, not anymore. She was part of the biggest girl group in the country a couple of years ago, until both her fellow members decided to retire from the industry. She managed to get popular enough that people are still asking if she’ll have a solo career, so they’re launching her with a whole new look after almost two years of hiatus. She’s one of the most anticipated solo artists of the year.”

“Hmm, she must really be something.”

“She can be, from what I’ve heard.”

“Oh, she has a reputation? Good or bad?”

Taeyeon pondered. “A bit of both. Hugely talented, dedicated, and determined; rather rude, delusional, and demanding.”

Tiffany laughed, squeezing Taeyeon’s hand as she did so. They strolled in comfortable silence for a while, listening to some birds and the breeze travelling through trees. After some time, Taeyeon cleared her throat.

“So why didn’t you pursue singing?” Her earnest gaze sought out Tiffany’s eyes. “With an injured leg you wouldn’t be able to dance like an idol, but your voice was still fine. Surely you could have become more than a mana-”

“I’m fine just the way I am now,” Tiffany interrupted. Her lips were tightly pressed together for a moment, and then she sighed. “It’s just… difficult.”

There was the same companionable stillness again as Taeyeon considered this. Their footsteps on the path were slow enough to catch rhythm with Tiffany’s heart at every fourth beat. Since when was she so conscious of her heartbeat? It seemed loud. Heavy.

“I understand,” said Taeyeon. Her voice was soft, an unobtrusive layer to the environment.

It wasn’t until Tiffany looked over at Taeyeon that she realized the pain behind those words. It was a small sentence, a small voice, and Taeyeon looked like the small scared girl she used to be all that time ago. She understood.

Tiffany squeezed Taeyeon’s hand harder than ever, and they walked on along the riverside path.

It was going to be a long walk.

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All the Time

Sequel to The Art of Motion, Eyes, Lips, whatever these things aren’t planned you know

______________________________________________________________

“I’ve told you a million times, I’m tired.”

Tiffany didn’t bother to wait for Taeyeon’s response, knowing what it would be, and she turned away to open the driver’s side door of her car. The noise of her key in the lock and the click of the handle didn’t deter Taeyeon.

“Please, Fany, I haven’t seen you in weeks. I just want to hang out.”

Tiffany continued to ignore her, shoving her bags stuffed with clothes and fabrics into the car, onto the passenger seat. Taeyeon let out a noise of frustration. Her shoes crunched the gravel. She tugged at Tiffany’s shoulder with her gloveless fingers against the soft woollen coat.

“Come on, at least look at me.”

“Don’t you have something more productive to do? Stop bothering me,” Tiffany said, spinning around to glare at Taeyeon.

Taeyeon held up her hands in a pose of surrender before running them through her hair. She scrunched up her face, clearly trying to control her anger, and took a deep breath.

“Tiffany, please. I don’t know what I did to piss you off – I don’t even know if it’s because of me – but can we just take a few moments to talk? All I want is to know what you’ve been up to, how you’re feeling, what’s going on in your head today. Please?”

Her eyes were pleading, her voice tentative. Tiffany stared at her, at that face that she had been obsessing over for weeks. How could she get Taeyeon out of her mind? It was impossible.

Word got out about Taeyeon’s involvement in the design of her latest collection, and before she knew it they were the hottest duo in fashion. Critics couldn’t resist the attractive relationship between art and fashion, going to great lengths to praise the translation of a concept into a physical representation, and recently they began drawing comparisons to the nature of a personal relationship.

That was when Tiffany started to worry. Her relationship with Taeyeon – whatever it was – had been born of some teasing, some tension, some sharing of perspectives, but was it a real relationship? She could count their kisses on two hands, their dates on one. Were they even dates? And she certainly didn’t want all those people who were now suddenly paying attention to them to turn their attention to the connection between her and Taeyeon when she didn’t know what they would be seeing.

So she sighed, and closed her eyes for a moment. Snow was already beginning to fall on them, the tiny frail snowflakes staying light but she couldn’t resist sparing a thought for Taeyeon’s uncovered hands and missing scarf.

When she opened her eyes again, Taeyeon had not changed. Tiffany sighed, unwrapped her own scarf, and tossed it around Taeyeon’s neck. She kept her grip on it and pulled Taeyeon closer.

“What do you want from me?”

Taeyeon blinked, startled, on the verge of protesting the exchanging of the scarf but it died on her lips. She blinked a few more times, and she looked away briefly.

Tiffany moved a hand to the curve of Taeyeon’s jaw. The edge of her thumb stroked the edge of Taeyeon’s cheek, skin feeling soft against skin.

“You’ve been teasing me since the day we met,” murmured Tiffany. “Are you just being playful?”

“You know it’s not like that anymore,” Taeyeon mumbled. She took a breath and sighed hurriedly, once again avoiding Tiffany’s gaze.

“Well, what is it?” Tiffany asked.

“I want to get to know you,” Taeyeon answered briefly. Her hands went to rest on Tiffany’s hips, and she leaned her head forward for a kiss but Tiffany shifted to avoid it.

“How long until you know me, then?”

Taeyeon frowned at her, but didn’t say anything.

“Do you ever even wonder what it is we’re doing?”

With a roll of her eyes, Taeyeon dropped her hands from Tiffany’s hips. Tiffany grabbed hold of her jaws firmly with both hands and turned her head back to face her when she started to turn away.

“Did you seriously just roll your eyes at me?” There was disbelief and frustration evident in her voice. “What the hell, Taeyeon? This isn’t who I thought you were.”

Taeyeon sighed, her features lined with irritation. “I don’t get why you want to label this or whatever. Can’t we just do stuff together and that’s how it is?”

“Sure, if it was only between us. But we’re about to get a lot of people asking about our relationship or suggesting that we should be together and I want to know how to handle that.”

“Tell them to mind their own business,” Taeyeon said, her frown deepening. “Who cares what they say?”

Tiffany leaned back against her car, taking hold of the ends of the scarf again to pull Taeyeon with her. “Why are you so scared of putting a label on this? What if I want to call you my girlfriend? Does it matter?”

“No, go ahead,” Taeyeon said. “Whatever.”

Tiffany let go of the scarf and crossed her arms over her chest. “Why are you being like this right now?”

“Like what? I’m fine.”

They stared at each other for long moments. At last, Tiffany let out her own sigh. She wrapped her arms around Taeyeon’s neck and let their bodies press together again.

“Honey,” Tiffany murmured, lightly kissing the corner of Taeyeon’s mouth, “can you open up for me? Let me in right now? Tell me what’s going on.”

“Nothing’s going on,” Taeyeon answered. She kissed Tiffany deeply, covering her words with the give and take of their mouths. Her hands returned to Tiffany’s hips, and squeezed.

Tiffany pulled away slightly, gave Taeyeon one more peck, and asked, “Are you scared?”

“Why would I be scared?” She kissed beneath the curve of Tiffany’s jaw.

“Because things are changing and that can be scary.”

Taeyeon stopped moving, resting her lips to Tiffany’s skin comfortably.

“I know you’re not looking forward to truly feeling the brunt of all the attention we’re getting,” Tiffany continued. She moved Taeyeon’s head back to be level with her own. “I’m not asking you to sign a contract or anything. I only want to know if we’re on the same page.”

Taeyeon kissed her softly. “If this is the page you mean, then yeah, we’re on the same page.”

“Good,” mumbled Tiffany into the kiss. Then she made herself pull back. “Let’s go have dinner and catch up.”