As bearable as the summer weather had been thus far, there always had to be the odd overly-windy day. Taeyeon had a great dislike for windy days. They were fine when experienced from inside a house with the curtains drawn, but naturally she would not always have the luxury of being able to stay at home on a windy day. Her work allowed her much flexibility until she needed to hold meetings with clients again.
After spending the morning traveling between numerous companies to deliver and discuss the drafts of their most important documents, Taeyeon felt a sense of relief as she exited the final building. She unbuttoned her suit jacket, and then immediately buttoned it up again when the brisk wind caught hold of it. That was another thing about windy days; she could so easily lose control of her clothes.
But aside from finally being free of strenuous meetings, there was something else that cheered Taeyeon’s spirits. Tiffany was in the same part of the city for some work meetings of her own, and they were going to have lunch together.
Tiffany’s little speech about taking it slow had initially done little to diminish Taeyeon’s nervousness. While she previously felt pressure to figure out her intentions towards Tiffany, it was nothing compared to the knowledge that they were definitely edging towards to option of getting closer. At first she couldn’t stop thinking about it. She would imagine how various situations would be different if they were dating, and she would tell herself that she dreamed the whole thing – but then Tiffany would give her that smile or have a unique glint in her gaze or she would call Taeyeon cute, and Taeyeon was reminded that it was not a dream. Unfortunately her logic for handling the situation was still uncertain. Every now and then she would spend a good deal of time thinking about it, and then there were the moments when she felt so comfortable around Tiffany that it hardly crossed her mind. She still wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not, but it didn’t feel too bad so she carried on.
Before the wind could completely tangle her hair, Taeyeon pulled a hair tie from her pocket. From where she was standing, she would walk around the corner and down the street a bit to get to the restaurant where they’d agreed to meet. She made sure which way she was going, and then lowered her gaze to the ground as she tied her hair while she walked. In a few minutes the crowds would thicken with other people going to get lunch, but for now she didn’t have to worry about bumping into anyone while she was distracted.
The call came as soon as she rounded the corner. She looked up in surprise but relaxed when she saw Tiffany waving at her from a short distance away. She smiled and waved back.
“You’re early,” she said when she reached Tiffany, and they stood to one side on the pavement as the wind strengthened briefly. “I thought I’d have to walk slowly to make up for extra time.”
“My meeting ended sooner than I expected. All the better for me.”
Taeyeon was only a little astonished when Tiffany linked their arms together and lightly squeezed her elbow. It wasn’t really a big deal.
“And for you, of course,” Tiffany continued, winking at her. “Now you get to spend even more time with me.”
Taeyeon put on a blank expression. “Lucky me,” she retorted, voice dripping in faux sarcasm. But she couldn’t hold it for long, and they ended up laughing together.
They barely made it two steps further before a loud squealing noise made them both jump. Tiffany dropped Taeyeon’s arm and turned when someone yelled, “Tiffany Hwang, is that you?”
A middle-aged woman with finely styled hair and just the right amount of makeup was tottering towards them on high heels. Taeyeon ran her gaze over the woman’s outfit, and wondered if she was one of Tiffany’s clients.
“Oh my god,” Tiffany squealed in response, and the two women air-kissed each other’s cheeks. “It’s been so long! How have you been?”
Taeyeon wanted to shake her head to get rid of the sound of Tiffany over-emphasizing the final word of each sentence. She eyed them both critically.
“Absolutely fantastic,” the woman replied. She tapped Tiffany lightly on the shoulder. “All thanks to you. You know, just the other day I went to an interview on that late night talk show, and I was wearing the black and red outfit you created for me, and guess what? The wardrobe people at the studio said I looked perfect! They didn’t want to change a thing.”
Tiffany gripped the woman’s arm and they giggled together. “That’s great! I’m so happy for you.”
“When I mentioned your name, they even said they weren’t surprised! Everyone in the industry knows about you now.” The woman, having resumed normal speech patterns, finally caught sight of Taeyeon lingering by Tiffany’s shoulder. “And who’s this? It’s a pleasure to meet you, dear.”
The woman obviously assumed Taeyeon recognized her from television or whatever. Taeyeon cringed internally because, of course, she had no idea who the woman was, but she smiled politely and shook the hand that was offered to her.
“This is Taeyeon,” Tiffany said, before Taeyeon could say something to the same effect. “She’s a friend of mine. And my new neighbour.”
The woman looked like she was going to say something else, when another person jogged up to them. Taeyeon noticed the camera slung around his neck and her eyes widened. She instinctively took a step back.
“Mrs. Lee! Good afternoon to you. How about a quick photo and some questions? I’m from Star Daily.”
Tiffany reached out and took Taeyeon’s hand, ignoring the man as his focus remained on the other woman for the time being. She laced their fingers together and tugged, bringing Taeyeon back from the edge of the street. Taeyeon concentrated on the reassuring look that Tiffany was giving her.
Mrs. Lee made a sound of disapproval. “You again. Have you been following me?”
The man chuckled, but he circled his hands around his camera as if he was preparing to strike with it. “Of course not, Mrs. Lee. Just a quick photo? And maybe you’d care to comment on your husband’s latest scandal?”
Mrs. Lee rolled her eyes. She turned her back to the man, giving Tiffany an apologetic smile. “Sorry about this, Tiffany. I’d better get going, I don’t want you and your friend –” did her gaze just linger on their joined hands? “– to be inconvenienced by this rude man.”
The man popped his head around Mrs. Lee’s shoulder. “Oh, is that Tiffany Hwang? The stylist, right? Say, would you be able to confirm your attendance at the local fashion show this weekend? And how about the rumours that you’ll be launching your own winter collection?”
Mrs. Lee rounded on him, taking a step forward so that he had to stumble backwards. “How about you contact my publicist if you’d like to arrange an interview with me, Mr. Star Daily? For now I think you and I should both leave.”
She strode away with a huff of distaste, nose in the air. The man glanced between her and Tiffany, narrowly missing the sight of Tiffany releasing Taeyeon’s hand, before he decided to head after Ms. Kang, clearly searching for the possibility of a bigger story from the more famous person.
Immediately, Tiffany turned to Taeyeon and took hold of both her hands. “I’m so sorry about that! I didn’t think we’d have to worry about anything like that ever. Mrs. Lee was my client a while ago, but I didn’t expect a reporter would come up to us on the street. That was so awkward.”
Taeyeon was still tense, but she tried to make light of it. “You know what was even more awkward? She totally thought she was so famous that I’d recognize her instantly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her face before in my life.”
Tiffany stared at her for a moment. Then she laughed. “Oh no, you’re serious, aren’t you? You don’t know who she is?”
“Should I?” Taeyeon shrugged.
“No, I suppose not,” Tiffany said. She took Taeyeon’s hand again and pulled her towards the restaurant. “She’s an actress and her so-called scandalous husband is running for Mayor this year. I guess since you’re sort of new here you wouldn’t know about him, but she’s been in films and television for nearly two decades. You’re sure you’ve never seen her?”
Taeyeon shrugged again. “Didn’t really watch much television,” she muttered, her reply almost lost in the bustle as they entered the restaurant and were guided to a table. She could tell Tiffany heard her, though, because of the confused little frown and smile that she received from her. Taeyeon just waved it off and they picked up their menus.
“So, everyone in the industry knows about you now?” Taeyeon echoed. “Even that reporter knew about your schedule. You must be getting pretty famous.”
With typical grace, Tiffany looked sheepish. “Yeah, I guess so. Business has certainly been picking up lately. I even had to print a new set of business cards because I ran out; which may sound mundane, but it was a big moment for me.”
“That’s pretty impressive. Well, if you ever need a document controller, I’ll give you a discount.”
Tiffany giggled. “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind. How did you get into a job like that, anyway? Somehow I don’t imagine little Taeyeon telling everyone she wants to be a document controller when she grows up.”
The thought was amusing. “I doubt little Taeyeon would have known what a document controller was. I can’t really say I know for sure even now. I studied a certificate of business administration and the internship was offered to my class, so a few of us got positions learning how to do the job. Later I knew enough to go freelance, and here I am.”
“So you have a certificate in business administration? Is that like a shorter version of a degree?”
Taeyeon coughed awkwardly. “Yeah, it’s like a broad overview of the type of things that are covered in the degree. It focuses more on the day-to-day functions of administration and knowing your way around an office.”
Tiffany tilted her head. “Sorry, am I missing something?”
The waiter popped up beside their table and gave a customary greeting. Normally Taeyeon would have jumped on the chance to have a distraction, but she didn’t really want him to hang around a lot. Somehow she would manage to be more open around Tiffany, although she was pretty sure she already knew where her limits would remain. Taeyeon rattled off the name of the first decent-seeming dish she spotted on the menu and waited as Tiffany placed her order. The waiter filled their glasses with what Taeyeon thought of as fancy-lemon-water when they didn’t order any drinks, and he smiled too many times. Eventually he gathered up their menus and departed.
Tiffany just looked at her, clearly choosing not to say anything but still remaining on the same topic of conversation.
“I didn’t finish it,” Taeyeon said quietly. “I skipped the final semester. So, no, I don’t actually have a certificate in business administration.”
For the first time in a long time, the silence between them was uncomfortable. Taeyeon closed her eyes for a moment and at first she cursed Tiffany’s ability to pick up on the subtleties of Taeyeon’s behaviour in a way that brought up her obvious avoidance. But blaming Tiffany didn’t last long, because there was no possibility that it was ever valid. Taeyeon’s own fault was in thinking she could do what they were trying to do.
Now she felt herself facing a choice. Some imperative need willed her to act right there in the restaurant. Either she was going to do this the way more normal people did and just be honest about herself and her past, or she was going to cover it all up again and run away from the issue until Tiffany realized she wasn’t worth it.
Having made up her mind in those quick seconds, she opened her mouth –
And promptly shut it again when the waiter returned with his silly jar of silly water and his silly smile that begged for a thirty percent tip.
Taeyeon just sighed when he unnecessarily refilled their barely touched drinks. She was being too dramatic anyway. A valued part of taking it slow was not treating every moment like a life-changing decision.
“So, what’s on your schedule for the rest of the day? More clients?” Taeyeon asked politely. She took a small sip of her water, fearful that the waiter would scramble nearer again if it dipped below a certain level.
“Oh, yes, actually it’s kind of exciting,” Tiffany said, carefully avoiding Taeyeon’s gaze at first as she ran a hand through her hair. “I’ll be visiting one of my clients at a photoshoot. He’s going to be in a fitness magazine and he said it’s an open set. I figured it would be a good chance to get an angle on the image he’s developing when he presents his personal side.”
“You do that a lot for clients? Help them when they’re doing stuff like that – magazines, talk shows?”
“Definitely,” Tiffany said. This time she looked right at Taeyeon and smiled. “Celebrities have an unfortunate duality in their lives already – their personal and professional sides both lack privacy. But they have the ability to control this by introducing a third position; the professional personal image. This would be how they present themselves on talk shows, in interviews, magazine articles that are meant to show them in their natural habitat. Some even the reach the point where their casual grocery shopping appearances are heavily co-ordinated. They can show something that’s meant to look like them but hides the most personal sides of themselves, so I help them get the right style to match that image.”
“That’s an honourable pursuit,” Taeyeon ventured. “I’ve never understood how a famous person could possibly cope with the horror of modern media.”
“It’s a challenge. That’s another reason I found that journalist outside just now so off-putting. I’m not used to a stranger knowing where I’m going to be during the weekend. And I’m not planning to launch my own winter collection, so I guess I have to deal with baseless speculation already too.”
Taeyeon nodded in commiseration. With disappointment she spotted the waiter zipping towards them and realised she had been steadily and absently sipping her water until the glass was half empty. She sat through his tending with a tight smile and he reassured them their food would be ready soon. When he was gone again she let out a sigh and fiddled with the glass, turning it in her hands but not drinking from it.
“You should come with me.”
Taeyeon looked up. “What?”
“To the photoshoot,” Tiffany clarified. She didn’t blink much as she watched Taeyeon and it made it seem like she had a lot to say but didn’t say it.
“Really? Would I be allowed?”
“Sure, especially if it’s with me. I mean, you don’t have to tell them you’re a document controller,” Tiffany almost laughed, “but you can just tell them you’re my – my friend and it’ll be fine.”
Taeyeon nearly wondered why Tiffany seemed to say something else when she used the term ‘friend’, but she knew they both knew. Unlike when she introduced Taeyeon as her friend earlier, it was different when they were alone.
“Okay,” Taeyeon said. “I think I’d like that.”
The set itself wasn’t particularly interesting. Lacking in child-like naivety, Taeyeon knew it was just another workplace, and the people certainly reflected that. They were focussed and professional, except for a few hanging around the buffet table presumably gossiping. The celebrity in question was probably the guy posing in front of the camera. At least it was interesting to watch someone move around and stand with comparatively odd facial expressions for a few minutes. Celebrities on magazine covers always seemed to be trying hard to convey a look that was different from normal people. In Taeyeon’s mind it was amusing and annoying.
Tiffany talked her through some of the details of the photoshoot, telling her about the usual processes and pointing out the wardrobe section where various outfits were prepared. The photographer was not in the fashion industry but often took pictures for movies and TV. Tiffany related this to the action-packed image that a fitness magazine would capture.
Taeyeon nodded along, quietly impressed with how comfortable Tiffany seemed here. Strategizing about images and appearances was clearly her specialty, Taeyeon knew that, but seeing Tiffany analysing every aspect of the professional environment was incredibly attractive.
As soon as the photographer called for a twenty minute break, Tiffany squeezed Taeyeon’s hand and went over to her client.
Are you free to talk right now?
Taeyeon glared at her phone. She didn’t know why she was angry so suddenly but at the same time she knew it wasn’t the type of anger that had a specific reason or a particular direction. She was just mad at life, and the sight of a message from her sister rapidly brought this to the surface even here in the unfamiliar environment of a photoshoot. She swallowed it down.
Not through call, but text is okay. Is something wrong?
She stared at the open conversation, anticipating a quick response. Then she figured it might take her sister some time to type if it was a lengthy answer, so she lowered her arm and the phone dangled by her side. Her eyes swept over the room. Tiffany was chatting with her client as workers changed the set for the next round of photos. There was probably nothing in the way Tiffany’s hand rested on her client’s shoulder; Taeyeon wouldn’t assume that Tiffany wasn’t going to be interested in other people just because of their discussion, but at the very least she was certain Tiffany would never date a client.
Her hand had been on his shoulder for quite a while, though. Tiffany would probably never date a client but Taeyeon started thinking that maybe some friendly flirting was not entirely off the table. She shook her head at herself. Tiffany was a friendly person, and sometimes her behaviour would seem like flirting – but only to someone who assumed that just about any interaction was flirting. Taeyeon was being foolish. Not everything Tiffany did was flirtatious, otherwise she would have been flirting with that woman they ran into before lunch, too, and that was not a thought Taeyeon wanted to entertain.
The phone in her hand was still when she checked it. She sighed and looked around again.
“Well, hello again.”
Taeyeon spun around. She was hardly surprised to recognize the man. He was tucking a small roll of cash into the pocket of his suit. He grinned at her, and gestured at the people around them.
“Show business,” he said, as if in explanation. “It’s become a steady income. The employees in this industry get awfully stressed and need something to energize them from time to time when they work long hours. Greener pastures, remember? It’s much better here. Back home my biggest payers were the council members and that was a little too dicey even for me.”
Taeyeon glanced towards Tiffany, who was now talking with her client over by the wardrobe area. “Look, I’m not your friend or anything. I only went to your little dinner parties three times, it should hardly count.”
“Yeah, you sure did get out of that whole game pretty quick, didn’t you?” His voice was light with reminiscence. “Well, that’s all right. I could tell you never really liked it anyway. It’s smart. You could have ended up like every other deadbeat addict in that town if you didn’t stop yourself. Good for you – and I really do mean that.”
Taeyeon swallowed nervously. “So why do you keep talking to me? Just pretend you don’t know me.”
His smile was softer when he answered, “Honestly? You remind me of your brother.”
Taeyeon’s eyes widened. Her heart sank lower as her chest deflated. She stared at the man and he stared back.
“Well, what am I supposed to say to that?” she muttered.
He chuckled. “Nothing. It’s fine. I’m not going to try to be your friend or anything. But every now and then, if I run into you, maybe I’ll say hi. I’d say I’m sorry but I’m not, so I won’t.”
Taeyeon looked at her shoes, unsure of what to do. Then she shrugged and met his gaze again. “Fine. Whatever.”
“You miss him too?”
Taeyeon sighed. “I’ll let you say hi sometimes but we’re not going to talk about it.”
The expression on his face was enough, anyway. He knew she missed her brother without either of them having to say anything more.
“Speaking of which,” he continued after a beat, “I didn’t think there would be a chance that I’d run into you very often, but here you are. You work in this industry?”
“No,” she replied.
He seemed to accept that she would not be elaborating on that. “Okay, then. Maybe I’ll see you around. And a word of advice, or maybe a warning: one day you’ll have to face your past. That includes him.” He gave her a little wave before he walked away and called, “Bye, Taeyeon,” over his shoulder.
“Who was that?”
Again Taeyeon whirled around in surprise. Tiffany was approaching her, without her client. Reflexively Taeyeon wanted to clench her hands into fists when she heard the question and she was reminded of the phone in her hand. She shoved it into her pocket and plastered on an innocent expression.
“No one,” she said. “I mean, I don’t know. He was trying to make conversation.”
Tiffany raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. For the first time Taeyeon was struck with the possibility that Tiffany may have overheard part of the conversation. If she knew the man had called Taeyeon by her first name or what he said before he left, then her act was not only diminished by her lack of skill in lying. Luckily or unluckily, Tiffany chose not to pursue the matter.
“Shall we go? I’m done here,” said Tiffany, adjusting her grip on a folder in her hands.
The ride back to Taeyeon’s car was mostly quiet. The phone in Taeyeon’s pocket seemed to burn a hole into her leg through her pants as Taeyeon thought about all the things that her sister could possibly want to talk to her about. She didn’t want to check with Tiffany sitting right next to her, but it distracted her enough to kill her ability to initiate conversation.
By the time they were standing next to her car in the dim light of the parking garage, Taeyeon was caught off guard when Tiffany tried to hug her. She automatically stepped back and raised her hands.
“Woah,” she squeaked, throat tight with shock.
Tiffany looked surprised, but stepped back and lowered her arms. “Oh…? Sorry, I didn’t….”
Taeyeon straightened up again. “No, I should apologize. I’m not good with stuff like that. I should have told you. I’m sorry.”
Tiffany’s lips twitched into an uncertain smile that Taeyeon could tell was mostly forced, even with good intentions.
“It’s okay. No hugs. I get it.”
“It’s not because of you or what we talked about,” Taeyeon said quietly.
Tiffany nodded without a word, but it was the kind of nod that carried the disappointment of not being given something she innocently wanted. Taeyeon shuffled her feet. She knew Tiffany didn’t have a cruel bone in her body and wouldn’t seek to purposely hurt her physically or emotionally, and that the way she reacted to the denial of a hug was not a manipulation. She repeated this thought a few times, and then she reached out to lightly take hold of Tiffany’s fingers with her own.
“I mean it. I’m not good with physical contact but I do feel safe with you,” she said. “I don’t even mind holding hands with you sometimes, like we’ve done today.” She stepped closer. “I know I already told you I need time, and this is part of that. I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to keep saying sorry, Taeyeon,” Tiffany finally said. She looked at Taeyeon in a very determined way. “I understand.”
Taeyeon wondered if she was willing to try the hug again right now, but reminded herself of that important value of taking it slow, and slightly tightened her hold on Tiffany’s fingers instead.
“We…” she hesitated. “We live in different worlds. I’ve enjoyed getting to see more of yours, and you’re seeing more of mine. And I know you’re capable of understanding a lot about my world, just like I’m learning about yours with every moment I spend with you. So far, I’ve been quite surprised. But I like it.”
Tiffany blinked at her and the action showed that her eyelashes were long enough to touch the hair that was falling into her face. “I wasn’t sure if you enjoyed seeing the photoshoot, you seemed kind of bored.”
Taeyeon smiled sheepishly.
“But I know what you mean,” Tiffany added softly. She squeezed Taeyeon’s hand, and let go.
Again, Tiffany demonstrated her ability to leave Taeyeon with an earnest feeling in her mind. Something about her made Taeyeon sense a kind of happiness that she wasn’t entirely familiar with. Once Tiffany was gone and she was alone beside her car, she took a few slow breaths.
Her phone was heavy and warm in her hand, the light from the screen too bright in the darkness.
Why did you leave me?