If she closes her eyes for long enough, Tiffany enters into a dream, and in that dream she is able to see her daughter.
Even though only three weeks have passed since she confirmed the pregnancy, the child she sees in her dream is undoubtedly hers. She has Tiffany’s eyes, Tiffany’s mouth, but she has a little dimple in the corner of her mouth when she smiles and her ears are slightly too big. Her hair is straight and long, and Tiffany can so comfortably imagine how it feels beneath her fingers.
Always after this dream when Tiffany opens her eyes, she puts a hand on her stomach. She has no idea if the baby is a girl, or if she’ll look at all like the child in her dream, but there’s something about the way it makes her feel. She wants to chase that dream so that she can explore it further, and get to know her daughter, and it excites her that she’ll really be able to meet her baby in a few months.
But in the meantime, Tiffany has to work. So she stops dreaming, and looks up when a customer approaches the register. It’s a young woman who smiles nervously, and the sight of her dimple immediately makes Tiffany feel comfortable. Maybe it’s slightly weird that the woman’s dimple reminds her of her dream-daughter, and that this makes her feel comfortable, but presumably none of this is obvious to the customer.
“Hi,” Tiffany greets, “how are you today?”
The young woman clears her throat briefly before responding, “Great, thanks, and you?”
Tiffany eyes her. The woman places a loaf of bread between them. “I’m just fine. Lovely weather today.”
The woman glances outside, as if noticing the world for the first time. “Oh, right. So it is.”
Tiffany smiles at her, and scans the bread. She has to tap a few buttons on the machine to get the right product, but she’s distracted suddenly.
“Are you pregnant?”
Tiffany pins the woman with her gaze, and she doesn’t know what to say at first.
“Sorry!” The woman runs a hand over her face. “Okay, that was stupid of me. I just saw you, earlier, you had a hand on your stomach and you seemed really happy so I thought maybe you’re pregnant and I just wanted to know, I guess. Sorry, I shouldn’t have asked, especially not so bluntly, that was incredibly rude.”
Tiffany looked down for a moment, and rested a hand over her abdomen. When she meets the woman’s eyes again, she makes sure to smile. “It’s okay. You surprised me, but you’re right. I am pregnant.”
The woman takes a moment to accept this, and then she nods. “Cool. I mean, that’s great. Congratulations.”
“Thanks,” Tiffany says politely, and returns her focus to the cash register.
“Are you married?”
This time Tiffany looks incredulously at her, and the woman shuffles awkwardly.
“I’m sorry,” she says, closing her eyes and scrunching her face. “I’m really stupid. I just have this theory, like, you know it’s 2015 now, this country has been writing news about the declining birth rate, the declining marriage rate, the number of single women – I’m sorry. I’ll stop. I have no filter sometimes.”
Tiffany watches her for a long, hard moment. The woman coughs and looks away, before seemingly deciding not to avoid her, and reciprocates the stare.
“I’m not married, no,” Tiffany says eventually, running a finger over her left hand. “I’m single.”
“Oh, so the –” She stops herself, biting her lip. “Never mind. I’m sorry. Again.”
Tiffany feels almost bad for her. “It’s okay. The father of the baby is not involved anymore. He left before I found out about it.”
“You haven’t told him?”
Standing at the cash register of a convenience store in the middle of the afternoon talking to a stranger about personal things is uncomfortable but not all that bad. Sure, Tiffany knows it’s awkward, but is there really any harm in holding a conversation with this woman? Well, maybe she should find out her name at some point, at least.
“No. I doubt he’d be interested. And I don’t want him to be involved with the baby’s life.” Tiffany appreciates the look of understanding in the woman’s eyes. “He’s kind of a jerk.”
Her lips twitch with a smile. Then it’s as if she suddenly remembers the existence of the bread, and she looks at it. Tiffany blushes, and goes back to punching in the product code since the machine isn’t working properly anyway.
“Um,” the woman’s quiet voice tries. She clears her throat quickly again. “I’m Taeyeon.”
Tiffany glances at her. “Nice to meet you, Taeyeon. I’m Tiffany.” She briefly gestures to the nametag on her chest but Taeyeon has obviously already seen it.
“Sorry about all the questions,” Taeyeon says. “I figured I should at least introduce myself so you know I’m not a serial killer or something.”
Tiffany shrugs. “It’s all right. Well, it was kind of weird, but I’m okay with it.”
Finally the correct product code is in the machine and the transaction continues. Tiffany has to press some of the buttons extra hard but she informs Taeyeon of the total and watches as she reaches for her wallet.
“What was that you were saying about your theory? That stuff about marriage and the birth rate?”
Taeyeon blinks at her, hand still in her pocket. She pulls out her wallet, slower now. “I’m a statistics student. Specifically, I’m doing a Master’s degree in Applied Statistics. The majority of that is a giant research project, and I’ve been looking into national demographical trends over the past few decades.”
Tiffany can’t help that her expression portrays her opinion of that, and it makes Taeyeon become shyer when she notices it.
“It is actually interesting, I swear,” she murmurs, handing over some cash.
Tiffany grins at her and takes the money.
“Anyway, I’ve been noticing a few things about the number of marriages and the birth rate,” Taeyeon continues. “I mean, plenty of experts have been writing about it for years and technically my theories are completely unsubstantiated but I just think if there was more concrete data on the number of single parents and information on their circumstances for being a single parent, then there would be less of a stigma around having a child on your own. A lot of the data is marred by the number of parents who are together when the kid is born and only become single parents later, after the data has been recorded as a child born to two parents. Everyone gets scared when they’re left with a baby on their own, but there’s no fact that says they have to be scared of anything that other parents aren’t also scared of.”
Tiffany can’t help but stare at her, finger still on the button that makes the cash register pop open. Never before has she heard something that’s confusing and yet at the same time makes perfect sense.
“That’s,” she starts, then frowns, “that’s interesting.”
“Told you it’s interesting,” Taeyeon says, smiling, but she’s sheepish, looking down at her feet and back at Tiffany. “So, I felt obligated to ask you some questions when I thought you might be pregnant.”
Tiffany glances down at her stomach, and briefly touches it again. “Well, what would you have done if I was just fat? That would’ve been even more awkward.”
“Ah, I planned for that, you see,” Taeyeon says with a knowing expression. “I was going to turn and run away really fast – without the bread, of course.” She nods at her purchase. “Besides, you’re not showing that much yet.” This time she’s looking at Tiffany’s abdomen.
Once again Tiffany has to remind herself to keep working, and she gets Taeyeon’s change from the cash register quickly. So far there are no other customers, but she doesn’t want to get caught slacking off, talking to Taeyeon. She gives Taeyeon a good once-over when she hands her a few coins, and she considers.
“You seem like you really care about your research,” Tiffany says. She rests her hip against the side of the counter between them, and crosses her arms. “The subject matter must be close to your heart.”
Taeyeon pauses in the act of shoving coins into her pocket. She meets Tiffany’s gaze, and her eyes are quiet and reserved.
“It’s a good research project,” she says, perhaps a little defensively.
“Yeah, it really is. As a soon-to-be single mother, I appreciate that you’re going to be looking at the subject from that point of view.”
Taeyeon smiles. “Thanks for answering my questions. I know it was weird. Technically I won’t be able to use your responses in my project anyway, but I liked the extra insight.”
Tiffany tilts her head to one side. “You know, if you wanted some more insight, we could exchange numbers and meet up some time.”
The look of surprise on Taeyeon’s face gives Tiffany a feeling of affectionate amusement. What really makes her heart warm, though, is when Taeyeon grins and immediately agrees.
Taeyeon has a number of questions prepared next time they meet. Tiffany manages to get her to wait until they’ve ordered their coffee and settled down at a table outside, and then she lets Taeyeon begin asking. The café is close to the beach. Tiffany can almost smell the ocean from here and it puts her in the perfect mood for answering questions.
“So, since the father of your baby left before you knew you were pregnant, would it be accurate to say it was unplanned?”
Tiffany raises her eyebrows. “Getting straight to the good stuff, I see. Yes, it was incredibly unplanned.”
Taeyeon nods, clearly not surprised at the confirmation. “How long were you in a relationship with him?”
“About six months.”
“Were you raised by a single parent?”
Tiffany takes a breath. Their coffee arrives at the table, and she lets it be a distraction for a few minutes, adds sugar and stirs, takes a sip. Then she answers.
“Not at first. Up until I was eight years old, there was my mother and father. Then my mother passed away, and from then on it was just my dad.”
Taeyeon fiddles idly with her own cup of coffee, seemingly lost in thought, but Tiffany thinks it’s probably just to give her some time.
“Do you have any siblings?”
“Two. Both older.”
“So it became a one-parent, three-child household? That must have been tough.”
Tiffany leans back in her chair, and wonders. “Yeah, I guess it was. But we were happy.”
“Do they know you’re pregnant?”
That is practically a million-dollar question, because that is the issue that Tiffany has been wrestling with ever since she found out about the pregnancy. She knows her family would never abandon her, but she’s struggling to find the words to say “hey, I’m pregnant and single” in the least crisis-inducing way.
“I’ll take that as a no,” Taeyeon says eventually.
Tiffany bites her bottom lip. “Yeah, I’m still working on that.”
“How long have you known?”
“About three weeks. I just don’t know how to tell them,” Tiffany sighs. “My dad is going to freak out and get all over-protective.”
This makes Taeyeon smile. “Well, there are worse things.”
Tiffany leans forward. “Can I ask you some questions?”
Taeyeon blinks. “You want to ask me questions?”
“Yeah. If I may.”
“Um.” Taeyeon shifts in her seat, reaches out and touches the coffee cup in front of her before resting her hands in her lap. “Sure.”
“Were you raised by a single parent? You seem like you actually care about this as more than an academic assessment.”
Taeyeon shrugs. “Not a single parent, exactly.” Her gaze settles on Tiffany. “I’m an orphan. I had a few people who fostered me and tried to help me as much as they could… but no single parent.”
The words seem like they can go either way. Many parental figures rather than just one, or not even one parent at all.
“So you want to do this research to show…?”
“To show people that they shouldn’t be scared to be a single parent,” Taeyeon says. “The kid in the equation will likely be happy to have a parent at all, and that should be enough to give anyone strength.”
“Do you know what happened to your family?”
Taeyeon shakes her head tightly. A breeze picks up around them, strengthening the smell of the ocean, and the dark clouds in the distance suggest an incoming summer storm. This is a conversation for another time, another place, because even though they’ve advanced from convenience store conversations, they’re not quite here yet.
“Let’s go for a walk on the beach,” says Tiffany.
She ends up being glad that she suggested this. The sight of the water and the feeling of the sand between the toes of their bare feet seems to lighten Taeyeon’s mood after the conversation went downward. Tiffany watches her kicking up shells and laughing at the sand that sprays into the air. It’s easy to picture a younger version of Taeyeon doing the same. Tiffany can’t help but wonder who would have left behind a kid like Taeyeon. Her mind turns to the life developing in her womb, and she knows the fierce determination she feels is more than a matter of natural instinct.
They try to mimic a snowball fight with the sand, which almost goes horribly wrong but they still end up rolling around on the beach with sandy faces and gulping laughs.
When Tiffany daydreams about her daughter again, this time they’re playing together on the beach and Tiffany gets to imagine her daughter’s playful giggles and the wind toying with her hair.
She hasn’t told Taeyeon about her imaginings. They’ve been spending a lot of time together, talking about kids and parents and hobbies and interests and food, but just like explaining to her father that she’s pregnant, Tiffany can’t find the words to explain the dream-time she spends with her unborn daughter.
It’s not like she thinks it would be bad to tell Taeyeon about the daydreams. Taeyeon seems like a very open-minded person who looks for the valuable treasures in every encounter. Her attitude towards the details is one full of anticipation and appreciation. She has a surprisingly happy way of looking at things – and sure, Tiffany only thinks it’s surprising because Taeyeon clearly had a rough start to life, but she tries not to let that be an issue. She knows Taeyeon wouldn’t want to be pitied, but what Tiffany feels is more akin to admiration.
And anyway, Taeyeon already has a good opinion of the way Tiffany thinks about her child. She even says so.
“You’ll be a good mother.” They’re stretched out on a pile of blankets in front of the TV, windows open and volume low. “Your kid is barely the size of an orange and you’re wholly devoted to it already.”
Tiffany scrunches her nose. “Ew, don’t call my baby an ‘it’. Just because it’s the size of an orange doesn’t mean it is an orange.”
Taeyeon laughs. “No, I guess it wouldn’t be very interesting if all you had in there was an orange. But you don’t want to know the sex of that little orange before it gets born as a real life human baby, so I don’t know its sex either.”
The bump of her stomach is already more prominent. Tiffany doesn’t want to know the sex of the baby because she doesn’t want the dreams to end. She lays a hand over her unborn child and imagines an orange with eyes and a smile.
“Now I can’t stop thinking of an orange in there,” she whines, and whacks Taeyeon on the arm. The action elicits only further laughter.
Outside, the light breeze becomes stronger, and Tiffany slowly picks herself off the floor and goes to close the window before the storm hits. Taeyeon is quick to jump up and help. She even pours them each a glass of orange juice, chortling all the while at Tiffany’s expression.
Tiffany likes this. She never spends much time agonizing over the loss of her so-called boyfriend, preferring to focus on the incoming baby, and she never feels particularly bad that he will no longer be a part of her life because she is preparing to do this on her own. But it turns out there are a lot of benefits to having Taeyeon around, and lazy afternoons like this are a definite plus.
“I mean it,” Taeyeon says quietly, later, when the sun is setting and they can see it from their nest on the floor. “You’ll be a great mother. You care so much about that kid.”
Tiffany turns her head to look at her – to really look at her. Taeyeon is a young woman without a family, who has made it a goal in the form of academic research to prove to anyone at all that being a single parent should be life-affirming as if the power of numbers makes it a solid fact. When Taeyeon says something like that, about caring for a child, her voice shows how much she really means it. Taeyeon is someone who treasures that kind of love in the way only someone who’s lost it can.
She reaches over and takes Taeyeon’s hand, twines their fingers together. “How could I not? That’s not just some orange in there. It’s a human; a person who is going to be born so tiny and so precious. That person is going to be a little bit like me but a whole lot like an individual human. One day, that person is going to be an adult with dreams and opinions and a life that has good moments and bad, and that person will have to make difficult decisions and live with tragedies. I love that person no matter what.”
When Taeyeon curls up next to her and cries, Tiffany knows it’s because her words were meant for Taeyeon as much as for the baby. Whatever led to Taeyeon becoming an orphan, she never did anything to deserve it.
And as for that –
“I guess my mother never loved me like you love your child,” Taeyeon whispers. “Because she just left me like I was nothing. She probably thinks I don’t even remember her.”
Tiffany closes her eyes. She lays an arm around Taeyeon’s shoulders, pulling her closer.
“Maybe she thought she was doing the right thing,” Tiffany murmurs in reply. “And in a way, maybe it was the best thing for you. If she couldn’t become a mother, at least she let you become yourself.”
Taeyeon reciprocates the embrace and it’s tighter than any hug Tiffany has ever felt before.
Having had several years to contemplate the subject, Tiffany has already reached the conclusion that her mother’s death was not in any way related to her behaviour as a child or anything that her mother did intentionally. It was an accident. There is no such thing as being too young, or a concept of fairness. It happened, and had it not happened then Tiffany may have found cause to be displeased with her mother in the same way she is at times displeased with her father. The way she came to the realization that her parents were only human has become the same way that she loves her child for being only human, too.
They spend a lot more time like that over the next few weeks, curled up on the floor of Tiffany’s lounge, and they get to enjoy views of warm sunsets as well as falling asleep to storms lashing against the windows. The little orange in Tiffany’s womb keeps growing into a little human and Tiffany’s heart is growing with it. Before she had love within her for her family, herself, and the general populace in a blanketing kind of way. Now there needs to be room for her baby, and then there’s Taeyeon inching into it too. She’s not like everyone else.
Tiffany does finally come clean to her family about the pregnancy. They act as expected, but then they make her cry because there’s a group hug and her father is doing his over-protective thing but he’s also tearing up slightly because he’s going to be a grandfather for the first time and his little girl is all grown up. She’s graced with their support and it feels amazing.
The next time she sees Taeyeon, she hugs her again. This is the first time they’re hugging without some form of sadness involved, and it obviously catches Taeyeon off guard.
“Um, thanks?” says Taeyeon, sounding uncertain but returning the squeeze without hesitation. “What’s this about?”
Tiffany closes her eyes, and leans her head against Taeyeon’s. “Just spreading the love.”
Taeyeon thinks about this for a while. “You told your family?”
“Good.” Taeyeon’s arms around her waist shift slightly, getting a better grip, and they stand together for a long time.
They spend almost a whole night arguing about what to watch on TV before Tiffany kisses Taeyeon for the first time. It’s been two months since they met. It seems like those weeks have gone fast but she’s gotten to know Taeyeon at a depth that makes it feel like years. Their differing taste in horror movies leads to an hour long debate followed by endless scrolling through options while the light from the screen falls on their faces. When Taeyeon is explaining how crappy the sequels were to just about all the classics from their childhood, Tiffany leans forward and presses their lips together.
She knows she shouldn’t. It’s not like she’s given it much thought before, but the reasons have always been lurking in the background. Not only is the room so dark that she almost kissed Taeyeon’s nose instead of her mouth, Tiffany is well and truly pregnant and they’ve only known each other for two months. So maybe it wasn’t the best time – there wasn’t likely to be a best time. In a few months, Tiffany will have a child to raise; it is inevitable. She can’t expect anything from Taeyeon, and she doesn’t. She just kisses her.
Taeyeon pulls away first, slightly, and licks her lips. “Okay, I guess I don’t have to ask what that was about… but I kind of want to. Just to make sure.”
Tiffany smiles. She looks away, tucking her hair behind her ear. “In case you haven’t noticed, I like you quite a lot.”
Taeyeon reaches up, gently runs her thumb along Tiffany’s jaw, and then lowers her hand to lock their fingers together. “Wanna talk about it?”
“You know.” Tiffany sighs. “Having a child is a big responsibility. I shouldn’t be thinking about dating right now.”
“But you want to date me?” Taeyeon asks, bumping her shoulder against Tiffany’s and shooting her a grin.
Tiffany kisses her again, briefly. “I like what we have. I like spending time with you, hanging out, hugging, holding hands, talking about movies and orange babies, the past and the future.” She lifts up their joined hands and softly sets her lips against Taeyeon’s fingers. “I want to make it a thing. You know?”
Taeyeon’s response is to kiss her, hard, and pull her closer at the same time. She lets go of Tiffany’s hand and touches Tiffany’s neck, then cups her face.
She wonders how she ever kissed anyone else when they never kissed her half as well as Taeyeon does.
There’s a jump in her heartbeat, and then a jump a little lower down.
“Oh my god,” she breathes against Taeyeon’s mouth. “I think the baby just moved.”
They both look down at the bump in her abdomen, Tiffany laying both hands over it.
“Is that even possible at this stage?” Tiffany whispers. “Kid, what are you doing in there?”
“Well if it’s the size of an orange then it’s got to have legs and stuff already, right? Or is it just a head shaped like an orange?”
Tiffany laughs. She looks at Taeyeon again, and she takes in the expression on Taeyeon’s face in the dim light of the TV screen. It’s almost dawn. They’ve shared a moment she was expecting to go through alone, and a whole lot of kisses. She starts to think that she should try having no expectations at all. It’s something that could work out well for now and for later when she has to learn the reality of raising a child.
“You’re okay with this?”
Taeyeon meets her gaze.
Tiffany dips her chin in the direction of her baby. “You know.”
Taeyeon develops a smile slowly, like a map unfurling or wings unfolding. “Yeah, I know. I’m okay with it.”
She kisses Tiffany, and then laughs softly in the grip of their closeness.
“Not it,” she whispers. “That cherished little human.”