“Make peace with yourself, kid.”
How simple for her to say. How dare she – she was just some old woman – what did she know? Nothing, not about Taeyeon’s life or any other life at all. Make peace? How much could she possibly know about this world if she thought that was ever possible; least of all making peace with oneself? Some old woman had no right to say that, and no basis to believe that.
All these things Taeyeon thought as she scrunched the steering wheel. Traffic was thick tonight, but the glittering city lights had generally not lost their novelty. Coming from a small country town, she often didn’t mind being stuck in her car, practically stationary in one long stretch of street, because all of this was so new and so special to her.
Tonight, however, she was steaming. She still didn’t care about being stuck in traffic, but the uniqueness of the city surroundings took a back seat to her single-focused anger.
The crap that woman had spouted – it was nothing more than the old “love yourself before you can love others” bullshit. The gall to say that she had to make peace with herself before she could make peace with anyone else; it made her burn. And so what if she wasn’t capable of loving anyone else because of her own self-hatred? She wasn’t looking for anyone to love. Anyone who tried to change that was wasting their time and could fall off a cliff for all she cared.
And what was up with calling her “kid”? She was almost thirty, for goodness’ sake. No one was allowed to call her a child even if they were related.
Taeyeon rapped her fingers on the steering wheel in frustration.
She shook her head.
She huffed, and muttered, “Why would anyone bother, anyway?”
There was no point in making peace with herself or with anyone else. She didn’t need it. She didn’t want it. She was doing perfectly fine without it. Why should she care?
Her foot briefly pressed down on the gas pedal, making the car’s engine rev. She clicked her tongue.
That crazy old lady.
“You need to settle down,” she mimicked in a high-pitched voice. “Sort out the problems, smooth over the messes. Rebuild the bridges you’ve burned.”
Traffic finally moved, and she followed the line automatically. Her attention slowly leaked over to her driving. With steadily increasing effort, she made her way through the streets and the clenching press of cars. However, her thoughts refused to stray from their previous concentration. Her mind continued to ring with the words she’d just heard from her grandmother – and the lingering image of a childish concept of Taeyeon with a goofy smile throwing scribbled hearts at random people, holding hands with some angelic human.
No one was perfect, and the old lady needed to accept that. There was no happy ending, there was no ideal person, there were no seamless relationships, and there was no such thing as true love.
The fact that she’d had to waste almost an hour with that old woman when they hadn’t even known about each other’s existence until a few days ago was what made her even more annoyed. Taeyeon was a busy person, and to go through the effort of searching for her lost family members only to be stuck with some idealistic foolish old bat only reinforced her dismissive opinions. There was nothing to be dreamed of, here. It was pointless.
Taeyeon was still alone.
She gritted her teeth as she turned in to the parking garage connected to her office building, barely giving time for the machine to read her card and allow the barrier to rise. The tyres screeched as she went through the maze to her reserved spot.
The door slammed behind her as she swung it shut, juggling her keys and phone in the other hand, and she strode to the elevator with heavy steps.
All that time spent tracking down her grandmother. All the thoughts she’d had about what she would do if she could find her parents or even a stray sibling. All the emotions she didn’t restrict when she still had a chance to avoid disappointment.
She jabbed the button for the top floor five times, rapidly, and then the button to close the doors. The faster it could move, the better.
As it rose, she was glad that she’d removed the elevator music the moment she became General Manager. They used to have some god-awful jingles that would circulate all day long – which were a stupid waste of money and she’d made sure everyone was aware of it. Now she could be taken to her office without the taunting of that horrible sound.
The moment the doors opened, she swept down the corridor. With one hand, she shoved her phone into her pocket and flicked through her keychain to get the one for her office door.
Then she stopped.
In an office beside hers, the door was open and a desk lamp was on. It illuminated the presence of Tiffany, who’d been promoted to regional manager last year and was doing really well, most likely because she stayed at work until ten o’clock at night.
Tiffany looked up at the sound of Taeyeon’s keys, and their eyes met.
“Oh.” Tiffany stood, and bowed slightly. “I’m sorry; I didn’t expect that you would return tonight.”
“You’re here,” Taeyeon said, with an awkward pause, “late, I mean, you’re here quite late.”
“Yeah, I had some things I wanted to finish,” Tiffany replied, waving at her computer screen and the piles of paper surrounding it. “I had hoped to be done by now but, oh well. It takes as long as it takes.”
They watched each other. Tiffany tilted her head.
“Are you okay? Did you forget something in your office?”
Taeyeon shook her head, partly as an answer and partly to rouse herself.
“Uh, no. I just wanted to come do some work. I’ve had a bad night.”
Tiffany was genuinely surprised. “You come here to do more work when you’re having a bad night? Wouldn’t that be the last thing you’d want?”
Taeyeon shrugged. She didn’t feel like explaining and didn’t know how to do it anyway, and even though the unexpected encounter with Tiffany had chased her angry thoughts from her head, she still felt the residual frustration and wanted to get away. Her office was her safe space. She felt comfortable there, like she was exactly where she was meant to be. As a piece of a puzzle, she fit right in.
“I’ll leave you to your work, Tiffany. Don’t stay too long. Resting is important.”
They’d always been casual around each other. Taeyeon never felt the need to reinforce the hierarchy with Tiffany, feeling more like a direct equal because they had similar attitudes to their work. When Taeyeon said something about the company, Tiffany understood perfectly. They dealt with things the same way. The other regional managers needed some poking and prodding, and needed to take her seriously when she gave them instructions. Tiffany just listened right away and knew what to do.
So it wasn’t surprising when Tiffany stepped out from behind her desk and came closer to Taeyeon instead of bowing and returning to her work.
“Are you sure you’re all right? You seem kind of tense. More tense than usual, and I would guess that it’s not good for this time of night.”
Taeyeon looked down, fiddling with the keys still in her hand. She sniffed, and shifted her shoulders. “Nothing. I’m just busy. Work has been hellish lately.”
Tiffany laughed slightly. “Tell me about it. I’m having trouble keeping up with it even though I’ve been staying late for a month.”
“You don’t have to stay late, you know,” said Taeyeon. She smiled half-heartedly at Tiffany. “You’re already the best regional manager by a mile and you’ve had the job for a shorter time than the rest of them.”
“That doesn’t mean I can be slack about my work. I want to do my absolute best,” Tiffany stated firmly.
Her determination was endearing.
“Well, just don’t push yourself too hard. Take a night off every once in a while or you’ll burn yourself out.”
Tiffany was still looking at her with a serious gaze, assessing her. “Are you just going to stay here all night?”
Taeyeon rolled her eyes. “What does it matter? I have work to do.”
“You just told me to take a night off every once in a while and you expect me to accept that you’re above that?”
“Okay,” said Taeyeon, almost laughing, “this is too much now. I’m going to my office. Good night, Tiffany.”
She made to keep walking, eyes on the door with her name on it.
The voice pulled her back involuntarily, causing her to hesitate and half turn back around. She glanced at Tiffany, who stepped closer.
“How about we both take a night off? Like, tonight. Right now. We can go get a drink and hang out.”
Taeyeon narrowed her eyes. Getting a drink and hanging out was not something she did. It sounded like it was meant to be done with a friend or on a date. Taeyeon didn’t invest much in either of those.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “I’m busy.”
“Are you really?” Tiffany asked, eyebrows rising. “It’s the middle of the night, Taeyeon. You said you’ve had a bad time tonight, so let’s go out and do something fun and relaxing.”
Taeyeon shook her head again. “No. Really, no. I’m going to do some work now.”
This time she almost made it another step before a touch on her arm turned her around. Tiffany was much closer now, in her space, and her keys were covered by another hand.
“Taeyeon, you shouldn’t do this to yourself.”
She shook off the hand and moved back, temper flaring. “No, you shouldn’t do this. Why won’t you let me go to work?”
Tiffany breathed out her exasperation.
“Why won’t you be honest with yourself? You were never good at letting me be there for you before we slept together, either.”
Taeyeon glanced around, unreasonably paranoid. “We had a one night stand; it’s not really something to talk about in the office even if it is the middle of the night.”
“You can’t just treat me so coldly,” said Tiffany. “And you can’t do this when you’re in a bad mood. You need to stop burying yourself in work all the time.”
“Don’t tell me what to do. No one has the right to do that, and I don’t need it.”
“Well then why don’t we talk about what you need, huh? You said all this crap about not needing relationships but even though it was just one night, we had something and you can’t throw that away.”
“Yes, I can,” Taeyeon gritted out. “Here I go, throwing it away.”
She made it to her office door and jammed the key into the lock angrily, aware of Tiffany watching her, and flicked on her desk lamp as soon as she was in.
Their one night stand was not something she thought about, let alone talked about. It was a moment of confusion on her part and she wasn’t interested in dwelling on it. She learned what she could from the mistake and left it in her past, that was her policy and she was sticking with it. A brief fault in her system was not something to get emotional about – no matter what Tiffany said about it.
“At least tell me what happened tonight,” said Tiffany.
She’d followed her into the office and stood in the doorway, hands by her sides and her face honest and open.
They squared off in the dimness of the office.
“Look, I don’t owe you anything.”
Tiffany threw her arms up and turned her gaze briefly to the ceiling in frustration. “Are you serious right now?”
“Yes,” said Taeyeon, her voice grave. “You can back off. I don’t need you in my life, and I don’t need to fix things with you.”
“So you admit things are broken?”
Taeyeon’s jaw clenched but she didn’t say anything. Tiffany took the opportunity to approach, coming to a stop directly in front of her.
“It’s been five weeks. We’ve stayed professional, and we’ve been doing our jobs amazingly well. I took it like an adult when you told me we can’t date and when you brushed me off. But I can’t do it like that anymore. I can’t let you wear yourself down with work and anger because you don’t want to face the truth.”
Taeyeon felt like a bird with ruffled feathers or a cat with dishevelled fur. Her anger from the drive to the office building came back to prick at her, along with all the things about making peace and rebuilding bridges. But she didn’t believe there was any point, even with Tiffany standing right here in front of her. There really was no such thing as true love or a happy ending, and Taeyeon was alone. No one could change that.
“And what makes you think you know the truth better than I do?”
“Because I’ve seen the real truth. You pushed it down and you pushed me away.”
She reached forward, and cupped Taeyeon’s face in her hands as if to keep her there.
“I saw you that night. You were happy. We laughed and we had fun and you let me mean something to you. I know that’s the truth, and so do you.”
Taeyeon shook her head, gently enough that she didn’t dislodge Tiffany’s touch. She didn’t have anything to say in her defence. She did have fun with Tiffany, and she did feel something special. It didn’t change the fact that it was also a mistake.
Her cheek tingled when Tiffany’s thumb brushed along her skin.
The kiss was familiar, expected, and soft. Tiffany didn’t want to push too far and probably felt like she was making some progress because Taeyeon kissed her back.
They stayed close.
“Even if I make peace with you, I can’t make peace with myself,” Taeyeon admitted.
Tiffany kissed her again. She let her hands sink to Taeyeon’s shoulders, taking a firm hold and pulling her closer.
“Taeyeon, you’re lonely but you’re not alone. Okay? I’m here.”
She pushed away, flicking Tiffany’s embrace off her shoulders and taking a few steps. With her back turned to Tiffany, she ran a hand over her face and took a deep breath.
It was all just a waste of time.
“At least one night.”
She tilted her head, listening.
“How about one more night? This isn’t about making peace with me or with yourself. It’s not about a relationship or facing a truth you don’t want to accept. We’re going to get a drink and have fun. Like last time.”
“You deserve better than that, Tiffany.”
“This isn’t about what I deserve or about what’s necessary and what’s not. I want you and you want me. This is about us, just us.”
“You want to sleep together again so we can go through all this in another month’s time?”
Tiffany lightly took her hand and made her turn around. “I want,” she said slowly, “you. And that’s what this is.”
Taeyeon shook her head, frowning.
She thought of what her grandmother said – her grandmother whose existence was largely inconsequential to her and had no influence on her life beyond the passing along of DNA – and how that was perfectly accurate for her. Whether the old lady knew it or not, she’d struck a nerve in Taeyeon because it was so obvious that she was right. All the bridges in her life were burned, all her relationships with people were kept superficial and professional, and her heart was locked down because she couldn’t stand herself. She didn’t see how anyone could, and clearly no one had until this point so she must’ve been right. No family, no friends, no love. It was not a good kind of peace.
But here stood Tiffany.
After a year of working together and one night of getting carried away with their feelings, she still wanted Taeyeon.
“Just think about tonight,” Tiffany said after a while.
She was holding Taeyeon’s hand, running her thumb over Taeyeon’s knuckles soothingly. With her other arm, she encircled Taeyeon’s waist and brought them closer together. They stood in the near darkness of the office.
“You had a bad night and we’re going to relax,” continued Tiffany. “That’s it. This is not about your whole life. You need a break from work; I need a break from work. I happen to think you’re pretty cool; you don’t mind being in my presence. We’ll have some drinks. We’ll talk about stuff. We’ll make some jokes.”
“And then we’ll sleep together; and tomorrow we’ll go back to work like pros?” Taeyeon asked quietly, cynically.
Tiffany smiled slightly. “If that’s what you want.”
“And if I want,” Taeyeon paused to emphasize the term, “to have some drinks, tell you what happened tonight and why I’m lonely and angry; and I want to ask your forgiveness and accept the truth…?”
“That’s an option too.”
“It can go either way.”
Tiffany nodded, and then she looked expectant.
Taeyeon looped her arms around Tiffany’s hips, and she echoed the nod.
“Okay. Let’s go have some drinks, and we’ll talk.”
Maybe she didn’t have to love herself before she loved someone else if she could work on both at the same time without malfunctioning.