Think Twice. (End)

The day was nearing its end by the time Taeyeon and Lee took a walk to the park by the river, not far from their homes.

“Do you know about post-traumatic stress?”

Lee looked at her sceptically. “Yeah, some soldiers get that, right?”

Taeyeon sat down beside him on the park bench and turned her eyes to the river before them. “Yes, many veterans battle with PTSD after their experiences in war zones, but I’m not talking about that specifically. Post-traumatic stress can come from many causes and in many forms, not just the shell-shock type of disorder.”

He didn’t say anything, and they watched the ducks floating towards them. Taeyeon reached into the small bag she’d brought along. Carefully, she broke the slices of bread into smaller pieces and tossed them into the water.

“I hear bread is bad for birds,” said Lee eventually.

She paused, hand in mid-air. “Oh. Is that so?”

“If they have too much of it, their digestive systems can’t cope. Or something like that. I don’t know how dangerous it is exactly. But I mean, their natural diet is insects and stuff so it makes sense that bread would be too different for them.”

She pondered the bread in her hand. She lowered her arm. “Interesting.”

“Why did you bring up PTSD?”

Once all the bread was back in the bag and she’d settled it on the bench beside her, she leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest. “Trauma, in the non-physical sense of the word, is a distressing and disturbing experience. You are mentally and emotionally disrupted – not always just one identifiable moment. What you feel affects you and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

The ducks, disappointed by the sudden removal of their treat, dissipated their crowd and spread out along the water.

“The kind of trauma I’m talking about leaves similar mental marks to that of a soldier in a warzone but at the same time it’s different. Someone who is powerless to defend themselves on a level they are incapable of comprehending is mistreated and exposed to behaviour that damages them and everything they know in the world. What do you think happens to someone in that situation?”

Lee hung his head. Taeyeon looked at him, her body tense.

“I think you know what happens. I think we both do. They begin to change at that very moment and for every second of their life after. When they become aware of what happened, and what they went through or are still going through, it’s too late. They’re still stuck as that powerless kid being broken without knowing what’s going on.”

She leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees, and tried to look at his face as he stayed slumped on the bench.

“We can’t change the past. Where we’re at now, when we know with more clarity about what it all means; we feel like we should be able to do something about it. But we can’t. There’s no way to go back to that person stuck in that situation and shake ourselves out of it – so instead we keep being stuck in that person’s head, trying to reach out.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

Taeyeon hesitated, wondering the same thing. She’d wanted to talk to him because of their shared experiences, but what kind of purpose was that? So what if they went through similar problems. It wasn’t enough just to say that to him.

“I want to be honest with you. You’re going to be haunted for the rest of your life.”

This got him to raise his head. The frown on his face was one she knew well. It was the crumpled and pained look of someone who spent a lot of time in a mental state of horror.

“There is no escape,” she said with a tremor to her voice that she didn’t anticipate. “This will never leave you. There’s this thing called ‘recovery’ that people think means it will all go away. It won’t. You will live with the consequences of actions that you had no control over, because of people you trusted and through no fault of your own. It sucks, and that’s going to be your life. But even with all that, you can still have good moments. People like you and me, we’re going to be sad a lot and angry a lot and terrified all the time, and often we go back to the mind of a person who knows what’s being done to them but can’t change it. But we can do things that we like, and be with people who make us feel happy, and achieve things that improve us even if we have to do it slowly and carefully and with so much struggling. We’re never going to stop crying. No one is. But we can smile.”

She felt that in the stare that they shared with each other, she could see him accept this for the first time. Maybe he’d been telling himself it would all be better once he got away, just like she did when she was a kid. Some part of him would have been afraid that it was all he had, that pain and fear.

“Is it worth it?” he asked quietly.

Taeyeon took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. “Do you think anyone really knows with certainty that their future will be worth the effort?”

He looked away and shrugged.

“We’ll just have to stick around and find out,” said Taeyeon.

They both watched the river turn dark as the sun set. Lee didn’t say goodbye as they made their way home.

When Taeyeon was four years old, she received a slingshot as a gift from her brother. It was well-used already and clearly had only been given to her because her brother got a cooler one for his birthday, but Taeyeon enjoyed it immensely, and she spent several weeks with it bonded to her hand. She was always looking for ways to use it – not even reasons to use it or any targets to shoot at with it; just things that she could fling through the air in a way that caused a little cracking sound from the slingshot.

In one particular recurring dream, the slingshot was tucked into the back pocket of her shorts. Her knees were scuffed with dirt, and she had a goofy smile. In that dream the sun was up but not shining all that bright. She was in a field some place, maybe near her family home.

Taeyeon crouched in front of her four-year-old self.

They stared at each other with the same eyes, the same face, the same set shoulders and slightly clenched jaw. Little Taeyeon’s grin was huge but it was tenuous, perilously balancing on the edge where she knew there was happiness being forced through the bars of a prison.

If she was outside, running around, playing with her slingshot, she was happy. It was something four-year-old Taeyeon fervently believed, because the slingshot made things fun again so it was fine.

She tilted her head, watching her four-year-old self do the same as they contemplated each other.

Every now and then she thought about how that little kid became the adult she was now; less inclined to pretend.

The slingshot was pretty cool, though.

The dream ended, feeling brief, and Taeyeon stayed in bed for as long as she could. She stared up at the ceiling. She emptied her mind of all thoughts.

Taeyeon hated the silence. It was why she always listened to music or had a movie playing in the background while she was working. If she didn’t, the silence would press in on her, envelop her head, smother her brain, and she would feel like she was meaningless.

So she listened to some Arctic Monkeys to start the morning, nodding along as she checked her emails.

She had three documents to complete before the end of the week, and only one of them was anywhere near finished. Taeyeon didn’t care much just yet. She could tell already that the next few nights would be relatively sleepless; not because of any new difficulty, but simply an excess of energy that she could feel in her mind. It was neither negative nor positive to experience. She knew it came from the stress that always hung over her head but was comfortable enough with its ability to power her work for a while.

Her constant attempts to clear her mind of all thoughts didn’t do much to stop her from thinking about Tiffany. Now that they were being more open and honest with each other, she found the self-consciousness growing. Here she was, getting used to a lifestyle that was dysfunctional but manageable if barely so, and she knew that even though it was something she was handling on her own; other people would consider it simply awful.

Tiffany wasn’t quite like that though. She found out about Taeyeon’s habit of staying up all night to chase away the bad dreams, and the way she would stop and wallow in her pain when it became too much. She knew that Taeyeon bit back a lot of tears and that Taeyeon wanted to hang her head in shame when she felt sorry for herself. Tiffany was a part of all of it now, just a little, but more than anyone else in Taeyeon’s life had ever been.

On the one hand, Taeyeon was happy to finally have someone like that who could be there for her and care about her well-being while accepting her for whom she was – but on the other hand, the exposure of these parts of her created an amplifying effect.

Or maybe it was just time.

Carrying around a bunch of hurtful thoughts and actions took a toll on her daily abilities. Over time, she fluctuated from weaker to stronger, taking one step forward and falling off a cliff all the way to the bottom again. Eventually these kinds of things wore her down and she couldn’t stop them from growing more robust. Taeyeon didn’t know how today or tomorrow would go, and she didn’t know when her grasp would falter for the last time and she’d drop away completely. The times when she thought she could trust in her future didn’t work out, and an attitude of low expectations made her life a little less dramatic but also very hollow.

Which brought her back to Tiffany.

It wasn’t healthy to be over-attached or dependent on anyone. Taeyeon had learned that early enough in her life. But the fact that Tiffany was the most positive part of her life caused her to gravitate towards the centre of Taeyeon’s world and that scared her – so she chose to ignore it.

She took a long sip of her coffee to transition her mind back to her work. With one hand, she opened a document on her laptop and scrolled through it.

If she could do well with her work, maybe she could consider setting her sights higher once more and stabilizing her life to the point where real improvement was a possibility. There was a lot of maybe and if and imaginary strengths going on but she had work to do so she shrugged off the heaviness and acted as if it wasn’t right behind her.

She managed to get a decent amount of work done before Tiffany arrived that afternoon. It must have been obvious that she would skip lunch in favour of typing away at her computer, because Tiffany was accompanied by two bags of food as she stepped through the doorway.

“I figured your fridge would be under-populated so I brought something to eat, is that okay?” Tiffany started by saying, with only a brief greeting.

Her smile seemed more shy than usual, but the kind of shyness that harboured excitement. The thought that Tiffany was being like this because of Taeyeon was humbling.

“The only drinks I can offer are beer and fruit juice,” Taeyeon remarked, following her into the kitchen. “But food is always welcome. And you, too, of course.”

“How generous of you.”

Taeyeon winked at her, opened the fridge door as Tiffany put the bags on the counter. “So, drink?”

“Just some juice for me, thanks.”

“How has your day been?”

“Pretty good,” Tiffany answered. “Even better now. I still have some things to do but I was hoping I could hang out here and work on it.”

“Of course. I’m doing some work too but if I’m not the only one then at least I won’t be rude.”

Tiffany hummed briefly, watching as Taeyeon got a glass and poured her drink. She stepped closer when the juice was back in the fridge.

“Just one thing.”

Taeyeon turned, and Tiffany took her hand to tug her closer. They kissed slowly. When they moved back, Taeyeon’s mouth quirked into a small smile which Tiffany returned instantly. Yes, Taeyeon could get used to that.

“What are you thinking about?”

She answered honestly, “I’m thinking about you, and how I think I would like to do this more often with you.”

Tiffany grinned. “Do what? Kissing?”

“That, but also pretty much anything. I like having you around, you know.”

Tiffany kissed her again. “Good, because I’m here now.” She separated their hands and started getting food out of bags.

Taeyeon kept thinking about it as they ate their meals and as they settled in the living room with their respective laptops. Tiffany set up some soft music to play in the background – but Taeyeon stared at her documents without making a move.

At first she was just thinking about Tiffany, and about how much she enjoyed being with her, and doing these normal things with her, and the thought of doing this again at any time; or going out to dinner, or going on a trip to the beach, or going to see a movie. She thought about everything she wanted to do with Tiffany and the fact that they were all possible.

And then she thought about her brother; about how he used to help his younger sisters with their homework, and take them on walks through the fields around them, and splash them with water from the creek when they played in the summer. She thought about the times when he allowed her to share his earphones as he listened to his music outside the school gates. When she got too big to be carried on his shoulders he would carry their youngest sister instead, and Taeyeon would run along behind them with her slingshot, threatening to shoot at the back of his knees so that she could hear them both laugh because she’d never do such a thing. And she wouldn’t. They were happy together at times, the three of them, and despite everything else in their lives, they provided each other with a certain kind of resilience. Now all those memories and connections left her with a sour sensation, and a trail of dried tears. She couldn’t think of her brother and sister without feeling the pain she’d been caused all those years.

She thought about the hospital papers, the doctor’s conclusions, the typed words in the newspaper article that spoke of a bright young man who’d been lost to the societal plight of drugs that were reaching the rural areas. They were quick to point fingers at peer pressure, insufficient education about the dangers of drug abuse, and it was to their benefit to say that his overdose had been a result of these troubles – an accident because he didn’t know how much was too much and the villainous drug dealers didn’t care about his safety.

She thought she knew better about why he did it.

In all the years since his death, while she went on her own up-and-down ride through life, she didn’t think about those things. There was no point. She knew what happened and why, and her brother was gone, and she’d abandoned her sister to save herself before she did the same.

Now she wondered if she was ever likely to do what he did.

When she was little, her brother was someone she admired and respected. He was her role model. He smiled and took care of the people he loved, and she wanted to be that kind of person too. But she wasn’t like that. It became even clearer after he was gone. She couldn’t fill his shoes. She wasn’t capable of taking that position. She didn’t stay to protect her sister like their brother had done for them; she ran.

Taeyeon looked over at Tiffany as the thoughts stalled in her head. An uneasy feeling was curling up in her stomach, reaching up to wrench at her chest with dull claws.

It was the same thing over and over again. She was torturing herself because of the past she couldn’t shake and it hadn’t changed. Her present was changing and yet she was still held back by the same memories, the same pain.

Ever since she met Tiffany it was like she was suddenly facing her past head-on after turning her back on it for so long. Was it just really just because it was time? She couldn’t escape forever. Maybe it finally caught up to her.

But no, that didn’t seem right. Nothing else had really changed – only Tiffany. Tiffany was new. She was the biggest shift in her life lately. She’d made Taeyeon think twice about trusting another human being again and about the decisions she made in her past. It was how she was able to be honest with herself, with her sister, with Tiffany.

And Taeyeon realized what it meant.

That sick feeling was there again. It was the burn and churn in her chest that made it seem like she was bubbling up inside. Her heart was beating so fast she couldn’t feel it anymore, but unlike the fluttering that came with excitement, it was more sinister. She was shaking. She stood up slowly.

Tiffany must have sensed something was wrong, because she paused in her typing and frowned over at Taeyeon.

“Are you okay? You look very pale.”

Taeyeon tried to smile as nonchalantly as possible, but it looked more like a weak grimace. “I’m fine. Probably just tired.”

“Been working too much? You know you need to take it easy –”

“No, it’s not work. It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”

She turned away. The action was made less dismissive than she intended by the fact that she wobbled slightly on her feet. Tiffany didn’t waste any more time on questions. She got up from her seat and rested a hand on Taeyeon’s shoulder.

“Really, are you okay? You almost fell over there.”

Tiffany’s touch made Taeyeon tense up involuntarily; hastily she shrugged off the hand and almost tripped over herself trying to step away.

“Seriously, don’t.” She couldn’t even get the words out; she tried harder. “I’ve just been working through some things in my life and it takes its toll. I think I should go lie down. You’re welcome to stay and finish your work.”

Before she could make it out of the room, Tiffany was blocking her exit with crossed arms and a stern expression.

“Taeyeon, there’s no way I would let you struggle alone with something that affects you so badly. We’re taking this slow but I can’t let you go through it like this, not when I can see how it’s physically affecting you right now.”

Taeyeon curled in on herself, hunching her shoulders and looking at the ground. At this point it was only her last ounce of energy that kept her upright, but she couldn’t convince Tiffany to let her drop onto the carpet like she wanted to.

“Taeyeon,” said Tiffany again. This time her voice was soft, and gentle. She stepped into the corner of Taeyeon’s gaze. “You can talk to me. Please, let me help you. I know you.”

Even if she wanted to say anything to that, she knew she couldn’t. Her mouth was dry and it felt like her insides had deflated and shrivelled, leaving her without air in her lungs or blood in her heart. She just hunched further, coiling her arms over herself in an instinctive attempt at self-preservation. Her fingers clutched her elbows tightly, and this made her realise that her bones felt very sharp and her palms were very sweaty. She tried to focus on these things, any form of connection to her physical self in the real world, as she felt the darkness edge in on her vision.

Then a new sensation appeared; Tiffany’s touch but more like a warm blanket. Slowly she put together the picture of Tiffany’s arms wrapping around her, lightly at first. When Taeyeon didn’t stiffen or protest, Tiffany’s embrace tightened. A hand went to the back of Taeyeon’s head, running through her hair and massaging her scalp briefly. Tiffany pressed her cheek against Taeyeon’s ear and made muffled hushing sounds.

Taeyeon hadn’t felt so comforted since her brother was alive.

“It’s okay,” Tiffany whispered. “Just let yourself relax. I’m here, I’m holding you.”

Eventually Taeyeon did that. She closed her eyes, immediately feeling her muscles sag. She leaned into Tiffany, allowing herself to be completely held so that she could listen to the sound of Tiffany’s voice and her breathing, and absorb the hug.

She gave Taeyeon a quick squeeze. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Taeyeon couldn’t say no. Whatever put the words out just before was now gone. She only shifted slightly in Tiffany’s arms and closed her eyes tighter, feeling herself calm down.

Later she’d be guilty about letting herself use Tiffany in this way. She’d blame herself for acting like this. It would bother her for a few weeks, making her stop and sigh every now and then and call herself an idiot. But that was later. And since she was going to beat herself up over it anyway, she figured she might as well enjoy it.

Tiffany moved a little, adjusting her position in the embrace, and then she turned her head to place a swift and soft kiss against the side of Taeyeon’s head, her lips brushing the tip of Taeyeon’s ear.

“I’ve got you.”

“I’m sorry.”

Tiffany squeezed her slightly. “Don’t say sorry. You have nothing to be sorry for.”

Taeyeon didn’t respond, knowing she would just say sorry again.

“You don’t have to talk about it specifically,” Tiffany said. “Just say whatever comes to mind right now. Anything at all.”

The suggestion lessened the pressure somewhat, and after a moment she spoke.

“Sometimes when a person hurts badly, it stops hurting at all.”

She pulled back so that she could meet Tiffany’s gaze.

“Until something makes that person feel again. Then it all comes back – all of the hurt, every moment of it.”

She watched Tiffany’s expression change as she realized what it meant. Now they were on the same page – and neither of them knew what else to say. Tiffany shook her head slightly, her brow furrowed, and cupped Taeyeon’s jaw with one hand, thumb stroking gently over Taeyeon’s chin.

“I…” Tiffany faltered. “I want to help you with this. I want to help you deal with this pain.”

Taeyeon smiled sadly. “You are helping me.”

“No, I want to help you do this right. You have to face what happened to you.” She stepped back and looked thoughtful for a moment. “Express what you really feel. Picture yourself as the amalgamation of the child you were and the adult you are now – be yourself and look your problems in the eye and say what you mean.”

Taeyeon tilted her head in question.

“Pretend I’m your mother,” said Tiffany.

She planted herself firmly in front of Taeyeon and crossed her arms over her chest.

“Say to me what you’ve always wanted to say to her.”

Taeyeon swallowed nervously, and then she tried to scoff dismissively. “You want me to pretend that you’re my mother? That’s a little weird, Tiffany.”

“I’m not Tiffany,” said Tiffany, raising her eyebrows. “Right now I’m your mother. What have you got to say?”

Taeyeon shook her head and looked away. She bit her bottom lip. Shifting uncomfortably, she put her hands on her hips, still not looking back at Tiffany.

“I don’t want to do this, Fany,” she muttered.

“Hey.”

It sounded like Tiffany was dropping the act for a moment, using her own voice again, but Taeyeon couldn’t look at her. She felt a hand on her arm, gripping lightly, making her turn around.

“Taeyeon, please.” Tiffany circled her arms around Taeyeon’s shoulders and gave her a brief hug. “Just try this, okay? Even for a moment.”

“Why? This is stupid.”

Tiffany backed off just enough to cup Taeyeon’s face in her hands and stare into her eyes. “This is important. You have to be able to stand up to them. Think of all the things you’ve wanted to say to your mother or your father. Feel everything and say it. You can do this, baby.”

Taeyeon cringed. “Okay, calling me ‘baby’ is just a little too weird.”

Tiffany looked surprised. “Oh. Oh, okay. Well, we can talk about that later. Do you want to try this?”

Taeyeon eyed Tiffany critically, attempting to imagine her mother standing in front of her. She sighed.

“Okay, okay, let’s try it. But if you permanently remind me of my mother after this, we’re going to have to stop seeing each other and I won’t take the blame.”

Her comment made Tiffany smile slightly, and then they separated to stand facing each other. Taeyeon took a deep breath and nodded. Tiffany crossed her arms again and made her face perfectly blank.

For a long time, they just stared at each other. Taeyeon realized she was holding her breath, and she let it all rush out, and then shook her head.

“I can’t do it. I’m just not seeing you as my mother. You need to do something like she would.”

Tiffany shrugged. “I don’t know your mother. Give me some tips?”

There were several reasons why Taeyeon had not told Tiffany anything more about her family, and they all struck her again now. Even saying anything in this current situation seemed too much. She stood there speechless, mouth half-open. She couldn’t bring herself to admit how her mother acted towards her.

Tiffany seemed to know this.

But was it enough?

“No. I can’t.”

Tiffany frowned. “Taeyeon, it’s okay. It’s safe to do this. You trust me, right?”

Taeyeon sighed. “It’s not about that. There’s just too much. I’m miserable, Tiffany. This isn’t going to change anything.”

“Well, I won’t let you give up.”

“There’s nothing to give up on! I don’t want to do anything about this. I just want to keep doing what I was doing.”

“Are you really sure you don’t want to do more? Maybe you feel like you can’t do it, but I know you want something better than what you’ve been left with. You want to make something out of yourself that you made, not your past.”

She didn’t know what to say to that. It was true. Everything she’d been thinking and feeling since she came back from talking with her sister was about how this was the time to make improvements to her life and how Tiffany being there for her would help that. This was meant to be how she began to really recover and patch up those parts of her that seemed beyond repair.

But when she’d talked to Lee about smiling and sticking around, she hadn’t been honest with him or with herself about the other side of it. Yes, it would always hurt. She’d have nightmares for the rest of her life, and she’d have trouble concentrating and she’d feel sad for no discernible reason, and over time she’d experience the physical impact of all that stress.

If she was advocating that people like her should hang around for the good moments and for the people they met – was she ignoring the fact that it didn’t do anything for that pain? Was it all a waste of words? It was just another way to avoid it, to pretend that it created some semblance of balance. Nothing worked like that. While she knew she’d be able to have the positive in her life as well as the negative, one would be stronger than the other; and that depended on which one she fed the most.

Right now, she didn’t think she had the courage to do the right thing, after all. She was willing to take the good moments when they came and get up every day for the slow steps towards something better, but she wasn’t willing to face her problems head on and take real action towards turning the tables in her favour.

Nothing was enough.

Her eyes were wide as she stared at Tiffany. “I’m a coward. I’m selfish. You make me feel happy and I wanted to keep that in my life, but it’s not a solution. Here you are, trying to help me in the right way, and all I’ve been preparing for is a long-term distraction. I’m so sorry. I’ve wronged you.”

“Hey, no, it’s not like that,” said Tiffany hurriedly, wrapping her arms around Taeyeon’s shoulders again. “Don’t be sorry. This is difficult, and no one could ever possibly blame you for how you feel right now; least of all me.”

“No, I ruined this. I’m too lost in my misery to face these things the way I should. I thought I understood what my sister was saying to me but was I just telling myself what I wanted to believe? That I could somehow keep looking forward from now on and it would make the past hurt me less? How is it possible that I could have forgotten the truth so easily?”

She pulled away from Tiffany, perhaps a little harshly, and took a few steps away.

“I’m such an idiot,” she said quietly. She covered her eyes with one hand and took a slow breath. “I can’t do this. I knew what to do and I failed immediately, and then pretended I was doing it right so that I could feel good.”

“Taeyeon, just because you couldn’t do this right now doesn’t mean everything has gone wrong. I believe in you. I know you.”

“No, I don’t think you do,” said Taeyeon sharply, as she removed her hand and showed her red-rimmed eyes. “And I don’t think you should. I don’t deserve you. I was a fool for thinking this was the right thing to do.”

Tiffany’s expression fell, and was tinged with panic. “Taeyeon, don’t. We’ve made it this far. We’re being honest with each other now – I just want you to help me help you. That’s all we need to do. Don’t complicate this more than it already is.”

“It’s not my fault!”

This time she used both hands to cover her face, digging her fingertips into her skin.

“It’s not my fault,” she said again, her voice crushed.

“I didn’t say it was your fault – and it isn’t your fault. Please, don’t shut me out. Don’t let this happen.”

“What do you know about this? You don’t understand what I’ve been through. You haven’t seen the world I live in.”

“Yes, I have,” Tiffany said immediately. “I’m looking at it right now. I see your pain, Taeyeon. I see you.”

The brief silence was shuttered by Taeyeon’s sigh – it was clear she was having trouble holding back her tears. She kept her face covered, but didn’t turn away.

“How many times do I have to tell you? I know you. And I mean that. You’ve shown me your world and every day I see more of it. Don’t underestimate what we have between us just because of moments like these.”

“These aren’t just moments,” said Taeyeon. She lowered her hands. “This is my life.”

“And so am I. At least, I’m part of it now. You told me that’s what we were doing. We’re already there. Don’t run away from this. You can do what’s right.”

Taeyeon only looked at her.

We can do what’s right. We can have the courage. You’re not doing this completely alone – I’m not saying it’s my place to do this for you or to carry you through this, but I’m here for you. I’ll show you that you have courage.”

At this point, she simply didn’t know how to respond. She shook her head heavily. She felt ashamed again. She felt a lot of doubt. Her pain and fear was lingering as it always did but now it was no longer at the forefront of her sensations. Maybe Tiffany was right in what she said – and it was this thought that enabled Taeyeon to calm down enough to see more clearly.

There would be a lot of stumbling blocks like this. Moments when she tried to do the hard thing, the right thing, and go head-to-head with her issues; and in those moments she would sometimes feel utterly convinced that she couldn’t do it. She would tell herself that she had failed and that she shouldn’t bother, and it would be something she believed. She knew that this was going to be added to the cycle that she went through every day. Tiffany called it a step in the right direction. It went with what she said to Lee, and what she wanted to tell her sister. Having the good moments in a bad life was one thing, but she would have to make herself earn it if she didn’t want to call it another distraction. Maybe sometimes she would get it right. She could only stick around and see if the effort was worth it.

She had to feed the positive, not the negative.

She looked at Tiffany; by far the most positive part of her life right now even during this moment. She still didn’t know what her future held, whether it would become more negative than positive, whether it would break her down, or perhaps she would overcome it. Maybe Tiffany would always be the most positive part of her life, and maybe one day she would no longer be positive.

But she stood in front of Taeyeon right here and now. She was ready to help drive the counter to Taeyeon’s past.

Taeyeon wouldn’t be able to stay on the path of recovery every day.

“It’s okay,” is what Tiffany would say, “we’ll get back up and try again. That’s what’s most important.”

No matter what happened, Tiffany had a profound effect on her already. She’d become used to running from the pain, or letting it take over when it became too much; until Tiffany made her really feel again.

It seemed ridiculously cliché, but Taeyeon saw her life as little more than a common tragedy anyway.

It wasn’t a happy ending – which was good because Taeyeon didn’t think she deserved such a thing – because it wasn’t an ending and it wasn’t totally happy. This was a journey that would go on for the rest of her life and would be difficult but rewarding if she did it right; with Tiffany’s help, at least for now. And she had to be there for her sister, and Lee.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

Tiffany’s face cleared and she started to smile, obviously relieved at the calmer tone of Taeyeon’s voice. “It’s okay, it’s okay. I was scared for a minute there… but we’re okay, right?”

Taeyeon shrugged, and nodded. “We’re okay, I guess.”

“We won’t be stuck like this,” said Tiffany. She stepped closer and reached out slightly. “We’re not going to be trapped, wondering why we can’t go anywhere. Right?”

Taeyeon took Tiffany’s hands without hesitation. “We’ll keep trying.” Her mouth twitched a little in a smile, still shaky but showing. “You’re amazing, do you know that?”

Tiffany grinned and kissed her, slow. “You’re pretty marvellous yourself.” She draped her arms over Taeyeon’s shoulders, and Taeyeon returned the embrace.

She could get used to more than just the simple moments with Tiffany. They would go on dates and do normal things and sometimes they would struggle through a lot of pain – whether or not it was a good thing that she could get used to that pain too, she wasn’t sure, but she was starting to place trust in Tiffany because every time it happened, Tiffany proved to her that it wasn’t totally hopeless. It was a valuable influence to have in her life. Tiffany was a person who could very easily be loved.

“Let’s go for a walk,” said Tiffany, smiling again as she tugged at Taeyeon.

It was nearing sunset again at the riverside. Taeyeon saw the ducks lingering near the edge as they approached it, hoping for some treats, but neither of them brought any bread. She thought about what Lee said about bread being bad for their health. They didn’t seem to care whether it was good for them or not, and when they realized no bread was forthcoming, most of them disappeared.

Taeyeon liked the feel of Tiffany’s hand in hers, the casual comfort it provided, knowing Tiffany was there for her.

“So, I take it that ‘baby’ is not an option? What can I call you, then?”

Taeyeon squinted at her. “Well, there’s my name. It’s Taeyeon, by the way. That’s a good one. Classic.”

“You know what I mean.”

Taeyeon shrugged. “Call me whatever you feel like as long as I know it’s me you’re referring to. Just not ‘baby’, it’s….” She hesitated, slowing her steps. “It’s something my mother called me.”

The look on Tiffany’s face confirmed that she knew how important that was, and how much she appreciated that Taeyeon had admitted to it. But she didn’t explicitly mention it, and Taeyeon was thankful for that after the up-and-down day they’d already had and were likely to have again.

Tiffany nodded. “Got it. I’ll think of something. You’re cute enough, I’m sure it won’t be difficult.”

They shared a smile, like they were creating something just between them. When they reached the bench, they sat close together, thighs touching, and Taeyeon took in the sensation of an attachment she hadn’t formed before.

“I think I should get a dog,” she remarked eventually, eyes on the sun as it lowered itself into the horizon. “Maybe a small breed like yours. It would be nice to have a little ball of energy rolling around the house while I’m working.”

Tiffany kissed her on the cheek lightly. “That sounds good.”

They didn’t say anything for a while. The last of the ducks floated away as slowly as the sun set.

“You know I meant it, right? When I said you’re marvellous.”

Taeyeon turned slightly, looking at Tiffany’s profile in the fading light.

“You’re strong. Stronger than you think.”

Their eyes met. Taeyeon smiled slightly, absently. “I know,” she said.

Even if she didn’t believe it.

It’s Unreal

If there’s one thing Taeyeon finds most inconvenient, it’s wandering around a graveyard in the middle of the night. Not that it’s a lifestyle choice, but it’s happened a few too many times and she’s starting to get a bit fed up with it.

“What makes you so sure it will be here this time?” she asks again, for what feels like the hundredth time, warily picking her way over the overgrown garden this side of the fence.

Tiffany doesn’t answer immediately. This part of the path is somewhat treacherous to traverse in the darkness. If it wasn’t the tenth or eleventh time they were doing it, they’d be tripping all over the place, caught off guard by weeds and tree roots and stones. As it is, Taeyeon is still taking very particular care with the placement of her steps, and she even manages to keep the flashlight mostly steady as she goes.

“I just have a feeling,” Tiffany says finally. Her voice has that hushed, secretive quality that it gets when she’s talking about it. “Tonight is the night. It has to be.”

Taeyeon fights the urge to roll her eyes. Again and again they’ve had this conversation. They’ve known each other since they were in diapers and Taeyeon has never seen or heard this thing, yet she keeps coming along to tiptoe around the dead because Tiffany keeps saying it’s going to be here.

“Can I at least bring hot chocolate next time?” She’s thinking of the thermos she has at home, and how it would look filled with chocolatey goodness, topped with marshmallows –

“There won’t be a next time, because this time it will be here,” Tiffany answers impatiently. She glares over her shoulder before returning her focus to the ground beneath her feet.

Taeyeon shrugs. “Okay.”

Why it has to be a graveyard of all places, she has no idea. Maybe it’s for dramatic effect. It is pretty spooky, she is not afraid to admit, and the first few times they went, she was disturbed. Now it’s a place like any other. It’s becoming so familiar that it’s hard to believe anything supernatural would happen here even in the dead of night. Without hot chocolate or anything to do other than hang around staring into nothingness, the graveyard’s becoming rather boring. Perhaps she doesn’t have the flair of imagination required in order to be a werewolf.

Tiffany stops suddenly. She throws an arm out behind her, mostly to stop Taeyeon too, and then she laces their fingers together. The way she squeezes shows Taeyeon that this is it.

They strain their ears to listen. There’s a distant cracking sound, like snapping twigs and tumbling pebbles. This must have been what made Tiffany stop moving.

In all the years they’ve been going to this place, they’ve never heard a sound like that.

For the first time, Taeyeon feels really truly scared.

“Okay let’s go,” she whispers, tugging on Tiffany’s hand.

The look Tiffany gives her is burning with a very certain absolutely not and shut up. They turn in the direction of the noise. It seems to be getting louder – is it getting louder? – Taeyeon thinks she’s losing her perception in favour of her fear, but then Tiffany is pulling her along and they’re going closer to it.

“Look, I know I’ve expressed my doubts –”

“Shh!”

“And really this isn’t about the existence of werewolves –”

“Shut up!”

“But should we be going closer to the –”

They crunch to a halt right up against a bush that has seen better days. Ahead of them, crouched between two decrepit gravestones, is a giant black shape that is crackling and ripping either itself or something else. Now they can hear the sound of breathing, thick and harsh, presumably straining from the rough thing in front of them.

“– very real possible danger,” Taeyeon finishes her sentence, barely whispering.

It’s like her limbs have turned to lead, heavy and unwilling to bend. All she can do is stand there and stare. She can feel Tiffany shaking, their arms and shoulders pressed together. She very deliberately does not lift her flashlight and quietly clicks it off. If the thing hasn’t seen it yet, it’s best to keep it that way. Its hulking form swells in the dimness, occasionally picking up the moonlight, and it rocks back and forth briefly.

There’s fur, quite a lot of it, and it’s covering pretty much everything, so either it’s a creepy hairy big guy or it’s –

“Werewolf,” squeaked Tiffany. “Is that a werewolf?”

It hasn’t heard them yet, still shaking what seems like its shoulders and an arm waves upwards; there’s a glint of something sharp that looks an awful lot like a claw.

“Whether it’s a werewolf or not, we should definitely run in the opposite direction,” Taeyeon mutters quickly. She grabs Tiffany’s elbow and starts tugging her backwards, away from the creature. “Maybe even do a zig-zag pattern, like when running from an alligator.”

Taeyeon doesn’t believe in werewolves, and despite what they’re seeing right now this belief has not been revaluated, and she’ll deal with both options in the same way. Or she would like to, but Tiffany’s not moving.

“But we have to see if it’s a –”

It lets out a scream, terrible and scratching. Taeyeon jumps a foot high and loses her grip on Tiffany – which allows Tiffany to scramble forward out of the bush.

“No, wait!”

The thing hears her shout rather than Tiffany’s fumbling footsteps approaching it. The moonlight falls on its face for the first time, illuminating the long snout and wet nose, the bared fangs dripping in saliva, the ears that swivel in their direction, and the sharp yellow eyes that zero in on Tiffany.

It unleashes a thunderous roar that’s laced with an edge so severe it makes Taeyeon’s skin ripple in fear. Tiffany stops her advance, throws her arms up in front of her and turns her face to avoid the slobber that bursts from the creature’s muzzle. It’s shaking its whole body, stamping its hind legs on the ground as it shifts into an imposing stance intended to frighten them away.

It works perfectly.

Once Taeyeon sees Tiffany do an abrupt about-face, she joins her as they tear through the bushes and trees back to where they came from. She knocks her hip against a gravestone, which hurts like hell and the flashlight drops from her hand. It slows her for only a second but Tiffany reaches back and like a grappling hook, latches onto Taeyeon’s hand and whips her closer.

They haven’t heard any sign that the beast is pursuing them, but neither is willing to take this moment to find out. Taeyeon keeps her head firmly facing forward as they make it to the graveyard fence.

Tiffany slams the gate behind them and grips it tight like it’s a lifebuoy and she’s in shark-infested waters. She’s looking back into the graveyard, eyes wide as she takes in the darkness, waiting for any indication that a werewolf is going to tear them apart tonight.

There’s nothing.

Everything’s gone quiet. They can’t even hear it in the distance. Its roar faded away while they were running, and if it moved anywhere it did so silently. Now the night has settled again, far too quickly for Taeyeon’s comfort, but they keep waiting until it’s clear that nothing is coming for them.

She smacks Tiffany’s shoulder. “Why did you run towards the giant scary monster?”

Tiffany rubs her arm and looks perturbed. “I thought if it could see us it wouldn’t be so scared of us.”

Taeyeon blinks at her in astonishment. “Scared? Of us? That thing? The hairy, slobbering, muscular, sharply fanged and clawed –”

Yes, that thing,” says Tiffany. She leans her back against the gate, making it wobble slightly, but she seems to be past her fear of things that go bang in the night at least for now. “Wouldn’t you be scared? Imagine you were a werewolf who can’t control that part of you and some humans find you at your most vulnerable moment.”

“Vulnerable? Vulnera–” Taeyeon pauses, she takes a breath, and she bites her fingernails. “Let’s just get out of here, okay? I think we’re done werewolf hunting.”

Tiffany shrugs, and they hold hands again as they walk to the car with only slightly hurried steps.

“I mean really, we should be focusing on midterms,” says Taeyeon. “Not hunting for werewolves. I can’t believe it took our whole lives. We didn’t see one until we were already college students. What’s the point of that? Can we agree that we’re finished with this now?”

Tiffany wraps her arm around Taeyeon’s shoulders and brings her in for a soft hug. “Hmm, I don’t know. Hanging out in the dark with you for all these years has been so nice.”

Taeyeon smiles, and looks down shyly. Then she shakes her head, stands up straighter, and unlocks the car.

“Werewolves,” she mutters to herself once Tiffany is in her seat. “Of course they’re more likely to happen.”