Play the Ace. (three)

The first time Taeyeon sleeps in Tiffany’s bed is only a week after their first date. They go to an arts festival where they walk all day long between bits and pieces that express people’s dreams and fears. Afterwards they have dinner by the lake – fresh fish and wine – and they talk about it all. It brings them closer and closer, until they end up still tangled together on Tiffany’s bed whispering about their own thoughts and feelings, opening their hearts and minds to be pulled nearer.

Tiffany locks their fingers together, stretches both of their arms up like they’re reaching for something, and then she presses against Taeyeon’s body and kisses her deeply.

Taeyeon is a bit breathless when they pause, so Tiffany looks at her quietly. It’s already dark outside, the lights in the rest of the apartment off, a tiny beside lamp the only thing providing vision in the room. It accentuates the planes of Taeyeon’s face, the curve of her cheek, the strands of her hair.

“Are you afraid of moving too fast?” she whispers.

Taeyeon lowers their hands, disengaging her fingers to rest them along Tiffany’s jaw. “No, not really. This is…. You’re unlike anyone I’ve ever known. You’re special, and this is special.”

“What are you afraid of?”

Taeyeon kisses her first before answering. “I’m afraid of heights. Fire. Being hated. Public speaking, a little.”

Tiffany smiles. “And where does this rate on that scale? Our relationship.”

“I’m not afraid of this. This could be the best relationship of our lives. We can make each other happy, and stronger.”

“You sound sure,” Tiffany observes. “We’ve only known each other for a week.”

Taeyeon shrugs, curls up a little, and her hand slips to rest on the side of Tiffany’s neck.

“I’m not afraid of you. Not you.

How is it possible that it still feels like the first time?

Even now, lying with Taeyeon for what must be the thousandth time, a different night but the same light caressing her lover’s features, Taeyeon’s mouth set in comfort.

“Thank you for not leaving me,” Tiffany casts out towards Taeyeon.

Taeyeon’s lips curve slightly downwards, making her look sadder than she should. “You know I won’t leave you.”

Tiffany sighs. “I think I know that.”

Her response causes Taeyeon to frown. She shuffles closer on the bed, hooks an ankle over Tiffany’s, kisses her softly on the nose. “I won’t leave you. And I’m sorry if you’re not as sure of that as you used to be before we talked about it.”

“Will you be honest with me now, then? Please?”

Taeyeon closes her eyes and Tiffany is afraid she won’t answer. She wraps her arms around the body before her and holds her close.

“You told me to go to that meeting and tell them what I want, and I did,” Tiffany says. “I want to win the election and I want you. So, I told them that.”

“It’s not the same, what you told them. What if everyone finds out about us? You have to change the world first.”

Tiffany pulls back. “When we first started dating, you seemed like you knew what you were getting in to. Like you knew we would reach this point one day. What did you think would happen – ”

“Not like this,” Taeyeon interrupts, tensing so the muscles in her neck look tighter. She sat up and dislodged their physical connection. “I thought – I thought you could get through the election, build up the image and the career, and then maybe…”

“Maybe?! You thought maybe then I would tell everyone about the love of my life? Taeyeon,” Tiffany protests, “it’s not a maybe for me, and I didn’t think it was for you either. I want to do this. Definitely.”

They sit there in the rumpled sheets and near-darkness of the bedroom they share so often, and Tiffany hates the glistening of Taeyeon’s eyes, the look that lies beneath. Had they just changed rhythm at the same time to reach a new contrast? Now that Tiffany was no longer uncertain about their relationship, was Taeyeon?

“When did this happen?” Tiffany whispers. “How long have you been feeling this way? Like you… like you’re not sure if you want to be with me anymore when I need you the most.”

The way Taeyeon covers her face with her hands tells her everything, as much as she loathes to believe it. She crawls off the bed, shaky on her feet, and makes it to the couch in the living room before she starts crying.

She knows Taeyeon follows her and is standing a few feet away in her shirt and shorts with her messy hair and she won’t look at her because it would be too much.

“I thought when you came here tonight… It seemed like it meant you were with me on this. Like you were going to stand by me and help me with this.”

Taeyeon hasn’t said a word and Tiffany tries to curl up into her absolute smallest.

“I don’t understand.”

“I’m sorry,” Taeyeon says, eventually, her voice soft. “It’s not like that. Really. I want to be here for you, with you, and I love you. I want to have this relationship with you.”

Tiffany raises her head a little and rests it on her arms, tries to slow her tears. “What is it then? Because it feels like you’re pulling away from me. Is it the campaign, do you not want to run it?”

Taeyeon is already shaking her head. She tugs aimlessly at the hem of her t-shirt. “I don’t know. I don’t know what it is. And that’s me being completely honest with you. I don’t know what’s making me feel this way, making me unsure and afraid. That’s why I didn’t want to tell you.”

The words leave Tiffany to regard Taeyeon in silence, her body settling again as she stopped crying. They stare at each other in the middle of the living room, the middle of the night.

Tiffany slowly unfolds herself. She stands and goes to Taeyeon, pulling her into a hug. She wishes she was moving with the same confidence and comfortableness as she was in the past.

But something has changed.

Her movements don’t feel as definite, as solid as they used to.

She closes her eyes, presses her face into Taeyeon’s hair who returns the embrace with the same lightness and fragility.

“So we’re going to do this? All of this?”

Taeyeon’s fingers tighten on Tiffany’s back, briefly yanking at the fabric of her clothes. She shifts her head and they kiss, barely touching at first, then firmer.

“Yes.”

So they will. But Tiffany carries with her the ghost of fear, uncertainty, and sometimes when Taeyeon holds her hand or tells her how much she loves her, that little ghost doesn’t believe her at all.

She’s looking at a photo on her phone, one they took years ago at the art festival when they just started dating, as she sips coffee in her father’s study. At the time, she wished she could have made it her profile picture on social media – the thought makes her pause now. She still wishes she could. She wishes she could post all sorts of photos of them, going on dates, lazing around the house, playing games, celebrating anniversaries. The secrecy they’d been using as their relationship developed carried a giant lock that she wanted to open.

“Here are some of the files,” her father says as he re-enters the room, his eyes on the open folders in his hands, “I wasn’t able to find much from my initial schedules before I was given a manager, but –” He stops short of his desk, looking at his daughter. “Are you all right?”

Tiffany wipes her face, shoves her phone away. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

Her father’s face shows his opinion of the blatant lie.

Tiffany turns her head, avoiding the stare.

With shuffling steps, her father continues to his chair and spreads the files out in front of him as he sits.

“I think it’s time for us to have a talk,” her father says. “The Talk. Or one of them, anyway. You’re about to enter a dangerous world, Tiffany. Politics can be dirty and the media is cut-throat. If there’s anything scandalous in your life that affects your performance and your image they will –”

“And what about you?” Tiffany asks, frowning. “If there’s something like that in my life, how will you react?”

Her father doesn’t seem surprised at the question. He seems to pick his words carefully as he answers, “You are my daughter. I’m here to help you. If someone is hurting you, tell me.”

“Unlike the media and politicians who will tear me apart, right?” Tiffany shakes her head. “Never mind. You know we don’t need to have that talk, Dad. You gave me the minor version when I was a teenager.”

He smiles a little at the memory. “Yes, but back then we had a strict no-dating rule and you had a curfew. Now you’re an adult with your own personal life and your own home.” He looks down for a moment. “I know it’s hard for you to talk to me sometimes about your life because I’m not just your father, I’m a public figure. But now you will be too. I want to make sure you’re ready professionally and personally.”

Tiffany takes a deep breath and lets it all out. “There is someone,” she admits. “I’m dating someone. I don’t know if now’s a good time to tell you, even though… I mean, I’ve been seeing this person for quite a while but I never told you.”

Her father’s eyebrows shoot up at this. “Oh. Oh, I see.”

There’s an awkward pause.

“Are you two fighting? Is that why you looked so sad?”

Tiffany curls the fingers of one hand into a fist and directs her gaze to it. “We’ve been fighting a lot lately. My decision to run in the election is making things… tense.”

“I understand,” her father says, and nods. “I know the effect that sort of thing can have on relationships. Your mother and I….” But he doesn’t finish. “When you’re ready, please tell me. Whenever you’re ready. I’ll be patient. And if the fighting gets too much, if you need help from your Dad, tell me.”

Before all the arguments with Taeyeon, and all the doubts, Tiffany would have told him right then and there. She would have looked him in the eye and said I’m in love with Taeyeon. It would have been the right time, when they were about to enter this political race as a team and as their relationship grew stronger. Instead their relationship was tentative, not shattered and not yet cracked at the edges, but wavering even if temporarily.

“I will,” she says, and that’s all she can say.

Her father smiles at her.

He’s smiling again days later as he waits off to one side at her press conference. She swallows her nerves and nods at him, and she walks out into the path of camera lenses and flashes of photographs. The crowd is muttering but eagerly awaiting her voice.

Taeyeon stands next to her father, staring at her along with everyone else in the room but her gaze is different. Tiffany looks back at her, briefly, hit with the feeling of love and admiration that she wasn’t sure she could keep expecting from Taeyeon. Bolstered, she turns to the microphone.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank you for coming to hear me speak today.”

She knows Taeyeon is still watching her closely. She imagines she’s holding her breath in anticipation.

“After much media speculation, I can now formally announce -”

She tries to stop thinking, to just speak. She should say these words.

“– I will be running for office in the coming election.”

The camera flashes flare up in response, a wave of murmuring echoing throughout the crowd as journalists react.

True, it shouldn’t be much of a shock to them.

“I seek to lead our people…”

For months, there were whispers and questions.

“… to the greater and stronger futures…”

Were they excited that she was going through with it? Did they think she would make the game interesting, help them write more and sell more and say more about her?

Did they think she was silly, a fool, and about to fall flat on her face?

“… and will finally have a hand in creating.”

Suddenly, her eyes snap towards Taeyeon, seeking her out. She wants Taeyeon to know this. She’s not speaking only to the media and the public.

“Together, we can do what should be done for the world we want and need.”

Taeyeon closes her eyes.

Tiffany smiles at the journalists, barely able to see them through their cameras.

“Thank you.”

Her father steps up beside her and they pose for some photos, then Taeyeon joins them and leans towards the microphone, her shoulder brushing against Tiffany’s.

“Ms Hwang will now take four questions,” she says succinctly, already scanning the crowd for journalists they’re familiar with.

“Will your policies be intended to carry on your father’s legacy in this city?”

For the last time, I’m not my father. “Not intentionally. My father and I share many views on the world, but we are different people from different generations. I will do what I need to do.”

“Do you think with your image as the good daughter, you could really make an influence on the voters?”

They’ll see me. “I think my image thus far has been beneficial. Likewise, I am confident that voters will know all they need to know about me to make an informed decision at the polls.”

“You’ve been quiet about your life until now, how do you feel about the prospect of putting yourself out there?”

“Again, I am confident voters will know all they need to know about me to make an informed decision at the polls.”

She sees, out of the corner of her eye, a tiny nod of approval from Taeyeon. A well-handled question.

“Last question,” Taeyeon says, and straightens the sleeves of her jacket.

“Ms Hwang – How soon can I get an interview?”

There’s a polite chuckle amongst the journalists and Tiffany laughs sedately.

“The contact information for my campaign team will shortly become available. Thank you all for your time, and I look forward to seeing you again.”

The effect left by the noise and pressure of the situation doesn’t leave her for hours, buzzing through her veins and making her heart beat severely with left-over adrenaline. In the past, she’d considered the concept of interviews would be easier to handle; one-on-one with a journalist rather than being set upon by a pack of them. Yet she’d never assented to one, particularly after her mother’s death. Now an interview seems like an interrogation, and Tiffany knew it was because her secrets were weighing heavily on her mind.

She takes great pleasure in pulling off Taeyeon’s jacket for her when they meet in her apartment late that night. “I appreciated having you with me today, but can we just relax now? No more work clothes.”

Taeyeon grins at her. Tiffany jumps on the chance to plant a kiss on the dimple that is revealed on Taeyeon’s cheek, which leads to another kiss, and another. Then she’s removing Taeyeon’s work clothes for her, one button at a time, and pressing her against the wall.

When they do relax, it’s to the sights and sounds of a cooking competition show on TV, at least three blankets thrown all over them on the couch, and two mugs of sweet hot chocolate.

“My Dad mentioned my mother the other day,” Tiffany remarks. She’s watching the sole surviving marshmallow swirling in her cup.

Taeyeon makes a hum of acknowledgement. She tosses her arm around Tiffany’s shoulder. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Tiffany sips at her drink, her other hand coming up to trace a line down Taeyeon’s ring finger.

“I miss her.”

Taeyeon leans slightly so she can touch her lips to Tiffany’s cheek. “She’s proud of you.”

The thought makes Tiffany smile.

If she can get even one thing right with this mission of hers, something like that would be okay. Best case scenario, she won’t lose Taeyeon too.

Mix – Part 18 [Mix: Flip]

Note:
Yes, really. You may see this is Part 18 of a series that’s not on this site – that’s because it’s not mine, it’s Stephan’s. Read the series at this link if you’re not familiar with it. I adopted a baby! This baby. And I tried not to drop it on its head or hover it near choking hazards.

There’s another part after this one. And thanks to Steph for feedback and guidance on how the story would go.

________________________________________________________________________

“I don’t want you with anyone else.”

It was as if Tiffany didn’t want to hear what Taeyeon might say to that, so she gave her no chance. She kissed her soundly to prevent an answer.

Maybe she was still drunk.

Maybe Taeyeon was drunk, somehow, because her head was spinning. If Tiffany’s words hadn’t been enough to disrupt the sleepy feeling, the kiss sure was.

And then the words were far away. Tiffany’s body was moving – naked. She can’t have been all that cold anymore, because her skin felt hot to the touch, and Taeyeon touched her. Oh, she touched. The feeling again of Tiffany’s bare chest pressed to Taeyeon’s shirt jolted her, the finest muscles of her hands tightening in response.

Her back was so soft and smooth. The palms of Taeyeon’s hands stroked all the way up together. She gripped Tiffany’s shoulder blades, and stroked all the way down again to the very bottom; Tiffany twitched, and bit the tip of Taeyeon’s tongue. Was that the slightest inkling of a moan?

Tiffany broke the kiss for a split second before restarting with vigour; it was the energy coiled in her body, which had made her tremble. Her own hand shifted, sliding up under Taeyeon’s shirt to cover her upper abdomen, just beneath her breast. She surely felt Taeyeon holding her breath at the contact, because she gently pressed onto Taeyeon’s skin and kneaded her body.

Taeyeon felt what she wanted to do – inch over every part of Tiffany’s skin and touch her chest – and her mind raced through to what she really wanted, where this was going. She wanted everything, all of Tiffany, slowly and thoroughly over and over.

“Tiffany,” she breathed, but she couldn’t pull away because she was on her back, pressed into the bed by Tiffany’s body, glorious body, “Tiffany, wait.”

The clarity in Tiffany’s eyes when she paused answered the question about sobriety.

“What you just said…. Don’t you think we should talk about that?”

Tiffany huffed in annoyance, sitting up on Taeyeon’s hips – again.

“What is it about having me naked, on top of your body, kissing you, that always makes you so desperate to talk?”

Because,” Taeyeon said, frowning, “I want to know this means something to you. Don’t make me use the word ‘friends’ again…”

And yet, even referencing it made Tiffany shut down immediately. Taeyeon could see it on her face. Even though Tiffany instigated it with her statement earlier, her indication of wanting more from this, she still tried to cover it up with sex, for what? So that she could keep pretending they were just friends later?

Taeyeon wanted to say all of that and more, but she pressed her lips together so hard they quivered. Tiffany looked away.

God, Taeyeon thought. Tiffany is stark naked. She’s so beautiful.

I want to mean something to you – the words were there, on the tip of her tongue which was tender from Tiffany’s bite.

But Taeyeon said nothing, and Tiffany moved all the way off.

The darkness of the night flicked back over Taeyeon’s eyes just like that.

“I don’t want you with anyone else.” Was it a dream?

Taeyeon was angry. It was one thing for Tiffany to lie to herself and call them just ‘friends’, hide from her feelings even if she just wanted to protect herself from whatever it was that she was afraid of – but to think that Taeyeon would cheat on her – even though they weren’t committed to each other – even though it wouldn’t be cheating –

Taeyeon didn’t know what she considered their relationship to be, but it was enough to keep her from anyone else. As if she would even have eyes for anyone else; Tiffany was more than enough. From the moment they first met in the bar, Tiffany’s first step into Taeyeon’s personal space, Taeyeon was chasing after her single-mindedly, doggedly.

She thought about Tiffany, small and vulnerable and looking for warmth. The closer she got to understanding what went on in Tiffany’s head, the more rapidly her own emotions cycled between frustration and compassion. She was learning, slowly and step by tortured step, that Tiffany was going through an internal conflict of her own.

It was hard to be patient.

Just thinking of it made her fired up, her muscles twitching and aching.

Tiffany lay on the other side of the bed, curled up in a ball, her bare back to Taeyeon. She had wanted to be so close, inseparable, touching.

Maybe after all this time, it was Taeyeon’s turn to be a coward.

Did any of it mean anything to Tiffany? Or, was it enough yet? It seemed like it was. Almost. Always almost. Taeyeon’s heart fluttered and cracked and swelled as it went on.

Taeyeon sat up suddenly. She needed – something she wasn’t sure she had.

Her pants were on her legs, a jacket over her body, her feet landed in shoes and took her outside into the night. After months of action, chasing Tiffany, pushing when she pulled and pulling when she pushed, her mind reeled a little too much.

At dawn, she received a message from Tiffany.

Where are you?

Taeyeon couldn’t go back.

Out. I’ll see you later. Pick you up after your class.

It took several minutes for a response, and even then, it was a clipped Ok.

Taeyeon rested her back against the brick wall of the bar that was turning into a second home.

Too early in the morning but she could do with a drink.

She flipped herself over, pressed her face to the glass of the bar’s window. It was dark inside, of course, empty, and still. In her mind’s eye, she saw it how it was the first night – every night – that she went to see Tiffany DJing. The colours, the lights, the smoky air thick with tension. Her eyes through all of that, piercing and fierce, calling to Taeyeon, promising exhilaration.

Taeyeon’s finger twitched against the surface of the window. What would it take to break through Tiffany’s glass box and capture that feeling forever?

—-

It was shaky, now, whatever they had with each other. Turbulent as they were, the near-admittance of what Taeyeon thought Tiffany was feeling seemed to leave them hovering on the precipice of an ultimatum.

She thought about it as she drank. The previously vivid and vibrant sounds of the bar around her felt muted now. Taeyeon felt like she was before she met Tiffany; lost, shuffling along. Uninterested.

Another week had gone by, and it would go by again. She sighed, disappointed in herself for remaining stuck in this situation forever.

Her phone beeped. Done with group meeting. Ready when you are. Waiting just outside – watch out for the storm.

Right, the storm. She couldn’t hear it over the music and the people around her, but it had hit when she was on her way here, water lashing against the windscreen of Tiffany’s truck and making it harder to see. Now it was time to head out in that mess again and pick up Tiffany.

She dropped some cash for the drink and it mostly stayed on the hard surface of the counter except for a few coins that rolled away. She moved to stand and nodded at Jaeseok, stumbled a little but surely it was nothing. She’d had less than a bottle of beer. She shook it off.

The storm hadn’t let up at all. It ripped at the air above her, slashing down at the truck she was in. She peered up at the thundering clouds, dark and writhing, and shivered.

Taeyeon eyed a wall that ran along the side of the road as she pulled up to a red light. Last time she was in this truck and tried to talk to Tiffany about their issues, Tiffany hissed something about driving them right into wall.

She pictured Tiffany now, huddled outside a building on campus under cover, maybe watching the storm around her, maybe playing with her phone. What would she be thinking about? Maybe some rain got on the tip of her nose, maybe there was the snap of cold wind along her cheeks. Maybe she’d think of Taeyeon.

The traffic light went some shade of green and she lifted her foot off the brake. Her shoes were a bit wet on the soles and they squeaked along the surface of the gas pedal.

She hoped Tiffany was wearing a jacket.

Her foot pressed heavier on the pedal and she imagined Tiffany tapping her toes against the ground with impatience or to keep warm.

She imagined Tiffany checking the time on her phone.

Tiffany frowned. It had been ten minutes already but it felt like longer.

Her hands slid along the steering wheel as she took a turn, maybe a bit close to the edge.

Tiffany clenched one hand into a fist, shoved it in her pocket. She squinted out towards the road, looking for her pickup truck.

The truck straightened out heavily as the turn finished. Taeyeon huffed, impatient, made tense by the storm and thoughts of Tiffany.

Tiffany shuddered, curled her shoulders under the jacket. It was cold. Where was Taeyeon?

Taeyeon blinked. There was meant to be another turn but through sheets of rain she –

Tiffany’s phone lit up when it rang and she felt relief. Forty minutes had passed as she stood in the centre of a storm. She hoped this was Taeyeon calling to say she finally made it.

But it wasn’t.

“Hello? Sunny? What’s up?”

Sunny seemed to pause on the other end of the line, and she sniffed.

“Don’t panic,” Sunny started. “Taeyeon’s been in an accident.”

“…What?”

“Look, I’m going to come pick you up right now and take you to the hospital. Okay? Where are you, at your place?”

“No, I’m – I’m on campus, I just had a meeting, Taeyeon was going to… pick me up… Is she, all right? How bad is it?”

“Don’t panic,” Sunny said again, “I’ll be there in a few. I’ve got to hang up to drive. She’s…. She’s alive.”

And the call ended.