No matter what.
It was an agreement they made at the age of seventeen. Probably a common one, often said by a lot of people in their situation, but they meant it and they thought they were the only ones who would ever really hold that promise for the rest of their lives.
Tiffany hoped like hell that they were right about that.
Nearly ten years after they said those words the first and last time, Tiffany came to be standing in front of Taeyeon’s door. She knew it was Taeyeon’s door because the note she held crumpled up in her hand read “T Kim 21A Lockwood Tower Smith Street East” and that matched up with her current location.
The curve on the 2 was abnormally round.
She had found the address through the phone book in an act of pure desperation because it occurred to her – and she still pondered it now – that she had no way of contacting Taeyeon or Taeyeon’s family or anyone at all that she knew all those years ago. Those people used to be her life, fixtures in a little world she thought she would never get out of, and now she’d been through another lifetime altogether and none of them were more than a distant past.
But they said no matter what and so Tiffany relied on that promise now, and she knocked on the door.
“Be right there!”
Taeyeon’s voice didn’t sound that much different, just calmer maybe, but she had that same lilt she carried with comfort as a teenager.
She looked different though.
“Tiffany,” she said, and her eyebrows rose. “Tiffany?”
Tiffany scraped together a smile. “Hey, Taeyeon.”
“What,” she started, stopped, blinked, “What are you doing here?”
Nearly ten years had passed since they last saw each other and suddenly Tiffany was really feeling it for the first time. It hit her like a freight truck and winded her for a moment.
“Um,” she hesitated. For a while, she looked at Taeyeon.
She wanted to see her, see who she was these days, because maybe she seemed like the same person in a lot of ways but there was no guarantee that she was anything like she used to be. If there was one thing Tiffany had learned it was that life didn’t just change, it destroyed.
“Sorry it’s been so long,” she said, instead of everything that she was thinking.
Taeyeon moved her mouth, kind of like a fish, before answering. “That’s okay. I mean, you’re here now, I guess. Did you want to come in? We can catch up?”
Tiffany nodded, as awkward as can be.
Most likely, Taeyeon could tell there was something wrong, and that to help Tiffany relax they would need to be settled somewhere other than the hallway of her apartment building. Just like the very first day they had met, Tiffany was grateful to know someone like Taeyeon.
If she’d thought more about the world Taeyeon must be living in after all this time maybe she would have envisaged something like the apartment she entered now. It was warm, welcoming, awash with comforting textures and the lush of a home well-loved and lived-in. The colours were happy in the natural light and would be modest in the night. From where she stood, Tiffany could see the furniture in the living room, the couch and the bookshelf and the TV, and a coffee table littered with fashion magazines, and an end table with two remotes stacked neatly side by side.
It was Taeyeon’s home; and it was more of a home than Tiffany had seen in years. She could almost feel tears welling up from her chest, and she swallowed them right back down.
The look in Taeyeon’s eyes almost undid the effort. Tiffany glanced away immediately, pretending to inspect the art on the wall as she was led to the living room.
“Have a seat. Did you want a drink? I could make us some tea or coffee.”
Tiffany shook her head quickly out of habit. “No thank you, I’m fine.”
This time Taeyeon cocked her head to one side, openly curious. “Alright.” She joined Tiffany on the couch, keeping a respectable distance. “So, how have you been, Tiffany?”
It almost hurt her pride to have to be asking for help like this. It would hurt her pride if she had any left.
At what point in a grown woman’s life does she become willing to beg?
No, not beg. This was an appeal to human kindness and generosity. A basic sense of caring that should build the foundation of their species in an ideal world – but this was not an ideal world, so Tiffany was embarrassed and afraid. Thinking that she would seem unbearably weak to ask for help was what made her weak. People drew strength from each other.
Yet none of that helped her now to find the words she needed to explain to Taeyeon what it was that truly brought her here, how she ended up in this situation.
But she wouldn’t cry, either.
So, all she could do was take a deep breath, and meet Taeyeon’s attentive, caring gaze; the eyes that she’d contemplated every day for so many years, still the same.
Then it all just rushed out.
Her whole disreputable history, she even went as far back as the day after they last saw each other; because everything was sort of downhill from there.
And as she spoke, she let her tears flow over her face, hoping they could cover the shame that was burning her up from the inside.
It pained her. It hurt her, deeply, to have to expose herself like this – her true self, the person she was inside that few people ever saw. She knew that when people did indeed see this part of herself, they judged her, they laughed at her, maybe, and they dropped her like a hot coal. Like she was on fire, turning to ash.
She thought of herself just like all those others who ended up worse than this – if she could still consider them to be worse than herself, and maybe she didn’t.
In fact, who was to say that she was any different from them? She fell for the same weakness as them, the same pull, the same fault in her armour. She must have been just as pathetic as them, chasing after the high that they all wanted – and if they were all united in their desires then what did that make her?
Maybe there were moments when she felt like she was not so bad, she was still a good person, she was intelligent and hard-working and sensible and maybe she just liked to have fun every now and then. Sure, in a decent job she was better than them, when she got home and knew how to take care of herself she was better than them, when she paid her bills and helped a friend even when she ended up losing that friend, and when she kept her plans and promises she was better than them but when the drugs were on the table they were all the same starved animals.
She was a beast. She was a terrifying, gnarled beast that carried no respect, only hunger and desperation.
There was no denying the desperation. She acted cool and she felt in control but there was a spark that was lit inside her every time and it was without a doubt that want and need. She couldn’t deny it because it was exactly what she craved. That was the feeling she hunted – to want that bliss so hard and to reach it because the pain went away so much further when it was all she had to wrap around herself at the deepest darkness of her night.
Tiffany knew that was what Taeyeon saw. When she lifted her head, quiet now, trembling with the echoes of her sadness and insecurity, her eyes rimmed red and wet and showing that gritty despondency.
Taeyeon saw everything.
“Oh Tiffany,” she said, sounding breathless as if she’d just lived through all those years in a flash. “Oh, Tiffany, Tiffany.”
Tiffany moved to cover her face, afraid again now, but Taeyeon gripped her wrists lightly and tugged at her, closer on the couch, and she wrapped her up tight in a hug as if it was her gift.
And it felt like the greatest gift of all. Taeyeon, her one true friend from a different time in her life, almost a different world, didn’t run away and didn’t chase her away.
She really was willing to accept Tiffany, even now.
Tiffany felt all the air leave her body in one great rush, as if lead was being removed from her very veins.
“I’m here for you,” said Taeyeon, her voice muffled in Tiffany’s hair, her tone shaky with emotion, “No matter what. Just like what we said, Tiffany, just like what we said.”
Tiffany closed her eyes, squeezed them shut and squeezed Taeyeon just as hard, wanting to hold on to this, the moment, the feeling, the promise, to Taeyeon.
And she hoped it would be enough.