Don’t Make This Hell

Just like Heaven

 

Taeyeon has a girlfriend who is perfect for her.

She also has three assignments due in the same week, seven shifts at work without a day off, and a pulled muscle in her shoulder that is making her life hell.

She lets Tiffany gently massage her injured shoulder while she stands in the kitchen drinking her coffee in the morning. With her free hand, she traces the tip of her forefinger over two plane tickets. They’re prominently displayed in the kitchen; a point of pride for Tiffany.

A week ago, they bought the tickets and made all the bookings. Tiffany has been buzzing with excitement, delighted that Taeyeon seems receptive to the idea of going on holiday. She’s been talking about it non-stop, a whirlwind of organisational powers.

But Taeyeon has a secret.

She has something that’s been gnawing at her since that night when Tiffany told her about selling her car so that they can go on a trip.

It’s something that occupies her thoughts while she’s at work; when she has her head in her hands as she tries to study; it rolls before her eyes during her walk home and makes her clench her jaw as she mulls it over.

It’s guilt.

Tiffany is the best girlfriend and Taeyeon loves her very much. They have a great relationship, supporting and enjoying each other. But Taeyeon has been too busy and it has worn her down, and this has been affecting Tiffany to the point that she sold her car just to make this big gesture.

And Taeyeon can’t stand it.

“You ready, baby?”

Taeyeon blinks, cup of coffee halfway to her lips, and realizes that Tiffany is no longer touching her shoulders. “Uh, yeah. Yeah. Sorry, still half asleep.”

Tiffany smiles, and kisses her on the cheek. Taeyeon shakes it off; the feeling, not the kiss. She would never shake off Tiffany’s kisses. She considers the guilt to be another fleeting moment – a passing thing that just happens every now and then and that’s it.

She convinces herself of this even more as time goes on. She quivers with the thought sometimes.

The guilt, like a ghost embracing her in a dark hallway, encapsulates her.

She finds herself staring at Tiffany while they eat dinner, and Tiffany notices it too.

“Something on your mind?” she enquires, her expression showing nothing at all.

Does she know? Maybe she knows, Taeyeon thinks. Tiffany knows her better than anyone else in the whole world. If there was anyone who would be able to know how guilty she was feeling right now, it would be Tiffany.

Did that make her any more likely to admit it?

No.

“Nothing,” says Taeyeon, flashing a smile. “Thanks for dinner, it tastes great.”

Tiffany looks pleased with herself. “I managed not to burn it, right?”

Taeyeon laughs, outright, genuine, and winks at her girlfriend. “Right.”

And for a moment she feels like she’s okay with the fact that her own incompetence as a girlfriend led the love of her life to dispose of a valued part of her life just to make things better.

But she’s not.

She lies in bed at night, next to Tiffany, staring at the unseen ceiling, going back and forth with only herself.

Is it even worth feeling bad about?

Then Tiffany rolls over, scoots closer, wakes up and kisses her on the cheek, and on the neck. She whispers something as if she knows and maybe she does, like Taeyeon thought before.

“Tiffany,” she whispers back.

But Tiffany doesn’t say anything again, falling asleep, so Taeyeon decides she doesn’t know. And she shakes it off.

This goes on for days and days until the day is getting closer. Tiffany is practically bouncing around, even early in the morning, and she pulls Taeyeon along to spin around the kitchen with her until Taeyeon presses her against the counter and covers her laughter with a deep, heavy kiss.

“Okay,” Tiffany says when they break apart, sticking close, “I’m not complaining at all, but what was that for?”

Taeyeon kisses her over and over as an answer.

“Okay,” Tiffany says again, her tone different this time, and doesn’t ask the same question twice in a row.

So Taeyeon loves her thoroughly and greedily. She wishes and hopes that every time she kisses her, touches her, squeezes her against her own body and her own warmth – that it somehow makes up for it. She wants it to make up for the nights at work, the days buried under books, the weeks on end when they hardly see each other.

She prays her acts of affection make up for the pure inadequacy of everything that she is.

Whether it could, would, or cannot, she still senses the hollowness in herself that houses the guilt. It doesn’t go away. Neither does the love. They reach a stalemate in her mind and body.

Maybe this time, Tiffany can sense Taeyeon’s indecision. She makes them stop, holding Taeyeon’s face between her hands, and pushes their foreheads together.

“Taeyeon, are you okay? Please answer me this time.”

At first, Taeyeon doesn’t answer. She just moves slightly, running the tip of her nose along Tiffany’s cheek, and burrowing her face into Tiffany’s shoulder. But finally, troublingly, the words tumble out.

“You do so much for me.”

It seems as close to a confession as she’ll get it, and it works the same for Tiffany. Her expression clears, then she frowns again.

“Oh, Taeyeon,” she whispers. “Of course, I do. I love you. I want to do even more for you.”

“But I don’t –” She cuts herself off; another obstacle.

“You don’t what? Don’t want me to do more for you?”

Taeyeon shakes her head. “It’s that, but it’s not that.”

They stay silent, together, up against the kitchen counter, for several rocky minutes.

Tiffany pulls back, clutches at Taeyeon’s arms; her eyes are rimmed red. “You know how much I love you, right? That’s not what this is about. Is it?”

Taeyeon shakes her head and it makes her feel drunk. “I know how much you love me, Tiffany.”

She takes a moment to really look at Tiffany in front of her. The lines of her face. The shades of her eyes. The softness of her hair. She remembers Tiffany from countless memories and dreams real or fictional; years of time spent together, and desires doted upon her.  She knows Tiffany better than she truly knows herself; could see Tiffany in the mirror as easily as her own appearance.

“Do you know how much I love you?”

Contrary to anything Taeyeon could have expected, Tiffany looks hurt.

“Taeyeon… we had this conversation the night I told you I’d sold my car,” she says. “Didn’t that mean anything to you?”

Taeyeon closes her eyes, rubs the tips of her fingers against them while she feels the weight of Tiffany’s hands on her arms keeping her there.

“Of course, it did,” she says but it’s automatic, like she knows it’s true but only because it’s in the manual. “I just can’t do anything like you can. No big gestures from me. I have about five dollars in the bank and you know it’s all yours, but I can’t change anything about our lives right now.”

The way Tiffany stares at her following this statement makes Taeyeon think this is it; whatever the nature of the guilt she’s been feeling for days and days, it’s led to a negative outcome and she’s going to lose her only love.

But Tiffany shakes her head.

“It’s not about the money. Please tell me you know that. Please tell me you know that I didn’t sell my car just for the money, just so we could go on some big trip. It’s not about that; it’s about giving you a break from everything you’re dealing with, so that you can breathe and relax and let me love you for more than a few minutes a day since that’s the most I see of you lately. Does that make sense?”

Sense? All it makes is turbulence in Taeyeon’s chest. She isn’t feeling the right feelings now; she should be fine after hearing that, she shouldn’t have been feeling this guilt in the first place when Tiffany loves her so much and gives her anything – but this solidifies the guilt inside her even more.

“No, no, no,” Tiffany starts whispering, “don’t get scared off. You have that look in your eyes like you want to run. Please don’t let this be a problem; we can stop that from happening.”

Taeyeon rubs at her eyes again. She wills everything to be better and to no surprise, it doesn’t work. What can she do that would make it better?

And Taeyeon decides, right there and then, that if this guilt can’t go away yet, then she’ll just have to spend every day trying to make up for it.

“You’re right,” she says at last. She winds her arms around Tiffany’s waist as if to lock up their embrace. “You’re right. I’m sorry, I’m just panicking about nothing again.” She kisses her, and it’s tight. “I love you.”

“I know.” Tiffany makes sure to meet Taeyeon’s gaze and her voice is weighted with sincerity. “I know that you love me, Taeyeon.”

This really does make Taeyeon smile. And when she kisses Tiffany again, she manages to convince herself that in some small way, the kisses are making her worries fragment little by little.

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Just a Moment with you

Macaroni and cheese was undoubtedly the most delicious food in the world. Its taste was so strong and flavourful, the texture so comfortable on her tongue, she wanted to savour every bite and simultaneously inhale it all in one breath. She couldn’t stop eating. Her fork went up, down, into the bowl cradled lovingly by one hand, and it was like she could eat all the macaroni and cheese in the world if it was right here in front of her.

 

“I think I could eat this forever,” she mumbled. “It feels like it’s been a century already.”

 

Tiffany sighed and ignored her, albeit pointedly.

 

Taeyeon looked over at her and pouted. Then she rolled her eyes, and swallowed. “Thank you for the food, baby.”

 

This time, Tiffany didn’t even react at all. She just flicked through Netflix. It was obvious she wasn’t considering the options with any care.

 

Taeyeon returned her gaze to the macaroni and cheese, not really seeing it. It was all texture, no substance – but what a good feeling it was.

 

“Did you have to do it as soon as you got home?”

 

The sound of Tiffany’s voice brought Taeyeon’s head to turn again, and she blinked. “Do what?”

 

Tiffany hesitated before staring at Taeyeon, meeting her bloodshot eyes. “Get stoned. You did it as soon as you got home.”

 

Taeyeon shrugged. Her eyes widened. It looked like she was going to say something – then she just went back to eating.

 

“Do you have any idea what it’s like for me to come home and find you like that?”

 

“I can honestly say I don’t,” said Taeyeon. “Because you’ve only tried it once and I was already with you.”

 

A sharp shove to her shoulder almost caused her to stab herself with the fork and she froze.

 

“What the fu-”

 

“It’s insensitive, Taeyeon. Why did you start as soon as you got home? You’re still in your work clothes and everything.”

 

Taeyeon shrugged again, exaggeratedly this time, and turned her wide gaze on Tiffany. “It’s Friday. I felt like it.”

 

Tiffany let out a huff of air and clicked something random on Netflix. Her movements were angry even as she pulled on Taeyeon’s arm to bring her closer and snuggled her face into Taeyeon’s shoulder.

 

Taeyeon looked at her for a minute, hand still raised with her empty fork, bowl of macaroni and cheese clutched to her chest. “You’re really good at sending mixed signals, do you know that?” She kissed the top of Tiffany’s head and resumed eating as if nothing was different.

 

Everything was different.

 

When they started dating, Taeyeon was just out of college, new to America but not as new as she used to be and it excited her to be able to explore this new world as a part of it, having decided to stay. It was charming to Tiffany, that bright-eyed determination to absorb a new culture, make a new life. Taeyeon was attractive, smart, funny, someone she could have fun with and relax with and achieve with. They moved in together three months after graduation, Taeyeon having nowhere else to go without a lot of searching and Tiffany happy to be away from her family (who she loved, but had enough of for a while). That was them – young, fresh, eager, making progress. Their house became host to the blend of their shared and developing cultures, both with ties to Korean and American communities, trying new things together. All kinds of new things. Something that was regular to one person was shared with the group as an unfamiliar experience. Sometimes that thing became part of their habits or hobbies, sometimes it didn’t. If it was good, it stuck, if it was bad, they moved on.

 

Taeyeon thought this was good. Tiffany was undecided.

 

“Where did you even get it from?” asked Tiffany, eyes on the screen. “I thought you ran out.”

 

“Just asked for some more.”

 

“Generous,” remarked Tiffany, quietly. They’d had this talk before. Taeyeon was getting it for free, and Tiffany didn’t believe something like this came without any kind of price.

 

“Well he already gets it for free from his brother, so he’s happy to share with friends.”

 

His brother the professional supplier. Tiffany didn’t say anything to that. There wasn’t any point, anyway. The way Taeyeon’s body still twitched every now and then showed she was too far into it for this to be a productive conversation. She peered up, looking at the blissful smile on Taeyeon’s face, and allowed herself to accept that it brought a certain kind of happiness that maybe she couldn’t understand but she wouldn’t stop just yet.

 

Once a year, to once a month, to once a week. It was such a simple routine now. Was it an addiction?

 

Tiffany sat upright, and kissed Taeyeon on the cheek, receiving an absent smile in reply. The macaroni and cheese was all gone, the empty bowl resting on the arm of the couch.

 

It wasn’t that bad. Not yet. And maybe it would never get that bad. It wasn’t harmful.

 

Taeyeon leaned closer and kissed her, deep.  “You feel so good,” she whispered.

 

They kissed for a while longer, and Tiffany found to her surprise that she was considering pulling away. Never in the time they’d been together had she ever pulled away from Taeyeon’s kisses. The thought crept up on her, startled her. Taeyeon didn’t seem to notice any shift in the air, but briefly broke contact to put her arm around Tiffany’s shoulder and then her kisses seemed to have some bite to them.

Tiffany mumbled something incomprehensible into Taeyeon’s mouth before slipping a hand under Taeyeon’s shirt, touching the soft skin of her stomach.

Taeyeon’s free hand roamed over Tiffany’s and then along her forearm, and gripped her elbow. She pushed Tiffany gently, making her lie on her back, shifting her own body over her.

“More of you,” she murmured. “You feel so good, baby.”

“Taeyeon,” said Tiffany. She framed Taeyeon’s face in her hands, stopping her from moving her attention to Tiffany’s neck and chest, trying to make eye contact.

Taeyeon’s eyes, while bloodshot and dilated, met her own. “Yeah?”

“I love you, Tae.”

Taeyeon grinned, the same grin she always had. “I love you too, Tiffany. I love you so much. Don’t you know? You’re so beautiful. You’re my everything.”

The words made Tiffany feel a little better, which made her realize that she was looking for reassurance about the situation. It wasn’t the first time they were intimate while Taeyeon was high, but sometimes she wasn’t sure if Taeyeon was still herself or if she was too far lost in her own little world; even if that world was centred solely on worshipping Tiffany’s body.

“I want to make you feel good,” Taeyeon was whispering, kissing along her jaw. “I want to make you feel as good as I feel.”

Somehow, that didn’t seem possible, but Tiffany didn’t mention that. She said nothing at all as Taeyeon kissed her and made love to her. She thought a lot, and then not at all, very deliberately.

And when the next morning dawned, with Taeyeon so deep in sleep that she might as well have been in a coma, Tiffany got up and went to work as normal with precise movements.

She told no one how much it worried her what Taeyeon was doing; least of all, herself. The longer she could keep those thoughts out of her mind, the longer they could stay together, she reasoned. The fact that she was even considering it in that way scared her and made her even more determined not to go any further down that path, because the end looked dark and dismal from where she was standing.

So, when she got home from work and found Taeyeon still lying on the bed, eyes closed, looking perfectly at peace, she told no one how that made her feel. Particularly not herself.

And the days kept coming, and going on.

Mix – Part 19 [Mix: Flip] The End

Note:

My humblest apologies. (For the clumsy and failed adoption of this fic; not for the way it ends; I’m not exactly a shining example of a good and reliable person, in fact I’m absolutely terrible as a human being, but I have been known on occasion to write rubbish – i mean decent, fanfic)

 

 

 

“She’s alive” was not a glowing report. Tiffany could hardly breathe just thinking about it. The storm raged on around her but it sounded hollow.

Sunny didn’t say anything when Tiffany climbed into the passenger seat, and the car took off as soon as she was settled.

In the heavy silence, Tiffany started to think. And for the first time, she needed to be honest or she would fall apart right there and then.

Taeyeon could have died. She still could if her injuries were bad.

Against the windows of Sunny’s car, the raindrops were relentless. Disregarding Tiffany’s turmoil, they kept up a steady stream. Tiffany leaned her forehead against the cool surface and stared out at the world.

I knew Taeyeon would get hurt, her thoughts began. Maybe not exactly like this.

She didn’t cause the storm and she didn’t cause the crash – Taeyeon was driving Tiffany’s truck on the way to pick up Tiffany.

She didn’t ask Taeyeon to stick around and she didn’t make any promise – Taeyeon stayed and played Tiffany’s game and kept trying even when Tiffany wasn’t able to admit her feelings.

Why did she keep leading Taeyeon on like this?

But none of it is a lie, Tiffany thought. I’m not playing a game. Not anymore.

Seeing Taeyeon with that other girl had forced her to imagine Taeyeon in a relationship with someone else; the kind of relationship Taeyeon wanted. Probably something safe, simple, typical. Holding someone else’s hand, calling someone else her girlfriend. Someone who, when asked what are we, would not let their fears answer just friends when it just wasn’t true.

And she had wanted to tell Taeyeon that – all of the things she was afraid of. She wanted to explain why she acted the way she did, why she pulled Taeyeon close physically but pushed her away emotionally.

Flashing lights ahead caught her eye; emergency response units were crowded around a corner, a detour put in place.

Her truck.

It was torn, twisted, pushed tight against a wall.

Sunny swore under her breath and wiped aggressively at her eyes before taking the detour.

Tiffany just stared.

The sight of her mangled truck disappeared into the storm as Sunny’s car went on.

Tiffany really wanted to let herself cry, but her heart was beating so fast; she needed to know if Taeyeon was okay.

She wanted to tell Taeyeon everything – what if she missed her chance? She waited so long, never saying all of what she needed to say and now she could have lost Taeyeon.

It scared her more than everything else she was afraid of. While she kept herself safe in her glass box, did Taeyeon fall apart just outside?

And that stunned her so badly, she had to be shaken harshly by Sunny when they reached the hospital.

They asked for Taeyeon at the front desk and hovered in awkward silence in the elevator to the right floor.

There was a flash in Tiffany’s mind as she imagined reaching the room and seeing Taeyeon lifeless and cold; she imagined a world without Taeyeon and it made her close her eyes and hang her head.

She almost didn’t want to open her eyes again, but they reached room 801 and she braced herself.

As soon as she heard the soft beeping of the machinery in Taeyeon’s room, everything around her faded; there was no Sunny, no walls, no windows.

Taeyeon was small and vulnerable in the hospital bed, wires and tubes extending from her body and head. She had long scrapes along her forearms and down the side of her face still reddened with blood. She turned to look at the door way when they entered, her eyes wary and widening at the sight of Tiffany.

There seemed to be a lot to say, and yet nothing, all at once.

“Hey,” Taeyeon said eventually.

“Hey,” echoed Tiffany weakly, sounding more like a patient than Taeyeon did.

“Hey!” This was Sunny, storming forth into their bubble and right up to Taeyeon’s bed, where she smacked her on the shoulder. “Idiot! Don’t do that ever again! You scared me…”

Taeyeon tried vaguely to console Sunny but couldn’t reach her to provide comfort through all the tubing and delicately-wired systems. “I’m sorry. Next time I’ll just jump out and yell Boo! Would that be better?”

Sunny shook her head furiously, and wiped her tears away with both hands. “You just wait until Yuri gets here…” she muttered. Then she took a deep breath, leaned down and half-hugged her friend.  “I’m going to see if I can find a nurse or a doctor and find out how long you need to stay. You two can go ahead and do… whatever it is you idiots do.”

Tiffany became aware of herself as soon as they were left alone, and she hung her head again. A shudder went through her chest as her emotions tipped to the forefront.

Taeyeon watched her. “Sorry about your truck.”

Their eyes met.

“I’ll pay to get it fixed,” Taeyeon said, and smiled as much as she could.

“I love you.” The words tumbled from Tiffany’s lips as they trembled with oncoming sobs and she didn’t know they were coming and did nothing to stop them. “I love you so much, Taeyeon. I don’t know what to do about it other than run and hide and lie. But you need to know it, and I need to know you understand how I feel about you.”

With every word she spoke, Tiffany felt the pressure easing off her heart and rushing out; everything she piled on to dampen down her feelings lifted.

“Come here…”

Taeyeon sat up more, careful not to disrupt any important-looking medical things, and she cupped Tiffany’s face in both hands as soon as she was near.

“I know this is hard for you,” she began in a whisper.

“It’s not,” said Tiffany. “It’s the easiest. What was hard was stopping myself from saying it all this time, because I was so afraid of what might happen.”

Tiffany shook when they kissed, crying and trying to keep herself together while her walls finally crumbled. She became briefly aware of the beeping of hospital machinery, and then Taeyeon was looking at her again, in wonder.

“I think we have a lot to talk about,” Tiffany breathed, and swallowed the swelling in her throat.

Taeyeon nodded, then shook her head. “For once, I don’t want to talk. Not just yet, not after I crashed your truck and ended up in hospital. I just want to look at you for a while.”

And she did that. Lying back against the pillows, skin scraped and bruised, she held tightly on to Tiffany’s hands.

“Friends don’t kiss like this, either.”

It wasn’t the first time Tiffany turned that sentence over in her head. When she kicked Taeyeon out for mentioning it, she spent an eternity pacing around her room, arguing with herself about it.

Now the thoughts came to her again as she kissed Taeyeon. But already this time was different.

Until Taeyeon pulled away. Tiffany felt fear, briefly, a flash of it.

She’d been walking on eggshells ever since the hospital. Barely willing to let Taeyeon out of her sight, yet also feeling like she didn’t deserve to be in her presence, Tiffany wanted everything and thought she deserved nothing.

Taeyeon, on the other hand, was taking it one step at a time; both physically and emotionally.

They still hadn’t really had that talk, but sometimes Taeyeon would give her a little smile, like a secret shared between them; their feelings. Tiffany thought she kind of liked it that way; something between them that was quiet but a steady current flowing between them.

And now, here, when they kissed on the living room couch, some crappy movie in the background; a lazy Saturday afternoon – she felt something very different from anything she’d ever felt before.

So, although Taeyeon’s conclusion of the kiss gave her a moment of terror, Tiffany saw their secret little smile and her heart warmed again.

“All I had to do was crash the truck, huh? To get all of this.”

Tiffany shook her head. “You know what you did was stupid right? Drinking and driving, and in a storm no less? I don’t want to be responsible for that mistake.”

Taeyeon’s expression was shaded with something almost like grief. “Oh, I know. What I did was very wrong, and I’ll never forget it.” Her eyes were clear. “But I’ll also never forget what you said to me.”

The familiar sensation of distress crawled along Tiffany’s skin once more, hooking tiny claws into the skin of her back as if to drag her away from Taeyeon. She almost wanted to run.

“Despite what I said,” she started slowly, “I don’t think I can give you what you want, Taeyeon.”

Taeyeon frowned, but didn’t say anything; whether because she couldn’t or because she wasn’t surprised after all, Tiffany wasn’t able to tell.

“You want something safe, normal. A simple relationship with a straightforward premise. But I can’t do that… It terrifies me to think of that.”

This time Taeyeon shook her head, her frown waning. “Tiffany, no. That’s not what I want. I mean, I want a relationship with you, but what you’re describing…”

She took one of Tiffany’s hands between her own, gently brushing along Tiffany’s fingers, along the lines of her palm, slowly as if to appreciate every millimetre of her.

“I want you,” she whispered. Her gaze returned to meet Tiffany’s; her pupils blown, eyes darker. “I want you for you, not for that image of a simple and easy relationship. I want a relationship with you. It’s not safe, or normal, and it’s far too late to be straightforward after everything we’ve been through together.”

She kissed Tiffany’s knuckles one by one.

“When I was on the way to pick you up, I thought I wanted to ask you point-blank to give me everything back. All that I’ve ever given you; my time, my attention, my understanding, my kisses, my heart. I wanted it back, because we came so close to having something more and you wouldn’t let me have it from you, wouldn’t let me give it to you.”

Tiffany turned her head away, disconcerted by Taeyeon’s words, then tried to turn back and rest her forehead against the side of Taeyeon’s face. She closed her eyes. She hoped the seasick feeling would go away, stop churning in her stomach.

Like taking a pill to stop the nausea, she whispered, “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Taeyeon responded, one hand moving up to hold on to the back of Tiffany’s neck.

It worked to keep Tiffany there. They kissed again, deeply, and the fingers of fear that had been latched on to her back were replaced with Taeyeon’s caresses, slowly stroking over the dread that had been sending shards of ice through to her chest as if to remind her not to stay too long.

She felt warm now; too warm, but it was delicious. It was a heat that buzzed along her body, and it stimulated her arms to move, drawing Taeyeon closer.

“Everything is so different,” she breathed.

Taeyeon didn’t stop, maybe because she knew that it was a good thing.

And it was; this was different from every other time when Tiffany found herself being intimate with someone. Even before, with Taeyeon, she was on the edge of everything, of the cliff, ready to leap away and disappear. She was tensed, like a cat always prepared to act. She never relaxed, never let herself get swept up in it.

She never felt the love in it before.

It made her gasp, disconnecting their lips and clutching at Taeyeon’s shoulders, rolling her head to press her cheek against Taeyeon’s; she needed to catch her breath. Had she just fallen all the way down from the cliff’s edge where she used to hang by her fingers with her eyes shut tightly?

Taeyeon softly stroked the side of Tiffany’s jaw, then quietly tilted her face closer again and kissed her.

And as if she could sense the ripple that it sparked along Tiffany’s body, she moved her kisses along Tiffany’s throat.

It wasn’t until she was on her back, feeling contained from both sides with the couch against her back and Taeyeon moving along her body, that Tiffany paused again.

“Tae,” she whispered, “Taeyeon.”

She didn’t explain what it was she wanted; couldn’t really formulate words. Instead she gripped Taeyeon’s face between her hands and stilled her actions, bring their gazes together – so that she could just look at her. Just watch her. Just see the way the delicate skin of her face was flushed, the rapt attention in her eyes, the love and adoration written throughout her.

It helped to see that. And that was different.

Never, ever before had she done this. Sex, most definitely, but not this. She’d never handed herself over, given herself, provided her true feelings and emotions, and her open heart with all her insecurities and doubts, never placed herself in someone else’s hands with such sincerity and trust.

Taeyeon understood her. Taeyeon knew what to do, how to treat her, wanted to be with her, the real her with all the uncertainties and passion.

And Taeyeon knew how to touch her. She built Tiffany up like a song approaching its climax, making the beat slow and fast and faster; and she made Tiffany’s heart drop suddenly and made her scream.

It wasn’t just her fingers, touching her body as deftly as Tiffany would use her turntables, mixing her all up.

It was the look in her eyes, the smile she gave when Tiffany reciprocated despite her writhing.

It was everything; all of what they’d been through and what they’d reached now, here. What they’d produced together.

So when Tiffany reached that peak, rousing her right to the core, stimulating her to arch her back and liberate her body, it was made all the better by Taeyeon right there with her doing the same.

And if this was love, she could do it day after day for as long they could make it.

 

 

Hearts A Mess

Taeyeon just wants Tiffany to commit. She wants something simple, solid, sensible. She wants the kind of comfort and security that comes with a stable, strong relationship – the kind where she can say without a doubt that they are in a relationship, and she has a long-term girlfriend; the kind where she can say anything, actually, unlike whatever they have now that’s being treated like some deathly secret.

And Tiffany is usually in a hurry. In the morning it’s always the same, the scramble for clothes, the rushed touch-up in the mirror using the make-up she carries in her purse, maybe two mouthfuls of a cup of coffee but that’s as much as she can get before it’s a quick kiss on the cheek and then Tiffany will be out the door and Taeyeon will have nothing to do. The only thing left is to finish her breakfast and go to work, thinking about Tiffany without knowing when she’ll see her again.

She doesn’t ever feel like she’ll never see Tiffany again at all, like there’s nothing at all after the night is over, she just has no confirmation or estimate of the duration of time between that goodbye kiss and the hello kiss. She doesn’t know if she’ll get an ‘I missed you’ kiss. Maybe she can imagine it’s like that.

Every day she tells Tiffany to stay for breakfast, to leave some clothes here so she can have a shower and freshen up before she leaves, even just leave a toothbrush. But that always gets shaken off as if it’s no big deal and Taeyeon always lets it go like she feels the same way about it. She pretends to be okay with something so casual it’s hardly noticeable and no one knows. She takes what she can get – and somehow this makes her feel guilty.

Today she watches. It’s still early, barely dawn outside, and she lies beside Tiffany and watches her sleep. She examines the lines of Tiffany’s face with the awareness that shortly Tiffany will be leaving. She can see it in her mind’s eye, the hurried movements and the goodbye.

Taeyeon could write a book on goodbyes.

Instead, she makes coffee and checks the time, counting the minutes until Tiffany will predictably begin her routine.

She sips her coffee in the quiet and restful early morning hours.

She waits for Tiffany.

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.

Play the Ace. (two)

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank you for coming to hear me speak today. After much media speculation, I can now formally announce that I will be running for office in the coming election. I seek to be the next –”

Tiffany pauses. She scribbles out a long line on the piece of printed paper, and whispers, “I seek to lead our people in the pursuit of our community’s interests, to the greater and stronger futures you were promised for your children and will finally have a hand in creating.”

A hand touches her shoulder and she jumps, nearly hitting her elbow against the kitchen counter. Taeyeon smiles and gives her a kiss before moving on to the fridge.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to give you a fright.”

Tiffany takes a breath. “That’s okay. I’m just working on my speech.”

“Speech for what?” Taeyeon asks curiously, reaching up to pull out a box of cereal. “Do you have an event coming up?”

“Sort of. I’m getting ready for the inevitable press conference for my statement of candidacy.”

Taeyeon pauses, one hand on the milk. Tiffany bites her lip, and runs her finger along the edge of the paper in front of her.

“You’re preparing that already? You haven’t even met with your father and his staff yet.”

“I know. They’d be better at writing a speech for me but that’s not what I want. I need to use my own words for this, not just for the media but for myself and my father. How else can I stand in front of them tomorrow and tell them with any confidence how I feel?”

Taeyeon looks down. She prepares to pour the milk on her cereal and then stops awkwardly. She fiddles with a spoon and then she drops it and steps closer to Tiffany.

“You can do this,” she murmurs softly. “You know that, right? You can do this.”

Tiffany leans forward and her arms come up to wrap Taeyeon in a hug. “I know I can. I’m just scared.”

“Of what?”

“This is going to change everything. My life will be completely different – what if I lose all the good things I have now because of this? What if, in trying to do what I believe is important, I lose everything that’s important to me now?”

Taeyeon’s eyes meet hers with the wide, open look of earnestness that Tiffany wants to see at least once a day for the rest of her life.

“Sacrifice is part of change,” Taeyeon says, but it sounds like lines recited, once written on a worn-down gravestone. “If you lose what you have now then it means your life has been filled anew. You have to… You have to keep going to pick up the next good things.”

Tiffany stares at her for a long time. “Then what if I realize that this isn’t really what I want? What if I lose everything I have now and it turns out I never wanted anything else at all?”

Taeyeon doesn’t answer this time. They both know what she means, and they don’t talk about that any more.

“Am I trying too hard to convince myself that I’m sure about this?” Tiffany continues. She brushes the edge of her thumb all along Taeyeon’s jawline. “Because I don’t want to lose you.”

Taeyeon turns away and pours the milk into her cereal with definitiveness. “I might have to go into the office later, did you want to see if we can find another movie to watch in the morning instead?”

The pen on the kitchen counter gets tapped against the surface a little roughly a few times and Tiffany sighs. “Yeah, sure, I guess. Do you really need to work or are you still avoiding me?”

Taeyeon frowns at her, mouth half-full of cereal. “Avoiding you? I would never avoid you.”

“Avoiding the conversation, then.” Tiffany crosses her arms and leans back against the counter. “On our first date, you said it would be a good idea for me to run for office and for years since then you’ve supported me at every turn. I love you, and I love how supportive you are, but you know we need to talk about what’s happening.”

Taeyeon looks away again, chewing her cereal tersely. Eventually she finishes and sets the bowl down carefully with both hands.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Her jaw clenches, then relaxes. “That’s all.”

Tiffany can’t help but scoff. It’s only to hide the disappointment tearing at her chest from the inside; her heart swells with pain before it rips a little at the edges.

They’ve been together for years and not once has Taeyeon said those words to her.

“Taeyeon,” Tiffany breathes. “We’ve shared everything since we’ve been together. And now you don’t want to talk?”

Taeyeon’s hands move from cupping the bowl to covering her face. “I’m sorry, okay? It’s a conversation I don’t want to have. End of story.”

“Please.” Tiffany tugs at Taeyeon’s wrists, pulling her closer but wanting to see her. “Look at me. Please. Taeyeon, don’t say stuff like that. Tell me you love me.”

“Of course, I love you,” Taeyeon replies loudly. Her hands drop to Tiffany’s shoulders. “You know I love you, I love you so much. Don’t doubt that.”

“Then don’t talk like that to me! We need to do this and be honest with each other.”

“No.” Taeyeon grips the back of Tiffany’s neck with the fingers of one hand. “No, we can’t talk about this now. You need to go to that meeting tomorrow and tell them what you want to do. This can’t be about us.”

“But this is about us,” Tiffany says quietly, pressing their foreheads together. “You’re everything to me now.”

There’s that familiar look of sincerity in Taeyeon’s eyes again, and when they kiss each other it’s measured and composed.

They spend the rest of the day in bed. Taeyeon doesn’t go to the office, and Tiffany doesn’t pick a movie for them to watch.

When she wakes up alone in the middle of a lightless night, Tiffany crawls out from under the covers and sets herself down at her desk with just the lamp on, pen in one hand, neat rectangle of paper in front of her. She writes the words that show how she really feels.

On her first date with Taeyeon, Tiffany knew it was the start of something special and that was why she decided to pursue the relationship. She doesn’t consider her feelings towards her career to be similar, but as she stays up all night writing her speeches and plans, she thinks of it as the start of something special, too.

And just like her relationship with Taeyeon, Tiffany grips that paper tightly in her hands as she gets nearer and nearer to her father’s office the next morning. She’s about to lay her heart out on the table.

“Hey, kid,” her father greets warmly, and tugs her into a bear hug.

“Hey, dad.” Tiffany returns the embrace tightly, then gets ready to have a meeting with a politician, not her father.

Already at the conference table is her father’s campaign manager and the public relations consultant used by both her and her father over the years. Tiffany bites her lip, because she knows an email was sent out very early this morning requesting the presence of another person who hasn’t arrived yet.

“We can start without Taeyeon,” she says quickly. “She knows some of this already.”

Tiffany’s father looks surprised at first before nodding. “Alright. I’m sure you’ll explain everything.”

The paper in her hands is a little crinkled by now, so she straightens it out and takes a seat with everyone else.

The words swim in her head, the things she wants to say to the press and the things she wants to say in this meeting all jumbled up. She clears her throat, fiddles with a pen, and then she looks up straight into her father’s patient gaze.

“I want to change the world.” She lays her hands flat on the table’s surface. “You’ve already known that for years, but now I really want to change the world. I want to do it. I want to start with this city and keep going after that.”

“You want to run in the next election?” the public relations consultant asks, sounding surprised.

“Yes. And I want to win, too.” She glances at the staff members, giving them a little smile. “With your help.”

She can tell by the look in her father’s eyes that he’s proud. Before he can say anything, the door opens.

“Sorry I’m late,” says Taeyeon, sounding wary. “I didn’t think I was meant to be in this meeting.”

“It’s fine,” Tiffany replies immediately, trying to convey what she really means. “I’ve just informed them about my intentions for the election. Now that you’re here, I can explain some details.”

Taeyeon keeps her uncertain expression as she moves to take a seat beside Tiffany’s father, but nods greetings at everyone as she settles.

Tiffany almost bites her lip again but doesn’t, and instead takes a deep breath.

“I want Taeyeon in my campaign,” she says.

Taeyeon’s shock is palpable. Tiffany senses a similar feeling from her father and the two staff members in the room, who glance at Taeyeon in synchronicity. Taeyeon glances back at them and shrugs hurriedly.

“Taeyeon has been a great supporter of this family since she started working in my father’s office right after moving to the States, and I believe she has what it takes to manage my campaign; even if only as a deputy manager or co-manager.”

Tiffany’s father looks at Taeyeon very closely but has yet to say anything.

Taeyeon, on the other hand, is obviously trying to hide her reaction now. The clenched jaw is a dead giveaway to Tiffany, who knows she must be livid and panicking.

“Sorry for springing this on you so unexpectedly,” she says with honesty. “I was brainstorming all night. If anyone can help me win this, it’s you.”

Taeyeon just stares at her in silence.

“Do you want my advice, honey?” Tiffany’s father intones, tearing his gaze from the young woman at his side. His eyes still show some of that pride from earlier, but now they hold concern, too. “Taeyeon would be great in your campaign, but don’t reach too far with this. It’s your first election and you have a long road ahead of you. Taeyeon has great ideas for this sort of thing and I know what you’re like; together you two will develop the kind of ingenuity that most people bring about when they’re already in office. Maybe for this election you should aim for something more tried-and-true.”

Tiffany deflates a little. She knows her father means well and he has experience, but he’s suggesting exactly the thing she doesn’t in her campaign; the same old tricks, the continuation of the past.

“No,” Taeyeon says suddenly. “I’ll do it. I should do it.” She looks at Tiffany’s father with determination. “You’re right, together Tiffany and I will hold a campaign that hasn’t been seen before and that’s exactly why we should do it. Tiffany’s campaign shouldn’t be about what’s already in place and has already been used. She wants to show people that all the things they find wrong with the way the world is right now – those things will be changed and she’ll bring innovation to the community. It’s her first election, which means it’s her first step on this path, and she should take the right step from the start so she doesn’t fall.”

She looks around at the rest of the table, receiving nods of support from the public relations consultant and the campaign manager. When her eyes reach Tiffany, they watch each other silently for a long moment before nodding together.

Tiffany’s father clears his throat and sits straighter in his seat. “Okay. I agree with Taeyeon. This is the right thing to do – so let’s do it. What’s our first step?”

The paper in front of Tiffany becomes littered with pencil sketches and scrawls of places and times and slogans. She wants the right image, she wants the right words, she wants the support and the dedication of the people; she wants, she wants, she wants – she wants Taeyeon and she wants the world, she wants both. Whether she’ll get anything at all is something to keep her awake at night, but for now her dreams are for the daytime.

She feels strong, and she feels like she made the right choice, right up until they close the meeting. Taeyeon gives her a lingering look full of the same unspoken words that have tumbled around their ankles for years.

When it’s just Tiffany and her father, she already has tears growing; a little from joy, a little from being overwhelmed.

Her father stands in front of her and nearly puffs out his chest with pride.

“Tiffany,” he says. “My little girl.”

“Dad,” she sniffs, and wipes at her eyes. “Don’t, you’re making me cry.”

“You need to know this.” He rests his hands on her shoulders. “Tiffany. I’ve known you better than anyone else, all your life. I know you tell it like it is, you say things how you see them. The way you sat down today and told me what you want – that’s my girl talking, my daughter. And as your father, I’m happy and worried and hopeful. I hope that you know what you’re doing – but I know you. You know, and you’ll do this.”

They hug each other for a long time, long enough for Tiffany to think about every other hug she’s had with her father. When she was little he would carry her on his shoulders, would let her stand on his feet so they could dance together.

“Thanks, Dad,” she whispers, closing her eyes.

She toys with her phone later, in the car, being driven home, flicking through screens between messages and calls, fingers hovering over the heart symbol at the very top of all the lists.

Outside the window, the streets swarm past. Colours and sounds and people on the other side of the bubble she waits in.

No contact from Taeyeon.

She sends a message to the heart. I’m sorry for not telling you, I’m sorry for asking this of you. Please forgive me. Please come see me tonight. I love you.

 

Nothing Special

Tiffany has an appreciation for art. It’s the kind that goes ‘oh well yeah that painting looks pretty good’ rather than ‘the placement of these lights creates an intriguing visual energy’ or ‘I totally know the difference between Monet and Manet’. It’s enough to get her by when she gets invited to gallery shows – which has happened a grand total of three times – and she considers herself to have an affinity for pretending to know what she doesn’t.

It doesn’t work quite so well when she’s caught off guard.

“Beautiful piece, isn’t it?”

She almost chokes on her champagne when the voice appears beside her and jumps when she sees the young woman who’s smiling at her.

“Yeah,” she hedges, and tries to smile back, “It’s, um, great.”

The woman’s smile becomes a knowing one. “What do you think of the artist’s use of tone throughout the piece? Doesn’t it create a stunning colour relationship?”

“Yes,” Tiffany squeaks, briefly glancing at the painting in question, “absolutely. It’s great.”

The woman laughs lightly. She’s short, but in a delicate petite way, and her hair is a shade of blonde-brown that must be dyed, reaching to her shoulders. “It’s okay. I was just making stuff up. It’s a cool painting though, isn’t it?”

Tiffany smiles again, genuine and in relief this time. “Yeah, it’s pretty cool. And I have no idea what I’m doing, so don’t ask me any more about paintings unless you want me to look like an idiot all night.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she says, a twinkle in her eye as she gazes at Tiffany, “I’d say you look pretty cute.”

Tiffany blinks, flattered. No one’s called her cute since elementary school, but it’s not unwelcome.

She holds out her hand. “Tiffany.”

“Taeyeon,” the other woman answers, and gently shakes her hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too. So, do you come to art galleries just to tease those who don’t know anything about art?”

“Not at all,” Taeyeon says, and turns to the painting. “See, I don’t know a thing about art either. At least, not in the way people here like to pretend they do. They talk about visual energy, intimate colour relationships, suggestive object placements – they sound like they know what they’re talking about because it’s like they’re talking in a language they made up themselves anyway, you know? If you were to create a whole universe bit by bit, of course you’d sound like you knew it well when you talked about it. Doesn’t mean they’re right or that their universe is the same as that of the art.”

Tiffany stares at her. “You seem quite passionate about it.”

Taeyeon shrugs, not even shy about it. “They waste my time trying to drag me into conversations like that and then act all snobbish when I don’t jump through their hoops.”
Tiffany ponders this, and turns to face the painting. Her eyes go right down to the bottom right hand corner.

“Well, I guess you’d know your art better than anyone else, right?”

Taeyeon grins at her. “That’s right.”

“So you don’t mind if I have no idea about the colour relationships of your painting?”

“Not at all. You said it’s cool. That’s good enough for me. And I’ll give you a little tip – the colour relationship was ‘this looks good together’.”

This time, Tiffany laughs. “Sounds good to me. You wanna get out of here?”

Play the Ace. (one)

“She’s watching you again.”

Tiffany glances over her shoulder, not really trying to be subtle any more, and catches the furtive twitch of eyes looking anywhere but her. “You think so?”

“She’s nowhere near as sly as she thinks she is.”

The comment makes Tiffany smile. It’s undoubtedly true, and everyone in the office knows it by now. When a large number of people spend double-digit hours per day together in the same confined space, it’s pretty easy to notice the one-two-three constant glances between one person and another.

It’s cute, Tiffany thinks. She knows there’s little chance of a direct approach because she’s the mayor’s daughter and this is the mayoral office, but it’s cute that there’s so much interest that this kind of thing is unavoidable. It’s not like she gets it a lot, anyway. Usually people are not interested enough or they’re not shy at all. So this – the attempts at sneakily watching her from afar and then flitting away when the game is almost up – it’s endearing. And it’s been going on for about a month now. That makes her think it really means something.

“You’re okay with her doing that?”

She turns at the question, confused at first, then schools her expression. “Oh. Yeah, it’s fine. She’s cute. Why would I complain?”

Her father’s campaign manager shrugs. “If you ever find it creepy, just let management know. She can be gone within a day.”

Tiffany resists the urge to roll her eyes.

She does not want to be babied. She just finished her master’s degree and earned this position in her father’s office through regulated hiring processes and achievements based on her own qualifications. She gets enough of people falling over themselves to make sure she’s satisfied with her workplace and her personal life – if she’s okay with getting checked out by a girl, then she’s okay with it.

“Sure,” is all she says, and she looks over her shoulder again.

Their eyes meet this time. Tiffany is greeted by a shocked expression and she sends a cheeky smile in reply. The contact is interrupted by a passing intern and her father arrives.

“You all right, kid?”

She returns her father’s hug with one arm, the other gripping her coffee like a lifeline.

“Hi, Dad.”

“Were you looking at Taeyeon just now?”

She blinks. “I don’t know? Maybe.”

He looks at the other side of the room and waves. “Yeah, that’s Taeyeon. Bright young woman. She just moved to the States last year – very keen to get into the American world.”

Tiffany narrows her eyes at her father. “Is she one of your pet projects?”

He laughs. “You could say that. I want to make sure she gets well settled here. She’s a good kid.”

“You call everyone a kid, Dad. Did you miss your political correctness classes?”

The campaign manager snorts. Her father shakes his head.

“You are kids, the lot of you. Anyway, you doing okay today? Any issues?”

“Dad, I’ve been working here for a month now. I think I’ve gotten the hang of the basics.”

He gives her a friendly half-hug again. “Okay, young one. I’ll see you at dinner.”

Tiffany watches her father travel along the rows of employees, stopping to talk to a few and make some well-placed office-type jokes that make them want to keep working here no matter the political climate. Soon he’s going to start making sure he has their votes, too, as they get closer to re-election. His campaign manager packs up his file and disappears, leaving Tiffany to finally enjoy her coffee in peace while she still has some time left in her break.

Taeyeon. Well, Tiffany thinks, Taeyeon is cute.

She casually leans to one side so she can look behind her again, but the enigmatic Taeyeon isn’t there, and she decides to accept only mild disappointment at this fact. While she may be okay with getting checked out by a girl in her workplace, she is still the mayor’s daughter and there will always be people like her father’s campaign manager wanting to prevent any perceivable inappropriateness. So even if she were able to tell the whole world that she would be perfectly okay with getting checked out by a girl, getting picked up by a girl, and getting –

Taeyeon is right in front of her.

Tiffany almost falls off her chair in surprise, then tries to hide it.

“Hi,” says Taeyeon, and smiles.

Yeah, Taeyeon is cute.

“Hi,” Tiffany replies. “I wasn’t expecting you to actually talk to me at any point.”

Taeyeon looks down shyly. “Yeah, well… it takes me a while to build up the courage.”

She still has a slight accent. Even cuter.

“I’m glad you finally made it,” says Tiffany, and she leans forward ever-so-slightly and absolutely deliberately.

Since there’s no more attempt at subtlety, she might as well go for it.

“Me too,” Taeyeon says after a while, her face sincere. “I mean, I – wanted to introduce myself properly. My name is Taeyeon – Kim Taeyeon – or, Taeyeon Kim, I don’t…”

“It’s okay. Taeyeon, Kim Taeyeon. Nice to meet you.” Tiffany holds her hand out peaceably. “I’m Tiffany. I’d assume you already know that, but I was raised with manners and I’m determined to use them no matter what.”

Taeyeon laughs at this, and it’s only slightly likely to be purely out of politeness. She shakes the proffered hand, and they watch each other for a moment.

“My father already told me a bit about you,” Tiffany confesses.

Taeyeon’s eyes go wide. “Really? What did he say?”

“So many things.” Tiffany winks. “No, he said good things. I think he likes you.”

The relief on Taeyeon’s face is palpable. “That’s good then. It was so nice of him to let me have this job, I want to make sure he doesn’t regret it.”

“I don’t think that’s possible,” Tiffany says reassuringly, and she lightly strokes the tips of her fingers from Taeyeon’s elbow to her wrist. “He made the right choice by hiring you.”

Taeyeon’s eyes follow Tiffany’s hand and the look in her eyes is undeniable. Tiffany smiles. Taeyeon is cute, she was right – about that and more.

“I’m sure he didn’t just give you this job, anyway,” Tiffany continues, keeping her hands to herself now. “You must have earned it.”

Taeyeon shrugs, still with that look in her eyes. “Maybe. Maybe I just got lucky.”

There’s something about the way she says it….

“Well, maybe if you told me a bit more about yourself, we can see how lucky you are.” There are two ways of looking someone up and down slowly, and Tiffany goes hard for one in particular. “Maybe over drinks?”

And Taeyeon bites her bottom lip.

Tiffany is done for.

They kiss for the first time that night – totally unplanned and out of character – because Tiffany looks so passionate when she talks about the community she lives in and cares for, and Taeyeon makes her admiration so incredibly obvious when she’s watching her and agreeing with her. There’s no mention, at first, of the problems involved with their roles in the mayoral office; not even the fact that they’ll inevitably have to keep this quiet even if it’s just because they’re co-workers.

It’s only when they’re standing outside the bar, hovering, both thinking about suggesting getting a taxi. They look at each other and know.

“I had a good time tonight,” Taeyeon says, and the sincerity in her voice makes her seem soft to the touch.

Tiffany reaches out and takes Taeyeon’s hand in hers. “Me too. I know we started this with a lot of flirting and insinuation, but I didn’t expect it to go like this. I want to see you again.”

Taeyeon glances away at the darkness around them, the distant shapes and sounds of people laughing their way home with drunkenness. “Why do I get the feeling you’re going to say we shouldn’t?”

“Well, we shouldn’t.” Tiffany smiles, but she’s pretty sure Taeyeon can’t notice the shakiness. “But I want to. And I mean, my father is only the mayor and I’m only his daughter. I can’t think it would possibly create as big a scandal as some people seem to think it would.”

They watch each other, thinking.

“You know; the night is still young… Maybe we should go for a walk?” suggests Taeyeon.

They learn a few things about their city that night, like how many men are actually genuine when they offer to help them get home and how many raccoons it takes to ravage a trash bag. They learn that the streetlights on Fifth Avenue are dimmer than the other parts of town, and that the light on the corner of Thompson and Grey street is way too bright. They can see lights on or off in houses and curtains drawn, the flickering of TVs or the flashes of car headlights along the road.

Tiffany learns that Taeyeon likes to do puzzles and paint her nails. She has a dog that she paid to move with her to America, and two siblings that send her funny pictures from home. The dream she has for the future of the world involves a lot of peace and happiness, coming from common sense and conflict resolution. It’s the usual general utopia and Tiffany already knew they had similar political views, but what she didn’t expect was for Taeyeon to say –

“And that’s why I agree with people who say you should run for office.”

Tiffany stops walking, and tilts her head, eyes wide. “Office? Which office?”

“Any office,” says Taeyeon, smiling. “Every office. You should go for it.”

Tiffany blinks. “That’s a bit…. Heavy.”

Taeyeon coughs and looks away. “Right, sorry. Not really first-date conversation material, huh?”

There are a few that should not be discussed on a first date without caution – marriage, children, potential in-laws, crippling debts, politics (usually), exes, kinks – this falls into a category of major future decisions that’s a bit much but Tiffany isn’t scared off.

“This hasn’t exactly been a normal date for me,” she remarks quietly. Her fingers toy with Taeyeon’s and she looks down. “I mean; I’ve never connected this much with someone before. I don’t mind that you said that. It’s just an imposing concept. But I won’t lie, I’ve considered it. Maybe one day.”

Taeyeon’s expression is comforting and warm when Tiffany looks up again. She swings their joined hands and smiles again; the smile that is doing things to Tiffany’s heart that she can’t comprehend.

“Well, whatever you decide, I’ll support you one hundred percent. I just want you to know that.”

Before Tiffany can respond, Taeyeon leans forward and kisses her gently, soothingly, and so sincerely.

In the end, it was an easy decision to keep Taeyeon around.

This brings her to where she is now, years later, curled up in bed with Taeyeon by her side, and it’s the middle of the night. She never gets tired of waking up from a nightmare to find Taeyeon comfortingly close – this is a feeling she treasures deeply – but she’s getting tired of the nightmares themselves. Her decision to pursue politics came from an urge she within her that she couldn’t even misinterpret and now it haunts her at night. She wants to make a change, one that should be simple and shouldn’t have to be a battle but will be a battle and will be worth it. She has an image in her head of the world in a few years; not necessarily influenced by her plans but not without the concept either. One way or another, the world will change for the better, and if she has to be the one to feed it the medicine it needs, then she wants desperately to get started.

She tugs Taeyeon closer, savouring the brush of skin against her own, the warmth and serenity of Taeyeon’s sleep curving around her.

Tiffany thinks again of the upcoming meeting with her father and everyone necessary to make plans. It’s a big step, and if she backs out now this will be a dream she didn’t pursue that will make her bitter and miserable for the rest of her life.

“You’re thinking too loudly.”

Tiffany blinks at Taeyeon, who’s grimacing. “Oh. I thought you were asleep.”

“I was.” Taeyeon opens her eyes. “But you’re doing the teddy bear thing again so I knew you were worrying.”

The teddy bear thing is a regular occurrence lately. Holding Taeyeon close like a child would hug a teddy bear while her mind wanders.

Tiffany kisses Taeyeon lightly on the lips and doesn’t bother to confirm what she said.

Taeyeon can tell by the look in Tiffany’s eyes exactly what she’s been thinking about, so she gently closes Tiffany’s eyes with the tips of her fingers and kisses her slowly.

“You’re okay,” she whispers.

Tiffany sighs, and wiggles closer to Taeyeon. “How about you? How’s work?”

Since that day they met in her father’s mayoral office, Taeyeon has continued to work there with every mayor that has come through. She’s done some work for local government departments and written some articles on Korean-American relations, and all of it without a modicum of controversy. Tiffany can’t imagine how a scandal like this would affect her career – even after all this time.

“It’s alright,” Taeyeon mumbles. It sounds like she’s already going back to sleep. “No more talking now, okay? Just resting time. Everything will be bright in the morning.”

Tiffany smiles at the phrase. She quickly kisses Taeyeon one more time, then settles down to go back to her dreams. She tells herself it’s okay, because Taeyeon is here, and she drifts away again.

Play the Ace. (zero)

Tiffany has been fielding reporters since she was sixteen when her father decided to run for mayor. It’s a practised ease she uses when she’s talking to – or rather at camera lenses or politely resisting the urge to shield her face from seas of flashing lights. She does a good job of it, like with most things she does, and reporters find her as charming as the general public does. They watch her go with a warm feeling as if they’ve made a real connection with her, and all the while Tiffany is aptly disguising her desperate escape as a graceful exit, flowing from one stage to the next.

“What’s after this appointment?” she murmurs out of the corner of her mouth, flicks a smile at a young man across the room with a press pass hanging on his neck.

“Nothing,” her assistant replies, scampering slightly behind her in a way that seems like her default movement setting. Maybe it is. They’ve been doing this for years. “This ends at nine and then you’re done until Wednesday morning. I’ll email you the finalised schedule for next week as soon as we get confirmation.”

Tiffany waves her hand distractedly. “Okay, that’s all good.”

Her mind is already drifting but her smile stays in place. The closer her feet take her to the exit in the final mingle-cycle of the room, the more she’s thinking of what she’s going to do right after she leaves this event. Her fingers are itching already with the urge to do it right now, to whip out her phone and dart to her contacts list. It’ll be the entry right at the top, under ‘Favourites’, because it’s just a symbol, no letters – a heart.

“And the new councilman says -”

It’s been two days since they spoke.

“- people could not stop laughing!”

Tiffany does her light, airy gosh-you’re-funny laugh, and touches the man gently on the arm as if she really knows what the heck he’s talking about. Was it a joke? He seems to think it was a joke. Okay, she’ll treat it like a joke. She calls him a rascal, kisses him daintily on the cheek as she says her farewells, and gravitates to the next group; nearly at the finish line.

“Miss Hwang,” she’s greeted, perhaps frostily, by a local member of the Senate. “Rumour has it you’re thinking of following in your father’s footsteps now that you’ve got your doctorate. Should I be calling you my competition?”

The glint in his smile is edgier than his voice, which is finely crafted with age-old democratic nicety.

“No need to let rumours scare you out of your seat just yet, Senator,” she replies, making no effort to slip acid into her words or face because she’s being sincere and honest. “And if I do decide to pursue politics any further,” she adds, wondering if he’d notice the shift away from her father’s shadow, “I can only hope the world will be ready for what a Korean-American woman can bring to the table, and that such a table would be open to me after all its years spent under the command of men such as yourself. Enjoy the rest of your evening, sir.”

Her heart is beating a mile a minute and she lets it carry her out the door, down the steps, and into the limo waiting for her. She hardly takes notice of the few reporters still straggling outside in the cold winter air, giving the default smile-and-wave as she passes. Once the door is closed and the vehicle is moving towards her apartment, she takes slow breaths and she thinks.

The meeting on Wednesday morning. It’s with her father, his campaign manager, and their usual public relations consultant. It’s not just rumour, she’s really going to do it. And that meeting will be when she makes her sale. Something like the Senate will be a long way off, but one day…

Her fingers fumble for her phone, and the call she makes is answered in one and a half rings.

“Hi.”

“Hey.”

That’s all they say at first, and it’s left to sink in.

“What are you doing tonight?”

“Nothing at all,” comes the reply. “Your schedule for tomorrow?”

“Clear as a cloudless sky. Come over as soon as you can.”

“Yes, boss.”

Tiffany clicks her tongue, and she can tell they’re both smiling as they say nothing for a while.

“Love you,” she says softly.

“Love you too. See you soon.”

The limo is nearing her apartment, and Tiffany clutches her phone tightly in her hand long after the call ends as if she’s holding a genie in a bottle. She almost wishes she was. Or rather, she wishes it was Taeyeon in a bottle.

Her free hand goes to her face, and she massages her temples with the tips of her fingers.

What a silly thing to think. Taeyeon in a bottle. An incredible image. Tiffany’s lips twitch with amusement, but it’s not enough to cover what she really feels – because she really does wish Taeyeon was right here, within reach, and that she didn’t have to wait until they could be together.

But.

Politics.

She sighs. She didn’t know for sure that the world was ready for a Korean-American woman moving up the ranks of political power; what were the prospects for a Korean-American woman who was in love with another woman?

The limo stops. Tiffany takes the time to thank her driver and wave him off as he disappears around the corner. She stands outside in the chill for a few moments, letting it brush across her skin and make her body pull tighter in on itself. Her phone chirps with a text from the heart – a brief ‘on my way now’ message. She spins around and takes confident strides all the way to her apartment on the fifth floor, no longer letting discomfort edge along her mind.

Because Taeyeon is on her way.