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.
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?
“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.