Taeyeon enjoyed standing by the river. She would let her feet make roots in the grass by the river bank and centre herself as she watched the water travel in front of her. A small smile developed on her face as she did so, growing from a thin line of lips to a mini quirked grin – the reasons were simple enough and over time she had figured it all out in her head. The constant, free movement of the river’s water showed her that it stopped for nothing and pushed itself onwards no matter what lay behind it; it came from some spring somewhere and just went ahead without looking back. Wryly she would explain it to herself in her mind with the tone of a kindergarten teacher: keep moving forward, don’t get stuck in the past, look ahead and put one foot in front of the other every moment of every day. These were things she had learned, things she taught herself.
“Such a kid,” she muttered, and shrugged.
There were a few cynical notes of adulthood that followed – such as the fact that water couldn’t look back anyway, since it was water, and the whole thing about a river’s flow being determined by some minor scientific notions of gravity and the loss of potential energy or whatever – but Taeyeon liked to leave it more to her imagination. She was getting good at that. It made her world seem more normal; she had noticed that a lot of normal people loved to escape reality. She hadn’t had much of a choice thus far but she was developing a rather neat little trick for making everything seem a little more magical, and it eased the pain at times.
Taeyeon shook herself thoroughly. “Okay, enough moping around for today.”
It took her less than half an hour to reach Tiffany’s house. She felt her palms get a little sweaty as she made her way along the stone path to the front door, and she glanced around at the neat, colourful flowerbeds and trimmed grass. She could easily imagine Tiffany spending her weekends in the garden, smiling to herself and maybe humming a little tune as she planted flowers, and Prince would hop towards her and make her laugh when he leaped on her with his muddy paws.
Taeyeon realised she had stopped in the middle of the path. She wiped absently at the corner of her eye, confused, and turned to carry on. Perhaps her imagination seemed too real.
Tiffany greeted her with a grin and a brief hug, and immediately ushered her inside with great excitement.
It was almost Christmas time. The months had flown fast, and Taeyeon half wished it had gone slower and half looked forward to the present and future that she could now encounter.
“Don’t you ever get tired of thinking so much about the same thing?” she muttered to herself. She was waiting in the living room, sinking into the well-cushioned couch and listening to the faint piano music coming from the stereo, while Tiffany was changing into her new dress. “Stop obsessing over how much your lack of a past makes your future so important.”
But she hardly had a choice in the matter. Obsessing over her past seemed to be her automatic, natural state. She rolled her eyes. She got up from the couch and stuck her hands in her pockets as she wandered around the living room. There were some rather pleasant paintings of city-scapes, and a cute sketch of a dog that looked kind of like Prince. She wondered if Tiffany was an artist. She also wondered what the music was, as she glanced at the stereo with a curious frown on her face, and at the same time a flicker in the back of her mind told her she should know all these things already; she ignored that.
There was a photo on the wall, in a dark frame, which showed an intently coloured image in a style that reminded her of movies from the time when colouring first became a thing. A little girl was in a big garden, standing on a wide lawn, but her foot was lifted like she was in the process of jumping and her face was beaming in a way that identified her as Tiffany without any room for doubt. Taeyeon smiled; Tiffany was a cute kid, not surprisingly. Her arms were splayed high in the air and Taeyeon could almost hear the click of a camera followed by the loud, playful laughter of a flying Tiffany.
She turned to see Tiffany standing in the doorway. To say she was gorgeous would be an understatement, Taeyeon immediately decided. Instead she said, “Woah,” in a wonderfully eloquent manner. Judging by the way Tiffany giggled it was still a coherent statement.
Tiffany stepped forward and spun around. “What do you think? Will it be okay for the office Christmas party?”
Taeyeon nodded, her eyes tracing every line of the dress. “It’s good for everything. You should just wear that every day.”
“Sure, I could totally imagine going grocery shopping in this dress or taking Prince for a walk, or even gardening like this.”
Taeyeon smiled at Tiffany’s return of the joke, and moved closer. She reached out and lightly tugged at part of the dress, running her fingers down the fabric, and returned her hands to her pockets again.
“What’s this song?” she asked, meeting Tiffany’s gaze again.
Tiffany listened for a moment, her eyes cast towards the ceiling, before looking back with a happy smile. “It’s Satie’s first Gnossienne. It’s lovely, isn’t it? It has such a mystical feel to it. I put his Gymnopédie and Gnossienne on the same playlist because I think they go quite well together. Wait, I’ll play the third Gymnopédie again, it’s so romantic.”
Taeyeon watched as she went to the stereo and fiddled with it. “You know quite a lot about classical music, then?”
Tiffany shrugged. “Not a lot. I just hear songs that I like, find out a bit more about them, and listen to them again if I want to. I don’t know much about classical music in general.”
The song changed and she turned back to Taeyeon, twirling in her new dress again. She closed her eyes and listened to the music for a moment, lips curved.
Taeyeon stared at Tiffany. She inhaled, and exhaled. “Right,” she said.
She listened to it again when she got home, searching it on the internet and pressing replay every two minutes and forty-five seconds. She closed her eyes, and dreamed.
Taeyeon and Tiffany stood in that luminous garden of her youth, Tiffany in her new dress and Taeyeon in the clothes she had worn at the start of her memories. Tiffany took Taeyeon’s hand without a word and brought her closer and closer, and Taeyeon looked down at Tiffany’s dress and then back at her bright eyes. They danced, there on the grass, following the beat of the piano’s tune smoothly, stepping a leisurely waltz with their arms around each other and their bodies close, changing the lead every other turn. And Taeyeon could feel the warmth filling her up to the brim, a grin shaping her lips and her eyes only for Tiffany. Tiffany’s eye-smile came and went; sometimes a beaming look and sometimes quiet, content little smiles with her warm eyes, always given to Taeyeon.
Taeyeon slowed their dance to a halt and held Tiffany even closer. Without a word, without a moment’s hesitation, she kissed her.
The phone was ringing incessantly when she woke up. Her hand scrabbled over the table to get close to it, knocking over an empty glass and scattering a few pens.
“Hello?” she grumbled.
“Dude, where are you? Are you coming to work today?”
Taeyeon frowned, and looked at the clock. “Huh?”
“It’s Monday! Ten o’clock in the morning! That’s traditionally considered to be work time in our industry, you know.”
“Monday morning…?” She parted the curtain slightly and squinted at the sunshine that flooded in. “Oh wow. I thought it was still Sunday night. I’m late for work!”
“Now she gets it. Hurry up and go to work! We’ll cover for you for a little while longer.”
“Yeah, Yuri is here today.” Sunny’s voice lowered. “So is Jessica. Get here fast, okay?”
Taeyeon was locking her front door when she thought about her dream again, one arm still half-way stuck in her jacket sleeve and a piece of toast dangling between her teeth. The click of the lock reminded her of a camera’s shutter, and it seemed for a moment like she was there again, standing on the grass with Tiffany, kissing her.
She stopped. She leaned her forehead against the wooden door and took a slow breath. “Idiot,” she muttered. “Just go to work. Be crazy later.”
But she ended up being crazy again while she drove to work, tapping her fingers on the steering wheel in a slow rhythm that was undoubtedly a waltz. She took another deep breath, tasting the fresh air of a garden and the glimpse of Tiffany’s scent. Her eyes were slipping shut, and she snapped them open again immediately, almost swerving the car.
She stopped at a red light and smacked herself in the face. “Come on you little weirdo, focus! Is this developing into an obsession over Tiffany? Because that would be considered creepy…” She sighed. “Ah, forget it. Let’s just go to work and do office things. And stop talking to myself.”
The office seemed unusually cold when she arrived, and it made her freeze midway through unbuttoning her coat as she stepped through the doorway. She ran her gaze around the office; taking in the desolate sight of Yuri slumped at her desk, and Jessica busily putting blank pieces of paper through the shredder. Sunny took a sip from her coffee cup and sent SOS signals with her eyes. Taeyeon shrugged off her coat, letting the cold bite at her, and went to her desk.
After pretending to work for a while with Sunny’s eyes boring into her back, she awkwardly turned around in her chair a few times and went over to Yuri’s desk.
“Hey, buddy,” she greeted faintly. “How are you?”
Yuri didn’t answer. Her empty eyes were fixed on some point in space. Taeyeon reached out and put a hand on her shoulder, wincing at the sudden shock of static electricity from the fabric, and squeezed.
“Wanna talk about it?”
Yuri shook her head. “I don’t need to say anything to you.”
Taeyeon frowned, wounded. “Look Yuri, I’m sorry if my stupid meddling offended you, I’m really sorry. But can’t we still be friends?”
Yuri turned to look at her, eyes dark. “No. I mean, I don’t have to say anything to you, because you already know. Don’t you know?”
Yuri just blinked at her. Sunny appeared, taking Taeyeon’s arm and gently guiding her away. “Just give her some time.”
Taeyeon shook her head. “Sunny. Sunny, something weird is going on. I think I’m going crazy.”
“Nonsense,” Sunny said. Their steps echoed. “You’re not going crazy.”
Taeyeon’s frown deepened. Why were their steps echoing? She realised they were in the stairwell, its bareness around her and metal steps beneath her feet.
“Sunny, where are we going? Sunny?”
Sunny just gave her a reassuring pat on the back. “Tell me about these weird things that are going on.”
Taeyeon stared at her, almost misplacing her foot, and swallowed. “Um, it’s nothing. Nothing, I think I just need to take a break or something. Oh look, here we are in the carpark, that’s perfect, I’ll just go home -”
“What? Sunny, you’re really scaring me!”
Sunny let go of her arm and turned to face her in the carpark, the soles of her shoes scraping on the ground.
“Taeyeon. Taeyeon, wake up. Then you can go home. That’s where your home is.”
Taeyeon’s head shook. She was breathing hard, gulping for air, staring at Sunny with wide scared eyes and her hands trembled.
“Go,” Sunny said, her expression urgent. “Go home.”
Home. Taeyeon whipped around, almost tripping, and smacked into her car. She needed to go to Tiffany. Tiffany would know what was going on, why her world felt like it was fraying again and flickering like a dying light, and Tiffany would make her safe again.
Her fingers slipped and stumbled as she started the engine, and her feet slammed against the pedals as she twisted the steering wheel.
The tyres screeched as they fought with the tar road but their protests fell on deaf ears. Taeyeon’s mind was spinning, she blinked rapidly to try to stabilize everything, and her grip tightened and went slack. There was a crash as the car pummelled through a railing and the car flew.
She drifted. Taeyeon felt weightless, immaterial, insignificant, an inharmonious leaf being ungraciously carried by an ill wind. Her eyes were closed; it was not that she was in total darkness, rather that her eyes were tightly closed, held closed by her own volition. She didn’t want to see what was around her as she tumbled, and floated, and fell. She squeezed her eyes shut even tighter, eradicating the sense of a world outside of her mind, and thought of Tiffany.
Tiffany. Dear sweet Tiffany, who was so warm and would laugh and smile and hug; her lovely Tiffany, who would hold her hand and wish her well.
It was an odd feeling when the tears started to build up. Her pain and sorrow gathered fast behind her eyelids and waited their turn, waited for her to open her eyes so that they could storm.
Her face scrunched up, she could feel the contortion, as she fought to keep her eyes closed forever. A sob escaped her throat, and she shut her mouth to muffle the next one.
And then it was all over, just like that. Her eyes snapped open. She had no choice any more. An ethereal voice had entered her world. Her body fell flat on a soft surface, a pillow at the back of her head. She inhaled a deep ragged breath desperate for air.
She felt her limbs as the numbness dissipated. Her eyes adjusted, slowly, to show her an all too familiar sight. The hospital ceiling. The image that always opened for her nightmares and sleepless nights.
She turned her head, feeling that friend of fear creep along the edges of her mind. Was it all happening again? Was everything a dream? Was…
She was looking through murky water, everything blurred and dim. She blinked, rapidly, desperately, and strained to hear that voice again. Her hands scrabbled, at the side of the bed, at the wall behind her head, searching for something to make the room visible.
Her fingers shakily raked over a plastic switch and her world was swamped in pale whiteness.
There was no one there.
She blinked. And blinked again.
Her eyes turned from the empty hospital room to look down at her hands. She turned her palms to face her. She wanted to convince herself that she was real, that those hands had touched Tiffany; that Tiffany was real and the room around her was the dream.
Jeans, a t-shirt, and a thin hoodie. Those same clothes that had been burned into her memory. The only trace of life she had when she first surfaced from the darkness.
But now they were different. She frowned. They seemed different. These weren’t the clothes that she had started her life in; these were the clothes she had pulled on carelessly on a Saturday afternoon when she had been woken from her daze by a shrill phone call. The legs of these jeans had touched the seat of her car; the sleeve of that hoodie had brushed against the hospital door; these clothes were familiar.
The shrill phone call. The call that pierced her as she sat immobile on her couch in her pyjamas, contemplating the purpose of her existence.
“She’s hurt. She’s been in an accident.”
Tiffany, Tiffany, Tiffany.
“You’d better come. She’d want you here, Taeyeon.”
She was up and out the door without even blinking, stumbling over her own feet as she skittered down the corridor.
Her hands slapped against another door, her arms shoved the wood until it moved, she burst through into the room beyond, and she fell to her knees.
The figure that lay on the bed silent and unmoving was undoubtedly Tiffany’s; the face that remained still and frozen in beauty was Tiffany’s; the heart that beat slowly and unsurely as measured by the beeping of a machine was Tiffany’s, which she had once given to Taeyeon in full bloom.
Taeyeon broke. Her own heart cracked anew, a long jagged line next to the shoddily patched fissure just off centre. Her soul wept and it was all her body could do to echo.
But this too was familiar. She had been in this position recently, curled on the cold hospital floor, watching her love falter in a hospital bed. And the arm that came around her shoulders and picked her up off the ground was familiar also, the reassuring comfort of her friend.
“You’re awake,” Sunny said. Her voice was blank, carefully so, and she looked at Taeyeon with hesitance. “How do you feel?”
Taeyeon looked back at her, conscious of how her soul was rushing out of the crack in her heart like sand through broken glass, and said, “I love Tiffany. I love Tiffany.”
“It’s okay,” Sunny whispered, the words as empty as they sounded, and she sat Taeyeon down on the chair by the wall and sat next to her. “It’s okay, honey. She will be fine.”
Taeyeon covered her face with her hands and breathed. “I dreamed.”
“Was it a really wacky dream? When the doctors gave you those sedatives they said you might have weird dreams.”
“It didn’t feel like a dream,” Taeyeon murmured. “You were there. Tiffany was there. And Yuri and Jessica.”
“Yuri and Jessica.” She realised, suddenly, that they didn’t exist in this world. “Oh, never mind. It was a weird dream, yeah. I loved Tiffany there, too.”
Sunny sighed, and wrapped her arm firmly around Taeyeon. “All we can do is wait.”
And they waited, for hours and hours, and Taeyeon spent as many moments as she could with Tiffany, sitting next to her and talking to her and watching her eyes flicker behind their lids. Sunny knew to leave them alone often, and the click of the door behind her started Taeyeon’s new day.
“Good morning,” she said to Tiffany, and kissed her on the forehead. “The weather today is looking good. Not a cloud in sight. I had jelly for breakfast, hope you don’t mind. Today I want to tell you about the dream I had of you.”
She settled on the edge of the bed and took Tiffany’s hand in her own.
“You know, I’m really stupid. And I hurt you a lot. And these things haunted me in my dreams. I think it’s all pretty well summarized in the drug-induced dream I had when I came here. You see, I’ve been thinking about that dream a lot, and basically… I am nothing without you.”
She stroked Tiffany’s hair and gave her a weary smile.
“When I ran from you, I crashed. I stopped. My world disappeared, because you are my whole world, Tiffany. I had nothing left, and I was nothing. And when I tried to rebuild my life, I needed you, because you are my life. It’s funny; I kept trying to give myself hints all throughout my dream. It was all so normal, the world I was in, but every now and then there would be a rebuttal, a glimpse of something else. It was like my mind was having a conversation with itself, or my heart was discussing it all with my mind. Anyway, I had these friends there: Yuri and Jessica. You would have like them, they’re great. But you see they were us.”
Taeyeon chuckled and shook her head.
“Crazy. I was falling in love with you all over again while their parallel was showing me what really happened to us, and my new life wouldn’t stick, couldn’t be built solid, because it faltered without you until it stuttered to a halt and I was brought full circle back to you. Those sedatives are really something. You know why I needed sedatives, right? I exploded when I saw you like this; I shattered into tiny little fragments on the floor. My mind was racing so fast. I just kept thinking about all the things I hadn’t told you, about all the chances I would never get, about all the thoughts and feelings I’ve had for you and that I still have. Ah, I’m really stupid. I hated myself so much. I could feel myself tearing up my insides at the very image of you at the precipice of death. You… I kept remembering everything about you. Your smiles, your hugs, your kisses, your words, your thoughts, your feelings, your dreams, your warmth, your love. Everything that is you.”
She leaned forward and rested her forehead on Tiffany’s.
“Remember that summer night at your parents’ house? It was warm. You were wearing that dress and we were barefoot on the grass. I couldn’t stop grinning. You hummed Satie’s third Gymnopédie and we danced. I didn’t kiss you. I didn’t kiss you like I wanted to. Did I ever tell you that I wanted to kiss you that night? I’m stupid. I should have kissed you. I should have kissed you every time I wanted to and every time you wanted me to.”
Taeyeon kissed Tiffany, soft and light and sweet.
“I need to tell you. I need you. I need you to know this now whether or not I’ll ever see you again after this moment.”
She kissed her again.
“I want you. I need you. I miss you. I love you.”
She pressed their lips together and breathed, “I am sorry.”
Everything was real again. The texture of Tiffany’s lips, the sound of her breathing inside her body, the warmth of her skin, and then there was the beautiful bright colour of her eyes appearing from behind her fluttering eyelids like the rise of the sun. Taeyeon smiled. This was her world, this was her home, and this was Tiffany.
“I love you.”
And it didn’t matter which one had said it first. Taeyeon knew now that Tiffany was in love with her too; again.
Tiffany hummed Satie’s third Gymnopédie, and once again gave Taeyeon her heart that was no longer weak, and Taeyeon kissed her again. Tiffany didn’t need to wonder, and Taeyeon didn’t need to dream.