Taeyeon tried to open the door three times before she smacked it with her palms and cursed it blue. The wood didn’t even shake, and she was sorely tempted to hit it again just because it was too strong. She spun on her heels and shot her glare around the hallway.
It was 1:54am on a Wednesday, and she did not have her keys. In fact, she had very little at all beyond the clothes on her back, and it was an issue at the forefront of her mind as she searched for some magical solution to all her problems. Problems which began three years ago, really, and culminated in her presence trapped in front of her apartment door in the middle of the night.
She whipped her phone out of her pocket, swiped it and tapped a few times on the sizeable screen. When it informed her that the call was being placed, she held it to her ear and closed her eyes tightly.
“Hello?” The feminine voice was groggy with sleep. “Who what wha?”
“I need the key to my apartment I gave you,” Taeyeon hissed.
“The key,” Taeyeon repeated, “to my apartment. I gave you a copy.”
“Wha-Who is this?”
“Taeyeon,” Taeyeon barked. “This is Taeyeon, and I need the key to my apartment that I gave to you, Sunny, last year, on planet Earth.”
“Oh, I should have known it was you.” Sunny yawned. “Well, I don’t know if I still have it, I mean I never even used it once.”
Taeyeon opened her eyes, frowning. “I gave you that key for emergencies.”
“Yeah, and there was never an emergency, so… Anyway why do you want that at two in the morning? Some of us have to get up for work in like four hours. You included.”
Taeyeon sighed. She ran a hand over her face and settled into the familiar motion of rubbing her temples. With only four hours before she had to get ready for work, there didn’t seem much chance of getting the promotion that she was being reviewed for. It was meant to be decided on the same day that was starting with Taeyeon trapped in a dingy little hallway with no sleep and no interest in living any more.
“I’m locked out,” Taeyeon breathed. “I don’t have my keys. Do you still have that copy or not?”
Sunny was silent for a moment, and the gears in her head were almost audible as she contemplated. It was the middle of the night, in the middle of a working week; here was a phone call full of angst and undisguised anger; her best friend, who was usually in bed by now after a grandmotherly quantity of calming hot chocolate, was locked out without her keys.
There was a rustling through the phone as Sunny got out of bed, and then she was rummaging through a drawer that was clearly designated for random junk. Sunny mumbled something, muffled, before there was a clanking of keys and she said, “Got it. Be there soon.”
And the call was over. Taeyeon lowered her phone to her side, and rested her body against the door that she still slightly wanted to abuse. She tilted her face upwards, took a deep breath, and closed her eyes. The light from the ceiling covered her, blanketed her eyelids, and its muted brightness still managed to remind her of Tiffany.
Tiffany, Tiffany, Tiffany. She used to think it wasn’t a very good name, perhaps because she had only encountered it on fictional hookers and annoying sugar-smeared children. She also used to think there wasn’t just one woman who could claim the title of most beautiful. Both these ideologies were completely thrown out the window at four o’clock on the afternoon of a tranquil summer day when she held out her hand for a stranger to shake and was greeted with the words, “Hi, I’m Tiffany!”
That day, three years ago, was the day Taeyeon woke up. It was as if everything she was up to that point was some strange being that she didn’t even recognise, couldn’t understand why she had been like that. She used to shake her head at herself, wondering how she was that person when she could have been this wonderful, beloved and loving thing that she became.
“Tiffany, Tiffany, Tiffany,” Taeyeon cursed. She moved her head and banged it against the door, and she clenched her jaw so tightly she imagined her gritted teeth might shatter to pieces.
The fingers of her one hand curled, nails scraping against the door, and she tried to stop herself from shaking, but her eyes were heating up and the tears were waiting, just waiting for her to let go, to burst.
She inhaled deeply, feeling her muscles tense, and she didn’t cry. She hung her head and took quiet breaths. For a long time, she stood still, her body as stiff as a statue, and her mind was full of static. She didn’t want to think of Tiffany any more, she couldn’t. One more thought and she would melt. Tantalisingly, she heard a whisper of a memory, the sound of Tiffany’s voice, and she forced it away so that the laughter cut off and disappeared and she felt her head buzzing furiously.
Then there came a noise from the end of the hallway, and the elevator opened to reveal Sunny who was looking ruffled and shaggy in her crumpled pyjamas and an old jacket.
“Finally,” Taeyeon muttered.
Sunny stopped in front of her and gave her a cold look. “Excuse me? Don’t get all ungrateful now. Move so I can unlock your door for you because I am the best friend in the universe.”
Taeyeon slunk away, hunching her shoulders as she watched Sunny turn a key in the lock and push the door open.
“I expect a full explanation,” declared Sunny, “and some hot chocolate.”
Taeyeon blinked at her wearily. She wasn’t in the mood. Now that her door was unlocked, her dark apartment was beckoning, and all she so desperately wanted to do was drag her heavy body inside, curl up on the freezing cold kitchen floor, and disintegrate. But clearly her face betrayed her anti-social, anti-living inclinations, because Sunny gave her a stern, hard look, and grabbed her arm to pull her into the apartment.
The lights flicked on as they made their way further inside, Sunny’s fingers finding the switches easily. She kicked off her untied shoes at the door and Taeyeon released herself from her friend’s grip to slouch away into the kitchen. She absently filled the kettle with water and turned it on, and crumpled ever so slightly around the edges when she let herself breathe again.
Sunny’s hand came to rest on her arm, and she looked up in the now lit kitchen and met the concerned gaze.
Taeyeon sighed. And she sighed again. Her shoulders shook with the force of her exhalations, as if she could break her lungs and stop breathing before she had to speak one word of her pain. Sunny gripped her in a tight, warm hug, and gently rocked her side to side.
“Tell me,” she said.
“Tiffany,” the name spilled from Taeyeon’s weakening lips, “Tiffany.”
“What about Tiffany?”
“She broke up with me.”
Sunny froze while Taeyeon melted. Releasing the words let Taeyeon’s last defence fall. There was no more support for denial; she could no longer muffle the truth, keep it from hitting her again. Sunny moved back a little, tightening her hold on Taeyeon’s upper arms, and her expression was one of shock.
Three years. Three years Taeyeon and Tiffany were in a relationship. Their connection was quick to spark, intense in development, and after three years of settling into something powerfully solid, it was impossible to imagine the bond breaking. Or it had been impossible to imagine, but here was a broken Taeyeon to show for it.
“Tiffany broke up with me,” Taeyeon blistered, anger suddenly boiling in her gut. “She fucking broke up with me. Tiffany.”
The name was becoming more and more like a swearword with the vehemence that propelled it. Sunny couldn’t help but flinch. She had heard Taeyeon say Tiffany’s name in many ways in the past; curiousity, admiration, adoration, passion, tenderness, annoyance, concern, longing, and a comfortableness that came from voicing a word so often that it became a part of her mouth. This, whatever it was, sent a shiver of fear down Sunny’s spine.
“Nothing, I don’t know, I don’t want to talk about it.” Taeyeon turned, ripping herself away from Sunny, and yanked a cupboard open to stare blankly at the mugs lined up inside. Her back was ramrod straight, her body stiff, her muscles tensing up tighter bit by bit.
Tiffany’s excuses stormed into her thoughts. All the words, all the shapes her lips formed as she spoke her poison, as she shattered and crushed and killed Taeyeon.
Three years ago Taeyeon scoffed at her old self when she changed into another person because she fell in love, and on this night she changed into another creature altogether and the harsh bitterness was just as strange as the sweetness had been.
She clawed at a mug, a hideously pink mug with a stupid, ugly little yellow puppy on it that had a moronic, fucked up little grin, and she clutched it and her body flowed as she swung it at the wall.
“What the fuck did you mean when you said those things?!”
She grabbed another mug, pale white with a weak, shitty red heart, and it shattered into dust against the fridge.
“Found someone else – what is that shit supposed to mean?”
Her fingers slipped on the third mug with its blue and pink swirl and those scratchy uneven letters that spelled a lie, wickedness, and the mug broke jaggedly in two against the edge of the door.
“I hate your stupid mugs, Tiffany,” Taeyeon hissed, but her hiss crackled and her voice wavered. “I hate the stupid mugs you made for me in your stupid pottery class and I hate how you were so adorable when you said you wanted to try pottery just for something new, so cute every time you presented me with a new gift made by your own hands. I hate you so much, Tiffany.”
And finally the anger burst into something she was avoiding. The tears that built up and pressed against the inside of her skull broke from her eyes and took her along in the flood. She fell to her knees as the heat from her gut that kept her muscles tight and her body stiff finally faded.
“Tiffany,” she sobbed, sinking into the floor, “Why did you say those things, Tiffany.”
Sunny stared at her friend for a moment longer, stunned, before she made her way through the debris and joined her on the floor. She wrapped Taeyeon into another hug, and made gentle hushing sounds.
“Just breathe, Taeyeon, just breathe,” she murmured. “Take a deep breath and let it all out.”
“I don’t wanna breathe anymore,” Taeyeon whimpered. She slumped further down, pressing her face into the floor. “I don’t want to breathe. She is my reason to breathe; now she’s blocking my throat and I can’t breathe without her, I don’t want to.”
Sunny hushed her again, mind racing in panic. She wasn’t sure what to do. Here they were, in the early hours of the morning, on a cold kitchen floor, and she couldn’t tell if Taeyeon was likely to do something horrible. She wanted to help her friend – she knew it was impossible to just get her to calm down, but she hadn’t even processed what had happened.
“Do you want to tell me what happened, Taeng?” Sunny whispered, stroking Taeyeon’s back. “Just tell me how you ended up here at two in the morning without your keys.”
“I left them in her apartment. I was going to stay over tonight, we were – she said she couldn’t sleep without me, so I went over – but she – she looked at me and she just….”
Taeyeon’s body shuddered with another sob and Sunny tightened the hug.
“We were in her bed, just talking about stuff, I mentioned my promotion t-today and she said good luck and then it was quiet for a while and she sat up, and she turned to me, and she said she needed to tell me something.”
Taeyeon clenched her eyes shut, wishing she could squeeze herself out of existence.
She was back in that dark bedroom, the street light from outside mostly blocked by the curtains, and Tiffany stroked her hair and she breathed a soft whisper that made Taeyeon’s lips curl into a smile. Her hand rested on Tiffany’s stomach, she was surrounded by Tiffany’s scent, her warmth. She mumbled her thanks, and slipped into silence as her breath matched Tiffany’s. The warmth shifted and faded as Tiffany sat up, making Taeyeon let go of her, and her profile was briefly visible in the darkness before she turned her face towards Taeyeon again and muttered in a strained voice.
“And she said –”
Tiffany said, “Taeyeon, I don’t love you anymore. I found someone else.”
Taeyeon broke for the hundredth time that night, the words burning her flesh anew as she echoed them.
“What does it mean?” Taeyeon whispered. “She found someone else. How the fuck does she find someone else? How does she stop loving me? Why? Why would she make me hers so entirely and then just stop, and find someone else?”
There was no answer. Sunny sure as hell didn’t know how to answer that question. Tiffany’s behaviour didn’t make sense. Her understanding of Tiffany that developed over three years just did not match with what happened. Now, on the one hand she didn’t want to give Taeyeon false hope by suggesting Tiffany didn’t mean it, but on the other hand she felt she couldn’t accept it either.
“What happened then?” she asked, looking at Taeyeon. She was relieved to find her friend no longer sobbing, and yet the emptiness didn’t seem good either.
Taeyeon gripped the bed sheets in her fingers, nails catching on the fabric, and she willed her body upright, and she hoped to whatever deity may exist that Tiffany was not being serious at all. And she asked Tiffany to repeat herself, and Tiffany repeated herself, and Taeyeon searched for a way to cover the fresh cut on her heart. She laughed it off and cried just as quickly. She begged, she doubted, she shouted. Tiffany stared at her, blank, quiet, and then she closed her eyes. Taeyeon stopped.
“She was quiet for a long time,” she whispered, meeting Sunny’s eyes. “And I was just hoping and hoping that she would say that she still loves me. Even though the pain had already crushed me, I just wanted her to say that she loves me.”
But she didn’t.
Taeyeon moved out of Sunny’s embrace, and rolled onto her back on the floor. She stared at the ceiling. She closed her eyes. She took a deep breath, so deep she thought it might explode her lungs at last, and then she let it all out.
“I love you, Tiffany,” she whispered on the cusp of her breath. “And it hurts so much. And I hate you, because I love you.”
She brought her arms up over her face, smothering her eyes, and she took another trembling breath and let it out.
“Love is so bad.”