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.

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.

 

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.