“I didn’t realize that you had friends like them,” said Seulji, her eyebrow quirks, revealing her surprise at this discovery and Hyoyeon feels a sense of satisfaction at having unsettled her cousin, even if it were only in the slightest. Her cousin has never made life easy for her and payback in any form is sweet. Yet at the same time, it strikes her as odd that Seulji would even be affected by her. Her cousin has always held herself above reproach and way above her cousins in stature. Hyoyeon is well aware of her cousin’s disdain for her lack of ambition as a fairy. So why would her choice of friends be of any concern to Seulji?
Hyoyeon decides that a shrug would suffice as an answer to Seulji’s question. She can’t very well lie about how she came to know Yoona and Seohyun. She doesn’t want to. But Seulji’s eyes narrow suspiciously.
“What are you hiding, Hyoyeon?”
Hyoyeon can tell that Seulji wants to say more but is unable to. Seulji has no way of knowing that Yoona and Seohyun are already aware of their true identities and is biting her tongue, lest she should let the secret slip. Hyoyeon grins inwardly. This is the perfect chance to get away from Seulji.
“I’m just friendly, that’s all. But please excuse us. We have somewhere to be.”
Yoona proves to be ever the quick-witted girl when she smiles and finally speaks.
“Good evening, Seulji unnie, see you at work tomorrow.”
Seohyun steps forward as well and says the same thing as Yoona does which marks the end of Seulji’s chance to grill Hyoyeon further. Together, they walk away, putting as much distance between them and Seulji before Hyoyeon finally dares to speak again.
“Thanks, Yoona. Thanks, Seohyun.”
“No problem, Hyoyeon. We don’t really like her much but she’s our senior lifeguard on the team and we all have to report to her. And she has a thing for Yuri unnie,” says Yoona, her nose crinkling with distaste. “Poor Yuri unnie has to ward off her advances all the time.”
“Really?” Hyoyeon is surprised to know that her ever so snobbish cousin would actually be hankering after a girl, even if she’s an attractive one like Yuri. “Seulji is working as a lifeguard to further her knowledge of humans. She aims to climb up the rungs of fairy hierarchy and make it into the elite branch one day. I can’t imagine her getting hung up on anyone.”
“Yuri unnie can attest to it. She’s even resorted to bringing some girlfriends to the facility to try and make it clear that she’s not interested in Seulji unnie but to no avail.”
“Why doesn’t she just tell Seulji that she doesn’t like it then?”
Yoona sighs. “We’ve been trying to get to her to put her foot down but Yuri is too nice to come out and say it. She tried to hint at it but nothing works so eventually, she decides to tolerate it. I believe the exact quote is ‘Seulji has not really crossed any lines’.”
Hyoyeon is in utter disbelief at this point, so Seohyun explains, “Yuri unnie is very respectful of her seniors. She knows that Seulji fancies her yet at the same time, has not done anything overboard. Seulji is also a senior who knows her stuff. She is a capable senior and although none of us like her because of her snobbishness, we can’t deny that she has taught us a lot of what we know. Yuri unnie would never act disrespectfully towards her.”
Hyoyeon is rendered speechless. She understands that humans in this part of the world have a very strong sense of senior and junior hierarchy but she could never truly understand it. It doesn’t work like this in the fairy world. So it’s evident now that Seulji has indeed been learning a lot about humans while working as a lifeguard. She knows how to manipulate and pull her weight around, using Yuri’s respectfulness against her. She sighs again. It sounds exactly like Seulji. Ambitious and sometimes, rather ruthless.
Hyoyeon shakes her head. “My cousin is nothing but trouble.”
“Tell me how you came to be a lifeguard.”
I squeeze Sica’s hand but keep my eyes focused on the ceiling above. We’d agreed to answer each other’s questions in a bid to understand each other better. And to do it comfortably, we wouldn’t look at each other. That would only remind us of our predicament which is anything but conducive to what we’re trying to do. Instead, we’d picture each other in our minds, treating it like a continuation of our first and only dinner date.
“I was saved by a lifeguard. I’ve always been a strong swimmer. Swimming is something that I have utter confidence in. Yet, when I almost drowned, I realized that even swimming was a skill that I couldn’t be too confident in. I was depressed for a while and frightened to swim again but the lifeguard who saved me got me back in action. That’s when I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I want to save people. I want people to feel safe while having fun in water. Water is a beautiful thing and swimming is skill that allows us to enjoy ourselves in it. We’re not sea creatures so it’s incredible that we can find means and ways to handle water, don’t you think?”
Sica strokes her thumb on my skin and I’m lulled into a semi-dreamy state as she answers in a soft, gentle voice, “I think you’re incredible too. You saved my life. I’ve never forgotten about it even though I may be angry with you sometimes.”
I blush. “It’s nothing.”
Sica’s hand squeezes mine firmly, rebuking me for being dismissive. “It’s not nothing. Saving lives makes your job a very important one. Saving a life…it’s so grand, so wonderful. You’re not to say that it’s nothing.”
“Okay, it’s not nothing. I’m freaking awesome and you’d better worship me,” I quip dryly.
Sica pulls my hand onto her tummy where she wraps her other hand around mine as well.
“If it weren’t for our switch, I’d definitely be under your spell. If I were to be completely honest with you, I couldn’t wait to see you again and I was extremely nervous when I called you to invite you to dinner. You were so charming during dinner. And I was so happy when you seemed to like me too.”
Sica’s confession catches me off guard. She must have summoned a lot of courage to come clean about her feelings for me.
“Sica, you’re very pretty and something about you just pulls me to you. That’s why I agreed to the dinner. I suppose your attraction to me would be stronger than mine to yours since I was the one who saved you but I can safely say that you’re the first girl who has gotten my attention in a fairly long time.”
“Really?” Sica doesn’t sound entirely convinced.
“So you really were bringing those other girlfriends to the training pool just to teach them to swim? You weren’t flirting with them or courting them?”
I almost laugh out loud at her question. I think she can sense it because she tenses up, seemingly ready to fire should my answer fail to sooth her worries. Hastily, I squash all desire to laugh and reply, “So this has been bothering you ever since Seulji unnie mentioned it at the pool?”
There is a slight pause and I can hear Sica exhaling before she admits to it.
“Truth be told, I do date a fair bit and I did bring my dates to the training pool to give them some swimming lessons. You’d be surprised by the number of people who aren’t swimming properly, doing their strokes wrong.”
I heave another sigh. It’s time to come completely clean. “There’s another reason for doing that.”
There is a moment of silence and I know that Sica is waiting with bated breath.
“I was trying to put an end to Seulji unnie’s advances on me.”
“Why didn’t you say so the other time? The way you answered me had me thinking that you’re pretty open with just about any girl.”
“I just didn’t want to aggravate you any further. There’s no telling what you might do if I make Seulji unnie sound terrible.”
“So, she’s after you huh.”
“You don’t like?”
Sica sounds completely satisfied by my answer and I can hear the glee in her voice.
“What about you? Do you date a lot?” I ask, suddenly curious about her love life before meeting me. It is a deep end to jump into but I’m ready to tread water, should it be necessary.
“I don’t really go out on dates that often.”
“Why not? Surely a girl like you would have a flurry of dates lining up at your door.”
Sica giggles, a lovely sound that tingles my senses.
“While you may find it difficult to say no, I have no qualms in rejecting someone I’m not interested in,” she says simply.
“But how would you know if you don’t even date them?”
“Most of the girls who ask me out are people I’ve worked with. Fashion designers, apprentices, makeup artists, models; people I meet in my line of work. As you can see, Tiffany obviously charmed the socks off that DJ that day but she was clearly not interested in her. Tiffany and I, we know what we want because we get to meet so many people. So we don’t waste time on people whom we know aren’t our ideal match. And I would already know a part of them from working together with them. There’s no need to go on a date to find out more.”
“So I have the advantage of being your saviour and someone you didn’t meet at work.”
Sica giggles again and I have to smother the urge to roll over her and kiss her again.
“Technically, I was at work when I went to the beach that day. So.”
“Would you have wanted to date me if I hadn’t saved your life?”
“It’s hard to say, isn’t it?”
Sica’s answer is honest but I can’t help but feel a little wounded. I hope she isn’t mixing feelings of gratefulness with romantic attraction.
“Are you sure you aren’t attracted to me only because I saved your life?”
“It’s a strange mix,” Sica admits, her hands squeezing mine again, “but I’d have to say that you have other qualities that make you attractive to me. Even without the lifesaving part.”
I can breathe a little easier after she answers me. It’s a fair answer and I think I understand what she’s trying to get at. Saving her life may have gotten her to notice me but the attraction that followed was all me. All me.
Holy mouse whiskers. I’m a happy girl.
The next day, Taeyeon finds herself making her way to a barbeque restaurant along the pleasantly busy street in the artsy part of town. The place is bustling with activity after working hours and the perfect place for a date because many couples mill about on that street, creating the right kind of atmosphere that Taeyeon wants.
She steps into the restaurant they agreed to meet at and secures a table for two. She arrived early specifically for this reason—the restaurant doesn’t take reservations so being present is the only way she can ensure that they have seats. She places an order for a drink and waits patiently for Tiffany to arrive.
She doesn’t have long to wait for Tiffany arrives early as well, slightly ahead of their agreed time and she perks up immensely when she spots a redhead at the entrance and waves her arms to catch her attention. Tiffany spots her, smiles and nods her head towards her, informing the waitress that she has a table. The waitress ushers her in and Taeyeon is all smiles as Tiffany takes her seat at the table.
“You’re pretty early,” Taeyeon remarks happily.
“But you’re even earlier,” says Tiffany with a smile.
“I didn’t want you to have to wait in line for a seat so I came earlier to secure us a table.”
“That’s very sweet of you, Taeyeon.”
Taeyeon blushes, her cheeks heating up from the praise and the sexy way her name sounds when it rolls off Tiffany’s tongue.
“Shall we place our order?” she suggests, changing the subject smoothly before her thumping heart can combust.
Tiffany smiles and nods and soon the waitress is taking their order to the kitchen. The dishes arrive in a jiffy and the waitress helps them to cut up the meat and place them on the barbeque. Soon, the sweet aroma of smoking hot meat pleasures their senses and waters their mouths.
“How do you like this place so far?” Taeyeon asks as she takes a sip of the rice wine that they ordered to accompany the food they are eating.
“I’m intrigued by your choice of restaurant, quite frankly,” Tiffany states with a smile, “I’ve never been to a barbeque restaurant on a first date before.”
“I wanted to make an impression so I decided to be different. And I want us to reek of the place we eat at afterwards.”
Tiffany giggles. “You’re so quirky.”
“Great way to make an impression, don’t you think?”
“I wouldn’t know. We’ll have to see how this evening goes.”
Taeyeon grins. “Well, if all fails, at the very least, we’d have had a good dinner.”
Tiffany laughs, her eyes turning into twinkling curves on her face. “Yes, that would be a great consolation.”
“Only, I’m not going to settle for a consolation,” says Taeyeon, wearing a confident smile on her face. “I’m going for the big prize at the end.”
“Oh? And what might that prize be?”
“A smoking hot kiss.”
Tiffany coughs and splutters and Taeyeon is by her side at once, soothing a palm down Tiffany’s back.
“Are you alright?” she asks in concern, offering Tiffany a glass of water. Tiffany takes the glass of water and drinks some, washing down the meat that had caused the upset. Taeyeon pats her back lightly, her other hand stroking Tiffany’s arm, trying her best to calm her down. Eventually, Tiffany regains her composure and can breathe calmly again. It’s only then that Taeyeon returns to her seat across from Tiffany.
“Thanks,” Tiffany says with a slight smile and Taeyeon is worried that she might have blown it.
“Was I too blunt? I apologize if I gave you a shock.”
Tiffany smiles wider and shakes her head. “No, I shouldn’t be shocked so easily. I should’ve known, given the conversation that led us to this date.”
Taeyeon smiles, her confidence spiking once more. “Do I stand a chance to prove myself then?”
“Let’s go with the flow this evening, shall we?”
“Sounds good to me.”
Dinner is over too soon for Tiffany. She is suitably impressed by the quirky things that Taeyeon has to say and she finds their conversation stimulating for the mind. Taeyeon has many musings, of which many are out of the box, coming from a unique perspective and bearing a hint of melancholy at times. All in all, Taeyeon is a psychedelic mix of interesting and charming.
It certainly helps that Taeyeon is a pretty girl. Her long, wavy golden brown hair makes her pale complexion seem paler and there were moments during the dinner when she found herself falling into the deep, brown irises of Taeyeon’s. Those eyes are simply beautiful, she thinks. It goes beyond being merely aesthetic too. Those eyes have more soul in them than she noticed during the radio show and their subsequent meeting at the café. And it’s that soul that is charming her to death.
Yet, as they get up to leave, she notices that something is different about Taeyeon tonight. She can’t quite place her finger on what it is and it frustrates her a little. She walks behind Taeyeon as they leave the restaurant, staring at the woman, trying desperately to figure out what it is that is different. Why is it only evident when they stand up to leave? She didn’t feel the difference while they were both seated and chatting. What. Is. It. Argh.
When they finally make it out of the restaurant, Taeyeon turns around and smiles at her and it hits her suddenly. Taeyeon is almost at her eye level which wasn’t the case the last time they met.
Taeyeon. Is. Taller.
And with that revelation, Tiffany begins to laugh. She bends over, her arms wrapping around her tummy as she laughs to her heart content. Taeyeon is visibly confused by her sudden outburst but waits for her to calm down before asking her what she is laughing about.
Taeyeon looks sheepish immediately and Tiffany can’t help the huge grin that splits her face wide open. Oh…Taeyeon is adorable.
“Aren’t you supposed to be proving that shorter girls can kiss just as well, if not better than taller girls?” Tiffany teases her, giggling at Taeyeon’s reddening cheeks and ears which were already sufficiently flushed from the rice wine they drank.
“I just thought I’d level the playing field a little. I’m still shorter than you, just not as much.”
“Insoles?” Tiffany enquires and Taeyeon nods sheepishly.
“You’re wearing heels so I thought I’d just elevate myself a little. Sunny suggested insoles in my sneakers. I thought it’s a good idea.”
Tiffany can’t resist another giggle. “I appreciate the effort, Taeyeon.”
And with that Taeyeon’s wide, open smile graces her youthful looking face, making her look even younger in an instant. Taeyeon’s hand slips into hers and holds it firmly as her eyes are engaged by the open stare of Taeyeon’s. It’s a double assault of the senses and Tiffany finds her heart thumping extra hard as she allows herself to be pulled in the direction that Taeyeon is walking to.
“Let’s check out that busker over there,” Taeyeon says with a drawl and Tiffany follows, not knowing if it’s the rice wine or Taeyeon’s soothing voice talking. That’s the thing about DJs, she thinks, their voices always sound so intimate, and Taeyeon’s voice is exceptionally so. It crawls under your skin and wraps around you like a warm cocoon, cradling you in its warmth and putting you at ease so easily.
They stand, hand in hand, enjoying the vocals and strumming of the guitar that the busker is presenting to anyone willing to stop and listen. It’s a nice, slow song and very soothing. Tiffany closes her eyes and relaxes as the music washes over her like the gentle waves of the ocean. She is moderately aware of her hand in Taeyeon’s and the constant brushing of their arms against each other. It is a suitable amount of skin to skin contact, maintaining that slightly heady sensation that keeps her skin tingling all around. Again, she’s not entirely sure if it’s the rice wine or Taeyeon’s handhold that holds her in this spell. Perhaps it is both.
Without warning, a hand holds her waist and pulls her, causing her eyes to open in surprise. Taeyeon is closing the distance between them and within the blink of an eye, they’re hugging. Hugging on the street. On their first date. Oww. It is all Tiffany can do to calm her racing heart and not flip. Taeyeon props her chin on her shoulder and starts swaying to the music.
Tiffany is caught between feeling utterly romanced and utterly embarrassed. Her eyes dance wildly from passerby to passerby and she slowly calms down when she realizes that while many passersby cast furtive glances in her direction, most of them seem to be admiring or even envious rather than disapproving. It is only then that the reason why Taeyeon picked this place for their date hits her. This is where couples date. This is where couples roam. And with this many couples around, a little hugging and swaying to music isn’t going to raise too many eyebrows.
Finally, she relaxes, melting into the arms of Taeyeon and soon, the song ends. Taeyeon pulls away as the busker sings and strums the last of the song and Tiffany’s breath is caught in her throat when she sees the blatant intent in Taeyeon’s deep brown irises. The blatant intent to kiss.
Is she ready for it? They’ve only had a dinner and a very rousing conversation so far. A bit of handholding and a hug. A little swaying to music. And now a kiss? Taeyeon is moving at the speed of a bullet train and Tiffany isn’t sure if she can keep up. But before she can react to any of her thoughts, Taeyeon is closing in on her and the next thing she knows, Taeyeon’s lips are on hers. Warm and soft..