– 31 –
Tonight was the night. She could feel it in her bones as they did a dry run of the events that would happen tonight. Many things hinged on tonight. Like her future, possibly. It was Paul who had awoken her to the vision of her future. He had the foresight to see beyond the present and plan years ahead of what she could envision. She could still remember the conversation that had started it all…
“Where do you see yourself in five years?”
Tiffany knew the answer to that. “Racing. I would have become the winner of The Roulette many times over.” And I would have beaten Taeyeon in at least one race by then. Hopefully.
“Very ambitious. I love seeing that in young people like you. That hunger to achieve something to your name.”
“It has been a dream of mine for a while so I’m pretty hungry for it, yeah.”
“Have you ever thought of making a career in the racing and automobile industry? Other than racing. There are many areas you could explore into. Like the business side of it, for example.”
“You’ve been talking to my father.”
Paul shrugged. “This isn’t about your father, Stephanie. This is about you. Your future. Racing is sustainable for a few years but it can’t be your long term plan.”
“I haven’t thought that far ahead, to be honest.”
Paul nodded. “I understand. It’s that way when you’re younger. You live in the moment. You want instant gratification. But if you’re really smart, you’ll think about the future. Have a plan. You don’t have to follow it through later but that’s the only way you’ll get anywhere faster and earlier.”
“Did my dad tell you to tell me that?”
Paul laughed. “I’ll only tell you things that I feel you should think about. Being your father’s friend doesn’t make me his carrier pigeon you know. Think about it. You’ll be in Hyundae with me. That’s your chance to make it at something other than racing. But don’t get it wrong. I’m not offering you the chance just because you’re your father’s daughter. You’ll have to prove yourself if you’re interested in the business. Just like how you proved yourself to be good enough to be the lead racer for Hyundae.”
She had simply nodded back then, certain that her father had a part to play in that little speech of Paul’s, but things had changed after helping Paul with some of his business. There were people he couldn’t trust and things he needed done. She had been the perfect tool for him to utilize. And she figured there was no harm in trying it out.
As it turned out, she had quite a flair for business. Business acumen, as Paul had put it, was a talent. Some have it, some don’t. It also had something to do with the way she grew up. Her father was a businessman after all. It probably ran in the blood. So one project turned into two and two projects turned into three and now, she was in charge of the biggest project she had ever undertaken—the car launch.
This would prove her abilities not only to Paul, but the entire company. It would shut the naysayers up. Well, maybe not Denise, but everyone else would finally be convinced of her capabilities and recognise her position in the company. And if the sales of the new car went well, it would bring the company to a new level too.
“Tiffany, do you want the spotlights to go on before or after the music starts?”
“It’ll be best if you can time it to go on right when the music starts.”
“Okay. Can do.”
Tiffany turned back and looked at her team working hard to make sure everything ran well. Her heart thumped as she took in her surroundings and a smile found its way onto her face. She could see herself doing this in the future. This was a good feeling. There was adrenaline in her veins, just as there was when she raced.
“We’re good to go, Tiffany,” reported her stage manager through the ear piece.
“Great. Thanks for your hard work guys. We’ll take a short break now.” She pulled out her ear piece and grinned at Jimin who was right next to her. “Are you excited?”
Jimin grinned back and nodded. “I can’t wait.”
They hugged each other and giggled and Tiffany was glad to have become friends with her team members. It made the whole experience so much better.
“Let’s go. We have to change into beautiful dresses and make running the whole show seem effortless.”
Jimin smiled. “You can do it.”
Warmth spread through her veins and made her smile. “Thanks Jimin. You’re the best.”
“I swear, I don’t look right in this dress.”
“Don’t be silly. You gotta trust me. I’m the fashion expert here.”
“I always trust you, but not this time.”
“Look, this dress is perfect for you. Tiffany will be swooning for you when she sees you in this.”
“Look at me, Taeyeon. Have I ever been wrong about a dress before?”
Taeyeon looked at her tall, lanky friend and shook her head. “No.”
Taeyeon turned to look at the mirror one more time. The lace bared much of her skin and smoothed her rough edge a fair bit. It felt understated, yet, brought out a different side of her. A softer side of her. Would Tiffany swoon over this? There was only one way to find out. “You win, Sooyoung. You win,” she said at last.
The guests arrived in fine fashion. The valets did their job and parked luxury car after luxury car as the guests filtered in through the driveway. An elegant reception with cocktails and tasty treats welcomed the guests and allowed them time and space to mingle. Eclectic music filled the background. Sleek metallic ocean blue and molten silver themed decorations flowed through the entire place from the tinsels on trees lining the driveway to the napkins and linen in the interior. Everything was in sync. Everything was perfect.
“You’ve been working very hard, I see,” Paul whispered in her ear.
Tiffany smiled with pleasure. “It’s the whole team. I didn’t do this alone.”
Paul smiled and squeezed her shoulder. “Under your effective leadership, of course.”
She turned back to the door with a wide grin, basking in Paul’s praises, only to feel all the feeling in her toes slip away. Who was this woman who was staring so intensely at her? And was that jealousy she was sensing? Or anger? She hoped it was the former and not the latter. Or perhaps, a mix of both.
“Hi, T-Taeyeon.” What the fuck. Why am I stuttering?!
Oh God. Taeyeon’s voice was thicker than usual and her eyes, clearly defined by smoking hot eyeliner, were focused on her as though she were the only person in the building. And the lace. Holy fucking hell. The lace played across Taeyeon’s shoulders and just under her collarbone, teasing her eyes mercilessly.
“Oh, hi. Sunny.” She coughed, trying to cover up her far-too-embarrassing reaction towards Taeyeon. “It’s great to see you here. Thanks for coming.”
Sunny smiled, her eyes dancing between Taeyeon and her, as though she knew a big secret. Tiffany blushed, knowing that Sunny was teasing them subtly and tried to break the silence.
“Will Mr Lee becoming?” she asked, knowing perfectly well that he would be.
Sunny nodded. “He will be arriving soon.”
“Good. Good. Meanwhile, you can mingle with the other guests and have some of our cocktails. You have to try the Pina Colada,” she suggested, giving Sunny a wink, “You’ll love it.”
Sunny grinned. “Right. And I’ll leave this one here with you. Take care of her, okay?”
“Sure,” she answered and made sure to flash a confident smile even though that wasn’t the case.
“I’ll bring this lovely lady to her supply of Pina Colada,” said Paul as he offered Sunny his arm. Sunny took it with a bright smile and off they went, leaving Tiffany to fumble with her feelings for Taeyeon in a lacy, sexy black number.
“This event looks great,” said Taeyeon.
The compliment brought a grand smile to her face. “Thanks. This is what all those late nights brought about.”
Taeyeon looked around once more before nodding. “I can see why you had to put in some much time for this. It’s grand an very classy. You did really well.”
Tiffany couldn’t resist. She stepped forward and slid her fingers down Taeyeon’s bare arm down to her fingers and interlaced them. “Do I get a reward for doing such a good job?”
“I’ll give you a reward. But first, you’ll have to make amends.”
“For flirting with Paul.”
The fire in Taeyeon’s eyes was back but this time, it made Tiffany smile deep inside instead. “I love it when you’re jealous,” she whispered and squeezed Taeyeon’s hand before letting go. “I promise to make it up to you for flirting. But I still have a job to do so that will have to wait.”
Taeyeon’s eyes smouldered. “I don’t like to wait.”
“Learn to wait. It makes everything feel better later.”
The expression on Taeyeon’s face only intensified, if that was even possible. “Go. Do your job.”
Tiffany fought back the overwhelming urge to kiss Taeyeon silly in front of everybody. “I’ll see ya later, love.” She turned away before her restraint evaporated and walked away, trying to look as though she knew where she was going. She could only hope it was convincing enough.
Taeyeon stared as Tiffany walked away in her classy, chic suit of grey and pink. The jet black point-toe ankle-high boots made her calves clench taut. The chalky grey miniskirt bared most of her thighs. The matching jacket was left unzipped and revealed the pastel pink top inside. Everything came together so beautifully. How was that possible?
But most of all, it was the woman who wore those things. Those blood red lips. The cascades of red-brown curls. The carefully sculpted eyebrows. Those eyes that seemed to see right through all the layers of protection that she put up when there were strangers around her. Those eyes. Kind and loving. She loved how she had Tiffany’s undivided attention when she appeared at the door. It was unmistakable, that look. Tiffany wanted her so badly. She could tell. So she was victorious. Paul had his hand on Tiffany’s shoulder but she had all of Tiffany. Heart and soul.
Taeyeon blinked. A lady was standing right before her, looking classy yet edgy in her flowing black dress that barely covered any of her thighs and a checkered blazer. She had pretty bangs that framed her lovely face and big round eyes that glittered under the lights. Very attractive, she concluded, but what did this lady want?
“You probably don’t know me, but I know you.”
“You know me?”
“I know who you are.”
“Lots of people know who I am.”
The lady laughed, her mouth opening wide, revealing a set of beautiful white teeth. “I love it when I meet confident people.” She closed her mouth and smiled. “Let me introduce myself. I’m Yoona. My friends call me Yoong.”
Taeyeon raised her eyebrows. So this was the daughter of Ssamyoong’s chairman.
“You obviously know who I am now.”
“Everyone knows who Yoong is. But nobody knows what you look like.”
Yoona grinned. “I prefer it that way.”
“So why did you tell me who you are.”
“I like to be upfront with people I want to be close with.”
Taeyeon narrowed her eyes into slits. “Close with?”
Yoona’s eyes sparkled and her lips curled into a sweet smile. “I would like to be your friend.”
“Do I need a reason?”
“There’s always a reason.”
Yoona shrugged. “Well, if I must tell you…”
Taeyeon simply stared. And waited.
The woman shrugged again, then said, “You’re different.”
Taeyeon stiffened. “What do you mean.”
“This. Exactly this. You don’t trust people easily. You don’t fall for flattery. I like to be friends with tough people. Real people. People who are different. We don’t follow conventions just because everyone else is doing it.”
“You’re assuming a lot about me, Yoong.”
“I’m not. I got all that from talking to you for the past twenty-five seconds.”
“I should stop talking to you then. Or you’ll find out everything about me.”
Yoona threw her head back and laughed again, her mouth wide open. The way Yoona laughed appealed to Taeyeon, for some reason, so she broke into a grin.
“And this babe has a sense of humour too. My dream girl stands before me,” said Yoona with a smile. “May I have the pleasure of getting you a drink?”
Taeyeon didn’t see why not. “Yes, you may.”
Without missing a beat, Yoona linked arms with her and dragged her to the bar.
“What’s the special in the house tonight?” she asked the bartender.
The bartender flashed what he must have though was a handsome grin and said, “We have a special cocktail made just for gorgeous ladies like the two of you. It’s called Sexy Racer.”
“Sexy Racer, huh. I’ll have as many of those as I can take,” said Yoona, the humour evident in her tone.
“What about your friend here?”
Yoona turned to her and grinned. “Just one for her. She probably can’t handle too many sexy racers.”
“You’re right. Just one is enough to knock me out.”
“Would that be me?”
Yoona’s eyes were locked on hers and she sensed that there was more to the question despite the light tone she had used. It was flirtation at face level. If she played her cards right, Yoona would be in her bed tonight. Just like all the other girls. But she wasn’t the same woman that she was before. Instead of feeling the rush of adrenaline from flirting with a pretty girl like Yoona, she felt just a tinge of the thrill she used to exhilarate in.
“You’re as gorgeous as anyone can imagine but—”
“Shucks. There’s the but. I don’t like buts. Buts mean no.” Yoona sighed. “I’ve just been rejected, haven’t I.”
Taeyeon sensed that Yoona wasn’t really hurt at all and grinned. “Yeah. A complete rejection.”
“So. Who’s the lucky guy?”
Taeyeon blinked. Most people who knew her would know her preference between the two genders. Surely Yoona would— “You’re trolling me.”
Yoona laughed. “I wouldn’t approach you if I didn’t know.”
“So you do want something. And it’s not friendship.”
“Hey, don’t get me wrong. I would love to be your friend. But yes, there’s something I wanna run by you. And it’s of your interest, I’m sure.”
“I’m not interested in many things, Yoona.”
“Yoong. Call me Yoong.” Yoona’s lips curled up to the left into a smirk. “I’m gonna offer you a job.”
Taeyeon scoffed. “I don’t need a job.”
“Maybe you don’t. But that doesn’t mean you won’t want this one.”
“You could start by telling me what it is.”
Yoona’s smirk grew in confidence. “It’s not a big deal if you win a race anymore. Everyone expects you to. But nobody will expect you to groom a less talented driver into a champion.”
Taeyeon folded her arms, considering what Yoona had just said. “And who is this less talented driver you’re talking about?”
Yoona’s grin only grew wider as she remained silent.
“You don’t have to look so surprised. Being the daughter of a race car company doesn’t make me good at racing. I’m sadly lacking in that department and that’s why nobody knows what I look like even though my dad named his company after me.”
There was definitely something going on there. A history of pain and disappointment. Taeyeon could recognize the look in Yoona’s eyes. She had no trouble seeing it for what it was because she’d experienced it before. Deeply.
And that something made her say something totally unexpected. It made her say yes.
Yoona didn’t appear prepared to get a positive reply on her first try. Her mouth opened and closed and opened again. When she spoke, it was a stutter. “R-Really?”
“Are you sure you want me to reconsider?”
“No.” Yoona shook her head violently, her hair swishing from side to side. “No reconsidering. I’ll take that yes right now. We can start next week. I’ll pay you by the hour. But there are a few things you need to keep mum about.” Yoona held up her index finger. “One: No one needs to know I’m Yoong.” Index and middle finger. “Two: No one is supposed to know that you’re training me.”
“You have way too many things to hide.”
The look on Yoona’s face made her look mature beyond her years. “Doesn’t everyone?”
And based on that look alone, Taeyeon knew in that instant. Yoona would be a good friend of hers.
The event was running like clockwork. The VIP guests were ushered into the main hall and Tiffany smiled in satisfaction when a collective gasp rose from the guests and hung in the air around them.
Columns of deep dark ocean velvet hung around the hall, draped down from the ceiling, creating waves of motion, a rippling sensation. Mystery and intrigue projected naturally into the atmosphere and had the guests waiting with bated breaths to see the product. So it was to great effect when Tiffany introduced the head of Hyundae, Paul. She stepped back from the rostrum and allowed him to take it. There were other segments she had to tend to while he spoke.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my greatest pleasure and honour to have you here today. You are wise people who have made the right choice in coming here tonight. These cars are the first of their kind and are models of cutting-edge technology. Whether you’re a racer or a luxury driver, this car will cater to your tastes perfectly. Tonight, we present to you,” music and spotlights came on right as he said, “the Moonracer.”
Another collective gasp was heard as the drapes of velvet were released and fluttered to the ground. Hyundae’s new car was indeed a breath-taker. Elevated on platforms, they were angled, nose down at the exact angle that not only displayed all the sleek, clean lines and curves but also made them seem ready to hit the road racing. Displayed in five different colours, they were poised, crouched like predators, ready to pounce.
It was the perfect moment as Tiffany took to a microphone and announced, “Next, we will have our head engineer to explain the prowess of the Moonracer. Mr Park Junhyung, please.”
The guests turned back to the rostrum, murmurs still buzzing through the select crowd of elite car owners and racers. They were eager to learn about the power of the new engine, a hybrid. Carefully crafted videos displayed the test drives that showcased the exquisite control that a driver could have over the car. And for the next twenty minutes, the head engineer expounded on the finer points of the car that only aficionados would follow.
Finally, the head engineer rubbed his hands and grinned as he announced that a live drive test would be commencing.
The guests filtered out through the doors previous hidden behind more drapes and spilled out onto a grandstand. Powerful spotlights focused on each of the five colours that hummed with their warm engines. Taeyeon stood next to Sunny and her uncle and scanned the crowd for Tiffany. But she wasn’t anywhere to be seen.
Suddenly, Tiffany’s voice flooded the grandstand. “Ladies and gentlemen, I am Tiffany, Hyundae’s lead racer. Keep your eyes on our classic deep ocean blue Moonracer as I take it around the track.”
Tiffany’s voice alone was enough to make Taeyeon grin and she suffered a teasing jab of Sunny’s elbow for it.
“You’re such a pathetic soul in love.”
In love? Taeyeon shrugged and tried to wipe off her grin. Her attempt was made easier by the revving of the first-of-its-kind hybrid engine that promised not only to be efficient on petrol consumption but also powerful enough to break some records.
The lights went from red to amber, then to green, and the deep ocean blue bolted from the starting line. Screens hung above them, displayed the driver’s point of view and the speedometer. Guests barely had time to register it when the car hit 100km/h but a stopwatch revealed that it took only 2.3981 seconds to get there.
“Fuck. That’s insane. Even the Bugatti needs 2.46 seconds to get 100km/h.”
“I know right,” replied Sunny.
They watched as the car speed around the track, eyes trying to follow both the car itself and the various screens featuring different camera views and information. Tiffany took the car around the bends with great ease, demonstrating the control and mechanics of the luxury street race car. By the time she hit the stretch, the speedometer was displaying a whooping 309km/h that quickly rose to a jaw-dropping 432.801kmh as she zoomed past a pseudo finish line.
The crowd broke into thunderous applause and cheered, driven by the adrenaline that could be felt even in the grandstand, as Tiffany stopped the car and stepped out of it. Taeyeon could see Tiffany scanning the crowd and her breath caught when their eyes met. An immense dose of pride infused into her system and it was impossible to wipe the grin on her face this time.
But those eyes narrowed into slits and Taeyeon blinked, confused by the shift in Tiffany’s countenance. Then she felt it. Arms slipping around hers. Warmth from a foreign body emanating towards hers. She turned to look, although she didn’t really need to.
It was Yoona.