“I want you to join the Saturday night race with me,” said Taeyeon.
Yoona turned to her. “This Saturday?”
“Yes, why is it such a surprise to you?”
“It’s only been two weeks.”
“You’re a fast learner.”
A corner of Taeyeon’s lips curled up in amusement. “I didn’t realize you were this unconfident in racing.”
Yoona shrugged. “My previous experience has proven that I’m not exactly the best racer out there.”
“You have raced before?”
Yoona nodded. “I was in the race where you…crashed.”
“Oh. Were you the orange car then?”
Yoona gasped. “How did you know?”
Taeyeon allowed herself a hint of a grin. “I’m not your trainer for nothing, you know.”
“So you know how good—or rather, how bad I am.”
“That was before. This is after.”
Yoona looked down at her lap and fiddled with her fingers. “But the entry fee is a little steep.”
Taeyeon raised a single brow. “Is this really the daughter of Ssamyoong’s chairman talking?”
“Being my father’s daughter doesn’t automatically mean I’m as rich as he is. In fact, I’m far from rich.” Those words were a little unbelievable to Taeyeon. How was it possible to be far from rich if her father was a billionaire? Her feelings must have been reflected on her face because Yoona added, “My father doesn’t believe in giving me free lunches.”
“Okay…” Taeyeon shrugged. “But you have a job. Don’t you get paid for it?”
“I have to save half of my pay for investments.”
Yoona sighed. “My father is all into being thrifty and planning for the possibility of a rainy day in future. I have to pay him rent and all of my own bills because he doesn’t believe in spoiling me rotten. He wants me to manage my finances wisely,” her hands flipping in resignation to her fate, “Which basically means my cash flow is more like a trickle than a waterfall, if you know what I mean.”
“Your father sounds awesome,” Taeyeon blurted.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Well, you say that now, but if you’re his daughter and have to live with all these rules, you won’t be singing to the same tune.”
Taeyeon shook her head. “My tune won’t change.”
“How can you be sure?”
“You’ll understand why if you knew what my mother is like.”
“What’s your mother like?”
Taeyeon pursed her lips. “You don’t wanna know.”
“She can’t be that bad, right?”
A smile was all she could give Yoona. “Anyway, I’m sure you’ll get your money back at least. There’ll be six racers according to Sunny and you’ll definitely come in top three, so it’s like a deposit.”
“If you put it that way…”
Taeyeon grinned and clapped Yoona’s shoulder. “I’ll see you Saturday.”
Taeyeon headed home after the practice session in good spirits. She hummed a happy tune as she climbed the stairs, but a phone call from her mother was all it took to dampen it.
“What is it.” No hellos. No how-do-you-dos.
“Are you working this Saturday?”
“In that case, will you join us for dinner? I would like you to meet my fiancé and his daughter.”
“Hayeon will be there too.”
Her mother was still just as good at stringing her along as before. There was nothing like the mention of Hayeon to reel her in. “Time and place?” she asked after a moment’s pause.
“We’re having dinner at The View. The dress code is smart casual.” And after a slight pause, she added, “Jeans are not encouraged.”
Once again, the tone of her mother’s voice was unfamiliar to her ears. Was that…hesitance she detected? Her mother was being uncharacteristically careful around her. But of course, she had the upper hand now, didn’t she? Her mother needed her to dress up and appear for dinner at a posh restaurant. She also needed her to be on her best behaviour, didn’t she? That would explain the attempt to sound civil—caring even. She wasn’t naïve enough to believe that her mother actually cared about her. Not anymore.
But mother aside, Hayeon was going to be there. And her younger sister would be upset if she didn’t turn up. Based on that alone, she already knew what she would say. Her answer was never going to be anything else and her mother knew it too. Which was probably the reason why she found it amusing to hear the subdued tone of her mother’s. Was she really that desperate to impress the man she was about to marry?
“Got it. No jeans.”
A sigh of relief came through the phone. “Good. So we’ll see you at half-past six, Saturday.”
“But the dinner won’t last too long, will it? I have somewhere else to be after dinner.”
“It won’t take long. Give it an hour or two and you’ll be out of there.”
Taeyeon’s heart squeezed at those words in spite of herself. It had been a long time since her mother had wished her a good night. Much too long. And she hated to admit the truth but she missed it. She missed her room, her sister and even her mother. She missed her family. Dysfunctional as it was.
She found herself with a hand on the door handle when she snapped out of her thoughts and shook her head. No. She couldn’t soften and left her guard down just because her mother wished her a good night. She wasn’t the naïve little girl she once was. She had learnt her lesson. She knew how her mother really felt about her. Anything else was an illusion; a fantasy.
Nonetheless, she replied, “Goodnight.”
Taeyeon opened the door and stepped in. Tiffany was on the couch and Taeyeon was greeted with a smile that made her smile too. It was as though Tiffany had been blessed with a special power to make her feel better simply by existing.
“So, did you have fun with Yoona?” Tiffany asked. Her tone was light and casual but it didn’t fool Taeyeon.
“It was nice. And er…I asked her to join Saturday’s race with me.”
Taeyeon grinned and crouched so that her face was hovering just above Tiffany’s. “Is it really?”
Tiffany didn’t look too pleased as she pushed Taeyeon away. “I’m just being supportive, okay.”
“Why are you so jealous of Yoona?” Taeyeon settled down beside Tiffany and stretched an arm to sift her fingers through the curls that fell across Tiffany’s shoulders. “I’m not into her in that way. You should know that.”
“I’m not jealous.”
Taeyeon tried not to roll her eyes and Tiffany pressed her lips, one of the little signs that she was about to launch into a full scale rebuttal that would put any debating team to shame. That was the last thing Taeyeon wanted to have to deal with, so she put her hands up in surrender. “Okay, I believe you. You’re not jealous.”
“It’s not about that.” Tiffany looked as serious as a judge who was about to dish out the sentence on a hardened criminal. “Yoona…I don’t know how to say this.” She shook her head. “I’m not even supposed to say this but—”
“Don’t say it if you’re not supposed to.”
“But I want you to be careful.”
“Why, is she dangerous? Is she wanted by the police for killing hot, sexy female racers?”
“Taeyeon!” Tiffany was turning pink from trying not to laugh. “I’m serious, okay. I’m trying to warn you. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Taeyeon smiled, her heart warming to the knowledge that Tiffany’s jealousness stemmed from care and concern. “I got it. I’ll be careful.”
Later in the night, Taeyeon tossed and turned in bed. The movements got to Tiffany and she woke up.
“Taeyeon…? What’s wrong?”
The woman turned to her, hair falling over her eyes. “Can’t sleep.”
“Something bothering you?”
Taeyeon inched sideways and Tiffany leaned into the woman, their arms around each other. “Tiffany…”
Now this was unusual. Taeyeon sounding vulnerable? It didn’t happen often and it got her on high alert. She patted Taeyeon’s back and hugged the woman close to her. What else could she do? “What is it?.”
Taeyeon pulled away and sat up. Cleared her throat. “There’s something I haven’t told you.”
Tiffany smiled. “It wouldn’t be the first,” she said, trying to come across as relaxed when really, her heart was thumping.
Taeyeon looked her in the eye. “It’s about my mom.”
If Taeyeon hadn’t gotten her attention before, she would’ve gotten it now. Taeyeon had never brought up the topic willingly before. She too, sat up and waited with bated breath, impatience testing her ability to hold it in.
“She’s…she’s getting married.”
“And she wants me to meet the guy. And his daughter.” Taeyeon sighed. “I don’t know what to think.”
Tiffany moved to hug her. “When did she tell you?”
Taeyeon shifted. “The night I slept on the couch…”
“So that’s why you didn’t wanna talk about it.”
“Mmm, are you upset?”
Taeyeon shook her head. “Not really. I’m just confused.”
“My mom seems to have changed a little. I don’t know how much of that is real.”
“You just don’t want to be hurt by her again. That’s understandable.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what it’s gonna be like. I’m supposed to meet them for dinner on Saturday.” Taeyeon’s eyes lowered. “I don’t know how that’s gonna go.”
Tiffany pressed a kiss onto Taeyeon’s cheek and gave her the biggest smile she could. “Whatever happens, you’ll find a way to deal with it. You survived all these years by yourself. That says a lot.”
“Do you really think so?”
Tiffany brushed Taeyeon’s hair and tucked it behind her ear. This woman was such a gentle woman at heart, aching to be loved, just like everybody else. “Taeyeon, I’m sure you’ll know what to do when you get there.”
“Well, for starters, I’ll need to look nice. Dinner is at a posh restaurant.”
A huge grin found its way onto Tiffany’s face. “That’s no problem at all. Leave it to me.”
Bathed in the warm glow of dimmed orangey lights, the restaurant was the perfect picture of fine dining, Italian style. Taeyeon was glad for her chic black dress, picked out by Tiffany and approved by Sooyoung. It was worth it, although she had to tolerate Tiffany and Sooyoung’s debate over the dress that suited her best.
Announcing her name to the man at the reception earned her the appearance of a waiter who ushered her past all the tables in the open area towards the back of the restaurant. There, enclosed in a cosy semi-circular booth, boxed in by rich brown panels of wood, sat her mother and sister. Hayeon jumped up and hugged her as soon as she entered, giving her no time to register anything else, but she welcomed it and hugged her sister back.
“Unnie, you look so pretty today.”
Taeyeon held her sister at arm’s length and took in her sister’s appearance. “You’re prettier.”
Hayeon giggled and linked arms with her. “Come over here. I want you to sit next to me.”
“Okay.” She took a seat before taking a good look at her mother. It was strange, considering how alike they looked in so many ways, that their personalities could be so far apart.
“Hayeon is right. You do look very nice tonight.”
Taeyeon had no idea how she could react to that so she went to a safe, non-committal nod of her head. “Thanks.”
“Right this way, Mr Im.”
The waiter’s voice streamed into the booth and Taeyeon was consumed by an overwhelming dose of curiosity. What was her mother’s fiance like? Was he old? Young? Fat? Balding? But as it turned out, it was none of the above.
The man who stepped into the booth was tall, and had no lack of hair on his head. He appeared to be middle-aged but did not possess the tell-tale belly bulge that plagued middle-aged men. Dressed smartly in a suit, his shirt was left unbuttoned at the top to appear more casual. And his smile, warm and genuine, was perhaps the winning factor that won over her mother’s heart.
But Taeyeon could not hear the words he was saying right now. Her brain was in overdrive, trying to sort out the shock of seeing the face of Ssamyoong’s chairman in the booth. She hadn’t met him in person before but she’d seen his pictures in magazines and this man was a splitting image of him. He was the chairman, right?
Her questions were answered when his daughter appeared behind him. There was no mistake. He was, in fact, the chairman of Ssamyoong. Because his daughter was Yoona.