Yoona. Ssamyoong. Chairman. Holy fuck. Her mother was going to marry the chair-fucking-man of Ssam-fucking-yoong?! This was unreal. And if Yoona’s face was any indicator, she was experiencing similar feelings too.
Mr Im took the seat beside her mother and as stunned as she was, it did not slip past her when he placed his hand on her mother’s shoulder for a brief moment. He then smiled at her and Hayeon. “Is there anything you ladies would especially like to have for dinner?”
Taeyeon shook her head. “I don’t really have a preference.”
Hayeon, clearly much more into the union than she was, had on the sweetest smile as she said, “I’d love to have the Wasabi Tuna Waltz.”
Mr Im smiled in return and nodded. “What the young lady said,” he told the waiter who was stationed just behind him. Then, he turned to her mother and asked, “What about you, honey?”
Honey?! Taeyeon tried to breathe normally. Yoona was blinking rapidly on the other side of the table and it made her feel a little better, knowing that she wasn’t the only one who had to deal with the awkward, queasy feelings inside.
“What do you think I should try?” asked her mother in the sweetest voice she’d ever heard and Taeyeon was a whisker away from running out of this restaurant screaming foul play—clearly, someone had captured her real mother and replaced her with a clone.
“Since you like sweet stuff, you should try the Red Velvet Rumba. I’m sure you’ll like the mix of savoury and sweetness in the fried chicken.”
“It sounds good. I’ll have that then.”
“Yoona? Are you having the steak again?”
Yoona nodded, then shook her head as though confused and said, “Yes, I’ll have the steak.”
Mr Im chuckled. “As always. Yoona loves her meat.”
Yoona blushed but Hayeon, in her cheery tone, lightened the atmosphere by declaring her love for meat as well. Then, Taeyeon felt all eyes on her again, awaiting her choice and ended up stuttering, “I…er…I’ll have…whatever Hayeon is having.”
“Very well.” Mr Im turned to the waiter and placed his order for dinner as well as appetizers and a bottle of champagne that Taeyeon knew to be expensive—Tiffany had a bottle of it in her apartment and had mentioned how expensive it was once in the passing. “I hope you don’t mind having some champagne this evening,” he said with another warm smile. “I thought it’d be nice to have some on an occasion like this.”
Taeyeon could only tug the corners of her lips into something that she hoped resembled a smile. She couldn’t drink too much of it. And neither could Yoona. Not when they had a race to compete in later. She knew Yoona’s father was not privy to this information and wondered how Yoona was going to make her escape later.
Mr Im looked around at them and clasped his hands. “So, let’s begin with the introductions, shall we?”
After a round of introductions, which was incredibly awkward in her opinion, the champagne and appetizers arrived. She was relieved to be able to stuff food into her mouth so that she wouldn’t have to say another word but that little moment didn’t last long. Mr Im seemed to have taken an interest in her, much to her dismay.
“How long have you been working in SM?”
“That’s a long time to work for one company.”
Taeyeon shrugged. “It’s a good company. I have no reason to leave.”
“Interesting. It’s rare to find such a loyal employee these days. Many people hop from job to job every one or two years. And most of them do it solely to get a pay raise. They have no loyalty to their companies at all.”
“Well, my friend got me the job. It helped me through…difficult times.” She tried not to look at her mother. It couldn’t be good. “So I’m thankful. Plus, I get to spend time around cars. What’s not to love?” Why the heck am I talking so much? I should shut up now.
“Well, well. What have we here. It sounds like Taeyeon loves cars too.” Mr Im turned to Yoona and patted her shoulder. “The two of you should have no problem bonding over cars then.”
“Oh, does Yoona love cars too?” her mother chimed in.
“Mhm.” Mr Im nodded. “She has always loved cars. In fact, she loved them so much as a kid that I wondered if I had a son instead of a daughter back then.”
“What a coincidence. My two girls love cars too. They used to spend much of their time reading car magazines together.”
“That’s nice.” Mr Im smiled. “Now, Yoona will have sisters to share her love for cars with.”
“Awesome. We can watch races together,” said Hayeon. In a moment of blind panic, Taeyeon kicked her under the table to remind her that they didn’t want their mother or worse, their stepfather-to-be, to find out about her street racing life. Her mother would certainly flip and she didn’t think their stepfather-to-be would appreciate having a law-breaker as a stepdaughter. It was a good thing that Hayeon was quick-witted and added, “It can be really fun, you know, with popcorn and all…all of us huddled on a couch.”
Mr Im’s smile couldn’t get any wider. “That sounds wonderful, Hayeon. I’m sure Yoona would love that. Wouldn’t you, Yoona?”
Yoona reacted well too, pulling out a megawatt smile from nowhere and nodding in agreement at once. “It sounds wonderful.”
It hurt to pinch the tender skin of her forearm but she couldn’t let go. It was all Taeyeon could do to keep from laughing out loud.
Mr Im’s request to keep things on the low played on her mind as she drove to the racing site. If it had been any other occasion, she would’ve questioned his rational for keeping his daughter’s identity a secret. But it wasn’t any other occasion. It was the very first meet-greet with the man who was about to become her stepfather and she didn’t know enough about the Im family background to comment. Owing to that, she had opted to keep her mouth respectfully shut.
As for the man himself, Mr Im seemed to be polite and considerate. He had offered to send all of them back home but she had politely declined, citing Sunny as her next appointment. He had then told her to be careful, much like any father would, and insisted on watching her drive off first. That was poles apart from her mother’s style, and if she were to be honest to herself, she had to admit that she liked knowing someone was watching out for her.
Her thoughts drifted back to the race as she turned into the lane littered with cars parked by the sides. It had been easy enough for her to get away. But what about Yoona? Would she be able to make it to the race? Then again, she didn’t think she had much to worry about. Yoona had proven to be quite the witty girl, throwing out cover-up after cover-up like a seasoned lawyer to dodge her father’s keen radar at dinner. She imagined it was a daily affair, what with her father’s protective nature. It was now easier to understand why Yoona had to sneak around the way she did but Taeyeon didn’t think it was a great idea. Not that she had any right to comment, considering the things she hid from her own mother.
Sure enough, Yoona arrived at the racing site barely twenty minutes after she arrived.
“Hey,” she replied. Okay, this was not awkward in any capacity of the word. Yeah. Sure. “Er…so…we’re gonna sisters huh.”
“Yeah, what a surprise.”
Taeyeon snorted. “That’s an understatement. I almost swallowed my tongue when you appeared.”
“It’s a good thing you didn’t. Or we might have had to send you to the hospital and our dinner would’ve been ruined.”
“Yeah, we can’t have that happening, can we?”
Yoona’s grin melted the little ice that remained and she grinned in return. Maybe it would be fun to have Yoona as a sister. Hayeon had already warmed up to her during the dinner so that wasn’t a problem. “It was fun chatting with you, but we gotta head over to the organizers now. Come on.”
Yoona linked arms with her and they trudged across the gravel to the truck. It was an ordinary, nondescript truck but it served the purposes of the organizers well. There was just enough room in the metal container for a panel of surveillance as well as a table for the laptop that kept track of everything. It was managed by one of her friends, Hyoyeon, who made a fortune out of taking a cut of all of their entry fees.
It was expensive but absolutely essential since Hyoyeon’s system could tune in to the police radio channel as well as tap into the various security cameras that lined the streets around those they raced on. Hyoyeon’s advanced alert system had proven to be a life-saver on many occasions. Especially on the night of her crash. It was largely due to her early warning that gave them enough time to evacuate so that the police could find nothing to indicate there had been a race when they finally turned up.
“Taeyeon!” Hyoyeon’s eyes flicked from her to Yoona and a sly grin slinked onto her face, smooth as a fox. “New girl?”
“W-What?” Taeyeon wasn’t expecting to hear this. It was incredibly awkward to be mistaken for girlfriends with her prospective stepsister. Not to mention, if Tiffany got wind of it, she would be banished to the couch till the end of time. “No. No, she’s not. She’s just a friend.”
“Oookay…I got it. She’s just a friend.” Hyoyeon looked more amused than ever. “No need to panic. You’ve got a rep to keep, you know.”
“Mhm. You know, cool, undefeatable badass racer surrounded by girls salivating over you.”
“Don’t listen to her crap,” said Key, the administrator, from the laptop table. “Hyoyeon has been watching way too much Fast and Furious for her own good.” He waved them over. “Business beckons. I need you to check the amount and sign your cash away.”
Taeyeon looked at the screen and double checked the account number and transferred amount. Everything seemed to be in order so she picked up the stylus and signed on the tablet. Yoona did the same.
“Perfect.” Key put his perfect set of teeth on display with a wide grin and slotted the stylus back in the tablet. “You’re good to go, girls. Break a wheel.”
Taeyeon returned the grin and gave him a wink. “Up for a winner’s treat after?”
“Mmm…” Key tapped his chin. “I’d love to, but the thing is, I’m supposed to get my beauty sleep after.”
“Oh, come on. You’ll get all the beauty sleep you want when you’re dead.”
“Well, when you put it that way…”
Taeyeon rapped the table with her knuckles. “It’s set then. See you later, Key.” She walked out of the truck and down the steps back onto the gravel with Yoona behind her. By this point, her curiosity far outweighed the awkwardness she felt and she had to ask, “So, what excuse did you come up with to get out of the house at this time?”
Yoona shrugged. “Sleep over with a friend.”
Taeyeon snorted. “Seriously? A sleep over? That’s such a teeny bopper thing. I can’t believe your father would buy into it.”
Yoona smiled but her eyes were sad. “In his eyes, I might as well be a teenager.”
“Well, at least he cares.”
“Too much of anything is bad for the soul, you know. His love and care can be suffocating at times.”
Taeyeon took a good look at Yoona and saw that she wasn’t joking. Yoona’s father was clearly a polar opposite of her own mother. It would take the both of them lots of time to understand their new stepparent. “Between your father and my mother, I’ll say we’re gonna have a shitload of fun.”
“You know…my dad might frown upon such language in his presence.”
Taeyeon raised a brow. “What can he do if I say shit when he’s around.”
“Mmm, I don’t know…” Yoona shrugged. “Maybe…give you an hour long lecture on the etiquette of being a young woman?”
“Really?” Taeyeon was amused. “My mom would probably out-swear me while telling me to mind my manners.”
“Is that what she’s really like?”
Taeyeon nodded. “Uh huh. Where do you think I learnt my colourful vocabulary from? Webster?”
“My father isn’t into people who swear though. So she probably keeps it clean when she speaks around him.”
Yoona smiled suddenly. “I’m glad we had this talk though. I feel a little less awkward with you now. And it almost feels like we could actually be sisters.”
Taeyeon laughed. “Let’s not speak too soon, shall we.” She nodded towards the cars parked at the starting line. “Anyway, time to focus on the race. We’ve got a race to win.”
The race was to begin from Gwangmyeong-ro, a quiet road located near the Seoul Grand Park. It was quiet enough when it was past midnight and the wide road suited the nature of the race—there were more racers than the usual two to four. There were seven racers tonight. One more than Sunny had reported, which didn’t make a difference to Taeyeon as far as she was concerned. All that mattered to her was her car. And the ease with which she controlled it.
The hum of engines in the air around her jazzed her up and her heart pumped with adrenaline. This was a tricky race with challenging curves and those were her favourite. There was nothing more she loved than a difficult race. Well, Tiffany would rank above a difficult race, but Tiffany wasn’t at the race tonight. She had made the woman promise to stay away so that Yoona wouldn’t have her cover blown. Besides, Tiffany had work to do. The car replacements for the academy had taken long enough to process and she had to get it done soon.
Beside her was the orange car. Yoona’s orange car. She had lost to Taeyeon, Jessica and Yuri back then but Taeyeon was sure Yoona had the skill to give them a run for their money now. And in that knowledge, she found a pool of molten hot pride. Knowing that she had a hand in a winner was almost as good as winning it herself. She would have to put more thought into that in future. But right now, her eyes were trained on the lights. They would be changing soon.
Her car responded to her foot releasing the brakes and flew off into the night. There was a sharp ninety degree left turn just barely 200 metres from the starting line and Taeyeon had taken the lead by then. Was there really no one who could give her a decent challenge?
Right behind her was a green car. Algae green. Almost as dark as her black car. She kept her eye on it as she navigated the curve to the right and it was another 200 metres to the next sharp right turn which she handled with ease. The green car had lost ground on her but she managed to catch a flash of orange just behind the green. Good. Go, Yoona. Make me proud.
The road wound to the right before easing out into a long stretch of negligible curves before entering a long curve to the left. At the end of that was another ninety degrees left turn and following that was a series of big S-curves for the next kilometre or so.
Yuri had done such a good job on her car that none of the other cars stood a chance and it was ironic but she found herself wishing for a lesser car just so that the others had a chance to catch up. But that thought only lasted for a split second. No. She loved her car. It was a slice of heaven to drive in it and it wasn’t the fault of Yuri’s genius that the others had no chance against her.
Challenge or not, it wasn’t her policy to let her guard or concentration down so, she posed herself a new challenge instead: Win the race by ten car lengths at least. Yeah, that made it a little more exciting.
It was frustrating to be stuck behind the green car. Yoona blew her fringe out of her eyes and huffed as she tried for the nth time to overtake it. The multiple S-curve had been the perfect chance but the green car had been artful in cutting her out everytime. The next try would have to be the next sharp turn near the end of Gwangmyeong-ro.
Exiting the multiple S-curve section led to a short stretch that was fairly straight. And there it was. The sharp left. She bit her lip and floored the accelerator as the turn loomed up and faked a cut to the right. The green car swerved to cut her off and at the last possible moment, she swerved to the left with barely an inch to spare and jammed her brakes to squeeze into the narrow left turn. Once the hood made it in, she released the brakes and floored the accelerator again and sped off down the straight.
It was a short straight and Yoona found herself actively watching her rearview mirror to cut off the green car while navigating yet another ninety degree right turn leading to a sharp left. When she finally entered the straightest section of the race, she pushed her car into its highest gear and managed to put more distance between herself and the green car. That didn’t last for long because she had to slow down to make the right turn into Sanghabeol-ro, leading into Sanghabeol 1-ro. The road thereon was fairly straight and she managed to pull ahead even more before making a left turn into Maldure-ro.
They were now on the perimeter of the Seoul Racecourse Park and it was an easy drive because the curves were far from challenging. The green car was still visible in her rearview mirror but was in no immediate threat of overtaking her which put her at ease, somewhat, and she began to enjoy the race more.
It was exhilarating to drive at such high speeds with the scenery flashing by, leaving her no time to look at it. It was as though the world out there didn’t matter. Just her. Just this moment. The road curved to the left, entering Chusa-ro and she followed its gentle curves, speeding down the next kilometre with a smile on her face.
But the smile was wiped off her face when the green car bolted forward suddenly, closing in on her in no time at all, edging her out as they exited Chusa-ro. The green car squeezed past her on the left, forcing her into a tight angle for the right turn into Jukbawi-ro. She lost the angle on the left-right turn which allowed the green car to pull even further ahead and down the road it sped.
Her heart sank. How had the green car caught up with her so suddenly? What had she done to prevent it? She let out a frustrated yell as she floored the accelerator, zooming down the road at reckless speed, desperate to catch up with the green car. But it was not to be. The green car made the final right turn and ate up the remaining metres, reaching the Seoul Chumo Park before she did.
She pulled into the park and slammed her palms on her steering wheel. “Argh!” she barked, unable to find any words to rant. She was not happy with herself, to say the least. She had practically handed her second position over to the green car by letting down her guard. It was her fault. Again.
Taeyeon pulled into the park, resisting the urge to whistle and stopped her car. She had won by twelve car lengths so it was a challenge she considered won. It was good. Mhm. But Yoona wasn’t having such a good time. She had pulled in after the green car which meant she hadn’t done as well as Taeyeon had expected her too. Why?