Jessica was almost knocked over by Yuri when she got home. Her back was slammed against the door, having only just turned around after closing it and Yuri’s arms were around her before she knew it.
“I love you.”
“Yuri…” It had been a while since Yuri last exploded with a display of feelings like this. And this was the warm Yuri that she missed so much. Glad to have Yuri back in full, she smiled, closed her eyes, and leaned into the warmth that radiated from the other woman. Words seemed to be superfluous in this moment.
Moments later, after they stopped hugging, Jessica learnt of the reason for Yuri’s thaw. The happy woman had heard from a source that she had vote against Tiffany’s removal. But rather than feeling happy about the resolution of their argument, Jessica was more interested in knowing how Yuri obtained the information. The meeting had been held in secret. None of them were supposed to talk about it since the motion had not passed. So how did Yuri find out?
“Yuri, how did you know?”
Yuri’s sly grin made an appearance; Jessica knew it well. “I have my sources.”
“Well, your source must have been in the meeting and close enough to me to peep. I didn’t tell anyone about my vote.” She stared at Yuri, trying to pressure her into caving in. “Who was it?”
“You know her?”
“She sends her cars to Carnical for servicing. We’ve gone out for coffee before.”
“You.” Jessica was in disbelief. “Mdm Son.” She shook her head. “Drink coffee together?”
“Yeah. At the nearby cafe.”
“And how many times has this happened?”
Yuri shrugged. “I wasn’t counting.”
Jessica put her hands on her hips and frowned. “So you’ve been having coffee dates with Mdm Son all this time and I didn’t know about it. Why have you never told me about this?”
“It’s no big deal. It’s always during work.” Yuri shrugged again. “It’s just coffee. Random conversation. Besides, she’s not the only one.”
“She’s not the only one?!”
Yuri blinked. “Why do you sound so shocked? Isn’t it normal to have a coffee with customers? It’s…what do you call it…” She snapped her fingers. “It’s customer relations.”
Jessica glared at Yuri and leaned in close. “Who are the other ‘customers’ you have ‘relations’ with?”
“Well, if you really wanna know, there’s Mdm Park, Miss Choi, Miss Kang, Miss Oh, Mdm Su—”
“You stupid woman.”
“You really don’t get it, do you.”
“Get it? What am I supposed to get?”
“What is it?”
“I said, forget it.”
“But I wanna know.”
Jessica looked at Yuri and a bubble of fondness popped, spilling warmth all over her insides. She smiled, loving the way Yuri looked at her, loving the way they were, loving what they had. “I love you too. That’s all you have to know, Yuri.”
Yuri shook her head. “No way. You can’t just leave me hanging like this.”
Jessica rose on her toes, flung her arms around Yuri’s neck and kissed the woman hard. “You’re mine,” she said after kissing Yuri. “So I’m feeling a little jealous.”
“I didn’t know you were having coffee dates with so many women. Older, richer ones too.”
“Those aren’t dates.”
Jessica smiled. “I know.”
“So are you still jealous?”
“Kiss me if you’re not sure.”
Yuri grinned. “I’m not sure,” she said, and they kissed again.
Almost a week had passed, since Taeyeon and Tiffany found their middle ground and Taeyeon’s mood had improved considerably since then. But she couldn’t deny the presence of a nagging worry—that this was only a temporary solution to a fundamental problem.
Today, however, she had something else to worry about.
“Kim Taeyeon,” she said to the receptionist seated behind a counter that was clearly the work of a creative designer. Instead of the usual rectangular, practical design, this counter slanted to the right and had sleek metallic features that added sloping lines on the surface, projecting an image of movement and speed. It reminded her of the lines of a car going round a corner at high speed, which was appropriate, considering where she was.
The receptionist typed on her computer for a moment before saying, “Kim Taeyeon, for a three o’clock. Found you.” She handed her a company pass that bore a similar design to the counter. “Lift lobby A, twenty-first floor, turn left.”
Taeyeon nodded. “Thanks.”
The way up was easy but walking down the corridor was not. Each passing desk and closed door made her increasingly uncertain about the immediate future. Why had she been summoned? Was she in trouble?
It didn’t help that eyes followed her as she entered the office. It was easy to get to but difficult to walk through. She didn’t enjoy the way she felt so she pulled her back straight and kept her chin up as she approached the secretary.
“Noeul?” Taeyeon gasped.
“Taeyeon!” was the secretary’s hushed exclamation.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m working here. What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to see your boss.”
“So it really is you.”
“The one and only.”
“Oh my God. We have to catch up.” Noeul handed her a name card. “Here’s my number. Let’s do dinner sometime this week.”
Taeyeon nodded as she put Noeul’s name card away. “I’d like that.”
“Great.” Noeul flashed a wide smile before standing up. “Follow me.”
Taeyeon followed her, taking the chance to take in Noeul’s appearance for the first time in years. She looked good. The pencil skirt revealed slim calves that showed evidence of a regular workout and she could appreciate the way Noeul’s hips curved. Above all that was a soft, silky top that was translucent enough to reveal an inner camisole and a proportionate upper body. This outfit was a world apart from the baggy school uniform that Noeul used to wear but both versions of Noeul were good looking in Taeyeon’s eyes. Both versions held a certain appeal which was the factor that had drawn Taeyeon to her in the first place.
They stopped in front of a door. Noeul knocked on the rich brown wood and waited a beat before opening the door. “Mr Im, Miss Kim Taeyeon is here for the three o’clock.”
“Yes. Please come in. Thank you, Noeul.”
Noeul flashed her another smile before stepped aside to let her through. Then, the door closed behind her and she was alone with her stepfather-to-be.
“Please, have a seat.”
Taeyeon moved to the couch and sat.
“Would you like to have coffee or tea?”
“No, thank you. I’m fine.”
Mr Im joined her on the couch with a mug. Taeyeon caught a whiff of the coffee and sniffed. “Does the aroma bother you?” he asked.
“No, it doesn’t.”
Mr Im smiled. “I know you’re tensed but let me assure you that this is not a test, neither am I about to announce some sort of bad news. I must apologize for inviting you to see me at such short notice but I haven’t really had time to spare until now.”
“You don’t have to apologize Mr Im.”
“Please, call me uncle. This isn’t a work relationship although we’re in an office right now,” he said with a smile. “So you must be wondering why I asked you to visit my office.”
“Well, you’re about to become my stepdaughter but I know almost nothing about you other than what your mother has told me.”
Which is almost nothing.
“But your mother told me that she doesn’t really know much about you so I decided to take things into my own hands.”
Taeyeon sat up at his words. “She told you that?”
Mr Im nodded. “Yes. She has always been frank with me about private affairs. I know, for example, that you moved out at the young age of eighteen. I also know that she doesn’t have a good mother-daughter relationship with you.”
Taeyeon blinked. “I…”
“I also know about your mother’s past.” Mr Im sipped his coffee and put his mug down. “We have left very little secrets to ourselves. I know that you may find it hard to believe but it is true. I have done things that I am not proud of and so does she. We all have. So we decided to come clean. As much as we could. Like a kind of renewal. A rebirth, if you will.” Mr Im clasped his hands. “But all I have heard is one sided. I know your mother’s perspective well but not yours. So, if you are comfortable with it, I’d like to hear your story as well.”
Her mother? Coming clean? Telling all? What???
“I don’t really have a story. Besides, it’s all in the past now.”
“It’s not in the past if the two of you are still not talking to each other.”
“She doesn’t want to talk to me,” Taeyeon blurted.
“That’s not true. She told me otherwise.” Mr Im smiled. “Do you want to talk to her?”
Taeyeon shook her head. “No.”
“Can you tell me why?”
Taeyeon at Mr Im for a moment. Who was this man and why was she having this conversation with him? And why hadn’t she stormed out of his office yet?
“If it is uncomfortable for you to talk about this here, I do apologize. If you must know, I am quite nervous about this talk and I chose this place because I feel most comfortable here. But if you don’t think this place is appropriate for this conversation, we can go some place else.”
Mr Im…Uncle…was nervous? “No, this place is alright. I’m just…I’m not…I’m not used to talking…about this.”
“I understand. I’ll admit that this setting probably seems like an ambush to you but it is not one. You are free to leave at any time.”
“It’s strange to be talking about this with you.”
“It’s strange for me too. But our circumstances do not allow us the luxury of time to spend. The Roulette will be over in a matter of a few races and we will announce our marriage plans to the public. I know that you may not want this sort of attention but it is unavoidable and I am sorry for it.”
“I don’t have to be in the limelight. The focus can be totally on you and my mother. And Yoona. My sister and I don’t mind staying in the background.”
“But you are part of the family.” Mr Im looked straight into her eyes and she was held hostage by the firmness she saw in them. “Taeyeon, I believe in keeping a family together. I made a mistake in my previous marriage and my wife left me. Up till today, I still feel responsible for losing Yoona’s mother. Because of me, she had to grow up without a mother. Because of me, she doesn’t have a complete family.” Mr Im sighed. “You’re young now and you will think you don’t need your family to survive. But years later, you will think differently. But by then, it would have been too late to change things.”
Taeyeon sat still, frozen by the heartfelt confession of the rich and powerful man who sat adjacent to her. “I…don’t know what to say.”
“Do you have someone you love dearly?”
Where did this question come from?! “Y…es…”
“Are the rumours true then? That you are seeing Hyundae’s Tiffany?”
Taeyeon remained silent.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Mr Im took another sip of coffee. “So you understand that it is not easy to be with someone. It is not easy to stay together unless you keep communication lines clear.”
Taeyeon nodded. Her recent experience with Tiffany proved that much.
“I learnt a lot from my fail marriage. And I don’t intend to let it happen again. I will do everything I can to keep my new family together, and that includes you and your mother. Your mother has changed. I couldn’t believe that she is the same woman she told me about. I’m not trying to make an excuse for what she did in the past, but she’s older now and she doesn’t want things to be this way anymore.”
“She has never tried to make things right with me.”
Mr Im nodded. “She admitted it too. She…finds it hard to face you. It may sound like a flimsy excuse but it’s how she feels. She was a horrible mother and that memory makes it’s hard for her to talk to you.”
“It does sound like a lousy excuse. Does she expect me to take the first step to right the wrongs she did?”
Mr Im laughed. “No. She doesn’t.”
“So she asked you to help?”
“No. She didn’t. I decided to see you without telling her.”
Taeyeon scoffed. “What happened to your theory of clear communication lines.”
Mr Im smiled. “I will tell her about this. I’m not going to keep it from her. But if I were to wait for her to step the first step, it might just take forever. I’m not trying to fix things all by myself. But sometimes, it’s easier to pass a message as a third party.” Mr Im gestured at her. “The fact that you’re still sitting here is proof of that.”
“So you asked me to come here just to tell me that my mother is too embarrassed to talk to me?”
“Is there anything else?”
“Just one more thing.”
Taeyeon raised a brow.
“I was part of the panel that voted to decide Tiffany’s future in The Roulette. I am sure you are well aware of the result of that vote but I would like to caution you and Tiffany against having anymore to do with street races. Tiffany might lose everything if they find anything on her and you will be taken down with her, at which point, there will be little I can do.”
“You’ve…been helping us?”
Mr Im smiled. “You may not be my stepdaughter yet but in my eyes, you already are. I’m only doing what I should and what I can.”
“But…aren’t you…don’t you hate street racing?”
Mr Im chuckled. “Sounds like my daughter has been telling tales about me.” He nodded. “Yes, I do not approve of street racing because of the danger it entails. I used to race on the streets but I stopped after witnessing a horrible accident that left two people dead. I decided there and then that no thrill nor sport should be enjoyed without taking all necessary measures to ensure safety. There are no rules in street racing; it is thrilling because of that. But at the end of the day, you have to question the balance of worth.”
Mr Im stood up, the passion within him showing in his eyes. “Is it worth putting other lives at risk because of your personal thrill seeking needs? Especially when there are professional racing options where safety precautions are taken and the loss of innocent lives are minimised as much as possible. Which means that street racers are selfish and irresponsible. Don’t you agree?”
Taeyeon had nothing to say to that.
“Think about it. I cannot force you to do anything. Neither do I wish to force you. I have been very strict with Yoong and I can see that I have hurt her in some ways. But she is my only daughter and I love her with all my life. I can’t risk it with her.”
Taeyeon stood. “Yoona loves you very much too. She’s trying very hard to prove herself so that you’ll be proud of her.”
“I know that.” Mr Im wiped his reddening eyes. “I know that. I know that she approached you to train her for racing and it’s because of me.”
“How did you know?”
Mr Im managed a smile. “I’m her father. No matter how busy I am, there will be things that do not escape a father’s eye. The same goes for your mother too. She knows everything she can possibly know without having any contact with you.”
“She knows that you race.”
Taeyeon’s jaw fell open.
“As I said…” Mr Im stared straight at her, his eyes serious. “She may not have been good at being your mother but she loves you all the same. Deep down inside, she loves you very much. I hope you’ll believe that.”