The city was a lonely place. Taeyeon didn’t like to admit it but what else could explain the gaping hole that was her heart as she drove through the busy streets of Seoul? What else could explain the hollowness inside even though she was surrounded by the millions of people that statistics claimed to be in this city?
She had no one. No one to talk to. No one who could understand—truly understand. Everyone went about their business, stopping at lights, crossing at their turn; the entire city operating like a well-oiled machine. Nobody cared that the very person who should be filling her heart with love and warmth was the one who ripped out all the flesh and replaced it with cold, hard rock.
How was it possible, that in a city of millions, she had no one to turn to in a moment like this? Hayeon was never an option—she wasn’t going to pile her emotional baggage in her younger sister. Sunny was a great friend but she had her own life and problems too. The same went for Sooyoung and Yuri. All these people existed and yet, no one existed for her. But why was she even looking for someone? And she had thought she had grown immune to her mother’s brand of love. A cold snort rose from her chest. Erupted from her mouth. It was ludicrous. This thought. She wasn’t as strong as she thought she was. She wasn’t as safe from hurt as she thought she was. All these walls; they were fucking useless. The walls that Tiffany had fought to tear down were fucking useless.
Tiffany. Tiffany was someone. Tiffany was somebody else. But Tiffany wasn’t talking to her right now. She hugged herself and shook her head. What was going on with her life? Why couldn’t her life be a little less chaotic and a little more peaceful? Or was this all her fault?
Shutting her eyes didn’t stop the tears. But the blast of a car horn behind her yanked her out of her miserable thoughts. Damn. The lights had turned green and she was expected to move. So move, she did. But where to?
“Daddy, I miss you.”
“My girl,” Tiffany could almost hear his smile over the phone, “I miss you too. Are you well?”
“I’m good. All’s well. But things are bad for Paul.”
“I know about it.” Her father’s sigh made her sigh too. “He called me to talk about it. And that’s why I called you. I’m worried, Steph.”
“I’m okay. I can take care of myself, Dad. Things are different here but I’ve adapted.”
“The same words Paul used. Did the two of you plan your speech together?”
Tiffany chuckled. “It’s the truth, that’s why. I have good colleagues, friends, a job I like.” And a woman I love.
“As good as everything may be, remember that your family is still here, in LA. Your cousins miss you too. And your mother. You have to come back.”
“Mom is in heaven. It doesn’t matter where I am anymore.”
“Have you forgotten about your father? It matters.”
Her eyes squeezed shut and her fingers pinched her nose bridge as a wave of guilt crashed upon her selfish thoughts. Her father had not approved of her wish to venture out to Seoul and she knew it was because he couldn’t bear to let her go. She was all he had left. And he was all she had…until she discovered a whole new world in Seoul. In Taeyeon.
Volatile Taeyeon. The cold war they were having was not helping the situation. Her father’s desire for her to return to his side was problem enough. It had been the first worry to strike from the moment Paul got into trouble with his granddad and Tiffany was ashamed of how selfish her thoughts were when her friend’s problems were so much bigger than hers. Not that it stopped her thoughts though. She was such a horrible person sometimes. It was also her fault for blowing up at Taeyeon, leading them to this extended cold car that was torturing her. Fuck. Things were so messed up.
“Steph? Are you there?”
“Ah, yes, Dad. I’m still here.”
“So you’ll come back home after you win the championship.”
“That was the deal, Steph.”
She bit her lip. She had only agreed to his terms because it meant she could come to Seoul. She hadn’t counted on becoming this committed to Hyundae or Taeyeon. Especially Taeyeon. Never in her wildest dreams had she ever thought she would end up falling in love with the racer. Or rather, having the racer love her back. Taeyeon did love her back, didn’t she?
“I know…but I really love my job at Hyundae.”
“That’s what Paul said too.” A pause. “Did you ask Paul to say all these things?”
“Well, it sounds like you want to stay in Seoul and Paul was helping you to persuade me.”
“Okay, maybe he was. But that’s only because he understands how much it means to me to stay in Seoul.”
“But what can mean more than home?”
Tiffany paused, unsure of what to say next, even though Taeyeon’s name was on the tip of her tongue.
“There’s something else holding you back in Seoul, isn’t it?”
For fuck’s sake. She was a full grown adult in love with another full grown adult. Why was she irrationally afraid of telling her father the truth? The fear that he would disapprove of the reason for her decision was illogically intense. Just tell him!
“Who is this woman responsible for keeping my daughter in Seoul?”
“Dad. My girlfriend isn’t responsible for the decisions I make.”
“No, but she’s the reason for the decisions you make. What’s her name? What does she do? Do you have a picture of her?”
“Her name is Taeyeon. Kim Taeyeon. She sells luxury cars at the best car dealer in town. And yes, I have a picture of her. I’ll send you one if you want.”
“Send it now. I want to see what she looks like.”
Tiffany sighed. “Okay. I’ll send one now.” She thumbed through the gallery of pictures and grinned at the series of Taeyeon’s weird expressions. No, those won’t do. Her father would probably think Taeyeon was a crazy clown or something. Pictures of them in bed together. Hell no. Where the fuck were the decent pictures of Taeyeon? Were there none at all?
“What’s taking you so long?”
“Hold on, Dad.” Tiffany flicked past a series of couple shots before spotting a decent picture of Taeyeon in glasses, filling out paperwork. “There. Sent.”
There was a pause as her father looked at the picture. Then he said, “So this is the girl who made you go back on your deal with me.”
“Nobody made me do anything. It’s all me, Dad.”
A moment’s silence later, her father said, “You’re whipped.”
Tiffany choked on nothing. “I’m not.”
“Nobody takes pictures of a person filling out a form unless they’re whipped.”
Tiffany burst into laughter, relief flooding her heart when she realized her father wasn’t angry. “Fine, I’m whipped.” She laughed some more, unable to stop herself.
“She sells cars, you say.”
“Mhm. She’s the top in the business. The best.”
“I’ll decide that for myself after meeting her.”
“M-Meet? You want to meet her?”
“Of course. You’ll bring her to see me after your championship series is done.”
“I’m not sure if—”
“You’ll bring her. I want to meet her,” her father repeated, his firm tone leaving no room for discussion. “I won’t let just any girl near my daughter.”
“She’s really good to me, Dad…” Except when she’s in a bad mood. Or when we quarrel.
“I’ll be the judge of that when I meet her. In the meantime, take care of yourself. Eat your meals regularly. Don’t skip meals when you’re busy.”
“I’ll take care. And the same goes for you. Don’t go binging on chips.”
“I haven’t been binging.”
“I love you, Dad.”
“I love you too.”
Tiffany had to see Taeyeon. It didn’t matter that things were weird between them, she decided. She had to tell Taeyeon. She couldn’t wait.
The drive to Taeyeon’s apartment felt twice as long but she got there eventually and let herself in. the darkness inside threw her off. Taeyeon didn’t go to sleep that early. Perhaps she was out? Tiffany reached for her phone and tried to call Taeyeon but her call went unanswered. Was Taeyeon still angry? Surely not?
Damn it. She really wanted to tell Taeyeon all about the conversation she had with her father. But where the fuck was Taeyeon?
The first thing she looked for when she opened her eyes was Taeyeon. But there was no one beside her. Taeyeon didn’t come home last night. She sat up in bed and hugged her knees. Where was Taeyeon? She was beginning to worry.
Another call to Taeyeon went answered the first time but was picked up the second time. Only, it wasn’t Taeyeon’s voice.
“Who are you?” she asked with caution.
Tiffany’s heart ran cold. “Are you with Taeyeon right now?”
Noeul didn’t sound awake. Fuck! Were they sleeping together? No. No. Taeyeon wouldn’t cheat on her. No. She wasn’t a cheater. “Is she awake? I need to talk to her.” Her hand was trembling as she asked and she was biting her lip. Stop it. Keep calm, Tiffany. Keep calm, damn it!
“She’s still sleeping. I’m sorry. Who are you?”
“Oh, she’s waking up now. Hold on.” Sounds of sheets rustling on the other end didn’t help to calm Tiffany down. “Taeyeon, Taeyeon, your friend is on the line.”
“Who?” Taeyeon’s sleepy voice punched something deep inside her. Fuck.
“Your friend, Tiffany.”
“Fuck.” Tiffany tried to breathe evenly as the phone changed hands. “Hello? Tiffany?”
“Fucking hell, Taeyeon. Where are you?”
“I…I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know. Where the fuck are you!”
Taeyeon groaned. “Don’t yell. My head will explode.”
“I don’t care if your head explodes. If you cheated on me with that fucker, I’ll make sure your head explodes and run you over with my car.”
“I don’t want to wait.” Tiffany got off the bed and began to pace. “I waited all night for you but you didn’t come home so now tell me where the fuck you are and what the hell you’re doing with Noeul!”
“Oh my God. Wait.”
“Taeyeon, you’re really pissing me off right no—”
“Okay, okay.” Taeyeon groaned again but Tiffany wasn’t about to go soft on her. Was that a door closing she heard? What was going on with Taeyeon? “Okay. I’m in the bathroom now.”
“What bathroom. What is this. You’re driving me crazy, Taeyeon.”
“I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
“Why. Why the fuck are you sorry? What did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything. I swear.”
“So why are you with Noeul?”
“I went for a drink and ran into her.”
“And you slept with her.”
“Yes—I mean, no. I didn’t—”
“Do you end up sleeping with every girl you drink with?”
“No. I only fuck the girls I race with.”
“Oh my God. Please! Don’t yell.”
“I’m this close to running you over with my car, Taeyeon. Stop fucking around and tell me what happened.”
“Okay, okay. As I said, I ran into her at the bar. We drank. A lot. Then…I…don’t remember what happened after that. Noeul must have checked us into a hotel.”
“A hotel. You’re in a hotel room with Noeul.” Tiffany took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “And you slept together.”
“Slept. Like…like sisters. With our clothes on.”
“You slept with Noeul like sisters?” Tiffany couldn’t decide if she wanted to laugh or strangle Taeyeon. “Taeyeon…fuck you.”
“I would like you to fuck me too.”
“I miss you.”
Words jammed up in her throat. The affection in Taeyeon’s voice did strange things to her and she didn’t know what to say in return.
“Tiff…?” Soft and sad. Tiffany couldn’t understand why she was still talking to Taeyeon. “I’m sorry…I’m really…I really wanted to see you last night. I needed you. But I fucked it up.”
“Get your ass back to your apartment right now, Taeyeon. Right now. Then we’ll talk.”
The door creaked opened but Tiffany made no move to welcome Taeyeon back. She maintained her stiff posture on the couch, only following Taeyeon with her eyes as the woman entered the living room.
“I’m sorry I blew up at you that day but I’m very angry about last night.”
Taeyeon sank onto the couch. “I didn’t fuck her.”
“But you slept with her.”
“It was more like two drunks passed out. Noeul doesn’t remember anything either.”
“I don’t want to hear her name.”
“Tiff, I’m sorry it happened. You don’t know how much I wanted you last night. I really,”—Taeyeon buried her face in her palms—“really wanted you.”
“So why didn’t you call me?”
“We were not speaking to each other, remember?”
“Taeyeon, I’m sorry.”
Taeyeon turned to her, sad and forlorn. “I fucked up but I don’t want to lose you. I have no one left but you.”
“Taeyeon…?” Tiffany shifted to Taeyeon, eliminating the space between them, and touched her arm. “What happened to you? Why are you saying all these. It’s not like you at all.”
Taeyeon sighed and shook her head. “I’m tired.” Tiffany blinked as Taeyeon hugged her but didn’t resist. “Sleep with me for a while.”
“I’m still angry with you, you know.”
“I know.” Taeyeon’s arms tightened around Tiffany as her head came to rest on Tiffany’s shoulder. “But give me one hour. You can scold me after that.”
Tiffany didn’t know what the matter was with Taeyeon. She was acting stranger than ever before. It was as though she had turned into somebody else overnight. Something must have happened. Something horrible. But she would give Taeyeon an hour. She was going to get her answers after that.
They woke up, arms and legs entangled. Somehow, they had ended up lying across the couch, hugging each other in their sleep. It was way past an hour. They had fallen asleep for at least two. Tiffany sat up, separating from Taeyeon and the other woman did the same, combing her fingers through her hair as she sat up. The silence was a kind of awkward but it was no longer angry. Her anger had left the building and in its place, curiosity had filled in.
“I met my mother last night.” Taeyeon was first to speak, her voice weak and lifeless. “I don’t know if I can do this.”
“Do what?” Tiffany asked carefully.
“The new family. I don’t want to see my mother again.”
“Taeyeon…” Tiffany was at a loss.
“But Hayeon. And Uncle Im.” Taeyeon shook her head. “They don’t deserve this. I don’t want to fuck it up for them.”
“What happened, Taeyeon? What did your mother say?”
Taeyeon’s lifeless eyes were scaring her. “Nothing new. Nothing that I don’t already know.” Tiffany stared as Taeyeon grabbed her hands. “Why? Why does she hate me? What did I do wrong?”
So this is why she went drinking at a bar. The thought of Taeyeon ending up on the same bed with Noeul brought a bitter taste to her mouth but she would make Taeyeon pay her penance later. For now, she would be here for Taeyeon’s pain of rejection.
“What did you meet her for?”
“She called me. Last minute. She said she was leaving for a business trip. She wanted to see me before leaving.”
Taeyeon shook her head. “No. It wasn’t to see me. It was to tell me to watch my behaviour.” She scoffed. “You better watch what you say.” She scoffed again. “That’s what she wanted to tell me. That’s all she wanted to tell me.” Her fists balled. “Not to say she was sorry for the things she did. Not to ask about me. It’s all about her. Like always. I don’t know why Uncle Im would say she’s changed. And Hayeon. But I should have known how she would treat me. I really don’t know what I was hoping for. I’m such an idiot.”
“You’re not an idiot. There’s nothing wrong with you.” Tiffany kissed Taeyeon’s forehead. “It’s natural to want your mother to love you. Everybody wants it.” She stroked Taeyeon’s hair, running her fingers through the curls, and brushed her thumb across her cheek. “I want it too. Only, my mom’s not around anymore.”
Leaning her forehead on Taeyeon’s, Tiffany sighed. “I miss her so much. She was my best friend.”
“I’m sorry too. I wish your mom were nicer to you.”
Taeyeon pressed her lips into a line of cynicism. “Only if the sun were to rise from the west.”
“Speaking of parents, my father would like to meet you.”
It was Tiffany’s turn to sigh. “There’s something I didn’t tell you, Taeyeon.”
The woman remained silent, her eyes staring straight at her, unwavering and unnerving.
“I made a deal with my dad to come to Seoul. And part of the deal was to go back home after helping Paul with the championship.”
“You’re going to leave me after The Roulette?”
“No, no, no. I talked to my father last night. I…basically told him I don’t want to go back. And it’s because of you.”
“What? What’s he gonna think of me if you tell him that!”
“That’s why I didn’t tell him about us at first. I didn’t want him to know you’re the reason why I would break the deal. But I couldn’t persuade him with Hyundae…and eventually he guessed there was another reason…”
“Oh great. This is just great. What a way for your dad to hear of me—as the bitch who steals his daughter from him.”
Tiffany giggled. “It’s not as bad as you think. I showed him your picture. He said you’re pretty.”
“You showed him my picture? Which one,” Taeyeon demanded to know.
Tiffany grinned as she showed Taeyeon a picture of the two of them smooching in bed.
“What? Are you crazy! How could you—” Tiffany burst into laughter and Taeyeon stared at her with narrowed eyes. “You’re trolling. Fuck you. Which one did you show him. Be serious!”
“Alright, relax…” Tiffany showed her the actual picture and Taeyeon heaved a sigh of relief.
“Okay, okay. That looks good. I look good filling out that form. All serious and hard at work. Good choice.”
Tiffany grinned. “Are you that eager to impress my dad already?”
“What? No. I just don’t want to ruin my reputation, you know.”
“Reputation? What reputation.”
“My good reputation as the top seller in SM.”
“Pfft. Some reputation you have there. I should tell him all about your reputation with the ladies. Especially your sleep-in with Noeul.”
Taeyeon groaned. “That was a big mistake.”
“Yes, it was.”
“But you know I won’t cheat on you, right?”
Taeyeon straightened her back, all laughter gone from her eyes. “I don’t cheat. It’s not my style. I will have girls one after another but never at the same time.”
“So you’re saying you’ll have a girl after me?”
“That’s if we ever break up.”
“I don’t want to break up with you.”
“What about one year later? Will you grow bored of me and go for somebody new?”
Taeyeon shook her head. “No. You’re not just any girl. I’m not trading you for some random girl out there.”
The grin that was overtaking Tiffany’s face was overpowering. “I’m not just any girl, huh. So would you say I’m the girl?”
Taeyeon smiled knowingly and Tiffany knew she remembered their huge fight too. “Do you really need me to say it? Don’t my actions prove everything?”
Tiffany frowned and shook her head. “Your actions? You just slept with Noeul last night. What kind of proof is that?”
Taeyeon sighed. “I’ll never let that happen again, I promise.”
“I want to hear you say it. Say what you couldn’t say before.”
Dark, intense eyes locked on hers and imprisoned them in their gaze. “You’re the girl I want, Tiffany.”
Those words sent her arms around Taeyeon, sweeping the woman into her embrace, squashing her against her body. Earlier on, she had been resolute in making Taeyeon pay her penance. But with this declaration, she could consider her penance paid. In full and more.