The world ceased to exist beyond the walls of the ICU. Taeyeon sat by Tiffany’s bed, holding her hand, watching as she slept. It was a long sleep. That’s what it was. A well-deserved rest she’d earned after winning The Roulette. The Hyundae co-workers she worked with had stopped by earlier, followed by the racing team, and Taeyeon had given Denise a generous serving of ice-cold hate. The woman averted eyes the entire time and made a quick escape after muttering something intelligible to Tiffany.
Taeyeon didn’t want to know what Denise said to sleeping Tiffany. Neither did she want to know. She was glad when Paul ushered them out and she moved to reclaim her seat by Tiffany.
“Baby, you gotta wake up and get even with the bitch. You gotta get up and make the bitch regret messing with you.”
Tiffany did not respond. She slept on, her breathing even. It was something to be thankful for—the fact that she was still breathing. Taeyeon brought Tiffany’s hand to her lips and kissed her fingers, one at a time. Those hands, once so strong, so warm, raised countless memories from the bed of the sea that was her mind. Those hands had caressed her on so many occasions, instrumental to making Taeyeon feel loved and cherished. And wanted. In the most primal way. Raw and sexual. But right now, the hand she held had none of that warmth, none of the love she remembered.
“Taeyeon, I’m going to grab some dinner. Can I get anything for you? A sandwich maybe?” asked Paul from behind.
Sandwich. Taeyeon remembered the turkey bacon sandwich that Tiffany had bought for her back when she had been hospitalized. The memory stabbed her deep but nonetheless, she said, “Turkey bacon.”
She turned back to Tiffany and tried to smile. “Remember the turkey bacon sandwich? You were such a fucking stalker, following me back home with the sandwich.”
Tiffany did not respond.
This was way too fucking hard.
Her friends came. Hyoyeon, Yuri with Jessica, Key. Even Noeul. Sunny and Sooyoung came and stayed until they had to leave. Yoona stayed for as long as Uncle Im allowed her to. Seohyun dropped by between shifts. All these people came and went. But Tiffany slept through it all.
Later that night, Uncle Im came to visit. She looked to him for news but he didn’t have anything beyond the standard affair. Protocol made it compulsory for Tiffany’s car to be checked. Initial findings didn’t raise any major suspicions but under Paul and Uncle Im’s request, they would inspect the brakes more closely. That would have to be enough for now, Uncle Im told her when she opened her mouth to protest the delay in findings.
But what he told her next, made her even more tensed. Her mother was coming.
“What for?” The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them.
Uncle Im frowned. “Yoona told us how close you are to Tiffany. When your mother realized how affected you are by this accident, she was quite upset. She wants to see you, Taeyeon. She’s your mother.”
Taeyeon couldn’t say anymore without launching into a full blown argument with Uncle Im and she didn’t want that so she chose not to remain silent.
Uncle Im took her silence for consent and patted her shoulder. “Don’t be too hard on her, Taeyeon.”
And where were you when she was going so hard on me. Whatever. “She can come if she wants.”
“She’ll come with Yoona tomorrow. Is there anything else you need?”
Taeyeon shook her head. “Sunny helped me with everything. I’m fine.”
“Alright then. Take care of yourself, Taeyeon.”
Taeyeon nodded. “I will.”
Her mother arrived early the next morning, while she was still asleep. Yoona was the one who woke her up, shaking her gently by her shoulders. She opened her eyes and rubbed them, groggy from sleep and sat up on the single bed the hospital provided for her. Only when she stood did she notice her mother standing near the door. She froze.
Her mother, dressed in a plain blouse and jeans, looked different. She wasn’t in a business suit, wearing a frown like she usually did. Her face bore some fatigue, undisguised by the layer of makeup that usually made her look sharp and alert. Taeyeon was thrown off. A tough, cold mother she was ready for. A tired, aged mother, she was not.
“Taeyeon,” said her mother, taking two steps to her, stopping at the foot of Tiffany’s bed. “I didn’t know you were such good friends with Hyundae’s Tiffany.”
What do you know anyway. “Well, now you know.”
“How close is she to you?”
“Very. She’s my life.”
Her mother raised a brow. “Oh? She’s your life?”
“She’s the person who knows me best. Better than anyone.”
“I see. I see.”
Her flare of anger died right then. Had she said a little too much?
Her mother smiled. Her mother smiled. “That’s good. I’m glad to see you’ve found someone.”
Taeyeon pursed her lips. She wasn’t sure what to say. Did her mother know? “Thanks,” was what she came up with.
“I brought this for you.”
Taeyeon stared at the blue car sitting in her mother’s palm. A queer little strain grew in her throat and she swallowed as she took it from her mother. She pinched it with two fingers, flicked the wheels and smiled when they rolled just as smoothly as they used to. Her car. Her little blue car. Raising her eyes back to her mother’s, she asked, “How do you have this?”
“I’ve always had it. It’s always been with me.”
The strain in her throat became a lump. “Why are you giving it to me now.”
Her mother shrugged. “I just thought it’s a good time to give it to you.” A glance at her watch. “I need to get to work now.” Another shrug. “I hope Tiffany makes it out.”
Taeyeon looked at her precious blue car and nodded. “She will.”
Yoona, who had been by her side all this time, finally said, “I have to go too. But I’ll come back later with Seohyun.”
Taeyeon nodded and smiled. “Thanks, Yoona.”
Yoona hugged her tight. “Take care, unnie. And remember to eat your breakfast.”
Yoona grinned and waved goodbye.
Her mother looked awkward, standing near the door by herself. And that’s when Taeyeon realized one thing. Having a third party present was probably why her mother was ill at ease and polite. But it was nice, she decided. It was nice to be able to talk to her mother without having it turn into a fight. Regardless of it being genuine or not.
She returned to Tiffany’s side with her car after they left. She held it up and studied the faded paint. It used to be radiant blue. A smart looking car that rolled well on its wheels. And her mother had it all along? Unbelievable.
“You know,” she started, holding up the car for Tiffany to see, “…this is my very first toy car. It was my favourite,” she smiled as she remembered, “…until I got a remote controlled car.”
Tiffany did not respond. Taeyeon sighed.
“Please wake up soon, okay? You’re scaring me when you keep sleeping like that.”
The sight of sleeping Tiffany became too much to bear. Time for breakfast.
“Taeyeon, are you sure you don’t want to go home and take a rest? You’ve been here two nights already.”
Taeyeon shook her head. “I’m not leaving until she wakes up.”
Uncle Im sighed. “You are just like your mother.”
Taeyeon frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Both of you are stubborn as mules.”
“This isn’t me being stubborn. This is about Tiffany. I can’t leave her here by herself.”
“There are doctors and nurses around. She’s in good hands.”
“What if she wakes up and there’s nobody around? It’ll be so scary for her.”
“So you’re refusing to leave because you want to be here when she wakes up?”
Taeyeon nodded. “I want to be the first person she sees.”
“Taeyeon…you leave me speechless.”
“Don’t worry about me, Uncle Im. I’m fine. I’ve got a bed here,” she said, gesturing at the raised mattress she’d slept on the past two nights, “and a shower and plenty of food available.”
“It’s not healthy for you to stay here all the time. You need a break.”
“I stroll around from time to time. I’m fine. Really.”
“I know. I just had to try although your mother said it wouldn’t work.” Uncle Im smiled. “She knows you quite well.”
“Do you have any updates on the car? Did they find anything?” asked Taeyeon, hoping he wouldn’t notice she was trying to change the subject.
He shook his head. “They haven’t found anything yet.”
“Are they inspecting the brakes.”
“I brought it up. But they don’t seem to have found any tampering of the brakes.”
“But it has to be the brakes. The way she was driving—it’s clear to those who race. Tiffany is too good to have made a mistake like that.”
“There’s the possibility of human error…”
“No way. The only human error you’ll find is in the people who are checking her car.” Frustration rose quickly from her chest and it was hard to curb it. “Those incompetent morons.”
Fucking morons. They need to have better mechanics looking at the car, damn it. “Can you help me to get a mechanic who actually knows her stuff to check the car?”
“Those mechanics are professionals, Taeyeon.”
Taeyeon shook her head. “Yuri. Get Kwon Yuri. Commission her to check it.”
Uncle Im sighed again. “I really would love to help you but this is over stepping boundaries.”
She thought fast. Who could help? Who had the power to speak directly to the association? Holy fuck. Why didn’t she think of it before?
She got her phone out and left Uncle Im in the room with Tiffany. A few rings later, her call was answered and Yuri’s voice came through.
“Hey, how’s Tiffany doing?”
“She’s stable but still sleeping. But listen, I need a favour. A huge favour. But I’ll pay you back, I’ll be your slave, I’ll wash your car, I’ll do anything if you’ll help me.”
“Hold on, hold on. What kind of help are we talking?”
“I need you to check Tiffany’s car. The brakes, specifically.”
“You suspect something?”
“Well, I thought her crash was odd too but we heard the checks came back clean.”
“They don’t know what to check for. They don’t know cars like you do, Yuri. You gotta help me.”
“But how am I gonna get in? They won’t let some random mechanic into their team just like that.”
“Jessica knows the chairwoman, right?”
“Wow, Taeyeon. You’ve thought of everything. I’ll tell Sica about it and see what she can do.”
“Thanks girl. I owe you tons.”
“I might just take you up on the car wash offer.” Yuri laughed. “I’ll call you back when I have news for you.”
“Thanks. You have no idea how much this means to me.”
“Anything to help a friend. Wait for my good news!”
Taeyeon smiled as she ended the call. With hope renewed, she re-entered Tiffany’s ward and flashed a smile when Uncle Im looked at her with questions in his eyes.
“Settled it,” she said. “My friends will do something about it.”
Uncle Im raised a brow. “You have powerful friends.”
Taeyeon shook her head. “I have wonderful friends.” She looked over at Tiffany, still sleeping like a princess under a spell, despite the bruises on her face. “Justice will be served.”
Don’t worry, Tiffany. I’ll get to the bottom of it. And when you wake up, I’ll tell you all about it. And my feelings for you. Please give me a chance to tell you. I want to tell you every day, for the rest of my life.
Three nights. Three nights too many. And Tiffany was still sleeping. It was the longest sleep ever.
“You’re not gonna need to sleep for days once you wake up, Tiff. I swear. And I’ll keep you up all night too,” Taeyeon tried to joke even though it hurt that Tiffany was not responding any more than she was two days ago. She held Tiffany’s hand, stroking with her thumb, hoping for even the slightest twitch of a finger. But Tiffany slept on, in what Taeyeon thought was unnatural peace.
It was almost dinner time when Yuri checked in with her. The woman had good news. Jessica had spoken to the chairwoman who was alarmed to hear of their suspicions and immediately commissioned Yuri to join the team of mechanics. She would be able to have a look at the car tomorrow, she said. Taeyeon brightened at the news and the first bit of light in days, shone on her heart. She couldn’t thank Yuri enough but the woman shrugged it off easily. ‘Anything for a friend’ was all she said and that was that.
Her mother dropped by after dinner with Hayeon and Yoona and again, awkward civility enshrouded them as her mother gave her a little pot of soup. She had made it for dinner and saved some for her. Taeyeon didn’t know what to say again. It was more than strange to accept the soup from her mother as Hayeon and Yoona watched on, smiling. But she had to admit, it was nice to have home cooked food for a change.
It wasn’t until they left that she finally opened the pot of soup, however. There was no way she was drinking it while her mother was around. No way.
“Can you believe it, Tiff? My mother made soup and gave me some.” Taeyeon sniffed as the aroma of the soup rose through the air. It smelt like chicken and ginseng. Samgyetang. Her favourite soup. She drank a spoonful and closed her eyes as the soup warmed its way down to her stomach. It was a kind of heaven on Earth—this soup. “This soup is really good. If only you weren’t sleeping, you’d get to taste it too.” Taeyeon brought the pot to Tiffany’s nose. “Can you smell it? It smells good right? I’ll make some for you after you wake up.”
She drained the pot of soup and leaned back in her chair. The room was quiet. Too quiet. It was unbearable and she hated the weakness that was creeping in, the tears that threatened to well up once more. Maybe Uncle Im was right. This wasn’t healthy. But no. She would be here when Tiffany woke up. Tiffany was going to wake up. She believed in it with everything she had.
Yuri called the next day in the late afternoon. Taeyeon answered the call the moment she saw who it was, her heart accelerating to double speed.
“Did you get to look at the car? Did you find anything?”
“Woah, too many questions, Taeyeon. One at a time. I checked her brakes.”
“Whoever tampered with her brakes is a sly genius.”
“So they were tampered.”
“Yeah. You got it right. The brake lines were damaged just enough to allow moisture into the brake system and vapour locks formed in the brake fluid. The genius part was how they managed to get the braking impaired during the race. I mean, that’s quite a tight window if you ask me.”
Taeyeon knew that Yuri the mechanic was intrigued by the technical aspects of it but she couldn’t care less about how it was done. “Are they looking for the culprit now? Did they find the person who did it? Do they have any idea who might have done it?”
“Here’s the thing.”
“What. Tell me.”
“I knew it was her, that fucking slut!”
“No. It’s not her.”
“But you said—”
“I was going to say, Denise came forward to testify.”
“She claims she was approached to join in a sabotage attempt but she had rejected this person previously.”
“What? That’s bullshit!”
“Well, bullshit or not, she gave a name.”
“Who is it.”
“Peter? Who’s Peter?”
Yuri’s voice grew twice as solemn as she explained, “Peter was running Hyundae before Paul came and kicked him out. He left with Jean and joined Ssamyoong.”
“Ssamyoong?” Taeyeon could hardly believe her ears. “But that’s…that’s Uncle Im’s company.”
“Yeah, it’s all a big mess right now, Taeyeon. The news is all over it right now. Peter has been arrested. Your Uncle Im handed him to the police in person.”
Taeyeon leaned against the wall behind her, in a daze. Holy fuck. This was the last thing she had been expecting to happen. She looked over to where Tiffany lay, still deep in sleep. In a crazy way, it was not such a bad place to be, she thought, sleeping as the world around her imploded on itself.
“Why did he do it…?”
“I’m guessing revenge. He’s probably sour that Hyundae is doing so well with Tiffany. Hyundae would have won the Constructors’ championship too, if the crash didn’t happen. As it stands, Samjung claimed the Constructors’ so Peter has denied Hyundae that title.”
“This is so fucked up.”
“It is. But you hold on tight over there, okay. I’ll find out more for you. I’m sure your uncle will tell you about it too, once he finds the time to.”
“Thanks, Yuri. Thanks a lot. I owe you so much for this.”
No problem. Taeyeon shook her head as she put her phone away. How she wished there were no problems. But this was life. And life was fucked up like that. As usual.