for stephanie it almost feels like a dance she’s having, only with herself. the twirling and the gliding, the moving around to the facts seohyun sings, trying to stay in tune and every once in a while she misses. stephanie plays too fast the count in her head, jumping out of beat with one foot outside the lines but seohyun corrects her and puts her back into place. the music it never stops. it goes on and on as she continues to skip and step, prancing with the words of the melody, to the voice of who she is–but who is tiffany?
“hey, i’ve got another question.” she turns towards seohyun. “why don’t i eat my fries with ketchup?”
seohyun purses her lips. “are you playing some kind of game on me? you’re asking all these weird questions today.”
stephanie gives a grin. “i’m just curious.”
“well, you can think of it as me being curious about myself objectively, like looking at myself from the outside in. aren’t you curious of how other people know you?”
stephanie adds, “yet knowing and remembering are two different things too.”
seohyun nods, looking as if she were thinking about it.
“–and in a strange sense, all we are is how we are remembered, right?”
seohyun bursts into a laugh. “what’s with you today? you’re all weird and deep and curious.”
a sigh. “just answer my questions, will you?”
“so what’s the deal with ketchup? do you know?”
“well,” seohyun makes a face, “you said once it made your fries soggy.”
stephanie looks at the pack of ketchup on her tray thinking about how seohyun stopped her from opening it earlier.
“well, soggy fries are okay,” she says. “i actually really like them soggy.”
seohyun continues to look at her as if she just spoke alien. “you’re really acting weird today.”
stephanie rolls her eyes. “how many times have you said so, i’ve lost count. anyway, what are you doing next week? are you excited for your birthday?”
“why so enthusiastic?”
“it’s your birthday.”
“yeah, but i thought you thought it’s not a big deal.”
“yeah, ordinary days are happier than birthdays.”
“really?” stephanie is surprised again.
“yeah–?” seohyun repeats. “i think i’ll just order in and have drinks after i guess.”
“can i come?”
“with my officemates?”
stephanie catches the inflection. ”yeah?”
“but i thought you hated them–?”
stephanie inwardly groans–tiffany. “okay then i don’t hate them anymore.”
“okay, but why? she’s going to be there.”
“you know–she who-must-not-be-named.”
“what?” stephanie feels like she’s at the limit of her questions. “who’s she who-must-not-be-named?”
stephanie hoped for a bell. “no, i don’t. why would i be asking if i did?”
“i don’t know with you. you’re the one acting weird.”
“i know who it is,” stephanie lies. “but it’s just at the tip of my tongue. refresh my memory?”
still no bell.
“right, jessica,” stephanie says. “there we go.”
“wow. are you so mad that you act as if you don’t remember her name anymore?”
“that’s it.” stephanie claps her hands. ”that’s exactly it. gosh darn it you’re smart!”
“she’s probably not going to be there. i heard she was resigning.”
“i see.” although she really doesn’t see; she doesn’t see anything.
“i thought you had work?”
“well, thanks for coming out tonight to celebrate with me. i appreciate it.”
“of course.” stephanie smiles at her. “it’s your birthday!”
“yeah, that’s something, coming from you.”
“yeah–,” stephanie trails off, thinking of the many me’s she has come and yet to know. it’s all just so confusing–and she hasn’t even talked to taeyeon. “hey, i think we better go. it’s late and i’m tired.”
stephanie hails a cab home, her memories with taeyeon there is home.
it should have given everything away–the name, the change, the foreboding forming the past few days–but stephanie refuses to believe any of it as she clings to her memories.
“can i help you?” taeyeon asks through the narrow opening of the doorway. even the dragging wait when she knocked on it should have told her.
taeyeon doesn’t seem to recognize her. at all.
stephanie’s heart falls. “hi,” she greets, thinking on her feet. “i’m uhh conducting a survey on the building’s living conditions. i’m an interior designer.”
she only sees half of taeyeon’s face but she looks straight into the watching eye. “i’m considering the location. it’s nice. the view, i mean, it must be nice,” she adds, remembering how much taeyeon loved the picture beyond her balcony. at night the twinkling lights are within reach, taeyeon always used to say.
taeyeon opens the door wider and when stephanie sees the apartment she’s surprised by how everything looks the same.
the sofabed that’s more bed than sofa, the mirror wall she installed days after taeyeon had said she felt cramped in her apartment, the wine colored drapes of the balcony, the glass-top floating shelves that look more like an art piece than they are functional, even the old tv at the corner she had been bugging her to get a cabinet for is still there. stephanie walks to the empty gaping center of the apartment. she has always thought it doesn’t look quite right without an area carpet.
“will this take long?” taeyeon has her hands in her pockets. she’s still as awkward looking as ever. “i’m expecting some guests over so if it’s okay to finish quickly–”
right, taeyeon gives singing lessons in the morning.
“uhh no, i just wanted to look around and ask a few things.” stephanie pretends to be taken in by the room and the unfamiliarity of it. taeyeon is standing from a considerable distance and stephanie is careful not to come too close. all she wants to do is throw her arms around her. “is it quiet at night?”
she scans the mounted picture frames on the side wall, near the kitchen with a tiny window. she wonders where are her pictures?
“yeah, it’s pretty quiet here,” taeyeon answers. “it’s a safe neighborhood.”
stephanie listens. doesn’t she recognize her at all?
“what about utilities? has there ever been a problem? are they well maintained?”
“yeah, i’d say so.” taeyeon shrugs. “i haven’t been here long enough to say but yeah, i think the building’s well maintained.”
stephanie thinks of more to ask. she doesn’t know how to say it–taeyeon, it’s me, steph.
“i’m considering the area,” she manages after a pause. “it’s for a business. well, not really for a business but yeah, also for my personal use.”
“ah.” the response is dead and flat.
“i want to put up a recording studio.” stephanie hopes this would bridge her to taeyeon, knowing who she is and what she’s all about, and it seems it does.
taeyeon’s eyes light up. “really? are you in the music industry?”
“i love music.” stephanie smiles.
“cool,” taeyeon answers, nodding. “me too. i love music. it’s my life. i’m a vocal coach.”
i know, stephanie breathes.
“what’s your name?” taeyeon asks. “i’m taeyeon.”
i know, stephanie stares.
“it’s st–tiffany.” stephanie changes. “my friends call me tiffany.”
taeyeon extends a hand and stephanie takes it. the hold makes the fall faster.
“i hope you consider it,” taeyeon says. “it’d be really neat to have a recording studio here.”
i know, stephanie agrees, it’s your dream.
“but yeah, personally, i think the location’s okay.” taeyeon’s hands are back in her pockets. “it’s not too crazy or too far away.”
stephanie tries to control her smiling. she’s just a stranger to taeyeon right now after all. “are you in a band, taeyeon?”
taeyeon shakes her head. “nah, my band days ended after school. those were the good ol’ days.”
“i bet you guys were good.”
“nah, it was mostly just birthday gigs and wedding receptions of friends and friends of friends, that sort of thing. nothing serious.” taeyeon looks down, appearing shy.
“but it’s music.” stephanie lets the smile out. “music is serious.”
“yeah.” taeyeon nods. “it is.”
stephanie doesn’t know what to feel. she would have liked to talk longer but the sudden knock she hears reminds her taeyeon’s students are waiting.
“oh, that’s for me,” taeyeon says. “i have a class this morning. that must be the kids.”
stephanie hovers by the door, afraid when she leaves taeyeon will forget her. “thanks for letting me look around,” is all she can muster.
taeyeon smiles and stephanie safely carries the smile home with her.
inside her heart is silently weeping.
stephanie has never been a good actress but strangely becoming tiffany proves to be an easy and almost natural fit as long as taeyeon knows her.
“tiffany?” taeyeon greets. tiffany walks up to the cafe counter to order. she doesn’t think she’s cheating fate by acting on what she already knows she does.
“hey!” tiffany feigns surprise. “i didn’t know you work here.”
of course not.
“yeah, part time,” taeyeon answers, smiling. “it pays the bills.”
“what a coincidence,” tiffany remarks. “well, i’m craving something sweet, nothing caffeinated.” she looks up at the menu, avoiding taeyeon’s eyes. “what would you recommend?”
“strawberry iced tea?” taeyeon turns back towards the board. “it’s a house special, made fresh everyday.”
“okay. i’ll have that.”
yes–don’t you recognize me at all?
“no, i’m good,” tiffany answers, handing taeyeon her payment. “thanks.” she bites the inside of her cheek, unsure of what to do–that small window of apparent coincidence she opened is closing without her.
“here you go.” taeyeon hands her a straw and some napkins. “enjoy!”
“thanks again.” tiffany returns taeyeon’s smile. “i’ll see you around,” is the last proper response she can think of saying.
when she finally walks away, tiffany reminds herself not to look back as she does.
they fell for each other once, like a synchronized fairytale bound to a happy ever after so who’s to say it can’t or it won’t happen again?
tiffany shows up at the cafe a second time for the week. she swears she’ll keep showing until her or taeyeon’s memories show, whichever comes first.
“hey,” taeyeon greets. “you’re here again.”
“do you always have the night shift?” tiffany asks.
“no, i’m only here three times a week.”
“funny you happen to be here whenever i visit,” tiffany bemuses.
she manages to draw a smile from taeyeon. “so what can i get you? another round of iced tea?”
“one strawberry iced tea for ms. tiffany, one moment please.”
tiffany drums her fingers, thinking of what to say. she was going to ask taeyeon to sit with her–because she knows taeyeon would–but what if taeyeon isn’t interested in her this time around?
it is possible, perhaps even likely.
taeyeon returns from the work corner. “here’s your change, and enjoy your drink!”
yet improbable somehow.
“thanks.” tiffany steps back but forces it out mid-way. “hey, taeyeon?” she calls.
the self-sabotage is familiar.
“how about you join me for a moment?”
your shift is about to end anyway.
taeyeon looks around the crowd of customers. “sure,” she answers. “i’ll just make myself a drink.”
tiffany tells herself this isn’t hard but it isn’t easy too–and how could it be when the people in her life only know so much?
“thanks for joining me,” she says when taeyeon joins her.
“so–taeyeon, how long have you been working here?”
“what about you? what do you do?”
“i’m an interior designer.”
“oh, right,” taeyeon answers. “you mentioned that before. sorry, i forgot.”
“yeah,” tiffany looks down–she slipped from taeyeon’s mind. “taeyeon, can i ask you something?”
“i don’t know how to say this but–,” tiffany starts, “i feel like i know you.”
taeyeon is looking at her.
“don’t i look familiar somehow?” tiffany asks. “you look familiar to me.”
taeyeon seems to give it some thought after a chuckle. “i’m sorry, i don’t remember you from anywhere. what do you mean i look familiar? have we met before?”
“no,” tiffany retreats. “you just remind me of someone, that’s all.”
“ah–,” taeyeon nods.
taeyeon doesn’t speak and it worries tiffany–it worries her how she has come to a blank slate but what’s more is taeyeon reacting in ways she expects, in ways that haunt her of their intimacy and understanding, the nodding, the tight lipped smile after a polite answer, even the glazed faraway look tacked to taeyeon’s eyes translate the same, distinctive words she has always known–i’m just not good at small talk.
tiffany carries on. “hey, taeyeon.” she leans forward.
“what are you doing tomorrow?”
“if i asked you out on a date, would you say yes?”
taeyeon scratches her head. “are you being serious or are you pulling my leg?”
“you’ve never had someone hit on you before?”
of course not.
“well, you would be the first–”
i was first, wasn’t i?
“oh?” tiffany beams. “that’s odd. you look like someone who gets tipped often.” she notices taeyeon has grown red in the ears. “i happen to be generous with tips. so how about it? tomorrow? you and me?”
“i can’t believe you’re asking me out,” taeyeon sputters, almost laughing. “but okay, sure. yes–why not–i’ll go out with you.”
“great! i’ll pick you up tomorrow.” tiffany stands up and smiles before turning around to leave without another word.
if history serves her right–and she’s almost sure it would–she has to continue leaving in order for taeyeon to go on looking.
when it comes down to it there is nothing manipulative in the context of what tiffany decides to do, pulling out all the stops she knows to get taeyeon to fall for her again because taeyeon’s still the same person isn’t she? the same person who screams for ice cream after a long work day standing and smiling for customers she’ll only see once or maybe twice in her life, the same person who laughs with a great disturbing snort and makes funny voices whenever she gets the chance to or when it’s least expected, the same person who watches cartoons on weekends and cries when the evening news can get too violent or cruel, the same person who makes lyrics out of alphabet cereal and hums melodies all day depending on what she hears first thing in the radio, they’re all the same things, things both small and big enough to know when it comes to loving someone and forgetting someone–forgetting because you would want to know what you’ve forgotten when you do remember but tiffany remembers rather well, she remembers so vividly and in detail and it gets to her how she knows these things through her mind and body, through the mere fact she was there discovering these things and making memories with taeyeon herself but where is she now and what of the proof of her attendance? “you look like someone i can fall in love with,” taeyeon whispers the night tiffany kisses her after meeting her again and in this time. the words weigh heavy on tiffany as she tries to ignore what they could possibly mean–i am reliving life forwards. “glad to know i can be that someone,” tiffany whispers back, burying herself under taeyeon and her covers. now there is nothing more real than the taste of taeyeon’s skin.
“ah, lemme guess, i know this one.” tiffany gives taeyeon a cheeky grin. “it’s blue,” she answers with a cool, deliberate drawl of someone assured.
“how did you know?” taeyeon asks, looking stumped.
“you’re too obvious,” tiffany shrugs it off, playing. she admits to having the upperhand with her memories but it’s still not the same–yet how can she fall just the same? taeyeon is beautiful. “your phone case is blue, your sneakers are blue, the pen in your bag is blue, hell you’ve worn at least three different shades of blue–”
“okay,” taeyeon laughs, “so i might have a bit of an obsession with blue.”
“and your jeans?” tiffany enjoys her laughter. “yep, also blue.” she holds taeyeon as the latter tries to control her apparent amusement with tiffany’s perfect and on point guesses. that laugh is all hers.
“what else have you noticed?” taeyeon fixes herself straight. “you’re really good at this.”
“observing people. i don’t notice things like you. this is the first time someone told me i look pisces.”
“well,” tiffany swings their hands, “you also look independent. you sing so you’re probably creative plus you have a bit of that tortured artist thing going on.”
“you’re the middle kid, huh?” tiffany looks down on the pavement as she asks.
taeyeon seems to have smiled throughout the night and conversation. “what does the middle kid have to do with all that?” she stops in her tracks. “yeah, i’m the middle of three.”
“really?” tiffany affords a smirk. “no wonder.”
“no wonder what?”
“nothing!” tiffany tugs taeyeon’s arm, smug. “let’s go. it’s cold out here.”
“aw, but i want to know how you guessed that.” taeyeon doesn’t budge. “aren’t the eldest the independent ones? i know they usually are.”
“it’s just something i’ve noticed with my friends,” tiffany answers, hauling taeyeon’s arm to start walking again. ”it’s just an observation.”
“so you think i’m independent?”
“you look it,” tiffany offers. “are you?”
“nah, i don’t think so.”
“lemme guess–it was something borne out of necessity. you learned to be independent, to stand on your own two feet.”
“i guess you could put it that way.”
tiffany doesn’t need to guess.
“something happened, huh?” she nudges her, pushing topics. “hey, how about you try guessing something about me this time?”
“okay.” taeyeon looks at her. “i’m awful at this though.”
“it’s only fun when you guess right.”
“hmm–so what’s your favorite city in the world?”
“can we start with the basics first?” taeyeon asks, chortling. “don’t tell me you can guess as far as that.”
“what? your favorite city?”
tiffany allows a pause for a rehearsed fluke. “i dunno–seoul?” she isn’t sure but taeyeon has lived here for the most part.
“nah, seoul’s wonderful though.”
“so what’s the answer?”
“i haven’t thought about it to be honest. i haven’t traveled much.”
tiffany can only nod; she and taeyeon always used to say they would together. “what do you think is my favorite color? i’ll give you a hint–”
“hey, no!” taeyeon covers her ears. “no fair, no hints. i want to guess.”
“and your guess is?”
taeyeon rubs her neck. “pink? yeah, i’ll go with pink.”
tiffany’s heart slams her into listening–pink? “why pink?” she asks through a wide smile. maybe taeyeon remembers.
“i thought you were bad at this.”
taeyeon returns to a laughing fit sounding exceedingly gleeful. “really? it’s pink? no way! wow. lucky guess.”
“really now,” tiffany insists, “why pink?”
taeyeon shrugs. “well, it is the default favorite color of young school girls.”
“did you just call me a young school girl?” tiffany smacks taeyeon on the shoulder. “what’s that supposed to mean?”
“nothing, it’s just based on observation.” taeyeon sticks her tongue out.
tiffany doesn’t think she’s coasting along anymore, not since hearing taeyeon’s answer.
“no, really, why pink?”
taeyeon looks at her for a long time. “you look like someone who’d love pink.” she shrugs.
“i guess i do.” tiffany gives it the benefit of the doubt.
“okay, how about this one next–what kind of music do i like?”
tiffany almost laughs. this one’s too easy.
“indie,” she answers immediately. “anything acoustic about love and loss.”
taeyeon looks at her and tiffany wonders why.
“that’s oddly specific,” taeyeon finally says, “but yeah, i do listen to indie and,” she smiles, “about love and loss. you’re really good at this.”
tiffany keeps her hands in her pockets like taeyeon often does. “it’s just a guess.”
“okay, i’m just throwing it out there, whatever comes to mind, but you look like you listen to classical music.”
tiffany kicks a pebble as she lifts her foot off the ground. now this game makes her feel that she and taeyeon are in two different places at once. “yeah, i like classical music,” she offers. “good guess.”
“aw yeah!” taeyeon grins. she looks like a fool.
“hey hold the celebration, it isn’t as specific as mine,” tiffany says.
“that’s okay,” taeyeon answers. “i’ll just have to get to know you better then.” she flashes that foolish-looking grin again.
tiffany agrees–it seems to be the only thing she can do.
she cries at night, when she has retired from her day and a dry gasping sob comes for her following the times she meets taeyeon. often she feels stranded, listless, like perhaps she’s up against a wall with no doors or windows to let her know where she’s headed or what she might be doing wrong. her friends leave her the same overarching feeling too, well after they have parted ways, like it doesn’t matter how close she is to the truth–what truth? now the hospital feels like a very vivid midafternoon dream, patched and strewn together by words and flashes of lights and sounds, but the tide of emotions drift and it leaves her short of feeling this great, disturbing pain. who would want to feel pain, even in strokes? sometimes the surge swallows her and sometimes it’s tiffany herself who chooses to dip her feet in the water and paddle her way out to the murky distance, to hell with the wall. it was never a matter of sink or swim to begin with, only suspension. still, regardless of all this and tiffany’s place in it, there is a certainty to be had knowing everyone around her is where they think they should be–after all, tiffany is the only one fighting being lost although she doesn’t tell herself that.
tiffany doesn’t mean it, at least not on purpose, having her mind wander around things, inadvertently tuning out the moments that hurt her.
after all, how could she know taeyeon better, deeper, more if taeyeon is reduced to her predictability and she becomes only as interesting as the familiarity brought by someone already deeply entrenched in tiffany’s mind?
tiffany finds herself hearing the silence more often than questions–taeyeon included.
“hey, are you okay?” taeyeon asks, holding her hand. they had finished dinner and were walking down the road leading to taeyeon’s apartment, just like they have the past week.
tiffany looks at her. “yeah, of course, why?”
“it just looks like there’s something on your mind.”
“i’m okay.” tiffany smiles at her.
“you know you can talk to me about it,” taeyeon mumbles and lets go of tiffany’s hand, “if you want.”
the gesture only leaves tiffany more distant, numb and stretched over her own mind and body. how, taeyeon? how can i tell you?
“it’s nothing, really,” tiffany answers. “i think i ate too much. it’s making me want to collapse and just space out.” she laughs a little.
“i was thinking we could grab dessert,” taeyeon scratches her ear, “but you’re already full, so maybe next time.”
“no,” tiffany reaches for taeyeon’s hand and holds it, feeling guilty, “let’s go get dessert.”
“but you’re full.”
“no, let’s go, i want to eat dessert.”
“are you sure?”
tiffany sighs. knowing taeyeon, of course she wouldn’t want to trouble someone on her account. “yes, i’m sure.”
“we don’t have to–”
“taeyeon, let’s go!” tiffany gives a shout and a pull of her hand. she leads the way into a nearby convenience store to buy ice cream cones and it’s only after they have consumed their treats did she notice the sullen, unprepared for silence that encompassed them.
“hey,” tiffany nudges her. “why are you the quiet one now?”
but knowing taeyeon and the span and depth of her emotions, she knows all too well what’s running through the girl’s mind.
this is obviously tiffany’s fault.
“i just thought maybe you’d like some ice cream,” taeyeon says.
tiffany sighs. it’s precisely why she opted for ice cream cones–taeyeon loves ice cream.
“i did want some ice cream,” she smiles and kisses taeyeon on the cheek. “thank you for dinner. i had fun.”
sometimes tiffany wishes taeyeon would stop second guessing herself. as much as she finds it endearing, it also gets on her nerves, much more so now that taeyeon just might actually second guess whatever tiffany confides in her–taeyeon, we used to be lovers for years, don’t you remember anything at all?
tiffany looks up at the sky, wondering its changes.
she tucks a strand of taeyeon’s hair behind her ear. she palms her cheek, stepping forward so that their bodies touched and tiffany could run one hand up taeyeon’s shirt when she kisses her.
the best way to comfort taeyeon has always been through kisses and tiffany is glad that, at least when they’re kissing and breathing as one, the past, present and future ceases to exist.
“now i taste just like ice cream, right?” tiffany teases. “just the way you like it.”