Blank Pages

February 14, 2014 in one-shot, superricelol by superRiCElol

The second late post. Also for the 1727 TaeNy Celebration. Sorry it’s nothing new, I just keep forgetting to post this.

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A book.

She walks out of the complex, smiling a bit at how bright and warm the outside feels; no air-conditioned libraries and chilled, stale air.

The sun shone – a bit too brightly, actually, and she immediately regrets not bringing her sunglasses. The birds dart from tree to tree, and she stops for a while, just to stand there and watch them flit around; listen to them chatter away and sing. The residential lake looks nice today – a bit of an understatement when she normally doesn’t get to see the water at all – and she makes a note to stop here on the way back and sit for awhile.

Today is nice; book-nice.

She would have to thank Seohyun later for being busy enough to send her out on the errand instead, because this is nice.

If only she could remember what book she had to get.

A book.

Which book?

The question replays itself over and over as she pushes the door open and walks into the store.

You’ll feel much better, Unnie. Trust me!

Worn, decade-old books, paged through slowly day after day; new, freshly-printed books (that arguably smell just as nice as old books); the moderate in-between ones, only read once and then sold back, only read for the feeling of reading rather than the memories. She wants to pick up one of the in-between book and sit down with it, slowly thumb through the first fifty pages – and maybe take it home, where it will grow into an old, old book.

And when she realizes, she smiles. Seohyun was indeed right.

But still, she needs that book. That book.

So she dials and waits.

“Hello? Unnie?”

“Seohyun-ah, I forgot.” She walks through the aisles, keeping it down for the people who do sit down and go through the first fifty pages.

“Aigoo, Unnie. I even wrote it down for you. What did you do with the slip?”

Oh, that’s the other thing she now regrets not bringing.

A sigh.

“It was the one that had the interviews with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Unnie.”

She nods, ah, that one. “Okay, I got it. The… Conversations something-or-other with Ban Ki-moon, right?”

“Yes, Unnie. I will repay you when you come home.”

“Uh-huh. It’ll take me a while though.” Her eyes are constantly drawn to one specific book, even as she moves along the different aisles. She doesn’t know what book it is, but the spine looks worn, worn and old with care that she can’t even imagine why it was sold to the store.

“That’s fine, Unnie. Please give me the receipt, though. I don’t like when you keep it.”

She can’t help but smile—sorry Seohyun, not a chance this time, either.

“Well, I like it when I keep it.”

“See you later, Unnie.”

The call promptly clicks and she snickers to herself, moving quickly to the non-fiction section. All while she walks, her peripheral remains stuck to that book, and her fingers twitch. She clenches her hands quickly, bringing them up to her chest, hoping that will get the jitters out of her system. Maybe it’s just because the store itself is cold (a jacket the third on her list of regrets this morning).

Must find Seohyun’s book quickly.

But after a good ten minutes of looking, she finally decides that the Secret(ary) General of the United Ninjas is not going to be found, and ends up asking the clerk up front for help.

Ban Ki-moon in the end sat right next to her mystery book – on a shelf labeled Political Science.

Oh.

Maybe this book isn’t such a good idea.

Seohyun’s voice of ‘sometimes the things that aren’t part of your favourites leave the best impressions, Unnie,’ rings in her head, and she shakes her head. That girl can be right sometimes.

Her eyes are still drawn to its spine, three centimeters wide, worn fuzzy around the edges; to the faded, dark red with spots of lighter red where the book was held most; to the golden engravings all but rubbed away. How old was this book, at least a decade?

Taeyeon likes it. She likes it a lot.

Movement and light shadows cast on the shelf has her looking up, and she hopes she hasn’t been taking up space or blocking the person’s way.

She apologizes quickly and moves away, cheeks flaring when the stranger chuckles and says, “It’s okay.”

In the end, she’d rushed to the counter and put Seohyun’s book on the counter, cursing in her head when her fingers fumbled the notes. It hadn’t even been anything worth being so embarrassed about, blocking the stranger’s way, so why?

Taeyeon sighs, walking out of the store quickly after thanking and apologizing to the clerk. Maybe that visit to the lake might help. The little jitters of embarrassment still haven’t left her yet; her hands shook and she’s sure that minor scene would now remain in the back of her head for the rest of her life – remain there to come back at random times and make her cringe at the memory.

Well, at least the grass is soft.

The smiling face of Ban Ki-moon beams at her from the laminated book cover, and Taeyeon wants to laugh, because the sun played off his printed forehead just right. Sorry Seohyun. She opens the book, a bit upset that it isn’t the book she wants that she’s opening, and leafs to the first page.

Fifty pages. Political science or not, she would read the first fifty pages, especially now that she’s opened the book.

Three pages in and she understands why Seohyun is the only one that reads these kinds of books.

“Excuse me…”

Taeyeon frowns, trying to make head and tail of the lingo in the book and turns the page, only to flip it back and read the last paragraph again. She looks up quickly, almost falling to the side in surprise when someone sits down next to her.

“Hi!” The bright greeting keeps her paused, frozen, right arm still bracing her fall. After the shock wears off, slowly at first, realization cascades over her and she recognizes this stranger as the same one from the bookstore.

And she’s sitting awfully close.

Taeyeon scoots over a bit, because if she leaned back into place it’d be too close to this stranger, friendly or not.

“Hi…”

The smile on the stranger’s face is just as bright as her greeting, and Taeyeon wonders if it’s the sun playing off of her smile. Maybe it’s natural; Seohyun has a bright smile (though not of this magnitude).

“Okay, so this is going to sound really out there,” the stranger says, turning to Taeyeon while leaning on her right hand, “but I bought the book, since I noticed you kept looking at it but didn’t get it.”

Eyes wide, Taeyeon leans away – too close again, but it would be rude to scoot away this time; a direct rejection of the stranger’s attempts and friendliness.

“I uh… uh…?” Her vocal chords won’t work, and neither will her mind even as it runs a few hundred-million kilometers a second. Why would this stranger go through so much trouble for a book? What is this the book? The stranger looks at her intently, enough to make Taeyeon feel awkward and scrutinized (almost as bad as when Seohyun just looks at her with a quiet Unnie, seriously.), before she pulls back, smiling again.

“Right! I forgot to introduce myself, sorry. That must have made it worse. I’m Tiffany.”

She stares at the outstretched hand, wondering if this awful awkwardness is her being bitten in the butt for making Seohyun upset. But when she slowly, tentatively, extends her hand to shake Tiffany’s, a heavy weight is placed in her hand instead.

A book.

Her book. The worn cover felt exactly like she imagined it to be.

“And this book is for you.”

“Uh…?” Dumbfounded.

Tiffany just continues on, looking almost mischievous as she smiles even brighter. “I highly recommend it – that book.”

“This book?”

The bright smile tones down a bit, bordering on melancholy and reminiscent, before the magnitude goes up again.

“Yeah, that book. I’ve read it enough that I could probably recite the first fifty pages for you.”

Ah, that’s the reason for that fleeting look, then.

Her eyes trace the golden print, over the lighter patches of red where fingers rubbed the colour away. It was an old, old book indeed, read for the memories.

“Um… thank you.” Thank goodness her throat finally decides to work. “I’m Taeyeon.”

Tiffany smiles again – smiling all the time, almost, and Taeyeon wonders if she ever gets tired, exhausted, from smiling so much all the time.

“Nice to meet you, Taeyeon. I would love to sit here with you and get to know you, but I have a prior engagement.” Taeyeon watches her get up and brush herself off, and, unable to help herself, plucks off the small gnarled clump of grass stuck to the bottom of Tiffany’s blouse. Like taking care of Seohyun, almost. “Talk to you later?”

She nods slowly, almost dazedly, as Tiffany waves at her and then takes off.

Ban Ki-moon looks up at her with his ever-squishy cheeks and kind halbeoji smile.

“I guess you’re off the hook for now,” Taeyeon says to the Secretary, getting up and brushing her pants off.

And of course, she didn’t give the receipt to Seohyun, citing that she lost it at the lake. Seohyun didn’t look at her for the next two hours and eleven minutes, under the impression that she littered.

Intense. So intense, Seohyun could drop the plate she’s wiping and Taeyeon wouldn’t have diverted her attention – unless she hurt herself, then Taeyeon would stop everything and be at her side in about half a second. But the book, the book, Taeyeon could promise – promise anyone with a pinky promise – that the book is staring back at her. If it had eyes.

She wants to open the book, slowly leaf through, page by page, the first fifty pages. Wants to thumb through the same pages the original owner had before, making memories of the pages that sat in front of her. At the same time, she feels like it would be trespassing, a violation of some terms of agreement.

I could probably recite the first fifty pages for you.

Taeyeon wants something like that; a permanence in her memory, one that always brings nice feelings when it surfaces. But at the expense of walking over the mark that Tiffany had already left on the pages, enough to be able to recite them…

She hears a chuckle as she gingerly flips the first page.

“You’re being so careful about this book, Unnie.”

A few more pages are flipped as she gives a noncommittal hum, feeling indignant. She has good reason, very good reason, to be careful around this book. Yet, at the same time, the more pages she flips through, the more puzzled she gets. Something isn’t settling with her, as strong as her pull towards the book.

All the pages, the first fifty pages, are blank, save for the page numbers on the bottom corners.

And then it hits her why this book is so old and loved, why Tiffany knows the book inside out (or at least the first fifty pages, as she said). At that, she can’t help but laugh at herself and shake her head, when a small slip of paper lay stuck between the pages.

I can tell you the story; it’s in English, anyway.

With a phone number.

Tiffany had approached her yesterday. Maybe today’s a good day to call? She’s curious to death about the book, the story, Tiffany, and she wants answers.

So she dials and waits.

“Hello?”

“Is this Tiffany?”

“What took you so long to call? I thought you’d have called yesterday.”

“Well… I still had to read the other book and—”

“We shouldn’t even be having this conversation. Meet me at the same place, okay?”

“Now?”

A click. For once, being promptly hung up on doesn’t give Taeyeon any amusement. Telling Seohyun she’ll be out for a while and ignoring the younger one’s where are you going, Unnie, when are you coming back?, Taeyeon rushed out the door – remembering to snatch her jacket on the way out.

Tiffany is already sitting on the grass, almost in the exact same spot as yesterday, when Taeyeon gets to the small lake. The girl pats the spot beside her and then beckons with her hand, fingers turned downwards.

“Come sit.”

When Taeyeon does, slowly at first before she’s pulled down by the arm, Tiffany then puts a covered paper cup in her hands.

“For you. I hope you like hot chocolate.”

She stares down at the cap. Is it normal to be this friendly to someone?

“So? Which story do you want to hear?”

“Uh?”

There’s more than one story in those fifty pages? Tiffany looks at her, beyond amused, and Taeyeon wants to shrink away, somewhere where Tiffany can’t draw amusement from her.

“Is that all you can say, Taeyeon: ‘uh’?” the girl asks, leaning closer. Brows furrowed, Taeyeon leans back immediately while shaking her head. It isn’t that at all. It’s just that it’s – it’s hard to find words to say—what can she say, when Tiffany is being this nice?

“No, it’s just—” she curses inwardly. It can’t be this easy to get tongue-tied this quick.

How is it possible to fit multiple stories in those fifty pages?

“I believe you. But really now, what story?”

“What stories are there?”

Tiffany looks at her for a long, long time; unreadable. And then she breaks out into a lop-sided smile.

“Whatever story you want there to be.”

It makes sense, Taeyeon confirms, why the pages are blank.

“Tell me your least favourite one.” She can’t help but shrink back for real this time, the corners of her lips threatening to turn upwards when Tiffany looks at her darkly. If she didn’t know better, the glint in Tiffany’s eyes that mean she’s playing along, Taeyeon might have thought she was mad.

“You’re lucky you have puppy eyes,” comes the mutter.

Pu—

P-puppy… eyes?

Taeyeon looks up at Tiffany’s profile, as the other directs her attention to the still lake, silently asking what she meant. Such absurd terminology to use…

“Okay, this is my least favourite one.”

A change in tone, from that strange cheekiness, a strange knowing that makes Taeyeon uneasy, to something 180 degrees opposite. It’s different, and she likes it. She likes it a lot. And yet, there’s something underneath the surface, underneath the spell of Tiffany’s voice—

pain.

 

It’s a story where two children meet each other. Strangers at first, until one asks if they can take the other to a secret hiding place, a magical place. Baffling at first, and Taeyeon’s imagination almost can’t keep up – can’t keep up with the dew on the shrubbery, the damp dirt; the water that sticks to her face, the thin, spindly roots she almost trips over.

But she catches up, stumbling a bit, and then learns where all the hidden roots are, which overhanging branches to duck under. Runs her fingers over the hole in the tree, worried that it isn’t wide enough, even though it feels enough. Surprise, when her breath is left at the entrance of the hole; pushed through the hole, falling what seems endlessly.

Panic, when the other gets caught on the way down the deep, deep hole, stuck and without momentum, while she, the one who doesn’t know the hiding place, falls

and falls

and falls…

 

“And that’s why it’s my least favourite.”

Taeyeon opens her eyes, breathing in a much-needed breath of air to recover the air she lost at the entrance of that tree hole, pushing out the panic as quickly as she can.

“Why?”

“It doesn’t have a good ending. It’s not resolved. It just—it feels caught, right?” Tiffany shrugs, discomfort clearly settled on her brow. “I don’t like stories like that; I feel the need to… to finish them, y’know?”

A moment of silence, as she processes with what little brain space she has left, what isn’t taken up by that terrifying fall.

“Taeyeon? You okay?”

“Yeah,” she replies absently, staring at the lake, at nothing, the fall and the quickly disappearing child still in her sig—

“Dang it, this was a bad idea.” A hand lays itself over her forehead and gently pushes her down, another hand supporting her back. “Shouldn’t have started with my least favourite – too much.”

Her eyes focus back in, away from those images, and hone in on Tiffany’s worried face. Her throat works itself, preparing to say what she wants to say. An impulse, something Taeyeon isn’t sure if she’ll regret later. But with the look on Tiffany’s face, that wants to finish that story, write a proper ending, right now at this very moment, she’s so sure that she won’t.

“I want… I want to resolve that story.”

A long silence, as Tiffany’s gaze almost pierces straight through her mind, pierces straight through to probe and gauge her imagination and seriousness.

“Taeyeon,” Tiffany starts, regarding her with a bit of an airy laugh and a crooked, cynical smile, “it’s my least favourite for a reason. I’ve tried so long to rewrite it, end it, by telling others who ask to hear it. It’s not a fairytale— a children’s fairytale. It’s – it’s a nightmare in story form.”

It’s my nightmare.

The blank pages in the old, old book make sense to her. All of the fifty first pages, and the hundreds of filled pages after that – filled pages that Taeyeon hadn’t had the heart to light her eyes upon. Tiffany has everything ready, everything but the first fifty pages – the pages that never satisfy her, like an author rewriting their last chapter tens of hundreds of times. Only, for Tiffany it was the very beginning that gave her trouble.

“This is the only one that isn’t your favourite, isn’t it?”

Tiffany hesitates, seems to debate the answer, and then nods slowly.

And yet, when the author is done, finally done with that final chapter enough to call the book ‘finished’, the last chapter is the one they’re most fond of – how else do they remember exactly how many rewrites were done?

Sometimes the things that aren’t part of your favourites leave the best impressions,” Taeyeon recites, finding Seohyun more and more wise. She would have to buy another book for that girl on the way home – maybe with Tiffany’s recommendation. “We’ll rewrite it, okay? We’ll rewrite it so well that I’ll be able to recite the first fifty pages, with you.”

She fidgets soon after though, her confidence gone when she meets Tiffany’s neutral, unreadable expression. Unreadable, as much as the blank pages.

“Why are you so nice to me?” Tiffany finally asks, after an unbearably uncomfortable moment of awkward silence. At that, Taeyeon almost laughs out loud, almost throws her head back and laugh.

Says the one so forward and upfront from the very first second, she muses. So she can’t help but reply, “Why are you so nice to me?”

“I’m not. I saw you eyeing the book, and I took the chance,” the reply comes quickly. That makes two of them taking chances. Taeyeon smiles, complete confidence in the expression.

Silence, as both work out things in their minds. And then:

“I think I need to go buy Seohyun another book, as an early present,” Taeyeon says, standing up and brushing herself off with her free hand, and then extending it to Tiffany. “You think it’d be possible to get your expert recommendation?”

Tiffany stares at her for the longest time, long enough for Taeyeon to get uncomfortable again and shake her hand a bit.

“Yes, no? Come on, I’ll buy you a book too. I have one in mind I think you should look at.”

She smiles when Tiffany seems to resolve whatever was troubling her, and then beams up at her, taking the offered hand. Both their smiles remain, minds and imaginations running in the same direction. Taeyeon knows, that maybe neither of them are very experienced in rewriting – even less because it’s the rewrite of a beginning.

But she wants to try. She wants them to try.

 

This is a better rewrite already.