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A Clean Slate

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Prologue

August 2017

 

Sam Crawley applied to four part-time jobs when she decided that she needed extra spending money and an excuse to get away from her mother’s nagging after-school. Sorelle and Co quickly became her number one choice when she saw the new bakery-café-hybrid. It looked like it had stepped off of an influencer blog and onto the streets of Charleston, everything was new and shiny, and so aesthetically pleasing. She had known right then that Sorelle would become the “it” spot in town.

 

Both the owners were young women who had decided to make the move to her city from New York. She immediately loved Taera and Jiah, they were everything she wanted to be. The type of women that took risks, that were intelligent and independent, but also kind and approachable. As her best friend put it, they were literal goals. She hadn’t hesitated to accept the job offer when they offered her a position and she had not regretted it to this day.

 

Working at Sorelle was the highlight of her very boring life, why? If there was one thing that Sam loved it was her romance novels and movies. She had all the dialogues to The Notebook memorized, every romantic sentence from Safe Haven made her squeal -  Nicholas Sparks’ books were like her Bible. And she was guilty of watching every sappy romantic movie that that ever came out, including the cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies - they were so bad that they were good.

 

She hadn’t realized that working at Sorelle would make her feel like a side character in a romantic novel when she first accepted the job, but it was a welcome surprise. It was like everything she loved slowly came to life, she was excited to come in to work every and see how the story was unfolding, and she was often surprised by all the things that happened.

 

Her bosses, both of whom were absolutely gorgeous, seemed to oscillate between being friendly with and fighting with the owners of the gym across the street – who also looked like they had stepped off of a magazine cover, they were even related, brothers. She couldn’t make these things up even if she tried.

 

Sam knew her taste differed from all her friends, who were happy to date Republican frat boys, she had never been attracted to them even though they seemed to be the only choice around here. Maybe it was her love of reading and the fact that her parents moved to Charleston from Los Angeles that made slightly older, well-educated, successful and open-minded men her type.

 

The Choi Brothers definitely fit the bill and were the only eye and brain candy in her life at the moment. Every time they walked into Sorelle she couldn’t help but stare at them, they were just so handsome. Her cousin, who wanted to be a plastic surgeon, would freak out if she saw them, their face proportions were otherworldly. And it wasn’t just the looks, she couldn’t help but listen to them speak. They were so articulate, they sounded like they actually read, they could get a sentence out without using like and uh a million times like the boys she knew  – and their voices were so deep.

 

From the moment she found out their names, she obsessively searched Google for them, she watched the videos on their website where they talked about their journey and she was smitten. Her best friend knew all about them too, the two of them always gushed about how they were the perfect package. As her best friend would put it, they were also literal goals. The perfect romantic heroes for her gorgeous bosses – who were the quintessential, but more realistic, female leads of whatever story was unravelling around her. She was already thinking about their weddings. It was premature, she knew this, but that’s just how her brain worked.

 

Even as she walked to work on the bright summer morning, she was wondering if they would opt for a summer wedding and if she would be invited. It’s how all the romantic movies ended, a long shot of a wedding venue, the couple – or in this case couples – standing at the end of the aisle surrounded by side characters.

 

She sighed and came to a stop outside Sorelle when she saw Taera, aka Boss # 1, putting up a poster on window-wall that faced the business across the street. One look at the poster told Sam that it wasn’t meant to just advertise Sorelle, but also to annoy their neighbour – the second Choi Brother who seemed to have a thing for Taera. Sam was sure one of these days she would find the two of them making out on the counter of the shop.

 

The poster told her that the work day would be very entertaining. She smiled as she walked in and greeted everyone, keeping her eyes and ears open to hear the conversations going on around her. She didn’t think that her bosses realized how much they shared about their lives, sometimes the conversations made no sense because she was missing important context but other times she knew exactly what they were talking about.

 

At the moment, Jiah was hanging out with Demi, Taera’s sister, behind the counter. Taera was piping cupcakes, she had started as soon as she returned from putting up the poster. Sam decided to top up all the coffee and tea supplies for a busy day while trying to listen in on the conversation between Demi and Jiah – she only caught snippets. Apparently this was an attempt to annoy William Choi, as she had suspected. She could literally write a book about this and put Nicholas Sparks’ name on it and no one would ever question it.

 

Sam was cleaning the counter when Taera squealed, she looked up to see a car turn onto the road, she knew it was William’s as did Taera but she apparently knew a lot more. “Watch, he’s going to park his car and then correct it until it’s perfectly in the middle of the lines. Then he’ll get out, in his workout clothes, today it’ll probably be the heather gray tank top with black sweatpants and black Nikes. He’ll get out of the car, close the door gently, walk towards his trunk and take his gym bag out. He’ll swing it onto his shoulder, lock the car and then walk up to the door and check that it is locked.”

 

Sam’s eyes grew wide as William stepped out of the car in the exact same clothes Taera had said he would be wearing and went through all the motions exactly as she had listed them, surprising everyone else. Oh, she had it bad for him, this was way beyond a crush. Her explanation made it even worse.

 

“Now he’ll look towards Sorelle, notice the poster, sigh, run his hands through his hair and then stand there for a minute looking like he is thinking hard before he storms across the street.” Taera said, not looking up even once while piping the cupcakes, as if she was sure of her words.

 

Sam let out a surprised chuckle as it happened exactly like she said it would, before she could even say anything the front door was being thrown open, rather dramatically.

 

“We’re closed, we open at 9am!” Taera yelled as she arranged the cupcakes in the display.

 

“You should lock the door then.” William snapped as he walked towards the counter, his velvety deep voice sounding angry – god, he was so sexy. If Sam had been years older and there wasn’t something going on between him and her boss, she would have so tried to get his attention. But his attention was always on Taera, not that she was surprised, even she would have a crush on Taera.

 

“Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed again?” Taera quipped.

 

“What the hell is that?” William seethed pointing to the poster Taera had just put up.

 

“Hmmm, William Choi, MBA from Harvard, and yet you don’t know a poster when you see one.” Taera said her voice taunting, she was so good at pushing his buttons.

 

“I know what it is, but why is it there?” He hissed.

 

“An advertisement for my shop would be on my window, duh.” Taera said, arching her eyebrow at him. He rolled his eyes at her before leaning on the counter, putting both hands flat down and leaning forward. Sam didn't know about Taera, but her heart was definitely racing, the man definitely had nice arms, and if he was looking at her the way he was looking at Taera she would have spontaneously combusted.

 

“Why are you so childish? Rubbing icing all over my car and then putting up that childish poster.”

 

“I outgrew that stage years ago, it seems like you haven’t since you haven’t mastered the concept of ownership. My parking spot. My store.”

 

“You haven’t either. Your rubbed icing all over my car.”

 

“Like I said, you need a little bit of sweetness in your life, maybe you’d stop stealing people’s parking spots then.”

 

“Like I said, your name isn’t on it.” His voice was now quieter and deeper, they both leaned in even closer, their noses almost touching. Sam was sure they were rather close to just snapping and kissing, the sexual tension between them was obvious to everyone.

 

They were now whispering to each other, their voices too low to hear even as she tried to arch towards them. She would have moved closer but she didn’t want to break them out of whatever trance the two of them were in, whispering to each other, their eyes going down to each other’s lips. And then they were silent and just staring at each other. Sam’s eyes went up to Jiah who seemed to be holding back a squeal, her eyes wide. Demi looked thoughtful, like she was analyzing the situation in her head.

 

“Are they fighting again?” Daniel’s voice said from the door of Sorelle causing both William and Taera to shoot up in shock, Taera’s head hitting William’s chin in the process causing him to let out a groan in pain.

 

Jiah looked towards Daniel with a glare, causing a look of surprise to flash across his face. Sam sighed. Daniel Choi, as hot as he was, had the worst timing ever. Sam sighed and got back to work as the scene fizzled out and Jiah just glared at her boyfriend. Yes, boyfriend, Jiah, aka Boss # 2, was apparently dating the older Choi Brother – Sam had no idea how that happened. It was all just sprung on her and seemed rather suspicious. The jury was still out and investigating that particular development.

 

Sam found a chance to investigate a bit a couple of minutes later, she was in the back, ransacking the shelves and checking inventory when Jiah and Daniel walked into the back of the shop. They were too engrossed in each other to even notice her. Sadly, she could only make out a little bit of what they were saying, she wished she could hear more!

 

“I thought your mom would be here.” Daniel was saying.

 

“She is staying home today, thankfully. She’s driving me mad.”

 

And then they were talking too quietly for her to hear much, she heard something about meetings and a party. Sam almost dropped the things in her hand when she peeked into the kitchen and saw the two of them. Jiah was sitting on the counter, Daniel standing between her legs, her hands on his shoulders. The two of them were whispering to each other and Jiah squealed when Daniel tried to kiss her, she pushed his face away while rolling her eyes, then she giggled while adjusting the collar of his dress shirt. Sam almost melted when Daniel tucked a strand of hair behind Jiah’s ear. It was so romantic!

 

She quietly ran out of the back room and back to the front of the shop again – she didn’t want to get caught spying. But like she had suspected, the work day was already super interesting – she couldn’t wait to tell her best friend about the new developments!

 

 


Character Sketches and Summary:

 

Chapter Text

September 2016

 

“This is going to work.” Taera whispered to her best friend with conviction.

 

“It will.” Jiah answered, wrapping her arm around Taera’s shoulder as the two of them stood on the sidewalk outside a boarded up store.

 

The wooden planks covering the windows and door were worn, and looked like they had been there for some time considering the amount of graffiti and posters that adorned them. It definitely did not elicit hope in the two women, and for a moment they regretted not putting more thought into their purchase. They had bought the place on a whim, without even seeing it in person, when they decided to move away from New York.

 

In their defence, there weren’t many options and their new motto of going with the flow deterred them from doing too much research. After all, they had chosen a rather unorthodox way to decide which city they would move to - throwing darts at a map of the United States had led them to Charleston, South Carolina – a city with a population of 130 000, a far cry from New York City.

 

“Our idea might be too ambitious.” Taera murmured as she stared at the obscene graffiti. “The inside looks worse than the outside.” She sighed, remembering the dark and drabby interior with hardwood floors that creaked and paint that was peeling. It was far from their idea of light and airy as it could get.

 

“Don't worry!  It’s going to be like that K-Drama we watched, you know when they take that ugly cafe and turn it into a thriving restaurant, and then everyone lives happily ever after.” Jiah beamed, trying to stay positive.

 

“Uhm, Jiah…the male lead dies and the female lead doesn’t get her first love.” Taera said turning around to look at Jiah in disbelief as she recalled the basic plotline of the drama.

 

“Well yeah, but the restaurant is thriving.” Jiah exclaimed before sighing. “Okay, maybe that wasn’t the best example -”

 

“You think?” Taera teased.

 

“WHATEVER. You know what I mean.” Jiah yelled before changing the topic. “At least the location is nice…”

 

Taera had to agree with that statement as she looked around. It was a nice street. One side of the street had multiple shops, everything from small boutiques to a convenience store, while the other side was an empty field. Far down the street she could also see a plaza which housed a Walmart. The real estate agent had told them this was a developing area, which was the reason for the great deal they had gotten on the place. Apart from the store that they now owned, everything on the street was colourful, the storefronts ranged from pinks to yellows to blues. It was truly a coastal town.

 

“And we have the corner store!” Jiah added with a huge smile, it was the reason they purchased it so quickly. “This would have cost us millions in New York.”

 

“That is why we’re standing on a sidewalk with palm trees, in shorts, 800 miles from home.” Taera pointed out.

 

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.” Jiah murmured as she looked down the street with a smile, the sun was shining and the traffic was almost non-existent. “Just smell the air. I don’t smell garbage, sewage, weed or car fumes.” Jiah beamed excitedly, she always wanted to live by the water, the air just smelled so clean.

 

“It’s not a bad thing…it’s just different, and there is so much to do, Jiah-Bug!” Taera whined, something she only did when Jiah was around, if anyone else was present Taera would have put on an amazing act of courage and optimism.

 

“Breathe in. Breathe out.” Jiah said as both her and Taera inhaled, and then exhaled.

 

“We’ve got this.” Jiah said excitedly. “Now, how about we go back to the apartment and unpack?” Jiah asked.

 

“How about we get food first and explore downtown?” Taera suggested. “Part of this move was supposed to be about relaxing and getting away from the hustle and bustle of New York.”

 

“I still don’t understand how you did so well in school when you’re such a procrastinator.” Jiah teased as she looped her arm through Taera’s and walked down the street to find some food.

 

“It’s a mystery to me.” Taera laughed.

 


October 2016

 

Eomeoni, we’re fine, honestly!” Jiah said over the phone as Taera ran around in the background yelling instructions at the workers who were putting up new drywall. They had been lucky enough to find a great contractor, who had the place completely gutted and was working on re-doing it exactly as they wished. “Everything is fine. We don’t need help.” She reassured Taera’s mother over the phone while glaring at Taera, who had picked up the call and put it to Jiah’s ear before she could register what was happening.

 

“Where is Taera?” Sarah Ahn asked after her daughter again, for the tenth time in the five minute conversation.

 

“She is busy…talking to the contractor.” Jiah answered, even though Taera was a metre away from her and mouthing thank you. “I’ll have her call you back.” Jiah responded before hanging up quickly and taking a deep breath in. “Oh my god, that was exhausting!” Jiah groaned walking towards Taera and passing her phone back to her. “You owe me one by the way.” She yawned. The two were already tired enough as it was, overseeing the renovations for their store was a lot more work than they thought it would be, and their families weren’t helping with their melodramatic blackmail.

 

“Let me guess: You two need to come back. Who drops out of medical school to move across the country to become a waitress in a no-name city? This girl is the reason I have grey hair already – and you Jiah, who turns down such a good proposal to open up another business, your mom is heartbroken. You two need to come back home now.” Taera said imitating her mother. “Dear lord, what’s wrong with them? My mother is blackmailing me to move back and start medical school again even though she knows I hated it. And your mother is insistent that you marry Kevin – THAT STUPID MISOGYNISTIC SLEAZEBALL!” Taera yelled causing all the workers to look up at her curiously.

 

“He sent me 45 messages on Facebook.” Jiah shared while rolling her eyes. “I wouldn’t marry him if he was the last man on Earth, I don’t care that he’s rich.”

 

“Ugh, let’s not talk about this right now.” Taera groaned before shaking her head. “Back to making important decisions – stark whites, tiffany blue, and gold accents?”

 

“We should do warm whites if we’re going gold accents, it’s more homey and welcoming.” Jiah suggested leaning over the table that their samples were spread out on as Taera nodded.

 

“White counters?” Taera said ticking off the relevant boxes on her paper.

 

“Mhmmm.” Jiah agreed.

 

“Floors – I don’t think we should go too dark or too light.”

 

“I agree, we should do these ones.” Jiah said pointing to a perfect shade of brown that wasn’t too light or too dark.

 

“Perfect sistaaaa.” Taera laughed. “Oooh, before I forget, I designed the most perfect logo for our business!” She squealed before unlocking her iPad and holding it up to Jiah’s face.

 

“IT’S PERFECT! Elegant, clean and inviting!” Jiah exclaimed as her eyes travelled over the screen. It looked like those enchanted mirrors in fairy-tales, with an ornate gold trim. And on inside of the “mirror”, on a tiffany blue background, it said “SORELLE AND CO.”

 

“I am glad we decided on using Sorelle.” Taera smiled.

 

“It beat sisters and co.” Jiah laughed. “Plus, this obsession with baking started after our trip to Italy so it’s fitting.” She smiled fondly remembering their trip to Europe with their high school. They had gotten lost in Bari, Italy – a small costal town- and found the cutest bakery, with an owner that wasn’t much older than them. It led to an obsession with baking, and with some practice they had taken to doing birthday cakes and cupcakes for parties, it fell through when Taera started university though.

 

“Thanks for including me in this crazy idea.” Taera murmured while hugging her best friend tightly.

 

“I couldn’t do this without you Taera-Byte, I tried once and failed miserably.” Jiah replied, hugging her friend back, referring to the bakery she had opened in New York – it never made a profit from the day it was opened to the day it closed. It just wasn’t right.

 

“Well yeah, but I am a lot happier already, and I owe it all to you – for realizing that I needed an intervention and letting us get a fresh start in life. I wouldn’t have had the guts to do it if you weren’t by my side.”

 

“I am glad you’re happier.” Jiah beamed pulling away from her friend. “This is what we’re meant to do Taera, I just know it.”

 


January 2017

 

“WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?! You did ALL of that with less than a million dollars?!” Liam exclaimed over FaceTime as Taera showed him around the fully renovated cafe as Jiah followed her with the iPad. The renovation gave them everything they wanted, and it was even better than they thought it would be. They were in love with it, and absolutely giddy about how it turned out.

 

Since their store was a corner lot they had invested in getting floor-to-ceiling glass windows around most of the perimeter, which let in all the light. The décor was elegant, with lots of creams, beiges, gold and a hint of tiffany blue here and there.

 

“Money surprisingly goes a long way here.” Jiah laughed while turning the iPad around so Liam could see her beaming face as she slid into a booth.

 

“Kim – your smile is looking a bit sadistic there. You should control it – you have to find a husband in Charleston after all, can’t scare them all away.” Liam teased Jiah while laughing.

 

“Shut up.” Taera said as she sat beside Jiah so the two of them could talk to their other best friend.

 

“No, seriously. I saw your mother at a wedding and she literally said I hope there are nice KOREAN boys in Charleston, that girl needs to get married. I didn’t want to burst her bubble and tell her there probably aren’t any.” Liam laughed.

 

“Oh my god.” Jiah groaned throwing her head back, hitting it on the soft leather of the booth she was sitting in, her mother was so obsessed.

 

“Actually, it’s not as bad as we expected, for some reason the population here is pretty diverse, I guess everyone with any melanin in this state has made this city home.” Taera laughed. “We have seen a few Asians around -  we just saw a Korean couple at the grocery store this morning, the lady was calling for her husband and his name was David, he called her yeobo. He was cute-”

 

“AND MARRIED, VERY MARRIED!” Jiah said while hitting Taera’s arm.

 

“You can still appreciate that he was good looking.” Taera defended with a shrug.

 

“Maybe he has a brother.” Liam teased. “I should tell your mother-”

 

“Don’t you dare Liam Park! Or I will fly back home and hit you, and then fly back here for the grand opening!” Jiah yelled.

 

“You are too broke to do that. I can’t believe you guys are opening on Valentine’s Day, it’s so…cliché.” Liam said rolling his eyes.

 

“I think it’s a smart move – we’ll be ready by then, we’ll open on a Friday and stay busy through the weekend. We’ve already drummed up some interest with how inviting and elegant the place looks, and since it’s new people will want to try it out on a special occasion.” Taera reasoned.

 

“Still cliché but I am glad this is working out.” Liam said, he was genuinely amazed and proud of his two friends. He sometimes wished he had the guts to do something crazy and out there, like moving somewhere random and starting anew.

 

“Well sure you are, as our sole investor you’d be in big trouble if it didn’t work out.” Jiah teased. “I can’t believe you loaned us all that money Liam, I don’t think I am ever going to stop saying thank you.”

 

“Who else was going to be dumb enough to give money to a bankrupt woman with a failed business and a med-school drop out?” He teased causing the two girls to roll their eyes, they tried – it didn’t work out, their parents decided they didn’t want to help because they didn’t like the idea of them moving away. “As a great person once said, money ain’t a thang if you got it.” Liam said.

 

“Wasn’t that Jay-Z?” Taera asked, a confused look on her face.

 

“Yeah, my brother from another mother is also from Brooklyn.”

 

“Dear Lord, what’s wrong with you? For the last time, you’re not from Brooklyn! You had an apartment there for two weeks. You’re from the mansions of Manhattan stop fronting!” Taera yelled rolling her eyes.

 

“She would totally hit you over the head if your huge head was here right now.” Jiah laughed.

 

“That’s what she said!” Liam laughed waggling his eyebrows.

 

“LIAM!” Jiah groaned shaking her head.

 

“Okay, we’re hanging up now. Byeeeeee!” Taera said ending the call. “Idiot.”

 

“I miss that idiot.” Jiah laughed. “I can’t believe you used to have a crush on him.” She teased.

 

“I WAS SIXTEEN HE SHOT UP SUDDENLY AND HE WAS NICE TO ME WHY WON’T YOU LET ME LIVE THIS DOWN?” Taera yelled banging her head on the table, gently, but repeatedly. 

 

“That’s what best friends are for.” Jiah teased. “I guess your heart just thumped for anything over six feet even then-”

 

“Shut up Jiah!” Taera groaned. “At least I didn’t have a crush on a guy who never talked in Grade 7.”

 

“He was shy-”

 

“I think pre-goth might be more appropriate.”

 

“Well, he’s tall, dark and handsome now-”

 

“Oh, so you’re still interested, should I tell your mom to find him?” Taera teased.

 

“So, I was thinking – we need an Instagram account for the shop-”

 

“Oh, really?” Taera laughed.

 


February 2017

 

“We need to hire more people.” Taera sighed as she turned over the open sign to closed after a busy day. “I am so tired, and I can’t feel my feet anymore.” She complained as she walked to the counter where Jiah was taking bills out of the till. She sat on a stool and slumped over the counter, resting her head on the cold quartz.

 

“I know, isn’t it so exciting?!” Jiah squealed.

 

“I just told you that I am tired-”

 

“BECAUSE WE’RE SO BUSY AND DOING WELL THIS IS A GREAT START. TO THE UNIVERSE - A THANK YOU FOR SENDING US TO CHARLESTON.” Jiah beamed while jumping up and down happily.

 

“Tone down the exuberance – I am too tired for a peppy Jiah.” Taera groaned.

 

“I know but listen - we’ve had more customers in ten days than I had in the 11 months I ran the bakery in New York.” Jiah said, causing Taera to lift herself off the counter and smile at her friend’s exuberance, she was glad that this was working out, for the both of them.

 

To say they were busy would be an understatement, social media apparently worked wonders if you had an aesthetically pleasing shop. People seemed to drive from other cities around Charleston to take pictures – Taera was glad all that extra money they spent was paying off. She just hoped the buzz didn’t fizzle out any time soon. But things were looking promising, they were even getting custom orders for birthday parties. Apparently, the other bakery in town only made breads, and cakes had to be bought from the grocery store. Jiah had shuddered in disgust when she learnt that people bought grocery store cakes. 

 

“How about we celebrate? By getting pedicures, on me.” Taera smiled.

 

“Oh god yes, my feet hurt.” Jiah sighed as she walked back into their office to put the money in the safe until they had time to go to the bank.

 

x-x-x-x-x-x-x

 

“Sam is also going to run our Instagram page, she took a photography class and is really good at editing. She thinks we should start reposting customer posts with their permission as well.” Jiah beamed as she got ready for bed after a long day at work.

 

“That’s a great idea! That’s one less thing for me to do.” Taera replied from her bed, thankful for their 4 new employees. Three teens that worked part time on evenings and weekends, and a 60-year-old woman who was tired of working at the grocery store bakery. She was honestly a gift to the world, she was super sweet, and came in every morning to bake, leaving the girls more time to get creative.

 

“Maybe we can finally get more than 4 hours of sleep.” Jiah yawned. The past few months had been crazy, they severely underestimated how much work went into running a business. They often left for home past midnight after cleaning and prepping, and went back at 6am to finish baking and icing.

 

“Hmmm, I miss sleep.” Taera mumbled from her bed as Jiah settled into her own twin bed across the room.

 

“We have to get up early tomorrow though, to finish the birthday cake order. They said they’ll drop by at 9am to pick it up.” Jiah said yawning again as she pulled the covers over her.

 

“Hmmmmm.” Taera mumbled. “Go to sleep.”

 

“Good night, Taera-Byte.”

 

“Night Jiah-Bug.”


March 2017

 

Taera and Jiah opened the glass doors and stepped into their shop, the smell of freshly baked cupcakes and sugar icing assaulting their senses immediately making them feel fuzzy and warm. The cupcake display looked exactly as Taera had left it the previous night with a fresh batch of decorated cupcakes, they all had pastel coloured frosting on them, it was spring after all! The smell of coffee and espresso permeated the air, but the smell was overpowered by that of icing and sugar, just the way it was supposed to be!

 

“I just want to melt into the floor every time I walk in here.” Jiah mumbled to Taera with a smile.

 

“Mornin’ boss ladies!” Mark quipped from behind the counter where he was setting down plates next to Sam, who was cleaning the espresso machine. Jiah was sure that Mark had a crush on the girl but was too afraid to say anything – she totally lived vicariously through her employees.

 

“Good morning!” Taera beamed.

 

“Do you guys know what’s happening across the street?” Jiah asked the two teens. Taera and Jiah had noticed a bunch of cars and construction equipment when they parked the car this morning.

 

“My dad said someone bought a stretch of the land, it used to belong to the grandfather of a boy I go to high school with. I am surprised he sold it actually, people have been trying to buy it for years. I don’t know who bought it, or what they’re building though.” Sam said while looking through the glass wall across the street where there were now a bunch of machines, and men in reflective vests and hard hats.

 

“Looks like it’s going to be pretty big looking at how much land they’re excavating.” Mark added following Sam’s gaze.

 

“Do you think construction is going to deter customers?” Taera asked Jiah, worry tinting her voice.

 

“I don’t think so – it’s not like the street is super narrow, they aren’t blocking anything off.” Jiah reasoned.

 

“What do you think it is?” Taera asked peering across the street, while tilting her head, her brow furrowed.

 

“I guess we’ll find out.” Jiah shrugged. “Hopefully it’s not a café.” She added nervously.

Chapter Text

January 2017

Ten men sat around a conference table, in impeccable suits that ranged in colour from light grey to black, navy seeming to be the favourite colour of the season. William Choi sat at the head of the table beside his brother and business partner, Daniel Choi. Both of them were clad in sharp, well-fitted suits, the former in charcoal grey and the latter in a classic black – no one could deny that the Choi brothers were really pleasing to the eye.

 

The panel of investors sat around the table as William and Daniel pitched their business idea to them with a rehearsed ease and confidence that only came with a brilliant idea and past success. This was evident to the panel as well, all of them having heard numerous pitches in their time at Coombes, one of the world’s leading investing companies.

 

William paused to take a drink from his water bottle and looked over to his brother, who looked amused as the people beside him whispered amongst themselves. William inconspicuously raised his eyebrow at Daniel, but he mouthed the word later and William nodded before continuing.

 

“It is guaranteed to be profitable, it’s part of a thriving franchise with a huge national presence. There are only two gyms in all of Charleston, which is surprising because it is a medium-sized city that is rapidly growing. The current gyms also don’t align well with the current trend of fitness. BARE is the future, we have all the aspects of a traditional gym, but we provide meal planning, support, and high intensity group training as well, making it more of a wellness centre rather than just a place to work out.”

 

“What will the returns be like? Your start-up costs are quite outrageous.” A man in a stiff navy blue coat asked, he was definitely the traditionalist of the group, and a long-time employee of Coombes, judging by the streaks of grey in his brown hair.

 

“If you could turn to page 6 you can see the returns for the other thirteen locations.” He waited for everyone to flip to the page. “As you can see they don’t differ much from each other, apart from the New York and Los Angeles locations, which make a larger profit. That being said, the start-up costs have to be high because each location has to compare with the other BARE locations. It is evident that they are very exclusive and luxurious, which is one of the draws of the franchise, and that needs capital.” William explained.

 

“Traditionally, you have had one investor, why the change now?” A younger board member asked.

 

William looked at Daniel indicating that he should take this one. “Even though the returns for BARE are outstanding, I, as a single investor, don’t have enough money to make BARE a national and international franchise.” Daniel paused for a moment as everyone chuckled at his words. “It’s the logical next step: we have an exclusive partnership with Nike, have been featured in magazines worldwide and this has drummed up interest nationally and internationally, so we’ve decided to expand to mid-sized towns that are growing. And we thought Charleston would be the ideal place to start recruiting other investors because it’s our hometown.”

 

“Where do you propose opening this gym?” The same man asked.

 

“We have scouted some land just outside of Downtown Charleston, one side of the street is lined with shops, just down the street from a Walmart. The other side of the street lays bare, the land is owned by a Charleston resident who has agreed to sell a sizeable part to us.” William explained while moving his PowerPoint to the relevant slides. He paused at one that seemed to be taken while standing in the middle of the road, highlighting both the developed side of the street and the side where they were hoping to build.

 

“Are all the stores on the other side occupied?” Someone asked.

 

“Yes, there was one unoccupied corner store but it is now undergoing renovations, I am not quite sure what’s opening there but the area seems to be rapidly growing which bodes well for us.” William explained while pointing his laser at the boarded up corner store in the picture.

 

“This all sounds great, Mr. Choi and Mr. Choi. But as you know, Coombes has traditionally invested in the energy, healthcare, and technology sectors. This would be uncharted territory for us as well. That being said, I think we’d all like to take a couple of days to review your pitch. You should hear back from us in a week’s time.” The CFO of the investment group spoke for the first time through the meeting. His words, decisive and obviously well-rehearsed, ended the meeting.

 

William and Daniel stuck around to answer a couple of questions before they packed up and walked out of the board room and then the building. They waited until they were sitting in William’s car, a black Range Rover Evoque, before simultaneously bursting out into raucous laughter.

 

“I can’t believe these are the same people that refused to even hear us out a couple of years ago.” Daniel sighed shaking his head and running his hand through his hair to push it away from his face, remembering the struggle they had gone through to try to get investors for BARE. They had failed, and then Daniel had gone against every business rule out there and invested all his personal money along with everything he had accrued from his investments into BARE – William had also emptied his bank account and gotten a huge loan, they were lucky it paid off.

 

“It’s definitely an improvement from last time, at least there weren’t any racist remarks this time around. Honestly speaking, I don’t think I’ve seen a less diverse board for any of the investment companies we’ve approached.” William pointed out as he started the car, his right hand resting on the gear shift while his left held the steering wheel lightly.

 

“Oh yeah, that guy in the loud blue suit tried to start up a conversation by telling me how his daughter is really into K-Pop, I don’t even know who he was talking about.” Daniel rolled his eyes before picking up his shades and putting them on.

 

“I can just hear Irene and Aera yelling, they’ve played us enough K-Pop for you to know.” William laughed as he put the car in drive. “What do you think their decision will be?” He asked, on a more serious note, as he pulled out of the parking spot.

 

“We have it in the bag, it’s a new market for Coombes to dive into, and I don’t see the current obsession with fitness and nutrition dying anytime soon, if anything it’s going to grow. Plus, we’re giving them an in on an already established business with another major investor that has seen exponential gains, they would be dumb to turn it down.” Daniel said confidently as they hit the road.

 

“I hope so. It’s just that they were rather unreadable.” William murmured. “Speaking of, what had you so amused?” He asked curiously, his brother was almost laughing in there, and Daniel Choi didn’t laugh in business settings, ever. People who didn’t know the two of them well thought they never smiled or had fun, they were rather intimidating unless you got to know them.

 

“Ah, the two men sitting beside me were discussing how their girlfriends follow the BARE Instagram page, and that you were featured on it shirtless. I guess their girlfriends liked what they saw a bit too much because they sounded really jealous – and then said it seems like Asian people just have good genes.” Daniel smirked as he ran his hand over his jaw.

 

“I can’t believe Aera and Irene posted that picture.” William groaned, complaining for the 50th time in the past two months about the shirtless picture of him that was posted on the BARE Instagram account. He had begged his sister and cousin to take it down, but they had blatantly refused citing how enrollment had increased by a whopping 11% since posting that picture.

 

“I think it was a smart move, do you know how many girls sign up to see the William Choi?” Daniel teased. “And how many of them think that you’re gay because you pay no attention to them?” He laughed thinking about the absurd conversations he had heard over the past few years. He failed to understand how they hoped to catch his attention by acting like teenage girls that had a crush on the teacher.

 

“Those that know about you sign up to catch a glimpse of you.” William retorted.

 

“In the words of a boisterous young Henry Choi, I ain’t sayin’ they ain’t no gold diggers, but they ain’t chasin’ no broke brothas.” Daniel laughed causing William to roll his eyes.

 

“I can’t believe you just quoted Kanye West.” William groaned.

 

“No, I quoted Henry quoting Kanye West.” Daniel clarified.

 

“Speaking of siblings, aren’t you supposed to be meeting Aera for lunch?” William asked as he looked at the time on the infotainment system of his car, Daniel’s eyes followed William’s and widened as he registered the time and remembered his plans.

 

“FUCK FUCK FUCK!” Daniel exclaimed as William laughed at the sheer shock that registered on Daniel’s face. He watched as Daniel groaned again as he pulled out his iPhone from his pocket. “FUCKKKKKKK!”

 

“You know you really have a way with words brother dearest, mom would threaten to wash your mouth out with soap if she heard you.” William said.

 

 “Why didn’t you say something before you asshole?” Daniel groaned as he replied to the text that Aera had sent him, 15 minutes ago, after 3 missed calls.

 

“I live to make you suffer.” William replied calmly as Daniel muttered curses under his breath.

 

“How about we just tell her that we stopped to help a puppy that almost got run over by a car? Or to help an old lady cross the street? She can’t be angry at that.” Daniel suggested. “We’re going to The Living Room.” He added as he texted his sister to let her know that they were on the way.

 

“We? As far as I remember I wasn’t invited to this lunch.” William said.

 

“She won’t believe me, but she’ll believe you.” Daniel pleaded.

 

“You want me to lie to my own sister?” William sounded aghast, but his eyes were shining with mirth.

 

“I am sorry, did you suddenly develop a dislike of lying? Don’t make me pull out the receipts Will.” Daniel retorted.

 

“I don’t lie to people I love.” William defended.

 

“Yes, yes, you are the epitome of all things virtuous – can you just fucking stand there and nod?” Daniel’s voice dripped sarcasm.

 

“Are you begging?” William asked, his eyebrow arched.

 

“Did you wake up on the asshole side of the bed today?” Daniel groaned.

 

“Fine, fine. I’ll be a good brother and lie to our sister so she doesn’t go off on you again about ignoring family in the name of business and money.” William agreed. “Just a heads up, you might not want to curse so much in front of her.”

 

“You, Will, are a real brother. An asshole. But a real brother.” Daniel smiled.

 


February 2017

 

“What’s got you so down Little Willy?” Daniel teased as he sat on the couch beside Henry and looked towards a brooding William.

 

Daniel knew it was something serious because the usual whine of hyung, don’t call me that didn’t leave his mouth. At the moment William was running his hands through his hair repeatedly, he would occasionally sigh in between and pinch his nose - all tell-tale signs of a distressed William Choi. It was weird because he had been quite happy a couple of days ago after learning that Coombes had decided to officially invest in BARE pending a few more meetings.

 

“Our father sent a present to our mother for Valentine’s Day.” Henry murmured quietly as he played Assassins Creed on his PlayStation.

 

“He’s not our father.” William snapped looking up at Henry, narrowing his eyes at his younger brother.

 

“I apologize, our sperm donor sent a present to our mother.” Henry corrected, rolling his eyes, he hated it when William was in one of his moods.

 

“I really don’t think that sounds better than the former.” Daniel informed Henry, his nose crinkling in mild repulsion.

 

“Why do you even come back for reading week? Go away.” William groaned while throwing a remote at his younger brother.

 

“OW FUCKKKKK, violence is not the answer, hyung.” Henry yelled rubbing his arm where the remote hit him.

 

“Henry, LANGUAGE!” Their mother, Helen, yelled from the kitchen.

 

HYUNG HIT ME!” Henry yelled back, but his mother chose to say nothing in response. “Clearly, he is the favourite, she would even yell at you if I said you hit me.” He told Daniel with an exaggerated sigh. “Dan my man, deal with all of this, Aera says chocolate helps when she’s PMSing.” He said pointing to William as he got up off the couch. “I, unlike the two of you, have hot dates for Valentine’s Day that I need to get ready for.”

 

“Dates?” Daniel asked, his eyebrow arched, as he stressed the s at the end of the word.

 

“Don’t judge, they know it’s not exclusive. I don’t lie and it’s not cheating if it’s just dating, I am not in a relationship with any of them.” Henry defended.

 

“Why do you sound so defensive then? Stop messing around Henry.” William said, shaking his head in exasperation.

 

“I do it to make up for your lack of messing around brothers.” Henry smirked causing both William and Daniel to roll their eyes.

 

“You mean you enjoy consoling girls that settle for you after we reject them.” Daniel pointed out, his mouth pulling in a slight, close-lipped smile.

 

“Has anyone ever told you that you’re an asshole Daniel?” Henry asked, his voice saccharine sweet, before shaking his head and walking up the stairs to his room.

 

“He’s something else, isn’t he?” Daniel laughed looking back at a brooding William, but he got no response. “Are you honestly going to sulk over this? He does it every year, mom doesn’t even open them, every year.”

 

“It’s like a yearly reminder that he still exists.” William murmured. “And I am not sulking.”

 

“I thought you didn’t lie to the people you loved.” Daniel teased.

 

“Who said I love you, you’re my least favourite sibling.” William said, his lips lifting into a slight smile.

 

“Awwww, how adorable! Are you going to braid each other’s hair next?” Henry asked as he walked back into the room again and grabbed his phone off the table. He just missed the pillow William threw at him. “You know, this girl I dated was a psychology major and among many more enjoyable things I also learnt that repressed feelings often manifest themselves as violence, so this –” He paused to point his fingers between William and Daniel. “-is all making sense now. It’s Valentine’s Day, go on a date!” Henry beamed before running back up the stairs before anyone could respond.

 

“You know, I don’t miss him when he’s not around.” Daniel said as Henry leaped up the stairs.

 

“Don’t lie, you quote him.” William mumbled causing Daniel to shrug. “Did you find out who leaked the financial statements?” William asked, remembering that Daniel said he was going to deal with it today, he had hired a private investigator to look into the matter because he hated the police.

 

“Turns out it was the new intern, I should have figured, all of the company statements go to him because he prepares all the presentations and reports for clients.” Daniel said. Venture was his baby and he hated anyone messing with it, he had managed to get people to trust him to manage their wealth and investments, he dealt with billions of dollars and mistakes like this were very costly and damaging.

 

“Did he cry?” William asked, his interest piqued. Daniel was notoriously cut-throat when it came to business. He had fired plenty of people that worked for his investment company – his record stood at 5 people in a single week.

 

“Oh yeah, and gave me some sob story about how he did it for the money because his sister has cancer and needs surgery. But he’s an only child.” Daniel rolled his eyes. “Why are people so stupid? I thought no one could be stupider than the guy who ran into my car on purpose to get insurance money, I don’t know how he thought he was going to get over a million dollars when witnesses saw him deliberately run in front of the car.”

 

“People do a lot of stupid stuff for money.” William shrugged. And they did, he couldn’t even keep track of all the crazy things people around them did for money. It’s like people got a whiff of money and did all they could to get make a quick buck.

 


 

March 2017

 

“You two do realize that you also have to attend the wedding.” Aera said looking between her brothers as they sat on stools on one side of the massive kitchen island. Daniel and William, after many calls from Aera, had decided to come over for dinner at Aera’s house accompanied by their mother – they already regretted their decision. The saving grace of this already disastrous visit was the toddler sitting on the kitchen island, in front of Aera, looking between all of the boring adults as she chewed on her mini cucumber slices.

 

“Absolutely not.” Daniel said as William nodded, they would not be attending any weddings in a different state at this time of the year, they had important work. They would send their common family friend a nice present – and an apology that they couldn’t personally attend. It worked in the past.

 

Eomma will be attending on our behalf.” William informed Aera with a triumphant smile, which dropped when Aera raised her eyebrow at him in a way that screamed are you really challenging me on this?

 

“I never said that, I just said that I would be attending.” Helen said smiling at her son.

 

Eomma-”

 

“No. You and Daniel received personal invitations from the Kim Family, it would be really rude to not attend.” Helen said as she walked over to the stove.

 

“It’s best to just agree now, we all know you will eventually have to.” David smiled from beside his wife, Aera, as he poured salad dressing over the salad. Daniel and William both looked up at David and gave him an I thought you were on our side look but David just shrugged and smiled at his wife. “I went to school to learn how to argue with people, and I never win an argument like this, you two are not cut out for this.” He shrugged while passing a plate to Aera, placing a kiss on the side of her forehead as he did.

 

“What a smart son-in-law.” Helen said laughing while David beamed at them.

 

“You come Unca Dan and Unca Wi, pwease?” Anaya said looking between Daniel and William with a pout. Aera smiled at her daughter and kissed her head lovingly.

 

“Aera, that’s not fair!” Daniel whined, Aera had taken to using Anaya against them by getting her to ask things – they couldn’t say no to their only niece.

 

“This is not going to work.” William said, crossing his arms over his chest as Anaya crawled over the counter to the two men before jumping towards Daniel who caught the  giggling girl easily while she grabbed for William’s hair.

 

“SOFT.” Anaya yelled as she pulled on William’s hair before moving her hand to pat Daniel’s.

 

“Anaya, tell your uncles that you will miss them if they don’t come with you.” Aera said while smirking at Daniel and William. Helen looked at her children with a fond smile on her face.

 

“Uncas, I miss you, you come wit me?” She asked, her wide eyes looking between Daniel and William, causing Daniel to groan.

 

“Make her stop, Noona, please.” William pleaded.

 

“How can you break her little heart?” David laughed from beside his wife, putting his arm around her waist.

 

“But construction just started, we need to be here.” Daniel said.

 

“You stay here?” Anaya asked, her bottom lip quivering and her eyes tearing up.

 

“No, we’re coming with you princess.” William reassured her before the tears started, tickling her little tummy to distract her. The kitchen filled with sounds of her giggles as Aera beamed and high-fived her husband.

 

“MOMMIE THEY COME I GET COOKIE NOW?” Anaya said between the giggles before turning back to her mom with a grin, causing Aera to groan.

 

“Your kid can’t stomach anything.” Aera mumbled poking David as Daniel and William’s eyes shot up to Aera.

 

“Aera Choi-Park, did you bribe your daughter to blackmail us?” Daniel asked, his face registering shock.

 

“Uh-oh, mommie’s in twoubleee.” Anaya said before turning to her grandmother. “Grandma! Tell mommie, time-owt woung wady!” She yelled while trying to stand on the island to face her mother.

 

“Exactly, princess, time-out.” William said glaring at his sister while his mother chuckled.

 

“I don’t regret anything, I’ll RSVP on your behalf.” Aera beamed. “Let’s eat before the food gets cold. Will, stop sulking!”

 

“I don’t sulk!” William exclaimed.


 

April 2017

 

“Woah, they work fast around here.” Aera announced her presence causing her brothers to look up from the papers they were intently looking at. She was surprised that the foundation had already been laid, and the framing and roof were almost done.

 

“Here to micro-manage us Noona?” William asked with a smile. “And you brought your shadow!” He said as he caught sight of Irene.

 

“Holaaaaaaa!” Irene beamed as she clicked away, taking pictures of anything and everything.

 

“Haha, you’re so funny Will.” Aera said while hugging Daniel, she decided to whack William in the arm though. “We thought we would see the progress and get some pictures for Instagram.”

 

“No rest for the wicked, huh? Even with so many employees?” Daniel teased. “Including this one.” He said while ruffling Irene’s hair as she walked by.

 

“This is why Will is my favourite!” Irene whined, William snorted and fixed her hair for her causing her to make a little heart at him before she resumed taking pictures.

 

BARE is all mine, they can handle the other businesses.” Aera smiled, she had started a small social media management firm years ago and it had quietly grown to quite a large one that dealt with a lot of businesses in Charleston. “Plus, it’s fun to annoy you guys. And Irene wanted to get lunch.” She laughed.

 

“I thought you were on a diet?” William said while looking at Irene.

 

“It’s a work in progress.” She sighed as she came to stand by them. “I should take a picture of you too!” She said while William groaned and pushed the camera away.

Daniel snorted before turning to Irene. “Before I forget, props on uploading a picture of Will, the other day some girl literally walked up to him holding her phone up to his face and asked it that was him. I swear she was trying to see through his shirt.” Daniel laughed, giving Irene a fist-bump, as William groaned.

 

“Reading the comments on that picture makes me kind of uncomfortable.” Aera said, her face pulling up in mild disgust – there were somethings a girl just didn’t want to hear about her brother.

 

“I think it makes him the most uncomfortable.” Daniel laughed.

 

“I was thinking – would you like to be featured? Our followers would really appreciate it.” Aera beamed at Daniel, knowing it would cause quite the stir.

 

“I think not.” Daniel said, the laughter and smile both dying.

 

“Can you get a picture?” William stage-whispered to Irene.

 

“I’ll leave the Instagram modelling to you.” Daniel said rolling his eyes.

 

“I got you fam.” Irene whispered to William with a wink causing him to snicker.

 

“When do you think this will be done?” Aera asked looking around and changing the subject.

 

“Two months?” William said looking at Daniel who nodded.

 

“That’s so fast!”

 

“Yeah, if we’re doing cement walls and exposed ceilings there isn’t much to do–  the framing is done, they just need to pour the cement. I think the bathrooms will take the longest but we should be able to move equipment in by June, and open for the July 4th weekend.” Daniel said, reiterating the timeline they had drawn up months ago perfectly.

 

“That’s so exciting!” Aera squealed. “I love how backwards this all is though, you open locations in other places first, and then open one at home.” She laughed.

 

“We wanted an exceptional franchise, not a mid-tier gym.” William informed her, this idea would have never taken flight in a small city like Charleston – it needed to become a huge franchise before opening in smaller cities. Which is why they started with Atlanta and New York.

 

“Speaking of exceptional, have you two tried the cupcakes and coffee at the café across the street, it is to DIE for! The owners are both Korean – well, they’re from New York – but they’re Korean!” Irene said excitedly.

 

“We haven’t, between a diabetic and a fitness freak you can probably imagine why.” Daniel said, but his curiosity was piqued – two Koreans from New York, moving to Charleston to open up a café...odd. His eyes met William who also looked mildly intrigued as he rearranged the papers on the table so they lay perfectly straight.

Chapter Text

 

May 2017

 

The large gold-toned clock on the wall ticked quietly indicating that it was only 8am, the morning sun filtered through the windows creating a warm ambiance in the café as the two women worked on decorating their baked goods before opening for the day.

 

“They build at the speed of light around this town.” Taera murmured as she put the finishing touches on the day’s special – red velvet cupcakes.

 

Jiah was setting up the display and looked up before following Taera’s gaze across the street. “Signage is probably going to go up soon.” Jiah murmured as she watched the workers put in the last of the windows in, finishing the exterior of the brand new building across the street. It was ultra-modern, a grey concrete box with windows all around – it somehow looked like it belonged more in a city like New York than Charleston.

 

“I feel like they’ll open before we figure out what it is.” Taera said, confused as to how no one knew what was opening there and none of the other business along the road seemed to care.

 

“The display is too pink.” Jiah pouted as she looked at the cupcake display she had just finished arranging.

 

“Maybe stop decorating everything with pink? Just throwing it out there.” Taera teased remembering how excited Jiah had been at the perfect baby pink buttercream frosting.

 

“Yeah yeah.” Jiah murmured before rearranging the display cards for the cupcakes so they matched. Taera was about to tease her some more but stopped short when the doors chimed. She looked up to see Sam and Mark walked in through the door, together, Sam was blushing lightly as the two of them waved and then headed to the back to get started on the dishes and cleaning.

 

“Ah, teenage crushes.” Taera whispered to Jiah as the door shut behind their employees.

 

“Your last crush was a teenage crush.” Jiah said with a  giggle.

 

“Yeah, because you got around soooo much there Kim.” Taera quipped as she moved onto decorating the tuxedo cake, a customer favourite.

 

“Hey, at least my last date wasn’t 3 years ago.” Jiah reminded her best friend, as she moved their freshly-baked muffins into the display, one by one, placing them meticulously as Taera sighed.

 

“I feel like something is wrong with me – I see an attractive guy and I acknowledge he’s good looking but I am never interested enough to take it to the next step. Like why would I put in all that time and effort into something when I have neither the interest nor the drive to. On top of that most relationships don’t work, all the dramas and movies are a lie.” Taera murmured, relationships just seemed like so much work and time, time that could be spent doing something that had guaranteed results. 

 

“Tell me about it, where does one find a man to spontaneously fall in love with?” Jiah sighed. All the men she had ever been interested in either turned out to be boring or just…fuckboys. It’s like they looked pretty from afar, but when they opened their mouths the attraction just poofed away.

 

“I think it’s because we’re not interested in casual dating. A lot of people date for the sake of dating, but we go in expecting too much.” Taera reasoned, she wanted to date someone she could potentially marry one day and that was a lot of pressure to put on anyone, especially a stranger.

 

“This is what happens when you grow up on Disney and K-Dramas, all these stupid ideas about true love and what not.” Jiah frowned as she threw a slightly burnt muffin back into the container rather than putting it in the display case. “But we don’t exactly put ourselves out there. You were trying to get into medical school and I was trying to open up a business when most of our friends were out partying and looking for the one. We can’t expect Mr. Perfect to just fall from the sky – we have to actually go out and look for him.”

 

Ain’t nobody got the time for that.” Taera laughed imitating the meme before taking in a deep breath, picking up the white icing bag and starting on another cake. “I agree though, I think we’ve always been the it will happen when it’s time type, and we seem to think in stages, like maybe I’ll consider a serious relationship after I do xyz. Maybe after undergrad, and then after medical school.” Taera mumbled the last part underneath her breath. She had realized that she did that a lot in her life, going as far as thinking she could only live life once she was a doctor.

 

“Too bad our mothers aren’t like that.” Jiah sighed recalling her phone call with her mother earlier that morning, she was harping about getting married, again. It’s like every single phone conversation ended up at get married Jiah.

 

“They're our mothers, it’s their job to worry about everything – if we’re worrying about being spinsters now, they probably started worrying about it years ago.” Taera laughed.

 

“Let’s make a pact.” Jiah said suddenly, putting the tray of baked goods she was holding back on the counter.

 

“I don’t like the sound of this – the last time you said this I ended up having to pretend that my imaginary cat died to get out of the most boring date of my life.” Taera groaned.

 

“It’s going to be different this time – and excuse me, you set me up with a guy who couldn’t stop talking about cadavers.” Jiah shuddered remembering when Taera had set her up with one of her classmates.

 

“WE HAD A DISSECTION THAT DAY!” Taera said as if it were completely normal to talk about that during dinner. Jiah chose to ignore that.

 

“By the end of this year, we must go on at least 1 date.” Jiah said.

 

“Jiah, noooooo!” Taera groaned.

 

“Taera, yessssss!” Jiah retorted. “I don’t want to marry a guy of my parent’s choosing.”

 

“You don’t have to.” Taera said looking at her indecorously.

 

“Oh hello, emotional blackmail is a thing. And I will eventually succumb to the pressure if I don’t have anyone. But if I am actively dating, maybe my mother will be appeased and stop trying to set me up with sons of her friends and sending me dating profiles.” Jiah whined.

 

“But those are funny.” Taera laughed recalling the weird things people write in their bios. Jiah and Taera usually sat down on Sunday night and laughed as they went through the profiles Jiah’s mother sent them.

 

“We promised each other that we were going to change things before we moved here, to attempt to have a full life – this is part of it.” Jiah reminded Taera who sighed in defeat and nodded.

 

“1 date. By the end of 2017.” Taera nodded. “But where are we going to find people to date in this town?” Taera asked.

 

“Maybe that grocery store guy, David, actually has a brother, hopefully brothers.” Jiah joked.

 


 

May 2017 Continued…

 

“IT IS A GYM WE’RE DOOMED IT IS A GYM.” Taera yelled as she walked into Sorelle and Co the next day causing Jiah to let out a yelp in shock at Taera’s loud voice, her wide eyes looked up at Taera in question.

 

Taera had to run to the bank so she arrived after Jiah, only to see a sign go up across the street. At first she had been confused when she saw the word BARE but then things clicked in her head when she saw men moving treadmills off a truck. “IT IS A BRANCH OF THAT GYM IN NEW YORK WHERE ALL THE CELEBRTIES WORK OUT!” Taera continued yelling as she walked up to the counter, referring to the high end gym that was right down the street from where Justin Timberlake’s New York apartment was on Greenwich Street.

 

“Why are you freaking out? It’s not like it’s a Starbucks.” Jiah said calmly, trying to figure out why Taera was so worried. “We should be happy that the area is developing.”

                                          

“Jiah, you don’t understand – people will think twice about stepping into a café that sells mostly desserts when there is a gym across the street. It’ll nag their subconscious, and they’ll think about making healthy choices. We’re doomed.” Taera groaned.

 

“I really don’t think that’s going to be the case.” Jiah said seeing where Taera was coming from but not seeing it as a huge problem.

                                                                             

“Jiah, think about it. Say you’re walking down the street to get ice-cream, and then you see a gym – and you see all these fit people walking around. You will think about how you haven’t worked out in a while, then feel bad about wanting ice-cream! And then you’ll think to yourself maybe I should start eating healthy and join a gym.” Taera explained.

 

“I would still get the ice-cream.” Jiah said definitively.

 

“Well duh, you have the metabolism of a swimmer and don’t gain weight easily. But normal people will think twice about it!” Taera whined.

 

“Taera-Byte, I think you’re over-reacting. There is no point in fretting over it, we’ll deal with it if it happens.” Jiah said trying to calm her friend down. “Think about it this way, there will be more foot traffic, and people will want to eat something or get coffee before or after working out.”

 


May 2017 Continued…

 

Taera smiled as she walked down the sidewalk with the sun shining on her face, the weather was perfect, it was warm and sunny but there was a sharp cool breeze that chased away any feeling of discomfort. She was perfectly dressed for the weather - in a loose denim shirt tucked into a pair of high waisted white lace shorts. She had decided to take a walk at lunch time to calm herself down from a hectic morning – plus Jiah was driving her insane with all her ramblings about horoscopes.

 

Her eyes drifted to the water across the street, and she smiled at the way the sun glinted off the gentle waves. “The rest of this day is going to be great.” She murmured to herself.

 

It seemed like being positive was working because she saw the cutest Dalmatian puppy tied to a bike rack outside a store, the puppy’s tongue was sticking out as it looked at anyone that passed by. Taera figured the owner had gone into the store and walked towards the puppy wanting to pet it. She really wanted a dog but Jiah was deathly afraid of them so it would always be a dream.

 

“Aren’t you the sweetest little thing?” She said to the puppy as she bent down and scratched the pup behind his ear, she giggled when the puppy started sniffing her hand and jumping up and down happily. “Dear lord, how are you so cuteeeee?” She gushed petting the puppy, the puppy let out a little bark while his black tail wagged quickly. Taera’s laughter grew as the little puppy started running around her happily causing her to fall on her bum on the sidewalk.

 

Taera felt her heart drop before she even processed what happened – she had fallen on the leash that was tied to the bike rack, and it had somehow come loose. She watched in dismay as the little puppy started running towards the road, looking back at her playfully as if asking Taera to follow it. “NO COME BACK!” Taera yelled, following her instinct and running behind the puppy to save it from being run over.

 

Her heart plummeted even further when she heard a loud screech, she had driven enough to know that it was the sound cars made when the brakes were applied really hard. She should have looked up to see where the car was so she could get out of the way, but she didn’t. Rather she was already jumping to throw herself over the little puppy to save it. Her eyes closed and she felt the little pup cuddle into her stomach as she hunched over it, waiting to be hit by a car. She literally heard the car’s tires burning against the asphalt road as the car skidded to a stop – and then there was absolute silence.

 

William took in a deep breath as his car stopped less than a couple of inches from the woman who was crouched on the ground before it. He was so sure he would hit her when she suddenly ran onto the road. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest, almost as if it was going to beat out of the cavity – he was so sure he would hit her when he had first hit the brakes. But luck was on his side and his car and stopped just short of making his fear into a reality.

 

He watched as the women slowly straightened and looked towards the car, her wide-set brown eyes open in shock. Her midnight-black hair whipped around her face due to the wind, the strands sticking to her pink lips, her button nose crinkled when a strand tickled her nose. William shook himself out the trance he was in when she moved her hand up to her nose to move the hair off her face. That’s when the reality of the situation hit him, he had almost hit her because she ran onto the road suddenly. He unbuckled his seatbelt and threw the driver side door open, his legs felt a little wobbly when he put weight on them, his body still in shock.

 

“Oh, hot damn.” Taera murmured to herself as he stepped out of the car, a couple of things ran through Taera’s mind all at once: (1) the man was definitely Asian, possibly Korean, (2) he was very good-looking, (3) that face was perfectly symmetrical, (4) his skin looked awfully soft, (5) he looked like he spent a lot of time perfectly blow-drying his luscious hair, (6) he was tall and built; and (7) he looked angry.

 

“Do you have a death wish?” He yelled, and Taera’s mind registered two more things: (8) his voice was deep and sexy and (9) he was an asshole. If someone had almost gotten run over by her car the first thing she would ask them would be are you okay?

 

“Is it insurance money you’re after?” William yelled when she didn’t answer, his neck tensed as he remembered when a man had jumped in front of Daniel’s car, gotten a little scratch and filed for an exorbitant insurance claim.

 

“Excuse me?” Taera scoffed, her eyes darkening as she stood tall and clenched her jaw in anger. “Are you blind? You almost ran over a puppy! I was trying to save it.” She snarled.

 

“Really, where is the puppy?” He asked, crossing his arms across his wide chest, she could see a vein throbbing in his neck with how angry he was. Taera pointed down to her feet where the puppy was, his gaze followed her finger before snapping back up, his glare intensified. “Is it an invisible puppy?” He asked, sarcasm dripping from his voice.

 

“What do you mean-” Taera trailed off as her eyes moved down to where the puppy had been to find it…not there. She looked up, her eyes wide and scanning the area to catch a glimpse of the Dalmatian. “Dear Lord! Is it under your car?” She screamed before falling to her knees to peek under his car only to find it empty.

 

“What are you doing?” William asked, confused and angry now.

 

“There was a puppy, it was a little Dalmatian-”

 

“YOU CAN STOP LYING, I CAN SEE RIGHT THROUGH IT!” William yelled as Taera got up off the road.

 

“WHY ARE YOU YELLING AT ME? Look mister, I don’t care if you believe me or not but there was a puppy I was trying to save and you almost ran over it with your reckless driving. The speed limit on this road is 30 miles per hour and stopping abruptly shouldn’t have been a problem!” Taera yelled as she turned back to look at William, her face flushed red in anger and her fists clenched. “DON’T DRIVE IF YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO!”

 

“How about you not jump in front of cars to kill yourself – learn to walk or better yet don’t leave your house if you can’t walk and think it’s normal to run out into traffic!” He yelled right back, moving closer to her and invading her personal space, an unconscious intimidation tactic. “You look like you do this all time – jumping in front of any nice cars you see so you can sue for insurance money after don’t you?”

 

“Listen here you asshole.” Taera said, her teeth barred, she moved closer to him, refusing to back away from this slightly scary man “I. DID. NOT. JUMP. IN. FRONT. OF. YOUR. CAR. ON. PURPOSE.” Taera said, punctuating each word with a jab to his hard chest with her finger. “I am not suicidal and I definitely don’t jump in front of cars driven by rude assholes. Now, why don’t you get in your nice car and drive off to HELL.” She ended her sentence with a yell pushing him away causing him to bump into his nice Range Rover.

 

“Ridiculous, no one talks to me like that-” William started to say as she turned around, showed him the finger and walked back to the sidewalk, her eyes still searching for the puppy. William fumed as he got back in his car, murmuring curse words under his breath, wondering if he woke up on the wrong side of the bed. He watched her stomp down the road, her hair blowing everywhere and he grew angry with himself when he caught himself looking at her nice legs. He groaned wondering how the hell his brain found her attractive when she so rude.

 

William was so distracted by Taera stomping down the sidewalk that he failed to notice a little puppy that run across the road again, his leash dragging behind him as he leaped up to his owner, it was a Dalmatian.

 

X-X-X-X-X-X

 

“That – that asshole. Oh God, I want to just strangle him, put my hands around that ridiculously defined neck and just squeeze until he is writhing for air, and then- then I want to kick him in the groin.” Taera seethed to Jiah as she finished telling her about what had just happened.

 

“Taera, deep breath. In and out.” Jiah said, her eyes growing wide – she hadn’t seen Taera this angry in years. “Your horoscope today did mention a misunderstanding – eep!” Jiah stopped short when she saw the glare Taera sent her way. “I mean, he was an idiot! Why don't you go to the back and – uh – knead some dough – pretend it’s his head?” Jiah suggested pushing Taera towards the back when she noticed all of the customers looking their way curiously.

 

Jiah sighed in relief when Taera did exactly as she asked and turned to Sam and Mark. “Can you please handle it out here? I need to make sure she doesn’t…break everything.” Jiah said followed by a deep breath.

 

“Sure! I have never seen her so animated.” Sam said causing a small smile to grace Jiah’s face, the Taera she knew was always this animated – well she had been before the whole bout with depression and anxiety.

 

Jiah went to the back to find Taera kneading dough with an intensity that scared her a bit. “Taera, I haven’t seen you this riled up in years.” She said as she stood beside her friend, lightly hitting her hip against hers playfully.

 

“There’s just something about that man that irks me.” Taera said, pounding the dough harder. “He doesn’t deserve such a perfect face.” She murmured under breath but Jiah caught it, her eyebrows lifting in surprise at the comment. She decided not to say anything at the moment, but stored it in the back of her mind to bring it up when Taera was less – hostile.

 

“Try to calm down.” Jiah said. “Breathe in and breathe out.”

 

“What are the cupcakes for?” Taera asked noticing a perfectly packed box sitting on the workstation by the oven.

 

“I made it for our new neighbours-”

 

“Why?” Taera groaned.

 

“My horoscope said to put my best foot forward today, happiness lies ahead.” Jiah beamed, she was a strong believer in horoscopes, they usually turned out correct, Taera’s had for the day after all. “It would have been so nice if one of our neighbours had welcomed us here, they might appreciate it.” Jiah explained excitedly.

 

“They are going to sabotage our business and you want to bring them cupcakes?” Taera asked skeptically.

 

“They aren’t going to ruin our business, don’t worry.” Jiah said as she picked up the cupcakes. “I am going to head over before they run out for lunch. Do I look okay?” She asked as she whipped off her apron to reveal a white cotton sundress.

 

“Yes. Do you even know who the owners are?” Taera asked.

 

“Someone not in a construction vest or moving company shirt.” Jiah said with a wink before disappearing out the side door to head over to BARE.

 

X-X-X-X-X

 

Jiah wondered why the glass doors to the gym were so heavy as she struggled to push it open using her body. The door shut behind her quietly as she stepped into the building. Her wide eyes looked around in fascination, the door opened up to a front desk where two Macs were stationed next to a little scanner, she figured it would be to scan people in.

 

To the right of the counter there were some tables, and paintings of flexible people in different poses, it was rather artistic and tasteful. She looked up at the ceiling and found that it was exposed and all the ducts were painted white – a nice industrial touch that went well with the grey floors and walls, and black counter and furniture.

 

Jiah looked around trying to spot someone but found the place rather empty so she wandered down the hallway until she saw a large empty space, there were some treadmills stationed in a corner but it looked like the other equipment was yet to come in. Concrete pillars seemed to divide up the space into different zones, she was surprised to see a boxing ring and boxing bags though, but she figured gyms could have something like that. She wandered over to a large table stationed in the middle of the room surrounded by wires and building material, her eyes scanning the area – the workers weren’t even around but she had seen them come in this morning.

 

Her interest piqued when she saw the papers littered on the table, a lot of them were pictures of what seemed like the same gym. She figured they were the other locations, and was wholly impressed by the look of them. A paper caught her sight due to the large names that were listed on it under management – William Choi, CEO and Daniel Choi, CFO. She was about to pick up the papers when she heard someone behind her, not approaching her, but someone was standing right behind her. She could hear them breathing.

 

In her haste to turn around her feet got tangled in the mess of wires around the table causing her to trip and fall backwards as she turned, she let out a little scream, closed her eyes and waited to hit the floor with a thud. But she felt arms wrap around her waist preventing her from falling, her hand automatically shot up, her fingers fisting into the fabric of the crisp cotton shirt of whoever caught her. She opened her eyes slowly and found herself staring right into the light brown eyes of an angry looking man. She could see the frown on his lips and the way his forehead was scrunched up despite his hair. His hair, which was short on the sides yet long and tousled on the top, highlighted his slightly sun-kissed skin. Jiah knew then and there that if anyone asked her to name a man more attractive than Hyun Bin, she would say his name, whatever his name was.

 

Daniel definitely hadn’t planned on holding the trespasser in his arms, but he couldn’t let her fall, could he? That was just asking for a lawsuit. He meant to stabilize her and then move away but he couldn’t for some reason.

 

She realized that she was staring at the exact moment his gaze moved down to her lips because she let go of the collar of the shirt she was clutching abruptly. The sharp movement snapped Daniel out of the moment and he let her go when she started moving in his grasp. They both took a step away from each other, recollecting themselves.

 

“I-uh-.”

 

“Who the hell are you? Who sent you?” Daniel snarled, remembering that she had been shuffling through the financial statements and plans for BARE.

 

“Your neighbour-”

 

“Oh I get it, you’re from the Charleston Health Club. Did you think you would get away with stealing our plans? Or were you here to sabotage the competition?” He said, his words were spoken at a normal volume but the coldness in his voice and eyes caused a shiver to run through Jiah.

 

“I wasn’t-” Jiah tried to clear the misunderstanding but he interrupted her yet again.

 

“Save the lies for someone who believes them – you guys have gotten quite bold even though your last attempt at sabotage didn’t work out.” Daniel said remembering how the health club had tried to buy out their contractor. “And now they send you, what did they think? That sending an innocent pretty woman was going to somehow work, I know how people like you work. How much did they pay you to do this?” He asked, his face growing redder.

 

“Listen-”

 

“Lemme guess, you have no idea what I am talking about?” He scoffed.

 

“Wait, you’re not-”

 

“Yet you somehow just ended-”

 

“Will you listen-”

 

“-up all the way inside and found the papers accidentally-“

 

“Wait-” Jiah tried to get a word in but he just kept going on about knowing what her plan was and that she needed to convey the warning to the Charleston Health Club. For a second Jiah wondered if this man was mentally disturbed.

 

“-here’s what you’re doing to do, you’re going to-”

 

“I am not doing-”

 

“-oh yes you are, you are going to tell them that-”

 

“Would you just listen?” Jiah snapped, trying to cover his mouth with her hand to get him to shut up. He dodged her effectively and her annoyance climbed with every word that came out of his mouth. She groaned and looked towards the table spotting the cupcakes she had brought over. She turned abruptly and opened the lid, he finally stopped talking.

 

“What are you doing-mmmphhmh.” His sentence trailed off when Jiah turned and smashed a whole cupcake into his open mouth, making sure that his mouth was completely stuffed and his chin smothered with the pale blue icing. His eyes were wide in shock, and his face looked hilarious but Jiah wasn’t in the mood for giggling.

 

“LISTEN HERE MISTER, I am not from the Charleston Health Club. I own the café across the street, I was TRYING to be a nice neighbour and welcome you to the neighbourhood. If you would have just shut up for a second and listened like a normal human being I could have told you that. But you’re an egotistical asshole and think the world revolves around you, BUT LET ME BE THE FIRST TO TELL YOU THAT IT DOESN’T. I don’t CARE about your business or your financial plans – the papers were here and happened to catch my eye. OH, and how dare you insult me like that? You made me sound like some corporate…WHORE…which I am not! YOU CAN’T BUY ME OR WHATEVER CRAP YOU WERE SAYING.” She seethed before picking the box of cupcakes off the table. “I would leave these here but you don’t deserve this sugary goodness, you- you ASSHOLE!” She said before dramatically turning around, whipping him in the face with her long hair, before she stomped off.

 

Daniel watched her leave in dismay, he couldn’t believe that she had done that – stuffed a whole cupcake in his mouth. And talked to him like that, no one, and he meant no one, had ever talked to him like that.

 

“She’s rather fiery for such a little thing isn’t she? I guess she is one of the owners that Aera and Irene were talking about.” William said from the other side of the room, his arms crossed across his chest, and an amused smirk on his face as he looked at a flabbergasted Daniel. “Are you planning on eating that cupcake? If you’ve forgotten because you’re so shook, let me remind you that you’re in fact diabetic.” He said when Daniel turned around to look at him without moving to remove the cupcake from his mouth. William watched with amusement as his words clicked and Daniel tried to take the cupcake out of his mouth, he succeeded letting out a couple of coughs but the blue icing was sticking to his face and his hands were a mess.

 

“How much of that did you see?” Daniel asked looking at his brother, the destroyed cupcake in his hand.

 

“I walked in just as she stuffed the cupcake into your mouth, but she did give a nice recap of what happened so I am all caught up.” William laughed. “I can’t believe she did that, the look you were giving her would scare off the best of them. Losing your touch there brother, I wonder what would happen if the employees find out-”

 

“Not another word.” Daniel groaned.

 

“Literally, that’s what she said.” William guffawed.

 

Daniel just rolled his eyes before turning around and heading towards the washroom to wash his face – he couldn’t believe she had done that. No one talked to him like that, and no one had the audacity to stuff a cupcake in his mouth.

Chapter Text

May 2017 Continued...

 

Taera looked up as the door swung open and Jiah marched in with her white sundress billowing around her and an annoyed looked on her flushed face. She placed the box of cupcakes she had taken over to BARE down on the counter with a loud thud. Taera watched intrigued as her best friend opened the box and took out a chocolate cupcake decorated with caramel frosting and drizzle before taking a huge bite of it and chewing angrily.

 

“So, I am going to take a guess and say that the horoscope app was wrong and happiness in fact did not lay ahead.” Taera smiled smugly wiping her hands on a towel as she walked towards Jiah and picked up a cupcake for herself, red velvet with cream cheese frosting.

                                                          

Jiah chewed rapidly and swallowed before speaking. “The owner – or I think he’s an owner – looks like a rich arrogant man that stepped out of some weird K-Drama-Hollywood hybrid movie.”

 

“And that’s a problem because?” Taera inquired.

                                               

“He accused me of being a corporate spy that is out to sabotage him because I happened to be standing beside a table that had financial statements and blueprints spread out over it. AND HE WOULDN’T LET ME SPEAK. He just kept going on and on and on, accusing me of things left and right.” Jiah said as she continued to chew angrily finishing off one cupcake and reaching for another, this one was vanilla with strawberry cream cheese frosting.

                                                                                             

“And what did you do to him Jiah Kim?” Taera asked as Jiah took a huge bite out of her second cupcake. Taera knew her friend well enough to know that she wouldn’t have stood still and done nothing in such a situation. The two of them were awfully competitive and liked to play to “one-up” game, if someone did something, they definitely retaliated.

                                                                                                

“I might have stuffed a cupcake in his mouth to shut him up.” She mumbled with a full mouth causing Taera to chuckle. “It was oddly satisfying.” Jiah admitted as she swallowed.

 

“Is Mr. Rich & Arrogant attractive?” Taera asked, her eyebrow raised.

                              

“Very.” Jiah groaned. “But SOOOOO arrogant that it cancels out the attractiveness.”

                                                

“So I guess we’re not going to be all chummy with our neighbours?” Taera laughed.

                                                                                              

“No way! He is now enemy number 2.” Jiah said. “I wonder if his business partner is nicer.” Jiah murmured before launching into an explanation of how there were two names on the paper and how the gym looked.


 

Taera had a successful morning, it was only 9am and she had already gone to the bank followed by the grocery store to pick up more food coloring as per Jiah’s instructions, she had also found the cutest cupcake liners. She was just pulling up to Sorelle and Co when she noticed a car pulling into her parking spot, the one that was right across Sorelle. Luckily the spot right behind it was open, it belonged to the real estate office right next door, the woman was never in so the spot remained empty for most of the day but it still wasn’t hers.

 

She got out of her car and walked up to the car in front of her, the owner had just opened the door. “Hi, excuse me, you’re parked in my spot. Can you please move- YOU?!” Taera yelled as the man turned around to reveal the same man that had almost run her over with the car two days ago. This time he was wearing a white long sleeved button-up with a pair of black slacks. A voice inside Taera’s head remarked that he looked even better than he had the other day – but she suppressed it.

 

“Are you following me?” William groaned as he caught sight of her.

                                                                                                                                            

“Oh please, I wouldn’t even follow you on Twitter.” Taera scoffed. “Move your nice car, this spot is mine.” She added as she looked over at his Range Rover, she should have known it was him – the devil incarnate with the Black Range Rover.

 

“I don’t see your name on it.” William said, arching his eyebrow and crossing his muscular arms across his broad chest. Taera internally and externally rolled her eyes, she hated how guys always did the arm crossing thing to be intimidating to people smaller than them. Like yeah, you might be 6’2 and really built but she, Taera Jeong, could dissect a dead body without puking so they had nothing on her.

 

“The spot directly across each store belongs to the owner of the store. And that store -” She said pointing towards Sorelle. “-is mine, so this spot would be mine.” Taera explained, in a false cheery voice that scared William just a smidge, he wondered if she was mentally sound.

 

Taera missed the shock and then comprehension that registered on William’s face as Aera’s words about the café across the street owned by two Korean women came back to him. This was the other owner from New York, her partner being the feisty woman that had stuffed a cupcake in Daniel’s mouth.

 

“Well, this spot is right next to the gym I own.” William said smugly as Taera’s face registered shock, her eyes flicking up towards BARE.

 

“I should have known that Jiah ran into you! Dear Lord, who else could be that egoistic?” Taera scoffed, William wanted to interrupt when he realized that she was talking about her friend, who was apparently named Jiah, and her run-in with Daniel but she didn’t let him get a word in. “And of course, you would be the idiot that opens a gym across a café!” She exclaimed.

 

“Excuse me?!” William said, sounding offended, no one called him an idiot.

 

“There are numerous studies that have been published in leading journals in the field of business that cite gyms and restaurants in close proximity to each other often face financial repercussions because they pull on the human subconscious. In Volume 2, Edition 4 of the Journal of Business and Economic Statistics published in the year 2013, Brown & Fabes reported that these financial repercussions hit businesses in small to mid-sized cities the most. Interestingly, Fabes, who is an industrial psychologist, claims that this is due to the cognitive dissonance created by the situation. Now you look really confused, so let me just dumb it down for you. Imagine wanting to get something to eat but then seeing a gym and changing your mind because you haven’t worked out for a while. Or someone wanting to work out but seeing a nice café where they can actually do something they enjoy-”

 

“The former sounds correct, the latter not so much – so this sounds more like a you problem.” William retorted, wondering why he was listening to this motor-mouth who seemed to have studies memorized, down to the year and volume number. How did her brain even work?

 

“You are such an idiot.” Taera sighed. “Just move your gym somewhere else, the real estate market has had a boom recently so you can definitely sell it for a profit.”

 

“You’re absolutely crazy. Why am I even listening to you?”

 

“I wish Jiah had stuffed more cupcakes into your mouth so you would never speak again. Move your car!”

 

“I will definitely not move my car.” He retorted, Taera heard a door shut and looked up to see an amused man get out of the passenger side of the car. Taera looked between the man in front of her and the man who had gotten out of the car, and registered a couple of things, in line with what she had registered when she had seen her now enemy, aka Enemy # 1 – the devil incarnate who owned a black Range Rover.

 

Just to recap, Enemy # 1: (1) was Asian, (2) was very good-looking, (3) had a sexy symmetrical face, (4) had perfect skin, (5) was the owner of luscious hair that begged you to run your hands through it, (6) was tall and built, (7) was the owner of a deep and sexy voice, and mostly importantly (8) HE WAS A MAJOR ASSHOLE.

 

Enemy # 1’s passenger was: (1) also Asian, (2) also good looking, (3) also had a nice face, (4) also had nice skin, (5) the owner of hair that screamed just rolled out of bed after making you scream my name , (6) was tall and built, (7) hadn’t spoken yet and (8) had a really nice lopsided boyish smirk.

 

Taera quickly catalogued the rest of the Asian population in Charleston in her head, her mind first going to the couple she saw at the grocery store – they were both very good looking. And there was the young woman who came into Sorelle. And now there were these two very good looking men standing in front of her. She wondered if there was something in the water in Charleston – or if growing up in a smaller town with cleaner air had some influence over attractiveness. Maybe it was the oxygen saturation…a viable hypothesis that needed to be tested. But the universal problem of operationalizing attractiveness would hinder her endeavors, she looked back at the devil incarnate trying to judge the symmetry of his face and then at his passenger…who arched his eyebrow at her probably wondering why she was looking between the two of them.

 

William was also looking at the odd woman in front of him, he could tell her brain was working a mile a minute the way she was looking between him and Daniel. He again wondered how her brain worked but then shook himself out of it and cleared his throat to catch her attention again snapping her back to the situation at hand.

 

“You haven’t won this – that is my parking spot and I will get it back. I hope you and you nice car that almost runs people and puppies over are ready for me.” She said, her voice determined.

 

“THERE WAS NO PUPPY!” William yelled, exasperated.

 

“YOU ARE BLIND. Dear Lord, why do I always run into these people?!” Taera screeched before stomping off towards her trunk to grab her things, her long pale blue dress flying behind her as she scurried away.

 

“So, do you want to explain what that was all about?” Daniel asked, leaning against the side of the car and following William’s gaze which was still fixated on the nameless woman.

 

“It’s a long story.” William sighed. “But that is the other owner of the café across the street.” William explained.

 

“Ah, I see, they’re both…what was it that you said? Fiery.” Daniel said as the woman stomped up the street with a box and her purse, glaring their way as she walked by them.

 

“You owe me a new set of tires since you burnt mine out.” William yelled after her, she just turned around and gave him the finger before throwing open the door to Sorelle & Co.

 

Daniel watched his brother closely and missed neither the way his mouth pulled into a smirk nor the way his eyes followed her. This was going to be…interesting.

 

“Isn’t it blasphemous to yell out Dear Lord all the time?” William mused as he turned around to look at Daniel.

 

“Why would you ask me, an atheist, that question?” Daniel snorted.

 


 

“Taeraaaaaaa!” Jiah accosted her friend as soon as she stepped in through the doors. “What was that all about?!” She asked pointing across the street.

 

She had watched with growing interest as her friend sparred with an attractive man, she was sure they hadn’t noticed but they were standing rather close to each other while arguing. Although she didn’t quite know what was happening the look on Taera’s face resembled the one she had the other day after the run-in with the Range Rover guy. It took her about two seconds to confirm her theory, she just had to squint and figure out the logo that was on the tires of the car. A quick look and confirmation with Mark led to the conclusion that it was a Range Rover, a black Range Rover belonging to an attractive man.

 

Jiah had watched the interaction with rapt attention because she now understood why Taera was so annoyed and had mentioned a perfect face. The man was exactly Taera’s type, Jiah knew her friend had a thing for tall, built guys- but not too built, they couldn’t be buff, she liked the lean athletic look – and she loved what she deemed sex hair. Jiah had to admit that he was gorgeous, and somewhere in her subconscious she also catalogued that he looked very good standing next to her best-friend. That thought however did not register with Jiah just then, she was more interested in the confrontation happening across the road. All the pointing and the angry look on their faces told Jiah two things: (1) they were bickering over the parking spot, and (2) Taera was imparting some wisdom because she had that look about her at the moment.

 

She briefly debated going outside to provide back-up but then decided against it, Taera could handle herself.  Jiah detected movement behind the car Taera was standing in front of and she gasped when she saw him get out of the car – the man that had accused her of being a corporate spy! She expected him to start yelling and join the fight, she was ready to run out the door to help her friend out but to her surprise he didn’t say a word. He looked rather amused and she saw his mouth move as he talked to the other man, both of them watching Taera stomp away.

 

“THE RANGE ROVER GUY AND THE CUPCAKE GUY ARE THE SAME PEOPLE HE OWNS THE GYM ACROSS THE STREET!” Taera yelled as she burst through the door causing Mark to jump and drop an empty cupcake tray.

 

“Sorry!” Mark exclaimed as he picked up the tray and listened to the two boss-women with rapt attention. His life was definitely getting more interesting since he started working with them.

 

“The guy you were arguing with is the Range Rover guy?” Jiah asked and Taera nodded. “He isn’t the cupcake guy, the cupcake guy is the one that got out of the car second.” Jiah explained.

 

“Of course, his friend would also be an asshole too.” Taera groaned. “I am going to rear-end his car if he parks in my spot again.”

 

“That’s very illegal and my dad is a cop.” Mark laughed and looked over at Sam who was still looking out across the street.

 

“Do you know who they are?” She asked but the girls shook their head to indicate that they didn’t.

 

“Two tall Asian men with voluminous hair, early 30s, ridiculously good looking?” Mark asked looking at Taera.

 

Taera nodded, “You know them?”

 

“I know of them, my sister works at an elementary school and one of the other teachers is related to one of them. Her last name is Lee but that might be her own family name…I am not sure what their names are.” Mark shrugged.

 

Taera and Jiah’s interest was definitely piqued.  “Well it should be easy to find out.” Taera murmured as she reached for her iPad and launched the Safari web browser, she typed in BARE in the search bar and pressed enter. Jiah, Sam and Mark all crowded around her as she put the iPad down on the counter and scrolled through it.

 

Mark wolf-whistled as the BARE website loaded. “They have a partnership with Nike and Tag Heuer?” He asked  looking across the street at the gym with an impressed look on his face.

 

“Oh yeah, it’s a chain, it’s where all the celebrities work out in New York.” Jiah gushed causing Taera to glare at her. “What? Just because they’re assholes doesn’t mean that they’re not successful assholes that might know Justin Timberlake and Hugh Jackman.” She shrugged.

 

Taera rolled her eyes and went to the About page of the website. “No pictures, but the CEO is William Choi, and the CFO is Daniel Choi. Possibly brothers.”

 

“LinkedIn?” Jiah suggested and Taera nodded going to the LinkedIn website and searching the first name.

 

“William Choi, CEO of BARE, is Range Rover guy.” Taera murmured as she scrolled down his LinkedIn page, he had a professional picture in a three-piece suit as his display picture and a rather succinct page. “Went to Harvard for his MBA after going to University of Pennsylvania for his undergrad…should have just went to Wharton, it’s just as good.” She mumbled referring to the top-ranked Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

 

“Harvard is more impressive.” Jiah shrugged looking up at Taera who looked impressed despite her reluctance to accept it.

 

“Whatever.” Taera retorted before searching the other name. A picture of Enemy # 1’s passenger, aka Cupcake Guy, in a three-piece suit appeared. “The cupcake guy is Daniel Choi…also a Harvard graduate. Damn, he’s got his hands everywhere.” Taera murmured as she scrolled down the page, he was on the board of directors of so many companies and owned a Wealth Management Firm which seemed to invest in a broad range of companies – from BARE to local real estate developers.

 

“Daniel Choi…even his name is snooty.” Jiah murmured.

 

“They’re both very fine.” Sam murmured looking at the picture.

 

“And way too old for you.” Mark exclaimed causing Jiah and Taera to look up at each other and smile, ah, teenage jealousy.

 

“I can still appreciate that they’re good looking.” Sam shrugged. “Just like your friends who drop by and appreciate how good looking Jiah and Taera are.” She teased.

 

“Jesus Christ, is that why this place is infested with hormonal teenagers after 3pm?” Jiah laughed.

                                                                                                            

“Did you know that we’re hot Jiah?” Taera laughed waggling her eyebrows.

 

“It’s because they live in the middle of Nowhere, USA and haven’t seen Korean celebrities.” Jiah laughed.

 

“Speaking of, I have a hypothesis – there is some relationship between the air in Charleston and physical attractiveness, and perhaps being of Asian descent acts as some kind of moderator because I have yet to see an unattractive Asian person since setting foot in this town.”

 

“Not again…” Jiah groaned knowing that this was going to turn into some pseudo-science experiment.

Chapter Text

June 2017

 

Jiah had a guilty pleasure – Booster Juice – she loved smoothies, so much so that serving smoothies was on the Sorelle & Co Five-Year-Plan. But for the time being she made do with standing in line at Booster Juice. She smiled as she stepped out of the store with her Mango Hurricane smoothie in her hand and walked down the street to her own shop – close enough that she could get smoothies but far enough that it wouldn’t be a problem if they decided to serve them as well.

 

Jiah had two weakness…the first being that she was deathly terrified of dogs, even small ones. It brought back the traumatic experience of being chased down the street by five dogs at the mere age of 4. Taera had tried numerous times to get her to go to therapy but she refused claiming that it was just a small problem. A small problem that made her freeze in her steps and turn around abruptly to get away from the little dog on the leash that was approaching her. She quickly walked past the other people, trying to put as much distance between the animal and herself.

 

The second weakness was that she was very clumsy at times, and it always seemed to happen at the worst times. In her hurry to get away from the dog, who she could hear barking behind her, she tripped over her own feet and spiraled forward, her Mango Hurricane smoothie flying out of her hand as she fell on the grass, soft luscious grass that stopped her from scraping her bare knees badly.

 

She heard a loud male grunt, but she didn’t pay attention to that, rather she looked behind her to see the dog still approaching. She let out a little yelp and sprang up, moving as far away from the dog as possible. In her haste she didn’t realize that there was someone standing behind her and she bumped into a firm chest.

 

“What the hell lady?! Watch where you’re going, you spilled your smoothie and my coffee all over me.” She heard a deep baritone voice by her ear, a voice that sounded kind of familiar. She watched with wide eyes as the dog and his owner walked past her – the dog looked towards her and she froze momentarily until it passed by without approaching. Jiah let out a sigh of relief before turning around.

 

“Sor-” Jiah turned around to apologize but stopped short when she realized who was behind her. She sighed and looked towards the sky, calling out to Jesus in her head and lamenting her luck.

 

“Of course, it would be you.” Daniel Choi groaned, what was it with this girl and food. “You ruined my shirt and spilled my coffee, I have a meeting to get to!” His voice grew louder by a few octaves at the end of his sentence.

 

Jiah looked down at his now dirty white dress shirt and then back up at his face. “So is the lack of coffee the reason for you being an asshole? Did you miss your daily dose of caffeine the other day too?”  She quipped raising her eyebrow.

 

“Excuse me? Why don’t you learn to mind your own business and watch where you’re going…this is the second time you’ve spilled food on me.” He snapped.

 

“Technically the first time wasn’t a spill.” She snickered. “How’d it taste?”

 

“You’re absolutely ridiculous.” He scoffed.

 

“At least I am not a jerk.” She retorted.

 

“Do you even know who I am?” He asked.

 

“Why? Have you forgotten your name?” She quipped.

 

“Apologize to me now.” He demanded.

 

“You first.” Jiah insisted.

 

“Hah…why should I apologize to you?” He scoffed.

 

“You yelled at me for no reason and accused me of all kinds of random stuff.” She said arching her eyebrow in a are you dumb gesture.

 

“You should apologize considering you snuck onto my property and were looking at my personal documents.”

 

“You’re the most infuriating man I’ve ever met.” She laughed before turning around and stomping back towards Booster Juice to get another smoothie.

 

“And you’re the most obnoxious woman I’ve ever met.” He replied before stomping away.

 

Jiah wondered why she hadn’t checked her horoscope that morning because when she checked it, it clearly mentioned an unwelcome confrontation. Argh.


 

“Technically…it was your fault this time and you do owe him an apology.” Taera said quietly as a fuming Jiah stomped around the kitchen.

 

“Zip it, I support you in your fight against the devil incarnate so you must support me in this fight against…this monster.” Jiah snapped.

 

“Dear Lord, what’s wrong with you? Of course, I support you, I would never admit to the monster that it was your fault.” Taera rolled her eyes and smacked Jiah’s back with the towel she was holding.

 

“It wasn’t my fault! I do feel kind of bad though…he said he was heading to a meeting.” Jiah mused.

 

“You want to make up your mind there Jiah-Bug? I need to know if I can empathize with him or if I need to convince you that you shouldn’t feel bad.” Taera quipped as her iPad started ringing with the familiar FaceTime tune.

 

Taera’s face broke out into a smile as she picked up the call. “LIAMMMM, YOU’RE ALIVEEE!” She squealed, it had been some time since the two of them had talked to Liam, he had been on a business trip with his overbearing father, the owner of one of the largest construction companies in the world.

 

“Barely. I thought I would die of boredom at all those business meeting, we spent one meeting – 90 minutes- discussing cement.” He groaned.

 

“How was Switzerland though?” Jiah asked stepping behind Taera who placed the iPad on the counter to capture the two of them.

 

“Switzerland is still amazing, although the only place I got to see the inside of our office there.” He replied sadly.

 

“Oh you poor baby, having to travel to Switzerland on a private jet for a Board Meeting for a multi-billion dollar company.” Taera laughed.

 

“Shut up Jeong, words hurt.” He replied holding his hand over his heart.

 

“Did you tell your dad about applying to Google?” Jiah inquired.

 

“I didn’t get the chance to.” Liam murmured.

 

“YOU WERE WITH HIM FOR A MONTH.” Both Taera and Jiah yelled simultaneously causing Liam to cringe.

 

“And I didn’t want to be disowned in Switzerland.” Liam said.

 

“Dear Lord, you’re so dramatic.” Taera said.

 

“Not all of us have the guts to drop our lives and move to the middle of nowhere to pursue a hobby.” Liam said petulantly.

 

“You’ll get there eventually Liam.” Jiah reassured with a smile.

 

“And if your dad does disown you, we will adopt you. We just signed a lease to a house with a guest bedroom with your name on it.” Taera offered.

 

“Kim, amaze me with what the two of you have been up to before the world explodes because Jeong is being nice to me.” Liam laughed, the two girls looked at each other and then began sharing what had happened since they last talked – including information about their new neighbours.


 

“Jiah, nooooo.” Taera whined as her best-friend tried to push her out the door of their apartment, which was littered with boxes and empty cabinets and closets.

 

“Taera, yessss.” Jiah huffed as she put her hands on her friend’s back to push her again, but Taera was adamant and had her feet planted firmly on the floor. “We have to buy furniture and supplies for our new place.” Jiah reasoned huffing with exertion.

 

The 6 month lease on the apartment they had significantly overpaid for was finally coming to an end. They had managed to find a house to rent, it was four times the size of the apartment, and it only cost them $200 more per month. To say that the two were badly ripped off would be an understatement. Coming from New York, they had made two mistakes: 1) assumed that they could only rent apartments and 2) that $1300 for a spacious one bedroom apartment in Charleston was a good deal. But having lived in the small city for a couple of months had made them realize that they couldn’t find places to rent because they were looking in the wrong place, Charleston wasn’t full of high-rises but it had plenty of houses, and rent was a lot cheaper here than it was in New York.

 

They were rather ecstatic to move out and have rooms of their own, but they were especially happy about having their own bathrooms and a huge kitchen. Jiah was rather excited to set up their new house, they needed to buy furniture, furnishings and supplies. Since the apartment had come fully furnished, they hadn’t acquired much in terms of furniture.

 

“I say we order everything online and get it shipped to the house.” Taera suggested as Jiah managed to push her further towards the door.

 

“You will not rob me of the experience of going furniture shopping for our first real place.” Jiah groaned as Taera dug her hands into the sofa refusing to move further.

 

“You’re such a grandma.” Taera exclaimed. “They literally have the same things online and in the store, you pick it and it comes right to your door.”

 

“How are you supposed to gauge size appropriately? And decide on furnishings without seeing it all pull together in front of your eyes?!” Jiah snapped.

 

“IMAGINATION.” Taera yelled.

 

“Well, I don’t have one.”

 

“HA, and I don’t have an above average IQ if we’re playing the tell a lie game.”

 

“Shut up, we’re going to Ikea.”


 

Taera smiled happily as she ate her frozen yogurt and walked through Ikea behind Jiah. She had about 48 pictures on her phone of item numbers documenting where they needed to  pick up all the things they wanted. Since the objects included three large beds, storage cabinets and a sofa so far, they were going to get most of it delivered and grab the little things like linens and pillows.

 

“This dining room table would fit nicely, what colour should we get?” Jiah asked looking towards Taera noticing that the table was available in both white and grey.

 

“The white one.” Taera decided. “With the grey chairs, it’ll match the counters.”

 

Jiah nodded as Taera took pictures of the tag that documented the product information. She smiled thinking about the cute two story house they were renting. They had scoured multiple listings but didn’t like much of it, houses in Charleston had a more traditional, southern vibe – which was nice in some houses but it usually just made the house look old and dated. It definitely wasn’t what Jiah and Taera preferred, houses in New York were a lot different, but they had been lucky enough to find a house that merged traditional with contemporary perfectly. It was the only place they had seen in person, and they signed the rental agreement right after they saw it.

 

“I think this takes care of all the big things, once we get everything delivered we can shop for anything else we might need.” Jiah said falling onto the couch in the kitchen/living/dining room display that was set up.

 

“Or…we can just order the rest online and have it delivered to the house so we can spend the minimal time we have off work to do something more…relaxing.” Taera pointed out as she sat down beside Jiah and kicked her feet up on the table.

 

“Admit it, this is fun.” Jiah said elbowing her friend with a smile.

 

“I will admit no such thing unless you bribe me with pizza.” Taera laughed elbowing Jiah back.

 

“Mhmmm, with extra cheese.” Jiah sighed.

 

“And a cheddar habanero dipping sauce.” Taera added.

 

“You need to- do you hear crying?” Jiah shot up abruptly and started looking around the couch. She heard whimpering sound, followed by some sniffles, and little steps.

 

“There is someone in the kitchen display.” Taera whispered getting up and walking over the island displayed behind the dining table they had chosen while Jiah followed her.

 

The two of them noticed an adorable little girl in a white tank top with a denim skirt overalls, her forehead was covered with bangs, and her hair in little pigtails. She was definitely crying and wiping her small red nose.

 

She looked up at the two of them and visibly jumped, the tears flowing down her face again.

“Hey, it’s okay hon, what’s wrong? Did you lose your mommy?” Taera asked in a soothing voice, dropping down to her knees so she was at eye-level with the toddler who nodded. Jiah looked around the area to see if someone was frantically looking for their child but did not notice anyone.

 

The little girl nodded and wiped her face with her arm to get rid of the tears. “Shhh, don’t cry, we’ll help you find her.” Taera comforted the child. “How about we pick you up and put you on the island so we can all see properly?” Taera asked with a smile on her face. The little girl nodded and Taera picked her up and placed her on the counter.

 

“M-mommy said no talk to stwangers.” The little girl hiccupped causing Jiah to laugh, she handed a tissue to the little girl, who very cutely dabbed at her eyes and blew her nose, melting their hearts.

 

“That’s very good advice, but sometimes you have to trust strangers to help because there can be good strangers and bad strangers. But you should never go anywhere alone with a stranger. See how we’re in a really big store here and there are so many people, if you feel not safe you just yell for help and people will come to you okay?” Taera explained and the little girl nodded. “And since you’re lost, you have to look for an adult that can help, like a good stranger.”

 

“You a good stwanger?” The toddler asked tilting her head in question.

 

“Of course silly.” Taera laughed tapping the girl’s nose. “My name is Taera and this is Jiah.”

 

“Taewa and Wiah.” The girl repeated. “My name is Anaya.”

 

“What a pretty name!” Jiah gushed while Taera snickered at Anaya’s adorable pronunciation of their names.

 

“Now how about we help you find your mommy, Anaya. Where did you lose her?” Jiah asked.

 

“I don’t know…I turn around and she gone!”

 

“It’s okay, do you know your mommy’s name?” Taera asked.

 

“Mommy.” The toddler answered as if she had just been asked a really stupid question, what else would mommy’s name be?!

 

“Ah, kids.” Taera murmured to Jiah.

 

“Your mommy has another name right, like a big name, what does your dad call your mommy?” Jiah asked.

 

“Baby! But it no make sense ‘cause she bigga than me, I am thwee and a half plus almo a half!” Anaya smiled holding up three fingers and half holding up the fourth one.

 

“Oh wow, that means you’re almost 4!” Taera said causing the girl to perk up. “I am dying, she’s so cuteeeeee.” Taera mumbled to Jiah.

 

“What do other people call your mommy?” Jiah asked.

 

“Unca Wi calls her noona.” Anaya beamed proudly.

 

“Dear Lord, you’re so cute.” Taera sighed.

 

“What does your grandma call her?” Jiah tried again.

 

“Aewa, Unca Dan calls her that too.” She announced with a bright smile.

 

“Aera?” Taera confirmed causing Anaya to nod. “Good girl.”

                                                                    

“Jiah, why don’t you take her to the cafeteria and get this munchkin -”

 

“I am not a unchkin, I am a gwon wady thank you vewy much.” Anaya interrupted crossing her arms across her chest and pouting causing Jiah to break out into giggles.

 

“Oh, I’m so sorry Ms. Anaya, I forgot that you’re almost four.” Taera said trying to stifle her laughter. “How about Jiah takes you to the cafeteria and I’ll go find someone that can help us find your mommy by making an announcement? It’ll be easier for your mommy to find us if we are there.”

 

The cafeteria was right down the hallway and they could sit on a table so they would be easier to spot for her mother rather than telling her they were past the bedroom displays and in the kitchen/dining room display.

 

“Good plan, you a smawtie, a blue one!” Anaya giggled looking at Taera’s blue top.

 

“Okay, I am going to go before I eat her up.” Taera laughed as she walked away trying to find an employee in a yellow vest, it took a while but she spotted one by the elevator and called out to her.

 

Jiah, meanwhile, was sitting across the table from a now happy Anaya who was enjoying a lollipop, she had initially wanted a muffin but Jiah wasn’t sure if she had any allergies and didn’t want to take a risk. She had pouted when Jiah refused but rebounded quickly when Jiah suggested a lollipop instead.

 

“Miss Wiah?”

 

“Yes.” Jiah replied.

 

“You pwetty.”

 

“Thank you, you’re very pretty too Anaya.”

 

“My uncas say I the pwettiest giwl in the wowld.” She exclaimed happily.

 

“You are! Who’s Uncas?”

 

“I have thwee uncas, unca Dan, unca Wi and Unca Wy. Unca Dan says to no listen to Unca Wy ‘cause he twouble.” She giggled as if sharing a huge secret.

 

Jiah was still confused but went along with the girl and giggled, what were uncas? Toys? Friends? Family members?

 

“What do your uncas look like?” Jiah asked trying to understand.

 

“They so big! And they all have soft haiw, I only one allowed to touch they haiw because I am spwecial. Mommy say unca Wy needs to cut his haiw but he say the ladies like it…he funny.” She laughed and Jiah laughed along understanding that she was talking about people in her life, most likely her uncles.

 

“Is unca Wy your mommy’s brother?” Jiah asked thinking that the girl was trying to say uncle.

 

Anaya shook her head no as she played with her lollipop. Jiah was confused again and was about to ask a follow up question when she heard an announcement overhead asking an Aera to come to the 2nd floor food court. “Did you hear your mommy’s name?” She asked Anaya who nodded.

 

“Mommy coming?” She asked happily and Jiah nodded as she saw Taera walking towards them with an employee.

 

“You two look like you’re having fun.” Taera smiled as she stood beside Jiah. She was about to sit down when she noticed a woman running towards them looking around frantically, she was definitely Anaya’s mother, she looked like an Aera, Taera waved at her, realizing that she has seen her before. She knew the minute she recognized Anaya because her eyes zeroed in on her back and her whole body seemed to relax.

 

Anaya turned around when she noticed Jiah and Taera looking behind her and jumped out of her chair and ran to her mother who pulled her up into a tight hug before the two of them started talking in hushed tones.

 

“Isn’t she the grocery store woman?” Jiah asked looking at Taera.

 

“She is, and she’s heading this way.” Taera said as the woman approached them.

 

“Thank you so much for helping her find me, I swear this one is going to turn my hair gray prematurely.” Aera beamed at the two women. “Did you say thank you Anaya?” She asked looking back to her daughter.

 

“Thank you Miss Taewa and Miss Wiah.” She beamed looking back at the two.

 

“You’re welcome Anaya.” The two of them said together.

 

“I am Aera, by the way, but you already knew that.” Aera said to the two of them.

 

“It was hard to get to your actual name.” Taera chuckled. “This is Jiah and I am Taera.”

 

“Why don’t you guys have lunch with us? We were going to get pizza.” Jiah smiled.

 

“CAN WE MOMMY? PEASE?” Anaya asked loudly causing her mother to chuckle and nod.

 

“Yes, your highness.” Aera said. “My treat!”

 

“No-”

 

“Oh no, it’s the least I can do.” Aera beamed.

 

The three women and Anaya chatted while they munched away on a gooey cheese pizza. Aera figured the two of them were new in town and they had launched into an explanation of how they had gotten from New York to Charleston and opened Sorelle and Co.

 

“You’ve been the talk of the town.” Aera laughed. “My cousin has been gushing about it. But more importantly she couldn’t get over the fact that there were more Korean people in town.”

 

“I am too, I didn’t expect to see many.” Taera laughed. “It was definitely one of the cons on our list, but the pros far outweighed the cons.” She shrugged.

 

“How did you pick Charleston?” Aera asked. “It’s not people’s first choice when thinking of a place to move to.”

 

“We threw darts at a map of the United States until we landed on an acceptable option.” Taera confessed sheepishly.

 

“What was the first thing you landed on?” Aera laughed.

 

“The middle of the Atlantic Ocean…Taera has bad aim.” Jiah snickered.

 

“HEY! I do not, I was just aiming for a coastal city!” She defended.

 

“I have to admit that you two have guts, moving to a whole new city and starting a business without knowing how it’ll pan out and actually succeeding.” Aera said in awe.

 

“We have yet to break even so we’ll see.” Taera laughed.

 

“It’ll happen, I know it.” Aera beamed. “We’ll have to visit, won’t we Anaya?”

 

“YES! Can we get cupcakes?” Anaya asked.

 

“You can pick out whichever one you want.” Taera said causing the girl to beam.

 


 

That night Anaya had gushed to her father about her two new friends and all about their adventures, along with the fact that they were going to visit their cafe tomorrow. David listened attentively and oohed and aahhed at all the appropriate moments.

 

He heard all about Miss Taewa and Miss Wiah at dinner, then at bath time, and then their bedtime story had turned into a story about Anaya visiting a bakery and trying all the cupcakes and muffins. By the time that David tucked her in for the night he felt like the world revolved around them.

 

“Our daughter has taken a liking to Wiah and Taewa.” David snickered as he walked into his bedroom.

 

“Jiah and Taera.” Aera corrected with a  laugh. “I get a really good feeling about them. They’re both so kind, and so…different from what I know.”

 

“They must be pretty amazing if they’ve won over the Aera Choi-Park so quickly.” David smiled.

 

“I know…you know how I usually am, it’s hard for me to click with people. But I felt so comfortable with them, like I’ve known them for years.”

 

“I should meet them then, since both my girls are smitten.” David said as he crawled into bed and laid his head on his wife’s stomach, smiling when she started running her fingers through his hair.

 

“Maybe we can invite them to Anaya’s birthday party.” Aera suggested.

 

“Sounds like a plan baby.”

Chapter Text

June 2017 (continued)

 

William and Daniel were in the process of doing final walk throughs of BARE in preparation for their launch in three weeks’ time. All the equipment had been delivered and set up and they had managed to hire a great team to run the gym. It had been difficult to set up this particular location due to a lack of qualified personnel in Charleston. They had been lucky that people were willing to move to the city, and that a few of their employees in other locations were happy to relocate for a short time to get the location running.

 

They were opening on the July 4th weekend with a huge block party and barbeque event. Aera had taken charge of organizing the event, it was her expertise after all, no one planned better parties than Aera Choi-Park, she liked to brag that it was in her DNA. And that is why Aera, clad in beautiful white linen dress with buttons down the front, was walking around the space with her little mini-me trailing behind her in a miniature version of the same dress.

 

However, what was more amusing to  Daniel and William was the fact that little Anaya was walking around with a little clipboard pretending to inspect the machines and adding little checkmarks to a blank piece of paper every time she found something that she liked.

 

There was only one “x” on her paper so far, and it was because there was NO pink in the whole gym, that was very unappetable according to her. William definitely debated painting a small wall pink just for her but Daniel had shot down the suggestion while snickering and running on the treadmill.

 

“It all looks great, it is almost like I can open the front door and walk out into New York or Los Angeles, it is definitely up to par with those locations.” Aera gushed as she walked towards Daniel and William.

 

Ajussis, I have 22 check mawks!!!!” Anaya said holding up her clipboard towards William and Daniel. William chuckled, Aera was trying her best to make sure Anaya knew basic Korean, but she just said words that sounded funny to her over and over again.

 

“Baby, no, ahjussi is for a man eomma’s age or older who you don’t know well.” Aera explained to her daughter. “Uncle Wi and Uncle Dan are oe sookbu.”

 

“No, I wike saying ajussi, Wi ajussi, Dan ajussi, I have 22 check mawks!” She said again.

 

“Oh wow, 22! That means we’re really good.” Daniel laughed picking up his niece and throwing her up in the air causing two shrieks to fill the space – one with laughter and another with disapproval.

 

“She’s too big to do that!” Aera said slapping Daniel’s arm once Anaya was safely in it.

 

“I am almo 4!” Anaya grinned leaping towards an unsuspecting William causing him to let out an oof as he caught her.

 

“My my, you definitely are as heavy as a four year old.” William laughed.

 

“I am stwonga than you Unca Wi.” She laughed.

 

“But are you stronger than the...tickle monster?” He asked before tickling her as everyone looked on with smiles on their face.

 

“Unhand my daughter, we have a lunch date.” Aera laughed.

 

“DOWN DOWN DOWN I WANT A CUPCAKE.” Anaya yelled trying to wiggle out of William’s hold, she landed smoothly on the ground and ran towards her mother.

 

“Across the street?” William asked with interest.

 

Aera nodded, “Have you been?” She asked.

 

“No.” Daniel answered quickly not wanting to give their sister any details into his run in and subsequent face stuffing, followed by a run-in that ruined his favourite white dress shirt, with one of the owners. He also didn’t want to share William’s own run-ins. It would cause his sister to whack them in the head for being so suspicious and her interest in the New Yorkers would grow too much. “Have fun!” He said ruffling Anaya’s hair.

 

“NOT THE HAIW DUUUUDEEEE.” Anaya exclaimed trying to get away causing both William and Daniel to laugh at Henry’s iconic phrase. “Bye ajussis, sarangheyo!” She said before running towards the exit causing her mother to rush after her and wave goodbye.

 

“Did you not want to inform Aera of your recent run ins?” William teased as the door shut behind the two ladies.

 

“Do you want to share information about your epic row?” Daniel said, his voice dripping in sarcasm.

 

“Touché.” William laughed.


 

“Oh God, if it isn’t Miss Anaya and Aera.” Taera said as Aera and Anaya walked into the store and towards the counter. Taera was glad they came in mid-day which was usually their slowest time, it meant that they could spend some time with them.

 

“MISS TAEWA MISS WIAH!” Anaya yelled happily while waving at the rapidly. “THIS PLACE IS AWESOMEEEEEEEEE!” She said looking around with wide eyes.

 

“I really don’t think I should be giving her more sugar.” Aera laughed as she approached Jiah and Taera. “But she’s right, this place is amazing. It’s so gorgeous and tasteful, this gives Laduree a run for its money!” She grinned looking around at wall to ceiling windows and cream and beige accents.

 

“I am glad you like it.” Jiah grinned. “Now that you’re here, what can we get you?” Jiah smiled.

 

“Oooh, there are a lot of choices.” Aera said looking around.

 

“Let us give you a tour.” Taera laughed. “We’ll also tell you what our favourites are.”

 

“I can’t see everything from down here!” Anaya complained looking up at her mother.

 

Taera laughed and bent down picking her up so that she was at eye-level. “Is this better?” She asked causing Anaya to nod.

 

“Well then, follow me.” Jiah laughed coming around the counter and walking towards the cupcake display.

 

The four of them spent the next ten minutes walking from display to display and talking about all the different types of cupcakes, cookies, muffins, brownies, donuts and tarts. They pointed out their favourites and answered all of Anaya’s questions, the little girl looked like she was in heaven as she salivated over the different types of desserts.

 

“I don’t know what to pick!” She complained when her mother asked her what she wanted.

 

“How about the banana chocolate chip cupcake?” Aera suggested.

 

“But I alwo want the pink one.” She pouted.

 

“Maybe you can have a bit of both if your mommy is okay with it. And you can come here whenever you want and try different ones.” Taera smiled.

 

“Both it is.” Aera agreed causing Anaya to beam as they took a seat at the table by the wall of floor to ceiling windows.

 

“Mommy, I can see uncas’ gym.” Anaya said looking out the window with a grin. “It’s right there!” She gasped causing Aera to laugh. She was always amazed by how smart her child was, but how she didn’t seem to grasp things like distance like most children. They had literally just walked across the street and the girl only now seemed to grasp that the two places were close to each other.

 

Within minutes Taera and Jiah joined the two with a plate of cupcakes and donuts and little tea cups. One of them was prefilled with decaffeinated tea with four ice cubes for little Anaya who insisted that she wanted to drink out of teacups like all of them.

 

Taera and Jiah sat down across them, the store wasn’t very busy at the moment and Sam was hanging out doing her homework behind the counter before the evening rush. Conversation flowed easily and laughter filled the space as Anaya and Aera oohed and ahhed over all the food.

 

Little Anaya was happily chewing on her strawberry cupcake with pink icing and Aera was sipping on her English Breakfast Tea when she noticed Jiah looking out the window with a glare. She followed her gaze and found her brother across the street starting right back at Jiah with a frown on his face. She inconspicuously turned her face towards Jiah who was still glaring back, there was no one else visible so Aera was sure she was glaring at Daniel. Her suspicion was confirmed when Daniel stepped inside BARE and Jiah looked away from the window with a scowl on her face. Aera’s curiosity was piqued.

 

“What’s got you scowling?” Aera asked innocently.

 

“Oh, our neighbour.” Jiah said cutting into her donut with a knife roughly.

 

“On the treadmill?” Taera asked with a scowl as she looked out the window, she could make out a figure on the treadmill, she squinted against the sun and realized it was her enemy # 1, the devil incarnate.

 

“It wasn’t the D-E-V-I-L incarnate, the M-O-N-S-T-E-R was outside.” Jiah answered her friend but chose to spell out the word since there were little ears around.

 

“Hey! Why you spewwing? What you saying?” Anaya asked looking up at Jiah with a frown.

 

“Just boring grown up stuff.” Taera reassured her with a laugh. “You’re soooo cute.” She gushed causing Anaya to giggle and return back to taking a bite out of her cupcake.

 

Aera was now really curious, it seemed that there was some animosity brewing between the two girls and both Daniel and William. The two of them hadn’t mentioned anything though.

 

“Why are they –” Aera looked towards Anaya and then back at the two girls. “-what you said.”

 

“It’s a long story.” Taera sighed.

 

“I’ve got time.” Aera laughed trying to play it cool. “But remember little ears.” She said looking towards her daughter.

 

“How about Jiah gives you the details while Anaya and I go decorate some cupcakes?” Taera suggested causing both Aera and Jiah to nod. Aera was very happy with the solution, she could act innocent and prod Jiah for information without Anaya hearing or exposing her relationship to the two men across the street.

 

“I CAN DECORATE?” Anaya asked excitedly.

 

“Well of course, I need a little helper!” Taera laughed causing Anaya to jump up excitedly and follow Taera behind the counter.

 

 “Oooh, it must be pretty bad if we had to send her away.” Aera laughed.

 

“Taera and I can get pretty riled up so it’s for the best.” Jiah said.

 

“Now I am really curious.” Aera said sipping her tea and looking at Jiah.

 

“I guess we can go in chronological order…” Jiah started before launching into an explanation of how Taera had almost been run over by the devil incarnate’s car while trying to save a puppy and their subsequent fight where he accused Taera of doing it on purpose for insurance money. Aera gasped and prodded at the right times and was able to discern that the puppy had disappeared leaving Taera to look like a culprit -  but she had gotten to know the girl enough to realize that there was definitely a puppy involved. But she could also understand why William didn’t believe her, it’s not like he knew her and with Daniel’s past experience in a similar situation William was bound to think Taera did it on purpose for the money.

 

Aera tried to keep herself in check as Jiah launched into the story of her own run in with Daniel, or the monster as she called him. She wanted to smack her brother for being so suspicious all the time, she had brought them cupcakes to welcome them for goodness sake. Aera almost spit out her tea when Jiah said she had stuffed a cupcake in his mouth before stomping off. She would have paid to see that. Jiah’s second run in with him was no better than the first, but she thought they were both at fault for that and needed to apologize to each other. Aera definitely thought that Daniel needed to apologize to Jiah for their first run in, and she would make sure he did.  Aera grew speculative as Jiah brought up Taera and William’s run in from the other day over the parking spot. It wasn’t like William to keep engaging in a fight with a stranger.

 

“Wow, you guys definitely did not have a good start with them.” Aera laughed when Jiah finished her story.

 

“You’re telling me!” Jiah snickered. “Taera is half tempted to rear-end his Range Rover.”

 

Aera’s eyes grew wide at the thought of William coming out to see his precious car damaged, it would definitely turn into World War 3. “Maybe she should just stay away from him.” Aera suggested, for now anyways.

 

Jiah grew quiet and then looked towards the counter making sure that Taera couldn’t overhear her. “I kinda want her to keep running into him, interacting with him brings back the old fiery Taera who was full of life and confident in herself…she hasn’t been like that in a long time.” She said quietly causing Aera to nod and look towards the counter where Taera was happily laughing with Anaya while they worked with pink icing. She guessed everyone had their ghosts, even if she couldn’t tell.

 

“We’ll see what happens then.” Aera laughed.


 

“Hi, I had a question for the two of you about a custom order.” A voice approached Taera as she walked up to the counter at Sorelle.

 

“Oh hey, Irene right?” Taera asked remembering the girl from the past three times she had come in. Taera had taken a liking to her immediately, she just oozed happiness, she always had a smile on her face and was so well mannered.

 

“You remembered!” Irene laughed happily.

 

“Of course! What’s up, how can I help?” Taera replied.

 

“You see, my cousins own the gym across the street, and I am helping to plan the grand opening party. I was hoping that you guys would be able to do custom cupcakes for the event. I have ideas-”

 

“You want me to what?” Taera asked, she felt like someone had the hit the brakes hard and was still recoiling on learning that this sweet woman was related – even if distantly - to the devil incarnate. She scanned her face looking for an resemblance – maybe the eyes, but why was everyone in their family so ridiculously good-looking? Irene was sweet. But she expected her to make cupcakes for his gym? Hell would freeze over before she did anything for him.

 

“You guys do custom orders right?” Irene asked confused, she didn’t quite understand why Taera went from being warm and welcoming to shocked.

 

“Not for hi- OW!” Taera was cut short when Jiah elbowed her and slid beside her to face Irene with a smile.

 

“We do! Excuse Taera, she is a little out of it today. I am Jiah!” Jiah said holding her hand out which Irene took in a warm, but firm, handshake. “And Taera is going to go to the back and help Sam.” Jiah said pushing her towards the kitchen.

 

“Hey-”

 

“Shut up and leave Taera, you will not ruin this opportunity due to personal differences.” Jiah whispered to her best friend before pushing a sputtering Taera towards the door that led to the back. She turned back to Irene with a smile. “Why don’t we have a seat and discuss your requirements?” She suggested.

 

Jiah grabbed the binder that they had put together for custom orders and led Irene to a table.

 

“Tell me about the event.” Jiah started.

 

“So, the grand opening is going to kind of be like a block party in the parking lot. Since it’s happening on the 4th of July weekend it’s a barbeque so we’ve got that all handled. But for desserts I am hoping to have some cupcakes and cookies.” Irene explained.

 

“Sounds fun, about how many people?”

 

“About 1000.” Irene smiled and Jiah coughed to hide her surprise, that was a big order and a great opportunity to push out their name and product to a large crowd to build up clientele. Jiah internally did a happy dance and praised the lord that she had stopped Taera before she refused this order.

 

“That sounds doable.” Jiah said flipping open the binder. “Our pricing here reflects our signature cupcakes, which would cost you around $2.00 per cupcake for such a large order. But if you have special decoration requests the price could be as high as $4 per cupcake. What do you have in mind?” Jiah asked.

 

“I want gym themed cupcakes, is that possible?” Irene asked.

 

“Of course, we can do like little weights and stuff as decoration! Taera’s amazing at stuff like that. How about we pull together some samples for you for this Friday and then you can see what you like.” Jiah suggested and Irene nodded with a smile.

 

“That sounds good, I was hoping that we could have them out on tables and also in little boxes as take home goodies. So we’ll need about 2000 cupcakes and a 1000 cookies.” Irene said.

 

“Well it’s a good thing you came in today because that gives us plenty of time to get ready.” Jiah smiled.

 

“This is going to be great! I am so glad you guys are right across the street. It means I can come in whenever.” Irene smiled.

 

“Will you be working across the street too?” Jiah asked.

 

“For the time being yes, I work with BARE so I frequently travel between all the locations, I just got back from Los Angeles in April.” She smiled.

 

“Ooooh, that sounds fun! Have you stayed in New York?” Jiah asked.

 

“Yes, and I loved it. But I don’t think I could live there, there are just so many people and the winter is horrible.” Irene laughed. “Which part are you guys from?” Irene asked motioning towards the kitchen door where Taera was.

 

“Taera and I live almost on the border of Manhattan and Queens but on the Queens side. I moved to Queens with my parents when I was 6 and Taera lived right next door, we ended up in the same class and the rest was history.” Jiah smiled.

 

“That’s so cute, and the two of you moved all the way here together!” Irene smiled. “Why did you pick Charleston though?”

 

“New York was getting stifling, and the two of just wanted a fresh start. So we just threw darts at a map of the USA until we found an acceptable option.” Jiah said causing Irene to giggle. “What about you? Have you always lived here?” Jiah asked.

 

“No, I moved here as a teenager after my parents passed away in a car crash.” She said.

 

“I am so sorry about your loss, that must have been hard.”

 

“It was, but it also brought me closer to the family I had. After what my dad did to – anyways, I was glad to grow closer to my cousins.” She smiled.

 

“I am guessing your cousins own the gym across the street?” Jiah inquired.

 

“Yes, my aunt is ecstatic that all her kids are home. William especially has constantly been on the move since starting university so it’s nice to have him back home.” Irene said with a fond smile that made it clear she thought the world of her cousin, maybe he wasn’t such an asshole after all.

 


 

“JIAH KIM! What were you thinking?” Taera asked Jiah as soon as she walked into the kitchen. “Making cupcakes for the grand opening of a business that’s probably going to negatively impact ours and is owned by those two ASSHOLES.”

 

“Deep breaths, Taera-Byte.” Jiah said sitting across Taera on the bar stool on one side the prep island where she was rolling dough.

 

“I will not be making anything for them unless there is poison involved.” Taera huffed.

 

“That’s very illegal, I’ll pretend that I didn’t hear that.” Mark quipped as he walked into the back throwing his backpack to the side and picking up his apron before walking to the sink to wash his hands.

 

“Taera, I know we dislike them, that’s personal and it shouldn’t affect our business. It’s a huge order, 2000 cupcakes and 1000 cookies. On top of that, Irene suggested that we pack the goodies into little take home packages, which will obviously have our branding on it. This is such a great opportunity to get our name out there and to build up a clientele. Think of how many potential customers we can get out of this.” Jiah explained, and she knew she hit home when she saw the speculative look on Taera’s face. “All these months we’ve been lucky enough to break even, but we need to start turning a profit. You said so yourself.” She reminded her.

 

Jiah knew that Taera was currently crunching numbers and creating projection graphs in her head, it’s what she did. “I still don’t have to like it.” She mumbled.

 

“You don’t, but we get to make custom gym themed cupcakes…with the cookies and delivery costs this is almost a $10000 order.”

 

“Ugh, that’s too good to pass up.” Taera whined. “Fine, but I’ll only deal with Irene!”

 

“Acceptable, she’s sweet.” Jiah smiled.

 

“How the hell is she related to the Devil Incarnate, I will never understand.” Taera mumbled. Jiah wanted to say that it seemed like Irene was very fond of her cousin, so he couldn’t be all that bad…but she didn’t want to push her any further today.

Chapter Text

June 2017 Continued…

 

Aera loved it when her house was filled with her family, her mother was in the kitchen helping David improve his cooking skills, her daughter was forcing Daniel and William to have a tea party with her. They were pretending to sip tea out of their little cup whenever Anaya poured them some. Just as Aera sat down on the couch, the little girl started gushing about how they’d gone to see Miss Taewa and Wiah and ate the BEST cupcakes, and how Miss Taewa let her decorate cupcakes.

 

They both seemed to be listening to Anaya’s words really carefully and then they turned to her, arching their eyebrow at her in question. “I see you’re getting very chummy with our neighbours.” Daniel said.

 

Aera sighed, she wanted to bring them up at her own pace in her own way, but her daughter had changed her plan significantly. “We met them a couple of days ago, Anaya got lost at Ikea and they found her and then found me. Anaya really wanted to see them again so we went to their café.”

 

“She got lost and you didn’t tell us?” William asked looking towards his niece.

 

“She got lost for ten minutes in an enclosed store Will.” Aera soothed him.

 

“They finded me and I wait with Miss Wiah and Miss Taewa made a ouncement and mommy came.” Anaya smiled.

 

“Wiah? Taewa?” Daniel snickered.

 

“Jiah and Taera.” Aera laughed.

 

“That what I way!” Anaya exclaimed exasperated.

 

“Of course princess.” William smiled while lifting her and putting her in his lap – she of course basked at the attention and stood in his lap, playing with his hair.

 

“Anything you want to tell me?” Aera asked arching her eyebrow at her brothers.

 

Daniel just shrugged and shook his head.

 

“Nothing about how you and Jiah seemed to start off on the wrong foot. There was something about a corporate spy.” She smirked at Daniel in challenge.

 

“And a face stuffing.” William snickered.

 

“Shut up Will! They told you?” Daniel asked surprised.

 

“I might have poked and prodded a little when I noticed the intense glares that seemed to pass between you. I might have also left out the part about us being family.” Aera shrugged.

 

“She was looking through the financial statements.” Daniel defended.

 

“You didn’t notice the box of cupcakes in her hand? Or maybe ask her what she was doing before launching into accusations?” Aera asked.

 

“Aera, you know how people are, there have been some attempts at sabotage from competitors, I was suspicious.” He defended.

 

“You have to tone it down! That girl doesn’t look like a suspicious corporate spy from any angle.”

 

“Which is why she would make the perfect one.” Daniel pointed out.

 

“That’s a bit far-fetched.” William chimed in as he tried to catch a giggling Anaya’s fingers in his mouth, she would bring them close to his mouth and then squeal and pull them away when he tried to chomp down on them. Aera thought they would grow out of this game as she got older but it didn’t seem it would slow down any time soon.

 

“Just apologize to her Daniel.” Aera said, turning back towards Daniel.

 

“She stuffed a cupcake into my mouth! It had sugar in it.” Daniel exclaimed causing Aera to giggle.

 

“A little sugar is not going to kill you.” Will laughed. “It was epic!”

 

“Unca Dan you have cupcake witout me?” Anaya pouted.

 

“No, I had to spit it out because I can’t have sugar.” Daniel told Anaya before turning to Aera. “She ruined my favourite white shirt – and she had the audacity to not apologize for it!” He defended.

 

“You started the fight brother dearest. Apologize, be nice. Irene placed an order with them for the grand opening so you’ll be seeing them, I’d rather you guys be cordial.”

 

“I am not apologizing.” Daniel scoffed.

 

“Daniel Choi, you better apologize to her and fix things, I happen to like the two of them and you know how hard it is for me to make friends.” She threatened causing Daniel to sigh.

 

“Fine, if I see her I’ll be nice.”

 

“Good, you – don’t think I haven’t heard about you either.” Aera said while turning her attention to William. She was more curious in this case than mad, Will wasn’t the type to keep engaging with someone he didn’t like.

 

“I did nothing, it was all her.” He said holding his hands up.

 

“You almost ran her over-.”

 

“Did she omit the part where she ran out onto the road suddenly?” He scoffed while running his fingers through his hair.

 

“She was trying to save a puppy!” Aera defended.

 

“There was no puppy!”

 

“I want a puppy! Eomma, can we get a puppy?” Anaya chimed in.

 

“Not yet baby, maybe when you’re older, go see if appa needs help. We have to make sure he doesn’t burn anything!” She said to her daughter, breathing a sigh of relief when she didn’t whine about wanting a puppy and left the room instead.

 

“Will, why would she risk her life like that for no reason?” Aera groaned.

 

“For the money!”

 

“She’s not the type.”

 

“You’ve met her twice.”

 

“And how many times have you met her?” Aera asked.

 

“I see her every morning when she tries to claim a public parking spot is hers.” He defended.

 

“Okay, tell me this, why did she move to Charleston?” Aera asked but he just shrugged. “Why did she open up Sorelle?” She asked but he just rolled his eyes. “Did you even know her name before today?” She asked and he sighed.

 

“What’s your point noona?” Will sighed.

 

“My point is that you don’t know her even if you’ve met her more times than I have. I’ve talked to that woman for hours and I know she would never do anything like that for money or on purpose. If she says there was a puppy, there was a puppy – you probably just missed it.”

 

“How would I miss a whole damn puppy?!” He groaned.

 

“Probably too busy staring at her.” Daniel murmured under his breath, so quietly that William couldn’t hear, but not quietly enough because Aera still heard.

 

“I don’t know, the point is, be nice Will. She’s a sweetheart!”

 

“She is NOT sweet!” He groaned while Daniel snickered. “Calling her sweet is like saying coffee is sweet.” He whined.


 

“Haha, take that suckerrrrrr.” Taera did a little happy dance as she pulled into her parking spot for the first time that week. The Devil Incarnate had taken to showing up really early on a daily basis and taking her spot…but not today. Who needed sleep when you could have the euphoria of winning?!

 

When he won, he looked towards her with a grin as she got out of her car and stomped off to Sorelle  with Jiah in tow. Jiah would join her in glaring when the monster was around, but he was around a lot less than the devil incarnate.

 

Sadly, Jiah was not there to celebrate her victory today, she was going to come in a bit later today after going to Costco to pick up some supplies for the huge order. They had hired some new temporary staff as well so Taera was setting up to train them today.

 

But before she could begin her day she had to rub in her victory, so Taera sat in her car singing along to the radio until she saw the black Range Rover pull up behind her car. She waited for him to park the car behind her before she got out. She stuck her tongue out at the Devil Incarnate as he got out of his car in a black muscle shirt, the soft t-shirt material kind that clung to his abs when he moved and had huge arm holes to show off muscles – it looked really good on him – not that she cared.

 

“You’re so childish.” He said rolling his eyes, but Taera noticed that he looked a little irked. This made her giddy considering she was losing on her beauty sleep to win this game that they had started.

 

I am childish? Did you not come in early every day of this week to park in my spot Mr. Range Rover?” She scoffed as she wrapped her cardigan around her, it was kind of chilly despite the fact that it was a summer morning. She wondered how he was not freezing in his pair of black sweatpants and muscle shirt. Maybe she should keep him out here for longer so he could catch a cold and not come in for a week.

 

“Oh please, my life doesn’t revolve around you.” William said as he walked towards his trunk. Taera knew he would pull out his gym bag and sling it over his shoulder, like every other morning. She wondered why he didn’t just put the bag on the passenger seat beside him if there was no one else in the car like a normal person.

 

“Oh really? You just happened to pull up right as I turn onto the street and take my parking spot right in front of my eyes, Mr. Range Rover?”  

 

“I have a name.” He said shutting his trunk and throwing his gym bag over his shoulder as expected.  

 

“One would think your name is Your Majesty with the way you walk around acting like you own everything.” She smirked.

 

“Trust me the first thing I would have done if I was is to have you beheaded.” He retorted, raising his eyebrow.

 

“Ha, I’d like to see you try.”

 

“You know your name shouldn’t be Taera, I think Wicked Witch of New York suits you better, no?” He asked crossing  his arms across his chest and smirking at her.

 

“Dear Lord, how’d you know my name?! Are you stalking me?” She gasped, her subconscious scoffed as she remembered looking him up on Linkedin.

 

He just pointed at her name tag with his haughty eyebrow raised. Taera cursed herself for wearing the nametag to work today rather than putting it on when she got here.

 

“Yeah, well you know my name, big deal, so what? The point of today is that I win, the parking spot is mine.” She said walking away.

 

“For today.” He yelled after her.

 

“FOREVER.” She yelled back without looking back at him.

 

“Did you just tell him you’re going to his forever?” Sam asked as she stepped to the door of Sorelle behind Taera, she had been walking to work when she witnessed the scene across the road.

 

“No! In his dreams!” Taera quipped as she frantically searched for her keys. They weren’t in her crossbody bag like they usually were. She patted her pockets to see if she could find them but didn’t. “Oh no oh no!” She murmured. She was sure she had them when she left the house, she remembered picking them up.

 

“What’s wrong?” Sam asked.

 

“I can’t find the keys.” She whined.

 

“Maybe they’re in your car?” Sam asked and Taera nodded, that seemed likely.

She ran back to her car and opened the door, looking in the cup holder and beneath her seat where things usually ended up when she lost them. But nothing. She sighed, she had a horrible habit of losing things that really needed to stop. She groaned and hit her head against her car softly. This was the worst possible day for this to happen, Jiah wasn’t around and the new employees would be coming in soon.

 

“Sometimes I wonder if I should just drive you to the hospital so you can get assessed for whatever goes on in your brain.” She heard a deep voice behind her, she groaned, she didn’t want to hear that voice right then.

 

She turned around and rolled her eyes. “Why are you so obsessed with me?” She asked while her mind snickered at her and told her that it seemed to be the opposite.

 

“My mom always told me to help those in need.” He said with a smirk, even his smirk was perfect, it was really unfair.

 

“You’re such an asshole I swea- where’d you get those?!” She yelled when he lifted his hand up and she saw her keys dangling from his fingers.

 

“You dropped them.”

 

“Give them back!” She said trying to reach to grab them but he just held his hand up higher and smirked down at her. Why was he so tall?! She jumped to try to grab the keys, her hand coming to rest on his shoulder to stabilize herself.

 

“Apologize.” He said, holding his arm up and back.

 

“HA. For what?” She scoffed.

 

“For almost giving me a heart attack and getting yourself killed in front of my car.”

 

You should apologize to me for driving too fast and almost killing me and the puppy.”

 

“What did the puppy look like?”

 

“It was a Dalmatian.”

 

“How old?”

 

“A month or two.”

 

“Why was it on the road?”

 

“Why are you asking me all these questions?”

 

“You’re lying, you hesitated and didn’t answer.”

 

“I don’t owe you any answers.”

 

“I am sure you do, I have dashcam footage, you can’t sue me for it.”

 

“I wasn’t going to but now I am tempted.”

 

“It won’t do you any good.”

 

“It’ll make you suffer.”

 

“You forget that I am still holding your keys.” He said and that’s when she realized that she was standing right in front of this annoying man with one hand resting on his shoulder and the other around the arm he had up in the air, trying to grab her keys, the conversation had turned from her yelling to them speaking rather quietly to each other. It was only then that her heart stuttered and she realized that he smelled really good. And his body was warm, and he was prettier up close. Seriously, it was so unfair.

 

“Give it back.” She snapped, trying to grab the keys again.

 

“Say please.”

 

“Over my dead body.” She scoffed.

 

“Which is what you were going to become with what you tried to pull.”

 

“It takes more than an ugly car to kill Taera Jeong.”

 

“Do you often refer to yourself in the third pers- my car is not ugly.” He snapped when he finally realized what she had said.

 

“It is. Range Rovers are ugly, they are not practical and they aren’t very reliable.”

 

“They are!”

 

“No, according to the J.D. Power U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study which looked at all major car brands, gathered information from over 36000 original owners after they’d had them for three years and measured the number of problems per 100 vehicles – short form PP100 -  the car you have performed the worst. The lower the PP100 the better, and your car averaged 220 PP100, the highest, it was ranked lower than even Chrysler. Their takeaway point was if you value reliability, stay away from this car. So in conclusion, only idiots buy Range Rovers without doing their research.” She said, rather enjoying the way he looked right then.

 

“No wonder you’re so weird, your head is filled with so much useless information.” He scoffed.

 

“It’s not useless, it comes in handy when stupid Range Rover owners need a talking to.” She said. “Now give me my keys back and stop ruining my day.”

 

“Apologize for that day and calling my car ugly.”

 

“Ugh, you’re one of those men aren’t you – the I would marry my car if I could type.” She sighed.

 

“Seriously, what’s wrong with your brain?”

 

“Something is wrong with yours. You know a Freudian explanation of men's devotion to their cars is that cars satisfy automatic erection fantasies.” She said, her mind was screaming at her, telling her to retreat and not continue on with the sentence, she knew she would regret it, could see how his eyes widened when the words left her mouth. But she continued. “The car is one female thing – if could call it that - that a man can get inside of whenever he wants and it seems to provide unfailing evidence of his potency…especially if they feel invalidated in anyway, so who hurt you?” She asked while trying to ignore the sequence of words that sounded so wrong without the words in the middle.

 

“You’re mad, you’re literally mad.” He scoffed after a moment, running his hand through his hair – sadly not the one that was holding the key.

 

“Give me my keys back you thief.”

 

“No, apologize for all of that nonsense you just spewed in addition to all the other apologies.”

 

“We can do this the easy way or the hard way.” She sighed.

 

“Nothing with you is easy.”

 

“Damn right. Now. Give. Me. My. Keys. Back.” She said.

 

“I told you how to get them back.” He smirked.

 

“You asked for it.” She said while lifting up her foot and stomping down on his, really hard. He let out a scream and she was kind of sad that it wasn’t high-pitched as his body lurched forward. She grabbed the key from him and sighed.

 

“You’re crazy!” He yelled as he leaned down to rub the scuff marks off his shoe.

 

“I told you we could do this the easy way or the hard, you brought it upon yourself.” She shrugged before winking at him and walking back to Sorelle where Sam was standing, her eyes open wide.

 

“I CAN SUE YOU FOR ASSAULT!” He yelled from behind her.

 

“I’d like to see you try!” She yelled back.

 


 

Jiah loved Costco, it came in really handy for their baking considering they went through multiple bags of sugar and sticks of butters a day. The checkout ladies had given her a weird look the first few times she pulled up with a cart overflowing with flour, sugar, eggs and butter every other day but they had come to an understanding when she mentioned that she owned a bakery.

 

Jiah and Taera had recently discussed hiring someone to buy and deliver all the ingredients and supplies they would need – but they were trying to save some money, they hadn’t started to turn a profit just yet. Plus, Jiah kind of enjoyed shopping first thing in the morning when the stores were empty and smell of freshly baked bread permeated the air.

 

The part she hated was having to heft big bags of flour onto her flatbed cart, but she usually found an employee that was willing to help her out both in the store and in the parking lot. It seemed like she came in a bit too early today because she didn’t see an employee around.

 

“You can do this.” She murmured to herself as she tried to pick up a big bag of flour, she lifted it off the pile, she got about 3cm up before realizing how heavy it actually was, it feel back onto the pile with a soft thud causing her to jerk forward and stabilize herself on the pile.

 

“Jesus Christ, that’s heavy.” She huffed, she was about to try again when a larger set of arms picked one up and placed it on her flatbed cart. She looked up in surprise and met the eyes of Enemy # 2, aka the monster, aka Daniel Choi.

 

“How many do you need?” Daniel asked looking down at her.

 

Jiah was in shock, his voice sounded…normal, unlike their last two encounters where he sounded like a deranged psychopath. She didn’t reply at first and just started at him with a shocked look on her face…was he being nice?

 

“Fou- I can do it myself!” Jiah retorted a couple seconds later once her brain processed the situation and she snapped back to reality.

 

“Be my guest.” Daniel said crossing his arms across his chest and leaning against the metal frame that held up the large shelves overhead. He was dressed in a crisp light blue shirt tucked into a pair of grey slacks this time – the man definitely looked put together all the time. She felt almost like a hobo in her oversized Harry Potter t-shirt and pair of jean shorts.

 

“You can leave.” Jiah said to him.

 

“No, I think I like this spot right here.” He retorted with a lopsided smirk which definitely did not make him look attractive to Jiah.

 

Jiah huffed in annoyance, glaring at him, before turning  towards the pile and attempting to pick up the second bag of flour. She couldn’t look weak in front of the enemy.

 

A smile grew on Daniel’s face as he watched Jiah’s face turn pink with exertion, he had been turning into the aisle when he saw her struggle with the first bag. Aera’s words about apologizing to her had rung through his mind…but he was hesitant. So he had just stood at the end of aisle and watched her struggle. He had to hold back laughter at the faces she was making while trying to navigate the larger than normal bag of flour into her cart. She looked like a child in her oversized Harry Potter shirt and a pair of shorts with a high pony tail and running shoes. He had stepped up to help when the bag of flour had fallen back into the pile with a soft thud, and she had called to the gods…much like her friend had the other day.

 

He wasn’t surprised she had refused his help, he had expected it, but he also knew that she would have to cave in and ask him for help because the store staff was doing a team huddle by the front. Daniel watched, a little impressed, as she managed to pick up the second bag of flour, she used both her body and her arms to hold it, almost hugging the bag, and threw it into her cart with a loud thud, bending over as she exhaled loudly, her hands coming to rest on her smooth, tanned thighs. Daniel couldn’t help but let his eyes trail down her legs to her white and black Adidas shoes.

 

She straightened and arched her eyebrow up at him proudly despite the fact that her face and arms were pink from the exertion and her breathing had clearly increased. Daniel just rolled his eyes and stepped closer to her picking up two bags, at the same time, and placing it on her cart with ease before looking back at her shocked face.

 

“I didn’t want to have to drive you to the hospital.” He said before walking off towards his cart and disappearing down the aisle.

 

“I didn’t ask for your help!” She yelled out to his back. Jiah wanted to pick up something and throw it at the back of his head, he was so arrogant, picking up two bags at once. Jiah’s competitive streak was tickled, she had to outdo him.

 

She pushed her cart around the store collecting the other ingredients before making her way towards the checkout area. She saw him join a line on the other side of the store as she approached an empty line where the two workers got busy scanning her purchases. She made eye-contact with the back of the enemy’s head and glared at him hard, hoping that he could feel it through his ridiculously tousled hair.

 

It seemed to have worked because he looked back towards her and scowled at her. She kept glaring right back, she was  amazing at staring games, she always won them. It was almost like she was playing a game with him. She was nice to him and brought him cupcakes but he had yelled at her in derision (+1 Daniel), she had stuffed a cupcake in his mouth (+1 Jiah) so she left that encounter feeling like there was no game, the score was even. And the other day she had spilled drinks on him but it was actually her fault so it didn’t count. But today he had proven that he was stronger than her, so he was leading by a point and that was unacceptable.

 

Jiah could hear Taera cheering in her head while holding up a sign that said Daniel – 2, Jiah – 1 and she felt the need to win this staring contest to drive herself back into a tie with him. They both held each other’s gazes as they moved their way up in the line. She saw him jump before he looked away first, her eyes followed his and she noticed that the checkout lady talking to him. She gave him a smug and triumphant smile when he looked back towards her. He looked almost angry as he placed his purchases on the conveyer belt. She paid and walked towards the parking lot, feeling him glaring at her back.

 

“Everyone is just out to annoy me today.” Daniel murmured as he grabbed his receipt from the incompetent employee who had spent 2 minutes trying to confirm a price of an item. He walked out to the parking lot only to find Jiah standing in front of her car looking dejected, biting her bottom lip, parked two spots down from him.

 

 “What the fuck.” He murmured as he approached his car.

 

Her eyes grew wide when she noticed him walking towards her, and Daniel had to hold back a smile at the look on her face – she was so expressive.

 

“Are you hoping to apparate?” He asked, having noticed her Harry Potter themed shirt.

 

“Is that your way of calling me a witch?” She retorted holding back a groan as she caught sight of him.

 

“No, but now that you’ve said it.” He shrugged causing her to gasp. “Do you just stand in parking lots on warm days?” He asked when she made no move to open her car.

 

“I locked myself out.” She mumbled.

 

“Excuse me?” Daniel asked, arching his eyebrow, having not heard her.

 

“I LOCKED MYSELF OUT AND MY SPARE KEY IS IN MY OTHER PURSE!” She yelled, wiping away the sweat at her brow, as she peered inside of her car. Daniel took two steps towards her and peeked in, her keys lay on the driver’s seat, he couldn’t hold in the snicker.

 

“You’re a genius.” He said sarcastically, looking back at her, his face smug.

 

“Has anyone told you that you’re an asshole?”

 

“Surprisingly, yes.” He answered honestly.

 

“I don’t know why you’re surprised.” She retorted, her eyes fiery.

 

“Would an asshole offer you a ride back to your shop?” He asked, and then wondered why he was being nice to her.

 

“Ugh, I am not getting in a car with you. I can just call a locksmith.” She said looking back at him.

 

“Hmmm, and all that butter will melt.” He said looking into her car which was overflowing with butter and eggs.

 

“I am suspicious, why are you trying to be helpful?” She asked, looking at him dead in the eyes, biting her bottom lip as soon as she finished speaking. Daniel sighed internally, his sister’s words swimming in his head.

 

“I know we didn’t start off on the best -” He started.

 

“You think?” Jiah guffawed. Daniel narrowed her eyes at her but continued anyways.

 

“This is my way of extending…a truce, to make up for what happened that first time.”

 

“Don’t you think you should apologize first?” Jiah asked.

 

“Excuse me?” Daniel said, arcing his eyebrow. “Don’t you think you should apologize for trespassing?”

 

“Don’t you think you should apologize for being an asshole and not letting me get a word in?” She snapped.

 

“Don’t you think you should apologize for going through our financial statements?”

 

“Don’t you think you should apologize for leaving them there in the first place?”

 

“Don’t you think you should apologize for stuffing a cupcake into the mouth of a diabetic? And spilling two drinks all over me?”

 

“Don’t you think – wait, you’re diabetic?” Jiah paused as she processed her words and he nodded. “Oh.” She said. Daniel was about to tell her it wasn’t a big deal and that a little bit of sugar wouldn’t kill him but he was enjoying her silence a bit too much. “Fine, let’s call a truce. No apologies needed.” She said looking back up at him.

 

Daniel nodded, and hit his car remote to pop the trunk open. Jiah just looked at him in question. “Put your things in the back.” He said as he walked over to the driver side of his SUV.

 

“Chivalry is definitely dead.” Jiah murmured as she pushed the cart towards his trunk, but she then felt like she was being a hypocrite, she had refused his help when he was trying to help her inside. She glared at him over the seats as he ran his hands through his hair in the driver’s seat. She put the buckets of butter in the trunk first, followed by the eggs and sugar. She picked up the bag of flour next, struggling with the huge bag again before throwing it into the trunk. She caught him looking at her through the rear-view mirror, with a smirk. “Asshole.” She murmured as she turned back towards the cart again to get the second bag of flour from the bottom of the cart.

 

She heard a distinct slam before she saw his feet in front of her, she looked up and saw him smirking down at her. “Need help?” He asked.

 

“No!” She said dragging the bag off the bottom of the cart, only to have it fall on the floor. She thought she heard a snicker as he leaned down and picked the large back up effortlessly and threw it in the back of his car followed by the other two.

 

“I could have done it myself!” She exclaimed.

 

“I’ve heard that before too, I don’t have all day.” He said, arching his eyebrow at her before pressing a button to close the trunk. Jiah exhaled and walked her shopping cart over to where she was supposed to leave it before walking back to his car.

 

“He would have a G-Wagon.” She murmured as she opened the passenger side door and sat in his car.

 


Taera felt that life was pretty predictable in most cases and she was usually right. But she had not expected that Jiah would walk in the back door with Enemy # 2, also known as the monster – Daniel Choi - tailing after her holding huge bags of flour.

 

She whisked her pastry mix and looked at Sam who was also looking towards the scene in astonishment. Taera’s whisk clattered against the metal bowl when Jiah smiled and said thank you to him and he nodded at her before waving to Taera with a smirk on his face before exiting through the back door.

 

“What the hell was that? Am I dreaming? Pinch me.” Taera murmured causing Sam to reach out and pinch her shoulder. “Ouch.”

 

“Hi.” Jiah said turning back towards her friend with a sheepish smile.

 

“YOU. EXPLAIN. NOW.” Taera screamed.

 

Chapter Text

July 2017

 

Jiah watched her best friend with interest, her eyes were firmly focused across the street looking directly into BARE. From where she was standing she had a perfect view of the people running on the treadmills – and the treadmill her eyes were fixated upon was occupied by none other than William Choi. This had started rather recently, the lights inside BARE turned on around 8pm allowing Taera to see clearly inside and view a shirtless William running on the treadmill.

 

Taera couldn’t recall seeing a nicer body in her life– he was lean and toned but not in an unnatural way. That may have been the first night she dreamed about him in a not so innocent way– not that she would share that particular dream with anyone.

 

Jiah rolled her eyes and shook her head at her best friend. She had figured out William Choi’s predictable schedule and had taken to watching him like the hawk over the past two weeks. She said it was both for keeping an eye on the enemy and to enjoy the view. She had acted affronted when Jiah had expressed shock and then explained that if her best friend could befriend Enemy # 2, she could definitely admit that Enemy # 1 was nice to look at.

 

Her behaviour towards the man hadn’t changed though, the two of them still fought over the parking spot on a daily basis while Jiah and Daniel watched with amused looks on their faces.

 

“How can one man run for that long?” Taera murmured to herself before she turned around and gasped when she saw Jiah standing there.

 

“He’s pretty hot.” Jiah admitted standing next to Taera and enjoying the view.

 

“I wish he was ugly.” Taera moaned. “Short instead of the perfect height, fat instead of having the perfect body, with a bald head rather than the luscious mop of hair on his head, with pimples and broken teeth, and bad posture. He should at least smell bad – he is always working out and sweating. But he smells like a forest and he’s hot. Why is he so hot – why is life so unfair? Why are all the assholes hot? Where is the karma?” She whined.

 

Jiah laughed at her best friend and forced her to turn around and look at her. “Taera, you do realize that he’s the first person you’ve had a crush on for years, you basically swore off guys after high school.”

 

“I do NOT have a crush on him, I just find him attractive. You can think someone is hot and hate them, he has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.” Taera snapped defensively.

 

“Whatever you say.” Jiah said holding her hands up in surrender before returning to decorating their July 4th cupcakes – it had been a busy few days as they balanced both an increase in customer traffic and the huge order for BARE that they were to deliver tomorrow. A large tent was set up in the parking lot of BARE, not an ugly one with plastic furniture – oh no, it was a type of long tent that you would expect to see at a wedding. Large, held up by wood beams – furniture trucks had unloaded tables and chairs and couches for the inside. It was gorgeous. Irene had dropped in earlier in the morning and shown them the setup along with where the desserts would go.

 

They were invited to the party and since they were delivering the cupcakes they were expected to actually show up. Jiah wasn’t worried about it, her and Daniel had struck up an odd…acquaintance after their truce in the Costco parking lot. The glaring had stopped but sometimes the way he smirked at her irked her.


“These look amazing.” William said looking impressed as he looked at the cupcake display. He was clad in a pair of jeans and a white button up shirt, looking both casual and dressed up. What amused Jiah to no end was that Taera was wearing a similar ensemble – she had taken one look at him and groaned cursing herself for picking out the outfit she was wearing.

 

“You sound surprised.” Taera scoffed as he looked at the cupcakes with a soft smile on his face, it kind of threw her off. Jiah stood behind the table organizing the table but her attention was half on her best friend and enemy # 1.

 

William seemed impressed by how good everything looked, the cupcakes were gym themed, some of them had weights of different kinds and sizes on them, others treadmills, jumping ropes, water bottles, gym bags, iPods and gym clothes. They were so colourful and they looked like they would be delicious. The cupcake liners and boxes all had both the BARE and Sorelle & Co logos.

 

“It was a compliment.” William defended looking at her. “They look great.”

 

Taera was taken aback and didn’t really know how to respond to that, she had expected him to be snarky and to point out things he didn’t like but he was being…nice.

 

“Who are you and what have you done with Villain Choi?” She asked looking straight at him. She couldn’t be sure but it looked like he was trying to hold back a smile.

 

“What did you just call me?” He asked.

 

“Villan Choi.” Taera smiled waiting for him to explode.

 

“I see you have a knack for nicknames, Wild Witch of New York.” He just retorted.

 

“Did you smoke some weed or something? You’re awfully mellow today.” She speculated.

 

William just smirked. Daniel smiled as he heard the tail end of the conversation, he could tell that William’s behaviour was throwing Taera off, it was amusing to watch her analyze their interaction to figure out what was happening. Daniel, unlike Taera, knew that William had gone through the dashcam footage of his car after realizing he had footage and saw the puppy she was trying to save.

 

“Who’s smoking what?” Daniel asked as he walked towards the table holding Anaya in his arms.

 

“Miss Taewa! Miss Wiah!” Anaya waved to the two of them rapidly. Taera glared at William when she heard him snicker at the names. She looked at Jiah who looked back at her with wide eyes.

 

“Hi Anaya, what are you doing here?” Jiah asked as she looked at the way the little girl had her arm wrapped around Daniel’s neck, her stomach sank even before the little girl answered.

 

“Unca Dan bring me.” She smiled hugging Daniel tighter.

 

“Unca?” Jiah asked, her face going pale.

 

“Uncle.” William clarified.

 

“Uncle.” Jiah said looking at Taera as things clicked into place, if Daniel was Anaya’s uncle that meant that he was Aera’s brother. The same Aera that they had vented to about their neighbours.

 

“Unca Wi, why everyone saying unca?” Anaya asked looking towards William and reaching for him, jumping from Daniel’s arms to William’s with a laugh.

 

“Unca Wi?” Taera snickered, looking towards William with a grin, she was sure her face grew soft when she saw the way Anaya clung to him.

 

“His big name is Wivviam.” Anaya said helpfully causing Taera to snicker again before Jiah elbowed her and gave her a panicked look.

 

Taera caught Daniel looking down and smiling as he caught Jiah’s face, he seemed to know exactly what was going on here. 

 

“CUPCAKEEEEE!” Anaya yelled catching sight of them. “Can I have one pwease?” She asked.

 

Taera nodded and pulled out a cupcake for her, taking off the liner before handing it to her. She watched with interest as William cringed and placed the girl down on the table, grabbed a plate and fork before putting the cupcake on the plate and handing the fork to Anaya. He grabbed a napkin and picked up all the crumbs that fell onto the table before straightening the wine glasses.

 

She was pulled out of her observation when Jiah elbowed her, she looked towards her best friend who was staring in front of her, her eyes wide. Taera followed her gaze and saw Aera approaching them.

 

“I guess the cat is out of the bag.” Aera said sheepishly, looking towards Jiah and Taera.

 

“I am so sorry – I didn’t know-” Jiah began but stopped short when Aera laughed.

 

“Don’t worry, I know these two can be…a handful.”

 

“Unca Ry is a handful!” Anaya laughed as she chewed on her cupcake.

 

“Hey, I heard that little lady!” Henry yelled as he approached the group. His eyes flitted towards Jiah and Taera rapidly before he grinned at them.

 

“Ladies, Henry Choi at your service.” He said bowing to the two ladies causing them to giggle. “Aside from being beautiful, what do you two do for a living?” He asked causing both Taera and Jiah to guffaw and then laugh. Daniel and William let out simultaneous groans.

 

“Dear lord, that was horrible.” Taera laughed at the new addition, she liked him immediately.

 

“I swear we can’t bring you anywhere, Henry.” William groaned, his brother had just returned home after finishing his first year at Wharton, he was sadly doing his internship with Coombes in Charleston.

 

“Wait…do you two own the café across the street?” Henry asked picking up a cupcake, the two girls nodded as he took a bite before groaning. Taera watched with interest as William picked up a napkin and gave it his brother who rolled his eyes before taking it. “This is soooooo good. No wonder you two are so hot, you just came out of the oven.” He quipped winking at them. “May I escort you ladies to a table.” He asked holding out both his arms, Taera and Jiah nodded and each took an arm with a giggle. “Ladies, it feels like three of us are headed somewhere magical. Aera, Anaya – join us for this ride.”

 

Taera and Jiah both burst out into laughter as the five of them walked away from Daniel and William. “Did you memorize every cheesy pick up line in the world?” Taera asked him.

 

“It’s working, isn’t it? Now, why don’t you ladies tell me all about yourselves.”

 

“I can’t believe shit like that works.” Daniel said staring at Henry’s back, all of them were dying with laughter. He looked up at William when he didn’t respond and noticed that his eyes were glued to Taera.

 

X-X-X-X-X

 

Laughter and conversation filled the tent, and the membership sign up table also looked really busy much to William and Daniel’s delight. The tent was full, the food was scrumptious, the music was…pop, and everyone looked to be having a good time. Daniel and William circled the room, talking to the people who had dropped by, including the mayor of the city (everyone wanted to be at a Choi event apparently) and some of the major businessmen in the area. 

 

Jiah and Taera also seemed to be surrounded by a barrage of people at all times, most of the times it was by William and Daniel’s family. The two girls got along great with Henry and had a hard time believing he was related to William and Daniel. They finally met Aera’s husband, David, and had taken a liking to him as well. What surprised Taera and Jiah the most was how kind their mother was, they had immediately gravitated towards her warmth and charm.

 

As suspected, a lot of interest was drummed up in Sorelle & Co., numerous individuals had complimented the cupcakes and cookies and made inquiries about catering. Jiah tried to hold back her I told you so look from Taera but clearly failed as Taera stuck out her tongue at her.

 

Between Irene, Henry, Aera, David and Helen, the two girls caught up on all the gossip in town, including who to avoid like the plague and major scandals. The two of them hadn’t felt so happy and relaxed in a long time and all the worry they had about coming to William and Daniel’s event evaporated…albeit Taera and William still glared at each other occasionally and Jiah profusely apologized to Aera about badmouthing her brothers to her face.

 

Taera had also started a new game with William, she would walk to an unoccupied table by him and move the wine glasses, plates and napkins so they weren’t sitting in line with each other or where they were supposed to be before moving away. She watched as he pinched his nose when he noticed and went around fixing the tables back to the way they were supposed to be. Taera documented his behaviour in her mind, giving him a mild Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder label.

 

“Henry.” William called out from across the tent, waving his brother towards him.

 

“The tyrant calls, I shall be back.” He dramatically announced his exit before walking across the tent to his brother.

 

“Your brother is hilarious.” Taera told Aera with a grin.

 

“Henry drives me insane, he doesn’t take anything seriously. And then there’s Daniel and William, who don’t know how to relax and feel the world’s weight is on their shoulders.” Helen sighed with a fond look on her face.

 

Taera wanted to make a quip about William’s strong sexy shoulders after hearing the words weight and shoulders in the same sentence but held herself back in front of his mother, just barely. It seemed like his whole family loved him, his mother sounded very proud of him. Aera loved him, she treated him like a little brother she adored but it was different from how she treated Henry, she seemed to be really close to William. Daniel obviously loved his brother, he was teasing him and laughing with him throughout the day. Henry and Irene seemed to look up to him, although Henry liked to pretend his brother was a tyrant. David was apparently his best friend and thought the world of him. Anaya couldn’t stop talking about Unca Wi and how he gave the best hugs, the best tickles, the best kisses and then whispered that he sneaked her whatever she wanted when her eomma wasn’t looking before making her pinky pwomise to not tell Aera. Taera realized that maybe he was just antagonistic towards her, but…at the end of the day he could be a psychopath and his family would still love him.

 

But she felt herself thawing, just a little. He looked rather unlike an incarnation of the devil as he tickled his niece and pretended to gobble up her cheeks. He didn’t even look like an asshole when he carried Anaya around on his back, giving her a piggy-back ride while she giggled. He didn’t look anything like the man she first met when he kneeled down to listen to his niece’s story attentively, hanging onto every word and reacting the way he was supposed to react.

 

And he wasn’t just kind to the 3-and-half-and-almo half-year-old. She had noticed a cute interaction between him and Irene that had melted her heart. A conflicted Irene had been staring at the cupcakes with desire on her face but hesitated reaching out and taking one. William had smiled at her fondly and handed her a plate with a cupcake before telling her to just eat it and that the calories wouldn’t count if no one saw before ruffling her hair. It had been shocking, he was kind of sweet.

 

X-X-X-X-X

 

Jiah wandered off to the dessert table to grab herself a cupcake when she caught sight of Daniel looking at the tray labelled sugar free cupcakes. She smiled and walked up closer to the table quietly and stood right behind him before clearing her throat.

 

She held back laughter as he jumped up in surprise with a sheepish look on his face, like a little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “They are really sugar free, I promise I am not trying to kill you, scout’s honor.” She said holding her hand over her heart. Daniel rolled his eyes watching the grin on her face.

 

“I’d be more scared of Taera poisoning William.” Daniel mumbled as he took a tentative bite of the cupcake, his eyes grew wide.

 

“It’s artificial sugar, Stevia.” She said answering his unasked question. “Obviously not as good as a regular cupcake.”

 

“Better than any cupcake I have ever had.” Daniel said taking another bite before realizing that he gave too much away.

 

“You’re welcome.” Jiah laughed.

 

“I mean it’s not like I have a good option to compare it to, Aera brings me this horrible sugar-free cake on my birthday that I have to pretend to like…it tastes like chemicals. So this is much better than that.”

 

“Oh poor you, how did you ever survive?” She rolled her eyes and picked up a cupcake before taking a huge bite of it.

 

“Are you not tired of cupcakes and cakes by now?” He asked.

 

“Please, that’s like being tired of oxygen.”

 

“People who are suicidal can be tired of oxygen.” He pointed out.

 

“You’re not a very positive person are you?” Jiah asked picking up a water bottle, then wondered if it was a stupid question, the BARE staff seemed to be scared shitless of Daniel, and of William to a certain extent as well.

 

“If you ask me if the water bottle is half full or half empty, I will walk away.” He said with his eyebrow raised.

 

“I already know you’re a half empty person or our first meeting wouldn’t have happened the way it did.” Jiah quipped before walking away taking a sip from her water bottle.

Chapter Text

July Continued....

 

It was on a bright morning, July 5th, that Taera and Jiah’s plans of having a chill summer flew right out the window. There was good news of course, Demi was coming down to Charleston for the second half of summer. She hadn’t gotten into the clinical psychology program she applied to earlier that year and she had lost out on an important internship as well, and was bummed. Taera was the one to suggest her coming down to get a change in atmosphere – she was just being a good sister.

 

She didn’t expect that Jiah’s mother would want to join Demi…not that there was anything wrong with Jiah’s mom, she was a lovely lady that Taera adored. She just felt sorry for her best friend who was currently on the phone yelling at her mother to not come down to Charleston. Not because she didn’t love her mother, she did, but because her mother insisted that she had found the perfect guy for Jiah and was planning on bringing him with her.

 

Taera was flabbergasted at first, what guy would come down to some random town with a girl’s mother? Then she had taken a look at her gorgeous best friend and understood, Jiah was a CATCH, if she was in the guy’s place she would fly across the globe for Jiah.

 

Being the good friend that she was, Taera had taken to stalking the profile of this new guy Jiah’s mother had found…and all she could say was that he was better than the Kevin fellow Jiah’s mom had been obsessed with when they moved away from New York.

 

This new guy, Nelson Chai, was easy on the eyes, except his beard, Taera was a fan a full beards but the spotty facial hair wasn’t a good look for anyone. But he was still cute, piercing brown eyes, a killer smile and nice floppy hair. And he had just finished his residency in emergency medicine, in another life Taera could see him with her best friend. Except that Jiah was adamant that she not marry him. She had apparently known him as a child before she moved to New York, and remembered him being mean to her.

 

Taera sighed as Jiah’s yells grew more shrill, and her mother’s tone also got louder, she could hear her across the room. It had been months since Taera had seen Jiah this aggravated, Jiah hated the idea of just getting married for the hell of it, she was a closet romantic and wanted to fall in love. And she had time, she was only 29 for goodness sake but her mother acted like she was an old spinster that would pass away if she wasn’t married by her 30th birthday…it was ridiculous.

 

“I DON’T CARE. YOU WILL NOT COME DOWN HERE ESPECIALLY IF YOU’RE BRINGING A BOY WITH YOU.” Jiah yelled into her phone before abruptly hanging up on her mother.

 

Taera had already anticipated that the call would end like this and had lined the coffee table in their new home with bags of chips, cookies and cupcakes while Jiah was on the phone. She had also taken the liberty to start Pride & Prejudice and leave it on the starting credits.

 

“I mean he’s kinda cute.” Taera said holding her iPad screen towards Jiah as Jiah stomped towards her.

 

“Do you want to get married to him?” Jiah asked throwing a pillow at her.

 

“My mother would have a heart attack if I married a doctor after dropping out of med school.” Taera laughed.

 

“Just hit play, I want to live vicariously through Elizabeth’s refusal of her mother’s choice.” Jiah murmured as she stuffed a cookie into her face. “My mother is crazier than Mrs. Bennet.” She moaned.

 


If Jiah thought her mother was emulating Mrs. Bennet, Daniel’s mother was definitely emulating Mrs. Bingley – had she been alive and an older, much kinder version of Caroline Bingley – on the other side of town.

 

“I don’t understand why you broke up with her.” Helen said to her son for the umpteenth time.

 

Eomma, just let it go. We both decided that we would be happier with other people.” Daniel replied as he ate. The family was also sitting down to dinner, his mother sat at the head of the table with Daniel to her right and Aera to her left. David sat beside his wife and daughter wondering how they always seemed to come over for dinner when his mother-in-law was in matchmaker mode.

 

“She’s the perfect girl for you Daniel. Her family is like ours, her mother is a dear friend of mine. Savannah would make the perfect wife for you.” Helen said, David sort of agreed, like 15%. Savannah came from money, she was a socialite and she wouldn’t be marrying Daniel for his money. A lot of girls had tried to sink their claws into Daniel and William, partly because they were very good looking but mostly because they were rich. And the last thing Daniel needed was to find a wife that was only with him for his money, it reminded him too much of the dynamic between his own parents.

 

“What a boring life.” Aera murmured as she stabbed her fork into her food harshly.

 

“Aera.” Helen sighed.

 

Eomma, seriously, she lets Daniel walk all over her. I love you brother dearest, but you are a control freak – you have been for a long time. Despite what you think, you need a woman who can stand up to you and whack you in the head when needed. A girl that you can actually love and not just care for. And Savannah Kim is definitely not that girl.” Aera said fiercely.

 

David agreed more with her, not because his wife was always right, but because she had a point. Daniel seemed to approach relationships with almost a clinical detachment, he did what he thought he was supposed to do – go on dates, buy her things, take her to social events on his arm, and ask her opinion on random things. His only rule was that you never let someone hold  any power over you, never give them the opportunity to hurt you or control you.

 

He had been the oldest of his siblings when his father left them, the man had married Helen Lee mostly because she came from money, money that he had used to further enhance the Choi business– but he left it all and them for a woman. Daniel had been old enough to understand it all, to understand his mother’s pain – his mother was the strongest person he knew and knowing that she allowed herself to be weak and fall in love with a man like that made him angry. Daniel resented him for it and had issues stemming from it. He refused to have to consider someone else’s opinions in his life, he refused to fall in love.

 

David knew what actually loving someone felt like. It wasn’t feeling fond of someone, oh no, it was almost a craving that pushed you to always seek out that person, not just sexually, but emotionally as well. It was an addiction of the best kind, your life is still your own but at the same time you knew it wouldn’t be the same without them. The feeling of always wanting to be around the person you love, not due to any obligation but due to this deep need within you. The feeling of having someone that understands you and accepts you completely, someone you can be vulnerable with, someone who could be your biggest supporter and your harshest critic when needed. Someone who grounded you and made you feel like the most important thing in the world with just a whisper of I love you or a just a hint of a fond smile.

 

Eomma, I am not ready to settle down yet, and Savannah was getting antsy, it’s not fair of me to string her along.” Daniel said.

 

Aera rolled her eyes, “She was practically ready to plan her own proposal.”

 

David almost laughed out loud but held in his laughter, Daniel and Savannah had broken up because she was adamant he propose and he was not willing to. David knew that Daniel had considered it, knowing that it would allow him to continue making all the decisions in his life. Savannah would just go along with what he decided on. She wouldn’t question him, she wouldn’t yell at him when he was being stupid, she wouldn’t interfere in his life. He wouldn't let her. But a little pushing from Aera allowed Daniel to see that it would be a miserable life. David and Aera knew before he did that he would never marry Savannah even though she was supposedly the perfect girl for him on paper.

 


“Mom is driving me absolutely mad.” Daniel groaned as he settled into the living room after dinner, the dinner conversation still on his mind. William had come home late after a conference call with the LA team and had caught the tail end of their mother’s tirade. “Why doesn’t she bother you about it?” He whined.

 

“It’s because she knows that she can walk in any day and say William, I want you to get married and he’ll freeze up and then run away to another state again.” David pointed out as a sleepy Anaya cuddled into him.

 

“I haven’t thought about it.” William shrugged.

 

“William, you’re 30, and you’re…handsome. Girls throw themselves at you, it’s time that you pay attention. You can’t always be waiting for the next thing.” Aera reprimanded. Aera sometimes worried about William more than she worried about Daniel, Daniel at least dated women – horrible ones that she hated, ones that would never stand up to him, would never challenge him – but he wasn’t oblivious to the female population. William on the other hand was so consumed by his work that he had blinders on, he ignored everyone. She had tried over the years to set him up on dates but he never went on a second date.

 

“Aera, why are we having this conversation again?” William asked.

 

“Because you two are hopeless. Fall in love. Get married. Have babies, my baby needs cousins.” Aera said ruffling Anaya’s hair.

 

“I don’t think it’s going to happen.” William shrugged.

 

“Au contraire William, I have a feeling that you’re going to fall hard for a feisty woman who distracts you from your work, and makes you realize that there is more to life that just work and success.” Aera smiled.

 

“Uncas you mawwyy Miss Taewa and Miss Wiah, they nice and they pwetty and they make cupcakes and I wove them and if you mawwy them I get mo’ cupcakes.” A sleepy Anaya murmured before snuggling further into her father’s chest.

 

Aera’s eyes grew wide with mirth as she looked at Daniel who just rolled his eyes,  but she felt a thrill run through her as she caught a speculative look on William’s face before he got up and left with Daniel trailing behind him chatting about some projection model.

 

“Aera Choi-Park, why do I get a sinking feeling that your daughter has sparked a dangerous idea in your brain?” David asked.

 

“Because you are a very smart man, baby.” She smiled pressing a kiss into his cheek.

 


A week after the grand opening of BARE, Taera stood at her parking spot wearing black from head to toe, with her hair tied up in a bun. Her car was parked directly behind her empty spot. A spot that she thought would become hers now that BARE had opened and had a large parking lot that was devoid of any construction supplies. But she was wrong, William still preferred to park in her spot claiming that it was more convenient for him and that she should park in the shared parking lot behind the stores on her side of the street. They had gotten into another yelling match in the middle of the road on Saturday.

 

Which is why Taera stood on the street with a can of white spray paint in her hand while Jiah sat in the driver seat of the car looking at Taera with a petulant look, she had begged her to not do this. Taera had woken her up at 6am and dragged her along to the hardware store to buy spray paint. She had apparently had a dream about William installing a sign and claiming the parking spot as his. Taera had also mentioned that he was weirdly shirtless and sweaty while he installed the sign, a hammer in his hand.

 

Jiah watched as her best friend crouched down and opened the can before pressing down the trigger. Taera moved the can erratically writing out the name Sorelle & Co on the black asphalt road, Jiah hit her head against the steering wheel repeatedly hoping that a cop or bylaw officer didn’t drive by and fine them for this.

 

Taera stepped back and admired her handy work, it wasn’t perfect but the white spray paint clearly spelled out Sorelle & Co.  She leaned against the hood of her car and looked at her watch, and like clock-work the black Range Rover turned onto the street right at 7:59am – he was so predictable. She waved at him as she stood firmly at her spot, his car slowed and he parked behind her car, Taera wished his windows weren’t tinted so she could see his facial expressions but alas she was not that fortunate.

 

“What are you doing?” William asked as he stepped out of his car.

 

Taera said nothing but just pointed towards the parking spot. “It is mine, it has my name on it.” She smiled.

 

William walked towards her and stood in front of the parking spot, his arms crossed across his chest as he looked down towards the ground. Jiah watched the pair closely and noticed Taera’s eyes zero in on his arms before she shook her head and gave him an I win smile. Jiah swore that she saw an amused look cross William’s face before he controlled it, his face taking on his usual annoyed look.

 

“I don’t see the city’s seal on it.” He pointed out.

 

“That doesn’t matter.” Taera shrugged.

 

William rolled his eyes and grabbed the can out of her hand.

 

“HEY GIVE THAT BACK!” Taera yelled trying to reach for the can as he opened it. He held it up above her head and then crouched down spraying over her work as Taera tried to get around his body and grab the can.

 

“Well, this just got a bit more interesting.” Jiah mumbled to herself as she watched the two of them struggle, their bodies in contact and their hands all over each other. William was doing a very good job of holding Taera away from the can, his body shielding his work as he pivoted himself left and right to get away from her grabby hands. Jiah decided to get out of the car so she could see more clearly.

 

Taera couldn’t believe the sheer audacity of this man to spray paint over her work with the can of paint she paid for. She struggled to grab the can from his hand but William managed to grab both her hands in one of his – she knew it wasn’t the time to notice how nice his hands were, but she did. His hands were large and rough, there were callouses at the top of his palm from weightlifting.

 

“LET ME GO OR I’LL SPRAY PAINT YOUR RANGE ROVER.” Taera yelled into his ear causing him to jump.

 

“You wouldn’t dare.”

 

“Go ahead and try me.” She quipped.

 

He let her go as suddenly as he had grabbed her and moved away pointing to the spot with a smile on his face. “There it’s mine now.” He had sprayed BARE over Sorelle.

 

“If you park your car there, I WILL SPRAY PAINT IT.”

 

“How are you always so loud?” He snapped touching his ear with a scowl on his face.

 

“It’s just around you, my voice is fueled by my hatred of you.” Taera said stepping closer and staring up at him with disdain.

 

“That’s not what I could call it.” Jiah murmured to herself noticing that the two of them were standing rather close and just staring into each other’s eyes, Jiah cleared her throat causing the two of them to look towards each other.

 

“Can I move the car up to the spot?” She asked.

 

“YES!” Taera exclaimed.

 

“It says BARE.” William pointed out.

 

“Park your car there and I’ll spray paint it.” Taera said with a sadistic smile before stomping off towards Sorelle.

 

Jiah watched as William’s mouth twitched, growing into a small smile as he watched Taera stomp off. That’s when it clicked in her head – he annoyed Taera on purpose! She raised her eyebrow at him when he looked towards her and he cleared his throat before saying bye and walking to his car to grab his bag.

 


A day later, Jiah parked her car behind Taera’s and walked towards the trunk to take out the new baking trays she had bought. She sighed and picked up the first box, the lightest of the bunch, which was still kind of heavy.

 

“Need help?” She heard from behind her and turned around to see Daniel walking towards her from the BARE parking lot. He was wearing a crisp light blue shirt with a pair of grey slacks.

 

“My knight in shining armor.” She said sarcastically as he grabbed a second box and motioned her to walk towards Sorelle.

 

“Does that make you the damsel in distress?” He quipped.

 

“I was being sarcastic.” She quipped. “Stupid Disney putting all these sexist ideas into our head. Why doesn’t Cinderella rescue herself, why does she have no talents or hobbies, why doesn’t Sleeping Beauty do anything apart from getting drugged and await rescue. Do you know Taera read a paper that said in the classic Disney movies men speak over 70% of the time? And she did an analysis of all these movies that were female-centric and over 75% of them were about weddings?! And all these parents wanting their daughters to marry rich men and not work a day of their lives…why can’t they just encourage her to be successful and support herself?”

 

“All true, but it’s a biological imperative for women to marry for financial security.”

 

“Do not say the M word.” Jiah groaned as they walked in through the back door and placed the two boxes on the counter before heading back out.

 

“Why?” Daniel asked intrigued.

 

“My mother is driving me crazy about getting married.”

 

“And you don't want to?” He asked

 

“It’s not that I am against marriage, I want to get married someday and to someone that I want to marry. I am barely 30 and my mother acts like I am a spinster and keeps finding these guys who she claims are perfect for me.” Jiah confessed as they reached her car again and grabbed the second set of boxes.

 

“My mother is the same, but unlike you I don’t want to get married because I don’t see a point in it. Giving someone power over you makes no sense. The divorce rate is extremely high, the chances of it lasting are extremely low and then people bring children into the mix who suffer.” Daniel found himself confessing to her for some reason as they walked back towards Sorelle.

 

“Such a cynic. There is a chance that it might work out.” She pointed out. “And how can you think that when you have Aera and David as relatives?” She asked, they had that forever kind of vibe.

 

“I have more bad examples than good.” Daniel said thinking about his father and his mother.

 

“Still cynical.” Jiah laughed. “But to each their own, you don’t have to get married if you don’t want to.”

 

“I thought you’d try to prove me wrong.” Daniel said as he put the second box down on the counter.

 

“I don’t think that’s my job, the girl who wants to marry you is the one that has to prove you wrong.” Jiah shrugged with a smile. “Thanks for helping me out.” She said looking towards the boxes. Daniel just shrugged like it was no big deal. “Wait here, I have something for you!” She said before running towards the door that opened into the shop.

 

Daniel looked around the back room, there were five stainless steel counters, each with storage and filled with different kinds of trays and bowls. One wall was covered with shelves that ran the length of the wall and housed plates, silverware and boxes. The opposite wall had two large doors, probably leading to the cold storage. On the wall behind him were ovens, multiple large ones of different kinds. The wall also housed a large dishwasher and farmhouse sink. It was really well laid out and thought, he was an investor in multiple restaurants and this was among one of the best kitchens he had seen. Unlike the others, this place also had a homey feel, maybe that was partly due to the smell of freshly baked cookies in the air.

 

Jiah fluttered in through the door with a box in her hands. “Sugar free cookies, for you.” She smiled handing him the box. “As a thank you for helping me out. Try one.” She said opening the box.

 

Daniel took out a chocolate chip cookie and took a bite. He almost let out a groan at how good it tasted and how it melted in his mouth but was able to hold himself back. “Maybe I should help you out more often.” He said as he walked out the backdoor with the box.

 


Taera liked to take a walk down the street in the evening – mostly to get food – but sometimes to just enjoy the quiet streets and the sun as it set. It gave the opportunity to catalogue the neighbourhood and see what was happening. For instance, a couple of days ago one of the stores on their side of the street started renovations, and she noticed that someone had put up a For Sale sign on a lot down the street from BARE. It had been fenced before with overgrown grass, but the grass was now neatly trimmed and the fence removed, leaving a nice green patch of grass.

 

Today as she walked by she saw a group of young kids kicking a ball around in the now available space. She figured their parents either worked at or owned a store nearby and brought their kids to work considering they were off school for the summer.  She watched as the ball bounced onto the road – she hadn’t expected that there would be an uncovered manhole on the road, the ball thankfully didn’t fall in but she was afraid one of the children would.

 

She gasped and sprang to action when she saw one of the children run towards where the ball had disappeared, yelling at the child to be careful. She sighed in relief when the child came to a stop before falling down the manhole, she picked up the ball and threw it across the road to the children who all yelled thank you.

 

The cover lay beside the hole, Taera looked around the street to see if there were any construction or city workers but didn’t see anyone. She knew that the construction workers usually left by 4pm, they dropped by Sorelle on a regular basis to get coffee and sweets.

 

She rolled her eyes and wondered how people could be so irresponsible – someone could have fallen in and gotten hurt! She knew the cover would be too heavy to lift so she tried pushing it forward towards the hole with her foot – it budged just a little bit but it was progress. She pushed it forward again but lost her balance, a scream of surprise left her mouth as she fell forward. She closed her eyes and braced for impact but she felt a hand grab a hold of hers, turning and pulling her back with a jerk. She collided with a hard body behind her, her hands finding purchase in a soft shirt.

 

“You can open your eyes now.” She heard an amused voice say to her, a voice she recognized well. She opened her eyes to first find that the material she was grasping was a thin grey muscle shirt, she wasn’t surprised when she looked up to find the devil incarnate smirking down at her.

 

What surprised her was the fact that her brain seemed to go on a mini vacation as it took in the devil incarnate’s face up close. Her mind catalogued the fact that his eyes were a deep chocolate brown, giving a brand new meaning to puppy dog eyes…and his eyelashes were ridiculously long . And he had dimples? They were faint but she could see where the pits were, now that she was standing so close to him. She was purely cataloguing for academic purposes…her hypothesis that people of Asian descent in Charleston were ridiculously good-looking for some reason gaining more support with every new individual she met…although her results were confounded because half of them were related to each other.

 

“You okay?” William asked when Taera didn’t immediately start yelling. One of her hands was still fisted in his shirt, the other wrapped in his own hands, there was a speculative look on her face that indicated her mind was working a mile a minute yet again.

 

“Fine.” She said jumping back but almost falling over again, he reached out made sure she had her balance before letting go.

 

“What are you doing?” He asked looking down at her, his eyebrow raised. He had been walking to his car when he noticed her down the street. She was looking around like she was lost, as he approached her he noticed that she was dragging something with her feet.

 

“Training for the Olympics…what does it look like I am doing? I am trying to cover this stupid hole before someone falls in.” She snapped.

 

“From where I am standing, it looked like you were trying to jump in for a swim.” William said as she resumed pushing, what he now saw was, a manhole cover towards the hole in the road.

 

She was clearly struggling with it, he shook his head and reached down, effortlessly picking the cover up and sliding it to where it belonged before letting it drop with a loud clang.

 

“Such a show off.” Taera murmured, although she was a little impressed – those arms.

 

“Maybe you should start working out, I’ll give you half off a membership since you’re a neighbour.” He teased.

 

“Wow, business must be really bad if you’re already offering a 50% discount.” She said looking up at him, she knew business was booming for him – the gym was always full.

 

“Despite your desperate prayers to the contrary, we seem to be doing quite well.”

 

“I don’t know why you think my life and prayers revolve around you.” She retorted.

 

“Are you not going to say thank you?” He asked.

 

“What for?” She guffawed.

 

“For saving you from falling in…for moving the cover you were struggling to push.” He said, crossing his arms across his chest.

 

“I didn’t ask for you to help, now did I?” She said with a smile before walking away.

 


Taera and Jiah sat surrounded by papers dealing with the month’s expenses and profits, the BARE launch order had pushed them into the profit category making the two of them feel a bit more optimistic about the future of Sorelle. Custom orders were coming in steadily but they were pretty small and the profit margin not that great, it took a lot of time and effort to personalize each order making it more beneficial to have a few large orders than many small ones.

 

“I will cry if I have to make another Frozen themed cake in the middle of summer.” Taera groaned as she sifted through the list of custom orders.

 

“I have an idea…” Jiah said looking up at her friend. “What if we start doing wedding cakes?” She suggested.

 

“I thought we went through this, it’s a bit much…” Taera sighed. “If we do weddings, we’ll have to deliver and set up cakes over the weekend which means we can’t be at Sorelle on our busiest days of the week.”

 

“We can split it, one of us focuses on Sorelle and the other on events?” Jiah suggested.

 

“But we’ll have to plan our transportation for large cakes, along with setting up a process for sampling appointments and orders, additional stands to create the cakes, more room, more employees.”

 

“We can start small, one order per week. I love making wedding cakes, it was one of my favourite projects in culinary school.” Jiah sighed, she had attended the Institute of Culinary Education, she had excelled and found the experience wonderful. Her older cousin had followed in her footsteps in hopes of expanding their parents’ business – the Kims owned four thriving Korean restaurants between the two families, the newer ones taking more a fusion cuisine approach under her cousin’s guidance.

 

“Fine, I’ll draw up the advertising materials, we can invest some of the profit from BARE into this.” Taera mumbled. “It doesn’t hurt to try, especially since you’re so good at floral decorations.”

 

“So grumpy, I love you Taera-Byte, we can do this.”

 

“If you say so, Jiah-Bug.”

Chapter Text

 

July 2017 Continued...

Taera absolutely hated Villian Choi aka the devil incarnate. He had parked in her spot yet again, she parked behind him making sure that her car was super close to his and outside the lines – it would piss him off.

 

She  ransacked the plastic Walmart bag to look for the knee pads she purchased along with a pair of thick faux leather gloves. She slipped them both on and stretched her fingers.  She smiled and let out a devious chuckle before grabbing the spray paint can she had in her car.

 

In her defense, she had warned him she would spray paint his car if he parked in her spot again.

 

But she also wasn’t crazy – and didn’t want to be killed or billed – so she bought kid’s spray paint. It washed off with water, she had even tried it at home just to make sure. But he wouldn’t know that and would still freak out when he saw it.

 

She slowly opened her car door and closed it behind her before getting on her hands and knees so William wouldn’t be able to see her if he happened to look out from BARE. She had meticulously planned this out – the last thing she needed were scraped knees and hands. She hoped no one saw her crawling on the road and decided to stop – especially a cop.

 

She crawled up to the driver side door of the black Range Rover and lifted up onto her knees, she was about to open the spray can when she noticed a note stuck on the inside of the driver side window. In elegant, slanted, and very uniform writing that almost looked like a font it said,  I have installed five cameras around the car so if you do anything I have proof.

 

Ha. She scoffed but then she looked and she could see a red light blinking towards the back interior of his car on the driver’s side.

 

There was also a paper taped to the inside of the window in the back – it was a page from the camera manual that outlined how the camera was a wide angle one and covered a large span. She studied the diagram and figured that there was a blind spot near the back of the car so she shuffled over towards the trunk. She looked up at the back windshield and groaned, she could see another flashing light indicating that he had thought of the blind spot and added an extra camera.

 

Taera groaned and hit her head against his car lightly. Of course, he was smarter than he looked. She should have expected it based on how successful his business was.

 

She wouldn’t give up though. She huffed and crawled to the other side of the car and immediately saw a flashing light inside the passenger side window and in the back. Of course. She crawled to the front of the car and got up on her knees, her eyes coming into contact with a dashcam. She looked right at it and stuck up her middle finger.

 

She let out an exasperated scream, got up and stomped off towards Sorelle. Oh, she would get him back if it was the last thing she ever did – if he was smart she was Taera Jeong!

 


 

William sat in his office laughing loudly as he watched the laptop screen, there were five boxes on the screen, linked to the five cameras he had put up in his car. He watched amused as Taera crawled around his car on her hands and knees – the girl was definitely invested in her plan because she was wearing both knee pads and gloves to save her knees and hands from the rough asphalt road.

 

He watched as she looked at the camera, huffed and then crawled towards the next, disappearing out of one screen and appearing in another. She always got up on her knees and then huffed in annoyance when she realized there was another camera before crawling to the next side. He watched amused as her head popped up over the hood of his car, she looked directly into the camera on the dashboard, glared, stuck up her middle finger and then stomped off. She was definitely entertaining.

 

“William, Tae-” Daniel opened William’s office door to stop short when he noticed his brother laughing at the screen.

 

“Why are you laughing?” Daniel asked suspiciously moving into the office. William slammed the lid of his MacBook shut and just shrugged.

 

“Henry sent me a funny video.” He said and ran his hand through his hair. He was definitely lying.

 

“Does it have anything to do with the fact that Taera is crawling around your car?” He asked arching his eyebrow, he had walked in to tell William that she was probably up to something. William’s face broke out into a little grin before he burst out into laughter and opened his laptop, rewinding the video and showing it to Daniel who also burst out into laughter.

 


 

“She’s so annoying, she tried to spray paint my car today.” William groaned as he played Call of Duty with Henry and Daniel, the two of them at either side of him.

 

“How dare she? I am the only one that is allowed to bother you.” Henry said, sounding aghast. 

 

Daniel laughed as he explained how he had seen her crawling around William’s car through the window and the subsequent video that William had shown him.

 

“Damn, she’s sexy, sweet, and smart.” Henry said dreamily causing William to whack him.

 

“She is not.”

 

“She kinda is.” Daniel said.

 

“She is not sweet.” William scoffed.

 

“So you agree that she is sexy and smart?” Daniel asked as he hit the controller rapidly and executed a clean kill.

 

“I didn’t say that.” William murmured.

 

“Bro, she is a goddess.” Henry said dreamily.

 

Daniel laughed as William whacked him again.

 

“Ouch, what’s your problem?” He yelled. “Just because you’re blind doesn’t mean I am.”

 

“Shut up Henry.” William snapped.

 


 

Aera had insisted that Daniel come to lunch with her and Anaya, which she did at random times since she stopped living with them after she got married. He arrived at her favourite restaurant, a quaint Italian one that was on the beach and overlooked water.

 

Daniel expected his sister and niece to be at the outdoor table she favoured because it was a sunny day with a cool breeze, she usually sat there with a smile on her face sipping a cold iced-tea while she waited for him. When the maître d' walked him out the backdoor towards the patio that overlooked the water, he saw his sister at the exact table where he knew she would but what he didn’t expect was the woman sitting across from her.

 

It wasn’t the little almost 4 year old that he was expecting. For some reason, Jiah was sitting across the table from his sister, she was evidently sharing a funny story because Aera was clutching her stomach and laughing. As odd and unexpected as the sight was, he was happy that his sister seemed to have made a new friend – or friends – he amended as he saw Taera approach the table and take a seat beside Jiah. Taera rolled her eyes and whacked Jiah before the two of them started bickering. 

 

Aera had always had a hard time making friends, she was rather shy when she was younger and being the only Asian girl at school didn’t help. As she grew older and people realized that her brothers were hot, and that her family seemed to be getting richer people befriended her to use her and she got tired of it pretty quickly. She just never clicked with anyone genuinely, and had bad experiences in university as well but he could tell she clicked with Jiah and Taera because she sought them out.

 

Despite all of that, he wondered why she had invited him to lunch with them. It seemed like Jiah didn’t know either because she looked confused when she caught sight of him.

 

“Daniel!” Aera said waving him over. Daniel walked over to the table and took a seat by his sister before kissing her on the cheek in greeting.

 

“Jiah, Taera.” He nodded towards the two ladies.

 

“I hope you don’t mind Daniel, I wanted to show both of them my favourite restaurant.” Aera said sweetly smiling up at her brother. He arched his eyebrow at her, Aera Choi-Park was up to something.

 

“No worries. Did you guys order?” He asked and they all nodded.

 

“I ordered the chicken parmigiana for you.” Aera said and rolled her eyes when he gave her a pointed look. “You get that every time.” She defended.

 

“What if today was the day I wanted to try something different?” Daniel asked.

 

“As if.” She said before looking towards the two women across the table. “He has never gotten anything else in the years we’ve been coming here. Even William switches it up once in a while.”

 

“Do you guys do this often?” Jiah asked.

 

“It kind of became a tradition when Daniel started university, Will and I were in high school still, so we would meet somewhere half way once in a while and get lunch or dinner. Sometimes Henry and Irene would also join us. It restarted after I got married.” Aera shrugged. “Henry joins us when he’s able to, Irene is usually travelling and William is usually missing in action too, but they make up for it.”

 

“Aw, it’s nice to see that all of you are so close.” Taera smiled.

 

“Do you have siblings?” Aera asked the ladies.

 

“I have a younger sister, she’s visiting soon.” Taera shared, Demi was coming down the next day – thankfully without Jiah’s mother who had a wedding come up last minute. Thank goodness, or Jiah would have gone insane.

 

“Only child.” Jiah shrugged when Taera didn’t continue.

 

“That explains so much.” Daniel murmured underneath his breath, it seemed like Taera was the only one that caught it because she arched his eyebrow at him but he smirked at her and turned back to Jiah.

 

“But I have this one.” She said pointing towards Taera.

 

“Explains even more.” Daniel whispered causing Taera to roll her eyes at him.

 

“Have a problem with me Choi?” Taera asked arching her eyebrow.

 

“Me. Never.” He said while holding his hand over his heart. “And if I did I wouldn’t tell you in fear of my car being spray painted.”

 

“I should have just done it regardless of the cameras.” She sighed.

 

“William would have killed you.” Daniel replied.

 

“He has tried before.” She rolled her eyes. “It was kid’s spray paint, it washes off with water.”

 

“Has anyone ever told you that you’re awfully evil?” Daniel couldn’t help but ask, and apparently not a psychopath. He could see the prankster streak in her though.

 

“Yes, something tells me you can be awfully evil too.” She said.

 

“What makes you say that?”

 

“You have a rather sinister smirk. Like a sly fox.” Taera responded as she sunk back in her chair and crossed her arms across her chest.

 

“I am the epitome of all things virtuous.” He replied.

 

Apparently Aera wasn’t having any of that because she burst out into laughter. “He’s the prankster of the family.”

 

“I guessed as much.” Taera beamed.

 

“Most people think it would be Henry.”

 

“No, Henry is too loud, he’d want everyone to know what his sinister plan is and would end up giving himself away.” Taera said confidently and he couldn’t help but nod, that was really accurate. “You on the other hand could stay quiet, carry out a prank and even years later leave people wondering if it was you.”

 

“That’s eerily accurate.” Aera said, sounding surprised. Taera shrugged.

 

“Impressive.” Daniel couldn’t help but nod as Jiah laughed.

 

“If you ever want to annoy your brother you have an ally in me.” She said speculatively.

 

“What makes you think I’d take you up on that offer?”

 

“He’s really annoying.” Taera shrugged and Daniel couldn’t help but laugh.

 

“Are you and Will ever going to move on and be nice to each other?” Aera asked Taera.

 

“Probably not.” Taera said and Daniel couldn’t help but chuckle at how she said it, like she was telling Aera that the grass was green. “He’s the thing I like the least about Charleston.” Taera said. Daniel couldn’t help but notice how Jiah coughed before taking a sip of her drink, looking awfully amused.

 

“Speaking of…you must tell Daniel the story behind how you picked Charleston.” Aera pushed.

 

“Will we ever live this down?” Taera groaned as Jiah chuckled, she felt like everyone in town knew about their decision making style.

 

“We threw darts at a map of the USA.” Jiah shared.

 

“And you landed in Charleston the first time?” Daniel said, a slight smile on his face.

 

“Oh no, we landed in multiple other places but it didn’t meet our criteria.” Taera said.

 

“What was the criteria?”

 

“It had to be a smaller city, somewhere warm, a place where our money would go a longer way than it did in New York, somewhere not too Republican, and somewhere a bakery could thrive.” Jiah listed off as the waiter brought out their food and placed it in front of them.

 

“I have seen your bakery, even in Charleston, something like that needs a huge investment.” Daniel stated, his interest was piqued. They had to have invested at least two million dollars and they seemed too young to have the bank offer them the capital. Daniel speculated if they came from money.

 

“We had a friend invest as well.” Jiah said without offering up any more details. Daniel immediately liked that about her, it was never good to share the ins and outs of your business with a stranger.

 

“How’d you two get into baking?” Aera asked.

 

“I moved to the States from South Korea when I was 6, right next to Taera’s house. I remember seeing this commercial for an Easy Bake Oven and I wanted it so badly but my parents said no because it was impractical. So Taera and I created a fake cardboard one and we’d pretend to be bakers.” Jiah laughed looking towards Taera. “As we got older we would bake here and there, but we got obsessed after a trip to Italy.”

 

“Oh God, it was so hard to get our parents to agree to letting us go to Italy on a school trip in high school.”

 

“I cried and begged for days.” Jiah sighed.

 

“She made me steal both of our dad’s car keys and refused to give them back until they agreed.” Taera snickered.

 

“And that worked?” Daniel laughed.

 

“Oh hell no. We had to get our friend’s dad to knock some sense into our dads before they finally agreed.” Jiah laughed.

 

“We of course got lost while we were in this small costal-town and we found the cutest bakery, and the owner was a woman a couple of years older than us. And I swear Jiah had an I can see my future moment.” Taera shared.

 

“I decided I wanted that, and Taera is always along for the ride so we started making birthday cakes and cupcakes for parties. Taera became a huge nerd and dipped when she started university-”

 

“Hey!”

 

“-I opened up a bakery in New York, it was so small and failed miserably.” Jiah shared.

 

“She is not giving herself enough credit, she went to culinary school and worked full time to save money for it. She put all her earnings plus all the money her grandfather left her when he passed away into it. She was lucky enough that the real estate market was booming and she sold for a lot more than she bought it for.” Taera said, her best friend was amazing and everyone deserved to know.

 

“Anyways, it failed. I recruited Taera again and here we are almost a year later.” Jiah blushed. Daniel was impressed – it took a lot to come back from a failed business.

 

“Reminds me a bit of William to be quite honest.” Aera said beaming at the girls.

 

“Ugh, please stop mentioning the devil incarnate or he shall appear.” Taera groaned.

 

“Devil incarnate?” Daniel snickered.

 

“Yes, he’s so…aggravating.”

 

“You’re the only person that I know that actively dislikes William.” Aera laughed.

 

“He’s a good guy, you seem to bring out the worst in him for some reason.” Daniel said.

 

“Or he has finally found something worth reacting to.” Aera murmured quietly so only Daniel could hear.

 

Aera pushed the conversation to different topics and she patted herself on the back whenever Daniel showed interest and asked questions, and she did an internal happy dance whenever Daniel laughed or shared something personal with the two women.

 

Aera had thought that there was some frostiness between Daniel and the girls when she had come up with the idea of having lunch together. But as the afternoon progressed she realized that Daniel and Jiah seemed to have solved whatever had happened between the two of them because they were cordial from the get-go. And she could see that Taera and Daniel had struck up some kind off odd friendship where they made snarky remarks at each other.

 

Maybe she didn’t have to push hard after all, for Daniel, William was a whole different story and Aera planned to interfere.

 


 

Taera pulled into the airport pick-up zone and got out of her car, standing by the passenger side door so she could see her sister when she came out. She had called her five minutes ago to say that she was through customs and just stepping out.

 

Taera was so glad that her sister was taking a break from school, she knew what it felt like to burn out. She never took time off school, choosing to take summer school all through undergrad, and then she had completed a Master’s Degree to bump up her chances to get into medical school when she didn’t get in to Columbia on her first try. And then she had spent three years spending every waking hour of the day studying. She often wondered if things would have been different if she were easier on herself, if she had taken a year off between her Bachelors’ and starting medical school. She would have been starting her residency this fall if she hadn’t quit.

 

Taera was shaken out of her thoughts when she saw her sister walk through the airport doors a couple of minutes later. She almost laughed at her sister’s outfit, she was wearing a pair of black leggings with a huge oversized sweatshirt, her hair in a bun, Raybans on her face,  a backpack on her back – dragging a large suitcase beside her – a look off her travel Pinterest board. It was just such a Demi thing that it made her laugh and act like she hadn’t seen her sister in years.

 

“DEMI!” Taera yelled running towards her sister and throwing her arms around her.

 

“Ouch, my boobs.” Demi groaned as Taera crashed into her.

 

“Oh shut up, you barely have any.” Taera laughed squeezing her little sister tighter.

 

“Still a bitch I see.” Demi laughed but hugged her sister tighter as well.

 

“Of course.” Taera laughed pulling away. “You look way too skinny.”

 

“It’s because no one was around to fatten me up bitch.” Demi groaned.

 

“Well, I prescribe you at least 4 cupcakes a day.” Taera laughed as they walked towards her car. They put her large suitcase in the back while they bickered the way sisters just did.

 

“You tired?” Taera asked.

 

“No, that was such a short flight and it’s honestly so great to get away from our parents for a while.” Demi sighed, rolling her window down all the day. It was nice and bright, and the air smelled so clean despite the fact that they were on the road. She loved her parents but it was nice to get away once in a while.

 

“Hm, home or Sorelle first?” Taera asked with a smile.

 

Sorelle, of course! I have to see it in person and have cupcakes.” Demi laughed.

 

They reached the bakery in less than twenty minutes, spending the ride catching up from their last phone call. Demi was looking forward to seeing Jiah and spending time in the city that the two had come to love. She was also really interested in meeting their neighbours, who she had heard all about – she was completely up to date on all the run-ins. Demi low key suspected that her sister had a crush on this William character but didn’t dare to voice her suspicions out loud in fear of her life – her sister could be very scary when she wanted to be.

 

Demi looked towards Taera as they got out the car and smiled noticing that she looked so much happier. The Taera she remembered was always so stressed and sad, always working and studying, and feeling like there was not enough time in the world. She seemed to smile more now, and the once permanent dark circles underneath her eyes were gone.

 

“Welcome to Sorelle.” Taera said as she pulled into her parking spot.

 

“Oh my god, it looks even better than the pictures and the videos!” Demi gushed as she took in the corner shop, there was glass all around the perimeter of the store and she could clearly see inside.

 

Jiah was standing just inside the door waving at her from across the street, Demi ran across the street as Jiah came outside, the two of them hugging and squealing about how much they had missed each other and how great the place looked. Taera joined them and introduced her little sister to the staff before plying her with cupcakes and tea.

 

Demi took a deep breath in as she sat at a table a while later, her sister and Jiah were behind the counter serving customers. The bakery smelled like home – butter, sugar and chocolate. She had only been in Charleston for a couple of hours but she could feel the stress melt off her shoulders. She wasn’t thinking about the fact that she didn’t make it into any clinical psychology programs that she had applied to or the fact that she didn’t get the internship she was hoping for. She was only thinking about spending time with Taera and Jiah.

 

She loved the house they were renting just as much as the bakery, it was just so cute. From the outside, it looked like a two-story cottage, it even had little Juliet balconies. But on the inside it looked like the perfect blend of a modern and traditional home. The walls were white, there were built-ins everywhere, there were two fireplaces, both with grey cement facades – one in the living room and one in the dining room. The kitchen was also amazing with grey counters, white cabinets and open-shelving, the appliances were high-end – not that she would expect Taera and Jiah to settle for less. Her bedroom was also great – it was on the top floor and had two double-sized beds with a sitting space and a large bathroom. If she looked out her balcony, she could almost see the water from between the buildings.

 

But what Demi loved the most was the backyard, it was so well landscaped, and it had so many seating areas – Taera claimed it was to be expected considering the fact that the weather was nice all year round. She melted into her bed with a smile on her face, she was glad that she was here.

 


 

Daniel was having a weird week, he had gone to lunch with his sister, Taera and Jiah, and actually enjoyed it. And now he was pulling up into the BARE parking lot at 9am on a Saturday morning. He didn’t need to be there, except he was dying to get away from his mother who had started on her Savannah this, Savannah that speech as soon as she had woken up. She had apparently talked to Savannah’s mother the previous night.

 

His saviour had come in the form of Aera who insisted that Anaya’s birthday cake come from Sorelle & Co, Daniel had no problem with that. But he wondered why he had to be the one to place the order and why she was adamant that he do it. And why she hadn’t done it two days ago when she saw the two girls. Aera’s excuses about forgetting that day and not feeling well today didn’t sit right with him, she sounded downright chipper, almost as if she was planning something. He was still suspicious about the lunch set up.

 

But Daniel couldn’t say no to his sister, so he walked across the street to order a My Little Mermaid cake – Anaya’s newest obsession.  It was still rather early in the day, he knew that Sorelle opened at 11am on Saturdays but he was hoping to catch Jiah or Taera before they opened.

 

He noticed that there was a lot of commotion inside the store despite the fact that it was not open. Jiah was very easy to recognize, she was standing at the counter wearing the cream Sorelle & Co. apron over her light pink dress, her long hair half up and half down, beside her stood another young woman with long straight hair caught in a low ponytail – he hadn’t seen her before. Across them stood a tall man in a pair of dark wash jeans and a crisp white shirt and an older woman in a pair of black trousers and a cream turtleneck, her hair in a low bun.

 

Jiah was gesticulating wildly, her face flushed as her mouth seemed to move a mile a minute. The girl behind her was chewing on her lips with a nervous look on her face. Daniel wondered if he should come back as he approached the store, but Jiah’s eyes met his and grew wide. He opened the door and Jiah rushed towards him. The older woman turned around and looked towards him as did the man.

 

“Mom, I can’t marry Nelson because I already have a boyfriend.” Jiah said, in fluent Korean, Daniel first registered that scene seemed like it was right out of a rom-com, and then looked at the woman closely and saw the resemblance, definitely Jiah’s mother. His eyes went back up to the man but he was staring at Jiah. Daniel almost jumped when Jiah grabbed his hand. “This is Daniel, my boyfriend.” Jiah announced squeezing his hand.

 

Daniel looked towards Jiah abruptly and gave her a what the fuck look as she looked up at him pleadingly while squeezing his hand. “Please help me out.” She whispered, in English this time, her doe-like eyes wide as she chewed on her bottom lip waiting for him to reply.

Chapter Text

July 2017…

 

Taera had an idea, it was going to be a lot of work but she knew it would take off. She wanted to make cakes that were shaped like actual characters, like a Disney Princess cake that was actually shaped like a Disney Princess doll.

 

The idea had hit her as she drove around running errands -  that’s just how her brain worked – and then she saw Costco and knew that they had a lot of toys. Taera decided she could go for some free samples and get a head start on grocery shopping so she pulled into the parking lot on the way to work, they were opening late and she had already dropped Jiah and Demi off at Sorelle so she wasn’t in a rush.

 

She grabbed a cart and went through the important aisles to pick up the things she needed before heading over to the toy aisle, pushing herself and her cart through the crowd of people that had descended on Costco on a Saturday morning. “Maybe not the best time to do this.” She whispered to herself.

 

She let out a squeak as her cart ran into the cart of someone turning into the toy aisle. She was about to say sorry when she heard a groan and caught sight of who she ran into. Of course.

 

“Are you following me?” Taera groaned as she caught sight of William’s face. He was surprisingly wearing a button up shirt and slacks with dress shoes - to Costco.  Her eyes narrowed, she had read an article that stores like Costco and Ikea were an ideal place to meet single women and wondered if this is what he did on the weekends. She looked into his cart to find it full of protein powder and wrinkled her nose.

 

“Why would I follow you? I see you enough.” He sighed, running his hands through his luscious hair, she watched amazed as it fell perfectly back into place – god really did have favourites. “Aren’t you going to apologize for running your cart into mine?” He asked, with the smirk she hated. Hated.

 

“Excuse me? You should apologize since you’re the one turning corners without looking.” She snapped, trying to ignore the number of women that walked past him and give him the up and down. “And I would apologize if I wanted to but you’d be an asshole about it anyways.”

 

“You are the most infuriating women I’ve ever met.” He sighed before rolling his eyes. The audacity.

 

“Women probably don’t want to meet you much since you’re such an asshole so I am not surprised.”

 

“Do you have a fascination with the word asshole?” He asked.

 

“I call them like I see them.” She snapped glaring at him.

 

“You’re no saint either, princess.”

 

“Do. Not. Call. Me. Princess.”

 

“Hm, so you have no problem with Wicked Witch of New York but you don’t like Princess?”

 

“Calling a woman a princess is generally associated with negative personality characteristics of being high maintenance, entitled and spoiled. It's almost never seen as a compliment. It’s not cute. Now Wicked Witch of New York is at least creative and I don’t mind being a witch to assholes.” She said and then sighed. “Although, there have been recent attempts to fix the negative personality association with the word princess. We grew up with ones like Cinderella and Snow White…who didn’t do much, they were passive characters in their own lives. But girls today are getting somewhat better examples in the newer princesses like Merida, Moana, Tiana and I guess Elsa.”

 

“Do you just know something about everything?” William asked, she held back a smile, he sounded impressed.

 

“Most of the time, I tend to remember whatever I read.” She shrugged.

 

“Did you ever happen to read an article on how to apologize to people?” He asked.

 

“You’re the one that owes me an apology. You almost ran me over.”

 

“You jumped in front of my car.”

 

“To save a puppy.”

 

“Regardless-”

 

“Wait wait wait! Wait a minute, why aren’t you yelling there was no puppy?” She asked and then gasped when he didn’t reply, he looked almost sheepish. “Dear Lord! You’ve known there was a puppy there this whole time!”

 

“I did not.”

 

“You apparently know now!”

 

“Maybe I checked my dashcam footage.”

 

“There was a puppy!”

 

“Yes, fine, there was puppy. But that doesn’t mean you had to run out onto the road behind it, it would have easily run past the car.” He said, his voice getting more gruff, she hated it. Hated it.

 

“No it wouldn’t have! How could you even say that Villain Choi?! Do you not have a heart?”

 

“You’re so dramatic.”

 

“You’re so…ANNOYING. Apologize to me now.” She demanded, he was wrong and he knew it.

 

“If I apologize, will you apologize for taking my parking spot?” He asked, she could tell that he was trying to hold back that ridiculous smirk she hated. Hated.

 

“It is not your spot! You have a fucking parking lot!” She replied.

 

“MOMMY! That lady said the f word, does she get a time out?” A little boy’s voice came from down the aisle and she groaned. Of course, she would end up corrupting children in the process of fighting with this man.

 

“Yes, she gets a time out!” William yelled back to the boy.

 

Taera really did try to suppress the part of the mind that wanted another kind of punishment from the man in front of her. But then her eyes went down to his hand and suddenly she was imagining those large and tanned hands on her, sp-

 

“Ooooh, mommy, the lady’s husband says she gets a time out!” The kid yelled bringing Taera out of her thoughts.

 

“HE’S NOT MY HUSBAND!” Taera yelled back while William snickered. That was almost laughable, she would never marry this man, he was the absolute worst even if he was easy on the eyes. He had like three redeeming qualities, that wasn’t enough. “Look at what you did.”

 

“You are the one who swore, in an aisle with children’s toy, such a bad influence.” He teased.

 

“LEAVE ME ALONE!” She yelled before pushing his cart with hers and walking down the aisle.

 

“You don’t own the aisle.” He said from behind her and she sighed.

 

“Why do you even need to be here? What would you need from this aisle? Barbies to dunk in your protein powder?” She asked.

 

“A present for Anaya, her birthday is coming up.” He said, and she felt her heart soften – just a bit.

 

“I can’t believe she’s related to you, she’s so cute.” Taera sighed.

 

“I am also very cute.” He mumbled.

 

She snorted at that. “Okay, Princess.”

 

He sighed and stopped his cart by the doll houses, there were three kinds and he picked up the pink one immediately and put it in his cart.

 

“That one is cooler.” She said while pointing towards the bigger dollhouse with a large kitchen and multiple levels, it even came with dolls unlike the one he had chosen.

 

“She wanted this one.”

 

“Did she see that one?”

 

“No, it wasn’t here before.”

 

“Trust me, she’s going to love this one even more. And she won’t be expecting it.” Taera said while tapping the box of the dollhouse she liked, it was rather cute, not as pink and seemed to have more to explore.

 

“Fine, you’re the one that played with dollhouses.” He said as he removed the one he had put in his cart before picking up the one she suggested. She smiled, he wasn’t so bad when he listened to her.

 

“I have a feeling Aera made you play with dolls, Anaya has to get it from somewhere.” She smiled, imagining a little version of William playing with dolls.

 

“I refuse to comment.”

 

“Ooooh, now I am intrigued, were their tiaras and tea parties involved?” She asked, trying to hold back a chuckle as he rolled his eyes.

 

“No comment.”

 

“I can ask your sister, she probably has pictures.” Taera grinned.

 

“Why are you so interested in them?” He asked as he turned to her.

 

“Just interested in embarrassing you.” She beamed, trying to deflect the question. In reality, she knew he probably made a really cute kid and she wanted to see the pictures. Just because. “You would have made a pretty girl.” She added and then held back giggles when he sighed in exasperation.

 

“Why are you even talking to me now?” He sighed.

 

“Because I want to make sure Anaya gets the best dollhouse ever. And I am kind of sad she won’t be saying she’s 3 and a half and almo a half anymore.” Taera pouted.

 

She watched as a smile broke out on his face at the mention of the almo a half. “She’s growing up too fast.”

 

“Children always seem to, they’re like cute innocent little creatures and then they turn into people who won’t apologize for almost running an innocent woman over.” She sighed.

 

“You apologize first.”

 

“I should just tell your mother, she’ll make you apologize.” Taera grinned, his mother was reasonable unlike him.

 

“Don’t even think about it.”

 

“I am already thinking about it since I said it, that’s a very stupid statement.” She sang as she pushed her cart further down the aisle and away from him.

 


 

Jiah had woken up that day with a sinking feeling in her stomach, she just knew that something bad was going to happen. Her horoscope had cautioned her about an unwelcome guest and hadn’t made her feel any better.

 

The day started off really well – a little different than usual since Demi had now joined them. They had made spinach and feta omelettes for breakfast while singing along to pop hits. Taera had dropped Jiah and Demi off at Sorelle and gone out to run some errands before opening while Jiah went through their usual Saturday morning prep with Demi’s help – she loved baking just as much as they did. The two of them had been laughing and singing along to Despacito, while they filled the displays with baked goods, the intoxicating smell of rich chocolate and hazelnut permeating the air despite the fact that a lot of the Nutella cookies had gone into Jiah and Demi’s stomachs.

 

And then it all came crashing down, literally. Jiah had looked up to the door of Sorelle and the tray she was holding had fallen out of her hands onto the floor with a loud clatter when she saw who was standing outside the door. She didn’t even care that she had ruined a dozen of their best-selling double chocolate cookies, oh no, she had a much bigger problem on her hands.

 

Her mother, Ji-Hye Song, was standing outside her sweet haven, looking right at her and pointing at the door. And if that wasn’t bad enough, behind her stood a man in a pair of dark jeans and a crisp white shirt tucked into them. His long hair swayed gently in the wind and he had a small soft smile on his face that was lifting up his long handlebar moustache, which stood out distinctively against his stubble filled face. All the information, along with the fact that Taera had been looking at his Facebook profile the other day, told Jiah that her mother had brought Nelson Chai with her in hopes of setting them up.

 

Jiah wished that Taera wasn’t running errands because her brain worked really fast in these situations – she would have easily thought of a way to send Jiah off somewhere while she handled the two unwanted guests. But Jiah’s mind was drawing blank, and her mother’s face was getting more annoyed the longer Jiah just stood there. Although she briefly debated it, she couldn’t just leave her mother standing outside so she had gone to unlock the door, hugging her mother in greeting but letting her displeasure at the situation obvious.

 

Despite Jiah’s coldness towards Nelson, her mother was singing his praises, listing off all his accomplishments, and talking about them getting to know each other, and how she was so excited to plan a wedding. Jiah had just glared at her mother and tried her best not to snap but she could feel herself getting angrier, and before she knew what was happening she was amidst a yelling match with her mother while Nelson just stood there staring between the two of them. Jiah felt almost bad for him but then remembered that he flew all the way down here with her mother without talking to her first, it was his fault.

 

Her mother put her on the spot, asking her why she didn’t want to get married and what was wrong with Nelson. Apparently her answer of I don’t want to get married wasn’t reason enough. So when Jiah saw Daniel outside Sorelle, her mind just conjured up an obscure lie, if anyone asked later she would blame it on the fact that they had watched The Proposal recently. She didn’t know what possessed her to go up to him and grab his hand – his very rough and warm hand that seemed to calm her down just a bit – and claim that he was her boyfriend. Maybe it was because she had enjoyed having lunch with him and his sister the other day, or maybe it was because he knew that her mother was pressuring her to get married – but mostly it was the fact that it had worked for Sandra Bullock.

 

When Jiah had whispered to him for help, he had cleared his throat roughly and introduced himself to her mother – in his accented Korean, it was very awkward and cold. He had looked straight at her mother and said, “Hello, I am Daniel Choi, Jiah’s boyfriend. Nice to meet you.”

 

Jiah wanted to hit her head against a brick wall because her mother didn’t seem to buy it at all, her eyes had narrowed at Daniel in challenge, and she had looked at him up and down before meeting his eyes again. But Daniel held his own, starting right back with a devilish try me smirk, Jiah was thankful that he was an arrogant asshole at times for the first time in her life.

 

Demi, Jesus bless her soul, had reminded her that she was waiting for Daniel to move the bags of flours in the back giving them a chance to escape the piercing eyes and talk. Jiah had jumped at the suggestion and dragged him to the back, her plan had made perfect sense in her head until she found herself standing in the pantry of Sorelle with her mother and Nelson still waiting outside while a flustered Demi ran around trying to  manage the situation.

 

“What the fuck was that?” Daniel said as soon as she shut the door behind her.

 

“Shhhhh.” Jiah hissed while throwing her hand over his mouth. “I know this is messed up, but she just showed up with this guy she has been harping about for weeks and I panicked, okay?! Please please please please just play along, if she believes it she’ll leave in a few days and she’ll never try this again. Okay?” Jiah whispered-begged, and looked at him pleadingly as she dropped her hand.

 

“This is ridiculous. Why did she show up here with a guy you don’t intend to marry?” He whispered, his face clouding with both confusion and anger, but not directed at her – maybe on her behalf?

 

“I don’t know! My mother is just like that.” Jiah groaned. “This was one of the reasons I left New York, she always does this with random guys she thinks I should marry…normally she just invites them over to our house - and I feel like I am a part of a period drama, which is kind of fun - but I don’t live with her anymore.”

 

“Why don’t you say anything?” He whisper-yelled, ignoring the fact that he was wondering why she imagined herself in period dramas.

 

“Oh great idea, why didn’t I think of that? That will totally work.” She retorted sarcastically.

 

“Do you really think you’re in a situation where you can act bitchy towards me?” He asked, arching his eyebrow and crossing his arms across his chest.

 

“Sorry!”

 

“Ha, I knew I’d get you to apologize first. Now repeat after me, Daniel I am sorry for trespassing and stuffing a cupcake in your mouth, and for spilling drinks on your favourite shirt, and making you late for an important meeting.” He said with a smirk on his face.

 

“Jesus Christ! You’re unbelievable – I THOUGHT WE WERE OVER THAT.” Jiah said, her voice rising in volume.

 

“Shhhhh.” Daniel hissed. “You don’t want your mother to hear now do you?” At that moment, Jiah Kim was sure that he was a monster after all – and she had this urge to call him a monster to his face.

 

“I am not apologizing.” Jiah snapped instead.

 

“Well then, good luck explaining your lie to your mother.” Daniel said turning around and reaching for the door.

 

“No wait!” Jiah said stopping him, she wanted to hit him over the head with a rolling pin…but she couldn’t. She just had to suck it up and apologize. “I am sorry-”

 

“Oh no, Daniel I am sorry…” He interrupted turning around with a devilish smirk.

 

“DANIEL, I am sorry for trespassing and stuffing a cupcake in your mouth…even though you deserved it.” She murmured the second part under her breath.

 

“Huh, what was that?” Daniel asked, his eyebrow raised and a smirk on his face. “Start again.”

 

“Are you for real?!” Jiah groaned, he just shrugged and motioned her to get on with it. “Daniel, I am sorry for trespassing and stuffing a cupcake in your mouth, and for spilling drinks on your favourite shirt, and making you late for an important meeting.”

 

“Thank you, apology accepted.” Daniel smirked, Jiah wanted to wipe it off his face so badly…maybe by stuffing another cupcake in his mouth.

 

“So you’ll help?” She asked, her voice almost begging. She groaned when he got a speculative look on his face, he was seriously enjoying this too much.

 

“I don’t know…” He trailed off.

 

“Please, I’ll do whatever you ask of me in return.” She begged, her self-pride taking a hit. But she couldn’t just replace him with another guy at the moment, she had already told her mother he was her boyfriend. If she had to do it all over again and was given the time to think about it she would have picked someone else, someone easier.

 

“Anything huh?” He asked arching his eyebrow at her in question, moving closer to her in the already tight space. She didn’t know why but she could suddenly hear her heartbeat in her ears, and she felt her breath hitch in her throat as she looked up at him.

 

“Anything.” She said, whispering more quietly this time.

 

“Absolutely anything? Anything I want?” The smile of satisfaction on his face and the devilish glint in his eyes scared her just a smidge.

 

“Yes.” She said despite the voice in her head that yelled her to backtrack.

 

“I want to make crystal clear - 100%, no take-backs - that I can ask you anything.” He said, his voice a little lower and deeper. Jesus Christ, was he flirting with her?

 

“Within reason.” She answered again, her face turning red.

 

“Okay.” He said stepping back, learning against the cabinet behind him, a part of him wondering why he was so nice to her. “You’re red.” He said, a teasing tone.

 

“Uh…it’s hot in here.” She said and he snickered as he opened the door and walked back out. Jiah walked out after him and come to a standstill when she noticed Taera standing next to her mother and Nelson. Oh no – she should have called Taera and given her a heads up!

 

“We just met Jiah and her boyfriend, Daniel.” Her mother said to Taera who looked confused.

 

“Daniel is Jiah’s boyfriend?” Taera murmured confused, Jiah almost groaned when she saw her mother’s eyes narrow in suspicion.

 

Taera’s eyes fluttered up to Jiah and Daniel when she heard the door shut behind them, she caught the pleading look on Jiah’s face and the look on Daniel’s face. No one could accuse Taera of being dumb, it took her exactly two seconds to figure out what was going on and launch into damage control mode.

 

“Haaa, yeah, I guess the cat is out of the bag, they were trying to keep it quiet. Aren’t they adorable together?” Taera said, breaking out into fluent Korean as well, laughing and sitting beside Jiah’s mother. “They can’t keep their hands off each other.” She gushed to Ji-Hye before turning and glaring at them pointedly, Daniel held back a snicker and grabbed Jiah’s hand in his causing her to tense before she relaxed and let out a nervous laugh.

 

“How did they meet?” Ji-Hye asked.

 

“Oh, it was the cutest thing! Daniel co-owns the gym right across the street, Jiah brought them cupcakes as a welcome gift – and you know how clumsy she is – she slipped and he caught her, the cupcakes went flying everywhere and splattered all over them. Of course, I was right behind her, you would have swooned if you saw it, they just kept staring at each other and then burst out laughing. I wish I had taken a picture.” Taera gushed, holding her hands to her chest with a huge smile on her face.

 

“She’s good.” Daniel whispered into Jiah’s ear causing her to shudder in surprise as his words caressed her ears.

 

“We watch a lot of chick flicks, this whole mess was influenced by The Proposal.” Jiah whispered back looking up at him with a small smile causing Daniel to snicker in surprise.

 

“Just look at them, whispering sweet nothings to each other.” Taera gushed, Jiah’s eyes went to her mother’s face again – she looked appeased, and a little disappointed. But it seemed as if she bought Taera’s story.

 

The door dinged again and Jiah almost groaned when an angry looking William walked in, his eyes narrowing on Taera. Was everyone going to walk into Sorelle today?! She wanted to bang her head against the wall, he would definitely give them away.

 

He started ranting as he walked towards Taera. “You are seriously the most annoying person I know – you almost hit my car and -” He stopped abruptly when he saw all the people around him, doing a double-take when he saw Daniel. “What are you doing here?” He asked his brother with a confused look on his face.

 

“Dear Lord, what’s wrong with you? Why wouldn’t he be here?” Taera said loudly as she got up and walked towards William. “He’s here to see his girlfriend.” She said narrowing her eyes at him pointedly and then subtly moving her head to point towards Jiah’s mother, hoping he would understand and not say anything.

 

“Girlfriend? I see you’re also delusional – OW.” William groaned when Taera elbowed him in the stomach, she took a moment to admire how hard his stomach was. “Play along or I swear I’ll hit your car for real.” She threatened him quietly. This time she had just boxed his car in when she found that he had parked in her parking spot yet again, she made sure there was only an inch between the front bumper of her car and the back bumper of his – and then she had moved Jiah’s car, which was parked in front of his, back so he couldn’t pull out of his spot.

 

William looked around confused, the older lady sitting at the table was staring at him in suspicion, and Daniel was standing beside Jiah…holding her hand? What?

 

“Delusional? Is Daniel not dating Jiah?” Nelson asked from beside Ji-Hye . Taera wanted to slap him, couldn’t he just be a dumb and clueless guy?

 

“Of course he is! I just told you!” Taera laughed airily looking at Nelson before turning back to the devil incarnate. “Tell them.” She said through her teeth.

 

“Uh, yes, they are.” William said clearing his throat and looking towards Nelson.

 

“How did they meet?” Ji-Hye asked.

 

“She brought over cupcakes- OW WOMAN WOULD YOU STOP?” William yelled when Taera elbowed him again, she had already shared a rather distorted version of what happened and she didn’t want him to contradict her story.

 

“See! She brought over cupcakes, trust me, I do a MUCH better job at retelling the story, this one isn’t romantic at all.” Taera laughed airily.

 

William was super confused, he saw the woman nod in acceptance while the man beside her seemed to deflate. He looked at Jiah and then back at Taera.

 

“Are you single?” Nelson asked Taera causing both Daniel and Jiah to guffaw at his audacity.

 

Taera was so tempted to hit the man over the head. “Yes, but I am definitely not interested in doctors.” She replied.

 

“Not this again Taera.” Ji-Hye sighed before turning back to Nelson. “Taera actually went to medical school but dropped out after three years, from Columbia at that, her parents were devastated. It is such a pity, she had always been such a gifted student, her IQ over 140. ” Ji-Hye  said to Nelson, sounding both proud and disappointed in a way only immigrant parents could be.

 

Daniel and William’s eyes met, both of them shocked at the revelation and impressed. William’s eyes went down to Taera, and it was almost as if she was another person, she seemed to have deflated at the words. Her body dropped forward, her shoulders bowed in as she took in a deep breath, wrapping her arms around herself. He almost took a step back when she looked up and met his eyes, they were bereft of the fire that usually made them so intoxicating.

 

And at that moment William couldn’t help but give her a small reassuring smile and mouth the word impressive at her. He felt his heart thump in his chest when a smile broke onto her face and she mouthed back, I know. And that smile made him forget that he was supposed to be angry with her – she had effectively boxed in his car, leaving him no room to pull up or back.

 


 

“Who are you and what have you done with Daniel?” William asked his brother as they stepped out of Sorelle leaving the girls behind with Jiah’s mother as they prepared to open for the day. The Daniel he knew wouldn’t take part in such outlandish schemes, if asked he would have just stared at the person asking until they retreated in fright. But here he was, pretending to be Jiah’s boyfriend, holding her hand and taking part in awkward conversations with the girl’s mother – in Korean at that, he was super conscious of how bad his Korean was.

 

“I honestly don’t know.” Daniel murmured.

 

“I am surprised you agreed.”

 

“Me too.” Daniel sighed. “I don’t know what possessed me to say yes, she kind of put me on the spot and then begged…I couldn’t say no.”

 

“Well, that’s a first. You catching feelings there, Daniel?” William asked.

 

“Of course not, she just seemed desperate so I decided to help out. She’s Aera’s friend after all.” Daniel defended, and then he thought about his body and mind’s immediate reaction to I’ll do whatever you ask of me in return. Daniel shook his head and wrote it off as a natural response, what else was a man to think when an attractive woman said that?

 

“Of course.” William replied, his tone indicating that he didn’t believe Daniel at all.

 

“Oh shit, I forgot to tell them about Anaya’s cake.” Daniel groaned looking back towards Sorelle.

 

“I don’t think you want to go back just yet.” William cautioned, Jiah’s mother had a speculative look on her face when they left – that woman was going to watch Jiah and Daniel like a hawk, he just knew it wouldn’t end well.

 

The whole day passed in a blur for William between meetings and the large crowd that filled the gym for their numerous classes. William jumped from class to class and made multiple rounds of the gym, helping and guiding where needed. Daniel also didn’t leave the gym…for the whole day, which was quite unlike him. He usually came in once a day to work out and attend any scheduled meetings and then left.

 

William watched Daniel all throughout the day, he looked…for a lack of better word – distracted. He also kept fielding calls from their mother, which came in every 30 minutes on the dot. His iPhone flashed notifications for voicemails and texts but he paid them no heed. He spent the rest of the day in his gym shorts and a t-shirt – mercilessly attacking the punching bags.

 

“What’s with him?” Henry asked when he dropped in near the end of the day and noticed Daniel’s incessant glaring at his phone.

 

“He has about a million missed calls and messages from eomma. I think he’s avoiding her, got here before I did and hasn’t left since.” William said, choosing to leave out the part about him acquiring a fake girlfriend.

 

Henry rolled his eyes as he bandaged his hands before walking towards the punching bags. William decided to join him as it was nearing close and the gym was emptying out.

 

“I think that’s enough, your hands are going to bruise.” William said as he approached Daniel, he picked up his water bottle and threw it at him as Henry started jumping in place, warming up.

 

“What’s got you brooding today?” Henry asked looking at Daniel, who just shook his head as he took a sip of water.

 

William knew if he asked the right questions and waited for a couple of minutes Daniel would crack and spew out what was bothering him. But before he could ask him anything William’s phone rang, Aera’s name and picture flashing across the screen.

 

“It’s Aera, should I get it?” William asked holding his phone up so Daniel could see the screen.

 

“If it’s eomma, I am not here.” Daniel said and nodded yes to William’s question.

 

William rolled his eyes and put his phone on speaker phone, “Hi Aera, what’s up?”

 

“William! Thank god you picked up, I have been trying Daniel for the past hour and can’t get through.” She said.

 

“He has been avoiding his phone like the plague.” William smirked looking up at Daniel who rolled his eyes.

 

“What’s up Aera?” Daniel asked .

 

Eomma has officially lost it. She invited Savannah to Anaya’s birthday party.” Aera groaned, it was followed by a plopping sound, telling Daniel and William that Aera had just fallen on her sofa with a pout.

 

“It’s your daughter’s party – uninvite her.” Daniel said running his hands through his hair.

 

“Are you dumb? Do you know our mother?” Aera groaned. “Plus, it’d look bad. I thought I’d give you a heads up. Mom wouldn’t stop talking about it when I went over for lunch.”

 

“I told her I have no plans to get back with Savannah.” Daniel groaned, it was so like his mother to interfere and ensure that he met with Savannah – it’s not like he could not show up to his own niece’s birthday party.

 

“Yeah, well she thinks you’ll change your mind once you see her.” Aera said, disdain clearly dripping in her voice.

 

Daniel let out a groan before thumping his head against the punching bag, causing William to hold back a chuckle. Their mother was sure that Daniel and Savannah were meant to be – they hadn’t helped the matter much by breaking up and getting back together multiple times over the years. To her, they were just taking a break again and would get back together to give her more grandkids. It kept her attention off of William at least.

 

“Thanks for the heads up Aera.” Daniel sighed.

 

“Hm. Did you put in the order for the cake?” Aera asked.

 

“Uh, not yet, I’ll do it after close.” Daniel said as William chuckled.

 

“Make sure you do, and come over for dinner if you want to avoid eomma, bring William.” She said.

 

“GLAD TO KNOW THAT I AM THE ADOPTED ONE AND YOU DON’T LOVE ME!” Henry yelled, announcing his presence.

 

“Aw, of course you should come too, you’re my baby.” Aera said while laughing. “See you all later.” She said  before hanging up.

 

“How do I make eomma see reason?” Daniel said as he sat down on the bench beside William, who just shrugged.

 

“Easy, you bring another woman to the party with you. If she thinks you’re interested in someone else, she won’t pester you about Savannah. Savannah will also leave you alone.” Henry said as he attacked the punching bag. “And maybe pick someone with more personality than Savannah.” Henry added, he wasn’t a fan of the girl – she was gorgeous – but she fit into the socialite mould to well, she seemed to have no personality whatsoever, and did whatever was expected of her.

 

William raised his eyebrow at Daniel, looking at him pointedly before tilting his head towards Sorelle. “This is rather convenient for you.” He murmured.

 

“Or you can just tell your mom that you’re not interested in women any longer, it’d take her a while to come to terms with that.” Henry quipped.

 

“Shut up Henry or you’re going to become my punching bag.” William said looking up at his brother.

 

“William, there are much better ways to work out your sexual frustration.” Henry sighed, laughing when Will threw a water bottle his way. “Seriously, take your pick, every girl that comes in here is just asking you to fuck them against a wall.”

 

“Shut up Henry.”

 

“When was the last time you had sex?”

 

“We’re not talking about th-”

 

“New York, the girl Aera set him up with.” Daniel chimed in causing William to turn to him and glare.

 

“It has been over a year and a half, you have to let go a little.” Henry teased.

 

“It gets too complicated.”

 

“Because you refuse to waste your time.” Daniel pointed out. William never went on a second date, not since his one girlfriend in undergrad, he said relationships were too much work and the chances of getting a decent return on investment impossible.

 

“I know it’s not going to work.” William shrugged.

 

“Not every girl is a bitch that’s going to cheat on you.” Daniel said, quietly.

 

“I know that, I just haven’t found someone where I know it’ll work, I’ll spend the time if I know it can go somewhere.”

 

“You’ve been spending time on someone recently.” He said quietly, so Henry didn’t overhear.

 

“No, Taera’s just annoying.” He said, sounding rather defensive.

 

“I didn’t say it was Taera.” Daniel smirked.

 

William sighed and threw his towel at Daniel.

 

“Taera is worth the time and all the energy in the world.”

 

“You sound like you know her well.” William scoffed. “When did you become best friends?”

 

Daniel just shrugged. “Sometimes you just know.”

 

“She’s so annoying.”

 

“Are you sure you’re annoyed?” Daniel laughed.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Hey Henry! How many freckles does Taera have?” Daniel asked a few seconds later.

 

“Hmmmm, I don’t know, doesn’t she always wear makeup?” Henry shrugged while giving Daniel a what’s wrong with you look.

 

“She doesn’t have any and she doesn’t wear makeup except lip gloss.” William mumbled.

 

“And how do you know that Little Willy?” Daniel teased, he knew that William couldn’t help but answer questions he knew the answer to.

 

“I see her every day, she’s right there.” He defended.

 

“Does Jiah wear make-up?”

 

“Yes. No. I don’t know.”

 

“You see her almost every day too.” Daniel pointed out.

 

“Just go home, I don’t want you here.” William groaned as he got up and walked towards his office.

 

“Wait, hyung likes Taera?” Henry asked with a devious smirk on his face.

 

“I am sure he does.”

 

“Hmm, I guess I’ll be flirting with Taera more then.” Henry grinned. “She’s hot…and it’ll annoy him.”

 

“Not a bad idea.”

 

“I’ll just walk up to her and kiss her.”

 

“She’ll kick you in the balls and William will cut them off.” Daniel said.

 

“Fine, I’ll tone it down.” Henry pouted.

Chapter Text

July 2017 Continued...

 

Jiah was so tired. Sorelle was filled with a plethora of customers throughout the day, which usually made her feel happy. But today, her mother sat at a table and stared at Jiah all day - managing to find ample opportunities to ask random questions about Daniel. She even tried to corner her staff and ask questions – it was difficult to manage that on top of the shop.

 

Nelson was thankfully a smart guy and had excused himself as soon as William and Daniel left, claiming that he’d get a hotel room and explore Charleston before heading out in a few days. His behaviour had made both Jiah and Taera warm up to him a little, they gave him suggestions on where to stay and what to see. Jiah even apologized for what her mother had done, she had apparently told him that Jiah wanted to get to know him as well or he wouldn’t have come down with her. He had winked at Taera before he left, telling her his offer still stood if she was suddenly interested in doctors again.

 

Taera had finally gotten Ji-Hye to leave, dropping her and Demi to the house to get settled while they closed up for the day.

 

“You, Jiah Kim, are the most dramatic person ever. Your mother shows up with Nelson and you make the guy you hated until recently into your boyfriend.” Taera exclaimed when things settled down. She was dying to talk to her friend all day but hadn’t found a moment.

 

“It was literally the only thing I could think of, it’s kind of your fault, you have made me watch The Proposal a million times.” Jiah groaned before falling into a booth dramatically and sighing. “I am surprised Daniel played along though.”

 

“That makes the two of us.” Taera murmured, she would think he would be the type to refuse outright. “We need to hammer out the details and get everyone on the same page or your mother will catch on.”

 

“I know. Thanks by the way for handling it all so well by the way.” Jiah sighed as Taera plopped down next to her, throwing her arms around her.

 

“No worries, it was fun to elbow the devil incarnate.” She laughed thinking back to the morning.

 

“What did you do to make him so angry?” Jiah asked.

 

“I ran into him at Costco-”

 

“And you fought?”

 

“Bickered?” She shrugged. “Anyways, he knows there was a puppy, he saw it in his dashcam footage and he still didn’t apologize! And he took my parking spot again.”

 

“He should apologize.”

 

“I know! I’ll get him to say sorry if it’s the last thing I do.”

 

“The obsession you have with him is unreal.”

 

“I am not obsessed, he’s just nice to look at.”

 

“Sure Taera-Byte.” Jiah snickered.

 

Anyways, since he took my parking spot I boxed his car in with mine and yours so he couldn’t pull out.” She beamed.

 

“You two give me grade school crush vibes.” Jiah sighed, and they did, like children that wanted each other’s attention and didn’t know how to keep it without being mean to each other.

 

“Whatever.” Taera mumbled. “How about we head over to BARE and see if Daniel is around?”

 

Jiah nodded and the two walked out, locking everything behind them, and walked across the street to BARE. Taera looked around with wide eyes, this being her first time inside. It looked even better than it did through the glass windows from Sorelle. There was a distinctive industrial theme, with uncovered white ductwork on the ceilings from the concrete pillar and floors. She could a boxing ring, punching bags and machines in the distance down the hallway.

 

The woman at the front desk looked at the two of them when they walked in. “Sorry, we’re closing.” She said with a small smile.

 

“Oh, we’re here to see Daniel and William.” Jiah said with a smile.

 

“I am sorry m’am, we don’t take visitors at this time, please come back tomorrow.” She said looking between the two of them.

 

“No, you don’t understand – we own the place across the street – can you just call one of them?” Taera asked.

 

“We have been told to turn anyone without an appointment away.” She said, the smile falling off her face.

 

“Listen here lady –”

 

“I thought I heard a screeching banshee, the Wicked Witch of New York is here.” William’s voice quipped from behind them causing Taera to groan, why couldn't it be Daniel?

 

“Yes, I am here to warn you of your impending death.” Taera replied as she turned towards the sound, her eyes growing wide at the sight in front of her. She heard the woman behind the desk groan subtly as well, and she knew exactly why. Taera had turned around just as William pulled the bottom of his tank to his face to wipe the sweat off his face – she knew his schedule well enough to know that he had been on the treadmill. There was a thin layer of perspiration on his body, making the tanned skin seem like it was glowing.

 

Dear Lord, she had never seen a body that sexy up close in person. He had a rather defined stomach and hip bones  – he could model for an anatomy class, she would have loved to label the muscles and bones on him. The defined rectus abdominis, the deep tendinous inscriptions, the tight transverus abdominus, the external and internal abdominal oblique muscles that were pulled taut. Those perfect hipbones that made her – she was pulled out of her reverie when he dropped his shirt.

 

“Is Daniel here?” Jiah asked covering for her flabbergasted friend who had whimpered out a faint fuck me when she caught sight of the man in front of them.

 

“Yeah, follow me.” William said nodding down the hall. “Anne, let them in whenever they come in.” He smiled towards the receptionist who simpered at the attention.

 

“Of course, Mr. Choi!” She said, Taera narrowed her eyes at her in derision before following William, passing the lounge area lined with both couches, and chairs with tables. There was a boxing ring beside a maze of punching bags, machines lined one side of the gym and there were rooms with hardwood floors and glass walls and doors on one side – each room seemed to serve a different purpose – some were empty but the murals on the walls indicated that they were for dance classes (as did the mirror wall) or yoga – there was one that was filled with stationary bikes. A sizeable portion of the gym contained all the weights and weight machines. It was really nice – nicer than any gym she had been to before.

 

Daniel was sitting on the bench press machine, clad in a t-shirt and shorts, sipping from his bottle of water when they rounded the corner. “Ladies.” He nodded at them before motioning them to sit on the large bench along the wall right in front of him.

 

“Hey.” Jiah said shyly, not sure how to greet her fake boyfriend.

 

“Wow, you two really need to work on your greetings to make this convincing.” Taera snickered as she sat on the bench by Jiah. William rolled his eyes and walked back over to the pull up bar that he had abandoned when he caught sight of Taera and Jiah walking across the street.

 

“Shut up Taera.” Jiah said sitting beside her friend. “I wanted to say thank you for this morning, and sorry for springing that on you – even though you were an ass about it.” She said thinking back to the apology he forced out of her.

 

“You’re welcome.” Daniel laughed.

 

“Taera thought we should hammer out some details and rules to make this believable.” Jiah said as Taera pulled her iPad out of her bag with the keyboard attachment – trying to ignore the devil incarnate who was looking at them while doing chin ups.

 

She definitely was not watching and cataloging the movement of his trapezius, deltoids or biceps. And she certainly was not noticing how big his arms were. And she wasn’t wishing that he wasn’t wearing a shirt so she could see how his pectoralis muscles contracted. And she definitely wasn’t distracted by the way his soft heather gray tank pulled up and exposed the veins between his hipbones that she definitely did not want to trace with her tongue.

 

“That’s a good idea.” Daniel nodded.

 

“I have made a list of things we need to tackle, the first is back story.” Taera said typing away on the iPad keyboard.

 

“I think the one you came up with is believable.” Daniel said. 

 

“And a very cheesy stretch of your actual first meeting.” William quipped, his voice carrying across to them over the sounds that filled the gym. There were still people around, running, biking, lifting weights and using the  machines, some of them looked rather curious as they watched the girls hold what seemed like a meeting with Daniel.

 

“No one asked you.” Taera yelled his way before turning back to Daniel. “Okay, so she brings cupcakes, trips, you catch her, the cupcakes fly everywhere and you two burst out laughing -”

 

“Out of character, Daniel wouldn’t laugh.” William said as he came to sit on the bench beside Taera  - close enough that she knew he was there but far enough that he wasn’t touching her.

 

“I am sorry, are you Daniel?” Taera snapped looking towards the sweaty man who ran his fingers through his luscious hair, pushing it back, it still fell perfectly into place even though it wasn’t dry.

 

“You would have found that somewhat amusing right?” Jiah asked Daniel.

 

“If you had icing all over your face, definitely.” Daniel teased.

 

“If we base it off our first meeting, you should be the one with the icing on your face.” She teased.

 

“I wouldn’t be laughing then, let’s go with Taera’s version.” Daniel said.

 

“Okay, and then what? How did it bloom into a relationship?” Taera asked.

 

Jiah jumped up with a smile on her face. “Ooooh, what if he comes into Sorelle, and I notice that he is looking woozy. He says my name but is barely able to get it out and kinda just droops down.” She was acting out what was happening dramatically. “I freak out and yell his name, and try to wake him up, realize that it must be because his sugar levels dropped too much-”

 

Daniel was snickering at this point. “Has anyone every told you that you’re odd?” Daniel said, her story was really over the top, that period dramas comment from earlier made so much more sense now.

 

“I’ll have you know that the fake relationship trope is one of my favourites, and I have read numerous books and watched many movies about it. These kind of things are used frequently to make things believable. Like the whole dramatic wait don’t put the strawberries in the fruit salad, he’s allergic AND BAM, everyone believes that the couple is in love. My story is good, it shows that you clearly made an impression on me – I remembered you were diabetic – and then I freak out that something is wrong with you, I take care of you and BAM instant attraction.” Jiah defended.

 

“First of all, I wouldn’t slither over to Sorelle if I had low blood sugar, secondly wouldn’t Taera – who apparently went to medical school – be the one to recognize what was happening, and lastly people don’t form an attraction like that in the real world.”

 

“You’re so unromantic!” Jiah pouted.

 

“Realistic.”

 

“Fine, let’s see you come up with a better story.” She said crossing her arms across her chest.

 

“The key to lying successfully is taking a truth and altering it slightly, like Taera did this morning.” Daniel said as Taera nodded. “So we tell them that we just kept running into each other, I helped you carry things around, you found my niece at Ikea, became friends with my sister and we just developed feelings for each other through the numerous interactions until I asked you out.” Daniel shrugged.

 

“But that’s so boringggg.” Jiah sighed.

 

“It's practical.” Daniel shrugged.

 

“Fine. We’ll do it your way.” She murmured petulantly.

 

“Okay, Daniel’s story it is then.” Taera agreed typing it up.

 

“Are you actually writing up a contract?” William asked leaning over to take a look at her iPad screen.

 

“Is personal space a foreign concept to you? You infringe upon my parking space, and now you’re invading my personal space as well.” Taera said looking up at him and almost gasped because his face was right there, barely a couple of inches from hers, she hadn’t been that close to him since the day he saved her from faceplanting into a manhole. His lips were pulled up at one side in a crooked smirk, and she was sidetracked by his dimples again – how was it fair that he was this good looking? His skin was flawless, she looked again – trying to find a pimple or blackhead but failed, even his nose was nice. How could noses be nice? Noses were weird.

 

Daniel and Jiah looked at each other and then back at William and Taera, who were both staring at each other in silence, almost as if in a trance. Jiah cleared her throat causing the two of them to move apart, Taera glaring at him before looking back at her iPad.

 

“Okay, now that we have the story laid out, we need to think about who knows what. The chances of Jiah’s mother running into your family are minimal but I wouldn’t put it past her to bring up the subject with anyone that might know you, and we need consistent stories. What do you want to tell your family?” Taera asked before typing.

 

William looked at Daniel pointedly, as if reminding him about their earlier conversation about Savannah and their mother. Daniel tried to articulate his thoughts and share his situation but he didn’t know how to do it, he wasn’t used to asking people for help or sharing his personal matters with anyone outside his immediate circle of family and friends.

 

Jiah and Taera looked at Daniel waiting for a response, his mouth would open and then would shut close again, he ran his hands through his hair and then looked up at William.

 

“There has been a change in Daniel’s circumstance-”

 

“Jesus Christ! You can’t fake being my boyfriend anymore?” Jiah asked, turning towards him with wide eyes, she was so dramatic.

 

“What? No. Just listen, and stop calling out the gods.” Daniel groaned. “My mom seems to be on the same wavelength as yours, she has been pushing me to get back together with my ex-girlfriend…she has invited her to Anaya’s birthday party in the hope that we reconcile.”

 

“Okay, and…” Jiah said when he didn’t continue.

 

“It would be beneficial if this charade of yours extended to our family as well.” William shrugged.

 

“Including Aera?” Jiah asked.

 

“No, we can loop her into it.” Daniel said, she wouldn’t buy the lie anyways.

 

“Wait, this is now turning from a lie that will last a couple of days to a long-term thing.” Taera said, her eyes narrowing, she didn’t like where this was going.

 

“Yes.” Daniel said. “My mother won’t back off until she thinks I have truly moved on from Savannah.”

 

“When did you break up?” Taera inquired.

 

“A year ago.”

 

“And your mom still thinks there is a chance you’ll reconcile?” Jiah asked confused but Daniel just nodded in affirmation.

 

“That’s ridiculous, there is more to this, spill.” Taera said, crossing her arms across her chest.

 

“I don’t think it’s necessary to share all the details -” William started.

 

“And you must believe I am an idiot if you think I am going to send my best friend into a potential shit show without knowing all the details.” Taera snapped looking towards him again.

 

“I didn’t know you spoke for her.” William retorted.

 

“She’s my best friend, it’s my job to look out for her.” Taera snapped.

 

“She’s her own person, why are you always butting in to other people’s business?”

 

“She is my business. At least I am not a parking-spot stealing LIAR.”

 

“I am not a liar!”

 

“Yes you are, you knew there was a puppy and all this time you’ve been going around screaming that there wasn’t one! LIAR!”

 

“I wasn’t lying, I only found out recently-”

 

“So you know now, where is my apology Villian Choi?! You almost ran me over!”

 

“We talked about this, you ran out onto the road.”

 

“After a puppy that you would have killed otherwise because you were speeding!”

 

“It would have easily ran past the car if you hadn’t been running after it.”

 

“It would have just gotten hurt by another person’s car!”

 

“Enough.” Daniel groaned. “The two of you, zip it.”

 

Daniel turned to Jiah and spoke quietly. “Savannah and I were set up by our mothers years ago, she thinks Savannah is perfect for me, but more importantly for the family.” Jiah wondered what that meant for a moment but then thought about his mother – the well composed hostess that circled he room talking to everyone and carried herself with the utmost grace. “Our relationship had been on and off throughout the whole time we dated, we’d break up and then eventually get together again. Savannah was insistent that I propose last time and I didn’t want to, so we broke up for good – at least on my end. But it seems like our mothers think we’ll get back together again eventually.”

 

“And what does Savannah think?” Jiah asked.

 

Daniel snorted. “Savannah doesn’t think…she just goes along with what her mother says.”

 

“So I would serve to convince everyone that you’ve moved on.” Jiah said.

 

“They are going to hate you for breaking up their perfect couple.” Taera pointed out.

 

“It’s rather ironic that you were in support of your best friend’s idea but now that Daniel seems to get something out of it you don’t think it’s a good idea.” William said to Taera.

 

“Lying to a woman who is only here for a couple of days – spontaneously I might add – is different than planning to lie to multiple people who will always be here. In Jiah’s situation, Daniel isn’t the bad guy but Jiah gets painted as one, and it’s not like your mother is just leaving Charleston.” Taera pointed out to him.

 

She knew she had him because he just looked at her face, a look of speculation on his face, 

 

“God, you really are such a liar, truly an immoral villain.” She sighed.

 

“I am not!”

 

Before Taera could reply Jiah spoke. “I’ll do it.”

 

Taera’s head whipped around towards her best friend, she raised her eyebrow at her asking her if she was sure silently, Jiah nodded. Taera sighed and went back to her iPad, typing away as they elaborated on who to tell and when. Daniel was to loop Aera in immediately, but would just tell his mother that he met someone and was bringing her to Anaya’s party. Henry and Irene could be looped in. The charade would need to go on until the end of the year at least for it to be successful, this meant that Jiah was to attend events with Daniel.

 

In terms of making their relationship look authentic, they agreed that visiting each other at work along with going out for dinner or a date once a week would quash any suspicions on either end. William suggested that it would make sense if Jiah spent her evening after work at BARE occasionally – seeing each other on a date once a week didn’t scream I have moved on. After much sniping with William, Taera came to the end of her list of things to discuss – having left out Public Displays of Affection (PDA) until the end.

 

Taera first pointed out that they both startled if the other person touched them, and that people who were in a relationship were much more comfortable with that. Both Daniel and Jiah had shifted uncomfortably as Taera asked them what they were comfortable with. “You’re getting off pretty lucky here, your mothers won’t put you in the same room or wonder why you aren’t kissing…you’re part of a culture where you can get away with holding hands, hugs and pecks on the cheek – keep it respectful.” Taera said when they didn’t speak. “Is that okay?” Taera rolled her eyes as they both nodded.

 

Taera was about to continue onto the next point when she heard a loud scream followed by a rush of noise which sounded like multiple people speaking at the same time. William sprang up and followed the sound, Daniel and the girls on his tail. There was a large crowd forming to the side of the gym that the boxing ring. A young man sat in the middle of the crowd clutching his knee in pain while a BARE personal trainer stood beside him trying to figure out what was happening.

 

“What happened?” William asked approaching the duo, falling to his knees beside them.

 

“He was cooling down and stretching his legs, there was a pop sound and he fell to the floor.” Tyler, a personal trainer, said. He sounded rather nervous as the man on the floor groaned in pain.

 

Taera sat down right by the injured man’s leg. “Hi, my name is Taera, do you mind if I look at your leg and assess the injury?”

 

The man looked up at her with a confused look on his face and didn’t say anything.

 

“I went to medical school.” She added causing the man to nod immediately. “What’s your name?” She asked looking up at him with a reassuring smile.

 

“Xavier.”

 

“All right, Xavier, is your left knee hurting?” Taera asked and Xavier nodded. “Okay, I am gently going to touch your knee to see if I can feel anything, it looks swollen to me.” She said gently as she prodded the kneecap.

 

Taera could feel everyone staring at her, Daniel was trying his best to disperse the crowd but they were curious. She heard William murmuring to someone to get an ice pack and towel followed  by the sound of feet scurrying away.

 

“Okay, can you try flexing you knee a little bit?” Taera asked, Xavier complied and held back a groan. “Now I am just going to do a quick test to figure out what’s happened.” Taera said while going through the checklist that she still seemed to remember even after not having touched it since she dropped out of medical school. “This might hurt just a smidge.” She murmured, performing the pivot-shift test causing Xavier to screech in pain.

 

Taera sighed and looked to her right to see William crouched right beside her. “Can you call 911? He has a torn ligament, they need to bring a stretcher.” She said and William nodded quickly, handing her an ice-pack wrapped in a towel before pulling out his phone and dialing 911.

 

She turned back to Xavier, putting the ice-pack on his knee, he seemed to be holding back the tears. “I know it probably kills like a bitch, you tore a ligament. Did your knee locked when you were stretching?”

 

“I had an injury a couple of weeks ago and I think I made it worse.” Xavier said quietly.

 

“That could do it. They’ll probably give you a knee brace and let it heal with time after doing an MRI to assess but you have to take it easy after that.” Taera said reassuring Xavier. “And be sure to ask for the strong painkillers my friend because you’re gonna need them.”

 

The ambulance arrived quickly, the paramedics rushing in with a stretcher and rushing out with Xavier moments later. Everyone around the gym was rather quiet as William and Daniel urged them to wrap up their workouts and head out. Jiah and Taera slipped out after saying goodbye to Daniel, William was a bit preoccupied talking to the paramedics by the ambulance.

 

“You have everything right?” Taera asked Jiah, they had grabbed their purses before but Jiah had a horrible habit of forgetting things.

 

“Yeah, I’ll head out in my car then.” She said as she fished for her keys out of her purse.

 

“See you at home.” She said as Jiah walked over to the driver’s side.

 

Taera walked over to her car and threw the passenger side door open, throwing her iPad and purse on the seat before closing it.

 

“Taera!” She heard a voice behind her, she turned to find William jogging up to her car from the BARE parking lot as the ambulance pulled out.

 

She arched her eyebrow at him in question as he came to a stop in front of her. “I think that’s the first time you’ve said my name.” She mused, but she wasn’t sure.

 

“Thank you.” He said and she felt her mouth open in shock.

 

“Wait, did I hear that right? Did you just say thank you, to me?” She asked.

 

“You’re so dramatic.” He sighed. “A you’re welcome would have sufficed.”

 

“Is that how you want to thank me, with the snark?” She asked.

 

“No, I genuinely mean it, thank you for handling that situation back there.” He said, and he sounded like he meant it, and the small smile on his face looked real. She hated those cute little dimples he had, hated them.

 

“You’re welcome.” She said. There was a moment of awkward silence between them and she couldn’t help but try to dispel it. “I wanted a sorry, but a thank you will do for now, I’ll get the sorry out of you soon enough.”

 

She tried to hold back a smile as he rolled his eyes.

 

“Bye, drive safe.” He said.

 

“I always do, you’re the one that seems prone to speeding.”

 

“Bye Taera.” He sighed as he turned around.

 

“Bye Villain Choi!” She yelled after him, she was sure she heard him groan.

Chapter Text

July 2017

 

That night Jiah tossed and turned in bed, the event of the day and the stress of being discovered by her mother, who was currently sleeping in the guest room, keeping her from sleeping peacefully. She hoped and prayed that her mother wouldn’t stick around for too long.

 

Across the hall, Taera occasionally whimpered in her sleep, a phenomena that was becoming more common as her overactive brain brought all her fleeting thoughts during the day to life at night. Taera had been consistently dreaming about the devil incarnate. Her dreams had started out very innocently – her winning her parking spot, him installing a sign claiming her parking spot, him apologizing to her, a weird one where he was dressed as a Joseon Era King and her as a Queen – even in the dream his coat had been unbuttoned leaving his body on display.

 

But today’s dream was much more lascivious – giving life to her earlier debauched thoughts of tracing his muscles. In her dream, he was doing pull ups again, this time shirtless, his heather gray tank top laying on the bench – folded perfectly because even subconsciously Taera had picked up on his mild Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder.  Her fingers caressed the muscles of his chest and abdomen, as she breathily whispered the name of each one, followed by an explanation how they contracted and relaxed with his movements as she nuzzled, nibbled and laved his skin.

 

And then she moved closer, his body rubbing against hers every time he moved up and down, her nipples hardening due to the friction. She started placing kisses on his exposed skin as he groaned out her name softly, Taera, before dropping down to resting position.

 

She just grinned at him, shaking her head and moving away, and asked him to keep going if he wanted her to continue. He had groaned out a quiet fuck that sent tingles down her body before resuming his movement. Her hands trailed down his abs, tracing his hip bones before trailing downwards, grasping his length through his shorts causing him to jerk in surprise. She let out a giggle as his arms slipped, she felt a hand reach for her but she moved away.

 

“Nu-uh. Keep going-” She started to say but he swung down, pushing her against the wall behind her, his hand come up to wrap around her neck, squeezing lightly, as his frantic lips met hers. Her arms wrapped around him, her hands twisting into his hair as her lips moved against his, just as frantic and needy. His lips trailed down her neck. In her dreams, clothes seemed to disappear with a mere thought because her shirt and leggings were suddenly gone leaving him to trail kisses between her breasts and down her stomach until he was kneeling in front of her, and pulling her left leg over his shoulder, tracing his finger over her panties as she twitched in anticipation.

 

“Taera! Taera! Taera!” She suddenly felt herself shake as Jiah’s voice called out to her. Her eyes slowly opened and she let out a groan.

 

Instead of being ravished at BARE she was staring up at her ceiling with Jiah leaning into her view, a worried look on her face. “Were you having a bad dream? You were whimpering pretty loudly.” Her best friend asked, her voice dripping with worry.

 

Taera was glad that the room was dark and Jiah couldn’t see how flushed her face was. “I guess so, I don’t remember it. I am sorry that I woke you up.” She murmured.

 

Jiah left her alone to stare at her ceiling and wonder why she was dreaming about him again, and kind of wishing that she could see what happened next.

 


 

The morning brought with it more questions from Ji-Hye…about Daniel. Where is he from? Who is in his family? Are you serious about him? Jiah was going insane – and when Aera and Anaya walked into Sorelle later in the day she wanted to both laugh and cry at the same time. She hoped that Daniel had filled his sister in, he had mentioned that he was having dinner with her when they were at BARE the previous night but then freaked out remembering what had happened with the man who got injured – what if Daniel didn’t get the chance to tell Aera? But then Aera had winked at her and all her worries had been eased.

 

Aera was ecstatic, she couldn’t have thought of a better plan to encourage Daniel and Jiah to spend more time together than the situation they had landed themselves in. It was like the universe was listening to her. Daniel had shared the details the previous night and Aera had tried to act like she was disappointed that he was lying to their mother – on the inside she was doing a happy dance. David had cleared his throat multiple times throughout dinner to remind her to keep that ecstatic smile off her face.

 

She had decided that she would visit Sorelle today in hopes of running into Jiah’s mother, and it seemed like the universe was once again on her side because she noticed an older woman who resembled Jiah sitting at one of the tables, reading a book.

 

“Miss Wiah!” Anaya waved at Jiah who was standing behind the counter, Taera seemed to be missing in action for once.

 

“Miss Anaya!” Jiah greeted the little girl with a smile. “Hi Aera.”

 

“Oh dear, it looks like it’s been a rough few days.” Aera murmured in greeting.

 

“I am d-y-i-n-g.” Jiah sighed.

 

“Hey! What you spewwing?” Anaya complained.

 

“Sorry Miss Anaya. What would you like today?” Jiah asked.

 

“My Awiel cake?” Anaya asked causing Aera to snicker at her daughter.

 

“Ariel cake?” Jiah asked, confused.

 

“Of course Daniel forgot!” Aera groaned. “I sent him over here to ask you if you could do the birthday cake for Anaya’s birthday party.”

 

Awiel cake!” Anaya piped in.

 

“Yes, a Little Mermaid cake.” Aera smiled.

 

“Pwease?” Anaya said while pouting up at her, Jiah couldn’t help but laugh.

 

“Sure, Taera and I would love to make an Ariel cake for you Miss Anaya.” Jiah said to the little girl who started jumping up and down excitedly.

 

“Now?”

 

“On your birthday.” Jiah laughed. “What do you want now?” She asked.

 

“Choco cupcake?” Anaya asked, her eyes going over to the cupcake display.  

 

“Of course, with some warm milky hot chocolate.” Jiah suggested and smiled when she noticed both Aera and Anaya nod. Once Jiah had called for their order she turned back to the pair and looked to where her mother was sitting, her eyes at the counter. “Let me introduce you to my mother.”

 

Jiah admired how socially competent Aera was, she wasn’t sure how to go about introducing the two woman but Aera handled it on her own. She greeted her mother in fluent Korean that was much better than Daniel’s, complimented her, introduced herself and Anaya and the two launched into spontaneous conversation as they ate and drank, with little Anaya piping in with a cute comment here and there. Her mother seemed to eat up everything Aera said, about how glad she was at meeting the two, and how happy she was for her brother and Jiah. Jiah wanted to take Aera home with her and have her stay there until her mother left.

 

Aera and Anaya took to Demi immediately when she dropped by, Anaya exclaiming how much Miss Demi looked like Miss Taewa. It seemed like the mention of Taera finally made the little girl realize that she was missing.

 

“Where is Miss Taewa?” Anaya asked standing in her seat and looking around.

 

“Taera had to go see someone honey.” Jiah explained.

 

“Everything okay?” Aera asked.

 

“Yeah-”

 

“They are having trouble making a profit.” Ji-Hye  murmured, a disappointed look on her face. “I told them opening a business was risky.”

 


 

Taera parked her car outside the office for the marketing agency she found via Google, Taera and Jiah had tried their best to push Sorelle into the public eye but their Facebook and Instagram posts only went so far. Ji-Hye had actually suggested hiring a marketing agency that could come up with strategies for them, having used one for their restaurants in New York with success.

 

Jiah and Taera had spent the past two days scouring through Google Reviews looking for a qualified agency. She had called and made an appointment at the top-rated one with comments indicating that they were affordable and delivered great results.

 

She looked around the complex she had arrived at, it was apparently the business centre of the city. The people walking into and out of the buildings and offices were dressed very professionally, a sight she hadn’t seen since she left New York – she felt just a little homesick thinking about running into thousands of people just like this while walking through the bustling streets of New York.

 

She grabbed her bag and stepped out of the car, slamming the door shut behind her. She looked at her phone and then at the numbers on the building trying to figure out which one the office was located in. She narrowed it down quickly and headed to the building to her right, it was a large shared work space – there were four distinct office spaces with a waiting area in the middle. The receptionist asked her to wait for a couple of minutes since Mr. Kramer, the individual she was seeing, was with another client at the moment.

 

She took a seat on a plush chair and observed her surroundings, the names of the four businesses in this shared space listed by the door. The main floor of the building played host to a law firm, the marketing agency, a consulting firm and an accountant’s office. She took out her phone and shot a text to Jiah updating her on her whereabouts.

 

She was looking around when she noticed William step out of one of the offices – the accounting one. There was a smile on his face as he laughed at something the woman in front of him said. Taera did a double take when she saw that he was wearing a pair of light grey slacks with a white dress shirt and a matching light grey blazer. His hair was slicked back, neater than usual, but there were still a few stubborn strands that fell onto his face. He pushed them back with his hands as he spoke and she noticed that he was wearing a rather large watch as well. He looked like he walked off the cover of GQ and she felt her stomach knot for some odd reason.

 

Her eyes went down to the woman speaking to him and she found herself picking apart everything from her hair to her outfit, she was young, pretty and had light brown hair that she had contained into a wavy ponytail. Taera’s eyes narrowed a bit, without her knowledge, when the woman lightly smacked William’s bicep and let out a chuckle – there was no way that the devil incarnate was that funny.

 

She waved him goodbye and walked back into the office. Taera was hoping he’d walk out the door and not look towards her – but it seemed like luck was not on her side because he turned to walk to the receptionist and then stopped short when he saw her sitting in the waiting room.

 

“Are you following me?” He asked with a smirk.

 

“In your dreams, we went over this, I wouldn’t even follow you on Twitter.” She said, and then regretted mentioning dreams because it only reminded her of the dreams she had been having…with the way her brain worked tonight’s dream would feature him in that outfit and the couch behind him.

 

“What are you doing here?” He asked walking towards her and coming to a stop right in front of her so she had to look up to talk to him.

 

If Taera hadn’t been so distracted by how good he looked in formal clothing – she also kind of found it ironic that she found him more attractive in more clothes – she would have retorted with some biting and witty. Due to her distraction, she just responded with “I am here to see a lawyer.” A lie.

 

He looked back at her in confusion. “Is everything okay?” He asked, sounding oddly sincere.

 

“You’re so nosey, if you must know, I have an appointment with the marketing agency.” She said with a shrug.

 

“Are you here to see Kramer?” He asked, his voice dropping in volume and his eyes darkening…with something.

 

“Are there any other marketing agencies here?” She asked sarcastically.

 

“Trust me when I say that you definitely should find a different one.” He said running his hand through his hair again, the strands stayed where he wanted them to stay for a second, but as soon as his hand dropped they did too.

 

“Why?” Taera asked confused.

 

“Miss Jeong, Mr. Kramer will see you now.” The receptionist called to her.

 

“Excuse me.” Taera said getting up, she had expected him to move out of the way but he didn’t and she found that he was blocking her way.

 

“Seriously, you need to find a different agency. Let’s go.” He said motioning towards the door.

 

“What’s wrong with you? Who are you to tell me who to work with? This firm had the best reviews and-”

 

“Yeah, because reviews can’t be bought.” He said, his voice dripping in sarcasm.

 

“I am not dumb – I checked across platforms – the reviews were consistently good.” She snapped, she could feel herself getting angrier at this audacity, she wasn’t dumb.

 

“Miss Jeong.” The receptionist called. Taera looked past William’s shoulder to see that she had gotten up and was now looking towards her curiously.

 

“Yes, coming!” Taera said to her before looking back at William.

 

“You have no- what are you doing?!” She hissed when he grabbed her hand and started to drag her towards the door. “What do you think you’re doing?” She hissed, trying to pull away from him but failing to, he was clearly stronger than her, the callouses on his palm reminding her that he benched a ridiculous amount of weight.

 

“Taera.” He said turning towards her, she was a bit taken aback by the serious look on his face. “I know that we don’t get along…but trust me, you don’t want to work with them.” He said before pulling her out the door of the shared space and towards the door.

 

Before Taera knew what she was doing they were outside and her trusty can of pepper spray was in her hand and her hand was on the trigger, even though she knew she wouldn’t spray it at him. William looked at her with an are you for real look as he let her hand go but her finger was accidentally pressing down on the sensitive trigger. It seemed like luck was not on her side because she first saw and then felt a gust of spray come right at her face. The can clattered to the floor as she felt the burning start in her eyes.

 

“You’re absolutely crazy.” She heard him murmur as she struggled, she felt him reach into her bag and felt it lighten considerably.

 

“Ahhh, it stings.” She cried blinking rapidly.

 

“Hold your hands out.” He said to her, she complied and felt him pour water into her hands, she splashed her eyes until they stopped stinging. Her face was soaking wet, and the white blouse she was wearing was clinging to her skin.

 

“Your eyes are still red.” He said.

 

“It’ll take a while for them to get back to normal.” She responded. “What’s wrong with you?! Why are you manhandling me?”

 

“Because you don’t listen.” He said, crossing his arms across his chest.

 

“Why? What’s wrong with Kramer?” She asked.

 

“They are very sketchy, they charge a lot for what they do which is basically nothing, if you leave a bad review they have it removed claiming that they’ve never worked with you. And there are multiple sexual harassment lawsuits from some of their previous clients.” He said.

 

Taera’s eyes narrowed at him, he had no reason to lie to her but if this was all true she would have seen some indication of it.

 

“Don’t take my word for it.” He said before pulling out his phone, she saw him launch his Contacts app, hitting a name near the top. The screen switched to the standard outgoing call screen and he put it on speaker phone. Taera’s vision was kind of blurry but the name started with an A and was rather short.

 

“Hello.” A voice that was familiar answered.

 

“Hi Aera, I need you to do me a favour.” William said into the phone.

 

“What’s up?” Aera asked.

 

“I am here with Taera, and she is insisting that she hire Kramer’s marketing agency, can you explain to her why that is a bad idea?”

 

“I have so many questions.” Aera murmured. “Taera, can you hear me?” She asked. 

 

“You’re on speaker phone.” William replied.

 

“Is your name Taera now?” Taera snapped at William. “Hi Aera.”

 

“Definitely a bad idea like William said – a couple of my previous clients hired them for their business, they did a really bad job, overcharged and sexually harassed some of them. They give off really creepy vibes.” Aera claimed.

 

“Thanks Aera, I’ll call you back.” William said.

 

“Again, I have so many questions.” Aera said before William hung up.

 

“You can say thank you.” William said.

 

“For what? Manhandling me?” Taera scoffed.

 

“From saving you from making a bad decision and helping you wash pepper spray out of your eye.” He said with a grin, she wanted to wipe it right off his blurry face, her eyes were burning and watering again. “I said thank you yesterday.” He reminded her and she sighed.

 

“I would have eventually picked up bad vibes and switched to another one, and you only had to help me wash out my eyes because YOU are the reason it happened. Couldn’t you have said they are shady as fuck inside?” She pointed out.

 

“I tried but you didn’t believe me.”

 

“And dragging me out of there was your next plan of action?” She scoffed.

 

“You’re seriously the most infuriating woman I know.” William said.

 

“Did you expect me to laugh and thank you while playfully hitting your arm?” She snapped.

 

“Interesting choice of words there, I didn’t know you were paying that much attention to my interactions.”

 

“Please don’t flatter yourself.” She scoffed but internally she was banging her head against a wall for bringing that up, she sounded…jealous?

 

“I’ll drive you back.” He said motioning towards his car.

 

“I can drive.”

 

“Your eyes are red, you are rubbing them constantly and blinking erratically – I don’t think you can drive back without killing half of Charleston.”

 

“But my car-”

 

“You can pick it up with Jiah later.” He pointed out.

 

“Fine, you can drive me back since this is all your fault.” She said following him towards his car.

 

“Stop touching your eyes.” He murmured as he opened the passenger side door for her. She looked taken aback by the gesture causing him to roll his eyes as he closed her door and walked to the driver side of the car. His car was super clean, there was no dust anywhere and he didn’t have receipts and coins lying around. The area inside the door – where most people kept their garbage – was empty as well. And it smelled like really expensive cologne, one he probably sprayed all over himself.

 

She put on her seat belt and leaned back before looking towards him. He put on his own seat belt and smoothly pulled out of the parking spot. She knew there must have been an evil smirk on her face as she lifted her shoe-clad feet and put them on the dashboard in front of him.

 

“Feet down.” He said with a groan causing her to giggle.

 

“Based on how neat this very unreliable car is, your actions around messes, your perfect parking attempts, the lack of any wrinkles in your clothes, and your constant preoccupation with lining things up, I suspect that you have OCPD.” She said nonchalantly.

 

“I am impressed you didn’t say OCD.” He murmured as he pulled onto the road.

 

“I went to medical school, I know the difference between the two.” She said rolling her eyes.

 

“I am surprised you picked it up, might I inquire why you’re watching me so closely?” He teased.

 

“Hah, you wish. I did train to pick up subtle cues for sickness, physical and mental and you’re a walking problem so I can’t help it.” She quipped trying to play it off. “There is traffic in Charleston?” She asked noticing the larger than usual line up despite the fact that the light was green – the cars were still a bit blurry and the sign looked more like a green haze – she needed to flush her eyes out.

 

“There is probably an accident or something.” William shrugged.

 

“Great.” She groaned, her throat was starting to burn and her eyes were hurting – so of course it would take longer than usual to get to where she needed to go. She was silent for a total of 30 seconds before the silence got to her, she started tapping her feet causing William to sigh. “Can I turn on the radio?” She asked.

 

“Anything that will stop you from incessantly tapping.” He murmured causing her to roll her eyes.

 

She turned the radio on and navigated to her favourite FM channel, it played pop and R&B, her two favourite genres. Taera’s eyes grew wide as she heard Missy Elliot’s Work It fill the speakers of the car – a song she loved – but it happened to be really explicit which wasn’t a problem when it was just Jiah in the car and the two of them sang along. Taera’s hand hit the next button as soon as she heard the words go downtown and eat it like a vulture – her most recent dream flashing in front of her eyes.

William cleared his throat uncomfortably, glad that she had changed the song. Taera scrolled to her second favourite FM channel only to be greeted by Beyonce’s Drunk in Love, the diva sexily crooning why can’t I keep my fingers off it, baby. Taera scrolled right past to the next station but not before she remembered how her fingers were tracing his body in her dreams.

She wanted to scream when the next song was The Weeknd’s Often – a song she adored but didn’t want to listen to with William sitting next to her. She breathed in relief when the next song announced was by Zayn Malik – the guy who broke off of One Direction, it was bound to be clean. Taera coughed and turned off the radio as soon as he started crooning I just want to watch you when you take it off.

 

“Such weird songs.” She said with a fake chuckle, the reality was that she loved most of those songs…it was just awkward listening to them while you were in a car with a man that annoyed you to no end but also featured in your dreams in various states of undress.

 

William cleared his throat. “Why do you need to hire a marketing agency?” He asked.

 

“Facebook and Instagram posts alone aren’t working anymore, we are looking to get more custom orders.” Taera said honestly in an attempt to get rid of the awkwardness that had filled the car as soon as she turned the radio off.

 

“You know that Aera does that for a living right? She owns Quirks, the Social Media Management Firm.”

 

“What?”

 

“Yes, but you probably don’t even her intense level of services. Is there a specific population you want to target?” He asked.

 

“I guess brides and parents for birthday parties.”

 

“There is an easier, cheaper and more effective way to do that rather than hiring a marketing agency.” He said.

 

“I am listening.”

 

“Do you use targeted ads on Facebook?”

 

“We’ve tried it on and off, it gets expensive.” Taera answered.

 

“So you probably chose a certain type of user to target and set the location as Charleston?” He asked.

 

“Yes.”

 

Facebook, and this also applies to Google and Instagram, can do this thing where you can focus on a very small location, like a football stadium or a conference or an airport. So, you can set up your ad to target actual places where your customers are likely to be and since you’re only advertising for the duration of whatever event you are targeting, like a football game for instance, the cost is super low.” He explained as the car moved forward slowly in the stop-and-go traffic. “We used it heavily for BARE, at sporting events, concerts, conferences and places we thought would be filled with people likely to sign up for a gym membership and it worked really well.”

 

“So I would target things like carnivals, bridal shows, toy shows and such.” Taera mused nodding.

 

“Exactly, it is a low cost, high payout strategy. People are always looking down at their phones when they aren’t actively engaged in something, so they aren’t likely to pay attention to a poster or a billboard ad but if the same thing is on their phone they are much more likely to see it. I can teach you if you want.” He shrugged as the traffic eased and the car started moving faster.

 

“I’d like that, thank you.”

 

“So you can say thank you after all.” He teased.

 

“Yet you still can’t say sorry.”

 

“I’ll apologize if you apologize.”

 

“Fine.” She said, she guessed she shouldn’t have run out onto the road like she did, if he had hit her she’d be in the hospital and he’d have a rather expensive ticket to deal with. “You first.”

 

“Ladies first.”

 

“No, you first.”

 

He sighed. “I am sorry for almost running you over, I guess I was going too fast.” He said.

 

“You guess?”

 

“You’re not getting any more than that.”

 

“No, the problem here is that you yelled at me and called me a liar like I made it all up. Accused me of doing it on purpose for money! Yelled that there was no puppy when there was a puppy! No one jumps out in front of a car on purpose.” She pointed out, she wasn’t angry that he drove too fast – she did too. But she wouldn’t have gotten out of the car and yelled at the person like he did.

 

“People do that!”

 

“No one does that!”

 

“Someone did it to Daniel, sued him for a million after walking into his car on purpose!” He exclaimed.

 

She sighed, she guessed he may have had a reason for reacting the way he did.

 

“It still doesn’t make it okay. You can’t think ill of everyone because one person did something they shouldn’t have done.” She said as she turned towards him, blinking away the burning sensation in her eyes from the pepper spray. She watched as he sighed, and ran his hand through his hair, the other still on the steering wheel.

 

“I seem to have a hard time with that.” He murmured. “But I am sorry, I overreacted and said things I shouldn’t have. You seem to have this annoying I need to help streak that gets you into trouble rather than a malicious one.”

 

“That’s the most convoluted apology ever. You just insulted the fact that I like to help -”

 

“But it gets you into trouble.”

 

“It doesn’t!”

 

“You almost got ran over by a car when you chased the puppy, the other day you almost fell into a manhole because you decided you had to be the one to push the cover back into place.”

 

“Someone could have fallen in!”

 

“You could have fallen in.”

 

“Better me than a young child, I couldn’t have just left it there.”

 

“You could call the city and have them take care of it.”

 

“Yes, because they’re going to come running like it’s an emergency.” She rolled her eyes. “And why do you even care, you’d be free of me for a while if I fell in and broke a couple of bones.”

 

“I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”

 

“This was supposed to be an apology.”

 

“I did apologize.”

 

“Not really.”

 

“Fine, I am sorry for overreacting and thinking the worst of you.”

 

“So you no longer think the worst of me?”

 

“Taera – I swear-”

 

“Apology accepted.” She said with a smile, he apologized first.

 

“Aren’t you going to apologize?” He said when she didn’t speak for a couple of seconds.

 

“I have nothing to apologize for.” She teased.

 

“Honestly, you’re seriously the -”

 

“I am sorry for yelling and calling you names, and giving you the finger.” She said.

 

“Apology accepted.”

 

“Does this mean you’re going to stop stealing my parking spot?”

 

“It’s not yours.”

 

“Social convention dictates it is, park in someone else’s spot and they’ll act the same way! It’s established that the spot across every store belongs to the store owner.”

 

“I thought I was the one with rigid world views?” He asked, his voice teasing.

 

“You’re annoying.” She groaned.

 

“That rule applied when my side of the street was empty, now it’s not.”

 

“You have a parking lot!”

 

“You have one too, behind your store.”

 

“I feel like I am talking to a wall.”

 

“A wall that’s driving you home.”

 

“Because the wall decided it wanted to manhandle me rather than explaining a situation to me.” She retorted.

 

“Would you have listened?”

 

She sighed. Probably not. “If you made sense.” She mumbled.

 

“Why do you carry around pepper spray anyways?” He asked.

 

“I grew up in New York, every other person is crazy.”

 

He chuckled and her heart decided it was going to misbehave. It started beating a little faster as her brain registered that she really liked the sound of his laugh, it was deep and boyish at the same time.

 

“That explains you, Wicked Witch of New York. I guess Jiah is the normal one between the two of you.”

 

“Shut up. You’re so annoying.”

 


 

Jiah had been standing outside Sorelle when William’s car pulled up to the curb, her mouth fell open when Taera got out the car. Jiah had just received a call at the store from the marketing agency that Taera was supposed to go to, apparently she had just left without seeing anyone.

 

“Taera, the agency called and said that you just left.” She said, trying to ignore the other questions that are running through her mind – like why was her best friend was in a car with William.

 

“I changed my mind.” Taera said.

 

“Good thing, the old one didn’t work.” William murmured as Taera shut the door behind her.

 

She pulled it open again and yelled, “I heard that” before slamming it shut. She could see that he visibly cringed as the door slammed shut – boys and their cars.

 


 

Taera found herself marching over to BARE, her laptop in her hand, William had asked her to drop by at the end of the day so he could show her how to set up the ad targeting they discussed earlier that day.  The receptionist, Anne, gave her a tight smile as she marched over to the direction of William’s office, she saw him walking from the other side of the gym, running his hands through his evidently wet hair. He was no longer in the formal clothing she had seen him in this morning but rather sweatpants and a long-sleeved shirt.

 

“Hey, is now a good time?” She asked holding up her laptop when they made eye-contact. It was weird for her to interact with him in this way, most of their previous interactions had been coloured with some sort of conflict but here he was offering to help her. And he had apologized for their first meeting even though he still refused to give up her parking spot.

 

“Yeah, we can meet in my office.” He said opening a door to his right.

 

Taera followed after him and took in her surroundings, William’s office was like his car – clean. Much like the rest of BARE, there was a distinctive industrial theme, concrete pillars, grey tiled floors and feature walls. There was a large table in the middle of the space sitting on a textured rug, all the furniture matched and had both dark grey and wood tones. Over the desk hung a large chandelier in gold. There were chairs on either side of the clean desk, it held a couple of papers and William’s MacBook, the rest of his things hidden way in cabinets and drawers.

 

“Nice office.” Taera said as she plopped down on a chair across from his on the desk, the chair was rather comfy and she had been on her feet all day so it was nice to sit down.

 

She let out a little eep when William pulled her chair, bringing it around to his side of the desk before sitting in his own chair which was now right beside the one she was in. “You could have just asked me to move, that’s the second time you’ve manhandled me today.” She said looking towards him.

 

“When I ask you to do things you argue, I am just cutting out the middle part.” He shrugged.

 

“It’s rude.” She pointed out and he just shrugged, a small smile on his face.

 

“How are your eyes?” He asked as his eyes flickered between hers.

 

“Better.”

 

“Hmmm, you don’t look like the Wicked Witch of New York anymore.” He teased.

 

“And you look way too amused, I can fix that for you.” She glared causing him to chuckle. She cursed her heart for reacting to it again, his laughter wasn’t that nice.

 

“Log in to Facebook.” He said pointing towards her laptop and leaning back in his chair. She rolled her eyes but complied.

 

Taera was sure she would have picked up what he was trying to explain to her really quickly if it wasn’t for the fact that he was almost speaking right into her ear, he was leaning over, pointing to the screen while explaining what to do. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he had actually leaned over, his arms brushing against hers as he took control of her trackpad, their hands touching.

 

Her heart and stomach were doing some kind of synchronized dance, she could hear her heart thumping away in her ears as her stomach flip-flopped. Her usually alert brain was busy figuring out if the smell that surrounded her was his cologne, body wash or shampoo. She felt like a teenager with her first crush. It was ridiculous.

 

“So now all you need to do is figure out the events you want to target.” He said. 

 

“There’s the county fair later this week and a bridal show in two weeks from now.” She said navigating to the other tabs she had opened while wondering if his voice had always been so nice, it was so deep and smooth.

 

“Perfect, set in the time and location of these events into the ad with the materials you have and it’ll go live at the time you specified.” He instructed as Taera went through and entered the date and times.

 

“No, you want to choose the everyone feature.” He said, placing his hand over hers again and hovering over the right option.

 

Taera turned towards him, her breath hitching as she found him looking right at her, their faces inches apart. She had an urge to just tuck her face into the crook of his neck and close her eyes, inhale the smell that seemed to surround them. But she didn’t do that, she just cleared her throat awkwardly and went back to looking at her laptop, his hand lifted off of hers as she changed the option as he specified.

 

“This was easier than I expected, I can’t believe I didn’t think about this.” She said as she queued up the posts.

 

“Well, Harvard takes a lot of time and money to teach you things like this. Just like you spent of a lot time and money to learn how to diagnose a torn ligament.” He shrugged, leaning back in his chair.

 

“Do you know how he’s doing?” Taera asked referring to Xavier, he had crossed her mind a couple of times.

 

“As well as he can, he has a knee brace and will be attending physical therapy once it’s off.”

 

“Good to know.” She smiled.

 

“You’d make a good doctor.” He said. “You were able to calm him down quickly, and just the way you explained what you were doing while you were doing it was nice. Most doctors I’ve been to don’t say enough.”

 

“Are you being…nice to me?” She gasped dramatically and broke out into laughter when he rolled his eyes.

 

“Why do I even try?” He sighed.

 

“Thanks though, for both the compliment and the crash course.” She looked up at him and gave him a genuine Taera smile, dimples and all.

 

“Are you being…nice to me?” He copied her, arching his eyebrow.

 

“I am always nice.” She winked at him.

Chapter Text

August 2017

“Oh God, it’s not like you’re his actual girlfriend or meeting his sister for the first time – you have been friends with her longer. Stop freaking out.” Taera hissed at Jiah as she looked in the mirror again in a red bohemian summer dress that had buttons running down the front along with two large pocket. Her bed was piled with multiple outfits that had either been rejected outright or after they were tried on.

 

Taera sat on Jiah’s bed in a black romper with long sleeves paired with her favourite pair of sneakers, she hadn’t even changed her outfit once. “That looks perfect.” Taera smiled as her best friend looked towards her. “Now let’s go before your mother comes up here wondering what’s taking so long.”

 

Aera had invited Jiah, Taera, Demi and Ji-Hye to dinner at her house. She had reassured Jiah that Helen (her mother) would not be there – small steps she had said. Ji-Hye  walked out of her room in a pair of white pants and a black and white gingham shirt, a small clutch in her hand. Demi was already waiting downstairs in a white summer dress, her hair in a fishtail braid that took way too long.

 

Jiah was hoping the charade would hold, she had spent the last week dropping by BARE at least once a day on the days her mother was around – she didn’t need to know that Daniel wasn’t always there. Sometimes Jiah just walked in and William showed her to an empty office where she sat and sighed wishing her mother would leave already. Daniel had dropped by Sorelle multiple times as well, her mother seemed appeased – and Daniel left with a box of sugar free goods every time so he was happy as well.

 

Taera and William were duly amused, they would snicker whenever Jiah jumped up in surprise when Daniel touched her. The two of them still fought over the parking spot religiously – it seemed to Jiah that they just did it for fun now – it would have been easier for William to park in the large parking lot outside BARE just as Taera could park behind Sorelle in the large shared parking lot, they both refused to budge.

 

However, they now teamed up and took every opportunity to annoy both Daniel and Jiah, Taera going as far as to suggest that Daniel just push her up against the car and plant one on her when Ji-Hye was watching – she wouldn’t suspect anything then. William for once had just chuckled and agreed. The two of them would walk by Jiah and Daniel and whisper just kiss which annoyed Jiah to no end.

 

The drive to Aera’s house was a short one, she lived not too far from Sorelle but closer to the Ashley River. The girls oohed and ahhed as they pulled onto Aera’s street, the street only had houses on one side, the other side was all water. The Choi-Park House had a well-manicured lawn, and a long concrete driveway that stretched the length of the house, there were trees on either side affording it privacy. The house itself was traditional, almost like a New York Brownstone. It was illuminated, soft light coming out the numerous windows, making the house look lived in.

 

Taera parked the car and the four ladies got out, walking to the door along the well-lit path. Jiah rang the doorbell and it was opened only a moment later by Aera, clad in a perfect light pink linen dress, who was followed by Anaya, the little girl flinging herself at the two women who she had come to adore.

 

“Miss Taewa, Miss Wiah! Come play with me. Miss Demi, you too! I am having a tea pawty!” She said as she grabbed both Taera and Jiah’s hand, pulling them up the stairs.

 

“I’ll send appa to come get you soon Anaya, it’ll have to be a short tea party okay?” Aera said to her daughter.

 

“Okay!” The little girl said before bursting out into giggles when Taera leaned down and picked her up.

 

“Which way Miss Anaya?” She asked as Anaya pulled on the hair she had curled today.

 

“Upstaiws, end of the hall.” Anaya responded as Taera bounded up the stairs with Jiah and Demi behind them. Aera and Jiah’s mother seemed to walk further into the house towards what she assumed was the kitchen. “Your haiw looks pwetty Miss Taewa.”

 

“Oh thank you!” Taera responded.

 

“Latew can we cuwl my haiw too?” She asked.

 

“If your eomma agrees.” 

 

“Okay! Down down!” Anaya said as they reached the end of the hall, Taera put her down and followed her into the room she ran into.

 

Anaya’s playroom was a large expansive space with wooden beams across the high ceilings and pink toys and accents scattered everywhere. It was gorgeous but she could only burst out laughing. William and Daniel were sitting on little pink chairs with little teacups in front of them on the pink table in the middle of the room. They had obviously been talking about something but stopped short when they heard the chuckles, Jiah and Demi giggling as well. Taera was surprised to see William there, she hadn’t expected him, she was sure she heard him tell Aera he had a meeting on this evening.

 

“Nice crown there, princess.” Taera teased William who whipped the pink crown off his head and put it on the table. His hair was floppy again and stood in different directions as he pulled the crown off.  He was wearing a white long sleeved Henley that was rolled to his elbows and a pair of black pants – which was fine, but he also had a feather boa wrapped around his neck. The semi-casual look suited him well, it seemed like the only thing she hadn’t seen him in now were his pajamas…and naked. But she shook that thought away as she snickered at how uncomfortable he looked in the little chair, his legs were bent funny and the back of the chair didn’t even come up to the middle of his back.

 

“You have to sit for the tea pawty!” Anaya said to them while gently pushing them towards chairs.

 

“Right, thank you miss Anaya!” Jiah said as she was shown to a seat. Demi snickered when she noticed that Taera was placed into a seat next to William and Jiah sat next to Daniel, it seemed like the little girl was trying to play matchmaker.

 

Daniel was in a similar ensemble to William, looking casual and carefree, a small smile on his face as he watched his niece who walked around ordering everyone around.

 

Taera noticed Daniel look towards Demi and then back at Taera making her realize that she hadn’t officially introduced her to everyone.. “This is Demi – my sister. Demi, this is Daniel and this one is the bane of my existence.” Taera said pointing towards William.

 

“I appreciate that I hold such an important place in your life.” William retorted with a smirk causing her to roll her eyes.

 

Demi’s eyes met Jiah’s with obvious mirth, the two had recently been speculating that there was something going on between the two of them. Aera had casually mentioned that she was surprised that William had taken to annoying Taera – he usually avoided everyone and focused on his work. Jiah had then remembered the amused look that she had caught on his face as he watched Taera stomp off paired with the fact that he was concerned enough to stop her from making a bad decision with the marketing agency, he drove her back.

 

He had even texted her a screenshot of what to do when you get sprayed with pepper spray, apparently having bothered Aera for her number. She had replied with a middle finger emoji and left it at that – and then she had casually announced that she was going to go see William for help setting up targeted ads, leaving both Jiah and Demi shocked.

 

“Evewyone has to put on a hat!” Anaya said as she grabbed things from her toy chest and put it on the table. the room filled with laughter as everyone picked a hat. Jiah giggled while picking up a pink fedora and putting it on Daniel’s head, Anaya put the pink crown on Jiah’s head to match, and declared that Demi was the queen and got the biggest crown – the two had immediately clicked, Demi’s love for children evident to the little child.

 

Taera grabbed all the hats and put multiple on her head in effort to leave William with the pink crown he had been wearing previously, he was surprisingly a good sport about it and went along with it. Anaya was definitely mini-Aera, she poured everyone “tea” from her teapot into their white cups, instructing them on how to hold and drink it, asking her uncas to help demonstrate since they came to her party before.

 

A couple of minutes in William tipped his chair back far too much and went clattering down onto the floor chuckling as he went, the chair was so small that the fall was minimal. Taera was dying of laughter as she reached for her phone,  clicking a picture of him on the floor, with a small pink chair between his legs and a pink crown on his head – he had a dopey smile on his face as Anaya stood by him giggling and reprimanding him.

 

“Okay princess, I think we can stop the tea party now, it’s time for dinner.” David said walking into the room and chuckling at the scene. Only his daughter could rope in five adults for a tea party and make them listen to her every instruction.

 

Jiah followed everyone down, taking the chance to admire the house. It was the perfect blend of traditional and modern, there were coffered ceiling and cream wall against wooden floors. The kitchen was large and had off-white shaker style cabinets with high end stainless steel appliances. The dining room overlooked the water across the street and was set for eight people.

 

Daniel slowed down beside her causing her to remember her charade, her mother was peering up at the arriving group while she sat on a stool across the kitchen island from Aera. Jiah grabbed Daniel’s hand as they walked into the kitchen which was a flurry of activity now that it was filled with all of them.

 

Dinner, thankfully, was not awkward – it seemed like both Aera and Anaya seemed to pipe up whenever something awkward came up. Anaya jeopardized most of Demi’s attention, taking like a moth to the flame to the newest person in the group that was willing to listen. Demi laughed and oohed and aahed at Anaya’s antics, pulling Taera into the mix as well.

 

Jiah and Daniel sat next to each other, from across the table it seemed like they were whispering sweet nothings to each other but William had to hold back his laughter as the two of them argued about K-Dramas – Jiah claiming that they were amazing while Daniel disagreed. Taera and David briefly discussed his work as a lawyer before Aera announced that talking about business was not allowed at the dinner table.

 

Demi inconspicuously watched William, who seemed to be trying a bit too hard to not stare at Taera while he chatted with David. Demi had caught the up and down he had given her sister earlier, his eyes straying on her legs – Aera had waggled her eyebrows at Demi while William and Taera got into an argument about ketchup, William finding it odd that she topped off everything with ketchup and Taera insisting he try it.

 

Ji-Hye watched her daughter throughout dinner, noticing that she talked to Daniel more than anyone else at the table, their voices hushed – at one point it looked like they were arguing about something but then Jiah spluttered out laughing and Ji-Hye figured she was just seeing things.

 

All in all, everything was going well until the topic of Taera’s family came up, and then all of the sudden the conversation on the table was about how disappointed her parents were that she had dropped out of medical school. Ji-Hye gushed about how smart Taera was and how she was just wasting her potential here in Charleston.

 

William watched as Taera deflated, no longer laughing. He also didn’t miss the fact that Jiah and Demi both started looking at  her with worry. Taera excused herself, claiming that she needed fresh air, and walked out the patio door into the backyard.

 


 

Taera loved Aera and David’s backyard as much as she loved the house, there was a deck with a dining area, a large tree covering it with its foliage – she could imagine them sitting out here on a sunny day enjoying brunch, Anaya running around the tree. There was even an outdoor fireplace that was already lit in the corner with two chairs in front of it. She settled into the comfortable wicker chair, glad to be away from the hustle and bustle inside. Her mind wandered back to New York, stricken by the reminder that she would have been starting her residency if she was still there.

 

She didn’t know how long she sat there, lost in thought, but she snapped out of it when the smell of coffee assaulted her senses and a black mug appeared in front of her eyes, it was filled with milky coffee and a lot of sugar if she were to go by the smell. She followed the mug up to find the devil incarnate standing by her chair, although the small smile on his face that was illuminated by the fire made him look nothing like the devil.

 

“Coffee, just the way you like according to Jiah.” He said as she took the cup from his hand, watching his hair sway gently with the warm breeze.

 

“Did you poison it?” She asked, but smiled at him as he took a seat on the wicker chair by her to let him know she was teasing. He had his own mug in his hand, and it looked like he took his coffee black – she wasn’t surprised, he had eaten nothing unhealthy at dinner so it made sense that he not load up his coffee with cream and sugar.

 

“I tried my best but my plans were thwarted.” He retorted with a small smirk as she took a sip of her coffee.

 

“That makes you a really bad villain, Villain Choi.” She quipped putting her cup down on the table in front of them, a few drops splattered on the table and she watched amused as he grabbed a pack of napkins from the compartment in the table in front of them, indicating that he was a regular visitor to the Choi-Park household. He dabbed the table clean. “You really need to see a therapist for this.” She said, an amused smile on his face.

 

“My therapist says I don’t need to see her anymore, it’s not as bad as it used to be.” He murmured. “I am just a neat person.”

 

“What was it like when it was bad?” She asked looking towards him always finding things like this interesting – she was happy that she was correct in her hypothesis.

 

He sighed as if remembering something painful. “I drove everyone mad, everything had to be done to perfection, and I lost my sleep and sanity over it. I rarely played with my siblings, didn’t have many friends and always assumed that my way was the right way. I refused to work in groups at school because other kids didn’t do things properly. Had a really difficult time expressing my feelings or connecting with people. My uncle is a doctor, referred me to a psychologist as soon as he picked up on it.” William shrugged.

 

“I am guessing there was a lot of therapy involved?” She asked, she wanted to ask him about what he thought triggered his OCPD – knowing that a lot of people could link it some kind of childhood trauma but decided not to ask knowing he wouldn’t answer her.  

 

“I started at the age of 12 and went to therapy on a monthly basis until my mid-20s, it helped a lot, a couple of years ago I wouldn’t have been able to share something so personal with anyone.” He admitted quietly, looking into the fire ahead of them rather than at her like he had been earlier. She watched him carefully, his hands were grasping the cup a bit tighter.

 

“You turned out all right then.” She laughed trying to lighten the mood, but at the same time wondering if life would have been different if she sought out the help she needed – she had struggled with academic anxiety her whole life, and it only got worse as she got older.

 

“Why is at that you deflate as soon as someone mentions medical school?” He asked after a couple of moments of silence causing her to sigh. On any other day she would have huffed and said it was none of his business but he had just shared something deeply personal with her and she felt like she could share it, maybe he’d understand.

 

“It just makes me feel like a failure – I was told I have above average intelligence when I was 7, and since then everyone around me has always believed I would accomplish great things. At first it was easy to live up to the expectations, I aced everything easily but the further I got in school, the harder it became. I suddenly had to work twice as hard to do things perfectly and the thought of failing and not living up to my potential scared me. It just became my identity, I was the smart girl – the minute someone did better than me at anything they would boast about it so much and it just drove me to do better.” She paused and took another sip of her coffee before continuing.

 

“I worked my ass off during university rather than enjoying it and travelling. I did a Masters because I couldn’t settle for a non-Ivey league school and rejected the offers I got after my first application cycle to try again, I got into Columbia but I was just so tired, so burnt out from the studying, volunteering, research, tutoring, student council – I had no life outside of academics and doing all the right things to get in.” She sighed, the memories coming back to her.

 

“And then when I started medical school it became impossible to thrive, I started having panic attacks and really bad anxiety – but everyone around me was thriving – it just – I just couldn’t keep up. I think that was the first time in my life when I wasn’t the best at something and it really got to me. I couldn’t deal with it. I dropped out, my parents cried and everyone just – it feels like I failed the one thing I dedicated my whole life to so I don’t like to be reminded of it.” She got out in chunks, having to pause and take a deep breath at some parts. It was like she was in her room again, the lights off, huddled into a tight ball in the corner of her room with her books spread out around her wondering how she was going to finish all her readings for the test the next day.

 

“Is it what you really wanted to do?” William asked quietly after a couple of minutes had passed, she had a glassy look in her eyes, almost like she was in another place.

 

“I…honestly I don’t know.” She admitted with a deep breath. “I remember teachers just saying things like oh you’re so smart you can do whatever you want to do, you can even become a doctor. And somewhere in my mind I believed that smart people become doctors – and I always told people that I wanted to be one when they asked and I really believed it. My parents never said you have to be a doctor or anything like that – but I still felt the pressure you know.” She shrugged. “They don’t understand why I dropped out when I was almost through and spent all my life working towards it.”

 

“Did dropping out make you feel better?” He asked.

 

“Oh hell no, I almost went back multiple times because I didn’t know what to do, it was always supposed to be medical school…I couldn’t see past that for the longest time.” She said quietly remembering how she walked around like a zombie after she quit, unable to deal with all the free time – she didn’t have hobbies, she pushed Jiah, Liam and Demi away all the time and she couldn’t see herself getting a job anywhere.

 

“And Sorelle?” William asked.

 

Taera let out a sad chuckle. “You know when you’re young and you have all these crazy ideas – like if I didn’t have to worry about money I’d move to a small island and open up a café – that was what Sorelle was supposed to be. I remember joking with Jiah about it as a teenager but I never thought we’d actually do it. But Jiah and Liam were adamant that this is what I needed. It took a lot of convincing but I eventually agreed to be pulled into this crazy scheme. But I don’t remember being as happy and relaxed as I am now. And this is despite the fact that I am not sure if Sorelle will be super profitable like we had hoped. Jiah is always the optimist claiming that it will work out with time, and we’ve seen a uptick in custom orders since we started the geo-targeted advertising like you suggested…but I am getting antsy because I don’t know what’ll happen if it doesn’t work out, I’ll be back to square one.”

 

William looked at her closely then, thinking back to when he met her, she had been so confident of herself and she looked happy whenever he caught sight of her around Sorelle. He would have never guessed she could have ever been unhappy or unsure of herself.

 

“Do you think about going back? To med school?”

“On most days no, but sometimes it just creeps in.” She said and then stopped, a couple of seconds later she continued. “I always think about what I could have done differently…if only I took a break between undergrad and med school, if only I had a more well-rounded life, if only I had taken steps to seek out help to deal with the anxiety – I imagine it would have been different, maybe I would have gotten through…but then I think that maybe it’s not what I am meant to do. Some days when I close my eyes I still see myself working at a hospital – and other days I am happy to be working at Sorelle.” She whispered, William having to lean towards her to understand what she was saying. She sniffled then. “Ugh, you’re the worst, you’re making me cry.” She said with a small laugh as she wiped her tears away.

 

“That was my evil plan of course.” He said with a smile as she looked up at him, her eyes still wet.

 

“You know you straddle the line between being annoying and thoughtful very well, William.”

 

“You know I think that’s the first time you’ve used my actual name, Taera.” He said, repeating the words she had said to him the other day. She just shrugged, she guessed they were on a first name basis now – they definitely were in her dreams.

 

She looked up when she heard the door open, smiling when Anaya sang Unca Wi out loud.

 

He jumped out of his chair and walked over to the deck, scooping up the giggling pajama-clad 3 and half and almo a half-year old. She smiled as he threw her up in the air, her squeals ringing out through the air.

 

“Hi Miss Taewa, I finded you!” Anaya laughed as she came closer to her.

 

“You found me!” Taera smiled as William sat back down on his chair, pulling the little girl into his lap. She automatically climbed off and ran towards Taera’s chair, climbing into her lap instead. “She likes me more.” Taera mouthed to William as she cuddled the toddler close, Anaya decided she rather stand in her lap than sit, her little arm wrapped around Taera’s shoulder to keep steady.

 

“Aren’t you supposed to be asleep by now?” William asked his niece, a smirk on his face.

 

“Shhhhhh, I not hewe.” Anaya whispered causing Taera to chuckle. “Unca Dan helped me sneak out!”

 

“Then where are you Anaya?” He asked, clearly holding back laughter.

 

Eomma tucked me in but you have fun witout me, it not faiw.” She pouted, Taera couldn’t help but squeeze her and cuddle her in closer.

 

“Your secret is safe with me Miss Anaya, but we have to convince Unca Wi to not tattle.” She said while looking at William who rolled his eyes.

 

“Pwease Unca Wi.” Anaya said while pouting.

 

“Yeah, please Unca Wi.” Taera giggled before copying Anaya’s pout.

 

William looked much to amused as he nodded, causing Anaya to squeal and Taera to laugh. “Who’s the fun Uncle?” Taera asked Anaya.

 

Anaya hummed, putting her index finger on her chin as if she was thinking really hard. William pouted at his niece and she giggled before whispering Unca Wi.

 

“Are you sure?” Taera asked. “He seems boring to me.”

 

“No! He fun! But eomma say he wowks too much.”

 

“I agree, he does work too much.” Taera replied. “What else does your eomma say?”

 

Eomma says Unca Wi needs to chill out.”

 

“I agree, 100% percent.”

 

“I agree, one thousand pewcent.” She giggled causing Taera to gasp.

 

“I disagree, one million percent.” William said.

 

“Miss Taewa, what’s bigger than one million?” Anaya asked.

 

“One billion.”

 

“Unca Wi, we agwee one billion pewcent!” She giggled before turning to Taera, patting her cheek with her little hand. “Do you know how to count to one billion?” She asked.

 

Taera nodded. “It takes a really really long time though.”

 

“How long?”

 

“Hmmmm, I don’t know.” She said while turning to William.

 

“What? The Taera doesn’t know something?” He gasped, his eyes shining with mirth.

 

Taera rolled her eyes and glared at him before turning to Anaya. “He doesn’t know the answer either.” She told her causing the little girl to giggle.

 

“I’ll ask appa aftew.” Anaya said while pulling on Taera’s hair. “Miss Demi said you did the bwaid she has!” She said and Taera nodded.

 

“I did!”

 

“Can I have one? PWEASE PWEASE PWEASE!” Anaya said, rather loudly.

 

“Anaya, remember no yelling by ears please.” William said.

 

“Oops, sowwy!” Anaya pouted.

 

“Apology accepted. And I would love to braid your hair.” Taera smiled. “But you have to sit still, do you think you can do that?”

 

“Yes yes! I am a good statue, wight Unca Wi?” Anaya asked.

 

“The best.” William said as Taera looked around for a place for Anaya to sit so she could braid the little girl’s hair. “Come here Anaya.” William said as he pulled his chair closer to Taera’s. Anaya complied without even asking why, jumping off Taera’s chair towards William’s. He pulled her into his lap and turned her so her back was towards Taera’s chair, both of them adjusting their chairs until Taera could easily braid her hair.

 

“Your hair is long!” Taera said as she pulled it all behind her.

 

“It gwoing!”

 

“She used to be bald as a baby.” William shared causing Anaya to whine.

 

“I had haiw!”

 

“Nu-uh, you had no hair as a baby, it all fell off.” William teased as Taera started braiding.

 

“I am sure your Uncle was a bald as a baby too.” Taera chimed in causing Anaya to giggle.

 

Unca Wi would look funny bald.” She laughed.

 

“He looks funny even with hair.” Taera teased.

 

“No, evewyone say Unca Wi is handsome.” Anaya defended.

 

“Who said that? William?” She asked while grinning at the man in question who rolled his eyes.

 

“No, Aunty Wene say all her fwiends have a cwush on Unca Wi.”

 

“Irene?” Taera clarified, laughing when Anaya nodded. “Seems like you have some young admirers.” She teased William. “Like Anne.”

 

“The secretary?” He asked, looking confused.

 

“Ah, boys are so blind.” She laughed. “That girl is smitten with you.”

 

“She’s not.”

 

“Of course, Mr. Choi!” Taera said, trying to sound like Anne, Anaya giggled while William rolled his eyes.

 

Unca Wi, you have pictuwes of you bald?”

 

“Oooooh, yes, pictures would be good!” Taera laughed.

 

“No!”

 

Unca Wi did you look funny bald, that why you no shawe?” Anaya asked causing Taera to snicker. He would look funny without that luscious mop of hair that always fell back perfectly into place. It would be fun to play with she guessed.

 

“You would look very cute bald.” William said ttp Anaya while pretending his fingers were scissors. “I’ll just snip the hair all off.” He said causing Anaya to scream and wiggle.

 

“Hey! No scaring my favourite almost 4-year-old!” Taera said while wrapping her hand into a fist and hitting his scissor fingers. “Rock beats scissors!” She said causing Anaya to laugh loudly.

 

“I didn’t know we were playing.” William pouted.

 

“Sore loser.” Taera said, sticking her tongue out at him.

 


 

Jiah found herself sitting alone on the couch rather than next to Daniel for the first time since she had gotten there, her mother seemed appeased and was sitting at the kitchen table with Demi, Aera and David. Daniel had excused himself to take a call – disappearing down the hallway. 

 

She had wanted to go out to Taera earlier but had held back when William offered to take her coffee to her. When he didn’t come back immediately she and Demi had taken a peak outside and looked towards her with a smile and winked. There was definitely something going on there.

 

Since she didn’t follow her friend out, she sat on the couch and thought back to all Daniel had shared with her – between fighting about the pros and cons of K-Dramas – he had shared a lot of information about his life with her. Things that she should know in case it came up.

 

Although she already knew, she was impressed when he revealed that BARE was not his main business but rather Venture was – he ran an investment firm that ran out of Charleston, investing in businesses, stocks, indexes, and real estate along with offering portfolio management services to the rich.

 

His grandfather, on his mother’s side, had moved to Charleston years ago, with a lot of money from the sounds of it, started up a construction business and despite the major setbacks he had managed to grow his business to pass down to Daniel’s father. He didn’t say much about his father apart from the fact that he had left them when he was young – Jiah was just told to not bring him up.

 

She had filled him on her family, and her crazy extended family – along with her mother’s past attempts to get her hitched – she also threw in information about a couple of dates that Taera had set her up on causing him to chuckle. All things considered, it wasn't horrible to have to pretend to be his girlfriend, at least the conversations were fun.

 

Aera had been walking around taking pictures with her phone all night, claiming that to make Daniel and Jiah’s relationship believable there had to be some pictures of them together – she had uploaded a picture of the whole group along with one of her and David with Daniel, Jiah, Taera and William onto her Instagram – following Taera’s account in the process, Jiah had given up on social media. The pictures were cute, there was one with all of them laughing at the dining table and one from when they had come down from playing with Anaya – all of them sitting on the couch with smiling up at the camera.

 

Jiah looked at the table in front of her and noticed that Daniel hadn’t taken his coffee with him. She picked up the cup and walked down the hallway to give him his cup before it got really cold. She could hear him talking on the phone as she got closer and he sounded angry.

 

“I don’t really care for a sob story, I told you to get it done and you didn’t. You made excuses, made us lose a lot of money and wasted everyone’s time. So you’re done, clean out your office and find another job.” Daniel said as he hung up.

 

“Yikes, that was harsh.” Jiah said while handing him his cup of coffee.

 

“He was incompetent.” Daniel shrugged.

 

“How many people have you fired to date?” Jiah asked, her eyes narrowing.

 

“More than I can count.” Daniel shrugged.

 

“Hmmm, you must be a tyrant at work.” Jiah laughed, recalling Aera demanding that Daniel not talk about work at the table, and that he be nicer to his employees – she had apparently run into one of the people he had fired at the grocery store and the man apparently looked scared of her and scurried away.

 

“Whatever works to keep people in line.” He shrugged. “Maybe you should learn from me so you can get more free time, you are too kind to your employees.”

 

“I am a nice person.” Jiah scoffed.

 

“Jiah, you pay your employees to be on time, in just the past few days I’ve noticed that some of them are coming in late – and not just a little late, by an hour. And instead of reprimanding them you play it off like it’s no big deal.” He pointed out causing her to recall the new hires that they had onboarded at the beginning of July.

 

“Everyone is late sometimes.”

 

“Yeah,  but you say it’s okay. If you let them walk all over you they’ll do it again. And you have to stress yourself out to make up for it.”

 

“So I should fire them like you do? That’s mean.”

 

“You have to be a little mean sometimes.” He shrugged.

 

“You’re annoying me again.”

 

“I don’t think that is ever going to change Miss Kim.” He said. “Now, apparently the party has moved to the backyard, Anaya snuck out earlier, let’s go.” He said.

Chapter Text

August 2017

 

Taera was amazed that her spot was taken yet again, especially after the heart-to-heart she had with the devil incarnate two days ago. She thought he would stop fighting her for her spot but apparently not, she pulled onto their street to see his shiny black Range Rover parked at her spot. It was glistening in the sun, he probably got it washed on his way to work. It had been there yesterday as well, but the owner had been missing in action.

 

She parked her car right behind him and sighed, waiting for him to get out of his car and rub in the fact that he was there first…but he just got out and walked towards the BARE parking lot, without walking to the trunk to get his gym bag or double checking that he locked his car. He didn’t even look behind his car to see that she was there.

 

He always looked behind his car and grinned at her deviously like the devil he was.

 

She followed him with her eyes and narrowed them when she saw that he was rushing towards the woman she had seen him with when she went to the marketing firm. The one that had laughed and hit his arm like he was the funniest thing in the world. She had a white Range Rover, just like William’s, a match made in unreliable-car-heaven. She watched as they both walked towards the door of BARE, he held it open for her and followed her in.

 

He didn’t even look back once.

 

She let out a huff of breath and got out of her car and marched up to his, a pink sticky note catching her attention. She leaned over to see that there was a note on the windshield that said William’s spot, she glared at the note and then right into the camera. Even though she wouldn't admit it, Taera was annoyed  - having become used to their early morning verbal sparring. She’d rather he said it to her face than leaving her a note, if he was suddenly fond of notes, she could leave him one too.

 

She marched into Sorelle, locking the door behind her since they weren’t opening until 9am. Their baker, Shanice, an older lady that had been with them since they opened was in the back, the counters already littered with freshly baked cupcakes and cookies waiting to be decorated and iced.

 

Taera greeted her quickly before walking over to the fridge and grabbing a bag of pink icing. Jiah was still going overboard with the pink icing so she was going to put it to another use. Shanice yelled what are you up to child when Taera walked right back out with a huge grin on her face.

 

She looked towards BARE as she approached his car waiting for him to come out but he didn’t, he was probably busy getting his arm hit by the woman. She sighed and looked right into the camera on his dashboard as she wrote the words I will not park in Taera’s spot on the hood of his car in pink icing, repeating the words on both sides and the back of his car before piping the corners and drawing roses all around it. She made sure to look right into the cameras he had installed while she did it, expecting that he would come running out. She knew he monitored the cameras on his laptop, but he didn’t run out.

 

She stepped back, giggling to herself, admiring her handiwork. She then took a pictures of the car before skipping inside and helping Shanice prepare to open for the day. Since it was a Monday, the slowest day of the week for them, Jiah had taken the day off to show her mom and Demi around Charleston while Taera came in to work.

 

Shanice took one look at Taera and uttered oh child, what have you done because Taera was literally skipping around happily as she prepped for opening. Mark and Sam had walked in laughing and shaking their heads at Taera as they walked in. “You are epic.” Mark announced while looking out towards the pink icing covered Range Rover.

 

Taera found herself looking outside multiple times but didn’t catch sight of William, she wondered how long the meeting was because the woman hadn’t walked out of BARE either, her white Range Rover was still in the parking lot. A part of her was itching to decorate her car too but she refused to think about why.

 

The customers trickled in slowly at first and then all of a sudden there was a large influx around 11:00am, a large tourist family from the looks of it. Taera also noticed a couple of people in workout clothing drop in making her smile – she had noticed that some of the BARE customers had taken to getting coffee and yummy goods before or after their workout.

 

It wasn't until 12:00pm when an angry William walked into Sorelle – in his workout clothes again – this time it was a black tank with a pair of black sweatpants. His hair looked wet, like he had just washed it. He walked right up to the counter and put both arms on it, leaning forward and stared at Taera, Taera’s eyes went down to his arms before she looked back up at him and arched her eyebrow, looking a bit too innocent. She could smell his cologne over the sweet smell of vanilla that usually permeated the air, and it was a welcome intruder.

 

“Why. Is. There. Icing. All. Over. My. Car?” He asked enunciating every word.

 

“I thought you needed a little sweetness in your life.” She replied with a saccharine smile.

 

“You’re going to clean it off and not touch my car again.” 

 

“I don’t think so.” She said shaking her head, leaning forward and putting both hands on the counter, mimicking his position and bringing her face right up to his.

 

“Oh, yes you will.” He retorted, his minty fresh breath fanning over her face.

 

“Make me.” Taera whispered, surprised that she could get the words out considering the fact that her stomach felt weird and her heart was hammering in her chest. He blinked slowly, his ridiculously long eyelashes caressing his face, and Taera couldn’t help but notice that his eyes flickered down to her lips before he met her eyes again.

 

“Why are you so infuriating?” He asked.

 

“Because you act like a bitter hag and always steal my parking spot.” She said, refusing to tell him that the fact that he had ignored her made her feel angry for some reason. She hadn’t figured it out herself just yet.

 

“It is not yours.” He said angrily.

 

“Do you think if you ate some yummy cupcakes rather than disgusting protein shakes all the time you’d be sweeter?”

 

“Please, do you know how long it would take to burn these off?” He scoffed, straightening and looking towards the cupcake display which contained the names of each cupcake along with the number of calories it contained.

 

“You’d need to run on the treadmill for 45 minutes to burn this one off.” He said pointing to the red-velvet cupcake which had 500 calories in it before pointing to the triple chocolate truffle cupcake. “This one has enough calories for a whole meal and you wouldn’t even feel full after but would still have to run for at least 75 minutes to burn it off.” 

 

He continued to point at different ones and list the number of times you’d have to perform a certain activity – running, jumping rope, sit-ups, jumping jacks – to burn off the calories. Taera looked around at her customers who were all listening to William’s rant and shifting uncomfortably. She saw a few of them walk out.

 

Taera walked around the counter and pushed William out of Sorelle, her hands on his back as he continued to speak about his car, the icing, and how everything she sold was unhealthy. Taera was yelling at him to just stop talking as she pushed him out the door.

 

William stomped across the road fuming.

 

“Maybe y’all want to flirt in the back, away from the customers.” Shanice murmured as she placed a new plate of cookies on the counter with a smile. Taera pouted when all the customers that were present while William was ranting only got coffees rather than desserts.

 

Villain Choi was going to pay!

 


 

“I still think Nelson would have been a better option.” Ji-Hye  said as she walked behind the counter at Sorelle, Jiah was cleaning up at the end of a busy Thursday and setting up for the next day. Taera had opened today and had left to go home and get dinner started about an hour ago – she just wished that Ji-Hye would have left with her but alas she was not that lucky.

 

“Daniel is perfectly nice.” Jiah defended as she emptied out the crumbs in the cookie trays into the garbage can right next to her – Taera would fill them with new cookies in the morning.

 

“He’s just so…quiet.” Ji-Hye said. “He doesn’t speak unless directly spoken to, he is rather arrogant, spends too much time working, and he is an atheist.”

 

Jiah rolled her eyes at her mother, she said the word atheist like it was a crime. “Eomma, not everyone is going to explain their life story to a practical stranger – even if you are his girlfriend’s mother. He only really talks to people he’s close with – and he would do anything for them. He’s not arrogant, considering all that he has accomplished he has the right to be but he’s humble. He has to spend a lot of time working because he’s doing so well but he still has dinner with his family whenever he can – he makes time for his friends and for me. And it’s his choice if he doesn’t believe in God, it doesn’t make him a bad person.” Jiah defended, she had found herself coming to Daniel’s defence often these days and she found that she actually meant what she said.

 

Having been thrown together on multiple occasions now and spending a lot of time talking to him to keep up the pretense had allowed her to know the man better. At first she had thought that he was arrogant – their first meeting popping up in her head – but she then learnt that he had reason to suspect her, there were people out there who sabotaged others for their own gain. And he was just…snarky and witty, and used to getting his way all the time, much like she was, causing them to clash.

 

She also found that Daniel had a heart of gold, he was really warm with his family and friends, joking around with them in his own way, he wore his heart on the sleeve for them but put up this mask towards people he didn’t trust. Her conversations with him were always enlightening and she found herself looking forward to just chatting with him, he was so cynical in some aspects and she found herself playing devil’s advocate and challenging his views.

 

Unlike most people, he didn’t get defensive and start claiming he was right, he listened carefully and then presented a counter-argument; he even accepted that she might be right in some cases. Jiah found that to be an endearing quality having grown up around men who were dismissive of the women around them, claiming to always know best. He clearly had control and trust issues, wanting to always be able to control what happened in his life and doubting everyone that he met, but everyone had their skeletons.

 

“At least he is rich.” Ji-Hye  shrugged.

 

Eommaaaaa.” Jiah groaned shaking her head but choosing not to argue with her on this point knowing that it wouldn’t get her anywhere. According to her mom, marrying a rich guy would ensure that she had no problems in life.

 

Due to the whirring of the oven and the dishwasher in the back she failed to notice that Daniel had stepped in through the back door, he had stopped short when he heard his name and turned right around and left through the back as the conversation ended.

 


 

Jiah and Demi stood inside Sorelle at 8am watching an exuberant Taera put up a large poster on the glass window wall that faced directly towards BARE. She had been hooked to her laptop earlier that week after what she called an enlightening conversation with Irene. She was giddy when a package was delivered late Thursday evening. She had unraveled the poster this morning causing Jiah to let out a groan.

 

The left side of the poster was…normal – it advertised their cupcakes, made with natural ingredients. On the right side on the poster, there was a cartoon woman running on a treadmill with plenty of gym-themed cupcakes over her, one of them was hanging down with a string right over the treadmill indicating that she was chasing happiness. It was brilliant of course, but Jiah knew it wasn’t to advertise the store but rather to annoy their neighbour.

 

Jiah and Taera had both noticed that people walked to and from BARE to get coffee and desserts – a fact that irked William according to Irene. She had dropped by the other and jokingly said “I am supposed to be dieting, don’t tell Will I came in” while eating cupcakes. She had then mentioned that William was annoyed that some BARE customers were claiming that the workouts weren’t working but they were stuffing themselves with sugary foods right before or after their workout. Taera had the I have an idea look on her face as she plied Irene for more information by feeding her more.

 

Taera had refused to answer Jiah when she had asked what she was up to, she had even burst out chuckling when Daniel dropped by to appease Ji-Hye’s suspicious looks – Daniel had looked at Jiah in question causing her to just shake her head and claim that Taera was up to something, and no she didn’t know what.

 

Jiah and Demi watched as Taera ran outside to check that the poster looked okay, looking towards BARE to see if she could see her proclaimed arched nemesis. She had dragged them all to Sorelle super early today because they apparently had to be there “to see the look on Villain Choi’s face”. Jiah wasn’t sure why he went from William back to Villain Choi, and a part of her knew it wasn’t only because of the parking spot.

 

“She’s putting in a lot of effort to annoy him.” Demi murmured to Jiah as she took a deep breath letting the smell of freshly baked cupcakes and icing fill up her senses. She always felt fuzzy and warm when she was here – as the day went on the smell of the baked goods would mix with the smell of coffee making it smell heavenly.

 

“Is this some kind of foreplay between you two?” Jiah asked from behind the counter when Taera walked in.

 

“Please, I am definitely not interested in him like that.” Taera responded, sounding way too defensive.

 

“Taera, I have known you since we were kids. You have it bad for him. You always say that you’re never interested enough to spend time or effort on someone…yet for weeks you have been taking time out of your day to annoy him – fighting over a parking spot you know doesn’t rightfully belong to anyone.”

 

“Because he is annoying, duh. And I parked there first!” Taera said defensively.

 

“Taera! You go back and forth between drooling over him and fighting with him. There are times when you get along fine and then one of you decides to say or do something to get under the other’s skin.” Jiah retorted.

 

“Is this because of what happened on Monday?” Demi asked pointing towards the poster, Taera had come home that day ranting about how the devil incarnate had walked into Sorelle and pointed at all the cupcakes listing the number of calories they had and how long it would take to burn them driving customers away.

 

“Of course, he took away revenue from us so I am going to retaliate – people are going to see this poster and think about what really makes them happy. And more of them will drop by – then not lose weight and cancel their membership” She said before letting out a horrible evil chuckle.

 

“You know what I think.” Demi said looking straight at her sister. “You do this for his attention, to get under his skin, you always one-up him which makes him angrier. And every time he gets angrier he loses control just a little more…you want him to snap.” She accused.

 

“She wants him to push her up against that Range Rover and kiss her.” Jiah murmured causing Taera to glare at her and blush – Demi seemed to have gotten the gist of all of her dreams, she always pushed his buttons until he snapped and ravished her. Sometimes it was at BARE while she teased him, other times he pushed her against a wall as they argued and shut her up with his mouth.

 

“Shut up.” Taera mumbled.

 

“She’s not denying it, and she’s blushing.” Jiah laughed wiggling her eyebrows at Demi.

 

“He’s just annoying!” Taera screeched.

 

“It’s called sexual tension.” Demi said. “You spend a lot of time staring at him through the window. And he totally gives you the up and down whenever he sees you. The last time you fought over the parking spot, you were literally this close together.” She said holding her index finger and thumb a millimeter apart.

 

“Okay, fine, I am sexually attracted to him – doesn’t mean that I like him. He has like five redeeming qualities.” She snapped even though she knew it was a lie, he had many more but she refused to count them. “And he’s so predictable.” She huffed as she picked up the icing bag and started piping the cupcakes on the counter.

 

“How so?” Demi asked, intrigued.

 

Taera looked out the window and saw his car turn onto the road, speaking of predictable – he was right on time. “Watch, he’s going to park his car and then correct it until it’s perfectly in the middle of the lines. Then he’ll get out, in his workout clothes, today it’ll probably be the heather gray tank top with black sweatpants and black Nikes. He’ll get out of the car, close the door gently, walk towards his trunk and take his gym bag out. He’ll swing it onto his shoulder, lock the car and then walk up to the door and check that it is locked.”

 

Jiah and Demi watched as he got out the car wearing the same outfit that Taera had described, and followed through with all the actions she had mentioned, exactly like she mentioned.

 

“How the hell did you know what he’d be wearing?” Jiah asked, shocked. They had gotten up, and driven to the store together, and had not seen William anywhere.

 

“He always wears his workout clothes in the morning from Thursdays to Sundays, on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays he wears business clothing because he has meetings. He cycles his workout clothes in a pattern, he was bound to repeat the pattern today – heather gray. ” Taera said before whispering. “The charcoal gray and black ones fucking kill me.”

 

To be honest, they all killed her. They were the type of shirts that had an “o” shaped neck, were sleeveless and had really deep cuts for the arms, exposing the side of his chest and stomach. And damn, did they look mighty fine on him. He had the perfect tan, he looked a sun-kissed demi-god. It was unfair.

 

“So this is what she does with an above average intelligence.” Demi whispered to Jiah.

 

“Now he’ll look towards Sorelle, notice the poster, sigh, run his hands through his hair and then stand there for a minute looking like he is thinking hard before he storms across the street.” She said, not looking up even once while piping the cupcakes.

 

Jiah and Demi watched shocked as the events unfolded exactly like Taera said. “Forget a crush, you’re halfway in love with him!” Demi exclaimed, she had probably watched him closely as long as she had known him, cataloguing all his quirks. Taera just whacked her sister in the arm as the door to the shop opened.

 

“We’re closed, we open at 10am!” She yelled as she arranged the cupcakes in the display.

 

“You should lock the door then.” He snapped as he walked towards the counter, his velvety deep voice sounding angry.

 

“Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed again, Villain Choi?” She asked and then immediately regretted it as her mind thought about him stepping out of bed in a pair of black boxers and tousled hair. She was sure there were something wrong with her brain – maybe a part of it was more overactive than in needed to be. However, the numerous scans she had conned her friends at different labs to do for her during medical school didn’t come up with much.

 

Jiah and Demi watched amused as William completely ignored their presence, choosing to stare right at Taera as he spoke. Jiah pushed Demi to the side and picked up a bowl of their chocolate and caramel drizzled popcorn, the two of them leaned on the counter at the side watching Taera and William closely. Sam had their eyes on them as well from the other side of the counter.

 

“What the hell is that?” He asked pointing to the poster Taera had just put up, Jiah almost laughed because Taera jumped a little, Jiah was sure she was off somewhere else in her head.

 

“Hmmm, William Choi, MBA from Harvard, and yet you don’t know a poster when you see one.” Taera said her voice taunting

 

“I know what it is, but why is it there?” He asked.

 

“An advertisement for my shop would be on my window.” Taera said, arching her eyebrow at him. He rolled his eyes at her before leaning on the counter, putting both hands flat down and learning forward.

 

“Why are you so childish? Rubbing icing my car and then putting up that childish poster.”

 

Jiah elbowed Demi as Taera leaned forward as well, their faces a few inches apart. “I outgrew that stage years ago, it seems like you haven’t since you haven’t mastered the concept of ownership. My parking spot. My store.”

 

“You haven’t either. Your rubbed icing all over my car.” He said, she almost replied with because you ignored me for the white Range Rover owner but held back.

 

“Like I said, you need a little bit of sweetness in your life, maybe you’d stop stealing people’s parking spots.”

 

“Like I said before, your name isn’t on it.” His voice was now quieter and deeper, they both leaned in even closer, their noses almost touching. His breath smelled like the peppermint gum he chewed.

 

“My name isn’t on this shop either, but it still mine isn’t it?” Taera almost whispered, Jiah and Demi had to lean forward to make out her words, they didn’t miss the way her eyes dropped down to William’s lips.

 

“You’re infuriating.” He murmured back.

 

“And you’re annoying. You give me whiplash, going from being kind to stealing my parking spot again and ignoring me.” Taera said.

 

Jiah and Demi looked at each other realizing that something had happened – it led to this escalation of behaviour, they knew Taera well enough to know that she was hurt by it. Demi recalled that the two of them had come back into Aera’s house with small smiles on their faces and had sat beside each other laughing while Aera shared the things Daniel and William had gotten up to growing up. Yet, Taera had rubbed icing all over his car two days later because he parked in her spot. It didn’t add up.

 

“If I am so annoying, why are you always watching me?” He asked tilting his head towards the window where Taera always stood watching him while he ran on the treadmill. Jiah made a squealing noise in her throat and looked towards Demi with wide eyes. So he noticed that she was watching him!

 

“Just keeping tabs on the enemy.” She retorted biting her lip.

 

“Are we back to that again?” He asked, sounding somewhat amused, his eyes flickering down to her lips and then back up to hers.

 

Taera wanted to say so much, she wanted to tell him that she didn’t know how to move on from that moment in the backyard – was she supposed to be friendly? If they were friends shouldn’t he stop monopolizing her parking spot? And why did he ignore her for two days straight? If she didn’t cover his car in icing would he have sought her out? And who was the white Range Rover owner?

 

But she couldn’t get the words out because he was looking at her weird with those piercing brown eyes – and he was too close to her – and she couldn’t help but let her eyes trail across his face. From his thick eyebrows to his ridiculously long eyelashes, to his deep chocolate brown eyes and his straight nose that complimented his face well to his sulky lips and his sharp jawline.

 

For a second she debated cupping his face with her hands and running her fingers across his face to see if it felt as soft as it looked, especially when she noticed that his face had taken on a…soft expression as his eyes traced her face. But then she remembered that she had just announced that she didn’t like him Jiah and Demi, and she definitely didn’t, despite what her flippity-floppity stomach was telling her. Plus, there was the white Range Rover owner that he joked around with and brought into BARE for meetings that lasted hours. She wondered if they were held in his office.

 

Jiah and Demi watched with bated breaths as William and Taera stood across the counter from each other, their eyes locked and no words leaving their mouths. Jiah was sure that she saw William lean forward, his eyes on her lips.

 

“Are they fighting again?” Daniel’s voice said from the door of Sorelle causing both William and Taera shoot up in shock, Taera’s head hitting William’s chin in the process causing him to let out a groan in pain.

 

Jiah looked towards Daniel with a glare causing a look of surprise to flash across his face.

 


 

“You have the worst timing ever.” Jiah lamented as Daniel followed her to the back of Sorelle – William had cleared his throat and walked out to go to BARE and Taera had went back to decorating cupcakes. Daniel had clearly picked up something had happened and had smirked at William.

 

“I thought your mom would be here.” He shrugged.

 

“She is staying home today, thankfully. She’s driving me mad.”

 

“Join the club.” Daniel murmured.

 

“You mom?” Jiah asked, lifting herself up onto the stainless steel counter and facing him. He came to stand right in front of her.

 

“Is having lunch with Savannah and her mother this afternoon.” He shared.

 

“Hmm, and you’re expected to be there?” Jiah asked.

 

“I am expected but I am not going, I told her I had meetings.” Daniel shrugged.

 

“And that worked?”

 

“I always have meetings.” Daniel grinned.

 

“So anything I should know about Savannah before I meet her on Sunday?” Jiah asked – it was Anaya’s birthday party on Sunday, the girls had even reduced their hours for the day to be able to attend.

 

“She’s going to be harder to fool.” Daniel said, Jiah nodded figuring as much. It was hard to fool someone who once was what you were pretending to be, she knew what Daniel was like in a relationship.

 

“And how do we make sure that she doesn’t catch on?” Jiah asked.

 

Daniel suddenly stepped closer to Jiah, his hands going to either side of her on the island she was sitting on. Jiah tensed, her eyes growing wide as she moved back slightly in shock. Her legs shutting completely preventing him from stepping between them.

 

“By not doing that.” He chuckled. “You do this thing where you back away a little every time I come towards you, a girlfriend doesn’t do that.” He pointed out.

 

Jiah sighed, she could feel her cheeks turning red. “Try again.” She said.

 

Daniel moved away again and moved closer, Jiah didn’t move away this time, she let her body relax and allowed him to step closer. She lifted her hands and put them on his shoulders. “Better?” She asked.

 

“Much better.” He smirked. “Now if I just lean forward and kiss you in front of everyone we wouldn’t have to do anything else. But maybe we need to practice so you don’t punch me in the face as a reflex.” He teased.

 

Jiah rolled her eyes and pushed his face away. “I don’t think so Choi, may I refer you back to the contract?”

 

Daniel sighed as if heartbroken. “Fine, I’ll just pull you away from the crowd so people think we’re going to go make out.”

 

Jiah giggled and nodded. “And I’ll do little things like adjust your collar.” She said while adjusting the perfectly straight collar of his oxford blue dress shirt.

 

“Hmm, and I can play with your hair like this.” He said reaching towards her face slowly waiting for her to move back but she didn’t, so he tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

 

“Acceptable.” Jiah said. “Now are people going to quiz me about you?”

 

“No one really knows much about me so you should be okay with just sticking to what you know if anyone asks.”

 

“Hmmm, so. You like your coffee black, prefer Italian food to Korean food because you’re kind of whitewashed, don’t roll your eyes at me it’s true. Your Korean needs a lot of help. You prefer red to white wine, seem to have an obsession with both rock and rap music – but listen to the clean versions in the car for some reason-”

 

“Anaya is in my car sometimes.” He filled in.

 

“You love your niece, speaking of kids you were apparently a prankster as a child and Aera has provided me with enough information to share – you had your first kiss at the age of seven when some random girl in your class planted one on you making you cry.” She laughed throwing her head back remembering that particular story.

 

“Shut up Jiah. I didn’t cry. But impressive, I didn’t know you were paying that much attention to me.” He teased causing her to blush. Daniel laughed and tapped her nose. “How about I just make you blush and kiss your forehead or your nose – it’s bound to be more believable than even kissing you to my family.”

 

“Fine. I have another thing! We can do the no you hang up first routine over the phone, everyone will think you’re smitten with me.” She sighed happily.

 

“Or they’ll think I am deranged. I don’t think so.” He claimed.

 

“But it’s soooo cute, they do it in all the K-Dramas.” Jiah said, putting her hand over her heart.

 

“And we live in the real world and not inside a tacky K-Drama.”

 

“You’re so boring.” She pouted. “How about I call you baby?”

 

“Definitely not.”

 

“Aw, is that what Savannah called you?” Jiah laughed.

 

“You know I didn’t tease you this much when it was about your mom.” He said, his eyebrow raised causing Jiah to sigh and motion that her lips were zipped.

 

“Better, Sunday at 4pm. See you there.” He said tapping her on the nose.

 

“Well well well, you two look cozy.” Taera said, she was leaning on the doorframe of the door that separated the front of Sorelle form the kitchen.

 

“Isn’t that something I should say – well well well Taera, the sexual tension between you and William is palpable.” Daniel said as he leaned back and faced her.

 

Taera snorted. “As if. Plus doesn’t he have the white Range Rover owner to flirt with?” She scoffed causing Jiah to look up at her in surprise, that was the second time she had mentioned a white Range Rover.

 

“White Range Rover owner?”

 

“Yes, she was here the other day, at BARE.” Taera said.

 

“Oh! Lauren.” Daniel said, nodding.

 

“Yes, go say that to Lauren.” Taera said.

 

Daniel snorted. “You sound a bit jealous there, Jeong.” He teased.

 

“I am not jealous! I am merely pointing out that the comment should be directed elsewhere.”

 

Jiah held back a smile, her best friend was so jealous. She had a feeling that it prompted the icing prank, and all the poster as a result.

 

“I would…but Lauren would be more inclined to flirt with you.” Daniel shared.

 

“Oh.” Taera said, as the words registered.

 

“Yeah, oh.” Daniel snickered.

 

“I was just saying, it’s not like I care.” Taera defended.

 

“Of course, sure sounds like it.”

 

“Don’t make me take back my truce, Daniel.”

 

“I won’t.” He snickered. “I’d be too afraid of getting poisoned.”

 

“Ah, I am over poisoning. But I do know the right amount of laxatives to put in something to make some miserable and on the brink of death.” She smiled evilly.

 

“I think that’s my cue to leave, our truce very much exists Taera, I will see you Sunday.” He said before walking out the back door. Jiah had to admit that he had amazing posture – he carried himself with so much confidence.

 

“Did you do all of this because you were jealous?” Jiah asked as she turned towards her best friend.

 

“Shut up Jiah.” Taera said before turning right back around.

Chapter Text

August 2017

 

Taera was sure there was something wrong with her brain, she figured that the Sleep Lab in the Psychiatry Department at Columbia could give her answers as to why her dreams were so vivid and always featured William in sexual ways. Her most recent dream was like a replay of their confrontation about the poster…but a lot less innocent.

 

The first jarring difference was that it wasn’t day, it was night, clearly after closing. The dream started off with everyone leaving for the day as the blinds around the store came down. Right as she took off her apron, leaving her in the pale grey dress that she had never worn to work but looked amazing in, William barged in much like he had in reality. He was wearing the charcoal grey tank, her favourite on him, with a pair of black joggers which was a slight variation of what he was actually wearing that day.

 

He walked up to the counter but instead of leaning on it he jumped over it with ease while they argued. The conversation was going much like it had in reality until he pushed her up against the wall and his lips crashed onto hers. Dream Taera’s hands grabbed his face to feel if his face was soft like real Taera had wished to. She was in heaven, especially when William started dragging his lips down her neck biting into her skin harshly. Her hands had found purchase in his soft and messy hair, pulling viciously and causing him to groan in pain.

 

What further convinced her that there was something wrong with her brain was the fact that the devil incarnate was whispering filthy things into her ears while they disrobed, about how he wanted to fuck her on the counter.  She was moaning like a porn star as he bent her over the counter, bunching her dress around her waist and spanking her ass while reprimanding her for putting icing on his car and then the poster.  She had woken up gasping out his name and cursing her brain for being so good at everything, even dreams.

 

Jiah had even heard, running into her room expecting to see William in the room, she had taken one look at Taera’s flushed face and wide eyes and burst out laughing. Demi had joined them from down the hall and they had teased her until she relented and admitted that she was definitely sexually attracted to William. They then spent the next two hours dissecting all her dreams, apparently she really wanted him to push her up against something and have his way with her.

 

And now, she was standing behind the counter at Sorelle as customers poured in for their Saturday brunch, and she blushed every time she looked at the counter. Her mind flashed images of her bent over it, her arms and hands splayed out clutching the front of the counter as she screamed in ecstasy. She shook her head and continued to transfer the fresh batch of red velvet cupcakes into the display case trying to avoid looking at the counter or thinking about her dream. Jiah and Demi were not helping, they started giggling every time they saw her looking at the counter or blushing, waggling their eyebrows at her. She cursed her sleepy self for telling them anything.

 

Taera smiled when she noticed a gaggle of young women in workout gear walk in, she noticed that a lot more people seemed to drop by in gym clothes since the poster went up. She could just imagine the look on William’s face as he watched them walk into Sorelle from across the street. Ha.

 

“He’s so hot. Did you see his arms when he showed me how to use the shoulder press machine? I was DYING.” A blonde woman squealed, she was wearing a white sports bra with matching leggings…clearly not going to the gym to actually workout. Although the outfit looked great only an idiot wore it to the gym, the sweat marks would be so obvious in that colour.

 

“You’re so desperate, you were like sticking your boobs out in his face.” A second girl said, rolling her eyes.

 

“So does everyone else.” She laughed. “Why do you think all the women at the gym wear such cute outfits?”

 

“William doesn’t pay attention to you or anyone.” A third girl, who Taera immediately liked more than everyone else, pointed out.

 

“He’s playing hard to get, he’ll be giving me a private workout in no time, if you know what I mean.” She said with a wink causing all the other girls to cackle.

 

Taera hated them all, in her mind she was kicking them out of the store and yelling at them for being crass…which was ironic considering the thoughts she had about the man in question.

 

“Have you seen his abs?” The third girl, who Taera had once liked, asked. Taera scoffed to herself, yes she had, up close in both reality and in her dreams.

 

“Bitch yes, we all just go there to watch him. I wanna buy a tub of the buttercream icing from here and lick it off his body.” The first one swooned. Taera’s mind was yelling back off mine very loudly, and in her mind she scoffed at them for not knowing that he was too much of a neat freak for that although it was a really good idea.

 

“Taera, step away from the cupcakes.” Demi said causing Taera to stop glaring at the women who were now ordering lattes and muffins – she wondered if she could poison their drinks. Taera looked down to see that the counter was littered with crumbs of red velvet cupcakes, two of them were still in her hand but they were badly squished, leaving her hands covered with icing. She wanted to rub it all over the white sports bra and leggings while yelling stay away from him.

 

She always had been awfully possessive of things that were hers – but this was the first, okay second, time she felt that way over a person that wasn’t hers. She didn’t like herself for it.

 

And that added with the guilt she had already been feeling made her feel horrible.

 

Taera hated feeling guilty, it just ate her up from the inside. She felt bad about the whole rubbing icing on William’s car thing…and then the poster bit. She had been jealous, annoyed that he was ignoring her for Lauren. He hadn’t spoken to her since the poster went up, he hadn’t even parked his car in her spot so she could argue with him about it and reach some sort of…equilibrium.

 

She admitted that she had gotten carried away and the more she thought about it the more she felt that she was in the wrong. She had no right to feel possessive of him like she did, but she refused to focus on that right then. Rather, she focused on all the reasons she shouldn’t have done what she did. He was nice to her, he listened to her breakdown and even comforted her, he had helped her with the advertising thing – which had helped them immensely.

 

They were flooded with custom orders through the advertising. Jiah had happily been skipping around and baking away, completing custom birthday cakes left and right. They had decided on more structure to minimize the crazy requests, they now had a few select themes for parents to choose from which made life easier. So his idea had worked and she had a feeling it would work every time she tried it.

 

The guilt was eating her alive, which is why she had found herself leaving Sorelle in the middle of their Saturday morning rush to buy a couple of jars of protein powder from Costco. She may have spent a lot of time researching the best ones and finding low calorie and high protein combinations.

 

She had even cornered Daniel when he came to grab Jiah for brunch (Ji-Hye was at Sorelle that day and they did that frequently to keep up the pretence) asking him about any allergies that William had. Daniel had been his usual snarky self, arching his eyebrow at her and asking if she was planning to kill William, he had finally relented and informed her that he was allergic to peanuts. Taera had then gone back to the drawing board and eliminated anything with nuts in it. She found herself whipping up protein cookies with sweetener and coconut flour. She also made brownies using the chocolate whey powder.

 

Jiah and Demi served as her taste testers, rating the cookies and brownies as good while teasing her about all the effort she was putting into this. She claimed that it was something she was trying for their menu, and it was partly true, she was now considering adding them to the menu.

 

But she didn’t tell them that she had originally thought about it for William. And she might have been inspired by the fact that Jiah continued to make sugar-free desserts for Daniel, who gobbled them up like he was a starving man while Jiah watched him with a smile on her face…she had it bad.

 

Taera sat down and wrote out all the ingredients, the exact number of calories, grams of protein, sugars and carbs in the cookies and brownies before packaging them into two boxes and sticking the labels on the box. She then took her apron off and patted her hair down along with straightening her favourite floral dress…she had just felt like wearing it today. She quietly slipped out the back door with the boxes in her hand and rushed across the street to BARE before she got caught by Jiah or Demi…they would never let her hear the end of it.

 

Taera gave Anne, the receptionist, a small smile which was more like a grimace and she gave her the fakest smile in return as she walked past the desk. Taera was now sure that the woman had a crush on William and the fact that she walked in whenever she felt like it to monopolize his attention bothered her.

 

She walked around the gym and wrinkled her nose, it smelled like sweat more so than usual. She found William talking to two members of the group of girls that had come into Sorelle – girl number 1 aka the blonde one with the all-white outfit and Girl number 3, who Taera had once liked, were starting at William and licking their lips while he demonstrated the right way to use the chest press machine.

 

She wondered why he even employed personal trainers if he was the one going around showing people how to use machines. And he didn’t even notice that the women were just gawking at him. The thirst was literally unreal, they looked like they wanted to just eat him up…not that she blamed them, he did look quite delicious in the pair grey tank and black basketball shorts he was wearing.

 

Taera found herself marching up right to them, William noticed her first, coming to a stop and arching his eyebrow at her in question. The girls noticed her next after realizing that William was staring off ahead of him, they both turned towards her.

 

“Here to rub icing all over BARE today?” William asked as Taera’s eyes flickered to the two girls who were looking between William and her, their faces scrunched in confusion. She distinctively remembered Girl Number 1’s comment about licking icing off his body.

 

“I think I’d get more joy in rubbing it over the last place again.” She said with a teasing lilt to her voice, arching her eyebrow at William. She left her words vague on purpose and she knew she did well when she saw both the girls stare at each other in shock – they didn’t know she was talking about his car.

 

William looked at her with a confused look on his face so she continued before he could speak. “Can we talk? In your office again?” She asked stressing again and he nodded. “Sorry ladies, I’ll have to pull him away for a second.” She said to them with a wide smile on her face.

 

William got up and started walking towards his office, Taera walked right behind him and stepped into his office, she winked at the two girls before closing the door behind her. She felt rather euphoric and wanted to laugh out loud at the looks on their faces but controlled herself as she turned around to look at William.

 

“What was that all about?” He asked, he was leaning against his desk, his arms crossed across his chest.

 

“I made you protein cookies and brownies…they’re super healthy, low calorie, high protein, no fatty sugars and no peanuts. And they taste good.” She said holding the boxes out towards him.

 

“Why?” He asked making no move to take them from her.

 

“I wanted to apologize…and say thank you.” She said.

 

“For what?” He asked, a smirk on his face.

 

“The icing and the poster…I might have gone a little overboard.” She mumbled.

 

“Hmmm, then apologize.”

 

“I just did.”

 

“No, you just said you wanted to apologize.” He pointed out with a smirk on his face.

 

“Dear Lord, what’s wrong with you? You’re so-”

 

“I thought you came here to apologize.” He reminded her.

 

“Fine, I am sorry for rubbing icing all over your car and for the poster.” She said.

 

“Apology accepted.” He said holding out his hand for the boxes she was holding.

 

Taera walked up to him and handed them to him, she watched as his eyes scanned the labels. He then put the boxes right beside him on the desk and opened up one before reaching behind him for a tissue. Taera rolled her eyes as he slowly took a cookie out and bit into it carefully, taking a tiny bite, chewing thoughtfully. She waited for him to comment on it but he just took another tiny bite, like super tiny.

 

“So?” She asked not being able to handle the silence anymore.

 

He held up a finger indicating that he needed a minute before taking another little bite. Taera groaned and grabbed the cookie from his hand before stuffing the whole thing in his mouth when he opened his mouth to protest. She grinned as he chewed the cookie and glared at her.

 

“So?” She asked again.

 

“It’s…okay.” He said and then chuckled when she visibly deflated. “I am kidding, it’s really good.”

 

Taera rolled her eyes and smacked his arm before popping the second box open and holding it out for him. “Try the brownie, I made it with chocolate whey powder.”

 

William broke off a piece and popped it into his mouth, chewing slowly again. “This is even better.” He said.

 

“The brownies are for thank you for helping me.” She beamed up at him.

 

“Ah, I see. So this is supposed to be incentive for continuing to help you.” He said with a smirk as he ate more of the brownie. He was so handsome, it was really unfair.

 

“But of course, why did you think I was doing this? From the goodness of my heart?” She rolled her eyes.

 

“You should add these to the menu, I’d rather the people who walk from BARE to get snacks choose some healthy options.”

 

“I’ll think about it.” She shrugged with a smile.

 

“So what do I have to help you with next to keep getting these brownies?” He said as he polished off the first one.

 

“An easy way to track expenses?” Taera asked causing him to chuckle.

 

“Done.”

 

“Maybe not today though, we have a party to go to.” She said as she looked at the clock on his wall.

 

“That reminds me that I have to head out and help.” He sighed.

 

“Make sure you don’t make everything boring.” She teased.

 

“Haha.” He said before picking up another cookie and taking a bite.

 

Taera waved goodbye to him and threw the door open to find the two girls from earlier hanging out close to the door. “See you tonight!” She said before closing the door and turning towards them with a smile, she winked at them again before rushing off. They seemed smart enough to realize that they needed to back the fuck off.

Chapter Text

August 2017

 

Anaya’s party was to be held at the Choi house – at Helen’s insistence, Jiah had noticed Aera roll her eyes when she conveyed this message. Apparently, the Choi matriarch was adamant about holding all social events at their house.

 

Where was there house exactly? On the outskirts of Charleston, in millionaire-billionaire-row as Sam dubbed it. Jiah was driving with Taera beside her leaving her mother and Demi sitting at the back. She watched as the houses got further apart and the roads got quieter, the houses that were on the side of the streets were shielded by large walls and trees, they had long winding driveways affording them lots of privacy.

 

“Turn here.” Taera said, her eyes on the Google Maps app on her phone, Jiah nodded and turned down the path and almost let out a chuckle as she saw a large iron gates. She knew she was at the right place because the gates had balloons all over it.

 

“I suddenly miss Liam.” Jiah said as they drove up the expansive driveway to the large house, it reminded her a lot of Liam’s.

 

In direct contradiction to Aera’s house which was a perfect blend of traditional and modern and distinctively Charleston, this house was very modern and looked like it was plucked out of Los Angeles. It was white with black windows and garages, it seemed to have three distinct parts. Jiah parked the car behind a line of others. The front of the house was beautifully landscaped, there was even a small pool/fountain across from the front door which lay smack dab in the middle of the front of the house.

 

Ji-Hye got out of the car and looked a bit too happy at seeing her daughter’s boyfriends’ house, Jiah just hoped that she didn’t make any comments about it. “You go ahead, I’ll follow with the presents.” Taera said to Jiah who had busy adjusting her dress, her hair was in waves around her face and she wore a pair of white kitten heels elongating her legs. She had changed 11 times while picking out her outfit the night prior.

 

Taera quickly settled on a beige sleeveless shirt and skirt set – only because it the skirt was a skort in disguise and he loved that, it was really hot in Charleston and she expected to be running around at a kid’s party so she wasn’t risking wearing an actual dress.

 

“You sure?” Jiah asked with a nervous lilt in her voice, Taera nodded and waved her off pushing Demi and Ji-Hye after her. She popped the trunk open and grabbed Anaya’s present, wrapped in pink gift wrap that had large silver circles and topped off with a silver bow. She pulled it out of the trunk and tried to close the trunk behind her, using her body.

 

“Let me help before you kill yourself.” William’s voice came from behind her as his hands reached out to take the box from her hands. “Why is this so heavy?” He murmured.

 

“Don’t shake it!” She said as he lifted it up to his ear, she closed the trunk and turned towards him completely. He was wearing sunglasses today and it seemed like they were once again matching while attending the same event, he was wearing an a white shirt tucked into beige linen pants, his shirt rolled up to his elbows. He looked really handsome, again, his hair was pushed back away from his face. And he had cute dimples when he smiled, it really was unfair.

 

“What’s in it?” He asked.

 

“Funny, you don’t look like a 4 year old birthday girl.” She said, arching her eyebrow at him. She held out her hand for the present but he just shook his head.

 

“My mother would kill me if she saw that I didn’t offer my assistance in carrying such a heavy present.” He smirked as he motioned towards the front door. “I’ll show you where to go so you don’t get lost.”

 

Ugh, he was being sweet too. How was she supposed to get her heart to behave when he was like this?

 

“You mother should camp out at Sorelle so you’re chivalrous more often.” She quipped as she walked beside him towards the door. She could hear chatter and children laughing already.

 

“Please, I am the epitome of chivalrous.” He said with a smile.

 

“And yet you can’t give up a parking spot.” She retorted looking up at him. He just looked away but she could see a small smile pulling at his lips.

 

“Oh my god, if it isn’t Taera. I haven’t seen you in forever, were you visiting your fellow angels up in Heaven?” Henry quipped from the door.

 

“You’re sooooo cheesy.” She laughed, he was in a similar outfit to his brother but had a more pastel coloured vibe, pairing white pants with a pale purple shirt. She let out a little eep as Henry pulled her into a rather tight hug, holding on for a bit too long because it started to feel awkward.

 

She smiled when he finally pulled away with a smile. “Let me show you around.” Henry said throwing his arm over her shoulders, he turned to look at his brother who had an annoyed look on his face for some reason. “Hyung, I’ll handle the annoying woman, you put the present on Anaya’s table.” He winked as Taera gasped.

 

“Annoying?” Taera asked as Henry pulled her away.

 

“That’s what he calls you when you’re not around, good job on the icing prank by the way.” Henry laughed as he led her towards the right. She looked back to see William walking back towards the table Henry had pointed to and she sighed. She’d rather he showed her around.

 

The house opened up into a very large living room which was gorgeous, but what blew her away was that the whole back wall of the room was open creating amazing flow from the large room to the patio, the pool in the distance and multiple seating areas outside. There were tables lining the perimeter of the room filled with snacks and drinks. There were also waiters walking around serving drinks and appetizers…at a kid’s party – it was weird. The only thing that screamed “kid’s party” was the large bouncy castle on the grass where she could hear shrieks coming from along with a huge ball pit.

 

Taera’s eyes traced the area and came to rest on Jiah, she was standing beside Daniel and Ji-Hye , across from her stood Helen, an older woman in a black summer dress and a tall, thin woman in a long flowing coral dress, her hair up in a bun – it seemed like the show had begun.

 

“Henry, Irene is looking for you.” William’s voice came from behind her again. Henry sighed and turned both of them around to face William, his arm still slung around her shoulder.

 

“I just saw her before you came in.” Henry said.

 

“She just told me tell you to find her.” William shrugged.

 

“Fine, let’s go find Irene, Taera you can come with me.” Henry said, pulling her back towards the entrance.

 

She was sure she heard William sigh as Henry pulled her away from him, she couldn’t help but turn back and look at him, he was running his hand through his messy hair. Before she could catch his eye and ask him to come with them, David was pulling him outside.

 


 

Jiah was dying. They had run into Aera as soon as they walked in, she promptly waved Daniel over. He had walked over with a confidence that Jiah envied, even though it was a kids’ party he was still wearing a pale blue dress shirt tucked into a pair of grey slacks. He had greeted Ji-Hye and Demi before placing a kiss on Jiah’s forehead in greeting, wrapping his arm around her waist possessively. Jiah was sure that the whole room quietened and felt multiple pair of eyes on her.

 

In a flurry of activity, Aera ran around introducing Jiah, Ji-Hye and Demi to family members and friends, Demi and Irene immediately hit it off, disappearing to the ball pit where the children were, leaving Jiah flanked by Daniel and Ji-Hye as they approached Helen. It was weird to be introduced to a woman you had already met, albeit briefly.

 

Her greeting was warm but something about it bothered Jiah, maybe it was the way her eyes scanned both her and her mother before coming to rest at their faces. She hadn’t been like this when she saw her at the BARE launch, but Jiah also wasn’t her son’s girlfriend then. Conversation was also awkward, they talked about the weather and Charleston.

 

The only saving grace was Daniel who had a smile on his face and his hand wrapped in Jiah’s, occasionally squeezing it and murmuring relax into her ear as he answered some of his mother’s questions. As decided, he had already told his mother about Jiah providing her with the same story that Taera had concocted.  

 

Even as the conversation grew more comfortable, Jiah couldn’t relax, she was sure that everyone was looking towards them apart from the children that were running around.

 

“Jiah, you need to stop looking like you’re going to bolt.” Daniel whispered in her ear while pulling her to turn towards him.

 

Jiah looked up at him and sighed, reaching up to fix his collar like practiced. She let her hand linger as she nodded inconspicuously.

 

Daniel smiled and placed a kiss on her forehead before turning to face his mother, Jiah smiled back at Helen who was staring right at her while she sipped on orange juice.

 

If things weren’t already awkward enough, Helen pulled two more people into conversation introducing them as Mrs. Kim and Savannah – she had made out as much because Daniel had groaned when her mother waved them over. Helen had introduced them as ‘my best friend, and her daughter Savannah’ and then doted on Savannah’s dress (designer), her hair (pulled up into an effortless but elegant braided bun), and her skin (glowing).

 

Jiah found Savannah to be beautiful and elegant, she reminded her of Aera in some aspects. She carried herself confidently, spoke little but when she spoke it was a thoughtful addition to the conversation and everyone listened – no one talked over her. She was also kind, greeting Jiah and her mother genuinely and suggesting places she had come to adore in Charleston and around the area.

 

Jiah must have been sending SOS signals into the air because Aera appeared with the birthday girl in her arms. Anaya was dressed in a Princess Ariel swimming costume, which looked dry but her hair was damp and Jiah knew she must have been in the pool earlier. She had on a green mermaid tail skirt with a pink clam bikini top, she looked so adorable and Jiah couldn’t help but smile at her.

 

Anaya erratically waved to Jiah and yelled, “Miss Wiah, I missed you,” before leaping into Jiah’s arms. “I woveeeeee my Awiel cake but mommy said I can’t touch it – so I went swimming – wook I have a taiw!” She laughed looking straight at Jiah’s face, her little arm wrapping around her neck. Aera laughed and turned towards Helen with a smile.

 

“I missed you too birthday girl, and don’t worry, you’ll be able to touch it soon. And yes I see your tail, you look exactly like Princess Ariel.” Jiah smiled back at her pushing the little girl’s long hair behind her shoulders and out of her face. Daniel leaned over and wrapped his arm around Jiah’s waist placing a kiss on Anaya’s head. If anyone at the party had any doubts about the legitimacy of their relationship, Anaya’s familiarity with Jiah had erased them.

 

“How about we go jump in the bouncy castle?” Daniel asked holding his arms out, Anaya screamed in joy and jumped from Jiah’s arms to Daniel’s making Jiah let out a yelp in shock.

 

“Don’t do that!” She said whacking Daniel’s arm who just chuckled.

 

“Relax Jiah, I won’t let her fall.” Daniel laughed.

 

Jiah looked back towards her mother who was now in conversation with Aera, looking content. Helen, Mrs. Kim and Savannah’s eyes were on Daniel and Jiah. Jiah waved bye to them and the triad walked away towards the bouncy castle.

 

“Your mom hates me.” Jiah murmured to Daniel.

 

“She doesn't hate you, she is like that around people she doesn’t know, she’ll warm up.” Daniel replied.

 

“Unca Dan, but it’s so warm!” Anaya said picking up on the one word she seemed to understand causing both Daniel and Jiah to burst out laughing. Daniel placed Anaya in front of the bouncy castle and she ran in, a second later multiple children yelled her name out loud in happiness.

 

Daniel pulled her to the couches that were beside the bouncy castle, pulling her to sit right next to him.

 

“So, want to tell me why everyone is staring at us?” Jiah asked.

 

“People are always looking for drama.” He shrugged, he didn’t really care.

 

“I feel like the other woman.” Jiah sighed, she had noticed the pitying looks people shot Savannah.

 

“Always so dramatic.” Daniel laughed.

 

“Savannah seems nice, she’s gorgeous, clearly well-mannered and the exact opposite of what I expected.” She mused.

 

“And what did you expect?”

 

“Honestly, that she’d be a snobby, vapid valley girl.” Jiah said, embarrassed.

 

“I mean she can be a bit snobby sometimes but Savannah is really nice.”

 

“So what’s the problem?” Jiah asked looking confused.

 

Daniel sighed. “Savannah has been a good friend for years, but she wants to marry an image, the Daniel Choi, not Daniel. She doesn’t think for herself, her mother has put in her head that she needs to marry me or someone just like me. And that’s the only arena of her life that she is ambitious in, finding the perfect husband.”

 

“You’re telling me she wants to marry the guy who fires employees like it’s going out of style, accuses innocent women of espionage and acts like an arrogant asshole over the guy who has tea parties with his niece, has a soft spot for his siblings, helps innocent women move heavy things around and pretends to be her boyfriend to get her mother off her back?” Jiah asked with a laugh.

 

“Shut up, you’re making me sound nice.” Daniel said.

 

“You must have dated for some time.”

 

“Like I said, it was on and off. Aera would rejoice every time we broke up because she always said that I would never fall in love with her…but moot point because I don’t think I’ll fall in love ever.” He shrugged and then refused to elaborate on why.

 


 

It was an hour later that Jiah found herself standing across Savannah Kim, the woman had approached her with a smile and the two had just been talking about the party, Anaya running by them and hugging Jiah’s legs before running away again. Anaya was the star of the party, jumping from arm to arm, it was clear that everyone she knew loved her to bits.

 

“You know Anaya hated me as a toddler.” Savannah chuckled. “If she saw me touching Daniel she would start screaming and only stop when I moved away.”

 

“That’s kind of cute!” Jiah chuckled.

 

“She seems to love you.” Savannah smiled. “As does Aera, she’s never said it to my face but I know she has never liked me.”

 

“I am sure she-”

 

“Oh no, don’t worry about it. I think Aera always knew that Daniel and I would never work.” She shrugged, a sad look on her face.

 

“Did you love him?” Jiah found herself asking.

 

“I did in my own way…and I hoped that he would one day fall in love with me. I am sure you know that he needs to control everything around him and in his book falling in love with someone means you lose control over your own decisions and your own life. And giving someone the opportunity to hurt him isn’t something I thought he would ever do. And I made peace with it, happy to be with him even if he couldn’t love me, at least he would care for me you know? Daniel would treat any women with the utmost respect, and his heart is kind. My mother thinks we’re perfect together, so I thought why not give it another chance when his mother invited us to this party. But when I see him with you…I think he’ll learn to let go and fall in love.” She said with a sad smile on her face.

 

“I-” Jiah didn’t really know how to respond to this heartfelt speech, she felt sorry for Savannah. “I am sorry.”

 

“Don’t be. It’s not your fault. I think…he needs someone like you, you know. Earlier when he threw Anaya up in the air you screamed at him and hit his arm, you roll your eyes when he says something arrogant and put him in his place, I saw you calm him down when he snapped at that waiter. You forced him to re-evaluate and apologize to him, Daniel wouldn’t tolerate that from me, actually from anyone apart from his mother and Aera. And he’s friendly with you, clearly happy enough to joke around and wrap himself around you. It’s been…a surprise, he’s usually so detached.” Savannah spoke quietly, looking out towards the pool where Daniel was standing with William and a couple of other people. She couldn’t help but notice that Taera was standing right beside William, speaking with Daniel – Henry’s arm wrapped around her shoulders while William glared at his brother.

 

Jiah really wished she could fess up to this woman and tell her that she wasn’t actually dating Daniel, that they were just friends. Maybe he was just comfortable with her because he put her in the friend category rather than a girlfriend one, maybe she was just the female version of David to him. She wanted to tell Savannah that maybe if she tried to be his friend first, rather than his girlfriend they might have worked out. But it seemed like the Savannah ship had sailed for Daniel and it would be wrong of her to bring her hopes up like that. And somewhere she felt that Daniel wasn’t the right man for this woman, she needed someone to worship her and Daniel wouldn’t.

 

“This is going to sound really cheesy but I really do believe that there is someone out there for everyone, someone who just clicks with you. And I hope that you find that person, someone who makes you happy and someone who gives you all the attention that you deserve.” Jiah smiled patting Savannah’s hand.

 

Savannah laughed and nodded in return. “You know I came here expecting you to be a total bitch – but you’re so sweet. I could definitely see us becoming friends.”

 

“Imagine how uncomfortable that would make Daniel, we should totally just hang out all the time, it would be epic!” Jiah laughed.

 


 

Taera had walked up to Jiah with a questioning look on her face as Savannah walked away from her, she had been surprised to see the two of them huddled together, laughing. It apparently irked Daniel enough to let out a what the fuck causing Aera to whack him in the head before insisting he grab Anaya from the bouncy castle for her without swearing.

 

Taera was about to question Jiah about the conversation she had with Savannah when she heard a scream that sounded suspiciously like Demi’s, she swiftly turned in that direction to see that Demi was pushing Henry into the pool. William was standing by her laughing and clapping as Henry let out a yell while Demi stomped towards Jiah and Taera.

 

“Why did you push him into the pool?” Taera snickered as her sister approached her.

 

“Because he’s an idiot, that that asshole!” Demi mumbled to Taera as she came to stop in front of her and Jiah. Jiah shared a surprised look with Taera, Demi was the calmest of the three of them. A little angel in many ways, unless it came to any kind of “-ism”, misogyny, Republicans, misogynistic Republicans and crude humour.

 

“What happened?” Jiah asked looking back towards the pool where a laughing William helped his brother out of the pool. “What did you do to him?”

 

“He’s so annoying! I heard him flirting with this girl and making plans for a date for tomorrow – she sounded so excited about it. And then ten minutes later he was flirting with someone else and she mentioned that she had tickets to a concert and he made plans with her for the same night. Then he went back to the first girl and said that he had to cancel their plans because he had to take his cousin to the doctor. And then he turned around and started hitting on me. I have never wanted to slap someone so bad, so I got angry, called him out on his shit and he had the AUDACITY to say that the second girl was hotter and had a concert ticket. But that he’d leave her in a heartbeat if I decided to go on a date with him because I am so beautiful. So I pushed him into the pool.” Demi seethed.

 

Taera rolled her eyes and sighed. “That’s Henry, William, Daniel and Aera’s younger brother. Irene’s cousin.”

 

“How is he related to them?” Demi asked sounding surprised.

 

“He is a flirt.” Jiah shrugged.

 

“He totally deserved it though.” Taera laughed. He had been flirting with her whenever she came across him, and suspiciously it was whenever William was around, the cheesy pickup lines were one thing but he was now also a fan of slinging his arm around her shoulder and walking her in different directions. It was a tad annoying.

 


 

The rest of the evening went by smoothly, Anaya loved her cake, gushing about it and hugging both Taera and Jiah for the best cake ever. The other guests adored it as well, especially the little ones. Jiah had pulled out the sugar-free cupcakes she made, placing one on Daniel’s plate – that seemed to warm up even Helen who smiled at Jiah and shared how tough birthday parties were when Daniel was a child.

 

Everyone was hanging out and eating, Taera found herself supervising the children in the bouncy castle – Anaya being one of them. She tended to jump between the bouncy castle and the ball pit, sometimes trying to run into the bouncy castle with a handful of purple plastic balls, leaving a trail behind her. It was adorable and it melted Taera’s heart.

 

Jiah was off with Daniel, chatting with some of his relatives. Taera was really looking forward to going home and listening to Jiah’s version of all the conversations.

 

She was distracted from her thoughts when William sat right by her on the bench holding out a plate of cake for her. Taera looked up at hi, in question but accepted the plate with a smile, she had asked Aera to save her a slice as she had carried an excited Anaya, with all her little friends following after them, to the bouncy castle. Taera took a bite of the cake and smiled, it tasted good – better than the practice one they had made to make sure the fondant didn’t crack. “Did you try it?” Taera asked William.

 

“No.” He replied shaking his head and leaning back against the back of the bench, his eyes on the bouncy castle.

 

“Did you start a strict diet in the last few hours?” She asked and he shook his head. “Develop a disdain for baked goods?” She asked turning towards him as she broke a little piece of cake with her fork. She waited for him to start talking before forcing him to take a bite of the cake.

 

“No, I just- mfffff.”

 

Taera laughed as his eyes grew wide in shock having not expected that, he glared at her playfully as he chewed on the cake. “How many calories was that?” She teased him with a laugh.

 

“Now that you’ve broken my self-control…” He trailed off before grabbing her fork and taking another bite.

 

“Hey! Get your own!” Taera said grabbing her fork back and trying to hold the plate away from him.

 

“Your fault, Taera.” He said while easily reaching over and grabbing her plate from her hands.

 

“Shouldn’t your OCPD be acting up by now? Germs! So many germs!” She exclaimed pointing to the fork but he just shrugged and took another bite causing her to pout. “My cake.” She whined.

 

He rolled his eyes but took another bite before handing the plate back to her. “It’s good.” He said with a smile.

 

“Well of course it is, I made it.” Taera snapped as she took a bite. It tasted even better than it had before now that she had to fight for it. “Why are you always annoying me?”

 

“You started it, like most other things.” He shrugged referring to the fact that she had stuffed cake in his mouth first.

 

“I do not start everything!”

 

“Oh yes you do.”

 

“You know what, I don't want to argue with you right now.” Taera said, it would inevitably lead to her thinking about kissing him silly and she didn’t want to go there while they sat on a bench away from the rest of the crowd while the sun set.

 

“Well that’s a surprise. What do you want to do instead?” He asked.

 

“I have had this urge all evening.” She said looking back at him with a wicked grin.

 

“Urge?” He asked sounding a bit taken aback.

 

“Uh huh, I want to jump…in the bouncy castle!” She laughed.

 

“Go right ahead.” He said pointing towards it.

 

“You should join me.” She said standing up.

 

“No, I am quite all right.”

 

“Stop acting like a grandpa.” She groaned. “I bet I can out jump you.”

 

“No you can’t, I have better stamina.”

 

“Let’s find out then.” She challenged.

 

“Oh, there are better way to find that out.” He mumbled under his breath but Taera still heard it and then flushed as her earlier thoughts replayed in her head for the millionth time  – that was definitely how she would prefer to learn about his stamina, spread out on his office desk at his mercy or on the counter at Sorelle. But he probably just meant running on a treadmill or something.

 

“I dare you!” Taera said before running into the bouncy castle, it was larger than any she had ever seen, with large slides as well.

 

“Miss Taewaaaaa!” Anaya exclaimed when she caught sight of Taera, she was still wearing the teal ball gown that she had been changed into for the cake cutting – it looked adorable on her, she seemed to have lost the crown she was wearing somewhere, her hair was messy and she had the biggest smile on her face – she looked like a little drunk person.

 

“Are you having fun Anaya?” Taera laughed.

 

Anaya nodded excitedly. “Jump with me!” She said. Taera grabbed her hand and they both started jumping up and down, the few kids that were hopping around also joined them.

 

When William finally walked in Taera was jumping around teasing all the kids about being able to jump higher than them, all of them were whining that it wasn’t fair because she was tall.

 

“Unca Wi, beat Taewa!” Anaya yelled to him motioning that he jump up and down with her hands.

 

“Honestly Taera, competing with kids?” William rolled his eyes at the woman.

 

“I am teaching them important life skills, they should get used to losing in life, like you do to me.” She shrugged still continuing to jump. William bent down and scooped up Anaya and her best friend, Emily, in his arms before he started jumping, causing the girls to scream in delight and stick their tongues out at Taera since they could now bounce higher.

 

“Unfair advantage!” Taera yelled as she hopped closer to them, trying to jump up with more force but the fact that William was heavier and more lithe allowed him to bounce higher.

 

“Your long legs were the unfair advantage, I am just making the competition fair.” William claimed with a smile.

 

“So you’ve been checking out my legs, have you?” Taera teased waggling her eyebrows at him, she didn’t miss how he looked right down at them before back at her with a smirk causing her to flush.

 

For the next twenty minutes the two of them ran around with the children, sliding down the slides and hopping around playing tag. Taera couldn’t help but notice that William was really good with children. Of course, she already knew that he was good with Anaya but it seemed to translate to other children as well. He slid with them down the slide and let them catch him when playing tag even though he could easily outrun them.

 

He was so carefree, laughing and smiling, more than she had ever seen him, it was cute. But she still told herself that her heart was racing because of the physical activity, not because of his proximity when he slid down the slide with her and Anaya, her body tucked into his completely.

 

When Anaya announced that she was tired of the bouncy castle they all headed to the ball pit that was outside the bouncy castle. In no time the kids had William buried underneath the balls, his head the only part of his body sticking out – he seemed to be enjoying it although he had glared at her when she suggested the idea of burying him. It seemed like the kids got tired of the game rather quickly and all abandoned ship leaving Taera and William sitting in the ball pit. She picked up all the green balls she could find and threw them at him, he sadly managed to catch them all, so she gave up pretty quickly.

 

“How are kids so energetic?” Taera yawned as she sat in the ball pit, leaning against the edge so her legs and half her upper body was submerged, William adopted a similar position right beside her, lifting his body up from the laying down position he had adopted when submerged by children. She smiled as she realized that she hadn’t felt this happy and carefree in a long time.

 

“Sugar?” William suggested. “Isn’t that why you’re always screeching?” He teased.

 

“Shut up.” She said picking up a bunch of coloured balls and throwing them towards him. She looked towards the patio where most of the other adults were gathered. She caught sight of Daniel and Jiah sitting around the fire pit across Aera and David, Anaya seemed to have found her way to David’s lap.

 

Taera had watched Daniel and Jiah closely all evening, and they seemed more like a real couple than a pretend. He was always touching her, and Jiah seemed relaxed around him which was odd. Even though Savannah had left with her mother a while ago and Helen had retired indoors with her friends, Daniel still had his arm slung around Jiah and she leaned into him as they talked to Aera and David, and the Choi cousins.

 

She had even noticed Daniel fixing Jiah’s hair multiple times and smiling down at her fondly, he was either a very good actor or there was something going on there. Jiah had always been a horrible actor and her lie was becoming a bit too convincing leading her to believe that her friend was past the crush stage she said she was at.

 

“Is your brother that touchy-feely with all his girlfriends?” Taera asked turning towards William to find that his gaze was also fixed on the fire pit.

 

“Not at all.” William answered quietly.

 

“Hmmmm, interesting.” She mumbled before turning towards him, he was sorting all the balls around him, throwing the ones that weren’t green away.

 

“You’re good with kids…surprisingly.” She found herself saying recalling how he had actually seemed so comfortable and fun around them.

 

“I have lots of younger cousins and then there’s Henry.” He shrugged. “I usually was assigned the task of corralling the young ones and keeping them entertained at parties.”

 

“You, entertaining? Poor kids.” She chuckled adjusting herself since she felt like she was slipping down. Her shoulders were now touching his arm, and she could feel the warmth through the thin-white shirt he wore.

 

“Ha ha.” He rolled his eyes, not making any move to pull away from her.

 

“Weirdly, I was also assigned the role of entertainer to children at parties.”

 

“Did you get them all tattooed and sent to jail?” He quipped.

 

“Ha ha.” She said copying him. “I’ll have you know that I am really responsible and would make a great mother.”

 

“I didn’t say you wouldn’t…you’d be the fun parent that can also be scary.” He speculated causing her to laugh.

 

“Yes! And you’d try to be the disciplinarian but be a big softie that spoils his children.”

 

“You think so?” He asked sliding further into the ball pit, looking up at the darkening sky.

 

“Surprisingly yes.” She said adopting a similar position and looking up at the sky. “If you want children that is.”

 

“I think I do.”

 

“Think?”

 

“I think the harder part is finding someone I want to have children with.”

 

“Do you share your brother’s cynical view about relationships?”

 

“On some days, yes, it’s just a lot of work and time that goes into something that might not even work out you know.”

 

“Hmmm, it feels like that time might be better directed towards something that is guaranteed to pay out.” She nodded, she felt the same way.

 

“Exactly. What about you?”

 

“Same boat, I think. Except my ovaries scream at me every time I see children.” She said causing him to snort.

 

“What part of you is not screaming?” He teased causing her to whack him again.

 

“I’ll have you know that I am usually very calm and collected.”

 

“Oh I am sure.” He said, but there was a teasing lilt to his words.

 

“You can even ask Demi.”

 

“I am sure you’ve sufficiently scared your younger sister into supporting you.”

 

“No, she’s the scary one. It’s like she’s always psychoanalyzing people, she can just stare at you and tell you exactly what you’re thinking sometimes.” She found herself sharing.

 

“But she knows you well, she’s your sister.”

 

“No, with everyone.”

 

“We should send her Henry’s way, he needs someone to put him in line.”

 

She laughed. “She doesn’t like him very much, he was apparently hitting on multiple women and then her.”

 

“Oh, I know, he deserved every bit of what she did to him. He’s such a flirt.”

 

“He’s so different from you, and Daniel too.”

 

“He’s the baby of the family, we spoiled him too much.” He sighed.

 

“And what’s the excuse for you?” She teased making him roll his eyes, he picked up a ball and threw it towards her this time making her retaliate.

 

“Stop!” He laughed as she got up on her knees and started flinging the plastic balls at him.

 

“You started it.”

 

“You did, actually.” He said as she fell back into her old position.

 

“Let’s just agree to disagree.”

 

“Are you…backing out of an argument?” He teased.

 

“No, I’d rather not kill you at a children’s birthday party and scar all the poor souls.” She teased.

 

“New Yorkers are always so violent.”

 

“We are not!”

 

“You have to admit that people in New York are a lot more aggressive than people in other cities.” He pointed out.

 

She sighed. He had a point. “I think it’s just a defense mechanism, there are just so many people in New York and half of them just seem scary. Especially if you take the subway.” She shuddered.

 

“I detect a horror story.” He snickered.

 

“I wish there was one story, I have plenty, I have been scarred.”

 

“Is that why you’re like this?” He teased.

 

“Ha ha.” She said sarcastically. “Irene said you spend a lot of time in New York.”

 

“Yes, one of BARE’s most successful location is in New York.”

 

“Tribeca?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Ugh, bougie moms that do weird things like goat yoga.” She groaned.

 

“What?” William laughed.

 

“Tribeca is filled with all these young rich moms and they all look the same, they all have the same $2000 stroller, they all wear those ugly Golden Goose sneakers and they get oat lattes from small coffee shops and then do things they think are hip.” She explained.

 

“I didn’t know that.”

 

“Of course you didn’t, these are true New-Yorker secrets.”

 

“So not from Tribeca then?”

 

“I don’t have that kind of money or a sugar daddy.” Taera laughed. “I am from Queens, born and raised.”

 

“Your parents still live there?”

 

“Yes, my mom works at a bank that is like a ten minute walk from our house and my dad is a real estate agent.”

 

“I thought you’d say they were doctors or something.”

 

“No, they moved to the USA just before they had me and just upgraded their education a bit and did whatever they could finish super quickly. Of course the degrees they had from South Korea didn’t go too far here.”

 

“Why New York? It’s a very expensive place to start out in.”

 

“It’s all the land of opportunities though, my uncle and aunt were well-established there so it made sense.” She shrugged. “And also because there were other Korean people there, it would have been so weird to grow up in a place like Charleston, there is like no diversity…and the food sucks.” She groaned.

 

“I can’t even argue with that.” He sighed. “But when you don’t know anything else it doesn’t seem so bad, and even after experiencing New York and other really big cities, I think I’d still pick Charleston.”

 

She found herself turning towards him at that, his words surprised her. “I would think you would like the bigger cities with your business oriented mind.”

 

“It’s fun for a while and definitely where things happen but I feel more…at peace when I am here.”

 

She sighed. “I get what you mean, it’s a little overwhelming at times and sad in a way.”

 

“How so?”

 

“No one has time for each other. Big cities, especially New York, are mostly about growing and achieving, I have met so many driven people there but I think between the hustle we forget to live. I don’t think I was living until I came here, I was just looking to climb up some invisible ladder – pushing anything that made me happy into the future as the next step.” She said.

 

He hummed in response, as if mulling over her words.

 

“And it’s how a lot of people live, you never really realize how bad it is until you go somewhere where it’s not like that. Since coming to Charleston, I think I have done more fun things than I ever did in New York. I never went sight-seeing in New York, but I’ve started doing so here. And even though I was living with my parents then I think I talk to them more now that I am here in Charleston, and it’s no longer about the day-to-day but more heartfelt conversations and I didn’t know that I was ignoring that in favour of chasing my definition of success.” She shrugged.

 

“Is it really bad if you’re successful though?” He asked.

 

“I think it depends on how you measure success. You can work 80 hours a week and make millions a year, but what is your quality of life? Are you taking time off for things that are important to you? Are you neglecting things that make you truly happy? For family, for friends, for things that you love.”

 

“What if work makes you truly happy?”

 

“Then that’s great, but work should always be a part of your life and not your whole life.” She shrugged. “Imagine you’re 90.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Just do it William.”

 

He sighed. “Okay, I am 90.”

 

“What would you care about more at 90? The fact that you have a super successful business and tons of money, or for the people around you. For your siblings and cousins, your nephews and nieces, your children, your grandchildren?” She asked.

 

“For the latter.”

 

“If that makes you happy at 90, don’t you think it probably makes you happy now, that you should make some time for those things now?”

 

He sighed. “You have a point.”

 

“And I am not saying you shouldn’t be ambitious or want to be successful, but it should never come at the cost of alienating the people you love or enjoying your life.”

 

“Have you been talking to Aera?” William chuckled.

 

“No, why?”

 

“She says the same.”

 

“She must have had a reason.”

 

“This is the first time I have been home for more than a month since starting university at 18.” He admitted.

 

“And?” She asked.

 

“And what?”

 

“Do you like this more? Are you happier now?”

 

He nodded. “I think I am.”

 

“Good.”

 

“But sometimes I miss it.”

 

“That’s normal, I miss New York so much on some days. But I don’t miss my life there, I miss my family, my friends and the food.” She sighed. “Dear Lord, I want good takeout.” She groaned.

 

He laughed. “Do you always just want to eat?”

 

“Pretty much, my dream is being able to eat whatever I want, whenever I want.”

 

“It seems like you do that already.”

 

“Sometimes I feel guilty about the amount of junk.” She admitted. “But I am lucky because I don’t gain weight easily.”

 

“Ah, that explains why you can eat all those cupcakes.”

 

“I don’t eat that many.” She pouted.

 

“Sure Taera.” He laughed.

 

“What’s your favourite thing about the cities you’ve lived in?” She asked a few seconds later. “And you better not measure it by how successful the BARE location is!” She added, she could just imagine him listing profit margins.

 

The two of them spent the next two hours sitting alone in the ball pit and talking about random things, comparing notes about the cities they had both been to. His aversion to yummy food, their political views, his time at Harvard, the things he loved most about New York, her time at Columbia and their friends.

 

They only moved when Jiah approached the ball pit to say that most people had left and that they should get going too, waggling her eyebrows at Taera and singing William and Taera sitting in a ball pit, k-i-s-s-i-n-g under her breath causing Taera to whack her.

 

The lovely painting of the scene from this chapter is by @yaya_yay127 (jos) on Twitter!

Chapter Text

August 2017

 

Taera was worried about her Jiah-Bug. Ji-Hye completely bought that Daniel and Jiah were together after Anaya’s birthday party as did the rest of Charleston. Jiah had quite the evening at Anaya’s birthday party attached to Daniel at the hip. The most amusing meeting it seemed was when Savannah cornered her and admitted that she was sad to see that Daniel had moved on but it was now clear to her why they would never work. She had practically told Jiah that it was easy to see that Daniel was smitten with her in a way he was never smitten with Savannah. This caused Taera to worry even more.

 

What further caused her worry was the amount of time Jiah was spending with Daniel. The Monday following Anaya’s birthday party, Ji-Hye  had mentioned wanting to go to the gym claiming she missed Zumba classes she took with Taera’s mother and their friends back in New York. The same evening Daniel had dropped by with guest passes for her to use the gym, handing one inconspicuously to his girlfriend and Taera as well.

 

Jiah had thus started spending most of her evenings at BARE, she opened Sorelle in the morning, allowing Taera to close for the night. If Taera looked closely enough she could see Jiah through the window laughing and chatting with Daniel, Ji-Hye watching over them with a smile on her face. Taera had a feeling that her friend was falling fast and hard, which would have been great if the two of them weren’t in a fake relationship. She didn’t know Daniel well enough to figure out if he was also falling or if he was just a good actor.

 

Taera didn’t think that Jiah had noticed that her and Daniel were always touching even if only her and Demi were around. The only thing that reassured Taera a little was that William also seemed surprised at Daniel’s proximity and ease with Jiah, it allowed her to believe that maybe Daniel was also developing feelings for her friend. She didn’t want her best friend to fall alone and get her heart broken.

 

Taera sighed and looked towards the door of Sorelle missing Jiah. She had gone to drop her mother off to the airport today. Ji-Hye finally decided that it was time to head back home claiming that she missed her husband and life in New York. Demi had decided to stay for the rest of the year, her fall plans up in the air. Their mother wasn’t too happy about it, claiming that she lost both daughters. Demi hadn’t come into Sorelle today either having to work on converting her thesis into a journal article for publication meaning that Taera was lonely.

 

Sorelle was so quiet, the afternoon lull making Taera feel sleepy. Since it was a Wednesday and the weekend birthday parties were days away there were no custom orders for her to make at the moment.  Sam was chilling behind the counter reading a book just waiting for the door to ding. There were only a few customers in at the moment, a group of older ladies that held their weekly book club meetings at Sorelle and Irene Choi who had ordered six different kinds of cupcakes with English Breakfast Tea. Taera had packed them into a pretty to-go box thinking that she would take them with her as she usually did. But Irene had walked over to a table and sat down. She was now on her third cupcake, a dejected look on her face. She didn’t even eat them with her usual grace, the table was littered with crumbs.

 

At first Taera thought she should give her space, but the longer the behaviour went on the more she felt like she should intervene. She slowly approached the table Irene was sitting at before falling into the chair in front of her. “What’s got you so glum, Cookie Monster?” She said using the nickname she had heard William use for his younger cousin. They were rather cute together, she recalled the first interaction she witnessed between them at the BARE launch when he had handed her a cupcake and told her that calories didn’t count if no one was watching. He seemed to dote on her a lot, smacking Henry in the head every time he said something to annoy her.

 

Irene just sighed loudly and took another huge bite of her cupcake without saying anything. Taera slowly moved the box away from the young woman, knowing that she was on a diet that she constantly broke.

 

“Spill.” Taera pushed.

 

“William won’t let me go on a trip to Europe with my friends – Daniel is no better. Everyone is going apart from me.” She whined.

 

“Are your friends druggies? Does he not like them?” Taera asked confused.

 

“No, Will just thinks it is unsafe.”

 

“But you travel for work? You lived alone in New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles?” Taera asked remembering that Irene had returned from Los Angeles the first time she came into Sorelle and had mentioned travelling between the 14 BARE locations.

 

“Will dropped in once in a while, I always stayed close to family, lived in approved places, and got driven everywhere.” Irene shrugged taking a sip of her tea.

 

“Dear Lord, what’s wrong with him? He’s so controlling!” Taera said but then her brain reminded her that people with OCPD had an obsessive need to control their environment, so it really wasn’t his fault at the end of the day.

 

“Just overprotective.” Irene said defending her older cousin. “Will and I have always been close, he’s had to get me out a sticky situation or four –apparently I am really easy to take advantage of.” She murmured. 

 

“When was this?”

 

“Back in high school, I guess – it was just a by-product of losing my parents, I got in with the wrong crowd at school and before I knew I was a part of something I didn’t want to be a part of. It got pretty bad…and I also just tend to attract problems.” She sighed.

 

“But you’re a lot older now.” Taera said, she was a grown woman, not much younger than she herself was. It wasn’t exactly wrong of William to worry for his cousin but he had to learn to let go just a little, she wasn’t a child any longer. She had noticed how relationships soured quickly when parents, or in this case older cousins, held on too tight.

 

“Does your aunt have nothing to say?”

 

“She always tends to agree with Will and Dan, Will said it wasn’t a good idea and Dan seemed to agree, so she went along with it.” She sighed.

 

“Do you feel confident that you can go to Europe with your friends alone and stay safe?” Taera asked Irene who nodded. For the next half an hour the two of them talked about the Europe trip and the Choi Brothers.

 


 

After closing for the day Taera marched across the street into BARE. The same receptionist, Anne, gave her a tight smile as she walked right by her and towards the area that housed the treadmills and weights. Her suspicion that Anne was holding a candle for William grew every time she saw the woman, she simpered and stuttered whenever he talked to her – it was ridiculous – she was too young for him! She was younger than Irene!

 

Taera expected to find William running on the treadmill but he was missing in action. She figured that he’d be in his office, today was a business meeting kind of day because he had come in wearing a crisp black blazer with a white shirt, he was even wearing a tie.

 

She had admired the outfit when he stepped out of the car this morning – she had beaten him to the parking spot but he had conceded defeat rather quickly saying that he had a meeting to get to. She walked down the long hall and burst into his office. His eyes snapped up from his screen of his computer to her, a confused look overtaking his face.

 

But the only thing Taera could focus on at the moment was the new fact she learnt. He wore glasses, a pair of thin gold round frames that suited him very well, it looked especially good with his hair today, it was pushed back and he had a hard at work look about him, his blazer slung on his chair, his tie lose around his neck and his sleeves rolled up.

 

“Do you know how to knock?” William asked arching his eyebrow at her.

 

Taera just rolled her eyes as she walked into the office and sat on the chair across his desk with a sigh. “I need to talk to you.”

 

“About?” William asked looking curious, he hit the save button on the document he was working on. It looked like a spreadsheet of sorts.

 

“Irene.” Taera said, he looked really confused so she continued. “She was at Sorelle earlier today and seemed really sad about not being able to go to Europe.”

 

“And?” William asked, arching his eyebrow, leaning back in his chair.

 

“You should let her go.”

 

“That’s none of your business.” He said sounding defensive. Clearly, Irene had been bothering him with the subject a lot, and he was kind of right – it really wasn’t her business to be Irene’s champion, but she wanted to be.

 

“Just hear me out, seven out of the ten top safest countries in the world are in Europe according to the Global Safety Index, and all of them have a lower crime rate than the USA. Every single one of them. Irene has lived in New York alone which gets pretty crazy.” She took out the print-out of the spreadsheet she had printed from the article with all the information, she had even taken the liberty to highlight all the relevant countries.

 

“I really don’t care about some arbitrary ranking, it’s not safe.” William said, his eyes skimming the spreadsheet despite his words.

 

“William, what’s wrong with you? She’s a GROWN woman.”

 

“I don’t think it’s safe for her to go alone.”

 

“Do you think your cousin is dumb?”

 

“No.”

 

“Do you trust that your mother, and I guess you to some extent, have raised her well?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“So you trust her and know that she’s smart enough to take care of herself and not get in trouble. People go backpacking through Europe and even Asia alone all the time. Irene wants to go with friends from university, since they all made it through university, I am going to guess that they’re responsible adults as well. It seems like they will only be visiting major tourist cities and they are all old enough to handle themselves.”

 

“Like I said, not your decision to make.” He repeated going back to typing on his MacBook which annoyed Taera to no end.

 

She got up and walked around to his side of the desk, sitting on it, and nudged his chair with her foot until he huffed in annoyance and looked up at her, arching his eyebrow in a what gesture.

 

“Tell me, where is Irene right now?” She asked, crossing her arms across her chest.

 

“At home.”

 

“And where is Henry?”

 

“Uh – ”

 

“Probably out somewhere doing something stupid. He probably wouldn’t even ask you if he could go on a trip to Europe with his friends, so why does Irene?”

 

“It’s different.” William defended, but it was rather quiet, and Taera knew she had him right where she wanted him.

 

“It really isn’t.” She said.

 

“Yes it is.”

 

“William.” Taera said looking straight at him, her voice serious. “Irene is going to feel suffocated if you keep treating her like a child, she’ll start to resent you. She told me about what happened in high school.”

 

“She’s just so naïve, people always take advantage of her.” William sighed.

 

“It’s cute that you’re so overprotective, but that was years ago, she’s a lot older and a lot more mature now. You have to let go a little, she’s not a teenager anymore. All of my friends who had parents or siblings that were controlling and didn’t let them do things ended up rebelling, they did what they wanted to do and lied about it, they started resenting their families. And it seems like Aera is on board with Irene going too. She will be fine, don’t you think you should ease up about it?”

 

“But…” William sighed trailing off not knowing what to say.

 

“I know it’ll be hard for you. But she really wants to do this, to travel and see the world. It’s her dream – and it might be difficult for you to understand because it wasn’t your dream, you were building BARE when everyone else in their 20s was travelling and seeing the world. Millions of people in their early 20s take trips all over Europe, it’s very safe. Irene has spent the last few years saving for this trip and looking forward to it. She can call you every day, you can pick where she stays…the world is so connected these days and you know you can fly her home or go to her whenever you want, it’s not like you can’t afford it.”

 

“You’re awfully persuasive.” He murmured, she was forcing him to think about his decision.

 

“So?” She said nudging his chair with her feet again.

 

“Fine, I’ll talk to her about it.” He sighed causing Taera to beam at him.

 

“You know she told me she’s trying to lose weight so she can wear cute outfits when travelling?” Taera laughed. “She’s sooooo cute.”

 

“She’s such a child.” He murmured with a fond smile.

 


 

Taera smiled when she pulled up onto the street where Sorelle was, a black Range Rover was pulling up to her parking spot yet again. Normally, she would have groaned at this point, but today she was rather happy to see him. He had been missing in action for the past two days, his car not gracing the road or the BARE parking lot. Irene was here both days, along with Henry who had jokingly parked his car in her spot but it wasn’t the same. She finally admitted to herself that she had missed their daily bickering, it had become a habit for her.

 

Taera pulled her car right behind his, grabbing her purse and throwing the car door open. She almost skipped up to his car but controlled herself as she approached and put on an angry expression on her face.

 

“Stealing my parking spot yet again?” Taera said as William opened the driver side door. Today he was wearing a white muscle shirt with grey joggers.

 

“Again, your name is not on it.” William said, his mouth pulling up at the side a little bit as he got out of the car and looked down at her.

 

She was about to retort and follow him to the trunk where he would go to pick up his bag but he broke the order today, surprising Taera into silence. He walked around the hood of the car towards the passenger side door, opening the door. Taera’s eyes widened when his mother stepped out of the car.

 

“Hello! What are you doing here?” Taera asked with a huge smile as she walked up to hug the woman, they had spent considerable time chatting at both the BARE launch and Anaya’s birthday party, there was just something about her that drew her in. She had such a maternal and positive vibe around her that you couldn’t help but love her immediately, she made her miss her own mother a little less.

 

“Lovely to see you again, Taera.” Helen smiled returning the hug before stepping back. William was looking at the two of them in surprise as if not expecting such a greeting or the smile that lit up his mother’s face. “I have been pulled along to spend all day with my son.” Helen answered her question looking up at William, her eyebrow raised indicating that it was against her wishes. Taera also couldn’t help but notice that her eyes were a little swollen and red today, and her smile a bit forced.

 

“Trust me, you don’t want to spend all day at a gym, it stinks and I am way more entertaining than your thief of a son.” Taera quipped, sticking her tongue out at William who rolled his eyes at her.

 

“Thief?” Helen inquired looking at her son in question before turning back to Taera.

 

“He keeps taking my parking spot.” Taera complained with a pout.

 

“It’s not yours.” William groaned.

 

“William, stop bothering this sweet girl.” Helen said reprimanding her son.

 

“She’s not sweet.” William murmured quietly.

 

“Sweeter than you.” Taera retorted before turning back to Helen. “But seriously, if you’re around all day I insist you spend the morning at Sorelle.” Taera beamed, Helen looked towards William who just shrugged in a do what you want gesture.

 

“Sounds like a plan.” Helen said patting Taera’s cheek as her phone rang, she pulled out her phone from her pocket. “Excuse me, I have to take this.” She said walking to the grassy area at the side of the road.

 

Taera turned towards William who was looking at her and arched her eyebrow in question. “Why are you torturing your mother on a Saturday by making her accompany you to work all day?” She teased.

 

“I’ll have you know that my mother loves spending time with me, I am her favourite child. Why are you so chummy with my mother?” He asked.

 

“Ha, I am sure Aera is her favourite. And she’s sweet like the rest of your family, we’re friends.” Taera shrugged.

 

“You and my mother being friends is weird.”

 

“No, it’s not. Now answer my question.”

 

“Today’s a hard day for her and I didn’t want her to be alone…” He paused and Taera figured he was thinking if he should share more.

 

“Hmmm, she looks sad, like she has been crying.” Taera nodded looking over at the woman in question, she was still speaking into the phone, it seemed like a family member or friend was calling.

 

“It’s supposed to be her 35th wedding anniversary today.” William said quietly. Taera recalled Aera’s words about her father leaving them as children – the circumstances weren’t clear but Taera could understand that Helen might feel forlorn on this day.

 

“So you thought you’d distract her by bringing her to work with you?” Taera speculated.

 

“In my defense, I suggested we do something else but she was insistent that I go to work.” William shrugged.

 

“I must save her from boredom.” Taera decided as Helen hung up her phone and approached them.

 

“Let’s go, let me show you Sorelle.” She said holding her arm out, Helen laughed and looped her arm through hers waving goodbye to William as the two of them walked towards Sorelle.

 

“MOVE YOUR CAR IF YOU DON’T WANT A REPEAT OF LAST TIME.” Taera yelled from across the road.

 

William caught the curious look on his mother’s face and wondered if it was a good idea to let his mother leave with Taera.

 


 

When William walked into Sorelle around lunch time he found his mother, Taera and Jiah seated at the table. All three of them were laughing, his mother was sharing some sort of funny story because she would say a couple of sentences and then start laughing again.

 

It was nice to see that his mother was enjoying herself, she had been gather glum the past few days. It happened every year, she had received yet another package from Justin Choi, an anniversary present that she left unopened like all the others. She didn’t throw it away though, she had a cupboard in her room that was full of presents just like the new one, unopened. William, on many occasions, asked her to throw them out but she didn’t. Like every other year, she walked around the house looking sad, stuck in her own head speculating upon all the what ifs.

 

Daniel, Aera, William, and Henry all tried their best to cheer her up, she would smile and laugh at their attempts but it seemed forced. Even when Anaya tried. But at this moment she looked like she was genuinely enjoying herself. William walked towards the table and cleared his throat to get their attention. They all looked up at him and then back at each other before the three of them burst out laughing again.

 

William sighed knowing that whatever his mother had shared had involved him. “Wh-what’s up? B-been glued to an-any walls LATELY?” Taera barely got the sentence out before she started dying of laughter. William’s eyes snapped to his mother, a betrayed look overtaking his face, she wasn’t supposed to share that!

 

“I-I am sorry William, Taera is awfully persuasive.” Helen giggled, patting the seat next to her. William gave her a disappointed look but sat down by his mother, Taera and Jiah were still laughing.

 

“It was Daniel’s fault, he bailed on me when I bumped into the wall.” William said once they had calmed down, apparently it was the wrong thing to say because everyone burst out laughing again.

 

“Stop pouting.” Taera said to him before she got up and walked towards the back, she was wearing a grey summer dress today, her hair up in a high ponytail and the Sorelle apron around her waist. She came back a minute later with a huge tray filled with plates and a teapot. “Want to have lunch with us?” She asked William while putting down the tray on the table.

 

To William’s surprise, the tray contained sandwiches and soup rather than cupcakes and cookies. He looked up at Taera and arched his eyebrow at her. “We’re experimenting with lunch options since that is our slowest time of the day.” She shrugged, he nodded with a speculative look on his face.

 

“It’s a good idea.” William said.

 

“Well of course it is, we came up with it.” Taera laughed causing William to roll his eyes and his mother to reprimand him for rolling his eyes at her.

 


 

Helen had lunch with Aera and Anaya the next day, she had important questions for Aera, and some observations to share.

 

Anaya was busy munching on her pssghetti, as she called it, oblivious to conversation going on around her. Helen and Aera had spent the last half hour talking about William and Taera.

 

“He can’t take his eyes off her.” Helen said, almost squealing.

 

She had noticed that her son paid a lot of attention to whatever Taera had to say while they had lunch together as a group, his eyes would follow her whenever she got up and moved around.

 

It seemed like both her eldest sons were smitten with the two women from New York – the more she thought about it, the more it made sense in a way. They had the same underlying values, all of them seemed to understand that they needed to work hard to become successful. Her sons would fall for the headstrong women that moved miles from home to open up a business, much like they had done in a way.

 

“I know! Did she tell you about their constant fights over the parking spot?” Aera asked and Helen nodded. “I always found it odd that William keeps parking there despite the fact that using the parking lot makes more sense. He is goading her and picking fights on purpose.”

 

Helen nodded, “She told me she put icing all over his car.”

 

“Daniel told me! He let her get away with it too! I thought he would have killed her.” Aera smiled.

 

“They keep bickering like an old married couple.” Helen sighed happily.

 

William had always been quiet around everybody but his siblings, but she had been surprised to see that he was willingly involving himself in the conversation with Jiah and Taera. He had even teased Taera about the sandwiches needing work when he first took a bite, Taera had looked worried and taken a bite herself and looked at him in question as she chewed, William had then chuckled and taken another bite.

 

Helen had been shocked, especially when Taera had whacked William’s arm and the two of them had started bickering. She had exchanged a smile with Jiah who was also watching the two of them with a small smile on her face.

 

“OH! I forgot to tell you the cutest thing!” Aera squealed. “When Jiah’s mother was in town I invited them all to dinner. Jiah’s mother mentioned that Taera dropped out of medical school which obviously upset her, she left and sat alone in the backyard. Jiah was going to bring her coffee but William volunteered and the two of them sat by the fireplace in the backyard for over an hour! They were even nice to each other when they got back.” Aera squealed. “And the other day at the birthday party, he volunteered to bring her cake.”

 

“I think he likes her.” Helen said happily.

 

She was so sure that William would never fall in love with someone. He had always been quiet, found it hard to get along with people growing up, and his one attempt at a relationship had gone horribly – she would happily slap the girl who broke his heart by cheating on him. After that he had a hard time letting women in. She was sure that she’d have to hunt down a woman for him and force him to get married. But it seemed like she had been wrong, and she couldn’t be happier because she really liked Taera.

 

“Unca Wi likes Miss Taewa, he even played bouncy castle and ball pit with us!” Anaya piped in.  

 

“This is our secret okay baby?” Aera said to her daughter, knowing that Anaya would mention it to someone else if she wasn’t told to keep it a secret.

 

“I can keep a secwet, I am fouw now!” Anaya replied happily.

 

“Your Uncle was definitely following Taera around that night.” Helen smiled recalling that he just seemed to end up wherever Taera was throughout the night. She had found them both sitting in the ball pit alone and throwing balls at each other while talking but hadn’t thought much of it then. “Do you think she likes him too?” Helen asked.

 

“She’s fighting right back.” Aera pointed out.

 

“You know, I think she convinced him to let Irene go on the Europe trip. He was adamant that she couldn’t go at first but he came home one day and calmly listed all these conditions and said that she could go. I heard them mention Taera’s name.” Helen smiled, she was liking this more and more.

 

Taera would be good for her son, she brought him out of his shell and apparently had the power to persuade him – which was a miracle because getting William to rethink and change his mind was always difficult.

 

“I think it’s obvious he likes her, but how do we determine if she likes him back?” Aera murmured.

Chapter Text

September 2017

 

“Do you sometimes feel like Charleston is like in another dimension? You, Jiah Kim, are going to a charity gala with your very rich fake boyfriend who happens to be ridiculously good looking. And you just happened to run into him because two Korean men own the business right across ours in a town that is filled with nothing but white people. Like what are the odds?” Taera was sitting in the seating area in the change room at Nordstrom while Jiah tried on gowns.

 

Jiah had tried on seven already but Taera had shot them down as soon as she opened the door each time. When the door opened again and Jiah appeared in a pale green dress Taera shook her head immediately. “That colour looks ghastly on you, you look sick.” She said.

 

“Who needs enemies if they have friends like you?” Jiah murmured shutting the door again.

 

“Jiah-Bug, you could wear a potato sack and still look really hot but I want you to look your best. You’re the hottest girl I know, and if I swung that way I’d totally go for you…or Aera, she’s hot.”

 

“But your type is William Choi.” Jiah yelled from inside the dressing room between the sounds of zipping and rustling.

 

“Stop! Someone is going to hear you!” Taera groaned. “But seriously, attending Liam’s parties was different you know, we were just friends going along for the ride while his father glared at us from across the room. But now you’re going to an actual gala as a date, albeit fake, but you know what I mean.” Taera trailed off as the door opened again. “YES! That is the one.” She gushed.

 

“Don’t you think it’s too much?” Jiah asked, she was wearing a red silk dress with a Queen Anne neckline but without the awkward shoulder sleeves, the straps were connected over the body of the dress making it look chic, the dress was cinched in at the waist with a belt and fell to the ground gracefully, the skirt had the perfect amount of volume. “This slit goes up to my thigh.” Jiah said pushing her leg out of the dress.

 

“You have nice legs.” Taera shrugged. “Daniel is going to die when he sees you.”

 

“Taera, it’s a fake relationship.”

 

“With real feelings it seems.” Taera pointed out.

 

“We’ve talked about this, it’s just a crush on my end – and can we not talk about this right now?”

 

“Fine, let’s not talk about the fact that you’re falling hard Jiah and perhaps alone.”

 

“What do you want me to do?” Jiah sighed.

 

“Admit it to yourself, figure out if he feels anything, and if he doesn’t, stop this now before you get hurt.” Taera sighed. “I am your best friend, I do think he’s good for you, but you guys have set yourself up in a situation that is very likely to not end well. He doesn’t seem like a let’s talk about our feelings guy, and I know you’re falling hard Jiah. I can’t be sure about him, it seems like he likes you too but I wonder if he’s just pretending because he needs to.”

 

“Fine, I’ll talk to him.”

 

“Good. Now, we should go buy a matching pair of red shoes.” Taera gushed.

 


 

Taera was suspicious, William was missing for the third day in a row. His car was neither in her parking spot nor in the BARE parking lot. He did not arrive at exactly 8:00am, and when she looked out her window at 8:15am on his non-meeting days he wasn’t running on the treadmill as usual.

“If you don’t stop staring out the window I am going to assume that you miss him.” Jiah said as she walked past her best friend.

“I don’t miss him! It’s important to keep a lookout for the…enemy.” She said nonchalantly causing Demi to roll her eyes at her sister.

“The enemy? You call him William now. And who willingly spends time with their enemy, laughs with them, is chummy with their family and has elaborate dreams about them?” Jiah said. “You know as someone who is always preaching to me about admitting my feelings, you’re being awfully hypocritical.”  She arched her eyebrow and watched as Taera grew red.

“Okay, fine. So maybe I feel a tad bit more than just sexual attraction at this point.” Taera admitted.

 

“Babe, it was a bit more than sexual attraction a while ago.”

 

“No, my dreams were very sexual.” She muttered.

 

“Speaking of dreams, why were you so freaked out about your dream yesterday? You’ve been having them for a while, you certainly moan his name in your sleep enough.” Demi asked pushing her glasses up her nose.

 

Taera had woken up yesterday and she was very quiet throughout the day, she only said that she had a weird dream.

 

“Stop psychoanalyzing me.” Taera groaned looking at her sister who just shrugged. She had recently been going on about dream analysis and personality styles and how William seemed to fit the personality profile that complemented hers the best…it was annoying. She might have read up on it later, but Demi didn’t need to know that.

 

“Spill it Jeong.” Jiah said poking Taera, who sighed in response.

 

She needed to get this off her chest.

 

“As I stupidly admitted to you in a sleepy stupor, my dreams about him are usually very…sexual. But recently, after the fact that he’s been super helpful and chill, and Anaya’s birthday party, they have been different.”

 

“Not sexual?” Demi asked.

 

“Some of them definitely are.” Taera murmured recalling the dream she had about his office desk the night she went to speak to him about Irene.

 

“But some of them are normal, we talk and he comforts me – which is different from the usual where he pushes me against something and ravishes me– but in these dreams he pecks my lips, hugs me, and kisses my forehead. They’re sweet, like my mind is imagining what a relationship would be like with him. It’s because we had conversations about so many things at Aera’s house, Anaya’s party, and then with his cousin and mother…and at the party he was an idiot and played with Anaya and her friends and my ovaries are acting up – argh.”

 

“And your dream yesterday?” Demi pushed.

 

“There were kids with his jawline and my nose, even though his nose is nicer. And they were just so cute and he was throwing them up in the air and tickling them…while we lay in bed together. It was just so domestic you know, us with two kids laying on a large bed on a lazy day, laughing and playing. And I woke up with this hollow feeling in my chest…wanting what I saw and it scares the hell out of me.”

 

“You have clearly liked him for a long time.” Demi smiled. “And because you refuse to admit it to yourself, your brain is projecting your own thoughts to you.”

 

“Thanks Demi Freud.” Taera said rolling her eyes.

 

“Stop being a bitch.” Demi replied.

 

“The question is why do I like him? Okay stupid question – but I barely know enough about him to be subconsciously wanting to have his children. He’s so…annoying.” Taera sighed.

 

“She’s really daft for someone so smart.” Jiah sighed looking at Demi before turning back to Taera.

 

“Hey.” Taera whined.

 

“Babe, he’s everything you’ve ever wanted in a guy. He’s clearly very intelligent, successful and ambitious, he is not intimidated by you, he clearly loves his family, he’s so good to his mother, he’s a great friend, he’s good with children, you can talk to him – don’t even deny that -” Jiah glared at Taera who had opened her mouth to contradict her. “-you opened up to him which is very unlike you so you clearly trust him. You said yourself that he’s not arrogant and that he listened to reason and then changed his mind about Irene. He’s obviously very attractive and your type looks wise – tall, the hair, the face, the jawline, the body, you can’t pick out one thing you don’t like about him…and he’s not a fuckboy…do you know how hard it is to find a man like that?!”

 

“Okay fine, maybe he’s perfect. But does he like me?”

 

“There is definitely something there – he messes with you on purpose. I’ve caught him smiling at you multiple times.”

 

“Maybe I am just fun to annoy.” Taera said.

 

“The sexual tension is unreal – half the time I wait for the two of you to just kiss. Even Irene noticed it.” Demi chimed in.

 

“Have you noticed that he’s always around you? Like that day when he stopped you from falling into the manhole, dragged you out of the marketing agency, helped you set up advertising for Sorelle, helped you with expense tracking, he helps you carry things when he sees you’re struggling. And that night at Aera’s house, he kept looking outside after you left and volunteered to bring out coffee to you.”

 

“And at Anaya’s birthday party – he seemed to end up wherever you were.” Demi said.

 

“I feel like we might be reading into it too much, I am not going to say anything until I am sure.” Taera sighed. “But fuck, I think I miss him.” She said looking across the street towards BARE.  

 

“You’re such a hypocrite.” Jiah groaned.

 


 

“This was a mistake, I should have gone with a more conservative dress.” Jiah claimed as she paced the hallway in their house waiting for Daniel, her red heels making a distinct clicking noise against the hardwood floors.

 

“You look so hot. Stop worrying!” Demi exclaimed, the red dress they had picked out looked amazing on her, she had paired it with red shoes and a red clutch going for a monochromatic look, the only thing that wasn’t red were the brushed gold earrings she was wearing.

 

Taera and Demi had helped her get ready, curling her hair and applying her makeup slowly until she looked absolutely perfect, they also took about a thousand pictures.

 

“I am just a tad nervous.” Jiah sighed sitting down on the bench by the stairs.

 

“Jiah, calm down. You look gorgeous, it’s going to be a fun night.” Taera reassured her best friend. “And if anything happens you just call us and we’ll have you out of there in a heartbeat.”

 

“His mom thinks I am going to bomb this.” Jiah murmured. Daniel had said that his mother offered to meet with her and go through what was expected of her. Jiah wondered how the woman could be so nice and so mean at the same time, she was so nice when she dropped in to Sorelle the other day.

 

She was sure that a part of Helen still wanted Daniel to be with Savannah, who could navigate any social situation effectively. Apparently, this night wasn’t about dancing and having fun, it was about networking. All the attendees were successful residents of South Carolina, major business owners, key government players and hot shots.

 

Daniel was attending this function to corner a Joshua Watts, one of the biggest real estate developers in South Carolina, who was apparently looking for a firm to manage his diverse portfolio. Daniel suspected that he was also planning to go public with his company and looking for a firm for advice – how Daniel supposedly knew these things Jiah did not know. A lot of preparation had gone into this night, he was always on his phone barking orders at his staff to research one thing or another and seemed more stressed than usual. Apparently impressing Joshua Watts would generate a lot of money for his own firm, she had been shocked to hear that it would be in the millions.

 

“Just be yourself, everyone will love you.” Taera said and Demi nodded as the bell rang. “I’ll get it!” Taera yelled as she ran down the hall and threw the door open.

 

Daniel Choi was standing at the door in a black three-piece tux looking really good. He had gotten a haircut, his hair looking a lot shorter than it usually did but it looked good on him, he kept his classic short on the sides, long at the top style. “Damn, you clean up nice Choi.” Taera whistled inviting him in.

 

“You have good taste, Taera-Byte.” He quipped as he stepped in.

 

“I know.” She beamed.

 

Daniel grinned at her in a way that had her narrowing her eyes.

 

“What?”

 

“Just speculating on your taste.” He said. She narrowed her eyes further. “He’s about two centimeters taller than me, crazy hair, likes to work out.

 

“I don’t like William!”

 

“I didn’t say William. And I said nothing about liking.” He teased, smiling at her, his dimples showing.

 

“William is the only person around you that is two centimeters taller.” She pointed out.

 

“I could have meant one of the plethora of personal trainers at the gym, some of them are two centimeters taller than me.” Daniel quipped and Taera cursed herself for being so obvious.

 

“Whatever, the point is that I don’t like William.”

 

“Whenever you say the point is it seems like you mean the opposite.”  

 

“I don’t like him!”

 

“Why are you so defensive then?”

 

“BECAUSE YOU’RE ANNOYING!”

 

“Why are you two yelling?” Jiah’s voice came from behind her.

 

“No reason!” Taera said, the last thing she needed was for Daniel and Jiah to talk about how she liked William.

 

Taera watched Daniel closely as Jiah came into sight, his eyes grew wider and he stared at her flabbergasted as if he had never seen her before. Jiah was also staring at him, her face turning as red as her dress the longer he started at her.

 

“Hi.” Jiah said shyly.

 

“Wow.” Daniel murmured really quietly but Taera was standing close enough to hear and smiled and winked at Jiah, holding back the squeal that threatened to escape her.

 

“Okay, let me take a picture of you two and then you can go. Have her home at a decent hour young man.” Taera said pushing Daniel towards Jiah.

 

“What are you, her father? Are pictures necessary?” Daniel groaned.

 

“I wish her father was here to scare you, that would have been priceless. And yes, Aera’s orders. Now pose.” Taera instructed, she smiled as Daniel’s arm automatically went around Jiah’s waist pulling her closer to him.

 

“You look amazing.” He said to her.

 

“You don’t look too bad yourself.” Jiah replied as they posed.

 

Taera did in fact feel like a parent sending her child off to prom as she and Demi peeked out the window, watching the pair walked away from the house. Daniel had his hand on her back until he reached the car, he then opened the door and helped her into it ensuring that her dress was safely inside before closing the door behind her and walking to his side of the car.

 

“Damn, I wish I could go.” Demi sighed as the car disappeared from sight.

 


 

Jiah was glad that she had Liam as a friend, it meant that she had attended parties like this before – stuffed to the brim with rich people. If Liam were there right then he would be judging people and categorizing them as old money, nouveau riche, gold diggers, and normal people – elaborating on why each person specified as such.

 

But he then had the ability to turn right around and be charming, recalling random information about them that allowed him to connect easily. Taera was sure he had notes on his phone about every conversation he ever had, Liam would remember that someone’s dog was unwell when he saw them months ago and follow up on the previous conversation as if every person was important to him.

 

Apparently that skill was one that Daniel had as well, he worked his way across the room with confidence, smiling and greeting most patrons by names and seemingly carrying off from their previous conversation. Jiah’s confidence also grew the longer they were there, she had been hesitant about her dress before but everyone she met complemented her on it – and it was a lot less risqué than some of the others she had seen.

 

Daniel and her had established a rhythm of sorts, he would whisper names and important points into her ear as they approached people he wanted to talk to, everything from do not ask about his wife to if she asks you about your political views stay neutral. It seemed like the wives and girlfriends of the men he wanted to talk to immediately gravitated towards her, wanting to know how she caught his attention. And his attention was really throwing her off, he looked and smelled amazing, and he was constantly touching her. She felt like her heart would beat out of her chest every time he smiled at her or touched her – her stomach were full of butterflies and she desperately hoped that this was all real.

 

“That is Mrs. Watts, comment on her tan and ask her about travelling.” Daniel whispered into her ear as he handed her a glass of champagne and guided her towards the woman, his hand on her back.

 

“Mrs. Watts, what a pleasure to see you here.” Daniel smiled as she approached the woman, sounding sincere. “You look great as always.” He smiled.

 

“Mr. Choi, always a charmer.” She laughed.

 

“Daniel, please. This is my girlfriend, Jiah Kim, and this is Caroline Watts.” Daniel said introducing the two women.

 

“Ah, yes, the talk of the evening with the fetching red dress.” Caroline said smiling kindly at Jiah.

 

“It’s definitely her colour.” Daniel laughed.

 

“I almost changed out of it, I thought it would be too much!” Jiah said with a laugh.

 

“Nonsense, it is very elegant.” Caroline replied laughing.

 

“I love that pale pink on you, it looks lovely with your tan – have you been travelling?” Jiah asked.

 

“Ah, yes, I do recall that you had mentioned spending some time in Italy when we spoke last.” Daniel added as Caroline nodded.

 

“Oh, you remembered! Yes, I spent the last three months there, I wish I could have stayed longer and explored more. I just love to travel.” Caroline sighed. “I am actually going to be attending a wedding in South Korea next month which I am very excited about. In Busan I think.”

 

“Ah, Busan is so beautiful!” Jiah gushed. “I remember going as a young child and loving it, but it’s definitely the it place for weddings these days, especially in all the K-Dramas.”

 

“Yes, my friend was saying the same, her only daughter is getting married! And I am quite the film enthusiastic, I took film in school where I was introduced to K-Dramas and I have been obsessed since – such tight story lines and it just caters so well to the audience with a variety of themes.” Caroline gushed.

 

“Wow, what’s your favourite?” Jiah asked with a smile.

 

“It would have to be Coffee Prince and Healer, they were both so amazing.”

 

“Ah, Gong Yoo is a favourite of mine! Have you watched any recent dramas?” Jiah asked.

 

“I have not, I will definitely look into it. It will be good prep for the trip, brush up on the Korean a little.”

 

“How long are you planning to go for?” Jiah asked.

 

“A month, I wish I could go for longer but I can’t leave Joshua alone for any longer lest he find a younger wife.” She chuckled.

 

“Oh darling, I am smarter than that. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Jiah looked to her right to see an older man approaching them with two champagne flutes. Daniel, who had been silently following the conversation between the two women, seemed to stand straighter and she realized that this was Joshua Watts.

 

“Mr. Watts.” Daniel greeted him with a firm handshake.

 

“From across the room you looked exactly like your father had years ago, it really brought me back and then I caught my reflection in the mirror and saw my white hair.” Joshua smiled.

 

“He does look like him, doesn’t he?” Caroline said watching him closely.

 

Jiah felt Daniel stiffen next to her at the mention of his father so she squeezed his hand while she giggled. “I think he has a lot of his mother in him too.” Jiah added.

 

“Oh how unthoughtful of me, Josh this is Jiah, Daniel’s girlfriend.” Caroline said to her husband who nodded at Jiah with a smile. “I am curious as to how you two met.” She said.

 

“I opened up a business across from BARE, the gym that Venture invests in, William is the CEO and Daniel the CFO.” Jiah said before taking a sip from her glass.

 

“Ah yes, I’ve heard all about that – a very successful business venture for you and William, a national franchise, exclusive partnerships. Very impressive.” Mr. Watts nodded. “And what else are you handling at Venture?” He asked.

 

And that is when Jiah knew that Daniel had Joshua Watts right where he wanted him,  he gave him a succinct summary of what his firm excelled in – pitching both the portfolio management side and how they aided multiple companies while coming on the market. He answered Joshua’s questions with ease and offered his expertise when Joshua mentioned that he was thinking of making his company public as well.

 

It seemed like that signalled something to Caroline because as soon as the words left Joshua’s mouth she chimed in. “You two should join us for dinner. You can discuss this further there and Jiah can share her must watch dramas. A gala is no place for business talk, the dance floor is open and looking rather empty.” She prodded her husband.

 

“Of course, Mrs. Watts, we’d love to attend.” Daniel smiled and Jiah nodded her acceptance.

 

“Perfect, I’ll have my secretary forward you the details and look forward to seeing you then.” Joshua replied before turning to his wife. “A dance my dear?”

 

Jiah smiled as the two of them made their way to the dance floor. “They are good together.” She said.

 

“He’s sleeping with his secretary, she knows.” Daniel confided to her quietly causing her to gasp in surprise, looking up at him with wide eyes.

 

“Poor Caroline.” She said looking back towards the dance floor where they were dancing.

 

“Furthest thing from poor actually, she married him for money, she tolerates it in exchange for the lavish lifestyle and trips.” He shrugged.

 

“She can’t be happy with a life like that.”

 

“She can literally do whatever she wants.”

 

“But she’s in a marriage with no trust and maybe no love.”

 

“Money makes the world go round.” Daniel shrugged.

 

“That’s cynical.”

 

“It’s accurate. Now I think we should also dance.” He said holding his hand out to her.

 

“You’re supposed to ask not tell me.” She mumbled but took his hand anyways as he pulled her onto the dance floor as a slow waltz started.

 

“So how do you think that went?” Jiah asked him as they danced slowly to the music.

 

“Much better than I expected, brilliantly done Miss Kim. Perfect deflection at the mention of my father and then bringing up my business.” He said sounding impressed. “You should accompany me to more of these.”

 

“I know I am amazing.” Jiah laughed as he led her around the dance floor. “But now you have to admit that K-Dramas are not so useless after all.” She grinned referring back to their conversation at dinner at Aera’s house.

 

“I will do no such thing.” He scoffed pulling her closer.

 

“Okay, fine. Can we please get some real food when we leave? The food here sucks and I am hungry.” She pouted causing him to chuckle.

 

“That I can do.”

 


 

Daniel and Jiah found themselves sitting in a dingy pizza joint with amazing reviews. Jiah had insisted on getting New York Style pizza and a quick Google search had led them to the place. Daniel had at first turned his nose up at the place claiming that he could take them someplace better. Jiah had rolled her eyes at him calling him snooty and insisted that the places with the best food were always the ones that didn’t quite look like it.

 

It was rather an odd site for Tyler, the only employee working at the store that night, when a couple dressed in formal wear walked in looking they walked off the cover of someone fashion magazine and insisted that they wanted a large cheese pizza with double cheese. Apparently the double cheese was very important.

 

He had looked at them in question wondering if they were joking but the man just arched his eyebrow at him causing him to scurry and start on the order.  Tyler watched the couple as he worked, he always worked the night-shift and observed the people who came in closely to pass time, he even created back stories. And this couple was one of the most interesting that had graced the establishment in a while.

 

They sat in a booth to the side, the lady laughing at the man’s antics – he was cleaning the table with napkins. It seemed like they had come back from some kind of function, the lady was complaining that she hated the food at wherever they had been and that nothing was better than a cheesy pizza.

 

She apparently hated caviar, the man insisted that it was an acquired taste to which she responded with a taste I don’t want to acquire. It seemed like she was the low maintenance one in the relationship and he was the grumpy rich one. Tyler wondered where they were returning from, it seemed like a high-class affair.

 

He put their pizza in front of them along with the dipping sauces and drinks they ordered, the lady beamed up at him kindly thanking him and then man nodded his thanks, definitely the quiet one in the relationship as well. Tyler figured they had been dating for quite some time and were rather comfortable with each other, they slid in next to each other rather than across each other and the man watched the woman with a fond smile on his face as she munched on the pizza happily. They were also rather touchy-feely, leaning into each other while talking, she hit his arm while laughing and he kept pushing a strand of hair behind her ear – it seemed like an unconscious action because it didn’t interrupt their conversation at all.

 

They were laughing about people they had seen that night, apparently some of them had interesting outfits. The man seemed to loosen up around her a lot, he was laughing and regaling her with stories of the funniest things that had happened at galas and parties, ranging from fruit bowl hats, awkward falls and scandalous exposures of cheating spouses.

 

They then got quieter and started talking about the man’s father and why he hated him so much. The man got really quiet for a moment and Tyler was sure he wouldn’t answer but then he took a bite of his pizza and shared his story with her. Apparently his dad had married his mother for money, she was an only child of a rather rich family and his father had been cheating on his mother for years, a fact that was obvious to him even at a young age. His parents were not happy together but stayed together due to society’s pressures and his mother had been really unhappy – but then he had just left one day, took all the money he could get his hands on to start a new life with his mistress.

 

 Tyler figured they were going to back to a lavish empty house or apartment, they wouldn’t have kids waiting for them, they were still rather young. And she didn’t have a ring on her finger so they weren’t yet engaged. But from the looks of it, it seemed like they had probably been together long enough to have moved in together. When they left an hour later Tyler thought it would nice to have something like they had when he was older, he liked them, and not because they left him a really large tip.

Chapter Text

September 2017, New York

 

William Choi sat on a comfy grey chair, his posture impeccable, staring at the glass table in front of him. The coffee table books had been a little crooked when he sat down, he knew it was done purposely, and years ago he would have straightened them before sitting down but it didn’t bother him as much as it did back then.

 

Across from him sat Raina Amin, a short middle-aged woman with thick round framed glasses covering most of her small face. She had a notepad in her hands, which matched her eccentric clothing perfectly, today she was wearing a soft brown kaftan and holding a brown leather notepad. William thought she had a well-travelled aesthetic, a world citizen, just like her office, which was filled with knick-knacks from many countries along with many books ranging from novels to thick psychology journals and treatment manuals.

 

Raina Amin had been William’s psychologist for over 12 years now, first seeing him as a teen, their appointments had gotten further and further apart as he got older. She had made the move to New York a couple of years ago, and it worked out perfectly because by that time he was often in New York for the most successful BARE location. The last time she had seen him was over a year ago when he was stressed about the direction to take BARE, she was one of the reasons he finally decided to go home to Charleston.

 

He had called her office a week ago to book an appointment for today, Raina had been rather surprised to see his name in her calendar again. Raina saw many clients but William was perhaps one of her favourites – one of her biggest successes. She had seen him grow so much over the years and felt happy to see what he had become.

 

When he had first come in to see her his world views were so rigid, he was so stiff and formal, and obsessed with perfection. He made a great patient because he listened and meticulously did the homework she assigned. She used to assign him books to read about social relationships, about race, about gender equality, and world religions, and a plethora of other topics that he held rigid views on – encouraged him to seek out biographies and presentations on people and topics she knew would provide him insight into the world he lived in.

 

It taught him to stop looking at the world in blacks and white, and to accept that everything was on a spectrum. He learned quickly, and had come a long way. She felt that the only thing he wasn’t able to master was to find a work-life balance, he was the definition of workaholic – but it had done him well, he was really successful. And he had decided to take steps to achieve that work-life balance with his move home this year.

 

She had watched with a small smile on her face when he had walked in and sat on the couch without rearranging her coffee table like he usually did – she had messed up the pile deliberately to see what he would do. He walked in, greeted her, and then just sat in the chair, not saying a word.

 

But Raina knew that this was normal for him. He liked to collect himself before he spoke. She knew he would speak when he was ready, he probably had rehearsed what he wanted to say to her today. But she was surprised when a well-rehearsed spiel didn’t leave his mouth, rather it was one short sentence that she didn’t expect.

 

“I can’t focus on my work.” He said looking up at her, his voice even despite the worried look on his face. He ran his hands through his hair, a nervous trait he just couldn’t seem to break.

 

“Why do you think that is?” Raina asked. This was the first time she was hearing this complaint from him, he usually had the exact opposite problem, being so engrossed in work that he failed to notice those around him. He had been slowly alienating his family due to work, and a year ago, after his last appointment with her, he had decided that he needed to move back to Charleston where his family was.

 

“There is a…distraction.” William sighed.

 

“What kind of distraction?” She asked, noticing that he hesitated on the word distraction as if not wanting to call whatever it was that word.

 

“When I moved back to Charleston I met this girl…woman actually, we got off to a horrible start – I almost ran her over with my car because she jumped onto the road to rescue a puppy.” Raina was sure her eyebrow had shot up in surprise but she didn’t say anything and let William continue. “I didn’t see the puppy but she insisted it was there – we obviously got into a fight. I thought she jumped out in front of my car for insurance money.” He looked at her and shrugged. “It happened to Daniel before.” He said and Raina nodded.

 

“And then I found out that she owned the business across the street, it’s a hybrid bakery and café. I still thought she had jumped in front of my car on purpose so we fought again, over a parking spot actually  – she claims that it is hers but it’s public property. And when she found out I owned the gym across her store, she started reciting statistics from some paper about how opening a gym close to a cafe is bad for business…she had the volume and edition number of the journal memorized. It was just so odd.” He said with a chuckle causing Raina to smile.

 

“That’s interesting.” Raina added noticing that William became more and more animated as he talked, a far cry from his usual composed and stoic recollection of events.

 

“She also goes around dramatically yelling Dear Lord or Oh God at every little thing – I still wonder if it is blasphemous.” He shrugged.

 

“Depends on who you ask.” Raina said with a smile.

 

“She’s so different you know, so smart…sometimes it’s like she just disappears into her head. And she recites studies and facts like she has them memorized verbatim, she has an answer for everything. Genius IQ, got into medical school at Columbia – dropped out because she hated it. But she seems to have found something she’s good at regardless -  running her business. She opened it with her best friend, they’re always so busy – thriving actually but she is impatient and wants it to turn a big profit immediately. And she’s really hard-working, she’s there for the whole day and always running around doing something.”

 

“You seem to know her really well.” Raina commented.

 

“She’s just everywhere, it’s impossible to ignore her. She works across the street, she’s befriended my sister and my cousin, her best-friend is involved with my older brother which is a story for another day – my siblings all love her, my niece adores her and can’t stop talking about her, hell even my mother loves her. It’s like she’s burrowed her way into all aspects of my life.” William paused at this point, starting at the wall behind Raina.

 

“She was kind of annoying at first and I know I should have ignored her, and I tried, so much. But I feel so drawn to her. I constantly park at the same spot, and every day like clockwork we fight over it, it’s not even convenient for me to park there but I can’t stop myself from doing it. And I find every opportunity to just…bicker with her, she gives me enough.”

 

“It seems like you’re telling me that you’re doing this for her attention.” Raina said calmly, on the inside she was smiling.

 

“I guess? It’s just that…when she’s around I feel…happy? I am not thinking what next when she’s running her mouth a mile a minute. She’s just so expressive and interesting – I never know what she’s going to do next. She does the weirdest things, makes all these weird faces and noises, and she’s so dramatic. You know she spray painted the parking spot, tried to spray paint my car – she literally bought leather gloves and knee pads and crawled around my car with a can of spray paint – I don’t think I’ve laughed so much since…ever.” He said, a little chuckle leaving him, making Raina smile and nod.

 

“She also put icing all over my car, and she did it perfectly, as if she was decorating an actual cake or something. Then she put up a poster with a direct reference to BARE. But she apologized for it, she made me these healthy cookies and brownies, she says the word healthy with so much disdain – she makes them with protein powder and calculates the exact nutritional information like she just knows that I need that to eat them without worry. And they’re so good.” He sighed.

 

“But then she turns around and does things like threatening to rear end my car…but I know she won’t. She once tried spraying me with pepper spray but ended up spraying herself – she drives me mad – refuses to listen to reason but I just can’t stay away.  She always has these witty comebacks and I just want her to keep talking but at the same time I just want to…shut her up.” He hesitated and paused here, Raina felt like he wanted to say something but skipped it. She let him continue for now rather than interjecting.

 

“She’s also really nice. Everyone that knows her just loves her, from her employees to her best friend to my family, she sticks her nose into everyone’s business because – I don’t know actually – she’s just always ready to help. She does stupid things like moving heavy manhole covers herself because she is afraid a child will fall in...almost falling in herself in the process. She has become my cousin’s champion and my mother can’t stop talking about her, my younger brother can’t stop flirting with her which irks me, and my older brother and her have this weird friendship going on where they just talk using sarcastic comments. She’s taking over my life…and I should just start ignoring her right…stay out of her way…and I tried. But I can’t. She’s just - ”

 

“What’s her name?” Raina asked.

 

“Taera.”

 

“Tell me more about how Taera is a distraction.” Raina said, inside her head she was now jumping up and down in glee.

 

“I – I take time out of my day everyday just to argue with her or make excuses to see her…I rescheduled an important meeting so I could go to a dinner where I knew she would be. I was supposed to leave a birthday party she was at by a certain time but I found myself staying and pushing my bedtime to spend more time with her…I always go to sleep by 10pm but I didn’t even leave at that time. I am usually so focused on work but she pops into my head at the worst time – I wonder what she’ll think about something…or what she would say if I said something…I wait for her to throw my office door open – she never knocks – just walks in spewing something totally ridiculous and it’s taking over my life. I think of her at work, at home, when I sleep, when I work out – I just…”

 

“How does Taera look? Is she pretty?”

 

“She’s beautiful and the longer you look at her the prettier she gets, she looks breathtaking when she’s riled up.” He said with a soft smile on his face.

 

“Tell me more about these thoughts you’re having.” Raina asked, the boy was smitten and she was loving it, she just needed him to talk through all his feelings for himself. She was just guiding him along until he reached whatever inevitable conclusion he need to reach.

 

“Mostly just replays of our interactions, sometimes fleeting thoughts about what she would do if she was there…” William paused and took a deep breath, his face flushing. “Sometimes very explicit thoughts…like when she is arguing with me I imagine what she would do if I just kissed her…if I wrapped my arms around her while she sits in my office asking me a million questions about what I learned at Harvard…and other things…” He trailed off blushing making Raina hold back a chuckle.

 

“And you feel guilty about this?” She asked.

 

“Shouldn’t I?”

 

“Because you’re having sexual thoughts about her? You haven’t had them about other women?”

 

“I have but not like this you know, they were just hook-ups, this is different.”

 

“You clearly have feelings for her. Although you have a rather juvenile way of expressing these feelings, almost like you’re in high school and teasing a girl you like to get her attention.” She said.

 

“My feelings…scare me a little.”

 

“Because of your past relationships?”

 

“Not because of that surprisingly…she’s not the type to cheat, and I know these things are hard to tell, but I know she wouldn’t. And I really don’t think she cares about who I am or how much I am making, or how she can benefit from it. She never really asks for help, and when she does, it’s about things I can teach her rather than give her, and she comes bearing a thank you gift in hand to barter for my help…she wouldn’t.”

 

“And what about you? You’ve said that you didn’t want to try relationships after that one in university, and also because you don’t give people time and push them away?”

 

“She won’t let me ignore her, I think she’d strangle me if I even think about it…and I know that I could never do that to her. When - when she’s sad I feel this need to just fix everything…I don’t think I could ever hurt her like that.”

 

“So what’s the problem?

 

“It’s just too much. I think I really like her, like this might be it for me…but then again how do I know? I’ve never been in a serious relationship, they’ve been short flings, I’ve always picked the wrong people. But she just fits into my life so seamlessly. My family loves her…and despite all our arguing I feel like she gets me you know. But then I feel like I barely know her at times, but then I seem to know all these personal things about her too.”

 

“Tell me about any other women you’ve had a similar reaction to.”

 

“No one.” He laughed. “I mean, yeah, there have been woman I have found attractive before, but they didn’t elicit anything beyond that, a lot of them I’ve found to be…annoying in a different way, too clingy, too vapid, too fake. Too…I don’t know, not Taera?”

 

“I never thought I’d see the day, you my boy are smitten.” Raina smiled.  

 

“I didn’t either.” He sighed again.

 

“And what about her feelings for you, any indication there?” Raina asked.

 

“I…I don’t know, I think she is at least physically attracted to me. I think she  may even be jealous of any other female attention I get.” Raina watched as a smile grew on William’s face.

 

“A good place to start.” Raina laughed and speculated that she probably couldn’t find a woman who didn’t find the man in front of her attractive. “It seems like she’s also going out of her way to get your attention, and she seeks out your company and apparently your advice as well.”

 

“I guess. But how do I figure out if she has feelings for me?”

 

“By stopping this back and forth fighting with her and making it obvious that you feel something for, see how she reacts. You’re not a teenager anymore, William.”


 

September 2017, Charleston

 

“Hmmm, I am impressed. It seems like she handled it well.” Helen said putting down her phone on the dining room table, she had been looking at pictures of the gala. “Rather loud dress though.” She picked up her tea cup, taking a sip.

 

“Everyone complimented her dress, and she handled herself better than well, she’s the only reason we got invited to dinner with the Watts.” Daniel replied defensively.

 

“No need to be defensive, I was just saying she handled herself well despite her upbringing.”

 

Eomma.” Daniel groaned. “You are being awfully judgemental.”

 

“It surprises me that you are not, her mother acted like she had caught the biggest fish in the sea when she came to our house.” She said, her eyebrow raised.

 

“Jiah’s not like that.” Daniel murmured, but her mother’s words of at least he’s rich, rang in his head.

 

“You’ve barely known her for a couple of months.”

 

“Sometimes you just know.”

 

“I know she’s a lovely girl, but I don’t understand how you can throw away such a long relationship away so easily. What did you see in her that Savannah doesn’t have?” Helen sighed.

 

“A sense of self? Her own voice? Ambition? A sense of humour?” Daniel answered back.

 

“Savannah is perfectly sweet-”

 

“I think that might be the problem, she is just so…contained.”

 

“Savannah balances you out well, a relationship can’t have two headstrong people.”

 

“I also don’t see how such a power imbalance could be healthy. I am starting to see that maybe Aera was right, maybe I do need someone that will stand up to me and fight me when I am wrong rather than someone who’ll let me get away with things…it’s too much like you and dad.” Daniel said, he had been thinking lately – Savannah’s presence making him re-evaluate what he actually wanted in life.

 

“Daniel – he wasn’t –”

 

Eomma, he was an egoistic asshole and you let him be – you ignored all his indiscretions and he just continued making mistakes. You said yourself that a lot of what happened was your fault as well, you never stood up and told him how you felt – and Savannah is going to be exactly like that. She won’t ever tell me what she really thinks about anything and we’ll start hating each other for it.” He shrugged.

 

“Is that why you wouldn’t propose?” Helen asked.

 

“I just couldn’t see myself marrying her, we would both be miserable. So please, just drop it. Stop inviting them over, stop suggesting that we get back together, and let her move on.”

 

Helen sighed and took another sip of her tea before nodding.

 

“I don’t understand why you have a problem with Jiah but you seem so chummy with Taera.” He mumbled, not quite understanding.

 

“I think it’s a combination of how Jiah’s mom acted, and the fact that I’ve been imagining you with Savannah for years. William – William lights up when he sees Taera,  in a way that you don’t with Jiah. Not that you did with Savannah either.” She sighed.

 


 

Apparently the Choi siblings and the Choi-Park clan had a monthly games night, Aera had invited Taera, Jiah and Demi to it. And that is why the three girls found themselves at the Choi-Park house yet again, this time they had started by playing with Anaya and her Easy-Bake Oven, one of their present to her, until she felt tired and cuddled into David’s lap for a nap. Irene and Demi were lounging on the sofa chatting, Henry sat by Taera, much to Demi’s annoyance.

 

They had a huge fight as soon as they got there. Demi couldn’t stop glaring at him and Aera had to send them out into the backyard away from Anaya’s ears when they got into a row. It had started out with minor insults and pointed comments. Demi had apparently touched a nerve with her comments about him being a womanizer and irresponsible, calling him out for hurting women and wasting away his potential.

 

She had also added that he was riding off his brothers’ coattails – she had heard Irene’s story about how Henry had gotten into Wharton Business School due to BARE’s success and was now just coasting by doing the absolute least he could. Henry had snapped back at Demi calling her a stuck up know it all and had retorted with a you’re just salty because you didn’t get into the school you wanted – which was Demi’s trigger and escalated the situation to swearing – at which point Aera had promptly pushed the two of them into the backyard and sighed.

 

They had come back red in the face, refusing to talk to each other. Henry had sat down by Taera, the two of them munching on popcorn as they watched Daniel and Jiah who seemed to be in their own world. Jiah was munching on Pepero, her absolute favourite snack, one she had been complaining about missing just last week. Daniel happened to drive by a grocery store that carried international foods on his way back from a meeting and got some for her.

 

Taera wondered how far this meeting was considering that the closest international grocery store was 50 miles away. She kind of wanted to shake the two of them, possibly provide them a definition of a fake relationship and make them re-evaluate what they were doing. Jiah was still munching as the two of them shared high school and college experiences with each other – Daniel was apparently the fun one between him and William, not that she was surprised. Daniel and Jiah were looking rather cozy – and Aera was looking rather delirious, she looked at them with a huge grin and skipped around causing David to roll his eyes at his wife.

 

“This was supposed to be a fake relationship right?” Henry whispered to Taera.

 

“Yeppppp.” Taera said popping the p. Aera leaned over the back of the sofa, sticking her head between theirs and staring across the room at Daniel and Jiah.

 

“This is amazing.” Aera whispered happily. “I knew they would be good together.”

 

“If I didn’t know any better I would think you orchestrated all this.” Taera whispered back.

 

“I did nothing except that lunch date.”

 

“Hmmmm, that was so suspicious by the way.” Taera snickered. “It was probably the catalyst though, it made Jiah comfortable enough with him to ask to fake date her.”

 

“I am glad, I hated Savannah.” Aera admitted.

 

“Damn that’s cold, especially coming from you.” Henry said holding his hand over his heart.

 

“She was all wrong for him.” Aera shrugged. “Now, if we could only find someone for William.” She added while inconspicuously looking at Taera’s reaction.

 

“As if anyone would want to tie themselves up with that.” Taera murmured but Aera had noticed how she had gone still at the suggestion.

 

“I have a theory…hyung has a girlfriend in New York, he keeps going back there.” Henry said turning towards Aera.

 

“Maybe you’re on to something, he goes to New York periodically and stays for at least a week.” Aera said starting right at Taera, noticing that she was now biting her lip with a speculative look on her face, her jaw tight. Aera, of course, knew that William did not have a girlfriend in New York but she wanted to see how Taera would react to this.

 

“What are you talking about?” Jiah asked plopping into Taera’s lap and looking towards Aera.

 

“William’s potential secret girlfriend.” Aera said.

 

“He has a girlfriend?” Jiah asked shocked, Aera didn’t miss that her gaze flickered down to Taera’s in concern.

 

“I am going to go get another Coke, anyone want one?” Taera asked pushing Jiah off her lap onto the sofa and springing up. Henry requested a Sprite and Taera scurried towards the kitchen. Jiah waited a total of ten seconds before excusing herself and scurrying after her friend. Aera smiled as she realized that Taera definitely felt something for William, she had stiffened, her best friend had looked at her with concern and she removed herself from the conversation quickly at the mention of his girlfriend.

 

“What are you up to Mrs. Park?” David whispered in his wife’s ear as she slowly walked towards the dining room. He had been sitting on the sofa with Anaya napping in his arms watching the scene play out but got up to make sure that his wife wasn’t doing something stupid. Aera had come home from lunch with Helen the other day hell bent on figuring out if Taera liked William because it was obvious that William was smitten.

 

“Gathering important intel.” She whispered back before patting his cheek and approaching the Butler’s Pantry which connected the kitchen to the dining room.

 

“It’s probably not true.” She heard Jiah’s voice from the kitchen.

 

“Like I said, it’s not like I care. It’s just a crush, I’ll get over it. I just find him attractive. So maybe my heart beats faster when he’s around – but it’s just attraction. It may also just be because I find him annoying, which increases the levels of adrenaline and other hormones in the body – which leads the mind to mistake the release of these chemicals as attraction when it isn’t. Misattribution of arousal, first year psychology and endocrinology. It’s just hormonal, it’ll pass.” Taera spoke really fast and Aera felt bad all of a sudden. She had only wondered if Taera felt the same way but it seemed like she did and Aera had made her question her feelings.

 

She found her husband standing right behind her, his eyebrow raised. “And this is why you shouldn’t meddle, yeobo.” He whispered to her before her pulling her towards the living room where everyone else was. Taera looked a bit too happy when she came back, laughing at Henry’s bad jokes a bit too loudly.

 

It wasn’t until Irene brought William up again that she looked a little deflated again. “I was thinking that we have a party at BARE to celebrate our new partnership with Hugo Boss.” She smiled. Aera noticed that Taera's mood got a whole lot better when she found out that William was in New York to finalize the partnership with their third brand partner and not to visit anyone in particular. She was beaming as Irene explained that there were talks of filming a commercial with BARE as well which was exciting.

 

Daniel, the party pooper as always, groaned while everyone else agreed. “That’s overkill.” He said from beside Jiah who just turned towards him and whacked his arm.

 

“It’s called team building Daniel.” Aera said.

 

“Not that this one would understand, he fired another employee just yesterday.” Jiah said whacking Daniel’s arm again.

 

“Ouch woman stop beating me.” Daniel said catching both her hands in his and holding them so she didn’t whack him again.

 

“Who did he fire this time?” David asked with a smile.

 

“One of the personal trainers, he was shouting at him in the parking lot as I pulled up.” Jiah told them. “I could hear them all the way at the road, I swear one of these days someone is going to sue you for firing them.” She said turning towards Daniel.

 

“It’s important to weed out bad employees right away, they tend to lose money and customers along with annoying the good employees that have to pull extra weight to make up for someone’s incompetence.” Daniel said in his defense.

 

“You could still be kinder about it.” Jiah pointed out.

 

“Back to the topic on hand!” Aera said. “Taera and Jiah, do you think you can do a cake for us? I know it’s rather last minute but it doesn’t have to be elaborate – very simple is good.” Aera said looking towards the two of them her eyes wide and hopeful, like anyone could say no to her.

 

Taera nodded with a smile. “Of course, I have the perfect idea.”

 

The words caused Jiah and Demi to groan.

 


 

Taera’s face lit up with a smile when she noticed a black Range Rover pull into the parking spot as she turned onto the road, she knew William was supposed to come back last night but she didn’t realize he would show up today at exactly 8:00am. Daniel and Irene had been around a lot more over the past week during his absence.

 

She pulled up her car behind his, quickly grabbing her bag and jumping out when she saw him get out of the car, to her surprise Henry jumped out of the passenger seat and bounded to the back of the car. He caught sight of her first, waving and yelling hello as William approached the trunk. He was wearing a grey button up shirt with dark grey slacks, the top few buttons of his shirt open, his hair looked freshly trimmed. And her heart skipped a couple of beats when his eyes met hers and his mouth pulled up a little on one side.

 

“Will, I don’t know how you leave when your neighbour is this gorgeous.” Henry said as he walked towards her, throwing his arm around her in a hug.  Taera rolled her eyes at his incessant flirting but hugged him back anyways.

 

“It was kind of nice to not see her every day.” William mumbled to his brother, it had provided him with some insight into the depth of his feelings for her. He had really missed seeing her every day. William watched closely as Taera’s eyes narrowed at him, her sharp ears catching his words.

 

“I can easily rectify that for you! Henry, will you help me mix some sleeping pills into his protein shake and then ship him to NASA so they can send him back to his girlfriend on Mars?” She said sweetly, William had to hold back a chuckle at her words.

 

Henry laughed and nodded, slinging his arm around Taera’s shoulders “I am sure I can arrange that, can my payment be a date?” He asked waggling his eyebrows at Taera.

 

William felt his jaw clench as he debated if wanting to punch his brother in the face was normal. He had thrown pillows at him for two days after Anaya’s party and often found himself whacking him harder than necessary– he was much too clingy.

 

“How about some fresh cupcakes and the best latte you’ve ever had?” Taera bargained looking up at Henry with a smile.

 

William sighed, wondering why he had brought Henry with him in the first place.

 

“Lead the way.” Henry said pushing her body towards Sorelle.

 

“You have a meeting to attend, Henry.” William reminded him, catching the back of his shirt and pulling him back. Both Henry and Taera yelped as William pulled Henry back. Henry sighed and let go of Taera, finally.

 

“I’ll drop by after my meeting gorgeous.” Henry told Taera with a wink before rushing off towards BARE leaving Taera and William standing on the sidewalk.

 

They could have both easily left, William was supposed to attend the same meeting and Taera had a lot to do but they didn’t make a move to leave.

 

“Stop flirting with my brother.” The words burst out of William’s mouth before he could even process what he was saying. And he knew right then that Raina would have shaken her head in disappointment.

 

“It’s not flirting, it’s called friendly-banter, you would have to have friends to understand.” Taera pointed out.

 

“I have plenty of friends.” William replied. “And you flirt. Half the guys that work out at BARE come to your shop to flirt with you, and you flirt right back.” His voice sounded very accusing to his own ears. And he knew his words would irritate her, it wasn’t her fault, they all just thought she was really hot and she was nice to everyone.

 

“See that’s the problem with men. If a woman smiles at them, she’s flirting, if she doesn’t she’s a cold bitch. Half of the people that come to Sorelle think we are always flirting with each other, is that what you’re doing?” She scoffed, her eyes fiery and face scrunched in anger. This was the exact opposite of what Raina suggested he do, but he loved her riling her up, but it had to stop.

 

“You’d know if I was flirting with you.” William smirked and took a step closer to Taera, she walked back until her back hit his car and he kept moving forward until the tips of his black dress shoes were touching the toes of her patent-black flats.

 

She smelled so good, a mix of vanilla and roses. First thing in the morning, she smelled more like roses and as the day wore on she started smelling more like vanilla, and sometimes she even smelled like chocolate.

 

She was looking up at him, her eyes wide in surprise and he couldn’t help but let his eyes fall to her lips, her pouty pink lips, wondering what she would do if he just closed the distance between them and kissed her. He wondered if she would taste like she smelled, like vanilla and roses.

 

Taera blinked up at him, dazed, he had never been this close to her, she could practically feel the heat emanating from his body. Maintain eye-contact, Taera chanted to herself in her head as she looked right back at him. He towered over her making her feel small, and Taera cursed the fact that she didn’t wear heels. Her mind quickly deduced that he was about 6’2, having an advantage of 8 inch advantage that could be helped immensely with 6 inch heels.

 

She held back a groan - her mind wasn’t working properly because she was now thinking about how being taken against the car behind her with nothing but stilettos on.

 

Focus Taera, her brain yelled at her.

 

“Because it would traumatize me?” She replied, she knew she was probably red in the face already.

 

“No, because you’d be up at night thinking about me.” He replied his voice just above a whisper, causing her stomach to sink, he moved even closer, she could feel the fabric of his shirt against her bare arms. She wanted to say too late I am already up at night thinking about you.

 

“Is that what you do?” She retorted looking up at him instead, and watched as a smug smile filled his face, which caught her off guard – Villain Choi did not smile like that, not at her.

 

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” He whispered in his deep voice causing her heart to stutter.

 

She did want to know actually, there was something about his words and tone that bothered her, like she was missing out on something, and she hated that feeling. Did he lay in his, probably huge, bed thinking about her? What did he think about? The same things she thought about? Did he wake up from erotic dreams about her? Did he have domestic dreams about them as a couple? With kids? Cuddling? Talking?

 

“Are you thinking about it?” He asked cheekily, noticing that she had gone red and was looking at him with her eyes wide.

 

“About suffocating you in your sleep.” She retorted, catching herself.

 

“Wouldn’t work, I’d have you flipped over and under me as soon as the pillow touched my face.” He retorted, causing her eyes to widen in shock and her breath to hitch. “But something tells me that you would like that.” He whispered, pushing her hair behind her ear, his fingers grazing her cheek and his eyes darkening. He paused and waited for a witty reply yet again, it was why he argued with her so much, she gave it as good as she got it.

 

“It would make it a lot easier to kick you in the groin that way.” She retorted before putting her hands on his chest and pushing him away.

 

She turned right around, marching towards her store trying to analyze what had just happened – was he flirting with her? Was her cheek tingling where he had just touched her? Did he just tuck her hair behind her ear?!

 


 

Taera had been in a good mood all day, Jiah teased her saying it was because William was back in town – which was part of the reason. But the other reason was that business was booming, Sorelle had drummed up a lot of interest from the social media ads that went live during the bridal show in Charleston, they had received multiple inquiries and had three appointments today with potential clients, Jiah was also on cloud nine.

 

Daniel had even noticed when he dropped by with smoothies, Jiah had apparently mentioned having a craving for Booster Juice and Daniel had delivered. It had been rather cute and eased Taera’s worries about Daniel just a smidge.

 

She was hoping the day would end well but tragedy struck when she least expected it, it was near closing time and relatively empty in Sorelle when a woman walked into the store. She took a couple of steps in and then somehow slipped, landing on her back hard. She started screaming in agony claiming that her hip hurt a lot. She then started yelling about how the floor was wet and that she would sue them for negligence while she howled in pain.

 

Taera had tried to assess her injury but the woman continued to scream and didn’t allow Taera to touch her. If that wasn’t enough, Jiah had started hyperventilating and freaking out as she called 911. Jiah had never dealt well with loud situations and angry people, it just threw her into a panic.

 

Daniel arrived as the ambulance did, he first looked at Taera who looked rather exasperated as the lady on the floor continued to yell about suing them. Taera just shook her head at him and tilted her head towards Jiah, Daniel walked right over to Jiah then and wrapped his arms around her telling her to calm down. Her eyes were wide and she was clutching a chair tightly with her hands as she breathed heavily.

 

Taera had watched somewhat confused as the paramedics escorted the woman out, she had claimed that her right side was hurting but had put all her weight on her right leg as the paramedics escorted her to the ambulance. The woman continued to speak loudly and claim that the floor had been wet…which wasn’t the case at all. By the time the ambulance disappeared down the road Taera’s good mood was non-existent.

 

Daniel had apparently been able to calm Jiah down by then, and had called William who walked in with a large bag from Panera Bread as they closed, insisting that the girls sit and eat. “That was really bizarre.” Taera murmured as she ate a spoonful of her broccoli cheddar soup. All the blinds around them were down, most of the chairs up on the table.

 

“It happens, you were there when that guy injured himself at BARE.” Daniel shrugged, his sandwich in his hand.

 

“No, that lady was odd, there is just something about the situation that doesn’t sit right with me.” Taera murmured before taking a bite of her sandwich.

 

“She was so loud.” Jiah mumbled.

 

“Right?! If I was in that much pain after apparently breaking my hip I wouldn’t be screeching about suing people. And if there was a doctor around I’d let them assess me.” Taera speculated.

 

“Stop thinking about it, you’ll drive yourself mad. It happens, she’ll be fine.” William reassured the two women who were looking rather on the edge.

 

“I don’t even feel happy after eating grilled cheese, and I love grilled cheese.” Taera whined causing William to chuckle.

 

“What don’t you love eating?” He teased.

Chapter Text

September 2017

 

There were times where Taera was sure that she existed somewhere in an alternate universe, she had these dreams about a different life where she did things she never consciously thought of doing, saw places she had never been, and wore clothes she didn’t own.

 

In her dream the previous night, she was running through a large Palace in a ball gown that looked too expensive for her to own. William was there too wearing a tux, he was laughing and unbuttoning the top few buttons of his shirt as they quickly ran down the hall. His hair was a tad longer and a shade lighter than it had been when she saw him that morning.  

 

It was rather odd, they reached a room that looked like it was right out of a 5-star hotel, there was a fireplace and a large four poster bed. Dream William walked towards her, his eyes burning with desire and she stepped back, teasing him. He even laughed when she tried to dodge him. And then all of a sudden it wasn’t playful anymore, he looked at her with that look again, pulling her closer, caressing her face, her lips, pushing her hair behind her ear, nudging her to look at him and leaning in to kiss her sweetly on the lips while whispering my queen.

 

Then the dream evolved, more in line with her normal dreams. She was no longer in a Palace but her own room. And William looked exactly like William, his hair black and his mouth pulling up the way it did when he smiled. He lay her down on a large bed, peeling her grey summer dress off of her, caressing and kissing every inch of her skin before making love to her.

 

It was different than all the other dreams, those were desperate and fast but this one was sweet. He playfully bit her nose, she giggled, his fingers traced around her belly button and she laughed telling him she was ticklish and he responded with a crooked smile and an I know, he looked at her right in the eyes as he drove her to the brink, tucking her hair behind her ear, his mouth uttering I love you to her as she moaned.

 

The dream evolved again and this time he had her arms wrapped around her as she sat in his lap, both of them fully clothed and sitting on her living room couch. His hands occasionally rubbed up and down her arm as she sniffled and complained about a hard day. He placed a kiss on the side of her forehead and reassuringly whispered that everything would be okay, and she believed him because her tense shoulders relaxed as she melted into him, turning herself so her face was tucked into his neck as he whispered a quiet I love you to her.

 

Taera woke up gasping for air, she felt moisture on her face and wiped her cheek to find tears, her eyes were leaking. She almost laughed at the fact that a boy had finally made her cry, in a dream, because he was sweet. She rolled her eyes and shook her head.

 

It was all his fault, he had tucked her hair behind her ear so delicately while she was stuck between him and his car, and then he’d shown up with food and annoyed her so she wasn’t focused on the lady who fell. He was being much too sweet and it was messing with her brain.

 


 

William was suspicious, all his siblings were at BARE and there was a lot of whispering going on. They were up to something but he couldn’t figure out exactly what. They all had their heads together while talking on the phone but they would all quieten when he approached hearing distance.

 

His suspicion grew further when Daniel insisted the two of them talk in William’s office, he wanted to go over some files that they had already reviewed because he had a feeling that they missed something. They sat quietly flipping through files, Daniel murmuring something under his breath. William was sure that Daniel was told to distract him while the others whipped up something, he had known them his whole life.

 

“What are you all up to?” William asked leaning back in his chair, crossing his arms across his chest.

 

“Nothing.” Daniel said with a shrug.

 

“Oh really?’ William asked suspiciously.

 

“Oh really? Starting to sound like Taera there.” Daniel laughed, he didn’t miss the little smile that graced William’s face at the mention of her name.

 

“Shut up.” William mumbled, going back to read the papers in front of him. He fidgeted with the papers wondering if he should ask Daniel the question he was begging to ask, Raina hadn’t been specific enough in answering it. He decided to suck it up and ask, after all Daniel of all people would know the answer to this question. “I actually need some advice…” He said.

 

Daniel looked curious as he put the file down, he nodded.

 

“How do you know if a woman likes you?”

 

Daniel tried, he really did, but he couldn’t stop himself from bursting out into laughter as he stared at his brother’s face. William rolled his eyes and sighed waiting for him to stop. “Will, women throw themselves at you all the time.” Daniel finally replied.

 

“Not those women. Taera.”

 

“Ah. I see.” Daniel said with a smirk. “The next time she’s fighting with you push her up against the closest surface and kiss her, she’s practically begging you to.”

 

“She’ll probably kick me in the balls.”

 

“She won’t, trust me.” Daniel said. “When the two of you start arguing around Anaya I make sure to have a quick escape route planned in case clothes start flying off and I need to save her innocent eyes.”

 

William rolled his eyes and sighed. “Forget I asked.”

 

Daniel sighed and leaned in. “When you look at her try to see what she is doing and where she is looking rather than undressing her with your eyes. If she’s-” Daniel stopped short as the door to his office was thrown open by Aera and her mini me. Sometimes it really shocked William how much Anaya looked like Aera when she was four, the same short hair and love for pretty pink dresses was probably the reason. Even today, they were both dressed in pink floral dresses.  

 

“We require your presence!” Aera said as she walked in, Anaya skipped up to William’s desk and demanded he get up, holding her little hand out.  

 

“Weggo my eggo.” She giggled.

 

“You guys suck at planning surprises.” William quipped before following Aera out the door, swinging a squealing Anaya into his arms. “What’s the surprise?” He whispered to Anaya.

 

“It a secwet.” She whispered into his ear.

 

“Four year-olds should share secrets with their favorite uncle.” He whispered. “I’ll give you a cookie.”

 

“Miss Taewa aweady gave me a cupcake to not teww you.” Anaya grinned and he sighed, of course she did.

 

And just as he suspected, all of the staff was standing around a table, there were streamers and balloons up around the gym.

 

“SUPWISEEEEEE!” Anaya yelled as William caught sight of Taera walking to the table with a large cake in her hand, her hair was pin straight today, flowing down her back over the white polka-dot dress. His eyes went from her pretty long legs to his employees who all had their eyes on her as well.

 

He sent a pointed glare their way and they seemed to understand why he was glaring because most of them looked away sheepishly. He guessed it wasn’t hard to figure out that he only glared at them when they looked at her or flirted with her. He was much too obvious but he couldn’t help it. He had a feeling the possibility of losing their job was the only thing keeping them from asking her out.

 

“I present to you A Piece of William Choi.” Taera announced as she put down the cake on the table. Everyone who could see it burst out laughing and William approached the table hesitantly, groaning when he saw the cake.

 

She would do this.

 

“Do you like it? I used the Instagram picture that you love as a reference.” Taera asked with a rather devious grin on her face as she looked up at him, her eyes were sparkling with mirth. He wondered if it was normal to always just want to kiss her, because he wanted to, to just lean down and kiss that look off her face. But he couldn’t right then, not with people all around them and Anaya in his arms.

 

He looked back towards the cake and sighed. William knew that Irene must have mentioned that he hated how much attention that one picture got. It was in a shape of a torso, apparently his, it had defined pecs and abs. There was a grey fondant tie slung against the top of the cake – he owned one just like it, and the bottom of the cake had pants which were unbuttoned, a brown fondant belt looped through them. William could feel his face get warmer as people started whistling and hollering, it was a rather suggestive cake.

“Unca Wi, it you.” Anaya giggled pointing at the cake causing William to groan. Thankfully, she was too young to realize why everyone was laughing.

 

“What is all this for Irene?” William asked, but his eyes were still locked with Taera’s who was still beaming at him, her eyebrow arched in challenge, asking him to say something about the cake.

 

“A little party to celebrate the partnership with Hugo Boss!” Irene answered.

 

Henry was laughing and looking between the cake and his brother. “You should take off your shirt and we can compare the cake to the actual thing.”

 

“I think not.” William mumbled as Jiah handed him a knife. He rolled his eyes and played along, cutting the cake with Anaya in his arms, while everyone around him chuckled and took pictures.

 

He should have seen it coming, his brother was not to be trusted, but by the time he realized what was happening Henry had already smashed some cake all over his face, some of it landing on his shirt. Anaya had burst out laughing, reaching out to Aera to get way from the sticky mess.

 

Taera was busy guffawing and high-fiving Henry. He really did want to pummel Henry to the ground, maybe he’d post an embarrassing picture of him somewhere. 

 

After a few angry words William marched to the bathroom to clean his face and then to his office to change his shirt.  Just as he pulled his shirt over his head and put it in a plastic bag the door to his office swung open yet again.

 

He turned around to find Taera standing there, her eyes wide and flickering between his face and his body. “Uh…I came to get scissors.” She said, her eyes moving up and down, her face growing red but she failed to turn around and run out of the room - which he suspected would be the reaction if she walked in on anyone else changing.

 

He remembered Daniel’s words about noticing what she did. And from the way she was acting it was clear that she was affected by him. He was rather enjoying her attention so he walked towards her noticing how she seemed to have a hard time looking away from his body. He stopped right in front of her, causing her to look up at him, her eyes wide.

 

“There were some obvious flaws in your cake.” He said and held back a smile when her eyes narrowed, he knew the only way to keep her here was to spar with her.

 

“How so?” She asked crossing her arms across her chest and staring up at him. He wanted to grab her hand and place it on his body, letting her trace his pecs and abs as he pointed out what she could have done to make the cake better. But he knew that he wouldn’t be able to focus on her and her reaction if she was touching him like he wanted her to.

 

“My body is wider at the top, my pecs aren’t that defined, I am going for lean, not beefy.” He said, his voice quiet and deep without him even having to consciously make the change. He watched as Taera blinked, her eyes running across his pecs as she nodded slowly.

 

“Anything else?” She asked, her eyes flickered down his torso to his abs.

 

“My abs are not that defined either, I suspect the picture was a bit misleading. My belly button is a lot higher.” He whispered and let out a soft groan when he noticed her biting her bottom lip, she had used some kind of pink lip stain today making her already luscious lips look that much more inviting.

 

“I could have made the lines less deep.” She admitted, her tongue running along her bottom lip, before looking up at him. William heard her breath hitch and he knew that his eyes must have been swimming with desire.

 

“My hipbones are more pronounced…and as you can see my veins are very prominent.” He added as her eyes flickered back down to his abs, she was now chewing on her bottom lip. He could feel himself reacting to the way her eyes were tracing his body – not that he needed much, just a random thought of her often sent him spiralling.

 

“I could have paid more attention to those.” She whispered gruffly looking back up at him, her eyes also darker.

 

“As long as you know.” He said, he saw her eyes flicker down to his lips as she nodded. It was now clear to him that she probably wouldn’t kick him in the balls if he closed the distance between them and kissed her; rather, he was sure that she would kiss him right back.

 

Just as he was about to step towards her, the door flung open yet again. “Did you find the sciss-” Aera stopped dead in her tracks when she noticed a shirtless William standing across from a flustered Taera. She cursed herself for interrupting whatever was happening, and she knew that something that happening because the sexual energy in the room was palpable. “I am just going to back away quietly, pretend that I didn’t interrupt.” Aera said before quickly turning and running out the room.

 

“Aera, wait!” Taera yelled running right after her.

 


 

Taera’s heart was pounding in her ears, if she didn’t know any better she would have said claimed that her heart was trying to climb out of her body. She had to pinch herself to make sure that she was in fact awake because what happened back in that office was something right out of her dreams…albeit she would probably be tracing his body as he spoke if it was her dream.

 

She remembered how she had reacted the first time he pulled his shirt up to wipe his face leaving his torso on display, she had imagined touching all the muscles and labelling them as she went. But what had transpired in his office was so much better, it had to be one of the hottest moments of her life even though it was a lot more tame than her dreams. It was real.

 

William just stood there with his gorgeous body on display, staring at the real thing was so much better than zooming into the picture to decorate a cake – that was also an enjoyable experience however. But it seemed like all that man needed to do was breathe and he was literally the hottest thing to her. And his voice…it was raspy and deep? Was he turned on as much as she was? Was he flirting again? This was flirting right? She needed to find books, read articles and research how to know if someone was flirting with you…and what to do in response.

 

Because if she were to go off on her instincts she would jump him – and she didn’t know if that was acceptable. Maybe she should have paid more attention to men and dating in general throughout her life – her real life experience was just a series of unsuccessful dates planned by Jiah and a crush on Liam that disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.

 

Her only relationship had been back in high school – they were both awkward, the sex had been lackluster, and then she got so caught up in school and university that she didn’t bother dating much. But those dates were just that – dates, with the implication that you were interested in something. This was a whole new territory, was he a friend, was he more, was he flirting, what was the protocol? She didn’t know what to do. Everything she did know was through books and movies, and experiences her friends shared – and it had not prepared her for William.

 

She placed her hand over her heart as Jiah and Aera giggled while staring at her. She glared at them and grabbed a slice of cake before taking a huge bite. She regretted it instantly because her mind was like you’re eating a piece of William Choi and she was suddenly licking icing off his body in her mind despite previously thinking that he wouldn’t allow anyone to put anything sticky on his body…maybe he’d make an exception for her.

 

Jiah laughed and passed her a glass of water. “Your thirst is showing.” She said as Taera gulped the glass down. She choked on water when she saw William walk into the room, a new shirt covering his body. He walked right towards her causing Aera and Jiah to shuffle away.

 

He handed the scissors to her, grabbing the empty glass of water and placing it on the table behind her before leaning in really close and whispering into her ear. “Next time, knock before bursting into my office.” He then moved back looking right into her eyes. “Or don’t, I think I might enjoy that more.” He said before walking away.

 

“Oh fuck, I shouldn’t have walked into that office.” Aera groaned from behind Taera.

 

“Mama, you say a bad word!” Anaya’s voice came from behind Aera. “Time out young wady!” She said, sounding a lot like Aera would. Taera couldn’t help but laugh even though her heart was literally trying to set a record for number of beats per minute.

 


 

“Did you guys plan this?” Taera laughed as soon as she opened the door to let Daniel in, it was raining outside and he shook out his umbrella and closed it before stepping inside.

 

“What?” Daniel asked confused. He looked down at her Winnie the Pooh pajamas and arched his eyebrow at her.

 

“I am not going to a fancy dinner, don’t judge.” Taera shrugged.

 

“What’s wrong with my outfit?” Daniel asked based on her initial reaction.

 

“Nothing, you look like a million bucks.”

 

“That expression should really be adjusted for inflation.” He mused.

 

“That is something only you or your brother would say.” Taera laughed.

 

“Speaking of brothers -”

 

“Don’t.”

 

“Nice cake.”

 

“Thanks.” She said, suspiciously.

 

“Maybe you should have William model for other ones-”

 

“HE TOLD YOU?”

 

“Told me what?” Daniel asked, his eyes narrowing and she realized she might have messed up.

 

“Nothing!”

 

“Wait – did he model for you?”

 

“No!”

 

“Did he offer to model for you?”

 

“No! Leave!”

 

“I am here to pick Jiah up.”

 

“Then shut up and wait.”

 

“No, I like where this is going. What should he have told me?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

“I’ll get it out of him if not you, Jeong.”

 

“Please ask him.” She grinned, wondering how he’d explain it to his brother.

 

“I am so curious.”

 

“Curiosity killed the cat.”

 

He snickered as Jiah ran down the stairs, Taera turned towards her. “And that’s what I was talking about.” Taera said as Jiah came into view.

 

Both Daniel and Jiah were wearing the exact same shade of grey, hers was a cute summer dress paired with a white clutch, and he wore a grey blazer over his white shirt. Apparently grey was the perfect colour to wear to dinner with a potential business partner.

 

“Should I change?” Jiah said looking at Daniel’s blazer and turning towards Taera who shook her head no.

 

“You look great. Let’s go.” He held out his hand towards her and she grabbed it as she struggled to fix the strap of her white heel.

 

“BYE KIDS DON’T HAVE TOO MUCH FUN!” Taera yelled out the door as the two of them walked towards Daniel’s car, shuffling quickly underneath his umbrella. She watched with a smile as Daniel helped her into the car, his hand on her back. She saw Jiah jump when the thunder roared and Daniel slammed the door shut before rushing to the driver’s side.

 


 

Jiah had wished that Taera was here with her, she was sure she was having heart palpitations again, the car was quiet, the AC running to ensure that the windows didn’t fog as the rain hit the windshield with a pitter-patter sound. The wipers of the G-Wagon switching their speed on their own based on the intensity of the rain.

 

There was soft rap music playing in the car, a song by Kendrick Lamar, she could see that Daniel mouthed some parts of the song to himself and smiled. The car smelled distinctively like his cologne which both comforted her and made her feel like she was on the edge. The drive was a long one, the Watts living in Myrtle Beach, 90 miles from Charleston. And Daniel was on and off his phone with his staff so conversation was minimal.

 

Jiah found herself looking at him through the side of her eyes, his hands clutching the steering wheel, his hair, his jaw, the way his mouth pulled up at the side when a song he liked came on. She didn’t really remember when her heart had started reacting to him like this, by speeding up, she had at one point made the distinction between acquaintance to friend helping me out to man that I like in her mind without conscience thought. It happened after Anaya’s birthday party, it was like all she had to do was think his name and her stomach filled with butterflies.

 

And every time he touched her, her insides seemed to flip. She sought out his company wherever they were, she loved talking to him, she loved it when he kissed her nose or her forehead despite knowing it was for show. She loved how he always opened her door for her, how he had his hand on her back when he guided her, how he said her name, how he laughed, how he was with his family and friends, how smart he was, how ambitious he was and mostly how he was with her.

 

Her feelings had slowly snuck up on her and there was no way out of them now. It struck Jiah that this is what she wanted in a relationship, a man that treated her like Daniel did, someone with a family she loved, someone that was kind and intelligent and she realized that her falling for him was inevitable.

 

She hated it when someone brought up the fact that their relationship was fake because sometimes she forgot that it was, she wanted it to be real. She wanted him to kiss her because he wanted to, not because he wanted to make others believe he was with her. She wanted to crawl into his lap while they talked, to play with his hair, to kiss him, to just be free with him. And she could tell that Taera saw all that too because she constantly watched the two of them together with a worried look on her face.

 

Jiah was unsure if he felt the same but she thought he might, lately she had noticed that he kept up the act even when he didn’t have to, like when they were hanging out with Aera and David, both of whom knew the truth – or when it was just Taera around. It gave her hope. He also shared so much with her, about his life, about his family, about his business and his dreams…it had to mean something right?

 

“You look like you’re a thousand miles away.” Daniel said as he slowed the car down and pulled into a large driveway.

 

“They live here?” Jiah said shocked, the house was huge, it looked more like a museum, with marble columns and fountains. It was rather large as well, the property seemed to span multiple acres and was right on the beach – not that she could enjoy it considering the weather was horrible today.

 

“It’s been in their family for generations, you’ll find that people in this state adore traditional houses.” He shrugged.

 

“Your family must have an older house then?” She asked, the Choi house she had visited for Anaya’s party was new and modern but it had to be new.

 

“Yes actually, I’ll show you sometime.” He said knowing that she had a love for older architecture. He turned the car off, opening his large umbrella and jumping out before walking to open her door. She smiled and said thank you, stepping under his umbrella. She could feel the rain against her legs, where the large drops hit the stone paved driveway and bounced up. It was rather windy, the branches of the large trees on the property swaying in a threating manner – it kind of reminded Jiah of the Whomping Willow from Harry Potter.

 

A butler was already waiting for them outside the door, welcoming them in to the living room for drinks and taking their umbrella from them. Joshua and Caroline Watts both sat in the living room, engrossed in their books. Daniel whispered that they probably just picked them up when they were announced causing Jiah to stifle a giggle.

 

What surprised her was that there were two young children running around, probably around the age of 6 or 7, too young to be the Watts children, possibly grandchildren though. As the couple got up and greeted them they also confirmed Jiah’s suspicion that they were in fact grandchildren. They were rather fun, running around the room practicing magic tricks but they were not invited to the dinner table, the butler came to grab them when he announced that dinner was ready.

 

Dinner was surprisingly lovely, Jiah actually enjoyed the five-course meal. Caroline had that trait that Jiah had picked up in Aera, the ability to flawlessly navigate a conversation to ensure that there were no awkward pauses. They talked about travelling, food, cultures, movies and everything but business. She could tell that Daniel was itching to get through dinner so they could discuss the business aspect of the evening, she had to place her hand on his knee to stop his incessant tapping at one point as the dessert came out. He had flashed her a thankful smile.

 

Daniel was pulled aside by Mr. Watts almost immediately after they finished, the two of them retiring to Joshua’s study to talk business, Jiah knew from the numerous phone calls she overheard that Daniel had his team on standby, ready to email files and contracts as needed. He seemed to be a do now rather than later person.

 

Caroline pulled her to her closet wanting her input on outfits she had decided to wear to the wedding she was attending, Jiah was more than happy to oblige enjoying looking at the clearly expensive and custom clothing Caroline had ordered. Apparently the uber rich just needed to call their personal shoppers and specify what they wanted to have multiple options presented to them – she had everything from Chanel to artisan crafted dresses. She sat on the couch in her dressing room chatting with Caroline, her eyes looking outside where the rain was coming down harder and the trees were swaying wildly.

 

She spent about two hours with Caroline, the two of them laughing and discussing weddings and K-Dramas in general, Caroline insisting that she invite her to her wedding with Daniel. Jiah had blushed at the statement causing Caroline to laugh and claim that the two of them seemed absolutely smitten with each other…which confused Jiah to no end but she played along.

 

The butler came to announce that the men had requested their presence in the living room, the two of them returned to find Daniel and Joshua sitting in front of the fireplace their eyes on the TV. Jiah slowed as she noticed that they were watching the local news channel, where a meteorologist was warning residents of falling trees on the road. The screen then changed to another anchor who listed a number of highways and roads that were currently treacherous due to large fallen trees, the US-17 that connected Charleston to Myrtle Beach included.

 

“Oh dear, it’s absolutely crazy out there. You two must stay the night.” Caroline announced, her eyes on the screen again.

 

“Oh no, we’ll be okay-”

 

“Nonsense, all the roads leading back into Charleston seem to be affected.” Joshua exclaimed as Caroline nodded. “You must stay.”

 

“Albert! Prepare the guest room in the East Wing.” Caroline said turning towards the butler who was standing at the door, he nodded and then disappeared down the hall.

 

In a flurry of activity, the two of them were sent to the guest room – a large opulent bedroom with an attached bathroom and closet that housed numerous sets of unworn clothing. Caroline had given them permission to take whatever they needed to be comfortable before disappearing down the hall. That was all fine but both of their gazes had flickered to the sole bed in the room, a queen sized one with an ornate gold frame, before flickering around the room looking for a couch but coming up empty, there was an armoire, a table and two rocking chairs.

 

“So…what are the chances that I can sneak into a second guest bedroom undetected?” Jiah asked as Daniel closed the door and ran his hand through his hair.

 

“That would be suspicious.” Daniel mumbled. “You would think that in a house this size every room would have a couch.”

 

Jiah nodded, she could feel herself turning red as she cleared her throat. “We’re both adults…I am sure we can manage. We can divide the bed into two, there are plenty of pillows?”

 

“Are you suggesting we share the bed?” He asked, his eyebrow raised.

 

“Unless you’re very fond of sleeping on plush green carpet?” She shrugged.

 

Daniel looked down at the floor and sighed before looking back at her and nodded.

 

“Then it’s settled, we will share the bed and not make a big deal out of it.” She said.

 

“Fine.” Daniel said.

 

It was definitely not fine.

 

Her heart was thumping out of her chest. She had read enough books and fanfictions to know how this usually happened…she was in for an awkward night and she was freaking out.

 

“I’ll use the bathroom first.” Jiah said briskly walking towards the bathroom and closing the door behind her. She then stepped out a second later, blushing, and walked to the closet. She picked out the most conservative set of pyjamas she could find, a black button up shirt and shorts, they were silk and looked really comfy…especially next to the plethora of nighties – she wondered if all of this was stuff that Caroline bought and then didn’t like enough to wear because they looked to be her size. She marched right past Daniel again, who was on his phone now, and back into the bathroom with her own phone in her hands.

 

She turned on the shower so Daniel couldn’t hear her voice and dialed her best friend’s number, pacing the length of the large bathroom while admiring the claw-foot tub. The phone continued to ring and Taera didn’t pick up which Jiah found to be odd. Demi was out with Irene tonight so Taera had indicated that she planned to stay home and watch Titantic for the 100th time. Jiah hung up and redialed, Taera always had her phone on her – but it just continued on ringing.

 

Jiah sighed and called Liam instead, he picked up within two rings, she could even hear shooting sounds in the background so she knew he was playing a video game. “What’s up Jiah? Miss me?” He asked as soon as he picked up.

 

“I am in an SOS situation and Taera is MIA.” She whispered into the phone.

 

“Why are you whispering?” Liam asked, the background noises stopping. “What do you mean Taera is MIA? I talked to her like two hours ago, she said you were out to dinner with your fake boyfriend. What’s this SOS situation?”

 

“She’s not picking up. I was at dinner with Daniel…we’re like two hours from Charleston, there’s a storm. The roads are apparently bad so our hosts told us to stay over – they live in this huge museum like mansion – but they put us in one room – which makes sense because we’re supposedly together and they’re as American as you can get…but the guest room only has ONE bed and no couches. And I can’t ask for a different one, I am currently hiding out in the bathroom with the shower on while Daniel is outside AND I AM FREAKING OUT.” Jiah whisper-yelled into the phone.

 

“I miss the crazy shit you two get in to.” Liam sighed, his voice forlorn. “First of all, calm down Kim. Stop pacing, and stop biting your nails and just breathe.” He instructed, Jiah stopped biting her fingernails and came to stand in the middle of the bathroom, looking at herself in the mirror. She took a couple of deep breaths in and out but it didn’t work.

 

“I said we can share a bed with pillows in the middle – I can’t sleep with other people in my bed!” Jiah exclaimed didn’t like people in her personal space like that, she didn’t even sleep in the same bed as Taera. She also had a hard time falling asleep in unfamiliar beds and moved around a lot in her sleep.

 

“You’re overreacting because you have feelings for him. Think about this from his perspective, if he doesn’t have feelings for you, then it’s just a whatever situation – although he’d be pretty dumb to not have feelings for you. If he does have feelings for you, it’s a win-win situation, he gets to go to bed with a beautiful woman. You should just roll over on top of him and see where it goes.” Liam teased.

 

“Not the time, Liam.” She whisper-yelled.

 

“Fine, I’ll give it to you straight. You have no other option. It’s just sleeping – you’re freaking out because you like him, it’s okay. Nothing is going to happen, you’re going to fall asleep in each other’s general vicinity and then get up and go home. Don’t worry. Don’t overthink it. Be cool.”

 

“You’re right, it’s just sleeping.” Jiah breathed out.

Chapter Text

September 2017, continued…

 

The house was awfully quiet and Taera was bored, they closed early on Sunday nights and Jiah had left promptly at 5pm to make it to dinner on time. Demi was out with Irene, the two of them becoming fast friends, they were planning to go to an exhibit and dinner today but Taera hadn’t felt up to it.

 

With both Jiah and Demi away the only sound she could hear was the pitter-patter of the rain outside and the howling wind, she hadn’t seen weather this bad since she left New York. The rain reminded her of home, if she was in New York right now and the rain was pouring, her mother would have made her a piping hot cup of tea and her dad would have insisted on making Tteokbokki.

 

She decided to make herself a cup of tea as she waited for Titanic to buffer. She was just about to take a sip when her phone pinged telling her an email had arrived to the Sorelle account. She picked up her phone and opened the Mail app, her eyes widening in shock when she read the subject line, Charleston County Court – Summons.

 

She opened up the attached document and skimmed through it taking note of the plaintiff’s name, a Barbara Garcia that she did not know. As she read through the document she realized that the name belonged to the lady who had slipped inside Sorelle, and she was suing both her and Jiah for the slip and fall incident. Taera groaned remembering the lady’s loud ‘I will sue you’ yells and immediately dialed their insurance company trying to figure out if they would need to hire their own lawyer or if one would be provided by the company.

 

So instead of watching Leonardo DiCaprio’s beautiful face, Taera spent the next hour on the phone trying to collect information about next steps. The good news was that a lawyer would be provided by the insurance company, the bad news was that they’d have to pay a part of the claim, their deductible, if the defendant won. Taera could read between the lines and it seemed like the lady on the phone lost some of her confidence after Taera told her an ambulance had to be called and that there hadn’t been any wet floor signs up even though Taera claimed the floor was not wet.

 

By the end of the phone call, Taera’s head was hurting and an urge to cry overwhelmed her but she held the tears back and tried to distract herself. A part of her wanted to call Jiah but a look at the clock told her she probably just sat down for dinner and she didn’t want to ruin it. Taera ended up turning the movie on, tried her best to concentrate on it but found her mind wandering, she didn’t gush over or laugh out loud at the scenes like she usually did.

 

She was only a quarter way through the movie when her phone rang, she picked it up off the coffee table her face growing confused when she saw William’s name flash across the screen. She felt her lips pull up into a small smile despite all that was going on, she cleared her throat and picked up.

 

“Hello?” She said.

 

“Taera, where are you?” He asked, he sounded a little out of breath and she could hear the rain and wind through the phone indicating that he was outside. She briefly wondered what he was doing outside in weather like this, she looked out the window to find that it was raining really hard and the wind was blowing.

 

“At home…what’s wrong? Are you okay?” She asked, the hair on the  back of her neck stood up as he took a deep breath in, she just knew something was wrong.

 

“I am fine. Uh – can you come down to Sorelle?”

 

“Why?” She asked.

 

“I was locking up for the night and saw someone smashing the windows in. I ran after them but they got into a car and scurried off, I called 911 but I think you’ll have to come down and give them access to the CCTV footage…I just – just come down.” He sounded rather worried and Taera’s stomach sank as his words registered.

 

“I’ll be right there.” She said shooting up from the sofa and running towards the door.

 

“Just…be careful, drive slowly, the weather is not great.” William said as she scurried to the hall to grab her raincoat and put on a pair of shoes, the black rain boots looked horrid against her pink Winnie the Pooh pyjamas but she was beyond caring at that point. She grabbed her keys and ran out of the house, locking it behind her before jumping into her car and reversing out of the driveway quickly.

 

She was thankful that they lived rather close to Sorelle because she could barely see through the downpour of rain, her wipers whipped back and forth across her windshield rapidly. She almost ran a red light on the way because she was so frazzled, William had sounded rather frantic on the phone and the thought of people smashing the windows in at her shop was so unexpected and frightening.

 

She felt that overwhelming urge to cry well up again wondering why everything was coming crashing down just when she thought everything was looking up. They had been getting so many custom orders for birthdays, other events and consultations for wedding cakes were also going well, their profit margin was getting larger on a weekly basis – she had been so happy about it all.

 

As she pulled up to the street Sorelle was on, she noticed two police cruisers with their lights on parked right outside the shop. She parked her own car behind William’s and ran across the street to where he was standing talking to two police officers. He was completely soaked, the grey muscle shirt he had been wearing looked black as the joggers he was wearing and stuck to him while the police officers had umbrellas in their hands. She looked behind them, her mouth dropping open in shock, the wall of windows that faced the street looking towards BARE were all shattered badly. She could see the rain pouring into the store, the tables and chairs along the wall covered in glass and dripping with water.

 

Taera didn’t remember much of what was said to her and what she said to the police officers, they were more interested in what William had seen. He had apparently been locking up for the day and couldn’t see clearly across the street because of the heavy downpour. But a loud shattering noise had caught his attention and when he looked towards Sorelle he saw someone hitting the windows with a large sledgehammer – at that point Taera recalled that the contractor they had worked with had reassured them that the glass was reinforced and hard to break.

 

She looked up to see that three large sections had been affected, there was a distinct veiny texture with some of the glass not having fallen through yet – it was supposed to be the kind that crumbled rather than broke in large pieces for safety reasons. She watched as the strong winds whipped more glass off the pane where the place of impact was, pushing it into the shop.  

 

William then explained how he had shouted out and the person had frozen before running down the street, William had followed on foot but a car had pulled up at the end of the street, the person jumped in and the car fled the scene. Due to the rain and the distance he couldn’t make out the model or license plate of the car but it was a larger dark-colored van, possibly a Honda Pilot or Toyota Highlander.

 

Both Taera and William agreed to get the CCTV footage to the police and the officers reassured her that they would ask all the businesses down the road for their footage. Taera unlocked the door for them and a small team of police officers went inside, cataloguing the damage and taking pictures. Taera thought the police would do more, but they did a measly walk through, exclaimed that nothing had been taken, and then left saying they’d be in touch.

 

Taera stood inside Sorelle, in her soaked Winnie the Pooh pyjamas, her hair a mess because the wind blew the hood off, her raincoat lay on a table away from the windows, the lights were all on now and she could feel the wind against her face along with the water droplets it was blowing into the space. She could hear William behind her as she walked towards the damaged windows to see a lot of glass hadn’t fallen through.

 

But the places of impact had fallen through almost completely and little dust like glass littered the area.  She took a deep breath in when she took in her ruined upholstered cream chairs, the ones she had paid extra to have delivered from another state because the local store was all out of them. They were soaked through, the place was a mess and the fact that it had been perfect only hours ago made her feel miserable.

 

“Taera, are you okay?” She heard William’s voice from behind her, his hand coming to rest on her shoulder, squeezing gently.

 

And that’s when the floodgates broke, she burst out into tears as she turned around and wrapped her arms around him, her head coming to rest on against his chest as she sobbed. Her arms wrapped around him tight, trying to get as close to him as she could. It seemed like everything was going wrong again, she was overcome with a feeling of despair that she hadn’t felt in a long time, not since the initial days of Sorelle when the place was slowly being renovated and she feared if the money they were spending would pay off.

 

It seemed like all that hard work was crumbling, somewhere Taera knew she was over-reacting and the stress of work, the lawsuit and missing home culminated into the breakdown but she couldn’t stop crying despite the fact that William’s arms were around her and his hands were rubbing her back. He pulled her closer and whispered it’ll be okay over and over again, comforting her.

 

She wanted to laugh and express surprise that he knew how to comfort a crying woman but she couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. She barely ever broke down, she let things pile up and then all of a sudden everything came flowing out. All the little things that had bothered her over the past few months coupled with what had happened just in the last few hours came pouring out.

 

She usually curled up in her bed and just cried alone until she felt better. But it felt nice to have someone there, and despite the fact that they were both soaked through, their clothes cold to the touch, she felt warm inside. She felt that she could be weak in that moment because he had her. He rested his head atop hers, rubbing soothing circles into her back and she almost smiled between the tears, not expecting him to be good at this but then she thought that he had a little cousin who seemed to be sensitive.

 

“You’re starting to freak me out.” He whispered minutes later when her sobs quietened and her sniffling continued.

 

She took a deep breath in, letting his familiar scent calm her down. She pulled away and looked up at him to find him looking back at her with a worried look, he reached up and pushed her wet hair away from her face, rubbing the tears on her right cheek away gently before doing the same with her left cheek. The way that he was looking at her was too difficult to unpack with all that was going on so she tucked herself into him again.

 

“I am freaking out.” She mumbled resting her head under his chin, her forehead against the skin of his neck. She didn’t feel like unwrapping her arms from around him. “It’s like everything is going wrong today.”

 

“Everything?” He asked, his hands coming to rest on her back again.

 

“You know that lady that slipped here the other day?” She murmured against his cold dark grey shirt, her voice raspy due to the tears. She felt him nod against her head so she continued. “She sued us, I just got notified earlier this evening, and then this happened.” She sniffled as the sentence ended and felt him move the two of them towards the counter, his hands left the small of her back and he reached for something causing her to move away a little.

 

She looked around her to see that he was grabbing a napkin. She let out a little chuckle as he handed it to her, she dabbed at her face and blew her nose before continuing, now standing out of his arms but still close enough that she could easily wrap herself around him again.

 

“I don’t understand why anyone would do this…if they wanted to break in it would have been a lot easier to just come in through the back door. And this glass is notoriously difficult to break, but even if someone wanted to break in through here – wouldn’t they just break one panel and shatter it completely rather than damaging so many of them?” She wondered as her brain kicked into high gear.

 

“Something definitely seems off about the whole thing.” William agreed leaning back against the counter. “But how about we deal with that later? We can clean this up and find a way to board up the windows until they can be repaired?” He suggested and she nodded.

 

She brought out the brooms and mops from the back and the two of them started sweeping up the glass. Minutes later the door chimed and Taera turned around to see Aera, David, Henry, Irene and Demi walk in. They all looked rather sad but got to work immediately, after Henry made fun of her Winnie the Pooh pyjamas though.

 

Henry and David pulled William outside –they had made a trip to the local hardware store on their way here, dropping Anaya off with Helen so she could look over her. They bought tools and wood to board up the windows per William’s instructions.

 

He had apparently called them after he had called her and asked them to bring a list of supplies according to Demi. Her heart warmed at how thoughtful he was, she hadn’t even thought about boarding up the windows between everything that was happening. She hadn’t even known that she would need to do that even though it was now obvious – she couldn’t have just left them as they were.

 

Within a few hours, all the tables were cleaned and pushed against the far wall. The chairs looked rather sad but Aera claimed that they could be cleaned and salvaged which immediately brightened Taera’s mood. Taera was glad she hadn’t insisted on booth seating near the windows or life would have been a lot harder. She looked out the unbroken window to see William, Henry and David struggling to put up the last board, it was clear that they weren’t exactly handy and the rain was definitely not helping but it seemed like they were getting the job done.

 

She thanked all of them and sent them off with hugs, William had lingered behind the rest of them and her thank you hug might have lasted a little longer than everyone’s else had, she might have also leaned her face against his chest and enjoyed both the smell of his cologne and his warmth. It calmed her down immensely. He had let go with a firm ‘go home and sleep’ after sticking the sign she had printed about them being closed for the next day on the door. He walked her to the car but stopped her from stepping into the driver’s seat.

 

“You’re shaking, Taera.” He said and she looked down at her hands to see that she was in fact shaking. “I don’t think you should drive. Demi, can you drive?” He asked looking up at her younger sister.

 

“I- uh, don’t have my license.” She said sheepishly.

 

William seemed very taken aback by it and gave her an incredulous look.

 

“We lived in New York! Public transit was better than dealing with the anxiety of driving.” She said and he nodded.

 

“I’ll drive you home.”

 

“I can drive, it’s okay.” Taera said looking up at William.

 

“It’s rather windy and rainy, it’s dark, the roads are slick – I’ll drive you.” He said, leaving no room for arguments. “Grab what you need from your car and lets go.” He said.

 

It was only then that Taera realized that she had left her phone in the car when she rushed out. She then realized that Jiah should have been home by now, and was probably wondering why she and Demi weren’t home.

 

“Have you heard from Jiah?” Taera asked her sister but Demi shook her head as Taera reached into her Mazda to grab her phone. She had two missed calls from Jiah along with text messages from both Jiah and Liam. She opened up Jiah’s message to find out that she had stayed back at the Watts house for the night due to the storm, apparently in the same room. Liam’s message was reiterating the same and wondering if she fell asleep.

 

Taera felt a little chuckle escape her lips at Jiah’s predicament despite all that was going on, only her best friend would get stuck sharing a bedroom with a man she was in a fake relationship with and had feelings for. She would let Jiah enjoy living out one of her favourite tropes, she loved it when shows and movies did the whole ‘but there is only one room available’ storyline. Albeit, Taera was sure that Jiah was freaking out.

 

She walked over to William’s car to find him standing by the passenger side door, he opened the door for her and then for Demi. She hadn’t realized how cold she was until she sat in his car and felt shivers run through her body.

 

“You okay?” William asked when she jumped as he shut the driver side door after getting in, turning the fans away from her – she knew turning it towards the heat side would fog up the windows. He pressed another button three times and she felt the seat underneath warm. Of course, his Range Rover would have heated seats.

 

She nodded. “I’ll be okay.” She whispered.

 

“What’s your address?” He asked looking at her, she mumbled out the house number and street address, he seemed to know where it was because he didn’t bother putting it into his GPS, he just nodded and listed the nearest intersection.

 

She tried not to think about how everything was going wrong. About how much worse the damage could have been if William hadn’t stopped whoever did this. And she wondered what she would have done if he hadn’t been there, if he hadn’t called his family – Jiah wasn’t here, Demi hadn’t been around either. And even if they were how would they have boarded up the store and cleaned up without freaking out? It would have been impossible to find help this late, and as much as Taera liked to believe she could have boarded up the windows with the right tools, she knew it would have been frustrating and difficult to get right.

 

And she wouldn’t have even known that something was wrong at Sorelle if it wasn’t for William. The whole street was quiet due to the storm, and William usually left earlier than he had today. She wondered what the person would have done if William hadn’t caught the person – she had a feeling they would have easily ruined the inside of the store too. The thought of all the displays being broken made her shudder.

 

She looked over at William as he drove, feeling thankful for his presence, for his whole family really. He looked as tired as she felt. His hair was wet, his clothing soaked through much like her own, but a lot worse considering he had been outside boarding up the broken glass walls with Henry and David. She wondered how he was okay with getting in his car like that, how he let her in his car looking like a drowned rat but he hadn’t said a word. She wondered if he would even say anything if she tried to put her feet up on the dashboard today like she did last time. But she didn’t feel like trying then.

 

There was still a sinking feeling in her stomach, like something else was going to go wrong. She recalled the summons she received before the phone call about the store. It was almost as if everything bad in the universe was going to happen tonight. The weather seemed conducive to it too, the wind was blowing and the rain falling heavily. William cursed and swerved on the road to avoid fallen trees and debris, she was glad he offered to drive them home. She didn’t think she could have with the way the roads were then. She sighed and looked out the window as William turned onto the familiar street and into their empty driveway.

 

Taera looked towards Demi and tilted her head, indicating that she go first as William put his car in park, she jumped right out and ran to the door, leaving Taera sitting in the car next to him. “Thank you.” She said quietly.

 

“So she knows how to say thank you after all.” He said causing her to look up at him, he had a small smile on his face and she couldn’t help but smile in return despite everything that was happening.

 

“You could have just said you’re welcome and moved on.” She sighed.

 

“You’re welcome, Taera. Moving on – I should go.”

 

“The roads are pretty bad. And the weather doesn’t seem to be getting any better.” She found herself saying, not knowing where she was going until the next sentence left her mouth, without her brain having processed it. “You should stay.”

 

“I’ll be okay, it’s not that bad.”

 

“You can’t just leave me stranded here, you made me leave my car at the shop.” She reasoned, she knew that Jiah’s car was just around the corner, parked at the side of the house and she knew where the keys were. “Stay.” She whispered, rather quietly.

 

He looked at her for a second and then nodded, pressing the button by his steering wheel to turn the car off. She took off her seatbelt and threw the door open, slamming it shut as she ran towards the door in the torrential downpour, she could hear him right behind her.

 

She threw the door open and ushered him in, noticing that he seemed to be looking around and observing his surroundings.

 

“INCOMING!” Demi yelled from upstairs and all of a sudden towels were flying towards them. She threw her jacket off and rolled up the bottom of her Winnie the Pooh pajamas, cursing herself for leaving the house in them.

 

She grabbed a towel and threw it at William who was taking off his shoes and putting them in the shoe rack – of course. She quickly ran the towel through her hair, watching him do the same from the corner of her eye.

 

“I’ll go get you a change of clothes.” She said, his clothes were soaking.

 

“Another snazzy pair of Winnie the Pooh pajamas?” He teased, finally commenting on them.

 

“Hm, I was thinking maybe the Eeyore ones, because you’re an ass.” She said before throwing her towel at him. He caught it easily making her pout.

 

“There’s a guest room that way, first door, you should probably take a warm shower, wash off all the rain. There are towels in the cabinet across the shower.” She pointed to the door to the guest room at the top of the stairs. “I’ll see if I can find my Eeyore pajamas.”

 

She pushed him up the stairs and to the guest room before disappearing down the hall to her own room. She could hear Demi in her room down the hall. She took off her wet clothes and showered really quickly before changing into another pair of pajamas – a brand new matching rib-knit lounge set in black. Only because it was comfy, not because they were plain and made her look rather cute. And she may have even blow dried her hair so it didn’t get frizzy, which she usually did anyways.

 

She ransacked her closet until she found an oversized pair of sweatpants that wouldn’t look like a child’s on William along with an oversized sweatshirt, she didn’t have a t-shirt that would fit him. She really wished she had Eeyore pajamas all of a sudden.  She walked back down the hall and knocked on the door, but he didn’t reply.

 

She put her ear against the door and heard the sound of the shower, apparently he also liked long showers. She stepped into the room and placed the clothes on the bed before rushing out – trying to ignore the part of her brain that was screaming about a naked William Choi being within 10 feet of her.

 

She bounded down the stairs and towards the kitchen where she could hear Demi. “Eonni, did you eat? You want ramen?”

 

“I ate before but I could always go for ramen.” Taera sighed as she stepped into the kitchen, finding evidence of her earlier phone call on the island, she pushed it all aside for now. There was nothing she could do. She was going to have comfort food and think about the rest tomorrow.

 

“Do you think William wants some?” Demi arched her eyebrow at her sister.

 

Taera bounded towards the stairs and she could hear William moving around in the room. “William!” She yelled.

 

“Yeah?” He yelled from through the door.

 

“Do you want ramen or is it not bougie enough for you?” She yelled.

 

He threw the door open and she held back a smile at the exasperated look on his face as he stepped out, the clothes she had given him looked to be his size, for a second she wished she had given him one of her t-shirts, just for laughs. But they grey sweatshirt fit him well, it was form fitting but it wasn’t tight and the sweats seemed fine too.

 

“With eggs?” He asked as he walked down the stairs.

 

“Fine, we’ll make it somewhat healthy! Demi, with eggs please!” She said as she walked back towards the kitchen.

 

“Nice place.” William said as he followed her into the kitchen.

 

“Thanks, we scoured like 70 listings before we found a house that didn’t remind us of an old Southern grandma.” She sighed and he actually laughed.

 

“I am not surprised…people here really like the traditional look.” He shrugged as he leaned against the counter.

 

“Apart from you, do the people in this city hate you for all the modern buildings you’re putting up?” She teased.

 

“Buildings?”

 

“Your house and BARE.”

 

“No, as the city gets bigger there’s a shift towards more modern things – Soreille included.” He replied.

 

“Go put on a funny movie or something.” Demi sighed as she covered the pot to let the ramen cook.

 

“All right.” Taera said before looking at William. “Follow me.”

 

“Why?”

 

“I am baby-sitting you, Demi likes to push people with the last name Choi into swimming pools…she might just push you outside.” Taera teased as he followed her to the living room, falling onto the couch with a sigh as she grabbed the remote.

 

He let out a rather loud sneeze and she murmured a ‘bless you’ as she scrolled through Netflix.

 

“So many chick flicks.” He said as she navigated through the suggested for you section.

 

“They’re the best kind of movies.”

 

“If you say so.” He shrugged.

 

“What kind of movies do you like?” She asked turning towards him, he had his arms crossed across his chest and had pulled the hood of the sweatshirt onto his head.

 

“Thrillers and mystery.”

 

“Not action?” She asked somewhat surprised.

 

“No, most of them don’t make sense and it’s not science fiction so it irks me.” He said and she nodded as he sneezed again.

 

“Bless you! You okay?” She asked but he nodded. She figured he had been out in the rain for too long and opened up the cabinet in the coffee table, throwing a fluffy throw at him. He murmured a thank you and covered his body with it.

 

“Food!” Demi sang as she walked into the living room with a tray of food. The three of them ate while watching the beginning of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 because William said he hadn’t watched it yet. He was also a big Marvel fan apparently and had all these theories about what would happen in the next few movies from the comic books. But he kept sneezing between telling them about it.

 

“Were you getting sick before?” She asked.

 

“No, it must have been the rain.” He said.

 

“Myth, the rain doesn’t make you sick, unless you have a really weak immune system. The sneezing has more to do with being cold for a long period of time and your body adjusting by increasing your body temperature. The sneezes are probably because of the rapid differences in temperature you’re experiencing. But I guess rain hitting the ground elevates bacteria and viruses from the ground up into the air, which means people will be exposed to them during rain which might cause them to fall ill – but that wouldn’t happen like this."

 

“Do you know everything?” He asked, a smile on his face.

 

Demi groaned. “Please don’t boost her ego like this.”

 

“Yes, I am a genius.”

 

“My mom always says being out in the rain makes you sick.” William said.

 

“Old wives tale.”

 

“You should tell my mom, she never let us play outside in the rain.”

 

 “And did you want to play out in the rain, I have a feeling it would have been too disorderly for you.” She mused. 

 

“Okay, she stopped my siblings from playing outside in the rain.” He admitted and she couldn’t help but grin.

 

“Our eomma says that too, Taera has been telling her that rain can’t make you sick since she was like eight but she still believes it.” Demi laughed.

 

“Mothers.” Taera sighed fondly.

 

“Do you miss yours?” William asked.

 

“On some days and not on others.” She smiled. “Today I missed her because if I was at home, she’d bring me a cup of tea and appa would have insisted on making Tteokbokki because it’s raining. It’s weird, we always have it when it rains.” She shared.

 

“I miss New York.” Demi whined causing Taera to laugh.

 

“Go back then!”

 

“Tell him about the not on others part too.” Demi rolled her eyes.

 

“Our eomma can be a little overbearing at times, she means the best but sometimes it’s just a little annoying. I don’t think we’ve had one conversation since I dropped out of medical school that doesn’t revolve around medical school. And she just doesn’t understand why Demi won’t go to medical school and become a psychiatrist rather than get a PhD to become a clinical psychologist. To her it’s the same job but one pays three times more.”

 

“It’s like her world revolves around go to medical school.” Demi sighed as she finished up her ramen. “When Taera left I became her sole focus.”

 

“I get you, my mom can be like that too sometimes.” William smiled as they all turned back to the television.

 

Demi yawned a couple of times and Taera told her to go sleep, she didn’t argue but left with a wink at her causing her to roll her eyes. She tried watching the movie but she kept losing interest as her mind ran through what had happened.

 

“You didn’t laugh at a really epic joke.” William said as he grabbed the remote and paused the movie.

 

“I – I feel like I should be doing something.” She said as she turned towards him, he looked so comfy sitting on her couch, her favourite throw covering him, his hair hidden by the oversized hoodie.

 

“There’s really not much you can do until the morning.” He sighed. “But if it helps you can call your insurance company and let them know what happened so they can start the process of sending out an assessor tomorrow.” He suggested.

 

She nodded. That was a good idea. Something productive.

 

“I’ll do that. Can I get you anything?” She said as she looked towards the kitchen, he shook his head and she picked up the phone. “You can watch it without me, I already watched it.” She said while looking towards the screen, he nodded and pressed play as she disappeared into the kitchen.

 

She spent 40 minutes on the phone with her insurance company, for the second time the same night. The lady was very helpful and told her she’d send out an assessor tomorrow afternoon after asking her for a bunch of information. She was itching to text the contractor who had worked on Sorelle to ask if he could come in tomorrow and have the glass replaced as soon as possible but a look at the clock told her it was nearly 1am, too late for that.

 

So she put her phone away and walked back into the living room, the movie was still playing but William was asleep on her couch. His long legs hanging off, his head thrown back. He looked cute and she held back a laugh when she noticed that the sweatpants she had given him were too short, the bottom of his legs visible.

 

She quietly rolled the coffee table out of the way and pulled the bottom of the couch up and out, turning it into a sofa-bed. She thought he’d wake up but he didn’t. She moved towards him and moved his legs so they were laying on the sofa bed. He moved a little, adjusting himself and sliding further down. Apparently he was a deep sleeper.

 

“William.” She whispered, wondering if she should wake him and tell him to go upstairs but he just sighed and adjusted his body, making himself comfy on the sofa bed. She grabbed the throw that was half laying on him and covered him with it fully.

 

She was planning on going upstairs but she didn’t want to leave him there alone, it was an unfamiliar place and he’d probably wonder how he ended up like he did. And she didn’t trust herself to not break down and start crying if she was alone. She curled up on the couch on the opposite side after grabbing another throw to cover herself with and turning the TV off.

 

She tried to fall asleep, she really did, but staring at the ceiling and counting sheep didn’t help, thoughts and images of the way Sorelle looked now with the boarded up window-walls kept running through her mind. Something about the situation didn’t sit right with her but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it right then, her brain was tired from the day.

 

She sighed and turned on her side facing William, he was about 5 feet away from her, sound asleep. The hood still on his head. She smiled when she noticed that he kept his mouth slightly open as he slept, little snores leaving him periodically. But she wondered if it was just because his nose was stuffed, he had been sneezing all night.

 

And then she couldn’t help but remember how he had been soaked, standing in the rain outside Sorelle when she got there. His clothes had felt cold against her when she hugged him. She sighed, William was a really good hugger, it really was unfair. She fit perfectly under his chin, the perfect height for him to wrap his arms around her and rub her back soothingly. Her dreams did it no justice.

 

He had been so worried, so sweet, so helpful. He spent more time outside boarding up the windows with Henry and David, his hair plastered to his face. She hoped he wasn’t going to get sick and then smiled when she remembered a day which seemed like years ago, when she had wondered if keeping him outside for longer on a chilly morning would make him sick and less likely to come in to steal her parking spot. But now she knew that even back then she would have missed him if he didn’t show up.

 

“You, William Choi, are going to be the death of me, with all these redeeming qualities.” She whispered quietly into the air before sighing. She willed herself to look away from his face but she couldn’t, so she lay there for a long time just staring at him and listening to his soft breathing and occasional snores.

 

He really was perfect. She had always thought he looked perfect but the other things had creeped in slowly, things she refused to think about for the longest time because how much she thought about him scared her and it was easier to just say it was all physical attraction. She hated not having guarantees, it was one of the reasons she was so lost after dropping out of medical school. That path had guarantees, there was one clear path to becoming a doctor, if she got to the end, she’d be one for her whole life. No other career really seemed to work like that, and things in life definitely didn’t.

 

A relationship wasn’t that straightforward, she couldn’t sit there and analyze every path and find a clear path forward. The best she could do was make an educated guess. That scared her. Because she knew if she let herself she’d fall in love with the man sleeping on her couch and she would break in the worst way possible if it didn’t work out. She already wanted forever with him, her brain was insistent on showing her with him and with their children – and she wasn’t having children with a man unless she was sure he was it.

 

And her mind whispered that the man on her couch was it. That he was everything she wanted and needed. And it scared her, as did the ever growing list of his redeeming qualities.

 

He was smart – it was the first thing she learnt and admired about him. The discovery had come following a series of Google searches after she found out he went to Harvard. He won awards, there were little blurbs about him being at the top of the class – and it obviously wasn’t just book smarts either because he was successful in the real world. It was so attractive, especially when he mumbled numbers under his breath, calculating as fast as those Excel spreadsheets he was so good with. She had always been attracted to intelligence. Demi had dubbed her a sapiosexual because it was important to her – to have someone that she could learn from and grow with. And she could see that with him. Every single conversation she had with him drove that point home.

 

He valued family, he had come back to Charleston for them, he tried to put them first. And his relationship with all of them was so amazing, his mother thought he was the best thing in the world, his brothers loved him as did Aera and Irene. That realization had come pretty early as well, at the launch party. He had a special relationship with all of them, with Daniel it was like they were best friends, they occasionally gave each other a hard time but it was clear to her that they would die for each other.

 

With Henry he was the responsible big brother, whacking him upside the head as required but joking around and being friendly at other times. He looked up to David, there’s was a relationship filled with deep conversations and the occasional teasing. With Aera, he sulked and whined, she was his big sister and Taera could tell she had a soft spot for William. With Irene, he was her big protective brother, looking out for her, doting on her, and giving her space as required. And to Anaya, he was the best uncle ever, they both lit up when they were with each other. He loved them all, and they all loved him. And she loved that, because family was important to her, in a way it wasn’t too a lot of people she knew.

 

He was protective – and she didn’t think she would like that in a person. But it was how he showed he cared. The way he had stepped up for her today told her that he always would. He was one of those people you could count on, someone that would be right beside you when things got tough. And it wasn’t just today, it was the way he had smiled at her and mouthed impressive when Jiah’s mom made her feel like crap. The way he drove her home after she stupidly sprayed herself with pepper spray. It was the way he showed up with coffee for her and listened to her when they were at dinner at Aera’s house. And when he showed up with her favourite foods when that lady fell in Sorelle.

 

He cared for people around him – and she was included in that. He cared for his family, that was obvious, but he cared about the people he worked with. He was inherently kind. She heard him offering advice to them, about how to they could progress their career, about how to save money, about how to apply for certain schools – all without caring what it would mean for him if his personal trainers and employees left to pursue better opportunities. And that was so rare in a person.

 

He even had a sense of humour – sometimes, okay, when she wasn’t threatening to vandalize his car. He smiled and laughed at things she said or things she found funny. He teased. He sparred. And that amused smile – with the dimples and his crinkled eyes – made her heart misbehave.

 

He wasn’t intimidated by her, she had people say to her face that she was too intimidating, especially the men Jiah tried to set her up with. And she had always noticed how people reacted to her, they seemed to slowly back away when she started talking, when she said she was in medical school, when she started spouting random facts she knew even though she tried to keep them inside. She was always too opinionated. But it didn’t seem like he cared, even when they were fighting in the beginning he listened to her, he didn’t make her feel like he was trying to back away. He argued right back.

 

And in all of that, he listened, he actually listened, didn’t just pretend to listen. He never told her she was being extra or whining too much. He genuinely seemed to care about what she said. And he talked to her, told her things even when it seemed hard for him to share. He made her feel important.

 

He also had really good manners, ignoring their first run-in. He was always opening doors and pulling out chairs for her. And the few times she had eaten in his presence, he always waited until she was eating before eating. It was such a little thing and maybe it wasn’t even a big deal, but it was endearing. Maybe because she wasn’t used to it, sure people held out doors for her but they never went out of their way to do so. And no one had ever opened a car door for her or pulled out her chair before him. Maybe it was a Southern thing.

 

He was confident in himself, that was always sexy. But with most it usually came with an arrogance that was missing with him. She knew most people in his position would brag about the empire they were building up, but he was so humble about it. He never talked about how successful BARE was, she had to look it up. She wanted him to tell her more, she wanted to brag about him to the world, she had started it already – mostly telling Liam about all the things he had done to get where he was. Liam called her ‘William’s Fangirl’.

 

He was honest, he owned up to the things he didn’t do well, he had so easily told her about his struggles growing up with OCPD, about how he sucked at certain things. It had taken her a really long time to learn how to do that, to admit that she wasn’t capable of doing everything perfectly.

 

He moved in his sleep, shifting slightly, curling further into the sofa, his cheek pressing against the cushion. “And he’s adorable when he sleeps.” She whispered into the air. “So unfair.”

 

Her thoughts eventually lulled her to sleep.

 

She thought she wouldn’t have dreams that night, her brain felt so tired but scenes upon scenes seemed to flip through her head in no specific order. He was in all of them, his arms wrapped around her, whispering soothing things into her ear, kissing her forehead, cupping her face. He was helping her carry furniture into what seemed to be a second Sorelle location. He was leaning on the counter in her kitchen like he had been earlier, she was laughing and throwing flour at his face when he was distracted. And then he was on the couch in her living room, the two of them curled together watching a movie between whispers and kisses.

 

It was all too much, especially after her earlier thoughts. But so perfect in a way that had her sighing in her sleep, at least she wasn’t dreaming about having sex with him- she would have been mortified if he woke to her moaning his name in her sleep.

 

Chapter Text

Myrtle Beach – Watts House

Earlier…

 

Jiah stepped out of the bathroom about twenty minutes after her frantic phone call with Liam, her hair washed, wearing the pyjamas she had picked out. Daniel looked up at her, his eyes tracing her body from head to toe before he shook his head and got up making his way to the bathroom she had just left without a word.

 

“Well that wasn’t awkward at all.” Jiah said to herself as the bathroom door closed. Was he checking her out?

 

Jiah looked at the bed wondering what side he usually slept on…she usually slept in the middle of the bed, sometimes when she woke up she was laying diagonally and other time she was falling off one side or the other. She sighed and grabbed her phone, laying on the left side of the bed hoping that Daniel wouldn’t have a problem with it. She took all the pillows against the headboard off the bed apart from the ones that would lay under their heads and lay the other ones in the middle of the bed, separating the right side from the left.

 

She tried distracting herself, she really did but all she could think of was the fact that Daniel was in the bathroom a couple metres away, naked, and would eventually step out and lay right beside her. Her heart was beating so fast that she was sure there was something wrong with it. But the last time she had brought it up with Taera, she had just laughed and claimed it was normal. But how could it be? She could hear her heartbeat in her ears so clearly.

 

The door opened and steam poured out into the room, apparently Daniel liked his showers super-hot. She almost groaned when her mind automatically put her in the shower with him, warm water running down their bodies as he kissed her. She now understood why Taera was always blushing looking at the counter in Sorelle, she didn’t think she could now stand in that bathroom without blushing. 

 

She looked up to see that he was wearing a pair of grey pajamas with a black t-shirt that was way too big on him, it kind of reminded her of the clothing he wore when he worked out. She had known that he was built, she had eyes that found his body whenever they were at BARE together – although it had stopped now that her mother had left. He turned the lights off causing her heart to thump in her chest. She held her breath when she felt the bed dip under his weight as he came to rest on the other side of the bed.

 

“Interesting set up.” He said, breaking the silence first. Jiah looked towards the line of pillows she had created between the two sides of the bed.

 

“I…move a lot in my sleep.” She said.

 

“As long as you don’t kick.” Daniel said with a chuckle that seemed kind of forced, so she wasn’t the only one that found this awkward.

 

“So…how’d it go with Joshua?” Jiah asked staring up at the ceiling, it was coffered and the light source earlier had been the crystal chandelier.

 

“I should hire you as my lucky charm.” Daniel said. “That was perhaps one of the easiest transactions I’ve ever had, he agreed to hand over his whole portfolio to us. There just some little details left to work out.”

 

“All in a day’s work.” Jiah laughed nervously as the wind howled outside the window to the right of the bed. The room filled with an awkward silence, the two of them being hyperaware of each other’s presence, not knowing what to say. “We should go to sleep…separately, not together…not that we’re not sleeping together…we are…okay no that sounds wrong…I meant that we are in the same bed…but separate…and we should sleep – I should stop talking.”

 

“Good night Jiah.” Daniel chuckled.

 

“Good night Daniel.” She answered.

 

The two of them were awake for the next hour, not talking but not sleeping either. Jiah fell asleep first, a worried look on her face, and Daniel eventually fell asleep as well. He also woke right up at 2am when he felt cold and found that the blanket was pulled right off of him. He groaned in his sleep and pulled the blanket back towards him only to find it tugged off again.

 

He opened his eyes to notice that Jiah was on the edge of the bed, pulling the blanket towards her. He sighed and moved closer to Jiah’s side of the bed and pulled the blanket over him again, falling asleep immediately.

 


 

Taera and Jiah’s House – Charleston, The Next Morning

 

Taera awoke first with a soft smile on her face, feeling cozy and warm, she opened her eyes and realized she was in her living room rather than her bedroom. She blinked struggling to remember why she was there, it was then she noted that an arm was draped around her waist, a large and warm hand rested on her bare stomach. She freaked out for a second and then realized that her shirt seemed to have ridden up but was still on her body.

 

There was a knee between her two legs, and a nose tucked into her hair. The only reason she didn’t freak out was because her brain caught up pretty fast and told her it was William. And then her heart started accelerating with awareness going from a slow lazy 10mph to 1000mph within seconds…or that’s what it felt like to her.

 

She could feel his breath against her neck, goosebumps erupted all over her flesh as awareness crept up. His breathing was slow and rhythmic indicating that he was still asleep but hers was the complete opposite – her heart was thumping in her chest and her breathing was picking up.

 

She was spooning with William Choi – her brain was screaming for her to move away immediately, but her body was not listening. Because her body really liked it, the warmth of him behind her, his hand resting on her bare skin. She was surprised that she had been sleeping with him wrapped around her like this, she had been all the way on the other side of the couch the previous night. She remembered observing him from afar. But as she looked around she realized they had both scooted towards the middle of the couch – she was glad she didn’t wake up on the side he had gone to sleep on.

 

She heard a soft groan from behind her, feeling the vibration against her back, and felt William shift a little, his fingers splaying further against her stomach causing her stomach to tighten underneath his hand. She almost gasped when she felt something hard press right up against her bum.

 

At that point, she knew she should have moved away like she was on fire but she did the exact opposite, she closed her eyes tight pretending to be asleep. She tried to tell herself that it was a natural response, that it probably had nothing to do with her but was rather simply biology. She knew this, she had learnt this. But her stomach apparently did not internalize the words and was filled with butterflies and tightened in anticipation.

 

She wondered what would have happened if they were…something, in a relationship. Would he have woken her up with kisses down her throat, nudging her awake and rolling her over before letting her help him with his little – actually not so little problem? What did his voice sound like first thing in the morning? Was it deep and husky as she imagined it to be?

 

Taera had a theory about William, one that manifested itself in her dreams – he would be really good in bed. He was rather confident and felt the need to control everything. He was Type A like her, wanted to do everything perfectly and had really good stamina with all the running. And she remembered the way he had flirted with her in his office, his voice husky - that would definitely come out in bed.

 

Something told her that he would torture her until she begged for him, his ego wouldn’t let him stop until she was sufficiently pleased and happy. In the past, the guys she dated had always been rather shy and nervous, the pinnacle of her sexual encounters had been heavy make outs in high school and sex in the backseat of a car with shy hands roaming her body.

 

But she knew that his hands would not be shy, his touch would be firm, he would wrap his hand around her wrist holding her in place while he teased her like he did in her dreams. And she was really wanted to be at his mercy much to her surprise, she hadn’t known that about herself before.

 

Her face flushed as she wondered if he would be open to learning, her brain was filled with so much knowledge about sex that she had never shared with anyone – but she had a feeling he would listen and catch on quickly. And maybe he would teach her a thing or two, his words against her ear telling her exactly how to touch him because he wasn’t the type to let you fumble and figure it out yourself. His hands firmly covered hers and helped her even when she was struggling to follow something he explained to her – be it about advertising or spreadsheets.

 

Taera shook her head, willing her mind to think of something else – and her mind listened, sort of. Her thoughts strayed to the fact that she felt a sense of comfort wrapped up in his arms, she liked the weight of his arm over her waist and the feel of his hand on her stomach. It sent tingles shooting through her and made her feel rather warm. She shook her head again when her mind started straying to the things his hands could do.

 

And then she caught sight of her phone on the side table and remembered why William was there. Because someone tried to break into Sorelle. Because the place her best friend and her put much time and effort into was in a state where they couldn’t open. She must have sighed really loudly because she heard him let out a sleepy groan.

 

Her mind was screaming at her to run but his hand was still on her stomach and he would notice if she moved now. She closed her eyes shut and breathed through her nose slowly – making her lungs scream for air. But she couldn’t let him know she was awake.

 

He made a cute groaning sound as he moved, his hand still on her stomach, and then he froze and she realized that he must have realized that she was curled into him. She didn’t know what she expected after that day in his office but it wasn’t this. She hadn’t expected the little hum, or that his thumb would trace her stomach gently before he lifted his hand away – she thought it was an accident. But he was slow to pull away and she thought she felt him press a kiss atop her hair but she couldn’t be sure, it was so light.

 

And then he got up and she listened as he walked up the stairs, a door opened and closed right away, and she knew he had gone up to the room that she had shown him the previous night. She took in a deep breath of air, letting her hand rest on her heaving chest.

 

Oh she was in trouble.

 


 

Myrtle Beach, Morning

 

Unlike Taera who had a sweet awakening, Jiah woke to a sharp knock on the door and the butler announcing that breakfast would be served soon. The next thing she heard was Daniel groaning out fuck. As she came into consciousness she felt him right behind her, their bodies touching, his arm wrapped around her – his hand apparently had decided to crawl under her shirt as they slept. Her eyes grew wide when she realized where his hand was and he seemed to realize it at the same time because he frantically pulled it out of her shirt while muttering another fuck.

 

She tried to stay as still as possible, trying to control her breathing to not give away the fact that she was awake and had definitely noticed where his hand was. She heard him get up and head to the bathroom, the door clicking shut. She took a deep breath in then, burying her head in her pillow, trying to calm down her heart. Jesus Christ, what was happening in her life?

 

This is what she had feared, this awkwardness. He would probably act weird all day – and she would probably do the same because his hand was on her boob. It felt nice. His hands were rather large and rough. She turned in bed and stared at the ceiling, her brain again wishing that they were actually dating. She wanted his hands on her – she could hear Taera screaming in her head to go get it girl but she sighed.

 

The door clicked open and she heard Daniel step out of the bathroom, she turned over and sat up in bed. “Good morning.” She murmured rubbing her eyes and thinking that she must look horrible, her hair was probably a haystack and her eyes probably blearily.  She was sure her face was also flushed.

 

“Good morning cover hog.” He said with a  smile.

 

“Cover hog?” She asked confused.

 

“I spent half the night fighting you for the covers.” He chuckled.

 

“Sorry! I am not used to having someone in my bed.” She yawned and then realized that her words sounded very sexual. Like something you would say to a person you woke up in bed with after hooking up. Oh, this was so awkward.

 

“Looks like it stopped raining.” Daniel said looking out the window, the sky was still grey and gloomy but there was no precipitation at least. She went along with the subject change and ran to the bathroom.

 


 

Jiah and Taera’s House

 

“Good morning, Sleeping Beauty.” She teased as William stepped into the kitchen a while later. He seemed like he was about to retort but then he sneezed again, three times in a row.

 

“Are you sick?” She asked while walking up to him and bringing her hand to his forehead to feel if he was warm, he was. “Oh, a little warm.” She said before scurrying back towards the stove, she opened the third drawer that had the first aid kit, she had put a thermometer in there. She grabbed it and turned towards him to see that he was rubbing his neck, she arched her eyebrow.

 

“My body hurts.” He said.

 

She pouted at him and walked up to him. “Ahhhh!” She said, not waiting for him to comply and open his mouth fully, she stuck the thermometer in as soon as she saw a little opening. He rolled his eyes but she just smiled as it beeped, she sighed when she saw the red screen and the number 101.48ºF.

 

“You have a fever.” She said as she felt his forehead again, pushing his hair away. “Sit!” She said as she dragged him over to the dining table and pushed him into the chair.

 

“I feel cold.” He murmured.

 

She nodded and turned the electric fireplace in front of the dining table on.

 

“What else hurts?” She asked.

 

“My head. My muscles.” He sighed.

 

“I am going to make you tea and an omelette, and then you’re going to take a Tylenol.”

 

“Yes, Doctor Jeong.” He smiled making her roll her eyes and whack his arm, lightly.

 

“Can you break an egg with one hand?” He asked as she took the eggs out of the fridge.

 

She nodded. “Why?”

 

“I have always wanted to do that but I can’t, it always breaks weirdly.” He said making her chuckle. “And then I spend an hour digging out eggshells.”

 

“Come here, I’ll teach you.” She said, smiling as he complied, dragging his body over to the counter. Her kitchen had never felt as small as it did with him standing by her side. Maybe it was just the fact that he was so tall. Or that he was standing too close. Or that her entire being was just focused on him as she taught him how to cleanly break an egg with one hand.

 

She did it perfectly, he failed and then pouted, before claiming it was just because he was sick. She let it go because he did look a little miserable. She tried to hold back her laughter as he followed her around the kitchen, fixing things she moved and straightening out things on her counter.

 

“Leave it alone, William.” She said as he slowly reorganized her top drawer – it had dividers for spoons, forks and knives. Apparently all the utensils needed to be in the correct divider, face the same way, and stacked rather than haphazardly thrown around.

 

“How do you work like this?” He asked while continuing to organize.

 

“My drawer is so clean compared to others!” She said.

 

“That is true.” He sighed but still continued. “I am surprised you’re not really messy.”

 

She rolled her eyes. “What, did you think I was a slob?” She asked.

 

“You could easily have been.” He shrugged causing her to roll her eyes.

 

Demi walked in a while later as William worked to reorganize her spice cabinet – he promised he wasn’t moving things, just lining them up. She let him because it was kind of cute, in a weird way. She liked hearing him move around the kitchen, he murmured the name of the spices under his breath, he sneezed into his elbow often and hummed when he saw something he liked.

 

Demi arched her eyebrow at her in question as she came to stand across from her, watching as William straightened out the spice rack. “Mild OCPD.” She whispered to her sister who nodded.

 

Taera could tell that Demi was trying to hold back a grin as they sat at the table for breakfast, she was failing because she kept looking across the table at William and then her, her eyes shining with amusement.

 

Maybe Taera was babying him. But he was sick. And she was the reason he was out in the cold rain for so long, his body just needed to return back to its normal temperature and then she’d stop. He needed to eat so it was only reasonable that she would prod him to eat more. And he needed fluids, it’s why she kept pouring him more tea.

 

Demi turned to her when William went upstairs to get his clothes. “You’re both acting like a smitten high school couple.” She whispered.

 

“We are not!”

 

“Are too! He keeps looking at you when you’re not looking and then when you look at him, he looks away. You keep touching him, you don’t need to feel how warm his forehead is every two minutes and his eyes light up every time you touch him.”

 

“He’s sick!”

 

“And yet the two of you were laughing and arguing while he re-organized your kitchen. He stood right by you the whole time! And didn’t even hesitate to sit by you at the table. Fess up!”

 

Sorelle is in disarray, he’s just being kind, now is not the time.”

 

“Taera – I know you’re afraid. You always have been afraid of relationships because there is no way you can study every possibility and prepare yourself for it. But that man is smitten with you, and you are too. So just, stop fooling around and talk to him. Both of you, just talk. You’re acting like you’re in high school and not fully grown adults.”

 

Taera sighed, Demi was right. She was years younger, but unlike her she had a well-balanced life. She dated, she had serious relationships and she was always good at reading people.

 

Before she could respond William was down and asking her if she was ready to go, she nodded and they both headed out towards his car.

 

“Oh, you’re sick, you shouldn’t drive.” She teased as they reached the Range Rover

 

“Ha ha, Taera.” He said as he unlocked it.

 

“Can I drive?” She asked.

 

“No.”

 

“Why, because no one drives your car?” She teased.

 

“Because you spoke badly about it and hurt its feelings.” He said as he sat in the driver’s seat making her laugh. “You had the whole study memorized.”

 

“I have kind of a photographic memory.” She shared, not many knew.

 

“Of course, Miss IQ over 140.” He said as he started the car.

 


 

On the way back to Charleston…

 

Caroline and Joshua bid Daniel and Jiah farewell after breakfast, the two of them clad in the clothes they had worn to dinner once again. The roads were pretty empty and she could see the evidence of fallen trees, certain sections of the highway having been converted to single lane roads. The drive back was just as quiet as the drive there, however, this time the silence was awkward. Jiah was too busy trying not to think about the morning, and Daniel seemed preoccupied in his own thoughts as well.

 

Thankfully, the lack of traffic and Daniel’s really fast driving got them to Charleston really quickly. “You want to get coffee?” Jiah asked, they were going to pass Sorelle on their way to the house.

 

Daniel shrugged seemingly agreeing and pulled into the left turn lane towards Dunkin Donuts.

 

“I swear I will hurt you if you take me to Dunkin Donuts.” Jiah said looking over at Daniel as he waited behind the line of cars waiting to turn left.

 

“What’s wrong with Dunkin Donuts?” Daniel asked.

 

“Have you ever had a latte or coffee from Sorelle?” She asked.

 

“Ah, I forgot that we have a coffee connoisseur in the car.” He said sarcastically. “You put so much milk in your coffee that it doesn’t qualify as coffee.”

 

“Of course, only people who drink black coffee can be coffee connoisseurs.” She said rolling her eyes.

 

“I am glad you agree.” He quipped causing her to whack his arm as he pulled out of the left turn lane and headed straight down the road towards Sorelle

 

“Sometimes I forget how annoying you can be.” She sighed.

 

“Don’t worry, I’ll remind you.” He laughed as he turned on to the street that had Sorelle.

 

“What the hell?” Daniel murmured as Jiah gasped, there was a cop car outside Sorelle and the whole side of the shop that faced BARE was boarded up. Taera and William were standing outside, talking to a cop, and by the way Taera’s hands were moving Jiah knew something was wrong. Jiah watched as the cop just shrugged and started walking to his car, her best friend seemingly yelling behind him while William wrapped his arm around her waist holding her back.

 

Both Daniel and Jiah jumped out of the car as soon as Daniel parked it behind Taera’s. Jiah ran up to her friend with a worried look on her face, Daniel hot on her heels. “What happened?” Jiah asked looking towards the boarded up shop.

 


 

Taera rushed both Daniel and Jiah inside for coffee and brunch, dragging William along as well, while she explained all that had happened the previous night, from William’s phone call to their attempts to board up the place. The police had come in this morning claiming that all the CCTV footage that was available was not clear enough to make out the face of the person who broke the windows.

 

Taera was super confused considering they had only left the scene hours ago, how did they already look through all the CCTV footage? The officer had just shrugged and said they looked at all of them at the relevant time points and handed her a report that she could submit to her insurance company to cover the cost of repairs.

 

“The police is Charleston is rather…incompetent and racist.” Daniel said. “And they’re not going to spend too much time on this since nothing was stolen and no one was injured. You also don’t have a suspect.”

 

“But how do we know it won’t happen again? Someone was clearly trying to get into Sorelle.” Jiah wondered.

 

“I don’t think they were trying to get in.” Taera interrupted. “William and I both felt that something was off about the whole thing. If someone wanted to steal something wouldn't they try to sneak in quietly, through the backdoor maybe? And if it did come down to breaking the glass why would they damage so many panels rather than just breaking one? Wouldn’t they find a window that wasn’t reinforced as much – like the ones that surround the door?”

 

“It seems like they did it just to damage the property. It was planned, this person struck on the one day there was a storm, where people are less likely to be around and surveillance is harder.” William added.

 

“Who could it be though? No one knows the two of you in this so there shouldn’t be anyone holding a grudge, you don’t have a lot of business competition other than grocery stores and coffee shops but this is distinctively different…you haven’t had any angry customers?” Daniel asked.

 

 “No one apart from the lady who fell and sued us.” Taera said looking towards Jiah who looked at her with her eyes wide. “I got a summons yesterday after you left, I’ve already spoken to the insurance company.” She informed her best friend who nodded.  

 

“I also find it weird that both the lawsuit and this thing happened so close to each other.” William murmured.

 

“She broke something right? She can’t be the person who broke the glass?” Daniel asked.

 

“Apparently broke her right ankle and fractured her knee.” Taera said. “There was something off about her though. If you’re hurt and someone who claims to know what they’re doing wants to help you, wouldn’t you let them help? She was insistent that I not touch her, and she also walked weirdly for someone who broke both their right ankle and knee…I think she put all her weight on that leg at one point.”

 

“That is weird.” Daniel sighed. “Forward the summons to David, maybe he’ll pick something up that you missed. Are you hiring a lawyer?”

 

“The insurance company is assigning one.” Taera nodded.

 

“Why are you wearing Taera’s hoodie?” Jiah asked, looking over at William who was in a grey Columbia hoodie. The hood was on his head, every time he put it down, Taera put it back up – all while she talked.

 

“She finally decided to be kind and not give me a small hoodie.”

 

“You’re lucky I didn’t give you one of my t-shirts.”

 

“Why are you so small?” He sighed, holding his arms out, even though the hoodie was loose on him, the arms were short and pulled up.

 

“I am not small! I am taller than average, you’re just a giant with your long arms.”

 

Daniel cleared his throat. “The question was why you’re wearing it.” He prompted.

 

“Well, I wasn’t going to put him in a dress…that’s a thought though.” Taera said as she looked over at William who rolled his eyes.

 

“I stayed over at her place because she was in shock and asked me to stay.”

 

“No! It’s because my car was here and I had no way to get back!”

 

Jiah held back a snicker, Taera had no qualms about driving her car which was right outside the house, the keys hanging by the door.

 

“Right, sure. Not because the two of you wanted to do that. It was just the circumstances.” Daniel said, Jiah looked over at him to find him smiling at his brother. She wondered if he thought of their night the same way too.

Chapter Text

The girls found themselves at the Choi-Park Residence again for the monthly games night that Aera insisted they all attend since they needed a night to just unwind. However, rather than playing games they were all lamenting about what had happened to Sorelle only a few days ago much to Aera’s dismay.

 

Taera and Jiah had gotten all the glass replaced and opened up again, the contractor they had hired to originally renovate Sorelle had found it odd that a person would spend so much time and energy trying to break through the panels, they were apparently reinforced and took repeated blows with a sledgehammer to break. Things just kept getting weirder and weirder.

 

David was looking over the print out of the summons that the girls had received from the Charleston Court, he was flipping through the documents, his lips moving as he read them. Aera’s head rest against his shoulders as she chatted with Irene and Demi about her day. Taera sat between William and Henry, the former rather quiet with Anaya napping in his lap while the latter was acting flirtatious as usual despite the glares from Demi. They still hated each other with a passion but had not escalated to a full blown fight after their last encounter.

 

Daniel was seated on the two-seater couch to David’s right, Jiah was stretched out across the couch, her back against the arm rest and her sock-clad feet in Daniel’s lap. Taera had watched with interest when Jiah had complained about the fact that her feet were hurting, to which Daniel had responded with a just put them up, and the two had adjusted themselves into their current position and gone on with their conversations with other people without making a big deal out of it. It was just so domestic, Taera had even caught Aera looking at the two of them and grinning, she was probably writing out their wedding invitations in her head.

 

“This was prepared before the incident happened.” David suddenly said. He flipped to the front of the printed pages again. “It was submitted to the court house a day after the accident, which is unusually fast considering the evidence submitted cites a broken ankle and fractured knee, and the fact that these things take a while to collect and create. But the lawyer who prepared this particular form signed off and dated it for the day before the incident.”

 

“What if it was just a mistake?” Taera asked, arching her eyebrow.

 

“Unlikely, but it seems like this was all submitted electronically. We usually have to upload documents to a website. All you need to do is have your lawyer download and look at the creation and edit history of the document.” David said handing the printed papers back to Taera.

 

“You’re a genius.” Jiah laughed high-fiving David.

 

“Of course he is, it’s why I married him.” Aera teased while placing a kiss on her husband’s cheek, Taera smiled at the action, they were rather cute together and also very…affectionate. She wasn’t surprised, she had walked in on the two of them making out like horny teenagers, Aera pushed up against the stainless steel refrigerator, earlier in the evening.

 

“Teenage hormones and the fact that you two couldn’t keep your hands off each other had nothing to do with it.” William mumbled.

 

“Ooooh, I sense a story here.” Taera laughed looking towards William.

 

“Oh there are a few. My eyes have been forever scarred.” Daniel groaned causing Aera to pick up a pillow and throw it at him.

 

“Mine too.” William confessed looking down at Taera with a smile. Taera held back a grin when he adjusted himself on the sofa again, his arm now touching hers. He had been moving closer to her every few minutes, she was half tempted to just sit in his lap at this point but that space was already occupied by Anaya. But she was happy sitting beside him, he smelled good and she felt that he would be the perfect space heater on a cold day, he was always so warm – even when he wasn’t sick.

 

“You can’t just say things like that and leave us hanging.” Jiah said, nudging Daniel’s stomach with her foot causing him to squirm and tell her to stop while he laughed.

 

“They started dating when David and I were in senior year-” Daniel said.

 

“Will and Dan sat me down and scared the hell out of me.” David piped in causing Taera and Jiah to chuckle.

 

“For good reason, I came home early once to find him in her room.” Daniel said.

 

“He used to come visit Daniel but he always ended up in Aera’s room.” William added.

 

“Dan and Will paid me to keep an eye out for him and to stop him if he was heading towards Aera’s room.” Henry snickered.

 

“And he took money from David to let him through.” William said while leaning his arm over Taera’s head to whack Henry’s head.

 

“ABUSE!” Henry yelled.

 

“Unca Ry too woud!” Anaya murmured, she was half asleep.

 

“Anaya, let me go put you to bed.” William said.

 

“Nooooooooo, I stway!” Anaya said while cuddling into William more, Taera smiled as he patted her back and sighed. She had been especially clingy today, apparently having missed Unca Wi when he went to New York and then because he was always busy. She had latched onto him as soon as he got there, she ate while sitting in his lap, she played while sitting right by his side and when she got tired she curled up in his lap. She even threw a little tantrum when Aera tried to put her to bed.

 

“It’s bedtime, how about you go to sleep now and I’ll tell you everything we talk about in the morning?” William reasoned with his niece. Taera giggled quietly, Anaya insisted she not leave and go to bed because she didn’t want to miss the fun.

 

“Evewything?” She asked opening one eye.

 

“Yes, everything.”

 

“And you not gonna have fun witout me?” She asked.

 

“Of course not! How can we have fun without you?” William said. Taera held back laughter and looked over at Aera who was smiling at her brother.

 

“You wead me bedtime stowy?” Anaya asked.

 

“Of course I will.”

 

“Okay…can Miss Taewa come too?” Anaya asked while looking towards Taera. “She do guwl voices.”

 

William looked over at Taera and arched his eyebrow.

 

“I’d love to!” Taera smiled.

 

“Okay, down down, I have to kiww evewyone good night.” Anaya said while scrambling off of William lap. Taera watched amused as the little girl skipped around and got hugs and kisses from everyone before finally coming back to William.

 

And even though she claimed she was a big girl now she held her arms out to be picked up. William scooped her up and carried her up the stairs with Taera following behind them.

 

David leaned in to whisper into Aera’s ear as the conversation around them resumed. “And how did you manage to do that?” He asked his wife.

 

“I just said I think Taera does very good reading voices earlier.” Aera whispered causing David to chuckle.

 

“You’re evil.”

 

“And those two are so close to admitting their feelings for each other.” Aera said while pulling out the baby monitor from under a pillow on the couch.

 

“Aera!” David groaned. They hadn’t used it for months but he knew his wife would have turned the monitor on today. She got up and hurried over to the kitchen, leaving the rest of the room to talk.

 

“Don’t you dare start talking about how unethical this is.” She whispered as she put the baby monitor on the kitchen island and turned it on.

 

William’s voice came through first, he was already reading a story to her – Little Mermaid, of course.

 

“Miss Taewa, you do the Awiel pawt!” Anaya said when William paused.

 

“She’s so bossy.” David sighed. “Just like her mother.” He teased causing Aera to roll her eyes as Taera started reading.

 

“They’re not doing anything fun.” Aera sighed as they kept reading, David wrapped his arms around his wife’s waist and leaned over the counter as well causing her to squeal as he pushed his weight on her.

 

“You are way too invested in this.” He said while burying his face in her hair.

 

“You know I worry for Will.”

 

“I know.” He said as the book wrapped up.

 

“Miss Taewa?” Anaya asked.

 

“Yes, Miss Anaya.”

 

“Do you want kids?” She asked causing Aera to snort.

 

“Yes.”

 

“How many?”

 

“Three.”

 

“Unca Wi wants three too!” Anaya said, sounding rather excited.

 

“How did you manage this?” David asked in response to the conversation coming out of the baby monitor.

 

“I didn’t do anything, I think it’s just because the number is the same.” Aera whispered to David.

 

“I think a lot of people want three kids.” William said.

 

“When you gonna have kids?” Anaya asked.

 

She must have been looking at Taera because she answered. “When I find someone I want to have kids with.”

 

“No no, you have to find a perwon to wove, eomma said you can wove a boy, a giwl, and did you know some people awe not boys or giwls, they have a diffwent – ide – iden – whats the wowd Unca Wi?”

 

“Identity.” He answered.

 

“Your eomma is really smart.” Taera said.

 

“I know.” Anaya said causing both William and David to snicker, Aera whacked David and wished she could do the same to her brother. “Who you like Miss Taewa?”

 

“I like boys.”

 

“Oh, what kind?”

 

“Hm, someone that is nice, smart, funny, and someone I can talk to.” Taera said.

 

“Short list.” Aera mumbled.

 

“She’s not going to recite her whole list to a four year old.” David teased.

 

“You can mawwy Unca Wi, he nice, he smawt, he funny and he tawk to you wots. And he handwome, and he have nice haiw and Unca Ry towd me that the wadies wove Unca Wi.”

 

“That’s it, she’s getting two cupcakes tomorrow.” Aera squealed as she listened.

 

“I don’t think your Unca Wi is funny.” Taera said, her voice teasing.

 

“Just one objection.” David laughed.

 

“He funny! He funny!” Anaya said.

 

“You just don’t have a sense of humour.” William said in a teasing voice.

 

“Are you trying to convince me?” Taera teased and Aera let out a really loud squeal.

 

“They’re flirting!” Aera sighed happily.

 

“Why, do you want to be convinced?” He asked.

 

“Miss Taewa! If you wove Unca Wi and you get mawwied you can have thwee kids! And I can pway with them, I be weally nice just like I am gonna be wery nice to the baby in eomma tummy wight now!” Anaya said.

 

Both David and Aera groaned, she wasn’t supposed to tell them yet, it was a secret until they could gather both sides of the family together.

 

Aera sighed when she heard William yell Aera Choi-Park as he ran down the stairs. “START SPEAKING NOW NOONA!”

 


 

As it turned out David’s hunch was correct, the lawyer that was assigned to them did in fact come to the same conclusion. But then she said they needed more proof to get the case dismissed – apparently it was really easy to say that an older document was edited to create the new one which meant the dates were mixed up.

 

In the end, the one thing that came out of it was confirmation that something suspicious was going on. Along with a new name, apparently it seemed like some of the documents were sent between the lawyer and another person, someone named Sarah Jackson. The person who had sued them was named Barbara Garcia, that was the name on the official documents but document tracking showed that Sarah Jackson had edited the file, she wasn’t the lawyer or a staff member at the firm when they checked.

 

This had caused Taera and Jiah to spend most of their day running searches using that name and various different words, sadly the name was rather common and Facebook came out with over 75 results in South Carolina alone. But they didn’t give up, they religiously checked every single page between serving customers and baking.

 

The two days they were closed hadn’t set them back too much apart from lost customer revenue for those days, they had to pull a few extra hours but were able to meet all their custom orders. Things were back to normal now, although they had gotten cameras installed all around the building, they all had night vision and the lights at Sorelle were always left on at night now, even with the blinds rolled down.

 

“This is hopeless.” Taera mumbled as she clicked on the 48th page. She scrolled down the profile, it all seemed very normal.

 

“Check the Likes page.” Jiah murmured leaning over Taera to look at the iPad.

 

“Another Republican…and Taylor Swift fan.” Taera sighed as she scrolled down only to come to a halt when she saw a page called Sweet Desserts Ever After with a picture of a wedding cake. “This looks promising.” Taera clicked on the page to be redirected and quickly discovered that it was a business for made-to-order wedding cakes based out of Mt Pleasant, South Carolina, the next city over - owned by Sarah Jackson. There were multiple marketing posts on the page, including a post indicating that they were present at the bridal show in Charleston – where Sorelle had first tried out their targeted marking ads for wedding cakes.

 

Jesus Christ, it HAS to be her!” Jiah said. “Everything happened after the bridal show, after we started getting orders for wedding cakes – I can’t believe we didn’t think of this sooner. We didn’t check competition outside of Charleston.”

 

“Do you think she’s behind the vandalism too?” Taera asked as she scrolled through the woman’s profile page again. She looked to be in her early 30s and rather…normal but Taera guessed criminals didn’t always look like criminals.

 

“Is her friend list open? Check if she has Barbara Garcia on her friend list.” Jiah said, Taera nodded and searched for the name but nothing came up, she then searched for the last name alone and two people popped up, a Barb Garcia and an Anthony Garcia.

 

“People are such idiots, like if you’re going to do stupid shit at least make sure your Facebook profile is private.” Taera shook her head as she went through Anthony’s profile – turned out that he was married to Barb and worked for Sweet Desserts Ever After as a delivery man. He even had a picture of him standing in front of the delivery van with the logo on it, it was a black Honda Pilot. Taera rolled her eyes and screenshotted all the relevant pages on all three profiles before sending off an email to their lawyer with their suspicions.

 

“We should also tell the police right? They closed the case because there were no suspects but now we have some.” Jiah said and Taera nodded.

 


 

As it turned out, the police wouldn’t do anything…and Facebook screenshots weren’t proof, this infuriated Jiah immensely. Jiah had huffed and pleaded, and even raised her voice but nothing had happened. Even Daniel’s calm and collected I want to speak to the police chief hadn’t resulted in anything positive for them.

 

The police chief knew Daniel, having been invited to the same parties and galas, and agreed to see them. He was rather warm and cordial at first, but after he looked at the pictures he just looked right back up at the two of them and said that he couldn’t do anything about it. The case was closed, the CCTV footage had come out empty and the slip and fall case was a civil matter that they had nothing to do with. Daniel was aggressive at first but had quietened considerably as they sat in the chief’s office, it was like a switch suddenly turned off for him and he asked Jiah to get up and leave.

 

“What just happened?” Jiah asked as the two of them walked out of the police station.

 

“Did you see the picture on his desk, the one with the silver frame?” Daniel asked and Jiah shook her head no, she had noticed the frame but hadn’t noticed the picture at all.

 

“Show me the screenshots again.” Daniel said holding his hand out for Jiah’s phone. Jiah gave it to him with a confused look on her face. “I am pretty sure this woman was one of the people in the picture.” He said zooming into the Facebook profile of Sarah Jackson.

 

“No way.” Jiah scoffed.

 

“I am pretty good with faces.” Daniel shrugged as he unlocked the car and popped her door open.

 

“What is this city? Does everyone just know everyone?” Jiah whined as she got into the car murmuring a quiet thank you to Daniel before he closed the door and walked over to his side.

 

“It’s one of those places that people grow up in and never leave. The same few families run most of the city – the Chief Prosecutor is the brother-in-law of the Chief of Police, and the previous Mayor is their cousin. All the school board trustees and people in similar positions of power have the same type of links, the only place where there is some variety is the business sphere.” Daniel shrugged.

 

“So you think he is not acting because we’re accusing someone he knows…apparently well enough for her to be in a picture on his desk.” Jiah said, it was more a statement than a question so Daniel didn’t reply. “Do you think we should go to a different police station?”

 

“It won’t help, everything goes through him.” Daniel sighed pulling out of the parking lot.

 


 

Jiah and Taera found themselves at the Choi house discussing the lack of help from the police. Helen had insisted that Jiah join them for dinner, and Jiah had pulled Taera along with her because Daniel’s mother scared her slightly. Daniel had rolled his eyes and invited Aera and David, mostly at Aera’s insistence once she found out Taera was coming and William would obviously be there.

 

As it turned out, Jiah had nothing to worry about. Helen had mellowed out completely, rather than interrogating her she asked after her mother and her life in a friendly manner. She even complimented her, calling her beautiful and lively, and then started talking about how Anaya couldn’t stop talking about her and Taera. Jiah had whispered pinch me from her place between Aera and Daniel and then yelped when both of them had complied causing both William and Taera to hide their snickers behind their hands as they ate.

 

Anaya had taken up residence in Daniel’s lap and was playing with Jiah’s hair making the whole table laugh with her observations about everyday things. She had even asked Unca Dan when he was getting married to Miss Wiah. Helen and Aera had giggled and reassured the little girl it would happen in time while Daniel and Jiah had both paled. Daniel had all but choked on his food when Anaya asked for a cousin to play with because gownups were boring and her little bwother or sista needed little friends to play with.

 

Taera was very amused as she watched her best friend and her fake boyfriend. She was also having a lot of fun annoying William, she would steal food from his plate in effort to irritate him. He reacted at first with little glares and hisses but then had just rolled his eyes and grabbed more for himself and placed a spoonful in her plate as well.

 

Taera had later laughed and congratulated Jiah for winning the mother over and then teased her about a fake wedding and babies that were probably in the works. It made Jiah just a tad uncomfortable…this charade had to end at some point right? It seemed like Daniel as not bothered about it at all, he just went with the flow, he seemed so relaxed about it all but they were bringing up weddings and babies, it was clearly going too far?

 

Helen retired to bed early, taking Anaya with her, and leaving the six of them sitting around the firepit in the backyard, it seemed like only days ago when they had all been in this backyard for Anaya’s birthday party, Taera rather missed the bouncy castle and the ball pit, suggesting that they make them permanent additions to the backyard while sharing a smile with William.

 

“I say we look for evidence ourselves.” Taera said as they caught everyone up on what had happened. Daniel had found out the police chief was in fact related to Sarah Jackson – she was his daughter-in-law which complicated matters just a bit.

 

“She seems like a psychopath.” William said before reaching over and trying to grab popcorn from the bowl Taera had in her lap, continuing their game of annoyance from dinner. Aera had insisted on popcorn and had mixed it with M&Ms – from her secret stash that lay in the back of the kitchen cabinet that housed spices.

 

“Get your own.” Taera said whacking his hand away but he still managed to grab a handful causing her to huff in annoyance. Jiah and Aera looked at each other, rolling their eyes, the two of them had been doing that for the past thirty minutes. Taera could have easily moved away so the popcorn was out of reach for him but the two of them were now sitting closer than they were when they first sat down. They inched a bit closer every time they moved, pretending to adjust themselves. They hadn’t even hesitated before sitting next to each other, acting like there was no other option.

 

“I can’t believe someone would do that much.” Jiah sighed. “It scares me to know that someone could try damaging Sorelle again and it would make me feel better if there was some sense of justice. The police is obviously not helping.”

 

“And what you guys have right now is mere speculation, there is no way to prove the two incidents are linked and that she is behind them.” David added.

 

“And how do you suppose we look for evidence?” Daniel asked as Taera whacked William’s hand again. Aera was tempted to just get up and scream just kiss but she held herself back, barely.

 

“We infiltrate!” Jiah yelled happily as she bounced up. “We sneak into her place of business and look for proof, phone conversations, bank statements-”

 

“Oh, that definitely sounds like a safe option that will work.” Daniel said sarcastically.

 

“It will, we just need a disguise and a reason to go there.”

 

“And somehow distract all her employees and look at their personal information?” He scoffed. “This isn’t a movie, that shit doesn’t work in real life.” Daniel said.

 

“You’re the one who accused me of being a corporate spy when we first met!” She said.

 

“I didn’t know you then.” He said with a shrug. “Anaya would be a better corporate spy than you.” He teased causing her to gasp and whack his arm.

 

“Do you think this Sarah character knows what you look like?” David asked interrupting the blatant flirting going on, Taera and Jiah looked at each other and then shrugged.

 

“I doubt it, I am pretty good with faces and know that I have never encountered her.” Taera answered. “The lady who fell can probably recognize me since I was kneeling beside her, Jiah was pretty far and having a panic attack with her hand over her mouth. My social media accounts are very private and mostly Sorelle related but Jiah doesn’t have one.” Taera said.  

 

“So why don’t the two of you-” David pointed as Jiah and Daniel. “-pose as a couple looking for a wedding cake and go see her, see if you can pick up anything.” He shrugged.

 

“Or…how about I just have a private investigator sort it out?” Daniel suggested.

 

“Why must you steal all my happiness?” Jiah whined. “We can come up with an elaborate back story, taste cake and bust her at the same time.”

 

“I am diabetic.” Daniel pointed out.

 

“Well I am not.” Jiah shrugged. “And even if you are diabetic, you’re still going to have cakes and sweets at your wedding right?”

 

“I am not getting married.”

 

“Hypothetically then.”

 

“Then I’ll get whatever you want.” Daniel teased.

 

“Did he just imply that Jiah will be picking out their wedding cake?” Taera whispered to William as Daniel and Jiah continued to play hypothetically.

 

“Hypothetically, yes.” William whispered back, she could feel the words against her ears with the way his head was turned towards her.

 

“Do you think we should remind them that they’re in a fake relationship?” Taera asked as he stole more popcorn.

 

“I say we leave it for now.” He whispered, his lips almost brushing her ears.

 

In the end they decided two things, Daniel insisted that it would be too obvious if he and Jiah booked an appointment with the psychopath, the fact that they were both Korean and that Sorelle was owned by two Korean women would tip even an idiot off.

 

Jiah hesitantly agreed while glaring at Daniel and lamenting the fact that she couldn’t live out her spy fantasy. Daniel just rolled her eyes and said ‘you know you’re absolutely mad right’ but with a fond smile on his face. Daniel claimed that one of his employees was previously a PI, and often did research for Venture.

 

Jiah then had an aha moment figuring out how Daniel always knew so much about everyone he wanted to potentially work with, the girls hesitantly agreed again after Daniel reassured them that he didn’t mind using his resources that way.

 

They then decided that Barbara Garcia must be exposed, Taera was sure she was working with this Sarah Jackson – and that she was faking her injury. She had thought about the way she fell and how she got up again and again, something wasn’t sitting right with her about the situation. She suggested a stake-out outside her house, Daniel again suggested they leave it to his employee which caused Jiah to roll her eyes at him. But Taera said she didn’t feel right pulling an employee from Daniel like that although Daniel insisted.

 


 

William knew that Taera was up to something, he had been watching her from inside BARE – because she was up to something not only because he liked seeing her. His suspicion had first arisen when he saw her pull a box out of her trunk – it was a video camera apparent from the large picture on the box.

 

Why did Taera need a brand new video camera?

 

Then he noticed that she was wearing all black and her hair was tied up in a high ponytail, she looked like something right out of the comic books he so loved. He was distracted by her outfit for a while but then recalled that last time she had worn an all-black outfit, the day she had tried to spray paint his car.

 

If that wasn’t enough, she had Jiah drive her car home at the end of the day, keeping Jiah’s larger black Mazda with tinted windows – he even caught her standing on the sidewalk staring through the windows from multiple distances. It seemed like she was trying to see how much someone could see through the tint.

 

She was also acting rather jumpy, looking over her shoulder and mumbling to herself. William had stood by the front door of BARE as the sun set, watching her wave goodbye to Jiah, the camera in her hand. She had pretended to walk back towards Sorelle as Jiah was pulling away but then turned right back around and sat in the driver seat of the car when Jiah was out of sight.

 

William ran to his office, grabbed his cellphone and threw a sweatshirt over his head before running back towards the door, he yelled for Henry and Anne to lock up for the day before jogging over to the Mazda and knocking on the passenger side window. He saw her figure visibly jump at the sound but he couldn’t make out the expression on her face.

 

She rolled the window down slightly and looked towards him. “What?” She snapped. William could see she had opened the camera box and was setting it up, it was plugged in to charge via a USB cable.

 

“What are you up to?” He asked trying to open the door to the car but she quickly locked it before he could which made him all the more suspicious.

 

“Nothing, why would I be up to anything?” She laughed nervously and smiled a bit too widely, oh, he was definitely onto her.

 

“Unlock the car Taera.” He demanded while pulling on the handle.

 

“No, I think I am okay. You should go…workout, you’re looking rather weak.”

 

“I am going to sit on the hood of the car and not let you go anywhere if you don’t let me into this car now.” He said, raising his eyebrow at her in challenge. It seemed like she was calculating the likelihood of him going through with his threat, apparently his face was convincing because she sighed in defeat and unlocked the door. He quickly jumped in and sat in the passenger seat, closing the door behind him and turning towards her.

 

“You’re being annoying again.” She groaned.

 

“And you’re up to something, spill.” He said turning his body so he was facing her. He watched her face as she seemed to think about what to tell him, it seemed like she was running multiple scenarios in her head because she occasionally shook her head slightly as if disregarding one idea and then got a thoughtful look again. “Put on your seatbelt.” She finally said, turning the car on and putting her own seatbelt on.

 

“Where are you going?” He asked again, she looked rather determined and was tapping the steering wheel with her fingers.

 

“You’ll find out.” She said as she pulled out of the parking spot. William’s many questions were met with silence as she drove to the outskirts of town. He tried to guess where she was going but eventually gave up and minutes later Taera pulled into a small neighbourhood with one-story houses lining a long and narrow street, she parked her car on the side of the road by a mailbox surrounded by a row of trees, directly in between two houses on the other side.

 

“Where are we?” William asked looking around, it was a residential neighbourhood that he hadn’t been to before.

 

“That house-” She said pointing to the house down the road slightly from where the car was parked. “-belongs to the lady who sued us. Welcome to my first official stakeout.” She said with a smile as she turned to him.

 

“You’ve got to be kidding me. Daniel said he could handle it.” William groaned, looking back at her with an exasperated look as her eyes narrowed.

 

“I am losing sleep over her, running the fall in my head over and over again, matching it to the doctor’s note she submitted as evidence and nothing is adding up. I want to have my normal amazing dreams again.” She sighed. William raised his eyebrow as her eyes widened after the words left her mouth, her face also flushed. “Anyways, we are going to collect proof that she’s lying.” Taera said turning towards the dashboard and clearing her throat.

 

“We?”

 

“You signed up yourself buddy.” She shrugged.

 

“This is ridiculous, we’re leaving.”

 

“You’re welcome to walk back.”

 

“Taera, I expected this from Jiah…not you.” He groaned.

 

“She suggested it…actually, it was a joke, she said she wished she could do this…so I am doing it. Jiah can’t sit in a car for hours, she’d go crazy. Plus she’s on a date with Daniel to another fancy dinner tonight.” Taera shrugged, her friend would inevitably get bored and get distracted, which was not what they needed.

 

William watched as Taera started playing around with the camera, setting it on the dashboard to face the house in question, the driveway was empty and the lights inside the house were off indicating that no one was home. William watched as the red light in started flashing, indicating that the recording was on.

 

“This is unreasonable, you can sit out here for hours and not catch anything.” He pointed out.

 

“I have a plan for that too, we are waiting for her to come back home with her husband, I drove by here multiple times yesterday and they come back around 8:30pm.” She said, she looked at the clock on the dashboard which indicated it was only 7:45pm. “If we don’t catch her now, I’ll come back in the morning and catch her on her way to work.”

 

William tried his best to convince Taera to go home but she wouldn’t budge even when he threatened to call Jiah. Taera pointed out that her best friend would just be upset that she didn’t tag along. He then threatened to call Daniel and Taera scoffed indicating that she wasn’t scared of him. He even pointed out that it was probably illegal to collect surveillance like this but she had just shrugged indicating that she could park her car anywhere, and technically this would count as dashcam footage.

 

She eventually pushed her car seat back all the way, reclining it completely to lay down while keeping an eye on the camera that was recording. She rolled down her window slightly to listen for noise and to get some fresh air in the car – which he guessed was good because she smelled like vanilla and roses and he was tempted to bury his face into her neck.

 

She even made William recline his seat because she didn’t want anyone to see that there were people in the car. William groaned but complied, they sat in silence for about two minutes until Taera insisted they play 20 questions. It intrigued William enough to agree although he did so hesitantly after they established some ground rules, they would ask a question and both people would answer it in order to mitigate the risk of getting questions they did not want to answer.

 

“If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?” Taera asked turning towards him slightly, he was already looking towards her, tracing her face with his eyes because he had never seen her like this - in the dark, her face only visible because of the street lights shining through the windows.

 

It was a rather intimate, they were confined in a closed space alone, the car was rather dark and the center console was only thing between the two of them. It was close enough that he could lean in and kiss her. But she was arching her eyebrow and he realized he had to answer the question.

 

“I thought you’d start with ‘what’s your favorite coloror something.” He mumbled.

 

“I only have 20 questions, I am not going to waste them on your favorite color…it’s grey isn’t it?” She asked and giggled when his eyes widened. “You’re awfully predictable.” She shrugged. “Now answer my question.”

 

“It would be amazing to retain my body…but I think I would choose my mind because it makes more sense.”

 

“You’d get a lot of female attention if you chose body.” She teased, waggling her eyebrows.

 

“I think at the point I’d probably only care about the attention of one woman.” He shrugged.

 

“Awww.” She gushed. “That’s cute.”

 

“What about you?” He asked.

 

“Definitely mind, I’ve worked with a lot of older patients and I think the dementia and memory loss are the worst thing about growing old. You can get mobility aids but not brain aids.”

 

“Makes sense.” William nodded leaning up slightly as a car passed, the headlights illuminating their own car, but it passed them and disappeared behind them.

 

“Your turn, pick an interesting question.” Taera said as he fell back into the seat and turned back towards her.

 

William hummed as he tried to think of a question. “Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time?” He asked.

 

William watched intrigued as Taera’s eyes widened and she blushed before shaking her head and clearing her throat, that was the second time today and he wondered what she was thinking about. He was sure she whispered something but he didn’t catch it. “It’s going to sound really cliché but travelling. I feel like I missed out on so much due to being so focused on school and now on Sorelle, I want to do what everyone does in their 20s, go on crazy trips around the world.”

 

“What’s your top place to visit?”

 

“Paris again, we visited on a high school trip but it was so brief, I just want to get lost in the streets and watch the Eiffel Tower light up at night.”

 

“Sounds nice.” He said with a smile.

 

“What about you? What dream haunts your sleep?”

 

William smiled briefly recalling his current dreams which all seemed to feature Taera, even if the dream made no sense and was him just jumping from place to place, she was there with him. And the few dreams that made sense seemed to revolve around the two of them too, in various stages of undress at times, but he knew that’s not what she was asking despite her wording. “To make the Fortune 500, I’ve wanted it since I was 8.” He admitted.

 

“Ambitious, I think you’re well on your way.” She said.

 

“Most people think that’s a weird dream to have at the age of 8.”

 

“I wanted to be on Oprah at the age of 8. I think it seems weird to people who weren’t always high-achievers, there’s always this invisible push, and sometimes it’s a visible one, to prove yourself, to just excel at life and not be average. And weird things like being on Oprah and making the Fortune 500 seem like a milestone that will prove you’re not mediocre.” She shrugged.

 

William once again was taken aback by the dichotomy that was Taera, she was so immature at times, doing things like rubbing icing over his car. But then she would turn around and say something that made her seem so sorted and mature. And it also seemed like she just understood him without him having to spell things out for her. It was…nice.

 

“My turn! What’s your most treasured memory?” She asked turning in her seat so she was completely sideways. William sighed and turned facing her, meeting her eyes. She looked right back at him, not blinking, looking straight at him, almost as if she was staring through his soul with those pretty brown eyes of hers.

 

He was already speaking before he even consciously decided to share the particular memory with her, no one else knew it was his favourite but he wanted to tell her – because she asked and she genuinely seemed interested.

 

“I was five. Henry was a newborn. Between him being so young and everything else that was going on in life eomma was so busy and it seemed like she had no time for me.” He said, noticing her face softening as the words left his mouth. She nodded for him to continue.  

 

“I was rather…miserable as a child, you can imagine that no one would want to be friends with a child who always felt the need to tell everyone what to do and got angry when they didn’t do things perfectly.”

 

“That must have been lonely.” She mumbled, a sad smile on her face.

 

He nodded. “It was, if I didn’t have siblings I would have had no friends, but even with them it was rather lonely. Daniel and Aera were older, and better friends with each other than I was with either of them.”

 

“Is that why you moved away?” She whispered, her eyes searching his.

 

“A part of it I guess, for the longest time it felt like they didn’t need me. And I kind of got used to being alone.” He shrugged.

 

“William.” She sighed. “They love you, all of them. I have heard every one of them say that they’re glad you’re back.” She whispered.

 

“I know that now, but at one point I didn’t and I pushed them away because I thought they didn’t want me around.” He shrugged.

 

“Even though you’re super annoying sometimes Villan Choi, we all love having you around.” She said, a testing smile on her face.

 

“We?” He asked, she had included herself in it.

 

“You haven’t answered the question, most treasured memory!” She promoted, ignoring his question, he let her, for now – but on the inside he felt his heart warm and his stomach tighten at her words, she loved having him around.

 

“Right, so I was five, everything was busy but one day eomma got up and took me on a trip, just the two of us like the old days – we used to do these trips with her one at a time which stopped after my - father left. It was all very normal, we went to the pier, fed some ducks, played in the park, got pizza and went to the town fair but it was my most favourite day.” He shared, he still remembered where they got pizza, he had gotten cheese pizza and his mom had pushed him on the swing until he was tired from screaming happily.

 

“Why that day?” She whispered.

 

“It had been a tough year and I guess I just felt like a kid again. I find myself kind of repeating the motions on a bad day, I’ll go to a pier and feed the ducks, sit on a swing and get pizza if it’s a really bad day. It just makes me happy.” He said watching as she nodded and smiled as he spoke. It was one of things that drew him to her, she always listened, even when they were arguing – she made him feel like she cared about what he said.

 

“I am scared of ducks.” She shared a few seconds later.

 

“Traumatic experience?” He asked and watched as she nodded.

 

“I was a toddler and we went to Central Park, my dad and I were feeding the ducks and they just wouldn’t stop following me and pecking at my feet. I cried and have hated them since. I take the long way around them if I ever come across them. If you tell anyone I’ll kill you.” She threatened at the end with a laugh.

 

“Your secret is safe with me. They’re not that scary though.” He said but stopped when her eyes narrowed. “Fine, they can be scary.” He said. “Can I ask you something, outside of the 20 questions before you tell me about your favourite memory?”

 

“Sounds like you’re cheating but I am interested, ask.” She said.

 

“How come you never ask me about my father? I have mentioned him a handful of times without any context but you never asked for more information.” He asked, most people were nosy, they wanted to know everything.

 

“It’s kind of obvious that he is a touchy subject with you, so I figured you’d tell me if or when you want to.” She shrugged with a small smile on her face.

 

He suddenly had this urge to just pull her towards him and kiss her, it was moments like this when he felt like he wasn’t a complete idiot for being so smitten with this woman, she was just so…Taera.

 

“Tell me about your favourite memory.” He said going back to the question he had just answered.

 

“Hmmmmmmm, I guess mine is more a series of memories or a tradition from when I was younger. Whenever I had a bad day, my dad and I would build this massive pillow fort in our living room, my mom would make us grilled cheese and Demi would sneak in chocolate from mom’s hidden stash. We all just sat inside the fort and played games and fell asleep in the living room. It just made everything so much better. We stopped when I started university but I still miss it, it was a simple time.” Taera said as she peered over the steering wheel to check if there was a car coming down the road. “Your turn.”

 

“Hmmm. What’s one secret you’re still keeping from your parents?” He asked with a  grin.

 

“You’re getting shockingly good at this game, I don’t like it.” She groaned.

 

“You said that I needed to ask good questions.” He laughed.  

 

“You can’t repeat a word of this to anyone.” She said looking at him and he nodded. “I was nine and we talked about 911 in class, and I was so curious to see if it actually worked. So when my mother was napping I called them and then someone picked up and I freaked out and hung up, ran into the bathroom. They called back, and my mom picked up and the lady on the phone was apparently rather rude, understandably now. To this day, I refuse to admit that I was the one to do it, I blamed Demi, she had just turned 4!”

 

“Poor Demi.” William laughed.

 

“You can’t say anything!”

 

“Your secret is safe with me.”

 

“Better take it to your grave William or I will be the reason you end up in a grave.” She threatened, it was rather cute because she pouted while she did it. “What about you?” She asked.

 

“What happened on prom night.” He said and Taera arched her eyebrow at him in question. “Daniel insisted that I take his girlfriend’s little sister to prom because it was uncool to be dateless. And also because he wanted to take his girlfriend out on a date the whole night – she lied to her parents and said she was going to the after party with her younger sister.”

 

Oh God, did you lose your V-card on prom night?” Taera waggled her eyebrows causing him to laugh and shake his head.

 

“No, not for the lack of trying though.” He said, flushing slightly, wondering if he should be telling her this. “I had what Henry refers to as a seriousglow-up’ the last year of high school through university, I was rather an awkward nerd during school and all of a sudden there was this girl who just agreed to come to prom with me. And I had no idea what to do and Daniel was insistent that the back seat of the car on prom night was the place to lose your virginity but I was so uncomfortable.” He watched her to see if she looked put off by the story but she was smiling so he continued.

 

“We were only making out when there was a loud knock on the window. Daniel was standing there, in his boxers, a frantic look on his face. I was honestly so relieved at the interruption.” He said and she started laughing. “I rolled the window down and he was freaking out about how his girlfriend’s father – who was also the father of my date - had caught them in the back of his car and was running after him…with a gun.”

 

“No!” Taera gasped.

 

“My date was sure that her father wouldn’t hesitate to pull the gun on Daniel so we rescued him, she sat in the back while Daniel hopped in the front…in just his boxers. Our car was chased by her father’s car – we were able to drop my date at her friend’s house but we literally drove half of the night and hid out behind a barn on the outskirts of town to save ourselves.” He said pausing and smiling at the way she was laughing, her eyes crinkled and nose scrunched.

 

“We had no idea how we were going to get home, Daniel’s clothes were in his girlfriend’s car but we were so scared to go back. Eomma kept calling us but I didn’t know what to tell her…and Daniel was scared shitless. But we went home and eomma was just so taken aback, I was fully clothed and Daniel was sitting in the passenger seat in just his boxers, the rest of his clothes missing. She hasn’t asked to date what happened that night and I haven’t told her but I swear she sometimes just looks between Daniel and I weirdly.”

 

Taera was literally crying and holding her stomach as she laughed, the whole car filling with the sound of her tinkling laughter. “I would pay a million bucks just to watch that all play out. Oh God, that would be epic. I wonder what your mom was thinking.”

 

“I think she was just glad that I had my clothes on to be honest.” William said before they both broke out into laughter.  

 

“He ruined your plan though, robbed you of the cliché American experience.”

 

“I was kind of glad.” He sighed, and he was, he had been so nervous and just not ready.

 

“So you didn’t try again with your date, did her father scare you too much?” She teased.

 

“He was huge and he had a gun!”

 

“Aw, you poor thing. You had to wait until university.”

 

“Why do I have a sneaking suspicion you lost your virginity on prom night?” He asked.

 

“I did not! It was a week after…in the backseat of a car.” She said sheepishly, he felt a flare of jealousy run through him but then shook himself out of it, it was stupid.

 

“How cliché.”

 

“It was horrible.” She groaned making him laugh.

 

“I am sorry.”

 

“You act like your first time was amazing.” She rolled her eyes.

 

“It was…forgettable.” He sighed.

 

She seemed to pick up on whatever his face showed her because she arched her eyebrow and whispered a quiet why.

 

“It was with my first girlfriend…she cheated on me a while later.” He shrugged.

 

“I am sorry, that must have been hard.”

 

He nodded. It had been. Made him hesitant to enter relationships since he had been burnt so badly – he decided to shift his focus completely after that, just focusing on school and becoming successful. Aera had tried her best to push him to date but he just hadn’t connected with anyone.

 

“We should find her and egg her house.” Taera said making him chuckle.

 

“I am not bothered by it anymore.” He shrugged.

 

“I imagine it has always been hard for you to let people in, and it must have hurt a lot.” She whispered after a few seconds of silence, she always just seemed to know.

 

“I don’t even know where she lives.”

 

“Did you ever get closure?” She asked.

 

“I guess not, I just found out and then I never talked to her again.”

 

“Oh hell no, we’re going to find her and you’re going to say fuck you to her and do something totally stupid and juvenile like egging her house or deflating her tires or just making her feel like crap. If she cheated on you, she deserves at least that!”

 

“Ah, so this is what it feels like when your vindictive streak works for me rather than against me.” He teased, he could feel the smile on his face because his jaw was hurting from smiling.

 

“You would benefit from having me by your side.” She laughed. Oh, he knew that, he wanted it.

 

“She wanted to go to medical school, didn’t get in.” He shared.

 

“HA! You should totally introduce me as your girlfriend to her and I can tell her all about my time at Columbia – leaving out the part where I dropped out.” She teased, he smiled because she was so ready to be introduced as his girlfriend.

 

“You’re a little scary.” He said, he had a feeling that anyone who crossed her regretted it.

 

“I just hate cheaters.”

 

“Me too.” He said, there was his father who cheated on his mother and his only actual girlfriend that cheated on him.

 

“Can I tease Daniel about the prom night story?” She asked a few seconds later, causing both of them to burst out into laughter.

 

“Yes.” He laughed, Daniel always blushed and stuttered when it was brought up.

 

“What would be your perfect day?” She asked once the laughter died down.

 

William looked at her and sighed. Her eyes were shining with mirth, her lips pulled up in a smile, and her face flushed from all the laughing. She looked so happy and it made him feel rather warm in his chest. And at that moment he was sure that his perfect day would be waking up beside this woman with her smiling at him just like she was now, talking about random things and laughing about them. And maybe one day they’d wake up surrounded by their children. Followed by breakfast with her and their kids and lunch with all of his family and friends, their children running around with Taera by his side talking and laughing just like they were now.

 

It just felt right even though it was a bit scary. Maybe this was the moment he was waiting for, the moment he told her that he had feelings for her. But his heart was thumping in his chest and his palms were sweaty, it was like prom night again but so much more nerve-wracking because he couldn’t afford to mess this up, Taera seemed to be everything he didn’t know he needed.

 

He broke out of his reverie when headlights lit up the inside of the car, he sighed. “Ask me that another time.” He said as both of them leaned up to see a van pull into the driveway.

 

Taera checked the camera quickly to ensure it was capturing the scene. “It’s them, that’s the van they use to deliver cakes.” She said. She watched as a tall man jumped out the driver side door.

 

“We should have parked on the other side.” William groaned.

 

“They backed into their driveway yesterday.” Taera whined. They both watched as a head appeared on the other side of the car from the passenger side door. “Please walk around the back.” Taera whispered as the man popped the trunk open. Taera let out a nervous hum and grabbed his hand as they saw a figure walking over to the trunk from the passenger side door. “Oh God, it’s her, the short brown hair, the body, she’s walking, she shouldn’t be able to STAND without support!” She said hitting his arm repeatedly with her words.

 

“You can’t see her face in the video.” William pointed out. “Start the car on, put the high beam on and turn it towards their driveway and slowly drive towards it.” He said grabbing the camera and holding it in the middle of the dashboard.

 

“That’ll give us away! If we don’t catch her face then we can’t do this again.” She said turning to him, her eyes wide.

 

“Taera, trust me. They’ll turn around to see what the light is, it’ll be hard to see into the car with the light in their eyes.” He reassured her.

 

Taera sighed and nodded, turning the car on and slowly moving towards their driveway angling the car as if she was about to park behind them. She switched the high beam light on and as suspected they both turned around looking right towards the car.

 

“Honk your horn aggressively.” He said. “We need her to walk towards the car. But get ready to back away and whip down the road as soon as I say so.” His eyes were on the video camera, watching the little screen where everything was being recorded.

 

Taera complied and honked her horn multiple times, both the man and woman walked towards the car and Taera let out a little scream. “Back away now, quickly!” William yelled and Taera threw the car in reverse and put it back into drive as William took the camera into his hands pointing it towards the driveway where both the man and woman were walking towards their car, Taera hit the accelerator hard and the car lurched forward and she zoomed down the road, turning onto a random larger road hoping it would bring her out to the main road.

 

“I feel like I am going to have a heart attack.” Taera yelled as she turned onto a random street.

 

“Stop! You’re going in circles, no one is following us.” William said causing her to slow down and pull to the side of the road.

 

Oh God, that was exhilarating.” She gasped. “Did you get something?”

 

William stopped the recording and rewound, Taera leaned towards his side, moving herself so her knees were on her seat. Her head was hovering over his shoulder so she could see the screen. William stopped when he saw the car turning onto the driveway, they watched as the Garcias got out of their car, Taera could hear both her and William’s voice as the camera moved and Taera turned the lights on in the video and approached the two.

 

“WE GOT HER SHE’S WALKING YOU CAN SEE HER FACE!” Taera screeched happily when the light illuminated her face and the fact that she was walking towards the car briskly. “You’re a genius.” She laughed placing a kiss on William’s cheek in her exuberance. “Thank you.” She whispered against his ear before jumping back into her seat, her face flushed. William was sure he looked like an idiot with a huge smile on his face.

 

“We’ll have to send this to the lawyer. Ahhh, Jiah is going to be so envious!” Taera laughed as she started driving back towards Sorelle.

Chapter Text

“Where have you been?” Demi asked as Taera stepped through the door to the house, she sounded so much like their mother that Taera jumped for a second before realizing it was her sister.

 

“At work, mother.

 

“You weren’t there, I called.” Demi said as she leaned against the arm of the sofa in the living room.

 

Taera sighed. “I went on a stakeout.”

 

Demi arched her eyebrow as Taera walked towards her. Taera had wanted to wait until Jiah was home to share but she had a hard time containing herself.

 

“We caught Barbara Garcia walking on camera! The case will likely be thrown out!” Taera squealed expecting Demi to scream.

 

“We?” She asked instead, her eyebrow arching.

 

“Uh…William and I.” Taera said sheepishly.

 

“You asked him to go with you?” Demi beamed.

 

“No…he thought I was being suspicious and forced me to take him with me.” She muttered, she was glad he did but she wasn’t going to tell Demi that. He had been worried for her – it reminded him of the night he spent on her sofa. Her heart was still pounding in her chest, like it had been the whole night with him in the car, she could still smell his cologne.

 

“Hm, I am sure that was the last thing you wanted.” Demi giggled.

 

Taera groaned. “Demiiiiiii, he’s perfecttttttttt.” She whined as she walked towards the couch and plopped down on it, right where he had lay.

 

“We all know that.” Demi said as she fell back onto the couch she was leaning against, laying down and kicking her feet onto the arm rest.

 

“I have been kinda going through the questions with him, not the exact ones but similar.”

 

“From the article?” Demi asked.

 

Taera nodded, referring to journal article that researched relationships and fostering intimacy, they had come up with a list of 36 questions that apparently lead to love. It’s not that she asked him the same questions or anything, but ones that fit the themes the article had identified and ones she was curious about. At first it had been unknowingly, she asked those questions to everyone but no one really answered them in the way they were supposed to. But William did.

 

“Bitchhhhh, you got it bad! For how long?”

 

“Since that night at Aera’s.”

 

“YOU ARE SUCH A LIAR YOU WERE STILL SAYING IT WAS SEXUAL ATTRACTION THEN! AND YOU WERE LITERALLY TRYING TO SEE IF YOU COULD FALL FOR HIM!” Demi yelled before throwing a cushion towards her, she had horrible aim and it flew over the couch.

 

“Stop screaming.” Taera mumbled. “It was an experiment…an unconscious and very unmethodical one. I just asked some of the questions and then it just went somewhere else.”

 

“Organically?”

 

“Mhmm. It started after Jiah’s mom made a quip about medical school, it just happened, he just asked and I was telling him all these things that I don’t tell anyone. And then he reciprocated and told me about growing up with OCPD and it’s just been spiralling since.”

 

“Ah, mutual vulnerability fosters closeness and all that. Is he?”

 

“What?”

 

“Vulnerable with you?”

 

“Yes. He’s so open, he told me things he apparently doesn’t tell other people. He actually answers questions, doesn’t beat around the bush. And it’s genuine things, not things that will make him look good. And I didn’t even prompt him to play the game in any way, he asked questions that fell into the sphere too. And every time he shares something new I feel like I fall harder.” She pouted.

 

“You guys are literally like ten stages into a relationship without even being in one.” Demi sighed.

 

“I want to have his babies.”

 

Demi laughed. “I know.”

 

“No, you don’t understand. I asked him what his perfect day would be and he didn't say anything, just stared at me like he was imagining what the future would hold and the way he looked at me made me want to melt. Like I was a part of the future he was imagining.” She shared, placing her hand over her chest, her heart rate was accelerating at the mere thought and recollection of how he had looked at her.

 

Demi squealed. “And what did he say?”

 

“Ask me another time – Barbara pulled up then.” She groaned.

 

“What did you think he was going to say?”

 

“He looked nervous.”

 

“And?” Demi prompted.

 

“I wanted to kiss him and tell him that I want to have his babies.”

 

Demi snickered. “Don’t scare him off.”

 

Taera groaned. “I kissed him-”

 

“AHHHHH BITCH START WITH THAT -”

 

“On the cheek!”

 

“-OH. Still cute! What did he do?”

 

“He just smiled. I swear his smile can be a tool to achieve world peace.” She sighed, it was perfect, his lips pulled up, his dimples showed and his eyes crinkled.

 

Demi snickered. “You got it bad.”

 

“I know, I felt so shy after that I just looked out the window the rest of the drive.” She groaned.

 

“And then?”

 

“I dropped him outside BARE and he just smiled as he got out of the car, told me that he’d see me tomorrow…and told me to drive safe.”

 

“Sounds like a stakeout date…between twelve year olds.” Demi teased.

 

“He is SO cute, I can’t deal with it. I literally lose ALL my words, I don’t know why. I never lose my words but that dimpled SMILE is like a brain erase button, my mind goes completely blank. It’s so easy – I just need to say I have feelings for you – or just KISS him but every time I think about it my heart decides to race so quickly that I think I am going to DIE and my mind goes on vacation and I – ughhhhhh.”

 

“Just kiss him next time, skip the words or you’ll say something stupid like I want to have your babies.”

 

“No, but imagine how cute our babies would be, Demi!”

 

“Taera! Focus! Admit your feelings first, plan out your babies later.”

 

“Too late.”

 

Demi groaned. “You’re such a weirdo…how many?”

 

“Three. I had a dream.”

 

“About your kids?”

 

“Mhmm, three of them, there was a girl and a boy, they looked about the same age, their faces were tucked into his neck and there was a baby resting on my chest – they looked like the perfect mix of the two of us.”

 

“You don’t do anything half way do you?” Demi sighed. “Even the man you fall for is the forever type of perfect person you want to have babies with, 4.0 on the first try Miss Jeong.”

 

“You think?”

 

“I knew you had it bad before I even saw the two of you together.”  

 

“And now?” Taera laughed.

 

“I am wondering if I should fight Jiah to be the maid of honor at your wedding.”

 

“STOPPPPPPPPPPPPPP!” Taera screamed at the thought of a wedding.

 

“YOU WERE JUST TALKING ABOUT CHILDREN!”

 

“THAT’S DIFFERENT!”

 

“It really isn’t.” Demi snickered.

 

“I want it all.” Taera mumbled a couple of seconds later.

 

She wanted to spend her evenings with him, going places with her hands in his. She wanted to cuddle with him on the sofa she was laying on right then, she wanted to watch movies and tempt him to eat junk. She wanted him to follow her around the kitchen like he had that day, helping her cook before settling on the table to eat, she wanted to bicker while they stole food off each other’s plate.

 

She wanted to talk to him about everything and nothing all at once, to share every thought that crossed her mind as she curled up with him, without the distance. She wanted to hold him when he got that sad look on his face as he remembered something that had hurt. She wanted to cup his face and just…comfort him, wrap herself around him and just make sure he was okay. She wanted to hear more stories, more happy memories of him growing up.

 

She wanted to tease him about being too healthy, bake him all the things he wanted and tempt him with all he was missing. She could imagine him not wanting to eat cake and forcing him to take a bite – she wanted to fight over her plate of cake with him, maybe for the rest of her life and that thought scared her slightly.

 

She wanted the get-togethers with his family to be different, she wanted to lean against him and curl up with him – like Aera did with David. And she wanted her own children to be running around the house, crawling after Anaya, she had a feeling Anaya would be like a troop leader.

 

She wanted to watch him carry their children back home, to tuck them in with him, read stories to them and then fall asleep beside him. She had never let herself think about domestic things like that before, she had always thought she wouldn’t have children, she wanted to be a surgeon, she wanted to eventually teach at a medical school and do research, and it seemed impossible to balance that and a family.

 

So she hadn’t let herself think about it, because she knew from the people she looked up to, the really successful female professors who did ground-breaking research while practicing, and saw that they had to make a choice. Most of them didn’t have children, and one of them had shared that she had made the choice because she didn’t want to give birth to children and then leave them to grow up seeing her fleetingly or resent them because choosing to have children would set her career back.

 

It had been an eye-opening conversation, one she had at an informal get-together at the professor’s house – she had one every year for her research students and lab members. And it had further cemented her plans in a way, become a surgeon, exclusively practice for a couple of years, teach, research, potentially get a PhD – there was no wedding or children in her plan.

 

The longer she thought about it now, the more she realized that in a way she had been set up to follow the life path she had chosen, to make sacrifices for what was supposed to make her the happiest – a thriving career. There was always the ‘you can’t have it all’ mentality, and she had chosen career. She knew the statistics, that between 33-50% of successful career oriented women in the United States did not have children, and some of it was because by the time they were done establishing themselves it was too late to have children and the effort it took to conceive often threatened to derail the careers they had spent so long building up.

 

Those long hours needed to build careers overlapped perfectly with the prime childbearing years, and unlike with other things in life, there was no catching up or stopping the biological clock. And if women decided to take a break in those years, they paid almost a penalty, wage gaps increased, opportunities decreased. And this fact went ignored by most of the world, even those at the frontlines shouting for equality. Everyone thought the world would be fine as soon as legislation stop discriminating against women, they failed to recognized that it wasn’t enough. The problem wasn’t just a lack of rights or reproductive freedom, it was that dual burden, of wanting a career and wanting a family, a burden that wasn’t addressed.

 

Because having a family didn’t derail high-achieving men, about 80% of the ones who wanted children had them. They didn’t deal with the side effects of pregnancy, they didn’t give birth, and the policy of maternal leave lasting longer than paternal leave meant that women were still expected to care for children. The disparity had been another reminder to her that true gender equality would always be hard to achieve as long as women were the only ones that could carry children.

 

So she had decided that she wouldn’t even bother. She had been happy with her decision. Until she was unhappy, with the constant sacrifices – not going out with friends because of exams, not dating because there was no time, not going on trips over the summer because research and getting ahead was more important.  Back then, she hadn’t been flexible, she knew she couldn’t have it all, but she hadn’t even considered that she could balance it by making different choices in her professional life, that she could have some things professionally and some personally.

 

She hadn’t known balance, that she should just focus on the immediate goal – getting through medical school and then worry about the long-term, and that doing things she enjoyed while she was chasing her dream would have helped her. But she had wanted career over everything then, family hadn’t been a priority, it was even hard to make time for the family she did have. It was why her initial dream about having children with the man that worked out on the treadmill at the gym across the street every day at the same time had scared her.

 

But the more she thought about it the more it made sense, and it no longer felt like she was making a sacrifice. And she hated herself for the way she had thought all those years, as if choosing family over career was wrong, an internalized form of misogyny she had to work hard to unlearn. There was nothing wrong with either path. She wasn’t letting her dreams go, she was just dreaming of a more balanced life, where she had time for work and a family. That seemed rewarding to her, perhaps even better for her mental health. And there was nothing wrong with that.

 

Everyone had their own path, and maybe hers was running Sorelle and taking chances on what life had to offer her, and for the first time in a really long time she liked where things were going. It made her happy…and she felt like she was ready to take the leap.

 

“Are you thinking about what your children will look like?” Demi asked, breaking her out of her thoughts.

 

“No.” She laughed. “Just thinking about how things have changed so much over the past two years.”

 

Demi sighed, Taera knew that she understood exactly what she meant. “You’re happier now, aren’t you?” She asked.

 

“Much happier.” She said. “Thank you.”

 

“I didn’t do anything.”

 

“I recall someone telling me that my goal in life should be to be happy.” Taera said, turning towards her sister who smiled.

 

“You were always too hard on yourself…and I know I don’t say this enough but seeing you happy like this makes me happy. You’ve come such a long way.”

 

“I know…I want children.” She laughed.

 

“You’ve always wanted them Taera, you just told yourself you couldn’t.”

 

“Stop being a smartass, that’s my job.”

 

“Can’t help it, it’s in the genes baby.”

 

“You’re the baby.” Taera laughed. “And since we’re being sappy and shit, I am glad you’re taking a break and not stressing too much.”

 

“I saw what it did to you, and honestly – at the end of the day - I’ll be happy with wherever I end up, I’ll try again for clinical, but I’ll also apply to counselling and social work programs. Getting away from eomma and home for a bit has helped a lot too.”

 

“That sounds like a plan, but I have a feeling you’ll get in to clinical, you’re my sister after all.”

 

“Yeah, I’ve been providing years of unpaid therapy to you.”

 

“I hate you!” Taera laughed, throwing a cushion towards Demi who just laughed and caught it.

 


 

Jiah was freaking out internally, yet again. She felt that in the recent weeks too many people had asked her about her future plans with Daniel. His niece all but insisted they get married and everyone they were running into asked the same. But this time Savannah had casually joked that she expected an invitation to the wedding, and then laughed promising she wouldn’t try to outdo the bride.

 

It started out much like the gala had, Daniel took her around the room whispering information into her ear as they approached people he wanted to chat with. But in between all of that he did things like fix her hair and tell her hilarious stories that had her hanging onto his arms and laughing.

 

It was all going well and then they ran into Savannah who greeted them both warmly, Daniel had frozen next to her for a minute but then thawed considerably asking after the charities she was involved in…apparently a lot. Jiah wondered if Savannah had a bit too much to drink that night because all of a sudden she was talking about how she never thought she’d see the day where Daniel would be smitten. It seemed to make Daniel decidedly uncomfortable to have his supposed feelings discussed out loud. It was then she had said she expected an invitation to the wedding.

 

This apparently set the whole party abuzz and multiple people came up to the two of them inquiring about their wedding, it had been rather awkward to laugh it off and say they hadn’t discussed it yet. A few of the older patrons had shook their head at Daniel and insisted he get his head out of his ass and propose to the beautiful young lady. Jiah had tried to laugh it off and say she wasn’t ready yet.

 

She had run to the bathroom where she overheard two women discussing that the oldest Choi Brother seemed to be off the market. One of them even mentioned that she had been sure he wouldn’t marry Savannah Kim years ago but this time he seemed smitten. It seemed like the whole world was marrying her to Daniel in their head.

 

Instead of feeling happy like she had previously, she felt uncomfortable and wondered what the future had in store for them. Her own mother was back in New York, inquiring about Daniel over the phone occasionally, his mother had backed off about Savannah and now seemed to be getting invested in their relationship which seemed like a problem to Jiah. Her new friends – Aera, David, Irene, Henry, William – were all his family and when they all hung out together it felt like she and Daniel were a couple.

 

To make things more confusing, Aera sometimes seemed shocked with all that Daniel shared with her. Jiah knew about everything from his first kiss – at the age of 7 – to his first real crush in high school, to his hilarious prom night escapades to his only serious relationship with Savannah. They talked about his father a bit and how much he hated the man and the pressure that Daniel had experienced to ensure that his family never need anything from his father or his side of the family.

 

Jiah wanted to blame Taera for the closeness she shared with Daniel. It was only months ago that Taera had read a journal article that researched fostering closeness, they had come up with a list of questions to ask to get to know someone. Between all the family dinners, business dinners and time they spent together they were now done with most of the questions and Jiah felt that he knew more about her than anyone else apart from Taera.

 

And she was having dreams about him, she wasn’t a person who usually had dreams or someone who couldn’t remember them well. But after the morning she woke up in bed with Daniel at the Watts house she had been having dreams that rivaled Taera’s. They frequently featured her with her hands cuffed to the ornate gold frame of the bed in the Watts  guest bedroom, Daniel’s hands and lips kissing down her body. Every time she moaned or shuddered he would stop and concentrate on the spot that made her react, touching, licking, kissing, sucking and biting.

 

He only moved on when she moaned his name loudly and repeated the process all over again. He watched her face closely as he played with her, slowing down every time she was close, until she writhed and begged. She had woken up and taken a cold shower at 3am after that dream only to wake up gasping his name at 6am. In her second dream, her hands and mouth were exploring his body while he told her how to pleasure him, his voice commanding and raspy - grip tighter, move faster, suck your cheeks in, lick the slit, relax your throat, straddle my hips, slide down, put your hands on my chest for leverage, do what feels good, ride me, faster, slow down, circle your hips.

 

It was driving her insane, she didn’t know how Taera handled it. If that wasn’t enough, she also caught herself daydreaming.

 

When Jiah attended parties with Daniel she imagined doing it for the rest of their lives, hardly making it to these dinners on time because they couldn’t keep their hands off each other. When she sat beside him on the couch she imagined cuddling, watching a movie and stealing kisses while he argued why American TV shows were better than K-Dramas.

 

When he held her hand she imagined going on long walks holding his hand and talking about their day, him bitching about his incompetent employees or sharing stories of his childhood. When he scarfed down the sugar free desserts she made him, she imagined cooking together and enjoying a meal together, teaching him how to bake.

 

When he wrapped his arms around her she imagined waking up wrapped up in his arms again, and spending a lazy morning in bed just whispering to each other and dreading having to get up and go to work.When they had dinner together she imagined large family dinners with the Chois, their own kids running around in the mix.

 

When he kissed her nose or pushed her hair behind her ear, she imagined him kissing her nose and whispering I love you as he left for work. When she saw him reading to Anaya, she imagined him reading to their kids while she stood at the door and watched.

 

“You look like you’re thinking really hard about something.” Daniel interrupted her thoughts as they drove back from the party. “Want to get pizza again?” He asked. It had become a running thing, the events usually had really bland and bad food, they often found themselves back at the same pizza joint getting food after the party ended.

 

“Hmmmm, I want to try the Veggie Supreme this time.” She sighed.

 

“Your wish is my command.” He laughed as he switched lanes to take the next exit.

 

Within fifteen minutes the two of them were eating their pizza, Jiah was now friends with Tyler who always worked the night shift and made them pizza whenever they came in after what Daniel dubbed ‘networking events’. Tyler had waved at them as soon as they walked in and had their order ready quickly probably hoping for a good tip again.

 

Jiah ate slowly as Daniel scarfed the pizza down, it was the only time he seemed to cheat on his otherwise strict diet, it was their little secret, apparently William could not know.  She watched him with a smile, once again taken aback by how handsome he was. She had noticed it during her first meeting and then let it sit at the back of her mind after they argued. But the admission that he was attractive had slowly clawed its way forward again.

 

His perfect eyebrows framed his piercing eyes, his nose was sharp, his lips pale and pillowy, his jawline defined and his hair voluminous - she just wanted to push back away from his forehead. She had done it once, while his mother was watching and she had since had the urge to always do it. The thing she found really attractive about him was the way his face just lit up when he smiled or laughed, he looked like an innocent child and it made her feel happy. She was struck again by the thoughts of all she liked about him, from who he was as a person to the little things he did. He looked at her to say something but stopped short when he found her starting at him.

 

“What?” He asked, arching his eyebrow.

 

“How do you think this will end?” The words escaped her mouth before she even thought about uttering them.

 

“This?”

 

“This fake relationship, how do you think it ends?” She asked again.

 

“I- ” Daniel started to say but then stopped. “Why do you ask?”

 

Jiah looked away, knowing that she couldn’t look at him and get the words out. “I feel like it’s not fake to me anymore, I…I like you. And I know admitting my feelings is against everything that I have ever learned from all the movies I’ve watched…I am supposed to play hard to get and be coy…but I can’t do that with you. So…I like you and if I pretend any longer I’ll fall for you hard so I need to know how you think this all ends.”

 

Jiah’s heart was thumping loudly in her ears as the words left her mouth, she hadn’t meant to say all of that out loud, she was supposed to play it cool. But some part of her felt comfortable enough with him to share her feelings. She could count on one hand the number of brief relationships she had been in, more like a series of dates than an actual relationship but she knew what she felt for this man.

 

She waited for him to say something as the seconds passed but he didn’t say anything. She took a deep breath in and looked up at him to see that he just sat there clearly in shock. She sat upright and shrugged. “It’s okay if you don’t feel the same way…I just need  - can we just end this now then? My mother is gone, your mom has closed the Savannah chapter and I feel like she is going to push us…to get married which I don’t think you want. The Watts deal worked out, you can take someone else to these business dinners…I don’t think I can do this anymore.” She said, her words were rather calm but she felt absolutely miserable inside and it got worse the longer he stayed silent.  

 

“If that’s what you want.” He murmured and Jiah nodded with a smile, hoping that the tears that were filling up in her eyes didn’t fall. She took a deep breath and put on her brave face.

 

“Can we go?” Jiah asked inclining her head outside towards the car.  She gave a huge smile to Tyler who seemed to be just as stricken as she was, she was sure he caught parts of their conversation and was probably surprised. He gave her a reassuring smile as he waved goodbye to her, she would miss this place, she didn’t think she could come back to this particular place ever again.

 

The next 20 minutes were probably the most awkward of her life, and Jiah wondered why she didn’t confess her feelings in a place where she could exit easily if things didn’t work out – like outside her house, at Sorelle, at BARE. Actually, she knew why. She didn’t think it wasn’t going to work out, everyone that knew Daniel wouldn’t stop going on about how smitten he was with her and what a good couple they made.

 

They spent so much time together, knew each other so well, and he was just so…affectionate even when there was no one around to watch. But she figured it was all an act on his end, the way it was supposed to be, and when you did something long enough it became a habit. She wondered what the flirty overtures meant, the day they stood in the back room at Sorelle and he kept teasing her about the I’ll do anything, the day he walked in and they practiced touching – when he teased her about always taking a step back when he came towards her, playing with her hair, teasing her about kissing her. That hadn’t been acting.

 

The whole ride passed in silence, she didn’t say a word and he didn’t either. She wanted him to say something even if it wasn’t what she wanted to hear, he could tell her he didn’t feel the same or that he needed time or something but he stayed absolutely silent. Jiah literally jumped out of the car as soon as the car stopped in front of her driveway. She all but ran inside the house, shutting the front door behind her. She waited listening for the sound of his car moving away but all she could hear was a gentle hum – she waited, hoping to hear the distinct sound of the car door opening and closing but she heard him pull away a couple of minutes later.

 

And then the tears finally fell, running down her face, as she slid down against the door until her bare legs came in contact with the hardwood floor. And that’s how Taera found her, sobbing while sitting on the ground.

 


 

Taera was FaceTiming Liam when she heard the front door open and close, she expected that Jiah would bound into the living room and tell her about everything that happened, something she did every time she came back from someplace with Daniel. She was also excited to tell her about the whole stakeout and the proof she had collected against Barbara. But minutes passed and then she heard the distinct sound of her friend sobbing. She put the iPad down and ran towards the door, skidding to a halt when she saw Jiah balling her eyes out, sitting on the floor in front of the doors.

 

“Jiah! What happened?” Taera said falling to her knees in front of Jiah grabbing her face and forcing her to look up at her. Taera felt her own eyes water when she saw how red Jiah’s eyes were and how sad she looked. “What happened?’ She whispered again but Jiah just shook her head and continued sobbing. Taera sat down right beside her, wrapping her arms around her and pulling her into her body, allowing her to sob into her shoulder.

 

Demi ran downstairs, her eyes widening at the scene, Taera mouthed the words pajamas and hot chocolate at Demi and she nodded before rushing back upstairs and coming down again with a pair of Jiah’s pajamas. She left them on the stairs before bounding to the kitchen.

 

“Jiah, let’s get up, I’ll walk you to the bathroom and you can change.” Taera mumbled in Jiah’s ear while rubbing soothing circles into her back. She felt Jiah nod and helped her up pushing her into the bathroom with her pajamas.

 

“What happened?” Demi whispered from the kitchen.

 

“I don’t know, she’s just crying. Something must have happened with Daniel.” Taera mumbled.

 

“I have never seen her like that.” Demi said with a worried look on her face.

 

Jiah came out a couple minutes later, he face washed and in her pajamas. She curled up on the couch, wrapping the grey throw around her. Taera sat across her as Demi put down the piping hot chocolate in front of them along with their favourite double chocolate cookies. Jiah picked one up and started munching on it. Taera and Demi waited knowing that she’d start talking as soon as she had scarfed down a couple of cookies and taken a few sips of the hot chocolate.

 

“I told him that I like him.” Jiah said.

 

“And?” Demi asked.

 

“He didn’t say anything – I said I like him and that if I have to pretend any longer I am going to fall hard…which was a lie I am already there you know…and he didn’t say a word. Nothing – I thought he felt something you know. Everyone keeps telling me that it’s so obvious that he likes me – my mother, Savannah, Aera, Caroline – ” Jiah mumbled as she chewed on her cookie, the tears running down her face again.

 

“So I told him – and he didn’t say anything – so I asked to end it – thinking about it we really don’t have a reason to continue this charade – my mom is not here, his mom hardly ever sees him much less me and she seems to like me now which is just going to be problematic…and he can easily find dates to these events.” She said, her voice getting louder and angrier with each word. “And you know what he said to that? IF THAT’S WHAT YOU WANT. When I made it clear that I definitely did NOT want that. HE SAID NOTHING. NOT A WORD. Does he not understand feelings?”

 

“What an asshole.” A distinct male voice sounded from the coffee table in front of them causing Taera to groan, she forgot to hang up on Liam…and he was too nosy to have hung up on his own. “Why you crying Kim? He doesn’t deserve you, if he’s stupid enough to let you go then he’s just dumb and not worth it.”

 

“How long have you been on there?” Jiah asked sniffling, picking up the iPad and holding it up so she could see Liam. He was lounging on his bed, a pair of glasses on his face and a speculative look on his face.

 

“Long enough to hear all about this asshole…that’s it, I am coming down there to knock some sense into these Charleston idiots and take care of my girls.” Liam said. 

 

“Liam, not the time.” Taera said leaning over Jiah, trying to grab the iPad.

 

“DON’T YOU DARE HANG UP ON ME JEONG!” He yelled causing Jiah to let out a little chuckle.

 

“Liam, I miss you, we would love to have you here.” Jiah said into the iPad, she wanted familiar and comfortable.

 

“As you wish, I am on the next flight there, Jiah. I’ll drop the interview with Google bomb on my father and then dip. And stop wasting your tears, if he’s dumb enough to let you go then he doesn’t deserve the tears. These Charleston boys don’t know a good thing even when it hits them right in the face.”

 

 


 

Jiah decided to stay home the next morning and Taera had left Demi with her, not trusting Jiah to be alone at a time like this. Demi was good at blending into the background and offering comfort  as needed. She called extra employees in to take Jiah’s spot.

 

Taera was angry with Daniel, she had been led to believe that he liked her best friend based on his behaviour…either he was a player or he was too dumb to realize his own feelings. And neither of those options sat right with her.

 

So when she pulled up to her parking spot, finding it empty and William’s Black Range Rover in the BARE parking lot, she walked right into BARE and towards the treadmills where she hoped Daniel would be. He came in frequently throughout the week but didn’t have a schedule as rigid as William’s.

 

She caught sight of William running on the treadmill, and marched up to him, pulling out the emergency stop wire out of the treadmill before he even had the chance to process what was happening. “What the hell?” He yelped as he came to an abrupt stop, grabbing the treadmill to balance himself to stop from falling back.

 

“Where is Daniel?” She asked, her anger was block the part of her brain that yelled she was being much too mean to William – who had nothing wrong.

 

“What’s wrong?” William asked stepping off the treadmill and looking at her in question. She had been perfectly nice the previous night, she had even kissed his cheek and said thank you. She hadn’t spoken to him in the tone she was using in weeks.

 

“Where’s you sorry excuse of a brother?” She asked, she hadn’t meant to yell but the words came out sounding that way.

 

“Taera, what’s wrong?” William asked looking worried, she looked angry, a real sort of anger that he hadn’t seen from her before. “Daniel isn’t here.”

 

Taera took a deep breath in before looking up at William. “What’s he playing at?”

 

“I need you to calm down and explain to me what’s happening because I am really confused.”

 

“When was the last time you spoke to Daniel?”

 

“Yesterday morning.”

 

“Does Daniel like Jiah? Like really like her? Because even though they were pretending I got this feeling that he had some sort of feelings for her.”

 

“I think he does.” William nodded, still looking really confused.

 

“Then can you tell me why he didn’t say anything when she told him she liked him? She has been crying since he dropped her off last night – and I swear if you tell him that I will strangle you with my bare hands.” She threatened.

 

“I won’t, I promise…but Daniel is complicated.” William said.

 

“Oh, he’s a math problem now?” Taera retorted angrily.

 

“What I mean to say he doesn’t do well with feelings…it’s complicated.”

 

“Not really, you either like someone or you don’t. You don’t lead people on like that.” She yelled before turning right around. “And tell your brother that if I see him I will rear end his car – and I mean it this time.”

 

“What the fuck Daniel?” William mumbled to himself as he watched Taera angrily stomped off towards Sorelle.

 

He groaned in defeat, he had spent the whole night tossing and turning in bed, thinking about how he would tell her that he had feelings for her and none of his ideas accounted for the fact that she’d be angry about his idiotic brother.

 


 

“What the fuck is wrong with you?!” William heard a loud voice screech as soon as he stepped through the door of their house, it seemed like Aera had heard about what had happened as well. He wondered if Jiah or Taera had told her…but then speculated that Daniel himself probably confessed to what happened. William followed the sound towards Daniel’s room, he had a bone to pick with him as well.

 

“I don’t even know how I feel, what was I supposed to say?” Daniel snapped.

 

“Oh that’s just rich.” Aera laughed sarcastically. “You’re halfway in love with that woman.” She yelled.

 

“Gee, I didn’t know that you knew how I felt better than I did.” Daniel said, his voice dripping in sarcasm.

 

“You’re an idiot.” Aera seethed.

 

“Damn, I don’t think I’ve seen you this mad since the summer of 2001.” William said while knocking on the open door and announcing his presence.

 

“William! Do you know what this IDIOT did?” Aera asked looking back at William.

 

“Yes, Taera barged into BARE this morning out for his blood.” He answered looking right at Daniel who just rolled his eyes and sulked petulantly. William wanted to whack him, he was the one who should have been sulking because it seemed like he had taken a couple of steps back with Taera because of his stupid brother.

 

“You.” She said pointing to William. “Talk some sense into him while I do damage control.”

 

“Aera, I can handle it myself, stop interfering with my life.” Daniel groaned.

 

“You are an idiot. If I didn’t interfere in your life you’d be married to Savannah or a Savannah-adjacent, miserable as fuck because you refuse to find a decent woman and fall in love with her – because the absolute thought of anyone having any say in your life is unbearable to you. Ever since Dad left, you’ve been obsessed with doing things your way, of controlling every little thing. And you thought that Savannah would let you continue that, she was predictable, she would marry you and you’d have a boring life where the two of you co-existed.” Aera seethed.

 

Daniel look towards William for support but he just shrugged. Aera wasn’t wrong, she was hitting the nail on the head – and he knew never to interrupt her when she was like this.

 

“And I know you were on the verge of giving into eomma and Savannah because you knew that it meant you wouldn’t have to give up any control in your life, you would make all the decisions and she would follow along. But over the last few months, you’ve gotten a glimpse of what it would be like to let someone in, to let someone hold any power over you…and it scares you. You hate being vulnerable.”

 

William found himself nodding along, Daniel reacted very badly if he was cornered like that. He hated letting anyone in, it was why it would have never worked with Savannah, she wouldn’t have pushed him to let her in and he wouldn’t let her.

 

“And Jiah makes you feel that way because you don’t know what will happen with her, you can’t neatly fit her into a box in your life…she’s a risk you can’t analyze and mitigate. You’re afraid because you do care for her and you’re so scared of getting hurt that you’ve not even going to TRY. And I know you’re going to be an idiot and let her go, and a few years down the road you’re going to regret it so much – so figure your shit out now Daniel because that girl is an absolute catch and there are plenty of men in this world who aren’t blind and stupid.” Aera seethed before grabbing her purse and walking out of the room.

 

“I don’t know how to follow that…what do you want me to say?” William asked from his spot by the door after a couple of minutes of silence, he wanted to let Daniel mull over Aera’s very honest words.

 

“I barely know her!” Daniel yelled.

 

“You probably know her better than the woman you were in a relationship with for years.” William said sitting down on the couch that faced the bed.

 

“I don’t know how I feel.” He added.

 

“You do. You just don’t want to admit it, Aera’s right you know.” William sighed. “What are you doing Daniel?”

 

“I honestly don’t know…Jiah suddenly confessed that she liked me, I just didn’t know how to respond because I haven’t let myself think about it. It was supposed to be a fake relationship that made my mother back off from pushing for something more serious…and all of a sudden it’s not.” He said.

 

“You know I went to see Raina when I went to New York.” William said causing Daniel to arch his eyebrow. “We spent 90 minutes just talking about Taera and working through what I felt for her…and I left that office knowing myself so much better.”

 

“So I should get a shrink?” Daniel asked.

 

“Maybe you need someone to talk to about these control issues, your inability to let people in, your unhealthy obsession with our father that-”

 

“You’re the one that hates him.”

 

“No, we all do, but I am at least honest about it. I hate him and sometimes I feel like we’re all fucked up because of him – you’re a control freak, I am scared of failing and that includes relationships, and Aera has abandonment issues. The only difference is that Aera and I admit it, we admit we hate him, we admit we have problems and we sought out the help we needed. But you’re obsessed with him and refuse to admit it. Everything you do is to prove a point to him, that we don’t need him. And you doubt everyone is going to end up like him and use you, it’s why Savannah made sense to you, she had more than you did. But forget that for a second and figure out what is going on in your head and want, just figure this shit out Dan.” William shrugged. “And soon, because Jiah is not going to wait around for you.”

 

“Everyone’s a fucking therapist now.” Daniel murmured.

Chapter Text

October 2017

 

Liam Park was one of those people that just made you feel better by being around. He got so caught up with whatever was going around him and dragged everyone along for the experience, if he was happy, he made sure that everyone around him was as well. He was infectious, loud and funny, but most importantly he was always there for his friends. Which is why he pulled up to Sorelle two days after what they now referred to as ‘The Incident’.

 

He parked his car behind Taera’s noticing that there was a black Range Rover parked outside BARE, the devil incarnate’s car, or William’s as Taera referred to him now. Liam smiled to himself recalling how very smitten she sounded when she said his name, it was disgustingly adorable.

 

Liam had to admit the man had good taste in cars, a Range Rover was understated luxury, it was beautiful – the interior filled with perfectly woven leather and amazing features. Not that Taera would agree. Liam also noticed a black G-Wagon in the parking lot, he knew it belonged to the man that broke Jiah’s heart, it was the reason he rented a white G-Wagon. He was all for imagery, the good guy to his bad guy…despite the fact that G-Wagons were so last year, they were now becoming associated with rich moms, definitely not his style.

 

Liam jumped out of the car and walked towards Sorelle, taking in the fact that it had amazing curb appeal. He was rather impressed, it looked much better in real life than it had over video and it was filled with customers. He looked towards the windows he knew had been replaced recently and could not tell the difference between them and the rest, they were clean and filled the shop with light.

 

He entered through the front doors and caught sight of Taera and Jiah running around, both of them in white aprons. He wanted to tease them about how they looked like those sitcom wives in the 60s…but he knew it would cause him to be whacked, so he decided to announce his presence without risking his life.

 

“What’s a guy gotta do go get a cupcake around here?” He said as he walked up to the counter. He laughed when Jiah and Taera both screamed, running from behind the counter, he snickered as Taera let out an ouch as her leg hit the side of the counter. But then they were pulling him into a group hug and he forgot to tease her about it. He had missed his girls. He noticed that all the patrons and the staff in the store were watching them with a smile on their face.

 

Liam smiled when he noticed that Taera did in fact look better than she had in New York, it was sometimes hard to tell via FaceTime. Her smile was genuine, and her eyes shining with happiness – but maybe that was because of him, he knew that would also cause her to whack him so he didn’t say it out loud.

 

And then he noticed the sadness in Jiah’s eyes despite the smile on her face and sighed, he seriously wanted to whack the monster - they now exclusively referred to Daniel as that. Her eyes looked a little puffy and he knew that she had been crying. Jiah-Bug rarely cried so he knew she really liked the monster despite what her saying she didn’t.

 

Liam never thought he’d see a day where Jiah wasn’t her bubbly self, he expected to see her running around with a smile on her face, connecting with customers in a way that made them feel important. But she stuck to the back of the store, working on baking and decorating rather than handling the front end – which he knew she loved.

 

Liam spent the rest of the day charming the staff at Sorelle and customers while glaring at the gym across the street and cursing the monster. Demi also dropped by in the middle of the day, happy to see Liam and telling him that Jiah already looked happier than she had in the morning. She had witnessed Jiah whacking Liam playfully when he tried to sneak yet another cupcake from the display, claiming that he had missed them and was making up for all the months where she didn’t supply him with baked goods.

 

The girls rushed out after closing rather than spending more time prepping for the next day, wanting to spend more time with their friend. They were all going to go out to dinner.

 

“I am so tired.” Taera groaned as she locked up for the night only to let out a scream when Liam picked her up and threw her over his left shoulder, swinging his right arm around Jiah’s shoulder. “PUT ME DOWN LIAM!” Taera yelled hitting his back.

 

“You said you were tired. Enjoy the view Jeong, it’s not every day you get to be up close and personal with my ass.” He yelled causing Jiah to burst out into laughter and lean into him further as they walked to his car.

 

“PARK I SWEAR I AM GOING TO WHACK YOU SO HARD WHEN YOU PUT ME DOWN!”

 

“Ooooh, are you going to spank me?” He asked causing Jiah to snort as he put Taera down.

 

“You idiot!” Taera screeched trying to whack his arm but he dodged, using Jiah’s body as a shield.

 

“Missed me!” He laughed as he tried to dodge Taera.

 

Liam exaggeratedly howled in pain when Taera whacked him before opening the back door of the car and pushing her into it. He opened the passenger side door and helped Jiah in with a “my lady” and a kiss on her hand causing her to laugh. He closed the door behind her and walked over to the driver’s side door.

 

All three of them failed to notice that two figures had been standing in the BARE parking lot, watching them from the moment they stepped out of Sorelle.

 


 

William wasn’t familiar with jealousy…until recently, he had first experienced it when his brother walked away with his arm around Taera at the BARE launch party but he had written it off as annoyance. The second time he felt jealous was when Henry threw his arms around Taera’s shoulder and walked away with her at Anaya’s birthday party. The third time he experienced jealousy was when some of his personal trainers were talking about how hot Taera was. He had effectively broken up that conversation and sent them all back to work, he couldn’t stop himself from glaring their way even now.

 

Those experiences did not prepare him for the feeling he felt when he saw Liam with Taera, in his brain he was pummeling the man to ground while yelling mine. He knew it was rather barbaric and Taera would kill him if he marched over and did what he wanted to so it remained just a thought. He had picked up the man’s name the first day he saw him outside Sorelle. Taera had yelled it when he threw her over his shoulder.

 

His narrowed eyes had followed their every move, cataloguing everywhere he was touching Taera, he had his arms wrapped around her thighs because she was slung over his shoulder. They both looked comfortable with it which ruffled his feathers. His ears heard every word that passed between them due to how loud they were being, she was hitting his back and screaming at him but it sounded playful. She called him an asshole – that’s what she called him when he irritated her.

 

He was so focused on Taera and the new addition that he hadn’t even noticed Jiah until he heard a soft and angry well she moves on fast from Daniel. His eyes had snapped down to Daniel to find him glaring at the perpetrator as well, his arms crossed, and an angry look on his face. His eyes then snapped to Jiah to find that Liam had an arm possessively slung around her shoulder, holding her against his body. He pushed Taera into the back seat and opened the passenger side door for Jiah, kissing her hand as he helped her into the car with an exaggerated bow. This led to confusion, who was this man with a white G-Wagon and who was he to the girls?

 


 

“These are good.” Liam as he picked up a brownie from the batch Taera was making. He knew they were for William, she pouted sadly every time she looked over at BARE, the longing was clear but she refused to act on it. It was ridiculous.

 

“NOT FOR YOU!” She said whacking his hand away as he stuffed his face with one and tried to grab another. She pulled the tray away and started putting the brownies into a box.

 

“For the future father of your children?” He teased.

 

“Yes.” Taera said, sticking her tongue out at him. He laughed, she didn’t even bother contradicting the fact that she thought he was the future father of her children. He had expected a loud shut up.

 

“Why are you still here and not across the street then?” Liam asked, it was clear that she was longing for him, if he had to watch the way she looked across the street with her lovesick puppy eyes any longer, he’d cry.

 

“Because Jiah is still heartbroken over Daniel, and I don’t want to be insensitive by talking about William…and I don’t trust myself to see him and not just…admit that I want to have his babies.” She groaned.

 

“This is the point where I should tell you to not do that… but I don’t think you telling him you want to have his babies is gonna freak him out if he’s not running in the opposite direction by now.” He teased.

 

“Can you be serious for a minute?” She groaned.

 

“You know Jiah would be happy for you.”

 

“I know, but it would still be a sucky thing to do, right?”

 

“You think too much.” He sighed. “How are you going to send these over?”

 

“I’ll give them to Henry to pass on to William.”

 

“Write him a note, say I want to have your babies, come fuck me please.” He teased, laughing when she whacked him like he knew she would.

 

“Stop being crass.”

 

“Like you’re not thinking about it.”

 

“Shut up.” She said, not denying it.

 

“I still don’t know what you see in him, I am hotter.” He teased.

 

“I told you, he’s much hotter.”

 

“Love really does blind people.”

 

“Shut up.”

 

“Are you actually writing him a note?” He asked when she grabbed a pad of sticky notes.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Let me have your babies?”

 

“No!”

 

“Please come fuck me on the counter of Sorelle.”

 

“LIAM LEAVE!”

 

“I want you to make love to me all night long.”

 

She whacked him again. “Stop it.”

 

“I want you to impregnate me.” He teased.

 

“STOPPPPP.”

 

“I think you fart glitter.”

 

“What’s wrong with you?”

 

“You literally think he’s perfect.”

 

“He’s just…William.”

 

“Can I be the best-man at your wedding?”

 

“Fight Jiah and Demi for it.”

 

“They’re scrawny.”

 

“And vicious.” She grinned as she wrote something down.

 

“What did you write?” He asked, leaning over the counter to see the note.

 

It said ‘thank you for helping me with the stakeout :)’.

 

“Just add a heart and a P.S. I want to have your babies at the end, he’ll come running.”

 

“I hate you.” She groaned before disappearing into the front of the store.

 

“Well Liam, it seems like it’s all up to you because she won’t budge…but maybe he will.” Liam murmured to himself before grabbing a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. “But how do I get him to act without talking to him?” He sighed. Jiah had made him promise that he wouldn’t talk to Daniel or William, she hadn’t been able to do anything about Henry because he had waltzed right into Sorelle like nothing happened.

 


 

William had so many questions but the one that plagued his mind was - why was Liam always around? Liam had been here for a week and accompanied Taera and Jiah to work every day, he was always touching them: holding hands, swinging his arms around their shoulders, picking them up, tickling them, laughing at them, laughing with them, exaggeratedly telling animated stories. And he was also glaring at Daniel like Taera did when she saw him while Jiah ignored him, pretending he didn’t exist. William just got small smiles from Taera, she always turned around and gave him a smile before she disappeared.

 

William wanted to whack two people, this Liam character and his brother. Daniel was jealous, it was so obvious but he refused to admit it to himself or anyone else. And a part of William was annoyed with his brother because he was the reason Taera wasn’t talking to him, things had been going so well before Daniel fucked things up. And now William was worried that Taera had feelings for this new guy – but at times he felt that Jiah did, it was all very confusing.

 

It seemed like the world now revolved around Liam, a lot of the personal trainers and staff at BARE were obsessed with the newest addition in town, he was rather good looking and dressed really well. A lot of the male personal trainers commented on his clothing and shoe collection listing off brands like Off-White, Supreme, Balenciaga, Vetements, and all these other hyped up brands that were apparently very hard to acquire. They were also obsessed with his shoes, apparently he had some that were super rare – William glared at his employees every time he heard his name until they scrambled away.

 

It was like Liam was taking over their lives, they saw him everywhere and he was always glued to one of the girls. Henry was also obsessed with the man, albeit in a more healthy way, he had walked over to Sorelle one day and they had hit it off immediately. William and Daniel fished for information via Henry and found out that Liam was the girls’ best friend from New York. Henry had also joked that it seemed like both the girls had a crush on Liam at one point and that Liam was hilarious, so down to earth, so entertaining and on and on. Henry had been kicked out of the gym that day and didn’t understand what he had said to piss his brothers off so much.

 

William had gone overboard, he had hurt his hands on the punching bags because he pretended it was Liam’s face he was boxing. He had parked in Taera’s parking spot but she didn’t even bring her car anymore, she came with Liam. He still waited for her to march across the street to demand he give her parking spot back. But she didn’t. She didn’t even stand at the window and stare at him while he ran on the treadmill anymore.

 

It was like she forgot all about him because of Liam.

 

Daniel had taken to watching Liam like a hawk, he even drove by the girls’ house early one morning and found the white G-Wagon parked in the driveway indicating that he was staying with them – he didn’t admit why he felt the need to do so. But he shared the information with William, who had driven himself crazy wondering where the man slept, if Taera let him sleep on the couch and decided to sleep on the other end. His already bruised knuckles were even more bruised that day with how hard he hit the punching bag while wondering if Liam woke up wrapped around Taera like he had.

 

Daniel said he didn’t care, but he still glared at Liam. And he refused to speak when Aera asked him why Liam bothered him. William really wanted to shake some sense into his brother but Daniel just walked around scoffing that he didn’t care…but his actions clearly contradicted his words. Especially when he got really angry when Henry conveyed a message from Liam to Daniel, indicating that he had hired a PI to look into what happened at Sorelle and that Daniel could pull his employee off the case.

 

And the next day Daniel had yelled at Henry when he walked into BARE holding a box from Sorelle. He even glared at William when Henry handed him the box of the protein brownies he loved, there was a note on the box – it said thank you for helping me with the stakeout in Taera’s writing. There was even a smiley face and it made him instantly feel better. The note was in his desk drawer and he looked at it whenever he felt like it, a smile taking over his face when he did. She wasn’t completely ignoring him, she made a smiley face for him.

 

The brownies and note made William miss Taera even more. There were no fights over parking spots, she didn’t randomly march over to BARE – he didn’t run into her anywhere else. He knew that she would have personally barged into his office with the box of brownies before Daniel fucked things up, and he could only speculate as to why Taera was distancing himself from him when he hadn’t done anything. Maybe it was just an act of solidarity with her friend or she wanted to avoid Daniel?

 

But a part of his brain yelled that it was because Liam was here and the place he hoped to occupy in her life was filled. Maybe she did like Liam and now that he was here she had no reason to look elsewhere. Maybe he had been the passing fancy, an infatuation, someone she was just physically attracted to.

 

He wondered if Liam knew that she was scared of ducks, that she missed home but not her old life, that she wanted to go to Paris over any place in the world, that she sometimes still thought about going back to medical school, that she loved kids and wanted three, that her relationship with her mother was strained even though they loved each other, that she was scared that she wouldn’t be successful in life. Things she told him.

 

William had thought about walking over to Sorelle and talking to her but didn’t know what he would say, and there was also the fact that Liam followed her like a shadow.

 

Liam probably knew more.

 

He was probably there right beside her through everything, she probably didn’t even have to tell him anything.

 

And he hated that.

 

So William sat on the couch in the rec room at home, his laptop in front of him. Daniel was on the other side of the couch playing COD aggressively, the controller bearing the brunt of his own anger. Daniel had witnessed Liam giving Jiah a piggyback ride this morning, her legs wrapped around him in a vice grip and her giggles crossing the street. Liam had then swung her around causing her to scream and clutch him tightly so she didn’t fall.

 

Daniel definitely did not like that – not that he would say anything. He was being a total idiot, the woman had confessed that she had feelings for him and he didn’t say anything so he had no right to be jealous, and if he was jealous he need to sort out his feelings and come clean to her.

 

William on the other hand was on a different boat, he was no longer sure if Taera liked him. He thought that she did but it was very possible that she liked Liam…they seemed good together. William had watched from beside his car in the parking lot as Taera and Liam left Sorelle together in the evening, Jiah and Demi nowhere in sight. The two of them were laughing loudly about something and he had caught Liam saying ‘oh please I am the sexiest man you know’ to which Taera had scoffed (making William smile). He hadn’t expected for Liam to whip his shirt off and say look at me. Instead of telling him to put his shirt back on, Taera had said something that made Liam laugh – it was too quiet for him to hear.

                                                                                                            

William tried to talk himself out of it, he really did, but he found himself logging into Henry’s Instagram account, his password the same one he used for everything else – the name of his childhood stuffed animal followed by his student number. He navigated to Liam’s profile after checking Taera’s – it only had pictures of Sorelle. William’s eyes grew wide as he looked at the number of posts and followers Liam had. There were plenty of pictures of him from events, in his closet, at the gym, vacationing around the world, it was clear that he lived a lavish life.

 

The first picture that caught his eyes was one of him with both the girls, they were all dressed in formal wear, Taera in a pale grey gown and Jiah in a yellow one, both of them looking absolutely gorgeous. The caption read ‘my wcws all day ‘err day’. There were plenty of additional pictures with the two of them, more with Taera than Jiah, a lot more. They stood rather close to each other, leaning on each other in the pictures, hugging each other, looking cozy.

 

“What is it with this man that has everyone so bothered?” Daniel asked leaning over and looking at the screen, he had put the controller aside when he found William engrossed in his laptop. He leaned over to see that William was stalking Liam’s Instagram page, there were a lot of pictures of him with the girls but like William, Daniel noticed a lot more with Taera – and they looked fairly cozy.

 

“This is all your fault. Taera is not talking to me because you’re an idiot.” William murmured before whacking his brother upside the head, heard.

 

“WHAT THE FUCK WILL?!” Daniel yelled before rubbing the spot where William had hit him. “It’s not my fault that you’re jealous.”

 

“Please, you were jealous until two seconds ago.”

 

“I was not. Plus it seems like you’re the one that has reason to be jealous.”

 

“Keep lying to yourself.” William mumbled.

 

“They look…friendly.” Daniel said as another picture of Liam and Taera came up, he had his chin resting on her shoulder as she took the selfie both of them smiling. “And he looks like old money.” Daniel murmured as a picture of his cars appeared, followed by him sitting on the hood of a Lamborghini, a private jet in the distance.

 

“Why is he so touchy?” William mumbled noticing yet another picture of him with both his arms wrapped around Jiah and Taera. He really needed to go back to kindergarten and learn to keep his hands to himself.

 


 

Liam was chilling on the couch his feet on the coffee table in front of him while both Taera and Jiah yelled at him. He had gone behind their back and hired a Private Investigator to look into everything that had happened at Sorelle – he knew the monster was working on it but he didn’t want him to interact with Jiah and make her feel worse than she already did. He also made sure that Henry let Daniel know that he wasn’t needed, he knew it would anger him and going by the glare that had been sent his way as he walked to his car later in the day told him it had.

 

The girls were insisting that they pay for the PI but Liam outright refused claiming it was his right as an investor in Sorelle to get involved and pay for the PI. Money had always been a point of contention between the trio, even when Liam had insisted investing into Sorelle.

 

“We’re not a charity Liam, you can’t just sweep in and pay for things like this. Your dad got so angry when he learnt you invested in Sorelle, this is just another thing to add.” Jiah groaned.

 

“Stop, I don’t think you’re charity. Hear me out. If my father kicked me out and I needed a place to stay and money, you two would help me out in any way you could. Don’t deny it. I have more money than I know what to do with, and that’s just from my mom’s side – and my dad has no say in how I spend that money, it’s mine.” He shrugged.

 

“Using it for you two is the best thing I’ve done with the money, it’s helping you and that makes me happy. And if my mom was alive she would have insisted I help you as well. You are my best friends, and I know you have a problem with me spending money on you which is why I am so inclined to not care and spend it on you. You’re the only two people in the world that don’t care about how rich I am and treat me like you would anyone else. And let’s be honest, I do stupid thing with money all the time, those shoes that you claimed were ugly – I spent $50 000 on them, they are limited editions. I could do a lot worse.” He shrugged. “So drop it. I paid the PI, it was a small fraction of that price. The PI found the guy who broke the windows and a trail of evidence that links them back to this blonde psychopath – the lawyer will handle it.”

 

“You’re impossible.” Taera whined.

 

“I have to look out for my girls.” Liam shrugged smiling to himself. “I even told Henry to tell Daniel that it was taken care of.” Liam said.

 

Liam sighed when he saw Jiah’s face fall at the mention of Daniel, she was curled up on the loveseat to his right. “You know that they say the best way to get over a man is to get under another one.” He said waggling his eyebrows at Jiah.

 

“You’re so crass.” Jiah groaned whacking him from her place on the couch. “Honestly, go somewhere.” She suggested yet again. Liam claimed that he had seen enough of the world and had no intention of exploring middle-of-no-where-Charleston as he referred to it, which meant that he spent his days at Sorelle and his nights at home.

 

“But seriously, didn’t the two of you have some pact about going on a date by the end of the year?” Liam asked ignoring Jiah’s words and looking towards Taera who went back to flipping through TV channels.

 

“I’ve been on one.” Jiah said.

 

“Fake ones don’t count.” Liam laughed. “This one is just waiting for William to ask her.”

 

“I miss him.” Taera muttered under her breath as the doorbell rang, Taera sprang up to get the door knowing Demi was due home, she had been hanging out with her newest friend, Liam referred to the new friend as Taera’s Boytoy’s Cousin.

 

Liam’s face grew confused when he heard multiple voices rather than those of the two Jeong sisters as he had expected. He looked up as Taera walked into the living room followed by three women. Liam found that he agreed with Taera’s weird hypothesis about the water or atmosphere in Charleston having some kind of influence over attractiveness in individuals of Asian descent because there were two beautiful women walking into the house.

 

This is Liam, Liam this is Aera and this is Irene.” Demi said as an introduction as Taera ushered the two women in.

 

“The way you stressed this implies that you’ve been talking about me, Demi.” Liam said arching his eyebrow at the youngest Jeong. Liam figured the older one was the monster’s older sister, she was hot, and the younger one was the cousin, she was cute. Her eyes met his and he smiled at her, she looked away immediately, her face flushing red causing him to chuckle.

 

Liam waved to them. “I apologize that you’ve had to put up with these two in my absence, they are absolutely crazy and I thank you for having mercy and befriending them.” He said causing Irene to giggle and Aera to laugh exuberantly.

 

“Shut up Liam.” Jiah said while smiling at the two visitors who crashed on the couch Liam had been occupying.

 

Liam watched as Aera automatically pulled Jiah into a hug, Liam heard the words sorry, idiot, will come around as Jiah shook her head claiming that it didn’t matter.

 

“Are you talking about your idiotic brother?” Liam asked sitting on the arm of the chair Taera sat in, facing the ladies.

 

“Liam! Filter please.” Taera sighed.

 

“No it’s fine, he is an idiot.” Aera shrugged, agreeing.

 

“I like you.” Liam said with a wink.

 

He threw his arm across Taera’s shoulders as she tried to push him off the arm of the char. Liam noticed Aera’s eyes flicker between the two of them in question, her eyebrow raised. “I know, I know. You want to ask if there something going on between the two of us? No, despite my obvious charm and my best attempts I haven’t been able to woo the great Taera Jeong, she prefers her men ambitious, brooding, and muscled – plus, we’d kill each other in a week.” He answered Aera’s unasked question causing her to flush slightly. “Don’t worry, we get it all the time.”

 

“What brings you guys here?” Taera said turning towards Aera and Irene.

 

“I am having a birthday party –a slumber party actually and wanted to invite the two of you.” Aera beamed.

 

“Aren’t you a bit too old for a slumber party?” Liam joked looking right at Irene.

 

“I’ve never had one growing up, and it’s on my bucket list. And that I finally have friends who live close to me I can actually have one.” She smiled.

 

“Aw, Irene, that’s so cute, of course!” Taera beamed.

 

“What about me, am I invited?” Liam pouted.

 

“If you grow a vagina overnight we’ll bring you too.” Taera said rolling her eyes at Liam.

 

“Fine, I see how it is.” He pouted causing Aera to laugh.

 

“We’re in.” Taera said.

 

“Hey Siri, how do I grow a vagina?” Liam said to his phone causing both Jiah and Taera to whack him with a pillow.

 


 

Liam was sure that Aera Choi-Park was up to something, she had a devious planner aura about her that he usually liked in people. She had stayed over for a while when she dropped by the other night, she tried to act very nonchalant when the girl’s pact about going on a date by the end of the year came up again, but she asked a lot of questions and even encouraged Jiah to go on a date. But there was something about the way her eyes lit up that told Liam that she was definitely up to something.

 

She had walked into Sorelle today with a good-looking man, at first he thought it was her husband but it turned out to be a cousin who just happened to pop into town. The two of them were suspiciously sitting at a table and whispering to each other, their eyes going to Jiah once in a while.

 

Liam walked over to their table and plopped down beside Aera, holding his hand out to the newest addition. “Hi, I am Liam.” He introduced himself.

 

“Evan.” The man nodded shaking his hand with a smile.

 

“Now, Mrs. Choi-Park would you like to tell me what the two of you are up to?” Liam said turning towards Aera, his eyebrow arched.

 

“Up to? Nothing?” She said sounding a bit too innocent even though her eyes were alight with a devious gleam. He laughed, in another universe he would have totally asked her out.

 

“I’ll have you know that I am rather perceptive, the two of you keep talking in hushed tones and looking at Jiah, you quieten down when anyone walks to your table. And this one –” Liam pointed to Evan. “-seems really nervous.”

 

Liam watched as Evan sighed and gave Aera a pointed look that seemed to scream see I told you.

 

“Now, I am only met you two nights ago but I found the fact that you were encouraging Jiah to go on a date with someone other than your brother and then telling her your brother will come around later to be a bit odd and contradictory. You were too giddy when the subject of this pact came up, and a bit too pushy. Now, two days later, you show up with him -” Liam stopped pointing at Evan again. “-and you looked a bit too giddy when introducing him to Jiah. So what gives Mrs. Choi-Park?” Liam asked, his eyebrow arched.

 

Aera sighed before looking around to make sure Taera and Jiah were not in earshot. “It seems that jealousy works really well for my brother, your presence actually made me aware of it. Daniel, and William, are ridiculously jealous of you and your closeness to Jiah and Taera.”

 

“I know.” Liam said a grin overtaking his face causing Aera to arch her eyebrow at him in question. “I would have to be blind to not notice the two of them glaring my way from across the street...I might have done it on purpose.” He laughed.

 

“I like you.” Aera grinned before continuing. “It seems like Daniel has determined that there is something between you and Taera, and the green-eyed monster has retreated for him.”

 

“And William?”

 

“Is probably going to punch you within the next few days if Taera doesn’t talk to him.” Aera laughed.

 

Liam snorted, he had a feeling Taera was going to talk to him, she kept looking towards BARE with a lovesick look but kept away because of Jiah. She was rather close to just marching over there.

 

“And Daniel?” Liam asked.

 

“I was hoping that your presence would drive Daniel to do something about his feelings –”

 

“He has feelings?” Liam scoffed.

 

“He’s an idiot, he does like her but is afraid of letting her in.”

 

“Weird.”

 

“Control issues.” Aera shrugged.

 

“Still weird but fine, go on.”

 

“Daniel and Evan here have always been fiercely competitive.” Aera smiled. “Daniel is going to burn with rage if he thinks that Evan and Jiah are going to get together. It’ll push him to stop moping and act.”

 

“He’s going to kill me.” Evan groaned. “What did I do to deserve this?”

 

“You owe me!” Aera said whacking her cousin’s arm.

 

“You said a small favour, noona. Not putting my life on line.” Evan said dramatically causing Liam to chuckle.

 

“You. Are. Going. To. Ask. Jiah. Out.” Aera said to her cousin.

 

Liam laughed. “You think she’ll say yes?” He asked. Then he looked at Evan Choi closely, he was actually quite good looking, boy next door type. And someone Jiah could have fallen for if she hadn’t met the monster.

 

“I was hoping she would…maybe if you pushed her into it.” Aera smiled at him.

 

“Tell me more about how you know your brother likes Jiah and I’ll think about it.” Liam said. He had an inkling that the monster felt something for Jiah but he needed to know what before he got involved, he didn’t want to hurt Jiah any more than she had already been hurt. But a part of him also knew that Jiah’s feelings for this man wouldn’t go away so easily and if there was any chance that things would work out for them, he wanted to be a part of it.

 


 

“Nice car.” Liam said to William as he parked his G-Wagon behind the black Range Rover.

 

If looks could kill, Liam was sure he’d be on the ground clutching his heart. William’s eyes were shooting lasers at him, they were narrowed and his jaw clenched as if seeing him alone made him angry. Liam was sure that the man was thinking of ways to kill him in his head.

 

Despite that, Liam decided he’d push a little more, just a little shove in the right direction to make him act. He knew how men worked, and the one in front of him was smitten with his best friend, the longing looks happened from his end too.

 

“I was going to get one, this same model actually. Taera told me not to, dragged me out of the dealership screaming about some study. Everyone at the dealership was so shocked, they call her the crazy girlfriend.” He laughed, stressing the word. “She says there’re the most unreliable of cars, lower than Chrysler which was surprising. She had the study memorized but I don’t remember the specifics, there were numbers involved.” He mused, noticing the man’s jaw clenching at the mention of Taera. His fists were balled up at his sides.

 

“Problems per 100 vehicles, Range Rovers had the highest.” He muttered, while looking towards Sorelle. “She said this one had 220 PP100.”

 

“Hm, Taera is always spewing numbers, sometimes I forget.” He laughed. “Anyways, gotta go, Taera’s weekly finance sheets are waiting.” He said, knowing it would ruffle his feathers, she always asked him for help.

 

He held back a chuckle as William’s glare got more pointed, he was sure he was going to get punched in the face if he said another word. No one could say Liam wasn’t smart, he waved and walked away, holding back the laughter that threatened to escape.

Chapter Text

October 2017

 

Taera missed William, he didn’t park in her parking spot anymore and she had no reason to go visit him. In all the excitement surrounding Liam’s visit, and Jiah’s heartbreak, Taera hadn’t noticed that she hadn’t spoken to William since marching out of BARE until a couple of days later. She knew she had no reason to be angry with him, Daniel’s decisions had nothing to do with William but she had been angry on behalf of her friend that day. And she didn’t know who else to go to.

 

Due to the ongoing situation between Daniel and Jiah they had no reason to see each other outside of work hours, no get-togethers at Aera’s house, no parties to go to, no stake-outs to have. She didn’t even bring her car to work so she couldn’t fight him for the spot. She still watched him workout through the windows when she had time but there was so much to do in the morning these days because they left work early due to Liam’s presence. She found herself missing talking to William, recalling the long conversations at Anaya’s party and in the car, and she especially found herself missing his recent flirty behaviour.

 

She wanted to march across the street a couple of times but she didn’t know what to say to him. And she felt kind of selfish to think about herself when Jiah’s heart was breaking. But Taera couldn’t stop thinking about William, all their interactions playing in her head in chronological order over and over again. She spent her nights tossing and turning, wondering where they stood.

 

He shared so much with her, hadn’t reacted badly when she kissed his cheek, he had all but invited her to trace his body with her eyes in his office. And she had a feeling that he would have welcomed her touch as well because he hadn’t pushed her away or acted weird about the kiss she had placed on his cheek, rather he had smiled. And then there was the day she woke up curled into him, he had traced her stomach with his thumb and she thought he kissed her head.

 

Taera’s eyes snapped up when she heard Jiah’s tinkling laughter, a sound she hadn’t heard in some days. Jiah was standing by the table that their new regular customer – Evan Choi – was sitting, laughing about something. Evan had been spending a lot of time at Sorelle, he claimed he was catching up on some reading, he would show up with a new book every day and would sit there reading.

 

He always started a conversation with Jiah, the two of them exchanging words every time she brought him a refill. There was something about these Choi men that pulled women in, all of Daniel’s cousins and family members that she had seen at Anaya’s party were rather charming and sweet, his cousin Eugene especially but he had gone back to California.

 

But where Daniel was brooding and hot, Evan was charming and cute. His sincere brown eyes, his boyish smile and the way he carried himself was rather remarkable. He was kind, straightforward, and had a great sense of humour and Taera found herself wishing that Daniel was more like his cousin – who was obviously crushing on Jiah.

 

She watched intrigued as Jiah’s face seemed to pale as Evan said something to her, she looked surprised but then nodded causing Evan to smile back up at her. Jiah turned around and walked back to the counter where Taera was standing as Evan got up and waved goodbye.

 

“What was that all about?” Taera asked her best friend.

 

“Evan just asked me out on a date…and I said yes.” Jiah said, her wide eyes meeting Taera’s.

 

“Woah, rewind, what exactly happened?”

 

“He was joking about how he dreamed about our cupcakes and then said you look beautiful when you laugh – which caught me off guard. He then brought up Daniel and how he had heard the two of us were in a fake relationship, and then said he found it weird that his cousin did all of that just to go out with Savannah again. Apparently Daniel is having dinner with Savannah this week…and then Evan said that he had been trying to work up the courage to ask me out to dinner for the past week, which is why he is here every day, and asked if I would be willing to go out with him.”

 

“And?” Taera asked, arching her eyebrow at her best friend.

 

“I froze up and he said it’s just one dinner if you hate it we can pretend it was just two friends hanging out and I found myself nodding…I was just thinking about how Liam keeps going on about how I need to forget about – Daniel and see other people, and I kept thinking about how Daniel is going to dinner with Savannah and I felt myself saying yes.”

 

Taera didn’t quite know what to say to this new revelation. “Jiah, you sure about this?” Taera sked.

 

“Evan is perfectly nice.” Jiah said.

 

“He’s Daniel’s cousin…” Taera pointed out.

 

Jiah shrugged. “It’s not like I was in a real relationship with Daniel, he knows that.”

 

“As long as you’re sure.” Taera mumbled, her eyes were behind Jiah, Evan and Liam were talking outside Sorelle and looking rather chummy, her mind flashed back to the day she had found Aera, Evan and Liam with their heads together and her mind started connecting the dots. “When are you going out with him?” She asked Jiah.

 

“Next Sunday.” Jiah said.

 


 

Taera locked the door to Sorelle and stepped out onto the street, taking a deep breath in and enjoying the cool breeze. She put her cell phone in the pocket of her favourite high-waisted white shorts and rolled up the sleeves of her denim shirt before making sure the envelope of deposits she had in her hand was nicely sealed.

 

She glanced over at BARE and found William’s Range Rover in the parking lot but he was nowhere in sight, she had hoped she’d see him today. Everyone else had left early to go to the movies and she thought it was the perfect opportunity to run into him. She sighed and started walking to the bank down the street to make the deposits for the day.

 

She looked up at the sky, it was pretty dark out even though it was only 7pm, the skies were gray and it seemed like it was going to rain. The street lamps lining the road were already on and the trees were swaying with the wind. It was a calm kind of wind though, nothing like that storm weeks ago. It was the kind of weather you were supposed to enjoy while sitting on a covered patio and sipping something warm. She was planning to just that when she got home.

 

Jiah, Liam and Demi had left earlier in the evening wanting to see It – the new scary movie. Taera had made an excuse about being tired to get out of it, the truth was that she hated scary movies, her overactive brain made her have nightmares for days after watching one. The three of them knew why she was making excuses and had teased her mercilessly about it before disappearing.

 

Taera sighed when she walked into the bank to find a line up, she wished they opened more kiosks in the evening. She joined the line and leaned against the railing that outlined where the line was supposed to be. Only two of the six counters were open and there were a couple of older women in front of her, bills in their hands –more people needed to learn to pay their bills electronically. She was sure the elderly would appreciate that support. It was 2017, there was no need to come to a bank to pay them and waste everyone’s time.

 

“I am glad to know that I am not the only thing you find annoying.” She heard from behind her, she turned around, her heart skipping a beat in her chest as the voice registered. William was looking at her with a smile on his face, she felt her breath leave her in a soft sigh. She had missed his smile, and the dimples. And his face. And the conversations.

 

He wasn’t wearing his usual sweatpants and muscle shirt, rather he was wearing a crisp white shirt leaving the top two buttons open with a pair of grey slacks. His hair was longer again, the last time she’d seen him he had just gotten a fresh cut, it made her realize that she hadn’t seen him up close in almost two weeks. The smell of his cologne assaulted her senses and she couldn’t help but smile back at him. It seemed like the universe was granting her wish.

 

“You still take the top spot on the list of most annoying people.” She retorted with a teasing smile.

 

“Glad to know that I still hold so much importance in your life.” He said. He was standing closer to her than he needed to and speaking quietly, she could feel the heat radiating off of him and wanted to just step into his arms.

 

“Very egoistic of you to assume that you do.” She teased.

 

“How’s Jiah?” He asked after a moment of silence causing Taera to sigh.

 

“Better. She has a date next Sunday.” Taera said.

 

“Date?” William asked, his eyebrows furrowed.

 

“Mhmm, with Evan.” Taera informed him causing his eyes to grow wide.

 

“Jiah is the girl he’s crushing on?” William asked with a groan.

 

“I suspect Aera is somehow involved.” Taera said sharing her suspicions with William, glad to finally share it with someone, it had been eating her up inside, she was sure Liam was involved, she didn’t miss his pushing Jiah to go on a date over the past week. William was the only one who could understand and analyze the situation as she could, having been involved with the incident as much as she was (she was now referring to the whole fake relationship as that).

 

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Aera was behind it all.” William murmured, running his hand through his luscious hair.

 

“Evan also told Jiah that Daniel is going out with Savannah.” Taera shared causing his eyebrows to raise in surprise.

 

“Interesting, Savannah went back to Pennsylvania a week ago. It seems like Aera is playing matchmaker.” William said as the bank teller called Taera up. Taera quickly deposited all the money, grabbing the coin rolls she needed before waving goodbye to the teller. She could have left then but she found herself standing by the door waiting for William. She watched with a smile as he chatted with the older gentleman helping him out, he was so sweet. She really had missed him.

 

If William was surprised to see her waiting by the door he didn’t show it, he just smiled and opened the door for her. Like it was all completely normal. And she guessed it was in a way, except for the fact that her heart was beating much too fast and she had butterflies in her stomach.

 

“It’s raining!” They both said at the same time, William sounded disappointed and Taera sounding happy.

 

She let out a squeal in delight as she stepped out into the rain, holding her hands out in front of her and her face upwards towards the sky, her eyes closed. “I love the rain…of course the last time it rained was the absolute worse.” Taera sighed recalling the storm and the broken windows at Sorelle. But this rain was calming, it wasn’t falling as hard, the winds were gentle and the people involved in sabotaging Sorelle were in the process of being sued - thanks to the evidence she collected with William and the PI Liam hired.

 

Taera looked back at him to find him looking back her with a soft smile on his face, it made her already misbehaving heart speed up even more, she wanted to be on the receiving end of that soft smile forever. “What are you waiting for?” She asked noticing that he was still standing underneath the awning.

 

“For the rain to pass?” He said as if it were obvious.

 

“Stop being boring, live a little.” She groaned and waved him forward.

 

“I got sick the last time I did.”

 

“You were out for hours in your wet clothes that day, it was windy, and it was colder. The weather is warmer today.” She reasoned.

 

He sighed.

 

“We don’t know when the rain is going to stop so let’s get going.” She made a walking gesture with her fingers. “Unless you’re scared of teeny-weeny water droplets?” She teased causing him to roll his eyes and step forward walking behind her.

 

He watched as she purposely jumped into a small puddle on the uneven sidewalk. “You’re having way too much fun.” He laughed coming up right beside her.

 

“I love the rain.” She said standing on the other side of the puddle and looking up at him as he caught up. She couldn’t help but notice that his white shirt was clearly drenched and sticking to his body outlining his pecs and abs – her mind flashed back to his office when he had stood in front of her shirtless while pointing out all she did wrong with the cake. He pushed his wet hair away from his face and she let out a soft, audible, groan.

 

“What?” He asked, arching his eyebrow but she just shook her head as continued to walk, he was walking rather close to her, their shoulders brushing against each other’s and their hands coming into contact frequently. She felt like she was in high school again.

 

“Do you like the rain?” She asked looking down the street, it looked rather picturesque.

 

“Are we playing 20 questions again?” He teased.

 

“Please, I would never waste a question on something so mundane. I was just wondering.” She shrugged.

 

“Not really. I hate the snow though.” He shared.

 

“Me too! You don’t know how happy I was when it was still warm out in December when we first got here.”

 

“New York winters are horrible, I did all I could to make sure I didn’t have to be there for long.”

 

“You get used to it, I used to love it when it snowed around Christmas but any other time I absolutely dreaded it. It was kind of weird when it was sunny and warm on Christmas Day though.” She admitted looking up at him through the rain.

 

“Are you heading out?” He asked pointing towards her car as they approached Sorelle.

 

“I will after I put the change rolls away. Want a cupcake?” She asked pointing back towards Sorelle. She was just looking for reasons to not leave him now that she had run into him. She watched as he got a speculative look on his face. “It’s not going to kill you or make you sexy abs disappear.” She sang. “I might also have a fresh batch of the protein brownies.” She added.

 

“Did you just call my abs sexy?” He teased with a grin.

 

“Like you didn’t know, should I refer you back to the comments on the inspiration for the ab cake?” Taera teased.

 

“I hate that picture.” He groaned. She rolled her eyes, she loved that picture and it might have been saved on her camera roll. Maybe.

 

“C’mon, let’s go.” She said leading him across the street to the back door of Sorelle. She unlocked the door with ease and stepped in, running to the linen closet that housed their clean aprons and towels. She threw one at William before wringing out her own hair with hers. She quickly glanced around the back to make sure everything was in order before grabbing the change rolls out of her pocket, going to the front of the store and opening the till.

 

She could feel his eyes on her as she moved around and it made her whole body tingle, like all her nerve endings were on fire.

 

“Where is everyone else tonight?” She heard William beside her and watched as he leaned against the counter, still ruffling the small towel through his hair, his white shirt clinging sinfully to his body, she could make out the indents of all his muscles. Her eyes flashed down to the counter he was leaning against before up at him, her face flushing as she recalled what had happened exactly on that counter in her dreams. Or against the wall to the side.

 

“They went to see It.” She answered unrolling the rolls, the coins fell into the till smoothly with clinking noises.

 

“You didn’t go? Scared?” He teased.

 

“It’s not that I am afraid of scary movies…my brain is just overactive and I have nightmares for days after.” She shrugged before walking over to the cupcake display. “Which one do you want?” She asked looking back at him.

 

He straightened and walked over, standing right behind her and leaning over her to read the cupcake labels, Taera’s heart flipped in her chest, he was close enough that she could feel the wet fabric of his slacks against the back of her bare legs and his breath against her neck. She felt a shiver run through her and goosebumps on her arms.

 

Oh God, what was he doing to her?

 

“The strawberry one.” He whispered against her ear, she almost whimpered and sighed in relief when he moved back a little. “What’s your favourite?”

 

“Depends on the day, today it’s double chocolate.” She said as he grabbed two plates, handing him his cupcake before picking one out for herself.

 

“Spoon?” He asked.

 

“Just bite into it like a normal human being.” She muttered as she bit into her own cupcake. “So tell me more about how you know Evan is crushing on someone.” Taera said as she sat on the counter remembering his words from earlier. She watched him take a bite of his cupcake and chew thoughtfully. William leaned on the counter behind him, right across from where she was sitting, the plate in his hand.

 

“He’s been going on about this goddess he’s met and how he is going to ask her out. Now that I think about it he only brings it up when Daniel is around…but he never said Jiah’s name.”

 

“What do you think will happen if you tell Daniel that Jiah has a date?” Taera asked with a devilish grin on her face.

 

“He’s going to burn with jealousy and do something stupid but good…he was pretty jealous of your friend.” William said, his voice growing terse at the word friend.

 

“Liam?”

 

William nodded.

 

“Was?” Taera asked, arching her eyebrow at him.

 

“He thinks Liam is more of a concern when it comes to you rather than Jiah.” William said, almost hissing out Liam’s name, his voice gruff. Taera didn’t miss how his jaw seemed to tighten and tried to control the smile that was about to break out on her face, he was jealous. “Is that accurate?” He prodded.

 

“Why? Are you jealous?” She asked arching her eyebrow at him. She watched as he opened his mouth and shut it again, clearly not knowing what to say.

 

“Why would I be jealous?” He scoffed after a couple of seconds.

 

“You hesitated.”  She pointed out.


“I was taken aback.” He shrugged.

 

“So, you aren’t jealous of Liam?” She asked, arching her eyebrow at him in question as she placed the plate and half-eaten cupcake beside her on the counter.

 

“Why should I be jealous of Liam?”

 

“Hmmm, so you’re clutching the counter with a death grip and hissing his name for no reason?”

 

Taera watched amused as William let go of the counter, his face flushing a little causing her heart to stutter and her stomach to sink.

 

Her brain was just screaming. She didn’t know what. But it was screaming.

 

“I might be…jealous.” William said looking up at her, putting his plate down to the side.

 

Her heart stopped in her chest and then started beating again, it had to be going at least five times faster than it had been earlier. And then he pushed himself off the counter and her heart was going fast as a hummingbird’s wings.

 

“Why?” She got out, a mere whisper, as he moved closer coming to stand right in front of her. She hadn’t even noticed that she had naturally pulled her legs apart as he approached her, allowing him to step right between them. His cold slacks were rubbing against her legs again as his hands came to rest on either side of her on the counter.

 

She was so close to just fainting.

 

“You make me feel things Taera.” He whispered.

 

Taera’s every nerve ending was hyperaware of his words, his voice, his touch, his smell, just him – it made the pit of her stomach clench in anticipation because she knew this was it.

 

The way he whispered her name, his voice deep and husky made her legs quiver.

 

And she didn’t miss how his eyes traced her face, straying at her lips.

 

Maybe the dance they had been doing up until now was at its culmination - all those months of bickering back and forth, all the times they had spent watching from afar cataloguing each other’s behaviours, and all the conversations that opened a window into each other’s lives

 

“G-good to know.” She whispered back, she had come to that conclusion herself after spending days tossing and turning considering his behaviour, but it was nice to hear it from him. He, however, looked nervous and Taera realized that she hadn’t been very forthcoming with her feelings apart from that one kiss on his cheek.

 

She leaned into him, her hands coming up to rest on his chest, against his wet shirt, over where his heart was. Her eyes flickered down to his lips then back to his eyes to find him looking at her lips. Her breath hitched in her throat as he moved his face closer to her.

 

“Taera.” He whispered, his voice deep and husky making her gulp with want. Everything was quiet around her, she could barely make out the pitter-patter of the rain and whirring of the refrigerators, all she could hear was their mingled heavy breathing.

 

He leaned in further, almost touching her lips but stopped short, not closing the rest of the distance between them. He had a small smile on his face and Taera rolled her eyes before leaning up and closing the rest of the distance between them, letting her lips brush against his gently, chocolate meeting strawberries.

 

It was perfect.

 

She was kissing William.

 

William Choi was kissing her.

 

His lips were so soft.

 

His heart was beating just as fast as hers under her hand.

 

His hands moved from the counter to hold her face, cupping her jaw and angling her head just the way he wanted it.

 

Taera let out a gasp – she had never considered that he would do that with his hands while he kissed her, she always imagined them curled up in her hair but she decidedly like the way he was holding her better.

 

The quick intake of breath led William to press into her further and deepen the kiss, his right thumb caressing her jawline as his left hand finding purchase in her long hair, like she had always imagined.

 

He pulled her face backwards using the hand in her hair, causing her to let out a groan as his teeth scraped her lips before he moved in again, moaning slightly when Taera’s hands trailed up from his chest to the back of his head pulling him closer, her tongue running across his, pressing into his mouth. Curling around his. He tasted like strawberries.

 

Her heart was beating so fast and loud that she worried that she would have a heart attack, his lips were soft and demanding at the same time as they moved against hers. And then he took her bottom lips between his own and pulled and she groaned. They both broke away gasping for air staring right at each other.

 

“I don’t do casual relationships.” Taera breathed.

 

“I didn’t do relationships but I want one, with you.” He murmured pecking her lips again. He pulled away but she couldn’t help but chase his lips for another kiss.

 

Kissing William was better than cupcakes. And cupcakes were her most favorite thing in the world.

 

She pulled away, gasping for air.

 

She knew it wasn’t the time to tell him everything she wanted. But she couldn’t help herself, it had taken them much too long to get where they were right then and she was tired of waiting.

 

“I have never been in a real relationship, just high school and then a series of dates that didn’t lead to much. I did have a crush on Liam once back in the day, it was brief and weird, he is more like a brother.” She rasped, her hands trailing from his hair down to his muscled back, the wet fabric cold against her palms.

 

He kissed her again, just a soft peck.

 

“I have been in one if you don’t count prom night and a series of dates.” He said and she chuckled against his lips remembering his story of prom night. “It was in second year of undergrad, it lasted two months, she was the one who cheated on me and I realized I didn’t have the time or energy to be in a relationship.” He whispered against her lips, repeatedly pecking her lips between words.

 

She was surprised he was telling her all these things right then. Maybe he felt the same.

 

“And now?” She whispered, pulling away a little and looking at his lips. His lips were so nice, and so kissable.

 

“I want all of it with you.” He answered, she was sure her heart plummeted to her feet and then bounced back into place, hitting her stomach in the way.

 

He wanted it all.

 

She wanted it all.

 

“Me too.” She smiled. “But we both might suck at this relationship stuff.” She said as she wrapped her legs around his waist, pulling him right against her.

 

“Or we can learn together.” He groaned, running a finger down her neck.

 

“You’re awfully calm about this.” She said, her fingers playing with the hair at the nape of his neck, scratching lightly.

 

“I spent 90 minutes talking to my therapist about you.” He said looking into her eyes with a crooked smile, his thumb caressing her cheeks. He whispered a so soft that she knew she wasn’t meant to hear.

 

“Jiah and Demi know too much about my feelings for you.”

 

“That’s okay.”

 

“The parking spot is officially mine.” She grinned.

 

“You have to learn to share.”

 

“We can fight over it occasionally, keep the spark alive.” She conceded.

 

“Just so you know, I will push you up against my car and kiss you.”

 

“Just so you know, I have wanted that for a long time.”

 

“Good to know.” He whispered her words back to her before catching her lips with his again, his mouth insistent and her shaking lips parting automatically to let him in. She felt her whole body shiver, current running along her nerves in a way she had never known. His hands trailed down her back mimicking her position, Taera let out a scream of surprise when she felt herself being lifted off the counter and into his arms, her arms and legs both wrapped around him.

 

“Fuck, that’s hot.” She murmured against his lips as he supported all her weight, pulling her flush against him. She could feel the throbbing between her legs intensify as she ground against his body, groaning when she felt his hardness against her through the thin material of his grey slacks.

 

“Tell me to stop.” He whispered, trailing kisses down her face and into her neck.

 

“Don’t stop.” She moaned, throwing her head back to give him more room to work. His touch felt sinful against the soft skin of her face and neck, his lips like electricity. And the way he sucked and laved at the skin drove her mad, she wanted him to mark her. Everywhere.

 

She grabbed his face, her hands cupping his jaw, and kissed him on the lips again, nibbling on his bottom lip. This was so much better than she had imagined. She kissed him fiercely, pushing all the pent up frustration from all her dreams into the kiss until her lungs screamed for air and forced her to pull away.

 

She gasped out his name against his lips as she felt her back being pressed against the wall, supporting some of her weight. “Oh god.” She sighed as his hips rubbed against hers, the material of his slacks against her soft white shorts.

 

“If you don’t tell me to stop I am going to take you right here.” He whispered before kissing her again.

 

“On the counter, fuck me on the counter.” She whispered while letting her hands travel to the buttons of his white shirt. He groaned and kissed her again as she tried to get his buttons to unbutton, but she couldn’t concentrate, not when his lips moved against hers like they did, not when the smell of his cologne assaulted his senses, not when their hips rubbed against each other’s, not when every nerve ending in her body seemed to be alive.

 

“How mad are you going to be if the buttons of your shirt fly off?” She whispered against his lips, she wanted it off, but she didn’t know if it would bother him.

 

“I really don’t care right now, I have extra clothes.” He whispered before his lips trailed up to her ear, his teeth pulling on her earlobe. “Even your ears are perfect.” He whispered against the shell of her ear causing her to let out a moan.

 

“Even?” She said as she pulled on the sides of his shirts, unbuttoning the buttons all at once, they didn’t clatter to the floor, surprisingly. She let herself put her hands on his body like she wanted, even though he had been out in the rain his skin was warm and smooth to the touch, she wanted to never stop touching him.

 

“All of you is so fucking perfect Taera.” He groaned into her ear as her hands travelled down his chest to his stomach, his body felt even better than it looked, she traced the lines of his abs, like she had wanted to in his office.

 

“No one has said that to me before.” She whispered as his hands trailed down to unbutton her blue denim shirt, he had a much easier time with the buttons despite the fact that only her legs and arms around him were holding her body up – along with the support of the wall behind her.

 

“Then everyone is dumb.” He said before kissing her again, his hands still unbuttoning, his body pushing hers against the wall, hips still moving as she leaned back, her legs wrapped around him tighter. She hummed against his lips as she felt his large hands on her skin, caressing her stomach with his fingers, wrapping around her waist. She could feel the callouses on his palm from the weightlifting, his hands were rough but soft at the same time.

 

She broke away and he trailed his kisses down her neck again, biting down on the base of her neck causing her to moan rather loudly, her body convulsing. He groaned against her neck before taking her lips with his again, the kiss aggressive.

 

His hands -  

 

“Taera, you still here- oh fuck.”

 

Taera and William’s eyes snapped open, meeting each other’s in shock, Taera pulled away from his lips, frantically unwrapping her legs from around his waist, William helped her stand upright, buttoning her shirt, as the two of them turned towards the source of the sound.

 

Liam was standing at the door that connected the back of Sorelle to the front end, a grin on his face as he looked between William and Taera. Both of their clothes were wet, clinging to their skin, their hair messy and their lips swollen, Taera’s neck looking suspiciously red. And William had forgotten to button his own shirt while trying to button Taera’s.

 

“I can come back.” He said with a smile on his face.

 

“No!” They both yelled simultaneously.

 

“We were just…leaving.” Taera said looking towards William who nodded, clearing his throat, his face flushed.

 

“Yes, I was…just uh-”

 

“Sucking my best friend’s face off?” Liam laughed arching his eyebrow at them.

 

“-leaving.”

 

“Yes, I am just going to…to drop him off.” Taera nodded at Liam, her head bobbing up and down rapidly as she turned to William.

 

“How about you two stay and I’ll go? I just wanted to check if you wanted to join us for dinner but you should carry on.” Liam said to Taera before turning to William. “I am Liam by the way, nice to formally meet you and to see that you have other facial expressions apart from anger.” He quipped backing away letting the door close behind him. “USE PROTECTION!” He yelled from the back making Taera groan, the mood was effectively broken, she let her head fall against William’s bicep.

 

“That was embarrassing, he’s going to exaggerate what he saw and tell everyone.” She mumbled against his arm.

 

“I should go.” William said, but he stood there letting Taera lean into his body, his arm wrapping around her waist, thumb rubbing.

 

“Do you want to go?” She asked looking up at him.

 

“No, not really.” He laughed. “How about we get dinner?”

 

“Are you asking me out on a date?” She teased.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Where are we going?”

 

“I am not sure what restaurant will let us in looking like this.” He said looking down at their wet clothing.

 

“Lucky for you I am easy and want pizza.” She smiled.

 

“Pizza it is, I’ll run for an extra 30 minutes tomorrow.” He conceded. “And maybe…” He stopped short and she arched her eyebrow at him, he looked a little nervous so she gave him her special smile. “If you’re looking for a local to show you around Charleston…” He trailed off, but she knew he was referring back to the conversation they had at Anaya’s party, about her wanting to explore Charleston.

 

“I am. Someone about 6 foot 2, a fitness freak, gives really good hugs…”

 

“Good hugs?”

 

“Hmmm, someone who knows how to comfort crying girls.” She said while looking towards where they had stood the last time it rained and they were both soaked.

 

“I don’t know about comforting crying girls…maybe just comforting a crying woman that has the weirdest things memorized.” He said while holding his hand out to her.

 

“I like that.” She smiled.

 

“I like you.”

 

She couldn’t help but giggle at that.

 

“I like you too.” She grinned.

 

“Let’s go.”

 

“You might want to button your shirt first – as much as I am enjoying the view.” She said.

 


 

Taera took a deep breath in and opened the door to her house, despite the fact that it was now 1pm all the lights in the house were on. As soon as she threw the door open she saw Jiah, Liam and Demi on the other side. They were all standing in the foyer, staring right back at her, their arms crossed across their chest.

 

“Tsk tsk, he didn’t even drop you to the door and kiss you goodnight.” Liam said shaking his head in disappointment.

 

“He dropped me to my car and kissed me goodnight very thoroughly.” Taera answered causing both Demi and Jiah to squeal.

 

“TELL ME EVERYTHINGGGGGGGGGGGG!” Jiah screamed. “I HAVE BEEN DYING FOR THE PAST SIX HOURS I COULDN’T EVEN EAT!” She said throwing her arms around Taera. “Why are you wet?” She asked moving back.

 

“Ooooh, apparently the devil incarnate is that good.” Liam chuckled waggling his eyebrows.

 

“SO CRASS!” Demi yelled slapping Liam’s arm. “I’ll get the hot chocolate, you go change into something warm and then you’re going to tell us every single detail.” Demi said turning to her sister.

 

The lights in the house stayed on well past 3am, the girls and Liam, mostly the girls, yelling happily as Taera regaled them with what had happened from the walk in the rain to the conversation about jealousy and the kisses. Taera had to whack Liam multiple times when he chimed in to say things like they were about to rip each other’s clothes off.

 

After Liam left they had walked to the pizza place down the street, hand in hand. Taera teased him about being jealous to which he rolled his eyes and mumbled that she was literally joined at the hip with Liam. She thought it was rather sweet and had leaned up to kiss his cheek as they stood in line to order. It seemed to appease him because he grinned and held her hand tighter.

 

She asked him about this conversation with his therapist that he had mentioned as they ate pizza, and he had told her that he wasn’t sure how to move on from I think I like her. When Taera had quipped that he seemed to be doing quite well since returning from New York he had cleared his throat awkwardly before confessing that he might have been scouring internet articles.

 

Taera had wanted to laugh but she thought it was rather cute and just nodded saying that she might have Googled ‘how to know when someone is flirting with you’. She even confessed that she had missed him the week he was away to make him feel less embarrassed, she could see that it was difficult for him to share it all with her.

 

The whole time her heart had been pounding away in her chest and her stomach was filled with so many butterflies that she only had two slices of pizza – she could easily eat half a pizza on a normal day.

 

And then they went for a really long walk down his favourite beach, hand in hand, in the rain, talking about everything and nothing all at once – but the conversation never seemed to end. They had said we should go about six times before they actually walked back to his car – he drove her back to Sorelle. And then they made out against the black Range Rover until a car drove past them and honked.

 

She had been so close to just begging him to come back to Sorelle with her to continue where they left off, but then she thought that this was for the better. That they should go slow, even if part of her was dying to just – jump him.

 

Taera fell asleep that night with a huge smile on her face feeling content, her phone in her hand, she had asked him to text her when he got home. And he had. And the good night Taera text had her squealing and burying her head in her pillow.

 

She was probably going to die of a heart attack one day because of William Choi.

 


Art for this chapter by Jos (@yaya_yay127 on Twitter):

 

Chapter Text

October 2017

 

“You are in a good mood.” Daniel commented as William walked into his office.

 

William had been walking around BARE all morning whistling to himself, and had a smile on his face. It seemed to freak out their staff who were used to a very focused and to the point boss. Daniel had noticed that something was up during their conference call with the New York and Atlanta locations this morning when even their site managers had commented that William looked very happy.

 

“It’s a good day.” William shrugged falling into his chair and picking up his phone, his face lighting up as he saw the screen. Daniel’s eyes narrowed as his brother typed away on his phone with a grin on his face, putting the phone down right as the ‘message sent’ swoosh sounded.

 

“What happened? Did the Liam character leave?” Daniel asked, William had been glaring at the guy for the past week and his mood was off even when the man wasn’t in sight. Daniel knew that his brother had it bad for Taera, he had known it would happen the first day he watched them bicker.

 

William was usually oblivious to the female population, not paying attention to anyone and he was much too interested in Taera from the get-go. And Daniel had definitely noticed his brother breaking his own rules and staying past his self-imposed curfew when she was around, who needed sleep when you could bicker with the girl you were crushing on.

 

“No, he’s still around.” William shrugged nonchalantly, his face didn’t scrunch up like it usually did when Liam was mentioned.

 

“What the fuck man, you’re scaring me.” Daniel said as William continued to smile, William wasn’t a sad person by any means, but he usually didn’t walk around with a smile on his face.

 

“Taera and I are a thing now.” William confessed, the grin on his face growing, Daniel hadn’t thought it was possible.

 

A thing?…are you allowed to use that phrase after the age of 12?” Daniel snorted.

 

“Whatever. We…uh, talked, and it turns out she likes me too.”

 

“Are you blushing?” Daniel asked shocked as he noticed colour fill his brother’s cheeks.

 

“No, it’s just warm.” William said, a smile still on his face.

 

“Right. So did you sweep her off her feet or was it the other way around?”

 

“It was mutual sweeping.” William shrugged.

 

“I have a hard time believing that.” Daniel said, Taera seemed more the type.

 

“Speaking of things you’ll have a hard time believing…or accepting, Jiah is going on a date Sunday night, 8 days from today.” William said looking straight at Daniel, he wanted to bring it up and it was about time to change the subject and shift the attention from him.

 

“It doesn’t make a difference to me.” Daniel scoffed just shrugging nonchalantly but William had known him his whole life and he could tell from the tight jaw and blazing eyes that it did in fact make a difference.

 

“You know what your problem is?” William asked.

 

“Sentences that start like that?”

 

“Emotionally you are an idiot, and that’s a big deal coming from me. You are so afraid of getting hurt that you sabotage yourself. And this situation with Jiah is the prime example.”

 

“Okay there William Fraud, does Raina know you’re giving out unsolicited advice like a therapist?”

 

“You clearly need one and happen to be your only sane sibling.” William shrugged. “You need to be honest with yourself and then Jiah.”

 

“I really don’t care if she’s going on a date with Liam.” He mumbled.

 

“Oh, not Liam but Evan.” William said trying to hold back his smile.

 

“What the fu- he’s our cousin!” Daniel yelled.

 

“One that knows that the relationship was fake.” William shrugged. “I thought it didn’t matter.” He added with a grin.

 

“Whatever, I don’t care.” Daniel said getting up and walking out of the office.

 

William smiled picking up his phone and sent Taera a message to know that he had conveyed the information to Daniel. She responded immediately suggesting that they should meet to discuss his reaction causing him to chuckle and ask her if she wanted to get lunch with him.

 

He had been itching for an excuse to see her.

 

He had stopped himself from getting up and driving to her house multiple times over the previous night after she left. Every time he closed his eyes he just replayed the evening, over and over again – because it was still hard to believe that it had all happened.

 

He had seen her walking down the street towards the bank as he was getting ready to leave for the day, in the pair of white shorts and denim shirt he had first seen her in that first time. He still remembered the day that he almost ran her over, she was wearing the exact same thing, and even then he had watched her long legs appreciatively – despite the fact that he found her to be absolutely crazy. But now he just smiled, because she was absolutely gorgeous and he knew that if she was jumping out in front of cars, it would be for a very good reason.

 

He decided that he could go to the bank in the evening instead of the morning, maybe he would ask for the cashier’s check he needed. He told himself it wasn’t stalking as he followed her to the bank, he had business there. A cashier’s check that couldn’t wait until the next morning, it was imperative that he have it right then.

 

His brain and heart both knew that the business was actually addressing the fact that he hadn’t spoken to her in what felt like forever. He wanted to remind her that he existed, that he was an option. Not just Liam. It felt like she forgot all about him since he showed up, even though she had sent him brownies and smiled at him from across the road, it just wasn’t the same.

 

His heart decided to beat much too fast as soon as she turned in line and smiled at him , the huge happy smile that was much different up close, and one that she hadn’t given him since the night they spent in Jiah’s car on that stakeout. But it was like nothing had changed, she teased him, she shared things with him like he was her partner-in-crime, still, not just for that night. He was surprised to find her waiting for him and it had bolstered his courage later as he leaned on the counter in Sorelle, wondering what to say when she asked him if he was jealous.

 

The hopeful look in her eyes and the way she looked at him made him decide to put it all out there, she needed to know he was an option, that he had feelings for her. He was jealous, he had never had the kind of violent thoughts he was having towards Liam before. She had flushed at the words, then smiled. and he thought maybe that was an invitation, he had walked towards her with his stomach sinking to his feet, scared of rejection.

 

She didn’t back away though, let him step between her legs and rest his hands on either side of her. Maybe things hadn’t changed – it reminded him of that day in his office a bit, she hadn’t shied away then either. He didn’t know if I like you was enough, so he said that she made him feel things - things he was afraid of quantifying because it might overwhelm her.  Because it overwhelmed him.

 

Her face had broken into a smile but she had remained quiet, her eyes flickering between his eyes and lips. Her lack of words had his stomach sinking and his heart beating so fast that he was sure he would die if she pushed him away. But she didn’t, she had placed her warm hand over his chest and looked at his lips and then back at him, asking for a kiss.

 

He was still hesitant and stopped short of just kissing her, wondering what she would do, he should have expected the eye-roll and her to close the distance between them. It was the most perfect thing ever, he wondered if he could call any other kiss a kiss after kissing her.

 

She was warm, she tasted like chocolate, she felt like heaven and she made the prettiest sounds. Gasps, hums, little moans. She kissed back, just as hard, pulled him closer, ran her hands over his body.

 

And she talked between kisses.

 

Because she was Taera.

 

Of course she would talk between kisses.

 

He rather appreciated it, it cleared things up. They both wanted the same things. He was sure he wanted more. Because he had been imagining his perfect day with her and their children weeks ago. He had been dreaming about her for months. If someone told him he had to marry her the next day, he wouldn’t object. He could spend his whole life just kissing her.

 

It was beyond his imagination. His dreams didn’t prepare him for her sounds, for the way she moved against him, for the way his body reacted to her. It was just kissing, and he was more than ready to just fuck her until he could hear every sound she made. Every single one.

 

He didn’t know why he had picked her up until her back was against the wall, he had dreamed about taking her against it. He thought she’d tell him to stop but she didn’t, she kissed him harder and asked him to fuck her on the counter. He was sure he had whimpered at the suggestion, she was so fucking perfect.

 

He wanted to kiss every inch of her perfect body. Wanted to learn how his dreams fell short of reality. Wanted to know what it would feel like to sink into her warmth. Wanted to know every little thing about her. But they had been interrupted.

 

He didn’t know if he should thank Liam or kill him.

 

Because it could have been awkward, to jump straight to the sex.

 

But it could have been perfect.

 

He didn’t know.

 

But he didn’t care too much. Because spending time with Taera, her hand in his, learning about how she had liked him for just as long reassured him in a way sex wouldn’t have. He thought she would be coy, that she would filter things, but she didn’t. She told him how she felt, there were no games with her. And at the end of the night, when he had her pressed up against his car, their lips melded together, he wished he had asked her to just stay.

 

It’s not like he slept any. His body was too charged up and he just wanted to see her. The short glimpse in the morning hadn’t been enough and for the first time in a really long time, he wished he didn’t have to work.

 

But he did.

 

But no one said he couldn’t take a very long lunch break and see her.

 


 

Aera watched with a smile on her face as Daniel paced the length of her driveway on Monday, running his hand through his hair occasionally and mumbling to himself. She had told Evan to stay in the guest room and not make a sound lest he want to invoke the wrath of Daniel Choi.

                                                               

William and Taera had called her earlier, Taera accusing her of leaving them out of the plan. Apparently, William and Taera had figured it out themselves and decided to help, igniting the proverbial fire under Daniel’s ass. Aera had wanted to wait until the date before casually springing the fact that Jiah was on a date to Daniel, but she figured giving her idiotic brother more time to mull over his feelings wasn’t bad…for Jiah. She wasn’t sure what he would do to Evan though so she had sent him running upstairs when she saw her brother’s car pull up.

 

According to the staff at Venture and William, Daniel had been in a horrible mood since he learnt about Jiah’s date the previous afternoon. He made his secretary cry, fired two analysts at Venture and tried to fire a personal trainer at BARE, William had stepped in to stop him for the last one.

 

Their mother was out of town for a wedding but even she had picked up that Daniel seemed off through a mere phone call. It made Aera absolutely giddy to see her plan pulling together. David had even relented and agreed that someone needed to interfere so Daniel didn’t regret this later.

 

Aera took a deep breath in and pushed the side door of the house open, stepping into the frame and looking at her brother. “You’re going to wear my driveway out with all your pacing.” She said loudly causing her brother to jump up in surprise, he had been so engrossed in his thoughts that he hadn’t heard the door. “Come on in.”

 

She watched amused as Daniel huffed and walked into the house, marching over to the couch and falling into it without his usual grace – their mother would have an aneurysm if she saw him sitting like that. He hadn’t shaved today, she could see the stubble, his hair looked unkempt and his clothes had wrinkles in them. She hadn’t seen her brother so disheveled in years, his dark circles screamed that he had clearly not gotten enough sleep the previous night, and his messy hair told her he had been running his hands through it all day.

 

Aera always found it interesting how women were a hot mess right after a break up (even if it was a fake relationship) but men had their hot mess moments a while after. Jiah was back to looking like nothing had happened and Daniel looked like he got hit by a train.

 

Aera sat across from him waiting for him to open his mouth.

 

 “Is Evan here?” Daniel asked gruffly.

 

“No, he’s out with friends.” Aera smiled hoping that Evan didn’t start making any noise upstairs.

 

“Since when does he have friends in Charleston?” Daniel grumbled.

 

“He’s a nice guy, he makes friends easily.” Aera shrugged.

 

“William is a nice guy…Evan is Evan.”

 

“What’s wrong?” Aera asked innocently.

 

“Did you introduce Jiah to Evan?” Daniel asked lifting his eyebrow, Evan had not been able to make Anaya’s party, he was away at a conference so he had to be introduced to her recently.

 

“Oh yes, they hit it off right away! He likes her but he was worried about the fact that the two of you were together up until recently. I told him it was a fake relationship to get eomma and Savannah off your back. I think they’ll be good together, Jiah even finds his corny jokes funny.” She said to her brother who looked at her if she was on something. “What?”

 

“Nothing.” Daniel mumbled.

 

“Was I wrong to do so? You told me yourself that you don't have feelings for Jiah?” Aera asked innocently.

 

“I don’t.”

 

“I am sorry for pushing you that day, I just thought you two would be good together you know? But then I saw her with Evan – you know he’s so charming and nice – and I think that’s what Jiah needs, a nice guy.” Aera sighed.

 

“I am perfectly nice!” Daniel snapped.

 

“I didn’t say you weren’t.” Aera said pretending to be confused. “Why are you so angry?”

 

“I- never mind.” He snapped before getting up and walking to the door.

 

“You’re leaving already? Have dinner with us, David and Anaya should be back from the park soon.” She said following him to the door.

 

“I have work to do.” He said before slamming the door behind him, the frame rattling.

 

“He’s going to kill me.” Evan groaned from the top of the stairs. “Why did he even let her go? A blind person can tell he’s burning with jealous rage.”

 

“Daniel is Daniel, he does things on his own messed up schedule.” She shrugged.

 

Noona, he’s going to murder me with his cold bare hands.” Evan whined.

 

“Stop being a drama queen. He’s not dumb enough to incriminate himself…he’ll hire someone else to murder you.”

 


 

Taera smiled as she waved bye to her sister after discussing their plans for the evening. They were all planning to watch yet another movie – movies made Jiah happy and their lives currently revolved around keeping her smiling.

 

Taera was supposed to join them but a scary movie had won the vote so she told Demi she wouldn’t be coming stating that she didn’t want to watch another movie. She had never been a fan of watching movies in theatres, especially scary ones. She wanted to comment on every aspect of movies and it annoyed others.

 

But she had another reason for not wanting to join them – if she didn’t join them, she could spend time with William. Over the past week, her evenings were divided up between spending time with her friends and spending time with William – he had even joined them at the movies once. Liam sitting behind them and throwing popcorn at the back of their heads because his new partner-in-crime – Henry – was missing .

 

On the nights they didn’t join the others, they spent time with each other. They went sightseeing twice after work, hand in hand through a museum that she loved, and down a street lined with old buildings. He seemed to know a little bit about everything and a little prodding told her he was doing research before taking her places and she couldn’t help but get on her tippy-toes in the middle of a busy street to kiss him. And then she insisted that his tours be more about his memories, and he said he would take her to the schools he went to – and the barn that he and Daniel had hidden behind on his prom night.

 

One night he had been tired and everyone out at the movies, so they had curled up on the couch he had slept on once because she had cramps and going out somewhere didn’t make sense. He had been rather sweet about it, pulling her into his lap and holding the hot water bottle against her stomach as they started to watch the Marvel movies in the order they were supposed to be watched in. She was glad her periods lasted for a week for the first time in her life because it gave her an excuse to curl up with him and be whiny.

 

The first day she complained about cramps he said she shouldn’t be working, and then he seemed aghast when she said she had cramps all five days of her period. He had been super sweet since, asking her if she was okay and accommodating her demands about staying home and needing to eat junk. For a moment she had a hard time reconciling that concern with Villain Choi but then she remembered how he was with his family and the way he took care of her the night Sorelle was vandalized and it made sense.

 

They were only on Thor, the fourth movie, and she wouldn’t be able to tell anyone what the first three movies were about if she hadn’t watched them before. Because William was distracting, murmuring in her ear about which characters he liked and didn’t like while she sat in his lap, and then his lips would latch onto her ear and neck. He said it was because they were distracting and apparently covering her ears and neck with her hair didn’t help either because his lips always found their way through.

 

She inevitably ended up being pushed back into the couch, the hot water bottle resting between them, still on her stomach as they kissed, her pain forgotten. And when she asked him if he had kissed her head when he woke up beside her that day on her couch he nodded, saying he hadn’t wanted to let her go. She wished her monthly visitor had picked a better time because she really wanted to drag him up to her room and beg him to stay, she wanted to wake up beside him again and see what he did when the lines no longer existed. But alas, the pain in her stomach and back told her that she couldn’t do that just yet.

 

Instead, he entertained her random theories about the movies and asked her questions about them rather than asking her to be quiet like everyone else did while they watched movies. It always ended in them sitting across from each other, legs crossed, knees touching as she talked a mile a minute and he listened and shared his own thoughts, her hand in his, she liked rubbing the back of his hand with her thumb, gliding over the veins that protruded.

 

Once he lay his head in her lap as they watched and she finally got the chance to play with his hair the way she wanted to, it always fell back perfectly into place no matter how much she tried to mess it up. He occasionally turned his head up towards her and she couldn’t help but lean down and peck his lips every time he did it. She had run up to her room on the pretense that she needed to get something, in reality she had just stuffed her face into her pillow and screamed because the feelings were overwhelming.

 

She always felt a giddy feeling welling up inside her whenever he was sitting on her couch. It had only been about three times, counting the night he slept there, and they were among her favourite nights. She felt like a teenager with her first crush but so much more intense, her stomach filled with butterflies and even though she had begged him to fuck her on the counter at Sorelle, she felt nervous around him. Her palms got sweaty, her heart hammered away in her chest and her mind went blank.

 

Everything made her want to squeal, she wanted to tell Jiah and Demi every little thing he said or did but she held herself back – especially since Jiah was still torn up about Daniel. She held it all inside and her mind ran with constant thoughts about William – about how she hadn’t expected them to fall so easily into dating, about how happy he made her, about how thoughtful he was, about how much she liked him, about how much she wanted him – a lot.

 

Her period had put a damper on things, slightly, but she was kind of glad in a way too. Because she had never experienced this before, curling up beside someone to watch something you loved between conversations and food - and kisses. Her only relationship had been a far cry from it, and the series of dates had been just that – dates at random restaurants. But with him, it was conversations and spending time together, he annoyed her by countering her theories, they laughed, they shared random stories. In between all of that, it was so easy to close the distance between them until they were a mess of limbs on the sofa, lips swollen, chests heaving and skin tingling.

 

But she always made sure they were presentable by the time Jiah, Demi, and Liam came back home, because a part of her felt guilty for being so deliriously happy when her best friend was heartbroken. And William understood that too, because he let her walk him out and kissed her goodnight outside the door after Jiah came back. With a promise of seeing her the next day.

 

The trio – Jiah, Demi and Liam - always waited inside the door, wanting to know everything, Jiah and Demi gushing over their evenings while Liam made gagging sounds. Jiah was sincerely happy for her despite her own heartbreak and she always made sure to hug her extra tight before they all went to bed. Taera was glad that Jiah was doing a lot better, she was even looking forward to her date with Evan on the coming Sunday, the day after Irene’s slumber party which was slotted in for Friday night/Saturday morning.

 

Today they were going to watch a scary movie, Evan was joining Liam, Jiah, Demi, Irene and Henry. She wondered if Daniel knew about it because he had been snappy all day according to William. It was now Thursday and Sunday was quickly approaching. She decided wanting to know what Daniel was up to and discussing her suddenly open evening with her boyfriend was a good enough reason to walk over to BARE.

 

She ignored the knowing look their baker, Shanice, gave her as she stood in front of the mirror and fixed her collared shirt and untied her hair, running her fingers through it, until it was presentable. She then quickly walked across the street to BARE.

 

William was standing at the front desk when she opened the door to the gym, going through a binder with Anne standing across from him, blatantly staring at his arms as he flipped through it. Taera’s mind continued to yell mine when she saw other women starting at him and she had no qualms acting on the thought now. She gave Anne a fake smile as she glared at her and bounced up to William, he didn’t even notice she was standing beside him because he was so engrossed in the binder.

 

“Does that binder hold the secrets of the universe?” She asked as she wrapped her hand around his arm. She watched as his head turned towards her, the emotions flickered across his face in quick succession, surprise and then a happy smile that made her heart skip a beat.

 

“Not all of them.” He answered, his voice teasing.

 

“Do you have a minute?” She asked.

 

“I have twenty before my next meeting.” He said closing the binder. “I’ll go over this later Anne, thanks for bringing it to my attention.” He said before pushing the binder back towards her.

 

She grinned when he grabbed her hand and pulled her down the hall towards his office. “No brownies today?” He teased, she usually showed up with brownies.

 

“No, you have to earn them.”

 

He chuckled as he opened the door to his office, she stepped in before him and let him close the door behind him. “It seems like I have no plans for tonight anymore.” She said as she plopped into his chair, the one behind his desk that he sat at. She was supposed to go to the movies and had told him as much earlier in the week.

 

“Hm, that sucks, what’s Jiah doing tonight?” He asked as he leaned on his desk beside her, reminding her of where she sat when she came to talk about Irene. He looked rather good sitting there, his arms crossed across his chest, the sleeveless tank leaving his very nice arms on display. No wonder Anne had been staring, it was hard not to.

 

“Movies.” She said, he already knew that.

 

“Demi?”

 

“Movies too.”

 

“Liam?”

 

“Movies.”

 

“Hmm, they didn’t invite you to come with them? I guess it’s going to be a lonely night for you.” He teased and she narrowed her eyes at him.

 

“Fine, I’ll just tell them I’ll come.” She said getting up from the chair and pouting, ready to stomp away, but he laughed and grabbed her hand, pulling her to him until she was standing between his legs as he sat on his desk.

 

“Let me go.” She said, although she rather he not.

 

“Look at me.” He said.

 

“I’d rather go look at the people who I am going to the movies with.” She mumbled.

 

“Taera.” He sighed, she looked up at him and arched her eyebrow. “Why are you easy to tease?” He grinned.

 

“You suck.” She said trying to pull away but he pulled her closer.

 

“I would ask you out on a date but I am babysitting Anaya today.” He said.

 

“Oh.” She said, suddenly feeling very clingy. It’s not like he had to spend every night of the week with her.  

 

“David and Aera are going to a dinner, eomma is out of state for the wedding…and Daniel is broody.” He said causing her to chuckle.

 

“I see.”

 

“But since you’re not doing anything tonight anymore, and I am rather selfish – join me.” He said and her heart thumped happily again, maybe she wasn’t the only one that wanted to spend all their free time together.

 

“You sure?” She asked, she didn’t want to interrupt on his uncle-niece bonding time.

 

“Hmm, we’ll do something fun, I was just going to stay home but Anaya would be happy to go somewhere and she would be very happy to have Miss Taewa go with us.”

 

“And you?” She asked, a little unsure still.

 

“Would be even happier.” He smiled. “So?”

 

“I get to pick where we go!” She said.

 

“Deal. Was there anything else you needed to talk about?”

 

“No, I just wanted to figure out my plans for tonight.” She said even though a part of her told her she wanted to discuss something else but it had slipped her mind.

 

“Perfect.” He said, wrapping his arms around her waist tighter and pulling her closer. She smiled as his lips met hers, his soft and very talented lips.

 

“I thought you had a meeting.” She whispered against his lips.

 

“I think I still have ten minutes.” He whispered and she laughed. “If you can stop laughing, I’d like to kiss you.” He said against her lips.

 

She giggled and let her hands cup his face. “You have to earn kisses too.” She teased.

 

“Taera.” He sighed.

 

“Yes, Villain Choi?”

 

“Shut up.” He said before pressing his lips against hers. She smiled against his lips, loving how he tugged on her bottom lip and dragged his mouth across hers, the thumbs of the hands he had wrapped around her waist slowly rubbing her sides. His touch caused goosebumps to erupt over her skin even through the fabric of her shirt. He tilted his head and kissed her bottom lip, then top, then bottom, hard enough that her head moved back and forth with every tug.

 

She let out a small hum as the tip of his tongue ran across her bottom lip, her tongue met his and his hands slid down her back, pulling her even closer. She let her hands drop to his shoulders, running down his arms, so warm and smooth to the touch – and hers. All hers. To look at. To touch.

 

She broke away with a gasp as his hand found its way under the hem of her shirt, his fingers caressing her back, running up the bottom of her spine.

 

She giggled as he leaned in and rubbed his nose against hers. “Your nose is very cute.” He whispered, sounding as breathless as she felt.

 

“Thank you?” She laughed. “You nose is very nice too.” She said, rubbing her nose against his like he had and he let out a little chuckle.

 

“I just wanted you to know.”

 

“Good to know.” She teased. “How long until you have to go?” She whispered.

 

“I can be a little late.” He said before taking her lips with his again, her arms slipped around his neck, both his hands were under her shirt, sliding up her ribs, rubbing her skin. She let out a breathy little sound that she didn’t know how to explain and he groaned and kissed her harder.

 

His fingers ran up her spine and she moaned, his tongue was circling hers then and she was pulling him closer, needing more. His mouth was soft and warm, and his touch like fire and she didn’t want him to stop. Like every time he did this. Their lips broke away and met, again and again, she completely lost track of time. All she cared about was how he kissed her, like he never wanted to stop, just like her.

 

He pulled away gasping for air and she sucked in a couple of breaths, her lips tingling. “I need to go.” He sighed.

 

“I know.” She whispered, ready to pull away. She gasped as his lips met hers again despite his words.  

 

“I. Don’t. Want. To. Go.” He said between pecks making her giggle.

 

“Stop.” She laughed, pushing his face away just a smidge before kissing his cheek. She fixed his shirt and wiped at the side of his mouth with her finger, giggling when he tried to bite her finger. She hadn’t thought he’d be this playful.

 

“I am going to head over to pick up Anaya from school at 3:30, you want to come with me or meet up later?” He asked, patting her hair down.

 

“I’ll come with you.” She said, she had opened today so she could leave a little early.

 

“Sounds good, make sure you pick something fun.” He said.

 

Her heart fluttered erratically as he leaned in to kiss her forehead. He was going to be the reason she died of a heart attack. “Be ready to be amazed.” She said as he let her go, she missed his touch already. “Now go do whatever it is that you do.”

 

“I just sit there and look pretty.” He said and she couldn’t help but laugh.

 

“Don’t look too pretty, I don’t want any other women getting ideas.”

 

“Yes ma’am.” He laughed and then he leaned in and kissed her again, even as she laughed and tried to push him away.

 

Hyung, let’s go – woah.” Henry’s voice came from the door.

 

William groaned as he pulled away, his eyes meeting hers, the annoyance clear.

 

“Well, well, well, I was wondering why the William Choi was late.” Henry sounded much too happy as William moved from front of her, allowing her to see that the youngest Choi brother was leaning against the door frame with a very mischievous look on his face.

 

“Hi.” She waved to him, she was sure she was flushed from both the kisses and getting caught. They really needed to learn to lock doors or learn to listen to what was going on around them, she hadn’t heard the door open.

 

“Give us a minute, Henry.” William sighed.

 

“No, now that I finally have you here, I have a couple of important questions for you, Taera.” Henry said before pouting. “Why not me?” He asked, sounding sad.

 

“You didn’t try and run me over with a car.” Taera quipped before looking up at William and winking.

 

“I can rectify that immediately.” Henry said causing Taera to laugh.

 

“Shut up Henry.” William groaned.

 

“What are your intentions with my brother, Miss Jeong?” Henry asked, completely ignoring William.

 

“Intentions?” Taera snorted.  

 

“Do you plan to love him and cherish him – OUCH WHAT THE FUCK WILL?!” Henry ended off with a scream as William threw the stress ball that had a home on his desk at Henry, hard. She cringed as it hit Henry’s thigh and then the floor.

 

“Oops, my hand slipped.” William deadpanned making Taera snicker.

 

“You act like I can’t ask her later, she’s going to movies with us.” Henry said while rubbing his thigh where the ball had hit him.

 

“We are not going.” Taera grinned.

 

“We?” Henry asked, arching his eyebrow, he gasped after a second. “Are we always going out to the movies to give you guys time to have sex?!” He asked, his eyes wide, going back and forth between Taera and William.

 

“No, I wish.” Taera grinned, if her monthly visitor had chosen a better time that would have been exactly what would happen.

 

Henry snorted. “Little Willy can’t get it up?”

 

“That’s it.” William muttered and then before Taera could comprehend what was happening William was charging towards the door and Henry let out a very loud high-pitched scream before scrambling and turning, trying to sprint away. She skipped over to the door and laughed when she noticed that William had Henry in a firm chokehold.

 

“ABUSE! ABUSE! SOMEONE CALL 911!” Henry got out as William squeezed while thoroughly messing up Henry’s hair. She stepped into the hallway to get a better look, she could imagine this exact scene having happened at multiple points during their lives.

 

Henry somehow managed to get out of William’s grasp but it only lasted for a second, because William decided to tackle Henry, Henry falling to the ground with another scream with William’s knee on his back – she could tell that despite the rough actions, William wasn’t trying to kill Henry.

 

“Apologize.” William growled.

 

Taera felt a whimper escape her. She had a feeling she was going to be dreaming about being pinned down and taken in the near future. She wouldn’t mind being tackled by William, at all.

 

“Sorry!” Henry yelled, his hand hitting the floor repeatedly as William pressed down on his back.

 

William gracefully got up and Henry sagged to the floor, his hands splayed out. “Someone call 911 and ask for an ambulance.” He gasped dramatically before lifting his head. Taera snickered and walked over to where William was standing by Henry, looking much too pleased.

 

“Don’t worry, you’ll survive.” Taera said as she watched Henry get up. It was followed by a whole bunch of snickers and it was only then that she realized that there were people around, working out, and all the employees were standing by snickering. “Physically…I don’t know how you’re going to live this down though.” She added causing William to chuckle.

 

“See you later.” William said to her, placing a kiss on her forehead. She held back a squeal and nodded, heading towards the door. She turned back to see that William was helping up a petulant Henry who was glaring at his brother and whacking his hands away. She smiled when William threw his arm around Henry’s shoulder and pulled him towards the conference room.

 

She felt her heart flutter yet again when William looked up towards the door, his eyes catching hers again, he gave her a smile. Oh, she was in so much trouble.

Chapter Text

“Does your mom teach here?” Taera asked as they pulled up to Anaya’s school.

 

Anaya had started kindergarten in September and was loving it, more than she had loved pre-school. But William missed spending time with her and the random drop-ins she and Aera used to make at work. She was one of the reasons he came back, he had been seeing her grow up through pictures and occasional visits and he hated how quicky she grew, she had looked so different every time he saw her.

 

He looked towards Taera as he turned into the school, behind a line of cars, the usual afternoon rush. “No, she teaches down the street at the other elementary school.” He told her.

 

“Wait, I didn’t ask before but did she teach you?” Taera laughed.

 

“Oh god no, we went to this one.” He shuddered, it would have been horrible to go to the same school his mother taught at.

 

Taera snickered. “Aw, I was hoping there were embarrassing stories.”

 

She whacked his hand away when he tried to poke her side. “None at all.”

 

“I refuse to believe that.”

 

“That’s your choice.” He said as he parked to the side of the school, behind a bunch of others cars.

 

He looked over at her and smiled, his car smelled like vanilla and roses and he loved looking over at the passenger seat when she was sitting beside him, the sun hitting her face, making her look ethereal.

 

She had a soft smile on her face as her eyes scanned the playground and he figured she was looking for Anaya, trying to spot her between the other small children in the fenced area. It was chaotic as always, children were running around and playing on the slides and swings with their little backpacks on.

 

“You want to come with?” He asked tilting his head towards the teachers standing around with clipboards, they signed children out as they were picked up as a safety measure.

 

“Why? Do they scare you?” She teased, turning towards him.

 

Her smile always blew him away, it was just the way her lips pulled up and her eyes crinkled. She was so effortlessly beautiful, she was wearing an oversized blue button up today with a pair of jeans, her long hair down her back in waves, bangs pushed away from her face – and even though it was completely casual and supposedly nothing special, she looked amazing.

 

He had seriously debated skipping his meeting earlier and just laying her down on his table, peeling the clothes off of her and learning what sounds she made when he kissed her body. Much like he had that night at Sorelle, it was like a switch flipped on in his head as soon as their lips met. And she had happily announced that ‘Aunt Flo’ - what she called her monthly visitor - had left which made it all the more tempting.

 

She cleared her throat and he sighed, he always got distracted when it came to her.

 

“Her teacher tries to flirt with me whenever I pick Anaya up, with Daniel too, Aera forbid Henry from picking Anaya up because she doesn’t want him to date her teacher.” He told her, holding back a grin when her eyes narrowed.

 

One of the first things he had noticed about Taera was how jealous she got, he had mulled over her behaviour with the girls in the gym a couple of times before he realized that she was jealous, it had sparked hope. And then there was the time that Daniel said Taera seemed jealous of Lauren which had made him feel giddy in a way he couldn’t quite explain then.

 

He wondered if it felt like what his jealousy felt like, his mind just screamed mine and he wanted to wrap himself around her and keep everyone away. He also wanted to pummel the person that looked at her with desire to the ground…not that he would because he knew she wouldn’t react well to it, and that it was a rather stupid reaction.

 

“I’ll come with you.” She said and he nodded. “Stop smiling like that.” She pouted, he guessed he wasn’t good at suppressing his knowing grin.

 

“Like what?” He asked.

 

“All smug and stuff.” She whined.

 

“I just like it when you get jealous.” He told her, he rather liked the fact that she was possessive of him, like he was hers in her head. Like he was important. 

 

“If you try to purposely make me jealous just know that I will retaliate.” She threatened.  

 

“I won’t.” He laughed, she would kill him, he knew this.

 

 “Better not, or you’re dead Villain Choi.” She muttered in a petulant voice, everything this woman did was downright adorable.

 

“Yes, Wicked Witch of New York.” He teased.

 

She reached out to whack him but he dodged her hand and opened his door before rushing to her door, she had it unlatched but he held it open for her as she stepped out.

 

“How chivalrous.” She teased, her eyes shining with happiness. He loved her eyes.

 

“I am only doing this because you slam the door shut too hard.” He teased.

 

She narrowed her eyes at him like he knew she would and he couldn’t help but lean down to kiss her forehead as he closed the door gently. A smile overtook her face again and he grabbed her hand, pulling her towards the congregated teachers. He smiled when she laced their fingers together, her thumb rubbing the back of his hand. It made his heart skip a beat, it was just so tender, she always did it when she held his hand, it seemed unconscious on her part.

 

He let his eyes scan the area and smiled when he caught sight of Anaya, she was running around the swing set, wearing a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved ruffled top in cream. Her hair was short now, she had gotten a haircut the previous week, she had cute front bangs and her hair was shoulder length.

 

“She looks like a little adult.” Taera said to William, he looked down at her to find that she had a huge smile on her face as she watched Anaya. He loved that she loved his niece, and Anaya had taken a liking to her too, she was always talking about Miss Taewa.

 

“Except her backpack.” He said and Taera laughed, she had a bear backpack, it had a big red stomach and a red bow on its head with red straps. “It’s her favourite right now.” William shared, like Aera, Anaya had phases when she really liked something, she quickly moved on to new things though.

 

“Hi, I am here to pick up Anaya Choi-Park.” He said to the group of teachers as he approached them. He sighed when Anaya’s teacher perked up, her smile rather large.

 

“William! Aera didn’t say you were picking her up today!” She said, William held back a smile when Taera stepped closer to him, her body slightly in front of him, between the teacher and him. Miss McFarlane’s eyes went to Taera and then back to William.

 

“Must have slipped her mind.” William said with a shrug. Taera let out a quiet snicker when the woman’s face deflated. William was sure she was expecting a reason as to why he was picking her up.

 

“MISS TAEWA!” Anaya’s voice came from behind the teachers.

 

William followed the sound and found her jumping up and down and waving at Taera. He sighed, it was like she didn’t even notice him, he had expected an Unca Wi to follow but his niece came running through the door one of the teachers opened right to Taera. She hugged her around the legs causing Taera to laugh and lean down, letting his hand go in the process, he hated it when she let go.

 

“Hi Miss Anaya!” Taera laughed while reaching down and picking her up, rather effortlessly despite the fact that Anaya was getting too big to pick up now.

 

“What you do hewe?!” Anaya asked with a huge smile, leaning back in her arms so she could see her face. She sounded so excited and his heart warmed at how much both of them were smiling.

 

“I am rescuing you from a boring evening with Unca Wi.” Taera said and Anaya giggled.

 

“Hey, I am not boring.” William whined.

 

“I am here too.” He mumbled when it got no reaction.

 

“You come home with us?” Anaya asked, completely ignoring his presence, he sighed, he guessed he came second to Taera now. He was sure he was pouting, he remembered a night not too long ago when Anaya had left his lap to cuddle Taera.

 

“No, we’re all going somewhere.” Taera told her, her voice was always a little higher when she spoke to Anaya, it was cute.

 

“Ooh ooh, whewe?!” Anaya asked excitedly.

 

“It’s a surprise.” Taera said.

 

“Unca Wi!” Anaya said, finally looking towards him and acknowledging his presence. He smiled as she jumped from Taera’s arms into his.

 

“You know what the supwise is?” She asked patting his cheek, he loved it when she did that. She always leaned back slightly in his arms so she could see his face and used the pats to direct his attention right to her.

 

“Nope, she won’t tell me either.” He told his niece. “You forgot to say hi to me.” He pouted causing her to giggle.

 

“But I see you all the time Unca Wi!” Anaya giggled but hugged him nonetheless.

 

“Now say bye to your teacher and we can go find out what the surprise is.” He said, noticing the number of eyes on them.

 

Anaya waved bye to the teachers and William held back a snicker at the way Anaya’s teacher’s face deflated when he wrapped his hand around Taera’s waist, pulling her into his side before turning and walking away, Anaya still in his arms.

 

Anaya was talking a mile a minute telling them about how much fun she had at school, she liked everything but nap time. Taera seemed to be holding back giggles when she said that four-year-olds didn’t need naps but the teacher didn’t understand.

 

“When you’re my age, you’ll miss nap time.” Taera said as he opened the back door of his car. He put his hand on Anaya’s head and placed her on the booster seat that had a permanent place in the back of the car.

 

“No! I don’t wike nap time.” She whined, William wondered why she sometimes had no problems saying the letter L but did at other times. David said he suspected that she just thought it was cute to not say it properly.

 

“I love nap time.” Taera said.

 

“Unca Wi, do you wike nap time?” Anaya asked.

 

“Depends on who’s napping beside me.” He murmured quietly but just nodded at Anaya. He didn’t miss the way Taera rolled her eyes, but he also noticed the small smile as he shut the door.

 

“What’s with the pout?” Taera asked as the door shut.

 

“She likes you more.” He whined.

 

Taera laughed, leaning up to kiss his cheek. She had to get on her tippy-toes and hold his arm for balance. He liked it when she did that, her soft lips against his cheek and the smile she gave him as she settled back on her feet. “She just sees me less.” She said.

 

He nodded and tucked her hair behind her right ear before opening the door for her.

 

“Too slow Unca Wi!” Anaya said making him laugh.

 

“I’ll hurry it up!” He said before closing the door behind Taera and running over to his side.

 

“Where to?” He asked as he sat in the car.

 

“East Bay and Calhoun.” Taera said, giving him the nearest intersection.

 

“The Museum?” He asked, he knew the museum was around there, but she shook her head.

 

“Stop asking questions and go!” She said, he sighed but complied. He’d figure it out soon enough.

 

“Fine.” He said.

 

“I am hungwy.” Anaya announced.

 

“Small hungry or big hungry?” William asked as he waited to turn out of the parking lot.

 

He watched Taera’s face scrunch up in confusion, he guessed she hadn’t learnt about how Aera taught Anaya to talk about hunger. Small hungry was a snack, and big hungry was a meal.

 

“Smaw hungwy, I want a snack.” Anaya said, he looked into the mirror and saw that she was smiling and nodding as she spoke.

 

“There’s a Starbucks on the way.” Taera said.

 

He snickered. “Would you be okay with stepping into Starbucks? Your fiercest enemy?” He teased. She had a thing against all other places that served baked goods and coffee, insisting that they were the enemy. She was so dramatic, but it was endearing.

 

“It’ll have to do, plus I want to try their Frappuccino.” She said.

 

“Ah, market research.” He said. He had a feeling Sorelle would start serving frappuccinos soon.

 

“Anaya, you want Starbucks?” Taera said, turning in her seat so she could see Anaya.

 

“Call!” She said making Taera laugh. “That what they say on the dwamas eomma watches, she said it meant I agwee.” Anaya explained making Taera giggle, they were both so adorable.

 

“Good job! What other words do you know?” Taera asked as he pulled into the left lane.

 

Ajussi!

 

“Ah, Ajhusshi.” Taera nodded, correcting her without correcting her.

 

“But eomma said I can’t call Uncas that.”

 

“Right, what are you supposed to call them then?” Taera asked.

 

Sookbu?”

 

“So close! Oe sookbu because they are your eomma’s brothers.”

 

Anaya sighed. “It so confusing! I no call Unca Noah that!”

 

“What do you have to call him?” Taera asked, remembering David’s younger brother.

 

Samchin.”

 

“Ah, samchoon.” Taera corrected. “It’s so everyone knows who Uncle Noah is, if you say samchoon I know that you mean your appa’s brother, and if you say oe sookbu I know you mean your eomma’s brothers.”

 

“But it so easy! I just say Unca Wi or Unca Noah!” She defended and William snickered.

 

“She has a point.” He muttered as they turned into the plaza with the Starbucks.

 

“Somethings are not easy but important to learn, like how to make cupcakes!” She told Anaya who giggled and nodded as he parked the car.

 

Taera was already helping Anaya out of her seat by the time he got around to the other side of the car. Anaya decided she wanted to walk this time, grabbing onto Taera’s hand, knowing she couldn’t let go in parking lots.

 

He smiled as they both skipped down the sidewalk towards the door while talking about their favourite drinks at Starbucks – the strawberries crème frap for Anaya and the green tea crème frap for Taera. He ran up to the door to open it for them.

 

“What are you gonna get?” Taera asked as he opened the door for them.

 

“Iced coffee, black.” He said.

 

Taera pouted, her bottom lip sticking out, her eyes growing large – it should have been funny, ridiculous even, but it was adorable. “But I want to do market research, you should get a frap.” She said.

 

“You’re getting one.”

 

“Not a coffee based one, those are the most popular.” She said.

 

“Then get a coffee based one.”

 

“But I want a green tea frap, get a coffee based one, I’ll just take one sip…for research.”

 

He sighed. “Fine.”

 

He rolled his eyes as her pout turned into a huge grin and she leaned up to peck his lips gently. Apparently he was willing to do anything for the smile and the kisses. He had a feeling he was going to either gain weight or tire himself out burning off the extra calories she would inevitably get him to eat.

 

Anaya was giggling and looking up at him, he arched his eyebrow at her as he picked her up. “You like Miss Taewa?” She asked as they stood in line.

 

He nodded. “Yes, I do.”

 

Anaya giggled happily before turning in his arms to look at Taera.

 

“Miss Taewa! You wike Unca Wi because he nice and smawt and funny and he talk to you wots?” Anaya asked, repeating the words she had said to them a while ago, that night when they had read her a bedtime story together.

 

“Yes, he’s still not funny though.” Taera teased, he rolled his eyes.

 

“Awe you gonna have a baby wike eomma and appa?” She asked.

 

Taera started coughing suddenly and Anaya turned to him. “No, we’re not.”

 

“But she just kissed you!” Anaya gasped.

 

William groaned, he did not want to have the ‘where do babies come from’ talk in the middle of a Starbucks, especially with Taera right there because he knew Anaya was going to ask questions like ‘when are you going to get married, are you gonna have a baby soon, do you love her.’

 

“Look it’s our turn! Do you want to order what you want?” Taera asked Anaya as they approached the counter.

 

Anaya loved the idea because she nodded excitedly and then turned to the barista who was smiling at her.

 

“Hi there, what can I get you, miss?” The barista asked.

 

“A stwawbewwy fwappucino pwease.” She said, rather shyly.

 

“A tall Strawberry Frappucino, with whip cream?”

 

Anaya nodded fervently.

 

“Anything else?” The barista asked.

 

“Unca Wi! Go thewe, I wanna see!” Anaya said pointing to the glass display with the food.

 

“Yes ma’am.” He laughed before turning a bit so she could see the display.

 

“I want that one!” She said pointing to the banana bread.

 

“Not a cupcake?” He asked, surprised.

 

“No, Miss Taewa makes the best cupcakes, I no want this one.” She said, Taera let out a little aww and when he turned towards her she was beaming.

 

“We’ll have the banana bread too.” He said turning towards Taera.

 

“A grande Green Tea Frap, with whip, please.”

 

“I’ll get a Grande Caramel Frap, no whip.”

 

Taera sighed and he waited for the whine and the insistence he get whip cream, but it didn’t come.

 

“You wanna go find a table?” He asked her and she nodded, Anaya wiggled in his arms and he put her down, the two of them walked over to the empty tables. “Can I also get a vanilla and a chocolate cupcake?” He asked the barista, she nodded. It would be for market research, he knew Taera would eat them and then tell him exactly why they weren’t perfect.

 

He stood by the counter as another barista worked on their order. He smiled when he noticed Anaya trying different tables. She would sit in a chair, shake her head and then move to another. They finally settled on a booth seat by the window, Taera sitting right by her and two of them laughing at something.

 

He wondered if it was the fact that Anaya had mentioned babies earlier, or maybe just his brain expressing the thoughts that had surfaced the night of Anaya’s party – that Taera would be a good mother. Because he was thinking what it would be like if they had kids together. Anaya would be older by then and he could imagine her teaching them how to pick the perfect seat while Taera laughed and helped, playing along just like she was now.

 

He headed over with the tray of their drinks, the banana bread and the cupcakes. He smiled when Anaya started wiggling in her seat at the sight of the pink frap, she loved them but Aera tried hard to control her sugar intake. But it was his job as her favourite uncle to spoil her.

 

Taera cut the cupcakes into three, putting the smallest pieces on Anaya’s plate, telling her to try and tell her if they were better than the ones at Sorelle – Anaya shook her head as soon as she started chewing making William chuckle, apparently she would no longer have cupcakes that were not from Sorelle.

 

He tried it next even though he said he didn’t want to, Taera had just smiled that scary smile she did sometimes and said she would shove it in his mouth if he didn’t eat it himself. He had taken a bite and he knew it wasn’t as good as the ones at Sorelle with just one bite.

 

She beamed when he told her as much, while Anaya chewed on her banana bread that Taera had cut into bite sized pieces while he tried the cupcake. She tried it next, eating slower than he had ever seen her eat. Like he expected she told him exactly which it wasn’t as good – too dry, too sweet, the icing wasn’t beat properly and too much vanilla extract.

 

By that time Anaya was full and insisted on feeding Taera and him pieces of her banana bread, giggling when he pretended to chomp down on her finger. She told them all about the new game she had learnt at school that day as they sipped on their drinks.

 

“I need to go to the bathroom!” Anaya said and then looked straight at him. “Not the man one!” She added making Taera snicker.

 

“Of course not, let’s go, I’ll take you.” Taera said before biting her lip to hold back her laughter.

 

“I sense funny stories.” She whispered to him before she got up, holding her hand out for Anaya’s.

 

He watched as the two of them walked over to the side where the bathrooms were. He sunk back in his seat and sipped on the frap he was enjoying – it had been a while since he indulged in a sweet drink.

 

That’s when his eyes caught a woman smiling as she watched Anaya and Taera walk towards the bathroom. He wondered why she was looking but didn’t want to ask, and she went back to typing away on her laptop.

 

Within a couple of minutes both Taera and Anaya bounded out of the bathroom, ready to go. They threw away all their garbage and headed towards the door, where they ran into the woman again at the door.

 

Apparently she knew Taera because she waved at her.

 

“Traitor!” Taera laughed as the woman held out the door for them.

 

“I only had a frap, scout’s honor!” The woman laughed.

 

“No cupcake?”

 

“Please, as if I would settle for anything but the red velvet cupcake at Sorelle.” She said and things clicked for William, she must have been a Sorelle customer.

 

“Good to know that you have a discerning palate.” Taera said to the woman, apparently Taera knew all her customers.

 

The woman laughed before her eyes flickered between him and Taera, Anaya was too busy sipping on the rest of her frap to notice. “I am glad to see you two have worked this out.” She grinned.

 

Taera groaned. “That obvious?”

 

William cleared his throat, they couldn’t have been that obvious.

 

So obvious. You two bickered rather loudly and looked ready to-” Her eyes flickered down to Anaya before she looked back up at Taera. “-escalate things.” The woman laughed.

 

“God, William, you’re so obvious!” Taera groaned.

 

“Me?” He scoffed.

 

The woman snickered. “I’ll leave you two to settle this.” She said to Taera before waving at him as well. “See ya!”

 

“Bye Cua!” Taera said before turning to him. “See, I told you, all the customers at Sorelle think you were flirting with me.”

 

“She said both of us.”

 

“She meant you, Mr. You-Would-Know-If-I-Was-Flirting-With-You.” She teased making him remember the words he had said to her not too long ago.

 

“Were you up thinking about it?” He asked, curious.

 

“Maybeeeeeeeee, now let’s go!” She said.

 

“I no understand.” Anaya said as she chewed on her straw.

 

“Your uncle likes me way too much.” Taera said causing his eyes to narrow at her, but then she looked up at him and gave him a huge smile and he let it slide.

 

“I know! Eomma and grandma told me!” She said before putting her hand over her mouth. “Oh no! It was ‘posed to be a secwet!” She cried.

 

“I didn’t hear anything.” William said to Anaya before winking at her. “Did you?” He asked Taera.

 

“Hear what?” Taera said.

 

Anaya giggled as they walked towards the car.

 

“Even your mother and sister knew.” Taera laughed as he closed Anaya’s door.

 

He sighed.

 


 

William knew where Taera wanted to go as soon as he got closer to the intersection she had told him. He had forgotten all about the aquarium.

 

“Awe we thewe yet?” Anaya piped up from the back as he pulled into the parking lot.

 

“Yes!” Taera sang.

 

“What is it? What is it?” Anaya squealed, moving around in her seat.

 

“The aquarium!”

 

“With fishes?!” She yelled.

 

“Yes, I thought since you liked Princess Ariel, you’d like to see what lives in the ocean.” Taera said and he couldn’t help but smile, it was a very thoughtful choice.  

 

Anaya thought so too because she was screaming happily and saying thank you as he helped her out of the car, she insisted on holding Taera’s hand as soon as her little feet touched the ground. Anaya got Taera’s left hand and he got the right one, which he had to let go for a couple of minutes because the tickets were on her phone.

 

As soon as they were inside, Anaya let Taera’s hand go and skipped ahead, standing right in front of the first display, filled with colourful fishes.

 

“She’s so cute.” Taera laughed.

 

“You’re probably her favourite person right now.” He told her, pulling her closer to him by her hand.

 

“I figured she’d like this.”

 

“I think the only thing that could make this better is if you pulled out her Princess Ariel costume out of your bag.” He said.

 

“Ugh! That would have been perfect!” She sighed making him laugh as they caught up to Anaya.

 

Anaya usually loved to walk, insisting she was a gwon lady and not a baby but she insisted on being carried through the aquarium after a bit of walking because the view wasn’t that great from her height.

 

“Woah! Whales awe THAT big?” She asked as they walked past a hanging whale bone structure, it looked more like a dinosaur than a fish. He was a bit surprised himself.

 

But Taera wasn’t. “Most people don’t know this but blue whales – like this one – are the biggest animals that ever lived.” She told Anaya who was fully turned towards her. “They are even bigger than dinosaurs! It’s as long as two buses and they weight 190 tons, that’s as much as 45 elephants.” She said to Anaya to gasped as if her world had just shifted.

 

“That so big!” She gasped and Taera nodded.

 

William couldn’t help but smirk. “Of course you would know that, such a nerd.” He teased while squeezing her hand. She narrowed her eyes at him and pouted, he couldn’t help but lean in and kiss her, just a peck to her lips that had both her and Anaya giggling.

 

“Unca Wi wikes kissing.” Anaya giggled causing him to chuckle.

 

“I save my best kisses for you.” He said to her before kissing her cheek repeatedly until she was laughing so hard that he was afraid she was going to fall out of his arms.

 

The next thing Anaya fixated on were sea otters. They were swimming around happily in the tank and she said they looked like dogs. He didn’t see it but Taera apparently did.

 

“The tail is funny!” She giggled. “They so cute.”

 

Taera, the encyclopedia, told Anaya about every cool thing she knew about sea otters. He was kind of surprised because she seemed to know everything about every animal they saw.

 

“Unca Wi.” Anaya said from his arms, bringing his attention off the smiling woman by his side. He hummed. “Can you have a pet sea otta if you have a pool? Thewe is one at the big house.” She asked.

 

He heard Taera snicker.

 

“No, sea otters aren’t animals you can have as pets.” He said.

 

“Why?” She asked, it was her favorite question these days.

 

He sighed – he didn’t know, they just weren’t animals people had for pets.

 

“They need special kind of water and food, they’re really hard to take care of. You know how we can go to the store and buy food for a dog?” Taera said, Anaya nodded. “You can’t do that for an otter, and they don’t like living alone with humans like dogs do.”

 

Anaya nodded and he mouthed a thank you at Taera who winked back at him. Aera would have killed him if her daughter went home begging to get a sea otter.

 

Anaya had more questions and she no longer bothered to ask him, rather she just held her arms out and insisted Taera carry her. Every time she had a question, her hand would find its way to Taera’s cheek, and she would ask it.

 

Do all octopuses have eight legs?

 

Why?

 

Why are sharks that big?

 

Why do sea horses look like horses?

 

Why do turtles have a shell?

 

He knew none of the answers, Taera knew all of them and he just listened as they walked through the space. It wasn’t until Anaya saw the white crocodile that she wanted to be held by him again. It was a single crocodile and it was pretty aggressive, Anaya thought it was scary and buried her face in his neck.

 

He patted her back telling her it was okay and that it couldn’t come out of the tank it was in. Taera moved to stand behind him, she was poking Anaya’s cheek until she looked up at her. “Why it so angwy?” Anaya asked.

 

“I think it just looks scary because of the teeth and because it can stand. It might just be hungry, or maybe it misses his or her family.” She told him, Anaya nodded but tucked her head back into his neck. It wasn’t until Taera said she could pet the stingrays that she went back to normal.

 

She surrounded the tank with the other children, the staff helping them wait for a stingray to pet. He stood at the back, his arm around Taera’s waist as she leaned into him, watching Anaya pet the stingrays, her little giggles mingling with the laughter of the other children.

 

“This is part of Charleston sightseeing.” William told Taera and she laughed.

 

“This is babysitting, not a date.” She said, but her voice was teasing.

 

“This is the most fun I have ever had babysitting.”

 

She looked up at him and smiled. “Stop being cute.”

 

“I am always cute.”

 

“I like it better when you didn’t say anything and just glared.” She teased.

 

“I can glare now.” He said, narrowing his eyes and glaring at her but she just laughed.

 

“No, it’s kinda cute now, Villain Choi.”

 

“You’re cute.”

 

“That I am.” She laughed.

 

He couldn’t help but lean in and kiss her forehead again.

 

“I like that.”

 

“Being called cute?” He asked as he pulled away.

 

“Forehead kisses.”

 

“Good to know.” He whispered, he rather liked kissing her.

 

“I also like actual kisses.” She said, her eyes flickering to his lips, he held back a groan because her tongue flicked out to lick her bottom lip. She completely knew what she was doing too because she smirked at him.

 

He leaned down and took her lips in a tender kiss, gently coaxing her lips apart, kissing her lazily, top lip then bottom lip. It felt more like a series of pecks unlike the kisses shared on her couch, in his office, and even against his car before he said goodnight.

 

“Hey! Stop kissing and come pet them with me!” Anaya’s voice came from right in front of them, he groaned as he pulled away but Taera giggled. Because she didn't know that this was somehow going to make its way to Aera and David, and they would never shut up about it. It would be innocent on Anaya’s part, probably something along the lines of Unca Wi kissed Miss Taewa so much – and it would turn into teasing about his lack of self-control around his niece.

 

“Yes ma’am.” He said before following her back to the pool where the stingrays were in.

Chapter Text

Previously:

 

“Hey! Stop kissing and come pet them with me!” Anaya’s voice came from right in front of them, he groaned as he pulled away but Taera giggled. Because she didn't know that this was somehow going to make its way to Aera and David, and they would never shut up about it. It would be innocent on Anaya’s part, probably something along the lines of Unca Wi kissed Miss Taewa so much – and it would turn into teasing about his lack of self-control around his niece.

 

“Yes ma’am.” He said before following her back to the pool where the stingrays were in.


 

After making their way through a couple of additional exhibits at the aquarium they went out to dinner with an ecstatic Anaya who couldn’t stop talking about ‘fishies and their friends’. William chose the place this time, one that served veggie and meat bowls. Anaya spent all of dinner talking about all her favourite things about being four after William said four-year-olds finished all the veggies in their plate. Apparently her least favourite things were nap time and eating veggies but she finished most of her bowl with a little whining.

 

“She’s asleep.” Taera whispered as she turned back around to face the front of the car, Anaya had been talking about what fishes were her favourite as they drove her home and then just trailed off.

 

“She falls asleep immediately, mid-sentence sometimes, Aera does too.” William whispered quietly as he drove. “And she’ll wake up as soon as she thinks other people are around her having fun while she’s asleep.”

 

“She must have been so cute as a toddler.” Taera sighed, she wished she had known her as little two year old.

 

“Absolutely adorable, but I was away for much of it.”

 

“Hmmm, and kids grow up so fast.”

 

“It was like every time I saw her she was a different person.”

 

“She seems like she’s changed so much since I saw her at Ikea that first time.” Taera said as they pulled up to Aera’s house.

 

William had offered to drop Taera off first but she said she was happy to go with him, he was just going to tuck Anaya in and then wait until Aera and David came back. And she didn’t feel like leaving him and going home to an empty house with everyone still out at the movies.

 

He handed her the key after parking his car. “It’s the blue key, I’ll carry her. Can you open the door please?”

 

“Ah, see, you needed my help.” She teased as she grabbed the keys from him.

 

He rolled his eyes but got out of the car and walked towards the back. She watched as he gently pulled Anaya out, like he had done it a hundred times. She reached in behind and grabbed Anaya’s backpack before quietly closing the car door behind them. Taera ran up to the door and opened it, allowing William to step in and head right up the stairs.

 

“We home?” Anaya asked sleepily as he climbed up the stairs.

 

“Yes, how about you go to the bathroom and then we can brush your teeth and put you to bed?” He asked.

 

“No bath?”

 

“Right, bath too.” He said now that she was awake anyways.

 

Anaya was fully awake by the time she had gone to the bathroom and brushed her teeth, which had been entertaining because she had a light up Little Mermaid electric brush and wanted to sing Under the Sea while she brushed her teeth.

 

Taera had laughed rather loudly when the four-year-old reprimanded William for not knowing the lyrics while she was covered with bubbles and surrounded by her numerous bath toys. She very pointedly instructed William that they were watching the Little Mermaid again until he knew it. It took the promise of two bedtime stories to get her out of the bath and a promise of bringing her a cupcake from Sorelle to finally get her down to sleep.

 

“Want to watch the Little Mermaid?” Taera teased as William pulled her onto Aera’s couch, it was only 8pm.

 

“No.” He groaned. “She’s watched it like thirty times and I have seen it too many times because of that.” He groaned.

 

Taera laughed. “I have watched Titanic thirty times at least.” She shared.

 

“Closet DiCaprio fan?” He teased.

 

“Young Leo can get it.” She sighed and then squealed when he pinched her side. “Jealous?” She teased.

 

“No, not at all.”

 

“Sure.” She said as she curled further into him, resting her head on his chest right above his heart. She held back a grin at how fast it was beating. “Okay there, Villain Choi?” She teased.

 

“Shut up.” He mumbled.

 

She giggled but didn’t press further because her heart misbehaved when he was close to her too. And she was a little tired, it was hard to keep up with an energetic four-year-old.

 

She must have dozed off because the next thing she heard was a loud squeal. As she opened her eyes again she realized she was laying on top of William on the couch they had been cuddling on, his arms wrapped around her. She picked her head off his chest and look towards the squealing noise to find Aera standing in front of the couch with a huge smile on her face.

 

“Shup up Aera!” William groaned as the squealing continued.

 

“Let me go!” Taera whispered to him, turning back to look at him, his eyes were still closed. His face scrunched up in confusion when she spoke and his eyes opened, meeting hers. It seemed like he remembered where they were, because he let her go and they both sat up on the sofa, meeting Aera’s excited face.

 

“I SHOULD HAVE KNOW WHEN YOU CALLED ME TOGETHER! YOU TWO WERE TOGETHER!” Aera screamed. “When did this happen? How did this happen?” She yelled loudly.

 

“Baby, shhhh, Anaya is sleeping.” David said and then sighed when he heard the sound of little feet upstairs.

 

Taera looked towards the stairs to see Anaya stepping down them. “AWE YOU HAVING FUN WITOUT ME?” She yelled.

 

“No, your eomma just forgot to use her indoor voice.” David told his daughter as she skipped down towards them.

 

Appa, teww her time out young wady.” Anaya said as David scooped her up in her arms.

 

“Oh, she’s gonna get a time out for sure.” David said.

 

“Looking forward to it, baby.” Aera responded and then winked causing William to groan in disgust.

 

“How about appa takes you to bed? It’s already 9:30 and tomorrow is a school day.” David said to Anaya who nodded.

 

“I have to say goo-night to evewyone.” She said.

 

David sighed and put her down again. She ran over to Taera first, hugging her and telling her good night, before saying good night to Unca Wi and patting his hair when he squeezed her tight. Taera’s heart melted when Anaya hugged and kissed Aera good night, because she also kissed Aera’s stomach and whispered a very quiet good night baby to the slightly visible bump.

 

David scooped Anaya up again and took her back to bed while Aera grinned at them. “When did this happen?”

 

“Last week, the day Evan asked Jiah out.” Taera said.

 

“And you’re telling me now?”

 

“Technically we’re not telling you, you’re asking.” William murmured.

 

“Shut up Will.” Aera said, sounding much too happy. “I knew this would happen the moment I heard about the fight over the parking spot.” She squealed.

 

“You can push Taera for details on another day, I hope you enjoyed your evening, Taera and I will be leaving now.” William said, pulling her up from the couch with him.

 

“Nooo, I want to know now.” Aera whined.

 

“Too bad, patience is a virtue.” William grinned as David bounded down the stairs.

 

“I’ll see you tomorrow?” Taera said to Aera, remembering the sleepover.

 

“Fine, I’ll wait until tomorrow.” She pouted as William pulled her to the door.

 

“Bye David, see you tomorrow.” William said as Taera waved goodbye, letting William pull her out the door.

 

“That was rude.” Taera said as they walked to the car.

 

“Did you want to sit in there for the rest of the night and answer Aera’s questions?” He asked.

 

“No.” She said, she guessed it was good that they left.

 

She sat in the car and watched him walk around to his door, he sat in and then turned to her. “Should I drop you home?” He asked. She looked at the clock, it was 9:45pm, but she didn’t want to go home.

 

“If you want.” She said.

 

“What does that mean?” He asked.

 

“It means, if you want to drop me home then drop me home.”

 

He nodded and pulled out of the driveway, she pouted as she put her seatbelt on.

 

He was going to take her home.

 

She sighed as he drove down Aera’s street.

 

“Why are you sighing?”

 

“Just because.” She sighed.

 

He was such an idiot, all men were idiots. She clearly – okay maybe subtly – told him she didn’t want to go home and he was still driving her home.

 

She pouted as he approached the main road that went towards her house, but then he turned right instead of turning left. “The house is the other way.” She said.

 

“I know.” He said.

 

“Aren’t you dropping me off?” She asked.

 

“No, you said I should drop you home if I wanted to, and I don’t want to.” He said.

 

She felt a smile overtake her face, maybe he wasn’t dumb. “I didn’t think you’d pick on subtle cues.”

 

“You sighed like ten times and said if you want twice, not very subtle.”

 

“Am I too clingy?” She mumbled.

 

“No.”

 

“You sure?”

 

“Yes, I didn’t feel like going home either.” He smiled.

 

“Because Daniel is broody?” She asked.

 

He laughed. “Yeah, that’s exactly it.” He said, but his voice sounded sarcastic.

 

“And here I thought it was because you wanted to spend time with me.” She whined.

 

“Taera?”

 

“Yes, William?”

 

“Shut up.”

 

“Make me.”

 

“I would if I wasn’t driving.”

 

“Tsk tsk, can’t even multitask.” She teased before giggling, he rolled his eyes but there was a smile on his face. “Where are you taking me?” She asked as she looked out the window trying to figure it out.

 

“A place I like.” He said as he pulled off the main road and onto a smaller one, there were stores lining one side of the street and the other side was a beach. She smiled when she noticed the pier.

 

She remembered the conversation she had in Jiah’s car at the stakeout. “Is this where your mom brought you – your favorite memory?” She asked excitedly.

 

He hummed. “I am surprised you remember.”

 

“I remember there were ducks in the story.” She said and he laughed.

 

“Don’t worry, they’re not around this time of the year and this late, I’ll protect you.” He teased.

 

“Are we going to get pizza?” She grinned.

 

“You would remember that part.” He laughed.

 

“Of course, you said you come here, feed ducks – which aren’t here, and get pizza – and you said there was a park here, so we should do all of that, minus the duck part.” She said as he pulled into a mostly empty parking lot.

 

He turned towards her and smiled, that huge dimpled smiled that made her heart skip a beat without fail. “What?” She asked.

 

“I am not used to people listening so closely to me.” He shared and her heart broke a little, she remembered him mentioning that he had a hard time making friends as a child. And she wondered how many times he’d felt like no one was interested in listening to him.

 

“I’ll always listen.” She whispered, it felt like a too much too early statement but it seemed like the right thing to say because he nodded, the smile still on his face. She jumped out of the car as he did, skipping over to his side, even though it was getting late, she didn’t feel tired at all – maybe the short nap had helped.

 

She smiled when he grabbed her hand and laced their fingers together, pulling her towards the boardwalk. It was relatively empty, she only saw three people lingering around, the lights on the boardwalk were on and the night windy, the sounds of waves crashing filled the night air. The moon was almost full and the skies clear enough for the moonlight to glint off the water. It was rather picturesque and she wondered why she had never taken a walk late at night before. It wasn’t something she even thought of doing, nights were meant for studying most of the times.

 

He walked all the way to the end of the boardwalk and she thought they’d just lean against the railing but he sat down and tucked his legs under the bottom railing and patted the spot next to him. She laughed but complied, sitting right next to him and sliding her legs under the railing. “Not very safe, a child could slip through.” She said as she wiggled closer to him.

 

“There is a net all around.” He said and she looked down to see that there was in fact a net.

 

She hummed and then smiled when his arm wrapped around her, resting on her waist, she cuddled closer to him, head on his shoulder. She grabbed his other hand in hers as they sat there.

 

“I had fun today.” She said. Spending time with Anaya was always fun, but tonight reminded her of the birthday party, just him and her, and Anaya minus the other children. He was so good with her, and her heart had fluttered in her chest as she watched him carry her around everywhere, her dream of the two of them curled up in bed with their children evolving to him carrying their children through an aquarium.

 

“Me too.” He whispered, taking in a deep breath of the crisp air.

 

“Have you been there before?”

 

“As a child, but I don’t remember much.” He said, and then sighed. She rubbed her thumb across the back of his hand as he spoke. “After my father left, eomma had too much to deal with for random trips like that. I think it’s one of the reasons all of my siblings dote on Anaya so much, and it’ll be the same with the newest addition.”

 

“You can tell that Anaya is loved with the way she jumps around from arm to arm. But at the same time she’s not spoiled and such a kind child. And so curious with the way she wants to know everything.” She laughed, remembering her numerous questions.

 

“You know way too much about aquatic animals.” He said, turning towards her.

 

“I have the New York Aquarium guide memorized.” She admitted.

 

“Of course you do, completely normal.” He laughed.

 

“I have a reason!”

 

“You’re a genius?” He teased.

 

“I am, but that’s not the reason. We’ve been to that aquarium like a million times, Demi worked there in high school too. She is obsessed with marine animals, she wanted to be a marine biologist.”

 

“So why do you have the guide memorized?”

 

“Because it got boring after the tenth time, so I just read the cool facts.”

 

He nodded but laughed. “You’re honestly the most interesting person I know.”

 

“You know really boring people then.” She teased.

 

“Why didn’t you just stop going?” He asked.

 

“Because her obsession was technically my fault.” She mumbled.

 

“What did you do?”

 

“Demi was three, and my parents bought me walkie-talkies as a birthday present. We used to have a pet goldfish-”

 

“I don’t like where this is going.”

 

“Shhh. Anyways, I put one walkie-talkie behind the fish bowl, and for weeks I would talk to Demi, pretending that I was the fish – I swore her to secrecy – told her that if she told anyone I could talk they would take me away.” She said while William laughed.

 

“Poor Demi.”

 

“She totally bought it, and she kept it a secret. But my parents caught on after a couple of months and made me stop. She, for the longest time, believed that the fish stopped talking because my parents found out and that fish could actually talk.” Taera finished between her laughter, William was chuckling rather loudly and she really liked his laugh.

 

“That’s evil!”

 

“I am sure you were an evil child, Villain Choi!” She retorted.

 

“I was not.”

 

“You forget that your mother spent half a day in Sorelle and regaled us with stories.” She teased.

 

“Traitor.” He sighed.

 

“I want to know more about how you got glued to a wall.”

 

“It was Daniel’s fault!”

 

“Spill.”

 

“We were planning to prank the babysitter and Aera refused to help because she was – annoying.”

 

“I am sure you and Daniel were the annoying ones.”

 

He glared at her cutely but continued. “The plan was to glue her to her chair.”

 

“Genius.” She snickered.

 

“We got super glue and put it all over the chair, but we heard her coming down the stairs and freaked out. I fell into the chair but got up right away so I didn’t stick. We ran down the hallway because she saw us and then Daniel pushed me against the wall while running and I got stuck – of course the door opened right then and eomma caught us. We got grounded for two weeks.”

 

Taera laughed. “Tell me there are pictures.”

 

“Of course there are, eomma was much too amused.”

 

“I want to see them.”

 

“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”

 

“Call!” She laughed remembering Anaya’s words earlier. “I am curious, is your Korean as bad as Daniel’s?” She teased.

 

“Yeah.”

 

She snickered.

 

“Is yours?”

 

“No, I am pretty fluent, I had grandparents who only spoke Korean so it was necessary when we went back home to visit.”

 

He nodded. “My grandparents spoke English as well, both pairs died pretty young though so we didn’t really get the chance to learn or speak.”

 

“Even when you went back to South Korea?”

 

“I have never been.”

 

“Never?” She asked, shocked.

 

“I didn’t really have a reason to visit, our whole family is here.” He shrugged and she nodded, it made sense. She doubted they would have gone back if her grandparents hadn’t been living there.

 

“Where did you go on vacation?” She asked.

 

“Not anywhere special, when we were young we went to Hawaii often, and then mostly between states for BARE and to Toronto and Vancouver because of BARE again.

 

“Not outside of North America then?”

 

He shook his head. “How about you?”

 

“Within USA for one, but you already know that. Apart from South Korea, just Europe on a high school trip.”

 

“The Europe trip was a school trip?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Ours was to Disneyland.”

 

She laughed. “Was it fun?”

 

“No.”

 

“Do you not like amusement parks?”

 

“Not particularly.” He shrugged.

 

“Interesting.”

 

“Tell me about Europe.”

 

“Jiah and I begged our parents for weeks to let us go, they finally relented. It was one of the best things I have ever done. It was two weeks, mostly from city to city, everything was very planned but we hit all the major tourist sites.”

 

“What was your favourite?”

 

“A tie between Paris and this little town we went to in Italy. It’s the trip that inspired Sorelle.” She said, looking towards him.

 

“How?”

 

“We got lost in this little town, no one spoke English, thinking back I don’t know why it was on the itinerary. Jiah and I ended up at this little bakery and it was run by a woman who was barely older than us. And Jiah was insistent that it was what she wanted to do in life. We had always loved baking and making things, but it kicked into high gear after the trip, we started doing birthday cakes and stuff for friends and family. And then it kind of fizzled out when I started studying for my MCATs in third year. Jiah went to culinary school and opened up a bakery, but New York is competitive, it didn’t work and here we are.”

 

“After throwing darts at a map.” He teased, she had told him that part earlier.

 

“You should be thankful that the dart landed on Charleston, or we’d never meet.”

 

“I am.” He grinned, leaning in to kiss her forehead. “Maybe I’d have run into you in New York though.”

 

She laughed. “We’d probably get into an epic fight over something stupid and then go our separate ways.”  

 

“Probably.” He laughed. “It sounds like a fun trip.” He said a few seconds later.

 

“It was, it honestly kept me sane a lot of times when I was sad. It was like I had done this one fun and cool thing that I could talk about.” She shrugged. “Do you want to travel?” She asked.

 

He nodded. “Yes, it’s just there was never time.”

 

She was about to tell him that they should go on a trip together, maybe she could take him to South Korea or they could go to Europe. But she was scared it was too much, much too soon.

 

“Why are you so quiet?” He asked and she looked up to find him looking at her with a curious look on his face.

 

She sighed. “I wanted to say that we should go on a trip, you and I, somewhere outside the country. But then I don’t know if it’s too soon to make plans like that. What’s the protocol? How long do you have to date someone for before you can suggest things like that?”

 

It had never come up before, she had never wanted to go somewhere with anyone other than her family, Jiah and Liam. Other people were complicated, she had avoided making plans with other friends because she didn’t know if they would want to do the same things on a trip and a part of her hadn’t felt comfortable with them. But the thought of going somewhere with William was exciting rather than scary or a logistic nightmare.

 

“I don’t know.” She sighed. “But maybe there is no protocol to follow, I guess if it feels right it’s right.”

 

She nodded. “You’re right.”

 

“Wow, did you just say I am right.” He teased.

 

“Don’t get used to it.” She laughed before turning completely towards him. “Let’s go somewhere, early 2018.” She said, it wasn’t too far and it wasn’t too close.

 

“Call.” He said making her laugh.

 

“I am kinda hungry.” She said when her stomach growled, she looked at her watch and was shocked when she noticed it was midnight, time always flew by too fast when she was with him.

 

“Small hungry or big hungry?” He teased.

 

“Pizza hungry!” She said.

 

“I happen to know a really good pizza place down the street.” He said as he moved back, pulling his legs from under the railing and jumping up, he helped her up.

 

She giggled when he pulled her close, she wrapped her arms around his neck. “Hi.” She smiled.

 

“I think I earned a kiss or two.” He said and she couldn’t help the giggles from escaping.

 

“Maybe one.” She said.

 

“I am sure I earned more.”

 

She shook her head. “After pizza, maybe.” She said as she pulled one hand from around his neck, her fingers caressing his sharp jaw and sliding up his cheeks. “Your face is perfect, did I tell you that?” She asked as she used the arm around his neck to pull his face closer.

 

“No.” He shook his head, his words a mere whisper against her lips.

 

“Well it is, it’s really not fair.” She whispered as she swiped her fingers across his cheeks. He closed the distance between them, drawing her into a soft kiss. She hummed happily, because it was perfect. His lips were warm in direct contrast to the wind whipping around them, and her whole body felt like it was on fire even though she could hear the waves crashing and the wind blowing. She giggled against his lips as her body swayed, she was on her tippy toes even though he was supporting her weight with his arms around her waist it was hard to balance.

 


 

Tyler’s curiosity was piqued when he saw a laughing couple run across the street, the man opened the door for the woman and he heard her giggles before the howling wind. Her long hair was a mess due to the wind and both their faces were red – he wondered if it was from the cold or the laughter.

 

They reminded him of the other couple he saw – and it wasn’t just because they were Asian. The man looked like Daniel and Tyler sighed, wondering what happened to Daniel and Jiah after their last visit when things seemed to not be going well.

 

The couple walked up to the counter hand in hand, the woman exuberantly saying hello and asking for a minute as their eyes ran across the board above the cash register. He listened amused and tried to hold back a smile as they argued about the size of the pizza. She insisted she wanted a large and he said they already had dinner. To which the woman replied with at 7pm.

 

She pouted at him and the man caved instantly, smiling when the woman got on her tippy-toes to kiss his cheek. Their order was also interesting, she wanted double cheese and he wanted light cheese with veggies – so they ordered a half cheese and half veggie pizza before sitting down at a booth.

 

Tyler couldn’t help but watch them as he worked. They were cute together, they seemed smitten with each other and so in sync. The man with a very British name, William, watched the woman, whose name seemed to be Tara, like she was the most interesting person in the world. Tara looked at him like she just wanted to squeeze him tightly. He was laughing because her hair was a mess, but he was also running his fingers through the strands and fixing it, tucking the strands at the front behind her ear before kissing her on the forehead.

 

It was so cute that he was grinning while sliding their pizza into the oven. And then she started whining about how it wasn’t fair that his hair fell so perfectly into place no matter what she did while messing up his hair – it did fall perfectly back into place. So unfair.

 

She pouted while saying it wasn’t fair that he had such a perfect face and perfect hair, her hands cupping and squeezing his face. He didn’t hear what the man whispered to her but she seemed to like it because she got a huge smile on her face and leaned in to peck his lips.

 

Tyler figured that he probably told her she was beautiful, because she was with her long hair and glowing unblemished skin. Her eyes were shining with happiness and her nose scrunched when she smiled really big. She seemed to just be a very nice person too which just made her more beautiful – and it seemed that the man next to her knew it.

 

She beamed as he put their pizza on their table, the man nodded with a small smile. She ate like she was starving and he ate so neatly, a smile on his face as he watched her. Tyler had a feeling that he was going to see them somewhere, years down the road, happily married with children – maybe they’d sneak out for pizza once in a while when the kids were with their families.

 

He smiled as he listened to them convince each other to try their half of the pizza, they both seemed to reluctantly agree – she expressed surprise at the fact that his side actually tasted good but said it needed more cheese. He said her side was like a heart attack waiting to happen to which she responded with at least I’ll die happy.

 

He didn’t quite understand what happened but they went from being cute to just staring at each other like they were going to jump each other – he had looked away for just a second to open a jar.  Suddenly, there were lingering looks and touches, and giggles. At one point he wiped sauce off her bottom lip with his thumb – Tyler’s eyes grew wide when she sucked his thumb into her mouth. It seemed like it was unconscious on her part because she froze and blushed, yelping out a sorry.

 

But apparently it didn’t matter because all of a sudden the pizza lay forgotten as they started kissing like they were the food rather than the pizza. It was a heated kiss too, lips and tongue, hands roaming – his on her waist as he pulled her into his lap and hers around his neck. He was sure they would have fucked on the table if it was a private place. He had to slam the fridge door shut to get them to pull apart. They did, chests heaving, staring at each other and h