No Strings Attached – Chapter Seventeen

Nine months later

 

People poured out of the meeting room on the 30th floor of an office building in downtown Los Angeles. It was already 10pm when the project’s wrap-up meeting concluded. Some of the team members were planning to go for drinks at a nearby pub to unwind.

 

“Hey Jess, wanna join us for drinks tonight?” Josh, the team leader of the project, asked.

 

Jessica flashed a smile at him and politely declined. “Thanks for the invite, Josh. I’m maxed out for today. See you guys at the wrap up party tomorrow night. Have fun!”

All Jessica wanted was to return to her service apartment and enjoy a glass of red wine while lounging in front of the television. She was glad that her US project had ended and she couldn’t wait to get home soon. Her decision was made and she hoped she would be given an opportunity to explain herself when facing the person she loved.

 

~ Flashback ~

 

There was a one week break during the course of her project and Jessica took the opportunity to go back to Seoul.  During her stay in Los Angeles, she thought long and hard about her relationship with Taeyeon and decided that it wasn’t worth to lose Taeyeon. She was prepared to give the relationship a try.

 

Drumming up her courage, Jessica went to the café to look for Taeyeon.

 

“Jessica unnie, you’re back!” Yoona greeted merrily when she saw Jessica entering the store.

 

Jessica smiled and they hugged.

 

“Some chocolates for all of you to share.” She handed Yoona a bag of chocolates.

 

“Thank you!” Yoona beamed.

 

Jessica was about to ask Yoona about Taeyeon’s whereabouts when she saw Yuri coming out of the kitchen. There was a bitter smile on Yuri’s face as she came over to greet Jessica.

 

Suddenly the mood in the café seemed heavy as Yuri stood in front of Jessica. The look in her eyes hardened as she spoke.

 

“Hello Jessica, it has been a long time since we met,” Yuri said cordially.

 

“Yes, I’ve been away for a few months for my US project,” Jessica paused for a little while. “How’s business?”

 

The conversation between Yuri and Jessica was awkward and unnatural. Yoona was caught between the both of them and didn’t know what to say to alleviate the increasingly tensed atmosphere.

 

“Business has been brisk. Thank you for asking. Has your project ended?”

 

“My project hasn’t ended. Have a couple more months to go. I’m currently on one week’s leave.”  Jessica looked around anxiously, hoping to see the person she missed.

 

“Taeng is not around,” Yuri said bluntly, as if she could read Jessica’s mind. She was still a little mad at Jessica for causing so much pain to Taeyeon. It was clear to Yuri that Taeyeon and Jessica had mutual feelings for each other but she couldn’t understand why Jessica couldn’t commit.

 

A look of disappointment flashed across Jessica’s face.

 

 

Is this my karma for rejecting her earlier on?

 

“Taeyeon unnie is in Tokyo now. She’s there for…”

 
“Jessica.”  Yuri interrupted Yoona’s explanation. “Could you spare me some time? I would like to have a word with you privately.”

 

Yuri waved at Yoona and the latter understood Yuri’s signal for her to pack and lock up the café by herself later on.

 

“Sure,” Jessica replied. She sensed that the conversation was probably had something to do with Taeyeon. She was worried that something may have happened to Taeyeon and she was likely the cause of it.

 

Yuri and Jessica met at a nearby coffee house. They had a heart-to-heart chat until the wee hours of the morning.

 

 ~ End of Flashback ~

 

To celebrate the successful completion of the project, Jessica’s client threw a huge party at a popular club in downtown Los Angeles a day later. It was a masquerade party and everyone had to wear a mask to hide their faces when they went to the venue.

 

As Jessica was dressing up for the party, her mind wandered off to Taeyeon again. She remembered going to a club once with Taeyeon during their stay in Tokyo and both of them were out in less than fifteen minutes because they couldn’t stand the loud pulsating music. They laughed it off as an age thing, joking that old people were unable to withstand loud music and it was meant for younger people only. In the end, they went to a quiet wine bar to chill.

 

 

 

Jessica wasn’t a person who took the initiative in a relationship especially if she liked the person, unlike her dominant personality at work. Her pride stopped her from taking the first step and she was also worried about being hurt badly again. Therefore, she would rather distance herself from Taeyeon if she wasn’t confident of committing herself fully into the relationship. In a way, she was a perfectionist, both at work and at home.

 

However, Taeyeon had always been on her mind since she left for Los Angeles. Every other thing Jessica did reminded her of Taeyeon. That was then she realised that her mind had the perfect answer for her aching and lonely heart.

 

It was a heady mixture of house music and dazzling lights when Jessica stepped into the club with her colleagues. She wore a simple black long dress that revealed a hint of her voluptuous figure and bronze stilettos. Heads were turned as Jessica sashayed her way to the bar. Some men standing near the bar were openly ogling at her. Jessica was used to getting such unwanted attention and she completely ignored them as she ordered her drinks.

 

The whole club had been booked by her client and there were a lot of people who were invited to the post-party celebrations. There were people showing off their moves on the dance floor and others were just networking with each other at the tables. She couldn’t see the faces of the crowd since everyone had a mask on.

 

After an hour, Jessica got bored of sitting at the table with her colleagues and decided to take a breather on the second floor balcony. She excused herself and headed to the balcony on the second level for some fresh air. Opening the door, a rush of cold air welcomed her as she stepped out onto the second level.

 

Jessica walked to the end of the long corridor so that people would not notice her. She took off her mask and held it in her hand. The club was situated at the taller end of a slope, therefore it commanded a rather good view of the city. The city lights were twinkling like stars in the sky, reminding Jessica of someone close at heart.

 

After ten minutes, Jessica decided to head back down to the club to join her colleagues. It wasn’t nice to disappear for a long time since it was a company event. Her colleagues were waving to her at the dance floor, asking her to join them. The dance floor was packed with people wearing various masks. The DJ turned up the volume and chose songs with strong beats to get everyone’s mood up. To break the ice, the DJ asked everyone to shake the hand of the person on their right and make new friends.  After two songs, he would make everyone switch around again in order to make more friends.

 

In the first round, Jessica recognised her colleague Josh underneath the mask so it wasn’t much fun to her since she knew who the person was. Nonetheless, they danced to the music, soaking in the party atmosphere.

 

At the second switchover, Jessica came face to face with a stranger who wore a purple mask. It was a lady with shoulder length dark brown hair and she was about half a head shorter than Jessica. Both of them smiled and shook hands.

 

The familiar smile…that touch of her hand…why did I feel my heart skip a beat? She’s about the same height as…her.

 

“Everyone put your hands up, put put put your hands up!” the DJ yelled as he changed the song. Everyone on the dance floor rose up their hands and started pumping their fists along with the music. The atmosphere was electrifying as everyone grooved to the pulsating beats of the music.

 

Hands up when the music drops,we both put our hands up
Put your hands up on my body

Swear I’ve seen you before
I think I remember those

Eyes,eyes,eyes,eyes

Coz baby tonight
the DJ got us falling in love again

Yeah baby tonight
the DJ got us falling in love again

 

Jessica tried not to stare at the stranger in front of her. There was a nagging yet familiar feeling inside of her. She felt the stranger gazing back at her with a soft look in her eyes.

 

This is Los Angeles, not Cheongnam-dong or Hongdae. This is an invite only event. I must have had too much to drink just now. The music is making me dizzy. It can’t be…her.

 

Just then, the DJ eased the music into the next song – Mambo No. 5. The crowd went wild at this familiar number and started singing along as they danced to the beat of the music.

 

A little bit of Monica in my life
A little bit of Erica by my side
A little bit of Rita is all I need
A little bit of Tina is what I see
A little bit of Sandra in the sun
A little bit of Mary all night long
A little bit of Jessica here I am
A little bit of you makes me your man!

 

At the point when Jessica’s name was first mention in the song, Jessica felt the stranger place an arm around her waist. She was a little startled but didn’t mind since the stranger was a female.

 

The stranger had a mischievous grin on her face throughout the whole song. Each time the word ‘Jessica’ was mentioned, the stranger would pull Jessica a little closer to her. By the end of the song, Jessica was almost face to face with the smiling stranger.

 

“Alright time for the last switchover tonight! I hope you’ve made some new friends. After this last switchover, I want you to approach the person whom you’ve some attraction towards and take off his or her mask,” the DJ’s voice boomed over the loudspeakers.

 

The stranger gave Jessica an air kiss before disappearing into the crowd. Jessica tried to follow the stranger but she was blocked by several other people. At the end of the third song, the DJ turned down the volume of the music and encouraged everyone to find the person they were attracted to.

 

Jessica was looking around anxiously for the stranger in the purple mask. There was definitely something familiar about the stranger and she wanted to unmask her.

 

“Hey Josh, did you see a girl with a purple mask? I’m trying to look for her,” Jessica asked her colleague.

 

“I think I saw someone with a purple mask heading for the exit,” Josh pointed to the far end of the club.

 

Jessica weaved her way through the crowded dance floor, trying to spot the stranger in the purple mask.  Her heart was beating very fast and her palms felt sweaty. When she got near the exit, she took off her mask so that she could have clearer view.

 

“Hey where are you off to Jessica?” Mr Johnson, her client asked. He was smoking outside the club when he saw Jessica rushing out of the door.

 

“Oh hello Mr Johnson. I thought I saw an old friend in the club. Did you happen to invite any other people, besides the project team, to this party?” Jessica asked, unable to hide her anxiety.

 

“Yes I did. I have a few friends attending a conference here so I invited them along,” Mr Johnson said, drawing a puff on his cigar. “What’s the name of your friend?”

 

“Taeyeon. Kim Taeyeon. She may go along with the name TY as not many people know how to pronounce her Korean name properly,” Jessica said in one breath.

 

Mr Johnson rubbed his chin. “TY? I’m sorry I can’t recall that name offhand because I met quite a number of them yesterday. You know, I’m really bad with remembering names. Sorry about that.”

 

“It’s alright, thanks Mr Johnson,” Jessica said as she excused herself.

 

Jessica didn’t feel like entering the club again. She wanted to clear her head and calm herself down. She texted one of her colleagues to inform them that she wouldn’t be joining them for the rest of the night.

 

I’m not even certain she’s Taeyeon. Why am I behaving this way? Kim Taeyeon! You’re an idiot! A big idiot!

 

Jessica didn’t realise that she had actually uttered the last few words aloud until she saw some strange stares from the people who were walking by. Embarrassed, she quickly walked away from the club’s exit.

 

Jessica wandered down the street and stopped in front of a pastry shop. It had a huge cake display at the main entrance which reminded of Taeyeon’s café. Memories of the times spent with Taeyeon flooded her mind. Trying to forget Taeyeon was like trying to remember someone she had never met.

 

Suddenly, a shadow appeared behind her. Jessica noticed someone looking at her in the reflection of the bakery. She turned around slowly to face the person.

 

“Yuri?”

 

The tall tanned woman smiled. “Hi Jessica, it has been a while since we met.”

 

“What are you doing here?” Jessica asked, surprised at seeing a familiar face.

 

“It’s such a small world, meeting you here. I’m here for a conference and got invited to this party,” Yuri explained.

 

“Oh I see,” Jessica said slowly, word after word. Numerous thoughts ran through Jessica’s mind. She was anxious to know if Taeyeon was here too but yet felt shy to ask.

Silence loomed as the both of them stood in the middle of the street, looking at each other and not saying a word.

“You came for the conference alone?” Jessica probed.

 

“No, I came with some friends,” Yuri winked. There was a cheeky grin on Yuri’s face and she seemed to be hiding something behind her back.

 

What’s with that wink? Is that a clue?

 

“They left you here alone? I don’t see them around.” Jessica peered behind Yuri’s shoulder.

 

“I told them I wanted to say hi to a friend. Most of them are waiting for me at the taxi stand.”

 

“Most?”

 

“Yup, most. You heard me right. One of them made her own plans. She is waiting for someone at a café,” Yuri smiled. She dangled a purple mask in front of Jessica.

 

Jessica’s eyes lit up and she let out a soft gasp. Blood rushed through her veins as her heart rate increased.  She couldn’t control the smile that was slowly appearing on her face.

 

Yuri chuckled. “Judging from your facial expressions, I guess you must be the special ‘someone ‘my friend is waiting for.”

 

Jessica nodded instantly. She didn’t care about her pride anymore. Taeyeon had slipped through her hand once and she wasn’t going to let her go so easily again.

 

“Where is she? Tell me, where is she?” Jessica asked, her sense of anxiety growing with each passing second.

 

Yuri handed Jessica a small piece of paper. The note was written by Taeyeon.

 

“It’s that way,” Yuri pointed.

 

“Thank you,” Jessica said as she set off in the said direction.

 

Jessica’s heart was pumping hard as she transited from a slow walk to a brisk one, trying to look for the café that was stated in the address. The adrenaline rushing through her veins made her forget the pain she had in her legs while brisk walking in her stilettoes.

 

Traffic was heavy on the roads and people were honking at each other. Jessica was busy looking out for signs that led her to the café. She walked past a shop with full length windows and instantly stopped in her tracks. There was a tall glass cabinet that displayed cakes. Jessica looked up at the sign and realised she had arrived at her destination.

 

She hurried into the café and looked around for a familiar face.

 

“Good evening madam, may I help you?” a tall Caucasian man greeted Jessica.

 

“I’m looking for a friend, her name is Taeyeon or TY for short,” Jessica panted, slightly breathless after the long walk.

 

“Please follow me.”

 

The man pointed to a quiet corner of the café and told her the person was waiting over there. Jessica walked with much apprehension towards the table. She didn’t know how she should react after not seeing Taeyeon for such a long time. She spotted a half empty bottle of mineral water on the table. There was a person with dark brown hair sitting at the table and her back was facing Jessica.

 

“You idiot!” Jessica shrieked as the person rose from her seat.

 

 

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