The Fifth Lap

As with Monday mornings, there was usually a long list of emails to clear. As Jessica was scrolling through the list, one email caught her attention. The sender was Kim Taeyeon. She let out a short gasp as she stared at the sender’s name to ensure that she wasn’t day-dreaming on a Monday morning. Then she clicked on the email immediately, putting the rest of the emails aside.

 

~ Flashback ~

 

“Dear Jessica…no no, that sounds too formal. Hi Jessica…” Taeyeon mumbled to herself as she typed and retyped the email.

 

“I would like to invite you to join me…no no, should be us….yes, join us for a go-kart session at…”

 

(sound of keys clattering on the keyboard)

(pause)

(rapid continuous tapping of a single key on the keyboard)

 

“Aish! Why is it so difficult to write a simple email?”

 

(sounds of keys clattering on the keyboard resumes)

(pause)

 

“Aish…why did Yunho oppa ask me to invite her when he could have done so himself? This is just so…tough…”

 

~ End of flashback~

 

Hi Jessica,

 

A few of us (Yunho oppa included) are meeting up for a go-kart session this Saturday at the Jamsil Go-kart Circuit. Would you like to join us? It would be a good opportunity to revisit the sport.

 

Yours sincerely,

Taeyeon

 

Jessica wondered why Yunho didn’t personally invite her and instead got Taeyeon to invite her. Nonetheless, the email was a welcome sight to her Monday and she quickly typed a reply to Taeyeon before diving into work.

 

Saturday came and all of them were gathered at the Jamsil Go-kart Circuit. There were six of them in all; four guys and two girls. Yunho knew the owner of the place and was able to book the whole track for the morning so that no one else could join them. This ensured Taeyeon’s privacy and safety.

 

Taeyeon could feel the excitement building up inside of her when she stood at the lounge that was overlooking the race track. Her heart rate was increasing steadily, her breathing was quick and she was skipping from one end to the other end of the air-conditioned lounge. She felt like a child standing outside a candy store, waiting for it to open so that she could rush in and buy all the sweets.

 

The go-kart track was much smaller than the usual tracks Taeyeon had raced in but the size didn’t matter. What mattered most was the opportunity to let her hair down and race for fun instead of having to deal with the stress of a competition.

 

Jessica arrived at the lounge later than the rest of them as she was caught in a traffic jam. She was wearing a printed tee and tight fitting jeans with sneakers. Her long brown hair was tied up in a neat ponytail.

 

“Good morning,” Taeyeon greeted in a chirpy voice.

 

“Good morning Taeyeon. Where are the rest of the guys?” Jessica replied, her tone of voice matching that of Taeyeon’s.

 

“They’ve gone to change into their racing suits.” Taeyeon pointed to the male changing room at the far end of the lounge.

 

“Oh, I don’t have a racing suit. Would this do?” Jessica asked, pointing to her clothes.

 

“Yes of course! Those guys just want to show off,” Taeyeon joked. “By the way, I’ve brought a helmet for you in case those helmets over there are too big for you.”

 

Taeyeon unzipped a black duffel bag and took out a pink helmet. She handed it over to Jessica and the latter thanked her for being so thoughtful.

 

“We’re going out on the track soon, so perhaps you would like to try to see if the helmet fits.”

 

Jessica tugged her ponytail beneath the helmet as she tried to put it on her head. Thankfully it fitted snuggly. There wasn’t a mirror in the lounge and Jessica was struggling to fasten the strap beneath her chin.

 

In the next instant, Taeyeon took the straps from Jessica’s hands and fastened them securely under her chin.

 

Jessica froze at the close proximity of the driver who was helping her to fasten the strap. It was the first time she had seen Taeyeon up close. There was a twinkle in her brown eyes and perhaps even a hint of a cheeky grin. It was a total contrast to the cold front she portrayed in front of the media during races.

 

“Is it too tight?” Taeyeon’s voice shook Jessica out of her daze.

 

Jessica shook her head. “It’s fine. Thank you.”

 

“Good.” Taeyeon grinned. “I’ll go change into my racing suit. Be right back.”

 

Jessica felt her heart skip a beat when she saw that warm smile on Taeyeon’s face. She felt the sincerity in that smile though it was just brief. This was something rare, unseen in public.

 

Once everyone was dressed, they met at the garage where all the go-karts were parked. Each of them picked a go-kart of their choice and settled into it. The guys decided to head out first for a few warm up laps.

 

“Taeyeon ah, give my dear cousin a refresher course before she goes on the track okay? She’s rusty after not touching the kart for five years. You girls can join us later.” Yunho patted Taeyeon’s back and went towards the track.

 

“Yea, go easy on us, Taeyeon ah,” Ji Sung, Yunho’s friend, pleaded in a joking manner. He let out a hearty laugh before joining the rest of the guys on the track.

 

“I think those guys are afraid of you. You’ll definitely beat them in half the time they need to get around the track,” Jessica said firmly with her arms akimbo.

 

Taeyeon shrugged her shoulders. “I’m not that fantastic, you know. I have my bad days too.”

 

“Come on, you’re chickening out in front of those guys?” Jessica bit her lips and frowned.

 

The butterflies in Taeyeon’s stomach fluttered a little at the sight of Jessica teasing her. It was a delightful feeling. A feeling that was different from winning the championship at the races. She wanted more of this new feeling.

 

“Why are you looking at me like that? Just because I’m out of touch for the few years doesn’t mean I’m lousy. I’m sure I’ll remember how to take corners once I get onto the track again,” Jessica said arrogantly.

 

“Oh really? I’ll give you a one lap headstart and I’m sure I’ll catch up with you easily,” Taeyeon grinned.

 

“I’m soooo scared!” Jessica pretended to shiver in fear and both of them burst into laughter.

 

On a more serious note, Taeyeon got into a go-kart and demonstrated the correct sitting posture. “Make sure you don’t lean forward too much else it would affect the acceleration of the kart. Keep your hands in the 10 and 2 position on the steering wheel. This should allow you to grip the steering wheel properly and control the kart.”

 

“How about giving me some racing tips? I can remember all these basic stuff.” Jessica covered her mouth and pretended to yawn.

 

“Someone’s dying to beat me at the tracks later eh?” Taeyeon chuckled. She was thoroughly enjoying this conversation.  It had been difficult for her to be close to someone besides her family as she was always under scrutiny by her manager.

 

Jessica smirked and said, “It would make the headlines if I manage to beat the hot favourite and triple-crown champion.”

 

“Hmm, I had better not teach you too much in case I lose.”

 

“Wow, wow. Is this your tactic against your competitors at the races? Using reverse psychology on them to make them believe that you’re a weakling?” Jessica challenged Taeyeon.

 

“How did you know? Shh…don’t tell anyone else or I’ll lose the crown this race and Minwoo oppa’s gonna kill me!” Taeyeon said in mock fear.

 

Jessica couldn’t help but laugh when she saw Taeyeon acting afraid. She was surprised to see such a cheeky side of Taeyeon, unlike her usual cool demeanour on the race track.

 

“Being the gracious me, I’ll give you some tips. Look out for the white and red strips by the side of the track. Those are your racing line markers. Try to keep the kart in a straight line as much as possible. When turning at the corners, try to turn as late as you can so that you wouldn’t lose too much speed. Got it?” Taeyeon turned the steering wheel to illustrate her point.

 

“Got it. Thanks, gracious triple-crown champion who is afraid to lose to an amateur like me,” Jessica giggled.

 

Taeyeon’s face turned as red as the racing suit she had on. “Ok, lesson’s over. Time for the real stuff.”

 

Taeyeon got out of the kart and headed for a fiery red kart that was parked a few metres behind. It was Taeyeon’s personal kart and it had a 125cc 2-stroke engine that could hit a top speed of 180km/hr. It was her personal favourite and during her free time, she would spend hours tinkering with her go-kart to keep it in good shape.

 

When the final horn blew, it signalled the end of the race for the four guys. Yunho led the pack into the pit and gestured for the girls to go ahead. The guys headed straight for the grandstand to watch the star driver race and Jessica on the track.

 

Taeyeon signalled for Jessica to follow her as she led the first lap around the track. She wanted to let Jessica familiarise herself with the track and the go-kart. At the end of the first lap, Taeyeon gave Jessica a one lap head-start as promised. She watched the blonde drive off cautiously and slowly gaining more confidence as she got used to the track. Once Jessica passed her on the second lap, she stepped onto the accelerator and off she went.

 

From afar, Taeyeon spotted Jessica turning too early around one of the sharper bends and she ended up in the spin-off area. She sped to the accident spot, jumped out of her kart and rushed towards Jessica.

 

“Are you alright?” Taeyeon asked, watching a visibly shocked Jessica.

 

“I’m fine. I’m only warming up. Give me a bit more time and I’ll be racing around the track!” Jessica said cheerfully after calming down from the initial shock.

 

“Go slowly and take your time.” Taeyeon gave Jessica a reassuring pat on her back. The blonde nodded and smiled.

 

They completed the remainder of the track slowly, with Taeyeon following close behind.

 

After the two girls completed their set, the guys joined them on the track. All of them slowed down a little when they passed Jessica so that she wouldn’t be too startled by them. After completing a few more laps and gaining more confidence, Jessica was able to match their speed.

 

After three hours of go-karting, all of them were too exhausted to continue. They headed for the showers before regrouping for dinner.

 

At the shower area, Taeyeon almost dropped her clean clothes onto the wet tiled floor when she saw Jessica emerging from the shower with only a white towel wrapped around her body. Her face turned red instantly and she had to will herself to look away from Jessica’s body.

 

“You’re finally here. I left the shampoo and shower foam in the cubicle. I usually bring my own toiletries since I don’t like those provided in public baths.” Jessica pointed to the shower as she casually walked past Taeyeon.

 

“I was checking the fluids in my go-kart, that’s why I took a little while. I’ll return the toiletries to you when I’m done. Thank you. ” Taeyeon hurried into the cubicle.

 

Taeyeon squeezed a blob of shampoo in her hand and massaged it on her head. It felt heavenly. To be exact, Jessica’s scent felt heavenly. All of the female drivers at the track used the shampoo that was provided in the shower area and it smelled like detergent.  She spent an exceptionally long time in the shower when it usually took her merely ten minutes to finishing showering.

 

The group went for dinner at a western restaurant. Yunho had intentionally made Taeyeon and Jessica sit opposite each other, citing reasons that they were the only girls. Yunho was pleased to see Taeyeon and Jessica getting along well.  He knew that Taeyeon was lonely and often spent most of her time at home, hence he wanted to introduce someone to her so that she would have company.

 

At the end of the dinner, Yunho insisted that Taeyeon should send Jessica home since the latter didn’t drive. The guys wanted to go out for more drinks and didn’t want the girls to tag along. Before they bade goodbye, Yunho pulled Jessica aside.

 

“I see that both of you are getting along well and I’m happy. Taeyeon has been quite an introvert and she’s always surrounded by us guys,” Yunho said, his tone was serious.

 

“She’s surprisingly quite talkative if we touch on her pet subjects like go-karting and Melbourne. She can go on and on.”

 

“That’s good to know. For Taeyeon to open up to someone, you’ve got to be someone special.” Yunho winked and patted Jessica’s back. “Okay, I better go else the guys will make me pay for all their drinks.”

 

Jessica wondered what Yunho was trying to get at as his words repeated in her mind. She got into the passenger seat and noticed there were two pieces of Freddo chocolates at the centre console. “You like to eat these chocolates?”

 

Taeyeon nodded happily. “They remind me of home. I’m so happy that a local candy store is importing them from Australia. Now I can get my daily Freddo fix.”

 

“Never knew you had a sweet tooth. You don’t look like a person who enjoys sweet stuff.”

 

“I’ve had a weakness for chocolates since young. They’re also a very good energy booster before a race.”

 

Soon they arrived at the lobby of Jessica’s apartment.

 

“Thank you for sending me home. Drive safely.” Jessica unbuckled the seat belt and got out of the car.

 

“I will. Good night.”

 

“Good night, Taeyeon.”

 

Taeyeon waited in the car until she saw Jessica enter the lift. She hung around a little while more before heading home. Being within close proximity to Jessica made her feel relaxed. Looking up at the block of apartments, she wondering which unit belonged to Jessica. After half an hour, Taeyeon finally left.

 

Later that night, Jessica received a text message on her mobile. It was from Taeyeon.

 

I had an enjoyable day and hope to see you on the track soon. – Taeyeon

 

Jessica giggled at the message and she quickly typed a reply.

 

Taeyeon was staring at her phone. She jumped when she heard her phone beep.

 

Me too. You’re a good teacher. You look better when you smile, so smile more. – Jessica

 

Unknowingly, a wide smile had crept up on Taeyeon’s face as she read the message. It had been a long while since she felt so comfortable with a female friend. Most of her buddies were male since she spent a lot of time in the workshop or on the track. She read the message a few more times before typing a reply.

 

You’re a fast learner. I enjoyed teaching you. – Taeyeon

 

A good teacher produces good students. – Jessica

 

Taeyeon chuckled at the last message.

 

Sleeping yet? – Taeyeon

 

Tucked comfortably under my blanket and about to sleep. Good night. – Jessica

 

See you soon. Good night and sweet dreams. – Taeyeon

 

Taeyeon waited by her phone in case a message came in. After fifteen minutes, she was quite certain Jessica was asleep. Climbing into bed, she fell asleep very quickly with the mobile phone still in her hand.

 

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