The Second Lap

It was a Thursday night and it was also the official opening of a new sports bar near Olympic Stadium. Several A-listers in various sporting fields such as baseball, basketball, swimming were invited to the opening. As it was an invite-only event for sports stars and close business partners, the media took the opportunity to camp outside the sports bar, hoping to get photos of the people that were appearing that evening.

Comfortable sofas lined one side of the room while a bar was situated on its opposite side. The whole place was decorated in a sports theme, with checkered flags and various team flags lining the walls of the bar. There were two indoor arcade basketball machines and two electronic dart boards at the innermost corner of the bar for people to play with.

Sooyoung was hovering near the bar counter, hoping to catch a glimpse of the male sports stars as they came around to order their drinks. Through her wide network of contacts, Sooyoung managed to obtain two invites for the event. The moment she stepped into the bar, her hawk eyes had been busy skimming the crowd inside the bar, looking out for good-looking athletes.

On the other hand, Sooyoung’s partner for the evening, an extremely bored looking Jessica, was using her stirrer to poke at the lime and mint leaves that were floating in her mojito. She had been forcefully dragged to the event by Sooyoung who insisted that the former had nothing to do at home and that her time would be spent more efficiently at the bar instead. The truth of the matter was Sooyoung didn’t want to be seen gawking over the well-built athletes by herself. Since Sooyoung was the master of persuasion, Jessica ended up following her colleague to the event.

“Sica, look over there. Park Tae Hwan! OMG! It’s really him! He looks so handsome!!” Sooyoung exclaimed excitedly, hitting Jessica’s arm repeatedly. It wasn’t till her palm landed on the cold bar top that she let out a short shriek.

“That’s my arm, made of flesh and blood, not a non-living cushion,” Jessica snarled, pointing at red marks on her fair-skin arm.

“Sorry!! I’m just too excited to see him!! I’m so going to get his autograph!!” Sooyoung squealed, jumping up and down and clapping her hands merrily.

“Go ahead and rub shoulders with him. Happy perving! Don’t forget to call me when you’re leaving!” Jessica gave Sooyoung a shove and watched the tall skinny woman approached the swimmer. Sooyoung had the height of a model and her gift of the gab enabled her to talk to anyone easily. Heck, Sooyoung could even sell ice to an Eskimo and he would agree to buy it!

Tired of watching Sooyoung chatting with the swimmer and sitting alone by the bar, Jessica decided to explore the upper level of the sports bar. There was a huge screen showing the latest F1 race from last weekend, several sofas and a small bar counter at the corner. Further in, there were two VIP rooms which weren’t in operation that night. The upper level generally seemed pretty cosy and quieter than the rowdy party downstairs.

Jessica randomly chose a sofa to sit. She didn’t realised there was someone sitting in the sofa next to hers until the person punched a fist in the air and hollered.

“Aish!! He braked too early and missed the apex completely!”

Startled, Jessica turned around and realised there was a small figure sitting there. The woman was dressed in mostly black and dark blue, hence she blended into the dark blue velvet sofa. Her dark brown hair was tucked under the military cap with its signature silver ‘309’ embroidery gleaming in the dimly lit bar.

Ice Princess of the race track…Kim Taeyeon…

The race driver sat upright and gulped the remains of the fizzy cola in her glass. She turned around and noticed someone sitting next to her. She squinted at the newcomer, letting her eyes adjust to the change in brightness from the bright screen to the dim surroundings in the bar.

“Err…hello? Watching the F1?” Jessica said awkwardly, waving her right hand slightly.

“Hi.” A one-word greeting. No hint of enthusiasm or a tinge of cheerfulness.

Aloof indeed. This is definitely Kim Taeyeon.

Their ‘staring’ match lasted for a few more seconds before Taeyeon finally moved. The race driver got up from her sofa, stretched her arms above her head, exposing a ring of white skin that was her waist as her tee and jacket rode up.

Gosh she is so fair, she glows!  Quite unexpected for someone who spends a lot of time in the sun practising on the race track.

“Need a drink?”

Jessica thought she was hearing things when she heard Taeyeon’s question.

Did she just ask me if I needed a drink?

 

Jessica looked up at the race driver with a puzzled expression on her face as she repeated the question in her head one more time.

“I asked if you need a drink. I’m going to the bar to order a drink and I can help get you one too,” Taeyeon repeated slowly, thinking that Jessica didn’t hear her clearly.

“Oh, s-sure. A mojito w-would do. T-thanks,” Jessica stuttered, something that was unusual of her. Taeyeon suddenly looked larger than life when she stood in front of Jessica and the latter felt somewhat intimated by the race driver.

A few minutes later, Taeyeon came back and set the glass of mojito on the small table that was separately them.

“Thank you for getting my drink,” Jessica said politely. She wanted to look at the race driver in the eye to thank her but the race driver merely walked briskly past her and sat down on the sofa.

“No worries,” came a short reply. Taeyeon sank into her seat and stared at the screen in front of her.

The room was filled with sounds of engines roaring around the F1 track yet there was a silence which was suffocating Jessica. The silence grew heavier as time went on, as if there was someone squeezing the air out of her lungs. She felt awkward staring at the screen and not talking to the kind person who brought her drink. She shifted several times in her seat, trying to think of a conversation starter.

Taeyeon doesn’t seem as cold as what the other said. If she is, she wouldn’t be bothered with a stranger like me. Maybe she just needs some time to warm up.

 

After watching the cars go round the track for two laps, an idea struck Jessica.

“You enjoy watching the F1 races?” Jessica asked in an attempt to start a conversation.

“Yea.” A one-word answer. This time, it didn’t sound as cold as Taeyeon’s initial one-word greeting.

“Who’s your favourite driver?” Jessica probed, not giving up.

Taeyeon turned around and stared at Jessica as if she had an arm growing out of her head.

What is she up to? Judging from her built, she is probably in track and field. Maybe one of the new kids on the block. One thing’s for sure, she has a pair of nice eyes that sparkle like stars.

“Kimi Raikkonen,” Taeyeon said with a half-smile.

She looks up to the ice man. Maybe she thinks it’s cool to be cold. Oh, what a bad pun! Jessica thought to herself.

“Who’s yours?” Taeyeon asked, staring at Jessica curiously. Besides the other female race drivers, she hardly knew any other female who enjoyed watching motorsports. Jessica was one of the rare few who did and that got her attention.

“No one in particular. I think each of their have their own merits. One day he may be the champion, on another day the same driver may lose his position for a variety of reasons.”

Taeyeon sat upright and propped her arms on the armrest of the sofa, her interest in the new comer increased. She studied the features of the woman facing her, separated by the small table between them.

Judging from her perfectly manicured fingers, she doesn’t look like a person who does sports.

 

“In case you’re wondering, I’m not a sports person. I’ve been invited to the event because my friend knows one of the owners of the bar,” Jessica explained, as if she could read Taeyeon’s mind.

 

“Why are you up here?” Taeyeon continued questioning Jessica.  Earlier on, she made her presence felt at the event by greeting the owners and mingling with some of the invited guests. Now, she was bored and it was nice to have company since she had to wait for Minwoo to finish some business before she could leave.

Just minutes ago, Jessica had explained how she got invited to the official opening of the bar, hence she was unsure of what Taeyeon’s question meant.

“Why are you sitting here instead of mingling with the crowds downstairs?” Taeyeon repeated her question slowly, thinking that Jessica didn’t hear her clearly again when she saw the frown on Jessica’s face.

“I’m sure it’s more fun than staring at the giant screen here. There’s more eye candy too,” Taeyeon continued, still saying each word slowly and clearly.

Jessica was trying to suppress her laughter when she saw Taeyeon speaking so slowly and making exaggerated movements with her mouth so that Jessica could lip read. She realised that Taeyeon had misunderstood and thought that Jessica couldn’t understand what she was saying.

“I want to escape from the crowds downstairs. I’m not a fan of crowded places like these. I wouldn’t be here if not for my colleague who insisted on me accompanying her. ” Jessica shrugged her shoulders.  “To be honest, I rather curl up with a hot cup of coffee and watch movies at home then hang out at nightspots.”

Taeyeon let out a short sigh and nodded in agreement. “Me too.”

Jessica smiled at the answer, knowing they had something in common. She could feel the warmth from the race driver, despite her initial aloofness. Afterall, the popular race driver was also human, just like anyone else.

“At least you’re here for leisure,” Taeyeon said enviously.

Jessica knew how Taeyeon felt. Taeyeon was invited to the event as part of the star studded cast for the sports bar’s official opening. The media, drawn by the A-listers, would wait outside the bar to take photos of the stars that were arriving. Each of them signed a giant wall poster that was strategically placed at the entrance of the bar. All these generated publicity for the newly opened bar.

The race driver sank into the dark blue velvet sofa and stretched her legs in front. Although her eyes were focused on the screen, Taeyeon’s mind wandered off to the new comer beside her. She didn’t know why she bothered to explain her appearance at the bar to a total stranger.

“How long do you have to be here for?”

“Until my manager finishes his business discussion with a potential sponsor.”

“Shouldn’t you be present as well?” The question shot out of Jessica’s mouth before she could stop it. She immediately regretted it but what was said couldn’t be taken back.

“I did my due diligence already. He is trying to close the deal now so I’m free to roam around until he calls me,” Taeyeon replied with a short sigh. Fortunately she didn’t appear to be bothered by the questions Jessica was asking.

“Another mojito?” Taeyeon asked, pointing at the half empty glass near Jessica.

“No thanks. I’ll grab a coke instead. Yourself? Another coke?”

Taeyeon nodded, this time with a full smile on her face, the kind that made your lips resemble a letter “U”. The first smile Jessica had seen tonight since she started talking to Taeyeon. It was the kind of smile that brightened up a room.

She looks so much prettier when she smiles. Less scary too.

This time, Jessica went to get the drinks. There wasn’t anyone else in the upper level so they had the whole floor to themselves. It provided a more relaxed atmosphere for them to chat in private since they had to wait for their respective partners to finish their business before they could leave.

“You speak fluent Korean. Where did you learn it from?” Jessica started the ball rolling.

“I had a Korean tutor when I was young. My parents insisted I learn the language.” Taeyeon curled her legs on the sofa and leaned forward so that she could listen to Jessica speak amidst the roar of the F1 cars in the background.

“Cool. Most Koreans who grew up overseas lost touch of the language. It’s good to learn your birth language.”

“Yea, I guess.” Taeyeon scratched the side of her head and grinned.

It was a sheepish grin that looked so adorable on the race driver’s face, something unseen in the public’s eye. That rare grin set some butterflies in Jessica’s stomach fluttering. Jessica couldn’t help flashing a grin herself.

She looks kind of cute with that sheepish grin. I wonder why she doesn’t smile as much in public yet she does it so naturally here.

Jessica ran her fingers up and down the glass, playing with the cold droplets of water that had condensed on its exterior. She could sense that Taeyeon was warming up and starting to open up a little bit more, hence she didn’t want to scare her away by asking too many personal questions.

“Have you been to Australia?”

Jessica shook her head. “I would love to visit that country when I can spare the time. Where do you suggest I visit first?”

“Melbourne!” Taeyeon said without hesitation. Her voice went a pitch higher than the usual and she almost leapt out of the sofa in her excitement.

Jessica was surprised by the sudden outburst. Taeyeon appeared to come alive at the mention of Melbourne. Taeyeon realised she spoke a little too louder and covered her mouth with embarrassment.  Both of them giggled over Taeyeon’s enthusiasm.

The race driver went on to introduce several places of interest to visit in Melbourne. Jessica was listening intently, giving Taeyeon her full attention. They exchanged ideas on food and travel, chatting happily like old friend. She had never seen Taeyeon rattling excitedly about something and she was behaving like a little kid in a candy store. She smiled to herself, enjoying the moment. All the rumours about Taeyeon being a diva, an ice princess and being unfriendly were completely brushed away.

Jessica’s phone rang in the middle of their conversation. It was Sooyoung. She excused herself and left her seat to answer the call. She spoke briefly on the phone before returning to her seat.

“Do you need to leave soon?” Taeyeon guessed, looking at Jessica’s expression.

I think her partner is done. I guess I’ll just watch the rest of the F1 race alone while waiting for Minwoo oppa.

Jessica detected a hint of disappointment in Taeyeon’s voice but dismissed it as her oversensitivity.

“Yes. My colleague is waiting for me downstairs. It seems she had finished collecting the autographs of all the male sports stars,” Jessica said jokingly. “It has been nice chatting with you.”

“Me too,” Taeyeon said politely. You’re such good company.

“I’ve also enjoyed talking to you and learning more about Melbourne. Perhaps you should check if your manager is done, then you can leave this place too,” Jessica said with a smile as she shook Taeyeon’s hand. “Good night and drive safely.”

“Good night.”

As Jessica disappeared down the stairs, Taeyeon realised that she hadn’t asked for her name. She caught herself smiling in the reflection of her mobile phone as she checked her phone for any unread messages. She was surprised at herself for holding such a long conversation with someone she hardly knew.

=========

“Why are you smiling to yourself? Happy that I’ve secured that Casio contract for you?” Minwoo took a glance at his front seat passenger who was curled up on the seat. He was sending Taeyeon home in the Kia Sorento after the official opening of the sports bar.

“Hmm…maybe?” Taeyeon replied cheekily.

“You’re behaving rather strangely tonight. Coke making you light-headed?”

“Maybe?”

“I ought to tell the owners that they should have Coke zero instead of regular Coke. It’s making my star driver high on sugar.”

Taeyeon chuckled and continued day dreaming about her earlier conversation with Jessica. She wondered if their paths would cross again.

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