The Sixth Lap

Over the next few months, Jessica and Taeyeon bonded over go-kart whenever the race driver was free. They always met up in the same group at the same venue. Sometimes, Minwoo would join them just to enjoy himself and also to keep an eye on Taeyeon.  Jessica gradually got better under Taeyeon’s tutelage and was able to rival the slowest guy in their go-kart group. Even Yunho was amazed at Jessica’s progress. He was pleased to see a softer side of Taeyeon when she was with Jessica. He knew that Taeyeon always had to put on a tough front when she was in front of the guys and during competitions.

 

One evening after dinner with the go-kart group, Jessica noticed Taeyeon turning into the highway and heading in the opposite direction from her house.

 

“Where are we going?” Jessica asked, admiring the night scenery that was passing her very quickly.

 

“Just sit back and relax. We’ll be there shortly.” Taeyeon didn’t want to reveal any details of the surprise she had in mind. There was a wide grin on her face as she drove.

 

Almost an hour later, they arrived at a huge open air carpark. It was formerly a place where people would go to watch open air screenings on a giant screen. Now, it was left empty and frequently used by car enthusiasts who turned it into a make-shift circuit.

 

That night, there weren’t many cars around. Taeyeon parked her car at one side of the carpark and opened her vario-roof. It was a rather cloudless night, hence they could see stars twinkling against the dark sky. They sat there in silence for a few minutes, looking at the stars.

 

“You brought me here to see the stars?” Jessica asked doubtfully. She knew there had to be another reason why she was here. There were many other places to go star gazing but she wanted to know why Taeyeon had chosen this place specifically.

 

“Hmm…partly. You’ve never sat in a car that I’ve raced right?” Taeyeon opened her centre console and took out a pair of racing gloves. Jessica watched with raised eyebrows as Taeyeon put on her gloves.

 

“Ermm..no. What are you thinking of doing right now?” Jessica asked, her nerves were acting up.

 

“Just make sure you’re strapped in and hold onto the groove in the side door,” Taeyeon instructed as she closed the vario-roof.

 

The moment the roof clicked into place, Taeyeon revved her engine and floored the acceleration. The only sound that came from Jessica was a high-pitched shriek when the car sped off from the start. Jessica could feel her stomach in her throat and the ability to scream disappeared completely as she held onto the side door for her dear life.

 

There were cones placed in the middle of the carpark and Taeyeon was weaving her way around them with ease, twisting and turning her steering wheel and manipulating her gear changes with precise control. For the first few minutes, Jessica felt like she was in a dryer. Her body was thrown around as Taeyeon manoeuvred around the cones.

 

After doing a swift handbreak turn at the end of the last cone, Taeyeon repeated her actions going back to the start of the cones. This time, Jessica had gotten used to the g-force in the car and was enjoying the fast and furious ride. She knew she was in good hands and didn’t have to worry about crashing. She turned around to look at Taeyeon, who had a very serious expression on her face. She liked the look of concentration on Taeyeon’s face, how the muscles on her arms would tighten as she turned the steering wheel.

 

When the car finally came to a stop at the end of the carpark, Jessica applauded. The smell of burnt rubber was thick in the air as Taeyeon opened the vario-roof again.

 

“That was one awesome ride!” Jessica commented, trying to catch her breath. It was a nerve-racking experience that soon changed into an adrenaline rush.

 

“Of course! It’s an honour to be driven around by the soon-to-be world class champion,” Taeyeon proclaimed with a cheeky grin and made a victory sign with her hand.

 

“You had been planning for this right?” Jessica questioned, poking her finger at Taeyeon’s shoulder.

 

“How did you know?” Taeyeon was amazed Jessica was so intuitive.

 

“You’ve changed your tyres. They’re not the usual ones. The ride is bumpier than when you send me home usually,” Jessica commented.

 

“Wow, I’m so proud of you. You remembered what I’ve taught you. Yes I did. I changed the tyres and lowered my suspension a little, just for tonight. I wanted to give you a unique experience.”

 

“Thank you, I enjoyed it.” Jessica smiled. The smile that melted Taeyeon’s heart and made her feel that all her efforts to prepare her car was worth it.

 

They arrived at Jessica’s apartment just past midnight.

 

“Sorry about sending you home so late,” Taeyeon apologised.

 

“It was worth it in exchange for the exhilarating ride by the soon-to-be world class champion.”

 

That sentence made Taeyeon blush.

 

Jessica was contemplating if she should ask Taeyeon to stay over at her place since it was so late and she was worried about the safety of the race driver.

 

“Don’t worry about me. I’ll text you when I arrive home. Good night Jessica, it had been a fun day,” Taeyeon said, as if she could read Jessica’s mind.

 

“Good night Taeyeon. Today has been memorable for me. Drive safely.” Jessica patted Taeyeon’s arm and alighted from the car.

 

Taeyeon watched the blonde entered the lift. She could still feel the tingling sensation on her arm where Jessica had touched earlier on. Taking a deep breath, the citrus scented perfume Jessica was using was still lingering in the air. She chuckled to herself for doing something so silly before driving off.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Jessica hung the blue security pass over her neck as she followed Minwoo into the control room. There were television screens lined in a row. In front of the technical team was a huge console filled with buttons and screens. The control room had a bird’s eye view of the track and it was simply breath-taking. That day, Taeyeon had invited her to the track to watch her during one of her practice sessions.

 

During the go-kart session, Jessica had been asking a lot of questions about motorsports. Seeing Jessica’s enthusiasm in finding out more, Taeyeon figured it would be a good opportunity to show her how everything worked behind the scenes.

 

“Do you ever worry about Taeyeon whenever she races?” Jessica was curious about everything that happened on the race track. She had read articles about drivers crashing onto the barriers and their cars catching fire. Some of them survived while in rare cases, the drivers perished along with their race cars.

 

“I don’t. The technical team has taken care of all the safety precautions so there shouldn’t be any issue. Taeyeon is a very experienced driver and she knows what to do on the track. Moreover, the team is in constant contact with her via the wireless radio,” Minwoo said in a matter-of-fact tone. He was leafing through a stack of papers on a clipboard and making several markings on them.

 

The thought of losing Taeyeon in a race struck fear in her heart. It was dreadful to know that she would lose a friend if the safety equipment wasn’t checked thoroughly.

 

Ten minutes later, Taeyeon entered the room. Her face lit up at the sight of Jessica. Her eyes travelled from top to toe of the blonde as she took in the beautiful sight in front of her.

 

“Do you want to take a look at the garage? I can bring you around,” Taeyeon offered, flashing a warm smile.

 

“It’s okay, you must be busy so I shall not bother you.” Jessica marvelled at the race car driver in front of her. Taeyeon was dressed her team’s red round neck tee, fireproof pants and a pair of Puma racing shoes. Her shoulder length brown hair was pulled back into a short ponytail. She hadn’t put on the full racing suit since there was still time before she hit the track.

 

They chatted for a while, with Taeyeon explaining how the team monitor her performance, the condition of her race car and other stuff relating to the race. Taeyeon introduced Jessica to Hyesung, the leader of the technical team. He briefly ran through how the team coordinated with Taeyeon and the mechanics at the garage.

 

Soon, it was time for Taeyeon to hit the garage and get ready for her practice laps. She gave a quick wave to everyone in the room and headed downstairs.

 

Hyesung handed Jessica a wireless headset so that she could listen to the communication between the technical team and Taeyeon. They headed for the gallery where they had an unblocked view of the track. There was a small LCD screen that hung from the ceiling, showing the view of the Pit where Taeyeon was at.

 

Ten minutes later, Taeyeon appeared in view on the screen, all dressed up in her racing suit. She was fastening the strap under her helmet and getting into the car. Once all buckled up, she stuck her left hand out of the window and gave a thumbs up sign.

 

“Are you ready?” Hyesung asked through the wireless microphone on his headset.

 

Taeyeon looked up at the blonde who was watching her from the gallery. She grinned and tightened her grip on the steering wheel.

 

“More than ever,” Taeyeon replied firmly with a wide grin on her face.

 

“Off you go,” came the command.

 

Taeyeon’s swift gear changes and nifty footwork on the pedals enabled her to hit the 100km mark within seconds. This sport was taxing on her stamina, fitness and concentration. The driver needed to withstand g-force, a kind of pressure that would push any ordinary person into unconsciousness, while making split second decision on the track. Failure to concentrate would also result in undesirable consequences on the track.

 

Jessica was in awe throughout Taeyeon’s practise laps. Her hands were gripping the ledge as she watched Taeyeon manipulate the car around tight corners on the track.

 

When Taeyeon returned to the garage, she was greeted with a bunch of unusually smiley mechanics.

 

“Hey Taeng, is that pretty woman someone special?” a team mechanic teased.

 

Taeyeon took off her helmet and fireproof balaclava. “What?”

 

Another mechanic joined him and said, “Ya, what are you waiting for? Go get her. You’re always decisive and quick when it comes to racing, why not do the same in love too?”

 

“You guys are idling too much. Go check on my car and stop being such gossip mongers,” Taeyeon instructed sternly.

 

As she was peeling off her gloves, Taeyeon wondered if Jessica was impressed with her performance on the track today. Thinking back on what her mechanics said, it was true that Jessica gave her a comforting feeling.  She felt relaxed and was able to behave like her usual self around her though she had only met the writer a few times.

 

Taeyeon’s thoughts were interrupted by a cheery voice at the garage. Minwoo brought Jessica there so that she could have a better understanding of the preparations for the race.

 

“Great job, Taeng, as always. You’ve shaved off half a second around turn twenty two.” Minwoo patted Taeyeon’s back as a sign of encouragement.

 

“Thanks Minwoo oppa.”

 

“Looks like it’s worth making all those arrangements for her to come. Dangling a carrot in front of a horse does help,” Minwoo mumbled as he came to a stop in front of Taeyeon.

 

Taeyeon threw one of her gloves at Minwoo and he caught it with ease. She wanted to throw the other glove at him but he had cleverly slipped out of the garage, dragging another mechanic along with him so that Taeyeon could be alone with Jessica.

 

“I hope those guys upstairs didn’t bore you. They can be quite technical, loud and rough around women. In fact, they treat me more like a brother than a sister. Sheesh, those guys…” Taeyeon muttered.

 

Jessica let out a laugh. “They are quite soft-spoken though. Maybe because I don’t know them well enough.”

 

“Aish, those hypocrites.”

 

Taeyeon folded her balaclava neatly and left it on a small cabinet, along with her helmet.

 

“You must be exhausted. Have a drink.” Jessica held up a towel and an iced bottle of water in front of Taeyeon.

 

Usually the person handing Taeyeon the towel and bottled water was either Minwoo or one of her mechanics at the garage. Today, it was a welcome sight for a beautiful woman to be handing her those treasured items. Suddenly, the greasy garage was transformed into a garden filled with fresh flowers.

 

In the middle of the garden, both of them stood in front of each other with soft gazes in their eyes. Taeyeon smiled as Jessica reached forward to clean the perspiration, dabbing gently all over her face. She reached a hand out and touched Jessica’s, then pulling her closer until their faces almost touched.

 

“Taeyeon. Taeyeon.”

 

Taeyeon snapped out of her dream. Jessica was still holding the towel and bottle in front of her.

 

“Sorry,” Taeyeon apologised before taking the towel and bottle off Jessica’s hands.

 

“It’s ok. Are you alright?” Jessica asked, concerned about the race driver.

 

“I’m fine. Will go change out of my racing suit now. You should follow Minwoo oppa into the control room where it is air-conditioned. Don’t stay in this stuffy place.” Taeyeon smiled and pointed her to the exit of the garage.

 

When Jessica left, Taeyeon gulped the icy cold water from the bottle to quench her taste. Strangely the water tasted sweeter than usual. Taeyeon looked at the label on the bottle and was certain it was the same brand she had been drinking for the past few months.

 

All of them had dinner together at a Korean BBQ restaurant. At the end of dinner, Taeyeon offered to send Jessica home since the rest of the guys were too drunk to ensure her safety.

 

“Alright, here we are,” Taeyeon announced. She parked the car by the side of the road.

 

“Thank you for sending me home and sorry for the trouble.”

 

“I don’t trust you with those guys, not when their faces are redder than tomatoes,” Taeyeon replied firmly.

 

“Good luck to your race tomorrow. It’s a pity I wouldn’t be able to make it due to work. I’ll try to catch the race on cable at the office.”

 

“Thank you. Your encouragement means a lot to me.” The corner of Taeyeon’s lips turned upwards into a warm smile.

 

Jessica could feel her cheeks warming up again. She unbuckled her seat belt and alighted from the car. Taeyeon followed suit and stood by the side of her car.

 

“Taeyeon.”

 

“Yes?”

 

“I’m wondering if I could do a short interview with you for the travel section in my magazine. We’re starting a new column called ‘Star’s Travels’ and I’m thinking of getting you to start the ball rolling. I hope you don’t think that I’m trying to abuse our friendship to get an interview with you,” Jessica requested. She was apprehensive about Taeyeon’s reply but decided to bite the bullet and tried her luck.

 

There was a brief silence before a single word was spoken.

 

“Sure.” It was a firm reply.

 

“Thank you for accepting my interview request!” Jessica beamed. The one-word answer sent tremours of joy throughout her body.

 

“You thought I wouldn’t accept it?” A smug smirk appeared on Taeyeon’s face.

 

“Y-yes, kind of,” Jessica replied, still startled at Taeyeon’s answer.

 

“For you, I’ll do it. Tempo’s my favourite magazine and is definitely not a trashy tabloid. Moreover, you’re my friend.”

 

“Thank you so much!” Jessica jumped up with joy, as if she hit the jackpot and hugged the race driver, causing the latter to fall backwards onto the bonnet of her car. Unfortunately Jessica fell along with Taeyeon and landed on top of her. They were in a very compromising position; Jessica’s face was merely inches away from Taeyeon’s, the colour of red on their faces mirrored each other’s.

 

Taeyeon’s eyes were wide open, her breathing became rapid as she looked into the brown pair of eyes in front of her. The ends of Jessica’s long blonde hair were caressing her face and neck. Her pulse thundered in her ears and she could feel her hands involuntarily tightened behind Jessica’s back.

 

Jessica was equally startled by the sudden close proximity to the race driver. Her lower body was pressed against Taeyeon’s and her hands were resting on the car’s bonnet on each side of Taeyeon’s face. She was struggling to balance herself lest she fell right on top of the race driver.

 

It proved to be a very difficult battle between the heart and the mind of the two people. In the end, the mind won. Jessica pushed herself up, widening the gap between them. She apologised profusely for being overly enthusiastic and causing the minor incident. She thanked Taeyeon for the ride and disappeared in the lift lobby in a flash, unable to face Taeyeon any longer. She was utterly embarrassed by her earlier actions and wished that Taeyeon wouldn’t be angry about it.

 

Back at the car, the skinship gave Taeyeon a new kind of adrenalin rush; something that was different from what she felt when she won the race, something much better, something she desired.

 

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