TRACKSIDED

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사랑해

All the warning signs are light. Still, I start the engine.

As we ride through the traffic, I recall the first time I met her. Like most athletes, we got drafted to the same high school, and then we both got into KNSU [Korean National Sports University]. Soo Ae remained there, and I switched.

When people see us, they imagine a fairy tale romance, but it wasn’t exactly like that. Between students, we went out, of course, I had my swimming buddies, and Soo Ae had her archery girlfriends, we met at the same bars, Noraebangs [Karaoké] Soo Ae’s friends began to date mine.

Before I knew it, I was the only single guy, girls came, but I kept turning them down. With the pressure from some Sunbaes, I started to date anyone except Soo Ae. I went out with a tennis, handball, and football player before Soo Ae attacked me.

“Neo, na an mwyo?” [don’t you see me?]

I have to admit I was dumbstruck at the time.

“Pardon,” I asked, not sure about what she was referring to though I knew I had to be sure.

“Aren’t I pretty?” Soo Ae asked as she stood to steps on the stairs above me.

“You are,” I replied, looking at my wristwatch, realizing she made me late and that the coach would have me doing lapse.

“Then how come you don’t notice me?”

How not to notice her?

I only saw her, but Soo Ae seemed out of my league; she was the only girl I saw who I did not have the guts to approach. Also, one of my Sunbaes had made it clear that the archer was his to catch.

Soo Ae wasn’t a girl supposed to be interested in me, but apparently, she was. It made me happy; she wooed me with her confident personality and peaceful intentions. I don’t know if it’s a deformation due to seeing girls who are fierce competitors, but I like girls who never give up.

This trait is like kryptonite for me now; I wish Soo Ae would give up on me.

We arrive in my area, and before we go up to my place, I stop to buy some chimaek [ chicken+ beer (maekju)=chimaek]. After a competition, Soo Ae usually hungry, and if she isn’t, my stomach is crying famine.

Soo Ae grabs some soju. Why? I know, and I don’t like the reason behind it.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea; I don’t want to bring you back, drop-dead drunk.”

She smiles and grabs them anyway.

This girl is the real Soo Ae, the one the journalists don’t know, she’s stubborn and does whatever passes through her head regardless, but she isn’t reckless.

It’s like she has this limit that reels her back into a perfect society model; I envy her. The rope which attached me to the community appears to have snapped.

As Soo Ae enters my apartment, I realize she is the first woman who comes here. It’s weird, but I’m not embarrassed to show her where I stay. To be honest, I hope it repels her. Instead, she takes off her shoes and goes to sit on my room’s floor as though it was her bedroom.

The sentence “make yourself at home,” remains perfectly tucked in under the covers of my tongue.

We start to eat; I turn on the Tv to fill the silence. It’s an awkward moment that lasts; my eyes rise as if to ask assistance from the divine.

As I bite into my spicy chicken, I wonder why I went to Soo Ae’s competition, why I let her in my apartment, and finally why I can’t be with her?

The woman is smart, beautiful, and all I ever wanted.

Waé [why]?

Why can’t she be mine?

We finish eating, I clear up, I don’t know what to say, and there isn’t anything to say. We just drink Somaek [Soju+maekju=somaek, a mix of Korean liquor and beer].

And there in the silence, as we sit on the couch, she kisses me.

This situation is a mousetrap; I knew all along this was where we were heading. There isn’t even a need to change location. I live in one room with a coffee table, a couch, and a sleeping area, keut [that’s it].

“Soo Ae, I should take you back.”

“Don’t you want to?”

“It’s not that we can’t.”

“Why?”

“Because of your parents,” yes, only dumb answers come out when she corners me like this.

“Tell me the truth Tae Won. Tell me why it’s okay for you to sleep with the whole of Seoul and not me?”

Both lust and sadness play on Soo Ae’s face.

I suddenly feel like a cheating husband and insulted in a twisted way, “first, I haven’t slept with the whole of Seoul, and second, I can’t have sex with you because of that, I can’t have meaningless sex with you, Soo Ae.”

“But what if it’s what I want?” Soo Ae says, grabbing onto my neck.

I told you, Soo Ae does whatever goes through her mind.

“Listen, you, I, us, it isn’t possible, not anymore, I’m a wreck. I’m not a guy for you.”

“Says who? I choose, I say who, when, and how, you’re the one I want, Tae Won. You think I don’t know what’s going through your head. Do you think your current condition or your lost status scares me? I’m here; I can face it, I can withstand anything with you.”

“Soo Ae.”

Her name comes out like a plea; this isn’t good at all.

“Look, at me in the eyes, tell me you don’t love me anymore,” she says while she cups my face in her hands.

I want her, truly, madly, sincerely, but I can’t. It’s stupid because she’s serving herself to me, but still.

I feel like a vampire, haven’t you ever noticed? Vampires bite into every neck regardless, and then comes this one woman who they can’t sink their teeth into for reasons they can’t even explain.

Soo Ae gives a mischievous smile, I pull away from her arms, and she leaps on me, making me fall back on the couch and bang my head on the corner of the armrest. She starts to kiss me again when she suddenly stops and stares at me with her flushed cheeks under the Somaek effect. A few strands of hair cling to her face as sweat appears.

The room is hot and stuffy like a Jjimjilbang [Korean hammam]; I feel my shirt stick to my back as her lips start to utter what I dreaded.

" 사랑해 [Sarangae=I love you] Tae Won.”

GAME OVER, she got me.

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