TRACKSIDED

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여사친!

I’ve given lessons in public places before, but never have people stared at me like they are doing now.

At first, I thought it was me who captured the customer’s attention, but it’s Jane.

Okay, Jane is blonde with blue eyes, and it’s this cliché thing people have with that. She isn’t anything special; her IQ isn’t high. I wonder if it even hits in the 90. It’s a shame because she certifies the legend about blonde’s intelligence. Jane has no interests whatsoever in academics. I’m sure she doesn’t even know what she’ll do next year.

Jane chose business at SNU because Brad Nixon is doing that. No, seriously, this is the type of girl who makes parents cringe. If Jane were Korean, she would die a spinster. She’ll probably die as a single American, but I can understand why Jane doesn’t care about the money she has, and all there’s no need to look for a husband to take care of her.

Studying at this Gong Cha was Jane’s idea. I don’t know why she picked this place in particular; I could bump into people I know. It’s not like I bother, but I hate when people get the wrong idea.

Sometimes even when you explain, they prefer keeping their misconception rather than accepting the truth you tell them.

“Tae Won.”

“Nae.”

“Is everything alright?”

Those eyes.

“Yes, why have you finished?”

Jane hands me her notebook, oh, and this writing, someone please help me. Jane’s handwriting isn’t what one will call refined; it’s sloppy. I know she’s not interested in academics, but still, writing like this should be prohibited.

What do they teach people in Europe?

When I think of all the families, who indebt themselves to send their sons and daughters to study in foreign countries, my heart bleeds for them.

Personally, I’ve never wanted to study abroad; I might have been sent at one point for training. The United States, Germany, Australia, Russia, I could have ended up in one of those countries. Their swimming teams are amongst the best in the world.

“Yo, Kim Tae Won.”

I lift my head from Jane’s notebook to find Jun Ho sunbae, the guy who wanted to date Soo Ae in high school.

One thing is sure my lesson with Jane will get Soo Ae’s ears.

Sunbae pats me on the back, “wow, it’s been ages.”

“Yeah, Sunbae, how you have been?”

“Good, the national team demands a lot of energy.”

“I can imagine,” I say with a smile.

Jun Ho Sunbae looks at Jane, and I feel obliged to explain,” Sunbae, this is Jane, an SNU student I’m tutoring.”

“And?”

There it is.

“그냥 여사친 [just a girl who’s a friend],” I add with hast.

Thank goodness Jane is drifting like she usually does. I find this ability to abstract her presence fascinating. It’s as though she erases herself from the surroundings and turns off her brain while being awake. At this instant, Jane doesn’t seem to have followed the conversation.

Sunbae smiles and pursues, “well, you must be smart to study at SNU.”

Jane seems embarrassed by Sunbae’s remark, her eyes dart, and her gaze stops on me. I can tell she’d like a lifejacket; since I don’t answer, she just utters, “eh,ㅡ.”

I have to bite my lip to prevent myself from bursting into laughter; it’s strange because Jun Ho Sunbae knows how it works for foreigners. International students pay the fee and get into any high ranking institute; their intellect has nothing to do with their admission.

Another guy comes and taps Sunbae on the shoulder; he too takes a good look at Jane before greeting us. Both Sunbae and his friend’s gaze seemed locked on something under our table. When they see me observing them, Sunbae quickly engages in farewells.

“Okay, well, Jane, it was nice meeting you. Tae Won, we should go for drinks sometimes.”

“Ah, ye, Sunbae.”

And off he goes to spread the word, I take a look under the table, and there I see what captivated their stares, today of all days, Jane and I are wearing matching Vans SK8 high.

The detail of having identical items might seem anodyne to most people, but here primarily for the two men who left us, it’s an indication of a more profound relationship. What they saw was couple-clothing.

Jane and I are as innocent as lambs on this; we both possess a pair, and we happened to wear them on the same day, yet the couple thing is what people will prefer to retain.

I turn back to look at Jane, “sorry about that.”

“About what?” she says with her lost in translation expression.

Amazing.

When I first found out Jane was my student, I have to admit, I panicked, but she’s just an ordinary student, and nothing like I expected. My judgment was too harsh; Jane isn’t a fangirl or anything else. She’s just a girl, a listless one.

It’s impossible even to compare Jane to any other girl because she’s just not like any girl I’ve met. Jane is plain and simple, and that species is rare nowadays. She has no expectations, and she seems exceptionally blasé by life.

But Jane has her eyes, freckles, wavy hair, and she has lost a lot of weight since I pulled her out of the Hangang River. Still, she seems to like to dress like a marshmallow with oversize pullovers. A weird idea creeps into my head; she wouldn’t be trying to appear unattractive.

Paebo.

If so, that will mean she has a crush on me, and I doubt that.

If it’s the case, I suggest she starts acting lessons because she’s talented.

At the same time, it’s odd; girls usually have a thing for me, I know I sound like I’m full of myself, but I hate fake modesty. I know that I’m part of that percentage of guys who interest.

Tae Won, come on, you’re talking about Jane here, a girl like no other.

My mother would have liked a girl like her, though, even my father, they were effortless going; they hated anything complicated or fussing.

Jane never fusses.

Suddenly I wonder what she thinks of me.

I’m here judging and tagging her with my impressions; perhaps she’s doing the same. Maybe she thinks I’m a total jerk.

“Tae Won, It’s time.”

That’s another strange thing; women like to spend time with me. Jane bails out when she can, as though the time spent with me was detention. She doesn’t even ask questions other than those concerning the lessons.

Shame is what I should be feeling right now. I sound like an attention seeker, but put yourself in my shoes. It’s surprising not to have Jane beating a single lash at me.

I know there’s a first time for everything, and it’s the first time. Perhaps Jane has a boyfriend; Nah, I’m sure she’s single, her phone hardly makes a sound, and I’ve never found her looking at it.

Only once Jane was on one of those reading websites. I asked her what she was reading, and Jane told me she just finished a trilogy about a girl who struggles with anorexia. She has started a story where the female protagonist is in a wheelchair, and the male MC tried to kill himself. It’s called Against the World of the Universe; I’m not sure.

That proved one thing she reads, and she’s a loner.

A loner, but not a day daydreamer, I’m almost sure she doesn’t do that when she wanders off. She’s just naturally listless like Tanaka, one of my brother’s favorite manga characters. The guy is so sluggish that he almost forgets his existence.

Min Ho liked that show.

There’s always something that brings my thoughts back to a family member.

Jane has packed up, and so have I, and we go downstairs.

“See you next time, Jane.”

“Yep, next time.”

Jane starts to walk, and I head to my motorbike.

I look back for an unknown reason, and I notice a hooded guy walking a few meters away, I climb on my bike, but something is bugging me.

I get off my bike and start to walk in the direction Jane took. The guy is still tailing her, I know because she has crossed two streets and he’s there again, and no, I don’t think he’s heading to the same place because I know Jane is going to see her cousin Mona and I doubt the person had the same plans.

There aren’t many people on the street, and the guy speeds up, so do I.

He grabs Jane by the shoulders and pushes her into one of the narrow alleys of the street; I hurry. When I arrive, she isn’t screaming but just trying to push the guy back.

“Oy.”

The guy turns and looks at me; I know him. It’s the little dealer who wanted to give her something in the club. He starts to run; I hesitate to tend to Jane or run after him. I go to Jane.

“Qwenchana?”

“I’m okay.”

“Wait, here,” I turn to run, but Jane holds me back.

“Don’t leave, please,” she says, tugging on the back of my jacket.

I turn back to face her; she looks as transparent as tracing paper.

“We should call the police.”

“No, no police, please,” she says, crumbling to the pavement.

I’m confused. Does she know the guy? I have a million questions, but it isn’t the moment that Jane needs now is to be reassured. Comforting isn’t one of my talents, but it’s never too late to learn, right?

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