TRACKSIDED

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STALKER

JANE

My phone vibrates, the screen lights up, and there it is.

Someone keeps sending me spam messages with the title README. First, I ignored them and deleted them. These days I receive one per hour. Exasperated and stressed by the constant buzzing, I opened one, only to discover one sentence:

Jane annyeong.

“What’s wrong, Jane?” Mona asks.

“It’s one of those messages again,” I frown over my phone; how does the person know my name?

Mona leans over to look at my phone screen, “you mean the spams, let me see?”

“Yeah, I don’t know why I’m getting them. I wouldn’t stress if it were impersonal, but the messages say Jane annyeong, the person knows my first name.”

Mona leans back in her chair, “I didn’t want to tell you this, but Sochi, one of the girls I have a course with, asked me if you were Mr. Kim’s new girlfriend. I said no, and I asked her where she got the info, and Sochi showed me this blog, and there were a few pics taken from afar of Mr. Kim and you.”

Drops of sweat start to sprout from my pores, “are you serious?”

Mona nods, “yep, apparently, Mr. Kim isn’t a nobody. At the time we were spotty teens, he was making headlines as an athlete. People like him and the couple he formed with Kyeong Soo Ae the archer.”

“What are you trying to say, Mona?”

“Well, Korean fandom is hardcore. I mean, being a fan here is a full-time job, and they don’t like their fav ship to sink if you catch my drift.”

As Mona speaks, I feel like a victim of considerable prejudice. I mean, I didn’t push them to break up.

People can’t possibly think that, can they?

“Mona, are you saying someone might be seeking vengeance on me?”

“You’ve seen it, Jane, fans who trash people’s car, troll Insta, Face or Twitter accounts. You don’t have social media accounts anymore, so someone might have decided to drive you up the wall with messages.”

My mind starts to oil its mechanics as I think for a second. I don’t believe what Mona is saying, but she has whisked up the reasonable doubt. A nervous laugh escapes from me as I can’t accept that someone in their right mind would consider me as a rival to Tae Won’s ex, who is Miss Korea material.

“What’s so funny,” Mona asks.

“Mona, a guy like Tae Won, sees me the way I am, a shipwreck with pieces scattered all over the place, I don’t even have a maste to redirect and guide me. You’ve never seen Tae Won tutoring, but I know he’s convinced I’m stupid. It’s just extremely ridiculous to imagine people believe something is going on between a man like him and me.”

Mona takes a sip of her Yuja cha before adding, “yeah, but you can’t stop people from creating their TVN drama.”

“The messages don’t say anything except annyeong Jane; there are no insults or threats, just hi Jane.”

“Perhaps it’s just the beginning. Maybe we’re being watched right now,” Mona says with a devilish grin that sends shivers up my spine.

Mona finds it funny, but she has scared the shit out of me. My cousin knows how I quickly go on angsty trips. For some reason, I get the impression Mona did it on purpose; she seems to enjoy taunting me.

“Jane, don’t make that face. I was kidding, okay,” Mona says, tapping on my hand, but it’s too late; paranoia is redecorating my mind.

In my afternoon lessons, my eyes dart about like a ferret, expecting someone to pop out of the shadows with a hair clipper to shave my hair in a public execution or a group of teens throwing flour and rotten eggs at me. Yes, Boys over Flowers left its imprint on my hard drive.

I wonder if the person is there watching me and if he finds it amusing?

The feeling haunts me, and I’m a total wreck when I meet with Tae Won.

“Hi.”

“Annyeong.”

The word annyeong makes me shiver. It doesn’t seem like a greeting anymore, but a Death Note.

“Jane is everything okay; you look pale?”

“I’m-I’m.”

I feel I’m losing feet, and Tae Won grips me.

“Don’t touch me,” I say, regaining composure as my desire to dissipate any misunderstanding is stronger than smashing my head against the pavement.

Tae Won frowns at my reaction, which seems to have contradicted him; he looks around and points his head in a bench direction, “come, there’s a bench over there, let’s sit there a minute.”

Tae Won never gets mad; I’m amazed at how he manages to control the situation and his temper.

I follow, making sure to maintain a consistent gap between us.

“Jane, is there a problem?”

Tae Won is very straightforward; I like that because pondering on the meaning of things and trying to find accurate interpretations isn’t something I practice, but I wished he could play pretend and skip the questioning right now.

“No,” I reply; Tae Won doesn’t seem convinced, probably because I don’t appear persuaded either.

“Did something happen today?”

The throbbing in my eyes alerts me of a probable panic attack; everyone seems suspicious, and it gives me the impression that all eyes are upon us.

My breath quickens, and my voice is a trail of gasps as I reply, “Tae Won, is it okay if we skip today’s lesson? I’m not feeling well?”

A wet sensation seems to cover my skin once more; I’m sweating, I take my bag and search for tissues, but Tae Won already has one out and hands it to me.

The hand swat goes off without warning, “don’t do that.”

“Okay, Jane spit it out. What’s going on?”

“You, you are going on. I told you we shouldn’t see each other in places other than libraries or study halls. Now there are rumors.”

“What rumors?”

From Tae Won’s question mark expression, I can tell he doesn’t have a clue of what I’m talking about; at least he pretends not to know. Tae Won remains collected; he doesn’t even evoke the guy in the alley he chased away.

I sigh, “forget it.”

“No, Jane, speak,” Tae Won makes a gesture to grab my hand.

When did this happen? When did we get into these tacky touching gestures?

I pull back.

“Tae Won, I heard you have a girlfriend and-.”

“Who’s bothering you?”

“Tae Won, it’s not the problem. The thing is, you should spend time with her.”

The grave expression Tae Won gives me hints he doesn’t appreciate what I’m saying.

Frustrated by the incomprehension in the air, I get up.

“I don’t have a girlfriend, Jane, andㅡ.”

At that moment, Tae Won’s voice drowns in the sound of a passing bike ringing its bell. Startled, I jump.

I’m scared, the messages are getting to me, my heart races, I tremble, and I’m deaf to the sounds surrounding us, and that’s when I realize I’m in Tae Won’s arms; he’s hugging me.

Suddenly it’s as though someone takes out the earplugs, and I hear what Tae Won is saying, “qwenchana, Jane, I’m here. You’re not alone. I’m with you.”

People must be staring, and I sink my head further into his chest, which shields me. Something in me tells me what I’m doing is dangerous, and I should push him away, but Jane, the coward, stays there buried in Tae Won’s protective arms.

Yes, my name is Jane Austen, and I’m an absolute shameless wreck.

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