Today is the day.
Today is finally the day.
The girl dashes through the woods eager to get to Namjoon.
Oh boy. Namjoon.
Just thinking about him makes the girl run a little faster than usual. Usually, the prospect of running barefoot through the forest seemed terrifying. The one time she did it, she ended up getting a splinter in the heel of her foot; and adding insult to injury, she could feel it, she just couldn’t see it. It had taken her hours to pick it out.
The girl surmises that Namjoon must have superpowers because thinking about him makes her fear go away and only exhilaration remains. She even lets out a girlish giggle as she runs. She rarely giggles.
Or maybe he’s just an angel in disguise. The thought makes her heart flutter. Yeah, she likes the thought of Namjoon being her angel. She doesn’t know what she’s done to deserve his attention on her but—
The rotting stench causes the girl to trip over her own feet and land hard on her knees. She lays on the ground for a moment, not totally comprehending what just happened. When the smarting pain registers, she gets back up, wincing as she rubs her legs.
Out of all the things she could imagine breaking her runner’s high, she didn’t anticipate a funky aroma being one of them.
But the smell just… took her off-guard.
She wants and needs to do is ignore that foul odor and keep it moving. She has a play-date to get to.
But something inside her is yelling that is amiss and that they—she needs to get to the bottom of it.
She’d only be a few minutes, she promises herself. Namjoon could wait a little longer.
Already bracing herself for what she is about to do, she stops breathing through her mouth and takes a deep inhale through her nose.
If she had a weaker stomach, she might’ve thrown up in her mouth by now. Yes, maybe she is being a little dramatic right now, but the fusion of hot garbage mixed with rotting fruit that might’ve been sweet-smelling at one point is more than one girl could ta—
A sickening notion slithers its way into the girl’s subconscious.
No, no, it couldn’t be.
He’s waiting at the florist’s garden; she tries to allay. He’s fine. He’s safe!
But the yelling inside in her head increased to an all-out roar of panic and her hands shake as the slippery cold creeps up her spine.
Once again, she sniffs the air, channeling all of her attention onto the fruitiness of the malodorous scent. Now that she thinks about it, she has smelled something like this before. It’s been some time, but it smells a lot like…
The girl goes motionless.
Then with nothing but the fear-mongering scent guiding her, she doesn’t just run.
Please be okay, she chants as she tears through the forest vegetation.
She just needs him to be okay. She would never forgive herself if he wasn’t. She was the reason why he was out here. It was all her fault.
She has never given much thought to praying, but she pleads with God over and over again to let her friend be alive and well.
And if he is, she promises herself that she will never go near him again.
Her silent prayers cease when her eyes pick up on the distant figures up ahead of her in the clearing. Almost as if on command, her vision sharpens and everything is in high-depth. Everything seems so much brighter than it was a few seconds ago. It takes her off-guard. She blinks as if an eyelash finds its way into her eye.
However, the figures in front of her help her focus immediately: a wild cat slowly easing onto its hind legs, readying itself to pounce. The other figure is a boy with a head of coconut-styled silver hair, glassy silver eyes wide with fear.
The girl cuts in long enough to grab Namjoon’s hand and pulls him back into the woods.
Namjoon doesn’t understand what is happening for a second.
One minute, he was wondering if this was the moment he would see his Appa and Eomma again, and the next Eight is pulling him away from the terrifying beast threatening to eat him.
“Come on!” Eight gasps, urging him to run. Namjoon doesn’t need any more prompting. The children blindly run, too scared to think about any specific destination.
Namjoon braves a look back to see if the lynx has given chase as he feared.
Sure enough, the lynx is behind them. Its amber eyes are glued onto the children with a single-minded focus that nearly causes Namjoon’s limbs to rubber.
The lynx isn’t moving that fast thankfully. The lynx isn’t known for its speed. Namjoon’s not worried about that.
What he is worried about is that he can’t predict when the lynx will decide to jump. What a lynx lacks in speed, it makes up for it in launching power. As if reading his thoughts, the lynx stops and crouches low to the ground.
Namjoon turns his head back around, ready to warn Eight what the lynx is about to do. She is staring back at the lynx too; not a trace of fear in her eyes, just a quiet intensity that intimidates Namjoon. He’d be scared if he were the lynx.
Then without warning, she stops and that forces Namjoon to stop too. Before he can ask her what is she doing and to keep moving, she grabs him by his thighs and heaves him onto her back. If not for the panic and astonishment that has robbed his words, he would’ve questioned the source of Eight’s brute strength.
Once she steadies him, she grunts out, “Hold on!” That’s the only warning Namjoon gets before she floors it.
Good thing, too.
Just as they start moving again, the lynx strikes its attack. It misses them by mere millimeters, its claws barely brush against Namjoon’s Merlin Mickey t-shirt.
Namjoon is sure they are moving at the speed of light. Everything is now a blur of green in his line of vision. The air which had seemed so humid to him at the start of the day now feels icy as it slaps at his cheeks and eyes in what seems like coordinated attacks.
He tightens his grip on Eight’s shoulders and closes his eyes, waiting for them to stop.
The girl had realized pretty quickly that they couldn’t move the way she wanted them too if she was worried about pulling on Namjoon’s arm and seriously hurting him. When she picked him up, the act had been based on impulse.
It’s nothing she hasn’t done before. She’s given piggyback rides to little kids before and lucky for her, Namjoon is a twig of a boy so he practically weighs nothing.
Maybe if she wasn’t literally running for both of their lives, she might’ve enjoyed the satisfying burn of her pumping legs and the comforting weight on her back. Still, the girl is running on adrenaline and is swiftly running out of juice. Throwing a hasty glance behind them, she is pleased to see that they have lost the cat.
With this knowledge in mind, her body loses its state of extreme hyperdrive. They near a crystalline-like lake and the girl finally loses the last of strength. Her legs give out and Namjoon takes that as his cue to vacate her back. She slumps down onto the grass, inhaling deeply.
Namjoon balances himself on one foot, stalling for time. What could he say?
Eight saved him again.
He wanted to show her a different side of him. A cool and smart side. Instead, he once again acted like a helpless baby that needed to be rescued. If this kept up, she probably wouldn’t want to be his friend! The possibility has Namjoon gnawing on his bottom lip. In a moment of petulance, he considered not thanking her.
Ultimately, etiquette and gratitude won out.
But it’s not exactly gratitude that exits his mouth.
“I’m sorry you had to save me again! I just wanted to explore a little bit before you came. I even found a pretty flower petal that I wanted to show you. When the lynx showed up, I was so scared. I could’ve shifted and hid somewhere until it went away, but I didn’t. I didn’t move and I cried like a baby.”
“You’re so cool, Eight! You were in danger but you still helped me. You weren’t scared at all. I wish I was like you…”
The girl is stunned by his words.
Cool? Brave? Her?
Pride warms her chest.
She’s been called a lot of things but never brave. Back at the orphanage, she always did her best to keep her head down. Although she slipped up sometimes, she never consciously tried to rock the boat. She’d seen what happened to kids who dared to stand up for themselves and she was too scared of the consequences.
She wanted to tell Namjoon the only reason she was brave was because he made her so. She wanted to tell and show him what she was really like when Namjoon wasn’t around.
But she’s not ready to reveal herself.
She sits up and glares at him. “No! Don’t say that! I was just as scared as you were.”
Namjoon’s eyes widen briefly before he scoffs. “No, you weren’t. You knew exactly what to do. You’re just saying that to make me feel better,” he sulks, avoiding her gaze.
Namjoon is content to mope about his apparent syndrome of DID (Damsel in Distress).
The girl kisses her teeth in frustration, adamant to stop Namjoon’s pity-party. Fine, if he won’t believe her, then she’ll show him. She stands right in front of him.
“Look!” Namjoon looks up and his mouth drops open.
Eight has lifted her arms to reveal two embarrassingly large sweat stains on her armpits. What’s preventing Namjoon from looking away to preserve Eight’s dignity is the fire burning in her yellow depths. Eight raises an eyebrow, daring him to look away.
“When I’m scared or nervous, my armpits start to sweat. Well, first they sting and then they sweat.” She lowers her arms as she continues. “I was running towards the florist’s shop when I caught your scent. I almost ignored it but I’m glad I didn’t. I didn’t know if you were alive or not. And I didn’t if we would get away from that thing. I didn’t know what I was doing. Both of us might’ve been eaten by that thing…” Her bottom lip trembles.
Namjoon stares blankly at her, not knowing what to say. Finally, he settles on, “Do your pits stink after you sweat like that?”
The words come out before Namjoon has time to consider how offensive they might be. He blushes, knowing his Hyung would scold him for asking such an invasive question. Oh no, would she burst into tears like the girls he saw on TV? He doesn’t think Eight is the type of girl to spontaneously cry without warning; but then again, he still doesn’t know her well enough.
Luckily, Eight doesn’t look mad or upset. She tilts her head and looks thoughtful as if she is seriously examining his question.
She shrugs. “Let’s find out.” She lifts her arm again and takes a deep whiff.
She chokes and coughs. “Blech!” she sputters.
The girl hadn’t anticipated the ripeness clinging to her. She really did stink!
But before the heat has time to crawl up her neck, she hears the miraculous sound of Namjoon’s giggles. He’s rolling around on the ground, clutching his stomach as his cheek turn red from the force of his laughter.
The girl grins. She hadn’t exactly meant for him to laugh at her expense, but she soon finds herself laughing as well. Namjoon has that type of effect on her.
When their laughs die down, the girl perks up.
“Do you still have it?”
“The flower petal, silly! You said found a flower petal, did you keep it?” Namjoon blinks, gets up, and then pats his bottom. His left dimple appears as he pulls out a crumpled white petal. He hands it to Eight.
Eight looks pensive as she traces the petal with careful hands.
“It’s smooth.” She lifts it to her nose, her eyes crinkle as she smiles, “It smells sweet too! This is really cool Namjoon. I wished I had gotten there sooner. I would’ve liked to see it as a full flower. I bet it’s really pretty.”
“Don’t worry,” Namjoon chirps, “I took plenty of pictures, c’mere!” He waves her over.
The girl peers over Namjoon’s shoulder as he goes to his photo gallery. Right before he taps onto the most recent picture, she notices a selfie of Namjoon, who was laughing, and a handsome, dark-haired young man exaggeratedly biting his cheek.
Forgetting that Namjoon isn’t supposed to tell anyone about his Hyung, he tells the truth. “My big brother.”
“Wow, he looks just like a prince or something.”
Namjoon briskly nods his head. “He is!”
Fortunately for Namjoon, the girl rarely has a chance to watch TV, aside from the few times that the kids smuggled in bootleg movies. And even if she had seen the King’s face on the occasional newspaper, she never cared much about the happenings of the royal family so she never thought to give much attention to what the King looked like.
She raises her eyebrow. “Sure, Namjoon.” All thoughts of Namjoon’s gorgeous brother leaves her mind as quickly as they came. Her lips part as he scrolls through the pictures.
“I never knew that flowers could grow on trees like this. I thought that the tree had to look, you know, skinny.”
Namjoon nods his head. “I thought so too. I just wish I knew what type of flower it’s called though. When I get home, I’m gonna look up what it’s called. There’s this book at my house that talks about everything!” Namjoon spreads his arms out wide for emphasis.
Eight’s skepticism is obvious in her voice. “Everything?”
Namjoon juts his chin out, feeling like he’s being challenged.
“I’ll prove it to you! Next time we meet, I’ll bring it and you can see for yourself.”
Competition fades from his mind as he continues to plan.
“Oh! I could also bring some sandwiches. I’ll make them myself. My Hyung—I mean my big brother says my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the best he’s ever tasted. You’ll see. We could make it a picnic and…” He trails when he realizes that Eight isn’t saying anything.
She’s just staring at him in awe.
“What you said before, about wanting to be like me?” She shakes her head. “Don’t. I like this Namjoon the best. I wanna be friends with you, not another me.”
Namjoon’s face becomes painfully hot as his flush goes to the roots of his hair. His mouth repeatedly flaps open and shut as his brain malfunctions.
Fearless, cool Eight liked him even when he acted like a total doofus? She still wanted to be his friend?
His heartbeat begins to gallop. “You think so?”
She bobs her head up and down in her assent. “Most kids wouldn’t want to return to a place where they almost died, but you’re already planning to come back. That takes serious guts, Namjoon.”
Namjoon’s bewilderment begins to erode. A slow, brilliant smile lights up his face. “It does, doesn’t it?”
Eight giggles. “Not to mention you’re super smart, you have a cool phone, and you…” Eight averts her gaze.
“You smell like peaches,” she shyly informs him.
Well, that does it.
Namjoon dies from heatstroke of the face.
His face is on fire and Eight doesn’t exactly look calm herself. Would it be presumptuous to assume that she likes his scent? Is he overthinking this? He’s never thought too much about his scent. Yeah, he acknowledges that it smells sweet, but he doesn’t think it’s all that special. Eight’s the one with the awesome scent. It’s unique and it always feels like he’s smelling her for the first time.
He should probably tell her that. But then she starts rambling.
“I-I used to think that you smell like oranges, but then I realized that oranges are sweet and tangy, and you don’t smell tangy. Peaches are my favorite fruit and you remind me of them. You’re sweet and your face is round and soft like a peach.” The girl wishes she could shut herself up because this embarrassing. She didn’t mean to blurt out that entire, mushy spiel but what’s done is done.
She dares to glance at his face. His face is ketchup red and he’s avoiding her eyes too. But there’s a pleased grin teasing his lips.
“Thanks,” is the only word he can manage to say. He can tell her that he likes her scent next time.
They sit there for a while, just content to sit next to each other.
Of course, they are children, and children can’t stand the quiet forever.
“You really thought I was cool running away from that cat?”
Because Namjoon now feels better about himself, he has no trouble gushing/hyping up his friend.
“You’re so strong! You lifted me like I weighed nothing! I didn’t know you were that strong.”
“I didn’t know either. I told you I was scared.”
Namjoon’s eyes do this thing where they widen after he crinkles his eyes. It’s fascinating to watch and the girl knows it’s going to haunt her dreams. “We were going so fast, I thought we were flying! We went like zoom, and whoosh, and…” He makes noises and gestures that suggest things blowing up.
The girl smiles and adds, “No, it was more like a big boom!” She jumps as she yells. “And a big, big bam!”
“Exactly! You’re like a superhero, Eight. No, you’re better than a superhero.”
Namjoon’s eyes shine with such admiration that the girl is simultaneously humbled and guilty.
She is humbled that Namjoon thinks so highly of her when she knows that he is her superior in every way in reality.
There are about a million things she feels guilty about on any given day. Currently, she feels guilty about the promise she made to God in the woods. She knows in her heart that there is no way she can keep up her end of the bargain.
She loves being his superhero too much for that. She can’t leave him alone.
It’s just not possible.