Next time they meet up, they’re slightly more prepared.
They make a pact for now on to meet on Monday and Thursday afternoons at 1:30. And if either or both of them can’t make it on Monday and/or Thursday, there’s always next week.
Neither of them gave too much thought about that.
No one could hardly blame the girl if she was fidgeting all through her chores. All Monday morning, she made periodic breaks to check if it was time yet. When no one was looking, she ran to the dining hall where she knew the big wall clock was located.
Along with knowing her letters from A-Z, she also had the proud accomplishment of memorizing her numbers all the way to number fourteen.
She knows enough about clocks to understand that the little hand on the one and the big hand on the six is 1:30.
Of course, the saying that a “watched pot never boils” may apply since the girl takes trips every five minutes to see if her luck had changed. And when it didn’t, it admittedly made the girl cranky and pouty.
Since it was an unofficial rule for everyone to ignore and exclude her following the dining hall fiasco, the children didn’t dare comment on the glowering girl vigorously wiping down the glass-stained windows in the small chapel; and the girls only gave her a wide berth as they warily observed the way the girl was about to scrub the white right off the toilet seat as she cleaned it. The toilet, not being a bunch of wimpy girls, had no problem voicing its protest as it groaned and moaned under the girl’s rough treatment.
Hoseok, along with everybody else, watched the girl take out her mounting frustration on her chores with no short amount of curiosity and amusement.
Around late twelve and the girl’s fortieth (or was it her fiftieth?) routine check of the clock, Hoseok stopped the girl in the hallway as she was stomping back to her room.
“Wanna tell me why you’re charging through like a raging bull elephant?”
Hobi’s words made her visualize a bull’s head on an elephant body, mooing its head off all while stampeding through a field.
It was weird yet oddly funny at the same time. She giggled.
Hobi raised an eyebrow and the girl realized she still hadn’t answered his question.
“I’m going to play with Namjoon today! We’re going to meet at the florist’s shop at 1:30 and I’ve been checking the clock so I won’t be late, but it’s so slow. Argh!” She had a mini temper-tantrum and stomped her foot repeatedly and whines deep in her throat.
Hoseok can’t help it: he laughs. Hoseok’s laugh is loud and squeaky. His heart-shaped lips pulled back into a wide smile as his “hahas” reverberate off the walls. Worse still, he started clapping. He only did that when he was extra hyped.
Any other time, the girl would’ve been thrilled that she made him laugh, but not now.
“C’mon, Hobi,” she huffed, “It’s not funny.”
Hoseok got himself under control long enough to remark, “So I take it that you guys were able to meet up last Thursday then?”
The girl nodded. She opened her mouth to go into the details of their meetup but stopped herself. She knew Hobi would’ve never told her business to anyone else if she asked, but it makes her feel squirmy to talk about all the things her and Namjoon. She wants to keep that between her and Namjoon.
She doesn’t mind being selfish when it comes to Namjoon.
Hoseok’s waves of sunshine dampen as his expression turns sober.
“I didn’t say anything before because I knew you were in a hurry but now that you have time, answer me this: why is that boy calling you ‘Eight’?”
The girl suddenly was fascinated with the rips on the jeans framing Hobi’s skinny legs.
Well, there was no point in lying since Hobi somehow knew her tells. “I told him to call me that. It’s just a nickname!” She couldn’t help but get defensive.
Hoseok didn’t dispute her claim. He just nodded and was silent as he thought of how to delicately broach his next question.
“Does he know about your… living situation?”
“I don’t understand what you mean.” But she had an inkling of what he meant.
So much for being delicate, Hoseok thought ruefully.
“Does he know that you live in an orphanage?”
The girl recoiled. What? Of course, she hadn’t told him that. Why would she?
Because to her, Hobi’s question isn’t asking if Namjoon knows where she lives. It means something entirely different in her mind:
Does he know that no one wants her?
Does he know that no one even thought enough of her to give her name?
The girl wraps her arms around herself.
Of course, he doesn’t know; because then the persona she built would’ve been torn to shreds. Superhero Eight would be gone and all that would be left is a nameless, spineless, motherless girl.
He would see what everyone else saw. He wouldn’t look twice at her, much less be her friend.
She pictured Namjoon: his pretty silver hair and eyes, luxury-brand clothes, and top-of-the-line phone. Then she pictured herself: Unkempt, nappy hair, hand-me-down dress, and her dirty, calloused hands. She could see Namjoon looking at her with nothing but pure disgust and hatred in his eyes.
Just the thought alone had the girl hyperventilating.
“I don’t wan im t’no!” Her panic caused her to slur her words together. Her eyes are wild, darting to every corner.
If Hoseok knew that she would react like this, he would’ve never brought it up. Making sure that no one was coming down the hall, he swooped the girl up into his arms and brought her into his room.
Hoseok rooms with three other boys, one of them being a skittish skunk shifter that had frequent nightmares. Hoseok sent up a silent prayer that the stench had finally loosened and wouldn’t further irritate the girl.
He sat himself down on the bed, the girl still in his arms. She calmed down some, although shivers still racked her body.
Hoseok rocked her, his head rested on the top of her head; her scent clogged his senses. It took a while, but Hoseok is growing to like it.
“I’m sorry, honey,” he cooed in her ear. “I didn’t mean to upset you. What I was trying to say is that it might be better if your little friend knew the whole story so there would be no room for misunderstanding.”
The girl nuzzled her face in the crook of Hoseok’s neck, breathing in his scent, attempting to tamp down the nausea in her belly.
“He won’t be my friend anymore,” she mumbled, her puffs of breath tickled Hoseok’s neck.
“How do you know that?”
“I just do.”
Hoseok lifted the girl and plopped her on the bed. He slid off and knelt in front of her.
“If Namjoon really wants to be your friend, I don’t think it’ll matter if you have parents or not.” He stopped, momentarily debating whether he should add to his point. He decided to brave on.
“And if he doesn’t accept it, then maybe you two weren’t meant to be friends after all.”
The girl flinched. Hobi could’ve left that last part off. But to pacify him, she jerkily nodded her head.
Hobi pulled his phone out and noticed that it was 1:15.
“Alright, honey, I won’t keep you from seeing him. Go on.” Now the girl didn’t wanna go. She suddenly felt so tired and just wanted to lay down.
But she knew that she would regret not going later on. Plus, Namjoon was expecting her.
Pecking Hobi on the cheek, she said her goodbyes and slipped out the door.
Hoseok watched her go. He hoped that everything worked out for the better.
And if it didn’t and the boy did reject her, he is not averse to gutting a little kid and leaving his insides for the vultures to feed on.
But that’s just him.
The girl waits anxiously by the white picket fence entrance to the florist’s garden. She tries not to feel too guilty remembering the last she was here.
Thankfully, she didn’t need to do that anymore.
Hobi’s part-time job has become somewhat of a weekly agreement. Since Hobi’s boss was so impressed with their “efficient work”, every Friday morning from now on, Hobi and the girl help sort out the fresh produce from the rotted.
It helped in more ways than one: aside from the little bit of cash, the girl has been pocketing the fruits and vegetables that were deemed uneatable.
It was going to be thrown out anyway, so why not take it home? All they had to do was cut off the rotting parts and they were good to go. Also, that meant that the majority of the money could be focused on any cosmetic needs for the tween/teen girls and boys, and the needs of the infants and toddlers in their care.
Guilt-free and convenient.
The girl is brought out of her thoughts when she sees the back door leading out to the garden open and Namjoon steps outside.
Any residue anxiety that clings to her melts into the background. She feels her heartbeat pick up and her ears and cheeks feel warm. She waits for him to notice her before she waves.
Namjoon’s eye light up and enthusiastically waves back. His dimples pop out and the space where his two front teeth should be showcases his pink gums as he beams at her.
The girl wants to scream. Namjoon’s cuteness is overwhelming her. This is too much for one girl to take!
He has an orange and grey backpack strapped to his back and it jostles as he hurries over to her.
“Hi, Eight!” Namjoon does this odd little dance when he reaches her. He bounces around her in circles, eyes shining with anticipation. His energy is palpable and the girl starts twitching too.
“Hi, Peaches!” It comes out before the girl has time to think about what she just said. Her face heats up.
Namjoon stops bouncing. “Peaches?”
“Uh… yeah. Remember, I told you that you smell like Peaches.” She twiddles her fingers as she waits for his response.
Namjoon’s jaw drops a little.
He’s been called “Namjoonie” by his Hyung, “Pup” by Ki-Jong Noona, and “Jooniebear” by his Eomma.
“I like it!” He confirms with a giggle.
Eight looks up from her fingers with a relieved smile.
They both look to see if the florist and Ki-Jong Noona is out of sight, then they proceed to their destination. They agreed on Thursday that they wanted the lake they stumbled on as their spot.
Although Namjoon knows the way (Well, he’s eighty percent confident with his memory), he “lets” Eight lead the way.
The girl had spent a good few hours on Saturday morning planning out the perfect route from the florist’s shop to the lake. After getting lost several times and encountering a bush that may or may not had been poison oak, she figured it out.
They reach the lake in no time at all.
The girl plops down on her butt, uncaring if her jeans get dirt on them. Namjoon sits down next to her and removes his backpack.
“Okay,” the girl says, “Where’s this “everything” book you promised to show me?”
Namjoon almost looks smug as he turns around to unzip his backpack.
“I know I said that I would bring it today, but there’s something else I really wanna show ya.”
“I bet you just did that because the book doesn’t exist,” the girl teases. Namjoon’s smirk morphs into a pout. “It does exist,” he promises sulkily, “but this couldn’t wait.”
Namjoon had been too excited to go to sleep last night. He thought that if he couldn’t sleep, he could at least do something productive. So, he crept down to the kitchen to make the sandwiches for his picnic with Eight tomorrow.
Namjoon thinks he did James Bond proud with the way he quietly assembled what he needed. Once he had everything, he got to work.
Namjoon had to stop several times because wow! He was working up a serious sweat. But everything had to be perfect. Seokjin-Hyung had coached him on the art of the perfect PB&J.
“Remember Namjoonie,” his brother had told him one night. He had just gotten finished with his duties and was spending the rest of the night with Namjoon. He was preparing some sandwiches so they eat something while they watched “Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends”.
Namjoon had been watching his Hyung spread the even strokes of peanut butter onto two slices of bread and asked what was his Hyung’s secret to making them taste so good.
“It’s all about spreading the perfect ratio of jam and peanut butter.” Namjoon didn’t know what a ratio was, but he liked the sound of it. It sounded like a big-person word and he instantly decided it would be his new favorite word.
“You have to make sure put enough on the bread that it’s not too dry. But you also have to make sure that you don’t put too much on or else the sandwich will be too thick and gloopy. You’ll make yourself sick.”
Namjoon ran to his room to grab his favorite notebook. It was a spiral notebook with the Pokémon character Dragonite on the cover.
He hurried back to the kitchen, sat down, and set his notebook on the kitchen island. He scribbled as fast he could. He didn’t want to forget a single thing his Hyung had taught him.
Seokjin observed him. There weren’t enough words in the world to describe the burst of love he felt while watching his innocent baby brother trying to write down everything he said.
It was times like this that he truly missed their parents. If they were only alive to see the amazing, intelligent young man that Namjoon was turning into. Then he remembers the reason why they weren’t here. He remembers the series of events that led up to that awful day.
And as much as Seokjin loved—loves his parents, his hate for them is just as strong.
He hates that because of their actions, Namjoon will be forced to grow up without a mother and father and Seokjin was forced to become King and fix their many mistakes.
Seokjin’s grip on the butter knife tightened as his dark thoughts continued.
Perhaps if they hadn’t been so wrapped up in each other and their perverted ideals of love and devotion and concentrated more on protecting their kingdom and their children, maybe they—
A tiny mass attaching itself to his side brought Seokjin out of the hall of memories he kept in the far crevices of his mind.
When Namjoon had still been jotting down his notes when he noticed his Hyung’s clear spearmint scent had soured. He looked up to see his Hyung’s laughing brown eyes flat. His full pink mouth had flattened into a deep frown.
Namjoon was anxious to understand what could’ve changed when he saw the tear course Seokjin-hyung’s cheek.
He didn’t hesitate.
He scooted off of his chair and came around the island to wrap his Hyung in a bear hug.
“It’s good to cry, Hyung,” he told him, “It will help make the sadness go away.”
Seokjin nearly sobbed.
How did he get so blessed?
If Namjoon wasn’t here, he knew he would’ve sunk into himself and became someone he didn’t know.
Instead of breaking down in front of his brother again, he scooped him into his arms and returned his hug. Inhaling Namjoon’s sweet scent already made feel moderately better.
Namjoon was still very young when their parents were murdered. Because Seokjin shielded him, Namjoon only remembers the good times. And if Seokjin has anything to say about it, it’ll stay that way for a while.
He knows that one day he’ll have to rip the rose-tinted glasses and tell the ugly truth to Namjoon.
But until then…
“Well, you’d cry too if your food was that good.” He lets out his trademark high-pitched laugh and hopes that he sounds natural.
He kisses Namjoon’s forehead and sets him down.
“Now,” Seokjin clasped his hands together. “I’ve taught you everything I could, young Padawan. It’s your turn now.”
Namjoon finished the sandwiches.
For a first attempt, he thought he did pretty well.
He put them in separate sandwich baggies and put the baggies in a little lunch pail. He wrote his name in permanent marker on a sticky note and stuck it on the lunch pail so that everyone (Hyung) will know not to eat them.
After making sure that the coast was clear he hurried back to his room, feeling very pleased with himself. He snuggled in bed and struggled not to squirm in giddiness.
He was a spy now. He could probably rob a bank and no one would know it was him.
Not that he’d ever rob a bank. Stealing is wrong.
Thoughts still buzzing around in his head, he decided to read for a little bit. Hopefully, that’d make him sleepy.
Crawling out of bed again, he ambled over to his bookshelf. He intended to read his Encyclo… Encyclo… his book about everything and get lost in there for a while. It is quite thick so Namjoon had some trouble getting it out. He didn’t know how Ki-Jong Noona managed to fit it in his bookshelf.
Consequently, Namjoon was able to get the book out, but not without several smaller books falling onto the floor.
Puffing out his cheeks in frustration, he bent down to put the books back on the shelf. He was almost finished when he scanned the title of one of his picture storybooks. A favorite of his.
He sat and read it, awed by the stunning pictures. While reading it, he couldn’t help but compare the hero to Eight.
What would she think about the story?
Eager to find out, he packed the story of “Sir Launfal” into his backpack.
Namjoon pulls the picture book out of his backpack. “I wanted to show this story instead. It’s one of my favorites. Here,” he pulls out the two sandwiches, “We can eat these while we read and drink these,” he takes the Gatorade bottles out of the side pouches. “I like green, so you can have the blue one. C’mon Eight, this will be fun.”
The girl doesn’t think so. Her mouth feels dry and her stomach churns.
Namjoon expects her to read the story along with him. How is she going to get herself out of this?
Thinking fast, she chuckles nervously and insists, “Uh, why don’t you read and I’ll just listen to you?”
“Lazy!” Namjoon sticks his tongue out at her. But he doesn’t discourage the suggestion. In truth, he’s dying to show her what a good reader he is.
“Okay!” The girl heaves a sigh. She narrowly avoided this pitfall with her life. And she didn’t have to lie to do it.
To celebrate her win, she’s going to eat her sandwich and enjoy the story.
Namjoon waits for Eight to get settled before he begins.
The story recounts the tale of a knight named Sir Launfal who served King Arthur as a steward. Sir Launfal was chivalrous, righteous, and everything a knight should be.
Sir Launfal loved his King, but the same could not be said for the King’s wife, Queen Guinevere.
Although Queen Guinevere was beautiful in such a way that earthly men and women simultaneously envied and adored, the same could not be said for her heart.
In front of her husband and subjects, she was the prime example of what a Queen should be. In private, she was vain and selfish.
Sir Launfal recognized the Queen for what she truly was and secretly distrusted and opposed her.
Through means that remained a mystery, the Queen learned of Sir Launfal’s loathing for her. Enraged and insulted, the Queen persuaded the King to remove Sir Launfal from the royal court.
Consumed by his love (lust) and adoration for his bride, he blindly granted her request. Even though there was the temptation to protest the command and expose the Queen, Sir Launfal complied for two reasons: A, he didn’t have any proof; B, his duty is first and foremost to his King.
Sir Launfal was a “Sir” no more.
Disgraced and penniless, Launfal lived in solitude. What little funds he had quickly ran out and he was soon homeless. Everyone around him, whether they were former friends or strangers, found it easier to mock rather than help him.
For days at a time, he would aimlessly wander around in the woods, searching for nothing in particular. Stripped of his title and purpose, he was nothing more than a spectre roaming the countryside.
One day, Launfal stumbled upon a castle that was like something out of a dream. Believing that he had finally lost touch with reality, he dismissed the sight in front of him.
Even when a dozen fairies poured out of the castle, he was still doubtful. It was only when his eyes landed on the woman who followed the fairies did he start to pay attention.
Queen Guinevere’s beauty was a mere fraction of the woman’s magnificence. And unlike the Queen, the woman’s beauty did not just extend to the physical.
The woman was Triamour, Queen of the fairies.
Launfal, overwhelmed by the vision of loveliness before him, was unsure what to do at that moment. So, he did the only he was capable of: he got on his knees and wept.
Triamour felt great pity and sympathy for the broken man and made a vow to help him. She brought him back to her castle to help him recover. Once he had, Triamour gave the tools he needed to make his triumphant return to the royal court: a servant, a horse, a suit of armor, and sacks of gold. The finishing touch was an enchantment that would keep Launfal from getting hurt. The only way the spell would break is if Launfal ever told anyone about Triamour’s existence.
Launfal swore he never would.
When Launfal returned to his home, he made great use of his Triamour’s gifts. He used the horse, suit of armor, and invincibility to win many tournaments. And he donated the gold to those who truly needed it. Launfal had restored honor to his name.
Despite Launfal’s growing prominence, he still found time to visit Triamour. Every visit resulted in their bond growing stronger. And somewhere along the way, the bonds between them which originally had been held together by friendship and charity blossomed into something sweeter.
It wasn’t long before the rumors of Launfal’s deeds reached the ears of King Arthur.
Curious to see what all the fuss was about, he ordered that Launfal return to his palace.
The Queen, having forgotten about her vendetta against Launfal, was drawn to his looks and power. Later that night, she called him to her rooms.
Launfal knew that whatever the Queen was planning was a trap yet he couldn’t disobey a direct order from his betters.
Unsurprisingly, the Queen tried to make Launfal fall in love with her. She was convinced that Launfal would be like any other man and would be thankful that she was even looking at him.
Launfal rebuffed her advances repeatedly. Unfortunately, the Queen didn’t give up easily. She was a woman who was used to getting her way and she wanted Launfal.
Launfal, growing tired of the Queen’s endless badgering, accidentally blurted out that the woman he loved was ten times the woman the Queen would ever hope to be. The Queen, furious with his refusal and claim, stormed from the room.
Launfal instantly realized that he just indirectly broke his promise to Triamour. Horror-stricken, he fled the room and tried to escape the palace. He had to get back to Triamour and explain what happened.
But it was too late.
The Queen duped the King into believing that Launfal was trying to convince the Queen to run away with him. The naïve king arranged for Launfal to be seized. Launfal knew premonition was correct when he was easily apprehended by the guards.
During his trial, Launfal retold the account of his encounter with the Queen. The Queen, of course, denied everything and screamed that he was a liar. The King’s peers knew of the Queen’s reputation. They surreptitiously knew that it was far more likely the Queen was lying to save her own skin. But no one was bold enough to call her out on it.
Even though he knew what was to come, Launfal kept insisting that what he said was true. The Queen scoffed and mockingly proclaimed that if Launfal’s lover really was Queen of the Fairies, she would willingly blind herself.
No sooner had she said, the doors to the courtroom flew off the hinges. Triamour appeared in all of her terrible glory. The guards that were foolish enough to approach disintegrated into dust with only a single glance.
She freed Launfal and breathed a special mist into the Queen’s eyes, making her go blind.
Triamour whisked Launfal off to her court, where they were to be married. No ever heard from them ever again.
“…and they lived happily ever. The end!”
A couple of empty Gatorade bottles and eaten sandwiches later, Namjoon finishes the story. To hold her attention, Namjoon made up voices for the characters. He’s very proud of himself and believes he may have a career in voice acting. Yes, he may have stumbled over the big words, but overall, he thinks he did a bang-up job.
The girl claps her approval. “That was a good story! The fairy was so awesome. The way she just busts up in there and saved the knight.” She could not remember their names for the life of her so she referred to them as the “fairy” and the “knight”.
“I know, right?!” Namjoon agreed. “I was reading this last night and I realized that you and the fairy are a lot alike.”
Eight blinks, stupefied. “Me?”
“Yeah! She’s super strong like you are! And she saves the day like you do. You’re a superhero just like her,” He states with a firm nod.
The girl grins, pleased with Namjoon’s analysis.
She takes a look at the final page: Triamour and Launfal are riding away on an enchanted horse into the sunset.
Instead of the figures on the picture, her mind replaces Launfal with Namjoon and the fairy with herself. She knows that Namjoon won’t stay a cute little boy forever. He’ll grow up and become just as handsome as the man in the picture. No, he’ll be more handsome than she can imagine. She can imagine him being as gallant and kind-hearted as the knight.
When she tries to picture herself as the fairy, she runs into some technical difficulties.
Triamour was beautiful, benevolent, and powerful.
She’s not a fairy. She doesn’t have superpowers as the fairy did.
And as for beauty…
The woman in the picture has ramrod, straight blonde hair that trails at her ankles. She has almond-shaped azure-colored eyes. Her lips are a deep shade of red. Her skin is pure porcelain aside from her delicate pink cheeks. Her figure is grace and slender as a willow tree
The girl tries to envisage herself as a fairy: tangled, coiled hair that just touched her shoulders, bug-shaped piss-colored eyes, lips more pink than red, and dark brown skin. Plus, she has always been on the pudgy side.
There’s a reason no one draws fairies that look like her.
“I’m not like her,” she brings her knees up to her chin, her light mood evaporating.
This is an emotion that Namjoon has never seen on Eight’s face. He doesn’t like it. He wants her to smile like she usually does.
“Why not? I think you are.”
“Namjoon,” the girl does not want Namjoon to see her cry but her voice wobbling, “Fairies are supposed to have powers and look like that,” she points to the picture. “I-I don’t have powers and I’m not… not…” she trails and rests her head on knees, facing away from Namjoon.
Namjoon can’t see her face but he can hear the quiet sniffles.
Namjoon doesn’t know what to do.
He’s never seen Eight so sad and he feels himself starting to tear up in response. He can’t help it; seeing his friend hurting makes him hurt. He should’ve never brought this dumb book. It only upset Eight.
Inspired by his anger, he slams the book onto the ground roars, “Balderdash!”
Eight looks up from her knees, face tear-stained. “Huh?”
Don’t ask why, but one day Namjoon was looking in the thesaurus when he found the word “Balderdash”. After learning what it meant and to pronounce it, it became one of his favorite words.
And oh, how apt it is for the situation.
Too hot, Namjoon ignores Eight’s confusion.
“You do have powers: you’re strong, you’re faster than anyone I know, you’re brave, and you’re DUCKING AWESOME!”
Eight’s despair has switched to astonished embarrassment. And she likes she wants to stop him.
Well tough luck, because he ain’t finished yet.
His face is turning red from the exertion.
“Plus, you smell good, you have nice eyes, and you’re way more prettier than the fairy in the book! If no can see that, then they’re just a bunch of… idiots!” He’s not allowed to say the “I” word at home. It’s considered a bad word.
Not only is Namjoon spy and a voice actor in the making, but he is also a rebel.
It’s liberating living on the wild side.
Coming back to reality, he realizes he hasn’t heard Eight say one word since his tirade.
The girl is shell-shocked.
Namjoon likes her scent.
No one has ever told they liked her scent before, not even Hobi. She had gotten so used to the default disgust everyone gave her, she just assumed that Namjoon didn’t like either.
But he likes it.
She knows he’s telling the truth because she has a gut feeling that Namjoon isn’t a liar.
Wow. She’s not sure if she wants to do a jig or yell her joy.
And wait, did he say…
“You think I’m pretty?”
Namjoon’s mind draws a blank.
When did he…?
During his rant, so great was his determination to bring Eight out of her blues that he blabbed some things he didn’t want her to know. Didn’t make them any less true, but some things don’t need to be said.
He can already feel the tell-tale blush coat his cheeks. Oh well, no use faking the funk now.
“Yeah,” he mumbles. “I do.” He can’t look at her. He fears he might combust if he does.
The girl can’t think. Too much is happening at once. But she can’t leave Namjoon hanging like that. But what should she say? It has to be something smooth-like.
Something like, “I think you’re pretty too!”
His head whips up, eyes going huge and his pink cheeks turn to beetroot red.
The girl wants to smack herself. Really? That’s the best she can do? She meant to say that he is handsome, not pretty.
But doesn’t pretty and handsome mean the same thing at the end of the day?
So, she shrugs and states, “Yeah, pretty.”
The children go quiet, not sure how where to go with the conversation.
The girl breaks the silence with, “I think you’d be a kind knight.”
Namjoon replies, “And I think you’d be an awesome fairy.”
The girl tilts her head in thought “What do you think happened to them afterward?” Namjoon shrugs. “Who knows? But I think that they went all around the world and had lots of adventures.”
“I like that idea.” The girl pauses. “Do you think we’ll be just like them and have great adventures?”
“I think we will.”
“And does that mean we’ll get married too?”
Namjoon chokes on the air going entering his lungs.
When he selected to bring this story, he didn’t know that he would have answer questions about his future. He just learned that two times two is four. What does he know about marriage?
But if he has to pick someone to marry, he wouldn’t mind if it was Eight he had to spend the rest of his life with.
“I don’t mind if you don’t.”
She shakes her head. “I don’t.”
“Ok, so we’re getting married.”
“Cool. Wanna read the story again?”
And just like that, the subject of marriage is dropped.
The girl picks up the book Namjoon dropped and hands to him. “Read to me again,” she commands.
“No, no. I already read it. I wanna hear you read it this time.”
The girl jolts.
What has she done? She has stepped on a landmine of her own making.
She should’ve factored in Namjoon requesting her to read to him instead. She had herself up to fail. What was she thinking?
“Eight?” He looks so sweet in his confusion. His mouth curled up in a pout.
She has to say something. Like now.
“I uh… well… you see…” Words, words, words, why won’t they come to her?
“Do you not know how to read?”
The question comes so simple, so easy, from Namjoon’s lips. How can he say it so easily?
He probably meant it to be funny and is expecting the girl to say “No way! Of course, I can read. Don’t be stupid, Peaches!”
And any minute the mirth will go away and when the silence extends, he’ll know.
Namjoon’s alert eyes cloud with confusion for a milli-second before clarity clears them. He then nods his head and says, “Oh.”
The girl is about to cry again.
He’s gonna think she’s stupid like those kids in the cafeteria did. He’s not gonna want to be her friend anymore. He’ll think she’s stupid. He’ll—
“Then I’ll teach you.”
The girl’s destructive thoughts screech to a halt.
“I’ll teach you. I’m still learning to read too, but I promise to do my best. Everything I learn from my teacher; I’ll teach and we can spend our playtime studying. Oh, I know!” Namjoon smacks his fist against his open palm. “I’ll write down everything my teacher says. Well, maybe not everything because—”
Eight wraps her arms around Namjoon.
Namjoon can’t comprehend what is happening. Eight’s scent is clogging his senses. He can’t say he minds though.
He’s only hugged a few people in his life and girl his age wasn’t one of them until now. Once the shock wears off, his hearing filters in Eight’s voice.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you! You’re my best friend!”
He doesn’t think what he said was a big deal. He probably won’t even be that good of a teacher anyways. But Eight’s joy makes him happy too.
He hugs her back.
“You’re my best friend too.”
This is good, the girl thinks. If Namjoon can accept that she can’t read, then surely, he won’t reject her if he knew the whole truth. He won’t be like the others.
Once they separate, the girl freely admits, “I don’t go to school.”
“I don’t either. I’m homeschooled. I have a tutor at my house. My brother works all the time. What do your mama and papa do?”
The girl’s warm, hopeful feelings are dosed in the cold waters of her reality.
Namjoon is rich. He has a home and people that love him.
Sure, he spends his Mondays and Thursdays with her but he has something better to go home to. He probably has friends that are way more interesting than her. Probably smarter and cleaner too.
The girl knows she is probably just a momentary speck in Namjoon’s vast universe for the time being and that soon he would get bored with her. He’d probably forget about her entirely one day.
The girl is at a crossroads now.
It would be wiser to tell him the truth now and get the disappointment out of the way.
But she wants to be his friend so badly. She’ll do anything to keep this bubble of happiness and acceptance. Even if she has to lie to maintain it.
“My mama, she uh… can’t afford to put me in school. My daddy died during the war, so it’s just me and her. S-She um, works all the time and can’t afford to put me in school right now. We live in a little house near the…”
The lies just kept coming and the girl is somewhat horrified with herself. They come out so smooth that she even believes herself for a minute. Where is she even getting all of this from? Was she always capable of such falsehoods?
And Namjoon doesn’t for a second peg her for the filthy liar she truly is. He believes in every word. Why wouldn’t he?
She starts sobbing. She can’t help it. The nuns were right about her. She is an unholy vessel. How can she lie to him like that?
Worse still, Namjoon hugs her tightly like the angel he is. Whispers in her that it will be alright, that he’ll always be her best friend.
She can still fix this. It doesn’t have to be like this. She could tell him the truth right now and make it right. She could tell him that the girl he knows as “Eight” never existed.
But Namjoon is holding Eight.
Namjoon thinks Eight smells good.
Namjoon thinks Eight has someone to go home to like he does.
Namjoon thinks Eight is pretty, smart, and strong.
Namjoon likes Eight.
He wants to be around Eight.
Not the girl. Never the girl.
For two years, the girl plays two roles: the nameless girl who keeps her head down and bold, clever Eight who is best friends with Kim Namjoon.
She does well to keep her personas from clashing.
In all the time that they spent together, the girl and Namjoon never talked about their lives at home, for which the girl is eternally grateful. It was a silent agreement that their time was about them. Worries were left at the door.
The girl never imagined that their friendship would last for so long and yet it did.
Two, blissful years of playing, reading (Namjoon is a good teacher!), daydreaming, and happiness.
If the girl had it her way, they would remain like this forever. No could hurt them and they would always be together, safe in their self-made Atlantean paradise.
What they don’t is that thanks to the girl’s decision, their friendship is living on borrowed time.
It all starts when King Seokjin decides that his brother needs a playmate…