“That’s crazy talk!” Namjoon protests, outraged shock coating his outburst. “Of course, Eight has a name. Everybody is given a name at birth. It would be weird if she didn’t.”
The girl plants her feet into the itchy earth below her. It’s the only she can stop herself from shrinking into herself.
Namjoon’s expression remains obstinate, ignorant of the damage he has just inflicted.
Of course, he would think it weird for someone to be born without a name. In his world, if something or someone doesn’t have a name, it doesn’t exist. A ghost, a superstition, a nobody. In the girl’s mind, a person doesn’t have worth if they don’t have a name to be called by.
How glorious it must be to matter and have worth.
“Taehyung is not crazy!” The pint-sized runt bites out. His cheeks flush beet red in anger and he lets go of Namjoon’s hand. “He’s my friend and he has never lied to me,” he throws a pointed look at the girl, “If he tells me he knows this girl then I believe him.”
This is going downhill so fast the girl can barely keep up. She should say something to defend herself. She looks guilty just standing here taking all of the accusations. But she foolishly never thought this day would come. And so, she never prepared herself for the day her lie would hunt her.
All she can do is stand rooted to the spot and watch Namjoon needlessly defend the guilty party.
“Well…” Taehyung hesitates, looking vastly uncomfortable with being put on the spot. “It’s not like we were friends. I just saw her around sometimes.”
“Uh-huh,” Namjoon agrees. “So, you can’t say you really know her then.”
“I guess not…”
“Case closed!” Namjoon yells; a satisfied glint of pleasure in his eyes as his voice echoes through the trees.
The girl perks up: was she worried for nothing? Although she feels guilty for letting Namjoon fight her battles, she can’t deny feeling relieved and maybe a little silly about being so worried. Taehyung doesn’t clearly remember her and her other life can remain a secret.
“When I was still living at the orphanage, I remember that we were all a little bit afraid of her.”
The girl nearly vomits.
Jimin looks smug.
For a moment, there is a standstill. No one knows what to say.
“That’s not true!” There is a touch of desperation in Namjoon’s tone. “Eight isn’t an orphan. She lives with her Eomma in a little house, just outside this forest. That’s why she knows her way in the forest. Her Appa died during the wars so it’s just the two of them. Her Eomma works during the day at a grocery store and can’t afford to put her in school right now. Eight sometimes goes to the store to help her.” Namjoon is babbling and his face is becoming flushed from the exertion. The girl swears she hears something break inside her.
“Her name is Eight because she was born on her parent’s eighth wedding anniversary. She loves comic books and fairytales, she likes cats better than dogs, her favorite color is silver, and she’s my best friend!” His voice cracks and the first tears escape his eyes.
“Oh kid…” The girl flinches. She almost forgot that Hobi is standing beside her. She doesn’t dare glance up at him but she doesn’t have to see him to hear the disappointment in his tone. She can feel his body heat radiating off him and briefly plays with the idea of signaling him to help her out of this mess.
She wisely refrains.
“Namjoon-ah…” Jimin takes Namjoon’s face in his delicate hands and gently wipe away the tears from his flushed face. The girl wants to yell at him to not touch her friend. She fantasizes about breaking his fingers and watching him wail but her imaginings remain just that.
“Taehyungie and I have lived together for a long time. I know everything about him and he knows everything about me; so, I know that he would never lie to me. That’s how I know your ‘friend’ is tricking you.”
“She’s not!” Namjoon insists, pulling away from Jimin’s hands. “Me and Eight have been friends for a long time too. That’s how I know that she would never lie to me. Taehyung-ssi must’ve got the wrong person.” He turns to face Eight and tries to ignore the sick feeling in his gut when she refuses to look at him. “C’mon, Eight, tell ‘em. Tell ‘em that they got it all wrong. I know you would never lie to me.”
The girl knows what Namjoon is expecting. He thinks that this is another one of their numerous games.
During their many playdates, the girl would bring the raggedly DC comic books Hobi would lend her so that she could practice reading with Namjoon. At least, that’s was the original intention.
They would spend what felt like hours pouring over the riveting artwork that, in their eyes, would leap off the worn pages. Or better yet, the children would be sucked into the books. They would sometimes travel to the treacherous slums of Gotham City and Hell’s Kitchen, fly and have lunch on top of the Daily Planet headquarters, or dashing over to Central City to have a race with the Flash.
Eight and Namjoon would often read the vintage stories together and when they were done, they would reenact the story but with them as the clever sidekicks that always got the main hero out of sticky situations. Namjoon was the wolf boy and Eight was the strong and fast one. Sometimes they would forego the medium of comic book heroes and just be superheroes. The forest was their playground and the squirrels and rabbits were their villains.
Namjoon is waiting for the girl to swoop in and fix this mess and tell Taehyung he’s got the wrong girl; to tell these outsiders to leave their secret world. He wants her to be his Eight once more.
But the girl he knows as Eight is nothing more but a trick of the light; something he only imagined.
“Whadda you waiting for, Eight? Tell them.” His face, God help her, his face is filled with so much expectation; so innocent in his faith. She has to look away, she doesn’t deserve it.
As she continues to stay silent, Namjoon’s confident expression wavers.
“Come on, Eight. This isn’t funny anymore. You’re scaring me…” He tries to smile like he meant it as a joke, but his eyes gleam with the truth.
Namjoon doesn’t understand why Eight is acting like this. Is this some kind of joke? Did she conspire with Jimin, Taehyung, and this tall kid to play some mean-spirited prank on him?
He dispels the thought as soon as it comes.
For one, Eight couldn’t have met Jimin and Taehyung before he did and even if she did, she wouldn’t pull such a nasty joke on him just for the heck of it.
But that’s the only logical explanation he can think of to justify this unexpected bout of chaos. And Eight is acting like his Nintendo when it’s running low on power. It’s like all the strength has been zapped out of her body.
“Eight?” He calls her name again, hoping to revive her with the sound of his voice. Maybe he could ask the big kid standing next to her, but he wants Eight herself to make sense of this nonsense and set Jimin and Taehyung straight.
Because if his joke theory is wrong and Eight refuses to answer his questions, there is only one other option and if it’s true…
No. No, it couldn’t be. “Eight!”
It’s not true. She wouldn’t trick him like that and let him believe in her lies for so long at that. “Eight!”
She has saved him from not only danger but from the beastly hold of his loneliness. She probably never realized that her presence saved him even when they weren’t together. His constant companion for the last two years. “Eight!”
Why would she lie to him though? If she was an orphan, she has to know that he would’ve still chosen to be her friend no matter what. It wouldn’t have mattered to him. “Eight!”
How could it when he loves her so much?
The girl that looks up at him is not Eight.
Eight is bold, vibrant, and beautiful. There is a self-assured, almost cocky, aura that envelopes her every time he sees her. She rarely had a frown on her face other than the times she is concentrating on reading.
The girl standing in front of him is empty.
Where Eight’s eyes are filled to the brim with life and energy, this girl’s eyes are flat and despondent. Eight has a constant, easy smile on her face whereas it seems like this girl’s face is etched into a permanent frown. He has seldom seen Eight cry but the tears come easily to this girl.
The tears continue to fall, the girl steadies her glassy, remorseful eyes on Namjoon.
She can only rasp out, “I’m sorry.”
The girl doesn’t hear or sense anything else as she directs all her energy towards Namjoon. Her apology is meager in quality and two years too late to offer. But it’s all she has.
She is rewarded with the sight of Namjoon’s bright eyes becoming spaced out and cloudy as her words filter in his psyche. And when they do, his face falls as he lowers his head. Because she focusing so hard on Namjoon, she can hear his tears plopping onto the grass below.
I did that, the girl thinks distantly. She destroyed him. She destroyed them.
She wants to run over to him and comfort him but two things hold her back: one, Jimin has wrapped himself around Namjoon and placed Namjoon’s head on his shoulder. Two, how can she give comfort and hurt at the same time?
It’s then that she realizes that Taehyung is talking. Again.
He is explaining how the orphanage worked and how some kids weren’t given a name while others, like him, were. He tells them that there is a clearing that the orphanage is just on the other side of these woods. And then he talks about the girl.
“The adults didn’t know what to do about her and neither did we. All of the kids kept out of her way because we were all a little afraid of her. Something about her wasn’t right. I remember right before I was adopted, there was a rumor going around that she hissed in her sleep. You wouldn’t believe how scared I was when they forced me to sit with her—"
“Alright, back it up!” Hoseok had sat back because he believed that the girl needed to handle this mess even though a large part of him wanted to play peacemaker and make everything alright. But he wasn’t about to sit back and let this entitled little shit bash her. It didn’t matter if he used to be one of them.
“Maybe if you and the rest of those fuckers had actually tried to get to know her instead of investing your time into making up some outlandish shit as an excuse to alienate her, you would know that none of it is true.”
Hoseok rarely allowed others to see him enraged. He wanted to be known as who he is as a person. He didn’t want to be defined by his animal ego. He knew that predators were stereotyped as being macho, arrogant, and ill-tempered sons of bitches and he had been trying his damndest to go against the grain. But his need to protect the girl is stronger than his want to protect his reputation.
Yes, he knows this ultimately the girl’s bed to lie in, but that didn’t mean he would let her get slandered while she made the descent.
The boy’s, Taehyung’s, eyes went wide in disconcertion as he flushed in what might’ve been a shame. The other boy, Jimin, glared at Hoseok. “Don’t you yell at him! She’s the liar here, not Taehyung. He’s only trying to tell the truth. How dare you speak to him like that?”
“And I don’t know where you get the King Kong-sized balls to insert yourself into a conversation that has jackshit to do with you! I was not looking at you nor talking to you. Whole reason this is happening is that you couldn’t and your little friend couldn’t keep your noses out of shit that ain’t got nothing to do with you! This is between me and the boy. Butt out!”
“And if I don’t?” Jimin lifts his chin in haughty defiance. Hoseok’s eyes lighten from dark brown to navy blue. “Or I’ll make you,” he threatens in a guttural growl. Although Jimin’s expression remains stubborn, he takes a step back.
The girl elects to tune out Jimin and Hoseok’s squabbling to focus on Taehyung. She takes in his dark brown hair that has golden highlights when the sun touches it, the hazel eyes that were now a golden brown, the perfect honey-brown skin, and his pleasing strawberry scent.
She can’t help comparing herself to him. And when she did, her feelings for the boy shifted from fear to a jealous rage.
He has everything she has ever wanted: a home, guaranteed food, and two adults that both loved and wanted him around.
Father Sebastian never hesitated to remind her that no one wanted her. He would remind of the day that they found her as a toddler, abandoned on the steps of the institution. “You ought to be on your knees in servitude to me,” he would taunt. “I could’ve let you freeze to death in the wilderness that your whore of a mother left you in.”
Taehyung has everything she could only dream of having and now because of him, Namjoon is slipping out of her feeble grasp.
How dare he?
She wouldn’t let the likes of him or Jimin take away her wolf. She’d destroy anything that took him away from her.
As if sensing her morbid thoughts, Taehyung glances her way. What he finds has him blanching under his tanned complexion.
As he should be.
The images come to her mind like a projector displaying a silent film in a retro movie theater: Herself, except several inches taller and meaner, backhanding Taehyung so hard that he flew off the ground and collided with a nearby tree. He shrieks in pain as his head snaps back with a sickening crunch and then he collapses to the ground. He doesn’t get back.
With Jimin, the girl imagines herself picking up the irritatingly pretty boy by his blonde hair till he is hanging in the air. She can see him flailing uselessly around as he sobs out his agony. The girl punches Jimin repeatedly in the face. The girl can almost feel the satisfying ache in her knuckles as her fist continuously meet soft bone and cartilage. She wouldn’t stop, even for the way he whimpers out bloodied pleas for mercy as her fist makes dents in his skull and his nose caves into his nasal cavity.
And after they—she gets rid of the problem; nothing will stand in the way of her and Namjoon ever again.
Multiple scenarios like this played out in her head as her stare bores into Taehyung’s aghast eyes.
Namjoon doesn’t what prompts him to lift his head and gaze at Eight or whoever she is. But whatever he is expecting does not brace him to witness Taehyung with tears and mucus coating his face as he babbles. So great his fright, he shudders and gone is the lanky boy and in his place is a tiger cub. Taehyung the tiger gets tangled in his clothes in his haste to get away from whatever has scared him so bad.
Baffled, Namjoon turns to Eight and immediately understands Taehyung’s fear.
Eight has vanished and has been replaced with a creature of undiluted wrath. Hatred contorts her pretty face into a snarl so severe it threatens to fracture the contours of her face. Her scent’s potency takes on a feral edge that somehow both intrigues and scares Namjoon.
And her eyes…
Gone is the yellow shade that Namjoon associated with sunshine, sunflowers, and happiness. Her eyes are now an unearthly jade color. It’s almost as if someone or something else has occupied her body. Namjoon knows that he is supposed to be apprehensive of the being in front of him. And yet his instincts tell him not to be afraid of her. She wouldn’t harm him.
But he has been wrong before.
Anyhow, Jimin and the older boy are arguing so loudly that they fail to notice the events unfolding.
Eight seems to be in a trance. Although Namjoon doesn’t want to, he speaks to her.
“Eight?” She blinks and twitches as if she is fighting off a chill.
Namjoon tries again. “Eight!” This time, her head jerks back as if she has been slapped square across the face.
Namjoon’s voice stops Jimin and the older boy’s bickering.
For a moment, everyone is still, aside from the spooked tiger continuously fighting his clothe prison.
Jimin inhales big gulps of air. His verbal battle had left him slightly out of breath. But all thoughts of breathing vanish when he hears the panicked growls coming from the pile of clothes.
“Taehyung!” Jimin leaps to the heap and carefully withdraws the struggling striped cat. Taehyung, recognizing Jimin’s scent, curls into him and starts shaking. Jimin coos and pets the tiger in an attempt to calm him down; all while glaring at the troublemaker who causes all this discord.
“You did this, didn’t you?” He seethes. “You did this to my friend.”
“I-I…” The girl, whose eyes are now back to yellow, feels like she is coming out of a dream. She remembers being angry but she can’t remember anything else past that. Her anger and despair flooded the vestibules of her mind and when it evaporated, any memory of what occurred vanished.
Hobi kneels in front of her and grasps her shoulders. “Kid, are you alright? What happened?” The girl opens her mouth to give some crappy excuse when Jimin bellows, “Look at what she did to Taehyung!” The blonde boy’s cheeks are flushed and his eyes could strike fear into the steadiest of men. He turns to Namjoon. “Namjoon-ah,” his voice now sweet as honey, “don’t see what this girl? She’s made you look stupid and she hurt my friend.”
Hobi’s concerned face turns murderous as he stands back up and rounds on Jimin. “If I told you once, I have told you a million times that you are not going to talk about her like she is nothing. She didn’t lay a hand on him.”
“She did something to him,” Jimin insists, suspicion ripe in his tone. “I know she did.”
“How could she have done anything when—”
Namjoon’s shout is enough to shut both Jimin and the boy up. Once Namjoon is sure that they will remain quiet, he turns to Eight.
Namjoon’s face is calm yet stern at the same time. The boy that the girl met two years ago would’ve been too scared to pull off the look she sees now.
He is growing up. The girl could not be prouder.
But along with pride comes dread; because along with the stern and calm, there is distrust.
“Did you lie about everything?” he asks, point-blank.
The girl doesn’t answer. She doesn’t have to.
Namjoon’s facial armor crumbles and the tears fall come down his face. “Who are you?” he whispers.
That’s a loaded question. The girl couldn’t answer him even if she wanted to. But she tries anyway. Key word being try.
“Don’t lie,” Namjoon snaps out, “Tell me the truth for once. Who. Are. You?”
As pathetic as it sounds, the girl starts weeping too. She can feel Namjoon and her friendship tearing at the seams. And she has no one to blame but herself.
“WHO ARE YOU?!” Namjoon screams, finally losing patience.
“I’m your friend!” she responds and she knows it to be true. For all the lies she told, she never doubted that she saw Namjoon as her best friend.
“You’re not!” Namjoon wails. How could she be his friend when she lied to him so much? He crouches down and begins to rock. “You’re not… you’re not…” he chants in between sobs. Jimin tries to lay a hand on him but Namjoon pulls away.
The girl is in no better shape. She feels the weight of what she has done as her vision mists over.
“I’m so sorry, Namjoon,” she moans, “I’m so sorry.” She finds herself sobbing into Hobi’s arms. She doesn’t fight the embrace and sobs her anguish and regret onto his waiting shoulder.
Namjoon wishes this day had never happened. If it didn’t, he wouldn’t have met Jimin and Taehyung and he could’ve gone on being none the wiser to Eight’s deception. Everything would be as it should’ve been.
Maybe he should wish that he never met Eight in the first place but that wouldn’t be true. While he can’t stand the sight of her and what she did, he doesn’t regret a single moment of their time together. She saved him and he loves her even though she broke his heart and betrayed his trust.
But even though he loves her, he doesn’t want to be around her right now.
After standing up and wiping his nose on his arm, he stumbles out of the forest, Jimin close behind him with Taehyung in his arms. He knows that he will hear Eight’s cries long after he leaves the forest.
The following week, neither Eight nor Namjoon go to the forest on Monday and/or Thursday. And they keep up the new routine for the following weeks. Both kids too afraid to run into each other or worst, one of them shows up and the other doesn’t appear.
The girl knows that Namjoon probably never wants to see her again, but she can’t but wish that she could see him one last time; for no other reason to explain why she lied. But she doesn’t think that her wish will be granted.
And yet, sure enough, the girl’s wish is granted.
Just not in the way she imagined.