Ten years old
You weren’t like most girls your age, your father would always tell you. You were special and you would grow up to rule the world. So whilst other little girls got to attend school and go to the playground, you were stuck at home and alone as they groomed you to be the best version of yourself that you could be.
The day started like most of your days did, etiquette lessons in the morning followed by business lessons after lunch. Staring out of the window of the library as your teacher droned on, you started to think about what life would be like, if you were somebody else. You started to think about all the things that you could have been doing and all the people you could have been meeting.
Frustrated, you huffed as you thought about what it would be like if you were just a regular girl. That was when you came up with this plan — to run away. You were smart so you studied your teacher’s movements and before long, you had memorised them. So as soon as she turned and was on the other side of the room, you darted out the window.
The teacher didn’t notice anything until you were already halfway across your yard. You might have been little but you were fast, so you ran as quick as your little legs would let you. Hearing your guards calling out for your name, you didn’t stop. You never stopped.
You didn’t know where you were going but you kept on running, until you reached a crossroads. Looking to your left, you saw the playground whilst the way to the stream was on your right. Realising that the guards would opt for the playground considering the amount of times you whined about it, you chose the opposite. You ran towards the stream.
Through the large trees, you kept on running until you heard the sound of the water. You followed the sound, getting louder the deeper you got into the woods and it wasn’t long before you could see it in front of you. Freedom was almost within your reach, your strained and tired legs taking you there. But you were so engrossed in your goal that you didn’t notice your surroundings and fell over after you bumped into a little boy.
“What the hell?” the boy asked unhurt and unamused. “Why don’t you watch where you’re going? Don’t you know that there are other people around you?”
The boy continued to berate you and you couldn’t say a word back to him. Your father always taught you to be tough but you were tired. Tired from running and tired of the way that you were supposed to be behaving. Tired of everyone telling you what to do, including this little boy who had no clue of what you had been going through.
So for once, you gave up. You showed your weakness —turning away from him, not wanting him to see the tears that streamed down your face. But once the first tear escaped, there was no going back as the dam broke. Loudly and violently you sobbed, unable to control your feelings like you had been taught to do.
The little boy stared at you in shock and started to feel bad. He didn’t meant to go off at you, he was just having a bad day and the fact that you bumped into him in his secret hideout made him lose it. The grass was damp as he knelt on the ground and tried to place his hands on your shoulders to calm you down, but you slapped his hands away and scooted as far away from him as you could.
“I’m sorry,” he sighed. “I didn’t mean to have a go at you. Please, stop crying. I just want to help.”
He tried to approach you again but you just shook your head before scooting away again. He let out another sigh before smiling, a new solution appearing in his thoughts. “My name is Jaebeom and I’m ten years old,” he informed you. “Do you want to come and get ice cream with me? It’ll help cheer the both of us up. Ice cream is always the answer!”
You sat there and stared at the smiling boy in front of you who was holding out his hand to help you up. His smile looked genuine enough but your father always reminded you about strangers and how they wanted to hurt you. Staring back, you didn’t see that in this boy and you did want to act like a normal girl would, so you ignored your lessons and let him help you up.
Jaebeom didn’t let go of your hand as he led you out of the woods and back into civilisation. He had never seen you before so he didn’t think you knew your way around. Not wanting you to get lost and feel bad again, he grasped your hand tighter through the last set of trees before you reached the pavement. He almost stumbled back however, when you hesitated to step out from behind the trees.
Curiously, he observed the way your eyes darted back and forth, to and fro, before you breathed a sigh of relief and stepped out into the light with him. “Is everything okay?” Jaebeom asked intrigued.
Somehow you found yourself telling the boy the truth, “I ran away from home.”
Jaebeom hummed before leading you to the direction of his favourite ice cream shop. The one where his dad used to take him before everything in his life was turned upside down. Whilst it did contain sad memories, it also didn’t fail in cheering him up so he figured it would cheer you up too.
He sat you down in one of the booths, well into the shop and far from the doors and windows. He was seasoned when it came to running away, so he knew how to hide himself and be discreet. You watched Jaebeom go up to the counter and the lady smiled at him like she’d known him his whole life, before he came back to you clutching a cone in one hand and offering you the other.
“You don’t have to tell me what’s wrong,” Jaebeom said after you’ve both finished your ice creams. “But my mom, who’s a grown up, says it helps sometimes.”
“Do you always do what you’re told?” you asked curiously.
“I guess so, especially when it comes from my mom. I mean, she’s my mom and she would know what’s best for me.”
“I used to think that about my dad,” you told him sadly. “I’m sure he loves me, and yet he doesn’t let me leave the house and make any friends.”
“You don’t go to school?” Jaebeom queried and you shook your head.
That was when you decided to tell him about yourself. You told him about your life, your lessons and most importantly, your name. Your father always told you about the importance of your name and how everyone would come to know who you were, but Jaebeom had never heard of you. It made you smile.
Jaebeom smiled back, “I have a great idea! I can be your friend!”
You gaped at him, “I just told you who I am and you want to be my friend?”
“Why wouldn’t I? You don’t have any friends and to be honest, I don’t really have any either. That’s why I always go to the stream by myself.”
“I don’t know how to be your friend, Jaebeom. I don’t think I would be allowed out again after this.”
Jaebeom sat there quietly as you watched, trying to come up with a plan for you to get out of your predicament. A light bulb moment occurred and he shared his idea with you, “go home,” he said. “Your dad will ask why you ran away and you can tell him the truth. Tell him that you’ll still do your lessons but he should let you have your fun once in awhile.”
“Do you really think it would work?” you asked, doubt clouding your mind.
“It doesn’t hurt to try,” Jaebeom shrugged. “Meet me at the stream if he gives you permission.”
“It could take months. How will I tell you when I’m finally allowed?”
“I’ll go there everyday and wait for you, of course.”
You sat there in awe at the boy across from you, who was a complete stranger and yet wanted to do everything he could to help you out. You didn’t know much about people yet, but somehow you realised that he was someone that you would want to be beside you all the time.
“You would do that? For me?”
“Well, I did say I would be your friend, didn’t I?”
“Thank you,” you said sincerely. “I will never forget this.”
Jaebeom smiled again before grabbing your hand and leading you out of the shop. You both walked back to the stream, hand in hand, before stopping at a particular spot.
“This is where I found you,” Jaebeom explained. “This is where I’ll wait for you, okay? Don’t forget.”
You promised that you wouldn’t and he finally let you go so that you could make your way back home. Once you were out of sight, Jaebeom sat by the stream smiling to himself at the thought of finally making a friend.
Two months later and Jaebeom was close to giving up. He came to the spot everyday and waited until it was almost dark for you to arrive, but you never did. Today, he was hoping things would be different. Today was a special day to him and he was really wanting to share it with you. So, just like every other day, he sat by the stream and made a wish.
With his eyes closed, he saw you just like he always did in his dreams. The two of you met each other in a field of flowers — with you in a white dress and he in khakis and a white shirt. You walked towards each other until he was so close to you that he could feel your breath fan his face and you grasped his hand in yours as you smiled before running and pulling him with you.
That’s weird, he thought. In his dreams, none of you spoke. You just ran around the field in a fit of laughter.
There it was, again. He tried to concentrate on his dream to see if anything had changed for this to be happening.
“Jaebeom, what are you doing?” he heard you ask.
“Dreaming of what?”
His eyes snapped open at your question, your voice sounding so real and that was when he turned to his side, seeing you sit next to him in all your glory. You smiled at him as the wind blew by, your hair lifting with it. The sun was setting behind you, surrounding you in its glowing light and he thought you were the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
“Am I still dreaming?”
You laughed and it was his favourite sound. “What are you talking about, Jaebeom?” you asked smiling. “I know that I’m two months late, but I think all this waiting has turned you silly!”
“It’s your fault,” he scoffed. “You took too long to get here! I almost gave up. What took you so long?”
Gifting him another smile, you told him about what had transpired the past two months. How scared you were of asking your father something of this magnitude. You had to prove to him that this was something you could have on top of your lessons and luckily your teacher had agreed. She reasoned that you also needed a social aspect as part of your grooming.
“Awesome!” Jaebeom celebrated. “So do we get to play everyday?”
You shook your head and his smile faltered. “I get one afternoon off every week, starting today.”
“That’s better than nothing,” he concluded. “We’ll just have to make the most of it.”
Just like two months ago, you found yourself staring at him in awe. It was amazing to you how a simple boy like him, who suffered with loneliness just like you did, could still be as optimistic as he was. Jaebeom was teaching you more about this world than anything that had come out of your teacher’s books.
“Actually, you chose the perfect day to come and play.”
“I did?” you asked curiously and he nodded. He reached into his backpack and produced a plastic container holding a single red velvet cupcake inside.
“The lady at the ice cream shop gave it to me,” Jaebeom explained excitedly. “She gives me one every year on my birthday, which is today. I normally eat it all up in one go but thought I’d save it today to share with you in case you showed up.”
“Happy birthday,” you greeted him warmly as he handed over the other half of the cupcake. The two of you sat there in silence, watching the stream flow by as you devoured the cupcakes. Once you’ve finished, you suddenly felt the need to ask the question you had been dying to have answered. “Jaebeom, why are you trying to be my friend?”
“Because you need one,” he answered simply. “After that first day we met, I asked my mom about your family. Since then, I knew that you really needed a friend.”
“Even though you found out who I really was?” you asked sceptically and he nodded.
“You’re still just a girl,” Jaebeom pointed out. “Just a person. Someone that doesn’t want to be lonely. That’s all that matters to— why are you crying?”
You sat there, crying just like you did the first time Jaebeom met you. Why were you always crying every time you saw him? Jaebeom thought hard of ways to try and cheer you up, considering he couldn’t take you to the ice cream shop today because he was out of lunch money. The only thing that came to mind was how his mom cheered him up when he was sad, so he went for it. He gave you a hug.
“It’s my birthday and you haven’t given me a present yet,” Jaebeom said to try and distract you.
“My dad has all the money in the world,” you said sadly. “I’ll give you anything. Tell me what you want.”
“I want my friend to stop crying,” Jaebeom requested of you. “Every time I see you, I end up making you cry even though I’m just trying to help. Stop making me feel bad.”
You laughed this time, “Okay, I’ll stop. I have to go anyway. It’s getting dark.”
“Same time, next week?” Jaebeom asked hopeful.
You nodded before bidding him farewell, “Happy Birthday, Jaebeom.”