What's Her Name?


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Scene Title What's Her Name?
Synopsis The answer might surprise you.
Date May 28, 2019

Campfire flame makes a crackling snap as wet wood hisses and pops.

Under a cloudy, moonless night’s sky the forests of the New Jersey Pine Barrens feel evermore oppressive and suffocating. The night air, even now in late spring, is bitterly cold and damp. Hunched forward as close to the fire as she can get, a long young woman shouldn’t be out in the forest at night. But she is neither of those things.

Branches snapping in the darkness do not draw the attention of her gold eyes, nor does the emergence of a tall figure from the darkness carrying an armful of deadfall. Noah Bennet looks down at the logs, then takes a knee and stacks them by the fire to dry off. He looks to the girl, staring into the fire, a too-large olive drab canvas jacket draped over her shoulders, and wonders how someone so fragile can be so dangerous.

“Why do you do this?” She asks of Noah, not looking away from the flame. Noah tenses for a moment, then looks up to her with uncertainty writ large in his features. Those gold eyes slowly focus on him, and he needn’t voice his confusion for her to recognize it. “Why do you pretend when there is no one around?”

Bennet makes a noise in the back of his throat, then turns to look into the fire.

“Because even if you’re alone…” Noah says, turning his attention back to the fire.

“…you never know who’s watching.”

The Pine Barrens

New Jersey

May 28


As Noah adds another log to the fire, the pile shifts and settles, kicking up burning embers that drift and swirl into the air. The sound of night insects and frogs fills the silence of the night, though it is perhaps not enough. As he stands up from beside the fire, Noah can feel those gold eyes on him again. The girl, inquisitively, has risen her attention to him. Noah angles a look down past the dark frames of his glasses to her, returning a silent stare.

“Tell me a story,” is her quiet demand.

“Shouldn’t you sleep?” Is Noah’s swift rejoinder. She smiles that question away, threading a lock of auburn hair from her face.

“No,” she replies softly, “not yet. I’m not tired.” Were it not for the fact that Noah had seen her sleep before, he’d be questioning just how honest of an answer that was. Exhaling a sigh, he decides to humor her request, settling down onto the ground beside the fire, legs crossed and hands on his knees.

Staring into the fire, Noah tries to recall something worth telling, but then comes up with a demand of his own. “If I tell you a story,” he says with a look over at the girl, “will you tell me your name?” He hadn’t pressed about her identity, not after everything else she’d told him, but it was starting to become a hassle stepping around it. She smiles, shaking her head.

If only he’d asked sooner, he might not be so disappointed. “Okay,” is her simple response. It’s good enough for Noah.

“A long time ago, I thought I knew what was right and what was wrong,” Noah begins the story with a sense of weight. “I was entrusted with the well-being of people. People who trusted me, depended on me, and believed in me that I knew how to lead them…” he takes off his glasses as he talks, removing his handkerchief from the pocket of his suit jacket, cleaning the lenses with it. “But I was just as lost as they were. I didn’t have a purpose, I didn’t have a direction. The most I had was a sinking sense of desperation to do something that could make up for all the wrong I’d done, and an overinflated sense of confidence that whatever I chose to do I’d do it well.”

Noah looks down into the fire, brows furrowed. Then, as he looks back up his attention turns to the gold-eyed girl watching him with rapt attention. “I betrayed everyone who trusted me, tried to make up for that in a helpless scramble of actions, and wound up getting more people killed. Because I thought I was right. Because I thought I knew what I was doing.”

Though his attentive audience says nothing, Noah feels an understanding in her eyes. In the subtle ways in which her young face changes in the firelight. But it’s those gold eyes, unblinking and intense, that he cannot pull himself away from. Her pupils, just a spot of black at the center of coronal rings, feels like they could swallow him whole if he looked for too long. And yet, he can’t break away. Not until the sound of her soft voice reminds him of where and when he is.

“I don’t have one,” she says abruptly. Dragging Noah back to reality. Noah swallows audibly, looking from her to the fire and back again. “A name,” she clarifies for his benefit.

“Didn’t your parents give you one?” Noah asks, uncertain of the sensitivity of that topic. But now it’s she who looks away, into the fire, eyes half-lidded.

“I don’t know,” she says in a small voice. “I never knew them.”

Noah closes his eyes, drawing in a slow breath and then exhaling a sigh through his nose. He scoots closer to her, and she immediately looks up with a sharp stare and wild, feral eyes. When he smiles, ever so subtly, she relents against the gesture and leans her shoulder against him and returns her focus to the flames.

“What should I call you?” Noah asks, but she doesn’t answer.

“Do you have a child?” She asks instead, not pulling her attention away from the fire. Noah, painfully reminded of the world that exists outside of this dark forest and crackling fire nods once, but only after a moment of deep consideration.

“I have a daughter,” Noah says hesitantly, and the girl at his side nods and turns her face to rest her nose against the soft fabric of his sleeve. She closes her eyes, listening, but perhaps now tired. In this stillness Noah understand what she meant when she’d asked him to tell a story, and the sudden innocence of it all steals his voice for a moment.

“I haven’t seen her since before the war,” Noah continues, lifting an arm and wrapping it around the girl’s shoulders. “I never thought I would be a good father. I’ve always doubted myself, deep down inside. But I’ve never been able to let those feelings…” he stops himself. This isn’t the kind of story she needs. “My daughter is one of the strongest women I know,” is how he chooses to tell the story. Not about himself, but about someone else. “She’s a fighter, someone who isn’t afraid to risk her own life to protect what’s right… to fight for what she believes in. My daughter… she’s independent. She’s brave, as beautiful as her mother and a whole lot smarter than I am, thankfully.”

Noah laughs softly at that, shaking his head. He feels the girl’s hand come up to rest on his arm, and as he looks down at her he can see the thin slivers of glowing gold hidden behind her lashes.

“What’s her name?” She asks. Noah starts to answer, then stops and looks into the fire. Silent for a moment, he can feel her eyes on him in wordless demand of an answer. Leaning over, he whispers her name into the top of the young girl’s hair.

“Her name is Jolene.”

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