zach’s first crush

by renegadekarma

After all, it wasn’t as if little Zach had a small crush on the four-year-old with the pretty eyes and soft hair, was it?


 

Zach rubbed a muddy hand through his hair as he sat outside, pulling on one strap of his overalls with the other uncomfortably. The Quinn-Nichols twins had been brought to Godric’s Hollow on a playdate, because according to Mum, the four-year-old needed to ‘spend more time with other children’. It wasn’t exactly an unwelcome idea to the boy, but an unfamiliar one, and he’d stared at the two for a minute as he’d judged them.

Dec, he’d decided, was easy to play with. They were all the same age, but Declan was a boy, meaning that Zach could shove him in the mud and play catch with him and not worry about the other getting hurt. That was exactly what he’d done for a good while, conveniently ignoring the presence of the other Quinn-Nichols twin until Declan disappeared into the house for a few minutes.

Now he was left alone with the other Declan – Aud, he knew. He didn’t entirely understand why he couldn’t play with Audrey the same way that he was able to play with Declan. Dad had told him that he couldn’t push her in the mud, or throw the ball at her head, or dare her to climb higher than him on the trees in the yard (admittedly, the man had also said that Zach couldn’t do those things with Declan, but he’d stressed it less considering that the other was a boy).

Still not understanding the differences between boys and girls – girls had pretty hair and smelled like flowers was all that he’d comprehended – Zach bent down to the patch of mud outside.

It had rained the day before and then it had been sunny this morning, meaning that the ground was spotted with wet patches here and there, filled with mud. He especially liked rolling in these patches, but Fee had told him the day before that that was what pigs did, and he’d stopped doing so, at least for now.

Reaching into the puddle, he brightened as he pulled out something faintly brown-pink and wriggly.

“Look what I found,” he declared proudly, turning to show Audrey his prize.

The girl recoiled. “That’s a worm.”

“I know,” Zach beamed, “I’m going to name it Nelson.” While he’d spent time with Audrey before, he had never really had the chance to play with her before, and he shyly stepped toward her and offered it in her direction. “Do you want to hold him?” he offered.

“Ew!” Audrey took a step back, her green eyes wide. “I don’t want to touch it!”

“Why not?” The young blond boy was perplexed. He cocked his head to the side curiously, studying the worm that curled around his finger. “He won’t bite. See? He doesn’t even have teeth.”

He studied the worm closer, bringing his finger up closer to his dark eyes. “I’m not even sure if it’s alive,” he added cheerfully, “Because it doesn’t have a head or eyes!” He glanced back at the girl. “Come on, just touch him once. Nelson’ll like you, I promise!” He stepped toward her.

The movement seemed to be enough to put the girl on edge. Audrey took a horrified step back, and in response, Zach took another step forward. They continued this little game for a few more steps before she finally snapped and turned and ran around the yard.

Zach grinned impishly and ran after her, the worm still curled around his finger. “AUD’S SCARED OF WORMS! AUD’S SCARED OF WORMS!” he yelled in a sing-song tone as they ran circles around the backyard, still chasing her.

Only when it was too late did he notice the rock in front of him, but by then, he couldn’t stop running. Trying in vain to brake himself, he instead tumbled over the rock and lay sprawled on the ground, the worm falling from his fingers.

The sound was apparently loud enough to draw a response from the adults, and Zach heard the back door slide open. Within a moment, two strong hands were on his shoulders, pulling him back to his feet, and he came face-to-face with his father.

“What happened?” The man asked his son.

Zach easily rearranged his features into a mask of innocence (he’d had loads of practice). “I was just running around and I fell on this rock,” he replied.

Audrey had stopped running and was approaching them now that there was some sort of adult mediator. “Nuh-uh! He was chasing me with a worm, Mr. Nyte! It’s right there under your shoe.” She pointed and Jonathan followed her glance, seeing the squished pink remains under his boot.

“Zach, is this true?” Jonathan fixed his son with a blue-eyed stare.

“No!” The four-year-old boy proclaimed at once. He paused, unable to take his father’s stare any longer. “Well, yes,” he sighed after a beat.

“You’ve got to apologize, kiddo. That wasn’t a very nice thing to do, was it?”

“No,” Zach replied, urged on by his father’s prompting.

“Why don’t you do something nice for Audrey instead?” Jonathan suggested.

Zach considered this proposition for a moment before nodding. Jonathan stepped back toward the house, but rather than going inside, he leaned against the door, watching the little scene unfold with thinly-veiled amusement.

The four-year-old boy glanced at the girl and then at the squished worm. He really felt no attachment to it, despite having named it, and he nudged Nelson’s remains away from the rock with his shoe, the laces untied now.

After considering the yard for a moment, he started off toward the back of it. Audrey grew bored and meandered off to play with the ball that had been left in the yard. Zach, on the other hand, leaned toward the flower patch.

Which one to pick? Mum had told him not to touch her flowers because she didn’t want to see them ruined, but Dad had told him to do something nice for Audrey. He weighed the two options in his mind before he reached a conclusion. Reaching out, a chubby hand closed around the stem of a pink flower and he tugged and snapped it out of the ground.

He now returned to Audrey, who was sitting on the ground with the ball in her lap. She looked up through green eyes at him as he approached.

“I’m sorry I chased you with a worm,” Zach apologized, offering her the pink flower, still streaked with dirt from where he’d pulled it from the ground.

She took the offered flower with a shy smile, her fingers closing around the stem as he transferred position of the plant to her.

And maybe he’d turned just the teeniest bit red when he’d given Audrey the flower.  And maybe his father had started to chuckle and his mother, upon seeing the scene from the other side of the door, had to nudge Jonathan to stop laughing even though she too had a smile on her face.

After all, it wasn’t as if little Zach had a small crush on the four-year-old with the pretty eyes and soft hair, was it?

Still faintly red, Zach asked, “Do you want to play catch? I can throw that ball really far.” And in return, he’d been given another shy smile from her, and he gently offered her his hand to help her up.

It was only fifteen years later in Verona when Zach was reminded of this story of his first crush, after he’d told his father of his engagement to Audrey Quinn-Nichols. In return, the older man had chuckled just as he had all those years ago and recounted the old story to him.

“You could have done worse, kid,” Jonathan Nyte told his son, “At least you didn’t actually make her touch the worm back then; or else she would have never agreed to marry you now.”

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