The Five Senses Challenge!
She found him by the apple tree. He wasn't there to eat, though. Her 8-year-old brain was able to understand that much about the boy that sat hunched by the trunk; his face was buried in his arms that rested on top of his drawn-up knees. No, her friend of just over a year was there for another reason entirely. But why?
Curiosity grabbed hold of her and compelled her to move forward a few steps, approaching him almost hesitantly. "André?"
When he didn't answer, she knelt next to him. Had he fallen asleep? She reached her hand out, her fingers coming into contact with the material of his shirt. She fully intended to shake him if he was sleeping, but something stopped her.
"André?" She peeked through the opening his arms offered her, and then stuck her hand in, letting it rest against the side of his face. He pulled away, and she looked down at her palm. It was damp. "What's wrong?"
"Nothin'," he mumbled, keeping his face turned just the smallest bit away from her.
"Nothin', huh? Well, if it's nothing, then why are you crying?"
No answer. This frustrated her to no end. Oscar had it in her to be patient, but more often than not, her temper took over. It definitely wasn't something she was proud of, but she might have been too young to give the immediate consequences some consideration before she acted. However, if there was one thing she did know, it was that André, a year older and already a full head taller, didn't usually sit huddled under apple trees crying. Or did he? She realized that she might not know as much as she would like to about the young boy sitting in front of her.
But he was her friend, and friends told friends what troubled them, didn't they? So by not saying anything, it was like he was telling her that he wasn't her friend after all! How could he do that? She'd always considered him a friend…well, a fencing partner. But couldn't fencing partners be friends? Yes! She had no doubts about that.
Well, that got his attention! He stared at her from beneath long, dark lashes that were slightly damp, his mouth opening and closing slightly. He drew his arms around his knees a little tighter and spoke, "Oscar!" he said. "You shouldn't talk like that!"
"And why not?" She stuck her chin out, narrowing her impossibly pretty blue eyes at him. "Father does it all of the time! And some day, I'm to be just like him!"
André lowered his head slightly, shaking it as he blinked at the ground, trying to rid himself of those last few tears that didn't seem to want to go away.
She folded her arms over her chest. "Only girls cry like that, you know. Father says that crying is for women."
She immediately regretted her words. She hadn't been lying. No, she'd been telling him the truth. Monsieur de Jarjeyes, master of the house, had definitely been quick to inform her that only girls cried. And she vowed to do her best not to cry unless she could help it. After all…she was definitely not a girl. Her father was certain to tell her all of the time that she was a boy. And she believed him, not knowing any better.
But she didn't expect André to stare at her, fresh tears dangerously close to falling. "What do you know about it?" he asked her, and he sounded depressed even though he obviously wanted her to think he was angry.
"I…" Did she even have a response? No, not really. What did someone say to someone else who was crying? Frustrated, she ground out, "Well, how am I supposed to know if you don't tell me?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Oscar! I said I didn't want to talk about it!"
"Fine!" She got to her feet and proceeded to start climbing the apple tree behind him. He'd tell her for sure if she brought him an apple, right? The boy loved to eat. He was always begging for food from Nanny, or picking fruit from the trees in the orchard. And if he still wouldn't tell her…well… Well, she'd drop an apple on his thick skull, that's what!
Climbing a tree while wearing boots probably wasn't the best idea she ever had, but she managed to climb up to one of the higher limbs where there were a lot of nice apples. "André," she said, carefully making her way back to a lower branch, her shirt full of apples for the two of them to eat.
"Oscar, you shouldn't be up there…" He turned to stand, wiping his face on one of his sleeves as he did so.
"Why not? I'm a boy just like you. If you can climb trees and pick apples, so can I."
It was then, distracted as she was from talking to André and holding her shirt close to her with apples in it, that she found the heel of her boot slipping against the bark. She didn't dare to let go of the apples, and there wasn't anything to grab to prevent her falling.
"Oscar!" He was at her side in an instant, perhaps less, brushing her hair out of her face and asking her if she was okay. "Did you break anything?"
She blinked a few times as she tried to catch her breath. "I think I'm okay," she finally told him, and he sighed in relief. She slowly pulled herself into a sitting position with his help, and sighed in dismay at two of the apples that had gotten away from her, now lying on the ground, most likely bruised.
"They're just apples," he said. "Don't worry about them."
"Here." She offered one from her now rather small stash consisting of two instead of four, and got to her feet.
He took the apple and bit into it distractedly. "That's going to hurt tomorrow," he informed her. "It's going to hurt a lot. It's a good thing this tree wasn't any taller, and that you didn't climb any higher. Granny would have had my head if anything had happened to you!"
She didn't laugh. "You never told me what was wrong."
He pulled the apple away from his face and swallowed what he was chewing before he spoke. He'd been reprimanded enough by his grandmother to know better than to speak with a full mouth, especially in front of nobility. "You'd just laugh."
"I would not!" She was indignant, and took a fierce bite out of her own apple, chewing before swallowing as she'd been taught her entire life. "I laugh at funny things. If you were crying, it probably wasn't funny."
Well, she was perceptive… he had to give her that much credit. He turned the idea over in his head, and finally decided to tell her. After all, he didn't want her to think he was crying over nothing, right? "I was thinking about my mum."
"Mum? André, mother, not mum." She crinkled her nose at him a little bit, but he just shrugged his shoulders at her.
"Fine, my mother, even though it doesn't really make a difference."
"What were you thinking about?" She glared at him. He was trying to dodge her question, wasn't he? "What about your mother?"
He leaned against the tree behind him and took another bite of his apple, taking his time answering her. "I was remembering that today was her…birthday."
"Oh." Oscar knew that his parents were dead, that his mother had died most recently…but she didn't know what to say to someone who reminisced about their mother on her birthday after her death. "I'm…"
"It's okay." He finished off the apple and tossed the core on the grass a few feet away from them. "She's not in pain anymore."
"But why were you crying, then?"
"I…" He swallowed, looking directly at her. "I can't remember her face very well anymore. I can't even remember the sound of her voice!" Tears were starting to fill his eyes, and she rushed forward, patting his shoulder awkwardly.
"Don't cry, André! Only girls cry… I think…"
He hugged her, then, wrapping his arms around her tightly as he took deep breaths, trying to calm himself.
A few minutes passed, and Oscar tugged on the end of his short ponytail. "Are you okay, now?"
"Yeah." He pulled away, cheeks flushed slightly in embarrassment. "I'm sorry. I won't do that again."
"It's okay if you do," she told him in a matter-of-fact tone. "That's why I'm going to become a general of the military, just like my father! I'll be strong just like him."
He fell silent, merely looking at her through his clear green eyes.
"Is something wrong?" She narrowed her eyes, ready to throw one of the bruised apples—that was probably looked as bad as her back—at his face if he dared to insult the future laid out before her. Suddenly, her eyes softened, and she reached for one of the lower branches of the tree, right next to the trunk. "Don't worry, André. I won't leave you behind. I'll ask Father to let you accompany me. Every good leader needs a good right-hand man, right?"
He smiled at her, and she smiled back. "I think we've got a few more minutes before it's time to get back to the house for some fencing practice… How about another apple?"
She started to haul herself into the tree, prepared to take on the challenge of acquiring two more apples, but the gentle touch of his hand on her arm stopped her.
"Let me," he said, his voice quiet. "You can't be a famous general if you kill yourself falling from a tree."
"But I'm smaller," she argued. "If I fall, you can just catch me, okay? Besides, as a great general, I'll still need my right-hand man nearby. If you fall, you'd probably smash me flat because you eat so much!"
"Fine, fine," he answered, moving to stand below her so that he could attempt to catch her should her boots slip again. Little did either of them know that he would be doing that for many years to come…
Instead of mourning the loss of our dear André on the 13th of July, let's celebrate his life! I'll bet he was absolutely adorable as a kid. And Oscar, too, though I can't imagine her as anything but stubborn. I wrote this as something that will hopefully balance out against all of the sad 'fics in this section. I went with the manga age of 8 for his arrival at the Jarjeyes estate, if you wondered.
Adieu, dear André! (And ah, as I write this, the sun is setting…)