This follows the canon of the Broadway musical "Tuck Everlasting". However, doesn't have a category for the musical, so it's posted here.
I'm fourteen years old and this is my first Tuck Everlasting fic. I appreciate all reviews, but please keep all criticism constructive!
Thank you, and enjoy!
Jesse Tuck, alone in the woods of Treegap, New Hampshire, waiting until the next day when the rest of his family would arrive, couldn't reconcile what he was looking at with truth. He couldn't make his mind believe what his eyes so very plainly saw. And, to be honest, he didn't even know if he really, truly wanted to. He tried so hard to block out the memories of Winnie, to hold no grudges, to tell himself she'd moved on - as she should - and he should try to do the same. There was still pain, yes. But she was no doubt living a fulfilling life.
Not forever, though. And not with me.
Jesse swallowed hard. Every day was a battle to fight the thoughts of Winnie. Or, more so, to remember and laugh, but not to cry. Winnie had given meaning to his life, to his mother's and father's and brother's lives too. But she was just a memory now.
Or so he'd thought. But there, not twenty feet away from where he sat, was a girl with flaming red hair tucked into a fishtail braid hanging over one shoulder. She was sitting on a sycamore branch twenty feet off the ground, her legs dangling off of the edge and swinging aimlessly. Twelve years old, perhaps. Jesse's breath caught in his throat.
How - how had this happened? Why had she drunk the water, so young? She was supposed to drink it with him, when she was seventeen… but instead… Why? Why had Winnie done such a thing?
And why had she not come to him? Jesse had assumed she was grown up by now. Why had she stayed so silent? Why hadn't she found him?
Jesse was filled with a tumult of emotion: confusion, betrayal, anger. And longing. So much longing to see the girl again. And despite his frustration with what she'd done, he couldn't help himself.
The girl turned, sunlight alighting on her freckles and sea-green eyes. But she didn't break into a smile, didn't laugh. Instead she just shook her head, as if she'd been through this a thousand times.
"That's my mother," she called back. "I'm Margaret. Her daughter."
Jesse was floored. A wave of slock flooded through him, rocking him backwards on his heels.
I'm Margaret. Her daughter.
Jesse just stood and stared. He knew he must have looked horribly awkward, but he didn't care. He was completely astonished; taken aback.
I'm Margaret. Her daughter.
Margaret, noting the look of shock on Jesse's face, laughed. "Don't worry," she called over to him. "People do that all the time."
Jesse smiled. "I - I bet," he choked out. "You look a lot like Wi - like your mother did when she was your age."
Margaret smiled, pleasantly surprised but ever so polite. "I don't recognize you," she said. "But you know my mother?"
Jesse's smile froze wistfully. "I - knew her," he said finally. "When we were children."
Margaret laughed. "You don't look that old," she called back to him. "How old are you?"
"I'm seventeen," Jesse told her, now walking over to the tree where she was perched. "And… how old is Winnie now?"
"She's thirty-nine," Margaret said, still swinging her feet. And then she looked at Jesse's face, read the unasked question, and answered, "I'm eleven."
Jesse's mouth slowly turned up into a smile. "She was eleven when I met her too."
Margaret's forehead wrinkled in confusion. "If she was eleven when you met her, that was… um… twenty-eight years ago. And you said you're only seventeen."
Jesse froze. Then he laughed. "Smart girl," he told her, and Margaret grinned. "I… let's just say I … knew her in a different way from most people."
Margaret nodded slowly, turning Jesse's response over in her mind. She seemed puzzled, but she didn't press it.
"Don't worry about it," Jesse urged her. "Your mother will explain, if you ask her."
Margaret smiled and nodded. Jesse now stood under the branch where she sat. Her eyes shooting from the ground to the branch, she turned to Jesse.
"Can you climb trees?"
At once Jesse had grabbed the lowest branch of the sycamore and swung himself up into the boughs. Margaret's smile widened. Jesse scampered up the tree with quick, practiced ease. It wasn't the tree - the tree he'd carved the T into - but it was a sycamore nonetheless, and he was familiar with their workings.
In a matter of seconds, Jesse was seated on the branch next to Margaret, who gave him an impressed smile. "You're very familiar with trees," she commented, and Jesse could do nothing but laugh and nod. "I've had a lot of experience."
Margaret laughed. "My mother taught me to climb when I was less than two years old," she said. "Almost as soon as I could walk."
Jesse couldn't bite back his laugh. "Well, then! So you've had plenty of experience too."
"I guess so," Margaret agreed, grinning up at him. "There's a linden tree right outside the front door. Mother says I could get to the top of it by the time I was four."
A wistful smile overtook Jesse's face at that. "Winnie always was a tree-climber."
"She's wonderful," Margaret agreed. "She… lets me have adventures. Lots of girls' mothers don't."
"Adventures? Like what?" Jesse's curiosity was piqued. What had this feisty little eleven-year-old gotten up to in her life so far?
"Well…." Margaret smiled mischievously. "There's a traveling fair in town. Father doesn't want me to go; he says it's 'no place for a young lady'. But… Mother says I should sneak out and go. She even got me a set of boys' clothes."
Jesse giggled. "That sounds like Winnie." But then he fully digested what Margaret had said. "Wait… the fair? There's a fair in town?"
Margaret nodded. "Yesterday, tonight, and tomorrow. But I'm going to go tonight. Father will be away."
Jesse froze for a second. He didn't know how to ask the question that was hanging on his tongue, that he so desperately wanted to say.
Just say it, Jesse. Just… ask her…
"Can I come? ...With you?"
The words were out of Jesse's mouth before he could talk himself out of it again. And Margaret looked a little uncertain.
"I… don't know if…"
"I won't hurt you, Margaret," Jesse promised her. "I loved - love - your mother. She was one of my best friends."
Margaret pursed her lips. "Why hasn't she mentioned you to me?"
Jesse's smile froze. "We… went our separate ways," he told her eventually. "She grew up."
"And you didn't?"
"Well… let's say I was immature. For a long time."
Margaret nodded slowly, accepting Jesse's answer. "Okay," she said softly, to herself. And then she looked up at Jesse.
"I'll be at the entrance to the fair at seven o'clock tonight," she said, standing up on the sycamore branch. "I'll see you there." With that, Margaret walked to the end of the branch, reached up, and took hold of a slightly thinner bough. She used that to swing herself across to yet another branch, which she used to scamper over to the trunk and down to the ground. With a look back and a quick wave, Margaret darted away into the woods.
Jesse couldn't stop his smile from overtaking his face, and he called into the silent wood after her.
"See you there!"
That night, though, Jesse found himself doubting if Margaret was really going to come. It was 7:06, and while plenty of people had passed through the entrance, nobody of Margaret's height or appearance had gone in. Jesse checked his wristwatch, tapping his foot impatiently.
"Jesse!" Suddenly a girl's yell rent the air, and Jesse turned to see an eleven-year-old dressed in khaki pants and a light blue button-down shirt sprinting towards him. It took a second for him to realize it was Margaret; her red hair was tucked underneath a boys' hat, and she looked astonishingly different when she wasn't wearing a dress. Her face was flushed and brimming with excitement.
Even though he'd only known her for a matter of hours, Jesse opened his arms, and Margaret rushed into them, giving the older boy a tight hug. She was panting and out of breath, but she peered up at him all the same. "I'm so sorry," she gasped. "Father was late getting out of the house, and he couldn't see me in these clothes, so I had to wait."
Jesse laughed, squeezing her shoulder. "Well, you're here now," he said, searching her bright green eyes. Wow, but did she look like Winnie!
Margaret must have caught his gaze, and read the reminiscent look in his eyes, because she looked up and asked, "Are you okay?"
"Yeah." Jesse nodded. "You just really remind me of your mother sometimes."
Margaret laughed. "Believe me, I have yet to meet one person who hasn't told me that at one point or another," she said, reaching under her hat to adjust her hair. Then she stood there, bouncing with excitement, and she cast a gaze over her shoulder at the fairgrounds entrance. With a quick look up at Jesse, Margaret asked, "Shall we?"
Jesse beamed at her. "We shall."
And he took her hand, and together they waltzed into the frenzy of Treegap's annual traveling fair.
"There is no way you knock down more than I do." Jesse fixed Margaret with a piercing glance from his hazel eyes, tossing a firm ball up and down in his hands. He eyed the stacks of tin cans that had been set up inside one of the fair's many game stalls, and, even more confident now, turned to Margaret. "You just try."
Margaret smirked, accepting the challenge. "I will." With glittering eyes, she dropped a nickel into the stall owner's hand, and he passed her a sack of three balls. Margaret nodded over at Jesse, who already held a sack of his own, and raised her eyebrows in a challenge, a gesture which Jesse playfully returned.
"Come on, then." Jesse gestured for the eleven-year-old to follow him as he backed up to stand about twenty feet away from the stall, where three stacks of tin cans were set up. The outer stacks each had six cans; the middle stack had eleven.
"I'll throw, then you throw?" Jesse offered, already weighing his first ball in his palm. Margaret tilted her head, considering; then she nodded. "Deal."
"All right." Jesse gave her a cocky smile that bordered on a smirk, before spinning, winding up, and sending his first missile whistling through the air. It smacked the center stack dead on, knocking over all eleven cans immediately. Margaret's jaw dropped.
Jesse broke his focus slightly to raise his eyebrows at Margaret; then he turned, drew his arm back, and fired the next ball towards the stack of tin cans on the left. It missed by more than six inches, slamming into the padded wall behind the cans. Margaret burst out laughing, and Jesse bit his lip in embarrassment.
"Not so confident now, are you?" Margaret taunted from where she was now sitting cross-legged on the cool grass next to Jesse. He fixed her with a look, then, once again, turned back to his game. And this time when Jesse let the ball fly towards the far right pile of cans, it struck the stack dead center, knocking all six of that group down instantly.
When Jesse turned to look at Margaret, his eyes held a hint of a challenge. He didn't say the words out loud, but Margaret heard them clear as day. Beat that!
And Jesse could read the message in her eyes, too, when she looked back at him. Just you watch.
Margaret didn't release her first ball with as much power as Jesse had, but it still solidly struck the middle tower, knocking nine of the eleven cans off of the platform. She barely turned to look at Jesse before quickly hurling her second ball at the far left tower. This missile, too, solidly struck her target and swept all six cans from their perch.
Jesse let out an "Ooooh!" at the sight. If she knocked over the next pile, too, he'd have to admit that she won the competition and was the better marksman of the two. She'd have the bragging rights there. And she'd solidly beaten him at the beanbag toss, too, so she already had the edge up.
Margaret laughed, and in that moment lost her concentration. The final ball sailed wide, missing the stack completely. She let out an exasperated cry, dropping to her knees and clutching her head but smiling just the same.
"So that's a dime for me, please," Jesse told Margaret, holding out a hand expectantly. Sighing, remembering perfectly well the terms of their bet, Margaret dropped ten cents into Jesse's outstretched palm before letting him pull her back up to her feet.
"That's only repayment for the beanbag toss," she reminded him with a smirk, as if he needed reminding. Jesse's face twisted in annoyance, and he nudged her, playfully.
"Hey!" Recovering her balance, Margaret shoved her shoulder into Jesse's upper arm, sending him stumbling to the side, a look of friendly outrage overtaking his face.
"You wouldn't!" Jesse strode over to Margaret, laughing when she shied away slightly. Grinning, Jesse made bear claws in the air and growled, making Margaret squeek and hide her face in mock terror. Jesse laughed.
"Not a bad actress there, are you," he commented mildly. Margaret grinned.
"I want to be a real actress," she admitted. "Someday."
Jesse nodded. "Can you sing?"
"A little. But I can dance."
"Really." Jesse raised his eyebrows, interested. "What types?"
Margaret grinned. "I can tap really well. Mother taught me."
"Show me." Jesse turned to face her with a look of expectancy on his face.
"I - what? Now?"
"Yes, now! You said you could tap."
"I - need music!" Margaret protested, and Jesse laughed.
"Well, then." A mischievous look took over the seventeen-year-old's features. "Let's go."
Margaret's face contorted in confusion. "What? Where?"
"Just follow me!" At that, Jesse grabbed Margaret's hand and began pulling her through the crowd. The setup at the fair wasn't likely to be exactly what it had been almost thirty years ago, but if it were anything near similar… "There!"
Margaret's jaw dropped when she saw where Jesse was leading her. On a small wooden stage stood a band: a drumset, a piano, and a wide variety of brass instruments. Standing at the front was a girl playing the fiddle in a jazzy style Margaret vaguely recognized as somewhat Scottish. The girl's blonde hair and bright blue eyes glinted in the light of the lanterns that had been set up around the stage to counteract the glowing twilight; as Margaret caught a glimpse of the violinist's face, she realized the girl couldn't have been more than fourteen or fifteen.
"Well?" Jesse turned to Margaret expectantly. "Music."
"It's not tap music," Margaret protested, but Jesse just shook his head.
"It's good enough. Go."
And Margaret could do nothing but shoot Jesse a look, throw her head back, and laugh, before launching into a tap routine that fit the beat of the girl's fiddling. The violinist looked up at the sound of Margaret's feet tapping on the ground, smiled broadly, and easily segued into a more jazzy, upbeat tune with a clear beat for Margaret to dance to.
Jesse watched the younger girl as she tapped, admittedly impressed. He, in fact, had taken rudimentary tap lessons over a hundred years ago as a nine-year-old, and watching Margaret's steps sparked a slight memory. So, barely wasting time to think about it, Jesse launched into a dance of his own, mimicking Margaret's steps and grinning up at the violinist, who was now watching them and smiling.
Before long, a crowd had begun to develop around the pair, and before Jesse knew what was happening there were coins being tossed at his feet and at Margaret's, and onto the stage where the girl stood fiddling. Jesse threw his head back and laughed. The last time he'd had this much fun…
Twenty-eight years ago.
Jesse laughed as the thought came to him. Sure, he still enjoyed and reveled in his family's presence, and they had plenty of fun during their anniversaries together. Winnie had helped instill some desire to really live in them, and on the whole he had an enriching and fulfilling life. Still, there was nothing quite like the exhilaration of the fairgrounds in the dark, dancing next to a friend.
A partner in crime.
And Jesse cracked yet another smile; he'd have to tell Margaret about that nickname he and Winnie had for each other.
The fiddler kept fiddling, the spectators kept clapping, and the duo in the center kept tapping. But like all good things, it couldn't last forever, and eventually Margaret, exhausted, broke her step and hunched over, hands on her knees and panting hard. Jesse let his feet stop moving too, and he could feel his heart racing a million times a minute. The girl onstage finished her tune with a jazzy lick, and the audience gave her a round of applause. She smiled and took a bow, gesturing for the audience to recognize Margaret and Jesse, too. There were whoops and cheers and tosses of coins before the audience dispersed, and the pair was left alone again.
Jesse was exhilarated. It was nearly nine o'clock now, and though it was summer, the main source of light was now beginning to come from the fairground's lanterns. Jesse glanced over at Margaret's face. Her features were cloaked in darkness, but he could still tell that her cheeks were flaming red from the exhausting dance segment she'd just performed. Jesse was sure his own cheeks burned just as much, and, his breath still coming hard, he slung an arm around Margaret's shoulders. "That was fun."
"That was so much fun!" Margaret giggled. She looked up at Jesse. "I want to do that onstage today."
Jesse bent to his knees, picking up coins that their impromptu audience had tossed at them. "Well, you performed in front of your first crowd tonight."
Joining him on the ground, Margaret laughed. "Yeah," she agreed. And she turned to Jesse, demanding, "Why didn't you tell me you could tap too?"
Jesse shrugged. "I don't know. I learned a long time ago. I'd forgotten a lot of it."
Margaret grinned, accepting the answer. She pocketed a handful of change, then turned to Jesse. "We should give some of that to her." She jerked a chin at the violinist.
"Yeah." Jesse dropped several more coins into Margaret's palm and walked with her over to the fiddler.
After a brief exchange in which Margaret and Jesse learned that the girl's name was Willow and it was her dream to play in a concert hall, the pair strode away, laughing in the dark. Jesse was inclined to stay out all night with Margaret, enjoying the fair and laughing.
But it was Margaret who paused. "I have to be home by eleven," she said. "Father gets home at midnight, and he can't know."
Jesse nodded, feeling a pang in his heart. It was already past nine, and he knew that soon enough he would have to bid this girl goodbye. Forever. It made him swallow hard and brush a hand against his watering eyes.
"What's wrong?" Margaret asked, always so perceptive, peering up with concern. "We can always see each other again."
Jesse laughed, slightly bitterly. If only you knew, Margaret.
"Yeah," he said, trying to come up with a plausible story for her. "It's just that… my family is… moving. And we won't be back… for a long time, if ever. That's… why I was in the woods today. Seeing it before we left."
Margaret's face visibly crumpled. The "Oh" that escaped her mouth was barely audible as she looked away.
"But we can… write letters," Jesse assured her, trying to cheer the little girl up. "And we'll always remember tonight." He took her chin and turned her face so that she looked into his eyes. "Let's make tonight worth the memories, okay? Let's laugh."
Margaret looked doubtful at first, but then the corners of her mouth curved up into a smile. And it wasn't ten seconds before both she and Jesse were giggling. "Let's laugh," she echoed. Quickly, she slipped her hand into Jesse's and began darting through the crowds again.
"Hey!" Jesse's chuckle was caught in his throat as Margaret began pulling him through the crowds. "Where are we going?"
As it turned out, the subject of Margaret's eagerness was one of the carnival's newest attractions. And Jesse groaned in anticipation before bursting out in laughter as he saw what it was.
"Well, we couldn't decide who was the better marksman!" Margaret protested in response to Jesse's indignant stare. "So I thought this might settle it."
Jesse had to chuckle. "I wouldn't have chosen the dunk tank, but… your prerogative, I guess." He raised an eyebrow. "Does your mother care if you get wet?"
"No, because I have to - "
"Good, because you're going to get soaked." Jesse smirked at her and raised an eyebrow. "Who's going first?"
Twenty minutes later, both Margaret and Jesse were soaked to the bone and shivering but laughing just the same. Margaret's dripping hair was now hanging down her back, no longer tucked up under her hat. And Jesse wasn't sure if his leather shoes would ever be the same again. But both of them were chortling.
The dunk tank vendor asked for a nickel for every three balls a person threw, and with the coins that had been tossed at them when they'd been dancing, Margaret and Jesse had more than enough money to spend frivolously soaking each other with water. Margaret had thrown at Jesse first, and while her first two missiles had just missed the mark, her third hit the target solidly and dropped Jesse firmly into the vat of ice-cold water.
Jesse had then only wanted revenge on Margaret, and with his three throws he dunked her into the water twice. Margaret, of course, had to get back at the older boy then, and the pair spent nearly half an hour at the dunk tank, getting soaked, drying off slightly, and then getting soaked again. And even though the water was freezing cold and the ten o'clock air didn't help them warm up, neither Margaret nor Jesse could do anything but giggle as they walked, dripping, through the rest of the carnival.
As the exhilaration wore off, Margaret started to shiver. Jesse looked at her and, without even really thinking, slipped off his overcoat and draped it around the little girl's shoulders. (He'd taken the coat off for the dunk tank, and while it wasn't warm, it was dry.) Margaret let out a breath of relief and looked gratefully up at Jesse. "Thanks."
"Any time." Jesse sighed. "You have to be home by eleven, right?"
Margaret nodded sadly. "So I should probably leave here by ten-thirty."
Just then, as if by fate, off in the distance, a church bell chimed the hour. Ten, exactly.
So Jesse draped his hand over the girl's shoulder. "Well, then, we have time for one last stop." He gave her a small smirk.
Margaret looked up. "Where?"
"That's for me to know and you to find out," Jesse informed her smartly, tapping her nose. "You kept the dunk tank a secret."
Margaret sighed, but didn't pester Jesse. She just let him lead her through the carnival and to a food stall. Margaret cocked her head curiously. "I had dinner," she informed Jesse, but he shook her head.
"Wait here," he told her, gesturing to a spot about ten feet away from the stall. "I'll be back." Taking a few coins from his pocket, he walked over to the stall and exchanged his money for an odd little box that Margaret didn't recognize.
"What is it?" she asked, cocking her head, when Jesse walked back over to her.
He grinned. "It's a new invention," he told her, prying open the box. "It's called cotton candy. Take some."
Margaret peered doubtfully into the box to see a fluffy white material. "Try some," Jesse encouraged her, and she obligingly pulled out a chunk and put it in her mouth. And then she gasped.
"Jesse - oh my God, it's like heaven," she told Jesse, her mouth falling open.
"It's spun sugar," Jesse told her smugly. He nudged her. "I told'ja you'd like it."
Margaret grinned and took another handful; Jesse took a piece of his own. And together the pair stood, munching cotton candy, as the fair's lanterns glowed brighter and the fair quieted down.
And before they knew it the bells were chiming ten-thirty. A bit sadly, Margaret looked up at Jesse.
"I have to go," she told him, not quite meeting his eyes.
Jesse nodded. "All right." He took her hand. "Let's go."
Margaret smiled wanly, still biting back tears. "Okay."
As they walked back towards the exit, Jesse leaned down to Margaret. "Y'know what Winnie and I used to call each other?"
"What?" Talk of her mother made Margaret perk up.
Jesse grinned. "We called each other 'partners in crime'. 'Cause we got up to a lot of mischief together."
"She was a fun one, Winnie was," Jesse said, remembering now. Tears pricked his eyes.
But Margaret, like she knew instinctively how to do, broke the spell of painful reminiscing. "Oh, and I'm not?" She shoved him gently.
"Oh, you wouldn't dare!" Jesse reached over and tickled Margaret's stomach. She burst out into laughter, dropping to her knees but reaching out and jabbing Jesse, not too hard, in his own stomach. He laughed at the tickling sensation too and let go of her. Margaret chucked again.
Jesse smiled broadly now. This night would have to join the night with Winnie on his Top Ten Best Experiences of All Time list.
Winnie's - and now Margaret's - farm house was silent. Up in the attic, a lone candle flame flickered, making that window glow with a faint yellow light. Jesse stood with Margaret, looking up.
"Well then, Margaret," he said. "This is goodbye. For now."
Margaret nodded slowly. "I guess it is." And then something struck her.
"You never explained when you met her. How you knew her when she was eleven."
Jesse shrugged. "I'm unconventional," he told her, laughing. "I knew your mother - and I know you now - in a different way from most people."
Margaret threw out her hands. "That doesn't answer the question! That creates more questions! And you said that before!"
Jesse just laughed softly, looking down. "Ask Winnie to explain to you," he told her quietly, turning slightly away. "She'll do a better job than I could."
Margaret still looked confused. "What do I say to her her?"
Jesse cocked his head, thinking, lost in memories. And then he bent down and whispered in her ear. "Just tell her that."
Winnie Jackson looked up from her sewing to see her daughter, soaked to the bone with her red hair dripping wildly, peering up at her from the bottom of the steps. She sprang up at once.
"Margaret! What on earth happened to you?"
Margaret looked down at herself and shrugged. "Dunk tank," she admitted, and Winnie shook her head amusedly. Leave that to my Margaret.
"Mother?" Margaret's voice was cautious now. "I was at the fair with a man."
Winnie's face became a rictus of shock. "Margaret, I've told you to be careful of people like that! I trusted you tonight; I can't have you going out with strangers like this! I warned you!"
Margaret shook her head quickly. "He was a boy, really," she assured Winnie. "And he knew you, he said. When you were a girl."
Winnie's face didn't flicker. Nor did her mind. She didn't let go of the fear, the terror associated with Margaret being with strange men she didn't know. "He could be lying, Margaret! You need to be - "
But Margaret cut her off. "He said he was different," the girl said. "And he said you could explain."
And now Winnie's mind opened up. He was different. You could explain. He was a boy, really. It couldn't be…
Margaret looked down. "He also gave you a message," she said.
"Well?" Winnie looked down expectantly. "What did he say?"
Margaret swallowed hard. "He said…" She hesitated. "He told me to tell you… that… Jesse says you made the right choice."
Winnie's breath caught in her throat. Yes, that's what she'd thought, when Margaret said "different".
Jesse says you made the right choice.
The words rang in her ears. Who could it possibly be but Jesse Tuck? And at that, the woman rushed over to the window.
And even thought it was pitch black outside and it was now beginning to drizzle; and even though it was far too late and far too dark to see anything; and even though she could barely make out the shapes of the trees not ten feet from the window; Winnie Foster Jackson would swear on her life that in that last moment, as she peered out, she saw a slight flicker of a shadow, saw a boy tip his hat and wave broadly before sprinting back into the woods.
You made the right choice.