Italicized text is taken from the book. I do not own the text or any characters/rights of Tuck Everlasting. Just had a thought and wanted to share it. In my version, Jesse gives Winnie the bottle before the man died. This is what I thought was going to happen when I was reading the story.
She cradled her head in her arms and closed her eyes. At once the image of the man in the yellow suit rose up. She could see him again, sprawled motionless on the sun-blanched grass. "He can't die," she whispered, thinking of Mae. "He mustn't."
Winnie thrust her hands into her skirt pockets. Her right hand closed around a small bottle. As if in a dream, she pulled it out, moving it from one hand to the other.
"Winnie, listen—I won't see you again, not for ages. You keep it."
She uncorked the top, and peered at the clear liquid sloshing inside. It looked so harmless…
He pressed the little bottle into her hands. "And then, no matter where you are...you can drink it, and then come find us."
She closed her eyes, remembering the desperation on Jesse's face.
"Winnie, please say you will!"
With a gasp, she pulled herself back to the present. She gazed down at the little bottle, full of that precious water that had caused so much trouble. Faces swirled around her, faces she hadn't even known two days ago, which had somehow managed to change everything: the man in the yellow suit… Mae… Jesse… One face stood out from all the others, the one with the power to turn their world upside down.
"He can't die," she whispered again. "He can't."
And suddenly, she knew what she had to do.
Winnie looked around cautiously. No one was there. The house was dark and quiet. After the initial fuss they'd made on her safe return, her family had already forgotten about her, and retired to bed.
Silently, she slipped outside, closing the door noiselessly behind her. She padded barefoot across the scraggly grass, making her way to the gate. She pulled the gate open, then hesitated, turning to look over her shoulder. There was no one running after her, shouting for her to get to bed this instant. There was no one to stop her.
She ran through the woods, not stopping until she reached the little house beside the pond.
The next morning, Winnie woke to the sound of loud voices conversing in the kitchen. She slipped silently down the stairs, leaning over the railing to listen in.
"So that's that, Mr. Foster."
It was the constable. She crept closer.
"That's that. We can't press no kidnapping charges, since your little girl claims there wasn't no kidnapping. But it don't matter now anyway. The doc just got back a few minutes ago."
Her breath caught. Had she failed?
The constable kept talking, and he sounded rather disgruntled. "Seems that feller is gonna make a full recovery. Doc don't understand it. Most we can hold the woman on is assault, but she's claiming self defense. The judge ain't gonna let it stick."
The constable snorted. "Thinks it's all a big joke. Says she reminds him of his gran."
She sank slowly to the ground, relieved. It had worked. She'd done it.
The Tucks had looked at her like she was crazy, when she'd told them her idea the night before.
"The stress of the last few days, it must be," said Tuck, shaking his head sadly. "It's our fault for bringing you into this, child."
Miles agreed. "Winnie, you realize he owns the wood now, don't you?"
"No!" argued Winnie. "It makes sense! The contract isn't even valid. He didn't really save me. You tear it up now, he's got nothing."
"I don't know..." Tuck said doubtfully. "Your pa agreed to the deal. He won't believe you, and he'll honor the contract."
"But he can't die! Mae will be charged for murder. They'll sentence her to the gallows. And then it'll all be over."
"Pa, she's right," said Jesse quietly. By the look on his face, she knew he understood. "If Ma goes to the gallows, they'll all see it. They'll see she can't be killed. And our secret will be out. They'll find out. And they'll all start looking for the spring."
Tuck looked at Miles. Miles shrugged. "I think it's only fair Winnie gets a say in this. We made this mess. She's trying to fix it."
Tuck sighed. He smiled sadly at Winnie. "Guess it's time to put that water to good use."
Now her father was speaking. She leaned in again.
"What happened with that man?" he asked. "Once he woke up?"
"Strange thing, Mr. Foster," said the constable thoughtfully. "You'd think the feller would try to get his kicks in. Try to press charges."
"He didn't press charges."
"Not only that, he upped and left. No sign of him."
"And that family, that caused all the trouble?"
"Went down there this morning," said the constable. "Wanted to give them a good talking to. Tell them we don't tolerate their sort of unlawful behavior around these parts. But I needn't have bothered."
"They were already packin' up to skip town. Son said they're leaving tonight."
Winnie clapped a hand to her mouth, muffling her gasp. Thankfully, neither man had heard anything.
She raced to her room, heart pounding in her throat.
They were leaving. The Tucks were leaving.
She had to go there, convince them to stay. They couldn't leave! They couldn't.
When she finally reached the Tucks' home an hour later, Jesse was hitching the horse to the wagon.
"Wait!" she shouted. "Don't go!"
Mae was the first to turn around. "Winnie?" She spread out her arms, and Winnie jumped into them. "I'm glad you came. I didn't get to thank you, child. You saved me."
"You saved us all," said Tuck gruffly, coming to stand beside his wife.
Winnie looked up at them. "You're leaving. You're really leaving." she whispered.
Tuck nodded. "We've outstayed our welcome here, I think. Wouldn't be a good idea to keep livin' here, when they're already suspicious of us. We gotta lay low, for a while at least."
Miles hurried over. "Jesse and I have got everything ready," he said. He smiled down at Winnie. "You keep out of trouble when we're gone, alright?"
Winnie nodded, swallowing the lump in her throat. Miles patted her arm, and jerked his head to his younger brother. "Think you ought to go over to him. He's havin' a hard time of it. He's the one that said we should leave without telling you. I figure he was worried seeing you would make him change his mind." He lowered his voice. "But we have to leave. You understand that, right?"
"Yes." she whispered. "I understand."
He smiled sadly. "Go on over to him."
She walked slowly to the wagon, where Jesse was fiddling with the harness. She meant to say thank you. She wanted to say how much she would miss him. Instead she said accusingly, "You weren't going to say goodbye."
He avoided her gaze. "I'm not too good at goodbyes."
"This doesn't have to be goodbye," she said hopefully. "Can't you stay, at least? Even if the rest of them go?"
He seemed to consider it. He looked wistfully at the cheerfully dilapidated cottage, then at her. Then he looked at Mae, playfully swatting Tuck on the shoulder. Slowly, he shook his head.
"I can't leave them."
He looked back at Winnie. "You're right, though. This doesn't have to be goodbye. Not forever at least," he amended, taking her hand in his own..
"Winnie," he said urgently, "I know you used the bottle on him, but you live right next to the wood. You can go in at any time, and fill another bottle, before he comes back.
"Say you will, Winnie," he begged, eyes burning into hers. "Wait a few years, till you're sixteen, seventeen, and drink it. We can get married. We can see the world together! You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
"I—I would," she faltered. "But—"
Jesse sensed her hesitation. "You don't have to decide now," he said. "Heck, you've got years to make up your mind. But think about it, will you? And someday, when everyone else has gone on here, when they've forgotten us, we'll come back for you."
"You'd come back?" Suddenly she felt very young and very old at the same time. When had she become capable of making such a decision? Wasn't she still that child playing with a fat green toad in the grass?
"Say you'll think about it, at least?" he said softly.
Her eyes filled. "I will," she whispered. "I promise."
But something in her eyes told him her answer, even though she didn't yet know it herself.
Jesse bent down and kissed her forehead tenderly. "Goodbye for now, Winnie Foster." he said quietly.
"Goodbye." she choked out.
"Jesse, let's go!" called Miles, sitting astride the horse.
Jesse climbed back on the wagon beside Mae and Tuck. He turned back to her one last time. Winnie met his gaze, trying to memorize every feature of his. By the look in his eyes, she realized he was doing the same.
Miles urged the horse forward. Winnie watched the wagon slowly roll on, taking the Tucks with them.
"Used to be a fresh-water spring in that wood," said Tuck boldly, sipping his coffee.
"Don't know nothing about that," said the counterman. "Had to bulldoze her all out, like I say."
"Oh," said Tuck.
The counterman looked at him thoughtfully. "Now, you really want to know more about that, you'd have to ask the man that owns the wood. He lives in an old cottage near the pond.
"This man," said Tuck carefully, trying not to sound too eager, "what does he look like, do you know?"
The man shrugged. "Ain't nobody knows that," he said. "Man likes to keep to himself. Strange sort of fellow. He don't take kindly to visitors, but won't hurt you to try."
Tuck and Mae looked at each other meaningfully. They paid for their coffee, thanked the man, and left the shop.
It didn't take long for them to reach the cottage. In their absence, the battered looking place had been shoddily repaired over the years, so that it was even more dilapidated.
Taking a deep breath, Tuck knocked on the door.
"Beat it." a familiar voice called. "Whatever you're selling, I'm not buying."
"We need to talk to you," Tuck shouted through the door. "About the spring that used to be in your wood."
There was silence. Then the man called back. "Don't know about any spring." But he sounded nervous.
"I think you do know," said Tuck patiently. "Can we talk?"
He stood back and waited. Mae squeezed his hand.
The door slowly swung open, revealing the house's inhabitant.
The man had not changed over the years. But then again, neither had the Tucks. He squinted at them. "It's you." he grunted. "Guess you better come in."
The Tucks followed him inside.
Mae looked around at the house she'd once called her own, that she'd once taken so much pride in.
The place was dusty, and sparse of any personal belongings. It seemed to serve only as a shelter from the rain, nothing more.
"How long have you lived here?" she asked.
"Five years after you lot left." he answered, tugging at a faded and patched up yellow sleeve. "Didn't have anywhere else to go."
"And no one was suspicious?"
The man shrugged. "Kept to myself mostly. Had someone deliver bread and milk twice a week to the door. Don't go out much.
"What about the spring?" Tuck asked. "You never sold the water. Why?"
The man shook his head slowly. "Realized what a fool I was after the girl made me drink it," he said bitterly. "At first, I was thrilled. I was here forever! I could make my fortune, tell the world, have everything I wanted. Then it hit me. I didn't have many years left to me. You two still have your strength, some of your youth left. Your boys too. Me? I was an old man, and an old man I'll always be. Stuck on the brink of dying, never able to leave. And I couldn't do that to anyone else. People find out about a thing like that, and someone will be using it for the wrong reasons. That spring...it's not the way it's meant to work."
"The wheel isn't supposed to stop turning," said Tuck quietly. "That's what we tried to tell you."
The man nodded. "Guess it's a good thing the spring was destroyed some years back," he said. "Don't know how much longer I could've kept it hidden." He sighed. "It's been a lonely time, I'll admit. Couldn't let anyone near me, in case they found out my secret. Haven't really had anyone to talk to in a long time."
Tuck glanced at Mae. She grimaced. But he knew she also felt the same thing he was suddenly feeling for the man—sympathy. The man, noticing their pity and feeling uncomfortable, added hastily, "Well, the girl, she visited me. Was right kind of her. She didn't owe me anything, after the trouble I'd given her."
"Where is the girl now?" asked Tuck eagerly. "We've been asking around, but haven't heard anything."
Mae leaned forward hopefully.
The man stared at them, surprised. "Well, she's gone, isn't she?" he said slowly. "She's been gone for a couple of years now."
"Gone?" repeated Mae, eyes widening. "What do you mean?" But Tuck understood. "She never drank the water," he murmured.
The man nodded. "She was a smart girl. Smarter than the rest of us. She lived a long, full life. But her time came…" his voice trailed off.
Tuck thanked him for his time. "Reckon I owe it to you," said the man. "You're welcome to take your house back, if you want to. It was yours first."
"No," said Mae firmly. "We'll find another place. The man looked relieved.
They said goodbye, and went to make one last stop.
The cemetery in Treegap was peaceful, and usually empty at this time. If anyone was passing by, they might have found the four travelers clustered around the grave odd. But nobody passed, so the Tucks were left alone to pay their respects.
Mae and Tuck stood a ways back, gazing at the gray headstone. Two young men knelt down in the grass beside it.
"Poor Jessie." sighed Mae.
"He knowed it though," said Tuck. "At least, he knowed she wasn't coming. We all knowed that, long time ago."
"Just the same," said Mae.
They watched Miles get up, brushing off his knees, and clap Jesse on the shoulder. He walked back to them. "We should give him a minute," he said quietly. The older Tucks nodded. The trio departed the cemetery, unusually somber, leaving one lone figure behind.
Jesse placed his hand on the gravestone, staring at the simple inscription:
In Loving Memory
Winifred Foster Jackson
"Good girl," he murmured. "You were smarter than the rest of us. I didn't want it to be goodbye. But that's the way it should've been."
His family was waiting for him, he knew. It was time to move on. He stood up, turned around, and walked away. At the cemetery gate, he turned back one last time, and nodded in the direction of the little grave.
"Goodbye, Winnie Foster," he whispered.
That's all, folks! The main ending is pretty much the same, but I thought it would be interesting to explore what would have happened if the old man had lived, and to see a little more into Jesse and Winnie's relationship (though I know she was 10 at the time, so it wasn't exactly a romance going on, but more the potential for what could've been).