TUCK EVERLASTING

Spring of Choice

            *The same disclaimers apply-  Here's the next chapter, I hope you enjoy it and I hope that everyone had a happy Halloween! I finished the Winnie costume. =) I'm very happy with how it turned out! So now I'm back to try to get this thing finished.

Chapter 7- Down by the River

            It couldn't have been more than a minute that she'd been running before her hair was already plastered to her cheeks and water dripped down her nose and ran in rivulets down the back of her neck soaking her dress through to her skin.  A whistling wind picked up as she ran blindly into the forest.  She had never entered from this direction, and had no idea where she was going.  All she could do now was run.  She would run and hide, and she would never allow them to find her. She knew that it was hopeless to try and convince her parents, they had even gone as far as lying to her to keep her away from Jesse. She tried to shake off the feeling of betrayal she felt, after all, wasn't she doing the same to them? Turning her back on them? She had no right to criticize after what she was about to do.  But still, at least she had been honest and told them the truth of her intentions. They did not have to lie to her!  How could they have betrayed her trust like that?!  It occurred to Winnie that maybe she did not know her parents as well as she thought she did.  That, or she had never pushed them to their limits, where sheer desperation would be their only course of action. 

            "If they really loved me, they would let me go!" She repeated this phrase in her head several times, stumbling over fallen logs and slopping through the mud, not caring if the mud splashed up on her dress, it was already filthy and torn from when she'd jumped from the car.  Her forearm ached with a fierce pulsating rhythm, and she clutched it to her body, supporting it with her good arm.

            Suddenly the sky lit up with lightning, almost immediately followed by a great clap of thunder. Winnie's heart leapt into her throat, her foot caught a tree root and she fell down in a shower of mud and water droplets. 

            "Ahhhh…" Her arm hurt so badly, the pulsating magnified.  Biting back tears, she sat up and wiped her hair back from her face, trying to blink through the great drops of water that were settled on her long eyelashes.  There was a roaring noise not far in the distance. It was rushing water.

            "The river!" She thought with renewed hope. If she could only make it to the river, then she would know where she was! She knew where the Tucks old cabin was in relationship to it.  If she could hide out there until tomorrow night, and then go with Jesse then everything would be okay.

            This brief moment of relief was shattered by another sound from the distance, in the opposite direction of the rushing water.

            "Winnie!"

            It was her father's voice. Not long after the voice of their driver carried to her ears as well, they were both pursuing her. 

            She got to her feet shakily, and made her way swiftly towards the sound of the water.  After she crossed the river, she would be home free!

            But this fantasy did not last long.  Winnie pushed her way through some high bushes and stopped abruptly at the foot of the bank.  Her eyes widened in shock.  The river… that tiny little stream that she had splashed along holding Jesse's hand all those summers ago… it was a raging, angry, storm of a flooded river now.  She remembered the high banks that they had climbed down to get to the water at the bottom.  If she tried to cross it now she would certainly drown. And this time there would be no Jesse Tuck to buoy her.

            Her thoughts were interrupted again by the sound of her father, this time he was closer. "Winifred!!"

            She looked about frantically for some sign of a way across, lightning ripped apart the dark sky and thunder echoed through the valleys that cradled the forest.  She stumbled along the bank a ways up stream, and then saw what she had been seeking.  A thin pine had fallen and its narrow trunk breached the gap from one bank to the other. 

            "Winifred!"

            The voice was closer.  Winnie did not stop to consider the consequences, but she climbed up onto the log and on hands and knees started to shimmie her way across.

            "Don't look down…" She told herself.  "Just look at the far bank."

            The far bank grew slowly closer and the river rushed barely two feet below her.  A sudden gust of wind made her nearly loose her balance, but she held onto the log with both hands, clutching the rough bark in terror.  The pain in her arm was barely noticeable compared to the adrenaline that rushed through her veins and the roaring that was in her ears.   She heard her father again, this time he was too close!

            "Winifred! Stop right there!"

            He saw her! Winnie froze where she was, about three quarters across the stretch of river. 

            "Winnie! I'll come to get you, stay where you are!"

            She glanced over her shoulder, her father was downstream, running as best he could through the mud that clung to his shoes. Their driver was on his heels calling, "Ms. Foster! Ms. Foster!"  Her father's face was pale and filled with desperation. She felt a pang of guilt.  Then slowly shook her head, she'd made her decision.

            Turning back to her goal at hand, she lifted her hand up and edged her way along one more foot.  Then everything suddenly turned to chaos.  The best thing that Winnie could take in with such short notice, was a brilliant flash of white, a piercing crack that rendered her suddenly deaf, then sparks and flames and she was falling.  She hit the water and it was like ice, enveloping her instantly in a cold grip of impending death. 

            There were no sounds under the water, and she wondered for a moment whether or not she should try and swim.  But then her brain registered her lungs need for air and she began to thrash about, her arms and legs kicking frantically but she did not seem to be going up.  She was caught in a vicious current and she thought idly that she was being swept downstream.  Her skirts weighed her down and no matter how she kicked she could not get any leverage towards the surface. 

She wanted to breath! She wanted it so badly that panic seized her, she let out one last tremendous burst of strength before giving into the waters that had claimed her as their victim.

"So…" The thought floated through her mind. "This is how I will die…"

But, suddenly out of the dark, murky water she saw a hand reaching towards her.  Not caring if it was God or the Devil's, she reached out and seized it, the hand materialized to a body, and another arm wrapped around her small waist, she felt herself being hoisted up towards the surface. 

It seemed that precious second before her head hit fresh air would be her last.  Winnies lungs were bursting for air.  She thought as she was being rescued that if she had only drunk the stupid water the first time, she would not have a need to be in fear of her life now.  But that was as far as her thoughts would take her.  The moment her face felt the cool rush of air as she cleared the surface, she gasped for breath, breathing in deeply and hungrily.

"Winnie! Are you okay!?"

It took her a moment to register, but she realized that the body that had saved her, that had swam her up to the surface… and was now keeping her afloat as they were carried in a raging current downstream… was none other than Jesse Tuck.

Shock made way for fear soon after this revelation.  The water was cold, her body felt heavy and wouldn't move, she had almost died and now they probably both would, being carried downstream to who knows where, to be dashed against sharp rocks or drowned! She wrapped her arms around Jesse's shoulders. "Jesse!" In all her distress, she had forgotten he was immortal.

"It's okay! I'm here, nothing's going to happen to you! I promise it." Jesse reassured her, his voice shouting over the rushing of the water and the sudden clap of thunder. "Don't be scared! I won't let your head go under."

He was trying to swim them both towards the shore.  But the current was too strong, and with Winnie in one arm he was not strong enough to get them both close enough.

"Dammit…" thought Jesse hurriedly. " If I don't get her out of the water soon, she may freeze to death, or we'll go over the waterfall…"

Just as this thought had occurred to him, he heard it.  The pounding of water as it cascaded over the rocks and fell into the canyon below.  It fell into the same pool of water, with that little waterfall that he'd coerced Winnie to jump into that one magical summer two years ago.  But now he imagined it was a much larger waterfall, and that small pool of water could easily drown her in a second… if they got separated.

"Hold onto me Winnie!" He said, tightening his grip around her torso.  His left arm was locked tightly around her chest, keeping her head and shoulders above the water.  "Hold onto me and whatever happens don't let go. We're going over the waterfall."

"We're what?" Winnie cried frantically.  "I can't swim! I'll die! Jesse I'm going to die!"

"You won't die! I'll protect you!" Jesse said it with as much optimism as he could muster. It was hard even for him to make light of the situation, because in truth he was scared out of his mind that his Winnie would die… What he wouldn't give right now for a drop of that water to put in her mouth and save her life.

"Hold your breath! We're going over!"

"Ahhhh!!!"  Winnies scream echoed through the small canyon as they both plunged over the edge, the rushing river carrying them over and dropping them both into the swirling pool below.

Jesse's iron grip on Winnie did not lessen. He didn't flinch as they hit the surface.  He was not the one in fear of drowning.  But he was fearful for her. He allowed them both to sink below the surface, being pounded down by the water above for a few seconds, then he got his bearings and with a few powerful thrusts of his legs, took them both out from under the falling water and broke the surface a few feet away.  The current was pulling him back towards the waterfall, but he would not give into it.  Winnie was not moving. In fact, she had gone completely limp in his arms. He would not think the worst yet. Best to get her out of the water first.

            Once he was well away from the falling water the pool they were in was much calmer, with no currents carrying them further downstream.  He made it to the bank where his feet finally touched ground, and hoisted Winnie up on the edge of it.  Then he himself got out of the water.  He barely had the time to turn her on her back before she began coughing and sputtering up water.  He patted her on the back and helped her sit up and she coughed.

            She was shivering violently.  It was still raining pretty hard, and the wind was whistling through the trees, punctuated by bursts of lightning and claps of thunder.  A single look told Jesse he had better make her warm quickly.  Without a word he picked her up and carried her as fast as he could manage towards their old Cottage in the wood.