Disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot. No copyright infringement intended.
A/N: Repost of my 1st Place winning entry in the 2014 'Get Your Southern On' Contest.
If you read and enjoy, leave some love in a review?
Love and light,
The tall grass bent and swayed in the gentle summer breeze as the tiny girl ran through it, her brunette locks just barely visible above the reeds that were common just south of Houston, TX.
Her tinkling laughter mixed with the birdsong coming from the trees as she gave one last mighty hop, trying her best to net the butterfly she'd been chasing.
"Oh bother," she grumbled as she flopped down in the grass, a scowl now marring her beautiful face. "I'll never catch a butterfly."
Her breath caught and she turned her head, heart pounding in sudden alarm at the sudden sound she heard seconds before a boy—or perhaps an angel?—loomed over where she lay, a tiny smirk curving his lips. "Of course you won't catch one. You're too darn tiny. Heck, I almost didn't see ya for the height of the grass."
Jumping up, she stuck out her chin, scowling up at the taller blond boy. "I'm not tiny!"
He raised a brow as he stared down at her, smirk still firmly in place. "Yeah, well, what are ya then, little bit, 'cause ya sure look tiny to me. How old are ya anyway, five, maybe six?"
Her mouth dropped open in outrage and he chuckled as her big brown eyes fairly sparked in anger. "I'm seven, almost eight, and my Papa says I'm a big girl, and he's always right, so there!" She stomped her foot with a huff as he laughed.
"All right, don't go throwing a hissy fit. You're seven and you're a big girl," he nodded, "I got it."
She crossed her arms over her chest, eyeing him up as he smiled good-naturedly. "Just how old are you?" she asked.
His thin chest puffed with pride as he answered, "Nine and I'm the oldest in my family. That makes me the man of the house when my Pa ain't there."
Her eyes widened a bit, duly impressed. "Your Pa gone a lot?" she asked, a bit of awe in her voice. She just couldn't imagine being in charge of a whole house without her Papa there.
He looked smug as he answered. "From time to time. He makes trips into the city for business and such."
She shaded her eyes as she looked up at him, her head tilted to the side. "Don't 'cha get scared?"
He scoffed, his brow furrowed as he shook his head. "Heck no! I know how'ta shoot and 'sides," he looked a bit sheepish as he shrugged a shoulder, "my Mama's always there too."
She smirked as she squinted up at him and his expression darkened. "That don' mean nothin'. Pa leaves me in charge and that's just what I am, even Mama says so."
"Okay, don't go gettin' your knickers in a knot," she giggled.
He grinned, tossing his fishing pole to the side as he flopped down on his back in the grass. Plucking out one thin reed, he began to chew on the tender end as she sat next to him.
He glanced at her. "So what's your name, little bit?"
She shot him a dark look and he grinned again.
"Well, I may as well tell ya so you'll quit callin' me little," she grumbled. "It's Isabella Marie Swan." She nodded at him imperiously. "Please use it."
He chuckled, shifting the piece of grass in his mouth with his tongue. "Mercy, that's quite the name for such a little 'un."
She scowled and started to rise when he reached out, grabbing her hand to stop her, looking contrite. "My apologies, Isabella. It's just… well—you're cute as a button, that's why I call ya little bit."
She slowly sat back down, a small smile curving her cupid's bow lips as a warm feeling enveloped her. "Apology accepted."
He grinned, relaxing back with an arm behind his head as he chewed the piece of grass.
She pulled some tough, lengthy blades and began braiding them together as she glanced at him. "I told ya my name, what's yours?
He cut his gaze toward her and then back to the branches that shaded them. "It's Jasper—Jasper Andrew Whitlock."
She hmm'ed at that as her deft fingers worked, finally glancing over to him. "It's a nice name. I like it," she declared with a nod.
He smiled as he stared into the branches of the pecan tree. "Well, thank you, little bit. Glad ya like it."
Minutes passed in silence as both enjoyed the mild day of early summer, Bella braiding away until she thought it was just right and she leaned over to lay it on his chest.
He cracked an eye open and picked up what she'd made. "What's this?"
Her cheeks flushed pink and she murmured, "It's for you. It's a friendship bracelet. Will you be my friend Jasper Andrew Whitlock?"
He smiled and slipped it over his hand. "Yeah, think I'd like to be your friend Isabella Marie Swan."
She shook her head and he cocked a brow in question as she smiled.
"Call me little bit."
He laughed and laid back again. "Okay tiny."
Tears of embarrassment and anger streamed down her face as she ran to the place she felt safest; the pecan tree by the pond where she'd first met her best friend, Jasper.
She just couldn't get over what Johnny had said to her, how mean he'd been, not to mention the mocking laughter she'd endured from the other girls. With their cruelty fresh in her mind, she scowled up at the branches as she laid back in the tall grass, angrily swiping her tears.
To think that she'd ever thought Johnny Collins to be handsome…
She squeezed her eyes shut as shame and humiliation cut through her. He'd been her first crush, after all, and his rejection and cruelty hurt terribly.
Blond curls and eyes of the bluest blue finally crept through her anguished thoughts and she sighed and wiped her tears. Okay, so Johnny wasn't her first crush, but she and Jasper were best friends, and it was clear to her, no matter how she wished him to, he would never think of her in any other way.
They did everything together and had since that day, five years earlier, when they'd decided to be friends. They fished, and swam and sometimes simply sat together in quiet company until it was time to go home.
She knew he loved her, but she thought it was probably a type of love that would never turn into more, so she'd resigned herself to having what she could of him.
Drying the last of her tears, she turned her head at the sound of someone moving through the grass, breathing a sigh of relief when Jasper emerged seconds later.
Taking a seat next to where she lay, he kept his voice gentle as he spoke. "What happened, little bit? Why'd you run outta the school yard and why were ya cryin'?"
Her face pinched, her lips pressed tightly together as she turned away from him, doing her best to stifle a fresh round of tears. She shook her head. "Just leave it be Jay. It ain't a big deal and I'll get over it directly."
He scowled. "It was Johnny Collins wasn't it? I saw ya with him. He said somethin' to ya, didn't he?" He started to get up and she grabbed his hand, giving him a pleading look.
"No Jay, just let it be! Please!"
He stared down at her, his nostrils flared, his eyes blazing like blue flames with his anger as he spoke, his voice low and controlled. "Let me go, little bit, 'cause I'm gonna go whoop 'im like the dog he is."
She let go, collapsing back to the grass and covering her face as fresh tears fell, her voice full of despair as she spoke. "Just let it be. He told the truth anyway. He's right, I am ugly and nobody wants me."
Jasper's eyes widened as he heard these words. He'd had no idea she felt that way, but he did know one thing; she couldn't be further from the truth. He sat back down, taking her hand as he spoke softly. "None of that's true little bit, not a single word of it."
She scoffed as she dried her eyes with her free hand. "What would you know about it? We're best friends, you don't really see me, not in that way."
He shook his head slowly, his messy golden waves glinting in the filtered sunlight, his tone anguished as he spoke. "Wrong again little bit. I do see you, but you don't see me."
Turning her face toward him, she studied his earnest expression, her brow creasing in confusion. "What do you mean by that, Jay?"
He leaned forward, and his fingers tenderly traced the outline of her face, his eyes following the movement before rising to meet hers. "I mean that I see you, in that way and you're beautiful." Her breath caught and he continued, "I—I love ya Isabella Marie Swan, and I always will."
Leaning down, he brushed his lips gently over hers, and they both reveled in their first kiss. He drew back enough to look at her and she cupped his cheek, a small smile curving her lips as she quietly assured, "I've always seen you, Jasper Andrew Whitlock, and I love you too."
She stood next to the old pecan tree, fingers tracing over the heart and initials Jasper carved almost three years earlier, her anger at him ebbing away, leaving fear and frustration in its place.
With a sad shake of her head, she turned and sat, leaning against the old tree that had been witness to the most treasured moments of her life. The moments she'd shared with the boy she had always loved; would always love.
Drawing her legs up, she looped her arms around them loosely, resting her head against her knees as she tried to understand his need to join this war.
She knew part of it was pride. He didn't want to be the last to join voluntarily, and he surely didn't want the stigma of being conscripted. But oh how her heart ached at the thought of losing him. The fear gripped her heart with icy fingers, and she could barely breathe for the pain of it. She knew though, she would have to let him go, no matter how she had raged at him this morning.
Tears fell and shame filled her at having wasted their last hours together in such a hurtful and futile way. She fervently wished she could go back and start this day again, but it was too late. He was probably already gone.
Surrendering to her sorrow and regret, her shoulders shook as she cried, murmuring apologies,"I'm so sorry Jay. Please don't hate me."
"I could never hate ya, little bit. I love ya too damn much."
She gasped, her head turning to see him standing there, eyes bright with unshed tears as he watched her. Setting down the basket he carried, he reached her in two long strides, pulling her up against him to hold her close as she cupped his face in her hands. "I'm so sorry for getting angry this morning. I don't want to fight with you."
He leaned down, kissed her sweetly and whispered against her lips. "It's all right sugar. I understand. You're scared, darlin', but so am I."
She pulled him into a kiss, trying to convey all the love, longing, and fear she held for him within her. Finally breaking the kiss, they leaned their heads together, both simply taking in the other's presence. "I have two hours before I have to leave, and I wanted to spend them with you." He kissed her temple softly. "I just couldn't leave things the way they were between us." He held her face and met her eyes. "You are my strength Isabella. I can't do this without ya."
She studied his eyes for a moment. "Ya have me and always will, Jasper Whitlock."
He smiled and reached into his pocket. "Ya mean that, little bit?"
"With all my heart and soul," she whispered as a tear rolled down her cheek.
He lifted his hand, and held between his fingers a beautiful ring. "Then say you'll marry me little bit. Marry me the next time I get to come home."
She stared at the ring for a beat before cutting her gaze to his, her voice choked with emotion as she answered, "I'll marry you, Jay."
A delighted laugh sounded from her as he picked her up and spun her around. "Ah sugar, I love ya so."
Setting her back on her feet, he reached for her hand, slid the ring on her finger, and kissed it reverently before looking up at her. "You'll wait for me?"
She reached up; her fingers tenderly traced his temple and cheek. "I promise, Jay, but I need one from you in return." Their eyes met and he nodded. "Come back to me. No matter how long it takes, or how far away you are, come back to me."
He covered her hand with his, and kissed her palm, his blue eyes slowly closing. "I promise, darlin'."
Bella pulled the shawl close about her shoulders as she made her way to the post office. She hoped to finally hear from Jasper. It had been three weeks since his last letter and she was worried.
According to the sporadic news reports, the Union had blockaded Galveston and the situation was tense and expected to worsen.
Their soldiers, with help from the Texas Rangers, had managed to evacuate the city, and now they were preparing for a battle that seemed inevitable. Or perhaps, it had already happened and she just hadn't heard. She could never be sure with the slow trickle of news these days.
Her heart lurched just thinking about it, because she knew Jasper would be in the thick of it when it finally happened, and she was terrified for him.
Entering the Post Office, she smiled as the old postmaster greeted her right away. "Mrs. Whitlock, how are you this fine day?"
"As well as can be expected, Mr. Harvey, thank you for asking. Do you have anything for me?"
He grinned, plucking a letter from the small stack on the counter and passing it to her. "I do indeed."
Her eager eyes took in the writing on the envelope, but she frowned when she realized it wasn't Jasper's.
Murmuring an absent good day to the postmaster, she left the office. Then she tucked the missive in her pocket as she left the town proper to follow the familiar trail to the pecan tree.
When she arrived, she took out the letter with shaking hands. She wanted and needed to open it, but dreaded doing so in equal measure. She knew it couldn't be good, otherwise it would be Jay's handwriting and not that of a stranger. She had to know though, so she loosed the folds and began to read. Choking on a sob, the words blurred with her tears as she re-read it, hoping all the while that this was a nightmare she could wake from.
To Mrs. Major Jasper A. Whitlock,
It is my great regret to inform you of the disappearance of your husband, Major Jasper A. Whitlock, on this, the 29th day of December, eighteen hundred and sixty two, during the last evacuation of Galveston Island.
Due to the unfailing integrity of Major Whitlock, and his unimpeachable character in loyalty and conduct, and after an extensive search with no evidence of desertion, I regret to inform you that the Confederacy has declared him to be missing in action; presumed deceased.
With greatest respect and condolence,
Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder, C.S.A.
Falling to her knees with the letter clutched in one hand, she leaned against the old tree, crying silently as she stared, unseeing, at the tall grass swaying in the gentle breeze.
He was gone, and now, with her heart completely shattered, she would be too.
They laid her to rest under the tall Texas grass, under the shade of the old pecan tree. Most of their little town attended and paid their respects to the tragic young couple they had watched grow up and had dearly loved.
Her father had been the one to find her, still leaning against the old pecan tree with the wrinkled, tear-stained letter clutched in her hand. She'd looked as if she were merely resting, and he supposed in a way, she was.
The doctor had checked her over when her father carried her into his office and couldn't find a reason for her passing, aside from the soul deep pain of a broken heart. It was as though she had willed herself to die; it was the only explanation.
He'd had Jasper's name engraved on the headstone along with his daughter's; he was sure she would have wanted it that way.
As the grieving father wiped tears from his eyes, he stepped forward, laid some flowers on the grave, then walked away.
Isabella Marie Swan yawned and stretched, then reached over to turn off the annoyance that was her new clock radio.
Groaning, she ran a hand through her messy hair, and eyed the dreary grey sky outside her window. Why did she want to move here again? At that moment, she was seriously questioning her sanity for having done so. She hated the rain and the cold; this place had an abundance of both.
Then she recalled the persistent, urgent need she'd felt to move here and frowned. That urge had built to such a point, it had become almost overwhelming. She'd even thought for a time, she was on the verge of losing her mind, until she'd given in and made the arrangements.
Since doing so, she'd felt at peace. Even now, staring out at the weather she hated, she felt she was where she was meant to be for some reason. Just what was that reason? She had no idea, but at least now, she could sleep at night and function throughout the day.
Finally, she sat up, grabbed her toiletries bag from the nightstand and stood. It was time to get ready for the torturous first day of being the 'new kid' at Forks High.
Jasper stood at his window, staring out at the drizzly day as an uneasy sigh escaped him. He felt out of sorts for some reason and had for a few weeks now, but try as he might, he couldn't pin-point the reason. It almost felt as if something was tugging at his consciousness; a pull or a draw of some sort and it was noticeable enough to be maddening, especially so with no apparent relief in sight.
With a low growl, he turned toward his shelves, intent upon finding a book to occupy his mind and pass the time until they needed to leave.
As he looked over the spines, his hand touched upon a small wooden box; a box he hadn't opened in many years simply because doing so refreshed memories; painful memories that he'd tried to bury with little success.
Today however, he felt a need to open it and look at the items inside.
The items on top were just bits and pieces of his uniform from his time as a Major in the Confederate Army; his rank insignia, some buttons and the like, but under that, wrapped in an old, yellowed handkerchief was an item that tore into his heart each time he'd dared to look at it.
Setting the box aside, he gently laid the old cloth in the palm of one hand as he lifted the folds away with the other. The sight of the contents caused the sting of tears that would never fall to build behind his eyes as he cleared his throat; the punch of emotion overwhelming, even after all this time.
There, laid out on the old, yellowed cloth, brittle and fragile with age, was what remained of a small grass friendship bracelet that a tiny young girl had made for a smirking little boy so many long years ago.
Isabella… his little bit…
Lord, how he missed her still.
At the sound of doors opening and Edward calling out that he was ready to go, Jasper rewrapped it with utmost care and laid it back in the box.
Would he ever get over his loss, ever truly live again? He didn't think so. But something just wouldn't allow him to give up, anchoring him to this life of loneliness for reasons he couldn't fathom.
With those thoughts, he placed the box back on the shelf, grabbed his bag and left his room. It was time to get on with yet another day of being a 'kid' at Forks High.
Fighting her way out of the classroom and into the crowded hall, Bella, finally fed up with being polite, shoved her way to her locker where she stowed her bag with a relieved sigh. The damn thing felt as though it weighed sixty pounds, and the day was only half through.
Peering around the chaotic hallway, Bella despaired of ever finding the cafeteria when a girl's voice caught her attention.
"Bella? It's Bella, right?"
She turned toward the voice, a cautious smile in place. "That's right."
A tall brunette girl, wearing glasses smiled, sticking out her hand. "I'm Angela. We sit next to each other in Trig. I didn't get a chance to introduce myself."
Bella shook her hand gratefully. She seemed more down to earth than the girl who'd been hounding her earlier. What was her name? Jessica … yes that was it. The girl was like a living gossip rag and Bella gave up hope of ever escaping her.
"Nice to meet you Angela."
Angela dropped her hand after a firm shake. "You have plans for lunch?"
"Well, I was invited to sit with Jessica but I can't really say I was looking forward to it…" She trailed off as Angela smirked.
"I usually head outside for lunch. There's a covered patio and it's not that cold yet. Trust me - it's better than braving the cafeteria. You're welcome to join me."
Grabbing her lunch from her locker, she closed it, spun the lock, and smiled at the taller girl. "Lead on Angela. I'm ready to get outta here for a bit."
She breathed a sigh of relief the minute they'd cleared the doors, the open space of the outdoors comforting after being in the packed halls and classrooms all day.
Angela glanced at her as they chose a table and sat. "It's a relief getting out of that madness for a bit."
Bella nodded as she took out an apple and a water bottle. "It is. I was surprised this school is so crowded."
"Yeah, Forks may be a small town, but the high school serves much of the surrounding areas too. Not sure why they haven't built another one." She shrugged a shoulder. "Probably lack of funding." She took a sip from her water and motioned to Bella. "You're from Arizona, right?"
She swallowed her bite of apple and dabbed her lips with a knuckle as she nodded. "Yep, sunny Arizona." She glanced at the gray sky with a grimace. "I'm gonna miss the sun."
Angela looked curious but didn't pry, which made Bella comfortable enough to talk.
"I felt—compelled is the only word that really fits for why I moved here. I could've stayed with my mother, but I just felt I had to be here for my last year of school."
Angela hmm'ed at that. "Sometimes there are things in this world that can't be explained. Usually, if you're feeling that strongly about something, it's best to go with it."
Bella smirked at her. "Thanks for not calling me crazy."
She laughed. "I'd be the last one to call you crazy Bella. My dad might be the local preacher, but my mom is a practicing Wiccan. The unusual is my forte," she ended with a smirk as she popped a baby carrot into her mouth.
"Good to know," Bella said with a chuckle.
"So tell me about this feeling. Was it just a sensation, or were there other things that came along with it? Most times, there are."
After taking a drink of water, Bella nodded. "Now that you mention it, there were other odd things. I guess I never put them together before now." She glanced at Angela. "I was having really vivid dreams of a place I've never been, but the really odd part is the time period of the dreams. They seemed to be sometime in the 1800s."
"Cool," Angela said, taking a quick drink. "Do you remember any details? Do you know where the dreams were set?"
Bella washed down a bite of apple. "I'm pretty sure it was Texas? Maybe? I dunno, it feels right just saying it. But it wasn't a desert area - it was green; beautiful really." She met Angela's eyes. "I remember tall grass and a huge tree that was close to a pond."
"Huh," Angela muttered. "How about people? You remember any from the dreams?"
Bella shook her head as she chewed then swallowed. "No. The dreams are more like watching a slide show, but I know that I'm always wearing old-fashioned dresses in them."
"Interesting. I wonder if they could be past life."
"Past life, Angela? Are you serious?"
Angela swallowed and took a drink. "Very. There are many accounts of people dreaming details about places they'd never been, and yet they knew things that only someone who had been there could know. I find it fascinating and I think we all probably have past lives but only a select few are ever able to tap into those memories, for whatever reason. I have some books on the subject. I'll bring them so you can read up on it if you want."
"That is interesting, and it would be great to read up on it." She smiled at whom she considered a new friend. "I'm glad I came out here instead of attending the gossip gathering session."
Angela smirked as she picked up a carrot. "You're welcome."
By the time the lunch period rolled around, Jasper was wound tightly, a condition that was only worsened by his inability to identify a source. He was losing control of his gift, and in a school filled to capacity with hormonal teens, that could have dire consequences.
He could see his pseudo-siblings glancing at him in concern as they made their way to the cafeteria, and he ran a hand through his hair, a sigh leaving him in place of the growl he wanted to release.
Finally halting, his fists clenched at his sides, he stared down at the sidewalk as he spoke quietly. "I can't go in there today. I'll stay outside." He looked up, and met their worried gazes; a scowl darkened his expression. "Don't worry, I'm not gonna eat anybody."
Alice stepped forward, laying a hand on his arm, which he shook off as she spoke. "Jazz, we're just worried about you…"
He backed away. "Look, all of you, I'm not a child. Not even close to it, so drop the concerned sibling act. I'm about fed up with it. I'll meet ya by the car later."
With that, he turned and walked away, headed to the other side of the school and the covered patio. It was a relaxed atmosphere and that's exactly what he needed, especially now.
His thoughts turned to the Cullen's, Alice in particular, and he rubbed his forehead, taking his time getting to the patio.
Alice had always wanted more than friendship, from the day he'd met her in that diner in Philadelphia, but he just ... couldn't. He'd told her many times throughout the years, his heart wasn't his to give. And every time he thought she'd finally accepted that, she'd start up again, first with little touches which would graduate to bolder advances. He was tired of it, and had been thinking of leaving the coven because of it, but also because he was tired of playing a child. He'd left his childhood at the age of sixteen when he'd joined the Confederacy, and to be honest, the role he now played in this coven was humiliating.
Yeah, he thought as he rounded the corner of the building, it was past time that he moved on.
Looking over the patio for an available table, he noticed two girls sitting together, one whom he recognized from his classes. The other was facing away and he thought nothing of her until he heard her voice as she spoke quietly. It froze him in his tracks and he stared, that old, familiar pain cutting through him as his mind raced.
There was just no way…
Still, he had to see her face, just to convince himself, so he walked around the outer perimeter of the patio toward her.
He saw Angela look up at him, a curious expression on her face as she watched him approach.
Bella glanced up at Angela after gathering the remnants of her lunch. Seeing her new friend look past her, over her shoulder, she turned to see what had caught her interest.
There was a boy—no, there was no way anyone could mistake him for a boy—angel maybe, but never a boy.
She stood, feeling drawn to him, so she went with it, walking the few steps to reach him. He looked astonished and then he took her hand. The temperature of his skin was startlingly cold. "Your hand…"
Her words trailed off when pictures, memories, fragments of conversations assailed her all at once, drawing a gasp from her as her eyes closed tightly. It took everything in her not to collapse from information overload…
…standing in tall grass as a blond boy she'd just met smirked down at her.
…weaving a bracelet together and giving it to the boy with a smile.
…lying in the tall grass as that boy, older now, gave her a perfect first kiss.
…watching him walk away, taking her heart with him, as he went off to war.
…holding hands with him under that old pecan tree as they made vows to each other, an exchange of rings, a wedding.
…sweetly consummating their bond together on their wedding night.
…reading the letter that told her she had lost him forever, her heart shattering, and her will to live dying just as he had.
Jasper simply watched her for the few seconds her eyes were closed, her emotions, so varied and fleeting, he couldn't grasp them.
Finally, her eyes opened and her teary gaze locked with his as she reached up to gently caress his cheek. The words she spoke then caused his heart to soar, and his soul to sing.
"Jasper Andrew Whitlock, it's about time you found me."
Emotion choked him as he pulled her close to softly kiss her sweet lips. Resting his forehead against hers, he murmured, "It's been so long darlin', so long… I wanted to give up so many times…"
He backed away, cupping her face in his hands, his thumbs catching her tears as they fell. "Will you be mine again, Isabella?"
She laughed a teary laugh as she looked into those eyes that used to be the bluest blue, and answered in a way that only he would understand.
"Call me Little Bit."
He laughed quietly past the lump in his throat as he caressed her cheek.