CHAPTER ONE: A SYMBOL OF EVERLASTING PAIN

He had run his fingers over the creases of the name on the gravestone a thousand times alone today. Now the last of his anguished tears flowed over the beautiful, gentle curvature of her name. : WINNIFRED FOSTER, Beloved Wife and Mother.
He bitterly gripped the aged glass bottle in his hand. Unlike Jesse Tuck, the bottle knew the passage of time. Deep down perhaps he really did know he'd never see her again. He'd given her the bottle full of spring water as he ran away with his family to start their so-called life over again some 80 years ago. Or was it longer? How the hell should he have known?
Everything about him had remained the same, including his love for Winnie Foster, the 17 year-old young woman he had met when time had frozen for both of them, not only him. But one year ago when she was put into the Earth she hadn't died that same 17 year-old young woman. Surely she was withered and wrinkled, each crease in her once flawless skin showing her successes and trials through life. She was married with God knows how many children.
Bitterly he dumped the bottle's contents over the grave. Then again, how could he have expected her to wait? Love may have been infinite to both of them, but to Winnie, life was finite, and to Jesse, it arguably didn't exist at all...

Jesse hopped back on his Razor Scooter and whisked his way through the trees to head back home. In theory, he was perfectly eligible for a driver's license, but his father, Angus Tuck wouldn't hear of his son driving around. After all it wasn't just speeding tickets and curfews he had to worry about.
See, there's something you have to understand about the way the Tucks existed. And yes, existed is the most appropriate word. Over a century ago the family, Mae and Angus Tuck and their two sons, Miles and Jesse, were moving through the woods to reach their new home. Thirsty and tired, when they stumbled across a stream, they drank from it. It's not rocket science. But it was. The Tucks had many a close encounter with injury and death, and never once did it touch them. In one drink each they had become immortal. They were however, by no means, invincible. They were not exempt from pain and humanity. Life went on in spite of them...excluding them.
Angus, of course, philosophical and wise as he was was very well aware of the type of existence they would lead as a consequence of the great phenomena they had encountered, and he treated it with respect and solemnity. Jesse, however, was young and bold and reckless, now seeing no danger. He had no need for the world he was now unable to be a part of...until Winnie Foster.
Their fortuitous meeting completed everything...and their parting made it equally incomplete. Distraught in a last attempt, hoping one day he could come back for her, Jesse left Winnie a bottle of the spring water buried under a rock in her backyard. She knew the Tucks' secret, and she knew about the bottle. She knew what no one else knew, and together Jesse and Winnie in a short time...but a beautiful time as time was irrelevant...understood what the world was too busy racing along to acknowledge.
But Winnie also knew what Angus Tuck did, and she left the bottle and everything but the memory of Jesse behind to keep living. She knew that eternity was merely a fancy expression...not a palpable reality. It could not be obtained without bending the most sound of human principles, and she would not bend them...not even for Jesse Tuck...

Jesse rode disconsolately back to the cottage in the woods. About twenty years before the Tucks had moved back to their old house...as no one who may have known about their residence and lifestyle before was longer alive to tell the tale . Such an event would destroy them, after all. Death could not kill them...but life could.
Before reaching their cottage he stopped next to the stream and angrily tossed a stone into it, causing a tremendous splash and landing in the middle of the stream, causing the water to flow around it. Like Jesse, it was forever stuck with everything swirling around it, cold, hard, and lifeless.

Jesse walked into the house, finding Angus, Mae, and Miles sitting down to dinner. He took his plate from the table along with his settings and violently placed them back in the cupboard before taking his seat and folding his hands for prayer. Angus said the blessing, all the while staring at his son, and he continued to do so as Miles reached for the bowl of mashed potatoes in the center of the table. He passed the fragrant pot roast to his wife, his eyes still unmoving.
"Aren't you going to eat, son?" he asked.
"What's the point?" Jesse retorted, staring at the empty spot of table in front of him.
At this, Miles' eye twitched, but he continued what he was doing.
Mae got up from the table and took a plate for Jesse from the cupboard and placed it in front of him.
Flipping the plate over, he said, quietly at first, but gradually becoming louder and angrier, "It's not like I'm going to starve. Hunger is a programmed response like everything else, and for that matter, everything that isn't programmed can't be fed anyway, least of all by a few spoonfuls of mashed potatoes and a slice of some animal's ass cooked and thrown onto a plate!"
With that he left and slammed the door into his and Miles' room down the hall. Angus had vehemently objected to having a TV brought into their house when TVs were the rage and still decades later refused to have one, but Jesse had adapted to the attitude and lingo of modern teens well enough without one. Miles watched his father chew his tender pot roast as if he was trying to penetrate steel and his mother place her head in her hands and took this as a justifiable reason to crash Jesse's pity party.
"What the hell is wrong with you?!", Miles whispered angrily, trying to keep his voice inaudible. He too had picked up a few choice phrases in the outside world and was taking precautions as he feared the impending passionate argument would elicit a few of them.
"Just go away," Jesse moaned, now face down in his pillow.
"Look, I don't know what's bothering your sorry ass, but you have lifetimes to work out whatever it is on your own time. Don't pull Ma and Dad down with you."
"You don't understand."
"The fuck I don't understand!" Miles said, raising his voice but then catching himself and lowering it once more.
"My life is over."
"Your life will never be over," Miles replied.
"It was over the day we left this place."
"Well, we're back. I guess you've been reborn." A caustic trace of sarcasm was now audible in Miles' tone.
"No - just - just let it be, okay? I don't want to talk anymore."
"Well, tough. You're going to. You may have seventeen years physically but you have over a century's worth of wisdom, and I'm not about to put up with your smart-ass teenage rebellious bullshit."
"You wouldn't understand."
"DAMN it, Jesse, stop talking about understanding!" Miles said, not even trying to keep his voice down now. "Don't even act for a second like every other one of us in this family hasn't felt the hurt and the pain of what we have to face every day. You don't get any more pity than we do."
"Fuck you, Miles. I don't want pity. I want you to leave me the hell alone!"
"Is this about the car? Grow up, already! I don't have one either. You know you'd just end up getting our secret out and screwing us all over anyway. You'll get in some heinous accident and survive, and our family will be exposed. So get over it already. You can't have a car."
"It's not about the stupid car, Miles. Go away."
"Then what is it, huh?"
"It's not the steering wheel I need to hold to give my life meaning."
"Well, no. You're a jackass. You'll be driving down the freeway with your hands in the sky roof. It's not about holding anything."
"Never mind. Just leave me alone."

Finally, Miles admitted defeat and left Jesse alone on his bed staring up at the ceiling. He could still see her face so clearly, hear her laugh, feel her hand complementing his own. He could still smell her - a sweet blend of roses and the air after a gentle rain and truth and beauty. He could still taste her lips against his, even though this miraculous cosmic harmony had occurred only enough times to count on one hand. He reached under his bed and pulled out the flower he had placed in her hair the night he first kissed her. He had dipped it in the spring so it too would live forever. Now he stared at it and reproved himself for putting it through his misery. Petal by petal he ripped it apart. Then he held the pieces to his chest and openly sobbed, and he remained that way until the effort put him to sleep.

Later that night when Miles entered the room he saw his brother's tearstained face and the flower he clutched to his heart, and he wanted to cry for him, but tears reminded him of the stream - flowing endlessly, bringing ostensible relief but standing as a symbol of everlasting pain.

CHAPTER TWO: REVELATION

Jesse had silently prayed for a dreamless sleep, but he could not restrain his thoughts in his unconsciousness. At first only dark colors, deep purples and blues, swirled behind his closed eyelids. The colors began to take form, though, and he saw an invisible force ripping the petals off of his timeless flower. Then two hands entered the field of view and put the flower back together, gently re-attaching each individual petal. A pocket watch then replaced this image, and its hands rapidly moved backwards. He then heard a voice whispering, "It's time."

"It's time we had a serious talk," Miles said, shaking his brother awake.
Jesse rubbed the sleep and discontent from his eyes and haphazardly got up and threw on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt then followed his brother out the door. He wasn't really awake until he felt Miles rowing the little boat out onto the lake.
"Talk to me about Winnie," Miles said, looking right into Jesse's endless light brown eyes and fixing his gaze there.
"What do you mean? Why would I talk about Winnie? She's dead." Both he and Miles winced at his words.
"Jesse-" Miles began, but trailed off, seeing Jesse close his eyes and take a deep breath. Miles knew he was tired of fighting and ready to consent to his wishes, which he knew deep down were Jesse's own wishes.
"Do you remember how I left that bottle for her?" Jesse started, staring at his feet.
"Yes."
"I knew she'd never drink the water. I knew she'd never bring herself to let go of reality - of life - especially not after that talk Dad with her. But somehow - when we came back here, I expected to find her at that stream waiting for me." Miles nodded and allowed Jesse to continue. "When I found her gravestone, I was hit with a storm of emotion : pain, rage, jealousy - "

"But you said you knew she wouldn't drink it."

"I prayed she would, though. I needed her to, and I thought that something would bring her to me.because of that need alone." Finally looking up and meeting Mile's sympathetic gaze, he said, "I loved her. I thought that would be enough."

"How would it have been for her waiting for you? She didn't know how long it would be before you came back. Not only would she have doubted her decision to live forever.she would have doubted your return. It took over 50 years to come back to this place, Jess."

"I just - I just wanted it to be enough-" Jesse said, his voice breaking under the strain of his holding back tears.

Miles reached out to touch his brother's shoulder, and with this Jesse broke down. Knowing there was little else he could say or do, Miles let him cry and rowed the boat back ashore.

"I think I'm just going to go take a walk," Jesse said after they had returned. Miles simply nodded, and let him go off on his own.

Jesse lay in the field he and Winnie had run hand in hand through
together so many years before. In that hour he spent among the tall
grass and the uninhibited freedom of nature, he replayed every memory
he had of Winnie Foster.
Finally, he allowed himself to get up off of the ground and walk back
to the house. He was contemplating whether or not he ought to eat
dinner that night when he heard a rustling off to the side of the
field. He ducked in the grasses, not wanting to be spotted, when he
saw a girl running through the field. She looked strangely familiar,
but he could not pinpoint exactly why. She stopped running a few feet
away from him, and he saw her clearly.
She wore a pair of jean shorts he had surely never seen before, and an unfamiliar burgundy tank top hugged her figure. But that figure was familiar, as was the gentle brown hair hanging loosely at her shoulders that now flowed beautifully in the gentle breeze. It was impossible, surely. She was a mirage, of course. But could she be real?
She wasn't wearing that 19th century petticoat, but that same helpless
look was in her deep eyes, and despite all the impossibilities, Jesse
knew it was her. It was Winnie. He leapt up and rushed towards her.
"What are you doing?!" she shrieked, as he tried to embrace her.
"Winnie, don't you-"
"How do you know my name?! Are you stalking me?"
"No, of course not.I just don't know how it could possibly be you
after all this-"
"Are you going to rape me? Don't talk me down. I'm not going to try to
run from you. I've been running all day, and I'm tired.but just
please.don't kill me."
"What are you talking about? Why would I do that?" Jesse asked, now thoroughly confused.
"Well, if you don't want your way with me, then what IS it you want?"
It was that defiant spark, that hint of spunk that made him remember
when he had first met her and how she was trying to drink from the
spring. Of course he kept her away from it, and she angrily questioned
him. He realized she didn't recognize him, and for a moment he
wondered if it was really her at all, but something within him told
him that it was.
"What are you running from?"
"My parents. They're nice and all, but we don't see eye to eye at all.
They never let me go anywhere, do anything. I've never been to a
single party in my whole life. I've seen little else besides the
binding in books upon books and the fence around my own yard. I
couldn't take it anymore, so I just ran.and I kept running this
time.and now I think I'm lost."
"Here, come with me. I'll take you home."
"ARE you crazy?! I'm not going to go home with you. I don't even KNOW
you!" The words stung, and Jesse imagined this was the pain that
relatives of Alzheimer's patients felt, but he kept hoping that
something would jog her memory, assuming she had one at all.
"Well, I could walk you home if you want. "
"You know where I live? You creep!"
"No. I know this town better than anyone else, and I know the Foster house is the only one with a fence. I know where we are, so what's it gonna be?"
"No, I am not going home. I'll simply sit here and wait to die." She
said it, not as if she truly meant it but as if she simply couldn't
think of anything better to say and wanted to seem independent.
"Okay. Me too," Jesse said, sitting down next to her, deciding he'd
play her little game.
"Who are you anyway?" she said staring at him, a little annoyed.
"Jesse Tuck," he said extending his hand. She took it reluctantly, and
when she did she looked into his eyes, and he could see that something
had happened. Her features had softened and she looked as if she'd
just had a revelation, but he waited, not wanting to push his luck.
"Tuck," she said, still holding his hand, "I don't believe I've ever
heard that name before. Do you live around here?"
"Have a cottage in the woods, actually."

"Enticing," she said, looking right at him. She finally let go
of his hand, and they stared at each other for a while.
Finally Jesse broke the silence and said, "Look, at least come
back for dinner so you can decide what you're going to do. My
parents will be happy to feed one more.more than happy. We don't
know many people, so we don't have many visitors." Winnie seemed
to mull over it for a while before agreeing with a nod. She took
his hand as he lifted her up and led her towards the cottage.

CHAPTER THREE: REUNION

Jesse wondered how he would explain this phenomena to his family when he brought the futuristic Winnie [Well, compared to the 19th century Winnie] into the house. She certainly had no idea who he was or what was going on, and in that sense it was like the same saga that had unfolded so many years ago unfolding once more.
He maintained the precise one-foot distance he had cautiously kept from her the entire walk as they approached the cottage. Jesse hadn't tried too much conversation or attempted to take her hand. After all, he had been in love with her for decades, but she didn't even know who he was. He didn't know whether to be overjoyed or depressed, to laugh or cry, so he just mused over his own memories and confusion as he watched her intently out of the corner of his eye.

"Wait here a second. I'll be right back," Jesse said to her and walked up the wooden steps to his front door.
He found Angus, Mae, and Miles in the kitchen preparing dinner.
"Ma, Dad, Miles," he began, "I brought someone for dinner."
Seeing Miles was beginning to get angry he decided he'd better finish his story quickly. Miles was still just as uptight about anyone possibly finding out about the spring as he was the first time Winnie came to dinner. "No, Miles. She's been here before.but she doesn't know she's been here before."
The entire Tuck family gazed confused at Jesse waiting for some sort of explanation, because his current one wasn't cutting it.
"Look, I don't know how to explain any better. You'll see for yourself in a minute. You'll know her, but she doesn't know you - like the last time, never mind. Just don't say anything that would indicate you know her, or she'll get confused, and I don't want to scare her away, not this time."
Finding that he was rambling like a raving lunatic, he just shook his head and went out to get Winnie. He motioned her in, and she entered the doorway apprehensively.
Jesse moved forward to re-introduce her to his wide-eyed family members.
"Winnie Foster, this is my mother, Mae Tuck, and my father, Angus Tuck." She extended her hand to each.
"I'm Miles," Jesse's brother said, greeting her.

After an awkward silence, Mae motioned for Winnie and her family to sit down. "I have a pizza in the oven. It'll be out in just a minute." The home oven and oven pizza were developments Angus reluctantly had agreed to, though he still adamantly refused to allow a microwave in his kitchen. Mae was convinced he would eventually crack. They had eternity to break him, after all.
"So, Winnie," Angus said, looking at his empty plate and not at her, "why aren't you eating at home tonight?" Angus knew, of course, but she didn't know that he knew, and he was trying to scope out the situation as delicately as possible.
Winnie felt a certain unexplainable warmth in the Tuck house, and seeing no real need to lie to Tuck, she told him straight out, "I kind of ran away from home. Well, originally I didn't think I would actually run away from home, but rather go on a little adventure away from home.and I got lost. That's when I ran into Jesse." With those words she flashed Jesse a smile that made his heart churn and his face flush. It was like reliving how they had fallen in love in the first place, but he couldn't allow himself to jump to too many conclusions so quickly.
"Don't you think they'll be worried about you? You could use our phone." Angus cringed at his own use of the word "phone", but acting strange around Winnie was far more dangerous than being subservient to modern technology for a day or two. She didn't know their secret, and it was best that it stayed that way, he thought. Winnie or not Winnie, all things considered, she was still a stranger.a stranger who could destroy them once more.
"Oh, I'm sure - - but maybe I can scare them into listening to me for a change. I only have three months to get them to listen to me before I get shipped off anyhow."
"Shipped off where?" Jesse asked, curious to see what the parallel between the past and the present would be. Everything else so far had been identical minus her stumbling upon the spring.
"My parents are convinced I'll attend this prestigious college up north," Winnie said with just a hint of sarcastic snobbery in her voice. "I'm an only child and their only claim to bragging rights. To go where I want to go would debase our family, of course. Fosters simply don't major in music."
"You want to major in music?" Miles asked. He didn't remember Winnie ever showing a real interest in music when they had known her. Maybe she wasn't exactly the same.
"Well when I was little, I always used to hear this little melody outside in the woods. It sounded like one of those little antique music boxes, you know? I always wanted to go out there and find what was making that sound, but of course I couldn't. So I tried to mimic it on the piano. Eventually, I got it, but Mother wouldn't let me play it when she was around. I always had to entertain her guests with little concertos and symphonies. It's always about what they want."
Mae had been pouring glasses of soda [for everyone but Angus who insisted on drinking water] and nearly spilled Winnie's all over her, startled at the mention of the music box. Mae knew it was hers that Winnie had heard, as it had been so long ago.but it was that very music that had gotten them into so much trouble before, and she would not reveal this to Winnie.
"Well, I think what you want to do is beautiful. Don't let anyone stop you," Jesse said smiling.
Winnie smiled back and took a bite of her pizza, which was now on the table. Everyone was very hungry and very confused, and conversation was sparse for the rest of dinner. Winnie seemed comfortable, and Jesse felt the icy cage he had built around his heart melting, but Miles was worried. Miles was very worried.

CHAPTER FOUR: PROMISE

After dinner, Mae led Winnie to the guest bedroom in the house, the same one she had stayed in her first visit to the house. Meanwhile, Jesse and Miles were discussing the situation at hand.

"Where did you find her?" Miles asked.
"I was in the field, and she came running through."
"This is impossible, Jesse. It's not her.it's some relative that coincidentally has the same name and the same parental problems. You know it's crazy. Winnie grew up, got married, and grew old. She's dead."
"Maybe it's some twisted version of karma. You know, a nine lives type of deal?"
"Jesse, I know you want to believe it's her. So do I. But think of how crazy it is."
"Miles, in the past 100 years or so I have to come to realize that nothing is crazy. Look at us. So two days ago I was crying over her grave. Now she's here.in the present. I believe it. I think God is giving me a second chance."
"You're talking about karma and eternal life and God all at once? Jesse, it's crazy. Oh no.you didn't do something freaky to her grave, did you? You didn't dig her up, did you?"
"What? Miles - "
"I know how miserable you were, Jesse, but that's just above and beyond the acceptable-"
"MILES! I didn't do anything to her grave. God, you're the one that's crazy. I just went there. Didn't do anything.except.oh.it couldn't be."
"What? Jesse, what did you do?"
"Remember last night we were talking about that bottle I had left for her.the one with the spring water?"
"Of course! Jesse, answer the question. What did you do?!"
"I poured the bottle over her grave."
"Shit! Jesse, you brought her back! SHIT!"
"What? Miles, it's a second chance!"
"Jesse, we don't know what you fucked with when you did that."
"What could it possibly have done besides start her over? She's alive, and she's seventeen years old, and she doesn't know anything about the spring."
Miles hung his head in his hands for a few moments thinking it all over. "I guess the damage is done," he said. "And let's just hope her being alive now, today, is the only damage it did. You can't tell her about the spring. You know that, right?"
"Why the hell not, Miles?!"
"Jesse, she may be back.but she's still just a stranger to us because she doesn't know our secret. And it has to stay that way. As much as you loved her, her finding us is what almost destroyed our family forever. She can't know."
"But Miles, I'll lose her again."
"Jesse, we'll figure something out. Just promise me you won't tell her."
Jesse stared at the floor.
"JESSE!" Miles yelled, shaking him, "You have to promise me!"
"I promise, Miles. I promise."

CHAPTER FIVE: SMILES

Mae had made pancakes and a fruit salad, and both were seated at the table in front of Winnie, who looked very hungry. Miles and Angus were still sleeping when Jesse came down and sat next to her.
"Good morning," he said.
"Hi," she said shyly, smiling.
"Did you sleep well?" he asked.
"Yes. Your mother set me up very nicely." Mae winked at her.
"Dream of me?" Jesse teased, but noticing her blushing didn't wait for her answer.
"I was thinking," said Mae, coming over to join them, "that maybe you could take Winnie out on the boat across the lake for the day before dinner. I don't know if she's ready to go home, but she's welcome here as long as she likes, and it would be good for you both to get some fresh air."
Jesse could have kissed his mother.
"That sounds great," Winnie said, passing the bowl of fruit salad to Jesse. Her hand stopped on his for just a moment, but she quickly pulled back away to finish eating her meal, blushing.

After they had finished eating, Jesse led Winnie out to the lake and pulled the boat out. He took her hand to help her in.
"So, when'd you graduate?" Jesse asked, deciding not to throw in that if he had a class ring, the first two digits would be 18.
"Last week," Winnie said. "I never liked school much. I mean, school itself was okay.but 'cause of my parents I was never exactly a social butterfly. I wanna get as far away from here as possible so they can't harass me, and I can do what I want, but that's a huge part of it. I have to be able to do what I want."
"I understand that," Jesse said.
"I mean, I didn't even go to prom."
Jesse didn't know much about such things firsthand, but he had heard plenty about them, and he knew it was unusual for any girl, particularly one as beautiful and sweet as Winnie, not to attend such a huge social event.
"Really?"
"No, of course not. My parents wouldn't hear of it. Who would I have gone with anyway? I'm not really close with anyone."
"I would have gone with you," Jesse said, offering a charming smile.

Winnie smiled back, and they continued to row out.
Jesse put his hand in the water as if feeling the temperature. "Hey, can you swim?" he asked, remembering that she couldn't when he first met her.
"No," she said, embarrassed.
"Alright," he said, "tomorrow I'm going to take you somewhere, and you're going to learn."
"I don't know, might be a lost cause."
"It couldn't be a lost cause," he said, gazing into her eyes again. He was trying very hard not to so as not to scare her away, but he couldn't help it. He'd been waiting what seemed forever to look at her again.

Dinner that night was particularly good, and the conversation was a little more lively. Miles and Angus started a heated debate over the pros and cons of television, which was particularly interesting because to the knowledge of all but Winnie, neither of them had ever watched one. Even Winnie jumped in, offering arguments for both sides. Jesse just listened, intrigued, and Mae laughed harder than she had in at least thirty years.
That night, Jesse quietly crept into a chair next to Winnie's bed and watched her sleep.

CHAPTER SIX: DAYS

The next morning Winnie woke up to find Jesse sleeping in the chair. At first she was a little startled, but found some humor in it.
"Jesse," she said, whispering. "Jesse wake up! JESSE!"
He didn't even stir, just continued to sleep there. She was really amused at this point. "Jesse, wake up or I'm going to have to pull a Sleeping Beauty on you!"
She was really about to kiss him to wake him up too.but she saw a little smile run across his lips and realized he was awake. "All right, Prince Charming. Nice try. Now get up and teach me how to swim!"
Now to be funny Jesse pursed his lips and reached out to grab her, but she jumped away.

"So," Winnie said, as they left the cottage, "before I ask you why you were watching me sleep to give you time to think on that one, where are you going to take me?"
"There's this beautiful spot in the woods. There's a waterfall.and my Eiffel Tower."
"Your Eiffel Tower?"
"I built a replica out of rocks. Well, it's not a replica per say, it's a tower of stones. Taller, in fact, if I'm not mistaken. 1,652 steps."
"Hmmm. Impressive. Oh, and I liked the diversion, but I still remember my question. So why were you watching me sleep?"
"I wasn't," Jesse said innocently, but with a devious glimmer in his eyes. "I was sleeping next to you."

They walked together through the woods for a good half hour. Every now and then Jesse would turn his head to look at her. Winnie would pretend not to notice, but discreetly, she'd be smiling. Finally, they reached Jesse's tower.
"This is it."
"You built this?" Winnie asked in awe. "How did you have time?"
"Home schooling. I never went to school."
"Wow, that's something else."
"Oh yeah, I'll take you the top later, but right now," he said, pulling off his shirt and pants leaving him standing in his boxers, "I'll be taking you to the bottom."
When he noticed Winnie blushing profusely he pointed at the pool of water at the base of the waterfall and said, "That bottom."
"Oh," she laughed nervously.
Jesse jumped into the water and returned to the surface. "Well, you coming?"
Winnie removed her shirt but opted to leave her shorts on and hesitated at the edge of the small cliff from which Jesse had jumped. "What if I sink?" she asked earnestly.
"You won't," he said smiling. "I'll catch you."
Winnie remained hesitant for a moment but then jumped off the side into the water. She returned to the surface in Jesse's arms.
"All right," he said, moving her so that she was lying on his hands, his arms supporting her stomach, "now move your arms and legs, and we'll see where we get from there."
Winnie laughed because she could only imagine how stupid she looked but she followed his direction and within 20 minutes she was doing a sloppy dog paddle alongside him. They swam for a while, and when Jesse could see Winnie was looking a little tired, he pulled her over to him and let her wrap her arms around his neck. He held her there so she could relax, and they stared at each other for a minute.
"Ready to keep going?" he asked quietly, never moving his gaze.
"Yes," Winnie said, but she didn't go back into the water. The next thing either of them felt was the other's lips against their own, and they remained that way for a considerable amount of time.
When Jesse opened his eyes again, he saw that the sun was setting.
"Come on," he said, taking Winnie's hand, and lifted her out of the water, "I want to show you the Eiffel Tower."
They walked all 1,652 steps to the top as the sun was just succumbing to the horizon and sat down at the top stone. Winnie let Jesse put his arm around her, and they sat that way until the sky was dark enough to make out the stars. Then they lay down next to each other to get a better view of them all. He kept his arm around her.
Jesse saw Winnie close her eyes.
"Are you tired?" he asked her.
"No," she said, smiling, "I'm making a wish."
When she opened her eyes he asked her, "What did you wish for?"
She pulled herself closer to him and said, "This." With that she kissed him again, and they held each other at the top of the tower for a while before Jesse reluctantly said they ought to be heading back to the cottage. Mae would be worried.
They walked hand in hand home. Mae was waiting up at the kitchen table when they walked in, but she didn't look at all angry.
"Did you have fun?" she asked.
"It was wonderful," Winnie answered, but looked at Jesse and not Mae.

When Mae had retreated to her room, Jesse put his arms around Winnie and started kissing her again.
"This was the best day of my life," Winnie said, looking into his eyes and wondering how such complete happiness could exist without a price.

Jesse nodded but unable to find the words to voice his emotions, he simply kissed her again.
"Good night," he said smiling, and let go of her hand.

Miles was awake when Jesse entered the room.
"You're still up?"
"Well you are, aren't you?" Miles joked. "Come here, I wanted to show you something. I found this."
Miles handed Jesse a yellowed piece of paper. "What is it?" he asked.
"It's a calendar you made the last time Winnie was here - kept track of every single day she was with us."
Jesse counted the tiny X's over the piece of paper.
"Eighteen days."

CHAPTER SEVEN: THE PLAN

Jesse woke up to Winnie lying next to him, looking at him as if she had willed him awake with her stare.
"Good morning," she said, smiling, and kissed his forehead.
"Hey, wanna explain why you're sleeping next to me?" he teased.
"I'm not," she said, rolling over him to get out of the bed. "I was watching you sleep."
"Where do you think you're going?" Jesse asked, grabbing her arm and gently pulling her back to him.
"Breakfast perhaps?" Miles said, laughing as he crawled out from under the bed.
The three of them laughed and left to find a banquet of just about every breakfast food known to man and a few unknown to man that Mae had put together on the table. Angus sat down to eat with them.

The food was amazing, of course, and so were the next two weeks or so. Jesse and Winnie weren't really keeping track of time, though, and Winnie was unconcerned about having left her family. Life was so much sweeter and fuller with the Tucks, especially with Jesse. The two of them spent every waking moment together.and a few half-waking moments as well. One night little more than two weeks after Winnie's return into the Tucks' lives Miles was wearing his occasional very serious expression, expressing a desire to talk to Jesse.

"Jesse, I walked out to the spring today."

"Really." Jesse said, trying to sound uninterested, though he was unsure where Miles was going with this.

"Dad decided we should drain the spring.so no one else can get at it. That gives us one less thing to worry about. Anyway, he's setting on it tomorrow, but I managed to get this."

Miles took a bottle full of water out from under his bed.

"Miles, what do you plan to do with that?"

"Jesse, have Winnie drink it. You don't have to tell her what it is. She'll figure that out when it's time. Right now what's important is that you don't lose her again, and that spring's not going to be there in a few days. Dad will make sure of that."

"Does he know you gave me the bottle?"

"No, he thought it would be best if we took Winnie home after he drains the spring.but if she drinks the water, he won't be able to just take her home."

Jesse sat perplexed for a few moments, trying to take it all in. Everything had been going so well, and finally the complication to his little utopia had shown itself.

"I don't know, Miles, it doesn't seem right."

"Well eventually you were going to have her drink it, weren't you? How else would you stay together? If you wait too long, you'll lose her, and I already told you you can't tell her."

"I don't know."

"Jesse, tomorrow take Winnie for a walk. You two do that often enough anyway. She'll get thirsty, and you can give her the water to drink. She won't know what happened, and when we tell Dad you'll pretend you didn't know it was the spring water. I'll say that when he told me he was draining the spring I wanted to keep a piece of it for myself. All the blame will be on me, and you will get to stay together."

"Why are you doing this anyway, Miles, if you're the one that's going to get hurt?"

"I can't bear to see you the way you were again.the way I was after my wife left me. I won't hear of it."

Miles handed Jesse the bottle. Reluctantly, Jesse took it and stared at it for a long time before putting it under his pillow.

He then took out a box from under his bed and took several hundred dollars from it. It was a stash he had worked up over about a century, and he had finally found the right way to use it, a beautiful plan to complement Miles'. But it was Miles' plan he was still unsure about.