Warning: There is a slight mention of a beating in this story, but it is just a mention. Before you decide not to read because of that mention, keep in mind that this was the 1800's. It was a common punishment back then.
17-year old Jasper Whitlock glanced around the table his family was eating dinner at. This would be the last time for months, maybe even years, that he would see them. His bag was packed and hidden under his bed. When everyone was asleep, he would be leaving to join the cause of the Confederate Army. He had to sneak out because he wasn't old enough to enlist, and his parents would have stopped him.
His gaze started on his father, and then moved over to his mother. After her, it went to his two sisters, 13-year old Louise and 8-year old Grace. Jasper's gaze rested longest on Grace. She was the only one who knew he was leaving. Jasper had told her two weeks ago. He had known he had to tell someone, and he knew Louise would tell their mother, who would get their father to stop him. But Grace would keep his secret, no matter what it took. It was that gift of hers that made them so close.
When Jasper told Grace he'd be leaving for a while, her blue eyes filled with tears, and it broke his heart. Her tears were almost enough to convince him to stay. Almost. She had begged and pleaded for Jasper to stay, but he had told her he had to go. In the end, she promised not to tell a soul, and he knew she wouldn't.
"Grace, it's time to go to bed" Mama said "Come on, I'll help you get ready.
Grace then did something that surprised everyone, including me. She ran over to where I was sitting and reading, and threw her arms around my arm "Can Jasper tuck me in tonight, Mama?"
It took Mama a minute to answer "That's up to Jasper"
Grace turned to me with those big blue eyes of hers that I just couldn't resist "Please Jasper?"
Her eyes told me her motive behind this request. She wanted to say good-bye to me. I nodded "Sure, Gracie. Go let Mama get you ready for bed, and then I'll come in and tuck you in."
Grace smiled, and then ran off into the back of the house with Mama right behind her. I went back to my book to wait until she was ready.
A few minutes later, I looked up and saw Pops looking at me carefully.
"Yeah Pops?" I asked
"Grace is being very clingy of you recently"
I shrugged, "We've always been close."
"She's been lookin' at you in a funny way, too" Pops continued as if I hadn't spoken, "She's had an almost sad look on her face every time your Mama and I separate you two."
I shrugged again "I haven't noticed"
That was a lie. I had noticed. Those looks had terrified me. I felt for sure that I had made a mistake telling Grace. Maybe the secret had been too big for her to keep.
"Louise came to me two weeks ago sayin' you had sent her out of Grace's room where they had been playing. She said you had somethin' secret to tell Grace."
I glared at Louise. Alright, so it was partially my fault for telling her to scram. I should have known she'd tell Pops. She was a gossip and a tattletale, no doubt about it.
"What did you tell Grace, Jasper?" Pops asked me
I shrugged "I told her a secret". What did it matter if I mouthed off to Pops now? I'd be gone in the morning.
Pops frowned "Don't get smart with me, Jasper Whitlock. You know your mama and I don't like secrets in this house, now tell me what you said to Grace."
"I told her I wanted to fight for the Confederacy" I said honestly
Pops looked at me "That's no secret. Half of Houston knows you want to fight."
I looked Pops defiantly in the eyes, silently telling him he wouldn't get anymore out of me.
"Is this secret really worth a lickin' to keep?" Pops threatened "If that's what it'll take to get some honest answers outta you, I'll do it."
He would too. If I didn't tell him, he'd take me out back around the house and beat me until I talked. I'd be so sore that I'd be useless to the army. Luckily, I was saved from answering when Mama came back in.
"Grace is waiting for you, Jasper"
I got up and headed out of the room without meeting Pop's gaze, and walked all the way to the room Grace and Louise shared. Since Louise was older, she got to stay up later.
Grace was waiting right by her bed. I pulled the blankets away from the mattress, and Grace scrambled into bed. Once she laid down, I proceeded to tuck her in tightly, then leaned down and kissed her.
"Good Night Gracie" I said, and turned to leave. I was halfway to the door when she called me back
"Yeah?" I asked, turning around, but not moving back over to her.
"Do you really have to go?"
I took a few more steps to the door and closed it tightly, then walked back over to her bed and sat on the edge "You know the answer to that, Gracie, I already explained it to you. I enlisted, so I have to go."
"But what if you don't come back?" Grace asked in a panicked tone.
I stroked her hair "Now why wouldn't I come back? What could possibly convince me to never see your pretty blue eyes and blonde curls again?"
"I heard Papa and Mama talking, and they said people have died in this war. What if you die, Jasper?'
I sighed. I couldn't promise her I wouldn't die. There were no guarantees in a war. But I couldn't tell her I might die either, she might break her promise and tell Mama and Pops
"I'm gonna make a promise to you, Grace" I said, "I promise I will come back and see you again."
"You promise to come back?"
I nodded and kissed her on the top of her head "And do I ever break my promises?"
Grace shook her head, sending blonde curls bouncing all over the place.
"That's right, I don't" I said "Now I want you to make me a promise too, Grace"
"What?" Grace asked
"I am going to leave Pops and Mama a note explaining everything "I said "And they are going to be upset and worried for a while, and you know Louise will continue talking about things she shouldn't, which will just cause them that much more grief. I want you to promise me you'll be good for Mama and Pops."
"I promise" Grace said
"Good" I said, and then got up and headed out of the room, closing the door softly behind me. Once it was closed, I heard Grace's soft voice as she drifted off to sleep.
"Don't forget your promise, Jasper"
I smiled softly, and then went back out into the family room to grab my book before heading off to my own room for a few peaceful hours before I left.
3 YEARS LATER
I had been hanging up laundry on the line when they came. Officers from the Confederacy. I watched as Papa and Mama came out of the house and went to meet them. I watched them talk for a short time. And then I heard it. I heard the sound that tore my heart to shreds-Mama's cry of agony. She fell to her knees, sobbing and rocking back and forth in the dirt. I dropped the dress I was holding back in the basket, and ran to them. I took Mama in my arms and as she sobbed I looked over her shoulder, and saw Louise running out of the house. She saw the men, and Mama on the ground in my arms, and she covered her mouth, and clutched her stomach as if in pain. Just then, Mama looked up at me.
"He's gone, baby" Mama told me, tears pouring out of her eyes. "Jasper's gone."
I had expected it, and the truth still slammed into me. Gone. Jasper was gone. I stayed with mama until she had Papa pull her back to her feet, and he held her to his side. I saw tears in his eyes, but he wasn't going to cry. Not in front of Mama. Not in front of me or Louise, either.
I walked back to the room Louise and I shared. The window was open to let in some fresh air, and I just collapsed onto my bed, and cried
"You has promised me you'd come back Jasper!" I cried "I had kept my promise! I do chores for Mama when she asks, and I had do everything Papa asked of me, and when I did cause trouble and get punished for it, I didn't give them any grief over it. I did it all for you! Why didn't you keep your promise? Why hadn't you come home?"
Under the shade of a tree not far from the window, I stood watching Pops help Mama inside, and I heard Louise crying form the front door that nobody had shut. All of that hit my unbeating heart hard, but not nearly as hard as what I had heard Grace saying.
"I'm sorry Gracie" I said softly "I am so sorry."
I felt a hand on my shoulder, and turned to see Maria behind me.
"Leave them Jasper, and don't torment yourself." She said "You aren't one of them any more."
So with one more glance back at both the window in Grace's room and the front door, I turned my back on my childhood home, and my family.
Author's Note: Alright, everyone say it with me...AWWW! Wasn't Grace so cute? I read this to a friend before posting it, and she was awwing through the entire story...then got really mad because I stuck to cannon and had Maria change him...lucky, it was Maria she was mad at, not me.