Idgie watched as her thirteen-year-old daughter vanished into the woods where she herself had spent so much time at the same age, and for the same reason: the girl was heartbroken. Less than ten minutes before, Grady Kilgore had come into the café to inform Idgie and Ruth that their daughter's best friend, a boy named Patrick McGuire, had died that afternoon in an accident on the railroad tracks. Little Bit had come in as Grady was leaving and asked him what had happened on the tracks because her brother had told her that someone died. Grady looked at her helplessly then looked to Ruth and Idgie; as they started towards her, understanding dawned in Little Bit's eyes and she ducked back through the door and took off running.
"Honey…Idgie, come back," Ruth called, starting to follow her, but Idgie put a hand on her arm.
"Let her go, Ruth. You cain't help her right now. The best thing you can do is be here for her when she comes back to us."
Ruth knew she was right, but it felt wrong to stand here and watch her daughter's receding figure be swallowed by trees. "When do you think she'll be back?" she asked the woman next to her.
Idgie shook her head, "When her heart heals up a little, I guess. I don't know how long it'll take her. She just lost half of herself, Ruth…she's gonna hurt for a long time over that boy." To herself, Idgie wondered if this were somehow her fault. She had thought Ruth was joking when she first suggested naming the girl Little Idgie, but Ruth had been serious and the name had stuck; since then, she'd be damned if that girl's life hadn't been almost a duplication of her own, down to this tragedy and Little Bit's taking off. Sure, she had been an influence on Little Bit (the girl wore more of Stump's hand-me-downs than anything else, and spent more time in the woods than in school)…but had she condemned her to repeat Idgie's own past by sharing her name? She shook her head again and followed Ruth back inside, waving at Grady as she did.
Later that night, Idgie came home to find Ruth standing at their window, staring towards the dam where she knew her daughter most likely was. She walked over and wrapped her arms around Ruth, murmuring as she did so, "Leave her be, Ruth. She'll come home when she's ready."
"Oh, Idgie…" Ruth turned and buried her face in Idgie's shoulder. "I just keep thinking of the day God brought her to us, and hoping we don't lose her now."
Idgie hugged her more tightly as her mind, too, played back the day Little Bit had joined their family.
Idgie stood on the front steps of the house she and Ruth had bought, drinking in the cool morning air. She knew that within a few hours, it would be hot enough to fry eggs on the tin roof of the house behind her. Humming to herself, she stepped down and made her way to the café to begin getting ready for a new day.
Buddy, Jr. was spending the weekend in Birmingham with the Hadleys, and things at home just weren't the same without him. It was nice, though, Idgie reflected, to spend some time just her and Ruth, without having to worry about where their five-year-old son was or if he was going to turn up at an inopportune moment. They'd been out late last night, strolling through the fields and woods where they had spent their first summer together, and Idgie had volunteered to open the café herself this morning so Ruth could sleep in.
Gradually, her hum turned to a whistle as she walked; the simple tune was an old hillbilly song about lost love, one that always made her think of Ruth. Nearing the café, she noticed that sometime during the night, a bundle of fabric had been blown onto the porch. She made her way up the steps and stooped to grab the bundle before going in.
Putting her hands on the fabric, Idgie realized that there was something wrapped in it, and crouched down to see what it could possibly be; her whistle faded as she pulled the outermost layer down to reveal the face of a sleeping baby. Frowning, she picked up the baby and sat down on the bench outside the door. Cradling the infant, Idgie carefully searched the rest of the blankets for a note or letter, anything that would tell her who's baby this was and why it was on the porch of The Whistlestop Café. There was nothing.
Nonplussed, Idgie sat on the bench a while, staring at the child sleeping in her arms; she couldn't think of anyone in Whistlestop to whom the baby could belong, nor could she imagine anyone choosing to leave a baby here instead of at one of the churches. After a few moments she decided that she would simply do what she always did when life surprised her: tell Ruth. She was starting down the steps when her new friend began to stir, opening eyes precisely the same shade of blue as Idgie's own. Looking at that angelic face, Idgie fell in love. She began to smile and talk nonsense as she wondered how, exactly, she was going to explain to Ruth why she was home and carrying a baby.
Ruth, of course, was awake; 'sleep in' just wasn't part of her vocabulary. She looked up, startled, as Idgie came in. "Idgie Threadgoode," she exclaimed, "I thought you were going to open the café this morning."
Idgie looked a little indignant. "I said I was, didn't I? I just got a little sidetracked when I got there."
"What do you mean, sidetracked? And what are you carrying?"
"Well, Ruth honey, that's what I'm talking about. I found a mysterious package left on the porch and so I decided to bring it home to show you."
Ruth looked suspicious. "It couldn't keep until I came to the café?"
"See for yourself," was Idgie's response, holding out the now-squirming baby for Ruth, who instinctively opened her arms.
"Oh, Idgie…is it a boy or a girl?" Ruth, like Idgie, immediately fell in love.
"A girl, I checked," replied Idgie, "and in the sunlight, her hair is exactly the same color as yours."
"Well, her eyes match yours, Idgie. And so does her face. If she had blonde hair I'd say it was you all over again." Ruth looked up at Idgie. "What are you planning on doing with her?"
"Well…" Idgie hesitated. She knew they didn't really need another kid, but something about the little girl tugged at her heartstrings. Children were never a part of her adolescent daydreams about the life she would share with Ruth…but now that they had one, and a chance for another, she found herself desperately wanting this addition to their little family. And seeing Ruth sitting there, cuddling this baby and talking nonsense to her, just made her want it even more. As usual, Ruth looked like she already knew what was going through Idgie's mind. "I know we don't really NEED another kid..." her voice trailed off.
Ruth smiled, "I want her, too, Idgie."
And that was that. Buddy, Jr. came home the next day to find himself in possession of a new baby sister, by the name of Little Idgie. Momma and Poppa Threadgoode were delighted to have yet another grandchild, and the town accepted the addition to the Threadgoode/Jamison household with joy.
Sighing, Idgie turned and led Ruth to bed; there was nothing they could do right now, so they might as well at least try to get some sleep.
Four years later, Little Bit had at least partly rejoined the world. She wasn't the same girl she had been before, but she helped out in the café, and she spent time with her family, and she did spend most nights in the Threadgoode house (Ruth and Idgie had moved in after Momma and Poppa Threadgoode died). She still didn't spend much time in school, but she at least didn't live in the woods any longer, much to Ruth's relief.
Idgie and Ruth recognized the girl's somewhat eccentric behavior as much the same as the way Idgie had acted at seventeen, grieving for her brother Buddy and spending all her time down at the river club, but that didn't make them worry any less. They both knew that the only thing that had saved Idgie from herself was Ruth; unless someone could get through to Little Bit, she would likely spend the rest of her life brokenhearted.
Remembering how Momma Threadgoode had dealt with Idgie's broken heart, Ruth had invited her cousin's daughter, Brianna, to spend the summer with them in Whistlestop. Hopefully, the girl would be a friend to Little Bit and get her to stop living in the past. At the very least, she'd be a welcome addition to the rest of the family.
So it was with mingled excitement and anxiety that Ruth, Idgie, and Stump met Brianna at the train station one afternoon in late April. Little Bit was nowhere to be found, of course; she would turn up when she was ready, and not a moment before.
Brianna Lucas was one of the prettiest girls Whistlestop ever did have the pleasure of seeing; her blonde hair fell in waves to her shoulders, and her green eyes seemed to dance when she laughed, which was often. She was tall and slender, nearly Ruth's height, but with a fuller face and creamy skin sprayed with freckles; her voice was a lilting, refined drawl and her laugh infectious. She fit in easily with their little family, cracking jokes with Idgie, teasing Stump, and exclaiming to Ruth how much she already loved Whistlestop; it was so very different from Valdosta, where she'd grown up.
She had a way with words, almost like Idgie; but where Idgie used her gift to tell tall tales and get out of trouble, Brianna used hers to write the most beautiful poetry. It wasn't unusual to find her staring dreamily at random objects, pencil in hand, writing down whatever thoughts came into her mind, and they all teased her about it good naturedly.
After supper that night, eaten at the café with Idgie and Ruth eating in shifts while the other tended to customers, Stump left to spend time with his girl, Peggy Hadley, and Ruth and Idgie walked Brianna to the Threadgoode house. Neither of them was particularly surprised to see Little Bit waiting on the porch railing, head leaned back, eyes closed. She kept her eyes closed until both her parents had passed her, then stole a quick glance at the newcomer; she was not expecting the girl to be looking back. Ruth and Idgie had stopped inside the screen door to watch, knowing their daughter well enough to know that she would peek at Brianna after they had passed. As such, they were in perfect position to watch as Brianna stood inspecting their daughter, and Little Bit opened her eyes, thinking herself unwatched.
Little Bit found herself looking into a pair of green eyes the likes of which she'd never seen before; her breath caught in her throat and her heart jumped up to join it in a split second. Idgie and Ruth were also, from the vantage point of the screen door, able to see Little Bit promptly fall off the railing into the flower bed.
"Idgie Threadgoode," called Ruth before she could help herself, "don't you squash my daisies. Your mother planted them for me." The mother in question had collapsed into giggles in the entryway.
Little Bit stood up, glaring in the direction of the laughter she could hear emanating from the door and dusted herself off. "I didn't hurt them, Momma," she called back to Ruth, then began walking across the yard.
"Wait," called Brianna, "You must be Little Idgie; I didn't mean to startle you."
Little Idgie turned. "You didn't 'startle' anybody; I just decided it was time for me to go." She had long since perfected her namesake's drawl, and the words came out in a blend of sarcasm and sincerity that made Idgie hoot with laughter and Ruth shake her head in dismay and step out onto the porch.
"Idgie Threadgoode, where are you going? You know I don't want you down at that river club."
Little Idgie waved a hand over her shoulder in acknowledgment and kept walking.
Brianna looked from Ruth to Idgie and asked "What did I do?" looking so confused that she set Idgie off on another laughing attack; Ruth sat the girl down on the porch swing and attempted to explain her daughter, joined by Idgie when she regained her breath.
Little Bit kicked at stones in her path. How could she have made such a fool of herself? And she knew what her mommas were up to, knew they had invited Brianna to stay the summer in hopes that she would get Little Idgie to act more like a civilized human being; she had been quite prepared to cheerfully loathe the girl and dedicate her time to making Brianna miserable. But those pretty green eyes, staring so intently into her own, had been so unexpected; Idgie kicked another rock and muttered to herself, "Pretty eyes, sure. Who ever fell off a porch for a pair of pretty eyes?" She stopped, remembering the face that framed those eyes, and thought that maybe it was okay to fall off a porch railing for a face like that…then snorted and started walking again. Idgie was never going to let her live this down.
For her momma's sake, she did not, in fact, go to the river club; instead she went to the dam and sat on the edge, feet dangling, ears filled with the roaring of the water. She felt like swimming but the weather still wasn't quite warm enough, and she knew better than to come home dripping wet; her momma would skin her alive.
She did take off her shoes and wade a bit, wary of the water moccasins that sometimes had the same urge for a nighttime swim. After a while, she got tired of the cool water and skipping rocks, and started for home, equally wary of what she might find there.
The house was quiet when she walked up, and Stump's car was in the driveway. His room and the guest bedroom were dark, although a light was on in her parents room; for this reason, she climbed the rose trellis and then crawled in her window, rather then going inside and walking past their door. Once inside, Little Bit shed her shoes and trousers, then crawled into bed in her overlarge button-down shirt and slept the fitful sleep of those still stinging from Cupid's arrow.