Disclaimer: I do not own the book or movie of Tuck Everlasting or any of the characters.
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"Too fine a day for such a sad face, son."
Jesse Tuck had seen many fine days, more than the gray-haired man behind the counter, and, what's more, he knew how to enjoy them. He would run through wild prairies, scale trees in overcrowded forests, and splash around under roaring waterfalls. He would excite many young girls as he twirled them about to lively music, only to return them to their mothers. No day, fine or stormy, passed without him enjoying each moment. But yesterday changed all that. Yesterday was the first time he had questioned if eternal life on earth was as glorious as he had always believed it to be. And his thoughts were no brighter today.
"I have a lot of work ahead of me. No time to be messing around," he said. This was a lie, for he still had all the time in the world, despite the sudden grievance in his life. The answer was simply easier than what the old man wanted, a smile.
"Well, don't let the sun set without a howdy-do. The weatherman predicts rain for tonight and tomorrow. Your total is 87.29," said the man behind the counter.
Jesse paid the amount and collected his supplies, thanking the man and exiting the shop. The sun shined bright and hot, mocking the weatherman's prediction of rain. The heat shimmered in the air, and Jesse stopped for a moment to wipe the perspiration from his brow. A glaring, white light danced before his eyes. Miles was leaning against an old Ford truck a few cars down, the sun reflecting off his wristwatch.
"Did you get everything we needed?" Miles asked, always straight and to the point.
"Everything but the lumber. The man inside said we should go see Jensen, a farmer across town. He has some planks we can use." Jesse walked over and tossed his bags into the trunk bed.
"Hopefully he'll sell at a decent price." Miles grunted as he heaved his load into the bed, a box of Budweiser included. Seeing his younger brother glance at the box, brow raised, he grinned. "For tonight. We'll need refreshment after the day we have ahead of us, and it might do you some good."
The gloom surrounding Jesse was plain to everyone, and knowing what pained his younger brother, Miles made certain to keep the conversation casual as they collected lumber from Jensen and headed to Foster wood. Miles had arrived at Treegap yesterday, a little after Jesse. The brothers had greeted each other at the small, homely cabin Mae and Tuck had resided in during the late 1800s, well over a century ago. Dilapidated from years of disuse, the cabin was in desperate need of repair, so the brothers decided to begin the necessary work, to prepare for the return of their ma and pa.
Driving as far as the loosely winding road would take them, Miles parked the truck off the side of the road, covered it in underbrush, and began hauling the boards to the house. Jesse had suggested earlier that they cut down surrounding trees to use for the cabin. But the Fosters owned the wood, and the brothers had no desire to add thievery to their list of illegal activities. So they spent most of the day wrestling the purchased boards over underbrush and around overhanging branches. The work was tedious, and the little sunlight remaining was used to remove some rotten boards, and to place tarp over the roof, as the brothers readied themselves for the dark rainclouds forming farther out.
Later that evening, after the smell of incoming rain warned them to settle down for the night, the brothers reclined in the kitchen. Miles thumped the Budweiser box he had purchased earlier onto the table. They had just finished a quick dinner of pork and beans and bacon, caring for cleanliness only to the extent of wiping the spider webs off the kitchen table. They would have gone to put their feet up in the family room, where the couch and chairs faced in every which direction, but mold and rodents had damaged the furniture beyond use. So they rested at the table, leaning back in their chairs, and sipped their beer.
The wall Jesse had carefully built to block his unwanted thoughts and warring emotions came crashing down by his third drink. He hadn't even realized he had drunk beyond his first can; he battled so fiercely to stay above despair. Thinking he was doing his younger brother a favor, Miles had continued to replace his empty cans, along with his own. Drink helped to lesson Mile's pain, and he hoped it would do the same for Jesse. He hated to see his younger brother so still, so hopeless. Jesse was the life of the Tuck family, the one who saw the good amongst all the bad in the world, who saw the good in their everlasting existence. Miles prayed to God that Jesse would throw off the crushing weight his spirit was carrying, and had been carrying since yesterday, when he learned of Winnie Foster's death.
"Do you think she even considered drinking from the spring?" Jesse asked, his voice slurring. "Do you think she considered all our life has to offer?"
Deep down Miles had an urge to backhand Jesse, to tell him their life had nothing to offer. Instead he took another sip from his drink, thinking his younger brother might finally understand the emptiness of a lost love, the same emptiness he felt at the loss of his wife and children.
"We could've explored the world together," Jesse continued. "I could've shown her the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, the Mayan temples, and so much more! We could've had all the time in the world to watch societies age and transform. But that's it, isn't it? Aging. She wanted to grow up, to have kids."
Miles remained silent, chewing his bottom lip.
"She didn't want to stay stuck at 17 while everyone around her, all her friends and family, went on with life, aging and dying. Pa must have gotten to her. Him and his cursed wheel of life. He's never learned to accept what we have. But maybe that's not it. Maybe she refused to drink from the spring because of me." He slumped over his can on the table, his hands limp before him.
"Jess," said Miles imploringly.
But Jesse didn't hear him. "Maybe she disliked the idea of being around someone who will forever be 17. I remember the time we had together – swimming in the river, exploring the forest, dancing beside the campfire. It was the best time of my life. I'd never had a girl kiss me before. I'd never met one with so much spirit. But is it possible? Did our time together only mean something to me? Did I leave no impression on her?"
"Jess, come on, don't do this."
"What if it's true, Miles?" said Jesse, his voice cracking. "What if she never loved me? I told her how I felt. How it was impossible for me to go on without her. That I would love her until the day I died. I've only lasted to this point with the hope that she was waiting for me. But she wasn't. And she found someone else." Tears were openly streaming down his face.
"That's enough," Miles yelled, pounding his fist on the table. "You're not allowed to do this. You love this life we have, and nothing can take that love from you. I know what it is to lose pieces of your heart. My wife abandoned me, Jess, taking the children with her. Do you think I've carried on by dwelling on what happened, on everything that made her want to leave me? Forget about Winnie's husband. Forget about Winnie."
"You can't ask me to do that," Jesse exclaimed, his eyes wild with anguish. "Winnie was my one and only. We were going to stay together, keeping each other company for all time. No more loneliness, just day after day of traveling, exploring, and dancing. But she left me. She stayed away from the spring, and she died." Sobs racked his body. "I can't do this…. I can't go on…. This life is meaningless without her…. The joy is gone."
Maddened at his brother's refusal to stop, Miles shoved his chair out and jerked his brother up by the collar. Both slightly swayed as they stumbled their way outside. Rain pelted the forest floor, soaking the brothers instantly. They had both been too deep in their sorrow to hear the rain, but they quickly began to sober under its freezing influence. Lightning flashed in the distance, momentarily lighting up their faces.
"Life always goes on, Jesse," Miles yelled above the rolling thunder. "You may have loved Winnie, and you may be heartbroken at her choice to move on, to not stay like us, but you will continue to breathe in and out. Days will continue to pass, and then, before you know it, months, and then years."
Jesse was unresponsive. He stared out into the woods, his tears blending with the rain. In his mind's eye he could see Winnie's headstone, positioned over the spring, surrounded by a field of white flowers.
Not knowing what images trapped his younger brother's mind, Miles continued. "In all the time we've lived, ever since we first drank from that spring, I've never seen you sorry to be alive. Ma, Pa, and I get tired, but not you. You live in the moment, enjoying it, wanting to see and do more. I can't stand seeing you like this." He placed a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Hopefully Winnie wasn't the only one you loved."
These final words sunk through to Jesse. Turning toward his older brother, Jesse embraced him. He loved his family, eternal life uniting them or not. But his love for them would never surpass the love he held for Winnie.
"Let's go back inside. We'll catch our death out here." He attempted a smile.
"Yeah, I'm ready to hit the sack," said Miles. Then, looking sheepish, he added, "The beer may not have been such a good idea."
This comment brought a genuine smile from Jesse, and they both went inside to bunk down for the night. Mae and Tuck would come tomorrow, and they had a lot of work remaining on the cabin. As Jesse drifted off to sleep, with a warm coverlet pulled up to his chin, he remembered the soft, sweet feeling of Winnie's lips as she kissed him beneath the starry sky so many years ago.