While I do believe that Jess and Leslie were soul mates that were meant to be together (AKA married) this story is just about their friendship. No kissing, or anything like that.
I guess it goes without saying that Leslie…uh...the thing that happens has never happened….
Enjoy and please review! Honest feedback is appreciated, peeps!
Because the summer heat was so unbearable both May Belle and Joyce Ann begged to sleep downstairs nearly every day. They fought Brenda for the couch next to the door, where an occasional breeze would come and relieve them, and after many tantrums Mrs. Aarons had ordered Brenda to give up the couch to the little girls, therefore leaving Jess alone in their room. He didn't mind.
His dad went to Washington nearly every day so he could work for the air conditioning they used during the day and night. Toward the start of July that air conditioning made a little difference, for without it the house seemed like a blazing oven and sweat poured down one's forehead into his eyes. However, air conditioning or no air conditioning, the heat was enough to drive one crazy.
Sixteen-year-old Jess lay on his bed drawing, propped up against his pillow. He was sweltering from the heat even as the air conditioning blew lightly from the vent into his room. He tried to ignore the oven-like temperature as he drew the planks that made a bridge across the stream not so far from his house…the bridge into Terabithia, the land he and Leslie…well, Leslie mostly…had created back when they were ten. Even now they crossed the bridge from time to time, to sit in the stronghold and let their horrid school day troubles get taken away.
Jess scratched his pencil across the paper, back and forth, back and forth, creating little shadows between the planks of wood and below the trees. He tried to capture the awe and wonder he felt whenever he looked at the real-life bridge; he tried to place it—whatever the exact feeling was—into the picture. Since the heat was impossible for him to ignore he put several wilting plants off to the side, just to give people who would look at his drawing a clue about high temperature, or maybe just because he felt like it. That was what he loved about drawing...he could do anything without question...
He was so absorbed in his work he didn't hear a knock on his door.
He looked up. Leslie stood at his door, in a tank top and pajama shorts, blonde hair pulled up to keep her neck cooler. She was moist with sweat and her cheeks were pink. "About time you noticed I was here."
"Hey," Jess said happily as he put his drawing away. "How come you came at night?"
"Well…" Leslie said, "Your momma said I'd have to ask you, but she said it was okay with her. See, our air conditioning blew out before dinner today and my dad still can't figure out how to fix it, and you know how it is to have to sleep with no air conditioning—"
Jess patted the space beside him. "Hop in."
Leslie beamed and entered his room. Once Jess had lifted himself higher he saw PT trailing after her.
"Do you mind if PT is with me?" Leslie asked hesitantly as the dog sprang up on the bed. "I mean—"
"You know I don't mind, Les, just get in here," Jess said as he made room for her. "I want to show you this."
Leslie rolled her eyes but slid in next to him as PT curled into a ball at their feet. Jess had thrown his covers to the ground to rid his bed of excess heat, so the dog merely scratched at the mattress sheet and lay down. Jess opened his book and flipped over to his drawing. Leslie studied it for a moment as a smile spread over her face, then said quietly, "It's great, Jess. Really. It must have taken a lot of effort."
"Yeah, well." He had never been good at receiving complements, even if they were from his best friend.
"Maybe we can hang it in the castle."
Jess smiled. Five years later they still had their "castle" in Terabithia to retreat to. "Maybe."
They were quiet for a time, as Leslie gently flipped through his book to look at more of his recent drawings. After a while Mrs. Aarons came to the door and knocked.
"Don't stay up too late," she said as she came in the room. "Leslie, do you want me to get you a pillow or blankets or something?"
"No, thank you, ma'am," Leslie said, sitting up a little bit; Jess did the same. "I don't think we need blankets, and I can use Jess's pillow."
Mrs. Aarons nodded and her eyes looked over to Jess. For some reason he felt embarrassed to look at his mother. "Well," Momma said. "Good night, then."
"Good night," they answered, and Leslie said, "Thanks for letting me stay here, Mrs. Aarons."
Jess's mother nodded and smiled wearily. "Not a problem. Sleep well."
Leslie went back to looking at his drawings. PT yawned and stretched at the end of the bed.
"I bet he wishes he didn't have all that fur right now," Jess said as he wiped a blanket of sweat off his forehead.
"Probably," Leslie said, looking fondly at the dog. She yawned as well and rubbed her eyes. "We should cut his fur. It's getting long around his eyes."
"No, thanks. Remember the last time we tried to give him a bath?"
For a minute both of them thought of the chaotic day where they had chased PT two miles down the road and back, dripping water and soap everywhere, screaming for him to stop running from water. PT had somehow ran through every mud puddle there was and managed to splash them thoroughly by the time they arrived, gasping for breath and flat-out furious, back at Leslie's house. PT had stood waiting for them with mud dripping from his coat and a smile on his face.
"We'll tie him down this time," Leslie said, nudging the dog with her foot. PT nipped her toe affectionately.
"If we even get that far…" Jess put his drawing book away again and lay back down next to his friend. He made sure he couldn't hear anyone outside the door, then whispered, "I want to go to Terabithia."
Leslie smiled. "We'll go first thing tomorrow."
"Why not now?"
"How would we explain it to your family if they caught us sneaking out of your house at ten-thirty at night?" Leslie moved her hair off her neck, laying it across the top of the pillow. "Plus, how could we find anything in the dark?"
"You always were the cautious one, Jess!" Leslie laughed at him. "And I always did stuff without thinking. Why are we all mixed up?"
Jess shrugged. "Maybe it's colder in Terabithia."
"First thing tomorrow," Leslie promised him. Then they were quiet.
After a few moments Jess said, "Maybe there's a reason why I'm so cautious now."
"Because…" Jess felt as though his stomach had been kicked as he said it, "that one day. When…when the rope…."
He heard her breath catch in her throat and he looked over at her. She was looking at him, too. Her face had gotten a little pale.
"I remember," she whispered. Jess's eyes flickered to the top of her head, where a tiny but perfectly visible scar still stretched across her hairline.
They gazed at each other for a long time, both of them reliving the horror…remembering…
"If you hadn't pulled me out…." Leslie trailed off.
"You could swim," shrugged Jess. "But I…I panicked. I wouldn't have been able to stop myself from jumping in."
Leslie sighed a little and wiped another layer of sweat from her face. Jess did the same. "No," she said. "I would have drowned."
"I wouldn't have lived with myself if you did," Jess mumbled. Leslie looked at him silently, lips twitching in a half-smile.
They were quiet for yet another long period of time. Somehow they didn't need to talk; all their feelings and emotions were felt freely between them and didn't have to be mentioned. Leslie put her finger through a small rip in his pillow and fingered it absentmindedly. PT, breathing deeply at their feet, jerked a little and made soft sniffs in his sleep.
"Leslie?" Jess said suddenly.
"I'm glad you're still with me."
She snorted. "Good to know."
"I mean it," Jess said softly. "I'm so happy you and your parents moved here five, six years ago. I'm glad you invented Terabithia for us."
"I'm glad I moved here, too," Leslie smiled. "Terabithia wouldn't have come to my mind if it hadn't been for you."
He liked that answer. Leslie always made him feel more powerful, more important. "What if you hadn't moved here?"
Leslie's eyes sparkled with amusement. "We'll never know, Jess."
"What if you move away?"
"What if I move away?"
"Yeah. Like, if your parents told you tomorrow you guys were moving back to Arlington. What would we do?"
"I'd come and visit you every weekend."
"What if you move so far away you can't visit me?"
"I'll still find a way to get to you."
"What if you can't?"
"Then I'll walk. I'll use my own two feet."
"What if you get too tired to walk?"
"A queen never loses strength," Leslie told him. "Not in her legs, not in her heart. I would get tired but, Jess, you better believe I would still keep walking."
Jess thought a moment, then said, "What if it takes so long for you to get here I lose hope you'll ever come?"
"Don't ever lose hope, Jess," Leslie said softly. "I'll always find a way to be with you."
Jess was satisfied with this answer, and he closed his eyes, a smile on his face. After a couple minutes of silence, another thought came into his head.
"Yes, Jess?" Leslie was everlastingly patient.
"If one of us were to die tomorrow…how could we see and talk to each other?"
"We wouldn't be able to," Leslie told him. "But you would never leave me and I would never leave you."
"We are connected at the heart." The voice she used was her Queen voice, but the words she said sounded so natural and real Jess didn't think of what she said as make believe. She turned and looked at him and, seeing the worry in his eyes, said quietly, "I'll always be with you, Jess."
"What if you had died?" Jess whispered. His voice was getting quieter and quieter. "What if you had died that one day when the rope broke?"
"Oh, Jess," she murmured. "We can't stop God's will. He will take me when the time is right. Just as He will take you. But even if you're here and I'm up there I would still watch over you and guard your life if I could. I'd still be with you."
"Like a guardian angel," said Jess, grinning.
"I would prefer to be alive, here with you, then some guardian angel," Leslie said.
Jess pushed a piece of her hair off her face. "You," he told her, "are both."
Leslie just gazed at him with her beautiful, loving eyes. Jess knew what she could not say and just looked at her back, trying to convey his understanding. Leslie knew. Their feelings were unspoken, yet they had always understood each other.
Jess looked at the clock. It was past eleven. He reached over Leslie and turned off his light, throwing their vision into darkness. He heard her yawn.
"You sure you don't want to go to Terabithia now?" he asked teasingly.
Leslie chucked softly. "Too tired, Jess. Even Queens get tired sometimes. I didn't know Kings never do."
Jess laughed. "So, first thing tomorrow?" he asked, concealing a yawn himself.
"Right after breakfast," she murmured back. Jess felt her snuggle up against him, her head resting lightly at his neck. He found it extremely comfortable.
"I'm not going to sleep unless that air conditioner picks up a bit," he said softly.
"Try sleeping in my house," Leslie laughed. She yawned again. "'Night, Jess."
It was silent in the room except for the hum of the air coming up through the vent and the occasional owl outdoors. Downstairs Jess could hear the creek of the couch as one of his sisters tossed in their sleep, trying to keep cool.
"What if the air conditioner blew out?"
Leslie sighed heavily, half in exasperation, half in amusement. He felt the warmth of her breath against his neck. "Then maybe we could go to Terabithia…."
Okay, a couple things. First, there was a really cool quote I found on the Internet a couple days ago. If reminded me of Jess and Leslie.
"The friendship between a man and a woman which does not lead to marriage or desire for marriage may be a life long experience of the greatest value to themselves and to all their circle of acquaintance and of activity; but for this type of friendship both a rare man and a rare woman are needed. Perhaps it should be added that either the man or the woman thus deeply bound in lifelong friendship who seeks marriage must find a still rarer man or woman to wed, to make such a three cornered comradeship a permanent success." – Anna Garlin Spencer
Second (SPOILERS), I plan to do a one shot about the day the rope fell…and despite my beliefs of Leslie's death truly needing to happen for Jess to fully understand her lessons, and that her death was meant to be, a part of me still yearns for Leslie to still be alive. So I'll put it into a "what if Jess had never gone to the museum and Leslie just fell into the creek and didn't hit her head" kind of story (btw if Leslie had hit her head she most certainly would have died and Jess, had he been there or not, could have done nothing to save her, as much as I wish that weren't true!). The scar mentioned in this story could just have been a scrape against a log or something as she was in the water.
Thank you for reading! (And for those of you still reading "So Changed", I apologize for the delay in updating, but I've come across a really nasty case of writer's block for that story. I have to wait for the words to come…)
Bye! Please review!