"Jess and Leslie, sitting in a tree..."


Mad Tom


Standard disclaimer, I do not own the characters and am not using them for profit. They belong to Katherine Paterson and David Paterson, Walt Disney Pictures, Walden Media etc.

Back by popular demand! I hadn't really planned on doing any more Bridge to Terabithia fanfics beyond Groundhogs at Terabithia and the darker Last Battle of Terabithia. But I've gotten a number of reviews and PMs asking for a sequel to Groundhogs. As I've told several people with whom I've corresponded, and actually stated on one of my reviews of her works, NarnianMelody is my official "Go To Gal" for Bridge to Terabithia "Leslie Didn't Die" fanfics. Her universe is pretty much along the lines of my Groundhogs storyline except for details in the way Jesse saves Leslie's life the day the rope broke.

But I just had this one story left in me. Chapter1 is mostly moments of bonding between Queen Leslie and Princesses May Belle and Joyce Ann. And if we continue my storyline of Groundhogs, this is essentially what I see happening with Jess and Leslie several years down the road. The characters are more or less the same ages as they are in Last Battle, but with a much more joyous if not outright fluffy occasion.

Chapter 1

"Are you sure Mom and Dad aren't gonna count this as your wedding present?" May Belle asked, only half-jokingly.

"Of course they aren't!" Jesse replied. "Leslie and I paid for the darned thing. Dad just got it for us cheap at his store!"

"The darned thing" was an electric generator. He'd driven his dad's pickup as far into the woods as he could with it, and now he and Leslie were trudging it the rest of the way to the creek, while his sisters, sixteen year old May Belle and eleven year old Joyce Ann, walked along on either side of the wheelbarrow trying to keep it and the rest of the contents from falling out. Prince Terrien walked along close to his mistress's heels.

"Besides," Leslie added, "it isn't like this is something we're going to be using at our apartment when we go back to school. This is for Terabithia, meaning you two..." she nodded toward Jesse's sisters, "are going to be using it way more than we are while we're away at school."

"Electricity in Terabithia?" Joyce Ann wrinkled her nose. "Jess, that's like you switching your major from Painting to Computer Graphics!"

"Hey, it's a Royal Edict, Joyce Ann!" he said, then shot a loving smile at Leslie. "And not from me! The Queen has spoken!"

"Yeah!" May Belle laughed. "The same Queen whose parents still don't have a TV in the house! Go figure!"

"That just proves something Leslie and I learned a long time ago, May Belle. "You are not your parents. Leslie isn't her mom or dad, any more than you or I or Joyce Ann are Mom or Dad!"

"Besides," Leslie smiled, "there's nothing in the Constitution of Terabithia that says you have to be a Luddite to be a Terabithian!"

"What constitution?" Joyce Ann squinted.

"The one Jess and Leslie have been making up in their heads as they go along for the last nine years!" May Belle laughed.

"And what's a Luddite?"

"Look it up in the dictionary, Joyce Ann!" May Belle continued to laugh. "You'll find a picture of Mr. and Mrs. Burke!"

"Watch it, May Belle!" Leslie glared at her. "It's still not too late for me to change my Maiden of Honor!"

"I'm sorry, Leslie!" May Belle said quickly. "I'll be good! I promise!" How many girls get to be the Maiden of Honor at a wedding at sixteen? Even if it's your brother marrying the girl next door, an only child with no sisters of her own. She wasn't going to blow it like the older Aarons girls, Brenda and Ellie, who had long ago forfeited any chance of getting that honor. Probably that first day Jesse brought Leslie in the house when they were in Fifth Grade, and Brenda and Ellie referred to them as "Weird and Weirder," thinking wrongly that the young couple were out of earshot.

"My parents may be a lot of things--" Leslie continued, "Bohemians, latter-day hippies-- but if they were Luddites, they wouldn't have been driving nothing but Mercedes SLs since before I was born! And I'm not a Luddite. It's just that setting up electricity out here hasn't been a priority. Until now."

They reached the bridge and set down the wheelbarrow. Jess and Leslie, who were both on Track and Field scholarships at Eastwood University, and May Belle who was both on the track team and in the Junior ROTC program at Lark Creek High, weren't even really winded, but they gave Joyce Ann a couple of minutes to catch her breath.

"Everyone ready?" Leslie continued. "Right there on the pallet. Joyce Ann, you've got the gas can." She and May Belle grabbed one side of the mounting frame of the generator while Jesse grabbed the other side. "On three. One, two, three!"

They lifted the device out of the wheelbarrow bed and walked it the few steps to a wooden forklift pallet that Leslie had set up near the base of the bridge on an earlier trip. "Ready, down," she said. They set it down, and Joyce Ann brought up the rear carrying a red plastic five gallon can of gasoline.

"Okay, thanks, Jess," Leslie smiled. "Us girls will take it from here."

He glanced over at the frayed remains of the old rope swing on the overhanging branch just past the bridge on the same side of the creek. "You sure you don't need me for anything?" he asked, a little anxiety coming through in his voice.

"Jess," she replied with a little exasperation, "we've been talking about this ever since we set the date! This is something I've been dreaming about ever since our first kiss, if not before that! This is my project! Your seeing any part of it is like seeing me in my wedding gown before the ceremony. Bad mojo!"

"Okay," he sighed and forced a smile. He fished in his pocket for the keys to the pickup and placed them in her hand. "Your Majesty, I leave you in the capable hands of Their Royal Highnesses! And vice-versa." He bowed formally, then placed his hands on her waist and kissed her.

"We should be done before dinnertime," she smiled. He started running back toward the cattle pasture and the road home.

May Belle waited until her brother was out of sight. "It's amazing! It's been nearly half your lifetimes ago, more than half my lifetime ago, and he still gets anxious about leaving you behind in the woods, even with me and Joyce Ann with you."

"Yeah, he can be a little overbearing and overprotective when he gets like that, but that's a big part of why I love him so much," Leslie turned to her. "Remember, that's the guy you told me you wanted me to keep instead of your quote-unquote real brother!"

They both laughed. "And I still do!" May Belle replied.

"I guess I need him to be overprotective," Leslie added. "God only knows how many other times he's kept me from getting seriously hurt or doing something stupid, besides that day on the rope swing. I keep my eyes on the stars, and Jess keeps my feet on the ground."

"And since when are you a Casey Kasem fan?" May Belle smiled.

Leslie looked at her sourly. "For your information, Casey Kasem stole that quotation from Theodore Roosevelt, my family's biggest hero! In fact, TR's family put that quotation at the gateway to his burial plot in Oyster Bay, New York."

"Oh!" May Belle shrugged. "I never knew!"

"Neither do most Casey Kasem fans!" Leslie sighed. She looked up through the forest canopy at the broken clouds. "It's not supposed to rain until much later if it rains at all, but just in case, you guys should set up your pup tent first, then we'll get started on running the lights and extension cords out to the Castle."

"Pup tents," May Belle said. "I was able to talk Major Padilla into letting me sign out four shelter halves from ROTC supply."

"Great! Joyce Ann, I'll help you with yours. May Belle, you'll just have to talk us through it."

They stepped back to the wheelbarrow and May Belle started handing out some of the items in it. "Okay, first unroll the ground mat. Then put the air mattress on top of it, then the sleeping bag. We can blow up the air mattresses with the electric pump later, after we're done at the Castle..."

May Belle directed Joyce Ann and Leslie in snapping together the shelter halves, assembling and raising the tent poles and stretching and staking down the corners of the shelter. She was consciously not being authoritarian, not being a Cadet First Sergeant talking to a bunch of 9th Graders, never forgetting that she was still talking to her little sister and her future sister-in-law over three years her senior. But she was strictly business. They set up the two tents on either side of the bridge approach. After they were done, she suggested, "Hey, Leslie, since we're worried about the possibility of showers tonight, why don't we take the rest of the stuff to the Castle and then save stringing the cords and lights for last?"

"Good idea!" Leslie replied, then led them back to the wheelbarrow. "May Belle, you take the air pump, Joyce Ann, how about you take the linens and pillows, I'll take the mattress and the quilt." She handed out the items accordingly, stacking a folded quilt on top of a brand new, never opened box labeled "Air Mattress, Queen" and carrying them in her arms. She led the two sisters across the bridge. "Come on, PT!" she called to her dog, who again followed close to her heels.

"Hey, Leslie," Joyce Ann asked, "have you really been planning this since the first time Jess kissed you?"

"Maybe not planning it, but dreaming of it. Maybe even before he kissed me," Leslie smiled. "I think I may have been in love with him before he fell in love with me."

"I think he had to get over his silly crush with Mrs. Brubaker-- Miss Edmunds back then-- first!" May Belle giggled.

"I can see Jess having a crush on Mrs. Brubaker," Joyce Ann nodded. "She's a lot like you, Leslie!"

"Yes, she's even told me that herself!" Leslie nodded.

"So you guys were, like, my age when you first kissed?"

"Just about."

"You've been together practically my whole life, then," Joyce Ann nodded with awe. "That's a long time!"

"I still can't believe that you two are still saving yourselves for the wedding night after all these years that you've been together!" May Belle shook her head with a smile.

"Well," Leslie said, "I'm not holding a gun to your head telling you what to believe, May Belle!"

"I mean, come on, Leslie! I'm sure everyone else who knows you guys assumes you've been doing it! You've been living together in a one bedroom apartment for the past year!"

"May Belle, when have you ever known me to give a crap about what other people think about me or Jess?" Leslie rolled her eyes. "We rented that apartment after Freshman year at Eastwood because we tried the dorm scene and it wasn't for us. Plus we were each driving our roommates crazy hanging out in each other's rooms all the time. Living together made sense. As for the one bedroom," she smiled, "Jess has been my soul mate and my Cuddle Buddy ever since we were Joyce Ann's age, so sleeping in the same bed every night is no big deal." She balanced the box and quilt in her left arm as she reached down and ran the fingers of her right hand through the fur on the top of Prince Terrien's head. "And this little guy sleeps in the room with us, usually sleeps in the bed with us! We both feel funny about getting too frisky in front of him, so he's like a libido damper!"

"A Virgin Alarm!" May Belle laughed. She saw that Leslie was searching her memory, trying to recall where she'd heard that phrase. "Like Dot Matrix the robot in Spaceballs!"

"Oh, yeah!" Leslie giggled. "Exactly! For both me and Jess. So take our word that we haven't 'done it'! And how far we've actually gone is between me and him!"

May Belle grinned and nodded knowingly back toward the creek. "And whoever has stumbled upon the two of you skinnydipping together out here!"

The usually unflappable Leslie Burke turned bright red and stopped dead in her tracks. "Oh!"

"Relax, Leslie!" May Belle laughed. "As far as I know, it's just been Joyce Ann and me!"

"We, uh..." Leslie stammered uncharacteristically, "We thought we were, uh, pretty good at hearing other people moving around the woods and approaching us. And getting our swimsuits on in a hurry."

"Well, we got even better at moving around the woods undetected even in broad daylight. Major Padilla taught the ROTC Raider Platoon well, and I taught Joyce Ann well!"

"Major Padilla? He started the ROTC program our Senior year at Lark Creek High, so Jess and I didn't really know him, but didn't he run around in a cavalry hat with crossed sabers, like Theodore Roosevelt's? Nowadays, I think cavalry means tanks, and tanks mean lots of noise."

"Yes, but he was born in the Philippines," May Belle explained. "In World War II, his uncles snuck around in the jungle at night, slitting the throats of Japanese soldiers or lopping their heads off with giant meat cleavers while they slept in their own camps. He says sneaking around the woods undetected is in his blood." She grinned. "Anyway, we always gave you guys a wide berth. You're real pretty, Leslie, but seeing you naked doesn't do a thing for either us."

"And as for Jess," Joyce Ann added, "EWWW! He's our brother! We already see more of him at home than we want to!"

"And not to get all holier-than-thou," May Belle said, "but I can't believe you and Jess actually go skinnydipping in the exact same spot in the creek where you actually asked Reverend Herman to baptize you. Isn't it kinda blasphemous?"

"Well, in the first place, Miss Holier-Than-Thou, if you do a little research, you'll find that up through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, most baptisms were done with the person getting baptized being in the water nude. And in the second place, now that I know you know about it, you've got it backwards! I picked that spot to get baptized because that's where Jess and I had been skinnydipping for years!"

"Years?" It was May Belle's turn to be dumbfounded.

"Years," Leslie nodded. "Ever since the same day we told you we were going to crown you a Princess!"

"Oh!" After thinking about it, May Belle laughed. "Well, knowing Jesse, I bet he has a full portfolio of pastels, watercolors and oils on canvas of nudes of you somewhere!"

"Under lock and key in an undisclosed location," Leslie smiled and nodded. "Some I posed for, some he did from memory. Going all the way back to when we were little." She paused, then added, "Maybe someday when he's famous, I'll get up the nerve to let him display them! But don't tell my parents! Bohemians, latter-day-hippies or not, I'm not sure they're ready to handle that!"

"So you've been his soul mate, his Cuddle Buddy and his free-of-charge live figure model for the last nine years!" May Belle smiled. "Leslie, you've got to level with me: did my parents ask you and Jess to make that stuff up about saving it for marriage, so you'd serve as good role models for me and Joyce Ann?"

Leslie laughed. "Now, why would your folks need us to be good role models for you two when you've got Brenda to serve as a bad example?" She led them in walking on to the Castle as she spoke. "She drops out of school in eleventh grade to move in with Jimmy, then he dumps her for some younger bimbo in six months and she has to move back in with you guys and go back to school for her diploma. I mean, thank God he didn't knock her up before he dumped her! We could have all ended up with that Neanderthal's kid for a nephew or niece!" She grinned. "Hey, there's an idea for a Geico commercial! Geico makes a commercial within the commercial using Jimmy as a caveman, and the real caveman confronts Jimmy face-to-face for negative stereotyping!"

"Wow!" May Belle laughed. "I guess one year in that apartment with Jess and a TV set got you caught up after nineteen years without a TV!"

"Not really. I started catching up years ago just from hanging around your house with Jess." Leslie smiled thoughtfully. "Anyway, May Belle, even though I got baptized and all, I'm still not a Bible-thumper. Why Jess and I have waited... religion isn't the only reason. And sexual attraction is only part of our relationship. Jess and I both realize that what we have is something very few people are ever lucky enough to have. We looked at Brenda and Jimmy, and at all these other people we've known over the years at Lark Creek High and at Eastwood. They're doing it like bunnies thinking they're going to find what Jess and I have always had since we first met, and most of them never will."

"You're so right!" May Belle nodded. "Leslie, I'm sorry I even asked! I know you and my brother better than that." She glanced around at the items the three of them were carrying. "It's obvious. If you weren't a virgin saving it for your wedding night, you wouldn't be going through all this trouble setting up the Castle."

"Thank you!" Leslie smiled back. "That having been said, we didn't want to wait until graduation to get married like most college kids do."

"Well, why should you? You're both on scholarships, and your parents are gonna help you get started in the business. You have no financial worries."

"Actually, May Belle, the plan is that after Jess and I compile and edit our stories and illustrations, we're going to submit them to the publishers under the names of Jesse and Leslie Aarons." She smiled at the thought of the name. "We'll use my parents' agent, but with absolutely no mention of my being William Burke and Judith Hancock-Burke's daughter. I need to do that for my own peace of mind. And since my parents took a long time to get established as writers, Jess and I will probably get jobs teaching after we graduate."

"Sounds like a plan," May Belle nodded.

They reached the Castle and set their loads down at the roots of the tree, then rested. Joyce Ann looked up at the first tier of the Castle. "Leslie, are you sure that mattress is gonna fit up there, or did you just buy a Queen-sized because you're the Queen?"

"I measured it. I wouldn't have asked you guys to lug all this stuff out here if I hadn't first. Actually, I would've gotten a King-sized if I could've squeezed it in there. I had to move the trunk out onto the porch and most of the boxes to the upper level, but a Queen size will barely fit."

Leslie worked her way up the rungs on the tree to the first tier and stood on the porch next to the trunk and a large wooden crate. It hadn't been long after the rope swing broke, and she and Jesse had placed the planks and rails on the fallen tree bridge, that Jesse had scrounged up the crate, an old boat winch and cable, and some pulleys. He had rigged up a kind of freight elevator or dumbwaiter to the porch, determined to make it safer to climb the rungs by freeing both hands for the climber. She lifted the crate over the rail and let it hang by the cable from a pulley on a thick branch, then lowered it to ground level by unwinding the winch which was bolted to the wall of the Castle. "Coming down!" she announced.

May Belle and Joyce Ann began placing their cargo into the crate. "I think we can get it all in one shot!" May Belle said. "Unless you want us to send PT up too."

"Nahh, let him stay down there. I'm just going to put the stuff inside and come back down. Can't really do much up here until I inflate the mattress, and we can't run the air pump until we run the extension cords out here." Leslie waited for the two sisters to finish loading the crate and then started winding the winch; it wound and the crate rose with ease; the items the three of them had carried were bulky but light, and even the air pump was pretty small. She swung the crate back onto the porch, then moved the contents inside the door.

As Leslie worked her way back down the rungs, she heard one of the sisters-- she suspected it was May Belle but she couldn't see-- start some muffled giggling. As she set foot an the ground and turned to face them, she saw she was right.

"Now what's so funny?" she squinted at May Belle.

"I was just remembering your first year here in Lark Creek when I was in Second Grade and you and Jess were in Fifth," May Belle said between giggles. "The time on the bus that I started singing 'Jess and Leslie sitting in a tree...' and you darn near smothered me to death with your hand!"

"You're lucky I was closer and beat him to it!" Leslie smiled wryly. "He's got bigger hands. He would've smothered you to death!"

"Now, that's the irony of it!" May Belle giggled again. "Because it's gonna happen! Day after tomorrow! And I don't just mean the love and marriage part." She looked up at the Castle with a broad grin. "I mean the sitting in the tree part! It wasn't that you fell in love with Jess before he fell in love with you, I knew back then that the two of you were in love with each other, before either of you realized it! Am I prophetic or what?"

"Prophetic?" Joyce Ann laughed. "More like you're the stopped clock and this was one of the two times a day you were right!"

"Like you would know!" May Belle was close to sneering at her younger sister. "You were still in diapers and being bottle fed at the time!"

"May Belle may be right, Joyce Ann," Leslie smiled.

"Of course I'm right!" May Belle smirked. "Jess was always in love with you. He just needed to get his little crush on Miss Edmonds out of his system to realize it. Which that whole business with the rope breaking-- and I agree with you and Jess that it wasn't just a weird dream-- took care of." Her smirk faded and she looked at her soon to be sister-in-law with genuine affection. "Hey, Leslie, I never said it over all these years because I thought it went without saying, but I should have: I'm glad it was Jesse's butt and not your head that got banged up that day!"

"Thank you, May Belle," Leslie smiled back and gave her a quick hug. "I am, too!"

"I mean, I don't exactly know what Jess went through with that... phenomenon, I guess we can call it, but I'm glad you've been a part of all our lives. I don't know what our lives would have been like if we'd lost you. Not just Jess, but all of us."

"Hey," Joyce Ann interjected, "what are you two talking about? Does this have anything to do with that old fairy tale that Jess used to tell me when I was little, about the king who lost his queen and then got her back through magic?"

Leslie and May Belle glanced at each other with a short burst of laughter. "Yeah, Joyce Ann," Leslie nodded. "Both of us tried to tell Jess you weren't old enough at the time to get the connection."

"I was wondering about it," Joyce Ann nodded. "I thought it had something to do with that old ratty piece of rope on that branch near the bridge, but I can't remember the fairy tale anymore."

"You're right," Leslie replied. "It does have something to do with that old ratty piece of rope. Good Lord, Joyce Ann! Where'd all the time go? You're as old now as Jess and I were when it happened! You're too old now for the 'Once upon a time' version!" She sniffled with misty eyes as she placed her arm across Joyce Ann's shoulders, and the three girls and one dog started back toward the creek. "So let me tell you the story of the first bridge to Terabithia, and the day your brother saved my life. And, from his point of view, I guess you could say the day I was resurrected from the dead..."

Author's notes:

I've inserted myself as a spoken of but unseen Mary Sue, without even changing my real name. Guess which character!

I should also mention here that one of the biggest reasons I was so drawn to Bridge to Terabithia in the first place is that two of the main characters from one of my unpublished novels (the first draft of which I wrote in 1974, three years before BtT was published) were a young married couple whose backstory was quite similar to Jess and Leslie's, including that they grew up in the suburbs of Washington DC. Some of what I have happening to Jess and Leslie since Groundhogs is adapted from the unwritten backstory of my own characters, although I think most of you will see the stories as being consistent with Jess and Leslie's characters.

Re: Miss Edmonds' married name, I just couldn't write this without another reference to that other "Bridge" book/movie with a tragic ending! ;-)

Okay, in Groundhogs, I make historic references to events making that story clearly post-9-11/Iraq War, so as this is a direct sequel, this takes place nine years after that, sometime in the future. Is anyone even going to remember the Geico Caveman by 2012 at the earliest? Who knows?

I posted the first chapter of Groundhogs after most of the story was written, so the chapters came up in pretty rapid order. This is not the case with this story and future chapters will be posted on an irregular schedule. If you're really starving for my BtT fanfiction writings, please visit the Kingdom of Terabithia Role Play site where I play Leslie's dad, Narnian Melody plays Leslie, LuvtoWrite plays Jess, mparr plays May Belle, Hunter Jade Slater plays Joyce Ann and Harpiebird plays Miss Edmunds, among a number of authors who post here on fanfiction dot net. Since fanfic dot net automatically deletes URLs posted within stories, the quickest way to get to it is to go to Google and enter "kingdom of terabithia" (including quotes) and roleplay (one word); it should be one of the first hits.

Comments are, as always, invited and encouraged.