A Life Rescued
Chapter 54 – The Endings
(Please read and review, it makes us better writers.)
Disclaimer: The world of Terabithia belongs to Katherine Paterson and her publishers.
I'm just playing around in it for a while. No profit was, or will be received from this story.
Dear readers, it's time to close out this story and let your imaginations run away with the next few years of Jesse Aarons and Leslie Burke's lives. Thank you all so much for the kind words and encouragement over the past sixteen months; I truly appreciate them. There is a brief wrap-up starting about half way through the chapter, a sort of where they are now.
I should also note that, in spite of the parallels I draw between my Leslie Burke and AnnaSophia Robb, in no way do I consider Leslie's actions a representation of AnnaSophia's personality. God bless you. Rick (IHateSnakes) December, 2008.
It took Leslie the better part of a week to wind down from the excitement of the spring show; by the last Friday of April she was back to her old self and reveling in the early burst of summer weather which had descended on southwest Virginia. The forecast for the next few days spoke only of warm, sunny days and comfortable nights. Even the stench from the future farmland had abated to the point of mere annoyance. With this weekend came her first opportunity since the cruise for she and Jesse to enjoy an evening together – and alone. After school, the couple picked up a picnic dinner Ellie had packed for them and headed down the path towards the old Boone place. The limited daylight would prevent them from going far, but a mile stroll into the woods was enough for privacy. And Leslie had planned this outing since Jesse's birthday to reveal the full nature of her mysterious birthday note.
Hand-in-hand, the two went their way and reached a clearing off the path at about four-thirty. Jesse unfolded a plastic ground cloth and Leslie shook out a thinning pale green blanket that had seen better days. On a thick bed of pine needles, the two lay down and started unpacking the food and talking.
"Jess, about that note I gave you for your birthday," Leslie started. Her voice was shy and coy, not its usual confident tone.
"Oh, yeah, I figured you'd get around to it after the show was over. What's the big surprise?" He'd noted that there was no package in sight.
"Jess, I want to give you something that's personal and shows how much I love you," she started, then burst into laughter at the sight of Jesse's look of consternation. "Not that, Jess" Maybe next year. Batting her eyes seductively, Leslie rolled over next to her best friend and continued, "I want to rejoin the RCIC program at church."
Still a bit stunned by his misinterpretation of Leslie's initial statement, it took Jesse a moment to fully realize what he'd been told. But as the jolt wore off, so did his miasma of concern and he rolled atop his friend and wrapped her in his arms. "You mean it? Really?"
A muffled reply sounded affirming, but breathless, too.
"Sorry, Les," he laughed, rolling back off. Leslie gulped in air, smiling nonetheless, and traded places, pinning Jesse to the ground with the full length of her body. They gazed into each other's eyes and began kissing – and a little more.
The lively blonde he had come to love so deeply has never ceased to amaze and surprise him with her warmth and care. She had become almost everything to him emotionally. The surprise about her rejoining the church conversion program gave him a deep spiritual contentment. And even their first innocent steps into becoming sexually active seemed to (finally) fit properly. Aside from some initial shyness on both parts, the events felt far more appropriate than sinful or unseemly.
Leslie read Jesse's mind perfectly, too, seeing and sensing a deep contentment in her boyfriend. It nearly made her choke up. The long journey she had begun a year ago to give Jesse more self confidence and comfort with their physical relationship was paying off. And while the progression was slow, and would very likely remain that way, Leslie found she was enjoying the process more than the end result. In fact, she was enjoying it much more than she would have expected.
Clothing and hair disheveled, the two held each other, now more for warmth than anything else. Dinner was long forgotten and the shadows of trees were fading with the rapidly dimming light. Both knew they had to get home; neither wanted to move.
They spoke at the same time, and with obvious reluctance broke apart and started gathering their things. Jesse cursed in frustration as he folded the uncooperative plastic ground cloth now stiff with the cool evening air. Leslie helped him when she had finished with the blanket.
Approaching her house, Leslie stopped and looked at her best friend. He was smiling a smile of contentment and ease and she mouthed I love you, kissed him, and then asked, "Sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, I'm great. You?"
An ardent smile. "Fabulous!"
Both meant it. They looked into each other's eyes, and holding hands said a final good night and parted. Leslie immediately went inside to make a very long entry into her diary; not in her daily diary, but one she kept secret and very well hidden. One she would never show to anyone except, maybe, Jesse Aarons.
"And how was the picnic, little bro? Like my egg and tuna salad?"
Ellie was spending the weekend at home while Toby was in Bethesda, receiving the last treatment for his eyes, and she had volunteered to pack the basket for her brother's date. Jesse and Leslie had forgotten all about eating – there were other more appealing things on their mind at the time. When he heard Ellie laugh he knew he'd been busted. She walked into the dining room with two wrapped sandwiches, one in each hand.
"You two didn't eat a thing, did you? Okay, spill it, Jess." She dropped the wraps on the table and sat across from her mute and scarlet-faced brother.
"Um…" was all Jesse could think to say. He'd come to love Ellie dearly, and relied on her for advice – even about some intimate matters – but wasn't going to share details this evening. At least not yet. "We weren't hungry, that's all. Maybe I'll have mine now."
With a hard, piercing look, Ellie shrugged and pushed one of the sandwiches across the table. "Have it your way. Oh, Barb Keane called and wants to talk to you. Her number's on the…"
"I know it," Jesse nearly shouted, and with the sandwich again forgotten, ran to his room to return the call.
As Jesse dialed, his hands shook. He had known for some time that Barbara's call was coming, but he dreaded it nonetheless. Her father's trial began in a few days and she was one of the first witnesses for the prosecution. But what she wanted from him – his presence and emotional support – was asking a lot. He would have to miss at least a couple days of school, though that was nothing to facing the graphic testimony from his friend and her sisters. He still felt queasy thinking about what the man had done to his daughters.
"So," Barbara drew out the two letter word so it sounded like ten. "The trial starts a week from Monday and I'm scheduled for testimony Thursday and Friday. Can you still come?"
"Yeah, sure. You want Les to come, too, if she can?" He tried to sound more willing than he felt.
"She can't, I just talked to her. Her parents won't allow it."
"Oh, okay. Still at the Lark Creek court house?"
"Yes, the judge refused the change of venue. I'm a little worried about that; this is a small community and finding eighteen jurors was difficult. No one wants this overturned on appeal."
I guess not. "Okay. You, um, ready for this?" he asked upon hearing Barbara sob.
"What do you think? I haven't seen him in nine months and am about to expose myself to the entire community. I bet every pervert at school will be there to hear the details."
In an attempt to lighten the conversation, Jesse said that that would be impossible because half the school would be absent. The effort failed.
"Ha ha ha. You should have been at the witness prep thing I did. The lawyers asked me everything except my measurements. And they were my lawyers!"
Grimacing, Jesse tried to encourage his friend more and ended the call a short time later feeling as if he'd failed miserly. Then he rang Leslie and discussed it with her. "Let's send her some flowers. Maggie, too," he suggested. "They're both probably getting no sleep and freaking-out over this whole thing."
Leslie agreed and said she would send them each a dozen roses and a nice card. It made him feel better, but Jesse was hardly concerned with himself.
In fact, the expected sensation of the incest and abuse trial of the Keane patriarch was lost for a while in the news from the Middle East, in particular the war in Iran. A coup in the Islamic Republic had overthrown the Ayatollah and set up a more moderate, peace seeking government. So the month of May began brightly, and with positive news from the other side of the globe for once. Fortunately for Barbara Keane these geopolitical events coincided with her two days of testimony; it did not make them easier, however, only less public.
Jesse sat with Barbara and her sisters (minus Jen who was in the middle of exams and would arrive the following week) and a few other friends from Lark Creek. Aside from the prosecution lawyers, they also had two social workers and a court-appointed liaison nearby. The girls had the adviser to help them understand what was being said and done at the trial. With all the added bodies, Jesse found himself feeling useless. Only the occasional smile from Barbara or one of the other girls made him feel as if he was serving any purpose.
As expected, Barbara's testimony and cross examination began the Thursday of the second week of the trial. Few of the details were new to Jesse, as he and Leslie had spoken with Barbara extensively over the past seven months, yet they still made him ill hearing about the brainwashing and a few of the more graphic details she needed to bring up to help the case.
When the prosecution was finished, the defense lawyer began taking her shots at the teen's story. The most disturbing part of this, for Jesse, was the way the lawyers seemed to manipulate whatever Barbara said to make it appear she was the aggressor in the affair. Looking over to the jury, Jesse sometimes thought he could read their expressions and see when a point was scored.
The common thread throughout the defense's questioning, and the one that raised the most objections, dealt with the children's lack of ability to distinguish what was appropriate behavior. Knowing she would be allowed very little latitude with Maddie, and Maggie and her older sister were not abused as the youngest three girls, the defense lawyer slammed Barbara over and over. The prosecution stopped raising objections after an hour and called for a brief recess where they counseled the witness to answer truthfully and directly. Further objections, they said, would only draw attention to the defense's point, even if it was bogus. Barbara wiped away a tear and returned to the stand. It got worse when the defense shifted their strategy a bit.
"Miss Keane, I have your transcripts from school in England and here in Lark Creek; five years worth…"
The prosecutor rose to object but the judge cut him off. "Watch yourself, Ms. Green, you know those are not public records."
"Yes, your honor, I was not going to speak to the details but the general trend of Miss Keane's education."
The judge gave a warning nod.
"Over the past five years, since you were ten, your records show a steady increase in your grades. Do you consider yourself a reasonably intelligent young lady?"
"And have you always felt yourself reasonably intelligent?"
"Yes, I think so."
In spite of his earlier comment to Barbara, the prosecutor objected again.
"Your honor, this was covered earlier. Do we really need to…"
Looking even more provoked, the judge held up his hand. "Where are you going with this, Ms. Green?"
"Approach, your honor?"
He waved the lawyers forward. "What is it, Ms. Green?"
"Your honor, we were not allowed to depose the witnesses in regard to their schooling, for obvious reasons." She gave a condescending nod to the prosecutor. "I only ask for a little latitude as Miss Barbara Keane is very likely the only one of the sisters who can form a mature opinion about what happened."
"Ms. Green, you're this close to crossing the line, but I will allow you a very little leeway. However, I want no repetition of previous questions and absolutely no details about this girl's private life outside of the case before us. Do you understand?"
The prosecutor patted Barbara's arm on the way back to his seat.
"Barbara, to repeat, have you always felt yourself reasonably intelligent?"
"And your birthday was May the tenth?"
Confused by the odd change of questioning, Barbara looked to the prosecutor. He nodded. "That's correct: May tenth, nineteen ninety-seven."
"Do you recall your twelfth birthday, back in England?"
"I…" She hesitated.
"Yeah…Yes, some of it."
"Do you recall what you asked your father for on that birthday?"
Jesse immediately noticed his friend's face go white. Whatever it was she asked for, he knew, she was surprised the defense knew about it. He looked to the prosecutor and saw only the profile of a blank face.
"Please tell the court what you asked your father for, on your twelfth birthday, Miss Keane."
"Your honor, please instruct the witness to answer the question."
"Miss Keane, please answer."
"He said…I asked him…"
And the defense jumped in: "Didn't you ask your father to show you, quote, how to do it the right way, unquote?"
"Yes or no, Miss Keane: You were referring to intimate relations, correct?"
"Miss Keane, earlier you testified that it was always your father who initiated any intimate contact. How do you explain this birthday request? If your father always initiated these activities, why were you asking for him to, in your words, show you how to do it the right way?"
"I…. I don't remember. Maybe I was confused. That was years ago."
"But you had no trouble recalling and testifying that your father initiated everything. So which is correct?"
"Objection, your honor. Asked and answered."
"I'll rephrase the question, judge. To clarify, was it always your father, Miss Keane, who initiated everything or did you ask for it now and then? Or did you always ask for it?"
"That's enough, Ms. Green," the judge cut in. Then quietly to the defense lawyer, "You've made your point."
"Yes, your honor. No more questions for this witness."
The prosecution's lead lawyer stood at his table and tapped a pen on the palm of his hand for a few seconds. "Redirect, your honor?" He nodded. "Barbara, when did you begin to suspect that your father's activities were inappropriate?"
Fighting back tears, the witness answered. "About two years ago, when I found out he was doing…doing the same things with Maddie and Terri."
"But you did nothing, even then. Why?"
"Because I trusted him, and my mother. I trusted them." The last phrase came out as if spoken by a dead person.
"Thank you, Barbara. No more questions, your honor."
The judge gaveled the trial recessed for the day, the jury was excused, and Jesse watched Barbara leave the witness stand and go straight to the prosecutor. He did not look pleased. The defense team, on the other hand, left with thinly hidden smiles.
"They shouldn't be too happy," a voice spoke up behind Jesse. It was Maggie.
"Um…wasn't what Barb said bad?"
"Nah…. Okay, maybe a little. They have no way to really defend the bastard, only gain some sympathy with the jury. They'll be the ones doing the sentencing. Green's going to work any angle she can for a reduced sentence."
Jesse hoped she was right. As Maggie and Maddie walked up to their sister, however, it was very clear that the prosecutor had been surprised by this information, and he didn't like surprises.
Late on the second day of her testimony, Barbara, obviously tired and upset, seemed to contradict some of her previous testimony and the defense lawyer jumped on this, too. Hearing the exchanges made Jesse furious, dizzy, and nauseated. He felt like crying out in protest more than once; but Maggie, seeing his anxiety, leaned forward from her seat and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. When Barbara was excused, she did not return to her bench but left the court room straightaway. Jesse followed and met his pale and shaken friend in the corridor. They sat to talk.
"Jess, you know what I hate more than anything about this whole trial? It's that bitch making it sound like I was to blame for this." Barbara got no farther before breaking down and crying on his shoulder. He comforted her as best he could until her sisters and Aunt from Woodbridge appeared and took her off. It was four o'clock on a Friday afternoon and Jesse had a long bike ride home, but at least, he thought, it's not raining.
The Keane trial ended as June started and the father was found guilty of multiple felonies. Under Virginia law, he was sentenced to a minimum of twenty years in a state penitentiary and forbidden from contacting his daughters by any means. The charges of murder for the death of Terri Keane had never made it past the grand jury months before, but all the children were happy that this part of their life was over. Jen also pointed out to Jesse that child molesters were considered the scum of the prison by the inmates and their unusual code of justice. She said he wouldn't last long, but that only made Jesse's stomach turn.
Mrs. Keane never went to trial. She pled guilty to a number of lesser charges and was sentenced to ten years in a medium security facility. Jesse and Leslie told Barbara they thought she got off light, but their friend simply shook her head sadly, she still had a long way to go to make a full recovery - and some of the scars would never heal.
A month after Janice Burke was born, Bill and Judy received a letter from the clerk of Arlington County. Inside the legal envelope was a letter forwarded to them from their son. The brief note, Judy told Mary when she visited later that day, said that he wished to meet them, but also expressed a hesitance to invade and disrupt their lives. While the baby nursed to sleep, the women spoke and traded ideas. In the end, Mary went home doubtful that the reunion would take place.
At dinner that evening in the Burke home, Leslie voiced her opinion. Bill and Judy listened, but still refused to make a decision. Their seeming indecisiveness baffled the teen and she pushed her parents to the point that Bill snapped.
"Leslie, you don't have any idea what you're taking about. This man is an interesting enigma to you, but to your mother and I he's the symbol of…" He was lost for the right word and looked to Judy.
"Failure, Les," her mother finally said. Then more soberly, "It nearly destroyed us – your father and I." She stood and left the table in tears.
Bill, nearly as upset as his wife, hung his head and followed after a minute.
Leslie felt terrible.
Plans for Ellie and Toby's church wedding were finally set for early October. The eldest Aarons girls spent many hours planning and plotting with their mother. The joyous event seemed to consume the three females whenever they were together. Leslie considered joining in, but found the silliness too much. May, on the other hand, added her ideas of grand plans, mostly centering around herself in a bridesmaid dress.
The final planned activity of the spring was the Memorial Day campout Jesse and Leslie had arranged with Tom and Grace. Their friends were leaving immediately after school ended on June 8th and this would be their last chance to be together for a while. The outing came and went in a mixture of joy and sorrow, for there was a great deal to look back upon over three years. Death, birth, meetings and separations: all these blended together in conversation and kept the four teens up most of Saturday night.
Tom brought along a number of cases for carrying flora samples – he had never lost his interest in botany - to take something living to their new home that would remind him of his old home and young friends.
Grace, who always seemed to be on the short end of the BFF stick, had finally made a close friend with a fellow eighth-grader and spent much of the three days lamenting their upcoming separation.
Jesse and Leslie felt the pain the least: They had each other and a cadre of new friends at school. Still, Jesse reflected Sunday evening with Leslie about their first encounters with the Jacobs family at Virginia Beach four years earlier. He recalled how jealous he was when Tom began to show too much attention to her. Leslie had never heard this story, but when reminded of the vacation, said she found it easy to believe.
"You do get jealous sometimes, Jess," she said with affection.
"Yeah, sorry..." he started to reply, but turned and ended it with a kiss.
It was three in the morning and Tom and Grace were asleep. Jesse and Leslie sat together watching the camp fire burn down to yellow and orange coals. The mountain night, cool and cloudless, seemed to magnify the Milky Way above. Occasional shooting stars only added to the loving ambiance that bound the two teens.
Awhirl in each of their minds was their future, individually and together. And while Leslie believed she had long ago cast aside any doubt about what lay ahead for them, Jesse was only now coming to understand the permanency of the bonds they'd nurtured and what they might mean in the years to come.
But as with most fifteen year old couples, the future was even now a lifetime away. Serious thoughts of things like marriage and family, while entertained in fantasies and play, were still distant, indistinct...remote. The rapidly changing world in which they lived constantly reminded them of war, separation and death.
Finally exhausted, the couple crawled a few feet to their tent, shed their shoes, and climbed into the two sleeping bags which had been zipped together. Following a minute of adjusting positions, Jesse and Leslie, wrapped tightly together against the cold, kissed, and drifted off to a few hours of sleep. The last thoughts for both teens were decidedly tranquil and uncommonly platonic.
Two days before the end of the school year, Jesse and Leslie walked from the lunch room, hand-in-hand, relieved that exams were complete and their last days as freshmen were imminent. The seniors had already graduated and only had to show up to clean out their lockers. And this Thursday afternoon was the annual academic awards ceremony in the gym. As they rounded a corner before the central locker plaza, both stopped and found themselves only feet from Gary Fulcher, Ricky Manning, Steve Hoager - and a fourth hidden form. Fulcher and Manning were helping the senior collect his things and making fawning comments about getting tickets to the Penn State games that fall.
But it wasn't so much this triple threat that troubled and alarmed them as the nearly unrecognizable form of the younger Hoager – Scott - whom neither had seen for over a year. He stood noticeably taller and straighter, his blonde hair, cropped very short, was almost invisible, and the obvious semi-military fatigues with his military academy patch made the teen appear more mature than his fifteen years.
To complete the brief and astonishing reunion, Scott merely looked at them and gave a brief nod. Jesse could have sworn it was not altogether unfriendly, but he felt Leslie's hand tighten around his. Then the visitor and former student went back to loading his older brother's collection of junk into a box, pausing now and then to scrutinize an object, often with an expression of disgust.
"What do you want, A-B?" Manning snarled, finally seeing the couple.
Jesse glanced at Leslie and winked. "'A-B'? Oh, Aarons-Burke, very clever, Ricky. A little above your IQ to think up something that witty, isn't it?"
What happened next astounded nearly everyone there. Manning made a move to tackle Jesse, but found himself held back by Scott's tight grip on his arm. Astounded, Manning looked to Steve for assistance but he just shrugged.
"Steve isn't going to help you, are you, big brother?"
"Why the hell not? We've waited all year to pound these two ass holes into the ground…"
"Shut it, Manning," Steve snapped.
"Listen up you two idiots," snarled Scott, "Steve can still lose his scholarship so he ain't going to cause problems. And you two had better learn to cool down." With that, Scott released Ricky's arm and went back to work. Manning and Fulcher stood dumbfounded for a moment, but soon went back to what they'd been doing.
Jesse and Leslie backed off and then turned to walk away. They only got a few steps when Scott called out. "Hey, Burke…you're looking good."
Too astounded to answer, Leslie just gave her former tormenter a cautious wave and continued on her way. When they had turned another corner, Jesse stopped and looked at his girlfriend.
"Can you believe that?"
"People change, Jess."
"Yeah, I guess…"
Later that afternoon, academic awards were presented to seven freshmen, all of whom had earned straight A's – overall - in their first year: Jesse Aarons was called up first and stumbled forward in a daze. Of the award winners he was the most surprised. He had carried a B in Spanish all year. "I musta aced the final. I can't believe this," he whispered to Tom and Leslie.
Not surprisingly, his girlfriend was the next person called up.
Jesse again earned top honors for art, and Leslie a disappointing second place in drama. Tom told her she only came in second because the school always awards top honors to a senior.
And then ninth grade was over.
Two days later the Jacobs left Lark Creek. The farewells were long and tearful for all involved. The family had gone through a lot over the past three years, but it was mainly the separation of friends that even got Tom a little choked-up. He only brightened up a bit after Lisa and Carol had gone home and Leslie gave him one last hug goodbye and a kiss on his cheek. Next to them, Jesse was embracing Grace; he wanted to say something but his tongue was tied and he knew there was nothing he could say anyway.
As the Jacobs drove away in the cloud of dust from the moving van, Jesse took Leslie's hand. "Let's go home," he said in a quiet voice.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, many years later:
"When will they get here, Daddy?" the four-year-old asked her father for the fiftieth time that day.
"Tomorrow, Becky," he replied patiently, "in the afternoon. Now good night…"
"Tell me about Leslie again, Daddy. Pleeeeease!"
"Not tonight, kiddo, you need…"
"Oh, please, one more time, Daddy."
Looking down at his daughter, the man smiled warmly. He never could resister her; it was a wonder she was not spoiled rotten.
"Leslie Burke was my best friend from Lark Creek. She was beautiful, kind, passionate, caring. Everyone who knew her was so sad when she left and moved to Los Angeles to be in the movies." The man paused for a moment as a never-completely-purged ache showed on his face. "It broke some peoples' heart."
"Yours, Daddy? Did she break your heart?"
He smiled fondly. "A little. We had been apart for a while at that point so it wasn't too bad."
Behind the man, a woman stood watching and listening to the conversation. She had heard it dozens of times before and it always made her a little wary. Her husband had been very attached to Leslie Burke, she knew. And although she herself knew the woman a little, she was always a bit jealous that her husband had such fond memories of this person. She cleared her throat. "Time for bed, Becky."
"Aw, mom. Can't Daddy finish the story?"
"Sweetheart, we'll see Aunt Leslie tomorrow and she can tell it to you in person."
A dreamy look came over the child's face: She smiled and acquiesced. In less than a minute she was asleep.
The couple walked down the second floor hallway, stopping at the door to each of their other four children's rooms, listening, then moving to the family room. When they were settled, snuggled in front of the crackling fire, the wife asked again, "Regrets?"
"No, not regrets. Honestly. I just get lost in those what ifs now and then. I'm sure there's some unhealthy psychological term for it."
Laughing at himself, he turned and kissed his wife of fifteen years. That was something that would not change – his love for the woman next to him. She accepted the tacit apology and eagerly threw herself into the kiss, wondering if six children would be irresponsible.
Lark Creek changed little after Jesse and Leslie finished their freshman year in high school and the Jacobs moved away. Buildings came and went, a farmer's market every Saturday and Wednesday sprung up in the town square. A now popular Boy Scout reservation opened just a few miles away. Stores, schools, municipal buildings remained - in short, everything a proud and thriving community could support.
A couple miles outside of the town, Bill and Judy Burke still live in their house and write mostly young adult fiction, but only part-time now. Of their two younger children, Janice and James, the younger married and lives in Roanoke and the elder works on the farm with his father and neighbor, Mr. Aarons.
After many months of soul-searching and discussions, Judy and Bill decided to meet their adopted son in the summer of 2012. But the surprise was on them – and him. God or fate had thrown the Burke's first child back into their midst long before either knew it and everyone was astonished they had not noticed the resemblances sooner. At a dinner with the Aarons family one evening, Bill and Judy announced that they would be meeting their son in Roanoke. Anton Williams – Brenda's boyfriend – collapsed into a chair saying he was going there to meet his parents.
When the shock and disruption subsided, Anton told the story about how he had been able to trace his birth parents to the Roanoke vicinity years before. When an Army job opened in the area he took it in hopes of somehow finding them. Little did anyone know how accurate his guesses turned out to be. Brenda and Anton were married two years later and now live in Harrisonburg.
Toby and Ellie, still happily married and the parents of three war orphans, moved back to Lark Creek a few years ago when Jack and Bill needed full time assistance on the farm.
Brian Aarons is a second lieutenant in the Army and stationed in England. He's unmarried and enjoys that status.
Joyce and May Aarons are both married and expecting their first and second child respectively. Joyce lives in Lynchburg, May in Lark Creek.
Mary Aarons had a moderately serious heart attack a couple years back and now takes it easy at home. Otherwise, the family's health has been excellent.
Jen and Maggie Keane both became physicians. Jen spends a few months every year working in third world countries in the Doctors Without Boarders program. Maggie specialized in child psychiatry; she practices in Roanoke and maintains a professional relationship with Dr. Carlson.
Barbara Keane married out of college and divorced a few years later. She remarried and now lives in Richmond with her husband and children.
Grace Jacobs is happily married to a long-time friend and lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, near her father.
Makayla Flynn went to work for the Richmond Times-Dispatch after college and never married.
Lisa Silliard danced professionally for a number of years with Riverdance. She is now married and raising a family.
Carol Silliard and Mikey Sellers got back together a couple years after college and share an apartment in Baltimore. Mikey works for Glidden Paints and Carol is a kindergarten teacher. They have two children.
Billy Eccles went to college in Cincinnati and remained in the area after graduation.
Ricky Manning was in and out of trouble with the police throughout high school. In the summer following his graduation, he and a group of friends traveled west and were never seen again in Lark Creek. Few mourned their absence.
Gary Fulcher was killed in a drunk driving accident his senior year at LCHS.
Steve Hoager played college football at Penn State and was drafted in the fifth round by the Detroit Lions. His career was cut short by a knee injury after three seasons in the NFL. He is now an assistant football coach at LCHS.
Scott Hoager enjoyed a successful career in the Army and retired due to battle injuries after fifteen years and with the rank of captain. He was instrumental in shaping the reconstituted military forces of Iran and earned a number of citations for bravery as well as three Purple Heart during the seemingly unending mop-up operations in the Middle East.
Tim Haskell and Julie Summers eloped a couple years after the cruise on which they had met. The marriage was difficult and they separated a couple time until Julie quit acting and decided to focus her energies on the marriage. They are now enjoying a quiet life with one special needs child.
Leslie Burke spent two weeks in Denver in the summer of 2012 learning about professional acting. At the end of the course a group of invited agents and managers from Los Angeles came out to scout for talent they'd be interested in representing in LA. About three weeks later, Leslie's life was turned upside down when she was invited to venture out to Los Angeles and audition for television programs, movies and ads. Bill and Judy were skeptical, but her father took the fifteen year old west in August and she spent two weeks making more than forty auditions. She left with a booking for a commercial spot - and a great deal of excitement.
Over the next two summers and a few holiday vacations, Leslie earned a number of TV and movie parts, all roles scrutinized and approved by her parents. But by her senior year she had to make a decision about whether to go to college or turn full-time actor. In Hollywood she was popular and in demand, with a reputation for being a rising talent. All these things, however, did not blind her to the fact that she and Jesse would be forced apart. They were still together, but the strain of the long west coast divisions and upcoming college separation would force the issue. The Massachusetts College of Art offered Jesse a full scholarship in January of his senior year. After much soul-searching he took Leslie for a walk on their farm determined to make a decision about their future life together. It led to a number of difficult decisions.
Before that point, however, and in the summer between their sophomore and junior years, Jesse and Leslie finally found the special place Mr. Boone had told them about many years earlier. Hidden in the far northern edge of the property, deep in a hollow accessible only by a steep, winding trail, was a small bubbling spring of warm, sulfur-scented water. It percolated from the rocky soil at a comfortable eighty degrees twelve months a year and made for a cozy spot to hang out. On the granite walls surrounding the natural hot tub were the drawings and carvings of the first explorers in the area: the Native Americans. Leslie took pictures of the drawings to the Roanoke Pioneer Museum and found they dated back more than four hundred years. Unfortunately, the individual portions of land both had inherited from their friend had long since been selected and did not include the spring. The remainder of the property now belonged to the Boy Scouts of America for use as a summer camp, as Mr. Boone had wished. Jesse and Leslie, however, still found time to spend many days and weekends in this quiet, private spa and never revealed its location to anyone. It would only be spoiled, they agreed.
"Aunt Leslie!" a young voice cried out before the lovely blonde woman had so much as set a foot on the ground. The rapid patter of feet spoke of the approaching child more than her blurred and faint shadow in the dim porch light.
"Becky! Is that you?" Leslie answered, knowing it was her nominal niece. The child threw herself into the van and the arms of her favorite aunt. Outside the late model electric, a chorus of other voices emanating from the house told of a large family gathering. Leslie felt like she was home as she embraced the child.
A boy – now a man – who once cared deeply for her, helped the former actress out of the car, an action made more difficult by the advanced state of her pregnancy. "Becky, be careful," he admonished his daughter.
"Oh, she's fine. How's Maddie? I see Becky still has her mother's wild red hair."
"You know, a Keane trait. Everyone else is inside and warm but Becky had to wait for you out here, so I sat with her. How are you, Les?" Tom Jacobs, smiling brightly, pulled his friend into a warm embrace. He released her and bent his head to look into the van, winking when he saw a face that had changed little over the years. "Jess, how's tricks?"
Smiling at the ever-present double entendre in Tom's question, Jesse Aarons replied, "Number five on the way, so they're obviously good." Their eyes met and two decades of history passed between them.
Late Thanksgiving evening, when all the guests had departed and the herd of cousins and family were in their beds, Jesse and Leslie donned their warmest clothes and went for a walk to look at the farm. The nearly full moon was shining brightly and lit the way toward the grounds.
First they walked up the drive to the Burke's home. The old concrete patio where Leslie once washed off skunk musk was not bigger and covered with flag stone. Then back down past Bill's old, rusting tool shed where a coil of rope still lay high upon a shelf, one end frayed. They walked over the creek – a permanent bridge had been erected many years before – and passed the nearly invisible remnants of the old pickup rusting away and covered in brown-leafed vines. A tree house, long ago a castle, had decayed but for a single board nailed crookedly into the trunk, a remnant of the once grand staircase.
Across the harvested fields, through the garden, past the barns for livestock and farm equipment, Jesse and Leslie strolled to a secluded spot, a small dell in the woods by the north creek. They paused and looked on silently, thinking back many years. Then Leslie spoke, a touch of mischief in her voice. "You always bring me back here, Jess. I'm beginning to think this place has a special meaning to you."
"Nah, nothing particularly special."
Leslie gave a little cry and swatted at her husband's arm. He barely felt it through the layers of clothing and a mind distracted by memories of the spot where they had first made love. Then they turned to each other and embraced - a bit askance with Leslie eight months pregnant, but they managed. Lost in thoughts and memories, as they always were when visiting home, that single event still shone through brightly.
"I'll never forget, Jess," she said softly into his ear, and felt his mouth smile.
"Yeah. It was…"
Jesse laughed. "Clumsy!"
Giggling, Leslie agreed. "A little, but worth it."
"Yeah, definitely worth it." He paused and then pointed to the hollow. "Once more, for old-time sake?"
"Not on your life, Jesse Aarons!" squealed his best friend. "It's freezing, I'm as big as a cow, and besides…."
He stopped her with a finger on her lips and a nod of his head. And a heart-warming smile. Then the lovers and soul-mates, husband and wife, dissolved into laughter and finally into a kiss.
Revision 1.1, December, 2008