A/N: Okay, I know I said I wouldn't be back for a while, but then I realized I had this (and had forgotten to upload it). I doubt this will attract my usual fan base (to whom I'm sorry if you got excited thinking I'd added a new Zelda story), though, so you may just want to ignore what I just said.
Anyway, I feel totally lame because I think it's so stupid when people write fan fiction and bring a dead character back to life, especially with a story like Bridge to Terabithia where the death is kind of the point. And yet I somehow had to write this.
Info: Jess and Leslie are 13, and this is from Jess' point of view.
There she was, the most beautiful girl in school. I smiled at her as she walked into the classroom, saw me, and came to sit down next to me with a huge grin on her face. Middle school is, I guess, the turning point for most guys—that is, we start seeing girls as more than gross beings mostly unlike us. My girlfriend is proof of that.
Her name is Emily Wilson. She has dark, brown hair that is usually pulled into a ponytail draped over her shoulder. I feel like I could stare into her light brown eyes forever, and every time I see her I am just bowled over by her beauty. We have been a couple for almost three weeks now, and the less mature guys have finally stopped their childish teasing.
"Morning, Jess," she said warmly to me.
"Morning, Emily," I said back.
She looked up over my shoulder. "Hi, Leslie."
"Hey." Leslie sat down on my other side, looking a bit distraught. Emily's eyes narrowed slightly as I enthusiastically greeted my best friend: "Hey Leslie! Maybelle wanted me to thank you for giving her all those old horse toys. She says they're even better than the Barbies."
"Oh, sure, no problem," Leslie said, trying to smile but still sounding (and looking) as if she had only gotten two hours of sleep. Slumped over on her desk, she tried not to make eye contact with me—or Emily.
"You all right?" I asked, patting her on the back.
I felt her stiffen. "I'm fine, just a little tired."
In retrospect, I probably should not have acted so friendly towards Leslie when my girlfriend was sitting right there. In my defense, though, Emily was the first I had ever had, so if my tact wasn't perfect it was because I didn't know any better. Emily never said anything, but I often got the feeling that she disliked Leslie.
After class had started, I noticed Leslie doodling idly in her notebook instead of paying attention. At least, she looked like she wasn't paying attention. When the teacher called on her (that way teachers do, thinking they've caught you on the spot), I smirked, excited to see our teacher's face when Leslie would respond with a clever answer.
"What?" Leslie said (to my surprise).
"I asked you whether or not you could tell me the answer to this problem," Mr. Burgess, the teacher, said in a more stern voice. "How can we add ½ and ¾ together?"
Leslie stared at the chalkboard as if the problem there was written in another language. I was worried; this was very unlike her. Most of the time when it looked like she was zoning out, she could still retain most of what a teacher was saying. Now, however, she seemed totally lost. Squinting at the board she said, "Wouldn't you… I mean wouldn't you just add them? And you'd get… 4 over 6?"
"That is incorrect, Ms. Burke," Mr. Burgess said in a snobbish tone. "Perhaps someone else could give me an answer?"
There was silence, and then I saw Emily's hand go up. My feeling of annoyance about the teacher's attitude towards Leslie changed swiftly into pride as my girlfriend (I love saying that—my girlfriend) gave a very intelligent response. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw Leslie shake her head before slumping over her desk again. After the bell had rung and we'd been given our assignments, I left Leslie to speak alone with Mr. Burgess and followed Emily into the hallway.
"What do you think was wrong with Leslie today?" I asked her. "That was so weird and unlike her."
"Oh, I don't know," Emily said lightly. "If you ask me, it looks like she's been on something lately."
"On something?" I asked, not really catching on.
"Come on, Jess," she laughed. "Everybody knows her parents are like, hippies. She calls them by their first names. They probably all take LSD together—"
"Don't say things like that," I interrupted her harshly. "Don't you ever say something like that about them again! The Burkes are great people, including Bill and Judy! They might be a little more… I don't know, eccentric than my parents or yours, but they would never do something like that with Leslie. And besides, she wouldn't need LDS—" (give me a break; I was innocent and in seventh grade) "—because she's too smart and too imaginative!"
Emily raised an eyebrow at me, probably because that last sentence had sounded a little pathetic. She sighed and opened her locker, dumping her things inside. "I'm sorry, Jess," and she sounded sincere. "You're right. It wasn't my idea, really, I just overheard Mary Jensen speculating about it."
"Yeah, well, you can tell Mary to shut up about that the next time you see her," I growled, twiddling the lock next to hers.
Emily closed her locker and put her hand on mine. "That'll be right now, because I'm challenging her for first chair flute! Sorry it has to be during lunch, but… I'll see you in Social Studies, okay?" She squeezed my hand, and I felt a million butterflies explode in my stomach.
"Okay," I said, an almost unwilling smile coming onto my face. She grinned back at me, and then I watched her walk down the hall until she was out of sight. I was brought out of my reverie when a locker behind me closed shut with a bang. I wheeled around and saw Leslie there.
"Well, hi!" she said, a little too cheerfully to sound real.
"Oh, hey," I said, walking towards her. "Emily's got a band thing right now, so… do you want to eat together?" We usually always did, but ever since I started going out with Emily, Leslie had been eating somewhere else.
She looked apprehensive. "Um, okay… sure." Once I'd gotten my paper sack lunch from my own locker, we headed for the immense cafeteria. We took an empty table at the end of the room and sat down on opposite sides. For a few minutes we ate in awkward silence, neither of us really knowing what to say. Finally I decided someone had to say something, otherwise this would be a complete waste of an Emily-less lunch.
"So, what did you want to talk to Mr. Burgess about after class?" I asked for lack of anything better to say.
"He was the one who wanted to talk to me," she said, ripping the crust off her sandwich with what I considered unnecessary vehemence. "You might have noticed that had you been a little less busy staring at Emily Wilson's legs."
"I was staring at the homework board," I lied, blushing slightly. "Making sure I got the due date right. If I hand in my homework late again, Burgess will give me detention, you know that!"
"Why don't you just get Emily to do your homework for you?" Leslie asked in an uncharacteristically vicious tone. "She'd be a lot better at helping you with it than me—Burgess said that if I don't get at least a B on my next test, I'll fail the quarter!"
"Leslie, what's going on with you?" I asked, perhaps being more blunt than was called for. "You're a great student!"
"I don't know," she half-sighed, half-hissed as if she couldn't decide whether or not she wanted to remain angry towards me. "I just don't get math." There were a few more minutes of silence. Then, "Hey Jess." Her voice was softer now. "Remember Terabithia?"
What had caused her to bring that up? We hadn't been to Terabithia—let alone discussed it—in over a year. "Of course I do!" I said, smiling a little at this. "How could I possibly forget it?"
"Everything used to be so easy," she sighed. "So simple … sometimes I just wish I could go back to Terabithia, fight out all our problems there."
She looked so sad; I wanted to take her hand like Emily had taken mine. Outside, a cloud moved out from in front of the sun and the rays hit her hair, making it look as golden as the room we'd painted long ago…
"Leslie." I said it to get her to look at me, and she did; she stared up at me as she took a long sip out of the straw in her milk carton. Her eyes were brown like Emily's, but much darker and almost a little green, reflecting the shirt she had chosen to wear today. It was the first time all day—or it even seemed like days—that she had looked me in the eye, and I got a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach.
She was pretty.
I opened my mouth to speak, when all of a sudden someone walked up and did it for me. "Ooooh, Jess! Eating with Leslie? What's Emily going to think?!" It was Wanda Moore. "As for you, Leslie Burke—what, did the custodian come in and kick you out of the bathroom this time? Need to clean?"
Leslie blushed; I rolled my eyes and told Wanda to beat it. Once she and her giggling gaggle of friends had gone, I looked over at Leslie in confusion. "What was with that joke about the bathroom? Is that where you've been eating?"
"No," she sniffed, resting her face in her hands like she was trying to cover the redness. "Well… only sometimes."
"But—why?!" It was like she was the new kid all over again, the weirdo no one wanted to be associated with. Why had she felt the need to isolate herself? "Leslie, why do you want to be alone?"
She shrugged solemnly. "I dunno, I guess it's just that none of the other kids really seem to know what to make of me. They tolerate my presence, but beyond that, I'm just the weird girl who could out-run all the boys." Leslie took her empty milk carton and crushed it calmly, as if it was Wanda Moore. "Nobody really understands me."
"I understand you," I said.
Leslie's eyes looked past me and she stood up. Gathering her things and noting my questioning expression she muttered, "I don't think she does."
As Leslie walked out of the cafeteria, I jumped when Emily unexpectedly plopped down next to me on the bench. "Hey, Jess!"
"Oh—hi," I said, turning to look at her. "That was quick."
"Well, it turns out Mr. Jordan wasn't there, so we couldn't really do the challenge without him, you know? But whatever, we'll try again tomorrow. So…" Her tone became almost business-like (which I had come to understand meant she was approaching a touchy subject). "What did Leslie want?"
"We were just eating together," I answered casually. "Don't read anything into it, Emily." She looked tensed, so I said, "Relax. Leslie is just a friend, I've known her for so long. Being into her would be like being into my sister!" After which I reckoned, only I can stand to be around Leslie for longer than two seconds.
Emily relaxed. "Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure," I said patiently. "You're the one I'm going out with, Em, and you are the one I'm taking to the Spring Dance tomorrow." But even as I said it, a small part of me seemed to be picturing Leslie there, in a beautiful dress and escorted by a faceless stranger. I got that weird feeling in my stomach again, kind of like I wanted to punch something. I needed to chill. Subject change. "Oh, Emily, do you think you could help me with the Burgess assignment? I don't really understand it…"
On the bus ride home, I sat with Emily and she continued to assist me with my math. Every now and then my eyes involuntarily darted to the blonde top I could see a few seats ahead; I knew Leslie was sitting there, either alone or accompanied by some annoying little kid.
"Here's my stop," Emily said as the bus began to slow down.
"No, wait!" I laughed. "I still don't understand this one…!"
Both of us laughing, I followed her off the bus and chased her up the stone walk to her modest house. On the doorstep she scribbled one last thing on my sheet and then put her hand on the knob. She put her hand on the doorknob, but before going inside, turned and let her lips quickly brush my cheek.
I barely made it to the bus in time; the driver had been threatening to shut the doors on me. Grinning ear to ear and probably looking like an idiot, I headed back to my seat, then changed my mind and sat down next to Leslie. The place where Emily's mouth had touched my face burned as if she'd branded me; it was the most exhilarating feeling.
Leslie was staring out the window, completely ignoring me. "Hi," I said to get her attention, a little breathless.
"Hi," she sighed back. It just occurred to me that she might have seen Emily kiss me from the window when she said, "Have you kissed her before?"
"No," I told her quickly. "I never have. And she's never kissed me before, either. I mean unless you really count what she did just now." I resisted the urge to lovingly rub the spot where I could still feel her kiss linger.
It was probably just my imagination, but I felt like Leslie was trying not to scowl at me. When the bus reached our street, I wouldn't get up. She stared at me either like I was crazy or like she was going to hit me. I stared back.
"Come on, Jess, let's go," she said, nudging me.
"Yeah, let's go," I repeated. "To the place."
A smile of comprehension dawned on her face and she nodded; together we leapt up and ran off the bus. We casually flung our backpacks to the ground and sped through the trees to that sacred place, our Terabithia. When we got to the river, we came to an almost simultaneous halt. Our beloved rope was still there, but it looked a little worse for wear. Leslie frowned.
"I'll test it first," I volunteered.
"No Jess, don't," she said, grabbing my arm to stop me. "It looks dangerous."
Trying to ignore the fact that I'd felt a bolt of electricity surge through my body when she grabbed my arm, I gently pried her fingers off. "Calm down, my Queen. The King of Terabithia fears nothing." I took hold of the rope, pulled on it—it felt secure enough—braced myself, and swung across. As usual I disappeared into the shrubbery on the other side.
"Jess?" she called after me when I didn't say anything. "JESS!"
I was getting some kind of twisted pleasure out of hearing the worry in her voice, like I was glad she was so concerned about me. Finally deciding I'd let her on long enough, I swung the rope back to her as hard as I could. I heard her laugh and take off from her side of the river. "We rule Terabithia!" I shouted as she came swinging into marvelous view.
"And nothing crushes us!" she finished for me as she made a smooth landing.
We were smiling and then we laughed uncontrollably, feeling like we were kids. Of course technically we still were, but to a thirteen-year-old, being eleven feels like it was years and years ago. But as we looked out at Terabithia, any feeling of being ridiculous or childish was washed away: this was the place we belonged, and no matter how old we were, it was our place.
Once Leslie had told me off for making her worry I'd fallen on the other side, we spent all afternoon (and into early evening) running around our kingdom. Our people had missed us, and the Queen joked about how I had made a new conquest since our departure. As we made to leave Terabithia, Leslie conversationally asked, "I suppose the King plans on taking this new… interest to the Spring Dance tomorrow eve?"
"The Queen supposes correctly," I replied, once we'd both made it safely to the other side (although Leslie didn't miss the chance to josh back at me, pretending as if she almost slipped half-way across). "Emily and I are going together."
"Won't that be jolly fun!" she said. "Hey, are we allowed to speak like the rulers once we've left Terabithia?"
I shrugged. "I don't know."
"Let's not, then," she said. "It makes it more special that way." She glanced at the riverbed over her shoulder. "There's barely enough water in there to even constitute a creek," she remarked. "It probably would have been safer to just walk across."
"Walk? To Terabithia?" I balked. "Then it wouldn't be special."
"No, I guess not."
After we said our goodbyes, I walked back into the house, and by into the house I mean into it—Leslie had looked over her shoulder to smile and wave as she ran home, and I was so distracted I walked smack dab into the outer wall. Whoops.
"Nice," said Brenda, opening the door for me. I ignored her and stepped inside, but then she caught me off guard by saying, "Does Emily Wilson know you're two-timing her, Jess?"
"What?!" I sputtered.
"Oh, come on," said Ellie as Brenda sat down next to her. "You're going out with Emily, aren't you?"
"Well, yeah, but—"
"So where did you just go off to with Leslie Burke?" Brenda questioned me. "Maybelle told us you guys hang out sometimes after school—"
"Today was the first time in weeks, and besides we didn't—"
"Ah, so he admits it," Ellie cackled to Brenda. "Poor Emily! Gosh, Jess, at least she's normal—"
"Shut up!" I yelled. They both just kept laughing, so I tramped upstairs to my room in a huff. Maybelle wasn't there, otherwise I would have yelled at her, too, ratting out me and Leslie. I flopped down on my bed. Stupid Ellie, stupid Brenda. What did they know, anyway? It's not like I like liked Leslie, we'd been best friends forever. So what, I was just supposed to cut her off when I got a girlfriend? No way! That's stupid, she didn't have a problem with Emily anyway. …at least I didn't think so. She'd have no reason to, it was stupid.
A knock sounded on my door. "Jess, we're sorry," sighed Ellie. "We were just teasing you, we know you have no intention of going out with Leslie."
"Yeah, Maybelle told us you two hadn't been talking for a while," seconded Brenda through the door. "But you can put two and two together, can't you?" When I didn't answer, she sighed in exasperation. "Leslie likes you, Jess. That's why she wouldn't talk to you for so long! Geez!"
A car door slam. "Oops—'rents are home; better get started on that homework," I heard Ellie mutter to Brenda. Then in a louder voice, "Just remember what we said, Jess! We know about these things!"
"Just shut up and leave me alone!" I shouted, not really knowing why I was being so loud. Leslie did not like me, that was ridiculous. Brenda and Ellie were just trying to annoy me again. Now that I had a girlfriend, they wanted me to screw things up with her by trying to get Leslie's attention. Puh.
But then I remembered: how Leslie had looked at me during lunch, when she'd touched my arm before going to Terabithia, her smile as she waved goodbye. Then an unbidden image entered my mind: Leslie walking around school arm-in-arm with some guy, some random guy, laughing and smiling and acting like he was the only person in the world. She doted on him, saved a seat for him, ate lunch with him, harbored a secret desire to take hold of him and kiss him. I hated him. I hated that guy! I wanted to punch him, kick him, grab him by the throat and—
Wait a second, that guy doesn't even exist. Oh, crap. What's going on? Finally, it hit me: the effect Leslie's smile had had on me was triple of that brought by Emily's swift kiss on my cheek. Leslie Burke was amazing. Much as Emily was pretty and popular and liked me, I realized that I'd had more fun in Terabithia today than I had anywhere with Emily in the last three weeks. It struck me like lightning just then: I loved Leslie Burke. I loved her. I loved being with her, loved her laugh, loved her sense of humor, loved her imagination, loved her smile her face her hair the way she landed when she got off the rope—I loved her!
I had to hear the way the words sounded out loud. "Leslie," I said in a barely audible whisper. "I… think I love you." I smiled slowly to myself and hugged my pillow. It was much easier to say than "I love you, Emily Wilson." Emily was a nice kid but now it was plainer than day that she was no Leslie Burke.
I guess I must have fallen asleep and stayed that way, because next thing I knew I was being shaken roughly awake very early the next morning.
"Jess, get up, get up!"
It was my mother. Groaning, I slowly propped myself up on my elbows and squinted at her. "What?"
"Wake up, Jesse!" she said, shaking me again to get me to open my eyes. Her tone was unusually worried, as if she need more done than the cow getting milked.
"What's—what's wrong, what's going on?" I yawned, sitting up.
My heart skipped a beat just at the sound of her name. "What about her?"
"She's gone missing—her parents called and said she'd disappeared. They've looked everywhere, all around the house and grounds and she's not anywhere—"
This wasn't like Leslie. I jumped out of bed, and having fallen asleep in my T-shirt and jeans needed only to pull on my hoodie before stalking out of my room and asking, "When did they call?"
"Only about five minutes ago—I thought you might know where she is, and we could tell them where to—"
I stepped into my sneakers and was out of the door, closing it with a bang behind me. I was barely aware that I'd cut off my mother, but I didn't really care at the moment. All that mattered was that I find Leslie, and I knew just where to look. But I didn't understand: what had possessed her to just run off without telling her parents? Why didn't she at least tell them she was with me, so they could call my parents and they could confirm it? She'd been so off lately—
At the dirt path in front of Terabithia, I came to an automatic stop. The rope was broken. It was broken. It had been fine yesterday; it had looked a little edgy but it had worked fine—it was broken? Did Leslie…. no. No, it had broken overnight; Leslie was somewhere else, definitely. I was just about to slowly turn back when I heard something that made my heart sink:
My heart was hammering. Her voice sounded like it was across the way, and I felt relieved. She had made it to the other side, and then the rope had broke of its own accord. She spoke again: "Jess, help me… I'm down here."
"Very funny, Leslie," I called out, thinking she was just hiding in the bush where I couldn't see her. "I know you're just getting back at me for that joke I pulled on you yesterday. Guess I'll have to walk across, huh?"
It didn't sound like she was pretending anymore. For a split second longer, I lingered there, then I flew to the edge of the riverbed and I felt my heart stop—actually stop—when I saw Leslie lying in the low water, the lower half of the mangled rope still in her hand. I climbed down and splashed my way towards her; to my horror, I could see the color of blood seeping slowly into the water from the back of her head. It rested a large rock.
"The rope is broke," she said in a cracked whisper, lifting her had somewhat to show it to me.
"Leslie," was all I could think to say. I didn't know what to do; I had to help her. Awkwardly, I slid one arm into the water under her back but didn't really know what to do with the other one.
"It's all right, Jess," she said in the same broken whisper, the way you talk when your throat is very dry. "It's all right. I don't really think you can help me—"
"Don't talk that way, Leslie," I said. Her eyes were slowly closing and opening as if she was very drowsy. "Why didn't you get me to come with you, Leslie? Why did you come alone?" Her eyes remained close. "Leslie. Leslie!" Suddenly I knew what to do with my other arm. I put it around her and closed my eyes as well, leaned towards her and gave her a small, gentle kiss on her smooth lips.
She inhaled deeply and her eyes opened when I ended it. I could see she had been crying, but through her tear tracks I saw a weak smile. "Thanks, Jess … I always wanted to be your first kiss."
"That was the first," I said, "But it's not going to be the last." I moved my other arm to the back of her knees and managed to lift her up off the ground. Blood continued to drip from her soggy hair into the river water; I had to act fast. "Just hang onto me, Leslie, hang on."
"I love you, Leslie, I love you and I'm not going to let anything happen to you! I'm not going to leave you here!"
Leslie looked shocked. Then, "Thanks, Jess… thank you." She gripped the hood of my sweater a bit tighter and I found some foot-holes to help me climb back onto the dirt path. Once we were on steady ground again, I lay her down as gently as I could, then pulled the hoodie over my own head and put it gawkily around her own. Then I helped her to climb up on my back, and I ran home like I had never run before—I felt like I could have even outran Jesse Owens at the rate I was going, and he'd never had to run with a girl on his back.
As we got nearer to home, though, I could feel myself getting more and more tired. Leslie was getting heavier; I knew this meant she had lost consciousness and I felt like I was nearly losing it, too—"Hang on, Leslie," I panted. "Hang on, we're almost there—come on, Leslie…" My own eyes were beginning to close; I stumbled but Leslie remained on my back; our houses were coming into view, and then my parents talking to the Burkes …Bill practically jumped their fence when he saw me… I fell to the ground and everything went black…
I woke up in a bed. Had it all been a dream? A horrible dream? Relief washed over me; that must have been it. But then I became more in tune with the awake world and realized that I was not in my bed and I was not in my room. The walls were white, the sheets were white, my family was sitting all around me, silent but looking quietly overjoyed to see me upright.
"Am I in the hospital?" I asked, not really needing an answer.
"Yes," came my dad's gruff reply.
They wouldn't look at me; they wouldn't even look at each other. "Where's Leslie?" I repeated, unsuccessful in keeping the panic out of my voice. I knew this could only mean one thing.
She was gone.
There were no needles or tubes in me, no straps or bandages to keep me down. I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and stood; I guess I'd done so too quickly because it felt like the room was swaying back and forth and my head ached. I screwed my eyes shut in pain and heard footsteps across the room. Next thing I knew, my father was holding me in his arms, my head pushed into his chest. Tears were coming out of my eyes, and I initially thought he was just trying to hide them, like he didn't want to have to see me do something so girly as cry.
"I'm so sorry, Jess," he whispered instead. "I'm so, so sorry. I don't know what else I should say."
"She's dead?" I sniffed, tears blurring my vision and my speech. "Dad, Leslie is dead?"
My mother and sisters walked out of the room; I was alone with my father. His hand clutching the back of my head he answered, "She's gone, son. We were so scared, though—you came running to the house with her on her back, and then you just collapsed right there in front of us. Right away your mother ran inside and called for an ambulance. Mr. Burke and I went up to you two, and we saw you'd fainted, but I worried it was much worse because your friend—" He cut himself off there, whether he was collecting his thoughts or trying not to cry himself I wasn't really sure. "Leslie… was… barely alive."
"She was alive," I said in a voice that came out in a squeak, as I was still crying. "She was still alive and I couldn't say goodbye!"
"I don't know if she would've had the strength to hear you," my dad said. "When you fell to the ground, she only said five words."
"What'd she say?" I whispered in a half-sob.
Dad stiffened up, then pulled himself away from me. He was looking me over, evaluating me as if he wondered how I would take this. Sitting down seemed to be indicated, so I automatically sat on the bed and he on the chair next to it. "She had kind of fallen over you, so her head was kind of near yours. Mr. Burke was trying to get up but she said… she said 'I love you, Jess,' into your ear."
Why was I so weak?! If I could have held out only a few moments longer, I could have heard the sentence that might have kept me going. I had missed it. "That was only four words, dad," I informed him. "You said there were five."
My father exhaled loudly and leaned back in his chair. "I noticed Leslie always called her parents by their first names. Mr. Burke was crying like a baby, but he bawled like no man I've ever seen we he took that little girl into his arms, and she put hers around his neck and called him Daddy."
He looked at the ground. "And then that was all." Dad sighed heavily again, then added (as if he figured I had a right to know all these details so soon after the fact), "I knew she was gone, but when the ambulance came, Bill put her in anyway and insisted we take her along. But there was nothing the doctors could do; she's in the next room over. Bill says they're thinking of cremating—"
I stood up and strode angrily over to the door then wrenched it open, once more interrupting one of my parents this way. I didn't know how long it would be until Leslie's body was burned, gone forever, but I couldn't take any chances in not ever seeing it again. In the hallway I saw the rest of my family, all awkward and standing there, shifting around and not knowing what to say or how to look. Then, staring into the glass window in the room next to mine, I saw a familiar figure.
She turned when she saw me looking, and I slowly began to recognize the brunette beauty with soft, brown eyes. "Emily… Emily?" I had forgotten all about her; forgotten she even existed. It took me a minute to even remember her last name, or why she would have come to see me here.
Tears in her eyes, Emily nodded and came over to hug me. "I'm sorry, Jess, I'm so sorry," she cried. I stood there, unmoved. Just the other day I would have reveled in this, but I didn't care anymore. I wanted Leslie to hug me, to need me, to tell me she was sorry about anything, just so she was talking to me. Emily Wilson meant nothing to me. She slowly got this, and released me. I turned away from her and went through the door of Leslie's room.
Leslie, my best friend in the world, lay there in the white sheets, looking peaceful at last. Her eyes were shut, but her mouth—maybe it was just a trick of the light, or me wishing I was seeing something I didn't—looked like it was curved up into that playful smirk she always had. There were two empty chairs on either side of the bed, and I assumed they had been occupied by her parents at one point; they were probably off talking to some doctor about cremation now.
Queen of Terabithia. "Leslie." I wanted her eyes to snap open, for her to try not to laugh, like she was seeing how long she could play dead for me. But she remained completely immobile. After a few moments' hesitation, I clambered up onto the bed next to her, lay on my side with my head in the pillow, just looking.
Her dirty blonde hair which had always been flying about her face, anything but still, was now probably neater than it had ever been… and not moving. I put my arm over her stomach, half-waiting to feel her body move with her breathing. But I knew it was in vain; I felt nothing. Sliding my hand under the sheet, I felt around for hers and when I found it, gave it a small squeeze. Every fiber of my being prayed for a miracle, that after a few seconds I might feel her squeeze it back. Nothing. "You really are dead," I said to her small ear. "I made you a promise, though, Leslie. I said that kiss wouldn't be the last."
Glad I was alone, I inched closer and kissed her cheek. Maybe it was just that trick of the light again, but as I closed my exhausted eyes, I could almost swear I saw a smile.
There was a dream.
"Come on, Jess! Hurry!"
Leslie was taking me deeper and deeper into Terabithia, and I knew we were going to the Sacred Forest, to talk to the gods. She came to an abrupt stop, and thrust her arms into the air. "Gods of Terabithia!" she shouted. "Hear me!"
Some branches fell down at us as several birds took off at once to fly away from her booming voice. She grinned at me. "This is why I wanted to come alone," she said.
I understood she meant yesterday, when I had found her. "But…why?"
"I came to pray to the Terabithia gods!" she answered, once more addressing the sky. Then, a little sheepishly, she went on, "I hoped maybe they could help me. I mean, help me about you."
"What do you mean?"
"Well clearly, I wasn't going about the right way of getting you to know," she laughed. "I wanted to know that I care about you, Jess." Then she giggled and, taking my face in her hands, closed my questioning mouth with a kiss. "Mmm…" She broke it off.
"But—Leslie," I said. "You've…"
"Yes, this is a dream," she said lightly. "Right?" She jumped up onto the branch of a nearby tree. Even in my Terabithia-imagination I don't think I could have jumped so high. "I'm dead, you can say it."
"I'll never see you again!" I shouted to her.
"Oh, don't be so dramatic!" she laughed, jumping to another branch. "Or are you worried about your God sending me to hell?"
"He wouldn't," I replied, still loud. "Because God only takes the best."
Even from all the way down where I was, I could still see her smile grow. "That's right, Jess Aarons. Thank you! And don't worry, I'll always be watching out for you, I...I love you."
"Leslie," I said, and I realized my voice was choked with tears again. "Leslie, I love you, too. I don't want to lose you."
"You haven't lost me!" she called out, jumping still higher; "I'm all around here!" She indicated the entire forest. "If you ever need me, you'll know just where to find me!" Suddenly I saw our tree house (built a lot higher than it really was), and she landed on its roof. "Remember!" she announced, thrusting her fist into the air. "We rule Terabithia!"
I smiled through my drying tears, punching the air back at her and my voice was louder and more sturdy than ever as I answered, "Nothing crushes us!"
A/N: Okay obviously I had the movie in mind when I wrote this, but you should know that I read the book way before the movie was even in production. As in, years ago. I guess I still wanted Leslie to die, but on my own terms… thanks for reading.