Disclaimer: I do not own any rights to the story Bridge to Terabithia
I am just a fan of one of the most emotionally powerful books that I have ever read.
The Phone call
"Jess, Jesse…wake up Jess."
"Huh… wh… what?…oh, go away May Belle, let me sleep," Jesse rolled over on to his side, his back to May Belle.
"Jess," May Belle said again, louder this time.
"Your girlfriend's on the phone,"
"Huh… she's not my girlfriend," he said as he was sitting up and rubbing the grogginess of sleep out of his eyes.
He took the phone from May Belle wondering why Leslie would be calling him, She never called him. Just that one time, but he was teased something awful by his sisters. So after that whenever they wanted to talk or do something they just went over to the other one's house.
"Hey what's up?" He asked lying back down on his bed.
"Hi Jess." He was surprised when the voice on the phone wasn't that of Leslie Burke. He sat up again, puzzled.
"Who…um who is this?"
"Hi Jess, this is your teacher, Miss Edmunds. I've been cooped up and bored with all this rain and I was thinking of going into Washington, maybe go to the art museum. I was wondering if you would like to accompany me? …We could go to the Smithsonian or the National Gallery. What do you say?"
Jess panicked, Miss Edmunds was asking him to go to Washington, him Jesse Aarons, he couldn't believe it, he was speechless.
"Jess are you still there?"
"Well, what do you think, would you like to go?"
"Yes'm," he said out loud but in his head he was screaming YES, YES,YES.
"You'll need to get permission," she said in her soft gentle voice.
"Yeah… I mean yes'm, just a minute."
He started out of his room still holding the phone. He looked at it in his hand and thought, I don't want Miss Edmunds to hear me asking my mother for permission. He stepped back and gently placed the phone on his bed, mouthpiece down, to muffle any sound that his stupid sisters might make.
He tiptoed into his parent's room and whispered.
"Huh…what?" his mother asked in a raspy, sleepy voice. He didn't want to wake her fully. If she were full awake she'd be able to think about it and may not let him go.
"mum, my teacher asked if I could go with her to Washington, to the museum; like a field trip."
"That's nice," she said, "it's for school?"
"Yeah, for school," he felt a little guilty, it wasn't quite the truth, but it worked for now.
"Ok, don't be late," she said, she rolled over on her side and was asleep again.
"I won't be late," he said, " thanks," he didn't think she heard that last part, but she had said ok.
He could hardly contain his excitement as he went back for the phone.
"Yes Jess I'm still here."
"It's ok I can go."
"Good I'll pick you up in a few minutes."
Jess gave her the directions to his house. He got cleaned up and dressed, and was at the door waiting for her in less then ten minutes.
When he saw Miss Edmunds pull up he slipped out the door and ran down the driveway. May Belle was the only one up, but she was watching her cartoons and didn't notice Jesse leave.
At first the ride to Washington was uncomfortable for Jess, he didn't know what to do with himself. His hands felt awkward and sweaty, where should he put them, he wondered. He fidgeted about in his seat nervously, avoiding eye contact with Miss Edmunds. He would stare out the window at the passing cars while Miss Edmunds did most of the talking; filling that empty space that Jesse felt between them. Occasionally she'd ask Jess a question, he would answer and then feel stupid for saying whatever it was he said. After a while on the road, though, Jess began to loosen up and feel a little less nervous. He was becoming more comfortable, and beginning to enjoy his time with Miss Edmunds.
As they drove around Washington, Jess took in the sights; it was breath taking. He thought about Leslie, she'd been here like a million times before, then it occurred to him, he should have asked Miss Edmunds if Leslie could have come with them. Then he thought, no, this is my time with Miss Edmunds. He reveled in her company, enjoying the closeness with her; it was a dream come true.
Miss Edmunds, noticing the awestruck look on Jesse's face, asked her young companion if he had ever been to an art gallery before.
"No ma'am," he said, feeling a little sheepish.
"Well then," she said, "my destiny has been fulfilled." Jesse didn't quite understand what she had meant by that; so he just let it go with out comment.
Jesse noticed a small group of kids about his own age; they had migrated away from the adults that they were with. They were fooling around and displaying disinterest, and disdain for this place. Jesse wanted to grab them and shake them. Couldn't they see the beauty all around them, can't they feel the history in every brush stroke, in every hue. He felt a kinship with the artists that created these works; it was not going to be lost on him.
It was a wonderful, fantastic, unbelievable day, perfect he thought. Nothing could ruin his mood. He imagined that his parents would probably be angry with him when he got home, but he didn't care, let them yell, let them punish him. Leslie was likely to be angry with him too, for going off and having fun with Miss Edmunds. But he was sure that once he started talking about Washington, and the museums, and everything that he saw, Leslie would soon forget her anger. Yes, he was happy, and ready to pay any price for his day with Miss Edmunds.
"You can drop me off here," he said, "you don't want to get stuck in the mud." It had stopped raining and the sun was shining brightly now, but the ground was still drenched from the many days of soaking rain.
"Ok Jess see you next week, goodbye."
"Goodbye and thank you."
"You're welcome Jess, maybe we can do this again sometime," she said.
"Yeah, that would be great," he wanted to say that maybe next time we can take Leslie with us, but he didn't, he'd ask her later.
As he approached the house he thought it odd that his father's truck was here, it's early for him to be home, he thought. As he entered the house he sensed something was wrong; it was too quiet. His mother should be getting supper ready, and the TV would usually be blaring in the next room.
"Hey anyone home?" He called as he entered the living room. His mother rushed to him and grabbed him, hugging him close. She'd been crying.
"What?… what's going on?"
Everyone just stared at him; the mood was somber. May Belle broke the silence.
"I told you he'd gone off somewhere with his teacher," she said it in an I told you so manner.
His father cleared his throat and was about to speak when Brenda blurted out.
"Your girlfriend's dead, and we thought you were dead too."
"What?… dead?" every ounce of life drained from his body, he felt dead himself, dead, Leslie, NO!…
"I'm sorry son," his father said, his heart ached for Jesse. "They found her drowned down in the creek, that old rope you kids been swinging on broke."
"NO!" Jess screamed, "she couldn't drown she could swim real good."
"She hit her head Jess, she was unconscious, and she drowned."
"You lie, she's not dead, she can't be dead, I hate you, you're lying to me."
He turned and ran from the house, he ran down the driveway and just kept on running. His feet pounding the rain soaked ground, sloshing, and splashing through the puddles and the mud. Down through the field he continued. I have to keep running he told himself, on and on he went.
Leslie-dead-No…girlfriend-dead-NO… can't be dead …you…you can't be dead, I won't let you be dead. You can't be dead; Leslie it can't be true…
She hit her head Jess…she Drowned Jess…she's Dead Jess!
Down to the woods he ran, those awful words exploding in his head over and over again. His heart was pounding in his chest about to burst. His lungs hurt he couldn't keep going, but he had to keep going. Gasping for breath, he was almost there, he had to go there, he had to be there he…
He stopped short and looking up saw the rope frayed and broken, gone. Leslie's dead, NO!
"What should I do now?" There was nowhere for him to go; he didn't know what to do. "Leslie what do I do, I don't know what to do, Leslie help me, you can't be dead, I need you."
He stood there staring at the frayed end of the rope, hating it, cursing it. He was numb. The price was too high. He'd give anything to take back today. He never wanted to see Miss Edmunds again.
"It was her fault, no it was me, Jesse, it was my fault, I killed her just as sure as if I had put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger."
The tears came, burning in his eyes and blurring his view of that damn rope.
"I wish I'd never seen that stupid rope, I wish I'd never seen Leslie Burke. You tricked me, I hate you, you left me, I need you, I…I…I"
"Hurts, don't it son."
"Huh… what…?" He spun around, his father was standing there, he had followed him.
"Go away, I hate you, go away."
His father grabbed Jesse and hugged him, pulling him tight in his arms.
"Let me go, I hate you, let me go." Jesse flailed in his father's arms, struggling to free himself.
"There, there son, I know, I know it hurts." His father held him tight. Jesse had to give in and stop struggling; he was too drained to fight anymore.
He sobbed in his fathers arms, while his father cuddled him as if he were May Belle or Joyce Ann.
"It's my fault, I killed her." The lump in his throat made it difficult for him to get the words out.
"It's not your fault Jess, it was a terrible accident, and there was nothing you could have done to change that."
No words or comforting could ever erase the fact that he should have been there for her, he should have invited her along with him and Miss Edmunds. That one simple act would have changed everything. It was his fault that Leslie was dead, and there was nothing that would change that. He will have to face the rest of his life knowing that he had killed his best friend, just as sure as if he had thrown her into that ugly muddy creek himself.
He sobbed in his father's arms. Things would never be the same; things will never be good again.
"Jess, Jesse…wake up Jess."
"It's your girlfriend on the phone."
Jesse sprang up in his bed and screamed at May Belle.
"Shut-up May Belle, that's not funny, I'll kill you, GET OUT!"
May Belle backed away, frightened by her brother's rage. She looked at him with fear in her eyes as she cautiously handed him the phone, saying.
"No, really Jess, it's for you." Then she ran from the room crying.
"Hel…hello?" Who would be calling me now he wondered? Could it be?
"Miss Edmunds? What are you talking about?"
"Who…Who is this?"
"Hey Jess, what's the matter with you, it's me, Leslie, who else would be calling you, no offense…. Jess…Jess, are you there, it was a joke Jess, I was just kidding."
"Huh…oh…ah yeah… kidding."
"Are you feeling ok Jess?…Jesse?…um Jess, are you crying?"