A Bridge to Terabithia Fanfiction


Mad Tom

Chapter 8

The other two Eighth Graders hung back by the door as Willard stepped forward. Jess swallowed hard. "Willard!" he breathed. "Listen!... I-I'm sorry i-i-if I embarrassed you with th-that note."

Willard stopped and held up his hands. "It's okay, Aarons!... It's cool! In fact, I... I'm really flattered that you and Leslie Burke think I'm the guy that the girls all swoon over!"

Jess raised his eyebrows. His body remained taut and he continued to breathe rapidly through his mouth at the possibility of physical threat, but the three other boys remained in place.

"Listen," Willard continued. "I don't know who started this rumor, but we're not after you! Like I just said, I think it's flattering that you two think the girls go all gushy over me. And if Janice Avery was conceited and gullible enough to believe I had the hots for her," he jerked his raised palms back and forth for emphasis, "that's her problem, not mine!"

Jess remained frozen and open-mouthed.

"So we're cool, Jess?" Willard asked.

"Yeah," he nodded stiffly. "We're cool."

Willard turned and nodded to his two companions, and the three of them left quickly. Jess leaned heavily on the sink counter and heaved a loud sigh, just as a series of rapid knocks came on the door.

"Jess!" he heard Leslie's frantic voice from the other side. "Are you still in there?"

"Yeah!" he called back as he stepped back to the door. He stepped back out to find Leslie waiting with a fear in her eyes that he'd never seen before.

"Jess!" she gasped, gripping him tightly by both shoulders. "Did those guys hurt you?"

"No," he shook his head, a little dazed with disbelief. "None of them laid a finger on me!"

"But Willard threatened to squish you like a tomato?"

"Not even that! I started to apologize about the note, but he said he thought it was cool that you and I thought all the girls swooned over him. Then he said he didn't know who started the rumor that he and his friends were after me!"

Leslie let out a loud sigh and released her grip. "You're kidding!"

"Do I look like I'm kidding?" Jess blinked and thought for a second. "Maybe I was imagining things, but I thought he looked like he was as scared as I was!"

She raised her eyebrows. "Scared of you?"

"I doubt it. Scared of something. I have no idea what."

Leslie nodded toward their classroom. "We should head back to class. But if there's something going on that makes even Willard Hughes nervous to be around us, this can't be good."

They headed back and returned to their classroom, being the last to do among those who had taken the lavatory break. Again, a ripple of silence from their classmates preceded them to their desks.

As lunchtime came, Jess and Leslie still had learned nothing new. As they took their bag lunches to their favorite spot on one of the benches that encircled the large tree where the courtyard opened up to the playing fields, the kids who sat on the adjacent benches conspicuously slid away from them. As the couple started to eat, most of the other kids walking past seemed to glance at them through narrowed eyes and to give them a wide berth.

"This is driving me nuts!" Jess said finally, putting his sandwich down in his lap and throwing up his hands.

"Yeah, me too!" Leslie nodded. "Waiting for the other shoe to drop and having no idea what it is!"

"Can you think of anybody who'd know whom we could ask? Someone we can trust?"

Leslie silently bit her lip for a second. "It's a long shot, kind of a leap of faith, but..."

"Who?" Jess asked anxiously.

"Well, who got us into this mess in the first place with their big mouths?"

"May Belle and Alexandra!" he laughed lightly.

"If you can't trust your own little sister..." she grinned.

"Yeah, but just because they go shooting their mouths off about everything they hear, doesn't mean they'd actually know anything."

"Alexandra's gotta know something, the way she acted on the bus when we sat behind her."

"It's worth a shot," Jess shrugged.

They finished eating quickly as they scanned the playground. His sister and her redheaded best friend weren't hard to find or far away, playing hopscotch on one of the painted courts in the paved area. Jess nudged Leslie and pointed them out, and they headed that way. The two younger girls were so absorbed in their game that they were unaware of the couple until they were almost on top of them and Leslie called out: "Alexandra!"

Alexandra then turned to see who was calling her and then stiffened and turned white.

Leslie took a step toward her and May Belle. "Listen, I want to ask..."

The redheaded girl turned bug-eyed and made a dash for the open field, forcing the other kids in her path to jump and dodge out of the way. Leslie and Jess sighed to each other and rolled their eyes before taking off after her with May Belle trailing after them. Alexandra made it to the field but didn't get far across before the two fastest kids in Fifth Grade caught up to her. As soon as Leslie laid a hand on her shoulder, she dropped onto the grass and curled up into a defensive ball, crying hysterically.

"Please don't hurt me!" she shrieked. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Please don't hurt me, Leslie! May Belle, please tell your brother and Leslie not to hurt me! Please! Please! Please! I'm sorry!"

"Alexandra!" Leslie sighed heavily as she and Jess knelt next to her. "Calm down! We're not going to hurt you."

Alexandra looked up at them, gasping nervously. "You're not?"

"No!" Leslie shook her head.

"See!" May Belle said to Alexandra. "I tried to tell you!"

"Why would we want to hurt you?" Leslie asked.

"I told everybody your secret about the fake Willard Hughes letter," Alexandra continued to cry. "You're gonna beat me into a million pieces like you did to Janice and Carla! I'm sorry!"

Both Leslie's and Jess's jaws dropped and they both sat there, stunned and speechless.

"Is that what you think happened?" Jess asked finally, his voice squealing.

"That's what everyone thinks happened," May Belle said. "They think that when Janice and Carla went after you guys, you booby-trapped the woods, then beat 'em up and put 'em in the hospital. Then somehow you got Janice's dad put in jail."

There was a few more seconds' worth of open-mouthed silence from Jess and Leslie, and then they both snickered and then burst into hysterical laughter, Jess falling with his back on the grass and then Leslie falling over across his chest.

"You're not going to beat me up?" Alexandra looked like she had literally received a commutation on a death sentence as May Belle helped her to sit up.

"No!" Leslie wheezed. "We didn't hurt Janice and Carla. In fact, we saved their lives."

"That's what I told her!" May Belle emphasized. "She won't believe me!"

"Everything all right here?" a familiar female voice, adult but youthful, called out above them. Jess and Leslie turned to see a familiar pair of pink Crocs on the grass near his head, and then followed them up the slender ankles and legs, Capri pants and floral blouse to the delicate blue-eyed face and dark hair.

"Everything's fine, Miss Edmunds," Leslie grinned as she sat up and then helped Jess do so. "We're just trying to reassure Alexandra that we're not out to beat her into a pulp."

"We just found out there's this rumor going around..." Jess added, still laughing.

"Yes, I know!" Miss Edmunds furrowed her brows at them, then smiled. "I didn't think it was true. As bad and as mean as some of the kids can get around here, you two are just not the type who would assassinate Jesse James!"

Their classmates' behavior remained the same after lunch, but seeing it in a new light brought subtle smirks to their lips as they returned to their seats. They continued to exchange those smirks as Jess occasionally glanced behind and one row past Gary Fulcher toward Leslie. In between 7th and 8th Period, while the class shifted subjects, Leslie got out of her seat and leaned over Fulcher's desk, which caused him to lean back nervously out of the way as she tossed a folded sheet of paper across to Jess.

He unfolded it and read: Seven whole periods so far without a nasty comment from Squoger, Vulture, Madison or anyone else! I could get used to this! Love, Leslie, followed by a smiley face.

Jess grinned back at her as she settled back at her desk. Not only did she sign it "Love, Leslie" which, if seen by anyone else prior to today, would have triggered an irreparable round of teasing, but she passed it to him literally under Fulcher's nose. Whatever punishment Mr. Turner was going to dish out after his meeting with their parents, it was going to be worth it.

When the dismissal bell rang at 3:10, Mrs. Myers stood by her desk as the kids flowed out the door. "Jesse, Leslie," she said softly as they went past, "just a reminder..."

"No, ma'am," Leslie replied, "we didn't forget."

The two of them made their way, carrying their backpacks, down the halls toward the Main office."

"Have you ever had to serve detention?" Leslie asked.

"No," Jess replied. "I don't suppose you have either." He smiled at her. "You're Little Miss Perfect Teacher's Pet."

She punched him in the arm with a grin. "I don't try to be Teacher's Pet! You know me better than that, Jesse Aarons! Mrs. Myers just likes me because I don't try to suck up to her like Madison and the others." She sighed. "And those days are over. You saw the look on Mrs. Myers' face when she called us out into the hallway this morning."

"So you're no longer Old Monster Mouth's fair haired girl. I guess it's a bigger deal for you. I didn't have as far to fall. I've been on her crap list since before I met her, just 'cause I'm Ellie and Brenda's brother. She probably hates me even more now for corrupting you!"

"No big deal, Jess," she smiled reassuringly. "Madison Moore is welcome to the Teacher's Pet job if she wants it. She's already got Class Suck-Up all sewn up!" She stroked his hand briefly. "I'll take being Queen of Terabithia with you as my King over being Mrs. Myers' Pet any day."

"Even if it means a week's worth of detention?"

"Even if it means a week's worth of detention!"

"Thanks, Leslie!"

The turned the corner into the Office wing and found May Belle a few steps ahead of them. They caught up to her just before reaching the door to the Main Office.

"May Belle!" Jess said. "You're not in trouble too, are you?"

"No. Miss Pratt told me to come down here. Since Momma's here, we're all supposed to ride home with her."

The three of them entered the outer Main Office and sat in the row of seats against the wall. The two clerks behind the counter saw their entrance, and one of them stood, knocked on the door to Mr. Turner's inner office and stuck her head inside. A second later, Mary Aarons came out carrying Joyce ann and holding a diaper bag.

"Hi," she smiled at her other two children and Leslie. "Dad and I and Leslie's folks may be in with Mr. Turner for a while. Could you two watch Joycie for me?"

'Okay, Mom," Jess nodded. Mary seated the blonde toddler in his lap, deposited the diaper bag at his feet and returned to Mr. Turner's office.

Leslie watched Jess halfheartedly hold Joyce Ann and jiggle his legs under her, while May Belle crossed her arms and stared off, trying her best to ignore her baby sister's presence. Leslie leaned over and tickled Joyce Ann's chin. "Hi there, Joycie!"

Joyce Ann giggled and laughed, smiling brightly at her.

"Can I take her?" Leslie asked Jess.

"Knock yourself out!" Jess grinned, moving Joyce Ann onto Leslie's lap. Leslie took her by the armpits and rubbed noses with her, then swung her up and down, cooing to her as Joyce Ann giggled with delight. Jess smiled as he looked at his girlfriend in this new light, watching her bond with his baby sister.

"Don't worry, Jess," Leslie smiled at him. "I'm not gonna trade PT for her!"

"What's that supposed to mean?" May Belle squinted at them.

"You don't want to know!" Jess chuckled.

They sat there, quiet except for Leslie's cooing and Joyce Ann's giggling and babbling. The two clerks were engaged in light conversation in between answering phone calls. The three kids couldn't hear anything intelligible from the very muffled conversation that filtered through from Mr. Turner's office, although occasionally the distinct, raspy voice of Jack Aarons could be heard rising almost to the level of shouting. Jess felt mixed emotions; although his father had said he was coming to this meeting to "ask Mr. Turner what the hell kind of zoo he's running", it still unsettled Jess that nearly all the times he'd heard his father raise his voice like that, it was directed at him; plus, there was no guarantee that the wrong words from Mrs. Myers or one of the other staff or from Mr. Turner himself might turn the situation back against him.

The minutes passed. At 3:30, the teachers and other staff began filtering through the outer office, checking the mail in their mailboxes on the wall and signing out of the building, with no sign of an end coming to the meeting. Mrs. Myers and Miss Edmunds walked in together, conversing lightheartedly, then both stopped and smiled when they saw Joyce Ann sitting in Leslie's lap.

"Awww!" Miss Edmunds said as she leaned over to get closer. "Your baby sister, Leslie?"

"No, ma'am. Jess and May Belle's. I'm an only child."

"Aw, she's a cutie!" Miss Edmunds said to Jess and May Belle. She turned to Mrs. Myers. "Looks like we're not done with this batch for a few more years!"

Mrs. Myers cracked a very thin smile. "Are your parents still in with Mr. Turner?"

"Yes, ma'am," Leslie nodded.

"I wouldn't worry too much," Mrs. Myers said. "Mr. Turner spoke to us earlier today, and both of us recommended leniency for both of you after we learned the details."

"Thanks," Leslie and Jess said together.

Leslie waited until the two teachers said goodbye and left. "So maybe you're not on her crap list anymore!" she said softly.

"I won't hold my breath waiting for that to happen!" Jess smiled. "But it looks like you're still in the running for Teacher's Pet!"

At around 3:40, Mr. Turner opened his office door and looked at them. "You kids can come in now. You too, May Belle."

They came around the counter and the clerks' desks into Mr. Turner's office. Both sets of parents were seated in armchairs in front of the desk, and Leslie handed Joyce Ann back to Mary. The three kids remained standing.

"Leslie, Jess," Mr. Turner began, "you both know that we don't take cutting class and leaving the school grounds lightly."

"Yes, sir," they both replied.

"However," he continued, "your parents and Mrs. Myers and some of the other teachers have filled me in on the whole story. I had a talk with Mr. Kenny and reminded him that what he did was not proper procedure. Any allegations of horseplay or other safety infraction on a bus are to be reported to an administrator after the bus run. He does not have the authority to deny transportation to a student on his own, so what he did to you, Jess, won't happen again. May Belle, what Janice Avery did with your lunch shouldn't have happened, as well as this racket of her and Carla Dean at the playground lavatories. But as I explained to your parents, the staff can't be everywhere."

He glanced downward momentarily, clearing his throat before continuing, addressing all three kids. "At any rate, I agree with your parents that what Jess and Leslie did about Janice was a lot more nonviolent and creative than what would usually happen in a situation like that. And it's my understanding that you've resolved your conflicts with Janice and Carla in a most dramatic fashion."

Jess and Leslie nodded.

"Jess, Leslie, I can't ignore the fact that you two did cut several periods and left the building on Friday. But considering the extenuating circumstances, I'm going to count this meeting as your detention for this offense, and consider this whole matter closed."

"I told you," Jack Aarons smiled to his only son. "I never promised you anything, but we had a few questions we wanted to ask Mr. Turner."

The two families stepped out into the now nearly empty parking lot where both of the Aarons family's vehicles-- Jack's pickup and Mary's station wagon-- were several spaces apart. "Where's our car?" Leslie asked her parents.

"We rode over with Mrs. Aarons and Joyce Ann," Judy answered.

"I'm going back to work," Jack announced. He kissed his wife and daughters, stroked Jess and Leslie on their shoulders and shook hands with Bill and Judy before stepping off to his pickup.

Mary strapped Joyce Ann into the child seat in the back seat of her old station wagon as everyone else piled in, Jess, Leslie and May Belle in the rear compartment, Judy in the front passenger seat and Bill in the back seat next to Joyce Ann.

"You know, May Belle," Jess said as his mother drove them homeward, "you and Alexandra need to start spreading the word about what really happened. Especially since it was you two who got me and Leslie into this situation in the first place."

"We already did, Jess!" May Belle with what bordered on a whine. "Right after you guys talked to Alexandra after lunch. But nobody wants to believe us!"

Bill laughed and turned in his seat to look back at them. "I'm afraid May Belle just hit the nail on the head about what your problem is. Everyone thinks you two just shot Liberty Valance!"

Leslie squinted at her father. "Who's Liberty Valance?"

"The bad guy in an old cowboy movie," Jess interjected. "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Right, Mr. Burke?"

"Right," Bill nodded. "An old John Ford classic from 1962."

"It was on one of the classic movie channels a few months ago," Jess explained to Leslie.

"Lee Marvin played Liberty Valance, but Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne were the stars of the movie," Bill continued. "Liberty Valance is this hired gun for this cattle baron who's trying to put all the other ranchers out of business. Jimmy Stewart is a lawyer with no gunfighting experience who comes to town trying to help establish law and order. John Wayne is another cattle rancher who's the only guy that Liberty Valance and the cattle baron don't mess with. John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart get into a love triangle with Vera Miles who was John Wayne's girlfriend to begin with. In the meantime, Liberty Valance keeps killing or beating and terrorizing the other ranchers and settlers, helping his boss keep a stranglehold on the town. Eventually, he goes after Jimmy Stewart, who's scared to death but decides to get a gun and face him down. They shoot it out and Jimmy Stewart comes out hurt but alive, and by some miracle, Liberty Valance is dead. Vera Miles decides to marry Jimmy Stewart instead of John Wayne, and John Wayne becomes a recluse."

"Instead of John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart shoots the bad guy and gets the girl?" Leslie squinted. "That doesn't sound right! Are you sure you're remembering it right, Dad?"

Bill laughed and looked into his daughter's eyes, holding up one hand momentarily. "Don't get ahead of yourself, Honey. In the first place, one of the ironies about John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart: in real life during World War II, John Wayne failed his military physical because of an old college football injury, while Jimmy Stewart became a real war hero. He commanded a bomber squadron and led missions deep into Nazi Germany. By the time they made this movie, he was a brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve."

Jess and Leslie raised their eyebrows.

"Anyway," her father continued, "Jimmy Stewart's character becomes so popular for standing up and shooting Liberty Valance, and for establishing law and order, that he eventually gets himself elected to Congress. So years and years later, Jimmy Stewart's a senator, and John Wayne's character dies. So Jimmy and Vera Miles travel all the way home from Washington for his funeral, and a reporter asks why such a big, important senator traveled all that way just for the funeral of some obscure rancher. And Jimmy Stewart explains that during the political convention that nominated him, he was about to turn it down because he didn't want to advance himself on the reputation for killing someone. But then, John Wayne pulls him aside and tells him that he'd been hiding in an alley and was the one who really shot Liberty Valance. And that Jimmy Stewart needed to accept the nomination and use his reputation for the sake of Vera Miles and the greater good of everybody."

"So how do we turn this into something for the greater good, Dad?" Leslie asked.

"Mr. Turner had an idea," Bill smiled. "Mom tells me Janice and Carla promise never to extort money again, but Mr. Turner says the reason he couldn't stop them to begin with was because the teachers don't have the time to keep a continuous eye on the lav. So maybe the two of you can keep an eye on the lav and make sure nobody else does what Janice and Carla did. With your reputation, Mr. Turner figures nobody's gonna mess with you."

"But in our story, Liberty Valance didn't die," Jess said. "Janice and Carla will be back later this week, and even though they won't extort again, they'll tell everyone what really happened. I wouldn't expect them to lie for us."

"Well, then your original problem is solved," Bill smiled. "And people will probably be more impressed that you saved their lives than that you put them in the hospital. But as May Belle just said, nobody's listening to her and Alexandra. This story may take on a life of its own because everyone wants it to be true. The way the movie ends, after Jimmy Stewart finishes telling the truth to the reporter, the reporter rips up his notebook and says, 'When the legend becomes fact, print the legend!'"

Author's Notes:

We're not quite done yet. There will be an epilogue.

If the phrase "beat into a million pieces" sounds familiar, that's what May Belle tells Jess to do in the book instead of just "You're supposed to beat her up!" Just thought I'd work it into this story.

They're out of frame in the movie, but there are a couple of publicity stills out there that show Miss Edmunds wearing pink Crocs in her Music class.

In every school district I've ever worked, a bus driver cannot deny transportation to a student and make him/her walk based only on another student's accusation. If the student presents a safety risk, the driver needs to report it to the school and an administrator makes the final determination as to whether the student is suspended from the bus. I've seen bus drivers get in deeper do-do for less than what Kenny did. (Katherine Paterson should have known that!)