THE LEGACY OF TERABITHIA

by

Wordsmith

Chapter 16: The Legacy Of Terabithia

As they walked down the old dirt road on the way back to her grandparents' house, Leslie asked, "So Dad... how did you and Mom... stop talking in the first place?"

"Well, it didn't happen overnight. We were both busy with our careers, and we weren't paying enough attention to each other. I was working on my new book, your mother was working a lot of extra hours, trying to keep her real estate business going. She's been under a lot of pressure. The housing market is in pretty bad shape and it's going to get a lot worse. People just aren't buying homes anymore."

"Uncle Hank said the whole economy is going to get a lot worse than it is already. He didn't say it to me; Aunt Joyce told me."

"He's right. How is Hank? You see much of him these past two weeks?"

"I only saw him once. He seemed okay. Aunt Joyce took me, Matt, and Cody to the parade. Uncle Hank didn't go."

"I hear your cousin Matt is sporting some new earrings. Oh, I wish I could have seen the look on Hank's face when he saw that," Dad laughed. "If I had ever come home with earrings... ohhh, lord!"

"So Mom was upset about her business?"

"Well, you know it wasn't just her business – it was her mother's. Your grandma Evelyn founded the agency in her own home. Her office was just a desk in the living room. But she worked hard and sold a lot of properties. Soon, she had her own office building. That's how E.L. Thomas Realty came to be. You know, your grandma was a real pioneer – not many women owned their own real estate agencies back then.

When your mom was a little girl, she'd go with Evelyn to check out the newest properties and for all the open house showings. She loved to go exploring through the houses, and she'd help your grandma clean them up and do small repairs. When people move out of their old house, they don't always leave it immaculate and ready for sale. Your grandma was real smart about things like that, and your mother loved to help her get the houses ready for showing. After she graduated college and got her realtor's license, she went to work with Evelyn. Your grandma changed the name of the business to Thomas & Thomas Realty."

"But she's been retired for a while now. If business is so bad, why doesn't Mom just quit? You make plenty of money for us."

"It's not about money. Your mother can't bear to see a business that her mother founded and worked so hard to build fall apart – even if it's through no fault of her own. She feels like she's letting her mother down."

"But didn't Grandma Evelyn tell her to stop running herself ragged?"

"Yeah, but you know your mom. She doesn't give up easily. I'm sure glad she didn't give up on me."

"I'm glad, too," said Leslie.

"Hey, Jamie," Dad said. "You've been pretty quiet. Everything okay?"

"Sure. I didn't want to interrupt. I kind of wondered if you realized you were talking about private stuff in front of me."

"Jamie, you've been very good to my daughter during a very difficult time in her life. As far as I'm concerned, you're family."

Jamie looked genuinely touched. "Thanks, Mr. Aarons."

"I wish you'd call me Jess. Mr. Aarons is my father's name," Dad said, and gave him a wink.

"I thought it was wonderful of the Burkes to send you those pictures – and to give you Leslie's paint set and all of her books."

"It sure was, Jamie. You know, I used up the paints, but I still have all her books."

"Really?"

"It's true," Leslie said. They're in a bookcase in Dad's office at home."

"Once, I thought about donating them to Goodwill, but I just couldn't give them up. I felt like I'd be losing her all over again."

"What kind of books did she have besides The Chronicles Of Narnia?" Jamie asked.

"Oh, all kinds of books. A collection of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales, a book of Brothers Grimm fairy tales, some Judy Blume novels, Harriet The Spy. Lots of great children's books. She also loved the classics – Dickens, Jane Austen. She had Moby Dick, The Three Musketeers, even Bram Stoker's Dracula and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein! And she had non-fiction books about science, animals, trees and plants, dinosaurs, outer space, history, lots of different subjects. She also had poetry books. She loved poetry. I didn't put it in Bridge To Terabithia, but Leslie used to read me poetry sometimes, when we were alone in the castle. At first, I thought poetry was silly, but then I really got to love it. It was like painting with words. Leslie didn't know it at the time, but she was helping prepare me for college. Before I met her, I wasn't much of a reader. She opened my eyes and my mind... and my heart... to a lot of things I never knew existed."

"How did all that reading prepare you for college, Dad? You studied graphic design. You were a commercial artist before you became a writer."

"Yes, but the degree program required me to take several analytical reading and writing courses. English 101, 102, and 103. I met your mother in English 102. She was in my class. We sat next to each other, but we really didn't get to know each other until one day in the library. I was working on a paper about Petrarch's sonnets. Your mom asked me for help. Poetry wasn't her cup of tea, and she had chosen some of Shakespeare's sonnets for her paper. I guess she thought I was an expert because I was immersed in this one particular poem. Petrarch's Sonnet 140 – Soleasi Nel Mio Cor. It reminded me of Leslie Burke, and how I felt after I lost her:

She ruled in beauty o'er this heart of mine,
A noble lady in a humble home,
And now her time for heavenly bliss has come,
'Tis I am mortal proved, and she divine.
The soul that all its blessings must resign,
And love whose light no more on earth finds room,
Might rend the rocks with pity for their doom,
Yet none their sorrows can in words enshrine;
They weep within my heart; and ears are deaf
Save mine alone, and I am crushed with care,
And naught remains to me save mournful breath.
Assuredly but dust and shade we are,
Assuredly desire is blind and brief,
Assuredly its hope but ends in death.

Petrarch was one of the great Romantic poets and a major figure in the Italian Renaissance. His real name was Francesco Petrarca. He was a priest, a scholar, a poet, and an essayist. He was the founder of the humanist movement in the Renaissance. When he was 24 – after he had left the priesthood – he fell in love with a beautiful young woman named Laura. He had seen her in church and it was love at first sight. Although she was a noblewoman, she was also a sweet and humble girl. That's what really endeared her to Petrarch. Unfortunately, Laura was married to a Count. She couldn't return his affection. So, Petrarch wrote over three hundred poems – sonnets – secretly professing his love for her."

"I remember that poem – Sonnet 140," said Leslie.

"You do?"

"You used to read me poetry when I was little."

"Oh yeah... I did."

"I miss that."

Dad sighed. "So do I, honey."

"So... you and Mom were just too busy for each other?"

"There's no such thing as being too busy for someone you love. We could have... we should have made more time for each other. We took each other for granted. Which led to resentment and hurt feelings, and then we... just stopped talking to each other and started growing apart. Fortunately for us, it wasn't too late to find our way back. Like I said, that retreat saved our marriage. I think the most important thing I learned was never keep your feelings all bottled up. They'll just rot you out from the inside. If you really love someone, you should never be afraid to share your feelings with them. And always be honest – don't just tell 'em what you think they want to hear."

"Well, here we are," said Jamie. They had reached the end of the old dirt road. Leslie could see the side of her grandparents' house up ahead. "I have to get home for dinner before my mom freaks out. I'll see you tomorrow, Leslie. Mr... uh, Jess... it was great meeting you."

Jamie held out his hand and Dad shook it. "Pleasure's all mine, Jamie. I hope I see you again before we head back to Washington."

"Have fun on your second honeymoon."

"Oh, we will!"

Jamie took off running, then turned around and waved goodbye.

"Bye, Leslie!" he called out.

"Bye!"

Leslie waved back and watched him run until he was out of sight.

"He's a nice kid. I like him," said Dad.

"Me too."

Dad put his arm around her and held her close. She rested her head on his chest.

"I'm glad you found a good friend. I know how hard it is sometimes, making friends. Before Leslie Burke came into my life, I had no friends. I guess I didn't like the kids at school too much. I was pretty angry back then. Angry at a lot of things – and a lot of people."

Leslie felt a cauldron of emotions simmering inside her. She wanted to tell her father how much she hated Capital Academy and all the snooty kids that went there. She was sick of it all and wanted to tell Dad so... but she couldn't. She didn't want to spoil his second honeymoon with Mom. Besides, there would be plenty of time to tell him later. To tell both her parents how she felt.

"I missed you, Dad. And Mom, too."

"We missed you too, honey. You know, we thought about you a lot when we were away. We worked hard at the retreat not just for us, but for you, too. We felt we owed it to you."

"I hope you're not just staying together for my sake. That can create a very unhealthy atmosphere and lead to the dysfunction of the family dynamic."

Dad laughed. "First of all, no, we're not just staying together for your sake. We still love each other very much. And we know how bad it is for miserable couples to stay together just for the sake of the kids. Secondly, will you stop watching Dr. Phil?"

Leslie giggled. "Okay, Dad."

When they got to the front door, Dad said, "Let's wipe our feet real good. Your grandma will be mad as flies in a fruit jar if we track mud into the living room."

Grandma and Grandpa invited Mom and Dad to stay for dinner, but they said no. They had to get home and start packing. Leslie said goodbye to them, hugging them both real tight. She thought her mother was going to cry, but she didn't. If she had, it would have been tears of happiness.

That night, Leslie couldn't sleep. Of course, she was relieved that her parents weren't going to divorce. For the first time, she was looking forward to going back home to Washington. She missed her room and her bed and her computer. She missed writing.

It had been nice, staying with her grandparents. It turned out better than she ever expected. She would miss them. But she would miss Jamie even more. What would she do without him? She'd spend the rest of the summer alone, then go back to that stupid school where she had no friends and kept to herself.

And what would Jamie do without her? Would he... could he just... forget about her? No. Had Dad forgotten about Leslie Burke? Of course not. But he moved on. Eventually, he moved on. Just as Leslie and Jamie would both move on after she left. But she didn't want to move on.

This wasn't an unexpected horrible accident; from the day she met Jamie, Leslie knew that she'd have to leave him when her parents got back from their retreat. Thank god they decided to go off for a second honeymoon – now she had one more week to spend with Jamie before she left him.

But Leslie didn't want to leave him.

And as the days passed, she rarely left his side. If they weren't out swimming at the Enchanted Cove, they were at Jamie's house or at her grandparents' house. Leslie thought about asking her grandparents if she and Jamie could have a sleepover, either at their house or at Jamie's, but she knew they'd never say yes. They were too old fashioned for boy-girl sleepovers.

It didn't matter anyway, because there was another thought on Leslie's mind, something more important than the prospect of a sleepover with Jamie. She wanted... no... she needed to tell him that she loved him. And she had to do it soon, because time was running out. The night her parents left for their second honeymoon, Leslie promised herself that she would tell Jamie how she felt, but every time she tried, she just couldn't find the words. Now she knew how her father felt. And she didn't want to share in his lifetime of regret.

Why the words wouldn't come to her, Leslie didn't know. It's not like she had trouble talking to Jamie about her feelings. She was able to confide in him about her parents' problems and her own fears. She had even told him that he was the best friend she ever had. So why couldn't she tell him that she loved him? I'm going to tell him tomorrow, Leslie vowed. Then she realized that tomorrow was Sunday, and she wouldn't be able to see him.

It was a beautiful Sunday, though. The blue sky blazed in the sunlight. It reminded Leslie of Jamie's eyes when they lit up. The weather was warm, but not humid. It was a perfect summer day. Oh, if only I could see Jamie, Leslie thought. Well, at least she could call him. She couldn't tell him on the phone that she loved him, but it would be nice to talk.

Leslie waited until just before lunch to call Jamie. She knew he'd back from church by then.

"Hello?" Mrs. Byrne asked.

"Hi, this is Leslie. Can I speak to Jamie?"

"Oh! Leslie! Hi! Uh, I'm sorry, but Jamie's not here. He went out with his Uncle Steve."

"He did? Where?"

"Uh... I'm not sure, but he should be back in a few hours. Can I take a message?"

"No thanks. I'll call back later."

"Okay, dear. Bye-bye."

"Bye."

Leslie hung up the phone. That was odd. They let Jamie go out on a Sunday – a family day as they called it – and they didn't even know where he was going? Well, he was with his uncle, and his uncle was family, but it still didn't make sense. Surely, they would want to know where Jamie's uncle was taking him... or maybe they cared even less about Jamie than he wanted to admit. Leslie felt sad for him.

The doorbell rang. Leslie went into the living room just as Grandma answered the door. It was Aunt May Belle.

"May Belle! Come in honey – you're just in time for lunch."

Aunt May Belle came in. She wore a yellow t-shirt, white shorts, and flip-flops on her feet. "I can't stay, Momma. I thought Leslie might like to come over to my house for a little get-together we're having. It's just a summer party. She'll have some barbecue, go swimming, play with her cousins."

"Well, I reckon it's all right with us if Leslie wants to go. Do you, honey?"

"Yes!" Leslie cried. "Can I?"

"Sure, honey."

"Thanks, Grandma. Thank you too, Aunt May Belle."

"You're more than welcome, sweetie."

"Give me a minute to put on my bathing suit."

"Sure, go ahead."

Leslie was already showered and dressed; all she had to do was take off her clothes, put on her suit, and her clothes back on over it. She ran to her room. She changed fast and grabbed a towel from the linen closet before joining her grandparents and Aunt May Belle in the living room.

"I'm ready!"

Leslie didn't say much more than that. On the ride over to Aunt May Belle's house, Leslie stared out the window, lost in thought. She wondered where Jamie was and what he was doing. She tried to think of a way to tell him that she loved him. Finally, Aunt May Belle broke the silence.

"You okay, honey? You haven't said a word since we left."

"I was just thinking."

"About what?"

"Jamie. I was... I called him before you came over, but he wasn't home. It's weird because his mom told me that he went out with his Uncle Steve. Usually, Jamie's parents don't let him go out on Sundays... after church, I mean."

"Oh. Well, I wouldn't worry none about it."

"Yeah, I'll call him again when I get home. He should be back by then."

When they arrived at Aunt May Belle's house, Leslie saw that there was one car parked in the driveway and four cars in front of the house – two parallel parked to the left of the driveway, and two to the right. Fortunately, there was still room for the minivan in the wide driveway. After she parked, Aunt May Belle said, "Why don't you go round to the backyard for a swim before lunch?"

"Okay," Leslie said, smiling. She slung her towel over her shoulder, got out of the minivan and started running. She ran around to the back of the house. There, in the spacious backyard, a few folding tables, each with a red checkered tablecloth, had been set up. The tables were set with silverware, but no plates. She saw the gas grill; on the stand next to it was a tall stack of paper plates and a tall stack of napkins. On the other side of the grill was a huge cooler. Cans of soda and beer floated in a sea of ice and water.

The sounds of splashing and laughter caught Leslie's ear. She turned her attention to the pool. That's when she saw it. It stood out in the spacious backyard near the pool. It was one of those big outdoor canopies – a white tarp atop eight metal poles. It had to be nine or ten feet tall. What was under the canopy... Leslie could hardly believe it! Two electric guitars and one bass guitar were placed on guitar stands. In front of them were three microphone stands. Behind the guitars was a drum kit. On the bass drum was a large logo that read Chump Change in a bold Courier font. To the right of the drum kit was an electronic keyboard – a synthesizer with two rows of keys.

Three amplifier speakers were strategically placed a few feet in front of the canopy.

Chump Change... Leslie thought. Where have I heard that name before?

Then it came to her. That was the name of -

"Surprise!" a voice yelled in her ear. Startled, Leslie turned around and stared into the most beautiful pair of blue eyes in the world.

"Jamie!"

Leslie threw her arms around him and hugged him tight. He hugged her back, then they let go of each other before anyone could see them.

"Hi!" Jamie said. "I was hoping you'd come to the party."

"But what are you doing here? What about your parents' rule? You know, Sunday is a family day..."

"They made an exception. Though technically, I am with family. Uncle Steve brought me."

"Chump Change," Leslie said, pointing at the bass drum, "That was the name of his old band, right?"

"Yep. He and your Uncle Dave and the guys are going to play after lunch."

"Cool! I never saw Uncle Dave play bass before."

"Here they are now," Jamie said, and pointed at the back door. It opened, and Uncle Dave and Steve Byrne came out. Jamie's uncle wore his trademark black t-shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots. His long hair was still tied up in a ponytail. Uncle Dave's brownish blond hair was cut short and handsomely styled. They were carrying platters of food – hamburger patties and hot dogs ready for the grill. They put the platters on the grill stand, careful not to knock down the stack of paper plates.

Uncle Dave smiled at Leslie when he saw her. He wore a tie-dyed t-shirt, cutoff shorts, and sandals. She barely recognized him. She didn't expect he'd be wearing one of his crisp 3-piece suits to a summer party, but still... and he was wearing earrings – a little diamond stud in each earlobe.

"Hey, I'm only an accountant on the weekdays," said Uncle Dave. He must have read her mind. "I'm glad you came. We usually have our party on July 4th, but this year, Steve was out of town. We were going to have it in August, but then May Belle told me you were going to be here another week. We moved the party up so you could come."

"Oh, you didn't have to do that. Thanks, Uncle Dave."

"You're more than welcome, honey. You know, I'm real happy about Jess and Sara. I'd have hated to see them split up."

"Me too."

"Jamie, thanks for keeping the party a secret," said Uncle Dave. "We really wanted to surprise Leslie."

"So did I, and there's one more surprise left. She'll find out later when you guys start playing."

"Oh, I get it," said Jamie's uncle.

Leslie looked at Jamie. "What?"

"If I told you, it wouldn't be a surprise."

The back door opened again, and two men that Leslie didn't know came out. One of them was petit with a long mane of fiery red hair. He carried a big wooden bowl of salad. The other man was taller, with short, salt-and-pepper hair that was more pepper than salt. He carried bags of hamburger buns and hot dog rolls. The red-haired man put the salad bowl on one of the tables. The taller man put the bags of rolls on the crowded grill stand.

"Thanks, bros!" Uncle Dave said to them. Then to Leslie, "this is the rest of the band. This guy here -" he pointed to the short one - "is Sean Downey. He plays rhythm guitar and keyboards. And this is our drummer, Kel Kelsey." He pointed to the taller man. "His real first name is John, but everyone calls him by his childhood nickname, Kel."

"Just like Ozzy Osbourne," said Kel, laughing. "His real first name is John, too."

"Guys, this is my niece, Leslie Aarons. She's Jess's daughter."

"No kidding!" said Kel.

"Cool!" said Sean.

"Did you guys know my dad?"

"Sure, we all did," said Kel. "When we started out, May Belle brought him along a few times to our rehearsals and gigs. She and Steve were best friends since they were kids, so Jess knew him pretty well. But she fell in love with Dave after he joined the band, so Jess started tagging along with her whenever she came to see us. I don't think he trusted ol' Dave with his little sister. But since he became an accountant..."

"Very funny," said Uncle Dave.

"Seriously though," Kel added, "your dad was a pretty cool guy."

"Yeah," said Sean Downey. "He'd bring a sketchbook with him wherever he went, and he'd show us his drawings. I thought he'd end up being a comic book artist. But he became a graphic designer instead. That was before he started doing children's books."

"So, what kind of music do you play?" Leslie asked. "Metal?"

"More like hard rock," said Steve Byrne. "We started out as a cover band, playing old Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Queen, and Rush tunes, along with some Kiss, Pink Floyd, and Steely Dan. Real old school. Then we started writing our own songs."

"You mean you started writing your own songs," said Kel.

"We contributed to the songwriting, but you really wrote the songs," Sean agreed.

"Most of the songs were written before I joined the band," said Uncle Dave. "And they were good – real good – and my old band was going nowhere. That's why I joined Chump Change in the first place."

"I still can't believe you're an accountant, man," Sean said, and playfully nudged him with an elbow.

"They always razz me because I'm the only one without a career in music," Uncle Dave explained to Leslie. "Steve's a music teacher, Sean fixes guitars and gives guitar lessons at a music store, and when Kel's not working as a session or backing drummer, he's running the record store he owns with his brother."

The back door opened again. This time, Aunt May Belle and Aunt Joyce came out,

"Hi, Aunt Joyce!"

"Hi, Leslie. I hoped I'd see you here. Matt and Cody are in the pool."

"Where's Uncle Hank?"

"He's back home, watching the ballgame. He didn't feel like coming."

"Hank doesn't like us much," Steve explained. "I'm afraid it's my fault. A couple years ago, he came to the party, and while we were playing the old Black Sabbath song War Pigs, I changed the line On their knees, the war pigs crawling to On their knees, Bush and Cheney crawling. Hank got angry and left in a huff. He didn't like that."

"Ho-ho!" laughed Uncle Dave. "He didn't like that one bit!"

Aunt Joyce sighed and shook her head.

"Dave..." Aunt May Belle scolded.

"Sorry, Joyce."

"Oh, it's all right. Hey, Leslie, Jamie, why don't you go for a swim now – lunch will be on soon, and then the band's going to play."

"Okay," they said, and took off for the pool. It was pretty crowded, with all of Leslie's cousins splashing around. Jamie was wearing swim trunks, so all he had to do was take off his shirt and sneakers. Leslie left her clothes next to his on a lounge chair. Then they climbed up the ladder to the small deck and dove into the pool.

Leslie's cousins all told her they were glad that her parents weren't going to divorce. They asked if she was looking forward to going home to Washington.

"Are you gonna miss your boyfriend?" Abbie asked.

"Cut it out, Abbie," said Rachel.

"You're just jealous cause Leslie and I have boyfriends and you don't."

"And what boyfriend do you have?"

Abbie grabbed hold of Cody, who was treading water nearby. She clamped her little arms around him and planted a sloppy kiss on his cheek. "Him!"

"Yuck!" Cody grimaced.

"Abbie, you can't have Cody for a boyfriend."

"Why not?"

"Because he's your cousin," Keith interjected. "You'll have babies with two heads."

Rachel laughed. Abbie stuck her tongue out and blew a raspberry.

"All right," Keith said. "Who's up for some volleyball?"

"I'll get it," said Matt. He climbed up the ladder and grabbed the ball, which had been left on the deck. They formed two teams of four and batted the volleyball back and forth in a volley across the pool.

The heavenly scent of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs wafted over to the pool area. Just as Leslie sniffed at it, Aunt May Belle came over and told them it was time for lunch.

Leslie and Jamie sat at the same table as Aunt May Belle, Uncle Dave, Steve Byrne, and the rest of the band.

"So, Mr. Byrne, you started Chump Change when you were sixteen?"

"Yep. Dave joined the band about a year later. We started playing gigs in high school, then during college, we played clubs in Virginia and DC at night and on the weekends. We recorded some demo tapes and sold copies of them at our shows, but we never did get a record deal. You know, it takes more than just talent to get signed."

"Yeah," Uncle Dave agreed. "How else do you explain Britney Spears?"

Everyone laughed.

"Hey, Steve," said Sean Downey, "remember the Great Grape Ape?"

"The old cartoon character?" Leslie asked.

"No," said Steve. "The Great Grape Ape was this beat up old purple van we used to drive around in. All four of us with our instruments – including Kel's drum kit – and our amplifiers and mike stands, packed in like sardines on the way to our gigs. That old van backfired louder than a shotgun blast, it had a muffler in name only, and a smell we could never get rid of; kind of a cross between sour milk and old sweat."

"Ewwww," Leslie groaned.

"I still can't believe it got us to all our gigs," said Sean.

"Yeah," Steve agreed. "It stunk, it roared, it guzzled gas like a wino on muscatel, but it got us where we had to go. You know I only paid two hundred dollars for that monster?"

"I bet you guys had a lot of wild times," said Jamie.

"Well," said his Uncle Steve, smirking, "we did inhale..."

"We never exhaled," quipped Uncle Dave. He and the rest of the band roared with laughter, as did Leslie and Jamie.

"Oh, that's lovely, Dave," Aunt May Belle scolded. "That's a great thing to tell the kids."

"That was a long time ago," Uncle Dave explained. "We've done a lot of growing up since then."

"That's right," Steve added. "And we always took our music seriously. We never played a gig stoned. Drugs will never make you a better musician or composer. In fact, they ruined a lot of the great ones. Remember that, Jamie."

After they finished eating, Uncle Dave got up and said, "Okay... time to start the show!"

"Yay!" All the kids applauded. Uncle Dave and the band led them to a spot on the grass near the canopy – but not too close. "Best seats in the house," he said.

"There are only three speakers," said Leslie. "Will that be enough?"

"More than enough," said Uncle Dave. "If we set up our Marshall stacks, we'd blow out all the windows in the house – and all our neighbors' windows, too."

Uncle Dave took his bass from its stand, Steve and Sean grabbed their guitars, and Kel sat down at his drum kit and took out his sticks.

"Okay, kids – are we ready?" Steve asked.

"Ready!"

"One, two, three, four!"

Steve and Sean started strumming. Sean played rocking chords while Steve played the melody. Uncle Dave's nimble fingers were a blur over the bass strings, and Kel set the beat. Steve walked up to the microphone and started to sing:

Guess who just got back today?
Them wild-eyed boys that had been away
Haven't changed, haven't much to say
But man, I still think them cats are crazy

They were asking if you were around
How you was, where you could be found
Told them you were living downtown
Driving all the old men crazy

The boys are back in town
The boys are back in town

I said:

The boys are back in town
The boys are back in town

Uncle Dave and Sean sang backup, then Steve began the next verse.

You know that chick that used to dance a lot
Every night she'd be on the floor, shaking what she got
Man, I tell you she was cool, she was red hot
I mean she was steaming

And that time over at Johnny's place
Well, this chick got up and she slapped Johnny's face
Man we just fell about the place
If that chick don't want to know, forget her

The boys are back in town
The boys are back in town

I said:

The boys are back in town
The boys are back in town

Steve exploded in a killer solo, his fingers moving up and down the fretboard of his guitar, playing a flurry of notes. Then he returned to the main melody and started singing again:

Spread the word around
Guess who's back in town
You spread the word around

Friday night they'll be dressed to kill
Down at Dino's Bar & Grill
The drink will flow and blood will spill
And if the boys want to fight, you'd better let 'em

That jukebox in the corner blasting out my favorite song
The nights are getting warmer, it won't be long
Won't be long till summer comes
Now that the boys are here again

The boys are back in town
The boys are back in town
The boys are back in town
The boys are back in town

Steve played another solo, not as long this time. He sang one more bit before repeating the chorus:

The boys are back in town again
Been hangin' down at Dino's
The boys are back in town again

The boys are back in town
The boys are back in town...

Steve and Sean's guitars played a volley of melody and rhythm, backed by Uncle Dave's bass riffs and Kel's blistering drums. They ended the song in a flourish. The kids gave them a big round of applause, whistling and hooting. When it died down, Steve said:

"Thank you! Thank you very much! Whenever we get together, we just have to play that song first. Okay, next, we'd like to play one of our original songs. This one was on our first demo tape, Two Bits A Gander. It's the first song we ever wrote, too. Leslie, I know you're going to like this one. It's called Terabithia. Now, usually Sean plays the keyboard part, but today, we have a special guest keyboardist. Come on up here, Jamie!"

Leslie looked at him dumbfounded. "Surprise!" he said, and got up to join the band. He sat down at Sean's keyboard and turned it on. He started playing, weaving a sad tapestry of chords and notes. Steve played a sad melody of his own on the guitar. Kel did a roll on the cymbals for a whooshing effect. Uncle Dave played a somber bass line that Sean followed with slow, mournful chords. Then Steve began to sing:

I can see what you saw
it just took me longer
I can feel what you felt
and it makes me stronger

I can shine like you shined on me, yeah
though I can't be brighter
and when I think about you,
it makes the load much lighter

The music changed from mournful to a monster ballad, as Sean's chords grew more and more intense.

But what's a King without his Queen
just a boy without a dream
When my castles fall to dust
when the magic just won't come

Take me back
Oh, take me back
to Terabithia

You opened my eyes
You opened my mind
You set my heart alight
I was so cold inside

My feelings for you grew
I loved you more than you ever knew
but when I needed to be heard,
I just couldn't find the words

What's a King without his Queen
just a boy without a dream
When my castles fall to dust
when the magic just won't come

Take me back
Oh, take me back
to Terabithia

Steve played a gut wrenching solo, his face contorting in response to the intense melodies he played. After a minute or two, he returned to the main melody and sang the next verse:

It's too late, it's too late
Oh how cruel the hand of Fate
that took you away from me
we were meant to be

You've been gone for so long
I don't how I got along
carrying this heavy load
on this long and winding road

What's a King without his Queen
just a boy without a dream
When my castles fall to dust
when the magic just won't come

Take me back
Oh, take me back
to Terabithia

To Terabithia
to Terabithia
Terabithia...

Leslie saw that Jamie was playing both rows of keys on Sean's synthesizer. He held sustained chords on the top row while playing the melody on the bottom. His uncle played another solo, then strummed frantic chords with Sean. They ended the song with with a single power chord struck hard.

Everyone applauded wildly, whistled, and hooted at the band – including a small army of neighbor kids who had gathered around Aunt May Belle and Uncle Dave's yard when they heard the music.

The band played for over an hour, mixing their original songs with covers. When they played Led Zeppelin's Misty Mountain Hop, Leslie thought they might play her favorite, Stairway To Heaven, but they didn't. When they played Steely Dan's Bodhisattva, which Leslie had heard before, (her father had the album it was on) they expanded it to include a long guitar solo by Steve Byrne. The upbeat, jazzy melody slowed down and morphed into slow, wailing blues. At one point, it sounded like Steve's guitar was crying in anguish. From there, his fingers danced up and down the fretboard, playing dazzling clusters of notes in a scale. Then he moved on to hard driving blues progressions before returning to jazz. Steve's solo became a duet where he and Jamie exchanged a volley of jazz riffs – first swinging licks then finally, the familiar upbeat bebop of Bodhisattva, with the rest of the band joining in to finish the song.

The other guys had a chance to play solos, too. Uncle Dave played a bone crunching, bluesy bass solo that Kel joined in on to show off the band's rhythm section. Sean Downey played a guitar solo in another song, but it wasn't as long as Steve's had been.

The band ended the show by playing Rock & Roll All Nite by Kiss and getting everyone to sing along on the chorus:

I wanna rock and roll all nite -
and party every day....

After the show ended and the applause died down, the band members took their bows, then put away their instruments – except for Jamie, who turned off Sean Downey's synthesizer.

"You guys were so awesome!" Leslie cried.

"Thanks, honey," said Uncle Dave. His face was glistening with sweat, just like Steve, Sean, and Kel. Jamie was sweating too, even though he was only wearing a bathing suit. Sean playfully tousled his hair.

"You are amazing," Sean said to Jamie. "Your uncle was right – you are a prodigy. Steve, you keep after him, and he'll be playing Carnegie Hall before his senior prom."

Uncle Dave went to the cooler and brought back cold beers for himself and the guys. He brought a Coke for Jamie.

"Man," Dave said, "we were really on today, bros." He took a chug of beer. "We didn't miss a beat. We have to play more often."

"I loved that Terabithia song," said Leslie.

"Your dad loved it, too, when we played it for him," said Steve, smiling.

"I can't believe you guys never got a record deal."

"Well, sometimes things have a way of working out in the end. I love teaching music to kids. I've got a wonderful wife and children. I can't complain."

Aunt May Belle came over. "Leslie?"

"Yes?"

"You want to have a swim before I take you back to Grandma and Grandpa's?"

"Sure! Jamie, you coming?"

"Yeah. Uncle Steve, guys, it was great playing with you. Thanks for letting me join in. I'd love to do it again!"

"Anytime, kiddo!" said Steve. "Anytime!"

In the pool, Leslie took time to say goodbye to her cousins. She promised to e-mail them and keep in touch. She'd been apprehensive about seeing them at first, but it felt good to be with family. She wished more than ever that she had brothers or sisters.

Before she left, she reminded Jamie to meet her the next morning. It would be their last swim together at the Enchanted Cove, and Leslie would make their lunch.

That night, while Leslie got ready for bed, the phone rang. She didn't think much about it until Grandma came into her room with the cordless receiver.

"It's your Mom and Daddy," said Grandma.

A chill ran down Leslie's spine. They couldn't be home yet! She hadn't even told Jamie that -

"Well?" asked Grandma, holding out the receiver. Leslie took it.

"Hello?"

"Hi, honey!" said Mom and Dad. They were talking on speakerphone.

"Hi! Um... did you have fun on your second honeymoon?"

"We sure did!" said Dad.

"This is our last night," said Mom. "Our flight to Dulles leaves at 11:30 tomorrow morning."

"But we'll be exhausted when we get home, and it's over an hour's drive to Lark Creek," Dad explained, "so we won't pick you up until Tuesday morning, say, around ten. Is that okay? We could rush right over if -"

"No, no, you guys rest. I don't mind staying here one more day."

Not to mention the fact that if they came tomorrow, she'd have no time to spend with Jamie – no time to tell him how she felt.

"All right, it's settled then," said Dad. "See you Tuesday, honey."

"Bye, sweetie," said Mom.

"Bye."

Leslie gave the receiver back to Grandma.

Later, as she went to sleep, Leslie knew that tomorrow was the day. She had to tell Jamie that she loved him. She might never see him again, and if she didn't tell him, she'd regret it for the rest of her life, just like her father regretted never telling Leslie Burke how he felt.

As usual, Jamie arrived around 9. Leslie was all ready to go. She wore her bathing suit, a pair of shorts, and her socks and sneakers. In the picnic basket, she'd packed their lunch, a thermos of iced tea, and some of Grandma's cookies for dessert.

On the walk to the Enchanted Cove, Leslie tried to take in all the sights and burn them into her memory – even the cow pasture and the tall silos. She wanted to remember it forever. But she was too distracted by the thoughts bouncing around inside her head.

Leslie wondered what was going on inside Jamie's head. He wasn't his usual self. They held hands as they walked, he smiled at her when she looked at him, but he was quiet as a mouse. He barely said a word since they left her grandparents' house. It suddenly occurred to Leslie that she hadn't given any thought to his feelings about her return to Washington.

She wanted to tell him right then that she loved him, but then he turned left and they walked over the bridge. The sweet, earthy perfume of fresh water and the gentle whooshing of the waterfall intoxicated her senses. The next thing she knew, they were walking down the hill to their little beach.

Leslie set up the picnic blanket, then they stripped down to their bathing suits and ran into the water. The familiar icy blast hit her and drove her out of the creek. Cold as she was, she never felt more alive. She couldn't help laughing. Jamie's head and shoulders popped up from underwater. When he turned around and saw her shivering, he smiled, and without a word, went to warm her up.

Jamie ran his hands up and down Leslie's arms, then drew her into a hug. Even though he'd been swimming in the same cold water, his body felt warm. How she longed for time to stop so she'd never have to let him go. If only it could be like this forever, she thought. She opened her eyes. Jamie opened his.

Leslie saw something in Jamie's eyes. Was it sadness? Longing? Both? She didn't know. All she knew was that after tomorrow, she might never look into those beautiful blue eyes again. Jamie started to speak, then hesitated. He tried again to say something, then hesitated again. Finally, he did speak.

"You warm now?" he asked, smiling. She knew that wasn't what he really wanted to say. She nodded yes. He took her by the hand and led her back into the water. They swam in silence around the Cove, then under the bridge to the other side and around the houses. Leslie saw the other little stretch of beach, and the small piers that were built next to a few of the houses. A rowboat was tied to one of the piers. Inside it was a pair of oars and two life jackets. Part of her wished that she and Jamie could borrow the boat and go rowing around the creek. But she knew that it was wrong to borrow something without asking – even if you planned to bring it back. She didn't want to get herself and Jamie into trouble.

Jamie continued to swim out farther. On the other side of the houses, the creek spread wider and seemed to go on forever. Eventually, Jamie turned around, and Leslie followed him. She was glad he didn't go out too far. She was getting tired. She was also hungry.

Back at their little beach, Leslie unpacked their lunch and they ate.

"Hey," Jamie asked, "is that more of your homemade bread?"

"Sure is," said Leslie. "I baked it a couple days ago. I'm getting pretty good at it. I'm going to surprise my parents when I get home -"

Just saying the words when I get home made Leslie feel sad. But she didn't show it. She wanted this, her last day in Lark Creek, to be the best. She wanted again to tell Jamie that she loved him, but she was hungry, and that was something you can't do on an empty stomach.

After they finished eating, Jamie stretched out on the blanket to rest. Leslie snuggled up next to him. He put his arm around her and held her close. She wanted to tell him again that she loved him, but her mind wandered and she lost herself in the moment. It was like being wrapped up in a warm blanket on a cold winter night. All you want to do is be there, all wrapped up.

Where before Leslie had wished that time would stop, now it seemed to be moving so fast, everything was a blur. Before she knew it, they had another swim, packed up the picnic basket, put their clothes and sneakers back on, and were walking home. Thoughts bounced around inside Leslie's head like corn in the popper.

Soon they were off the main road and in Jamie's neighborhood, then they were on Jamie's street, where they took a detour off the road, down the hill, and into the woods. As they walked down the old dirt road toward her grandparents' house, Leslie grew more and more desperate. I have to tell him now, she kept urging herself.

Then she saw it, and stopped in her tracks. There, off to her right, was a familiar path that led through the tall grass and into a woodsy area where a mighty oak tree overlooked a creek bed. On the other side of the creek bed was a place that, to someone without magic in him, looked like a plain, ordinary forest clearing.

Terabithia. It was like an omen. Leslie felt her heart pound in her chest.

"Leslie? Are you okay?"

"Jamie, I have to tell you something. If I don't, I'll regret it forever. I have to tell you now. But not here. Come on."

She grabbed his hand and led him down the path. When they came to the creek bed, Leslie saw that it was bone dry. It had been hot these past few days, and not a drop of rain had fallen. The mud had been baked to a hard crust. Leslie set aside the picnic basket, then walked down into the creek bed and climbed up to the other side. Jamie followed her.

When they were in the clearing, Leslie took Jamie's hands in hers and stared into his blue eyes.

"Jamie, I-"

"Leslie, I-"

They laughed and smiled at each other.

"I have something to tell you, too," said Jamie. "Ladies first."

"Jamie, when I came here... to Lark Creek, I mean... I thought the world was coming to an end. It was like... my parents were going to divorce, I had no friends, I hadn't seen my grandparents and my other relatives in a long time, there was... nobody. Then one day, a voice calls out to me in the woods... you were so wonderful. The best friend I ever had, the only real friend I ever had, but... more than that. I..."

Leslie let go of Jamie's hands and threw her arms around him.

"I love you, Jamie. I love you so much."

Jamie wrapped his arms around her and held her tight.

Overcome with emotion, Leslie felt hot tears well in her eyes and run down her cheeks. She blinked hard trying to clear them away. When she opened her eyes, she saw tears in Jamie's beautiful blue eyes.

"I love you, too," he said. "I love you, too." He held her tight again. "You're the only one who ever cared about me, the only one who... understands."

The look on Jamie's face reflected such pain that Leslie couldn't bear it.

"The day we met, I was ready to give up."

"On what?"

"Everything. My music... everything. I had this thing inside me, this... talent... and nobody cared. Not even my own father. Just because I couldn't throw a baseball like my stupid brother. When my uncle tried to help me, it almost cost him his job. I just wanted to live my dream of playing with an orchestra, and all the parents acted like I was some kind of arrogant creep trying to upstage their kids."

"You were really going to quit your music?"

"Yes, I was. I... just didn't care anymore. But then I met you," Jamie said, and smiled warmly. "You made me care again... and not just about music."

He kissed her. She kissed him back. They held each other tighter than ever.

"I love you, Leslie."

"I love you, too."

They held each other for what seemed like forever. Finally, they let go, and Leslie asked, "What are we going to do now?"

"I'll walk you home."

"No, I mean... I'm leaving tomorrow, but... I don't want to leave you."

"I don't want you to go. But you have to. It'll be okay. We can talk on the phone, I'll e-mail you every day... we can chat on the #Terabithia channel or go into a private room."

"It's not the same."

"I know."

"I don't know what I'll do without you."

"I'll miss you like crazy."

"You want to hear something weird, Jamie?"

"What?"

"Remember when we first met, and you wanted to show me Terabithia? I didn't want to go because I thought it was cursed. That's why I didn't want my dad to come back here. And that's why I didn't want you to come here, either."

"It's not cursed. Just because something terrible happened here to Leslie Burke doesn't mean something terrible is going to happen to you, me, or your dad. People get killed in car accidents sometimes, but that doesn't mean everyone stops driving those roads. So don't worry about me. I've only been here alone twice in my life. Besides, I'm like the safest person in the world. I won't even use public bathrooms because of the germs."

Jamie shuddered in disgust.

Leslie burst out laughing.

Jamie laughed, too. He held out his hand.

"Come on, I'll walk you home."

When they got to her grandparents' house, they embraced each other and exchanged a quick kiss.

"Well... I guess that's it. Tomorrow, I leave for Washington. Will you come over and say goodbye?"

"Of course I will. You don't think I'd let you leave without saying goodbye, do you?" Jamie asked, smiling impishly.

"No, I didn't think so," said Leslie. She smiled back at him.

"What time are your parents coming?"

"Around ten."

"Then I'll be here around nine. Fare thee well until the morrow, my lady."

Jamie bowed and kissed her hand like a proper knight.

"Until the morrow, my knight."

Jamie took off running. When he was out of sight, she went inside.

After dinner, Leslie packed her suitcase, save for a nightgown, a change of clothes and underwear, a pair of socks, and her sneakers. When she got ready for bed, she packed the bathing suit, shirt, and shorts she'd worn to the Enchanted Cove.

That night, she crawled into bed, tired after a long, emotional day. She was happy and relieved that she told Jamie she loved him, happier to know that he loved her just as much, sad to be leaving him, but happy to be going home. She missed her parents and her room. She missed writing on her computer.

When I get home, Leslie thought, I'll write a poem for Jamie and e-mail it to him.

The next morning, after wolfing down her last bowl of Grandma's Southern style oatmeal, Leslie headed straight for the shower. She wanted to be dressed and ready to go as soon as possible, just in case her parents came early.

After she dressed and packed the last of her clothes, she checked to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything. She had – she'd left her battery-powered toothbrush, her comb, and hairbrush in the bathroom. She gathered them up and packed them in her suitcase. Just as she closed her suitcase and locked the locks, the doorbell rang.

Leslie looked at her watch. It was 8:30AM. Jamie's early, she thought. She ran out of her room, down the hall and into the living room... where her aunts were talking to her grandparents.

"Aunt May Belle? Aunt Joyce? What are you doing here?"

"I think she was expecting someone else," said Aunt May Belle, and winked at her.

"We came to say goodbye," said Aunt Joyce. "And to see our big brother."

"I just made a pot of coffee," said Grandma. Come on in the kitchen."

Leslie sat at the table while her grandparents and aunts drank their coffee. Grandpa put down his cup and lit his pipe.

The doorbell rang again. Leslie ran out of the kitchen to answer it.

"Hi!" Jamie said. She threw her arms around him and hugged him tight. She made sure they were alone in the living room, then she kissed him. He kissed her back and walked in. Leslie closed the door. When she turned around, Jamie handed her a disc in a paper sleeve.

"It's a going away present," he explained. "A DVD-ROM. I burned it myself."

Leslie took the disc out of its sleeve. TO LESLIE was written above the center hole, and below, LOVE, JAMIE was written.

"Thanks! What's on it?"

"A collection of my favorite albums in MP3. All kinds of great music – rock, jazz, blues, classical. I included the Chump Change demo tapes, plus three complete live shows from back when they were playing clubs. They sound great because they were taped off the band's soundboard. The guys just wanted to hear how they sounded live, but the recordings came out so good that they sold copies of them along with the demo tapes at their shows."

"Awesome!"

"There's a directory called Jamie's Stuff with MP3s of me playing, mostly classical pieces, but there are some rock songs."

"I'll get to hear you sing, too?"

"Yeah," Jamie said, blushing, "but I'm really not that good a singer."

"You're better than you think you are – and I'm not just talking about singing and playing the piano."

Jamie blushed a deeper shade of red. "Aw... anyway, there's also a directory called Software, with some programs you might like, and in the root directory, there's a Word document called Jamie's Information, which has my e-mail address, snail mail address, home phone number, and cell phone number."

"Cell phone? You have your own cell phone?"

"Yeah, Dad switched us to one of those 'family plans' so we all have our own cell phones. I just got mine a few days ago. Now I'll have someone to call."

"Yep. Oh! Let me get a pen and a piece of paper, and I'll write down my information."

Leslie ran into the kitchen, tore off a piece of paper from the writing tablet her grandparents kept by their phone, then snatched a pen from the mouth of the ceramic frog that served as a pen holder. She quickly wrote down her e-mail address, snail mail address, and phone numbers, then put back the pen and ran to give the paper to Jamie.

"Here you go," she said, smiling.

"Thanks," said Jamie. He folded up the paper and stuffed it into his pocket. "So, are you all ready to go? You want me to help you pack?"

"Nope. I'm all packed."

"Well, then there's just one thing left." From his other pocket, Jamie took out a compact digital camera. He looked at Leslie through the viewfinder and said, "Say cheese!"

"Cheese!" she said, and smiled.

He showed Leslie her picture on the camera's viewing screen.

"Cool! I should have brought my camera."

The doorbell rang again, startling Leslie. She looked at her watch. It was just after 9:30. She answered the door.

"Dad!"

Leslie's father swept her up in his arms. "There's my girl!"

"Hi, honey!"

"Mom!"

Leslie hugged her mother.

They came in and Dad saw his parents and sisters.

They all exchanged hugs. Dad kissed his mother and sisters. Leslie's aunts looked overjoyed to see their big brother again, especially Aunt Joyce.

"How's Hank?" Dad asked her.

"The same," Aunt Joyce sighed.

"How about I have a little man-to-man talk with him?" asked Grandpa. "I'll set him straight."

"Daddy please..." Aunt Joyce begged. "Leslie's leaving, let's not get into that now."

Grandpa cleared his throat and changed the subject. "Well son," he said to Dad, "we're sure gonna miss Leslie."

"I hope she wasn't too much trouble."

"Of course not!" said Grandma. "She was a pleasure to have around. And I hope you all come up and see us again soon. Don't be a stranger now, Jesse – hear?"

"You know, son," said Grandpa. "You done us both proud. The way you raised Leslie. They way you didn't cut and run when things went bad. Neither of you did. These days, most couples give up quick when the going gets tough. But you two wouldn't give up without a fight. You did right by yourselves and your daughter. I admire you both for that."

"Thanks, Dad."

"It must have been real hard on you two," said Grandma. "I know it was hard on Leslie. Fortunately, she made herself a real good friend. This charming young man here." Grandma tousled Jamie's hair. "He's quite the little gentleman. His mama raised him right."

"And I hear he can play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis," said Grandpa.

"Jamie played with Dave, Steve, and the band at our summer party," said Aunt May Belle. "You should have heard him. Steve wasn't kidding when he said Jamie was a prodigy."

"Oh, I've already heard lots of great things about Jamie," Dad replied.

Jamie blushed three shades of red.

"Mister... uh... Jess... could you do me a favor and take a picture of Leslie and me together?" Jamie asked.

"Sure."

Jamie handed Dad his camera. Then he and Leslie put an arm around each other and smiled. Dad snapped the picture and gave back Jamie's camera.

"Aren't they just adorable?" said Aunt Joyce.

Leslie didn't have time to blush. She asked Jamie to e-mail her a copy of the picture of them together. "Here," she said, "let me take a picture of you now."

"Cheese!" Jamie said. He smiled brightly and his blue eyes sparkled.

Leslie took the picture and said, "Send me a copy of that one, too."

"Jess, honey, why don't you and Sara sit down for a while and have some coffee before you make that long drive home."

"Momma, you read my mind!"

"I'll put my suitcase in the car," said Leslie.

"I'll help," said Jamie.

After her parents followed her grandparents and aunts into the kitchen, Leslie grabbed Jamie's hand and led him to her room. He stuffed his camera into his pocket.

Leslie opened her suitcase, put the DVD-ROM Jamie gave her into a protective compartment in the lid, then closed the suitcase and locked it again.

"First I'll put this away," Leslie said, "then we'll say goodbye."

She went to lift the suitcase but Jamie beat her to it. "Allow me to carry thy burden, my lady."

Leslie laughed. "Very well, good knight."

In the car, Leslie pressed the trunk release button and Jamie hoisted the suitcase up and into the trunk. He moved aside Dad's jumper cables, jack, air compressor, and lantern flashlight so the trunk hatch would still close with addition of the suitcase.

Jamie closed the hatch. "That's it."

When they got back to Leslie's room, she sat on the edge of the bed and motioned for him to join her.

"Well..." she sighed, "I'm going home."

Jamie put his arm around her. "I'll miss you."

"Funny, isn't it? I didn't want to come here in the first place. Now, I don't want to leave."

"I don't want you to go. But we both know that you have to."

They hugged each other tight, holding on for dear life.

"I love you, Jamie."

"I love you too, Leslie."

They shared one last, glorious kiss. Jamie's mouth felt so warm and wonderful that she didn't want it to end. But like all good things, it did.

Tears started welling in Leslie's eyes. She fought them hard and won. Her lower lip trembled.

"You know, when we were in Terabithia yesterday, I thought – I knew – we were meant to be together, just like my dad and Leslie Burke."

"And I told you that nothing's gonna happen to me."

"But I'm still going to lose you."

"No you're not."

"But we live so far away..."

"Just over an hour's drive."

"Face it Jamie, we might never see each other again."

"Sure we will."

"But -"

Jamie took Leslie's hands in his. "Listen. You told me not to give up hope on my music. I'm telling you not to give up hope on us. Somehow, someway, we'll see each other again, even if it's only at Christmastime. But it won't come to that. We'll be together again, and not just for one day."

"Really?"

"Really," Jamie assured her. He smiled warmly at her. His eyes sparkled like blue diamonds.

"I'm tired from all this, and it's a long drive home. Let's lay down for a while."

They cuddled up next to each other on the bed. Leslie rested her head on Jamie's chest. He held her close to him.

Leslie closed her eyes and lost herself in the sweet silence. If only it could be like this forever, she thought.

The knock on the door jolted Leslie out of a thin, dreamless sleep. She and Jamie scrambled to get out of bed as her father walked in.

"You guys taking a nap?"

"No."

"I bet you'll need one when we get home. We're ready to leave now."

"Okay, Dad."

She and Jamie followed him to the living room. Her mother, grandparents, and aunts were waiting. Leslie hugged and kissed her grandparents first.

"Bye, Grandma. Bye, Grandpa. Thanks for letting me stay with you."

"You're more than welcome, honey," said Grandma.

"Anytime, sweetie. You come up and see us again soon, hear?" said Grandpa.

Leslie said goodbye to her aunts. She thanked them again for inviting her to their homes, and for taking her to the Fourth of July parade and fireworks.

"You come up and see us again, too," said Aunt May Belle. "You too, Jess."

"Yeah," said Aunt Joyce. "We miss our big brother. You take good care of him now, Sara."

"I will," said Mom, smiling.

"We'll all see you soon. And Jamie," Dad said, offering him his hand, "Thanks again for being so good to Leslie." They shook hands.

"You don't have to thank me."

"When The Legacy Of Terabithia is published, I'll send you a signed promotional copy. You'll get it way before it hits the stores."

"Cool! Thanks!"

They all walked out to the car. Mom and Dad got in first. Leslie hugged Jamie and said, "Thanks for... everything. Goodbye, Jamie."

"Hey, let's not say goodbye – let's say... see you soon."

"Okay," said Leslie. She felt like crying, but she smiled and said, "See you soon, Jamie."

"See you soon, Leslie."

She didn't want to leave him, but she got in the car and buckled up. As they pulled out of her grandparents' driveway, Leslie looked behind her and saw Jamie and her grandparents and aunts wave goodbye. As they went further down the road, Jamie started running after them. It reminded Leslie of how her father had once run in desperation, hoping in vain that by running, he could keep Leslie Burke alive.

But unlike Dad, who had been stopped by his father and comforted, Jamie stopped on his own, and there would be no one to comfort him. There were tears running down his cheeks, but he was smiling, and he waved goodbye again. She waved back at him until he was out of sight. She turned around and felt her own tears trickle down. She wiped them away before her parents could see.

Leslie calmed down and stared blankly through the back seat passenger window. She could hear her parents talking, but their words seemed muffled and somewhere in the distance.

"Leslie?"

"Huh? What?"

"We're almost halfway home, and you haven't said a word," Dad said. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I'm fine."

"You know, you've still got over a month of summer vacation left before school starts," said Mom.

"Don't remind me. I hate that school."

"Yeah, I kinda figured that," said Dad. "Seeing as you've been lacking in the friend department."

"You miss Jamie, don't you, honey?" asked Mom.

"He was all I had. And now I'll never see him again. But at least I can call him and e-mail him. And I'll have pictures of him and us together when he sends them to me."

"I know how you feel, sweetheart," said Dad. "He's your Leslie Burke."

Leslie nodded yes.

"Aw, I can't do it," said Dad. "I wanted it to be a surprise, but I can't keep it from you. When we were talking in the kitchen... well... we're coming back for Thanksgiving. We're having kind of an Aarons family reunion. Your Aunt Brenda and Aunt Ellie and their families are coming up. We're all having Thanksgiving dinner at your Aunt Joyce's house because she's got the most room. Your aunts want to do all the cooking, but Momma insists on helping, and I don't think they'll try to stop her." Dad laughed.

"We're also going to visit at Christmastime," said Mom.

"That's right. I miss my little sisters, and Momma and Dad aren't getting any younger."

Leslie could hardly believe her ears!

"So I'll get to see Jamie again! Only twice, but it's better than nothing. And I'll be able to give him a Christmas present! But what do I get him? Well, I've got time to shop. I wonder if I should tell him... it would be a great surprise, but what if he's out of town when we come up? No, I better tell him."

"Well, you're all excited!" said Dad.

"Thanks for telling me," Leslie said. "Now I have something to look forward to. It'll make getting through another year at that stupid school a little easier." She took a deep breath and let a current of relief rush through her body. "I thought I'd never see Jamie again."

"Why would you think that?" Dad asked.

"Because we live so far away."

"What if I call his parents and invite him to come up and see us in Washington?"

Leslie gasped. Her heart pounded like a hammer striking an anvil. "Would you really do that?"

"Sure. Like Mom said, you've got over a month of summer vacation left. That's plenty of time for you guys to hang out before school starts. After that, maybe he can come up now and then on the weekends. Or you can go down to Lark Creek."

"Yeah! Oh, but... I don't know if his parents would let him."

"Oh, I can be pretty persuasive. Your Mom once said I could charm the habit off a nun."

"Jess!" Mom scolded him playfully. "Don't say things like that in front of Leslie!"

Leslie giggled. "Anyway," she said, "I bet you could charm them. Jamie's mom freaked out when she realized I was your daughter. She said it wasn't often that she had a celebrity in her house."

"Well then, it should be easy to talk her into letting him come up for a visit."

"But... how would he get here? I don't think his parents would want to drive all the way to Washington."

"Maybe we can work something out. Take turns. I could bring him to Washington, he'd stay with us for a few days, and then his parents could pick him up and bring him home. He could even take a bus; the Millsburg bus station's only five minutes away from Lark Creek. They do runs to and from Washington every day. I could pick Jamie up at the Washington Metro. I'm sure we'll be able to work something out."

"Thanks, Dad. Thanks so much."

"Sure, honey."

Leslie could hardly believe it. She would get to see Jamie again – and not just during the holidays, if all went well. A million thoughts ran through her head. She'd have to plan some fun things for them to do. She could take him to see the National Symphony Orchestra – oh, he'd love that! There was so much they could do in Washington, Leslie didn't know where to start. She couldn't wait to get home and go online to look it all up.

"So, honey, are you looking forward to getting back to work on your book?" Mom asked Dad.

"Oh yeah. And my editor is looking forward to receiving the finished manuscript. He thinks The Legacy Of Terabithia is going to be big."

"I bet it will be."

The Legacy Of Terabithia. Leslie understood it now. It was never about a forest clearing on the other side of a creek bed in Lark Creek, Virginia. It was about two lost and lonely souls finding each other, growing in love, and coming together as one. Yin and Yang, two opposite halves that made each other whole.

What began many years ago between her father and Leslie Burke and ended in tragedy now lived inside Leslie Aarons and Jamie Byrne. She had worried that their relationship would meet a similar fate, but she knew now that Leslie Burke's death was just a terrible accident, not the hands of Fate weaving the fabric of destiny. Fate didn't bring them together just to tear them apart. And though it cut her father to the fiber of his being, even death couldn't take from him what Leslie Burke had given him in life. Her radiant spirit still lived within him.

Now, Leslie Aarons and Jamie Byrne had their chance to grow in love and become one, a chance Leslie wasn't about to squander. She wanted to keep him with her in body and spirit. She wanted to be with him in magic, in dreams, and in love. She wanted to write the poetry of his symphonies.

That's what it was all about.

That was the legacy of Terabithia.

The End

Author's Notes:

Well, as they say, all good things must come to an end. First of all, I'd like to apologize for the end being so long in coming. One of my reviewers told me that she had grown very attached to my Leslie and Jamie. Well, I've grown very attached to them, too. I wanted an ending that would give them a memorable send-off. Which is why this final chapter took so long for me to write, and why it's the longest chapter in the book – over 12,000 words.

Speaking of my reviewers, I would like to thank all of you who took the time to review my previous chapters and post such kind comments. I look forward to hearing from you all about this one. I'd also like to thank all my friends at the Bridge To Terabithia fan site A. PlaceForUs .Net for their encouragement.

Most of all, I'd like to thank Katherine Paterson for writing the wonderful book that has touched my heart – and the hearts of millions – for so many years, and continues to touch the hearts of new generations of fans.

Banzai.

- Wordsmith