"You abandoned Terabithia, Jess."
"It doesn't exist."
"The place is as real as your house, your paintings, or anything else in the world."
"It doesn't exist!"
Jesse blinked and sat upright in his bed, quite slowly.
"For chrissakes, Jesse!" Jesse blinked again and saw his roommate propped on an elbow, sleepily glaring at him.
"Er, what did I do, Eduardo?" Jesse asked; the dream had already faded away to a vague recollection of having an argument with his sister.
"Oh, nothing. Only started babbling about your dumb fool painting again for the fourth night in a row." the man's Latino accent stood out strongly when he was tired, upset, or both. "Then screamed "It doesn't exist!" and sat up like a good impersonation of The Mummy rising from its sarcophagus."
"Sorry. Bad dream. Won't happen again, I'll take my tranqs; those keep me from dreaming." Jesse promised in a stilted voice.
"Whatever, hombre, just go back to sleep." Eduardo jammed a pillow over his own head and rolled over to face the wall. Jesse lay back on the rumpled sheets and realized his own pillow was nowhere on the bed. After swinging his legs over the edge of the mattress to look for it, he further realized that his blankets and sheet were also missing. His feet touched something soft on the floor; it was a big, tangled pile of blankets, sheet, and the pillow was lying a few feet away.
"Must have been a hell of a dream to make me lose all the covers." Jesse muttered to himself. Leaving the blankets where they lay, he walked over to the window and gazed out on the city's luminescent skyline. He tried to calm his fluttering stomach as well as his palpitating heartbeat. Jesse stared blindly at the skyline and tried to recall the specifics of the dream that had awoken him, but the only thing that came to his mind was images of colors, becoming slowly clearer by the moment as they began to resolve in his mind into one image.
Jesse walked swiftly over to his suitcase and carried it noiselessly into the bathroom where he locked the door, spread his discarded sheet on the floor and set up his art supplies in a rather more hurried and careless manner than he was wont. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes as he faced the large, blank canvas, then opened them and began to paint quickly. His hands moved quickly and gracefully; every movement was perfectly economic, and his eyes were intense and focused.
As he worked, Jesse wasn't yet aware that he was painting totally differently from his usual style. His usual style was realistic, yet incorporated subtle hints of emotion. His paintings were never whimsy, fantastic, or colorful. Usually they were quite dark, with the light color tubes in his paint collection eventually, from want of use, becoming useless chunks of dried color. The only thing Jesse was focusing on was putting a perfect replication of his mental image down onto the canvas. He worked from midnight until the sun was just over the horizon before the painting was complete. He stopped stock still, fingers holding a color-laden brush just inches away from the canvas as something inside him clicked to say "Stop; you are finished."
Swaying with fatigue, he mechanically put his paints away and stumbled back to his bed without casting another glance at his work. Jesse yawned jaw-splittingly as he tripped over the blankets on the floor and fell face-down onto his bed, feet hanging off one side, and his head and arms dangling off the other. He remained thus for hours, peacefully asleep and unconscious to the world until Eduardo poked him hesitantly with a portion of dismantled easel.
"Jesse. Hey, Jesse man, come get your painting out of the bathroom! I need to shower and the steam will ruin it." Jesse blinked mournfully up at Eduardo with mournful, sleepy eyes.
"That was a dream."
"I don't know what you're tripping on, crazy man, but paint all over a sheet on the floor in the bathroom and completed painting isn't a 'dream,' yo." Jesse groaned and hauled himself out of bed forcibly; all of his limbs felt weighted and his brain was sluggishly trying to work through the fog of utter exhaustion. He pushed past Eduardo and headed for the bathroom, suddenly needing to pee more badly than he could ever remember needing to do so before in his life.
"Just let me see…" his voice trailed off as he rounded the door and came face to face with… "Leslie, oh god." He choked and dropped to his knees in front of the portrait, tears pooling in the corners of his eyes and threatening to spill down his cheeks.
Eduardo was, understandably, alarmed by the sudden change in the man he had been sharing a room with for the last several days.
"Hey, hombre, what's wrong?" he asked suspiciously, looking back and forth between the painted girl and his grief-stricken companion. "And who's the lady? She's gorgeous." Jesse never took his eyes off the portrait.
"My best friend, Leslie Burke. She died from a traumatic brain injury when we were eleven." He answered in a mechanical voice. Eduardo eyed Jesse warily, wondering just how damaged the man's own brain was.
"That is not a painting of an eleven year old girl, hombre." Eduardo said slowly, hoping that Jesse wouldn't turn and attack him with a razor blade or do something else equally disturbing. Jesse blinked slowly several times and realized that Eduardo was correct; the woman in the painting had neither the face nor the form of the Leslie Burke that Jesse had known back in his little town of Chelyan, West Virginia. It was still, undeniably, Leslie. No one else had her mirthful smile, full of devilry and imagination. Jesse cleared his throat and tried to think of an explanation for Eduardo, who was looking at him as if he'd just claimed that the President of the United States was secretly an alien.
"That's her as I saw her in a dream last night. The one where I woke you up." Jesse explained, realizing that it was the truth.
"Whatever, Jesse." Eduardo said, at a complete loss for words. "Just don't…start crying…I need a shower." Jesse did not acknowledge Eduardo's plea, but reverently lifted the portrait of Leslie Burke and carried it into the bedroom and set it down beside his twin size bed. Eduardo brought out Jesse's painting supplies and the now-neatly-folded (although extremely stained) sheet and set them down next to Jesse, who was staring into Leslie's painting eyes, possibly trying to deduce the answer to life, the universe, and everything from her ceylon gaze.
Eduardo slowly closed the bathroom door, wondering if he should be calling a psychiatrist to come evaluate Jesse's mental state.
When Eduardo finished showering and opened the bathroom door, Jesse was sitting on his bed reading a book. The portrait was nowhere in sight.
"Ah, good. My turn." Jesse said, standing up and closing the copy of We The Living that he had been perusing and set it aside. Eduardo stood stock still and gaped at him. Jesse got the strong feeling that Eduardo had no idea how to handle the sudden mood swings of his usually-rational companion.
"There's nothing to be concerned about, Eddie," He said with a bit of an embarrassed flush rising on his cheekbones, "My recent lack of sleep and stress created the perfect atmosphere for my psyche to release images of past stressors that I have never dealt with correctly. The painting I created last night surprised me enough this morning that my normally well-controlled emotions got the better of me. You have my sincerest apologies for my irrational behavior, as well as for waking you up with nightmares." Jesse offered Eduardo his best facsimile of a cheery smile and hoped that the intuitive Latino would accept the apology and never mention the incident again. The man in question looked a bit taken aback but shrugged nonchalantly and wrapped his towel a bit tighter around his waist before responding.
"Just…don't sit up like that after screaming incoherently in the middle of the night again." Eduardo said flatly. "That was beyond creepy." Jesse bit back a smirk.
"Can't handle horror movies, eh?"
"I never said that!"
Author Note: I would appreciate detailed reviews telling me what works for you, what doesn't, and above all else, any mistakes I've made that ought to be corrected. I strive for quality over quantity and post new chapters as soon as I've written some real quality of sufficient quantity.
If you've enjoyed my re-imagined ending, let me know! Reviews are an inspiration to continue.