Reading Comprehension - Literature: 'Bridge to Terabithia'

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The novel tells the story of fifth grader Jesse Aarons, who becomes friends with his new neighbor, Leslie Burke, after he loses a footrace to her at school. Leslie is a tomboy from a wealthy family, and Jesse thinks highly of her. Jesse is an artistic boy from a poorer family who, in the beginning, is fearful and angry. After meeting Leslie, however, his life is transformed. He becomes courageous and learns to let go of his frustration. The two children create a kingdom for themselves, which Leslie names "Terabithia."
By Katherine Paterson
I wrote this book
for my son
David Lord Paterson
but after he read it
he asked me to put Lisa's name
on this page as well,
and so I do.
David Paterson and Lisa Hill
ONE - Jesse Oliver Aarons, Jr.
Ba-room, ba-room, ba-room, baripity, baripity, baripity, baripity. Good. His dad had the
pickup going. He could get up now. Jess slid out of bed and into his overalls. He didn't worry
about a shirt because once he began running he would be hot as popping grease even if the
morning air was chill, or shoes because the bottoms of his feet were by now as tough as his
worn-out sneakers.
"Where you going, Jess?" May Belle lifted herself up sleepily from the double bed where
she and Joyce Ann slept.
"Sh." He warned. The walls were thin. Momma would he mad as flies in a fruit jar if they
woke her up this time of day
He patted May Belle's hair and yanked the twisted sheet up to her small chin. "Just over
the cow field," he whispered. May Belle smiled and snuggled down under the sheet.
"Gonna run?"
Of course he was going to run. He had gotten up early every day all summer to run. He
figured if he worked at it - and Lord, had he worked-he could be the fastest runner in the fifth
grade when school opened up. He had to be the fastest-not one of the fastest or next to the
fastest, but the fastest. The very best.
He tiptoed out of the house. The place was so ratty that it screeched whenever you put
your foot down, but Jess had found that if you tiptoed, it gave only a low moan, and he could
usually get outdoors without waking Momma or Ellie or Brenda or Joyce Ann. May Belle was
3. another matter. She was going on seven, and she worshiped him, which was OK sometimes.
When you were the only boy smashed between four sisters, and the older two had despised
you ever since you stopped letting them dress you up and wheel you around in their rusty old
doll carriage, and the littlest one cried if you looked at her cross-eyed, it was nice to have
somebody who worshiped you. Even if it got unhandy sometimes.
He began to trot across the yard. His breath was coming out in little puffs-cold for
August. But it was early yet. By noontime when his mom would have him out working, it
would be hot enough.
Miss Bessie stared at him sleepily as he climbed across the scrap heap, over the fence,
and into the cow field. "Moo," she said, looking for all the world like another May Belle with
her big, brown droopy eyes.
"Hey, Miss Bessie," Jess said soothingly. "Just go on back to sleep."
Miss Bessie strolled over to a greenish patch - most of the field was brown and dry - and
yanked up a mouthful.
"That'a girl. Just eat your breakfast. Don't pay me no mind."
He always started at the northwest corner of the field, crouched over like the runners he
had seen on Wide World of Sports.
"Bang," he said, and took off flying around the cow field. Miss Bessie strolled toward the
center, still following him with her droopy eyes, chewing slowly. She didn't look very smart,
even for a cow, but she was plenty bright enough to get out of Jess's way.
His straw-colored hair flapped hard against his forehead, and his arms and legs flew out
every which way. He had never learned to run properly, but he was long-legged for a ten-
year-old, and no one had more grit than he.
Lark Creek Elementary was short on everything, especially athletic equipment, so all the
balls went to the upper grades at recess time after lunch. Even if a fifth grader started out the
period with a ball, it was sure to be in the hands of a sixth or seventh grader before the hour
was half over. The older boys always took the dry center of the upper field for their ball
games, while the girls claimed the small top section for hopscotch and jump rope and hanging
around talking. So the lower-grade boys had started this running thing. They would all line up
on the far side of the lower field, where it was either muddy or deep crusty ruts. Earle Watson
who was no good at running, but had a big mouth, would yell "Bang!" and they'd race to a
line they'd toed across at the other end.
One time last year Jesse had won. Not just the first heat but the whole shebang. Only
once. But it had put into his mouth a taste for winning. Ever since he'd been in first grade he'd
been that "crazy little kid that draws all the time." But one day - April the twenty-second, a
drizzly Monday, it had been - he ran ahead of them all, the red mud slooshing up through the
holes in the bottom of his sneakers.
For the rest of that day, and until after lunch on the next, he had been "the fastest kid in
the third, fourth, and fifth grades," arid he only a fourth grader. On Tuesday, Wayne Pettis
4. had won again as usual. But this year Wayne Pettis would be in the sixth grade. He'd play
football until Christmas and baseball until June with the rest of the big guys. Anybody had a
chance to be the fastest runner, and by Miss Bessie, this year it was going to be Jesse Oliver
Aarons, Jr.
Jess pumped his arms harder and bent his head for the distant fence. He could hear the
third-grade boys screaming him on. They would follow him around like a country-music star.
And May Belle would pop her buttons. Her brother was the fastest, the best. That ought to
give the rest of the first grade something to chew their cuds on.
Even his dad would be proud. Jess rounded the corner. He couldn't keep going quite so
fast, but he continued running for a while-it would build him up. May Belle would tell Daddy,
so it wouldn't look as though he, Jess, was a bragger.
Maybe Dad would be so proud he'd forget all about how tired he was from the long drive
back and forth to Washington and the digging and hauling all day. He would get right down
on the floor and wrestle, the way they used to. Old Dad would be surprised at how strong he'd
gotten in the last couple of years.
His body was begging him to quit, but Jess pushed it on. He had to let that puny chest of
his know who was boss.
"Jess." It was May Belle yelling from the other side of the scrap heap. "Momma says you
gotta come in and eat now. Leave the milking til later."
Oh, crud. He'd run too long. Now everyone would know he'd been out and start in on
"Yeah, OK." He turned, still running, and headed for the scrap heap. Without breaking
his rhythm, he climbed over the fence, scrambled across the scrap heap, thumped May Belle
on the head ("Owww!"), and trotted on to the house.
"Well, look at the big Olympic star," said Ellie, banging two cups onto the table, so that
the strong, black coffee sloshed out. "Sweating like a knock-kneed mule."
Jess pushed his damp hair out of his face and plunked down on the wooden bench. He
dumped two spoonfuls of sugar into his cup and slurped to keep the hot coffee from scalding
his mouth.
"Oooo, Momma, he stinks." Brenda pinched her nose with her pinky crooked delicately.
"Make him wash."
"Get over here to the sink and wash yourself," his mother said without raising her eyes
from the stove. "And step on it. These grits are scorching the bottom of the pot already."
"Momma! Not again," Brenda whined.
Lord, he was tired. There wasn't a muscle in his body that didn't ache.
5. "You heard what Momma said," Ellie yelled at his back. "I can't stand it, Momma!"
Brenda again. "Make him get his smelly self off this bench."
Jess put his cheek down on the bare wood of the tabletop. "Jess-see!" His mother was
looking now. "And put on a shirt."
"Yes'm." He dragged himself to the sink. The water he nipped on his face and up his arms
pricked like ice. His hot skin crawled under the cold drops.
May Belle was standing in the kitchen door watching him.
"Get me a shirt, May Belle."
She looked as if her mouth was set to say no, but instead she said, "You shouldn't ought
to beat me in the head," and went off obediently to fetch his T-shirt. Good old May Belle.
Joyce Ann would have been screaming just from that little tap. Four-year-olds were a pure
"I got plenty of chores needs doing around here this morning," his mother announced as
they were finishing the grits and red gravy. His mother was from Georgia and still cooked like
"Oh, Momma!" Ellie and Brenda squawked in concert. Those girls could get out of work
faster than grasshoppers could slip through your fingers.
"Momma, you promised me and Brenda we could go to Millsburg for school shopping."
"You ain't got no money for school shopping!"
"Momma. We're just going to look around." Lord, he wished Brenda would stop whining
so. "Christmas! You don't want us to have no fun at all."
"Any fun," Ellie corrected her primly.
"Oh, shuttup."
Ellie ignored her. "Miz Timmons is coming by to pick us up. I told Lollie Sunday you
said it was OK. I feel dumb calling her and saying you changed your mind." "Oh, all right But
I ain't got no money to give you."
Any money, something whispered inside Jess's head.
"I know, Momma. We'll just take the five dollars Daddy promised us. No more'n that."
"What five dollars?"
"Oh, Momma, you remember." Ellie's voice was sweeter than a melted Mars Bar. "Daddy
said last week we girls were going to have to have something for school."
6. "Oh, take it," his mother said angrily, reaching for her cracked vinyl purse on the shelf
above the stove. She counted out five wrinkled bills.
"Momma" - Brenda was starting again - "can't we have just one more? So it'll be three
"Momma, you can't buy nothing for two fifty. Just one little pack of notebook paper's
gone up to - "
Ellie got up noisily and began to clear the table. "Your turn to wash, Brenda," she said
"Awww, Ellie."
Ellie jabbed her with a spoon. Jesse saw that look. Brenda shut up her whine halfway out
of her Rose Lustre lipsticked mouth. She wasn't as smart as Ellie, but even she knew not to
push Momma too far.
Which left Jess to do the work as usual. Momma never sent the babies out to help,
although if he worked it right he could usually get May Belle to do something. He put his
head down on the table. The running had done him in this morning. Through his top ear came
the sound of the Timmonses' old Buick - "Wants oil," his dad would say - and the happy buzz
of voices outside the screen door as Ellie and Brenda squashed in among the seven
"All right, Jesse. Get your lazy self off that bench. Miss Bessie's bag is probably dragging
ground by now. And you still got beans to pick."
Lazy. He was the lazy one. He gave his poor deadweight of a head one minute more on
the tabletop.
"OK, Momma. I'm going."
It was May Belle who came to tell him in the bean patch that people were moving into
the old Perkins place down on the next farm. Jess wiped his hair out of his eyes and squinted.
Sure enough. A U-Haul was parked right by the door. One of those big jointed ones. These
people had a lot of junk. But they wouldn't last. The Perkins place was one of those ratty old
country houses you moved into because you had no decent place to go and moved out of as
quickly as you could. He thought later how peculiar it was that here was probably the biggest
thing in his life, and he had shrugged it off as nothing.
The flies were buzzing around his sweating face and shoulders. He dropped the beans
into the bucket and swatted with both hands. "Get me my shirt, May Belle." The flies were
more important than any U-Haul.
7. May Belle jogged to the end of the row and picked up his T-shirt from where it had been
discarded earlier. She walked back holding it with two fingers way out in front of her.
"Oooo, it stinks," she said, just as Brenda would have.
"Shuttup," he said and grabbed the shirt away from her.
TWO - Leslie Burke
Ellie and Brenda weren't back by seven. Jess had finished all the picking and helped his
mother can the beans. She never canned except when it was scalding hot anyhow, and all the
boiling turned the kitchen into some kind of hellhole. Of course, her temper had been terrible,
and she had screamed at Jess all afternoon and was now too tired to fix any supper.
Jess made peanut-butter sandwiches for the little girls and himself, and because the
kitchen was still hot and almost nauseatingly full of bean smell, the three of them went
outside to eat.
The U-Haul was still out by the Perkins place. He couldn't see anybody moving outside,
so they must have finished unloading.
"I hope they have a girl, six or seven," said May Belle. "I need somebody to play with."
"You got Joyce Ann."
"I hate Joyce Ann. she's nothing but a baby."
Joyce Ann's lip went out. They both watched it tremble. Then her pudgy body shuddered,
and she let out a great cry.
"Who's teasing the baby?" his mother yelled out the screen door.
Jess sighed and poked the last of his sandwich into Joyce Ann's open mouth. Her eyes
went wide, and she clamped her jaws down on the unexpected gift. Now maybe he could have
some peace.
He closed the screen door gently as he entered and slipped past his mother, who was
rocking herself in the kitchen chair watching TV. In the room he shared with the little ones, he
dug under his mattress and pulled out his pad and pencils. Then, stomach down on the bed, he
began to draw.
Jess drew the way some people drink whiskey. The peace would start at the top of his
muddled brain and seep down through his tired and tensed-up body. Lord, he loved to draw.
Animals, mostly. Not regular animals like Miss Bessie or the chickens, but crazy animals with
problems-for some reason he liked to put his beasts into impossible fixes. This one was a
hippopotamus just leaving the edge of the cliff, turning over and over - you could tell by the
curving lines - in the air toward the sea below where surprised fish were leaping goggle-eyed
out of the water. There was a balloon over the hippopotamus - where his head should have
been but his bottom actually was - "Oh!" it was saying. "I seem to have forgotten my glasses."
8. Jesse began to smile. If he decided to show it to May Belle, he would have to explain the
joke, but once he did, she would laugh like a live audience on TV.
He would like to show his drawings to his dad, but he didn't dare. When he was in first
grade, he had told his dad that he wanted to be an artist when he grew up. He'd thought his
dad would be pleased. He wasn't. "What are they teaching in that damn school?" he had
asked. "Bunch of old ladies turning my only son into some kind of a..." He had stopped on the
word, but Jess had gotten the message. It was one you didn't forget, even after four years.
The devil of it was that none of his regular teachers ever liked his drawings. When they'd
catch him scribbling, they'd screech about wasted time, wasted paper, wasted ability. Except
Miss Edmunds, the music teacher. She was the only one he dared show anything to, and she'd
only been at school one year, and then only on Fridays.
Miss Edmunds was one of his secrets. He was in love with her. Not the kind of silly stuff
Ellie and Brenda giggled about on the telephone. This was too real and too deep to talk about,
even to think about very much. Her long swishy black hair and blue, blue eyes. She could
play the guitar like a regular recording star, and she had this soft floaty voice that made Jess
squish inside. Lord, she was gorgeous. And she liked him, too.
One day last winter he had given her one of his pictures. Just shoved it into her hand after
class and run. The next Friday she had asked him to stay a minute after class. She said he was
"unusually talented," and she hoped he wouldn't let anything discourage him, but would "keep
it up." That meant, Jess believed, that she thought he was the best. It was not the kind of best
that counted either at school or at home, but it was a genuine kind of best. He kept the
knowledge of it buried inside himself like a pirate treasure. He was rich, very rich, but no one
could know about it for now except his fellow outlaw, Julia Edmunds.
"Sounds like some kinda hippie," his mother had said when Brenda, who had been in
seventh grade last year, de- scribed Miss Edmunds to her.
She probably was. Jess wouldn't argue that, but he saw her as a beautiful wild creature
who had been caught for a moment in that dirty old cage of a schoolhouse, perhaps by
mistake. But he hoped, he prayed, she'd never get loose and fly away. He managed to endure
the whole boring week of school for that one half hour on Friday afternoons when they'd sit
on the worn-out rug on the floor of the teachers' room (there was no place else in the building
for Miss Edmunds to spread out all her stuff) and sing songs like "My Beautiful Balloon,"
"This Land Is Your Land," "Free to Be You and Me," "Blowing in the Wind" and because Mr.
Turner, the principal, insisted, "God Bless America."
Miss Edmunds would play her guitar and let the kids take turns on the autoharp, the
triangles, cymbals, tambourines, and bongo drum. Lord, could they ever make a racket! All
the teachers hated Fridays. And a lot of the kids pretended to.
But Jess knew what fakes they were. Sniffing "hippie" and "peacenik" even though the
Vietnam War was over and it was supposed to be OK again to like peace, the kids would
make fun of Miss Edmunds' lack of lipstick or the cut of her jeans. She was, of course, the
only female teacher anyone had ever seen in Lark Creek Elementary wearing pants. In
Washington and its fancy suburbs, even in Millsburg, that was OK, but Lark Creek was the
9. backwash of fashion. It took them a long time to accept there what everyone could see by
their TV's was OK anywhere else.
So the students of Lark Creek Elementary sat at their desks all Friday, their hearts
thumping with anticipation as they listened to the joyful pandemonium pouring out from the
teachers' room, spent their allotted half hours with Miss Edmunds under the spell of her wild
beauty and in the snare of her enthusiasms, and then went out and pretended that they couldn't
be suckered by some hippie in tight jeans with make- up all over her eyes but none on her
Jess just kept his mouth shut. It wouldn't help to try to defend Miss Edmunds against their
unjust and hypocritical attacks. Besides, she was beyond such stupid behavior. It couldn't
touch her. But whenever possible, he stole a few minutes on Friday just to stand close to her
and hear her voice, soft and smooth as suede, assuring him that he was a "neat kid."
We're alike, Jess would tell himself, me and Miss Edmunds. Beautiful Julia. The syllables
rolled through his head like a ripple of guitar chords. We don't belong at Lark Creek, Julia and
me. "You're the proverbial diamond in the rough," she'd said to him once, touching his nose
lightly with the tip of her electrifying finger. But it was she who was the diamond, sparkling
out of that muddy, grassless, dirty-brick setting.
Jess shoved the pad and pencils under his mattress and lay down flat, his heart thumping
against the quilt.
His mother was at the door. "You milk yet?"
He jumped off the bed. "Just going to." He dodged around her and out, grabbing the pail
from beside the sink and the stool from beside the door, before she could ask him what he had
been up to.
Lights were winking out from all three floors of the old Perkins place. It was nearly dark.
Miss Bessie's bag was tight, and she was fidgeting with discomfort. She should have been
milked a couple of hours ago. He eased himself onto the stool and began to tug; the warm
milk pinged into the pail. Down on the road an occasional truck passed by with its dimmers
His dad would be home soon, and so would those cagey girls who managed somehow to
have all the fun and leave him and their mother with all the work. He wondered what they had
bought with all their money. Lord, what he wouldn't give for a new pad of real art paper and a
set of those marking pens - color pouring out onto the page as fast as you could think it. Not
like stubby school crayons you had to press down on till somebody bitched about your
breaking them.
A car was turning in. It was the Timmonses'. The girls had beat Dad home. less could
hear their happy calls as the car doors slammed. Momma would fix them supper, and when he
went in with the milk, he'd find them all laughing and chattering. Momma'd even forget she
was tired and mad. He was the only one who had to take that stuff. Sometimes he felt so
lonely among all these females - even the one rooster had died, and they hadn't yet gotten
10. another. With his father gone from sunup until well past dark, who was there to know how he
felt? Weekends weren't any better. His dad was so tired from the wear and tear of the week
and trying to catch up around the place that when he wasn't actually working, he was sleeping
in front of the TV.
"Hey, Jesse." May Belle. The dumb kid wouldn't even let you think privately.
"What do you want now?"
He watched her shrink two sizes. "I got something to tell you." She hung her head.
"You ought to be in bed," he said huffily, mad at himself for cutting her down.
"Ellie and Brenda come home."
"Came. Came home." Why couldn't he quit picking on her? But her news was too
delicious to let him stop her sharing it. "Ellie bought herself a see-through blouse, and
Momma's throwing a fit!"
Good, he thought. "That ain't nothing to cheer about," he said.
Baripity, baripity, baripity.
"Daddy!" May Belle screamed with delight and started running for the road. Jess watched
his dad stop the truck, lean over to unlatch the door, so May Belle could climb in. He turned
away. Durn lucky kid. She could run after him and grab him and kiss him. It made Jess ache
inside to watch his dad grab the little ones to his shoulder, or lean down and hug them. It
seemed to him that he had been thought too big for that since the day he was born.
When the pail was full, he gave Miss Bessie a pat to move her away. Putting the stool
under his left arm, he carried the heavy pail carefully, so none of the milk would slop out.
"Mighty late with the milking, aren't you, son?" It was the only thing his father said
directly to him all evening.
The next morning he almost didn't get up at the sound of the pickup. He could feel, even
before he came fully awake, how tired he still was. But May Belle was grinning at him,
propped up on one elbow. "Ain't 'cha gonna run?" she asked.
"No," he said, shoving the sheet away. "I'm gonna fly."
Because he was more tired than usual, he had to push him- self harder. He pretended that
Wayne Pettis was there, just ahead of him, and he had to keep up. His feet pounded the
uneven ground, and he thrashed his arms harder and harder. He'd catch him. "Watch out,
Wayne Pettis," he said between his teeth. "I'll get you. You can't beat me."
"If you're so afraid of the cow," the voice said, "why don't you just climb the fence?"
He paused in midair like a stop-action TV shot and turned, almost losing his balance, to
face the questioner, who was sitting on the fence nearest the old Perkins place, dangling bare
11. brown legs. The person had jaggedy brown hair cut close to its face and wore one of those
blue undershirtlike tops with faded jeans cut off above the knees. He couldn't honestly tell
whether it was a girl or a boy.
"Hi," he or she said, jerking his or her head toward the Perkins place. "We just moved
Jess stood where he was, staring.
The person slid off the fence and came toward him. "I thought we might as well be
friends," it said. "There's no one else close by."
Girl, he decided. Definitely a girl, but he couldn't have said why he was suddenly sure.
She was about his height-not quite though, he was pleased to realize as she came nearer.
"My name's Leslie Burke."
She even had one of those dumb names that could go either way, but he was sure now
that he was right.
"What's the matter?"
"Is something the matter?"
"Yeah. No." He pointed his thumb in the direction of his own house, and then wiped his
hair off his forehead. "Jess Aarons." Too bad May Belle's girl came in the wrong size. "Well-
well." He nodded at her. "See you." He turned toward the house. No use trying to run any
more this morning. Might as well milk Miss Bessie and get that out of the way.
"Hey!" Leslie was standing in the middle of the cow field, her head tilted and her hands
on her hips. "Where you going?"
"I got work to do," he called back over his shoulder. When he came out later with the pail
and stool, she was gone.
THREE - The Fastest Kid In The Fifth Grade
Jess didn't see Leslie Burke again except from a distance until the first day of school, the
following Tuesday, when Mr. Turner brought her down to Mrs. Myers' fifth-grade class at
Lark Creek Elementary.
Leslie was still dressed in the faded cutoffs and the blue undershirt. She had sneakers on
her feet but no socks. Surprise swooshed up from the class like steam from a released radiator
cap. They were all sitting there primly dressed in their spring Sunday best. Even Jess wore his
one pair of corduroys and an ironed shirt.
The reaction didn't seem to bother her. She stood there in front, her eyes saying, "OK,
friends, here I am," in answer to their open-mouthed stares while Mrs. Myers fluttered about
12. trying to figure where to put the extra desk. The room was a small basement one, and five
rows of six desks already filled it more than comfortably.
"Thirty-one," Mrs. Myers kept mumbling over her double chin, "Thirty-one. No one else
has more than twenty-nine." She finally decided to put the desk up against the side wall near
the front. "Just there for now, uh, Leslie. It's the best we can do for now. This is a very
crowded classroom." She swung a pointed glance at Mr. Turner's retreating form.
Leslie waited quietly until the seventh-grade boy who'd been sent down with the extra
desk scraped it into position hard against the radiator and under the first window. Without
making any noise, she pulled it a few inches forward from the radiator and settled herself into
it. Then she turned once more to gaze at the rest of the class.
Thirty pairs of eyes were suddenly focused on desk4op scratches. Jess ran his forefinger
around the heart with two pairs of initials, BR + SK, trying to figure out whose desk he had
inherited. Probably Sally Koch's. Girls did more of the heart stuff in fifth grade than boys.
Besides BR must be Billy Rudd, and Billy was known to favor Myrna Hauser last spring. Of
course, these initials might have been here longer than that, in which case...
"Jesse Aarons. Bobby Greggs. Pass out the arithmetic books. Please." On the last word,
Mrs. Myers flashed her famous first-day-of-school smile. It was said in the upper grades that
Mrs. Myers had never been seen to smile except on the first and the last day of school.
Jess roused himself and went to the front. As he passed Leslie's desk, she grinned and
rippled her fingers low in a kind of wave. He jerked a nod. He couldn't help feeling sorry for
her. It must be embarrassing to sit in front when you find yourself dressed funny on the first
day of school. And you don't know anybody.
He slapped the books down as Mrs. Myers directed. Gary Fulcher grabbed his arm as he
went by. "Gonna run today?" Jess nodded. Gary smirked. He thinks he can beat me, the
dumbhead. At the thought, something jiggled inside Jess. He knew he was better than he had
been last spring. Fulcher might think he was going to be the best, now that Wayne Pettis was
in sixth, but he, Jess, planned to give old Fulcher a little surprise come noon. It was as though
he had swallowed grasshoppers. He could hardly wait.
Mrs. Myers handed out books almost as though she were President of the United States,
dragging the distribution process out in senseless signings and ceremonies. It occurred to Jess
that she, too, wished to postpone regular school as long as possible. When it wasn't his turn to
pass out books, Jess sneaked out a piece of notebook paper and drew. He was toying with the
idea of doing a whole book of drawings. He ought to choose one chief character and do a
story about it. He scribbled several animals and tried to think of a name. A good title would
get him started. The Haunted Hippo? He liked the ring of it. Herby the Haunted Hippo? Even
better. The Case of the Crooked Crocodile. Not bad.
"Whatcha drawing?" Gary Fulcher was leaning way over his desk.
Jess covered the page with his arm. "Nothing."
"Ah, c'mon. Lemme see."
13. Jess shook his head.
Gary reached down and tried to pull Jess's hand away from the paper. "The Case of the
Crooked- c'mon, Jess," he whispered hoarsely. "I ain't gonna hurt nothing." He yanked at
Jess's thumb.
Jess put both arms over the paper and brought his sneaker heel crashing down on Gary
Fulcher's toe.
"Boys!" Mrs. Myers' face had lost its lemon-pie smile.
"He stomped my toe."
"Take your seat, Gary."
"But he - "
"Sit down!"
"Jesse Aarons. One more peep from your direction and you can spend recess in here.
Copying the dictionary."
Jess's face was burning hot. He slid the notebook paper back under his desk top and put
his head down. A whole year of this. Eight more years of this. He wasn't sure he could stand
The children ate lunch at their desks. The county had been promising Lark Creek a
lunchroom for twenty years, but there never seemed to be enough money. Jess had been so
careful not to lose his recess time that even now he chewed his bologna sandwich with his lips
tight shut and his eyes on the initialed heart. Around him conversations buzzed. They were
not supposed to talk during lunch, but it was the first day and even Monster-Mouth Myers
shot fewer flames on the first day.
"She's eating clabber." Two seats up from where he sat, Mary Lou Peoples was at work
being the second snottiest girl in the fifth grade.
"Yogurt, stupid. Don't you watch TV?" This from Wanda Kay Moore, the snottiest, who
sat immediately in front of Jess.
Lord, why couldn't they leave people in peace? Why shouldn't Leslie Burke eat anything
she durn pleased?
He forgot that he was trying to eat carefully and took a loud slurp of his milk.
Wanda Moore turned around, all priss-face. "Jesse Aarons. "That noise is pure repulsive."
14. He glared at her hard and gave another slurp.
"You are disgusting."
Brrrrring. The recess bell. With a yelp, the boys were pushing for first place at the door.
"The boys will all sit down." Oh, Lord. "While the girls line up to go out to the
playground. Ladies first."
The boys quivered on the edges of their seats like moths fighting to be freed of cocoons.
Would she never let them go?
"All right, now if you boys . . ." They didn't give her a chance to change her mind. They
were halfway to the end of the field before she could finish her sentence.
The first two out began dragging their toes to make the finish line. The ground was rutted
from past rains, but had hardened in the late summer drought, so they had to give up on
sneaker toes and draw the line with a stick. The fifth-grade boys, bursting with new
importance, ordered the fourth grad- ers this way and that, while the smaller boys tried to
include themselves without being conspicuous.
"How many you guys gonna run?" Gary Fulcher demanded.
"Me-me-me." Everyone yelled.
"That's too many. No first, second, or third graders ex- cept maybe the Butcher cousins
and Timmy Vaughn. The rest of you will just be in the way."
Shoulders sagged, but the little boys backed away obediently.
"OK. That leaves twenty-six, twenty-seven-stand still- twenty-eight. You get twenty-
eight, Greg?" Fulcher asked Greg Williams, his shadow.
"Right. Twenty-eight."
"OK. Now. We'll have eliminations like always. Count off by fours. Then we'll run all the
ones together, then the twos - "
"We know. We know." Everyone was impatient with Gary, who was trying for all the
world to sound like this year's Wayne Pettis.
Jess was a four, which suited him well enough. He was impatient to run, but he really
didn't mind having a chance to see how the others were doing since spring. Fulcher was a one,
of course, having started everything with himself. Jess grinned at Fulcher's back and stuck his
hands into the pockets of his corduroys, wriggling his right forefinger through the hole.
Gary won the first heat easily and had plenty of breath left to boss the organizing of the
second. A few of the younger boys drifted off to play King of the Mountain on the slope
between the upper and lower fields. Out of the corner of his eye, Jess saw someone coming
15. down from the upper field. He turned his back and pretended to concentrate on Fulcher's high-
pitched commands.
"Hi." Leslie Burke had come up beside him.
He shifted slightly away. "Umph."
"Aren't you running?"
"Later." Maybe if he didn't look at her, she would go back to the upper field where she
Gary told Earle Watson to bang the start. Jess watched. Nobody with much speed in that
crowd. He kept his eyes on the shirttails and bent backs.
A fight broke out at the finish line between Jimmy Mitchell and Clyde Deal. Everyone
rushed to see. Jess was aware that Leslie Burke stayed at his elbow, but he was careful not to
look her way.
"Clyde." Gary Fulcher made his declaration. "It was Clyde."
"It was a tie, Fulcher," a fourth grader protested. "I was standing right here."
"Clyde Deal."
Jimmy Mitchell's jaw was set. "I won, Fulcher. You couldn't even see from way back
"It was Deal." Gary ignored the protests. "We're wasting time. All threes line up. Right
Jimmy's fists went up. "Ain't fair, Fulcher."
Gary turned his back and headed for the starting line.
"Oh, let 'em both run in the finals. What's it gonna hurt?" Jess said loudly.
Gary stopped walking and wheeled to face him. Fulcher glared first at Jess and then at
Leslie Burke. "Next thing," he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm, "next thing you're gonna
want to let some girl run."
Jess's face went hot. "Sure," he said recklessly. "Why not?" He turned deliberately toward
Leslie. "Wanna run?" he asked.
"Sure." She was grinning. "Why not?"
"You ain't scared to let a girl race are you, Fulcher?"
16. For a minute he thought Gary was going to sock him, and he stiffened. He mustn't let
Fulcher suspect that he was scared of a little belt in the mouth. But instead Gary broke into a
trot and started bossing the threes into line for their heat.
"You can run with the fours, Leslie." He said it loudly enough to make sure Fulcher could
hear him and then concentrated on the runners. See, he told himself, you can stand up to a
creep like Fulcher. No sweat.
Bobby Miller won the threes easily. He was the best of the fourth graders, almost as fast
as Fulcher. But not as good as me, Jess thought. He was beginning to get really excited now.
There wasn't anybody in the fours who could give him much of a race. Still it would be better
to give Fulcher a scare by running well in the heat.
Leslie lined up beside him on the fight. He moved a tiny bit to the left, but she didn't
seem to notice.
At the bang Jess shot forward. It felt good-even the rough ground against the bottom of
his worn sneakers. He was pumping good. He could almost smell Gary Fulcher's surprise at
his improvement. The crowd was noisier than they'd been during the other heats. Maybe they
were all noticing. He wanted to look back and see where the others were, but he resisted the
temptation. It would seem conceited to look back. He concentrated on the line ahead. It was
nearing with every step. "Oh, Miss Bessie, if you could see me now."
He felt it before he saw it. Someone was moving up. He automatically pumped harder.
Then the shape was there in his sideways vision. Then suddenly pulling ahead. He forced
himself now. His breath was choking him, and the sweat was in his eyes. But he saw the
figure anyhow. The faded cutoffs crossed the line a full three feet ahead of him.
Leslie turned to face him with a wide smile on her tanned face. He stumbled and without
a word began half walking, half trotting over to the starting line. This was the day he was
going to be champion - the best runner of the fourth and fifth grades, and he hadn't even won
his heat. There was no cheering at either end of the field. The rest of the boys seemed as
stunned as he. The teasing would come later, he felt sure, but at least for the moment none of
them were talking.
"OK." Fulcher took over. He tried to appear very much in charge. "OK, you guys. You
can line up for the finals." He walked over to Leslie. "OK, you had your fun. You can run on
up to the hopscotch now."
"But I won the heat," she said.
Gary lowered his head like a bull. "Girls aren't supposed to play on the lower field. Better
get up there before one of the teachers sees you."
"I want to run," she said quietly.
"You already did."
"Whatsa matter, Fulcher?" All Jess's anger was bubbling out. He couldn't seem to stop
the flow. "Whatsa matter? Scared to race her?"
17. Fulcher's fist went up. But Jess walked away from it. Fulcher would have to let her run
now, he knew. And Fulcher did, angrily and grudgingly.
She beat him. She came in first and turned her large shining eyes on a bunch of dumb
sweating-mad faces. The bell rang. Jess started across the lower field, his hands still deep in
his pockets. She caught up with him. He took his hands out and began to trot toward the hill.
She'd got him into enough trouble. She speeded up and refused to be shaken off.
"Thanks," she said.
"Yeah?" For what? he was thinking.
"You're the only kid in this whole durned school who's worth shooting." He wasn't sure,
he thought her voice was quivering, but he wasn't going to start feeling sorry for her again.
"So shoot me," he said.
On the bus that afternoon he did something he had never thought he would do. He sat
down beside May Belle. It was the only way he could make sure that he wouldn't have Leslie
plunking herself down beside him. Lord, the girl had no notion of what you did and didn't do.
He stared out the window, but he knew she had come and was sitting across the aisle from
He heard her say "Jess" once, but the bus was noisy enough that he could pretend he
hadn't heard. When they came to the stop, he grabbed May Belle's hand and dragged her off,
conscious that Leslie was right behind them. But she didn't try to speak to him again, nor did
she follow them. She just took off running to the old Perkins place. He couldn't help turning
to watch. She ran as though it was her nature. It reminded him of the flight of wild ducks in
the autumn. So smooth. The word "beautiful" came to his mind, but he shook it away and
hurried up toward the house.
FOUR - Rulers Of Terabithia
Because school had started on the first Tuesday after Labor Day, it was a short week. It
was a good thing because each day was worse than the one before. Leslie continued to join
the boys at recess, and every day she won. By Friday a number of the fourth- and fifth-grade
boys had already drifted away to play King of the Mountain on the slope between the two
fields. Since there were only a handful left, they didn't even have to have heats, which took
away a lot of the suspense. Running wasn't fun anymore. And it was all Leslie's fault.
Jess knew now that he would never be the best runner of the fourth and fifth grades, and
his only consolation was that neither would Gary Fulcher. They went through the motions of
the contest on Friday, but when it was over and Leslie had won again, everyone sort of knew
without saying so that it was the end of the races.
At least it was Friday, and Miss Edmunds was back. The fifth grade had music right after
recess. Jess had passed Miss Edmunds in the hall earlier in the day, and she had stopped him
and made a fuss over him. "Did you keep drawing this summer?"
"May I see your pictures or are they private?"
18. Jess shoved his hair off his red forehead. "I'll show you 'em."
She smiled her beautiful even-toothed smile and shook her shining black hair back off her
shoulder. "Great!" she said. "See you."
He nodded and smiled back. Even his toes had felt warm and tingly.
Now as he sat on the rug in the teachers' room the same warm feeling swept through him
at the sound of her voice. Even her ordinary speaking voice bubbled up from inside her, rich
and melodic.
Miss Edmunds fiddled a minute with her guitar, talking as she tightened the strings to the
jingling of her bracelets and the strumming of chords. She was in her jeans as usual and sat
there cross-legged in front of them as though that was the way teacher always did. She asked
a few of the kids how they were and how their summer had been. They kind of mumbled
back. She didn't speak directly to Jess, but she gave him a look with those blue eyes of hen
that made him zing like one of the strings she was strumming.
She took note of Leslie and asked for an introduction, which one of the girls prissily
gave. Then she smiled at Leslie, and Leslie smiled back-the first time Jess could remember
seeing Leslie smile since she won the race on Tuesday. "What do you like to sing, Leslie?"
"Oh, anything."
Miss Edmunds picked a few odd chords and then began to sing, more quietly than usual
for that particular song:
"I see a land bright and clear
And the time's coming near
When we'll live in this land
You and me, hand in hand."
People began to join in, quietly at first to match her mood, but as the song built up at the
end, their voices did as well, so that by the time they got to the final "Free to be you and me,"
the whole school could hear them. Caught in the pure delight of it, Jess turned and his eyes
met Leslie's. He smiled at her. What the heck? There wasn't any reason he couldn't. What was
he scared of anyhow? Lord. Sometimes he acted like the original yellow-bellied sapsucker.
He nodded and smiled again. She smiled back. He felt there in the teachers' room that it was
the beginning of a new season in his life, and he chose deliberately to make it so.
He did not have to make any announcement to Leslie that he had changed his mind about
her. She already knew it. She plunked herself down beside him on the bus and squeezed over
closer to him to make room for May Belle on the same seat. She talked about Arlington, about
the huge suburban school she used to go to with its gorgeous music room but not a single
teacher in it as beautiful or as nice as Miss Edmunds.
"You had a gym?"
"Yeah. I think all the schools did. Or most of them anyway." She sighed. "I really miss it.
I'm pretty good at gymnastics."
19. "I guess you hate it here."
She was quiet for a moment, thinking, Jess decided, about her former school, which he
saw as bright and new with a gleaming gymnasium larger than the one at the consolidated
high school.
"I guess you had a lot of friends there, too."
"Why'd you come here?"
"My parents are reassessing their value structure."
"They decided they were too hooked on money and success, so they bought that old farm
and they're going to farm it and think about what's important."
Jess was staring at her with his mouth open. He knew it, and he couldn't help himself. it
was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard.
"But you're the one that's gotta pay."
"Why don't they think about you?"
"We talked it over," she explained patiently. "I wanted to come, too." She looked past
him out the window. "You never know ahead of time what something's really going to be
The bus had stopped. Leslie took May Belle's hand and led her off. less followed, still
trying to figure out why two grown people and a smart girl like Leslie wanted to leave a
comfort- able life in the suburbs for a place like this.
They watched the bus roar off.
"You can't make a go of a farm nowadays, you know," he said finally. "My dad has to go
to Washington to work, or we wouldn't have enough money.
"Money is not the problem."
"Sure it's the problem."
"I mean," she said stiffly, "not for us."
20. It took him a minute to catch on. He did not know people for whom money was not the
problem. "Oh." He tried to remember not to talk about money with her after that.
But Leslie had other problems at Lark Creek that caused more of a rumpus than lack of
money. There was the matter of television.
It started with Mrs. Myers reading out loud a composition that Leslie had written about
her hobby. Everyone had had to write a paper about his or her favorite hobby. Jess had written
about football, which he really hated, but he had enough brains to know that if he said
drawing, everyone would laugh at him. Most of the boys swore that watching the Washington
Redskins on TV was their favorite hobby. The girls were divided: those who didn't care much
about what Mrs. Myers thought chose watching game shows on TV, and those like Wanda
Kay Moore who were still aiming for A's chose reading Good Books. But Mrs. Myers didn't
read anyone's paper out loud except Leslie's.
"I want to read this composition aloud. For two reasons. One, it is beautifully written.
And two, it tells about an unusual hobby - for a girl." Mrs. Myers beamed her first-day smile
at Leslie. Leslie stared at her desk. Being Mrs. Myers' pet was pure poison at Lark Creek.
"Scuba Diving by Leslie Burke."
Mrs. Myers' sharp voice cut Leslie's sentences into funny little phrases, but even so, the
power of Leslie's words drew Jess with her under the dark water. Suddenly he could hardly
breathe. Suppose you went under and your mask filled all up with water and you couldn't get
to the top in time? He was choking and sweating. He tried to push down his panic. This was
Leslie Burke's favorite hobby. Nobody would make up scuba diving to be their favorite hobby
if it wasn't so. That meant Leslie did it a lot. That she wasn't scared of going deep, deep down
in a world of no air and little light. Lord, he was such a coward. How could he be all in a
tremble just listening to Mrs. Myers read about it? He was worse a baby than Joyce Ann. His
dad expected him to be a man. And here he was letting some girl who wasn't even ten yet
scare the liver out of him by just telling what it was like to sight-see under water. Dumb,
dumb, dumb.
"I am sure," Mrs. Myers was saying, "that all of you were as impressed as I was with
Leslie's exciting essay."
Impressed. Lord. He'd nearly drowned.
In the classroom there was a shuffling of feet and papers. "Now I want to give you a
homework assignment" - muffled groans - "that I'm sure you'll enjoy." - mumblings of
unbelief - "Tonight on Channel 7 at 8 P.M. there is going to be a special about a famous
underwater explorer - Jacques Cousteau. I want everyone to watch. Then write one page
telling what you learned."
"A whole page?"
"Does spelling count?"
"Doesn't spelling always count, Gary?"
21. "Both sides of the paper?"
"One side will be enough, Wanda Kay. But I will give extra credit to those who do extra
Wanda Kay smiled primly. You could already see ten pages taking shape in her pointy
"Mrs. Myers."
"Yes, Leslie." Lord, Mrs. Myers was liable to crack her face if she kept up smiling like
"What if you can't watch the program?"
"You inform your parents that it is a homework assignment. I am sure they will not
"What if' - Leslie's voice faltered; then she shook her head and cleared her throat so the
words came out stronger - "what if you don't have a television set?"
Lord, Leslie. Don't say that. You can always watch on mine. But it was too late to save
her. The hissing sounds of disbelief were already building into a rumbling of contempt.
Mrs. Myers blinked her eyes. "Well. Well." She blinked some more. You could tell she
was trying to figure out how to save Leslie, too. "Well. In that case one could write a one-
page composition on something else. Couldn't one, Leslie?" She tried to smile across the
classroom upheaval to Leslie, but it was no use. "Class! Class! Class!" Her Leslie smile
shifted suddenly and ominously into a scowl that silenced the storm.
She handed out dittoed sheets of arithmetic problems. Jess stole a look at Leslie. Her
face, bent low over the math sheet, was red and fierce.
At recess time when he was playing King of the Mountain, he could see that Leslie was
surrounded by a group of girls led by Wanda Kay. He couldn't hear what they were saying,
but he could tell by the proud way Leslie was throwing her head back that the others were
making fun of her. Greg Williams grabbed him then, and while they wrestled, Leslie
disappeared. It was none of his business, really, but he threw Greg down the hill as hard as he
could and yelled to no one in particular, "Gotta go."
He stationed himself across from the girls' room. Leslie came out in a few minutes. He
could tell she had been crying.
"Hey, Leslie," he called softly.
"Go away!" She turned abruptly and headed the other way in a fast walk. With an eye on
the office door, he ran after her. Nobody was supposed to be in the halls during recess.
"Leslie. Whatsa matter?"
"You know perfectly well what's the matter, Jess Aarons."
22. "Yeah." He rubbed his hair. "If you'd just kept your mouth shut. You can always watch at
But she had wheeled around again, and was zooming down the hall. Before he could
finish the sentence and catch up with her, she was swinging the door to the girls' room right at
his nose. Jess slunk out of the building. He couldn't risk Mr. Turner catching him hanging
around the girls' room as though he was some kind of pervert or something.
After school Leslie got on the bus before he did and went straight to the corner of the
long back seat-right to the seventh graders' seat. He jerked his head at her to warn her to come
farther up front, but she wouldn't even look at him. He could see the seventh graders headed
for the bus-the huge bossy bosomy girls and the mean, skinny, narrow-eyed boys. They'd kill
her for sitting in their territory. He jumped up and ran to the back and grabbed Leslie by the
arm. "You gotta come up to your regular seat, Leslie."
Even as he spoke, he could feel the bigger kids pushing up behind him down the narrow
aisle. Indeed, Janice Avery, who among all the seventh graders was the one person who
devoted her entire life to scaring the wits out of anyone smaller than she, was right behind
him. "Move, kid," she said.
He planted his body as firmly as he could, although his heart was knocking at his Adam's
apple. "C'mon, Leslie," he said, and then he made himself turn and give Janice Avery one of
those look-overs from frizz blond hair, past too tight blouse and broad-beamed jeans, to
gigantic sneakers. When he finished, he swallowed, stared straight up into her scowling face,
and said, almost steadily, "Don't look like there'll be room across the back here for you and
Janice Avery."
Somebody hooted. "Weight Watchers is waiting for you, Janice!"
Janice's eyes were hate-mad, but she moved aside for less and Leslie to make their way
past her to their regular seat.
Leslie glanced back as they sat down, and then leaned over. "She's going to get you for
that, Jess. Boy, she is mad."
Jess warmed to the tone of respect in Leslie's voice, but he didn't dare look back. "Heck,"
he said. "You think I'm going to let some dumb cow like that scare me?"
By the time they got off the bus, he could finally send a swallow past his Adam's apple
without choking. He even gave a little wave at the back seat as the bus pulled off.
Leslie was grinning at him over May Belle's head.
"Well," he said happily. "See you."
"Hey, do you think we could do something this afternoon?"
"Me, too! I wanna do something, too," May Belle shrilled. less looked at Leslie. No was
in her eyes. "Not this time, May Belle. Leslie and I got something we gotta do just by
ourselves today. You can carry my books home and tell Momma I'm over at Burkes'. OK?"
23. "You ain't got nothing to do. You ain't even planned nothing."
Leslie came and leaned over May Belle, putting her hand on the little girl's thin shoulder.
"May Belle, would you like some new paper dolls?"
May Belle slid her eyes around suspiciously. "What kind?"
"Life in Colonial America."
May Belle shook her head. "I want Bride or Miss America."
"You can pretend these are bride paper dolls. They have lots of beautiful long dresses."
"Whatsa matter with 'em?"
"Nothing. They're brand-new."
"How come you don't want 'em if they're so great?"
"When you're my age" - Leslie gave a little sigh - "you just don't play with paper dolls
anymore. My grandmother sent me these. You know how it is, grandmothers just forget
you're growing up."
May Belle's one living grandmother was in Georgia and never sent her anything. "You
already punched 'em out?"
"No, honestly. And all the clothes punch out, too. You don't have to use scissors."
They could see she was weakening. "How about," Jess began, "you coming down and
taking a look at 'em, and if they suit you, you could take 'em along home when you go tell
Momma where I am?"
After they had watched May Belle tearing up the hill, clutching her new treasure, Jess
and Leslie turned and ran up over the empty field behind the old Perkins place and down to
the dry creek bed that separated farmland from the woods. There was an old crab apple tree
there, just at the bank of the creek bed, from which someone long forgotten had hung a rope.
They took turns swinging across the gully on the rope. It was a glorious autumn day, and
if you looked up as you swung, it gave you the feeling of floating. Jess leaned back and drank
in the rich, clear color of the sky. He was drifting, drifting like a fat white lazy cloud back and
forth across the blue.
"Do you know what we need?" Leslie called to him. Intoxicated as he was with the
heavens, he couldn't imagine needing anything on earth.
"We need a place," she said, "just for us. It would be so secret that we would never tell
anyone in the whole world about it." Jess came swinging back and dragged his feet to stop.
She lowered her voice almost to a whisper. "It might be a whole secret country," she
continued, "and you and I would be the rulers of it."
24. Her words stirred inside of him. He'd like to be a ruler of something. Even something that
wasn't real. "OK," he said. "Where could we have it?"
"Over there in the woods where nobody would come and mess it up."
There were parts of the woods that Jess did not like. Dark places where it was almost like
being under water, but he didn't say so.
"I know" - she was getting excited - "it could be a magic country like Narnia, and the
only way you can get in is by swinging across on this enchanted rope." Her eyes were bright.
She grabbed the rope. "Come on," she said. "Let's find a place to build our castle stronghold."
They had gone only a few yards into the woods beyond the creek bed when Leslie
"How about right here?" she asked.
"Sure," Jess agreed quickly, relieved that there was no need to plunge deeper into the
woods. He would take her there, of course, for he wasn't such a coward that he would mind a
little exploring now and then farther in amongst the ever-darkening columns of the tall pines.
But as a regular thing, as a permanent place, this was where he would choose to be - here
where the dogwood and redwood played hide and seek between the oaks and evergreens, and
the sun flung itself in golden streams through the trees to splash warmly at their feet.
"Sure," he repeated himself, nodding vigorously. The under- brush was dry and would be
easy to clear away. The ground was almost level. "This'll be a good place to build."
Leslie named their secret land "Terabithia," and she loaned Jess all of her books about
Narnia, so he would know how things went in a magic kingdom-how the animals and the trees
must be protected and how a ruler must behave. That was the hard part. When Leslie spoke,
the words rolling out so regally, you knew she was a proper queen. He could hardly manage
English, much less the poetic language of a king.
But he could make stuff. They dragged boards and other materials down from the scrap
heap by Miss Bessie's pasture and built their castle stronghold in the place they had found in
the woods. Leslie filled a three-pound coffee can with crackers and dried fruit and a one-
pound can with strings and nails. They found five old Pepsi bottles which they washed and
filled with water, in case, as Leslie said, "of siege."
Like God in the Bible, they looked at what they had made and found it very good.
"You should draw a picture of Terabithia for us to hang in the castle," Leslie said.
"I can't." How could he explain it in a way Leslie would understand, how he yearned to
reach out and capture the quivering life about him and how when he tried, it slipped past his
fingertips, leaving a dry fossil upon the page? "I just can't get the poetry of the trees," he said.
She nodded. "Don't worry," she said. "You will someday." He believed her because there
in the shadowy light of the stronghold everything seemed possible. Between the two of them
They owned the world and no enemy, Gary Fulcher, Wanda Kay Moore, Janice Avery, Jess's
25. own fears and insufficiencies, nor any of the foes whom Leslie imagined attacking Terabithia,
could ever really defeat them.
A few days after they finished the castle, Janice Avery fell down in the school bus and
yelled that Jess had tripped her as she went past. She made such a fuss that Mrs. Prentice, the
driver, ordered Jess off the bus, and he had to walk the three miles home.
When Jess finally got to Terabithia, Leslie was huddled next to one of the cracks below
the roof trying to get enough light to read. There was a picture on the cover which showed a
killer whale attacking a dolphin.
"Whatcha doing?" He came in and sat beside her on the ground.
"Reading. I had to do something. That girl!" Her anger came rocketing to the surface.
"It don't matter. I don't mind walking all that much." What was a little hike compared to
what Janice Avery might have chosen to do?
"It's the principle of the thing, Jess. That's what you've got to understand. You have to
stop people like that. Otherwise they turn into tyrants and dictators."
He reached over and took the whale book from her hands, pretending to study the bloody
picture on the jacket. "Getting any good ideas?"
"I thought you was getting some ideas on how to stop Janice Avery."
"No, stupid. We're trying to save the whales. They might become extinct."
He gave her back the book. "You save the whales and shoot the people, huh?"
She grinned finally. "Something like that, I guess. Say, did you ever hear the story about
Moby Dick?"
"Who's that?"
"Well, there was once this huge white whale named Moby Dick. . . ." And Leslie began
to spin out a wonderful story about a whale and a crazy sea captain who was bent on killing it.
His fingers itched to try to draw it on paper. Maybe if he had some proper paints, he could do
it. There ought to be a way of making the whale shimmering white against the dark water.
At first they avoided each other during school hours, but by October they grew careless
about their friendship. Gary Fulcher, like Brenda, took great pleasure in teasing Jess about his
"girl friend." It hardly bothered Jess. He knew that a girl friend was somebody who chased
you on the playground and tried to grab you and kiss you. He could no more imagine Leslie
chasing a boy than he could imagine Mrs. Double- Chinned Myers shinnying up the flagpole.
Gary Fulcher could go to you-know-where and warm his toes.
26. There was really no free time at school except recess, and now that there were no races,
Jess and Leslie usually looked for a quiet place on the field, and sat and talked. Except for the
magic half hour on Fridays, recess was all that Jess looked forward to at school. Leslie could
always come up with something funny that made the long days bearable. Often the joke was
on Mrs. Myers. Leslie was one of those people who sat quietly at her desk, never whispering
or daydreaming or chewing gum, doing beautiful schoolwork, and yet her brain was so full of
mischief that if the teacher could have once seen through that mask of perfection, she would
have thrown her out in horror.
Jess could hardly keep a straight face in class just trying to imagine what might be going
on behind that angelic look of Leslie's. One whole morning, as Leslie had related it at recess,
she had spent imagining Mrs. Myers on one of those fat farms down in Arizona. In her
fantasy, Mrs. Myers was one of the foodaholics who would hide bits of candy bars in odd
places - up the hot water faucet ! - only to be found out and publicly humiliated before all the
other fat ladies. That afternoon Jess kept having visions of Mrs. Myers dressed only in a pink
corset being weighed in. "You've been cheating again, Gussie!" the tall skinny directoress was
saying. Mrs. Myers was on the verge of tears.
"Jesse Aarons!" The teacher's sharp voice punctured his daydream. He couldn't look Mrs.
Myers straight in her pudgy face. He'd crack up. He set his sight on her uneven hemline.
"Yes'm." He was going to have to get coaching from Leslie. Mrs. Myers always caught
him when his mind was on vacation, but she never seemed to suspect Leslie of not paying
attention. He sneaked a glance up that way. Leslie was totally absorbed in her geography
book, or so it would appear to anyone who didn't know.
Terabithia was cold in November. They didn't dare build a fire in the castle, though
sometimes they would build one outside and huddle around it. For a while Leslie had been
able to keep two sleeping bags in the stronghold, but around the first of December her father
noticed their absence, and she had to take them back. Actually, Jess made her take them back.
It was not that he was afraid of the Burkes exactly. Leslie's parents were young, with straight
white teeth and lots of hair-both of them. Leslie called them Judy and Bill, which bothered
Jess more than he wanted it to. It was none of his business what Leslie called her parents. But
he just couldn't get used to it.
Both of the Burkes were writers. Mrs. Burke wrote novels and, according to Leslie, was
more famous than Mr. Burke, who wrote about politics. It was really something to see the
shelf that had their books on it. Mrs. Burke was "Judith Hancock" on the cover, which threw
you at first, but then if you looked on the back, there was her picture looking very young and
serious. Mr. Burke was going back and forth, to Washington to finish a book he was working
on with someone else, but he had promised Leslie that after Christmas he would stay home
and fix up the house and plant his garden and listen to music and read books out loud and
write only in his spare time.
They didn't look like Jess's idea of rich, but even he could tell that the jeans they wore
had not come off the counter at Newberry's. There was no TV at the Burkes', but there were
mountains of records and a stereo set that looked like something off Star Trek. And although
their car was small and dusty, it was Italian and looked expensive, too.
27. They were always nice to Jess when he went over, but then they would suddenly begin
talking about French politics or string quartets (which he at first thought was a square box
made out of string), or how to save the timber wolves or redwoods or singing whales, and he
was scared to open his mouth and show once and for all how dumb he was.
He wasn't comfortable having Leslie at his house either. Joyce Ann would stare, her
index finger pulling down her mouth and making her drool. Brenda and Ellie always managed
some remark about his "girl friend." His mother acted stiff and funny just the way she did
when she had to go up to school about something. Later she would refer to Leslie's "tacky"
clothes. Leslie always wore pants, even to school. Her hair was "shorter than a boy's." Her
parents were "hardly more than hippies." May Belle either tried to push in with him and
Leslie or sulked at being left out. His father had seen Leslie only a few times and had nodded
to show that he had noticed her, but his mother said that she was sure he was fretting that his
only son did nothing but play with girls, and they both were worried about what would
become of it.
Jess didn't concern himself with what would "become of it". For the first time in his life
he got up every morning with something to look forward to. Leslie was more than his friend.
She was his other, more exciting self - his way to Terabithia and all the worlds beyond.
Terabithia was their secret, which was a good thing, for how could Jess have ever
explained it to an outsider? Just walking down the hill toward the woods made something
warm and liquid steal through his body. The closer he came to the dry creek bed and the crab
apple tree rope the more he could feel the beating of his heart. He grabbed the end of the rope
and swung out toward the other bank with a kind of wild exhilaration and landed gently on his
feet, taller and stronger and wiser in that mysterious land.
Leslie's favorite place besides the castle stronghold was the pine forest. There the trees
grew so thick at the top that the sunshine was veiled. No low bush or grass could grow in that
dim light, so the ground was carpeted with golden needles.
"I used to think this place was haunted," Jess had confessed to Leslie the first afternoon
he had revved up his courage to bring her there.
"Oh, but it is," she said. "But you don't have to be scared. It's not haunted with evil
"How do you know?"
"You can just feel it. Listen."
At first he heard only the stillness. It was the stillness that had always frightened him
before, but this time it was like the moment after Miss Edmunds finished a song, just after the
chords hummed down to silence. Leslie was right. They stood there, not moving, not wanting
the swish of dry needles beneath their feet to break the spell. Far away from their former
world came the cry of geese heading southward.
Leslie took a deep breath. "This is not an ordinary place," she whispered. "Even the rulers
of Terabithia come into it only at times of greatest sorrow or of greatest joy. We must strive to
keep it sacred. It would not do to disturb the Spirits."
28. He nodded, and without speaking, they went back to the creek bank where they shared
together a solemn meal of crackers and dried fruit.
5 - The Giant Killers
Leslie liked to make up stories about the giants that threatened the peace of Terabithia,
but they both knew that the real giant in their lives was Janice Avery. Of course, it wasn't only
Jess and Leslie that she was after. She had two friends, Wilma Dean and Bobby Sue
Henshaw, who were almost as big as she was, and the three of them would roam the
playground, grabbing up hopscotch rocks, running through jump ropes, and laughing while
second graders screamed. They would even stand outside the girls' room first thing every
morning and make the little girls give them their milk money before they'd let them go to the
May Belle, unfortunately, was a slow learner. Her daddy had brought her a package of
Twinkies, and she was so proud that as soon as she got on the bus she forgot everything she
knew and yelled to another first grader, "Guess what I got in my lunch today, Billy Jean?"
"Twinkies!" she shouted so loud you could have heard her in the back seat even if you
were deaf in both ears. Out of the corner of his eye, Jess thought he saw Janice Avery perk up.
When they sat down, May Belle was still screeching about her dadgum Twinkies over the
roar of the motor. "My daddy brung 'um to me from Washington!"
Jess threw another look at the back seat. "You better shut up about those dang Twinkies,"
he said in her ear.
"You're just jealous 'cause Daddy didn't bring you none."
"OK." He shrugged across her head at Leslie to say l warned her, didn't I? and Leslie
nodded back.
Neither of them was too surprised to see May Belle come screaming toward them at
recess time.
"She stole my Twinkies!"
Jess sighed. "May Belle, didn't I tell you?"
"You gotta kill Janice Avery. Kill her! Kill her! Kill her!"
"Shhh," Leslie said, stroking May Belle's head, but May Belle didn't want comfort, she
wanted revenge.
"You gotta beat her up into a million pieces!"
He'd sooner tangle with Mrs. Godzilla herself. "Fighting ain't gonna get back nothing,
May Belle. Them Twinkies is well on the way to padding Janice Avery's bottom by now."
29. Leslie snickered, but May Belle was not to be distracted. "You're just yeller, Jesse
Aarons. If you wasn't yeller, you'd beat somebody up if they took your little sister's
Twinkies." She broke into a fresh round of sobbing.
Jess stiffened. He avoided Leslie's eyes. Lord, there was no escape. He'd have to fight the
female gorilla now.
"Look, May Belle," Leslie was saying. "If less picks a fight with Janice Avery, you know
perfectly well what will happen."
May Belle wiped her nose on the back of her hand. "She'll beat him up."
"Noooo. He'll get kicked out of school for fighting a girl. You know how Mr. Turner is
about boys who pick on girls."
"She stole my Twinkies."
"I know she did, May Belle. And Jess and I are going to figure out a way to pay her back
for it. Aren't we Jess?"
He nodded vigorously. Anything was better than promising to fight Janice Avery.
"Whatcha gonna do?"
"I don't know yet. We'll have to plan it out very carefully, but I promise you, May Belle,
we'll get her."
Leslie solemnly crossed her heart. May Belle turned expectantly to Jess, so he crossed
his, too, trying hard not to feel like a fool, crossing his heart to a first grader in the middle of
the playground.
May Belle sniffled loudly. "It ain't as good as seeing her beat to a million pieces."
"No," said Leslie, I'm sure it isn't, but with Mr. Turner running this school, it's the best
we can do, right, Jess?"
That afternoon, crouched in the stronghold of Terabithia, they held a council of war. How
to get Janice Avery without ending up squashed or suspended-that was their problem.
"Maybe we could get her caught doing something." Leslie was trying out another idea
after they had both rejected put- ting honey on her bus seat and glue in her hand lotion. "You
know she smokes in the girls' room. If we could just get Mr. Turner to walk past while the
smoke is pouring out-"
Jess shook his head hopelessly. "It wouldn't take her five minutes to find out who
squawked." There was a moment of silence while they both considered what Janice Avery
30. might do to anyone who reported her to the principal. "We gotta get her without her knowing
who done it."
"Yeah." Leslie chewed away at a dried apricot. "You know what girls like Janice hate
"Being made a fool of."
Jess remembered how Janice had looked that day he'd made everyone laugh at her on the
bus. Leslie was right. There was a crack in the old hippo hide. "Yeah." He nodded, beginning
to smile. "Yeah. Do we get her about being fat?"
"How about," Leslie began slowly, "how about boys? Who's she stuck on?"
"Willard Hughes, I reckon. Every girl in the seventh grade slides to the ground when he
walks by."
"Yeah." Leslie's eyes were shining. The plan came all in a rush. "We write her a note, you
see, and pretend it's from Willard."
Jess was already getting a pencil from the can and yanking a piece of notebook paper out
from under a rock. He handed them to Leslie.
"No, you write. My handwriting is too good for Willard Hughes."
He got set and waited.
"OK," she said. "Um. 'Dear Janice.' No. 'Dearest Janice.'"
Jess hesitated, doubtful.
"Believe me, Jess. She'll eat it up. OK. 'Dearest Janice.' Don't worry about punctuation or
anything. We have to make it look as if Willard Hughes really wrote it. OK. 'Dearest Janice,
Maybe you won't believe me, but I love you."'
"You think she'll. . . ?" he asked as he wrote it down.
"I told you, she'll eat it up. Girls like Janice Avery believe just what they want to in this
kind of situation. OK, now. 'If you say you do not love me, it will break my heart. So please
don't. If you love me as much as I love you, my darling - '"
"Hold it. I can't write that fast."
Leslie waited, and when he looked up, she continued in a moony voice, "'Meet me behind
the school this afternoon after school. Do not worry about missing your bus. I want to walk
home with you and talk about US' - put 'us' in capitals - 'my darling. Love and kisses, Willard
31. "Kisses?"
"Yeah, kisses. Put a little row of x's in there, too." She paused, looking over his shoulder
while he finished. "Oh, yes. Put 'P.S."'
He did.
"Um. 'Don't tell any - don't tell nobody. Let our love be a secret for only us two right
"Why'dcha put that in?"
"So she'll be sure to tell somebody, stupid." Leslie reread the note, nodding approval.
"Good. You misspelled 'believe' and 'two."' She studied it a minute longer. "Gee, I'm pretty
good at this."
"Sure. You probably had some big secret love down in Arlington."
"Jess Aarons, I'm going to kill you."
"Hey, girl, you kill the king of Terabithia, and you're in trouble."
"Regicide," she said proudly.
"Did I ever tell you the story of Hamlet?"
He rolled over on his back. "Not yet," he said happily. Lord, he loved Leslie's stories.
Someday, when he was good enough, he would ask her to write them in a book and let him do
all the pictures.
"Well," she began, "there was once a prince of Denmark, named Hamlet."
In his head he drew the shadowy castle with the tortured prince pacing the parapets. How
could you make a ghost come out of the fog? Crayons wouldn't do, of course, but with paints
you could put one thin color on top of another so that you would begin to see a pale figure
moving from deep inside the paper. He began to shiver. He knew he could do it if Leslie
would let him use her paints.
The hardest part of the plan to get Janice Avery was to plant the note. They sneaked into
the building the next morning before the first bell. Leslie went several yards ahead so that if
they were caught, no one would think they were together. Mr. Turner was death on boys and
girls he caught sneaking around the halls together. She got to the door of the seventh-grade
classroom and peeked in. Then she signaled Jess to come ahead. The hairs prickled up his
neck. Lord.
"How'll I find her desk?"
I thought you knew where she sat."
32. He shook his head.
I guess you'll have to look in every one until you find it. Hurry. I'll be lookout for you."
She closed the door quietly and left him shuffling through each desk, trying to be careful not
to make a mess, but his stupid hands were shaking so much he could hardly pull anything out
to look for names.
Suddenly he heard Leslie's voice. "Oh, Mrs. Pierce, I've just been standing here waiting
for you."
Lord. The seventh-grade teacher was right out there in the hall, heading for this room. He
stood frozen. He couldn't hear what Mrs. Pierce was saying back to Leslie through the closed
"Yes, ma'am. There is a very interesting nest on the south end of the building, and since"-
Leslie raised her voice even louder-"you know so much about science, I was hoping you
could take a minute to look at it with me and tell me what built it"
There was the mumble of a reply.
"Oh, thank you, Mrs. Pierce" - Leslie was practically screaming - It won't take but a
minute, and it would mean so much to me!"
As soon as he heard their retreating footsteps, he flew around the remaining desks until,
oh, joy, he found one with a composition book that had Janice Avery's name on it. He stuffed
the note on top of everything else inside the desk and raced out of the room to the boys' room,
where he hid in one of the stalls until the bell rang to go to homeroom.
At recess time Janice Avery was in a tight huddle with Wilma and Bobby Sue. Then,
instead of teasing the little girls, the three of them wandered off arm in arm to watch the big
boys' football. As the trio passed them, Jess could see Janice's face all pink and prideful. He
rolled his eyes at Leslie, and she rolled hers back at him.
As the bus was about to pull out that afternoon, one of the seventh-grade boys, Billy
Morris, yelled up to Mrs. Prentice that Janice Avery wasn't on the bus yet.
"It's OK, Miz Prentice," Wilma Dean called up. "She ain't riding this evening." Then in a
loud whisper, "Reckon you all know that Janice has a heavy date with you know who."
"Who?" asked Billy.
"Willard Hughes. He's so crazy about her he can't hardly stand it. He's even walking her
all the way home."
"Yeah? Well the 304 just pulled out with Willard Hughes on the back seat. If he's got a
big date, he don't seem to know much about it."
"You lie, Billy Morris!"
33. Billy yelled a cuss word, and the entire back seat plunged into a heated discussion as to
whether Janice Avery and Willard Hughes were or were not in love and were or were not
seeing each other secretly.
As Billy got off the bus, he hollered to Wilma, "You just better tell Janice that Willard is
gonna be mad when he hears what she's spreading all over the school!"
Wilma's face was crimson as she screamed out the window, "OK, you dummy! You talk
to Willard. You'll see. Just ask him about that letter! You'll see!"
"Poor old Janice Avery," Jess said as they sat in the castle later.
"Poor old Janice? She deserves everything she gets and then some!"
"I reckon." He sighed. "But, still - "
Leslie looked stricken. "You're not sorry we did it, are you?" "No. I reckon we had to do
it, but still - "
"Still what?"
He grinned. "Maybe I got this thing for Janice like you got this thing for killer whales."
She punched him in the shoulder. "Let's go out and find some giants or walking dead to
fight. I'm sick of Janice Avery."
The next day Janice Avery stomped onto the bus, her eyes daring everyone in sight to say
a word. Leslie nudged May Belle.
May Belle's eyes went wide. "Did'ya-?"
"Shhh. Yes."
May Belle turned completely around and stared at the back seat, then she turned back and
poked less. "You made her that mad?"
Jess nodded, trying to move his head as little as possible as he did so.
"We wrote that letter," Leslie whispered. "But you mustn't tell anyone, or she'll kill us."
"I know," said May Belle, her eyes shining. "I know."
6 - The Coming Of Prince Terrien
Christmas was almost a month away, but at Jess's house the girls were already obsessed
with it. This year Ellie and Brenda both had boyfriends at the consolidated high school and
the problem of what to give them and what to expect from them was cause of endless
speculation and fights. Fights, because as usual, their mother was complaining that there was
hardly enough money to give the little girls something from Santa Claus, let alone a surplus to
buy record albums or shirts for a pair of boys she'd never set eyes on.
34. "What are you giving your girl friend, Jess?" Brenda screwed her face up in that ugly way
she had. He tried to ignore her. He was reading one of Leslie's books, and the adventures of
an assistant pig keeper were far more important to him than Brenda's sauce.
"Don't you know, Brenda?" Ellie joined in. "Jess ain't got no girl friend."
"Well, you're right for once. Nobody with any sense would call that stick a girl." Brenda
pushed her face right into his and grinned the word "girl" through her big painted lips.
Something huge and hot swelled right up inside of him, and if he hadn't jumped out of the
chair and walked away, he would have smacked her.
He tried to figure out later what had made him so angry. Partly, of course, it made him
furious that anyone as dumb as Brenda would think she could make fun of Leslie. Lord, it hurt
his guts to realize that it was Brenda who was his blood sister, and that really, from anyone
else's point of view, he and Leslie were not related at all. Maybe, he thought, I was a
foundling, like in the stories. Way back when the creek had water in it, I came floating down
it in a wicker basket waterproofed with pitch. My dad found me and brought me here because
he'd always wanted a son and just had stupid daughters. My real parents and brothers and
sisters live far away- farther away than West Virginia or even Ohio. Somewhere I have a
family who have rooms filled with nothing but books and who still grieve for their baby who
was stolen.
He shook himself back to the source of his anger. He was angry, too, because it would
soon be Christmas and he had nothing to give Leslie. It was not that she would expect
something expensive; it was that he needed to give her something as much as he needed to eat
when he was hungry.
He thought about making her a book of his drawings. He even stole paper and crayons
from school to do it with. But nothing he drew seemed good enough, and he would end up
scrawling across the half-finished page and poking it into the stove to burn up.
By the last week of school before the holiday, he was growing desperate. There was no
one he could ask for help or ad- vice. His dad had told him he would give him a dollar for
each member of the family, but even if he cheated on the family presents, there was no way
he could get from that enough to buy Leslie anything worth giving her. Besides, May Belle
had her heart set on a Barbie doll, and he had already promised to pool his money with Ellie
and Brenda for that. Then the price had gone up, and he found he would have to go over into
every one else's dollar to make up the full amount for May Belle. Somehow this year May
Belle needed something special. She was always moping around. He and Leslie couldn't
include her in their activities, but that was hard to explain to someone like May Belle. Why
didn't she play with Joyce Ann? He couldn't be expected to entertain her all the time. Still -
still, she ought to have the Barbie.
So there was no money, and he seemed paralyzed in his efforts to make anything for
Leslie. She wouldn't be like Brenda or Ellie. She wouldn't laugh at him no matter what he
gave her. But for his own sake he had to give her something that he could be proud of.
If he had the money, he'd buy her a TV. One of those tiny Japanese ones that she could
keep in her own room without bothering Judy and Bill. It didn't seem fair with all their money
that they'd gotten rid of the TV. It wasn't as if Leslie would watch the way Brenda did-with
35. her mouth open and her eyes bulging like a goldfish, hour after hour. But every once in a
while, a person liked to watch. At least if she had one, it would be one less thing for the kids
at school to sneer about. But, of course, there was no way that he could buy her a TV. It was
pretty stupid of him even to think about it.
Lord, he was stupid. He gazed miserably out the window of the school bus. It was a
wonder someone like Leslie would even give him the time of day. It was because there was
no one else. If she had found anyone else at that dumb school - he was so stupid he had almost
gone straight past the sign without catching on. But something in a corner of his head clicked,
and he jumped up, pushing past Leslie and May Belle.
"See you later," he mumbled, and shoved his way up the aisle through pair after pair of
sprawling legs.
"Lemme off here, Miz Prentice, will you?"
"This ain't your stop."
"Gotta do an errand for my mother," he lied.
"Long as you don't get me into trouble." She eased the brakes.
"No'm. Thanks."
He swung off the bus before it had really stopped and ran back toward the sign.
"Puppies," it said. "Free."
Jess told Leslie to meet him at the castle stronghold on Christmas Eve afternoon. The rest
of his family had gone to the Millsburg Plaza for last-minute shopping, but he stayed behind.
The dog was a little brown-and-black thing with great brown eyes. Jess stole a ribbon from
Brenda's drawer, and hurried across the field and down the hill with the puppy squirming in
his arms. Before he got to the creek bed, it had licked his face raw and sent a stream down his
jacket front, but he couldn't be mad. He tucked it tightly under his arm and swung across the
creek as gently as he could. He could have walked through the gully. It would have been
easier, but he couldn't escape the feeling that one must enter Terabithia only by the prescribed
entrance. He couldn't let the puppy break the rules. It might mean bad luck for both of them.
At the stronghold he tied the ribbon around the puppy's neck, laughing as it backed out of
the loop and chewed at the ends of the ribbon. It was a clever, lively little thing - a present
Jess could be proud of.
There was no mistaking the delight in Leslie's eyes. She dropped to her knees on the cold
ground, picked the puppy up, and held it close to her face.
"Watch it," Jess cautioned. "It sprays worse'n a water pistol."
Leslie moved it out a little way. "Is it male or female?" Once in a rare while there was
something he could teach Leslie. "Boy," he said happily.
36. "Then we'll name him Prince Terrien and make him the guardian of Terabithia."
She put the puppy down and got to her feet.
"Where you going?"
"To the grove of the pines," she answered. "This is a time of greatest joy."
Later that afternoon Leslie gave Jess his present. It was a box of watercolors with twenty-
four tubes of color and three brushes and a pad of heavy art paper.
"Lord," he said. "Thank you." He tried to think of a better way to say it, but he couldn't.
"Thank you," he repeated.
"It's not a great present like yours," she said humbly, "but I hope you'll like it."
He wanted to tell her how proud and good she made him feel, that the rest of Christmas
didn't matter because today had been so good, but the words he needed weren't there. "Oh,
yeah, yeah," he said, and then got up on his knees and began to bark at Prince Terrien. The
puppy raced around him in circles, yelping with delight.
Leslie began to laugh. It egged Jess on. Everything the dog did, he imitated, flopping
down at last with his tongue lolling out. Leslie was laughing so hard she had trouble getting
the words out. "You-you're crazy. How will we teach him to be a noble guardian? You're
turning him into a clown."
"R-r-oof," wailed Prince Terrien, rolling his eyes skyward. Jess and Leslie both
collapsed. They were in pain from the laughter.
"Maybe," said Leslie at last. "We'd better make him court jester."
"What about his name?"
"Oh, we'll let him keep his name. Even a prince" - this in her most Terabithian voice -
even a prince may be a fool."
That night the glow of the afternoon stayed with him. Even his sisters' squabbling about
when presents were to be opened did not touch him. He helped May Belle wrap her wretched
little gifts and even sang "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" with her and Joyce Ann. Then
Joyce Ann cried because they had no fireplace and Santa wouldn't be able to find the way, and
suddenly he felt sorry for her going to Millsburg Plaza and seeing all those things and hoping
that some guy in a red suit would give her all her dreams. May Belle at six was already too
wise. She was just hoping for that stupid Barbie. He was glad he'd splurged on it. Joyce Ann
wouldn't care that he only had a hair clip for her. She would blame Santa, not him, for being
He put his arm awkwardly around Joyce Ann. "C'mon Joyce Ann. Don't cry. Old Santa
knows the way. He don't need a chimney, does he, May Belle?" May Belle was watching him
with her big, solemn eyes. Jess gave her a knowing wink 'over Joyce Ann's head. It melted
37. "Naw, Joyce Ann. He knows the way. He knows every- thing." She scrunched up her
right cheek in a vain effort to return his wink. She was a good kid. He really liked old May
The next morning he helped her dress and undress her Barbie at least thirty times.
Slithering the skinny dress over the doll's head and arms and snapping the tiny fasteners was
more than her chubby six-year-old fingers could manage.
He had received a racing car set, which he tried to run to please his father. It wasn't one
of those big sets that they advertised on TV, but it was electric, and he knew his dad had put
more money into it than he should have. But the silly cars kept falling off at the curves until
his father was cursing at them with impatience. Jess wanted it to be OK. He wanted so much
for his dad to be proud of his present, the way he, Jess, had been proud of the puppy.
"It's really great. Really. I just ain't got the hang of it yet." His face was red, and he kept
shoving his hair back out of his eyes as he leaned over the plastic figure-eight track.
"Cheap junk." His father kicked at the floor dangerously near the track. "Don't get
nothing for your money these days."
Joyce Ann was lying on her bed screaming because she had yanked the string out of her
talking doll and it was no longer talking. Brenda had her lip stuck out because Ellie had gotten
a pair of panty hose in her Christmas stocking and she had only bobby socks. Ellie wasn't
helping matters, prancing around in her new hose, making a big show of helping Momma
with the ham and sweet potatoes for dinner. Lord, sometimes Ellie was as snotty as Wanda
Kay Moore.
"Jesse Oliver Aarons, Jr., if you can stop playing with those fool bars long enough to
milk the cow, I'd be most appreciative. Miss Bessie don't take no holiday, even if you do."
Jess jumped up, pleased for an excuse to leave the track which he couldn't make work to
his dad's satisfaction. His mother seemed not to notice the promptness of his response but
went on in a complaining voice, "I don't know what I'd do without Ellie. She's the only one of
you kids ever cares whether I live or die." Ellie smiled like a plastic angel first at Jess and
then at Brenda, who glared back.
Leslie must have been watching for him because as soon as he started across the yard he
could see her running out of the old Perkins place, the puppy half tripping her as it chased
circles around her.
They met at Miss Bessie's shed. "I thought you'd never come out this morning."
"Yeah, well, Christmas, you know."
Prince Terrien began to snap at Miss Bessie's hooves. She stamped in annoyance. Leslie
picked him up, so Jess could milk. The puppy squirmed and licked, making it almost
impossible for her to talk. She giggled happily. "Dumb dog," she said proudly.
"Yeah." It felt like Christmas again.
38. SEVEN - The Golden Room
Mr. Burke had begun to repair the old Perkins place. After Christmas, Mrs. Burke was
right in the middle of writing a book, so she wasn't available to help, which left Leslie the jobs
of hunting and fetching. For all his smartness with politics and music, Mr. Burke was inclined
to be absent-minded. He would put down the hammer to pick up the "How to" book and then
lose the hammer between there and the project he was working on. Leslie was good at finding
things for him, and he liked her company as well. when she came home from school and on
the weekends, he wanted her around. Leslie explained all this to Jess.
Jess tried going to Terabithia alone, but it was no good. It needed Leslie to make the
magic. He was afraid he would destroy everything by trying to force the magic on his own,
when it was plain that the magic was reluctant to come for him.
If he went home, either his mother was after him to do some chore or May Belle wanted
him to play Barbie. Lord, he wished a million times he'd never helped buy that stupid doll.
He'd no more than lie down on the floor to paint than May Belle would be after him to put an
arm back on or snap up a dress. Joyce Ann was worse. She got a devilish delight out of sitting
smack down on his rump when he was stretched out working. If he yelled at her to get the
heck off him, she'd stick her index finger in the corner of her mouth and holler. Which would,
of course, crank up his mother.
"Jesse Oliver! You leave that baby alone. whatcha mean lying there in the middle of the
floor doing nothing anyway? Didn't I tell you I couldn't cook supper before you chopped
wood for the stove?"
Sometimes he would sneak down to the old Perkins place and find Prince Terrien crying
on the porch, where Mr. Burke had exiled him. You couldn't blame the man. No one could get
anything done with that animal grabbing his hand or jumping up to lick his face. He'd take P.
T. for a romp in the Burkes' upper field. If it was a mild day, Miss Bessie would be mooing
nervously from across the fence. She couldn't seem to get used to the yipping and snapping.
Or maybe it was the time of year-the last dregs of winter spoiling the taste of every- thing.
Nobody, human or animal, seemed happy.
Except Leslie. She was crazy about fixing up that broken- down old wreck of a house.
She loved being needed by her father. Half the time they were supposed to be working they
were just yakking away. She was learning, she related glowingly at recess, to "understand"
her father. It had never occurred to Jess that parents were meant to be understood any more
than the safe at the Millsburg First National was sitting around begging him to crack it.
Parents were what they were; it wasn't up to you to try to puzzle them out. There was
something weird about a grown man wanting to be friends with his own child. He ought to
have friends his own age and let her have hers.
Jess's feelings about Leslie's father poked up like a canker sore. You keep biting it, and it
gets bigger and worse instead of better. You spend a lot of time trying to keep your teeth away
from it. Then sure as Christmas you forget the silly thing and chomp right down on it. Lord,
that man got in his way. It even poisoned what time he did have with Leslie. She'd be sitting
there bubbling away at recess, and it would be almost like the old times; then without
warning, she'd say, "Bill thinks so and so. " Chomp. Right down on the old sore.