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The Queen Exiled

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She gave the dog to Jesse’s little sister, who looked at her disbelievingly and then knelt down in the mud and let him lick her face, saying “Petey, Petey.” Leslie thought that May Belle looked completely happy in that moment—as if everything else had been crowded out, just because Leslie had told her that P.T. was hers now. Leslie looked at her, and felt more alone than ever.

After a minute May Belle sat back on her heels and said, “Daddy never let any of us have dogs.” Her voice was as matter-of-fact as it got, but she didn’t look away from P.T. for a second.

“He’ll let you have this one,” Leslie said. “Your brother gave him to me. I’m just returning him.”

She had meant to tell May Belle about Terabithia after giving her Prince Terrien, but at the last moment her throat closed up; Terabithia belonged to her and Jesse, and suddenly she knew that she wanted it to stay that way, forever. She was giving her dog to May Belle when he was the best present anyone had ever given to her and the only thing that she had that was from Jesse, but Terabithia had been what she gave to Jesse, and she wanted to keep the memory of that for herself.

“Your brother—“ Leslie said, wanting to say something nice enough to make up for it, but then she couldn’t speak to say that either. She was looking above her head and trying not to blink when she felt arms tentatively around her, and she hugged May Belle back.

They both cried a little. It was comforting, because it was with somebody who Leslie knew had loved Jesse too, but she knew that it wasn’t going to help; she was going to want to keep crying every day, without it helping anything, and then one day she would forget all about Jesse and how it had felt to lose him and that it was her fault that he was dead.

She couldn’t imagine that—she heard the rope snapping and Jesse’s shout as he fell every night when she was trying to sleep—but she knew that it would. Her mother had told her that, trying to be comforting, and ever since then Leslie had kept her nightmares to herself. They belonged to her now, as much as Terabithia did.

“Are you sure you don’t want him?” asked May Belle when Leslie was getting up to leave, so serious and generous that it hurt Leslie’s heart. P.T. stayed at May Belle’s side—she had the leash—but he kept moving towards Leslie, confused.

“It’s okay,” Leslie said, and then, because May Belle looked so much like a princess of Terabithia right then: “You know that Jesse used to talk about how much he liked you? He was so glad to have you for a sister.”

Jesse had never said any such thing. The second sentence was the part that wasn’t a lie, and looking at May Belle’s face made Leslie grateful that she had been able to put it over.

When she walked back to the farm her parents had already carried the last of the boxes out to the car. Judy had said that they might come back out for the summers. Leslie hadn’t said anything. She thought that it might be too easy to forget Jesse in D.C., where he had never been, but she understood: Bill and Judy wanted what was best for her, the way they had when they’d moved in the first place, and what she wanted still didn’t make much difference.

“You really did it?” Bill said when she was within shouting distance of the car, and when she nodded stiffly: “I don’t believe it. Wow. I’m really going to miss that little dog.”

“That was brave of you, honey,” Judy said. Leslie walked past both of them without saying anything. She could practically hear the significant glances being traded behind her back.

She missed P.T. already. That was why she had given him up, even though her parents had been trying to argue her out of it for the past week. P.T. was a constant presence. She could miss him automatically, even when she forgot to miss Jesse.

Don’t be stupid, Jesse said in her head—she was still close enough to him to call him up—but then she couldn’t think of what he would have said afterwards. She wished that May Belle would run up to the road as they drove past and offer to give P.T. back, but of course that wasn’t going to happen. As her father drove off she leaned her head against the window, letting it bump, and thought, I’m sorry, Jesse, over and over.

S’okay, Jesse would have said, and been embarrassed by her making any kind of fuss. But the fact that she knew that he would have forgiven her didn’t help her at all, not when he wasn’t there to do it.

It had been a good deed to give her dog to May Belle, but she hadn’t thought about how May Belle or P.T. would feel about it—just that Leslie Burke didn’t deserve to have a dog anymore. She didn't want to think about that, but she did, and then she thought about the same thing she thought about every night— that she had known when Jesse was afraid and only doing something because she wanted him to, and that after a while she had started to ignore that, because it had always seemed to turn out pretty well doing what she wanted. He had been scared on the last day, but he still insisted on crossing over first, just so that he didn’t look like a chicken in front of her. She was going to know that for the rest of her life.

He wouldn't have done that to her, she thought; Jesse had been thoughtful about other people. When Leslie had wanted to make fun of Janice Avery for crying in the school bathroom Jesse had told her to imagine that Janice was a wild animal in the forest that was hurt. Leslie had been pretty proud of herself for making friends with Janice, but it had been Jesse doing it, not her.

Leslie looked out at the fields that they were driving away from, where Jesse had lived his entire life and which he was never going to leave. That was what she could do now. She could look at other people, and then do what she thought Jesse would have done, and she could keep doing that for the rest of her life. It felt like nothing at all and an overreach at the same time, but she had to have something to do with herself—because she was sick of crying all the time, and because Jesse was dead and she wasn’t. There had to be something that she could take with her.

Okay, Jesse, she thought, still looking out, and imagined what he would have said back.