"Um- Ms. Edmunds?"
His music teacher probably sensed the urgency in his voice because she pressed her foot on the brake and they jolted forward. "Yes, Jess? Something wrong?"
Jess hesitated, his eyes still on the house visible behind the trees. He thought about how special and flattered he felt that Ms. Edmunds had invited him on this trip; how great it must be to spend a whole day alone with her; how rare that he, Jesse Aarons, was the center of attention and didn’t have to share it with anyone else. But no matter what he thought, he couldn't shake the image of Leslie's beaming face in the rain yesterday from his mind.
Taking a deep breath, Jess turned to Ms. Edmunds. "Is it alright if we asked Leslie to come? I think she would like it."
Ms. Edmunds looked surprised, but she laughed. "Well, yes! Of course. Does she live right there?"
"Yeah," said Jess. "I'll be right back, Ms. Edmunds." He was already undoing his seatbelt.
Leslie was still rubbing her eyes when she came to the door, PT at her heels. "It's a little early for Terabithia, Jess. I don't think the Terabithians are even awake..."
"Leslie," interrupted Jess impatiently. He looked behind to check that his teacher hadn't taken off. "Do you want to go to the art museum in D.C.? Ms. Edmunds is driving and- you know. If you have nothing else to do."
"Ms. Edmunds?" Of course Leslie had to smirk and wiggle her eyebrow. “And you want me to come?"
Jess rolled his eyes. "I shouldn't have asked." He made a show of turning to leave.
"No- wait wait wait! I wanna come!" Leslie flailed both arms and went running back to the house, shouting for her dad. PT hovered at the door, panting, looking at Jess and wagging his tail. "Sorry, PT," murmured Jess. "Not you." He gave the dog a comforting scratch and PT licked his fingers cheerfully.
"Be cool, alright," warned Jess as Leslie came toppling out the door in a camouflage jacket, bright pink shorts and her trademark high-tops.
"Me?" Leslie said in mock outrage, racing him to the car.
They bid Ms. Edmunds a good day, waving from the dirt road as the car disappeared around the bend. “So was I cool?“ teased Leslie as they trudged back to their houses. "You talked too much," complained Jess. She hit him on the arm.
It was already past dinner time. They both looked at the path towards Terabithia, then at each other.
"Tomorrow," they said simultaneously.
"Jinxyouowemeasoda!” said Leslie. Jess shook his head, waving her off.
"Hey Jess," she called as Jess was halfway up his porch. "Thanks for asking me to come today." She stood there on the grass, hands shoved in her pockets. Again there was that smile, like the one in the rain, impossibly bright even in the dim lighting from the lamppost. It was a smile that emitted happiness from every fiber of her body, as her eyes seemed to look right into Jess and saw nothing else. Again Jess got a funny feeling somewhere in the pit of his stomach.
He looked away and shrugged, suddenly embarrassed. "Night, Leslie," he said.
He went into his house, grinning a little to himself.
The next day they raced as usual to their favorite creek, but when they got there they saw that part of the rope had broken, hanging by thin frayed ends. The rain from the past few days must have weakened it.
"Oh, no," said Leslie, crestfallen.
But Jess had an idea. "Do you have any extra timber at home?"
They built it together, Leslie sawing the boards, Jess hammering in the nails while PT barked and ran circles around them. They refused help from the adults, but did allow May Belle to participate in painting the sign (only because she wouldn't stop pestering otherwise). After a week's worth of work, they were finally done.
"It's beautiful," said Leslie, shielding her eyes from the glare of the sun as they looked on at the finished product.
Jess was proud of it. A real bridge. They would always have a way to Terabithia now.
"Come on," said Leslie, pulling on his hand. “Our kingdom awaits the return of their King and Queen." Her smile was big and bright, and Jess was momentarily lost in it again. He wondered if she’ll ever stop having that effect on him.
He followed Leslie, her warm hand holding his, and decided he didn’t want her to stop.