Jess and May Belle had visited the forest daily since the accident. For years they'd kept her alive in their memories, and continued on like she was still a part of their kingdom. In a way, it made it easier.
Terabithia was still standing, and more beautiful than ever. Purple flowers stood in bloom, the sun shined brightly down on the castle, while the people of Terabithia was as lively as ever. Everything seemed so nice and normal, so calm and pretty.
It wasn't unusual that May Bell disappeared around noon, Jess had noted she was just as excited about exploring the forest as he'd been on her age. Jess was content on sitting behind with his sketchbook as he waited, already growing used to it. She had often asked about what they used to do when they were out here, but Jess never felt like talking about it. He never felt like talking about her in general. It was painful, because when he thought about her, he also thought about how he could have prevented it; how he had failed her.
Now, he told himself, it didn't really matter. It had happened years ago, and while the pain still felt fresh, the wound itself had long ago closed. All he could do for his friend was keep the memories of her alive. The memories of them.
A lot had changed since then though, for starters Jess was now attending an art school. They weren't doing so bad, and though May Belle spent most of her time in the forest with Jess, she'd made a lot of friends.
Their fathers business was also going strong. They had seemed a little concerned about them spending so much time out in the woods, but after a few weeks they grew accustomed to it and simply looked the other way. This is how Jess copes with it, they probably thought. This is probably his way of earning up to her.
As so many other times, Jess tried to draw the blond girl out of memory. She slipped more out of his mind for every day, but he kept holding on. People were expecting him to let her go, but that was one thing Jess refused to. Just like the other days out in the woods, he sat with his pencil and stared at the page. 'Keep your mind wide open,' she'd said, so that was what he did.
For a moment the boy blinked, wondering if he'd really heard that or not. Laying the book aside and listening hard, he finally heard it again. 'Jess!'
Jess broke out in a run toward where he thought the voice came from. May Belle's voice was high pitched, urgent. It made his blood turn cold at the thought of what might have happened. 'May Belle!'
They ran into each other, panting. The girls face was flushed, her hands already tugging at him. Before either of them could catch their breath, they were moving again.
'What's going on?' Jess asked, following his sister with a pumping heart. A sheet of sweat had broken out on his forehead.
'Hurry!' May Belle said, ignoring her brothers protests and continuing forward. Jess noticed they were heading for the lake, which made his pulse speed up even more.
A year ago, May Belle had done about the same thing. They had been close to the water, so she'd went to explore. She had only tried to help, but bringing that piece of cloth was everything but helping.
His throat felt tight at the thought of going through that again; feeling the hope surge, only to have it crushed and destroyed all over again. He wasn't sure he could go through that and stay sane.
'May Belle, please, what are you -'
'Come on, Jess! You have to see this!' He could tell she was excited. With a heavy heart, he saw they were closing in on the lake.
He had to inhale sharply.
May Belle didn't notice as she tugged her brother along, eyes big and bright with wonderment. Her heart was speeding up, more from what lay ahead then from the run. If this turned out to be her imagination, she was sure Jess wouldn't forgive her with the first, but she couldn't not tell him either. It was just a chance she had to take.
As they reached the riverside, May Belle was both delighted and terrified to see it had not been in her head; there was actually someone laying in the water.
Before the younger girl could say anything, Jess was ahead of her, rushing over to the riverside. May Belle wasn't far behind him; her eyes following him like it was a dream.
Watching Jess crouch beside the unconscious blonde, May Belle felt a spark of hope. In her head, she added a silent thanks to Terabithia, smiling as her brother started to cry.