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
(interested) to be absent-minded (unfocused). He would put down the hammer to pick up the "How to" book (book if instruction) 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 (clear) that the magic was reluctant (not wanting) 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 (bad or mean) delight (joy) out of sitting
smack down on his rump (behind. rear-end) when he was stretched out working. If he yelled at her to get the
heck off him (get away from him), she'd stick her index finger in the corner of her mouth and holler (scream). Which would,
of course, crank up (made her mad) 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 (cut)
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 (taken him out) him. You couldn't blame the man. No one could get
anything done with that animal grabbing (taking) his hand or jumping up to lick his face. He'd take P.
T. for a romp in ( a walk 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 (speaking back in a non-polite way) and snapping (when someone yells and reacts quickly without controlling his or emotions).
Or maybe it was the time of year --the last dregs (bits) of winter spoiling the taste of everything.
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 (talking with little meaning) away. She was learning, she related glowingly (happily) at recess, to "understand"
her father. It had never occurred (never made sense) to Jess that parents were meant to be understood any more than (as much as) the safe (a metal box where you lock in money) 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 (must have had) have friends his own age and let her have hers.
Jess's feelings about Leslie's father poked up (got out or up) like a canker sore (a small pimple inside your mouth). 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 (idiom: Christmas happens all the time) 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 (being talkative and happy) at recess, and it would be almost like the old times; then without
warning, she'd say, "Bill thinks so and so. " Chomp. (Bite) Right down on the old sore (What she is saying feels like when you bite on a cold sore ... it really hurts).
Finally, finally she noticed. It took her until February, and for a girl as smart as Leslie
that was a long, long time.
"Why don't you like Bill?"
"Who said I didn't?"
"Jess Aarons. How stupid do you think I am?"
Pretty stupid sometimes. But what he actually said was, "What makes you think I don't
"Well, you never come to the house any more. At first I thought it was something I'd
done. But it's not that. You still talk to me at school. Lots of times I see you in the field,
playing with P. T., but you don't even come near the door."
"You're always busy." He was uncomfortably aware of how much he sounded like
Brenda when he said this.
"Well, for spaghetti sauce! You could offer to help, you know."
It was like all the lights coming back on after an electrical storm. Lord, who was the
Still, it took him a few days to feel comfortable around Leslie's father. Part of the
problem was he didn't know what to call him. "Hey," he'd say, and both Leslie and her father
would turn around. "Uh, Mr. Burke?"
"I wish you'd call me Bill, Jess."
"Yeah." He fumbled around (cannot say it because he is feeling strange saying it) with the name for a couple more days, but it came more
easily with practice. It also helped to know some things that Bill for all his brains and books
didn't know. Jess found he was really useful to him, not a nuisance to be tolerated or set out on
the porch like P. T.
"You're amazing," Bill would say. "where did you learn that, Jess?" Jess never quite
knew how he knew things, so he'd shrug and let Bill and Leslie praise him to each other-
though the work itself was praise enough.
First they ripped out the boards that covered the ancient fireplace, coming upon the rusty
bricks like prospectors (like people who look for gold or other metals in the ground) upon the mother lode (and find a place where there is a lot of gold). Next they got the old wallpaper off the living-
room wall --all five garish layers of it. Sometimes as they lovingly patched and painted, they
listened to Bill's records or sang, Leslie and Jess teaching Bill some of Miss Edmunds' songs
and Bill teaching them some he knew. At other times they would talk. Jess listened
wonderingly (amazed) as Bill explained things that were going on in the world. If Momma could hear
him, she'd swear he was another Walter Cronkite instead of some hippie (people who believe in peace and living with not much money)." All the Burkes
were smart. Not smart, maybe, about finding things or growing things, but smart in a way Jess
had never known real live people to he. Like one day while they were working, Judy came
down and read out loud to them, mostly poetry and some of it in Italian which, of course, Jess
couldn't understand, but he buried his head in the rich sound of the words and let himself be
wrapped warmly around in the feel of the Burkes' brilliance (intelligence).
They painted the living room gold. Leslie and Jess had wanted blue, but Bill held out for
gold, which turned out to be so beautiful that they were glad they had given in. The sun would
slant in from the west in the late afternoon until the room was brimful of light.
Finally Bill rented a sander from Millsburg Plaza, and they took off the black floor paint
down to the wide oak boards and refinished them.
"No rugs," Bill said.
"No," agreed Judy. "It would be like putting a veil on the Mona Lisa. (the Mona Lisa is one famous Italian painting > Google it: if you put a veil, a scarf on her, no one would care or be interested)"
When Bill and the children had finished razor-blading the last bits of paint off the
windows and washed the panes, they called Judy down from her upstairs study to come and
see. The four of them sat down on the floor and gazed around. It was gorgeous.
Leslie gave a deep satisfied sigh. "I love this room," she said. "Don't you feel the golden
enchantment (magic) of it? It is worthy to be" - Jess looked up in sudden alarm - "in a palace." Relief.
In such a mood, a person might even let a sworn secret slip. But she hadn't, not even to Bill
and Judy, and he knew how she felt about her parents. She must have seen his anxiety (stress) because
she winked at him across Bill and Judy just as he sometimes winked at May Belle over Joyce
Ann's head. Terabithia was still just for the two of them.
The next afternoon they called P. T. and headed for Terabithia. It had been more than a
month since they had been there together, and as they neared the creek bed, they slowed
down. Jess wasn't sure he still remembered how to be a king.
(The following is them pretending to be queen and king)
"We've been away for many years," Leslie was whispering. "How do you suppose the
kingdom has fared (done) in our absence (when we were away)?"
"Where've we been?"
"Conquering (capturing) the hostile (mean) savages (uneducated and mean people) on our northern borders," she answered. "But the lines of
communication have been broken (The telephone does not work anymore), and thus (so) we do not have tidings (news) of our beloved homeland
for many a full moon." How was that for regular queen talk? Jess wished he could match it.
"You think anything bad has happened?"
"We must have courage, my king. It may indeed be so."
They swung (swing) silently across the creek bed. On the farther (far) bank (side of a river), Leslie picked up two
sticks. "Thy (old English for "the") sword, sire," she whispered.
Jess nodded. They hunched down and crept toward the stronghold like police detectives
"Hey, queen! Watch out! Behind you!"
Leslie whirled and began to duel the imaginary foe (enemy). Then more came rushing upon them
and the shouts of the battle rang through Terabithia. The guardian of the realm (kingdom) raced about in
happy puppy circles, too young as yet to comprehend (understand) the danger that surrounded them all.
"They have sounded the retreat (when one is attacked and they cannot fight anymore, they go away)!" the brave queen cried.
"Drive them out utterly (completely), so they may never return and prey (attack) upon our people."
"Out you go! Out! Out!" All the way to the creek bed, they forced the enemy back,
sweating under their winter jackets.
"At last. Terabithia is free once more."
The king sat down on a log and wiped his face, but the queen did not let him rest long.
"Sire, we must go at once to the grove of the pines and give thanks for our victory."
Jess followed her into the grove, where they stood silently in the dim light.
"Who do we thank?" he whispered.
The question flickered across her face. "O God," she began. She was more at home with
magic than religion. "O Spirits of the Grove."
"Thy right arm hast given us the victory." He couldn't remember where he'd heard that
one, but it seemed to fit. Leslie gave him a look of approval (agreement).
She took up the words. "Now grant protection to (protect) Terabithia, to all its people, and to us its
Jess tried hard not to smile. "And to its puppy dog."
"And to Prince Terrien, its guardian and jester (clown/joker by the king and queen). Amen."
They both managed somehow to keep the giggles (smiles) buttoned in (in) until they got out of the
sacred place (a place where someone must be serious).
A few days after the encounter with the enemies of Terabithia, they had an encounter of a
different sort at school. Leslie came out at recess to tell Jess that she had started into the girls'
room only to be stopped by the sound of crying from one of the stalls. She lowered her voice.
"This sounds crazy," she said. "But from the feet, I'm sure it's Janice Avery in there."
"You're kidding." The picture of Janice Avery crying on the toilet seat was too much for
Jess to imagine.
"Well, she's the only one in school that has Willard Hughes's name crossed out on her
sneakers. Besides, the smoke is so thick in there you need a gas mask."
"Are you sure she was crying?"
"Jess Aarons, I can tell if somebody's crying or not."
Lord, what was the matter with him? Janice Avery had given him nothing but trouble,
and now he was feeling responsible for her-like one of the Burkes' timber wolves or beached
whales. "She didn't even cry when kids teased her 'bout (about) Willard after the note."
"Yeah. I know."
He looked at her. "Well," he said. "What should we do?"
"Do?" she asked. "What do you mean what should we do?" How could he explain it to
her? "Leslie, if she was an animal predator (a mean animal), we'd be obliged (have to) to try to help her."
Leslie gave him a funny look.
"Well, you're the one who's always telling me I gotta care," he said.
"But Janice Avery?"
"If she's crying, there's gotta be something really wrong."
"Well, what are you planning to do?"
He blushed. "I can't go into no girls' room."
"Oh, I get it. You're going to send me into the shark's jaws. No, thank you, Mr. Aarons."
"Leslie, I swear - I'd go in there if I could." He really thought he would, too. "You ain't
scared of her, are you, Leslie?" He didn't mean it in a daring way, he was just dumbfounded (surprised)
by the idea of Leslie being scared.
She flashed her eyes at him and tossed her head back in that proud way she had. "OK, I'm
going in. But I want you to know, Jess Aarons, I think it's the dumbest idea you ever had in
He crept down (followed) the hall after her and hid behind the nearest alcove (a part of a building that is hidden) to the girls' room door.
He ought at least to be there to catch her when Janice kicked her out.
There was a quiet minute after the door swung shut behind Leslie. Then he heard Leslie
saying something to Janice. Next a string of cuss (bad) words which were too loud to be blurred by
the closed door. This was followed by some loud sobbing (crying), not Leslie's, thank the Lord, and
some sobbing and talking mixed up and-the bell.
He couldn't be caught staring (does not want to be seen) at the door of the girls' room, but how could he leave? He'd
be deserting in the line of fire (he would be leaving and that would be embarrassing). The rush of kids into the building settled it. He let himself be
caught up in the stream (the stream of kids walking) and made his way to the basement steps, his brains still swirling (turning around and around) with
the sounds of cussing (saying bad words) and sobbing (crying).
Back in the fifth-grade classroom, he kept his eye glued on the door for Leslie. He half
expected to see her come through flattened straight out like the coyote on Road Runner. But
she came in smiling without so much as a black eye. She waltzed over (went to her like she was dancing a waltz) to Mrs. Myers and
whispered her excuse for being late, and Mrs. Myers beamed (looked like a beam) at her with what was becoming
known as the "Leslie Burke special."
How was he supposed to find out what had happened? If he tried to pass a note, the other
kids would read it. Leslie sat way up in the front comer nowhere near the waste basket or
pencil sharpener, so there was no way he could pretend to be heading somewhere else and
sneak a word with her. And she wasn't moving in his direction. That was for sure. She was
sitting straight up in her seat looking as pleased with herself as a motorcycle rider who's just
made it over fourteen trucks.
Leslie smirked clear through the afternoon and right on to the bus where Janice Avery
gave her a little crooked smile on the way to the back seat and Leslie looked over at Jess as if
to say, "See!" He was going crazy wanting to know. She even put him off after the bus pulled
away, pointing her head at May Belle as if to say, "We shouldn't discuss it in front of the
Finally, finally in the safe darkness of the stronghold (the protected castle/place) she told him.
"Do you know why she was crying?"
"How'm I supposed to know? Lord, Leslie, will you tell me? What in the heck was going
on in there?"
"Janice Avery is a very unfortunate person. Do you realize that?"
"What was she crying about, for heaven's sake?"
"It's a very complicated situation. I can understand now why Janice has so many
problems relating to people"
"Will you tell me what happened before I have a hernia?"
"Did you know her father beats her?"
"Lots of kids' fathers beat 'em." Will you get on with it?"
"No, I mean really beats her. The kind of beatings they take people to jail for in
Arlington." She shook her head in disbelief. "You can't imagine...."
"Is that why she was crying? Just 'cause her father beats her?"
"Oh, no. She gets beaten up all the time. She wouldn't cry at school about that."
"Then what was she crying for?"
"Well - " Lord, Leslie was loving this. She'd string him out forever. "Well, today she was
so mad at her father that she told her so-called friends Wilma and Bobby Sue about it."
"And those two - two - She looked for a word vile enough to describe Janice Avery's
friends and found none. "Those two girls blabbed it all over the seventh grade."
Pity for Janice Avery swept across him.
"Even the teacher knows about it."
"Boy." The word came out like a sigh. There was a rule at Lark Creek, more important
than anything Mr. Turner made up and fussed about. That was the rule that you never mixed
up troubles at home with life at school. When parents were poor or ignorant or mean, or even
just didn't believe in having a TV set, it was up to their kids to protect them. By tomorrow
every kid and teacher in Lark Creek Elementary would be talking in half snickers about Janice
Avery's daddy. It didn't matter if their own fathers were in the state hospital or the federal
prison, they hadn't betrayed theirs, and Janice had.
"Do you know what else?"
"I told Janice about not having a TV and everyone laughing. I told her I understood what
it was like to have everyone think I was weird."..
"What'd she say to that?"
"She knew I was telling the truth. She even asked me for advice as if I was Dear Abby."
"I told her just to pretend she didn't know what on earth Wilma and Bobby Sue had said
or where they had got such a crazy story and everybody would forget about it in a week." She
leaned forward, suddenly anxious. "Do you think that was good advice?"
"Lord, how should I know? Make her feel better?"
"I think so. She seemed to feel a lot better."
"Well, it was great advice then."
She leaned back, happy and relaxed. "Know what, Jess?"
"Thanks to you, I think I now have one and one-half friends at Lark Creek School."
It hurt him for it to mean so much to Leslie to have friends. When would she learn they
weren't worth her trouble? "Oh, you got more friends than that."
"Nope. One and one-half. Monster Mouth Myers doesn't count."
There in their secret place, his feelings bubbled inside him like a stew on the back of the
stove -some sad for her in her lonesomeness (loneliness), but chunks of happiness, too. To be able to be
Leslie's one whole friend in the world as she was his - he couldn't help being satisfied about
That night as he started to get into bed, leaving the light off so as not to wake the little
girls, he was surprised by May Belle's shrill little "Jess."
"How come you're still awake?"
"Jess, I know where you and Leslie go to hide."
"What do you mean?"
"I followed you."
He was at her bedside in one leap. "You ain't supposed to follow me!"
"How come?" Her voice was sassy.
He grabbed her shoulders and made her look him in the face. She blinked in the dim light
like a startled chicken.
"You listen here, May Belle Aarons," he whispered fiercely (strongly), "I catch you following me
again, your life ain't worth nothing."
"OK, OK." He slid back into the bed. "Boy, you're mean. I oughta (must) tell Momma on you."
"Look, May Belle, you can't do that. You can't tell Momma 'bout where me and Leslie
She answered with a little sniffing sound.
He grabbed her shoulders again. He was desperate (when someone feel they must do it no matter what). "I mean it, May Belle. You can't tell
nobody nothing!" He let her go. "Now, I don't want to hear about you following me or
squealing (rat/tattle) to Momma ever again, you hear?"
"Cause if you do, I'm gonna tell Billy Jean Edwards you still wet the bed sometimes."
"Boy, girl, you just better not try me."
He made her swear on the Bible (a religious book) never to tell and never to follow, but still he lay awake a
long time. How could he trust everything that mattered to him to a sassy six-year-old?
Sometimes it seemed to him that his life was delicate as a dandelion (very soft and easy to break). One little puff (blow of air) from any
direction, and it was blown to bits (was broken).