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Bridge to Terabithia

by Katherine Paterson

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Chapter 12 Summary

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Jesse walks over to Burkes’s house with his parents. As they sit awkwardly in a room filled with strangers, an older woman comes over and introduces herself as Leslie’s grandmother. She tells Jesse that Leslie had told her all about him. Jesse does not know what to say, so he busies himself by petting P.T. His traitorous mind is filled with morbid thoughts; he notes that he is “the only person his age he knew whose best friend had died” and reflects that, because of this, he might be treated specially at school and in his family. He has a sudden curiosity to see Leslie “laid out” and wonders idly if she will be buried in her jeans or perhaps the blue jumper she had worn on Easter.

Leslie’s father enters the room and immediately comes over to Jesse and puts his arms around him. He tearfully tells him that Leslie had loved him and thanks him for having been “such a wonderful friend to her.” In answer to a question from Mr. Aarons, Mr. Burke says that they have decided to have Leslie’s body cremated, and will take the ashes to their family home in Pennsylvania. Upon hearing the word cremated, Jesse is stricken with the realization that Leslie is gone. He now knows that he will never see her again.

Jesse is overwhelmed with unreasoning anger at the sight of all the red-eyed people in the room, and he concludes that if Leslie’s parents had really cared about her, “they would have never brought her to this rotten place.” He had been the only one who had truly cared about Leslie, but then she had left him; she had died when he had needed her the most. Jesse understands that this is why Leslie's passing is so impossible for him to bear.

She had made him leave his old self behind and come into her world, and then before he was really at home in it but too late to go back, she had left him stranded...alone.

Jesse runs back to his house with tears streaming down his face. When he arrives, May Belle asks him excitedly if he has seen Leslie “laid out,” and Jesse reacts with rage, hitting his little sister, hard, in the face. He stumbles to the bedroom and retrieves the paper and paints that Leslie had given him for Christmas. Pushing back out the kitchen door, he races down to the stream separating him from Terabithia. Jesse spies the frayed end of the broken rope swinging in the breeze, and the terrible thought enters his mind that he is now “the fastest runner in the fifth grade.” Screaming incoherently, he flings his paper and paints into the water, and watches them disappear.

As Jesse falls to the muddy ground, his father comes and sits beside him. He says, “That was a damn fool thing to do.” Jesse, who is sobbing so hard that he can hardly breathe, retorts that he does not care, and his father pulls him onto his lap and holds him as if he were a little child. Mr. Aarons strokes his son’s hair as Jesse cries that he hates Leslie and wishes that he “had never seen her in [his] whole life.” After a long silence, Mr. Aarons says simply, “Hell, ain’t it?” and Jesse is strangely comforted because it is the kind of thing his father might have said to a grown man.

Jesse asks his father if people really go to hell. His father knows he is thinking about Leslie and says emphatically, “Lord, boy, don't be a fool. God ain't gonna send any little girls to hell.” As they walk home, Jesse tells his father that he didn’t mean what he said about hating Leslie, and Mr. Aarons understands. At home, everyone is gentle to Jesse except May Belle, who seems terrified of him. Jesse knows he should apologize to her, but right now he is just too tired. Mr. Burke comes over to the house that afternoon and asks Jesse to take care of P.T. while the family goes back to Pennsylvania, and Jesse is glad to be able to help. That night, he sleeps with the puppy curled tightly against his chest.

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