In the morning, Jess wakes to the sound of his dad’s pickup truck. Mr. Aarons has been going out each morning looking for odd jobs, desperate to continue bringing in an income. Jess crawls out of bed, planning on going to milk Miss Bessie. May Belle wakes and tells him she can’t sleep because of the rain. He invites her to come out to the living room, where they can watch cartoons after the cow is tended.
Mr. Aarons is determined to provide for his family even in difficult, sad times. Jess knows he must step up as well and be strong for his mother and sisters.
Jess milks Miss Bessie, worrying all the while about what will happen if the creek is still full come summer—he’ll have to let Leslie teach him how to swim, a skill he’s terrified of learning. He hates himself for having no “guts” and wishes he could simply be braver. He knows that Leslie would never make fun of him for being afraid—but at the same time, he is still working up the courage to admit to Leslie on this very day that he doesn’t want to go to Terabithia.
As close as Jess and Leslie have become, there’s still a part of him that’s afraid to share his truest, deepest self with Leslie. He doesn’t want to alienate her or push her away, and he doesn’t fully trust that their relationship is solid enough to withstand him telling the truth about the most embarrassing parts of himself.
May Belle calls Jess inside, telling him that someone is on the phone for him. He never gets phone calls, but he rushes over and takes the call all the same. Miss Edmunds is on the other end—she tells Jess that she’s planning on driving down to Washington to visit some art museums, and she offers to take him along. Jess starts sweating and feels his breath quicken. He tells Miss Edmunds he needs to get permission. He leaves her on the line while he runs to his parents’ room and tells his mother that he’s going to Washington for the day. Mrs. Aarons, still asleep, barely answers, but Jess takes her grunts as good enough as permission. He returns to the phone and gives Miss Edmunds the good news. He gives her directions to his house, and she tells him she’ll pick him up in twenty minutes.
Jess is elated and excited by Miss Edmunds’s invitation—which is also the perfect excuse to avoid Terabithia for the day. He is so afraid of missing the opportunity that he barely secures permission from his mother—perhaps afraid she’ll forbid him from going—and doesn’t tell May Belle where he’s headed for fear she’d somehow stop him. Jess doesn’t think of Leslie, either—as intense as their friendship is, Jess still longs for the specific feelings of validation Miss Edmunds’s attention brings.
Jess doesn’t think about inviting Leslie along until Miss Edmunds has already driven them beyond the bounds of town. Jess secretly admits to himself that he’s happy to be alone with Miss Edmunds and he ignores the guilt he feels at realizing it. Miss Edmunds asks if Jess has ever been to an art museum, and he tells her he hasn’t. She tells him happily that now her life has been “worthwhile.”
Miss Edmunds clearly wants to help Jess get more in touch with his artistic side and nurture his creative streak. Jess, however, is just grateful for her company—even though it rivals his attention to Leslie.
Entering the National Gallery feels like entering the pine grove in Terabithia—sacred and awe-inspiring. Miss Edmunds explains certain paintings to Jess, and he is torn between which is more beautiful—the art, or her. At lunchtime, Miss Edmunds buys them both a meal at the museum’s cafeteria. Jess protests, but Miss Edmunds insists that as a “liberated woman,” she always insists on paying when she invites a man out to dine. After a visit to the Smithsonian, Miss Edmunds and Jess exit to find that the sun has come out. The sun continues shining as the two drive back to Lark Creek, and Jess can hardly contain how excited he is to tell Leslie all about his day.
Though Jess feels slightly guilty about leaving Leslie behind and not inviting her along, he can’t help but feel the same feelings that Terabithia inspires within him as he walks alongside Miss Edmund, taking in the most beautiful art he’s ever seen. Art provides Jess with the same feelings of exhilaration and escapism that fantasy does.
After Miss Edmunds drops Jess at home he goes inside, feeling as if he’s “jiggling” with joy—but as he heads into the kitchen, he realizes that something is wrong. His family is seated together at the kitchen table, but no one is eating. As Jess enters the room, his mother looks up at him and begins sobbing. Jess asks what’s happening, and Brenda snottily says that his “girl friend” is dead—and everyone thought, until now, that Jess was dead, too.
Jess’s perfect day with Miss Edmunds is brought to a screeching halt as his family delivers the horrific, painful news that Leslie has died. The book’s twist, painful as it is, illustrates the importance of enjoying one’s friendships while they last.