Jess feels something whirling about in his head. His mouth feels dry, and he can’t understand what’s happening. Mr. Aarons speaks up and says that Leslie was found in the creek, dead. Jess insists that Leslie was a good swimmer and couldn’t have drowned—his father retorts that she fell when the rope swing broke and hit her head as she fell. Jess shouts that he doesn’t believe his father. He looks around at the rest of his family, hoping someone will speak up and say it’s all a cruel joke—as he looks at the wide-eyed May Belle, he hears her words about Leslie being damned to hell in his head.
Jess cannot believe what has happened to Leslie—even though it confirms his bad feelings about crossing the creek in such heavy rains. He is devastated by the loss of Leslie—and in denial about his inability to reverse the course the day has taken or bring Leslie back somehow.
Jess turns around runs out of the house. He keeps running all the way down the main road. He tries to make sense of the facts flooding his mind, but processing what he’s been told doesn’t get any easier as he pushes on. Soon, he hears his father’s truck coming up the road behind him. Jess tries to outrun the truck—but his father pulls up ahead, gets out, approaches Jess, and scoops him up in his arms. Jess gives himself over to the “numbness” in his brain.
Jess wakes with a jerk from a dream he can’t remember. He can see that it is the middle of the night—his sisters are asleep in the bed next to his own. He remembers hearing that Leslie was dead—but assumes the news must have been part of his dream. He knows that if he went across the street right now, he’d find Leslie, ready and waiting to go on a moonlight journey to Terabithia. He regrets not inviting Leslie along to Washington, but looks forward to telling her all about his day there. He imagines telling Leslie, finally, that he was afraid to go to Terabithia this morning in the rain and feels a coldness spread in his stomach. He decides to go back to sleep—as he does, he looks forward to seeing Leslie the next day.
Jess has fooled himself into believing that Leslie is still alive. He feels such regret over not inviting her along to Washington—and over not being with her at the creek at the moment she fell—that he doesn’t want to believe there’s no time to amend the mistakes he’s made in their friendship, tell her the truth, and make things all right.
In the morning, Jess wakes up to find that his sisters are already out of bed. He realizes that he forgot to milk Miss Bessie last night, and that he has probably missed taking care of her this morning. He pulls his sneakers on and hurries to the kitchen, but his mother tells him that Mr. Aarons is already taking care of Miss Bessie. Mrs. Aarons asks Jess if he wants some breakfast, and he says he does—he realizes that he hasn’t eaten anything since yesterday afternoon. He sits down at the table with Brenda and Ellie and begins eating pancakes. Brenda snottily states that if her boyfriend died, she wouldn’t be able to eat a bite—she’d be crying her eyes out. Ellie says that boys aren’t supposed to cry. Jess tunes his sisters out as he stuffs his mouth with food.
In this passage, Jess’s sisters try to police his reaction to Leslie’s death and imply that he should be grieving in some way other than the way he is. This passage also illustrates how Jess, as a boy, is caught in a perpetual bind when it comes to showing emotion—if he doesn’t show enough, he’s a robot, but if he shows too much, he’s a sissy or a failure as a man.
Mr. Aarons comes in from milking Miss Bessie. As he passes Jess’s chair, he puts a hand on his son’s shoulder. He then tells Jess that it’s time for them all to go across the street and pay their respects. Jess asks what he’s talking about. Mr. Aarons puts his hand on Jess’s hand and reminds him that Leslie is dead. Without a word, Jess gets up from the table and puts his jacket on.
This passage suggests that Jess has willingly been trying to deny the fact of Leslie’s death—but after witnessing a rare display of emotion and affection from his father, he understands how serious the stakes are and pulls himself out of his self-imposed fantasy.