Mr. Aarons and Mrs. Aarons walk Jess over the Burkes’. They knock at the front door—Jess can immediately hear Prince Terrien begin to bark. A man Jess doesn’t know lets them inside, and they proceed into the beautiful golden room. Leslie’s grandmother comes over and introduces herself to the Aarons—she tells Jess that she’s heard a lot about him from Leslie. As she begins to cry, Jess feels uncomfortable—he thinks there’s something wrong about an old woman showing her emotions like that. He wishes the weeping adults around him would be proud of him for not crying.
As Jess and his parents arrive at the Burkes’ house to pay their respects, Jess seems to have eased out of his flat sense of denial—but he is still unable to process his grief or to understand or empathize with the grief others are feeling.
Jess realizes that he is the only person his age whose best friend has died—and that this fact will make him “important” at school, at least for a little while. He wonders if his sisters will even treat him differently. He wishes he could see Leslie’s corpse laid out, and hopes that her parents will bury her in her blue jeans.
Jess seems to have an inkling that people will want to remember Leslie differently in death, ignoring the person she was in life—he feels that to ignore Leslie’s individuality and insistence on being her own person would be to invalidate her memory.
Bill comes into the room and wraps Jess in a hug. Jess doesn’t move as he feels Bill’s body shaking with sobs. He wants to pull away but knows that seeing Bill cry would be worse than enduring the hug. He wishes Leslie would come help him get out of this terrible situation. Bill finally pulls away from Jess and tells him that Leslie loved him. Jess thinks that Bill’s tone and demeanor are straight out of “an old mushy movie”—a movie he and Leslie might have made fun of if they’d seen it together.
Jess seems distant from everything happening around him—he’s unable to absorb other people’s feelings or even recognize them as real. He misses the shorthand he and Leslie had, and wishes, impossibly, that she were there to help him process what’s happening. Jess doesn’t yet understand that his friendship with Leslie has given him all the tools he needs—he’s too mired in his own grief.
As the adults begin talking, Jess overhears Bill tell his parents that Leslie has been cremated. Jess feels something inside his head click as he realizes that Leslie is gone forever and turned to ashes. Jess becomes filled with rage—Leslie, who “belonged to him,” is gone, and now all these adults are standing around crying not for her but for themselves. Jess believes that he is the only one who has ever truly cared for Leslie—and yet he feels she has “failed” him by dying and leaving him alone.
Jess and Leslie were so close that he now feels he knew her better than anyone else. Jess is angry at the idea that other people have been allowed to decide what’s best for Leslie, even in death, and that they feel they have as much a right to grieve her as he does.
Jess leaves the Burkes’ abruptly and runs home crying angry tears. May Belle excitedly asks if Jess got to see Leslie’s corpse, and Jess hits her in the face. He rushes to his bedroom, retrieves the paints and paper she gave him for Christmas, and runs out of the house toward the woods. At the flooded creek, he screams and throws his art supplies into the muddy water, then watches them float away.
Jess doesn’t know how to process his grief over Leslie—it is too raw and too fresh. He is furious with everyone around him and lashes out in anger rather than allowing himself to feel his feelings.
Mr. Aarons comes up behind Jess and tells him he’s done a “damn fool thing.” Jess, weeping, says he doesn’t care. Mr. Aarons pulls Jess into his lap and comforts him as Jess sobs, shouting that he hates Leslie. His father replies only that grieving is “hell.” Jess asks if hell is real, reminding his father of what May Belle said about nonbelievers being damned. Mr. Aaron assures Jess that God doesn’t send “little girls” to hell. Jess says he didn’t mean what he said about hating Leslie. His father nods, and they head back to the house together.
In this passage, Jess throws away his paints—which he associates both with Leslie and with his true self—into the creek, hoping to abandon them forever. His father, however, in yet another rare show of affection, lets Jess know that it’s okay to be sad—and that it’s okay to be himself. Though the two men don’t exchange many words, something changes between them in this scene as they fully expose their fears and vulnerabilities to one another at long last.
Back at the house, everyone is kind and gentle with Jess—except for May Belle, who’s still angry with him. Jess doesn’t know how to apologize to his sister. Later that afternoon, Bill comes by and asks Jess to watch Prince Terrien for a couple days while the Burkes go to Pennsylvania to scatter Leslie’s ashes. Jess agrees, wishing he could apologize to Bill for running away earlier but unsure of how to find the words. That night, Jess hugs Prince Terrien as he falls asleep.
Being able to reunite with Prince Terrien helps Jess to process his own internalized grief—even if he makes only a little progress and still struggles with how to externalize his emotions. This symbolically shows how Leslie and Jess’s close friendship—symbolized by Prince Terrien—continues to bolster and shelter him even after it has technically been brought to an end.