After Christmas, Leslie’s father Bill, who has been busy commuting back and forth to Washington for the last several months while working on his latest book, finally gets a break. He decides to start repairing the old Perkins house with Leslie’s help. As a result, Leslie is often busy with her father, so Jess tries to go to Terabithia alone a few times—but without Leslie, the place is devoid of magic. At his own home, someone always wants something from Jess. Whether his mother is pestering him about chores or May Belle and Joyce Ann are begging him to play, Jess can’t get a quiet moment alone.
Jess is lonely for the first time in months. Without Leslie, he feels totally alone, uncertain of how to make the “magic” of Terabithia manifest or how to handle his chaotic home life. This passage foreshadows the ways in which Jess will soon need to learn how to sustain himself alone, with only the memories of what Leslie’s friendship has taught him.
Though Jess is often lonely and bored, Leslie is happy—she loves helping her father fix up the house, and she tells Jess that the more time she spends with the man, the more she understands him. Jess is shocked—it never occurred to him that one was meant to understand one’s parents at all. The more Leslie talks about her father, the more standoffish she notices Jess being—eventually, she confronts him about it, asking if he doesn’t like Bill. Jess says it’s not that he doesn’t like Bill—rather it’s that he’s worried Leslie doesn’t want him around anymore now that she’s spending so much time with her dad. Leslie tells Jess that he’s welcome over any time—and soon, Jess begins spending his afternoons helping Leslie and her father work on the repairs.
Jess has been afraid to be around Leslie’s parents, fearing that they won’t like him—or that they (or worse, Leslie) will realize he’s not a special or smart enough person to be worthy of their time. Leslie, though, only wants to get closer to Jess and bring him into her life more—this fact is a relief to Jess, and it allows him to begin exploring new relationships and a new part of himself to boot.
Bill often compliments Jess’s skill with tools and capacity for hard work, but Jess still feels stupid and inferior around the Burkes. However, as they get deeper and deeper into refinishing the living room, Jess learns to relax and enjoy being in their home. Sometimes, Judy will read them poetry while they work—and sometimes, though the poetry is in another language, Jess learns to simply let the sounds of the words wash over him.
Jess has been made to feel so inferior at home that it takes him a while to relax around the Burkes. Jess’s anxieties about not being masculine enough, smart enough, or helpful enough lessen as he’s welcomed into the Burkes’ warm, accepting home.
After several weeks, the living room is at last finished. Jess, Leslie, and Bill have painted it gold and refinished the original floorboards—Leslie feels the room is now filled with “golden enchantment.” As she compares the room to a magical kingdom, she nearly spills the beans about Terabithia but catches herself at the last moment—Jess is grateful that the place is still their special secret.
Jess has, perhaps, been afraid that Leslie doesn’t need Terabithia anymore—but in this moment, as she protects the secret of their world even in front of her parents, he knows for sure that Terabithia is still their special place.
The next afternoon, after more than a month away from Terabithia, Jess and Leslie grab Prince Terrien and cross the creek bed. Leslie wonders how the kingdom has fared in their absence and makes up a story about having been away fighting along the kingdom’s northern border. The two pick up sticks and enact a final battle—safe again in their kingdom, they rejoice over the retreat of their enemies, and give thanks for peace in Terabithia at the pine grove.
The fake “war” Jess and Leslie have been fighting could be read as Jess’s real, internal war with himself—a war in which he had to face off against his insecurities and self-loathing in order to realize just how loved and unconditionally accepted he is by Leslie and her parents.
A few days later, Leslie comes out to recess and tells Jess that she has heard Janice Avery crying in the bathroom—she can tell it was Janice because the name Willard Hughes was written (and crossed out) on the girl’s sneakers. Jess says they should do something to help Janice—Leslie is skeptical, but after Jess pressures her, she agrees to go check on Janice. Jess follows her into the building but waits at the bathroom door. He hears talking, crying, and even loud sobbing coming from within—but as the classes pour back in from recess, he abandons his post, not wanting to be caught hanging around the girls’ room.
This passage suggests that things with Janice Avery are not all they seemed to be. Leslie, who was more than excited to humiliate Janice just a couple months ago, now experiences an internal conflict as she begins to realize that there may be more to Janice than meets the eye.
All through class that afternoon and during the entire bus ride home, Jess tries to get Leslie’s attention, hoping to find out what transpired in the bathroom. She doesn’t give him the scoop, however, until they’re safe in Terabithia. Leslie solemnly reveals that Janice's father beats and abuses her. Janice was crying in the bathroom, Leslie says, because Janice confided in Wilma and Bobby Sue about the abuse—only to have her two best friends “blab” her secret throughout the school. Jess, knowing how fast rumors spread at the tiny Lark Creek school, feels pity for Janice.
Terabithia is a safe place for Jess and Leslie—but in this passage, Leslie makes it clear that Terabithia is also a sacred space in which other people’s journeys, struggles, and indeed their secrets are honored. Leslie knows what Janice has been through, and she doesn’t want to add to the girl’s shame or humiliation in the real world.
Leslie reveals that she advised Janice to pretend like she’d never heard the rumor before in her life and shake it off—she advised her that in a few days, the gossip would die down. Leslie tells Jess that she believes she now has “one and one-half friends” at Lark Creek. Jess thrills at the idea that he is Leslie’s only whole friend.
Leslie extends her empathy, advice, and even a kind of friendship to Janice, finally recognizing that Janice has been putting on a show of strength in order to mask the darker traumas and weaknesses within her.
That night, in their bedroom, May Belle whispers to Jess and tells him that she followed him and Leslie this afternoon—now she knows where they go to hide from everyone else. Jess threatens May Belle, warning her that there’ll be trouble if she ever follows them again; in return, May Belle threatens to tell their mother about the secret hiding place. Jess begs May Belle to keep his secret, and May Belle agrees. Jess makes May Belle swear on the Bible, then gets into bed. As he falls asleep, he worries that his life becomes “delicate as a dandelion.”
Every time someone comes close to discovering the secret of Terabithia—or every time Jess or Leslie comes close to talking about it with other people—the two of them manage to find a way to keep the place’s location and meaning hidden. This foreshadows that something devastating is going to happen in Terabithia—and no one will be able to prevent it, because no one even knows about its significance or location.