The Rest of the Story - Sarah Dessen
There weren’t a lot of memories, especially good ones. But there was this.
“Tell me a story,” I’d say when it was bedtime but I wasn’t at all sleepy.
“Oh, honey,” my mom would reply. “I’m tired.”
She was always tired: that I did remember. Especially in the evenings, after that first or second glass of wine, which most often led to a bottle, once I was asleep. Usually my dad cleaned up before he went to bed, but when he wasn’t around, the evidence remained there in the light of day when I came down for breakfast.
“Not a fairy tale,” I’d say, because she always said no at first. “A lake story.”
At this, she’d smile. “A lake story? Well. That’s different.”
That was when I knew I could lean back into my pillows, grabbing my stuffed giraffe, George, and settle in.
“Once upon a time,” she’d begin, locking a leg around mine or draping an arm over my stomach, because snuggling was part of the telling, “there was a little girl who lived by a big lake that seemed like it went on forever. The trees around the edges had moss, and the water was cold and clear.”
This was when I would start to picture it. Seeing the details.
“The little girl loved to swim, and she loved her family, and she loved the creaky old house with the uneven floors and the little bedroom at the top of the stairs, which was all hers.”
At this point in the story, she’d look at me, as if checking to see if I’d fallen asleep. I never had, though.
“In the winters, the water was cold, and so was the house. It felt like the world had left the lake all alone, and the girl would get sad.”
Here I always pictured the little girl in a window, peering out. I had an image for everything, like she was turning pages in a book.
“When the weather got warm again, though, strangers and travelers came to visit from all over. And they brought boats with loud motors, and floats of many colors and shapes, and crowded the docks through the days and nights, their voices filling the air.” A pause, now, as she shifted, maybe closing her own eyes. “And on those nights, the summer nights, the little girl would sit in her yellow bedroom and look across the water and the big sky full of stars and know everything was going to be okay.”
I could see it all, the picture so vivid in my mind I felt like I could have touched it. And I’d be getting sleepy, but never so much I couldn’t say what came next. “How did she know?”
“Because in the summers, the world came back to the lake,” she’d reply. “And that was when it felt like home.”
The wedding was over. But the party had just begun.
“It’s just so romantic,” my best friend Bridget said, picking up the little glass jar of candy from her place setting and staring at it dreamily. “Like a fairy tale.”
“You think everything is like a fairy tale,” my other best friend Ryan told her, wincing as she reached down yet again to rub her sore feet. None of us were used to dressing up very much, especially in heels. “All those days of playing Princess when we were kids ruined you.”
“I seem to remember someone who had a Belle fixation,” Bridget said, putting the candy down with a clank. She tucked her short, choppy dark bob behind her ears. “Back before you decided that being cynical and depressed was much cooler.”
“I was the one who liked Belle,” I reminded her. We all had our roles: they were always bickering about our shared history, while I was the one who remembered all the details. It had been like this since we’d met on the playground in second grade. “Ryan was all about Jasmine.”
“She’s right,” Ryan said. “And I’ll remind you again that I’m not cynical or depressed, I’m realistic. We can’t all see the world as rainbows and unicorns.”
“I don’t even like rainbows and unicorns,” Bridget muttered. “They’re so overdone.”
“The truth is,” Ryan continued, “even with cute candy favors, the divorce rate in this country is over fifty percent.”
“Oh, my God. Ryan!” Bridget looked horrified. Ryan was right about one thing: she was the biggest optimist I knew. “That is a horrible thing to say at Emma’s dad’s wedding.”
“Seriously,” I added. “Way to jinx my future. Was my past not bleak enough for you?”
Ryan looked at me, worried. “Oh, crap. Sorry.”