Once Upon a Time
Disclaimer: The author respects the genius of Tachibana Higuchi, creator of Gakuen Alice
Once upon a time, in a faraway place that I could no longer remember, my brother found time to read stories to me. Every night he would grab a book then displace me unrepentantly to make room for himself on the bed. With a steady voice he would spin outlandish tales that were grandiose in word and imagery but were made timeless by their happy endings.
With the turn of each page, a dragon would rear its ugly head to challenge a dark knight's courage; a princess locked away in the high tower would wait patiently for her hero; a witch would brew a potion that could incite love, hate, sadness or fear; a farmer would outsmart all the sages and win the hand of his true love.
Heroism. Beauty. Valor. Cleverness. Abiding faith. Indispensible magic.
Such were the things tucked away between the pages of these fairytales. Such were the things we learned as children, long before we ever truly lived. Before he started reading, my brother would build my anticipation with a question.
"If I told you this story is everything you want it to be, that it would make you feel everything all at once, would you believe me?"
And each time I said it, I believed him wholeheartedly.
A moppet was locked in the dungeon, watched closely by a shape shifting demon. Sometimes he was kind to his captive. Sometimes he was fearsome to behold. He was the only one who came to see her. She believed in her heart he was her brother. He'd tricked her with a stone colored crimson. She coveted it and kept it safe. The consequence was a scorch mark that stole her eyesight. It was a heavy price to pay.
Then one day she found her reflection. She knew it by what she felt with her hands. It asked her to leave the prison. It asked her to smile once again. Both tasks proved much too daunting but then there came help from within. She broke out one day into daylight and the demon was no longer her kin. There was another sworn to protect her and with opened eyes, she recognized him.
First dance, first clash, she remembered their past. Next flash, safe hands, free to go at last.
She stopped at the gates with her brother, a soldier even in youth. She begged him to run away with her but he stayed fast where he stood. He promised to go and see her. He swore that one day he would come home. He had so much left to protect there. There was so much work to be done. She had nothing left to convince him. She had nothing left to ask. Except that some day they would end this, all their enemies would be called to task.
He swore to always think of her. One day he too would cross the line. He had promised her ever after and she believed his fairy tale rhymes.
Years later, we found ourselves standing outside a Shinto temple. My brother looked handsome in the traditional black and white ensemble. I hoped I looked as lovely next to him, in a red kimono with tiny cherry blossoms stitched artfully into the silk. I spoke urgently about last minute reminders, about his bride causing a small ruckus with the flowers, and the maid of honor shooting the daylights out of his best man. But he wasn't listening, and my words became idle chatter in the background.
My brother was looking inside the temple, as though he too was captivated by the long ribbons and floral arrangements he had helped pick out in the last year. His gaze was sweeping the room and I thought he was mentally ticking off the guest list. But then no, he wouldn't be occupied by something so trifle. His eyes were transfixed on something else.
He was staring down the aisle, as though it showed him the years ahead, and maybe at that moment it did. Every story to be read. Every page yet to be written. Everything he had ever hoped for. Anything his heart could dream. It lay out before him, offering a future he was finally free to take. It would be the longest walk of his life but how he would enjoy it.
I watched him absently stroke the family crest on his haori, the only tell-tale sign that his nerves weren't completely settled. My heart throbbed and so I walked up to him to stop his fumbling. My grip, for once, was steadier than his. I took his hands then pulled them down then I reached up to straighten the lining of his jacket. Without quite looking at him, I spoke.
"If I told you that this story would be everything you wanted it to be, that it would make you feel everything all at once…"
Happiness from the children who would adore him. Pain if they ever shed tears. Love from the bride who would make a home with him. Laughter from friends through the years. Then more, much more than we ever thought we were allowed to hope for.
"…would you believe me?"
At first, he said nothing. He kissed my cheek then pulled me close. I felt like a child again, sharing in a story we both knew had a happy ending even though we've yet to see how things would unfold. When we parted, I saw in his eyes the triumph of a hero. The dragons have been slain. The fires have settled. He had saved his princess with true love's kiss.
Even though I knew it was foolish to believe that he would live happily ever after when the rest of his story is yet to begin, I knew in my heart that he would. And I wouldn't owe it to magic or special talents, nor to fate or prophesied victors. It would be because he and I have learned how to live, and that was the greatest story we shared.
And this, I believed wholeheartedly.