“Tell me a story Damir.”
“Jebba, I don’t know if I have many of those left in me.”
That’s what he’d always say. Damir would coax me onto the couch, and he’d tell me a story anyway. Sometimes, there’d be a “once upon a time” and always a happily ever after. Tell me a story. I’d ask, over and over until he’d throw his hands up in defeat. Sometimes, we’d even go out onto the dew-heavy grass to sit under the moon, and somehow, the moon always looked bright and full.
“Annoying...like...eraser shavings.” Damir gestured to all the eraser shavings littered across his desk.
“We need a bigger desk for you.” That was all I could think of. “Tell me the shell story again.”
Damir pressed the stub of his pencil against a paper. “The one where a girl dreams of the ocean, and she finds a shell that takes her where the moon meets the ocean? Or is that the sequel when she saves the creatures of the deep?”
I groaned in frustration. “You spoiled the whole story Damir!”
“Well, you’ve already heard it, and I need to start packing before the plane arrives. You wouldn’t want your favorite brother to miss my flight, now would you Jeb-Jeb?”
“Only brother-and the flight is tomorrow afternoon!”
Damir’s wide, pearly eyes grew a bit saddened, but I couldn’t feel pity for him. Instead, I retorted back, trying to release my anger. “And if you weren’t so set on ‘finding yourself’, we’d be a normal family!”
“Not everyone’s life is a fantasy, and you’re too young to understand. I’ve saved up for this my whole life!” Keywords for: I’ve hated you and this place my whole life.
“When are you coming back?”
“I don’t know, Jebba.” He swept away stray eraser shavings and began to write again.
“So, um, what’s the first place, you know, on the to-do list of finding yourself?”
“Probably somewhere in the country for now. Maybe California, Arizona, and such. Actually, that isn’t really close by...maybe some remote location…”
“Is there, will there be internet service wherever you go?” I held up my phone, then gestured to his own beaten up i-phone. Damir casually pushed it to the side, slowly.
“This phone-well, I won’t be connecting much, but I might call every month or so.” My face flushed, contorting into an angry stare.
“You can’t just leave without promising to connect, or...or at least call me! You have a phone and everything Damir!”
“It’s complicated Jebba.”
“When were you going to tell me?”
“I don’t want to talk about this right now. Come on Jebba, go upstairs. Mom and dad will be back soon and you’re way up past your bedtime.”
“Don’t talk to me about bedtime; I don’t have one-and when are you planning on telling them?”
“Our parents, Damir. How’re you going to just leave without telling them? What, am I the patchwork to hold everything together now?” I wanted to keep talking, but I realized my voice had risen by two octaves. Damir’s furrowed eyebrows made my stomach do cartwheels inside.
“Bed. Now.” I didn’t have a bedtime. I was twelve, but I whimpered like a 5-year-old. I didn’t have a bedtime, but I pulled the covers over my head and slept silently.
“Good morning.” Damir’s quiet voice is closer, almost next to me.
“Go away.” The light wasn’t breaking through the slits of my windows yet, so I sat up quickly.
“Damir...what time is it?” I rubbed my eyes, forgetting I was being angry with him. Most middle schoolers didn’t ask their older brothers to tell them stories every night, but it was our thing. Our sibling thing. But he was leaving.
“Around 2, or maybe 4am.” I hesitated before answering.
“What is wrong with you!?”
“Nothing, and be quiet, okay! Mom and dad are back from their gathering.” Faint voices drifted up from downstairs.
“Why are you here?”
“To tell you a story.” I socked him in the arm, tossing the covers off of my bed, struggling to sit up.
“Now you want to act like my brother. Now you don’t get to care.”
“Fine. Be like that Jebba.” Damir moved to the edge of the bed and fished out a pack of cards.
“Two games? The winner gets three peppermints from my stash. Or maybe, I have some leftover Swedish fish…”
“I’m not a baby Damir. I know you’re trying to make me feel better, and it’s not working.”
“Okay, sorry. But I have a life too and I need to go-”
“You know what? Let’s just do a quick story.” I cut in, hoping to change the topic. My heart lurched forward, backward, and inside out. I felt so much weight on my chest, it was hard to breathe.
“Okay, so the one about the dragon empress? Or the sea queen-no-the desert fruit tree one?”
“How about, something different?” Damir sat in bed thoughtfully, trying to think up a story.
“Okay, so this story is about a magical island.”
“Do they have magical creatures on this magical island?”
“Sure, whatever. And there’s a boy on that island…”
“Who’s all alone!” Damir cocked his head to one side, grinning mischievously.
“Are you going to let me tell the story, the whole story, or what?”
“I can tell you’re making this one up on the spot.”
“Jebba, the detective. I ALWAYS make up these stories on the spot. So, this boy, who is all alone on a magical island, is looking for something. He’s been looking for something for a long time.”
“He’s been looking for buried treasure!”
“No-he’s been looking for a map to his life.” Tears stung my eyes. I could see where this story was going.
“Was he trying to find his life because he was...a ghost?” Damir nodded, slowly pausing, waiting in peace as faint voices, our parents’ voices swirled around my room.
“Yes. He became a ghost when he realized he couldn’t reach the stars. And the stars were beautiful at night. Sometimes, the galaxies above him came down to say hello. His opportunities.”
“You forgot something, Damir,” I whispered.
“What’d I forget?”
“There was a girl, too.”
“What was her name?” What was her name? She was the sea-queen, the dragon empress, a cowgirl hunting for the desert fruit tree. I suddenly felt overwhelmingly tired.
“Her name...was Jebba. She was a close friend of the ghost.”
“Did ghost boy have a name?” Damir clamped his hand over his mouth to stifle his laughter.
“Naw, that’s just stupid Damir.”
“Fine. His name was also Damir. Just kidding. His name was...um...Seaglass, and he found the map to his life. Was that where we were?”
“Yes. And Diana, the girl, was also alone, by herself on Earth where she waits for her friend to come home.”
“Wait, the magical island is on Earth Jebba!”
“No, it isn’t. Magical islands are always on other planets.” I found myself leaning against his shoulder, listening, and laughing intently. Damir acted as if nothing had happened and continued on.
“Seaglass told Diana that he needed to see the stars and all the galaxies, to see them for himself, so he left to find the map on that magical island.”
“So, wait, is this a backstory?”
“I got lost in the middle part.”
“Whatever. Diana was mad, angry, and sad. She thought Seaglass betrayed her, so she took out her spaceship for emergencies, and went to find the magical island.”
“Hey, that’s not how the story goes!” Damir protested. “I was about to get out a ‘happily ever after’!”
“Well, all girls deserve spaceships.”
“That wasn’t even my point! This is how the story ends. That’s it.” Damir and I pulled away, but I started continuing the story.
“Diana found Seaglass, and she told him to stop and come back home.”
“And Seaglass told Diana that she should stop being so pushy and that he was about to find his true self. Then, Seaglass opened the treasure chest because he found it and-” I interrupted him again, speaking fast.
“He didn’t find it! It was a trick, and…” I trailed off, stopping to think. Damir was old enough to drive. He was old enough to be in college. He was old enough to get on a plane to go and find himself if he wanted. He was old enough to start a new life. Damir could become a mega-billionaire and take a spaceship to a magical island if he wanted to.
“Jebba. Finish the story.”
“Actually, there was something in the box. Seaglass showed it to Diana. It was...a phone! An old phone, but it could make intergalactic calls.”
“Finish it.” Damir chided. He sounded genuinely sad and happy at the same time, a small smile spreading out over his face.
“Diana was still mad and hurt, but she loved her friend, and she agreed that he would call her every day, but before Seaglass left, she told him the secret to seeing the galaxies.”
“What was it?” Damir asked.
“Looking up. And they lived, forever apart.”
“Not happily ever after Jebba?” There was a tinge of sadness to his voice.
“No Damir. Not all stories have a happy ending. Like you said, life isn’t a fantasy.”
“I can call you on my phone when I’m gone. Fine. I’ll call you every day.”
“It won’t be the same. You’ll be gone. How am I going to tell mom and dad?”
“I’m old enough. They won’t be worried, and I left them a note too.”
“This just isn’t fair, Damir! What about my life? You, being a part of my life!”
“Jebba. Do you remember what I said about how life isn’t a fantasy?”
“Yes.” I was too angry to get the words out. Sun began to peek through the slits of my window shades, and I would leave for school, knowing Damir wouldn’t be there anymore.
“Well, maybe we can make this story our real fantasy. It won’t have the happiest ending, but you know, there’ll be lessons learned-” I leaped into his arms, hugging Damir tightly.
“I’ll miss you. You better call me you jerk!”
“I will, I promise!” We stayed there for a long time before he opened the door to my room.
“And remember, look up!” I called. Damir grinned, both our tears making it sad and happy.
“There may not be a perfect ending, but it can be a happy one!”