The Ending

“Miss Annie, why do all of your stories have happy endings?”

Annabelle looked at the young faces smiling up at her, and the one small girl with the shadowed eyes. The one who had asked the question.

“Because I like stories with happy endings,” Annie said.

“Me too!” said another child.

“Me too!” echoed another, and that set off a chorus among the younger children in the crowd.

The girl who had asked the question turned to look at one of the bookshelves in the library, and for a moment, Annabelle caught her breath. The late summer sun lightened up the little girl’s profile. And with her two braided brown pigtails, and that soulful look in her eyes, she looked just like Lulu. Or as Lulu did, before–

“Can you tell us another story?” one of the children interrupted Annabelle’s thoughts.

“Sure,” Annabelle said. “I’ll tell you one I told Lulu the other day…”

“Who’s Lulu?” a bright ten-year-old said.

“She’s my little sister,” Annabelle said. “She loves stories. That’s why I have so many stories to tell–I make them for her first, and she tells me which ones I should tell you.”

“How is Louise?” Mrs. Schmidt asked as Annabelle helped her to clean up after storytime.

Annabelle sighed. “She was doing better a while ago, but the doctors say her condition’s taken a turn for the worse.”

“I’m sorry to hear it,” Mrs. Schmidt said, the librarian’s worried eyes saying more than her words.

“Don’t worry, Mrs. S,” Annabelle said with a brave smile. “Lulu’s tough. She’ll pull through. Oh, do you have any books you could recommend for her? She’s read the last stack I brought her.”

“Already?” Mrs. Schmidt chuckled. “Let me see…how about these?”

Mrs. S set a stack of children’s books on the table.

“Thanks, Mrs. S…” Annabelle started, then stopped.

“What is it?”

Annabelle picked up the top book on the stack. “I don’t want this one. I’ll borrow the others.”

Mrs. Schmidt looked at the book. The Little Matchstick Girl.

“Why not?” she asked.

“This story doesn’t end well. I don’t want to let Lulu read anything without a good ending.”

“How does it not end well?” Mrs. S said.

Annabelle blinked at her. “You must have read the story, Mrs. S! The little girl doesn’t make it!”

Mrs. S raised an eyebrow. “I see,” she said.

Annabelle looked down. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to shout.”

“It’s okay, Mrs. S said with a gentle smile. “Don’t worry about it. But Annabelle?”

“Yes, Mrs. S?”

“Not all sad endings are bad endings. And–”

“They are to me,” Annabelle said as she took out her library card.

“How are you feeling today, Lulu?” Annabelle asked, as she donned the hospital gown and mask and stepped through the door.

The little girl on the bed turned her head slowly to look at her.

“Hi Annie,” she whispered. “I’m feeling much better.”

Annabelle’s heart squeezed at the sound. Why did Lulu sound so weak?

“That’s great! Hey little sis,” Annabelle said, “Look what I brought you.”

“Books!” Lulu said. Her words sounded like a sigh. “Can you read?”

“Sure!” Annabelle said, as she sat down and picked up the first volume.

She was only halfway through the second page when Lulu fell asleep. Slowly, Annabelle put down the book and gently stroked her sister’s pale face.

The next week, Annabelle was in the middle of storytime once again when her cell phone rang.

“Hold on, I need to get this call,” Annabelle said. “Sorry…”

“I’ll fill in for now,” Mrs. Schmidt said, waving to Annabelle as she came around the desk to take the book.

Annabelle smiled at her and stepped aside.

“And then, Fantastic Mr. Fox…” Mrs. Schmidt started, when she was interrupted by a scream.

“No!” Annabelle screeched as she collapsed into a heap on the floor. “No! No! NO!”

The fall leaves were starting to turn color when Annabelle once again stepped into the library. It was late, and Mrs. Schmidt was straightening the shelves after the last patrons had left.

“Annabelle!” Mrs. Schmidt looked up in surprise. “It’s good to see you.”

Annabelle managed to give her a half smile. “It’s good to see you too, Mrs. S.”

Mrs. Schmidt looked at Annabelle, and then opened her arms.

Annabelle fell into them, crying.

When she had drained herself, Annabelle turned and fumbled in her purse, but Mrs. Schmidt was ahead of her. She handed Annabelle a box of tissues.

“Thanks,” Annabelle sniffed.

“I’m sorry to hear about Lulu,” Mrs. Schmidt said as she sat down on one of the library benches and patted the space beside her.

Annabelle nodded, and swallowed. “This is why I hate stories with sad endings.”

“But Annabelle, don’t you remember what I told you the last time you borrowed books at the library?”

Annabelle closed her eyes. “I don’t remember anything about the last time I was here. Just that phone call.” She shuddered.

“I meant, the week before,” Mrs. Schmidt said. “You returned a book because…”

“Because I said I hated sad endings. I remember,” Annabelle said.

“And I said–”

“Not all sad endings are bad endings.” Annabelle interrupted. “I remember that too. But Mrs. Schmidt, I disagree. Lulu’s story…had the worst possible ending.” Annabelle burst into tears again.

Mrs. Schmidt hugged her as she cried.

“Sorry, I don’t know why I’m such a blubbering fool today,” Annabelle said, gasping. “I thought I’d already cried myself out…I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay, dear,” Mrs. Schmidt said. “I understand. But you didn’t quite let me finish.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Annabelle said, wiping her nose with another tissue. “I interrupted you again.”

“I don’t mean today,” Mrs. Schmidt said gently. “I mean last time. I told you, ‘not all sad endings are bad endings,’ but what I was going to add, is that: ‘not all endings are endings.'”

Annabelle looked at her. “Not all endings are endings?”

Mrs. Schmidt smiled. “Not all endings are endings.”