Every night when she was a little girl, Shefali's father would tell her a story before bed. He was an English professor, so he knew the best stories. She curled up in her bed, beneath the deep blue comforter her mother had embroidered with silver moons and stars, and her father told her adventure stories: Robinson Crusoe, The Three Musketeers, Tarzan. He told her mysteries starring Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown, Miss Marple. He told her fairy tales and folk tales, small household stories and tales of epic wars. The Illiad took him most of the winter when Shefali was eight, and the Mahabharata ate up the autumn of her ninth year. But his very favorites were the love stories, and he told them again and again.
Prince Rama and Princess Sita. Tristan and Isolde. King Shahryar and Scheherezade. Romeo and Juliet. Arthur and Guinevere. He told Shefali about beautiful women and wise men, black-hearted rivals and foolish fathers. He said that sometimes the lovers would be parted for many years, but that eventually, if they were true and strong and loyal, they would be reunited, for nothing could stand in the way of true love. And though Shefali fought to keep her eyes open so that he would keep telling her stories forever, inevitably, her heavy lids would slide shut. And the last thing she would see before sleep was her mother, leaning in the doorway, listening. The last thing she would hear was her father saying, "But no man has ever loved any woman as much as I love your mother." The last thing she felt was the soft brush of his lips, and then hers, across her forehead as she tumbled into sleep and dreams.
It was many years before she read those stories for herself, and discovered that her father had changed, or left off, the endings. Before Shefali realized that most stories of love had tragic endings, that in those stories, truth and strength and loyalty were not enough to save you. But by then, her own mother had died, taken away far too young. Shefali had already learned that lesson.