They say that, if you are anticipating—if you are wanting—to go somewhere, then the trip seems much longer than it really is.
And the opposite applies for the alternate case.
That, when you are dreading your arrival, when you don’t want to be going somewhere, the trip to that somewhere gives off the impression of being far shorter than is reality.
This latter case applies a little too perfectly to you.
One moment you’re lifting off of your porch from dropping off your ice skates, the next you’re at the North Pole, the red double-doors looming in front of you.
You feel something squeeze your hand.
You look down at it to see Jack’s pale fingers entwined in yours, holding onto you tightly.
You follow the hand to the connected arm, trailing up until your gaze meets Jack’s.
He’s smiling softly at you, his eyes sad yet reassuring. He jerks his head toward the door as he begins to smirk, indicating that it’s time the two of you went inside.
Giving him a brave smile, you nod. Your smiles vanish as you turn to face the doors once again, though, your faces emotionless despite the plethora of sentiments swirling within the both of you.
Jack reaches up his hand to the doorknob in order to grant the two of you access into the world beyond.
Just as his fingertips brush the golden handle, both doors sweep open in a sudden motion, making you and Jack jump back simultaneously.
North is standing in the middle of the doorway, Tooth fluttering behind his right shoulder, wanting to get a better look at who he has gone to greet.
“There you are!” he exclaims, his slightly worried expression momentarily one of relief, but quickly turning stern. “We vwere so vworried! Well? What you standing around for? Get in, get in!” he commands as he grabs Jack’s forearm, pulling the two of you inside.
He practically drags you to the center of the fireplace room, Tooth firing a million questions a minute at you as you struggle to keep up with North, not wanting to let go of Jack’s hand.
“Where did you go? What did you do? Why did you leave without telling us? How is Jack feeling? Nothing bad happened, right? Right?”
Even her little fairies are chirping away at you, their small, concerned faces mirroring Tooth’s.
Mini-versions of Tooth, you think, ignoring the stream of questions pouring from the Guardian. You don’t really want to answer and think about what is to come in the near future. I think I’ll call them Baby Teeth. Baby Tooth for just one. You nod, which makes a couple of the Baby Teeth exchange questioning glances. They shrug it off and rejoin their sisters in the symphony of questions and reprimands.
The commotion dies down as North stands in front of you and Jack, his back to the fireplace and fists on his hips as a few elves peek around corners.
“That was reckless,” he says, his voice firm, like a parent rebuking their children. He relaxes his arms as he begins to gently smile, his speech turning softer as well. “But I can understand.”
Jack begins to cough, attempting to withhold it at first but being forced to turn to the side as it grows worse, his face turning red from lack of air. His hand breaks away from yours as he leans on his staff in support, his face contorted in pain.
You quickly go to him, resting one hand on his arm and another on his back in comfort, feeling the cough riddle through his entire body. He’s warm to the touch.
“It must be done. Soon,” North says, almost to himself as he folds his arms.
Jack’s cough slowly subsides as he holds up a hand to you, trying to tell you everything is okay. He stands back up straight, still leaning slightly on his staff as he regains his breath.
“Let’s do it, then,” you say, somewhat shocked at the fact that you’re bringing the dreaded moment closer.
But you don’t want Jack to suffer any longer.
North glances at Tooth, who nods in response.
“Follow me,” he commands, beginning to walk off down the nearby hallway.
You do as he says, Jack holding out his arm for you to take like a gentleman does to his date.
“Shall we?” he says, smiling mischievously, his voice still a little hoarse and shaky from the coughing spell.
Despite his pain, he’s still his mischievous, fun-loving self, still trying to make you smile and laugh. Selflessly trying to make you forget about the grave situation that you are in. Protecting you all he can from the cruelty.
Just being your Guardian.
You nod, offering him a small smile in return as you hook your arm in his. The two of you follow after North, with Tooth and her Baby Teeth bringing up the rear.
Another far-too-short trip later, North stops in front of a room. The same that Jack had been in before he had whisked you off to the lake just less than a day ago.
North pushes open the door to permit entry. Jack begins to go inside, taking you with him.
North shakes his head, putting a large hand on your shoulder just before your foot steps over the threshold. Jack looks back at the Guardian, his eyebrow raised in a silent “why not?”
You can’t go in. This is where you must say your final goodbyes.
Slowly, reluctantly, you slip your arm out from Jack’s and step back out into the hallway, fighting back the tears as you sadly smile at the winter spirit.
It seems to click for him. You can see him struggle to find words, his attempts at speech coming out as nothing but short bursts of air, his eyes darting searchingly back and forth between you and North. You can just see his heart being torn in two. His mouth closes as he frowns, his bottom lip trembling, looking as if he’s about to completely break down.
He bows his head, his bangs covering his face as his hands curl into tight fists.
His hands unfurl, his shoulders slumping in defeat. He then looks back up at you, a wide smile on his face, his eyes closed in the toothy grin.
He then walks up to you, his bright blue eyes focused on you, taking all of you in, wanting to take in every aspect, every little detail of you for as long as he can in this final gaze. He then grasps your arm, pulling you into a tight hug.
You return the embrace, closing your eyes, committing every sensation associated with his hugs to memory. The subtle scent of pine trees. The cold backed by warmth. The feel of his hoodie against your cheek. The thousand snowflakes falling onto the length of your body. The safety, the security.
He then loosens the hug and kisses you with all of his heart and soul. You do the same, wanting time to stop as you get lost in the kiss.
You feel a small hand on your shoulder, the kiss breaking and hug ending. North has his hand on Jack’s shoulder, pulling him away as the spirit coughs lightly, looking even more sickly than he did just moments ago.
He manages to place a final kiss on your forehead as North separates the two of you, Tooth’s supportive hand keeping you back.
“I love you, (your name),” he says as he smiles one last time, backing up into the doorway.
“I love you too, Jack,” you respond, your voice trembling as you smile back. You want his last memory of you to be of you with this happy expression, even if he won’t remember it in a short while’s time.
You swear you see a lone tear streak down his pale cheek—flushed from illness—as North turns him around, his arm across Jack’s shoulder as he leads him into the room.
The door closes behind them.
“You can let go, Tooth,” you whisper to her, unable to speak at a normal volume. You’re staring blankly at the closed door, looking right at it but not truly seeing it, just staring past it.
“Oh!” she exclaims, quickly removing her hand from you.
A brief pause. The hum of her and her fairies’ wings slightly fills the silence.
She flies over to the door, her back to it as she continues to face you.
“I suppose it’s about time then,” she says.
“Time for…what?” you ask. That didn’t come out right. You had meant to ask why she had to go into the room, too. You don’t want her to leave. Her presence comforts you, something that you desperately need right now.
Nevertheless, she seems to understand what you had meant to say.
“I’m the one who has to make Jack forget,” she tells you, glancing over her shoulder at the door so she doesn’t have to look at you.
“Huh?” is all you manage to blurt.
“I’m…the Guardian of Memories,” she explains, staring at your feet. “I collect people’s teeth because they hold the memories of the person that they belong to. I can help people remember.” Her purple eyes meet yours.
“I see,” you say. She can manipulate memories, kind of like how Sandy can make extremely realistic dreams that make you think the dream really happened. This is why she had stayed, what she had meant by she was still needed here. One other question tugs at your mind. “Will Jack…forget everything he’s learned while with me? I mean, I figured that MiM let Jack and I meet and accompany each other because I taught him things, helped him grow as a spirit and stuff…Wouldn’t it all be pointless if he just forgot?”
“Some things,” she begins, “cannot be forgotten. They are engraved into our very souls. These lessons, this growth, all of that…those are part of that category. So, no, he won’t forget those. But he won’t be able to attribute and credit those characteristics and such to you and the time you spent together. It’ll just be as if he had them from the beginning.”
You nod in comprehension, looking down at the floor, taking an interest in a small spot in the tile.
She flies over to you and puts her hand on your shoulder once again as the Baby Teeth encircle the two of you.
“I’m so sorry,” she sincerely says. Her lips curl into a half-smile. “Everything will be all right though, okay? Jack will be all better, and you’ll have some pretty amazing memories, and…”
You begin to smile as well, brushing aside the tears that were about to fall. “Thank you, Tooth. Please…go ahead. For Jack. I’ll be right here when you guys get back.”
You look out the window to your left as she flies back to the door, glimpsing back over at you before she goes inside.
The door closes behind her with a faint, ominous click, the sound of silence now echoing throughout the deserted hallway.