Chapter One: It's Tricky
"You're dumping me."
"Yeah, listen, Sarah – "
"You're dumping me, the week before prom."
"Well, I – "
"You're dumping me, the week before prom, for Ashleigh-Ann Anders."
"Yeah, well, about that – "
Sarah stopped pacing the porch and spun around to look at Adam, the boy who, up till about three minutes ago, had been her boyfriend. "What?" she said, icily. "What about Ashleigh-Ann Anders?"
"Well, see…" Adam squirmed. "She puts out."
"She… puts out," Sarah echoed, dumbly.
"Yeah," Adam continued. "You see, Sarah…" His chest puffed up, almost imperceptibly. "I'm a man. I have needs."
"You're… a man. You… have needs," Sarah echoed, again. And then she exploded. "We've only been dating two months!" she shouted. "And you're not a man – you're a teenage boy! You're still 17! I turned 18 in January!"
Adam had started backing down the porch steps, with his hands held up, as if he was negotiating with her.
"And furthermore," she continued, still shouting, "furthermore, that just shows what you know – I made reservations for a room in the hotel, for after prom, so we could – " she caught herself, just in time, mindful of Mrs. Richards next door, who was probably watching their whole argument through her kitchen curtains.
"Well," she said, her voice back to its normal level. "Doesn't matter now, does it? You're going with Ashleigh-Ann Anders."
"You… made reservations?" asked Adam. He looked at her stupidly. "For us?"
"That's what I just said," said Sarah, and folded her arms. "But I guess I'm going to have to find someone else to take."
"Uhhh…" said Adam. "Well, I mean, maybe we could still… that is…" he glanced around the side of her house, to the empty garage. "Are your parents home?"
Sarah wondered if it was possible to set someone on fire with just her mind. She decided it wasn't, and tried for the next best thing – she reached for whatever was closest to her, and threw it.
It was a flowerpot, and it shattered on the pavement in front of Adam's feet, exploding dirt and one of Karen's tulips all over his Topsiders.
"Get out!" she shouted. She reached for another flowerpot.
"Sarah, what the hell – "
"Get out, I swear, I never want to see your stupid face – "
"Sarah, I didn't mean anything – "
"That's right," she told him. "You didn't mean anything. Now, leave." She watched as he backed down the path, nervously looking to see if she would throw anything else. When he was almost out of sight, she shouted, "And tell Ashleigh-Ann Anders I said hi!"
He rounded the corner, without looking back.
Sarah took a breath, and put down the flowerpot. Then she collapsed onto the porch steps, and began to cry, loudly and violently, into her sleeves.
That was how Merlin found her, minutes later, when he put his head across her shoes and whimpered softly. And that was how her dad, Karen, and Toby found the two of them, when they pulled into the driveway 20 minutes after that.
"What the hell – " said Karen, upon seeing the flowerpot. And then, "Oh, honey…" upon seeing Sarah.
"Sarah?" called her dad. "What happened?"
"Adam dumped me. And prom is next week," she wailed, in disbelief.
"But…" said Karen. "We bought you that dress – and your hair appointment – and those shoes – "
"I know," said Sarah, and silently added a non-refundable $75 hotel room to the list. A $75 hotel room which, if not paid for by the morning after the reservation, would be charged to a credit card belonging to an unsuspecting Robert F. Williams.
Toby clambered up the steps and, reaching over to Sarah's face, patted her on the cheek with a sticky hand. "Don't be sad, Sarah," he told her in his high little voice, and offered her a plastic dump truck from the front pocket of his overalls.
Sarah gave her brother a tiny smile, despite herself. "Thank you, Toby," she said. "I feel better now." She put the dump truck in her pocket.
Karen nudged the broken flowerpot with her foot, and sighed. "That tulip was doing so good, too," she said, sadly.
"Sorry," muttered Sarah.
Karen sighed again, then followed her son up the stairs, scooping him up and touching Sarah on the top of her head gently as she passed. "Come on, you sticky beast," she said. "Let's go wash up for dinner." To Sarah's dad, she said, "You'll clean that up later, won't you Robert?"
"Yes, sweetheart," replied Sarah's dad.
When they went inside, and it was just her and her dad on the porch, he handed her a tissue. She blew her nose, noisily. "Thanks," she said, and sniffed.
Her dad cleared his throat. "Would you like me to beat Adam up for you?" he asked. "I'm pretty sure I can. I think that's legal, if you're a dad."
Sarah sighed. "No, dad. But thanks for the offer."
Her dad sat down next to her on the steps. "I know I'm not… good at this stuff – " he started.
"Oh, dad – "
"But – " he pressed on, "I feel like you should know that any boy stupid enough to break up with you is a total idiot."
"You're just saying that because you're my dad," said Sarah, morosely. "You have to say that."
"It's true," he told her. "It's all true. And don't worry, honey, you'll find another date for your prom."
Sarah crumpled the tissue in her fist. "I won't," she said, stubbornly. "It's next week! Everyone's got a date now, and even the boys that don't, they don't want to go with me, they want to go with girls like Ashleigh-Ann Anders."
"Who?" asked her dad. "Is she on MTV?"
"No," said Sarah, glumly. "Nevermind."
"I'm sure there's some guy out there who'd love to take you to a dance," her dad said, his voice comforting. "Some guy out there who'd love to give you the sky, and the moon, and the stars."
The sky… the moon… the stars…?
"…What?" said Sarah.
"Oh, I don't know," said her dad. "I'm just trying to think of all that mushy romantic stuff that girls love. Listen… sometimes, Sarah… teenagers… they're pretty stupid. They don't know what they have until it's gone."
I'll place the sky within your eyes, thought Sarah.
"Sometimes," her dad continued, "they're not even really sure what they want in the first place."
I'll place the moon within your heart, thought Sarah.
"And when they get older," her dad said, "it's easier for them to be sure. So sometimes… you just have to wait."
I'll leave my love between the stars, thought Sarah.
"Anyway," her dad finished, "that's my fatherly advice." He glanced at her, uncertain. "Did any of that make any sense for you?"
"Yes," said Sarah. "It made complete and total sense for me."
"Oh," said her dad, sounding pleased. "Well. Good." He patted her on the knee. "On that note, I'm going to go in and have dinner. The flowerpot can wait a little longer." He stood up. "Are you coming?"
"I'm going to just sit out here, a little bit," she said to him. "You go in. I just want to think, before I go inside."
Her dad shrugged. "Suit yourself. Come on, Merlin." Merlin trotted in after him, and the screen door swung shut.
The sky, the moon, the stars, thought Sarah. Some guy who'd love to take me to a dance. Maybe…
She sat outside for a long time. She weighed her options. She considered the pros and cons.
She thought of the look on Adam's face, when she showed up with her date.
She wanted Adam to be jealous, yes. She wanted everyone to be jealous, their heads turning when they saw who was on her arm. But she wanted more than that.
She thought of the $75 she planned on spending on the hotel room.
She wanted what she had wanted years ago, when it had been the wrong time to ask, and she had not known how to, anyway. And she wanted what she thought she had wanted from Adam, and from Mike, before him, but they were all wrong, and she had probably known that all along.
She thought of the hotel room.
She thought of what she wanted. And of who.
She was confident. She was sure. She was older, now.
And if all else failed, she still remembered the right words.
When the sun went down, Sarah stood up, went inside the house, and walked upstairs. She entered her bedroom. She closed the door. She locked it. She sat down at her desk.
She looked into her mirror. She adjusted her shirt. She fixed her hair.
And then, into the mirror, she said, "I wish to speak to the Goblin King."
She tried again. "I wish to speak to the Goblin King."
Still nothing. Was it possible she had been wrong? No – she was sure. She remembered the look on his face.
She tried again, louder this time, "I said, I wish to speak to the – "
"I heard you the first time," drawled a voice behind her. "No need to shout."
She gasped, and spun around in her chair, and there he was.
He was leaning against her dresser, and he looked just as she remembered him. Not the last time, at the end, when he had looked at her so exhausted and sad and… and… something else. But before, when he had been confident, cocky, and sure that he would win.
She felt her heart speed up, just a little bit, and that tight, twisty feeling somewhere between her heart and her stomach – she remembered it from before, and she had thought it was fear, but she wasn't afraid now. Her brother was safe. She wasn't a little girl anymore; she knew what she was doing. And the words, she had the words, she had beaten him, she had won.
If not fear… I'm not afraid of you, she thought, studying him. Not now.
She looked into his eyes, and although they were narrowed and regarding her with suspicion, they were still beautiful. In an instant, her planned speech was forgotten. "Oh," she said. "Hi. How are you?"
His expression changed from guarded to amused. "How am I? How am I? Hmm… let's see." He paused. "How long has it been, since I last saw you?"
"Three years," she said.
"Three years," he repeated. "It has been longer, for me." Slowly, he began wandering around her bedroom, letting his fingers trail along the edges of her furniture and her knickknacks as he walked. "As for how I am, I am still in the midst of paperwork regarding reconstruction of my bridge, my city, and my castle, which you thoughtlessly destroyed. I've had to commission a new goblin giant, which was exorbitantly expensive, and my goblins are now demanding overtime pay for their efforts in stopping you, not to mention they are also clamoring for retroactive health insurance coverage regarding the injuries they received during your battle, which is entirely ridiculous as they are meant to be indestructible." He stopped, and took a breath. "And that, Sarah Williams, is how I am."
"Oh," she said. She had never really considered that her win was also the Goblin King's loss. And she had definitely never considered that the Goblin King's loss involved paperwork. "You're still... after so long?" She thought of how much of her own life had changed since that night.
"Things move very slowly when there are goblins involved," said the Goblin King.
"Oh," she said again.
"Yes," he said. "Oh. Now – tell me, Sarah, since I saw you last… how are you?" His tone of voice lowered at the end, managing to sound both dismissive and seductive at the same time.
"Me? I'm…" My boyfriend broke up with me, I have no date for my prom next week, and I haven't started a 10 page essay on Heart of Darkness that's due tomorrow morning, she thought. "I'm good."
"And your brother?" He was studying her Escher print now, facing away from her, his hands crossed over the small of his back.
"He's good, too," she said. "He's in preschool. He's kind of a troublemaker, though. Last week he hit a kid who bit him."
The Goblin King let out a sharp noise, which might have been a laugh, but it was so quick, she thought she must have imagined it.
He turned to her. "And?" he prompted.
"And?" she asked, mesmerized by his face again. Why was it that he was so beautiful? "And what?" It wasn't right for a man to be this beautiful, really – it wasn't fair.
He rolled his eyes. "Why did you call me, Sarah? I'm assuming it wasn't to gloat, after three years."
"No," she said, bringing herself back to their conversation. "No, no, that's not what I – I didn't mean – I only wanted…" she trailed off.
"What?" he asked. "What do you… want?" There was that low, seductive voice again.
What do I want? she asked herself. What do I want?
She wanted what she had been dreaming about for years now, his hands on her body and his lips on her skin and his voice in her ear whispering, taunting, do you want it –
Do you want it?
She wanted him. And if she asked, she knew he would give in.
"There's a dance," she said, quickly. "At my school, next week. I wanted… I wanted to know if you wanted to take me."
Whatever the Goblin King had been expecting her to say, it wasn't that. "You want me…"
Yes, thought Sarah.
"… to take you to a dance?" he finished, his voice soft, confused.
"Yes," said Sarah, confidently.
He stared at her for a few seconds, his eyes flickering across her face. "Why?" he asked, finally.
"I thought… you might like it," she said, hesitating slightly.
"That's it? No other reason? Nothing else?" he prompted.
"No," she said. "No other reason. Nothing else."
Without breaking eye contact with her, he stretched out his hand, reaching to her dresser to pick up her music box. On her 16th birthday, Sarah had packed up a lot of the things in her room – the stuffed animals, the games – that reminded her of the Labyrinth. Some, like the Escher print, she had kept. She had never had the heart to put away her music box.
The Goblin King was looking at the dancer now, his expression unreadable. In his hand, she spun in silent circles, and then, to Sarah's surprise, she picked her face up, lifted her arms out, reached for him – and then she was still again, and he put the music box down.
He looked at her again. "Name your terms."
"My… what? What terms?"
"Your terms," said the Goblin King. "What are your conditions?"
"Um," said Sarah, momentarily distracted again. "Right. Okay. Be here at 5:30 next Friday afternoon. You'll have to meet my parents. And wear a tuxedo."
"Is that all?" he asked.
"It would be nice if you brought me a corsage," she said, and then added quickly, before she lost her nerve, "and… you have no power over me."
He scowled. "Yes, yes, no power, tra la la." Leaning back against her dresser again, he looked over her, slowly. "Fine. I accept. Now, my terms."
"Just one request," he counted, holding up a gloved finger. He glanced at her.
Sarah nodded again.
"The fulfillment of which," he said, "I will claim at a time of my choosing."
Somehow, she was not surprised. "Um… what is it?"
"Well," he said, "now that would be telling, wouldn't it?" He crossed his arms and grinned.
Sarah stood up and leaned against her desk. She crossed her arms, mimicking him and mirroring his position across the room. She was almost as tall as him; he only had a few inches on her, now. "You need to tell me what this request is, Goblin King. Let's negotiate."
He stopped grinning. "It's not negotiable," he said.
"You're not allowed to kidnap me," she told him. "No power, remember?"
"What do you take me for?" he protested, offended.
"Um, a Goblin King who kidnaps people, maybe? So, we negotiate. Do you want to take me to this dance or not?" Sarah asked, pointedly.
He laughed, although it seemed like it was mostly at himself, rather than for her benefit. "Yes, that is the question, isn't it, Sarah? Do I want to take you to this dance… or not?" He looked at her, considering.
Oh God, thought Sarah. He's going to say no.
"For some reason, Sarah, with you," he said to her, slowly, "what I want seems to always be… irrelevant. Everything that you wanted, I have done." He tilted his head, studying her like she was a puzzle, a problem to solve. "I hardly see why that should stop, now."
"So is that…" said Sarah, her voice wavering, only a little bit. "Is that a yes?"
He smiled, his eyes sharp. "That is a yes. And as for my request..." he said. He held out his right hand, and a crystal appeared on his palm, spinning around lazily. He twisted his hand, and the crystal traveled up to the tip of his finger, where it stayed, perfectly balanced. "I give you my word that you'll find it... agreeable. And if you'd still like to negotiate, well... We can do that at a more... convenient time." He looked her up and down, running his eyes over her, lingering on her face.
Oh, she thought. That kind of request.
She straightened her spine, pulled her shoulders back. She knew what she wanted, she thought. Let him want, too.
"Until next week, Sarah," he said.
"Until next week… Jareth." She watched as he started to fade away.
"Oh," he said. "One more thing – what color is your dress?"
He was almost completely gone now. "Red," she told him. "It's red."
The last thing she saw, before he disappeared completely, was his grin.
A/N: Hi, guys. Long time no see.
This chapter and the next few chapters have been very-mostly written for years. In an effort to bring some creativity back into my life, I am putting them out there and hoping that some more creativity comes from it.
Three cheers to everyone for being creative, and creating, and an extra cheer for every one of you who encourages it.
A/N take 2: Thank you x a million to kzal, my co-chair on the goblin prom committee, voted Most Likely to Succeed at Being the Best.