"...What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind..."

-T.S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton"

Chapter One: Life, or Something Like It

The park was a veritable sea of green that day. It was late March and the land had just begun to wake from its long winter sleep; bright yellow daffodils rose tall in the flower beds next to the growing stalks of tulips. A brilliant emerald fuzz was sprouting in the tree tops, and the new spring grass outshone it all. The day was unseasonably warm, so the park was bustling. Dogs and frisbees were out in force, and an impromptu soccer game had materialized in a far corner of the field. Mothers pushing strollers vied for space on the paths with joggers, and both groups dodged the young skaters that plowed through the crowd with impunity.

There was a huge, pale oak tree in one corner of the wide open space, on the opposite end of the park from the loud soccer players. It was on a slight rise, right before the grass was interrupted by brush and, further on, swallowed by the woods. It was calm under the oak's widely-spreading branches; the park's normal peace was uninterrupted by picnickers and sunbathers there. Beneath the tree sat a solid marble bench, and on top of the bench sat a girl. She was slim and dark-haired, quiet and pale as the oak behind her. Her name was Sarah Williams and it was her eighteenth birthday.

At that particular moment she was watching a small figure climb the gently sloping hills towards her. As it got closer, she registered its features dispassionately: curly brown hair a few shades lighter than her own, long gangling limbs, dark eyes. Sarah blinked a few times, emerging from her trance. She smiled.


"Time to go now, dream girl." Sarah pushed herself up from the bench and gave him a short hug.

"What's with all the secrecy? I know you guys are planning something. You might as well tell me."

"But you don't know what we're planning. That's the surprise part. Come on, now. Dinah's going to totally lose it if this doesn't happen soon. She's been practically bursting all week from not telling you."

"Dinah's not good with secrets. She never gets away with anything. If you hadn't been so obvious about suggesting I go to the park after school today, I would have know that a surprise party was in the works from her. 'Oh, Sarah, it's your birthday tomorrow? I completely forgot! I am so sorry!'" Sarah snickered as they strode towards the road.

Aaron's car, an elderly Toyota Camry in a sickly shade of blue, was parallel parked next to the swarming sidewalk. Sarah looked at the mass of humanity before her, wincing, before they pushed through the crowd. They dodged a stroller carrying triplets and were almost run down by two boys on skateboards before they reached the other side. She glanced back and gave the quiet oak tree, her private corner of the park, one last glance. She could see a line of puffy gray clouds emerging from beyond the trees.

"Did the weather guy say it was going to rain today?"

"I dunno." His key unlocked the car doors. Nothing so fancy as a remote for high schoolers; not in their town, at least.

"Looks like a storm is coming in." Sarah swung herself into the passenger seat and closed the door; Aaron's thumped shut next to her. "It always rains on my birthday."

"That sucks."

"Not really. I like thunderstorms, they're neat to watch."

They pulled away from the curb and started down the road, Sarah watching the sky with interest. After a few minutes her expression turned puzzled.

"We're not going towards Dinah's house. We're not even going towards your house, or Ben's."


"Then where are we going?"

"I said that it was what we were planning that was a secret." He frowned. "Oh, crap. I was supposed to make you wear a blindfold. See the bandanna on the dash? Could you put it on? Dinah will kill me if you don't."

"I don't know," replied Sarah uncertainly. "I like being able to see."

"I'll help you once we stop. Just put it on. Please? I'll owe you a back rub."

"Oh, can't resist that," replied Sarah, half-mockingly. She grabbed the cloth from the dashboard, sniffed it, and grimaced. Then she wrapped it around her eyes and tied it at the back of her head.

"Did Dinah give you this? It smells like her dog."

"Hmm. She gave it to me, yes. Don't ask me why it smells."

"Forget the back rub. You're buying me an ice cream cone." She sat back against her seat again, feeling the car accelerate and decelerate and turn. The girl made half an attempt to figure out where they were based on the way the car was moving, but gave it up after the second turn. She turned her attention to the sounds around the car instead. Beyond the music from the radio... traffic noises.

"We're downtown, aren't we? Are we going back to school or something?"

"We're not going back to school." Aaron's voice was wry; she could picture the look on his face, mouth curled upward by a suppressed smile and eyes squinting slightly with humor.

"But we are downtown. I can hear all the cars."

"My lips are sealed."

Sarah pouted half-heartedly and leaned against her window. She could hear the patter of raindrops against the glass; it was raining. Typical, she thought. Just typical. The girl listened lazily for the duration of the trip.

"Okay, here we are." The pronouncement was wonderful to hear. Sarah felt the car pull to a stop.

"Now what? Can I take the blindfold off?"

"No way. Wait a moment, I'll come around and lead you." The sound of the door clicking open and slamming shut; a crunch of gravel, and Sarah's door opened.

"Come on, Aaron, is this really necessary? I promise I'll act surprised no matter what."

"It's just for a few more minutes. Hold out your hand."

She did. Aaron pulled her up and wrapped an arm around her shoulders; she grumbled to herself under her breath. Cold raindrops hit her skin, her clothes, her hair; the rain was trickling off, so it was only sprinkling. She grimaced.

"The smell can't possibly be that bad. Dinah bathes her dog every week."

"It's not that. I just... I don't like not being able to see where I am. I'm afraid of getting lost."

"Childhood trauma?" he asked with a laugh.

"Something like that," she replied distantly. "Are we going or not?"

"Yes, yes. Come along." Aaron began to lead her across what seemed to be a parking lot; she could feel the gravel under her feet, as she had heard it when her boyfriend had opened the door for her. She counted twenty paces and they stepped up onto a sidewalk. He pushed a door open; a tiny bell tinkled in the quiet. Sarah's eyebrows rose dramatically.

"Hey... I know that bell...," she began.

Without warning, Aaron ripped the bandanna off her face and, blinded by the sudden light, the girl heard a group of familiar voices yell, "Surprise!" at the top of their lungs.

Sarah stood there a moment, gaping, eyes wide with unfeigned shock. Then she began to grin broadly, gray-green eyes shining. She recognized the worn black-and-white linoleum, the brick walls hung with pictures, and the long wooden counter; they were in Dinah's family's pizzeria. Normally, at this time of the day, it would be packed with teenagers listening to music and consuming extravagant amounts of pizza. Today, however, it was empty but for a group of Sarah's friends-- Dinah, of course, with her boyfriend Benjamin, another girl named Ellie, and Vince and Tim, who were both part of Benjamin and Aaron's newly formed band. Glittery garlands and balloons were strewn liberally about the room, and the magnetic menu board read "Happy 18th, Sarah". A stack of brightly wrapped boxes was heaped onto one booth's table.

"I..." The girl's voice caught in her throat suddenly; she harrumphed and tried again, blinking back the moisture that was filling her eyes. "Wow. I can't believe this. Thanks, guys. This is great."

"You have seen nothing yet, my friend." Dinah stood up straight, so as to maximize every inch of her 5'2" frame, and waved a hand imperiously behind her. "Right this moment, in this very building, my father, your devoted servant, is preparing the most exquisite, perfectly designed, gastronomically-pleasing pizza pie that the world has ever seen, or will ever see. All for you. Is that not generous?"

Sarah opened her mouth once again, only to have her thoughts halted as a certain painful memory went bouncing through her head. 'Is that not generous?' Not quite the same words, but so close... Sarah forced her brain back under control.

"I am most exceedingly obliged," she said primly, channeling Pride and Prejudice with her best acting ability. Then she promptly threw herself into Dinah's arms, dancing her around wildly around the room, barely avoiding knocking Tim and Ellie down in the process.

"You lovely, lovely person, don't deny that you planned all this yourself, though I do thank your faithful minions for assisting..." Sarah gave the others a grin and a wave as she twirled, giggling.

"Eeek, Sarah, I realize that you love me madly, but I'm seriously going to throw up if you don't stop."

Sarah set the girl down and patted the top of her curly red head. Dinah straightened her clothes with a sniff.

"There, there now. All better." Sarah proceeded to walk up to Ellie and give her a big hug. She moved down the line of people to Vince and Tim, whom she also hugged, as they grinned and wiggled their eyebrows at Aaron. When the girl came to Benjamin, she stood up on her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek, smiling as she heard a mock-outraged cry from her diminutive friend. Then there was Aaron. She hugged him and kissed him on the tip of his nose.

"Thanks. The blindfold was worth it. Even if it was stinky."

"No problem."

"Hey, hey, enough of this sappy crap," pronounced Benjamin in his pleasantly-rumbling voice. "This is a party, here. Mr. Valenti?" He turned around toward the kitchen door, speaking louder. "You almost ready in there?"

"All done!" called Dinah's father. "A few of you guys come in here; I need some help."

Ellie and Vince disappeared into the back of the restaurant; a few minutes later, they returned in the wake of Jack Valenti. Half-Italian, half-Irish, he had the same ruddy hair as his daughter and the same dark eyes. Mrs. Valenti was a red-head too; the family produced quite a picture when gathered together.

All three people carried large pizzas on trays in their hands; Mr. Valenti's had a ring of lit candles stuck on top.

"For you, bella, a birthday pizza with everything on it. Enjoy." He set the food down on the table in the center of the room. "If you'll excuse me, I'll leave this party to you kids. You guys know where the drinks are, and Dinah can get you ice cream later. Have fun."

The other two placed their burdens on the table next to the Birthday Pizza. Ellie looked from the candles to Sarah, and then around at everyone else.

"Okay, people, get with the program," she scolded. "On my count; one, two, three--"

An exaggerated deep breath from everyone, and then:

"Happy birthday to yoooou...." All six of Sarah's best friends gathered around her and the table, singing loudly. She watched them all in amazement, surprised despite herself to see such concrete proof of their regard for her. Aaron, coltish and habitually-unkempt, sang softly and tunefully; Ellie, almond eyes scrunched up with glee, sang as discordantly as she could manage; flamboyant Dinah sang in a stentorian bellow; Ben towered next to her, a tall, dark shadow singing in a sonorous bass; Vince half-sung, half-mumbled the words behind a curtain of brown hair; Tim, green eyes glittering mischievously, sang alternate words, indicating that Sarah looked like a monkey and smelled like one too.

"Now make a wish, Sarah!"

The girl bent over the candles, brushing her shining mahogany hair back with one slender hand. She gazed at the flames meditatively before closing her eyes in thought. Sarah was not one to take such a chance lightly.

I wish...

What did she wish for? A responsible mother, an understanding father, a docile brother, an A in pre-calculus?

Be careful what you wish for...

Somehow all those things didn't seem right. What did she really want? A group of accepting friends, an affectionate boyfriend? She had those things already.

Wishes have power, unlikely as it may seem...

A successful career in acting? How much of that dream was real, and how much was wistful hoping for her mother's approval? She wasn't sure anymore. Where would life take her, if she discovered that her driving force was a false one?

I wish... for direction.

Sarah blew all the candles out in one long, long breath.


A/N: So it begins: my first Labyrinth fanfic. Yes, everyone's favorite Goblin King will make an appearance later on. But not for awhile. So be forewarned. Lots of exposition is ahead. On another note, I think I got all the typos, but if anyone spots anything horrendous, please tell me? Thank you.