Sarah locked the door behind her, the sharp snick of the key in the lock immensely satisfying after a long day of hard work. She glanced up at the building with a grateful sigh. Ten years. Ten years since she'd become manager of her own independent publishing house. Dreams of being an actress or a singer had faded long ago; not from disappointment, but from realization. She hadn't actually wanted to be any of those things. Now, she fulfilled the dreams of others. She made sure that others weren't disappointed or crushed in the infancy of their dreams.
Of course, it had been an entirely uphill battle; a major in English didn't give anyone the wherewithal to understand the intricate workings of independent business. There had been many headaches, many close calls with bankruptcy and financial crisis, and just as many late nights pouring over a well-worn copy of Business Management for Dummies. But, finally, five years ago, everything had clicked. And now…
Sarah chuckled. Well, at least now she wasn't living in some hole-in-the-wall apartment. She'd finally closed the deal on her own house. It had a huge mortgage on it, but she never (yet) had had trouble with any of the payments. In time, it too would be hers.
She looked back at the darkened windows of her office and heaved another sigh. Then she turned and walked off into the night.
After her four years of college, Sarah had returned to her sleepy town in upstate New York. In her mind, there was no other perfection possible. Ambition she still had quite a bit of, but after college, she had known where her hopes and dreams lay. The abandoned office was rented and fixed, her staff was hired, and soon, Sarah was a brand-new Editor-in-Chief.
No, she had never forgotten. She had never stopped needing Hoggle, or Ludo, or Sir Didymus. They became as much a part of her as the basket of manuscripts that hung from her dresser door (the job of an editor is, after all, a 24/7 affair). And she would never forget. It was professional and personal pride.
Sarah swung by a corner grocery and bought a package of M&Ms. They were her favorite midnight snack, and though it was a little early for them now, she felt like a little sugar. Munching them contentedly, she hitched her bag up higher on her shoulder and continued on her way.
The park glimmered silver, the moonlight reflecting off the beads of water that remained clinging to the grass after the late afternoon thunderstorm. It was a particularly violent time in the early fall. She turned her face up to the wind and sighed, again with contentment. It had been so similar that night…that night so long ago. The trees, silent sentinels, heaved and shivered in the soft wind of night. She let her legs dangle over the edge of the stream as she sat on the walls of the bridge. She plucked a plump red candy from her hand and sucked on it contentedly.
She had hardly changed at all, really, from when she had been a teenager. She still enjoyed the pleasures that no one else could see. The silent park at midnight. The abandoned parking lot. The field full of dandelion fluff in the days of late fall. The lonely, red-leather covered book in the antiques shop. Sarah smiled, remembering. No. she was really no different at all.
She took that very book from the outer pocket of her brown-leather messenger bag. Her fingers, almost as sensitive as a blind man's, caressed the gold embossing of the rich little volume with tender care. But it was older now, as was she. The spine cracked a very little when she opened it. The last pages had been read so often that the edges of the pages were smoother with wear and shimmered in the moonlight.
Tiny droplets of water blew off the leaves of the trees and spattered on her coat and hands. Sarah lifted her head and enjoyed the feeling of her hair blowing back in the breeze. She leaned back on the study walls of the bridge and stared at the silver dollar of the moon. Tonight was a beautiful night for remembering.
Her dreams, her disappointments, her adventures, and her nightmares…they were all a part of her now. Her friends, from the past and present…they too, made an indelible mark upon her character. Even…
Sarah swallowed, and closed her eyes against the stinging brightness of the moon. Even he…had changed her.
Sarah was no longer naïve, no longer carefree. She was now 32 years old…and living in this world, it was impossible to remain innocent. And she had been shockingly innocent, on that day 17 years ago, she saw that now with perfect clarity. And she had spoken to him since…of course, she had been resistant to the idea at first, but eventually, her curiosity overrode her hesitancy.
He had become another one of her friends. And…something more.
There was a sharp stone under her head. It hurt. But Sarah relished the pain. It kept her head clear, made her remember even what she didn't want to remember; it kept her level, and cleared the mists of day-dreaming.
They had spoken, at least once a week, face-to-face, (though certainly not reality-to-reality) for the past ten years, at least. The first thing he had told her was how much he admired her stubbornness for refusing to speak to him for the past 7 years. The next thing he did was make sure that she had regretted those 7 years of lost conversation. She smiled…and wondered if he actually knew how much she bitterly regretted it.
God! Time passed so quickly! In the space of an instant, she had moved, from child to adult, from a girl with a crush to a woman in love.
Sarah swallowed and almost choked on the lump in her throat. She refused to open her eyes…the brightness of the moon would make her cry. Even now, she could feel the tears licking at the back of her eyes, but she had sworn, when she first realized her situation, that she would never, could never, cry over what could not be.
He had lost power over her. Even should she give him the permission, he would never be able to take her with him. The Labyrinth did not believe in things hastily or mistakenly said, and her words You have no power over me had been, in a sense, legally binding.
Even he, powerful as he was, could not take back those words whispered in the Labyrinth's embrace.
Just fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave.
5 years ago, he had admitted to the truth of those words. And Sarah was convinced that he meant it when he said that he would never forget them. Or contradict them. 5 years is a long time to be in love with someone with no chance of being together.
No wonder her dreams had changed! Sarah, looking back and remembering, knew why she had wanted to come back to her sleepy town. She knew why her ambitious plans had never come to fruition. It would have set her further away from him. Oh, she would speak to him through any ordinary mirror…but here, in her town, she could sense his presence. She could recall the way her park looked on that day, remember that odd owl that had been the second member of her audience. She could taste him here…and nowhere else.
She had fallen in love with him the first time she had seen him. 17 years is a long time to keep falling in love. What she would do when she hit the bottom would be anybody's guess. 'Street pizza' were the words that came to mind!
Sarah looked at her watch, taking the opportunity to gobble another M&M. In half an hour, it would be the 18 anniversary. 18 years. Once, she had considered that a long time. Now, it was not long enough.
Still, things could easily have been worse. Though they were both very much in love, they were both practical people. Untold centuries of ruling a realm of crazy goblins had taught him patience and acceptance, and working through the minutiae of the vagaries of small business had taught her much the same. And Sarah was still a very hopeful girl at heart, and she did believe in everything turning out fairly. She was certain that something would work out in the end, no matter how hopeless things seemed, and if he ever thought differently, at least he never said so.
Sarah did not like to think of how justice would prevail. She just wanted to think that it would.
She checked her watch again, and saw, to her utmost surprise, that the analog face was beginning it's final tick 'round to the new day. There was something about watching a new day begin that was incredibly appealing to Sarah. And this day was special. She could almost feel the wind changing, and her heart started to beat with a feverish impatience. There was also another reason that she waited so long for this particular day…
The wind stopped.
There was no sound of crickets tonight, but the frogs, which were usually out in force by this time of year, weren't making a sound at all. Hope, a warm sensation, trickled and filled Sarah's stomach and climbed up into her throat. Could it be that tonight was the night?
Absolute silence…for twenty seconds.
And then…all the night noises began anew.
Sarah sighed. Tonight was also a night for sighs. Oh well. It might not be tonight, but it must be some other one. It had to be. There would absolutely have to be.
She unlocked the door to her house and dropped her bag on the end table in the front hall. She leaned against the door as she shut it, a little too firmly, and rubbed her forehead with her hands. It was late, and she had to get up early in the morning; her office didn't wait for anybody, even its editor. Disappointment and despair had to wait until the weekends when she had the leisure time. It was simply better then, anyway.
But she didn't feel like going to sleep. She turned on the TV and browsed the channels, with a pint tub of ice cream on her lap, licking the spoon and watching the tail end of some 1940s romance. The pasty white faces of the heroines bothered her, and with a disgusted sigh, she flicked it off. The house was in total darkness. Behind her, in the kitchen, the pot of water she had put on for tea started whistling in its hysterical whine.
Sarah sighed and pulled her unwilling body off the couch, heading towards the kitchen. Before she reached the partition between the small front hall and the kitchen though, she heard some strange sounds.
Porcelain cups and saucers clinked on the table, and she heard the distinct sounds of water being poured. Her breath caught in her throat.
He looked up as she rounded the corner. His face crinkled in that smile that she had come to know so well. Tears made it almost unrecognizable, but she still knew whom she was looking at.
"Cream in your tea, Sarah?"
She shook her head and took it black, the bitter taste of the tea tasting to her exactly like the tears she was shedding.