"So…," Jocelyn drawled out. "We've spoken about how Monica is doing with her husband and her kids, and how I am doing with my husband and my career."
"Yup," Monica gave a wide grin.
They both stared at Karen with laser eyes and maniacal smiles.
"So let's hear how you're doing, Karen."
"How are you doing, Karen? And your stepdaughter?" Monica added just to make sure Karen got the point, as if it weren't a flashing neon sign in both of their grins.
Karen groaned with as much theatrical despair as if she were still a college student and they were still gossiping in their sorority house rather than successful adults drinking wine in her living room. "Oh my god, you guys. I don't even know what's going on. I'm so far into smile-and-nod territory at this point."
They both laughed at her, and now Karen was grinning as well, "It's just so insane!"
The thing was, though: as insane as it was, it was also all true.
Karen had not planned on falling in love with a man who already had a teenage daughter, but she wouldn't give Robert up for anything, and she had come to appreciate Sarah. Sarah had been a difficult teenager, and while she hadn't really gotten any less difficult over the years, she brought something amazing to Karen's life, along with the insanity.
After reading literally dozens of books about being a stepparent to a teenager, Karen had come to accept that there was really something completely different about Sarah. It was only after talking with the wives of other high-powered attorneys, both corporate and government, that the situation had begun to make sense…even if it really shouldn't have, in regards to a high-school girl.
The other wives had talked about the difficulties of being married to people who necessarily had to maintain client confidentiality, even – or especially – with some huge and dangerous secrets. Conversations always had to careful; they could never press for answers on what their husbands were doing or even what was troubling them. All the wives could do, they bemoaned, was invite confidences in such a way that allowed their husbands to confide what they could, without feeling pressure to say too much.
Karen had just smiled and agreed, even as her mind had raced. This was something she had expected in her marriage with Robert, but it hadn't occurred to her before that she needed the same circumspection with Robert's teenaged daughter.
And yet, it had worked.
Karen had carefully observed her stepdaughter, but had stopped expecting answers to any of her questions. She certainly had questions, though.
There was definitely something going on with her stepdaughter but she had never been sure exactly what.
She had first noticed how overly upset Sarah had become when asked to babysit Toby. Karen had babysat as a teenager, just as all the other women she knew had once done. It hadn't occurred to her that Sarah would consider it a skilled job she wasn't qualified for.
Rather than just keeping a child company for a few hours and making sure they got to bed on time, Sarah apparently thought she needed to be prepared for any emergency, even ones that would overcome most adults, such as kidnapping.
But there were other jobs, too.
At age sixteen, when most girls wanted to spend more time with their friends, Sarah had wanted to start earning her own money. She spent most her time away from the house, and Karen had thought she was loitering at a park, but discovered she had taken afterschool and weekend jobs.
Karen had worried briefly that drugs were the motive. After all, Sarah spent all her free time working, but then hardly showed any income from it. She didn't have a savings account or new clothes or anything. The only thing that Karen could think of was that she was spending the money on drugs. Except there was no evidence of actual drugs.
Then she had worried that Sarah was being threatened or blackmailed or something. But again, it just didn't make sense.
Karen had tried to ask tactfully if something was bothering Sarah, something that she needed money for. Karen couldn't think what it could be, but she wanted to help if only Sarah would confide in her. But Sarah had first looked confused and then dismissive. Nothing was the matter, she had assured Karen. Sarah wasn't saving up for anything in particular, she just wanted money to buy things. Nothing in particular, just things.
So Karen had kept her eyes open, looking for evidence of something even if she didn't know what. And she had found evidence, but it didn't make any more sense than Sarah's vague explanations. She found receipts, left in pockets or loose on her desk or tucked into a book, but they were from craft stores or thrift stores or that one odd military surplus store.
But then she never saw the purchases themselves. Two hundred dollars on a large canvas tent, but no tent ever appeared. Eight hundred dollars on a weaving loom, but no apparently interest in weaving. And what could Sarah want with a large tent and loom anyway?
The only time Karen ever saw Sarah with anything expensive, it was her prom dress. Which was a mystery in and of itself.
It had been a gorgeous creation, a sheath dress consisting of a net of golden beads. She looked like a Hollywood star, like she should have been walking down a red carpet.
But the dress had no tag. The beadwork was clearly not mass produced. Karen wasn't even sure how to price such a dress, especially since she couldn't find anything even remotely similar available for purchase anywhere. It was the sort of dress that princesses wore. It was not the sort of dress a high-school student could buy with the savings from a couple of years of part-time jobs. Especially since there was no evidence that Sarah had saved the money she had earned.
When Karen had finally asked about the dress directly, Sarah had hesitated for a moment but said that it had been a gift. Karen had been appalled: a present like that for a young girl was not a good sign. Sarah had said, "um, no, no, not like that, sort of a barter? Or maybe a thank-you?"
"A thank you for the loom?" Karen had asked tentatively. She hadn't wanted to reveal how much she had been snooping, but she was just so concerned.
Sarah had looked relieved. "Sort of, yeah. I've been helping some, well, refugees, I guess you could call them, and this is a present in return for that."
"Refugees." Karen had repeated.
"Yeah. Kind of." Sarah had nodded. And then she'd had to dash off, and Karen hadn't found a delicate way to follow up on the conversation. Like, which refugees and where?
But the money was only the first oddity.
There was the sudden interest in government. Not politics, but government. The girl that Karen had first thought was so dreamy wasn't spending her time reading fairytales like Karen expected, but government treatises by the likes Machiavelli and King Louis XIV and who knew who else.
And maybe Karen would have considered that an odd stage in growing up, if it weren't for the mention of refugees.
When Sarah had graduated with a bachelors in International Relations, her senior thesis, "Alien Accords: diplomacy between disparate and unfamiliar cultures" looked mostly at the history of European diplomacy with China, India, and the Americas. Karen had been impressed. Sarah had shown how diplomats judged foreign cultures by their own standards with mixed results. Sarah's advisor had also been impressed and had submitted the paper to a journal. A week after it was published, the first background check had been done by the National Intelligence Department.
Sarah had gone on to graduate school in England. Having identified problems in diplomatic relations in her undergraduate thesis, she was intent on writing a masters thesis that explained how to avoid those problems. Karen hadn't thought it was a good topic because most of the world was known now. There weren't any truly foreign cultures anywhere. You could go anywhere in the world and find someone who spoke English, for goodness sake.
But then background checks were done by even more agencies. First it had been that foreign princedom and then it had been the US Airforce, Britain's Royal Air Force, and the International Oversight Advisory.
Robert was so proud of his little girl, now thirty and already a successful diplomat of some acclaim if the people who visited were to be believed. Robert was even proud of the classified nature of Sarah's work. Every time Sarah answered a question with "that's classified" he just beamed. As a corporate attorney, he was used to working with privileged information. Karen was used to having a husband who couldn't always tell her about his work, but she could also tell the difference between her husband's secrets and her stepdaughter's.
Her husband's secrets involved a lot of money for large companies. He'd gotten involved in such things after he graduated from law school.
Her stepdaughter's secrets involved life and death and government at the highest levels. And Karen had grown increasingly sure over the years that she'd gotten involved while still in high school.
What had Sarah gotten herself into?
Karen had begun to realize that the world wasn't quite so known after all. There were societies out there that weren't publicly acknowledged, and more than just the magical community where Toby went to school. She wasn't sure if the government organizations that interviewed her for Sarah's clearance had known about Toby at all. Sarah herself certainly did but … Karen wondered how many secrets Sarah knew. But the role of homemaker was to support everything and reveal nothing. So she had done her best to be supportive while remaining suitably oblivious to anything she wasn't supposed to know.
No one told her anything directly, and for the most part Karen had learned to just smile and be supportive of her stepdaughter, but sometimes she really did need to share the insanity with her friends. Not only to vent, but also to get some reassurance. "It is insane, right? This isn't normal?"
"It really is," Monica agreed. "But I love hearing what your stepdaughter has done this time."
Karen was fairly sure her friends thought she exaggerated her stories for dramatic effect, although maybe they too were just experienced in smiling and nodding. In reality, she edited them heavily for believability.
"Well, this time, she got married."
She'd told them about Jareth before. Meeting the man her daughter was dating had been an awkward experience, but even at the time she had known recounting it later would be hilarious. And it really had been, as she'd described trying to keep her eyes on the man's face rather than allowing it to drift to, ah, lower regions. His pants had been tailored for a very specific fit. And yet focusing on his face had been hard for other reasons. He had looked haughty and distant in a way that Karen would not have thought possible in a man dressed like he was.
She'd originally worried about why Sarah was with such a man. Because while Sarah did make a habit of arranging for things to be done the way she wanted, overwhelming most people, Jareth was noticeably older than her and clearly used to getting his own way, as well.
She'd accidentally eavesdropped on them the first day Sarah had brought him to the house. Well, it would have been an accident if she hadn't been looking for a way to observe them alone together. It was too easy to imagine beautiful, successful Sarah getting in too deep with a man who tried to control her and not knowing how to get herself out again.
Karen refused to let that happen.
So she'd seen them walking out into the backyard while she was preparing dinner, and she'd just gone to open a window. Just to get a better sense of the first man Sarah had ever brought home.
She had been just in time to hear Jareth say, "Theron thinks that with all the fairytales you've read, all the doomed romances, you're just aching to marry against your family's wishes."
"Theron is an idiot."
"We have known each other for half of your life. Why am I here now?"
Karen froze. What was the old adage: eavesdroppers never hear anything good about themselves? It was true enough, though they weren't talking about her. Jareth's words told Karen that he had "known" Sarah since she was a child, while Sarah was still living at home with her and Robert.
Karen had let a man like Jareth anywhere near a girl under her protection? And while Jareth had said half of Sarah's life, he hadn't said anything about half of his. It was difficult to guess Jareth's age, but she would bet he was a hell of a lot older than her Sarah!
"Jareth," Sarah had sighed with apparent exasperation. "I am your friend but that is a relationship between two individuals. They're my family, and for everything that you are to me, you are not my family."
"Am I not?" He had towered over Sarah, and Karen had been shaken just looking on.
Sarah had simply stood straight and even leaned in to him, to look up at his face. "Not yet, you're not. But if I ever marry you, that would make us family. That would make us all family. And that involves my family, so you will learn to get along with them and they with you."
Jareth narrowed his eyes. "It goes both ways. You're the one who's always harping on fairness. If I am to be polite to your relatives, you will be polite to mine." Suddenly, like a light switch, Jareth grinned and his whole face, beautiful enough before, seemed to light up. "That means not calling Theron an idiot."
Sarah rolled her eyes. "First, Theron is an idiot. His alternate shape is a butterfly! I can't respect anyone who spent the majority of their youth turning into a maggot and who now floats around fields getting high on nectar. Second, I didn't say you had to be polite, you just have to get along. And Theron and I get along just fine." She smirked.
Jareth winced. "Too true, too true." Jareth seemed more amused than chastened, which was notable, given that Sarah had somehow become the sort of person that most people obeyed.
Karen found herself somewhat relieved of her worry. Maybe it was okay for Jareth to be older and, well, whatever he was, if Sarah wasn't letting his age and… physical attributes overrule her. And at least she wouldn't quash Jareth like a bug, as she had the boys on those rather unfortunate blind dates Karen had once arranged.
Karen still cringed with mortification on several different levels regarding those dates, but whenever she tried to apologize for her part in them, Sarah just laughed and rolled her eyes.
Jocelyn's nephew, a handsome young Westpoint student, had told Jocelyn that taking Sarah out to dinner had been like trying to date his commanding officer. He was much more comfortable just replying, "Sir, yes, sir!" rather than trying to get to know her better. That dinner conversation had apparently consisted of him being grilled about his course work, and he had plenty of surprise exams given by his actual instructors and didn't need blind dates to get more of them.
Jocelyn shook her head in mock despair. "Do you know that my nephew recently made Major in the Army?"
"Is this the same nephew who has never let you set him up on a date again, after his one dinner with Sarah?"
Jocelyn waved that away. "And now Sarah's married to some musician?"
"I'm sure many commanding officers are also married to musicians." Karen avoided answering that. She knew that Jareth enjoyed music, but whatever his profession was, it wasn't as a musician.
"Well, you've got a point there."
"As much as that date story continues to crack me up," Monica interrupted." You were saying that she got married. So I take it there was a wedding?" Monica got them back on track, apparently waiting for the punchline to the new story, knowing that there absolutely would be one. At least one.
"Ah, the wedding," Karen agreed.
"Sarah told us she was arranging her own wedding, but would like to sleep in her old room the night before, and drive with us to the ceremony. And we said, 'that sounds wonderful, dear,' because what else could we possibly say?"
"Frankly, it does sound wonderful," Monica pointed out. "I sure wish my daughters didn't expect Frank and me to pay for everything."
"Well, she couldn't have expected us to pay for this particular wedding, because the clothes alone would have bankrupted us."
That got raised eyebrows, but they'd never actually seen the wardrobe aspect of the Sarah-related insanity. Karen had seen it with her own eyes, starting with Sarah's high school prom dress, and she still didn't quite understand where the clothes came from.
"But first: it was a winter ceremony held at sunrise. There were huge drifts of snow and we had to set our alarms for 4:30 AM!"
"Exactly. On February 29th, too. Sarah said it was because liminal space is an interest she and Jareth share. So, anyway, while I'm trying desperately to put together some semblance of being human, much less actually looking nice, Sarah comes down looking like a god, and you have to see it to believe it! Robert got a picture of her before we left the house."
Karen showed the picture of Sarah, Karen and Toby, all dressed up that morning.
"Okay," Monica agreed. "That does look like it would have bankrupt you. It's like something out of a Czarist Russia at the height of their opulence."
"Gorgeous, though." Joceyln sounded impressed. "She doesn't look like either an innocent or a sexy bride. She looks like a conquering queen."
Sarah had worn an A-line split skirt and a high-necked tunic, all of it made of woven material enhanced with elaborate dull-gold embroidery and shining gold beads. Rather than a veil, she'd worn a headdress that framed her whole face like the halo on a holy icon, and a heavy cape of dull-gold hung from her shoulders to the floor. Not visible in the picture were her boots, thick-soled leather boots with their own gold embellishments, and yet not the sort of thing that Karen would have thought to wear to a wedding.
Sarah had warned them all to wear heavy shoes for hiking, since it would be an outside wedding.
"What are you and Toby wearing though? It pales in comparison to the bridal outfit, but it is sure impressive now that I'm noticing it!" Monica asked.
"That, I can actually show you! Hold on one moment." And Karen went to get the jacket and hat that Sarah had given her for the wedding.
Jocelyn and Monica were still examining the photo when she returned, but quickly looked up to see Karen modeling it for them. She couldn't wear it for long in a warm house, but it really did need to be seen to be believed. A durable ankle-length, down-insulated coat elevated to a work of art by the soft golden fabric overlaid with embroidery. Like the prom dress, there were no maker-marks.
"Sarah gave each of us, Robert, Toby and me, these matching jackets and hats."
Jocelyn and Monica's eyes widened appropriately.
"It's gorgeous," Monica breathed.
"Isn't it just? But where can I possibly wear it ever again?"
"If I had a coat that looked like that," Jocelyn stated. "I would wear it every single time the weather got cold enough that I wouldn't suffocate. That is stunning!"
Karen took the coat off to sit down again, but laid it over her lap, spread out so that they could feel the heavy fabric and examine the detailed stitching.
"This looks completely handmade," Monica stated, examining a corner of it. "It could be in a museum."
"Robert's and Toby's are just like it, though each with different patterns of embroidery, and tailored to their sizes, of course. Toby insists on taking his to school with him as his winter coat!"
"Oh god!" Monica looked horrified at the thought of something like this being worn at a rowdy boarding school was horrifying.
"Good for Toby, I say!" Joceyln said. "If you've got it, use it!"
Monica looked back at the photograph, examining the jacket and them comparing it to the picture. "I can see what you mean, though: the custom work on the coats, let alone Sarah's outfit, really would have bankrupt you. How in the world did she get it?"
It was a rhetorical question. Karen's friends knew that she didn't have an answer to that question.
"She just said that someone made it for her," Karen's reply was despairing.
"Well, she's not wrong." Monica laughed.
"So there you are, in your glorious winter regalia…" Jocelyn prompted.
Karen continued the tale, "Sarah had arranged a car and driver for us, so we all bundle into this car while it's still pitch black outside, and it drives us for an hour and I very quickly lose track of where we are, but it gets off of highways pretty quickly and onto dirt roads, and I have to admit to falling asleep for a bit because it was just so early! But finally we stop and all get out, as the night's just beginning to lighten, like dawn is on the way, but the driver has a flashlight, so we all troop along until we reach a set of stone stairs.
"And there's five other people there, most of whom I can't even recognize because they're all bundled up in coats and hats just like ours. Maybe I should have known them all, but the only ones I recognize are Chick, a boy about Toby's age that Sarah used to babysit, and his mother Roselyn."
She hadn't mentioned Chick to her friends before because there wasn't much to say about him really.
At first, when Toby had an imaginary friend named Chick, Karen hadn't given it much thought. But as the years passed, the unseen Chick was still referred to. Chick did this. Chick did that. Chick was learning to fly and why couldn't Toby get wings? Given that Toby had managed to hover a few times even without wings, Karen had been especially glad that he didn't have them.
But with Toby's stories of Chick maturing along with him, coupled with his own peculiar achievements, she had become decidedly suspicious.
Sarah had looked just as uncomfortable as Karen felt during that conversation. Karen had asked if perhaps Sarah knew anything about a boy named Chick? Sarah had said that there was in fact a boy named Chick that she babysat for occasionally. Karen suggested perhaps the next time Sarah was babysitting Chick, she might let Karen meet the boy. Sarah off-handedly mentioned that Chick didn't look very much like a, er, person at the moment. Karen had nodded and asked about any dietary restrictions. Sarah had let her know that Chick could eat anything but that his mother might wish to come too if that was alright with Karen. Karen had agreed that that was perfectly acceptable.
Karen still felt proud of her composure when introduced to one entrancingly beautiful woman and one child who matched his name of Chick rather unfortunately well. His full name was apparently Chickadee. The wings looked like gossamer and the boy had been delighted to tell her that they had just recently developed and he thought adults were stupid for flattening their wings along their backs as if they were tattoos, rather than out and feeling the air.
Karen had smiled and nodded. And at least now she knew that Chick wasn't Toby's imaginary friend, so that was good.
There was just nothing much to tell her own friends about a random meeting with one of Toby's friends.
"So we walk up these steps and there's pipe music and other people on the stairs and then we're at a large open space, on top of what turns out to be a really wide stone wall? There's a crowd of people in the space, and Sarah is just striding along with Robert, Toby and I trailing after, a whole entourage dressed in gold, and people are getting out of her way and that forms a path for us and I realize that we're actually in the ceremony already. This is it. And just as I'm realizing this, I see Jareth with his own entourage and apparently feathers are their dress theme, because they have elaborate feathered capes and feathers woven in their hair.
"Sarah just turns around to hug each of us and thank us for accompanying her, and then goes forward on her own toward Jareth. They meet in the middle of a clear space in the crowd, the music ends, and they just look at each other for a moment, and I'm left wondering when the officiant is going to get there.
"But apparently there's no officiant. Because they come together and kiss just as the sun rises from the horizon behind them. And it feels like I'm watching a miracle, even though it's just the sunrise, except that the sun rose and they kissed, and maybe the sun itself was the officiant, because that was it. It was so bohemian, which isn't really Sarah's style at all, except that it worked out so beautifully and I don't even understand how it could be that magical."
Karen had to dab her eyes just at the memory. It had been overwhelming, and she wasn't even quite sure why.
"That sounds really beautiful. Simple and beautiful. I remember my wedding, when I got so stressed out over the flowers and then mad at the minister's sermon. I love my husband, but god, that day was miserable to get through."
"I quite enjoyed my wedding. It was a giant party with all the people we liked, and I can't remember a thing the pastor said, but it can't have been too bad. I mostly remember trying desperately not to grin like a complete loon."
Karen laughed. "I, on the other hand, had a very proper and staid wedding, that was enjoyed precisely the correct amount."
"Come to think of it, doesn't a proper wedding have more to it than kissing the bride?"
"Well, after the kiss, Jareth turned to all of us and said, "I have the joy and honor of presenting to you all, my wife and consort, Sarah Williams of the Land of Near Endless Plains." And Sarah says, "I have the joy and honor of presenting to you all, my husband and consort, Jareth Goblin of the Labryinth." It was such a formal declaration after the simplicity of the ceremony, that it kind of caught me off guard, like, was this a wedding or a presentation? Except they both sounded so smugly gleeful about it. And normally I wouldn't have liked hearing any man sound that way about his wife, except that Sarah sounded just as smug about her husband. I could never quite picture who could be Sarah's equal in her life, but I think it really might be Jareth. And just, even with the formality of it all, I think it was also honest: they each considered it a 'joy and honor' to claim and be claimed by each other. It kind of felt like they were showing off to the crowd about what they had done. It was like they were really saying: isn't this person amazing? They're mine!"
Karen shrugged off her musings, "Anyway, then Jareth came over to greet us while Sarah went to his entourage, and they led us all into the receiving line, where I got to greet all the other guests who were an odd bunch, let me tell you." Although, of course, she wouldn't actually tell them about those guests who could never have passed for human, the way some of the others did. The way she suspected Jareth did.
"With your stepdaughter, I do not doubt it at all."
"The Land of Near Endless Planes? The Labyrinth?" Jocelyn asked.
"I don't recognize The Labyrinth at all, but the Land of Near Endless Planes is a painting Sarah made way back in high school. It's been fifteen years since then!"
"Was it a good painting?"
"It really is a lovely painting. I saw it again recently, hanging up in her apartment the last time we visited her there."
Jocelyn shook her head, "Your stepdaughter does seem to go out of her way to be cryptic. Of course, it wouldn't be nearly as much fun to hear about if everything made sense."
Monica nodded agreement. "That is very true. My children may not always be great, but they always make sense. Which I love! I do! But they don't make for great stories the way your Sarah does."
"Urg." Karen said. Then, "Well, after the ceremony, we all head down another stone stairwell to a banquet hall that looks like it's from the middle ages and there's literally a feast spread out, which is kind of daunting since it is still not yet eight o'clock in the morning. Once I got up to the tables, though, I see the food is actually pretty simple, some nice frittatas, breads and grain dishes, some soft cheeses. And there wasn't any wedding cake, but there was one really elaborate pastry that got wheeled out at one point. It was covered in peaches that had been cut to look like roses. It must have been some sort of in-side joke because Sarah took one look at it, and burst out laughing, and Jareth looked particularly smug."
"The food was all very good, though, I appreciated the simplicity given the hour of the morning, even though some of the guests seemed to look down on it. I overheard one say, 'It's impressive how much they've accomplished with so little' in a patronizing way.
"Rude! If he's going to judge them, what's he doing at their wedding anyway?"
"From what you've told us of Sarah, he could have been a political connection, and we all know how condescending those can be, with the one-up-man-ship."
"There were definitely a few guests that came with military bodyguards." Karen wouldn't mention that one of those guests had commented, rudely in Karen's opinion, about how 'quaint these Earth-customs were' to the US Airforce general standing beside him, who'd replied that, 'this wasn't exactly the way of most Earth-humans.'
"Feeding a crowd gets very expensive really quickly," Jocelyn defended the wedding. "It sounds like most of their budget went toward the clothes and location – it must have cost them a pretty penny to arrange the ceremony in a historical setting."
"That's a good point," Karen agreed. Once the sun had risen, she'd finally been able to see that they had been on the top of a wide wall, maybe fifty feet wide, with snow-covered plains spreading out to the horizon on one side, and a bustling village of small ancient houses to the other side, with what looked like a labyrinth beyond and around them. Karen didn't mention that to her friends.
"And rude guests need to keep their thoughts to themselves."
"Exactly. I mean, we all judge things in our own heads, but don't be rude at the event itself!"
"That's what I thought too. God, I love being able to share these things with you guys, because who else am I going to tell?"
Only after she married Robert, Karen realized she wasn't just marrying a man. She was also saying "I do" to Sarah and the as-yet-unconceived Toby. To be honest, the children changed the shape of her life more than her husband. Marriage had required some changes; with motherhood it would be easier to list things that hadn't been changed, except that she couldn't think of any.
She wondered when exactly she had learned to accept such strange things in her life. Her parents had been very traditional and raised her to be the same. She had gone to college and majored in English literature, while waiting for marriage. After college, she had worked at a law firm, where she met Robert. She quit working after their marriage, which perhaps wasn't what modern women were supposed to do, but she liked being a mother and homemaker. It had taken her a couple of years to realize that Sarah didn't need a mother, she needed a homemaker just as Robert did; Sarah, too, had worries on her shoulders.
Karen had spent the uncomfortable early years trying to raise Sarah and teach her how to be an adult. When she finally realized that teenaged Sarah didn't need rearing, she needed support, everything suddenly settled into place. Karen stopped trying to demand answers, and instead just made sure that Sarah always had the resources she needed, and Sarah came home grateful and supportive in turn. Sarah was doing something important and strange, and she needed someone to come home to. Hopefully Jareth would give that to Sarah now, but Karen was determined that she would always be there for Sarah as well.
"Well, we love hearing them! So what happened next?"
"So then, we're all browsing the banquet, and I'm trying various dishes that were all very good, but simple and hearty in contrast to the luxurious clothing we are all wearing. There's beer, too, more than wine, but I just can't do beer at breakfast. Robert, Toby, and about fifty other people are giving toasts in honor of the new couple. And then the meal is over and people are beginning to leave. Sarah appears with our driver, we all hug and cry a little and say goodbyes and thank-you's and Robert, Toby, and I are back at the house by noon, at which point we're pretty much all ready for naps because we've been up since 4:30!"
"It was a good day's work if it got you this amazing coat!"
"Next time your husband needs to impress someone, you should both take them out wearing your matching coats."
"You don't think that might be a bit much?"
"There's no such thing as over doing it when it comes to impressing recalcitrant CEOs."
Karen smiled and agreed, but didn't draw their attention to the bracelet that she now wore every day. When she'd first met Roselyn and Chickadee she'd noticed they both wore simple bracelets of small golden beads.
Sarah had seen her notice, and later she'd offered Karen a matching necklace and bracelet set of her own. On closer inspection, they weren't really beads, but something more organic, like seeds or pearls. And Sarah had been diffident with the gift, cautioning Karen that some people might recognize the origin of the jewelry. And that those people might ask about Sarah or about the golden plains or the endless plains, and if so, to just let Sarah know. Karen could accept their business cards, or equivalent, on her behalf, if it came up. Which it might not. But if it did.
Karen looked at the bracelet. It was the sort of jewelry that could be worn with any outfit. Karen had put the bracelet on and wore it every day after that.
She wore the necklace sometimes, too, when she dressed up.
And sometimes people asked her about it and she would let Sarah know about them. Sometimes she even arranged meetings, but she never attended those meetings.
The coats just seemed like too much for casual wear. The bracelet communicated a connection to Sarah, while the coat seemed a uniform for something much grander. And maybe as Sarah's stepmother, as a member of her wedding party, Karen was a part of that something, but after it was all over, Karen came home to her own house in the suburbs where she lived with her husband, and met with her old college friends. And that was enough for her.