Chapter 9

Rumor Mills and Study Dates

Atherton's home was a dreamer's dream come true, how she would have loved living here as a little girl in his converted Victorian row house. The front half of the first floor was the store front, and it was full of pottery and whimsical sculptures, gnomes and fairies and most of the items she loved in 'The Pixie's Garden' seemed to be supplied by her father. Every shelf and every surface was filled with dreams made from clay and ceramics. Sarah could sit in this shop for hours and never be bored just looking at her father's creations.

The back half of the main floor was Atherton's studio and work room "Where the magic happens." He said with a wink showing her his tables with various projects spread about in messy, organized anarchy. Shelf upon shelf with pieces in various stages of completion, supplies, and piles of glittery, bits and bobs. It was glorious and dusty and she could almost taste the magic in the air.

Between the front and back rooms and behind the store front partition was the staircase that led to the two upper floors. The first floor contained the living areas, a lovely kitchen, dining room and living room made up this floor. Each spacious and warm and inviting and absolutely nothing matched. Every piece of furniture looked either like her father had made it or had saved it from an antique shop or flea market. It was what Karen would have called 'Shabby Chic' and would positively detest. Sarah adored it! It was bohemian and filled with color and art and everywhere her eye landed there was something interesting to look at. Jareth frowned as he helped carry in some of Sarah's belongings from the Rolls. "I see you still have to throw up color on everything. You do not have to use the entire rainbow in the same room Atherton. You do have more than one." Jareth said and Atherton snorted.

"This coming from the man of the drab grey stone walls, with debris in the throne room, rushes that haven't had a decent sweeping in years, and livestock running around like it's a free-for-all leaving feathers and eggs everywhere. You Jareth are a detriment to bachelors both above and underground. You will clean up that pigsty BEFORE you move my daughter into it." Atherton said turning to head up another staircase to the third floor.

"My castle is not a sty! But I'll admit it could use a good cleaning. I have Goblins however, they are rather messy and brutal on a home." Jareth grumbled trailing behind Sarah who followed her father upstairs trying valiantly not to laugh.

"True. I'll concede that much. Here we are the bedrooms. Mine is the first on the right here sweetheart. There are two others up here, but only one has its own bathroom and I'm sure that is the one you'll want. The other has to use the hall water closet." Atherton said with a wink and Sarah just stopped in the doorway to drink in the splendor. It wasn't as elegant as her room at Jareth's, but this was far more quirky and fun and she wasn't afraid to touch anything in this room.

The bed was an old antique canopy that had been sanded and repainted white with grape vines painted all along the posts and the head and foot boards. A fluffy purple duvet covered the bed and a big, heart-shaped white faux fur pillow was tossed on top. A matching faux fur rug was on the floor and instead of curtains; hundreds of purple beads were strung in the window.

The walls were painted in alternating pale blue and purple stripes meeting a whitewashed wainscoting. The dresser, chest of drawers, and vanity were all mismatched, but also stripped and painted white. It was whimsical and charming and all together tacky and wondrous.

"Good god, this is atrocious! What is that furry thing on her bed?" Jareth asked and Atherton laughed.

"A pillow. Just because you my friend are stuck in a century long gone by, others like to mix our eras with panache and style. Speaking of which, Sarah cannot possibly wear the clothes you had for her to school. This is not the 1800's Jareth, not aboveground at least. She needs clothes to wear for school. The ones she has are threadbare and worse. There's a little boutique down the street that caters to girls her age. Let's get her outfitted properly." Atherton said and Jareth frowned.

"Properly would be in a dress and not these blue nightmare breeches you both are so fond of, but I agree she needs warmer clothes at least and a new coat. But I could just magic…" Jareth began and Atherton held up his hand.

"…Magic her some more clothes long out of style. For gowns in the underground you are a connoisseur with exquisite taste, for modern teenagers you are terrible my friend. Come on." Atherton said setting down Sarah's bags and leading them both downstairs and across the street.

After abusing his credit card with glee, they had several bags of new clothes for Sarah that even Jareth had to admit looked quite nice on his betrothed even if he did prefer her dressed more elegantly. They stopped briefly just to deposit the bags in the store front before heading a few houses down to the corner where a lovely tea shop was situated. They had lunch and were enjoying the day when a few of Sarah's peers entered and it wasn't long before they were obviously whispering and gossiping.

Sarah chose to ignore them; nothing was going to ruin her mood, especially not teenagers with nothing better to do than gossip. Jareth draped his arm over the back of her chair and leaned in. "Give them something to gossip about precious?" He asked in a purr and she laughed.

"I don't think they need the help. Really Jareth you're incorrigible." She nudged him back to his chair and he just smirked.

"No scandals Jareth." Atherton warned as the waitress brought their check and they headed back to Sarah's new home.

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Time seemed to fly, in no time at all they were celebrating the New Year as a small intimate family gathering and Sarah bid her waning grandmother a fond farewell. She was looking quite pale by the time she returned home. Jareth had planted a whopper of a kiss upon her at the stroke of midnight that even her Grandfather and Father didn't bother to interrupt, it being a special occasion. It was sublime and over far too soon and she was tucked safely into bed by one in her father's home.

It was back to school a few days later and she walked the block briskly that morning, happy and content. Her new coat was warm and it was just a short walk. Her classes resumed and everything was getting back into the new semester when she got in line at lunch for the first time in over a year with money in her pocket. No more free lunch line, she could actually have a decent meal, as far as school lunches went, and she was grateful.

"Sarah, what's with the new coat and money? You dealing drugs or something?" One jock asked and Sarah rolled her eyes.

"Of course not, my father bought me a new coat and gave me lunch money, same as yours." Sarah replied picking up a tray on her way toward the servers.

"We all know your dad ain't your dad. It's all over town. Marcie says she saw you day before new years with two older guys. One in an expensive suit hanging on you and the other is that weird artist guy. You turning tricks?" He asked lewdly and inside Jareth's home, the air was turning blue as he swore at the youth in his crystal.

"I most certainly am not! That weird artist guy is my father. My REAL father, thank you very much. The other is none of your business." Sarah replied angrily in a huff, turning to get her lunch.

"Oh touch a nerve did I? He your sugar daddy?" The jock asked waggling his eyebrows and Cyril could have sworn he heard crystal breaking in the King's Study.

"You are a vulgar cretin of a human being. Honestly, you have the manners of a troglodyte." Sarah said strode toward the cashier to pay for her meal, pointedly ignoring an indignant jock and Jareth laughed.

"That's my precious! Dress him down love!" Jareth cheered.

She however didn't have long to wait for the next annoyance of the afternoon to strike. Marcie, the one from the tea shop flopped down across from her at her table.

"Who was the sexy guy in the suit Sarah?" She asked and Sarah rolled her eyes.

"None of your business please leave me alone. I am trying to eat my lunch." Sarah replied and Marcie just chuckled.

"Oh no girlie, you ain't gettin' off that easy. Not with that massive rock on your finger which no high school kid or college kid could possibly afford, but I'm sure the guy in the Armani suit could. He was awfully possessive of you too. So who is he? Does your daddy know you're some older guy's trophy?" She asked and Sarah slammed down her fork and glared.

"Does everyone in this school have the maturity of a nest of vipers? My personal life is none of your business and yes, my father does know, he was sitting right there with us that afternoon. For goodness sakes, get your mind out of the gutter. Not everything is so banal and insipid! Good day to you." Sarah said picking up her tray and moving to a corner of the cafeteria to eat in peace.

They unfortunately followed her. "You tell us Sarah or we tell everyone your dirty little secrets." Marcie said and Sarah had taken all she was going to for the day.

"I do not have dirty little secrets. I have found my biological father, I have moved in with him and I am obviously engaged. You can speculate all you wish, you can make up whatever lies you wish, you'll do that anyway. My life is just that, mine, I am happy for the first time in years and there is absolutely nothing you can say or do that will change that. I will not allow it. So be my guest, spread whatever rumors your sadistic sad little hearts want to, the truth is stranger than any fiction you could possibly devise. Just grow up and go back to ignoring me like you have since Kindergarten and let me eat in peace." Sarah said turning her chair to face the wall and pointedly ignoring them for the rest of the lunch period.

By the end of the day, the school counselor was requesting her presence. "Oh bloody hell." Sarah grumbled and stomped off to defuse the rumor mill.

"Sarah, is it true you're pregnant dear?" the counselor asked and Sarah was struck dumb for a moment.

"WHAT? Of course not, that would be rather impossible without an immaculate conception seeing as I am still quite virginal!" Sarah said flopping into a chair across the desk.

"I thought the rumors strange. But you are wearing a ring, and well…"

"Since when does an engagement ring immediately constitute pregnancy? Just because I'm seventeen does not mean it's a shotgun wedding here! My fiancé is a perfect gentleman and respects me and we have agreed not to do anything until after the wedding. He's traditional and so am I." Sarah said and the counselor nodded.

"Who is he dear? Some boy in your class?" She asked and Sarah just looked at her with disdain.

"After these sorts of rumors are flying around do you think it was a fellow student? No. He is someone I met a few years ago and we've become reacquainted recently. Beyond that, I do believe it is no one else's business what I do or do not do outside of this school. My father chaperone's us and has given his consent to the marriage. Everything is above board and beyond reproach and I am sick to death already of the rumors and it's only the first day back to school.

"I can understand Sarah. Of all the girls here in this school, your maturity levels have always been above average. I do not doubt you have gone into this with a level head and heart. I'll try to dispel what I can, but I'm afraid rumors are vicious little things. I'll make sure the staff knows the truth so no trouble heads your way there at least."

"Thank you Ms. Parker. May I go now? I have lots of homework already and my father will worry if I'm late." Sarah said and Ms. Parker nodded and dismissed Sarah.

"He must be much older than you dear, I doubt very seriously you'd settle for a mere boy. But I have to make sure." Ms. Parker chuckled to herself as she picked up her purse and discretely followed Sarah.

She saw Sarah head to Atherton Studios and she was met outside by a tall and handsome man. "Hello love! How was school?" He asked giving her peck on the cheek.

"Fine Papa. The rumors are already starting however. Tell Jareth I'm upstairs when he gets here, I've already got loads of homework!" Sarah rolled her eyes as she went upstairs.

Ms. Parker did a double take. Since when was Atherton Didymus her father? She knew that Robert Williams had a paternity test done and it was a scandal the entire town knew about thanks to his wife. The snake. Ms. Parker detested her, so she thought she'd just come right on out and clear things up.

She walked into the shop and introduced herself as Sarah's counselor. Atherton seemed pleased to meet her and he was charming and answered all her questions. She felt much more at ease after their brief conversation when the bell rang again and a dapper and regal man with silvery blond hair and intriguing mismatched eyes walked in, stamping snow off his Italian leather shoes.

"Sarah's upstairs Jareth. Buried in homework she says." Atherton said and Jareth smiled.

"I thought as much. I'll see if I can help, Agnes is invading your kitchen for dinner." Jareth said as the crone followed him inside with Cyril and Jareth headed upstairs.

"You won't hear me complaining that someone else is cooking!" Atherton shouted up the stairs and then introduced Cyril to Ms. Parker as Sarah's grandfather.

By the time she left Meredith Parker was sure of three things. One, that Sarah was doing just fine and better than she ever had before. Two, her fiancé was apparently handsome, kind and stinking rich and according to Atherton, loved her to distraction. And three, her family was wonderful. Cyril was a delight and Atherton could charm honey out of bees without trying. She certainly was charmed right down to her cheap dime store pumps. They didn't make men like Atherton anymore. Men who loved their children and took responsibility, he didn't care that up until Christmas he had never even known he was a father, he was her father however and he was going to care of his little girl, even if she wasn't so little anymore.

Meredith snorted as she trudged to her car in the teacher's parking lot. Unlike her ex-husband who left her high and dry while she was in labor. Claiming it was a 'mistake' and 'he wasn't ready' and the next thing she knew there were divorce papers in the mail and he had moved back to England and could not be found for child support. Their daughter, Annabelle, was just about to turn three and Meredith was late to pick her up from daycare. How she wished a man like Atherton had been the father of her child instead of her disastrous marriage to Richard Parker. She sighed; good men just were too few and far between. She also had to step on it, she couldn't afford late charges for daycare, and she barely made enough to get by as it was.

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Jareth was curled up next to Sarah on her bed, an open book in front of them. "History is written by the victors. This is not how it happened." He said and Sarah glared at him.

"For the purposes of this paper, this is how it happened. You can tell me later the real facts Jareth, but for right now, I have to go by what is in this book. If you are going to grumble about facts you can go pester Papa. I need to write this paper without distractions." Sarah replied and Jareth chuckled.

"I get it love. I'll read you lies, you write. We'll get through this paper if it kills me with its inaccuracy." He said disgruntled.

"Thank you." Sarah replied as Jareth helped her with her homework with only minimal outbursts of incredulity.

Downstairs Cyril reclined in Atherton's decadent recliner and smirked at his son. "That young lass was swooning by the time she left boy." He said and Atherton chuckled.

"Well, I was putting on the charms Papa. She was pretty and concerned about Sarah. Any woman willing to stick her neck out for my girl is worth a second glance." Atherton said and Cyril nodded.

"Perhaps." Was Cyril's only comment either way on the matter.

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Things seemed to settle into a routine fairly quickly. While Sarah was a School, Jareth managed his own affairs and when completed, he'd head over to Atherton's to share dinner and 'study dates' with his betrothed. He was quite educated himself, but found not so much so on current affairs so he was learning right along with Sarah. He quite enjoyed it truth be told.

Robert Williams was served his summons and he and Karen both showed up to the hearing ready to contest guardianship when Atherton let his glamour slip for their eyes alone and presented them with copies of the photos of the powerless and frozen house. He threatened them right back with pressing charges of abuse if they dared contest his legal and legitimate claims.

Robert being a lawyer knew good evidence when he saw it and pleaded no contest and signed over his parental rights to Atherton. Sarah was legally Atherton's daughter on paper and on her birth certificate by the end of January. She tried to reach out an olive branch, wanting to part ways amicably and told her former father that regardless of circumstances she did love him too.

It ended in her tears as he just turned around and walked out of her life as if the past seventeen years had never happened. It was a bittersweet celebration that evening over a quiet dinner. Sarah sat watching Toby in her crystal that night hoping beyond hope she'd see him again soon.

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Meredith was a weekly visitor to Atherton's studio to check on Sarah's progress and Atherton was only too willing to invite her and her adorable daughter to dinner on Wednesday nights to discuss Sarah's education.

As Valentine's day rolled around and Sarah prepared to go out to dinner with Jareth, he had a romantic evening planned and he'd not allow either her father or grandfather to gainsay him. Promising he'd be honorable and have her home my midnight.

Atherton and Meredith went out on their very first date that Valentine's day as well. Cyril babysat Annabelle and told her stories about fair maidens and labyrinths and goblins. She was thrilled and was content and sleeping in his lap when Meredith and Atherton arrived home later that evening, beyond smitten with each other.

Jareth had taken Sarah to a very posh restaurant in town, having already eaten prior; he always wondered how Atherton managed to eat mundane mortal food without becoming ill. He supposed it had to do with the level of magic one possessed. The higher the ability the less tolerance for mortal victuals, he could only surmise, but it was as good as explanation as anything. He picked at his meal and just gazed at the beauty across from him. She was stunning and vibrant and full of passion and fire again. This was the Sarah he had fallen in love with, she was no longer a broken shell of a girl, but a queen.

Not even the arrival of Karen and Robert to the same restaurant could dampen her mood that night. She was with her beloved, having a wonderful dinner in a candlelit room. A dozen red roses were sitting beside her in a chair and around her neck was a delicate golden chain, a pendant that was a miniature copy of his own badge of office pendant hung delicately between her breasts. It was fit for his Queen; he reached over to squeeze her hand. "Happy Precious?" He asked and Sarah beamed at him.

"Always with you. I love you, thank you for everything." She said and he just lifted her hand to kiss her fingers.

"Your love is thanks enough." He said, collecting the check and taking her then to yet another dance being held at City Hall. This one was not a masquerade, but simply a romantic evening. They danced, he sang to her softly in her ear as they swayed to one ballad after another and Sarah sighed dreamily in his arms. It was a perfect Valentine's day even if she could see Marcie dancing just a few feet away, Sarah didn't care. Those that needed to know the truth knew the truth. Meredith was wonderful and her father seemed to like her guidance counselor so she had an ally at school defending her.

Let Marcie see Jareth, Sarah didn't care one iota. She was far too content to worry about stupid rumors and childish pettiness and jealousy. Jareth chuckled. "You are decidedly being stared at precious. That Marcie that gives you grief is here." He said and Sarah shook her head.

"Not tonight Jareth. I saw her and I don't care. She can't cause me or you harm. I'm not letting her ruin my night alone with you." Sarah said and Jareth grinned.

"I like the sound of that precious, alone at last." He said before kissing her senseless under the mirror ball lighting.

It was a night to remember and they were only late getting her home by five minutes. Atherton was too busy to notice and Annabelle was sleeping in the second bedroom upstairs when Sarah tiptoed upstairs. She smiled and tucked in the tot who had kicked off her covers and crept to her room.

It seemed her father really, REALLY, liked Meredith. Sarah was happy for him; she liked Meredith too and just adored Annabelle. She reminded her of Toby, they were both three and full of boundless joy and life.

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(to be continued…)

Short chapter, just transition…. And a new mother-type figure appears. Sarah's world is falling into place at last. More coming soon.