Synopsis: We live with the choices we make, but sometimes we get a second chance. A road trip leads to an unexpected detour down memory lane. The goblins have actually done something right for a change. Of course, that's a matter of perspective. Jareth/Sarah. Rated M – for language and suggestive material.
Standard disclaimer applies.
So, I'm a little nervous about posting this. I'm feeling this tremendous pressure to write something that is not crap after all the kind reviews for my first story, Invitation. (Thanks to everyone who took the time to review! You all were wonderfully generous with your comments and I really appreciate the feedback!) Anyway, this story is one-shot-ish but I'm planning to post it in four chapters for easier reading.
Many, many thanks to my beta, Breathofnocte, who has been exceedingly generous with her time and advice. I feel like I've needed quite a bit of hand holding this time around (totally not kidding about the pressure and the nerves) and she has been so patient and supportive.
Constructive criticism is always appreciated. Enjoy!
A Piece of Cake Redux
Chapter 1: A little slice of heaven
Damn, it's hot.
With her free hand, she reached back, twisting her tangled mess of hair a few times into a makeshift ponytail. It was a vain attempt to catch the breeze glancing off her car through the open window as she sped down Oklahoma's Route 66. Sweat swam down her back and her flesh seemed to have melded with the vinyl of the car seat in defiance of known physics. This kind of heat wasn't even a blip in the collective consciousness of her small New England hometown. How did people live here? And why didn't she get her a/c fixed before she left?
The late afternoon sun glared angrily through her windshield; she glared back from behind her sunglasses. Though she hated to lose, she recognized it for what it was - an exercise in futility. She didn't have it in her to continue to fight, the heat having sapped her energy miles ago. Spotting a road-side motel about half a mile up, she good-naturedly conceded the match – game point for Mother Nature – deciding the promise of food, a shower, and a soft bed was a fair consolation prize. Sarah slowed the car, the gaunt specter of an oasis advancing on the right. Turning into the dusty drive, she noted the sign standing sentinel in the hazy afternoon heat: Cloud Nine Motel.
Pulling into an empty space in front of the office, she turned off the engine, reaching for the map and spiral-bound notebook lying in the passenger seat. After a few minutes of quietly cross-checking her location with her notes, she set them aside. "This will do," she said aloud with a little more energy than she felt, her spirits bolstered now that she had a plan of action.
Grabbing her purse, she peeled herself out of the seat, stretching her stiff and protesting muscles as she stood. Reveling in the return of blood flow to her limbs, she pushed the car door closed with her hip, having to bump it a few times for the latch to hold. The navy blue sedan had been passed down to her a couple of years back when her stepmother had bought a new station wagon to accommodate her growing brood. It was ten years old and practically falling apart underneath her, but she held a certain fondness for old Martha, as she came to be known. She had a lot of memories tied up in the old girl and still felt that she could depend on her, deciding to drive her cross country rather than opting for a rental as her dad had suggested. She patted the car a few times in reassurance, sending one last withering look in the sun's direction, before heading toward the motel office.
A bell jangled overhead as she entered, the canned air from the air conditioning raising goose bumps along her exposed skin, but it was blessedly cool compared to the 103◦ heat outside. Her gaze fell on the man behind the counter – probably early forties, plainly dressed with a graying comb-over. He was wholly unremarkable, but seemed friendly enough, giving her a sense of reassurance as a young woman staying alone in a motel in the middle of nowhere. She offered him a friendly smile as she approached the counter.
"Hot enough for ya?" The words almost seemed to emanate from the room itself, the phrase spoken so often that the sound waves just kind of hung out, materializing at the sound of the bell.
"A little too hot - I think I might actually be melting," she replied with a light laugh, her hands raised in a half supplication, indicating her t-shirt and shorts, wrinkled and damp from the hours of driving, and her lank hair hanging in a mop of a twist over her shoulder.
He nodded. "Yeah, it can be tough on the folks passing through. You get used to the heat after a while, live here long enough. But it ain't nothing a glass of iced tea and a nice, cool shower can't fix."
"Exactly what I was thinking. I was hoping to find a room for the night."
"We can certainly help you there," he said, his tone shifting to that of a long practiced sales pitch. He pulled out a log book. "Rooms are $35 a night, free cable and coffee in the office from 7-10am, check out time's 10:30, and there's a 24-hour diner right behind the office here – best pie you've ever tasted," he finished with a smile, grabbing a pen.
"Sounds perfect. Sarah Williams," she supplied as she fished out $40 in travelers checks, passing them over the counter as he jotted down her name and room number.
"Room 113 – second from the right on the first floor. Name's Allen. Call down to the office if you need anything – just press zero from the room phone. Someone's here 24-7." He handed over the room key and her change. "And we have Bible study at seven, if you're interested," he added hopefully.
Sarah smiled politely, slightly amused at the situation. She couldn't think of a single hotel back home that could boast that particular amenity. "I actually have some work to do, but thanks for the offer."
"Well, we'll be in the back room of the diner if you change your mind."
"Ok, thanks," she said dismissively as she tucked the bills into her wallet, her thoughts already turning elsewhere. She registered the slight disappointment shadowing his salesman smile as she turned to leave. Full time motel clerk – part time shepherd, and another little wandering sheep had avoided the herd. Maybe he would have better luck with the next. Despite that she wasn't really the religious type, she really did have work to get done. Not likely she would be in this part of the country again soon, and she was aching to capture a piece of it with the limited time she had. She needed to feel the weight of a camera in her hands, the landscape of possibilities beckoning. She gave him a final half-wave, half-salute as she opened the door, pausing a second to adjust to the suffocating heat before stepping out and heading back to her car.
Moments later, having moved Martha to an empty spot in front of the main building, she turned the key in the door to room 113, dumping her tattered backpack, purse, and equipment bag just inside.
A little slice of heaven, alright, she thought, taking in the shabby little room. The cheap plastic blinds were broken in spots, letting in odd patches of light to highlight peeling wallpaper and worn carpet. The furniture looked old, but sturdy, with a double bed taking center stage next to a small bedside table sporting a phone, an alarm clock that read 4:38 p.m. in bright red digits, and a copy of the Holy Bible. A television set that had seen better days sat atop a dresser on the opposite wall. A slightly musty smell permeated the room. Directly across from the door was an alcove with a clothing rack, a wall-mounted iron and a shelf stacked high with threadbare white towels. The bathroom was off to the right. She headed back to check the facilities, noting a long countertop with an inset sink across from an ancient toilet and stand-up shower.
It would work in a pinch, she thought, considering the photographs she wanted to take that afternoon. Succumbing to her need to be clean, she grabbed her toiletry bag and a towel off the shelf, and shuffled into the bathroom to answer the siren call of a long, cool shower.
Half an hour later found Sarah refreshed and dressed in a lavender cotton tank top and flowing knee-length violet skirt. Her long dark chocolate locks hung freely down her back with a small, flat barrette on top keeping it out of her face. She grabbed her camera bag and backpack, heading out the door to take care of priority number two: something to eat.
Spotting a payphone next to a soda vending machine, she detoured to make a quick check-in. Dialing her calling card number followed by her home phone number, Sarah counted the rings until her brother Toby's voice came over the line, "You've reached the Williams family, um, we're not home, so leave a message and we'll call you back!" followed by a minute or so of random background noise – Toby asking if he did alright, reassurances from her stepmother, and the sound of their younger brother and sister wreaking havoc. Sarah smiled as she listened, feeling a touch of homesickness. She missed them all, but she especially missed Toby. He was almost five now, and they had bonded since the day she had wished him away four years ago. He delighted in her stories of goblins, dwarves, beasts that talk, and fairies that bite, and they spent countless hours acting out her adventures. She often wondered if his exuberance was merely a child's love of fantasy, or if he remembered anything from the thirteen hours he had spent in the Underground – with the Goblin King. She frowned slightly as she thought of her former adversary, something she did often, much to her chagrin. Finally hearing a beep, she left a message with the name of the motel and her room number and a quick "Give everyone my love!" before hanging up the phone and making her way to the diner.
Stepping through the door was like stepping back in time. The diner was a throw-back to the fifties. Across from the door was a long counter dotted with red vinyl stools, matching booths lining the opposite wall beneath portraits of various pop icons. A couple of waitresses in kitschy uniforms chatted amiably with a line cook visible from a window behind the counter as Buddy Holly pledged his love to Peggy Sue from a jukebox in the corner. There was only one other patron – an older man in a flannel shirt and cowboy hat reading the paper while eating something covered with gravy a few booths down.
Opting for the counter, Sarah plopped onto one of the stools and gently set down her camera bag as she idly perused a menu, already knowing what she wanted. She was in luck. The younger of the two waitresses, about late twenties, pretty, and freckled, with her red hair pulled back in a sloppy bun under her cap, approached her with a welcoming smile. Her name tag read "Katie."
"Hey, there. What can I get for you, hun?"
Sarah looked up into curious amber eyes. "A grilled cheese sandwich, a bowl of vegetable soup, and a sweet tea would make my world, right about now." She set the menu back in the holder. "Nothing like comfort food when you're away from home."
"Sure thing, darlin'. Rick – grilled cheese and a bowl of veg," she shouted over her shoulder as she poured a glass of tea from one of several pitchers scattered behind the counter. A small grunt came in reply.
"He's just a big ol' teddy bear," she whispered with a wink as she set the glass and a straw in front of Sarah. "So, far from home, huh? Where's home?"
Taking a long sip of tea, Sarah exulted in the mountains of sugar that were going to be coursing through her bloodstream. She sighed happily. "A small town in New York."
Katie leaned forward on the counter, settling in for a good chat. "No kiddin'. Where're you headin' to? There's no way you were headin' here – nobody in their right mind comes here on purpose."
"I'm on my way to California."
Katie gave her a once over, sizing her up. "Not going for a man, are ya?" she asked, her tone heavy with disapproval.
Sarah choked on her tea, coughing a few times before turning wide tear-stained eyes on Katie. She was like the anti-Allen – no small talk about the weather, straight down to the nitty-gritty.
"Wow, um…no." Really, the idea was kind of laughable - her dating life was certainly nothing to brag about. Her brow furrowed and a shy lop-sided smirk crept across her lips as she considered the woman behind the counter. "No man. I'm actually going to visit my mom in L.A. before school in the fall."
Seemingly satisfied, Katie nodded her head a couple of times. "Good for you, hun. You're smarter than I was at your age." She refilled Sarah's tea. "Me - I was a stupid girl. Left everything behind to follow a smooth talkin' SOB who left me broke and alone – in this very hotel, actually. Lois, there," she nodded at the plump older waitress stacking clean coffee cups at the far end of the counter, "she took me in, got me this job." Katie paused as she continued to watch the other woman fondly, gratitude and something sad Sarah couldn't put her finger on, playing across her features. She turned back, with a small shrug.
"Yeah, thought I'd marry myself a cowboy; have an exciting life like in those romance novels I used to read. Fat lot of good it did me, stuck in this pit of a town with nothing but piles of horseshit everywhere you look. Not that there's much difference between a pile of horseshit and a man, far as I can tell." Katie paused, remembering. "But he was damn sexy, though."
"Not that I'm down on all of 'em. I mean, there's bound to be a couple good ones out there somewhere. You know, statistics and all. I like to think I've learned, grown, since then, but it's a weakness - I'm attracted to bad men," she finished with a sigh. Sarah could sympathize, her thoughts turning to a certain Goblin King who would most definitely fall under the category of "bad men".
A call of "Order Up!" interrupted the silent camaraderie of the two women, each momentarily lost in the shadows of their past. Pushing off from the counter, Katie eyed the pretty young woman sitting across from her pointedly. "Don't ever let a man have power over you."
She couldn't have said the words to a more receptive audience. Sarah just nodded, a memory surfacing, as Katie reached back to grab the plate. The words certainly rang true - so why did they sound so hollow?
Setting the plate front of Sarah, Katie perked up, the past forgotten. "Always wanted to go to California. Reckon you'll meet anyone famous?"
"Maybe," Sarah said with a smile, content to follow her lead. She took a bite of her sandwich. "My mom's an actress."
"Anyone I'd know?"
"Not likely. She does mostly small stage productions. I don't actually know her that well, really. Haven't seen her in years. When she suggested I come out for the summer, I thought it might be a good opportunity to work on my portfolio."
"You a writer or something?"
"A photographer – at least that's what I'm hoping to be."
"Well, if you see anyone famous, take a picture and send it my way," Katie said with a wink.
Leaving Sarah to her lunch, Katie wandered off to help Lois restock another tray of clean dishes. Sarah watched the pair a moment, slightly envious of their obvious familiarity, the sound of their laughing drifting across the diner. She had never had any close girlfriends, something she hoped would change once she got to college.
Turning back to the task at hand, Sarah pulled out her map and notebook from the backpack at her feet, scribbling notes as she made quick work of her lunch. By the time she pushed her empty plate aside, she had a definite plan. Now that she wasn't running on empty, she felt much better and was excited about the evening's project.
As if on cue, Katie sauntered over, nodding at the empty plate. "You sure finished that fast. I'm surprised you're not flat out on the floor for lack of breathing. Can I get ya something else? Coffee? Pie, maybe?"
"Hmmm…pie. I have it on good authority that it's the best pie I'll ever taste."
"That'd be Allen." Katie grabbed a nearby sugar jar, refilling it as she flashed Sarah a conspiratorial look. "So, will we be seeing you a Bible study this evening?"
Sarah laughed. "I managed to weasel my way out of it – work calls."
"He may be a little odd, but he means well – has a good heart," Katie reflected as she swiped a rag across the counter, split grains of sugar disappearing under red and blue stripes. "But he was right about the pie.
"We usually have apple, but we came in this morning and the whole bunch was busted and bruised like someone just stomped the hell out of them. Thought it might be Jeremy, does the dishes, but turns out he had a hot date last night," she confided with a knowing smile. "Anyways, we just had a nice delivery of peaches. Nothing quite like peach pie and a scoop of ice cream on a hot summer's day."
Sarah visibly deflated. She had had her heart set on pie. Damn peaches. It was kind of pervy, really, plying young girls with hallucinogenic fruit. She hadn't touched a peach in four years.
"Did you check them for little green worms?" she mumbled half-heartedly under her breath.
"What was that, hun?"
"Oh, nothing – just talking to myself," Sarah slid off the stool, grabbing her camera bag and backpack. "I think I'm going to have to pass on the pie, but thanks. I'll take the coffee though, please – to go."
"Sure thing – be right up." Jotting down Sarah's order on a pad she fished from her apron pocket, Katie tore off the top sheet, laying it in on the counter next to the empty plate before setting about pouring the coffee. Sarah covered it with enough cash to take care of the bill and tip.
"I'm Sarah, by the way," she offered, feeling a strange kind of kinship with the woman.
"Sarah." She tried the name out as she handed over the coffee. A softer, somehow more genuine, smile lit up her face. "It was nice to meet you, Sarah. I'm Katie. Be sure to stop back by before you head out."
Sarah returned the smile, feeling as if she had just made a friend in some small way. "I will, thanks." After adding a generous amount of cream and sugar to the steaming cup, she turned to leave with a wave.
Scooping up the money on the counter, Katie called out as Sarah reached the door, "Be careful out there. Lois says the weatherman's calling for storms this evening."
I'm taking quite a few geographic liberties with Rt. 66, even more so in chapter 2, so bear with me on that. So, that was chapter 1, and chapter 2 is on its way to being finished, although it's fighting me every step of the way. :/ The whole story is outlined, just need to finish writing it up. This writing stuff is hard work.
Please, leave a contribution in the little box. ;) Again, contrsuctive criticism is always appreciated. I'm not a writer and this is just for fun, but I would like to improve. Thanks for reading!