Chapter 4: The way forward…
The storm had grown quiet above her, the silence warm and heavy – comforting after the chaos. Sarah straightened up from the wall, shaking off her pout like an outgrown coat. Her gaze meandered, taking in the room as it actually existed in time and space, before landing on her camera sitting on top of the crate where she'd left it.
"Stupid, Sarah." Her stepmom was always harping on her about her flightiness; it was annoying, but she wasn't wrong. Sarah knew she was a dreamer, always a little out of step with reality. She had given up on changing.
Walking over, she picked up her camera to inspect it. She could just imagine the conversation…
Hey, Dad, can you send $200 – my camera's broken.
What did you do this time, Sarah? He would have that disapproving, exasperated tone with just a hint of resignation.
Well, you see, Dad, there was this tornado and I was whisked away to this place called the Underground, which is not really underground, but I'm not really sure where it is exactly, and there were these goblins that orchestrated this whisking away as a present for their king on his birthday, who I kind of had to kiss in exchange for my freedom. So, you see, I was a little preoccupied and I kind of left my camera and, well…
Yeah – that was going to go over well. Luckily, it wasn't damaged - no thanks to her.
Slipping the strap over her shoulder, she made her way up the rickety stairs, pushing at the heavy wooden doors. They swung open with a bang to a world darkened, the sky highlighted with wisps of red and grey speared by divinity, shafts of light polka-dotting the aftermath.
Stepping out, she was relieved to see that the main building was still standing. Turning back to close the doors, she paused as she noticed the altered sign. "Of course," she sighed with a roll of her eyes - what else would it possibly say? - before stalking around the short end of the building, heading road-side to inspect the damage.
Turning the corner, she blinked as the silent blue and red scream from the emergency vehicles temporarily blinded her. She could see Allen talking with a police officer who was methodically jotting down notes, a small tree embedded in the roof of the front half of the office behind him. A couple of paramedics were leaning against an ambulance looking bored; she took this as a good sign that no one was seriously injured. Shielding her eyes from the glare, they skimmed the parking lot, tripping over the debris on their way to the diner. The windows that made up the front wall were shattered, roof tiles had gone missing, and a rain gutter hung on by a prayer. Worried about Katie, she headed toward it.
Careful of the glass crunching underfoot, Sarah opened the door, little more than a steel frame now, and stepped inside. Katie was sweeping broken glass into a dust pan. She looked up at the sound of the door.
"Oh God, Sarah! I was so worried!" Her hand flew to her chest, relief evident on her face. "I saw your car out there but nobody knew where you were."
"I'm fine. I found the shelter in the back." She decided not mention its newfound tendency to shift dimension. "Everyone ok?"
Katie sagged back against the counter. "Yeah, everyone's fine – a little shaken, but fine. We were lucky; it just side-swiped us."
"I'd hate to see unlucky." Sarah grabbed an idle broom leaning against the door frame. "That was a first for me and I think I'm pretty set for a while as far as extreme weather goes."
At her admission, Katie, Lois and Rick jumped at the chance to rehash and compare notes on past tornadoes as they all set about putting the diner to rights. A cute boy with sandy brown hair, about Sarah's age, chimed in with stories of his own, chatting with her as they worked side by side. He was dressed in cowboy boots, jeans, and a white t-shirt, a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve revealing an ornate cross tattoo. She assumed he was part of the thwarted Bible study group – there were a few others here as well. Sarah could tell he was interested, and she graciously side-stepped his blatant flirting. She was touched by something, and she was afraid Mr. Cute-Bible-Study-Boy would be tainted by association. She didn't want to be responsible.
Sarah looked up as a crash shattered the easy conversation, Katie having dropped a tray of dishes sending broken glass skittering across the floor.
"Oh! Katie – you're bleeding!" Sarah hurried to her side to inspect the gash running along forearm.
Katie waved it off. "It's nothing - just a scratch. No need to fuss."
"No, Katie, really, we should clean this up. Got a first aid kit around here somewhere?"
"Sure – in the back." Relenting, Katie let Sarah lead her through the kitchen to the employee bathroom. She hopped up on the counter, wincing slightly at the weight on her arm while Sarah retrieved the kit from under the sink.
"So, that guy's pretty cute, huh? He's a little too young for me, but you…" Katie gave her a nudge with her elbow.
Sarah just smiled and shook her head at the suggestion as she busied herself washing and bandaging the gash. "Hold still or I'll never get this to stick."
"Sure you ain't going to be a doctor?" she teased.
"Not too bad, huh?" Sarah smiled as she replaced the kit under the counter. She hugged herself as she stood, the day's events catching up to her like sudden vertigo. "Hey, Katie?"
"Are you happy?"
Katie looked up from the bandage, a sad smile gracing her lips. "Every other breath." She searched Sarah's eyes for a moment before looking away. "Thanks." Her hand brushed briefly over the bandage in acknowledgment before she slid to the floor. "You'll be here tomorrow mornin'?"
"Ah, yeah. I'll be here." Sarah smiled.
Katie gave her shoulder a small squeeze. "Anything you want – on the house. You look a little white, hun. Go get some rest; we can handle it from here."
Feeling numb and supposing it was borderline shock, she took Katie's advice and headed back to her room, saying a quiet goodnight to those left in the diner on her way out, and pretending not to notice Mr. Cute-Bible-Study-Boy's lingering glance.
She considered Katie's answer as she made her way through the parking lot. Every other breath. Sarah wondered if she had hardened her heart after giving it to someone careless. Is that what Katie was missing? Someone to trust, someone to love enough to let yourself be vulnerable? Don't ever let a man have power over you. She had said something similar once herself.
Reaching her car, Sarah slid her hand along the dimpled exterior. Looked like she'd be having that money conversation after all. Her stomach growled; she sighed. "I really should have had the damn pie."
Grabbing her backpack out of the driver's seat, Sarah bought a soda from the vending machine before heading to her room. A little too wound up to sleep, she decided to spend some time developing the film she'd shot earlier.
The room was draped in twilight, splashes of red and blue from the emergency vehicles still outside panning the room in pulses. The clock blinked 7:38 pm. Letting her backpack slide from her shoulder to the floor beside the bed, she walked around to the side table to set down her soda.
A small white box sat conspicuously on the table, a folded piece of paper perched on top. She blinked once, considering, before tilting her head and reaching cautiously for the note…
A peace offering from the goblins
And for old times
Jareth. He had been here – in her room. Well, he could have sent a goblin, but it was still slightly unnerving. Sinking onto the bed, she stared at the box for a moment before reaching for it and settling it on her lap. She had no idea what it could be; and that made her nervous.
She tapped her fingers on the side of the box, reread the note, contemplated, lifted the box to test its weight, and read the note a third time. Cursing herself, she let out a small puff of breath and opened the box.
It was like a big red shiny forbidden apple.
A piece of cake – chocolate with peach frosting and a single candle. She could smell the faint trace of smoke. It seemed somehow appropriate - the faint bitterness mixing with the sweet sugary scent. Her words thrown back in her face. Sarah smiled despite herself.
Forbidden or not, she wanted to take a bite.
Reaching across the bed, Sarah contorted to dig in her backpack for the utensil kit she had saved from the gas station in Missouri. Unwrapping the plastic fork, she hesitated only a moment, wondering how long Eve deliberated when she doomed the world, before sinking her fork in and bringing it to her lips.
She chewed and swallowed and waited.
No crystalline dreams, no drug-induced coma - nothing. The world hadn't fallen down. She didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed.
But at least she wouldn't be hungry. It was delicious in an arrogant way, like nothing she had ever tasted. She knew the pie would have paled beside it, once again reminded that her basis for comparison was pathetic.
Arranging the pillows behind her, Sarah scooted back with a sigh to enjoy her dinner. She popped open her soda and read the note once more.
He had come back into her life unexpectedly after four years. And he had given her a gift – a mocking, never-take-anything-for-grated, throwing-her-words-back-in-her-face gift, but a gift, nonetheless. Something to remind her, like he didn't want her to forget.
A piece of cake. It wasn't then and it was even less so now.
And the goblins…she smiled. Perhaps the goblins weren't so bad after all.
So, this is the end - for now. I feel like people were expecting more, and like I'm letting you down slightly, which hurts my heart a little bit. :/ It ended in the way I intended it to from the start, kind of one-shotish and open ended. However, I do plan on writing an epilogue, a glimpse into Jareth's head during their encounter, and then eventually a sequel that picks up in the fall when she gets to school based on an idea tossed out in Chapter 2. Don't know when I'll get around to either since I have to focus on getting my thesis written, so I'm marking this as complete for now. I'll tack on the epilogue once I've hashed it out and the sequel will be a separate story.
Again, many thanks to my beta, breathofnocte!
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this little trip. Thanks for reading! Please, leave a contribution in the little box. :) I really appreciate the feedback and constructive criticism is always welcome.