"What about this one?" Toby held up a cassette.
Sarah, seated on the couch with a large bowl of popcorn, read the title and frowned. "Um... Maybe not that one. The puppets in that creep me out a little. Their eyes are all...," she waved a hand across her face, "...beady. Do you have anything newer?"
Toby held up a different cassette emblazoned with the title Dumb and Dumber, and looked hopeful.
Sarah rolled her eyes. The humor would definitely appeal to a 10-year-old, but there were jokes in that movie she was not going to explain. "Try again."
Her only response was an incredulous look.
"Home Alone it is!"
Sarah let out a little laugh and relaxed back into the sofa while Toby slid the cassette into the VCR. "One movie and then bed, ok? And don't tell Karen I let you stay up this late."
Toby joined her on the couch, so he was seated opposite the popcorn bowl. He grabbed a handful and stuffed it into his mouth as the previews began to play. "Mom doesn't care how late I stay up," he said, his words garbled through the popcorn. "Can you fast forward through these?"
"Yeah, I believe it," Sarah said, sarcastically, aiming the remote at the VCR and pressing the button.
"No, really. Ever since she had Molly, she doesn’t care what I do."
Sarah looked over at her brother. His eyes were glued to the TV and his face betrayed no emotion, but she knew him well enough to know how much his mother's postpartum depression bothered him.
"Oh, Tobes... I don't think that's true. Your mom loves you and wants what's best for you. It's just really hard for her right now. It's hard for a lot of women right after they have a baby. It'll get better."
He just shrugged and continued staring at the TV.
"This weekend will help her a lot. You’ll see. The doctor said she just needs some fresh air and undisturbed sleep. She and dad will be home on Sunday feeling much better, and then she'll be back to bossing you around." She attempted to ruffle Toby's hair to punctuate her joke, but he dodged her hand without even looking at her.
Even as she said it, though, she didn't quite believe it. Karen had been having issues with depression for years. Sarah knew Karen had always wanted a big family. After her return from the Labyrinth, Sarah had made an effort to get along with Karen and had quickly discovered that she’d been excited to have a step-daughter. When Toby had come along so soon after the wedding as an unexpected, but entirely welcome addition to the family, Karen had believed the next baby would be just as easy. However, it had taken over nine years for Karen to become pregnant, and with each passing year, Karen slipped a little deeper into depression. The family had been overjoyed at the news of Karen's pregnancy, and for a while, the mood in the Williams house had lifted.
Though Molly was a beautiful child, with slightly darker blonde hair and the same big blue eyes as her brother, she was also a very difficult baby. She cried nearly all the time. The doctor diagnosed her with colic and explained that there was nothing he could do for it. Karen would have to wait it out, which left her exhausted and unable to function most of the time. Because her father's work schedule usually left him unable to help with the baby, Sarah stopped by most weekends to play with Toby and allow Karen to get some rest. Nevertheless, Karen quickly developed the Baby Blues, which appeared to only be getting worse as time progressed. Sarah's father had asked her to babysit while he took Karen on a weekend getaway to a cabin in the woods.
"It was nicer when it was just me. Or when it was just you and me. I wish..."
"No wishes, Toby," Sarah cut him off quickly, but softly.
Toby made a frustrated noise in the back of his throat. "That's really annoying, you know."
"Yeah, sorry... I just..." Sarah stumbled over her words and then recited, "'If wishes and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a merry Christmas.'"
"That's not how that goes. And you're fast forwarding through the movie."
I know how it goes, Sarah thought wryly as she fumbled with the remote and pressed play. She understood all too well the difference between “ifs” and wishes.
Almost immediately, Molly began to cry and Sarah and Toby both groaned.
"I just got her to sleep!" Sarah griped.
Toby slumped down onto the couch. "She always cries. I think something's wrong with her."
“That’s colic for you,” Sarah sighed, letting her head hit the back of the couch and raising her hand to her forehead. She would give herself just a couple of seconds to gather her strength before getting up. Crying babies would be her life for the next two days.
“I just wish she would be quiet!” Toby complained.
Sarah turned her head towards him and narrowed her eyes. “I’m telling you, Tobes, be careful what you wish for, or you might regret it.”
Toby rolled his eyes and went back to watching the movie as Sarah rose from the couch to check on her baby sister.
As Sarah climbed the stairs, Molly gradually calmed until she was merely making soft whimpering noises. Sarah walked slowly to the bedroom door and gently pushed it open.
And there he was, just as she had suspected, sitting in the upholstered rocking chair, holding Molly securely in his arms.
“That is a far less intimidating look than the first time I saw you,” she teased, smiling. The loose white shirt and sinfully tight grey trousers she’d come to recognize as his unofficial uniform were a welcome change from the black armor he’d worn during their first encounter.
“Sarah,” the Goblin King drawled. “This little madame has taken over your room. Were you aware?”
Sarah grinned and stepped into the room, carefully avoiding slamming the door shut behind her. “Yes, I’m aware. Dad and Karen needed the space, so...” she gestured vaguely at the pink and white nursery in which they stood.
“I see,” he replied, looking around him.
Sarah remembered the last time he had visited, nearly eighteen months earlier. The room had still contained everything from her childhood. They had discussed...what had they talked about? Oh, that’s right, she remembered. Her job. At the time, she had been relieved because their previous discussions had been on much more difficult topics. Technical writing wasn’t a bad gig for someone who had her sights set on being an author. It was a job that paid her bills and allowed her time in the evenings to work on her novel. A novel that she, despite her best efforts, was not making much progress with.
He continued airily, “I preferred it the way it was. It felt more like home.”
“You just liked your statuette,” Sarah ribbed.
“Indeed. I find myself wondering what has happened to it.”
It was on a shelf in her apartment bedroom. She kept it out of shared areas because her roommate had told her it was creepy, but she hadn’t been able to bear the thought of parting with it.
“Things change. We grow up and move on,” she explained, not wanting to admit she’d kept the figurine.
“Do we?” he replied, making her wonder if he already knew.
Sarah glanced down at the child in his arms, noticing her sister had fallen asleep.
“Wow…,” Sarah said, both impressed and eager to change the subject. “You got her to sleep. She never sleeps. You must be really good with kids.” Sarah craned her neck to look at Molly’s sleeping face.
“I’ve had practice,” he said, drily.
“All those wished-away children?” Sarah cringed as the words left her mouth. So much for keeping it light, Sarah thought.
Jareth gracefully rose to his feet and laid the sleeping infant in her crib.
“Relax, Sarah. See? Safe and sound and still at home.”
“I wasn’t worried; nobody wished for goblins.” It was only half a lie. In the past, when Jareth had visited her, he’d only wanted to talk. Sarah suspected tonight would be no different. There hadn’t been any babies around during those other times, though.
Sarah approached the crib and rested her hands on the wooden rail. Molly made little suckling movements with her tiny lips.
“She’s so cute when she sleeps,” she continued, keeping her voice soft to avoid disturbing the baby.
“What name has been chosen for her?” Jareth asked, standing slightly behind Sarah. He did not lower his voice. He didn’t seem to fear waking the infant.
“Was she a ‘wished-for child’ as her name suggests, or is that a family name?”
Sarah smiled. “Both. Karen’s grandmother was a Molly. If she’d been a boy, they would have named her Matthew after Karen’s great-grandfather. She was practically raised by her grandparents and planned on naming her children after them since she was little. You can probably guess where Toby’s name came from.”
Jareth made a small hum of agreement.
Sarah hesitated before continuing. “She and dad have been trying for years to have another baby. Molly took her time coming.”
“What about you, Sarah? Do you have names chosen for your future children?”
“I’m not really thinking that far ahead right now,” she said, slightly embarrassed.
“Why is that? You’re twenty-five, are you not? I’m given to understand that is an age when many young women marry and begin having children. Surely there is someone you’re considering settling for?”
That earned him a glare. “Settling for?”
“My apologies. Language changes so quickly. I meant ‘settling down with,’ of course.”
Sarah sighed and decided to forgive him, though she wasn’t fooled for a second that it was a genuine mistake.
“No. There’s no one,” she answered.
She looked back at the baby and mentally kicked herself. Way to sound pathetic, Sarah.
“I mean, I go out on dates and stuff. It’s just, ah…” She shrugged as she lost the thread of what she was trying to say. “No. There’s no one,” she repeated.
Nice save, she thought sarcastically and blushed. Apparently, there was no easy way to explain that the boys Sarah had met in high school and college could in no way compare to a seductive Goblin King promising her anything she wanted.
“What a pity,” was his only reply as he turned to leave.
Sarah dropped her gaze to the carpet. Was that how this visit would end? She was surprised at how disappointed she felt.
He paused by the nearly shut door. “Only,” he started, “I wonder if you might accompany me to dinner sometime.”
Sarah’s brain kicked into hyperdrive. He wants something. Keep calm. See what it is. Keep yourself between him and Molly.
Sarah narrowed her eyes and looked up at Jareth. “Dinner? What, exactly, would be in it for you?”
Jareth turned to face her and cocked his head to the side, “Are you surprised I might find your company pleasurable?”
Sarah considered her answer for only a moment. “To be blunt, yes. I’ve seen you four times in the past ten years, and we didn’t exactly make the best first impression on each other.”
Jareth began to circle around the room, watching Sarah from the corner of his eye. “And what is your impression of me now?” he asked, pausing by the chair and looking at her sideways.
Sarah’s mind went blank. What was her impression of him now? And how could she ever put that into words? Back on that first stormy night when Toby was a baby, he had been frightening, but she didn’t think of him in those terms anymore. She’d won their contest that night and that had entitled her to certain rights.
“Well?” he prompted.
Choose your words carefully, she warned herself.
She met his eyes and answered haltingly, “I think that you are very powerful and very dangerous.”
“I believe that was also your first impression of me,” he said, settling himself on the arm of the rocking chair. “But you’re not frightened anymore.”
“No, not anymore.”
“Because you have no power over me.” She stressed the last two words. He was powerful, but he could not control her. She’d won.
“And that makes you...?” he waited for her to complete his sentence.
He smiled. “I would have said queen, but close enough.”
She remembered this. There was no way she ever could have forgotten. He’d told her this during his second visit after her run. Just a few weeks shy of her 21st birthday and already the Queen of Fairyland. She’d started laughing and had had difficulty stopping. He had looked so put out that she’d cried out, “We are not amused!” in a false baritone and then had laughed even harder.
That had been a short visit. She hadn’t actually felt bad about it until several months had passed and it occurred to her how difficult it must have been for him to swallow his pride and tell her he was obligated to share his throne with her. She’d vowed that she would be kinder to him if he ever deigned to visit her again, which he did three years later.
A question occurred to her.
“Why do you visit me?” she asked. “There’s no rhyme or reason that I can see. No pattern. Why do you come here?”
Jareth sighed and slid into the chair, hooking his knee over the space he’d just vacated.
“Sarah, you know I cannot lie to you.”
“Yeah, I know, but that’s not an answer. Why do you visit me? And why only here?”
“Because I can.”
“Because you can what?” Sarah pressed.
“Because I can.” He rose from the chair and began pacing the small space. “You will not call for me. You will not invite me in.” His agitation was palpable. “I would be at your service. I would give you everything you desire if you would only wish it. But you will not. Toby allows me entrance. He wishes, though he does not believe.”
She wondered if he was more upset by his invitation coming from her brother or by Toby’s disbelief.
“I’m trying to teach him to stop,” she said quietly. She glanced at Molly who continued sleeping peacefully despite Jareth’s outburst.
“When you succeed, our visits will stop as well.”
Sarah felt her heart break a little, just a very tiny bit.
“I’m not teaching him very well,” she said, her attempted joke falling flat even to her own ears.
He continued as if he hadn’t heard her, “And the labyrinth will forever be denied her queen.”
Ah, there it was. The reason it was best that he stop coming.
“Jareth,” she began, noting his intake of breath at her use of his name. “You know I can’t go with you.”
It always came to this. Every visit, even that short second one, ended with him asking her to go with him.
“I know you think you can’t, but you’re wrong, Sarah. Do you believe it would really be so terrible? You could come with me and live happily Underground for millennia, a queen amongst people and creatures your world considers wondrous. You don’t want a slave? I would be your friend, your confidant, your adversary, and your playmate. There would be no end to the games we would play together. You could be living your fantasies rather than simply writing them down.”
The want she felt at those words was nearly a physical pain. To live fantasies of dragons and knights, fairies and goblins, kings and queens was appealing, but his words also hinted at the more adult fantasies she indulged in as she fell asleep each night. Fantasies in which Jareth, the scheming yet seductive Goblin King, frequently played a starring role.
But they’d had this conversation during his last visit and she was not eager to rehash it. His arguments were too tempting and she had other concerns.
“And my family?” she asked.
“We will build one together.”
Her heart skipped a beat, and she wasn’t sure if the cause was flattery or fright.
“You’re being presumptuous, Jareth; I barely know you. And I like the family I have now. You can’t expect me just to up and leave them.”
He stopped his pacing and approached her. “I would not ask you to leave your loved ones behind.” He looked at Molly, took a deep breath, and continued, “But you are correct and I am getting ahead of myself. Dinner is what I am asking of you.”
I would not ask you to leave your loved ones behind. His words echoed in her head.
“Get to know me,” he dared her.
Do I want to spend my life doing technical writing? She thought of her novel, currently stagnating on floppy disks in the case next to her second-hand computer.
“Think of me as simply a man asking a woman to have a meal with him.”
“You’re no man, Goblin King,” she said, not unkindly.
He raised his chin and gave her a sharp-toothed grin. “Then think of me as a powerful, dangerous king asking a powerful, brilliant queen to have a meal with him.”
And if there was no risk of her abandoning her family, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to humor him. The thought of Karen and her dad standing in Jareth’s throne room, jaws agape, surrounded by goblins and chickens made her giggle.
But, ugh, that throne room. She’d have to do something about the filth.
What do I have to lose? she thought.
“If I say yes, what will happen?” she worried aloud.
“You will let me in, if only for a short time.”
“And how much power will that give you over me?”
She noticed his pupils were huge in the dark, dilated so far that they nearly matched.
“Only as much as you allow, and you might even find that you enjoy the surrender.”
There was a challenge in his eyes she discovered she was eager to meet. It was time to exercise some of that power; to let him know she had no intention of relinquishing any of it.
“Jareth,” she said with a small smile, mimicking the drawl he frequently used when saying her name, “I’ve brought you a gift.”
His eyes narrowed as she began to slink around him, forcing him to turn away from the crib in which the baby slept.
She paused by the door, leaned casually against the wall, and inspected the fingernails of one hand. “But this isn’t an ordinary gift for a Goblin King who takes care of a screaming baby. Do you want it?”
“What is it?” he asked with a small, appreciative smile.
“It’s a kiss,” she said, looking back at him. “Nothing more.” Just a kiss. Not a promise. Not a “yes.”
His eyes were hungry as he began taking slow steps toward her.
“I appreciate what you’re offering, but what if I want more? What if a kiss is only the beginning of what you’ll find in my dreams?”
“Then you might find we have a great many things in common,” she said, surprised by her own boldness.
Any hint of playfulness disappeared from his face. “Sarah, do not keep me out any longer.” The tone in his voice was nearly begging. She had heard this tone before, ten years earlier, when she was too young to understand what it meant. She understood now.
“How do I call you?” her voice had become husky, and she realized she wanted him. He was so close she could feel the heat of his skin where it nearly touched hers. She was getting lightheaded from the proximity and raised her hands to rest them near the collar of his soft, white shirt.
“Say my name, Sarah,” he whispered. “Say my name, and I will come to you.” One of his hands had found the small of her back and was gently pulling her against him. The other hand was softly brushing her hair away from her temple.
“You told me once that you could be cruel. Is that still true? Will you be cruel to me?” Sarah asked, finally voicing her one last fear.
His thumb brushed her cheek as he he pulled her closer, her body pressed tightly to his, his eyes no longer looking directly into hers, but instead dropping to her mouth.
“Yes,” he replied simply.
And then he kissed her and this was not how this was supposed to go at all. It should have been the other way around. It should have been a show of her power over him that she initiated this kiss and he had turned it around and taken that power for himself. She felt on fire from the tips of her toes to the ends of her hair. Her head swam with the sensation. She gasped and her lungs filled with the sweet and musky scent of him. It was, in a word, magic.
She was unprepared when it ended.
Sarah opened her eyes in time to see his lopsided smirk before he faded completely away.
Cruel indeed, she thought.
She blew air through her pursed lips to calm her racing heart and leaned back against the wall, taking in her childhood bedroom, the posters on the walls and shelves of toys, stuffed animals, and books exactly the way they had been before she’d left for college. She knew Karen would eventually, hopefully, use the room as a nursery, and she would wait until that day came to remove anything. She worried cleaning it out before a new little person was ready to occupy the room would make Karen’s depression even worse. Hopefully, this weekend, her parents would… she didn’t want to think the phrase “get lucky,” but couldn’t stop the thought.
Sarah grimaced and then paused and looked around her. She had come in here to get something before the Goblin King had distracted her. What had it been?
“You’re getting old, Sarah,” she murmured, thinking if what she needed was so important, she’d remember it eventually. Visits from Jareth were always disorienting, and Sarah knew she had to keep her wits about her when he was around. Who knew what mischief he could get up to if she wasn’t careful.
Dinner with the Goblin King. She considered the idea and found it appealing.
Sarah went over to her vanity and bopped the Goblin King figurine on the head with her index finger. “You’re not so scary,” she said to it, and then turned her back and left the room, letting the door close behind her with a bang as she went to rejoin Toby for their movie night.
The children came running as he entered the nursery, and Jareth took in their grinning faces before kneeling down to their level to show them the baby.
“Ooh! It’s so little!” Michael, the second oldest, said as the three siblings crowded around Jareth and the new addition.
“She is only two months old, far younger than you when you joined us,” Jareth replied.
“What’s her name?” the oldest, Matthew, asked.
“Her name is Molly.”
“That’s my name!” the youngest protested.
Jareth leveled his gaze at the little girl. “Is that a problem?” he asked her seriously.
Molly folded her arms across her chest and glowered back at Jareth, “Molly is my name,” she insisted.
Jareth laughed as he stood and crossed the room to lay the baby in the cot. “Defiance is a Williams family trait, I see. Well, we shall simply have to find another name for her. I hardly think she is attached to it.” He tugged on the thick cord dangling against the wall to summon the children’s nursemaid.
“But first,” he continued, crossing back to the little girl, “What is all over your faces?”
He took Molly’s chin in his hand and gently turned her face to the right and then to the left to examine the powders in soft shades of gray and silver inexpertly applied around her eyes and over her dark blonde eyebrows. The two boys looked at each other and back at Jareth. They had similar marks on their faces as well.
“We look like you!” the girl said happily.
Jareth quirked an eyebrow. “You want to look like me?” he asked. “Well, then. Let me show you how it is done.”
Jareth lifted the little girl and settled her on his hip as the nursemaid entered the room. “Watch over the child,” he ordered her, indicating the sleeping infant in the cot.
The nurse, eyes glued to the floor, nodded and mumbled, “Yes, Your Majesty.”
As Jareth took the younger boy by the hand, the eldest piped up, “Sarah said no again?”
“Yes, but I believe she will join us soon. And won’t she be pleased to find you already here?” he said as he led the children from the room.