Chapter 1: Dreams and Duties
Karen walked into Sarah's room to place her stepdaughter's laundry on the bed. She put the shirts and socks and small things into neat stacks and turned to leave. When she stepped away from the bed, her toe caught something under the bed and kicked it out into the open. Without thinking about it, Karen bent to pick up the little red book. She placed it the dresser and smiled at the changes Sarah had made to the room in the past week.
The fantasy figures were still there, as were dolls and a music box, but the room wasn't overcrowded with these things any longer. She saw the box by the door, filled with toys Sarah mentioned that Toby might enjoy-nothing too girly for him, but still rich with fantasy and magic. As her eyes surveyed the cleaning project and the beautiful furniture and taste Sarah revealed as she chose her favourite memories to cherish, the golden gleam of letters on the red book caught her eye.
’Labyrinth," Karen whispered, picking up the slender volume again. She was deaf to soft footsteps on the stairs. Closing her eyes and hugging the book to her, Karen whispered, "Give me the child..." The figure at the doorway paused to listen. Her voice grew a bit stronger, "Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the Goblin City..." Finally, with the full passion she had felt as a girl, she cried, "My will is as strong as yours, my kingdom as great!" Tears of memory and pain welled in her eyes as she whispered again, a sad, sweet longing in her voice. "You have no power over me."
Feeling the tears, the memories of her childhood dreams so close to the surface, Karen lowered her head and allowed herself to remember the love of the story, the wish that a prince would sweep her away to his castle. Just as a tear began to slide from her lashes to her cheek, a voice behind her spoke her name.
Karen whirled, startled, and saw Sarah in the doorway.
"Oh!" Karen smiled and gave a little sniff. "I was just putting your laundry in here for you. This was on the floor..." She felt so foolish, having to explain everything. She didn't want to pry, but Sarah was so sensitive about her here-in the house, much less her room-that Karen just couldn't stop babbling. Why did she always babble around the girl? Sixteen just yesterday, and somehow she had always managed to make Karen feel like the child, which was just silly. And yet...for a few precious moments, Karen had been back at that age herself; just her and the memories of her dreams.
"I didn't mean to startle you, Karen, I just..." Sarah started over again. "I didn't know you knew the story of the Labyrinth." It was an invitation. Karen blinked, then nodded. "It was one of my favourite stories as a girl."
"Those last lines-I never imagined them like that." Sarah grasped for something else to say. "I never understood why she was about to cry when she rejected the Goblin King." The look in her eyes made Karen avoid the 'when you're older you will' line. Older didn't always make it easy to understand, just more painful.
"It's an allegory, Sarah," she said as Sarah sat down on the bed. Karen sat next to her. "It's the story of a girl facing her fears-"
"-and finding friends and growing up, but those last lines." Sarah shook her head, a bit glum that her chance to talk to Karen about something was slipping away.
"Actually," Karen said slowly, "I was going to say facing her fears and choosing duty over her dreams when the price for that dream was too high for her to pay."
"But shouldn't someone follow their dreams?" Sarah's eyes were pleading for something that Karen didn't quite understand.
"There's a price for everything, Sarah. In this case, the price for a king's love was to give up her responsibilities for her brother-just a baby who would never be with his family again. Even if she could have gone herself, she couldn't choose for the child, just change his life in an instant."
"It happens, though," Sarah said, resentment in her voice. When she saw Karen flinch, she stammered, "Oh, no. Karen. Not you. Just...Mom running off and..." Sarah reached for words. "She was chasing a dream and I wasn't...convenient."
"Sarah where did you-"
"I heard her. When she left. Dad...doesn't know." Sarah looked at the older woman, realizing they were the same height. When had that happened? "Neither does she. I guess...I always loved fairy tales, but I just myself get lost in them. Dreaming..."
"I never dreamed I'd be a second wife or stepmother to a girl half my age," Karen said, smiling, "but I'd found chasing my dreams wasn't right for me."
"What did you want to do?" Sarah asked, finally showing some sort of curiosity about the woman who'd taken her mother's place.
"I was a dancer, Sarah. I wanted to be the most celebrated dancer in history. I had so many grand ideas..." Karen laughed softly. "Then I got to New York and realized that I was good - could even be great - but the price was too high. I had no time for anything other than work and work-related dinners and parties. I hated it. The beauty I knew I could create just wasn't enough. Everything that had seemed so wonderful suddenly was horrid. Appearances were more than the substance." Karen sighed. "So, I took a year off. I had the money, I was in terrible health, and I came to Podunk, USA. Then I realized I liked it here." She looked at Sarah. "Then I realized I didn't need to be adored by the masses. That was a girl's dream. I wasn't a girl anymore. I met your father and wanted to be something more than the temperamental artiste. The rest...you know."
"But...what happened to your dreams?" Sarah asked.
"Those gave way to the reality of being a wife and, well, something like a mother. And I had opened my business already, so it wasn't like I abandoned everything altogether." Karen smiled, thinking of her dance studio and the children and adults she taught to move with grace and rhythm. "But why so many questions about dreams?"
"If you had the chance," Sarah asked, her voice soft, "and there was a handsome prince out there, who offered you everything - like in the book - would you take it?"
"There's a price for everything, Sarah. If the price were to abdicate my responsibilities, I'd have to decline. But if my duties were done and it was my own life and only my life...Oh, Sarah, what girl doesn't still long for the handsome prince?"
It wasn't what Sarah had expected to hear, but she understood.
"Karen," she said, "does giving up dreams always hurt?"
Karen opened her mouth to give a pat reply, then paused. "No," she replied, her voice slow and careful. "Sometimes, it is a relief. Sometimes, though, it hurts so much that it feels like nothing can ever be right again."
"And the girl in the story-" Sarah stopped and closed her eyes. "That's why she's about to cry. She fell in love with him, too."
"Yes," Karen whispered, "but duty called louder than her own dreams, even louder than her own heart."
"Do you think there's a sequel?" Sarah asked, her voice almost flippant. "Where she gets to tell the king how much it hurt to let him go?"
Karen smiled and hugged her stepdaughter. "Maybe you need to write it, Sarah. Finish the story - it's always felt incomplete. The king is left in the ashes, the girl is the broken heroine...maybe there's something more, just waiting to be told."
Sarah nodded and hugged Karen back.
For two years, Sarah worked on her story, the book she called Broken Dreams. For two years, she read and scanned and studied Labyrinth, until she understood every subtext, every unspoken desire. Every moment that was too much for the girl, but the woman inside understood.
During those years, she never gave up contact with Hoggle and Didymus and Ludo. Several times, she would have them in her room, laughing and partying. Every time the party was over, Sarah would look at her desk and sigh. On the corner of her desk, she kept a crystal ball that had been a gift from her father, so many years ago. It was in it's little stand, perched on the back of a comical little goblin. When the others were gone, she would pick up the crystal and practice running it through her hands, over her fingertips, from one hand to another. Tears would gather and slip slowly down her cheeks. She never realized she was watched by a snowy white owl, the ghost at her window.
She understood the reason she had been so close to tears in the Goblin King's castle. It still hurt.
One night, she put down her pen and smiled. It was done. She picked up the little crystal ball and ran it across her hands. She let herself be mesmerized by the glittering sphere as it flashed and spun from hand to hand.
"Jareth, I wish I could tell you why. I wish you were here..." She missed an exchange with the crystal, laid her head on her desk and began to sob.
She had written her dreams, finished the story, and it wasn't enough.
Nothing would ever be enough again.
She picked up her head and reached for a Kleenex. Hovering at the edge of her vision was the crystal she had dropped. As she reached for it, she realized that it was held in a gloved hand. Wide, tearful eyes slid up and up...to the most beautiful, cruel, loving face in the world.
Sarah didn't say anything. She rose, her head foggy with tears and dreams and the pain of letting go of those dreams in order to fulfill her duty - so long ago. Without a word, she stepped up to him, pressed her face against his chest, and whispered his name. She pulled back and did what she had dreamed of doing, what she had ached to do in the Labyrinth.
She kissed him, her heart open, her eyes closed. And again the tears fell.
It was too sweet to be real, too real to be anything other than a dream.
"It is only a crystal," Jareth whispered as she drew back, his heart breaking again.
Sarah's eyes flew open and the shock of seeing him again robbed her of breath and speech. She fainted in his arms, forcing him to drop the crystal to catch the girl.
"No half measures with you, are there?" he muttered, lifting her with a sigh and carrying her the few steps to her bed. He sat and waited. He had been summoned by her wish. Now he had to wait until she told him why and let him leave.