This was how it happened: I got drunk. (Isn’t that how all these stories start?) I’d been to parties in high school, sipped a little wine cooler with that I’m-so-naughty-because-I’m-underaged-drinking thrill fluttering in my chest. But I had never gotten smashed before my freshman year of college.
My roommates were to blame. They introduced me to the drinking game Never Have I Ever and a bottle of tequila. Next thing I knew, I was having a quasi-out-of-body experience where my mouth and my brain suffered a major disconnect. I was in a warm, giggly, peaceful place when we got to talking about our exes. Male bashing with drunk chicks. It was awesome.
The only problem was I didn’t have a great ex story. My mouth decided to talk about the Goblin King, instead. Fortunately, I was still lucid enough to know I shouldn’t share every detail of my encounter with Jareth.
“He tried to pretend he was all generous and stuff. It was all b.s.,” I said, slurring a little, at the end of my very abridged version of events. “I kicked him to the curb in the end.”
The girls laughed. Mandy filled my shot glass again. “Did you give him the full ‘you're a horrible person’ speech?”
I shrugged, downing the tequila. “I told him he had no power over me.”
Jessica pumped her fist in the air. “Damn straight! Girl power!”
“But you gotta have closure. Did you get that?” Mandy asked.
I frowned—thinking in this state took serious work. Did I get closure? Sure, I had said The Right Words to beat him at his game. But I hadn’t told him what I thought about his “generosity.” I shook my head. “I don’t know.”
Mandy handed me the phone. “Well, here’s your chance.”
Oh, crap. I was caught. I couldn’t call the Goblin King on the phone. Could I? “It’s kind of private.”
Jessica clumsily wrapped her arm around me. “We’re here for moral support. So you don’t chicken out.”
Mandy nodded, patting my leg. “Yeah, he needs to know what he did to you.”
The teeny tiny part of me still capable of rational thought flashed warning signals. Unfortunately, that bit of reason was drowned out by the liquid-happy rest of me who thought it was a brilliant idea to tell the Goblin King off. I pretended to dial a number while I whispered, “I wish the Goblin King would talk to me on the phone, right now.”
I pressed the receiver against my ear. “Hello?”
For a heartbeat there was nothing on the other end, and then, “Well, this is interesting. Hello, Sarah.” His voice, burned into my memory, made me shiver.
“Yeah, well, we need to talk,” I said, screwing up my courage.
“About what, precisely?” I imagined him smirking. Ugh.
“About how you treated me when…” I glanced at my girlfriends. Jessica gave me a thumbs-up.
“When you ran my Labyrinth,” he finished for me. “And what, pray tell, are your complaints?”
“You weren’t nice,” I answered. “In fact, you were a real jerk.”
Jessica squeezed my shoulder. “You tell him!”
“Was I?” Jareth sounded bored.
I opened my mouth several times, but couldn’t make myself lay out everything the Goblin King had done—not in front of my girlfriends. “You know what you did!”
“Hm. Let’s see,” Jareth replied—still smirking in my mind’s eye, “I believe I came when you called, took your brother when you asked, offered you the opportunity to win him back when you reneged on your wish, and gave you an adventure worthy of the storybooks. Yes, exactly what a—what did you call it?—jerk would do.”
I huffed. “You cheated!”
Mandy gasped next to me.
“What rules did I break, exactly?” I swore he was juggling a crystal.
“You stole my time!” I gripped the phone so tight my hand was going numb.
Jessica pumped her fist in the air again. “Yeah, don’t waste another minute on that douchebag, honey!”
I rolled on. “And you sent…bad stuff after me.”
“Go on.” Jareth was totally calm. Ugh!
“And…and you trapped me in a dark place.” It was getting hard to be creative about this conversation when I had eavesdroppers. “And that damn drugged peach.”
“He drugged you?!” Mandy exclaimed.
“Let’s not forget, I sent my army of bumbling goblins after you as well,” Jareth interjected on the other end of the phone, “and trapped your brother in a maze of stairs—and my personal favorite, threw a snake at you. Any further grievances you wish to air before the crown?”
I gave the phone a dirty look. “You’re not even sorry!”
“Why should I regret any of it?” He laughed. He actually laughed. “It was the greatest entertainment I’d had in decades. I was merely performing my duties as Goblin King. Perhaps, when you’re sober and when you’ve matured, we will discuss your own cruelty. Until then, I thank you for an amusing conversation.” The dial tone blared in my ear.
My mouth hung agape. “He…he hung up on me.”
“Good riddance!” Jessie yelled.
Mandy filled our shot glasses and lifted hers. “To getting rid of the cheating bastards of the world. Who needs ‘em?”
I tossed back the burning liquid. The next morning, Jareth’s parting words stuck with me. When you’ve matured, we will discuss your own cruelty.
The next time I got hammered I was of actual legal drinking age. Graduation should have been a happy day, but right after getting my diploma, my college sweetheart said, “I think we should break up.” I’d thought we were headed toward marriage.
At the party, if it had alcohol in it, I was drinking it—the higher proof, the better. By the time I found a secluded corner on the back patio, I had a half-empty bottle of vodka. I probably rehashed the break-up conversation a dozen times, tears streaming down my face. Rick had said I was too aloof. He said he didn’t feel needed. He questioned if I ever really loved him.
I had stuck with the guy for three years, how could he doubt my love?
Your eyes can be so cruel.
I took another swig from the bottle, wincing at the burn. I hated vodka. “Fine, Goblin King,” I muttered, picking up the cordless phone. I didn’t remember bringing it out with me, but there it was, and I was too drunk to question it.
I looked around to make sure no one was near and whispered, “I wish the Goblin King would talk to me on the phone, right now.”
There was a burst of static before his rich baritone came on the other end. “And so we speak again, Sarah. To what do I owe the pleasure of this inebriated call?”
I glared at the phone. “What makes you think I’m drunk?”
“Do you deny it?” I pictured him raising a brow.
I glared harder. “No.”
“You do look so pretty when you scowl.”
I nearly dropped the receiver. “Wh—what? You can see me?”
“Of course.” He was smirking. He had to be smirking, the villainous bastard.
I stuck out my tongue. “Pervy jerk!”
His laughter vibrated against my ear. “Hardly. Now, what was it you wished to discuss while you’re in no state to have a rational conversation?”
“I want to know why you think I’m cruel.” My voice cracked a little, and a fresh wave of tears threatened in my eyes.
There was a long pause on the other end, and if I hadn’t heard his sigh, I would have thought he'd hung up on me again.
“I seem to recall offering to have this conversation when you were both sober and mature. You are neither.” He paused again, his voice quieter as he went on, “And you are not truly interested in why I think you to be cruel. You want answers for your recent heartache—a heartache which has nothing to do with me.”
A little sob burst from me. “How did you know?”
“I’m a pervy jerk.”
I laughed in spite of my tears. “Yes, you are.”
“Sarah! There you are!” Mandy came rushing toward me with Jessica in tow.
“Oh, no,” Jessica said as she picked up my bottle. “Tell me you did not drink this by yourself.”
I wiped my eyes and gestured toward the phone. “I had a drinking buddy.”
There was a throaty chuckle on the other end of the receiver. “Is that what I am?”
Mandy narrowed her eyes. “Who’s that?”
“Nobody.” I clutched the phone closer. “Just a friend.”
“Hm. I rather like that,” Jareth said. “Does being your friend come with benefits?”
“No!” I hissed. “You really are a pervert!”
Mandy snatched the phone. “You are not talking to him, are you? Not the cheater who drugged you?!”
I managed a meek shrug. “Maybe.”
“Sarah!” Jessica shook her head.
Mandy brought the phone to her ear and, before I could stop her, started shouting at Jareth, “I don’t know who you think you are, buddy! But you can’t just swoop in when Sarah’s heartbroken and take advantage of her. Back off!”
She paused, listening for a moment. “Fine.” She handed the phone back to me.
I cringed as I brought it to my ear. It was one thing for me to mouth off to the Goblin King—he had no power over me—but entirely another for my friend to do it.
“Women are such screechy creatures,” he said, the smirk evident in his voice.
I snickered a little. “You’re not mad?”
“Why should I be angry? You mortals have a saying I am quite fond of: ‘Don’t get mad, get even.’”
I gripped the phone. “No.”
“Yes, I believe I’ll send your friend a gift.”
“No, you wouldn’t!”
Jessica and Mandy stared at me.
“Wouldn’t I?” I could hear his predatory grin. “As always, it’s been entertaining.”
“No, wait!” I glanced back at my friends, both of whom had their arms crossed. I turned away and whispered, “Thank you for talking with me.”
“I was bored and you amuse me,” he said in a nonchalant tone. After a heartbeat, he added, “Richard was correct, however.”
My heart lurched in my chest. I held my breath as I waited for him to go on.
“You never loved him—not as he deserved. Until your next drunken call, Sarah.” The phone went dead.
I started crying again, this time because the Goblin King was right. I was cruel.
I wasn’t fully drunk the next time I called on the king of the goblins—merely in a warm, relaxed state. I sat in a bar, nursing a beer—my third. Tonight was supposed to be girl’s night out, but both Jessica and Mandy had bailed. Jessica’s two-year-old was sick, and Mandy’s fiancé surprised her by coming home a day early from his business trip.
Happy birthday to me.
I sighed. I knew I should go home, the girls and I would celebrate another night, but I was feeling a little blah despite the cheerful atmosphere of the bar. After my fourth beer, I decided I needed my drinking buddy.
I flipped open my cell phone, hoping he’d answer even though it had been a few years since my last call. “I wish the Goblin King—”
The phone was ripped from my hand. I spun, ready to verbally ream whoever had grabbed it, but the angry words died on my lips.
“I thought we’d have our drunken encounter face-to-face this time.”
I squinted at the man before me. He was the Goblin King, and yet, he wasn’t. He looked like a mortal man with shorter, messy blond hair and normal clothes. He leaned against the bar, smirking as he tossed my phone back to me.
“Hello, Your Majesty.” I patted the seat next to mine. “Care to join me?”
He shrugged. “Why not? I’ve nothing pressing at the moment.”
As he climbed onto the stool, I waved over the bartender. “Four beers for my friend, here—he’s got to catch up.” I eyed the Goblin King. “Make that the best import you’ve got.”
Jareth gave me a half-smile. “So, we’re both to be inebriated, then.” At my nod, he said, “I should warn you, I hold my liquor well.”
I grinned. “I don’t.” Logic said I shouldn’t trust myself to get loaded in the presence of the Goblin King, but in my gut, I knew I was safe.
“As I am well aware.” He picked up one of the beers the bartender set in front of him and held it up. “To old enemies and new friends.”
I tapped my bottle to his. “Here, here, Goblin King.” I only took a sip from mine, but he drank deeply, finishing half his first beer in one gulp.
“What is inspiring this…bender?” He asked before taking another long draft. “Am I to suffer another round of screeching accusations?”
I chuckled. “Next time. Tonight, it’s the birthday blues.” I cupped my hands around my bottle, turning away from his piercing gaze. “Maybe a little loneliness, too.”
“And where are your friends? I should think they would be better companions than your former adversary.”
“You’re my friend.” I almost nudged him with my elbow, but stopped. Suddenly, everything felt awkward. I covered it by taking another sip of my beer. “Oh, by the way, Mandy loved your little gift. Every woman appreciates it when a red sock gets washed with her whites.”
Jareth smirked. “No one insults the crown without repercussions.”
“Except me.” The words were out of my mouth before I could think better of them. A blush rose to my cheeks.
Jareth tilted his head, studying me. “Indeed.”
I squirmed a little under his scrutiny. “So,” I said, scrambling to find something to break this uncomfortable tension, “how’s the, uh, Labyrinth?”
He raised a brow, his lips curving into a tiny smile. “Ever the same ‘piece of cake’ you remember.”
I winced. “I guess I didn’t always get away with insulting the crown.”
Jareth threw back his head and laughed.
A couple hours later, we graduated to boilermakers, then moved onto straight shots of tequila. I was pretty sure it was me who suggested we play Truth or Dare.
“Your turn,” Jareth said across from me. We were seated to a small table near the back, a dozen shot glasses before us—some full, more empty.
I looked up, trying to decide if I was courageous enough to ask for another dare. The last one—well, the Goblin King could be creative.
I was gutless. “Truth.”
He rested his chin in his hand, narrowing his eyes. “Why do you only call on me when you’re, well…” He waved a hand toward me.
My smile dipped. The question hung in the air, bringing back the earlier awkwardness. Beneath my alcohol haze, there was an answer—one I wasn’t ready to acknowledge. I threw back a shot, gasping at the burn.
Jareth raised a brow. “Interesting.”
“You go.” My stomach roiled a little—a warning I was reaching my limit.
He crossed his arms over his chest. “Dare.”
I was grateful for the out he was offering. “All right,” I said, remembering how he sang to me twice during my run of the Labyrinth. “I dare you to go to the jukebox, put it on random, then stand on the table and sing along with whatever song comes up—loud enough for everyone to hear.”
“I don’t think I’ve consumed near enough spirits for that.” He frowned, picking up a glass.
“What? Is the mighty Goblin King too chicken for my little ol’ dare?” I flashed him a wide grin.
“I’m unfamiliar with most mortal music.”
I shrugged. “Make up the lyrics, then.”
He shook his head, bringing his glass to his lips.
“Chicken!” I made wings with my arms and started flapping. “Bwak, bwak, bwak!”
“Enough!” He sighed, rolling his eyes heavenward before standing up. “Let it never be said that Jareth, dashing Ruler of the Underground, backed down from a challenge—no matter how ridiculous.”
I clapped as he went to the jukebox. After a moment, a raspy rock voice bellowed, “Step inside, walk this way. You and me, babe. Hey! Hey!” Recognizing the song, I laughed as Jareth made his way back to me during the opening guitar riff.
“You owe me,” he murmured against my ear before leaping on the table with the grace of a cat. A few heads turned at the clinking glasses. More heads turned when he started singing.
“Love is like a bomb, c’mon baby, get it on…”
I gave him an incredulous look. “You know the words, you cheater!”
He winked at me as he kept singing. He put on a show, gyrating his hips, holding his fist up to his mouth as if he had a microphone. By the time he hit the refrain, other people in the bar were whooping, dancing. I laughed so hard, I almost fell out of my chair.
At the second verse, he jumped of the table and danced toward the bar. Not a single person was sitting down. I pumped my fist in the air and screamed with the rest of the women as Jareth climbed onto the bar.
“Pour some sugar on me,” he sang, sliding his hand down his side. He was nearly drowned out by everyone else singing the chorus with him—even the bartenders. I joined in, too. I couldn’t remember when I had this much fun.
He scanned the crowd until his eyes met mine. Pointing, he belted, “You got the peaches, I got the cream…”
I stopped dancing. He smirked before turning his attention back to the others. That smug bastard! I shook my head and laughed. Either he had more cajones than any man in existence, or he had a fantastic sense of irony. Probably both.
He finished the song with the requisite kneeling slide across the bar—without knocking over any glasses or bottles, amazingly. The crowd went wild. He bowed before hopping down and heading toward me.
I clapped. “Nicely done, Goblin King.”
“All in a day’s work,” he said, giving me his half-smile.
“You cheated.” It wasn’t a question. I knew he was wily.
His grin broadened. “I merely encouraged the contraption to randomly select the very song I wanted. You said nothing about magic.”
I rolled my eyes. “If there’s a loophole, the Goblin King will find it.”
I tried to walk back to my seat, but my legs got tangled. Jareth wrapped an arm around me before I could do a face-plant. I leaned against him for support, my head falling into the hollow of his neck. He grew very still, rigid as if every muscle in his body went taut at once.
Even in my inebriated state, I felt a sudden shift between us. I backed away, mumbling an apology. His expression was unreadable.
“I…I should go,” I said, my heart fluttering nervously.
He nodded. “Close your eyes.”
I opened my mouth to question, but he stared me down. As my eyelids fell shut, my skin tingled. The sensation was brief. I waited several breaths before opening them again. I was in my living room. Jareth was nowhere in sight. It figured. He never said a proper goodbye in every encounter we’d had before. Why should he start now?
I stumbled to my bedroom, refusing to think about what it felt like to be in his arms for that brief moment.
I was determined to never drunk-call the Goblin King again after that weird ending to our last meeting. I lasted less than a year—not even six months, in fact. The night had started out innocuous enough. It was a New Year’s Eve party—one of those big shindigs in a grand ballroom with wall-to-wall bodies and plenty of champagne. Jessica and Mandy had talked me into going, even though I was dateless. Since Mandy had married, it became their singular purpose to see their single friend settled down.
I suffered the unsolicited match-making best with a healthy dose of alcohol.
The party turned out not to be as heinous as I thought. There was a reasonable contingent of singles there, so I wasn’t alone in my third-wheel-ness among the larger number of couples. After a nice dance with an accountant who asked for my number, Mandy and Jessica found me. My smile vanished when I saw their grim expressions.
They each grabbed an elbow and ushered me through the dancers to the wide balcony outside. Neither spoke until they had dropped me into one of the patio chairs. Apparently, I had to hear this sitting down.
Jessica shared a look with Mandy before speaking. “Rick is here.”
My heart leapt into my throat. “So?” I tried to keep my tone light.
Sadness swept over Mandy’s face. “He’s here with his pregnant wife.”
The bottom dropped out of my world as I processed her words. Maybe what Jareth had said once was true—I hadn’t loved Rick like I should have. But I had loved the dream of a future with him. I had pictured our children, imagined dinner parties. I had dreamt of having someone to grow old with, to sit on the porch in creaking rockers while yelling at the neighborhood kids to stay off the grass. And now, I was all alone while the man I was supposed to have that life with was living the dream—with someone else.
Mandy wrapped her arms around me. “I’m so sorry, honey.”
I shrugged her off. “No, I’m fine,” I lied. “I’m happy for him.”
Jessica raised her brows in disbelief, but mercifully, she said nothing.
“Listen,” Mandy said, “why don’t the three of us get out of here? We’ll get some Ben & Jerry’s and watch old movies.”
“No.” I shook my head. They were looking out for me, but I wanted to be alone. “It’s New Year’s. You should be with your husbands.”
Jessica started to protest. I raised my hand, cutting her off. “I promise I’m fine. Now, shoo.”
After another round of hugs, they walked away, tossing me worried looks as they went back inside. My loneliness spiked as I sat there, reconciling myself to my reality. It was ironic that I, who had once beaten an all-powerful immortal in a high stakes game, couldn’t seem to make my own dreams come true. Not exactly fair, if you asked me. I snorted. But that was the point, wasn’t it?
The even bigger irony was the person I wanted to talk to most at this moment was the very same all-powerful immortal. He’d gotten me through my first Rick crisis. It seemed appropriate he should help me get through this one, too.
Except, there had been that moment with the Goblin King last time... Something had changed in the dynamics of our odd relationship, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what we were now.
I stood, sighing. I needed liquid courage to face the party inside. Just before I reached the threshold, though, I looked back out at the glittering night sky. “I wish you were here,” I whispered.
After a few more glasses of champagne, I felt less anxious. I forced myself to walk away from the bar, the hangover from my last stint still fresh enough in my mind to ward me off from getting completely wasted. I made it five steps when I heard a familiar voice—one that dredged up the heartache I was trying to numb.
I pasted on a smile as I faced my ex. The years had been good to him, chiseling the roundness of youth from his handsome features. “Hi, Rick.”
He grinned shaking his head. “God, you look fantastic! How’ve you been?”
I shrugged. “Oh, you know. Busy.” I wanted to crawl into a hole.
He chuckled. “I’m not surprised.”
A pregnant woman—very pregnant—sidled up to him. She was beautiful, glowing.
“Oh, hey,” Rick said, wrapping his arm around her. “This is my wife, Tabitha.” He turned to her. “Hon, this is Sarah.”
Tabitha offered her hand with a genuine smile. “Rick’s college sweetheart—the artist. So nice to meet you.” She meant it. It was like a kick in my gut. I bet she didn’t have a cruel bone in her body.
“Nice to meet you, too,” I said, shaking her hand.
She opened her mouth to speak, but grunted instead. “Baby’s stretching,” she said with a laugh. “He’s our second.”
I raised my brows. Second? Had it really been that long since college? “Congratulations.”
Rick beamed and I ached to see it. “Yeah, we’ve got a two-year-old girl at home. Tabitha didn’t want to go out, but I wanted to have one last night before the baby came. You know how it is.”
I nodded. I had no clue how it was.
“So,” Tabitha said, “do you have kids?”
I looked past her at the dancers, hoping to find Mandy or Jessica. I didn’t see them. There would be no rescuing me from this humiliation. I was about to admit that I was still single and childless when a hand holding a glass of wine appeared before me. My eyes traveled up the mysterious arm to the face of the Goblin King. He smiled at me, and I was so grateful, I nearly cried. I took the glass.
“No,” he answered, draping his arm across my shoulders. “No children.”
Both Rick and Tabitha stared at Jareth, looking a little star-struck. I glanced up at him, and for the first time, I saw how beautiful he was—even disguised as a mortal man. Why had I never noticed that before?
“I don’t know where Sarah’s manners are,” he said. “I’m Jareth.”
No one offered to shake, but it seemed right. He was the Goblin King, after all.
“How long have you two…?” Rick asked, his words trailing off before he could finish the question.
“Sarah and I have known each other for many years.” He glanced at me. “It’s only been more recently we’ve become reacquainted.”
Rick nodded. I could see the wheels turning in his mind as he studied Jareth. There was an unasked question in his eyes: Was this man the reason Sarah had been so aloof? Impossible, my mind scoffed, and yet…
“What is it that you do, Jareth?” Tabitha asked.
“I run an empire.”
I let out a burst of laughter before I could stop myself. The others turned to me with questioning looks. I waved them off. “No, it’s true. He does.”
Tabitha’s eyes widened as she seemed to reassess Jareth. “Wow. That must be a lot of work.”
“It is insufferably tedious with the rare bout of excitement.” Jareth raised a brow.
Rick smiled, gesturing toward me. “Well, at least you’ve got someone to come home to at night.”
Jareth’s eyes captured mine. I blushed. “That is a pleasant thought, isn’t it?” Turning back to the other two, he said, “I believed we’ve interrupted your evening long enough, and Sarah owes me a dance.” He inclined his head, and without waiting for them to reply, led me away by the arm. I hastily handed a random person my untouched wine before he pulled me into his arms.
“Thanks for that,” I said as he weaved us in circles around the other dancers.
“You called, I came.” His tone was indifferent, but he didn’t meet my eyes. Again, I felt that inexplicable something resonating in the space between us.
“You didn’t have to.”
He looked down at me, his gaze intense. “Didn’t I?” The question hung thick in the air.
I shrank from it. Why had things become so complicated? “How long have you been here?”
“From the moment you wished for me.” The corners of his mouth curled into a mischievous grin. “I found it rather amusing, watching your feeble attempt to appear happy while facing Richard.”
I scowled at him. “You’re awful!”
“I’m no saint.” He smirked briefly, then his expression sobered. “Would you change me, Sarah? Would you turn me into the perfect gentleman, simpering and ingratiating? I am who I am—who I’ve ever been, who I always will be.”
I was taken aback by his declaration. I wished my thoughts were a little less muddled by the champagne. “Who are you, then?”
“After all these years, and you are still as naïve as the day you stepped into my Labyrinth.” He shook his head. “What a pity.”
The lights dimmed and the DJ announced the final countdown to midnight. Around us, party-goers started yelling, “Ten, nine…”
I stared up at Jareth, trying to make sense of his words.
Everything I’ve done, I’ve done for you. My breath caught.
“…two, one!” Everyone screamed. Couples kissed as Auld Lang Syne blasted from the speakers.
And then, it was quiet, as though someone had lowered the volume on the entire celebration. We were in the middle of the dance floor, surrounding by bodies, but we might as well have been the only two people in the ballroom.
“I was a child,” I whispered, the sound loud in the stillness.
Jareth released my hand, reaching up to lift my chin with his fingers. “You’re not a child anymore.” He traced my lips with his thumb. He leaned forward, and I closed my eyes, my heart pounding.
Only, he didn’t kiss me. His breath caressed my ear as he said in a low voice, “I’ve waited long enough, Sarah. Be careful when next you call on me.”
I opened my eyes and found myself alone among the celebrants, the ghost of his warning raising the hairs at the nape of my neck.
I hadn’t meant to be tipsy when I called on him again. I postponed it as long as I could before my desire to understand what was transpiring between us overwhelmed my fear of it. It was the stupid greeting card holiday—Valentine’s Day—that did me in. A single girl could only take so many hearts and balloons before she snapped. I didn’t snap in the way where I maniacally defaced every bow-and-arrow-toting cherub I saw—though I considered it.
I snapped, instead, with a bottle of wine while having a romantic movie marathon. By myself. My friends thought I was on a date with someone. I had lied to keep them from fussing over me.
By my fifth film, the bottle was half-empty and I wondered why everyone seemed to get a happily-ever-after except for me. The warm buzz of the alcohol did little to quell my overdramatic thoughts. I went over my past relationships. Other than Rick, all of them had lasted only a few months. What was the common denominator in those failed romances, Sarah? I sardonically asked myself. The answer? Me.
Then, there was the Goblin King. He said he’d waited long enough. What did that mean? I downed the rest of the wine in my glass. He implied I ought to know him by now. I blew out a puff of air. Another cryptic statement. The man was just as much a maze as the Labyrinth he ruled over.
It was time to get some answers. The fact that this would be the fifth time I called on him while under the influence did not escape my notice. If I didn’t know he kept tabs on me, I’d worry he’d think I was a lush.
“I wish the Goblin King would come hang out with me, right now.”
A minute passed. Then another. I sighed. He wasn’t coming. I wasn’t disappointed; I was afraid—afraid I’d never see him again. I liked him. A lot. A lot more than a lot. It was irrational. He had snatched my brother, taunted me when I tried to win Toby back, stole my time, drugged me and sent an entire army after me. And there was the snake-throwing. I hated snakes even more after that little incident.
But then, he listened calmly when I told him off. He helped me get through my break-up with Rick—twice. He spent my birthday with me when my friends had deserted me.
“You never call when you’re sober.”
I glanced up. He leaned against the doorframe, his arms crossed over his chest. I hadn’t seen him as himself—in full Goblin King mode—since I was a teenager. My mouth might have dropped open as he crossed the room to sit next to me on the couch.
What I meant to say as he picked up the bottle of wine and examined the label was, “How are you?” or something along those lines. What came out instead was, “Why are you so pretty?”
He gave me a sidelong glance and laughed. “Only the gods know. But I do find being exceedingly attractive quite useful.”
I rolled my eyes. “Ever hear of humility, Goblin King?”
“It’s Jareth. And that’s a failing I don’t suffer from.” He filled my glass, and instead of giving it to me, took a drink. “What’s the occasion for this call?”
My mouth supplied an answer before my brain could register it. “It’s Valentine’s Day.”
Jareth raised a brow. “The holiday for lovers. And you called on me to spend it with you?”
“Yes—I mean, no! I…” My face was quickly turning a brilliant shade of red. The bastard grinned at me as if he enjoyed watching me sputter. He probably did, knowing him. “Maybe I wanted an encore of ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me.’”
He tilted his head, grinning. “Is that so? If I perform this song, will I get a truth or dare from you in return?” His question was innocent enough, but there was something in his eyes that prickled my skin with goosebumps.
“I don’t have any tequila.” I drew my knees to my chest as if to ward off the growing tension.
“Oh, but the game is far more intriguing when there is no out.” He handed me the wine glass and pulled off his gloves. Trailing a finger along my arm, he said, “Play with me.”
My eyes widened at his touch. He was being more forward than he’d ever been. His words from New Year’s came rushing back. I’ve waited long enough, Sarah. Be careful when next you call on me. Oh, God. He was courting me, or seducing me—or both. I didn’t know how I felt about that.
I shook my head.
He smirked. “What, is the unconquerable Sarah Williams too chicken to engage in a game with a harmless Goblin King?”
I narrowed my eyes. “Harmless is not a word I’d ever associate with you.”
He gave a half-shrug, his smile turning wolfish. He leaned toward me. “Bwak, Bwak, Sarah.”
I took a sip of wine to stall, forgetting he’d drank from the glass. As soon as it touched my tongue, I felt a pulling sensation throughout my body, as if something was being leeched from every inch of my skin. It wasn’t painful, just weird. My thoughts became crisper, less sluggish.
“What did you do?” I gasped after the sensation peaked.
“You should have all of your wits about you when dealing with me—in the interest of fairness.” He gave me a level gaze.
My mouth fell open in angry indignation. “You can’t just randomly drug people!”
“I did not ‘drug’ you,” he said, settling further into the couch. “I magicked the alcohol from your body.”
“Poe-tay-toe, poe-tah-toe, Jareth. You can’t do that without my permission.” I scooted as far away from him on the sofa as I could get. “You’re not supposed to have any power over me.”
He grinned his frustratingly mysterious grin. “Is that a request for a truth? Will you give me a dare in exchange?”
“No.” I had to admit, grudgingly, I was glad I had all my faculties. “This isn’t a game.”
“It isn’t?” Jareth picked up my television remote, studied it and then pressed a button. The movie I had paused earlier flared to life. It was the restaurant scene in “When Harry Met Sally,” and not where I had left off. As Meg Ryan started moaning, I alternated between wanting to crawl under the couch and wanting to smack Jareth with a pillow.
I snatched the remote instead, shutting off the television. “What do you want?”
He raised a brow. “Me? You initiated this encounter, not I. The question is, what do you want?”
That was a loaded question, if there ever was one. If this were the drinking version of Truth or Dare, I would have taken the shot. Jareth looked at me, waiting, his eyes challenging me to acknowledge what I had only begun to admit to myself. The real reason I called on him tonight when my inhibitions were down.
“I want to know how you did that to me when you have no power over me.” I was stubborn, or frightened. Both, actually.
He shook his head, waving a finger in the air. “I believe I already explained the cost of that truth.”
I made a face at him. “Everything comes with a price when it comes to you, doesn’t it?”
“On the contrary, I’ve always been more than generous with you.” He propped a leg up on the cushion, looking for all the world as if he owned the place. “I ask for so little—just a dare. Surely, you’re not afraid of me.”
Oh yeah, I was afraid. Not of his magic, but of the precipice we were standing before. I had no doubts his dare would force me to leap into the scary unknown with him. “I’ll pass,” I said with more bravado than I felt.
He shrugged. “Suit yourself. But then, you’ll always wonder how I’m able to do this.” He flicked his wrist, and suddenly, I was in his lap.
I scrambled up, tripping over the coffee table, but before my rear hit the ground, I was in Jareth’s lap again. He laughed as I attempted another escape, only to find myself plopped back into his arms.
“Stop that!” I pushed against him, but I didn’t try to get up. Being teleported—or whatever it was called—was disorienting.
“Ask me,” he said against my ear, his fingers brushing down my neck. I tried not to tremble. “Ask me for this truth. Play with me.”
My heart quickened. “Will you let me go?”
He sighed, his breath stirring my hair. “For now.” In a blink, I was back on my end of the couch.
I grabbed a pillow and held it against my chest like a shield. “Okay, fine. Give me the truth and I’ll give you a dare.” I clutched the pillow tighter, worried I would regret caving to his request. The man was a trickster, after all.
“You called, I came. You asked me to take your brother, I did. You asked me for the chance to win him back, I gave it to you,” he said, picking at the tattered eyelet lace of his sleeves. “When you declared I had no power over you, I had none.” He looked up at me, flashing sharp teeth in a predatory grin. “What you failed to understand about your bold declaration is it only has power until you invite me again—which you did, when you called on me.”
My eyes widened at his explanation as I processed each word. Did that mean he gained back power over me that first time I drunk-called him? If so, why was he only now exerting it, instead of then, or the three other times I called on him?
Before I could put it all together, he said. “And now, your dare.”
I glanced up at him, trepidation blossoming in my middle. I couldn’t get out of whatever he demanded I do. What was said was said.
He inched toward me, like a prowler ready to strike. I held my breath. “I dare you to say it again.”
I blinked. “What?”
“Say I have no power over you.” There was a gleam in his eyes as he pulled the pillow from my arms and hovered over me, waiting.
It was not the kind of dare I was expecting. Taking a deep breath, I said, “You have no power over me.”
Time seemed to stop for several heartbeats, both of us frozen as we were. Then, his grin broadened. It was frighteningly triumphant and alluring. My brow furrowed. Wasn’t he supposed to have vanished?
Jareth, as if sensing my unspoken question, said, “You would have meant it at each of our other encounters.” He tipped his head to the side, scrutinizing me. “Well, perhaps not last time, but I couldn’t be certain. After my failure years ago, caution seemed prudent.” He drew closer, whispering, “I win.”
I shoved against him, furious that this had all been a ploy to regain the upper-hand. I was a little hurt, too. Okay, a lot. Hot tears swelled in my eyes. “You manipulative bas—”
He pressed a finger to my lips. “So quick to assume malice without knowing what we were playing for this round.”
I glared at him. “And what was the prize?” I nearly spat the question.
“This.” He laid a hand against my chest. My heart leapt beneath his touch. “Do you know what makes you cruel, Sarah?”
I shook my head mutely, my mind racing to keep up with the surprises he was throwing at me.
He slid his hand up my neck to cup my cheek. “I had to move the stars, turn the world upside-down, bow to your every whim to earn your love. But you,” he said, his voice softening, “you stole mine with nothing more than that defiant look in your beautiful eyes.”
He kissed me. The wall of my self-denial crumbled, melted when his lips met mine. My soul reverberated under his touch, as if I had been sleeping all these years and had now been awakened. I could feel the magic radiating from him, wrapping around me like a cocoon, and with it, his longing finally answered—or was it mine? My heart was bursting. I loved him—rascally Goblin King ways and all.
Jareth broke off the kiss, and frowned at me. He traced my cheek with a finger, and I realized I was crying. I shook my head, laughing, before pulling him down for another kiss.
Mandy and Jessica never understood why I ran off with my cheating, drugging ex, but the cold war between them and Jareth is another story. I choose to end mine with:
And they lived happily ever after. (Most of the time.)