Sarah’s formerly cozy and charming studio apartment suddenly felt very, very claustrophobic. She took a deep breath, willing her words not to come out as a shout as the Goblin King nonchalantly snacked on Signora Nunzio’s fresh-baked focaccia.
“Will you please explain to me why you’re not able to magic yourself out of here?”
He swallowed a mouthful of bread and wiped his fingers on her dishtowel. “It’s a bit complicated, Sarah.”
He sighed and opened her refrigerator door quite as if he’d lived in the apartment for a long time, pulling out the half-empty bottle of Casale Falchini that she’d opened the night before. “You wouldn’t happen to have a gl—“
“Tell me why you can’t leave, dammit!”
He tsk-tsk’d at her and opened one of her cabinets, pulling out a clean wine glass. “I see your patience truly hasn’t improved.” He poured himself a glass of wine and leaned against the counter, smiling in a way that she knew was designed to provoke. Slowly, he raised the glass to his lips and took a sip.
I will not murder him. If only because I don’t want to share this apartment with a corpse until I’m able to get out of here.
He set the glass on the counter. “Suffice it to say that my magical “reserves,” as you might call them, are already somewhat taxed in this plane of existence. Making that shield during the…quake was probably not wise.”
“So you’re spent and can’t perform for a while?”
He smirked. “Not the wording I would use, though I do like the direction your mind is headed.”
“It’s not—“ She threw up her hands. “So…how long before you’re, you know, filled up again?”
He took another sip of wine. “Difficult to say. It’s been many years since this happened.” He closed his eyes. “This is delightful, by the way, I’d forgotten what good Tuscan wine—“
“Focus, your Majesty. An hour? A day?”
He gave a slight shrug. “Perhaps. Or weeks.”
“Magic can be fickle, precious.”
She gritted her teeth. “Don’t call me that.”
“Oh, and what should I call you, then? Reginetta?”
“What does that even—“
Sarah felt the ground beneath her feet shifting again and groaned. “Fuck. Under the table.”
“Aftershock, I’m guessing.” She scurried underneath the kitchen table as the room began shaking more forcefully.
“I assure you I am quite safe.”
“Fine, stay where you are, this apartment already feels too goddamn small.”
The room continued to rock, though thankfully not as intensely as in the initial quake. After a few seconds the Goblin King joined her under the table. When she looked confused, he shrugged.
“You are afraid, which is natural, given your mortality. Perhaps my presence will comfort you.”
Sarah snort-laughed and then winced at the sound of dishes rattling—she really needed to save the ones that hadn’t shattered. “Comfort me? You?”
“I am, to a certain extent, what mortals make me. I can be comforting.”
Sarah gripped the table leg. “What would comfort me right now is if you would leave and this damn shaking would stop.”
“Well. I can accomplish neither of those things, unfortunately.”
The shaking eventually stopped, but Sarah momentarily felt too tired to get out from under the table. She sighed and pulled her knees up against her chest. The Goblin King, thankfully, was silent.
“I don’t even know your name,” she finally said.
He cocked his head at her. “No, I supposed we never did officially introduce ourselves to each other.” He smirked. “Though I must say I enjoy the sound of ‘your Majesty’ coming from your lips.”
“I bet.” She sighed and ran her hands over her knees. “Look, if we’re gonna be stuck in this very small room for a while, we’re gonna have to dispense with a few formalities, and while I’m still not buying the idea that you’re not, you know, evil incarnate, I *would* at least like to have something to call you that isn’t a title. And hey, you know my name.”
He seemed to consider her words. After a moment, his eyes twinkling slightly, he extended a gloved hand.
She blinked. “That’s a very…simple name.”
Jareth smiled. “The rest of me makes up for it.”
Sarah rolled her eyes and slowly extended her hand, which he took. “Sarah.”
He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it in a way that felt more age-old fairy tale than lascivious but still managed to make her shiver slightly.
“Charmed,” he said.
“Your brother wants to know about the cheese.”
Sarah tossed a pile of broken dish and cup fragments into her small garbage can and returned to her desk. “Sorry, what?”
Karen’s image flickered slightly on Sarah’s computer screen, which she had carefully angled away from the small sofa where Jareth was now reclining with his mostly-finished glass of wine. Before Karen could reply, a pajama-clad Toby hopped into the frame.
“Is the cheese okay? Italy’s where they make Parmesan, I learned that in school. Did it get broken in the earthquake?”
She felt Jareth move at the sound of Toby’s voice and quickly turned to glare daggers at him, mouthing “Don’t you dare.” He rolled his eyes and made a mocking “shhh” gesture before turning back to his wine.
“Hi Tobes. I don’t know about the cheese yet—a few of my dishes and glasses got broken, though.”
“Whoooah, cool! When can we play Jaipur again?”
Sarah smiled, her many current anxieties momentarily alleviated by Toby’s ability to jump from cheese to earthquakes to card games in a matter of seconds. “As soon as I get home. Or maybe we could play online while I’m here.”
“Cool. I’m gonna finish my pancakes now, love you, bye.”
Sarah waved as Toby bounded out of the frame and Karen slipped back in. “So you’re all right, then? We don’t need to send in a helicopter?”
“No, I’m good. I mean, it’s scary, and I may be cooped up here for a few days till they fix the stairs, but I’ll be okay.”
“I just wish you weren’t alone.”
Sarah swallowed and forced herself not to glance in Jareth’s direction, ignoring the very faint chuckle that came from the sofa. “Yeah, well, in a small Italian village no one’s ever really alone, believe me.”
She heard the faint sound of Toby calling for his mother from off-screen. “Right, I’d better deal with that, but call us every day, sweetheart, or we’re likely to lose ten years off our lives. I’ll tell your father you’re okay.”
“Will do, love you all.”
Sarah closed her computer. The relative silence in the apartment—except for the occasional sound of wind or bicycles from outside—felt strange.
It didn’t last, of course.
“Your brother could have had his fill of pancakes and cheese if you’d only made the right decision and allowed him to stay with me,” Jareth said nonchalantly, taking another sip of wine.
Sarah’s mouth fell open. “The right—are you conveniently forgetting the part where he would have been turned into a goblin?”
“Not necessarily.” Jareth rose from the couch and went to pour more wine—the bottle was almost empty, Sarah realized grumpily. Maybe it didn't affect him as much. “I could have made him a prince.”
“Oh, that really changes things, I’m sure my father and stepmother would have been fine with never seeing their only son again if they knew he was royalty.”
His gaze was piercing as it traveled over her again in that way that produced a reaction she didn’t want to think too deeply about. “You’re quite suited to royalty yourself, I think.”
Sarah glanced down at her disheveled tank top and shorts and pushed a sweaty strand of hair out of her face. “Uh…because all princesses are a sloppy mess?”
“Hardly. Because you fear nothing.”
Sarah blinked. “That’s not…what…”
Jareth continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “I’ve also often pictured you in regal attire. Something more…restrained, perhaps, than that white dress that was a teenage girl’s fantasy.” He smiled that slightly feral smile again. “Something that would let me see more of you.”
Sarah groaned. “Right, we’re not even at the end of day one and already you’re getting creepy, maybe slow it d—“
She was interrupted by the embarrassingly loud sound of her stomach growling. She sighed. “Normally I’d go down to the market and grab something to make dinner with, but seeing as that’s impossible—“
They both jumped at the sound of a loud rapping on the window overlooking the street. Sarah turned and saw a wooden pole poking through the curtains and then heard a familiar voice down below.
“Saaarah! Saaarah, I bring you foods, you there?”
Where else would I be? Sarah thought, leaning out the window to see Mr. Nunzio standing below, holding what appeared to be several packages wrapped in cloth.
“Nonno, stai bene? Is your house, your wife okay?”
“Bene, bene, all good. So sorry you stuck, we bring you food.”
Mr. Nunzio expertly tied the packages one by one to the long pole and carefully raised them up to the window, where Sarah untied them and placed them on her kitchen table until the apartment was full of amazing smells.
“Nonno, I don’t suppose you’ve got a ladder?” she said. “Maybe I could, you know, climb down in the morning.”
“Ah, sorry, only ladder very busy now, many broken things. And the…the dopo lo shock…
“Si, si, aftershocks. Is dangerous to climb now. But patient, we fix stairs soon.” He lowered the pole and hoisted it over his shoulder. “Is good for you, no? Nothing to do but write!”
Sarah forced herself to smile and to not look in the direction of the Goblin King, whose smirk she could feel burning a hole in her back. “Ovviamente.”
“Ciao then, buon appetito!”
Sarah closed the curtains and avoided Jareth’s gaze as she started carefully unwrapping the many packages of food. “At least I definitely won’t go hungry.”
She looked up to see him gazing at her with an unreadable expression, his arms folded across his chest (which looked rather smooth, she realized, peaking out from within his slightly-open shirt). She sighed. “What?”
“For a woman who kissed like she was starving, you seem remarkably eager to vacate this apartment.”
Sarah ignored the slight shiver that she felt hearing him call her “woman,” perhaps because so many people still treated her like a child. She examined individual dishes and put one of the two containers of freshly chopped apricots and plums in the refrigerator, along with—bless Mr. Nunzio!—a bottle of white wine.
“You told me what I had to do to make you leave. I obliged.”
He moved slowly around the edge of the table, right to the edge of her personal space. “It certainly didn’t feel obligatory.”
“Clearly you’ve never met an actress before.”
He laughed. “Acting. I see. We’ll leave it at that…for now.”
“Good, because I’m hungry and exhausted.”
She surveyed the table. Mr. Nunzio had brought enough food for dinner and breakfast for four. There was a glistening bowl of panzanella that smelled beautifully of fresh onion and basil, a container of still-steaming fried dough balls sprinkled with thin slices of pancetta and crumbles of Stracchino cheese, a bowl of minestrone full of white beans, a plate of sliced Florentine steak drizzled with olive oil and salt, a fresh loaf of Tuscan bread and another of ciabatta, and what looked like lemon-flavored cookies sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Yeah, there are worst places to be trapped. Even if I’m stuck here with my mortal enemy.
She forced herself not to look in his direction. Who’s kind of hot, dammit.
She grabbed a plate, bowl, cutlery, and some napkins from the drawer and then noticed that Jareth had taken a seat at the table. “Do you…even need to eat?”
He considered this. “Not exactly. But I do enjoy certain mortal foods.” He inhaled deeply. “I don’t believe I’ve seen anything like this since the Renaissance. Though table manners were dreadful then.”
Sarah laughed and grabbed another plate, bowl, and set of cutlery. Yep, just sharing dinner with someone who experienced the Italian Renaissance, no biggie. “I figured you’d be used to bad manners by now, what with the all the goblins.”
Jareth wrinkled his nose and carefully ladled panzanella onto his plate. “Just because something is ever-present does not mean that one grows used to it.”
She sat down and dipped a hunk of Tuscan bread into her bowl of minestrone, took a bite, and closed her eyes in pleasure. “I really don’t know if I can ever go home again.”
“I believe I gave you the option not to.”
She shook her head and speared two pieces of steak with her fork. “Nope, we are not arguing about the past until dinner is over, you can give me that much.”
He took a bite of fried dough and pancetta and smiled. “I suppose I could. If you’d give me something in return.”
“You’re not getting another kiss.”
He took a glistening slice of plum from the container without breaking eye contact. “Your sense of fairness appears to have been replaced with a misguided sense of certainty.”
“Whatever. Ask for something else.”
“All right then. Answer me one question. Truthfully.” He trailed one finger over the surface of the plum in a way that made her blush. “And I’ll know if you’re lying.”
She sighed, moving a tomato-soaked slice of bread around on her plate. “Fine. But after dinner. One question answered in exchange for a few moments of peace.”
He bit into the plum and grinned at her. “Agreed.”
He was true to his word, and though Sarah wouldn’t have called the meal “relaxing” or even “pleasant” at least the deliciousness of the food made up for the strange situation. There was a small aftershock during dinner that rattled the plates, but thankfully it wasn’t strong enough to warrant hiding under the table. She thought of opening the bottle of wine that Mr. Nunzio had sent up but decided against it—she was a lightweight and needed all her wits about her. When she got up to pour two glasses of water Jareth chuckled slightly but, again true to his word, did not argue.
She nibbled on a lemon-flavored cookie and sighed contentedly as a breeze ruffled the window curtains. I survived a college roommate who turned out to be a hoarder. I can survive a few days of this.
A while later Sarah emerged from the shower feeling slightly more human, her hair still damp (a nice way to stay cool as she fell asleep, she’d learned, though Karen would have been horrified at the thought of her going to bed with her hair wet). She’d agonized a bit over pajamas, thinking she should probably cover herself as much as possible, but in the end comfort won out over care—the nights were still warm and humid, so she wore a thin, oversized Metropolitan Museum of Art t-shirt over her underwear. Thankfully it reached almost to her knees.
Jareth, reclining on the couch with what looked like the last of the Casale Falchini in a wine glass, cocked his head at her.
“This is what mortals sleep in?”
She grabbed a bottle of lotion from her bedside table and squeezed a small amount into her hands. “This is what I sleep in.”
“I pictured you in something long and flowing.”
“You seem to spend a lot of time picturing me.”
He smiled and took a sip of wine. “It helps to pass the time.”
She glanced between the sofa and the bed and rolled her eyes at her sense of hospitality that he definitely did not deserve. “Do you…want the bed? I could sleep on the sofa.” She rubbed the lotion more vigorously into her hands when he didn’t respond. “You’re, like, a lot taller.”
He smiled and removed his boots. “Very generous of you, but I do not require sleep in the same way that mortals do.” He removed his jacket. “I will remain here.”
She quickly turned away as he started to take off his shirt, wondering exactly how far he was going to strip down. She busied herself with turning down her bed, and when she looked again he was, thankfully, still wearing his trousers, his jacket and shirt neatly folded on the arm of the sofa.
His skin seemed to glow slightly in the faint light of the room. His arms were lean but firm, like a dancer’s, and his smooth chest revealed hard angles that descended in a perfect ‘V’ to his waist. She wondered what his skin felt like.
As if reading her mind, he gazed back and smiled.
She shook her head and turned off the lights, leaving only the faint light from the window. “Right, this has been an insane day, I need some sleep.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something?”
She crawled into bed as nonchalantly as possible. “What?”
“You promised to answer one question truthfully.”
Sarah groaned and turned over on her side so that her back was facing him. “Fine. Ask.”
He let the silence hang in the room for just a little too long before he spoke.
“What did you dream about, when you dreamed about me?”
Sarah felt a chill and sat up in bed, staring at him. “How the hell did you know that I dreamed about you?”
His smile was triumphant. “I didn’t for certain…until now.”
She leaped out of bed and pointed a finger at him. “You goddamn cheat, that’s not—“
“Do you really want to finish that sentence, Sarah?” He leaned back on the sofa and crossed his arms behind his head. She thought she could see his eyes gleaming in the darkness “Why not simply answer the question? And please don’t bore me with an uneventful dream. Tell me about the most memorable one.”
Her whole body felt hot, and she knew it wasn’t the weather. She wished she didn’t remember that dream in such clear detail, but of course she did.
Right, just get out the words as quickly as possible.
She sat on the edge of her bed and took a deep breath. “We were dancing,” she said quietly. “In that…place that you made me dream about—“
“That place was entirely your creation, Sarah.”
She held up a hand and glared at him, not caring whether or not he could see it. “But we were alone.”
He sat up. “Go on.”
She felt a flush creeping into her cheeks. “At some point I said ‘Will you touch me?’ and you laughed and said ‘I already am.’ And we danced, and then I said it again.”
The dream had happened when she was twenty and before she'd had a serious boyfriend. She remembered vividly that feeling of wanting something but being inexperienced enough to not really know what it was, and not sure if once she had it she would run away.
“And you stopped dancing with me, and you leaned down and whispered in my ear, ‘Where should I touch you?’
Sarah could hear Jareth breathing from the sofa. She let the silence linger for a moment, admittedly enjoying the effect she was having on him.
“And I took your hand…and then I woke up.”
There was a long silence. Finally, Jareth made a sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a choke.
“Now who is being unfair, dear Sarah?”
She shrugged and lay down again. “You said you’d be able to tell if I was lying. Must be clear that I’m not.”
“Indeed.” She heard what sounded like him stretching out on the couch. “And where would you have had me touch you, I wonder?”
“Nope, that’s enough questions for one day. I’m going to sleep.” She pulled the very thin sheet over her lower body. “And stay on the sofa.”
“I have no interest in interfering with you while you sleep, Sarah.”
She gave a short laugh that hopefully conveyed a general sense of disbelief, though somehow she knew he was telling the truth. She turned her back to him again, trying not to imagine the very pleasing appearance of his upper body, the feel of his eyes on her, or that still-vivid memory of heat in that long-ago dream, and the many continuations of it she’d imagined over the years.