Sarah was driving down a steep hill in her parents’ neighborhood, one of the ones that had always made her nervous, especially on rainy days. As usual, her foot was pressed firmly on the brake.
Far ahead, a woman in a long white dress was crossing the road. Sarah had seen her before—many times, in that exact spot, she realized. Every time, she would think to herself that the woman was far away, there was plenty of time, she’d be across the road by the time Sarah reached her.
But the woman moved so slowly, and the car didn't slow, and that’s when Sarah realized that the brakes weren’t working and the car was gaining speed. And she screamed and screamed, and just before the car was about to collide with her the woman turned so that Sarah could see her face…
Then everything went dark, and she was thrashing violently, still screaming, but something was pinning her down, an unfamiliar voice repeating her name.
“Sarah. Sarah, wake up.”
“I killed her, I killed her—“
“Sarah, you didn’t kill anyone, you were dreaming.”
The last vestiges of the dream slipped away and Sarah felt the weight of her body lying on her bed, the sheet below her soaked with sweat, her heart thudding in her chest. She stopped thrashing…
…only to realize that the Goblin King was on top of her.
Not entirely on top of her, to be exact, but he appeared to be sitting on the edge of her bed, his upper body bent over hers, his arms pinning her shoulders down, his face close enough to hers that his hair was brushing her neck. She pushed against him and it was like pushing against a steel wall.
“Get off of me!”
“You need to wake up first.”
She kicked violently, but he easily avoided her legs. “I swear to fucking God if you don’t let go of me right now—“
“I will, once I’ve ascertained that you won’t leap out of bed and jump through the window.”
Her words died on her lips as her mind transitioned fully from the dream world to the waking world, and she remembered the nights that Karen or her father had talked her down from these dreams. How frightened they had been.
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “I’m awake now. I won’t jump out the window, you can get off of me.”
Slowly, Jareth released her shoulders and moved back slightly so that he was no longer hovering above her. She winced, sitting up and rubbing the spots where his fingers had gripped her. Pieces of the dream still flickered in her mind.
Of course this would be the night that the other dream, the one she thought was finally gone and that most definitely did not include romantic dance interludes, would come back.
She’d had it several nights a week up until a few months ago. It was, in fact, the absence of the dream that made her think that she was ready to write again, and to spend time away from everyone she loved.
She sighed and pulled her knees up to her chest, feeling her heart still drumming loudly. She took a deep breath in, another one out. It would pass. It always did.
“I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me what you were dreaming about?”
Sarah groaned, trying to ignore the extreme nearness of Jareth’s naked chest gleaming in the faint light from the window. “No.” She let her face fall forward onto her knees. “You can go back to the sofa now,” she said, her voice slightly muffled.
“I’d rather not.”
She shrugged. “Then don’t.”
He chuckled. “One day you will actually admit that my presence does not repulse you.”
Sarah laughed. Damn him, he still smelled good. “There’s a big gap between “repulse” and “please.”
“And I am a great builder of bridges.”
Sarah sighed. Her heartbeat gradually slowed back to its normal pace. The images of the dream had mostly faded, but she found herself reluctant to return to sleep.
“Do you really think I’m afraid of nothing?” she finally asked.
He shifted slightly on the bed. She imagined his eyes traveling over her. “You were afraid of me, once,” he said. “But not anymore.”
“Yeah, I’ve got plenty of other things to be afraid of now.”
“And yet you still live.”
She laughed. “Well, yeah. I guess that’s something.”
A faint light played at the window curtains. Sarah wondered if it was almost dawn.
“Why were you sad?” the Goblin King asked.
“When I first arrived, you said that you were finally ‘good’ after a long period of being ‘not good.’ What was it that made you ‘not good’?”
Sarah lay down on her side. “Not tonight.”
When Jareth remained seated on the edge of the bed, she said “You, uh, really don’t need to stay here.”
“I remain unconvinced that you won’t dream that dream again and do damage to yourself or the furniture.”
Sarah laughed. “Yeah, well, you’re not sleeping in this bed with me. That’s against the rules.”
She groaned. “We…I…don’t share a small bed with men that I’m not, you know…”
She could feel him smirking. “I’m afraid I don’t know. Do enlighten me on this fascinating mortal custom.”
“Oh, like you don’t—look, mortal women don’t usually sleep in a t-shirt and underwear squeezed next to men that they haven’t been…physically intimate with.”
“I see. So you’re saying that we should be physically intimate as soon as possible, then.”
“That is not—“ She could tell he was trying to hold back laughter. “Damn. I walked right into that one, didn’t I?”
“Perhaps.” He stood and pulled the thin sheet up to cover her lower half. “I will abide by your strange logic which apparently counts sleeping as more intimate than carnal relations.”
“It’s easier to kill someone when they’re asleep.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Is it, now?” He stood, and a part of her frustratingly ached to see his lean form stride back over to the couch. “You’re a wealth of fascinating facts, reginetta.”
She thought to herself that she really needed to look up that word before she fell, eventually, into a peaceful and deep sleep.
Sarah awoke to the feel of a breeze against her skin and the sound of plates and cups clanking against each other. She glanced at her phone on her bedside table—nine-thirty already? She never slept this late.
Blinking the room into focus, she could see the Goblin King (now shirted, she was slightly disappointed to notice) moving around in the kitchen, pulling containers out of the refrigerator and laying cutlery on the table.
She blinked again. A magical being showing up unannounced on her doorstep and finding himself confined to her Tuscan vacation home was something she could wrap her brain around. But waking up to find him preparing breakfast? That might be too much.
She surreptitiously pulled on her cutoff shorts and flip-flops and joined him in the kitchen. “Morning. You, uh, been up long?”
He turned to her holding two coffee mugs and smiling. “The princess awakens from her slumber. There is fruit, bread, what appear to be cured meats, and the beginnings of this delightful stimulant that I cannot recall the name of…”
He closed his eyes in rapture. “Yes, coffee. Which the goblins must never find out about, but which I adore.” He placed the mugs on the counter. “Sadly I fear the means to magically turn it from powder to drink are not available to me at the moment.”
She opened the lower cabinet. “Italian press. I’ll show you.”
He watched carefully as she unscrewed the bottom of the metal coffee maker, poured water inside, carefully ladled spoonfuls of finely-ground coffee into the cup, and then put the whole contraption onto the stove.
“Maybe you could take some of this back with you,” she said as the hot water began to sputter. “You know, as long as you could keep it hidden from the goblins.”
“Nothing worth having stays hidden from the goblins for long,” he sighed, peeking under the lid at the bubbling coffee. “Though it is duly noted that you are already planning for my departure.”
“Of course I’m planning for your departure. I’ve got work to do, and I prefer to do it alone.”
“I can make myself invisible.”
Sarah laughed as the coffee maker finished sputtering. “Unless you mean in the literal magic sense, I don’t think it’s possible for you to be inconspicuous.”
“My my, did you just pay me a compliment?”
“Of course not.” She avoided his eyes as she poured the coffee into two mugs and took hers to the table, sitting in the chair closest to the window. “Just…I meant that, you know, you don’t exactly blend in with the walls and furniture.”
“Indeed, I do attract the eye.”
She resisted the urge to argue, knowing that was what he wanted and, by some primal instinct, not wanting to give it to him. He sat in the other chair, as always spreading his body out over it in a way that made it look like a throne. A trick that she really should learn to master, Sarah thought.
“Anyway, aren’t you planning for your departure? I’m guessing you weren’t planning to relocate to Italy permanently. ”
Jareth held the coffee mug in both hands and inhaled the steam that wafted near his face, smiling. “At the moment I’m planning for a very satisfying cup of coffee. Beyond that, I have learned not to plan.”
“Well, as long as you’ve lived I guess you’ve kind of seen it all.”
Jareth took a slow sip of coffee, leaning back and closing his eyes with an expression of such ecstasy that Sarah almost blushed. She grabbed a slice of apricot and quickly popped it into her mouth, silently thanking the heavens that Mr. Nunzio hadn’t brought them sliced peaches.
He opened his eyes and smiled at her as he grabbed a piece of bread and a slice of mortadella. “I haven't seen this, right here, right now,” he said.
“Huh.” Sarah covered a piece of bread in berry jam and took a bite. “That’s one way of looking at it.”
They made it through breakfast without incident. Sarah found herself hungrier than usual and filled up with more fruit and bread, leaving crumbs all over the table. Jareth, for his part, seemed partial to the mortadella, eating slice after slice with crusty bread (and somehow avoiding any mess).
“Right,” she said eventually, gathering up plates and cutlery. “I, uh, need to work.”
“Mortals do far too much of that.”
Sarah rolled her eyes as she ran water over the dishes in the sink. “Yeah, well, we don’t have the option of magicking food and shelter out of thin air.”
He brought his own plates and cutlery to the sink—she couldn’t tell if he was being helpful simply to get on her good side, or if he actually cleaned up his own messes in the castle. Probably the former, she decided, not that she was complaining.
“As I currently do not have ability to magic anything out of thin air, I might make use of your bathing facilities and ask you for a spare set of clothing.”
Sarah blinked. An image of the Goblin King naked in her small shower flashed vividly through her mind, and she shook her head to quickly banish it. As usual, Jareth smirked as if he could see inside her head.
“Right, uh…” She shook her head and transitioned into hostess mode, grabbing a clean set of towels from the bathroom and rummaging in her bureau drawer. “I, uh, don’t think I have any pants that will fit you, but maybe this’ll do for a shirt?”
She handed him the towels and another of her oversized sleep shirts, this one an official Wicked Broadway T-shirt with the neck cut out. He smiled at the image.
“Right, off you go, then.”
He chuckled. “You do love telling me to go.”
Sarah sat down at the small desk where she’d set up her computer and other writing-related books, trying to convince herself that this would be a day like any other. “You, uh, know how to use a shower?”
“The apparatus may have changed somewhat since my last visit to this realm, but I will manage.”
Sarah nodded and booted up her computer. She heard the sound of water running and immediately pictured Jareth sliding out of those very-tight trousers and stepping under a cascade of steaming water…or maybe he preferred the water cold, which would mean goosebumps all over that smooth skin…
She shook her head. What the hell is wrong with me? Sure, I had one…okay, maybe more than one sexy dream about him, but still…
She threw her sleep-shirt in the laundry basket and grabbed another tank top from her bureau, pulling it over her head quickly before seating herself at her desk to stare at the document on her computer screen, trying and failing to remember what she’d been writing before her world turned upside down the day before. She swore she could hear satisfied moans and sighs coming from the bathroom.
Dammit, he’s doing this on purpose.
She closed her eyes and forced her fingers to type, even if she had trouble remembering the most basic things about her novel right now.
Eventually the water stopped, and Sarah forced herself not to look toward the bathroom, turning herself into the picture of concentration so the Goblin King would have no excuse to smirk at her when he emerged. But then the door opened and she couldn’t help herself.
She’d expected him to be wearing his trousers and new shirt, or maybe, maybe the larger towel that she’d given him. But no.
He was wearing the hand towel around his waist. And it left very little to the imagination.
He dried his hair with the larger towel and sighed happily as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening. “So refreshing,” he said. “Something else that magic can’t quite replicate.”
She realized that she’d been allowing her eyes to move up and down his still-damp body and quickly turned back to her computer screen. Her eyes definitely couldn’t focus on the screen, but she could at least pretend not to notice him.
“Something wrong, Sarah?”
“Nope!” she said, her voice a high-pitched squeak.
She could hear him rubbing the towel over himself, which certainly didn’t help her maintain her composure. “Then why are you typing as if you were trying to murder your machine?”
She gritted her teeth. “Just waiting for you to put some clothes on.”
“I have covered the part of me that I thought might cause you offense.” She could feel him smirking. “Am I really that distracting?”
Sarah groaned and turned to face him. “Are you seriously telling me it wouldn’t distract you if I were just standing here in nothing but my underwear?”
He smiled, continuing to casually pat his hair with the towel. “Only one way to find out. And we know that you’re far too much of a rule-follower for that sort of thing.”
Sarah’s cheeks felt hot. “A rule-follower?”
He sighed as if this fact made him genuinely sad. “Yes.”
Sarah felt her heart pounding. “I thought I feared nothing, at least in your eyes.”
“I stand by that assessment. You don’t follow the rules out of fear. I believe rules, as arbitrary as they may be, give you comfort." He ran the towel slowly over his upper body. “They keep everything from getting…complicated.”
Sarah clenched her fists at her sides. I will not give in. This is a game to him, and if I get riled I let him win. I will not get riled.
She rolled her eyes and stood up. But dammit, I will wipe that smug look off his face.
With a grace she didn’t normally possess, Sarah kept her eyes focused on Jareth’s and quickly removed her shirt and shorts. Planting her feet firmly so that she wouldn’t tremble, she crossed her arms under her breasts as casually as she could manage.
Jareth froze. He stared at her in genuine surprise, his mouth slightly open. She felt herself smiling—mission accomplished, at least.
And then the surprise on his face changed to a look of open hunger. His breathing quickened. He dropped the towel he’d been using to dry his hair.
She cleared her throat. “I win,” she said quietly.
He smiled, but there was nothing smug about it this time. “Oh no, reginetta. I believe I’m the clear winner here.”
The distance between them suddenly felt a lot smaller. Though they stayed still, it felt like they were running at each other at full speed, and Sarah couldn’t help wondering who would swerve first.
He took a small step in her direction, waiting and watching, maybe to see if she would stop him with a word or a look. She didn’t.
Another step. Another. She could see the steam rising off of his body now.
She could see everything that would happen before it happened, feel it, how warm his skin would feel next to hers, the way his hands would grip her, the places he would put his mouth. She wondered if he would push her back onto the desk, or take her up against the wall, or maybe carry her to the bed…
She wanted it up against the wall, she realized with shocking clarity.
He was inches from her now, his hand reaching out to grip her neck…
“Saaarah! Saaarah, stai bene?”
She froze. The look of rage on Jareth’s face was genuinely frightening.
Sarah blinked, and world seemed to come back into sharp focus again. She quickly pulled on her tank top and shorts and went to the window, where Mr. Nunzio was waving to her from the street.
“Nonno, yes, bene, and you?”
“Good, good. We bring you more food later, yes?”
“Si, grazie. And thank your wife, breakfast and dinner were delicious.”
“Prego, ciao for now.”
Sarah took a few deep breaths. When she turned away from the window Jareth was standing with his arms crossed.
“Let me guess,” he said, his voice dangerously calm. “ ‘That was just a game, you provoked me, I don’t know what you’re talking about, stai immaginando?’”
Sarah forced herself to keep her eyes above his waist and sat down again at her desk, staring at her computer screen. Her heart was thumping so loudly in her chest she was sure he could hear it.
“Something like that,” she said, letting her head fall into her hands.
Jareth sighed, returned to the bathroom, and closed the door. She could hear him putting on his trousers.
“As soon as my magical abilities are restored,” he called out to her, “I am turning that man into a goblin.”