STRANGERS WELL MET
The harsh blaring of Sarah's alarm clock jolted her, as it did every weekday at 5:25 a.m., and her hand smashed it into submission. Horrible inventions should be outlawed in all fifty states and whatever territories the U.S. currently claimed partial ownership.
'Hell, might as well wipe them from this entire world's plane of existence while I'm at it,' Sarah thought, cheerfully indulging in her nine-minute snooze induced fantasy. 'I'll probably be declared an international hero.' A tiny smirk formed on her lips as she imagined a world free of pre-dawn morning alarms. Someday, she promised herself. As soon as her moderate book sales really took off she would quit her full-time day job as an editor and devote all her time to writing; all her non-oh-my-God-it's-too-flipping-early-time that is. The alarm blared again. Alarmmeet hand.
"'Early bird gets the worm my ass, not if its brain is dysfunctional due to sleep deprivation," she mumbled as she forced her body to roll from her snuggly, toasty bed and stumbled to her attached bathroom. Twenty minutes later and Sarah was moderately presentable to the New York City public, not that they cared or would even notice, but she believed in always looking your best. Not runway model best, but washed, brushed, clean and suitable clothes all with at least a touch of make-up.
Like her mother, Linda and her step-mother, Karen beat into her since adolescent, "You never know when you're going to meet Mr. Right." Plus, looking good helped her feel good, especially on those not so wonderful days. Ha...Mr. Right, two engagements down and still no luck in the romance department. She turned thirty last year, all her friends were married, and the odd looks from friends and family started already. The looks stating you sure she's not really gay? Quite certain the blatant and rude questions were soon to follow; Sarah chose the path of least resistance, the healthy combination of ignoring and denial.
On her way out she grabbed her purse and her computer bag. Her drooling mouth anticipated her early morning ritual of coffee, muffin and her cozy, quiet corner at the corner café while she worked on her computer, planned her day and generally booted up her mind before going into the office. All the employees at the café knew her by name, and knew her to arrive by 6:15 to 6:30 a.m. every weekday. Therefore they did their best to unofficially reserve her favorite chair by running interlopers off. Sarah generously tipped them for their efforts. Calling her a creature of habit was mild, calling her a control freakbarely an insult.
But then when one messes up so early in life and narrowly corrects it, one is certain to gain a certain amount of anxiety regarding saying or doing the wrong thing. A single thought of how close she came to losing Toby to the Goblin King always gave her nightmares for a week. The Goblin King...Sarah's step through her apartment lobby faltered as his face flashed through her memory. As much as her near failure frightened her and the Goblin King embodied that fear, thinking of him individually never engendered fear within her. Rather, from the beginning, his image inspired something else altogether discomforting that a fifteen year old girl had no right imagining about a man...being...whatever...so obviously older, and not human, than herself. Sarah shook her head.
"Snap out of it, moron," she walked outside into the brisk spring morning, "you haven't heard or seen Jareth since you defeated him over fifteen years ago. It's done, he's gone. It probably wasn't even real." Which was a terribly sad thought, and not the first time she tried to convince herself. After the first few visits from her friends she stopped hearing from them, and was unable to contact them through her mirror. Eventually, she gave up but always wondered how much was real and how much her imagination. She hated that it might be all in her mind, not because it made her crazy, but because she loved the thought of real magic existing...somewhere. But if it was all a lie...all in her head...well, that just sucked. Cause then what else wasn't real? True love?
'It's too early to think this much, Sarah Williams,' she admonished her random brain. It tended to run off onto tangents without her permission, often deep, metaphysical tangents which put her into icky moods. Great for her writing, not so great for interpersonal relationships; people these days rather watch shallow reality television then participate in meaningful, unsolvable-problem conversations.
With an expressive sigh, Sarah pushed open the door to her home-away-from-home café, walking without looking to her personal landing zone in the back corner. Inattentive to her surroundings, Sarah slung her computer bag off her shoulder, and onto her reserved seat; so the grunt and whooshing, masculine 'oof' following her routine maneuver caught her by surprise.
Her head snapped up as she blurted out, "Oh my gosh; I am so sorry!" She quickly registered several things. A strange man sat in her seat. She had, in fact, racked said strange man in the groin with her ten-pound bagalthough the bag was padded it didn't seem to improve his current distress. And the man sat curled forward in the seat leaving only the back and top of his head exposed to her view as she gazed down. His short, almost spiky, dark blonde hair boasted highlights and his clothing, while casual, was of the best cut.
"Sir? Are you alright?" she tentatively asked, her hand hovering over his bowed head. How does one comfort an unfamiliar man after basically kneeing him in the groin? "Sir?" She heard him suck in a ragged breath.
"Did I offend you in some former life?" he managed to say bringing his head upwards to face her, and Sarah ceased breathing then immediately progressed to hyperventilating.
"Oh...oh my God...what are you doing here?" she said. In some corner of her mind she heard her voice squeak. His eyes, they were his eyes!
"Pardon?" He asked, perplexed then added brusquely, "I was enjoying my coffee and paper until you assaulted me!"
"But...but...you're in my seat," she said, lamely and not at all truly attempting to establish property rights.
"Pardon? Your seat? It was my understanding that this was a public coffeehouse therefore personal ownership of seating does not exist." He glared upwards, his legs twitched as if to stand, but Sarah noticed his eyes still held pain. He removed her bag from his lap, and dumped it unceremoniously on the floor at her feet.
Hearing his arrogant tone, she shivered. His voice: baritone, British-like and yet not completely; all these years and his smooth voice still pierced her armor faster than any others. Simultaneously, she wanted to slap him and jump into his lap
"What...are...you...doing...here...Jareth?" Sarah replied in a deliberate, demanding tone, crossing her arms over her chest. Whatever game he played she tired of it quickly. His brow arched...geez, even that looked sexy. He did raise to his feet then, pain notwithstanding, forcing Sarah to step back.
"Miss, I don't know what game you're about, but my name is Gerard Scott. Whoever this Jareth bloke is I pity him for he's obviously angered you enough to commit unfair attacks upon innocent men."
"W-what?" she said, dully. He towered over her, not because of his heightJareth or Gerard was not an excessively tall man, perhaps just under six foot, but his innate presence dominated the room for at least a twelve foot radius, probably more if she took the time to measure it. And she stood smack in the middle of that wave of personality, all five foot six of her athletic frame. His hand waving in front of her eyes pulled her back to the present.
"Miss? Are you alright?" his ducked head met her glazed eyes.
"You...you don't remember me?"
The brow arched again accompanied now with a small, but sincere smile accented by an adorably rakish goatee which made her insides squirm. "I'm quite sure I'd remember a face as lovely as yours, but no; I can honestly say I've never seen you before in my life," Gerard answered.
"Oh." Sarah sighed, disappointed then her eyes bugged open. This man, this Gerard...this entire situation, "OH, I'm so, so sorry. You must think I'm some sort of insane person." She made her eyes plead with his on her behalf, and watched as his previously angry, mismatched irises softened with emotion.
"It's quite alright," he said. He knelt to pick up her computer bag and handed it to her, "I've been to New York before and am familiar with the oddity of its residents." Their fingers brushed as she retrieved her bag, and an electrical-like zap surged up her arm.
'It's too much!' she thought, 'I can't do this.' Humiliated, Sarah snatched her hand away, spun, and raced from the café without looking back. She heard Gerard calling her, his frantic 'miss, miss, wait' following her to the front door and beyond. Finally, all those jogging miles paid off as she outpaced the man-who-was-not-Jareth and put him far behind her.