Chapter 6: The Permanence of Permanent Marker

Sarah's fourth romantic disappointment was, by far, the worst of them all.

At the time, Bryson Grant (his stage name) had seemed like the perfect boyfriend; intelligent, charming, romantic, and exceptionally attractive to the eye.

Sarah had met him at an audition for a college production of Hamlet and they had just clicked. He seemed just as committed to the Drama Society as she was and he also shared her dream of appearing on Broadway rather than going to Hollywood because Hollywood, (they both agreed) was not the right place for a serious actor who was committed to honing his/her craft. The fact that Bryce was just as talented with a guitar as he was with a script was enough to make Sarah decide, then and there, to fall in love with him.

The only thing that made her somewhat uneasy was his oddly inconsistent, upper-crust, Oxford English accent (which, she learnt much later, he had acquired from watching several seasons of Blackadder and every BBC News broadcast that he could get his hands on).

After seeing each other for a month, Sarah was ecstatic. The relationship was going so well! He brought her red roses. He recited sonnets to her. He even cooked her dinner. Clearly, her relationship karma had turned. She was sure that, any day now, she would find herself In Love with Bryson Grant and they would live Happily Ever After.

Any day now.

Until one day, when she walked in to his apartment to find him granting a 'Happily Ever After' (so to speak) to his roommate's girlfriend, Susan.

Sarah surveyed the scene calmly, turned on her heel—despite Bryce's naked protests—and walked out of the apartment, making sure that she left the front door open to facilitate the way for any passing intruders.

By the time she got to her dorm room, the shock had worn off and she was seething.

How dare he?

How dare he!

Liar. Deceiver. Betrayer.

Red flickered in her peripheral vision. She felt a sudden tap on her shoulder but when she turned to look behind her, there was only empty air and mocking laughter.

"Lost your head over a fella, lady?"

The voice came from her right. She turned, but there was no-one there.

"Why you do that, lady? You should never lose your head!"

This voice came from her left but was gone as soon as she turned.

"That's how you lose the game, Lady! Lose your heart but never lose your head!"

This time, the voice and the laughter came from all around her.

She gave up trying to find them and simply addressed the room.

"You're right," she said, seething, "I shouldn't have lost my heart or my head. Not over him. Not over anyone."

"Now you're talking!"

Suddenly, she was surrounded by red. Fieries danced manically around her, grabbing her arms and leading her into a frantic dance. She let herself follow them, letting her anger and pain fuel her movements.

"It's not fair, is it Lady?"

She shook her head.

"It's not right, is it Lady?"

"No!" she yelled.

"It ain't the way it should be, is it Lady?"

"No!"

One of the fieries bent down so that they were at eye-level; in the darkness, his pupils were lit up like flames.

"I think you should let us have some fun with your man. What you say, Lady?"

"Be my guest," she hissed.

The fieries laughed triumphantly, twirling her faster and faster until the fieries' bodies blurred together into one continuous streak of red as bright as a bonfire, and Sarah felt as though she wasn't even touching the ground.

And then they let her go.

She was flung toward her bed, where she landed with a strong bounce, the mattress creaking as it launched her back into the air once, twice. When she finally stilled, she desperately tried to catch her breath in the now silent room, her heartbeat gradually returning to normal.

Well, she thought, that was unexpected.

She was motionless in the darkness for what seemed like hours, trying hard to think about absolutely nothing. It was only when she heard the fire engines roar pass by her apartment, followed by police cars and then ambulances that she began to stir.

And then it hit her.

What have I done? she thought frantically.

She quickly rolled off the bed and left the apartment, running toward the sirens flashing red in the distance.

When she got to the scene, she saw Bryson Grant tied to a weather vane on the roof of the local Catholic Church, his pants around his ankles and his genitals painted bright red with permanent marker. 'Cheeter' was written on his chest in the same color. Something a little more colorful was written across his buttocks, also misspelt but still quite legible. Even from the considerable height of the church, Sarah could see the crazed look in his eyes.

The sheriff who was directing the scene barely raised an eyebrow.

"He's probably on some new drug," he told the reporter, who was covering the story for the local news. "Last week, we had some guy climb to the top of a water tower thinking that he was Obi Wan Kenobi. He was convinced that The Force would help him to fly safely to Nebraska. And don't get me started on the guy who thought he was an orange." He took off his hat and ran a hand through his flattened hair. "In my day, kids would just get drunk and maybe tip a cow. Now days, they think that they are a cow and ask to be tipped."

It took two cranes and eight hours to get Bryson Grant down from the weathervane, the rescue made even more difficult by Bryson's rants about the red monsters coming to get him.

Unfortunately for Bryson, the permanent marker used on him was, as the name suggests, permanent, which led him to pursue all future amorous activities in the dark. The fact that these future activities were confined to his committed, monogamous relationships is a testament to the power of negative reinforcement as a motivator for lasting behavioral change.

Fieries 1-Bryson Grant 0

Sarah returned to her dorm room guilty and subdued. With a sigh, she took a good look at her room. She noted the romance novels poorly hidden behind her textbooks; the poster of Gustav Klimt's The Kiss above her bed; the display of rose quartz on her dresser that was supposed to attract Love into her life; and the statue of Romeo and Juliet that she had bought in a souvenir shop in Verona. In that moment, she realized that it was all just junk.

She had inadvertently turned her room into a shrine devoted to the kind romantic Love that was proving impossible for her to find. She had naively believed that if True Love was unobtainable, then surely just Love was within her reach. But after this episode, she wasn't sure if she even wanted Love, with its infinite capacity for pain and betrayal.

For the second time in her life, she packed away her childhood dreams in a cardboard box and sealed them up without a second glance.

When she finally fell asleep, exhausted and dry-eyed, his voice spoke to her yet again.

Giving up on Love, precious thing? the voice drawled, amused. I wouldn't do that if I were you...

The voice had a point. With both True Love and Love annoyed with her, Sarah's love life was, to use a colloquialism, screwed.

Sarah realized that she had made a grave mistake as, one-by-one, her romantic relationships fizzled like fireworks set alight in a lake. Romantic prospects that seemed suitable after a first date phoned to tell her that they had been mysteriously transferred to Uzbekistan or Botswana; others that seemed genuinely interested in her found themselves reconnecting with an old girlfriend or deciding to take that long-planned solo trip to some far-flung destination that didn't have cellular access.

Once these promising romantic opportunities were eliminated, there were the far less promising prospects left for her to date. Some men were pretty to look at, but such was their lack of mental faculties that if you put your ear beside theirs, you would hear the ocean. Others were intellectually fit but physically or morally repugnant. Then there were the ones that had strange habits—picking dead skin off their feet at the dinner table, or collecting pieces of dandruff that resembled historical figures.

Once all of these men had been discarded as potential mates, then there were only the dregs of the dating pool to connect with—the ones who were obsessed with their mothers or who had once been in a meaningful relationship with an inanimate object.

Sarah had half-heartedly dated them all. At this point in her life, there had been so many near misses, near hits, and utter catastrophes in her romantic life that she no longer bothered to share her relationship missteps with her Labyrinth friends. She would play down her disappointments and laugh off her loneliness, despite their worried looks and their offers of assistance. She never complained, lest she unleash something worse than the fieries on these unsuspecting men.

Then, when she had even given up on dating, she met Geoff Harvey. He had been appointed to direct the Broadway-bound play she was starring in and although it is a cliché for a director to fall for his leading lady, it appeared that it was happening nonetheless.

Sarah was justifiably cautious, but it turned out that Geoff was actually wonderful. He was committed, kind, intelligent, sensitive, and strong. They first became friends and then became more than friends. Better still, he appeared to adore her and she thought very highly of him, indeed.

When he asked her to marry him, she said a tearful 'yes', convinced that, this time, everything would work out for her in the end.

It did, but not in the way that she had been expecting.

Author's Note: As always, mega thanks for all your spectacular reviews! Salmon, Cheetos, and permanent makers for you all!

But...hang on-do you hear that? That creaky, slithery, glittery sound?

That is the sound of the Goblin King sliding into his best pair of leathery, crotch-enhancing pants-and it's all for you. Hold on, he's coming...