11. Chapter Eleven
Piece by piece the hat began to form. By morning, Jefferson had something resembling a hat. Though most of the fabric had been unsalvageable. And certain parts of it still contained bloodstains and frayed embroidery. It wasn’t the prettiest hat he’d ever made, but it was the most “Alice like” of all the hats. It was made from her cloak and stained with her blood.
There were a few embellishments he wanted to add before calling it complete. Certain pieces he could just never let a hat go without. Not since that first one had opened a portal and set him on his fate. He had tried to make every hat just the same, and every hat had failed. This one had to be different. This hat served only one purpose. Not to get him home or give him access to all the worlds with magic. Just to get him to Alice.
The sun began to rise as he cut through the final shreds of the cloak. Grace would wake up for school soon. She would see his clothes and know that he hadn’t gone to bed.
The scarf around his throat had come undone through the night. His hair was messy from all the times he had run his fingers through it. And his eyes were lined with red from exhaustion and the tears he had fought when the blood became too much for him to bear. He immediately abandoned the icy blue hat on the table and hurried to his bedroom to make himself more presentable.
This world had a few more perks than the Enchanted Forest, he had to admit. He located the eye drops on his dresser to hopefully rid his eyes of redness. He found a clean scarf and vest and fixed his hair. He wanted to appear more refreshed and clean so that Grace didn’t question him.
And once he was changed, he rushed down the hall and to the stairs so that he could get breakfast started before she woke up. She discovered him only minutes later as he hurried to make pancakes on the stove.
“Good morning, Papa,” she said when she reached the kitchen, still in her pajamas and rubbing the sleep from her eyes. She took her seat at the table as he set a plate down in front of her and kissed the top of her head.
“Good morning, sweetheart,” he replied she hurried off to get her some orange juice.
She must not have slept well either, he thought as he watched her hop down the driveway later. She hadn’t questioned him all morning and seemed sleepy while she ate breakfast. He wondered if he had been loud while making the hat, or if she was simply plagued by the bloodstains of her mother’s cloak like he feared. He knew that he shouldn’t have shown it to her, but she was getting older now, and the questions would keep coming. Maybe she would stop asking now that she’d seen what was coming at the end of the story.
When her bus disappeared down the road, he returned to the kitchen to clean up and make himself a cup of tea. He carried the whole pot up the stairs so that he could drink it while he worked. He set the tray up on the table and returned to finish the embellishments on the hat.
The tea had gone cold by the time he finished. He reached for his cup, grimaced when he realized it was cold, and then decided he didn’t care. He didn’t have the energy to go all the way back down the stairs and wait for another kettle to boil. He spun the hat and watched as it flopped lazily onto the table. He wasn’t surprised, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t disappointed.
He wasn’t disappointed. He was angry. Rage flooded him, and he lifted the white teacup and sent it splattering into the row of useless hats. It hit the wall and shattered, sending cold tea and broken porcelain all over several hats. Then he leaned against the table and sighed. It was a glimmer of hope deep inside his chest. Just a small, stupid little thought. If the cloak wasn’t already a tether to her, then her blood most certainly was. There was magic in Storybrooke again. It could have worked. It should have worked.
But something was still missing. There was more to it than just a portal jumper with a hat. Each jumper had their own unique traits and rules. Alice had a looking-glass that could only take her to one place. The first portal she’d fallen through had belonged to a rabbit, with his own set of rules. Anyone could go either way. No set amount. But the rabbit was cautious about who he brought through is portal. And he had been angry at Alice for falling through, until years later when he discovered she was already a portal jumper before she knew.
Alice’s looking-glass was gone. They’d lost it before she’d come to live in the Enchanted Forest. And his hat, his specific hat, had been destroyed beyond repair. There was nothing left of it but ash now. And he never knew what happened to the ash. Just that the hat wasn’t coming back. And whatever magic inside him that had brought his hat to life was gone. It was the only magic he’d ever been able to do.
He reached for the teapot out of habit and realized then that he’d lost the only cup he’d brought with him. He could go back down the stairs and get another. He could calm himself down as he got another kettle on and started the whole process over. But he was tired. So tired. Not just from the lack of sleep, but all the wasted years and all the useless hats.
Instead, he went to the drawer where the gold-lipped teacup sat inside on a velvet cushion. They’d kept it as a memento and a reminder of the thing that had brought them together. They never used it. And in the brief period of time that Alice had lived with him in a cottage in the woods, they kept it on display in a kitchen window. A treasure instead of a useful dish.
But he was so tired of holding onto useless memories and silly trinkets. Alice was gone, and someday maybe he would be able to accept that. There was always something he was after, he knew. And his hope was futile. He had everything he could ever need and the only thing missing now was Alice. Something he would never get back. It was pointless to grasp for something that wasn't there.
So he set the cup down on the saucer at the table and filled it with the cold tea in the pot. He glared at the useless blue hat in the center of the table, wishing it would spin and glow like the old one. He shut his eyes and whispered to himself.
“I just want to see her,” he pleaded. “I just want to see my wife again.” The hat didn’t respond. There was no magic in him anymore.
As he brought the teacup to his lips, he froze. He could feel it before seeing it or hearing it. His portal had always been noisy and loud. But Alice’s was silent. More like a window that she could turn into a portal with the brush of her hands. But there was always a residual energy in the air whenever a portal opened. A flicker of magic like the electricity in the air before a lightning strike. And he could feel it tingling his skin and zipping through the air. He opened his eyes and looked down at the cup, but instead of the brown liquid he’d poured into it, he was looking at something green.
He was looking at grass.