Finding Alice

“Every time I close my eyes
It’s like a dark paradise
No one compares to you
But there’s no you,
Except in my dreams tonight.”
-Lana Del Rey

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4. Chapter Four

Alice was a thief. A sneaky little thief. Jefferson returned home to the Enchanted Forest and managed a quick pickpocket job in the market that got him a mediocre meal. Even though he wasn’t hungry, his pride was hurt. The teacup was supposed to be an easy job that gave him a place to stay and warm food to last for at least a week. Instead, he slept against a tree in the woods, twirling his hat in his hands and unable to sleep.

His employer didn’t have another job lined up after the cup. He didn’t know what was so unique about it. The hare had plenty of cups, but that one was somehow different from all the rest. The hare said it had magic, and if Alice had been looking for it too, then it meant someone else knew about that magic. Someone from a different land. He had to find out who was looking for it, though he hadn’t told his employer about his new competition. He wasn’t sure why.

He returned to Wonderland the very next day anyway. He stepped out of his portal and out onto the road. The familiar scents hit him like a wall of nostalgia, but he pushed them away before the pain could settle back in. He marched down the road in search of the hare and his decrepit burrow. He was going to get information from the hare if he had to shake it out of him. He wanted to know everything about Alice, her employer, where she was from, and why she wanted that silly teacup anyway.

Alice found him first. He pushed through the tall blades of grass, uncertain of where the hare’s burrow was now. Sometimes Wonderland changed without warning. Something would be there one day and somewhere else the next. The residents of the realm never seemed to notice, but it was always significant enough to startle him. After he passed the whispering pansies, he knew he was at least headed in the right direction.

“Hello,” a voice said as chimney smoke appeared in the sky above the tall blades of grass. Jefferson jumped before turning around to face her.

It took him a moment to respond. She was leaning against a mushroom in a dress a slightly more vibrant shade of cyan. She had no cloak this time, and she’d pulled the ribbons from her hair so that the golden strands hung wavy and soft around her shoulders.

He was briefly stunned beyond the ability to speak. It was easy to overlook the fact that she’d tricked him so dishonestly. That was why beautiful women made good thieves, he’d been told. He tried not to let her win him over with her sly smile and delicately pink lips. She held her arms behind her back in a posture of playfulness and mock innocence.

“You robbed me,” he stated, pointing a finger at her. He stepped forward as the momentary shock wore off. Her grin grew more full, and he couldn’t help but picture the cat that stalked the trees in the nearby woods.

“I did no such thing,” she said. “The cup was never yours.”

“Who do you work for?”

“I work for me.”

“Who wants the cup?”

“Maybe I wanted the cup. It’s pretty. Maybe I have a whole collection of pretty things I steal just because I like them.”

“I went hungry last night because of that pretty thing.” Her playful smile fell, and her eyes pinched with concern.

“Did you really?” she asked, her concern seemed genuine.

He almost believed she actually did care. But her clothes, her shoes, everything about her screamed wealth. Even from another realm, she had to live comfortably. She didn’t steal for food. She did it for fun. And he knew that people who came from wealth often cared very little for those who didn’t. Wealth wasn’t entirely unfamiliar to Jefferson, but only because he lied, cheated, and stole just to get a taste of it.

“You think I do this because it’s fun?” he asked her. “I slept beneath a tree last night. Starving. There were ogres.” It had actually been a rather pleasant night, but he didn’t want her to know that. There could have been ogres. Though he wasn’t sure she even knew what an ogre was.

“I’m so sorry,” she told him anyway. “I didn’t know. I wouldn’t have toyed with you if I’d known you’d go hungry.”

“Yes, you would have. I know plenty of women just like you. You take from the poor without any care for where they sleep and what they eat. What if I had a child to feed? Would you care then? Or do you want the poor to starve so the rich can thrive?” She pushed away from the mushroom, pink in the cheeks and obviously offended.

“I would never steal from a child. I don’t care what kind of person you think I am. I know who you are and I know you don’t have a child. Don’t try to play on my sympathy. You think I enjoy this life? That I do it for fun?”

“I think if you have enough money for gowns like that, then you have enough to eat. As far as I’m concerned, you might as well be royalty. And therefore you had no reason to take that cup from me.”

“I didn’t take anything from you. We had the same objective, and I’m simply better than you. You have plenty of silver on your knuckles. If you went hungry last night, it was your own stupid fault.” He gripped his fist tightly, feeling the rings dig into his skin.

“These are all that’s left of my family. I don’t wear them for fashion.” That was another lie, but she didn’t need to know that. Making her feel guilty was tending to his wounded pride.

“I never intended for you to go hungry over a trade,” she decided. “If you want the bloody cup back, I can give it to you.”

He’d actually forgotten about the cup. In his anger over his bruised ego, he’d forgotten the whole reason he was angry in the first place. To get the cup so he could have a nice bed and food to sleep in until his employer sent him on another job. He wanted the luxury the cup was going to give him, and he didn’t want to settle for anything less.

“You mean you haven’t traded it off yet?” he asked.

She shook her head and took a step forward. Even her steps were playful. Almost like a dance as she kept her hands behind her back. She was shorter than him, and so when she reached him, she was forced to look up into his blue eyes. The smile returned, and the scent of freshly blooming apple trees washed over him.

“I haven’t even started looking for a buyer,” she admitted. “I figured if a man was willing to chase me for it, it might be worth more to keep around.”

“Of course,” he growled, though his voice was quickly losing its edge. “Because you already have everything you could want.”

Her expression darkened. Her nostrils flared, and she pinched her lips. She was so close that the scent of apple blossoms was making his heartbeat quicken. He wanted to bury his face in her golden waves and feel her warmth against his chest. But he was angry. Angry that Wonderland was getting to his head.

She shifted on her feet and procured the cup from behind her back. He’d been staring so intensely into her eyes that he didn’t notice she had it until it was occupying the very little space between them. It was the right cup, with the fine porcelain, painted red roses, and gold lip. He took it from her hands and examined it in the bright sunlight.

“You’ve had this all along?” he asked as he checked the markings on the bottom just to be sure.

“You said it yourself,” she replied. “I have everything I could want.” The words sounded bitter on her lips. She spoke with a condescending tone and sneered as she turned her back on him and trotted back through the grass toward the road.

He got what he wanted, but instead of relief, he just felt disappointed. It had been too easy. He liked playing games with her. His pride was injured yes, but the chase was over so quickly. All he had to do was tell her he’d gone hungry and she’d rolled over and showed her belly. Giving in without questioning the validity of his lies. Perhaps she wasn’t as heartless as he thought. And it wasn’t disappointment, he realized, but guilt.

He hurried to follow after her, but she was quick on her feet in her shiny black shoes. She’d already reached the road by the time he caught up with her.

“I still have your cloak,” he said as she turned onto the road and headed to wherever she must have left her portal. She had no trouble navigating Wonderland’s tricky landscape.

“You can keep it. Might be able to fetch a bit of gold for it,” she responded, keeping her head high as she marched forward. He got the feeling she intended it as an insult. “Might get to eat tonight. I hope an oogle doesn’t eat you.”

“Ogre.”

She huffed. He could sense her irritation. He’d bruised her pride too. She had her lips pinched tight and her spine straight and poised as she marched. Her hair bounced golden and free as it swung behind her back. The bodice of her gown was done up in what looked like hundreds of buttons. He couldn’t imagine how frustratingly long it must take for her to dress. Then he wondered how frustratingly long it would take to get her out of the gown. A thrill ran through his body as he imagined unbuttoning each and every one of them. Slowly. Maybe with his teeth.

He rushed to pass her and turned so that he could walk backward and face her.

“What do you steal for, if you don’t steal for food and shelter?” he asked, tossing the delicate cup in his hands as if he hadn’t put up such a fight for it. She stopped in the road and put her hands on her hips.

“And what exactly makes you think my business is your business?” she quipped. “I don’t interfere with your work, and you don’t interfere with mine.”

“Ah, but you have interfered with my work. You did so yesterday when you stole this cup right out from under me.”

“I traded for that cup just as fairly as you would have. It just so happens that we had the same objective. I got it first because I’m better and faster. And now I’ll have to count it among my losses. Just make sure you give that hare the tea you promised, or I will hunt you down and smash the stupid cup against the side of your head.” She was infuriating. He wanted to kiss her.

“And your employer won’t be angry with you for not bringing it back?”

“I have no employer. Only buyers. I won’t go hungry.”

She moved passed him and continued on her way. He followed her around the bed in the road. The looking-glass portal appeared just a few yards away.

“And you won’t tell me what you needed this cup for?” he questioned.

“I won’t,” she agreed.

“I told you what I needed it for.”

“And that’s your business to tell as you please.” She reached the frame of gold roses and vines and turned around to face him. She held her head high, though she was still forced to look up at him. There was a look of arrogance and superiority on her face, something she’d learned from years in high society. But then it wavered, and her eyes narrowed. A smile played on her lips. She looked him up and down. “I hope the cup serves you well, Mr. Hatter.”

“Jefferson,” he supplied for her.

“Mr. Jefferson.”

“Just Jefferson. Actually.” She looked him up and down again.

“All right, Just Jefferson. I hope you sleep in a warm bed tonight with a full stomach. Perhaps we will see each other again.”

Wonderland had a remarkable way of making things insatiably enticing. He’d barely just met the woman, officially, and the words “warm” and “bed” were enough to make him lick his lips in anticipation. She smelled like apple blossoms and sweet things, and he couldn’t get the image of all those undone buttons out of his head. Wonderland was remarkable indeed.

“Oh, I do look forward to it, Miss Alice,” he said as he lifted her hand. He pressed his lips against her knuckles, taking in the warm feel of her skin beneath his lips. She caught the implications of his tone, and the intimacy of his lips on her bare skin made her smile.

“Just Alice,” she told him. “And as a parting word or warning, Just Jefferson.” She slid her hand out of his, though he could detect the same coyness in her tone and the emphasis on his name. “The next time we meet, and I’m certain we will,” she moved closer to him. So close he could kiss her without having to reach too far, “run faster,” she said. Then she slipped through the portal and vanished.

He slept under a tree again that night, but instead of a bruised ego and anger, he smiled to himself as he twisted the teacup around in his hands.

 

Hey there, buddies and pals. I draw these two nerds a lot. Idk if I mentioned that. You can check them out on my Tumblr tag here (https://indigodrawsthings.tumblr.com/tagged/finding-alice) if you want. Or I can post them individually with the chapters they relate to, so you don't get some spoilers. Though they won't be in the order that I created them. Because I jump around. Still kinda wanna do the chapter illustrations. But I'll probably just stick to a handful here and there. And post them on that tag on Tumblr.

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