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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18. Chapter Eighteen

Jefferson knew that the joy of their time in Wonderland would eventually come to an end. They hadn’t spoken about it beyond their conversation that day on the hill, though Jefferson took to kissing Alice as regularly as he touched her. Sometimes they’d spend the entire trip in each other’s arms, laughing and stealing kisses whenever they could spare the moment.

Thought Alice hadn’t brought it up, Jefferson knew someday he’d have to make a choice. He would either have to find a way to bring her home to the Enchanted Forest or find a way to live in her world. Maybe even find a way for the both of them to live in Wonderland together. He just knew that eventually her mother would find someone to marry her to, and he never wanted to lose her.

Wonderland had a peculiar way of reflecting Alice’s moods. On days when she would storm through her looking-glass after a fight with her mother, the sky would storm in anger, and a hot wind would blow in from the Red Queen’s hedges. On days when she was happy, the sun would shine, and birds would sing. He wasn’t sure if it was really Wonderland that was perceptive of her, or if he just imagined it that way. There was never any knowing with Wonderland. It seemed as alive as its inhabitants.

He still knew precisely how Alice was feeling the moment he stepped through his portal and into the rain. He’d never seen rain in Wonderland. The dark purple clouds above dripped with water that was thick and smelled sweeter than any rain he’d ever seen before. He lifted the collar of his coat against the drizzle and hurried down to the patch of mushrooms that had become their regular meeting place. Alice was tucked under the cap of the largest red mushroom, using it as an umbrella to keep her out of the rain. She was leaning against the stem, with her arms wrapped tightly around her knees.

He hurried under the safety of the mushroom and dropped to her side.

“What’s the matter?” he asked, before saying hello or kissing her like he usually did.

“What makes you think something is the matter?” she asked. He smiled and gestured to the water pouring over the edge of the mushroom cap.

“It’s raining.”

“What’s that got to do with me? Does it not rain where you come from?” He laughed and shook his head, leaning on his elbow on the cloak she’d laid out.

“Oh, my dear Just Alice,” he said with a sigh. She warmed to his words and released her tight grip on her knees. She stretched her legs out, careful to keep them from getting wet, then rested her head against him. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “How long has it been since we met?” he asked, rubbing his hands over the bare skill on her arms.

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “Time moves differently in Wonderland.”

“How long has it been for you? In your world?”

“Several months.” He blinked, a bit startled by her answer.

“Only several?” She looked up at him.

“How long has it been for you?”

“A year at least.” She sat up to face him.

“Really?”

“Yes, really.” She looked away, blinking a few times as she carefully calculated the time.

“Curious,” she said. He smiled and reached up to brush his fingers over her cheek.

“I’ve known you long enough to know when you’re upset.” She sighed and pressed her hands to his chest.

“I’m not upset,” she lied. “I just—don’t want to work today. I’m tired of working. I just want this day. For the both of us. To just stay here under this mushroom and not leave until it’s time to go.”

“We can stay as long as you want, Alice.” He meant it. Truly. He’d stay forever if she asked. She pressed her palm flat against his cheek.

“You do know how I feel for you?” she questioned.

“Remind me.” She smiled and shook her head.

“You know I love you.”

“I do now,” he replied with a smile. She sent it back, but there was still something wrong.

“Don’t be silly. You’ve known all along.”

“Perhaps. But it’s nice to hear you say it once in awhile.”

“In your land—in the Enchanted Forest—what do people do when they’re in love?” He wasn’t sure what she meant.

“They usually say it—that’s a good place to start. Kissing is always enjoyable.” He paused as she looked at him expectantly. Her dark eyes shining with the curiosity he’d come to know so well.

“And?” she asked.

“Marriage,” he choked out.

Of course he’d thought about that. But he figured it was a question better left for another time. When they finally figured out how to be together in the same realm more permanently. She ran her thumb over his skin. He was nervous now, and if he knew her well enough to know when she was upset; she undoubtedly knew him well enough to know when he was nervous.

“Is that all?” she asked. His eyes went wide.

“I’m afraid I don’t—know what you mean,” he admitted.

She moved forward and slid onto his lap, knocking the wind out of him as she pressed her lips against his.

“You don’t desire me?” she asked. His heart was beating quickly in his chest. She’d loosened her hair so that it fell around them. He had his hands on her waist but could feel the buttons on the back of her dress. He could see her breathing quickly. She was nervous too.

“O-of course I do,” he stuttered. “But….”

“Is it—uncommon in your land?”

“It’s not uncommon. It’s common. Very common, in fact.”

“Is it a—marriage only kind of situation? Are you afraid of ruining your purity before you’re wed?” He had to laugh. If she only knew.

“It’s not like that where I come from,” he told her. “Love is—love. So long as it’s true—we don’t have the same kind of—restrictions. Or perceptions of—purity.”

“You love me?”

“Yes.”

“And you desire me?” He paused, unable to speak now that he knew what she was getting at. It wasn’t something they’d talked about before. He figured a girl with her background probably wanted to save herself for marriage. It was what she’d been taught all her life. But he did want her. Badly. And now that she was sitting on him, his mind couldn’t focus on anything else.

“Yes,” he admitted.

“Have you thought about me—in that way?” she asked.

“Have you?” he questioned. She laughed.

“I’ve thought about you—constantly.”

“Why haven’t you said anything?”

“I’m saying it now? Now answer the question.” He decided to be truthful again. His mind was hazy, and his body ached for her. She was so warm with her legs wrapped around him, but he could still feel her dress getting in the way. Ruffles and lace, petticoats and ribbons and buttons and buttons and buttons, and all the other nonsense that was keeping them apart.

“I’ve thought about you every day,” he told her. “Since the day we first met. Truly met. I thought about how your dresses always have too many buttons, and I’d give anything to rip them all open. It keeps me up at night. Sometimes I find it difficult to work with you. That night in the orchard. I could barely keep my head on straight.”

“Why have you said anything?”

“You’re a lady. I wanted you to want me first.”

“I want you now.”

He didn’t need to hear anything else. Thoughts of her strange mood had been pushed aside. He assumed it was nothing but nervousness. He pulled her to his lips and kissed her until they were pink and his clothes had become uncomfortably tight. Then she sat up and turned her back on him so he could finally pull open each and every one of those buttons. He did it slowly, kissing her neck every time he got one loose.

“Why do you have so many buttons?” he whispered into the crook of her neck as he slipped another finger through a button.

“My mother thinks it discourages men from wanting to disrobe me,” she told him. He laughed. It had the opposite effect. He never would have noticed her buttons at all if her dress didn’t have so many. It wouldn’t keep him up at night. The first intimate thought he’d ever had about her was because of those buttons, and that only avalanched into what he was feeling now.

“Didn’t work,” he said. She smiled and pulled her hair aside so he could kiss her shoulder and work the rest of the buttons free.

And once he finished with them, he got rid of all the other constricting and binding clothes she was forced to wear. When there was nothing between them but air, he filled that space too. He laid her down on the cloak and ran his fingers over all the lines and marks the clothes left on her skin until they’d faded beneath his lips. She tasted as sweet as he imagined, and she felt even better.

He made love to her under a tall mushroom until the trickle of rain slowed, and the sun began to shine again. He decided that he had to find a way for them to be together. He would marry her if she’d have him. He’d find a way to bring her home. And if that didn’t work, he’d travel to her land and take her from that pretty cage. He’d find proper work and be a good husband. He would do any of it if that’s what she wanted. He was going to ask. He just hadn’t decided when or where.

But when he walked her back to her portal later in the afternoon, her clouded mood had returned. Wisps of colored clouds hung low in the sky, and thunder rolled through, threatening the land with more sweet rain. The sky had been clear for most of the day. They’d spent the afternoon wrapped in her cloak under the mushroom, naked and free and deeply in love.

That joy and the clear skies were gone now. When she told him she had to go home, the sky darkened again. He helped her dress in all her constricting clothes and reluctantly reset every button, kissing the back of her neck as he worked on them. It began to drizzle again as they walked hand-in-hand to the waiting looking-glass. Once they reached it, she unclasped the cloak from her shoulders and neatly tucked it into his arms. She kissed him goodbye, long and hard in the sweet drizzle, and when she slipped through the glass, the thunder rolled. The rain went from delicate little drops to a full downpour.

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