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


10. Chapter Ten

A splash of icy blue caught Jefferson’s eyes when he returned to the ballroom with the Baron. A title he had only learned through the whispers of the servants who corrected him when he said “sir” instead of “my lord.” The man had offered the clothes in kindness, and they’d spoken about the Duke and what it was like to grow up on some far away estate. Jefferson lied through his teeth, and he had a suspicion that the old Baron was aware of the lies. But the man continued to supply him with answers whenever he hesitated between sentences.

They had thankfully parted when they reached the ballroom. The Baron had business to attend to, and no matter how much he wanted to have “Mr. Jefferson, cousin of the Duke” play cards with him, it was a private business. So the young man found his way back and saw where Alice stood at the other end of the long room.

He caught glimpses of her through the dancers as he weaved his way to her. They moved back and forth to the music, but Alice found a place along the way and stayed in a shaded corner by a table piled high with sweets. Her hands were neatly folded in her lap. She looked lonely.

Her position didn’t strike him as odd until he was halfway across the ballroom. There were young women everywhere. They smiled and batted their eyelashes at him as he passed. They huddled together in groups, whispering about titles and wealth. Each group of them was inevitably followed by a man trying to write his name on a dance card or catch the attention of a particular interest. He passed a whole cluster of young gentlemen talking and laughing about which women would make the best wives, and which would make the best lovers. There wasn’t a single person with Alice’s name on their lips.

Alice was lovely. Beautiful in any realm. She had a face that was delicately proportioned and eyes that hinted at an underlying mischievousness. Men should have been shoving each other just to be near her. Just to flirt and smile and hold her hand. But they acted as if she wasn’t even there. Her expression was serene as she watched the dancers until her eyes found Jefferson’s in the crowd.

“Miss Liddell,” he said once he reached her side.

“Mr. Jefferson,” she replied with a smile, mocking him and his insistence on being ‘Just Jefferson.’ “My brother’s clothes suit you well.” He smoothed out the front of his vest. It was a bit tight in the shoulders, and the length of the arm was off, but it helped him blend in a little better.

“I feel guilty for being here. Even more for accepting it. I think your mother may want my head for it.” Her grin widened, and for a moment she didn’t look so lonely anymore.

“Oh, she most certainly does. And she knows you’re a liar as well. You should leave before she gets her hands on you. She’ll make a mockery of you in front of the entire nobility. Only after she convinces you that I’m vile.”

“I’m sure I can handle it. I have no reputation to uphold here, and I wouldn’t believe a single ill thing spoken against you.” She snorted in what was a very unladylike laugh. She had to disguise her face behind her white glove to let it out. Her cheeks pinked and he smiled at the sight of it. Even though Wonderland wasn’t making his head rush with the scent of apple blossoms, he still couldn’t keep his eyes off of her. “Your mother did say something about a dance card though. Would you allow me to fill out my name?” Her expression relaxed.

“There’s no need to fill out your name. You’re the only person who’s asked.” He stretched out his hand, and she set hers softly into his.

“I find that hard to believe.”

“If you stay here much longer, I’m sure you’ll find it very easy to believe.” The song ended as he led her out onto the dancefloor. “Are you certain this is a good idea?” she whispered as she set a hand on his shoulder and he placed his on her waist. “Do you even know how to dance in this land?”

“I’ve visited plenty of lands. Shouldn’t be too hard to figure out.”

“I hope you’re right. For your sake.” The music began, and Jefferson led her into the dance. Her eyes lit up when she realized he knew what he was doing. The corner of her lips lifted into a half-smile. She was impressed.

“You’ve been here before, haven’t you?” she questioned. He smiled smugly.

“I’ve been to a lot of different places, Miss Liddell. I’ve learned to blend into all of them.” Her smile fell.

“You shouldn’t have come here,” she told him once they began to spin away from other dancers and out of earshot.

“I know,” he admitted. “I’m sorry. I didn’t intend to crash your party. I just wanted to set up a time to meet you in Wonderland. In all the years we’ve worked in Wonderland, we’ve never crossed paths until now. I didn’t want to rely on chance again.”

“What could possibly be so important that you had to find me quickly?”

“How about we save that conversation for Wonderland? Where we can’t be overheard. I just needed to set up a time.”

“Well all right.”

“When can you meet me?”

“I was planning on going through again tomorrow night. Provided that the chance presents itself. Tonight would be inconvenient. My mother’s party will keep me here late."

“Tomorrow then. There’s really no telling time in Wonderland, is there?” She laughed.

“No, I suppose there isn’t. At least not one I’ve figured out.”

“You know where the road branches off and heads toward the entrance to the Queen’s maze? By those rude pansies? That cluster of mushrooms that are bigger than horses?” She smiled.

“I know the place.”

“I’ll meet you there. Whenever our times happen to overlap.”

“That works for me. In the meantime, you should be cautious. After we finish this dance, you should find your belongings and go. My mother already suspects that you and I—and there are plenty of people between you and that portal. If she gets her hands on you—I’m not certain she’ll let you go. At least not without drawing blood.”

“I’ll survive. But I’ll go. I promise.”

Her expression had gone serious. The candlelight flickered through crystals and lit up her face in a warm yellow glow. The color in her realm wasn’t as vibrant as Wonderland or even the Enchanted Forest, but she was still the most beautiful woman in the room. She may have been the most beautiful woman Jefferson had ever laid eyes on. He didn’t want to ruin her reputation, but he wanted to help her. He could see a pink mark on her chin and the way she’d gone so still and tense when her mother appeared.

“If you want me to go now,” he continued, “I will.” She shook her head once, quickly, so that he almost didn’t see it. She didn’t want him to go, but she never said it.

“Can I ask you something, Just Alice?” he asked as they danced along and she turned her attention to the people in the room, searching the crowd for her mother’s scowling stare. He couldn’t see anyone else.

“What would you like to know?” she answered. She turned her dark eyes back to him.

“I told you why I do what I do. Now I want to know why you do it.” She pinched her lips.

It was obvious now why she took to a life of stealing and trading in Wonderland, but he wanted to hear her confirm it. If only to settle the madness that was telling him to sweep her away from this beautiful estate and all the food and jewels she could ever want.

“Have you ever wanted to change your destiny?” she asked him.

“All the time,” he replied, without a hitch.

“I was born with certain expectations. I had my whole future planned out for me before I ever got to decide who I was or who I wanted to be. I’ve never been in want of food or clothing. But I do have dreams of my own. And I’ve never met anyone who wanted to know them. I’ll have to find a husband, be an obedient and quiet wife, and bare him heirs. If I’m lucky, I might even be allowed to run his household. But I’ll die unknown. I’ll be a baron’s daughter and my husband’s wife until I die and nothing more.

“Perhaps I’ll be lucky, and my husband may find me tolerable. Maybe he’ll even want to know me. My memory might live on for another generation or two if I happen to produce children who find me worthy of remembering. But that’s all. My life doesn’t belong to me.”

“This house,” he stated, “is a pretty cage for a bird to be trapped in.”

“What good is a pretty cage if the bird can’t fly and the other birds have sharp beaks and claws?”

“So you steal so to avoid marriage and a family?” She laughed, though it didn’t sound very amused.

“Certainly not. I do it for the freedom of my own choice. I do it because I can. That’s my only rebellion, don’t you see? Wonderland is all I have that is mine. It’s all I’ll ever have.”

“Why not go through your portal and never come back?”

“Believe me, I would if I could. But I’m not like you. Wonderland is the only land I can access. And what kind of life would I live in a place where the Queen wants my head because I painted her white roses red? Not quite the life I’d hoped for, I’m afraid.”

“So what are you looking for then?” She almost answered, but seemed to bite her tongue. She stepped back and out of his grasp as the song ended. Then she gave him a low curtsy and told him as much of the truth as she was willing.

“I only want a place to fly,” she said. “I don’t want to live my life in a cage. I want a forest. With trees to land on and open skies. A nest I build for myself. A flock I choose for myself. Chosen for love. Not a cage. No matter how pretty.” He returned the bow like the other dancers but didn’t want her to slip away. Though he knew one more dance wouldn’t be appropriate.

“You should go,” she repeated. “Now. Or they will lock you away. Not all cages in this land are pretty.”

He would have heeded her warning. He watched her slip away through the crowd and disappear amongst all the gowns. He was going to find his clothes and return to his portal, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him from leaving. Helen stood behind him, with her green eyes shining and a wicked grin.

“Mr. Jefferson,” she said in a falsely welcoming tone. “You’re a marvelous dancer. I would be delighted if you’d share the next dance with me.”

“Lady Liddell,” he said, lifting her hand to lead her into the next dance. “I would be honored.” She smiled and placed her other hand on his shoulder, but he was tense and nervously searched the crowd for Alice. Helen pulled him into the dance a bit roughly, forcing him to focus on her.

“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” she remarked. He looked back down at her.

“I beg your pardon?”

“My daughter. Alice. Beautiful.”

“Yes, indeed. She is.”

“Such a shame. A wasted beauty.” His eyes creased in confusion. “Her sister was envious of her when they were children. She didn’t get the beauty, but she at least has her sanity. It was much easier to find her a husband.”

“What do you mean?” She feigned surprise.

“You mean you don’t know?”

“Know what?”

“Alice—the poor girl. Went quite mad some years ago. We’d hoped to have her married by now, but no one will take the risk of having a mad wife. Or possibly passing that onto their heirs. The poor girl can’t even make a friend, let alone find a man willing to wed her.”


“You know I'm not surprised she hasn’t told you. We had to have the poor dear committed to an asylum. It was a dreadful time for the family, you can imagine. I know it must sound absurd to you. My other children turned out just fine, and I’m blessed to have them. But Alice. The poor girl has never been all there in her head, you understand. She visioned up a magical place where rabbits could talk. Fell into a rabbit hole is what she said. Saw monsters and creatures. A cat that could smile. A rabbit that carried a pocket watch.” She sighed dramatically.

“We tried to hold the rumors at bay, but you know how servants like to gossip. You would have heard of it sooner or later. I’d rather you heard it from me. Alice never did recover from it. She even had a name for the place. Underland? Something of that sort.”

“Wonderland,” he corrected. Her eyes lit up with genuine surprise.

“So she has told you.”

“No. She hasn’t told me anything.” He leaned in close, his blue eyes alight with mischief. “She got there through a rabbit hole, and I got there through a hat. Did she tell you about the hare who drinks too much tea? Did you know the rabbit’s watch goes backward? What about the Red Queen? Did she tell you about how the Queen tried to take her head for painting all her white roses red? The Jabberwock? Oh, I bet she didn’t tell you about the Jabberwock.”

The woman stumbled over her feet and stopped in the middle of the dance floor. He leaned in closer to Helen’s face. Dangerously close. Jefferson’s reputation meant nothing to him in this land, but Helen’s meant everything to her. And the close proximity to him would have the party gossiping for weeks.

“You know what they call me there? In Wonderland? They call me the Hatter,” he told her. Then he smiled. “And you know what they say about hatters.”

He laughed as he walked away. A boyish giggle, where his eyes had gone wide. Helen said nothing as he disappeared into the crowd, but he could see by the look on her face, that she thought him just as mad as Alice.

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