Chapter 11: Choices, Choices, Choices
Both Alice and Hatter were trudging along the dirt path, wishing to get away from Time as soon as possible. It had nothing to do with Time's personality for he really was not a bad fellow. Hatter and Alice merely wished to be rid of the memories that had just been created moments ago.
With each passing step, Hatter's heart thumped even harder than before. He tried his best to remain as calm as plausible in order to mask his current feelings. Hatter was hoping, praying Alice would remain quiet the entire trip home. He was afraid if the subject was brought up between the two, it would only instill the fact that Hatter had let Alice down, that he was unable to keep his promise to her. His once confident physique as he urged Alice away from the White King's Palace was suddenly diminished. Now, he felt nothing more than a fool, a pitiful fool. But he was so sure Time would be able to help Alice, to find a way for her to be happy. However, those hopes were long gone, left behind at Time's home. All that remained was whatever time he had left to spend with Alice. Simply the thought of it all drove Hatter mad. And he was already mad enough to being with! Losing Alice forever was something his mind could not comprehend and when he did comprehend it, his heart only felt more pain. If only there was a way to ease his current pain...
Alice, meanwhile, was nearly turning mad herself. The debate she had thought was settled now resurfaced. Was she to leave Wonderland now as she had planned? Or would it be better to stay for as long as possible? Oh, this really was rather confusing! The more Alice pondered it, the more frustrated she felt. How was she supposed to come to such an awful decision? The thought was absolute torture. How anyone should have to endure such difficulty was beyond Alice. What made it worse was she not only had to consider her own feelings but the feelings of her friends as well. Which would be best for them, she wondered.
"To leave or not to leave: that is the question," Alice could not help but to quote and alter the infamous line she had learned from her sister during one of her lessons. It appeared to fit perfectly with her situation. "What would you do Hatter?" Although she had asked him before at Time's home, she hoped perhaps now he would answer the question since they were alone.
"To be frank," Hatter replied sadly. "I haven't the slightest idea."
"You don't?" Alice inquired, a little disappointed that he had no answer. She was hoping to have some advice from him considering Hatter knew her better than Time did. At least, she thought so.
"No," Hatter confessed, disappointed with himself now. "In place of Alice I have no idea which to choose. But if you ask me the question as Hatter then I have an answer." Alice became rather puzzled by Hatter's logic though she did not mention this to him.
"Well then, what should I do Hatter?" Alice rephrased her question.
"That's an easy one: you should do whatever makes you happy," Hatter replied simply as though it were the simplest question in the world that required no explanation whatsoever.
"Oh Hatter! That isn't very helpful at all," Alice stated, feeling rather frustrated again yet somewhat amused by his answer. "Don't you see? Neither choice makes me very happy," Alice added, feeling rather gloomy again.
"I'm afraid that's my fault Alice," Hatter replied somberly. "I really did think Time would be able to help you...but it looks like he wasn't much help at all. I got our hopes up for nothing. I'm sorry."
"Hatter, it isn't your fault," Alice replied gently. "At least you tried, right? And I'm glad you took me to see Time."
"Really?" Hatter inquired, thinking Alice merely said this just to cheer him up. He did not really see why she could possibly be glad they had traveled so far for nothing.
"Really," Alice repeated reassuringly. "We wouldn't have had as much fun as we did had we not gone to see Time."
"We did have fun, didn't we?" Hatter said after he thought over what Alice had said. Now that she had brought it up, they really did have some good fun even if the situation became rather mad at times.
"Yes," Alice answered. Hatter managed a smile of triumph: at least he was able to accomplish something during their trip to see Time. However, the thought of Alice leaving was still looming within the air, bringing him to a frown once more.
"Have you decided on what you are going to do yet?" Hatter inquired quietly. Despite his gloomy personality at the moment, he was desperately curious as to what her decision was.
"No," Alice replied sadly though normally his question would have made Alice laugh since she had indicated she did not know what she was going to do only a few minutes ago. The two looked at one another, dismayed.
The rest of the trip to Hatter's house was silent. Alice continued to wrestle with her decision, switching back and forth within minutes. Hatter could see the conflict occurring within Alice and felt it was best not to say anything to her as she pondered. Gradually, his mind began to be filled with emptiness. As the sky grew darker, Alice's head also became rather blank. Tiredness from the day's events was beginning to take its toll on Alice and Hatter to the point where they chose not to say anything simply because they were exhausted. Their feet dragged even more with each new step. Alice no longer bothered to figure out where they were currently located, merely trusting Hatter's sense of direction. However, had there been no path to guide them, Hatter surely would have gotten lost for he too was much too tired to deduce their position. As they neared his house, Hatter nearly forgot that the two were meant to stop at the March Hare's house. Luckily, he was able to recall this information before they passed the March Hare's home.
Tall torches were lit around the perimeter of the March Hare's garden. The overly long table was still stretched out, nearly reaching the opposite ends of the yard. Plates, teacups, pots, utensils, and other necessities for a tea party were still lying calmly on the table, waiting for someone to use them. The March Hare sat as calm as ever in one of the many chairs surrounding the table as he fiddled with an empty teacup out of boredom. Milo was situated on his right, staring off into a never ending void. The Dormouse, sitting on the other side of the March Hare, was naturally sleeping, his head using a plate for a pillow.
The March Hare's ears perked up as he heard Hatter and Alice approaching. His teacup came down upon the table with a crash as he let go of it while looking towards the direction of the sound. Hatter and Alice, now completely wiped from their adventures of the day, trudged as slow as ever across the March Hare's lawn, towards the table where seats were waiting for them.
"Where have you been?" the March Hare inquired impatiently, clearly not expecting them to be so late. "And what the devil happened to you?" he added upon seeing Alice and Hatter's torn clothes.
"We went to see Time," Hatter answered, drowsiness present in his voice, after gazing at Alice for a brief moment.
"Time! My goodness!" the March Hare exclaimed, having enough energy to compensate for the energy lacking in both his friends. "I did not think he would be that ferocious! Oh, you must tell me all about it at once!"
"He didn't tear our clothes: that was a Jabberwocky," Hatter explained.
"A Jabberwocky!?" the March Hare gasped. "Start from the beginning! Oh wait, we must wake up the Dormouse. He really should hear all of this. Dormy! Wake up!" the March Hare continued, slamming his hand on the table near the Dormouse's head causing Alice and Hatter to jump a little. Unfortunately, the Dormouse was sound asleep. The March Hare then tried shaking the Dormouse but to no avail. Once this was a failure, the March Hare lifted up the Dormouse's head. He then grabbed a nearby teapot and poured the tea into the Dormouse's mouth. The Dormouse's eyes shot open for a second before he spit the tea across the table. His eyes then once again closed only now he was sitting up.
"What is going on?" the Dormouse inquired, rather irritated that the March Hare would go to such lengths just to wake him up.
"Hatter has returned and he's brought Alice with him," the March Hare informed the Dormouse.
"Well what took so long?" the Dormouse asked as his head was slowly making its way to the pillow plate once more.
"Hatter was just about to explain," the March Hare replied. "Get on with it Hatter! How did you come into contact with a Jabberwocky?"
"A Jabberwocky?" the Dormouse repeated, his voice quivering ever so slightly, his head lifting again.
"A Jabberwocky," the March Hare repeated. Hatter sat down across from the March Hare while Alice took a seat next to him. The March Hare poured everyone a bit of tea while the two situated themselves at the table. Hatter then began to explain how he came into the forest and found Alice being attacked by a Jabberwocky. Hatter occasionally glanced towards Alice to see if she wished to add anything to the story. But Alice was much too concerned with telling the March Hare she would have to leave Wonderland in addition to deciding what she was to do next. Therefore, Hatter was left to describe the events until it came time to when he was explaining what had happened in the White King's Palace. It was then that Alice was forced to interject and explain to the March Hare she had originally come to Wonderland thinking it would be her last visit and she was awfully sorry for not telling him. Luckily, Hatter had hooked the March Hare into the story beforehand so he did not seem as troubled by the information as he would have on a regular basis. At least for now. Once the group had gotten past the somber topic, Hatter continued the story while enjoying his tea.
"This is absolutely dreadful," the March Hare finally stated, shaking his head after hearing the sad news that Alice and Hatter's efforts had failed. "I think I'm glad I was forced out of the nest as opposed to not being able to see my friends again. At least I can see my brothers and sisters if I want to."
"Indeed," the Dormouse agreed.
"Though of course, I never really want to," the March Hare added, thinking about his rather dysfunctional and irritating family.
"Either way, it's still a choice," Hatter interjected.
"Indeed," the Dormouse repeated.
"So…what's next?" the March Hare inquired cautiously.
"What do you mean?" Hatter replied.
"I mean, is Alice going to stay for as long as she can or is she going to leave right away?" the March Hare answered.
"She hasn't decided," Hatter informed the March Hare, however, he said this rather lowly in hopes that Alice wouldn't hear (which of course she did). The March Hare and Hatter stared at her warily as she was still rather silent for the most part. They could not decide if she was silent because she was pondering what to do next or if it was because she was merely dismayed that she would have to make such a decision. Of course, she could have also been silent due to both reasons. Either way, Alice did not respond to their odd behavior as she normally would have. She merely continued to stare at her empty plate with an elbow rested on the table so that she may use her hand to support her head (which, as Alice would have normally pointed out, was very ill mannered of her). While the two were still exchanging glances, the Dormouse had quickly fallen asleep once more and was beginning to snore.
The low snoring of the Dormouse awakened Alice from her little trance. Her elbow was removed from the table, hands folded in her lap which was her customary posture when there was little activity going on at the table. She stood tall in her seat, her eyebrow raised as she wondered why the March Hare and Hatter were staring at her so peculiarly. But they didn't tell her why. Hatter and the March Hare merely resumed their previous positions at the table. The March Hare took a sip of his tea. Eyes now focusing on the soothing drink, Hatter held out his own cup and the March Hare filled it to the brim once he had finished pouring himself some. Both took a sip: the hot liquid appearing to cleanse them of their current worries. The two silently enjoyed their tea though even the tea could not rid them of the tense atmosphere surrounding the party.
The silence made Alice quite uncomfortable. Though it was what she needed in order to think clearly while making her decision. Still, she wondered if these silent tea parties would now occur often if she decided to remain in Wonderland for just a bit longer. Alice knew one thing was for certain: now that she possessed such knowledge, Wonderland would never be the same. The idea of departing would always hang over her like a stormy cloud that just wouldn't go away and she wondered if it was possible for her to handle such a burden.
With this in mind, Alice heaved a heavy sigh.
"Alice," Hatter remarked gently. "Perhaps it would be best if you gave yourself some more time to decide. At least wait until morning." But Alice merely shook her head before rubbing her eyes.
"I...I wish to go home tomorrow," Alice stated lowly, partially ashamed of what she was saying.
"Oh...well all right," was all Hatter managed to say. He glanced towards the March Hare, both not wanting to ask the question of whether or not Alice meant her wanting to go home was a sign that this was her last visit.
"I'm...I'm going to go home through the rabbit hole," Alice forced forward, her lips not wanting to utter those words. Upon Alice's remark, Hatter and the March Hare shrunk in their seats. Sadness swept over them at their friend's final words. Yet, despite this overwhelming sadness within the two, they tried their best not to show these emotions for they did not want to upset Alice further.
"I shall take you there in the morning," Hatter attempted to say as calmly as possible. However, there was still a hint of remorse in his tone of voice.
"Thank you Hatter," Alice replied softly.
"And I'm coming as well," the March Hare declared.
"Me too," the Dormouse chimed in, his head raising from the table only to once again fall back into place after his statement was complete.
"How could you possibly come if you are always asleep?" the March Hare questioned, shifting the conversation.
"I will manage," the Dormouse replied, not bothering to raise his head again.
"Then it's settled: we will all escort you to the rabbit hole Alice," Hatter said reluctantly but his voice not hinting such an emotion. "Why don't we all go to my house? Alice can sleep while we plan for tomorrow."
"Oh but that wouldn't be very fair Hatter," Alice protested.
"It's really no trouble at all. I have some maps we can use," the March Hare insisted. He then arose from his seat, running towards his house where the maps would be located.
"You really don't have to do all this," Alice remarked, attempting to stop the March Hare but it was too late for the March Hare was continuing towards his destination. "At the very least, I should help with the planning as well."
"Nonsense. You're exhausted, Alice: you look as though you may fall asleep at any moment just like the Dormouse," Hatter said after motioning towards the sleeping creature.
"But so are you," Alice countered. Hatter did look a bit drowsy though he was not nearly as disheveled as Alice.
"True but once I finish this cup of tea, I will feel completely refreshed," Hatter replied before sipping his current cup of tea. Alice was about to continue her protesting but she knew Hatter would be fully energized after the cup of tea since he was already on his second cup. Not to mention, she was feeling a bit drowsy now that Hatter brought it up.
"Here we are!" the March Hare exclaimed as he came back with a stack of maps piling way over his ears.
"That's perfect," Hatter replied, trying desperately to demonstrate some enthusiasm, upon seeing the maps. "We shall be able to plan our course tonight."
"Wake up Dormy, we're leaving," the March Hare said as he made his way towards the exit of the garden. However, the Dormouse was fast asleep. The March Hare was in no mood or in position to awaken the Dormouse once again. "Somebody grab him," the March Hare instructed. "Oh yes, and Milo too."
Without another word, Hatter arose from his own seat as well and picked the Dormouse up. He struggled a bit as the Dormouse was surprisingly rather heavy. However, once he had a good grip of the Dormouse, Hatter began to follow the March Hare out of the garden. Following Hatter's example, Alice gently lifted Milo (who was much lighter than the Dormouse) and carried him out of the garden.
The three marched in a rhythmic procession towards Hatter's house. Though, oddly enough, even after they had left the garden, the March Hare was still leading the way. This became rather problematic as the March Hare began to lose his way due to the darkness. To solve the puzzle, the procession was forced to halt as Hatter and the March Hare switched places within the line. Once Hatter was in the lead, the three were able to find his house within a few minutes. When they approached the doorway, Hatter was forced to put the Dormouse on the ground while he went inside to turn on the lights before returning to show everyone inside.
Hatter sat the Dormouse in one of the more comfortable chairs located in the main room of the house. Alice imitated his actions by placing Milo in another chair though she did not think Milo really needed his own seat. Maps were now resting on the small table located near the center of the room courtesy of the March Hare who was now attempting to find his own seat.
"Do you need me to show you where your room is Alice?" Hatter inquired as he faced Alice.
"No, I can manage Hatter, thank you," Alice replied. Hatter then surveyed Alice for a moment, something unsettling in his expression. Alice became nervous by this expression, almost afraid of what was bothering him.
"I completely forgot," Hatter stated rather suddenly. "You haven't got any clothes for tomorrow." Alice looked down upon her tattered clothes, once again forgetting how torn up they had become. She supposed she could wear these very same clothes tomorrow however Alice was not very fond of this idea. It really wasn't very suitable to be walking about in rags even in Wonderland. Yet, what was she to do? Hatter certainly did not have any clothes for her to wear. "Perhaps I shall see if a tailor is open. Hopefully they will have something for you to wear," Hatter offered.
"It is much too late for a tailor," the March Hare remarked as he searched for a possible alternative. "I would say to ask the Queen of Hearts but I don't think she would let you borrow her clothes especially if you have no intention of returning it."
"Oh, I know," Alice said thoughtfully. "Mary Ann may have something for me to wear."
"Who?" Hatter inquired.
"The White Rabbit's servant," Alice said, forgetting she never really discussed her friendship with Mary Ann and when she did the three never seemed to retain this information. "Her name is Mary Ann."
"I believe I've heard of her," the March Hare said thoughtfully.
"Yes, the name does sound familiar," Hatter added. Alice tried desperately to suppress her giggle at the two's comments. She had no doubt the March Hare may have possibly, vaguely remembered her mentioning Mary Ann; however, Alice knew very well Hatter was merely pretending to recall the name seeing as he had no clue who Alice was talking about before.
"She doesn't live too far from the White Rabbit's house," Alice informed the two. With the White Rabbit's demands, Mary Ann was nearly forced to live nearby.
"Then I will go see Mary Ann tonight," Hatter declared. "In the meantime, I suggest you get some rest Alice. We've got a long day tomorrow." Alice nodded reluctantly. She was beginning to feel like a child again with the way Hatter was treating the situation. Alice should like to think there was some way she could assist. They were going to be traveling to the rabbit hole because of her after all. Yet, at the same time, Alice was very tired and would like nothing more than to rest her head. With this in mind, Alice decided to swallow her pride and consent to Hatter's requests.
"Goodnight," Alice remarked to Hatter and the March Hare.
"Goodnight Alice," the March Hare replied. Alice waited for Hatter to respond to her parting. However, he merely stared at her as if debating about whether or not to tell her something again. Once more, Alice became rather nervous from the look present in Hatter's eyes for whatever it was he wished to tell her it was causing him distress. It was very similar to the look he had given her just before the two had arrived at Time's home. Eventually, Hatter merely sighed.
"Goodnight Alice," Hatter finally said, a sadness still vaguely hidden within his expression. While Alice felt she ought to address the issue, a part of her knew that he was most likely still upset with her leaving. She did not blame him of course for she too was still rather sad about the whole thing. Yet, what more could she say to him in order to clear the atmosphere surrounding them? Not being able to find a solution to this question, Alice merely nodded towards the two of them before leaving the room, heading off to bed for the night.
Even though Alice had been gone for nearly two minutes, Hatter was still standing in the same spot, gazing towards where she had left them as though she had only left a second ago. Hatter sighed once more before removing his overly large top hat, brushing a hand through his disheveled black hair. As he placed his top hat back on his head, Hatter turned towards the March Hare. To his surprise, the March Hare gave him a rather odd look. His beady eyes were wide yet one of his eyebrows was raised while the other crinkled just above his eye; his pink nose was scrunched up causing his whiskers to twitch about. His mouth was neither a frown nor a smile but rather somewhere in between.
"What?" Hatter inquired.
"I can't believe you're just going to let her go like that," the March Hare stated, clearly disappointed to the point where he was nearly reprimanding Hatter's actions. Hatter felt his face shoot to a crimson color.
"Wha-what are you talking about?!" Hatter exclaimed, nearly falling over at the March Hare's remark for he had been caught completely off guard.
"Don't try to hide it anymore!" the March Hare pointed accusingly. "I know you've had feelings for Alice."
"How could you possibly know if I've only known for a few hours?" Hatter nearly shouted with astonishment.
"Hatter, it's been so obvious that you've had feelings for Alice I'm surprised Alice hasn't figured it out. I was just waiting for you to realize it, and I can see you have since you don't take your eyes off her," the March Hare replied, rolling his eyes at the last bit of his statement for he was only fond of the romantic sappiness love ensues upon others during the month of March. Hatter merely stood there, dumbfounded. Had he really been that obvious? If someone as mad as the March Hare could put the pieces together then surely it must be true. This made Hatter feel rather foolish for not being able to recognize his own feelings for so long. Yet, at the same time, the March Hare's knowledge allowed Hatter to relax and no longer shield his feelings of sadness.
"It's too late anyway," Hatter replied somberly. "She's leaving tomorrow."
"All the more reason to stop her and tell her how you feel," the March Hare insisted, now trying his best to keep his voice down so Alice would not hear. "This is love we're talking about Hatter! You can't just let something like this fly by you!" the March Hare ended, his voice reaching a crescendo as he became more enthusiastic.
"Shh! Keep it down, will you?" Hatter replied. The two waited a moment, listening intently, hoping not to hear footsteps from upstairs. "And besides," Hatter continued once he was sure Alice was no where near. "even if Alice could stay, I wouldn't stand a chance. We don't even live in the same world, remember?" The March Hare did not respond right away, contemplating his points.
"That may be true," the March Hare admitted. "But maybe if you told her your feelings, she'd stay."
"Or," Hatter countered, "it would only cause her more stress than before."
"You should still try," the March Hare argued. Hatter did not respond to the March Hare's comment. "At the very least, consider it. You have all day tomorrow and then that's it. We'll never see her again. So at least think about it." There was a heavy silence within the room to the point where the only thing that could be heard was the house creaking and the Dormouse's low snores.
"I'm going to Mary Ann's," Hatter finally stated. "I'll be back shortly." He then fixed the top hat on his head and was out the door.
Meanwhile, Alice had finished placing Hatter's large shirt on as a nightgown (a short nightgown at that). She quickly buried herself under the covers, gazing towards the window with closed curtains. Alice wondered if Hatter had left to visit Mary Ann yet. She wondered what sort of conversation the two would have. Alice imagined it to be a rather awkward conversation. After all, Hatter did not know much about Mary Ann. Of course, Mary Ann did know much about Hatter. Perhaps Mary Ann would be able to smooth the discussion. Alice then wondered what sort of dress Mary Ann would allow her to keep. It would be rather funny if she ended up giving Alice an extra maid outfit. Mary Ann was the sort of person to do something like that. In exchange, Alice imagined Hatter to offer Mary Ann either a free hat or a nice cup of tea. Of course, she was leaning more towards the tea offering. However, Hatter did look rather upset so perhaps he would not offer her any sort of compensation due to forgetfulness. She still could not help but to wonder what exactly Hatter had been meaning to tell her. Gradually, as Alice's mind continued to imagine a variety of possible conversations between Mary Ann and Hatter, Alice drifted off into a deep, unsettling sleep