Chapter 15: After Wonderland
Alice slowly opened her eyes. Dinah was sleeping next to her, curled in a ball. She sat up in bed, searching for any sign of Hatter. But, to her dismay, he was nowhere to be found.
"Have I been dreaming?" Alice wondered. Her fingers lightly traced over the tip of her lips, recalling the way Hatter's touch felt. "But...it felt so real." Alice then gazed around her room. An overwhelming sadness began to settle in as she gazed upon the furniture, her old toys, and other such things that cluttered her room. "There is no way I could have been dreaming this entire time." And then, a strange thought occurred to her. Did it mean by growing up one realized that Wonderland really was nothing but a fairy tale? After all, she had come out of the looking glass before once her adventures were over. Never had she woken up from her bed: she only awoke from a dreamlike state the first time she had visited Wonderland. Is this why she could never return: because there was nothing to return to? If there were a Wonderland, logically, Hatter would be in the room with her. But he wasn't.
Alice's mind was becoming a mess and this discouraged her greatly. She simply could not comprehend the idea of Hatter being but a figment of her imagination. Yet, the more she thought of it, the more it appeared to make sense to her.
"If I did not have many friends growing up because they didn't believe me about Wonderland then I could have easily made up my own friends," Alice thought to herself. Oh, but she did not want to believe such things yet she could not help but to consider it!
Alice ultimately decided that the best thing to do would be to get dressed before continuing a course of action. After some searching, Alice settled on a yellow dress with lavender ribbons before departing her room. Yet, even as Alice's hand lightly traced the railing of the staircase, Alice felt empty inside. It was as though a part of her had died along with Hatter's disappearance and the confusion within her only made things worse.
Alice turned towards the front door as someone was knocking while she was beginning to descend the stairs. She watched with curiosity as Lorina went to answer the door.
"Hello," Lorina remarked as she opened the door just a crack in order to keep the winter air out of the house. "May I help you?" she inquired, indicating to Alice that she did not know the guest. Alice then looked towards one of the windows: the sky was still gray and a blanket of snow covered the ground. She had almost forgotten it was still winter and not spring like in Wonderland. Alice felt a pang at the thought of such a place. Wonderland: such a ridiculous name for a place that supposedly truly existed. In order to diverge her thoughts, Alice began to wonder why someone would be at the door when it was so cold out and so early in the morning.
"Yes, you see I was walking by and I happened to notice that this poor fellow has been left in the snow," Alice vaguely heard a man reply. Poor fellow in the snow? What on Earth was this man talking about? Oh dear, perhaps Snowdrop or Kitty was left outside all night in the freezing cold!
"Oh, why thank you," Lorina said as she took something from the man. "Alice," Lorina called to her younger sister. As Alice slowly continued to descend the stairs, she could hear Lorina still talking the man. "I don't know how Alice's rabbit could have possibly been in the snow. I suppose it must have fallen out of the window." By this time, Alice had reached the bottom of the staircase and was now walking towards the door where her sister was. It was then that Alice was able to get a good look at the man who had mysteriously showed up at their door.
Alice's expression remained blank upon gazing at the man's face but her heart was racing with anticipation for the man looked identical to none other than Hatter! Yet, Alice felt as though there was something different about him, if this person was indeed Hatter, but Alice could not quite place what this difference was. There was something inside her that was unsure as to whether or not the person standing before her was the same man who had confessed his love to her as they fell up the rabbit hole. However, her analysis was caught short when Lorina handed her Milo.
"Alice, you are lucky this young man happened to be walking by and found your rabbit," Lorina said. "You should thank him. Oh!" Lorina remarked, momentarily stopping her reprimanding. "I'm terribly sorry: I did not even get your name."
"It's all right. My name is Reginald Raven Hatter," the man answered as he briefly removed his hat only to place it back on his head. Alice was not entirely sure if she heard him right: did he say his name was Hatter?
"Hatter?" Lorina inquired, thinking this a rather peculiar surname and confirming that Alice had indeed heard right. Yet, a part of Alice was still skeptical: a coincidence perhaps. Even if she wanted to confront this man about her suspicion, Lorina would not approve. Not to mention, if Alice was wrong and this whole episode was nothing more than childish fantasies she would risk embarrassing her sister only to be reprimanded severely later.
"Yes, you see, it is ironic because I am a hatter," Mr. Hatter replied. "I'm hoping to open up a new hat shop."
"Well, it's very nice to meet you Mr. Hatter," Lorina replied. "My name is Lorina and this is my sister Alice."
"Thank you very much Mr. Hatter," Alice interjected. "Though I do have a question for you, if you don't mind."
"You may ask me anything," Mr. Hatter replied.
"Why were you walking in the snow?" Alice inquired. She simply could not help herself: she had to know if this truly was Hatter.
"Alice!" Lorina exclaimed, stunned her sister was asking such a rude question.
"Well, you see I am not from around here," Mr. Hatter began to answer. "But I was on my way to Cheshire-."
"So far! And on foot?" Lorina exclaimed.
"I don't believe I know what you mean," Mr. Hatter questioned, a puzzled expression present on his face.
"Cheshire is Northwest on the map while Oxford is Southeast Mr. Hatter," Alice explained though she too was quite confused by Mr. Hatter's statement. If he really was Hatter, why would he want to go to Cheshire? Would he not want to stay here in Oxford? Alice began to second guess herself: of course this was nothing but a mere coincidence because the real (or imaginary) Hatter would be hugging her right about now and pestering her with questions about her world now that he was here. But this man was different.
"Oh," Mr. Hatter replied. "I suppose I ought to get a carriage then." Gradually, Alice's hopes of Hatter being at her door were dying down: there simply was no way Hatter would know what a carriage was since she'd never seen one in Wonderland. Then again, she may have mentioned carriages to him at some point in time. Oh, this was all dreadfully confusing!
"Won't you please have some tea before you go?" Alice offered, clearly requiring more analysis of this man to see if he truly was Hatter. She wanted more than anything to believe that he really was standing in front of her but there was still doubt deep within her mind.
"Alice," Lorina was beginning to protest.
"Oh but Lorina, it would be rather rude if we did not offer him tea. After all, he has been walking in the snow for who knows how long. And he still has such a long way to go," Alice argued politely.
"But we haven't even had breakfast. Perhaps another time."
"Please, Lorina." While Lorina was still against the idea (after all, she still had to discuss the matter with their mother and father), the persistence she saw within Alice was like none other. There was a subtle hint of passion within Alice, a passion Lorina had never seen before.
"Very well," Lorina said, sighing. "You may show Mr. Hatter to the parlor while I have the maid prepare the tea. May I take your hat and coat, Mr. Hatter?" It was then Lorina and Alice realized he was not wearing a proper coat for the winter but instead a simple frock.
"That's all right. I don't wish to trouble you any further," Mr. Hatter replied. Without another word, Alice led Mr. Hatter to the parlor. She occasionally glanced back towards him, to see if perhaps he would say anything that may be a dead give away to his true identity. But there came none. This was perfectly all right for now Alice had alone time with Mr. Hatter where she would be able to possibly ask about Wonderland without Lorina knowing. Upon gazing around the parlor, Mr. Hatter drifted towards the piano that was situated in the corner of the room.
"May I?" Mr. Hatter inquired.
"Yes, of course," Alice replied. She was a bit disappointed by this: Alice expected Mr. Hatter to reveal his identity as Hatter once no one else was around...if he was Hatter of course. As she sat Milo down in a chair, music began to fill her ears: the sweetest and most foreign music she had ever heard. Alice watched as Mr. Hatter's hands moved gracefully across the keys before she boldly sat next to him on the piano seat. He did not seem to mind this and merely continued to play while Alice continued to stare at him, her gaze mostly focusing on his face. "Do you know," Alice began, "that you have a tag still present in your hat?" This was indeed true as Alice noticed a traditional tag reading "In this style 10/6".
"Yes, it's a new hat," Mr. Hatter answered, not taking his eyes off the white and black piano keys.
"Did you make it?" Alice further inquired, desperately searching for some clue or reveal from Mr. Hatter.
"Yes," Mr. Hatter replied. "And I must say: you are a very curious girl."
"Well, you are a very curious person," Alice countered. Mr. Hatter laughed a little at Alice's comment.
"Perhaps I am," he remarked, still playing all the while.
"You said you aren't from around here," Alice stated, attempting to remain as cool and collected as possible. "Have you traveled a good deal?"
"A fair amount."
"Tell me," Alice began and this she said a bit more lowly than before. "have you ever been to a place called Wonderland?" It was then that Mr. Hatter abruptly ceased his piano playing. Alice held her breath as silence filled the room so much silence that she felt the only sound was her own heart beat which was beating rapidly at the moment.
"Wonderland..." Mr. Hatter repeated as he smiled. "...is such a wonderful place."
Alice's face lit up upon hearing this and a new ray of hope filled her entire body. It was Hatter after all! There was no way a stranger would ever admit Wonderland existed.
"Hatter!" Alice exclaimed as she threw her arms around his neck. He was caught off guard by this but embraced Alice as soon as she came into contact with him. Hatter smiled as he held onto her, his one hand resting on her golden hair.
"Alice," Hatter remarked as though he could not believe she was here, with him. After all, it was quite strange to suddenly be in a completely new world that he never thought he would get to see. This entire situation was unbelievable and yet he knew it was as real as could be.
"Oh, and for a moment I thought Wonderland wasn't real," Alice confessed. Really, what a silly thing to think! Of course Wonderland is real, as real as it ever was. And it was silly to think Hatter was not really Hatter. He even said his name was Hatter! It would have been risky for Hatter to act as though he knew Alice since Lorina did not know who he was and as far as everyone else was concerned, Alice and Hatter had never met prior to today. Now it all made perfect sense to Alice as she continued to scold herself for believing Wonderland to be nothing but a fantasy.
"Wonderland not real?" Hatter questioned, confused. "It will always be real Alice so long as you believe." Alice wrapped onto his neck a bit more tightly upon Hatter telling her this. She really had been silly to think such a thing. "And I don't think you will have much trouble believing if I'm here."
"No," Alice agreed, kissing Hatter on the cheek after she said this. "I won't."
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