There’s a routine to life in Alice’s world. There’s a time to get up and eat and sleep and shower and even a time for tea.
It’s killing him, all this time.
Alice has school and work and time with her mother, and it seems like he hardly sees her. He’s thought about heading back through the Looking Glass, visiting now and again, but returning to his life in Wonderland, a life he understands and fits into. A life where he’s still Hatter rather than David.
But that might kill him too. The Looking Glass has never been stable, and sometimes there’s just no telling how much time will pass on either side of it. He can’t have the routine, and he can’t have Alice without it.
“You need a job,” she tells him one day. Not because he lives in a dingy little rat-trap—it smells a little like Ratty, which makes Alice wrinkle her nose whenever he stops by—and not because her mother complains when he comes by for dinner almost every night—she doesn’t, not after he saved her daughter—but because, “You’re floundering, Hatter. You’re bored.”
He isn’t, though. It’s not boredom. It’s restlessness. He gets antsy. He wants to be doing something.
“What kind of job?” he asks, because he has no idea what getting a job entails. He still hasn’t figured out the idea behind money, how little pieces of paper can be worth anything more than other little pieces of paper.
“Why not try a coffee shop?”
He wrinkles his nose at the idea until she tells him that coffee shops serve tea as well, and sometimes muffins and scones.
The muffins and scones are nothing like he was expecting. He tries to explain to his boss what muffins and scones should be like, but all he gets is a blank look and a polite request to pay attention to the milk he’s meant to be steaming.
(Why anyone would steam their milk, he still doesn’t understand.)
Training goes just fine. He can watch and listen and pretend he understands. But then they start him on a cash register, and he’s still confused by the money, so he ends up short his first day. By a lot. His second day, he’s over, and he can’t explain that either.
His boss is very understanding, and she decides to try him on The Machine instead.
It looks and sounds like an instrument of torture, and Hatter isn’t sure he wants to start on it, but there isn’t anything else for him to do, so he agrees. He’ll do battle with The Machine because it means keeping a job, and keeping a job is apparently something that’s important in Alice’s world
When he leaves (for the last time; they were very clear on that) he thinks he won that battle. There are pieces hanging off The Machine at angles that indicate it will never again spew steam at another unsuspecting pot of milk.
He can’t tell Alice, of course. She’s been making Plans. Plans that include them finding a little flat together. Something small and modest but nicer than Hatter’s current abode and near enough to her mother that they can still have dinner from time to time. She’s found something that will work, she thinks, and he lets her think he still has a job so that he doesn’t disappoint her.
It works just fine until she stops by the shop one day to surprise him and they tell her he’s been fired.
They have a Long Talk that evening about important things like Honesty and also Trust and Partnership.
She says they can still afford the flat, but will he please try to find another job?
He promises, and he does try, but the whole process is foreign to him, and he gets the feeling he keeps saying things he shouldn’t in the interview and botching the whole thing.
He thinks he’s managing, though, until the day Alice comes home to their new flat, pauses in the doorway and says, clearly trying to stay calm, “Hatter…what is all this?”
It’s only then that he finally looks around and realizes he’s got teacups scattered around the entire flat in various states of heat and fullness.
“Where did you even get all these cups?” she asks, and he can only shake his head. He collects things. It’s a habit he’s yet to break.
Over dinner that night (beans and toast, because he can make that and it doesn’t make Alice feel like she’s at a tea party) she makes the Suggestion.
“Why not open a tea shop?”
“There’s no call for that sort of thing here,” he objects, because for so long ‘tea shop’ has been synonymous with the hectic, barely controlled chaos his place had become that he doesn’t immediately think of the sort of place a tea shop actually should be.
“People here still drink tea, Hatter.”
“Oh, that sort of tea shop.” He smiles once he makes the connection. It feels right. It feels like what he should have been doing all along.
“I’ll have to bring in Dormouse,” he muses, smiling in anticipation of her reaction.
“Not a chance.”
It’s far more complicated than he’d been expecting. They have to get a loan (difficult considering neither of them really have credit to speak of) and investors and a location and a staff, but eventually they get all those things, and Hatter is satisfied. Alice tries to get him to find a cohesive design scheme, but in the end she agrees that the mismatched collection of chairs and tables and silverware and tea sets suit him far better.
He refuses to sell coffee, and he has to teach his baker what he means when he says muffins and scones. At night, he comes home smelling of paint and tea and sometimes slightly flour-dusted, and Alice tells him that she likes it, and he believes her as much because he wants to as because of all that Honesty and Trust they’d talked about.
The day before he opens, he still doesn’t have a name, but Alice just shakes her head and says not to worry about it, and when he comes in the next morning, he grins.
He didn’t make the hat he wears and his name tag says ‘David,’ but the sign over the front door proudly reads, ‘Hatter’s.’