“He could wear hats. He could wear an assortment of hats of different shapes and styles. Boater hats, cowboy hats, bowler hats. The list went on. Pork-pie hats, bucket hats, trillbies and panamas. Top hats, straw hats, trapper hats. Wide brim narrow brim, stingy brim. He could wear a fez. Fezzes were cool. Hadn't someone once said that fezzes were cool?”
― Kingdom of the Wicked, Derek Landy
The specialty hat shop was tucked away amongst a few other shops, including one that sold vintage clothing and another that featured antique furniture. It was in a quiet neighborhood, along a street with narrow sidewalks, trimmed trees, and snow piled on the ground – a perfect Christmas card picture. Hatter was wrapped up in so many layers, that he could feel the drops of sweat dripping down his back, despite the chilly temperatures, and just wanted to get back home as soon as possible. Or rather get back to Alice.
Hatter regretted the fight that he and Alice had earlier that resulted in his hours-long walk around the city. He couldn’t even remember how it started, but Hatter knew that part of it came from his current insecurity about not having a job. It had been six months since Alice’s and his return from Wonderland, and there were still so many things that Hatter didn’t understand about this new world. He was used to getting by on just his wits, his connections, and his charm, but here in Alice’s world, it appeared that he needed so much more than that. Hatter had initially loved being here – learning what the Oysters had invented, how they lived, why they fought and loved. It had been overwhelming, but in the best possible way, and in those first few months, Hatter had adored being there. And Alice had been by his side during those initial explorations – hand in his and always ready with an answer to his many questions.
After the first few weeks of staying with Carol, Alice’s mom, they had both decided that they needed to find a place together. Carol had not been overly thrilled about this decision. She had been convinced that Alice was still emotionally distraught from what had happened to her and she still didn’t trust Hatter. Alice had done her best to explain to her mother what had happened, including that she was fine and happy with Hatter. Eventually, Carol came around, (though Hatter still went out of his way to be as polite as he could whenever they visited Carol), and Alice and Hatter had moved into a small, 1 bedroom apartment nearby.
But then the time had come for Alice to get back to work and those spontaneous outings had stopped. They would still go out to dinner, and explore random parts of the city, on the weekend. Hatter also loved the time when Alice would come home from work and they snuggled on the couch, continuing to get to know each other better. But, soon enough, Hatter didn’t know how to occupy himself with all of those extra hours during the day. There was only so much TV he would watch, and so many websites he could explore, (the Internet was both fascinating and terrifying to Hatter), and many of his days were filled with boredom.
This became a problem as time went on and, the first time that Alice suggested Hatter look for a job, he had been upset and they had gotten into their first fight. Once both their tempers had cooled, Hatter had managed to think through what Alice had been trying to explain and he agreed with her that he needed to find something to occupy his time.
But his first attempts at finding a job were dismal at best. He had credentials for this world, (thanks to Prince Jack), but despite a fantastically fake resume, (that Alice had helped him write), and applying for several job listings, he hadn’t heard back from anyone yet. In Wonderland, Hatter was known for being able to always find the right item for someone, and turn just the right phrase to get someone to fall for whichever story he was pushing that week. He never had to worry about finding his way, even if that path sometimes led him astray at times. But, here, in Alice’s world, everything was structured differently. Hatter felt off-center and all of his usual tricks didn’t seem to work like they had in Wonderland.
So, now Hatter found himself outside of a specialty hat shop, looking at the assortment of hats and holiday decorations in the window, and wondering how he was going to apologize to Alice for the earlier fight. She was the one thing he could depend on, the one thing that had kept him tethered since his trip through the Looking Glass to this world, and he couldn’t imagine being without her. He had never been in love like this before and the thought of having hurt Alice broke his heart. This was also part of the reason why he was determined to find a job. He didn’t want to be solely dependent on her while he was living here and the idea of doing something new, something different from what he had done in Wonderland, greatly appealed to him.
As Hatter stood there in the cold air, hands stuffed in his pockets, he noticed a particular hat in the window display. He had never seen a hat like it before and he was curious to see what it was made of, what it might feel like to the touch. He headed inside the shop, the tinkling of the bell above the door signaling his arrival to the shop assistant.
“Hello,” Hatter said. “I was wondering if I could take a look at the blue hat in the window. The one with the ribbon.”
The shop assistant went to the back stock room and soon returned with a round box with gold lettering etched on the sides. She removed the top of the box, and pushing aside the tissue paper inside, she pulled out the hat and handed it to Hatter.
“What do you think, sir? This is from a shipment of 1940s vintage womens' hats that we received recently that have been very popular sellers.”
Hatter turned the hat over and over in his hands. The material was soft and warm to the touch, with the ribbon feeling silky smooth. The coloring was rich and vibrant and Hatter couldn’t stop looking at it. This was the perfect present to give to Alice. He could picture her wearing it now and a smile bloomed onto his face.
“I’ll take it!” Hatter said, the smile never leaving his face during the whole transaction.
Hatter turned his key in the lock of the door to their apartment and soon made his way inside. Alice was still where he had left her earlier – sitting in the living room, on the couch. The late afternoon light was starting to fade, but none of the lights were on yet in the living room. Hatter flipped the switch on the wall for the main overhead light and it appeared to startle Alice out of her contemplative state. She looked up at him and, for a second or two, looked relieved, before the features on her face switched to anger.
“Do you know how worried I’ve been, Hatter? You can’t just take off like that, while we’re in the middle of a discussion. I just...” Alice stopped, biting her lip for a quick second, before continuing, “I know it’s been hard for you lately. I know that my world isn’t like Wonderland and that you are still adjusting, but I never wanted to make you feel like you had to get a job right away or else. I saw how bored you were, hanging around at the apartment during the day, and I thought that if you had a new place to go to, where you could meet new people and do new things, then maybe...Dammit! I don’t know, that maybe you would start to feel like this could be your home too.”
Hatter could barely hear the next thing Alice said, but once he pieced together the words, he rushed over to the couch and sat down next to her.
“No, Alice, no, please no. Don’t ever think I regret coming through the Looking Glass to be with you. You are the best thing that’s ever happened to me and I don’t tell you that nearly enough and I’m sorry for it.”
Hatter felt sick to his stomach that Alice blamed herself for his recent outbursts and issues with his job search. He knew that she only wanted to help him and Hatter needed to start talking more, and brooding less, about this whole situation.
“I know that I’ve been moody and distant lately, and I’m so sorry if you thought you were to blame at all. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I should’ve talked to you before, about how hard it’s been for me lately. It’s just...”, Hatter took a deep breath and adjusted his hat before continuing, “I’m so used to being the guy that has all the answers and to suddenly not be that guy anymore, to have to learn brand new skills so quickly, it’s been a hard adjustment. But, I promise that I will start talking to you more about this and figure out what else I can do to occupy my time while you’re at work.”
Hatter leaned over, placing his hands on the sides of Alice’s face, and pulled her in for a sweet kiss. The warmth and familiarity of her lips filled him with joy and, afterwards, leaned his forehead against hers.
Alice softly said, “You have to promise to talk to me, even when things aren’t going well or you don’t feel like you have all the answers. We’re partners in all of this and I will do everything I can to help you. Because I love you, Hatter, and I don’t want to lose what we have.”
Hatter nodded, tears starting to form in his eyes.
“I know, I know, I promise, Alice, I promise.”
They sat there, foreheads touching, hands clasped between themselves, for another minute, before they eventually pulled back and sat looking at each other. Hatter would’ve happily sat there forever, staring at Alice’s beautiful face, but then he remembered the gift he purchased at the specialty hat shop.
“Oh! I got something for you – I think it’ll be a perfect fit. I hope you like it,” Hatter said, before he leaned down and picked up the hat box he had dropped earlier. He placed the box in Alice’s lap and waited for her to open it, the anticipation killing him.
Alice looked momentarily confused at the gift, before it clicked that Hatter had bought her a hat and she couldn’t help but giggle a little. She opened the top of the box, pushed past the tissue paper, and then lifted out the blue, cloche hat, with the silk ribbon.
Hatter was concerned when the tears started to fall onto Alice’s face, as she held the hat and kept touching the ribbon over and over.
“Is there something wrong? Do you not like it? I can take it back to the store, if you’d like me to”, Hatter rambled on, while Alice continued to look down at the hat, with a strange expression on her face.
Then, Alice took the hat, placed it on her head, and asked Hatter to adjust it for her. Hatter was surprised at her quick turnaround, but didn’t want to question it too much, and instead helped adjust the hat, so it fit just right on Alice’s head.
After Hatter had made those adjustments, Alice said,
“You know, this is the first hat you’ve ever bought me. I love that you picked it out specifically for me and that it’s so beautiful, and that it just shows, I mean, that is...”
Alice stopped rambling and looked up at Hatter with the sweetest expression on her face.
“It shows how much you love me. No matter what happens in the future, I want you to know that I love you too and we’ll figure this all out together.”
For the first time, in a while, Hatter felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He knew that he still needed to figure out what to do about his job search, what to do about his feelings of loneliness and uselessness, but he finally realized that he didn’t need to be the only person in this particular fight. He had Alice on his side – always had and always will.
Leaning forward, Hatter tweaked Alice’s hat one last time, said “It suits you”, before kissing her with all the love he possessed.