Alice by Autumn Jaster

One

Alice was a sickly child. By the time she was diagnosed with Astrocytoma at eight years old, she was in and out of St. Jude Children’s Hospital so often that her parents had given up on public school. Soon after her diagnosis, Alice underwent surgery. The surgery was a success, and she was brought to her room to recover.

A steady beep fills the air. Her eyes crack open, the lights are dim. Beep, beep, beep, ‘Why?’ Alice thinks groggily as she blinks more fully awake. The ceiling is white and boring. The sheets are stiff, and the bed isn’t quite soft enough. She turns her head and sees the plastic bar stuck to the side of the bed. She blinks again and looks at the wall past her feet & sees a giraffe painted there. She sees the brown couch, and it is empty. ‘Mama? Papa?’ Alice thinks and feels tears run down her cheeks. She sniffles softly; this hurts her head, and she cries harder. “Mama! Papa!” She cries out to the empty room. The door opens, and a man walks in. Tall and strong, his chocolate eyes shimmer with concern.

“Baby girl you’re awake. What’s wrong?” His deep voice soothes her, and she takes a hiccupping breath to stop her tears.

“You were gone Papa.” Her lip trembles and her eyes swim. “I was scared.”

“Shhh baby, it’s okay.” Her Papa sets something down and strokes her hair. “I’m here now and I brought you a present.” He brings his other hand forward, and Alice looks to see a small white stuffed rabbit wearing a top hat and a little vest. “I saw this bunny, and I thought, my Alice would sure like him. When I got a closer look, I saw he was hiding something, and then I knew he was meant for you.” Alice takes the bunny and gently strokes its velveteen ears.

“What was he hiding Papa?” Alice asks as she smiles down at her new toy.

Papa sits on the edge of Alice’s hospital bed and shows her a book with a little blonde girl on the cover who is running after a white rabbit that looks very much like the bunny Alice is holding. “Your little bunny was hiding this book. Can you read the title?”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” She reads carefully and smiles proudly up at her Papa.

“You sure are getting good at reading baby girl.” His grin makes his eyes twinkle in the dim light. “So you see Alice, this is a story about you.”

Alice frowns at the book. “But Papa,” she chides, “I don’t look like that girl.”

Papa turns the book to look as if he hadn’t noticed before. “Hmm, you are right. This girl has blonde hair that is long and straight, but your hair is black and curly.” He looks at Alice with a serious face. “But your name is Alice right?”

Alice giggles, “Of course Papa! You know that.”

“Oh right!” His eyes go wide and a smile spreads across his face, white teeth bright in his dark face even in the dimly lit room. “Well I guess the people who made this cover only got one thing right then. Do you want to read it and find out?”

“Will you read it to me Papa?” Alice makes her eyes as big as she can, knowing her Papa can’t resist puppy eyes.

“I will only read it to you the first time baby girl.” He caved, “Now you go on back to sleep and get feeling better. We will start reading tomorrow.” Alice cuddles her new bunny as her father strokes her hair again. “Love you Alice. Good night.”

“Love you too Papa. Good night.”

Alice read that book many times on her road to recovery. Each time she slipped into Wonderland, it felt as though her worldly troubles would melt away for a bit, and she would feel a little better. By the time Alice was done with treatment, she was full-on obsessed with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Fifteen years later…

 

Two

Soaking in every bit of downtown, Alice walks her favorite haunts and thinks about all she will be missing when she moves up to rainy Washington. She looks at the shops and people as she slowly meanders down the street. The sun is kissing the horizon and golden rays streak across the early evening sky. Random gusts of wind whistle past, and Alice tucks her chin into her jacket and pulls her hands together in the pockets. The chill November air smells of exhaust, dust, and a bit of chimney smoke. It brings with it dead dry leaves that swirl around Alice’s ankles and under her booted feet. Alice smiles at the sound of her boot heels clicking on the sidewalk and the leaves crunching under her toes.

The sound of music and laughter leak from a shop just ahead. Curious, Alice stops in the doorway of the little boutique where the music is coming from and sees several people mingling and listening to a three person folk band. Just as Alice decides to go inside, she sees something strange out of the corner of her eye. Her head whips left, and sure enough, there is a tall man wearing a top hat who just came out of a shop up the street. He is walking away from her toward the slowly setting sun. ‘Who wears a top hat these days?’ Her curiosity piques, ‘I wonder what he looks like.’

Almost without realizing it, Alice turns and begins to follow the man in the top hat much the way that famous Alice followed the White Rabbit. The man’s long legs eat up the pavement, and he soon turns a corner. ‘Oh no, I’m going to lose him!’ The panicky thought drives her to move faster. Heels clacking an urgent beat, Alice bursts around the corner. Dark chocolate eyes flicking up, they collide with bright jade ones just before she smacks straight into the wiry chest of the man in the top hat and bounces right back off again. Arms spinning like pinwheels, Alice lands hard on the cold sidewalk. “Ouch!” She yelps. Looking up, she sees the man looking startled and holding his hand out as if he was trying to catch her. His top hat has fallen off to reveal wild hair the same golden brown color of the fallen leaves. His eyes are wide, and his mouth is slightly open, the startled look both cute and funny at once. ‘No one should be allowed to look that good.’ Alice thinks as she stares mutely up at him.

The man shakes his head and puts on a goofy grin. “You took that corner pretty quick. Can I help you up?” Top-hat-man asks as he shifts into a position better suited to help her. Alice takes his hand and the warmth of him seeps into her and seems to melt off the shock of falling as she stands up.

“Oh my God!” She exclaims, yanking her hand out of his. “I am so very sorry. Thank you for helping me up. Sorry. So sorry.” She gets out in a rush of mortification. Alice feels a deep blush infuse her skin from the top of her head all the way down to her fingers as she thinks about how she literally just chased this guy down and physically ran into him. “I’ve got to go.” Her voice squeaks, and she spins on her heel, rushing back the way she came. She ignores the man calling for her to wait. She ignores his calls asking for her name. She lets the encroaching darkness swallow her up as she hurries away from a meeting that somehow felt like fate.

 

Three

The bright sun shone in the azure sky and warmed Alice’s face as she sat on the porch at her favorite bakery. Originally drawn to the bakery because of its Alice in Wonderland themed name, Doormouse Tea Time, it became her favorite because of the unusual and delicious cupcakes the owner Vanessa creates. Today’s cupcake is gingerbread with cinnamon cream cheese frosting and a sprinkle of nutmeg that Alice paired with a cup of hot peach tea. She sits out in the bright sunshine in a comfy chair with a purple cushion next to a small round table with a folded rainbow umbrella in the center. The door to the bakery stands open and the mouth-watering scents of vanilla, cinnamon, and chocolate waft out and envelops the porch. The hum of conversation swells and dips from the other patrons also taking advantage of the beautiful Autumn afternoon.

Finishing her cupcake, Alice wipes her fingers and mouth and snuggles back into her chair to watch the people around her. ‘What a perfect day.’ She thinks while enjoying the way the warmth from the cup seeps into her fingers. ‘I’m really going to miss all of this sunshine.’ Just like that, Alice’s thoughts and feelings turned around. Despite her initial excitement over the promotion and the move, Alice is finding her excitement steadily declining each day. ‘I guess I will get used to the rain.’ As she sips her tea on a day that should be making her happy simply with its beauty, her mood sours as negative thoughts chase each other through her head and a feeling of dread sits like a ten pound warty toad on her chest. ‘Ugg, what am I doing?’ She thinks as she feels the funk settle into a deep frown. ‘This is crazy. I’m just over-thinking and worrying too much.’ Resolutely, Alice shakes her head and takes a deep breath. Plastering a smile onto her face, she closes her eyes and turns her face up to the sun. ‘That feels so good. I will enjoy every one of these moments while I can.’

Alice sits with her eyes closed and her face in the full heat of the sun for several moments as she think about the excitement she felt when her company first offered her the position. Once she is feeling a little better about everything again, she takes a deep breath, a sip of the much cooler tea still cradled in her hands, and slowly opens her eyes.

As her gaze falls on the street, she is startled upright, nearly spilling her tea in the process. Standing right in front of her on the sidewalk side of the short decorative fence and staring at her as though he has been there for a while, is the man she ran into and away from. The man in the top hat. His jade eyes pin her to her seat and hold her own eyes hostage as he makes his way around the fence and sits at her little table. Shoving his hand out, he says, “Hi. I’m Tarrant.”

‘Perfect.’ Alice thinks as she sits frozen and staring, ‘the Hatter is Tarrant.’

Tarrant clears his throat, a slight blush staining his cheeks. “This is the part where you shake my hand and tell me your name.”

“Alice.” She says, finally shaking his hand and watching the goofy grin spread across his handsome face.