Little Wonder then, Little Wonder,
You little wonder, little wonder you.
Alice climbed the final flight of stairs with a small groan. They'd taken the third floor walk-up thinking 'sure, no problem', but some days those stairs were just too much.
She went to unlock the door, frowning when she realized the deadbolt was already open. Did Hatter forget to lock up properly again? She twisted her key in the doorknob and stepped into the small one-bedroom she shared with her boyfriend.
Right away she could tell something wasn't right. The lamp was lit, the TV was on, and she could hear someone moving in the kitchen. Except Hatter worked a second shift job at the big bookstore….
"Hatter!" she snapped when she saw him in the kitchen.
He jumped and turned. "Oh! Hello, luv! You're home early."
Alice's eyes narrowed. "No, I am not. I'm home exactly the same time I always get home. YOU, however, shouldn't be here at all. You should be at work."
"Ah. Yes. Well, about that…"
Alice dropped her purse and keys on the counter and sighed. "Did you get fired AGAIN?"
"No! Yes. Sort of." Hatter held up his hands. "Well, yes, but I already have something else lined up."
Alice tossed her coat onto a chair and covered her face with her hands. In the year since Hatter had come from Wonderland to be with her, he'd had and lost four jobs now. First, he worked at a coffee shop, which lasted about a month. Then, the painting job, which actually only lasted three days, because Hatter had ignored the precise instructions to paint one accent wall, and instead had used the accent color to paint swirls all over the room. Creative, but bad. He'd delivered Chinese food by bike for a while, remarkably unhampered by both his unfamiliarity with the city and inability to actually speak Chinese, but eventually the owner's son came home from college and Hatter was obliged to find something else.
For the last three months, he'd worked noon to close at the big bookstore, in the kid's section, which actually seemed to suit him. Alice had hopes that he'd hang on to this one, because not only did it suit him, but as far as she was aware, he'd somehow managed to get it without producing a social security number, or resume, or references besides herself. Alice assumed he'd forged a social, but she didn't want to know for sure.
"That blasted book. It's got it all wrong," Hatter explained with a shrug. Of course – he'd felt obliged to explain to someone how "Alice's Adventures In Wonderland" was completely inaccurate.
"And what do you have lined up?" she asked, resignation coloring her tone. Alice had finished school not long after her whirlwind adventure, earning a bachelor's degree in business administration with high honors. She'd found a serious nine to five job, and still found time to continue part-time teaching at the dojo on weekends. Plus finding this apartment, and trying to assimilate Hatter into this world.
"Well, it's like this. I was showing some stuff to the kids yesterday –"
"Yesterday? When did you get fired?"
Sheepishly, Hatter admitted, "Tuesday."
Alice groaned again. He'd gone two whole days without telling her he was unemployed again. And since he didn't legally exist, it's not like she could send him to collect Unemployment anyway.
'Showing some stuff' was Hatter-speak for doing tricks, either 'juggling' his hat, or slight-of-hand card tricks. Alice discovered soon after Hatter came through the Looking Glass after her that not only was her new boyfriend a former con-man, smuggler, double-agent, drug dealer, and resistance sympathizer, he was also a pick-pocket and card shark. His hands, which could do wonderful things to her shoulders – and other places – were remarkably talented with a deck of cards. Plain old playing cards too – he didn't need a special trick set. He could do things, manipulate cards, count them, shuffle a completely random deck into order, cause a specific card to jump out on its own, produce extras at will, pull a card from a child's ear while wearing short sleeves. Alice wasn't entirely sure that it was pure prestidigitation – she suspected some genuine Wonderland magic was involved. The one time Hatter was flush, he'd taken a couple hundred dollars from their bank account, found himself a nice cutthroat backroom game of high-stakes Texas Hold'Em, and brought home several thousand dollars in cash.
"Are you crazy?" Alice shrieked, after waiting up all night worried for her missing boyfriend, who came home near dawn grinning and so pleased with himself to present her with the wad of cash and the story of his night. "Do you have any idea how dangerous it is messing with people like that? They were probably drug dealers and thieves! They could have just decided to shoot you after you won so much of their money! What if they followed you home?"
Hatter shrugged, "They tried, but the day I can't loose a tail that blatant in any world is the day I start pushing up daisies."
Still, he'd never gone back to card-sharking, honoring her wishes by trying to stay straight.
"So, you were showing the kids some stuff – only cards I hope?"
"Of course! I'm not going to teach the tykes to grift!" Hatter seemed genuinely offended by the implication. "Just some stuff to entertain them. And this man stops and starts watching. Pretty soon, 'e asks if 'e can talk to me. Turns out 'e's got a pub sorta place where 'e books 'magic' acts. Calls it The Magic Club. Says if I can impress 'is partner, they'll pay me to walk around table to table and do my stuff. So today I go over to the club, and in about a half-hour, I've shown 'em some of what I can do. Plus, I lifted the guy's cufflinks and watch, while 'e's lookin' at me, and 'e never noticed." Hatter's accent thickens as he gets excited, telling her. He'd lost some of that lilt in the past year, and she secretly misses it. So Alice can't help but smile as he tells her about his audition for the Magic Club. "O'course I gave 'em back, just making it part of the bit, you know? So they offer me a deal – a hundred fifty bucks cash a night, plus tips, from seven to midnight, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Just walk around between the main stage acts, chat up the customers, do tricks at the tables."
Alice blinks. Surprising, it is a perfect job for Hatter. He can be his usual self – rakishly charming – wear his own wild clothing, even use his real name, and everyone will believe it's an act. And the things he can do with cards are really remarkable, and no one's going to figure them out. Alice has been watching him play for a year and has yet to figure out how he does any of the tricks.
She glanced at the clock. "Do you start tonight?"
"No, tomorrow." Hatter seemed to be waiting on her judgment.
"Well, don't fall over or anything, but I think it's a great idea. It certainly suits you." He rolled his eyes at her inadvertent pun, and she smiled. "Alright, I've decided not to be pissed at you. Come here."
Hatter crossed the kitchen and wrapped his arms around her. He pressed his cheek against hers. "I'm sorry about the bookstore, luv."
"It's alright," she sighed, enjoying his embrace. She loved him, no doubt about that, though the constant uncertainty of his employment wore on her. "You couldn't just be independently wealthy?"
Hatter's chuckle rumbled against her. "Sorry." He leaned back and smirked. "You could always give that Jack a call, see if 'e's still available." Hatter occasionally joked about Alice going back to Jack. She saw right through him – he sometimes needed reassurance that he was really her choice.
"No, I'll stick with the scoundrel I've got, thanks." She kissed him, hard at first, but then he gentled the kiss, turning it sweet and loving, and curling her toes with the intensity. "Okay, okay," she laughed breathlessly.
Hatter grinned, giving her one last squeeze before letting go. "You'll have to help me," he said.
"Well, of course, I'll now officially be 'the Mad Hatter'." His grin was positively impish. "Gotta make sure I look the part."
Alice mock-moaned in fake fear. "No! Not another shopping trip!"
To Be Continued.