I never meant to let so much time go by between updates of this story! I'm so sorry. I got caught up with 'Day to Day' and an alternate-ending fic and life has been doing funny things on me lately. Why is it that everything has to happen all at the same time? I can deal with crazy in small, controlled doses, but it all seems to gang up on me all at once. Anyway, sorry again for the delay! I hope you enjoy this last chapter.
She sighed, looking at her legs and her arms and looking at her back in the bathroom mirror. So much for sunscreen—she still turned quite pink on the beach. It'd turn brown in a few days, but still. And all of her freckles came out, too. She wrinkled her spotted nose in the mirror and checked on the water level in the bathtub behind her.
Even despite her sunburn they went to the beach again today and this time they went in the water, so she was covered all over in salt and sand and needed to wash it all off.
Hatter didn't go too far into the water, though. He was too afraid.
Having read Jaws on the plane, Hatter was now terrified of sharks, especially after she admitted that yes, sharks did make it as far as Miami. Pointing out that the story took place on Long Island did little to convince him; nor did statistics, because frankly he was more likely to get hit by lightning and win the lottery on the same day. The fact that there were sharks in the vicinity of Miami scared him enough not to go more than knee-deep in the water.
She took him out on her uncle's old motor boat, too, and he was fine with that, except for making nonstop running commentary on her boat-handling skills until she got tired of hearing it and let him drive it.
He drove the boat into a sandbar hidden less than a foot under the water and then got squeamish when she told him to get out and help her push the boat back off.
"For crying out loud, Hatter!" She'd yelled in exasperation after he whimpered about sharks again. "It's perfectly safe!"
"But we're in the middle of the Gulf Stream! It's a giant intercontinental rapid mass-transit system for sharks!"
"Look, the water's not even up to my knees! The deadly man-eating-but-very-flat shark isn't around, okay?"
After he had his few minutes of being scared of sharks that weren't there, he got out of the boat and helped her push it off the sandbar and they went on their way. Out on the water, all alone with Hatter… it was an enjoyable afternoon.
Even though she was paying for it now that her freckles had all come out and she was all one big itchy sunburn. In contrast, Hatter turned nicely bronze. And didn't burn. Or freckle. It made her hate him.
On the other side of the bathroom door he was gleefully going through a trunk he dragged out of her aunt's garage; Margo had apparently told him that he could have whatever he liked out of an old steamer trunk, provided he could get it out of the garage without disturbing everything else in there. Somehow, he did it, and the trunk was full of really old clothes, which were absolutely Hatter's forte.
He was like a kid in a candy store, unfolding coats and trousers and uniforms and—oh, the joy!—hats from this trunk and filling the room with the smell of old cloth and the slight reek of mothballs. He was probably going to go back to New York with a second suitcase.
The last time she saw him, he was pulling on an old Green Beret's uniform, complete with the beret. Aunt Margo didn't seem to remember who it'd belonged to or where it came from, but it looked… really good on Hatter. Absurdly good. Alice had never been one for men in uniform, but Hatter standing barefoot in the middle of the bedroom with the beret and trousers on— unfastened, hanging dangerously low on his hips—and pulling the smart green uniform coat on over his bare chest made her go all watery at the knees.
That was when she made her way into the bathroom then for a bath, because she didn't feel like savaging him right then, not while her aunt was still home and the two dogs were watching keenly. The dogs were always getting in the way—Hatter said he couldn't do anything while they were watching because he felt like they'd pipe in with a lot of really snarky comments. Jack, her phone, Margo's dogs… the list of things that kept getting in their way was steadily expanding.
And he was so caught up in the contents of the trunk that he probably wouldn't've noticed her standing naked in front of him anyway.
She turned off the water and settled into the tub to wash the beach off.
The tub was big enough that she could lie down and stretch out in it with several inches of clearance at her head and at her feet. Such a luxury.
She was just finishing getting the salt out of her hair when the bathroom door flung open. There was Hatter, now wearing a faded pair of snug motorbike jeans with the cuffs turned up—reminiscent of James Dean; for all she knew they'd once belonged to James Dean—and a white t-shirt. He had a mass of black-and-gold fabric slung over his arm and a strand of cobweb clinging to his always-crazy hair, and that big goofy grin on his face. She loved that grin, wide and slightly buck-toothed, going all the way up to his eyes, and one dimple at the corner.
"This is great!" He said gleefully. "She said if there's anything I want, I can keep it!"
She folded her arms on the side of the tub and rested her head on them. "Enjoying yourself, are you?"
"It's amazing one woman can have so much stuff and not know where half of it came from."
He unfurled the coat in his arms—it was long and black, silk probably, with gold and silver embroidery on the back and a high collar that fastened with gold frogs; shiny gold buttons and gold braid went down the front from the neck to the waist, and from the waist to the floor it was open and flared out.
Just Hatter's style, she thought absently.
"She said this came from someplace called Kazakhstan. Where is that?"
"Somewhere near Russia, I think," she said. "Maybe." Really, she had no idea. "She might've been there about 25 years ago."
"She went there? Isn't that supposed to've been a really dangerous area?"
"I dunno if she did or not. But things being dangerous never stopped her from doing 'em."
He gave her a sly look. "Runs in the family, does it?"
"To be honest, I think she's bullshitting. She doesn't know or remember where most of what she keeps in her garage came from. I'm pretty sure she didn't even buy it herself—I think junk migrates to Florida and makes its home in Aunt Margo's garage. Junk comes from as far away as Siberia to live in there."
"The junk has good taste, then. There's another trunk in there, I think I'll go back for it."
He folded the coat up and set it on the green granite counter. Then he leaned into the mirror and frowned at his reflection, carefully picking the spider web out of his hair.
"Can we stay here another few days so I can go through that garage?" He asked cheerfully, looking at her through the mirror.
She quirked an eyebrow. "A few days? You'll need about a month just to make your way through the first few feet."
"Okay, then," he said, turning around and coming to sit on the edge of the tub. "I can live with that. Just as long as someone goes in there a few times a day and leaves me a sandwich and a cup of tea, I think I could probably live in there."
She should have suspected that Margo and Hatter would be kindred spirits through their mutual love of weird stuff, but she couldn't help a giggle. He'd been so serious in Wonderland, so tough, like he'd long since forgotten how to have fun or be silly—seeing him happily going through collections of old clothes and things with all the eagerness and excitement of a young child made her heart melt.
"What's so funny?" He asked, reaching into the bathwater and splashing her.
She stuck her tongue out at him. "You are. You're like a kid in a candy store with the garage."
Casually, she leaned on one elbow and looked up at him. "I feel like I'm second to my aunt's stuff."
She wasn't upset about it, she just felt like giving him shit and teasing him; even so, he got a concerned look on his face and slid down to sit on the floor so he could be face-to-face with her over the side of the tub. He moved in as if to kiss her and at the last second pulled away and splashed her again.
She splashed him back because he was close enough to splash now, then scooted away from him across the tub before he could get her back. When he reached across to grab her, she grabbed his arms with the intention of pulling him fully-clothed into the water with her. It nearly worked—he ended up in the tub from the waist up.
"That's playing dirty!" He snapped, holding himself out of the water on his hands.
"No, it's not. It's a bathtub. It's very clean."
He gave her a look, but he was smiling and the smile went all the way up to his eyes.
"I'm sure you'll get over it," she assured him.
She curled one hand around the back of his neck and pecked him gently on the lips.
"Better?" She asked, leaning back from him.
"Maybe a bit. The kiss helped," he said with a sly smile. Then he leaned in and kissed her softly.
And then a little harder.
And then a bit harder still.
Then he must've forgotten where he was, because he moved to put one hand around her waist and the other on the back of her neck and, his hands no longer holding him up, he fell into the water and landed nearly in Alice's lap.
She laughed so hard her stomach hurt.
Now he was really soaked, and his hair all wet and sticking to his face and he was dripping into the water as he held himself back up.
He shook his hair out and looked down at his soaked shirt.
"Oh, well," he said with a shrug. "In for a penny, in for a pound, I guess."
He climbed into the tub, vintage jeans and wet t-shirt and all.
Alice giggled until he sloshed over to her and towered on his hands and knees over her—then she looked up at him and the laughter froze in her throat.
Wet, curly strands of hair stuck to his face and neck and curled up at the bottoms; his t-shirt, already fitted when dry, was clinging to him and see-through. The jeans were wet and tight and stuck to him. His eyes were lusty, hard.
He licked his lips.
She sat up quick and crashed their mouths together. He kissed her hungrily, roughly. She grasped him tight around his shoulders and threaded on hand up through his hair, tugging slightly; when she pulled his hair, he jerked closed and kissed her harder. She did it again to elicit the same response.
He wrapped one arm around her waist and pulled her close up out of the bathwater. When he rolled his hips into her, she returned the action.
Her head lolled back and he kissed and lipped his neck.
They weren't used to having this much room. A bathtub big enough for two people was in and of itself a novelty—a tub big enough for two people and whatever activities they cared to do in there was not about to go to waste.
She forgot to hate him for being tan and not freckling.
In the morning, Hatter woke up first—quite early—and made tea downstairs in the kitchen. For all that the days were plenty hot, the nights were cool because it was still January. The stone floor in the kitchen held onto the cold of the evening for a long time and he danced around on his bare feet; the dogs took a sudden and intense interest in him because he was in the kitchen and therefore must have had food for him.
"Will you two go back to sleep?" He whisper-yelled at them. He nudged little Keno aside with his foot when the dog started climbing on his leg. "It's not even six in the morning yet! I've got nothin' for you! Go on, scram!"
Darwin wet-nosed him on the back of the knee and he jumped straight up and sat on the counter and nearly landed in the sink.
He took his tea—and Alice's—into the bedroom rather than deal with the dogs. They romped up the stairs after him and he closed the door on them rather than have them jumping on the bed and waking Alice up and spoiling his morning. He sat drinking his tea in the big window and looking out at Miami, still asleep and quiet and nondescript outside.
"You're up early for someone who put in two encore performances yesterday."
He turned to see Alice sitting up in bed, the blankets bunching around her waist. She was beautifully sleep-rumpled, her cheeks pink, her eyes half-lidded and drowsy, looking, to Hatter's mind, quite thoroughly and deliciously debauched. She was still naked and had an enormous hickey on her left breast. A good job no one else was going to see that, he thought as he admired his handiwork.
"It's the holiday," he said over his tea. "Strangely re-energizing, you know, all this warm weather and sunshine."
She slipped out of bed and into her knickers and a t-shirt—a white t-shirt that could clearly be seen through even from across the room—and picked up the other cup of tea and came to sit opposite him in the window. They drank in silence for a few moments, watching the paperboy sleepily ride his bike up the road and occasionally bump into a mailbox or a lawn flamingo.
"Eventually we're gonna have to pack up and go back to New York and winter and work and all that jazz."
"Yeah, I know. But we can always come back, right?"
She smiled. "Sure we can. It's a nice place to come to when you're sick of normal life."
He gave a nod. A winter without a winter, he thought absently.
He could get used to this.
I hope this last chapter doesn't disappoint, as long as it took for me to get around to finishing it and posting it. I know there's no real plot in this story, it was just an opportunity for a little fun and cuteness. We need a little fun and cuteness every now and then, right? Maybe Hatter and Alice will go back to Miami—or maybe Aunt Margo will come visit New York. She's grown on me as a character. She's crackers and I love her!
Anyway, thanks to everyone who's been reading—thanks for coming with me on this silly ride!