AN: This one-shot is set immediately after Chapter 6 of When Curiosity Met Insanity. Re-reading the chapter will provide context and a good laugh. And if, heaven forbid, you have not yet read WCMI, you should remedy that immediately.
Link to WCMI is in my profile :)
Alice and Belle were still wiping tears from their eyes after the Hatter's barrage of pickup lines.
He stood in front of them, uncertain. In his experience, pickup lines didn't work because they were sexy or witty. (They weren't.) They worked because they were ridiculous. A certain amount of self-effrontery was required for their delivery, and therein lay the charm. Which made the fact that Alice was nearly hiccupping from laughing so hard a good thing. Right?
"Mr. Theophilus the Third?" she asked sweetly, when she was able.
He smiled, waiting for her to accept his dinner invitation. Declarations of undying love would have to wait until they were alone, he imagined.
For the hundredth time, he reminded himself not to be too hasty, but natural optimism overwhelmed logic.
Lazily dragging her fingers along the spine of the book she'd been reading, she gave him a thorough once over. Reginald found himself tipping forward slightly in an attempt to get just a few inches closer to her.
Alice's eyes widened with feigned innocence. "Does the carpet match the drapes?"
His smile disappeared as he almost lost his balance.
The two women howled with renewed laughter, and this time they were definitely not laughing with him. Belle clapped a hand over her stomach and slumped in her chair, reveling in her friend's boldness.
He opened his mouth to respond.
"Oh my God," Alice said quickly between bouts of laughter. She held up her finger to stop him. "Don't actually answer that!"
Belle was taking deep, measured breaths, fanning herself with her hand. After they had recovered, she turned to Alice.
"Actually, do you know what I heard?"
Alice leaned across the small table, cupping her hand around her ear to keep the secret between them.
Reginald crossed his arms over his chest and looked down, scuffing his shoe on the ground. He could probably make it to the door before they realized he was gone, because whatever the gossip was, it was riveting.
It also wasn't good. Alice's eyes were widening with each passing second.
"They didn't!" she gasped, scandalized, but Belle nodded. Whipping around to look at him, she wrinkled her nose.
"You are an absolute cad," she said, her voice full of accusation. "Five separate sources say that the carpet does indeed match."
Although he wouldn't look at either of them, Alice could see that his jaw was set. Had that actually made him angry? Embarrassed? Determined? More importantly... did it matter?
Finally, Reginald straightened, balling his fists at his sides.
"For your information," he responded aloofly, "whoever told you that is lying." His grin was wicked. "The floor is hardwood."
With that, he turned on his heel and walked out of the book shop, leaving Alice and Belle sitting in open-mouthed shock.
After half a minute of complete silence, Belle was the first to speak.
"Did that just happen?"
Alice shook her head slowly in disbelief and looked at her friend.
"Alice!" Belle sounded surprised but amused. "You're blushing!"
"I am not!" she hissed, pressing her hands to her flaming cheeks.
Belle stood up to return the book to its shelf. "You know, I'm pretty sure he'd let you polish-"
"Okay, I realize that this presents an irresistible opportunity for word play, and I'm sure that was intentional on his part," Alice said sharply, slinging her bag over her shoulder. "But unfortunately, my shift is over."
"Sure it is. Hey, if you need any Swiffer refills, just let me know. I've got a whole bunch."
Balanced on the rolling ladder, Belle was oblivious to the venomous glare aimed at her from across the room.
"I'll see you tomorrow," Alice said with finality.
Belle was still laughing when the door slammed shut.