Leave Taking

They entered the house by the normal way, which was through the wall. The doorknob was what did the trick, really, as it always did; Luttie used her own, an austere thing made out of a reddish-gold sort of color.

She closed the door that had been made into the wall behind her, making sure to unlatch the doorknob from her own dwelling's walls—it wouldn't do to leave her mode of transportation at home. The Hatter, who had gone before her, said, "You've become practiced at this—much more so than at the concert."

Luttie made a face at the reminder then smiled a bit at the Hatter's confused look.

"It's my main mode of transportation," she said simply. "The Duke can't track me at this low level of teleportation—not like if I'd used a mirror."

Now it was the Hatter's turn to grimace at the mention of the Queen's counselor: first in service to the Queen of Hearts, then the Red Queen. Ruthless to the bone and out for every honorable Wonderlandian's blood.

"He is a bit of a cold-blooded twerp, isn't he?"

Luttie smothered a very unladylike snort with her hand.

The Hatter winked at her.

They walked down the hallway, the Hatter brushing his gloved fingers against the wallpapered walls. It was a fine-boned house, with sturdy rafters and a white-with-blue trim painted on the outside. There were no crazy colors rioting amuck about the house: most everything was in a morose color scheme of a navy blue-green-gold and all layered in a fine coating of dust. In fact, it would have been hard to believe that the house was a part of Wonderland at all, so separate was it in seeming appearance from the rest of the country. It would have been more in place, Luttie supposed, with the Curious Curios Curiosity Shop in Wondertropolis, which was a huge warehouse that held all manner of things from Elsewhere and that seemed to have no particular use. Luttie knew from fact that the Hare loved to buy things from there—then he, of course, promptly forgot about them when he got them home. She highly suspected that was what had happened to the doorknobs and the knitting needles.

The only way one could know the house was in Wonderland at all, she supposed, was by the chess pieces in the parlor. The Hatter stopped short in the parlor doorway at the sight of them; or, she supposed, more importantly at the sight of the Red Queen barking orders from the armchair, which was a leather, wing backed thing that smelled of sandalwood. "Don't worry," she said to his pale face; "they can't see us."

"Really."

He really was frightened of the Red Queen, Luttie realized. Why? Was it not that her only capital punishment was banishment?

What could have made the Hatter so afraid?

"I think it has something to do with the fact that we're so big," she explained, "and that they're so small, and so it's just impossible for them to see us. They can't. I like coming here and watching them sometimes; it's how I learned of your arrest, you know." She tilted her head to one side. "Hm—I wonder why the White King isn't here."

The Hatter's mouth twisted, as though he had found a lump of unidentifiable unpleasantness floating in his tea.

Luttie considered him for a moment, too. Keep off the subject of the White King, then. For want of something to say, she said, "Have you done the crime yet? You know—the one that put you in jail?"

"No, not yet; I'm still wondering what it is." He stopped in front of the armchair, looked down at the Red Queen, and frowned. "I wonder what would happen if I stepped on her. She put me in jail, you know—it was not a very pleasant experience."

"Hatter."

He smiled, rather, at her shocked expression. "Hypothetically speaking."

"Well," Luttie said, a bit flustered by his smile. She walked up to the mantle and the mirror which was affixed to the wall above it. Not able to think of what to say, she said, "Here we are." She could feel the presence of the Hatter come up behind her, and the warmth of him, and thought she would cry.

Through a great effort of will she swallowed her tears and turned to him and said: "Have you thought of what you are going to be called? I do not know where the mirror is going to take you—although the portal always stays in the same city, it seems—so you'll have to have a pretty common name."

"A name?" The Hatter frowned, as though the matter perplexed him. He was standing very close, and Luttie took a step back, the better to see his face. Her back bumped into the mantle, the thick mass of her hair pressing against the mirror. "I have gone by title for such a long time," he said.

Then he smiled, but the smile was sad.

"I've quite forgotten what my mother called me," the Hatter added.

"I never had a mother."

"You can't miss what you never had."

The Hatter paused for a moment, as though considering. Luttie took the time to memorize his freckles and the blue of his eyes. It would be such a very long time before they saw one another again.

"I've rather always liked the name Reginald," the Hatter mused. "Reginald Banders."

Luttie wrinkled her nose.

He caught her look. "Yes, Reginald. It reminds me of tea with enough of a squeaky, lemony feel to be unique. And during garden parties and holidays I'll allow people to call me Reg—but only in impolite society, understand you."

"Will I be considered impolite society?"

"Luttie," the Hatter said, "you have always, always, always been considered impolite society."

At that she did cry tears which dribbled down from the corners of her eyes; but she turned away, so that the Hatter would not have to deal with them.

Luttie placed the doorknob on the mirror face, and twisted it and pulled it, as though she was opening a door. The portal opened, a rippling outwards of the glass; and now it could be dimly made out, as though through a glass pitcher filled with tea, the image of a city, with horse-drawn conveyances hurtling past at what seemed to be, to Luttie, a breakneck pace. It was a city with buildings which crowded the sky into dirty smoke, and she shuddered, to think of living in such a place. But, sometimes, beyond the colorless buildings with their empty windows there would be a flash of green hedges and hills, blue sky, and maybe a bit of yellow all mixed together in a landscape that was very much there, if not all that defined. And it was that bit of the barely glimpsed that Luttie found fascinating about going outside; and, she told herself, it really was to that she was sending the Hatter to. Really. He would find his way out of the city and into that bright bit of blue sky and green hedge. She hoped.

When she turned to him her face was free of tears, although her eyes were over-bright with repressed tears.

"Luttie," the Hatter said.

She sniffled. He caught a stray tear which threatened to spill over with his thumb. The salt stained his glove.

"I don't want you to go," Luttie said, feeling childish. "You're my friend."

"You have other friends—March especially; he always said that he considered you to be the long-lost distant cousin he never had."

"I thought the White Rabbit was the long-lost distant cousin?"

"Rightly so. But don't tell March that; you know how he so gets fixed onto those ideas of his. Remember the time with the flamingos?"

Luttie laughed, but it was a wet and unhappy one. She then stepped forward, and buried her head into his chest. Her hands clutched the lapels of his coat tightly. "But none of them are you. You won't be here."

All he could see of her was that fine red mass of hair; its voluminous waves completely obscured the rest of her petite features from view.

He'd always liked her hair.

At first the Hatter gingerly patted her on the head, but as her grip on his coat lapels tightened so did the emotion in his heart. He awkwardly put his arms around her, unused to such mannerisms; soon, though, his grip became wonderfully tight.

"I'll make sure to not forget you," he said. "And you'll make sure not to forget me. That way we'll always remember each other."

"Yes."

"And not forget."

"Yes."

Then he gently tilted her chin up with one gloved hand. Luttie's eyes were still over-bright. Her voice went a little jiggly when she said, "You make sure to wear that scarf I gave you."

"Yes," he said in his turn.

"Especially when it's cold out; can't have you catching a chill."

"Yes."

"Because—because—" and here her treacherous lower lip trembled, just a bit, and her heart was full of tender, half-impossible things which dared to peep, half hidden, from behind her eyes.

"Luttie," the Hatter sighed.

He leaned down, paused just a little bit, kissed her eyes as well as her mouth.

The Hatter was just a little gawkier than she had expected him to be, warm and wonderfully sweet. He was real and solid and tangible and wonderful. Her heart trembled and sighed.

He pulled away, threaded his fingers through her hair. Said, "I should go."

"Yes."

He kissed her again instead.

Luttie's fingers curled around the back of his collar, not wanting to ever let go. Why couldn't it stay like this always? she thought fiercely. Why couldn't it have stayed a golden afternoon forever?

She found she could not find the answer.

Pulling away, the Hatter said, "Now." He made as if to leave, easily climbing up onto the mantle, his long legs making little work of it.

"Wait," Luttie said. "Your scarf"—and she pulled it out of one of her pockets.

"This may be one of the more spectacular of my mistakes," he said. He climbed down off of the mantle. Luttie wrapped the scarf around his neck, standing on tiptoe to allow for their differences in height, making sure it was securely in place before she let go.

The Hatter crushed her to him once more: she held onto him so wonderfully tightly! He groaned and kissed her again, but it was a rough kiss, awkward and more than a little sideways and stilted all over like a hiccup, saying the goodbye the Hatter found he did not have the words to say after all.

Then the Hatter turned, climbed up onto the mantle—there was a rippling of the glass, as he stepped through, the mirror devouring him whole, inhaling his very muchness into a place Luttie dared not go.

Luttie knew the Cat was right; she would not survive in a place in which she did not exist.

Then the Hatter was gone.

Just like that.

Luttie sat right down onto the hard wooden floor, the carpet which covered it doing nothing to soften the floor, and sobbed into her knees. Her heart hurt. Briefly she wondered if this was what it felt like to die.

What would she do without the Hatter? The Hatter had been with her from nearly the very beginning; only the Cheshire Cat had gone before. She thought fondly of halcyon days gone by, of tea stains on the white tablecloth, and of other small, meaningless things which somehow had been stored in her memory bank.

She remembered the Hatter pulling shadows out of the hat, with the March Hare looking fondly, if not more than a little bit ruefully, on, while the Dormouse snorted away in the teacup; the hat shop where the Hatter had spent half of his time, before Time himself had stolen the Hatter's day from him; the Hatter laughing, smiling, looking petulant and cross and bored nearly to tears with the rambling of the Dodo.

The wonderful sweetness of the Hatter's lips on hers, and the taste of him: he'd tasted of sugary jam, of tea left in the sun and of blue skies with too much wind in them.

The Hatter's face at the concert, pale and unusually grim, as six o'clock was shoved into permanence and everything had dissembled.

But none of those remembrances could bring the Hatter back to her and so she sobbed. She pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes. The salt from her tears stained her skin.