AUTHOR'S NOTE

Oh to be a Nuggs. It's a struggle, for real, guys, but oh lookie lookie! Another chapter? I'm on fire! Thanks for all the sweet reviews and what not. I love you all. So lovely. So cute. So quaint. You are perfection. Please be sure to leave a review! ALH and Wonderland is my little world that I can return to when I feel eh. Wonderland isn't perfect but sometimes it's just fun to run away. I hope you guys feel the same. :) Much love.

~Nuggs

Chapter 64

There are only a few times I could name that I have consciously acted like a brat. One was when I was five and my parents were fighting in their unique way (it's a bit different when your father can't actually speak) and mom got so angry she pulled one of my Barbie doll heads from its body. I was so angered because it seemed pretty purposeful, so I had ran and grabbed her wallet and ripped a one dollar bill in front of her and claimed that that was how she made me feel. There had been a twenty in there but I couldn't get myself to rip that one. The second one we should all be familiar with. I had just turned sixteen. Fired up by my mom's evasiveness and my best friend's encouragement, I threw a hissy fit (which was short-lived) and slammed the office door on her. I regret it up to this day. Finally, there was, well, right now.

"I-I…" I trailed off. Crap. My low brat experience combined with the fact that I was in front of a huge crowd of people from a different reality than me was not good for my confidence. It was going down exponentially. It was sad, really.

"Anastasia Liddell," the Queen said, raising an eyebrow at me. She grinned. "You're hilarious. Doesn't she make you laugh, everyone?" She began to giggle.

The crowd roared with laughter. They assumed this was all some sort of joke, and that I was just being silly. The men in line at the front whom I didn't know also joined in on the laughter. The ones I did know? They remained unamused.

Will offered some fake laughter as well, making his way around the Queen to stand on my other side. He put his hand on my back. "I hope you know what you're doing, Ana," he whispered, still pretending to look completely thrilled.

I shook my head.

"Please, whatever you're doing, be careful," he added before turning back to the audience and getting serious again.

The laughter died and the Queen grabbed my hand again. "Now let us move on-"

"No!" I screamed.

The room was silent again. What the hell was I doing?

There were a few murmurs. I cleared my throat.

"I-"

I stopped speaking. Someone had found their way to the front, a large green top hat in hand. He was in a green suit similar to Demetrix's, although his suit was a bit brighter. His gray hair sat flat on his head. His usual childlike glow wasn't there. He looked sad. His pale black eyes didn't help.

Not too far behind him, in what could be the second or third row of the crowd, I saw Amor Valeria. Yep, the girl I met when there was a whole ruckus with Diamond Park's landlord (who turned out to be King Elliot) by the beach, Ocean Point. She looked just like me if I were an eleven. Her dress was a bright sea blue and form fitting. Such confidence. And Absolem, who she definitely revealed as someone she had some interest in, was in line to be my...yeah. What struck me too was that she had a friend up there as well - Stevie.

And then I began to notice other people in the crowd for some reason. I saw the Twine Cousins right in the middle, their heads poking out from the crowd. I saw Clare in the cute peplum as her fellow maids. She stood against the wall and surprising on top of a chair. I saw Lucia, a less favorable person but for my own shallow reasons. She was that hot nurse Elliot and I ran into at his kingdom. Though I didn't see Elliot anywhere. I did, surprisingly, see Jax. Unsurprisingly, he was by the food table with those two large bodyguards right at his side. I even saw Nettle. She had that strange last name. I was surprised I hadn't spotted her earlier. From the platform I could see her long purple hair with its lime green highlights, as well as her orange wings. And she wasn't the only wings I saw in the crowd. There were wings, antennas, horns, and more.

I wasn't sure why I was noticing all these details, all these people, but it gave me energy. It gave me the will to keep going. Keep going for everyone I recognized, and for everyone I didn't. For Mr. Bandersnatch. For Stephanie, the Queen's deceased sister.

"I cannot do this." I removed the Queen's hand from my arm. "The men standing before me...I cannot just…"

Get your words together, Ana, come on. Be clear. Be clear.

"The pressure, the surprise, the lack of consent." I frowned. "Where was my consent? I came here to have a good time. To dance and to enjoy the incredible company of the people of Heart Kingdom and Wonderland. I came to enjoy the delicious food. To see old and new faces."

Better. Keep going. Don't leave too much of a gap for someone to interrupt you.

"I didn't come here seeking marriage. I fell down a hole in the ground of my garden who knows how long ago. I never meant to come here. Back in my world, in my time, my...reality, I'm just a teenager. I'm in school, and I have a lot more schooling to go. I live with my mother. Marriage is the last thing on my mind, or anyone my age for that matter. I haven't been in Wonderland that long. I'm still trying to figure out why I'm here, why I matter to all of you, and why I…" I felt my face go a little pink as my eyes glazed over the suitor line, the friends I saw in the crowd, and even a few of the people I had danced with that I previously hadn't known.

"Why I matter at all." I gestured at my dress. "All of this is amazing, but it's not something that I need. I didn't work for any of this. I didn't do anything to deserve this high treatment. I don't know if selecting my husband is high treatment, but what I do know is that I am not assimilating to this alien marriage custom just because I happened to drop in here. I don't know much about my prophecy, but I do know that marriage is not going to help part of me get back home."

The Queen was shaking. She was actually shaking. Her expression was unclear, but she was surely paying full attention to me. Will walked over to her and placed his hand on her arm. Auspicio stepped forward and did the same. They seemed to be talking very quietly.

And for a moment, I saw beauty in the Queen. While she surely let her weight go, it was impossible to regard her as anything but beautiful. Her crimson eyes and shiny hair. Her hands always moved so elegantly when she spoke. Even though she was hopelessly selfish, she was capable of love and adoration. Sometimes she seemed like such a teenage girl thriving on attention. Then I remember that yeah, she is. She's eighteen.

"In short, and in all honestly, I am just not ready to be wed anytime soon. It's the farthest thing from my mind," I declared. I curtseyed as I had been taught, and a smiled toward the crowd. "And as the Guest of Honor, I'd like to share a bit of wisdom. If you're not ready, don't do it. You may not know when you're ready, but you'll definitely know when you're not."

There was still silence. I felt my face warming with embarrassment. Did I really make a fool of myself? Did everything I say even matter? Did anything resonate with anyone here?

The Queen smirked at me.

"You see, Ana-"

Someone began to clap in the front line. It was Stevie. Quick to join in was Shire, Absolem, Von, Aster, and Halil. Mercy whistled loudly and that somehow triggered more and more applause until the whole ballroom was cheering me on.

No way. My first impromptu speech had been a success. Subjects and hybrids were together, clapping and whistling and screaming "yeah!" I grinned. I felt like I was glowing. I turned to the Queen and her most trusted men, her advisor and her knave.

The guys let go of her and clapped for me. She was startled. She looked between the two of them, settling her eyes on Will. Will nodded.

She clapped as well.

"Thank you, Your Highness."

I genuinely meant it.

She closed her eyes and bowed her head slight. Then she looked back at her guests.

"And this. This display right here is why Anastasia Liddell has been chosen to be my dear Guest of Honor. She is strong. She is certainly brave. And she knows that she is not ready. It takes guts to admit that! Women like us is what Wonderland needs!"

The guests continued to clap, though I could see some were highly aware of the Queen turning my speech into a compliment towards her judgment. Shire rolled his eyes. I wanted to as well, but I was on the platform beside her. Not a wise idea.

"Let us pay some respect to our brave suitors for stepping into the line and publicly expressing their interest for a wonderful, wonderful woman!" Will exclaimed, raising his hands and further prompting the applause to continue.

I blushed. Suddenly I felt very hyper aware of myself and of the suitors and of everyone in the room. My heart beat faster.

"We shall now return to the previous activities! Let us all participate in the Beat of the Heart!"

The room roared with happiness. The crowd began to maneuver itself, slowly forming a large, thick circle in the ballroom. Maids and butlers dashed through the center to pick up trash and food that happened to fall. The suitors dispersed themselves as well, heading towards the circle as well. Was the Queen really okay with what I did? I disrupted her plans.

"This is one of my favorite parts!" the Queen chirped. She hooked her arm with Auspicio and walked off of the platform. Will followed behind her as another knight hooked my arm and took me down the platform as well. We were being escorted into the center of the circle. The Queen made it first. The knight had stopped walking at the edge.

She had the floor first. I felt nervous. My heart was still racing. Adrenaline was still rushing through me. She must have something else on her mind, right? She's just being professional in front of all of these people.

"This is a surprise to our Guest of Honor, ladies and gentlemen. Every ball, we perform the Beat of the Heart dance as a tribute to the Heart Kingdom representing the life and fervor of Wonderland as a whole. We are the oldest kingdom, and we are the most unified and respected. We are the foundation of Wonderland."

More cheers. It was so loud. The unidentified knight held my arm steady. I had goosebumps on my goosebumps. My breathing was so shallow. She must feel threatened. She's bound to get back at me at some point. She's bound to.

"The Guest of Honor gets to represent the blood pumping and running through the country in unification. The chair, please!"

Will disappeared and quickly returned with a large yet seemingly light gold-colored chair. The cushion was a shadow black and the red stones lining the back seemed so real.

"Let's get a better looking heart. We all know what a heart looks like! Come on, now!" the Queen called out.

The people on the north side of the circle came closer together to form the circle into a heart shape.

"Excellent!" she said. "The Guest of Honor will then seat herself onto the chair and allow my subjects and Wonderlanders to lift her up and pump her throughout the heart! We are a team! We are one!"

"We are the the heart of Wonderland!" the room chanted.

My throat was completely dry at this point as the Queen waved for me to come to her. My legs didn't move. The knight was practically nudging me towards the center. The chanting continued. We were approaching the chair in slow motion.

But then my knees hobbled beneath me and I couldn't feel or see anything. Suddenly the hundreds of people were just not there. The cheering even stopped.

I had my first panic attack at the age of sixteen in the wonderful, wonderful Wonderland. And it was in front of...everyone.