TEN OF CUPS
Upright - Lasting happiness and security, although sometimes this may be indicative of being in a rut. Good reputation and honour, true friendship and happy family life. Perfect love and concord between people. A search for fulfillment is marked with success. A peaceful and secure environment.
Reversed - The manipulation of society for personal gain. Loss of friendship. Family quarrels, Sudden violent disruption of an ordered environment and ordered routine, anti-social actions. Look for signs of new adolescents or new births.
When Alice was twenty-four years old, she returned home.
“Not to sound unsupportive at this point, but are you sure you want to take the job?”
“Yeah. Why? Did you not want me to take it? Because it’s a little too late for me to take it back.”
“Hell no! I’m just thinking- you’ll sort of be my boss then.”
“It’ll make meetings very distracting. Or very fun. One of the two.”
She’d tried to fit herself back in on Earth, she really had. The adjustment had been hard on everyone at first; not only had they changed, but Earth had as well. Doctor Who had been revived, and Star Trek was off the air once more. People got their news from Comedy Central. Everyone they saw carried their phones around with them, phones which also often accessed the internet, played music, and took pictures. They’d missed three presidential elections, two wars, and the reason why there was a hole in the New York City skyline. Their yellow house with Dinah’s grave in the back had long since been sold to another family. Dad’s mother had died while they were gone; Mom’s parents refused to believe they were alive at first. Affective neuroscience had changed and expanded, leaving some of her father’s theories in the dust. Mom would have to rebuild the reputation and network of her psychiatry practice up from scratch again.
But her parents had managed to overcome most of the obstacles in their path. They moved into an apartment in the city, and settled into urban life easily enough. They’d found Nana Ruth’s grave, and left stones to mark the fact that they’d been there and mourned. They drove down to Florida (for a given value of the word ‘drive’) and nearly given Grandpa Sam and Grandma Adele a heart attack when they show up on their front porch. Dad found a job at the City College of New York, and spent his free time catching up in his field, pouring over the works of Jaak Panksepp, Antonio Damasio, and the like. As much as she often expressed guilt over it, the returned Oysters provided Mom with a steady base of patients for her practice. The moved forwards, and if they weren’t where they’d thought they’d be, there were at least on the right track.
Readapting wasn’t so easy for Alice.
“I don’t know why I thought things would be the same. I mean, I didn’t, really: the world changed a lot between the time I was born and the time I was kidnapped.”
“But you weren’t expecting the changes to really affect you as much as they are.”
For one thing, she quickly realized that there wasn’t a back for her to get to. Her parents had careers, interrupted as they’d been to build upon. The last time Alice had been on Earth, she’d been in elementary school, been a Girl Scout, had sleepovers and camp outs and felt the thrill of the forbidden when she watched PG-13 movies. For another, she’d missed everything that was supposed to come in between ten and twenty three. She hadn’t had her bat mitzvah, never learned to drive or gone to a homecoming game, hadn’t gone to prom, graduated high school, applied to college, or any of the other things she would have expected to have done by now. True, they weren’t strictly necessary; they’d never been an especially religious family, and she could still learn to drive and get her GED, but.
They were just the most easily definable things on a very long list of things that didn’t fit anymore. New York City wasn’t very much larger than the City in Wonderland, but it felt bigger, and stranger, and more uncontrolled. People laughed and cried and shouted because as far as they knew that was just what you did in a city, no matter how much Alice’s instincts were screaming that if things didn’t quiet down soon there were going to be more bloody riots. She didn’t understand how the political system worked, and the fact that she didn’t seem to need to unsettled her. Then there was the fact that everyone expected her to be a young adult, just starting to find her way, like every other twenty-something she avoided interacting with. In reality she’d been a full-fledged adult who had a career for years, and had been very good at her job.
“Hey Alice. Did you ever read the Chronicles of Narnia before coming to Wonderland?”
“I think I saw the movie. Why?”
“No reason. It’s just an interesting story; it’s about these kids who fall into another world. And they save it, of course, and after they do so, they stay until they’ve grown up. And they rule over their country until one day they find their way back home, and when they stumbled out back into Britain- it’s a British book you know- they’re kids again.”
“Wow, Hatter. That was about as subtle as a fireworks display.”
“So do you want to borrow them for a read, then?”
It wasn’t like she hadn’t thought about all the problems that would arise, especially in the time between the Casino falling and returning to Earth. She knew she was expected to start over, and she could accept being the rookie again. For some reason, though, she’d expected that she would be able to start being a rookie right away. She could pass just about every physical test anyone could think of, and at least on paper the NYPD ran under a similar philosophy to the one she’d wanted to run the Spades under. But before she could so much as apply, she would need either four years of college (her parents wanted her to go to college anyway) or four years of service in the military (that would probably give them simultaneous heart attacks). She was still trying to understand even half the stuff in her syllabus for the GED; she couldn’t even imagine taking the harder courses at a university. She could ask the White Rabbit to change her records, to give her the GED or even the college credits, but after her parents had managed to build themselves back up without anything but the least amount of support from Wonderland it seemed like cheating. It also seemed like something that would be all-too-easy to fall apart- what would she do if she ran into someone who was supposed to have gone to college with her, and could call her bluff.
“I really don’t like the idea of you joining the military.”
“You know, it wouldn’t be that different from being a Spade. The Police deck wasn’t even the safest Spade deck to be in, I’d say.”
“Yes, but there aren’t any bloody pirates in Wonderland, are there?”
She took a job as a night guard, which was boring as all hell if still relevant to her interests. She thought about signing up for classes at a fighting school, but was discouraged by the fact that the first one she’d been to was the one Jenny worked at. She came home in the morning, and fell back into the easy habit of not talking about anything unpleasant.
Except for when she was with Hatter; if he hadn’t been there, she probably would have imploded long ago.
“Do you think it’s wrong that I miss my life in Wonderland? I mean, I was a Spade. I hurt people for a living, and I never thought I enjoyed it.”
“I don’t know if it’s wrong, exactly. I wouldn’t say it was surprising, though.
“Some days… I really miss my shop.”
He’d come to visit the day after they returned, Mother Night in hand and some pretty interesting ideas about pizzerias she needed to set straight. Then he came back with news on the few Tea addicts that were still lingering around when they’d left Wonderland, and she’d taken the opportunity to introduce him to the wonders of falafel. From there, the excuses became more and more bizarre, until she came out of the bathroom to find Dad was threatening to slip something nasty in Hatter’s tea if he was seriously considering taking her out to wrangle unicorns in the sewers.
“There aren’t actually unicorns in the sewers, are there?”
“Not too many- the alligators keep them in check. Here’s a better question: when are we telling your parents I’m the new Agent White?”
“The day after never.”
“So, next time?”
“Let me take you to IHOP first.”
Hatter grounded her. When she felt like the world was spinning too fast he grabbed hold of her hand and didn’t let go. It was easier to see the things on Earth that were good when he was around, easier to believe that she could make a life for herself here when he kissed her.
He also brought her letters from Wonderland; just rolled up bits of parchment from Charlie (“The children and I repelled a bandersnatch incursion along the northern perimeter today. Kestrel was scratched rather badly, but she was very stoic about being stitched back up.”), short status reports from Jack (“The current tally is Assassins 0 King 47. I should probably find that comforting, but it mostly just worries me.”) and Uthar (“There was almost a stampede down by the docks today- we could have used you to help calm everyone down as they tried to get on the boats.”) at first. Eventually she began to get letters from Grace (“If I have to explain to one more person that one of the very few things Duchess and I shared was a taste in clothing, I’ll scream.”) and Cricket (“You know, I think I preferred when Jack and Grace were nauseating. Now all they do is dance circles around each other, which still makes me stick without being sweet as well.”). She even got something like a thank you from Carlotta (“Word on the street is that I owe you for my spiffy new beauty parlor. It used to be a Tea Shop, if you can believe it.”) and something that was as close to an apology as she could get from Othello (“My son’s name is Wyatt, and he’ll be turning two soon. The only thing Jacinta and I can get him to eat is mashed radishes.”). She lived for these letters; when Hatter wasn’t around, out on business for the White Rabbit or back in Wonderland, they kept her moving forwards. Charlie was crazy, Jack was new, Uthar was old, Grace was still trying to mend, Cricket was caught in his own head, Carlotta had a lot of adjustments to make, and Othello had been busted down to Six and was on probation. They were all making their way. She could at least try.
After all, how hard could life on Earth be after Wonderland?
And then one day Hatter showed up with a letter from Jack. It wasn’t his normal notes, which she sometimes got the impression were lists of snarky thing he scribbled during meetings and sent to her on a lark. It was an offer; Uthar no longer felt up to the task of being his Trump of Defense, and she was his first pick for a replacement.
In hindsight, she really should have taken Hatter up on his offer to accompany her to dinner when she broke the news to her parents.
“We just got out,” Dad hissed, after making sure that the family seated at the next table over wasn’t eavesdropping. “Why on Earth would you want to go back?”
“Because I don’t belong on Earth anymore,” Alice replied.
“Honey,” Mom began. No one called her Jellybean anymore. “Is this about your GED? If you’re getting discouraged-”
“No, it’s not about that, really.” Alice took a sip of the water their waitress had poured for her when they’d been given their menus. “Living there was different for me than you, I think. It wasn’t all bad- I had friends, and a career. I knew what I was doing, even when it only got people hurt. I don’t know who I am here.”
“You’re our daughter,” Dad said.
“And?” Alice asked.
“Are you ready to order?” interrupted their waitress.
Dad mumbled something about appetizers and mozzarella cheese sticks until she went away again.
“Wonderland feels more real,” Alice tried to explain. “And, I owe it something. I lived there for years and I helped the Queen tear it to bits. If I take the position, I can help put it back together.”
“You were kidnapped,” Mom said. “You were forced into a very difficult situation and did what you had to in order to survive. It’s not your fault.”
“Very few people would have become Suits if there had been other options available,” Alice said. “That doesn’t make us any less responsible for what we did.”
Her parents were silent against the constant babble of their fellow restaurant goers. Two booths down, a toddler began to shriek that he wasn’t leaving without pie.
“You’ll visit,” Dad said. “And you’ll write often. And maybe whisper in Jack’s ear about getting some sort of phone connection through the Looking Glass.”
“Yeah,” Alice agreed. “I can do that.”
“Think of the possibilities,” Hatter said over her laughter. They were probably scaring the other Rabbits, but then again, they did have boss’ prerogative. “There’s the desk of course. And the chair, though I’m telling you right now, your chair isn’t nearly as cool as mine.”
Alice rolled her eyes as they walked to the Looking Glass chamber.
“And then there are filing cabinets,” Hatter continued. He leaned closed, whispering directly into her ear. “The way things are set up now we could hide behind those without bothering to draw the curtains. It could be a game; we could see how long we could go until someone caught us.”
“Hatter!” she spun around, trying not to smile. “You’re-”
I’m what? His expression asked. Incorrigible? Sexy? Perfect?
“You’re supposed to be helping me move.”
“What do you think I’m doing?” Hatter asked, sounding affronted.
“Trying to grab a quickie,” Alice replied.
Hatter smirked, and they entered the Looking Glass chamber.
“The Looking Glass is all set, Ace,” the technician said.
“Thanks, Kieran,” Hatter replied. “Ready to get back to work? I’m sure someone will try to kill somebody important today.”
“I can hardly wait,” Alice said.
She watched Hatter step through, took a deep breath, and followed him home.