Authors: A.G. Stone
Top-Hats and Rabbits
If you're reading this, just remember that there isn't such thing as happily-ever-afters. Happiness doesn't come to the damned or the insane; all that's waiting for them is a straitjacket and a bunch of test tubes, needles, and sedatives. I should know. After all, my mother tried to kill me when I was 5 years old.
Of all the strange customers we've had come into the Costume Emporium, there was one who stood out the most to me. The customer was a boy who looked to be about my age - about 17 - with black hair that fell into his right eye and a tattoo of green diamonds that shimmered like real jewels under his left eye, as if he was crying bejeweled diamonds. He wore a Victorian-style suit, except it wasn't traditional; the jacket was the normal black, but there were rips in the sleeves revealing a black and white checkered patterned material that was rather puffy underneath.
The shirt he wore underneath the jacket was orange, with a collar that puffed out around him slightly. His pants were striped black and white. And to top the odd look off, he wore fancy, black shoes on his feet with a white butterfly with wings dyed with splotches of red that looked like blood on top of each shoe.
The boy tapped his finger against the counter impatiently, the orange nail polish on his fingernails flashing in the artificial light of the shop. "Hello? Is anyone there?" he called into the nearly empty shop - that was empty save me, as May and Madame Annaliese were out shopping for different costumes to sell at the Costume Emporium.
I came out of the backroom where I had been mending an Alice costume for this young girl named Maria who often played with my younger sister, Alexandria, while blasting my music through my earbuds. "Yes?" I replied, arching an eyebrow as I pulled one of my earbuds from my ear. I let the other one remain in in case this customer decided to leave after seeing me.
"Are you permitted to help me?" the boy asked, looking me up and down almost like he was assessing me - that or judging me for the fact that I was dressed in ripped, holey jeans and a black T-shirt with a white heart on it with a black center like I was pretending to be an angel but was actually a demon in disguise while still listening to music - like my usual, rugged, out-of-place style - while he was dressed in a Victorian style suit with every ruffle of his suit and every strand of hair in place.
I became indignant, putting my hands on my hips. "Yes, I am. I am an employee of the Costume Emporium, and while I choose to work in the back, I can work in the front, too! Thank you very much, you gaudy, overdressed kid!"
The boy burst out laughing. "'Kid'?" he repeated incredulously, smirking widely to reveal mostly perfect white teeth with a front tooth that was slightly crooked that somehow made his face all the more perfect. "That's your worst insult? Are you serious?"
I blushed red and scuffed at the perfectly clean linoleum with the toe of my worn, red leather boots, listening to the lyrics of "Saving Me" by Dreamstuck. "Shut up," I mumbled. "That's not my only insult. I just didn't want to . . . I'm against it."
"Cuss?" he suggested, and I nodded. He smirked at me confidently.
"Anyway." The boy cleared his throat, waving the topic away with a white gloved hand in what he no doubt thought was glamorous. "Will you help me?"
I mentally waved away any feelings of embarrassment I'd had from earlier to focus on helping this customer - no matter how strange and annoying and arrogant he might be - to the best of my abilities. "Absolutely," I said professionally, giving him a polite smile though I very much wanted to slap the arrogant smirk off of his incredibly - and unfairly so - handsome face. "What do you need?"
"A large top-hat," the boy told me. "A very large top-hat."
"All right," I said, turning and rummaging through the box of top-hats we had for various reasons. I brought one out that was a replica of the Mad Hatter's hat from the Disney adaption of Alice in Wonderland and set it on the counter, smirking at him as the song changed.
The boy took one look at it and his lip curled in disgust like he was a diva, which I suspected was the honest to God truth. "Bigger, and not quite so tattered. It's hideous to look at."
I rolled my eyes and put the hat back, bringing out a larger, black top-hat with red jewels around the brim. I set it on the counter.
"Bigger," he ordered as if I was just his slave, and I scowled at his tone but did as he had said.
We continued this for several minutes until I told him that we had no larger top-hats.
"It has to be bigger!" he shouted desperately, his voice cracking as his eyes widened; I think I might have even seen the trace of a little tear in his eye - I almost smirked at that. "It has to be! Otherwise he won't be placated!"
"Sir, we have no bigger top-hats," I said in a soothing manner, though I would have much rather taunted him until he cried - especially about him almost crying. "I'm sorry."
"Then make me one," the boy ordered, crossing his arms over his chest stubbornly, and one of my brown eyes felt as though it twitched, my eyesight in my left eye shaking slightly.
"I'm not authorized to use the sewing equipment except to mend costumes," I said, shaking my head and biting my cheek and nibbling on it to keep calm. "I'm afraid we can't help you, not while I'm the only one here; the others are out shopping for new costumes or costume ideas."
"Fine," he said and stalked away. As he was just about to exit through the huge, double glass doors, he turned back to look at me and smirked once more, his dark eyes shimmering with mischief. "I'll see you later, Bryony. Don't forget to bring the watch." With that said, he was gone.
I leaped out from behind the counter and raced out the door, but by the time I had reached the street, the boy was gone, as if he had never been inside the Costume Emporium in the first place.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"Yeah, he had green diamonds under his left eye and everything," I said, stirring my cup of coffee with the arm of my decorated gingerbread man.
My best friend, Amber, blinked her big brown eyes, fiddling with the gingerbread cookie on her plate. "And he demanded a huge top-hat?" she asked, playing with a strand of her chocolate brown hair, and I nodded, biting down on the gingerbread arm.
"A huge top-hat that was in good shape, that was perfect in his eyes, and was absolutely beautiful," I confirmed, nodding. "He wouldn't leave until I told him that I couldn't help him. I swear to God, I wanted to slap the Hell out of that boy; he treated me like I was so much under him, like I was so different."
"And then he walked out of the door, but not after saying your name perfectly, demanding that you bring a watch to whenever you're going to see him again?" Amber repeated, restating everything I had told her earlier.
"Yes," I said, looking down at my cup of steaming coffee. "Freaky, huh?"
Amber chuckled, smirking at me though I could see the pain in her eyes. "Yes, just as freaky as you were when you dressed up in your own representation of the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland," she teased, and I bit the inside of my cheek and nibbled on it, giving her a sheepish smile.
"All right, you got me," I said, looking up at her smirking face. "I shouldn't call people freaks when I've done some pretty strange things."
"'Strange'?" Amber repeated. "It was downright disturbing! I didn't know that you thought the White Rabbit looked like that."
I blushed. "It's not my fault my imagination takes disturbing turns," I said in my defense, twirling a strand of my dark brown hair around my index finger as I bit down on the inside of my cheek harder.
"And your paintings," Amber continued, obviously lost in the memory of my many paintings as she had that little expression on her face where she lightly bit down on her bottom lip and had her dark brown eyebrows knitted. "Those are just terrifying. You depicted the Cheshire Cat as a blue cat that barely had skin on its bones with a giant grin with sharp fangs stained with blood. Every time I think of it, I get the heebie-jeebies." She shuddered, looking at me seriously with her dark brown eyes that matched mine. "And let's not even go into the White Rabbit."
I looked down at my coffee again, my slender hands wrapped tightly around the white mug, conforming to its shape as the heat spread throughout my hands, up my arm, and into my very core. "Shut up, Amber," I muttered irritably, drawing blood from biting down on my cheek so hard and making a face at the coppery taste that now clung to my tongue. "It's not that strange."
Ugh, I so hated arrogant people; I couldn't help but rant about it when I was with someone I trusted. The boy had really gotten under my skin; he was so much like my parents who used and abused me that it wasn't even funny. It really hurt to be used by people like that. It was just so difficult to handle being treated like that. It frustrated me, because I wasn't something that you could use, was I?
"Yes, it is," Amber corrected me. "When we were little, you told me that you had visions of a man with a crown on his head, a tattoo of hearts in roses running down his left cheek, waiting for you in a gold coffin; he needs you to awaken him so that the two of you can save Wonderland together and then get married and have kids once Wonderland was safe, remember?"
I blushed at her mocking. "It's not a tattoo, and it's not my fault I had a disturbing childhood," I said, and Amber gave me a look.
My childhood was disturbing; I mean, I was five years old when I had an attempt on my life. And then I was 11 when I had my virginity taken away by force. I was now 17, and the events of my childhood still had a huge impact on me. It hurt to think about the past, but my mind kept bringing up the past at every opportunity. It seemed as though life had it out for me, making things absolutely miserable and bringing up my painful past at every possible moment. Maybe someday I would finally be happy, but it felt as though that day would never come; it felt as though I didn't belong in this world.
"Nothing about your childhood was disturbing," she said, her tone still mocking and cruel, obviously pissed off. Amber was only cruel to you when you pissed her off extremely, and I knew from experience; I'd done plenty to piss her off in our many days of being friends. It felt as though I was just really good at pissing people off and picking terrible friends. "You're just a kid with a screwed up mind."
I stood up and walked off, leaving my mug of coffee and gingerbread cookie untouched - other than the little nibbles I had taken from the cookie, such as the arm missing. The gingerbread man looked rather sad, missing his arm and half of his leg. But I wasn't in the mood to eat the rest of him; Amber had hurt my feelings, clear by the ache in my heart, the stabbing feeling in my gut, the emptiness opening inside of my heart, but I knew that I had hurt hers, too, by always talking about myself. It was partially my fault, as much as it was hers - maybe even more my fault than hers.
My favorite sport - and the one that I was best at - was dance. Everyone always told me that I was the best dancer on the team. I always had fabulous moves and came up with the moves that we always performed during competition.
"Bryony!" Amie, another one of my friends - this one from the dance team, the Poison Pixies - exclaimed upon sight of me.
"Amie!" I said, smiling, and she giggled.
"Are you ready for tonight's competition?" she asked me, and I grinned.
"Did Mrs. L tell you what she decided the theme of the dance will be?" Amie asked me, and I bit my cheek and gnawed on it.
"Let me guess: something that will embarrass the Hell out of me?" I asked, and she looked ashamed.
Alice in Wonderland
- except Mrs. L is calling it Alice in Underland," Amie explained, and I rolled my eyes.
"I'm guessing everyone voted on this but me, huh?" I asked, and Amie nodded. I scowled. "Everyone?"
Amie looked down and sighed. "Yes, everyone," she said, and my scowl deepened.
"Including you?" I said, all but snarling the words.
"Yes," she said, refusing to meet my steely-eyed gaze of chocolate that was usually warm but now was as cold as ice.
"Why?" I asked, my tone sharp and biting as I bit my cheek to keep calm. "Why would you agree to that?"
"Because it was that or be laughed at because I'm your friend!" Amie admitted, and I bit down on my cheek harder and harder.
"I see," I said, turning away from Amie. "So you're just another person embarrassed to be seen or even be associated with me, the crazie of the school. You're just like everyone else. You're no different than the others."
"Bryony! Please!" Amie pleaded, and I gave her a fearsome glare.
"Shut up," I said, snarling at her; I had to be aggressive if I wanted to protect myself, even though I didn't like to be. "I don't want to hear your excuses. I trusted you, but you were only using me. Something like a charity case, right? I'm just another object that you can use to play with to your heart's content, just another thing that you can use to gain popularity, right? Just like everyone else, right?"
"N-no," Amie stammered, but I could see the truth in her eyes; I was just another charity case for her. Amie was exceptionally good at using people. I had deluded myself into thinking that she wouldn't do that to me, but I guess I was wrong. Like I said, I was just exceptionally good at picking terrible friends.
I began to walk away.
"Bryony, please! I didn't mean to hurt you!" Amie shouted, grabbing at my arm, and I sneered, holding my arm close to me as I hid a wince.
My arch-enemy at school, Linda Marianne, had cut my arm with a razor she had snuck into school as punishment for getting in her way. Linda had also scratched at my arm several times before she finally cut me; it was always in the same spot every day; she was the reason why I wore arm guards with everything, with every single outfit every single day. Being with Amie just made my arm hurt worse, as she had made several grabs at my arm in attempts to keep me from leaving her. I didn't want my parents thinking I self-harmed, even though I knew that they would care. My parents never did care, so I didn't know why I was so worried - but I was.
I left Amie behind and walked into the secret practice room. I set up my iPod that I carried everywhere with me, attaching my iPod to the speakers and setting my Dance Playlist to random. The first song that came on was by Dark Day, called "Ashes of a Dream". It was one of my favorites. I began to dance and lost myself in the music.
The next song that came on was "Mad" by Dark Day, and I began swaying my hips to the opening. I just kept dancing, slipping from one song into the other without even a break. I think I got to about fifteen songs before I bent over, wheezing for breath; I had excellent breath control, because I had been dancing before I was born. My mother - before she went crazy - told me stories of how I would dance in her belly; I would always giggle, smile at her, and say, "Mama!" A few days after I turned five, I stopped calling her "Mama" and she stopped coming back home.
When "Across Me" by Temporary came on, I began to scream the lyrics at the top of my lungs as I danced. "Across Me" was a song about a girl who felt like she was a monster because of the way she was treated. It was a song that described my view on myself so well that I could cry. And I did; as I spun around, screaming the lyrics at the top of my lungs until my throat was hoarse and scratchy, I began to sob. Eventually I had to stop because I was crying so hard I couldn't breathe. I crawled so that I was out of the way of the door, picking my iPod off of the speaker and plugging my earbuds in so that I could listen to my music while I cried. I curled up under the piano and cried there, eventually crying myself to sleep.