Thomas Hatter ordered a warm peppermint beverage brewed by a beautiful barista behind the banister. 

“Sir, should I arrange for a hotel where you can lie down?” The graceful woman couldn’t have sounded better. He felt like a boisterous brute transfixed by her beauty. If only he knew the right words to say.

The mysterious woman leaned closer. She had golden hair at shoulder length, beautiful blue eyes, a perfect nose, and a smile reserved just for him. “There’s no reason for you to wander outside in the dark and not even with a coat on your back.”

Grace held the waffling peppermint beverage under his nose. He didn’t have good sense to be pleasant or polite. He just said what came to mind. “Who are you?” She wasn’t taken aback by his directness.

“My name’s Miss Kelly.”

“Does that beverage taste as good as it smells?”

“It tastes better and will cure anything from a sore elbow to a bump on the head. Would you like to lodge at my family home this evening?”

“I’d like that very much.” They walked next to each other down the illuminated street through the center of town. Soon they entered a side road, which turned into a seclude path zigzagging down a hill. Fields erupted with insect choruses and an overpowering mint fragrance. An irrigation stream cycled through an agricultural basin. They reached a wooden foot bridge and crossed into farming country.

Light beamed through a porthole as they walked into the shadows of a tall farmhouse. Several festive conversations were heard. The front door was immediately opened by a stout man with curly gray hair. He wore a purple waist coat, with a golden watch tucked in his pocket.

“Welcome home my darling and who have you brought to stay with us,” he asked.

“He’s a hunter from the northlands who periodically lodges in town. He bumped his head and feinted in my coffee shop. The doctor was sent for, but I think fresh air did him some good.”

“I should say so. Why don’t you give the man a chance to speak for himself? He doesn’t look as if he was struck dumb.”

Thomas smiled at her father and quickly glanced at Grace. “I’m sorry to impose sir, but I lost track of time. I usually hike back to my lodge sooner.”

“Don’t worry young man. We have guests that will never leave.” He motioned to his daughter, “Most of those friends are your mother’s. They can talk for hours about civic meetings and bake sales. They think up projects and I fix whatever they want. I have a list of projects that will never get done on account of your mother’s altruistic ways.

“Oh father, I keep telling you to retire.”

 Teddy held the door open for both of them, but before Grace walked over the threshold he stood on his tip toes and whispered in her ear, “In case you haven’t noticed, that boy is head over heels in love with you.” She blushed despite years of immunity to his jokes and witticisms.

 The guest room was flooded with different types of people. Mr. and Mrs. Pots boasted of their secret mint cheesecake recipes. They wore pots on their heads, which complemented their last name. Mr. and Mrs. Trufflesnout and their seven children were everywhere at once. The chief magistrate was introduced, along with his daughter Angelica, who had cherubic qualities. The din of party guests made it impossible to hear.

Grace opened a staircase leading into the attic. “You can stay here for the evening. Breakfast will be served in the morning.” Thomas didn’t find the dark corridor inviting and tried not to stare at the taxidermies on the wall.

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