Smiling down at his dear redheaded friend and her box of scrumptious sweets, Beckett couldn’t help but wish the March Hare were here. The reason they’d been such magnificent friends was not only because they liked the same things – unbirthday celebrations, songs, rattling china and clinking forks – but also because they seemed to complete each other. Beckett had always been focused on tea and all the things that went into it. He’d sipped tea while he made his hats, while he washed the hundreds of dishes in their combined tea set, even, he supposed, while he slept – especially in his dreams. (A normal person’s dreams may be as strange and wonderful as Wonderland, and, likewise, a Wonderlander’s dreams could take place in a normal person’s world.) He was very much a tea connoisseur, and he could tell what a tea was from simply its smell – though there were very few teas he didn’t like. But while Hatter was focused on the thousands of flavors of teas and which would be best for an unbirthday party (all of them, he would later decide, with some of them mixed together because there weren’t quite enough tea pots. Pour them in layers like cakes and drink them down with each sip a different flavor), the March Hare was focused on something else entirely: the food. He’d taught Beckett a great many things about tea cakes and regular cakes, soft cookies and crisp ones, sweet treats with jam and with honey, and a hundred varieties of sandwiches that matched perfectly with each of Beckett’s teas. When Beckett had first opened his tea shop, he’d had a rather hard time finding the right treats to compliment his teas, knowing the March Hare would have been able to do it intuitively and without hesitation or thought, but he firmly believed March would be proud of his decision to do business with Hazel. Besides, Beckett believed the three of them would get along fabulously well should they all find their way into the same room one day, and he found a great amount of joy in that fact.
Hazel was wonderful not just because of her energy, but also because she accepted his strangeness without hesitation. She responded to his bow with a curtsy and returned his greeting with as much zest as he’d offered it, and this pleased him enormously. His grin seemed to widen – if that was even possible, for he was already beaming so brightly he felt he might burst – and he bounced on the balls of his feet with joy. Today would be a good day, he thought. Every day was a good day with good friends. He may be half mad, but even he could tell that Hazel was one of the best friends he had, and he was wildly grateful for this. Still, just as she perhaps found him odd, he occasionally thought the same thing of her and the things she said. “A doll?” He let out a somewhat wild laugh, considering this. Yes, perhaps it was possible. Just like dolls, he had seams – he knew because he’d come apart at them once before and it had taken a fair amount of stitching to put him back together. Even so, every now and then he could feel himself unraveling and his stuffing beginning to press at his weakest places…he dropped the thought immediately as though it had burned him. “Certainly you never have! Each batch surpasses the last in its deliciousness,” he proclaimed merrily. His mind was a jumble of combinations of treats and tea – this cake with that tea, this cookie with the other – and he loved every moment of that madness.
The world seemed to dance in a kaleidoscope of color when Hazel twirled, such dazzling shades of the rainbow shining in his eyes as he beamed at her, drumming his fingers on the counter for a moment as she spoke of That Day. Yes, the day when it was not her unbirthday. Beckett believed this was the saddest day of the year, for it was the one day in each year that a person was not permitted an unbirthday party. He’d struggled against the notion of having a Day like that of his own when he’d finally gotten his senses together enough to tell the doctors and nurses in the institution about himself, several times going into quite a frenzy, but eventually they’d convinced him that they needed it. So, for their sake, he had a an Un-Unbirthday Day. But mostly, he just referred to it as That Day. He gazed at Hazel with relief when she said that she had many, many months yet before That Day came. “My condolences on That Day coming at all. But we mustn’t dwell on it – Unbirthdays are supposed to be happy and untainted by the sadness of That Day,” he replied, somber at first but letting his tone brighten the longer he spoke. “We must celebrate!” He punctuated this exclamation by placing an empty teacup and its (mismatched) saucer before her before moving to collect the tea he’d been working on for her. He was proud to say he had the perfect teapot for this mixture – one that was shaped like an acorn with an oak leaf spout. He could hardly contain his excitement as he poured boiling water into it and added the tea, closing the acorn topper lid and letting it steep. Perhaps she’d smell the acorns in a few moments, but for now it was still a mystery.
Carrying the teapot over to the counter and bringing with it a second teacup and saucer for himself, Beckett considered her question. What made this Unbirthday special? There were a great many reasons: a man on the subway had tipped his hat at Beckett. The sunlight had filtered through Beckett’s window two minutes earlier than usual. Though his reasons typically seemed trivial to others, there were always many reasons Beckett could find for each unbirthday to be special. “Well, for one, you’re here. And an unbirthday spent with friends is always special,” he replied with a sunny smile. “It also happens to be the anniversary of the day the flowers wrote their most lovely song, All in the Golden Afternoon. I’d sing it for you but I can’t do it justice at all – the flowers are very talented, you see, and there’s a great many parts to the song that I find I have trouble singing them all at once. I’ve tried many times.” His eyes grew distant for a moment, and, after a moment of silence, he began to merrily hum the tune he remembered so clearly. How wonderful it would be, he thought, if he could get the flowers to sing in his tea shop one day…he let the thought drift away. “I should say cucumber tea sandwiches are quite perfect for this unbirthday. Quite perfect indeed,” he said after a moment of consideration, nodding enthusiastically.
Hazel’s excitement was infectious, and Beckett could feel his heart racing in his chest with glee. He wasn’t one to make someone wait for a surprise, especially when they were so enthusiastic, so he gestured dramatically to the teapot. “This is a very special tea that I’ve been working on. Acorns and berries and sweet things and such – you must tell me if you like it or if it needs anything more. I’ll add anything you want – except mustard. There is no mustard allowed in this shop,” he explained as he filled her cup with the steaming brew, then did the same for his own. Placing the teapot between the two of them, he gestured to her cup. “Try it, please! It’s a most unique blend!” Then, bouncing with anticipation, Beckett waited for her to take her first sip.