When sunlight hit the curtains, they cast a soft pink glow around Alice’s room that warmed her heart. With time to grow accustomed to the idea, she began to fancy that maybe she could be a princess; when the light was right, she danced around her room – mindful of her body’s changing balance – and imagined herself as graceful and elegant.
Other times she sang to her baby. Because she didn’t know any songs that she deemed appropriate, she made them up as she went along, and often resorted to singing her thoughts as they occurred to her without any regard to rhyme or meter. After coming up with a particularly clever melody in her opinion, her favorite became:
I am your mother
I’ll paint your nails
And style your hair
And we’ll always eat dinner
Alice found hope for the future in the promises that she made to her unborn child.
One morning, when she sat down for breakfast with Hackett, she said, “I think I want to name my baby Alicia.”
He grunted, “Sounds pretty.”
“It’s a lot like my name – only not.” Alice felt herself blush a little after stating her reasoning out loud. While the idea had seemed sweet and endearing in her head, she worried that it sounded pathetic in her voice.
“Yes. It’s a good name,” Hackett said, frustratingly devoid of any hint of excitement.
“It’s a big deal, giving someone else a name.” Alice lifted her chin into the air and turned away. “I don’t want to pick the wrong one, and have it haunt her for her entire life.”
“Maybe I should pick something that’s the complete opposite of my name, to make sure that she doesn’t follow in my footsteps.”
Hackett gave her an annoyed look as he sharply said, “Alice.”
The tone of his voice made her understand why he was effective as the warden. “What?” she answered sulkily.
“If you like Alicia, then name her that and quit insulting yourself.”
“Yes, sir,” she murmured.
He sighed. “While we’re on the subject, it’s Basil.”
Alice snorted. “You mean like the plant?”
“Yes. I keep a few pots in my kitchen window, in case I forget.” He smiled.
“What was your mom thinking with that one?” Alice couldn’t help but snicker.
“My mother is an amazing woman. She survived raising me, after all.” His eyes twinkled with a rush of love that Alice had never seen before, and she felt the stark contrast in her own relationship with her mother; her eyes never lit up when she thought about the woman who raised her.
This time, it was Alice’s turn to sigh. “My mom was … absent. I mean, she wasn’t bad or anything, and she provided a pretty decent life for us and all. We had a nice house in a nice neighborhood, and it’s not like anything bad happened to scar me for life. She was just … busy.”
For a minute, Alice drew lines in the excess maple syrup on her plate with her fork as she thought back on her past, consciously avoiding eye contact with Hackett as she did so.
“My dad never talked to us after the divorce, and I didn’t have any siblings. When I was sixteen, it felt like every night was the same old choice of ordering out for pizza, or heating up a frozen burrito in the microwave, and eating alone. I hated it.
“Then one day, Damon literally appeared out of nowhere. I think I was waiting for the bus, and he pulled up on his motorcycle and started talking to me. I liked that he noticed me, so we ended up spending the rest of the day together …” Alice hesitated, and felt her cheeks burn at the memory. She liked Hackett too much to confide the entire truth about herself. “The stupid thing is,” she began again, “I knew that he was dangerous from the start. I kept thinking that I could rebel just enough to embarrass my mom so that she’d have to pay attention to me, then put a stop to everything. But after I let him inside my head, everything was out of my control.”
Alice glanced at Hackett to find him watching her intently, listening to every word. She was both glad and terrified at the discovery, and wasn’t sure if she appreciated his attentiveness or was humiliated by it.
“I never even questioned any of the stuff that he wanted out of me … until after I met you. Then suddenly I realized that four years had passed, and I wasn’t at all the sort of person I wanted to be.”
He touched her hand. “You’re still young.”
Alice stared down at their hands resting on the table, wondering why it felt reassuring that he would still offer the gesture even after her confession. “Yeah …” she answered dazedly, “I guess.”
“And before you know it, you’ll have a tiny Alicia in your arms to care for,” Hackett said.
She turned her hand over so that her palm was facing up, and Hackett moved to clasp it properly. She stared, numb, despite knowing that they were holding hands.
“Alice …” Hackett gave her a squeeze. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah …” She shook herself and pulled away to fold her arms. “I’m just thinking about being a mom myself, that’s all. It’s going to be a big change, you know.”
“I’m certain that you’ll be an amazing mother.” He stood and began clearing up the table, pausing to quietly say, “I wish that I had found you first.”
“What? So you could have married my mother and been a proper father-figure to keep me out of trouble?” Alice wrinkled the bridge of her nose.
“Yes, I suppose I could have.” Hackett laughed as he picked up the tray.
She twiddled her fingers at Hackett. “Bye-bye, Basil.”
He winked as he exited, followed by the familiar sound of the key locking the door.
If Alice hadn’t been pregnant, she would have run to fling herself onto her bed and hide her face in her pillow. Instead, she was too worried about hurting herself or her baby, so she slowly walked over and sat down on the mattress, staring at her hand.
She wondered why she could still feel Hackett’s touch against her palm.