It was a long drive to Hackett’s house. Alice didn’t feel like talking, instead staring out the window at the numerous dark trees that loomed over the road, and listening to the rain that spattered the windshield between each sweep of the wipers.
Eventually houses began to pop up between the trees, and after a deep bend in a road the woods broke into a neighborhood. A minute later, Hackett pulled into a long driveway and stopped in front of a cottage-style house, with gables, and a rounded archway above the door. Under the protection of the umbrella, Alice unbuckled her baby from the backseat and held her close as she scampered along the path to the front porch. Hackett fumbled with his keys, then unlocked the door and gestured for her to go inside first.
The wood floor creaked as Alice nervously stepped onto it, and Hackett flipped on the light behind her. “Here,” he said, his voice cracking slightly so he paused to clear his throat. “This is the living room, so, um, make yourself at home. I’m going to get your things from the car.”
Alice nodded dumbly, then sat down on the couch and kissed the top of her baby’s head. Years ago when she had been much younger, she had entertained fanciful notions of being carried across the threshold as a bride, but reality was almost painfully awkward for both husband and wife. And with her having just given birth, there were no expectations of a traditional wedding night either. Still, she was grateful that she was returning to the real world with her best friend at her side, rather than alone.
What was she going to do about Damon?
Hackett pushed the door open and set down the box with Alice’s belongings, the package of diapers sliding off the top as he did so. As he set them back, he asked, “Would you like to get a crib? Or continue co-sleeping?”
Alice looked at her sleeping baby and gently traced the line of her cheek with a finger. Alicia’s mouth was hanging open again. “I don’t have any money,” she said quietly.
“I couldn’t possibly ask you to …” Alice looked away as she protested so he wouldn’t be able to read her face. While she badly wanted to be Mrs. Alice Hackett, she felt guilty for bringing the heavy burden of an infant along with her. Somehow, she was going to ensure that it impacted his life as little as possible, while still doing her best to be a good mother.
He sat down next to her and put an arm around her. “You can’t argue that I didn’t know beforehand,” he murmured. “I don’t mind spending money on you and Alicia.”
“No. No. I really couldn’t. I mean … I don’t know …” She was exhausted, and still shaky after her encounter with Damon, so articulating herself felt impossible. “Maybe we should just go to bed right now.”
He nodded. “Let me show you around. Be kind, though. I’m a bachelor who lives alone.”
Alice shrugged. “I haven’t lived in a house for almost five years. I’m still processing the idea that we’ll still be here next week.”
Hackett smiled as he kissed her forehead. “Next year, too, darling.”
She nuzzled into the crook of his neck and let out a ragged breath. “I’m terrified of Damon. I don’t want him to take Alicia away from me.”
“I know.” He gave her shoulders a slight squeeze. “But right now, he’s locked away in a cell, surrounded by guards, and doesn’t know where you are. I assure you that he can’t summon goblins to kidnap our baby.”
Alice sniffed. “What did you say?”
“Our baby,” Hackett repeated. “I plan on adopting her, so she’ll fully belong to the two of us.”
“Basil …” Alice pressed her lips against his neck as she whispered, “I don’t deserve you.”
“Hm. Well, you have me anyway.” He laughed. “Come on, let’s get you in bed so you can sleep the day off. It’s been a rollercoaster.”
Alice chuckled slightly as well. “I’ll say. I guess this is our first night together as a married couple, so go ahead and sweep me off my feet and take me to your bed. Just mind the newborn baby.”
“Don’t worry, I have scratchy wool sheets, so we’ll be too hot and itchy to think about getting up to any funny business anyway. Alicia doesn’t have to worry about a thing.” Hackett picked Alice up, ensured that both mother and child were secure, and carried them both to the bedroom.