The next morning, Hackett’s alarm went off as usual. Alice groaned and rolled over, reluctant to wake up after spending half the night nursing the baby. He let her be, showering and dressing while she continued to sleep. When Alice managed to rouse herself and check the time, she fretted that she had missed out on having breakfast with him. It had become such an important part of her life, that a crushing emptiness filled her chest at the thought of having missed out, and she wasn’t sure that she would have much of an appetite without his company.
After changing Alicia’s diaper, Alice reluctantly moped towards the kitchen. She was so startled to see Hackett sitting at the table that her heart jumped into her throat and she came to a sudden stop, slightly tightening her hold on her infant. He looked up and smiled.
“Good morning,” he said cheerfully, tucking his phone back into his pocket. “I was starting to wonder if I was going to have to wait until lunchtime to eat.”
“What about work? Aren’t you late? Won’t you get in trouble?” Alice asked, her heart still pounding.
“It’s the weekend,” he replied.
“Yes, but …” She had to swallow hard. “You never missed a day at the prison …”
He chuckled and seemed slightly embarrassed. “You thought I worked seven days a week.”
“Truth is, I drove to the prison every day just to share breakfast with you, then went back home on weekends and holidays.” He looked away.
She could help but sputter, “Why?”
“Alice,” he said gently, standing and walking around the table to take her hand in his own. “Seriously.”
She blushed deeply. “I guess I should know better,” she muttered. “We’re married, and I’m still struggling with the idea that …”
“I love you,” he whispered, brushing his lips against hers, causing Alice to tremble. “Now come, we need to eat. How does oatmeal sound to you?”
“Good,” she replied, absently patting her baby’s back to distract herself from the turmoil that was building in the back of her throat. “I’m starving.” Her voice sounded thick.
Hackett prepared breakfast as Alice sat in silence, fingering the blanket that she kept wrapped around Alicia; the blanket that he had given to her as a gift shortly after finding out that she was going to have a girl.
Love was almost harder to understand than dignity.
Alice knew that she loved Alicia – there was no question that she would do whatever was necessary to ensure her baby’s happiness and wellbeing, and she never wanted to imagine life without her daughter. Sometimes she felt that she had been unprepared for the strength of emotion that overwhelmed her when she held her baby, and she wondered how such a tiny person could mean more than the entire world. Maternal love had already swept her off her feet.
But when it came to men and romance, she had no experience. Alice had come to believe that men were incapable of tender feelings, and that sex was the only thing that mattered to them; that’s how it had always been with Damon, at least. When she had first met him, she had told herself repeatedly that he cared, even as he asked her to do things that caused her an increasing amount of emotional pain. Eventually, she gave up on the notion all together, and followed him because she didn’t know how else to be.
Hackett followed rules and boundaries that she didn’t understand. He was affectionate, but never pushed her in a way that made her uncomfortable. In fact, she was beginning to wish that he would be more assertive with her, and do something like thrust his tongue into her mouth as he cupped her breast – anything, really, as long as it affirmed physical desire and connection. Yet she still appreciated the time and consideration that he gave to her as freely as he could, and the revelation that he had gone out of his way to see her everyday affected her deeply.
The warden loved her.
The thought made her heart flutter and want to cry all at the same time.
“I have some chores that I need to get done before it starts raining again,” Hackett said as he placed two bowls of oatmeal down on the table. “Is there anything that you wanted to do?”
Alice shrugged and adjusted the way she was holding Alicia to free up one of her arms so she could eat. “Online shopping, I guess. Gertie told me to get a baby carrier, and I should probably look into that.”
“Get yourself some new things, too.” Hackett sat down across from her. “Nothing pleather, though,” he said with a wink.
“Oh darn, I was hoping that I could start dressing like a cyber goth,” Alice replied sarcastically.
“You’re much prettier without the costumes,” he commented absent-mindedly. “When I first saw you, I thought that the bondage flamingo style made you look used up.”
“Gee, thanks,” Alice sighed. “Now I know why it was so easy for you to reject me back then.”
This time it was Hackett’s turn to shrug. “It wasn’t personal.”
“I hated you for it.”
“I felt so ugly and worthless after you turned me down.”
He remained silent.
“It was Damon’s idea for me to seduce you, but you probably already know that,” Alice said quietly. “And I’m glad that you didn’t touch me back then. It was a rude awakening, but one that I sorely needed, and I realized how much I was pretending to be something that I’m not. I just … wish that I knew what I really am.”
“Mrs. Alice Hackett, mother of one, and connoisseur of books is a good place to start.” He smiled warmly at her. “Now go on and eat. Our baby needs you to keep your strength up.”
“Did you notice how ravenous she was last night? I swear she didn’t let me sleep for most of it.” Alice kissed her newborn’s head as she patted her back. “Does she look bigger to you? I swear she’s grown since yesterday.”
“She’s definitely bigger,” Hackett agreed. “Here, hand her over. You hog her too much.”
Alice stuck her tongue out at him. “I made her and birthed her, so I can hog her as much as I want.” She then giggled as she gave Alicia over for Hackett to hold. “Not to mention, I feel like swooning every time I see you with my baby. It’s far too much for my fragile self to handle.” Leaning forward to lightly brush her lips against Hackett’s ear, Alice whispered, “You’ll have a far easier time seducing me than I managed with you.” She blushed at herself, and quickly sat down to stuff a spoonful of oatmeal into her mouth. It was still too hot, and she ended up awkwardly holding her mouth open as she blew and waved her hand in hopes of cooling it down before it burned her.
“See how ridiculous your mother is?” Hackett said to Alicia with a big grin. “Maybe one day you’ll grow up to be just as adorable.”