Alice and the Warden – 24

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When she heard the front door open, Alice slowly slid off the bed, careful not to wake her baby, then tiptoed out of the bedroom. She found Hackett in the kitchen unloading a number of grocery bags, and without a word she wrapped her arms around him from behind. He stopped and placed his hands over hers.

“You all right?” he asked.

“Gertie told me,” she answered quietly.

Hackett stiffened as he asked, “About Miranda?”

Alice nodded, then said, “Yes.”

“I figured she would, sooner or later.” Hackett lowered his head. “It was three years ago, and I’ve made my peace with it. You don’t have to worry about anything.”

“I think I understand why you love me,” Alice whispered, squeezing him as tight as she could. “Because you’re damaged, too.”

“There’s more to it than that.” Hackett gently pried her arms loose so he could turn to face her. “But it is a factor. The first time I accompanied you to your prenatal appointment, it was because I was curious about what I had missed out on. I kept going because I was concerned about you and the baby.”

“I’ve been selfish.” Alice touched his face. “I didn’t think that you had any sorrows in your past, because I was too preoccupied with my own. I’m sorry.” She stood on her tiptoes to brush her lips against his.

Hackett’s arm circled around her waist and he pulled her against him. “I don’t mind. I would have preferred that you never found out at all, but when Miranda showed up, I knew that Gertie would gossip about it; she’s been lonely since her husband died, and that’s made her obnoxiously chatty at times.”

“I’m glad she told me,” Alice whispered against Hackett’s neck. “I want to fill in your missing pieces, just like you’ve been filling in mine. Even though we’re broken, we can still be whole together.” Her lips found his earlobe.

“You aren’t scared of being codependent?” he asked.

“No,” she breathed. “I love you.”

His hands moved down along her back, stopping to grip her hips as he pushed against her. Alice’s gasp was interrupted by the sound of Alicia crying in the bedroom. “Sorry,” she whispered, then bit her lip. “I’ve got to go see to that.”

Hackett held onto her for a moment longer, then kissed her forehead with the words, “Go on.”

Alice scampered to the bedroom and scooped her baby up into her arms, cooing and cuddling her to calm her down before returning to the kitchen. Hackett had resumed restocking the pantry and fridge, and spoke without looking at her, “It was a comfortably low-maintenance relationship, and Miranda never cared how many hours I worked, because she was putting in just as many herself. In retrospect, I don’t think that either of us put an ounce of our hearts into it, and we were only together to ease the strain of our careers.

“Then out of the blue she told me that she was pregnant. It struck me numb at first, but when I thought about it, I realized that I wanted a family. I had been terrified of marriage and fatherhood before, but I was ready to commit.

“Unfortunately, I came to that conclusion too late. Miranda had already terminated.”

“Oh Basil,” Alice sighed. “I’m so sorry.”

“She said she did it because I would be a terrible father, and she wasn’t going to carry the burden of raising a child alone.”

“No! That’s not true at all!” Alice couldn’t stop the tears that flooded her eyes. “You’re amazing in every way! I’ve wished a million times over that you were Alicia’s real father …”

“Alice,” Hackett murmured, “you’re still young and naive in many ways, despite what you’ve gone through. It’s true that while I was still establishing myself as the warden, I was dedicating far too many hours to the prison. I wouldn’t have been there to help change diapers.”

“But …” she began to protest, but struggled to come up with what she should say. Alice had spent her entire pregnancy terrified of how she would provide for her baby, and Hackett had rescued her. Even if he never changed a single diaper, she would still be grateful for his support.

“Don’t worry yourself over it; things are different now.”

“Basil …”

He placed the milk in the refrigerator, then quietly folded up all the paper bags and tucked them away in one of the cabinets. “By the way, Alice,” he said then, “my mother is coming to stay with us next weekend.”

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