Alice pulled on her new dress, then studied herself in the bathroom mirror. She had ordered it mainly because the blue floral print on the fabric had tickled her fancy, and she was delighted to discover that she felt pretty while wearing it.
“What do you think, Alicia?” she asked as she walked back into the bedroom where her baby was sleeping, and gave the skirt a little flourish. “Have I got a shot at taking Basil’s breath away when he gets home?” She then sighed as she climbed onto the bed next to Alicia, and quietly watched her infant’s face.
“It’s silly, really,” she said after a moment. “I spent my entire time in prison alone, and now that I’m out I wish that I could have Basil with me all day, everyday. But he’s still the warden, you know. He has a respectable job and can’t just bum around with me all the time. I miss him terribly.” She sighed again. “And I’m spending way more time with him now than I did before you were born.”
The baby stirred and made a small fuss, so Alice gently rubbed her tummy to soothe her. “Oh, don’t worry, I’m very happy that I have you with me. I’m going to keep you forever and ever,” she whispered with a small smile. “You’re my best friend.”
Alice spent the rest of the afternoon dozing and caring for her baby. She liked that the days were passing by quietly, and she often practiced knitting while watching a movie, when she wasn’t napping with her baby or browsing through Hackett’s bookshelf. It was a delight to discover that she had already read most of the books during her time in prison, and Alice hoped that she and Hackett would continue their little bookclub once they were more settled in, now that she had the freedom to discover new books on her own.
The upcoming weekend held the threat of her mother-in-law joining them, and even though Alice tried as hard as she could to banish the thoughts from her mind, she was terrified that she would be deemed unworthy of Hackett because of her history. She prayed that her new clothes would at least give a more favorable impression, and that she wouldn’t have to talk much about herself.
Alice awoke when Hackett’s hand touched her shoulder, and in a daze she sat up and looked at him. “What time is it?” she asked, rubbing her eyes.
“About 5:30,” he replied.
“Oh. Wow.” Alice put her hand on her newborn’s stomach to feel her breathing, then crawled out of bed. “You know, I thought that babies were supposed to learn to sleep at night, but instead she’s teaching me to sleep during the day. I’m sorry that I didn’t greet you at the door.”
“Hm. Don’t worry.” Hackett held out his phone so she could see the picture on the screen. “I enjoyed coming home to this as well.”
Alice flushed at the photo of her dead asleep with her mouth hanging open, with a small baby snuggled against her. “Really?” she asked incredulously.
“Really.” He wrapped his arm around her waist and kissed her forehead. “Let’s get dinner started.”
“I forgot! My dress!” Alice exclaimed, stepping back to try to beat out the fabric wrinkles with her hands. “One of the packages showed up today, and I was going to stun you with my beauty the moment you walked through the door. I feel like I really could be a princess when I’m dressed like this.”
“It’s very flattering.” Hackett smiled as he watched her.
Alice picked up her baby and followed Hackett into the kitchen, where she sat down on a chair and watched as he browned hamburger at the stove. When he poured in a can of spaghetti sauce, she said, “You’ve been so generous with me, I feel guilty that I’m not giving you anything in return.”
“You’ve given me a family,” he replied.
Alice was lost for words. She remembered back to her teenage years, when she would come home to an empty house and microwave a frozen burrito to eat alone, and it finally dawned on her that Hackett had also come home to an empty house before she had moved in. She wondered if he had stood over the stove cooking a dinner that he would eat alone, or if he had utilized the microwave as much as she had.
“Still …” she said slowly. “I want to help you in some way.”
His lack of response worried Alice. She frowned as she snuggled her baby closer and wondered what was going on inside her husband’s head. “I don’t know how to do anything domestic though.” She forced a chuckle. “You really didn’t win the jackpot in the housewife department.”
“How about you just focus on sleeping all day?” he murmured.
His words were an unexpected insult, and they stung. In all the time that they had known each other, he had never said anything that even hinted at condescension, and Alice wondered if somehow being married would change that fact. She felt tears well up in her eyes as she asked in a small voice, “You don’t think I can do anything?”
“No, that’s not what I meant.” Hackett sighed as he turned away from the stove and motioned for Alice to stand so he could pull her into an embrace. “It came out wrong, and I’m sorry.”
“What did you mean, then?” Alice sniffled and felt hopelessly inexperienced. Damon had expected her to silently endure his temper and every abuse he threw at her, and in turn she had lashed out against both herself and the world around her. But with Hackett, she didn’t have a clue how she was supposed to react. Worse still, she didn’t know how to let go of the emotional pain that had formed a lump in her throat, even with Hackett’s arms around her.
“You’re up all night taking care of a newborn, and you’re still recovering giving birth. Given the circumstances, I’d much rather have you taking it easy for the time being.” He ran his hand over the back of her hair and sighed again. “I didn’t intend to be rude.”
“Really. I’ve already asked Gertie to help teach you how to cook and clean, when you’re ready. Now, get us some plates, and I’ll finish making the spaghetti. I’m starving.”
Alice laughed slightly as she opened the cupboard. “I don’t just sleep all day, you know. I’m getting pretty good at changing diapers, and I’ve almost used up all the yarn that Gertie gave me. So, there!” She stuck her tongue out at Hackett as she handed him the plates.
Once they were settled at the table, Alice shifted her baby over to her left arm, then sat for a moment picking at her food while Hackett ate. As she thought about it, she realized why the comment had struck her deeply, and why her throat still hurt. “Damon …” she began quietly, then hesitated. “He always told me that I was only good for one thing. You know.”
Hackett picked up his napkin and meticulously wiped his mouth, before saying, “That’s not true at all. I very much enjoy conversing with you.” He suddenly smirked. “You’d do very well as a hostess at a gentlemen’s club.”
Alice narrowed her eyes to glare daggers him. “Well, now that you’ve said it, I do seem to be irresistible to older men. Maybe I should take you up on your suggestion; I bet the money is good.”
“As your husband, I refuse to give you permission. You’re destined to be stuck at home all day with the baby and a ball of yarn. Sorry.” He stood to take Alicia out of Alice’s arms, and began pacing. “Now, be a good little girl and eat your dinner.”
“What?” Alice gaped at him.
Hackett simply winked.