Alice had begged to stay behind, but Hackett wouldn’t hear of it. He roused her early in the morning while it was still dark, and after she groggily pulled on her clothes and coat, she found herself buckling her baby into the carseat while Hackett stood behind her with the umbrella to keep the drizzling rain off of her.
It was a long drive to the airport. Alice spent the first half dozing, until Hackett stopped for coffee and the smell of it filled the car. She sipped from her cup as she stared out the window, until she finally felt like the life had returned to her. Then she faced her husband and smiled. “How’d you know that I like lots of sugar and cream?” she asked.
“Lucky guess,” he replied.
“I hope the caffeine doesn’t make Alicia cranky. I read that it enters breastmilk.” Alice yawned and rubbed her eyes. “I don’t think that I’d be conscious without it, though.” She suddenly let out a small wail, “Oh no! I was so tired, I forgot to brush my hair before we left! I look like such a slob!”
Hackett glanced over at her. “You like fine,” he said.
“I can’t meet your mom like this. Maybe I should hide in the car while you pick her up, and pretend to be asleep.”
He glanced at her again, then reached over to take her hand. “Really, you look fine.”
Alice wasn’t satisfied with his response. She exclaimed, “I don’t want to look ‘fine.’ I want to look like I’m good enough for you! Now that I know what your ex is like, all I can think about is how slovenly and immature I am in comparison. What if your mother criticizes me, and you rethink your decision to marry me and ask for an annulment? I just don’t want a future without you!”
Hackett flipped on the car’s emergency lights as he pulled off to the side of the road, then put it into park. He turned to Alice and grabbed her arm, startling her so that she spilled a bit of coffee on her leg. Then he pulled her closer to him and kissed her, his hand clenching the back of her hair as he pushed his tongue into her mouth. Alice’s shock melted and she closed her eyes, breathing in his smell as she tasted him, loving the electric sensation that filled her entire body as he touched her.
After a moment, he moved to whisper in her ear, “You are Mrs. Alice Hackett, and nothing – not even my mother’s opinion – is ever going to change that.”
Alice couldn’t find any words to say in reply. She stared at him as he put the car back into drive, and merged back onto the road.
“Finish your coffee, or get some more sleep,” Hackett said once they were back up to speed. “You seem especially overtired right now.”
“And Alice, please get over your self-esteem problems. You’ve been putting yourself down for long enough, and it’s getting rather irksome at this point.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose and added, “I’m sorry, I’m a little overtired right now too.”
Alice flushed and looked out the window. “I’ve never been any good at interacting with people,” she muttered. “Even back when I was still in high school, I was just a big loser and I didn’t have any friends. I don’t know what I’m supposed to say to be likable, and I’m really scared.”
“Don’t say anything – just smile.” Hackett once again reached over to take her hand, and gave it a squeeze. “Though on the off chance that my mother comments on your messy hair, tell her that we stopped to make out along the way.”
“Basil!” Alice felt her face burn bright red with embarrassment. “I can’t say that to my mother-in-law!”
He grinned. “We can keep the truth between ourselves then, and tell her that you forgot to brush it because you were tired.”
“You know, I’m beginning to realize that you can really be an asshole sometimes.” Alice tried to pull her hand away, but Hackett wouldn’t let her.
“And by the way,” he continued, “don’t ever think of yourself as inferior to Miranda. I married you.”
“Don’t you ever think of me as immature?” Alice bit her lip to keep it from wobbling with worry.
“I think of you as refreshingly youthful.”
“Can I confess something to you?”
“Hm?” Hackett nodded.
“I secretly like the fact that you’re seventeen years older than me, because you’re so cool and mature.” Alice leaned over to rest her head against Hackett’s arm. “I guess that means I’ve got daddy issues.”
“Does that make me an old lech who’s taking advantage of you?”
“No! Honestly, I told you because I feel like it’s okay to be damaged with you. My real dad abandoned me because my parents divorced, but now I can rely on you to look out for me instead, you know? And you’re so good with Alicia, that I never want you to leave me. I love you. Probably more than I would have if I wasn’t damaged.” Alice rubbed her eyes and yawned. “I’m sorry, I’m babbling incoherently because I’m so tired.”
“I understand.” He smiled. “I feel the same way.”
“Mm.” She closed her eyes. “I’m so happy that we found each other.”