They arrived at the airport early, but by the time Alice finished nursing the baby and changing her diaper, they barely caught the arriving passengers at the baggage reclaim area. Alice stood close enough to Hackett to brush his arm, and her heart pounded furiously as she clutched Alicia to her chest for comfort. She frequently glanced up at Hackett, but he was too busy scanning the faces around them to return her gaze. His eyes lit up when he found the person he was looking for, and he waved his arm in the air.
“Basil!” a woman in her early-60s waved back as she rushed over, dragging her suitcase behind her. “Oh, c’mere, you!” she exclaimed as she wrapped her arms around Hackett and pulled him into a hug. “You seem bigger than the last time I saw you. Where did all those muscles come from?”
“I started eating breakfast and working out.” He grinned. “Mom, this is Alice.”
“It’s so good to finally meet you!” Alice found herself also pulled into a hug, and she nervously laughed, glad that her arms were occupied with the baby so she wouldn’t have to awkwardly return it. Hackett’s mother beamed as she stepped back. “This is Alicia, right? She is so adorable!”
“Thank you,” Alice said shyly.
“And I must say that you are simply gorgeous! Here, let me get a picture of the three of you.” Alice looked at Hackett and blushed as his mother pulled out her phone, but he grinned and he put his arm around her.
“You know,” his mother continued, “Basil called me after the baby had been born and told me that there had been some sort of complication. I don’t think that I had ever heard him sound so worried before. The poor dear, his voice was even cracking …”
Hackett loudly cleared his throat and said, “Mom.”
“Oh, gosh, where are my manners? My name is Kate, but you can call me mom too, if you’d like. I can’t wait until I get the entire story about Alicia’s birth. Come on though, we should get moving instead of standing around.”
Hackett took the handle of Kate’s suitcase without being asked, and carried it as the three of them navigated out of the airport and through the parking lot. It was still raining, so Alice took the umbrella and held it in the crook of her shoulder to keep her baby sheltered, glad that it made her feel hidden as well. She watched Hackett’s shoes splash through the puddles and soak the hem of his jeans, and for some reason it made butterflies fill her chest as she hurried to keep up. With Kate walking next to him, the fact that they were married was becoming even more real.
When the car came into view, Kate exclaimed, “Oh my! How did you get that big dent in your door? It almost looks like someone kicked it …”
Hackett caught her eye and shook his head, so she gave a small cough.
“Anyway, I could sure use a nice cup of coffee once we get home. Flying always gives me jet lag, you know.” She laughed. “Alice, dear, would you like to sit in the front?”
Alice shook her head. “No, I’ll let you two catch up. I want to be next to Alicia.”
After Hackett stowed the suitcase in the trunk, he took the umbrella and waited for Alice to get her baby buckled into her carseat, then climbed into the drivers seat. Everyone was silent as they began driving, and without anything to occupy her mind, Alice found herself lulled to sleep by the monotonous vibrations of the car.
“So, Alice, Basil has told me that you enjoy reading quite a bit. Do you have a favorite book?” Kate asked. She turned around to look when she didn’t get a reply, then softly exclaimed, “My goodness! She’s fallen dead asleep.”
“Alicia’s been colicky for the past few nights. Alice never complains, but she’s exhausted,” Hackett explained.
“Those first weeks can be hard,” Kate murmured. “She sure is cute though, and I’m so happy for you Basil. I get the feeling that the two of you will be very happy together.”
“She’s the exact opposite of Miranda.” Hackett glanced over at his mom. “Miranda was always pursuing everything that was bigger and better, and I always knew in the back of my mind that it would eventually include me and I’d get tossed aside. I suppose that’s why I never considered marrying her, before …” He cleared his throat. “Anyway, Alice just wants to be a wife and mother. She wants to make sure that Alicia doesn’t grow up lonely and vulnerable the way she did, and she wants to make sure that our marriage never grows cold and distant. And you know what? It makes me feel safe. I can be myself without turning into a giant disappointment.” Hackett let out a small chuckle. “Miranda would have called me insecure for that.”
“Miranda has a nasty streak,” Kate replied. “I was quite relieved when the two of you broke up, because I didn’t like the effect she was having on my baby boy. I hated watching your sweet soul crumple into apathy.”
“I mean it! When you decided to major in Criminology, you told me that it was because you felt like it was a calling to make a difference in the world. When you became warden, all you said was that it was a good paycheck. Your enthusiasm was completely gone.”
“Heh.” Hackett rubbed the bridge of his nose. “That’s because Miranda constantly talked about prestige and influence.”
“See? And in the end, she left you without anything to spend that good paycheck on.”
“Hey, I bought you a car when your old one died.”
“Yes, dear, but I’m your mother. It’s different when you have a family of your own.”
“I’m realizing that.” Hackett reached up to adjust the rearview mirror so he could watch Alice sleeping, her head occasionally bouncing whenever the car hit a small bump in the road. “I didn’t know I could feel this much for anyone. I want to care for Alice, to protect her and provide for her, and fix every hurt that she’s ever endured.”
“Aw.” Kate patted Hackett’s arm. “You are such a good son to me, I have no doubt that you’ll be a good husband as well.”
He let out a small chuckle. “Just don’t tell anyone; Rob would never let me live it down if he knew I said something so sappy. With any luck, the rain should clear up this afternoon and leave us free and clear for a barbecue tomorrow, and I’m planning on inviting him and his family. Given the rather scandalous nature of my marriage, absolutely everyone is dying to know how its going. I figure we might as well give them something to talk about while the weather is still nice.”
Kate let out a hearty laugh as she exclaimed, “You’re just like your father! Just make sure you don’t tease too much, especially with how shy Alice seems to be. You don’t want to accidentally hurt the poor girl’s feelings.”
“Trust me, mom, I’m always mindful of her.” Hackett looked in the rearview mirror again. “She’s come too far for me to let her fall apart now.”