Alice snapped awake as soon as the engine turned off, and she found herself looking blearily at Hackett’s house. It was strange to realize that, despite having lived there for over a week, she was still unfamiliar with the exterior – she almost didn’t recognize where they were.
“We’re home, Alicia,” she said as she bent down to kiss the baby’s forehead. “Did you get a good nap in? I know I did.” She giggled and tickled the baby’s cheek with her finger, then abruptly realized that both Hackett and Kate were listening to her from the front seats. She blushed, but fought the urge to cover it up by saying something snarky and kept her mouth shut. Instead, she unbuckled Alicia from her carseat and cuddled the infant against her chest.
Hackett helped Alice out of the car first and held the umbrella over her as he walked her to the porch, then returned to do the same for Kate. When he ran back out into the rain again to retrieve Kate’s suitcase, Alice felt her heart skip a beat. Something inside of her felt strange as she watched him, and a lump formed inside her throat. A memory flowed back to her from the time that she had spent with Damon, of being soaked to the skin and shivering in the bitter rain as she waited for him. After an eternity, he had approached her out of the darkness with an umbrella over his head and nodded for her to follow. Then he had turned and walked off, without even checking if she was following.
“Is something wrong?” Hackett asked as he walked up the front steps, and for a second Alice stared at him dumbly.
“No,” her voice squeaked, so she paused to clear her throat. “I think I’m realizing what you are.”
“Hm?” he grunted, opening the door.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” she whispered, conscious of Kate watching her and listening. Maybe she would tell Hackett about her memory when they were alone again, but she was too terrified to do so with her mother-in-law around.
“Let’s get inside, then.” He smiled as he put his arm around Alice’s shoulders and gave her a light squeeze. “You can help me with lunch while my mom gets settled in.”
“You mean, sit in the kitchen and watch?” Alice asked as she stepped inside.
“That’s helping.” Hackett winked at Alice, then said, “I moved the guest room over here, mom. This room gets more light in the mornings, and I thought that it would suit you better,” as he and Kate went towards the hallway.
Alice gently laid her baby down on the couch, then stood next to her with her legs touching the cushions as she pulled off her coat. Then as she carefully worked Alicia’s legs out of her footed jumpsuit, she whispered, “What do you think? Are you excited to meet your grandma? She seems really nice to me.” She nervously bit her lip, then added, “Daddy says she’s wonderful.”
There. She had done it. She had referred to Hackett as “Daddy” out loud, making it final.
The baby looked at her and smiled.
“You think so?” Alice giggled as she finished extracting Alicia from the jumpsuit and kissed the top of her head. “I sure love you, little girl. I’m going to keep you forever.”
When Hackett returned, she accompanied him to the kitchen and sat in a chair as he pulled out the makings for sandwiches. “I was thinking that we should go out to a restaurant tonight,” he said as he scooped mayonnaise out of the jar with a knife. “Could you get the coffee going?”
“Yeah, I think I can handle that with one hand.” Alice stood and busied herself with pouring water and ground coffee into the percolator with one arm firmly around her baby, then pushed the button and stood back. “I know this is probably a weird thing to say,” she began, then hesitated. “I mean, I’m sure at this point you know that I say a lot of weird things, so you’re probably used to it.” She felt her cheeks grow hot, and wondered why being around Hackett always made her so self-conscious; his eyes were silently fixed on her, waiting.
“Anyway,” she continued, “I like doing normal stuff like this with you. It feels really nice.”
“Have you ever worked side by side with someone before?” Hackett asked.
Alice looked away to avoid his eyes. “Not really. Sometimes Damon would say, ‘Hey bitch, make coffee,’ before flopping down on the hotel bed and turning on the TV. That was the closest we ever came to doing anything normal together.”
Hackett carefully set down the knife and wiped his hands, then gently turned her face to meet his gaze. “Darling,” he whispered. “I like doing normal stuff with you. It’s not a weird thing to say at all.”
Alice closed her eyes. “Guess what?” she said softly. “Alicia gave a big smile when I called you ‘daddy’. She likes you an awful lot.”
His arms encircled her, and his lips brushed against hers as he murmured, “That’s good. I like Alicia.”
“I like you, too.” Alice lightly kissed him. “An awful lot.”
Kate coughed from the doorway. Alice immediately tried to pull away out of embarrassment, but Hackett’s arm kept her close against his side.
“Go ahead and have a seat at the table, mom. We’re having ham and cheese sandwiches with coffee,” he said, winking at Alice. “You too, darling. Lunch is my treat.”
“Here, hand me that baby,” Kate said. “I’ve been dying to hold a little one again.” Alice carefully passed Alicia over, then sat down in her chair with her hands nervously in her lap. Kate cooed over the infant then quietly exclaimed, “My, isn’t she alert. This little sweetie is just watching the world and soaking it all in.”
Alice nodded. “She’s very smart, I think. I mean, I didn’t really have any experience with babies before I had her, but it always seems like she understands everything I say to her even though she’s only three weeks old.”
“Yes, I can see that.” Kate stroked Alicia’s hair and smiled. “What sort of books do you like to read, Alice?”
“Um.” Alice bit her lip, too surprised by the question to think clearly, and all too aware of Hackett’s grin from where he stood at the counter. “Science fiction, I guess. But not the ‘soap opera in space,’ sorts. I like the books that are more philosophical, or solve existential mysteries, or um … stuff like that.”
“Alice has devoured everything I’ve thrown at her,” Hackett said as he brought over a plate of sandwiches and the mugs of coffee. “And she has brilliant insights as well.”
“Basil always had his nose in a book when he was young. At one point I worried that he was going to fail some of his classes, because he wanted to read instead of listening to his teachers.” Kate laughed. “Which reminds me, I brought my photo album.”
“Ooo, that sounds fun.” Alice grinned devilishly at Hackett, who turned slightly away as he took a sip out of his mug.
“I thought that you would enjoy it,” Kate murmured, happily patting the infant’s back as she began to hum. “Go ahead and eat, Alice. I’ll manage this little one for you.”
“Thank you.” With someone else holding her baby, Alice realized that she hadn’t eaten yet that day, and was starving. She gobbled down her sandwich and wondered why it tasted so good despite being so simple. Ever since she had given birth, it was as if everything in the whole world had started coming into sharper focus, and she was experiencing life for the first time. That small moment of sitting in the kitchen and eating lunch with her new family felt more real than anything from her past.
When she finished, she took Alicia back into her arms and snuggled her close against her breast, kissing the top of her baby’s head. “Hey there,” she whispered against Alicia’s soft hair. “It’s good to be alive.”