Alice sat on the couch next to Kate with a large photo album between them. Hackett had taken Alicia and excused himself to his office, leaving the two women alone to talk. Alice suspected that he was too embarrassed to hang around, but she still silently wished that he would stay to help ease the pressure on her. She reminded herself that she had gotten along just fine with Gertie, so she had a chance of getting along with Kate as well – even with the pressure of wanting to make a good impression on her mother-in-law.
“This is William, my husband,” Kate said as she pointed at an old picture of a handsome young man. “I had never imagined myself as a military wife, but I was completely swept away by his eyes. I always forgot to breathe whenever I found myself gazing into them.” Kate sighed wistfully.
“I know what you mean,” Alice murmured. “Basil looks just like him.”
“Spittin’ image, you know. Unfortunately William was killed in action while Basil was still young, so he never got to properly know his father. I always made sure I told plenty of stories, though, to keep his memory alive.” Kate smiled as she turned the page, then placed a finger on a picture of them as a young couple with a baby. “This is us with Jasper, shortly after he was born.”
“Jasper?” Alice asked.
“Our first son; Basil’s older brother.”
“Basil never mentioned having a brother.” It hurt a little to realize that Hackett had withheld such a large piece of information about himself, even after all the time that they had spent together. Alice wondered why.
For the first time since they had met, Kate frowned. “He died. A long time ago.”
“Oh no.” Alice couldn’t think of what to say, especially in response to the painful shimmer in Kate’s eyes. She stared down at the photo album, searching for something to break them out of the moment, until her gaze settled on another picture of a baby in the bottom corner. She asked, “Is that Basil?”
Kate snapped back into herself, and gently touched the photograph. “Yes, that’s our Basil. He was such a solid little guy back then; see how plump his thighs were? He had the cutest bummy, too.”
Alice burst out laughing, and they continued perusing the album together. As the pages turned, Alice found herself feeling sad when the family of four turn into one of three, even though she loved hearing the countless stories that Kate shared. As they neared the end, the photographs of two grinning boys abruptly changed into a lone teenaged Basil, staring somberly into the camera.
“I hate to interrupt,” Hackett said after he emerged from his home office with a fussy Alicia. “But this little lady says she’s starving.”
“Starving? Oh no!” Alice giggled as she jumped up to take her baby in her arms. “Don’t worry, sweetie, mommy’s here to take care of you. We’ll get that tummy full of milk in no time.” She touched the infant’s nose, then snuggled up on the couch to breastfeed.
“It’s getting close to dinnertime.” Hackett sat down next to Alice and put an arm around her shoulders. “Are you up for going out?”
“Already? Wow, today went by fast.” Alice rested her head against his shoulder. “Going out with you sounds fun.”
“You too, mom. I want to celebrate the wonderful women in my life.”
Kate chuckled as she carefully closed the album. “I can’t say ‘no’ to that. Just let me get this put away, and we can go as soon as you’re ready.”
After Kate disappeared into her room, Alice reached over to hold Hackett’s hand, intertwining her fingers with his as she said, “Thanks for babysitting.”
“Alicia and I took a nap together in my armchair.” Hackett’s thumb rubbed the back of Alice’s hand, the small motion filling her with a warm fuzzy feeling. “Did you have a good time?”
“Tons. You were right, your mom is great. I’m actually really excited to have her as my mother-in-law.” Alice closed her eyes and let out a deep breath. “I was thinking that I should … maybe … let my mom know about you and Alicia. Maybe.”
“What about your dad?”
“I don’t know.” Alice frowned. “I’m terrified that I’ll find out that he remarried and had a couple of kids that he loves infinitely more than his broken first daughter from his broken first marriage. It’s been years and years, and he’s never once tried to contact me.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m going to take you to my favorite French restaurant, where you can eat all the snails and frog legs you desire. Sounds delicious, right?”
Alice made a face. “No way!”
Hackett laughed and kissed her forehead. “Right. It’s chicken nuggets and ketchup for you.”
“Basil!” Alice stuck her tongue out at him. “I’m going to get you. When you least expect it, I will get you.”
“I look forward to it.”
Much later, as they were driving home from the restaurant, it dawned on Alice that the teasing was Hackett’s way of cheering her up whenever they touched on the darkness of her former life, and it worked masterfully at making her forget the subjects that hurt her heart.