It was a quarter to noon when Alice woke up, with burning eyes and a heavy head. She sniffled as she attended to her baby, then picked up the infant and went in search of Hackett. The house was unexpectedly empty, and a painful lump formed in her throat with the realization. Had he gone out with Kate in order to avoid her?
In retrospect, Alice felt ashamed of her behavior. Hackett had opened up to her about a tragedy from his past, and in response she had tried to push him into something that he had responsibly put a stop to. Instead of appreciating his strength of will, she had sobbed pathetically. She wished she hadn’t acted so selfishly.
There was a piece of paper on the kitchen table, with a note that simply read, ‘At grocery store.’
“At least that explains where he went,” Alice murmured to Alicia. “You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was the first person he ever told about his brother – he’s exactly the sort. I should have taken the chance to hold him and say something perfect and reassuring, so he’d know beyond a doubt that he hadn’t made a mistake in marrying me. Instead, I broke down because he wouldn’t have sex with me, even though I know that we shouldn’t be doing it yet.” She let out a depressed sigh. “Though seriously, if that man says ‘no’ to me one more time, I’ll tear my hair out. Is he really impotent? Or does he not want me that way?”
She looked down at Alicia and bit her lip. “I’m sorry, I’m venting. Babies don’t need to know about anything like that, so go ahead and forget everything I said.”
Alice rummaged around until she found her phone on the kitchen counter, and typed out the message, ‘About last night … I’m sorry.’ She hesitated before sending it to Hackett, then deleted it. This time she typed, ‘Just got up. I love you.’ and hit send.
“I don’t want to make it awkward between us,” she explained. “Especially with Kate staying here.”
A minute later her phone chimed, and she checked Hackett’s reply, ‘Love you too.’
“I guess that means everything is fine. I’m going to ask him to pick up some chocolate, take Tylenol, then it will be baby bath time. Does that sound good? Good.” She still felt tense, and still wanted to apologize for her foolishness. “Lots of chocolate,” she added, then put her phone down.
Alice didn’t understand why she was going so crazy. She always had the idea that women took forever to want sex after giving birth, yet she was becoming ridiculously over-the-top horny despite still needing to use a pad for postpartum bleeding. Remembering the way it felt to wrap her legs around Hackett’s hips made her want to start crying again. It had been the first time her actions had been done with her heart, and the first time nothing had followed.
“Basil could do with a little less dignity and self-control,” she muttered darkly. “C’mon, Alicia, lets get to that bath.”
The warm water put Alicia soundly asleep, so Alice took advantage of the opportunity and turned on the shower. It felt good to lather up shampoo in her hair, and the heat eased the tension in her neck, helping her feel more clear-headed. She was not going to make a fool of herself, she decided, and it was about time that she regained control over her emotions no matter what her hormones were doing. She cried way too much, and it didn’t suit her. Besides, she didn’t want to ruin Kate’s visit by sobbing over every little thing.
Alicia gave a squawk from her crib, so Alice turned off the water and wrapped herself up in a towel. Her hair was still dripping heavily as she scooted into the bedroom, then froze. Hackett was already there, picking up the baby with a grocery bag looped over his arm.
“Basil!” she exclaimed, turning bright red. “I didn’t know you were home.”
“Just barely came in,” he murmured, smiling as he gazed unwaveringly at her. “You can go back to showering, if you’d like.”
“Oh no, no, I’m fine. I’ll get dressed and join you in a minute.” Alice unconsciously clutched tighter at her towel. Of all the things that could drive her crazy, she had to walk right into the middle of a bad stereotype.
“Here,” he said, holding out the grocery bag. “For you.”
Play it cool, Alice reminded herself, so she took the bag and peaked inside. It was filled with a huge assortment of chocolate bars and candies. “Wow, did you buy the whole candy section?”
“Tried to, but the store manager wouldn’t let me.”
“You didn’t have to get this much for me.”
“I know. I wanted to.”
“Uh, thanks.” Alice put the bag down on the bed, then shifted uncomfortably. “I’d like to get dressed now.”
“Go ahead.” Hackett showed no signs of moving.
“Are you teasing me?” Alice asked, growing frustrated. As much as she was tempted to drop the towel and give him an eyeful, she wasn’t in the mood to risk another rejection.
“Well, get out!” she snapped.
Hackett nodded then turned to leave, still carrying Alicia with him. Alice felt herself turn cold.
“Wait,” she said quickly. “I really appreciate the chocolate. I asked for a lot, and you really went above and beyond with it, so thank you. I’m just … tired.”
He stood at the door with his back turned towards her, his broad shoulders seeming like an impenetrable wall. “I don’t want to hurt you, Alice,” he said softly.
“I know.” Alice looked down, shifting her balance to rub her ankle with her other foot. “But you did anyway.”
The door opened and banged closed, leaving Alice alone in a stunned silence. Numbly she went to the closet to pick out a new dress to wear, but her hands shook as she sorted through the hangers. Her knees slowly sank to the floor, and she found herself staring at the grain of the hardwood underneath her, barely able to breathe. “I fucked up,” her voice squeaked, and she felt as if her heart had been torn in two.
Out in the hallway, Hackett paused to kiss the baby’s hair and rub her back as he frowned thoughtfully. Then he walked back to the kitchen where Kate was waiting.