Alice sulked in bed with a number of candy wrappers lying around her, darkly thinking back to how much she had hated Hackett after the very first time she had met him. First impressions, she chided herself, and wondered if she should have kept her vow to hate him forever.
Except that she hadn’t truly hated him, even back then.
She had been impressed by him.
Hackett had been calm and self-assured, with an office that smelled nice and a bookcase full of interesting titles. Her first impression had been that he was smart and intriguing, someone that she could admire and look up to. It had been herself that she was ashamed of, wearing a stereotypical costume of rebellion and acting like a prostitute.
Unbidden, the memory of the night he proposed to her crept into her mind:
Alice, I want you to say no … It’s easy to be a hero in here; all I have to do is eat breakfast and take you on a walk through the woods. But the outside is different. Outside, you’ll be alone while I work long hours, and you’ll discover disappointment after disappointment in me.
Now that she was living with him on the ‘outside’, Alice was beginning to understand that had been his way of expressing his insecurity, the fear that one day she would accuse him of being ‘selfish and controlling’ in the same way that his ex had, and the possibility that he might have his life ripped out from underneath him again.
Yet there she was, lying in Hackett’s bed and eating the chocolate that he had purchased for her, taking him for granted.
Damon had never cared if she felt used or hurt. He never bought any sort of treat for her to enjoy, or provided any sort of stability for her safety. In the end, he had tossed her aside without a goodbye or anywhere for her to go, and Hackett had been the one to pick her back up and tell her that she still had value.
Alice heard Alicia crying outside the door, followed by a gentle knock. She immediately felt embarrassed by the mess, but sat up and called out, “Come in.” She couldn’t let her self-pity get in the way of caring for her daughter, and the ache in her breasts told her that the infant was most likely hungry.
Hackett came inside and handed her the baby. His eyes took in the candy wrappers, and his mouth twitched slightly, but he didn’t say anything.
Alice couldn’t help but coo over Alicia as she prepared to nurse her, kissing her before settling her against her breast.
“You aren’t dressed,” Hackett said.
“Hm, no.” Alice had pulled her pajamas back on with the intention of staying in bed all day, but she was too embarrassed to admit that out loud.
“That won’t do. The guests are going to be here in an hour.”
“For the barbecue.”
“I completely forgot! I must look so awful right now … is it too late to cancel?”
“I’m afraid so. But don’t worry, darling, because I am here to save the day.” Hackett browsed through the closet until he found a dress that Alice hadn’t had the chance to wear yet, and pulled it out – a pale pink maxi dress, with lace sleeves and a deep v-neck. “Here. This one is cute.”
“You really think so?” Alice asked uncertainly. The dress had struck her as pretty when she ordered it, but she wasn’t certain if it was worthy of the barbecue that Hackett had planned. From the way she had been acting, she wasn’t certain if she was worthy of wearing it either.
“Of course. You were a good girl and avoided pleather like I asked you to.”
“Oh hush.” Alice picked up a bite-sized candy bar and threw it at him, but he caught it and ripped off the wrapper to eat it, winking at her.
“It doesn’t really matter what you wear, Alice, you’ll be the most beautiful woman there,” he said.
Alice blushed. “I hope I don’t say the wrong thing and make everyone think poorly of me.”
“Hm, I think that it would be better if you did. Then I’d know who to cross off the list for next time.”
“You mean that?” Alice couldn’t help but gape.
Hackett sat down on the bed next to her and reached over to hold her hand. “Anyone who thinks negatively of you isn’t welcome in my – our – home.”
Alice rested her head on his shoulder, staring down at their interlocking fingers. “Hey … I’m sorry for acting so weird earlier. I mean, you were there when I gave birth and all, so I shouldn’t get caught up with modesty around you. For some reason I can’t stop myself from getting massively emotional over everything.”
“I think that’s your reason,” Hackett replied, nodding towards the baby. “I figured that you needed some time to yourself to rest, and you do seem much better now.”
“Well, you know, massive amounts of chocolate will do that.” Alice smiled as she closed her eyes. It felt good to be holding Hackett’s hand again, soaking up the warmth that radiated from his body. “Having you here is helping me too.”
“In that case, stay by my side for the entire evening.” He leaned over to kiss her forehead, then abruptly stood. Alice watched him with confusion as he wordlessly left the bedroom, unsure of what to make of it until he returned with the hairbrush from the bathroom. He sat down next to her and began brushing her hair.
“I hate the bleached part,” Alice murmured. “But if I cut it off, my hair will be too short.”
“It’ll grow out in time,” he answered.
“I still don’t really understand why you love me.”
“That’s something else that will take some time.” Hackett’s fingers touched her neck as he worked on her hair, sending chills throughout her body so that she couldn’t help but shiver.
“Basil … when the time is right, you won’t say no … right?” she asked timidly.
He paused with the brush mid-stroke. “How do you mean that?”
“I don’t know.” Alice bit her lip. She was too scared to say it out loud.
Hackett silently resumed slowly brushing her hair. When he was done, he put the brush down and placed both hands on her shoulders, whispering into her ear, “I won’t say no again.” Then he stood. “I’ll take the baby so you can finish getting dressed. Is she done eating?”
“Oh. Yeah. She fell asleep. Here, you can take her.” Alice had to shake herself slightly to regain her grip on reality, her heart pounding fiercely in her chest.
He won’t say no again.