Alice plopped down into a wooden lawn chair next to Kate and nibbled from her plate of food, grateful to be out of the spotlight. In addition to the hamburger that Hackett had proudly assembled for her, there was an assortment of salads for her to choose from, including one that looked like crushed cookies in whipped cream. She felt particularly excited to try that one, but felt reticent to admit it for fear that it would make her look like she belonged more with the kids than the adults. While she felt secure when she was alone with Hackett, being surrounded by all of his friends made her feel like she was barely older than her baby.
“You look stunning today,” Kate murmured, happily patting the baby’s back as she slept. “When Basil put my ring on you, I thought that you looked exactly like a bride.”
Alice forced a small chuckle. “Honestly, Basil’s the one who chose this dress for me to wear, and I guess now I know why.”
“I hope you didn’t mind gesture, especially since you were so tired this morning.” Alice blushed as Kate spoke. “I wanted you to have a piece of our family, and my wedding ring seemed like the most appropriate thing. Basil is so madly in love, he wanted to shout it to the world.”
“It’s absolutely gorgeous,” Alice said, holding her hand up to look at the ring and admire the small diamonds set into a delicate gold band. “Are you sure you want to part with it?”
“Don’t worry about it. William will always be in my heart, but it’s time to move forward.” Kate stroked the baby’s hair as she added, “I’m a grandma now.”
“I promise that I’ll cherish it. And I’ll take good care of Basil too, especially after everything that he’s done for me. He really helped me turn my life around, and saved Alicia’s life as well …” Alice choked up a little, so she cleared her throat and turned to watch Hackett, still manning the grill. “I don’t know how much he’s told you about my past.”
“Not a whole lot. All he really said was that you had been taken advantage of by a bad sort who got you into a lot of trouble.”
“Yeah.” Alice paused to continue eating, and to think of how she wanted to explain her history to her mother-in-law. “I don’t know why, but I did everything Damon wanted me to, even when it was scary and painful. At first he seemed so experienced and smart, so I told myself that he knew better than I did, and it became a habit to always give him what he wanted. Then I met Basil, and he – I don’t know – woke me up, I guess. I started to think about what I wanted, and when I found out I was pregnant, I realized that I wanted to keep my baby more than anything else.”
“I’m glad that you and Basil found each other. It makes me sad to think that I live so far away from you and won’t be able to see you anywhere near often enough.” Kate sighed. “I don’t know if I can leave William and Jasper, though.”
Alice didn’t know how to respond, and hoped that Kate wouldn’t misinterpret her silence as something negative. She got the feeling that Hackett had asked his mother more than once to move closer to him, and that her unwillingness to leave her deceased family members had become a solid blockade. But, she wasn’t going to open her mouth without first knowing what Hackett actually thought about the matter.
“Anyway, this is supposed to be a happy day, so let’s not linger on such topics.” Kate patted Alice’s shoulder. “Go ahead and eat up. This little one is still sleeping peacefully with me, and I’m enjoying every minute of it. There’s no rush at all.”
“Thank you.” Alice couldn’t resist the temptation any longer, and finally scooped up a forkful of the cookie salad and popped it into her mouth. “Oh wow! This is really good! Did you make it?”
“Mm hm. It’s quite easy, just mix vanilla pudding with whipped cream and add crushed cookies.”
“You need to show me how to make it. Both you and Gertie are really good at cooking, and I want to learn too. It must be so awesome to be able to eat food like this any time you feel like it.”
Kate laughed. “Absolutely, I’ll teach you anything you want to learn. I’ve always wished that I had a daughter I could pass on all my secrets to.” She grew quiet for a moment, then said, “Alice, if you don’t mind, I’d like to take you out to lunch tomorrow, and we’ll go shopping, too. All of the other ladies back home take their daughters out, and I’ve always been rather envious of them. I do hope that you’ll indulge me.”
“I’d love to!” Alice gushed. “My mom was always too busy working to do any activities with me, so I’ve never done anything like that either.”
“Basil!” Kate called out, waving an arm in the air. “Basil, come here!”
He saw her and waved as he finished putting the last of the meat patties on a plate then turned off the grill. After he placed them on the buffet table, he jogged over and asked, “What is it, mom?”
“We need to use your car tomorrow,” Kate answered.
“I suppose I can get Rob to give me a ride …” he mused. “What are you planning?”
“Just a little mother-daughter date is all.” Kate grinned over at Alice. “I’m sure we won’t get into too much trouble.”
“In that case, my car is all yours.” He turned to Alice, placing his hands on the arms of her chair as he leaned down to softly ask her, “Are you enjoying yourself?”
“Oh, yes.” Alice nodded, meeting his gaze. “Even despite you.”
“Despite me, huh?” His voice was almost like a purr, so Alice couldn’t help but half-close her eyes as she lifted her mouth towards him.
“Yeah, for springing a big surprise on me in front of everyone,” she murmured. “You’re lucky I love you.”
“I guess I am.” He placed his lips against hers.
Behind him, two teenaged boys snickered as one of them took aim with a foam football, then threw it to hit Hackett square in the butt. He bolted upright as he barked, “Hey!” then fetched the ball and tossed it as the boys dashed to catch it. After giving Alice a wink, he ran after them with Dr. Westley hopping up to join in.
“Oh goodness!” Kate exclaimed with a laugh. “I haven’t seen Basil this carefree since he was little.”
Alice giggled as well, then reached for her baby. “I want Alicia back. My arms are starting to feel empty without her.”
Kate passed the sleeping infant over, who gave a small fuss then settled back down against Alice’s chest. They sat for a moment in silence, watching the game of football that had spontaneously began, until Kate commented, “Basil and Rob grew up together, you know; he lived down the street from us. It’s great to know that they still play together.” She chuckled.
“Rob?” Alice asked.
“Doctor Westley. They kept in touch, and after Basil became the warden, he somehow managed to sweet talk Rob into becoming the prison doctor. Must have offered him a nice salary, because he moved his whole family out here for it.”
“So they are good friends! I suspected, but Basil was always so proper around me in the prison. It was all business with him in there.” Alice stroked her baby’s back, feeling more confident now that she had Alicia with her again. “I didn’t even know that he loved me until he asked me to marry him.”
“That sounds like Basil. He’s so conscientious with his work, and always has been.” Kate stood and stretched. “Excuse me, but I need to get myself something to eat as well. It’s fun talking to you, Alice, and I’m very much looking forward to tomorrow.”