Alice stood in front of the mirror and stared at her reflection with a frown, holding two dresses up against herself. “Alicia, what do you think?” she said to her baby lying on the bed behind her. “Should I go with the blue lace, or the pink roses?”
Alicia, however, was staring intently at the slowly spinning ceiling fan above her with a contemplative expression.
With a sigh, Alice closed her eyes and pulled out a different dress at random. “Black, huh? Is that going to be okay, or will Basil think I’m reverting to my old self? This is just too hard!” Alice flopped down on the bed, then rolled to her side to tickle her baby’s tummy. “You’re lucky that it’s so easy to dress you. Baby clothes are all super adorable.” She followed the baby’s gaze and looked up at the ceiling fan as well. “I wish that I had some makeup, but I don’t know how to apply it so I actually look pretty … I wonder what’s so fascinating about that thing up there. You just don’t want to look away from it, do you.”
After a minute of watching the fan in silence, Alice stood and pulled on the black dress. “Well, I guess that we haven’t got all morning, and I’m missing breakfast with Basil. We don’t want daddy to leave for work without kissing us goodbye.” She giggled as she picked her baby up. “After all, daddy has a ride to work so we can go out shopping with grandma. Isn’t that exciting?”
She stepped softly out of the bedroom and walked barefoot to the kitchen, worried that Hackett had finished eating during the time it had taken her to get dressed. It was a relief to discover that he was only halfway through his omelet, and Kate had one for her still on the stove.
“There you are,” he said as soon as he saw her. “I was beginning to worry that you got lost.”
“Maybe a little,” Alice replied as she sat down at the table, too embarrassed to share how much she was struggling with her appearance. She had purchased a number of feminine dresses because they were the opposite of what she had worn before, but now she worried that she looked like an imposter in them, especially because she didn’t know how to style her hair or makeup. She missed the simplicity of the white dresses that she had worn in prison, but they didn’t seem appropriate now that she was out.
“Here you are, Alice,” Kate said as she set a cheese omelet down in front of her. “I hope you like it.”
“Thank you,” Alice said with a smile. “This looks delicious! We should definitely put this on the list of recipes that you’re going to teach me how to make.”
Kate laughed. “I would be delighted to. Now go on and eat up, especially with that baby to feed. It’s very important that you take care of yourself, and get plenty of water too.”
Alice couldn’t help but grin as she replied, “Yes, mom,” while relishing the words. Kate simply rolled her eyes at her.
They were silent as they ate. Alice shifted her foot forward to touch Hackett’s leg under the table, and winked at him when his eyes met hers. He returned her flirty expression, then chuckled silently as he stood and took his plate to the sink.
“Before I go, Alice …” he began as he reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. “I want you to have some spending money.”
Alice’s eyes grew wide as he counted out five twenties. “That’s too much!” she exclaimed.
“Is it?” He looked amused. “I’m more concerned that it won’t be enough.”
“But …” she sputtered, searching for the words she wanted to say. “Aren’t you scared that I’ll use it to run away, or something?”
“I can’t say that the thought crossed my mind.” He pressed the cash into her hand. “I have every intention of helping you get a drivers license, and getting you a credit card as well. You aren’t my prisoner …” He lowered his voice as he moved to whisper against her ear, “Anymore.”
Chills shot through Alice’s body, causing her to shudder slightly. She bit her lip as she looked up at him, unable to respond to the teasing expression on his face, and afraid that he would see the effect he had on her. Internally, she chastised herself for being messed up enough to feel sad that she was no longer Hackett’s captured princess, locked away in a tower.
She cleared her throat in an effort to bring the life back into her tongue. “Thanks,” she answered lamely, her voice higher pitched than usual.
A car honk sounded from outside.
“That’s Rob. I’ll see you later, darling.” Hackett kissed Alice and her baby, then gave Kate a quick peck on the cheek before heading out the door.
“Are you ready to go?” Kate asked, taking Alice’s empty plate.
“Oh. Yeah. I just need my shoes.”
“You should bring your coat as well. The forecast said that it’s going to start raining again this afternoon. Don’t forget to bundle up that baby.”
“Don’t worry, I will.” Alice kissed the top of Alicia’s head, then stood up. “I need to show you the adorable booties that Gertie made for us. She’s teaching me how to knit, too.”
“She told me about that at the barbecue, and mentioned that you were quite enthusiastic about it. I do some crochet and knitting myself, so I thought that I’d take you to the yarn shop in town. I hope that’s not going to be too boring?”
“Not at all! One sec, and I’ll be right back.” Alice hurried to the bedroom to fish Alicia’s booties out of a drawer, then snagged a pair of socks for herself as well before she scampered back to Kate. Together they worked on bundling up the baby, then Alice sat down to pull on her socks and shoes, followed by her coat. Once they were ready, they walked out to Hackett’s car parked in the driveway.
“Oh goodness, this big dent always throws me off,” Kate exclaimed as she opened the door. “How long has it been there?”
Alice hesitated. “Since … the day Basil and I got married. A couple of weeks, I guess.”
“Honestly, it’s a relief that he hasn’t gotten it fixed yet. I got so worried about him when he bought this car,” Kate said, standing as she waited for Alice to buckle Alicia into the back. When she was done, Alice straightened her back and looked the car over. She couldn’t see what was wrong with it.
“Why did you worry?” she asked.
“It’s a Lexus. One of the nicer models, too.”
“Oh. Okay.” Alice still didn’t have a clue why that should cause any amount of worry.
Kate read the confusion on Alice’s face, so she clarified, “I was concerned that he was being influenced in a more – erm – materialistic direction by a certain somebody. But she’s gone now, and Basil’s obviously not preoccupied with the state of his car, so it’s all right.”
“Huh.” Alice sat down in the passenger seat and buckled herself in. “I don’t know a thing about cars – they all look the same to me. I do like how much more protected I feel in here over riding on a motorcycle, though. Even with a helmet on, I still felt buffeted like crazy by the wind and I was always terrified of crashing.”
Kate laughed. “You are too cute! So tell me, how did Basil’s car get damaged?”
Alice grew quiet. “Damon kicked it,” she murmured softly, “because he saw me. So Basil tased him.”
Kate reached over and patted Alice’s shoulder. “That certainly sounds like quite the story, and a romantic one, if you ask me.” She started the car and back up out of the driveway, then started driving them towards town. After a few minutes of silence, she said, “Tell me about when Alicia was born.”
Alice perked up. “Gosh, I was so silly when I went into labor. My contractions started shorty after I went to bed, and I was immediately terrified. I kept telling myself that if I didn’t call Basil to tell him about it, then they weren’t really happening and the baby wasn’t really coming, you know? So I put it off far too long, and he ended up having to race to the prison to be with me.” She smiled to herself as she thought about the memory. “I don’t know how I would have done it without him. I was so exhausted, and so scared, and you know what he said to me? He told me, ‘You are strong, Alice, and you can do it.’ It was exactly what I needed to hear to help me give birth.”
“Aw, that just warms my heart. I’m so glad he was there for you,” Kate answered quietly, glancing over.
Alice turned to look back at her baby in the carseat. “I think about how lucky I am all the time. I hated being lonely, and now I have both Basil and Alicia.” She reached back to touch the baby’s head, then settled facing forward into her seat once again. “Anyway, I had blood clots that caused some pretty heavy bleeding, so Dr. Westley had me transferred to the hospital. In the ambulance, they gave me some sort of shot to cause more contractions, then pushed hard on my abdomen to work them out, which really hurt. It all turned out okay though.”
They continued chatting the rest of the way into town, swapping stories about babies and motherhood. Alice found herself opening up about some of the more embarrassing aspects of being postpartum, and was relieved when Kate assured her that her experience was normal. By the time they parked in the downtown shopping area, she had saved Kate’s number in her phone and had asked if she could call her ‘mom’.
After Alice got Alicia snuggled into the baby carrier, Kate snapped a picture of the two of them, then looped arms with her and pulled her inside the yarn store. The sight of cubbyholes lining the walls and filled to the brim with a rainbow of skeins took Alice’s breath away.
Kate sensed that Alice needed a moment, and excused herself. As Alice slowly browsed through the store, it hit her hard that she didn’t know the first thing about yarn. There were fat yarns and thin ones, and some were marked cotton while others were wool. She picked up a small fuzzy ball that matched the yarn Gertie had used for her shawl, then immediately put it back down when she saw the price tag.
Hackett had been right: a hundred dollars would be nowhere near enough money if she decided to get ambitious.
There were also a good number of books filled with gorgeous pictures, which tempted Alice sorely. Even if it was going to take her awhile to gain the skills necessary to actually make anything, she thought that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to buy one to help motivate her. She picked out her favorite, even though the patterns themselves looked like an indecipherable code.
“Did you ever imagine that yarn could be so fancy?” she whispered to Alicia. “I’m so overwhelmed, I don’t know where to start. Maybe we should go find Kate now.”
Kate was in front of the knitting supplies section, browsing through sets of needles. “There you are, Alice,” she murmured as soon as Alice joined her. “I was wondering if you’d prefer wood or metal?”
“I have no clue what that means,” Alice replied, frowning.
Kate laughed. “I’m sorry! I want to get you a set of knitting needles. This one is made out of bamboo, while this one is nickel plated.”
Alice shrugged. “I don’t know enough about knitting to tell you.”
“Of course, of course. Here, we’ll go with the metal set. Did you see any yarns that you like?”
“Tons and tons of them,” Alice replied. “Too many to decide on what to get.”
“Here, we’ll look around together and figure out a project for you. I think a wool scarf would be a good place to start, especially with winter around the corner.”
“Ooo, I can make matching scarves for me and Basil! That sounds perfect!” Alice giggled, and together they browsed through the wool yarn until she found skeins that were a mix of vivid blues and greens that seemed absolutely perfect. Then she found some soft lilac-colored yarn to make something for Alicia, and afterwards she was left with only ten dollars.
They got lunch at a nearby cafe, where they ordered sandwiches and chai tea, then continued to make small talk as Kate took a turn with holding the baby. The sky had turned a dreary gray and threatened to rain, which made Alice feel worn down and long for nap. When she failed to stifle a yawn, they agreed that it was time to return home. However, as they were walking back to the car, Alice spotted a bookstore across the street.
“Hey, I want to stop in there real quick,” she said, pointing.
“Sure thing,” Kate replied, bouncing the baby in her arm.
A bell sounded as they walked through the door, and Alice immediately went to the table set up near the front with a number of books and a sign that read ‘staff picks’. She spent a minute picking up various paperbacks and reading the descriptions on the back, until she found one that struck her as perfect. It was a crime novel, not one that she had seen in Hackett’s collection, and she was certain that he would enjoy it. She had just barely enough money to cover the cost.
Alice clutched the book in her hands as they returned to the car, certain that it was her most important purchase of the day.