AatW – 39

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Hackett slouched into the passenger seat and pulled out his phone, staring at the time display with a fixed stony expression that didn’t change when Dr. Westley joined him in the car. They were silent as they exited the prison grounds, with only the patter of raindrops and the swish of the windshield wipers filling the space around them, until Dr. Westley asked,

“Bad day?”

Hackett grunted. “Miranda has become even more of a nightmare.”

“Mm. Her. I never understood what you saw in her.” Dr. Westley chuckled slightly. “Then again, I can’t say I fully understand your choice with Alice, either.”

Hackett didn’t reply.

Dr. Westley cleared his throat, then asked, “What did she do this time?”

“Same shit. Lawyer-ing.”

“Yeah?”

They were quiet again. The trees of the forest loomed high over the car as they drove, trembling as the storm picked up and lightning flashed through the sky. Hackett moved forward to look up at the clouds through the windshield.

“Looks like it’s going to be a big one tonight,” he said.

“That probably means no sleep for me. My youngest has decided that she’s terrified of thunderstorms, and only daddy makes her feel safe,” Dr. Westley glanced over as he spoke.

“Mm.”

Thunder rumbled.

Hackett stared grimly forward as he said, “She got Damon out.”
Dr. Westley’s hands tightened on the steering wheel, and he glanced over again.“How?”

“She argued that I used excessive force on him out of jealousy.”

“Shit,” Dr. Westley breathed through his teeth.

“Yeah.” Hackett cracked a small sardonic smile. “Can’t say I didn’t enjoy tasing him, though.”

“Is Alice going to freak?”

“I don’t know. He did a real number on her.”

There was another peal of thunder, followed by a gust of wind. They were quiet as Dr. Westley focused on driving, watching the sky as mammatus clouds formed above them.

Then Dr. Westley said, “It’s best if you tell her up-front.”

“I know,” Hackett replied. “It’s going to be hard, though. She’s so happy, right now.”

“Mm.” Another gust of wind hit the car, and Dr. Westley had to compensate for it. “Better get home quickly,” he said. “Is your yard battened down?”

“Should be.”

“You should tell her.”

“I will. Probably.” Hackett sat back in his seat and thoughtfully stared at his phone, this time pulling up a picture of Alice and Alicia. “That youngest of yours sure is a firecracker.”

“Oh yes. She’s the queen, and she lets everybody know it. Maggie has her hands full with that one during the day.” Dr. Westley chuckled. “How’s fatherhood treating you?”

“She cries sometimes, but she settles down when I give her chocolate and call her a good girl.” Hackett laughed at Dr. Westley’s expression, then added, “Oh, you meant the baby.”

“Trust me, I got a good enough look at you and Alice interacting yesterday to know how that’s going. As her doctor, I’m obligated to advise you to wait at least six weeks before intercourse, but nobody listens to doctors. Hell, Maggie and I never listened to that one, either.”

“What makes you think that we haven’t yet?”

“You’re too uptight at work.”

“Heh.” Hackett gave a nod. “I suppose so. Well, looks like we’re here. Have fun being the hero for your daughter tonight.”

“I will. See you tomorrow.”

Hackett got out of the car and ran up his driveway and through the front door. He stopped in the entry way to take off his wet coat and shake the excess water off.

“Basil!” Alice was already running to greet him. “I got so worried about you when this thunderstorm started.” She wrapped her arms around him and planted her mouth against his.

Hackett spun her around and pushed her against the door, touching her hair and face with both hands as he deepened the kiss to taste her. Alice’s skin was hot after the chill of the storm, and he found it comforting.

“Mm, I missed you, too,” Alice whispered against him, then nibbled on his earlobe. “Gertie’s here. Come on, I want to show you something.” She took his hand and pulled him to the living room, where he greeted Gertie who was holding the baby, then smiled with amusement as Alice held up some brightly colored yarn for him to inspect. “Look! Gertie taught me how to purl, and I bought this yarn to make matching scarves for us. Isn’t this exciting? I had the most amazing day.”

“She’s catching on quite quickly,” Gertie said. “You’re going to have a collection of scarves and afghans in no time with the way Alice is going.” She motioned for Alice to take the baby, then stood up. “I suppose it’s time for me to get going.”

“Oh, no!” Alice cried. “Not in this storm! Stay and have dinner with us – I’m sure that Kate is already planning on it. Then later, after the rain has died down a little, Basil can take you home.”

“Well, if you’re certain that I’m not intruding, dear …” Gertie looked at Hackett with a little frown.

“Not at all, Gertie. I wouldn’t dream of letting you sit alone on a night like this,” he assured her.

“Mom is in the kitchen making dinner. Doesn’t it smell good?” Alice wrinkled her nose as she grinned up at Hackett.

“I think that I’m going to go help out,” Gertie said as she stretched her arms. “Kate never stays in town long enough, if you ask me, so we barely have any time before she’s off again.” Gertie patted Alice’s shoulder, then slipped past her to head towards the kitchen.

“Alice …” Hackett began, but a lump formed in his throat.

“I got something for you,” she said, digging through the skeins of yarn until she found a small wrapped present. “Here, open it.” She grinned as she pushed the gift into his hands, and he could tell that it was a book. He carefully pulled off the tape and unfolded the paper to reveal the title.

Alice immediately started chatting again. “I thought that it sounded like a good one for us to read together. It feels like it’s been too long since the last one, and I really miss talking about books with you. I do hope you like it.”

He skimmed the back cover, then read the first page as she talked. “Wouldn’t this be little too scary?”

Alice blushed. “It’s not like I come from a background of rainbows and kittens, you know. I can handle it.”

Hackett chuckled. “We’ll read it together, then. Thank you.”

Alice pulled him to the kitchen, where he sat down with Alicia and watched his young wife talking happily with the two older women as she pulled out dishes to help set the table. He was struck by how different she was from the girl he had met nearly a year earlier, who had a look of heartbreaking terror in her eyes whenever she let her facade of anger slip. Now she had become vibrant, and possessed an intoxicating thirst for life that comes with being given a second chance. Even the raging storm outside couldn’t break through the bubble of happiness that surrounded them.

He couldn’t tell her that his past had collided with hers, and was looming darkly in their future. He didn’t have it in him to shatter the joy that she had found. Not in that moment.

So he let the thought go, and enjoyed the meal.

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