Alice retrieved Alicia from her carseat and got her safely buckled into the baby carrier, then looped her arm around Hackett’s as they walked into the grocery store. They passed by an employee who called out, “Morning, Warden!” and Hackett gave a small wave as he retrieved a shopping cart, then rejoined his wife.
“I guess everyone knows you pretty well around here,” Alice murmured. “Do you think they know about me yet?”
“Probably. Gossip travels fast.”
“Gee, thanks for reminding me of that.” Alice sighed, then wrapped her arm around Hackett’s waist. “It’s a little weird to think that this is my first time grocery shopping since I was a kid.”
“The candy section is over there,” Hackett said as he pointed, so she dug her fingers into his side to tickle him. He twisted around to pull her hand away with a smirk.
“I still have tons of chocolate left from last week, thank-you-very-much!” Alice haughtily lifted her chin. “And you should know exactly why I asked for it.”
“Because you were throwing a tantrum?”
This time Alice tried to punch him in the shoulder, but Hackett caught her wrist.
“Watch it,” he said. “You’ve got a sleeping baby on you.”
Alice stuck her tongue out at him, then turned away and patted Alicia’s back through the carrier. “Anyway,” she said with deliberate slowness, “we need diapers and wipes, and whatever the heck else you wrote down on the list.” She suddenly stopped and stared over at the nearby magazines, then walked over to them and picked one up with a picture of a bride on the cover. “Who is she?” Alice asked breathlessly.
“I guess it’s some celebrity news that you missed out on while you were in prison,” Hackett replied as he joined her with the shopping cart.
“She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life! Do you think that if I grew my hair out that long, then I could look like her?” Alice held the magazine alongside her face and looked earnestly at Hackett.
“I think that you’d look like yourself with longer hair.”
Alice rolled her eyes, then continued to stare down at the picture. “I didn’t realize that women could look like this. She could be a goddess, you know? She’s not sexy, or pragmatic, or anything like that. She’s just gorgeous, through and through.”
“I’m sorry, Alice, but she’s taken.” Hackett took the magazine and flipped through it until he found the pages he wanted. “Look, these are her wedding photos. She belongs to the Order, too.”
“She would.” Alice frowned. “She’s too good to belong with us regular folks.” She was quiet for a moment as she read the accompanying article, then blurted out, “Holy fuck! The Black Magus? She married the fucking Black Magus?!”
“Language, Alice.” Hackett shook his head, but he had a small amused smile on his lips.
“Sorry.” Alice blushed slightly. “You have no idea how bizarre this is. How much did I miss while I was in prison?”
“Just this, and you know that the Order doesn’t bother itself much with our world. It might as well be a plot twist in a television drama for all it concerns us.”
Alice held the magazine up and looked from it to Hackett, then back again. “I can’t decide who looks older, you, or the Black Magus. I think … you.”
Hackett took the magazine from her and put it back on the rack. “Enough of that. Come on, lets get to the groceries.” He turned and pushed the shopping cart away, so rapidly that Alice had to skip to keep up with him.
“You know how you’re always telling me to just be myself? Well, the truth is, I’ve really been struggling to figure out who I am, exactly.” Alice caught hold of Hackett’s arm and pulled to slow him down. “I just decided that I want to be beautiful, inside and out, like that woman. I can tell that she’s got a pure soul, and I want to be like that, too. It’s not too late for me, right?”
Hackett stopped and pulled Alice into a hug, kissing the top of her head. “Not at all. It’s an admirable goal and you should strive for it, but I also think that you’re already beautiful, inside and out.”
Alice blushed, then reached down to hold his hand with their fingers interlocking. “Really?”
She hesitated, then asked shyly, “Can I get some makeup anyway?”
“Heh.” Hackett smiled and shook his head. “Come on then, we’ll grab some of that, too. Would you like some girly shampoo in a pink bottle as well?”
“Oh hush!” Alice wrinkled the bridge of her nose. “But now that you mention it, your stuff smells frightfully practical and not very perfume-y. So yes, yes I would.”
“It’s your first time grocery shopping since you were a kid, so lets get you supplied as an adult woman. Go ahead and knock yourself out.”
“You aren’t worried about it costing too much money?” Alice asked uncertainly.
“Nah. We’re in a grocery store, which severely limits the amount of damage you can do. Don’t worry about it.” Hackett gave her hand a squeeze. “Besides, it’s my duty to care for you, darling.”
“You’re the first person who’s ever been so decent towards me. How on earth did I end up with someone as amazing as you?”
“Simple, really.” Hackett lowered his voice and whispered in Alice’s ear, “You’re the first woman who’s ever been so decent to me.”