A few days later, Hackett brought the mail inside after returning from work, and sorted through the advertisements until he found an official envelope that made him frown. He ripped the top open, then trembled slightly as he read the letter contained therein, and glanced towards Alice.
She had spread out the soft pink blanket on the floor and placed her baby on it, to play a little game with the teddy bear that he had given her. She sang a little tune as the bear danced up to Alicia then ‘kissed’ her nose with an exaggerated sound effect. The infant watched with a look of puzzlement that occasionally flashed into a smile, causing Alice to giggle and coo.
“Alice …” he said, his throat feeling both dry and gummy. He paused to clear it, as she looked up curiously.
“What is it?” she asked.
“It’s … Damon. He wants parental rights.”
“What?!” Alice snatched Alicia up to hold her protectively, her eyes turning fearful. “How is that possible? He’s in prison!”
“Actually … he’s not.”
“I meant to tell you.” Hackett had to clear his throat again before he could continue, “Miranda took him on as a client, and managed to convince the judge to let him out on bail. She argued that our marriage meant that I was too personally invested to treat him fairly in the system.”
“Miranda? As in, your ex-girlfriend, Miranda?”
“I’m afraid so.”
Alice bit her lip as tears welled up in her eyes. “But, why?”
“Jealousy, is my guess. She’s helping him with this case as well.”
“Damon can’t be seeking anything like custody, right? He rides a motorcycle and lives in motel rooms. There’s no way anyone could think that he’d be an adequate father.”
“No. It looks like he only wants visitation.”
“But I don’t want him in Alicia’s life! What are we going to do, Basil?”
“First, we get an official paternity test.” Hackett hesitated, then asked quietly, “I don’t suppose there’s a chance he isn’t the father?”
“I don’t know! I hadn’t been with anyone else in over a year, but he was also giving me a lot of tranquilizers at the time. I just … I don’t know … I never doubted it before.”
“Damon was confident of it, so he likely is.” Hackett slumped down onto the couch and dropped the letter. “I’m sorry, Alice.”
Alice scooted over to sit next to him on the floor, and rested her head against his leg as she stared down at her baby, who was beginning to root in search of her breast. “I had the most awful feeling when Damon saw her. He’s doing this to punish me.” She took a moment to establish Alicia nursing, then kissed the infant’s forehead as tears began to stain her cheeks.
“We’ll push back.” Hackett stroked Alice’s hair, speaking as if he was reassuring both of them with his words. “We can prove that he isn’t fit to be a father, and I’ve already applied to adopt Alicia – the judge is certain to side with me. Once we get through this, he’ll be out of the picture for good with no chance of coming back.”
“She’s too beautiful and precious to be exposed to his world.” Alice abruptly stood and began to pace rapidly around the room, her baby still held firmly against her chest. “You could lock Alicia and me in the tower again; he’d have no chance of getting through all those guards.”
“You’re right, that’s too crazy.” She sighed. “How about you get me a taser gun and teach me how to use it? Just in case he shows up when you’re not home.”
“That’s a good idea.” Hackett placed his elbows on his knees and steepled his fingers together, his brow furrowed. “I should have thought of that.”
“Oh how I wish he had never found out about Alicia!” Alice said angrily. “We would have been better off if he had never known!”
Hackett stood as well, and paused. He watched Alice, considering her for a moment, before giving her a kiss and exiting to his office, followed by the surreal sound of the lock being turned in the door. For a brief moment, Alice felt as if she was back in the tower, alone once again after driving him off with her snotty attitude.
“What’s going on?” she whispered in a tight voice to Alicia. “What is he doing?” She trailed towards his office door, raised her hand to knock, then stepped back. “Well fine! If that’s how you’re going to be, then be that way!” She stuck her tongue out at the door and returned to the living room, where she gently placed the baby back down on the blanket, then paused to trace one of the small hearts on the soft fabric.
“I didn’t do anything wrong, right? I wasn’t awful and immature, was I?” Alice bit her lip as she moved her hand to rub her baby’s stomach, who kicked her legs and gave a big smile. The action broke through Alice’s apprehension, and she smiled in return as she bent down to rub noses with her infant.
“This hasn’t gotten you down in the slightest bit,” she whispered, then kissed Alicia’s forehead. “You know what? I swore that I would do whatever was necessary to keep you, and I still mean it. Damon can pull whatever shit he wants, but it won’t matter as long as we’re together, and we’re gonna stay together forever.”
Alicia’s mouth suddenly twisted downwards, and she let out a small whimper as she stuck her arms straight up into the air and arched her back slightly. Alice giggled softly as she picked her baby back up and held her against her shoulder to pat her back. “Oh no!” she crooned. “I forgot to burp you. Don’t worry, sweetheart, momma is going to make everything better.”
She scooted to sit comfortably on the couch, then began to sing a quiet love song to Alicia, who settled down after letting out a giant spit up. Alice fetched the burp cloth off of the arm of the couch and cleaned herself and her baby up as she sang, then snuggled her baby against her breast. Alicia kept her gaze fixed on her mother’s face, and smiled when Alice stroked her head.
“You’re staying awake for quite awhile today. Are you growing into a big girl?” Alice murmured. “Time is already flying by too fast.” She leaned back and closed her eyes. “Daddy was right, you know. Once we get through this, Damon won’t ever be able to bother us again. Then both you and I will always be safe, and we’ll never have to see his ugly world again.”