The results of the paternity test were as expected, and the hearing followed shortly afterwards. Alice balked at the idea of attending, so Hackett promised that he and their lawyer would represent her while she remained home with Alicia. She didn’t want to be anywhere near Damon, even with Hackett by her side – she was still too ashamed of her history, and too scared of what Damon could say.
She was waiting anxiously when Hackett returned home that evening, slowly going through the mechanical motions of knitting to distract herself as her baby slept against her breast, and she looked up expectantly when he came through the front door.
“Well?” she asked faintly, immediately worried by the look on Hackett’s face.
“The judge thought that Damon deserved at least one supervised visit,” he replied grimly.
The color drained out of Alice’s face. “But … that’s absurd, right? He’s a suspect in a murder case! How could anyone think that he deserves that?”
“They made a good case.” Hackett sat down next to Alice and put his arm around her. “Apparently, Damon has a construction job now, and he’s searching for an apartment.”
“A real job? Damon?” Alice squeezed her eyes shut as she nestled against Hackett’s side. “That’s not like him at all. He never liked staying in one place for too long …”
“Whatever his angle is, he’s serious about it. I was rather hoping he’d lose interest and disappear on us, but it looks like that won’t be happening any time too soon.”
“You’re going to be there too, right? I can’t stand the thought of being alone with him.”
“Mm.” Hackett nodded. “His lawyer, Miranda, is going to be there too. I hope you don’t mind, but I gave permission for them to come here.”
“To our home? But then Damon will know where we live!” Alice unconsciously closed her hand around the fabric of his sleeve.
“I suspect that Miranda has already given him our address.”
“Her behavior was haughtier than usual.” Hackett frowned and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I honestly don’t know for certain. I got the impression that she had decided to go full-blown ex-girlfriend on us.”
“Hmph!” Alice sat up and scowled. “She ought to just go off to a big city and leave us alone.”
Hackett chuckled. “Unfortunately, Miranda is smart enough to know that she has a better chance in a small pond, so to speak. A big city would eat her alive.”
“Well I don’t like the way they’re persecuting us. All I want is to quietly live with you for the rest of my life, and they’re treating us like there’s something wrong with that.” She stuck out her lower lip to pout.
Hackett opened his mouth to reply, then forgot himself as he watched Alice. Instead, he turned her head so he could kiss her before he whispered, “You’re getting cuter every day.”
Alice blushed. “Basil … Please focus.”
“Sorry. It’s just that I’m a man, and you’re my pretty wife. Sometimes my brain shuts off when I look at you.”
She blushed even deeper. “If you keep saying things like that, I’m going to forget to be miserable.”
“We can’t let that happen, now can we,” he murmured as he kissed her again.
Alice shifted position as she reached to touch his face, but the movement woke the baby. When Alicia looked up she smiled and waved her hand, so Hackett caught it and she wrapped her fist around his finger.
Alice watched her husband holding her daughter’s hand, rubbing her tiny fingers with his thumb. She twisted to look up at his face, and was surprised to see affection shining in his eyes, instead of frustration at another interruption by the baby. It was hard for her to understand his heart when it came to Alicia, and she wondered if he truly did love her as his own – even despite the drama and inconvenience that they had been thrust into. Was he going to fight to protect her baby from Damon’s influence?
“Are we a real family?” Alice whispered.
“We’re here for each other,” he murmured in reply.
“If I died, would you keep Alicia and raise her?”
“To the best of my ability.” Hackett lightly squeezed her. “But you better not die.”
“I don’t want to. Now that I have you and Alicia, I want us all to live forever so we can always be together.” Alice stroked her baby’s head as she bit her lip, until she mustered up the nerve to blurt out, “I’m really scared, Basil. I want to be brave, but I’m not. I don’t know if I can handle seeing Damon again.”
“You’re a different person now, darling. Just remind yourself that you belong to me, as my baby girl.”
Alice smiled and closed her eyes. “And you love Alicia, too?”
“More than anything,” he reassured her, then kissed her hair. They sat together in silence as Alice helped the baby start nursing at her breast, until Hackett spoke, “I remembered what I was going to say before you distracted me.”
“What is it?” Alice asked.
“Is there a chance that Damon actually wants to be a father?”
“Not in hell!” she exclaimed, vehemently shaking her head.
“Hm. He seemed like he meant it at today’s hearing.”
“He’s a good actor, that’s all. Even after four years, I still had a hard time telling which parts were genuinely him, and which parts were a manipulative front. Trust me though, based on the way he treated me, there’s nothing paternal inside of him.” Alice took in a deep breath, then slowly let it out through pursed lips. “I can’t guess what he’s really after, but I don’t think it has anything to do with Alicia.”
Hackett remained quiet, gazing down at Alicia as he stroked her little arm with his fingertips. Whatever his thoughts were, he wasn’t ready to share them yet, even though it niggled at Alice. She wished that he expressed himself more, but she also appreciated his methodical nature that tempered his words and actions. With all of the talk about Damon, her memories of the past were near enough to the surface that she didn’t have to look hard to see the contrast between the two. Her baby had a good daddy in Hackett, even if he was slow when it came to talking to her about things.
“Have you ever wondered what we’re going to tell Alicia as she grows up?” Alice asked.
“The truth, I suppose,” Hackett answered. “Anything else would be unfair to her.”
Alice sighed. “Yeah, but I don’t want her to feel bad because of who her birth father is. It feels like there are no perfect solutions.”
“As long as we love her with all of our hearts, I’m sure that she’ll turn out all right, even with the knowledge that her biological father is a troubled soul. Besides, look at her; she’s a pure sweetheart.”
Alice broke into a grin. “I know! She gets this look on her face like sleeping takes up all her concentration, and it’s just too cute. Caring for her is so much fun, I can’t wait till I have your baby.”
“We should give it a shot after you get Alicia down for the night.” Hackett chuckled as he kissed Alice’s ear. “There’s no such thing as trying too much.”
Alice giggled as she said, “Agreed.”