Alice did her best to clean the house top to bottom in preparation for Damon’s visit. She knew that she was being ridiculous when she got down on her hands and knees to fish a burp cloth out from under the their bed, but it was an outlet for all of the nervous energy that bubbled around inside of her, and it somehow made her feel more in control of the situation. Besides, if Hackett’s ex-girlfriend had to be there too, then she could at least prove that she wasn’t a slut in any sense of the word.
Hackett spent the morning on the phone, but Alice had lost track of who he was talking to. He was utilizing every contact that he could think of to ensure that this first visit would also be the last, and Alice was grateful for that. She took comfort in the knowledge that as the warden, he was well-connected and held a lot of sway, and that with enough tenacity he could make their problem go away.
Her heart dropped to the bottom of her feet when loud knocking sounded from the front door, and she instinctively clutched Alicia tighter as Hackett went to answer. Miranda was the first one to walk into the living room, followed by Damon. Their eyes met immediately, but neither moved.
“Oh my, Basil!” she exclaimed. “You’ve changed absolutely everything in here. You didn’t have that old woman next door come in and do your decorating for you? The color choice is positively outdated.”
“Miranda,” Hackett said quietly. “Condescension is not becoming.”
Alice couldn’t help the jealousy that that stung her heart. She had always felt that Hackett reprimanded her because he thought that she owed it to herself to be better, and she hated the implication that he thought similarly of Miranda. She didn’t want him to chastise anyone else for as long as he lived.
Miranda forced a haughty laugh and declared, “You, on the other hand, haven’t changed one bit! So tell me, Basil, how’s the view from up there?”
Damon’s gaze was piercing through Alice, and she blushed at the knowledge that he could read all of her emotions as easily as ever before. He raised his eyebrows as his head tilted slightly towards the lawyer, and Alice nodded compulsively then hated herself. Even after all the time that had passed, he still wielded some sort of spell over her, and she had answered his unspoken question before she could stop herself. He smiled.
“You look good, Alice,” Damon murmured, and she didn’t know how to respond as he considered her up and down, his eyes lingering on the baby she held in her arms. She looked to Hackett, but he was impassive as he watched her.
“Erm, um … yeah.” Her mouth was dry and her voice cracked. Any fantasy that she might have had about confidently flaunting her happiness in Damon’s face was shattered as she struggled to clear her throat. The words still squeaked slightly as she said, “This is Alicia.”
He looked at the infant’s face for a moment longer, then turned to examine the room. His silence was terrifying.
“Please, sit down.” Hackett motioned towards the couch. “Would you like anything to drink?”
Of course he would remember his manners, Alice thought as she watched her husband. Even if he hated their guts, he was still going to treat them like guests in his house.
“No, we’re fi–” Miranda began, but Damon cut her off,
“I’ll get it,” Alice mumbled, handing the baby to Hackett while giving him a look that she hoped screamed, Please give me this chance to get away.
“Go on,” he replied, planting a quick kiss on her forehead. Alice slipped to the kitchen, where she pulled out the coffee grounds and filled the percolator.
Damon openly gave Hackett a smug look as he walked past him to follow, and when Hackett moved Miranda grabbed him stop him. “They look good together, don’t you think? A cute little matching family.” She laughed, then patted Hackett’s chest, her gaze traveling down to the baby in his arms. “If I had known that genetics didn’t matter to you, I would have suggested that we adopt. It would have been easy enough to hire a nanny, don’t you think? I do have to admit that I was wrong; fatherhood is sexy on you.”
Hackett didn’t reply.
“It’s not too late to get an annulment.” The corners of Miranda’s mouth twisted up slightly as she adjusted Hackett’s tie. “Alice doesn’t belong in our world, and you know that. She belongs with someone like Damon. Just imagine, they could get a cute little double-wide mobile home together and live happily ever after. Then you and I could give it another shot. We just need to get you past that authoritative thing that you’ve got going on …”
“Miranda.” He pushed her hand away. “Stop it.”
He moved to follow after Alice, but Miranda stepped into his way. “Maybe, if you gave them a moment alone, they could figure this thing out on their own. This whole affair is absurd, if you ask me, and Damon isn’t asking for much. He simply wants to see his child, that’s all.”
Hackett tore his eyes away from the kitchen to look Miranda square in the face. “Are you sure?” he asked. “Do you actually know what you’re doing?”
In the kitchen, Damon softly said, “Alice,” and she felt herself break into a cold sweat. When she turned to look, she saw in horror that Hackett had not accompanied him, and they were alone. “You’ve gained weight.”
“Yeah, well, you didn’t feed me enough,” she replied, attempting to adopt the haughty tone that Miranda had used earlier. On a personal level, she didn’t like Miranda at all, but she did admire the sophisticated way the woman carried her scorn. She could never speak to Hackett like that, but Damon was a different story.
“I like it,” he said as he stepped closer to her. “Your breasts look amazing.”
Alice flushed and looked away from him, feeling violated by the statement. “Why are you here, Damon?” she muttered. “What’s your angle?”
“I’m hurt. During all that time we were together, I thought that you knew me better than anyone else.” He closed the distance between them so that Alice had to back up against the counter, and he put his hand against the cupboards above it as he leaned forward. “I wanted to see our child.”
“You’ve seen her. Now leave.” Alice clenched her jaw as she glared up at Damon, hoping that she came across as empowered. She wanted to show him that she wasn’t his mindless little toy any longer.
“I applaud your choice of sugar daddy,” Damon lowered his voice. “You fucked him the way I taught you to, right? That’s how you won him over?” He pressed himself against her, pinning her against the edge of the counter as he grabbed the back of her hair. “Let’s have some fun, for old time’s sake.”
Alice felt paralyzed as he pressed her mouth against her neck. His grip on her hair hurt, and tears fell silently down her cheeks, but she couldn’t move. She hated herself for letting him touch her, too frozen and weak to stop him.
The image of Hackett holding Alicia sprang into her mind. Even if Damon had always had his way with her, she couldn’t let him do anything to hurt her baby. Alicia deserved to grow up with Hackett as her daddy, and Alice had promised that she would always be faithful. She wasn’t going to let Damon destroy her family.
Floodgates burst open, and all the repressed pain and anger that she had experienced during her relationship with Damon came out in a rush. She shrieked as she pushed him away, then threw herself on him and began pounding him with her hands, hitting at his head over and over, screaming all the while.
“ALICE!” Hackett’s voice pierced through to her, and his hand grabbed her wrist to prevent her from striking Damon again. She looked up at him in a daze, bewildered that he still had Alicia cradled in his other arm.
“I’m sorry, Basil,” she cried. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” He pulled her against his side, keeping his arm protectively around her.
“This is unconscionable!” Miranda announced. “Your wife attacked my client! You’ll be hearing about this in court, for certain!” She tried to help Damon to his feet, but he brushed her off and stood up on his own. One of his cheeks had turned red from being struck, but he was otherwise unharmed. His hand had strands of Alice’s hair tangled around his fingers, which he shook off with disgust.
“If only you had been like this during our time together,” he said. “I would have enjoyed bending you to my will.” His eyes fixed on Hackett. “But it seems that you belong to another man, now. Lets go, Miranda, I’ve had my fill of this place.”
“See yourself out,” Hackett growled. He watched coldly as Damon and Miranda left, waiting until the front door slammed shut before turning his attention back to Alice. “What happened?”
“Damon … He …” Alice didn’t want to say it. She could still feel him pressed against her, and it made her feel unbearably dirty. How could she describe what happened to the man that she loved and respected so much? Instead, she buried her face against his shirt and began to sob.
Hackett let out a ragged breath. “I knew something was going to happen, but that bitch …” He paused, closing his eyes to regain his temper before he asked, “Did he hurt you?”
Alice nodded, so Hackett gently kissed the top her head. “I shouldn’t have let the two of them pull that off. I should have pushed Miranda aside, instead of playing the gentleman.”
“I think I did more damage to myself.” Alice sniffled as she held up her hands, which were swelling up and turning a deep purple. “I really lost it.”
Hackett helped her to sit down in a chair by the table, then left for the bedroom to set Alicia down in her crib, and it struck Alice as surreal that the baby had remained asleep the entire time, feeling as if the baby should have been awake and screaming at the storm that had caught them up. He returned with the epsom salt from the bathroom, which he poured into a big bowl along with warm water, then kissed Alice’s hands before placing them to soak.
“You make a tight fist with your thumb tucked below like this,” he said, demonstrating as he spoke. “Make sure you keep a solid straight line between your hand and your arm so you don’t break your wrist, then make impact with these two knuckles here. That’s how you throw a punch without hurting yourself.” He gave her a wry smile. “But next time, let me do it. I have a better chance of breaking Damon’s jaw.”
Despite herself, Alice laughed through her tears. “Aim for his nose, and mess up his face.”
“Who says I can only hit him once?”
They chuckled together, and Hackett reached over to brush Alice’s hair behind her ear, then stroked her cheek.
“I bet the stories of that supervised visit will circulate for years to come. Lawyers will trot it out as a horror story for every custody dispute case, and there will be training seminars to boot.”
“Oh no.” Alice felt herself grow pale. “Everyone’s going to know?”
“Absolutely. Miranda is going to make a gigantic stink out of it, so we might as well own it.”
Her stomach churned unpleasantly. “I really fucked up our case, didn’t I.”
“Nah. All we have to do is prove that it was provoked. I’m actually quite proud of you.”
“Why? It was pathetic. Damon was barely hurt.”
“Would you have hit him a year ago?”
“No,” Alice sheepishly admitted.
“See? It’s proof of how far you’ve come.”
“You really think so?”
Alice gave a small smile. “It did feel nice to fight back. You know, I’m glad I did, so I can treasure the look on his face for the rest of my life.”
Alicia began crying in the other room, so Alice pulled her hands out of the water and got up to dry them off on the towel by the kitchen sink. “I want to get her. I miss my baby,” she said, then hurried back to the bedroom. It was a few minutes before she returned with the baby in her arms, her mouth turned downwards and her chin trembling slightly with suppressed tears.
Hackett was immediately alarmed. “What is it?”
“I guess Alicia really does look like Damon after all.”
Her words sounded so devastated, they could have broken Hackett’s heart. He took her to the living room, where he sat down on the couch then pulled both Alice and the baby up into his lap. “We’re not going to hold that against her.”
“I know. I just wanted her to only look like me.” Alice started crying again, burying her face in the crook of his neck as he calmly rubbed her back, waiting patiently for her to stop. It was Alicia rooting to nurse that pulled her out of her sorrow, and she moved to care for her baby, staring down at her.
“Basil,” she whispered. “If I can prove that Damon committed the murder, will he go away for good?”