Shortly before dark, Gertie showed up with a plate of chocolate chip cookies. Alice and Hackett had settled down together with a movie to distract them from their thoughts, both staring blankly at the screen as it played. When Hackett answered the door, Gertie pulled him out onto the porch to quietly ask in confidence, “How’s Alice doing?”
“Better, though she had to take something for the pain in her hands,” he replied. “She probably won’t be knitting for the next couple of days.”
“Here, these ought to help cheer the poor dear up,” Gertie said as she handed the plate over. “I confess, when I saw that man in front of your house, I wondered if he was Alicia’s father – I thought I saw a similarity, but it’s also easy enough to imagine such things, so I couldn’t be certain. Bit of an intimidating looking fellow, isn’t he?”
Hackett grunted affirmatively, then asked, “Would you like to come inside?”
“Oh, it’s probably not the best time for me to intrude.”
“I insist.” He stepped back and held the door open.
“Alright, alright.” Gertie laughed slightly as she entered.
Hackett closed the door behind her, then carried the plate of cookies to the living room where Alice was waiting. “Gertie brought these over for you, darling,” he said to her with a soothing voice. “I’ve asked her to stay for a visit.”
For a moment Alice looked as if she was going to protest, then decided otherwise. Her eyes locked onto Hackett’s, and she whispered, “We might as well own it, right?”
“Right.” He winked.
“Thank you, Gertie,” Alice said, turning to smile at their neighbor. “Come sit down. We were watching a movie, but honestly I wasn’t following it very closely. Would you like a turn holding the baby?”
“I sure would.” Gertie carefully took Alicia from Alice’s arms, then sat down in the armchair next to the couch. “When you get to be my age, you come to realize that time spent with a baby is never wasted. Now, please tell me what sort of events are unfolding around here; I’ve been dying to hear about it.”
“Damon, my ex, has decided that he wants visitation rights, and today was supposed to be his first time seeing Alicia,” Alice explained, nibbling on one of the cookies. “Though he barely even looked at her, and I think that the only reason he’s doing it is to torment us. It’s pretty obvious what sort of person he is.”
“How on earth did Miranda get involved?” Gertie asked.
Alice looked to Hackett, then answered, “She’s his lawyer. Basil thinks that she’s out for revenge.”
“Isn’t that quite the story?” Gertie chuckled. “I must say, living next to Warden Hackett has been anything but boring.”
Alice watched as Hackett’s brow creased and his eyes narrowed, and she got the impression that he found the comment vexing. When he had purchased the house, he had likely imagined himself living quietly, yet reality had played out differently. The thought made her smile broadly.
“I do it to entertain you, Gertie,” he said softly in a tight voice, folding his arms. “As payment for all the desserts you bring over.”
“You know how much I love gossip – there’s no denying it.” Alicia fussed slightly, so Gertie paused to pat the baby and gently bounce her back to sleep before continuing, “But I never say anything that could actually hurt someone. If you want me to keep today’s events to myself, then I will.”
“Would you please?” Alice asked, feeling relieved.
“My lips are sealed, I promise. I won’t even tell my daughter.”
“Thank you so much.” Alice let out a deep breath. “You, Kate, and Basil are the first true friends I’ve ever had, and you have no idea how much that means to me.”
“If you ever need anything, just ask,” Gertie said earnestly. “I really mean it, too. If that Damon fellow ever comes back over, call me. I’ll help make sure that he behaves himself.”
Hackett chuckled slightly. “Absolutely, Gertie. We’ll make sure you have a front row seat for the next round of drama.”
Gertie flapped her hand at him as she laughed.