AatW – 63

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Alice sat on the floor of the living room with her infant lying on a blanket in front of her, working on carefully removing the baby’s onesie. When Hackett came in through the door, she called out, “Hello! Just give me a moment, then I’ll come kiss you. Alicia’s diaper leaked all over, and I’m trying to figure out how to get her clothes off without smearing poop all over her face.”

“In that case, I’ll come kiss you,” Hackett replied as he took off his coat and suit jacket, then sat down next to Alice and leaned over to kiss her temple, before lightly tickling the baby’s feet. “She’s bigger than she was this morning.”

“Oh my gosh, you really think so? I took a nap with her this afternoon, and when I woke up I swear she’s way chubbier than she was before. I just can’t believe how fast she’s growing,” Alice gushed. “After all, just look at how much she’s eating! We’re going to have to buy bigger diapers to hold all the poop.”

Hackett laughed as he put his arm around Alice. “It’s cute listening to you talk about poop.”

“What?” Alice wrinkled the bridge of her nose. “I’m a mom, and poop is a prominent part of raising babies, so of course I’m going to talk about it.” She finished cleaning and diapering Alicia, then picked her up and handed her over to Hackett. “Would you mind holding her while I get a load of laundry started?”

“My, you’re becoming quite domestic now, aren’t you.” Hackett laughed as he gently bounced Alicia to play with her, despite the fact that the baby seemed more intent on staring at her own nose.

“Yep! And guess what? I even have some chicken marinating in barbecue sauce for dinner. We can put it in the oven whenever we’re ready.” Alice giggled as she got to her feet and scampered off to the laundry room with the dirty baby clothes.

The baby yawned so Hackett put her on his shoulder, rubbing her back as he tilted his head to touch her soft hair with his cheek, closing his eyes. Alice came back a few minutes later with clean baby clothes, paused, then tiptoed to grab her cellphone and snap a picture. “You’re such a good dad,” she said. “I can tell that Alicia feels really safe with you. You look so masculine when you hold her, too. I don’t think that I’ll be able to resist you if you get any funny ideas in your head after we go to bed tonight.”

Hackett opened one eye. “Is that so?”

“Well, I might play a little hard to get, but only for the thrill of being caught.”

“I’ll be sure to limber up at bedtime then, for the sake of giving a good chase.” Hackett handed the baby back over to Alice, who laid her down to carefully redress her. “I thought that you’d be interested to know that Damon signed up for the domestic violence classes.”

“Wow! Really? I didn’t expect that at all.” Alice looked up at him. “Is he actually going to attend?”

Hackett chuckled silently. “I can’t say. I suspect he will, though.”

“That’s not like him at all. The guy I knew only liked drugs, fucking, and his motorcycle …” Alice blushed and looked away. “Sorry. I really shouldn’t say things like that. I don’t mean to slip up.”

“Hm. You’re not revealing anything I don’t already know.” Hackett picked up Alicia and stood, then held down a hand to help Alice. “But do clean up your language before Alicia is old enough to repeat it.”

“I know, I know,” Alice groaned. “It’s just hard. I’m trying to use nicer words, but it keeps popping out anyway. Trust me, I don’t want my baby using any cuss words either, but it feels like I’m trying to reprogram my brain.”

“In a sense, you are. Just try harder to catch yourself from now on.” Hackett gave her hand a little squeeze. “Let’s get that chicken in the oven.”

Alice perked up. “I hope you like it. Though, please help me think of a side dish, because I have no clue what would go well with barbecue sauce. Aside from something like onion rings, anyway, but I don’t know how to make those.”

“Just make some rice and frozen vegetables – they’re easy.”

Alice frowned. “I don’t know how to make rice.”

“I’ll show you.”

“Thank you!” She beamed as she pulled Hackett to the kitchen, where she turned on the oven then pulled a pan of chicken out of the fridge. “I’m going to say something weird, but you’re used to that. Anyway, I had no idea how pathetic I was before, when I didn’t know how to cook or even run a laundry machine. I feel functional, or at least like I’m heading in that direction, and it makes me feel really good about myself. I have something that I can contribute, and I’m not completely dependent on someone else for literally everything.” She gave a big grin. “Would you please pull a chair out and sit down?” Hackett obliged, and Alice moved around behind him to start massaging his shoulders, explaining, “You look a little tense right now.”

Hackett grunted and closed his eyes, letting out a deep breath. “Just all the paperwork and meetings for the fourth quarter. Far too boring for you to be interested in.”

“Actually, I’d love to know. I’m sure there’s far more to being a warden than locking young women up in towers and marrying them.”

He chuckled. “That’s just a perk.”

“So what is it, exactly, that a warden does?”

“I find the smartest, most well-liked inmate, and I bully him relentlessly while forcing him to embezzle money for me.”

“Nu-uh!” Alice hit him playfully. “Give me a real answer.”

Hackett looked over his shoulder and winked. “It’s all administrative. I manage the staff, the budget, the programs for work, education, and rehab, the sort of privileges we offer for good behavior … You get the idea. I just try to keep everyone safe, and hopefully improve a few lives.”

“That’s really amazing. And here I don’t even know how to cook rice.” Alice stopped rubbing his shoulders, instead leaning down to nibble on his ear and whisper, “It’s a good thing I have Daddy to show me how.”

“Hush!” Hackett laughed. “Here, you take the baby and I’ll get to cooking. Go on and sit down, and tell me about your day.”

“Oh gosh, I’m getting so annoyed at my mom. I asked if she could come out and visit with the holidays coming up, and she doesn’t want to take the time off work. Like, your mom drops everything on a moment’s notice to come meet me and Alicia, but my mom can’t be bothered. I guess some things just don’t change.” Alice sighed. “We’re talking now, at least. I just haven’t seen her in years, and I wanted to show her my husband and baby.”

“Give it time and be patient. She might not know how to have a relationship with you.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Alice replied thoughtfully, and Hackett turned to rummage through the cupboard. She then held Alicia up and began to play with her, singing, “Don’t you think my baby’s cute? From her great big smile, to the way she toots?”

Metal clanged against the counter top as Hackett dropped a pot, and he braced up himself as he shook with laughter.

“What?” Alice demanded.

“Nothing. Nothing.” Hackett wiped tears from his eyes, then looked at her. “It’s just that you’re … something else.”

“That ‘something else’ better be good.” Alice adjusted Alicia and said, “Look at this sweet little face! She’d be so upset if you didn’t think she had the best mommy in the whole wide universe, and only a meanie would deliberately upset a baby.”

“I’d say that she’s got the single most adorable mommy in the whole wide universe.” Hackett laughed. “Irresistibly adorable.”

Alice blushed. “I’m just playing with my baby.”

“That’s why it’s so cute.” Hackett stepped over to give her a kiss. “Say, I heard about a flea market happening next weekend, and I’d love to take you.”

“Flea market? Is that the thing where people sell their old junk?”

“That about sums it up.”

“I’m in.” Alice grinned. “Maybe we’ll find some stuff for the baby. She’s just about outgrown her clothes already.”

“It’s a date then.”

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