Hell isn’t merely paved with good intentions; it’s walled and roofed with them. Yes, and furnished too.
Absent-mindedly Hannah placed the menus back into the holder for the next day, her thoughts split between the past, present and the future. She needed time alone, had sent her staff home early to take over the closing herself, the repetitive tasks felt almost therapeutic.
She had been feeling mostly numb inside, ever since that night a few days ago, forever burned into her mind, every moment, every sensation, every single word that was spoken. Eric had waited for her outside her restaurant when she was about to go home, by his demeanor she could tell he didn’t have good news, so instead of locking up she went back inside with him where he confronted her with the findings of his private detective acquaintance that had been investigating Sven.
They weren’t at all what Hannah had originally assumed, but far from anything positive. A long story short, after just over one week of surveillance the sleuth had a stack of pictures showing Sven in compromising situations with a long parade of different women, and always while at work. The observation had been very thorough and Hannah had gotten to see a lot of details she wished he hadn’t. It seemed surreal, but she knew there just wasn’t any innocent explanation for this. It was definitely him and he was definitely doing all that with all those women.
And then the ball had been in her court.
The choice was hers to figure out if this was enough to kill off their marriage, go through the birth alone, and most likely take the chance for a regular childhood without constantly having to split time between her parents from Blakely?
But could Hannah forgive this? Get over the betrayal?
She had slept on it, the next day she had decided to confront Sven which lead to a huge fight, after which they mostly avoided each other, because when they didn’t it was nothing but constant friction in the air, disdain, and the smallest things would set Hannah off, causing her to lash out at Sven with a vengeance.
“Hey you.” the male voice startled her, she winced but then smiled when she saw Eric and went to hug him. The hug turned into clinging onto him. He allowed it because he knew Hannah was running on fumes emotionally.
“Hey.” she mumbled into his shoulder.
“No need to ask you how you are doing, I guess. I can see the answer. How about I take you out for a coffee.” he said after he gently pushed her off of him.
“Eric, it’s past 11 PM and I am not even supposed to know about caffeine at this stage of my pregnancy.”
“Well, can’t hardly offer to take you out for drinks, unless you want to pay premium price to suckle on club soda. Maybe a milkshake or ice cream?”
“Okay, sounds good. Can we make it anywhere but here? I need to get out of Brindleton Bay for just a while.”
“Sure, and I already know where I’ll take you. Just remembered a place that will cheer you girly girl right up.” Eric winked at her.
“You’re not taking me to Build-A-Bear or American Doll, are you?”
“Crossed my mind, but no, something better.”
They walked to his car, Hannah felt like a weight was lifted when they passed the exit sign on their way out of Brindleton Bay, even though normally this was her favorite place in the world. Neither spoke, Hannah had zoned out until she noticed Eric park the car in front of a new ice cream parlor, huge, pink and bright, and it served diner-style food as well, as neon signs proudly suggested.
“Wow!” Hannah giggled as they walked up to the entrance.
“Told ya. I know my cousin, Brindleton Bay Barbie.” Eric chuckled.
“Hardee har har, officer smartypants.” she grinned back at him.
They got seated, ordered and while sipping a caffeine free cappuccino and eating ice cream Hannah beamed across the table at Eric.
“Thanks – for this. But I have no idea what to do, Eric, and it’s driving me insane. I would give an arm for some guidance.” she got serious again at the last part.
“What do your parents recommend you do?” Eric tried to pass the buck.
“I haven’t told anyone. I can’t until I know what I even want. Help me!” she pleaded.
“All right, let me try. First question, and probably the most important one – and also probably the one that gets me my man-card revoked, but: do you still love him?”
“I … I don’t know right now …”
“Well, that would be your first step, to figure that out. Once you know that, the rest will fall into place.”
“Do you think I should leave him?”
“Not my choice to make … I am not the sacred relationship guru from the Bay.” Eric was uncomfortable with all this.
“If you were me, pregnant, owned a restaurant in a small town, pretty close to stuck … what would you do?”
“Okay, admit I have a bit of a rough time imagining myself pregnant, but if I were you, I would need to figure out how I really still felt about Sven. Once I know that, I can plan.”
“Eric … repeating the same thing with different words is not helpful”
“Hannah, I AM helping you. Pardon me saying so, but my advice is solid. In my personal opinion everything hinges on the question whether or not you still love him. And, does he still love you? You said he was pretty butt-hurt about being observed, just like Ewan warned you he’d be.”
“I don’t know if he still loves me. Could you maybe ask him? Like man to man.”
Eric snorted a laugh.
“Seriously, Hannah? Want me to braid his pubes too while we’re telling each other our deepest darkest secrets?” Eric shook his head.
“Well, I can hardly ask Ewan to feel him out for me, that would not end well, and I don’t dare send Ava or Charlee into the lion’s den. Knowing my luck Sven would only end up test-driving them. But I need to know for sure.”
“I am having a really hard time imagining either of them falling for it. Ava is feisty and Charlee can be very assertive, if she has to be. Especially after I pried her away from that father of hers. And I am confident in saying that Charlee is definitely not bored in the sack, but that is a story that would really require a few beers for me to spill. Hannah, leave me out of that soap opera. None of us should be the one asking Sven anything, you should.”
Hannah finished her coffee and ice cream, then Eric dropped her off at home, walked her to the door, when he noticed Sven was taking out the trash, so he stuck around to make sure it would stay civil. Watching the two barely greet each other left a bad aftertaste with him, even though it was understandable, but a far cry from the near X-rated greeting they usually displayed. Out of the three couples, Hannah and Sven had always been the most demonstrative with their affections.
Eric was about to get into his car when Sven called his name, already cantering over to him.
“Hey, wait up man, I need to talk to you.”
Eric braced for trouble, hoping Sven wasn’t looking for a fight.
“Sure, what’s up, bud.” he told him as casually as he could.
“About … you know. I know I fucked up. I know you probably hate me right now.”
“No, I don’t. Not my place. I don’t get you at all, but I don’t hate you.” Eric meant it.
“See, that’s just the thing. It’s not what it looks like. I know that sounds cliche. Hey, is there a way we could talk privately?” Sven almost begged.
Eric arched one eyebrow.
“You know Sven, I think this is plenty private. Just say what you have to say.” he sounded defensive.
“That what your friend photographed, wasn’t all me.”
“Come again? I am not the expert, but from what I saw I’d say it all looked a lot like you, unless you have a secret twin. I saw parts of you I wish I hadn’t. And truth be told, yours wasn’t the first uncovered dick I have ever seen that wasn’t my own, have to look at them almost daily at the coroner’s, but usually they are attached to a case I am working on, not people I know personally.” Eric didn’t like this topic and it showed.
“Yeah – I … look, it’s the manager. They run a really tight ship at that gym. They pay better than any club near or far, and you know money had been tight for a while for us. I wanted to make sure we get are getting somewhere.”
“Dude, what the hell does that have anything to do with the price of rice?! We’re all struggling. Still wouldn’t excuse me blowing off extra-marital steam with some chicks at my place of work.”
“Your other cousin isn’t struggling, and I just couldn’t stand him flaunting all he could afford for his wife and him buying my wife a restaurant and shit. Can you imagine how emasculating that is? I wanted to give her things too. For the longest time I couldn’t even give her a child, I almost managed to get her a nice vacation, but then she wanted that specialist, that ate up all our savings …”
“Sven, what the fuck are you talking about?!” Eric stopped him.
“Women at the club like me. A lot of them are sexually frustrated, many have been in dead end marriages for so long that they forgot how to land with men, so they come on to me and my colleagues. If you reject them, you are out, fired and replaced with the next fool. I got close to being fired twice. The less you push them away, the more they book you and we all work on commission … and sometimes you are expected to do a little more than just correct their posture …”
“Wait a second here. I think you are starting to head down a road that if it were even remotely true, is bordering legality. I should not be hearing this.” Eric warned.
“Eric, I don’t give a fuck anymore … It is as I told you. I wouldn’t lie about shit like that. I had not much of a choice so I decided might as well rake in as much money as I could before I stay home with the baby and my income goes away completely, having us rely solely on Hannah and her restaurant. I thought if I could keep it up until then, Hannah would never know and we’d be okay financially and I’d never have to deal with that again.”
“Sven, do you realize how utopian this sounds? If this is true, why didn’t you tell Hannah BEFORE damage was done? She would have told you to quit and get the heck out. And why are you telling me, have you forgotten who – and what – I am? Confronted with accusations like this I have no choice but to start an investigation, and if it turns out that was just you trying to dig yourself out of a hole, you are going to look a helluvalot worse that you do now, are you clear about that?!”
“How could I possibly look any worse than I do already, Eric? Hannah thinks I am scum, and I don’t care what happens to me or the people at the gym anymore. All I know is that I do not know how to tell my wife I have been just inches from becoming a glorified male prostitute because otherwise I would have lost my job and income with not much chance of getting anything else paying worth a damn! Right now I think I almost rather she’d think I did it for fun! What kinda man would the truth make me in her eyes? A total wimp. Loser. I cannot look her in the eye and tell her what really happened, I just … can’t. I’d rather be a cheater. But I needed someone to know the truth.” Sven sounded pitiful and desperate.
“Look brother, I really don’t know what to say here except that your priorities are all fucked up. I hate preaching, but you should have gone to flip burgers in overdrive before fondling frustrated housewives for commission money. That is as immoral as it is illegal and I promise you, I will get some bodies on that case ASAP, so you better get out soon or I will be seeing you across the table in interrogation room 1. All I know for sure is that keeping secrets from your wife is a terrible idea, no matter how messed up the truth is, I shouldn’t have to be the one having to tell you this.”
Eric turned to get into his car.
“Wait, Eric. So you think I should tell her? Tonight? You think you could hang around for a while longer and be here for it, maybe to mediate or so I have someone on my side? I have no idea how this is gonna go over … you know her longer. Maybe you can explain it better than I can. And maybe in a way that would make her forgive me. All I need is one little chance. Please?”
Eric stared at Sven as if he grew another head.
“This is a joke, right? I am not a magical Hannah whisperer.” he asked him.
“Are you boys fighting?” Hannah appeared, Sven looked at Eric, his eyes pleading, but Eric only shook his head.
Eric tried to get into his car, but Sven pushed the door shut again, which pissed Eric off.
“Eric, please … help me out.” Sven pleaded, Eric glared at him, looked at Hannah then went off
“Fine! I told you, this should be you, not me, I told you I do not want to be involved, but since you are dead-set on sucking me into this mess, here goes: Hannah, your husband claims he has been #MeToo’ed into romancing frustrated gym patrons against better pay and under the threat of losing his job, but he didn’t mind raking in the dough it generated, because it never occurred to him to look for a different job that did not require him to reenact Magic Mike moments at work! If I sound frustrated, imagine how your wife must feel right about now, Sven. Grow up, grow a spine, keep your dick out of places it doesn’t belong and get your shit together. We all hit rough spots at some point, but you won’t see Ewan or me walking the streets in heels and hot pants swinging purses. There, I got it out in the open for you, rest is all you buddy!”
Eric really jumped into his car and drove off this time.
Sven and Hannah stood there, staring at each other, until Hannah was the first to unfreeze, slapping Sven hard.
He didn’t even move, just took it.
“Is any of that true?” she whispered.
“Why the heck would you not have run that by me before you did it?! I don’t want money like that! We are doing fine without it. What were you thinking?!” Hannah’s voice tipped over.
“That’s why I didn’t tell you. Job paid well, without it I would have been unemployed for God knows how long or worked jobs teenagers do. Hannah, I have nothing else to fall back on. I was never a great student, barely graduated with borderline grades. The only reason I even made it in college was because I was athletic and got a full scholarship, but I have no way of making real good money, especially not here in his small town you wanted to live in so badly. This was my one chance to get some decent cash to allow something more than just the basics for us and our child.”
“By messing with other women for pay?! How do you think that makes me feel?! I am only one of them, when I should be THE one. The ONLY one!”
“No, you are THE one, my only one, always have been! And I never went all the way with a single one of them. Just the other stuff.”
“Oh well, then, all is just fantastic! Are you for real?! Sven, I saw you, at the gym, giggling like a school girl with your hand on some pretty hot chick’s ass. She looked like a model, you cannot tell me she cannot get any without paying for it, how stupid do you think I am?!”
“That was probably the gym owner’s girlfriend. Best not to upset her. Even if it means playing along when she wants to fondle the staff. She never wanted anything really intimate.”
“Are you even listening to yourself?! Are you kidding me right now?! Who owns your club? The lovechild of Hugh Heffner and Al Capone?! Gimme ten million breaks! God, I think this hurts even worse than what I originally thought you were doing … this is insane! Surreal!”
“I told Eric you wouldn’t believe me anyway. I really did it for us and Blakely. Hannah, please, I love you …”
In a desperate attempt Sven tried to kiss Hannah, but she pushed away from him with desperation.
“Keep those nasty lips away from me – who knows where they have been! Disgusting! It does not matter if I believe you now. You should have never gone along with it, even if it is true, which it well may be, as crazy as it sounds. I know people get cheated on, and people get over that, but I do not even know how to begin to wrap my head around THIS. It’s not just one woman I have to deal with that had you, it’s dozens, hundreds and they owned you … they bought you. That is … no! I don’t even care what you did or didn’t do with them. You are for sure sleeping in the guest room. And I am washing all the bedding in my room. Eww.”