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Balance Sheets

"Martin tries to unravel what he stumbled in on"

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“I can explain,” he pleaded, though it came out more like, “I cah eshlaih,” with his mouth stretched around the barrel of my shotgun.

I raised my eyebrows, dark rage bubbling inside. “Explain?!” I spat. “Oh, this ought to be good. Let me guess, you came round to balance the books, tripped on the rug, your clothes fell off, and you landed in my miraculously naked wife?”

Bryce held up his hands and shook his head against the down pillow as far as the rifle would allow, eyes widening. I feathered the trigger. Regarded him. Considered ending him as his eyes saucered further and he whimpered.

Susan, lying naked and petrified alongside him on the bed—our marital bed—breathlessly whispered, “Let him go, baby. Let him talk.”

I growled, eyed them both and hauled the weapon clear. She fully exhaled as Bryce waggled his jaw to check nothing was damaged.

Taking a step back, I swung my gaze between them. Didn't lower the gun. “So talk.”

He looked down; the erection I’d caught him with had rapidly withered. “Can I at least…?” He nodded to his pile of discarded clothes by my feet.

I gave a curt nod and he scrambled to tug his cotton underwear and stonewashed jeans on, finishing by pulling a burgundy Ted Baker T-shirt over tight, dark curls. He remained barefoot. Stood, then sat, stood, then sat, ultimately perching on the edge of the bed, picking at the cuticle of one finger.

“We didn't mean to, man. I'm sorry. It just…” he swung his gaze up to mine then flicked away to Susan. “Just sorta happened.”

“Oh, thank goodness. I thought you were going to go with one thing led to another for a moment.”

“Well, it did. In a way, we—” My stare cut him off mid-sentence.

“How long have you been our accountant?”

He shrugged. “Ten years, maybe?”

“Ten years. And how long has this,” I waved the shotgun between them a few times, “this?”

Bryce didn't make eye contact and shrugged once more. “Not long.”

“Not long compared to the time you've been our accountant? Or half an hour before I showed up?”

He was on his way to becoming the Olympic shrugging champion. Threw Susan another look over his shoulder. “Couple of weeks. Maybe a month?”

“A month?!”

“Might be six weeks.”

I flicked my gaze and the gun between them again. ”Glad my wife made such a lasting impression on you,” I spat. “Any further advances? Or are we sticking with six weeks now?”

Bryce paused, then nodded.

Susan piped up. “Baby, it doesn't matter how long—”

“It matters to me.”

She cocked her head. ”Why?”

“So I know how long I've been made to look like a prize dick.” I exhaled harder than I thought I had in me.

“Don't be like that.”

“Like what? Is this where you wheel out it's not you, it's me? Might as well open the big box of clichés and get our money's worth, yeah?”

She sat up and raked a dainty hand through honeyed oak locks, tangled due to their… I couldn't even bring myself to think it, because it would become too real. Their activity.

I watched her a moment. So beautiful, even if she had just fed my heart to the shredder. Her breasts hung and I was momentarily torn between using the situation as a springboard to resurrect a love we'd let dwindle due to work commitments, and slinging her clothes at her and telling her to fuck off with him if he's so great.

Opting for middle ground, I kept quiet while she composed herself. Levelled her eyes with mine. “Baby, I don't want to lose you.”

I snorted, “Funny way of showing it,” and regretted saying it the instant it tumbled from my lips.

“Hey, no fair.” She steeled. “It's no secret we're drifting apart. Things haven't been the same since Ethan…” She looked away sharply, before the waver at the mere strain of saying his name gave way to the wobble in her lower lip. It was torture for me at the time too, but Susan took it especially hard. Shut down for months. Counselling sessions. Then straight back into work, full tilt. I did the same. Drink too. A distraction from the crushing emptiness. Nobody should have to bury their own son.

My exhalation carried the weight for both of us. “I know it's been hard—”

“You think?”

“—and I know nothing will bring him back.” I choked up and had to clear my throat and swallow to stop my eyes brimming. “And yes, I haven't been around much either. That's on me. But you didn't have to shag,” I waved my free hand in the direction of Bryce, “Captain Calculator here to prove the point.”

“I'm still here, you prick.”

“Shut up.” I levelled the gun at him. “When I want your input, I'll ask for it. In fact, yeah,” I lowered the weapon, “here's a question: did you start it or did she?”

He shrugged again, gold medal clearly still in sight. “It was kinda mutual.”

“Mutual? Mutual?! Like a merger? Like an acquisition? Like a fucking… farmers’ union? Oh, special resolution at this year's AGM: should Susan and Bryce fuck? All those in favour raise your hands. Aye. Motion passed.”

Susan purred. “Don't get agitated, Mart. You'll end up doing something you regret.”

“Ha. Not sure I'll regret shooting your face off, you treacherous cow.”

Her jaw dropped. “Martin Littlemoor, you take that the fuck back.”

My chest puffed up and I exhaled. Sunday name. Bad news. “Why?”

“Why? Because I'm your wife. For richer, for poorer. For better, for worse. Ring any bells? Or were they just words?”

She put her hands on her hips, breasts jutting and stared me down. I swallowed. “I'd definitely class this as for worse. Wouldn't you?”

“Oh, because you're so fucking perfect.”

I blinked. “What's that meant to mean?”

“Don't act dumb. It doesn't suit you.”

“No, seriously, Susan, what the hell do you mean by that?”

We stared at one another across the expanse of the bed and rumpled duvet. Bryce piped up, “Uhh, can I go now? This is clearly something that doesn't involve me.”

Both of us yelled, “No!” in unison, and he cowered on the bed, trying to camouflage himself into the paw print design, and picked his nails.

Susan and I continued to stare at each other. I let out a breath first. “Come on, tell me. What the hell do you think I've done?”

“Jesus, do I have to spell it out?”

“Please do.”

She looked away, across to the dresser reflecting the three of us like some soap opera finale, right before the credits roll to keep the audience hooked for the next episode.

When she returned her gaze to me, it was brimming with rage and hurt, tears pricking the corners of normally bright azure eyes.

“Accusations of infidelity are rich coming from you. There, I said it.”

I let it sink in. Mind zipping from memory to memory, day to day, week to week. Links expanding and unravelling then winding back together, elastic timelines. Working late at the office. Picking up Chinese on the way home. Bashing the alarm clock. Showering. Dressing. Work. Weekends in the garden taking advantage of the break in the unseasonable weather. Sleep. Wake. Shower. Dress. Work. Home. Dinner. Wash the dishes. Read. Bed. Repeat.

Endless cycles drifted before my eyes. Further back. Minutiae and domesticity punctuated by day trips and experiences and holidays with our son. Nothing like that since. Just work and home. Drink. Work and home. Drink. Work. Home and, among it all, one face shimmered to the centre as everything else swam around her.


Susan's best friend. Dubbed Hotty by those closest to her. She wore too much make-up. Fake eyelashes like upturned spiders. Fake lips that made her look as if she'd walked into a door. Fake tan she didn't need. But she's bubbly and likeable, with a fantastic figure and cheerleader tits and, by all accounts, a bit of a slut with it. She'd certainly made a few, usually drunken, passes at me over the years, that I'd mostly resisted. She'd recently tried more often. Perhaps she'd detected Susan and I becoming distant.

The pieces slotted into place in my head, and Susan detected the micro expressions like she always does. Female intuition is like fucking voodoo.

“Yeah, there it is!” she proclaimed. “She's been acting weird. You've been,” she finger quoted, “working late a lot the last few months. It's obvious.”



I switched my gaze alternately between her and Bryce. “So this is your way of getting back at me? Giving me a taste of my own medicine? Shag pretty boy here because I'm having it away with Holly? See how it feels, yeah?”

She looked away and a single tear streamed down her cheek to splash on her nipple before she looked back at me. Her voice was a harsh whisper. “Yes.”

“And you didn't think there could be some other explanation?”

She swiped at her cheek with the back of her hand. “No… why? Is… is there?” a flicker of doubt crossed her brow.

“How old are you?”

She blinked at the change of subject. “You know I'm twenty-nine. So what?”

“And what happens next month? On June 15th?”

“It's my birthd…” her hand flew to cover her mouth. “Oh. My. God.” the remainder came out in a breathless squeak. “You've been plan… fuck.”

“Yes. Fuck.”

Bryce added: “Fuck,” and I glowered at him.

Susan flopped back on the bed, arms folded across her face. A muffled, “God I'm sorry, I feel so stupid,” filtered through the gap.

Silence hung between us, thick and heavy. Three people weighing up the consequences of actions, and considering options from this moment onward. It was Bryce who spoke first:

“I should probably, ahh, go now, right?”

I let out a long huff and nodded. He didn't need asking twice. Scooped up his socks and shoes, and ran from the room to put them on at the top of the stairs.

It wasn't until his footsteps receded and the front door banged shut that I returned the shotgun to the corner of the walk-in wardrobe. Turned to face Susan and waited for her to uncover her face and roll her head to meet my gaze, her cheeks streaked with tears.

I shrugged. “I thought it might help us. Get away. A nice distraction. Reconnect. Holly has been helping me. I was going to tell you the plan next week so you could book time off work.”

Susan groaned. “Fuck. I'm sorry, baby. I truly am.” She took a shaky breath. “I put two and two together and got…”

“Twenty-two,” I finished.

“Yeah. Something like that.” She bunched the sheets and rolled onto her side to face me. Bit her lip. “Can you ever forgive me? Please?”

I rubbed my chin on my way up to comb my fingers through my short-cropped hair. Breathed out, long and hard. “I don't know. I hope so. It's… it's a lot to process.”

She sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “I understand. Take your time but promise you won't brood alone. It's not healthy.” She flashed me a weak smile. “Talk to me, yeah?”

I resisted the urge to make a sarcastic comment. “I will. I promise.”

Silence hung. Nothing but birdsong filtering through the window. But in my head I couldn't shake the sounds of her and Bryce as I approached the room to find them, limbs locked, writhing on the bed, rampantly clutching at one another. It’ll probably haunt me for years to come.

I turned and wordlessly took the same route Bryce did, along the corridor beyond the bedroom door, the occasional carpeted stair creaking, and through the front door, letting the latch click behind me.

Standing with my back to the door a few moments, I contemplated whether it spelled finality or a temporary glitch in our relationship. Guess it was up to me. Forgive and forget, or let it chip away at me.

I pushed clear. Past the Audi, its engine still warm. The street was quiet and I dug my hands in my pockets, wondering about a lot of things as I traipsed along the pavement. What would the neighbours think if they found out? Where are we going to find a good new accountant? And was it a good idea, given my mood and state of mind, to walk to Holly’s for moral support?

She knew Susan best and might be able to put my mind at ease. But equally, she might use my vulnerable state to dig her false nails into me, metaphorically or physically. And honestly, I'm not sure I'd be able to resist this time.

Part of me was numb. Part of me still seethed. Part of me knew it was a huge misunderstanding and I should let my love for Susan conquer any doubts. Blast past the insecurities and heartache and rediscover life. Lust. Verve. Us.

But part of me wanted to say to hell with it, seize the momemt, screw her best mate, and deal with the consequences of this fucked-up day later.

The thing that scared me most was I had no idea which part was greater. And I still didn't know when I knocked on Holly’s door, she answered in cutoff shorts and a T-shirt knotted above her toned navel, tossed me a bright smile and invited me in.

Written by TomEccleston
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