It was a stab through the heart when she got home and no-one was there. No partner to give a kiss to. No pitter patter of little feet racing down the hall to see her and tell her all about their day. No gathering around the table for dinner. No family.
Hange inhaled sharply. “Shit,” she shoved her glasses up onto her forehead and rubbed at her eyes, the stinging becoming unbearable.
For the first time in her life, she wanted something normal.
Levi didn’t believe he was above menial tasks. Cleaning had to be done and he was just a capable of doing it as the first-year apprentices were. Plus, he liked it.
Mop in hand, he expertly twirled it around the commercial kitchen floor.
“Don’t I employ a crew of cleaners to do that?” Erwin said with a droll tone as he leant against one of the spotless stainless-steel benches.
Levi glared at his boss. “What do you want?”
“Just checking up on the kitchen.”
“We’re closed for the night,” and I don’t believe you. Levi turned his attention to the apprentices washing dishes. “Oi.”
They turned his way with wide eyes.
“Get out. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yes, chef,” they chimed and happily escaped.
“Now,” Levi dumped his mop back into the bucket before folding his arms and death staring the giant, Erwin. “What the fuck is it?”
Erwin sighed heavily. “We’re in trouble.”
Stiffening, Levi’s mind raced through all of the possibilities. “Financial?”
“Exactly,” Erwin agreed. “The higher ups are pulling their funding, trying to force us to close.”
“And your plan is?”
“To let it happen.”
Levi stumbled back. “What?!”
Erwin, stone faced, nodded his head once. “They want this place to close so they can demolition the building. I don’t have the means to buy anything from them. This place cannot be saved.”
Levi waited for the ‘but’.
It came. “But I have my eye on another hotel and am in discussions with the real estate.”
“You’re taking everyone?”
Erwin nodded again. “If they’re willing to follow, I will give them all jobs.”
“What’s going to happen in the meantime? How long will it take?” Of course, the higher ups didn’t just want the building gone, they wanted to demolish one of the best hotel managers, Erwin.
And they would be successful if he couldn’t save all of his employees. “Tch,” Levi wanted to kick the shit out of something. Anything. “Of course, we’re all going to be out of work and scatter. We’re going to have to start all over again. Train new people to do the work of the fucking good ones we had.”
Erwin rolled his eyes. “You might have to talk to new people instead of just to your team.”
He paused. His team of chefs all had responsibilities and people depending on them to make wages. He couldn’t expect them to wait until Erwin had his new hotel ready. They needed to find work. “How long before this place closes?”
“They didn’t fucking give much notice.”
“They never do.” With a sigh, Erwin started to the door. “I have to find Mike and tell him what’s going on.”
Left alone, Levi glared at the stove. This was a shitty thing. He’d have to find a job to fill in the time before Erwin needed him again. Something…
His thoughts were interrupted as the phone in his pocket went off with the ring tone set for Hange; a witch’s cackle.
“Not a good time, shitty glasses,” he answered.
Her voice sounded soft and far away. Nothing like her usual tone. “What’s wrong?” He asked.
“Um,” she hesitated. “I was hoping you could drop by after work, but maybe another time. Sorry to bother you, Levi. Hope everything is fine.”
“What’s wrong? You sound like shit.” He winced a little. That came out harsher than he intended.
Hange gave a weak laugh. “I feel like it. I just wanted to have a chat. But if you’re having problems of your own, I don’t want to add to them. I’ll talk to you later. Bye,” she suddenly hung up.
Levi frowned. What the fuck was her problem?
Hange reached for her bottle of wine. Again, she drank straight from it. No glass to wash up, she told herself.
Why the fuck did Niffa bring in her baby for all of the people at work to see? Why did she have to glow as she talked about all of the things the small being did, as if a toothless smile was a masterpiece? Why did she let Hange hold the baby?
It had been amazing; this little bag of bones had flopped onto her chest and started to chew on the collar of her shirt. And then she felt it, his little heartbeat. It fluttered, reverberating into her chest. And that’s when she came to an epiphany as she cuddled him close, her jaw going slack as her friends laughed at her experience.
“I want to have a family,” the words echoed in her empty home.
It was a strange thing for her. She’d never considered having children, they’d never came up as something she wanted out of life. Moving out of home, university, finding a position at the botanical gardens, becoming the head of her group and leading the work they did; that was all part of her plan and things she’d achieved.
But then what? After all of that, what was she meant to do?
It had been years since she’d settled into contentment. But now there was a name for the gap she felt every so often, more so when she was lonely.
Sighing, Hange flopped back into the lounge. “What am I to do?” Like the good scientist she was, she started to list the possibilities and review their pros and cons.
“Foster care or adopting… the likelihood of me being accepted as a candidate for either as a single parent is low. Not to mention all of the red tape that stops it,” Hange adjusted her position on the lounge, tucking her feet under her. “Giving birth is the simplest of options. But that requires a partner to conceive.”
Pausing, she counted back the months… okay, years. “Wow,” she surprised herself. “That long since I last had sex.” With a snort she drank more.
“Okay. Getting pregnant. Work will give me maternity leave, and the support needed so that’s fine. But I have to get knocked up first. Sperm donor, that’s smart. Go through a doctor, the donor has no obligations to the child or me so it wouldn’t be like I’m trapping anyone. And I need to be honest, I haven’t met anyone who would be willing to settle for me so far, so I’m not even going to think about trying to find Mr Right first,” she started to nod her head. “Yes, I need to find a sperm donor so I can have this baby. I have a plan. Yahoo!” Raising her bottle, she toasted the air.
She could do this, she could be a single mother.
An hour later and another bottle opened, she opened the door to Levi. “Oh, hey there, short-stack.”
Levi grunted as he brushed past her and into her home. “What’s the matter? You sounded like shit on the phone but you’re all smiles now.” He stopped once he reached the lounge room.
Hange looked at her bottles of wine and chuckled. “Yeah, I was feeling lonely. But in the middle of the first bottle I figured out a plan and so I’m celebrating with a second bottle. Want some?”
“You’re not using a glass,” he narrowed his eyes at her.
“Saving on washing up. But I’ll go get the glasses just for you,” she hurried off to do so. “What was your problem?” she called out as she moved around the kitchen.
“The hotel is closing,” he said from right behind her.
She jumped. “You need a damn bell, Levi.” Watching him as he placed the containers of food into her fridge, she smiled. “Thanks, what was on the menu tonight?”
“Yum,” her mouth watered. “Can’t wait to eat it… hold up, you said the hotel was closing?”
Levi nodded. “Erwin told me tonight, just before you called. We have four months before we close. He’s looking to buy his own hotel, but…” he sighed.
Hange filled in the rest. “By the time he does that, everyone of you guys will need to find jobs elsewhere. That’s rough.”
“Tch, it’s fucking annoying. What am I supposed to do? I’m going to lose my team just as I’ve got them trained to my standards.”
Hange motioned with the glasses to the lounge room before leading the way. “Guess you could go back to bar tending in the meantime.”
“I’m a chef now. I don’t do that shit anymore,” he snapped.
They took up their usual spots at opposite ends of the lounge.
“And I’m not going back to my uncle’s place. Fuck no.”
Hange poured wine. “You’re a good chef, you’ll find a fill in job quickly.”
“What was the plan for?” he quickly changed the topic on her.
“Hmm? Oh, yeah.” Hange blushed. “I, um. I kind of decided that I wanted to have a baby.”
She said this as he was drinking. He sputtered wine out. “What?”
Hange groaned. “Don’t spill the alcohol. I glad we’re on white and not red. The staining, Levi, the staining.” She was quick to try and make a joke.
Levi glared at her. “You want a baby?” He was not to be distracted it seemed.
“Yeah. Don’t worry about it. I have a plan and I’ve got it covered.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well,” Hange settled back and sipped her wine. “I’ve decided that I’m going to the doctors to find a sperm donor. It’s the most practical way for someone in my position.”
“What position is that?”
“Single and over thirty.”
Levi eyed her. “You want to get pregnant to someone you’ve never met?”
She shrugged. “There isn’t a really decent other option. This way I take the responsibility, I don’t put anyone else into a position they don’t want to be in; no child support or visitational rights.”
“You don’t want a dad for your kid?”
“We have met, right? I mean, you know I’m not the easiest person to be with in any capacity. To prove that, I would like to point out my lack of significant other half for the past few years… and the lack of casual partners also,” she winced. “I’m so pathetic.”
Levi was silent.
She continued on. “But I’m not going to wait around for someone to finally choose me to love. I want to have a family and while sperm donor isn’t ideal it is the best option for me.”
“What if you knew the donor?”
Hange blinked at him. “Say what?”
For once, Levi wasn’t meeting her eyes as he spoke. “What if you knew the donor and they wanted to be part of the brat’s life?”
It clicked in her head. “Are you offering?”
The bubble of words popped through her lips. “Because that would be absolutely amazing, Levi. And save me a lot of money having to see doctors and pay for procedures and what not. But are you sure this is something you want to do? Do you want to have a baby or are you trying to be a good friend? I really appreciate the offer, but if you’re not wanting to have a baby and I completely respect that, I don’t want you to feel pressure or obligation. I have options.”
“Shut up, Hange. I want to have a baby.”
This time, Hange fell into silence. “Are you sure?”
He gave her a curt nod. “Yes.”