Equal Shares Ch. 09bysteveh11©
Stan woke up late Saturday morning.
At first he lay still while he put his scattered mind back together. Then he rolled onto his back, whispered, "Good morning, love," and went over what had happened last night.
With the morning sunlight flickering through the curtains, last night's events didn't seem so momentous. Last night he'd thought the evening was incredible. He'd spoken to Anne in a non-work setting; it had been almost as if they'd been to a dinner date on their own. Now, this morning, he felt that he'd over-dramatised it. It hadn't been a non-work setting after all. Percy and Rick had been right there at their table. And yet...
And yet they'd all but completely disappeared from his mind last night. To him, it had felt like the only person there with him was Anne. What did that mean?
It meant he'd betrayed Caron. 'Oh, God, forgive me!' he thought and he saw in his mind's eye his wife's loving eyes, bright with amusement. Did that mean she gave her blessing? 'Do you mean that, love?' he asked her, and felt a warmth run through him as it came to him that Caron would want him to live on, and that included the romantic part of his life too. Stan felt a great weight lifting from over him. It wasn't a physical thing, more like an oppressive feeling that had now dissipated.
Now he had things to do. Stan went about his morning routine while thinking through his next move. He needed to get in touch with Belinda or Yves and ask if Anne could come along to the next class. He thought he'd better do that as soon as he'd had breakfast.
He got his morning coffee and a bowl of cereal and sat down at the breakfast bar in the kitchen. Over his cereal he thought about what he wanted to happen. He wanted to actually go out with Anne, not just to a dance class as a friend, but as a boyfriend. Ha! A boyfriend who was almost ten years her senior. Did he really think he had anything to offer such a wonderful person?
"Oh God, I'm going to have to ask her out!" he groaned. In all his life he'd only ever done that once, to Caron, the first time. After that, with Caron, things had just... happened. Caron had initiated everything. In fact, he'd come to understand that she'd fished for him and hooked him beautifully, including the beautifully engineered opening that Emma had so brilliantly carried out. In truth, Stan had never stood a chance, but he'd gone willingly to his doom.
It wasn't going to be the same with Anne, since she'd expect him to at least make the first steps himself. His doubts returned. 'She's surely not going to want anything more than a dance lesson with me,' he thought.
Well, in the minibus last night she'd consented to taking dance classes. He'd promised to make the arrangements, so he'd better get on with it, he mused. 'Time passes quickly enough with my woolgathering.'
Finished with his breakfast, he rinsed out his bowl and mug and set them to drain. He grabbed his phone and dialled the dance studio.
After a few rings, he heard Belinda's cultured voice, "Hello, YB Dance Studio, how can I help?"
"Hi Belinda, it's Stan Hinch. How are you? Have you got a moment?"
"Oh, Hello Stan. Yves and I are fine, busy but fine. Nice to hear from you, nothing bad I hope?" she said.
"No, no, quite the opposite I think. I've got someone who'd like to come along to class, if that's all right. But she wants to come on Monday."
"Oh, that'll be fine, Stan," Belinda replied. "We'll be starting the Quickstep on Monday, so you'll be beginners together for that. Are you going to be bringing her, Stan?" Something in her voice told Stan her eyes were twinkling, even though she was miles away on the other end of a phone line.
"Erm, yes, er, Yeah. Sorry. Yes, I'll be bringing her. The name's Anne Berkely."
"Okay then Stan, I'll see you on Monday night. With Anne. I look forward to meeting her!" Belinda rang off with the faintest of quiet laughter.
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On Sunday morning Stan once again took himself off into town in search of a late breakfast. This time he went straight to Iorio's.
He walked in, nodded at the man behind the counter, said "Hello!" and sat on one of the tall bar stools there. The guy, who Stan assumed was the proprietor, said "Hi. You were here this time last week, weren't you? My name's Tony. What can I get you?"
"Oh, Hi! Yes, I was. It's Stan, by the way. Er, I'll have a double espresso and a turkey-bacon panini, please."
As Tony made the coffee, Stan called out over the hissing noise, "I'm impressed you remember me with only one visit from a week ago."
"Ah, what you don't know is that I'm friends with Elaine and Susan, and they saw you coming out last week as they came in," Tony said. "Another couple of minutes and you'd have walked right into them. They were just up the road coming here when they saw you leaving.
"So they came in and we got to talking about you, and your friend Denise. That's why I remember. Plus, it helps that I've a good memory for faces anyway. One double espresso, and I'll just get that panini for you."
They exchanged a little more chat, and Stan ate his breakfast and enjoyed his coffee, which he followed up with another. 'That should give me enough caffeine, better hold off a little now,' he decided.
Other customers came in and Tony became busy.
"Tony, can I have an OJ to go with this, please?" he asked of the owner, indicating that he'd go to the back for a while. He took a newspaper from the rack and went to one of the booths in the rear. Tony brought his orange juice, and Stan settled down to study the latest developments in whatever scandal the paper could dig up. A few minutes later his reading was interrupted by a woman clearing her throat.
"Uh-Hum! Are these seats taken?" asked a grinning Susan.
"Er, no," replied Stan, lifting the paper off the table and folding it beside him.
Elaine appeared with the girl's drinks. "Tony will be along in a moment or two with our breakfasts," she told Susan and then said "Hello, Stan."
"Tony said we'd find you here," said Susan, taking her grapefruit juice from Elaine.
"He said you and he had a good chat this morning," said Elaine.
"Yeah, we did," said Stan, a little overwhelmed to find his contemplative morning interrupted.
"He also said that the main topic of conversation was Denise," she teased.
"Well, er... we may have mentioned her a couple of times," Stan spluttered.
"And that you were looking forward to seeing her!" interjected Susan.
"Yes, well, of course, I mean, Denise... she's a good friend."
Elaine looked at Stan seriously. "Yes, she is, Stan. I don't want to see her hurt; she's a good friend of mine, too. I got a call from her last night from Ibiza. She was about to go out and hit the bars with her guy.
"I asked about him. She said he's this wonderful guy who's good looking, lives on Merseyside, staying a month, blah, blah, blah. Only there a week and she seems to have fallen for this guy, hard.
"I couldn't speak to her for too long as they were on their way out. I wished her well... she sounded so happy, it was great. But..." Elaine's voice trailed off.
Stan said into the silence, "But?"
Elaine amplified, "But it's a holiday romance."
Stan thought a moment. He said, "I never had one – I never went abroad until we got married – but I've heard of them. Still, Denise is a sensible adult and she's happy, so what's the problem? Provided she's, uh, well, sensible if you know what I mean. I mean, that's an assumption, I, er, well, I'm babbling now aren't I?" Stan looked sheepishly at the two ladies sitting opposite him with identical grins on their faces.
Susan took pity on him.
"I'm sure she'll use a condom if the situation arises, Stan. That is what you meant, isn't it?" she said with raised eyebrows.
"Well, yes, but I shouldn't assume, I mean," stammered Stan.
"No, you shouldn't, but assuming and considering aren't quite the same thing. You were caring for her. That's fine," said Elaine. "I believe Denise is on the Pill, so birth control's okay, but I'm sure she'll take other precautions."
"I hope so. I've heard what a night out in Ibiza can be like," Stan said with concern evident in his voice.
"True, but it's not your problem, is it Stan?" said Elaine. "You made that clear to Denise."
"Not true," countered Stan. "I know you mean I told her we couldn't be more than friends, but we are good friends. I care about what happens to her. I hope she's happy now and in the future."
"But not enough to give her what she wanted, Stan?" She paused a moment, then when Stan was about to interrupt she continued, "Oh, never mind, it's not your fault, is it? People are people. You either want to be 'involved' with someone or you don't, you can't force it. I can't tell you how many times I've felt like Denise, until I met this little flower here." Elaine finished by grabbing Susan's hand and giving it a squeeze.
"It's not that, I wasn't ready for that sort of relationship," countered Stan.
Elaine gave him a look, opened her mouth as if to say something, but stopped. She glanced over at Susan, whose hand was still being held by Elaine. "No, Stan, that's what you said," Susan quietly told him. "That's why Denise is in Ibiza, probably sleeping off a night out right this minute."
Tony chose that moment to bring the girls' breakfasts over. Conversation turned to other things, and eventually they left the coffee shop, parting with goodbyes and air kisses.
- - - - - - - - - -
He'd arrived home from his breakfast visit to the town, wandering around his home, his thoughts in chaos bouncing from one irrelevant subject to the next. He couldn't be bothered to do much for dinner, so he'd ordered in a Pizza. He'd turned the television on, sampled the available channels and switched it back off again.
Stan brooded. He was quite good at that. It was Sunday evening, he was curled up in his favourite chair with a small glass of whisky on the coffee table to his right and a biography of the German WW2 Field Marshal Erwin Rommel open in his left hand. He couldn't remember what it was he'd read. The drink was almost untouched.
His thoughts had turned back to Denise, about her holiday. He hoped she was enjoying herself, having fun, 'Lord knows she deserves it,' he reflected.
Next, he found himself thinking of Anne, of how she'd looked in that wonderful blue dress, of her intelligently shining hazel eyes, of her lips, that he wanted to... 'Wait!'
'Are you really sure you're okay with this, sweetheart?' he asked the eyes that only he could see. Suddenly he was filled with urgent longing. Tears filled his eyes as he desperately called out to her through a throat almost closed with emotion,
"Caron! Why did you leave me!?"
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