Equal Shares Ch. 10bysteveh11©
It was Monday morning, the 14th of August. Sixty-one years ago, Japan had surrendered to the Allies. Stan knew exactly how they felt. His body was battered by lack of sleep and his eyes were terribly gritty. He needed a shave, coffee, a shower, coffee, breakfast, coffee, some painkillers and coffee – and not necessarily in that order.
So he forced himself into action, putting on his underwear and grabbing painkillers and a glass of water first, then putting a very strong pot of coffee on. He headed into the bathroom, took care of business and padded back into the bedroom where he got dressed before wandering into the kitchen.
There he downed the first of his cups of coffee and made breakfast. He'd consumed two cups of the strong black coffee by the time he'd finished eating. He poured another cup and walked with a little more security into the living room. He switched on the TV, more in order to keep track of time than to actually watch it.
As he sipped his third cup of the morning, he took stock of how he felt. The tears of last night had eventually stopped but he still felt a deeper sense of loss than he had for quite a while. On the other hand, he had felt worse before, so he was still, he supposed, making progress. 'Of a sort!' he thought.
Well, moping wouldn't cure it. "You have to get over this sometime," he reminded himself aloud. He switched off the TV, put his cup into the sink and took himself off to work.
- - - - - - - - - -
Elaine took one look at him as he walked in and said "Stan, are you okay? You look terrible!"
"Yeah, Just a bad night, that's all. How're you?"
"Oh, I'm peachy keen, thank you very much!" she replied, bouncing slightly on her chair. Her enthusiasm and good humour were infectious. Stan asked "So why your good mood this morning?"
Elaine settled back into her chair and blushed slightly. "Well, I kinda got woken up the right way," she said with a self-satisfied grin. Stan couldn't help himself, he said, "I'm glad someone did!" and smiled a little wanly before turning and walking towards the office. He stopped and turned before reaching the door.
"Heard any more from Denise?" he asked.
"No, not yet," replied Elaine. "I'm sure she's fine Stan, having fun. You know, like young people do?" she teased.
Attempting to hold back a grin Stan tried to look severe as he said "Now just you look here you little whippersnapper, young people should give their elders some respect!" but he failed dismally, bursting into laughter. He almost forgot how tired he was.
Elizabeth was, of course, already at her desk when Stan got to his. She too looked at him and asked, "Are you all right, Stan?"
"I might as well put a notice out, 'Stan is feeling tired, very, very tired, today' and be done with it," he grumbled. But Elaine's contagious good mood had got to him. Plus he had something to look forward to.
He leaned forward and spoke quietly to Elizabeth, "You know it's my dance lesson tonight?"
Elizabeth nodded. He continued, "And, it looks like I'll have company. Anne wants to learn, too."
"How on earth did you manage that, Stan?" she asked him in surprise.
Stan shrugged. "I dunno, just did!" he said, eyes down in front of him at his desk.
"Well done, anyway!" Elizabeth told him, with a grin.
- - - - - - - - - -
Later that morning, Anne came to see him. She took his 'visitor's chair' and pulled it up closer to him. She wasn't that close, but Stan still felt a slightly guilty thrill.
"What are you wearing tonight, Stan?" she asked him.
"What? Oh, er, well I expect it'll be the same as I wore Friday night. I don't have special clothes for dancing."
"Oh. Okay then. I just thought you might have something more, well... glitzy."
Stan couldn't help but smile.
"No, nothing more glitzy, or glamorous. We're not talking competitive dancing you know!"
"All right then, what colour tie?" was Anne's next question.
"I beg your pardon?" came Stan's bemused response.
Patiently, Anne repeated, "Tie colour?"
Stan realized she was serious and wanted to match his colouring. He thought for a moment and said, "Blue. Blue tie."
Anne smiled. "See? Not so hard, was it? You were taught well."
Stan thought for a moment, and then admitted, "It was Caron. She tried hard, but little of it stuck. I can't colour-coordinate to save my life, really. I've never understood why 'Blue and Green should never be seen', after all if you look out of the window, you'll see grass and sky, which look fine together to me!"
"That's OK, just let me sort out what will work with you. Men!"
Anne smiled and finished with, "See you tonight then. What time are you picking me up?"
"Just before seven o'clock. It's a half hour drive and starts at seven forty five, and we want to get there a little before the start to get the paperwork for you done."
- - - - - - - - - -
Sure enough, at ten to seven Stan was outside Anne's house. She'd needed to give him directions as he didn't know where she lived, although it wasn't all that far from his place.
Anne lived in a small house, but it was in one of the nicer parts of a very nice little satellite village just outside the town. Actually, it was more like a cottage. Her small garden was well tended and full of flowers, Stan noted. 'How in heck does she make time for that?' he thought.
He rang the doorbell and after a moment Anne opened it. Given the fact that she was an inch taller than him to start with, the effect of the doorstep and the heels she was wearing put him face to face with something other than her face! He blushed.
Anne's apricot coloured dress was cut low in the front. Once Stan had stepped back he could see that the skirt was long but made with wide pleats, allowing her to move. She'd adorned it with a small but very nice sapphire brooch, which matched her dangly earrings. Her blonde hair was piled on top of her head. Finally getting himself together, Stan whistled.
Anne merely looked like she was anticipating something. "You look like a million dollars!" he finally managed. She smiled and coloured a little. "I thought a little effort was in order," she said. Stan's rejoinder was, "That's more than a little. You'll have the other ladies envious, and the men desperate to dance with you."
"Oh. It's not too much is it? I can change..."
"No you can't, we'll be late. Besides, why change? It's fantastic, Anne. Come on." Stan said, and took her hand. He opened the car door and closed it after she was seated, then went around to the driver's side, started the car, and drove off.
During the journey they chatted a little. Anne told a bit about her time at school in Bournemouth.
"It's called Talbot Heath School. They score very highly in the league tables for their exam results, and it's quite exclusive. I was lucky that I got a partial scholarship. Even so, my parents had to do without to send me there and I'm very grateful. How about you?"
Stan told about his school. Edward Driver School had been the former Grammar school in his town. Stan told her, "It was only single-sex because the headmaster there had stayed on after it lost Grammar school status. He didn't want 'distractions', so he found ways not to spend the money that would have been needed to go co-ed."
They were amused to find they'd both gone to single-sex schools. Anne had gone on to university at Imperial College in London. She'd got a "2:1" degree, which meant she'd just barely failed to get the highest class result. "I was so, so disappointed with that. I really wanted that 1st Class degree, but I'd not put in as much study as I should have. Then I tried to make it up at the end and it just wasn't enough. So since then I've put more effort into my work, and it's paid off."
Stan told her that he'd never attended university. "I went straight to work. The company I was with sent me off to college one full day a week, I got my diploma that way. Aside from some courses I've taken at home on-line, that's it."
"Do you think you lost or gained out of going to a single-sex school, Stan?" Anne asked.
"A bit of both. In the short term, I think I gained; the Head was right about the fewer distractions thing. Had I been thinking then of university and so on it might have made a difference as to which ones I could get in.
"In the long term, it didn't gain me much academically and it really constrained my development socially. I needed a clear 'come ahead' to get the get-up-and-go to ask Caron out. She told me later it was one of the things she liked about me, that I was shy but not so shy as to be a social cripple.
"As I got older, I got a little bolder. I found that I could, sometimes, talk to someone I didn't know at a meeting or sales pitch or whatever. But although I like company, I'm still not comfortable in crowds, and strangers in social settings are definitely intimidating. What about yourself?"
Anne replied, "Oh, it wasn't a problem for me. Besides, Linwood School was only a short way away, and it was mixed. We weren't supposed to have anything to do with them of course, but I found that the older boys certainly wanted something to do with me, well, at least once these two," she said, looking down, "started arriving. I was flat as a pancake until I was almost sixteen. They're still not big though, are they?"
Stan, his eyes firmly on the road, merely said, "Big enough."
Anne smiled. "It's okay, Stan, I don't mind you looking at them. Well, I do mind now, you're driving. It's different at work. People treat me in a different way just because I'm a bit pretty and I've got a nice figure. I want to be recognised for what I've done, and what I can do, not because I've a nice face, blonde hair and a cute butt."
"Hmmm, have you had Quality Control check out that butt of yours for cuteness?" Stan said, grinning while he drove.
"Not yet, but I'm sure you'll be doing that tonight, now!" laughed Anne.
Stan had just about reached the old school and he spotted a parking space. He grabbed it immediately, and said, "Well, we're here, more or less. Are you ready to brave the hordes, including Yves?"
Anne nodded, so Stan got out and opened her door for her. "Why thank you, kind sir," Anne said with a mock upper class accent. "Better not make fun like that with Belinda, she's the real deal," warned Stan, closing the door and locking the car.
"That's what you said, Friday. She is nice, isn't she? Not like those stuck-up rich bitches I had to put up with at Talbot Heath?" Anne was clearly worried, so Stan tried to comfort her.
"Belinda's a genuine lady, I like her a lot," he said. "Be at ease, young Berkeley, I will allow no harm to come to you!" he declaimed, while making vague fencing type motions.
"Why, kind sir, with you to protect me I shall fear nothing!" Anne answered in kind, mock swooning. The two laughed together, and Stan then escorted Anne into the old school where the all unknowing 'enemy' was waiting.
It was indeed Belinda who met them. She looked up from her pocketbook as the two came in through the door, and smiled, saying, "Ah, you must be Anne!" She held the younger woman at arms length, and declared, "My goodness, we'll have to help you fend the boys off, you look wonderful!" Turning to Stan, she said, "Stanley, hello again. Lovely to see you."
Belinda took Anne off to complete her registration, so Stan entered the main hall.
It looked like most of the usual suspects were there. One of the older gents hadn't made it yet, but Pamela and Carol had arrived. So had Tom, he saw with some disquiet, but he didn't really have anything against the man, so he approached him and said "Hi!"
Tom replied, "Hi yourself!" and the two got to swapping general chitchat.
After a while they ran down. In the silence Tom said, "Pamela turned me down, the tease. I thought I'd get at least a dinner date, but no, nada, nothing. Well, you can lead a horse to water, as they say. You fancy a go?"
Stan thought: first, 'I'm glad that Pamela knocked him back!'; second, 'He was inhumanly coarse in that last remark!'; and third of course, that 'No! I don't want Pamela, I want Anne!'
Luckily Yves came into the hall to call the class to order. As he did, Belinda glided in with Anne. Stan could hear Tom's eyes click around.
Stan found himself partnered with Carol again. He noticed with amusement that Pamela had managed to grab one of the older gents, and that Tom found himself partnered by a matron whose flowery dress required an impressive square footage of fabric.
Anne was, of course, to be partnered by Yves for this first lesson. But first Yves led Belinda around the floor showing, at about a quarter speed, the steps. Next they did the same to some music, and only then did Belinda surrender Yves so he could gather Anne into his arms.
Belinda set the music off, and then watched the couples for a while as they moved across the floor. Yves meanwhile, after making Anne laugh with a comment and an exaggerated leer, was showing her the moves in the same way Belinda had shown Stan in his first lesson. Stan had to concentrate hard in order to keep up, so he was unable to spare much time even to watch Anne.
Carol must have caught him though. "She is beautiful, isn't she?"
Stan's absentminded reply of, "Yes, she is," may not have been entirely tactful seeing as he had her hand in his, and his other hand on her shoulder. She hesitated a moment which was just enough to make Stan lose his rhythm.
Carol gave him a black look for a moment but obviously decided to let him off. Stan recovered his wits (and his place in the steps) and the pair continued. Stan said, quietly, "Sorry," and she actually smiled at him. "She is. Do you know her?"
"I work with her, actually," Stan explained. "I told her about the dance classes and she was keen to come along."
"You're a lucky man, Stanley!" Carol told him.
- - - - - - - - - -
Shortly afterwards Belinda called for a halt and tea. Anne rushed over to Stan, clearly very happy indeed.
"I should've done this ages ago!" she told him, grabbing his arm. "Let's see what refreshments they've got for us!"
"I wouldn't get your hopes up too high if I were you," Stan said, "It's not much." That didn't stop Anne dragging him over to the tables where it was set up.
"Coo. It's like going to the Tuck Shop at school," she remarked.
"You still had a Tuck Shop at Talbot Heath?" Stan asked her with amusement. The 'Tuck Shop', a place inside the school where, at break times, you could buy potato chips, doughnuts, sticky buns, sweets and canned drinks had disappeared from almost all the schools even when Stan had been there, seven years before Anne.
"Yes, well, Talbot Heath was a throwback in many ways. That was just one of them." She grabbed a roll and a can of diet cola. Stan stuck with his bottle of water.
"How'd you like it, Anne?" he asked, adding "Pick it up okay?"
"I think the ballet training I was forced into is helping, actually!" she replied. Stan looked the question. "School. There was a ballet school only a mile away, and we 'girls' had to take lessons. Supposed to make us more graceful. Anyway, I think those lessons are helping me because I learned to pick up choreography, and something relatively simple like this comes quite easily. Of course, there's a big difference between ballroom dancing and ballet."
Soon enough Belinda restarted the lesson. Stan was delighted to be partnered with Pamela this time. The chestnut haired young woman and he had fun with their dances, although Stan still felt he was concentrating too much on the steps to really enjoy it. Pamela had picked the dance up well.
Then came Yves and Belinda's demonstration dance. Anne quickly moved to Stan's side, and Stan grinned when he saw Tom's eyes widen as he saw the move. Better yet, Pamela was still next to him on his other side!
'I could get used to this,' he thought.
It got even better when Pamela snuggled in tightly to his right side, and Anne responded by doing the same to his left. The two ladies leaned forward slightly, exchanging a knowing glance. Stan was in a state, unable to work out whether embarrassment, delight or desire should take the leading role in his emotions. Tom looked like he was going to have a heart attack. Both men were red in the face, but for very different reasons.
Too soon, Yves and Belinda called an end to the evening and his two captors released Stan. Anne quietly giggled when she saw the pole-axed expression on his face. She grinned at Pamela, who winked and sauntered off.
As Anne and Stan made their way back to the car, Anne, smiling, asked, "So what's the story about Pamela then? Fancying the younger woman, are we?"
The colder outside air had brought Stan back to his senses, but he was still a little embarrassed. He answered,
"Pamela's a student. She's going into marketing when she graduates, and wanted to learn dancing as a confidence booster, and something to improve posture and poise."
"Ooh," he interrupted himself, "That's why you're so poised, isn't it? The ballet?"
"Mmm, yes. I thought it a waste of time then, but it did have benefits," Anne confirmed. She prompted, "You were saying about Pamela?"
"Um, yes. Pamela was my first dance partner after Belinda let me loose. Hey, wait a minute – Yves got you to himself all evening, didn't he? Sly old devil!" Stan said.
They'd got to the car by this point. Stan opened the passenger door and let Anne in, before walking around to the driver's side. Once they were going, he picked up the conversation.
"Anyway," he continued, "Pamela and I got on fine, and I managed not to break her toes! We had a good laugh about my 'ability', in fact. Then, last week, that Tom guy partnered her, and he was doing his best to get his hands all over her. He told me that he'd asked her to dinner and she'd turned him down. So I guess that was Pamela's way of telling him he had no chance, yes?"
"I think so," said Anne. "Mind you, I had to snuggle up close as well, else she'd have thought you were hers!"
'Does that mean you think I'm yours?' Stan thought, hope and confusion mingling. Soon it was replaced by fear and desire. 'Caron, what do I do?' he begged silently. He could feel Caron laughing at him, she didn't seem upset, just amused. 'That doesn't help!' he chided.
The moment had passed, however, and soon enough he'd reached Anne's cottage. He parked, got out and went around to her side. With a flourish he opened the door, and Anne emerged with exaggerated dignity, nose held high.
"Thank you, my man. You may escort me to my door," she told him haughtily, but ruined it by breaking into a wide smile. She put her arm on his and he walked her up the short path to her front door. She turned to him and said, "Well, good night then, Stan. That was fun."
"Yes, it was, wasn't it?" he answered.
For a moment he felt he should say more, but he hesitated, and it was gone. His mouth had gone dry, he felt flushed and hoped that it wasn't too obvious in the streetlight. He stammered out a "G-good night, Anne!" and almost bolted, just managing to catch himself and slow down. He could feel eyes on him from the doorway, then he heard a key in a lock, the door opening and Anne's footsteps as she wiped her feet on the doormat. He turned, just in time to catch the door closing. He turned back, walked to his car and got in. He put the key in the lock, but before turning it he held his head in his hands.
In the relative privacy of his car, he shouted at himself, "You IDIOT! Why couldn't you just say something?"