Equal Shares Ch. 19bysteveh11©
Stan first had to take Anne back to her house so that she could change for work. Stan, in any case, normally arrived earlier than Anne, so they arranged to drive their own cars, for the time being at least.
The first thing that happened to Stan as he walked into The Firm was a surprise. Elaine came from behind the reception desk and hugged him. "Thank you, Stan," she told him, "thank you for being so kind and understanding yesterday." Stan protested, "But I didn't do anything!" But Elaine persisted...
"Yes you did, you gave me a hug when that's what I needed and then you discreetly cleared off out of the way when Susan and I needed space. We both noticed, both spoke about it, and we both thank you. Oh yes, this one's from Susan!" And she gave him another hug.
"Anyway, Susan and I did a lot of talking yesterday. Susan told me she's always in fear that I'll find someone else, someone more attractive or something. I told her I didn't need anyone else and I thought I'd demonstrated that I loved her. The rest is private, but the upshot is that I'm going to stop doing things that wind her up, and she's going to stop the unnecessary possessiveness that was getting to us both. Well, we'll both try, anyway."
"As part of that, with Susan's okay, I want to give Anne a thank you hug from us both as well, if she's not going to be upset or embarrassed by it. What do you think?" Elaine asked an overwhelmed Stan.
"I, er, well, er. Um. I can't really speak for her, but why don't you ask her? I know she's comfortable with you two girls, but being hugged by you might be different. "
"Okay then, Stan, I'll have to wing it," Elaine answered, sober faced.
Stan walked on through into the office, where Elizabeth was already at work as usual. "Hi Stan, good weekend?" she asked him, with a smile and a distinct twinkle in her eye.
He sat down at his desk as he answered, "Yes, very!" with an equal twinkle. Each looked at the other for a moment, and then both burst out laughing.
"Okay, you first!" managed Stan. Elizabeth retorted, "No, you first!" with more laughter from both.
"Okay, okay, I'll go first," yielded Elizabeth. "I suspect my weekend wasn't as exciting as yours, anyway. James drove over to my place and we had a nice dinner. What with an aperitif before the meal, wine with it and a brandy afterwards he couldn't drive home, so he stayed overnight."
Stan didn't say anything, but his eyebrows lifted in question.
"No, we didn't! He was a perfect gentleman. He was going to call a cab, but I offered him my spare room and he accepted. So you can get your mind out of the gutter! Now, you have a slightly more interesting tale to tell, I suspect?"
Stan couldn't help but smile, but he answered, "A gentleman never tells tales about a lady," in a fake posh voice with his nose held loftily up in the air. Elizabeth laughed again, put one finger beside her nose and told, him "Don't worry, I'll not pry into your affairs!" And they again smiled at one another.
Stan however added, "I can say that we'll be seeing each other again, often I hope. Tonight for certain, at our dance class, and I hope more often after that."
Elizabeth looked as pleased as Punch, Stan noted. "You can stop looking so smug!" he told her. "Why? I've got someone else to look after you now!" Elizabeth answered. She grew more serious and continued, "I was worried about you, Stan. But if you can snare as good a catch as Anne Berkely, I can stop worrying. That black cloud you used to carry along with you is gone, and you're out in the world, dating again."
Stan, now just as sober, simply said, "Thank you, Elizabeth. Thank you."
Then they got on with their work.
- - - - - - - - - -
When Anne arrived a few minutes later, she was greeted by a similar speech from Elaine, who came out from behind her reception desk. She looked up at Anne who this time was wearing a pair of jeans that must have been sprayed on along with a low-cut white top. Elaine practically purred, but she knew that Anne wasn't interested. That didn't stop Elaine from looking appreciatively, though.
"Anne, as part of our 'thank you', I've been asked by Susan to give you a hug. Would you mind?" she asked the older, taller blonde shyly.
Anne smiled, nodding. Elaine came to meet her and they hugged briefly. "Thank you, Anne, from both of us. What you and Stan did was really nice."
Elaine walked back behind her desk and sat down. Anne had a peculiar look on her face for a moment, then it cleared and she went on into the lab to get started on her day.
- - - - - - - - - -
Denise was late arriving at The Firm that Monday. Elaine saw her, called out "Hi there, Denise! How was the holiday?" before noticing the bloodshot eyes, the fatigue around them and the set expression on her face.
Denise was not happy. Jim hadn't called, and his phone seemed to be out of charge or switched off. She couldn't believe just how stupid she'd been, giving herself to him like that. She'd told herself he'd call after all, but when she began to accept that he wouldn't she'd thrown things at the wall in anger. Now she was just depressed, and severe lack of sleep hadn't made things any better.
Denise mustered a "Hello, Elaine. Yes the holiday was great, but I'm afraid I've been let down since. I'll talk to you later, Laney," and moped on past towards the IT group office.
Elaine thought for a moment, picked up the phone, and called Stan. Elizabeth answered, and Elaine asked if Stan was free...
- - - - - - - - - -
Elizabeth put the phone down and started to say something to Stan, when Bob called him over. With an apologetic glance to her, Stan walked the ten feet to Bob's office.
Once inside he sat down. Bob told him, "You remember we spoke before, about getting all the Quality Department paperwork accessible on-line? Well I've been speaking to Jon Kelly, and he says they've got some resources available and we can start to look seriously at it now. I want you to go over there and chat with him about what we want out of the system. You know, as we discussed earlier."
It had been a more and more pressing requirement for some time to get as many documents as possible available on-line to the internal network. The Firm was well behind in this respect. Jon Kelly was the IT manager and he'd been 'waiting for available resources' for quite some time. Now, at last, it seemed he'd decided he could spare the effort. Stan said he'd go straight over, and he bustled out of Bob's office. He saw Elizabeth motioning to him, but said, "Later, Elizabeth!" and hustled towards the IT group.
On his way over, Stan thought about Denise. He hoped he'd be working with her, he could ask about the holiday she'd had. A small part of him that he was slightly ashamed of wondered about the man she'd been talking about, as well.
He reached the IT group office and saw Denise in with Jon. Jon looked concerned, but Stan couldn't see Denise's face. He knocked on the door and was called in, and then he saw Denise.
He was shocked. Denise looked completely different from the happy person who'd been going on holiday only two weeks ago. She looked tired out, her eyes were bloodshot and she'd obviously been crying.
"Oh, God, Denise! Whatever's the matter?" he asked her, with compassion in his voice.
"I-I'm okay. I'll talk to you later, Stan. Er..." Denise stammered out, obviously unsure what was going on.
"Stan, I'm sorry, but could you excuse us a minute again? I still need to talk to Denise," Jon told Stan, and no sooner had he been invited into the office than he'd been asked to leave. Stan went, a bit perplexed.
He went to Paul, one of the other guys in the group, and they got chatting. Paul was a talented artist; he mainly worked in 3D computer art but Stan had seen a couple of his freehand pencil sketches as well. After a suitable time talking about the weekend and their various problems, Stan asked, "Paul, do you know what's the problem with Denise?"
"Not really, Stan. She came in late this morning, looking like her puppy had just died. She wouldn't talk to anyone; she just sat at her desk looking like she wanted to burst into tears. Jon called her in the office, and they've been talking ever since."
Just then, Jon poked his head through his office doorway and asked, "Stan, can you come in now?"
Stan went. He sat down next to Denise, who seemed to have recovered her composure, although she still looked upset.
"Okay," said Jon, closing the door. "I have an opportunity for the two of you, but I also know that I have a problem. Stan, Denise has just come back from her holiday and has been upset by someone she met there. She'll need your help and support. Denise, you have a job to do, I hope you'll be able to be professional and not let your private life affect your work. Can I count on you both?" Stan said, "Yes, Jon," while Denise merely nodded.
"Right then. You know the document access project that Stan's been after for a while, Denise? Well, you came to the end of that project you were on before your vacation, and Stan's now free as well. I want you two to work together on this one." He turned to Stan. "Stan, you know what you want and how you need it presented."
Jon then looked at Denise. "Denise, you will handle the technical aspects. It shouldn't take you too long. You'll need to be aware of the potential load on our server, remember."
Jon dismissed them with a hopeful little smile and a sigh, "Okay, off you both go, now."
Jon was never great at briefings, Stan remembered. This one was no exception. Up the pair of them got; as they left the office Stan managed to get Denise's attention and mouthed, "Coffee?" She nodded back to him, and so off they went.
They got their coffee and sat at one of the tables. Stan, as so often, didn't really know what to say, so they sat in silence for quite a while. Eventually he managed to say in a gentle voice, "What happened then, Denise? You sounded happy enough on Friday."
"No I wasn't!" Denise told him, her voice rising. "I was waiting and waiting for that bastard Jim to ring me, and he never did. I tried to ring him but his mobile's switched off. He used me and dumped me without a second thought, and I let him. If I ever saw him again, I'd kill the fucker!"
Denise was angry... very, very angry now. Stan could see she needed to vent. He was taken aback by her vehemence though, and sat back to think for a minute before he said any more.
"All right then. How about you telling me what happened, and we'll see what can be done," said Stan, groping for a way forward.
"What's to tell? I gave myself to him; he dumped me; end of story!"
"Do you want to get in touch with him again, Denise? Or perhaps... not now?" Stan asked.
"Oh, if I could only..." began Denise, before her voice trailed off. She was thoughtful for a moment, before saying, "I really don't know, y'know? On Friday that's all I could think of, talking to him again, seeing him again. Now? I don't know." She stopped speaking and turned away from Stan. After a moment he saw her shoulders begin to shake.
He went around and knelt on one knee beside her, putting an arm around her shoulder as he did. He looked up at her, but Denise turned her face away again. Stan had seen the tracks of her tears, he could feel her shaking, but he didn't know how to comfort the young woman crying in his embrace.
So he did the only thing he could: he held her, stroking her shoulder and back, and let her cry. It was only afterwards that he remembered he'd been softly whispering, "It's okay, it's okay, let it out, it's okay," virtually the whole time. But eventually Denise drew away from him, still shuddering a little but with a smile precariously in place.
"Thank you Stan, I needed that hug. Thanks," she unsteadily told him.
"Anytime, Denise, anytime. I'll always be here for you. You know I'll always be here for you." The words spilled out of Stan, he wasn't even truly aware of what he'd said.
Just then Stan realized someone was behind him in the canteen. He turned to look, and saw that it was Anne. She had a very serious look on her face!
"Stan?" she asked, "What are you doing with Denise?"
Stan stood, feeling slightly guilty. It must have shown in his face, because Anne's face and posture returned to it's more customary forbidding nature. Stan's instinctive "It's not what you think..." didn't make matters any better. Fortunately for them both Stan went on, "Denise has had guy trouble, and needed a hug from a friend. That's all."
Slightly mollified, Anne was nevertheless unhappy. "I heard what you told Denise, Stan. 'Friend', is it? Is that all?"
Denise was watching, taking this all in.
Stan was caught between the two women. He didn't want to leave Denise, but on the other hand he had to make Anne understand. He replied to her, "Yes, of course Anne. Denise is my best friend. She's the one who pulled me out of my dark time. You know that. You can't be jealous over this, surely?"
Anne shook her head, and then paused for thought for a while. Eventually she relaxed a little, then a lot and came to Stan, pulling him into her arms and kissing him soundly.
Denise saw this and shrank into herself. Stan didn't notice at all, but Anne saw when she opened her eyes and pulled back a little.
"Denise?" she said.
Denise looked up at Stan, with anger again on her face. "You bastard! I thought you said you weren't ready for a girlfriend!"