Equal Shares Ch. 20bysteveh11©
Stan looked at Denise, totally bereft of ideas for what to say.
Denise was right. He had said that, emphasised it even. He could see that from her point of view he'd been completely dishonest and hurtful. What had happened with Anne had been incredible, but it had all happened while Denise was away, and no-one had let her know – she'd found out the hard way.
Stan hated that he'd hurt her. So he tried to tell her that.
Before he could finish, Anne interrupted.
"Denise, it's not Stan's fault. It's mine. Blame me, not him. I practically raped him." Stan himself was trying to interrupt back, but Anne wouldn't let him, continuing, "You laid the groundwork, for which I will always be grateful. I took advantage of that, unknowingly, but I did. It was you that brought Stan out of his depression, as he's just said, it was you that got him able to think about another woman at all, and I believe it was probably you that put dance classes in his mind, though I don't remember him telling me that. Am I right?"
Stan nodded, while Denise, still angry, jerkily nodded once. Anne went on,
"Well, you brought him out of his shell with a vengeance. It's the timing that you got wrong. I've heard of what happened; Stan telling you he wasn't ready to be more than 'just friends', you suggesting the dance classes and then jetting off on holiday soon after. I owe you an enormous debt, Denise, one that I don't know if I can ever repay. By doing that you've helped me get over something horrible that happened when I was much younger, by an indirect route. So please, if you must be angry, please take it out on me, not Stan. He doesn't deserve it."
If Anne wanted Denise to be angry with her, Denise was sure she could oblige. On the other hand, she not only had to work with Stan professionally, but also she didn't want to hurt him – and it was obvious that if Denise fought with Anne, even verbally, it would inevitably do just that. It only took Denise one look at Stan's face to confirm that. He looked horribly conflicted, not knowing which way to go, but then Denise saw him make his decision, and her heart lurched when she saw what it was – when he moved to Anne, put his arms around her, and hugged her. At that moment Denise knew she'd lost and the best she could do was retire from the field with as much grace as she could muster.
She gathered herself, using a napkin to dab her eyes dry. She'd have to visit the Ladies room and redo her makeup, she knew. It took a heroic effort, but Denise managed to stand, go up to Anne and give her a hug, telling the taller woman, "Thank you for saying that, Anne. I hope you'll be happy." Denise looked at Stan and for a moment she almost lost it again, but she didn't, she held on. "Both of you, be happy!" – and then she walked away, out of the canteen, with dignity mostly intact.
- - - - - - - - - -
Denise went straight to the Ladies, ran some water from a tap and washed her face. She looked at herself in the mirror, and suddenly started bawling. Denise simply couldn't help herself, she cried, she sobbed, she whimpered and then she started over again.
It was Elizabeth that found her. After the telephone warning from Elaine that she'd tried to pass on to Stan, she'd felt a little helpless and she was worried and a little embarrassed to find the younger woman in the toilets sobbing her heart out. Elizabeth felt so sorry for the redhead, she put her arms around her and cuddled her, unconsciously mimicking Stan's effort from earlier, murmuring "There, there," and other soothing sounds, stroking her hair, generally just providing a comforting touch. Denise turned and hugged the older woman fiercely, crying onto her shoulder, then, eventually, drawing back.
She looked the question into Denise's eyes once the girl could make eye contact. Denise croaked out "Anne!" and the tears flowed once more. It wasn't until several minutes later that Denise was able to draw a sobbing, stuttering breath and pulled away once more. Elizabeth wet a paper towel from a tap and began gently wiping Denise's face. Denise leant backwards against the sink and let Elizabeth look after her.
Before long, Elizabeth's practised hands had soothed and repaired as much as possible without cosmetics. Denise was feeling a little better now as well, and felt more capable of coherent speech.
"Stan and Anne. You must know about them, Elizabeth?"
Elizabeth regarded her compassionately, thoughtfully. "Yes, Denise. Stan and Anne are together, I'm afraid. You fell for him after all, didn't you? Poor love, you tried not to, but you did anyway." She once more took Denise into her arms and hugged her. "It wasn't Stan's fault, you know. I know he was attracted to Anne, but he was attracted to you, too. It was just that the time was wrong."
Denise still looked sad and shaky, but she bravely held up her head. "I wished them both happiness, Elizabeth, and I meant it," she said, more firmly, then in a softer voice she went on, "I just wish I could find happiness too. Did you hear about my own sad love-life?"
"No, dear. Have you time for coffee before we get our noses back to the grindstone?" Elizabeth answered the younger woman. Denise was clearly still very unhappy, and Elizabeth's heart went out to her.
Denise gathered herself. The thought of putting off another meeting with Stan was actually quite attractive, but ultimately she'd have to get on with it.
"I've got to get on with some work, Elizabeth." She choked a little on an attempted chuckle, and went on, "I'm working on a project. With Stan! How's that for irony?"
Elizabeth was surprised, but attempted to soothe Denise.
"Come along then Denise. You know Stan won't be trying to hurt you. You can do this. Let's get together at lunchtime and you can tell me all about your disastrous love life, and I can commiserate and tut-tut and act all scandalised. How's that?"
With a shaky grin, Denise answered, "O-okay then, Elizabeth, you're on. You can tell me what I'm doing wrong!"
- - - - - - - - - -
Stan returned to his desk since Denise was missing, and began taking care of routine work.
After reapplying some makeup, Denise left the Ladies room and walked around to the Quality area, followed by Elizabeth. She walked up to Stan's desk and sat in his visitor's chair. She smiled, a little wanly, at Stan, and told him, "I think we'd better make a start on this project, Stan, don't you?" Stan also slapped on his professional mien and they began work.
At first it was a little awkward, despite their best intentions. Denise couldn't get the image of Stan and Anne in each other's arms out of her head and Stan had to repeat himself a few times. On the other hand, Stan kept thinking that he'd hurt Denise, and was trying to think of a way around it, or a way to solve it, instead of concentrating. They made slow and superficial progress.
Not soon enough, lunchtime came. Denise excused herself and she and Elizabeth went straight to lunch. Stan would follow later, with Anne.
- - - - - - - - - -
Over a light lunch for both ladies, Denise explained to Elizabeth what had happened during her holiday on Ibiza. She told Elizabeth almost everything – almost. Denise left out the part about being attracted to the other girls, although Elizabeth knew Denise well enough to guess that.
Denise also left out the first night's absent condom. It wasn't something she felt anyone need know, and she'd felt no ill effects and was on birth control, so no harm, no foul. Besides, there was plenty else to talk about.
"I was so angry with Jim. Somehow though, coming here and seeing Stan and Anne has leached the force out of it."
"It sounds to me like you simply didn't communicate. Basically, I'm sorry to say this Denise, but you got Jim wrong. I think he was just wanting some holiday fun, not something long-term."
"Do you think so too, Elizabeth? That's what I decided, but I think he led me on to believe it was going to be more in order to get his sex education lessons. I had to teach the little bugger almost everything!"
Elizabeth smiled, thinking back a long, long time ago. She shook her head, saw Denise's quizzical expression and merely answered "Old boyfriend. Not important." Before sobering and telling Denise, "Well, we'll need to get you a new boyfriend then won't we?"
"Oh, I think I've got that particular itch scratched for the time being, Elizabeth. I can wait," Denise told her.
Elizabeth replied, "Are you sure about that?" and for the first time that day, Denise shared a genuine smile and a giggle.
- - - - - - - - - -
Stan and Anne ate their lunch in a subdued mood. Stan couldn't help feeling he'd managed to hurt both Denise and Anne, though he'd tried to hurt neither. He'd had a lot of practice at brooding, and was doing it very well now.
Anne, for her part, had seen that Stan had feelings for Denise that he was suppressing. She was still coming to terms with this revelation, working out in her tidy, logical mind the implications and possible repercussions. Unfortunately, she wasn't used to dealing with her own emotions in this way. She felt muddled and hated it.
The two lovers split apart after their lunch without saying more than superficial pleasantries.
- - - - - - - - - -
During the afternoon, Stan and Denise gradually began to really work with each other. By the end of the afternoon, they had a reasonably clear idea of what they would be doing and roughly what it would look like. Stan was pleased, although he'd had to concede some of his "wish-list" as being too ambitious to implement at the moment. Denise was pleased because she now had a good idea of Stan's requirements and had developed a way of achieving them.
Denise was still mad with Stan, and especially with Anne, but she conceded that it was largely no-one's fault. Denise, being a red-head with all that implied, wasn't giving up her anger that easily, though. So she was professional, but distant. She didn't have to work with Anne and that was good because she really didn't want any more to do with the woman who, as far as Denise was concerned, had stolen Stan from her.
Stan could sense Denise's hostility lying just beneath the surface, but admired her professionalism nonetheless. As the afternoon wore on they seemed to be finding it easier just being with each other. Perhaps this wouldn't be so bad after all.
The end of the day came. Stan began tidying up the notes he'd been making while Denise packed away her own notes. She looked up at Stan and said, "Good night, Stan. Have a nice one, and I'll see you tomorrow morning."
Stan answered semi-automatically, "Yes, you too Denise. In the morning."
Stan was relieved that Anne hadn't walked over from the lab to collect him. Another chance to rub Denise's nose in the fact of his relationship with Anne wouldn't have helped matters in the least.
He finished packing up, said "Good Night" to Bob and then groaned as he stood up. Sitting at a desk all afternoon had allowed his aching muscles to stiffen again. He stretched a few times, trying to loosen up, then walked out through the door into reception.
There he found Elaine and Anne in spirited conversation about the merits and demerits of various cosmetics. Stan listened in at first, but in truth he wasn't really interested. Both girls wore very different looks but neither used a lot of makeup. Anne didn't really have to, just enough to accentuate the positive. Elaine simply chose not to. 'It's a shame Elaine's out-of-bounds, she's gorgeous' Stan thought, then caught himself – really, with Anne standing next to him even!
Feeling a little guilty, Stan put his right arm around Anne, who took it and squeezed it. Elaine grinned at the pair.
Just then Denise walked through. She saw Stan with his arm around the tall blonde, and her face fell. She looked daggers at Anne for a moment, looked away from them both with a huff and stalked out.
Stan began to move after her, but stopped himself. Anne was close enough to him to feel the almost-movement and turned to look at him. "Not yet, Stan. We've all got things to work through before we can mend fences.
"Anyway, we have to be leaving. See you Elaine! Come on, Stan, we have to work out our own plans for the evening, starting with where we're eating!"
They left hand-in-hand, but then had to split. There were two car parks, and each had unthinkingly used their normal one at the opposite ends of the building. They turned to each other and grinned in unison. Then they kissed, separated and each went to their own car.
Only on getting into his Mondeo did Stan realize he didn't know if Anne was coming to him, or he was going to her. He picked up his cellphone to ring her and was surprised when it went off in his hand. He flipped it open and saw Anne was ringing him.
"Your place or mine?" she asked him in a terribly over-acted femme fatale voice.
"Why, Natasha, I'll come to you, of course!" Stan replied in an equally fake voice. The pair laughed, and then hung up.
Stan went home first, showered, shaved and changed. He drove over to Anne's house and arrived in a remarkably short space of time, wearing his dancing kit.
He rang the doorbell and waited. There was no reply at first, so he rang again, this time he could hear a faint "Wait a minute!" from inside. Finally the door opened.
"Hi, Stan, you didn't take long. Eager to see me?" she asked him as she opened the door to let him in. Stan grinned unrepentantly as he entered. Anne had showered and was wearing a housecoat, her hair still covered in a towel.
"So, what're we having?" he asked her, as he reached for her, but Anne swayed out of the way.
"We haven't time for that. I still have to get changed! I picked up something from the Supermarket on the way home to re-heat. We need to eat quickly to be in time to visit Yves and Belinda."
- - - - - - - - - -
At the old school, it was Belinda who greeted the pair.
"Ah, Stan, Anne, lovely to see you! Both of you are well I hope?"
Stan answered, "Hello again, Belinda. I'm fine, thank you, apart from some aches caused by too much bike riding..." As he finished, he looked sidelong at Anne, who laughed, a strand of the blonde hair piled up on her head coming loose. She wore a long, flowing white halter-neck dress, with an almost non-existent back, slit up the left side to well above the knee. It was decorated in gold wavy patterns. Stan thought she looked like an exotic priestess. He was still wearing the same suit as before.
"I persuaded Stan to get himself a pushbike and get some more exercise. We may have overdone it for the first day!"
Belinda laughed gaily. "Well, Stan, I trust you'll be able to move properly once you get a lady in your arms. We don't want you stumbling and falling onto the floor, pulling your partner down with you, do we?" She ended with a challenging arch to her eyebrow. Stan had an idea he was in for a session dancing with the tall teacher.
As it happened, Stan was partnered with Belinda and Yves took Anne for the start of their second Quickstep lesson. After a while though, they broke the pairings and set Anne dancing with Stan.
Anne found it easy, moving with grace and elegance, but Stan still had to concentrate hard to maintain the steps. It was only the second lesson in this particular dance, after all. But after a few minutes that feeling of confidence came back to him and he was able to relax into it, and enjoy the feeling of dancing with Anne.
After the break, Belinda asked if Stan minded dancing with Pamela, while Anne was asked to switch to Tom, who it seemed almost had his tongue out, salivating at the thought of dancing with the blonde. Stan glanced at Anne, who seemed momentarily unsure. But then she clearly made her mind up about something. Stan made note to ask, later. Anne moved into Tom's arms, and the two moved off. Tom looked more than a little pleased!
Stan shook himself and took Pamela's arms. The young chestnut haired lady flowed close into him, whispered, "Thank you Stan. He was trying it on again." And then they took the required stance and began dancing properly.
Stan found himself relaxing into the movement again, but unable to relax about seeing Anne with Tom. Tom wasn't obvious about it, but he was clearly enjoying getting close to Anne. Stan shook his head and concentrated on his dance with Pamela, finding that the young woman was, once again, delightful to dance with.
During a break in the music, while Yves was explaining a point to one of the class, she leaned into him once again and whispered, "Don't worry too much, Stan. Tom's an octopus, but I get the feeling Anne will take care of him, and he can't go too far or Yves and Belinda will take action."
There followed one incident that evening, when Anne accidentally trod on Tom's foot. She apologised immediately, of course, and the two resumed dancing, but Stan caught a gleam in her eye for a moment when she turned to him a moment later.
It was on the way home that night that Stan asked about the hesitation he'd noted earlier.
"When Belinda asked if you minded dancing with Tom, you hesitated a moment. Was that because you didn't want to be broken away from me?"
"No. Well, yes, of course, but no, that wasn't the only reason. For a moment there I didn't want you dancing with someone else. Particularly with someone as young and pretty as Pamela! But then I reasoned that Pamela's no threat, that you and I are what matters. Also I remembered what we talked about earlier, about trust? So I decided to trust in my boyfriend."
Stan, driving, glanced across at Anne. She was sitting in the passenger seat, slightly stiff, her face serious.
"It was harder than I'd expected, Stan. Dancing is such an intimate activity. You and Pamela dance well together. But I saw you watching out for me, that helped, and I felt you trusting in me, too, which helped more.
"Then that asshole Tom tried to put his hand where it wasn't wanted. I hope his foot wasn't hurt too much!"
The pair shared a laugh at the tension easing remark, and enjoyed the rest of the journey home.
- - - - - - - - - -
Later, Stan had his arms around Anne as they lay in her bed. He was wondering how to bring up the subject of Denise.
"Anne, what are we going to do about Denise?" he asked, tentatively.
"Um?" said Anne, who'd been dozing off, almost asleep.
"Denise. She's hurting, and we're a large part of the cause. Not our fault, but Denise got caught when we fell for each other. Now she's barely able to talk to me, and if looks could kill you'd have been badly injured tonight in reception. I don't like leaving things this way."
Anne pulled herself out of the fog of near-sleep. She could tell Stan was serious, and needed her help.
"It's been a long time since anything like this happened to me. But when I was a schoolgirl, all the other girls had bigger breasts than I did. I had boys essentially stolen from me, often. It was upsetting, and what made it worse was that I had no-one to turn to. What Denise needs is someone to talk to, to rant at, to cry on."
"But who? Can't be you or me, obviously!"
"The obvious ones would be Elizabeth or Elaine," Anne said, sleepily.
"I'd think Elaine, but on the other hand Elizabeth's had the experience – she handled me pretty well."
"We can decide in the morning Stan. For now, try to get some sleep. You've got to get up early to go home and change, remember."
- - - - - - - - - -
In point of fact, Denise had made their choice for them. Earlier that evening, she'd been on the phone to Elizabeth.
"God I feel so helpless. I feel like I ought to hate Stan, and despise Anne, but... I don't, not really. I am very angry. But I have to work with Stan on this project, and... I still feel for him, you know?"