Equal Shares Ch. 21bysteveh11©
The following morning, the first into work at The Firm was, as usual, Elizabeth. An unusual visitor interrupted her normal routine of coffee, skimming the newspaper while checking some overnight testing and watering Bob's plants. Well, unusual at that time of the morning, anyway.
"Good morning, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth turned to see Denise standing in Bob's office doorway.
"Oh! You startled me!" She looked tired but functional, Elizabeth decided, after studying the young woman for a moment. "What brings you in here half an hour early?"
"Oh, I need to get some notes down before I start with Stan today, plus I've got a couple of routine jobs to do – you know, the sort of stuff that doesn't go away just because you've been given a 'hot job' to do. So I thought I'd get in here and have my early coffee while doing them."
"Okay. What brings you in here, though? I'm glad to see you of course, but shouldn't you be at your desk?"
"Well, yes. I just thought I'd come and see you. If I'm disturbing you..." Denise turned to go, clearly hurt.
"Denise, wait! Stop a moment. We can have our coffee together, here, before the others all turn up, then you can go get on with whatever you needed to do. I'm sorry, I – I just need to say something, and it's hard to say."
"Hmm? What?" asked Denise, now soothed a little and more than a little intrigued.
"It'll wait until you've got your coffee, Denise."
While Denise went to get her coffee, Elizabeth finished with Bob's plants and sat down, after wheeling Stan's visitor's chair around to her side of the desks. Elizabeth pointed to the chair when Denise came back.
"Now, what did you want to say?" asked Denise, who'd become concerned.
"Well. I don't really know how to say this, so I'm going to say it bang. It's about Stan and Anne."
Elizabeth took a deep breath.
"I'm sorry the way things worked out, I feel a bit responsible. You see, I did notice something between them before you went away. I'll always be sorry for not telling you. I don't believe it would have stopped Anne and Stan getting together like that, but it might have prepared you for it. So, sorry, Denise, I hope you didn't get hurt just because of me."
Denise's lower lip was trembling slightly, but she held herself rigid, fighting to remain in control.
"What did you notice, Elizabeth?" she asked her, tightly.
'Oh dear,' thought Elizabeth. Aloud, she said, "I actually teased him a little about it. He watched her, Denise, in a way he didn't watch others. He did it more and more the last few weeks. I don't believe he knew what was happening himself."
"What about her?" asked Denise. Her voice had taken on the overtones of the Inquisition.
"Anne? I don't honestly think Anne noticed anything, or if she did, she hid it exceptionally well. Stan's not so good at hiding things like that, he's never learned. He's never had to learn it. Anne might have done, but I think mainly she simply didn't notice because she felt everyone else was beneath her. Horrid to say, but I think it might be true. So when it was Stan who pulled her out of the fire, she sat up and looked around. What she noticed was Stan."
Elizabeth took another deep breath. Denise had a way about her when she was like this. She could intimidate almost anyone. But Elizabeth wasn't an easy touch, either.
"I couldn't say this on the phone last night. It wouldn't have been right. But now I've told you, so I need to tell you just one more thing. Take control of your life, Denise. Set yourself a goal and reach for it. It doesn't have to be a permanent thing; you can decide to concentrate on professional life for the moment if you want.
"But you mustn't go around being angry with Stan or Anne for finding each other. As I told my daughter Kelly a while back, you are responsible for your own life. Don't expect others to make you happy if you're not even trying for yourself. Even if things go wrong, feeling sorry won't help you, doing something about it will."
Elizabeth's expression, which had become commanding, softened and she became once again the motherly, friendly person that people usually saw.
"Now, when I said that to Kelly, I gave her a hug afterwards. It's purely optional, of course!"
Denise's face, which had flushed a dark red, cleared and she leaned forward in her chair to wrap the older woman in her arms.
"Thanks, Elizabeth, I suppose I needed to hear that. Um. I, er, I'd better be off, I think. We've got work to do, and I want to be alone for a bit before I see Stan this morning, or Anne, for that matter."
"Of course, hun, I understand. I'll see you later – lunch?"
Denise flashed her a brief smile, nodding before turning away and walking on to her own section.
- - - - - - - - - -
Stan was a couple of minutes late that morning. He'd had to get up and go home first, which had delayed him – notoriously bad starter as he was. Once again, neither had actually brought an overnight bag with a change of clothes, so he'd muttered, groaned and grouched his way to the bathroom, brushed his teeth and got dressed before getting into his Mondeo and driving home to shower and change before work.
All of this, after another morning when he had trouble getting out of bed – trouble caused by Anne simply being there with him. His look of longing, only slightly exaggerated, didn't stop her from telling him to "Get out of bed you randy goat! You've got work to go to!" She softened the order with a brilliant smile, but a command it was, regardless. He managed to make up some time, but still didn't quite make it.
Elaine greeted him cheerily, so he assumed that those two had settled things. He was going to ask her if she minded getting Denise to talk to her and be the shoulder Denise could use for comfort, when he thought better of it. Elaine and Susan were having a rough time, it wouldn't be right. 'Ask Elizabeth first,' he thought.
He arrived in his office to see Bob grinning at him. Yes, it was Stan's turn to be late. He knew that Bob didn't mind, provided the work got done.
Stan completed his normal morning checklist while he greeted Elizabeth.
"Good morning Elizabeth, how're you today?"
"Well, I don't think I've had as good a morning as you by the sound of it! I'm fine, Stan, thank you."
After Stan had completed his morning rush jobs, Elizabeth leaned across the desk a little and said quietly, "Denise phoned me last night."
Stan's ears perked up. He indicated interest.
"She's angry with you, Stan, and of course feels resentful of Anne as well. But she's working through it. You know she felt a lot for you, I'd guess it was actually more than just a case of liking a lot. She'd fallen for you, and although it was no fault of your own, she resents the timing. You couldn't feel for anyone, you said – but only two weeks later you're tumbling into an intense relationship with Anne."
Stan held his head in his hands for a moment. He looked up, and Elizabeth could see pain etched on his expression.
"Oh, God. I never wanted to hurt anyone. You know that, Elizabeth. With Anne, I... I just don't understand what happened. I just fell. I think Anne feels the same sense of, of bewilderment that I do."
"Yes, I believe you. Anyway, she and I had a good chat, last night and again this morning, early. I think she'll stop giving you the cold shoulder, now, and hopefully that will extend to Anne. No promises, mind, but I tried." Elizabeth didn't think it was right to discuss the whole conversation, which was between her and Denise.
"Thanks, Elizabeth. I just hope it worked!"
- - - - - - - - - -
Denise was at her desk, nominally running over some notes from yesterday. In reality she was considering her conversations with Elizabeth last night and this morning. She had some serious thinking to do.
She had a variety of emotions running through her, from anger to love, from frustration to satisfaction and others besides. She trusted Elizabeth, the older lady's warm heart and solid good sense born out of experience brought that out in her. 'So, okay, I trust Elizabeth,' she thought. Now what?
'If I trust Elizabeth, and she tells me I have to work for my own happiness and stop feeling sorry for myself, then that's what I should do.'
'What would make me happy? I don't really know at the moment. That's what I've got to work out.'
In any event, she got no further before it was time to meet Stan and get on with their project.
- - - - - - - - - -
For the rest of the day Denise worked together with Stan. After today, Denise knew, their collaboration would change in nature. She would take over and begin coding up, building the databases and only conferring with Stan when something was revealed to need more definition, or was shown to be unworkable.
Denise thought there wouldn't be much redevelopment of the project needed. Despite their differences the two had worked well together, and the design was 'clean'. It would be a lot of work, but should need little more in the way of redefinition. There were bound to be some problems, though, and the two would still work together every day until it was complete.
Even then, it had to be rolled out to the whole company, and the staff would need training. That would require both of them, as inevitably there would be extra features requested, and they'd both need to decide on which features would be added, which could be added later, and which requests were unlikely to be fulfilled. Denise expected she'd be working directly with Stan, off and on, for at least another six weeks.
But for now they were together in the Meeting Room, huddled over notes and diagrams. Denise's red hair glinted in the overhead light, and she noticed that Stan's attention had been drawn away from the work to her head. She'd dressed to avoid rather than encourage attention today though, with her high-necked blouse buttoned to the top and a pair of loose, comfortable trousers that hid rather than displayed her figure. He hid his momentary distraction by asking a question, then the two got back to work.
- - - - - - - - - -
Throughout the rest of the week at work, Denise and Stan continued to work together, Stan now passing the project over to Denise for her to work on. While the two were concentrating on professional matters, they were able to get along without undue friction, but if Stan mentioned Anne he noticed a distinct drop in temperature.
On Friday afternoon, just as they were leaving at the end of the day, Stan said, "See you Tuesday then, Denise."
"Oh, yes! I'd forgotten it was a Bank Holiday weekend. You doing anything over the break?
"Anne and I are going to visit an old friend of hers. A lecturer at her university, I think she said." The words were out of his mouth before he could recall them.
Once again, Denise's expression closed up, the dark clouds appearing again. Stan wondered if there was anything he could say to alleviate the evident problem.
Eventually Denise replied, flatly, "Well. Have a good weekend, then Stan. I'll be on my own, with a book in my garden, or something. But you and Anne have a good time."
She turned and stalked off. 'No, things still aren't fixed between us,' reflected Stan sadly.
- - - - - - - - - -
Anne drove Stan over to meet her old lecturer and mentor. He lived in a comfortable old 1930s style house, with a well-manicured lawn, colourful flowerbeds and an old Land Rover on the driveway.
Anne rang the doorbell, and when it opened Stan saw a woman in her forties, with rich dark chocolate brown hair, in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. She saw Anne and smiled brightly, exclaiming, "Anne! It's lovely to see you, my dear. Come in, come in!"
Anne said, "Margaret, it's great to see you too!" The two ladies air-kissed, then Anne stood back and, a little shyly, introduced Stan.
"Margaret, I'd like you to meet Stan. Stan, Margaret. Maggie, you know what happened to me with Daniel, well, Stan's the first guy I've been able to trust since then. He's wonderful!"
Turning to Stan, Anne continued, "Maggie and Sid got married while I was at Imperial College, and Sid was one of my lecturers."
Maggie invited them in, and they were ushered into the living room.
"Sid'll be down in a minute," Margaret told the pair. "I'll get some tea."
"Actually, I'm here now!" came a voice from the opposite door.
It came from a man of medium height, bald, but bouncing with energy. He spoke with a slight accent that Stan couldn't quite place, but there was no doubt as to the clarity of the voice itself.
Anne stood to greet the older man, and Stan did so as well. Jim kissed Anne lightly on the cheek, saying "Anne! You look wonderful. It's been, what, nearly five years since we last saw each other?"
He turned to Stan and shook hands, saying, "Dr. Sydney James Thoroughgood at your service."
"Stan Hinch, at yours. Do you prefer Sid or Sydney?"
"Oh, Sid's fine. Sydney is so formal. So you're the one who's swept our Anne off her feet, then!"
Stan grinned. "Yes, I'm the one. Mind you, Anne's done at least as good a job on me. I can't believe my luck!"
"Well, sit down, both of you. Maggie'll get some tea, and we can all catch up, and get to know each other."
Stan and Anne spent an enjoyable afternoon and early evening at the Thoroughgood's. Sydney and Margaret proved to be congenial hosts. Stan was made to feel as welcome as Anne, despite the ties that Sydney, Margaret and Anne obviously had.
At one point Anne asked Sydney, "What are you up to now, then, Sid?"
"Ah. Can't talk about that, much. I might, just might, have an interesting little adventure soon."
"You can't leave me hanging like that, Sid!" exclaimed Anne, but Sydney refused to say more.
"Sorry, Anne, I can't tell you anything. Yet. If things work out, you'll know soon enough." He refused to be budged from that, and Anne changed the subject.
- - - - - - - - - -
On Tuesday morning, everyone came back to work, mostly commenting that the extra day simply wasn't enough. Stan said to Denise, "It seems to be a universal truth that no holiday is long enough!"
"Well, it's all right for some, I guess. Though actually, I did enjoy yesterday. I just pottered about, read some, listened to some music, and generally chilled out. I feel better today than I did Friday, anyway."
"What did you read, and listen to?"
"Oh, I settled into an old romance – Mistral's Daughter. It's by Judith Krantz."
"Oh, I know the one. The painter and his women. I won't spoil it..."
"You'd better not!" Denise cried, and lightly punched his arm. "I'm about halfway through, and if you say any more I'll really hit you!"
Nothing more was said for a while.
"Music?" Stan prompted, after a few minutes. Denise was skimming through her notes, looking for the cause of an anomaly they'd found.
"Just whatever was on the radio, Stan. Nothing in particular."
"Ah. Okay. Now, about this..." and they settled back to work.
- - - - - - - - - -
It was now Wednesday evening, and Denise was bored. She didn't want to go out alone and she couldn't very well ring Elaine to see if she wanted a drink – there were still problems enough between Susan and the young receptionist, Denise knew.
What Denise still wanted was a new man in her life, but none of the ones she knew measured up. The only two people, Elaine and Stan, who she could have been close to were both involved in new relationships themselves. Denise realized that she was not only bored but she was lonely. Given that she'd only come back from Ibiza a short time ago, she thought this was odd, but as she thought about her feelings she knew that she was right.
Denise read a bit more of her book, but couldn't really settle. She turned her television on and watched a couple of soap operas, complaining out loud all the time about the poor, obvious plot, while secretly enjoying them. But after an hour, she turned the sound down, picked up the phone, and called Elizabeth.
"Elizabeth? It's Denise."
"Hi, Denise. What can I do for you? Is anything wrong?"
"Only that I'm bored, lonely and sitting here watching bad television and reading romance novels, Elizabeth. There's something wrong, here!"
Denise heard Elizabeth chuckle down the line.
"Isn't it a little early to be feeling lonely, Denise? You only came back from holiday a little while ago."
"Well, yes. But I've thought about it, trying to work out how I feel. 'Lonely' just fits the bill better than anything else."
"Denise, Denise. Give yourself a chance, my dear. You really shouldn't be so down. I'd have thought you ought to be still getting over your holiday, not pining for lack of gentleman suitors!"
It was Denise's turn to grin. Elizabeth couldn't hear that, of course.
"Denise? Are you all right?"
"Oh, sorry Elizabeth. Yes, of course. I was smiling to myself at what you said."
"Oh. Well, that's good news, anyway, your sense of humour has returned! You've been like a bear this week, Denise."
There was a pause in the conversation for a moment. Then, Elizabeth thought of something.
"Denise, you ought to go with Stan and Anne to their dance lessons. You used to go, didn't you, once? You enjoyed it when you went?"
"Yes, that's where I met Raoul," Denise answered, in a flat voice.
"Oh. I'm sorry."
"No, it's okay. But I'm not sure it's a good idea, you know, going with Stan and Anne might feel awkward. Not to mention if Raoul is still going there."
"Stan hasn't mentioned him to me. I would have thought he would have said. No?" Elizabeth replied.
"Nothing to me either. I'll think about it, Elizabeth. Maybe I can ask if Raoul is there, and if not, I can see if they'd mind me tagging along. Dancing is a good way to get out and meet people, I know. Provided it's the right 'people'. I never finished the beginner's course there; it would be good to at least do that. Like I said, I'll think about it."
"Okay, sweetheart. I'll speak to you tomorrow. Bye!"
- - - - - - - - - -
It was now a week since Stan had effectively 'passed over' the project to Denise. Of course, that didn't mean that he didn't still have to work with her on it. They met to discuss the project once again Thursday morning. During a lull, when neither of them had anything particular to say, Denise asked, "Stan, does Raoul still go to the dance classes?"
"Not to the beginner ones that Anne and I go to, no. Why?"
Denise wanted to ask, but couldn't. Not just then. She had the feeling of being out of control, that her emotions were rushing along and carrying her. So she clamped down on them and merely answered, "Oh, no reason, just curious. You hadn't mentioned him either way and I just wondered, that's all."
They got back to their work.
Later, while at lunch, Denise told Elizabeth, "Raoul isn't at Stan's classes. I'm still undecided about going, myself."
"I still think you should, Denise. It would do two things: rebuild your friendship with Stan and help you with your self-confidence. You're worried about meeting the right 'people,' after all."
"True. I'll think about it."
"Good, Denise. Do so!"
- - - - - - - - - -
Denise was a bit surprised to receive a phone call from Elizabeth that evening.
"Hi Denise. It's Elizabeth."
"Hello Elizabeth, I didn't expect you to call!"
"Well, it's only a quick phone call. I have to go and see my son Harry tonight, I told him I'd give him a hand with some decorating. I just thought of something that might improve your self-confidence.
"How do you fancy some retail therapy this weekend? I want to get a new blouse and skirt anyway. You could get some more feminine stuff – remember I suggested it once before? How about a nice skirt and a nice sexy lacy blouse? After all, you dressed up for Ibiza, what's so different about going out here. You're young and attractive, why not advertise it?"