Equal Shares Ch. 37bysteveh11©
"She's inconsolable," Anne told him.
Stan looked up. He was in his kitchen, filling the kettle. Tea all around seemed to be the best answer. 'God, I'm so English!' he thought, irrelevantly.
Anne stood in the doorway of the kitchen, leaning tiredly against the doorframe. Her white blouse was stained with what Stan assumed were tears and makeup. She looked exhausted. Stan put the kettle on and went to her.
He gathered the tall blonde figure into his arms and kissed her, softly, tenderly. "I know, Anne. Denise really was in love – is in love – with those two. I think especially Elaine."
"Mmmhmm. I think Susan was wrong to spring that on Elaine, Stan. She was forced to choose, then and there, and it broke something in her. She was crying as they left."
Stan held her. Anne had taken her shoes off, so he could nuzzle her neck without having to tilt up to do so.
"'Twas always going to be thus,' you know," he said softly into her ear. "Elaine's first loyalty was to Susan. Denise knew that, really. Hell, even I could see that."
"And you're nearly blind when it comes to people? You're not really that bad, Stan, you just don't pay enough attention most of the time. But still, it had to hurt Elaine as well as Denise. I hope those two, Elaine and Susan, don't split over this as well."
"Me too. But we'd better get back in there." Stan told her. "Finish making the tea, love? I'll go this time."
In the living room he found Denise still crying, though more softly now. It was almost an hour since Susan's stunning departure and Denise had cried the whole time.
She looked up as Stan walked in. Her face was blotchy red, eyes still watery and red-rimmed and she looked miserable. He smiled sympathetically to her as he crossed the short distance to the sofa and gathered her in his arms.
At first Denise was limp in his embrace, but suddenly she grabbed onto him with surprising strength. She burst into a fresh bout of tears. All Stan could do was hold her, whispering "I love you, Denise" into her ear, and try to reassure her with the simple facts of his presence and his love.
Stan became aware that Anne had come into the room when he heard the teacups rattle behind him. He heard Anne beg Denise, "Please, have a cup of tea with us Denise?"
He felt and heard Denise draw a long, shuddering breath, then another. She nodded, and the arms around him relaxed their tight embrace, and he moved to sit on the sofa properly. Anne took a seat on the other side of Denise. Both had an arm around their partner.
"Tea. Answer to all problems!" said Denise, shakily. "Why is it we British always think we can solve a problem with a cup of tea?"
"Well, it can't hurt, can it?" said Stan, which drew a snort from Anne and a shaky smile from Denise. Stan blew across his cup to cool the hot liquid.
"It's a stimulant, it gives you something to do, it gives you time to think. It's also a tradition, and it helps everyone feel like they're doing something. Making a cup of tea is sort of like therapy for the rest of us," Anne said.
"It's what we do." Stan finished, as he took a sip and exhaled, "Aaahhh!"
"Dope!" Denise said, but the mood had lightened a little. At least now she had stopped crying.
"Do you think I have any chance at all of winning them back?" Denise asked, softly into the silence, not looking at either of them.
Stan felt Anne's reluctance to say anything, but something had to be said. "I don't know, Denise. Perhaps. But some things, once said, can't be unsaid. Maybe once Susan's calmed down, and especially when her test results come back, she'll feel better about things." 'Only if they come back negative!' he thought. "In the meantime, we're here, Denise, we're here."
Stan felt her heartache. There was a lump in his chest, cold, inert, impeding breath. He felt his heart pumping, desperately trying to work around the barrier. But ultimately it wasn't something he or Anne could fix for Denise. They were reduced to holding her hand and letting her know she wasn't alone, and trying to make her feel better. It would have to suffice, because if Susan didn't relent, that relationship was all over.
- - - - - - - - - -
Denise slept with Stan that night. Anne insisted, before she drove herself home.
"To hell with calendars and schedules. She needs you tonight, and probably tomorrow too unless they kiss and make up before that. Let's hope!"
So it was that Denise woke up with Stan's arm around her waist, his warm presence against her back. She felt comforted, until she remembered.
'Still, maybe I can talk to Susan, get her to see I meant no harm...'
But her conscience weighed on her. She had neglected to say anything about the missed condom. She should have got herself tested as soon as she came home, she shouldn't have put her lovers at risk. She'd been irresponsible, she knew it, and Susan had called her on it.
Susan was right about something else. She had thought of the two of them as possible vectors for the disease, and she hadn't said anything about that directly to them. This was her fault.
Denise began to cry, softly. Not softly enough.
"Denise? It's all right, love. It's all right. I'm here. I love you."
Stan's voice, soothing, crooned into the back of her neck She felt the bed shift as he propped himself up to tell her, again, "I love you, Denise."
She wiped her eyes and twisted to face him. She buried her head in his chest, nuzzling at the hair there. In a small, lost voice she said, "I love you too, Stan. But I love Laney, and Suse...."
"I know, I know. Come on, let's get dressed. You can see Elaine at work today, and check up on how things are."
- - - - - - - - - -
That things would be awkward became immediately clear. Elaine looked up, saw Denise walking in with Stan behind her, and said – nothing. Her mouth opened, but no words emerged.
Denise looked, and saw immediately that things weren't going to just be 'all right.' She stopped and felt Stan put his arms around her from behind.
"Elaine, can you get Faye to come and cover for a moment? I think you and Denise need a little chat."
Elaine looked a little startled by Stan's calm assurance, but nodded and picked up the phone.
Stan turned to Denise. "Shh. It's okay. You talk to Elaine and then, when you're done, come and see me, or Elizabeth if you'd prefer, or even Anne. We're all here for you." Then he kissed her cheek and was gone.
Denise looked up at her friend and lover. She saw compassion and love, but also hurt and... something else. Guilt.
Faye came in to reception. "Thanks, Faye, I'll just be a minute or two," Elaine told her.
In the canteen the two women got their coffees and sat at a table in a corner.
After several false starts, Elaine said, "Susan's right, you know. You should have told us."
Denise nodded, tears already splashing onto the table.
She felt her chin being lifted by the soft yet firm hands of the woman she still loved. "Denny, Susan's really hurt. And she's scared, too. Not just of this time, but of other times. You get carried away, Denny, and that scares me, too."
"I-I'm sorry, Laney. You're right, you're both right, I should have said, but I won't let it happen again! I promise!"
Elaine regarded her, brown eyes sad under her short blond hair.
"Sweetheart, I'm not sure there'll be another chance for it to happen. Susan's pretty upset, and, well, there's also the other thing. She hasn't had her results yet – they're due today – and what if they come back positive? You as good as told us yesterday that you thought we might have infected you, not the other way around. Are you going to always believe that?"
"No, Laney, no! I don't think that, I've always thought it was Jim. That one night, when I was so drunk I didn't think."
"Well, I'm not so sure Susan believes that. Besides, that's just what we were talking about, you get carried away." Elaine stood up to go.
"Do-Does this mean you're breaking up with me then? For good?" Denise felt the tears, and the sobs, getting worse, but couldn't stop herself.
"Let's not say for good, but I think we'd better cool things for a while. I think if we see what Susan's results are like first, and I talk things over with her, then perhaps I can get the two of you together and let you talk it out."
She reached across the table and took Denise's hand.
"Denny, I love you a lot, but for now I think its best we love each other as friends, not lovers. You can see that, can't you?"
"NO!" Denise cried. It was just as well the canteen was empty, although one of the staff looked across at Elaine who made a face back.
"No, I can't see that, but I'll have to live with it," said Denise, sadly, now controlling her sobs and wiping her eyes. "Come with me to the Ladies room? I need to redo my makeup, I expect."
Elaine once again held her chin, turning her face to catch the light.
"Hmm. There's been some damage, there, but we'll soon get you fixed up and ready to face the day. Come on, I'll fix you up."
- - - - - - - - - -
That evening Stan took Denise home with him.
"Anne'll be around in a little while, she's just got to finish up some stuff at The Firm and pop into her home. You and I can get dinner started," he told her in his car.
"Sure, fine." Denise answered. She didn't feel like talking a lot.
Denise watched the scenery fly by, her head against the car window. 'Have I lost Elaine as well as Susan?' she asked herself.
At Stan's house she busied herself in the kitchen to try to take her mind off things, with moderate success. Most of the time she was preparing the meal – nothing fancy, just roast belly of pork with potatoes, carrots and broccoli – Stan was with her. He didn't say a lot, that wasn't his style she thought, but his presence helped.
But whenever he had to leave her alone in the kitchen she felt down. She was just waiting for a phone call.
They were cooking for three, as Anne wouldn't have had time to eat. She arrived at about half past seven.
"Hi!" she said to Denise as she walked into the kitchen. Denise thought she looked weary but excited.
"Hi, Anne. Good day?"
"Yes, it was actually. Long but good. How are you bearing up?"
"So-so." She wiped a tear from her eye that had nothing to do with onion. "I'm frightened it's all going to end, Anne."
Anne came to her and pulled her into a hug. "What will be, Denise. You know you've always got us. We both love you too, you know."
Denise nodded, sniffling.
Anne helped her to finish dinner. Although she was at best an indifferent cook, she could help where Denise directed her. Denise was a really good cook, and when the three sat down to dinner they ate their meal with gusto. Stan had 'popped out' to get a bottle of wine, and for a short while the three simply sat and enjoyed good food, good wine and good conversation.
Then Denise's cellphone rang.
It was Elaine.
"Hello, Elaine?" Denise said after flipping her phone open.
"Denise? Susan's result's come back. It's positive."
'Oh, God!' thought Denise.
"Um. Oh, dear. When's she going to the clinic?"
"Could you put her on, Laney?"
"I don't think that's going to happen, Denise. Susan says it's your fault, and she doesn't want to speak to you. Sorry."
"Oh, God! Laney, It was my fault but I didn't mean it! You've got to make her understand..."
"Denny, stop. I'm still your friend, but at the moment Susan doesn't want to speak to you. I'll do my best, okay?"
"But please, Laney, tell her I didn't mean it..."
"Denny, this isn't going to help. Maybe we just need some time, eh? Look, I've got to go. I'll talk to you tomorrow."
Denise heard the silence as the call was ended.
She looked up at Stan and Anne. "Positive. Susan refuses to talk to me."
Then she once again burst into tears.
Anne put her arm around Denise's shoulder and hugged her. Denise hardly responded at first, but when Stan joined in from the other side, kissing her cheek and nuzzling her neck as well, she giggled a little, still shaking with the after effects of her sobbing, but with a shaky smile on her face.
"I just realized," she said, "I can't even have comfort sex with you! Ironic, huh?"
Stan and Anne hugged and comforted her for a long time.
- - - - - - - - - -
The next day was Saturday, the second of December. Denise was still out of sorts but was now at least functional.
Mid-morning she heard Stan on the phone to Anne, trying to arrange lunch together.
"You can't? Oh, I see, well if you're busy, Anne, I'll just have to put up with the beautiful Denise!" As he said this he turned and winked at her. Stan's good humour lifted Denise's spirits a little more.
"Why, yes, Anne, she is here with me, listening. Sure, I'll put her on." He beckoned Denise to the phone.
"Hello?" she said.
"Denise, I'm incredibly busy with work here at the moment. Do you think you can look after our man for me today?" Denise could hear the salacious grin on Anne's face.
"Um, Anne, I'm not allowed..."
"Yes, I know. That's not what I meant. Stan needs company and fun, too, it's not just the sex!" Denise heard a giggle, and couldn't help but giggle herself.
"No, but you can be sure he likes that part!" she told Anne.
"True, but can you keep him company for today? Please?"
"Well, Anne, it's a chore but because I love you, yes!"
They both laughed down the line at each other. Anne told her, "Denise, you look after Stan, get him to take you out to lunch somewhere nice and enjoy the day. I'll come over and see both of you later tonight. Okay?" Denise agreed, happy for a moment.
"Put Stan back on then, and I'll tell him!"
Not long afterwards, Stan was driving Denise to a pub that he'd heard of but never visited.
"Have you been to this place before, Denise?"
"Yes, I've been a couple of times, though not for a year or so. It was good then. Typical country pub, but not the usual type of mementos hanging on the wall."
The 'Moon and Stars' was a small place, really just a traditional English country pub, but it looked cheery once you were inside and saw the brightly burning open fireplace and the smile from the barman. The owner evidently used to be a fireman as there were small items of equipment such as hose nozzles and helmets of various ages in nooks and crannies all around the place, and photographs of various men in fireman's uniforms looking proudly at the camera all over the wall.
The bar was traditional wood, stained by many years of beer and polish. The barman seemed cut from the same material, all weatherbeaten skin and bluff good humour.
Denise sat at a small table about ten feet from the bar, and Stan got the drinks ordered. Stan picked up a menu and the barman asked, "Do you want a tab, sir?" Stan nodded and sat with Denise.
Soon enough they were enjoying the food. Stan had an excellent cheese ploughman's while Denise just had a salad, but it really was delicious. Stan agreed with Denise, this was a good pub for lunch.
So they enjoyed their lunch together, and Denise gradually came more out of the doldrums.
Afterwards, Denise asked if they could go to the park. Although it was December it was a fine day, so Stan said "Sure!" and drove home. On the way he asked her, "Do you have a bike, Denise? A pushbike, I mean?"
"No, Stan, not since I was a kid. Why?"
"I just thought we could ride there if you did, but no matter, we'll walk there."
Denise enjoyed the walk in the fresh sunshine. The pair wandered through the park, just enjoying each other's company. It wasn't until they'd walked back to Stan's house that Denise realized that the tension and heartache had left her, at least for a while.
She wrapped her arms around Stan's neck and drew him into a long kiss. "Thank you for today, Stan!" she told him, and she was rewarded by a wide smile.
Later that evening Anne came over. Denise thought she looked tired but happy, and Stan noticed it too.
"Finished?" he asked the tall blonde, and Anne nodded. She had circles under her eyes that the makeup didn't quite conceal, but nevertheless she said triumphantly "It's done, and it's going to work!"
"You still can't tell us what it is, though?" asked Denise, and Anne answered, "No, sorry, Denise. It's not my secret to give."
The three snuggled up on Stan's sofa, with Stan the meat in a two-girl sandwich, and watched a movie on Stan's system. Well, actually, they didn't. Long before it finished they were all fast asleep.
Denise woke up to find one arm had gone to sleep under Stan, while Anne was softly snoring on his other side. She tried desperately to remove the arm without waking Stan, but wasn't successful. He opened his eyes and said, softly, "Good morning, my love."
"Morning, sweetheart. Help me get up?"
Together they carefully moved the sleeping woman so that she was lying on the sofa and stood up. Denise massaged the pins and needles out of her arm while following a limping Stan into the kitchen. There he stretched to unkink his back before starting some coffee while she rooted around in his fridge to see if she could find breakfast.
"Christ, Stan, who does your shopping?" she asked, knowing the answer.
"I do!" was the expected reply, and she immediately answered, "It shows, Stan! We've got to get some decent food in here!"
Stan mumbled something under his breath and concentrated on making the coffee. Denise found eggs and some ham, and decided on ham omelettes for breakfast.
A couple of minutes later a sleepy looking Anne wandered into the kitchen. She sniffed appreciatively and mumbled "G'morning," sitting herself at the breakfast bar.
Stan triumphantly announced, "Coffee!" and began pouring. Soon they were all enjoying breakfast, and Stan was starting to feel more human.
There was an unspoken agreement amongst them that going to 'Iorio's' would be a bad idea this week, and the weather – it had begun raining overnight and hadn't stopped yet – reinforced that.
"How about we just have a day together?" Stan asked. "We can read, listen to music, watch some movies or such."
"I can check up on my project from your PC upstairs, Stan, and check out your porn at the same time," smiled Anne.
"And I don't mind making dinner tonight, but we'll have to do some grocery shopping. I'm not putting up with pizza again!"
"I'll help!" said Anne. "It's about time I learned to cook, you can teach me."
The time flew by, and before they knew it they were looking at the clock in disbelief.
Anne looked ruefully at Denise as she took Stan's hand, but Denise merely gave Stan a deep kiss goodnight, and Anne a peck on the cheek. She said, "Goodnight you two!" as she closed the door to Stan's spare room.
Knowing what was going to be happening only a few feet away set Denise's fingers on a course below the covers. She'd already come once and was building up to a delicious second when she heard Anne cry "Stan!"
- - - - - - - - - -
The following morning was Monday. As a result, of course, everyone was a little dour. Denise was also worried – she'd have to see Elaine, and find out how the land lay there.
Denise wondered what Stan's neighbours would be thinking as the three of them each got into their own cars and drove off in convoy. The short journey was quickly over, and the three of them parked close together in the car park.
Stan led the trio into reception, where Elaine was already answering the phone. Denise looked at the small blonde hopefully, but was met with a slight negative shake of the head. Denise slumped a little, but carried on into work.