tagNovels and NovellasEqual Shares Ch. 02

Equal Shares Ch. 02


Stan woke up, and rolled onto his back, staring at the ceiling. "I'm sorry, love, what was I thinking?" he softly told the beautiful dark eyes that only he could see.

Arriving at work, he said "Hi!" to Elaine, who replied, "Good morning! Did you enjoy yourself last night?"

Stan walked almost to the door from reception to his office area, stopped, half turned to Elaine and said quietly, "Yes, thank you, Elaine." Before she could ask any more he opened the door and walked through.

Elizabeth was there, as usual, "Morning, Stan, how are you today?" She got her usual mutter in return, looked at him thoughtfully and decided not to ask any more. She had an alternate source, in any case.

- - - - - - - - - -

Denise was not in the least surprised to be eating with Elizabeth again that lunchtime.

"Give!" Elizabeth commanded, softening the order with a smile. Denise laughed, and then complied, quickly telling her all the main points. Elizabeth toyed with her salad for a moment.

"Things were going fine, better than you expected, and then he just clammed up?"

"Yes. It was weird, we came to a point when suddenly he just looked... lost, I guess. Then he went back inside himself. When he walked me to the door at the end, I asked him if I'd done anything wrong, and he just said that he'd thought of Caron."

"Well, if something reminded him of her, I suppose it's normal for him to feel upset."

"I s'pose. But he didn't look upset, more like... afraid?"

Elizabeth was still for a moment.

"Afraid?" she said, softly. She gave Denise an intense look.

"Yes," said Denise, not catching Elizabeth's expression. "I think that's what it was. I don't know... it was odd."

"Well." Elizabeth said. "When are you seeing him again?"

"Probably straight after lunch." Denise smiled.

Elizabeth just looked at her in disapproval.

"We, well... We didn't make more plans."

"Make them!" Elizabeth commanded, again.

Denise just giggled again, and said "Yes, Ma'am!"

- - - - - - - - - -

"Excuse me, Stan."

He looked up. Denise was standing next to his desk, a folder in her hand. "Can I help you?" he said, quietly.

"Can I borrow your PC a moment? I need to run a test." Stan wasn't too surprised; Denise often used his PC to try out various things. She said it made sense to use several different computers to make sure that whatever the IT department had come up with would work on everyone's PC.

"Sure, go ahead. I'll get a coffee." It was a standing joke at The Firm that Stan was caffeine powered, although in truth he'd moderated his input considerably since suffering sleepless nights and headaches a few years ago.

"Wait a moment, this will be quick, and I'll go with you."

The test Denise ran lasted only about a minute. "Thanks, let's get that coffee, then," she said, standing up again. Stan followed her to the canteen.

Once they had their drinks, Denise sat for a moment with him, thinking. Stan just waited.

"Did you enjoy last night?" she asked, eyes downcast.

Stan's expression softened. Denise hadn't done anything wrong. "Yes, Denise, I did. It's just that... well, I'm not sure we should do it again."

"Oh! Why?"

"It was okay. I just felt... uncomfortable. It's not been long enough..."

"Oh, Stan."

Something in her voice made him look up. She was looking directly at him, now, with a relieved expression. "I know you said I'd done nothing, but I was worried." She looked away, then back to him. "It's been six months, Stan," she said, with compassion.

"Only six months," he replied, softly but with conviction. "It's too soon."

"Stanley Hinch, look at me," she said. He complied. "Last night was a totally innocent drink and chat between two friends. Nothing more than that. We both needed to get out from our four walls for a bit. Now, I enjoyed it, until you clammed up on me again. So next Wednesday, I'm going to call 'round and pick you up." Stan was surprised and sat back. Denise was serious, he saw.

He was quiet for a moment. Denise didn't know where he'd gone, but he sure as heck wasn't with her in the canteen.

"Okay," he said.

- - - - - - - - - -

Denise found Elizabeth a little while later, and they leaned together, conspiratorially.

"I'm picking him up next Wednesday," she told the older woman.

"Good!" Elizabeth said.

- - - - - - - - - -

The weekend came and went, without Stan really noticing. Oh, the time off work was nice, but he didn't really do anything with it. He cleaned up around the house. Even though there was only him now, it still seemed to need a clean and tidy just as often. He watched an old film, played some music, generally just wasting time.

- - - - - - - - - -

On Monday afternoon, Stan had to attend a meeting with some of the Design team. His job in Quality meant that he attended a number of meetings like this. The chief designer for this particular chip was Anne Berkely. Anne's intelligence and ability were legendary already, although she'd only been with The Firm for about a year.

She always looked elegant yet comfortable in the long, wraparound skirts and tailored jackets that she habitually seemed to favour.

Plus, she was beautiful. Blonde, wavy hair surrounded an elfin face that seemed always to have an expression of wonder on it, just as if today she'd made a new and surprising discovery.

Stan knew that others at The Firm were more intelligent than he, but Anne was a leap above that. He'd seen her expression change when any of her colleagues had attempted a smart remark or criticism, something "Obviously foolish" – her exact words – and her biting wit had already shown each of them up. Stan felt it was better to remain silent than to add himself to that list.

He got through the meeting with minimal input, thanked the Chairman and everyone as was his custom, and walked out.

- - - - - - - - - -

Wednesday came. Denise hadn't said much more to him since last week's coffee, and Elizabeth hadn't brought it up either. He was grateful but didn't notice the looks he was getting from some of his co-workers.

As she was going home, Elizabeth said, "Have a good evening, Stan."

Stan said, absently, "Yeah, thanks." A moment later, he realised that Elizabeth hadn't gone.

"You do remember that Denise is picking you up tonight, don't you?" she chided.

Stan sat back. "Yes, of course," he said, after a moment. "I hadn't forgotten."

"Elizabeth smiled, leaned forward, and told him, "You're a terrible liar, Stanley Hinch. It's just as well you allow us to keep you organised!" With that she turned and swept off.

For a moment Stan simply admired her movement. Even as she aged Elizabeth seemed to become more graceful. He told himself that he hadn't forgotten about tonight; it just wasn't at the front of his mind.

"I'll pick you up at eight, then, Stan."

Stan looked up, startled for a moment, then recovered as he realised Denise was standing at Elizabeth's desk in front of him. "Sure."

"Night, everyone!" she called, then turned and walked away. With a small shock of surprise, Stan realised that he'd been woolgathering for half an hour. 'Time,' he thought, 'It just gets away, doesn't it?' He quickly finished up, switched off his PC, wished those few remaining in the office a good night, and went home.

- - - - - - - - - -

By a quarter to eight Stan was showered, shaved and changed. He shut his eyes and whispered, "Are you sure?" and waited a moment before looking in the mirror. Greying brown hair, which he knew was 'thin on top' – his father's euphemism for balding – lay errantly on top of a somewhat puffy face which still showed the laughter lines of many years of happy love. He grinned at his reflection, which of course grinned back. Turning, he went downstairs and put on some music.

When the doorbell rang, he was a little startled. Denise was there in her 'blouse & trousers' – this time it was basic white top and black bottom – and she smiled at him.

"Hi, Stan. You ready?" she asked, brightly

"Half a moment while I get a jacket and put my shoes on."


Denise waited a moment. "Stan?" she called.

"Yeah?" came from inside the house.

"Can I come in while I wait?"

He came to the door, apologising. "I'm so sorry, I didn't think. I haven't had a woman in here since Caron."

Denise walked in, with a wide grin on her face. "Excuse me?"

Stan coloured. "That's not what I meant. I meant that I haven't let a woman in since then."

"I know," Denise said softly, leaning forward and touching his cheek. He flinched, and she drew back. "You haven't let anyone in, have you?" she told him, with concern in her voice.

Stan didn't answer, he couldn't answer around the lump in his throat. Instead he finished lacing up his shoes and grabbed his jacket from the back of a dining chair.

"You ought to hang it up, you know." Denise offered.

"Yeah, that's what... Let's go, shall we?"

- - - - - - - - - -

Stan reflected that being driven around in a sporty car by a beautiful woman was something he could get used to. Caron hadn't liked fast cars. He felt the heartbreak again, and closed his eyes, but Caron told him not to be silly and to enjoy a night out with his friend. So he did.

This time it was Denise's turn to go on soft drinks. Stan had a pint of one of the local beers on tap to start with but then changed to single malts, his favourite hard drink. He told Denise how, one night when he was out with Caron, he'd been challenged to 'run the bar' by the landlord there – to sample each of the malt whiskies in turn in a single sitting. Since there were over twenty bottles lined up on the mirrored-glass shelf behind the bar, Denise realised how futile that foolish expectation probably was, and Stan agreed – he told her he'd given-up long before he got halfway.

"But since then I've finished the job, and gone back over the course," he said, "but only one, or perhaps two at most per night."

"What's your favourite?" Denise asked, reflecting that she was glad she was driving tonight. Stan wasn't in any condition to do so. He'd definitely had more than one or two tonight.

"Islay malts. A friend gave me a bottle of Bowmore, long ago, and I love the peaty, smoky flavour. This," he said, indicating his glass, "is just a Glenfiddich. It's nice, don't get me wrong, but I prefer the Islay malts."

"Then why didn't you have one?" she asked, spotting the bottle over to the left of the bar.

"'Cuz I'm over there," he said, pointing to the second-to-last bottle on the right.

"Oh!" she giggled.

Time passed. Denise was having a good time, and it looked to her like Stan was too. He was more animated than he'd been – well, since last week – and he was revealing things about himself, and his wife, that Denise never knew.

All too soon, Denise realised that it was time to go. Stan was a little unsteady, and looked at her goofily, but was capable of manoeuvre and navigation, so she wasn't worried about him.

She got him to his house and Stan looked over at her, "Thank you Denise. I think you were right, I needed that."

"Well, next week it's your turn to drive," she said.

"Um?" was the best Stan could manage.

"Next week. Your turn. Now go and drink some water before going to bed, it'll help reduce the hangover."

"Oh God, yes, work." He stopped for a moment to gather some of his wits. "I'll see you tomorrow morning, Denise. Thank you again."

She laid her head on one side a little and shrugged. "My pleasure. I've enjoyed tonight, too."

"Well, good night. Thanks." He got out of her car and made his way to his door, moving very deliberately. Denise waited, making sure he'd got in, then blew him a kiss as he turned and waved goodbye, before driving off.

It had been a good night, she reflected. Stan was a good friend, and when he came out of his depression he was lively, witty and fun.

Of course, he'd be paying for those drinks in the morning!

- - - - - - - - - -

Stan drank two glasses of water, did his normal bathroom routine, and went to bed. Caron was laughing at him as he went to sleep. 'Yeah, I know...' he thought as he went to sleep.

When Stan woke up in the morning, he rolled on his back, and groaned. Those eyes watched him with amusement. 'I know, I should have known better,' he thought. Aloud, he said "You've got to get over this sometime. Why not now?" The practical advice was something he'd learned from his early Science Fiction reading, and it seemed particularly appropriate this morning.

Oh well. He knew the routine – two painkillers first, then coffee. He walked one-eyed into the bathroom, peed, showered, shaved and went downstairs. Two tablets, with copious amounts of water, plenty of coffee, and off to work.

In the first month after Caron's death, Stan had hit the bottle hard. He retained just enough sense to recognise that his friends were right when they counselled cutting back a little, and in fact he now usually drank very little, but back then a blinding hangover had been the normal thing of a morning.

Going back to work after the two-week compassionate leave The Firm had given him had been a shock. In truth, he'd known he'd have to cut the drinking even before anyone said anything - Stan was generally honest with himself. The short drive to work was long enough for him to promise himself to limit his drinking on his Wednesdays with Denise.

As he got out of the car he suddenly became aware that he was already thinking of his Wednesdays as being 'with Denise.' He grinned. She really was a good friend.

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