Equal Shares Ch. 05bysteveh11©
The following morning Stan woke up, did the painkillers-and-water routine, and he slowly put himself together.
He'd been very tired when he returned home the previous night and had fallen asleep the instant he hit the bed. This morning his thoughts kept replaying Denise's parting comment. His best friend was telling him, "You've got to get over it sometime... why not now?"
'Doesn't she know the pain I've been going through? Doesn't she understand that I can't do that to Caron?' he thought.
On the verge of tears, he decided to try to cheer himself up with some breakfast, so he puttered around in his kitchen for a while, making toast and coffee. It allowed his body to continue on autopilot while beginning to think a little more rationally. The caffeine and calories would help improve matters, too.
Maybe Denise did understand, he decided a little while later. Perhaps he should call her, talk about it, find out what she meant.
Talking, yes. It's what friends did. 'Umm...'
He realised that, despite their friendship, he'd never called her at home. In fact, he didn't have her home phone number! After several moments of near panic he was able to remember her address and went to find a phone book.
Bottomley, D. wasn't there. She had an unlisted number. 'Shit!'
'Elizabeth,' he thought. 'Elizabeth might have it.'
He did have Elizabeth's number; she'd been to dinner with Caron and Stan several times before last November.
"Elizabeth? It's Stan."
"Hello, Stan! What can I do for you?" she replied into his ear.
"Um... I was wondering, er, do you, um... Do you have Denise's number?"
"Why, Stan, I thought you were phoning to ask about me," she teased. Stan could only stammer in response, before she let him off the hook. "Sorry, Stan, I don't. I think Elaine might, though, and I've got her number. Do you want it?"
"Yes please, Elizabeth." She started to read it out to him, and he suddenly realised something, "Wait! I need to get a pen and paper." He heard a giggle from the other end as he grabbed for notepad and pen.
"Are you ready now?" she asked. He could see her arched eyebrow.
"Yup!" he said, with more confidence than he actually had.
She read out the number again, and he confirmed it back.
"Now," Elizabeth said, "What do you want to phone Denise for on a Saturday morning?"
He grimaced, and then realised Elizabeth couldn't see his expression. He said, "It's just something she said last night. I just wanted to chat with her."
"Can you tell me what it was she said, or is that a secret?"
"It was nothing much, I just want to chat. Cheers, Elizabeth, have a good weekend!" He rang off before Elizabeth could ask any more, took a deep breath, and called Elaine.
The phone rang several times before being answered, somewhat sleepily.
"Hi, is that Elaine?" Stan asked.
"No, it's not. Do you have a wrong number?"
"Oh. Wait, you're Susan, aren't you? This is Stan, from last night, I need a quick word with Elaine."
"Oh, OK, Stan, but you seriously want to wait until later. We didn't get to bed until three, and well, we didn't sleep right away..." He heard a giggle.
Stan apologised again, rang off, and waited. He put on some music – a little light classical stuff for now, he couldn't deal with anything heavy – read the paper, and chilled out.
He awoke with a start. The CD had finished, and the paper was on his lap, half unread. Blearily, he checked the time – eleven thirty. 'The morning's gone already,' he thought, chuckling to himself, 'Best I ring Elaine.' He dialled the number.
"Hi Elaine, it's Stan. You awake this time?"
Elaine laughed into the phone and Stan thought he could hear another giggle in the background as well.
"Susan still with you, then?" he asked, with a smile.
"Yes, she's right next to me. Do you want to know what we were doing?"
"Not right now, Elaine, I think that might be 'Too Much Information'. Actually, I'm trying to get hold of Denise. Elizabeth thought you might have her number."
"Oh. Wait a moment." She did.
She read out a number to him, which he confirmed back off of his notepad. Stan thought that Elaine sounded a little sheepish – or embarrassed?
"OK there, Elaine?" he asked.
"Yeah, sure. I'll see you on Monday," she replied.
"Oh. Okay," he said, and they hung up.
'What was THAT about,' he wondered.
- - - - - - - - - -
He thought about what to ask Denise. Actually, he'd been thinking about it a lot, without coming to any definite solution – which bothered him. Stan hated talking to anyone without a definite plan of the conversation, beyond superficialities. 'A legacy of my childhood,' he thought.
Stan was an only child, and when he'd qualified to attend one of the last grammar schools in the country he'd been as happy as his parents. What he hadn't been expecting was that the single-sex aspect would affect him so much.
'I sure as heck didn't learn much about girls. Caron had to chase me, else we'd have never got together,' he thought.
He reflected for a moment on how Caron had set him up...
Emma Tilly. She'd walked up to Stan, bold as brass, at work. She was a part time model, and used the 'model walk', with one foot crossing over the other.
She'd gestured for Stan to stand up, measured herself off against him for height, and then walked off in the same fashion with a teasing look on her face. Stan was, of course, totally bemused, he hadn't a clue – Emma surely wasn't after him?
Later, Emma 'just happened' to be nearby when a tall, dark haired and slender young lady walked past, smiling at Stan. "That's my friend Caron, would you like her number?" she'd asked. Stan was naïve and a very poor student of the female half of the species, but he wasn't unintelligent and had the sense to say "Yes please!" They'd gone on a date, and only three years later they were married.
'But I still don't know how women think at all,' he thought. Normally, when it was a question to do with people, he'd ask Elizabeth. This time, he didn't want to, for some reason. It seemed, well, personal.
Well. For good or ill, he'd decided to ring Denise – certainly he'd be grilled by Elizabeth, and probably Elaine, on Monday – so he'd better get on with it. He glanced at the clock. After lunch. He'd ring right after lunch. No, Now, else he'd lose his nerve.
"Hi Denise. Um, it's Stan. Er, I was wondering, sort of, erm, what, I mean, um, did you mean, last night?" 'Christ! He'd managed to say it, but God, what a poor delivery!'
There was a pause.
"What, specifically, Stan?"
He gathered his courage, and said,
"Denise, um, last night, uh, when we got to your place, you told me, basically, er, that I had to get over it sometime, why not now?"
There was silence at the other end, this time.
"Stan," she said, almost too softly for him to hear, "you know what I meant, really. It's time, now. Caron's gone. You loved her, you love her still, I know, but you need to move on."
Stan was silent.
"Stan?" Denise asked.
Still, he couldn't speak.
"Stan, are you all right?" Denise asked, with a hint of concern.
"Oh. Yes, I'm OK. Um, I'll see you on Monday," he said, and hung up despite the fact that Denise was obviously trying to say some more.
- - - - - - - - - -
Over the weekend, Denise thought about Stan. She wondered whether he would see what she so desperately wanted him to see; that she was growing to love him and that it was all right for him to open up and start to love her back.
She was afraid, however; afraid of what that phone call meant but unable to bring herself to call him back. By Sunday afternoon Denise was going nuts. She needed to talk to someone, and soon.
'Elaine. I could call Elaine.' It might be complicated though...
She dialled the number.
"Elaine? It's me, Denise," she said.
"Hi Denny, what can I do for you?" came the reply.
"Laney, I need to talk to someone. Can I come around, please?"
There was a pause from the other end.
"Denny, I'm not sure that's a good idea. Susan's here."
"Please," Denise pleaded, "I really need to talk. I got a call from Stan yesterday."
Denise waited. She could tell that Elaine had her hand over the microphone, and could hear muffled conversation.
"How about we meet up for a coffee in the High Street? Iorio's?" Elaine finally said.
"Sounds good. When?" Denise answered, immediately.
"Give us about a half hour. Try to grab a booth, huh?" Elaine said.
Denise agreed and rang off.
- - - - - - - - - -
Iorio's was an old-style Italian coffee shop that had weathered the bad times and had now become newly favoured with the rise of coffee places like Starbucks. As you walked in there was a long counter to your left, where Mr. Iorio always seemed to be genially smiling at his customers. It was now young Mr. Iorio, since the original owner had retired and passed the business on to his son. At the front and to the right were various tables, but at the back there were several booths where you could be reasonably private.
Denise got there quickly.
"Hey, Mr. Iorio," she called as she walked in.
"Hey, Denise, you know it's Tony to you," the owner said, looking her up and down.
"You're looking fine today!" he continued. He liked to put on a slightly lecherous act with Denise, though she knew he didn't mean it – she'd already met the beautiful spitfire he'd married. He spoke with a faint Italian accent, although Denise knew he'd lived in this town his whole life.
"Now, now, you know I'm a good girl," she told him, smiling. She ordered a cappuccino and told him she'd be in one of the booths, she had friends coming.
"That's nice. I'll bring your drink to you," he told her.
She grabbed one of the Sunday papers that were in the rack, and settled into a booth. Shortly afterwards, Tony brought her drink. He smiled at her, got a beaming one in return, and left her to her own devices.
Elaine and Susan [RH1] arrived shortly afterwards. They ordered their drinks at the front counter, asked where Denise was and were directed to her booth.
"Thanks, Tony!" called Elaine over her shoulder as she walked over to Denise. The two ladies settled down opposite her. They made small talk for a minute waiting for their coffees. After the drinks were delivered, Elaine got down to business.
"Bad news with Stan, hun?" she asked, gently. Susan, next to her, had a sympathetic expression on her face.
"No. Well, yes, sort of. Um... "
Denise thought for a moment.
"I told him, basically, that it was time he got over Caron. I don't think it went over very well," she eventually said. She related, fairly rapidly, the events in the cab, and the phone call yesterday.
"Denny, I thought you were more tactful than that!" Elaine said. Susan had her hand over her mouth.
"Oh, Laney, I usually am. But I'm so annoyed and impatient with him. He won't move-on at all!"
Elaine replied, quietly, "Denny, perhaps he simply isn't ready to move-on yet. Or, perhaps, he is, but not with you."
Denise looked up, tears welling in her eyes.
"I know. I'm so afraid that's true. I haven't faced it."
Susan spoke up. "Denise, I only know what Elaine's told me. You two broke up because, well, you wanted a man, and then Elaine met me."
Denise nodded, unable to speak.
"Well, are you sure that you're not hunting after the wrong man? I'm not a great student of men, of course," she said over Elaine's snort, "but it seemed to me that you and Stan were friendly, but he was only friendly."
"That's the point, I want more than just being friends!" Denise broke in.
"I know that. You know that. I think Stan knows that. Maybe he doesn't want more, though. That's the point, Denise."
Denise was silent for a moment. Then she started to cry, forlornly.
"Why is it I can't find anyone?" she said, through her sobs.
"Oh, Denny, you will. You will. It's okay, you know you will," Elaine said, comfortingly. She looked at Susan to check if it was all right, then moved across and sat next to Denise, with her arm around her.
"Denny, it's fine. You're fine. You just need to look for someone else, that's all," Elaine soothed into Denise's ear.
"That's the way I saw it, too," Susan said. She followed up with "And no, you can't have Elaine back." She was smiling, but the smile didn't reach her eyes.
Denise looked up, her mouth open. She reached over for Susan's hand.
"Oh, no! Susan, Elaine, I wouldn't do that. I wouldn't!"
"I know you wouldn't, Denny," Elaine said, "Susan knows too, really. Don't you, Susan?" Elaine looked at her partner meaningfully.
"Sorry. I can't help being a little jealous when I see my girl with her arm around someone else," Susan said, with a hint of remorse.
"God, there's no need to!" Elaine said, somewhat more loudly.
Denise shook her head, extricated herself from Elaine's embrace, and said, "Stop it you two. I'm not going to be the reason you break up."
"Sorry," Susan said, "I just get so jealous sometimes. Elaine's so pretty."
Elaine went back and sat sideways on Susan's lap, along the bench seat.
"Before you two kiss and make out, I mean, make up, can we get back to my problem for a minute?" Denise said, with a smile breaking through her now slightly blotchy face.
Elaine looked over, chuckled, and grabbed a napkin. "Here, hun, dry your eyes, and go visit the Ladies room. While you sort yourself out, Susan and I can 'kiss and make out' as you put it, then we can all talk when you get back."
Denise attempted a smile, failed and disappeared into the Ladies. She was there a while.
On her return, she found the other two glued together at the lips with Elaine's right hand caressing Susan's breast through her shirt. Both looked flushed.
"Ahem! I believe the term is 'Get a room!' " Denise said with false severity, and then spoiled it completely by breaking into a laugh.
The other two broke their lip-lock, turned towards her and in unison told her, "Shut up!" Both ladies had enormous smiles on their faces, however.
"Well, I'm pleased to see you've 'kissed and made out'," she said, her eyes twinkling. She sat down.
"You're looking better, Denny," Elaine said, gently.
"Well, I feel it, too, Laney," Denise confirmed. "I've made the decision, Stan and I are friends, nothing more. If I get asked on a date on a Wednesday sometime, it'll come before Stan. If I meet a guy who really doesn't want me seeing a man for drinks each week, we'll discuss it, but Stan's going to have to realise that if he can't commit to more than a friendship with me, that it cuts both ways.
"Stan's a nice guy," she continued, "but there're plenty more nice ones out there!"
Well," Susan said brightly, "we might not be the best people to agree with you on that one!"
The three ladies burst into laughter, ordered more coffees, enjoyed their chat and, eventually, went home.
Denise was happy now. 'Honest, I'm happy!' she told herself. 'Honest!'
- - - - - - - - - -
[RH1]'turned up' implies they had met up with Denise already; 'arrived' does not, at least, not as much .