Equal Shares Ch. 06bysteveh11©
On Monday morning, Denise found Stan early, before he'd even taken his jacket off.
"Stan, I think we need to talk. C'mon," she said, beckoning him.
"Now?" he said.
"Yes, Stan, now."
Stan looked at Denise and said, "Yes, you're probably right."
The Manufacturing Meeting Room was on the opposite side of the office from the main windows where morning sunlight streamed in. They went into the room and closed the door.
"Denise," began Stan, but Denise interrupted him, saying,
"Stan. Stop. This is my fault. Now, I'm not going to stop going for drinks or whatever with you, but I am going to look elsewhere for a boyfriend. I think that's what you want, and since you won't think of me that way, it's what I need to do.
"If that means that my boyfriend, whoever he might be, doesn't want me to spend time with you like that, then that's the way it will have to be."
As she was talking, an errant beam of sunlight reflected off a wall fixture and caught Denise's hair, lighting it up bright red. Stan was transfixed. He tore his mind back to what Denise had been saying...
"So this means we'll still be friends, yes?"
Denise softened her expression and smiled weakly at him. There was a curious mixture of emotions chasing themselves across his face. He seemed in turn relieved, upset and uncertain. She said,
"Yes, Stan, still friends. But I think it would be a good idea if you started finding some other friends to go out with, or found a hobby to give you a social life. Even if we're not going to be together in that way, I can still be a friend, but I shouldn't be your only social outlet."
"Right. Um, thanks, Denise," Stan said, after a moment. He continued, quietly, "You're right, of course. A true friend."
"Yes and this true friend's got work to do!" said Denise, crisply. Softening, she continued, "Are you okay, Stan?"
"Yes, fine. Thanks, Denise. I'll see you later."
"And we're still on for Wednesday night!" Denise answered from the doorway, before disappearing off to her own department.
Elizabeth, of course, took in the whole thing from her desk. She didn't know exactly what had been said, but she could guess the gist of it. Returning to his own desk, Stan confirmed it, saying,
"Denise just announced that she's going to be looking for a boyfriend. I think I'm relieved."
"I thought that's what you wanted, Stan. But, are you sure?" Elizabeth asked.
"Yes. Yes, of course. As Denise pointed out, though, it does mean I should expand my social circle a little."
Stan was silent for a moment, and then he continued,
"She said I should take up a hobby or something. I've never fancied golf, I can't stand the thought of fishing and I can't dance. Any ideas?"
"Can you play cards?" Elizabeth asked, waiting for the answer she knew was coming. They'd played this particular game before. Sure enough, Stan came back with,
"I don't gamble."
"Neither do I," it was a challenge. But this time, Stan surprised her, saying,
"Okay, you're on. 'Strip snap?' "
Elaine could hear the laughter from within reception!
- - - - - - - - - -
Later that day, Stan thought about Denise's words. He'd never been known as a joiner.
He'd actually been reliant on his wife for arranging most social occasions and while her group of friends and colleagues at her office had initially tried to be supportive, Stan's diligent efforts at turning them away had worked to great effect.
In sum, he'd very successfully isolated himself, which had been his objective. Now, Denise was telling him that she'd done her bit and it was time for him to make an effort to forge, or reforge, some social links of his own.
The trouble was, Stan wasn't sure he really knew how.
In the meantime of course, he had work to do as well. So he got on with it.
Elizabeth, of course, cornered Denise at lunch. Over their salads Denise told Elizabeth what had happened at the Keys, and about Stan's phone call. She related the discussion with Elaine at Iorio's coffee bar, and finally the decision she'd made to look elsewhere. Elizabeth took it in while she toyed with her food.
Privately, she wished Denise had spoken to her first. It was too late now, and she wasn't one to cry over spilt milk, so Elizabeth didn't tell her that. Instead, she said,
"That's fine. But please, Denise, don't drop him altogether."
"Oh, no, I won't do that. I've told him that we'd continue to be friends, and that we'd still go out for a drink on a Wednesday night, unless I had other arrangements."
"If you get a boyfriend, he might not agree with that."
"True, Elizabeth, but I haven't got one yet. I'm going to cross that particular bridge when I come to it.
"But I'm also going to look for some romance for myself. Stan's a good friend, but he's not looking to provide that for me – so he'll have to learn about actions and reactions. Time for him to do some looking after himself."
- - - - - - - - - -
It was Wednesday morning, and Stan was in the office. Harry, sitting at his own desk in the Materials section where he monitored the comings and goings of the raw materials and products of The Firm, turned to Stan and told him, "I just heard from Shucor. Anne's chip's just shipped to the packaging subcontractor. They're saying they might be able to get it to us early."
"Great! Sales has been looking forward to getting that chip out. How early?"
"Only a day or so, but it's all good. I'll tell Percy." Percy was the manager of the Engineering department, although most of the engineers there thought of him as an interference.
Stan, from his position outside the department, thought Percy did rather well in his job – he let them get on with expressing themselves in their designs but kept consistency and timeline well at the forefront of the agenda.
Trying to keep the company's engineers in line was like herding cats, a difficult process, but Percy was by no means ineffective at it. Stan would be delighted to tell Anne that her design was arriving back early, as it meant she could get on with confirming that it worked properly – 'Evaluation' that much earlier.
Anne, fresh back from her 3-day weekend break, was not upset to hear that her design, 'her baby' would be back early. She'd long ago laid out the tasks needed to prove it worked correctly and had delegated some of those. She quietly went about the lab letting her team know it would be early, "Probably a day or two," but they still had almost two weeks to wait.
Anne was trying not to show how much she was looking forward to this. She had led, cajoled and just plain driven her team on to pay attention to every detail, every contingency they could come up with. The design had a couple of quite novel features, and they were all excited, waiting to find out if the chip worked in practice as well as they believed it would in theory. There would soon be some late nights for the team.
In the meantime, Denise confirmed to Stan that she would take him for their usual Wednesday night drink. Stan smiled and told her, "Okay, Denise, thanks. You know I look forward to it." Inside, he was grateful, as he still hadn't actually come up with a possible hobby or a way of making new friends that he could take seriously.
Around one o'clock that morning he considered making model aeroplanes, something he'd done in his teenage years, before remembering why he'd stopped. His practical skills had been well behind his theoretical ones, and every plane he'd built had crashed. 'Maybe model cars?' he thought.
- - - - - - - - - -
That evening, Denise appeared at the door of Stan's house, wearing 'blouse and trousers' of white and red, respectively, with her hair tied back and some comfortable trainers. Stan, in black T-shirt and a light pair of trousers, answered the door and invited her in while he finished getting ready.
Stan's house was a typical family three-bedroom home in the area. He and Caron had wanted somewhere economically sensible but with room for guests. The housing development they'd settled on held a mixture of dwellings, but most were like his – detached small family homes. In common with many of his neighbours, Stan used the smallest bedroom as an office, which still left a spare room in case of guests. Not that there'd been any of those.
"Have a seat in the living room Denise, I won't be a minute. I'll just make sure everything's switched off."
Denise looked around. Stan wasn't the stereotypical bachelor with a home fit only for decontamination, but he wasn't the tidiest person either. Books and CDs were all over the living room and a couple of coffee mugs were beside what was obviously his favourite chair, planted right in front of the TV. Some DVDs were on the table next to it. Denise peeked – Stan was going through some old war movies. The books were more varied, ranging from romances through science fiction to popular science.
Stan reappeared and said, a little breathlessly, "Ready?" So off they went.
At the pub, they saw Elaine and Susan, but while the two ladies waved and said, "Hello!" they made no move to join Denise and Stan. Denise sat, Stan bought some drinks and joined her at the table. The two discussed random topics for a while, then Denise said, with a hint of a smile,
"So, Stan, have you put any thought into friend-making activities yet?"
"Thought, yes," answered Stan, "but I've not come up with anything. I can't just go up to people and make friends, Denise, you know that. I've never been able to approach people in that way. I hate parties full of strangers. I never know what to say to anyone. As for hobbies, I don't think remote controlled model cars were quite what you were thinking of?" Stan couldn't quite keep a straight face.
Denise burst into laughter. When she could finally get a word out, she said, "No, Stan, not really. You really thought of that?" She couldn't keep the smile from her face at the thought.
"Well, I considered aeroplanes, which I used to try to build when I was a teenager, but they always seemed to crash because my building skills weren't up to it. Even if they were, I couldn't ever fly the darn things! So I thought model RC cars were a safer substitute. Then I realised, 'Just how many people would I meet doing that?' "
"What else did you consider?" the redhead asked.
"I could get one of those patches of land you see old folk gardening in, an allotment. I'd probably end up concreting it over, but you do meet people there."
Denise giggled. Stan's inability and disinterest in gardens was almost legendary.
"Then I thought of golf, or fishing. The trouble with golf is hitting that tiny little ball with a long stick a long way up this huge garden. I've heard even players who say they enjoy it, always complaining and frustrated. So that one's out. The only good thing I can say about fishing is that I could read a good book, but I can do that in my armchair. That doesn't fit either.
"I don't gamble so horseracing or cards are not going to fly. I gave up thoughts of squash or badminton – I last played when I was at school and never liked either. I think I must be pretty hopeless, Denise."
Stan looked absolutely forlorn. Denise couldn't help herself, she laughed,
"Well, you could become a monk!"
Stan grumbled, "Seems about all I'm fit for."
Denise leaned forward and told him, "Not at all. You just need to find something that will suit you."
Talk turned to other things, and Denise bought them more drinks. Of course, hers was non-alcoholic as she was driving. Stan was being careful, too, sticking to beer and only half-pints at that.
There was music playing softly in the pub, more a background to the conversation than something to really listen too. Denise vaguely noted a new song start and saw Stan's face go blank.
"What is it Stan?" she asked with apprehension.
Stan's face cleared as he mentally returned to the room.
"Oh, it's nothing, really. This song, Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time – it was special to Caron and me. It came out while we were engaged, and I can remember holding her close and dancing to it. Slow songs like this are all I can dance to, actually – more a 'twirl slowly around' than real dancing. I told you, hopeless."
Denise lightly punched him on the arm, saying, "Stanley Hinch, you are not hopeless. Stop saying that!"
Later, in the car on the way home, Denise made a suggestion,
"You know, you could take dance lessons."
"Pardon me? I told you, I can't dance."
"Oh, stop being so negative, Stan" she said, pulling up at his house. She turned off the engine and looked at him...
"Ballroom dancing. There are all sorts of places offering to teach it these days. It's not physically demanding, well, not at the beginner's level anyway, so your lack of fitness and sporting prowess is no obstacle.
"You can't dance because you haven't tried. Take lessons and learn. Not only is it a useful skill in itself, going to the studio and taking the lessons there is a way of meeting people."
In the dark, Stan couldn't really make out her face properly. There was something in Denise's voice that made him ask,
"How do you know this, Denise?"
"It's where Raoul and I first met. Actually I think now he was only there to pick up girls because he could dance pretty well anyway.
She paused, then continued,
"It's a good idea though, Stan. Think about it. I'll give you the address and phone number of the studio tomorrow if you'd like"
"I'll think about it Denise. I promise."
- - - - - - - - - -
The following day when Stan found Denise, she gave him a piece of paper with the address and phone number of YB Dance Studio. It also gave a website address.
He punched up the website on his computer, and found that it was run by a former professional dancer and his wife, Yves and Belinda. He picked up his telephone and dialled.
"Hello, YB Dance Studio, Belinda Navarre speaking. How may I help?" came a beautifully spoken and very feminine voice from the receiver.
"Hello, yes. My name is Hinch, and I'd like to enquire about beginner's ballroom..."
A short while later Stan had himself an opening at the next beginner's session on Monday. He was sure that the pride he felt in doing this was quite absurd, but he couldn't deny that he felt it.
Elizabeth had listened to his side of the call.
"Dance lessons? Now that's a very good idea. What made you think of that?" she asked.
"Wasn't my idea, it was Denise's. I agree though, it is a good idea. We'll find out how good on Monday night. I expect the share price of protective footwear to go up soon, Elizabeth, now might be a good time to buy some," he joked.
"Get away with you, you'll be fine," she told him. "You just need a few lessons to get your confidence and you'll be off and running!"
Stan quickly went to find Denise and told her. She said, "Belinda's lovely. She's a genuine lady, went through all of the west end debutante stuff, you know? But she's totally in love with Yves. He's a real charmer, but she doesn't let him get away with anything.
"The two of them on a dance floor are magical though, Stan. Pay attention to them, believe in yourself and before you know it you'll be dancing up a storm!"
"Um... Do you know if that Raoul is still around, Denise? I'd feel, well, awkward meeting him, I think," Stan said. Denise looked a little startled, but recovered to say,
"D'you know, I'm not sure. I think he might be." She touched his arm. "Stan, don't do anything silly. Raoul was a rat, but that was in the past. It's not like you'll be dancing with him, is it?"
- - - - - - - - - -
The following Monday saw Stan driving to the studio in a suit, wearing some old but smart and comfortable shoes. It was about a thirty-minute drive from his house in the nearby town and he was getting more nervous every minute.
"Are you sure this is a good idea, sweetheart?" he asked. The laughing dark eyes that only he could see were absolutely certain it was.
'What if I'm the only newcomer? What happens then? Will I be expected to dance properly straight away? I can't dance, this is silly,' he thought. Well. He'd find out soon enough, because he was here. Now all he had to do was park. He found a space around the corner.
The dance studio was an old red brick primary school hall. The sign saying YB Dance was hanging in place of the old school name, otherwise not much seemed to have been altered since young children [RH1] had run around in the playground. In the failing light, Stan could still make out the markings on the asphalt for the games kids had played, fading and patchy but still there.
He opened the door and was met by a lady. She was definitely a lady, her carriage and the way she extended an arm to him told of genteel breeding.
"Hello, you must be Stanley. My name is Belinda Navarre," she told him in an accent that ought to have cut windows out of their frames.
"I'm very pleased to meet you," Stan said, taking her hand. For a moment, he thought of raising her hand to his lips, as he'd seen in old movies. Fortunately, he thought better of it, shaking her hand lightly instead.
Belinda was a tall lady with a slim figure, currently emphasised by the elegant yet simple lines of the dark red dress she was wearing. Her hair was grey but elegantly sculptured on top of her head. She had exquisite bone structure and it was obvious that she'd been a real beauty in her younger days.
"Let me introduce you to my husband, then we'll go over the formalities for tonight," she said. 'The formalities' were registration and payment; her calm assumption that he'd go along with whatever she suggested made it impossible to refuse even if he'd been inclined to.
Yves Navarre turned out to be another tall, elegant figure. Physically, the two dance teachers were very well matched. There was a hint of power in Yves, however. Stan couldn't quite get the accent; it wasn't quite French, more Spanish.
"Come with me Stanley, I'll introduce you to some of the others," Belinda instructed. Stan obeyed.
"For tonight, Stanley, you can partner me for most of the evening, but later on we'll let some of other ladies loose on you." Stan looked over to her and saw a teasing smile. They came up to a group of half a dozen people, 'All looking at the new boy,' Stan thought, a little embarrassed.
Belinda blithely introduced the first as Pamela, an attractive young lady of about twenty wearing a blue dress that came to mid thigh, then went through the remaining introductions. There would now be four men and three ladies, so as Belinda told them, "One of you will have to put up with me, I'm afraid." Stan was pleased to see there was no sign of a 'Raoul'.
It seemed this was a genuine beginners' group as no one had taken more than three classes before. Yves came to the group and took over, explaining, "Once people are a little more experienced, we like to move them into our 'improvers' class on a Tuesday. You were lucky, Mr. Hinch, there's often a wait of a few weeks before there's enough people to start a new beginners' class."
Yves told them that they'd be learning the basics of Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep and Tango, beginning tonight with the Foxtrot. "Once we have that one working, we'll teach you how to Quickstep, then Waltz, and finally Tango. If you can do the Tango properly, it's the nearest thing to lovemaking you can do while clothed," he leered theatrically. There were slightly embarrassed giggles from the ladies, who must have heard that before, Stan reflected.
Belinda showed him how to hold her, where the initial positions were, and took him thorough the step sequence. Yves instructed the others, "Select a partner, please," and began the music.