Equal Shares Ch. 11bysteveh11©
After a fitful night, Stan got up in the morning feeling tired and somehow unkempt. A shower and a shave later it was only tiredness, but Stan couldn't get the grittiness out of his eyes. His 20-20 hindsight was telling him that there were all sorts of things he could have said last night, the most important of which would have been "Can I take you out for a drink next week?" or something similar. In his wildest fantasies Anne invited him in for 'coffee'- an invitation that would maybe then lead to lovemaking.
But then his doubts came back in full force. Anne was beautiful, why'd she want to go with him? Surely she already had a boyfriend, maybe more than that? She was far too intelligent for him, he'd never be able to keep up. She was so beautiful...
Stan's thoughts went back and forth like this for a while, gradually intermixing and becoming more chaotic. Suddenly he looked at his watch. Uh – oh. It was already after eight thirty! Stan was late. Time to move.
Stan ruthlessly suppressed all thought of Anne for a while as he frantically got ready for work. In any event, he needn't have worried. Bob had left a message with Elaine that he was going to be late too – one of his daughters had had a minor but messy accident and had needed to go to hospital. As Stan entered his office he knew he'd have to stand in for Bob, doing a lot of his work this morning. So it proved, and Stan was immensely busy for the first couple of hours.
Stan looked up as Bob entered.
"Hi Bob, how's Mary?"
"Oh, that daughter of mine's a trial, but she's fine, she's fine. Silly girl managed to drop a cast iron saucepan, she tried to cushion the fall by putting her foot under it!"
"She okay?" Stan asked, concerned.
"Oh, yes, she's in pain, but there's nothing broken and the hospital's provided her with painkillers."
"Did the doctor say any more about the injury, Bob?" asked Elizabeth.
"No, not much. 'Nothing broken, just soft tissue injury. No long term consequences.' was the gist of it." Bob replied.
"I wouldn't think there'd be any long term problems Bob," said the older lady. "I know I haven't practised for a long time, Bob, but simple injuries like that don't change over time. She'll be fine, Bob."
Being a former nurse, albeit a long time ago, her reassurances made Bob feel better, even though the doctor at the hospital had said much the same. Stan brought him up to date with the latest dealings and got on with his own work
It was lunchtime before Stan knew it. He stood up and stumbled into the canteen, hoping to catch sight of Anne. His hope was not fulfilled.
Today's main meal offering was spaghetti carbonara, allegedly. It was edible and cheap, but Stan suspected that a true connoisseur would have blown a gasket. Some fruit squash and a cup of coffee later and Stan felt better, at least.
Stan resolved to head straight to the design lab, but was intercepted by one of the salesmen with a customer problem, and before Stan knew it he was fully back in work mode.
It wasn't until later in the afternoon that Stan was able to get free for a few minutes. Before he could move, Elizabeth came into the office and called, "Wait a moment please, Stan."
Stan, who had half risen, sat back down again.
Elizabeth sat at her desk. She leaned forward and told him,
"A little birdy in Personnel tells me that it's Anne's birthday tomorrow. Have you got her anything?"
"Er, no!" Stan thought for a moment, and then continued, "I'll have to get her something tonight. God knows what. I need to get a card, and think about wrapping paper, and... wait a minute. Why'd they tell you it was Anne's birthday tomorrow?"
Elizabeth looked a little smug. She said,
"Your face yesterday told me all I needed to know. Whenever Anne walks in the room you take notice. Also, you two have been, well, 'getting along famously,' since last week. Elaine noticed it too. You know what the speed of gossip is, Stan!
"So when Faye in personnel saw me, she 'Just Happened To Mention It'. Like I said before, Stan, it's a good job you let us organise things for you!"
Stan was dumbfounded. What did Anne think? Does she know? In fact... well. 'Better to ask a question of Elizabeth than to court disaster through ignorance,' he thought.
"Does Anne know this, do you think?" he asked her.
"I'm supposed to say something like, 'Only if she's not blind and stupid', Stan," she told him, gently, "but in this case I think she's as blinkered as you are."
"Really?" Stan didn't know what to think. Was that good or bad?
"Mmm. So, when you give her the card and present that you'll be buying and wrapping tonight, you can ask her out as well, can't you. Perfect opportunity, Stan. Take it!"
Stan grabbed his forelock with his right hand, looked down and said, "Yes, ma'am!"
- - - - - - - - - -
"Bob, is it okay if I leave a little early today – say, about four o'clock?" asked Stan in mid-afternoon. Bob didn't seem overly surprised by the request.
"Sure, Stan. No problem." Then Bob turned back to his work, and Stan did the same.
'Either he's oblivious to all around him as well or he already knows, just like Elizabeth. In the first case it's bad because he's supposed to be the people person of the two of us; in the second it's bad because everyone seems to know that I'm smitten, except Anne,' Stan mused.
He paid a visit to a jeweller's and a card shop, then went home to write out the card and wrap the present. Thinking of what to write took a long time. In the end he started writing on scrap paper to see how it looked, and made several attempts, throwing each of them away. Finally, inspiration hit, so he wrote down the words that had sprung to mind on scrap paper to see how they read. Then finally, he wrote the card before spending some time wrapping the present carefully.
When he'd finished, he looked at the wall. He knew he still loved Caron, he always would, but now it seemed she'd given him the freedom to move on without hurting or slighting her. He felt her love for him as fresh as the first day, that first day on which they'd known, just completely known, that each loved the other and that they'd be together. But instead of allowing that love to draw him inward, closing him off, he felt Caron encouraging him, 'Take a chance, love. Live again. Love again. I'll always love you, don't worry.'
His eyes full of tears and with a lump that felt like a football in his throat, Stan couldn't say anything. But he felt better. His love for Caron was unbroken, but now he knew that it didn't mean he couldn't love someone else. Someone who had blonde hair and intelligent, shining eyes.
- - - - - - - - - -
On Wednesday morning, Stan called Pat, the Design department secretary.
"Pat, is Anne free at all today?" he asked.
"Hang on a moment Stan...yes, she should be. There's no meetings or anything planned for her group this afternoon," the ever efficient Pat told him.
"I need to see her about three o'clock, will that be okay?" asked Stan and Pat confirmed "She'll be free for most of the afternoon, Stan, she should be in the lab area, all alone." Pat ended her sentence with a smile that Stan could hear down the line.
"Good luck, Stan!" she finished before hanging up, which only inspired another bout of paranoia and doubt in Stan for a moment. It seemed everyone knew what was going on!
As the day wore on, Stan felt increasingly nervous and excited. He couldn't sit still, he felt hot, and he couldn't stop talking. He wasn't making much sense a lot of the time, though.
Elizabeth brought him a paper cup of water from the machine. "Calm down, Stan, you'll have a heart attack!"
Eventually, the clock wound its slow but inexorable way towards three o'clock. Stan made his way over to the design lab, getting winks from Elaine and Pat on the way. He held in his slightly sweaty hand the small box, wrapped up in blue paper, and the envelope with Anne's card.
As soon as he entered the lab he saw her. His breath whooshed out of him and he stopped involuntarily.
Today Anne was not wearing her usual conservative wraparound skirt and blouse. Today she was wearing a black top and a short gypsy style denim miniskirt that showed off her long, long legs to maximum advantage. She was standing with her back to Stan, leaning forward slightly. Stan couldn't help himself. He simply stared at her ass for a while. Anne's legs were long and her muscles were clearly defined yet feminine. Shaking himself, he approached the beautiful woman who had stolen his breath.
He tried to say "Hi, Anne," but all that came out was a croak. Anne whirled around, eyes wide at the unexpected intrusion. She'd clearly been concentrating on something, and was taken aback at being disturbed. She opened her mouth, but before she could say anything Stan blurted out,
"Happy birthday, Anne. I got you a little something."
Anne's mouth closed with an audible clomp. Her eyes narrowed, then her face cleared as she realized that Stan was holding something out to her in his right hand.
Two things, actually. Anne felt her own face grow hot as she reached tentatively, out to take the proffering. Hand shaking slightly, she took the card and the box from Stan.
She opened the box first. Inside lay a lovely white gold pendant with sapphires, on a delicate chain of the same metal. Her mouth open and dry, she held it up to her neck. Stan reached towards her, then stopped. Anne nodded, almost imperceptibly, then opened the clasp before turning around so Stan could put the chain around her neck and fasten it there. Stan's hands were shaking as he attempted to do that, but eventually he managed. Anne turned around and looked at Stan, a question in her eyes. He returned the look with one of his own, full of doubt and uncertainty, before pulling himself together and saying, "Now the card, Anne."
Anne slid a nail under the flap and opened the envelope. Inside was a simple card with a "Happy Birthday!" message, but when she opened it she saw that Stan had written his own message inside. It read:
You fill up my senses like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime, like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert, like a sleepy blue ocean
You fill up my senses, come fill me again.
The words are John Denver's, Anne, but the feeling's mine.
Please, will you go out with me?
Anne gasped and hesitated a moment, before she looked at Stan, then said, simply, "Yes."
- - - - - - - - - -
The two sat next to one another in the lab. They were close, but not quite touching. Neither had said anything.
Anne was furiously thinking. She'd not been looking for any of this. After Daniel, she'd sworn off romantic entanglements, preferring to throw herself into her work and closing off that side of herself.
On Monday night she'd thought Stan was going to say something, but when he hadn't, she'd decided that she'd misread things. She'd waited at the door for a moment, but it seemed that Stan couldn't wait, virtually bolting down the path. So she'd closed the door feeling sad, miserable, alone, and somewhat rejected.
On Tuesday, Anne had woken with the conviction that she should put it behind her. She'd worked with furious intensity before being pulled into a series of meetings. Anne hated these, feeling (with, she felt, some justification) that they were a waste of her time and skills. The last one dragged on to after five thirty. Percy's droning voice drove her to distraction, desperate to get out and get on with some real work.
So she'd gone home that Tuesday night frustrated. She'd arrived home, changed, did a little housework, cooked herself a little pasta with a bottled sauce in the microwave and poured herself a large glass of white wine to go with it.
While she was eating, she 'd thought about herself. Tomorrow, Wednesday, she'd be 35. She'd forced herself up through sheer ability to become a leader in the design group at The Firm, but her home life was a wasteland. She hadn't enjoyed physical love for almost a decade, relying on her fingers and toys. She hadn't been close to anyone emotionally, either, for all of that time, and more.
She knew she should have made more of an effort to meet and enjoy the company of others, but not only did she tell herself that she was quite comfortable on her own, but she was secretly still frightened. After the first time, Daniel had been subtle, ensuring that the blows fell where the marks wouldn't show or at least could be easily concealed. She'd put up with it for two years before he'd lost control, this time breaking her wrist. The young doctor had been horrified when she'd seen the fading bruises, and Anne had poured out her soul. Proceedings had begun later that week. Daniel hadn't contested the divorce, as her solicitor had made it quite clear that if he did, charges would be pressed.
For a long time she flinched away from physical contact with anyone, but particularly men. As time had passed, that had got better, but she still was wary of men. Many of them had the opinion that she had to have used her looks to get anywhere. This only reinforced her view that men were entirely optional and she'd much rather do without. On Friday and again on Monday night, Stan had seemed an exception to the rule. Then he'd left her on her doorstep, scuttling off. He hadn't even been to see her today!
The wine had made her woozy and not a little sleepy, so she'd pulled herself up the stairs to bed.
On that Friday, when she'd been dressing for the 'Success Dinner', she felt so elated that she had needed to dress more freely. Over the weekend, she'd realized that Stan had been right – she'd slipped, and instead of hiding herself behind her professional persona, she'd revealed herself. Today, Anne had woken up on her 35th birthday with a resolve to stop concealing herself. She had put on a little more makeup than usual, let her hair curl around her face, (some, annoyingly, kept straying across her eye) and pulled out a miniskirt she hadn't worn for over five years. When she'd looked at herself in the mirror she'd thought, 'You're not hiding any more, girl!' and grinned at herself.
Once again she concentrated on her work, almost (but not quite) oblivious to the looks she was receiving. Anne felt a little ambivalent about that, as she was still unused to that sort of attention, but on consideration it was flattering!
Eventually she'd been bothered enough by her stray lock of hair that she'd clipped it behind with a pair of combs. Lunch had been a sandwich taken at her bench in the lab, eaten one-handed while adjusting an oscilloscope and taking notes with the other hand. She noticed that she wasn't alone when she heard a strangled croak from behind her.
Whirling around, she'd been going to yell at whoever it was for startling her and breaking her concentration, when the intruder had wished her a "Happy Birthday!" and she'd realized it was Stan, standing there and managing to combine guilt and bewilderment in the one expression. Anne had smiled a little to herself when she'd realized he'd been looking at her behind.
His face had cleared a little and he'd given her a gift and a card. The gift was wonderful, a white gold pendant studded with sapphires that went beautifully with her skin and hair colouring. It was truly beautiful. Then she'd opened the card.
She didn't recognize the rhyme, but it was beautiful, too – and the question at the end took her breath. She'd thought for a moment, wondering 'Am I ready for this?' before simply looking at Stan and saying "Yes."
- - - - - - - - - -
The two spent almost half an hour together, sitting close but not touching, saying very little. Stan had explained where the words had come from,
"It's 'Annie's Song' by John Denver. I remember it playing when I was a kid. I loved the lyrics then, I was about ten and it all seemed silly when I first heard it but later it was re-released and I loved it," and then he'd sung a little to her, not too well- singing wasn't one of his talents!
She'd been able to recognise it from her childhood, it had been one of her mother's favourites. However, she had a request to make:
"Stan, it's lovely. But I hate 'Annie'. It's what men call me when they're being patronizing. You get away with it this time, but it's 'Anne'!"
Then, Anne had almost whispered her "Thank You" to Stan for the gift and card, feeling almost shy, like a young teenager being asked out. Each tried not to be caught staring at the other for a while, stealing glances. Finally Percy had intruded, almost apologetically asking if Anne would attend yet another meeting with Rick and some of the Sales staff.
Stan had stood, said "I'll meet you here at five, Anne."
"Fine. We'll have to decide what's next."
- - - - - - - - - -
Stan returned to his desk, and was immediately pounced on by Elizabeth.
"Well? How'd you get on? What did you give her? Did you ask her out? What did she say?" Elizabeth asked in quickfire succession.
Stan thought for a moment, collecting information.
"In order: Well! A white gold pendant. Yes! And... Yes!" he finally answered.
Elizabeth froze, then her mouth dropped open. She finally squeaked "Stan!" and came around the desks to throw her arms around him. Stan was more than a bit embarrassed, but hugged her back.
"If you only knew how much I wanted you to do this! God!" she told him, tears in her eyes, heedless of the rest of the office.
"You're my son in all but name, and you were closed off to everything and everyone for so long after Caron. I'm so glad I got Denise to intervene, and that you've taken the first step to opening your life up again. You're a romantic to the core, Stanley Hinch. When do I get to see this pendant?"
More than slightly dumbfounded, Stan said, "Well, Anne's wearing it. But I think she'll be in a meeting until five. Can you wait until tomorrow?"
"Beast! You're such a tease. Oh well, if I must, I must. Now, what are your plans?"
Stan paused in realization.
"Well, we don't really have any, yet."
Elizabeth walked back around the desk and sat down. She gazed indulgently at Stan, and said, "But you've asked for a date, and Anne's said yes."
"That's right, but we never got as far as deciding what to do, or even when to do it. We're meeting at five to discuss it."
"Well, what do you want to do, bearing in mind that it's a first date, you're a gentleman and wouldn't want to shock me?"
Stan laughed. "I thought I was supposed to be the tease? Well, I suppose somewhere a bit classy, where we can get a booth or a table that doesn't let everyone stare at us, and we can get a nice drink. Maybe some food. Um?"
"You've got a little while, Stan. Think about it."
So, Stan thought about it. They hadn't even decided if their date would be tonight or perhaps Friday or Saturday, but Stan knew he wanted it to be tonight. So it couldn't be late, or with too much booze involved. He didn't think he'd feel hungry, but Anne might, and besides, it still wasn't four o'clock, so who knew?
'Ah! Tennants Wine Bar,' he thought. It had a small bistro restaurant, as well as the normal bar area. It didn't have booths, precisely, but the bar area was arranged to have a lot of nooks and crannies for at least the illusion of privacy, and it was dark enough. Overall the impression was... intimacy. With the restaurant available as well, food wouldn't be much of a problem, and midweek it shouldn't be so crowded that they'd have to book, well not now at least.