tagNovels and NovellasEqual Shares Ch. 25

Equal Shares Ch. 25


Throughout that week, Stan kept trying.

"Anne, I really would like to talk about what happened. There's no need to throw everything away."

Anne turned to look at him.

"Stan, I'm not buying what you're peddling. You said you weren't ready for Denise, but you were, all the time. I don't really know what you thought you had with me, but I know what I thought it was. You said the right things, but your behaviour on Monday night showed something different to your words. You went beyond caring for a friend, Stan. Perhaps you ought to be mending fences with Denise, not me."

Of course, that wasn't really possible. Denise was obviously seeing Tom, and continued to be upset with Stan. When she saw Stan, Denise was cold and she turned away from him at every opportunity. That she was still with Tom was amply demonstrated to Stan on Thursday afternoon when Denise's cell phone bleeped during a discussion they were having about the documentation project.

"Ooh. It's from Tom!" she cried, gladly. "Wait a moment..."

Her thumb danced a jig over the keys for a few seconds, then she closed her phone with a flourish and dropped it back into her purse.

"We're going out again tomorrow night!" she told Stan, with more than a hint of challenge. Stan had learned - he kept his opinion behind his teeth.

- - - - - - - - - -

However, by Thursday night Anne was feeling fairly miserable herself. She finally admitted to herself that she had, perhaps, over-reacted a touch.

So, she phoned him, at home.

"Stan? Hi, it's Anne," she said as soon as he picked up the receiver.

"Hi, Anne! How are you?" came from the other end. 'Great,' she thought, irritably, 'he only saw me a few hours ago, he knows how I am.'

But aloud she replied, "I'm fine, Stan. Actually, I want to talk to you. You've been bugging me all week, and, well, I might have gone a bit far. Can you come over now?"

"Of course, Anne, I'll be there in a few minutes."

The phone went dead and Anne put a pot of coffee on.

Stan was true to his word and was at Anne's door in a remarkably short time.

Anne opened the door to find Stan there, looking damp and a little dishevelled. "Come in! Come in!" she urged him. Before closing the door she checked - it wasn't raining.

"You caught me just out of the shower," he told her in response to her quizzical look. "I didn't want to wait any longer than I absolutely had to, so I just threw clothes on and came straight over."

Sure enough, he had odd socks on. Anne couldn't help but grin.

"Sit down there and have a drink. I'm going to wait for the coffee to finish filtering, but you'd better have something now and warm up!"

Anne quickly grabbed a towel for his hair and fetched a drink for him – Glenmorangie with a separate glass of water. A few moments later they were comfortably seated next to one another on the sofa. Anne took the lead...

"Stan, I think I over-reacted on Monday. I think I saw just how much you obviously felt for Denise, and it caught me. I just didn't know how to react to something like that. I haven't had a 'Love Rival' since I was a teenager, and I'd lost out every time back then, and... well it frightened me."

"I understand, Anne. But to be honest the whole thing surprised me, too. It seemed as if it were happening to someone else, and I wasn't in control any more. It just... happened, and I... I was a spectator."

After Anne brought their coffee, they sat in silence thinking about what they'd done. Stan sipped his coffee, then continued, "I'm not very good at talking about things, Anne. So please, if this doesn't come out in a way you can understand, tell me before you turn on me, huh?"

Anne smiled. "Okay! I'll give you a warning."

"I was wrong, Anne. I was wrong all along, but I didn't realize the depth of the feeling I had, or even understand what it was. Me and Denise, I mean. She... I... We..."

He looked down, unable to continue. Anne laid her hand on his. Stan looked up again, and she held his gaze.

"Stan, it's all right, just think first and say it."

"I think I do love her, Anne. But I really, really love you, too. I don't think I understand that."

Anne gave him her slightly crooked grin, and said, "I don't either, Stan, it's something we'll have to work out. But first we have to look after our own relationship." She paused a second.

"Do you love me, Stan?"

She held his eyes. He answered with a catch in his voice, "Y-yes, Anne, I love you, I love you deeply..."

"Right. I love you right back, Stanley Hinch. So, no matter what else, we can always come back to that and work from there, okay?"

Stan took her hand and squeezed it. "Always, Anne. Always!"

Again, Anne took the lead – she moved to him, put one hand behind his head, and drew him into a kiss. It wasn't a fiery, sexual kiss, but there was depth of feeling there, of that there was no doubt at all.

Anne went into the kitchen to fetch herself a glass of wine, then sat back down. Anne shifted, and Stan moved, and they found themselves with her head on his belly, he half reclined, leaning against the corner of the sofa, she lying full out with her feet dangling over the other end.

They talked about this and that, skirting carefully around the minefield of Denise, each occasionally shifting the bare minimum to reach for her glass of wine or his scotch. Anne made a long arm and found the remote control for her stereo and turned on some music, it didn't really matter what it was, just something in the background. At some point she got up and brought the bottles in from the kitchen. They talked on, mostly about completely inconsequential things until the wee hours of the morning. Stan noticed that Anne's breathing had become slow and regular and felt his own eyes insisting on drooping.

Anne woke up feeling cold. For a moment she wondered where she was, then worked it out - on her sofa, with her man. Stan had fallen asleep with one hand gently curled around a breast, and Anne smiled. But her feet had gone really cold, and she had to move, it was already light outside. She glanced at her watch. 'Six in the morning, that must be early morning twilight,' she thought.

Anne carefully removed Stan's hand from its resting place and twisted and rolled until she was sitting up. She rubbed her calves, got the circulation going again and endured the pain as the feeling started to come back while she recovered.

Anne stood and hobbled upstairs fetching a blanket. Carefully lifting his feet up onto the sofa, she picked up the blanket and draped it over Stan's still recumbent form. He was snoring softly, and she smiled, tenderly. She had plenty of time to get herself ready, and she could let Stan sleep a while longer. Besides, she just wanted to watch him.

- - - - - - - - - -

Stan woke up when he was shaken. He opened his left eye and peered to see who, what, where...

"Oh! Hi, Anne. We must've fallen asleep... what time is it?"

"It's a quarter to seven, Stan. You'd better get yourself together and run home to get changed for work."

Stan's eyes tracked, following his nose. He found coffee sitting on the table in front of the sofa, and he took a sip, gradually coming to full awareness.

"Gah! I'm stiff and sore and I feel like I've gone 15 rounds, but I also feel better, inside." He reached up for her with his free hand, and the two exchanged a loving kiss.

"Anne, you've no idea how much..."

"Hush now Stan, later. Later. Now, you've got to drink your coffee and get home. I'll see you at lunch-time, we can skip out and talk. I let you sleep, but now you've got to get moving."

Anne got up and went into the kitchen. Stan admired her as she walked away. She wore one of her wraparound skirts, but instead of her body language repelling, now it invited, even as she walked away.

Stan looked at his watch again, gulped coffee down, and stood. He followed Anne into the kitchen, clasped his hands together around her waist from behind and snuggled into the back of the tall blonde's neck.

"Hmm. Thank you, Anne. Thank you!"

"Go on, Stan. Go. I'll see you at work," she said, softly. She turned within his embrace and kissed him. "Go!"

Stan went.

- - - - - - - - - -

That day at work was a blur to Stan. Elizabeth had the day off, so Stan had to confide in Bob the reason for his good humour.

He met Anne in reception at lunchtime, and they just went for a walk in the grounds, hand in hand, chatting. Anne pointed out a pathway that neither had explored, and the two went along it, to find themselves in a clearing among the trees and bushes of the extensive grounds belonging to The Firm.

"I've not walked through here before, Stan. Have you?" Anne asked.

"No, I don't think so," Stan replied. "It's not natural, though. I wonder what it is?"

"It's an auld formal garden. Musta' belonged to the original soite owners many a year ago."

The two spun at the unexpected voice.

It was Ted, the groundskeeper.

"Oh, hi, Ted. Didn't see you there!" Stan said.

"Oi gathered that," Ted answered in his slow Suffolk accent. "I was just clearing up over y'ere," pointing to one side, where a pile of early autumn leaves were gathered, "when I 'eard you comin'."

"What did you say this place was?" asked Anne.

"It used to be a formal garden, like Oi sayed. The grounds y'ere used to belong to the old Clifford Manor House, but it all got sold orf years ago. This would've been part of the old gardens."

When Stan looked, he could see the layout. As they walked around, Ted pointed out where the old flowerbeds and walkways were. "It must be over 50 years since anyone's done anything here. One day, when I get time, I want to have a run at this, but for now all I can do is tidy it."

Anne thanked Ted, and the two lovers walked slowly back towards the main building. As they left the clearing Anne looked back. She grabbed Stan's hand again, and they walked on, lost in each other.

- - - - - - - - - -

That afternoon Stan felt like a teenager, waiting for school to let out. He and Anne were going to take a run into London to grab a play. Anne had rung up and arranged some last minute tickets, but it meant they'd have to get up and go at close of business that night.

Stan had asked what the play was, but in truth it didn't matter to him. It turned out to be Tom Stoppard's "Rock and Roll", and it wasn't really Stan's 'thing', despite the title. Just being with Anne was enough.

Just as in the cinema before, Stan's abiding memory of the theatre had nothing to do with what he'd seen. It was what he'd sensed that he remembered, Anne's hand in his, sometimes her head on his shoulder. He'd had to ask her what shampoo she'd used as the smell was lovely. During the interval they'd dashed to the bar for drinks, Gin and Tonic for Anne and a Glenlivet for Stan. During the whole of the interval it seemed that Stan and Anne held hands, or were at least touching somewhere – an arm, an elbow, a hip perhaps. As they finally left the theatre Anne gave Stan a kiss to wake the dead.

They made their way home, to Stan's home this time. Anne took her overnight case out of the back of Stan's Mondeo and they walked quickly up the path to his front door together. They barely made it indoors before they were attacking one another, almost literally tearing the clothes off each other in their rush.

Laughing, Anne managed to pull away and ran up the stairs to Stan's bedroom. She slipped off her dress and yanked off her panties, then shoved Stan's hands out of the way as she pulled his clothes off.

The sex then was frenzied and uncontrolled, but later, when they woke up in the dawn twilight, they made leisurely, tender, caring love, finishing up with cuddling, nibbling of earlobes and nuzzling of necks.

The bulk of Saturday they spent in Stan's living room, watching films on DVD, listening to music – Stan had bought 'Renaissance' by The Opera Babes, and loved it – and reading, always close together, touching more often than not. They spoke little, in truth, but the love they had was demonstrated in the look, the touch. They decided that they might as well swap keys to each other's house. Anne suggested it, neither could see any objection, so they rode into town and had spare keys cut.

There was one job that had to be done, though, and it was something Stan really didn't want to face up to. But it was necessary.

He had to call Yves and Belinda and apologise, and ask if Anne and he could come on Monday.

He rang the number.

"Hello, YB Dance Studio, how can I help?" came the cultured reply. Stan recognised Belinda's voice.

"Hello Belinda, it's Stan Hinch."

"Oh. Wait a minute, Stan, I think Yves wants to speak with you."

Stan did NOT think that was a good sign, but at least she hadn't simply hung up. Maybe the disruption hadn't been that bad.

"Stanley? Yves Navarre here. I assume you wish to come back and dance?"

"Hello, Yves." Stan put his hand over the microphone and called upstairs, "Pick up, Anne!" He put the phone back to his ear, removed the hand over the microphone, and told Yves, "I've got Anne on the upstairs extension. Yes, Yves, we would very much like to come to the dance lesson on Monday, please."

Anne echoed the request. "Yves, Stan and I are very sorry about what happened."

"Yes, we are. And it won't happen again, Yves," Stan went on.

Yves' voice came down the line to them both. "Well. Look, your personal lives are your own affair, but when you disrupt a lesson like that it involves all of us at the class. I cannot allow anything like that to happen again. You understand this, I hope?"

"Of course, Yves." "Yes, Monsignor Navarre, of course." They both answered over each other.

"Hmph! Well. If I have both your words, Mr. Hinch, Miss Berkeley, that nothing like that will ever happen again... then I think we can extend an invitation to you. Young Miss Bottomley and Mr. Orbison have a right to their own personal lives as well. Both of them have made apologies and will be attending on Monday night. Once again, I trust you will make sure that nothing of the fracas that happened on Monday will happen again. Yes?"

Stan imagined himself being frogmarched out of the hall by Yves. He was certainly a powerful enough man, even at his age, to do it. Both Anne and Stan promised, then confirmed that they'd be on their best behaviour, and rang off.

Anne came down, with a wry grin on her face. "I haven't felt like THAT since I nicked a couple of iced buns from the tuck shop and got hauled up in front of the headmaster when I was twelve!"

"I know what you mean! Still, you can see his point. I hope they don't get cancellations after what happened last Monday night."

Anne was serious now. She approached Stan, put one hand on his shoulder, the other on his cheek. He leant into it.

"Stan, will you be okay with Tom and Denise there?"

"Yes," he answered immediately. "Yes, even if I have to grit my teeth. I'll have to – I want to learn the Tango with you."

"Hmm... Yes!" she answered. "What an idea – its one hell of a sexy dance. You'll be able to Tango me right into bed!"

"Why wait for the dance?" he asked her, and laughing, she answered – by pulling him up the stairs!

- - - - - - - - - -

They watched an old Rock Hudson/Doris Day film on TV, listened to some of the Enigma boxed set that Anne had bought, and that Stan had discovered he loved. Finally they fell asleep, together.

On Sunday morning they rode into town again and had breakfast at Iorio's. Elaine and Susan weren't there, since they didn't come back from their holiday until that afternoon, but the couple had fun – just the two of them together. They went home again, read a little – Stan had found Eric Flint's "1632" and loved it – listened some more and finally, reluctantly, Anne went home – "I have housework that won't do itself, Stan – and so do you!. Time to get the vacuum out, the dishwasher going, and get some laundry done!"

Since Stan couldn't deny any of that, he kissed Anne and she turned and rode off back to her house. He watched until he could no longer see her, then went back inside and got on with his chores.

- - - - - - - - - -

On Monday morning Stan strolled into reception and brightly called out to Elaine, "Good morning!"

"Ooh, someone's in a good mood!" she answered him. "Some of us have just come back from a week away. Some of us would rather still be away, in fact!"

Stan grinned at her, and she was smiling right back at him. It took a lot to upset Elaine when her relationship was going well, which it obviously was.

"How is Susan?" Stan asked her. "Susan's lovely, Stan!" Elaine replied with an outrageous wink, and Stan laughed aloud.

"You would know, Elaine... You would know! Actually," Stan theatrically looked left and right, "I think she's lovely too. Shame she's not interested, you might have a rival!"

Elaine giggled. "I think Susan likes you, but she doesn't desire you, Stan! Something to do with being the wrong gender! Now maybe Anne on the other hand..."

The two friends laughed again, then Stan walked through into his office. As he sat at his desk Elizabeth watched him from her seat.

"You obviously had a much better weekend than you had a week leading up to it, Stanley. Made up, I assume?"

"You know what they say about assuming, Elizabeth – but yes, you're correct. Anne and I have made up. Extensively and often!"

Elizabeth's eyes widened, then she stood up. "I think I'd better get you a glass of water to cool you down, Stan. You'll be flirting with me next! She's good for you, I can tell you that!"

"She's here, and the last thing she needs is Stan flirting with another love rival! Hello, Elizabeth. Good morning!"

Anne had appeared behind Elizabeth, who whirled around in her chair to look. Then Elizabeth turned back to him and said, "Oh! Oh, you! You didn't warn me, did you! You – you – rotter!"

Elizabeth wasn't really upset – her wide smile and laughing eyes testified to that. But that didn't stop her from throwing a wadded up piece of paper at Stan!

"I just wanted to say, 'turnabout's fair play,' Stan, and I'll pick you up from your house tonight. Okay?"

"Of course, Anne, whatever you say." Stan was still suppressing a chuckle at Elizabeth's reaction.

"Don't forget that, Stan!" she said with a giggle of her own, before walking off through reception back in the direction of the Lab.

"Are you going to the dance class tonight Stan?" Elizabeth asked him.

"Yup. Tango tonight, I'm looking forward to it. Of course, we both had to be very, very nice to the Navarres and promise to be very, very good. But yes, we're both going."

"What about Denise?"

"Denise will be there, with Tom. Well, I expect so, anyway, unless by some happy chance she's seen her error. But according to the guy who runs the place, Yves – Have I told you that? – they'll both be there tonight."

"Will you be okay, Stan?

"Yes, I will, Elizabeth. I'm not letting that Tom come between Anne and me again. What about you and James?" he asked Elizabeth.

"Not this weekend. I visited my son Harry, and James was in Ireland with his niece. So you can't live a vicarious love affair through me – you'll have to have your own. It seems to me that you're doing just fine that way!"

"Yes, Elizabeth, I am, I am! Anne and I had a good weekend." He fell silent for a moment, remembering.

"Anyway..." Stan said, finally, and the two friends go on with their work.

The weekend had allowed Stan and Anne to come to terms with their love for one another. There remained a problem between them that was still unresolved.

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