tagNovels and NovellasEqual Shares Ch. 42

Equal Shares Ch. 42


It was a bright, refreshing Christmas morning. Stan and Anne had agreed to meet at Denise's cottage since she was going to be cooking the first real holiday meal for their unorthodox family. Anne insisted on getting there early for breakfast so that they could all open their presents... as soon as possible!

There was, of course, no snow, but it was chilly. Stan rang Anne to ask if she wanted a lift. She gratefully accepted, so he drove around to pick her up.

Anne was ready and waiting when he rang her doorbell. Her white winter coat looked huggable and warm. Stan thought she looked incredibly cute with her matching hat and shiny white boots. "Merry Christmas!" she said, and pointed up. There, above Stan's head, was a sprig of mistletoe – so he just had to give her a kiss. Somehow he didn't think it was such an onerous task!

Anne was feeling light-hearted and playful that morning, it seemed, because as she ran past him and off down the path to his car, she knocked Stan's hat off his head. Before he could retrieve it and catch up, she was sitting demurely in the passenger seat as if butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. Stan got in and, before starting the car, leaned towards her and murmured, "Payback can be a bitch, you know!"

"Is that a threat, little man?" she enquired, teasingly arching her brow. "Yup!" he replied, chuckling, and drove on towards Denise's place.

Denise greeted them both at the door with kisses – affectionately on the cheek for Anne, a smouldering kiss full of promise for Stan – and invited them in. "I've been looking forward to this... a lot! How about you, Anne?"

"Me? I'm just a little kid at Christmas. I always have been. It's my favourite time of year. I remember when I was 5 or 6, I used to try to stay awake and catch Santa, and I'd always strive to wake up really, really early to open my presents. I'd always find a stocking left on my bed. In it there'd be some fruit – always some fruit – and a couple of smaller toys, and usually a puzzle or two, as well."

"I'd get sweets, back when I was really little. Later it would be makeup, or a new hairbrush, or something like that, along with some toy or another to keep me quiet!" Denise answered.

"I remember getting cassette tapes for several years," Stan said. Both of the ladies looked at him. Then Denise said "What was it like in the Cretaceous period before CDs?" Anne gave her a high-five. Stan just poked his tongue out and gave them both the finger, and then had to defend himself from them as they smacked his arms. All three were grinning, and Stan couldn't repress a hearty chuckle.

In the little dining room they found that Denise had been up early in preparation. The table was set for the three of them to have their breakfast, and everything was well in hand. After a breakfast of toast and cereal, washed down with a lot of juice and coffee, Stan and Anne cleared up, telling Denise to go and relax. Several minutes later they were all gathered around Denise's tree. It was cosy in her small front room.

It was a small, real tree, set in a terracotta pot that Denise had dressed in festive paper. It was covered in decorations, varying from Santa in his sleigh (complete with reindeer) to simple bells, and sprigs of holly. The presents, all wrapped in their Christmas paper, lay underneath it.

Stan handed out his presents to his lovers: two pairs of identically sized and shaped boxes. Denise gave him two, a smaller and a larger one, while Anne's present to him was only one medium sized carton. Anne and Denise exchanged boxes of different sizes.

Stan waited for Anne to rip open the paper on the first of her presents. She started with Denise's, which was a lovely white v-necked cashmere sweater. "Oh, it's gorgeous!" Anne said, "Thanks, Denise. Open yours, next!"

Denise duly opened her present from Anne. She gasped when she saw what was inside: the box was marked "DSI". "Anne? Dancesport International?" Anne just smiled, and Denise opened the box to find a matching cocoa coloured top and skirt, with a ruche waist and a ring detail at the front that would flatter Denise. The hemline was short with cut-outs that would enhance her already lovely legs. She looked a question at Anne.

"Soon, I'm going to be far too busy, Denise. Stan's going to need a partner." Anne turned to Stan and told him to open his present from her next.

"Okay," he told her, "but I have a sneaky feeling about this." He held up a box that now looked obviously about shoe-box sized. Sure enough, the box was marked "Supadance" and held a pair of black leather dance shoes.

"They're only practice shoes, Stan. But they'll be much better for you than those old dress shoes you've been wearing to dancing. You and Denise dance well together, and I'm going to be ferociously busy. I want you to promise me that you'll keep dancing, so that one day you'll be able to show me how it's done when I have time for lessons, again!"

Stan and Denise thanked Anne. Denise told him to open his presents from her, next. The larger was three DVD sets: Live Aid, the much more recent Live 8, and the Freddy Mercury Memorial Concert from 1992. "I've heard you tell how you were at Wembley for the first of those, Stan. I checked your collection, and you don't have them. Enjoy."

Then Stan opened the smaller box. Inside was an MP3 player. "That's from both of us to you, Stan. We thought it might be a way of dragging you from the 19th to the 21st Century!"

Despite the joke, Stan was touched. "You'll have to show me how to use it – I'm sure it will take a lot of very personal tuition!" he told them both, and got the laugh he was hoping for in response.

Stan gave Anne and Denise kisses in thanks, and asked them to open his presents. He indicated the slightly smaller boxes first.

There was rapid tearing of paper, revealing jewellery boxes. Inside were gold drop earrings, each with three hearts suspended from it. Two pairs of eyes regarded each other and then turned to look at Stan. All four were brighter, wetter than usual.

Smiling, Stan indicated the other packages. There was more tearing of paper. Anne's contained a sapphire and diamond pendant necklace. Denise's was identical apart from the stone – hers was emerald. Together, Anne and Denise kissed him, one on the cheek while the other kissed his lips, then alternating. Afterwards, both ladies put on their necklaces. Each admired the other's and Stan was the happy recipient of yet more cuddles and kisses.

Finally, Anne pulled away and said, "So you'll not be trying to keep anything quiet then, Stan?"

"No point," he replied. "It was all over the Christmas party anyhow. But I bought all of these before that – I knew that in our firm, everyone was going to know our business."

"They're beautiful, Stan. Thank you," Denise said, and Anne agreed.

Some time later Anne asked, "When's Elizabeth coming around?"

"I told her not to be later than one o'clock," Denise told her, "lunch should be around about two. She is bringing James, isn't she?"

"That's what was agreed, Denise," Stan said. "I doubt if James has had much to say about it, mind."

Sure enough, at one o'clock on the dot, the doorbell rang. Denise welcomed Elizabeth and James.

"Happy Christmas, Denise!" Elizabeth said brightly. James' smile was a little forced. "Oh, come along James!" Elizabeth told him. "Just because they're new people doesn't mean they bite, you know!"

After the greetings, Anne and Stan were left to entertain James while Elizabeth shot into the kitchen to see what she could do to help Denise.

As they sat in Denise's living room, Stan wondered how to start the conversation going. James just sat there, looking around, unable to meet anyone's gaze. Stan realised that he was simply someone who was unsure of strangers in a social situation and was unable to think of a way to break the ice. Anne came to the rescue, beginning a conversation about gardening that Stan couldn't begin to follow. The two of them were still going strong, with Stan trying to look interested, when Denise and Elizabeth came into the room.

"There! That's lunch cooking, now I have a few minutes. Thanks for your help, Elizabeth!" Denise said as she dropped into her chair. James stood and let Elizabeth sit.

"I fancy a sherry, anyone else?" Denise asked. Everyone answered, "Yes, please," so Stan poured five glasses of sherry and handed them out. Anne poured some nuts into a bowl, and all were soon sipping sherry and nibbling on the pre-lunch appetisers.

"Presents!" cried Denise. "Let's give Elizabeth and James their presents!"

"How did I manage to hook up with a pair of pre-teens?" asked Stan of no one in particular. Denise grinned at him, but Anne told him "You're a fine one to talk. The way you keep staring at Denise's boobs makes me think you're still a baby yourself!"

There was more badinage, which only ended when Stan picked Denise up and threw her over his shoulder. He held her there with one arm and swatted her rump with the other saying, "I warned you!" the whole time trying unsuccessfully to hold in his laughter.

Stan let Denise down, and she wagged a finger at him. "Do that again and you get no Christmas lunch!" Stan countered by pulling her towards him and kissing her.

When he let go, she pulled away and said, "No fair, Stan! How am I supposed to stay mad at you when you kiss me like that?" Stan couldn't help it; he knew he was looking insufferably smug.

"Hey, where's mine?" asked Anne, as she stepped forward to claim her own kiss. Stan closed his eyes and enjoyed the feeling of his lover in his arms, apparently intent on mounting him there and then. He opened them again and over Anne's shoulder spotted James, apparently trying to work out what was going on.

He eased Anne away a little, without letting go of her, and looked at Elizabeth. "You didn't tell James about our, er, domestic arrangement, then?"

Elizabeth's own eyes were full of mirth. "No, I hadn't, Stan. It... well, it just hadn't come up in conversation. But in any case, it's one thing to know it, and another to see it!" She turned to James. "Stanley, here, is the lucky man who has two girlfriends. And as you can see, they all get on well together!"

"I can see that!" James said, dryly. "If you ask me, you're just looking for trouble Stan – two women at once, they'll hen-peck you to death if they don't drive you mad first!"

This time it was James who had to protect himself – from three women.

"I don't envy you, Stan – though of course I can understand the advantages!" James had to duck some more, then! "But didn't the young lady say something about presents?"

"Yes, she did!" said Denise, brightly. She brought a large box and an envelope from under the tree. The envelope went to James, and the box to Elizabeth.

James gestured to Elizabeth to go first. She carefully undid the paper, revealing a boxed fragrant Gardenia. "Oh, thank you all so much!" she said. She looked expectantly at James, who opened his envelope. "A voucher for the Pro shop at the golf course! Thank you, too!"

"Well," said Stan, "we couldn't invite you around on Christmas Day and not give you presents, could we?"

"Well, we've not come empty handed either!" James said, presenting Stan with an envelope, too.

"What have you got, Stan?" asked Anne, while Denise moved to look over his shoulder.

"It's a voucher for Apricots," he said. James amplified, "I hope it'll be suitable for all three of you. I wasn't made aware of the full facts!" He finished up looking directly at Elizabeth.

"Oh, it's fine. I rang Apricots and told them to make sure it was suitable for all three of you, Stan," she answered with a smile.

After that, Denise served up a sumptuous Christmas meal. After a starter of prawn cocktail, apart from Stan who had a melon slice instead, all had roast turkey, potatoes, vegetables, cranberry and bread sauces. Afterwards, to considerable groans from Anne who declared that she couldn't eat any more, Denise and Stan went into the kitchen. Stan poured the brandy over the Christmas pudding and set light to it, and then Denise brought it in to the dining room. It was an altogether super meal that was enjoyed by all despite the slightly cramped surroundings.

After lunch, Elizabeth and James left to go and see her son and daughter. Stan pulled Denise to one side and whispered in her ear. The redhead listened, turned and flashed a surprised smile at him and nodded.

Denise disappeared into the kitchen, and Stan sat down next to Anne, who was relaxing with a drink.

She asked him, "What was that about?"

"I told Denise what I'm going to offer you, Anne. She was surprised, but told me to go for it, so I will. I have another present for you, Anne."

So saying he drew a small, wrapped package from his pocket and put it in Anne's hand. She looked questioningly at him, but Stan merely indicated that she should open it.

Inside was a black velvet choker with an ivory cameo. "For sometime later, when you're ready," he told her. "You put it on when you want to play, and don't wear it if you don't. It's a simple way of showing me when you're in the mood. Or, you can simply tell me that it's a nice thought but you don't want to 'play' that way, and just wear it as a choker, not as a collar. It's up to you, the present is yours regardless, Anne."

"Oh!" Anne sat, looking at the choker for a couple of minutes, obviously in intense thought.

"It is okay, isn't it?" Stan asked, worried.

"Oh, yes, Stan, it's lovely. Um, I'm not sure I want to 'play' as you say though. Can I keep it until I make up my mind, please?"

"Of course you can, Anne. All the time you want, all the time you need. Just let me know when you've decided, huh?"

Anne looked at him through narrowed eyes.

"You're a dark horse, Mr. Hinch. Where did you come up with an idea like this?"

Stan smiled and told her, "You're not the only one who can research on the internet, Anne!"

"Well, Stan, I promise I'll let you know, sometime, okay? But for now, I'll just keep this safe." She put the choker into her handbag, reached for Stan's face and kissed him, tenderly, "I promise, Stan."

Denise came back into the living room bearing more drinks, and Stan turned on her TV set. The three sat close together on Denise's small sofa, relaxing, until soon all were asleep, with Anne and Denise resting their heads on Stan's shoulders.

- - - - - - - - - -

With The Firm having its annual shutdown period from the twenty first of December through to the start of the new working year on the third of January, all three of the lovers had some free time. Anne couldn't do much real work during the hiatus, so even she was forced to relax a little, though as Stan found when he went to visit her, that didn't stop her from reading trade magazines and scientific periodicals.

He chuckled when he found Anne reading one, telling her "I thought you were going to relax?" but Anne had looked up and said, "What? This is how I relax!"

Stan reflected that when he'd seen Denise the day before, her relaxation method, which involved wine, soft lights and music, was different from Anne's...

- - - - - - - - - -

That Thursday, three days after Christmas, Stan was visiting Anne again when the phone rang.

Anne, upstairs, answered it. A few minutes later she came down the stairs.

"That was Sid," she told him, "He wants me to start early. They've got another tranche of funding, and he's ready for me. It means I'll have to quit The Firm early, but Sid tells me he will pay off my notice period. So much for a rest before the rush begins!"

She went on, "He says they really have to push to get everything ready as quickly as possible. They've had some money come in earlier than expected and they need to make the most of it. Sid wants me to start straight away, and he meant now. But I told him I couldn't, it would be unethical to drop my project at The Firm right now. I need time to tidy it up and prepare for whoever Percy gives it to."

"How did Sid take that?" Stan asked.

"Not well. He doesn't like being told 'No!', he's not used to it. But sometimes he needs to hear it."

Stan thought for a moment, 'There's a subtext here.'

"Anne, did he... well, try anything while you were at university, studying under him?"

Anne coloured. "No, Stan. Nothing happened, but he did have a reputation. I told him right from the start that I was there to learn, and he knew what I meant. So he never came on to me, but I could tell he wanted to. I became good friends with his wife Maggie, partly to make sure he didn't get any ideas. I just hope that now he's older, there'll be no temptation. If nothing else, I expect to be too tired, anyway!"

"Are you still attracted to him, Anne?" Stan asked after a moment. Anne drew in a deep breath. She turned to look Stan in the eye.

"Yes, I am! But not as much as then, Stan. Most importantly, I'm much more attracted to you, you old goat. Besides, I'll be working directly for him, it would be very awkward to carry on an affair at work. Besides, I couldn't do that to Maggie. She's one of my oldest friends, and I think far too much of her. So don't worry, Stan."

"Silly girl. I wasn't worried. I know you love me. We discussed this a long time ago, sweetheart. I'm not jealous. But be careful, and don't hurt anyone, that's all."

Anne took Stan's hand in hers, and stroked his face with her other one. "Nothing's going to happen, Stan, not with Sydney. He's a lovely man, and once I fancied him a lot, and had to hide behind myself, as it were, to stop anything happening. But those days are long gone. Our relationship is, and will remain, purely professional. Okay?"

"Okay, Anne," Stan said, and she leaned to him, kissing him deeply. Their kiss became more passionate, and she led him upstairs where they made love... slow, languid, tender love. Afterwards Stan slept while Anne trailed a finger through Stan's chest hair, murmuring to herself, "You still don't realise just how much I love you, Stanley Hinch. But you will, one day."

Then she fell asleep herself, one arm still draped over his chest, her head on his shoulder.

- - - - - - - - - -

Anne, Denise and Stan all had diverse commitments for the New Year's celebrations. Well, Anne and Denise did, Stan just stayed home and watched some television, had a quiet drink and went to bed straight after midnight. He spent some of the night in quiet contemplation, toasting the beautiful blonde and the vivacious redhead who had, between them, stolen his heart.

Caron, the raven-haired witch, laughed in his head, realising that he'd be home alone tonight. 'Two beautiful women and you stay at home with neither, Stan?' he felt her ask as he got himself into bed. 'It's the best way of showing no favouritism, my love,' he told her, just before sleep.

- - - - - - - - - -

Earlier in the week, Stan had been over visiting Denise, transferring some of his CD collection into his new MP3 player, when the phone rang. Denise was surprised and pleased to hear a voice she recognised from Ibiza.

"Hi, Denise? It's me, Janice!"

"Hi, Janice! Wow, this is a surprise!"

"Are you doing anything for New Year's, Denise?"

"Um, I dunno – hang on a minute."

She put her hand over the microphone and turned to Stan.

"Stan, did you have anything specific in mind for New Year? One of my friends from Ibiza has just asked."

"No, nothing planned, Denise. Go, enjoy yourself!"

- - - - - - - - - -

So, a few days later on New Year's Eve, she did.

She arrived at Janice's home to find that Devon and Sue were both there too, but Millie couldn't be there. "She's gone over to the States, she's got a cousin there. I think she'll stay if she can, Denise. She always felt she wanted to go there anyway. But never mind that. How're you?" Janice asked her as she took her coat. Denise could hear loud music coming from within, and was looking forward to having an evening where she could let her hair down again.

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