Equal Shares Ch. 47bysteveh11©
Eventually, Stan and Denise were both informed that they would be able to leave The Firm at the end of the first week in April. Their final weeks flew by in a rush as they tasked themselves to tidy up their projects and hand them over to others. Stan thought it significant that no thought was given to hiring replacements.
As the time for their departure grew closer, Stan and Denise gave thought to saying goodbye to people. Denise wasn't looking forward to saying it to Elaine, and Stan had no idea at all how to approach the subject with Elizabeth.
Anne, meantime, had now completed most of the hardware design for the project, and was beginning on the embedded firmware that would turn it from an interesting concept into a product. She still had more work than she could easily deal with, but now at least some of it could be done at home. This allowed her, with Sid and Ken's approval, to reduce her commute from six days a week to four, with the other two days spent at home. Anne being Anne, of course, she simply ploughed the recovered hours back into her work. Privately, Stan thought that her bosses – soon to be his bosses – had anticipated that, which contributed to their agreement.
His thoughts were increasingly along the lines of 'What have I done?' He was beset by doubt over his decision to quit The Firm. One night, lying next to Anne in the darkness, he was feeling so unsure that he was tempted to ask if he could rescind his resignation. It was largely the sense of shame that he would feel as a result that deterred him from doing that, along with a good dose of in--the--morning realism.
It was Elizabeth he talked to about it that morning.
"It's just nerves, Stan. You've always been resistant to change, and this is a big one. Mind you, I thought you'd become more amenable to change, given what's happened in the last year."
Stan couldn't help but smile as he mused. "Yes, I suppose I should be… but this seems… different."
"You made the right decision, Stan. We've both said that this isn't the nice, small, friendly firm we used to enjoy working at. Leave now, with a good chance of success in your new job. Don't hang around, hoping for things to get better."
Elizabeth looked far away for a moment, and then returned her gaze to Stan.
"I told Bob this morning, now I'll tell you. I'm going to retire at the end of May."
"That's wonderful, Elizabeth!" Stan blurted, but then he let the implications of the news settle in. "That is wonderful, Elizabeth. But I feel sorry for Bob, he must wonder what he's done."
"Actually, he was very gracious about it. I think he's looking forward to breaking in a younger assistant. Probably one with better legs!"
Elaine would be staying. As she told Denise, "I still enjoy working here, and it's handy for home, and Susan. Jobs with those advantages don't grow on trees, so I'll stay."
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
The next news that Stan got was expected, but very pleasing. A few days later he walked into work as usual, said hello to Elaine, walked into his office and sorted himself out. Once he was settled, Elizabeth leant forward over the desks between them.
"I have some news," she said.
"Oh?" was Stan's reply, as he pulled himself away from his morning emails.
"You remember I told you James and I were going to be going on a cruise around the Mediterranean this summer?"
"Yes, you said. It's not off, is it?"
"No, it's definitely on. It's going to become a honeymoon cruise. I'm marrying James," Elizabeth said.
Stan beamed. "Oh, good, we get another wedding to go to!" he said.
"When did he get up the gumption to propose?"
"Oh, he hasn't yet, but he will, he will. He just needs a little more gentle prodding, and assuring that he won't be turned down. I know what I'm doing," she giggled. Stan was amazed. Elizabeth, turned into a giggling schoolgirl?
"You don't think it's wrong, me getting married at my age, do you?" Elizabeth asked him, a slight worry frown on her face.
"Of course not."
"I just don't want to seem silly, marrying at my age. But James has been wonderful to me, and attentive, and it's just a case of making sure that he knows that when he asks, I'll say 'Yes'. I never expected to get married again after George died. James makes me happy when I'm with him, he's a good companion." Elizabeth leaned towards Stan, and in an exaggerated whisper told him, "He's good in bed, too!"
Stan laughed, got up and went around to Elizabeth's side of the desk. Pulling the older woman to her feet, he kissed her briefly and then stepped back a little, before saying, "You'll never change, Elizabeth. Thankfully! I'm so pleased for you, and I'm sure Denise and Anne will be, too. When's the cruise? How long has he got?"
"The cruise is at the beginning of August, so we'll get married just before we leave. It'll be just a quiet one. I want you and your two girls to come, of course."
"Assuming he does ask, Elizabeth. There's no guarantee he will."
"He will, Stan. If he doesn't, then I'll ask him!"
Stan laughed and hugged Elizabeth to him.
"We'll be there, Elizabeth. Now, pop along and fix your makeup so we can get back to finishing up our time here!"
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Too soon in some ways, it was the last day. Stan's first news wasn't about him, though.
Elizabeth waited for him to settle at his desk as usual. Then she showed him her left hand.
There was a new ring on there. An engagement ring.
Stan looked up, smiling. "Congratulations! When did he pop the question, Elizabeth?"
"Last night, over dinner. It was very romantic, down on one knee and everything. I told him that at least he didn't have to ask my father first."
"It's really, really lovely, Elizabeth. So now it certainly will be a honeymoon cruise. You'll have to let the cruise company know."
"I'm phoning them this afternoon, Stan. Among a number of other calls I have to make. Don't forget! You'll be getting an invite, of course."
"How could I forget? Many congratulations, Elizabeth."
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Both Stan and Denise knew there'd be the usual collection and presentations, but what Stan wasn't prepared for was being asked to come into Jon's office late that morning. Denise was there, and so was Bob. Jon indicated to Stan that he should sit next to Denise, then cleared his throat and began.
"Stan, let's not pretend that there'll be a surprise, you know what happens as well as I do. There's a presentation this afternoon at three. The twist this time is, we'll be making the presentation to both of you at the same time."
"Everyone knows that you're an item, you pair," Bob continued, perched on the corner of Jon's desk. "You're leaving together to start work at the same firm together, so we thought it made sense to make the presentations at the same time."
"So we'll want you both there, in the canteen, at three. You can spend the time between now and then sorting out your 'thank you' speeches," Jon finished with a slight smirk.
Stan looked at Denise, who looked back at him through her excited grey eyes.
"I think we can handle that, Jon, Bob. Thanks!"
So, that afternoon, Stan and Denise stood at the front of the canteen with Bob and Jon, while just about everyone who could be there piled in to see them get their going away gifts.
Bob leaned to Stan and quietly asked, "Ladies first?" Stan nodded and murmured, "Yes, certainly."
Bob stepped forward slightly, and cleared his throat, calling the room to order.
"As you all know, Denise and Stan are leaving us today. As they're both joining the same company outside here, we thought it fitting to do both presentations together. Jon, if you would, please?"
Jon took over. "Denise has been with us for several years now, and has always been one of the, er, sunnier people it's been my pleasure to work with. Well, provided she wasn't annoyed with me, anyway." There was a ripple of polite laughter, less polite and more edgy from those who'd felt the raw edge of Denise's tongue.
"It's been a great pleasure to work with her and I'm really annoyed with Stan for helping to entice her away." (More polite laughter.)
"We'll be sorry to see her go, but I'm sure she'll have success in her new venture." He turned to Denise. "As always, your colleagues have had a collection and have bought you a leaving present and a card."
He handed over a small box wrapped in some fancy blue metallic paper and a large card. Denise set the card down on the canteen counter for the moment, and opened the box.
Inside was a small ceramic figurine of a dancer, with golden red hair and wearing a long red flowing dress. The box was labelled "Giuseppe Armani" and "I Could Have Danced All Night". Denise took a look at it and burst into tears, it was so beautiful, and so right for her. She managed to sob out a "Thank you, everyone!"
She pulled Stan to her and buried her face against his chest. Stan said, "I think she likes it, folks. Thanks, thanks very much." His own throat felt like there was something blocking it. The figurine was truly stunning, their co--workers and friends had gone to considerable trouble and expense to find something like that for her.
Bob said, "While Denise is recovering herself, let's do the honours for Stan, then."
"Stan joined us just under twenty years ago. He's one of those people that everyone in The Firm knows, and I think everyone likes. He's been with us through good and bad times, and through his own personal trials and tribulations, such as the sad loss of his wife just over a year and a half ago. Some of you may know that it was Denise, here, who helped to pull him out of that, and she did it by persuading him to take dance lessons, lessons which she, herself, later joined. Hence the present! But for you, Stan, we have something a little different."
He presented Stan with his card, and another box of about the same size. Stan ripped the paper off it and then carefully opened the plain box.
Inside was a diorama style figurine of a skeleton sitting at a computer desk. The screen displayed "Surfed too long".
Stan burst out laughing. "It seems impossible to get rid of a reputation," he told the assembled host, "though I haven't pulled an all--nighter playing games on the PC for a couple of years. Thank you, everyone."
One of the canteen ladies, smiling, laid another box on the counter, and Bob handed it to him, smiling broadly. "Here's your real present from us all, Stan."
This box contained the full boxed set of the series "Angel" on DVD. Stan was delighted, and told the crowd, "Thanks! Thank you very, very much."
He went on, "It's customary to say a few words at a time like this. Despite having quite a long time to think of them, I never really did, so this is on the fly."
"First off, on behalf of myself and Denise, I'd like to thank everyone for the lovely presents. They're really very thoughtful and we're both very touched. I've enjoyed my time working here; you've all been good to work with and I've made some lasting friends. But sometimes there comes along an opportunity that you simply can't ignore, and that's what's happened. I thought about it for a long time, too long according to some," and now he looked directly at Denise, who had straightened and backed away from him a little, giving him room, "and I've even had some qualms after handing in my resignation, but in the end I think this is something I have to do. So thank you all, for everything, and I hope we'll meet again at some point."
There was a ripple of applause as Stan stepped back to the counter. Then Denise stepped forward.
"Stan's said most of it for both of us. We'll both be around to say goodbye personally, don't worry. The figurine is simply gorgeous, and I'll treasure it. Thanks from me, as well!"
Denise and Stan did, indeed walk around The Firm together, saying goodbye to friends and colleagues. But there were two very special goodbyes.
First they went to see Elizabeth. Denise hugged the older woman and whispered, "Thank you so very much!" to her. Elizabeth pecked her on the cheek and told her, "Don't be a stranger!"
Then Stan went to her. He hugged her closely, and felt tears welling. Still hugging her, he said softly into her ear, "Thank you so much for being my friend, and for helping me when I didn't even realize I needed the help. I don't know what I'd have done without you, Elizabeth."
She patted him on the shoulder and he pulled away. Elizabeth dabbed at her own cheeks, and then told him, "Silly man. I'm used to looking after my gentlemen, Stan. Now look what you've done, you've made me all emotional. I'll be seeing you soon at the wedding, so it's not like it's goodbye."
"I'll keep in touch, Elizabeth." Unlike most such pronouncements he knew that this was one that was true.
Finally, on their way out, they saw Elaine.
This time Stan went first, giving the pretty blonde a hug and surprising her with a firm kiss as well. "I'm going to miss you, Elaine," he told her. "You have no idea how lovely it is to walk into work each morning to that dazzling smile. Being invited to your wedding was a true honour. You're a true friend, Elaine, in all the senses that phrase can take. Please don't be a stranger. I have your mobile number, and I'm sure Denise has that and your home number as well. We'll be in touch."
He released her, and stepped away as Denise took her much loved friend into her arms and kissed her on the cheek. It wasn't a lover's kiss, but it was much more than just a friendly peck. "I love you, Laney," she told her, "I'll always love you, as one of my closest friends. You've got our numbers too?" Elaine nodded, and Denise went on, "Suze is really lucky, you know? Because I've got Stan, and Anne loves me too, in her way, and that means I'm not going to be pining over my lost loves. I'm sorry things never quite worked out between us, either time. I'm just so glad we're still friends."
"I told you before, Denny. The love of my life is Susan, but you'll always have a place in my heart too. Remember that."
It was obvious that Denise was struggling to find something more to say, something to delay the inevitable, but just then one of the engineers came through, called out, "Night! Oh, bye Stan, bye Denise. Best of luck!" The moment had been broken, and Stan led a slightly shaky Denise out of the door and towards her car.
As she drove out of the gate, Stan looked back over his shoulder. Twenty years was a long time, and even though only the last five had been at this site, he had a lot of affection for the place. But it wasn't the same as it used to be, and now he had to turn his attention to the challenge of the future.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Anne, meanwhile, was starting to look at housing.
With all three working at Boundless Waves it made little sense to her to be living so far from their work. Besides, the commuting was just about killing her. It wasn't any definite plan, but she was gathering data.
Actually, Anne began gathering data in two sets. The first set was what she could afford alone. Very little was close enough, all housing in the area was incredibly expensive. A three bedroom semi--detached house just outside the M25 would be in the region of five times her salary, and that was not much closer to the office than she was now. Get closer in, inside the M25, and prices rose alarmingly. She quickly became discouraged about that.
'What if I can get the other two to join in with me?' she wondered.
'Now we're talking!' she thought, excitedly. If all three of them worked together, they could get a large enough property much closer, inside the M25 in fact. 'Surely we could afford that, between us?'
She sat back in her chair, considering, not really looking at her computer screen any more. Stan was the problem, obviously. That was his house, his and Caron's. 'If I can get Denise to agree, then between us I'm sure we could inveigle him into doing it.'
She began looking for suitable properties with more intent.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
On Sunday, all three were at Stan's house. Denise was in the bedroom with Stan. Anne was in the study, working on the computer.
Anne cocked her head on one side a little. It sounded like Denise was enjoying herself, for sure. She recognized that short yelp, and then heard Denise's voice cry out, "Yes, yes, YES!" as Stan's grunting voice also became audible.
She smiled a little to herself. She would never, in a million years, have believed that she would have been able to share her man the way she was now. Actually, hearing them was turning her on a little, in truth. Her free hand strayed south under her skirt and rubbed her crotch through her panties. She realized what she was doing and muttered, "Later!" to herself, and went back to looking at the screen, sometimes clicking the mouse.
She started as she heard Denise's voice from over her shoulder, saying "That's a real nice house. Why are you looking at houses, Anne?"
Anne spun Stan's office chair around fast enough to make Denise jump backwards.
"Oh! Sorry, Denise, you really caught me unawares."
Denise just grinned at her friend, but repeated, "Why are you looking at property, Anne? Thinking of moving?"
Anne realized that now was the time.
"You wait until you've done the commute on top of slogging your guts out in the office," she told the younger woman. "Then you'll be ready to pick up all three of our houses and move them brick by brick yourself in only a few weeks. I don't know how people stand it."
"So you're thinking of leaving us?" Denise asked with a tremble in her voice.
"NO!" Anne cried. She moderated her voice at once. "No, Denise. Look at the prices of these places."
Denise looked at the screen properly for the first time. She recoiled in shock.
"Christ! How much!"
"Precisely. No, I'm looking for places for all three of us to buy."
Denise looked at Anne. "All three of us. Together, you mean?"
"Yes. It seems the natural progression, Denise. It's a major commitment. We can't get married, but we can enter a partnership in other ways, can't we? But I think Stan's going to be a problem. This house was his home with Caron and I don't think he'll give it up just like that. And with prices like those," she said, gesturing at the screen, "he'll probably need to sell this house to raise the money." She took a breath. "Denise, if you help me, we can persuade him. He'll never be able to resist both of us working on him."
It was Denise's turn to think for a bit. She eventually responded, "No, Anne, that won't work, not long term. Eventually Stan will come to resent us pushing him into doing that. You need to present the facts to him and let him make his own mind up. I'm not sure I'm ready to… no, wait. Yes, I am. You're right, regardless of the journey or anything else, because yes, this will be a commitment to each other. An expression of our love for each other."
"You're more of the people person than I am, Denise. To me it's a logical extension of what we're becoming with each other, a family. So you'll help me sell it to him?"
"Well, that's what I was saying. Not sell as such, but… present. We'll have to make sure he's really, really comfortable with this. But yes, in essence – I think it's a great idea, Anne. As you said, an expression of our love for each other."
They stared at each other for a moment. Anne looked scared stiff, and Denise thought she was beginning to understand why.