Equal Shares Ch. 04bysteveh11©
The notice had gone on the board weeks ago – the company barbeque would be held on the grounds on Friday, the 21st of July in the afternoon.
The Firm had a long-standing tradition of a 'summer do.' It had varied in the past from boat trips to a picnic in a park with a jazz band playing, but for the past several years it had been a barbeque, complete with spit-roast pig etc. Also laid on was entertainment – this year there was a live band – and drinks. Taxis would be available to take people home at the end. Another tradition was that people would make their way into the nearest town pub and continue the party there.
Stan was able to watch the large party tent being erected from his office. He told Elizabeth,
"You know, it's so much nicer here than it was at the old place. D'you remember the view we had then?"
Elizabeth smiled, "Yes, the Chicken Factory next door. Ugly as sin and smelly as well."
Elizabeth was watering Bob's plants. They joked that he was trying to build a hedgerow between his office and the outside world, although it wasn't really that bad. Bob was proud of his plants and Elizabeth liked them and enjoyed looking after them.
"I wish I could grow stuff," Stan grumbled. "I must have been born with brown fingers."
"You just don't care enough about it," Elizabeth returned, with a grin.
"If you cared about plants as much as you cared about music, you could grow things. But you always forget to water them, or you put them in the wrong place so they get direct sunlight when they'd thrive on shade, or something..." she said lightly. Stan could tell she was only mostly joking though. He looked back out the window.
"Uh huh. Oh, look. Do you think the Health & Safety people would approve of the way that guy's balancing on the top of the tent?"
Elizabeth looked. She said, "I don't know... Bob? You're the Safety guy. What do you think?
Bob emerged from his office, glanced over and, turning away, said, "I think I will go and get a coffee – I really didn't see that at all!"
The three of them laughed. That was a standing joke every year when the tent was erected... the crew never seemed to take safety precautions. On the other hand, it always seemed to be the same people, so they assumed no accidents occurred!
"Drinks with Denise again last night?" Elizabeth asked.
"Yes, down at the Mitre as usual."
"I'm glad you two have become friends. It means I don't have to look at such a grouch all day."
"Yes, I was pretty bad, wasn't I? Mind you," he went on, "I'm not all that full of the joys of spring now."
"Yes, Stan, I know. Yesterday you hardly said a word; no one could get through to you. Even when Denise came around to confirm for the Mitre you hardly spoke."
"I know. Yesterday was Caron's birthday. She'd have been 41."
'Oh dear,' Elizabeth thought, 'I'd forgotten.'
"Stan, are you okay?" she tenderly asked.
"I... I think so. Before I went out last night I went to the cemetery, and laid some flowers. Caron didn't mind me going for a drink with Denise, so that was all right."
Elizabeth blinked. There was a lengthy pause, and she was about to say something, when Stan continued,
"Denise and I got on well, actually. She wants me to go on the pub crawl on Friday."
"Well, you always used to!" Elizabeth told him.
"Yes, I know." He paused, then went on in a slightly more quiet tone, "I probably will. Let's see how I feel."
Stan glanced out of the window as a movement caught his eye.
"Christ! I've not seen them do that before!"
- - - - - - - - - -
Elizabeth waited in the canteen to find Denise.
"What!? Oh, Denise, you made me jump!" She continued with narrowed eyes: "I'll get you for that!"
"Couldn't resist. You want to grab a table? I'll get the salads."
They sat at a table together, and started on their salads. They chatted away for a minute or two.
"How's Harry?" Denise asked.
"Oh! That son of mine. Now he's dating a glamour model. Michelle's nearly young enough to be his daughter, too. I don't know how he does it," Elizabeth answered, affectionately. "She's certainly keeping him hopping, from what he tells me."
"Sounds like it! What is he, nearly 40?"
"He's 39, and he'll insist on it if you ask him!" Elizabeth grinned. "My Kelly's 37 now, still hasn't settled down either. She's off to Amsterdam with some of her friends to visit my sister next week."
"Going to bring back anything... special?" Denise asked slyly.
"I really don't think so! I never brought her up that way, honest!" They both dissolved in giggles. Denise knew about Elizabeth's past as a 'child of the sixties' – she'd been in her mid twenties when things were 'happening', and had been a full part of the lifestyle. This after being a 'Mod', before meeting her 'Rocker' future husband. Denise had told her that, "It sounds like something out of Quadrophenia."
Elizabeth went on, "That daughter of mine! She's such a trial. A bit wild, as they say, partying hard, never looked like she'd settle down. Kelly always liked Stan, but he was always so married. She liked Caron, too," Elizabeth continued. "Kelly thought they were perfect for one another. I caught her looking wistfully at Stan & Caron a couple of times, though. I think she envied that pair their close, stable relationship, especially when she compared it to her own life."
Elizabeth took a breath, before going on, "Sadly, when Caron died, she took it hard. She dumped her boyfriend and took off on another round of parties, with a different partner every couple of weeks. Thankfully I've been able to talk to her, and she's found herself a nice guy – he's an Estate Agent, but he's a good man."
"Well, that must be a weight off your mind," Denise said.
"Yes, it was, but I've always believed in Kelly, I always thought she'd come around. It even took me a long time to settle down: after I married George, he and I were, shall we say, adventurous in our relationship," she said with a wink at Denise, "so I can't really complain about Kelly overmuch."
Denise turned serious. "You know yesterday would have been Caron's birthday."
"Yes, Stan said. He visited her grave, of course."
"Yes, I know, he told me. He said he spoke to her."
"Did he say what she said?" Elizabeth asked.
"Not really, just that he'd spoken to her. I suppose that's pretty much what everyone does in a situation like that."
"It is. I still speak to George, after all this time, when I visit him. Well..." she said, a little gruffly, "Stan told me that Caron had said she was fine with you and him going for a drink, so I suppose you've got permission from her for that!"
"Good! Let's see if I can get him to really relax tomorrow – especially tomorrow night!"
- - - - - - - - - -
It was Friday afternoon, and not much work had been done during the morning – just the usual urgent items, and tidying of desks, that sort of thing. By half past twelve the first people started walking across the lawn, and by one o'clock just about everyone was in, or just outside, the party tent
The tent was a large affair, about 75' by 25', with two 'peaks' where the main support poles were. It shone brilliant white in the sunshine, with plastic tables and chairs set up outside and benches inside, a small area set aside for the band to use as a stage, and another cleared for dancing. Not that Stan had any intention of dancing himself, but he did like to watch, and he enjoyed listening to the live band. There was a crowd around the bar at the back, as usual manned by one of the directors, and food was served, buffet style, on the right where people were also gathering.
It was a hot, dry day, and the drinks were flowing already. These events were intended as mixers, to reduce the 'Us and Them' mentality that you get when people stick to their own departments, and they worked well. Stan was well used to them; his job in Quality meant he was used to working with all the departments, and the people were all colleagues he knew.
Denise, too, by nature of her job, had a similar advantage, and they drifted together, going from group to group, saying "Hi!" and generally chewing the fat.
"Hey, don't you make quite the pair?" It was Elaine, with a broad smile.
"I guess we do, don't we?" replied Denise.
Stan, too, was grinning. "Just so long as people don't leap to conclusions, unless those conclusions include a collection, of course... " he ended his remark with a raised eyebrow.
Denise giggled. "You know full well that the most likely reasons for having a collection around here are 'Marriages, Retirements and Births'. We're not getting married, I'm too young to retire, and I'm sure as hell NOT pregnant!"
Elaine answered Denise's giggle with one of her own.
"Yup – I'm sure there's something that had to happen before that. Now I'm not sure, you know, but I don't think you two have gone that far yet, have you?"
"Not likely!" snorted Stan. "It's odd, you know. I could spend an evening a week going for a drink with, say, Bob, and no one would say a word about it. Denise could go out with Elizabeth, same thing. But Denise and me? Suddenly everyone assumes that because we're opposite genders, we have to be having sex. Hello! Just friends here!"
"But good friends, Stan," said Denise, "not 'friends with benefits', we're good friends."
Elaine just smiled. Stan could be a little clueless, sometimes, but he was a nice guy.
The three of them joined the queue for food. A little ahead of them was Elizabeth.
"Elizabeth, why don't you grab a table for the four of us?" Denise called, and Elizabeth nodded.
Soon enough the four of them were seated, tucking in to the barbequed suckling pig. Well, Stan did, anyway. The three ladies had some chicken on their plates, but mostly it was salad.
Elaine brought each of them something to drink and soon they were all chatting away.
Then... someone started the jokes.
"I've got one, said Stan. "Little Mary was not the best student in Sunday School. Usually she slept through the class. One day the teacher called on her while she was napping, 'Tell me, Mary, who created the universe?' When Mary didn't stir, little Johnny, an altruistic boy seated in the chair behind her, took a pin and jabbed her in the rear. 'God Almighty!' shouted Mary and the teacher said, 'Very good' and Mary fell back to sleep."
Elizabeth, Denise and Elaine were already laughing.
Stan continued, "A while later the teacher asked Mary, 'Who is our Lord and Savior?' But Mary didn't even stir from her slumber. Once again, Johnny came to the rescue and stuck her again. 'Jesus Christ!' shouted Mary and the teacher said, 'Very good,' and Mary fell back to sleep. Then the teacher asked Mary a third question, 'What did Eve say to Adam after she had her twenty-third child?' And again, Johnny jabbed her with the pin."
Denise interrupted with, "This time Mary jumped up and shouted, 'If you stick that in me one more time, I'll break it in half!' "
Elaine and Elizabeth broke out into peals of laughter, while Stan was unable to stifle his own even though Denise had stolen his punch line. He gathered the glasses together and asked, "Drinks all 'round?" The others nodded their assent through their continued giggles.
Stan stood and turned in a single action, and suddenly was staring at Anne's cleavage – from a range of less than six inches. They stood there in tableau for a long, long moment. Stan looked up to make eye contact after forcing himself to drag his eyes northward. Anne was again wearing one of her wraparound skirts, but this time had a very attractive – and low cut – white top.
Anne recovered first. "Oh! Sorry, please excuse me."
"No problem." Stan wondered what to do for a moment longer and then inspiration struck. He glanced down at Anne's empty bottle. "Can I get you a drink?"
Anne laughed, "Now's the time to do it. I'd heard about these things, but not experienced them. I missed the Christmas party, but heard all about it. Free drinks at a company get together?"
"So?" Stan asked, looking pointedly at the bottle of premixed vodka she was holding.
"I'll have a Smirnoff Black Ice, please!"
"Sit with us?"
"OK, just for a bit. I'm leaving soon."
"Oh, why's that?" asked Elizabeth, as Anne sat down and Stan went to get the drinks.
- - - - - - - - - -
Stan brought the drinks back to the table on a tray. Serving the drinks, he returned it and grabbed a chair, pulling it around to sit between Denise and Elizabeth.
"Thanks, Stan," said Elizabeth. "Cheers!" They all clinked.
It was awkward.
Elaine said, into the gap, "Anne's got to go home tonight, because she's packing – holiday next week in Tenerife. Isn't that exciting, Stan?"
"Certainly is," said Stan.
"It's just a quick, cheap break before the chip comes back. I won't have any time afterwards, and I couldn't book it before in case there was a problem, or God forbid, the damn thing came back early! Just a longer weekend, really, I come back to work on Wednesday. So I've got to get home reasonably early. My flight's at five in the morning and I have to get to the airport."
"Whereabouts in Tenerife?" Denise asked. "I've always wanted to go, but never got there."
"Puerto de la Cruz. It's in the north of the island."
"The advantage of the Canaries is that they're nice any time of year. Just make sure you take plenty of sun-tan lotion, Anne, with that fair hair of yours, I expect you burn easily." Elizabeth said.
Denise laughed, "She'll burn easily? I've had to stay in the shade virtually all afternoon! Besides, I don't really tan, so much as my freckles grow closer!"
The four ladies laughed. Stan's smile was, he knew, a bit forced, but he didn't think anyone had noticed. The conversation turned to what he thought of as 'feminine gossip' and he zoned out.
Elizabeth, sitting on his right, leaned closer to him. "Are you all right, Stan?" she quietly asked.
"Our honeymoon was in Puerto de la Cruz."
"Oh, I'm sorry," she said so softly Stan almost didn't hear.
In a more normal voice, Elizabeth asked Elaine if she'd be going on the pub crawl afterwards.
"Sure am! I'll be meeting Susan in the King's Keys, are you coming?
"Is that who you were with the other night?" asked Denise, and Elaine nodded. "We've been together almost a month now, and it's looking good so far. We'll just have to see how it goes."
Stan mentally shook himself, and said, "Well, best of luck, Elaine. We know you're a catch!"
- - - - - - - - - -
The cabs started arriving to take people away, and Anne wished everyone a good night. After she'd left, Elizabeth said her good-byes too, with a wink at Denise and Stan.
Elaine grabbed a cab. "You coming with?" she asked, and Stan nodded at the same time as Denise.
At the Keys, Elaine quickly found Susan and introduced her to Stan and Denise. They were relatively early, so they were able to find a booth.
Susan was a quiet, short, dark haired girl with a pretty face partially hidden behind some seriously thick glasses, but it quickly became apparent that she was the centre of the two girls' relationship. Elaine got her drinks and food, and was quite content to wait on her hand and foot. Quite content – she had a happy smile on her face all evening, even beyond her usual upbeat self. For her part, Susan held Elaine's hand as much as possible. In fact the two were almost inseparable, and clearly infatuated with one another.
Denise told Stan, when the other pair had gone to the bathroom, "Ah! Young love, you just can't beat it!"
Stan had to agree.
The four of them had a great evening. Elaine and Susan made their farewells shortly before midnight, saying they were off to a club. Denise tried to get Stan to go too, but he was having none of it, saying, "I'm too old to be clubbing – I'll look ridiculous!" and wouldn't be moved. Denise pouted, but knew when she was beaten.
So the two friends got a taxi home. They reached Denise's house first.
"I've had a good evening, Stan. Thanks for coming out."
"I had a good time, too, Denise. I always used to, as you and Elizabeth have reminded me. Good night, and see you Monday."
"Sure," she said, and leaned forward to kiss him.
Stan evaded, taking it on the cheek. Denise pulled back, looking at him, considering. "You know, Stan, sooner or later you're going to have to get over it. You might as well make a start now."
Hearing his favourite practical advice paraphrased in that fashion made Stan stop and think, and before he knew it Denise had quickly touched her lips to his.
"Good night, Stan."
Stan barely had the presence of mind to say "G'night". Denise walked off to her house, and, turned to wave in her open doorway. Stan waved back, and the cab took him home.