Equal Shares Ch. 50bysteveh11©
It was a beautiful afternoon in Paris. The autumnal air was still warm enough not to need a coat or anything over the top of his suit jacket, and Stan walked out onto the balcony of the hotel room. He breathed deeply. Life was good.
He felt a hand in the small of his back, and another arm draped over his shoulder. He looked to his left, to see Anne, blonde hair up in a complicated looking knot, looking incredible in her ivory, flowing, strapless lace dress with a ribbon belt around her waist. To his right, Denise, gloriously curled red hair flowing past her shoulders and a slim gold headband holding the curls off her face and looking equally brilliant in her matching ivory halter dress.
"It's time, Stan," Denise reminded him.
"Okay," Stan answered. He turned. Anne stepped back inside the room, and Denise followed. Anne pinned the white orchid into the buttonhole of Stan's black dress suit, completing his costume. Then she stepped back to join Denise and they both faced him.
She and Denise picked up their bouquets, made of matching white orchid blooms. Anne asked, "How do we look, Stan?"
"Fabulous, my princesses. Fabulous."
"I love it when he says that!" Denise told Anne, and they both smiled warmly at each other. They turned to go, collecting their shawls from the king-sized bed. Stan followed. He kissed them both lightly on the back of the neck, and let them precede him from the room.
The hotel had a number of wonderful historic rooms, dating back to the 18th Century. Stan and his two partners had an appointment in one of them, named after a former French Queen.
Stan had cast around, trying to find a way to demonstrate his commitment to both of his wonderful women. He'd hit on this idea, broached it to them and they'd loved it, running with the theme. Denise had suggested asking Elaine and Susan for ideas. They'd suggested something like this afternoon's proceeding, and Ken had suggested this wonderful venue (and, incidentally, he and a grateful Sid had paid for it.)
Inside the Marie-Antoinette room they found their guests waiting for them. Just close friends. Elaine and Susan were there, and of course Elizabeth and her new husband, James. Maggie was standing next to them with Valerie and her husband, while her husband and Ken were standing at the far end of the room, in front of the expansive balcony.
Stan had got the idea from a story he'd read, once. An extended relationship was celebrated by the traditional giving and receiving of rings, but with a twist – each partner got three rings, which interlocked.
He'd ignored the pagan ceremony that went with it, as none of them were particularly religious. But the idea had stuck.
Now it was time. Stan, Anne and Denise went to stand in front of Sid and Ken. Elaine, a remote in her hand, pressed 'Play' and the sounds of Eric playing "Let it Grow" filled the room. Once the song was over the music faded, to be replaced by a soft instrumental version of some Gershwin love songs.
Ken cleared his throat.
"We all know why we're here. Stan, Anne and Denise have decided to show their commitment to each other by the giving and receiving of rings, and by an exchange of vows. I understand that Stan has decided to be a gentleman, as always, so he'll be going last. Which of you two ladies will go first?"
"I will," called Anne in a strong voice. She stepped forward and turned to face her two partners.
"Stan, Denise. I'm no poet, as you know, but I found this, and it expresses what I want to say."
"I take you both to be my partner,
to have, and to hold from this day forward."
"I give to you my unending love and devotion,
and I promise to be true to you, to cherish you, and to share
my thoughts, hopes, and dreams with you both."
"I look forward to spending the rest of my life with you
my best friends. I will love you forever."
She turned to her right, where Sid gave her a ring, which she placed on Denise's offered finger. She smiled at the redhead, splendid in her ivory dress, who smiled back as she pushed it all the way home.
Then Anne turned to her left, and took a similar ring from Ken which she placed on Stan's finger. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears as she stepped back alongside him, and he took her hand and squeezed it momentarily.
Denise took her cue from a nod by Sid, and stepped in front of Stan and Anne.
"I decided that, this being a very non-traditional relationship, we ought to have something with at least a flavour of the traditional. So:"
"I give you these rings, wear them with love and joy.
I choose you to be my partners,
to have and to hold from this day forward for better or for worse,
for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish as long as we all shall live."
Denise placed a ring onto Anne's finger, and then put the second ring onto Stan's. He fiddled with them for a moment, then showed them to both ladies. The bands interwove and locked together, platinum and red-gold.
Finally it was Stan's turn. He took a step forward, turned smartly about, almost as if he were on parade and stood there, looking at his two loving partners.
Stan closed his eyes for a moment. Caron was still with him, and egging him on. His throat closed and he was unable to speak for a moment, but then he smiled weakly, shook his head a little, and cleared his own throat.
"It seems I'm not the only one who thought along traditional lines on this very un-traditional day."
"The sun smiles on us today, our wedding day, and how can it not, for
our love is stronger than forever and our hearts beat together as one.
I promise to be a true and loving partner from this day forward, in
all life's circumstances, as we face them together. In the joys and
sorrows, the good times and bad, in sickness or in health, I will always
be there for you, to comfort you, love you, to honour and cherish you both, now and forever more."
He took the ring from Sid and placed it on the tip of Denise's finger. "This, to me, is a marriage, sweetheart. Nothing less," he told her as they made eye contact and held it as he pushed the ring home, his platinum joining Anne's yellow-gold. Denise smiled, there were tears in her eyes but she was happy, that was certain.
To his left, Ken held the remaining ring. Stan took it and put it similarly on Anne's fingertip. "You, my beautiful darling, are equally my wife. Always will be," he told her, as they looked at each other, love in their shining eyes. On Anne's finger the rings were now platinum and red-gold.
Elaine cued up another track and turned up the volume. Carole King's immortal voice sounded out:
"Wanting you the way I do
I only want to be with you
And I would go to the ends of the earth
Cause, darling, to me that's you're worth
Where you lead, I will follow
Anywhere that you tell me to
If you need, you need me to be with you
I will follow where you lead..."
"I think it's traditional for the brides and groom to kiss..." said Sid, and all three moved at once, sharing kisses that went on, and on...
"Hey, get a room!" called Elaine and Denise pulled away to say, "What for?" with an impish grin on her face.
It was the signal for the release of pent up emotions, and everyone clapped the trio, and crowded round, offering congratulations. There was champagne, of course, and other drinks available, and some canapés for those in need of a nibble. A small party developed.
After a while, Stan went out onto the balcony. The view across the Place de la Concord to the Assemblée Nationale was amazing.
Elizabeth came out to join Stan for a moment.
"She's still there, isn't she, Stan?" He knew exactly who she meant.
"Caron will always be with me, Elizabeth. You know that, you've always got George with you, haven't you?"
"Every hour of every day, whenever I need him, Stan, just as you'll always have Caron. Do they realise they're in a foursome, not a threesome?"
Stan smiled wanly at his old friend. "I wouldn't put it quite like that. Both Anne and Denise know I'll always love Caron, that's what matters."
Stan excused himself, and made his way over where Denise stood with Elaine and Susan.
"I was going to play "Congratulations" by Cliff Richard, but Suze threatened to throw me off the balcony if I did!" Elaine was telling Denise.
"I think I'd have helped!" Stan interjected. All four laughed.
"That's a lovely song, Laney, and so appropriate," Denise told her. "Thank you so very much."
"How are you two doing?" Stan asked.
"Better and better, Stan," Susan answered. "Of course, Laney here might be needing another job soon if the rumours about The Firm are true, but we'll have to see what happens."
"Actually, I doubt if it'll be as bad as they say. I know the old man's retiring, but his son is interested and pretty sharp. Even if he sells, that's not the end of the world. In fact, this whole thing might be the kick up the backside The Firm needs."
Anne came over and took Stan's arm. "Sid and Maggie are going, Stan, the rest will follow soon," she told him. "Come on, Denny, we need to say goodbye."
Stan, Anne and Denise bid farewell to each of their guests. Soon they were alone in the room, with some staff already coming in to tidy everything away in readiness for another function.
"Back to our room?" suggested Denise.
"Good idea," agreed Stan.
"I think he just has designs on our bodies," grinned Anne.
"That's okay, I've got designs on yours – both of yours!" Denise replied.
"Hmm. I think I might wear my collar."
"Ooh. Do I get to play, too?"
"Of course. You're my wife, aren't you?"
Laughing, they made there way back to their room. Stan had his arm around both of them. He reflected that now they each shared their love equally with the others, in all possible ways.
The three were now truly The Three. Equal Shares for all.
- - - - - - - - -
So we come to the end of this tale, of the story of Stan, Anne and Denise, of Elaine and Susan, of Elizabeth and James, and of all the other characters who showed up in Equal Shares.
Writing this story took me just about a year. In that time I gained many things: new friends, new helpers and especially new editors. Bob Hebert is still with me, and I thank him from the bottom of my heart. The Nameless Princess joined the team early on to provide a feminine point of view and her own expertise in editing, and Ian Loxton joined me later on as well when Bob's illness and Nameless' hip operation prevented them from helping as much as they wanted to.
I had a loyal team of checkers, most especially da.bridge and Whyy. Both of these gave me valuable help, particularly with timelines and such. Da.bridge in particular read through each chapter several times, offering much in the way of advice and clearing up many problems before the actual editors ever saw the text. Whyy read along as well, offering encouragement, advice and some pointed comments when they were needed.
I had help from several other sources that wish to remain anonymous, but they know who they are.
During the year I also had help from several other writers who offered encouragement and in some cases highly constructive criticism. Once again I have to thank Strickland83 for this, but also Velvet Wood, Big Ed (Be287m) and many denizens of Nick Scipio's chat room and forum.
Outside of the online world, I have to thank my friend Jean who read each chapter as it came out, with every sign of enjoyment. She encouraged me to continue and gave me first-hand real confirmation that I could write well enough to entertain someone.
And finally, once more I offer all of this to my darling wife Karen. You mean so much to me sweetheart, even though your first reaction on reading some passages was to say, "You can't write that!" Well I could and I did, to the accompaniment of indulgent smiles. I spent a lot of time writing this, and she put up with it all. Thanks, love.