A Sense of Symmetry Pt. 02byKarennaC©
Dani woke the next morning, as usual, at five thirty. Until recently, she had awakened to Melanie's crying for a bottle; Melanie now slept later, but Dani hadn't been able to break the habit of waking. She had found that getting up so early gave her a better chance to get things done around the house without the girls in the way.
She stood and stretched; her back ached from sleeping on the floor. Sean was sitting up in bed, looking at her. "Good morning," Dani said. "How did you sleep?"
"Good," Sean said. "Why you on the floor?"
"I thought I heard you crying last night," Dani replied. "Then I thought you might get lonely, so I slept in here."
"Oh. Can I get up?"
"Sure. Do you remember where the bathroom is?"
"Yeah," Sean said.
He got out of bed and disappeared down the hall. Dani folded her blanket and put it back in the closet, then went back to her room. "Where were you?" Jason mumbled.
"On Sean's floor," Dani said. "He was having nightmares."
"I didn't hear anything."
"You usually don't," Dani pointed out. She stripped off her clothes and put on fresh ones.
"What time is it?" Jason asked.
"Five thirty. Go back to sleep."
Dani kissed him on the cheek and left the room. Jason was snoring again by the time she got to the door.
Sean was standing outside the bathroom, looking confused. "Did you go potty?" Dani asked him.
"Do you want to get dressed?"
She took him back to his room and picked out an outfit for him. Phyllis had told her that Sean could dress himself, so Dani told him to come downstairs when he was ready, and left him alone. She was doing the dishes when Sean came down. His shirt was on backwards, and his sweatpants were inside out. Dani decided not to say anything. "Who you?" Sean asked her.
"What do you mean?"
"Why you take care of me?"
Dani put down the dishcloth and picked up Sean. "Your Daddy and I were very good friends," she said. "Even though I never got to meet you before, he thought I would want to take care of you for him if anything happened to him."
"Where my mommy?" Sean asked.
Dani hadn't anticipated this. She hadn't realized that Sean even remembered his mother. "I don't know, Sean," she said. "Did your Daddy used to talk about her?"
"Sometime," Sean said. "He say she not come back. Daddy not come back neither."
"I'm afraid that's true, Sweetheart," Dani said. "Your Daddy would never have left if he could help it, but God decided it was time for your Daddy to go to Heaven."
"Tell God give Daddy back," Sean said. "I not done with Daddy yet."
Dani hugged the child and put him down. "God knows that you miss your Daddy," she said. "But once someone's in Heaven, they can't come back to us." She felt uncomfortable discussing this with a child as young as Sean, but she had decided when Anna was born that she would treat her children the way her parents had treated her: if a child was old enough to ask a question, they were old enough for some kind of answer.
"Then I don't like God," Sean said.
"That's okay," Dani said. "God loves you anyway. And so do I."
"I love you, too," said Sean. "Breakfast now?"
"Sure," Dani said, smiling.
She gave him a bowl of cereal, then went upstairs to check on the girls. Anna still seemed to be asleep, but Melanie was lying in her crib having a monologue with her mobile. "I bet you're ready for breakfast," Dani said to the baby as she took her out of the crib.
"Me, too," said Anna, climbing out of bed.
By the time Anna had eaten, and Melanie was fed and dressed, it was after seven. Anna took Sean upstairs to play, and Dani put Melanie in her swing. Then, just as she was restarting the dishes, the phone rang. It was her mother. "How are you doing?" she asked Dani.
"Better," Dani said.
"You know, I keep thinking about that poor little boy," her mother said. "Have you heard how he's doing?"
"He misses his father, but he's only two and a half. He doesn't really understand what's happening."
"And what happens if Ben's stepmother can't take him? Who'll take care of him then?"
"That poor little boy must be going through- what do you mean, you are?"
"Ben named me as Sean's guardian," Dani said. "Sean's upstairs right now, playing with Anna."
"What does Jason think about this?"
"He doesn't like that Sean is Ben's son, but he's okay with Sean staying with us."
"Is Sean living there already?"
"Not really. He's spending the weekend with us. Then he'll go back to Phyllis for a little while, while we work out the details. He'll probably be moved in in a week or two."
"Sweetheart, it's just like you to want to take care of this boy. But are you sure it's a good idea?"
"It's what Ben wanted, Mom."
"What about Jason?"
"Jason wants what I want, and I want to keep Sean with us."
"Just don't take advantage of him, Dani. Even Jason has his limits."
"I remember that all too well, Mom. Don't worry, we'll be fine."
"I hope so."
"We will, Mom."
She hung up in time to hear Jason bellowing, "Anna! Quiet down!" She went upstairs and found Anna and Sean in Sean's room, yelling into the closet. "What on earth are you doing?" she asked.
"There's a monster in Sean's closet," Anna said. "We're trying to scare him away."
"Well, Daddy's trying to sleep," Dani said, hiding her smile. "And the poor monster probably is, too. Come play downstairs now. We'll take care of the monster later."
"He's my Daddy, not yours," Anna said to Sean.
Dani took Anna by the arm. "I don't ever want to hear you say such a cruel thing again!" she said. "It's true that your Daddy isn't really Sean's Daddy-"
"My Daddy in Heaven," Sean interrupted.
"That's right," Dani said. "But, Anna, Sean is going to be living with us now. So he's kind of your brother, and Daddy and I are kind of Sean's Mommy and Daddy, too."
"I'm sorry," Anna said. "I'm sorry I was mean, Sean."
"Okay," Sean said. "We go outside?"
When Jason finally got up, he took Anna and Sean to the playground to give Dani a break. They were gone through lunchtime, and brought back a pizza.
Jason left for work at four o'clock, and at five, Dani heated leftover pizza for Sean and Anna's supper. At six, she fed Melanie and put her to bed; at seven, she bathed first Sean, then Anna. She read them a story and tucked each of them in. "Good night, Mommy Dani," Sean murmured as Dani closed his door.
Dani went back downstairs, fixed herself a glass of iced tea, and curled up on the couch. Then, finally alone, she burst into tears, for Sean, for Ben, and for herself. Jason found her there, sleeping with tear-streaked cheeks, when he came home at one a.m.
* * *
On Sunday, they went to church. Dani had called the pastor and told him about the new member of the family; since it was a small church, she was expecting a lot of questions along with the congregation's support. What she wasn't expecting were the four boxes of clothes that the pastor's wife pointed out to her. "Some of those are from Matt and me, and some are from the Emmetts and the Wilsons," the woman said. "They'll be too big for Sean now, but he probably has clothes for now."
"He does," Dani agreed. "This is wonderful, Clara. Thank you so much."
During the service, the pastor said a special prayer for Sean and Ben, and for Dani and Jason for agreeing to take the boy. This angered Dani, to her own surprise; the pastor made it sound like having Sean live with them had been a major sacrifice. She had to remind herself that no one here knew how much Ben had meant to her, and how impossible it would have been for Dani not to take Sean.
After church, they went to visit Jason's parents. Jason had hung up on his mother the day before, after trying to make her understand why he was letting Sean stay with them. "She always thought you were screwing around with Ben," he told Dani on the way to his parents'. "That's why she was so pissed when you had him in the wedding. I tried to tell her she was being ridiculous, but she didn't believe me."
Dani didn't know how to respond at first, since Jason's mother's suspicion hadn't been far from the truth. Finally, she managed to say, "Well, she was just looking out for her little boy."
"Yeah, and look how her little boy treated you and Anna. You'll never know how sorry I still am about that, Dani."
Since Dani had heard this "apology" many times before, she changed the subject. "Are you going to say sorry to your mother for hanging up on her?"
"If she says she's sorry for calling me an idiot for letting-" He stopped himself, realizing that the children were listening. "For letting you have your way," he finished lamely.
"I don't think that was what she meant," Dani said.
"That's what she said, Dani!"
"Jason, why are we fighting about your fight with your mother?" Dani sensed that Jason was about to lose his temper.
Jason relaxed and smiled at her. "You're right, as usual," he said. "Fine. I'll apologize to her."
When they arrived at Jason's parents', however, his mother had apparently forgotten the argument. "Here are my grandbabies!" she exclaimed, holding her arms open for Anna to run into. After hugging Anna tightly, she took Melanie from Dani. "Aren't you getting big?" she crooned to the baby. Then she looked at Sean. "And this must be the one Jason told me about."
"This is Sean," Dani said. "Sean, this is Mrs. Sheridan, Jason's mother."
"She's my Gramma Susan," Anna said.
To Dani's relief, Susan told Sean, "You can call me Gramma Susan too." Sean had been accepted.
Shortly after they arrived, Jason left to help his brother Tim, who lived next door to their parents, fix his pickup. Jason's father Carl, thrilled at having a little boy around since all of his grandchildren were girls, spent the afternoon roughhousing with Sean. He seemed unaware of Anna's disappointment with this turn of events. "He seems to be doing okay," Susan commented as they watched Carl and Sean through the window.
"He has nightmares," Dani said.
"Dani, why are you taking him in?" Susan asked.
"Where else was he going to go? Ben wanted him to be with us."
"It didn't have anything to do with you and Ben's relationship?"
Dani hated to lie, but in this case, she had no choice. "Ben and I were just friends, Susan. He was like a brother to me. And for some of the time I knew him, I was practically the only family he had. It's logical that he would make me Sean's guardian."
This last, at least, was true. The night Ben turned eighteen, his father, drunk as usual, had thrown him out. With nowhere else to go, Ben had come to Dani and her parents. "Of course you can stay here," Dani's mother had said; her father had agreed. Ben had stayed with them for a month, until he had saved enough money from his three part-time jobs to get a place of his own. He had paid the Phillipses back every penny they had spent on him during that month. The rift between Ben and Dani's parents hadn't come until after Dani was married to Jason. Ben had borrowed five hundred dollars from the Phillipses to pay his college tuition. He had paid back only half the money, and had dropped out of college before the semester ended. From that day, Dani's father had refused to even hear Ben's name. Dani hadn't spoken to her father in the few days since Ben's death; she wondered what he thought about Ben's son living with her.
"We were family," she repeated to Susan.
"I hope Jason didn't agree just because you wanted him to," Susan said.
"Jason's a good person," Dani said, knowing Susan would hear this as praise of her mothering skills. "He doesn't care who Sean's father is. He just knows we have a scared little boy who needs a home."
"I'm sure you're right," Susan said.
Jason finally returned from Tim's with the news that the truck was beyond repair. He, Dani, and the children headed home shortly after; Anna was so angry at being ignored by Grampy Carl that she was disobeying and talking back to the adults, and Dani felt it was best to get her home before she went too far. By the time they got home, all three children were asleep. "What did you and my mother talk about?" Jason asked as he gently took Anna out of the car.
"I can walk!" Anna said indignantly, waking, as she always did, as soon as she was moved.
"Then walk!" Jason responded. "And when we get inside, you can walk right up to your room for the way you acted at Gramma and Grampy's."
Anna burst into tears, and sobbed her way up the steps to the door. "She wanted to make sure I didn't bully you into letting Sean stay here," Dani said, removing Melanie from her car seat. Sean woke up at the sound of her voice, unbuckled himself, and ran up to stand next to Anna.
"Did you bully me?" Jason asked.
"A little," Jason said. "But we won't tell my mother. Anna, don't even!"
Anna, who had been about to punch Sean, looked around guiltily. Jason opened the door and carried Anna up to her room, to the accompaniment of her shrieks of protest. "We have a tantrum in progress," he told Dani when he returned.
"As long as she's having it in her room, let her," Dani said.
"She mad at me," Sean said. "I play with her Grampy."
"Grampy Carl told you that he's your Grampy now too," Dani reminded him. "Anna just feels bad because usually Grampy plays with her, but today he was playing with you. Sometimes Anna isn't very good at sharing."
"Me, too," said Sean. "I have snack, Mommy Dani?"
Jason glanced out the window. "Not now," he said. "Your grammy's here."
When Phyllis came in, Sean started to cry. "I wanna stay!" he said.
"Don't you want to come back to Grammy's?" Phyllis asked, looking hurt.
"No! I stay with Anna and Jason and Mommy Dani!"
Phyllis looked at Dani suspiciously. "Mommy Dani?" she repeated.
"Can I talk to you for a minute in private?" Dani said.
She and Phyllis went into the kitchen. "I didn't think he'd act like this," Dani said. "He just started calling me Mommy Dani. I think the first time he said it was just before you got here. I'm sure he really does want to go home with you, it's just-"
"It's just that you're a family, and I'm just an old lady," Phyllis said. She smiled. "Dani, I'm not taking it personally. The fact that Sean doesn't want to leave just shows how good you are with him. I knew you would be, from everything Ben told me about you. You don't need to apologize. It isn't like you're trying to turn him against me."
"Exactly," Dani said. "And I'll tell him-"
Phyllis interrupted again. "It's good that he wants to stay," she said. "And given the circumstances, I think we should let him, if it isn't inconveniencing you."
"Of course it isn't," Dani said. "But are you sure?"
"Very sure. Ben definitely chose the right person to raise Sean. Just let me talk to him for a minute, then I'll have to get going. I'll stop by tomorrow with some more of his things."
"Thank you, Phyllis," Dani said.
"What for? I'm just being a grammy."
Sean literally jumped for joy when he was told that he would be staying with the Sheridans. "Do you think you'll want to come home tomorrow?" Phyllis asked him.
Sean shook his head vehemently. "I home now!" he said. "I stay forever!"
Phyllis smiled. "Okay, bunny," she said. "But Grammy and you will visit each other, right?"
"Yeah. Like with Daddy."
"That's right. Just like you and Daddy used to." She turned to Dani and Jason. "I know you weren't expecting him to move in quite so soon," she began.
"It's fine," Jason said. "We're ready if he is."
"Great," Phyllis said. "I'll bring as much of his clothes and things as I can tomorrow after work. Sean, can Grammy have a kiss goodbye?"
Sean gave her a kiss and a hug. "Bye, Grammy," he said. "I visit real soon."
"I love you, Sean," Phyllis said. She turned to leave, but not before Dani saw the tears in her eyes.
* * *
After the kids were in bed, Dani and Jason, who had traded with another worker and would be working third shift that night, curled up on the couch to watch TV. "I feel so bad for Phyllis," Dani said.
"Because of Sean?" Jason asked.
Dani bit back a sarcastic reply. "Yes, because of Sean," she said. "We don't even know him, but not only does Ben choose us for his guardians, Sean wants to stay here instead of going back to Phyllis's."
"I don't know why Ben wanted you to be Sean's guardian," Jason said. "I can't get inside his mind. As for Sean, I think Phyllis was right. He had a lot of fun with us, and at his age, that's what counts. Besides, Phyllis didn't seem to have a problem with it."
"She was crying when she left, Jason," Dani said.
"Well, she'll miss him. But she didn't seem upset that he's going to stay with us. And didn't you tell me that her apartment's too small for him anyway?"
They were quiet for a moment. "I can't believe the way Anna acted today," Jason said finally.
"Sibling rivalry," Dani said.
"It's just like when Melanie was born," Dani explained. "All of a sudden, there's someone else getting attention. And Anna had just gotten used to having a baby sister. Having Sean here isn't easy for her."
"She told me yesterday she wished Sean could stay here forever," Jason said.
"She probably does. But she also probably wishes he'd go away, just like she did with Melanie. I think we should both try to spend some time one-on-one with her, and with Sean."
"What about Melanie?"
"Melanie's four months old. She needs attention, but as long as she gets her share, she doesn't care who else gets attention. And she's cute enough that she definitely gets her share."
"Yeah. Both our girls are cute. Just like their mother."
"I'm not cute."
"Yes, you are," Jason argued. He blew in her ear. "You have cute ears." He tickled her foot, stopping when Dani kicked him. "You have cute feet." He put his hand on her breast. "And you definitely have cute tits."
"You're perverted," Dani said, laughing.
"With a wife as sexy as you, how can I help it?"
"Very." He kissed her. "Want me to prove it?"
"What are you going to do?"
"What do you want me to do?"
"How about-" She whispered in his ear, then ran upstairs, laughing as he chased her.
* * *
After a couple of days, Dani became concerned enough about Sean to call the Center for Grieving Children. After explaining Sean's situation, she was given an appointment with a counselor that afternoon. "He's not old enough to-" Jason began when Dani told him where she was taking Sean.
"Not old enough to know his father's gone? Or not old enough to miss him?" Dani interrupted. "If you really think that, Jason, then you're not as smart as I try to give you credit for."
"But counseling?" Jason said.
"They work with young children, Jason," Dani said. "It isn't like he's going to lie on a couch and pour out all his childhood secrets. It will help him express how he feels about all this. Except when he had that nightmare the other night, I've hardly seen him cry at all. And he doesn't talk well enough yet to know how to say what he's feeling."
"I'm sure you know best," Jason said, in the tone of voice he used when he thought Dani was full of it.
Dani ignored him and went upstairs to get Sean up from his nap. "Where we go?" he asked before his eyes were even open.
"How do you know we're going somewhere?" Dani asked.
"My daddy tell me."
Dani assumed that Sean was making this up; Anna tended to say that she had been told things by imaginary friends, or her toys, or even Melanie, and it made sense that Sean might do the same sort of thing. "We're going to talk to a man named Tom," she told Sean. "He helps kids like you who are missing their mommy or daddy. He's going to talk to you about your daddy, and maybe help us think of some ways to help you miss him a little less."