A Sense of Symmetry Pt. 03byKarennaC©
"Mommy, is it Halloween?" Anna asked.
Startled, Dani looked at the calendar. It was October twenty-eighth. With everything that had happened lately, she had forgotten about Halloween. "Almost, Babe," she told Anna. "Three more days."
"What I'm gonna be?" Anna asked.
"And me?" said Sean.
Dani sighed and put down the basket of dirty clothes she was carrying. Another day of undone housework. "I guess we'll have to go costume hunting today," she said.
"Yay!" Sean and Anna shouted.
Dani called her mother at work. The rental company that her mother worked for also ran a party goods store, and the Sheridans usually bought party and holiday supplied there so they could use Dani's mother's employee discount. "Sure," Dani's mother said when Dani asked her about buying Halloween costumes for the kids. "Just make sure they bill it to me."
"What about Sean's?"
"His, too. Sean's my grandson now."
"Too bad Dad doesn't see it that way." Dani, Jason, and the kids had gone to her parents' house a few days before. While they were there, Dani's father had completely ignored Sean. When Dani had confronted him about it, her father's only explanation had been, "It's typical for Ben to freeload off you again." Then he had gone for a drive. He still hadn't been back when the Sheridans had left two hours later.
"Don't worry about your father," her mother said. "He'll come around."
"I hope so," Dani said.
Jason was still sleeping; he had worked overtime and hadn't gotten home until four o'clock that morning. Dani managed to persuade Sean and Anna to be reasonably quiet while they got ready to leave, then loaded the kids into the car. "We're going to need a minivan," she muttered as she leaned across Anna to fasten Melanie into her car seat.
"I like minivans," Anna said.
"I don't," said Sean.
"Who asked you?" Anna said.
Dani unbuckled Anna and took her out of the car. "Do you want to go get a costume?" she asked sternly.
"Yes," Anna whined.
"Then you apologize to Sean. Honestly, Anna, I realize it isn't easy to suddenly have a new brother, but you are being just plain mean to him, and I'm getting tired of it."
"Sorry, Mommy." Anna climbed back into her car seat. "Sorry, Sean."
"Okay," Sean said.
He and Anna made toddler jokes all the way to the store. "That car's ugly," Anna said. "It's pee color."
"It poop color," Sean replied.
"It's caca color," Anna said, laughing.
Dani put a stop to it when Sean said, "It shit color."
"Sean, we don't use words like that," Dani said.
"Jason does," Sean said.
"Jason doesn't know any better," Dani said, silently cursing her husband. She had been trying since before Anna was born to get him to stop swearing, at least in front of children. Obviously he still wasn't getting it.
"My daddy say it," Sean said.
Dani couldn't let herself say anything judgmental about Ben to Sean. "Well, some grownups do say things like that," she said, choosing her words carefully. "And grownups can decide what they want to say. But people don't like to hear little kids using words like that. So could you please try not to say it again till you're grown up?"
"I try," Sean promised.
When they got to the store, Dani had to decide how to juggle the three kids. It was the first time she had taken all three of them somewhere by herself. Melanie's carriage was in the trunk of the car, but pushing the carriage would mean that Dani wouldn't be able to hold hands with Anna or Sean. Finally she decided, even though the baby was a little too big for it, to put Melanie in her Snugli, which was also in the trunk, leaving Dani's hands free for the two other kids. As it turned out, this wasn't totally necessary, since Anna and Sean insisted on holding hands with each other.
They spent over an hour looking at the selection of costumes, which was slim only three days before Halloween. Finally, they found a clown costume for Anna. When he saw that Anna was going to be a clown, Sean wanted to be one too, and Dani managed to find a similar costume in his size. Even though she hadn't been planning to, Dani also bought a costume for Melanie: an M&M. "She'll be so cute," Anna said.
"So will you and Sean," Dani said.
"Yeah, but we're not M&M babies," Anna said.
"We clown monsters!" Sean said.
"Clown monsters?" Dani repeated.
"Well, we look like clowns, but we're really monsters," Anna said. "Right, Sean?"
"Right, Anna," Sean agreed.
Dani arranged for the costumes to be billed to her mother, then took the kids home. On the way, she swung through a fast-food drive-through, since it was almost time for lunch. When they got home, Jason was still asleep. "Can I wake up Daddy?" Anna asked.
Dani looked at the clock. Twelve-fifteen. "Go ahead," she told Anna. "Just duck if he throws his pillow like last time."
Anna giggled. "Okay. Want to help me, Sean?"
"No," Sean said. "I want lunch."
Anna ran upstairs, and Sean sat at the kitchen table. He was quiet, and it worried Dani. Tom had told her to make sure that Sean knew it was okay to talk about his feelings, but not to try to force him to talk. What concerned Dani wasn't so much Sean's reaction to Ben's death; from what she had been told and had read, he was acting perfectly normal in that respect.
The problem was that, although Sean obviously adored Anna and liked to "help" with Melanie, and although he now regularly called Dani "Mommy Dani" or even just "Mommy," he didn't seem to like Jason. Jason, showing unusual insight, didn't try to act like a father to Sean, or even an authority figure, leaving that job to Dani. Instead, Jason made time to take walks with Sean, or play games with him, or any one of several things that a father could do with his son but that friends could do also. Sean would have none of it. He spent time with Jason willingly enough, but when it was over, he invariably climbed onto Dani's lap and snuggled into her, saying, "I love you, Mommy Dani." Dani hated seeing the hurt in Jason's eyes when Sean rejected him this way, but she didn't know what to do about it.
On Halloween night, Jason and Dani took the kids trick-or-treating near Dani's parents' house. Jason had arranged to have the night off so he could be part of the fun. He carried Melanie the M&M, while Dani took Sean and Anna to the houses for candy. The two children kept a running debate over who was getting more candy, until Sean hit Anna over the head with his plastic pumpkin. "Hey, that's enough of that!" said Jason, taking Sean by the arm.
"Shut up!" Sean screamed at him, startling everyone. "You not my daddy! I hate you! Shut up!"
"Sean, stop it!" Dani said, picking him up. He continued to scream. "Can you finish up with the girls?" Dani asked Jason, struggling to hold onto the flailing Sean. "I'd better get him inside."
"Sure," Jason said. "Come on, Anna."
Dani carried Sean back to her parents' house. By the time they got there, he had tired himself out with his tantrum, and Dani laid him on the guest room bed to sleep until Jason and the girls returned. "What happened?" her mother asked.
"I'm not really sure," Dani admitted. "Sean and Anna got into a fight, and when Jason tried to break it up, Sean started screaming at him. He was totally out of control."
"Is he all right?"
"I meant Jason."
"I don't know," Dani said. "I think he was really hurt. Sean told him that he hates him."
"Little kids sometimes say that when they're being punished," her mother said.
"I know. Anna's said it to me. But Sean keeps rejecting Jason, and this just kind of summed up the whole situation. Sean said Jason should shut up because he isn't Sean's father."
"Poor Sean," Dani said.
"Dani, I know you feel bad for Sean," her mother said. "You wouldn't be human if you didn't. But don't put Jason's feelings aside."
When Jason and the girls got back, Anna had to show Grammy Lynn all the candy she had gotten. Then Dani and Jason loaded the kids in the car and headed home.
Once the kids were in bed, Dani said, "Jason, I'm really sorry about-"
"I don't think this is going to work out, Dani," Jason interrupted.
"How can you-"
"Just listen to me, damn it! I can't spend the rest of my life with a kid who hates me!"
"Jason, he's two and a half! He doesn't even know what hate means!"
"Well, he sure as hell sounded like he does. And how do you think I feel seeing him every day?"
"What are you talking about?"
"He looks just like his father, doesn't he? And even if you didn't fuck Ben, I know you wanted to. For all I know, you did when you left me."
"The way you were treating me before I left, the last thing I wanted was to be around another guy!" Dani said angrily.
"You promise me a son, and when we finally have one, he's your ex-lover's!"
"I promised you a son?" Dani repeated. "Excuse me? We have two beautiful daughters, and I had no more control than you over what gender they are. You always tell me how happy you are to have them, Jason. Is that bullshit?"
"I love our girls. But I wanted a son."
"Sean isn't our son, Goddamn it! He is Ben's son! What the fuck do you think that little screaming fit of his was all about! He calls you Mommy, he calls me Jason. What the hell do you think that means, Dani?"
"I don't know!" Dani yelled, finally losing her temper. "You can't deal with him, fine. You can be the one to explain to a two-year-old why he has to live in a cardboard box in the middle of the street!"
She snatched her pillow off the bed. "Where the hell are you going?" Jason demanded.
"Downstairs on the couch. Right now, I don't even want to be in the same room as you."
"Fine. Here's a blanket." He threw the blanket into the hall, and locked the bedroom door behind her as she stormed downstairs.
* * *
Dani couldn't sleep. The couch was too narrow to allow her to toss and turn, so instead she stared at the ceiling. The strangest phrase kept repeating itself in her mind: "Should have been, should have Ben. Should have been, should have Ben."
Then she was aware that Ben was sitting beside her. She knew she was dreaming, but reached out to touch him. "How are you?" he asked, taking her hand.
"Well, I'm finally asleep," she said.
"Are you sure?"
"Ben, I know messing with my mind always entertained you, but I'm too tired right now."
Ben laughed. "I'm sorry you and Jason had that fight," he said.
"You will be. So will he. Sean needs both of you."
"Sean needs you," Dani said.
"I know. I wish to God I could be there. But you know everything happens for a reason, Dani. The universe has a sense of symmetry."
"I miss you."
"I miss you, too," he said. "I have too much time to think now."
"About what should have been."
The phrase began again in Dani's mind: "Should have been, should have Ben." Over it, as she realized that she was about to wake up, she heard Ben say, "Take care of Sean, Dani. Don't let his mother hurt him again. I love you."
I love you, too, she started to say, but then she was awake. Someone was crying upstairs. She started up, but stopped when she heard Jason's voice coming from Sean's room. "It's all right," Jason was saying softly. "It's all right. Just a dream. I won't let anyone hurt you. It's all right." Over and over, the same gentle litany he used when Anna had bad dreams. Dani smiled and went back downstairs to get her pillows.
* * *
When she woke up the next morning, Jason was already awake. "I'm sorry," they said at the same time. They laughed. "I really am sorry," Jason said. "I had no right to say some of the things I said last night. I was just so upset that Sean won't let me be his father...."
"Jason, I think he doesn't want you to be his father because he doesn't want to lose you the way he lost Ben," Dani said. "Ben was his father, and Ben died. Little kids' minds work in strange ways. It could be that Sean's afraid that anyone he calls 'Daddy' is going to die."
"But his mother left him, and he calls you Mommy," Jason said.
"He doesn't remember his mother very well," Dani pointed out. "And there's a big difference between leaving and dying. Anyway, I said some things last night that I shouldn't have, too."
"Let's pretend it didn't happen," Jason suggested.
"Let's not," Dani said. "But let's forgive each other."
"All right. So now that we've forgiven each other, can we kiss and make up?"
Dani laughed, but before she could answer, they heard Melanie babbling in her crib. They knew from experience that this meant it was only a matter of time before Anna woke up. Jason groaned. "The short ones strike again," he said.
"We'll put them down for an early nap this afternoon," Dani said. "We'll make up then."
"I thought Anna didn't nap."
"So we'll close the door."
Sure enough, Anna and Melanie were both awake when Dani went in. She carried Melanie into the hall and found Sean standing at the door to his room. "Where Jason?" he asked.
"In the kitchen," Dani replied.
Sean went to the kitchen, followed by Dani and Anna. "I sorry I yell, Jason," Sean said.
"It's all right," Jason said.
Sean hugged him. "You a good Jason," he said.
"You're a good Jason," Anna echoed.
"Anna," Dani said reprovingly, "you don't call your father Jason. You call him Daddy."
"Then how come Sean calls him Jason?"
"My daddy in Heaven," Sean said. "This not my daddy. He my Jason."
Jason looked away for a second, trying to get something out of his eye. Dani was pretty sure the something was a tear.
* * *
After church, they drove to New Hampshire to visit Steve, Robin, and Denise. Robin had offered to go shopping with Dani and the kids, since both girls were outgrowing their clothes. Dani also wanted to get a few things for Sean. "We'll have to take two cars," Dani said.
"No, you won't," Jason said. He took Melanie's car seat out of the back seat of the car and buckled it into the center of the front seat. "You keep forgetting, this car has six seatbelts," he said.
"I don't forget," Dani said. "I just don't like having kids ride in the front seat."
"We're just going into Somersworth," Robin said. "Melanie will be fine. And it makes more sense than taking two cars."
"Besides, your husband said he'd go with me to look for a second car," Steve said. "If you take your car and Robin takes ours, how are we supposed to do that?"
"Walk?" Robin said.
"Hitchhike," Dani suggested at the same time. She and Robin laughed.
"Women," Jason said.
"Can't live with 'em, can't live with 'em," Steve agreed.
"Don't you mean, can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em?" Robin asked.
"I mean what I said."
"Come on," Dani said. "Let's leave these two to be pigs."
"Yes, please do," Steve said.
Robin helped Dani fasten everyone into the car, and they headed to their favorite secondhand store in Somersworth. Anna, Sean, and Denise spent the ride singing Barney songs. "Why do we let them watch that show?" Dani said.
"I don't know," Robin said. "So we can get our housework done?"
"I guess," Dani said. "So how come Steve finally gave in about getting another car?"
"We decided if we aren't going to have another baby right now, I should go to work so we can save for a house. We actually have some saved now, but Steve wants to put down as much as we can so we'll have a smaller mortgage. And if I'm going to work, we'll need two cars."
"Who's going to watch Denise?"
"Our neighbor, Janey. I've watched her kids for her the last couple weeks. She's going on second shift, so she'll be able to watch Denise while I work, and I'll watch her kids while she works."
"Sounds like a deal," Dani said.
"Sounds like a deal," Anna echoed.
"Sounds like a deal," Denise said, copying Anna.
"Sounds like we've got a carload of copycats," Dani said.
"It not nice to copy," Sean said.
"That's why I do it," Anna informed him.
Robin laughed, and Dani rolled her eyes. "I think I should talk to Jason about not teaching Anna to have an attitude," Dani said.
They got to the store and got the kids out of the car. Dani put Melanie in her carriage, and instructed Anna to hold onto the side of the carriage as they crossed the parking lot. Robin held Denise and Sean's hands.
While Dani and Robin looked at clothes, Sean, Denise, and Anna entertained themselves in the store's play area. "What an adorable bunch of kids," said an older woman who was looking at baby clothes nearby.
"Thank you," Dani and Robin said.
"Now, who belongs to who?" the woman asked.
Robin and Dani hated questions like this, but they answered anyway. "The blond and the baby are mine," Dani said.
"And the curlytop is mine," Robin added.
"What about the little boy?" the woman asked. "He is with you, isn't he?"
Robin and Dani looked at each other. "He's, um, he's my nephew," Dani said. "He's staying with me."
"Oh, that's nice."
She seemed about to ask more questions, so Dani and Robin excused themselves and went to the boys' clothing section. "What a nosy old bird!" Robin whispered to Dani.
"I know." Dani sighed.
"We get asked that question so often, and I didn't even think about Sean when I answered. I feel bad leaving him out, but I don't know what to tell people. He isn't my son."
"Just tell them he's yours, and don't worry about what his relationship to you is," Robin advised. "He might not be your son biologically, or even legally, but he is in your heart, and that' what counts."
"You're right," Dani said. But it didn't quite feel right. She wanted to do something to give Sean an identity in their family, but she didn't know what.
* * *
She found out the next day what she could do. Shortly before noon, Martin Franklin called. "How's it going with Sean?" he asked.
"As well as you might expect," Dani replied. "There've been some rough spots, but we're getting through it."
"How are your daughters getting along with him?"
"Well, Melanie's only four months old. Anna started calling Sean her brother the day he came home, and they get along about as well as any brother and sister."
"Is he seeing Phyllis?"
"Not as often as I'd hoped," Dani admitted. "I gather she works a lot, and Jason has a huge family who all want to meet Sean, so we haven't had a lot of time to spend with Phyllis. But we've seen her a few times. She's coming for dinner tomorrow night, as a matter of fact."
"That's good," Franklin said. "It's important that he keep ties with his biological family."
"What about his mother's parents?" Dani asked, immediately wishing she hadn't. "Did he see them before Ben died?"
"I believe Ben took him to visit them a few times. I've tried to contact them to let them know that Sean is with you, but I've gotten no response. I'm sure they must have heard about Ben's death by now, but if they don't seem interested in knowing where Sean is, it's their problem, not yours."
"Aren't you supposed to be job hunting?" Jason asked, entering the kitchen and seeing Dani on the phone.
"It's Ben's lawyer," Dani replied.
"I'm sorry?" said Franklin.
"My husband was asking who I'm talking to," Dani explained. "So what can I do for you, Mr. Franklin?"
"I wanted to set a time for you and Jason to come to my office and sign the guardianship papers," Franklin replied. "If you're sure you want to keep Sean, that is."
Dani looked questioningly at Jason. "What?" Jason asked.
"Mr. Franklin wants to know if we're going to sign the papers for guardianship."
"Of course we are," Jason said, surprised, as though there had never been a question. "When?"
"When can we go?"
"Today, if you want."
Dani consulted with Franklin, who told her to be at his office at three thirty. After she hung up the phone, Dani put her arms around Jason. "Have I mentioned how much I love you?" she said.