A Sense of Symmetry Pt. 06byKarennaC©
For a few days, Jason seemed wary around Dani. A couple of times when he worked overtime, he slept on the couch instead of coming to bed. Even when he did come to bed, he didn't wake her when he got home, as he usually did. Finally, Dani confronted him. "Why does it seem like you're avoiding me?"
"I'm not avoiding you," he protested. "How can I avoid you? We live in the same house."
"Jason, don't start with the doubletalk."
Jason sighed. "All right, fine. Maybe I have been avoiding you. It's a little hard to accept that the woman I married has been in love with someone else all these years."
"But I married you, not him," Dani said. "And you suspected how I felt before I told you."
"There's a big difference between suspecting something and knowing it for a fact. When I only suspected it, I could tell myself it was just paranoia. Now I know I was right. That's what I'm having trouble dealing with."
"Mommy, I need a drink," Anna said from the top of the stairs.
"Get one in the bathroom," Dani called back.
"I don't need water! I need juice!"
"You need to do what you're told!" Jason called. "I was up there five minutes ago, and she didn't need a drink then," he told Dani.
"She knows we're fighting," Dani said. "She's trying to stop it."
"We aren't fighting."
"Jason, denying a problem doesn't make it go away. You've been asking me for years how I really felt about Ben, and every time I told you we were just friends, we'd get in a fight because you'd say I was lying. So I decided to stop lying about it, and now we're fighting because I told you the truth. How much sense does that make?"
"It makes sense because of how much it hurts me to hear you say you were in love with Ben Mills."
Dani shook her head. "I didn't tell you to hurt you, Jason."
"I know that. But it still hurt."
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry I hurt you, and I'm sorry you're having a hard time with what I told you. But can you please stop treating me like you're allergic to me or something? I'm getting tired of trying to explain to Anna and Sean why you keep sleeping on the couch."
"I'll try," Jason said. "So, are you ready for this afternoon?"
"I doubt it."
They were getting ready to go to Dani's parents'. Dani's father had gone out of state to visit some friends of the family, and had brought back souvenirs for Dani, Jason, and the kids. Or at least Anna and Melanie. Dani's father hadn't been home when the Sheridans had gone to visit lately, and as far as they knew, he hadn't even mentioned Sean's name since the day he had called Ben a freeloader. "He better not have left Sean out," Jason said.
"If he did, we'll just tell him thanks but no thanks on the other presents," Dani replied.
"That wouldn't be fair to the girls."
"It wouldn't be fair to Sean if the girls got things and he didn't."
"We'll cross that bridge if we come to it," Jason said. He didn't want to argue anymore than Dani did.
As it turned out, they had nothing to worry about. Dani's father had brought back a toy and a book for each kid. "Thank you for including Sean," Dani said later, while the kids were enjoying their new toys.
Her father looked surprised. "Why wouldn't I include him?"
"Because the day I brought him here to meet you, you ignored him, called his father a freeloader, and walked out."
"I shouldn't have done that," her father admitted. "It's just that you and Jason had just gotten yourselves to the point where you're doing all right financially, and all of a sudden, someone dumps another kid on you. I'm still not sure why Ben thought you and Jason should look after his son, but since you two have accepted it, I have too."
"You might want to find a way to let Sean know that," Dani said. "He was afraid to come here because he thought you didn't like him."
"I'll take care of it."
Dani's father wasn't the kind of person who actually talked about his feelings, or was demonstrative about them. But he usually found a way to get the point across. He started by telling Sean to call him Bubba, as Anna did. He showed Sean how to use the toy he had bought for him. Then, the crowning sign of acceptance, he invited Sean to join him and Anna on the couch for a story. "What did you say to Dad?" Dani asked her mother.
"Not a thing. He finally realized that carrying a grudge against someone who's dead doesn't do anyone any good. And Sean wasn't even born when we had our problem with Ben, so it certainly didn't make sense to hold a grudge against Sean."
"Well, whatever happened, I'm glad it did," Dani said. "Look how much Sean's enjoying the story. He needs all the love he can get, after everything he's been through."
* * *
The next day was the day Dani had been dreading. Rebecca and Pete Perry were due to arrive at ten to take Sean for the day. Anna started the day with a tantrum because she wanted to go with Sean; Sean countered by throwing a tantrum because he didn't want to leave Dani. Dani found this reaction surprising. "Don't you want to see Meme and Pepe?" she asked.
"No! No! No!" Sean screamed. "They mean! They say bad stuff about Daddy!"
"Are they mean to you?" Dani asked.
"They say, be big boy and don't cry when Daddy go. Meme don't like Daddy. They nice when Daddy gone. They yell if I miss Daddy."
This was the last thing Dani wanted to hear. If the Perrys disliked Ben so much, what might they say about him to Sean? Sean shouldn't hear anything bad about his father, especially not now. "I'll make sure they aren't mean," Dani promised. "But they haven't seen you in a long time, and they really want to spend some time with you. I bet they'll take you somewhere special."
"It's not fair!" Anna wailed. "Sean has his grandparents and mine, but I only got mine!"
"Calm down, Anna," Jason told her. "I'll do something fun with you while Sean's gone."
"I wanna do something fun too!" Sean sobbed.
It was close to eleven when Pete and Rebecca arrived. This was fortunate, since the delay gave Dani and Jason time to calm the kids. "Sorry we're late," Rebecca said. "There was an accident on the highway."
"That's all right," Dani said. "So, what are your plans for the afternoon?"
"We thought we'd start with lunch," Pete said. "Then probably some shopping. We might go to the Old Port in Portland. Then home in time for supper. We'll try to be back here around five; we'll call if we're going to be later than that."
"I'd appreciate that," Dani said. She helped Sean with his coat, then asked, as though it was an afterthought, "Have you heard from Julie yet?"
"Oh, um, no," Rebecca said, glancing at Pete. "If your friend did see her, she must have decided not to get in touch with us yet. Why?"
"I just wondered," Dani replied. "I know I'd hate not knowing where my child was. Anyway, have a good time. Sean, be good for Meme and Pepe."
"Okay," Sean said.
As soon as they were out the door, Dani asked Jason, "What do you think?"
"Lying," said Jason. He had been watching Rebecca's face when Dani asked about Julie. "Definitely lying. But that doesn't mean they're taking Sean to see her."
"No, but it increases the odds."
Dani spent a quiet afternoon with Melanie, who napped most of the time. Jason took Anna to see one of his uncles, who had a son a little older than Anna. They got back just after the Perrys dropped Sean off. "How was your afternoon?" Jason asked the boy.
"Fine," said Sean, more subdued than usual.
"Where did Meme and Pepe take you?" Dani asked.
"They say don't tell."
Just as Dani had feared. "Sean, we're your Mommy and Daddy now," she said. "If someone tells you not to tell us something, you should tell us anyway. It's not okay for them to tell you not to tell us."
Sean looked relieved. "They take me to see my other Mommy," he said.
"Did you like seeing her?" Dani asked.
Suddenly angry, Sean shook his head violently. "I hate her! She ugly! She bad! She say I not stay here! I hate her, Mommy Dani! She want take me away!"
Sean dissolved into sobs. Dani picked him up and hugged him fiercely. Her eyes met Jason's, and he nodded. Whatever Julie and her parents tried to do, they would fight.
* * *
The next week went by with no contact from Julie or her parents. Dani tried to relax, but couldn't. She only knew Julie from what Ben had told her, but that was enough to convince her that Julie wouldn't back down until she had what she wanted. Which, in this case, was Sean.
Dani had almost spoken to Julie once. It had been while she was pregnant with Anna. Jason was out, as he had been almost every night during the pregnancy, so Dani and Ben indulged in one of their marathon phone calls. It was eight o'clock when they realized they had been talking for nearly three hours. "You'd better go," Dani said. "Julie might not like you talking to another woman this long."
"Julie definitely wouldn't like me talking to you this long," Ben replied.
"What do you mean?"
"She's pissed that I'm still friends with you. I had to hide that picture of you that you gave me for Christmas a couple years ago, because she was going to tear it up."
"Why? I haven't even met her. I haven't done anything to her."
"She's jealous. I didn't tell her that we've ever been more than friends, but she figured it out. I can't even say your name without her getting mad."
"Well, I'm six months pregnant and look like a beached whale," Dani said. "If she met me now, I bet she wouldn't be jealous."
"That might not be so crazy," Ben said.
Then Dani heard another voice on Ben's end of the phone. "Who are you talking to?"
"Dani," Ben replied.
"I thought I told you not to talk to her anymore."
"Julie, you don't get to pick my friends. Besides, Dani's married and pregnant. She isn't any competition. I love you. That's why you and I are living together."
Julie snatched the phone from Ben. "Stay the fuck away from him!" she shouted, so loud that Dani had to hold the phone away from her ear. Then Julie hung up.
The way Julie had acted on that occasion gave Dani an idea of what Julie must have thought when she found out who was caring for her son. Dani doubted that Julie would give up without trying to regain custody.
* * *
The following week was Thanksgiving. Jason's parents had their annual open house buffet. Out of consideration for Sean, they had invited Phyllis, who had been pleased to accept. "I usually have Thanksgiving alone," she told Dani and Jason when they picked her up. "Ben and Sean are about all the family I've had."
"A lot of people come to my parents'," Jason said. "And as far as my parents are concerned, everyone who shows up is family."
"Which makes their family roughly equal to the population of New England," Dani added. "But don't panic. The number of people there today will probably only equal the number of people in Maine."
Carl and Susan's house was packed. In addition to Steve and Ken and their families, most of Jason's aunts, uncles, and cousins were there. Anna and Denise herded Sean through the crowd, trying to tell him who everyone was. Dani got nervous when she could no longer see Sean, but she fought the feeling back. She had learned when Anna was old enough to toddle that someone at Carl and Susan's always had an eye on the kids, and somehow, even the distant relatives managed to keep track of which kids belonged to whom. She also knew that word had spread through the family about Julie, so even on the unlikely chance that Julie showed up and tried to take Sean, someone would stop her.
Children ran through the crowd, pushing past the grownups without any concern for toes. After the third time someone's elbow caught Dani in the stomach, she and Susan ordered the kids to stay in the basement family room. The sounds of shrieks and fighting mingled with the sounds of laughter coming from the basement. The adults in the family didn't usually interfere with the children unless someone was actually injured, so they ignored the noise and got on with the socializing and cooking.
Jason wandered off with some of his male cousins to talk about trucks. Dani set Melanie's carrier in the center of the kitchen table and joined Robin and Leah, another sister-in-law, in helping Susan prepare the meal. It was tradition for the daughters-in-law to help, and for everyone else to stay away from the kitchen. "How's the little boy doing?" Leah asked Dani.
"Sean's doing all right," Dani replied. She started peeling the pile of potatoes that Susan had set in front of her. "I think it's going to be hard for him when Christmas gets closer, though."
"He's young," Susan said. "He isn't going to remember much about his father."
This infuriated Dani. "Susan, I want him to remember his father," she said, trying to sound calm.
Susan had known Dani long enough to recognize when she was upset, even when Dani tried to hide it. "Calm down," she said. "I didn't mean it like that. I just meant that the holidays might not be so bad because he isn't really going to remember having spent holidays with his father."
"I still can't believe Jason," Robin said.
"What do you mean?" Dani asked.
"Letting you keep Sean. I know that sounds like I'm talking about a puppy or something, but you know what I mean. Anyway, after everything you went through with Jason when Anna was a baby, I wouldn't think he'd have a good attitude about adopting another guy's kid. I mean, everyone knows you and Ben had something going."
"Ben and I were just friends," Dani insisted.
"And that's her story, and she's sticking to it," Leah said. She took the potatoes that Dani had peeled and put them in the pot on top of the stove. "Ma, you've got to stop inviting so many people for Thanksgiving," she said to Susan. "Your food bill for Thanksgiving dinner could feed a family of four for a month!"
"How big's the turkey this year?" Dani asked, grateful to Leah for the change of subject.
"Thirty pounds," Susan said. "I've had it in the oven since last night. It should be done in another hour or so."
"Now if Leah can just remember not to put the gravy boat in the microwave this year," Robin said.
"I'll remember not to put the gravy boat in the microwave if you remember not to give Pa a saw to cut the turkey with," Leah retorted.
"Girls, stop bickering and help me get this dinner ready!" Susan ordered.
Dani and Leah traded jobs, since Leah was much faster at peeling potatoes than Dani was. Robin worked at opening cans of peas and carrots with an electric can opener that couldn't decide whether to work or not, while Susan checked the turkey every five minutes. Every so often, one of the men would poke his head into the kitchen and ask, "Isn't it ready yet?"
"Get out of my kitchen!" Susan invariably screamed. After she hit Jason in the face with a chunk of biscuit dough, the interruptions stopped.
Dani was putting the last potatoes into the pot when Denise and Anna ran up from the family room. "Mommy, Sean's crying!" Anna said.
"Sean's crying!" Denise repeated.
"Where is he?" Dani asked. She rinsed her hands.
"Downstairs," Anna said. "They wouldn't let him come up."
"Who wouldn't?" demanded Leah.
"The cousins," Denise said.
"Which cousins?" Robin asked.
"The mean ones."
"R.T. and Shane," said Anna. "And Allie."
"Allie wouldn't let Sean come upstairs?" Leah said. "I think I'll go have a word with them."
"I'd better go too," Dani said. "Susan, can you do without us for a couple minutes?"
"Of course I can," Susan said indignantly. "I'm not helpless, you know."
Dani and Leah followed the little girls downstairs. Sean was standing in a corner, crying. Allie and two boys were laughing at him. "Crybaby, crybaby," Allie chanted.
"That's enough!" said Leah in a loud voice.
The three kids jumped. Dani picked Sean up. "What's the matter, Sweetie?" she asked him.
"They mean!" Sean sobbed.
"They said he's not their cousin, so he can't be in the club," Anna said.
"Tattletale!" one of the boys shouted at her.
"Quiet!" Leah commanded. "What club?"
"The Cousins Club," Allie said. "You have to be a Sheridan or a Sheridan cousin to be in it. Sean ain't a-"
"Don't even finish that sentence," Leah said. Allie clapped her hand over her mouth. "You listen to me, the three of you," Leah continued. "First of all, Sean's a lot younger than you. That makes it bad enough for you to pick on him. But telling him that he isn't one of your cousins is just plain cruel. As long as Sean is living with Dani and Jason, he is part of this family. You had all better remember that. Now, apologize to him."
"Sorry, Sean," the three kids mumbled.
"Good. Now you can go sit on the stairs till dinner's ready," Leah said.
"Thank you, Auntie," Sean said as the three cousins sulked over to the stairs.
"You're welcome," said Leah, kissing the top of his head. "You have a good time with your other cousins. Dani and I have to go finish helping with dinner."
Leah started up the stairs. Dani put Sean down, but he grabbed her leg. "Mommy, I go with you?" he asked.
"No, Honey," Dani said. "You need to stay here and play. We're very busy in the kitchen, and there are so many hot things that I'm afraid you'd get hurt."
"You can play with us, Sean," Denise said. "You're our cousin."
"Yeah!" Anna said. "And you're my brother. We can have our own club."
"Yeah!" Denise agreed.
Dani went back upstairs. "Thanks, Leah," she said.
"No problem," Leah replied. "I was adopted, don't forget. I know how cruel kids can be, and they aren't going to talk to Sean like that in front of me. I can't believe Allie was in on it."
"What happened?" Robin wanted to know.
Dani and Leah told her. "So now Sean and the girls are going to start a club," Dani finished.
"I think it was just a pick-on-the-new-kid kind of thing," Susan said.
"Maybe," Leah said. "But it was too cruel to ignore. Speaking of ignoring, Ma, isn't that smoke coming off that burner?"
"Shit!" yelled Susan, grabbing the pot of onions, which had boiled dry.
* * *
After another hour and a couple more minor mishaps in the kitchen, dinner was finally ready. The turkey was set in the center of the dining room table for Carl to carve. The rest of the food was laid out, buffet style, on the kitchen table. Dani took Melanie and her carrier into Carl and Susan's bedroom. She gave Melanie a bottle, then set the carrier on the floor beside the bed so the baby could nap.
When she was finally able to return to the party, Dani was relieved to find that Jason had dished up food for Anna and Sean. "Little Bit asleep?" Jason asked.
"Almost," Dani replied. "How she can sleep with all this noise, I'll never know, but she manages."
"I was going to get a plate ready for you, too," Jason said, "but I wasn't sure what you wanted."
"That's all right," Dani said. She kissed him. "Thanks for thinking of it."
After she had gotten some food, Dani joined Robin, Leah, and a couple of Jason's cousins. "Dani, I heard about your new kid," said Shannon, one of the cousins. "How's it going?"
"All right," Dani said. "We're all adjusting."
"How'd you end up with him, anyway?" Shannon asked.
Dani sighed, and told the story for what felt like the millionth time. "But there could be a problem now, because apparently his mother's back in town," she finished.
"Who's his mother?" asked Corinne, the other cousin.
"Her name's Julie Ryan."
"Wait a minute," Shannon said. "Your kid's father that died was Ben Mills?"
"Yes," said Dani, surprised.
"Watch out, Dani. Julie's a real bitch when she wants something. She had a couple of her guy friends threaten Ben when he sued for custody. She's not going to be impressed- wait a minute. Was your maiden name Phillips?"
"You might be in deep shit, then," Shannon said. "She used to bitch about you all the time, saying you were trying to take Ben away from her and shit like that."