A Sense of Symmetry Pt. 08byKarennaC©
It was difficult to coordinate the Christmas shopping that year. Since their first married Christmas, Jason and Dani had divided the shopping: Dani went by herself to shop for Jason and her parents, and Jason went by himself to shop for Dani and his parents. They went together to shop for Jason's brothers and their families. After Anna was born, they had also taken turns taking her out to get presents for each other.
Now, with three kids, it wasn't as easy. Melanie was too young to make any sense of what was going on, and it wouldn't matter if she saw presents that were bought for her because she wouldn't remember them once they were put away. The problem was what to do with Sean and Anna. Neither Dani nor Jason wanted to be the only one responsible for both kids in the holiday crowds they were likely to encounter. "What if one of us took Sean and went shopping for Anna," Jason suggested, "and the other one took Anna shopping for Sean, and then we could trade kids."
"But neither of them can keep secrets," Dani said. "They'd be telling each other what we buy. I think the best thing to do will be to get together with Robin and Steve, and they can help one of us with the kids while the other one goes off alone to shop for the kids."
Before they had a chance to talk to Robin and Steve about this idea, Phyllis called and suggested she go along on the shopping trip. "It'll be a chance for me to see Sean, and an extra pair of hands for you."
They agreed on Saturday for the trip. Jason had Friday night off, which meant that he would be able to get the necessary amount of sleep to handle shopping with two toddlers. "Don't worry," Dani told him. "Phyllis will help you."
"I'll tell you what I'm really worried about," Jason said. "What if we go out and get all these things for Sean, and the court gives him to Julie?"
"He'll still be here for Christmas, Jason," Dani said. Martin Franklin had called them the day before to let them know that the custody hearing would be on January fourth. "With a little luck and a lot of prayer, he'll be here after that."
"I'm still worried," Jason said.
"So am I."
"No mysterious contact from the other side lately?"
"I haven't had any more dreams about Ben, if that's what you mean. Not since the one last week that you still don't believe."
"I believe the dream, Dani. I just believe that all of it was a dream."
"Jason, I was sitting on the couch drinking hot chocolate when the phone book fell and the radio came on. How could I have been asleep?"
"It was three in the morning. Maybe you dozed off for a few seconds. Look, I don't want to argue about that. If you believe it happened, then it happened. It doesn't matter if I believe you or not."
"It matters to me," Dani said. "This is the first time you've ever not believed me about something like this. But you're right; I don't want to argue either. The point is that we're worried about losing Sean. Let's make a pact."
"Let's get through Christmas like a family. No worrying. On December twenty-sixth, we can start worrying again."
"I'll still worry," Jason said.
"So will I," Dani admitted. "All right. We can worry, but we keep it to ourselves till after Christmas."
Anna came downstairs. "Anna, why are you out of bed?" Jason asked.
"Sean's crying," Anna said. "He says that the monster in his closet's gonna take him away."
"I'll go up," Jason said.
"Mommy, who wants to take Sean?" Anna asked when her father had left the room.
"What do you mean, Anna?"
"Another day, you said someone wants Sean."
Dani cursed herself for underestimating her daughter. Anna had always tended to ask about things several days after they happened, but Dani had thought Anna might have forgotten about the conversation she had overheard. "Sean's Mommy wants him," she told Anna. "Sean's mommy and daddy didn't live together, and Sean lived with his daddy. Now that Sean's daddy is in Heaven, Sean's mommy wants Sean to live with her."
"I want Sean to live here forever," Anna said, close to tears.
"So do Daddy and I, sweetheart. That's why, after Christmastime is over, we're going to talk to someone, a judge, and ask if we can adopt Sean. Adopting means that Sean will be part of our family forever."
"Let's do it!" Anna said.
"Dani!" Jason called from upstairs.
Dani went up, trailed by Anna. Jason was standing in Sean's doorway. "He wants you," he said. "He talked to me a little, but now he wants you. Come on, Anna. Let's get you back to bed."
"I want to see if Sean's all right," Anna argued.
"Sean's fine, babe," Dani said. "You go with Daddy."
Sean was sitting on the edge of his bed, staring at the closet door. "Sean?" Dani said softly. The little boy turned to look at her. "Jason said you wanted me," Dani said.
"Daddy say you make monster go 'way," Sean said.
"Daddy said? You mean Jason?"
"No! Daddy! I have bad dream about monster. Daddy come and say, Dani make monster go 'way."
"Dear God," Dani whispered. In all this time, she hadn't realized that Sean, too, was seeing Ben in his dreams. "I can try," she said to Sean. "Did your daddy say how I should get rid of the monster?"
Dani opened the closet door. "Monster, go away!" She turned to Sean. "How's that?"
Sean shook his head. "Monster still there. She mean monster."
"She? I thought your monster was a he."
"No. It a other-Mommy monster. Me and Anna scream at her, but she don't go 'way."
Dani closed her eyes. Ben, help me figure this out, she thought. Then she knew what to say. "Other-Mommy monster, get out of Sean's closet. Sean's our little boy now. You can't have him. Go away!"
She turned back to Sean. He was nodding. "Monster all gone now," he said. "Night-night, Mommy Dani."
"Night-night, Sean." She kissed him on the forehead and left the room. Jason was waiting in the hall, looking at her questioningly. "Monster all gone," Dani said.
"How'd you manage that?" Jason asked.
"It's a long story."
"I don't have time for long stories tonight. I have a better idea of what to do with my night off."
Dani didn't even need to ask what his idea was.
* * *
The next morning, they left the house at nine for their shopping trip. Getting out of the house that early took some work, but it was worth it not to have to cope with the Christmas crowds that would hit the Mall around lunchtime. Phyllis met them at the Mall, as planned. Sean tried to tell her how Dani had gotten rid of the monster, but Phyllis stopped listening when Sean insisted his father had spoken to him. "I thought you believed in Heaven," Dani said to her.
Phyllis looked offended. "Of course I do!"
"And don't you believe that when someone goes to Heaven, they watch over their loved ones?"
"Then why is it so hard to accept that maybe when their loved ones are in trouble, angels might be able to speak to them?"
Phyllis looked at her strangely. "If I didn't know better," she said. "I'd say you actually believe Sean was talking to Ben last night."
"Maybe not when he was awake," Dani said. "But sometimes, people will say something 'just came to them' in a dream." She knew there wasn't any point in using her own experience to convince Phyllis that Ben was in contact with them. Phyllis would probably dismiss her as a lunatic.
"I suppose," Phyllis said reluctantly. "Ever since Sean could talk, he talks about knowing things that he couldn't really know. Maybe there's something there."
"Maybe," Dani agreed. She wondered, considering the connection she and Ben had always had, why it surprised her that Ben's son might have some kind of psychic ability.
"I wouldn't call it psychic," Ben said.
He and Dani had realized that they seemed to read each other's mind too often for it to be coincidence. "What would you call it, then?" Dani asked.
"It's just a connection we have. We're like two sides of the same coin. Like soul mates."
"I think so," Ben said seriously. "We're part of each other. That's why we can read each other's minds. Because we're sort of the same person, just in two separate bodies. Am I making any sense, or am I just stoned?"
"If you're stoned, I am too," Dani said. "It makes perfect sense to me."
"You can't be stoned," Ben said. "You aren't smoking."
"I know. And I wish you wouldn't either. If you want to destroy yourself, at least wait till I'm out of the room."
"All right." He opened the window and threw the still-lit joint out onto the driveway. "I wouldn't do that for just anyone, you know," he said. "Only my soul mate."
"Let's go shopping!" Anna said excitedly, bringing Dani back to the present.
* * *
For the first hour and a half, Jason went off by himself while Dani and Phyllis took the kids to buy presents for Jason and for Dani's parents. Then they traded off; Jason went with Phyllis and the kids to get gifts for Dani and for Jason's parents. After another hour and a half, they got together to find things for Jason's brothers and their families.
They left the Mall at about one, and followed Phyllis to a restaurant she had suggested for lunch. "Dani, have you had any dreams about Ben lately?" Phyllis asked while they waited for their orders.
Jason seemed about to answer, but Dani gave him a look that made him shut his mouth. "To be honest, I have," she said. "Several times."
"Me, too," said Sean.
"Sean, please don't interrupt," Phyllis said. "Dani, do you really believe those dreams were Ben trying to contact you from the great beyond? Or do you think they were just dreams?"
Her tone suggested that a sane person would agree with the latter choice. Although Dani had questioned her own sanity a few times lately, she knew the dreams for what they were, and said so. "I don't know for sure if it was Ben directly," she replied. "But I do know that the dreams have given me warnings and messages about things that I'm sure Ben would want me to know. And Ben was in the dreams."
Phyllis didn't respond right away; Dani was sure for a moment that the woman was about to get up and leave. Then Phyllis said slowly, "Ben always insisted that you and he had some kind of bond. I saw myself more than once where he'd say something like, 'Dani'll be calling in a minute,' and a minute or so later, you would call. It even happened when he hadn't spoken to you for a few days or even weeks, so I know he hadn't been told that you were going to call. Sean used to do the same thing, saying his Daddy'd be home early and then Ben would pull in the driveway, that type of thing. I never believed in telepathy or mind reading or any of that, and I never really thought about someone talking to their loved ones from Heaven. But knowing Ben as I did, I can't deny that if anyone could do something like that, it would be him."
"Have you dreamed about him, Phyllis?" Dani asked.
Phyllis hesitated, then nodded. "Just once."
"Can I ask what he said to you?"
"He told me to help you all I can, and to watch out for the monster in the closet. I didn't know what that meant, till today."
* * *
Dani had always considered herself lucky that both her and Jason's families lived nearby. They had never had to argue about where to spend the holidays. They always went to the Thanksgiving open house at Carl and Susan's; Dani's parents were always invited as well, but they didn't usually go. Carl and Susan insisted on holding their Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve; it was the easiest time to get Jason, his brothers, and the grandchildren together, and it left Christmas Day free for them to spend alone. Dani and Jason were then able to go to Dani's parents' on Christmas Day. They were looking forward to sharing the family festivities this year with Sean.
About a week before Christmas, however, Julie called. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" she demanded when Dani answered the phone.
"Happy holidays, Julie," Dani said calmly.
"You really think I'm going to give up my son? Especially to you?"
"Julie, I've never understood why you hate me. I admit, you might have a reason now, but not when you were with Ben. If I'd wanted to be with Ben, I wouldn't have married my husband." This was, of course, a lie, but it was for a good cause.
"Ben wanted to be with you," Julie said angrily. "He denied it, but he carried a picture of you all the time. One time in bed, he even called me Dani! And you ask why I hate you?"
"He loved you, Julie. He cried when he told me you were leaving him."
"Sure, because I was pregnant with his kid. Then he turns around and gives my kid to you!"
"He tried to find you, Julie," Dani said. She didn't know for sure whether or not this was true. "He didn't know where you were, and neither did your parents. They said you just left Sean with them and took off."
"Yeah, well, I'm back now. And my parents agree that you have no right to take my son away from me. This custody hearing is bullshit, and I'm not going to waste my time."
"If you don't show up for the hearing, you automatically lose custody," Dani pointed out.
"I know that, bitch! I'm not stupid! But I'm going to get my son back. And when I do, you won't be seeing him again."
Dani tried appealing to Julie's compassion, although she wasn't sure if the woman had any. "Julie, if we get custody of Sean, we'd want you to be able to see him," she said. "And if you get custody, I think it would make it easier for him if you let us see him, at least once in a while."
"I don't give a damn what you think."
"Julie, please. We've been looking after him since Ben died. He still hasn't gotten over losing his father. Do you want him to have to go through another loss?"
"He doesn't need you and your fucking family! He needs his mother! He's a little kid. He'll forget all about you. And I want him for Christmas."
"You heard me, bitch. I want my son to spend Christmas with me. My lawyer says that I have the right to see him."
"Then your lawyer can have a talk with our lawyer about it." Dani finally lost her temper. "I'm done talking to you, Julie. The next time you call my house, I'm filing harassment papers. You don't give a shit about anyone but yourself. That was obvious when you screwed around on Ben while you were pregnant, and it was obvious when you dumped Sean on your parents so you could get drunk and get laid. You fucked up Ben's life, and, if it kills me, I will not let you fuck up Sean's!" She slammed down the phone, then unplugged it as it began to ring again.
* * *
Martin Franklin called the next day. "Julie Ryan's accusing you of harassing her," he informed Dani.
"Let her," Dani said. "My phone bill will prove that I didn't call her."
"I know," Martin said. "Her lawyer already checked into it. But she may use it to make you look bad in court, so watch your step. That isn't what I called about, anyway."
"What is it?" Dani asked with a sinking feeling.
"Julie wants Sean with her on Christmas. Now, I know that's the last thing you want, and I certainly can't blame you there. But the custody arrangement she had with Ben stipulated that she can have Sean on weekends and holidays."
"So we have to let her take him on Christmas?" Dani was close to tears. "Martin, we have everything all planned. Why didn't she spring this on us sooner?"
"I don't think that's what you're really upset about," Martin said.
"No, it isn't," Dani admitted. "What if she doesn't bring him back?"
"How can you be so sure?"
"Two reasons. Number one, if she doesn't bring him back, it would mean a kidnapping charge, which is not a chance she can afford to take right now, and she knows it. Number two, since Julie and you aren't supposed to have any contact- which is why she's trying to pin that phone call on you- I've arranged to be the one to take Sean there and bring him back."
"Martin, that's wonderful! But isn't it a conflict of interest?"
"Possibly, but Julie's lawyer agreed to it. What were your plans for Christmas Day?"
"We usually open presents at home in the morning, then go to my parents' house."
"How about Christmas Eve?"
Dani could hear him shuffling papers at his end of the phone. "Where do Jason's parents live?"
"And your parents?"
"Perfect. I'll pick Sean up at your in-laws' around- what time will you be there?"
"The party's usually from about six o'clock on."
"All right. I'll pick him up there at eight. Julie can have him overnight. That will show how serious she really is, if she'll choose to take her son instead of going to Christmas parties. Then I'll pick him up at her place Christmas morning, and have him at your parents' house around noon. Does that sound all right?"
"It sounds fine," Dani said. "But will Julie agree to it?"
"She won't have a choice."
* * *
Anna cried on Christmas Eve, and refused to go to sleep. Dani and Jason thought she was just overtired from the excitement at her grandparents', until Dani went to talk to her. "Anna, what is the matter?" Dani asked, exasperated. "You need to go to sleep."
"I miss Sean!" the little girl wailed.
"I know, Babe," Dani said. She hugged Anna. "But we'll see Sean tomorrow when we go to Grammy and Bubba's."
"No we won't!"
"Anna, what are you talking about? Of course we will."
"Uh, uh! Sean told me! He was bad, so the monster took him away!"
"Oh, Sweetheart, no! That isn't it at all! Sean's a good boy. And he isn't with a monster. He's with his mommy, his birth mommy. He's going to stay at her house tonight, then he'll be back with us tomorrow. I promise."
"Mommy, do I have a birth mommy?"
"I am your birth mommy, Sweetie. You came out of my belly."
"You're my only mommy?"
"If I'm bad, who's gonna take me away?"
This time, Dani couldn't hold back the tears. "Anna, I'm so sorry that this is scaring you," she said, wiping her eyes. "Nobody's going to take you away from us. No matter what, Daddy and I will always love you, and you're always going to be our daughter. Sean's birth mommy didn't take him away because he was bad. She just missed him and wanted him to spend part of Christmas with her."
"Sean says his birth mommy's bad," Anna said.
"She used to be," Dani said. "That's why Sean used to live with his daddy. But I think his birth mommy's a good mommy now, and that's why she wants to spend time with Sean."
"Will she take him away when you talk to the judge?"
"I hope not, babe." Dani wished she could say no, but she couldn't lie to her daughter. "I hope not."
"I hope not too."
Anna got out of bed. "What are you doing?" Dani asked.
"Praying." Anna knelt and closed her eyes. "Dear God, and Santa, too. Please don't let the monster take Sean away. And please don't let anyone take me and Melanie away. And please let me have my Barbie dollhouse for Christmas. Amen."
Dani didn't know whether to laugh or cry at Anna's prayer, so she did both.
* * *
The next day, Martin Franklin brought Sean to the Phillipses' at noon on the dot. Sean seemed happy enough; whatever Dani might think of Julie, Julie didn't seem to have been a monster to Sean. "Mommy gived me a Elmo!" Sean reported. "He laugh when I tickle him!"
"I got that too!" Anna said. "But I don't like it."
"It seems to have gone all right," Dani said to Martin.
Martin nodded. "From the court's point of view, Julie did everything right. She was waiting at the door when we got there last night. She didn't try to force Sean to call her 'Mommy' or hug her or anything like that, which is important since Sean can barely remember her. She didn't go out anywhere last night. She told me her parents came for an early-morning Christmas celebration this morning, and she had Sean ready to go when I got there. So, if she hasn't really changed, she's at least acting like she has, which will look good to the judge."