A Sense of Symmetry Pt. 09byKarennaC©
Anna and Sean spent the weekend fighting over their new toys. Dani and Jason spent it worrying. "Mommy, why you look so sad?" Anna asked her.
"I'm just thinking about some things that make me feel sad," Dani replied.
Anna sat beside her. "I'm sad, too."
"Why are you sad?" Dani asked.
"'Cause. Mommy, is Sean my brother now?"
"Will he still be my brother if he lives with his other mommy?"
"If you still want him to be, then yes, I think so."
"Why don't Sean want to live here now?"
Dani looked down at the little girl. Anna looked like she was about to cry. "He does want to live here, babe," Dani said. "But he misses his other mommy, too."
"Maybe she can live here, too!" Anna said.
"I don't think so, sweetheart." The thought of sharing a house with Julie Ryan was too horrible to contemplate.
"Then what can we do?" Anna asked.
"Well, like we've told you, Daddy and I are going to talk to a judge who will decide if Sean should live with us or with his other mommy."
Anna considered this. "What if the judge makes a bad choice?"
"I hope he won't," Dani replied.
"Me, too," said Anna. "Hey! Sean! That's my race car!"
Anna ran off to defend her toys, and Dani closed her eyes. "Heavenly Father," she prayed silently, "I know it's supposed to be Your will, not mine, but I can't help it. I don't want Julie to get Sean! I don't know why You took Ben away, but Ben wanted me to have Sean, and it wouldn't be right if Julie got him. Lord, please help us through this, and please don't take Sean away from us. Amen."
She opened her eyes just in time to see Anna whack Sean over the head with the disputed race car. Both kids spent the rest of the afternoon in their rooms.
* * *
Jason worked overtime again that night, but when he came home at three thirty the next morning, Dani was still awake. "You need to get some sleep," Jason told her. "You shouldn't be up this early."
"I haven't been to bed," Dani replied.
Jason looked concerned. "Dani, you're going to make yourself sick," he said. "You can't keep staying up like this."
"I can't help it, Jason," Dani said. "When I go to bed, all I do is either toss and turn, or have nightmares. The way things are going, I won't get a decent night's sleep till after the hearing. Maybe not even then, if Julie gets custody."
"She won't," Jason said. "God wouldn't do that to us, would He?"
"The Lord works in mysterious ways," Dani said. "Maybe for some reason, He means for Julie to raise her son. It isn't up to us to know what the Lord's going to do or why. That doesn't prohibit us from getting ticked off at Him if we don't like His decision, though."
"But we don't know for sure what's going to happen," Jason said.
"Of course we don't," Dani agreed, although she was pretty sure she did know. "But I'd rather consider the worst-case scenario and be pleasantly surprised than just think about the best possibility and be disappointed."
"You're a pessimist."
"I'm a realist. I just have a bad feeling about this whole thing."
"I know you and your feelings, Dani. But I also know that your feelings aren't right a hundred percent of the time. This might be one of the times when they're wrong."
"I hope so," Dani said.
"I know so," Jason replied. "You coming to bed?"
"In a few minutes."
"Dani, you've been down here all night!" Jason said, exasperated. "Even if you can't sleep, at least come to bed with me."
Jason fell asleep as soon as he lay down. Dani lay awake, staring at the window. After an hour and a half, she gave up and got out of bed. It wasn't that she wanted to go through a day with no sleep, but she would manage.
At church that day, Dani asked for prayer that the Sheridans would be able to keep Sean. "Don't you think he belongs with his mother, if she's able to care for him?" the pastor asked after the service.
"I don't think she is able to care for him," Dani said. "She's a drug addict, and she abandoned him after he was born. His father had custody, and his father wanted us to raise him."
"Dani, people can change," the pastor said gently. "Didn't you tell me that Sean's father once used drugs also?"
"Yes," Dani admitted. "But he went through rehab before he asked for custody, and he stayed clean."
"Don't you think it's possible that Sean's mother could have done the same thing? Dani, I'm sorry. I know how much you and Jason love that little boy. We all love him, too. But if his mother is capable now, he should be with her."
"Excuse me. I think Melanie's crying." Dani had to walk away before she lost her temper. She didn't think slapping the pastor's face would help her case any.
* * *
Martin Franklin had taken Monday off to give himself a four-day weekend. He had made an appointment with the Sheridans on Tuesday, which meant that Dani spent Monday in a bad mood. "I know you're getting worked up about this case," Jason said to her, "but you don't need to take it out on me and the kids."
"I'm sorry, Jason," Dani sighed. "I'll try to calm down. But what if Martin tells us there's nothing we can do?"
"Dani, he won't tell us that!"
"Don't yell at me!"
"Well, you don't listen when I just talk. Damn it, Dani, all you talk about lately is losing Sean. I don't want to hear it anymore. We aren't going to lose Sean!"
"Jason, quiet down," Dani said, lowering her own voice. "The kids will hear you."
"Mommy, Daddy, why are you yelling?" Anna asked, as though on cue.
"It's okay, Anna," Jason said.
"You mad?" Sean asked.
"Not at each other," Dani said. "There's just something that's making us kind of sad, and sometimes when people get sad, they get mad, too."
"Don't be mad," Sean said. "We be good, right, Anna?"
Dani smiled. "Sweetheart, we aren't mad at you kids, either. We're not really mad at a person, just at something that might happen."
"Can we go outside?" asked Anna, apparently dismissing her parents' argument.
"Sure," Dani sighed. "Let's get your snowsuits on."
"I'll help Sean, and you help Anna," Jason suggested.
"Thanks," Dani said.
After the kids were bundled up and sent outdoors, Jason said, "I'm sorry I yelled at you. It's just, you can tell me all you want that ignoring something doesn't make it go away, but I keep hoping that this custody thing will go away. I really love Sean, Dani. I almost feel like he's my own son. The thought of him being taken away from us just about kills me."
"Me, too," Dani said. "You and I just have different ways of dealing with things. You pretend a problem doesn't exist, and I talk it to death."
"I think we need to find a middle ground," Jason said. "I'll ignore it on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and you talk it to death on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays."
"What about Sundays?"
That night, Jason went to work, promising not to work overtime. Dani got the kids to bed with almost no argument, then went downstairs to watch TV. She was half hoping to fall asleep and have another one of her Ben dreams, but she stayed awake through the ten o'clock news. When the news was over, Dani went upstairs to bed, expecting to lie awake as she had been. To her surprise, the next time she opened her eyes, the sun was up, Jason was asleep beside her, and it was eight in the morning.
* * *
Jason and Dani left the kids with Leah while they went to Martin's office for what Martin called a "strategy session." "You two and Julie each have advantages and disadvantages as parents for Sean," he explained. "Our goal is for the judge to decide that you two have more advantages than Julie."
"So what do you see as our advantages?" Jason asked.
"Well, the two big ones are that you're a two-parent family, and Sean's custodial parent appointed you as Sean's guardians."
"And Julie abandoned Sean," Jason said.
"That isn't one of our advantages," Dani corrected. "That's one of Julie's disadvantages."
"Exactly," Martin said. "The judge will be weighing you as individuals, not so much comparing you to each other. He might say to himself, the Sheridans will be good parents to Sean, and Julie won't be a good parent, but he won't say, the Sheridans will be better parents than Julie. But another way of putting what you just said, Jason, is that you and Dani took Sean in when asked to, instead of refusing. That way, the focus is on an advantage you have, but the judge will be reminded that Julie did abandon Sean."
"This whole thing is going to be a lot of double talk, isn't it," Jason said.
"Pretty much," Martin said. "That's why you've got me. The judge and lawyers take care of the double talk. All you need to worry about is telling the truth. And I do mean the truth. If Julie's lawyer asks you if you have any doubts about the adoption, you'd better say yes if that's the way you feel. Lying isn't going to help our case, even if no one else knew it was a lie."
Martin set a paper in front of them. "This is a copy of the custody agreement between Ben and Julie," he said. "It states that Ben had sole custody of Sean, and Julie had visitation rights for weekends and holidays, which you already knew. It also states that Julie can only exercise her visitation when she has a stable home. That means, for example, that if she's staying with her parents for a few days, or crashing on a friend's couch for the weekend, she can't see Sean. And another condition of her visitation is that she cannot use any kind of drugs or alcohol, except prescription medication, when Sean's with her or immediately before the visit, and that she has to submit to a drug test at the request of the social worker who was involved in the case, Ben, or any other adult with a vested interest in Sean's welfare. That would be a regular caregiver, the court, or any of Sean's grandparents. What we would like to see happen next week is Ben's name being replaced by yours in this agreement."
"That gives us custody," Dani said. "What about the adoption?"
"That's a different issue," Martin said, "and to be honest, I don't have much hope for it. Adoption would involve having Julie's parental rights terminated completely, and I don't see that happening. We know Julie wouldn't sign over her rights voluntarily, and I don't think, from what I know of her background and her current circumstances, that there would be any legal ground for the court to terminate her rights. I think right now, we should concentrate on your being awarded custody, and drop the adoption idea for the time being."
"So the best-case scenario is that we'd have sole custody?" Jason said.
"Right. And even though Julie might have visitation, she never took advantage of the right when Ben was alive, so she might not now either."
"What's the worst case?" Dani asked. Jason glared at her, but she ignored him.
"The worst case," Martin said, "is that Julie will be awarded sole custody. In that case, you might not even be allowed visitation rights, since you're not immediate family."
"Martin, that isn't very encouraging," Jason said.
"You didn't hire me to encourage you. My job is to try to make the best-case scenario become reality. Keep in mind, too, that there are plenty of options in between. There could be some kind of joint custody arrangement."
"So all we can do is tell the truth at the hearing, and pray in the meantime," Dani said.
"There is one more thing," Martin said. "Talk to your family and close friends. Ask them to attend the hearing. If it comes to it, I may be able to use them as character witnesses for you. If nothing else, having them there will give you some moral support."
* * *
The first thing Dani and Jason did when they returned to Leah's was to ask if Leah and Ken would be willing to attend the hearing. "Of course we'll be there," Leah said. "You know how we feel about making sure the better parent has custody." Ken's daughter Samantha was from his first marriage. Samantha's mother had not been a fit parent, and it had taken a long battle before Ken finally won custody.
"I just hope Mom and Dad will come," Jason said.
"Why wouldn't they?" Ken said. "They backed me all the way. It's the same situation."
"They're both home," Leah added. "Go talk to them. We can keep the kids a little longer."
Carl and Susan were having lunch when Jason and Dani got there. They continued eating while they listened to the explanation of what Dani and Jason needed from them. "I don't think so," Susan said when they were done talking."
"What do you mean, you don't think so?" Jason demanded. "You'll back up Ken, but not me?"
"It isn't the same thing," Susan said. "Ken is Samantha's father. Ben was the boy's father. That's all well and good; each of them was a better parent than the mother. But you aren't the boy's parents. If his mother is fit, he should be with her. I think you should have a right to see him once in a while, but he belongs with his mother."
"Thanks for nothing." Jason walked out.
Dani turned to Susan, furious. "If 'the boy's' mother were fit, he would have been with her in the first place. If 'the boy's' mother were fit, someone would have known how to get in touch with her when Ben died. 'The boy' has been living with us for three months, and he doesn't even remember his mother because he hasn't seen her since before he was a year old. You say you consider Sean part of the family, but obviously that's bullshit, because now, when it really matters, you don't think he belongs with us!"
Susan stood up. "You can't talk to me like that! You had better treat me with some respect!"
"I will treat you with respect when you deserve it," Dani said coldly. She left to join Jason.
Ken and Leah were sympathetic, but refused to take sides. "I don't understand Mom's thinking," Ken said, "but it's her decision. We'll still be there, and I'm sure Steve and Robin will be, too."
"I know," Jason said. "But it would be nice to have some support from our parents."
This wasn't the first time Jason's parents had let him down in some way. Dani had learned early in their marriage not to try to comfort him at times like this; it only made him angrier. He had to work through it by himself, reminding himself that it was his parents' own problems, not anything about him, that made them act this way. For that reason, Dani was grateful that the three kids slept through the drive home. Their silence gave Jason the time he needed to calm down. "My parents just won't know what they're missing," he announced to Dani as he helped her get the kids out of the van.
"What do you mean?" Dani asked.
They carried Sean and Melanie into the house, then Jason went back outside to get Anna. "I mean," Jason said as he gently lay Anna on the couch, "they won't know what they're missing with their grandchildren. If they don't care enough about Sean to come to the hearing, then they don't need to see their grandkids."
"Jason, you don't-" Dani stopped herself. Maybe Jason didn't really mean it, but, at this moment, he thought he did. She didn't want to start another argument with him. Lord knew they'd been having too many of those lately.
Luckily, Jason hadn't heard her. "I'm going to give Steve a call and make sure he and Robin will be there."
"I know they will be," Dani said. "They're always there for us. Look how they helped us out when you and I were separated."
"I know. I just want to make sure, and to let them know when it will be."
While Jason made the call, Dani carried each child upstairs to their room. Melanie and Sean slept through the entire process. Anna stayed asleep right up until Dani put her down on her bed. Then she opened her eyes. "I don't need a nap!" she said indignantly.
Dani sighed. "All right, you don't need a nap. You slept all the way home from Auntie Leah's, so I guess you'll be okay. But you still need your rest time." Since Anna had stopped taking regular naps, her 'rest time' had become more of a benefit for Dani and Jason than for Anna herself.
"Can I watch a CVR in your room?" asked Anna, meaning a videotape.
"I guess so. Just keep it quiet so you don't wake Sean or your sister. Do you need help starting the tape?"
"No, I can do it." She went into Dani and Jason's room and started the VCR. When Dani went back downstairs, Anna was happily curled up on her parents' bed, playing with a Barbie doll and watching The Jungle Book.
Jason had just hung up the phone. "Steve agrees that Mom's full of shit," he said. "He and Robin will be there next week. Are you going to call your parents?"
"They're at work," Dani said. "And we know they'll be there anyway."
"Yeah. Your parents never let you down. You're their precious little baby."
Dani turned away from him. "You're mad at your parents, not at me," she said. "It is not my fault that your parents refused to help us, and I do not appreciate your being sarcastic with me."
"I'm sorry," Jason said. He walked around in front of her. "Forgive me?" Dani didn't answer. "Please?" Jason said. When Dani still didn't answer, he knelt and clasped his hands. "I'm begging you to forgive me. Do you want me to kiss your feet, too?"
"No, but you can kiss my-" Dani stopped, then, as Jason leered at her, finished, "-lips."
"I'm sorry," Jason said again. "You're right. I'm not mad at you."
"It'll be all right," Dani said. "Won't it?"
"You tell me," Jason said. "You're the one with the dreams and feelings and whatever. What does your spectral buddy have to say?"
"I haven't dreamed about Ben since Christmas night," Dani replied. "He told me then that he couldn't offer any more help."
"Great. Even a dead guy's letting us down."
"That isn't it, Jason."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry a million times. Will that cover me for the rest of the day?"
"I'm not trying to fight with you," Dani said.
"I'm not mad," Jason said, smiling. "I didn't mean to sound mad, if I did. Of course everything will be all right. It has to be."
"Why does it have to be?"
"Because if this was a story, Julie'd be the wicked witch. And everyone knows the wicked witch always bites it in the end."
* * *
"Of course we'll be there," Dani's mother told her. "Well, I will, anyway. You know how your father is. He supports you in this, but he's not the type to sit through something like a court hearing."
"Thanks, Mom," Dani said.
"Mommy, can I talk to Grammy?" Anna asked.
Dani handed the phone to her daughter. "Grammy, Sean gonna go away," was the first thing Anna said.
"Anna, that isn't true!" Dani exclaimed. She had thought Anna had been out of hearing when she and Jason had discussed the custody case, but apparently the little girl had heard more than Dani had realized.
"Yes, it is," Anna insisted. "Sean wants to live with his mommy, and she's gonna take him away. Sean said. His daddy told him. Bye, Grammy."
Anna handed the phone back to Dani. "What did she mean when she said Sean's daddy told him?" Lynn asked. "She wasn't talking about Jason, was she?"
"No," Dani said. "She means Ben."
There was silence on Lynn's end of the phone, then she said slowly, "Dani, Sean does understand that Ben's dead, doesn't he?"
"He's been having dreams about Ben," Dani explained. "He always says Ben tells him things in the dreams. I guess that must be true, because some of the things Sean's told me are things he couldn't know any other way."
"You don't really believe that, do you?"
"For someone who's spent the last twenty-some years listening to me tell you about feelings I had that turned out to be true, you're being pretty skeptical."
"You never told me you had a dead person talking to you in dreams," her mother pointed out.
"Well, I'm telling you that now," Dani replied. "I've been having dreams about Ben, too. And he's been giving me advice and predictions about this whole situation. And I do believe that it's really him, and I don't belong in the mental hospital."