A Sense of Symmetry Pt. 10byKarennaC©
"You're stressing again," Jason said.
"I'm sorry." Dani took a deep breath to try to calm herself. "So, Martin, what can we do about it?"
"Well, first of all, I think her lawyer's trying to talk her out of it. Her trying to get custody of Sean is legitimate. Her trying to get Anna and Melanie taken from you is pure vindictiveness, and that has no place in a situation like this. In the unlikely even that she does go through with it, that's where the character witnesses would come in. You do have some people coming, don't you?"
"Yes," Jason replied. "My brothers, and Dani's parents, and some friends of ours."
"And me," Phyllis said, coming up behind them. She picked up Sean and kissed him. "How's my boy today?" she asked him.
"I wanna play with Anna," Sean said sulkily. "She get to play with Allie, and I gotta be here."
"Seannie, I'm sure you'll have plenty more chances to play with Anna and Allie," Phyllis said. "We need you here today."
"Anna won't get to play with Allie, because Allie has to go to school today," Dani added. "And remember, the judge might need to talk to you."
Phyllis put Sean down and turned to Martin. "Tell me," she said, "why is it that the court won't take into account what Ben wanted?"
"They will," Martin assured her. "But they also have to take Sean's best interests into account. As far as the court's concerned, a child's best interest is usually to be with a biological parent. Unless that parent is abusive or neglectful, and we can't prove either of those in this case."
A court officer came out of the courtroom. "Will the parties in the Sheridan versus Ryan case please follow me."
Phyllis, who had been given permission by the court to stay with Sean during the hearing, took him into a nearby office that had been set up as a playroom. Dani and Jason followed Martin into the courtroom. Julie, the Perrys, and Julie's lawyer were already in their seats. "Here goes nothing," Jason whispered to Dani, squeezing her hand.
"Here goes everything," Dani corrected.
The judge entered the room, and everyone was seated. "We are here to hear the case of Sheridan versus Ryan," the judge said. "This is a custody hearing concerning the minor child Sean Joseph Ryan, also known as Sean Joseph Mills. Are all parties in this case present?"
"Yes, Your Honor," said Martin.
"Yes, Your Honor," said Julie's lawyer.
"Mr. Franklin, you may proceed," the judge said.
Martin stood up. "Your Honor, the Sheridans are a close, loving family. More importantly, they are a stable family. They own a home, and Mr. Sheridan has held the same job for over five years. Mr. and Mrs. Sheridan do have two children of their own, but they have taken Sean into both their home and their hearts, and Sean has become part of their family. This, Your Honor, was what Benjamin Mills wanted for his son when he named Danielle Sheridan as Sean's legal guardian."
"Thank you, Mr. Franklin. Mr. Warner?"
Julie's lawyer stood. "Your Honor, Julie Ryan would be the first to admit that she has been far from an exemplary mother. Last year, when Benjamin Mills sought custody of Sean, Ms. Ryan did not fight it. She realized that she was not the best parent for Sean at that time. At that time," he repeated, emphasizing each word. "However, Your Honor, Julie Ryan has changed her life. She has undergone counseling and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. She has taken parenting classes, as stated in the documents I have submitted. Ms. Ryan currently has a good job here in Portland, and she has an apartment in a decent section of the city. Ms. Ryan has spent the last year making herself worthy of being a mother. Yet, when she returned to claim her son, what did she find? Without a word to her, the boy's father had given guardianship of the child to a family that Ms. Ryan has never even met!"
"Talk about melodrama," Jason whispered to Dani.
"Notice he doesn't mention how no one could find her for the last year," Dani commented under her breath to Martin.
"I'll address that," Martin replied.
"Mr. Franklin, you may begin your questioning," the judge said.
Martin called Dani to the stand. After Dani had been sworn in, he asked her, "Mrs. Sheridan, you have two biological children, is that correct?"
"Yes," Dani replied.
"And you have the financial resources for a third child?"
"Mrs. Sheridan, what do you do for work?"
"I'm an at-home mother."
"Yet you have the finances to support another child?"
"My husband, Jason, works overtime hours at his job to allow me to stay home. I did work part-time during the Christmas season, but my hours were such that Jason could take care of the children while I was at work."
"Mrs. Sheridan, when did you first learn that Benjamin Mills had named you Sean's guardian?"
"The day after Ben's funeral," Dani said.
"And what was your feeling when you were told you had become the parent of a two-year-old boy?"
"My feeling was, when could he move in?"
"Mrs. Sheridan, what was the nature of your relationship with Benjamin Mills?" Martin asked.
Dani had been prepared for this question. Martin had told them that he would ask it, to prevent Julie's lawyer from raising the issue. But Dani hadn't decided how to answer it. She knew she couldn't lie, but she wasn't sure she wanted to tell the whole truth. "Ben was an old friend of mine," she said after a moment.
"And when was the last time you spoke with him?"
"You hadn't spoken with Mr. Mills for over a year, and yet you didn't find it strange that he had chosen you as his son's guardian?"
"I did find it strange," Dani said.
"Yet your first reaction was to wonder when the child could be taken to your home? Why didn't you wish to take some time to consider it before you agreed?"
"Mr. Franklin, I didn't see that there was anything to consider," Dani replied. "I had a frightened child who couldn't stay where he was, and a request from my oldest friend. Ben would have done the same if the situation had been reversed."
"Thank you, Mrs. Sheridan," Martin said. "No further questions."
Warner stood up. "Mrs. Sheridan, isn't it true that you and Benjamin Mills were having an affair at the time of Sean's birth?" he asked.
"No, it is not," Dani replied indignantly. "At the time of Sean's birth, I hadn't even spoken to Ben in over six months."
"At any time, did you and Benjamin Mills have a physical relationship?" Warner asked.
"Objection," said Martin. "Irrelevant."
"Your Honor, I'm attempting to determine why Mrs. Sheridan was named Sean's guardian," Warner argued.
"Objection overruled," the judge said. "Mrs. Sheridan, please answer the question."
Dani sighed. "Yes, Ben and I did have a physical relationship at one time," she said.
"And when would that have been, Mrs. Sheridan?" Warner asked.
"Six years ago. It ended shortly before my twentieth birthday."
"You and Mr. Mills were not intimate at all during the last six years?"
"No, Mr. Warner, we were not."
"No further questions," said Warner, sounding disappointed.
Dani was allowed to sit down, and Martin called Jason to the stand. "Mr. Sheridan, you are the sole support of this family?"
"Would you please tell the court where you are employed and how much you earn?"
"Sure. I've worked for Roanoke Machine in Cornish for the last five and a half years. I make fifteen dollars an hour, twenty-two fifty for overtime."
"And what kind of hours do you work?"
"My regular shift is four-thirty p.m. to twelve thirty, five days a week. I work ten to twenty hours a week overtime."
"When do you spend time with your family, Mr. Sheridan?"
"I usually get up around nine or ten in the morning. Even when I work overtime, I'm up before noon. And I have two nights off a week."
"Mr. Sheridan, what was your initial reaction when you learned that Sean would be living with you?"
"I wondered how Dani could have agreed to such a thing without discussing it with me."
"And after that?"
"I had no problem with the idea once I'd had time to digest it. Like Dani said, we had a scared kid who needed somewhere to go."
"Thank you, Mr. Sheridan. No further questions."
"I have no questions for Mr. Sheridan," Warner said.
"Mr. Franklin, have you anyone else to call?" the judge asked.
"Not at this time, Your Honor."
"Thank you. Mr. Warner, you may present your case."