A Sense of Symmetry Pt. 01


"Did you ever tell him about you and Ben?"

"What about me and Ben?"

"Come on, Dani," her mother said. "Your old mother isn't stupid. I knew something was going on between you two."

"Only when he didn't have a girlfriend," Dani said.


"No, Jason doesn't know," Dani sighed. "He knows that Ben and I dated a few times, but that's it."

"That's probably best."

Dani tuned out most of the rest of the conversation, which consisted of her mother's memories of Ben. Dani had her own memories, like the first time Ben had admitted he felt more than friendship for her.

He had taken her out to dinner shortly after her eighteenth birthday, "to make up for forgetting your birthday, and to talk about a few things." Dani had been pleasantly surprised by his choice of restaurant: an upscale Chinese place near the Maine Mall. Ben had ordered her meal for her, to forestall Dani's usual refusal to let him spend anything on her. They were in the middle of the first course when Ben had put down his fork, taken Dani's from her, and said, "I need to tell you something important."

"What is it?" Dani asked, somewhat disturbed by his seriousness.

"Dani, we've known each other a long time, and I've really thought about this. I feel like we're more than just friends, and I want to show you that. Dani, I want to make love to you."

"All right," Dani replied softly, not needing to think about it. The idea of making love to Ben just felt right.

That night had begun the on-and-off relationship that had ended for good the night they finally had made love. Remembering now, Dani could still feel Ben's eyes on her as he had waited for her answer, could still feel his hands and lips on her later, when they had gone back to his house. Shivering, she tuned back in to what her mother was saying: "I'm sorry about all this, Dani. I have to go to work now, but call me later if you want to talk."

"All right. Thanks, Mom."

"Who was that?" Jason mumbled after Dani had hung up.

"My mother."

"Why's she calling so early?"

"She was reading the paper and saw Ben's obituary."

"Oh. You getting up now?"

"Yes," Dani said, irritated.

"Wake me in a couple hours." Jason rolled over and went back to sleep.

Dani went into Melanie's room. The baby was already awake. Dani picked her up and went to check on Anna, who had toys strewn around her room. "I was bored," she said.

"That's fine, but now's time to pick up," Dani said. "Then come have breakfast."

"Okay," Anna said.

After Dani had gotten the girls fed and dressed, there was another phone call. "Is this Danielle Sheridan?" asked the unfamiliar voice on the other end.


"My name is Martin Franklin. I am- I was Ben Mills's lawyer. I know this is probably a difficult time for you, Mrs. Sheridan, but it's very important that I meet with you, preferably in the next day or two."

"What about?" Dani asked.

"I'd rather not go into it on the phone," Franklin said. "It's something involving Ben's will. When would you be able to come in?"

"I don't think I can today," Dani said.

"No, I wouldn't expect you to. But it should be before the weekend. Would tomorrow or Friday be better?"

"Either," Dani said. "But if you need to see my husband as well, it will have to be in the morning. I don't work, but Jason works second shift."

"I think what I need to discuss with you is something that your husband should be involved with, too," Franklin said. "Would tomorrow morning at eleven be all right?"

"That would be fine," Dani said. "Where is your office?"

Franklin gave her directions. "I'll see you tomorrow at eleven, then."

"All right. Thank you for calling."

Dani hung up and turned around. Jason was sitting on the bottom step of the staircase, looking like he was still asleep. "Good morning," Dani said.

"Who was it this time?" Jason grumbled.

"Ben's lawyer."

"What did he want?"

"I don't know. All he would say is he has something he needs to discuss with us. He wants to see us tomorrow morning."

"I'd rather not," Jason said. "It probably doesn't really have anything to do with me."

"He said you should be involved," Dani said.

"Dani, I'd really rather not go," Jason said. "I'll stay here with the girls while you go. Right now, I'm going to take my shower." He stumbled back up the stairs.

Dani went back to the dishes she had been trying to wash. What could Ben's lawyer possibly want to talk to her about? She doubted that Ben had left her anything; he couldn't have had much to leave anyone.

* * *

The next morning, a little before eleven, Dani walked into Martin Franklin's office. The secretary took her right inside. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Sheridan, although I wish it were under better circumstances," Franklin said. He shook her hand.

"Likewise," Dani said.

"Please, have a seat. Your husband wasn't able to come?"

Dani sat in the indicated chair. "We couldn't find anyone to watch our children, so Jason decided to stay home with them," she replied. "I have to admit, Mr. Franklin, I'm more than a little curious about what you have to discuss with me."

"I'm sure you are, Mrs. Sheridan." Franklin put on his reading glasses and picked up a paper from his desk. "As you may know, Ben had custody of his son, Sean Joseph Mills."

"Yes. I saw him at the funeral. I was wondering what will happen to him now, since his mother apparently abandoned him."

"That, Mrs. Sheridan, is why you are here."

"I'm sorry?"

Franklin removed his glasses. "Last year, after he gained custody of Sean, Ben had a will made. In it, he named you as guardian of the boy."

"What!" Dani hadn't even spoken to Ben in a year and a half. Why had he chosen her to care for his child?

"I believe this letter will explain."

Franklin handed her a plain envelope. Dani opened it, almost crying when she recognized Ben's handwriting on the letter inside. Carefully, she unfolded the letter and read,

"Dear Dani,

"It's been too long since we've seen each other. Unfortunately, if you're reading this, it's too late. I'm sorry I never called. I was upset by what you said that day, but I know you didn't mean to hurt me.

"You're probably wondering why I want you to have Sean. Dani, I always was in love with you, but I was too stubborn to admit it. And I always thought you should be the one to have my son. I hope things are still going well with you and Jason, and that you're in a position to do this for me. Julie might be Sean's biological mother, but she doesn't seem to want him anymore, and I can't think of anyone who would take better care of him than you. You're probably surprised, and maybe even pissed off at me right now, but I know you'll take Sean, for his sake if not mine. Please don't let him forget me, Dani. And don't you forget me either.

"I love you always,


Dani put the letter down and accepted the tissues that Franklin held out to her. "Where is Sean?" she asked when she had composed herself.

"Ben's stepmother, Phyllis, has been taking care of him," Franklin replied. "She would have liked to keep him with her, but she only has an efficiency apartment. And she didn't want to go against Ben's wishes."

"Are they home now?"

"No. They're in the next room." He smiled at Dani's look of surprise. "I thought you might want to meet him before you made your final decision."

To Dani, there was no decision that needed to be made. If Ben wanted her to raise his son, then that was the way it would be. "I'd like to meet him," she told Franklin.

Franklin opened the door to the next room. Phyllis came in, accompanied by the little boy Dani had seen at the funeral. "Are you Dani?" he asked her.

"Yes, Sweetheart," Dani replied.

"Grammy say, you take care of me," he said.

"That's right."

"My Daddy goed away. You gonna go away?"

"No, Honey," Dani said, fighting back tears. "Not for a long, long time."

She looked at Phyllis then, and saw tears on the woman's face. "I'm sorry," she said.

"Thank you," Phyllis replied. "Ben chose you a long time ago, you know. You should take Sean."

"I'm going to," Dani said.

"Wouldn't you like to discuss it with your husband first?" Franklin asked.

"My husband will go along with what I decide," Dani said. She didn't know if this was true, but she wasn't going to change her mind.

"I thought Sean might stay with you over the weekend," Phyllis said. "Then you can make up your mind for sure."

"I've already made up my mind," Dani assured her. "But that's a good idea. It might make the transition a little easier for Sean, and for you. Why don't you both come for a visit now? Then you and he can meet my husband and our daughters, and you'll know where we live so you can come visit any time."

"I'd like that," Phyllis said. "Thank you."

"Of course," Dani said. "Mr. Franklin, may I use your phone?"

Franklin pushed the phone across the desk to her, and Dani dialed her number. "Hi, Honey," she said when Jason answered. "Could you please pick up the house a little? I've got company coming home with me. I'll explain when we get there."

* * *

"How could you do this without talking to me?" Jason demanded.

"Keep your voice down," Dani said. "They'll hear you."

"You didn't even bother to check with me!"

She and Jason were in the kitchen; Phyllis and Sean were in the living room with Anna and Melanie. "I tried to get you to go with me to the lawyer's office," Dani reminded Jason. "You weren't interested. So stop yelling at me, because I don't want them to hear us."

"I don't care," said Jason, although he did lower his voice. "Dani, you've never even seen this kid before. We can barely afford to take care of our own kids. And if I'd known this was what the lawyer wanted to see us about, I would have gone. I don't like it that you made this decision without even thinking about me."

"You're right," Dani said. "I should have talked to you. But I already knew what I wanted to do, and all I was thinking was, here's a two-year-old child with no mother or father, who needs someone to take care of him."

"What about his grandmother?"

"She can't take him. She doesn't have enough room."

"And we do? Where will he sleep, for one thing?"

"Jason, it's a three-bedroom house. We'll move Anna and Melanie back in together, and Sean can have Anna's old toddler bed. It's down cellar."

"Anna might not want to move back in with her sister."

"Jason, we're supposed to be the adults here. There are a lot of things to consider in this decision, but Anna's vote isn't really one of them."

"Fine," Jason said. "What about money, then? We just bought this house; we're just getting ourselves on track."

"I'll go back to work," Dani said. "We were thinking about it anyway."

"I thought you liked being home with the girls."

"I do. But with you working second shift now, I could work mornings while you were home. And I could make sure I only work till one or so, so you could have a nap before you had to leave for work, if you wanted."

"You have this all figured out, don't you," Jason said, resigned.

"Yes, I do. Jason, what am I supposed to do? Tell the lawyer to throw the kid in a foster home or something? I think your biggest problem isn't Sean, it's who his father was."

"That's part of it," Jason admitted.

"Jason, I can't believe you. Ben was never a threat to you even when he was alive! He's gone now. Let it go." Dani felt the tears starting again, and this time let them come. "Ben's gone, and he wanted me to raise his son. And that's what I'm going to do, so you can get used to it, or you can-"

"Can what?" Jason demanded when Dani stopped herself. "Can go to hell? Can leave? What about our own kids, Dani? Are you really going to sacrifice them-"

"I'm not sacrificing them!" Dani now had to fight to keep her own voice down. "We can manage, Jason, if we cooperate to do it. I'm not sacrificing the girls. You know I always wanted a big family."

This statement had its desired effect of making Jason laugh. Just like that, the argument was over. "All right, we'll try it," Jason said. "It's really what you want?"

"It really is," Dani said.

"Okay," Jason said. "We'll figure it out, then."

They went back to the living room. Anna was trying to teach Sean some steps from her dance class. "Anna, Sean might not want to learn ballet," Jason said.

"He has to," Anna replied.

"Anna, don't be bossy," Dani said. She sat down on the couch next to Phyllis, who looked questioningly at her. Dani nodded and said, "Sean, can you come here a minute, please?"

Sean warily came over and climbed into Phyllis's lap. "What I do?" he asked.

Dani smiled. "Nothing, Sweetheart. Jason and I want to know if you want to stay here with us, like your Daddy wanted."

"I see Grammy?"

"Of course," Dani said. "We'll visit her every day if you want."

"Is he gonna be my brother?" Anna asked.

"Kind of," Jason said. "But if he stays here, you and Melanie will have to share a room again."

"I don't care," Anna said. "I love having my sister in my room. Will you be my brother, Sean?"

Sean didn't seem to know what to say, which didn't surprise Dani. At only two and a half, he probably didn't understand much of what was going on. "It's all right, Sean," Phyllis said. "Dani and Jason will take good care of you, and I'll see you a lot. If you want, you can sleep over here tomorrow night."

"We can have a sleepover!" Anna said excitedly. "Want to, Sean?"

"Okay," Sean said quietly.

"I'll bring him over tomorrow around six," Phyllis said. "Is that okay?"

"That's great," Dani said. "Thank you."

* * *

The next night, as soon as Phyllis and Sean showed up, Jason went down to the cellar and got the toddler bed that Anna had just stopped using. Refusing Dani's offers of help, he moved Melanie's crib into Anna's room, then set up the toddler bed in the room that had been Melanie's. While he was doing this, Phyllis gave Dani more information about Sean, while Anna showed Sean all her toys and instructed him in their proper uses.

Phyllis stayed for supper, then left. Sean seemed at a loss, so Dani asked Jason to put the baby to bed while she took care of the little boy. "I miss Daddy!" Sean said, bursting into tears, as soon as Jason was out of the room.

Dani picked him up and sat with him on the couch. "I know," she said.

"Where's his Daddy?" Anna asked.

"In heaven," Dani replied.

"With Jesus?"


Anna gave Sean a hug. "It's all right," she told him. "Your Daddy's with Jesus. Jesus will take care of him, and my mommy will take care of you."

"I want my Daddy!" Sean sobbed.

Dani held the little boy, rocking gently back and forth with him, until Jason came back downstairs. "Little Bug's asleep," Jason said. He looked at Sean. "Looks like he is, too."

Dani looked down. Sean had cried himself to sleep. Jason reached out to take the boy, but Dani shook her head and managed to get up without jostling Sean. "I'll take him upstairs," she whispered.

"Can I come too?" Anna asked, mimicking her mother's soft tone.

"You stay here and say your prayers," Jason told her. "Then Mommy will read you a story after she takes care of Sean."

"Okay," Anna said.

As Dani carried Sean up the stairs, she heard Anna begin her prayers: "God bless Mommy, and Daddy, and Melanie, and my new brother. And please take care of his Daddy."

When Anna was finally settled in bed, that Dani realized something. "Aren't you supposed to be working tonight?" she asked Jason.

"I switched with Jimmy," Jason replied. "If this kid is going to be part of our family, I want to spend time with him. Will you be all right getting the three of them to bed when I am working?"

"I'll have to be, won't I," Dani said. "I can give Anna and Melanie their bath together, and Anna gets herself ready for bed anyway. I can read to her and Sean together. It'll work. I didn't used to think I could handle taking care of two of them without help."

"You can't," Jason said, grinning. "So when are you going to go job hunting?"

"Right now," Dani said, picking up the previous Sunday's classifieds.

"Not right now," Jason said, taking the paper away from her. "I hardly get to spend any time with you as it is, and if you're going to work and we're going to have three kids, we'd better make the most of the time we have."

"What do you mean?" Dani asked, teasing.

"Come up to our room with me and find out." He pulled her to her feet and kissed her hard. "I miss you when I'm working, you know."

"I miss you too," Dani said.

"Then let's go show each other how much we miss each other."

In their room, they undressed each other quickly. Between Jason's job and the move, they'd had far too little time to make love lately. They made up for it now, touching and kissing each other until they could no longer stand it, then falling together onto the bed, where they made love until both were too exhausted to continue.

When they were finished, they lay together, half asleep. "Thank you," Dani said.

"For the terrific sex?"

Dani laughed. "It wasn't that terrific," she teased. "Seriously, thank you for agreeing to let Sean stay."

"I'm not an asshole, Dani, even though sometimes you think I am. I wasn't going to put him out on the street. I just wish you'd talked to me first."

"There wasn't really time."

"I know. I forgive you." They were silent for a few minutes, then Dani heard Jason's snores.

Much later, Dani awoke to crying. She and Jason were still nude; she got up and searched without success for her nightgown, then gave up and pulled on the clothes she had been wearing that day. The crying wasn't coming from the girls' room, as she had expected, but from Sean's. "Sean?" she said softly, easing his door open.

There was no answer, other than his crying. As Dani went to the bed, Sean sat bolt upright, screaming, "Daddy! Daddy!"

"Shh. It's all right," Dani said, putting her arms around him. She could see that he wasn't really awake; gently she helped him lie down again. Gradually, the crying stopped as Sean slipped back into deeper sleep. Dani hesitated, then took a blanket from the closet and lay down on the floor by the little bed. For the last several years, she hadn't been there when Ben had needed her. She would be there for his son.

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