A Sense of Symmetry Pt. 03


"Not lately."

"How about I stay up till you get home tonight, and I'll show you."

He kissed her. "Mmm. If this is the reward I get, let's take in a bunch of kids."

Dani laughed. "Jason, are you really sure about this?" she asked.

"About fucking you when I get home?"

"No, dear. About signing those papers."

"Very sure," Jason said. "I want you to be happy, Dani. I love you."

Dani hugged him, then went upstairs and shut herself in the bathroom. Jason wouldn't have understood why she was crying; couldn't know that he was echoing Ben's words from so long ago, the night Dani had chosen between them. Even now, even with Jason showing what a good person he could be, with everything that had happened Dani still wasn't sure she had made the right choice. But it was far too late to change things.

"I love you, Dani," Ben said inside her head. "Take care of my son."

Dani went back downstairs. "Let's take the kids out to lunch," she suggested to Jason.

"Okay," he said. "What made you think of that?"

She shrugged. "To celebrate signing the papers, I guess," she said. To make me stop thinking about Ben, she thought.

* * *

"He's doing pretty well," Phyllis commented the next night after dinner. She and Dani were in the living room, drinking coffee and watching Anna and Sean play. Jason was working.

"We've had a few problems, but nothing too serious," Dani agreed.

"Your little girl seems to like him."

"She calls him her brother."

"How's your husband coping?"

"All right. I think he still has trouble with Sean being Ben's son, but he doesn't say much about it."

"You know, Ben talked to me about you sometimes," Phyllis said, shifting herself to be more comfortable.

"I think it was good for him that you and he kept in touch after you left his father," Dani said, hoping to change the subject.

"I would have taken Ben with me if I could have," Phyllis said. "His father used to beat on both of us. But Ben was getting old enough to fight back, or at least to get out of the house for a while when his father got like that, and I knew the courts wouldn't let me have him. I should have tried, though. Maybe Ben wouldn't have ended up like he did."

"What do you mean?" Dani asked.

"He was into drugs in high school...."

"I knew about that," Dani said. "He used them in front of me a few times, until I told him if he was going to destroy himself, he could at least wait till I was out of the room."

"He told me you said that," Phyllis said. "He did stop using, not long after his dad kicked him out. Then it was alcohol. He started drinking a lot after you got married. Then when he met Julie, she seemed to calm him down, but when she left him, it got worse, and he started with the drugs again. After the last time he saw you, he went into rehab. That was how he was able to get custody of Sean after Julie decided she didn't want him. He said it was because of you."

"I doubt I had anything to do with it," Dani said.

"Actually, you had a lot to do with it. He told me you said something about when he had kids, and he realized the only chance he'd have to have his son around was if he cleaned himself up. And he thought that was the only way he'd have another chance with you, too." She smiled at the shock on Dani's face. "He was in love with you, Dani," she said. "Every time I saw him, you were practically all he talked about. He thought about leaving Julie to be with you when you were having trouble with Jason, but then he found out Julie was pregnant, and he couldn't desert her."

"Jason and I were still separated when Julie left Ben," Dani said. "When he told me that she left, and I tried to be sympathetic, he started spouting off about how he didn't need another girlfriend."

"I think he was afraid you wouldn't want him," Phyllis said.

"Phyllis, I fell in love with Ben when I first met him, and I never stopped loving him," Dani admitted. "I married Jason because I knew Jason loved me, and Ben kept saying he didn't. If Ben had tried to get together with me when Jason and I were separated, I would have."

"He didn't think you should have gone back to Jason," Phyllis said. "After he met up with you that day on the highway, he said that when you talked about Jason, you still seemed scared. He wanted to try to talk you into divorcing Jason, and once you'd gotten through that-"

"I think I hear Melanie," Dani interrupted. She was about to cry. "I'll be right back."

She went upstairs. Melanie, naturally, was sound asleep, but Dani needed time to absorb what she had just been told. Ben had wanted to take her away from Jason?

"You know, you shouldn't have married Jason," Ben had said.

It was about three months after Dani and Jason's wedding. Ben had hinted before that he was jealous of Jason, but this was the first time he had said anything directly. "I wanted to get married," Dani said. "I was stupid. I thought Jason was my last chance." Although she hadn't said anything then, the abuse that would cause her to leave Jason had already begun.

"You're right," Ben said. "You were stupid."

"Gee, thanks. So who do you think I should have married?"


Dani tried to hide her surprise, but given how well Ben knew her, she didn't think she succeeded. "You didn't ask," she finally managed to say.

"You could have asked me. I would have said yes."

Yet when he had had the chance to be with her, he had rejected her before she'd even made an offer. And now he was dead, and here was another might-have-been. What would have happened if Ben hadn't died? Would he have contacted her, resumed their friendship? Resumed their past relationship, asked her to leave Jason? Dani went into the bathroom, splashed cold water on her face, and closed her eyes. She couldn't think about this anymore. The fact was, the past was the past. Jason had changed, had shown his true self by agreeing to take Sean in. His abusiveness was in the past. So was Ben. The present was Jason and their children. And Ben's son.

When she got back downstairs, Phyllis was trying to teach Anna how to write her name on the Magnadoodle that Anna had gotten for her birthday. "Baby all right?" Phyllis asked.

"Fine," Dani said, sitting down on the couch. "It wasn't her. I must have been hearing things."

"Or remembering things," Phyllis said with a piercing look. Dani looked away. "Anna, that isn't how you make an A," Phyllis said.

"Yes, it is," Anna replied. "It's how I make it."

"Anna, don't be rude," Dani said automatically. "Phyllis is trying to teach you something."

"Sorry, Phyllis," Anna said, sulking.

"Be nice to my grammy," Sean said.

"If my grammy is Sean's grammy now, are you my grammy now?" Anna asked Phyllis.

"I don't know," Phyllis said. "I guess I can be, if you want." I almost was, her look said to Dani.

* * *

"How'd dinner go?" Jason asked the next morning. "Was Sean happy to see his grammy?"

"Thrilled," Dani said. "And Phyllis was glad to hear that we signed the papers."

"Did you talk about anything else?"

"Ben," Dani admitted, knowing that Jason was expecting this answer.

"What about Ben?"

"Just what he'd been doing since last time I talked to him. His job, how he got custody of Sean, stuff like that."

"I'm surprised you and he didn't get together when you and I were split up."

"I told you the other night, he was with Julie then," Dani said impatiently.

"You told me back then that Julie left him a few weeks before you and I got back together."

"Well, I also told you, back then and the other night, that after what you did to me, I wouldn't have wanted another guy. And the way Julie screwed him over, Ben probably didn't want another girlfriend at that point, either."

"At least I got help," Jason said.

"Yes, you did," Dani agreed. They had had this conversation too many times. "And you apologized," she added quickly, before Jason could say it. "And I took you back, and we lived happily ever after."

"Where's the attitude coming from?" Jason asked.

"I'm sorry," Dani said. "I didn't sleep very well last night. Phyllis and I had coffee after dinner."

"Should have known better," Jason said. He kissed her. "I'm going to go take my shower. Then maybe we can take the kids to the mall or something."

"I'll think about it," Dani said.

Jason went upstairs, and Dani went back to the laundry she had been folding. It was ironic to think that Ben was the reason she had finally left Jason three years ago, although Ben probably wouldn't have wanted it to happen the way it did.

The night that Dani told Ben she was thinking about leaving Jason, she invited him to stay for supper. Since Julie had gone to her parents' to tell them about the baby, Ben agreed. Jason came home from work in a bad mood, and wasn't pleased to find Ben there. He managed to be civil through the meal, but then Ben kissed Dani on the cheek as he was leaving. That set Jason off. "How long have you been fucking him?" he demanded as soon as the door closed behind Ben.

"What are you talking about?" Dani was frightened. She could tell that Jason's temper was out of control.

"If you aren't fucking him, why's he kissing you?"

"Jason, it was a kiss on the cheek. You kiss your cousin Emma on the cheek."

"You aren't related to Ben."

"I might as well be. He's like a brother to me."

"He is, huh?"

"Yes, he is."

Dani thought Jason had calmed down, until a couple hours later when they were going to bed. Jason pushed her onto the bed and yanked her nightgown up. "Jason, what are you doing?" Dani asked. This couldn't be happening.

"You haven't let me fuck you since Anna was born. Is something wrong with me? Or are you just getting it somewhere else?"

"Jason, I had a c-section! It still hurts! I haven't been with anyone else, before or since Anna was born."

"You're my wife, Dani." He pulled off her panties and positioned himself on top of her.

"Jason, please don't do this!"

"Go to hell! You're my wife! Why do you think I married you? If you aren't fucking Ben, you'd best prove it to me now!"

Dani fought him every second of the rape, drawing blood from several spots. When Jason was finished, he rolled off her and went right to sleep. Dani, in tears, got up and went to Anna's room. The baby was still asleep, despite the noise that had come from her parents' room. Dani packed up the diaper bag and then, not daring to go back to her room for a change of clothes, took Anna and, in her nightgown, drove to her parents' house. On the drive, the only clear thought Dani had was that she should have chosen Ben.

"Mommy, can we have a snack?" Anna asked, mercifully interrupting Dani's train of thought.

"I think Daddy's planning on us going out to lunch," Dani said.

"We hungry now!" Sean protested.

"All right," Dani said, giving in. "You can each have one package of fruit snacks."

"Melanie's hungry, too," Anna said. The baby was fussing in her swing.

"I think she's a little too young for fruit snacks," Dani said.

"No, she isn't," Anna said. "You want fruit snacks, don't you, Melly?"

"I think she'd rather have a bottle," Dani said. "I'll get her one as soon as I finish with this laundry. You two go ahead and get your fruit snacks."

When Jason was out of the shower and Melanie had finished her bottle, they went out to the Mall. They had lunch first, then took the kids to the pet store. They were almost there when Sean suddenly broke away from them, shouting, "Meme! Pepe!"

"I'll get him," Jason said, running after the boy.

When Dani and the girls caught up to Jason and Sean, they were talking to an older couple. The man was holding Sean, who was grinning from ear to ear. "My wife, Dani," Jason said when he saw Dani. "And our daughters, Anna and Melanie."

"Nice to meet you," the woman said, shaking Dani's hand. "I'm Rebecca Perry, and this is my husband, Pete."

"Julie's parents," Jason added, unnecessarily.

* * *

Julie's parents took them to dinner that night. They had been on vacation, they said; they hadn't received any of the messages about Ben's accident. No, they didn't know where Julie was; she wrote to them once in a while, but never used a return address. "She was only nineteen when she got pregnant," Rebecca explained. "It was overwhelming for her."

"She wanted to party," Pete said. "It's hard to party with an infant along. She usually left him with us for a day or a weekend."

"Ben was almost always around, though," Rebecca said. "I didn't expect it of him, but he was a good father. That's why we went along with it when he sued Julie for custody. She wasn't taking care of Sean most of the time anyway."

"Did you get to see Sean often?" Dani asked.

"Not as much as we wanted to," Rebecca said. "We live up in Greenville. It's too long a trip for us or Ben to have made that often. Once or twice a month, we'd meet in Bangor to spend the day together, and Ben did make the trip to our house a couple of times."

"With our two, I don't think we could make that trip very often either," Jason said. "But we would like you to be able to see Sean. Wouldn't we, Dani?"

Dani didn't want to answer. In the back of her mind, she still remembered the dream she had had on Halloween: "Take care of my son, Dani. Don't let his mother hurt him again." Even though Pete and Rebecca denied knowing where Julie was, Dani didn't believe them. They had to know something, and Dani had a feeling that if she and Jason let Pete and Rebecca into their lives, it would only be a matter of time before they lost Sean. "Dani?" Jason repeated.

"Oh, sorry," Dani said. "I was zoning, I guess. Of course we'd want you to see Sean."

"Sean, would you like Meme and Pepe to visit you sometimes?" Rebecca asked.

"Yeah!" Sean said.

"Mommy, are they my meme and pepe, too?" Anna asked.

"Anna, we'll figure it out later," Dani sighed.

"Well, we could meet in Bangor, like we did with Ben," Pete said. "And we could probably make the trip down here once in a while."

"Why don't we get each other's phone numbers, and we'll call and set it up," Rebecca said. "Like I said, with Ben, we got to see Sean once or twice a month. We certainly wouldn't expect any more than that. I'll give you a call in a couple weeks, and we can talk about it."

"All right," Dani said. Lacking paper, she wrote her phone number on a napkin. Rebecca did the same. "Well, thank you for dinner," Dani said. "It was very nice to meet you."

"Same here," Rebecca said. "And don't worry. Ben was a good man, and if he thought you were the right one to look after Sean, that's good enough for us."

Somehow, the fact that Rebecca found it necessary to say this made Dani worry more.

* * *

"Of course she thinks he was a good guy," Beth said. "She was screwing him."


"Julie's mother and Ben were sleeping together after Julie left him. Ben didn't go to Greenville just so he could see Sean."

Beth had come to Dani's to visit her and to see Sean, who had gone to see Beth a few times with Ben. Dani had told her about the encounter with Pete and Rebecca, which was why Beth was dropping this bomb. "How do you know?" Dani asked.

"Ben told me," Beth said. "He and I talked about a lot of things after he got out of rehab."

"Like what?" Please don't say he talked about me, she thought.

"Like what he thought went wrong with Julie," Beth said. "And how he started having the affair with Rebecca because Julie and Pete weren't usually around when he went to Greenville. And about how none of it would have happened if he hadn't let you marry Jason, which was probably the biggest mistake of both your lives."

"You know what confuses me?" Dani said.


"Ben seems to have talked to everyone but me about how he really felt about me. I remember you and I had this discussion at my wedding."

"So do I," Beth said.

"I really wish people would stop telling me how much Ben loved me," Dani said. "I missed him too much before all this happened. Then, after the accident, I missed him even more. Now I spend half my time being depressed that he and I never had a chance."

"At the wedding, you told me that if you and Ben were meant to be together, you would be," Beth reminded her. "I think you were trying to get rid of me, but..."

"But apparently Ben and I weren't meant to be together," Dani said. "And I can't stop thinking about him, and how much it sucks that he and I never were together."

"You were, too, together," Beth said, laughing.

"That isn't what I meant, and it isn't what we were talking about," Dani said. "Jason's upstairs, and he doesn't know about any of that. I don't want him to find out by overhearing it."

"Maybe you should tell him," Beth suggested. "It's not like Ben is any competition now."

"I don't think he'd want to know," Dani said. "And if there's one thing I've learned about Jason in the last five years, it's that if Jason doesn't want to know something, it's better not to tell him."

"I thought he was over that stuff."

"He is. But he still gets angry; he just handles it a lot better than he used to."

"You still love Ben, though, don't you."

"Yeah, for all the good it does either of us now. Beth, I can't say anything about this to Jason. Even if he didn't stop listening as soon as I said the word 'Ben,' I have to think about Sean. If Jason got angry enough, he might start taking it out on Sean to get back at Ben."

"That's warped thinking," Beth said.

"That's Jason's thinking," Dani said. "It's easier to keep my mouth shut."

"Do you love Jason?"

This was a question Dani hated to answer. The truth was too painful to admit, but she didn't like to lie about something this important. Usually, she avoided the question; if she couldn't avoid it, she did lie, but she felt guilty about it for days afterward. The only time she had ever been truthful about her feelings for Jason was with Ben.

"Do you love him?" Ben asked. Dani had just told him that she was planning to accept Jason's proposal.

"Not really," Dani admitted.

"Dani, you really think you can spend your life with someone you don't love? Why would you even want to?"

"I care about him. I like him a lot. And it's better than spending my life alone."

"How do you know you'd be alone?"

"I don't. But at least if I marry Jason, I know I won't be."

It was only now, looking back on that conversation, that Dani realized it had been Ben's way of trying to talk her into waiting for him instead of marrying Jason. Ben had always been very subtle about his feelings; for Dani, who usually needed things spelled out in detail, some of their conversations had seemed like bizarre guessing games, which she usually lost.

"Do you?" Beth asked again.

"Yes," Dani said quickly, hearing Jason's footsteps on the stairs.

"Yes, what?" asked Jason. "Hi, Beth."

"Yes, I love you," Dani said.

"I love you, too. What does that have to do with anything?"

"Girl talk," Beth said. "You wouldn't understand."

"I don't understand much of anything when I've just woken up," Jason said. "Dani, where are the kids?"

"Anna and Sean are outside. Melanie's napping."

"Well, one good thing about having Sean here, he at least gets Anna to play outside." At the apartment they had just moved from, there had been a large yard, and the landlord had let them put up a swingset. Even with this motivation, Anna had spent the entire summer refusing to go outside because there was no one to play with. "I guess I'll go take my shower now so I don't stink the company out of the house," Jason added. "I'll be back in a few."

"You don't really love him, do you," Beth said when Jason was out of earshot.

"What are you talking about now?"

"You didn't answer me until you heard him coming downstairs. And I've known you too long for you to lie to me. You don't love him."

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