A Sense of Symmetry Pt. 07byKarennaC©
Dani slipped her feet into her sneakers and went outside. She had to make sure that the crash she had heard really had been the one in her dream, and not an accident on the road outside. She found just what she had expected to: nothing. When she went back to the house, Jason was standing at the door. "What are you doing?" he demanded. "It's the middle of the night!"
"I-I thought I heard something," Dani said.
"Dani, it could have been a burglar or something! You don't just wander around outside in the middle of the night! What if someone attacked you?"
"I thought I heard a car accident. I don't think an accident victim would be inclined to attack me."
"I didn't hear anything," said Jason.
"There was no accident," Dani replied. "I had a nightmare, and what woke me up was a car crash. But I guess it was a crash in my nightmare, because there's nothing outside."
Jason put his arms around her. "Why didn't you wake me up if you had a nightmare?" he asked.
"Because you always tell me to wake you if I have a nightmare, and you never wake up."
"Well, do you want to talk about it?"
"It was about Ben," Dani said, going to the couch. "About his accident. I dreamed that Julie ran him off the road."
"You know that isn't what really happened," Jason said.
"Yes, I know. But I also know that when I have dreams like that, there's usually some truth in them somewhere. Maybe Ben had the accident because Julie was trying to take Sean away from him again, and he was thinking about that instead of his driving. Plus, in the dream, he said, 'Julie took me away. You let her do it.' Maybe it's a warning that Julie is going to fight us for custody of Sean."
Jason had always accepted that Dani seemed to have some kind of psychic ability, and he usually didn't argue when she said things like this. But at this time of night, he was considerably less tolerant than usual. "Dani, you're getting obsessed with this whole thing," he said. "I'm going back to bed. You coming?"
"In a minute."
He stomped back upstairs. Dani curled up on the couch, hugging herself. The nightmare had been too realistic for her to dismiss. When he was alive, Ben and she had had almost a telepathic link. One of them would think of the other, and the other would phone; one of them would need help, and the other would show up already knowing the problem. Why couldn't that link have survived Ben's death? If Ben was in Heaven, and was worried about Sean, why couldn't he try to contact her to warn her about Julie?
Dani woke the next morning still on the couch. She had had no more nightmares, but she knew as soon as she woke that her interpretation of the one she had had was correct.
* * *
"Legally, she does have a case," Martin Franklin told her later that morning.
Dani had called Franklin as soon as his office was open. At her insistence, he had made a time to meet with her. "I thought she lost custody because she was an unfit mother," Dani said.
"That's right." Franklin shuffled some papers on his desk. "But that was over a year ago, and her circumstances may have changed. With Ben gone, Julie is Sean's only biological parent, and if she can prove that her parenting skills have improved- say she's gone to parenting classes or something- the court would most likely give custody to her because she is Sean's mother."
"Is there anything we can do?" Dani asked.
"Pray very hard that Julie decides not to fight you. And if she does sue for custody, give me a call. I'll be glad to help you."
"Thank you, Mr. Franklin."
Sean and Anna were in the yard, pelting each other with fallen leaves, when Dani got home. Neither of them was wearing a coat. "Anna, where's your father?" Dani asked.
"In the house. He's sleeping."
"Does he know you two are out here?"
Both children looked guilty. "No," Anna admitted.
"Then I guess you'd better go to your rooms and sit on your beds till I come in to talk to you. Has Daddy been up at all?"
"He gived us breakfus," Sean said.
"He swinged Melanie," Anna added. "Then he laid on the couch and he went to sleep."
"Okay. Get inside, now."
Jason woke up when the kids slammed the door. "What's going on?" he asked groggily.
"Our older daughter and our son were outside with no coats, throwing things at each other," Dani said. She deliberately neglected to mention that the "things" had been leaves.
"Well, where were you?" Jason asked angrily. "I got up and you were gone."
"I left you a note. In fact, I left you two notes, because when I only leave you one, you never see it."
"Where did you leave the notes?"
"I left one on the kitchen table, and the other one taped to the bathroom mirror."
Jason went and looked on the kitchen table. Sure enough, covered with milk and mashed bananas, Dani's note was there. "Okay, you left me a note," he said. "Sorry I got mad. So where were you?"
"I went to see Martin Franklin. I wanted to see what our chances were if Julie did sue us for custody."
"And, not good. If we can't prove that she's unfit, she'll automatically get custody because she's Sean's biological parent."
"We'll do everything we can," Jason said helplessly.
"But it probably won't be enough. That's what I was trying to tell you about my nightmare last night."
"I know. And I know that your dreams usually mean something. But can't your subconscious be wrong this time?"
"I don't know. I hope so."
"Mommy! Can we come down yet?" Anna called.
"You and Sean better be in your own rooms!" Dani replied.
There was a scurry of movement from upstairs as whichever child had been out of their room ran back. "We are!" Anna called a moment later.
Dani and Jason looked at each other and laughed. "What are they being punished for, anyway?" Jason asked.
"I told you. They were outside with no coats on, throwing things at each other. And since you were asleep, and I wasn't home, they obviously didn't have permission to be out there."
"We come down?" Sean called.
"No, Sean, not yet!" Dani replied.
"Anna, stop getting Sean to do your dirty work!" Jason added.
"It isn't dirty work! I'm clean!"
"Me, too!" Sean said.
"You're right," Jason said to Dani when they had finally stopped laughing.
"We can't let Julie take Sean. We wouldn't have as much to laugh about."
* * *
That night while Jason was at work, the call finally came. The phone rang at quarter to ten. Dani, who was getting ready for bed, almost didn't answer; she couldn't imagine who would be calling her that late. Then she realized who it must be, and picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
"Is this Dani Sheridan?"
"Are you happy now? You always wanted to get him away from me."
"Who is this?" Dani asked.
"You know Goddamn good and well who this is."
"Yes, I do. How are you, Julie?"
"How can you even act like this?" Julie demanded.
"What do you mean?" Dani was beginning to think, from the sound of her voice, that Julie was drunk.
"Like you don't give a shit. You weren't happy with taking Ben away?"
"You left Ben for another guy, Julie. I never took him away from you."
"You always wanted what I had. You aren't getting away with it, bitch."
"Julie what are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about, you have my son. And I want him back."
"Good luck with that." Dani hung up.
* * *
To Dani's relief, the rest of the weekend passed with no further contact from Julie. On Monday morning, Dani went back to work, warning Jason to be careful answering the phone. "I don't think she'd threaten me," Jason said. "I'm not the one she had it in for when she was with Ben."
"That's comforting, Jason," Dani said sarcastically.
"I was trying to make a joke," Jason sighed. "Seriously, if you're right, she was drunk when she called you, and that's probably why she was making threats. If she really wants custody of Sean, she must realize that she's going to have to at least act sane."
"Who wants Sean?" asked Anna.
Dani and Jason hadn't realized that Anna was listening. Dani felt that Anna deserved a truthful answer, but she didn't have time to explain at the moment. "It's kind of complicated, Anna," she said. "You and I'll talk about it when I get home."
"Okay," Anna agreed.
Jason walked Dani out to the van. "Are you really going to tell Anna what's going on?" he asked.
"I'm hoping that she'll forget by the time I get home. But if she asks again, I'll tell her. Not the whole story, just something about how Sean's Mommy and Daddy didn't live together, and Sean lived with his Daddy, and now his Mommy wants him to live with her."
"I guess that won't be too hard for her," Jason said. "I just hope you know what you're doing."
"So do I," Dani said.
* * *
Dani had some trouble at work that day. Her mind was on Sean, and she made several mistakes on order forms. Finally, her supervisor took her aside. "Dani, you've shown yourself to be a good worker," he said. "I'm assuming today is just a fluke. But if you keep up this way, we'll have to let you go. This is a temporary job, but it's an important one, and we can't afford mistakes like the ones you've made today."
"I'm sorry," Dani said. "My mind's somewhere else today. I'll try to do better."
"Like I said, I'm assuming this is a fluke. Whatever's on your mind, I hope the situation improves. But right now, you have a job to do, and that's where your mind needs to be."
Dani went back to her phone. Although she still found it difficult to pay much attention to her job, she managed to get through the last hour with no problems.
When she got home, Jason was pacing. This was usually a bad sign. "Where are the kids?" Dani asked.
"Rebecca Perry called. I asked her who the hell she thought she was, taking Sean to see Julie without telling us. She said she didn't need our permission. When I told her that since we're his guardians, she sure as hell does need our permission, she said, 'Well, that won't be the case for long.' Then she hung up on me."
"Julie didn't call, did she?"
"No. If she had, God only knows what I would have done. But I think you were right, Dani. I think we are going to have a fight on our hands."
"I know," Dani said. "Will you do something for me?"
"Pray with me?"
Jason nodded, and Dani took his hands. "Heavenly Father, we thank You for sending us Sean, and for giving him and us the strength to deal with the loss of Ben. We ask now that you let Sean stay with us, Lord, that if it's Your will, we keep custody of him. And if that isn't Your will, Lord, then we ask for the strength to deal with that. Amen."
"Amen," Jason said. "What do you mean, if that isn't His will?"
"I don't know," Dani said. "Just covering all the bases, I guess."
"Well, if what Shannon told us about Julie is true, she won't get custody. What do you actually know about Julie, anyway?"
"She looks a lot like you," Ben said when Dani asked about Julie.
"A lot like me when I was thin, you mean." At five months pregnant, Dani had already put on thirty pounds.
"You're having a baby. You're supposed to gain weight, so don't start that shit. Anyway, she reminds me of you in some of her actions and things she says."
Does anyone else see anything Freudian in this? Dani thought, but she had kept her mouth shut. "Anything else?"
"Keep quiet about this. She has some problems with drugs and alcohol. I won't let her do it around me, since I'm trying to stay clean, but I think she's still into it. I told her I won't stay with her if she keeps it up."
"Then why are you still with her?"
"Because I think I can change her."
Obviously, Ben's attempts at changing Julie had failed. "I don't know much," Dani told Jason. "Just that she's always been kind of a partier."
"She sure doesn't sound like someone I'd pick for a mother."
"Me, neither. So, are you a little calmer now?"
"Yeah, I guess. You can bring the kids down, if you want."
"Did they have lunch yet?"
"Yeah. Melly's due for a bottle in half an hour."
"That's plenty of time," Dani said.
"For what?" Jason asked.
"To see how sturdy that couch your parents gave us is."
The loving had its desired effect: it calmed Jason down and took both their minds off their problems for a little while. Afterward, they let the kids come back downstairs. Dani sat on the couch, watching them play, while Jason got ready for work. She couldn't keep her eyes off Sean. Despite what she had told Jason, she knew now that they would lose him. The feeling she had had when they first met the Perrys was stronger than ever. Dani tried to convince herself that she was just getting carried away with worrying, but she knew she was lying to herself. The question was, how much time did they have left before everything came crashing down?
* * *
Dani called Phyllis that night after the kids were in bed. "I just needed to talk," she said when Phyllis answered the phone. "You're the one I think is most likely to understand."
"That's fine," Phyllis said. "What's the matter?"
Dani told Phyllis about the phone calls from Julie and Rebecca. "Phyllis, I don't know what I'll do if the court takes Sean away from us. Losing Ben was hard enough, but I think this would be worse."
"First of all, you need to settle yourself," Phyllis said firmly. "Now, listen to me. Even if Julie did get custody, the court would probably give you visitation, at least to make things easier for Sean. If they don't, maybe you and Jason could work something out with Julie on your own. I don't think God would put Sean with you just to turn around and take him away again."
"The Lord works in mysterious ways," Dani said bitterly.
"Maybe so. But He looks out for His children. Have faith, Dani. It'll all work out."
* * *
That was what Pastor Matt said when Dani called him the next day. "All of us have gotten to love that little boy, just like we do all the children at church," he said. "Sean's part of our church family as well as part of your family. We'll pray that things come out all right for you."
"Thank you, Matt," Dani said. "I'll keep you posted on what happens."
She hung up. "Why did you call him?" Jason asked. He had only been going to church since Melanie's birth, and it was sometimes still hard for him to accept the idea of turning to the church for support.
"Because prayer might help, and we can use all the help we can get," Dani replied.
"Nobody called today," Jason pointed out.
Jason threw the TV remote across the room, startling Dani. "I'm getting sick of this gloom and doom! Dani, why can't you stop talking about this!"
"Doesn't make it go away, I know. I know that! But I don't want to think about losing Sean! I don't want to hear about it! So can you please just shut up about it for five lousy minutes!"
"Jason mad?" asked Sean.
Dani and Jason stared at him. A moment ago, he had been outside. "Jason's not mad at you," Jason said.
"You mad at Mommy?"
"No, Sean. I'm not mad at Mommy."
"You yelling," the boy pointed out.
"Yes, I am," Jason agreed. "But I'm not mad at Mommy. I'm mad about something that happened. Sometimes when grownups get mad, they yell at someone even if that isn't the person they're mad at."
"Like when you got mad because your truck broke, and you yelled at Melanie even though she wasn't the one who broke it," Dani added.
"Oh," said Sean. "Don't yell no more, Jason. Mommy didn't break nothing."
Jason smiled. "Okay. I won't yell anymore."
"Did you need something, Sean?" Dani asked.
"I need go potty."
"Go ahead," Jason said. As soon as Sean was out of the room, he told Dani, "I can't deal with having to explain this stuff to him, Dani."
"I'm sorry," Dani said. "I'm just so worried about it. I want to talk about it, because I hope that talking will make me worry less. But it doesn't work."
"I know," Jason said. "I'm sorry I blew up at you. Forgive me?"
"Of course I do," Dani said. She gave him a hug.
"That better," said Sean, on his way back outside. "Yelling not nice. Hugging nice."
"Then I guess we'd better hug you," said Jason. He handed Sean to Dani, then put his arms around both of them. "Sean sandwich!"
"What about me?" demanded Anna, who had come in looking for Sean.
Jason picked her up and held her so she and Sean could hug each other. "Sean and Anna sandwich!" Anna said.
"What about Melanie?" Sean asked.
Dani put him down and got Melanie out of her bouncy seat. She handed her to Jason, and picked Sean up again. Sean reached over and put one arm around Melanie's shoulders. "Melanie sandwich!"
"Tossed salad!" said Jason. He jiggled the girls, then pretended to fall. He gently tossed Melanie into the air, then set her down and tossed Anna. Then he did the same to Sean. All three kids dissolved into giggles as Jason tossed them again and again.
Dani watched, a smile on her face. She blinked to keep back the tears that were threatening. How much longer would they be able to have times like this together?
* * *
It was a strange separation. Ben's body, battered almost beyond recognition, hung out the window of his station wagon. Ben himself, however, slowly walked to where Dani stood. "Did you see?" he asked.
"Did you bring me back here?" Dani asked. "Or did I do it myself?"
"Six of one, half dozen of the other. You know we were always two sides of the same coin."
An oversized quarter slowly flipped through the air. "Heads you win, tails I lose," Ben said. "But both of us lose if Julie wins."
"Is this real, Ben?" Dani asked.
"Reality is in the mind of the beholder." It had always been one of his favorite phrases. "That's something you'll have to decide for yourself."
"Who really caused your accident?"
"Don't ask what you already know, Dani." He looked around, appearing to listen to someone or something. "I have to go now," he said. "Sean will be all right. So will you. Just maybe not the way you think."
"Don't ask what you already know. I can't stay. You need to wake up now."
Ben's voice faded with the last sentence, and Dani was awake.
It was three a.m. Dani made her circuit, then fixed herself a cup of hot chocolate. She doubted she would be able to sleep again that night. She sat on the couch and turned on the TV, but all that was on at that time of day were movies she didn't want to see and infomercials, so she turned it off again. She wanted to keep her mind off her dream, but evidently someone had different plans. "All right, Ben," she said softly. "Tell me what to do."
She wasn't really expecting an answer, What happened next almost convinced her that if she wasn't still dreaming, she must be going insane. The phone book was lying in the center of the coffee table. Although Dani didn't even touch the table, the book suddenly fell to the floor, landing open and face up. When Dani bent to pick up the book, the first name she saw on the open page was Martin Franklin's. She replaced the book on the table. As she did so, the alarm clock radio, which was in the kitchen because Jason had been trying to fix it, came on with what seemed to be a newscast. Dani heard two words: "Pre-emptive strike." Then the radio fell silent again.
"You're right, Ben," Dani said aloud when her heartbeat had slowed to normal.
* * *
When Jason came downstairs a few hours later, he blinked to be sure he was in the right place. Dani, lacking anything to do after the "message" from Ben, had cleaned the entire downstairs. She had even mopped the kitchen floor and vacuumed the living room, two chores that were usually left to Jason. "What happened?" Jason asked.
Dani finished drying the dish she was holding and put it in the cupboard. "I've been up since three. I didn't have anything better to do."