A Sense of Symmetry Pt. 10byKarennaC©
Every day for the rest of the week, Sean and Anna asked, "Is today the day we go see the judge?"
Friday morning, before Jason got up, Dani sat down with the two of them and said, "Monday will be the day we go to the judge. Today is Friday. Tomorrow will be Saturday, then it will be Sunday, then Monday." She counted off the days on her fingers as she spoke. "In three more days, Jason and I will talk to the judge."
"What about me and Sean?" Anna asked.
"You and Melanie will go to Auntie Leah's house," Dani said. "Sean will probably come with us, in case the judge wants to talk to him, but Sean will be in a different room while Jason and I talk to the judge."
"I wanna talk to him!" Anna said. "I wanna tell him to let Sean stay here!"
"Me, too!" Sean said.
"Honey, they don't usually let little kids talk to the judge in something like this," Dani said. "The judge might ask Sean a couple questions, but his job is to decide where the best place is for Sean to live. The way he'll do that is by talking to me and Daddy, and to Sean's Mommy, and to the lady who was here the other day, and then he'll decide from what we say who will take better care of Sean."
"I can take care of Sean," Anna said.
Dani smiled. "You can, huh? How?"
"I make him lunch, and sing him lullabies, and make him go potty, and read him stories."
"No!" Sean said. "I don't like stories!"
Dani laughed. "Well, Anna, I guess you have a pretty good idea of how to take care of someone. But I think the judge will want a grownup to take care of Sean."
"I am a grownup," said Anna. "I'm three."
"That isn't quite a grownup, Sweetie," Dani said. "Don't rush it."
"Judge is nice?" Sean asked.
"I don't know for sure," Dani said. "I haven't met him before. But I'm sure he's very nice. Judges usually are."
"What if he mean?" Sean asked anxiously.
Dani put her arm around him. "Don't worry, Sean. Martin wouldn't let a mean judge talk to us. He'll make sure the judge is nice." She wished Martin really had that power.
"Mommy, can we watch TV now?" Anna asked. "Sesame Street's coming on."
"Elmo!" Sean cheered.
Dani sighed and turned on the TV. She would have liked to explain things a little more to the kids, but at their age, she was lucky they had listened as long as they did.
* * *
Jason slept late. This wasn't unusual when he had to work, but if he had a night off, he usually tried to get up earlier that morning. He almost always had Friday nights off. "You're going to have trouble sleeping tonight," Dani said when he finally came downstairs. "Happy New Year."
"I have to work tonight," Jason replied. "Probably overtime. Happy New Year."
"You have to work? Jason, why didn't you tell me sooner?"
"I didn't think I needed your permission to work," Jason said defensively.
"That isn't what I meant," Dani said, trying to calm down. "It's just, I'm used to being able to spend time with you on Friday nights. Now I'll hardly see you all weekend."
"Don't worry. I've got a plan."
"Jason, they told you when you took the job that you can't have weekends off-"
"I'll tell you all about it," Jason interrupted. He put his finger to his lips and pointed to Sean and Anna, who were happily debating who was the best Teletubby.
After the show was over, Dani sent Sean and Anna upstairs. "Now, what were you talking about?" she asked Jason.
"I talked to Craig last night," Jason replied. "I told him- well, he already knew about this whole custody thing, and he knew that Monday's the hearing. I told him that this might be the last weekend we get to spend with Sean, so he fixed things so I have to work overtime tonight and Monday, but I get tomorrow and Sunday off."
"That's great!" Dani said. "Well, maybe not that you have to work overtime, but it was great of Craig to give you the weekend."
"Yeah, it was," Jason agreed. "So what are we going to do?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, if that dream of his is right- and if he's anything like you, it probably is- then this probably really is the last weekend we'll get to spend with Sean. I think we should do something special. If it was summer, I'd say let's go to Storyland or Funtown, or something, but those aren't options in January."
"We could take them to Jokers or Chuck E. Cheese," Dani said. "You're right. Other than sledding, there really isn't a whole lot to do this time of year, but those are two possibilities."
"I think Chuck E. Cheese," Jason said.
"All right," Dani said. "I don't think they're open today, though."
"Well, today wouldn't be good anyway," Jason said. "Even if I didn't have to work tonight, if they're open they'd probably be crowded as hell. We can go tomorrow or Sunday."
"Sunday'd probably be best," Dani said. "If you're working overtime tonight, I don't think you'd be in the mood tomorrow to drive an hour with two toddlers and a baby and spend a few hours with them eating pizza and playing video games."
"You're absolutely right," Jason said. "Okay, Sunday, then. Tomorrow we can take him to see your parents, and maybe Leah and Ken and the girls. Then maybe we can invite Steve and Robin and Denise to go with us on Sunday so Sean can spend some time with them, too."
"I thought you wanted to spend time with him as a family," Dani said. "I mean, I know Steve and Robin are family, but..."
"You're right," Jason said. "But if we go to church Sunday morning-"
"We aren't," Dani said firmly. Jason looked at her, surprised. "Last week, Matt said he doesn't think Sean belongs with us," Dani explained.
"That asshole!" Jason immediately clapped his hand over his mouth. "Sorry. That isn't a good thing to say about a pastor."
"Probably not, but I'm inclined to agree with you. So anyway, I don't think I could go to church, knowing that the people we trust to pray for us don't believe in what we're trying to do. So we could go to Steve and Robin's in the morning, then go to Chuck E. Cheese from there."
"Okay," Jason agreed. He yawned and stretched. "I'm going to go take my shower. Want to join me?"
"I think I'll pass this time," Dani said. "Thanks anyway."
* * *
Jason left for work early, hoping that he could serve some of his overtime before the start of his shift, and not have to work as late. Melanie and Anna had a bath together; Sean fell asleep while he was waiting his turn, so Dani just put him to bed in the sweatsuit he had been wearing all day. Once the kids were in bed, Dani was at a loss for something to do. After starting to read a book, starting a load of laundry, and starting to watch TV, none of which she could stay focused on, she sat down on the couch and closed her eyes. "All right, Ben," she said aloud. "You can't give me advice anymore, but you can still pay a visit."
Instead of seeing Ben the way she remembered him most recently, however, she saw him as he had been ten years ago.
"I don't think we should go out anymore," he said. "It just isn't working."
"What are you talking about?" Dani asked, turning away from him. She was damned if she would let him see her cry.
"You just aren't my type," Ben said. "You're too good."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"I don't think I'm good enough for you. You just aren't the kind of girl I usually go for. You should find someone who won't hurt you, like I'd probably end up doing."
"Like you're doing now, you mean." She walked a short distance away from him, but was unable to bring herself to leave.
"Look at me, Dani. Are you crying?" Dani didn't turn around. "Dani, come on," Ben said. "Can't you at least look at me?"
"Why? So I can see how full of shit you are? I don't know what you're talking about, Ben, and I don't think you do either. All I know is, I love you-"
"I'm not good enough for you, Dani."
"Damn it, let me decide that! You said you loved me, Ben. Either you were lying then, or you're lying now. My bet would be now."
"It isn't working, Dani."
"Fine. It isn't working. You know what isn't working? You trying to convince both of us that you don't care about me. That's what isn't working."
"I never said I don't care about you."
"All right. Well, I don't care about you. Have a nice life."
She walked away then, and didn't see Ben at all for a few weeks. Then one day, he had shown up at her house out of the blue. That was the way the rest of their relationship had been, with Ben coming and going from her life with no apparent rhyme or reason. "And now he really is gone, and he still keeps coming back," Dani said to herself.
"I'll always be with you, Dani," Ben said. "Maybe not the way we'd want. Maybe not so you know I'm there. But I'm not leaving you again."
Dani didn't know if she was awake or asleep. She didn't see Ben, either in her mind or with her eyes. But she knew for sure that his voice had not been in her mind this time.
* * *
"You're asleep," Ben said.
Dani knew he was right, since they were once again at the accident scene. "But I heard you," she said.
Ben didn't respond. "I made my first mistake that day," he said. "I didn't think someone like you could love someone like me. Hurt or be hurt, right? I lived my whole life that way, until I met Julie, and look what she did to me. You, Sean, and Phyllis are the only people who ever loved me unconditionally, and I couldn't even let you love me. Dani, don't worry if Julie gets custody. Sean will be all right."
"Is that what's going to happen?"
"I can't tell you."
"You'll watch out for him either way, won't you."
"Of course. He's my son. But I'll be watching out for you and your girls, too. Dani, you and I should have been together. I'm sorry it didn't happen."
"So am I."
"You have to wake up now. Sean's having a nightmare. Nothing about this, this time. Just garden-variety two-year-old stuff. But he needs you."
Dani opened her eyes to the sound of Sean's crying. She went upstairs and found the little boy sitting up in bed. "Did you have a bad dream?" Dani asked him.
Sean nodded. "A mouse eat my teddy," he said. "Then mouse eat my toe."
Dani sat down beside him. "It's all right, Sean," she said. "There's no mouse here. It was just a dream."
"I hope that bad mouse have a bad dream too!" Sean said.
Dani kissed him. "Go back to sleep, babe," she said. "No more bad dreams, okay?"
"Okay," Sean said. He lay down and closed his eyes.
Dani went back downstairs and fell asleep. She didn't dream about Ben again. Instead, the rest of her night was filled with dreams about teddy-bear-eating mice, until Jason woke her up when he got home from work.
* * *
They spent Saturday afternoon with Dani's parents. Lynn had suggested that they go out to dinner, but Dani had refused. "It would seem like we were celebrating something," she said.
"It wouldn't have to."
"Mom, you and Dad only take us out when something special happens. If you want to treat us to dinner, then order takeout or something. But the idea of going out just doesn't seem quite right under the circumstances."
"All right," Lynn said, disappointed. "Do you want pizza or Chinese?"
Dani's father spent the afternoon trying to teach Sean and Anna to play Chutes and Ladders. Sean caught on quickly, but Anna, disappointed when she didn't win the first game, gave up. "Bubba, you can't keep playing," she told her grandfather.
"Why not?" Dani's father asked.
"Because I'm not playing."
"I play," Sean said.
"That's right," Dani's father said. "Anna, Sean and I can still play even though you don't want to."
"It's not fair!" Anna shouted. She stomped over to a chair and flung herself into it.
"Anna, cool it," Dani said.
"A little sibling rivalry?" Lynn asked.
"Yeah, just a little."
Sean went over to Anna. "I sorry, Anna," he said. "I don't play."
"It's okay," Anna said. "You can play with Bubba if you want to. You won't get to anymore."
"Anna!" Dani's father said, shocked. "That's a very cruel thing to say!"
"But Sean told me!" Anna said, bursting into tears.
"My daddy say I gonna live with Mommy," Sean said.
Dani held her breath. She had known since she was a child that she shouldn't tell her father about her "feelings"; he never believed her, and sometimes even got angry when she talked about it. She couldn't imagine what he would say to Sean. "I don't think we should talk about that," her father said.
"Why not?" Sean asked.
"Because you shouldn't think about things that might make you sad."
"I not sad," Sean said. "My mommy not mean now."
"Well, it makes me sad. So please don't talk about it anymore."
"Why you sad, Bubba?" Sean asked.
"Because I think you should stay with Dani and Jason. If your daddy told you you're going to live with your mommy, then I'm mad at him."
"Don't be mad at my daddy, Bubba. He not mad at you."
Dani's father stood up. "I think maybe Anna was right. We'll play the game another time." He put the game back in its box and went outside.
Dani followed him. "Dad, Sean thinks you're mad at him," she said.
Her father turned to look at her. If she hadn't known better, Dani would have said he was about to cry. "What's this nonsense about his father telling him he's going to his mother?"
"Sean has dreams, Dad. Like mine that I used to tell you about, that you never believed."
Her father looked surprised. "I never said I didn't believe you."
"No, you just said to stop talking nonsense, or asked why I was wasting time having dreams like that."
"Dani, my grandmother used to have dreams like yours. She told everyone she knew about them, and everyone thought she was crazy. I shut you down when you'd tell me about your dreams, because I didn't want you to be like her."
"I'm not crazy, Dad," Dani said. "And neither is Sean. He's having dreams about Ben, and in them, Ben's been telling Sean that he's going to be living with his mother."
"Well, Ben's always had a gift for telling people what they don't want to hear."
"Dad, Ben's dead. Haven't you told me you should never carry a grudge past the grave? It's time to let go of it. Even though you accept Sean now, he still sees how angry you get whenever Ben's name is mentioned. Sean loved Ben, and he doesn't need to hear anything bad about him. Let it go."
Her father smiled. "Didn't anyone ever teach you to respect your elders?"
Dani smiled back. "You did. But you also taught me not to be afraid to speak my mind if I believe in what I'm saying."
"Even at twenty-six, you're still too smart for your own good." He went back inside. Dani went after him in time to see him setting the game up again.
* * *
The next day, they spent the morning with Steve, Robin, and Denise. Steve sent the kids upstairs to play, while Robin tried to give Melanie a bottle. "I don't want to act like anything's different," Steve said. "I know you guys might not have Sean anymore after tomorrow, and I want to see him, but we always send the kids upstairs to play, and I don't want it to seem like this is anything- like this is a goodbye."
"We appreciate that," Dani said. "Sean seems to have accepted that he might have to live with Julie, but I don't think we've accepted it yet."
"We haven't," Jason said.
After an awkward silence, Robin lay Melanie on a blanket on the floor and went over to the VCR. "Let's watch that movie we rented," she suggested.
Over the sounds of the kids playing upstairs, the four of them watched the movie. It was one that Dani had seen a few times before, but it always made her cry. It was a relief to have something else to cry about.
* * *
They left Steve and Robin's shortly before lunch and drove the half hour to Chuck E. Cheese. They paid for a food and game package, and sat down to wait for their pizza. "I wanna go play!" Anna said.
"Me too!" said Sean.
Dani wondered how Anna would manage when Sean was gone and she didn't have a personal yes-man anymore. "You can play after we eat," she said.
"No, now!" Anna said.
"Now!" Sean echoed.
"I'll make you a deal," Jason said. "Each of you can pick one thing to play now. Just one thing. Then we'll come back to the table and eat, then we'll play some more after we eat."
"Yay!" Sean and Anna shouted.
Dani stayed at the table with Melanie while Jason took the two kids to the video game area. She was surprised when someone stopped beside the table and said, "Dani?"
Dani looked up. It took her a moment to recognize the person. "Nicole! How are you?" She hadn't seen Nicole since their high school graduation, eight years before.
"Great!" She noticed Melanie. "Oh, God, tell me this isn't your baby. It can't have been that long."
"She's mine, all right. Melanie Marie Sheridan. And she has a three-year-old sister and a two-year-old, um, foster brother here somewhere."
"Sheridan? So you didn't marry Ben?"
Dani closed her eyes for a second to keep back the tears. "No," she said, opening her eyes again. "No, Ben and I didn't get married. I met my husband through a friend at college."
"Do you still hear from Ben?" Nicole asked. "I'm surprised. I mean, everyone thought you two would-"
"Nicole, Ben passed away a few months ago."
The shock registered on Nicole's face. "Oh, my God. Oh, Dani, I'm so sorry. I feel so stupid!"
"You couldn't have known," Dani said.
"Still. Oh, Dani!" Nicole didn't seem to know what to say. She was visibly relieved when someone across the room called her name. "Um, I'd better go," she said. "It was good seeing you."
Nicole hurried away just as Jason brought the kids back. "Who was that?" Jason asked.
"A friend from high school."
Jason looked at her closely. "Dani, are you all right?"
"Sure," Dani lied, turning away. "Fine. So, who's ready for pizza?"
The rest of the afternoon was wonderful. After they had eaten, Sean and Anna managed to attempt almost every video game in the place. They climbed around the play structure, and rode on the mechanical toys. Even Melanie seemed to enjoy the mechanized puppet show that went on every few minutes. Watching her family have so much fun, Dani could almost forget that the next day might bring the end of their time with Sean.
They returned home well after the kids' bedtime. Melanie had had her final bottle of the night at the restaurant, and was carried to her crib without waking up. Anna protested going to bed, but fell asleep in the time it took Dani to pull up her blanket and turn on the nightlight. When Dani went into Sean's room to tuck him in, he was still wide awake. "Sean, it's time to go to sleep now," Dani said gently.
"I not sleepy," Sean said. He followed this declaration with a large yawn.
Dani kept back a laugh. "Well, sleepy or not, it's bedtime," she said.
Sean obediently closed his eyes. "Mommy, is it Monday when I wake up?" he asked.
"Yes, Honey. It will be Monday when you wake up."
"I have good time at Cheesy Cheese. Thank you for being my family."
This last sentence sounded so mature coming from a child Sean's age that Dani had to blink back tears. It wasn't until later that night that she realized why it had sounded that way. The voice had been Sean's. But the words had been Ben's.
* * *
January fourth was unseasonably warm. It was the kind of day Dani would ordinarily have chosen to take the kids to the playground or for a walk. Instead, she and Jason dropped off Anna and Melanie early that morning at Ken and Leah's, then took Sean with them to the courthouse.
Despite their being nearly half an hour early, they were met by Martin Franklin when they entered the courthouse. "We're going to have a fight on our hands," he told them. "Not only is Julie fighting custody, but she's going to try to prove you unfit parents, for your own girls as well as Sean."
"I can't believe this!" Dani exclaimed. "She's not satisfied with taking Sean away? She wants us to lose the girls too?"