A Sense of Symmetry Pt. 01byKarennaC©
The loving over, she sat up and began to put her shirt back on. He pulled her back. "Don't do that," he said. "I like looking at you."
She lay against him, her head on his chest. "You know, you're the only guy who's ever seen me naked," she said.
"What about Jason?"
"He and I haven't made love. He's too scared. He's a virgin."
For a moment, he was laughing too hard to speak. "Does he know you aren't?"
"I told him about the guy last summer."
He kissed her. "That was incredible," he said. "I've been waiting a long time for you to finally let me fuck you."
"Was that all it was, a good fuck?" she asked, trying to sound as though she was joking.
"No way," he said, very serious. "You should know better than that. You know with you it was making love."
"If it was making love, why do you keep calling it fucking?"
"Dani, come on. You know that's the way I am. I'm not very good at acting like I give a shit, but that doesn't mean I don't."
"You do know how much I care about you, don't you?"
"Yes," she said. Not really, she thought.
He grinned. "So how come you never let me fuck you before?"
"We tried," she said. "You know, I always thought you should have been my first."
"Why did you sleep with What's-His-Name last summer, then?"
"Because Jason wasn't speaking to me, and you were going out with What's-Her-Name."
"So it was a revenge thing, huh?"
"Something like that," she said.
He got up then, and sat in the chair across the room. He lit a cigarette. "Dani, you know you're going to have to choose."
"Between me and Jason. I don't think Jason would be too impressed if he knew what's going on with you and me."
"What do you think about Jason?"
It took him a few minutes to answer. "It's your life," he said finally. "Personally, I don't think he's good enough for you. But I don't really think I'm good enough for you either. I admit, I am jealous of him. But you have to make your own decision, Dani. You can't base your life on what I think."
"I know. Jason's going to propose."
"How do you know?"
"Hints and signs."
He nodded. This made perfect sense, coming from her. "What will you do?"
"What do you think I should do?"
"Whatever you want. I want you to be happy, Dani. I love you."
I want to be with you, she thought, but didn't dare say. "I love you, too, Ben," she said.
When he spoke again, he wouldn't look at her. "You'd better go," he said. "I know your parents. You're an adult, but they'll still be wondering where you are. Let me know what happens with Jason."
"I will," she promised.
He hugged her good-bye, and she left. As she drove back to her parents' house, she burst into tears. How could she choose between him and Jason? On the other hand, what choice was there? She didn't love Jason. She knew that, although Jason hadn't figured it out. She loved Ben more than she would have believed possible. She was sure that Ben knew how she felt. For two years, she had allowed him to kiss and touch her as though they belonged to each other. But during those two years, their involvement had only been during the times that Ben didn't have another girlfriend. Sometimes, Dani hated herself for running to him every time he called, but she still always went. And he had spent the last two years telling her not to fall in love with him, that he wasn't good enough for her, that he would only hurt her. That he could never love her because he couldn't love anyone. She knew this was a lie. Hadn't he just told her that he loved her? But maybe he had only said that in the heat of the moment.
By the time she got home, she knew what she would do. Jason wanted to be with her, to spend the rest of his life with her. He treated her well, bent over backwards to show her how much he loved her. He acted, in fact, exactly the way she had always dreamed of Ben acting. She couldn't wait forever for Ben to admit, to himself and to her, how he really felt about her. So she would marry Jason, if and when he asked. Maybe she could learn to love him the way she loved Ben. At least she wouldn't be alone.
* * *
Dani and Jason were married six months after he proposed, seven months after her last night with Ben. Thank God, Jason had never found out about that. With Jason's blessing, and despite the protests of his family, Ben was Dani's "person of honor" at the wedding. "That's ridiculous," Jason's mother had said. "The maid of honor is supposed to be the bride's best friend."
"Ben is my best friend," Dani had insisted.
The wedding went well. Ben stood with Dani, and Jason's brother Steve stood with him. Ben's girl-of-the-week was among the guests, although she had never been officially invited. Dani couldn't deny the jealousy she felt when she saw Ben with her.
At the reception, Beth, one of Dani's bridesmaids, took her aside. "I think you really hurt Ben," she said.
"By marrying Jason."
"What are you talking about?" Dani asked.
"Ben loves you, Dani," Beth said. "It's killing him to watch you marry another guy."
Dani laughed bitterly. "Get real, Beth," she said. "Ben had more than enough chances to tell me that he loved me. I even asked him if he thought I should marry Jason. He certainly could have said something then. And if it bothers him so much, he didn't have to come to the wedding."
"He only came to the wedding because he knew how much you wanted him here. And he thought you'd be happy with Jason. I don't think you are, though."
Dani would never admit it, but Beth was right. In the last six months, she had come close to breaking the engagement at least that many times. But she had gone through with it, ultimately, because she didn't want to hurt Jason. "I'm fine with Jason," she said.
"I think you and Ben belong together," Beth persisted.
"Well, the universe has a fine sense of symmetry," Dani said flippantly. "If Ben and I are meant to be together, then someday we will be. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to dance with my husband."
After a token amount of time, Jason and Dani left for their honeymoon. Dani never forgot the last glimpse she had of Ben, standing apart from the other guests with his head down, looking away as she and Jason were showered with confetti. Dani couldn't be sure, but she thought Ben was crying.
* * *
"So how's it going with Jason?" Ben asked. He sat on the floor, watching Dani's two-month-old daughter try to reach her feet.
"Not well," Dani admitted. "I've been thinking about leaving him. He acts kind of abusive sometimes."
"He doesn't hit you, does he?"
The anger in Ben's voice startled her. "No, he hasn't hit me," she said. "But he swears at me a lot, and sometimes he throws things. He's started yelling and swearing at Anna, too."
"You need to get away, then," Ben said. "She doesn't need to grow up with that shit. And you deserve to be treated better, too."
"I know," Dani said. "But I'm afraid of what he might do."
"Don't be," Ben said. "Guys like him are all talk. Besides, I won't let him hurt you."
Dani smiled. "I know. Thanks."
"So you'll leave? I'm worried about you, Dani. I don't want to find out that you stuck around and he ended up hurting you or the baby. I know your parents will back you up."
"I haven't talked to them about it. You're the first one I've told."
"Well, you'd better do something about that. If you don't tell your parents, I will. Promise me you'll leave."
"I promise," Dani said. She knew she would have to leave now. She never broke the promises she made to Ben.
"Good," Ben said. "Hey, I have some good news."
"What's that?" Dani asked, glad of the change of subject.
"Congratulations," Dani said, ignoring the jealousy produced by this announcement. She had Jason and Anna; Ben and his girlfriend had been trying for a baby for a few months now. She should be happy for them. "When's it due?"
"I'll save some of Anna's stuff for you."
"Thanks. But I think it will be a boy."
"Probably," Dani agreed. "But I'll save stuff anyway."
* * *
On the phone, Ben was crying. Even though he tried to hide it, Dani could tell. "Julie left me," Ben said.
"I'm so sorry, Ben," Dani said. Good riddance to the bitch, she thought. "What about the baby?"
"She's seeing another guy. She says he wants to adopt the baby."
"How can she do that?" Dani said. "What are you going to do?"
"I won't sign over my rights," Ben replied. "Her parents said they'll make sure I get to see the baby."
"I can't believe she did that to you."
"I can. She told me she only used me to get pregnant. She's been pregnant by two or three other guys, but she's miscarried every time. She wants a baby so bad that she tries to get pregnant by every guy she goes out with. Of course, I didn't know all this when I got involved with her."
"I hate to say it, Ben, but if that's the way she really is, she isn't good enough for you."
"Jason wasn't good enough for you, but you married him," Ben pointed out.
"And I'm not with him now, am I?" Dani countered. "Which goes to show that you were right."
"Yeah, well, don't get any ideas," he said, suddenly sounding annoyed. "I'm not looking for another girlfriend, especially one with a kid."
"Where the hell did that come from?" she demanded. "I didn't say a damn thing about us getting together!"
"I know you still love me," Ben said. "Julie was jealous of you. You're part of why she left me."
"Go to hell. I hope you get to see your kid." She hung up.
* * *
The announcement was in the newspaper on April 14. "Sean Joseph Ryan, born April 3 to Julie Ryan of Portland." Although no father's name was listed, and Dani had never known Julie's last name, she knew this was Ben's child. Joseph was Ben's middle name.
* * *
Anna, age eighteen months, tried to sing along with the radio as Dani tried to negotiate the traffic on I-295. She swerved to avoid a white station wagon coming off the on-ramp, then looked in surprise as the driver of the wagon beeped at her. It was Ben.
She motioned for him to pull over, and did so herself. She hadn't seen or heard from Ben since the night she had hung up on him, and she had missed him. When he got out of his car, he gave her a rib-cracking hug. "It's great to see you!" he exclaimed.
"You too," she said, unable to stop smiling.
"I heard you and Jason got back together. How's it going?"
"All right. He's in anger counseling, and he joined the Young Fathers' program. He still loses it sometimes, but he calms himself down and we talk about it."
"No more swearing and throwing things?"
"That's great. I'm glad it worked out for you."
They made small talk for a few more minutes, then Dani found a scrap of paper and a pen. She wrote down her phone number and handed it to Ben. "We've moved to a better apartment," she explained. "Give me a call sometime."
"I will," Ben promised.
Anna started screaming then, and Dani opened the car door. "I'd better go," she said. "When you have kids, you'll realize how impossible it is to have a real conversation."
"See you," Ben said.
Dani saw the look of pain on his face, but didn't connect it until later with what she had said. Ben did have a child, one who, since Ben hadn't mentioned him, he probably never saw. Dani wanted to apologize to Ben for saying something so insensitive, but he never called. Dani never saw him again.
"Damn it, Dani, where are the CDs?"
"In the box that says 'entertainment center'."
"Where the hell is that?"
"I didn't move the stuff, Jason. Ask one of your brothers!"
A few minutes later, the CD player blared into life with Dani's favorite Steven Curtis Chapman CD. Jason appeared in the doorway of Anna's room, where Dani was trying to sort out Anna's clothes from those of her baby sister, Melanie. "I'm sorry, honey," Jason said. "I didn't mean to snap. It's been kind of a stressful day."
"It's all right," Dani said, getting up to give him a hug. "It's our first house, and moving's always hard. Just remember, I'm on your side."
"I know," Jason said. He kissed her, then disappeared again in response to a shout from downstairs.
Three-year-old Anna and her cousin Denise raced into the room. "Mommy, is this really just my room?" Anna asked.
"It sure is, Punky," Dani replied.
"Where's Melanie going to sleep?"
"In her new room."
"Me has my own room," Denise said.
"Yeah, but you don't got a baby," Anna said. "Let's go outside and play!"
"Okay!" Denise agreed.
The girls ran off again, to Dani's relief. Anna was a good girl, and so was Denise, but it would be easier to unpack with them out of the way.
* * *
By the next evening, almost everything was unpacked, and the house looked like a home instead of a pile of boxes. Jason's brother Steve and his wife Robin, and Denise, came over for the pizza they had been promised for helping with the move. While the adults were eating and the two little girls were playing with four-month-old Melanie, the phone rang. Dani answered. "Dani, it's Beth," said the voice on the other end.
"Beth, hi," Dani said. "You must have gotten my letter." She had sent letters to all her friends, letting them know her new address and phone number.
"Yes, and I'm glad I did," Beth said. "Dani, I have some really bad news."
"What is it?"
"I don't know how to say this." Her voice was breaking. "Dani, Ben was in an accident last night."
"Oh, no!" Dani said. "Is he going to be all right?"
"No." For a moment, Dani could hear her sobbing. Then Beth said, "Dani, I- Ben didn't- He's gone, Dani. He- he didn't make it."
"Oh, God!" Dani cried. Jason looked up, surprised. His surprise turned to concern when he saw the look on Dani's face, and he went to her. She leaned against him. "I- thank you for letting me know," she said to Beth, trying to keep her voice calm.
"It happened just down the road," Beth said. Dani could tell she was crying. "Howard was off duty last night, but when he heard about the accident on the scanner, he went to see if he could help. It sounded pretty bad. Then he got there, and it was Ben."
"Oh, Beth, that's horrible!" Dani said sympathetically. Beth had known Ben even longer than Dani had. Dani couldn't imagine what it had been like for Beth, finding out about the accident that way.
"Yeah, well, that's what I get for living with a state trooper," Beth said, trying to make a joke. "Anyway, I'm sorry to have to break the news, but I thought you should know."
"No, no, I'm glad you told me," Dani said. "Is there-" She broke off, not knowing how to finish the question.
"The funeral's going to be tomorrow afternoon," Beth said, answering what Dani hadn't asked. "His stepmother's arranging it. It's at the funeral home on Cottage Street in South Portland."
"I'll be there," Dani promised. "Thanks, Beth."
She hung up the phone and turned to Jason. "Ben's dead," she said, bursting into tears.
"I'm sorry," Jason said. He put his arms around her, but there was a ring of insincerity to his words. He had never accepted that Ben wasn't a threat to their marriage.
"The funeral's tomorrow," Dani said.
"Do you want me to go?"
She could tell from his tone that going to Ben's funeral was the last thing he wanted to do. "You don't have to, but could you stay with the girls so I can go?" she said.
"I'm their father, Dani, not a babysitter. Of course I'll be here. Just remember, I have to leave for work at four."
"I know," Dani said. She couldn't believe that getting to work on time seemed more important to him than the fact that she had lost her oldest friend.
"I'm sorry," Jason repeated.
* * *
"Mommy, where are you going?" Anna asked the next afternoon.
"Anna, don't bug your mother," Jason said.
"It's all right," Dani told him. She picked Anna up. "Do you remember when we talked about how people die and go to Heaven?"
"And see Jesus," Anna said.
"That's right," Dani agreed. "Well, when someone goes to Heaven, people have something called a funeral. A funeral is when you talk about the person who's gone, and say goodbye to them. A friend of mine has gone to Heaven, and I'm going to his funeral."
"Can I come?"
Dani kissed the little girl and put her down. "No, Sweetie. People get very sad at a funeral. It isn't a good place for a little girl. You'll stay here with Daddy."
"Daddy, can I play in your room?" Anna asked.
"All right," Jason said.
Anna hugged her mother. "I love you, Mommy. Don't be sad. I'm here."
Dani smiled. "I love you, too, Baby," she said. "And I'm very glad you're here."
Anna went upstairs. "Did you really need to tell her all that?" Jason asked.
"What did you want me to do, lie?"
"No, but isn't she too young to hear about dying and funerals and stuff?"
"I don't think so. She obviously isn't too young to ask about it." She gave him a kiss. "I'll be back as soon as I can," she said.
"I love you."
"I love you too."
Dani was surprised at the number of people at the funeral. She hadn't been in touch with Ben in a year and a half; she hadn't realized that so many people had known him. "Is Julie here?" she asked Beth, whom she was sitting with.
"Of course not," Beth said bitterly. "Julie didn't give a shit about Ben."
Across the room, Dani recognized Ben's stepmother, Phyllis. There was a little boy with her. "Who's that with Phyllis?" Dani whispered to Beth.
Beth looked. "That's Sean," she said. "You didn't know? Ben had custody."
The little boy turned around, and Dani caught her breath. He looked just like Ben. "The poor thing," Dani said. "What's going to happen to him now?"
"I don't know," Beth said. "From what I've heard, no one knows where Julie is, so he won't be living with her. Probably Phyllis will take him, or maybe Julie's parents."
The boy caught Dani looking at him, and smiled shyly. Dani smiled back.
* * *
"So, how'd it go?" Jason asked when Dani got home.
"It was a funeral, for God's sakes!" Dani exploded. "How do you think it went!"
"Well, excuse me," Jason said. "I'm trying to be concerned."
"You didn't sound concerned."
"I'm sorry. Are you all right?"
"No. I just saw one of my best friends buried. But I will be all right. I just hate that it's been so long since Ben and I talked, and now I'll never get another chance to talk to him." Tears came to her eyes.
Jason held his arms out, and Dani went to him. She tried to stop crying. "Let it out, honey," Jason told her. "It's okay. You have a good reason to cry."
Jason just held her and didn't try to talk for a few minutes, for which Dani was grateful. Finally, she was able to stop crying. "Feel better?" Jason asked.
"A little. Where are the girls?"
"Melanie usually is around now, but Anna never takes naps anymore."
"Well, she is today."
Thinking about her daughters led Dani to thinking about Ben's son. "I hope he'll be all right," she said, mostly to herself.
"Who will be all right?" Jason asked.
"Oh. Ben's son. The one he had with Julie? Beth says Ben had custody, and no one knows where Julie is."
"I'm sure someone will take care of him," Jason said.
"I'm sure," Dani agreed. I wish I could, she thought.
* * *
The next morning, the phone woke Dani. "Dani, I just saw it in the paper," her mother said to Dani's hello. "Are you all right?"
"As much as I can be, I guess," Dani replied.
"The obituary said his son was living with him," her mother said. "I wonder who'll look after him now?"
"I don't know."
"That poor little boy," her mother continued. "To lose a father like that. And Ben didn't really have any family."
"His stepmother," Dani said.
"What does Jason think? He didn't really like Ben, did he?"