A Sense of Symmetry Pt. 04byKarennaC©
"Mommy Dani, my daddy still in Heaven?"
Sean was playing with the race track set that Jason had just bought him, and he didn't look away from it when he asked this question. But Dani knew that whatever she answered would be very important to him. "Why do you ask that?" she said.
"I want Daddy visit me. Grammy visit me, and Meme and Pepe, and Beth. I want Daddy visit."
"Well, if your daddy did come to visit you, you probably wouldn't be able to see him."
"Because now that your daddy's in Heaven, he's an angel. He watches over you, and maybe he even does come to see you. But people can't see angels. But you can still know he's there."
"I think he here now!" Sean said.
Dani smiled. "I bet he is," she replied. "Your daddy probably misses you very much, and I bet he comes here as much as he can. God lets angels go to see the people they love."
"I wish God let me see my daddy." He abandoned the race track and climbed into Dani's lap. "You see my daddy?"
"No, sweetheart, I can't see angels either," Dani said, stroking the little boy's hair. "But I know that your daddy would want to make sure you're all right, and that Jason and I are taking good care of you. So I know he's watching over you."
"I know, too," Sean said. "Mommy?"
"What a angel?"
Dani was trying to frame a response when Anna answered. "It's like, they go to Heaven to see Jesus," she said. "And Jesus lets them have wings so they can go see their family. 'Cause angels can fly. And they live on clouds, and eat ice cream all day."
Dani had to choke back a laugh at the image of angels flying around with ice cream cones. "That- that's pretty much right, Anna," she said.
"Will I be a angel?" Sean asked.
"When you go to Heaven, you will," Dani replied.
"When I'm gonna go to Heaven?"
Dani didn't know how to answer this. She didn't want Sean to be afraid of dying, but she understood this as another way of his to ask when he would see his father again. "When God decides it's time for you to go," she said finally. "And only God knows when that will be."
"You can ask God," Anna said.
"How?" Sean asked.
"You pray. You ask God to take care of people, and you ask him things you want, and things you don't know. I'll show you."
Dani and Jason hadn't taught Sean to pray; it didn't seem to be something Ben had talked about with the child. Now, it seemed, Anna would teach him. She got on her knees and folded her hands, the way her parents had taught her. Sean copied her. "Now, you listen," Anna told Sean. She closed her eyes. "Dear God, please bless my mommy and Daddy, and Melanie, and all my aunts and uncles, and all my cousins, and Gramma and Grampy, and Grammy and Bubba, and my friends at church."
"And Grammy and Meme and Pepe," Sean said.
Anna opened one eye and glared at him, then shrugged. "Yeah, okay. And bless Sean, and tell him when he's gonna go to Heaven."
"And my daddy."
"Okay. And bless Sean's daddy, and give him lots of ice cream. Amen."
"Amen," Sean echoed. "That praying?"
"Yep," said Anna. "You should say your prayers in the dark night when you go to bed. You can say them with me tonight."
"Okay," Sean agreed.
"Can I play with your racetrack?"
The prayer lesson forgotten, the kids turned to the racetrack. Dani smiled. They were starting to feel like a family.
* * *
Melanie chawed on her fist and fussed. One tooth had already broken through, and it looked like another was not far behind. "She noisy," Sean observed.
"She's getting teeth," Anna said.
"How you know?"
Jason looked up from the newspaper. "Is it me, or is Sean fighting with Anna a lot lately?"
"They're fighting," Dani said. "But I think it's good."
"It's good that they fight?"
"Sean's sticking up for himself," Dani explained. "The first couple weeks, he did anything Anna said, and she got used to bossing him around. Now when she tells him to do something, he questions it instead of just doing it. I think that's good."
"I guess," Jason said doubtfully. "Are we going to church today?"
"Yes, dear. That's why the kids and I are dressed up. Unless you're planning to go in your long johns, you might want to get dressed."
Jason yawned. "Maybe I'll stay home."
"Jason, you can't! I can't manage all three of them by myself, especially with Melanie teething! If she gets too fussy, I'll have to take her to the nursery, and then I'd have to-"
"Relax, Dani, I was just kidding," Jason said. "I think you're getting a little too stressed."
"So would you be, if you took care of them all day. You don't usually have to put them to bed, and you sleep all morning. With Melanie teething, I can't even sleep at night."
"I think it's a good thing you're starting your job tomorrow," Jason said. "It'll give you a break from these guys."
"And from you," Dani said.
Dani grinned. "I need a break from you."
"I'll give you a break." He tried to grab her ass.
"Jason, the kids!"
"Then come upstairs. They'll be all right."
"No. Go get ready for church."
"You're no fun," Jason said. He went upstairs.
Dani had spent a few weeks looking for part-time work. It wasn't easy. After Anna was born, she had worked as a substitute teacher. But six months into her pregnancy with Melanie, she had been put on bed rest, and hadn't worked since. She had substituted in so many different schools that she hadn't been anywhere often enough to get references, and the eight-month gap in her resume made some personnel departments look twice, then get rid of her application.
Through a church friend, she had finally gotten a seasonal job at a mail-order company in Portland. It would give her and Jason enough money for Christmas, at least, and there was a possibility of the job continuing after the holidays. What had decided Dani on the job was the hours she was offered: nine to two Monday through Thursday, with Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off. A three-day weekend, plus hours that allowed Jason to take care of the kids while still getting enough sleep and allowed Dani to get home before Jason had to leave for work. And the pay was good enough that the twenty hours would more than cover their extra expenses. The church friend had offered this as proof that God was looking out for the Sheridans. Dani agreed, but also considered it proof that Ben was looking out for his son.
Jason, as usual, finished getting ready for church at the exact moment that they had to leave. They were putting the kids in the car when, through the window that had for some reason been left open, they heard the phone ring. Jason looked at Dani, who shrugged. Jason went to answer it. He came out a minute later with the cordless phone. "It's for you," he told Dani.
It was Beth. "I've got some bad news for you," she said.
"Beth, the last time you said that to me, someone had died. Please tell me that isn't what happened this time."
"No one died," Beth said.
"Then what's the bad news?"
Dani's heart dropped. "What's wrong?" Jason asked, seeing the look on her face.
Dani signaled that she would tell him later. "Are you sure?" she asked Beth.
"I was talking to Al last night. He saw her at the bus station in Portland."
"Is he sure it was her?"
"He talked to her, Dani. I hope, for your sake, that she's still too busy partying to want Sean."
"I hope so too," Dani said. "We're on our way to church, Beth, so I have to let you go. I'll give you a call later. Thanks for letting me know."
"Okay," Beth said.
Dani gave the phone back to Jason. "What's wrong?" Jason asked again.
"Julie's back in town."
"Shit!" Jason clapped his hand over his mouth, realizing that the children might have heard him.
"I agree," Dani said.
* * *
The next morning, Dani started work. Sean cried when she was getting ready to leave. "You say you not go away!" he wailed.
"Sean, Honey, I'm just going to work," Dani tried to explain. "I'll be home in a while. And Jason will be here while I'm gone."
"Daddy go work. He not come back."
Dani had forgotten that Ben had been on his way home from work when he'd had the accident. "Sean, I know it's hard to understand," she said. "But lots of people go to work every day and come home just fine. I promise, nothing's going to happen to me. I'll be home."
"Don't worry, Sean," Anna said. "Daddy and I'll look after you."
"What about Melanie?" Dani asked, smiling.
"Melanie's a fish," Anna said.
"A fish?" Dani repeated.
"Yeah!" Anna said. "She has a tail."
"I wanna see her tail," Sean said.
Anna pointed, illogically, at her sister's head. Melanie smiled and gurgled, trying to grab Anna's finger. "See?" Anna said to Sean. "There's her tail."
"I see it!" Sean said excitedly.
Dani kissed Jason goodbye and left for work, hoping that Sean wouldn't be too upset when he noticed she was gone.
Since Dani's job only consisted of taking catalog orders over the phone, she expected to be bored most of the day. The first two hours, she was trained in filling out the order blanks and managing the multiline phone system, but then she was left mostly alone. She couldn't even chat with her coworkers, since the managers "strongly discouraged" the workers from talking to anyone other than the telephone customers. With nothing to do, and the phone ringing infrequently, Dani's mind wandered.
She had met Ben when they were both fifteen. Ben had been finishing eighth grade; Dani had been in tenth. They had met at their friend Darcy's house. Darcy knew Dani from gym class, and knew Ben because he had the newspaper route through the mobile home park where he and Darcy lived.
The day Dani and Ben finally met was warm and sunny, and Dani and Darcy were outside reading a play that Darcy was trying to write. When Ben came into Darcy's yard, Dani's first thought was that he was the best-looking guy she had ever seen. Her second thought was to hide. She was reading the part of a man in Darcy's play, and was dressed accordingly, with a bowler hat that covered half her face and an oversized suit coat. This was not Dani's idea of a guy-impressing outfit.
Ben was persuaded to help with the reading of the play. After they were done, and Darcy decided that the play needed too much work to be worth it, they were at a loss for something to do. "We could act out movie scenes," Ben suggested.
"What movie?" Darcy asked.
"I don't know," Ben said.
They debated a little while about which movie to act out, and finally agreed. Ben and Darcy quickly chose parts, but Dani couldn't decide. Ben suggested she play the female lead, and Dani replied, "I can't be her; she's pretty."
"Well, you're pretty," Ben said. As Dani stood there dumbstruck, and Darcy started to laugh, he quickly added, "In your own way, I mean." But Dani knew he had meant what he said.
At her sixteenth birthday party a couple weeks later, Ben asked her out. Three weeks after that, they broke up. But it was too late for them to stay out of each other's life.
Dani was interrupted by an influx of phone calls. The rest of the shift passed with no break, for which Dani was grateful.
When Dani got home, Jason was outside with Anna and Sean. Jason was trying to teach Anna to ride her bike, which Anna wanted nothing to do with. Dani parked on the street in front of the house so she wouldn't interrupt the lesson. As she headed up the driveway, Anna burst into tears and started yelling at her father. He yelled back. Sean, ignoring them, climbed onto the bike and rode it perfectly around the driveway. Dani had to laugh.
Jason and Anna looked around when they heard her. "Mommy, Mommy!" Anna shouted, running to her.
Dani gave her a hug and said, "I didn't like what I just heard. I think you'd better say sorry to Daddy for talking back."
"Sorry, Daddy," Anna said contritely.
"Okay," Jason said. "I think we'll forget the bike for now. I want you to go inside and take off your shoes. You can play in your room for a little while."
Anna started to argue, but, seeing the look on her father's face, decided she had better obey. Dani went over to Sean, who was still on the bike. "I'm home, Sean," she said.
"Why you go?" Sean asked. He wouldn't look at her.
"I talked to you and Anna about that yesterday. I have to work so we have money to get things we need."
"No," Sean said, shaking his head emphatically.
"You should say goodbye."
Dani realized that he was referring to that morning. "I'm sorry, Sean," she said. "I know I should have said goodbye, but you and Anna were having such a good time that I didn't want to interrupt you. I promise, tomorrow when I go to work, I'll say goodbye."
"Promise?" Sean said.
"Okay." He hugged her. "Watch me ride Anna's bike!"
Since she'd barely seen Jason that morning, Dani kept him company while he got ready for work. "How'd the job go?" he asked. He handed her one of his workboots. "Can you get the knots out of that?"
"Work went all right," Dani said. She worked at the knotted shoelace. "Honestly, Jason, I can't understand how a twenty-six-year-old who works on machines for a living still hasn't learned to untie shoes so the laces don't knot."
"When I get home from work, I have more important things on my mind than knotted laces," Jason replied.
Dani finally managed to untie the shoelace, and threw the boot at him. "Sleep's all that's on your mind?"
"Well, it isn't whether I sleep, it's where. Like next to my gorgeous wife."
They kissed, and Jason eased her down on the bed. Then he looked at the clock and swore. "I'll give you a raincheck," he said. "I have to leave in fifteen minutes. So what was work like?"
"Boring," Dani said. "All I did was answer phones and write down orders. They don't even let us talk to each other."
"Was it busy?"
"Kind of, I guess. The boss said I could bring a book to read or something between calls, so I probably will tomorrow. How were the small fries?"
"Melanie didn't want her bottle, so she'll probably be very hungry when she wakes up. I managed to get her lunch into her, but she ended up with mashed bananas all over her head."
"Did you clean her up?"
"With a washcloth. She'll need a bath tonight."
"She needed one anyway. What about Anna and Sean?"
"Let's see," Jason said. "Anna got a time out for hitting Sean in the face and refusing to tell me why. Then Sean got a time out for calling Anna a shithead. Then Anna's blocks were taken away because she wouldn't let Sean use them. Then Sean got put in time out again for throwing crayons at Anna because she didn't want to share those either. I had to separate them at lunch because they tried to start a food fight, and both of them napped for about half an hour before I caught them screaming in Sean's closet again. Why do they keep doing that?"
"They told me there's a monster in there, and they're trying to scare it away," Dani said. She was trying not to laugh at the way Jason had listed the misbehavior.
"Well, anyway, out in the driveway was the first time all day that they've been around each other more than a couple minutes without fighting," Jason said. "Now I understand why you were so stressed out."
"Poor baby," Dani said. "Maybe I should make you watch them more often. I could join a gym or something."
"No, thanks," Jason said. "Four mornings a week is more than enough."
Jason was on his way out the door when he finally remembered to tell Dani, "Someone called for you earlier."
"Gee, thanks for telling me. Who was it?"
"I don't remember. I wrote it down by the phone. See you tonight."
"Have a good night," Dani said. She went into the kitchen. On the pad by the phone was written, "Call 555-6781. Julie. Important."
Dani ripped the page off the pad and tore it up. If Julie Ryan was waiting for her to call, she had a long wait ahead of her.
* * *
Both Dani and Jason were glad when Friday arrived, because Dani didn't have to work. Jason had also managed to get the day off, so they made plans to spend the day with the kids. "Can we go to Cheesy Cheese?" asked Anna, meaning Chuck E. Cheese, which she had seen advertised on TV.
"I don't know, Babe," Dani said. "It's kind of far." The nearest Chuck E. Cheese was in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, an hour away.
"Can we go to Funtown?" Anna asked.
"Anna, you know Funtown's only open in the summer," Jason said.
"Well, where can we go?" Anna asked.
"Grammy Phyllis?" Sean suggested.
"We're going to see her later, after she gets home from work," Dani said. Phyllis had invited them for supper that night. "But we have the rest of the day to spend together."
"The puppy place?" Sean said, meaning the pet store at the mall.
"We go there all the time," Anna complained.
"I think we can go to the puppy place," Jason said. "And since Sean got to pick that place, Anna, you can pick a place you want to go, too."
Anna thought. "Can I spend my dollars?" she asked.
"Yes," Dani and Jason replied together.
"Toy store," said Anna.
Jason seemed about to veto the idea, so Dani spoke up. "That isn't that crazy," she said. "We could get some ideas of what they want for Christmas, and maybe even get some presents now, if one of us can keep Anna and Sean occupied."
"I'll find a nice box for Melanie," Jason said. "If she's anything like Anna, she'll like that better than a toy."
"I don't like stupid boxes," Anna said.
"Anna, don't say stupid," Dani said.
"Sorry," Anna said. "Can we go to the toy store?"
"Yes, we can," Dani said.
"Melanie's turn to pick," Sean said.
"I think Melanie will be happy wherever we go," Jason said. He smiled at the baby, who was lying on the floor batting at her gym.
"Anna, why don't you get your purse, and I'll help you count your dollars," Dani said.
"Okay," Anna said. "Come on, Sean."
Sean obediently followed Anna upstairs. "What are we going to do about Sean?" Jason asked.
"You mean money? That's why I want to find out how much Anna has. We'll give Sean the same amount."
"But Anna earned that money doing her chores. She might get upset if she sees Sean getting money without working for it."
"Jason, she's three. She got her money for picking up toys and putting the cat food down at night. I don't think she'd even notice, and it isn't like we owe her an explanation anyway."
The kids came back, and Dani and Anna sat down to count Anna's money. She had twelve dollars. "Mommy, Sean doesn't have chores, does he?" Anna said.
"No, because he isn't three yet," Dani replied.
"Then how can he have money?"
Jason gave Dani an "I told you so" look. Dani rolled her eyes at him. "Well, Daddy and I were going to give him some money," she said to Anna.
"Can I share my dollars with him?"
This was the last thing Dani was expecting to hear. She looked at Jason, who seemed equally surprised. "That's a wonderful thought, Sweetie," Dani told Anna. "I'm very proud of you for thinking it. But you can keep your dollars. Daddy and I will share our dollars with Sean this time."
The toy store was across the street from the Mall, so they spent the day in the area. Anna and Sean were surprisingly well-behaved; they had one argument about whether to have lunch at McDonald's or Burger King, which Dani and Jason settled by taking them to Pizza Hut. Melanie, who seemed quite proud of her newfound grabbing ability, almost carried a rattle out of the toy store; fortunately, Dani noticed it in the carriage before they got outside. "That's my little klepto," Jason said affectionately, as he headed back through the store to replace the rattle.
They didn't manage any Christmas shopping that day. Sean and Anna didn't want to be separated; Anna wanted to stay with her Daddy, and Sean wouldn't let Dani out of his sight. But watching the kids exclaim over things that they saw in the store at least gave Dani and Jason some ideas for gifts. Anna spent her money on a set of character dolls from her favorite TV show. There were two different sets, and since Anna only had enough money for one, she persuaded Sean to buy the other. "Anna, you should have let Sean pick his own toy," Dani said when she realized what Anna had done.