The Grass is Always Greener.
He looked at the small woman standing in front of him.
"You're short." He said.
He took a half step back, "Are you going to call social services?" he asked worried.
She gave a small smile and a shake of the head. "No...You will never have to go back there again, you can stay with me if you wish."
He looked at her skeptically. Sure she had just saved him from being arrested again and maybe being placed back in Juvie, not a place he wanted to revisit anytime….ever.
But was living with her going to be better than the last foster home he ran away from?
What was it they said, 'The grass is always greener on the other side?'
After all she was the first person to ever want to have him stay with them.
"I see big things in your future Mr. Callen." She smiled.
"OK." he said, sizing her up. She was very short and she didn't look like she could hurt him very much if she turned out like some of the others.
She turned and looking at the smoldering crashed car that was now being readied by the LAPD for collection by a tow truck and then she turned that knowing gaze on him.
"I think I will drive….don't you?" she said with a sly smile.
He shrugged and walked to the passenger side of the car.
He opened the door and climbed in.
"Buckle up Mr. Callen." She smiled and he did as asked but for a second shot a worried look at the cop.
If she was going to hurt him, the cop saw him leaving right? He told himself, but would the cop care.
"You know that social services won't let me stay with you don't you?" He asked waiting for the part where she now changed her mind and took him back there.
Hetty smiled and said nothing.
He watched out the window, people living their own happy lives, free and unencumbered by the terror that had been his life recently.
He wondered what it would be like….To sleep without fear of being awoken in the middle of the night, by another child crying in fear...or worse...the foster parent you were staying with because they were angry or…
He shook his head, he wasn't going back there...the woman had promised, he was not going to have to go back to his last foster placement at all.
But maybe to be able to go to school, to study in peace and quiet, to not have your work ripped up in front of your face by a laughing foster parent, or a bully.
He sighed as they pulled up to a crossroads and he watched a child laughing as he walked along the sidewalk with his mother pointing at something in a store.
That's all he wanted, all he had ever wanted a life where he didn't have to look over his shoulder… to watch his own back.
He sighed as she pulled up in an all too familiar parking lot.
It had been a good dream while it lasted, and at least she had gotten him out of being arrested.
He got out of the car not meeting her eyes as he looked up at the all too familiar building of the Los Angeles county Child welfare services offices.
"Come along Mr. Callen, we don't have time to be tardy." Hetty told him.
"Yeah…" he agreed, after all she wouldn't want to be saddled with him longer than absolutely necessary.
He walked with her as far as the door to the building, "Well...Thanks for the ride...and...you know...the cops…?"
Hetty raised an eyebrow but said nothing, just opened the door and entered.
Callen stopped dead and looked down at his feet as he noticed his social worker standing there with his bag at her feet.
"Callen!" she snapped and he tensed. "I don't appreciate being told that you had absconded from Juvenile detention and broken into a storage locker andstolen a car!" she snapped.
"Iwantedmystuff." Callen mumbled not looking at her.
"And I don't appreciate you talking to Mr. Callen like that." Hetty stood in between them and Callen's head snapped up in a remake of a comedic double take.
"And you are?" The social worker looked at Hetty with an air of disdain.
"Henrietta Lange, Mr. Callen's new...and last foster parent." She stated.
"Yeah…" She scoffed and opened the folder. She read through and paled. "I'm….I'm sorry I didn't know."
Callen stepped back and regarded this woman again.
She was still short, but she exuded an aura of power.
"I am still awaiting his paperwork?" Hetty snapped making the woman jump.
"I….I can't just hand him over like that...I mean how do I know that you are a suitable foster parent?" she said trying to get the upper hand in the conversation.
"I can promise you that all the paperwork has been completed apart from this handover sheet, and let's face it. Compared to Mr. Callen's last foster placement, the Manson family would have been an improvement." She snapped and held her hand out for the social worker to hand over the paperwork.
Callen moved to the corner of the room, watching the exchange between the two women.
"Well...Good luck with this one, here...you'll be tired of him in a week or so, give me a call and we'll pick him up." The social worker shot Callen a glare and stormed out of the room.
"Mr. Callen, are you ready to go?" Hetty asked.
Callen nodded his head, he wasn't sure what was coming. But it had to be better than what he had just left.
They pulled up to a large house going through gates Callen noticed a plaque on the side of the wall.
"Nice...you run a group home?" he asked, "It looks nicer than the other places."
Hetty smiled, "I do not run a group home."
He looked in awe, "But...this place is huge!" he said and a thought hit him. "You must have a big family…." he didn't say anymore but he knew she hadn't called anyone so they wouldn't know he was coming. He could already envisage the argument in his head. The husband yelling at her for bringing home street trash and her defending her position, probably because some people in her 'ladies circle' made fostering a charity of the month.
The car pulled up and Callen gut dropped as the door opened and a tall man stood at the doorway watching them and sizing him up.
Callen put on a defiant air and stepped out of the car.
"Good Afternoon Hetty." The man said.
Hetty smiled, "Duke, this is Mr. Callen...he's come to stay with us for as long as he wants." she told him.
Callen waited and was surprised as Duke broke into a smile.
"Finally...I mean, it's nice to finally meet you Mr. Callen." He extended his hand.
For a second he flinched then he took his hand and shook it.
"Do you have something you prefer to be called?" Duke asked, his clipped british accent making him sound official.
"G's fine...or Callen….anything you want is good." He replied not wanting to make the man angry.
"Very good, Callen then." Duke said smiling at him. "Do you need a hand with your bags?" he asked.
Callen looked at the bag in his hand, "I got it."
Hetty walked in and picked up her mail off the table and looked through it.
"Duke could you show Mr. Callen his room and then he can meet me in the conservatory." she said turning from them.
If Callen was going to settle he needed to be able to be himself, maybe he would open up to Duke first, being a male rather than her.
"Of course Hetty." Duke replied and turned to Callen who was watching Hetty leave him with this man.
He took two steps back as Duke turned towards him.
Duke stopped and smiled, "Follow me your room is at the top of the hall and off to the left."
He walked up the stairs knowing that the child would follow.
And follow Callen did.
"This is my room, you may knock anytime if you need anything." Duke said pointing to the first room.
Across the hallway was a large set of double doors.
"Hetty's room. If you need her at night you make knock here as well." Duke said.
"I'll be fine." Callen snapped.
"This is your room, you have a bathroom attached. It is expected that you will…."
"Keep my room clean, make the bed, not make any noise, not be seen unless called for...I know the drill." Callen sighed.
The room in Callen's opinion was huge. it had a large window, which he noticed had a lock on it and there was a large lock on the door itself.
"Here are your keys." Duke said putting a yale key and a smaller key on a keyring and placing them on the large queen sized bed.
"My...What?!" He asked stunned.
"You have a key for your door and for the window lock, so you can open as need be, We ask you lock your window when you leave the house for security."
"I will be in my room when you have settled and I will take you to the conservatory to see Miss Lange."
"You're not her husband?" Callen asked.
Duke smiled and then laughed, "No...no...I'm her friend, I help out here."
"Oh with the other kids?"
"There are no other kids, just you." Duke said as he walked out the door.
Callen stood there in shock.
This woman wanted just him?
He looked around the room, it was tastefully decorated in a light blue color.
The bed, he had to admit was comfortable, and the room was clean. There were a few books on a shelf and a desk that was obviously for him to use, stocked with stationary.
He placed his bag on the bed and walked into the bathroom.
It too was large, and surprisingly clean.
Black and white tiles adorned the walls and there was a bathtub and a shower.
He walked back to his bag took his only change of clothes which, thank goodness were clean and he took walked into the bathroom and took off all the uniform the detention center had insisted he wear and stuffed it down in the trash can.
Stepping under the shower, he stuck it on cold and washed and was out and dressed in under five minutes like he had been told to do his whole life.
He looked at the canvas shoes he had placed in the trash can with the uniform and for a moment he thought about taking them out, but he really didn't want anything to remind him of that place.
He walked back to his bag and pulled his duct tape wrapped sneakers and slipped them on, wincing slightly as his toe caught, again, in the hole in his shoe.
He brushed his hair down and pulled on the slightly too short shirt and pants, praying that they would last out for a few more weeks and headed for the door.
He stepped cautiously into the hallway and locked up the door to his room.
He stopped outside Duke's room but on hearing nothing knocked quietly.
"Come in." Dukes deep voice came from behind the door.
Callen opened the door but didn't enter, "I'm ready sir." he said for want of anything else to say.
Duke put the book he was reading down and stood up, noticing but not saying anything about what Callen was wearing.
"Come on then, I was surprised I thought you'd be a few more hours." he admitted.
Callen shrugged, "I'm good."
Duke nodded and walked out of his room, but to Callen's surprise he didn't lock it.
They walked down the stairs.
Hetty was looking through an photograph album, looking at a picture of a happy woman with long black hair. she looked up from the picture to the boy who was standing in front of her.
"Mr. Callen I trust you are settled?"
"I hope the room is adequate for you." Hetty said as she placed her hand over the picture.
"That your daughter?" Callen asked.
Hetty looked at the picture of Clara and closed the book. "No...no not my daughter, just someone who is...was...dear to me."
Callen looked at the sadness on her face and decided never to ask again, but he had liked the picture of the young woman, she had looked kind and something in him wished he knew her.
Hetty stood up and walked to the shelf and replaced the book. "I have some rules Mr. Callen, I hope you will abide by them." She turned and noticed that again Callen had tensed up.
"My rules are that I hope you will continue to keep up your grades in school. No more stealing, or breaking into places. I actually hope you won't feel the need to steal. I expect the truth from you at all times, if you do not wish to answer a question then please tell me you don't want to answer, do not insult your or my intelligence by lying."
Callen sighed, he didn't lie, but obviously like other foster carers she had already formed an opinion on him.
She smiled, "I know that you do not lie Mr. Callen." she noted his shocked expression and understood it. "I however wish you to understand I will not tolerate you feeling the need to hide your wish to not share something from me. I will not press you to talk but I will be available if you do need me, as will Duke."
"And?" Callen pushed stepping back.
"And?" Hetty replied, this time she was confused.
"When I break these rules and the others you come up with, what's my punishment?"
"I would assume that you would not break my rules, however I would presume that a removal of privileges would suffice."
Callen nodded making a note to stock up on basic's such as food and when he could blankets and clothing.
"Duke will be taking you out for some new clothes this afternoon, and dinner will be served at 7 pm every day. While we enroll you in a new school you will have this week to settle in and get used to the way things work around here."
Callen nodded and had no idea what to do next.
Hetty smiled, "Go and look around, see if you like the house."
"Is there anywhere I shouldn't go?"
Hetty shook her head, "Not that I can think of although I do assume that you will respect mine and Duke's privacy and not go into our rooms uninvited, as we will not go into yours uninvited."
Callen nodded, he wouldn't go into their rooms, he had learned at a young age that whomever was 'caring' for him, their rooms were out of bounds and you didn't go into them. after all that was just asking for a beating, and if Callen was anything he wasn't stupid.
He walked around the house until Duke took him shopping.
Coming home with more clothes than he had ever owned in his whole life. He wondered how they expected him to pay it back, but so far life here was better than expected.
At 7pm on the dot Callen arrived in the kitchen as Duke dished up that night's meal.
He had changed into some of the new clothes and had cleaned up hoping that Hetty would be pleased with him.
"You look very smart Mr. Callen." Hetty said with a smile.
Callen smiled warily but took the seat that Hetty indicated to sit in.
"How was your trip with Duke?" Hetty asked.
"Good thank you." Callen replied respectfully.
"Did you get everything you needed?"
Callen nodded, not able to hold in the smile he was feeling, "I got new clothes...brand new clothes!" he exclaimed.
"I thought it was about time, your other clothes seemed a bit small."
Callen shrugged, "The last kid they belonged to was smaller than me."
Hetty suppressed a shudder of annoyance at the fact that Callen was so excited about new clothes and she didn't want to ask the next question but she did.
"When did you last have new clothes Mr. Callen?"
Callen looked up as Duke put a plate of food in front of him.
"Thank you." Callen said as he looked at the plate and then the others to see what they did.
He looked at Hetty and realized she was waiting for an answer.
"Never had new ones, well...I have had clothes that were new to me, but brand new ones...Not that I can remember and Duke brought me shoes that no one has worn before, they feel a bit strange, but I should be able to soften them up before you give them to the next kid."
"They are yours Mr. Callen I have no intention of making you give them away to anyone."
"Really?!" Callen looked at her amazed.
Hetty smiled to reassure him, "Really, I made you a promise Mr. Callen, if you wish you will never have to go back to foster care again, this is you home and your things will belong to you...Forever."
Callen watched as Sam drove off, he would meet them, soon enough even he had to admit that he was hungry, but after the day they had had, and the case he had just been on.
He knew there was something he needed to do first.
Hetty sat looking through the notes of the last case her team had been through. She had been so worried for him, especially when she realized that he might have been compromised, but what hurt her the most was the missive from the FBI wherein his behavior towards a fellow agent was questioned after the agent shot a criminal holding a gun on Sam.
She felt him before she heard him, but years of being used to his silent footfalls had made her aware when he was around.
She looked up, noticing that there was no one around she lifted her ever present tea cup to her lips and sipped.
"I was under the impression that Mr. Deeks and Ms Blye were treating you all to Korean Barbecue tonight, did you not want to go."
Callen slipped into her office and sank into his favorite chair.
"Charlie could have been helped, he wasn't going to shoot...He...he reminded me of…"
"Yourself?" Hetty offered.
Callen nodded and took the cup of tea Hetty offered him.
"I was where you knew I'd be. I told Sam."
"You told Mr. Hanna?" Hetty asked surprised.
"No...not that…" Callen gave a small laugh, "I told him you saved me there, I had hoped that I could have saved Charlie."
"Maybe if he had made better choices you could have saved him."
Callen took a sip of his tea and paused.
Hetty shut her folder and looked at him, the man she had regarded as a son since he was fifteen years old.
"Do you think, if you hadn't been there, when i was at my crossroads, that I could have been like Charlie, so full of self loathing that I may never have found my way out?"
"I would like to have hoped that you would have made the right choices without my help, but I cannot tell you what might have been." Hetty said.
"I wanted to tell you...I needed to tell you. Thank you, you saved me." Callen told her.
Hetty smiled. "You helped yourself. You realized that being with myself and Duke was a good thing, which I assume is why you stayed until you finished college."
"I miss Duke." Callen admitted, "He was the nearest thing I ever had to a father."
Hetty smiled, "You were the nearest thing he ever had to a son. I was proud of the way you kept it together when he was killed."
Callen smiled, "I was more worried about them killing you."
Hetty put her empty cup down.
"I am safe, Mr. Callen."
"I know that Hetty, I still wonder though, if things had been different…"
"If wishes were horses, Mr. Callen...they do say that the grass is greener on the other side."
Callen nodded, "They are right and to be honest Hetty, I kinda like it here." he replied with a smirk.
He stood up and reached for her handbag on the hook as she switched off her laptop and tidied her desk.
"Korean barbecue?" he asked.
She smiled, "I'd love to son."
He offered her his arm and led the woman he had always thought of as his mother and savior out of the building and off to meet with the rest of the team.
As the door shut her voice could be heard floating back.
"I'm driving Mr. Callen….I still remember the first time you drove."
His reply was followed by the slamming of the main doors.