San Diego, California
Selfish: having or showing concern only for yourself and not for the needs or feelings of other people.
Callie owns the adjective and finally accepts it. She's been sitting here, mulling over the Webster definition incessantly—long enough and brutally enough for the shame and fear to become a dull hum in the background of an otherwise calm, clear mind. Yes, she has been selfish, but the word doesn't define her entire life, only moments…just like everyone else. Callie might not be able to forgive herself right now—hell, maybe never—but Callie isn't the end all. There are people out there who will forgive her if they haven't already and for some unknown reason, they seem to want; maybe even need, Callie in their lives.
A twinge of shared anxiety strikes through Callie's vacuum of relative peace as she squints in the dark, trying to make out the shapes of playground equipment that was brightly colored and cheery during the day. It makes her remember Mariana's story about how she met Lexi here when the girls were little. Even something so painstakingly geared toward innocence and joy looks menacing in the dark. It's an illusion.
Callie shifts uncomfortably, trying to alleviate the pins and needles in her numb legs. She's been sitting here all day. The bench has no back and its decorative surface cuts into the teen's thin pants. She'll probably have a grid pattern on her butt for hours when she finally moves on…if she manages to move on that is.
Callie is ten minutes away from the Fosters. She made a promise that she's successfully broken. It must be after midnight by now and she didn't call. Callie's fingers ache from the cold but she doesn't put the cell phone in her hand away. She's been holding it since she crossed state lines; refusing to let it go. Callie is so close, but that awareness has twisted. The closer in proximity she's gotten, the further the Fosters and Jude seem to get, the less Callie can imagine actually seeing them again. Every minute that's passed was supposed to be the one when everything fell a part—when someone or something happens to waylay her. No outside force has swept in to derail Callie's forward motion…so she's derailed herself.
The school is as far as she can go. Callie shakes her head, wondering if Jesus has any idea just how right he is about Callie's safety nets. She promised to call and instead Callie decided to walk. Why bother them? She knows how to get to the house on her own, it'll be a nice surprise when she just shows up on the doorstep—yeah right. Callie knew all along that she didn't have the guts to follow through, yet it's still the path she picked. Callie knew she would fail. Calling: now that would be operating without a net. It would take away the option to run. Calling would be the final decision because Callie knows—once she does so, she can't run again, not physically. She won't. Callie can't do that to Jude and she doesn't want to do it to the Fosters.
So close. As surreal as the Fosters seem to Callie, she can't wrap her head around the idea that she can be so close without being closer. Callie ran halfway around the world so she wouldn't have to face the temptation that comes with close proximity and now, she's come back. She's sitting in a place where she's been before. Callie's time at Anchor Beach was nothing if not indicative of the Fosters. Every day Callie attended a school governed by Lena. She suffered through classes with Brandon and juggled a few curious encounters with Mariana or Jesus at lunch. Callie is stuck. Her thinking brain can’t ask her body to walk away again; it won't allow her to leave without seeing them. Her emotional brain is paralyzed, incapable of accepting what's been offered, completely defunct. Fear is supposed to serve a purpose. It's kept Callie alert and alive but this fear is killing her and its hurting Jude.
Callie can't do this alone—and she doesn't have to. Callie no longer wants to. She can't feel the power button under her numb finger, but the teen tells her thumb to press down anyway. She can see it, her finger is right where it needs to be and that's all that matters. The phone blinks on. Callie doesn't hold her breath, hoping that the battery won't die, leaving her dead in the water. The thought doesn't cross her mind for once. It's going to work. She's going to call and the Fosters are going to come and get her.
This is easier than Callie thought possible. She's giving up…or maybe giving in. Callie is tired of trying to mind read; let Stef or Lena tell her what's what.
Lena picks up before the first ring ends, "Callie?"
Callie winces in response to the sleepy tension in Lena's voice. Maybe she should have called Stef, but 'L' comes before 'S' and Callie's contacts are alphabetical. That tension is Callie's fault.
"I'm sorry." Callie sits completely still, hypersensitive to Lena's tone of voice as the woman ignores her apology.
"Where are you?"
Callie opens her mouth to reply but pauses when she hears the muffled sound of Lena talking to Stef, "I um…I'm at the school…" Callie swallows before finishing, "on the playground. Will you pick me up?" She half expects Lena to refuse, it's a ridiculous mental trap that Callie immediately tries to crawl out of but somehow, the runaway still manages to feel surprise when Lena's answer comes without hesitation.
"Of course—we're leaving right now. I want you to stay on the phone with me, ok?"
Callie imagines the five minute awkward silence that will pass before the Moms actually get here and is tempted to tell Lena that her battery is about to die. It might be, but Callie doesn't check. She nods, as if Lena can see her before finally saying, "Yeah."
"Are you hurt?"
"No. I'm fine." Callie doesn't sound as sure as she'd like to and she can tell that Lena has picked up on it when the woman's voice rises an octave, "Are you alone?"
"Ok. We're walking out the door right now…and Callie?"
She couldn't run now if she wanted to, "What?"
"I'm sorry too…"
What? Callie wants to repeat herself. She doesn't understand. What could Lena possibly have to be sorry about?
"…the only thing that matters right now is that you're ok."
Stef's whispered voice interrupts and Callie catches herself straining to make out the conversation between Moms. Their voices bring Callie closer and closer to earth. This is really happening.
"Callie? Callie, are you still there...she's not answering me."
Callie hears Stef curse in the background and blinks, starring wide eyed at the slide. She can't answer Lena. She isn't sure. Is she still here?
"Right there, Stef."
Stef follows Lena's pointing finger in the dark and her jaw clenches. She isn't sure if she wants to cry or scream. She can only hear Lena's half of the conversation but it doesn't sound like Callie has much to say. It's enough that she called. To be honest…neither Stef nor Lena was ready. They didn't know if Callie really would call. How could they prepare?
Lena's body turns in the passenger seat, phone glued to her ear as she and Stef pull into a side parking lot next to the playground. Lena's chest strains, her heart compressing. She can't see Callie, but she knows the girl is there, alone in the dark. Why here? Why did Callie make it this far—to the school, to Lena's school, before calling?
Stef doesn't care where or why Callie chose to call. Behind the wheel, cut off from Callie's voice, Stef is more concerned with getting to her; getting her hands on Callie. One quick look and the woman is pulling over, oblivious to the white lines that designate parking spots.
"Stef…" Lena's hand covers her phone as Stef jams the SUV into park. Dread tinges Lena's one word reminder.
"I know: not until we get her home."
This isn't going to be easy. Stef doesn't care. She isn't thinking about what she's going to do or say. In situations like this, the cop has learned to trust her gut and to adjust, to adapt to the situation. Whatever Callie presents, Stef will handle and so will Lena. Stef has every faith in her wife.
"Callie?" The car door slams behind Stef, closely followed by Lena's. Her heart pounds, delivering massive amounts of uncontrolled adrenaline to the rest of Stef's body. The brief grip of Lena's hand in her own, pulls Stef back; slows her down and triggers the self-awareness necessary to keep her from completely overwhelming Callie.
Stef's first glimpse of the girl rocks her control, "Oh…"
Lena swallows her first response, trusting to anonymous silence. Callie looks terrible in the shadows.
The runaway doesn't look up at the sound of Stef's voice. Callie hasn't considered her appearance in days, but she knows what she went through to get here. She knows she's different. Callie will never be the same.
She can't look at Stef. Callie is afraid and fear is not ok. What happened to the numbness? This is something she has to do; she needs to be strong.
The touch of shaking fingers under her chin startles Callie, but she tries not to pull away as Stef forces her face up.
"Look at me."
Whatever coddling or comfort that Callie expected evaporates with the cold edge in Stef's command. Callie doesn't think she can handle it.
Stef is furious. Not at Callie—despite what the girl may think—but at the world in general.
Finally, Callie meets the blonde's eyes.
Stef ignores her hair—for the moment. Her eyes flicker: desperate to look away from the havoc that someone inflicted on Callie's face. Stef longs to look over her shoulder for Lena, but she knows that Lena isn't used to seeing this. Stef needs to give her wife some time to adjust.
For the time being, Stef is at a loss for words. The look on the woman's face; the expression in her eyes resembles one that Callie is familiar with; it mirrors her own. It's coming then: Callie wonders when it will happen; when will everything go south and the final bomb drop? When will everything be over?
Stef knows. She can tell that Callie is waiting for something unpleasant; anything that the woman has to dole out. It makes her so terribly sad to realize that Callie can't understand what Stef is really feeling. The blonde can barely control her own horror and the desperate need for connection but Stef assumes that expecting Callie to let her hold her might be too much. She reaches for the teen anyway; slowly pulling Callie upright in an effort to appraise her injuries. Stef breaks her personal ban and prays that Callie's bruises aren't as bad as they look in the flickering glow from a distant streetlight.
Lena finally masters the dreaded nausea in her stomach and reaches out for Callie's skeletal figure. The girl has lost so much weight that Lena is afraid to touch her. Lena sees her wife, and she sees Callie. She decides not to make a sound, afraid that the image in front of her will shatter.
Callie thought that seeing the Moms again would be harder, but all of the panic is gone. She's given up, let go of control because ultimately, it doesn't matter. They can do what they want with her: prove her right or prove her wrong. Callie is at their mercy and she doesn't hope—not for anything.
The teen flinches as a car backfires in the distance. Stef feels Callie's response; wonders if it's because of her proximity and tries to care. Stef tries to ignore her own needs in favor of Callie's. She needs to hold onto this child right now, but if it's in Callie's best interest, Stef will force herself to let go.
"Callie," Stef moves her hand, unable to keep from addressing Callie's shortened hair. Her voice is strained, "Can I hold you, Love? Just for a minute..."
Callie's hand grips her other arm as she tries not to shiver at Stef's request. There have been moments where she would have given anything for this. She needed Stef and Lena and Callie fights the sneaking suspicion that she still does: that this numbness is just another safety net. Her ribs ache—a convenient reminder of the beating she got three nights ago when she tried to break into the back of one of the tractor trailers, anything to block the cold. Freezing to death wasn't an option, but she'd been caught and paid the price. Callie can refuse and she knows that Stef will let her go, not because Stef wants to…but because this is just another one of those choices that Callie has to make for herself.
She waits a second, watching Lena the whole time …Callie has to decide what she wants, just like the woman said. What if…what if Callie can't have what she wants? What if what she wants is out of her hands and theirs too?
Everything might be ruined. They wouldn't tell her that—not yet, Callie knows. They'll wait to drop that bomb, until she's safely restrained or otherwise contained. They won't risk her running again…but Callie wants to know, more than anything, if it's too late.
Instead of answering Stef—or looking at her—she addresses Lena, "Am I going back to Juvie?"
Lena's mouth opens and she looks at Stef, whose body has stiffened, refusing to take her attention from Callie's face. Finally, she shakes her head, "We don't know, Callie. You'll have to answer for the parole violation but I think…it'll be largely up to you. The judge will want to hear what you have to say."
It's funny. Callie closes her eyes. That wasn't what she wanted to hear. For so long, other people have been calling the shots, forcing Callie and Jude here or there. She hated it. Now, she realizes she depended on it. She needs a simple answer for once: a yes or no.
Yes. She wants to say yes to Stef. But that moment has passed. Callie needs to feel something other than exhaustion and despair.
She must look catatonic, because Stef shakes her gently, asking Callie to look at her.
Stef doesn't know what Callie is thinking. She isn't psychic, but she can make an educated guess and so can Lena.
Lena inconspicuously rests her hand on Stef's back: invisible support.
Callie finally looks, silent and stoic.
"Yes?" It's all Stef has to ask to make Callie crumble. The girl's look of defeat isn't an answer.
Stef interprets it as a plea.
It's a need.
Callie lets the woman pull her close. There's no fight, only the sudden warmth of another body; the awkward safety of having someone covering her. Stef can't make everything better; she can't make Callie's monsters disappear—the nights on the street, the stealing, starving, freezing, and the fear. But right now, there's in here, there's now—and there's out there, there's before. Callie's face is impassive, incapable of expression as she sees the ghost of time passing. Her body is paralyzed. The last thirty-one days stalk Callie from a distance, held back for the moment by Stef's shield. As soon as the woman lets go, Callie knows they'll come rushing back in.
This, more than anything else is Callie's fault. These demons are of her creation. She should never have left.
"I'm so sorry…" The only words that Callie manages to choke out sound hollow. Stef and Lena wanted to help her, they still do. But Callie has made it impossible. She doesn't know how to fix it, or if it can be fixed.
Stef's chin rests on top of her head, and Callie's ear is flush against the woman's chest. The teen hears Stef's heart beat—feels it through skin and clothing. The cadence of Stef's breath; the rise and fall of her chest wills Callie's breathing to synchronize.
This hold might open Pandora's Box but Callie doesn't give a crap. Her arms clumsily fold around Stef in return and her hand touches Lena's where it rests on Stef's back. Callie's first instinct is to pull back, afraid.
Lena wraps her hand around the teenager's cold fingers.
Tears flow from Callie's wide eyes. She hasn't blinked; her tight mouth hasn't changed, but Callie is crying and she can't control it.
Stef isn't sure what's happening. Lena has a better idea, semi-removed from the moment; still neither woman is privy to the depth of Callie's anguish. They can see that it's there—but she won't let them in.
"Callie," Lena tries to help when Stef looks at her, eyes so pained that neither of them can stand it. Lena doesn't let go of Callie's hand; she reaches out and wipes away the track of tears that she can see, with her thumb, but Callie turns her face, rubbing them away herself. She doesn't pull back completely, but she needs them to understand because this is killing her. The fear is tearing her to pieces.
"I've lived my whole life without you. I managed, and now look at me." Callie trips on the words, swallowing thickly before barging forward, "I can't need you. It hurts too much—it's too dangerous. I'm losing control."
Can't? Stef and Lena look at each other over Callie's head, at a loss. Callie's words cut deep. She's trying to tell them, to explain why this isn't ok.
Lena finds purchase on Callie's arm. She pulls the girl, forcing her to turn, still in Stef's grip, "Callie you do need us. You've always needed someone, even when you thought you didn't and that need isn't going to go away until it's satisfied. That's why you came back."
Is it? Callie stares at Lena, willing the woman's words to be some kind of answer. If Callie doesn't need them, why is she reacting so strongly, why is she so terrified of having and then losing? Callie came back, because denial became harder—more impossible to withstand than the fear. The need is too great. Fear or no fear, she's here, this is happening and Callie is going to live with it.
"Maybe you're right."
Lena looks surprised and uncertain, as if she's waiting for the punch line.
"But I don't know how to do this…do you?"
Stef reaches for Lena's shoulder, knowing that Callie has put her wife under the microscope.
To her credit, Lena doesn't squirm. There are no magic words, no miracle moment in which all of Callie's walls will fall, or all of her wounds will heal.
"No, I don't," Lena is sad but truthful, "but I want to find a way. Don't you?"
Callie doesn't have to say anything. Her face and the drying tears say it all.
"Hey," Stef redirects Callie's attention, "You know its ok, right?" Callie's heard this voice before, it's deliberate and soft. Stef knows exactly what she's saying and is pretty sure of the affect it will have. If only Callie could be so confident…
"What," Callie rubs her face vehemently, "are you talking about?"
Stef takes Lena's hand before she dares to try and explain, "That it's all right for you to need us, Callie. We're ok with that, even if you aren't. We want to be here for you," Stef's grip on Callie's shoulder tightens. She hasn't broken contact yet and doesn't intend to, "that's something you're going to have to accept. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Callie's nod is extended and thought out. She understands, and understanding is a start.
"Ok," Stef's face is strained, her body crashing now that the adrenaline has leaked away. Lena nods as her wife continues, "Let's go home."
Wordlessly, the two women accept the switch in roles. Lena drives while Stef sits in the back with Callie, teenager tucked into her side. Callie lets herself be led and positioned. She's too tired to care or question anymore. She's had enough for one day and the thought of everyone else drives Callie into a waking coma. She can't bear the thought of seeing Jude like this, but she doesn't think she can wait either...and how is she expected to react to Brandon? How does she want to react?
There doesn't seem to be much point in trying to predict the future—even the very near future. Callie's head lolls with the motion of the car, into Stef's shoulder.
"Sorry," Callie's word is a mumble, barely audible but Stef tightens her grip in response and Callie finds herself waking up a little more. She didn't know this was important. Callie has always been physically affectionate with Jude, but she really didn't know that this was something to be missed—that human contact is something she missed, regardless of the pain that Stef's arm causes, wrapped around Callie's ribs. It's been years. Callie can't remember the last time she was held like this. She doesn't want it to end, but she doesn't know how to communicate that as Lena pulls the car into the Foster's drive way. Callie tries to be sensible and practical, she's holding on to composure along with Stef's shirt as she asks calmly, "What am I in for?"
Lena turns in the front seat, meeting Stef's questioning eyes. They hadn't known what to expect, yet they should have. This is the same Callie that they knew and counted on before—the girl who took care of her brother, who set aside her own stability to spare another girl from an abusive situation…the same girl who made sure Mariana made it home safely after she'd had far too much to drink. Callie behaved like an adult, except for the obvious exception and she was falling right back into that role: capable of talking about a traumatizing rape matter-of-factly, and now, accepting responsibility and the consequences of behaving like the child that she's supposed to be.
"Everyone was asleep when we left, Callie. You don't have to worry about that tonight." Lena chooses her words carefully, skating around the truth and hating herself for it. She's the one who said that there would be no more secrets.
An unexpected bout of nausea forces Callie to fight back vomit, making her jaw lock in place. She nods in place of speaking, it's the best she can do.
"Ready?" Stef appraises the teenager's face, looking for any sign of a breakdown. Callie is the one to break their connection as she slides over to the car door, faster than Lena can exit the front.
"Callie!" But the fear in Lena's voice is unfounded—the girl isn't running.
Callie falls to her knees in the grass, throwing up on the front lawn. She feels Stef kneel beside her and a hand on her back.
"It's ok, get it out."
"I," Callie can't stand the feel of her heaving stomach—she's always hated throwing up and not being able to breathe. She didn't think she had this much in her stomach.
Lena waits, knowing that the girl doesn't need two sets of bodies crowding her space and witnessing this moment.
"OK, you have to calm down." Stef looks up at Lena, worry obvious on her face. If Callie keeps this up, they're going to have to get her to a hospital.
"I don't…" Callie throws up again and hot tears drip from her chin. Her body is flushed and her wrists shaking with the massive amount of effort it takes to hold herself up, "I don't feel good." She manages to get the whole sentence out in a single gasp.
"Callie…" Lena kneels on Callie's other side, pressing a hand to the girl's forehead and nodding to Stef who stands, bent over, a supportive grip on Callie's shoulders, helping the girl stay upright.
Spots swim in Callie's vision and the heat spreads to her head, making it float.
"Callie, can you hear me? I need you to listen to me. Nod, yes or no."
Callie inhales and her stomach rebels again—violently.
"I think she's having a panic attack Stef." Lena runs a quick hand through Callie's short hair. It comes away wet with sweat.
Callie feels like she's dying. Stef and Lena are so far away, she can barely hear them. The loudest sound is her racing heart beating faster…and faster…and it's going to burst right through her chest.
The girl manages a weak nod and a few truncated words, "I…I hear you."
"Ok, good. I need you to sit up straight for me," Lena pulls Callie back, onto her heels, with one hand flat against the teen's racing chest, pressing hard. She nudges Callie in the back until the girl is sitting straight and her breathing eases, "Now tell me what's happening."
"I can't…" Callie grips Stef's wrist, still by her shoulder, "I can breathe now…" They're a little closer and the spots are gone, but Callie's vision still swims and waves of heat wash over her.
"Do you feel that?" Lena pushes against Callie's chest.
Callie's breath hitches, "Yeah." She breathes in deep and the tightness in her chest starts to loosen and the spinning world slows down.
"I'm scared." It's a bare bones whisper that Callie had no intention of releasing.
"We know, Love. We're right here." Stef squeezes Callie's shoulder, trying to steady her own breathing. Lena looks so calm.
"I don't…" Callie shakes her head, trying to escape the spins, "I don't think I can do this tonight."
Stef is ready to agree with her, but Lena's head is shaking. This was a bad panic attack. To her knowledge, Callie's never been prone to them, but the first episode is always critical. Lena thinks the cause is obvious but if the outcome reinforces Callie's desire to avoid their long overdue discussion than this won't be the last episode. Lena is sure of it. Panic attacks are quick to become serial. Callie has to face this and she needs to face it now.
Lena is sure to use the all-inclusive 'we', automatically tying an unsuspecting Stef to her decision, "We understand Callie, but we've all been through a lot this month. There are some things that have to be addressed tonight, regardless of how afraid we are."
Stef manages to keep the surprise from her voice and her tone neutral as she tries to soften Lena's assertion, "We don't bite sweets. It's going to be ok. There's nothing to be afraid of. You're safe."
Safety is relative. Callie breathes automatically, trying to regain some semblance of homeostasis. This was never on her list of things to experience—none of this was. The longer she breathes, the more aware she is of Stef and Lena and the more sense Lena's words begin to make. For the moment, Callie is more afraid of what just happened than she is of facing her mistakes. Some of the helpless panic begins to fade. This can never happen again—ever. Callie doesn't think she'd survive it.
"You're right." Callie tries to stand, but her legs are still shaky. Lena and Stef steady her on either side.
Lena opens her mouth to respond, fighting every maternal instinct in her body begging her to reverse her harsh pronouncement and go easy on Callie, but the most she allows is a merciful pause, "Stand for a minute. Are you still dizzy?"
There's no communication between the two Moms. Their focus is completely separate and yet they still manage to operate in tandem. It's a leap, but the women are used to trusting each other's judgment. Stef harbors some heavy-duty doubt about Lena's new approach, but she knows better than to show it in front of Callie.
Callie waits before replying and squints at the porch, willing it to snap into focus and stay fixed. Her nose whistles as she breathes out, "Yeah. I'm ok. You can let go."
Lena looks at Stef, willing her wife to understand. They have to take Callie at her word. The three of them—the entire family—needs to learn to communicate honestly. If Callie says she's ok, in this particular situation, Lena is willing to take her word for it. It's important that they do so and that Callie learn to let them know when the opposite is true.
Stef is reluctant to let go, but she follows suit, letting Lena take the lead, "All right then. Let's get inside."
"Callie?" Stef gestures for the girl to go ahead of her. Lena may have designated hands off—but Stef isn't about to give the girl a blatant opportunity to run or hurt herself. The woman follows behind, eyes on Callie every step of the way.
Once the front door is unlocked, it opens quietly under Lena's hand and she steps inside, immediately going for the light switch in the living room.
That final step, over the threshold, isn't so easy for Callie. She doesn't realize, until one foot is in the foyer and the other still on the porch: she's home. The tiny sound that runs away with Callie's mouth is unfamiliar. She isn't sure if it's a gasp of pain, relief…who knows.
Stef drapes a reassuring arm over Callie's shoulder, prompting another sound: surprise. The woman pretends not to notice, shepherding Callie into the living room instead. This is where Callie slept her first night in the Foster's household…without Jude. This is where she obsessed over contacting her little brother and somehow getting him out of their last home and away from their abusive foster father. She had no idea that Brandon and his mom and dad would play a huge part in rescuing Jude. Callie blinks rapidly, before stealing a quick glance at Stef and then Lena. She had no idea these people would have such a huge part in saving her.
"Why don't we sit down—"
Callie interrupts Stef. She can't help it, no matter how hard she tries. No matter what they do or what they've done, Callie will always be on the offensive, "When's Bill coming?"
She asks as if it's already set in stone. What the Moms haven't said yet is obvious, so Callie throws it out there. She knows it’s coming—Callie is going to get there first, she's taking away their cache of power. If she doesn't care, these people can't hurt her.
"Callie…" Stef flounders as Lena turns from hanging up her coat, surprised by Callie's outburst and caught unprepared.
"No." Callie crosses her arms, lips quivering indiscernibly, "Just tell me."
This is not the right way. Stef's head tilts, caught in the throes of frustrated anguish and desperation over Callie's predicament—for the mess that they've all been enmeshed in.
"Callie, you don't have to worry-" Lena's attempt at placation leaves Callie blazing angry.
"Don't. You don't get to do that, no matter what I've done. You're the one who decided I needed to understand what I was coming back to. You have no right to keep that from me now. I came back here, because you—all of you—asked me to. I came back for Jude. I need to know what I'm facing."
An impenetrable wall of invisible brick wavers around Callie, erected by her quiet but angry tirade. Stef and Lena don't deserve this.
What? Stef's face goes blank and she turns to her wife, but Lena isn't interested in answering for herself at the moment. She never told Stef what she'd said in that voicemail.
Lena's return to the living room is slow and deliberately paced as the woman gathers her wits and what's left of her enduring strength, "I left a message for Bill. He probably won't get it until Monday morning."
Stef looks down at her crossed arms and back to Callie. This, she knew. They'd had no choice.
Ok. Callie doesn't move. She can't move. One day. She has one day with Jude before Bill comes to take her back to Juvie. Callie isn't even angry. She's exhausted. There's no one to blame but herself. Stef and Lena did what they had to do for their other kids and for Jude. They have to protect Jude.
"Fine." All Callie wanted was an answer. As far as she's concerned there's nothing left to talk about.
Stef shakes her head, forcibly controlling her pre-programmed hands, keeping them from grabbing Callie and shaking her. If Callie is trying to erect her walls again, then Stef attempting to pull them down isn't going to get her anywhere. That much has already been proven. But the woman isn't going to ignore it either. She isn't letting Callie off the hook.
They only have tonight to work this out.
"You don't get to do this either, Callie." It's Stef turn to crank up the heat. She's as hurt as Lena, but Stef has worked through her anger, or at least she thought so, "You do not get to shut down on us, or shut us out. Not after everything we've gone through. Sit down." Stef paces in front of the couch, giving Callie no choice but to fall back, sinking into the cushions.
"I understand that you've been mistreated—that you've lost so much and that others have turned their backs on you. This family, chose you, Callie. We are here for the long haul. No matter what you do, or what you say we'll still be here. I think it's safe to say we're proving that right now. You are the only one who will walk away from this relationship. You will be the one making that decision, not us. It's up to you."
Callie is silent. Getting into a staring match with Stefanie Foster never crossed her mind—but here she is, glaring and trying to find a rationale that will allow her to back down. Callie wants to believe Stef. Her eyes flicker to Lena, a move that doesn't go unnoticed by either woman.
Stef's tone morphs into ill-concealed exasperation, "I'm gonna go get your bag out of the car."
Lena watches Stef go, with no indication of her wife's true intentions. She has a feeling that Stef left her alone with Callie for a reason.
Callie doesn't look at Lena as she speaks, finally finding the reason that she needed. This isn't who Callie is. At the very least she's always been sensible and fully aware of how other people's emotions work—how simple it should be to address an issue outright and let nature take its course. Callie's taking her own advice for once.
"I'm sorry. I never meant for any of this—I just wanted Jude to be taken care of. I know I've messed with your family and…" Callie isn't sure where to go from there. She doesn't waver, Callie's purely at a loss.
Lena sinks down, into the armchair across from the couch. The parallel makes Callie itch to throw something. This is where she sat the morning before the wedding, when Stef and Lena told her and Jude that they wanted to adopt them. Lena sat cross legged, right there.
"Callie…what are you saying?" Lena's face is contorted. This is worse than she ever could have imagined. She knows that Callie is perceptive, a lot like Brandon. Part of this then, is Lena's fault.
"I'm saying…I don't blame you." Callie finally meets Lena's gaze and tries not to look away, cowed by the woman's rigid face, "I'd be pissed too."
A few seconds of silence pass between them before Lena blinks and opens her mouth. No words come out.
Lena never meant for this to happen. Yes, sometimes she has a hard time letting go of anger, even blame. That was her mistake with Mariana, but she made it right. Callie must have recognized Lena's tendencies and internalized them. Not without reason. Lena is angry. She had felt exactly what Callie described and it wasn't for a fleeting moment. But.
But none of that matters. Unfortunately Lena lacks the words to explain to Callie, why.
The woman stands abruptly and Callie jumps a little, off guard. Lena sits down next to her on the couch anyway. She isn't angry, or intimidating. Callie reads sadness in every line of Lena's posture, it's the only thing that keeps her from flinching away.
"You know what I think?" Lena reaches for Callie's hand.
Callie focuses on the different colors of their skin. The woman's response is a bit of a departure from Callie's chosen course of conversation. She isn't sure she's going to be comfortable with the new direction.
"I think you left, because you weren't ready for what we were offering. Maybe, we didn't look close enough, but you didn't say anything either. I think…" Lena's gaze sweeps the dimply lit living room, "That we—that I, took for granted that you were happy here. Because I was happy that you were here."
Callie's eyebrows raise, but she says nothing.
"And I never told you that, not really. Callie, yes…I'm angry—because you put yourself in danger and because you left us hanging and I didn't understand why."
Callie's knees shift as she listens, face burning in humiliation. She really messed up.
"I think I get it a little more now. You made a mistake with Brandon—and you felt like you had to hide it because you couldn't even handle it. After the trial and…" Lena doesn't feel the need to use Liam's name, "I can see how you might be confused about your feelings for Brandon and your place in this family. I can understand your need to protect Jude—but we were all terrified for you. We still are."
"Look…my point is…yes. I'm upset, so are Stef and the kids…you Callie, are in a lot of trouble, but we love you and we are going to be there for you no matter what. You heard Stef. Now I'm saying it too. Do you believe me?"
"So…you still want me here?" Callie doesn't know how to believe it.
Lena's eyes, already filled with tears, spill over and she lets out a long breath, "Of course."
Callie observes their hands for another second, teetering on the edge. She was so afraid of Lena—that she'd disappointed her on such a large scale…but Callie was wrong. How could she have been so wrong? Callie feels awful for what she's done to this family and right now, Lena is the one she needs.
The runaway slips into Lena's space and hugs the woman before she can talk herself out of it, "I believe you. I'll be different. I can do this."
Lena isn't about to let Callie pull away, "I know you can." This, this feeling is exactly why Lena wanted to be a mother. Callie is a part of her now and Lena is never going to let that part go.
The couch dips when Stef returns, settling on the other side of Callie, eyes speaking silently to her wife as she wraps her arms around them both. This is just the beginning.
There's a long way to go, but right now, Callie feels wanted and that's a huge change. Her stomach growls and the girl starts to shake, unable to keep control, sandwiched between the two Moms.
"What, what is it?" Stef tries not to panic at Callie's drastic change.
Callie is too in the moment for her own comfort. She doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. Callie spirals down and down—her only anchor resting with Stef and Lena.
"Callie, talk to us, Love."
Stef is afraid the girl is having another panic attack, but Lena looks confused, not afraid.
Callie manages to form a sentence without sobbing, "…I'm hungry..."
"Is there anything you want to tell us?"
The worst possible phrasing: Callie's fork slowly comes to rest on her plate and the teen's fevered appetite lowers with it. She stops chewing, waffle bites still in her mouth, unable to swallow. Callie's, "No," is forceful and indignant; completely unfair but effectively defensive. She knows what Stef means. The half-finished breakfast plate gets pushed moodily across the kitchen table and Callie rests her elbows on the top, once more loathing the staring match with Stef.
Stef, isn't cooperating. The blonde's face is creased with apologetic grief and determination. They need to know.
Callie feels her stomach twist as Lena opens her mouth to say something. This is what they'd agreed on—full disclosure. No one said it would be easy and they only have a few hours left until the others wake up. Callie gives up the antagonistic attitude and continues, before Lena can prod her, "I stole a couple times. There was a wallet, from some guy on the subway—I kept it. His license is in there…" Callie looks wistfully at the plate, out of reach. Maybe she's been a little hasty. She's still hungry. As difficult as this conversation is, she doesn't have to deprive herself...
Stef resists the urge to look up at Lena, by her side, after Callie's basic disclosure. They're both expecting worse and it's no reflection on Callie. They know how hard it is to survive. The blonde deliberately pushes the plate back toward Callie, trying to pick the girl's spirits up, "That's good. We'll call him and replace whatever money you borrowed."
Stef's assurance gives the girl pause, but only for a second as she picks up her fork again and mumbles, "I'll pay you back."
When Callie gives no indication that she's going to continue sharing, Lena shakes her head in weak relief and changes the subject, "Callie, we have to talk about why you left…"
"Jude." Callie's answer is automatic. The buttery taste of waffle in her mouth is distracting. Callie doesn't even realize that she's giving the preprogrammed answers that she just traveled thousands of miles to disprove.
The Moms look at each other, completely unnoticed by Callie, lost in her waffles. These are going to haunt her too, just like that barbeque sandwich. Hopefully, she'll be able to stomach these again.
"We all know that's not the whole truth—we have to talk about Brandon…"
"I didn't sell drugs, or prostitute, nothing like that. Mostly I just dumpster dived." Callie's brain is like a pin ball. Even she isn't sure how much of her avoidance is conscious. The girl is so tired; so run down and malnourished that she can't think straight anymore. Her body has been operating on high, driven by whatever chemicals her brain found necessary to release and now her blood feels like its thinning out, bereft of adrenaline and all the other stimulus Callie's come to rely on. The confusion that's setting in is beyond her ability to sort out. She couldn't help it if she tried.
Neither Mom is able to completely hide their relief. Stef tries to mask it and broach the topic again, "You and Brandon—"
"I sold my hair first…so I wouldn't have to…" Callie's eyes are glazed and Lena's skin crawls. What are they doing? Callie is clearly traumatized and she and Stef are pushing her beyond her capabilities. Time constraint or no, there's nothing to be gained from this.
Stef gives up on steering the conversation. Instead she reaches across the table for Callie's wrist. The cop in her appreciates Callie's ability to survive, "That was smart. Not a lot of kids think of that."
Being grateful for Callie's street smarts seems like a double-edged sword, considering how they've been acquired.
Callie frowns, catching a glimpse of her own inability to hold a linear conversation, "I think I need sleep." The minute she says so, Callie regrets it and her head starts to ache, making her eyes water. She can't sleep. She might only have one day left with these people, in this house. Callie can't imagine sleeping through it and she knows if she lies down now, she won't be getting up for a long time.
Pull it together. A massive effort sets Callie back on track, "Brandon. You want to talk about Brandon."
Stef's mouth opens, surprised by the look of concentration on Callie's face. Part of her feels like she's having a conversation with someone already on the path to sleep, barely awake, sometimes muttering nonsense, other times, speaking without inhibition. She gets the feeling that Callie is vulnerable in this state; much more open and likely to say something she might otherwise hide.
Lena is certain of it and she battles with the moral dilemma that presents. Callie might not even remember this conversation in the morning, but Stef and Lena will.
"Callie, would you rather go to bed? We can talk about this tomorrow…"
No. No she wouldn't.
"I kissed him. It wasn't Brandon's fault."
"Callie, no one is at fault." Stef leans back in her chair, no longer feeling the heated righteousness she'd relied on with her son. Seeing Callie now, glimpsing the way she thinks is making Stef waver. The woman rubs her strained eyes, leaving it open for Lena to take over.
"…but we don't want it to happen again. Callie there are so many possibilities…you need to talk to us. Why did you do it? Was it because you were upset about the trial? Were you afraid of the adoption, maybe looking for a way out?" Lena doesn't think this is wise, but she speaks to the issue anyway, waiting for irrefutable proof that Callie isn't entirely competent.
Callie stares at Lena, thinking. Maybe it's the sleep deprivation, but Callie's brain is stuck on the only option that Lena doesn't present—that Callie hasn't even considered: she has real feelings for Brandon. It's the one thing she can't tell them. It'll destroy everything.
That feeling, the one that made Callie want to run in the first place bubbles up and she finally understands. It wasn't about Jude. Even then, she knew that the Fosters would never send him away just because she'd messed up. It was partly about the trial. Liam and Brandon are foils. Liam pretended to be everything that Callie wanted and turned out to be the opposite. He hurt her. Liam hurt her in a way that made Callie blind to what she could have. Brandon is the other end of the spectrum. Brandon is everything she thought she didn’t deserve.
…and she was right. Callie finishes her last bite of early morning breakfast and sits staring at her glass of orange juice, willing it to turn to coffee. She can't have Brandon. But she can have this family. Without it, Callie will have nothing.
"Callie?" Stef rubs her temples, waiting for the girl's answer.
"Your son will make a great man." Callie isn't sure that she should talk to Lena and Stef this way, "Whoever he ends up with…" A dull ache in her chest betrays the teenager, stalling her speech, "Well. She'll be lucky. I know that what I did was wrong, but I'm not gonna lie to you anymore. Trying to hide…everything…" Everything is a very large description and Callie knows that it isn't going to be good enough in the long run, but for now it's all she can manage, "…is overwhelming. That's why I told Brandon and then you guys about Liam. But when I…kissed Brandon, he became something new to hide and I couldn't take it." Callie shakes her head, almost daring someone to challenge her conviction. She's sure now.
"Oh Callie…" Lena and Stef float in the wake of Callie's emotionally charged admission.
"I didn't want to hide it from you. I could have. I'm good at it. But I didn't want to betray you like that, especially, um….after you wanted to adopt me and Jude. I couldn't do it to Jude and I don't think Brandon really understood what it might mean for the rest of the family." Callie has never felt so peaceably blunt. She should have done this before. The outcome doesn't matter. It's out of her control, but this is right. Meeting Stef and Lena's eyes like this, being so matter-of-fact and giving them the option to respond is oddly soothing. "This family…has been through a lot. I know you had a hard time with Mariana," Callie's gaze switches to Lena, "and I saw firsthand how all the secrets can destroy what you love, even though you're trying to protect it." Callie remembers Mariana's belated epiphany and how she shared it with Callie the night before the trial. Mariana gave her the courage to tell the truth on the stand. "You got shot." Callie sits back in her chair, not looking at Stef, unable to wrap her head around the final, out of order thought that comes crashing down, "You could have gotten shot in Tijuana. Brandon could have been shot—or Jude. I was trying to protect Jude then too. It never works. If I'd told you about him…"
It doesn't. Every attempt that Callie has made to protect the people she loves has backfired in one way or another. She tried to protect Jude from their foster-father and it got her sent to Juvie, leaving her brother completely unprotected.
"Thank you," Lena's voice is quiet, barely controlled, "Thank you for telling us the truth, Callie."
Callie watches Stef. The woman has no desire to speak and one hand covers Stef's mouth as the blonde stares at the wall.
Stef is trying not to cry. Callie has struck an emotional chord, a dangerous one that Stef wasn't ready to approach. She has to deal with that and everything it entails. Stef is keeping her own secrets—secrets about the night she was shot and she's doing it to protect Mike. She was willing to keep Lexi and Jesus' sexual relationship a secret to protect them both. Now, Callie is trying, in so many words, to tell the Moms that she has real feelings for Brandon. Your son will make a great man.
He already is. And Callie is an amazing woman. Stef is completely zoned out, unaware of the continuing conversation. She doesn't blame Callie or Brandon for their feelings, so how can she condemn them to living under the same roof as brother and sister?
"I'll try to stay away from Brandon—well, you know what I mean." Callie absently scrapes her fork across the plate wincing when she realizes just what she's doing.
Lena is about to reply, but Stef isn't paying attention and she interrupts her wife, "No…Callie… why don't we talk about this more tomorrow?" Stef gives up on trying to figure out her own unpredictable changes, she's ready for a break and Callie is practically swaying in her chair, "I think you need to get some sleep."
Callie's fingers grip the edge of the table and her knuckles turn white. She shouldn't fight it, Stef is right but…
Lena tries to guess the cause of Callie's agitated response, "Callie, you know you're safe here right? Nothing's going to happen. We'll be right here," Lena's almost certain that she and Stef aren't going to be sleeping anymore tonight, "if you need us."
"Yeah, no…that's…I just don't want to wake Mariana, maybe I should crash down here, on the couch."
By the door: it's the first thought that leaps to mind. Stef immediately shakes her head no, "We'll set you up in our room, that way no one will bother you in the morning. You'll be able to sleep for as long as you need to."
The more reasonable Stef and Lena become, the more frantic Callie feels. She doesn't want to sleep, but she can't come up with a viable reason to present for staying awake. Ok then. Callie takes a deep breath and flexes her stiff fingers, letting go of the table before pushing back—her chair tips a little too far and way too fast.
Stef lunges reflexively across the table, catching Callie's arm before the girl goes over backwards. Lena is already on the other side, steadying her. Both Moms are breathing fast, unconsciously trying to regulate their pulse.
It's too late for Stef—she's as jittery as Callie. Lena is the one who helps the girl up, insisting on escorting her upstairs to their bedroom.
There's nothing for Stef to do, nothing that she can think of to say. She watches Callie and her wife go before standing up to pace the kitchen. There's a beer left in the fridge. There's wine in the cabinet. Stef doesn't think either will help and she isn't in the mood. What are they going to do?
"Here," Lena inconspicuously gives Callie the once over before she ruffles through Stef's dresser drawers, looking for something that will fit the girl in the short term. Callie has to get out of her dirty clothes.
"These will still be a little big, but they'll fit you better than mine would. I think it'd be better to wait until morning for a shower…" Lena offers Callie a pair of Stef's pajama pants and an old T-shirt. The way that the girl stands, hardly seeing her, gives Lena pause. Something's on her mind.
"Callie?" Lena's questioning gesture with the pajamas is soft, but insistent.
"Right, sorry." Callie shakes her head sharply and accepts the clothes Lena is offering, taking a few seconds longer than usual to identify them. She turns to follow Lena's pointing finger, but the woman's words don't register.
"You can get changed in the bathroom. I'll wait…"
Callie is focused on one thing and one thing only.
Lena doesn't mention Callie's pre-occupation, deciding to wait it out rather than push. Her arms cross and Lena tries not to assign her own meaning to the teen's stormy face.
"Sorry, I keep drifting," Callie finally shakes out Stef's pajamas and nods. They'll fit. But she doesn't move towards the bathroom. Instead, she dares herself to do it—to ask the one question that's bound to keep her awake.
"Did he really…"
Lena bends a little, trying to see Callie's face. Even without hair to hide behind, Callie still manages to keep her face angled down, deep in thought.
"Jude told the judge he didn't want to stay here?" Callie's throat closes halfway through the statement and she coughs, trying to save face.
Ah. He must have left Callie a message. Lena is tired of standing. She doesn't have the stamina tonight so the woman sinks down on the edge of the bed. Lena's body is stressed, over-tired and anxious to the point of overload. Overload is heavy and slow and Lena's mood follows suit. She nods towards the bathroom, "Go get those on and we'll talk."
Callie eyes the woman, trying to decide whether Lena means it. Will she really tell Callie what she wants to know?
Lena waits out Callie's internal struggle. She can tell that the girl is trying to decide whether or not she should argue. Lena doesn't help. Callie has to come to the right conclusion on her own.
Still, Lena feels a little guilty when the bathroom door finally closes, leaving her alone. Her eyes close and she falls back onto the bed—just for a minute, that's all…maybe two...or three.
The woman looks awful as she struggles to sit up. Callie didn't notice before—now she sees that Lena's hair is sticking up in every direction, there are bags under her eyes and the teen realizes that both she and Stef are still wearing pajamas. They came to get her in their pajamas and slippers. Callie rethinks her inquiry, guilt ridden.
Lena blinks heavy sleep from her eyes and scoots around the edge of the bed to make sense of the haphazardly tossed covers, "Hop in."
It feels weird to be wearing Stef's clothes and getting into the Moms' bed but Callie doesn't say so. It's unusually comforting at the same time. She isn't going to ask again. If Lena doesn't want to talk about it tonight, Callie can force herself to wait until morning…
"He did. We were really worried for a while. But whatever you said to Mariana on the phone worked wonders. He asked to talk to the judge again. Jude is an amazing boy, Callie—you've taken good care of him and the Judge saw that. I know he did. He's going to let Jude stay. The adoption will take a little longer, but we're working on it. I promise."
Lena slides off the bed and stretches, trying to work the kinks out of her back. She's never been more exhausted in her life. She is so glad to have Callie back and a huge part of her is relieved. For the first time in a month, Lena's body is beginning to relax and it's doing so at a surprising rate. Maybe she will sleep again tonight.
"He's a smart kid." Callie isn't trying to convince Lena. She's just reminding herself.
"I didn't mean to upset Stef."
Lena's state of relaxation feels threatened, "What do you mean?" The woman looks down at Callie as the girl draws her knees up, at the edge of the covers.
"With everything I said about Brandon. She seemed upset."
Lena's pause lengthens into an intermission. She's really hoping this is the last thing she has to address tonight. She's losing the ability to think on her feet, "I think Stef might be feeling a little guilty. We came down on Brandon pretty hard Callie and it won't be any different for you. But to be honest, we haven't told Bill about what happened between the two of you and we don't plan to. Stef and I have been through all of this over and over. She's all right—and she's not mad at you. Ok?"
"All right. Is there anything else you need?"
Other than a miracle? Callie shakes her head no.
When Lena presses her wrist to Callie's forehead, presumably checking for fever, then holds the covers up, Callie gets the picture. They're done for the night. For the first time in a long time, Callie can close her eyes without worrying that she won't wake up.
Stef and Lena have a big bed—it's comfortable enough and so distinctly theirs, that despite feeling guilty for uprooting its rightful owners, Callie feels remarkably peaceful and her fear of sleep seems unfounded.
She answers Lena with a look as the woman sits back down on the edge of the bed, "I know you're worried about tomorrow—but just think, when you open your eyes in the morning…you'll be home."
A shock of mega proportions accompanies Lena's words and manic joy has Callie biting back laughter. After everything—and no matter what she dreams—Callie will finally wake to the Fosters, she'll be right where she's always wanted to be.