Define Selfish

Chapter 12

Callie & Jude Jacobs

Day 33

San Diego, California

The hair on the back of Callie's neck prickles, sending an unprocessed warning to her raised arm and needling fingers. The rock that they're wrapped around wobbles in her grip but she doesn't notice. Callie can't feel it. She's so cold—and getting colder. Her other hand is flat against the driver's side door of a tractor trailer, skin stuck to the frigid metal, uncertain and forfeiting whatever body heat she has left.

Someone will hear. This is so wrong. It's stupid. Callie knows that. Her eyes squint, dried out by the icy night air. But this is survival and success is never guaranteed. You do stupid things, it's an unwritten rule. You stop weighing the risks because the alternative is always worse.

Eyes. Callie looks around, rock lowered to her side. Someone is watching. What are they waiting for? What she's about to do is pretty obvious.

When the runaway breathes, her breath hangs in midair before dissipating. It's so easy to disappear, but Callie is determined. She will make it back to Jude…to her family. It's a life—the only one she wants. The worst kind of determination takes over, driving out the immobility of cold and drags Callie's arm up and back. It's the reckless kind; the kind that doesn't bear thinking about.

Callie slams her rock into the tractor window, gasping at the jolting ache as her palm absorbs the impact. The window doesn't break the first time, or the second. It doesn't break the third time either. By the fourth, Callie forgets what she's doing, what she's hitting and why. It just feels good.

Callie doesn't register the yell from the other end of the parking lot or the sound of running feet. They're there, somewhere, floating at the back of her skull: sounds that she'll never forget and that will always precede what happens next: the window shatters with a crescendo of tinkling glass. She won. Callie stops cold, the skin around her fingers nicked and torn. There's no burning pain or blood, just her clearing head.

And the cursing. Something hard slams into Callie's neck at the base of her spine and the girl crumples, down in an instant, whatever clarity she'd regained wiped away, replaced by blooming spots in her blurred vision.

I'm sorry.

Callie's shoulder hits the ground, jarred by the next impact. Her ear rings, pressed into the ground.

I'm sorry!

Isn't she yelling loud enough? Can't he hear her?

A hard, metal toed boot connects with her rib, instantly deflating Callie's lungs. The world spirals and compacts into a small little space—the blacktop in front of her nose. Callie stares at that space, willing it to take the place of reality.

Callie's head comes away from the ground, lifted by her short hair. It should be ripping right out of her scalp by now. It's more painful this way.

"Oh shit."

A minute of breathless silence passes. Even Callie forgets to breathe. She isn't ready.

Callie's face smashes into the ground and drool spills onto the asphalt as her eyes roll up, desperately following the pair of boots that skirt her face. She hears the wrenching sound of a door opening and her fingernails curl against the ground, instinctively trying to withdraw from the promise of flattened fingers.

Callie coughs, choking on exhaust as the trailer rumbles out of its spot, dangerously close to her face. She reads the lettering on the tires: Firestone.

Firestone did this. Actually—Callie bullies her body into a ball, ignoring the pain in her ribs—she did this to herself.

Callie doesn't cry. She doesn't moan, or curse her predicament. How stupid could she be?

Eyes. Those eyes again, watching her, like she's here for entertainment. The moral of the story kids…

Callie closes her own. Let them watch.

"Callie?"

That's not fair. Callie doesn't move. She tries to pretend that the voice means nothing. It's cruel.

"Callie, wake up."

Callie doesn't want to. She's going to go to sleep right here, on the ground, world be damned. She isn't going to wake up—never again.

"Callie!"

The blankets go flying and Callie bites down on her tongue to stop the gasp of pain that rises with her. Her face is wild, confused—uncertain: how much more can she take? The room comes into focus slowly, color by color, line by line. So does sensation. Callie quickly peels the traitor hand away from her ribs, desperate to hide the pain even before she makes sense of the present. There's always a reason to hide weakness, Callie doesn't have to dredge up any particular one.

She's in a bed: Stef and Lena's bed. Callie doesn't know what makes her do it—maybe some kind of phantom limb syndrome or something—but she reaches to pull her hair back, away from her face. Her fingers brush through empty air. She could have sworn…

Callie shakes her head, trying to clear it, to get some kind of grip on reality. Was it a dream? All of it? She's still dreaming. How the hell else did she end up in Stef and Lena's bed?

"Callie…" The voice is broken and quiet: scared, angry, resenting, hopeful…you name it.

The girl does her best to turn, pulling the blankets with her and biting her lip to combat the rankling stiffness in her bruised bones.

"Jude." She breathes the name.

They were his eyes all along.

Callie isn't dreaming. This nightmare is real. The way he's looking at her, standing there at the edge of the bed like he's about to be swallowed up by a bottomless pit…terrified—of her.

"I'm…" Callie's lips quiver. Jude is holding a hand over his cheek, stunned. She hit him as she sat up. He was on the bed—he tried to wake her up…and she hit him, "I'm so sorry, Jude…I didn't mean to…"

The hand drops. Watching Callie sleep was one thing. It wasn't real until she woke up. Now, Jude takes stock of his new sister—there's no point in pretending otherwise. She's different, she always will be.

Jude takes a deep breath, still staring and tries to explain, "Stef told me not to wake you up but…" the boy's eyes finally fall away from Callie's short hair, "but you were having a nightmare. I didn't mean to scare you."

The way Jude looks up at her as if he's ashamed gives Callie the shock of her life. He's apologizing to her?

"You didn't—no, Jude I'm…I'm not scared, God…" Callie pulls the covers back, wincing as she swings her legs over the edge of the bed, "Come here…"

She's different. Jude understands that even if she doesn't get it yet. But she's still Callie—she's still his sister.

Jude hesitantly wraps his arms around Callie's waist, looking over her shoulder and holding on tight. He can feel how hard she's trying not to cry and still, her body is shaking. He won't say anything, but Jude knows that for once, he's the strong one. He wants to be strong for Callie. Maybe Jude is the one who's changed. Jude doesn't need Callie to look out for him anymore. He can take care of her.

"I'm so sorry." Callie won't let go. Jude is her lifeline. She pulls back, but only a little, just enough to capture his face and give him the once over, "Can you forgive me?"

Jude's response is level and already thought out, "Are you going to run again?"

Callie is taken back by her little brother's matter-of-fact question, void of emotion. His stability makes her want to fall apart. Callie fights to hold it together. She shakes her head no and finally, finally her decision to come home is easy.

Jude's face breaks out into a familiar grin as he throws himself at his sister with a little more of his old enthusiasm, "I think we're going to be ok."

Callie casts her eyes toward the ceiling, holding on tight. Jude's joy is taking her along for the ride and she's never been happier to be a passenger. Everything she needs is right here in this moment. Everything Jude needs is here too. Even in her absence he's flourished. Jude has a future thanks to the Fosters—and Callie hesitates to acknowledge…it's thanks to her too. She's done everything right so far as she's known how to, with the obvious exception, but even that…if Jude can forgive her, maybe she can turn it into something good. Maybe Callie can learn from it…maybe she can have a future too.

Silent tears—hopeful tears—sneak passed Callie's lips and she quickly wipes them away, only letting go for a second, but Jude is more attentive than she realizes.

The boy moves back and crosses his arms, wrinkling his nose.

"What?" Callie wipes her eyes with the backs of her hands, ignoring the implication, banking on the fact that Jude will too. He surprises a laugh out of her.

"You smell awful."

Callie is jolted back to the moment in question, unable to stop the bubble of laughter that pops in her chest. She looks around, at the bed, nodding, "That's because I need a shower. Here, help me with this will you?" It's back to business as usual and nothing could make Callie happier as Jude scoots around the other side of the bed to help her pull off the sheets that she's probably ruined.

"What now?" Jude is swamped by the folds of linens and Callie's mouth contorts into a smile. He looks ridiculous.

"I don't know, just…leave them in a pile for now." Callie doesn't know where Stef and Lena keep replacements and she knows she won't make it through a load of laundry right now. Callie needs a shower and she needs one bad, but her legs are shaky. She's definitely not up to full strength. Her bag is in the corner of the room, the bed has been stripped and Callie should probably get out of Stef's pajamas. A shower it is then.

"…are you ok?" Hesitant Jude is back and Callie blinks at him, realizing she's been silent, starring for too long.

"Yeah, I'm fine, just thinking about taking a shower," she ruffles Jude's hair and makes for her bag, carefully and slowly squatting down to find some clean clothes. Callie grits her teeth, losing her balance and riding out a wave of discomfort as she catches herself, jarring her bent torso. Her eyes close for a second as she makes the decision, "Hey Jude?"

"What's wrong?" He's at her side in an instant.

"Nothing buddy, I just need a favor." Callie straightens up, her infamous old jeans and well-worn over shirt in hand. She can't help it: Callie winces, with one hand against the wall as she nods toward the bathroom, "I'm gonna leave that door open. I want you to wait here while I take a shower. If I call you, I want you to go get Stef, or Lena, ok? Will you do that for me?"

"Yeah," Jude nods slowly, knowing how big of a concession Callie is making by asking for his help, "I can do that."

Jude feels his muscles tensing as he watches his sister, step by step. He knows she's uncomfortable. Callie turns to look back at him one more time and she's actually smiling.

Callie's home—maybe all of her this time. She said no more running. Jude finds himself returning the smile. She did it: Callie figured it out.

She did. In that moment, Callie finds the exit sign she's been looking for—but she's not leaving the maze after all, she's entering a new one. This one has something worthwhile in the center though—in fact, this one is lined with gold. Callie isn't going to survive anymore. Callie is going to live.


Callie Jacobs and the Fosters

Day 33

The stairs are the hardest—and not just because Callie's bruised body has taken a few days to stiffen. She stops at the top, towel dried hair sticking up in all directions. It's a new style that everyone's going to have to get used to.

Jude waits a few steps down, the question on his face quickly swallowed up by the realization that part of his sister is still in limbo: the part that knows she messed up and the part that knows she isn't in complete control. Callie can walk down the stairs today…but by tomorrow, she might never set foot on them again.

"Everyone's waiting." Jude smiles up at her.

Everything that Callie does in this house could be for the last time. But the girl musters up a return and flashes her little brother a combination smile: happy and nervous at the same time. It's crazy how the world can tilt on its axis; how beliefs and ways so deeply entrenched can present so differently…right now Callie can't imagine not being here, in this house. She can't remember what it felt like the last few weeks. This house has a life of its own, a presence that is distinctly real and overbearing. Maybe the nightmare that is Callie's life could end here. Maybe a real dream could be born…

Maybe. If she can make it down the stairs first.

"Right, let's go then." Despite Callie's determination, she doesn't take the first step right away. Shock gets in the way. Jude is walking away from her, blissfully unaware of his sister's debilitating hesitation. He isn't tied at the hip, or watching her every move. Jude has learned to live without Callie this past month. He's become his own person. Even if the courts don't separate the two siblings, Callie's absence has already done so. Jude doesn't need Callie like before and the boy seems to know it. He belongs here. Watching him turn back at the corner just before the kitchen, cuts to the quick of Callie's greatest hope and her greatest fear. This is Jude's house. He's a Foster now.

"What are you waiting for?" Jude is still smiling. He hasn't been able to wipe that grin off his face for more than a minute at a time since he woke up this morning. Understanding all the complexities is important, but Jude is too happy to realize himself: he's become a part of the framework. He isn't afraid to ask Stef and Lena for permission to have his friend Connor over anymore. He doesn't do chores just to prove he's useful. He even complains every now and again. Jude doesn't walk around this house, looking at the photos on the walls and trying to read them, as if he's writing the subjects' imaginary stories in his head…maybe even writing himself in. Jude is in that story.

Callie can't answer him. She's staring at a photo, framed and hanging on the wall: a photo from the wedding. There's a girl, laughing, standing with a little boy as part of a family…it's like looking in a mirror except Callie doesn't recognize her. There's a gulf between that girl and who Callie is now. All of this time, that girl has been a part of this house, in one way or another, holding Callie's place…but…

"I'm…" Callie's mouth is dry and she forgets why answering her brother is so important. It doesn't seem to matter. Jude's smile is fading and Callie sees him, she sees that picture on the wall and they're both removed from her. She is removed from this home. Callie didn't know it would feel like this. She expected everything, except for this flat surreal feeling of distance. This place, these people, Callie's connection to them felt more real three thousand miles into the sunset. Somewhere along the way the teen lost vital information, pixels got lost, parts of the story warped. She's a stranger in a dream scape. Callie is intruding on a reality that is no longer hers.

"I uh…"

Jude jumps as a hand falls on his shoulder and Lena leans around the corner, quietly inquiring "Everything ok?"

Callie swallows and forces a smile, "Yeah, sorry, I was just…lost in thought for a minute."

The stairs are real enough to support her weight, so Callie tells her feet to get it over with.

Jude doesn't like the way she's looking at him, as if he's suddenly bled into the surroundings. His sister has never looked like this. Callie has always seen him, no matter what, for better or for worse.

Lena ducks, unconvinced, back into the kitchen, leaving Jude to turn in a circle watching his sister pass, unable to put his fear into words.

Callie isn't crazy enough to believe she's still sleeping. She knows she's awake. The nightmare is real.

The kitchen spreads out before her. Silence. Another thing she wasn't expecting.

Jude's shoulder knocks Callie's arm as he pushes past, and the boy's obvious anger holds Callie's attention for a minute. His smile is gone. Beneath it was a simmering pot of furious blame and Jude has seemingly removed the lid in response to Callie's sudden alienation. She's ruining things. Again.

At the table, opposite Mariana, Jesus' mouth opens in surprise. Jude was so excited this morning when Moms told him Callie was back. Apparently, the kid isn't ready to bury the hatchet after all.

Lena eyes her son, silently warning him not to draw attention to Jude's drastic change in mood. There's no point anyway. It's as obvious as the silence in the room.

Callie's eyes flicker, distracted by the scrape of the chair as Mariana stands up, just a few feet away. One look at her face tells Callie that Mariana is just as messed up as she is at the moment.

Jude is furious and not just like he was the night of the wedding. That night, Jude wasn't really mad at Callie. He was mad that his future was dependent on her. Finally, the girl realizes the difference, accepting that her brother doesn't, not yet. That's it. That's what Callie has given him—with the help of these people—a future independent of her own. Let him be mad. She deserves it. But he deserves this chance too: the chance to screw up his own life, or to make it the best one ever.

It's really coming true.

"Callie?" Mariana's greeting is a distant echo. It's filled with that miserable conversation that Callie subjected her to on the phone and for Callie, it underlines whatever Mariana said to Jude to help him—to get him to this point.

"Why don't we all sit down," Lena keeps close tabs on every second as she sets a plate of French toast down in front of Jude, trying not to give in to the dread that his blank face engenders. The atmosphere is completely static. One of Jesus' ill-timed jokes might just set off an explosion. Lena tries to make conversation, "Stef should be back with Brandon in a few—"

No one knows what to say, least of all Marianna, when Callie throws her arms around the other girl's neck.

Jesus makes a noise, about to make a comment, but Lena hits him with the kitchen towel in her hand.

Callie can't let go, even though Mariana has grabbed her arms, trying to keep from falling back, into the table and the mandatory waiting plate of syrup.

"Whoa."

"Thank you." It's loud enough for all of them to hear—but no one understands accept Mariana, and maybe Jude. The boy's face is softening, dawning with half-understanding.

"Thank you." Callie keeps repeating herself. She isn't in control—the tears running down her face attest to that. She doesn't know exactly why she's thanking Mariana, but she knows that the girl understood her well enough to know what to say—even better than Callie—to help Jude reach this point…in turn helping Callie to reach this point. How Callie is going to handle it when she manages to let go, who knows. Who cares?

"Uh, you're welcome?" Mariana tries to relax—despite the fact that there's a crazy person clinging to her and she hugs Callie back, remembering the wedding. That might have been the first time that Mariana outwardly acknowledged Callie was a part of the family, part of Mariana's family.

Jesus finally closes his mouth to chew and he winces, shrugging his shoulder; trying to remind Lena that he is a living being with nerve endings in his shoulder. Lena's surprised grip had tightened…painfully.

Callie laughs and it's a sound that comes from that girl hanging up on the wall out in the hall, "I missed you."

Mariana is grinning too, and wiping away embarrassing tears, "You're so stupid," is the most original admonishment she has to give at the moment. Jesus rolls his eyes, waiting for the hiccups to start. Girls can be so hysterical.

"Me?" Callie shoots back, a shared reminder of just what they have in common.

"Yeah," Mariana's head angles in cryptic agreement as she sits back down, clearing the way for Callie to migrate to the empty chair on the other side of the table.

Lena lets out a breath, touching Callie's shoulder as she steps out of the way and back to the stove, letting the girl through.

Jesus wipes his mouth and catches Callie in a quick hug.

"Welcome home." The magic words.

Callie falls into her chair, across from Jude, unable to drag her attention away from her little brother. She's hyper aware of Jesus next to her and Mariana and Lena. Reality is a trickster.

Jude is reeling just as drunkenly as Callie. He can't keep up with the spinning arrow. He doesn't know whether to be mad at her, happy…or embarrassed by the way she keeps staring at him. He settles for studying his plate, picking at his toast.

Callie might not belong here right now—she might not be the girl from that photo in the hall, but New Callie finally has a chance to start over. She knew these people once upon a time. Callie looks forward to getting to know them again, and letting them in all over. They held a place for her, but as hard as it’s going to be—probably akin to hell at times—Callie is going to have to carve out a new one.

She can belong here. That's the truth and it's what Callie wants.


"Hey."

Callie doesn't need to look up, "Did Lena send out the patrol?"

Jesus grunts, bending his legs to sit on the top step of the porch, "Are you kidding? She's been watching you from the window this whole time."

Callie turns to look and shakes her head with a mock grimace, "Not cool." There's no one in the window. Jesus is just being Jesus.

"You out here waiting for Brandon?"

Callie's back stiffens. No. In fact she should probably migrate to the back yard, "I just needed some air."

"Yeah…" Jesus pulls on his shoe lace, knowing exactly what she's talking about, "Jude seems pretty mad."

Callie shrugs. Thanks to Jesus she's paranoid, scanning every car on approach for Stef and Brandon, "He's confused."

"He should be."

Callie doesn't mean to snap, "I know."

"Hey," Jesus throws his hands into the air, "I'm just saying."

She knows. Callie wishes she could kick herself. She's just having a hard time reconciling how she can be happy and scared to death about Jude at the same time. She's pretty sure the scared part—is the selfish part…maybe even a jealous part.

"Have you heard anything from Lexi?"

"…no."

A simple answer that speaks volumes. Jesus doesn't want to talk about it.

Callie stares at the road, wishing she had the right words and knowing that there's nothing to say. Nothing at all. "I'm sorry."

"Yeah, everybody's sorry." Jesus picks up a pebble and tosses it onto the sidewalk, "He won't stay mad forever."

Callie frowns. Her first thought had been Brandon, "Jude?"

"I did the same thing to Mariana."

Now, Jesus has Callie's full attention, "What are you talking about?"

"When we were little, Mariana needed me to protect her. She always took it worse, you know?"

Callie says nothing, but she listens close. It's strange to realize, that as similar as the twins are to her, Callie has no clue about their lives in the system.

"It got so bad…the day we met Stef, our foster parents dropped us off at the station." The bitterness in Jesus' voice doesn't escape Callie, but neither does his appreciation for synchronicity, "They didn't want to take care of us anymore. We were just sitting there on a bench, surrounded by a bunch of uniform police officers. I didn't know what we'd done to make them want to give us up and Mariana, I don't think she understood much of anything at all. She'd retreated so far…I was the only person in her world."

Callie clasps her hands together, allowing Jesus' story to draw the obvious parallels between her and Jude.

"This cop, in uniform, gun belt—the whole deal, came over to us. I didn't know what to expect. Maybe we'd done something really bad and were in serious trouble. But this cop knelt down and started talking to us and offering us lollipops. For me, I mean, it was new definitely, I was happy to just roll with it, but Mariana, she wouldn't take that lollipop. She looked right through that cop. She could see the lollipop—for sure. We could both tell that much. I knew she wanted it. So, I took'em both and handed her one."

Finally, Callie was able to look at Jesus, reading his face as the story turned.

"That was the first time we met Stef, but it sure as hell wasn't a fairy tale. Things didn't just fix themselves. Eventually…I couldn't take it anymore, you know? Mariana's my sister and I'll always protect her but…it's different. I know you get it. So…I, I told myself it wasn't good for her and I basically left her out to drown. It scared her—bad, and I had to just watch. I know now that I wasn't really doing it for her at the time, but still, it had to be done…for both of us."

"Sounds cruel." Callie's eyes are full of water. That was never what she intended when she left Jude, consciously or subconsciously. She'd rationalized, telling herself that she was leaving so she couldn't mess up his life anymore, not to make him stand on his own.

"Yeah." Jesus nods wholeheartedly, "It was."

A minute of silence passes between them, leaving Callie wondering if Jesus hated himself then as much as Callie hates herself now, and if Mariana hated him too.

"I think Mariana forgot about it eventually. We don't talk about it and she's fine. Accept when she's not. Like I said—she's my sister. That's why I took the heat for those pills. She was so scared; I couldn't stand by all over again."

Jesus stands up and Callie is startled by the sound of crunching gravel. She's afraid to look over at the driveway.

"Look, the point is—Jude had to figure stuff out for himself eventually. You just…gave him a push. It had to happen someday. He'll get over it. Knowing him, probably sooner rather than later."

Callie doesn't get the chance to thank her foster brother before he's through the door, back in the house, leaving her in the lurch...go figure. Callie has to deal with this. Now is as good a time as any.

"Hi Love, how are you feeling? Did you get some sleep?"

Callie nods, barely acknowledging Stef's touch as the woman squeezes her shoulder in passing. For a second, Callie is afraid that the woman intends to stay…to chaperone. But Stef throws an understanding look over her shoulder at her son, "Don't stay out here too long, ok?"

There's no answer.

"Hey." Brandon keeps his hands in his pockets, completely focused on Callie. Stef is just an annoying apparition in their peripheral vision.

"Nice to see you too." Callie makes a face and mirrors his stance, waiting for Stef to go inside and praying for rescue at the same time. The girl can't even fathom what's supposed to happen next, not to mention what will happen. All she knows is what can't.

He doesn't have a beard. It's the first thing that pops to mind at the sound of the front door latching behind Stef.

Brandon scratches the back of his head and takes a tentative step forward, "I'm…"

"Yeah, I…" Callie can't complete a sentence either.

The tension spreads between them and the balled fists in Brandon's pockets start to shake. He can't bear seeing her like this—never mind the hair, it's the bruises…

Callie can't help it. Her eyes flicker to the window—checking…and Brandon's follow suite, immediately realizing. But they aren't being watched. Stef is giving them that gift at least.

"I'm sorry." They both blurt it out at the same time, unable to come up with anything better, anything else that encompasses everything.

He's sorry that he pushed, he's sorry she left, sorry that life is so complicated…sorry about Liam, about the bruises…everything.

Callie is sorry she hung Brandon out to dry, she's sorry that she loves him but can't afford to say it.

The two teens sway awkwardly, left to test dangerous waters on their own, not familiar with the unspoken rules just yet.

Callie swallows, uncomfortable under Brandon's scrutiny. What is he waiting to hear? What is he thinking about—is he remembering the kiss?

"Jesus…he said you started growing a beard."

Unconsciously, Brandon wipes at his chin, manufacturing a grin to go with the lighthearted turn, "Yeah. Didn't think you'd like it, I shaved it off last night."

Callie blinks, surprised, stricken by the obvious but unpracticed admission. The look on her face makes Brandon mentally run through the sentence again and he pales, opening his hands in a gesture of appeasement, "Sorry, I didn't mean to…"

Brandon stops talking, too frustrated to finish. He isn't sorry. He's supposed to be. But he isn't. Panic bubbles in his chest and his foot taps, just once. Brandon doesn't know how to do this anymore than Callie does and the tension between them is palpable. He can't live like this every minute of every day that she's around and neither can Callie. It isn't fair to either of them.

Callie swallows. She's going to be the one then, who puts it on the table. Isn't she always? She thought maybe this time would be different, because she can't imagine giving Brandon up. Can't stomach the thought of losing what they had—not the kiss, she can burry that. What she can't lay to rest is what Brandon has done for her. He's the one she told about Liam. Brandon supported her when she decided to tell his Moms, he knew when the others didn't, about the trial. Brandon has always looked at her differently. He didn't just want something from her…Brandon wanted things for her. He helped her to get Jude out of their last house, when Callie thought no one would. Brandon risked a lot for Callie and he gave her music. Leaving that guitar behind was the only possession Callie has ever regretted losing.

These are things Callie can't live without. But with them…she wants more.

"About that night…I shouldn't have done what I did. I shouldn't have kissed you like that. I…I think I knew what it would mean, or…what it would do. I think," Callie's eyes flicker away, unable to face Brandon with a lie or with the truth. She settles for the mid-ground, "I think I was looking for a way out. So, I went for the one thing I knew I wanted more than anything else. I needed a reason to go…"

Brandon's face is red, angry or embarrassed Callie can't tell, but she can't stop now, "I needed that kiss." Callie shrugs, trying to get out from under the shameful heat field that's bloomed around her body. She's burning up, "It was the best thing…and the worst thing. I'm…so sorry, Brandon. I don't know what else to say…"

Brandon isn't angry or embarrassed. He isn't sure what this is. He's heard every word, understood those words and what Callie's trying to say, but the meaning isn't there in the forefront of his mind. His body is operating on autopilot. Brandon has no choice but to trust that his reaction is right. Even if that reaction is to step closer…and closer…and closer, until he's looking down at Callie, with only a foot of space between them. It takes a moment for her face to come into focus.

She's fighting a battle too. Neither one of them is winning their own. What does that mean for the one they have to fight together?

"I don't care." Brandon drags Callie to his chest, holding her as tight as she'll let him. He isn't aware of the house anymore, or his family and whatever unspoken promises he's made to them. What he feels right now leaves no room for interpretation or for thought. Brandon knows what Callie needs. She needs this family and she needs for him to be a part of it for now. One day, one day life will be different.

Callie isn't sure what to make of his words, or her sudden lack of care about having an audience. She isn't betraying Jude by letting Brandon hold her. No matter how much it hurts—physically and emotionally. His arms squeeze her tighter than Mariana and Callie can't help biting her lip in pain, but her fingers fisted in Brandon's shirt. She doesn't need him to let go. Maybe this is an understanding; an unwritten contract of sorts. Callie can always count on Brandon: he'll always be there in whatever capacity she needs.

"We'll wait. In the meantime—" Brandon holds Callie at arm's length, forcing her to look at him, "we have this."

He's right. They do have this.

The smile that Callie can't help is one of the few real ones she's let come in the last two days, "We'd better go in before your Moms come looking."

Brandon tucks Callie under his arm as they walk up the steps, "You might want to start thinking of them as yours too. I'm pretty sure you're gonna be with us for a while. You know, plenty to go around."

Callie doesn't answer as Brandon opens the door for her. Chivalry isn't dead after all, although at the moment, Callie finds the concept unfortunate. She isn't at all thrilled with the idea of 'ladies first' right now. What if Stef and Lena are mad?

"What is it?"

Callie makes a face, plainly fond but exasperated. She'll have to get used to having someone pay attention. It seems she's going to have to get used to a lot of someone's paying attention.

Stef and Lena, pretending that they weren't spying, are having a mini-conference on the living room couch and Callie wonders if this is going to be the Foster family equivalent of flashing the porch lights when a date starts getting a little too pleasant. Walking in to this…is nerve wracking enough to make Callie think twice although she's not sure about Brandon. He seems unaffected.

"Hey, where are the others?"

Stef looks up at her son, mouth open in mid-sentence. Lena answers for her, "Jesus and Jude are out back messing with Jude's new bike and Mariana is upstairs. Why don't you go see if you can help Jesus get that chain guard on before he hurts himself?"

Brandon looks between his Moms and Callie before reluctantly agreeing, "All right…"

Callie sees an A-bomb coming and there's nothing she can do, short of clinging to Brandon and begging him not to go. But she doesn't do that.

"Callie, why don't you come in here, Lena and I want to talk to you for a second."

Right. A second. Here it is then. Either Bill is on his way, or the Moms are about to give her hell for Brandon.

Shaking legs carry Callie to an armchair and she drops like a stone onto the edge of the seat, trying to keep her back straight. She doesn't want to aggravate her aching ribs any more than she already has by hunching over.

"Ok?" Callie wants this over with. Now.

"Callie, please—give us a chance. Don't look like that. This isn't an ambush," Lena tries to set the girl at ease. Truth be told, the Moms have no idea how Callie is going to react to this.

Stef starts quietly, "Jude mentioned something earlier, about this morning?"

Callie frowns, trying to think what she might have said or done…and the blood rushes from her face. Did Jude tell them how she freaked out and hit him when she woke up?

"Callie, he said you had trouble getting in the shower. You looked like you were in a lot of pain…" Lena isn't asking a question but her tone does denote an open conversation, offering Callie a chance to speak on her own behalf.

"I'm fine." Callie can't be mad at Jude. But it's a moot point. She's perfectly fine.

Denial isn't a smooth mechanism. It can be a bitch, especially when, in the next second, a person demonstrates the exact opposite. Callie shifts without thinking and doesn't catch her wince in time.

"Callie, Love—you can't think we haven't noticed. You've been in pain since you woke up."

So what? Bodies take time to heal. Callie knows that, the same as everyone else.

"Really, I'm fine. It's just a couple of bruises. It's not the end of the world."

"Well, Stef is going to take you to our Doctor, just to be safe."

"I don't need—"

"Callie," Lena interrupts her, imploring the girl to see reason, "it isn't up for discussion. You came back to us covered in bruises. Think about the situation. We don't like seeing you in pain. And the state is going to want to know why we didn't have you checked out immediately."

Callie is silent. She knows that Lena has a point and that her situation is still precarious. This day is just that—one day. Tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow is when the battle begins. There's nothing wrong with lining up the pawns today. If Stef and Lena are in question, forget about Callie's parole violation, the State won't let her or Jude stay.

"Ok." Callie is loath to agree. She hates doctors. But she'll make this easy. There's no sense in making it hard—either for the Moms or for herself, "When?"

"Now." Stef stands up, giving Callie no chance to change her mind. Wow, ok. This must have been really well planned. Callie is willing to bet that Stef called to see if they could get in while she was with Brandon at his Piano lesson.

"Jude knows I'm going out?"

Lena nods, "I told him. He's fine, Callie. All he wants is for you to be ok."

Callie doesn't flinch away from Lena's reassuring hand or run away from her gaze. She really doesn't want to do this. They're gonna ask what happened. But, for the first time in a long time…she's trusting someone else to know what's best.

"So. Let's go then."

Stef's eyebrows raise, surprised by the ease of Callie's acquiescence as the girl walks out the door ahead of her.

"That went well."

Lena wraps herself around Stef's arm and kisses her wife's cheek. She knows exactly what just happened, "It did. Now get going."

"Yes ma'am."

***

"How long did you say it's going to take?"

"The doctor said six weeks or so. He's pretty sure it's just a hairline fracture; it didn't show on the X-Ray. Ribs take a while to heal anyway. I picked up the pain meds and they want her to sleep on the injured side at night, it'll give her lungs more room to expand." Stef tucks her side of the bed sheet under the mattress and corners the end while Lena does the same on the other side.

"And she told you what happened?"

Stef's reach for the pillowcase that Lena tossed over pauses and she wonders how best to formulate her response, "Not me, per se. She asked in the car if I had to go into the room with her. I'm pretty sure she was expecting the doctor to ask her what happened. I told her no, if she didn't want me to, I'd stay in the waiting room."

Lena unconsciously snags Stef's pillowcase while her distracted wife speaks.

"She said I could come in."

Lena is proud of Callie. It's almost as though the woman can trace every step that Callie makes, every hard attempt to trust in her and in Stef and this family.

"When they asked, she said she'd been caught trying to break into someone's vehicle and the owner beat the shit out of her. In her mind, it's a fair trade, can you believe that?" Stef's tone turns bitter and angry. An adult beating on a child—no matter the situation—hardly seems fair.

"No cops. That's all Callie cares about. That's all she'd tell the Doctor."

Lena's arms fall, knowing full well that this is eating Stef up. It bothers Lena too.

"I’m a cop, Lena. All I want is to handcuff that asshole and throw him in lock up."

"I know." Lena looks down at their newly made bed. Callie's bed in Mariana's room is all set and ready to go for tonight. If only the day's challenges could end with changing the sheets. But Bill called early this morning and they haven't told Callie yet.

"But Callie might be right. This way there's no one to press charges. It's going to be bad enough dealing with the parole violation."

Stef hates that Lena is right. She hates that doing nothing is the best option this time: all the options are wrong, "We have to tell her."

Lena and Stef take a minute to just be in the moment. Because the next one is going to be difficult.
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