"Shh, time to get up."
Mariana is never quick to rise, but this is the worst. She wasn't supposed to fall asleep to begin with. It can't be time already…
But Lena keeps shaking her, alternating between quiet wake up calls and harried looks at the bed across the room. Mariana's fuzzy eyes open wider. Callie. Callie's back. Last night might have been her final one in this room. Mariana promised she wouldn't fall asleep. It might be ok though. Callie looks like she's out too.
"Ok, ok. I'm awake." Mariana whispers, aware enough to respond now, and doing her best not to groan. Staying up might have been a noble gesture, but she still has to go to school today. When did she fall asleep? What did she get, an hour of sleep?
"Why can't I just stay home?"
Lena shakes her head, giving Mariana 'the look', "You have to go to school. Staying home isn't going to change anything. Come on," the woman glances back toward Callie's covered form, wishing that circumstances were different. The air in this room is tangibly uneasy. Callie might be asleep now, but Lena is sure an entire night's worth of anxiety is struggling to burst free of these four walls. Let her sleep, blissfully unaware—until the last possible moment. Lena isn't going to wake Callie up until Bill is ringing the doorbell. She already discussed this with Stef. Neither mother could bear to put Callie through the calamity of an unendurable waiting game. Stef didn't even wake Callie up to say goodbye before heading in to work this morning. She'll be at the court house this afternoon.
Lena mimes for Mariana to get a move on and slips quietly out of the room, safe in the knowledge that she and Stef had her get her school things together last night and store them in the living room.
Fine. But Mariana doesn't get up right away. Is it her imagination, or were Callie's eyes just open?
Stumbling around in the dark for the clothes she set out the night before doesn't help Mariana's suddenly queasy stomach. She feels like she did the night she was forced to tell her Moms that Jesus wasn't answering his phone…and that he was at Ana's house. Maybe it came from trying to imagine what Callie would be feeling in a few hours, or maybe it was totally selfish and she was just afraid of losing her new 'sister'. Mariana has no clue what to expect at the end of the day—no matter what her Moms have been saying. So, she says the same exact thing, quietly before she sneaks out, on the off chance that Callie really is awake, "See you tonight."
Callie hates dreaming. There was a period where dreams were her escape, now…they're haunted, not from time to time, but every night. Not with obvious horrors either, but with metaphorical ones that are even harder to escape. She can't help waking up bitter, as betrayed by her subconscious as she has been by the foster system. What she didn't dream was Lena and Mariana this morning. As soon as her eyes open and stay open, Callie is able to realize that much at least.
Automatically, her slumbering body boots up, and into overdrive. Callie's throat swallows, scratchy and weak. This is it. Today is judgment day. A massive net of anxiety traps the girl beneath her blankets and Callie fights the urge to scream. Or run. Or anything but lie here, waiting. Waiting is too much to ask.
But there's a reason Callie is suddenly awake and terrified.
Lena is trying to be quiet. She doesn't want to startle Callie unexpectedly. She wants the girl to see someone familiar when she wakes. Lena doesn't want to scare her.
It's too late.
"Is he here?"
Lena's the one who jumps in the dark, sighing and searching for the light switch instead, "He's downstairs."
Callie makes no move to get up as the lights flicker on, and Lena sits on the edge of her bed. The girl looks dazed under Lena's scrutiny. Callie eyes Mariana's empty bed, putting the pieces together. School. The others are at school. They didn't wake her up. No one came in to say goodbye. Not even Jude.
"We didn't want to wake you," Lena is quick to explain their thinking, hoping to head Callie off, "We thought the waiting would be worse. Jude says he loves you and he'll see you tonight. They're not taking you away from us today, Callie."
How do you know? But Callie doesn't ask. She disentangles her legs from the blankets to sit up, clearing her throat. She should get ready.
Lena's hand on Callie's rising shoulder stops her headlong dash into oblivion with perfect timing. Callie can't imagine doing this. Can't imagine going through the motions to get ready, can't believe that Jude left without waking her up. She needed to see him this morning. Callie needs her brother.
"Take a deep breath." Lena won't let go.
Callie discreetly does as she's told. Hiding the panic makes her feel a little more in control. She may not really have a handle on it, but Callie can function. She always does.
"Ok, look at me. Callie?"
Callie does her best, her head swimming in a swamp of uncertainty.
Lena's heart is breaking. There is no way to fully express…everything. Lena wishes she could take all the fear away, and the pain, and the doubt. She's trying, but Lena knows that nothing she does can make it all disappear. Nothing she says can make this 100% better.
The desperate look in Callie's eyes is the same one that Lena remembers, standing outside of Juvie—the one that she couldn't ignore, or turn away from. This time is no different.
Lena pulls Callie into a tight hug, anticipating Callie's discomfort, but the girl doesn't brush Lena off.
"Do you want me to stay with you, or wait downstairs?"
Callie closes her eyes, temporarily stabilized by Lena's body, but unable to hug the woman back. Callie feels like a puppet waiting for the master to pull her strings, "What about Bill?"
"He's fine. Don't worry about him."
Callie puts off answering as if it will prolong the embrace and the inevitable.
"Callie?" Lena pulls back to see Callie's face.
Callie's mouth opens…and a disgusted rush of air, more like a grunt than a sigh, escapes. She's so frustrated. She wants to say more than 'stay'. She wants to beg. Don't let me go. Don't let me walk out that door. I might not walk back in.
"I know it's hard," Lena absently brushes the fringe of Callie's short hair, absorbed in the painful moment, "but you have to get ready."
Callie stands, on autopilot—the strings have finally been pulled, "Stay?"
Lena folds her hands together on her lap, demonstrating her intent. She'll be right here.
Right. Callie looks around, temporarily lost, before she remembers. She has a dresser here and clean clothes inside of it. Callie doesn't even look at what she grabs before she's slipping into the bathroom that she and Mariana share with the boys. The brief hope that Lena will say something if she looks ridiculous, before leaving the room, makes Callie lean heavily over the sink, glaring up at herself in the mirror.
Look at you.
Callie's chin quivers.
Callie's tired of this. All of it. She's never given too much thought to philosophy, but the question rises with the steam as she turns on the faucet to wet her toothbrush. She isn't paying attention. Hot water isn't what she wanted.
Is it ever too late? Can a person be too far gone?
If only she could buy into the optimists' approach. It's never too late. But Callie knows better. There are times when a person is too far gone. When they lose hope, when they have no desire for another chance.
Is that her?
Is it that Callie can't believe, or that she doesn't want it? Would it be so bad if she didn't? Callie could give up everything, all say in her life, and let it go. All of it. It would be easier. She could blame the system as her life spiraled out of control, home after home—juvenile detention and the usual side effects that go along with it. No one has to know that she had a chance to escape, a chance that she didn't take.
"Shit." Callie burns herself, rinsing her mouth, and stands there panting, with both hands planted on the counter, arms shaking.
Lena is in the other room. If she weren't, God knows how much worse this would be. Callie's eyes cast about as she drags herself away from the mirror to pull on her pants.
Bill is downstairs. Right now, he doesn't mean a thing to Callie. The real crisis is right here. Callie needs to find the strength, and she needs it yesterday.
After everything she's gone through, how hard she's worked and everything she's faced…she can't let it come to nothing. That's where this fear is really coming from. It might come to nothing anyway. That realization is enough to trigger Callie's unfortunate tendency toward self-sabotage.
The girl sways, fully dressed and ready to go. Her hand darts out to grab the sink. She can't do this.
"Callie?" Her name and a soft knock on the door breaks Callie. She really can't do this.
"Are you dressed?" Lena doesn't wait long for an answer before opening the door.
Callie isn't wearing that face. The one that the girl hates so much. The one that no one can see through.
"Lena…" Callie clings to the counter top, not trusting herself to let go.
Callie can't move, she doesn't dare. Lena goes to her.
Callie is still learning how to do this—how to accept this, but she switches her grip on the counter to her foster mother, looking for an answer—looking for that chance that she wasn't sure she wanted.
There's nothing to say. Lena doesn't have the right words. She suspects that the right words don't exist. Trying to make it better is a losing battle. All she can offer Callie is herself. She's right here.
Callie remembers that Lena understands, Lena cares…and that's more than most.
"I'm not sure I can do this."
Lena rests her chin on top of Callie's head, "Do what?"
"I don't want to mess this up."
"Callie…" Lena feels the girl trembling against her body, "You can't mess up. Just be honest with Bill, the doctor, with the judge, with us…and with yourself." Lena holds her tighter, "You belong here. With us. No one can mess that up."
"Callie…" Bill's voice peters out as the girl takes the last step into the foyer. Lena stands on the stairs behind her, a hand on her shoulder.
The social worker can see an obvious change in Callie's behavior. In the past, she never would have allowed herself to be so familiar with a foster parent. As beaten as she looks, Bill can see some semblance of life in the girl that he never noticed before.
"It's good to see you safe and sound." He means it.
"Thanks." Callie fidgets uncomfortably before moving for her coat, relieved to have a task—to know the next step.
"Are you all ready? I'm guessing Lena told you what's on the roster for today? We'll see the doctor first, and then you have an evaluation with the therapist. Stef and Lena will join us at the court house later today."
Callie missed that last part somehow, and now she looks surprised. She isn't sure how to feel about it. Callie knows that there's really nothing Stef or Lena can do in the long run—but knowing that they'll be there…it makes her feel better. Just a little.
"Yeah," Callie takes one last look at Lena, biting the inside of her cheek to keep from screaming, "I'm ready."
"Ok…" The judge doesn't even pretend to know who he's talking too as he pulls his wire rimmed glasses down so he can peer over the top at the open file in his hands, "Miss Jacobs…ah, yes…I remember. Your brother was in here not long ago."
Something in the Judge's tone makes Callie want to smack him.
"An intriguing boy, I'll say that."
Punch. Callie wants to punch him. She has no doubt he's referring to Jude's nail polish fixation.
But Callie controls her temper and says nothing, resolutely silent as the Judge continues to read her file. If she could rip it out of his hands and force him to read her instead, Callie would. But the file has always spoken for her. It's always told lies.
She stands alone, in chambers, forced into a hastily arranged pseudo-hearing by Bill who'd pulled just about every string in the book, and called in every favor owed to get this audience today. Callie's social worker believes it best to get this all taken care of as soon as humanly possible. Humanely was the catch that necessitated jet speed.
"Well," Judge Mills lets the folder drop, unconcerned as he turns his judgmental gaze to Callie, "I assume you understand what you've done. Do I need to explain the parole violation to you?"
Callie's mouth dries. No. No he doesn't. Should she make him anyway? So she can defend herself, try and work in mitigating circumstances?
"Do you want to go back to Juvenile Detention Miss Jacobs? Is that it? I can't imagine why else you'd deliberately cross state lines…and then come back. Do you have anything to say?"
She should. Callie should say something. But every reason, every fear, every excuse seems pathetic now. Her entire ordeal, under this man's gaze, seems trivial. Callie can't find her voice.
The judge looks back down at his desk, "No? Your brother certainly had a lot to say on the subject. As do your foster mothers and their children."
Callie's mouth opens. What?
"Yes, I've spoken with all of them Miss Jacobs. The state was forced to investigate the Foster household after you ran away."
All the blood drains from Callie's face. That was her fault. Callie finds her voice, "There's nothing," Callie clears her throat, "Nothing's wrong with the Foster's. I didn't leave because of them. They're the reason I came back."
"Ah." The judge seems particularly self-satisfied, as though he's manipulated Callie into speaking, "Is that so?"
Callie backpedals, trying to think. Did she say something wrong? Should she have said something else?
"Not…completely. No. I guess not." Callie feels a bead of sweat drip down her temple. She wants to sit, badly, but she took the high road when she walked through those doors, ignoring the offered armchair in favor of standing. In favor of some semblance of control.
The judge looks at the girl, glasses back in their rightful position, and nonchalantly waves his hand, offering the chair again, "Why don't you sit."
"That's not a request, Miss Jacobs."
Briefly grateful, Callie sinks into the chair, slowly, mindful of her healing ribs.
"Continue." Judge Mills waves his hand again, like a king, expecting his jester to perform. A flare of temper colors Callie's cheeks, or is it embarrassment?
"I wasn't ready."
"Ready for what?"
"They wanted to adopt us."
"Us, being you and your brother?"
Callie nods. He knows all of this. Why is he making her spell it out?
The judge steeples his fingers, leaning back in his chair, completely at ease and at home. This is his domain. Callie envies him that comfortable feeling.
"And why would that be a problem?"
"It wasn't…a problem." Callie shifts in her seat, "I just…I didn't know how to be part of a family again. I never thought there was a chance for me. I thought…I would do something stupid, something that would mess things up for Jude."
"For your brother? Not yourself?"
Callie hesitates again before nodding in the affirmative.
"Naturally, you opt for the pre-emptive measure—and break parole instead."
Callie feels like she's on the stand being sentenced to life in prison.
As for the Judge, he seems to be enjoying himself.
"What?" Callie doesn't understand.
"This is your chance Miss Jacobs, to tell me what your file can't."
Callie's eyebrow shoots up. She's gone from wanting to punch this guy, to hating him, to envying him…to what—thinking maybe she's misunderstood his intent?
"I was upset…because of how the trial turned out."
"The trial…over your alleged rape?"
Callie says nothing.
Judge Mills picks Callie's file up, deftly tossing it into a wire mail tray marked 'outgoing'.
Outgoing? He didn't do anything with it. Callie's shoulder's hunch with the blow. He already made his decision then, before he even talked to her.
"Do you want to know what I think Miss Jacobs?"
No. Callie feels her face freezing into its traditional mask, but she isn't sure how long she can keep it that way this time.
"I think this is a waste of my time. I've met your brother. Spent a bit of time with him actually, and whatever you've done—had to do—you've done right by that boy at great risk, and cost to yourself. I think you've spent so much time in the system, being treated like a burden, and being told that you don't matter, that you've come to believe it yourself."
Callie isn't sure of what she's hearing. What is he getting at?
"I think you have a brother who loves you so much, he was willing to do the same thing—to give up everything for you. You have a brother who was smart enough to realize that he might just have to do the one thing you couldn't—be happy. Naive enough to hope, that if he could do it, maybe you could too. I don't know about you Miss Jacobs," Callie watches Judge Mill's hands as they come to rest over his large stomach, "But I don't have the heart to prove that little boy wrong."
What? Callie wants to articulate, she really does, but she can't.
"I'm adding 9 months to your parole, and assigning a court appointed therapist. You will go, you will work hard with said therapist, twice a week—or more if necessary. And you will not—listen carefully Miss Jacobs—you will not cross state lines for the next year. For that matter, you will not leave San Diego without express permission from your parole officer. I have already ok'd the Foster's adoption application referencing your brother. I have one with your name on it in my drawer here." The judge points to his top drawer, which Callie willingly switches her attention to, dazed.
"It will sit there, until your parole ends." The proclamation falls live a gavel.
"Are you listening?"
Callie quickly nods and chokes out a 'yes'.
"At which time, I will review it again—meet with you and the Fosters separately. If both parties are still in favor…you will officially become their problem. Got it?"
Callie nods again. Her entire body is tingling. She's not sure she can stand. Every drip of anxiety seems to be leaking out of her with every word.
"Good. You can go now."
Callie's shaky legs are slow in pushing her upright. She's seeing spots as she moves towards the door—or at least where she thinks it is.
"Oh and Miss Jacobs—don't think you're getting away with anything here. If I find out about any incident, between now and then, involving your foster brother—I won't be so forgiving. So steer clear until it's out of my hands. Understand me?"
The floor drops out from under Callie. Someone told him about Brandon. This judge is giving her more than a chance. He's saving her life.
"Thank you." It's all she can manage before she's through that door and standing dazed, in the hall.
From a distance, amongst the crowd, Callie spies Stef and Lena agitatedly standing together, staring down the wall, waiting…for her.
Callie takes a second to watch them. She could get used to this. Callie can get used to them being there—for her.
But she can't stand here forever. Stef's stance shifts and her eyes wander—she catches sight of Callie before the girl is done taking it all in.
Stef and Lena are there in a flash, Stef still in her uniform with Lena wringing her hands.
"Well?" Stef grabs Callie's shoulders, trying not to shake her as she searches the girl's face for an answer.
Bill is nowhere in sight.
Lena's knuckles have turned white. Her grip on Stef's arm must be painful, but the blonde hardly notices.
"Callie?" Lena is praying for a miraculous recovery of speech. They need to hear it from Callie.
"A year of probation…and…" Callie isn't sure she should say it.
"And what? What is it?" Stef is extremely relieved that the parole violation could be dealt with in four words.
Callie is quiet, trying to pick her words carefully, "He says once I'm off it, he'll revisit the adoption application?"
Callie isn't sure who's hugging who, and it doesn't matter. It's over. It's all over. She's home.
But part of her wants to know, and she pulls away from her foster mothers, just for a second, "Did...did someone tell him about Brandon? He said something at the end…"
Callie can tell by her mothers' eyes that they know exactly what she's talking about.
Stef grimaces, "I did. I couldn't see punishing the two of you for being part of our family. I needed another out…and Judge Mills gave me one. He gave us one." Stef's grimace turns into a grin.
Callie returns it with everything she's got. She's never felt so right, so hopeful. She thought she'd forgotten hope, maybe she'd never find it. Now she knows what she's been missing, and Callie doesn't intend to let it go again.
Lena is forcing her phone into Callie's unsuspecting hand, so the girl lifts it to her ear, "Hello?"
"Well?!" Jude sounds more excited than she does.
Callie breaks down, half laughing, half crying with Stef and Lena on either side, each of them holding her up.
"It's ok! It's all ok. Everything's fine!"
Jude whispers, presumably to the rest of the family and suddenly his voice is gone, replaced by Brandon's, "We love you Callie."
And Callie believes it.
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