Define Selfish

Chapter 4

The Fosters

San Diego, CA

Day 16

Who knew something so simple could be so frustrating?

Lena Adams-Foster eyes the glass window of the office door from her desk, pen in hand, hair piled on top of her head, with a look of authoritative disappointment: she's taken the offense personally. Her sleeves are rolled up already—Lena drops the pen and pushes them higher anyway. If she could alter the frosted name on the glass window with some elbow grease it would be done already. Her marriage to Stef has gone largely unnoted day to day, outside of the home. All she wants is to add six letters to her name on the door—Lena touches the name plaque on her desk with the tip of her fingers and smiles slightly before shaking her head; forcing herself to forgo a pointless vendetta with an inanimate glass sheet. The name plaque is a consolation prize, picked out by her wife and tactfully snuck into the office by Jesus as a surprise: Lena Adams-Foster.

Some things are right with the world.

Still, Lena needs a break. She can't concentrate on the paperwork piled on her desk. Normally the assistant vice principal is on the ball—as usual, normal has gone out the window. Lena taps the pen absently against her desk top, looking out of the proverbial open window and over the front lawn of Anchor Beach Community Charter School. Her school.

It's a big window. Callie's window is closing.

Lena closes her eyes and looks down at the contract on her desk. The print seems smaller than it did a few minutes ago. It also appeared to be moving.

There's a ticking clock distracting her, and it isn't the one on the wall over Lena's shoulder. She considers going down to the seventh grade wing to check on Jude but thinks better of it. Pulling the boy out of class won't help him, but Lena's hand reaches for the phone on her desk anyway. It's to her ear before common sense trickles back in and she makes a face at her own ridiculous lapse.

"Ok, get a grip…" She's taken to talking to herself, or talking herself down, whichever is more accurate.

The contract isn't helping; Lena decides that she deserves a break, regardless of the fact that she has a new family coming in for 'the tour' in an hour. She pulls her door open, moving slow and deliberately in an attempt to relax—as an afterthought Lena reaches up to pull the shade over the window down. No need to showcase how little she's getting done, and maybe the shade will prevent her from boring holes through the titled glass when she returns to work. She doesn't hear her cell phone vibrating in the drawer of the desk. She'll be back in a few; a walk is what she needs for now.

This is Lena's empire—this is what she does every day, all day, no one knows this building or its workings better than she does. It feels natural to walk the halls, confiscate a skateboard here, snag a few head phones there, it doesn't require anything more taxing than a little confidence. She looks forward to the normalcy.

"Ms. Adams!"

Almost. Lena is so close to the open door of the administration offices, so close to the exit. She sends her eyes skyward in an attempt to ward off the slithering annoyance that crawls down her arms at the sound of her favorite misnomer.

"There's a call for you, should I send it to your office?"

Lena's hand rests on the receptionist's desk, forcing her mind to focus on the moment, "What is it about?"

The young woman has her hands full with a dozen different things as she intermittently attempts to answer Lena's question, "Um…" One finger asks Lena to hold on a minute.

Really?

Lena will repeat herself once, "Whose calling?"

"Ok, sorry. A previous student—he's calling about a problem with his transcript."

Fine, fine, Lena shrugs it off and resigns herself to being chained to the office until her tour, "Put it through."

Her office phone is already on its second ring as Lena strides behind her desk and halfheartedly reaches over to pick up the receiver before sitting down, "Lena…Adams."

The hesitation says it all. She's been Lena Adams for as long as she can remember—she's been Lena Adams for as long as this school can remember. Professionally, she is and will probably always be known as Lena Adams. There's really no smooth way to make the transition. Lena is going to have to make some concessions for the sake of consistency.

Out of habit, her free hand pulls open the desk drawer in search of her cell phone. Lena's face begins to contort at the sound of the caller's voice and blinking indicator on her phone.

One missed call.

"Wyatt?" Lena is completely focused now, fingers curled around the cord connecting to her desk phone. He called her cell phone first. Of course, it's the only personal number he has—she's the one who contacted him the morning Callie was discovered missing.

"Is she ok?" Lena's body rises, ready to get in the car, but Wyatt doesn't have the answers she's looking for. Of course Callie said she's ok but she'd never tell Wyatt where she is.

Rapid disappointment slows Lena's heartbeat. She has to remind herself to breathe. And to sit. There's nowhere to rush off to.

"That's all she said?" Lena's eyes close and shaking fingers pinch the bridge of her nose, "Thank you, Wyatt." Lena's palm flattens against the top of her desk and her eyes are drawn back to the glass of her closed office door. She can't see it behind the drawn shade.

"No, this is very important—Wyatt? Wyatt, you did the right thing. Thank you." Lena does everything in her power to make her voice portray true sentiment. She means it, she really does—even if she isn't sure this will lead to what she hopes…to what they all hope.

The phone feels heavier than an anvil as Lena sets it back in its cradle, and picks it up again to call the desk, "I need Mariana Foster in my office, now please."

Call number two isn't going to be so short and it won't be sweet. Lena dials Stef's cell number automatically, "…Wyatt called. He's spoken to Callie."


The Fosters

San Diego, CA

Day 22

Mariana is frozen. If the buzzing cell phone in her hand knows whose calling it isn't telling, which means it could be Lexi. It could be some stupid solicitor, maybe it's even Ana. Mariana hasn't heard from Lexi in weeks now and Ana is probably too scared of Lena and Stef to ever call again.

It could be Callie.

She knows what she's supposed to do if it is.

Mariana jumps out of bed, mouth in a tight line and carefully closes the door to the room so the click of the mechanism is muted. She stands in the middle of the room she shared with Callie, staring at the empty bed in the corner like a deer in headlights. Her heart beats wildly, half excited, half terrified by what she's doing—by what she thinks she's deciding. Even with that decision made, Mariana doesn't know if she's emotionally capable of going against her Moms on this. She's already messed up so much…and she'll be damned if that isn't why Callie picked her to call.

Yes or no? Right now.

A shaky finger swipes across the surface of Mariana's phone and she lifts the phone to her ear, not knowing what she's going to say, but feeling like she can't stay here in this room while she tries to figure it out. A few frantic steps carry her into the bathroom she shares with Jesus and Jude. She hears breathing on the other end of the line, and a lot of white noise as she reflexively checks the opposite door to her brothers' room to make sure it's closed.

It's Callie. It has to be.

Mariana sinks wordlessly to the bathroom floor, there are already tears of traumatic frustration pouring down her cheeks. What is she doing?

"Hello?" Mariana whispers, because she made the choice and she's trapped by it now. She's not going to go to the Moms. She needs to know why Callie is doing this—and why she picked her, of all people, to call. Someone has to actually talk to Callie and if she gives the phone up to her Moms, Mariana is pretty sure Callie will hang up.

"Hello?" Repetition speaks of Mariana's frantic impatience. This can't be easy for Callie either, but the young girl isn't thinking about that.

"Mariana?" Callie's voice sounds surprised.

Who did she think she was going to get?

"Um, it's Callie…"

Mariana doesn't move. She doesn't blink. Her lips are quivering, trying not to cry. She doesn't mean to say what she says, she doesn't mean to sound so nasty, "What do you want?"

Why does she always do exactly what she shouldn't?

There's a long digestive silence before the voice on the other end gets it together. It's blunt, trademark Callie, "I need your help."

Her help? Mariana feels like whining. Callie is putting her in a really tough position.

"Where are you? You have to come home, right now." Mariana settles for anger, "What were you thinking? How could you do this to us?"

And why—why is Callie calling Mariana now?

In typical Callie fashion, Mariana's ex-sister skips over the questions and goes straight for the heart, "I need you to talk to Jude for me."

"What?" Mariana is having trouble following. Her chest aches with the effort to keep from sobbing. Every second that passes is a terrible reminder of the promise that she's breaking right now and every word that Callie says or doesn't say is making Mariana question—is she doing more harm than good? Are the Moms right? Hiding like this doesn't feel right; lying again feels so much worse.

Standing up is difficult, but it isn't too late. It can't be.

"…you're his sister now. I need you to tell him that I'm ok and that I will figure this out. Mariana?"

Mariana barely hears Callie as she stumbles through the dark and into the hall toward her Moms' room.

"Why are you asking me?" The girl hisses quietly, without thinking as she slips quietly into Stef and Lena's room. She doesn't knock.

Silence.

Mariana is shaking again, but she pins the phone to her ear with her shoulder on one side of the bed. Even if her brain isn't working up to full speed, she thinks better of waking Stef up this way: Mariana covers Lena's mouth and shakes her awake, quickly holding a finger to her lips when Lena's eyes open wide.

It only takes a second for her Mom to understand. Lena gestures for Mariana to go back out into the hall, and turns to wake Stef.

Mariana stands in the hall, one arm around her ribs; shoulders hunched, trying to disappear. She forgot she'd asked a question.

"…I guess…because you can't forgive yourself either. We're not that different you know—like you kept telling me." She sounds defensive. Callie doesn’t like admitting to the sudden discovery, not on the phone.

Mariana recognizes it. Her mouth won't close, the tears won't stop but she doesn't get to come up with a reply, because the phone is being wrested from her hand by Lena.

"Callie? Don't hang up."

Lena nods to Stef and heads down the stairs, hand reluctantly leaving Mariana's shoulder. Stef stays for a minute, appraising the look on their daughter's face. She isn't sure what to say to make this better, and she can't right now, she needs to be with Lena; Stef has to help deal with Callie.

"It'll be ok Love." Stef is about to promise but thinks better of it. Mariana recognizes the hesitation and the reality in it. All she can do is try to get a handle on her emotions for her Moms' sake.

"I'm fine, go ahead."

"Go back to bed, baby; we'll talk to you as soon as we're done." Stef turns Mariana's shoulders toward her bedroom and jogs down the stairs but Mariana wipes her cheeks clean before sneaking onto the steps and settling down to eavesdrop.

"Callie, it's Lena—Stef's here too, I'm putting you on speaker phone. Please do not hang up." Lena spies Stef at the foot of the stairs and sets Mariana's cell phone in the center of the dining room table as her wife slows her approach and nods.

The sound of rattling tracks and a passing train crackles from the speaker.

Together, they wait. There is nothing they can do to force Callie's response but the silence is torturous.

Stef's face is drawn as she leans forward in her chair, biting the bullet. Lena's never noticed her partner looking so old. The monotone of Stef's voice is a clear indicator of exhaustion as is the card that she chooses to play, "Callie, we know you're in NYC. Tell us where, Love. We'll come get you."

"How do you…" Surprise is better than nothing. Stef and Lena look at each other, relieved by the sound of Callie's voice.

Lena leans over the table, still standing, "Callie, we need you to come home."

"My time is running out."

Panic slams into the Moms like a falling piano and Stef's face goes white. Lena is at a loss for words.

"That is not true love, don't even—"

Callie interrupts Stef's monologue before it can gather any steam, "I mean my quarters. The call is going to end. I'm really sorry for everything. Tell Jude I love him and that I'm going to figure this out, ok?"

Lena's eyes close in exacerbated relief despite the obvious set back. Words aren't as much of a challenge anymore, "This is not ok, Callie. You need to understand what's happening—but if you won't talk, I want you to listen…" A second to respond is all Lena affords. If Callie's telling the truth about the call ending then Lena has something to say and she intends to say it.

"We know about Brandon—and it is a problem—but we're a family now, Callie. You don't have to figure this out on your own. We are still on your side."

Stef reaches for Lena's hand and adds her own plea, "We will never stop fighting for you Callie Jacobs…we'll keep looking…"

Lena squeezes Stef's fingers, she isn't sure she should say what she feels the need to, "We need you to fight for yourself, too. We're fighting with everything we have—but without you on our side, we will lose."

"Callie?"

"…tell us where you are, Love…"

The sound of a dial tone is the only answer.

"Come on…" Lena's elbows collapse on the table and she shakes her head, face in her hands. For a moment, Stef is quiet. Just long enough to get worked up. When she stands, Lena forces her eyes to refocus.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm going to call the Captain, see if she can track down the Provider," Stef reaches for Mariana's phone but Lena beats her to it.

"And what if she can? It's a pay phone Stef, Callie won't be there waiting for us. We know she's in NY—it's a big city."

"What are you saying, Lena?" The strain in Stef's face and voice isn't effective. Lena disregards the warning signs this time. If she and Stef are going to fight, they're going to fight and it'll likely be for the best.

"I'm saying that this is pointless." Lena holds Mariana's phone but she's forgotten it's in her hand. All she's aware of is the storm marching across Stef's face.

"What are you talking about? We know where she is. I've never been more hopeful." Stef heads toward the buried landline by the counter and roots around for the cordless phone. Her body remains stiff and unwelcoming but she doesn't dial. Not yet.

"So call the Captain, find out if Callie used the same phone as last time—if it isn't…" Lena doesn't have to say it. They're looking for a needle in a haystack. "If she doesn't want to come, dragging her back will only end with her running away again. We can't watch her 24/7."

Yes they can. Stef is determined, "So you're suggesting that we allow a 16 year old girl to choose the street life? Do you know what that means for her, Lena?" Fear of all the things that Callie might do, and of what might be done to her, is making Stef wild. "Do you know what she'll have to do to survive?" The phone in her hand swings much like the knife Lena once waved around in mid battle; it's just as frightening.

Lena's jaw grinds in response to the invisible slap in the face. Knowing what could happen kills her. Knowing what will happen if they force Callie to come home is just as damaging. They can't win.

Neither can Callie.

Stef reads the lines in her wife's face. She knows what she's said and she's sorry for it. This is the moment that they always reach, where understanding rises above personal vendettas. It's why she and Lena can fight and still know every second that this isn't the end all; that in the end, there will still be love.

It's something that Callie doesn't understand—it's something that Stef and Lena want to teach her.

Stefanie Foster's face goes blank. The death grip she has on the phone in her hand is the only thing keeping her from screaming, "I can't do this right now, Lena."

Lena looks away. She understands Stef's need for action, to keep from giving up, but Lena's always had her own way of fighting battles and thus far, she and Stef have managed to complement each other, "I know. Call your Captain in the morning, Babe."

Struck by Lena's reality check, Stef looks for the clock. She has no idea what time it is: 12am. Breathing deeply through her nose, Stef purses her lips and nods in agreement before slowly uncurling her fingers from the phone, letting it rock on the table top, "Fine."

Lena watches it for a moment before finally looking down at the cell in her hand and speaking, "We have to talk to Mariana."

Stef's gaze travels past her partner and her shoulder dips in exasperated discontent…mixed with aching dread, "Yes, we do."

Mariana is sitting on the steps, no longer trying to hide, squished into the wall with Jude under one arm and Jesus and Brandon sitting on the steps behind them. Not one of them looks bleary eyed or tired.

Stef and Lena must have been much louder than they'd thought.

"Was that Callie?" It's the longest sentence Jude has used in days. He doesn't sound hopeful or mad. The boy sounds as blank as Stef looks.

Lena turns to greet the same view as Stef and tugs at her robe for lack of anything else to do with her hands. Her head dips, bowed by the weight of what they have to discuss.

"Yes," Stef is very deliberate, "She's all right." It takes a second for the woman to wrap her mind around what she needs to do. The phone gets dropped back into its cradle, and she passes by Lena to reach the foot of the stairs, using both of her arms to herd the children back to their feet, "We'll talk about it in the morning. Everyone back to bed; let's go." Neither she nor Lena has the stamina to work this through tonight and one of the perks of being a parent happens to be not having to explain yourself…at least, not right away.

Mariana opens her mouth to protest but just leans further into the wall, letting go of Jude as her Mom's arm passes overhead, sweeping the boys into a convenient corral and forcing them up the stairs. She can't make out Stef's quiet whisper to Jesus but she's sure her Mom is telling him to keep close to Jude. Brandon's voice is even less audible. All Mariana is capable of is staring at her fingers. By the time she realizes that Lena is standing in front of her, she's forgotten how to talk.

"Mariana…" Lena's voice is as gentle as can be given the hour and the situation.

The girl retreats further into the wall when Stef plops down on the step beside her. Stef shoots a frown at Lena and reaches an arm around their daughter, "Hey, hey, what's the matter?" But Mariana doesn't relax, she isn't receptive and she doesn't appreciate Stef's attempt to placate her.

The two women communicate silently, wondering what else is going on that they can't see. It hurts knowing that there's something, but not knowing what that something is.

"Mariana, remember what we said about coming to us?"

Lena's eyebrows express her spelled out request, but when Mariana finally looks at her all she has to say is, "Can I have my phone back now? She's not gonna call me again." The attitude is atrocious.

Stef doesn't believe it and Lena's face says that she doesn't either, "This's about your phone—really?" Stef won't retract her arm—she's not ok with letting Mariana stew, but she does lean back to see her daughter better.

Mariana refuses to cry; the attitude is all she has to hide it. Callie is right. She and Mariana are an awful lot alike. It terrifies Mariana to realize and to wonder what would have become of her if not for Stef and Lena. Jesus has always taken care of her, but he's adjusted better than Mariana. He was willing to take the blame for what she did because she was so afraid the Moms would hate her. He wasn't scared—not like that. Will Mariana ever stop being so afraid of the life that she's been given? She might act like she takes it for granted, but Mariana never stops worrying that it'll be yanked right out from under her…just like Callie. That someday she'll mess up so bad…

She clears her throat, "You're not really gonna leave her out there right? You're gonna try and find her?"

Stef opens her mouth and closes it again. If she had her own way, she'd be in NYC tomorrow afternoon, but she leaves it up to Lena.

Lena captures Mariana's hands and waits for the girl to look at her before she acquiesces, "Of course we are."

She leaves out the part about how there's only so much they can do if Callie doesn't want to be found.

Mariana doesn't move, but inside she's squirming, she feels bad because she knows what she heard and she heard everything. She knows how Lena feels and she knows what Stef wants…it feels like her question pits them against each other, but the next one is even more underhanded.

"Why did she pick me?" Mariana tries to pretend it doesn't matter to her as much as it does, but she wouldn't have asked if it didn't. The Moms have no idea what Callie said though and part of Mariana is afraid that Callie was lying—that she really asked Wyatt to get Mariana's number because she thought Mariana was the one who would lie and sneak behind her Moms' backs. Mariana is wondering if that's the truth anyway, whether Callie thought of it or not. Mariana almost did go behind their backs again. What she really needs to know is if the Moms are thinking it too.

Stef pulls a strand of hair away from Mariana's face, "The two of you got pretty close, Love. I think Callie is missing all of us. She doesn't feel like she can talk to me or Lena and Brandon is probably not the first person on her list…"

Lena opens her mouth to add but all three are pretty sure that Jesus would have immediately gone to Lena or Stef if Callie called. No one wants to say so.

They are thinking it. Fine. Mariana steps into the mess on purpose then, "I almost didn't wake you up."

Stef's fingers in Mariana's hair still and Lena looks down at the floor before tactfully replying, "But you did."

Mariana shifts uncomfortably. They don't know how close she came to keeping Callie's call to herself. Stef pulls her into a quick hug and talks over her head, "We let you hold onto your phone until Callie called because we trust you to do the right thing—and you did."

Mariana isn't a bad kid. She's made some bad choices, but so have Stef and Lena. Who hasn't?

"Did I?" Mariana can't be sure and that's the worst part.


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