It's time to face reality: Callie Jacobs has bugs.
The runaway doesn't visibly rebel against the inner thought—it's pretty obvious to her and everyone else who walks past tonight, giving the sprawling girl a wide berth. She's stuck to 'Crack Avenue's' sidewalk like an old piece of gum, one leg nonchalantly extended, the other up with an arm draped over.
Reality check number two: Callie looks like a 15 year old boy with her crappy crop cut, baggy jeans and huge black sweatshirt. All in her favor. A strung out, male druggie on the street is a safer front than a female runaway looking to prostitute. Callie's eyes follow the few determined hookers still working their shifts, and the blatantly obvious drug dealers casing the street with their runners. As far as they're concerned, she's no threat and not worth bothering with—for all they know, she's contagious.
The urge to scratch her itchy scalp goes unfulfilled. Right now, right here, Callie's mantra is 'don't move'. She can work the dark; watching-eyes angle into a sort of ominous shroud that warns any of her fellow transients away. If she starts fidgeting, all her hard work will go out the window.
She has no money left, but she did manage to swipe an unattended backpack from the Subway. She has a change of clothes and a blanket rolled up inside, shoved behind her back, against the wall she's holding up. Spending the money from the wallet that she'd found inside hadn't gotten her much more than a few, guilty; sleepless nights. Callie didn't come here to sleep. Callie picked this spot to stay awake.
There's too much energy to go around tonight; right now, she feels like Jesus must when he goes without his pills. Staying still is the hardest thing in the world—which is why Callie chooses to do it.
For four minutes—one quarter's worth of time—Callie was forced to remember that they are real: the Fosters are real. It should be easy to forget, sitting where she's sitting, seeing what she sees. Nothing about this life should remind her of them.
Doesn't matter. They know where she is and that's enough to make her 'almost-family' feel a thousand miles closer. Callie knows that they know, and that combination is lethal. It connects her to them in a way that she's been trying to avoid. There's no big fear that they'll find her, vermin are all but impossible to completely flush out and there's plenty of places to hide. Callie is starving, grossly dirty and completely disillusioned with her 'selfless' act of abandonment because that's exactly what she's done. She's abandoned her brother.
But she still knows how to survive. That has to be worth something.
Selfishness aside, Callie can't get one phone call—one stupid, senseless phone call—off repeat. Her ears are full of Mariana, drug dealers, prostitutes, beeping car horns and Stef and Lena. It's a noxious combination that's enough to mess with anyone's head.
Headlights sweep passed and a second car stops, forcing Callie to squint into the light. Every muscle in her body is taught, ready for the infamous fight or flight response to set in but Callie doesn't move. She plays it cool, even once she's able to make out a pair of men's sneakers by her feet.
Silence makes her edgy.
Mariana's nasty inquiry bounces off the back of Callie's skull, "What do you want?" The girl's throat is dry but she tries to swallow anyway and almost gags. Right now, she wants to go home.
"Need some money, kid?"
The whole world teeters. Callie clumsily gets to her feet, trying to see above the beam, tugging her hood up along the way. She doesn't need the backpack bad enough to risk bending down to get it. No way is she turning her back on this guy.
Instead, she borrows a page from Mariana's book, "What do you want?"
"Need you to make a drop. $25 now, $50 after. You've got 30 seconds to decide."
Drugs. Callie's face freezes into an unreadable mask. She needs money. But doing this doesn't seem much different than selling herself. Moral qualms aside, if she wants to have any chance at a life—not that she has consciously considered going back—she can't afford to get arrested. This guy asking some random kid to do a drop is suspicious to begin with.
Actually—Callie watches as her arm extends like it has a mind of its own, palm up—her first thought should have been that she can't afford to get arrested because it'll get her sent back. But it wasn't…
Reality check number three: Callie needs to go home. Not just for her brother, not for Mariana, Jesus or the Moms…definitely not for Brandon. Callie needs to go home for Callie.
Callie almost screams, shocked out of her moment of clarity by the feel of rough hands forcing crumpled bills into her palm. Her body jumps back, and the bills roll out of her hand, followed by angry cursing. Her back presses into the wall—not a safe position to be in.
"Um, I don't want your money." Callie swallows the thick paste in her mouth that passes for saliva, "Find someone else." She expects a beating at least, a knife or a gun at worst. When it doesn't come, Callie forces herself to walk away, fast.
Callie Jacobs has no idea where she's going, but as soon as she manages to calm down, she's sure she'll figure it out.
She wants to be at the Fosters'. Right now; no work involved. She wants someone else to do it for her. But even if she manages to find a phone, she'll still be alone for too long before anyone she cares about can get to her. And she doesn't have any money to make that call.
Callie stops, mid street and turns around, not caring about the cars that are locked in traffic on all sides. She changes direction three times before realizing that she's losing her grip. Callie is desperate for Jude. He is her responsibility, he's her life. If he were here right now, Callie would know what to do; she'd make it her business to know.
A safe house. Callie needs someplace to hide, just for the night. She has to calm down because screaming and crying isn't going to do the trick. No matter how big a leap she takes into the deep end, it isn't going to get her anywhere she wants to go. Getting noticed isn't going to bring Stef and Lena raining down on her. Callie has to get it together. She knows, even as a cop gestures to her from the sidewalk, that handing herself over isn't the best answer, not while she's in this state.
"Get out of the road—kid—hey kid!"
Callie does get out of the road, on the opposite side of the street, and slows her fast pace to a crawl.
She thinks she understands what Lena was trying to say now: it's up to Callie. The teen doubles over on the corner and vomits violently into a rain trap.
"We need you to fight for yourself, too. We're fighting with everything we have—but without you on our side, wewilllose."
This is something that Callie has to do for herself. She has to make the decision to go back, not in the moment, not just once—but every second of every day that it takes to get back.
Callie didn't leave because of Brandon. She didn't leave because of Jude. She left because of Callie and everything that 'Callie' entails: all of the messed up shit that she's lived and everything that she's lost. Callie doesn't know how to be part of a family again; she's not sure she knows how to be happy.
It's never been about what she deserves.
It's about what she already knows, and everything that she has left to learn.
Dry heaves force Callie to her knees at the curb and she listens to the sound of running water beneath the grate. It's soothing, in a strange way. Her breath comes easier while the muscle spasms in her empty stomach stop—for the time being—but her eyelids are so heavy that the runaway catches herself swaying, half asleep.
New found desire to fight set aside, Callie forgoes control for the night, incapable of caring about the people around her, or being woken up by a police officer. The girl curls up on the sidewalk and lets her head hit the ground. She's tired. Tomorrow she'll fight.
In the morning, Callie Jacobs will finally find her 'Exit'. She's going to find her way out of this maze and she'll carry everyone she loves along with her. No more leaving anyone behind.
Callie is going home.
San Diego, CA
"Hey," Brandon wanders deliberately into the kitchen, face unreadable. His voice is remarkably forgiving considering how badly his palms are sweating.
"Hey you," Lena shoots a look at her stepson over a bowl of shredded lettuce, not entirely convinced that this visit is as innocent as it looks. Looks can be deceiving—so they've all learned—and habit doesn't lie. Brandon never comes down this early.
"So, uh…where's Mom?" Brandon's hands migrate to his back pockets as he sways on the spot debating whether or not he wants to extend himself to helping with dinner—dinner?
"...and what are you doing?"
"I," Lena throws the last leaf of lettuce into her giant bowl of toss salad and whisks it off to the fridge, "am making a salad to go with dinner tonight."
"Right…" Brandon tries to give his second Mom the benefit of the doubt before he starts digging, "…at five in the morning?"
Lena just looks at him as she shuts the fridge and tries to keep the sleeves of her blazer from falling back over her wrists before she can wash her hands. Brandon knows what today is.
"It's up to you tonight to make sure everyone eats it. I think you guys can manage the pasta."
Brandon nods. He can make certain everyone eats and that the house doesn't get blown up. Maybe he'll throw in a mandatory roll call, just to make sure no one runs away.
"Yeah—sorry, where did you say Mom was?"
Lena turns off the faucet and turns her complete attention to Stef's biological son before giving the kid a break and leaning back to peer out of the window at her wife, "She's taking the garbage out from last night."
Right. Brandon's face shows classic guilt and he fidgets uncomfortably before rubbing the back of his neck and dropping into a chair at the kitchen island, "I should have gotten that."
The dish towel in Lena's fingers gets trapped between her palm and the lip of the counter as she waits, other hand on her hip, "Ok. What's up?" Brandon is always so easy to read.
Better yet, he's usually honest about his feelings. Lena loves him for that—her blood pressure loves him for that right now.
"I'd rather wait for Mom." Brandon's eyes fall on the back door and it takes him a second to realize that his words sounded more ominous than he'd intended. Sure enough, Lena's frozen face looks petrified. Backpedaling is becoming a valuable skill, "I mean, I want to talk to you guys together—is that ok? It's nothing major."
It takes a few seconds for Lena to respond. Brandon can imagine the gears in her head turning.
"Sure. Ok. Yeah, we can wait." Lena tries to act like nothing's odd about her son requesting a parental conference in the early A.M. on a Monday, but the salad is done, the kids' lunches have been made, her argument for today's hearing is solid and unwavering and she's having a hard time concentrating on manufacturing busy work.
Brandon watches and can't help but smile and shake his head, "You can stop pretending to be busy, I'm not going to drop a bomb, I promise."
Lena stops at the stove, back to her son, with an exasperated smile on her face. He's always been a sensitive kid. Usually, she's grateful, but every now and then Lena worries that he notices a little too much. She shrugs and decides to sit—to take a moment and just sit in comfortable silence with one of her children.
Brandon frowns as Lena sits across from him: he's not on the same wave length, "You're ready early aren't you?"
The question takes Lena aback. The kids don't get up early enough to notice the changes in their Moms' routines, but she's saved by the opening of the back door and Stef's sardonic muttering, "If that bag was any heavier…Brandon." Stef has the same look on her face that Lena had a few minutes ago, "What are you doing up, Love?"
"I know you've got that hearing about the adoption today—I wanted to catch you guys before school."
Stef looks at Lena, one eyebrow raised, unconsciously rubbing the palms of her hands against her jeans; trying to work out the lines from the cutting plastic ties she just used to haul an extremely full, 13 gallon trash bag around front, to the street. She sits down next to Lena and focuses on her son, grateful for the gentle pressure of Lena's fingers on her waist beneath the counter where Brandon won't notice.
"Guys, you really need to relax." Brandon is better at convincing his Moms than he is himself.
Stef lets out an obvious breath to humor her son and spreads both hands on the island top, "We're relaxed. Now spill, what could possibly drag you out of bed this early?"
"I've…been thinking. A lot…" This isn't going the way Brandon planned. He's pretty sure he was taught to speak in full sentences as opposed to truncated fragments.
Stef bobs her head forward, "About…?"
Maybe he gets it from his Mom.
Brandon rests his wrists on the counter, both hands open and shakes it off, "I've been thinking a lot since Callie left, and I know that what we did was wrong—"
Stef's back straightens under Lena's hand, but it's a diminutive change, one that only the two Moms are aware of. They came down on Brandon for that—like they'll come down on Callie if she ever rejoins this family, but Brandon is just as adamant now as he was then and he makes sure they know it, "…but only because of our living situation. I mean, I know, that the state expects platonic relationships in the household. I get that. I'm sorry that I screwed it up, but I don't want that to get in the way of Callie's…"
Brandon pauses for a second to gather his suddenly scattered thoughts before he forges on, "…or Jude's chances here. I thought maybe, if the Judge gives you a hard time today because of what happened with me and Callie, that it would make sense for me to…"
This is the hard part. Brandon's been here before and it's going to be severely unpleasant.
"Brandon." Stef's tone is completely indecipherable to her son but he can tell by Lena's concerned face that it doesn't bode well.
He's not about to stop now. This is important.
"Listen, Callie and Jude deserve a home—and I have two." Brandon's original persuasive speech is becoming more of a plea for his Moms to see reason, forget technique, "I can live with Dad. I won't be far away, you guys can see me whenever you want, and Callie and Jude will have a home here—they'll have a family."
Stef's face is stone. She appreciates what her son is trying to do, he has such a big heart, but Stef will not let this separate her family. For the time being, she's incapable of a reply—she's afraid to look at Brandon because she doesn't want him to mistake what he sees in her face for anger at him or even at Callie. It's purely undirected and Stef needs a minute to quell it.
Lena lets go of her partner, giving Stef some needed time and clasps her hands on the island top between her and Brandon, "And then what Brandon? You and Callie carry on a relationship while you're at your father's house?"
This isn't the conversation to be having this morning.
"I don't…" Brandon sits back in his chair, hands falling off the table into his lap: Lena's response stings. He isn't planning on starting a relationship with his potential foster sister but things don't seem to go as planned anymore, do they? Brandon can't promise that nothing will happen, no matter how badly he wants to for Callie and for Jude, which is why he thought that removing himself from the house would even the odds in the eyes of the court. He hasn't considered the eyes of his Moms.
"B," Stef's face is strained but earnest, "This is not a conversation I want to have again."
"Stef…" Lena tries to interject but the tension in her wife's partially turned body tells her this isn't a battle she wants to fight right now.
"You are still a child—a remarkable, loving, sensitive young man—and I know you want to help Callie and Jude but this is not a situation you can fix by yourself or by moving in with your Dad." Stef's gesturing hand trembles on the island top as she tries her damndest to emphasize and make her son understand, "What happened between you and Callie will not happen again unless one, or both of you, is living on your own, completely independent—not under this roof, or your father's."
Lena studies the island top. She knows that Stef is going to regret the harshness of this conversation, but her wife is too emotional right now, over the thought of losing Brandon, to stop her. Maybe it's for the best.
To Brandon, every word that his mother says sounds like a nail thudding into the lid of a coffin: Callie's coffin—or his?
"Ok, maybe we should—" Lena leans back as Stef abruptly stands up, rankled by her wife's placating tone.
"No, Lena," Stef's unequivocal answer is drawn out as she points at her son, "This, this is not going to happen."
It's obvious that Stef has passed her threshold for tolerance. She's fast approaching really angry and the last time that happened, Brandon walked out on her.
Lena mouths the word 'ok' and looks with strained eyes at her stepson. He's doing better than his mother.
Brandon's initial morose reaction is fading. He's mortified. Who thinks that having this kind of conversation with a woman who's just lost one child and who might be about to lose another, is a good idea?
Stef rubs her temples, willing herself to manufacture the strength she needs to compose her emotions.
"Mom…" Brandon pauses to swallow and work out an apology that he doesn't give, "…forget I said anything. I'm not going anywhere, ok?"
Lena stands up with Brandon. He's starting to look as frazzled as his mother. Stef is in rare form and this is a state that the children are not accustomed to seeing. Lena should do something; the pain that her wife is experiencing cuts Lena too, but Brandon is their son.
"Brandon, why don't you go; finish getting ready—and wake Jude up for me, I want to talk to him before everyone else comes down." Lena is throwing in the towel.
Right. Brandon nods wordlessly and turns for the door, but Stef reaches an arm over the island, just out of reach. Her voice is higher, and if Brandon isn't mistaken, it's strained: the way it gets before she's going to cry.
"…wait a minute..."
Yes, Brandon has seen his mother cry—whether she realizes or not. The divorce and aftermath were hard; Brandon saw a lot of things. It's why he understands so much.
"Come here please."
Stef's fingers beckon for her son and Lena's shoulder dips, relieved.
Brandon can't help but be a little apprehensive about such a barely restrained show of emotion but he doesn't have the heart to brush his Mother off. So, when she touches his hair and then wraps her arms around him he doesn't blame her for being the one who needs comforting—even though she is the one who just went off on him.
Maybe he needs this moment as much as she does.
Lena's hand on his back confirms it. He might be the oldest—but he still needs his Moms…and they need him.
Bothof Lena's eyebrows go up, "Jude. What are you doing up?"
Stef is reluctant to let go of her son, but Brandon is understandably awkward standing in the kitchen holding his Mom with a 12 year-old looking on.
"I'm going to go and get ready."
Stef lets him, and Lena's hand drops from Brandon's back.
The silence prompts any kind of communication at all, "Are you hungry?"
Jude shakes his head no, and turns to watch as Brandon walks past. He hasn't really spoken much to Brandon since the wedding. Jude hasn't spoken much to anyone, but he wants Brandon to know that what he just tried to do for Callie means the world.
Stef manufactures an uncomfortable smile and fixes the buttoned cuff of her sleeve, "Then, to what do we owe this unexpected pleasure, sweets?"
Jude looks behind him again, thinking better of his timing. But it has to be today—it has to be now.
"Can I tell you something?"
Lena and Stef remain standing, neutral but welcoming looks fixed on their faces.
"You can tell us anything, Jude. We want you to be completely comfortable in this house."
"I'm comfortable." Jude is doing an awful lot of looking around, undermining his statement.
"It's about what I'm going to say to the Judge today."
The boy is wearing Mariana's blue nail polish and the sight of Jude's painted nails is oddly relaxing. Not everything has changed.
Lena props her elbows on the high island, "Sweetie, you know you don't have to tell us what you're going to say. You'll be talking to the judge in closed chambers—that means it'll be you and him, alone."
Jude takes a deep breath, "I know what it means. I still want to tell you."
"Ok…" Stef fights the urge to send her eyes skyward. Instead, she waits, for the second time in the space of an hour, for one of her sons to say what's on his mind. Lena appears to be more optimistic. She eyes the boy with affectionate concern.
"When you were in the hospital," Jude looks at Stef and averts his eyes uncertainly, but Stef's sentimental smile is encouraging so he keeps going, "I told Callie that it reminded me of Mom."
The hearts of both women go out to the orphaned boy.
"And…" Jude licks his lips. His mouth is dry when he looks at Lena, "you were so scared, but I didn't want you to be scared like me and Callie were when Mom died. I didn't want you to be alone."
It's Lena's turn to try and keep from crying. They don’t know where this is going.
He's losing his stamina. Jude wants this to be over already, but he can't stop now, not yet.
"I'm really happy here—and I know you don't think so, but Callie was too."
The little boy's insight is unexpected.
"I just wanted you to know that."
Stef starts to say something but Jude interrupts her, "…because I'm going to tell the judge that I can't stay here."
"What?" The word escapes from Lena's mouth before she can fully process Jude's statement or her own emotional reaction.
Jude begins rambling, even as Lena's head starts shaking, "…but it's ok, because Stef didn't die and you're not alone and Jesus and Mariana are better and Brandon's not going to go anywhere…and I need to be with Callie."
…magic words from the mouth of a 12 year-old boy that wants his sister and thinks this is the best way to get her back.
"No, really. It's ok. When Callie comes back, we can go to another foster home—and we can see you if it's close, right? It's ok."
The boy's face is calm, as though it's already set and Callie's in the next room; a home waiting for them across the street. He turns to go back upstairs and change—to take one more look at the room he shares with Jesus and to grab his little backpack that holds all of his belongings. Jude is Callie's brother. He's smart, just like she is. He knows what he's doing and that it isn't fair to the Fosters or to himself. As much as he loves this house and needs these people, he just can't take the guilt anymore. Jude catches a glimpse of his blue nails as he half-turns for one last sentence, "I just…thought you had a right to know."
He'll take the nail polish off after he sees the judge and he won't be putting it on again.
Jude is out of sight before Stef and Lena can even begin to formulate a response.
"What the hell, is going on?" Stef doesn't give a shit about her language.
For once, neither does Lena.
Finally, Stef finds the strength to turn to her wife who is still staring at the empty transom, "When did we completely lose control?"
Lena doesn't have an answer. Her jaw cocks, it's the best she can do. At least the tears are slow and silent.
Stef's hands turn Lena's face and bring their foreheads together, "Whatever happens in chambers today…I love you—I love this family and that little boy…and tomorrow, I'm flying to NYC."