Define Selfish

Chapter 8

The Fosters

San Diego, CA

Day 27

"What's wrong? Did they cancel your flight?" Stef is supposed to leave for NY tonight.

The kids are here, under Lena's thumb; they're fine. Which means this is about Callie…or something else that the Foster family is completely unprepared for.

Stefanie Foster hasn't stood outside Anchor Bay like this, waiting on Lena, since the day Stef told family and friends that she was a lesbian. Seeing a squad car parked out front could be alarming for students and staff—Lena doesn't care.

Lena is the one who's alarmed.

Stef breathes in, heavily, and comes away from her squad car, forgoing the comfortable back support and stepping up onto the sidewalk, "No." Stef mocks herself with a sound, acknowledging a flat joke that only she knows, "but we will need a refund for that ticket."

Lena doesn't understand why Stef glances around, as if she's searching for watchers. She hasn't behaved this way in a long time.

"Why?"

"I landed a traffic stop today…" Stef looks around one last time—not looking for prying eyes, Lena realizes, but avoiding meeting hers—before she unhooks the cell phone from her belt and taps the screen to bring up the keyboard.

"…and I didn't answer."

It's moments like this that help Lena to understand Mariana's attitude better. She recognizes the stiffness in her wife's posture and the underlying tone in Stef's voice. The attitude isn't directed at Lena. For Stef, and often enough for Mariana—it's defensive.

The second the phone leaves Stef's hand, her arms cross. Lena holds it to her ear, waiting for the voicemail.

"Stef…it's Callie. Look…I, uh, I don't really know what I'm supposed to say here—I wasn't sure I should call at all, but…I'm trying. I mean, I'm trying to get back. I know you and Lena would rather pick me up, but I'm not going to tell you where I am. I need to do this myself; I have to be sure that I can do this. So…I guess…I'm not asking you to keep this from Jude. It's up to you guys, I trust you to do what's best for him…because I can't."

Stef rocks on her heels, waiting for the message to finish, and for Lena's face to register something: any kind of response. After a long pause Callie's voice continues, less flat and much quicker, wavering with anxiety.

"Will you tell Lena that I am fighting? It's rough, but so far, I think I'm winning. I think we're winning. So…that's it. And—thank you: for everything you've done for me and Jude."

The phone slips from Lena's ear and her eyebrows go up as she looks down at it, checking to make sure it's real before she hands it back to her wife. It takes a second for Lena to clear her throat, "Do you think she'll make it?"

Lena isn't surprised, but she can't articulate why. Her heart steps up the pace, imagining Callie out there, on the road back…but it isn't excitement. It isn't even hope. Lena has no idea what this is—a dreadful numbness seems to accompany the concept. Maybe it's because Lena can't afford to feel the fear. Maybe it's because she doesn't know what she's supposed to feel.

Stef's head tilts back, just short of a prayer for salvation. Instead, she barks out a humorless laugh, "I have no idea. What I do know is that she's no longer in New York. She called from the cell we gave her and we know she left that phone, along with her bag, with Wyatt before they made it to Indiana."

They do know that. Which means…

"Callie has already made it as far as Wyatt's grandmother's house in Indiana."

Stef's nod is precise. She knows Lena will be making a phone call the second she gets back inside. She reiterates, "My plane ticket: we need a refund."

NY is a dashed hope. Stef wants a damned refund for that. She's angry; furious with herself for not having gone sooner. She should have left after the first call from Callie regardless of common sense or what Lena thought was prudent. Stef should have answered her phone.

"I'll take care of it, but, can we focus on the positive? Callie is ok, she must have seen Wyatt, we have an idea of where she's been; possibly where she is…and she's trying to get back to us. All good things…"

Stef won't disagree with Lena. She doesn't disagree, but the thin line that serves as her mouth at the moment says something else altogether.

"What is it?" Lena can see; she'd have to be blind to miss the anger radiating from her partner's body.

Stef settles for the less confrontational admission, "I should have answered. All I had to do was look down and see who was calling…"

"Stef," Lena shakes her head and reaches for her wife's shoulders, "Callie left a message. If she was willing to do that, she'll probably call back at some point. This is not something you could have controlled—you were doing your job, which is dangerous, your head was in the game—where it needed to be."

Stef isn't one hundred percent willing to be comforted; to be convinced; she can't climb on the bandwagon, "I called her back: it must have been ten times or more. No answer. GPS isn't working," It takes conscious effort to redirect the scalpel in her voice so that it doesn't cut Lena, "which means the phone is off now. I should have gone the first time—" Stef shuts her mouth abruptly. She feels like she's fighting with her father: not really arguing at all, because she's internalized the other half of this battle. She's fighting herself.

Lena stands completely still. Her wife's voice is remarkably sharp. It's impossible to miss the underlying implications. Lena should have let her go. Maybe Stef is right. Maybe she should have.

Maybe.

Lena's arms cross and the two women stand, watching each other, knowing without words; each of them riding a different roller coaster of emotion, running from and trying to catch blame, anger, love, fear…hope. Two separate battles with only one conclusion.

There's no complaint when Stef wraps her arms around Lena in front of the school; in front of Stef's squad car: it doesn't matter who sees.

One touch isn't enough to make anything better, but it's enough for now, to keep both mothers standing—together and apart.


Jude doesn't bear thinking about. Lena watches through the blinds in her office as her wife's squad car pulls away from the front. She hasn't turned the lights on and even with the sunlight streaming in; the office is still off color, tainted by shadows. How are they going to explain to him? If Callie knew what was happening in her absence…

Lena sinks into her chair as soon as Stef is out of sight and sits, without moving, cell phone in hand, it's screen blank. Jude is not happy. The boy didn't have his way in court—then again, neither did Stef and Lena. The mothers managed to convince the judge that the boy needs time to adjust to his sister's absence; they managed to convince him of how much Jude is loved and how important the family structure in the Fosters' household is for him. Allowing Jude to deprive himself of safety and stability made no sense. They tried to make an argument for happiness as well, but as Jude has proven, it's nearly impossible to stop someone who's determined to be miserable. The boy isn't uncivil. He isn't getting in trouble and acting out. Jude isn't anything.

The screen lights up as Lena's thumb swipes to unlock her phone and she absently scrolls through the contacts, unaware of what she's doing. She should be calling Wyatt…but the number that she dials belongs to Callie.

That numbness is back, along with a sneaking worry that Lena has a hard time stomaching. She isn't sure that what she's doing is wise, because she has no idea what she intends to say. She's felt like this before—with Mariana, after Stef was shot and with Callie after she exposed Brandon and Stef to danger. Callie is hurting Lena's family; every part of Lena is primed to protect it. Still, Lena hates this feeling. She hates knowing that she's angry; that she's capable of laying blame at her child's feet and she hates that she has such a hard time dismantling this noxious form of judgment.

Lena gets Callie's voicemail.


"Hey, do you know where Jesus went?" Marianna is hesitant to step into her brothers' room these days. Jude has taken up residence on his bed and it's rare when he ventures into the rest of the house. He's waiting, spending his days as if he doesn't care when they run out.

Jude shakes his head, never looking away from his math book and blank notebook. He hasn't completed a single problem and he probably won't, not without help. Jude is beyond caring about his grades. He never had what it takes to keep up in a school like Anchor Bay anyway. Still, he doesn't mind the challenge for now—it keeps him busy. Jude would rather think about math then the mess he's gotten himself into…without Callie.

Simplify: (25x24)2-3

Apparently, Callie isn't the only one who messes up.

Jude doesn't even realize that Mariana is still in the doorway. The teenager watches Jude, silently fighting with herself. She should say something; do something. It's not her job though, right? What can she possibly say?

The judge listened. The judge heard Jude. Then he dismissed him. Stef and Lena won. Jude doesn't like thinking of his Foster mothers that way—as if he's fighting against them. It is what he's doing though. It's harder than the boy thought it would be. Violent rebellion isn't in him. He doesn't want to hurt them: Jude hasn't mastered the art of acting out. All he has to do is be mean. If that doesn't work, he could always run, like Callie. But he can't do it, even though the judge's dismissal feels like a death sentence in regards to Jude's absent sister. She has always taken care of him. If Jude stays with the Fosters, Callie won't have to. She'll be right. Callie will think that she's made everything better by leaving and staying away. She'll never come back.

For so long, Callie was the only person Jude had. She's the only constant he can remember. He won't stay here, and lose her. Jude doesn't know how to do that. He's mad, he's so mad that he has to choose. For the first time, he's found something he needs as much as he needs his sister. Making the choice felt impossible, but he made it…and was completely shot down. Now, he's in limbo—floating somewhere between depression and fear, anger and grief mixed in. It's his fault. But isn't it Callie's too?

Jude feels like he has nowhere to turn, because of the choice he's made. It occurs to him that maybe Callie feels the same way, but there's no one to ask. Jude is stuck in a trap of his own making.

The bed dips next to him and the boy tries to hide his complete lack of attention and surprise. He doesn't look over at Mariana, but he can't pretend to scribble an answer to his math problem either.

"You have to do the parentheses first," Mariana tries to open neutrally. She's not her moms; she isn't very good at this.

Jude nods and adds the powers together, writing in his notebook.

(29)2-3

He can finish on his own now that someone's told him how to start. The boy has instructions to show his work.

"Are you going to come downstairs tonight?" Mariana shifts on the uncomfortable bed, watching the boy scratch out his equation.

(29)2-3 = 26

Jude shakes his head and flips the page to the next problem.

"You're really starting to freak moms out."

There, she's said it, even if it is a little dishonest. Jude is starting to freak everybody out.

The boy doesn't say anything; Mariana feels like she's talking to a wall. She doesn't know if this is all because of Callie's disappearing act or if something happened in court, "I talked to her."

Jude's pencil stills but he still doesn't look at Mariana. The girl takes a deep breath and swallows. She's jumping in head first, "I didn't give moms the phone right away. Callie talked to me first. She wanted me to tell you something."

Jude's flushes and he feels hot. There are goose bumps all over his skin; he doesn't feel well at all, but he can't talk, not yet, because if he does, he's afraid he'll scream at Mariana. His fingers hold the pencil so tight, they turn white.

Mariana doesn't really know what good this will do. What Callie said to her didn't seem all that important—next to all of the angst Callie's actions have caused, her words seem cheap.

Finally, Jude speaks and Mariana is surprised to hear a little bit of venom in his voice, "And you waited this long to tell me."

She isn't prepared to answer for that. Mariana never had any intention of telling Jude what Callie said because she was afraid he’d magically figure out everything else too. She was being selfish. So, Mariana decides to curtail the defensive option, as difficult as it is, and she looks away, "She said that she's ok…and that she'll figure it out."

"What does that mean?" Jude asks.

Mariana assumed that he would know, but the way he asks his question, half panicked—as if he should know but doesn't—and half desperate, makes her think twice before saying she has no clue.

"I don't think Callie really knows why she left," Mariana is remembering something that Lena said to her once. She remembers how right those words were even though they made Mariana feel absolutely shallow and painfully sorry.

Jude is looking at her, listening like he hasn't in a while. He's not shutting Mariana out, or her words. She's done it now—she's in, and she has to do this right. If Mariana gets just one thing right, she wants it to be this; for Jude and for Callie: for her Moms…for her family.

"I don't think she left because of you, or Liam…or Brandon." Mariana doesn't know if she's right, "I think she was really scared." Mariana fights back the emotional flood, because she knows, that Callie was completely right. She finally understands why Callie asked her to tell Jude—because Mariana knows exactly why Callie left. "You and Callie…you had everything taken away from you." Mariana shutters, trying not to let her voice shake, "but Moms want to give you something back."

Mariana remembers the day that she and her brother first met Stef. She wanted that lollipop, she really did, but so long as it was attached to Stef, she wasn't about to take it. Jesus had to take it for her. It took a long time for Mariana to trust them and—Mariana couldn't stop a tear from escaping—she still doesn't. She doesn't trust them completely, because Mariana doesn't trust herself.

"I don't think Callie knows how to…have, this…" Mariana struggles for words, "She can't forgive herself for everything that's gone wrong, even if it wasn't her fault." Callie is blameless compared to Mariana. Liam wasn't Callie's fault, Tijuana wasn't Callie's fault…Mrs. Jacob's death wasn't Callie's fault and neither is her father's imprisonment.

Stef got shot because of Mariana.

"I think…when you're in the system, like us…even when everything is perfect…you're always waiting for it to get torn out from under you and if it doesn't…it's like…" Mariana looks up at the ceiling, "I think Callie has to figure out that she's not returnable. I think she is figuring that out. There has to be a way—other than ripping up the receipt," Mariana smiles at Jude through her tears, "to really believe that everything's going to be ok. Maybe it doesn't make sense to us," Mariana shrugs and nudges Jude with her shoulder. At least he looks thoughtful.

"But Callie has to choose this family. She has to do it because she wants it for herself, not just for you."

Jude nods thoughtfully, "She left…so she could choose to come back?"

Mariana's face says that Jude's interpretation bears more consideration, "Maybe."

Jude says with more conviction and a small smile—more as a reward for Mariana's attempt, then a definite feeling of betterment, "She is coming back."

There's nothing to say to that, so Mariana doesn't.

"…if Callie has to choose…then so do I."

Mariana tries to hold onto her composure, "I thought you already did." She doesn't know what Jude said to the judge.

"Me too," Jude's face crumbles in abject terror. What has he done? Can he take it back? Does he have to? The judge already denied his request. Jude is still here. He's still here, and all he's been doing is trying to figure out how to get sent away. Jude doesn't want to get sent away. He looks at Mariana and his smile slowly becomes real. He's pretty sure the Fosters don't want him to go either. That judge gave Jude his future back.

Mariana—his sister—gave him his choice back.

"So…dinner?" Mariana's nose wants to run so badly. Why does your body have to go haywire when you cry? She won't let it.

"Yeah," Jude starts to slide off the bed, math homework forgotten.

"Whoa…" Mariana almost falls over when the boy throws his arms around her neck, squeezing hard. It takes her a second to hug him back.

"Thanks Mariana."

"Can you stop scaring everyone now?"

Jude grins and nods, "Let's go help Lena."

This boy really enjoys his chores. Mariana nods once and shoves a piece of hair behind her ear, "I'll be down in a minute."

Jude understands. The boy leaves Mariana on his bed, alone, to try and 'figure' things out. It's all she can do to keep from laughing and rolling her eyes. After all this time, how can this still be so hard? Why can't she be like Jesus, completely confidant that no matter what he does, this family will still love him?

"Mariana?"

She jumps at the question in Stef's quiet voice. Mariana didn't know she had an audience—she doesn't appreciate it either. It's easier to keep her silence.

Positions are reversed and Mariana wonders if that's the difference between being an adult and being a teenager. For a few minutes, Mariana played the role of an adult, but in the space of a second, here she was: a child again. Adults don't have that luxury.

"Lena sent me up to get you guys," Stef feels she owes some explanation for her eavesdropping, "Did Callie really ask you to say all of that?"

Mariana looks across the room, into space and shrugs, "Sort of."

Stef looks in the same direction, simultaneously proud and concerned. No matter how much time, there will never be enough to learn everything there is to learn about these amazing children that she loves. But, she knows enough to not walk away from this.

"Is that how you really feel?"

Mariana blinks, forcing left over liquid from her eyes. She doesn't dare wipe it away for fear that Stef will notice, "Yeah, I mean, it makes sense."

Stef watches Mariana, assessing her daughter's state, "That's not what I meant, Love."

Yeah. Mariana knows that.

"Are you still afraid," Stef tries not to let any hint of hurt escape in her question, "that this life—our love—will disappear? Is that why you let Jesus take the blame for the pills?"

Mariana's eyes close and her nose flares. She doesn't need the reminder. It hurts.

The teen's silence is Stef's answer. What else can Stef and Lena do? They've done everything and it isn't enough—her baby is hurting, Stef knows it, she knows why…and she can't do anything about it. Nothing her parents taught her could have prepared her for this moment: the moment that Stef has to admit to her child that she isn't all powerful.

"My baby," Stef pulls Mariana into her arms and rests her chin on top of her head, "We love you. I know Mom told you that will never change. Now I'm telling you—the shooting was not your fault." Stef stops speaking when Mariana's body shutters and sobs. Stef barely keeps from crying right along with her.

Stef physically detaches Mariana and forces the girl to look at her. Every word pulls Stef's heart out of place, "I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, or the next day—or next year. Anything can happen. I can't control it Mariana, and neither can you. I can only guarantee that your Mother and I will never turn our backs on you. We will always love you. We'll keep showing you, but we can't make you believe it, Love. That's up to you."

The pain on Stef's face makes Mariana's tears stall. It steals the breath from her lungs. It isn't fair to Stef and Lena—that Mariana feels this way. The Moms have never done anything to make Mariana doubt them. Stef is right. She's not superwoman—she can't fix this, but Mariana can.

"I'm so sorry…" Mariana crushes Stef with a hug, momentarily forgetting the residual pain from her Mom's bullet wound.

"It's ok; everything is going to be ok…" Stef ignores the discomfort in her side and over the empty assurance. Mariana is grown up enough to understand.

"I know." Mariana's answer is a whisper.


"All right—is everyone here?" Lena asks, looking up from setting the last plate in front of Stef's empty chair as her wife walks into the dining room.

Mariana trails in behind her, and Lena raises an eyebrow. Something is wrong there. But Stef's face doesn't give her the answers she's looking for.

"Pizza? Seriously?" Mariana can't help it.

Much better.

Stef tries to hide her smile before bating their daughter, "Are you complaining Miss Thing?"

Jesus answers for his sister, "Hell no, just sit down Mariana." He's already reaching for his second piece, regardless of the uneaten slice still on his plate.

Lena looks between Jesus and Mariana, temporarily reassured now that the family dynamics have been restored. Even Jude seems to be enjoying himself. Lena unconsciously smiles as the boy tries to recover the falling cheese sliding off his pizza.

"So what's with this?" Brandon gestures at the unlikely culinary masterpiece in the center of the table and deftly licks the grease from his finger.

Lena meets Stef's eyes as the blonde tries to recover some semblance of good humor before sitting down and speaking, with Lena next to her chair, "Callie called today."

Stef's simple sentence drops like a guillotine, manufacturing an instant hush.

She tries her hardest to bring a little levity back, "Relax, we're celebrating! She's making her way back."

Jesus talks around a mouthful of pizza, "You mean you know where she is?"

Lena finally sits down, and reaches for the second to last slice of pizza, "Actually, she left a message. But we know she was in Indiana today with Wyatt. She headed out this afternoon."

"But…" Jude is thinking and Stef tries not to wince as he hits the mark, "she didn't tell you that?"

"No, Lena talked to Wyatt," Stef fixes the napkin on her lap and reaches for the glass of wine that Lena had tactfully poured in Stef's absence, "but, Callie wanted all of us to know that she's coming back on her own."

"Your Mom and I think it's a good thing. Callie coming back on her own might give her some sway with the judge when it comes to her probation hearing."

Jesus nods as if it makes sense—it does—but there's more to it. There always is.

Brandon says nothing. He can fill in the blanks. Callie is coming back, that doesn't mean she'll get back.

Jude chews slowly, staring at Mariana across the table. She hasn't touched her pizza yet and from the look on her face, he doesn't think she's very hungry. Between the two of them, they know that this is what Mariana was talking about—what Callie meant all along. She's figuring it out.

It takes a few minutes of silence for Jude to make his decision, "Lena?"

Next to him, Lena picks up a napkin and covers her chewing mouth, "Hm?"

"Can I talk to the judge again?"

Stef's glass freezes in midair, halfway to her mouth, "About what, Love?"

It's just enough time for Lena to finish chewing and swallow. She looks sideways at the boy as he ponders his answer.

Jude's smile, directed toward Mariana, transforms the dynamic of the room, "I changed my mind."



Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.