Define Selfish

Chapter 9

Callie Jacobs

Oklahoma Rest Stop

Day 28

"We're stopping?" Callie isn't alarmed. Not yet, but the bells stir, getting geared up as good Samaritan number four coasts to a stop in the service area off the Thruway. He doesn’t park, but his tiny beater sedan idles along the curb of a service pavilion advertising for the expected McDonald's and convenience shops inside.

He doesn't speak. Why isn't he saying anything?

Callie's mouth dries. He wouldn't. He can't leave her here. This is an island. Callie can't walk the Thruway and no one is going to pick her up here at this hour of the night…

Maybe she shouldn't have turned him down. It wouldn't have been that bad, it's not like she's never done it. Callie hates herself for the thought. She's worth more than a blow job on the side of the road. She's not doing it. No way in hell. Not now, not when she's on her way. She's come too far…

There's no word from the front so Callie takes it upon herself to fill in the blanks. She's been in worse spots. The girl uses her foot to push open the cringing car door and drags her duffel bag behind. She can almost pretend this was part of the plan.

The squeal of burning rubber as her ride takes off ruins the illusion and Callie stands alone, in a nearly deserted parking lot, backed by a single minivan under the only working street light. Her blue duffel sits on the ground like a glowing sign: Runaway.

"Hey kid—kid, you ok?"

Great. Callie tries not to shiver and keeps her back to the van as she bends to grab her bag. Next up is figuring out a new plan.

Frustrated tears build in the corners of Callie's eyes. The sound of an opening car door is unmistakable. She just wants to be left alone. Ignoring the guy isn't going to be enough.

"John?" That was a woman's voice.

Quickly, Callie wipes at her eyes and glues on a smile before turning to confront the average Joe half in, half out of his minivan, anxious wife leaning forward to see past his body. Callie's willing to bet there are a couple kids asleep in the back. Families are the worst. Never take a ride from a family—odds are, you'll be dropped off at the nearest police station.

"Are you alone?"

Stupid question: who in their right mind is going to say yes? Callie casts about for a smarter answer, "Nope, my Dad's a trucker. I'm meeting up with him—we're on our way back to California. Thanks though."

Half-truths are easier to keep track of. It's none of this guy's business anyway and Callie banks on human nature. No one wants to get involved—no one wants to be wrong.

"Oh…ok…" Mr. Joe doesn't know how he should respond to being dismissed. Callie is already walking away, toward the back of the rest stop, aiming for the dark tractor trailers in the distance. Mr. Joe and his wife aren't going to be a problem, Callie can tell. Too bad her other issues aren't going to be so quick to go away. The tracks of water on her face attract the cool night air. It's going to get colder before it gets warmer.

She feels Mr. Joe's eyes on her as she walks. Callie wants to shrink under the scrutiny but she doesn't. Why does it matter so much if they report her? Why is Callie still trying to hide? It would be so much easier to let someone else deal with it—to bring her back. She can't do that. Callie has never let anyone fight her battles for her. She isn't about to start now. A tiny whisper in the back of her mind claws its way out: Callie doesn't know how to let anyone else fight for her. She's trying to learn. She's scared to death that it's not working; that she'll make it back and she'll be the same person who ran.

The tractor trailers look deserted, but Callie knows better than to trust what she sees. The driver's are likely kicking back in the cabs, taking a break or catching some sleep. Against every instinct, Callie slips between two trailers, hemmed in on either side, her escape routes narrowed down to the way she came. Too late to care. Callie just wants to disappear. The girl tosses her duffel ahead and sits on the hard ground in the dark, face even with the bottoms of the trucks. She can't see under them or to the other side, it's too dark. Callie can't see much of anything at this point. For some reason, being here—getting dropped like a dirty diaper—terrifies her. She knows she got lucky, in the grand scheme of things. She's lucky that guy gave her a choice. Callie's lucky she had the strength to make one she can live with. At least, she thought she could live with this.

There isn't much to work with. She can break into the pavilion—and probably set off some alarms and get picked up. She could ask nice Mr. Joe back there for a ride—and probably get dropped off where she wants to be even less than here. Callie is confident she can hook up with a trucker who will give her what she needs…for a price. She can sit here, shivering and trying to rub the warmth back into her rapidly cooling body all night or she could just…let it be: lie down, stop trying, and see if she wakes up in the morning.

Jude. That would be really bad for Jude.

Callie lets her head fall into her hands and pulls her hair, tugging on her scalp, willing herself to come up with something better. How can she want something, and not want it at the same time? Just like she wants to get back to the Foster's while she fights the urge to run screaming in the opposite direction. She's no good to Jude like this. Callie's no good for herself, like this. She's aware enough to realize that and to know that there are some things no one else can fix. Callie wants to be someone who can be counted on; she wants to be that person who can count on someone else too. She's spent her life taking care of Jude and anyone else who happened to need her and for a time, Callie was proud of that. For a little while, Callie was ok with whom she was: until she got to the Fosters, and then she wanted to be more.

Callie wants to be happy. Such a little word to wrap her head around: trying makes her feel stupid. It's a perpetual battle, trying to deny what she needs and what she wants while the other half of her is trying so hard to accept all of it on behalf of the masochistic side. The duality is tremendously painful. Callie is constantly self-defeating.

She's had enough.

Callie stretches out, reaching for her bag and drags it closer in the dark, searching for the zipper with trembling fingers. Pins and needles prove that she hasn't gone numb as Callie pulls out her cell phone. Turning it on isn't so easy. She hesitates over the power button. There's no charger in her bag, Callie didn't see any need to pack one before she left California; she'd never intended to hold onto this phone. Wyatt thought of a lot, but he didn't think of that. She had a few hours of battery time left—maybe. Callie can't be sure and she has to be sure, every time she turns this phone on—that it's something she absolutely needs to do.

Are there messages waiting for her? Callie's heart jump starts at the thought. Did Stef call her back? Did they tell Jude? Callie can't distinguish between nerves and excitement.

She has no right to hope that there's a message.

But she can't get through the night alone. No one will know. Hope is a personal sin—easy to hide. They never have to know that Callie needed to hear their voices.

Callie exhales and turns the phone on, face lit up by the sudden glow.

Fifteen missed calls. The teen almost swallows her tongue in terror: four messages. She's about to open Pandora's Box. Whatever words the Foster's have left for her, Callie won't be able to erase. She can hit the kill switch, sure: erase them from the phone and she'll never have them played back at her again, but she'll still hear them in her head.

A surge of grief washes over the freezing runaway and she goes to voicemail, regardless. She's hurting them and Callie knows it. The least she can do is face that.

"Callie…I've called at least ten times. I'm sorry that I didn't pick up. I didn't see who was calling…you must have your phone off." Stef's voice changes from barely constrained to badly composed, "This phone will be on 24/7. I will answer—no matter what I'm doing or what time it is. Callie Jacobs, you had better look like calling me back, Love."

Callie takes the veiled threat in due course—because the idea of calling Stef back is too much. Just listening to a recorded message has upset Callie's equilibrium. She can't stop shaking and it isn't from the cold, this is different. She's shaking from the inside out, waiting for the next word—waiting for the words that will let her know it's too late; that it's too broken to fix.

"I gave Lena your message and we've decided to talk with Jude." There's a pause that Callie suspects is a moment devoted to second guessing the wisdom of Stef's disclosure. Callie feels the weight immediately. Jude is expecting her now: in other words…don't mess this up.

"I know that you're hurting, Callie. You have to let us help you—there's nothing we can do if you won't let us in." Callie recognizes the patent tone in Stef's words from the woman's omniscient observations in the past. It's the same tone that Stef used in Tijuana and whenever she talked to Callie about the trial. Callie has never been very good at having her emotions dragged out onto the table. It makes her vulnerable—even in Stef's absence, her words do the trick. Callie pulls her bag onto her lap and holds on for dear life while the message continues.

"But you need to understand that we're hurting too—all of us, not just Jude. We talked about earning trust once…Callie, I know you remember—Lena and I have done everything we know to do to earn yours. If that's not the case and if there's something else we can do…then you need to tell us." Stef tries to lighten the mood—for whom, is debatable: "Contrary to popular belief, Moms are not mind readers."

Callie closes blurring eyes and lets the tears wash away so she can see the phone. She sets it on her knee, on speaker, so she doesn't have to touch it anymore. Touching it feels too close. Now, it's just Stef's voice in the air, nothing to reinforce it.

"And at this stage in the game, we need you to start earning ours back. We all have to start communicating…"

Callie immediately thinks of Mariana and Jesus and their birth Mom. She and Brandon are a close second. In a family with so much love…why were there so many secrets?

"…and it's your turn Callie. Tag, Love—you're it. I'm glad you called, I'm so happy that you say you're coming back, but it's not enough—not for a second. I want to hear that you're really ok. I want to know where you are and how much longer we have to wait to get you back: I need you to call me, Callie. That's what it means to fight with us."

One down, four to go. Callie doesn't know if she can do it. She lets the recording run out and the automated voice go through the options before it proceeds to the next message, viciously wiping the unwelcome tears from her contorted face.

Silence; it begins with silence. Callie can get behind that. The girl coughs and sniffs, almost missing the first words, "Callie, its Lena."

Callie stills. She can't move. Forget fight or flight—Callie is frozen, even her heart has trouble beating. It's sluggish, fighting every compression, trying to stop. She's scared. Her hand jerks, it wants to end the call, hit the red button and be done: just another way to run. What the hell does she expect to happen when she makes it to California if she can't even withstand a message? Callie hasn't really thought about that: what will happen. She's close enough now, for it to be a reality…she should have thought about it.

The silence is drawn out—more profound somehow, over the phone and Callie tamps down her heaving throat, sealing her mouth shut just in case. She won't cry. Callie brought this on herself. She deserves whatever Lena dishes out. An image of the woman standing outside of Juvie surfaces, unbidden, and Callie draws her knees in, letting the phone clatter to the ground. Lena gave Callie a chance. This is how Callie repaid her. It hurts. Disappointing Lena hurts a lot more than Callie was ever willing to admit. She's afraid that there are no more chances.

"How did we get here, Callie? You…are not your file. There is so much more to you…some of it I can't understand." Callie can picture Lena shaking her head over the phone, drawn out and upset, "I want to; I'm trying to…but I think I need you to explain it to me. When Stef and I decided to adopt you and Jude…I wanted you to know, before the wedding. I wanted you to know you’re family."

Mention of the wedding makes Callie break out into a sweat.

"We are a family, Callie, and from now on—there will be no secrets. You need to understand what you're coming back to and that this has not, and will not, be easy. The legalities alone…"

Lena trails off and Callie uses the brief reprieve to rock in place, desperate to self-soothe. A side of Lena that Callie hasn't seen makes the girl wish she could take everything back: "I'm sorry. I can't pretend to understand why you would choose to be hungry and thirsty…and scared and alone. You've completely disregarded your own safety and our sanity—why? This—your running—it isn't about Brandon, I know that now. It hurts to realize…that you are running from something we can't touch because you won't let us. We want you to be happy. I thought…"

Stop. Please, just stop.

"…I thought you were happy here. It wasn't our intention to make you feel trapped; or to try and give you something you aren't ready to accept. You should have talked to us. We care about you, Callie. But do you know what you want?"

Yes. Callie wants this to end.

"Whatever that is—whenever you know—we will do everything in our power to help you achieve it. Even if it means something…that we aren't a part of. We want you Callie, but more than that, we want you safe and happy. This is where you've led us; now we're waiting on you. So…" Lena seems reluctant to finish, as though the one-sided conversation didn't go quite the way she'd planned, "…call me. Call Stef. We're still here."

Callie wants this to be over. 'This' isn't the Fosters. She wants them to be forever. 'This' is everything she's done, every mistake she's made. She wants to learn from them, not keep repeating them. She was so scared, that if she went back, she'd do the same things all over again: she'd screw up with Brandon; she'd leave—whether physically or emotionally, it doesn't matter.

Callie scrambles for the phone as the next message starts. She's not ready to hear it yet but the sound of Jude's voice stops her cold.

"I am so mad at you." She can hear the tears in her brother's voice, "I want you to come back. I'm sorry that I said those things to you. I didn't mean them. You're not selfish—you've always taken care of me. You're just scared…like me. Like Mariana. I know. Just come home."

Callie is crying openly. She can't stop. What has she done?

"I don't know how to be here by myself," Jude sounds so heartbroken and plaintive, "I think I made a mistake, Callie. I told the judge I wanted to leave, but he said no…for now. Callie, I don't really want to go anywhere." Jude is beginning to sound panicked.

Oh my God. Jude did what? What little of the sky is left, falls and Callie doesn't bother to run. She's pounded into the pavement, crushed into an unrecognizable piece of road kill.

"Why can't we just be happy? Why does everything always have to fall apart? It's not just you, is it? It's me too. Maybe…we can 'figure it out', together: like Mariana told me. I think you had to leave so you could choose to come back. That makes sense right? And I had to have that judge tell me no before I realized I was right where I was supposed to be."

Mariana: Callie would hug her until she snapped if that were an option right now. And Jude…when did he get so smart? He's right. Even if his temporary lapse in sanity with the judge terrifies her.

"Come home," Jude is pleading with her, "…please…"

"I will. I'm coming home." Callie wipes her nose on her sleeve—she's dumpster dived, who the hell cares about a little snot?

She forgot: there's one more message. Stef, Lena, Jude…who else would call? Mariana?

"Hey Callie…"

It is not Mariana.

Callie sits up straighter, curious despite herself.

"Listen, I get it. I'm not getting on your back. Things are nuts around here, oh man—Moms? Yeah, they've gone bat-shit crazy. Forget about Brandon, he's a cave dweller now—started growing a beard and everything."

Callie chokes out a painful laugh, and is surprised by the sound.

"And your little bro…I never thought he had it in him, but he's got his own style: civil disobedience all the way. Never thought I'd see a kid rebel by refusing to eat popcorn. Nah, he stays in our room most of the time, doesn't like to talk to anyone these days."

Jesus' tone might be light, but Callie feels the weight behind the words.

"Mariana's actually doing ok. She really misses you—don't tell her I said that though—but she won't stop whining, asking why her best friends keep falling for her 'stupid brothers'. Yeah—Brandon told us, he figured if things were going to be awkward, we might as well know why. Of course he's not getting the cold shoulder like I did with Lexi…but whatever."

The wind changes; Callie can hear it even before Jesus starts talking again. Something's wrong.

"I pretty much just found out…she's not coming back."

Callie's breath catches in her throat and she hugs her ribs, trying to compress the sympathy pangs in her chest.

"I…yeah, I don't really know why I decided to call you now. I mean Moms told us that you were working your way back. I guess I figured…maybe there's more to the story. You're not the only one who got bounced around. I know what it's like and I know how hard it is to land somewhere."

Jesus gives Callie a minute as if he expects a response. She shakes her head in mock exasperation. Even in a message her foster brother is incorrigible.

"I started thinking though, when I heard from Lexi…she had everything here." Jesus is far from happy and Callie is pretty sure that this is the real reason he called.

"Now she doesn't have a choice. They lied to her. She can't come back. I'm never going to see her again."

Callie can't stand it. She can hear the pain.

"Mariana's lost her best friend. We lost our birth Mom, almost lost Stef…and now you're gone." There's a hard edge, to Jesus' final train of thought and it makes Callie uncomfortable, "You chose to leave. Not judging, just saying…Lexi didn't have that option. You can come back. That is so mind blowing for me right now; someone who has that chance…should take it. I know what Mom said…but I get you. No details—you didn't tell them anything in case you can't do it. That's not figuring it out, or whatever you told Mariana."

The cold is a memory. Callie's body is burning in shame.

"That's a safety net. You don't get it. You don't get to have that: can't do it. That isn't making a choice. That's taking the easy way. So get rid of it: because you're hurting Jude, and Moms and, Mariana; Brandon too. "

He won't say it. It's unspoken, but Callie can read between the lines. Jesus is hurting too. They've all lost enough. Getting something back would be nice for a change.

"You're my sister. Get over it."

The phone is back in her hands and Callie's grip has tightened considerably. Jesus' closing argument is extremely persuasive. She wants to do what he says. For the first time, Callie understands that there's only one way. It's all or nothing; whether she's ready or not.

Callie opens a new text message, glancing at her low battery indicator and types as fast as she can: Oklahoma. Not sure where. A day, maybe 2. Got ur messages. Im ok. Battery's really low. Call when I get close enough.

One last thing, but Callie hesitates before adding: I promise.

Callie Jacobs doesn't make promises she can't keep. In two days, she'll be there. Even if it means she has to find the nearest police station. She scrolls through her contacts, checking off the entire family before she hits send. No more hesitation.

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