San Diego, California
The wood paneling in his room isn't dark enough. It doesn't fit with his mood.
Brandon's fingers move slower than usual, over his keyboard, hesitating. If he does this it will change everything. That's how it feels anyway.
Soft, flowing chords: simple at first, then layered and more complex, harmonize, picking up just enough speed to swell and become the emotion that Brandon composed into sound and memory forever ago for a competition that he never got to play. This was his family.
Not anymore. The Grim Reaper is right. Brandon's piano teacher keeps telling him that pain is what really makes a musician. It hurts to play this song. It isn't right anymore. Brandon takes a breath, stops in the middle of a chord and reaches decisively for his headphones. What he's about to try isn't a composition that he intends for anyone else to hear—ever. And once he plays it…that's it. The old version will be obsolete; a dead end. Brandon isn't sure he's ready to let go of that version yet, but whether its right or wrong, the way he's feeling at the moment supersedes sentimental value. Brandon is going to add Jude and Callie.
The first few notes are too…empty. What the hell was he thinking? Brandon's fingers move on autopilot and he barely hears the sound drifting between his ears. He shouldn't have pushed her. He knew she was afraid it would get her and Jude put back in the system. Brandon thought he knew better—his Moms would never do that. They wouldn't. He was right. What he got wrong, is Callie. He won't get her wrong again.
Brandon's fingers hit the keys a little harder, trying to grind the notes into submission. He wants them to be achingly perfect: with all of the confusion and fear; the desperation and the love that he feels for Callie and for this family. What's going to happen if she comes back?
Finally, his fingers hit on a note that is deep and strong and faded in the background, a landing for the others, almost easy to miss yet impossible because it's everywhere and in between.
He can't leave. Brandon promised his Mom and the truth is he doesn't want to leave. He wants Callie. He wants to shake her like a rag doll for scaring them and then he wants her in his arms again, but Brandon knows that can't happen. He's resigned to that. He'll leave Callie alone for her sake and for Jude. They both deserve a family—this family. It's the one thing Brandon has to give Callie; the one thing that she needs most.
A lighter chord—a tentative tone that mingles with the others briefly, grows as the rest crest and plateau. That's Jude. That's Brandon's little brother. The boy has a better chance than Callie does. Brandon refuses to believe that it's too late for her, but he knows that Jude is right where he needs to be to grow.
Can he really do it? Can Brandon really live in the same house as Callie and let her go? What if she's changed? What if…Brandon's ears feel hot under the headphones and he misses a key. What if Callie wants him more than she wants this family? But did she ever really want him to begin with, or is Callie just confused? Does she know the difference?
Brandon isn't sure he does, and the scrutiny is going to be unbearable. He can't figure it out, in this house, by himself. There are too many possibilities—not one of which he feels good about. He can't win. But…maybe he can make sure that Callie does.
If she even comes back. And if the state lets her stay…if not, that'll be on Brandon.
His fingers have found a pattern—fallen into a lovely, throbbing routine. They're still recognizable, his family: the chords that are his Mom, Lena and the twins. Brandon's has changed and behind them all, heard but unheard, certain but not…is Callie and Jude. This new composition is tricky—richer, and completely co-dependent. Without one, everything else falls apart.
That's his family, but right now, it's in pieces.
Brandon's eyes flicker, distracted by the pulsing glow of his cell phone. He pulls off his headphones and grabs it before the ringtone starts and disturbs the quiet for the rest of the house.
One new text message…
It's from Callie.
Jesus tries his hardest to ignore Jude.
The controls on his laptop are too slow and Jesus fights back a string of curse words as his graphics freeze. He needs a gaming computer so bad.
"Oh come on!" Jesus' palm hits the edge of his desk. He can't help it. He's been worked up for days, waiting to snap. Pills or no pills…nothing's working. Jesus should know better. This isn't the first time. Ana was the first. He's used to losing people. Jesus learned young that gone means gone: for good. Gone isn't an abstract theme for him and Mariana. It's very real and it isn't something Jesus glosses over or denies. He accepted it when Ana left them. He had to, because his sister couldn't.
He accepted it when Callie left, but he doesn’t expect Jude to.
Jude lies on his own bed, stretched out and silent, watching Jesus playing his game, without really seeing. He does that a lot: stares without seeing anything. It's getting under Jesus' skin, but he doesn't say anything because he knows this has nothing to do with his little brother. This has everything to do with Lexi.
Jesus doesn't want to sit still. This time is harder to swallow. He isn't even trying.
The laptop makes a cracking sound as Jesus slams it shut and a spike of adrenaline surges through his body. He didn't mean to break it. Moms are gonna be pissed, but he doesn't care about that right now. Jesus doesn't know what's worse—having to accept that Lexi's gone, or knowing how badly she's handling it. He can't be there, can't help her…can't touch her.
"Are you ok?"
Jesus is startled by Jude's quiet question.
"Fine..." He's gotta calm down. Jude doesn't need to see this. The kid's got enough on his plate.
"You're upset about Lexi, right?" Jude sits up, swinging his legs over the edge of his bed. It's written all over Jesus' face and in his anxious limbs. He can't stop moving or tapping.
Jesus makes a rude noise. He doesn't want to talk about this. He'd rather be beating the crap out of a punching bag, or spiking a volleyball into someone's head. He's restless—talking isn't going to help that. It's too late for volleyball and Jesus doesn't think his Moms will take to him stringing up a makeshift bag in the middle of his room.
Jesus just shrugs, "Me too." He wishes Jude would stop looking at him, but he's got enough sense to realize that the look is familiar. They've got something in common and the kid is grasping at straws. Jesus' chair swivels back to his computer and he winces before prying it open—the screen is cracked.
"It's not the same thing. Callie's coming back."
It's Jude's turn to shrug, "Maybe." He's worried.
So is Jesus. He fingers a piece of broken plastic and doesn't reply. There's no point in lying, not anymore. Callie's a maybe. Lexi's a definite.
"I've gotta tell Moms." Jesus lifts the laptop and rolls his eyes when he hears something rattle around inside. One thing after another.
"They won't be mad." Jude is trying.
It's Jesus' turn for a one liner, "Maybe."
"What if she doesn't?"
"What?" Jesus can't help the exasperation in his voice. Everything is annoying him.
"What if Callie doesn't come back?"
"Jude," Jesus looks at his brother and gets up, laptop under his arm, "I don't know."
Time to face the music, "I don't think anyone knows much of anything around here right now. Give it some time."
He's going to be without a laptop for an eternity now. No way are the Moms gonna buy him a new one.
Jude lies back down, accepting Jesus' empty advice. It isn't worth much. But Jude still feels better, knowing that Jesus is going through the same thing, even if he doesn't have the answers. Does that make him a bad person? He doesn't want Jesus to lose Lexi.
"Hey." Jesus stops just inside the door, cell phone in hand, staring at the screen.
Jude props himself up on his elbows as Jesus tosses his phone onto the boy's stomach before heading into the hall.
What? Jude doesn't understand, but he grabs Jesus' cell and turns it right side up anyway. It's open to a new text message…from Callie.
Mariana still hasn't adjusted. Who'd have thought she'd hate having the room all to herself again? After the fuss she made about sharing with Callie to begin with, she ought to be thrilled. But she hasn't touched Callie's empty drawers. She hasn't even started dumping stuff on Callie's bed. That part of the room is untouched. It's eerie. Mariana doesn't like it.
She sits on her own bed, staring down the emptiness while she brushes her hair. Callie's bed is mocking her. Why didn't she wake up? Mariana could have stopped her.
Mariana couldn't stop Lexi though…could she have? Lexi was worried and Mariana knew it. Sure, so she'd told Jesus, big deal. Mariana didn't take it seriously enough and now her best friend is gone for good.
Her nice, normal life is blowing up. The drama is unbearable.
The cell phone on Mariana's nightstand plays a snippet of her favorite song. Her message ringtone…
Mariana sulks for a second before checking it. It can't be anyone she actually cares about talking to, not now.
The brush drops, unnoticed as she reads the short line on her screen and Mariana jumps out of bed, "Moms!"
Night isn't about sleep anymore. It's about giving in to all of the thoughts that she can't acknowledge during the day. In the hour or more that it takes Lena to fall asleep, she thinks. Her thoughts aren't scattered or replays of the day anymore. They're strategic or cathartic, all in all, still unhelpful. But as difficult as it is and as contrary as it might seem, Lena needs to think about it. She's never been one to try and forget.
So it doesn't matter that Stef has the light on tonight, and is doing her best to absorb the words she's reading from the new department regulation booklet that she brought home today.
"Am I keeping you awake?" It's the third time Stef has asked.
Lena counters with a question of her own, "Can you tell me what you just read?"
"Very funny," Stef shuts the paper booklet and tosses it dramatically to the end of the bed. She has no clue. Next to go is her reading glasses.
Tonight's fruitless ritual is over then. Lena props herself up, waiting for Stef to win her new nightly battle with the covers—her wife has a hard time sleeping these days and it's almost as if their bed has started to take it personally. Stef is incapable of getting comfortable without getting tangled.
Stef is hyper aware of Lena watching, "What? Here," she carefully lifts the blankets and moves over, gesturing for Lena to lie back. The ghost of a grin flickers on Stef's face as Lena shakes her head in amusement and lies down in her arms.
Just as she reaches for the light, there's a hard knock at the door and both women jump, startled.
Stef's voice is a little harsher than she intended, but it slipped out; too late.
Jesus opens the door a crack, "You guys decent?"
"Oh, really…." Stef rolls her eyes and pulls Lena back up, into a sitting position, "Come on in."
The Moms can't remember the last time Jesus came into their bedroom. Lena steals a glance at her wife to make sure they're both on the same page. The look on Stef's face is impossibly close to the one on Lena's. This has to be about Lexi. A pang spans between the women. They've known that little girl since she was five years old.
Jesus leaves the door half open behind him and shuffles into the room, trying to look inconspicuous holding his laptop and scratching behind his ear, "You weren't sleeping right? I saw the light."
"We weren't sleeping," Stef confirms.
Lena eyes are on the laptop, "What is it?"
"I, uh…" Jesus drops his fidgeting hand and gives up on looking contrite. He should be sorry his Moms' money is down the drain, but he can't bring himself to really care, "It's busted. I broke it."
"Let me see," Lena waves Jesus over while Stef reaches for her glasses on the nightstand.
"Sorry," Jesus hands the computer off to Lena and tries not to wince as her eyebrows go up at the rattle.
Stef observes her son, "What happened?"
Lena looks from the broken screen to her wife. Oh boy. This is definitely about Lexi.
"I didn't mean to close it so hard. I was just…worked up."
Stef isn't an expert, but buying a new screen for a rattling laptop doesn't sound like a good investment. She's pretty sure it's done for and she's willing to bet that Jesus has come to the same conclusion. She doesn't get the chance to find out—Lena's cell phone goes off, interrupting Stef mid breath.
Jesus hands it to his mother so she doesn't have to reach and Lena's face freezes.
Stef's phone interrupts Lena's exclamation.
Jesus looks between his mothers, pretty sure he knows what's going on.
"What?" Stef asks, but she's already turning and stretching, grabbing for her phone. Lena just shakes her head and says, "Read it."
Oklahoma. Not sure where. A day, maybe 2. Got ur messages. Im ok. Battery's really low. Call when I get close enough. I promise.
"Moms!" Mariana's voice carry's down the hall and so does the sound of her feet as she barrels into the room. One look at Jesus and Mariana really starts to get excited, "Did you all get it?"
Stef nods as she reads and Jesus crosses his arms, trying not to fidget too much. As shitty as he feels, he's proud of Callie.
There's a timid knock on the doorjamb from Jude's fist. He's grinning, he can't help it: "Can I come in?"
Stef finally looks up, "Of course."
"Here, everybody up." Lena pats the center of the bed and moves over, mimicking Stef as her wife scoots to the other side, making room.
Mariana waits until Jude has crawled between her Moms, still holding onto Jesus' phone before she sits in the middle of the bed, facing Jesus who sits on the side, by Lena.
"She promised." It's all Jude wants to say.
Lena looks at the little boy with a sad but affectionate ache in her chest before she takes a second to glance at Stef. Her wife watches Jude too.
So does Jesus. He's pretty sure he understands what Jude means.
"Two days." Mariana can't quite bring herself to believe it.
"Ok guys," Lena feels the need to interject. As happy as she is to hear from Callie and to have some idea of where she is, there's no guarantee and she doesn't want to see her family disappointed, "I'm sure that Callie means what she says—but it might not be that easy. It could take a little longer…"
Stef completes Lena's sentence in her head: anything can happen along the way. Callie might change her mind.
Jude's head is shaking, "Callie doesn't make promises she can't keep. She'll be here."
"I want you to be right," Lena pulls the boy into her side for a quick hug.
Mariana eyes her twin brother as Jude tries to convince their Moms. Jesus looks like he knows something.
"Trust me." Jude looks up at Lena. He's happy. For him, it's settled. In two days he'll have his sister back.
Lena feels helpless under his gaze, but Stef is her strength. Her wife reaches over and ruffles Jude's hair.
It's time to take a leap of faith. Stef lets the boy's enthusiasm catch and she smiles—a genuine smile—for the first time in a while, "We do."
Marianna's eyes widen but Stef beats her to it.
He's standing in the doorway, mute. Brandon can't talk. She texted him. Callie texted him. He was so sure she wanted to avoid anything having to do with him…
"Love, what is it?" Stef is out of bed in a flash and Lena tightens her grip on Jude, unconsciously reaching for the next closest arm: Jesus.
"Brandon…" Stef wraps an arm around her eldest's shoulder and rests the other hand on his chest, gently shaking him, "Did Callie text you?"
Finally, Brandon swallows, "Yeah, she did."
Jude is all smiles; it's the first thing that registers. Brandon turns his head and sees his mother. He looks at her then down, at his phone. He doesn't know what to do or how to feel. There's something different about this time. Callie is really coming home. What is he going to do?
Brandon clears his throat and tries to speak, but nothing comes out. He wants to say something right for a change.
Stef's arms close like a vice and she whispers so that only Brandon can hear, "Don't worry about it now. We'll deal with it. The only thing that matters is having you both here, ok? I love you B—Lena loves you. We don't expect you to figure this out on your own."
Brandon nods into Stef's neck.
Jesus looks down at the bed spread, trying not to make Brandon uncomfortable, but he can't help giving a small shake and nod of his head. Callie's really going to do it. Jesus had no idea if she could—he has no idea if he could in her place. But, if he had anything to bet, he'd bet on Callie all the way.
Mariana's suspicion grows. She rereads the text and pins her twin with a glare, "What messages?"
Stef unwraps from Brandon, not entirely letting go and eyes her wife. Lena looks a little guilty—which is puzzling, but Jude is downright fidgeting.
The boy admits, "I called her."
"I left a message after missing her call." Stef waits for Lena to speak. Sure enough her wife nods.
"I called too." That's it.
Stef will have to dig a little to get the rest of the story. Why didn't Lena tell her?
Jesus just shrugs under Mariana's scrutiny and says nothing, but she knows. She knows him too well.
Doesn't matter; she'll never drag it out of him. Jesus pulls his laptop from Lena's lap, jarring his family back to the present as he stands up to go back to his room.
Callie is going to make it. She just obliterated her safety net. It's good though—she's still got a safe place to land.
Jesus feels a little better about Lexi as he squeezes past his Mom and Brandon. Lexi isn't alone and neither is Jesus.