Chapter 43

"What time is it?" Callie yawned as she stretched her arms.

Brandon reached over to his nightstand and pressed his phone. "Almost nine."

"Really?" Callie disentangled herself from Brandon's arms to look at her own phone.

"Did you sleep through the night?" Brandon asked. He couldn't recall waking up to her whimpering or thrashing.

"I did." She nodded before a smile found her face. "I didn't have a nightmare."

"That's amazing." Brandon reached up to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear as his own lips curved upward. "Happy Thanksgiving."

"Happy Thanksgiving." Callie grinned. "We slept pretty late too, huh?"

"I know. It's like we're teenagers." Brandon smirked. Callie had slept in Brandon's room since June when Vico broke his bail terms. Callie's nightmares had deprived them of uninterrupted sleep. It was something she suffered from since the night of the winter ball. Some nights only one or two nightmares awoke them while other nights she could barely sleep without drifting into horrific memories. Often Callie would give up with sleep in the earlier hours of the morning and once Brandon realized she was up for the day, he would follow. Fewer nightmares accompanied the continuous progress Callie was making and somehow she'd managed to make it through an entire night without one.

Callie snorted out a laugh. "I think we need to add about 3 more hours to make it to Mariana's time."

"That girl sleeps like the dead." Brandon chuckled. He groaned when Callie rolled out of his arms. "Where are you going?"

"To shower before everyone else gets up. Especially Mariana." Callie said as she planted her feet on the wooden floor. "And I'm helping Lena cook."

"You are?" Brandon asked, stretching before he sat up in the bed.

Callie nodded. "I used to love to cook with my mom. It kind of became a chore when I was in the system so I want to kind of find that enjoyment again. You know, now that it's on my own terms."

"That makes sense." Brandon studied her for a moment as he offered her a smile. He couldn't help but think about the morning after his mother was shot and he found Callie in the kitchen making biscuits as he watched her leave the bedroom.

"How are you doing with everything?" AJ asked after slipping into the kitchen where Callie was standing at the kitchen table, scooping leftovers into Tupperware.

Callie pursed her lips as she nodded slightly. "Pretty good actually. Nowhere close to where I need to be, but I'm getting there."

AJ moved to stand across the table from Callie. "Well, you've been through a lot. I'd imagine it would take a while."

"What about you? How's everything going with you?" Callie asked as she closed the plastic contained before her filled with stuffing. "I hear Mike wants to adopt you?"

"Yeah, he does. And I love living with him and Ana and Isabella. It feels like family. But…" AJ paused for a moment. "My brother wants me to move in with him."

Callie pulled the tray of yams closer to her before pausing to look up at AJ. "I know what it's like to have different people wanting different things for you. And I know what it's like to want to make everyone happy. But you need to do what makes you happy. Especially for something like this."

"Thanks, Callie." AJ locked eyes with Callie and his lips curved into a genuine smile. "That casserole was amazing, by the way."

Callie grinned as she scraped the tray of yams into the container. "Thanks. It was my mom's recipe. What I could remember from it anyway."

"Well, it was delicious. I'm excited to try your pie too." His smile widened. "You're smart, you're a good cook, and you're beautiful. Brandon sure is a lucky guy."

As if on cue, the backdoor opened and Brandon strolled into the kitchen carrying a stack of dirty dishes. He placed them on the counter before making his way behind Callie and wrapping his arms around her. "Hey."

Callie's face lit up when she saw her boyfriend and she leaned into his embrace. "Hey."

Brandon watched AJ depart from the kitchen and join his family in the backyard. He glanced at Callie when she laughed. "What?"

"Did you really come in to help me clean up or you just needed to make sure AJ and I weren't alone?" She asked as she began to load the fridge with the containers of leftovers.

"I heard him call you beautiful." Brandon pressed his lips together as he folded his arms over his chest.

Callie closed the fridge and spun to face her boyfriend. The jealousy radiating off him was amusing. "Are you the only one who can call me beautiful?"

"He likes you." Brandon ignored her question. "I told you he likes you."

"So what if he does?" Callie laughed as she walked over to him. "It doesn't matter if he or anyone likes me because I love you."

Brandon's stiffened posture eased when Callie reached up to kiss his lips. "As long as you don't leave me."

"Never." Callie grinned.

"By the way, Stef and Lena wanted me to tell you to stop cleaning up." He said as he lowered himself onto the kitchen chair.

Callie shrugged. "I'm waiting for the pie to heat up anyway."

"How are you doing?" Brandon asked after a moment as he watched Callie open the dishwasher. She paused for a moment to look at him curiously. "There's a lot of people. More than one baby."

Callie began loading the stack of dirty dishes into the dishwasher. "I'm okay. I mean it's hard. There was supposed to be three babies. It's always hard with Frankie even though I love her to pieces. And Isabella being here makes it harder. Especially that Ana couldn't take care of the twins. I don't have anything against her. I know drug addiction is an illness and I know she regrets it and she's clean now and is doing wonderful with Isabella, but I don't know…"

Brandon frowned but was pleasantly surprised by the brunette's outpour of emotions. "I get it. It makes you wonder why you had to lose your baby when you are an amazing mother."

Callie paused for a moment to look at her boyfriend. She loved that he was referring to her as a mother rather than implying she would have been one. It recognized that Melody did exist even if she hadn't taken a breath. Callie had loved her with every fiber of her being, made sacrifices for her, heard her heartbeat, felt her move, gave birth just like any other mother.

"How are you doing?" Callie asked as she continued to place the utensils in the dishwasher.

"Me?" Brandon's eyebrows knitted together. "I'm fine."

Callie cocked an eyebrow, pushing the dishwasher draw in and closing it. "Really?"

"Yeah. It's Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving. It starts the Christmas season." Brandon grinned, watching Callie slide on oven mitts before pulling two pies out of the oven.

"And you're not at all bothered by your dad living with Ana, AJ, and Isabella?" Callie asked as she peered out the window at the group she was referring to, who was currently laughing with Mariana and Jesus. It was nearly eight months that they learned Ana was clean and Mike was helping her. The twins began forming a real relationship with her soon after that. They all knew Mike and Ana were close and suspected there were mutual romantic feelings that neither of them had yet to admit. It was soon after Isabella was born that they admitted their feelings and began to date. Their relationship became serious fast given that Ana lived at Mike's prior to them dating, and just a few days ago, Mike announced his desire to adopt AJ.

Brandon looked up at his girlfriend who moved to stand beside him at the kitchen table. Brandon knew her better than anyone, but the same went for her about him. "I'm happy for him. He's happy."

"You always get on me about downplaying my feelings but you're doing the exact same thing,"

Brandon let out a breath. "It kind of sucks. I mean he's happy making a new family that I'm not a part of."

Callie rested her hand on Brandon's shoulder and gently rubbed his back. "I get why you feel that way. But it's not that he doesn't want you to be a part of it. He clearly loves you, Brandon. And I have no doubt in my mind that he'd welcome you with open arms if you wanted to move back in with him."

Brandon shrugged. "I guess. It would just be nice if he reached out more."

"Do you ever think maybe he feels the same way?" Callie asked, earning a slight head tilt from her boyfriend. "You have a lot going on. I've made your life hectic. He may feel like he doesn't want to bug you or be overbearing."

Brandon pursed his lips as he processed Callie's words. "I guess I never really thought of that."

"I think you should talk to him, "Callie suggested. "You guys always just ignore how you're feeling until it blows up and you fight."

Brandon let out a sigh. "I guess you're right. I'll wait till Thanksgiving is over though"

Callie offered him a smile before she leaned down to plant a soft kiss on his head. She started to move back towards the oven.

Brandon stood and caught her hand, pulling her back towards him. His hands snaked around her waist and rested on the small of her back. "You haven't made my life hectic, by the way. You've made it so much better."

Callie gazed into his loving eyes before his lips found hers. "You've made my life so much better too."

"Better than AJ?" He smirked.

Callie nudged him. "You just can't let it go."

"I get it. You're smoking hot. Especially in that dress." He grinned playfully as he ogled her body, dressed in a burgundy dress that wasn't overly fitted, but hugged her curves before his gaze found hers.

Her heart skipped a beat at the flirty glimmer in his eyes. Confidence was something she lacked. A long history of abuse was to blame. But somehow Brandon never failed at making her feel beautiful, sexy. She cupped his face and reached up to capture his lips once again.

The door clicked open followed by the sound of a throat clearing. Callie peeled herself away from Brandon and turned to find Stef standing in the kitchen. "I thought you two were heating up the pies and cleaning up."

"Callie already did." Brandon nodded before a smile found his face. "You told her to stop cleaning up so that was my way of stopping her."

Stef snorted out a laugh as she shook her head at the two teenagers. She moved towards the freezer to pull out a large tub of vanilla ice cream. "Well the rest of us would like some dessert whenever you two are done making out."

"Might be a few minutes then." Brandon teased.

Callie shoved him playfully. "We're coming out."

Brandon and Callie each grabbed a pie and followed Stef into the backyard where everyone else was conversing. They each placed their items on the table covered in other desserts and Jesus was the one who began the dessert line.

"Here comes your boyfriend to try your pie," Brandon whispered into Callie's ear as he watched AJ approach the table.

Callie rolled her eyes as she elbowed him. "Seriously?"

"I'm just teasing." Brandon chuckled, following his girlfriend back to the table.

Sharon smiled at her grandson and his girlfriend when they sat down near her. "What's this I hear about Julliard?"

"I applied for an audition," Brandon replied before shoving a forkful of pie into his mouth. "I'll probably find out if I got one after Christmas."

"Oh, you'll get one." Sharon nodded confidently "What about you, Callie? Any college in mind?"

"Still figuring it out, but I'm applying to a lot," Callie said. She and Brandon both made lists of schools they were going to apply to, making sure they both had options within a close range of one another.

"That's great. Keep your options open. You still have your whole life ahead of you to figure out your dreams and chase them." Sharon winked at the young brunette who offered her a smile. "It's good to see you smiling."

Brandon's own lips curved up as he reached into Callie's lap to take her hand and give it a squeeze. It was over three months ago that he was holding Callie in his arms as she sobbed uncontrollably, mourning the loss of Melody. At that time it had seemed as though he would never see her smile again. She was still struggling tremendously, but she had also taken great strides forward. Brandon knew the difference between her genuine happiness and pretend happiness. Last Christmas she had plastered a fake smile for the sake of the family, but Brandon knew the girl sitting beside him right now was actually happy. The smile he saw today made her eyes sparkle and made his heart skip a beat.

"You can thank your grandson for that." Callie's grin widened as she met Brandon's loving eyes.

"I was always rooting for you two," Sharon said as she leaned in closer to the couple.

"Thanks, Grandma." Brandon laughed.

Sharon pushed her chair back and stood. "Alrighty, I'm going to get me some dessert."

Brandon looked back at his girlfriend and pointed to his empty plate. "Your pie was indeed delicious. Best pie I've ever had."

Callie grinned. "Thanks."

"You're going to be the mom with the best cookies when…" Brandon's comment came to a sudden halt and the smile disappeared from his face when he realized what he was saying. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean...I meant in the future…"

Callie reached over to place a hand on his arm. "No, it's okay. I know what you meant. I wish more than anything that I could be that mom for Melody, but I love planning my future with you."

Brandon studied her face for a moment before leaning forward to plant a soft kiss on her lips. "I love you."

Warmth spread throughout Callie as it did every time those three words left Brandon's lips. He uttered them a million times a day every day and yet it still sparked that same feeling in Callie as the first time he confessed them. "I love you too."

Thanks for reading! Happy Thanksgiving! Stay safe and healthy!