i've been sitting on this story for a while, not knowing if it was too cliched or boring to post. i'm biting the bullet, though, so please let me know what you think/if you'd like me to continue.
i hope you enjoy!
Gotta move, gotta choose, you've got a difference to make/Don't watch it happen again
Gotta change, rearrange/Something's bending to break/It's just a matter of when
Ooh, you're gonna make your mark this time/Ooh, you're gonna set your hope on fire
Vienna Teng, "Hope on Fire"
I've got a bucket of giant moths in my stomach. I waited, on edge, until Mariana finally fell asleep. She wanted to talk about how much fun the wedding was, how proud she was of her moms - "Well, I mean, our moms now, right?" - and I indulged her for a little bit, but then I feigned exhaustion and she turned out the lights.
Now she's breathing shallow and evenly, a few snores here and there, and I get dressed in the clothes I laid out and grab the bag I've prepared.
This day has been the worst kind of nightmare. I mean, I woke up this morning with the news that Jude and I would finally have a permanent family, and by the end of the day I'd ruined everything. I should have never kissed Brandon; I should've never let myself get attached to this place; I should've never come here at all.
Stef knew something was up with me. She pulled me in to dance with her at the party, and kept trying to get me to meet her eyes. I couldn't. She'd be so disappointed. And I just wish I could die, right now - sink into a blackened abyss and never be found. But disappearing is the next best thing.
It's the most unselfish thing I can think to do. If I killed myself, or otherwise died, the Fosters would have to pay for everything - a funeral, burial costs, etc. If I leave, and make it clear that I've left by choice, they'll be angry. Furious, actually. Jude's already mad at me, so that's no problem. Brandon will assume I've left because I don't love him, which will make him angry. That's two down. Mariana will get over it, Jesus has Lexi and Mariana, and the moms...I can't let myself dwell on how they'll react, as I just may lose my nerve altogether. I leave my cell phone plugged into the wall - if I take it with me, Stef will find me in a second. I bid everyone silent, final goodbyes, and leave 2330 Buena Vista St. forever.
It's a two-hours walk to Wyatt's motel, as I walk a fifteen minute mile when I don't have any luggage or fatigue. By the time I get there, the sun is up, and his car is practically loaded.
His face is surprised when he sees me, but fades to frustration when I ask him if he's got room for hitchhikers. Though I don't have any money, I tell him I'll take the bus instead, but I can't help but feel pleased and relieved when he pulls up at the curb beside me.
Our ride out of California is pretty much silent. I'm not sure if he's mad or what, but I'm too tired to start a fight. I nestle my head into the sling of the seatbelt, and fall asleep as we cross into Arizona. When I awake, we're at a rest stop in Phoenix. It's mid-afternoon, and Wyatt's coming back to the car with a grin on his face and fast food bags in his arms.
"I got some gas and brought us some lunch," he says, and I thank him quietly.
"You want a hamburger or cheese?" he asks.
"Which do you like better?"
He throws his head against the seat back. "C'mon, Callie, I'm trying to be a gentleman," he complains.
I crack a smile. "Hamburger, please."
"Good, 'cause I like the cheese," he says with attitude.
I smack his arm, but can't help my grin. Wyatt is the one person I've met, maybe in my whole life, who doesn't make me feel self-conscious. He can be totally oblivious, like when he took me to a house that didn't belong to him, or offered me a beer on the beach, but he's...comfortable. He's relaxed; he doesn't care what other people think. And he doesn't treat me with kid gloves, like most people who know I'm a foster kid do. I mean, foster parents definitely never treated me gently, but I feel like most people are afraid to say anything around me because I might lash out or become violent. They're scared of me, because I've basically been raised by wolves.
I feel a twinge of guilt that I may not feel for Wyatt how he feels for me. I like him, to be sure, but what exactly is love? I look at Stef and Lena and see-
I'm choking, and Wyatt looks over at me in distress. I take a big swig of his Diet Coke, swallow, and take another drink. I close my eyes, trying to even out my breathing, and slump against my seat tiredly.
"What the hell was that?" Wyatt asks. "You scared the crap outta me!"
"Sorry," I mumble. I shouldn't have thought about them, because I knew it would upset me. "I'm fine."
"Yeah, whatever you say," he jokes, and I am relieved that he's not going to pressure me.
"Thanks," I say.
"No problem," he answers, and I know he knows that it encompasses everything he's done for me. At this moment, I couldn't be more grateful to him for just being Wyatt.
In Phoenix, we take a hike up Camelback Mountain. Neither of us are exactly dressed for a hike, so we really just walk about a half-mile and then walk back. At the top of the trail, I wish desperately for a camera, but I remember that I left my phone behind.
"Here," Wyatt says, handing me his. "I want to remember this view."
I love that he can read me. I take a few shots - the ridiculously blue sky, the puff of cloud that looks like a star, the juxtaposition of the orange dirt against the chartreuse shrubs against the azure water. When I try to give him his phone back, Wyatt says,
"Hold it for me, would you?"
I nod, and we go back to the car.
'Same Love' comes on the radio, and I nearly make him crash as I jump over myself to flick the damn thing off.
"Callie, I think you should call-"
In Albuquerque, we go to the aquarium. It's closed when we get there at 10, so we crash in the car and go in when it opens at 9 the next morning. I take a few snaps of the jellyfish, the orcas, and a little sea otter. Wyatt keeps his face pressed against the manatee's glass until I force him to leave.
We stop in Amarillo that afternoon, and Wyatt takes me to Wonderland. I've never been to a theme park, and I must admit that funnel cake is delicious. We ride the Texas Tornado, the Drop of Fear, and the Fiesta Swing, before engaging in bumper cars (which he loved) and the Scrambler (which I loved). He tries to drag me to the mini golf course, but is sweetly understanding when I go pale at the thought.
"Callie, are you okay?" he asks, as my knees shake and I dash for the nearest trash can.
I nod pathetically, swallowing the bile and wiping my mouth, and he grabs my hand before I can tuck it away. "C'mon," he whispers. "We're done for the day."
Back in the car, he hands me his phone. "I know they miss you," he says.
"No, you don't."
"Just one call, to tell them you're-"
We get to Oklahoma City by sundown, and he springs for a sit-down dinner instead of another meal in the car. I feel gross - I haven't showered in three days - but he smiles at me, and I feel okay. That night, when I burst from my seat after another nightmare, he hugs me across the console and tells me it'll be alright. I choose to believe him, because I don't know what else to do.
"Don't you want to hear their voices?" he asks, the next morning. "It'll make you feel better."
"No, it won't," I say blandly. "It'll make me feel worse."
We don't pass directly through Springfield, so it's more rest stops and gas station bathrooms for us. In St. Louis, he takes us to the Loop, and we eat toasted raviolis on Blueberry Hill.
Before I know it, we're in Indianapolis, and we stop for lunch at a divey sports bar before finishing our last leg. It's Wednesday afternoon, and we're finally in Fort Wayne.
"That was fun," he says, and he gives me one of his dimpled grins. "You wanna do it in reverse?"
I sigh. "Wyatt, please let it go."
"What?" I snap at him. "They love me? After what I did? No way," I bite.
"They called me. I didn't answer, because I wanted to talk to you first, but they left a message. Several messages, actually," and he sounds concerned, one of his hands scraping his wavy hair off his forehead. "They don't care what you've done or thought you did. They just want you to come home."
At that moment, we turn onto his grandparents' street.
Wyatt's mom runs out of the house when he pulls into the driveway. I feel a twinge of grief when she hugs him close and tells him how much she's missed him. Her eyes pass over me, and she shoots him a look.
"Mom, you remember me telling you about Callie?" he asks her, and I feel bad for putting him in this position.
"Yes, of course," she says, dusting off a hand on the apron she's wearing. "I'm Elaine," she introduces herself, and I shake her outstretched hand. "It's nice to meet you, Callie."
"You as well, Mrs.-" I stop myself. "It's nice to meet you, Elaine."
"How long are you able to stay with us, Callie?" she asks politely, and I'm amazed at the generosity of her words.
"I-I'm not sure," I sputter. "Not terribly long."
"Well, we can discuss that later. For now, why don't you kids come inside? Dinner's not quite ready, so you can shower and unpack and I'll call you down when it is."
Wyatt grabs both our duffels, and I take a box from the hatch and follow Elaine inside. The house is...quaint, if a bit granny-ish. I realize why that is when I see a small, white-haired lady sitting on a floral loveseat in the living room.
"Hi, Granny," Wyatt exclaims, pressing a kiss to the wrinkled cheek.
"Wyatt, is that you? You're so tall!" she shouts back.
"Callie, this is my grandmother. Her name is Vivian," he introduces.
"It's very nice to meet you..." I say, unsure of her title.
"Call me Granny Viv, dear," she answers my unspoken question. "Everyone does."
"Where's Grandpa Hank?" Wyatt asks.
"Oh, he's doing fine, dear," Granny says, and Wyatt looks at me as if to say, 'Grandmothers, am I right?' I've never had a grandmother, so I wouldn't exactly know, but I smile fondly at his obvious love for the older woman.
"I'm going to take a shower, if that's okay?" I ask him.
He nods, and I smile gratefully. "It was nice to meet you, Granny!" I say.
"You too, dear," she says, and beams at me. Then she continues talking to Wyatt, and I take both his and my bags upstairs. There's a room with the door open, and it's decorated in boyish blues. I realize that it must be Wyatt's room, and I wonder if he's lived here before, because there are bunk beds in it. Thanking every power that could've orchestrated this, I set his bag on the top bunk, grab a change of clothes, and head back down the hall to the bathroom.
I come out of the shower, and I hear voices down the hall.
"She can't stay forever, Wyatt," someone is saying, and I guess that it's his mom.
"She's not going to, Mom," Wyatt says. "Look, it's only for a little while, until I can get her moms to come pick her up. She thinks...she thinks they're better off without her or something stupid, but please, just let her stay. She can sleep in my room - don't worry, we're not together - and she barely eats, so it's not like it's that much more stress."
"What happened to her?" Elaine asks.
"I don't know," Wyatt says. "She's been hurt, Mom."
"And you'll call her parents?"
"Yeah," he says.
When I hear them go downstairs, I sneak into his room and grab his phone from his jacket pocket. I notice with a twinge of despair that there are a few missed calls from a number called "Callie," and as quickly as I can, I erase the call list and my number from his phone. I slip the cell back into the jacket, and sit on the edge of the bed while I dry my hair.
She's been hurt, Mom.
Oh, Wyatt. You have no idea.
"Callie, dear," Granny Viv calls to me from the living room as I finish washing the breakfast dishes. In an unspoken exchange for room and board at Wyatt's grandparents' house, I do chores and errands during the day when Wyatt's in school and his mom is at work. Granny has very bad vision, and Grandpa uses a walker, so neither of them are particularly mobile. "I have a favor to ask."
"Coming!" I call back, and quickly wipe down the counter with a rag. I tread heavily across the pink carpet and into the doily-infested den, so Granny knows I'm on my way.
"What can I get you?" I ask her, taking a seat on a dainty ottoman.
"I need some food for the kittens," she tells me, "and also a few odds and ends from the drugstore. If I tell you the names, would you be able to get them for me?"
She's so sweet that even if I wasn't able, I'd try my best anyway. "Of course!" I say. "Let me get the pad from the kitchen."
Once I've grabbed the grocery list and a pen, I hurry back and let her know that I'm ready to transcribe. I flip the paper over so I can separate Elaine's list from Granny's.
"Two cans of Fancy Feast, but Ida Mae likes the Salmon and Shrimp while Mr. Whiskers likes the Chicken and Liver."
I try my best not to audibly wretch as I write that out. "Okay."
"Do you have that, dear? Okay, the next thing is some Vicks for Hank - he's been coming down with a bit of cold, and he likes to put that on his chest before he goes to sleep at night."
I will never understand the obsession with oversharing that most elderly people seem to have. "Got it," I say.
"And the last thing is some more of those twisty pads that you put in your underpants?" she questions, wondering if I know what she means. As it happens, I do, and I try not to blush and squirm. "You know, to catch it when you leak a little. My bladder ain't what it used to be!"
"Alright, Granny," I mumble, trying very hard not to die from embarrassment. "Do you need anything else? Can I bring you anything before I leave?"
"I don't think so, sweet pea," she says, and her gummy grin makes me forget that I was ever uncomfortable. I do love her, I think. Old people just have a way of making you feel so...appreciated. At least, Granny and Grandpa do.
Mr. Whiskers weaves around my legs as I'm leaving the room. He's a big, gray, fluffy thing, with white paws and nose. His sister, Ida Mae, is already lounging in Granny's lap, so he curls up at her feet. Ida Mae twitches her tan colored ears in my general direction, and I say goodbye to Granny and gather up my things.
"Callie!" she calls, as I'm heading out the door.
"Yes?" I yell back.
"Don't you need some money?"
I smile a little. "No, Granny, I have enough."
And then I'm out the door, locking it behind me.
I walk to the bus stop, tracing idle shapes onto my thighs as I sit under the overhang and wait. When the bus comes, I deposit my fare and then head to the furthest back window. It's not a long distance, but there are many stops and starts, so it takes roughly fifteen minutes to get to the little shopping center.
I've come to love running errands in the middle of the day. Hardly anyone else is in the stores, so I don't feel harried as my fingers skip languidly across the ripples of cans and brightly-colored packages. Elaine needs tomato soup, sandwich meat, dinner rolls, cereal, apples, celery, and a package of ground beef. Having shopped for and with cheapskate foster parents for years, I know where to find the best deals and how to get more for the money. I use the leftovers to buy Granny her cat food and the other things she needs.
Piling the various foodstuffs in my little cart gives me a strange sense of satisfaction, as if I'm doing real good. I know that I'm not, but that small bit of self-pride helps me cope with all the guilt I feel. I know I'm doing the right thing by staying away from Jude and the Fosters, I do - but there's a tiny voice inside me that keeps telling me I'm wrong. That I'm being selfish by leaving.
I shake my head as I begin to feel overwhelmed with emotion. I still need to grab Vaporub for Grandpa Hank, food for the cats, and candy for Wyatt and me.
When all my purchases are safely stowed in my backpack, I relax a touch. It's still early, so I decide to walk through the strip a bit, and maybe find some lunch to take back to Granny and Grandpa. There's not much here - a few fast food chains, a convenience store, and some little odds and ends shops. I peer into the window of a store called The Treasure Chest when I hear a familiar cry.
My heart starts beating faster than ever, and I resist the urge to run because I know running makes you look even more guilty. The guy probably isn't talking to me, anyway - I haven't done anything wrong.
"Hey, you!" he says again. Only this time, he's right in my ear. I flinch, turn to look at him, see his badge, and bolt. "Hey!" he yells, but I'm speeding ahead.
I have no idea where I'm going, or how I'm going to hide, but I don't have time to think. I just do.
Quickly, I slip inside the nearest storefront. It turns out to be a tailor shop, and I thank the stars that granted me this luck. Quietly, so as not to be noticed, I sneak into one of the changing areas, and shut the curtain behind me.
There's a small ottoman inside, and I set my bag down and curl up on top of it. I wonder how long it'll take before the coast is clear.
"Hello, Officer. Can I help you?"
"Excuse me, have you seen a teenage girl in here?"
Obviously, pretty long.
"No, there's no one but me here."
"Do you mind if I look around?"
Please mind, please mind, please mind, I chant silently. My knees are pressed to my chest, and my arms wrap around my calves. I shiver.
"Of course not."
I hold my breath, but that nagging voice from earlier tells me to reveal myself. "The sooner he finds you, the sooner you'll be home," it baits me. "He's a police officer, Stef's a police officer. She'll come get you, and this will all be over."
One curtain opens and closes. Two curtains open and close. A third curtain opens, and I hide my face in my knees like I'm an ostrich, burying my head in the sand.
"C'mon, kid," he says, tugging my arm to get me to stand up.
"There's no need for violence," I spit, grabbing my backpack and walking ahead of him. I smirk to myself, hoping I'll piss him off enough on the car ride to get him to leave well enough alone.
No such luck. Once we reach the squad car, he puts me in the backseat, turns up the radio, and doesn't ask me anything until we reach his station. Then he makes me follow him through booking to the bullpen, where he pulls over an unoccupied chair and motions for me to sit.
"Why aren't you in school?" he asks bluntly.
"I don't go," I answer, semi-honestly.
"Are you aware that not going to school is illegal?" he questions.
"Not if you're over the age of sixteen, which I am," I counter.
"You'd still have to get a parent to sign off on that," he says.
"I don't have parents," I snipe.
"Legal guardian, then," he says. "Show me some ID, though."
"So I can prove you're sixteen!"
"I am sixteen!"
He seems to not care about that anymore, because he asks, "What school do you go to, kid?"
"This is a ridiculous line of questioning," I bluster, trying to get him to turn off the heat. "I've already told you the truth. I'm not in school, I'm over sixteen, and I've got people at home wondering where I am!"
"Until you can provide me with some valid ID, I can't take your word for it that you're legally out of school," Alex tells me.
"Wouldn't your time be far better spent catching real criminals?" I jibe. "I mean, honestly, how much money a year is this precinct wasting on truancy officers?"
He glares at me, and I feel a small spark of pride inside me that I haven't completely lost my touch. I used to be really good at pissing off cops...Stef turned me soft, I guess.
Thinking about her makes my stomach knot, and in my distress I wince, just a little. But Alex seems to notice, because he rubs my arm in sympathy.
"You got any ID, kid?" And he's back to being gruff.
"No," I murmur.
"No driver's license? If you're sixteen, like you say, shouldn't you at least have a permit?" He jabs, trying to ruffle my feathers.
"I'm a foster kid," I practically growl. "We don't get cars."
When his lips curl in satisfaction, I realize the gravity of what I've just said.
"Shit," I breathe out.
"So, foster," he says, and I lose it.
"Don't call me that!" I yell, standing up and putting my face right next to his.
"Hey, whoa," a quiet voice soothes, and gentle hands are tugging my shoulders backwards and guiding my body down to my chair. "Everything okay, Luchey?"
Alex nods. "Yeah, Cho."
The voice turns to me, and I'm struck by the kindness in her eyes. Except for Stef and Mike, I'd never seen those eyes from a cop - at least, not directed at me.
"I'm Olive," she says, stretching out her hand to take mine. I shake it, and she smiles. "Are you okay?"
I nod slowly. "Mm-hmm," I affirm.
"How about you take a walk with me, okay? Maybe some air will do everybody good."
I usually hate being babied, but Olive seems like she's just trying to help, and I still kind of want to punch Alex in the face. So I follow her beckoning hand and we walk out of the police station, past the lobby, and back outside. There's a small park next to the building, and we head over to the little trail that loops around it to walk.
"What's your name, kid?" she asks, once we've made it to the path.
"I can't tell you."
She bites her lip. "Okay. Where are you from?"
"I can't tell you that, either."
"You really don't wanna be found, huh?"
I sigh. "It's not that," I mumble.
"Then what is it?"
"I can't be found."
"Why not?" Olive asks. She seems very nonchalant, like it doesn't matter either way to her if I answer. I guess that makes it easier, somehow, to tell the truth.
"Because I left for their own good."
"How's that?" She doesn't smile, doesn't laugh - doesn't make a face like Wyatt, doesn't balk like I expected.
"My bro-someone I care about, very much," I say, "finally told me the truth. I'm selfish, and I've been ruining things for him. We've been in a lot of foster homes, and we finally found the one that might just work, and I messed up. Again. So I left, so he could have a chance to be happy."
"What about you?"
"What about me?" I ask tiredly.
"What about your happiness?" She stops walking, and I have to turn around to look at her. "What about your chance?"
"I don't deserve one," I say with a shrug.
"That sounds like bullshit to me," Olive says.
"Well, it's the truth." I'm starting to get defensive again, so I resume walking. I hear her catch up to me, and she waits a beat before speaking again.
"What made this placement different?" She's trying a different tactic to get me to open up, but I take the bait anyway.
"The family...it wasn't like the others. They fought for us."
"And now you've decided they're not worth fighting for?"
I spin around, furious. "Don't you get it? I'm the one that isn't worth it! I'm worthless!"
"You're not worthless," Olive whispers, and I flash back to the night Brandon and I rescued Jude. The first night Stef rescued me.
"You're not disposable, Callie," she says, her blue eyes sparkling in the headlights' glow. "You're - you're not worthless."
"Yes, I am," I tell her. I tell both of them. And then it's all over. The tears start, and I can't get them to stop.
"Hey, hey," Olive is whispering in my ear. "Shh, it's okay. Shh, kiddo."
I let her hold me as I cry, but when I'm finally done, she doesn't let go.
"Olive, I-" I start, trying to apologize.
"Shh," she murmurs. She turns me in her arms, and I have no choice but to look at her. Her dark eyes shine with emotion. "Look, babe," she says. "I know it's hard to fight. Trust me, I know. I know how easy it is to pick up and run. But the thing is, one day you hit a wall. A wall you can't climb, can't tunnel under, can't go around. And there's no question that your past is gonna catch up. So you have two choices - you can wait until they get here, or you can go back and fight."
She stands up, then, and I almost miss her tight embrace. But I pull myself together and stand up, too.
"You don't have to decide right now," she says. "Why don't we go back and see what Officer Luchey has been up to?"
I nod, not trusting my voice to speak, and she links arms with me as we make our way back to the station. Surreptitiously, I start wiping my eyes with the sleeve of my jacket, hoping that no one else notices that I've been crying. When we enter the bullpen, hardly anyone looks up, and I feel a bit better that we've escaped much scrutiny.
"Luchey!" Olive calls, walking us back to Alex's desk. I notice he's got my backpack, and my hackles rise again.
"Hey!" I yell, snatching it from his grasp. "My Fourth Amendment rights protect me against illegal search and seizure!"
Alex shrugs. "Not my fault you left it there," he says.
I groan at him, and Olive laughs. But after a quick check, everything seems to be in order.
"Olive, is there a fridge around here? This meat'll spoil if I don't keep it chilled."
"Yeah, in the break room. Don't worry, I'll take it," she offers, and I hand her the two packages.
"Nice keychain you got there," Alex says to me as Olive walks away. "That your school?"
I look at my bag and see the plastic rectangle with the Anchor Beach logo on it. White with a maroon border, it says "Anchor Beach Community Charter School" in maroon with a like-colored anchor tilted in the top right corner. I clutch it frantically, but try to act like I don't care.
"I told you, I don't go to school," I reply, and Alex chuckles. I frown at him, and then realize that I really need to go to the bathroom.
"Um, Alex?" I ask. "Where's the bathroom?"
"Down the hall to the left," he answers. I nod, standing up to leave, and then grab my bag.
"I'm not making the same mistake twice," I warn him. But his smirk makes me suspicious.
I use the facilities and wash my hands, but gaze into the mirror a bit to examine my reflection. I look okay, though my face is a bit pale and there are some crazy bags under my eyes. My lips are also a little chapped, but overall I'm fine. I splash some cool water on my cheeks and head back out to Alex's desk, where he's on the phone with somebody. My heartbeat quickens, and there's an uncomfortable tossing in my stomach that tells me something's terribly wrong.
"She went to the-oh, no, here she is now." Alex is saying. "Hey, kid," he turns to me. "There's someone on the phone for you."
I look at him blankly, but take the outstretched receiver from his hand. I feel like I'm about to faint or vomit.
"Hello?" I ask quietly.
"Callie? Oh, my baby, is that you?"