“Hey, I want you guys to stick together for a few weeks. Walk together to and from school—no detours. Friends are allowed over after school for projects only. We’re probably going to be doing a lot more family nights in, so evening chores and dishes duty will probably increase and change slightly.” She waded through the groans. “Hey! No complaints. This is police business.”
Jesus wrinkled his nose. “So who’d you beat up this time, Mom? Gang banger, burglar, or drug dealer?”
“Rapist.” Stef answered bluntly. “I haven’t done anything yet, but we’re working on a case against him. He’s big, college age, with a temper and an eye for pretty girls about your age and a bit younger.” She fixed Mariana with a look. “This is not to get out anywhere, but he has also set his sights on Callie. That’s all you need to know right now. So you stick together and watch each other’s backs, got it?”
The twins nodded, although Callie could see the wheels turning behind Mariana’s eyes. Jude came lumbering back downstairs and the conversation quickly resumed with more normal chatter.
The brunette inwardly braced herself for an interrogation on the way to school, but Brandon and Jesus led the way, distracting Jude by giving him an impromptu skateboard lesson as the girls followed behind more slowly.
“It’s that guy, isn’t it?” Mariana said quietly. “Liam. The guy who was at Wyatt’s party.” Her lips quirked at her foster sister’s surprise. “I was buzzed, not wasted. I saw the look on your face when you saw him.” She hesitated. “You also talk in your sleep.”
Callie froze. She had thought that the dreams were gone, had hoped that she had trained herself to keep quiet, no matter the horrors that plagued her mind.
“You don’t have to tell me.” Mariana said gently. “But we’re family. And I’m a really good listener.”
She continued walking slowly, her eyes trained on the ground. Mariana kept pace patiently, one eye on the boys in front of them.
Softly, haltingly, Callie began to speak, her voice strangely detached. “When I was 14 and Jude was 9, we were taken in by a family. They had a son, Liam, who was 18 at the time…”
“I know that name…” Mariana frowned, trying to dredge up the memory. “Jesus! C’mere a second.” Her twin jogged back to them, and she quickly skimmed over the details, enough so that her brother got the jist without making Callie feel any more uncomfortable than she already was. “Jesus, the last time I heard someone sound that scared was…” She looked at her twin. “Carla.”
Jesus sucked in a breath. “The Olmsteads? That Liam?”
Callie paled. “What do you mean? How do you know the Olmsteads and Liam?”
“The foster home that we were in before we came here.” Mariana answered slowly. “They lived next door to the Olmsteads. They also had foster kids, so our foster parents hired Liam to watch us after school.”
“When was this?” Callie asked urgently.
“We were nine. The girl living with them was maybe thirteen? Fourteen?”
“Yeah, that sounds like Liam’s favorite age range.” She said bitterly.
“Luckily for her, I think her aunt finally found her, or she went to a permanent home.” Jesus broke in. “We were so young though, that the time before we came to live with Moms is all kind of a blur.”
By the time they reached school, they had lapsed into a pensive silence.
“I need to go to my locker, so I’ll walk Jude to class.” Jesus offered before Callie could speak up.
“I need to drop some stuff off for yearbook, so I’ll go with you.” Mariana immediately volunteered.
She pulled Callie into a sudden, quick hug. “Thank you for trusting me.” She whispered in the shocked girl’s ear. “We’ve got you now. You’re one of us, even if moms haven’t made it official yet. And you are not alone. Not anymore. Okay?” Pulling back, she smiled into the other girl’s eyes, searching to make sure she was understood. Satisfied, she called goodbye to Brandon and followed her brothers into the school.
Brandon watched the emotions flit across Callie’s face, fascinated, before she hid behind her mask once more.
He stifled a sigh. “C’mon.” He said lightly. “I have twenty minutes to practice, and you were going to go over the algebra extra credit from last night. I can never remember all of the formulas correctly…”
He felt her relax beside him as they headed for the music room. “Liar.” She teased affectionately. “You’re doing better than I am.”
“This week.” He retorted with a snort. “You got 110% on that last exam and edged me out!”
The easy banter continued all the way to the music room, where Callie took her usual seat by the window and Brandon sat at the keyboard.
As the wistfully haunting melody of whatever he was playing wrapped around her senses like a comforting blanket, Callie gazed down at the courtyard below. She felt detached, an observer to the scene below, although the wind carried snippets of the various conversations up to her.
Including the intimate one between Wyatt and Talya.
She watched the familiar sandy blonde and strawberry blonde heads meet briefly; even at this angle, it wasn’t hard to guess what they were doing.
Callie caught her breath as a stab of betrayal lanced through her.
“I’m glad you called me.” Wyatt murmured. “Are we still on for this weekend?”
“Yeah. I wouldn’t miss it.” Talya’s slightly superior tone drifted up to the second floor. “What about Callie?”
“What about her?” Wyatt shrugged. “She’s got serious issues. It was cool at first, but that’s one nut that I can’t even crack. Brandon is welcome to her.”