Chapter Three/Week Three

Rusty placed his phone down onto the nightstand. It was pointless; he couldn't even concentrate enough to play a game. He checked the time, for what must have been the tenth time in two minutes, and flopped down on the bed, groaning in frustration.

It was a Saturday evening, and Rusty's mother was coming over in just a while to see where he had lived for the past two years. In just little over a week, he'd seen her three times already. After the first time, she'd called him, saying she wanted to spend time with him alone, but Rusty hadn't felt like he was ready for that. He'd told his mom that his legal guardian had to be present during the visitations. It wasn't an actual lie; he was still a minor, so the meeting had to be supervised. But the supervision could've come in the form of someone from social services. It was his wish to have Sharon there instead. He was relieved when, despite not being happy, his mom hadn't pressed the issue.

It felt weird, not wanting to spend time with his mom alone, and he'd felt like a baby when he'd realized he wanted Sharon to be there when he'd see his mom again. It wasn't that he thought his mother would do something, or even say something. Even if she did, it wasn't like Rusty couldn't handle it. It just felt like he could breathe easier with Sharon there with him.

His thoughts returned to the discussion he'd had with Sharon the day before. They'd talked about different, hypothetical scenarios of what could happen, Sharon answering all his questions in that calm, reassuring way of hers. And she had provided answers even to the questions he was too afraid to ask.

"I want you to understand this, Rusty," Sharon had said. "I will fully support your decision, whatever it is that you decide. All I want is for you to be happy and safe. And, I'm saying this just for the record, so that you know where I stand: if you choose to move back with your mom, and if something happens that you feel like you're no longer safe, or you don't, for whatever reason, want to keep living with her, you'll always have a home here."

"I couldn't do that, Sharon," he'd said.

"Why ever not?" Sharon had asked, frowning and clearly surprised.

"I'd feel like I was using you, like I was taking advantage," he'd explained. He'd known, even as he'd said the words, that Sharon wouldn't see things like that, but it didn't stop him from feeling that way.

"Rusty," Sharon had sighed, looking at him with that soft, but sad, look he knew all too well. "You wouldn't be. She's your mother; I know you love her, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to live with her. I don't hold a grudge against you for wanting that for a moment." She'd paused for a moment to allow the words to sink in. "All I'm saying is that no matter what happens, my door is always open to you."

He'd nodded; it was almost like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He'd thought about Sharon's words for a few moments before realizing he'd come to a decision.

He'd looked at his foster-mom, trying to choose how to tell her. Eventually, when she'd tilted her head and raised her eyebrow, he'd decided the "how" didn't matter that much.

"A while ago, when I talked to Doctor Joe, he asked me something that I hadn't even thought about, hadn't allowed myself to think of, really," Rusty had said. "He asked that, if my mom came back, would I choose to stay with you, or go with her. I sort of panicked, 'cause I thought there was no way I could ever choose. And, now, when my mom actually came back, I still didn't know if I could."

He'd paused to look at Sharon; she'd held his gaze steadily, but he knew her well enough by now to be able to tell that she was wearing her "Captain Raydor" face, bracing herself for bad news.

"But now I know; I want to stay here. With you. With Andrea," he'd said, the words coming easier than he'd expected.

Sharon had looked stunned; her previous mask of detachment had disappeared as her eyes lit up and she'd broken into a relieved smile. "Okay."

"Cool," he'd nodded, and, suddenly, bolted off to his room. Though saying the words had made him feel relieved, they'd also made him feel guilty, and he hadn't wanted to discuss the matter further, at least not right then. But Sharon had always been good like that; she'd always given him space, backing off when she saw he didn't want to talk about something.

Rusty checked the time again. It was 6.25pm. Almost time.

There was a knock on the door, and he heard Andrea call his name.

"Come in," Rusty invited, welcoming the idea of having someone to talk to. Weekends were usually when Andrea came over, but, this time, she'd suggested that, seeing as his mom was going to visit, she could stay out of the way. Rusty had rejected the idea as soon as it had been voiced; he liked Andrea and wanted her there. Andrea, while sort of a parental figure as well, wasn't his mother, or his foster-mother, and he could really use someone else to be there to help ease the tension. Though both Sharon and Andrea had voiced their doubts, Rusty had resorted to pleading and looking as pathetic as he could, hoping Andrea would relent. He'd had to hide his smile when it had worked.

"Hey, how you holding up?" Andrea asked, stepping into his room.

Rusty sat up on his bed and shrugged. "Okay, I guess," he ventured and then sighed, knowing it would probably help if he actually talked about what was on his mind. And seeing as everything was so closely related to Sharon, it'd be easier to talk about this stuff with Andrea. "I feel like I'm in a corner, or stuck in the middle. I mean, I don't want to hurt my mom's feelings, but I also know that I want to stay here with you guys. And when I tell her, she's gonna be hurt."

Andrea tilted her head, listening. She didn't envy Rusty's position at all. She'd seen him struggle with his decision, trying to choose between what he wanted, what others wanted, and what he knew he needed.

"It was so different when Daniel showed up; it was so much easier to decide, because I never really wanted to see him to begin with. I didn't want to spend time with him, nothing. And I know I didn't really have a choice then either, but it's so different now. It's…" Rusty hung his head, giving up trying to explain.

"How is it different?" Andrea asked, though she had a pretty good guess. But she wanted Rusty to put his feelings into words, guide him through this.

"'Cause I've missed my mom, and, all this time, I've wanted her to come back and…" Rusty ran his fingers through his hair. "All this time, I wanted her to come back, so that we could be a family again; I wanted to have my mom back." He paused and remained silent for a long time, so long that Andrea was tempted to prod further. But something stopped her, and she waited. Eventually, Rusty sighed and continued: "But living with Sharon… It's, like, now I know that when I wanted my mom back, I wanted the mom that she could be, the one she was when I was a kid. I wanted what Sharon's given me. I mean, I know Sharon's not my mother, but she takes care of me like she is. Like my mom should have.

"And that's why I chose to stay here. And it was so hard to decide, 'cause I felt like that if I was going to stay with Sharon, then I'd betraying my mom. But if I was going to go with my mom, then I'd feel like I was betraying Sharon, like I was throwing everything she's done for me in her face. But she never, not once, tried to guilt me into staying," Rusty explained.

Andrea's heart constricted at his words; it was a terrible decision for Rusty to make, but it was one he had to make himself. He was old enough to choose, and trying to influence his decision, one way or another, would only cost them later. "Rusty, I promise you, no matter what you had decided, Sharon would not feel betrayed. I can't say she wouldn't miss you if you still chose otherwise, but you don't owe her, us, anything. All we want is-."

"For me to be happy," Rusty finished. He looked at Andrea then, finally meeting her eyes, and smiled. "I know. And that's what it came down to in the end. I know my mom loves me, but she doesn't really know how to show it. I needed to choose where I feel I'd be safer, with people I can trust and count on. And that, without a doubt, is here with Sharon and you."

"That is a very mature decision, Rusty," Andrea said. "It's a very difficult situation for everyone concerned, and you're doing a great job keeping it together. We're very proud of you, you know."

Rusty smiled at her words, visibly happy to hear them.

There was a knock on the door, and Sharon's voice carried through: "Rusty? Your mother is here."

Andrea and Rusty looked at each other, the woman smiling encouragingly at the teen.

"Thanks, Andrea."

"Anytime, kid," Andrea promised. She reached out, meaning to briefly grasp his arm in a supportive gesture, but she was surprised when Rusty closed the remaining distance between them and wrapped his arms around her. It was the first time he'd ever hugged her, and Andrea couldn't stop the smile spreading across her face.

When they walked into the living room a moment later, Sharon Beck was there, looking around and taking in the apartment. Hearing Rusty and Andrea approach, she turned to greet her son, after which Sharon Raydor stepped in to make introductions.

"Andrea, this is Sharon Beck, Rusty's mom. Sharon, this is my partner, Andrea Hobbs," Sharon said.

The women shook hands, but Sharon Beck looked confused. "Partner? I thought you said you ran your own department?"

"Oh, my apologies, Sharon. I meant that Andrea's my partner, as in my, ahh… well…" Sharon tried to find another suitable word for what they were.

They'd never, actually, bothered to label themselves; they just were. They were in a committed relationship, but they didn't live together, at least not officially, and they definitely weren't married. And, yet, they were more than just lovers – not that there was a way in hell that she was going to introduce Andrea as her lover in front of her foster-son's mother. And calling Andrea her girlfriend didn't feel right either.

"What she's trying to say is that they're together. As in a couple," Rusty helpfully explained, casually tossing the words over his shoulder as he went into the kitchen.

The way Rusty's mother's face immediately fell at the words did not go unnoticed by Sharon, or Andrea. Sharon glanced at Andrea and, with her eyes only, tried to convey how much she appreciated Andrea being there, even if their guest was not happy about the idea of them being together. Forcing herself to swallow a sigh, Sharon guided her namesake to the dining table where their dinner was waiting.

With everyone on the edge, the evening was awkward, their conversations stilted and, at times, even tense. Sharon couldn't deny she was relieved when, nearly as soon as they'd finished their desserts, Rusty pulled out the homework card, claiming there was still plenty to do before bed. The first time Sharon Beck had heard those words from him, she'd looked at her watch and laughed, saying it was only nine in the evening. But Rusty had explained, very convincingly, that he still needed to check his homework before going to sleep. Bedtime was at ten thirty, as he needed to be up at six to get ready for school. Sharon Beck had looked at him as if she didn't recognize him, but then accepted his reasoning and bid goodnight.

This time, she rose from the table without so much as a comment about his bedtime. As she gathered her bag and coat, she quickly glanced at the other two women before looking at her son.

"I'll see you on Tuesday then, Rusty," Beck reminded him of their prearranged, scheduled meeting. "But it'd probably be better if it was just the three of us, hmm?"

"Okay," Rusty replied, frowning. Having missed most of the looks and subtle comments his mother had given Sharon and Andrea all evening, he couldn't understand what his mother had against Andrea being present. It didn't matter that he knew Andrea was going to see her parents on Tuesday evening anyway; actually making a point of not wanting her to come along seemed to come completely out of the blue.

Just behind Rusty, Sharon's hand had already found its way to holding Andrea's, if for no other reason than to stop herself from throwing their guest out. This was her home, and, by extension, Andrea's, and Sharon Beck had no business in trying to make Andrea feel like she wasn't welcome. Sharon brushed her thumb across Andrea's knuckles softly, and Andrea answered by gently squeezing her hand. The communication between them was silent, but the message couldn't have been louder: they loved each other, supported each other, and no poorly veiled comments from anyone, least of all Sharon Beck, were going to shake them.

Hasty goodbyes were said, Rusty closing the door behind his mother. "I'm still hungry," the teen declared. "I'm going to heat up some left overs."

"All right," Sharon acknowledged. "We'll be out on the balcony," she added, pulling Andrea with her.

They sat down on one of the deck chairs, slightly secluded and out of Rusty's immediate line of sight. As soon as they settled down, Sharon took Andrea's hand again and brought it her lips, giving it a soft kiss.

"Andrea, I'm so sorry about the way she-," Sharon tried to apologize, but was interrupted by the younger woman.

"Sharon Raydor, don't you dare apologize," Andrea said. "You are not accountable for that woman's actions, or words, and, despite her thinly veiled disapproval of our lives, you were nothing but courteous and patient all night. You were the perfect hostess," Andrea praised. Then, feeling the need to be closer to Sharon, Andrea slid her arms around her, drawing her into an embrace. "There will always be those who don't approve of us, whether it's that we're two women, or that they just hate cops and lawyers, but, as long as their opinions wont' drive you away, I really don't give a rat's ass about them."

Sharon chuckled and kissed Andrea's cheek. "I promise there's no chance of that happening."

"So, what happens next?" Andrea asked after a moment.

"The DCFS's plan of action is for Rusty to have one more supervised visit next week, on Tuesday. I don't know where Rusty wants to go, I'll have to ask him later," Sharon answered. "And, then, next Saturday, it's just the two of them." Andrea couldn't hide her surprise, and Sharon sighed. "I know; I told Cynthia that isn't a good idea, but she's saying that Rusty's mom is showing progress. She has an apartment now and a part time job. Plus, it's just for a few hours, so…"

"But what's the point when Rusty doesn't want to go live with her?" Andrea inquired. "Why all these visitations and leading her on? It would make a better case if we took this to court as soon as possible, and give the judge the entire list of reasons why she shouldn't regain custody."

"Because Rusty isn't ready," Sharon said. "He wants to stay here with us, but he loves his mother and he doesn't want to hurt her."

Andrea nodded, remembering Rusty's words from earlier that evening. She looked at Sharon and noticed her pensive expression. "Talk to me, honey," Andrea implored.

"Seeing how she obviously feels about us, I'm happier than ever that Rusty's staying with us," Sharon confessed. It had only been a short while ago that Rusty had finally confided in her, confirming what she'd suspected for quite some time. Once he'd come out to her, Sharon had promised him he could trust her to keep his secret about the matter, but Rusty himself had wanted Andrea to know as well. Not only did he know how both women appreciated complete honesty and not keeping things from each other, but he also knew he could trust Andrea as much as he trusted Sharon.

Andrea closed her eyes, trying not to imagine Sharon Beck's reaction to finding out her son not only lived with a same-sex couple, but was also gay himself. "Considering her reaction to us, I don't…" she tapered off, but then asked instead: "Do you think we should prepare him, just in case?"

Sharon shook her head. "I don't think so, not at the moment anyway. Now that he's chosen to stay here, I don't see him coming out to his mother, at least not right now. And that woman has done enough damage to him; the last thing Rusty needs right now is to find out his mother doesn't approve of who he is."

"God, what a messed up situation," Andrea sighed.

"Tell me about it."

Sharon burrowed closer to Andrea; she needed Andrea's comforting touch. She smiled a little when Andrea tightened her hold, drawing Sharon a little closer and kissed her head. For long moments, they just sat there, letting each other's presence calm them, ground them.

It was almost half an hour later that Rusty came out to check on them and found the women still holding each other; Andrea had her iPad out while Sharon was reading a book.

Andrea noticed him first, standing just inside the door. She studied his face for a moment before nudging Sharon to alert her to his presence.

"Do you want to go to the beach?" Andrea asked him.

Looking already slightly relieved, Rusty nodded.