Chapter 42

Callie cautiously retraced the steps of that awful night. Images of Liam snapping her wrist and dragging her to the woods flashed behind her lids. She blinked back the images as she continued down the path, Brandon following behind her. It was eleven months ago when she was yanked through this path but it felt like yesterday. Every detail, every moment, every agonizing second of that night was still ingrained in her memory.

She paused for a moment as anxiety churned inside her. This was supposed to be an attempt at gaining closure, but part of her wanted to turn around and abandon these woods for the rest of her life. She'd been making progress after the trial and sentencing and then the healing wounds had been ripped open after the wrestling team's assault. During one of her group therapy sessions, someone had recounted returning to the place of trauma as closure and when Callie discussed it with her therapist individually, the therapist suggested it could be healing for her.

"You okay?" Brandon asked. It took some convincing to get him on board with this; he couldn't see how this could be helpful. But after Callie explained her therapist's reasoning and he did his own research, he agreed. Now he was wondering if he should take her back home.

She met his eyes and the anxiety eased slightly. Those hazel orbs were the strength she needed to continue. "Yeah, just needed a minute."

Brandon offered her a warm smile before they continued down the path.

Somehow Callie found herself in the exact location where her soul was shattered. The terror from that night exploded in the pit of her stomach. The smell of her blood permeating the air, the musty scent of Liam's cologne, the smoky aroma of a firepit in the distance assaulted her nostrils. She could feel their hands burning her body, their fingernails digging into her skin, their teeth ripping at her flesh, the cool air swallowing her body as they ripped off her dress. The sounds of the leaves beneath her crunching, their gruff voices belittling her, their zippers opening boomed in her ears.

Her throat closed. Her heart hammered in her chest. The blood pounded in her ears. A tremble spread throughout her limbs like wildfire as goosebumps rose along her suddenly pale skin. Blurred spots danced in her eyes as her vision narrowed. Every breath was sharp and shallow until she was gasping. It felt as though her lungs were bound by ropes, inflating them and pushing them to the brink of exploding.

"Callie." Brandon called out. The distant look and terror swimming in her eyes concerned him. He gently reached out to touch her arm when she didn't respond. "Callie."

Callie jolted backward as she inhaled sharply. "Don't touch me!"

Brandon was taken aback by the outburst, but he quickly realized that she wasn't present with him. Flashbacks were common among PTSD victims; he'd done his research when the psychologist in the ER had mentioned that diagnosis. He'd seen her experience a few, although they tended to come more in the form of nightmares for Callie. But she had not experienced a waking flashback in months and Brandon feared the repercussions of the visit to the woods, to the very place where she was brutally assaulted.

"Get off! Get off me!" Callie shrieked frantically.

"Callie, you're safe." Brandon said softly, watching nervously as her chest continued to heave up and down. He held his hand out in front of her but refrained from touching her again. "Look at me and take my hand. You're safe. It's just me and you here."

"B-Brandon." She choked out as her eyes darted wildly.

"I'm here. Look at me." He continued to hold his hand out as he urged her to snap back to reality. It was killing him that she was reliving the nightmare and he was suddenly wishing he had talked her out of coming here. "Callie, it's just me and you here. You're safe, I promise you."

Terror filled eyes finally locked with his and he saw the realization finally hit. Tears sprang to her eyes and her lower lip trembled. It all felt so real. She could feel, see it, hear it happening all over and it created a suffocating panic. "I…"

Words escaped Callie, still stunned from the horrifying flashback. Brandon held his arms open and she collapsed into the arms that folded around her. He held her trembling body tight against him, inhaling the coconutty scent of her curls. A sob ripped through her throat as she buried her face in his shoulder and a continuous flow of tears followed. "I've got you."

"It felt like it was happening all over again." She cried into his shoulder.

"I can't even imagine how scary and awful that must feel." Brandon traced soothing circles on her back as he pressed a kiss to the top of her head. He would do anything to take away her pain. "Do you want to leave here?"

Callie pulled out of Brandon's arms and nodded eagerly. Standing in the exact spot of her assault was more of a trigger than she thought it would be and she needed to leave. She wiped at her dampened cheeks and inhaled deeply in an attempt to calm herself, but tears continue to dribble from her eyes.

"There's a nice waterfall close to here. Can I take you there?" Brandon asked. He reached for Callie's hand and intertwined their fingers when she nodded. He quietly led her to the path, which eventually brought them to an open area with a beautiful waterfall.

"This is beautiful." Callie whispered with a sniffle.

Brandon guided her to a large, flat rock. He sat down and patted the spot beside him. "Come sit."

Callie took the seat beside him. He reached into her lap to find her hand and gently grasped it in his. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to freak out like that."

"Don't apologize. You didn't freak out. You went back to the place where something awful happened. It's natural to have reactions like that." He gazed into her chocolate eyes still swimming in fear and sadness. "Talk to me."

"It felt so real. Like I was actually back in that spot on that night. I could see them and feel them. I could even smell Vico's cologne." Callie shuddered at the memories. The smell of Vico's cologne would forever be implanted in her mind. It was a smell that made her stomach churn at a whiff of something even similar to it.

Brandon held his gaze on Callie but remained quiet. He could tell she was still gathering her thoughts and so he waited patiently. He was so grateful that she was opening up and although this moment triggered an awful flashback, she had still progressed tremendously from the girl that had first come to live with them. That girl would have insisted she was fine and remained tight-lipped, shrugging off any of his attempts to pry at her thoughts. As horrifying as it was to watch her return to that moment and fall apart after, he understood that it was part of the healing process; that without those moments, without those meltdowns, she couldn't move forward. And even now as she sat there talking about her worst memories, he knew it was painful, but she could never move on unless she faced this messy part of the process.

"I think one of the worst parts was that I knew what was coming. As soon as Vico said they were getting revenge I knew what their intentions were. I knew they were both going to…rape me...and I couldn't do anything about it." Callie pinched the bridge of her nose as a new batch of tears sprang to her eyes. Just remembering that moment evoked a paralyzing fear. "I just kept thinking about what I went through the first time and wondering how I was in this position again and how I would get through it again. And this time was so much worse. I thought I was going to die in those woods. I could barely move when they finally finished, and I figured I would just give up. After what they did to me, death seemed like a step up. And then I kept picturing you and Jude and Stef and Lena finding my body and that's why I forced myself to get up."

Brandon's heart shattered at his girlfriend's words. The pain and suffering she had and continued to experience were unfathomable. "I can't even begin to imagine what that felt like. And I don't know how you managed to make it back to the house that night in the condition you were in."

Callie shrugged as she wiped at the tears tumbling down her cheeks. "I don't really know either. I think adrenaline. I just kept following the same colored ties on the trees hoping it would lead me out and somehow I picked the right path, the one that led me closer to home. If they had taken me to woods without trails or if the trails weren't marked, I think I would have died."

Brandon's stomach lurched at that possibility and he wanted to dispute her thought, but he couldn't. They had gotten her to the emergency room with little time to spare that night. If she had spent even a few minutes longer in those woods, she wouldn't have made it. And that thought shook Brandon to the core. "I'm so glad you found your way out."

Callie nodded but remained silent.

"Are you? Glad you found your way out?" Brandon asked hesitantly, bracing himself for her response. Her life had been so hard prior to that night, but somehow it became ten times harder following that night. So much had happened since then and he couldn't help but flashback to that day he found her holding a handful of strong painkillers.

Callie let out a breath before she nodded as she met Brandon's worried eyes. "I am."

Brandon released the breath he didn't know he was holding.

"If I gave up it would have saved me a lot of suffering." Callie whispered as she looked at her fidgeting hands. She paused for a moment before returning her gaze to Brandon. "But I wouldn't have my life with you then and I wouldn't change that for anything. The Fosters too. If I died that night it would have been feeling so alone. You guys, especially you, reminded me of what it's like to be loved, to have a family."

Brandon's heart swelled. Somehow he fell in love with her more and more every day. He reached up to cup her cheek and planted a soft kiss on her lips. "I'll continue to show you for the rest of our lives."

Callie couldn't help the smile that found her lips. After everything she had been through, she wasn't sure she would ever be able to have a healthy relationship. She wasn't sure she would ever be able to trust a man. But Brandon had come in and erased every one of those doubts. He made it so easy.

"So was this helpful or did it make things worse?" Brandon asked.

"Both?" Callie's voice raised an octave. "I don't know. I think it was helpful in a way to kind of confront my demons, but it brought me back to that night. It triggered all of these feelings. But I don't know...I think they need to be triggered if that makes any sense."

"No, it does." Brandon said. "Maybe it was too soon."

Callie nodded. "I think you're right. I think I'm just rushing it because I'm tired of dealing with it. I mean it was almost a year ago."

"There's no timetable on this, Cal. And it's not like it was one bad thing that happened to you. You had six years of traumatic events before that night. And since then, it's been one thing after the next, mostly related to that night. Yeah, it's been almost a year, but you haven't had the time to heal. You've made tremendous strides but most of them have come recently. Most of them have come after they were finally put away. Because you've actually had a break and have the time to heal."

"You're right." Callie sighed. "But I'm working it on it."

Brandon patted her knee and offered her a smile. "I know. You're doing really well. Even if it doesn't feel like it to you, you've made a ton of progress."

"I have you to thank for a lot of that." She said softly, smiling slightly.

"I'm glad I've helped you. You know I would do anything for you. But don't sell yourself short. You wouldn't have gotten anywhere if you gave up or didn't put in the work that you did." Brandon said. "And you knew what you wanted and went after it for once with me. You could have done the easy thing and gotten adopted."

"It wouldn't have been the easy thing." Callie whispered. "But that was the best decision of my life."

"Mine too." Brandon chuckled as he leaned forward to capture her lips with his.

Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed! More coming soon!