AUTHOR'S NOTE: This movie hit very, very close home. Probably more than any other movie I've ever seen in my entire life.
The title is from "All You Had To Do Was Stay" by Taylor Swift.
"Look, we know that there's so much that we don't know. But if you're afraid that we can't handle knowing the bad stuff, or the scary stuff – that we can, I promise."
"Yeah, bring it. I mean, whatever you've got, we want it. Because we love you, Lizzy."
"Stop saying that. Please just go away. Please."
Lizzy expects them to walk away.
Of course her newest foster parents, two in a long list of surrogate families, will dump her back in the system and abandon her like everyone else. But instead of silence, Ellie's voice comes through the fence again.
"We're not going anywhere."
Lizzy curls into herself. It's not real. Ellie's lying.
"We're not going anywhere," Pete repeats.
Lizzy pulls her legs even tighter to her chest and hugs her knees. She has to hold herself, because no one else will. "You're lying."
"We're telling the truth. And we're not going anywhere," Pete says again.
Through the slats in the fence, the love in Ellie and Pete's eyes is almost convincing. Lizzy presses her forehead to her knees so she doesn't have to see the fabricated emotion. "This isn't real."
"Yes, it is," Ellie insists. "We're not going anywhere."
Lizzy thinks of the ten court teddy bears. "You're just going to leave like everyone else."
"We're not going anywhere," Pete echoes.
Ten bears for ten new families, each symbolizing ten times the siblings had been left by their previous foster parents. "Yes, you will."
Ellie again. "We're not going anywhere."
Lizzy wonders if the judge will have any remaining left for Juan and Lita and Lizzy's eleventh abandonment. Have there been any other children given eleven bears? "No one ever stays. You won't be any different if you leave."
Pete says it now. "We're not going anywhere."
Lizzy drags in a shuddering breath. Ten bears. "It's fine if you do. I can handle it." But she knows she can't. Pete and Ellie are the best foster parents yet, and losing them might just destroy Lizzy.
"It's not fine," Pete says. "We're not going anywhere."
More tears leak from Lizzy's eyes. Her mascara will be ruined. "I don't need you." It's a lie.
"We need you," Ellie says. "Our family won't be complete without you. And people need people. It's okay if you need someone else. Again, we're not going anywhere."
"You'll regret it," Lizzy gasps through her tears. "They all do. No one's ever wanted me. Not even my own mother-" That is the deepest pain of all. Everyone else she could survive, but not her mother's betrayal.
"We want you," Pete says. "And we're not going anywhere."
Lizzy can't respond. I'm going to be alone. They won't be able to handle my brokenness. They won't be able to handle that one of Mom's drug dealer boyfriends tried to get into my bed when I was nine. They won't be able to take a girl who started smoking at thirteen. They won't be able to deal with a girl who isn't perfect, who's damaged goods.
"We're not going anywhere."
I'm going to be alone.
"We're not going anywhere."
I'm going to be alone forever.
"We're not going anywhere. I promise."
Promises? When has anyone ever kept their word? When has anyone actually stuck to what they said instead of breaking their promise and knowingly breaking Lizzy's heart? Promises aren't real. Promises are just what people say to make themselves feel better, not because they care about her. Why should she believe another lie now? They only cause pain.
Lizzy puts up one last defense. Maybe this will drive the Wagners away, and prove that they're like all the rest. "Well, I don't want you," she lies, but it comes out a whimper instead of a shout. "I want-"
"What do you want?" Pete asks, voice soft and gentle and kind. Lizzy literally cannot remember the last time a man, foster father or not, did anything but scream and shout and hurt. Men are not kind, and she knows this all too well. You don't trust them, ever, because they will use your trust against you. But Pete, time and time again, is proving her lifetime of experience wrong. No one's ever talked to Lizzy so tenderly. Not her mother. Not Jacob. Not any foster parents-
Other than the Wagners.
And maybe… Just maybe…
The voice in the back of her head screams at her to protect herself. To push them away and rely only on herself. Lita is too young to depend upon, yet Juan has always been there, but Lizzy really only has herself. And it's fine. Really. It is. But suddenly it isn't. She's seized by a wild, frantic, desperate need to say something. Anything. The words weigh on her tongue, about to choke her.
"I want-" Lizzy gasps, "I want someone to stay. No one's ever stayed." And no one ever will, because everyone always leaves-
"We'll stay," Ellie says.
"We'll always stay," Pete adds.
She cries so hard she can't breathe, she can't see, she can't think. Lizzy hears a woman's voice she doesn't know, the woman running over to the fence and unlocking the gate. Lizzy doesn't really care. All she knows is that someone is staying.
Once the gate is opened, Ellie and Pete's knees hit the grass, and Lizzy falls into Ellie's arms. Ellie wraps her arms so tight around the girl it almost hurts, but in a good way, because no one has ever held her like this. Pete embraces both Ellie and Lizzy, and the three of them huddle together in the damp grass.
Lizzy weeps for all of the people who have abandoned her, but she also weeps for the two people who remain. Memories flood her brain, flashing behind her eyelids in startling clarity. Dim recollections of her father walking out the door. Crystal clear ones of the police arresting her mother, and her mother being too high to even try to reach her terrified children. When Lizzy was told her mother was back in jail again and again. When no one had chosen Lizzy at the foster fairs, let alone looked in her direction. Being kicked out of the homes who couldn't deal with the Viara siblings anymore. Packing her meager belongings in a plastic garbage bag like she is garbage herself. The ten teddy bears.
But now, someone isn't walking away. Someone isn't throwing their hands up in the air and saying Lizzy is too much to take. Someone isn't leaving her utterly and completely alone.
Two people, now.
"Do you want to go home?" Ellie asks, searching Lizzy's red eyes when the girl leans back.
The fifteen-year-old lets out a noise that is half a laugh and half a sob. She looks at the two home renovators who want to renovate her heart, filling the organ with love instead of emptiness, and finally allows herself to believe.