Chapter One / Week One:
It had all seemed too good to be true: things were finally settling down after Ryan Mills, the young man responsible for several killings in addition to sending the threatening letters to Rusty and Sharon, had met his end. Rusty was back home and doing well; he was attending regular school again, getting good grades and even making a friend or two. Sharon’s relationship with Andrea Hobbs was thriving; the younger woman spent – not counting a few exceptions – all the weekends with Sharon and Rusty these days, and, though she didn’t often stay the night during the week, it wasn’t uncommon for Andrea to spend the evening with them. They were turning into a little family unit, something that made Sharon very happy.
Yes, it had all seemed too good to be true and, apparently, it was.
Sharon was in her office with the blinds drawn closed and in the middle of a conversation with Provenza, discussing some bloody prints that they’d found at their latest crime scene, when her phone rang. The lieutenant gestured he’d wait outside her office, giving her some privacy, and Sharon nodded in appreciation before looking at the caller ID.
“Cynthia, this is a surprise,” Sharon answered. She rarely ever heard from Rusty’s caseworker these days. Ever since the trial things had been going well, their contact had been limited to a very occasional phone call. “Is everything all right?”
Sharon listened to Cynthia explaining a new development in Rusty’s situation, her mind trying to comprehend everything the woman was saying. When Sharon ended the phone call a few minutes later, she knew she’d turned white, thinking that it was a good thing she was sitting as her knees were suddenly feeling very weak.
Rusty’s mother was in LA, claiming she was sober and on the right path.
And she wanted her son back.
Of all the things to happen, this was the one Sharon was no longer prepared for. Rusty was fully settled, happy and, most importantly, safe. Sharon spared a moment to thank whatever powers may listen that the boy had come out of the ordeal unscathed.
Taking a deep breath, Sharon picked up the phone again and called Andrea Hobbs.
“DDA Hobbs,” Andrea answered distractedly, clearly not having checked the caller ID.
“Sharon? What ‘s wrong?” Andrea demanded the moment she heard Sharon’s voice; she recognized the distressed tone and was instantly on alert.
“I just got a call from Rusty’s DCFS caseworker, Cynthia. Rusty’s mother is back in town,” Sharon explained, her voice sounding a bit strange to her own ears.
“Oh,” Andrea considered the news for a moment before another thought occurred. “Wait, does she want-,”
“To get Rusty back? Yes.”
“Will you be at the office if I come over?” Andrea wanted to know.
“Andrea, you don’t have to-,” Sharon tried to stop the DDA, but the effort was halfhearted at best.
“I’m already out the door; I’ll see you in ten minutes.”
Sharon was left holding the phone to her ear as the woman on the other end ended the call.
While she waited for Andrea to arrive, Sharon tried not to worry too much. Even if Sharon Beck had turned her life around, the fact remained that she had abandoned her son – the odds weren’t in her favor. And, even if a judge would grant the woman custody, it wasn’t as if Raydor would lose the kid by next week. These things took time, and, if needed, there were always ways to delay the process, even up to the time Rusty turned eighteen, which really was just a few months away. If that was what Rusty would want, of course.
And that was the core of Sharon Raydor’s anxiety; she had no idea how her foster-son would take the news.
Her musings were interrupted when Andrea knocked on the door and walked in. Sharon was slightly surprised at how fast the DDA had gotten there; the woman must have ran at least a part of the way.
“Okay, tell me everything,” Andrea prompted her without further ado, sitting on the edge of Sharon’s desk and reaching out to grasp one of Sharon’s hands in her own.
Sharon explained everything from what Cynthia had told her to her worries about how Rusty would take the news. Andrea listened, interrupting only here and there to ask a question. At one point, Andrea suggested that maybe the woman wouldn’t be all that bad after all, maybe she had changed, you never knew. Sharon, however, wasn’t impressed with Andrea’s optimism, and glared at her.
“How will you tell him?” Andrea finally inquired, her voice sympathetic.
“I don’t know. This isn’t the kind of news I can prepare him for. I have to be careful not to influence his decision in any way. I can’t deny I’m worried how this will affect Rusty, or that I’m afraid he’ll want to move in with his mother again, and that I will...” Sharon’s voice trembled, despite her best efforts. She drew comfort from the way Andrea was holding her hand and caressing her shoulder with the other. Sharon swallowed before continuing: “I’m so afraid I will lose him, Andrea. I love him like one of my own.”
Andrea could no longer stand seeing how upset all of this was making Sharon and she gathered the woman close, holding her tight. “I know, honey. And I know you’ll do what’s best for him. If it means protecting him from his own mother, you will do so, and if it means letting Rusty go, then you’ll do that. And I’ll be there with you, every step of the way, I promise.”
“Thank you,” Sharon murmured, her voice still scratchy from holding back the tears. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, I really don’t.”
Andrea smiled back encouragingly and, then, leaned down briefly to kiss Sharon on the lips softly. “Well, it’s a good thing you don’t have to find out.”
They stayed like that for a few minutes, Andrea holding Sharon, offering her comfort and strength to the older woman, both of them ignoring the faint sounds of the Major Crimes team going about their business just outside the walls. Andrea was pretty sure that a few minutes ago she’d heard Provenza tell someone not to enter the Captain’s office; it was good to know the team had Sharon’s back these days, even if they’d had a rocky start.
“Do you want to talk to Rusty alone, or would you like me to be there as well?” Andrea asked after a while, breaking the silence. She rarely stayed over during the week, but there was no reason why she couldn’t.
Sharon thought about it for a moment, before answering. “I think it’ll probably be better for me to do this alone, but thank you for offering. I’ll admit it would be easier for me if you were there, but Rusty still gets agitated when he feels vulnerable, and then he lashes out. Right now, he’s trying very hard to be polite to everyone, and I just want him to feel like he’s able to freely express himself. But you might get a phone call after it’s all done.”
Andrea nodded her understanding and placed another kiss close to Sharon’s hairline. “And if you change your mind and want me there after all, I can be there in fifteen minutes.”
It was close to eight pm when Sharon and Rusty arrived home, and he was anxious to hear what Sharon wanted to talk to him about. They’d gone to his favorite burger place which Sharon wasn’t too fond of, but took him to from time to time. Rusty always ordered the double cheese bacon burger, and Sharon nibbled on a house salad, but, this time, he’d barely been able to eat, despite having been hungry before they left the Police Administration Building. When Sharon had picked him up from the break room and suggested she’d take him for burger and fries, he’d been surprised; Sharon preferred healthier, home cooked meals and usually forced him to eat healthy stuff, even if they went out to eat. She’d also seemed upset, or nervous, about something, and when he’d asked, she confessed that there was something they needed to talk about when they got home. He’d been worried since, even though she’d promised everything with the Stroh case was fine.
“Well?” Rusty asked as soon as Sharon closed the door behind her. He was already by the couch, fidgeting with his t-shirt. Sharon usually told him to stop and to not ruin his shirts, but this time it seemed like she didn’t even notice, and it just made Rusty worry even more.
Sharon took a deep breath, forcing herself to remain in control of her emotions, and briefly wondered if she should’ve taken Andrea’s offer to join them after all. The DDA had an almost magical way to sooth Sharon, and she could definitely use that right about now.
“Cynthia called today,” Sharon began as she sat down at one end of the couch. She motioned for Rusty to sit down as well and was pleased when he chose the couch as well, instead of one of the two armchairs. Despite having had time to rehearse it all, Sharon still wasn’t sure how exactly to tell him the news and finally decided to play it by ear. She tried to gage Rusty’s mood, but couldn’t tell how much of his fidgeting was curiosity and how much of it was apprehension. Knowing nothing would be gained by putting things off, Sharon forged ahead: “Your mother has made contact with DCFS. She’s in Los Angeles.”
“What?” Rusty’s eyes grew wide with alarm and he no longer held her gaze but let his eyes flicker around the room. Sharon recognized the signs of his growing anxiety and spared a moment to be angry at her namesake. “She… wait… She’s in town? And she called Cynthia.”
To be exact, his mother hadn’t known who to contact at DCFS, so she had gone through a few different people before finally talking with Cynthia, but Sharon nodded anyway.
“What does she want?”
Sharon scrutinized Rusty, his words, his expressions and his gestures, and her heart ached when she saw how he was clearly battling the line between being hopeful and readying himself for yet another hurdle life was throwing him. “She wants to see you.”
“And?” Rusty prodded, knowing there had to be more.
“She wants her custodial rights restored,” Sharon admitted.
Rusty swallowed and nodded, and then took a deep breath as he mulled over the news in his mind.
Sharon smiled somewhat sadly; she was so proud of him, of how far he’d come, and how well he was handling the news. A year ago, he would have been yelling in panic, or demanded to see his mother at once. Now he was taking the time to think things through.
“Would she be allowed to?”
Sharon tilted her head; it was a question she’d been trying not to think since her phone call from Cynthia. “I don’t know,” she finally replied. “It would probably largely depend on what you want.”
Sharon hummed, buying precious seconds to carefully choose her words.
“If you want, we could work with the DCFS; explain to them that this is what you want. You’re almost of age, so they’d be likely to take your wishes into consideration,” Sharon explained. It hurt to even think that she might actually lose Rusty, that he would leave. But she’d sworn to herself that she would do what was best for him, and not only when it went along with what she wanted, but unconditionally. “You could start by spending time with your mom, though, I think that despite your age, at least the first few visits would be supervised. If everything goes all right, we could find mitigating circumstances as to why your mom left, and, then, I’m sure Andrea could help us find a lenient judge who would grant your mom custody. All of this provided that your mom will be fully aware and willing to cooperate with your situation as a witness.”
“What about school?”
Sharon smiled at his question, again marveling at the change in him and feeling so very proud of him. “Oh, don’t worry about school, Rusty. Your tuition has already been paid for the year and, well, time beyond that… we can worry about that when it comes.”
“You mean if she leaves again, or starts using again,” Rusty supplied without any reproach; he knew his mom, and he wasn’t a little kid anymore who believed whatever people told him.
Sharon remained silent, but the truth was that that was exactly what she meant. She didn’t want to sound too callous, but life had taught her that there were certain people who never changed their ways, no matter how often they claimed they would, or how much they might really have wanted to. Some habits were too hard to break.
“Well, what if I don’t want to live with her again?” Rusty asked hesitantly after a moment.
Sharon thought about all the things they could use against the woman if they needed to: drug use, neglect of a minor, alcoholism, subjecting a minor to a hostile environment, abandonment of a minor, twice… Taking a calming breath, Sharon focused on Rusty; her feelings toward the woman were inconsequential at this point.
“If you don’t want to, well, then you don’t have to.”
“You can make that happen?”
“Well,” Sharon said before pausing for a moment. “Technically, your mother has made that possible with her past actions. All I would need to do is to inform the right people, and she would not be granted custody.”
“Okay, but… I don’t want her, like, in jail or anything,” he said, his eyes reflecting his concern. Rusty hadn’t even seen his mom yet and he was already feeling torn. He had a feeling things weren’t going to get any easier.
“I know, honey, and provided that she isn’t doing anything illegal now, that isn’t something we’d have to worry about,” Sharon assured Rusty.
Rusty thought about her words for a moment and then nodded, satisfied with the answer.
“So, umm, when are we going to see her?”
Sharon paused for a moment before replying. The fact that Rusty automatically assumed Sharon would be there when he saw his mother again held more significance than she thought she could possibly explain.
“Well,” Sharon finally said, “I think that’s something we could talk about tomorrow. We can either set up a time and a place through Cynthia, or, we could have your mom call you directly. That way you could also talk to her before you see her, if you want.”
“Okay,” Rusty agreed, but Sharon didn’t miss the fact that he didn’t say which option he preferred. “And where… I mean, would she come here, or…? Because I don’t think she’d like to meet us at your office. She doesn’t exactly like cops.”
If Sharon noticed the way Rusty winced at his words, she didn’t let him see it.
“I agree that the Police Administration Building is probably not the best idea,” Sharon allowed. “How about somewhere neutral, like a restaurant? That was, I believe, the plan last time. And, if you want, you could always ask Lieutenant Provenza, or Flynn, or even Buzz to go with you if you’d like that better.”
“Why can’t you come?”
“I absolutely can if you want me to,” Sharon promised. “I’m just giving you options to think about.”
Rusty nodded silently, chewing over everything he’d learned during the evening. Sharon watched him carefully, noticing the fidgeting emerging again, as well as the way he always chewed his lower lip when he was worried. She had a pretty good idea of what was coming, but she waited patiently.
Sure enough, it wasn’t long after that Rusty asked if Sharon could take him to the beach. Naturally, she immediately agreed.
As they were walking to the car Rusty glanced at Sharon sideways. “Aren’t you going to call Andrea to come, too?”
It was a thing they’d done a few times now. When things reached a certain point where Rusty felt he couldn’t handle them anymore, when he felt like it all became too much, they’d go to the beach where he’d run in the sand until his physical exhaustion won over the cacophony of jumbled thoughts in his head. The first time they’d done it, it was at Andrea’s suggestion, and Sharon had taken him back a few times since and Andrea had, usually, accompanied them. The women always sat and waited for him, and when he came back, they either left or, like last time, stayed and watched the sunset. Only once had he run so far that he was too tired to get back, and he’d called Sharon, as per orders, to come and pick him up.
Still, Sharon had been unsure if Andrea’s presence was something Rusty would be okay with this time. With all the struggles he’d had to face, and all the demons he’d tried to run away from, his relationship with his mother was an especially difficult one. Sharon hadn’t been sure if he’d feel like another person, even someone as close as Andrea, would add to the pressure he was bound to feel.
“You don’t mind?” Sharon inquired, calling Andrea only after Rusty shook his head.
It only took a few seconds for Andrea to pick up; she’d clearly been expecting the call.
“How did it go?” Andrea asked without preamble.
Sharon answered her with a question of her own: “Can you meet us at the beach in twenty?”
“I’ll be there,” Andrea promised without missing a beat. “I’ll bring the tea if you have the blanket.”