Checked Off

***J. T. – Hotel near his office***

“Shit,” J. T. felt the sting of pain as he swiped to answer the call. He could not remember the last time he had nicked himself shaving. Then again, he had resorted to the cheap disposable razor in the hotel room since he had left his electric one behind. He should have probably waited until he got to his office to do it. He kept a back-up in his desk drawer for those occasions, such as press conferences, when a five o’clock shadow was not permissible.

“I’m sorry, I must have the wrong number. I was trying to reach J. T. Tyler.” He could almost hear the laughter in Jaycee’s voice.

Usually, he was more than happy to laugh along, especially at himself. But despite the plush bed, he had hardly slept last night. His mind had raced through a million different scenarios. None of them good. “Not funny, Jaycee.”

“I don’t know; you attempting to cuss is pretty noteworthy. But you texted me. What’s up, J. T.? It sounded serious. Is something wrong with the Garcia case?”

Damn, he did not even have a septic stick to stop the bleeding, so he reached for a sheet of good old toilet paper. “Nothing’s up with Garcia. Frankly, it may never go much further. The doctors are all still insistent that the man is not fit to stand trial.”

There was a brief pause on the other end of the line, “I don’t know, maybe this is more justice than prison ever could be. The man might be a drug dealer, killer, and worse, but he must have honestly loved his wife.”

“I suppose; the doctors point out that mental health issues run in that family. But that’s not what I called you about.” Now that the moment had come, J. T. found it incredibly hard to find the right words. Even though he had practiced them over and over all night long lying in that comfortably uncomfortable bed with its Egyptian cotton sheets and too many pillows to count.

“Of course, you know I’ll help out if I can. That’s what friends are for.”

“Actually, it’s your legal services I need.” He did not wait for a response. If he did, he feared he might lose the courage. “I need you to represent me in divorce proceedings.” There, it was out.

“Wow, that was not what I was expecting, J. T.”

“There’s more. So, I might as well tell you now. I’m gay.”

Silence on the other end of the phone seemed to stretch for an eternity. Maybe he was wrong? Perhaps it would have been better to go with someone he did not know? But would they fight as hard for him as he knew she would? “Say something, Jaycee. Please.”

“I don’t know what to say, J. T. Not that it bothers me or any such shit. I think you know me better than that. It’s just a surprise. I…”

“Never would have guessed? I’ve known since I was a teenager. But… Well, having a gay son was not on Marianne Buford Walker Tyler’s political agenda.”

J. T. was not offended by her laughter even before she spoke, “Yeah, I can imagine. Wrong side of the political aisle for that one. But from a legal standpoint, what are your plans? I mean, how long have you been considering divorce? Do you intend coming out?”

He sighed and ran his hands through his hair, messing it up. He would have to add more gel and comb it again before he went into the office. “Honestly, I still have not decided any of that. I have been living a lie so long I don’t know what the truth is anymore. But last night…” His throat tightened, he choked on the words. “My oldest son, child, whatever, Jeb may be transgender or something. He is not sure right now. But his mother caught him experimenting with some make-up that she had thrown away. And…”

“Stop right there, J. T. I don’t have to tell you that if there is child abuse involved, we are both obligated to report it to the Department of Family and Protective Services.”

J. T. stared at the mess in that cloudy bathroom mirror. Once again, he questioned himself. “I don’t know, Jaycee. And we both know that kind of thing will just escalate the situation.”

“But you can’t leave…”

“I know that. I wouldn’t. I hoped you knew that about me…”

Again the silence ate away at the little bit of confidence he was trying to rebuild. How could he blame Jaycee? He was not sure even he knew the man beneath the façade his mother had carefully crafted. He had realized that last night. He was almost forty-two years old, and he had absolutely no idea who he was or what he honestly believed. Why should he expect his friend to?

“J. T., I need to be honest with you. I’m sure this is not going to come as any surprise to you. But this is Texas. That means this shit could get nasty. Really, really nasty. And honestly, I just had a baby. As much as I want to help you, and I do. Let me be the first, I’m betting, to congratulate you. I know this cannot be easy for you. But I’m happy and proud that you have found the courage to live your life as you see fit.”

Her genuine words brought tears to his eyes and more worry to his mind. He had no idea even where to turn now. “Do you have anyone you’d recommend?”

“Laura is covering my clients right now. She and I are still trying to figure this one out. Managing two babies and still having a legal career is not something they teach you in law school or Feminism 101. Even if we both have the most supportive partners the goddess ever put on this earth. Would you be willing to work with her? Of course, anything you say is covered by attorney-client privilege. But you know that. I think what you’re looking for is someone that you trust on another level.”

“I came to you because I knew that you would give it your all. Like you said, I know what is at stake. And honestly, I am concerned about my children.” He hesitated; if she was not going to take the case, should he reveal sensitive information?

Still, Jaycee was not saying ‘no,’ just that Laura Reynolds would be handling things for now, at least. Did he trust her in the same way? Sure, she had worked in corporate law for her whole career, but so had Jaycee until she divorced Sean Riley. Specifics of the law could be looked up, but passion could not be. Did Laura have that? Yeah, from what little he knew of the woman, she had that same integrity that had always draw him to Jaycee.

“Priscilla has a drinking problem.” The long sigh at the other end of the phone told him what he needed to know. “Do you remember Josefina Rodriquez? We helped her with her naturalization case in law school.”

“You mean, you helped her. I just sort of stood back and watched, but yeah, vaguely.”

“She has been our housekeeper, cook, and nanny since I started working for the U. S. Attorney’s Office. She’s the reason I am confident that the children will be well cared for. Not matter what Priscilla does.”

“Okay, that’s good. One less thing to worry about. But, J. T., are you okay with working with Laura? At least for now. I promise I’ll help out in any way I can if she needs it, but I don’t expect she will.”

“Yeah, I’m good with that. I trust you. And her.”

“Hold on then. Let me see if she is up, and we’ll conference call.”

J. T. paced the hotel room in his underwear, walking from one side of the bed to the other in a U-shape, then back again. He should have probably realized that Jaycee would not be taking new clients. It wasn’t just the birth of her new son. He knew that his friend had taken the death of Kerr’s wife especially hard. The woman had been her client, and Jaycee somehow felt she had let the woman down. Of course, what more she could have or should have done was beyond him.

But she had always taken these things personally. Jaycee had never seemed to grasp that justice and fairness were two different things. Naïve, idealistic? Maybe, but she fought passionately for what she believed in.

That was probably why she had become involved with Sean Riley, even though the man was so much older than she was. And honestly, by that point, Riley was a shell of the man, advocate, and attorney he had once been. Living off old glories and selling his soul to the devil, or in his case McBride and Garcia.

Once they knew where to look, the whole house of cards had fallen. It was easy to put the pieces together and connect the dots once they knew the link was Roberto Garcia and Stephen McBride. Now, there were only a few loose ends to clear up, especially since it was unlikely ever to come to trial.

As he had told Jaycee, Diego Garcia was delusional and unable to assist with his defense. The doctors did not expect any improvement, certainly not for years, if ever. The man was locked in some sick fantasy world with his dead wife and children he never had. Saunders and Kerr were dead. Stephens had pleaded guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence and protective custody. After speaking with Cassandra McBride and confirming Caleb Williams’s story about the money, he had dropped the charges. Though there was no way to save the man’s promising career, not with that kind of dereliction of duty against him. No, the only loose ends were Stewart Childress, who had disappeared, and the mysterious other Garcia brother Martin.

But he had other things to think about at the moment. Of course, J. T. realized it was Jaycee’s idealism and passion that had made him contact her. He could only hope that Laura Reynolds brought those same things to the table. Because he was going to need every little bit of help, he could get. The scales of justice were staked against him on this one. And that was even before the illustrious Marianne Buford Walker Tyler stuck her thumbs on the damned things.

Yeah, he was definitely learning to cuss. But those thoughts were cut off by a baby crying on the phone. “Sorry about that, Tyler. I know she is too young, but I swear Chloe is teething already. Here, take your daughter for five minutes, counselor. I have some law to practice. Even if you sold out to the other side.”

He laughed at the exchange on the other end of the phone. But it was bittersweet. He had never had that type of bond with Priscilla, even in the beginning. Maybe if he had not listened to his mother… Perhaps he had tried harder with Jaycee… But that was ridiculous. Even as much as he had liked and admired the woman, there was nothing there. And there never would be. With any woman. No matter how brilliant, beautiful, or compassionate she was. For the simple reason, he was gay. But after a quarter of a century of denial, it was hard to stop those what-ifs.

“Alright, sorry about that. Jaycee has given me a brief rundown. Are you comfortable with working with me as well as her? I suppose that is the first thing to get out of the way.”

“Yes, I think so. But are you okay with me? I mean, we weren’t on the same side of the table last time.”

“You came around in the end. And my man came home, so yeah, I’m good with you. And before you ask, no, I don’t have any problem with you being gay either. But I know you and Jaycee have talked already about how challenging this may all be.”

“Honestly, we’ll do better if we keep the whole damned thing out of a courtroom. Not just because of possible leaks and things going public that could destroy your career, which I’m sure you have considered. But I believe we can negotiate a better settlement out of court than if we went before most of the judges I know. So, let me ask you. What’s important to you? What do you want to get out of this whole thing? And what are you willing to trade for that?”

J. T. did not even have to think about the answer, “My children are all I give a damn about. She can keep everything. I just want my kids.”

The heavy sigh on the other end told him what he already knew. “That may be the one thing that’s hardest to get. I know Jaycee said that your wife has issues with alcohol, but I got to honest with you, J. T. Most of the family court judges I know will give the children to an alcoholic before they will…”

“A gay man? I know that, Laura. But honestly, it is my oldest Jeb that I’m worried about right now. Did Jaycee tell you about that situation?”

“Yeah, she did. But I need to know, were there signs of abuse? Physical abuse? I know it isn’t right, but courts tend to overlook the emotional and mental abuse. And frankly, more than a couple of those judges would side with your wife on these issues.”

“His cheek was red, but I don’t know if that was just some of the makeup he had not wiped off completely. But, Laura, I made Jeb a promise that I would get him out of there. I can’t…”

It was a dam bursting. Twenty-five years of tears, fear, and denial came flooding out. J. T. had no idea how long he cried. But the women stayed on the line. The occasional ‘it’s okay’ or ‘let it out’ told him that. Finally, he was able to pull himself together enough to speak. To finish that statement. Maybe he should feel embarrassed, but he didn’t. And that told him he had the right team.

“I promised Jeb that I would get him out of there. I can’t let them do to him what my mother did to me. Don’t get me wrong, I love all my children. But right now, I am fighting for my son’s life.” Those words hit him. That was what this was all about. If not for Jeb, he might have gone along with it all, right to Washington, as his father had. He might have unhappily lived a lie for the rest of his pathetic life. But he would not, and could not, allow them to do that to his child.

“I know this is unthinkable, but I have to ask, are you willing to lose your other two children to save him?”

Laura’s words cut to his soul. But J. T. needed to face that reality. For all his acquiesance to his mother’s and grandmotehr’s will, George was just a little boy. In fact, he had once been George, and his relationship with his own little brother was in shreds because of that. His middle child was as much a victim as his older brother. But could he get the child to see that? He had not been willing to face his own culpability until recently. And more importantly, could he sacrifice Jeb’s mental health for that chance? As for Laura, she was just a baby still. Perhaps with time…

“Get me physical custody of Jeb. Give her anything she wants financially. Though most of that is tied up in the family trust that my mother administers, so it won’t be an issue. But do everything you can to get me visitation with the others. I’ll settle for supervised if I have to.”

“Okay, I’m not going to lie, and you wouldn’t believe me if I did. Even that may not be as easy or as assured as it sounds. But you’ve given me something reasonable to work for. Now, about you. What are you going to do? Where are you staying? Are you getting any support? Seeing anyone?”

“Seeing anyone? No, this isn’t about…”

“I’m not talking lovers. Do you have a shrink? Sorry, a therapist.”

“I do, but I’m thinking of switching. This one hasn’t been exactly…supportive, as you said. But my sister-in-law knows this foundation in California, I’ll ask her for recommendations. As for the other, I spent last night in a hotel near the office. But I need to find someplace. It will probably be a rental, maybe nothing more than an apartment. I can’t see my mother authorizing the purchase of a house.”

“As for my job, I’m not sure. There’s a couple of loose ends I need to clear up, but this is a good time to move on with the new administration in Washington. It will just be seen as another political move. I have loads of shit to deal with, obviously. But this was top of my coming-out to-do list. So I appreciate knowing that I have the two of you to count on.”

“Okay, I’ll start working on the filing paperwork on the grounds of insupportability. I’ll talk with Ryan about going with you to collect your things, but that might not be for a few days. And yeah, changing therapists sounds like a good plan.”

“J. T., I hope you know that I’m here for you as a friend as well as an attorney. If you need anything, maybe to get away for a few days even, just let me and Rex know.”

“Thank you, Jaycee. And you, too, Laura. I honestly appreciate that. But I need to get off the phone, check this one off my to-do list, and get ready for work. I’m going to be late for the first time in my career.”

Jaycee laughed, “J. T., it isn’t even seven yet. The office doesn’t open for another hour. You have time.”

But J. T. had hidden in his career for so long that he was already at least fifteen minutes late by his own standards.

“It’s okay, J. T. I get you. She’s just been on this Mommy track for longer than I have. I still remember those days. When seven was running late. I know that it’s a hard thing to ask but leave this with me and focus on your work. I’ll email you contracts and forms. Just text Jaycee your personal details.”

“And, J. T., if you want lessons in cussing, I highly recommend Jack Greywolf as a tutor,” Jaycee had them all laughing.

J. T. hung up. Did he feel any better? Probably not. Sure, he had two stellar and passionate attorneys on his case. But he knew that Priscilla was correct. Marianne Buford Walker Tyler would weigh in on this fight on her side.

He thought about calling his mother to discuss the situation, but why bother? He knew she would side with his wife even about Jeb. But he should call Jon. He wanted this to come from him. Even if it did make him late to work for the first time in his life. He was learning that some things were more important than money, power, or careers.

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