***Hospital waiting room, Houston***
J. T. Tyler paced the tiled floor. Of course, the whole place had that sickening smell of disinfectant that filtered even through his mask. The hospital was probably doubling or even tripling its order of the shit.
Yes, shit. He stared across the room at the women. His wife and mother. They had not even bothered to call him. He would not even know that his son had been rushed to the emergency room if it were not for Josefina. She was the one who had called him in tears the moment the ambulance had left.
He felt the rage that he had bottled inside him for a lifetime boiling up. He wanted to walk across the room and throttle them both. He still had not gotten a straight answer from either of them about what had happened. All he knew was that Josefina had found Jeb unconscious in his bathroom. In a pool of blood.
But J. T. was even angrier with himself. He should have taken Jeb with him when he left. He had suspected that his son was not safe there, but he had no idea it would come to this. What if…
“This is all your fault. If you had not abandoned your family for some selfish indulgence, J. T. If you had not set such a bad example for your children, then none of this would have happened. I certainly would not have taken this family to your brother’s ‘wedding’ if I had known ‘that’ man would be there. Now look where we are…” His mother whisper screamed.
J. T. swung around to face the woman that had destroyed his life. But that was not fair. Marianne Buford Walker Tyler was no more responsible for the mess he had made of his life than she was of his father’s. They had choices. Jon had made the right one. And he was too. Even if it was a bit late. Please, don’t let it be too late for Jeb. J. T. did not precisely pray. He had had enough of this woman’s religion as well as her politics. Anger, hate, and fear were all they bred.
But before he could respond to her comment, a masked figure came out the locked double doors. “Tyler. Is anyone here with the Tyler family?”
J. T. walked over to the woman, his mother on his heels. Priscilla was probably still too drunk to walk even the short distance. “Is my son alright?”
He hated that the mask made it impossible to read the woman’s facial expression. “You’re Jeb’s father? If you follow me, we can talk privately.”
He nodded and started down the hall after the woman. “J. T., help me with Priscilla.”
He wanted to tell his mother to fuck off, but perhaps his silence said it more clearly as he fell into step behind the doctor, entering a tiny cubicle on the other side of the waiting room. “Is my son alright?”
She nodded her head slowly, “Please take a seat, Mr. Tyler.” J. T. practically fell into one of the three chairs that filled up the space. “Physically, your son will be fine. I’m keeping him overnight for observation. We have not given him a blood transfusion, but we might have to. That’s one of the reasons I want him to remain in the hospital.”
“One of the reasons?”
“Actually, Mr. Tyler, I’m more concerned with your son’s mental health at this point. You did not come in with him in the ambulance?”
J. T. wasn’t certain what to say or how much to tell the doctor. How much had Jeb or Priscilla said to the woman about their situation? But wasn’t the truth his best option? Lies were what had gotten them to this point. “My wife and I recently separated.”
“Oh,” the woman shuffled nervously in her chair. “Does your wife have custody of the children?”
“We only separated yesterday, doctor. So, at this point, there are no custody arrangements in place. We both have an equal say in medical, legal, and educational decisions where our children are concerned.”
Did the woman actually sigh? “Are you aware that your wife arranged for your son to be seen by a therapist?”
J. T. frowned, though he doubted if the woman could read his expressions any better than he could hers. “No, I was not.”
“I should not speak ill of a colleague. And Texas is one of the states which has not banned conversion therapy. But honestly, the therapy is not well received in the psychiatric community. Research has discredited much of its premises. And frankly, the harm such ‘therapies’ cost individuals is immense.”
“Wait, conversion therapy? I’m sorry, but that’s not a term I’m familiar with.”
“Have you heard of CBT? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and aversion therapy?” J. T. nodded, though most of his experience was with whether or not a defendant was fit to stand trial. “Conversion therapy is based loosely on those mainstream treatments. But it is aimed at ‘straightening’ out gay, lesbian, and trans people.”
J. T. clenched his fists and bit the inside of his cheek. It was an old trick that he had learned. When he was upset or angry and wanted to speak out of hand, the slight pain forced him to focus and consider his words more carefully. His mouth was too often full of half-healed sores.
“My wife sent Jeb to a therapist to ‘straighten’ him out?”
“Actually, I suggested it,” his mother and wife filled the doorway. An orderly or male nurse practically held his wife up, stepping into the room and placing the disoriented woman in the other chair. “Thank you,” his mother smiled at the man and gave that dismissive nod. She pulled the door closed behind the man and stared at J. T. When that did not work, “I thought I taught you to give up your seat to a lady. It seems that you forget all your manners.”
“You won’t be staying, mother.”
“That is my grandson in there. Jeb is a Tyler. No matter what he has done….”
“Jeb is my son. Medical decisions are made by parents or legal guardians. You are neither. Please leave.” J. T. was barely holding his anger in.
“Yes, well, Priscilla is not well. I am here to represent her interests.”
“You are not an attorney. So as such, you have no right to do so. Now leave. Or I will call the police to escort you out.”
“Doctor, I’m certain that you must be aware of the donations that my family has made to….”
“And I am sure you realize that as a public research facility, this hospital cannot be seen to offer special treatment to its donors.” J. T. was relieved that the woman held her ground. He, above all, understood how hard that could be.
“I will be speaking with the board regarding your lack of cooperation.” There it was, the infamous Marianne Buford Walker Tyler stare. Jon had once quipped that it could freeze ice in the desert.
“That is, of course, your right. But since Mr. Tyler, as the patient’s parent, has asked you to leave, if you do not do so, then I will be forced to call security.”
His mother’s face tightened even more. J. T. worried that it might actually break. But he stood his ground. Perhaps for the first time in his life.
“No final decisions can be made regarding my grandson’s medical treatment without his mother’s consent. I will have my attorneys begin paperwork on her behalf, authorizing my grandson’s transfer to a private facility. Am I understood?”
“You can go to hell, mother. My son is here because you tried doing to him what you did to me. Now get the fuck out of here before I personally escort you.” J. T. had never laid a hand on a woman in anger, but his mother and wife sorely tempted him.
Marianne Buford Walker Tyler turned to the doctor, “No final decisions, understood?”
“That will be for the courts to decide,” the woman motioned with her hand towards the door.
“I will wait for Priscilla in the lobby.” She turned to him as she opened the door, “See that your wife is taken care of. It’s the least you owe her after the mess you have made of things.” His mother pulled the door closed behind her.
J. T. inhaled deeply, though that was not quite as effective through the mask. He looked at the woman in the chair next to him. Priscilla slumped to the side. He was almost afraid she would fall out of the damned thing. Her usually pristine makeup and hair were in complete disarray, and he could smell alcohol even through the body order and expensive perfume. But at least for this moment, she would not cause any trouble.
He turned back to the woman. J. T. felt the heat rising as he realized just how much of their family drama this woman was now privy to. “I’m sorry about all that. I don’t know what or how much about this situation that Jeb or my wife have told you. But please, what happened tonight?”
The woman sighed so heavily that her shoulders slumped. “I’ll probably lose my job for this. But what the hell? The ambulance brought your son in a couple of hours ago. Jeb cut his wrists.”
J. T. fought back the tears and self-loathing. Right now, this was not about him. It was about doing whatever was necessary to protect his son. He had known this was coming. Just not this soon or this way. “But he’s going to be alright?”
“Yes, as I said, physically, I expect him to make a full recovery, even if we do need to give him a transfusion in addition to the fluids we already have. But as I was saying, I am more worried about Jeb’s mental health. Especially in light of….”
“Our little family theatrics? I understand.”
“I need to tell you that I can’t be completely certain that this was a suicide attempt. There is evidence of previous cutting on your son’s upper arms and inner thighs. But given that it was the wrists and the hesitation marks, I’m leaning towards it.”
“What can I do? How can I help my son right now?”
“You need to stop that therapy, Mr. Tyler.”
He shook his head, “That might not be as easy as it sounds, doctor. I have contacted an attorney to begin legal proceedings, but that can take time. And…” He hesitated, but the woman already knew or had overheard most of it. “But there’s no guarantee I’ll be granted custody of my son. The reason I left my wife, among others, is that I’m gay. And I don’t need….”
“To tell me anymore. My wife and I are fully aware of the discrimination against the LGBT community, especially in this state. And I’m sure… Well, I recognized your name and face earlier from the McBride case. I know this can’t be easy for you. But as much as I would like to support you, my first concern is that child.”
“Is there anything I can do? That you can do to help me? I’ll be honest here. If my mother gets her way, and she might, if she can get this whole thing quietly seen by one of her friends, then they could have Jeb locked away. Hell, maybe even somewhere I can’t see him. I promised my son….”
J. T. knew he could not break down as he had that morning with Jaycee and Laura. He would have to call them. Damn, the timing sucked. Jaycee was not recovered enough to represent him in court. And wasn’t Laura supposed to get married the day after tomorrow? Shit, he might have to get someone else?
“I can keep Jeb for seventy-two hours observation. Like I said, the medical community does not support conversion therapy, but since it isn’t illegal, that won’t do any good. Nor will your wife’s inebriation. If Texas took away the kids of every drunk mother in this state, well… It couldn’t. But in addition to the healed and half-healed cut marks, there were also a couple of bruises. One on your son’s cheek like someone had backhanded him and another on his upper arms. I have a friend with social services. I will ring her now.”
It wasn’t much. J. T. knew that better than most. Especially given the attorneys that his mother had on retainer. But it was a start. “Can you run a tox screen and blood alcohol on my wife?”
She started to shake her head, “As her husband, I am concerned she might be ill.”
“I’ll see what I can do. Shit, I’m definitely losing my job now.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have….”
“No, this is my decision. And that kid in there deserves a fighting chance. He refused to see either of them. But would you like me to ask if he’ll see you?”
“Yes, yes, please.”
“I’ll be back in a bit. With a blood-draw kit too.”
“Thank you, doctor. I’m sorry, I didn’t even get your name.”
“Catherine Stone, but you can call me Cat. You know the LGBT community here in Houston offers support to those coming to terms with their sexuality as well as legal advice. Not that I suppose you need that.”
“Thank you, I might need both. Hell, if I win this custody thing, we might both need some counseling.”
“Fingers crossed that you manage for Jeb’s sake to get custody. If you do, my wife runs the teen group at the Montrose Center. She’d love for Jeb to come.”
J. T. nodded as the woman left the room. He might have had enough of that judgmental god his mother had been dragging him to church to worship his whole life, but he had to wonder with this latest turn of events if someone somewhere wasn’t looking out for him. Or more likely Jeb.
But right now, it was his responsibility to look out for his son. He pulled out his phone, and Priscilla fell against the wall. “Hey, Laura, I hate to bother you now. But…”