***J. T.’s new apartment, Montrose, TX***
J. T. looked around his new apartment with pride and a bit of awe. It might not meet the interior design standards of the impeccable Marianne Buford Walker Tyler, but it should more than pass those of Cora Miller and CPS. And that was what mattered most. It went beyond that, though. Thanks to Laura, the place had a genuine welcome and homey feel. A place he would actually look forward to coming back to at the end of a long day.
Two beds, dressers, nightstands, a sofa, a couple of chairs, and a small dining room table with two mismatched chairs did not entirely fill the space, but Laura promised to teach him the high art of yard selling once things settled down a bit. The woman was unbelievable. They had walked around the store picking up all the other things he would not have thought about – towels, bedding, pots, pans, dishes, and just enough stuff to hang up and throw about to give the place that lived-in feeling. He was surprised that it had taken them less than an hour and only a few hundred dollars. For everything.
He still felt incredibly guilty accepting the money from her. Even if she did keep talking about this reconciliation thing and erasing lousy karma from her days with McBride Industries. He had tried to discuss a repayment scheduled, but she insisted that he ‘pay it forward.’
Though he was not entirely sure what it all meant, J. T. was coming to realize how fortunate he was to have good people around him. He could have easily lost this apartment after his card was declined. Still, when he was honest with the elderly gay couple who owned and managed it, they had been more than willing to accept Laura’s instead, despite the irregularity of that. He had promised them it would not happen again.
This was his second personal day. Though he had banked more holiday than he ever used, J. T. still felt guilty not giving them more notice. But already, this day was filling up. After Ms. Miller’s home visit, he needed to open new bank accounts, transfer his direct deposits, and run back to that Betterwill. Laura had been closer to the truth than he realized. Priscilla had not burned his things, but she had cleared them. Ironically, donating them to the charity from which he would purchase new.
But what upset him most was that she had begun to erase Jeb from her life too. He and Laura had met Ryan there, just as his wife was piling bags of their son’s things into the back of her car as well. Things had gotten really nasty then. Priscilla had called the cops. Of course, when they arrived to see Ryan in his Sebida sheriff’s uniform, he had explained that this was a domestic dispute and involved divorce proceedings.
The local police had threatened to charge Priscilla with making a false report. Still, she kept insisting Jeb’s electronics were missing and that their former ‘illegal alien’ maid had stolen them. J. T. had cleared that up quickly, too. Yes, Josephina had taken his son’s laptop and tablet, but they were in his possession for his child. That one really wound his wife up.
But he was angry and worried. She had fired Josephina. Another of the things that he should have expected but hadn’t. But to let the woman who had raised the children their whole lives go without severance or a reference, and threaten her with the police, was not right. It also meant that he no longer had any way of monitoring the welfare of George or Laura. While he did not think Priscilla would abuse them, it worried him who would feed and look after them when she was drunk. Of course, he had not thought his wife would beat Jeb either.
A knock interrupted his thoughts. J. T. smiled at the clock on the wall, “Nine sharp.” He opened the door, “Good morning, Ms. Miller.”
The woman was already looking over his shoulder. “Good morning, Mr. Tyler. Did you wish to have a witness present?”
He shook his head, “But if you would record this meeting as you did yesterday, I would appreciate it. I can on my phone if you would rather?”
She half smiled and held up her phone, “That won’t be necessary. Unless, of course, you would like to as well.”
“No, that’s fine. Please come in.”
It took less than five minutes to show her around the apartment. She paid particular attention to Jeb’s room and the small kitchen, even looking in the cupboards and fridge. Laura had warned him that she might.
She had wanted to go grocery shopping with him, too. But he had insisted that he had that one covered. He had always liked having some cash on hand. Not enough for first, last, and deposit or to buy even second-hand furnishings, he should be alright for food and other essentials until he got paid. Assuming he was able to get that transfer in today.
“Do you cook, Mr. Tyler?”
“A bit, nothing fancy, but I won’t be doing most of it. I have made arrangements for Josephina, our former housekeeper, cook, and nanny, to be here when Jeb gets home from school. She’ll do most of the cooking, as well as some cleaning, and be here to supervise him.”
The woman actually smiled at that. Though he could take far less credit for it than it sounded. Josephina had insisted. She had moved in with her daughter’s family. He hated to think of her taking the bus each day from Magnolia Park to their new apartment, but Josephina really would not take no for an answer.
Jeb was her baby. Of course, she was going to be there for them now. No, she didn’t need his money. He had paid her more than enough over the years; she had a nice little nest egg. It was the least she could do. In the end, J. T. had gratefully given in with more promises of making it up to her that were brushed aside with the word, ‘familia.’
“That continuity of care will be important right now.”
He hesitated, torn over his following words. He knew better than to disparage the other parent in these situations, but he had grave concerns about his children’s welfare. The woman seemed to understand, holding up her hand. “I think that will be all for now, Mr. Tyler. I am satisfied that Jeb will be safe and well-supervised in your home. Again this is only temporary, until the family courts make a final ruling, but I’m sure you understand that.”
The thought of losing his son, of what might happen if he did, of what had almost happened, already ate at his heart. He saw the woman to the door, “I will be visiting your wife’s home shortly to ensure that the other children are cared for as well.” Her words might have said little, but the look that passed between them was enough to reassure him. At least for now.
Jaycee and Laura had warned him that he might have tough choices to make. That did not make the reality of those decisions any easier. Placing the welfare of one child above the others, no matter how desperate the situation was, hurt. J. T. feared that this was a decision that might haunt him for the rest of his life. He considered praying but figured god didn’t much want to hear from him right now. The man was on his mother’s and wife’s side, or at least, so they said. And if that were true, well, then J. T. wanted no part of such a god. Even he even existed.
He closed the door and went back into the tiny kitchen. Josephina was going to have far less space to work her magic. J. T. reached for the coffee pot, even that had worked. He poured himself a cup of coffee. Damn, he had forgotten to offer Ms. Miller one. He loved his rainbow mug. There were a couple of others with funny says but this one was his favorite.
He picked up his to-do list from the counter. The next stop was the bank. Then Betterwill for a few more dress shirts, khakis, some jeans, and t-shirts. Thankfully, the apartment came with a washer and dryer, so he could make do on the handful of underwear and socks that he had grabbed before he left. Then, it was the hospital. Laura had invited them to the wedding, but he’d leave that up to Jeb. She would understand.
He needed to schedule that follow-up phone conference with his new boss in D.C. The woman had offered to continue his position. The new administration was content that he ran the Southern District of Texas office fairly. Hell, they probably wouldn’t even give a damn that he was gay. Shit, they might even encourage him to come out. But he wasn’t sure about that. Not that he gave a damn what his mother or soon-to-be ex-wife thought about it, but his children were another matter. Especially until the issue of custody was settled.
J. T. knew he needed to begin making those longer-term decisions, but right now, his fucking to-do list was long enough with things that required his immediate attention. Like contacting the Danvers Foundation for a recommendation for a new therapist.
“First things, first. Bank,” he grabbed his keys and his list. J. T. walked out the door just in time to watch the tow truck haul away his SUV. “Fuck,” he had forgotten that the vehicle was leased by the trust. Well, one thing was for sure, he was getting pretty damned good at this cussing thing. He’d call a wuber for now.