"Tyson, can you hear me?"
"Okay, can you tell me how much valium you took?"
That was a lie. Tyson had been meticulous in staging his suicide attempt. From his medication regime of valium multiple times a day for several weeks, his body had built up some resistance to the drug. He took enough to pass out for some hours, but certainly not enough to be dangerous - hopefully. It was risky, sure. A lot of things could have gone wrong. In Tyson's mind, it was worth taking a risk. It had to look authentic. Even if something went wrong, if Masha chickened out or failed in some way, his parents could not risk their son committing suicide in their care while they were still on the hook for his well-being. On the offchance they didn't send for emergency medical aid or he ended up dying, it wasn't as though he were in any worse a position. Chase had scared him. A trip to Sri Lanka, after his confrontation with the man who sired him, no longer sounded like a trip to Sri Lanka, but a way to make him disappear for good. With nothing to lose, why not take a risk?
"How many roughly? Was it a lot? More than ten?"
"I don't know! I don't care!"
"Can you guess?"
"Can you fuck yourself?" Tyson scowled at the paramedic in front of him, a middle-aged woman with the frizziest ponytail he'd ever seen.
"Don't speak to me like that, please. I need to make sure you're okay," she replied coolly, not flinching at all as she stood at the foot of his gurney with her arms folded.
"I don't want to speak to you at all!"
Tyson didn't reply to her. Instead, he glared at her the way Edith glared at the gardener who once pruned their hedge the wrong way. She did look uncomfortable, but Tyson wasn't happy with that. It wasn't enough. He despised her. Not her, personally, but who she represented. That person who kept saving his life only to let him go right back to his family. The people too impotent to help him in the way he actually needed support. He was currently in the secure assessment room. It wasn't much different from the seclusion room in the AIU - small, stark and empty, the only furniture being the gurney he currently lay on. The two doors to the room locked from the outside and windows on three of the walls ensured staff could observe him at any time. The paramedic squawking at him was not alone, either. There was a member of security stationed outside the secure assessment room, always watching in case Tyson tried to hurt himself or someone else. He never stopped watching, the hatchet-faced prick.
"Because you're a useless, fat, hideous fucking waste of space!" He roared at her as best he could, the effects of the valium still seriously sedating his body. She raised an eyebrow, peering at him as though he were insane. "Don't look at me with that fucking... face!"
"Why do you feel that way? I mean, I'm only trying to look out for you."
No, he told himself. If they cared - any of them - he wouldn't have had to betray the only people he loved. He wouldn't have to have lied, manipulated, cheated and broken rules to save himself from the brutal, abusive cycle he was stuck in. He was only fourteen! Why did he have to rescue himself? Why did he have to go this far to escape? Why did he have to gamble with his own life to have a chance of saving it? If they cared, they would have done something. Anything! Then to have that horrible woman speaking down at him as though she'd done him a favour... it was insulting! It was infuriating!
"You're full of shit. Am I supposed to be grateful when you save my life against my will and throw me back to the fucking wolves every single time? Fuck you and everyone like you! Go away. I'm not talking to you. If you're not going to smother me with a pillow, then there's nothing I want from you. I don't owe you shit."
"You know, Tyson, my job is to keep you stable from your room to the emergency room. What happens after--"
"ARRRGH I don't care!"
Tyson, angry enough to physically attack her but too sedated due to the valium still in his system, fell back and covered his face with his warm blanket. He was annoyed. He thought he would be happy. Everything he'd done since he realised he needed to actively change his situation had lead up to this. But though it had taken a tremendous amount of planning, manipulation, will and ruthlessness to achieve his liberation, his success left a very bitter taste in his mouth. Consequences that he dared not think about until after the fact had begun to worry him since he'd woken up in the emergency room. What would his success cost him? Would he end up a ward of the state like Charlie? Screwed in and out by the cruel, negligent system? Would Vlady and Masha ever speak to him again? What about Kelly? Who would pay for his sessions with Cynthia and Brianna? Would he be stuck with that idiot who thought the best way to treat Vladimir was to drug him and strap him to a bed?
"G'day, Tyson. Let's have a chat. Okay? Just you and me."
That wasn't the irritating paramedic or the security guard. Tyson peeked his eyes over the blanket to see if the familiar voice was indeed who he thought it was. Neil. He didn't look happy at all. Tyson, now feeling guilty and embarrassed as his anger slipped away, slunk back beneath the covers. He wasn't ready for Neil.
"Mate, we know you're more mature than this. Now, come on. Stop being silly. Let's talk face to face, man to man."
"Can we not?"
"I can't force you to talk if you're not ready, Tys. You know that. I'd still appreciate if you'd at least come out from under the covers, though. What are you afraid of?"
"You're mad at me."
"I'm not mad at you. Why would you think that?"
"Did you see the video on the news?" Tyson asked him, exposing his face. He didn't bother with the innocent, vulnerable, wide-eyed routine for two reasons. One, he was tired of being insincere. Two, because it never worked on rigid, by-the-book Neil in the first place.
"I saw it. I'm not angry," Neil approached slowly, and Tyson was relieved. He'd mistaken Neil's blank expression as anger, but it was tough to read him. "I'm upset that you were in such a shit position and I had no way to help you out."
"Yeah... still, I'm sorry about. You know. Using your voice. I had to."
"Don't worry about it. What I'm worried about is the fact that you tried to kill yourself again. So soon after we discharged you."
Neil's pivot was amateur at best. Tyson would have rolled his eyes had it been anyone else.
"Yep," he replied softly.
The fact was that Tyson didn't believe he was ready to be out of the hospital, especially now. There was so much of him that was still intent on seriously hurting himself. Dying. Within the confines of the hospital, he could suppress those desires and compulsions with therapy, medication and the love of the Tchaikovskys, especially Vladimir. He'd grown to rely on the safety of the locked ward. As much as that place drove him crazy with boredom - a narrative he embellished to get himself discharged in the first place - he needed to return. He recognised that he was sick. That his brain wasn't working correctly. Cognitive dissonance, post-traumatic stress, depression, suicidal behaviour - he was very unwell. But the public mental health system was horribly flawed. They might not take him in if they knew the truth. He needed Neil and the authorities to believe his suicide attempt was genuine to make sure he ended up back there.
"Okay. Thanks for being honest with me, Tys," Neil put a hand, covered as always in blue latex, on Tyson's brown fingers.
Being honest with you. Hmph. Another lie. Everything was a lie. It was the Belmont-Lovett curse.
"It's not your fault. Remember that, okay, mate? None of this is your fault. But that being said, we're all quite concerned about your well-being - for a lot of reasons. So I'm afraid I'll be taking you back into the AIU tonight. There's no way around that, buddy. That decision was unanimous and approved by Doctor Ellicott."
Tyson sighed. "Kay. For how long?"
"Overnight at the very least. Miss Cynthia promised she'll be in tomorrow to see you first thing in the morning," Neil explained softly and calmly. "And, Tys, because of the circumstances, you're considered an acute risk. That means we have to keep a very close eye on you - more than we can in the open ward. You'll need to spend tonight in the high-dependency unit."
"No. That's bullshit," he began to argue, but Neil's solemn look gave him pause.
"It's not without cause, buddy. I'll be blunt with you. You've got a serious record of chronic self-harm and suicide attempts. Not to mention, and I don't want to offend you, there have been times where you have been deceitful and resourceful to indulge in that kind of behaviour. Doctor O'Connell isn't willing to risk anything at all, particularly because of the last few hours with the chaos surrounding your family, so he's put you down for an immediate transfer to the psych unit as an acute suicide risk. I can't stress how important it is that you try your best to remain calm and collected, Tyson. If you fire up or try to abscond, the doctor might issue an order for restraints or sedatives, and nobody wants that to happen. I understand you're hurting, but please behave yourself. I know you can do it if you set your mind to it."
The idea of being strapped to the bed scared Tyson. A few times he'd seen a new patient being wheeled into the HDU, secured to their gurney with some posey cuffs, and it chilled him to the bone. While he wasn't sure how serious Neil was, it certainly spooked him into a compliant meekness. After all, they hadn't hesitated to strap Vladimir down when he got... challenging. That was something Tyson intended to see done away with when he finished school and found his way into politics, he'd decided. He would bring a lot of reform with the public mental health service. More staff, more funding for patients and therapies and no more restrictive interventions that did more harm than good. People like Charlie would get the help they needed. They wouldn't be neglected because there wasn't a profit to be made from their treatment. Chase Lovett wanted to gut the system and throw those he considered useless to the streets. It wasn't good enough to simply escape from his toxic father. A good scandal would hopefully shock the public into reconsidering their vote for Chase's hyper-conservative party altogether.
"Why are you here, anyway?" Tyson asked him. "Shouldn't you be in the psych ward? I didn't know you worked the ER."
"I'm here to see you, buddy. When I heard that you were back after a valium overdose, I thought it'd be easier on you if I arranged to come by and keep an eye on you myself."
"And easier for everyone working here because I'm a contemptible, loud-mouthed prick, right? Just like my parents?"
Neil laughed, and Tyson even broke a smile. "That's not how I'd put it, but I know you can be difficult if things aren't going your way. I reckoned having a familiar face around might be less vexing for you while we figured out what's going on."
"Yeah. It is, I guess. Thanks." Tyson was relieved that Neil didn't seem to be upset that the teenager had used his voice as a measure of proof of his hospitalisation in the video he took with Masha's phone. "What happens now, then? Where are Edith and Chase?"
"Ahh. Well, the simplest answer is that they won't be coming to see you. I'm not clear on the details, but I heard that Mum's in police custody and nobody's quite sure where to find Dad. He didn't show up for his debate when your recording made the headlines, and nobody's seen him since."
"What happens now, then?"
"Well, right now, I'm waiting for the all-clear to bring you into the psychiatric unit for the night, and Cynthia will evaluate you in the morning."
That wasn't what Tyson needed to know. "Yeah yeah yeah, but after that? Do I have to go home? Will I be released back into their care or what's going to happen?"
"I'm not the right person to ask, unfortunately," Neil awkwardly chewed on his bottom lip. "I'm just a grunt. But if you're asking for my unprofessional opinion, then I don't believe you'll be going home to your family for a while. There will definitely be a large-scale CPS investigation. You made some frightening allegations against your parents, Tys, and then you attempted suicide while you were supposed to be on suicide watch. They're going to be in a lot of trouble."
That was all the news Tyson needed to put his mind at rest. To know that he would finally succeed in getting away from the man and woman who spawned him as nothing more than a prop, who abused him relentlessly and cared nothing for him. Already, he felt as though everything might actually work out in the end. Maybe shit would come back to bite him - Vladimir and his family, most likely. It was the only way he could secure his future, after all. Surely they would understand, though. Wouldn't they? If not, he'd have to convince them that he never intended to hurt them. Or break their trust. When all was said and done, Tyson's will to succeed had torn him from his parents' iron grip - a feat he thought until recently to be impossible. He was sure he could find a way to make it up to the Tchaikovskys.
When Doctor O'Connell, a calm looking man with a long beard and a very old-fashioned sweater over a collared shirt, came back around and asked Tyson if he was willing to talk to him yet, the boy did so. He explained, though not truthfully, that he had passed out from the effects of the valium before he ate too many, but stressed that he intended to swallow all of them and never wake up again. Satisfied with Tyson's response and convinced that he was going to be medically stable, the middle-aged doctor turned him over to Neil. Three people wheeled Tyson's gurney from the secure assessment room all the way to the front door of the AIU. Neil, the security guard, and an orderly.
The minute Neil's card key beeped the airlock doors open, the familiar noise made Tyson feel like he was home again. When he heard them lock shut behind him, he felt he was safe from Edith and Chase - and himself. The combined smell of the vanilla air-freshener and disinfectant in the reception washed a feeling of tranquillity over him, and though he was still very groggy and sluggish from the sedating effect of the valium overdose, he sat up in hopes that he might see Vladimir on his way through. He didn't. He saw some patients he recognised and some he didn't. Janet and Geraldine were in the nurse's station, but neither of them liked him very much.
"Is Vlady here?" Tyson asked Neil as they wheeled him towards the locked door of the high-dependency unit.
Neil beeped his card key against the heavy door and opened it up, wheeling Tyson inside. "Vlad went home today. Cynthia discharged him from our care this morning."
"What??" Tyson cried out, his heart breaking in his chest. "What do you mean he went home?"
"Shhh," Neil put a finger to his lips. "You knew he was going home shortly after you, mate. Now, remember to use your inside voice, please."
"Can you at least tell him I'm here? Can he visit? Argh!!" Tyson sat up, beginning to panic. This wasn't part of the plan! His boyfriend was supposed to be here!
"Calm down," Neil put a hand on his chest, a look of concern crossing his face. "You know friends and family are welcome to visit. I'll let Mrs Tchaikovsky know that you're here when I have a spare moment, buddy. But in return, I need you to promise me that you won't make any trouble. Out there, we like to cut you some slack, but in this unit, safety and stability for everyone is the number one priority."
The security guard spoke outside with Neil while the orderly returned the gurney to the main hospital, and Tyson took the time to investigate his new room. It was very similar to his old one in design, but there were two main differences. First, there was a large window next to his door with blinds that opened and closed from the outside. Second, it was bigger so it could make room for his very own seclusion chamber next to his bathroom. How the hell could he feel in any way at ease with that padded closet there to remind him that he was so unwell that they were ready to lock him in there at a moment's notice?
He imagined what it had been like for Vladimir while he was in here. Did he even live in this same room for those few weeks? Weeks! He was in here for weeks! The seclusion door was locked, but same as the blinds by the window to his room, they opened and closed by twisting a knob on the outside. A padded white monstrosity with only a mattress inside. Tyson felt himself getting upset by imagining what it must have been like for his boyfriend. Left in there, his mind fractured and broken, not knowing what was real and what wasn't. Being alone but also not, because a woman always spoke to him and a three-headed demon stalked him relentlessly. The people who were supposed to help him just left him strapped to a bed like that one because it was easier to manage him that way. And Charlie? The kid who was so ignored by the staff that he brazenly stole food from the kitchen and had teeth already rotting in his mouth. Before he knew it, Tyson was leaking tears. He was tired. Nothing was fair.
Evan was the one who joined him in his room. "Hey there, champion. Not feeling so hot, huh?"
"No, I'm fuckin'... fantastic," Tyson snarled at the baby-faced geek with the glasses and the acne and the annoying serene stupid smile on his stupid face. "With this shit mental health system and backwards rules and useless nurses. No offence."
"Oh, none taken. You've had one hell of a day," Evan remarked, too frustratingly calm for his own good. It was annoying. "So, I'm gonna be here looking after you until handover at nine. While you're in here, I'm going to be checking on you every five to eight minutes, and I'm sorry about that. I know you hate the checks, but those are the rules. And remember, if you need anything at all, a snack or a drink or even just a chat, I'll never be far away."
"Yeah. Whatever. If you have to gawk at me all night, at least don't talk to me unless it's a goddamn emergency, will you?"
Tyson slumped down on his bed, curled up and turned over to look at the window. He wanted Vladimir. He was sure he'd see him again. He'd been looking so forward to it, but... he wasn't here. Fuck it all! He supposed it was a fitting punishment. After all, he was the product of Chase's sperm and Edith's eggs. There wasn't an ounce of decency between them. Maybe he wasn't any better than his mother and father. Everything he did to detach himself from them, after all, he'd learned directly from them. If Masha didn't think he was bad for Vladimir, she certainly would now.
"If you feel like some alone time, then that's fair enough. Come out when you're ready. Charlie is on the couch if you want to say hello to him."
Charlie? Ooh, Charlie!
Tyson felt stupid. He was so busy mourning the discharge of his boyfriend - something he should have been thrilled about - that he forgot Charlie was still in the high-dependency unit! Though the last thing in the world he currently wanted was to give Evan the satisfaction of being right about anything, Tyson hopped up to his feet. Unfortunately, he had been rescued in nothing but his underwear, something he forgot to plan for, and he wore only a breezy hospital gown too large for him. He felt silly as he walked past his nurse and scanned for - there it was. A giant pillow and a boy attached to it!
"C-man! Boy, I did miss you!" Tyson sat down in the cushy seat next to his little friend, and Charlie actually squeaked in surprised delight.
He swayed his head back and forth, his words muffled by the corner of his snuggle pillow in his mouth. Tyson remembered how disturbed he had been by Charlie's appearance and behaviour when he first arrived. This time, the twelve-year-old's presence had the opposite effect.
"Yeah. It's me. Looks like I'm your roommate tonight."
Charlie nodded eagerly. Whether he properly understood the significance of Tyson staying in the same ward with him wasn't clear, but he seemed happy to see his friend. Tyson wondered about what went on in Charlie's head quite a lot. In times past, he would often watch the strange kid and see what he did with his time. Though everyone seemed to dismiss him as someone without a lot of brain activity, Tyson discovered there was a cleverness in him. Charlie was adept at stealing treats from the kitchen and hoarding them for himself in his pillow. Marvellous thing, that pillow he was so attached to. Snuggling and smuggling. As if he'd suddenly remembered something, he leapt up and disappeared into room five. One of the ward staff marched over to make sure he was fine, but Charlie returned quickly.
"I did it," he explained in that uncomfortably juvenile whine.
Tyson looked at the sheets of paper and smiled wide. Some days before his discharge, Tyson and Vladimir scribbled down some addition and subtraction sums for Charlie to solve in the HDU on the off-chance he might enjoy them. Charlie had smacked the papers away, so Tyson put them out of his mind. Yet here they were, and to his delight, Charlie had decided to work on them! Though he made a lot of mistakes, he proved he was still interested in learning. Not only that, he was proud of himself. Tyson could see it in his blue eyes.
"You did!" Tyson wished he had a pen or a marker handy to draw big fat ticks next to the ones Charlie had done correctly - he often forgot to carry the one, but he was otherwise putting the numbers together very well. "You did a great job, too. I wasn't even here to help. See, you can do it all yourself! Maybe you can ask Cynthia if she can find someone to teach you full time?"
Charlie shrugged emphatically then fell back to the couch. Tyson looked at him properly, and he noticed a few changes. The boy's curls weren't tangled and matted. Very unkempt, yes, but it looked like he'd actually washed and even brushed his hair recently. His nails were long and ragged, but clean. He didn't smell of stale sweat and grime and mould, nor was his pillowcase stained and gross. Tyson began to wonder. Cynthia had a habit of bending specific rules in the name of better care for her patients, and she had taken Charlie Maizels on as a client. Was she keeping him in the HDU while she began a regimen of care for him? It made sense to Tyson, at least. Charlie was a broken boy. Sexual abuse destroyed his growth as a person. He didn't take care of himself, and because he was prone to horribly violent episodes if triggered, the staff avoided their duty of care to him. The secure ward, with its high ratio of staff to patients and constant supervision, was a great place to help Charlie learn how to do things like shower, brush his damaged teeth and change his clothes.
"Hey C-man, I'm just curious, does Cynthia see you for free? Who pays for her sessions?" Tyson asked him, wondering what answer he might get.
"Evan and Neil and Awwice and Sue and Janet--" Charlie began to list off names of the nursing staff, and Tyson reeled back in surprise.
"The nurses are paying for Cynthia to come in and see you?" When Charlie nodded, his eyes glued to the television screen, Tyson prompted further. "Do you like her?"
The pasty boy nodded. Tyson didn't speak further, nor did Charlie, and they watched The Simpsons together. Tyson didn't see or hear much of the inane cartoon. He only spent time in thought. Earlier, he told Evan that he was useless. That nurses, as a general rule, were useless. But if what his friend said was true, they were paying for Cynthia to treat Charlie. They were giving him a real chance. It was a damn shame that patient confidentiality existed because Tyson had taken a personal interest in the poor guy and wanted to help take care of him. Maybe Charlie could use a friend. Tyson knew that's what he wanted from Charlie, at least. A friend to be with while they were stuck in limbo trying to get their heads back in the game.
Dinner came and went. Tyson turned his nose up at the mushy veal and overboiled vegetables. It was painfully obvious when the Jae, the cute Korean cook, hadn't been the one in charge of the meal. He wouldn't be surprised if whoever cooked tonight just threw everything into the same big pot of boiling water. Charlie loved his meat, though, so he ate the veal from both of their plates. Tyson nibbled at some sludge that pretended it was pumpkin and took his antidepressant. After that, he glumly watched cartoons with Charlie, as all news channels were off-limits in the HDU. Nobody had updates for him about his family - or they didn't think he was in a state to hear about them, which annoyed him.
The nurse's station was a big square with windows into both the open and high-dependency wards. Janet appeared from inside, a phone in her hand, and spoke softly over Tyson's shoulder.
"Hey, your sister's on the line. Would you like to speak with her?"
Kelly? Tyson had somehow completely forgotten about her. She must be livid with him. He didn't try to just tear their family apart. He ripped it out root and stem.
"Why is she calling?" He asked tentatively, his heart thumping in his chest. The woman shrugged. He took the receiver, grimacing. "Hey."
"Oh my god, what the hell? Are you alright? What's going on?" Kelly sounded a peculiar mix of panicked and relieved.
"I'm really tired of people asking if I'm okay. I'm not about to die if that's what you mean. How are you, though?"
"Um. I feel like complete shit, honestly! I mean, I should have told everyone what was going on, but I was hoping Mum might do the right thing. But she didn't. Then you tried to kill yourself, Mum's had a complete mental breakdown, your video is all over TV and the internet, and the cops have issued a warrant for Dad's arrest. So... yeah. Don't be surprised if I'm the next person who shows up in that ward."
Tyson didn't know what to say. He'd been scared Kelly would give him a vicious tongue-lashing for what he'd done. Or that she would realise that the reason he'd been able to overdose was that he got her to smuggle those pills out for him in the first place. She was a clever girl, though. Every bit as smart as her brother - perhaps even eclipsing him. It was likely she did piece it together and decided it wasn't currently relevant.
"Tyson? Are you there?"
"Yeah, I'm here. Don't sweat it, Kel. Are you at home? What's happening with you?"
"Oh, yeah. I'm home. The police only just left but there's still one undercover parked across the road in case Dad comes home. They were here for so long asking me questions about him and you and Mum and they went through your room and Mum's room and Dad's room and my room!"
"What about Mum?"
"The cops came after someone tipped them off that you were at home. Apparently, a lot of people rang up and asked them to see what was going on with you after the journalists started reporting and sharing your video. They caught her on her way out, Tyson. Like, with her passport! You were unconscious in your bed, and our Mum was trying to skip the country instead of calling an ambulance! Apparently, she's gone off the deep end, though. They arrested her, but Tys... she's in the Bennett Mental Hospital right now. She totally snapped."
Tyson couldn't stifle the laughter that burst through his mouth. And when he started, he couldn't stop! The tragic irony of his mother being driven to madness as she tried so hard to live in denial of her son's own breakdown was just too much!
"And that's... funny?" Kelly asked him indignantly.
Tyson's reply was nothing if not flippant. "Look, Kel, if you want me to shed a tear about Mum, you're going to have to kick me in the balls a few times."
"No... I know. I know. But what's going to happen to me? And to you? If Mum's insane and Dad's a crook, where does that leave us?"
Tyson sighed and his grin faded. He had no idea.