Authors: Brynn Stein
Then Stevie happily ate his denuded pizza slice. Heaven help us if he wanted more, because this ritual was repeated with every piece of pizza I had seen him eat. Dottie said Stevie had always eaten his pizza that way.
I had gotten the bright idea to order breadsticks since we were having honest-to-goodness takeout pizza instead of the frozen institutional kind. Breadsticks weren’t available for dinners here, but since it was possible to have them tonight, surely Stevie would prefer those. They amounted to already naked pizza slices. Dottie had told me they had tried that before and it didn’t work, but she allowed me to go ahead with my plan.
As I watched Stevie start to dissect a second slice of pizza, I said to him, “Hey, buddy, we ordered breadsticks. Why don’t you just eat one of those?”
He looked at me pityingly, as if I didn’t have a clue in the world, and just said, “It isn’t the same, Bear.”
Dottie gave me a told-you-so look, but thankfully didn’t say anything. Drew, on the other hand, kept teasing me about it for the rest of the evening.
dinner hour, the entire cafeteria staff dropped by to welcome me home and to fuss at me for not coming down so they could celebrate properly.
The last lady through the door was carrying a huge cake that had a copy of one of Stevie’s drawings of me airbrushed on the top, with “Welcome Back Bear” written above it. Judging by the reactions, I don’t think anyone on the hall knew that a cake had been planned. I’m sure they wouldn’t have decided to stay on the hall for dinner if they had known. The cafeteria ladies easily went with the flow, though. Working here, they often had to change plans at the last minute, so I guessed they were used to it.
They handed out pieces of cake to everyone and then sat down and enjoyed the celebration with us. Some stayed for quite some time, even though they were off the clock and could have gone home anytime they wanted. I never realized just how many friends I had here, or how much I had missed them.
that evening, we all gathered in the living room. Several of the kids were watching TV. Stevie was sitting beside me, all but touching while drawing pictures of things he had seen in the courtroom the day before. Drew, Dottie, and I were talking when Hank called across the room.
“Hey, guys, look who’s on TV.”
William Liston was having the press conference he had promised. Hank turned the TV up. Two of the kids who had been watching cartoons wandered away to find more interesting things to do. Everyone else in the room, even Stevie, was transfixed as they watched Liston.
“I called this press conference because some grievous errors have been made in the last couple of months, and since I was an unwitting part of some of them, I wanted to be the one to set the record straight.
“A man named Charles Tyler, a former employee of the Lynneville Center, came to me bearing ‘evidence’ that, taken at face value, made it look as though my poor vulnerable baby had been injured in a most heinous way. In retrospect I realize I should have investigated the situation myself before making a formal complaint, but when a father thinks his beloved child is in danger, he takes immediate action to ensure his boy’s safety, instead of actions a calmer head might consider.”
Dottie scoffed, “Beloved child. Yeah, right.”
I agreed with her sentiment but continued watching Liston on the screen.
“In so doing, however, I have damaged the reputation of someone whom I have come to believe is a fine man, someone who is fantastic with the children he works with at the center, and someone whom my son obviously adores. For whatever reason, I had never seen the two of them together in my many visits with my son over the months since Jesse was hired. I always managed to be there on Jesse’s days off, or during a break time, or on a sick day, and through my hasty actions, procuring the arrest warrant and the restraining order, I was unable to see how my son and Jesse McKinnon interacted. It took the trial itself for me to be able to see what a mistake separating them was. I have never seen Stevie so open and ‘centered’ around anyone other than me. I am a big enough man to admit my mistakes and to make restitution.”
Drew snickered, “Oh, there are so many things wrong with that statement, I don’t know where to start.”
“Shhh.” I smacked him and we continued watching.
“I want to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to Mr. McKinnon. I’ve already apologized to him privately, but because of my recent celebrity due to my candidacy, a great many people have seen my negative statements about this remarkable young man. I want to make sure the same number of people see my positive ones now that I know the truth.”
Drew leaned over and whispered, “Where was I when he apologized?”
I grinned but didn’t want to miss a word of Liston’s entertaining fictional speech.
“Chuck Tyler, it turns out, had been recently fired from the center for using heavy-handed tactics with the children. He told me he
because he could no longer bear to cover up Jesse McKinnon’s maltreatment of my son. I hear from the director of the center that the final event leading to Mr. Tyler’s sudden career change came when the man locked a child in a room when he knew the boy was severely claustrophobic. When other staff members, including Mr. McKinnon, intervened on the child’s behalf, Mr. Tyler aggressed toward them as well and subsequently lost his job. While Mr. McKinnon declined to press charges, Mr. Tyler didn’t seem so able to forgive and forget. Since he had no grounds to prosecute Mr. McKinnon on his own, he made me his unwitting accomplice in damaging the reputation of the man he felt was responsible for losing him his job.”
Drew had never sat back up from the last time he leaned over, so he just whispered in my ear, “At least this part is factual.” Drew was watching this like he watched movies—with a running commentary. I elbowed him so I could listen, and he pulled away, sitting in his original spot with a smile on his face.
Who knew when Liston would drift off the facts again? I didn’t want to miss the small part that was actually true.
“The pieces of so-called evidence he showed me were butchered copies of tapes from the center that, if seen in their entirety, show just the opposite of what Mr. Tyler was claiming. They show Jesse calming my son, interacting with him on a level of which most people are not capable. I understand that some of these tapes have already been released. I urge you to go to the websites shown on the screen and see them for yourself. One of the websites you see listed also directs you to the local news station’s site where you can see the video footage taken during the trial yesterday. It clearly shows how connected my son is to Mr. McKinnon and how well they work together.”
Many people had already seen it if the count on YouTube was anything to go by, so he might as well encourage the rest of them to.
“Unfortunately Mr. McKinnon wasn’t the only one whose reputation was injured during this whole misunderstanding. The center’s reputation was called into question as well. Since the ‘evidence’ against Mr. McKinnon turned out to be false, and it was upon that evidence
that I was basing my complaints against the facility, those suspicions were wrong as well. In the six years Stevie has been in residence, I have never had cause to think he was not treated with the utmost care and professionalism. That alone should have been enough to tell me Mr. Tyler was not being honest, but when a father has any suspicion at all that his baby is being mistreated, he often acts in haste. I hereby publicly apologize to the center as well, and for the record, I immediately dropped the lawsuit I was pursuing against them as soon as I realized the truth.”
Drew leaned over to say something else and I put my hand over his mouth.
“Another innocent party who has been wronged is Dorothy Campbell, Jesse McKinnon’s landlady, friend, and coworker. Ms. Campbell has had to endure repeated vandalism to her house, car, and land. I have given her a generous donation that should hopefully cover the actual damage, but there are emotional concerns to consider as well. Ms. Campbell’s reputation has suffered by association, and I want to officially apologize to her. Not many people, even if they call themselves friends, would stand by someone who is in the public eye in such a negative way….”
“Woot woot!” Hank cheered. “Let’s hear it for Dottie!”
I looked over at Dottie and told her in a look that I apologized too and would be eternally grateful. She smiled at me, reached across the table, and patted my hand to let me know apologies weren’t necessary and she’d be available whenever I needed her.
Liston was still talking. We all knew he was a windbag.
“…so many good people were wronged during this fiasco, and unfortunately a large part of that was my doing. My only defense is my deep love for my child and my almost obsessive concern for his many special needs and his frail condition. So it is with great remorse that I ask for forgiveness from Jesse McKinnon, the Lynneville Center, Dorothy Campbell, and any other peripheral people who suffered from this, as well as you, my faithful public. I unwittingly misled you, and because many of you are faithful supporters, your opinion of the above-mentioned individuals and the center itself has been colored by my negative statements. I hope you can now find it in your hearts to forgive me and to readjust your opinions of these people to the more positive ones that have been the truth all along.”
Then he looked straight into the camera and spoke to me personally. “Mr. McKinnon, I am heartily sorry for the terrible turmoil I have caused over the last nine weeks, and I am so glad you are now back where you belong, working at the center, connecting with my son in a way of which only you and I seem capable.”
With that, he thanked the reporters and left the podium.
Everyone in the living room area of Hall 3-B was stunned into silence for a moment, while the reporters on TV recapped what had just been said. I couldn’t help but think that any sane person listening to this speech should be asking how and why a “concerned father” would go from “you hurt my baby” to “you’re a great man and wonderful with my kid” in little more than twenty-four hours. Judging by the faces in the audience on TV, though, most of them seemed to buy it.
Finally Dottie broke the spell. “Well, we
he was a good actor.”
Drew’s eyes told me his response would be much less kind, and he was practically vibrating from his attempt to not say it.
I covered his hand with mine and tried to settle him. “We knew when we asked for the press conference that he’d put a positive spin on it for himself. Kyle said this was one of the ways we could let Mr. Liston feel he has
control and can save a little face. If we backed him into a corner, he would have come out fighting, and I doubt any of us could stand against the kind of power he could wield, with or without any evidence of wrongdoing. Kyle said we wanted him on our side, as much as it is possible for him to be. This way, he gets good PR, we get vindicated in the eyes of the public, and we have the tape Kyle is making of the press conference as proof of more lies in case we ever need to use it.”
Drew smirked at that, and although he obviously still didn’t like it, he held his tongue on the subject, at least for the rest of the evening.
Stevie had long since lost interest and was once more snuggled up against me, drawing. Just as we were about to turn from the TV to our separate pursuits, we heard “In related news…”
The reporter had our full attention as she continued.
“…Charles Tyler has been arrested on two counts of physical assault on children in the Lynneville Center for Children with Autism, theft of private property—namely the so-called evidence in the recent Jesse McKinnon case—and perjury. He is also being sued by the parents of Ryan Jacobs for mental cruelty toward their son when Mr. Tyler locked this known claustrophobic child with special needs in a room for such a long period of time that the child passed out from hyperventilation. Mr. Tyler is being held without bail and will come to trial at the court’s earliest convenience. We will pass along more information as soon as it becomes available.”
The room erupted. I know I shouldn’t cheer about anyone being arrested, having just experienced it myself, but I couldn’t help it. After everything Chuck put us through in the last nine weeks, I was happy he was getting a little of his own back. Drew reminded me that no one was entrapping Chuck in any of those charges. They were direct results of decisions he alone had made, so I tried not to feel guilty for feeling happy.
Just as the outburst had started to die down, Drew wound everyone up again by saying, “Hmm, who knew that jail time was a possible side effect of TAD?”
day happened to be a Saturday. Stevie and I were enjoying the day together for the first time in what seemed like forever. Dottie was off spending Mr. Liston’s money and had dragged Drew with her to carry everything. She was taking this opportunity to change the color of her house, buy a fancy front door and better windows as she’d always wanted, and that ornate shrubbery she had longed for but couldn’t afford. By late afternoon they pulled into Dottie’s driveway with the truck they had borrowed from Hank filled to capacity.
Drew grabbed an armful of booty and headed into the house. Stevie and I went to help, but one of Dottie’s neighbors saw her struggling with a load and sheepishly crossed the street.
“Dottie,” the neighbor started, “I know I haven’t been very supportive in all this. But I’d really like the chance to make it up to you. Could I start by helping you and the young men get all this off the truck?”
Dottie, God bless her, just didn’t have it in her to be resentful. She thrust her armful of bush toward him and said, “Sure, Tom. Put this right over there.”