Authors: Brynn Stein
I called Drew again, and we met for coffee and conversation until I had to go back to the center at four.
“I’ve always wondered something.” Drew started a conversation almost as soon as we received our coffee. “Why are you the only one who can meet Stevie in the forest? I mean, if it’s Stevie calling to you and he brings you there, why doesn’t he call to any of us? Shouldn’t he be able to bring anyone he wants to his forest? Dottie and I were always rather close to him. And we were literally closer to him… geographically. Why not reach out to someone who already knew where he was and could help immediately?”
I had to admit that had bothered me too. “I don’t know, Drew. I really don’t.”
“I have a theory.”
I smiled. Of course he had a theory. He was Drew. He had ideas about everything. He was one of the brightest, most intuitive people I’d ever met.
When he saw I was waiting for him to continue, he did. “I think you’re an empath too.”
“What? No way.”
“Think about it. You instantly get a feel for people. You know who you can trust and who you can’t before they even speak. You connect with Stevie on a wavelength no one else can match. You can read his moods effortlessly—”
“I think that’s just reading body language, though. Reading Stevie and other people’s mood or trustworthiness, I mean.”
He went on like I hadn’t interrupted. “And you send out waves of calm. I feel better when you enter a room. I think the kids do too. You exude calm.”
“Some people are just like that,” I argued, though I wasn’t sure I believed all of his claims. “It’s a personality type.”
“You can explain it away all you want, but I still think you’re an empath.”
He had me doubting myself now. “I don’t have the same symptoms, though. I don’t hear noises in my head, let alone get the physical manifestations.”
“You said yourself the accounts of the different empaths varied wildly. You’re a different kind of empath.”
“I’m not an empath. I’m just Stevie’s… I don’t know… anchor or something. That’s why I can connect with him.”
“But what makes you an anchor and not me or Dottie?
“Well, I think you and Dottie are, partially at least. I don’t know how it all works.”
“I think what you’re calling an anchor is a person with a different kind of empathy. Someone who is innately sensitive to empathic people. Someone who can send empathic messages, but maybe can’t receive them from anyone but other empaths. I don’t know. But I think being a true anchor is so rare Stevie couldn’t find anyone any closer to pull into the forest. Dottie and I mean well, and we’ve always connected with him more closely than anyone else, but we don’t have the empathy or sensitivity, or whatever you want to call it, to meet him on a mental plane.”
“I don’t think I’m anything special, Drew. I just happened to be who he brought into—”
“But why? If you’re nothing special there were hundreds of thousands of people between you and him that he could have pulled into his mental world.”
I wasn’t sure why, but the idea of me being an empath too was making me a little nervous. I had always hoped that, at some point, Stevie wouldn’t need me anymore and could connect with other people in his environment to help him. But, come to think of it, if that hadn’t happened in six years, I wasn’t sure why I thought it would in the future. Drew had a point, I supposed. As much as I hated to assign special traits to myself, there had to be something that drew Stevie to me that first time.
“I don’t know how it works, Drew.” I smiled but gave him a look that was trying to convey
let’s drop the subject for now
Judging by Drew’s smirk, he took it as
you won the argument
Either way, I vowed to investigate the whole idea later. I just didn’t know how I was going to do that.
of the week went along uneventfully, and at last Saturday arrived. I had finally gotten permission to take Stevie off campus for a while, and today was to be our first big outing. I thought of asking Drew to come along too, but after a lot of introspection, I decided I wanted this first time to be just Stevie and me. I had considered our first destination carefully too. The most convenient thing, if he were just any kid, would be to take him to the mall. It had all the things a kid could want: ice cream, toys, trendy clothes, even a costume shop, which I especially thought Stevie would like. Lots of police officer outfits and such. But caution won out and I took him to a small art-supply store just down the road from the center. There would be fewer people, so mental noise would probably be kept to a minimum. I had visited the store myself the previous week, so I knew they didn’t usually do much business at any given time. Armed with those facts, and the knowledge that he had gotten much better at building his mental wall, I figured we’d be okay.
I had told Stevie about the upcoming trip earlier in the week, and he had been a little less than enthusiastic. I didn’t want to force it on him if he wasn’t ready, so I told him to think about it and we’d decide on Saturday.
When Saturday came, Stevie decided he wanted to try.
We got to my car okay. I talked Stevie through building a mental wall with just me and him on one side and everyone else on the other. He said he had it, so off we went on our first excursion.
the store was small, it proved to be a little overwhelming. I don’t think I truly realized just how much everyone at the center manipulated the environment for the kids, and just how used to the “normal” noise Stevie had become. He usually handled all the meltdowns and screams there so well now it didn’t occur to me it would be different out in the “real world.” When we first entered the art store, we encountered a mother with a small child just inside the door. The little boy wanted an art kit featured on a low shelf, and his mother had other ideas, so he was screaming bloody murder. Stevie clapped his hands over his ears and dropped to the floor immediately.
The college student working the register glanced over with a disgusted look and rolled his eyes as if to say
great, now we have two screaming brats
I hadn’t thought to check the work schedule of the staff at the store. The other day when I had cased the place, the young lady behind the counter had been so patient and kind, I was sure she’d have no problem with Stevie. The young man working today was anything
patient. Working the schedule I worked, I honestly forgot that the rest of the world separated the workweek into weekdays and weekend days. This guy was obviously weekend help.
“If you can’t control your br… kids, please take them outside.”
The clerk was no longer satisfied with disgusted looks. The young mother scooped up her son and headed outside, but when I reached toward Stevie, he moved away and screamed. I was convinced that even though the child’s emotions might be removed, or at least dampened, the clerk was still giving off palpable waves of impatience and disgust. The more vocal the clerk became, the more Stevie rocked and screamed, which sparked more anger in the employee. I swear I wouldn’t have been surprised if this kid was Chuck’s little brother. Surely that kind of vehemence wasn’t widespread enough to show up so often in the general public.
I finally lost control. “If you’d just shut up,
, I’d be able to help my young charge calm down and we won’t take up any more of your valuable time.”
Amid a sputtered reply, the clerk turned away and busied himself with something behind the counter. Finally able to focus my attention on Stevie alone, I noticed he was drawing on the floor with his finger. Frantically making square after square, one on top of another. He was trying desperately to build his wall, but was still whining and rocking, practically slapping at the floor with every stroke of his invisible wall. I’d seen him draw imaginary lines on the floor from time to time when he didn’t have paper or blocks and was having trouble with imagining the blocks in his head. What I hadn’t seen before was Stevie starting this process without any prompting from me. His whines were turning into moans, and he was rocking more slowly. He had a steadier hand while drawing his blocks. He seemed to be handling the upset as best he could, so I just stayed quiet and attentive, ready to help if needed. He continued to calm down over the next several minutes that felt like hours. As he drew more and more squares on the floor, he calmed exponentially, until he finally rose to his feet and looked around.
“Hey, Bear! A paint set!”
He was off like a shot to inspect the same set that caused the young mother so much trouble. Fortunately I didn’t have to say no when, after looking at everything else in the store, Stevie decided he wanted that particular set.
I had come in with the plan to buy him something. Stevie was supported by the state, and his father sent the smallest of checks for clothing and necessities as the center requested, but the staff often bought him extra things to make life a little better for him. I’d been saving a little of my paycheck for quite a while now so that I’d be able to buy him things when I took him out of the center. I had always had that as a goal.
We finally stood in front of the surly young clerk. With matching Cheshire cat smiles, Stevie and I made our first purchase together. I was sure the clerk thought our visit was the worst thing to happen to him that whole day. But with the new experience of having seen Stevie manage his empathy on his own, I considered the trip an unmitigated success. The newly purchased art set was just frosting on the cake and would always remind me of today’s accomplishment.
I were talking one night at work about upcoming movies. We both wanted to see the latest
movie. So when both Drew and I were off on the Friday it came out, we decided to go together.
I had always known I was attracted to both men and women—men a good bit more, actually. Not that I had had time for either in a long while, with the search for Stevie and everything. Drew had appealed to me since the first moment I saw him, but the more I got to know him and the more I hung out with him, the more I felt for him. As far as I knew, Drew was straight, regardless of what Chuck liked to say. And even if he wasn’t, he had shown no interest in me that way, so I tried to keep it platonic, to tell myself that we were just two friends going to the movies.
We arrived at the theater early enough to have our pick of the seats. Drew wanted to sit in the back row. My heart fluttered just a little bit, but I tamped down on it. Lots of people wanted to sit in the back row, for all sorts of reasons: more legroom, you didn’t have to crane your neck to see the screen, and no one was behind you. Lots of reasons to sit in the back that had nothing to do with being dark and secluded—and romantic.
Not romantic at all.
I barely paid any attention to the movie. All I could think of was how good it was just sitting in a dark theater with Drew, feeling the heat of his body next to mine, our hands meeting as we reached for popcorn, our arms touching as we shared the armrest.
Just friends, just friends, just friends.
I was so worked up by the time I finally got home that I had to head straight to the shower. If all the more-than-friendly things I had wanted to do to Drew all night filled my mind at the same time… well, no one had to know about that.
the next week, Stevie was seated at the large table in the hall, drawing yet another item he had seen in the store, while some of the staff and a few children were watching the news on the nearby TV. The anchor announced a new candidate for the gubernatorial race. Somewhere in my subconscious, I noticed the name “William Liston” but didn’t pay conscious attention, let alone make any connection. I had now been in Lynneville for almost six months, but I hadn’t really followed local politics or kept tabs on important people in the area. It wasn’t until I heard Dottie mutter, “Well, shit,” that I started paying attention. Dottie never cursed—not even at Chuck, who in my opinion certainly earned it most of the time.
“What, Dottie?” I tore my attention away from Stevie’s drawing and focused more attention on the TV when I saw that was what Dottie had responded to.
“Stevie’s so-called father,” she answered.
“Huh?” Okay, not the best comeback, but I was utterly confused. Stevie hadn’t seen his father in six years, and no one had mentioned him before except to criticize his small checks and utter lack of involvement with his son.
“William Liston, Stevie’s father, just decided to run for governor.”
Drew explained further. “William Liston is arguably the richest man in Lynneville. He’s very influential in local politics, though he’s never run for office before. Everyone seems very interested in having him do so, and recently, there’ve been rumors he might actually vie for governor this year. I guess it’s official now.”
“Stevie’s father, who in six years has not sent one cent towards his son’s upkeep beyond the absolute minimum required amount, is the area’s richest man?” I couldn’t believe it. “A man that rich puts his son in a state-run institution and just abandons him, but everyone wants this guy as governor?”
“As far as we know, no one knows about Stevie.” Drew seemed as disgusted as I felt.
“He’s Daddy’s dirty little secret.”
Leave it to Chuck to pipe in with a comment like that. We fell back on our usual reply to Chuck and simply ignored him. He continued leaning against a nearby wall, watching the TV intently.
“Well, heaven help the state of Washington if William Liston can’t take any more interest in
welfare than he has his son’s.” Dottie’s statement seemed to signify the end of the conversation, so everyone went back to doing what they had been before.