Neil had a sudden vision of Jesse Herrera. He thought, “While I was wasting time on that worthless little son-of-a-bitch, this was happening.” But that was not fair. He had done all he could for Lisa. He had heard her cry for help and had made himself available to her. There was nothing else he could have done until she told her story.
He put Jesse and his anger out of his mind. This was not the time for self-indulgence. Neither anger, nor disgust, nor embarrassment, nor worry for his future had any place in this moment. Now, he could think of no one but Lisa.
First, touch her. Tell her in body language that she has not become strange and foul and soiled by what someone else has done to her. He took both her hands in his and murmured, “Honey, I’m so sorry you had to go through that. We’ll make it right, I promise.”
How? How will I make it right?
He needed help. If ever there was a time in his life not to be stubborn about getting help, it was now. He pushed back the curtains that he had drawn to give privacy to his room during the sex education session, and looked across to the quad. Carmen was still moving about in her room. He said to Lisa, “Do you think you could talk to Ms. de la Vega as well as to me, since Ms. Kelly isn’t here?”
She could. Neil put his hand around her shoulder. She was trembling. He led her out the door and across into Carmen’s room. Carmen looked up, saw the distress in Lisa’s face, and opened her arms. Lisa pushed off of Neil and ran to her. Carmen went to her knees to hold her closer and looked questioningly over Lisa’s shoulder at Neil. He explained the situation.
Carmen put her face beside Lisa’s streaming face and rocked her gently. Without looking up, she whispered, “Get out. Go to Bill. Tell him what happened and leave this to me.”
Neil stopped only long enough to lock the door on his way out. He found Bill Campbell putting computer readouts into a briefcase in preparation for going home. He explained everything he knew.
Bill sat drumming his fingers on the desk top like a man who wanted to say, “Are you sure?” But he didn’t. He dialed a number and waited, then spoke into the receiver, “Child Protrective Services, please.” There was a long pause while he listened, then he snapped, “Well someone had better be on duty!” After another pause, he said, “Take this message. We have a female child who is apparently in grave danger of a step-father rape. The step-father is still in the family. We just found out about it. We haven’t contacted the mother and we haven’t been able to verify the incident. We need the duty worker as soon as she gets home.” Then he gave his name and phone number and hung up.
“Switchboard,” Bill said. “The duty person is in transit. We just missed her by five minutes. When she gets home, she will call in and the switchboard will relay the message. But she may stop for groceries and who knows what. It might be an hour or more.”
“What do we do now?”
“That is a good question. The bus should be home by now, so we can expect a call from the mother. I don’t want to talk to Mrs. Cobb until the case worker is here, but I can’t lie to her to stall her off.”
“What can CPS do?”
“That all depends on whether or not they believe Lisa.”
“What do you mean?”
“Children do lie, and they have to consider that”
“Do you mean that we might not be able to help her? After she came to us — trusted us!” more tomorrow