Out of Sight, Out of Mind
As usual, it was another busy day at the office. Despite the extra hours she had been putting in for the last couple of weeks, the amount of paperwork kept on piling up rather than winding down. Even with Stacey helping out and taking more responsibility than usual, it did not seem that Lesly would be able to get everything wrapped up without adding more extra hours. She did not mind. After all, spending more time in her office would surely offer a nice distraction from the pestering thoughts that would invade her mind in the silence of the night. With all that had happened recently, she found that the best way to keep herself from thinking too much was to drive herself to the point of exhaustion until drowsiness swallowed her consciousness before her thoughts had a chance to hold it captive.
Alec had stopped texting her. This made it a bit easier for her to not think about what had happened between them. Still, she found herself thinking about him from time to time, and every moment she did, she would find herself consumed with rage and anger. Michaela tried to get her to talk about him repeatedly, but Lesly would plead her with her to drop the matter entirely. She did not want to think about what happened. She did not want to deal with it, and she definitely did not want to talk about it. How long she was going to keep on avoiding the matter, she did not know. She did not even know why she kept on pushing it aside and refused to put an end to it one way or the other. The only thing she was certain of was that she did not want to see him, hear him, or talk to him. The answer to the question why did not matter at all.
Lesly was consumed with examining a document on her computer screen when she heard footsteps walking into her office. Thinking that Stacey had finally arrived with more coffee so they could resume working together, she lifted her head to tell her about the case she had just examined. The person who stood by the door, however, was not Stacey. It was a young girl who was holding on to her purse’s leather strap in a clear sign of nervousness. The teenager had long blond hair that she had allowed to cascade over one shoulder. She was dressed in a plain black t-shirt and worn-out jeans, and behind her stood a little girl, possibly seven or six years old, who looked a lot similar to the older girl. She too seemed to be timid since she kept on hiding behind the teen who appeared to be her older sister.
When the girls did not say anything, Lesly felt compelled to ask, “Can I help you?”
The teen stammered an answer, “I’m looking for a woman named Collins.”
“You found her,” Lesly announced just as Stacey walked back into the office with two coffee mugs in her hand. She went past the two girls who stepped out of her way and placed the two mugs on the table. Then she looked at Lesly questioningly.
“These two girls were looking for me,” Lesly explained to her assistant.
“I need to talk to you about a problem we’re going through…,” the teen explained nervously.
Stacey immediately stepped in, “There’s a process that we usually follow around here…”
“We need help,” the girl interrupted.
“I know,” Stacey answered, “but as I mentioned, there’s a process that has to be followed before we can do anything. First, you need to sit with an employee who will inquire about the nature of your problem, take all your personal information, and then direct you to the person who could best help you…”
“I can’t…something has to be done now,” the girl answered in a shaky voice.
“Calm down…,” Stacey instructed.
“No, you don’t get it. I’ve waited for too long. I’m worried if I go back home today, it would be too late,” the teen spoke hastily. Then she looked at Lesly, “I was told you could help me.”
“Who told you?” Lesly asked calmly.
“A friend of mine spoke to someone about my problem. He or she gave her your name and suggested that I talk to you.”
Lesly glanced at Stacey and nodded. The young woman immediately shut the office door to give the teen some privacy. Then she offered her a seat. Lesly stepped from behind her desk and sat opposite to the teen and her little sister. Stacey sat next to her.
“Alright,” Lesly announced. “How can I help you?”
The teen wrang her hands nervously, “I don’t know where to begin.”
“Let’s start with your name.”
“Samantha…but everybody calls me Sam,” the teen stammered anxiously.
“Okay, this is your little sister sitting next to you I assume?”
“Yes, her name is Sara.”
“Is she your only sibling?”
“Parents?” Lesly inquired further.
“My mom died three years ago. We’re currently living with our dad.”
“In a small apartment on Ivory street,” the teen answered, “but I don’t think we’ll stay there for long. You see, my dad hasn’t been able to pay rent or utilities for the last couple of months. It’s only a matter of time before we get evicted. Lately, it had gotten so bad that he could barely afford to put food on the table. Whatever money he manages to get, he spends on alcohol. There were nights when my sister and I would barely find anything to eat.”
Lesly was not surprised at all. She had heard the same story enough times not to find it out of the ordinary for a parent to neglect his kids like that. After all, if it were not for the prevalence of poverty and dysfunctional families, traffickers would have a hard time finding someone to prey on. She hoped Sam’s story would end a different way, but seeing how the teen was advised to see her, it did not seem likely.
“Has he always been like this?” Lesly finally inquired.
“No, he slipped into the habit of drinking himself to oblivion after my mother died. It got worse after he lost his job a couple of months ago.”
Lesly examined the two girls in front of her. There were no signs of physical abuse on them whatsoever, but she had to ask, “Has your father ever hit the two of you?”
“No,” the teen rushed to deny. “He might throw a tantrum from time to time. He might even scream or yell at us, but he would always apologize for raising his voice at us and then end up spending the rest of the night crying…You see…my dad hadn’t been the same after my mom died. She was his rock…without her, he can’t function at all.”
Just when Lesly was about to continue asking the teen more questions, a colleague walked in and asked if the two were done with the issue he brought to their attention earlier. Stacey told him to give them a few more minutes and he left reluctantly. This made Lesly try to get the teen to quickly get to the root of her problem so she and Stacey can see how they could help and get back to the mountain of paperwork they had to get done before the end of the day.
Once the door was shut, Lesly directed her attention to the teen. “Earlier you said that you’re worried that if you go back home today, something bad may happen. Did your dad threaten you two in any way?”
Sam continued to wring her hands nervously, “It’s not my dad I’m scared of Miss Collins. It’s someone who keeps on dropping by from time to time.”
“Who is he?”
“He says he’s a friend of my dad and my dad certainly treats him like one because he’s helped him with money a number of times, but my dad doesn’t know that when he’s passed out drunk, that man would…,” Sam hesitated for a few seconds, “that man would harass me.”
Lesly briefly glanced at Stacey who could not keep herself from asking, “How old are you Sam?”
“Maybe we need to take your sister outside so we could talk more about this issue?” Stacey offered as she glanced at the young girl who was playing with a lock of her sister’s hair.
Samantha’s hold around her sister’s shoulders tightened, “She’s deaf…always has been. Besides, she’d go crazy if she leaves my side.”
Lesly stared at the two girls wondering how she could ask her next question delicately. However, there was no other way but to go at it directly. With a reassuring tone, Lesly began probing the teen for more information, “I’m sorry, Sam, but I have to ask you. Had that man ever gone too far?”
“Yes…,” Samantha answered shakily. “It was not like that at the beginning. He was always nice when he spoke to the two of us. He gave me his phone number and told me that if we needed anything, I should call him. I did whenever Sara and I found nothing to eat. I had no idea that he expected something in return.”
The teen took a quivering breath to carry on. Her voice trembled as she explained, “There were a number of times when he…touched me inappropriately. Then he told me that he would buy me whatever I needed if I just…slept with him. Eventually, he told me I’d be making a lot of money and helping both dad and my sister if I just did that with him…and with others. I kept on saying no, and I stopped calling him entirely. He still showed up.”
The young girl began sobbing, “Last night he almost…I told him to stop, but he didn’t. I ran to my room and locked the door. He told me it would only be a matter of time before I gave in.”
Lesly glanced at Stacey who was losing her composure with every passing second. The details Sam was sharing must have struck her deep considering how she had gone through something similar in the past. The dark-haired woman tried to get Stacey to step outside the office for a few minutes so she could talk to her, but the young assistant was more focused on the distressed teen. She handed her a box of tissues and tried to ask her more questions.
“Where was your dad when all of that happened?”
“Passed out cold,” Samantha cried. “I told him what happened, but he doesn’t want to believe me. He says I’m imagining this whole thing…to him, Brenan is a nice guy and nothing was going to change that. He fails to see that this so-called nice guy is the one pumping him full of alcohol so he would become too drunk to realize that someone is taking advantage of his daughter.”
Lesly could not believe her ears. Her eyes narrowed in both shock and anger at the mention of the guy’s name.
“Brenan? Larry Brenan? That’s his name?” She asked angrily.
“Yes…,” the teen answered in confusion.
Lesly and Stacey exchanged a look before Lesly demanded that Stacey follow her outside the office.
“Just give us a minute, Sam,” Lesly requested before she stepped out with Stacey following closely behind her. Once they were outside, the dark-haired woman could not contain her anger, “I should have known that it would only be a matter of time before that sick bastard struck again.”
Stacey was confused. “You know him?”
“Of course, I do. We’ve dealt with a number of cases a couple of years ago that involved underage kids. Brenan’s name came out a lot. Eventually, I managed to build a case against him in order to put him behind bars. The judge in charge was too lenient. He declared that Brenan was not of a sound mind and gave him a reduced sentence with a chance for parole assuming that Brenan would abide by the court mandated order to seek therapy.”
The young woman could not believe her ears, “You’re kidding!”
“I wish I was.”
“What are we gonna do now?”
“Call some of the shelters. See if they can take them in,” Lesly instructed.
“I’ll handle him,” the dark-haired woman announced before she took her phone out and began typing something.
Stacey watched her superior as she tapped on the screen busily and wondered if she should ask her something. As if sensing a request, Lesly with her eyes still focused on the screen asked, “What is it?”
“You’re not gonna like what I’m about to say, but maybe…”
Lesly realized where Stacey was going, so she immediately interrupted her, “I’m not gonna call Alec.”
“Lesly, I’m sure that given his connections, he could easily put an end to this matter immediately. The only reason Brenan got away with those charges in the first place is because he knows someone up there.”
“I told you I’ll handle him. End of story,” the dark-haired woman maintained firmly. She finished typing those texts and stashed her phone in her pocket, “Get those girls into a shelter for now and call child services. They won’t be able to do anything given the volume of cases they have to deal with, but it’s better to follow procedure. I don’t want Brenan or the father getting away with this on a technicality.”
The woman was appearently not done with her requests because she still stood in front of her superior. When Lesly arched an eyebrow in question, the young assistant stammered, “Maybe I should take them in.”
Lesly sighed, “Stacey…”
“I’m not sending them to a shelter!”
Lesly realized where that request was coming from, so she tried to put her assistant’s worries to rest, “Listen, what happened to you at the shelter is not gonna happen to them. Besides, it’s only temporary. They’ll only stay there until we figure out what to do. Yes, the shelter is not ideal, but at least they won’t have to deal with Brenan.”
“Exactly, it’s only temporary,” Stacey challenged. “They can stay with me until then. I’ll make the necessary arrangements and notify…”
“You could get yourself in trouble,” Lesly interrupted the stubborn woman, “There’s no telling what Brenan might do.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“Stacey,” Lesly began firmly, “I said this once and I’ll say it again. I know it’s hard, but you cannot become too emotionally invested in a case. You won’t be able to put up with all the stress, especially in this line of work.”
Stacey went quiet. Lesly thought she finally reached her, but when she tried to walk away, Stacey immediately stopped her, “I wouldn’t be doing anything that you haven’t done already.”
“Stacey…,” Lesly pleaded once more.
“You didn’t care about all that when you took me in. I wouldn’t be here if you didn’t help me back then. I could never pay you back for everything you did for me, so the least I could do is pay it forward.”
Lesly sighed and stared at her young assistant. It seemed that nothing she would say was going to change her mind, so she gave in, “Fine, I’ll make some phone calls and see if we can make this happen. You’ll notify me, though, the moment you feel that something is not right.”
“Of course,” the assistant smiled.
Lesly smiled back and walked towards the elevator. Her back was turned to Stacey as she announced, “I’m off to meet Graham. You take care of the situation here and file all the necessary paperwork.”
“You got it,” Stacey responded assuredly before she marched back into the office to wrap everything up.