First Contact

by Heather Parker



'Who's there?' whispered the young girl, her voice heavy with misery and hopelessness.

David recognised the emotions. He sighed. How old was she? Twelve, fourteen maybe?

'David,' he replied quietly. 'My name's David.'

The silence lasted almost a minute. He let it happen.

'Can I talk to you? Or will you tell someone?'

David could hardly hear the words through her tears. He knew he had to be careful or he would lose this one.

He spoke quietly. 'I won't tell anyone, I promise. You can tell me anything.'

There was another silence.

He tried again. 'I know you're upset. Can you talk about it? Has something happened tonight?'

He glanced at the clock on the wall of the Centre. Twelve thirty. There was a gasp on the other end of the line. He strained to hear.

'Are you still there?'


A faint whisper.

'Can you tell me your first name? It makes it easier.'


At least it was a start.

'Thanks, Emily. Do you feel up to telling me what's wrong?'

Thirty seconds passed. It felt like thirty minutes to David but he knew better than to hurry her. She needed time.

'It's my brother's friend, Andy. He stays here sometimes when they've been out together on a Friday night.'

It was Friday and alarm bells rang but David sounded calm.

'Is he there tonight, Emily?'


'Are you afraid of Andy?'

It was conjecture but he knew she wasn't finding it easy to talk.


The voice conveyed so much. David sighed to himself, his hand over the mouthpiece. Was she for real? He thought he was experienced enough to know when he was being screwed with and this kid sounded genuine.

'Emily, can you tell me why you're so scared? Has Andy ever hurt you?'

The tears flowed down the line and he could hear her misery.

'He comes into my room - when Rob's asleep.'

Now he felt her embarrassment. He had to overcome that one.

'It's okay, Emily, just take your time. You're safe talking to us. This line is private.'

'You won't report this - to the police or social services or anyone?'

'Not unless you want me to.'

'Even though I'm only fourteen?'

David closed his eyes. Sometimes the crisis line rules were hard to live with although he knew they were right.

'It doesn't matter how old you are, Emily. What does Andy do when he comes in to your room?'

"He gets in bed with me. And then he does things, you know...'

Her voice trailed off. She sounded so low and desolate, he could hardly hear. He knew he couldn't push her and he didn't ask for details. He had to be sexless. And safe.

'Okay, Emily, I understand. But what about your parents? Can't you tell them what's happening?'

'No, I can't. And you mustn't either!'

Her voice rose suddenly and he heard her uneven breathing. 'There's only my mam and she's not well. She had a breakdown last year and she's on diazepam. It would make her overdose again if she knew.'

David passed his hand over his forehead. Poor kid. But he knew he had to ask the question.

'And what about you, Emily? To ring here tonight - are you thinking of doing something like that?'

There was a telltale silence. She hadn't denied it.

'It would end all this,' was all she said.

'But do you really want to kill yourself? Or is it because you can't see any other way out?'

'Of course I don't want to die,' she cried, her voice angry. 'I'm only fourteen. But I can't bear him doing it again. He hurts me!'

David cut in firmly. 'I know, Emily, I believe you.'

He gave her time to take that in. It was important.

'But what about your brother? Could you tell Rob what Andy's doing?'

'I'm scared to tell him.'

'Why? Because you think he won't believe you?'

'Maybe. I don't know. If he did, he might try to kill Andy. They've both got knives and they get pretty drunk.'

David felt desperate. Trapped in an impossible position. Why the hell did he put himself through this? Didn't he have enough problems of his own? He had a young girl's life in his hands and he hadn't got a clue how to help her. He was trained and he was experienced but what gave him the right to influence this girl's decision? A decision that might mean life or death.

'Are you still there, David?'

A soft pleading voice.

'Yes, Emily, I'm here. I promise I won't leave you.'

He realised how much she needed him and he grew calmer. He tried to remember his own training sessions. What was it he said to the new volunteers? Don't try to work out a solution. Just listen. And be there for as long as they needed you.

'Is there anywhere you could go -just for tonight? Or someone you want me to contact for you?'

'No, please, I'll be all right. He's gone now and he won't come back tonight. He never does. It's next week and the week after that...'

The tears began again. He thought for a moment.

'Do you think you could come into the centre tomorrow, Emily? To talk to me - or maybe a woman if you'd rather.'

There was a silence. 'Would anyone else have to know?'

'Absolutely not. But sometimes it's easier face to face and perhaps we can come up with a way to sort things out.  Something you haven't thought of. At least you wouldn't be facing it all on your own any more.'

He waited, desperately hoping she was going to say yes.

'Will you promise to be there? Only I don't want to talk to another stranger. It's too hard to explain.'

'I promise.'

David allowed himself a moment's hope. If this girl was thinking about tomorrow, it might mean she wouldn't swallow thirty diazepam tonight.

'Are you going to be all right until then?'

'You mean will I try to kill myself?'

He winced. Why hadn't he just asked the question? She was fourteen. She wasn't stupid.


'I promise I won't do anything tonight. But I won't promise any more than that.'

David gave a sigh of relief. He believed her and it was all he could ask. At least they had a chance to help her now. She wasn't alone.

'Do you know where the Centre is?'

'It's off the High Street, isn't it? Near Tesco.'

'About twenty yards past on the left. Just ring the bell and I'll come and let you in. I'll be here until lunchtime. Is that okay with you?'

There was a silence. 'Can I come at nine o'clock? Only I might chicken out if I have to wait.'

David smiled. 'Of course you can. And we can talk on the phone all night if it helps.'

The voice was slightly stronger. 'No, it's okay. I'll try and sleep now. But if I wake up, can I ring you again?'

'Anytime at all. I'll be here.'

'Thanks, David. I'll see you tomorrow.'

The phone clicked suddenly and David realised she was gone. She hadn't given him her number and the phones didn't have the 1471 option. It was policy. He just had to hope she meant what she said. The phone rang again and he grabbed it. An elderly alcoholic from Manchester who often rang on Friday nights. The man was tearful and melancholy and David tried hard to concentrate. He had to remember this guy needed a friend too.

The next morning dawned grey and wet. David felt weary and depressed as he made coffee for himself and the woman on duty.

'Rough night?' murmured Kate and David nodded as he slumped in a chair.

'If the doorbell goes, I'll get it,' he replied. 'A young caller from last night said she was going to come in this morning. I just hope she does.'

The other volunteer nodded sympathetically, trying to hide her doubts. She'd had her own share of disappointments over the years. At one o'clock David finally abandoned hope and picked up his car keys from the desk. His shift had officially finished three hours ago but he couldn't get Emily out of his mind. He had to accept the fact he'd failed. She wasn't going to show. He wondered if she'd ‘chickened out’ as she put it - or worse. Was she just another statistic on a government report now? He unlocked the door and walked slowly out into the miserable day. The dank overcast sky matched his mood perfectly.

He stopped. He stared at a slight fair-haired girl in a pink fleece, sitting on the wall outside the Centre. She stood up and looked into his face, trying to make up her mind.

'Emily?' he asked quietly.

The girl nodded nervously and he noticed the redness around her eyes. And the shadows under them.

'I'm David,' he said simply and opened the door for her.

She tried to smile as she nodded and followed him into the Centre.

To hell with the end of his shift. Some rules were made to be broken. David's depression began to lift.

©2006 Heather Parker

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