Excerpts from the files of Dr. Mari Dennis. Psychologist, Family Crisis Center, New Cape Hope, Florida.

This latest case is a really tough one.

He's fifteen. He's like a springtime shadow, thin and fleeting. So easy to overlook, to ignore, except I cannot bear the way he flinches at every raised voice, every quick movement.

I ask him if he would like something to drink and his hands come up to shield his face and he hunches his shoulders, expecting a blow. He avoids looking directly at me, lowering his head and peering up at me from under his hair. He quickly looks away when our eyes meet. He answers me slowly and in a soft voice devoid of any expression. My heart shatters. It's not fair that his mother abandoned him when he was eight. It's unforgivable that for the last seven years his father beat him and told him he was unlovable and useless.

Everyone says it's too late to help him, he's too old. I have to try. Don't get involved they say, don't get attached. You'll only get hurt, they say, but I refuse to believe them. I will help him, it's not too late, it can't be. How can the world be so cold, so cruel? To tear down something so precious, so beautiful as this handsome and intelligent young man. There is so much potential I can see in him.

I will start slowly, speak softly to him, never raise my voice. I will try to make sure he knows when I come up to him, that he can always see my hands. I don't want him to ever be afraid that I will strike him.

I will get him away from those people, his biological parents. I will place him with people who will encourage him, love him and protect him.

I think, no, I know that I can make a difference. I will help Lucas. I will.