Excerpted from Becoming Chloe by Catherine Ryan Hyde Copyright © 2006 by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
The cellar has five high windows that let out onto the alley between this building and the next. I'm trying to get some sleep, only there are people having sex out there. I can hear the guy grunting the way guys do. Some guys. Not all guys. I never made a sound like that.
The girl is on her back on the hard concrete of that filthy alley, and I entertain the thought that maybe this was never her idea. That this is not a voluntary gig on her part. Because who gets turned on by lying in filth on cold concrete to do it? Then again, in this city, who knows? I've been in this city five days. Slept in this cellar three. Already I've seen people sink pretty low and not think twice about it. Lower than they probably thought they'd ever go. Too bad I'm one of them.
There's a streetlight out on the avenue, but not much light makes it down to the back of the alley. And even less makes it down here where I sleep. But at the street end of the alley there's a little bit of light, and I look down that way, and I see about three more pairs of feet.
I hear a guy say, "Someone's coming." He's talking in that kind of hoarse whisper they call a stage whisper, but this is definitely not the stage. This is so real it's starting to change me. Then he says, "No. Never mind. It's okay."
By now my stomach is all cold and I realize this is rape going on up there. I realize that my inconvenience at being kept awake doesn't stack up to much. I can think of at least one person in this direct vicinity who's having a much worse night than I am.
And I know I have to do something. I'm just not sure what.
I have to find a place to hide. Because I think I'm going to have to yell, and I don't want anyone to know where I'm yelling from. When I interrupt them, they're not going to like that. And the last thing I want is for them to come take out their frustrations on me. There's one cellar window that doesn't lock. If there wasn't, I wouldn't be down here. I jump up from the mattress too fast, and it makes me dizzy and makes my head hurt. My head still hurts a lot. I try not to think about it, but it's still pretty bad.
There's a kind of alcove created by mattresses stacked against the far wall. I hide behind those mattresses. And I try to decide what to do with my voice. Should I make it high, trying to pass for a woman? Or go deep, like a much bigger, much older guy than I am? Or just be me? I guess I'm looking to put on some authority.
I go deep. "I called the police!" I yell. Praying they can't track the direction of the sound. "I can see what's going on out there. I already called the police."
For a moment the whole world goes quiet and still. I can almost hear my heart pounding.
I peek around the mattresses. I still can't see the back of the alley very well in the dark, but I can see well enough to know that the scene of the actual rape is motionless. Just a lump of two figures frozen. And I can see the feet at the end of the alley and they're not moving, either.
I realize I've probably done all it's in my power to do, and it might not be nearly enough.
Then something miraculous happens. Actually, I don't guess it's fair to call it a miracle when it happens dozens of times a night. I listen to sirens all night here. Fire trucks, ambulances, police cars. Always an emergency close by. Back-to-back disasters, all night long. But the timing of this one is something like heaven. Or at least mercy.
The guys run away. All of them. And I come out of hiding.
I watch to see if the girl is going to be okay. She takes a minute getting up. One of her shoes is knocked off, and she looks around for it. Her jeans are only on one ankle but she worries about the shoe first. She moves off toward the end of the alley looking for it, and I can see her as she bends down to retrieve it. She's no older than I am. She's tiny. I wonder if I should go out there and see if she's okay.
Before I can even move she comes in through the window that doesn't lock. Drops right down into the cellar with me. Like she knew which one to go through all the time. Her jeans are still off except for that one leg, and her panties got ripped off, or she never had any, so she's more or less naked from the waist down, just standing there in a hooded sweatshirt, staring at me. She doesn't seem the least bit surprised that I'm here. She's blond, with that long, perfectly straight hair that girls used to kill for in the sixties. Or so I've been told. A little younger than me, I think. She looks about sixteen but she's small for her age, or younger than I think. Pretty, with good bones in her face. Like she belongs someplace better than this. Then again, who doesn't?
"Hi," she says. She steps back into the other leg of her jeans and pulls them into place.
"You okay?" I ask.
"Oh. Me? Yeah. Sure. Sure. I'm fine."
She says it in a kind of distracted tone, like she has to keep reminding herself what we're talking about. I'm thinking maybe she's loaded, but her motor skills seem fine. She's putting her shoe back on now, a dirty white sneaker with the laces knotted and broken away.
"Yeah. Sure. Fine."