Becoming Sarah - By Miranda Simon

IN THE BEGINNING

“Hey, girl, c’mere.”

I should never have answered him. I should have pulled my hand-me-down pea coat tighter against the night air and kept on walking. Instead, I paused and peered into an alleyway smelling of urine and garbage.

“Hey, Jamie. Yeah, you know me.” He grinned, and his teeth shone bone white in the light from a street lamp.

I did know him, a lanky, quiet kid who sat in the back row of my health class. Robert something? No, Ricky. Ricky Jones. He never said much, never did much except doodle in a spiral-bound notebook, but he wasn’t one of the rowdy ones, either – the bad boys who carried knives in the pockets of their sagging jeans.

“Yeah, you, I got something to show you,” Ricky said, and when I hung back, afraid, he laughed softly. “What, you scared of me or something? You’re kinda cute when you’re nervous.”

And those words hooked me like a fish on a line, because nobody had ever called me that before. Smart, sure. I made every honor roll. Reliable, absolutely. “I can always depend on Jamie,” my mother liked to say. “I get us into messes, she gets us out.” Usually this was after one of her binges, when I fixed up a payment plan with PG&E or stood in line at the church that gave out free groceries. But cute? Never once.

I took a handful of nervous steps into the alley and stopped. “Hey, Ricky.” My voice sounded small and squeaky; I cleared my throat. “What’s up?”

He motioned me closer. “Nothing much, just wanted to say hi. You going home?”

I nodded and thrust my hands deeper into my pockets. “Yeah.”

“You work at the library, huh? I seen you there.” His tongue crept out of his mouth to lick his lips. “It must pay pretty good there.”

“It’s all right.” I rocked on my heels, my heart all of a sudden thumping in my chest. I glanced over my shoulder. No one on the street. I should have let Otto, one of the library techs, walk me all the way home, but it was out of his way and I’d urged him to turn back a few blocks ago. It was our late night, the one day of the week we stayed open until nine, and I knew he was eager to be home with his girlfriend and month-old son.

I glanced back at Ricky, who took a sudden step toward me. “I – I have to get home,” I said, my mouth dry, but he caught my arm, hard, and wouldn’t let go.

“Not yet,” he said, “not yet,” and he pulled me deeper into the shadows. Even through the wool of my coat his fingers pressed bruises into my flesh. In my mind I started screaming, but the sound wouldn’t come from my throat. He pinned me against the brick of one of the walls. I struggled – I was bigger than him, and almost as tall – but he was all wiry muscle and it did me no good. His mouth pushed up against mine without tenderness. He’d been drinking; his breath stank of beer – sour and yeasty. His front tooth cut my lip and I tasted blood.

My first kiss.

Sixteen and never been kissed. My best friend Maria said I was too serious for romance, too focused on the A’s I need for a college scholarship, but then she was always too kind. She swore up and down that with the right diet, the right zit cream, a new hairstyle and the perfect outfit, I’d look like one of the girls in Cosmo. I knew better. Boys didn’t look at me, not in that way.

But oh, God, I never thought it would happen like this. Not in a stinking alley, not with the wall cold against my back and Ricky’s mouth grinding into mine. When his fingers tore at the button on my jeans I began to cry, huge gulping sobs. I groped for my phon, but it wasn’t in the one coat pocket I could reach.

“Shut up,” Ricky said, his face twisted and ugly, “shut up, girl. You’re lucky I want you. Fat bitch, lucky any man will have you.”

When I cried harder at that, he slammed my head back into the wall and then pushed me down on the ground, onto the damp, filthy street, and still I couldn’t quite believe this was really happening to me.

Ricky tugged down my jeans and I just lay there, my head throbbing and aching,

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