By Sharon Flake
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Who Am I Without Him? is a Booklist Top Ten Romance Novel for Teens and is “breaking new and necessary ground”
in twelve short stories about guys and girls falling in and out of love and relationships, testing out ways to communicate with one another, respect each other — and respect themselves.
This is a complex, often humorous, and always on-point exploration of today’s teens determined to find love and self-worth . . . any way they know how.
Note: this is potentially going to be in a bind-up with You Don’t Even Know Me.
Also by Sharon G. Flake
The Skin I’m In
You Don’t Even Know Me
Begging for Change
Copyright © 2004, 2005 by Sharon G. Flake
Cover design by Christian Fuenfhausen
Cover photo © Getty Images
All rights reserved. Published by Disney • Jump at the Sun, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney • Jump at the Sun, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.
To my nieces and nephews:
Denise, Michelle, and Donyell Wallace; Marie and William Flake; Lisa and Joseph McCann; Veronica Flake; Gregory Flake; and Tamika White. I love you all and hope that your lives are always filled with breathtaking beauty, love everlasting, laughter, good fortune, good friends, kindness, faith, and few tears.
PEOPLE SAY THINGS ABOUT me. Bad things. Momma says I give ’em reason to. That if I would just be a good girl—like the girls who wait for the bus with me in the mornings—then things wouldn’t go so hard for me. But I don’t wanna be like them girls: so plain and pitiful, boys don’t even look their way or ask their names. I wanna be me. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. Is it?
Me and them girls been standing on the same corner waiting for the same bus for a year now, and I don’t even know their names. But I hate ’em just the same, mostly ’cause that girl with the red hair and gray eyes looks like the girl Raheem once left me for. She was a good girl too, so they say. She got straight A’s. Worked in the principal’s office, headed up the cheerleading team, and played flute for the marching band. You’d figure a girl like that wouldn’t be no thief. But she was. She stole my man right from under me—for a little while, anyhow.
“What you looking at?” I ask the girl in the green plaid skirt.
She keeps her mouth shut and her squinty, brown eyes looking down at the ground. And right when I go to tell her she better not even think about looking my way, I trip over my own two feet. The good girls laugh—all four of ’em. Now, what they do that for?
“I should …” I say, going for the one with the red hair and run-over shoes.
She and her friends run to the other side of the street like they being chased by boys with bricks. I’m right behind ’em, with my fist balled up. But then, I see Raheem. Sweet, pretty Raheem. So I forget about them girls, and go back to be with my Boo.
Yellow phlegm flies out Raheem’s mouth and onto the curb, right when I walk up to him. “Hey, baby,” he says.
I give him a big one on the lips. “Hey.”
He takes off his shades and eyes a girl passing by. Then out the blue he tells me to go to school without him, ’cause he’s got things to do.
I push up against him. Stick my tongue in his ear and roll it around the fat gold stud I gave him for his seventeenth birthday. “Come on, Raheem. I skip English every day so me and you can ride to school together.”
He yells at me. “Did I ask you to miss class
I snap out on him then, asking him why he’s always wasting my time.
He hooks his thumb through my gold hoop earring and pulls down hard.
“Ouch! You trying to split my ear?”
He turns away from me and starts walking. But he don’t get far—I don’t let him. I apologize. Then I press kisses to my fingers and touch his warm lips. I try not to sweat Raheem when he gets a little rough with me or says he’s coming over my house and don’t show up. He’s the cutest boy in school: an amateur boxer with a six-pack and honey-brown muscles that girls reach for even when they don’t know him. I can’t keep him on no short leash; but I forget that sometimes.
Raheem puts his arm over my shoulder and tells me again to go to school without him.
“No,” that’s what I wanna tell him. But Raheem likes girls that do what he says and don’t talk back. So I remind him that he’s got a test third period. If he don’t pass it, he flunks the class. If he flunks, he don’t graduate next month. “So you just need to take your butt to school with me.”
He rubs the back of my ear. “I know you been waiting on me,” he says in a voice so sweet my knees almost give way. “But I ain’t going. I got things
I can’t help it. I get mad all over again, and it’s me that turns away from him this time. He tickles my neck. “Come on, baby. Don’t be like that.” He kisses my lips. Says it’s me and him forever.
I give in. Tell him what he wants to hear—I’ll take the bus by myself. I’ll do your homework, wash your clothes, lend you money, anything… . Just keep being my Boo. But then he takes off them sunglasses to wipe something out his eye, and before I say another word, his eyes crawl over one of them good girls, like worms sliding across wet dirt.
I am loud like my mother. When I holler, you can hear me up and down the street and around the corner. So when I go off on Raheem, people across the street turn and stare. “You my man! What you doing looking at her for?”
Raheem’s hand smashes the words back into my mouth. “Girl! Don’t make me …”
I apologize just like my momma does when my daddy slaps her. Like Raheem’s momma does too.
Raheem says he’s gonna forgive me this time. But I better check myself, ’cause he needs a cooperative woman. “Not a whole bunch of drama.”
He’s right. A boy like him can get any girl he wants. He ain’t gotta take no stuff off nobody. “Sorry,” I say, thinking ’bout how jealous girls be when they see me with him.
Raheem and me been together two years now. He my third boyfriend. The other ones, they was all right. But him, well, he’s better than I deserve, I figure. I mean, like my mother says, I won’t never win no beauty contest. But my body, well that’s something else. It’s the Mona Lisa. The sun and the moon, Raheem wrote in a poem once. It’s too big in too many places, that’s what I think. But Raheem likes it. That’s all that counts, right?
Raheem don’t never stay mad long. So a few minutes after our bus-stop fight, me and him are talking and laughing again. But when he bends down to wipe his sneakers, the good girl with the red hair and the dirty brown skirt comes back to our side of the street. She looks his way and smiles—just a little. He stands, she bends way over and pulls up her long white socks. He smiles. She winks. I go to tell him what I seen,
but his eyes let me know I’d better hold my tongue. I do.
Raheem rubs my butt. “You know you my Boo. Can’t nobody take me off you.” Then he asks me to spot him five. Before I get inside my purse, he unsnaps it. Takes out my wallet and puts ten bucks in his back pocket, right when the other girls return.
“Don’t be going in my …”
“What’s yours is mine, ain’t it?”
The good girls watch him kiss my neck and whisper in my ear. “Yeah, he mine,” I say loud enough for them to hear.
The redhead presses her books to her flat chest and rolls her eyes at me. I point to her. Say for her to step into the street if she got a problem with me.
Raheem tells me not to be like that. “You the only one I want,” he says, crossing the street, heading for the doughnut shop.
I look over at the good girls. The redhead looks back my way, shakes her head, and just like that, I feel dirty—like somebody rolled me in chicken fat and left me outside for the birds to snack on.
I wanna give them girls something they won’t
forget, but the bus is coming. The good girls step into the street, just when Raheem makes it back over to me. He wipes white powder off his mouth with the back of his hand and tells me he’ll come to my place later.
He takes off his shades. Crosses his heart. “Sure.”
When the bus finally pulls up, there’s all this commotion, people pushing to get on. I head for the back, following right behind the good girls. A blind man steps on my foot. I tell him about it, too. Some fat woman blocks my way, so it’s a few minutes ’fore I get back to where them girls are. When the bus jerks and takes off, I hold on to the rail and peek out between all the bodies to get one last look at my man.
“Oh no you didn’t!” I say, digging my elbow into some girl’s stomach. Slapping my hand up against another girl’s back, trying to get to the front of this thing. But it’s too late. The driver won’t stop, even though I’m yelling at the top of my lungs for him to please, please let me off.
I lean over and stare out the window and see the redhead standing on the corner with Raheem. She must have sneaked out the back of the bus as soon as she got on. Raheem’s all up in her face. Sunglasses off. Arms wrapped around her neck. His sweet, brown lips pressed tight to hers.
I wanna kill ’em both. But then my mother’s words come back to me. You ain’t no beauty prize.
The bus keeps rolling, just like my tears, down my cheeks and dripping off my chin. “Who I’m gonna be without him?” I whisper. I wipe my face clean on the bottom of my skirt, stand up, and head for the back of the bus. Then, well, I start thinking. Raheem don’t never stay gone too long. Besides, he is cute. Really, really cute. And when you got a man like that, you can’t be expecting to keep him all to yourself, not all the time anyhow.
The driver stops two blocks away. He eyes me. “Getting off?”
If I go after her, I think, Raheem’s gonna be mad at me.
“Hey, you. Off or not?”
But if I act like I ain’t seen nothing, he’ll be by my place tonight—like usual.
“Next stop, Seventeenth Street,” the driver says, closing the door and pulling into traffic.
I sit down, cross my legs, and stare out the window. I’ll go to his class, I think, and tell his teacher he was sick this morning. That he’ll take the test tomorrow.
When the bus stops again, the good girls fly out the back door and head for their school.
I bang on the closed window. “You better run! Better not let me see you tomorrow, neither!”
The driver tells me to settle down. I let him know I paid my money and I can talk as loud as I like. He says something else, but I don’t know or care what it is. My head’s back to thinking on Raheem. Tonight, when I see him, I’m gonna … I’m gonna … make him something nice to eat, I think. And act like I ain’t seen nothing at all.
My name is Devita Mae. I am writing to you because that’s what you gotta do in this class—write. It wasn’t like that at first. At first all we did was talk. For real. The teacher we had was old and tired, and when we wasn’t watching movies that didn’t have nothing to do with class, we chewed gum, talked on our cells or to each other, and got A’s for it. Then our teacher left. He retired. A new one came, and well, she ain’t sixty-three years old, that’s for sure. She looks sixteen. I think she’s twenty-three. And you know what? The boys wanna do classwork all the time now. Raising their hands. Asking her to come over and help them with papers so they can smell her perfume and play with her hair—when she ain’t looking, that is. And oh yeah, they’re writing papers all the time now. Getting A’s when they used to be flunking.
Diary, the reason I gotta do you at all is because of Jaquel. He was trying to impress the teacher. So he raised his hand and said, “Why can’t we do something different in this class? Like, I don’t know, write books or movies or something.” Dominique (oh yeah, she lets us call her by her first name) said she’d think about it. She did. Only now we have to do diaries (well really they’re journals, but I like diary better), and yeah, write letters to each other. I laughed right in Jaquel’s face when she said we had to write letters. Boys don’t like doing that. Only, when she said they had to—smiling and just about winking at ’em—they all pulled out papers and pens and started writing like they were signing million-dollar checks over to one another.
Anyhow, Diary, I’m not all that mad. See, the teacher picked me and Jaquel to write to one another. I like him and I’m hoping one day he’s gonna look at me like he looks at Miss Dominique Dumar Dupree. (Sounds like a movie star’s name, huh? Lucky her. She looks like one too.)
Well, Diary, here goes. Jaquel and me are supposed to write letters back and forth to each other for fifteen minutes each period, and write to you every evening for half an hour. Now you know what’s gonna happen: I’m gonna write to Jaquel just when I’m supposed, and I will get to you when I can.
What you doing?
Dear Devita Mae:
What you think I’m doing? I’m sitting in this class with you doing what I hate—writing letters.
Thought you liked writing—that you wanted to write plays and movies.
Boys don’t like to write. But we like cute teachers. I was just saying that stuff ’cause when you do, she comes over to your desk and stands there smiling … wearing them tight dresses … looking fine. She make you wanna … well ain’t nothing wrong with having a pretty teacher all up in your face, is it?
Jaquel … She’s married.
Married don’t make you ugly, Devita Mae.
Hey Devita Mae Calloway:
Can’t write to you today. Gotta finish up geometry. So don’t write me back.
I’m supposed to be writing Jaquel. But he’s talking to Lisa, not doing math like he said. Dominique is at her desk, grading papers, drinking expensive water that I saw someone drinking on TV. She doesn’t see that the boys are talking or text-messaging people. I raised my hand to tell on Jaquel, but then I put it down. I guess he will write me tomorrow. So for now, I’ll just read the notes he wrote to me last time. They don’t say much, but I like touching the paper that he touched. Smelling ’em, because some of the cologne he uses gets on ’em after he scratches his neck or arm. That boy smells so good!!!!!!
Those your real eyes? I say yes. Mason says no.
Why are your letters so short, Jaquel?
Dominique said she will grade us on length too, you know. Guess what? I saw this movie the other day. The guy in it kicked this dude’s butt. It reminded me of the fight between you and Justin.
Justin didn’t whoop me!!! That’s a lie people tell.
P.S. I bet your eyes are fake. What else is fake on you?
lt’s not a lie when you see it with your eyes.
Hey, I made a poem.
A sentence is not a poem. Here’s a poem. I mean a rap song.
Got eyes of gray
I see them every day
But come night
What happens to her sight?
I think she puts them in a jar at night.
Ha! Ha! U r so not funny. Do me a favor? Stop writing to me on scraps of paper that look like you picked them up off the floor. And WRITE ME LETTERS!!!! That’s what we’re supposed to do. I want a good grade in this class, so this is what we are going to do from now on. We are going to write our letters in this here composition book. That way things won’t get lost. Dominique said she won’t read every letter we write, just the pages we have marked. So, write me a real letter.
What do you want me to write in this here letter? I mean, I thought I was doing things the right way. But you’re a girl, and girls are always trying to change us dudes. So I guess I shoulda known something like this was coming. The last time I wrote a letter I was 10 years old and at Camp Roaring Waters. My mother wrote me every day. Sometimes I got three letters in one day. I wrote her right back. Since then, I have written one letter—and here it is, so stop tripping!!!!
I went to Camp Minnehaha when I was little. It was right next door to yours. I cried every day. I wanted to go home to my mother. They weren’t supposed to, but they let me call her on the phone. And you know what? My mother told me to quit crying like a baby and go and have some fun. She wrote me every day like your mother did. I still have the letters. Girls always keep letters, you know. Do you have the letters your mother wrote to you?
Dear Devita Mae:
Answer me this. Why do boys lie? Earle said he’d call my girl Marlina. That was two weeks ago. How come he didn’t call?
It ain’t your business. Mine neither.
Y do boys do girls like that?
Devita Mae Eyes of Gray,
Just ’cause a boy says he’ll call doesn’t mean a girl’s gotta bum-rush him. He’ll call… . Give him time.
Time? He had two weeks. That’s 336 hours. That’s enough time.
Why you care? U want him to call you or something?
Boys don’t know nothing about girls!!!
Hey, Devita Mae.
Then girls should only date girls. That way they will always get what they want, and not have to explain stuff so much … and not bother boys and try to make us act like girls.
Here is what I’m thinking. Sometimes we can write long letters, other times we will keep it real short. Anyhow, guess what? I saw a girl on the bus the other day. This guy was staring at her, and told her she was cute. She licked her lips and said thanks. Then she went over to him and like five minutes later they was kissing—hard wet kisses. People on the bus kept staring ’cause they knew she just met him. I was like, girl you are nasty. Then my friend said, he’s nasty too, kissing a girl he don’t even know. What makes a guy do that? I mean, what makes him want a girl like that?
Was she pretty?
She was pretty.
Was she stacked, Devita Mae? Top and bottom?
There’s your answer. A cute girl you just met lets you kiss her—man that’s living!!!
A nasty cute girl lets you kiss her. She might have a disease. She might do that with every boy.
I wouldn’t care if she did it with every boy, as long as she did it with me. Anyhow, who’s gonna turn down free candy?
You are nasty, too.
All boys is nasty!!!!
- "Characters are vividly present, as each story seems to jump into life exploring not just the sexual tension, but race and class as well. Honest and valuable."—Kirkus Reviews
- "The often-painful stories paint believable pictures of urban teens from a variety of backgrounds."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Nov 1, 2009
- Page Count
- 224 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers