Authors: Allison Whittenberg
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2010 by Allison Whittenberg
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Tutored / by Allison Whittenberg. —1st ed.
Summary: In Philadelphia, two African American teenagers from different backgrounds become romantically close when one tutors the other.
1. African Americans—Pennsylvania—Philadelphia—Juvenile fiction.
[1. African Americans—Fiction. 2. Prejudices—Fiction. 3. Tutors and tutoring—Fiction. 4. Philadelphia (Pa.)—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.W6179Tu 2010 [Fic]—dc22 2009041641
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
I want to thank:
Super Senior Editor Stephanie Lane Elliott for lending her expertise once again. It’s been great working with you over the years.
Wonderful agent Sara Crowe, who is always so supportive and insightful.
Mystery writer Jonathan Maberry for his referral. It’s nice when one artist concerns himself with another artist’s career.
Early readers of my work: Lynn Watts, Stacy Goldberger, Kathleen Butts, and Minna Hong—oh, what I put you through.
Poet Lamont Steptoe (Philly’s own Walt Whitman) for being so accessible.
Kristine Grow, Margaret Kenton, Barbara Torode, Mike Cohen, Steve Delia, Lynne Campbell, John Sevcik, and Mel Brake for all your suggestions, support, and friendship.
My main man, Marlowe, who made writing this book extra special.
re you a minority? Unemployed, underemployed, or economically disadvantaged? We serve the entire West Side, and we have services that can assist you to a new FUTURE! Stop by today.
Hakiam read this pasteup at least half a dozen times before he decided that it was time to turn to the wall and start like you mean to finish. Still, he was frowning as he approached the converted row houses, four stories high, spliced into sections for businesses and nonprofits. He entered the east wing.
Inside, there were pamphlets on the table and posters on every wall promising cures for social problems. One poster read, “Build, Brother, build!” and featured a few dark-skinned individuals looking cheerful. Though not a living soul was around, he felt like someone was pointing at him. All this paraphernalia felt aimed at him, like a cannon.
An arrow on the wall told him that the study center
was on the second floor, and to get to it one had to climb an enormous spiral staircase. Right there, that was enough to turn anyone in his or her right mind away. But he decided to go up. As he mounted the steps, Hakiam heard a female voice, and upon reaching the top of the stairs, he followed it. He pressed on to see some circular tables and a couple of bookshelves housing a small lending library off to the right. At the far end of the room, behind a big desk, standing with her back to him, was a young woman. Like him, she was black. He had seen her type before. She was all dressed up in a willow-green roll-neck sweater, a long skirt with microdots, and low leather boots. She was cradling a telephone receiver under her chin as if it were a violin.
She turned around as he approached her and beamed at him. She quickly rid herself of the person on the other end of the line with a hasty “I will keep a sharp lookout for that shipment. Thank you so much for the donation.” Then she hung up the phone.
“You work here?” he asked.
Her smile faded. “No, I’m just pretending,” she said in a voice thick with sarcasm.
When she stepped out from behind the desk, he got a better view of her and her small-boned features. He concluded that she was way too thin and big-eyed. “It was just a damn question. You ain’t got to get all uppity,” he replied.
“You’re right. I apologize.” She wasn’t one to hold grudges, it seemed, because her smile quickly returned. “Please, have a seat. Can I get you some tea or juice?” He
noticed how she spoke very soft and fine, taking the time to pronounce every syllable. Right then, he decided he really didn’t like her. She seemed like she’d stepped out of some corny, boring old movie.
Wendy sensed the boy’s judgment and also found herself giving him the once-over. He had chiseled features: cheekbones that asserted themselves and eyes that slanted at the outer corners. His mouth curved in a surly way and he had a dead look in his eyes. She continued to scan his frame and wondered why, since he had a nice build, he couldn’t find any clothing in his size. Both his pants and his shirt fit like he’d borrowed them from a gigantically tall, morbidly obese neighbor. She knew that was the style, but if she’d been a guy with a decent physique, she was sure she would have wanted to show the world and not walk around in tent gear.
She rearranged her smile. “Welcome to the center.”
“Are you a tutor or just a secretary?” he asked her.
“I’m a tutor.”
“In what?” he quizzed her.
“Any subject you’d like. I’d be happy to help you.” She offered her hand.
He just glared at it.
“I’m not contagious,” she told him, gesturing to the seat again.
He shook his head. “Look, I hope this won’t take long. I just wanted to sign up.”
“Are you in some kind of hurry?” she asked.
“No, I just don’t want to waste time.”
“I won’t waste your time or mine,” she said. “Please, have a seat while I look over your paperwork.”
This time he sat, but he told her he didn’t have any paperwork.
“Well, how could that be? Didn’t you sign in downstairs?”
“Ain’t nobody down there.”
She got up and went to the top of the stairs. “Mr. Clayton. Mr. Clayton,” she called. Her words echoed unanswered in the cavernous room.
“I don’t know where he went,” she told Hakiam as she walked back. “He’s supposed to be there to orient people when they come in.”
“Well, it doesn’t look like there’s any mad rush on the place.”
“How did you get in if he wasn’t there to buzz you in?”
“The door was open.”
Wendy got up and peered out the window. She looked right, then left, only to spot the receptionist about a block away, crossing the street, holding a white Styrofoam box.
“Don’t worry,” Hakiam continued. “You don’t have shit worth stealing in here. All you have is books.”
She counted to ten in her head, not wanting to show her annoyance, then pulled out a blank form from the desk and asked for his name. When he said Hakiam Powell, she asked him to spell it.
“They didn’t teach you how to spell where you come from?”
“I’ll sound it out,” she told him. “Age?”
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“What difference does that make to you?”
He didn’t answer.
“How old are you?” she asked again.
“You’re young enough to go to a regular high school; why would you take equivalency classes?”
“I missed too much of regular school to go back.”
“How far did you get?”
He just smirked.
Her eyes narrowed. “Is this the way it’s going to go? You dance around every other question?”
He gave her an even more defiant smirk.
Just then, she heard the door open downstairs, and then Mr. Clayton’s voice: “Hey, Wendy, you want some of my wings?”
“No,” Wendy yelled back, turning her attention back to Hakiam. “Do you know you have to be at least eighteen to enroll in this program?”
“Then put down that I’m twenty-five.”
She frowned. “You look twenty-five like I look twenty-five.”
He leaned in close to her. “You do look twenty-five. Or thirty.”
There was a pause while she absorbed his barb, and he let out a chuckle.
“Well, if you are so inspired, I won’t tell on you.” She wrote the lie down on the form.
“Address?” she asked.
After he ran that down, he asked, “Want to swing by tonight? I could really show you some things.”
She tightened her already tight expression and told him, “No thanks. I’m busy.”
She went over to the copier and made him a duplicate. Then she pulled out a three-ring binder and made some markings in it. “Classes are held Monday through Thursday. Roll call is taken. You miss three sessions, you are out of the program. Any questions?”
“Yeah, why do you talk like you’re white?” he asked, and waited for her to flinch.
“Do you have any questions
about the program
He rose from the chair and grinned. “Yeah, how come you didn’t offer me any wings?”
ctually, Wendy really wasn’t that busy tonight, unless you counted reclining on the sofa with her legs curled up watching the evening news as a frenzy of activity. She had changed into a sweatshirt and shorts, and opted for the network fare—cable had too many pop-ups and streaming headlines.
Still, the half-hour nightly news had really gotten predictable. A little about the war, a little about gas prices, a little about the stock market, something about one of the cancers (breast or colon, usually), and a cutesy human-interest story at the very end to prove life really wasn’t so bad. Tonight, it was about a bear that had wandered into a swimming pool, charming all in the area. Wendy had nothing against bears, but after hearing all that doom and gloom, she found it hard to switch gears to an “animals do the darnedest things” story.
By her side was her mail from that day; she opened it as she spooned hot broccoli-and-cheddar soup into her
mouth. Every piece was from a college admissions officer. Those were the only people who knew she was alive. She heard from ten a day, at least. Some envelopes were thick (those contained catalogs), others were thin (those were invitations to open houses). Each was enticing. Colleges really knew how to put their best face forward—and what faces, so happy and blemish-free! (Were those really members of the student body or were they professional models?)