Excerpt: 'Broken China' This young-adult fiction title focuses on an African-American teen mother living in Houston and was recommended on All Things Considered by book critic Alan Cheuse.

Excerpt: 'Broken China'

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Book critic Alan Cheuse recommends this young-adult fiction title in his summer reading list for All Things Considered.

Excerpt: Chapter 1

I had to take Amina to the clinic today. She caught a bad cold on Saturday from my best friend Yolanda's little girl Eboni, the youngest of six snotty-nosed kids whose only talent seems to be getting on their mother's last nerve -- and mine. That's why I don't like to fool with them too much, but it was Yolanda's twenty-seventh birthday, so I gave in. I agreed to hang out in the backyard with her, barbecuing hot links, and talking about her favorite subject, Eboni's sorry-ass father, Jamal. Jamal is about to go down again for jacking some white chick's brand new Jetta. While giant puffs of mesquite smoke poured out of the barrel pit, and I screamed my voice harsh, yelling at her kids to keep their germy hands away from my two-year-old daughter, Yolanda went on and on about how Jamal just hasn't gotten a fair chance in life. "He got some serious moves, China," Yolanda told me, sitting up in the lounge chair and pulling her spandex tank top over "the Road Map," her name for her seriously stretch-marked belly. "He could play B-ball for the Houston Rockets or maybe even the San Antonio Spurs. He just needs a chance, that's all. The brother needs somebody to open up a few doors."

"I know what you mean, girl," I started to lie. Whenever Yolanda started going on about how talented Jamal was, I just said whatever I thought she wanted to hear. But before I could even get the fib out, Eboni ran over to Amina and gave her a big sloppy kiss on the cheek. I cringed, already seeing Amina laid up with her fourth cold this year.

"Stop that, Eboni," I yelled, hopping out of my plastic lawn chair. She just giggled and rushed off with braids flying and mucus running. I ran over to Amina and started wiping her soft skin with the tail of my broomstick skirt. She batted me away with her chubby little hand, then she broke into giggles too, and toddled after Eboni with the little silver bells on her white tennis shoes jingling like crazy.

"Come back here, girl!" I cried.

"Aw, leave her alone. I swear you act like an old mother hen, and you ain't but fourteen," Yolanda said, picking up her empty beer can and tossing it toward a tall stack of half-crushed aluminum cans and beer bottles resting against the broken-down back fence. The can landed on the ground next to the stack, spilling the last few drops of champagne-colored liquid onto the crunchy sunburned grass. Eboni ran over and picked it up.

"Put that down, girl. It's nasty," I said.

"I ain't," she said, laughing.

I frowned and tried grabbing it from her, but of course she just sprinted out of a huge hole in the back fence, running as fast as her tiny four-year-old legs could carry her.

"Girl, don't you go off from here running like a fool and end up getting hit by a car or something in the street!" Yolanda yelled. Eboni didn't even turn around.

"Ain't you gonna go get her?" I asked, walking over and grabbing Amina by the arm to keep her from going through the hole too.

"Hell naw, I ain't stressing myself about that child. She always running off like she ain't got no sense. Anyway, if she don't come back soon Vonda, Fatima, or Keisha will get her," Yolanda said, motioning to a trio of skinny, knobby-kneed little girls hanging out underneath a large fig tree at the other end of the small backyard. The overripe figs had started to fall from the tree a few days ago and the girls were busy smashing the large purple fruit into the black dirt with their ashy bare feet.

"Hey, cut that out, ya'll gone end up tracking that mess all over the place," I yelled at them.

"Hey, cut that out, ya'll gone end up tracking that mess all over the place," echoed Peter and Percy, Yolanda's six-year-old droopy-eyed twin boys. They were standing next to the fence throwing LEGOS at Mrs. Mayfield's tiger-striped cat, Happiness, who didn't seem none too happy at all to be a target. His fur was arched on his back in a mohawk, and he was hissing madly at the boys, as if they were a couple of stray tomcats trying to grab a bite from his feeding bowl.

"Lord help these silly kids," I muttered under my breath.

"What did you say?" Yolanda asked.

I shook my head. "Y'all better quit screwing with that cat before he jumps the fence and scratches the fool out of y'all!" I shouted at the boys.

"Damn, girl, quit hollering. You 'bout to break my eardrums," Yolanda said, rolling her eyes. "Kids is just gonna be kids. Ain't nothing you can do about it."

"True that. I suppose I was just wasting my time and vocal cords," I said, sitting Amina down in my chair and wiping her face again with the tail of my skirt.

"Aw, shoot, girl, she'll be all right. Eboni ain't got nothing that's gone kill her. It's just a cold. I swear, girl, you don't know nothing about being no mother. Lord knows she ain't gone die from a little slobber on her face."

"I know she won't. I just don't want her to be sick. I can't afford to take no more time off from school to stay with her, plus I don't like it when she's ill. It freaks me out."

"Look, you worry too damn much. Sickness and babies go together," Yolanda said, popping the top on another beer with a loud hiss. "You better just get used to it, if you gone try to be somebody's mama."

"I'm not trying. I already am somebody's mama, but I don't know about you," I snapped angrily, and glared at her like she had just capped on the new fly tank top I purchased from the One Price Store. She knew that I wasn't just trying. She knew that I put my heart and soul into raising Amina. Hearing her say that I wasn't doing a good job made me want to pour the can of beer over her head. I was a good mother to my child. I changed her diapers long before the little teddy bears on them started to fade, and gave her a bath every morning and night, no matter if she looked dirty or not. I washed her bibs in the bathroom sink by hand with some of that fancy overpriced baby soap, and rubbed her sore gums with Orajel when she had teething pain. She had on the latest pair of baby Reeboks, when I hadn't had a new pair of sneaks in a year, and a 10k gold earbob stuck out of each of her tiny ears, while fake silver hoops dangled from mine. I always did right by Amina even though it was sometimes major difficult to take care of a daughter that I loved with all my heart, but never wanted in the first place.

Before I had Amina I had seen pregnant girls on TV that were only a little older than I was when I got a big belly. They were always crying and saying that they wanted a child because they just wanted somebody to love. I thought that was crazy. I wasn't like those girls. Amina was my reason to get up in the morning, but she was still a mistake, the kind that even though you get through it you pray every night that it don't happen again. It was dumb what I did. It was just one afternoon when me and my best friend, Trip, was messing around while his moms was down at the bingo parlor trying to win the thousand dollar prize. It was raining out, so hard that even Noah's neighbors would have built an ark, and there was nothing on TV but boring infomercials and cartoon reruns. There was jack to do, so we just started fooling around some, kissing, touching and stuff. That was as far as I wanted to go, but Trip said it would be okay if we went further. He said that a lot of the kids at our school did it all the time. "It's no big deal, China," he said, unhooking my cotton training bra. "Everybody messes around like this sometimes."

That was true, and I knew it. Only a month before, a few of the girls in my English class were chillin' in the bathroom when my girl Lila came in talking about what she and her new boyfriend had done behind some wooden crates in her grandfather's tool shed. "Child, we did it all. And let me tell you something, it was the best time we ever had," she said, standing in front of the cracked mirror, pushing her shiny corkscrew curls back into place.

"I'll bet it was, girlfriend. What all did y'all do?" the other girls asked, as they pressed in closer to hear the Triple X details. I walked away. I didn't need to stay for the 411. I had a pretty good idea of what they had done. I also had a good idea a week later in the lunchroom, when Trip's cousin Rick started telling us why his moms had put him on lockdown. "My moms found my girlfriend's underwear underneath my mattress when she was cleaning my room. She shut my behind down for three weeks. I can't go nowhere but school and church, but it's cool, 'cause you know I still got them drawers. I'm still the man. Let me fill you in on it, dog," he said, laughing and scooping up a spoonful of runny mashed potatoes.

"I hear ya, man. It's all good," I heard Trip say, as I suddenly found a reason to go and discard my half-eaten stale turkey sandwich. Later on I wished that I had stayed and listened, because Trip was wrong. It wasn't all good. It was awkward and uncomfortable both times we did it that afternoon in his twin bed, on his Michael Jordan sheets. Maybe it was because we were only twelve or maybe it was because we weren't used to being with each other like that. I don't know. What I do know is that it wasn't fun for either one of us, so after it was over the second time we swore we would never do it again. We went back to being plain ole friends, spending our rainy days playing games on his Nintendo and shooting hoops in his backyard. We didn't go to school and brag about what we had done that afternoon. We hid it from our classmates, and even from ourselves. When I started getting nauseous each morning we blamed it on the burnt toast and watery eggs they served for breakfast in the cafeteria, and when my period didn't come we frantically searched the nurse's office for pamphlets that said skipping a period was not unusual for girls my age. "They say it happens all the time," I said, handing the brochure to Trip so that he could take a look.

We convinced ourselves that nothing was wrong, mostly because we didn't know what else to do. At school we had gotten the talk about menstruation, wet dreams, and stuff like that. "Body Changes and Growing Up," the speech was called. It was simply an hour-long chat about what happens when your hormones start to kick in, but there was nothing to tell you how to take care of yourself after they did. What we knew about sex came from the other kids. So when my stomach started to swell we found an excuse for that, too. I started wearing Trip's big T-shirts to hide it, and we joked with each other about my drinking too many Kool-Aid drinks. "All that sugar gives you a fat belly," Trip said, patting my expanding abdomen.

"Yeah, I got to quit drinking that berry punch," I said, pulling his D.A.R.E. shirt down farther to cover it.

It wasn't until the warm afternoon that we sat on the wooden bleachers at my school, watching the junior varsity football tryouts, that we had to admit what was really going on. We were setting on the third row when Trip's cousin sprinted down the field for a touchdown. We both hopped up out of our seats and started clapping; that's when I felt Amina kick. It wasn't anything major. It was just a soft thump against the inside of my belly, but it felt more like a hard kick, a kick to let us know that we couldn't fool ourselves anymore. I sat down and cried, and not ladylike tears, but gut-wrenching sobs that made Trip apologize every few minutes and ask if I was going to be okay. Through the sobs I somehow told him that I was, but it was a lie. I knew that I wasn't going to be all right for a long time. Two days later we went to the free clinic and lied about our ages. It was there that I got the horrible news, and a lecture from a baby-faced doctor who looked like he could still get into movies on the kid's price just like me. "I don't know how in the world you got yourself into this situation, but you really need to bring your parents in and let me speak with them, little girl. You're way too little to deal with something like this. Your body is still going through all kinds of changes. You're simply too young to be someone's mother," he said, writing the name of a prenatal vitamin down for me on his prescription pad.

"I guess not, because it looks like I already am," I said, leaning over to take the small, white piece of paper from him as he tore it out. I shoved it in my pocket and left his office before he could give me the "If you were my daughter" speech. On the way back out to the waiting room I felt Amina kick again. It was a kick that was going to brand me with the title of mother for life. That's what I am now, a mother, and both me and Yolanda know it.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean!" Yolanda shouted, her light brown face turning nearly as red as the nylon braids she had woven into her short black hair. "What do you mean, you don't know about me?"

"What the hell do you think I mean? I mean if I were you I would get up off my lazy behind and go find out where my child took off to down the street!" I shouted back.

"I'll get up when I'm damn good and ready! Don't nobody tell me what to do."

"I know, that's your problem," I said, and with that I picked Amina up and headed for the same hole that Eboni had run through.

"Go on, leave. As far as I'm concerned you can take your behind off and not come back, little witch. I don't need you. I can celebrate all by myself. Do you hear me, cow? Don't come back!" I heard Yolanda yell behind me. I didn't even think about responding. The words were like chalk dust to me, something that would cling for a moment but was easily brushed off. I knew good and well that Yolanda was just trippin'. There was no way that she would really tell me to get lost. Since the day I met Yolanda down at the planned birth clinic I've been her only girlfriend, the one sister in our neighborhood, Fifth Ward, who would put up with her.

With the exception of Eboni, all of Yolanda's children are by married dudes. And no, it's not because she's ugly or dumb. Even with the stretch marks, Yolanda can hang with any of those sexy, tight-dress-wearing girls at Perry's 24 and 7 Beer Joint. She's long-legged and curvy, with a butt like Jennifer Lopez's, and cheekbones like that Grace Jones chick in the 007 movie. In short, she has it going on, but she's also smart. When it comes to math, Yolanda can work some digits. She can sum up totals quicker than the solar calculators that we use in my fifth-period math class, and when we go shopping at the Cash & Carry she always tells the cashiers our totals before they can ring them up. No, Yolanda doesn't need to date other sisters' men. She just does it because she says they don't put "the grip" on her, meaning that all they want is to have a good time. The little four-room shack that she lives in, her five-year-old hatchback, and the three raggedy bunk beds where her kids sleep were all given to her by guys who just wanted to kick it with her. Yolanda says that she likes it that way. When she gets tired of spending time with the men, she can simply wash 'em out of her life as easily as she washes the braid sheen oil from her hair. "Girlfriend, I don't need no man holding me down, telling me how to live my life. Let 'em go home and tell they wives what to do. Freedom is power," she told me one morning after she had kicked one of her lovers to the curb. "Let a man stick his razor in your bathroom cabinet for good, and before you know it he'll be telling you what type of toothpaste and soap you can buy. I don't need that kind of drama in my life. That's why I just date brothers who will only be around until they wives figure out what they sorry behind is doing."

"I understand you, girlfriend," I said, but I didn't really. I don't see anything good about Yolanda's lifestyle. It seems like a raggedy way to treat herself and her kids, but I would be lying if I didn't admit that I admire her in some small way. She may not make the best decisions in the world, but she's free to make them anyway, good or bad, and nobody gets on her back about it. It's not like that for me. I'm a kid with a kid. The only freedom I have is choosing the kind of baby wipes I clean my daughter's face with.

"Wanna play Eboni," Amina said as we headed away from Yolanda's yard.

"I don't know where Eboni went to," I told her. But out of the corner of my eye I spotted Eboni's pale blue T-shirt and red shorts a block over. She was in the middle of the littered street playing kick-the-can with an aluminum beer can. A yellow SUV came rolling down the street and quickly swerved around her.

"Wanna play Eboni," Amina repeated. I picked her up and continued walking. On the way back to the house the sneezing started. The next day it was sneezing, coughing, wheezing, and a low fever. Today when I skipped my first period English class and took her to the clinic she was all stuffed up and her forehead was hotter than the burning charcoal in Yolanda's old, rusty barbecue pit.

"You worry too damn much," I heard Yolanda's voice say as Amina wriggled and screamed from the shot that the heavyset nurse gave her in her bare bottom.

I think Yolanda is wrong. I think I don't worry enough. Amina and I hung out at the clinic until her fever broke and the nurse was certain that the shot Amina received wouldn't make her any sicker. It took much longer than I expected. It seemed like forever before the nurse finally gave me a free sample of some Hawaiian Punch-looking liquid antibiotic and sent us off. By then it was around 9:30 A.M., and though I didn't want to, I dropped Amina and the antibiotic off at Mrs. Mayfield's, who keeps her most of the day. Before I left I laid her down on Mrs. Mayfield's sofa and made sure that Mrs. Mayfield understood the instructions on the medicine bottle.

"Of course I do, baby. I understand everything. You just go on and get out of here, girl. I done kept many a sick baby before. She'll be all right with me. Everything will be just fine," Mrs. Mayfield said, patting Amina on the back with her flabby hands.

"Okay, ma'am," I said, giving Mrs. Mayfield's soft, pudgy body a bear hug. She grabbed me and squished me to her like my Grandma Attie used to do before she died.

"You're a good mama," she said. "Don't you worry even a little bit. Me and little Miss Amina will be okay."

"I won't worry at all," I lied. I bent down and kissed Amina on the side of her face.

"Mama will be back as soon as school lets out," I said. She smiled weakly at me, and I left the house.

When I got to school a few minutes later I headed straight for my English class so that I could explain to my teacher, Mrs. Jerome, why I had missed another important exam. It wasn't actually my fault, and I was certain that homegirl would be understanding and come over with some mother-to-mother sympathy. Her husband had just died in a car accident a few months ago, leaving her alone with their three small boys. I figured she had to know what the struggle was like. I guess she did, but so what, big deal. Before I could hardly get my story out, she told me that there was a price to be paid for being a teenage mom, and that price was gonna be to receive a zero on my test. "I'm sorry about this, China, but I've given you tons of chances that I haven't given the other students. You simply have to figure out how to juggle your schoolwork and motherhood. I know that your situation is unique, but life just isn't always fair, and I believe that you and I are both living proof of that," she said.

"I guess so, ma'am."

"Trust me, we are, China." She tugged a blue ballpoint out of one of her thick cornrows and began scribbling something on an orange notepad.

"What's that, ma'am?" I asked.

"I'm out of hall passes," she said, tearing the page out and handing it to me. "Here, take this note and go down to Principal Nesby's office. She sent word earlier that she needed to see you."

"About what?" I asked.

"I'm certain that you can figure it out. If you can't figure out how to get to school on time, or anything else, you ought to be able to figure this out," she said sternly.

I sighed. She was right. I could definitely figure out why the principal wanted to see me. I slung my purple backpack over my shoulder and headed off to what I knew was going to be my second scolding of the day.

As I left the room I ran straight into Trip. He was dressed pretty much like me in sneakers, faded jean shorts, and a black T-shirt, but on his T-shirt in creepy dripping red letters were the words THE OUTER REALM, the name of his favorite TV program. Trip has every episode of the show, the old black-and-white tapes and the new color versions that come on each Saturday night. According to Trip, the greatest shows ever made are all sci-fi and fantasy shows, and to him The Outer Realm is the best of the bunch. He says that nobody can beat the alien, robot, time travel, and horror stories that they feature each week. He's major into the program, so into it that he even sends them ideas, but so far all he's got in return is the T-shirt.

"What's up, my dark sister?" he asked, sliding my heavy backpack off my shoulder. He was good like that, always helping me carry stuff, and opening doors, like we were married or something.

"Not much, I just got seriously sweated by Mrs. Jerome for missing another English exam. Girlfriend gave me a big red zero."

"A zero? That's cold, but you did miss your third exam this year."

"Tell me about it. I kinda like English, especially the poetry. It's easy to read, and sometimes we get to study a poem that deals with all the junk I have to put up with," I said, taking off down the hall with Trip. The second period bell had already rung and there were only a handful of kids still hanging out. They were standing near their shiny orange lockers rapping about what couple recently broke up and who got kicked out of school last week for fighting in our smelly bathrooms. I noticed my ex-girlfriend, Kembra, a sensitive, light-skinned sister with a short blond fro, was nearly surrounded by a group of cheerleaders all decked out in their burnt-orange-and-blue uniforms. As usual Kembra was sporting the newest designer threads -- turquoise Fubu T-shirt, khaki shorts with the name Tommy Hilfiger embroidered on one leg, and what I knew had to be the latest pair of Air Jordan sneaks. It was those fancy rags that made Kembra more popular than Half-Price CD Week down at Street Tunes Music Store. Trip and I waved at her as we headed to my locker, but she didn't wave back. I thought it was kind of funky of her, but I was okay with it. I didn't expect Kembra to be too much on the friendly side. It wasn't like that between us anymore.

Back in the day, me and Kembra were tight, but things changed between us. Some kids think it was because Kembra suddenly got that afternoon office job that paid for all of her nice clothes or because her new stepfather bought her a brand new sports car to drive, but it was really because of Trip.

Kembra is two years older than me and Trip, but the age difference had never stopped her from having a big-time crush on him, and I couldn't blame her. Trip was a smooth piece of special dark chocolate with a buff bod, an almost-mustache that would really look like something in a year or two, dimples, and deep brown saucer eyes that always seemed to be smiling at you. The girls in school all thought he was Da Bomb, especially Miss Kembra. Back when we used to go swimming down at MLK Pool, Kembra would do everything she could to get Trip to notice her. She was Miss Teen USA pretty, but with a Miss America figure. She would always come strutting out to the cool blue water in one of her older sister Lela's barely-there bikinis. Whenever Trip saw her like that his eyes would pop out of his head like my science teacher's black mollies. He would leave me and go over to her side of the pool to mack, but Kembra was way too shy. No matter what Trip said she would hardly even speak to him, and when she did it was in a voice as soft as the sound of bare feet on rose petals. She was nothing like me, outgoing and chatty, so Trip just didn't know what to say to her. He would sit there staring at her chest until she got embarrassed and hopped into the water. Later, as we shimmied out of our suits in the steamy girls' shower room, she would tell me how much she really liked him, and how she wished she could figure out how to let him know.

"Just tell him, girl. He doesn't bite," I would say, drying off with my rainbow beach towel. But she never did, and I don't know why, but I never mentioned it to him either. We all just remained friends, until the day that I showed up at her house with a maternity blouse on. I tried to explain to Kembra that it wasn't what she thought, and that me and Trip were really only good buddies, but she called me a liar, and said that I had played her for a fool. It was the first and last time I heard her raise her voice above a whisper. Today I still feel bad about our friendship, but not bad enough to accept her calling me a liar. I wasn't like that. I would have let her know straight up, face-to-face if I was even thinking about going that way with Trip. Besides, it was a long time ago. She had no reason to still be so ugly to me, or to Trip.

"Kembra didn't say hi to us again," Trip said as we stopped in front of my locker.

"I know," I said, turning my red combination lock. "I guess she's still too mad. I thought she would be over it by now. Why girlfriend got to be like that? She knows I wasn't trying to mess over her. I wish she could stop trippin' and see that I didn't mean her no harm. Shoot, I guess she's never going to speak to us again. Oh well, I can't do jack about it. I'm already waist-deep in quicksand. Just one more thing happen to me today, and damn if I won't be all covered up."

"It be's like that sometimes," Trip said, reaching over and pulling my lock apart. He yanked it off and held it while I tugged the door open.

"Gross, I really have to clean this thing out," I said, peering at the crumpled notebook papers, gym clothes, half-full baby bottles, and beat-up textbooks stuffed into the small rectangular space.

"No kidding, a bunch of rats would be living large in there. And why you got all them baby bottles? Amina ain't wanted a bottle in months," Trip said.

"I know. Every time I dropped her off last year I forgot I had an extra one stuck in my purse and it ended up here. I was gonna clean it out last month, but I started talking to Marty about her prom dress and I forgot about it."

"Marty is going to prom? Who with?"

"Some senior over at Cashmere. She got a new dress and everything. It's purple satin, and backless. She got it at Dillards when she went to Austin to see her aunt. Man, I know she's gonna have a good time. Shoot, I wish I was her." I frowned at my locker. "Great, great, I'll take those stupid bottles home and wash 'em as soon as I get a chance, or as soon as the smell runs me away from my locker," I said. I grabbed my European History book and slammed the locker shut with a loud bang.

"Man, girl, take it easy," Trip said, reaching over and replacing the lock. "These old, tired lockers can't take too much."

"I can't either," I said, walking over to the water fountain. When I turned the metal knob on the side the cool water rushed out, splashing my face.

"Aw, shoot!" I cried, dabbing my face with the bottom of my T-shirt.

"Is it all that?" Trip called to me. "Calm down, girl. You look like you 'bout to freak out and go Terminator on somebody."

I laughed. "Naw, I'm just tired. Besides, you know that I'm not big on making my problem somebody else's."

"True that. Anyway, why were you late this time?"

I opened my mouth to answer him, but he cut me off.

"Oh wait, hold up, hold up. I want to tell you about my new Outer Realm story idea," he said waving his hands.

"What about it?"

"Okay, okay, this is really cool. Picture this, this dude goes to lunch one day with some friends from his office. When he gets to the restaurant everybody starts acting all strange, including his friends."

"What kinda strange?"

"Sugar," he said. "They're putting sugar all over everything, on their steaks and catfish, green salads, baked potatoes, even on their coconut cream pie, and you know that don't need no sugar."

"I guess," I said. "I don't like coconut cream pie."

"Okay, it don't matter," he said, waving his arms again. "What matters is that it's all odd. The dude leaves lunch not knowing what the heck is going on. He finishes his workday out and goes home, but the same craziness is going on there, too. His wife and kids is putting sugar on everything at dinner. The dude still doesn't know what to think of it. He gets all weirded out, but he doesn't know what to do, so he just decides to play Leroy Normal and not say anything to his family. He eats real quick and goes to take the trash out, but when he opens the lid and starts to pull out the aluminum cans for recycling -- bam, guess what he finds?"

"A bunch of smelly banana peels," I said, shrugging my shoulders.

"Naw, girl, damn, use some imagination," he said. A big grin spread across his face. "A pod, he finds this giant, wrinkled brown pod that looks like a big peach pit."

"A pod? That's what he finds? It sounds like Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

"Naw, naw, it's gonna be way better than that, way more cool."

"If you say so," I said with a sigh. "You're the sci-fi guy."

"True that, but okay, okay, what's the deal?" he asked, not at all annoyed that I wasn't into his story plot. "Go on and tell me why you couldn't bring your behind to school on time."

"I couldn't bring my behind to school on time because Amina's sick again. I had to run her up to the clinic," I said, glancing at my digital watch and starting down the hall toward the principal's office.

"What's up with my little Bunny Face?" Trip asked, falling into step beside me.

I laughed to myself. Bunny Face is the only thing that Trip calls Amina, not "baby" or "daughter." When Amina was born I decided to let him choose how he wanted to refer to her. We had both made a bad mistake, but I didn't think that Trip had to pay for it too. I put his name down on the birth certificate, but I told him that I didn't expect anything from him. He didn't have to give up his sci-fi movie poster money to buy her rattles and booties or miss his drama club practices to take her to checkups, and when she was colicky, he didn't have to come over at night and walk her up and down the hardwood floors until his feet hurt, as if he had just finished a ten-mile run. Trip wasn't ready to be called "daddy" anymore than I was ready to be called "mama," so I didn't push Amina on him. He chose the nickname Bunny Face to refer to her, and I let him know that he could change it whenever he felt like it. "You can start calling her your baby any time you like," I said, while we peered through the nursery-room glass at her. "Lord knows she ain't taking off for nowhere. She'll be here when you're ready, when you want to start taking her for those father-daughter trips to the zoo and stuff."

"It's cool," Trip said. "I'll let ya know when I'm ready to be Bill Cosby or somebody."

So far he's not ready, but I'm still fine with it. Trip is my soulmate. Whenever I'm down about something I always go to him. He either finds a way to make me double over with laughter or cries a river of tears with me. When he's ready he'll be a good father to Amina, much better than my father, who I've never even met.

"So what's wrong with my little Bunny Face?" he asked.

"Your little Bunny Face has another cold. She caught it from Yolanda's little girl Eboni last Saturday. It's no biggie," I said, trying to convince both of us. "She's only stopped up kinda bad with nasty congestion."

"How bad?"

"Regular ole bad, you know how babies and colds are," I said. "I took her to the clinic. The doctor put her on some medicine and told me that she should start feeling better by this afternoon. When I dropped her off at Mrs. Mayfield's she still didn't look too hot, but Mrs. Mayfield said she would be fine, and I believe her. She's taken care of all kinds of kids, plus I know she'll give me a ring if I need to come and get your little Bunny Face."

"Come get her for what? I thought you said that it was just a cold and she got some medicine?" Trip said, with more concern in his voice than I expected. I checked out his face. A worry frown was doing a number all over his GQ looks. It was the kind of frown that a daddy might make. I guess he was getting closer to turning into a Bill Cosby after all.

I threw up a huge smile to try and make us both feel better. "For nothing, Trip. Trust me. Everything is okay. Amina is fine. Right now, I'm the one all screwed, and screwed up."

"I see that, but are you sure my Bunny Face is all right?"

I nodded. "Trust me. She's much better than I am. Shoot, what the heck is the principal gonna say to me this time?" I asked.

"You won't know until you go," he said, handing me back my backpack.

"Yeah, I know. Anyway, I better get my behind over there before I get into more trouble. I'll see ya at lunch."

"Naw, not today. My mom told me to come home for lunch. She got something to show me. I'll bet it's that new DVD player I been trying to get her to buy me for my birthday. I can't wait. A brother will be seriously living large with that."

"I guess you will. Later," I said.

"Much later," he called back. After that, he pushed open the metal double doors and stepped out into the courtyard. I waved good-bye as he passed the light-green tinted windows and I took off down the hall.

Copyright 2005 by Lori Aurelia Williams. Used with permission from Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.