The Battle of Jericho by Sharon M. Draper


  Jericho chuckled. “Serves him right!”

  As soon as they were dismissed, the pledges left quickly. Jericho took a long, hot shower when he got home, trying to warm his chilled and aching body. He felt he’d never be completely warm or completely clean ever again. As the hot needles of water relaxed him, he thought of the last three days. Somehow he couldn’t quite remember why he’d wanted so badly to be a member of the Warriors of Distinction. The pledge activities weren’t really what he’d expected, but then they were all designed for a good purpose, weren’t they? Jericho figured he could last two more days.

  And tomorrow was the competition. He groaned as the water splashed over him. He tried to wash away the sick, helpless feeling, but it remained like a stone in his gut.

  He thought about what Mr. Boston had told him and sighed as he dried off. Even if the pledging was hazing, it didn’t make any difference. He couldn’t tell anybody, and he couldn’t quit.

  He rinsed out his pink shirt and almost gagged at the sight of it. Picking up the phone, he hoped that this time Arielle would let him talk to her. He dialed. “Arielle?”

  “I don’t want to talk to you, Jericho.” She hung up the phone.

  Jericho felt like the dog the Warriors made him pretend to be. He listened to the click, then the dial tone, and dialed her number once more. “Please, Arielle,” he began. She hung up once more. He decided to try one last time. Ring. Ring. Ring.

  On the fourth ring she picked up the phone, but said nothing.

  “Please don’t hang up on me,” he begged. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I was way out of line yelling at you like that.”

  “Well, you got that much straight.” She said nothing else, but at least she hadn’t hung up on him again.

  He sighed. “Look, I’ve been stressed with all this Warrior stuff and I’m tired, and I just let loose on you. I hated myself even while I was talkin’ to you, but I just couldn’t shut up,” he said lamely.

  “Maybe you ought to practice,” Arielle replied tersely.

  “I deserve that. I promise it will never happen again. I can’t stand it when you won’t talk to me,” Jericho told her miserably.

  She was silent for a moment. Then he heard her sigh. “Look, Jericho, I’m not going to have you or anybody tell me who my friends are or who I can talk to! You got that straight?”

  “I got it.”

  “And I will not be with a dude who treats me like a piece of property.”

  “I understand—I really do.”

  “I like you, Jericho, and I’m excited about the fact that in two days you’re going to be a Warrior of Distinction, but you were scaring me today. I don’t like being underestimated, and I won’t be put down by you or anybody!”

  Jericho knew not to argue with her. So he said, “I’m so sorry, Arielle. It’s just that I love your smile and the way you laugh, and it seemed like Eric was enjoying your laughter and your smile just a little bit too much.”

  “My smile belongs to me and I can share it with whoever I want!” she said clearly.

  “Will you still share it with me?” he asked meekly.

  “Yeah,” she said finally. “I guess. How can I resist a dude who wears pink every single day? Besides,” she added, “being in that club will be good for both of us.”

  “Thanks, Arielle.” Jericho breathed a sigh of relief. “You know you’re my boo.”

  “Don’t be tryin’ to sweet-talk me,” she replied, but he could tell by her voice she was not as angry. “I’ll see you at school tomorrow.”

  Jericho figured he could make it through anything the Warriors gave him to do as long as he had Arielle to show off for when it was over. He hung up the phone with new determination to endure—and maybe even enjoy—the last two days of pledging.

  He picked up his trumpet then, trying not to agonize over the competition that he knew he would miss. He carefully shined its gleaming bell and played a song of his own creation to Arielle. He wasn’t sure where the notes were going, didn’t really care, but Zora took him to a place of green trees and romance, a place where he and Arielle danced in the moonlight, she dressed in dazzling white, and he in his black silk Warrior jacket.

  THURSDAY, JANUARY 29

  THE ALARM STARTLED JERICHO AT SIX THE NEXT morning. He got up quickly, ironed the pink shirt, grabbed a doughnut, and headed off to school before Todd and Rory even got up.

  In Mr. Culligan’s room, the pledges looked a little tired of the whole process, and a little embarrassed as well, Jericho thought, but they waited patiently for instructions for the day. Rick reminded them, as he did every morning, about the code of silence.

  Then Madison announced, “Your service activity this morning will be to work with the janitorial staff. Any dusting, cleaning, or sweeping that you can assist with is always greatly appreciated. Remember that we are a service organization and we want to be helpful to every aspect of the school community.”

  Jericho wondered how a gun figured into this helpful service picture that the club showed at school.

  “Here are your assignments,” Madison continued.

  Jericho looked at the sheet and found he had been assigned to put salt on the icy patches on the front and back steps and walkways of the school. He thought briefly of his spinout with Josh in the car.

  “Tonight,” Eddie reminded them, “we will once again meet in the warehouse, eight P.M. Wear jeans and tennis shoes.” Eddie was walking with a slight limp this morning. Dana was trying to hide a smile.

  As the pledges left to do their morning assignments, Jericho went downstairs to the office of Mr. Redstone, the head custodian. Kids said he had worked at the school for forty years. Jericho thought he looked like a tree trunk—tall, brown, strong, and wrinkled. “I’ve come to help, Mr. Redstone,” Jericho offered. “I’ll be glad to help you put salt on the walkways this morning.”

  “Oh, yeah, is it time for the Warrior service projects already?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Seem like they come quicker every year. They still doin’ that dumb Dumpster trick and the Leap of Faith?”

  Jericho wasn’t sure what to say. Maybe Mr. Redstone had been a Warrior. So he just said, “I don’t know what you mean, sir.” He’d honestly never heard of the Leap of Faith.

  “Oh, I know I’m not supposed to know about their stupid little pledge activities, but not much slips past me. I know what they do every year—and I’m not sure if I approve of all of it.”

  “The principal knows what we’re doing, and he seems to think it’s okay,” Jericho said, a little defensively.

  “Zucker is an idiot,” Mr. Redstone declared. “Culligan, too.”

  “I’ll, uh, just get busy on this salt now, okay?” Jericho said. Maybe this was a trap to see if he’d keep the code of silence. He had no intention of getting in trouble by talking to Mr. Redstone or anybody.

  “Doesn’t it bother you—some of the stuff they make you do?” Mr. Redstone asked. “You look like an intelligent young man. Doesn’t some of this stuff make you feel like less than yourself sometimes?”

  Less than myself. Jericho didn’t respond, but the phrase kept repeating in his head. He wasn’t sure if he felt less than himself last night in the Dumpster. He just wasn’t sure. He looked at Mr. Redstone quizzically.

  “Okay, son, don’t get all nervous and upset. I know about your code of silence. I won’t spoil your little games. Grab a bag of that salt and hit the back walk. I already did the front, but I sure appreciate your help.”

  Jericho took the salt and hurried to leave Mr. Redstone’s office.

  “You be careful now, you hear?” Mr. Redstone called to him.

  Jericho mumbled, “Yes, sir.”

  “And, son?” Mr. Redstone added. Jericho looked back as he was leaving. “Watch out for that girl you got doin’ that foolishness with you.”

  “I will. But she’s pretty tough.”

  It only took him a few minutes to finish salting the walks and the steps, a
nd he looked up with pleasure to see Arielle walking toward him.

  “Hi,” he said softly. “Still mad?”

  “A little.” She looked at him pensively. “How much longer before you’re finally a Warrior?”

  “It’s all over tomorrow night and there’s that big party to celebrate on Saturday.” He hesitated. “Will you come to the party with me?”

  “I’ll think about it,” she answered with a slight smile. Jericho breathed a sigh of relief. “My mom is picking me up today, but call me later,” she said as she went through the door. “Maybe I won’t hang up on you!” Jericho just shook his head as he smiled and waved at her. Girls were so hard to figure out.

  Just as he reached the front door of the school, he heard the deep bass voice of Mr. Tambori calling him. Jericho cursed silently and turned around. “Hey, Mr. T. Uh, I guess you got my note, huh?” Jericho couldn’t look at him.

  “You weren’t man enough to tell me this to my face?” Mr. Tambori was livid. “You left a scrap of notebook paper on my desk with this paltry, scribbled excuse?”

  “I knew you’d be angry,” Jericho replied quietly.

  “I am more than angry—I am deeply disappointed,” Mr. Tambori replied sadly. “You are giving up a possible scholarship, a potential career, for a high school club? How can you be so foolish?” His voice trembled with emotion.

  Jericho was afraid Mr. Tambori was about to cry. “You gotta understand, Mr. T. This is the most important thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s my chance to be on the inside instead of always looking from the outside, wishing I had the magic. You couldn’t possibly understand.”

  “I understand so much more than you know, Jericho. And I know that one day you will regret this decision.”

  Jericho couldn’t take any more. ’I gotta go, Mr. T. I’m sorry.” He ran to his first class in a hurry.

  When Jericho got home from school, his father was in the kitchen. “Hey, Dad,” Jericho said with surprise. “What are you doing home?”

  “I live here!” joked his father. “Actually, since I had the evening off, I figured I’d go with you to the trumpet competition tonight. Listening to you toot that horn makes me so proud.”

  Jericho sat down with his dad and nervously began shredding a paper napkin on the table. “Uh, Dad,” Jericho began, “I decided not to go to the competition tonight.” He closed his eyes and waited for what he knew was coming.

  “What do you mean, you ’decided not to go’? You can’t just drop out on the night of the contest! What about all that practice? Where is that determination you said you had?”

  Jericho hung his head. “I can’t go, Dad.”

  “What could possibly stop you from doing what you love?”

  Jericho hesitated. “The Warriors of Distinction,” he finally admitted.

  “What! You mean they won’t give you one night off for something that can possibly affect your entire future?”

  “If I miss one night, I’m out for good,” Jericho explained miserably.

  “I don’t care what kind of club this is—they can’t control your life like that! Who can I call to get you out of this? Mr. Culligan?”

  “Nobody, Dad. It was my choice. I can’t quit. I can’t let the other pledges down. If one of us quits, we all fail. And Dad, even if that wasn’t true, I just gotta be in this club. I’ll be a nobody at school if I fail the pledging process—less than nobody. I’d never be able to show my face there again,” Jericho pleaded. “Besides, I’d lose Arielle.”

  “Is the club the only reason she’s with you?” his father asked, looking surprised.

  “No, Dad, I think she really likes me. But she’d be embarrassed just like I would if I didn’t make the Warriors. You don’t understand.”

  “I understand that a girl should care about who you are, and not what club you’re in.”

  “That’s so ancient, Dad. You don’t have the faintest idea about how it is for kids today.”

  “Let’s forget the girl for now. What about your chance for Juilliard? You have the possibility of a scholarship, Jericho. A chance to live your dreams!” His father touched Jericho’s arm gently; his eyes were soft with the same look of disappointment Mr. Tambori had shown.

  Jericho thought back to what Mr. Tambori had once told him: “Don’t be afraid to dream beyond where you can see.” But Jericho knew his dreams were with the Warriors right now. He couldn’t see much further than that. “There’ll be other competitions, Dad,” he told his father. He now had a huge pile of shredded paper napkin in front of him.

  “Sometimes opportunities come once in a lifetime, Jericho. This club is high school, which is temporary. Your music is yours for life.”

  “This is once in a lifetime,” Jericho argued. “I will never get another chance to be part of the best group in the school—even in the city. You saw the good stuff they do, Dad. And look at Uncle Brock—he’s still proud and still feels good about himself. I need that, Dad! And I need Arielle. No girl like her has ever wanted to be with me.”

  “I thought your music made you feel good, Jericho,” his father replied quietly.

  “I keep tellin’ you, Dad—you don’t understand!” Jericho answered angrily. He knew why he was so angry—because his dad was probably right. But he knew he had no choice.

  “Is it all you imagined it would be, Jericho? Is it worth it?” his father asked with resignation.

  Jericho hesitated. “I’m not sure what I imagined, Dad—I really didn’t know what to expect—but so far, it’s been okay, I guess. Not too hard. Not too stupid. They call the stuff we do ’bonding activities.’”

  “I think you’re making the wrong decision, Jericho, but I can’t force you to quit. You wouldn’t play well anyway if you didn’t want to be there. But I’m afraid you’ll be sorry about this decision. Very sorry.”

  Jericho tried to ignore the look of disappointment on his father’s face. “I have to do this, Dad. I just have to.”

  “How will you feel when this is over?” his father asked.

  “Tired. Relieved. Very proud,” Jericho answered.

  His father got up to go upstairs. “I hope you won’t feel sorry, Jericho. You and Josh be careful. Take care.”

  Jericho sat in the empty kitchen for a few minutes, trying to do his homework, but he couldn’t stop thinking about what his father and Mr. Tambori had said. Suddenly he ripped up his homework paper, balled it up fiercely, and threw it as hard as he could against the refrigerator.

  THURSDAY, JANUARY 29—EVENING

  AT SEVEN THIRTY THE PHONE RANG. IT WAS Kofi. “Can you give me a ride tonight?”

  “Sure. I was just gettin’ ready to leave. You feelin’ okay?”

  “Yeah, man. Leave it alone. I’m fine.” Kofi sounded annoyed. “Hey, Jericho, what did your folks say about missin’ the competition?”

  “My dad is really upset,” Jericho told him. “But he let it be my decision—I appreciate that. I’ll be there in a few.” He got his coat, yelled a quick good-bye to his father and Geneva before either of them could say anything more about the competition, and hurried out to his car.

  When he and Kofi got to the warehouse, they joined the other pledges and waited for instructions. The Warriors opened the warehouse door and let them in.

  “At least we don’t have to stand around in the cold tonight,” Jericho whispered to Kofi.

  “And no rats!” Cleveland said with relief.

  “You sure about that, man?” Josh teased.

  “Don’t play like that, Josh,” Cleveland warned.

  “You think they’re gonna make us run again?” Kofi asked.

  “Probably,” Dana replied. “They seem to like to watch us run.”

  “What do you think happened to the gun?” Jericho wondered out loud. No one even made a guess.

  “Hey, somebody brought a CD player,” Dana noticed. “Maybe we’ll get to dance tonight.”

  “Not likely,” Luis whispered.

  As usual Eddie was in
charge. “We’ll begin with a quick run to get you ready for the evening,” he began.

  The pledges looked at each other and rolled their eyes.

  “Let’s start with fifteen laps—one for each of you. Watch those corners. Begin!”

  The pledges began their noisy romp around the warehouse, Jericho moving purposely slower, trying to keep an eye on Kofi, who seemed to have no problem tonight. When they finished, Kofi glanced at Jericho and gave him a thumbs up.

  Eddie walked to the center of the room. “I have a question,” he began. “Are you willing to lower yourself for each other?”

  “Yes, sir!”

  “Are you willing to lower yourself for the senior Warriors?”

  Jericho wondered how much lower they could make them go after last night. And he could not figure out why he was shouting in agreement with the others. But he didn’t stop. “Yes, sir!”

  “Are you willing to do anything to become one of us?” Eddie asked in a loud voice.

  “Yes, sir! Yes, Master Senior Mahoney, sir!”

  “Anything?”

  “Yes, sir!”

  “Good. I thought so.” He paused. “Each of you must now be cleansed of all impurities and joined with us, body and soul. Tonight we take care of the body. The soul we save for tomorrow night.”

  Jericho didn’t like the sound of that. He shifted his feet nervously.

  “Bring out the branding irons,” Eddie said loudly. The pledges looked up in alarm.

  Rick disappeared into a back room and returned with a large, covered metal bucket, which was steaming and smoking in the dim light. Jericho could smell the heated coals in the bucket. It was a dangerous smell.

  Sticking out of the bucket were numerous long-handled barbecue forks. Jericho knew without counting there would be fifteen. Madison carried a smaller bucket, also covered, but at least it wasn’t smoking.

  Madison walked over to the corner and pushed the button for the CD to play, and ominous-sounding music with deep drum beats filled the warehouse. “Soon, if you survive, you will become a Warrior of Distinction,” Eddie began. “Tonight you will receive the mark. All of us carry the Warrior mark in the center of our backs. It is very small, hardly noticed by others, but it is our sign of unity and bonding.”

 
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