The Battle of Jericho by Sharon M. Draper

  “Welcome!” he said. “Let me introduce you to everyone.” Madison’s head was shaved completely bald, which made him look stark and serious, but he seemed to be trying to make everyone feel welcome.

  Josh and November arrived a few minutes later, followed by Kofi, who came alone. From what Jericho could tell, about ten of the people in the room were members of the Warriors of Distinction. Another ten were guys he recognized from the meeting last week, and he guessed the girls who were with them were their guests. Mr. Culligan hovered in the background; the Warriors seemed to know what they were doing.

  When everyone had arrived, Madison climbed on a table and spoke to the group. “We’re glad you’re here. This afternoon, and the rest of the days we meet here until Christmas, we’ll be sorting, wrapping, and later, delivering these toys.” He pointed to what seemed like a mountain of toys behind him.

  In one corner of the room a scraggly Christmas tree leaned against a wall. “Over there,” Madison explained, “is the tree we will be giving to an orphanage. All the ornaments are donated.” He laughed for no apparent reason then, and the other members of the Warriors laughed with him. Jericho couldn’t see what was so funny.

  Just then Dana walked in, dressed in black leather pants and jacket, and leaned against a wall. She did not look at Kofi and she spoke to no one.

  Madison nodded at her and continued. “We’ve been collecting this stuff all year. If you check the charts posted on the walls, you’ll see where you’ll be working. Any questions?”

  Dana raised her hand at that point. Jericho was sure she was going to ask why there were no girls in the club. He glanced at Kofi, who looked angry. “Is this just a Christmas project or do we include Hanukkah and Kwanzaa?” Dana asked. Jericho sighed with relief. He wanted to get in this club before Dana started causing trouble.

  “Good question. We have a large list of families that we serve. If our records indicate that a family’s Jewish, we provide enough gifts for each night of Hanukkah. If we know that the family celebrates Kwanzaa instead of Christmas, we again provide multiple gifts, ones that agree with the seven principles. We try to provide whatever the family needs.”

  “I have another question,” Dana continued. Jericho knew what was coming. He tensed. “Why are there no girls in this club? I’d like to be considered for membership, and I want to know why I wasn’t asked to join.”

  Madison looked bewildered. “Uh, no one has been asked to join yet. We’re just working on the toy drive today.”

  “Good,” Dana replied. “Then there’s still time.” The members of the Warriors looked at each other in consternation. Clearly, this had never happened before.

  Jericho noticed Eddie Mahoney then, standing at the far end of the warehouse. His face looked tight as he glared at Dana.

  “Well, let’s get started!” Jericho said quickly. He was hoping Dana wouldn’t ask another question—for her sake and for theirs. He didn’t like the look he saw on Eddie’s face.

  “Good idea,” Madison agreed. “There’s plenty of chips and soda on the table at your left, bathrooms are down the hall to your right, and the music is loud and sweet and starts right now!” He turned on the CD player.

  “Good choice of tunes,” Jericho murmured to Arielle, who didn’t answer. She seemed to be taking it all in—the scrape of boxes across the concrete floor, the crackle of wrapping paper, the soft laughter and conversation, and the dominant figures of the Warriors of Distinction.

  As the activities began to fall into place and everyone began to figure out what they were to do, the members of the Warriors—dressed in black-and-red Warrior sweatshirts—mingled, assisted, and observed. Jericho noticed a couple of the Warriors with clipboards and notepads. They didn’t seem to be checking on the progress of the toys, however; they seemed to be checking on the people. They watched the new volunteers, their interaction with the members, even the actions of the girls who had been brought as guests. They especially watched Dana, who worked swiftly and efficiently. And Jericho noticed that Eddie never took his eyes off Dana.

  Jericho found his name on the poster on the wall and headed to the first station—sorting. Rick Sharp, another Warrior, had already started on the pile in front of them. Rick was wide and broad-shouldered. He had a short, stubby neck—so short that his round head seemed to balance on his shoulders like a bowling ball.

  “He looks like he’s wearing shoulder pads,” Jericho whispered to Arielle as they approached him. “And where’s his neck?” He stifled a laugh. He liked whispering in her ear—her hair smelled good.

  “I’d hate to meet him in a dark alley,” she whispered back. But Jericho noticed that she looked more excited than intimidated.

  Rick grabbed both their hands and shook them firmly when they got to the sorting table. “Okay, we sort the pile into gifts for girls, gifts for boys, gifts for either. Sometimes girls want footballs and boys want dolls. That’s cool too—we try to give them what they ask for.”

  “Sounds pretty simple,” Jericho said, taking a step back to observe the huge mountain of toys.

  “It’s not hard—it’s just so much!” answered Rick. “We work all through the summer asking companies for donations. They know us here in town, so they get more generous every year.”

  “I’ll do the girl stuff,” Arielle offered. She started pulling packages out of the pile.

  “I had a truck like this when I was five,” Jericho mused as he picked up a large yellow truck. “That was a great Christmas that year. Mom and Dad were still together, and my world was toy trucks and motorcycles.” He sighed.

  Josh and November worked on wrapping and stacking with Madison, while Dana sorted toys with an honor society member named Demetrius Stanford. Jericho noticed that Kofi kept glancing at her, looking pained as she joked with Demetrius while they worked. Kofi and a kid named Rudy seemed to be trying to match wrapped, labeled toys with lists of families. They worked with Eddie Mahoney, who never once cracked a smile.

  Jericho asked Arielle, “What’s up with Dana and Eddie? He keeps lookin’ at her like she slapped his mother or something.”

  “The way I hear it, Eddie’s father does a pretty good job of slapping his mother around.”

  Jericho remembered the scene at Eddie’s apartment building. “Eddie’s got some really serious issues,” he told Arielle.

  Arielle nodded. “Dana told me that Eddie used to ask her out all the time when we were in ninth and tenth grade. She didn’t really like him, and he was way too short for her, so she kept blowing him off. You know, Dana will probably fight somebody for what she believes in, and break rules just to make a point, but she won’t play games.”

  “So what happened?”

  “He had tickets to some concert last year, so one day in the cafeteria, in front of all his Warrior brothers, dressed in his cool-looking Warrior jacket, he asked her to go. I guess he figured she couldn’t turn him down with all that support behind him.”

  “What did she do?”

  “She laughed at him—told him to take his short little carcass out of her face!”

  “Man, that’s cold.”

  “I don’t know if I would have turned him down,” Arielle mused. “Not with all those Warriors standing there.”

  Jericho looked at her oddly, but made no comment. “So why is she here today?” he asked her.

  “I don’t know. Kofi probably asked her to come before they got in that fight at Josh’s house. Maybe she wants to show she’s bigger than he is.”

  “Well, she’s taller for sure!” Jericho laughed.

  “Tougher, too,” Arielle said with admiration. “She’s not scared of anything!”

  “What are you scared of, Arielle?” Jericho asked suddenly.

  “Me? I don’t know. I’m scared of the dark when I’m at home alone, and I’m scared of flying on airplanes these days, but nothing like bugs or snakes. What about you?” She handed him a stack of board games and puzzles.

  Jericho thought for a mome
nt. “Guys aren’t supposed to be scared of anything. But I guess I’m afraid of doing something stupid in front of other people.” He was surprised that he had admitted that to her. “And I hate spiders,” he added quickly, “and roller coasters.”

  “Roller coasters? Really? What do you ride on when you go to King’s Island?”

  Jericho grinned sheepishly. “The merry-go-round. The race cars. I just hate the feeling of falling.”

  “There goes your career as a test pilot!” They both laughed.

  They continued to sort in silence for a few minutes. Then Jericho asked her, “So, what do you think about all that stuff Dana was saying? Do you think girls ought to be in the Warriors of Distinction?”

  “I feel like I’m already distinguished—I don’t need a club to tell me I’m all that. But I think this club is pretty distinguished,” she added.

  “So you don’t think I’m dumb to want to do this?”

  “No, it’s just different—guys need this male-bonding stuff to survive.”

  “Don’t girls ever need to do that?”

  “If I feel the need to hang with the girls, I call them up and we go shopping!” Arielle laughed.

  “I hate shopping, I hate malls, I hate crowds. Makes me itch,” Jericho said, scratching his arm.

  “Remind me never to call you to go to a Midnight Madness sale!”

  Jericho laughed and watched her reach for another toy. Just watching her move made him happy. “So you think this is the right thing to do—this club stuff?” he asked her again.

  “If it makes you happy, then go for it!”

  “You make a lot of sense.”

  “I gotta admit,” she said, “I like being around the Warriors and what they do. But that should have nothing to do with your decision to join.”

  Jericho wasn’t sure about that. Being with a girl like Arielle was something he’d never dreamed of. And it seemed like the Warriors were helping to make it happen. But all he said to her was, “I like the way you think.”

  Arielle continued, “Now, November is different. She wants Josh to get in the club because she’s like all into that community stuff. Plus, you know she likes the parties, and the dances, and silk jackets and tuxedos and stuff. She sees this as a chance to encourage him to be more socially aware, and a chance to do lots of shopping so she can look good at all the Warrior events with him. November always has a dual agenda!”

  “What about you?” Jericho asked.

  “Me? I just came for the potato chips!” She laughed and stuffed several into her mouth.

  To Jericho the time seemed to dance by quickly, and at the end of the four hours, there seemed to be only a small dent in the mountain of work to be done. But Jericho didn’t care. Arielle had been laughing and teasing him the whole time, and he would have stayed there till midnight if he could.

  As they all got their coats and promised to return on Wednesday, Jericho noticed the Warriors stayed behind and continued working. He liked that—they seemed so dedicated to the project. As he was leaving, he also noticed that Demetrius Stanford whispered a few words to Rick, who scribbled something on his clipboard. Jericho wondered if they were being rated as he hurried to catch up with Arielle, who was heading out the door.

  It was dark when they got outside, and snow had started to fall. Jericho trembled a little from the cold, and perhaps because Arielle had grabbed his hand when she started to slip on the snow. “I wonder what they were saying about us,” Jericho mused aloud to Arielle and the rest of them.

  “Probably wondering how such a messed-up dude like Josh hooked up with a fine-looking thing like me!” November teased. Josh put his arm around her and hugged her.

  “Naw, they’re probably deciding what size Warriors of Distinction jacket to order for me!” Kofi joked. Dana, who walked a little behind the group, didn’t laugh. No one mentioned her questions at the meeting. She got in her car and drove away without speaking to any of them.

  “Hey, here’s my dad—right on time,” Jericho called to them. “It’s colder than a dead dog out here!” Jericho opened the van’s huge side door, and they piled in. He made sure he sat next to Arielle on the backseat.

  “Thanks, Mr. Prescott,” Kofi said as he climbed in the front seat next to Jericho’s dad. “Glad you brought the van.”

  “No problem, son. How’s everybody tonight?” Mr. Prescott asked. “And how did your first night go with the Warriors of Distinction?”

  “It was fun, Dad,” Jericho said. “You wouldn’t believe the stuff they’ve got in there. A whole bunch of kids are gonna have a good holiday because of the Warriors.”

  “Hey, Uncle Cedric, how’s it going down at the precinct?” asked Josh. “What’s the latest crime going down in Cincinnati?”

  “Josh, it’s never very pretty. Frozen homeless people, drug addicts breaking and entering, a couple of bank robberies, a murder by a jealous husband. Not pretty at all.”

  “So why do you do it?” November asked. “Isn’t it depressing?”

  “No, November, because sometimes I really get to help. Like the abused wife that I got safely to the shelter last week, or the abandoned newborn baby that I found and saved last summer, or the kids I get to talk to at schools about the dangers of drugs. Sometimes I love my job. Sometimes.”

  “I understand,” November replied quietly. “Believe it or not, I really do.”

  It took almost half an hour to drop everyone off at their homes, and Jericho knew his dad had worked two full shifts and was very tired.

  “Thanks for doing this, Dad,” Jericho said gratefully. “Whenever you want to get me a car and let me take over this job for you, let me know!”

  His dad laughed. “You know, I used to wonder why they let kids drive at sixteen. Now I know—it’s because parents have had just about enough of driving their kids around by that point! But don’t worry, I’m not complaining—not yet.”

  “At least I tried,” Jericho whispered to Arielle, who was the last to be dropped off.

  “I had so much fun today,” she whispered back. “Can I come with you again on Wednesday? The Warriors seem like they’ve got it together.”

  “I felt like I was one of Santa’s elves,” he told her. “I’m really glad you came.”

  “Pretty big elf!” she teased. Mr. Prescott pulled into her driveway then and she hopped out of the van.

  “Thanks, Officer Prescott,” she called out. To Jericho she said, “Call me later.” Jericho grinned and moved to the front seat next to his dad.

  “She seems like a nice girl,” his dad commented into the darkness.

  “Oh, yeah,” was all Jericho said.

  “And this Warriors of Distinction project seems like a really good thing,” his father continued.

  “Oh, yeah,” Jericho said again. He reached over, turned on the radio, switched it from his dad’s station to the one he liked, scooted down in his seat, and grinned all the way home. His dad just looked over at him and smiled. Sometimes silence is best.


  JERICHO FINISHED HIS HOMEWORK AND nervously waited for his father and stepmother to settle down and close their bedroom door. They usually turned in pretty early, and he was often awake long after the rest of the house was silent and asleep. Rory and Todd slept that sweet, deep sleep of children who play hard, but Jericho knew that his dad slept lightly, his police training keeping him aware of everything around him.

  Jericho headed down to the kitchen at eleven-thirty, got a piece of Geneva’s apple pie from the refrigerator, and listened to see if anyone stirred. All was silent. Geneva’s little brown dog, Dimples, woke from her corner in the kitchen to sniff for handouts, but Jericho ignored her. If anyone woke up and caught him going out the door, he’d say he decided to walk the dog.

  He pulled on his coat, listened once more for movement, and eased silently out of the back door, making sure it didn’t slam. The cold night air hit him full force, and he cursed himself for forgetting his hat. He
pulled up his collar, hunched down into his coat, and walked briskly down the dark, icy street.

  Everything looked different at night. The leftover snow sparkled in the moonlight, and the stars, which Jericho had never bothered to pay much attention to before, seemed like sharp points of light that bounced off the sleeping cars and frozen houses.

  The warehouse was about sixteen blocks away, an easy jaunt in the summer, but tonight it seemed unbearably frigid and long. The tips of his ears burned with cold, and his toes had no feeling inside his well-worn Jordans. Jericho tried not to think about the long walk home, or how he would successfully sneak back into the house. For the moment, he just wanted warmth. He wondered why they called this meeting, anyway.

  The warehouse loomed ahead, dark and foreboding. Jericho could see no lights. He thought wildly that maybe he was the only one stupid enough to come here tonight. Maybe they’re just trying to make fun of him. But he walked on, hopeful and cold.

  “Hey, man, you have any trouble sneakin’ out?”

  Jericho, thrilled to see Josh approaching, said, “Naw, Cuz. I’m just slippery like that.”

  “I don’t see any lights up in there,” Josh observed. They got to the door of the warehouse, found it was it unlocked, and opened it tentatively. The door squeaked and groaned. Inside all was dark.

  It took a few minutes for Jericho’s eyes to adjust to the darkness. Three candles flickered dimly in the center of the floor. The boxes of toys had been pushed to the walls. Shadowy figures, who Jericho assumed were members of the Warriors, stood silently. No one spoke. Jericho felt stupid. He didn’t know whether he should take off his coat, or perhaps say something to the silent boys. But as Josh had not moved, he, too, stood there, waiting.

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