The Battle of Jericho by Sharon M. Draper


  “Hey, son, I figured you might be finishing up here. Want a ride home before I go to work?”

  “Yeah, thanks, Dad!” Jericho thanked Rick once again and gratefully climbed into the front seat of the police car. He looked into the side-view mirror and saw Kofi running full speed, trying to catch them before they left. “Hey, Dad! There’s a criminal behind you that wants to get arrested! Got your cuffs ready?”

  His father laughed, got out, and opened the back door of the cruiser for Kofi, who was breathing hard. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to ride behind the screen,” he told Kofi.

  “Don’t let the neighbors see me like this!” Kofi said, pretending to be a prisoner. Kofi’s breathing finally slowed to normal, and the two boys laughed and joked all the way home.

  “How’d it go today, Kofi?” Jericho asked.

  “It was off the hook, man. At this one house there were about ten kids and five cats. Kids and cats everywhere!” Kofi replied with a laugh. “But they cried when we brought their stuff in,” he added soberly.

  “Yeah, we got tears too, and hot chocolate and cookies and lots of hugs,” Jericho said.

  “At one house, a little girl gave me a peppermint stick without the cellophane.”

  “You eat it?” asked Jericho.

  “Naw, man, I saved it for you!” Kofi retorted.

  Officer Prescott turned on the siren just as he pulled into Kofi’s driveway, and Kofi howled with laughter as two of his neighbors peeked out of their front doors to see what was going on. Neither of Kofi’s parents came to the door, however. It occurred to Jericho that he rarely saw Kofi’s parents, but the thought passed as Kofi ran up the walkway to his house, waving back at Jericho and his dad. He unlocked his door and went inside.

  Jericho and his father rode in silence to their house. “I can’t come in, son. I’m on duty in a few minutes, but I hope you had a good day.”

  “It was the best day of my life, Dad,” Jericho said with satisfaction. “The Warriors are straight!”

  “Don’t get overly excited about getting into this club, son,” his father said mildly. “Even though Brock was a Warrior, I made it through Douglass just fine without being a member. Being yourself is more important than being a Warrior of Distinction. Remember that, okay?”

  “Sure, Dad,” Jericho replied, but he wasn’t really listening as he trudged into the house. He went straight to his room, turned on a Wynton Marsalis CD, and played with him until all the pain he had seen, and the guilt and helplessness he felt about it, melted away.

  THURSDAY, DECEMBER 25

  CHRISTMAS DAY WAS, FOR ONCE, LIKE ONE OF those pictures on the Christmas cards that were tacked all over the house. Jericho peeked out of his window and noticed that a fresh snow had fallen; everything was white and glistening. Todd and Rory would be in his room in just a few minutes, jumping on his bed and clamoring for him to come downstairs. He knew it was still the middle of the night in Alaska, but he needed to hear his mother’s voice.

  He picked up the phone and she answered on the second ring. “Merry Christmas, Jericho!” her cheerful voice rang out.

  “Hi, Mom. How did you know it was me?”

  “Mother’s intuition. I know your ring. Caller ID. All of the above!” She laughed. “Besides, unless you’re with us at Christmas, you call me at this time every year.”

  “Thanks for the package you sent, Mom. I can’t believe they sell those new Nikes in Alaska!”

  “I knew you wanted them, and yes, they sell everything here you can get back home. I don’t live in an igloo, you know.” She laughed again and Jericho flopped on his pillow with contentment. Hearing her laughter took him back to when he was a kid.

  “I miss you sometimes, Mom. Especially at Christmas. Remember when I was little, how much fun we used to have?”

  “Yes, I remember, sweetheart. I keep those memories tucked in a very special place.”

  Jericho said nothing for a moment, remembering the abundance of those early Christmases, trying to block out the memories of the tension and the problems that his parents had tried to keep hidden from him. “How are the kids?” he asked finally.

  “Oh, they’re fine. Excited, of course. Will and I have been up half the night putting together stuff for them.”

  “Yeah, I helped Dad and Geneva put together a couple of things for Rory and Todd.”

  “It’s a little different now that you’re older, and not so much on the receiving end like the little ones,” his mother said.

  “Yeah, but this year, I got to do some real major giving to little kids. Remember I told you I was working with the Warriors of Distinction on their toy project? It was awesome, Mom.”

  “Yes, I remember that group—your Uncle Brock was a member. They’re pretty powerful for a bunch of high school kids. They do some great stuff. You’re going to be a member now?”

  “Maybe.” He decided not to mention his concerns about the club to his mother. After all, it was Christmas.

  “They’d be lucky to have you,” his mother asserted.

  “Of course you’d say that, Mom.” Jericho smiled anyway.

  “Are you still talking to that girl Arielle?” she asked.

  “Yeah, she’s really off the hook. I can’t believe that a girl like Arielle wants to be with me.”

  “Well, it’s obvious the girl has good taste,” his mother teased. “Why wouldn’t she want to be seen with a hunk like you? You’re good-looking and you play the trumpet like no tomorrow. I bet the other girls are jealous of her.”

  Jericho grinned. “You’re just sayin’ that because you’re my mom!”

  “And you know it’s true!” She chuckled. “Tell me more about this girl, son.”

  “She’s smart and she’s fine and she makes me feel like, I don’t know, I can’t put it into words.” Jericho hesitated, trying to capture all the feelings that swirled around in him when he thought of Arielle.

  “My goodness, this girl must be something else!” his mother said.

  “Oh, she is. She’s got a great sense of humor and she’s caring and she’s got more on her mind than makeup and hairstyles. She helped with the Warriors of Distinction project and I’m taking her to the Warriors’ celebration party on New Year’s Eve.” Jericho smiled as he described Arielle to his mother.

  “I’m glad you’ve found someone as special as you are, Jericho,” his mother said gently. “I hope I get a chance to meet her one day.”

  “Yeah, that would be cool,” Jericho said. “I guess I better go now, Mom. I hear Todd and Rory in the bathroom. That means I have about three minutes before they pounce on me! Give my best to Will and the kids. I can’t wait until summer.”

  “I love you, Jericho, and have a very Merry Christmas,” his mother said fervently.

  “I love you too, Mom. Merry Christmas.” As he hung up the phone his door flew open, and, just as he knew they would, Todd and Rory jumped on his bed and started screaming.

  “Get up! Get up! It’s Christmas!” Rory yelled. “Hurry up!” Geneva and his father peeked in his room next, looking sleepy and sorry that the boys had not slept another hour or so.

  “I’ll make some coffee,” Geneva said. “Merry Christmas, Jericho.”

  “Merry Christmas, son,” his dad said.

  “Same to both of you. You have to work today, Dad?” Jericho asked as he searched on the floor next to his bed for his bathrobe.

  “Yeah, I have to go in at three. Let’s go down and do this so I can get another nap. I’m getting too old for this,” he chuckled.

  Todd and Rory had already skipped down the steps and were bouncing in the living room like hot popcorn when Jericho and his dad got downstairs. The brightly covered boxes and packages, the lights on the huge tree, even the fake fire in the fireplace—the little red streamers waving in the wind from a little blower—reminded Jericho sadly of what others did not have, and once again he felt a little guilty for his good fortune.

  He sipped the coffee Geneva fixed for him
while they watched the boys gleefully rip open their packages. Just as he had predicted, they received everything they had asked for, and more. Then he opened his gifts, and thanked his father and Geneva for the watch and the jeans and the black sweater.

  The phone rang. It was Uncle Brock, calling to wish them a Merry Christmas. The two brothers talked a few minutes, then Jericho asked to speak to Josh before they hung up.

  “Was Santa good to you, Cuz?” Jericho asked.

  “Yeah, he dumped a small load under my tree. But you know what I miss, Jericho?”

  “What?”

  “Remember when we were little and we got so many toys that the whole living room looked like a toy store? I miss the toys!” he said with a silly laugh.

  “I know what you mean. You’d come over here with your new toys, then we’d go over there with my new toys, and we played till we dropped.”

  “Gettin’ older is the pits!” Josh wailed.

  “Todd and Rory got laid out with toys, though,” Jericho said. “At least I get to play with their stuff!”

  “Hey, I gotta go. Mom’s got breakfast ready. Maybe I’ll come over later and help you play with Rory and Todd’s toys!” Josh laughed and hung up.

  Jericho was content at that moment, as he gazed at the sparkling lights on the Christmas tree, giving a feeling of safety and comfort to the family scene in front of him. It wasn’t perfect, but it was what he had, and it was enough, he thought. Geneva was curled up on the sofa with his father, Todd and Rory ran around the living room like they were on batteries, and Jericho thought about the joy in the homes of the families they had reached, and he hoped their holiday was as happy as his.

  “Hey, Jericho,” his father said after all the gifts were opened. “Can you go out and get the newspaper?”

  “Aw, Dad, it’s cold out there,” Jericho complained. But he slowly got up and set his coffee down. He put his coat on over his bathrobe, stuffed his bare feet into a pair of his father’s tennis shoes, and opened the front door. A blast of cold air rushed inside.

  “Close the door, Jericho!” Rory yelled. “You crazy?”

  But Jericho didn’t hear him. For sitting in the driveway, with a huge red bow tied across it, was a bright red 1994 Pontiac Grand Am! He bounded across the deepest part of the snow, losing the tennis shoes in the process. But he didn’t care. Screaming and jumping barefoot in the snow, he shouted, “You got me a car! I don’t believe it! You got me a car! You’re the best parents in the whole wide world! I love you! I love you! You got me a car!”

  “Merry Christmas, Jericho!” his father called from the door. “And get back in here before you wake up the neighborhood and freeze your loud, silly self to death!”

  Jericho ran back through the snow and into the house and hugged his dad and Geneva until they almost choked. He was so excited he couldn’t breathe. Todd and Rory jumped and screamed in the living room, yelling, “Take us for a ride! Take us for a ride!”

  “You never did get the paper,” Geneva said mildly.

  “Oh, let me go get it! I’ll do anything you ask! I’ll go naked in the snow and then read it to you—even the ads!” Jericho felt as giddy as the boys.

  “With clothes will be fine,” Geneva laughed. “And Jericho,” she added, “your mother helped with this. She was the real reason we were able to swing it.”

  Jericho breathed a silent word of thanks to his mother and promised himself to call her back as soon as possible. He went back outside, found his father’s shoes in the snow, got the newspaper, and stood there in the icy air, marveling at the wonderful little red car that sat in the driveway.

  When he got back into the house, he was shivering with cold and excitement. “You know, Jericho,” his father began, “driving a car is a big responsibility. The dangers almost outweigh the freedom it will give you. We’ll start off slowly with your driving privileges, and as you show you can handle the responsibilities involved, we’ll let you drive more. Agreed?”

  “Yeah, sure, Dad. Anything you say. I promise I’ll be careful. I promise.” Jericho meant every word.

  “You get one ticket and we pull the keys. Got it?”

  “Got it.”

  “Your grades go down, we pull the keys. Got it?”

  “Got it.”

  Geneva sipped her coffee, nodding through this exchange. “You know, Jericho,” she said finally, “I was against the idea of getting you a car at first, but you seem to have matured a little lately—I like the way you’ve taken on so much responsibility in working with a strong, positive group like the Warriors. I’m proud of you.” Jericho couldn’t believe his ears. Could she actually have complimented him?

  “Thanks, Geneva. Really. I promise I won’t let you down. Ever.” He almost felt like hugging her again.

  “Can we trust you, Jericho?” his father asked finally.

  “I will never make you sorry, Dad. Promise. For real. Can I go and just sit in it for a few minutes?”

  “Go ahead,” his father chuckled. “But you might want to get dressed first.”

  Jericho ran upstairs and was pulling some clothes on when the phone rang. It was Arielle.

  “Merry Christmas, Jericho,” she said pleasantly. “Was Santa good to you?”

  “Oh, Merry Christmas to you too, Arielle,” he said with excitement. “I don’t know about Santa, but guess what my folks had sitting in the driveway this morning? A car!”

  “You’re kidding! A car? Jericho, that is so awesome!” He could hear the excitement in Arielle’s voice. “What does it look like?”

  “It’s not new—I think it’s a ’94—but it’s a Grand Am, and it’s red and it’s mine!” he said with glee. “Maybe they’ll let me drive it to the New Year’s Eve party next week.”

  “Wouldn’t that be awesome?” she said softly. “Wait till I tell November and Dana. Can you drive it over here this afternoon?”

  “They’ve put all kinds of rules and regulations on my driving for now, so I’m not gonna make any waves. I don’t want anything to happen to mess this up, so I’ll ask later.”

  “I feel ya,” Arielle said. “I’ll be here all day. Call me if they let you loose with the keys. I’m really happy for you, Jericho.”

  “Thanks, Arielle. I’ll call you later, and Merry Christmas!”

  SUNDAY, DECEMBER 28

  THREE DAYS AFTER CHRISTMAS THE WEATHER turned unseasonably warm, and most of the snow had melted. Jericho had been allowed to drive his car a bit—to the store for Geneva, to the post office for his dad, and to his friends’ houses to show off. Most of the time, Todd and Rory were tucked into seat belts in the back seat, excited to be riding with Jericho no matter where he went.

  “Are they gonna let you drive to the party on New Year’s Eve?” Todd asked one afternoon as Jericho drove to Arielle’s house.

  “Yeah, Dad talked to me this morning, spelled out a list of rules and regulations about fifty miles long, and told me that as long as I’m careful, he’s gonna let me drive.”

  “Sweet! Can we come too?” asked Rory.

  “Not a chance, Shorty!” Jericho laughed. Arielle must have been looking out the window, because as soon as he pulled into the driveway, she, November, and Dana ran out of her house and over to the car.

  “Hi, Todd. Hi, Rory. You little cuties,” November said to the boys as they rolled down the windows.

  “You smell good,” Rory said to November.

  She laughed with delight. “Your brother is the smartest little dude I ever met. He already knows how to talk to a girl!”

  Jericho grinned and got out of the car. He gave Arielle a quick hug and noticed she was wearing the bracelet he had given her for Christmas.

  “Nice car,” Dana commented as she walked around it. Dana drove her mother’s SUV whenever her mother gave her the chance.

  “Thanks, Dana. You want to kick the tires or check under the hood?”

  “Don’t be puttin’ me down, Jericho. I know more about car engines than you do!”

/>   “I ain’t sweatin’ you, Dana,” Jericho said with a grin. “I know you could probably take this engine apart and put it back together. I bow down to such power in a woman!”

  “Just bow down to the power!” she replied. She laughed as Jericho waved his arms in front of him like he’d seen people do in an old movie about ancient Egypt.

  While November chatted with Rory and Todd, and Dana sat in the driver’s seat and turned on the engine, Jericho walked with Arielle to the end of her driveway. “They’re gonna let me drive,” he told her excitedly.

  “Sweet!” Her eyes glowed with anticipation. “Me and November went shopping yesterday and I got the sharpest outfit. Tomorrow we’re gonna get our hair and nails done.”

  “You’ll look good to me no matter what you wear,” he told her.

  “That’s why I like you, Jericho,” Arielle said. “You always know just what to say. Maybe Rory has been taking lessons from you!”

  “Is Dana going to the party with Kofi?” Jericho asked.

  Arielle glanced over at Dana, who must have decided to look under the hood anyway, for all they could see was the bottom half of her as she leaned into the insides of the car. “She says she’ll be there. And Kofi said he’d show up. What happens after that is anybody’s guess. It will be worth going just to see what happens.” She looked directly at Jericho and smiled. “But I’m going to be with you.”

  Jericho grinned again. “I’ll pick you up at eight Wednesday night. Josh and November are riding with us. What about Dana?”

  “She told me that she’s driving her mom’s car.”

  “Okay, that’s straight. You girls are so tight, like you’ve known each other forever.”

  “Not quite forever, but back in seventh grade some boys were teasing November about her name, calling her Turkey and other kinds of foolishness. She was crying, I was scared, and then Dana came out of nowhere and kicked their butts! Sent them running down the hall! She had just transferred here from Hazelwood, and we just clicked. She needed somebody to just be a girl with, and we needed somebody who wasn’t scared of middle school! She’s really gentle when you get to know her,” Arielle added.

 
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