The Battle of Jericho by Sharon M. Draper

  Todd and Rory had joined Dana under the hood of the car. “What are we looking for?” Jericho heard Rory ask as he and Arielle walked back to the car.

  “Whatever it is, it’s dirty,” November chuckled.

  “Looks good, Jericho,” Dana said. “You’re a lucky dude.”

  Jericho watched carefully to make sure that Todd and Rory’s fingers were out of the way, then slammed the hood. “I guess I better get these two jokers home.” The boys climbed back into the car. “I’ll see everybody on New Year’s Eve.”

  November and Dana went back into Arielle’s house, but she stood in the driveway until Jericho reached the corner. He looked back in the rear-view mirror and saw her waving. It doesn’t get any better than this, he thought.


  THE WEATHER ON NEW YEAR’S EVE WAS COOL and crisp, with no snow or ice predicted to make Jericho’s dad cancel his driving privileges. Dressed in a new black suit with a red shirt and black tie, Jericho picked up Josh and November, then headed to Arielle’s house. Arielle’s mother took pictures, gave him the same warnings that his parents, Josh’s parents, and November’s mother had given him about driving safely and not drinking at the party, and finally allowed them to leave. Jericho sighed with relief and pleasure as he glanced over at Arielle, who looked like cotton candy in a pale peach dress.

  “Lovely,” was all he whispered to her. “Lovely.”

  She smiled and said nothing. The party was being held in a room at the Westin Hotel downtown. Jericho let the valet park his car, although he winced at the cost and the fact that somebody else was driving his car, even if just around the corner. But he wanted this night to be special, so he, Arielle, Josh, and November walked into the lobby of the huge hotel, blinking a little, trying to act like they did this every day.

  Standing in the lobby, dressed in a tuxedo, Rick Sharp greeted them warmly and directed them to take the escalator to the second floor where they’d find the room. As they glided up the escalator, Jericho tried to shake his misgivings about the club. It’s got to be worth it, he thought. These dudes are first class. Arielle took his hand as they stepped off the escalator, and he walked proudly to the door of the party room.

  Members of the Warriors of Distinction, all dressed in tuxedos, welcomed them and showed them to small tables around the sides of the room, which had been decorated with black and white balloons and gold centerpieces. Mr. Culligan welcomed them as well, then retreated to the shadows. A live band played music in the background and several couples were already dancing on the polished wood floor. Josh and November joined them right away, holding each other closely as they moved to the music.

  Dana arrived then, with Kofi, and the two of them came over to their table. “Nice party,” Kofi commented. He wore gray slacks and a black leather sports coat. Dana was dressed in a striking black dress with one shoulder bare—the shoulder with her other tattoo.

  “I see you two are speaking again,” Jericho commented.

  “Got to, man. We’re bonded, remember?” Kofi looked relieved and reached for her hand, which she didn’t pull away.

  Jericho noticed Eddie frowning at them. He walked over to their table and right up to Dana.

  “Be careful what you wear out in public, little sister,” he said in greeting to her.

  “What’s that supposed to mean?” Kofi asked.

  “She’s got one shoulder half naked,” replied Eddie.

  “I’m so glad you like my dress,” Dana told Eddie with a smile. Then she took Kofi by the arm and brushed past Eddie, ignoring him. Jericho could tell Eddie was angry, but this was obviously not the time to show it.

  While Arielle went to get some punch, Jericho walked over to Dana and whispered, “Do any of the girls know you’re a pledge?”

  “You expected me to break the code of silence?” she whispered back. “Not until it’s official.”

  “I’m gonna break Eddie’s face if he keeps messing with Dana,” Kofi said with quiet determination.

  “I’ll help you,” Dana told him with a fierce smile, “when it’s time. I’m fine for now, but I have to admit, I’m glad to be with you tonight.” Kofi grinned.

  “So, do you guys find out tonight if you’re members of the Warriors of Distinction?” Arielle asked as she returned with two glasses of punch.

  “Why?” Kofi asked her. “You plannin’ to dump Jericho if he doesn’t get in?” he teased. Arielle just rolled her eyes at him.

  “Why you wanna dis me like that, Kofi?” Jericho said with a laugh. He turned to Arielle. “Tonight they give out the official invitations.” He tried not to put any special emphasis on the word “official.” “I’m not sure what happens after that,” he said honestly. “Some kind of pledge activities—they keep it a big secret.”

  “Yeah, even Josh’s dad won’t tell him,” Kofi added.

  Josh didn’t look as if he was worried about anything—he and November danced wildly in front of the band.

  “You want to dance?” Jericho asked Arielle as they watched Josh and November.

  “I can’t do that,” she said, pointing at them, “but I can keep you busy!”

  He and Arielle spent the next couple of hours dancing, talking with the Warriors, laughing, and sipping punch from the little goblets with “Warrior” stamped on the side. She was an excellent dancer, making him look better than he was on the dance floor.

  At ten minutes before midnight, Jericho noticed that all of the Warriors of Distinction had assembled in the front of the room near the band. Madison signaled the band and picked up the microphone. “We just want to welcome everyone here tonight, and we’re gonna do the Warrior chant for you. Hit it, brothers!”

  The Warriors huddled very closely together and began to stomp their feet in a rhythm. Jericho could almost feel the thunder on the polished floor. Then they began, their deep bass voices chanting proudly and loudly:

  You don’t know what time it is—

  It’s time to get live!

  It’s time to represent!

  Warriors rock! Warriors rule!

  You don’t know what time it is—

  It’s time to get live!

  It’s time to represent!

  Warriors rock! Warriors rule!

  Jericho had heard the chant many times in school—at football games, in the locker room, in the main hall before school, even on the street corner by the bus stop, but never in such close quarters and never with such balled-up anticipation churning inside him. He found himself whispering the words with them, mesmerized by the rhythm and the young men who chanted them.

  Josh stood next to him, dancing by himself to the rhythm of the chant. “You crazy, Cuz,” Jericho said, laughing.

  Then Rick took the microphone and said, “May I have your attention, please? Very soon our celebration will be over and the new year will begin. We want to thank everyone for your help in making this year’s service project the best ever. Just before the stroke of midnight, we will count down to the new year, the lights will go off for thirty seconds, and you may share a private moment with your date. When the lights come back up, the party is over, and the pledge invitations will be available on the table in the hall. If you are invited to pledge, all the necessary instructions will be found inside the envelopes. Once again, we thank you, and hopefully, we welcome you.”

  Jericho looked at Arielle. She grabbed his hand.

  “Would everyone please come to the dance floor for the last dance of the evening?” Rick asked.

  Jericho glanced at Kofi and Josh as they all found places on the dance floor. The band played a jazzed-up version of “Auld Lang Syne,” and Jericho held Arielle close as they danced. “I don’t care about the Warriors of Distinction,” he whispered in her ear. “I found you.”

  She didn’t reply, but held him closer as they danced.

  The music faded and ended, the lights were dimmed, then Rick yelled into the microphone, ’Ten! Nine! Eight!”

??Seven! Six! Five!” Everyone in the room yelled it with him.

  “Four! Three! Two!” Jericho and Arielle spoke as one as they looked into each other’s eyes.

  “One! Happy New Year!” The whole room cheered, then the lights went completely black.

  Jericho pulled Arielle very close to him and kissed her gently—once, twice, three times. Those thirty seconds seemed to Jericho like just an instant.

  The lights came up slowly. Jericho stared into Arielle’s eyes and did not move. He wanted to kiss each eyelash. A full minute passed and other couples had started to file out of the room, but Jericho was content to stay right where he was. He wanted time to stop. But his thoughts were interrupted by November and Dana, who whispered something to Arielle.

  “What?” Arielle said, breaking away from Jericho.

  Dana repeated, “While the lights were out, someone put his hand on my butt!”

  “How do you know it wasn’t Kofi?” Arielle asked.

  “I had both his hands in mine.”

  “You think it was Eddie?” Arielle whispered.

  “What’s up with him?” November asked. “Why is he messin’ with you?” Jericho realized she had no idea what was really going on.

  “Did you tell Kofi?” Jericho asked.

  “No. I don’t want to spoil tonight with a fight. Besides, the lights were out. It could have been anybody,” Dana replied with a heavy sigh.

  “Tell Kofi later, and watch your back—for real!” November warned.

  Dana nodded and headed back to Kofi. Jericho, a little annoyed that the romantic mood had been broken, suddenly felt a sense of dread about the weeks to come.

  Everyone moved into the hallway quickly, in a hurry to search the table for envelopes with their names on the front. Jericho took his time, not wanting the evening with Arielle to end. They walked slowly out of the room, holding hands, not saying much.

  At the table Jericho scanned the names on the envelopes. On the far right-hand side, he saw “Jericho Prescott” handprinted in gold letters on the large black envelope. Next to it was an identical envelope that said “Joshua Prescott.” At the end of the table was one labeled “Dana Wolfe.” Dana picked hers up slowly, a huge smile spreading across her face.

  “What’s up with that, girl?” November screamed, clutching Dana’s arm. “How’d you pull that off? You’re gonna be a pledge?”

  Arielle joined her, exclaiming, “How’d you get asked to pledge? This is too deep! Did you know about this?” she asked Jericho. He just shrugged.

  Dana grinned slyly. “Sometimes it takes a great group of men to recognize the power of a woman.” Madison actually smiled at her with what looked like a bit of admiration, Jericho thought. Then Dana looked directly at Eddie Mahoney, who was standing next to the table. He was not smiling.

  “You ain’t in yet, sweetheart,” he said quietly. “I intend to make your life a living hell.” Dana turned away from him, took Kofi’s hand, and headed for the escalator.

  Jericho and Arielle followed them out into the crisp, cold darkness of the new year.


  “WOO HOO! IT’S OFFICIAL! WE’RE IN!” JOSH shouted to several middle-aged couples who also waited for the valet to bring their cars. They either smiled or looked annoyed at the teenager who was making so much exuberant noise. Josh suddenly hugged the very surprised, tuxedo-clad elderly man who stood next to him. “I love you, man!” he shouted deliriously. ’I love everybody tonight!” The old man chuckled and actually hugged him back.

  Jericho and the others cracked up. “You a trip, man,” Kofi laughed.

  “Wait till I tell Dad!” Josh exclaimed. “He’s gonna pop with pride! He’ll be proud of you, too, Jericho,” he added. After they climbed in the car he opened his envelope and read the invitation to them by the dim glow of the dome light as Jericho drove home. It read:

  You have been selected

  By a panel of your peers

  And are cordially invited

  Go become a warrior of Distinction

  “Awesome!” November exclaimed. “This is like off the hook, Josh! What else does it say?”

  “Let’s see. We have to turn in a medical form from our doctor, pay a pledge fee—shoulda known that was coming—and there’s a bunch of meetings we have to go to.”

  “Hey, Josh, won’t your dad tell you anything?” asked Arielle as she turned round to see him better. “What good is it to have a dad who knows all the secrets and then won’t help you out?”

  “He says the secrecy is what makes it a great organization, and the reason it’s lasted so long. Otherwise it would be just like any other club,” Josh replied.

  “Well, Dana seems to be aiming to make it like no club we’ve ever seen,” Jericho commented.

  “For real, though!” Arielle said. “The first woman ever!”

  “If she survives,” Josh said with a laugh. “I bet they don’t make it easy for her.”

  “I heard Eddie Mahoney threaten her as she picked up her invitation,” Jericho told him.

  “What can she do?” Josh asked. “She did ask for this.”

  “I don’t know, but I bet it was Eddie who had his hands all over her,” Arielle replied. “I think there’s something wrong with him.” She shuddered.

  “Dana knows how to kick butt, even Eddie’s,” November reminded them.

  “You guys will look out for her, right?” Arielle asked.

  “Yeah, sure. But what could happen? How bad could it be?” Josh reasoned, his usual good mood returning. “If somebody as lame as my dad can get in, it’s got to be a piece of cake!”

  “When is the next Warrior party?” Arielle asked, changing the subject. “Does it say anything about that?”

  “Girl, you’re just a party animal!” Josh replied. “No, it doesn’t say, but I’m sure there will be a party when all this is over.”

  “Good,” she said.

  Then November added, “And find out what other community projects they do the rest of the year. They could do a book drive, or a—” Josh cut her off with a kiss.

  “Enough,” he said gently. “Let’s just enjoy the moment. We can’t save the whole world tonight.” She giggled and snuggled close to him.

  Jericho drove November home, then dropped Josh off at his house. He finally pulled slowly into Arielle’s driveway. He didn’t want this night to end. “Well, I promised your mom I’d get you home safely and at a decent hour.”

  “I’m glad you got your invitation,” she said quietly.

  “Me too. I talk big, but I woulda been hurt if I hadn’t gotten it.”

  “Especially if Josh and Kofi got invited and you didn’t.”

  “I didn’t want to say anything, but we kinda knew ahead of time,” Jericho admitted.

  “Did you know about Dana?” she asked.

  “Sorta. I think they were forced to do it. I heard she threatened them with lawsuits and exposure and stuff.”

  “I gotta call her as soon as I get home!” She scooted over and looked directly at him. In the chilly moonlight Jericho could barely see her eyes. “I’m proud of you, Jericho,” she said softly.

  “I’m no big deal.”

  “Don’t be hatin’—especially yourself.”

  “Josh is a good athlete and his father was a Warrior. Kofi is super smart and knows all that computer stuff. Me, I’m just Jericho—large Jericho.” He bowed his head. He couldn’t believe he was saying this to her!

  “First of all, you got your invitation, so they must think you’re all that,” she reasoned.

  “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” he admitted.

  “Besides, you’ve got something that Kofi and Josh don’t have,” Arielle whispered.

  “What’s that?” he asked. But he knew what she was going to say.

  “You got me!” she replied quietly, moving even closer to him.

  He touched her chin with the tips of his fingers, then kissed her gently. “And that,” he whispered, “ma
kes my life magic.”

  “This has been the best night of my life,” she said softly.

  He kissed her once more in the darkness of the car, then got out and walked her to the door, where he kissed her again.

  “Good night,” he whispered.

  “I’ll talk to you later,” she said, “and Happy New Year!”

  “Happy New Year, Arielle.” Jericho walked back to his car, glancing happily at the moon and breathing in the cold night air.


  TWO DAYS AFTER THE NEW YEAR’S EVE PARTY, as far as Jericho was concerned, it could have been the middle of summer, even though the weather had turned bitterly cold. Nothing could erase his good mood, even though Geneva had tried her best to do so. He had pulled his hat down over his ears and headed out the door to his car.

  “Maybe you shouldn’t go, Jericho,” Geneva had said as he was walking out the door.

  “I’m just going to hang with Josh for a little—maybe go get something to eat.”

  “You know you get careless when you two get together,” she said, although Jericho could not figure out how she came to that conclusion. He tried to stay calm.

  “It’s not even snowing,” he said reasonably.

  “Yes, but it’s cold. You be careful, you hear me?”

  “I will, I promise,” he mumbled, determined not to argue with her.

  “You know you’re still a new driver, and I really don’t trust you in this weather.”

  “I’ll be careful.”

  “You know you have a tendency to drive too fast.”

  Jericho wasn’t sure how she would know that—she had never ridden in the car with him. “I’ve never had a speeding ticket,” he reminded her.

  “You just haven’t been caught yet.”

  He took three deep breaths. “I don’t speed, Geneva,” he said softly.

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