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Authors: Sharon M. Draper

Just Another Hero

BOOK: Just Another Hero
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JUST ANOTHER HERO
ALSO BY SHARON DRAPER

November Blues

Copper Sun

The Battle of Jericho

Double Dutch

Romiette & Julio

The Hazelwood High Trilogy:

Tears of a Tiger

Forged by Fire

Darkness Before Dawn

Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs:

The Buried Bones Mystery

Lost in the Tunnel of Time

Shadows of Caesar's Creek

The Space Mission Adventure

The Backyard Animal Show

Stars and Sparks on Stage

Atheneum Books for Young Readers • An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division • 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10020 • This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. • Copyright © 2009 by Sharon M. Draper • All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. • Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data • Draper, Sharon M. (Sharon Mills) • Just another hero / Sharon M. Draper.—1st ed. • p. cm. • Sequel to: November Blues. • Summary: As Kofi, Arielle, Dana, November, and Jericho face personal challenges during their last year of high school, a misunderstood student brings a gun to class and demands to be taken seriously. • ISBN-13: 978-1-4169-9521-0 • ISBN-10: 1-4169-9521-8 • [1. High schools—Fiction. 2. Schools—Fiction. 3. African Americans—Fiction.] I. Title. • PZ7.D78325Ju 2009 • [Fic]—dc22 • 2008030961

Passages on Chapter 6, Chapter 13 are taken from BEOWULF, translated by Burton Raffel, copyright © 1963 renewed © 1991 by Burton Raffel. Used by permission of Dutton Signet, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Visit us on the Web:
http://www.SimonandSchuster.com

This book is dedicated to
my
hero,
Larry Draper

ARIELLE
CHAPTER 1

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 3

“GRAB HIS ARMS!”

“Now pick up his legs!”

“Hey, quit! Stop! Leave me alone!”

“This is gonna be
too
funny!”

“Hurry up, before a teacher shows up.”

“He's slippery like a little worm, man.”

“Quit wigglin', little punk! You gonna make me throw
you
in the pool!”

“Let me GO!”

Arielle Gresham, who had come to school early to get some homework done, was sitting alone in a side hall near the boys' gym, lost in her own thoughts. Startled by the noise, she turned her head to see two big guys carrying a kicking, flailing smaller boy into the hall that led to the swimming pool.

“Put me down!”

“Make me!”

“PLEASE just leave me alone!”

“This is gonna be the best You Tube video ever!”

“Make sure you film just him and not our faces, dude.”

“I'm not
stupid
!”

Arielle heard screeches of complaint, more laughter, then silence. By this time she was already on her feet and marching toward the locker room that led to the boys' entrance to the pool. She'd never actually
been
in a boys' locker room before, or any male bathroom for that matter, but she figured she could handle it.

The smell hit her first.
How could a room that had to have been cleaned last night still reek so bad?
The room was brightly lit with fluorescent bulbs that illuminated everything with a purplish glare. The row of urinals lined up against one pee-spattered wall helped explain the smell. Battered green lockers and benches lined the far wall.

She hurried out of there and down the hall to the pool. The voices, louder and clearer, made her break into a run.

“Throw his jeans into the pool!” A soft splash.

“He's wearin' tightie-whities, man!” Lots of deep laughter echoed.

“Throw those in too.”

Arielle opened the door to the pool area. Damp, moist air, sharpened by the pungent tang of chlorine, hit her face.

The scene in front of her made her gasp. Two guys, students she'd seen around but did not know, were holding a squirming, crying student facedown on the tiled floor. He wore only a navy blue hoodie and his socks. His shoes
lay a few feet away, but his jeans and underpants floated nearby in seven feet of water. A third boy was holding a cell phone, obviously filming the scene.

“What is
wrong
with you?” she screamed. Her voice echoed against the damp walls. “Let him go!”

“Busted!” the largest of the three said. “By a girl! Too cool!”

“No sweat. We got enough to post,” the filmer crowed gleefully, flipping his cell phone shut. “Hey, Wardley! Your butt's gonna be famous!”

And with that, all three bigger guys hooted with laughter and ran out of the pool area.

The kid who'd been released lay there, his hands clasped over his head, trembling.

Arielle, unsure of what to do, knew he had to be mortified.

“Get out,” the boy mumbled.

“Do you want me to try and fish your clothes out of the pool?” she offered.

“I said get out!” the boy said louder.

She was pretty sure she recognized that voice. “Osrick?” she asked.

Osrick Wardley was in her chemistry and English classes, but Arielle barely knew him. He was seventeen—a senior like the rest of them—but he was only about five feet tall and couldn't have weighed more than a hundred pounds. With dirty blond hair, a mouth full of braces, and a narrow, sunken chest, the kid was a magnet for guys who liked to act tough. Members of the football team sucker punched him and tossed him into wastebaskets
with regularity. And now, it seemed, the swimmers were taking their turn.

Of course, everybody called him Weird Osrick.
Who would name a kid Osrick?
Arielle thought. His parents might as well have pinned a sign on him that said,
PLEASE MAKE FUN OF ME
!

Osrick had never scored anything lower than an A in any class Arielle had shared with him. Except for gym, which had to be rough for a guy who could be knocked over by a wildly tossed basketball.

“Osrick, are you okay?” Arielle asked. She touched her carefully curled hair, which was beginning to droop in the humid air.

“Please, promise you won't tell
anybody
!” Osrick pleaded. “Please!”

“Okay, okay! I promise.” Arielle frowned, pondering whether that was the right thing to say. Surely she should tell a teacher?

“Now please just leave,” Osrick begged.

“Suit yourself,” Arielle said with a shrug. “I was just trying to help.” She picked up a towel, tossed it toward him, then hurried out of the pool area, leaving Osrick to the privacy of his humiliation.

ARIELLE
CHAPTER 2

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 3

AN HOUR LATER ARIELLE WONDERED IF
she'd handled the situation correctly.
Maybe I should have reported it to the principal,
she thought.
But that would have embarrassed the kid even more. And who am I to narc on somebody?

But she knew she wasn't any better than the haters who'd picked on Osrick. It was why she was sitting alone right now. She thought back to the beginning of the school year, when she'd had a boyfriend to show off and girlfriends to hang out with. But she'd treated them all like dirt. In just a few months, she'd managed to alienate them all.
How could this have happened so quickly?
Arielle mused.

She thought about her friend November, who'd gotten pregnant last year.
I laughed at her fat gut and her swollen feet. I called her stupid for being dumb enough to get caught in the baby trap. I never even told her how sorry I was about Josh's death.

Then Arielle's thoughts turned to Olivia Thigpen—a girl with legs like tree trunks and a body to match. Arielle had treated her like a meaningless toy to laugh at and humiliate.
I can't believe I threw food on her and made jokes about her size! How could I have been so cold?
Arielle shook her head.
And who woulda thought she'd end up with my dude? She slid the rollers right up under me! And I never even saw it coming.

Arielle had always assumed the world revolved around her size-two waistline. But by the time she figured out that the universe didn't even know her name, she'd lost just about everyone who'd once mattered to her.

She finished her chemistry homework and closed her laptop. She unplugged her earphones, put her brand-new iPhone carefully back into its case, and tucked both items into her backpack. Then she headed toward her second-bell class—chemistry, room 317, smoothing on a touch of MAC lip gloss as she hurried down the hall.

“Lookin' good, sista-girl,” a boy named Ram yelled from across the hall. “I'd like to taste a little of that sugar you got in your coffee!” He then whispered something to his friends, who burst out in loud, rowdy laughter.

Arielle ignored them and dashed up the steps to the third floor. She hated that her cheeks burned red so easily.

With a few minutes to spare, she eased into her seat, pretending she didn't care that although lots of kids sat together in small groups and talked quietly, not a one spoke to her. Osrick, she noticed with surprise, was already in his usual place in the back of the room. Wearing a pair of worn sweatpants instead of jeans, he sat quietly with his
head down and his hoodie covering his face. He looked just as alone as she felt.

She glanced away, not wanting to embarrass him, and saw Jericho Prescott, sitting two rows away from her. He was laughing and chattering with Olivia, who was
not
a size two. Olivia played the tuba, of all things, and Jericho looked at her like she was a whole cheese pizza. Actually, she looked like she'd eaten her share of pizzas and burgers and fries as well—nothing about her was petite. She had a round face and an even rounder middle, and Jericho seemed to love every inch of her. Arielle didn't get it. How could someone like that take someone as cool and popular as Jericho away from her? It was
so
not fair.

She ran her fingers through her hair almost unconsciously.

“Your hair looks perfect,” Kofi Freeman said quietly, leaning forward in his seat behind her. “It always does.”

“You better not let Dana hear you say that,” Arielle replied, turning halfway around. “I got enough trouble without the claws of Dana the Wolfe in my back.” But she smiled at the compliment anyway.

“Aw, Dana's my girl—everybody knows that. But I ain't blind!” Kofi chuckled and got out his book. “Besides, she's absent today—she went on another college visit.”

Arielle sighed. She envied what Dana and Kofi had going on. They reminded her of silk and satin—flowing smoothly and softly. They'd been together for a couple of years—a lifetime in the world of “let's hook up for a night” relationships that most kids seemed to find.

Miss Pringle, the new science teacher, a slender woman
with short, spiked hair, sat at her desk, sipping her coffee and grading papers.

Arielle wasn't sure whether it was for negligence or carelessness, but cool Mr. Culligan, their former science instructor, had been fired last year after the investigation into the death of a student. Somebody had to be blamed, and Culligan got it all.

Josh Prescott—good-looking, fun loving, and lighthearted—had died when a group of boys decided to jump from a second-story window as part of pledging a club called the Warriors of Distinction. Josh had left behind dozens of grieving friends, including his girlfriend, November Nelson, and his cousin Jericho. Arielle winced just thinking about it.

Arielle looked up with a start and almost did a double take. November Nelson breezed into the classroom at just that moment. November was back to thin already! She'd lost all that baby weight! Arielle nodded in approval at the orange print tank top and short denim skirt November was wearing, which hugged her curves in all the right ways.
I would have bought that outfit.

November tossed an enrollment form onto the teacher's desk. “Hi! I'm back!” she said cheerfully, as if she had gone out for pizza.

“And you are…?” said Miss Pringle, looking over thin-rimmed, red-trimmed glasses.

“November Nelson. I was out for a few months, and this is my first day back.” She grinned at the class and waved at Jericho and Olivia, at Kofi, and at Eric Bell, who sat in a wheelchair at the front table. Everybody seemed glad to see her.

“Back from what? Vacation in Europe?” Miss Pringle asked. Her voice sounded like bullets when she talked—fast and sharp. Nobody ever laughed at her lame jokes.

“Not exactly,” November replied. “I had a baby—but I tried to keep up with all my classes through the homeschool instructor. She said she'd turn in my grades to all my teachers.”

“I see.” Miss Pringle gave November a chemistry book and a pair of lab goggles. “Take a lab sheet and find a seat. I'll have to check later to see if your makeup work is sufficient,” she said curtly.

“Okay,” November told her pleasantly. She found an empty seat near Jericho and Olivia and flopped down. “Wow! Feels great to be back in chemistry! Did I just say that?” she said, a little louder than necessary, Arielle thought.

Arielle and November had been close friends up until their junior year. But she hadn't seen November since she'd had the baby, and she wondered if November would even give her the time of day now. She watched November slip right back in with their old crowd.

“Welcome back, little mama,” Olivia said.

“What's up with the new chem teacher?” November asked in a low voice, tilting her head toward the teacher.

“Oh, she's just one of several we've had since Culligan got canned,” Jericho told her.

“What happened to the last one?” November asked.

“Somebody set her wig on fire!” Olivia stifled a giggle.

“Shut up! Who did it?”

Olivia shrugged.

“Nobody ever told,” said Kofi, who had walked over to join the conversation. “Hey, kid.”

“Hey, Kofi,” November said, smacking palms with him. “Where's Dana?”

“At Ohio State checking out scholarships and stuff. She'll be back by lunch.”

“You still pullin' down the straight As?”

“Every day,” he told her with a bit of pride.

Arielle knew lots of kids thought getting good grades was stupid, and they even made fun of those who put in the effort to hang with the best. But Kofi quietly took lots of AP classes, racked up a high GPA, and sailed though the SATs.

“So is Pringle okay?” November asked.

“She's got issues,” said Olivia. “But they all do, I guess.”

“She seems to be surgically attached to that coffee mug,” Kofi observed.

“And those keys around her neck,” Olivia added. “Twenty-four/seven.”

“Don't forget the hokey-pokey dance she taught us to memorize the periodic table of elements!” Jericho said with a laugh. He stood up and did a bit of the dance.

“Funny thing is—it worked!” said Olivia.

“What is the woman
wearing
?” November whispered. “She looks like she's ready to clean out her garage, not teach a class!”

Arielle had wondered the same thing. Miss Pringle wore an oversize sweatshirt with pockets, baggy slacks, and a hideous pair of earth shoes.

Arielle quickly sketched a pencil drawing of her on a blank notebook page, with arms like those bendy straws that little kids use and stick-straight hair. The woman's body was lean and taut—no flab anywhere. Everyone knew she worked out all the time. Before school every morning, and in the afternoon after most folks had gone home, her raggedy green Volkswagen could be seen parked outside the gym and her skinny legs pumping around the track—even in snow.
Get a life!
Arielle thought. She drew the woman with sticks for legs, bent and ready to run.

“How's the baby?” Olivia asked November just as the bell finally rang for class. “I haven't seen her in a couple of weeks.”

“Miss Sunshine?” November grinned and pulled a small photo album from her purse. She handed it to Jericho, who passed it to Olivia and Kofi. “She's getting stronger and better every day. The doctors are really pleased with her progress.”

“I think Sunshine is startin' to look like Josh!” Jericho said as he peered at one of the photos.

November pulled the photo book back gently and touched the picture lovingly.

“I feel sorry for the kid, then,” Kofi said with a laugh. He ambled back to his seat, smacking hands with Luis Morales, Roscoe Robinson, and Cleveland Wilson, all survivors of the Warriors of Distinction tragedy.

Arielle turned to a clean page of her notebook, sighed, and began to copy the homework assignment off the whiteboard at the front of the class. It seemed so long ago: Jericho—cool, laid-back, and completely hers; Josh—his
lighthearted cousin, always at his side; and the Warriors of Distinction—best club in the school, best parties on the weekend, and best chance to be somebody around here. But all that had vanished in an instant. Josh died. The Warriors disbanded. She'd lost Jericho for good. And everybody seemed to hate her now.

Miss Pringle cleared her throat. “Miss Nelson, do you think it would interrupt your social calendar if you let us have class today?” she asked. “Or should we just look at baby pictures?”

Arielle had to stifle a giggle. She was sure November wanted to reply with a smart remark, but it probably wouldn't be a good idea, considering it was her first day back. November wisely replied, “I'm sorry. Let's do some chemistry!”

Miss Pringle gave a faint smile. “Good choice.”

While the teacher began the class in her rat-a-tat voice, Arielle glanced over to the windows, wishing she could open one to get the smell of chlorine out of her nose. One whole wall was filled with windows, which was why she liked this room better than those interior ones. But the windows, Arielle remembered, did not open at all. Sealed by paint or an ancient school board decision to prevent lawsuits in case some kid fell out—she wasn't sure which—none of the third-floor classrooms allowed for any fresh air to get in. Last spring, when the building's air-conditioning system broke down, it was brutal.

An odd, fading assortment of blinds and shades—some with holes from dry rot, some just torn and tired—covered most of the windows, keeping out the hot afternoon sun
on summer days, but opened wide to celebrate the first snowfall of the winter.

“We will be using the computers today,” Miss Pringle was saying, “for recording your lab reports.”

Roscoe Robinson, a football player with a history of stunning touchdowns and a smart mouth, raised his hand. “You talkin' about those prehistoric green-screen antiques on the side table?”

The far wall of the classroom contained a long row of tables on which sat twelve ancient IBM computers. Arielle knew that the science teachers constantly begged for new equipment, but in the four years she'd been at the school, nothing had been upgraded.

“You know how hard it is for schools to come up with money for new technology, Roscoe,” the teacher replied.

Roscoe cracked up. “If you tried to connect one of those computers to the Internet, it would explode!”

“We do the best we can,” Miss Pringle said with a sigh. “Kofi, can you take a look at a couple of them after school this week? You're the computer genius around here.”

“Yeah, sure, Miss P,” replied Kofi.

Arielle noticed that neither Miss Pringle nor Kofi seemed to give a thought to Osrick, who could probably handle all that electronic tech repair stuff with ease and skill.

“Mrs. Witherspoon's got lots of electronics and computer toys in her room,” Luis commented. “But all we got here is that beat-up TV on the wall.”

“She won some kind of teacher award, and she used all the money for her classroom, I hear,” Miss Pringle replied.

“If you won a prize like that, would you do that, or spend it on yourself?” Cleveland asked, leaning forward on his desk.

Miss Pringle responded by saying, “I'll get the lab equipment out now.” She removed her keys from around her neck.

“Can I help?” Roscoe asked.

“You know my procedures, Roscoe. Are you just trying to get on my nerves?”

“Yep!”

“It's working,” replied the teacher, but with a smile.

“Maybe we should use the stuff in the cabinet behind you,” Roscoe suggested. “At least that would match the computers they stick us with!”

“I think that stuff came from the ancient history museum!” Jericho agreed. “Cavemen used it to measure mammoth stew!”

BOOK: Just Another Hero
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