Excerpts for Darkness Before Dawn


Chapter 7

December began with a blizzard. Fifteen inches of snow covered Cincinnati like a thick, white winter blanket, and the temperatures dipped down to fifteen degrees. Schools, work places, even the malls were closed. I love snow days -- no stress, no schedules, no homework. On that cold December day, I hadn't even gotten out of bed yet. I was cuddled under tons of blankets, reading a book I had checked out of the library. The phone rang and I waited till the fourth or fifth ring to pick it up. "Hello."

I heard a male voice clear his throat. "May I speak to Keisha please?"

"Speaking."

"This is Jonathan Hathaway. I hope I'm not disturbing you."

I was mildly surprised that he was calling me. I had kept my distance during cross-country practice, and though I sensed that he was interested in me, he rarely said anything to me that was not related to running or training. He always smiled and was pleasant when I was around, and he went out of his way to say hello when I saw him in the halls at school. That was cool with me.

"No, I was just reading and enjoying this snowy day," I told him.

"Well, that's why I called, sort of." He hesitated. "I'm taking some students skiing this afternoon -- mostly seniors and a couple of kids from the cross-country team. Just for a couple of hours up at Perfect North Slopes. Would you like to go?"

I was truly surprised. I thought about my warm bed and my good book and started to turn him down, but I loved skiing and didn't often get the chance. "Sure, why not? Sounds like fun."

I could hear him sigh with relief. "I'll pick you up in an hour if that's OK."

He hung up and I dragged myself out of bed to find my long underwear and heavy jacket. I called my mother at work, told her where I was going, and after listening to her warn me about frostbite and windburn, I fixed myself a cup of hot chocolate and got dressed. As I dug in my bottom drawer for my left glove, I called Rhonda, but there was no answer. So I called Jalani.

"What's up, girlfriend?" Jalani said.

"Not much. For sure not the temperature. I must be crazy to think about getting out of my nice warm bed out into that freezing wet stuff outside."

"So what's making you go?"

"Jonathan Hathaway called. He's taking some kids from school up to Perfect North Slopes to ski. I told him I'd go." I think I sounded as if I was having second thoughts.

"What's wrong with that? Beside the fact that you're gonna freeze your buns off, why not go? It's not like a date, you know."

"I never said anything about a date!" I said defensively. I don't know why that bothered me, but it did.

"You know he's got a thing for you," Jalani teased.

"I know somehow he always seems to be around. But he does seem nice," I admitted.

"And he is so fine!" Jalani reminded me.

"That has nothing to do with it. I'm going to make him stop by and pick up Monty also. Monty likes hanging around us, and he needs to laugh and have a little fun."

"So you're going out with Jonathan to help Monty."

"I am not going out with Jonathan!" I yelled into the phone. "He's just the driver."

"Sure, Keisha. Have fun." Jalani chuckled on the other end of the line. "I'm going over to Gerald's to see how Angel is doing. Call me when you get home."

Jonathan arrived, eyes bright with excitement. He thanked me for giving up my warm bed and walked me carefully over the ice and slippery snow to the driveway where Rhonda and Tyrone and B. J., along with Leon and Marcus from the team, sat waiting in the back of Jon-athan's roomy Jeep Cherokee wagon. Jonathan wore a sky-blue down ski jacket with matching ski pants and hat, looking just like a model out of GQ, dressed for successful skiing, while the others wore an assortment of school jackets and probably a couple pairs of jeans. He checked the angle of his cap in the rear view mirror, adjusted it slightly, then pulled off into the snowy afternoon.

"I didn't know you guys were going," I said cheerfully.

"We didn't either," B. J. replied. "It just sounded like fun."

"Hey, Leon, good to see you! What's up?" I said casually.

"Chillin'!" Leon replied with a grin. Everyone laughed, especially since it was so cold outside. Leon reached into his pocket and pulled out a huge snowball. "Hey! This must be why my hands are so cold!"

"Leon, you're crazy!" I shouted. "Get that thing out of here!"

Leon replied with a grin, "As you wish, my lady!" He rolled the window down all the way, while everyone inside the car yelled at him for letting in that blast of freezing air, and tossed the snowball onto the road. I just shook my head, laughing and marveling at the silliness of high school boys.

"I tried to call you, Rhonda, but now I know why I got your mom's machine," I told her.

"B. J. called and told me that instead of sitting through another boring physics lecture, we could experience it first hand!" Rhonda explained.

"The bell would be ringing right now," B. J. reminded them.

"And we would all lean over and get out our notebooks," I began, thankful we were sitting in a Jeep Cherokee, not a classroom.

"Mr. Simpson would start to talk," Rhonda continued.

"He'd turn on the overhead projector," B. J. said.

"He'd dim the lights," Leon added.

"Our eyes would glaze over," I said, as if in that trance.

"And Mr. Simpson would drone on about slopes and angles," Rhonda continued, giggling.

"And that would be just the first five minutes of class!" B. J. laughed triumphantly.

"Then Leon would walk in," I reminded them.

"Late, as usual," Tyrone added.

"Without his homework!" Rhonda continued.

"But with the best excuses in the world!" I added, laughing. "What was that long one you gave Mr. Boston last year?"

"I don't have my homework because I left it in my dad's truck," Leon started to say.

"'So bring it tomorrow,' the teacher says," B. J. continued, laughing as he remembered.

"And I say sweetly to old man Boston, 'I can't bring it tomorrow.'" Leon loved to drag a story out.

"'And why not?' old Boston says, with his high-water pants, bad teeth, and bad breath," B. J. added, continuing the suspense.

"Well, my dad is a long-distance truck driver, sir," Leon said, "and he's on his way to California! And he won't be back for three weeks! So I'll give you my homework next month! It's not my fault!"

Everyone in the car cracked up. It felt good to laugh.

"Did you call Gerald?" I asked Rhonda.

"Gerald wanted to stay home with Angel. She's really doing lots better," Rhonda reported happily. "And lately, Jalani stays pretty close to wherever Gerald happens to be."

I grinned. "I just talked to Jalani. That's where she was headed. I'm glad for them. Remember how scared he was of her?" I noticed that Leon had become unusually quiet.

B. J. added, "We've got one more stop. I thought it would be nice to ask Joyelle. With Angel sick, Joyelle is really lonely."

"That's nice of you, B. J.," I told him.

We pulled into Joyelle's driveway, and she waddled out to the car. Her mother had made her put on so many clothes, she could hardly walk. She climbed in the back and began to remove scarves and gloves and extra jackets, as everybody laughed. Joyelle knew better than to complain -- her mother was extra sensitive to her daughter's health and safety since she had lost Rob.

"What about Monty?" I asked Jonathan. "Can we take one more?"

"Sure," he replied easily. "Use my cell phone and call his house." Monty, of course, was thrilled. He met the car in the driveway; his mother waved from the front door.

I sat in the front seat between Jonathan and B. J. I was conscious of my leg touching Jonathan's, but I couldn't squeeze very far away in the crowded car. The roads were surprisingly clear, for the salt trucks had been out all night. The sky was a vivid blue, and the snow-covered trees looked bright and shiny in the sunlight.

We pulled up to the lodge, piled out, and paid our fees and rented skis. Jonathan, of course, had his own skis, sleek and glossy in a custom case. As he reached down to snap them, I noticed that something tiny and metallic clinked to the tiled floor beneath his boots.

Now I'm a good skier, but this was my first time this winter, so I started on the gentler slopes. The air bit my face like tiny knives. I hated to admit it, but my mother, as usual, was right.

I took Monty down a small hill, called Little Bluff, and even though it was his first time on the slopes, he did well and didn't fall once. The expression on his face as he reached the bottom of the hill was worth the effort of getting him ready to do it. He was exultant. "Let's do it again!" he cried. So we took the lift back up. That's when B. J. offered to take him down another, bigger hill, so Monty left me in an instant, excitedly following B. J. I smiled as I watched him go. It was good to see him happy.

I saw Leon in the distance, and noticed he was heading my way, but just then, Jonathan skillfully skied over to where I stood. "Race you down!" he challenged, and I forgot all about Leon for the moment.

"You're on!" I answered Jonathan as I took off. He barely had time to put on his goggles before I had left him in a swirl of snow. He laughed as he took off behind me, easily catching and passing me.

"Good thing this was Little Bluff," I gasped. "I would have left you like yesterday's snowman."

"Are you ready for Deception Hill?" he asked. "I dare you to try."

I hesitated. Deception was steep and curved, and considered one of the most difficult hills on the slopes. "I tell you what," I offered, "instead of racing, let's just try skiing. I don't think I'm ready for racing on Deception yet."

"Good idea," he agreed. We skied together toward the chair lift that would take us to Deception, sliding easily in unison. I found on the ride that Jonathan was easy to talk to, and seemed to have been everywhere and done everything. He had skied in Switzerland, had taken hot-air balloon rides in Kenya, and had even been scuba diving in Australia. I chatted to him about my plans for medical school, my hopes of learning to fly a plane, and my worries about college.

When the lift dropped us off at the top of the slope, the view was breathtaking. It looked like one of those paint-by-number pictures that I used to do when I was ten years old. Bright, clean snow covered the world -- it looked like tons of spilled sugar. The pine trees decorated the scene with green. I breathed deeply of the cold, fresh air. It was the first time in several months that I had felt truly free.

"Thank you," I said suddenly to Jonathan.

"For what?" he answered in surprise.

"For making me get out of bed. For talking to me like I'm a person, not a kid. For bringing me to this beautiful place." I was silent for a moment. "I know we teased you that night at the library, but there really is a big difference between you and the high school boys I've known since kindergarten. I've never had a conversation like we just had. It was refreshing -- just like this wind."

Jonathan grinned with pleasure. "You're so mature, Keisha. Maybe that's why the boys your age don't appeal to you."

"One of them did," I replied quietly. "But he's gone."

"I've heard all about Andy," Jonathan said carefully. "I'm really sorry, Keisha."

"Can we take the lift back down, Jonathan? I think I'd rather just talk a little more than try to prove to you I'm bad enough to try Deception. Besides, I'm cold."

"I was just going to suggest that. Let's find the others and head back home. Monty is probably an icicle by now."

I laughed as we got back in the lift. Deception could wait.

"Keisha," Jonathan said to me when we got back to the bottom of the hill, "I really enjoyed today. Would you like to go to the movies some time? If you think it's not appropriate, just let me know."

I thought for a moment. Then I surprised myself and said, "I think I'd like that." He smiled with delight, but said nothing more as the others started to head toward us.

We gathered the rest of the group and headed back to Jonathan's wagon, tired and cold, but feeling really mellow. Monty fell asleep as soon as the car heater warmed up. The rest talked quietly about the hills and the spills of the day. Rhonda snuggled close to Tyrone. Joyelle nodded on Tyrone's other shoulder. B. J. glanced back at her and smiled. Leon looked quietly out of the window, watching the snow. Jonathan glanced at himself briefly in the rear view mirror, turned on a smooth jazz station, and we headed back to Cincinnati to the mellow sounds of the saxophone. For the first time in months, I felt like the rock where my feelings used to be was starting to dissolve. The snow had started to fall again.

Copyright © 2001 by Sharon M. Draper

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