Authors: Sharon M. Draper
DARKNESS BEFORE DAWN
BOOKS BY SHARON M. DRAPER
Tears of a Tiger
Forged by Fire
Darkness Before Dawn
Romiette & Julio
The Battle of Jericho
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, New York 10020
Copyright Â© 2001 by Sharon M. Draper
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction
in whole or in part in any form.
Book design by Angela Carlino
The text of this book is set in Simoncini Garamond.
Manufactured in the United States of America
8Â Â 10Â Â 9Â Â 7
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Draper, Sharon M.
Darkness before dawn / by Sharon M. Draper
Summary: Recovering from the recent suicide of her ex-boyfriend,
senior class president Keisha Montgomery finds herself
attracted to a dangerous, older man.
[1. High schoolsâFiction. 2. SchoolsâFiction. 3. RapeâFiction.
4. Afro-AmericansâFiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.D78325Â Â Â Be 2001
[Fic]âdc21Â Â Â 99-058860
To all the young readers who wrote me letters and asked me questions about what happened to the characters from
Tears of a Tiger
Forged by Fire.
Because of you, the characters were allowed to live and grow and develop into real personalities. Because of you, they will never die.
âSharon M. Draper
e wait in the darkness for the signal to begin. I wonder what's taking so long. Behind me, I hear somebody whispering. Our silky gowns are rustling softly as we, the graduating seniors, adjust our hats, hair, and nerves. We stand nervously in two lines that curve from the back of the auditorium, out into the hallway, and halfway up a flight of stairs. In alphabetical order for the very last time, the boys in gowns of navy blue, the girls in silver.
I'm one of the first in line because I have to sit on the stage. Even though it's hot, I'm shivering in the darkness while we wait for the lights to come up to announce the beginning of the ceremony. I close my eyes, but the darkness seems like it's trying to grab me. I blink, and the shadows are breathing on my neck, chasing through my thoughts.
I let the shadows walk me back through the last two years, through loss, pain, death, and humiliation. I've got
dark memories of fire and blood running in slow motion through my head. I think about Rob, who died in a car crash in November of our junior year. I think about my Andy, my dear sweet Andy, who left meâleft us allâthe following April. And I try not to think about my own dark stain that I know will never be erased.
Like silent trumpets, the lights of the auditorium suddenly blaze. We seniors cheer, the audience stands and applauds, and then we hear the tinny sound of “Pomp and Circumstance” coming from the school orchestra sitting down front. I always cry when I hear that song. As we march proudly down the aisle in the procession, excited parents flashing cameras and waving with joy, I think back to my first day of school as a kindergartener, how scared I was, and how a skinny little boy named Andy Jackson shared his peanut butter sandwich with me. I think about grade school and long division, junior high and locker partners, high school and basketball games, hospitals and funerals.
As senior class president, I have to give a speech tonight, but I don't know if I'm going to be able to stand in front of this huge room of parents and students and put the shadows into words. I climb the steps slowlyâthis is no time to trip or stumbleâand I watch the others march in. The rest of the graduates proudly file into rows of gowns and hats into the seats in front of me, their faces unwrapped packages of smiles and success. We sit down and the ceremony begins with the usual speeches from school board members and declarations by the principal. My speech is the very last of the eveningâour final good-bye. I hold the pages tightly in my
hand as I skim the words once more. I try to relax a little, and I grab the tiny butterfly that hangs from the thin silver chain around my neck. I take a deep breath and I finally let myself think about everything that's happened. I let the shadows take me back to last yearâto that day in Aprilâthe day that Andy died.
I think homeroom is
a stupid waste of time. They take attendance, read announcements, then make you sit in a room watching the clock when you could be in a class, maybe even learning something. Dumb! Mr. Whitfield is OK as a teacherâhe's probably too nice, so kids take advantage of him sometimes, like I'm getting ready to do.
“Jackson? . . . Jackson? . . . Is Andy absent again?”
Everybody looked at me like I'm supposed to know where Andy is at every single moment. I'm not his mother. I'm not even his girlfriend anymore. I ignored them all and dug in my book bag for a pencil.
“Yeah, Mr. Whitfield. He's got âsenioritis,' a terrible disease.” Leon thinks he's so funny. Everybody laughed but me.
“Well, since he's only a junior, I'd say that he's got a fatal disease. Juniors who catch senioritis have been known to develop serious complications and never graduate,” Mr. Whitfield said jokingly.
“He'll be here tomorrow. He has to. He owes me two dollars.”
“Good luck. OK, let's finish with attendance.”
“Here . . .”
“I'm here. Mr. Whitfield? I don't feel good. Can I go to the nurse?”
“OK, Keisha, but unless you're going home, try to get back in a hurry.”
I wasn't really sick. I shouldered my book bag and headed out of the room without looking at Mr. Whitfield. I was still upset about breaking up with Andy, and I just needed some space. I glanced down to the end of the hall where I saw my best friend Rhonda heading my way. She yelled down the hall, “Hey, Keisha, have you seen Andy this morning?” A couple of teachers stuck their heads out of their doors, but Rhonda ignored them as she hurried down the hall toward me.
“No, and I hope I never do again.”
“Come on, girl, you don't really mean that. I know it hurts. You and Andy were together for so long. It's hard on
to see you two break up.”
“Yeah, Rhonda. It hurts. I really liked him, you know, but it just got too complicated. He's better off without me. He's got to get himself together before he can get seriously involved with someone else. How's Tyrone?”
“Oh, just fineâso fine!” Rhonda giggled. “We're going to the movies tomorrow. Do you want to come?”
“No, I'll probably just catch a movie on cable. It's kinda nice just to relax for a change and not worry about how I look or what I'll wear or where we're going. I'm just going to chill and enjoy my freedom.” I said the words, but Rhonda knew I didn't mean them.
“OK, but call me if you change your mind. Say, I'm going to drop off Andy's chemistry homework at his house after school. Mr. Whitfield said he'd fail unless he got this assignment in. You wouldn't want to go with me, would you?”
“No way, girl. Actually, if I saw him, I might break down and do something stupid like cry, or make up with him. I'm out of his lifeâat least for now.”
“OK. I'll call you later.”
When Rhonda had called me later that night, however, she was crying hysterically about Andy and blood and a gun. She wasn't making any sense at all.
“Oh, Keisha! It's Andy!”
“What about him?”
“Where? What are you talking about?”
“Monty. Poor little Monty. He found him.”
“He found Andy.”
“Is Andy OK?”
“He had a gun! His father's hunting rifle!”
“Calm down and tell me what's goin' on! You're not making any sense!”
“Andy's dead, Keisha. He shot himself. Monty found him when he got home from school. I got there about the same time Andy's mom got home. It was awful! Oh, Keisha!” Rhonda dropped the phone and all I could hear was heavy, choked sobs coming from her. I didn't cry right then. But it felt like a huge rock landed inside my chest and just sat there. I didn't want to believe her, but soon it was clear that it was all too true. Andy had taken his own life.
I felt dead, too. Like living was stealing breath. I felt like it was my fault, even though I knew it wasn't. Andy had been really messed up inside since that terrible car crash last year after a basketball game. Andy had been driving the car and had been drinking. His best friend Rob Washington had died. I guess he just couldn't get over his feeling of guilt for Robbie's death. I also knew that part of the mess in Andy's head had to do with us breaking up, but I wasn't gonna be caught up in that same guilt trip. I felt like I was going to explode.
I heard the door open downstairs; my mom had just come in from work. I ran to her and screamed, “Mom, oh Mommy, Andy's dead!” I let her hug me like she used to do when I was little. My nose was all stopped up and all I could do was gulp and sniff and cry some more. “It's all my fault!” I moaned. “How could he do this? Why didn't he call me? Andy can't be dead! Oh, Mommy, it hurts so bad!” I couldn't stop crying. I never knew a person had so many tears inside.
As she heard the news, my mom gasped and held me real close. I think she cried, too. She let me sob like a baby; I could feel her strength and love. She stroked my hair and soothed me with the same whispers and mother tones that had calmed me since I was a little girl. When my sobbing had slowed down a little, she gave me a couple of tissues and said quietly, “Tell me what happened, Keisha.”
“I'm not sure. They just found him.” I sat on the sofa next to my mother with my head in my hands. I just couldn't stop crying. “Why didn't he call me? Even though we broke up, he knew I still loved him. He knew I'd talk him through any problem.”
“He did call,” my mother said quietly. She was really crying now.
I looked up at her in disbelief. “When?” I asked suddenly.
“Last night, well after midnight. You were asleep, and I didn't want to wake you, and I thought it could wait until morning. I'm so sorry, Keisha.”
“Mom!” I shouted. “How could you be so cold?” I
jumped up and glared at her. My eyes, which were already red and burning from all the crying, felt like hot swords as I glared at her.
“I couldn't possibly have known, Keisha,” Mom said gently. “I couldn't possibly have known,” she repeated, weeping quietly into her hands. “I'm so sorry.”