Excerpt from Chapter 11 Forged By Fire By Sharon Draper Gerald felt sick. He knew he had to get help in a hurry, but he didn’t know where to go, who to talk to, or what he should do first. The bus dropped him off in front of Hazelwood Middle School, where he was in sixth grade. It stood empty and silent this early in the morning. The dark upstairs windows looked like huge, accusing eyes, staring at him. The front door hadn’t been unlocked yet. Gerald sighed and sat on the curb, hoping that a teacher or counselor he knew and could trust would decide to come to work early today. He was hesitant to go the police. What if they don’t believe me? he asked himself. Will they believe a kid? I don’t really have any proof. On TV, cops need hard evidence or the bad guy gets away. What if I accuse Jordan of abuse or something and they can’t prove it? He’ll be angry and get even more violent and maybe hurt Angel and… Gerald bowed his head and sighed in misery. He barely noticed the silver Buick that stopped in front of him. “What’s up man? You look so down that curb looks like up.” It was Robbie, the best basketball player at Hazelwood Middle School. Gerald liked Rob, who was always cracking jokes and acting silly. “What you doin’ here so early?” Gerald asked. “My dad drops me off every morning before he goes to work. It’s a little early, but I finish up my homework or go to sleep in the locker room. That door is always open early. Want a doughnut?” “Naw, man. I got a lot on my mind today.” Rob’s dad, who was standing at the back of the car getting Robbie’s bag and lunch out of the trunk, glanced at Gerald with concern. Gerald didn’t know Rob’s dad very well, but he probably knew him better than any father of his friends. Mr. Washington was active on the school parent council and came to all of the basketball games, track meets, and school plays. He and his wife often had Rob’s friends to their home on weekends. They had a finished rec room, a huge backyard, and a refrigerator that always seemed to be wellstocked with essentials like pizza and ice cream and soda pop. Gerald wasn’t sure if they were wealthy or not, but they sure had lots of things that he and Monique and Angel couldn’t afford. Gerald had only been there once, and although he’d felt uncomfortable at first, Rob’s family had made him feel at home. Mr. Washington touched Gerald on the shoulder. “You all right, son?” he asked with genuine concern. Gerald had planned to shrug, laugh, and head to the gym with Rob. But the touch of Rob’s father’s hand on his shoulder seemed to let everything come loose. He tried to hold them back, but tears or fear and worry began to escape from his tightly clenched eyes. Embarrassed, he sniffed and lowered his head. Rob’s father motioned for his son to go on into the building and squatted on the curb next to Gerald. “Let’s go get something to eat, Gerald,” he said quietly. He offered his hand. Gerald sighed, wiped his eyes on his coat sleeve, took the offered hand, and got in the car. Mr. Washington asked no questions at first. At McDonald’s he ordered a cup of coffee and a hot chocolate, got extra cream and sugar for both, and steered Gerald to a booth near the back. Gerald sipped the cocoa gratefully, the warmth of it relaxing him. He thought of Aunt Queen, who loved her black coffee every morning. He knew that Queen would have liked Rob’s dad. She approved of black men in blue suits who had jobs in offices downtown. Mr. Washington had called his office from a pay phone, so he casually read the morning paper while Gerald sat silently, trying to figure out where to start. Discussion Questions 1. What is a role model? 2. What words can you use to describe Mr. Washington? Defend your answer with specific details from the reading. 3. Why do you think Gerald felt he could confide in Mr. Washington? 4. What do you predict will happen next?