“So, Ben,” my sister Liz asked me one afternoon. “Did you give it any more thought?”
“Did I give any more thought to what?” I asked.
“You know,” Liz said, “the musical instrument thing. Did you decide what instrument you’re going to try.”
“Eh, I don’t know about that, Liz,” I responded, “I don’t really think I want to start playing an instrument now.”
“Why not? It’s a great way to spend your free time during the off-season,” Liz responded. “Plus, if you learn an instrument, we can play duets.”
“Duets? Since when do you play an instrument?” I asked.
“I played recorder in fourth grade,” Liz said. “That’s technically an instrument.”
“So we’re going to have duets with your recorder from six years ago and what, exactly? What instrument do you think I should play? Recorder, too?” I asked, incredulous.
“How about french horn?” Liz asked.
“French horn and recorder duets?” I asked back to Liz, still incredulous. “Do those really go together?”
“Forget about the duets for a second. French horn is a great idea. I mean, it’s a challenging instrument to play, but think about it. If you start now, you could get really good. Who knows where it could take you? Maybe one day you’d play next to Sarah Willis!”
“Sarah Willis? Who’s that?” I asked, confused.
“You don’t know who Sarah Willis is? Do I have to explain everything to you? Sarah Willis plays french horn in the Berlin Philharmonic, but does so much more cool stuff, too, online and on TV. Maybe if you get really good, you could play with her.”
“Okay, Liz,” I said, walking away. “I’ll think about it.”
I decided to just stick with basketball.
In school the next morning, I saw my best friend, William.
“Hey, what’s up?” he asked me.
“Not much,” I replied. “I decided to follow your advice, and dedicate the off-season to practicing basketball. Want to shoot hoops after school today?”
“Sounds good,” William said. “At your house, or at the park?”
“Whatever you want,” I said.
William said, “Let’s meet at the park at four, then. “Who knows? Maybe other people will be there and we can get a game going.”
“Sure thing,” I said. “See you then.”
I got to the Johnson Park basketball courts at 4:02, according to my watch.
“You’re late, Taylor!” I heard William’s call out from the closest court. We were the only ones at the park.
I jogged over to William before responding to him.
“It’s 4:02 right now. You’re seriously giving me a hard time about a couple of minutes?” I said, smiling a little in disbelief. He couldn’t actually be serious.
“Hey, you never know what you can accomplish with a few extra minutes,” William retorted, smiling, and hoisted up a shot.
William’s shot missed long, and I chased down the rebound. I dribbled once to my right and fired up a shot that missed short and bounced back in my direction..
I picked up the ball, dribbled again, and shot. This time, the ball swished through the hoop.
“You know what they say,” I called back to William, smiling. “Better late than never.”
We shot around for about ten minutes before two other boys got to the park and started playing on the far court. I didn’t recognize them. One looked about our age and the other one looked like he was a couple years older, based on his height. William and I kept shooting, but also kept an eye on the other boys.
After a few minutes, William walked up to me, pointed to the boys playing on the other court, and asked me quietly. “Hey, want to challenge them to a game of two-on-two?”
“You mean you and me versus those two guys?” I asked back.
“No,” William said sarcastically. “You and Lebron James versus those two guys. I just have to call him first to see if he’s available.” William paused for a half-second before saying, “Yes, of course I mean us two versus them two. Got a problem with that?”
“Only that one of those guys looks really tall. And really good. You gonna guard him?” I said back to William.
“No, you’d take him. You’re the better defender,” William said, serious.
“I think I’ll pass, then. Let’s just keep shooting together. If you want, we can play one-on-one, just ourselves.” I said back to William.
“Whatever you say, Taylor,” William said, and we went back to playing.
William and I played basketball many more times at the park over the next several months. About half the time, we ended up playing against other guys who came to the park. I saw that same tall guy a few more times, but I never had the guts to challenge him to a game. He seemed a lot taller and stronger than I was, and even though I considered myself a really good player for my age, I didn’t want to risk being embarrassed on the court.
The new school year starting meant that our first basketball practices were only weeks away. At Ridgeview, Coach Jones was particular about having a small, disciplined team, and most of our players from last year would be returning to the team again this year. William and I would of course be the starting guards, and we’d really just need to fill in a few roster spots left open by the players who graduated eighth grade.
On the first day of school, I saw William.standing just inside the entrance of the building.
“Hey, Taylor, you’re late!” William called to me, with a serious look on his face.
“No I’m not,” I said back. “The first bell isn’t for another ten minutes.”
“Fair enough,” William said back, now smiling.
“Will, are you excited?” I asked, slapping him on the back.
“For what?” William asked back. “The first day of school? No way. School’s fine, but there are definitely other places I’d rather be right now. Like home, eating crackers.”
“Crackers?” I asked back, incredulous. “You’re imagining a place you’d rather be. You could have picked any food for your dream snack, and you picked crackers? Like, plain crackers? Nothing on them?”
“I mean, it’s not my favorite,” William said back defensively. “We just happen to have crackers in the house right now.”
“Whatever you say, William.” I said, starting to walk down the hallway to my first period class. “I hope you’ll get a chance to at least eat some crackers after–” I stopped in the middle of my sentence, and stopped walking, too.
“Lighten up, Ben. It’s just crackers. A simple, yet tasty snack.” William said.
“Forget about the crackers,” I said back to William, in a low voice. “He’s here.”
“Who?” William asked, looking around for who I was talking about.
“Him,” I said, gesturing with my head to my left side. “The guy from the park that I never wanted to play against. Does he go to our school now or something?”
“Let’s find out,” William responded, and starting walking toward him. I followed.
William reached the kid about two steps before I did, and cordially greeted him. I don’t know if I would have had the guts to just walk up to someone new and say hello, but William had always been braver than me. Maybe it was the crackers…
“Hey,” said William, “I’m William Lee. I’m in seventh grade. That’s Ben Taylor.”
I mustered a meek wave. The tall boy nodded his head back at me.
“Are you new here?” William asked.
“Yeah,” the boy said. “I’m Gerald Moore. My family moved to the neighborhood from Chicago this past summer, so I switched to Ridgeview. I’m also in seventh grade.”
He’s only in seventh grade? Granted, he has the face of a seventh grader, but he has the height and build of someone in ninth or tenth grade.
“Cool,” William said. “You look familiar. Did you ever go to Johnson park to play ball last summer?”
“Yeah,” Gerald responded. “Great park. Great courts. I went there a few times, even last spring, when my parents were visiting the area.”
So it was the same guy!
“You know,” I chimed in, my voice cracking a little, “we’re on the school basketball team. I’m the starting point guard and William’s the shooting guard. Tryouts are starting in just a few weeks. You should join the team. Our small forward from last year graduated, so maybe you could take his spot in the starting lineup.”
“Thanks, I heard a little about the basketball team, and I’m definitely going to come to tryouts. I don’t really play forward, though. I’m more of a point guard myself. My coaches always want to play me at forward because I’m tall, but I like playing guard much more.
Oh man. Baby Lebron James just transferred to our school, and he wants to take my spot on the basketball team. Seems like tryouts are going to be a lot higher stakes than I thought they would be.
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