Kevin jumped out of bed and pulled at the curtains to open them. He glanced outside and groaned. The sun was not yet over the horizon, but snow was falling very heavily and the wind was whipping the trees back and forth. The snow was so thick he couldn’t even see the houses on the other side of the street. Kevin threw himself back on the bed and tried to console himself. Grabbing his iPod off the nightstand nearby, Kevin checked it for messages. There was one new message. Please no, he prayed silently, and he opened the text. The text was exactly what he didn’t want to read. School canceled and that meant no basketball. Today was the last basketball game and Kevin was looking forward to it and now there had to be a snowstorm. “Drat!” Kevin mumbled to himself. Kevin had been out all season from the first game with a broken wrist, and now with a few days of practice under his belt he was going to play in tonight’s final game of the season. Or he was, until school was canceled.
Kevin dragged himself out of bed and slouched down the stairs to the main floor where his mother was busy making breakfast. The pancakes and bacon didn’t improve his mood, even though they were his favorite meal. Kevin just sat in his chair, moodily staring at the wall.
His dad thumped down the stairs wearing a suit and a tie and rubbing his head with a grimace on his face. “Hit my head on the low ceiling again,” Kevin’s father replied to his wife’s inquiring look. Mr. Hargrove was six-foot-ten and very muscular. He dropped his tall ungainly figure into a chair and settled himself down to a plateful of pancakes and bacon. He was halfway done with his plate of breakfast when he noticed that Kevin had eaten nothing. Kevin was tall like his father already at six-foot-one in eighth grade. “Canceled?” Mr. Hargrove asked his wife. She nodded and turned back to the griddle silently.
Kevin looked up from his plate and asked, “May I be excused? I’m not hungry.”
“Not hungry?” his mother asked, pretending to be surprised. “You know I made this especially for you. I want you to at least eat one pancake and one piece of bacon.”
Kevin broke off a tiny piece of bacon and a slightly larger piece of pancake, swallowed them quickly, and washed them down with a glass of orange juice. “Now?” he asked.
“Fine, whatever,” his mother replied impatiently. “Go.” Kevin pushed his chair back and walked upstairs.
As soon as he left, Mrs. Hargrove turned to her husband with a sad look. Mr. Hargrove stood up and took his wife’s hand. “You know how much this means to him, Mary.”
She nodded and said, “Yes, I know, especially after what it meant to you, Tim.”
Mr. Hargrove nodded. He knew what she was talking about. He had been a star in the NBA, but in his third year he had a career-ending injury during a game, injuring his spine so that he could never play again. Kevin had this dream that he could be a star like his father, only without injuring himself. Kevin was only in eighth grade and was better than any boy his age at basketball, and that is why it bothered him so much to have been injured in the first game.
Kevin made himself go downstairs about fifteen minutes later. His parents were talking by the garage door and stopped when they saw him approaching. As he came to say goodbye to his father, his parents came to a silent agreement. “ Kevin,” Mother said slowly, “how about you drive along with your father to his work and use the gym next door? You can spend the entire day there. Here is some money,” Mrs. Hargrove said, handing him ten dollars, “to buy lunch with at the Pizza Hut next door. Will you be OK being there by yourself?”
Kevin nodded. He had spent many days in that gym all by himself in the summer when his mother worked and he wasn’t at any of his friends’ houses.
“All right then,” his father clapped. “I definitely don’t want to be late for my meeting, so let’s get going.” Kevin grabbed his basketball and hopped in the car with his father.
A few minutes later Kevin stretched as he stepped out of the red Corvette his father drove. “See ya, Dad,” Kevin called as he slammed the door and his father pulled away around the corner. Kevin opened the door to the building, showed his pass to the clerk, and walked on to the gym. A fun day in the gym by myself, thought Kevin. He was wrong about one thing. He wouldn’t be alone.
As he walked through the open door to the gym it seemed empty, as usual. He ran to barely behind the three-point line, lined up, and, with perfect form, took a shot. Swish! “Yes!” he muttered to himself and ran to get the ball. After three more shots he was startled by someone standing up from under the bleachers on the left. “AHH!” Kevin shouted. “Don’t do that!” he said, startled.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” said the boy. The boy’s voice sounded different from any voice Kevin had heard before.
“Well, what were you doing under there? Did you drop your phone?” Kevin asked.
“No,” the boy replied. “I was just looking for something to do.”
“Oh,” Kevin replied. The other boy came and stood a few feet away from Kevin. Kevin had to stop himself from pinching his nose at the smell of the other boy. He smelled like he hadn’t taken a shower in months. Kevin didn’t recognize him from the school he went to. Kevin just tried to keep the conversation going. “Where are you from? I haven’t seen you before.”
“I-I-I,” the boy stuttered, then said in a rush, “I went to another school a few cities away but then my parents died in a fire and now I live with my uncle who works nearby and he said I need to come and get some exercise but I think he said it to get me out of the way and so I came here and I will start school on Monday…”
“Whoa, slow down. It’s OK,” Kevin said as the boy began to cry about his loss of parents. “I’m sorry about your mom and dad,” Kevin said, then asked, “Well, what are you doing here? Without a basketball, I mean.” Kevin continued without waiting for the other boy to answer. “But since you’re here for exercise and I’ve got a ball, you can share with me.”
“I don’t know how to play basketball,” the boy replied nervously.
Kevin was shocked, but all he said was, “OK, then I guess I can teach you.” Kevin was thinking in his brain how annoying it would be and that all he really just wanted was to get rid of the boy, but he remained nice and hoped that the boy would just leave soon.
“Really?” the other boy smiled a full smile. “You will teach me how to play?” he asked, not believing.
“Sure,” Kevin replied. “By the way, my name’s Kevin.”
“My-my name’s Arthur,” the boy stammered.
And just like that, Kevin began teaching Arthur how to play basketball. As he began to teach, he saw an odd run the boy had and how his face was a little different. He remembered the boy saying that his uncle wanted him out of the way. That’s what it is, Kevin thought, he must have a mental disability. I wonder if he has any friends because of it. I know my parents would be proud if I made a friend with Arthur, but what if my other friends at school found out? Maybe they wouldn’t like me anymore. Then Kevin made up his mind. He knew what he had to do. “Arthur,” he asked, “I would like to be your friend.”
Arthur turned to stare at him the same way as when Kevin offered to teach him how to play basketball. “You are asking me to be your friend? I’ve never had a friend before.”
“Well, I’ll be the first, Arthur,” Kevin said, smiling, knowing in his heart that he had chosen the right thing to do.
Kevin spent the rest of the day patiently teaching Arthur all he knew about basketball. There were times when Kevin wanted to yell, but he stayed patient, and by the end of the day Arthur knew all about basketball, even though he had a small problem of traveling. “Need a ride home?” Kevin asked Arthur as his dad pulled up. The snow had stopped and everything was a white, sparkly surface.
“No, I’ll walk. Bye, friend.”
Kevin tried to insist on a ride, but Arthur just walked toward his home and called louder, “Bye, friend!” So Kevin shouted goodbye back.
That night Kevin fell asleep dreading what his friends would think and remembering Arthur’s smile.
* * *
Monday morning Kevin woke up ready for school. He hurried through breakfast and hopped on the bus. When he arrived at school he didn’t see Arthur all day until his last class of the day, PE. Today the teachers let the students pick their teams for a basketball game and Kevin chose his closest three friends and Arthur. When his team took the floor Kevin knew the game was going to be tough, even though he was by far the best individual in the whole middle school. Despite Kevin swishing three three-pointers, Kevin’s team was down by one with a minute left. Getting a steal, Kevin took it down the court and scored, and Kevin’s team was up by one. Then the other team scored a jump shot two-pointer with seventeen seconds left. Then Kevin, directing the offense, saw the other team double-teaming him and leaving Arthur wide open. With a ball fake and a bounce pass, he passed it to Arthur. Arthur, surprised at getting the ball, traveled with it as time expired. Kevin closed his eyes and forced himself to remember that it was just a game, but inside he was disappointed that his team didn’t win. One of his friends came up to him and complained, “Come on, man, why did you pass it to him?” The way his friend said him made Kevin get angry.
“Don’t blame Arthur!” he shouted. “As of Friday he didn’t even know how to play basketball.”
“Oh, well, that makes it all right then!” his friend retorted and stomped away.
Kevin turned around and asked the rest of his teammates, “If you question what I did back there, don’t. Any of you could have made the same mistake, so don’t blame Arthur. If you must blame anyone, blame me.” He looked each of his friends in the eyes and they all nodded. Kevin was right.
Just then the PE teacher, who happened to be the eighth-grade basketball coach, came up and told Kevin, “Hey, I just heard that they rescheduled the last game to this Friday.”
“Sweet!” Kevin grinned, then thought of something. “Coach,” he said, “I want you to let Arthur be on the basketball team. I want him to practice with us this week and play the game on Friday.” Kevin’s basketball coach was an amiable man and readily agreed. As soon as Coach Tom moved on to tell the other boys on the basketball team about the rescheduled game, Kevin hurried over to Arthur. Arthur was still standing where he had traveled. Kevin told him it was OK and that the game didn’t really matter. Then Kevin told Arthur that he could play on the basketball team. Arthur’s eyes lit up again.
“That would be awesome to play with you,” Arthur said. So it was decided. Arthur practiced with the team and with Kevin and improved every day, but there were still many trials for the both of them. Every time the other kids on the basketball team got a chance, they dissed Arthur and yelled at Kevin for inviting him on the team. Through it all Kevin remained unmoved, but sometimes it was hard for Arthur.
“You wish you hadn’t invited me to be on the basketball team,” Arthur would say, and Kevin would try and tell him that he was wrong, but he wondered if Arthur actually believed him.
* * *
Finally, Friday came around and Kevin’s team was on the bench getting a last-minute pep talk from their coach. “Guys,” he said, “I know how much you want this win tonight, but just remember to still have fun. Indians on three! One, two, three, INDIANS!” The rest of the team joined in on the last word.
The opposing team, the Rockets, was the best in the state and had beaten Kevin’s team two years in a row. Now it was different, though, because the other team’s best player broke his arm, so the teams were a little more even.
Kevin won the tip and his team took it down the court and scored a layup. The Rockets raced down the court, though, and scored a basket of their own. They went back and forth like that the entire game with Kevin draining a couple of three-pointers. Arthur hadn’t played yet, even though it was the start of the fourth quarter. Finally, Coach Tom decided to put him in. As soon as Arthur got the ball a whistle was blown on him for traveling. “It’s OK,” Kevin told him.
Kevin’s team hung in the game until there were thirty seconds left and his team was up one. Kevin passed it to Arthur; Arthur took a shot and air-balled. The Rockets took the ball down the court and Arthur’s man scored on him. Arthur looked ready to cry, and Kevin told him it was OK again and dribbled the ball down the court. Kevin looked over and saw a sub waiting, probably to replace Arthur. The sub wasn’t going to be able to come in because Kevin’s coach had already used all his timeouts. When there were five seconds left, Kevin saw the other team double-teaming him and leaving Arthur open. Without hesitation Kevin passed it to him, and Arthur got a wild look in his eyes but he shot anyway. The ball fell. And dropped through the net as the clock expired! Arthur had won the game! Kevin shouted with joy and ran over to Arthur as the team swarmed them. Kevin hugged Arthur and whispered, “You did it, friend.” Arthur just smiled a wide smile.