Chapter 18:

The Year of Change


Kenneth Bailon and Will Danver were the best of friends during their youth. Ken always stood up for Will whenever the other kids tried to mess with him. Will was grateful and apologized for being so useless all of the time. Whenever Will got depressed this way, Ken would constantly tell him that he's not useless and tried to give him some confidence.

Over the summer of second grade, the two boys tried playing different kinds of sports together. Ken planned to help Will become a popular jock at school. After trying one sport after another, Will developed a penchant for basketball. As the two began to play everyday, Will began to feel more comfortable with the sport. 

Upon starting the next school year, Ken persisted that Will should sign-up for basketball tryouts. After suggesting it for days on end, Will decided to try for the basketball team just to stop Ken from pestering him about it.

After school, Ken and Will went to the gymnasium where the boy's basketball team coach was waiting for new potential team members.

As Will saw the coach criticizing a student who kept fumbling over himself while dribbling the ball, Will turned to Ken with a mortified expression. 

"I change my mind, Kenny," Will stated, anxiously. "I shouldn't even bother..."

Before he could walk back outside, Ken blocked him by leaning against the exit with his arm extended and leaning in towards Will's face. "As if I'd let you back out now," Ken said, aggressively.

"Hey, let me leave. I don't want to be here." Will pleaded but Ken wouldn't budge.

"Come on, dude. The difference between you and that kid is that you know how to dribble. I bet he can't even shoot the ball high enough to reach the hoop."

"Um, excuse us," said a voice from outside. Ken turned his head around and saw two other students trying to get into the gym. One of which was Will's crush, Crystal. The other was a taller boy named Chris. He was Crystal's brother. Chris was the one who was speaking. "Can you let me through? I want to join the basketball team and you're blocking the entrance."

"Oh, right," Ken replied. He moved to the side and said, "In you go, dude."

"Thanks," Chris said, as he walked inside.

Standing by the entrance, Will, Crystal, and Ken looked at one another. At first, Crystal was giving Ken a curious glance. She then dismissed him and looked at Will with a warm smile.

"How are you doing, Will?" Crystal greeted.

"Oh I... I'm good," Will replied, sheepishly.

"Whatcha doing at the gym?"

"Oh, nothing really. I was just um..."

"Trying out for basketball," Ken interjected. 

"Kenny!" Will cried out.

"Oh, that's great!" Crystal stated in an excitable tone. "My little brother wanted to join too."

"Little brother?" Ken questioned, emphasizing the height difference between her and Chris.

"Yes," she replied, coldly. There was an awkward pause before she spoke up again. "He's a year below us and naturally tall for his age."

"Right..." Ken said slowly. He then walked up to Will and smacked his back hard. "Well, good luck today, bro!" He smacked him hard enough to get Will to stumble over slightly. He then twirled away from the gym and began to march off on his own.

As Will regained his balance, he looked over at Ken and shouted, "Hey, you can't just walk away like that!"

Ken flashed him a quick smile and said, "I think I can. Plus you have someone here to keep you company anyway." He was referring to Crystal. "So, I'm gonna take a stroll. I'll come find you when you're done with tryouts. Unless you're gonna be busy after tryouts too." Ken then winked and pranced away.


Crystal then blocked off Will's perception of Ken and started nudging him over to the court. "Forget about him," she said. "What's important now is showing off your skills."

"Okay," Will replied, swept away by Crystal's pushiness.

As Ken walked around, half bored, he overheard a few students speaking in an aggressive tone nearby. He straightened his face and prepared to fight some school bullies as he approached the voices.

He stopped himself from getting closer as he saw a bunch of girls picking on the girl with green hair that Ken had a brief interaction with last year.

What are they going on about? Ken asked himself.

The girl was facing two other girls before her. One girl had her hair in a ponytail and held up a backpack that clearly didn't belong to her. Rummaging through the bag, was a girl with a wider frame who was taller than the others.

"Stop it!" Ari cried out.

"No way, Arianna," replied the girl with a ponytail. "I saw something fishy in here earlier and I wanna see it again up close. Is there something in there you don't want us to see?"

"There's nothing weird in there!"

"I think I found something," stated the taller girl. As she pulled her arm out, she was holding what seemed to be a comic book. There was a super hero on the cover dressed in a light blue costume that matched the color of Ari's wristband. 

"Oh, now I see," scoffed the ponytail girl. "What do we have here?" She yanked the comic book out of tall girl's hands and smacked the cover of the comic with the back of her hand.

"Hey, be careful with that," warned Ari.

"How come? Do you care about this book or whatever it is?"

"N-no..." Ari hesitated as she tried to pretend that the comic book wasn't her's. "Why would I care about a dumb hero comic?"

"Then I bet you won't care if we rip it into pieces!"

"Stop! I um... I was reading that to my little brother last night and must've put it in my bag accidentally. He's going to be really sad if you tear that up!"

"How old is your brother, Arianna? Isn't he still a little infant? He'll get over it!" The ponytail girl then threw the comic over to the tall girl and ordered her to rip it to shreds.

At this moment, Ken leaped out from behind a tree and snatched the comic book out of the tall girl's hands.

The ponytail girl shrieked as Ken seemingly popped out of nowhere. 

"Hey, give that back," said the tall girl, sternly. "I'm supposed to rip that thing in half."

Ari clutched onto her chest as her precious comic book was rescued. She sighed a silent sigh of relief that no one noticed.

"No way!" Ken yelled in excitement. "You have volume two of Splash Hero?! Man, volume one and two were limited print so I didn't have the chance to get them!" He then ran up to Ari and said, "If you have this one, you've gotta have volume one, right?!"

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Ari stated, flustered. Her eyes darted back and forth as she fought back the urge to nerd out with Ken at this moment. "I've never read any of these books on my own before... I only have them because my the brother really liked the art on the volume covers!"

"As if!" Ken scoffed. "I see that thingy on your wrist." He was referring to the aqua wristband with a tidal wave symbol on it.

Ari looked back at her friends nervously for a moment before turning back to Ken. "Shut your mouth!" She tried to stop Ken from saying too much.

"What's your deal?!" Ken retorted. "I just saved your volume of Splash Hero! You should be thankful!"

"I said that it's not mine!" She then removed her wristband and clutched it for a moment. She frantically thought of another lie to use an an excuse. "My... brother also picked this out for me because he liked the color. I didn't know it had anything to do with a nerdy comic book!" She then threw the wristband over in Ken's direction and ran over to the side of the girl with the ponytail. Ken had leaped forward to grab it before it could fall to the ground.

"I guess you aren't a nerdy loser, Arianna," the girl claimed, whether or not she actually believed Ari's excuses.

"Yeah," agreed the tall girl. "You scared me for a second. I was worried that if we were around a nerd that we would get nerd germs."

Ari looked back at Ken one last time before walking away with her friends. Her solemn eyes were glued to her wristband and comic book that were in Ken's hands. She had to force herself to shut her eyes and look away as her friends called out for Ari to follow them.

Ken decided to let them go and clutched onto Ari's wristband along with her comic book. I don't get that girl, he thought to himself. But I'll hold onto these for her in case she wants them back later. But she probably won't take them back in front of her friends. He then got a bad taste in his mouth after thinking about the girls that were picking on Ari. Those girls really piss me off! I can't believe she hangs out with them... Whatever. Who she chooses as her friends is none of my business. Why should I care about that girl anyway? I can't even remember her name. Ken didn't realize it at the time, but he had already felt some sort of closeness with Ari at this point in his life. Will didn't read comic books, so Ken never had anyone to talk about Splash Hero with.

Ken then walked back over to the gym to see how Will was doing. As he walked inside of the gym, he saw Will surrounded by a bunch of boys that were there for tryouts. Ken's first instinct was to go run in and beat them up because he thought they were picking on him. Ken stopped after he heard Will burst out in laughter. Will was having fun with other kids for once, Ken realized.

"Oh man, Chris," Will said, "you're really funny, man."

"Well, I do make my family laugh a lot of the time," Chris boasted.

"Whatever," scoffed Crystal. "I want to talk about how awesome Will is at basketball."

The other boys nearby agreed with Crystal and cheered for Will.

"I'm really not that good," claimed Will. "I only started playing last summer."

"For real?" Chris asked, shocked. "I've been playing ball with my cousins for a long time now, but you're already better than me!"

"I was just feeling lucky today," Will declared.

"Luck doesn't make all those shots you made today."

The coach of the basketball team then said at this time, "Alright, I've seen enough." He walked over to where Will and the others were standing.

All of the boys turned towards the coach and listened intently to what they were saying.

"Will Danver and Chris Rivera will be on our school's basketball B team. That's with all of the second and third graders."

"Woooo!" Chris cheered. "We did it, bro!" He held his hand up for a high five.

Will couldn't believe what he had heard for a moment. He stood frozen until Crystal patted him on the arm and asked if he was alright. 

"Oh, yeah," Will responded. "We really did it. This is awesome!" Excitement finally overcame him and he proudly and triumphantly returned Chris' high five.

"Aw man," whined a boy with blonde hair. "The rest of us didn't get in."

"Bummer," said another.

"We almost could've played with this legend here," said another, referring to Will.

Will continued to talk with everyone here for quite some time.

Ken, who was watching from a distance away let out a sigh. "It looks like he's starting to grow out of his shell," he though aloud. "I can hangout with him tomorrow. He should be with his new friends today." He then adjusted his backpack and smirked. "I've got a comic to check out after all."

Rayner and Blake's Meeting