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“I’m open; I’m open!” yelled Henry as he darted across the forest, swinging from tree to tree. Monte and Jack, Henry’s older brothers, passed the basketball back and forth to each other until Jack made it to the basket and scored.
“You guys didn’t pass it to me,” whined Henry as he hopped down from the tree. “I was open the whole time.”
“Ohh, we know,” chuckled Monte. “We were playing monkey in the middle!” Jack and Monte laughed so hard that they could barely stand up. As they were rolling around on the ground in laughter, Henry looked at his brothers and wondered how they could be so mean.
Monte and Jack were a sophomore and a junior in high school. They were always talking to each other more than they talked to Henry, which made Henry really sad.
Henry, who had been growing up like any normal monkey would, was 14 and was just beginning high school. He had lived Oakville, a small town, his whole life. Alex, the panda, was Henry’s best friend and had been for as long as Henry could remember. Alex was always there, and they helped each other whenever it was needed. He was a very large panda and had black spots all over his body. Alex was like a teddy bear. He always had advice and was the friendliest animal in school.
Henry was the same height and the same weight as everybody else and had the same ears and the same long tail, but something about Henry was different. As he was growing up, his right arm had begun to look a little longer than his left, and when he got into high school, there was a definite change in lengths. Henry didn’t always notice that it was different because he had to see it every day, but when Henry wanted to be involved in his school activities, nobody accepted him. He was not the best athlete in the school, but he tried so hard to fit in and play on every team.
Billy, the hippo, was the school’s bully. He was a very big hippo, and nobody wanted to get in his way. He liked to push and shove people around, but he acted so nice around all the teachers. They thought he was such a nice boy. He also liked to make fun of everybody, but for some reason he especially liked to make fun of Henry. Every day as Billy walked down the hall, he had something mean to say to Henry.
The monkey ball season was rolling around, and everybody was getting excited. Even Henry would run around his house yelling, “Monkey ball! Monkey ball!” What Henry didn’t know was that this year would be something completely different. In middle school, Henry had been able to play quite a bit because it was just for fun. Nobody had made fun of him or called him names.
“I think I am going to go out for monkey ball this year,” Henry said as he and Alex were walking to the ice cream shop.
“You are going out for monkey ball?” questioned Alex. He knew he couldn’t say anything to Henry because it would hurt his feelings, but Alex didn’t like Henry’s idea.
“Yeah, why not?” Henry replied. “I think it will be fun, plus I’ll get to play with Jack and Monte!”
Alex turned away and kept walking but sighed and said, “I . . . I don’t know if it’s a good idea, but if you want to, I’ll be there to watch you.”
“Yes, this is what I want to do! Thanks, Alex!” Henry said as he jumped on him. “You’re the best friend anyone could ask for!”
Alex hugged Henry and smiled. He knew how much this would mean for him to be there, and he didn’t want to let Henry down. Henry bounced down, and they kept walking. Henry was blabbing away about how excited he was to start monkey ball. They finished eating their ice cream and headed back home.
Henry skipped down the path to his house yelling and screaming. As he walked in his house, he was excited to tell everybody the good news.
“Guys, guys I am going to go out for monkey ball! I am so excited to start!!” Henry screamed as soon as he entered the house. His parents looked at him, gave him a fake smile, and just nodded their heads.
“Henry, sweetie,” his mom said as she walked over to him, “are you sure you want to do this?”
“Yes, I am positive. I have never played in an actual game besides middle school, and I really want to play with Jack and Monte. It is going to be so much fun!” said Henry bouncing off the walls as he was talking because as he was so excited since he didn’t recognize the sadness on his mom’s face.
Henry’s dad stopped him and sat him down, “Son, I am afraid to tell you that you will probably not play that much. The coach will look at your arm and play other people.” He did not like telling him this, because he knew Henry would not understand. They always told him to do whatever he wanted to do, but this was different. They did not want to see their youngest son get hurt. They knew that Jack and Monte were very good monkey ball players, and with Henry trying out, they would make fun of him.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about Dad,” Henry said as he got up and grabbed his basketball, trying to dribble it. “I am going out for monkey ball no matter what!”
He didn’t like what his parents had told him, but that was not going to stop him. He walked out of the living room and went outside to practice his shooting. He would miss a few, and then make one. He thought he was pretty good.
“What are they thinking,” Henry said aloud to himself. “I am going to play. My arm is not going to stop me.” He stayed outside for quite a while before he began getting tired. He went back inside, said good night to his parents, and climbed in bed. He lay there for a long time, not tired anymore because tomorrow was the start of what he thought would be the greatest time of his life. It was the beginning of monkey ball practice.
Henry woke up extra early the next day. He couldn’t sleep any longer because he was too excited.
“Good morning, Mom! Good morning, Dad,” Henry said as he leaned in to kiss them both. “Well, I’m off to school, and I won’t be home until late because I have practice! I will be sure to walk home with Jack and Monte after practice because Alex has a band lesson.”
“Have a great time, Henry.” His parents said as he walked out the door.
As Henry walked out the door of his house he saw Alex coming towards him.
“Hey, Alex!” Henry shouted as he saw him walk up the road. Henry and Alex walked to school together every day.
“Hey, Henry. Are you excited for monkey ball?” Alex replied.
Henry jumped up and down, screeching and yelling. “Ohh, I am very excited, Alex! I can’t wait for practice after school. I get to swing through the trees again and shoot some hoops.”
“Well good. I hope you do very well out there. But, Henry, please do not get hurt. Those guys are pretty big,” Alex said as he gave Henry a little nudge.
“Alex, Alex, don’t you worry,” Henry said as he laughing. “I am way too quick for those big guys. They will never be able to stop me!”
“Ha-ha,” Alex chuckled as he opened the door of the school for Henry, “We will see about that. Have a good day, Henry.”
“You too, Alex! See ya in lunch,” Henry said a few steps ahead of Alex.
As Henry sat in his classes all day, he couldn’t help but look up at the clock. Every time he looked up, only a minute had gone by. He rolled his eyes and lay his head on his desk. It was finally lunch time, and Alex met up with him in the lunch room.
Alex ran up behind Henry and gave him a little slap on the head. “Hey there! How’s it going?”
“It’s terrible, Alex. I can’t sit still in class, and I am always looking at the clock. I wish that the day would go by faster, so then I could just go to practice,” whined Henry.
Alex looked at Henry and rolled his eyes, “Henry, it will come soon, just be patient. Plus I think practice will be a lot harder than you think it will.”
Sighing and rolling his eyes, Henry said, “It is taking way too long Alex. I just want it to be here now. And how hard could monkey ball practice actually be?”
“I just think it’s going to be hard for you, but maybe you will do better than I think,” Alex said as they were walking to the table.
“Whatever you say”, said a mumbling Henry as he began to munch on his pizza, “but I still think it is going to be easy. I will tell you about it when I get home.”
Henry and Alex were finishing up their lunch when they heard a loud rumbling noise coming towards them.
“Please don’t let it be Billy,” Henry prayed.
“Hey, losers, I see you guys have lots of friends,” said Billy as he looked at Henry and Alex’s table, where only those two sat. “Hey, Henry, I heard you were going out for monkey ball this year. That should be very entertaining. How are you going to play with that giraffe arm of yours? HA-HA!” Of course, Henry just looked at his pizza and did not say a word. He did not want to get into anything with Billy because he was just starting monkey ball. Billy finally walked away and Alex and Henry could breathe again.
“Don’t let him bother you, Henry,” Alex said as he patted Henry on the shoulder. “Just go out there tonight and play your best!”
Still looking down at his pizza, Henry sighed and said, “Thanks, Alex, but I just don’t get why he has to be so mean. I have to get to class. I will see you in science.”
“Okay! Bye, Henry!” Alex shouted as Henry ran across the cafeteria.
The day had finally ended, and it was time for Henry to go to practice. He jumped out of his chair when the bell rang and rushed to the locker room.
“Hey, guys,” Henry shouted to all of his teammates as he entered the locker room. “Are you guys excited to get started? I know I sure am.”
Henry could not stop talking. He was so excited. Everybody just stared at Henry as he threw his clothes around on the floor, trying to hurry to the court.
The monkey ball team had to take a bus out to the field because they played in the forest. The game often got very complicated. Only five players per team could be on the court at the same time. They were the same rules as a regular basketball game except for a few exceptions. There was no traveling in monkey ball because they were able to swing through the trees, but they can only swing on three vines before they have to pass the ball. After that, if they made their way to the basket, they could score! It was a very simple and fun game.
When Henry first got on the bus, he felt a little lonely because Alex was not with him, and they were always together. The bus pulled up to the forest, and everybody got out. As he was walking off the bus, he heard that familiar voice. It was Billy’s, the bully’s, voice, and he didn’t know what to do. Billy didn’t play monkey ball. He couldn’t because he was not a monkey. Henry tried to ignore him and hoped that Billy didn’t notice him, but he did.
“Well, look what we have here,” shouted Billy. “Looks like our little, or should I say long- armed, friend is with us today. I came out to the forest just to watch you, Henry!”
“Leave him alone, Billy,” said a voice from the back of the bus.
“Whatever,” Billy shouted back, and he walked away. Jack and Monte were waiting for Billy. As he walked by, they stuck out their hands for Billy to high five. Henry saw this, and it made him very sad.
Mr. Johnson, the team’s coach, got out and directed everybody to the court. “Alright,” he shouted, “welcome to monkey ball practice. Today we will just be staying on the ground to practice our fundamentals. Sooner or later we will get up to the trees. Now everybody get a partner and a ball. We are going to practice dribbling.”
Henry began to look around to see who his partner could be, but nobody else was looking for a partner. He decided he would just go alone.
He was walking over to the balls when Billy shouted his name. “Henry, catch!” At that time Henry looked up to see a ball flying at his face. Smack! Henry started falling backwards, trying to catch himself, but it didn’t help. He landed straight into a mud puddle. Everybody broke into laughter, even Jack and Monte.
“Stop that, Billy,” demanded Mr. Johnson, “Now let’s get started, and Billy you can go home. You are not even supposed to be here.”
They began by dribbling back and forth. Henry was pretty good at dribbling, but when it came time for catching, passing and shooting the ball, he was not so good.
The passing lines started, Henry picked up the ball and tried passing it with two hands to Larry. The ball flew high in the air and landed only a few feet in front of him. Once again, everybody started laughing.
“Stop laughing at me,” Henry screamed. “It isn’t funny.” After he shouted, he began to run. Henry sprinted as fast as he could, and with people running behind him, they were shouting, “Go home, cry baby. Go home to your mommy.”
Wiping his eyes full of tears, he kept running. He didn’t know where to go. He finally stopped and was in the city park. He walked over to the lake and sat down on a stump. He kept crying and crying.
“Why does everybody hate me?” he wondered. “I just don’t get it. I am trying my hardest.”
He sat there for a long time. And then he heard a noise. As he turned around, Alex was standing next to him.
“Your mom called me, wondering where you went and if you were with me. She said you didn’t come home when Jack and Monte came home, and they told her that you went with me to go get ice cream, but when I answered the phone, she started to get worried. So what happened out there?”
Henry wiped his tears again. “Everybody was making fun of me. Billy chucked a ball at my face, and it really hurt. Then we had to pass the ball to our partners, and I couldn’t throw it. Larry laughed and Jack and Monte laughed, and Billy laughed even harder. I just wanted to play really bad. I should have listened to you.”
Patting Henry’s back, Alex said, “Well, I knew this was going to happen, but I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. I knew you wanted to play so bad, so I agreed. Henry, with your arm, you won’t be as good as everybody else. Maybe you have a special talent that nobody else does. Did you practice swinging in the trees? That has to be your talent. You have a great advantage of grabbing the vines with your longer arm and being able to swing farther than anyone else!”
“No,” Henry said, “we were just working on the easy things today, the easy things that I can’t do. You’re right though; I am pretty good at swinging in trees. I am fast because I can grab the vines that are farther away. With my long arms I am able to swing faster and faster!” This was making Henry more excited. He was beginning to feel better. “Ohh, thank you, Alex! You are always here to help me. Now let’s go home and show everybody what I can do.”
Henry and Alex walked through town until they were at Henry’s house.
“Henry!” shouted his mom. “Where were you?”
Henry looked down at his feet. “Well, everybody was making fun of me at practice, so I just ran. I went to the park, and sat there for a while.”
“JACK, MONTE! Get down here this instant!” Henry’s mom was beginning to get furious. Jack and Monte slowly made their way down the stairs and stood in front of their mom.
“Why didn’t you tell me that Henry had a bad practice? And then you couldn’t tell me that he ran away? What brothers you are!”
“Mom, it’s really okay. I don’t care anymore. Alex came and talked to me about it, and I really think I have a special talent. I think I am going to go to practice again tomorrow and show them! I can really do this, Mom. I know I can!”
Henry knew that the next day would be a hard day at school. However, he had more confidence than he ever had before.
As he met Alex outside his door, he said, “Good morning, Alex. Today is going to be a good day. I am ready for Billy to bully me again. I know I can take it!”
“Well then,” Alex replied, “let’s go to school!”
As Henry and Alex walked in the front doors of their school, everybody stared at Henry. He stopped right behind Alex and was shocked.
“Alex, what do I do?” Henry said with his body shaking tremendously.
Alex turned around and looked Henry in the eye. “Remember you are ready for this. Don’t let what other people say to you break your heart. You have your own special talent that everyone will be jealous of!”
“Alex, you’re great! Thank you,” Henry said with a big smile, and he marched through the hallways with confidence.
The whole day was better than Henry had expected. He didn’t see Billy at all in the hallways, and when he saw him in class, he ignored him.
After school, all of the monkeys gathered all of the equipment for practice and went to the bus. Henry walked on the bus with his head up high and stomped his way right passed Jack and Monte. He went straight to the back of the bus where only the good players sat.
“Excuse me. What are you doing back here?” said Bobby, one of the better monkey ball players.
“I am going to sit back here today if you don’t mind,” Henry replied with a smirk on his face.
Bobby looked at Henry with an angry face and said, “What makes you think you can sit here?”
“I am going to sit here because it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. It is just a bus seat. Get over it,” said Henry, standing up to face Bobby.
Bobby looked at Henry again and walked away. Jack and Monte also looked at Henry, wondering who their brother had become. They knew that after practice the day before, Henry had been really hurt.
The bus pulled up to the forest, and everybody trampled off. Once again, Henry heard Billy’s voice from a distance.
“Hey, long-arm. Did you go cry to your mommy?” roared Billy.
Henry stepped right up to Billy and looked up into his eyes. “Billy, you don’t scare me anymore. Ever since I was a little monkey, you have been a bully to me, and I have had enough. I don’t know why you always make fun of me because you don’t even play monkey ball.”
“What’s your point, Henry?” Billy said. “I don’t want to play monkey ball. Get up there and show me your talent.”
Henry ran over to the balls and picked up the best one. He climbed his way up the trees and held onto a vine. Now he was getting nervous. I can do this. I need to show Billy that I am good.
“Come on, guys,” yelled Henry from the trees, “I need someone to play against.”
The other monkeys all climbed up to the trees and joined Henry in a game. Mr. Johnson blew his whistle, and the game began. Henry passed the ball over to Larry and swung his way to a vine that was far away.
“Larry, I’m open,” yelled Henry. At that time, Larry looked at Henry and passed him the ball. Henry was very surprised that he had passed it to him. Henry leaped and swung his way through the forest so fast that the defensive player couldn’t even see him go by. Before everyone knew it, he had scored! It was dead silent before everyone started cheering.
“We knew you could do it!” Jack and Monte said with smiles on their faces.
“Thanks, guys. I love you!” laughed Henry so happily that he planted a juicy kiss on both of their cheeks.
Everyone hopped down from the trees, all hugging Henry.
Billy walked up and said, “Nice job, Henry. I am really sorry that I made fun of you for so long. I guess you are pretty good at monkey ball.”
“Ohh thanks, Billy! I always knew you were a pretty nice guy,” Henry said and gave Billy a huge hug.
Henry’s high school days were great after that game. Everybody talked to him and never made fun of him again. He was the star monkey ball player from then on. Henry and Alex remained best friends, but they also added a lot more friends into their lives. Henry now had the best life ever!