Vicky’s trophy was almost the same as mine. Almost.
The metallic figurine serving a tennis ball on the top of hers had a pony tail. Mine didn’t. And hers was on a pedestal that was a foot high — two inches taller than mine.
A black Honda Prelude rolled up to the curb in front of the SportsCastle. The passenger door popped open. I pushed the seat forward and climbed in the back. Vicky pushed the seat back and climbed in the front.
“Look Dad!” Vicky waved her trophy. “First place.”
“First place? See, I knew you could do it, honey.” Dad didn’t look surprised.
“That’s pretty good for a girl,” I teased. “Try the boys’ competition. It’s a lot harder.”
“You’re just saying that because you only took second place. Which is not bad, for the little boys’ division,” she taunted.
That was sort of true. I was in the eleven-to-twelve age group. Vicky was with the thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds.
“Second place, is that right, Champ?” asked Dad with his head turned to see over the driver’s seat while chewing on gum with his mouth open.
Dad has called me Champ for as long as I can remember. My real name is Jacob. Jacob Fenton.
“Yeah,” I sighed, unsure whether he was disappointed or proud of me. “There was this kid, Chad Hickland, who beat me. He’s like a foot taller than me.”
“You’re the tallest 12-year-old I know. How could he be taller than you?”
“Come on. He’s only three or four inches taller,” said Vicky.
“I don’t think he’s really twelve,” I said. “He looks more like he’s fifteen.”
“You’ll do better next time, Champ. Second place is not bad.”
My head jerked back when Dad hit the gas pedal.
“You should have seen how Jacob beat Barry Plurkin,” Vicky started to tell Dad. “He hit the ball so hard, it hit Barry in the stomach and knocked the wind out of him.”
“Yeah, and that’s not even the best part.” I took over the story. I wanted to tell it to Dad myself. “When he lifted up his shirt, there was a red circle on his stomach where the ball had hit him. And you could see a white number seven backwards in the middle of the circle.”
“I don’t get it,” said Dad. “Why the number seven?”
“Because that was the number on the tennis ball,” explained Vicky.
“Did you really do that, Champ?” I wasn’t sure whether Dad was proud or concerned.
“I didn’t do it on purpose!” I laughed. “But I won that game, and that’s how I got to advance to the final round against Chad. Oh, and Barry took fourth place. So he didn’t even get a trophy.”
“Is that right, Champ? You can show those trophies to Mom when we get home. I think she’s cooking up something special for you right now.” Dad looked over his shoulder to talk to us half the time while he was driving. That’s just the way he drove. Sometimes it bothered me, but he thought he was immune from having an accident.
“Hey, the Nuggets pulled off a win against the Oklahoma Thunder this afternoon. If this playoff round goes to seven games, they’ll come back to Denver next Friday. And I’ve got first dibs on tickets.” Dad is a freelance sportswriter. He always scores awesome seats at games. Usually right behind the home team. “Are you in?”
“Count me in.” I said.
“How about you, Vicky? Are you in?”
Dad didn’t have a special nickname for Vicky like he did for me. He didn’t need one. Vicky is short for Victoria, which is the girl’s name for Victor, which means winner. So every time Dad says Vicky’s name, it’s like he’s already calling her a winner.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” she affirmed.
When we got home, Vicky and I ran into the kitchen to show off our trophies to Mom.
“Well isn’t that something! See, I knew you could pull it off,” she said. She looked straight at us while she talked. Her eyes barely glanced at the trophies in our hands. She put on an oven mitt and turned around. “Now go and put those away and shower off. Dinner will be served shortly.”
We took our trophies downstairs to the trophy room. We used to keep them in a big glass case in the living room, but a couple of summers ago Mom said that it was just too much. It was cluttering up her living room, and she couldn’t stand it anymore. She made Dad move the whole case downstairs to what used to be the storage room. He didn’t like the idea too much because it made it harder to show off our trophies to his friends. But we helped him clean out the room, and there’s more space for all of our trophies and awards now.
We hung certificates, ribbons, and plaques on the wall. We never got to do that in the living room. Like that certificate I got from the library for winning a 300-word essay contest on Black History Month. My essay and the runners up were posted on the walls of the library for the whole month of February for everyone to read.
Next to that certificate there’s a framed photo of me flipping the switch to light the Christmas tree at the tree-lighting ceremony at Mega Mall two Christmases ago. Technically speaking, it was the day after Thanksgiving. I got to do that because I won the poetry contest on the topic “Kids’ Holiday Wish for a Better World.” I also got a twenty-five-dollar gift certificate to spend at any store in Mega Mall.
Vicky’s writing has never won any awards. She’s more of an artist. She hung her winning drawings on the wall. Like the pencil drawing that won first prize in a city-wide art contest for Arbor Day. It showed people sitting on a park bench enjoying the shade of a tree.
She also won an honorable mention with an oil pastel drawing of disabled children playing together happily on a playground that looks like a globe. It was for a contest sponsored by the children’s hospital.
Another good thing about the trophy room was that we could put the case in the middle of the room instead of against the wall, which made it easier to use because it had sliding glass on both sides. One side was now Vicky’s. The opposite side was mine.
Inside the case there were three shelves. The bottom shelf was the tallest, so we could put the tallest trophies in there. Like the one for the time Dad coached my little league team, the Tigers, to the state championship. That was fourth grade. That trophy was as much Dad’s as it was mine.
The middle shelf was the shortest. We put small trophies and cups there. Like the golden cups I got for winning a ping pong championship three years in a row. And a badminton trophy that was shaped like a birdie resting on its tip. And a small trophy with a figurine of a skier for cross-country skiing. All the finishers got one.
The top shelf had room for medium-sized trophies. Like the one I brought home today. I had already moved things around to make a space for it. Right between a first-place bowling trophy from last year and a second-place Tae Kwon Do trophy from two years ago. Unfortunately, the new tennis trophy wasn’t quite as tall as I expected. As Vicky placed hers on the shelf, it nearly touched the ceiling of the case. Mine was a couple of inches shy.
I slid shut the door on my side, and Vicky did the same with hers. We both stood there for a moment, admiring the newest additions to our collection.
And then, something didn’t feel right.
I used to think it was the greatest feeling whenever I would place a new trophy in the case. But recently I was beginning to get this feeling that something was missing.
I wondered if Vicky had the same doubts.
“Do you think that there’s more to life than winning?”
“No. Why do you ask?”
“I was just thinking. We’ve got all these trophies and awards. But no matter how many we get, it seems like it’s never enough, you know what I mean?”
“No, I don’t know what you mean,” she said.
“When you have a trophy, it means you’ve won. The game is over. You can relax and enjoy the victory, knowing that you’re the winner.”
Vicky stared at me with skeptical eyes.
I continued. “But what if winning trophies is like a game in itself? How do you know when it’s over? Is there like some ultimate grand prize out there that you need in order to say that you’ve really won? That you’ve had enough? Is there some other purpose to winning? Or are we just going to keep doing this our whole lives until the whole house is so full of trophies that there’s no place to walk or sit down? It all seems a little—” I was going to say pointless, but I stopped myself.
“You know what I think?” asked Vicky.
If she was about to deliver some sisterly wisdom, I was all ears.
“I think you’re just jealous because I took first place today and you only came in second.”
“Maybe you’re right,” I said. Of course she wasn’t right. But since she obviously didn’t understand, it was better to end the conversation then and there.
Then again, maybe she was right. Maybe I was just jealous.
Vicky called the shower first. I showered after her and sat down at the dinner table at my usual place, with Dad on my right, Mom on my left, and Vicky across from me.
There was a tray of chicken wings smothered in hot barbecue sauce in the middle of the table. Mom brought out a pan of oven-baked french fries and set that on a trivet next to the chicken wings.
“Hey, Mom, guess what I did today,” I said. “I hit the ball so hard, it made a red circle on Barry Plurkin’s stomach.”
“Yeah, and you could see the number seven from the ball on his stomach,” said Vicky. “It even knocked the wind out of him.”
“And that’s how I got to advance to the finals,” I added.
“Barry Plurkin? Is he that boy I always see walking around the neighborhood?”
“That’s probably him,” I said. “He walks everywhere.”
“I thought you two were friends.”
“That was like second grade!” I was embarrassed that Mom would think I was still friends with Barry. He is kind of weird.
“Well I don’t think you need to hurt people in order to win,” said Mom.
“Give him a break!” interjected Dad. “He didn’t do it on purpose. Besides, Barry will survive. It’s not gonna kill him to take a tennis ball in the stomach once in a while. The boy needs to toughen up a bit.”
“Well, he seems like a nice enough boy. I hope you apologized to him after the game,” Mom chided.
Mom was always talking like that. She didn’t like to see anyone get treated unfairly.
It started from the time she was a girl. Grandpa Dean was black, and Grandma Shira was white. When Mom was little, she heard stories about some of the discrimination they faced. She wanted to do something about it. So she did. She grew up and went to college and became a lawyer. She uses her practice to fight discrimination.
Mom and Dad are a mixed couple, too. Dad’s white. There’s still prejudice. But it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be.
Mom was still waiting for me to respond with her hands on her hips — oven mitt and all. “You did apologize to that boy, didn’t you?”
“Well, I shook his hand after the game,” I said.
“Did you or did you not apologize to Barry Plurkin after hitting him in the stomach with a tennis ball?” There was no wiggling my way out of one of Mom’s questions. Even if she didn’t bring her work home with her, she brought her work ethic. If Mom was asking the questions, I was the defendant.
“Not really,” I had to confess.
“You had better get your little fingers on the phone and call that boy right now and apologize,” she said, pointing at me with an oven mitt — if you can call that pointing.
“I can’t call Barry,” I pleaded. “I don’t even have his number.” Mom said that there can’t be too many Plurkins in the phone book, so she made me look him up.
I should have known there was no point in arguing with Mom. She always wins arguments. She does it for a living.
“No, wait. Hold it,” she said just as I picked up the receiver. She placed her gloved hand on the edge of her chin. “I’ve got an even better idea. How would you like to invite him over for Sunday dinner tomorrow and apologize to him in person?” That might sound like a question, but believe me, it wasn’t. Asking me how I felt about something was Mom’s way of telling me to do it.
If she had really wanted to know how I felt, I would have told her that I wasn’t too keen on the idea. Even if I did feel kind of sorry for Barry, it didn’t mean I wanted to be friends with him or have him over at our house.
With Mom standing next to me, I dialed Barry’s number. Barry answered. “Barry? Hi. This is Jacob. Jacob Fenton. You remember, from the tennis tournament. . . . I’m fine, thanks. I was wondering if maybe you wanted to come to our house tomorrow night for dinner?”
“Let me check with my mom to see if it’s all right,” he replied.
Please say no, I thought to myself while I was on hold. Please say no. Please say no.
He said yes.
But it turned out to be good thing. Because I might never have heard about the grand prize if not from Barry.