Trophy Girl - Chapter One "This is it! This is my son! Anderson Connor McArty!" He held the poor wailing baby high above his head like a championship belt as the others hollered and smashed their cheap mugs together. I only knew half of the people at this party, the other half must have been his fellow firefighters from the station. One man directed his cheers to Baby Andy and the others followed chanting his name. I was happy for my brother, proud of him even. Marshall dreamt of this day as far back as either of us could remember and everything seemed to have fallen in place for him. He married his high school sweetheart, Laura, not long after college and the two were a true paragon of love. Despite a simple wedding, no attendee left without shedding a tear. It made everyone believe that maybe the cheesey movies they doubted were right afterall. I, on the otherhand, stood firm in my belief. It was what I grew up in afterall. Maybe with Marshall being older, he could handle it better than I could at seven. We were awoken early in the morning by Pops without much of a reason, even if we asked. We stood there in the foyer with only a dim light to reveal our mother with a suitcase in hand. No one said anything. She embraced Marshall first who, already slightly taller than her at that point, buried his face in her shoulders. When it came my turn, I didn't understand why we were hugging at all. No one said anything, even as I could tell that she tried her best to hold back sniveling in front of us. Before she closed the door, the sun peeked out behind the neighboring house across the street making her figure an orange-red blur. And that was it. From then on it was Pops, Marshall and me. They pretended like nothing happened, but I would have none of it. I was persistent even if the only answer given to me were passive information. "She lives in Arizona now. She's only now settled down, you can call her later." "I'm a little busy now but I'll be sure to call you later. I'm sorry, honey." In her defense she did and by that point I had given up. Mommy and Daddy were no more. I had to get used to it. They say normally kids feel that it's their fault. That they're the one who did this to their parents. Some would even say kids feel like a burden to their parents, that they get in their way for their own wants to mend things. Not me. To me, I felt as if I was just an obligation. Something to prove to the rest of our family, or really any other adult, that it didn't matter that they split. They still had us and they took care of us just as well. Essentially, their trophy. Poor Baby Andy. He was certainly cute though and no doubt Marshall's. They both shared black hair unique to Marshall but McArty's famous ice blue eyes. Maybe he would grow up in his father's footsteps putting out fires and finding abandoned newborns on their footsteps. "Maybe! That would be great!" Marshall gulped his eighth shot of the night. "Hopefully firefighters'll still exist in the future." "Who else will help Grandma Terra when she forgets her lemon tarts in the oven?" "As much as the local news tries to convince you," Marshall begins to explain before the last of his coworkers bid him a farewell. It looks like a few family members are the only ones remaining of the party, Grandma Terra included. "Anyways, not only are people smarter but the technology too. No matter what my job calls for, we still want to prevent it from happening in the first place. I'm grinning ear to ear every morning knowing that I even get paid to do what I do. That's what I keep trying to tell Dean." Yet another shot is offered to me. "He's young," I say as I slide the glass to Marshall. "He might change his mind." "A shame though, isn't it? You have to give up your dreams because other people feel they don't need you anymore." It was hard to admit this about the police force but it was also hard to ignore their very apparent struggles with funding. Marshall held the glass in front of him, mentally preparing for his own struggle. He closed his eyes as he exhaled but had second thoughts. Probably smart. "Do you and Laura need a ride, man," I volunteered, motioning him to put the glass down. He almost looked relieved. Scratch that, he definitely was. "Thanks, bro, but we already planned on taking a taxi anyways. We didn't expect anyone to be sober." He laughed a bit before a bubbly burp interrupted him. "Ugh. And Ma is taking Andy for the night. You'd think she put her baby days behind her but she insisted. Are you leaving?" "Yeah." Before I even made it to my jacket at the entrance of the bar, my family immediately ambushed me to egg me on the zero amount of drinks I had and ask me when they'll ever see my face again. It's not like I avoid my family, I'd say I see them about as often as I can. Unlike my girlfriend, whom they also inquired about, I was dedicated to my college studies and the three jobs I have to keep up with to ensure I have the best cable package at home for me whenever I get the free time to relax. A few sloppy kisses from my aunts and manhood jokes from my uncles and I was off. I was truly proud of my brother and on the drive home I couldn't help but compare my life to his. As much as I go on bitching about my made up self-pity, he only turned it around for his better. I on the other hand used it as an excuse to passively go about relationships and allowed it to change my views on the whole matter. Three relationships this year, and it's only May. I've stuck with Karen the longest so far but only because I could really care less one way or the other. I couldn't even say I was merely doing it for the sex, I just really didn't care how it would end up. If she thought we were meant to be together for the rest of our lives, she could go ahead and prove that even if I doubted it highly. If she went behind my back with another man I would only wonder why she had to keep it a secret. From where I stand, it all really didn't matter to me. I guess all I really cared about was that at the end of the day I could throw a quick dinner together and watch TV. My regular fight with the community garage made me look forward to my date with television. Whether it be codes, keys or fancy window sticker detectors, there was always something keeping it from working properly weekly. Frustrating at first, but in the end I knew that I would only have to find a free parking space and I was an elevator ride away from mindlessly multitasking tonight's show schedule and Karen's blathering. Though I preferred my apartment's door to be locked at all times I've gotten used to knowing Karen was home based on whether or not I needed my key after all. What I wasn't used to was Karen greeting me as soon as I walked in the door. "Justin!" She might as well have skipped over with how awkwardly enthusiastic she seemed. With a drink in hand, she gave me a half hug and followed me to the bedroom. "How was Baby Andy's party? Did everyone make it?" "Other than you? My sister had to work that night." Karen looked slightly offended. She leaned against the wall defensively crossing her arms. "Sorry? I've heard of baby showers before the birth, not one a month after its born." "'He', Karen," I sighed. "You know how I feel about that." "I meant 'it' in general." Whatever, I just wanted her to get to the point she was obviously trying to ease me into. This must have been the inevitable cheating confession this relationship was bound to have. She however asked various questions about my sister, brother, parents and even if the chicles of firefighters reigned true. Usually, I could passively listen to her as I did my own thing but this was becoming less than endearing, let alone bearable. Karen fiddled with her fingers in a weird mixture of avoiding eye contact with me though obviously trying to keep my attention. "... but I guess it's not surprise that they would have to pick ideal guys for calendars, you know? Or they might not even be real firefighters! I mean, how would you know?! Like, who researches calendars?! You can just go to any mall and--" "Karen! Please!" I shouted. "Can you just... If you have something important to say, go ahead and say it. Otherwise enough, please." I waited for a response, but she said nothing. No one ever says anything. "We have to talk. About the three of us," she finally fessed after a few moments. The three of us? A man? "It's three months in. Or far along. I'm three months in." She took my hand and delicately placed it over her stomach. Her own hand rested next to mine. I saw her mouth move, she must have been explaining to me but I couldn't hear anything. For once when I wanted someone to say something, I couldn't hear what they were saying. The only thing I could hear was my own heartbeat. Or was this even mine?