Faux Gilt

Reunited too late with the arm to re-attach it, Vanessa kept it in a desk drawer nevertheless. She had already thrown away the stump of the trophy. Doing homework she would occasionally unearth the arm and wonder why she kept it. The question was answered on her fourteenth birthday when she, Jennie and two guys from the Beverly Hills High team used it to do coke in her bedroom.

"This shit is great."

"It's my dad's."

Somebody changed the tape from Prince to Wang Chung.

"Deena's mom's boyfriend has a Ferrari."

"He is so bitchin'."

Vanessa started carrying the arm in her purse. Two inches long from broken shoulder to racquet, it was perfect for its new purpose. Not only that, the story of its discovery fascinated kids who were high. People were always happy to see the little golden arm.

Four years earlier, home from the 8th Annual Spring Junior Open, Vanessa dropped her participation trophy in the driveway. The outstretched arm of the faux-gilt girl in mid-serve snapped off and vanished. It was another insult in a day full of them.

Inside, Vanessa's parents' voices jostled against the current of the television that was always on in her father's office.

"I thought I could make it," he said. "I wanted to. Look, my sunglasses are in my pocket. I was on my way when he called. I had to take it. I have to deal with the Peruvians on their schedule, such as it is. They're so touchy and easily offended."

"So is Vanessa," said her mother.

"What am I supposed to do? Tell him to call back?"

"Why in the world did you promise you'd be there in the first place? Short of actually showing up, which we both know you weren't going to do, you had nowhere to go but down. Never over-promise. Under-promise and make it seem like over-promising. It's just like dealing with Matt or the Peruvians." A promo for Make a Killing filled the pause. "She was absolutely crushed that you weren't there."

Vanessa backed her cupped ear away from the door and scowled. She hadn't been crushed or even a little bit surprised. In the kitchen, she opened a can of Dr. Pepper and turned on the black-and-white TV on the counter. A promo for Far Horizons was on. "How can I trust you?" said Matt Rivera as Colt Raines. Matt was her mom's biggest client. Vanessa changed the channels. A news report was on about the girl who was murdered in the Valley.

High heels clicked on the tile. "Your father feels terrible," said her mother. The camera panned across the empty parking lot where the girl's arm was found. "Go show him your trophy. He's sorry he didn't see you win it."

"No he's not and I didn't win it."

"We talked about this. Start learning now how to leverage guilt." She winked.

Vanessa knocked.

"One second," said her father. There was shuffling, drawers opening and closing. "Come in."

Vanessa went half the distance to his desk. Christina was playing with Legos on the floor in front of T.J. Hooker. "Why does she get to be in here?"

"Congratulations. Bring your trophy over here. Let me see it." He sniffed, pinched the end of his nose, and came around the front of his desk. "I'm sorry I didn't make it to the club, I got a phone call from this guy in South America I'm trying to make a deal with and he's breaking my balls—"

"It's okay." Vanessa was looking over her shoulder at the television.

"This is the third place trophy?" He took it from her. "What happened to it?"

"Fourth place. I dropped it."

"Well, that's no big deal." He ran his fingers through his hair, grinning and sniffing. "That's an easy fix. Where's the arm? We'll glue it back on."

"I don't know." T.J. Hooker was chasing a killer.

"Your mom says you played great. She said you—"

"She wasn't even there. If she had been, she could have brought me home like ten hours ago. I didn't make it past the first round and I had to be there all day. She didn't even pick me up until way after the whole thing was over. Everybody got one of those." She nodded at the trophy. "It was mom's idea to say I came in fourth place."

"Of course it was." He shook his head. "She thinks she's teaching you to protect yourself."

"From what?"

"Loss. Disappointment. Pain. Things that are inevitable regardless of how prepared you think you are." He handed the trophy back.

"She's a liar."

He gave a short laugh through his nose. "Knowing how to bullshit is incredibly important, especially in your mom's business, in all business really. Most people want to be told what they're looking at and what they're experiencing and how they should feel about it, and they'll pay a lot for answers they like. They trust voices from outside more than they trust the one inside. That's why they're easy to exploit. But in this case," he touched Vanessa's hair, sandy blond like her mother's, like his, "you don't need bullshit. Not everything needs to be relatable. Not everything has to mean something. Some things can just be yours."

Vanessa nodded.

Christina charged across the office and stood between Vanessa and her father squealing and babbling.

"Not right now, sweetie. I'm talking to your big sister."

"She's not my sister," said Vanessa.

"Of course she is."

"No she's not. Not really. I heard you and mom talking. If she's not yours why did you keep her?" Christina giggled and twirled in the middle of the room, her long dark hair fanned out in a circle, an umbrella to protect the innocent. Vanessa squeezed the mutilated trophy like a hammer.

When Vanessa got home from her first day of sixth grade, Juana gave her el brazo de oro pequeño. She said she found it dusting the mantle. Neither she nor Vanessa's parents knew how it got there. Either way, Vanessa was happy to see it.