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Bonus Story: Mislaid Pride

~7 years ago~

“First up, the overall winner in physical sciences...”

The Solace community center was packed for this, the last day of the junior science fair. The main awards had already been distributed, and children arrived with their parents to discover what their efforts had earned. There was no shortage of disappointment, but most of the kids were able to keep that in check - if only due to their parents. For the blue ribbon winners, there was an additional level of excitement as the winners in each category were announced. Most of them were standing up front by the stage, fingers crossed, waiting impatiently for their own categories to come up.

Aaron Bellamy, on the other hand, was standing at his own exhibit, calm and collected. He’d already landed a blue ribbon for his experiment on soil nutrition and chemistry - an idea he’d dreamed up himself while studying the books in his father’s study. Experiments in the life sciences were always the most difficult, owing to the peculiarities in raising plant and animal specimens, but that was part of what drew Aaron to the field. Once the competition was over, he could keep his plants for a while as a living reminder of his success.

“...Paul Liston.”

Everyone clapped - the scornful applause of the losers. The winner took to the stage, all smiles as he accepted his trophy. Aaron couldn’t be bothered to notice, though. He hovered over his plants, carefully administering the right amount of water to each cup. He’d been back daily to feed the plants, hoping that if he cared for them just right that they would stay at just the right growth level.

“Next up, the overall winner in life sciences.”

Aaron hopped down from his stepladder and walked to the stage. In truth, he was as excited as anyone, but he was trying to restrain himself, to put on a mature face. Respect was important to Aaron, especially respect from grown-ups. It was only a shame that the two most important ones hadn’t shown up. He held his breath as the announcer read from his clipboard.

“...Aaron Bellamy.”

There was a blur of motion as Aaron sprinted to the stage, as fast as his stumpy legs could carry him. Everyone was applauding, but he could barely hear it over the steady thump of his own heart. All he could see was the stage in front of him, the trophy coming down from the table. Aaron took it with trembling hands, trying not to drop it. It was a small thing, but a beautiful one - beautiful because he’d earned it.

After the presentation of the awards came the photographs - pictures of the winners together, pictures of the winners with their exhibits - followed by congratulations and more congratulations. Aaron stayed for the whole thing, but all he really wanted to do was return home with his victory. No sooner had the last judge passed his award-winning exhibit than Aaron was out the door, running home, a big goofy smile on his face.

The Bellamy home was a small ranch house near the center of town. Most of the people in that area were apartment dwellers, but with luck and a bit of bargaining Aaron’s parents had managed to land a proper house of their own - a little bit of Americana, complete with a crooked white picket fence. Aaron broke through the gate and through the front door, waving the trophy over his head. “Dad! I won?” He looked around. “Dad? Mom?”

“So is Joshua going to be bringing all of his children?”

There were voices from the dining room - they hadn’t heard him. Aaron jogged through the living room and into the kitchen. His parents were sitting at the table, discussing one of their business contacts. Mr. Bellamy was a prominent researcher, his wife a lecturer and analyst - there was never a shortage of important people around the house.

“Dad, you missed it!” Aaron held up the trophy over his head. “I won for my category!”

“Aaron, please,” said Mr. Bellamy. “I’m busy right now.”

“But...” Aaron ran to Mrs. Bellamy. “Mom, look! I beat a dozen other kids for this!”

“Fine.” Mrs. Bellamy didn’t even look over at him. “If it’s a party of eight, we’re definitely going to need reservations.”

“The oldest one’s at college. She probably won’t make it.”

“Better make it eight anyway. If we have to turn someone out because we didn’t plan ahead, it won’t look good for either of us.”

Aaron stared up at them. “Mom? Dad?”

“Aaron...” Mr. Bellamy glared at him. “Whatever it is, take it to your room.”

“But...”

“When we have time, Aaron,” said Mrs. Bellamy.

“Oh...okay.” Aaron slipped out of the room while his parents continued to discuss their arrangements.

Aaron dragged his hard-earned trophy back to his bedroom and closed the door. He looked at his bookshelf, a simple piece of wooden furniture which served as a makeshift trophy case. There were a half-dozen trophies and plaques situated on the top - everything from mathematics to writing. Above the bookshelf hung a pinboard, cluttered with intelligence test results, report cards, commendations from his school, and photographs of him at academic meets. He looked down at the trophy, his latest addition to the collection. Suddenly, all he saw was a meaningless piece of colored tin. Gritting his teeth, he flung it down onto the ground, watching it bounce off the carpet. He stormed out of the room and out of the house, face red, eyes watery.

Aaron didn’t really know where he was going, only that he had to leave. He muttered angrily to himself as he walked, pressing his tiny fists against the side of his head, kicking at stones. At that moment, nothing made any sense, and he felt alone.

“Guess who’s back?”

A car pulled in to a parking spot outside of a nearby apartment building. The doors flew open, and a boy sprung out, clutching a trophy. His father followed him, cheering him on. Aaron recognized the boy - Paul Liston, one of the other category winners. A moment later, a woman appeared at the entrance to the apartment building - the mother, he assumed.

“You get a blue ribbon, did you?” said Mrs. Liston with a smile.

“Better, I won!” Paul held up the trophy.

Mr. Liston laughed. “Your boy just won in category. Beat out a bunch of kids a lot older than him.”

“Really?” said Mrs. Liston, kneeling down. “Let me see.”

Paul took his trophy over to her. “See? It says ‘Winner in Physical Sciences. 2002 Science Fair, Junior Division, Solace.’ There were only three winners, and I won!”

“We were just talking about heading out to celebrate,” said Mr. Liston. “You game?”

Aaron watched the scene from a house away, leaning on a wrought iron fence. Suddenly, he slipped and hit the pavement. He looked at the scratches on his hands, fighting every urge to cry - a fight he was losing.

“Are you okay?”

Aaron looked up. Paul and his parents were standing over him, scrutinizing him. He wiped his eyes and climbed back to his feet. “I’m okay.”

“Hey, you were one of the other winners, right?” said Paul.

Aaron swallowed hard, rubbing his hands into his shirt. “Yeah.”

Paul handed his trophy to his father. “My name is Paul. Paul Liston.”

“Aaron Bellamy.” Aaron sniffed and rubbed his face.

“Are you busy now?” asked Paul.

“Uh...no.” Aaron shook his head.

Paul looked back at his parents. “Can Aaron come with us?”

“Well, we should call his mom and dad first,” said Mrs. Liston.

“No, it’s okay,” said Aaron. “They’re...busy.”

“I don’t know...” said Mr. Liston.

“They live right down the street,” said Aaron. “They let me go out when they’re busy.”

“Come on, dad,” said Paul. “Please?”

Mr. Liston sighed. “All right, but we’re dropping you right off afterwards.”

Paul and Aaron hopped into the backseat of the car and the four of them took off. No one really noticed, but Aaron had a little smile underneath his puffy eyes.

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