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Today I Read About This Superhero

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ORESTES: You must give evidence, Apollo. Take the lead for me. Did I kill her justly?
APOLLO: Allow me to address this high court of Athena. Men of this tribunal, what I have to say will proceed from justice. Make sure you understand how powerful justice is.

- the Orestia

 

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| PART ONE: Shades of Gray

 

The first time Trucy called him Polly, mid-stride of some tangent or another, it made him jerk like she'd yanked on a slender chain that ran from her to him. He looked up sharply, his eyes dancing with the image of a woman with cornflower blue eyes, laughingly calling, "Polly!" to someone he couldn't see.

He blinked, and the memory was gone. He shook his head and tried to focus on what Trucy was telling him.

 

*&*

 

Thalassa Gramarye was six weeks pregnant when she married Paulie Koontz and ran away from home.

Vegas wasn't as close as everyone always thinks it is, so they got married in a courtroom with a sleepy custodian and an evil-smelling notary with the sad name of Sparky or something as their witnesses instead. The entire time, her body hummed with nervous energy, like she was doing something sneaky and expected her father to walk in and catch her at any moment. But when the judge handed them their certificate, and Paulie placed a hand in the small of her back and leaned in to kiss her with adoration in his eyes, she forgot all about him.

Making your own decisions was terrifying, she learned, and so, so, so rewarding.

"Here's to love," Paulie said, toasting her with a can of RC from the 7-eleven across the street.

"Here's to the apple never falling far from the tree," Thalassa toasted him in return, on her back on the hood of his El Dorado with eyes half-lidded. The California sun burned low in the sky, a thick orange disc. She watched it from in between the broad, swaying leaves of the palm trees, and wondered what her father would do without her.

There would be a lot of things Thalassa would come to regret in her life, but marrying Paulie was never one of them.

Until the day she died, she never regretted that.

 

*&*

 

Synthia Butz had never intended to grow up to be her mother, but then one day she woke up and found herself exactly that.

It gave her a convenient excuse for a lot of things -- if she was accused of being a nosy, busybody neighbor, well, she inherited that from her mother.

So when the Koontz moved in next door, she felt an immediate kinship with them because of their unfortunate surname, and wasted no time in baking them a wholesome, organic, green bean casserole and marching it down the hallway to the next apartment over.

She'd been hoping they'd brought children with them, because she had a son in the fifth grade and three daughters after him of various ages, and Synthia had an inkling that they could use a friend since they weren't particularly well liked at their school. She couldn't imagine why; they had a tendency to be overwhelmingly charming, but then again, her maiden name was Belling, which couldn't as easily be construed by teasing children as "Butz" could.

She was a mite disappointed to find that the Koontz were a young, newlywed couple from southern California, which as far as Synthia was concerned was an entirely separate country. They seemed pleased with the casserole, though (although she heard the husband ask his wife if she was sure it was edible, because it looked like something dredged up from the swamp, which it did, but Synthia always assumed that's what organic food was supposed to look like) but weren't particularly forthcoming with information about themselves.

It didn't really worry Synthia too much, that part; they were young and in love, and she was probably taking up their valuable time. Besides, she had all the time in the world to learn their life's story.

"Maybe they robbed a bank," said her eldest daughter at dinner, her voice enthusiastic and a science fiction novel propped up against the salt and pepper shakers in front of her. "And they're on the run from the law!"

"I'll bet one of them is a vampire," threw in Larry, who never needed to be logical to make a point.

"It's none of our business," cut in Synthia's husband, voice stern but not unamused. "They're new here, so just remember to always say something nice to them if you see them. And I mean nice, Larry, not lewd."

"I am not lewd!" protested her only son, who, judging by his bemused expression, didn't even know what the word meant.

Synthia noticed something. "Carrie," she said to her middle daughter, seizing her by the elbow to turn her arm over. "Where on earth did you get all these bite marks?"

"Told you there were vampires!" Larry looked panicked, but nobody paid him any mind and the subject on the new neighbors was dropped after that.

 

*&*

 

Here was a fact he would like well addressed. Paulie Koontz loved his wife.

As far as he was concerned, running away with Thalassa Gramarye and marrying her was the single greatest accomplishment he'd ever done. They'd ever done.

Well, before David, anyway.

He enjoyed being her caretaker almost as much as their new neighbor, Synthia Butz, enjoyed being a zealous saint. She made him feel like she needed him, and he dreaded the day she started listening to the outside world and became independent, thinking she could take care of herself. It made him guilty -- and more than a little misogynistic -- to think like this, to hope that his wife never learned how powerful she could be, but he'd seduced her away from her family with the promise that he'd take care of her and he didn't want to know if that was as superficial as their relationship went.

It couldn't be.

He liked to think he was a singularly strange man, although he was absolutely no different from any other person who thought themselves strange, for all the same reasons: he was, in that respect, completely normal.

His full name was Paolo Antonio Koontz, and he was dark in hair and eyes, which he blamed on his roaming, wild Italian mother and not his sensible, straight-forward, mongrel-European father, who came up with advertising slogans for paper towels when he wasn't lecturing his only son on how to apply himself. He had a nice face and an easy smile, the kind that made women turn their heads for a second look if they were in an indulgent mood, and he thought it was completely logical, the events that led him to Troupe Gramarye. Work for three years stocking shelves at a Safeway and then drop it all to join the Big Berry circus? Yeah, no problem. Why not?

He was a roadie for a magician who'd guest starred with Magnifi Gramarye early in his career. He would be the first to tell you he was nobody important, just the dude who folded the costumes up nice and neat and made sure everything was dry-cleaned and in its proper place so nobody had to improvise on stage. He liked this job: he got free hot dogs and he got one of those walkie-talkie things that let him communicate with the other coordinators -- it made him feel vastly important, walking past a crowd of people, muttering into his headset, because they all saw him and they knew he was part of the magic, however small his part.

The first time he saw Thalassa, he dropped a suitcase on his toe and gaped at her. "You're the most beautiful person I've ever seen," he breathed, and, in retrospect, it wasn't the most coherent thing he'd ever said, or even that smooth as far as pick-up lines went, but she shot him a startled look, interuppted mid-conversation on her cell phone.

Then she smiled, completely bemused, and set the phone on her shoulder. "You're not lying, are you?" she said in wonder.

"Oh, god, no," he replied, and smiled back.

The rest, they say, is history.

"You love Thalassa Gramarye," he told his reflection in the mirror, straightening his collar and knotting his tie. "Her goodness and her beauty keep you in love, and you feel the only way you deserve her is to teach her about life. The balance works. You need her to need you."

 

*&*

 

Synthia discovered, much to her ill-concealed delight, that her new neighbors were absolutely helpless when it came to running their own home.

It had been a long time since Synthia had a honest-to-goodness friend, and even longer since somebody had genuinely listened to her -- her kids certainly didn't heed a word that came out of her mouth, and her husband? Forget it. He'd heard it all before.

In hindsight, perhaps she had been a little overeager to take over Thalassa Koontz's life, especially once her husband, Paulie, got a job in public relations at one of the many technology monoliths that clustered together in the valleys of northern California. But she had such expressive eyes, bright and cornflower blue, that always seemed to genuinely be paying attention to her, so Synthia dropped by the next-door apartment whenever she could, more for her own benefit than for the girl's.

The funny thing was, Thalassa called her out on it within the first week.

"Please, Mrs. Butz," she said, the third time Synthia came over asking if she could use her kitchen sink, since her kids clogged theirs up with Play-Doh, like kids will. "You don't need an excuse to come and visit me. Just come knock if you want company."

"How do you know it's an excuse?" Synthia asked, a little affronted to be outed so quickly, even if it was true.

Thalassa smiled indulgently. "Did you know that when something's bothering you, or when you're not telling the truth, you tend to play with the ends of your hair?"

Synthia's hands dropped to her sides. "Do I? Well, I guess that explains why my stylist is so annoyed with me whenever I come in."

After that, there was hardly a day when she didn't take a break from her kids to drop by the Koontz apartment. Or she brought them with her, and let Thalassa watch them run wild, which she did with a vague kind of amusement -- like she was looking at the strange behavior of a pack of monkeys in a zoo exhibit, which, Synthia supposed, wasn't too far off the mark -- and perhaps a little wistfulness. She wasn't at all forthcoming about her upbringing, but Synthia had some ideas, since Thalassa could barely manage simple meals and didn't know how to sort laundry. She could sew buttons, Synthia gave her that much (Thalassa muttered something that sounded a lot like, "for costume emergencies"), and she knew how to change the oil on the El Dorado.

Synthia almost had a heart attack when, while they were picking out what flavor of cake to make just a few days before his wife's birthday, Paulie mentioned off-handedly that Thalassa was only seventeen years old.

"That can't be legal!" she exclaimed to her husband, who was usually the first to hear about these things. "Isn't that statutory rape?"

"What's that?" asked their eldest daughter, Mary, who was eight.

"A kind of candy only given to you by strangers that tastes like asparagus, so don't have any," Tyler told her absently, and to his wife, said, "Not in California, it isn't, or we'd have half the sitcom stars in jail by now. And aren't you the one who always mentions that she's a very mature young woman? She'll be eighteen in a few days anyway, right?"

"Yes, but," she grumbled. Nevertheless, a few days later, she invited Thalassa over and asked, "So are you going to register to vote?" Because of all the things you could do when you turned eighteen, that was about the only important one she could think of.

"Would you mind?" Thalassa asked, indicating the newspaper that was still out on the kitchen table. Synthia shook her head -- she'd already read it. The main headliner had been an incredibly depressing story about the earthquake that shut the power off at the county courthouse, and a defense attorney who'd been shot in an elevator.

Flipping through the pages, the girl answered, "I cannot, Mrs. Butz."

"Synthia, honey. Why not?"

Thalassa gave her a patient look. "I was born in Boriginia. I'm not an American citizen. Not yet, at least, though when I married Paulie, I filled out the paperwork to become one. But that will take years yet."

"Oh," blinked Synthia, who wasn't about to admit she had no idea where Boriginia was. Europe, somewhere, she assumed, which seemed to be where most small, easily-forgettable countries were located. "I... had no idea. You don't have an accent."

"My father and I moved here when I was little. My visa was about to expire when I got married --" Which explains that, thought Synthia, who was just now realizing she'd never heard Thalassa volunteer information about her past before. "-- but for all intents and purposes, I'm American. Our child, however, will have dual citizenship." Here, she slipped a hand over the smooth fabric of her sweater, curving her hand around her belly.

Synthia suddenly felt more than a little stupid, watching Thalassa rub the bump there like she was making sure it still existed. "Is it a boy or a girl? Are you far along enough to tell?"

Thalassa's face softened. "A boy."

"Larry will love you forever when he finds out. He always wanted a little brother to play with."

At her horrified expression, Synthia burst out laughing.

 

*&*

 

One evening in November, shortly after Thanksgiving, the old lady who lived in the apartment directly above the Butz came knocking on Synthia's door to tell her the "sweet young lady with the silly name who comes over all the time" was on the roof. Synthia said thank you and grabbed her jacket, telling her children she would be right back, and would they please not burn the building down in five minutes.

She found Thalassa sitting on the ledge, legs tucked up uncomfortably around her swelling belly and her fingers interlocked across her shins. In the pale sunlight, she looked a little lost and a little lonely, and Synthia remembered just how young she was.

"I'm scared," she said, as softly as if she was in a library, tilting her head as Synthia clambered up onto the ledge next to her. They had a fantastic view of downtown San Mateo from here, she noticed, somewhat to her surprise. The sunset caught on the glossy windows of the skyscrapers, sending a dazzling line of light dancing across her vision. She could even see the bay, a pale blue curve in the distance. "I don't know if I'm ready for this."

"Ready for what, honey?"

"Being a mother. I'm only eighteen. Aren't women my age usually looking at colleges, or complaining about boyfriends, or still living with their parents? What if I'm not grown up enough to handle this? What if I do something wrong? My mother was missing most of my life. What if that means I'm going to irrevocably screw this all up? My child doesn't deserve that."

"Nonesense. You're too smart for that." She wrapped an arm around Thalassa's shoulder and gave her a gentle shake. "It's all you can do, you know, is to try to do better than our parents did with us. And you are so much stronger than you give yourself credit for. Look at what you've already accomplished! I think you'll be a fantastic mom."

Underneath the gentle pressure of her arm, Synthia felt the tremor run down Thalassa's spine, shaking her body apart like seeds off a dandelion stem. She turned and clamped her arms around her just as the tears started, and Synthia couldn't help but wonder at the tightness of the hold: had anyone ever held this girl before? Just held her, without expecting anything of her?

Synthia held on for as long as Thalassa's strength lasted.

 

*&*

 

"I ran into the oldest of the Butz brood on the stairs," said Paulie upon coming home after work one afternoon, toeing off his shoes in the entryway. "Harry. Is that his name?"

"Larry," Thalassa corrected with a quick smile, leaning forward onto the kitchen counter to take some weight off her back. She had several rough sketches spread out in front of her: Larry's elementary school had hired her to design the set for the fifth graders' play, and Thalassa hadn't even had to mention her background in stage production. She just had a clever eye for detail.

"Right. Him. He stood on the landing and waved garlic at me. Do you have any idea what that was about?"

Thalassa's smile widened. "He thinks we're vampires."

"Does he?" Paulie stripped off his polo and dropped face-first onto the sofa with a grateful groan, muttering into the cushions, "Well, that's one I haven't heard before."

She pushed herself off the counter and joined him, butting his side with her arm and saying, "Move over, the blimp is coming in for a landing." He wriggled back a bit to make room for her, and when she sat down he put his head on her thigh. "Are you sure?" she chuckled, reaching out to stroke his hair. "Remember, I can always tell when you're lying to me, Paolo Koontz, and Maximillion Gallactica always seemed a little suspicious to me."

"Hey, I was just a Big Berry roadie. I didn't snoop into the private lives of my magicians. Maybe Max liked drinking the blood of young virgins; he certainly never told me about any of it."

Thalassa was quiet for a long moment, still absently running her fingers through his hair. "Do you miss it at all, Paulie?"

"What?" he snorted. "No. No, I don't. Why? Do you?"

She shook her head quickly. "I thought I would, but it wasn't that difficult to let go, surprisingly. All I've ever known is illusions and card tricks, things disappearing and reappearing. I thought I'd feel out of place in a world where people actually abide by the laws of physics."

"Hey, that's right. Aren't you set up to inherit your father's voodoo when he passes on? Or whatever he does that's so special. Frankly, once you've put up with one really flashy magician, you've seen them all."

"Paulie," she reprimanded, but without any bite. "And no. I'm not. Before I left, Father was talking about taking on some apprentices. They're the ones who are going to inherit his secrets, apparently."

He blinked. "Well, that's a little misogynistic."

"You're telling me."

He propped himself up on one elbow, reaching out to lay his hand on her stomach with gentle familiarity. "Are you going to tell him?"

She laid her hand over his, feeling the warmth of him, and below him, the warmth of their son. "About the baby? I would if I wasn't worried about how devastating that would be for his ego. Being called 'grandpa' does not do wonders for one's mystic in the eye of the public."

Rolling his eyes at her, he pushed himself up to kiss her mouth, and she laughed in the soft, besotted way of a woman in love, of a woman who had everything ahead of her and everything to look forward to.

 

*&*

 

When Thalassa Koontz gave birth, she was eighteen years old and completely alone, except for a tired nurse and a doctor frustrated by her lack of knowledge about her own insurance.

She gritted her teeth around the pain rippling across her belly and thought of her own mother. The pale toothpaste green of her surroundings blurred into each other, becoming the briefest flash of the white of a woman's smile against the dark growth of Boriginia's signature forest. It was all she had her entire life -- just that small, 2D representation of the woman Magnifi left behind in another country. It was the only thing Thalassa had of her mother, who had once been exactly as she is now, sweat standing out on her brow and the cords in her neck thick with a soundless scream.

She thought of apples never falling far from the tree, and when at last they placed the purple, wrinkled newborn into her arms, she kissed his tiny nose and she told him, softly and firmly, like she'd never spoken to her father, like she'd never spoken to Paulie, "You better not ever leave me."

He hiccuped. She took one look at his eyes, and started crying.

"Oh, they all do that," said the nurse to herself dismissively, scrubbing her hands with antiseptic. She tried to pretend she couldn't hear the woman in the bed whispering, "I'm so sorry," to that baby, over and over, the way people do when they've made an unforgivable error.

That's how Paulie found her when he came by, still in his uniform and out of breath. He must have sped all the way over here. His father always told him his habit of ignoring traffic laws was going to be the death of him. Granted, he'd said much the same thing about Paulie's disinterest in higher education and his habit of not rinsing his silverware before use, so his father was the last thing on Paulie's mind when he came into the room and found Thalassa crumpled in her bed, the thin hospital blanket tangled close to her chest and her eyes red-rimmed.

"Oh, god," he said, stomach falling right through his shoes. "What happened?"

She jumped, and when she saw him, her tears started anew. She opened her arms, and he leapt to her, gathering her up. She clung to him as fiercely as if she'd grown there like moss.

"Where is he?" he demanded of her, panicked and reflexively stroking her hair, which had frizzed out of their careful braids. "Thalassa, where's our baby?"

"In the ICU with the other babies," she replied, and her voice, at least, was clear, if a little watery. "He's fine, Paulie, and that's the problem. He's absolutely fine. He has my eyes, even."

"Then why the waterworks .... oh," and it hit him then, when she lifted her head, her eyes magnified and bright as dimes underneath the sheen of moisture. Those eyes that always caught him in a lie. "Oh. He has your eyes."

"My father can't find him, Paulie. He can't even know if he exists. If he does ... he'll make our baby a Gramarye, too, suck him right in and twist him like a puppet on a string! I won't allow what happened to me to happen to our child, Paulie. That's the point of parenthood; to correct the mistakes made on us by ours."

"All right," he kept stroking her hair. "We'll move. We'll go farther away. Out of state even, maybe. Somewhere your father can't find us."

The very loneliness in that statement made her fingers tighten on his arms, and then they relaxed, images and first impressions of her newborn son flickering through her mind. It wasn't about her anymore. And Paulie would be there. Paulie would always be there.

"Of course. I love you," she replied, just to see that expression on his face, the goofy one of pure lovesickness that she could probably name as the one that got her into this mess.

"You know, did we ever decide on a name?"

"David Grey," said Synthia's husband to her later over dinner.

"Oh, good," said Synthia, eyeballing Evangeline as she tried to slyly slip her green beans onto her sister's plate. "I was worried they were going to pick something unpronounceable. Or worse, Greek."

 

*&*

 

"Did you ever sing for a church choir or anything?"

Thalassa cut off mid-note, looking surprised, like she hadn't even realized she'd been singing. Just the same series of notes over and over, low under her breath. It sounded a lot like something she might hear at a carnival, but coming out of Thalassa's mouth, it sounded more like she was in mourning.

Synthia flipped through her mail. "No, really. Don't get me wrong, I think you've got a gorgeous voice. And with that beautiful lamb's face of yours, I bet they didn't even know what hit them." She shut her mailbox and gave the tumbler a twirl.

"No," Thalassa's voice was faint. "No, no one ever made me sing. I .... I don't think it occurred to anyone." She touched her throat.

"Now that's a shame."

She made a noncommittal noise in the back of her throat, and Synthia brushed her hair out of her eyes so as to better watch her out of peripheral. She knelt next to David's carseat, which was already a little too small for him. They were going to have to start planning a birthday party soon, Synthia realized, tapping the corner of an envelope against her palm. She watched Thalassa put one of his socks back on, stroking the arch of his foot with the tip of her finger to see him twitch reflexively. He'd just gotten to the age where he'd learned how to pull his socks off, and proceeded to drive his mother up the wall by consistently losing one of a pair as often as he could get away with.

She smiled before she could help it: it was strange to imagine that only a year ago, this girl had been unable to distinguish between a washing machine and a dryer.

"Can Paulie carry a tune?" she asked, as Thalassa continued to play with her son's toes. "Maybe you two could start a family troupe of singers, like something out of Sound of Music."

Thalassa shot her a startled look, and, upon realizing that she was joking, relaxed into a smile. "No. I do not think the stage life is for us."

Synthia chuckled at the dryness in her friend's tone as she tucked her mail into her purse and picked up her grocery bags again. "Where is Paulie, anyway? Isn't he usually home by now?"

"Yes, usually." Catching the expression on Synthia's face, the young woman gave a light laugh: a laugh that Synthia had always liked. It was caught somewhere between a child-like giggle and the sound of breaking glass, creating an effect not unlike windchimes. "I wouldn't worry about it, Synthia. If he stays out late, it means someone has asked him to. Perhaps it even means we have friends outside of your family. I would like that."

"Well, if you say so," she shrugged, as the pair of them headed up the staircase.

In truth, she was nervous. She wasn't sure how she knew, but she'd been getting the impression that Thalassa and Paulie were getting ready to move. Somewhere far away, out of state even, if there really was something outside of California. She didn't want them to go. She could understand the attraction of having friends outside of one's own family.

"Oh! That reminds me," she added after a moment. "I have something I've been meaning to give you. I think it will come in handy when David starts teething. Do you have a moment to stop by my apartment?"

"Sure, just let me put David down first."

"It'll only take a moment, promise," she called over her shoulder, shifting the weight of the grocery sacks on her arms to unlock her front door as she reached it.

All she got was a warning cry of, "Mom, look out!" before she was hit full in the face with a Nerf dart.

She scowled as the little orange plastic projectile fell to the carpeting, having found no purchase on her skin. She looked around. None of the solid, shiny surfaces in the apartment had been spared, she noticed: picture frames, windows, the mirror. Nerf darts stuck off the fridge like acupuncture needles. The floor was littered with spent ones. She narrowed her eyes, hunting for the culprits.

A boy peeked out sheepishly from behind the makeshift fort he'd made out of the sofa, his face half-hidden by the bulk of his Nerf gun. "Hi, Mrs. Butz!" he said with a meek kind of cheerfulness, and she caught an impression of wide, earnest eyes and spiky hair.

"Hello, Phoenix," she said warmly. "How are your folks doing?"

"Just fine, Mrs. Butz."

"That's good to hear. Tell your mother that if needs any more stitching patterns, she is more than welcome to give me a call." She caught movement out of the corner of her eye, and whirled around with a bellow, "LARRY MAGNUS BUTZ. What have I told you about playing with those things inside?!"

"Told you you were going to get into trouble," needled one of the girls, peeking out from the hallway.

Synthia sighed. Behind her, she heard Thalassa come in. She didn't shut the door behind her, but it wasn't like everyone on the floor wasn't already used to the noise that came from the Butz apartment. "Where is your father?" she demanded of the little faces watching her warily; Phoenix from behind the sofa, Larry from underneath the table, Carrie and Mary from around the corner of the hallway. "Why isn't he watching you to make sure you don't make a mess, like he's supposed to be doing?"

She didn't wait for a response. "Never mind. You," she pointed her finger menacingly at Larry. "Pick all these up, and then you and Nick take it outside, okay?"

"But there's nowhere good to fire them outside," Larry grumbled, but he obediently joined Nick, who'd already started plucking Nerf darts off the window. Nice kid, she thought distractedly, still wondering where her husband was with her youngest. I hope Larry keeps him. He'd be a good influence.

A cheery carnival tune filled the apartment, and looking puzzled, Thalassa fished her phone out of her pocket.

"That's right," Synthia said to her, remembering, and made a beeline for the kitchen. The young woman followed her, saying to her phone, "Hello? .... yes, this is she."

"Mommy," said Carrie, materializing beside her. "Mommy, Mary pushed me and I hit my head and it hurts."

"Oh, sweetie. Come here and I'll give it a kiss. A magical kiss that'll take away the pain, like Tylenol, only without the dry-swallowing. Okay? There. Is that any better? Good. Now, Mommy's trying to find something for Mrs. Koontz. Argh, where did I put it?"

From behind her: "Yes, he's my husband. What about him?"

Synthia turned from the fridge, just in time to see all the color suddenly drain from Thalassa's face.

Across the hall, David started crying.

 

 

-

| PART TWO: David

 

 

 

They put Paulie in the ground.

They nailed the lid of his coffin shut so nobody was tempted to peek at his remains and they put him in the ground. Thalassa watched them do it, holding onto her own hands as tight as she could, so hard that the seams of her gloves imprinted into her flesh.

There weren't a lot of people there -- nobody from their old lives, of course, and Thalassa thought that was ridiculous. Running away had seemed romantic and spontaneous and the simplest solution at the time, but it was lonely. The loneliest of all the routes, because the only people who came to the funeral were the Butz, all with their easily-indentifible strawberry blonde hair, and some people she assumed were from Paulie's work, because she didn't recognize them.

They said the last rites, as generic as they could get because Thalassa had been unable to tell them what Paulie's denomination was -- she his wife! Why hadn't she asked? -- and they put him in the ground, and she squeezed her eyes shut and started screaming in a high, inaudible voice, where nobody could hear her.

She spent the next day in bed. She unplugged the phone, shut off all the lights, and pulled the sheets up over her head. She remained like this for about five minutes, and then she flipped over, facing away from the empty space beside her.

At some point, the baby began crying in the living room, the sounds weak and wet. She lifted her eyelids, but did not move her body. She could not move her body.

Finally, though, the cries drove down deep to some part of her, to some maternal instincts that perservered through her numb brain-death, and she padded barefoot into the next room. Exhausted by his efforts to drag her out of her grief, her son hiccuped and snuffled into silence, looking up at her with watery eyes. She hauled him out of his crib and went into the kitchen to wash his face, and then decided, because she was already there, to give the rest of him a bath too.

Brusquely, she wrapped him up in a kitchen towel and took him back to the bedroom. Her exhaustion was all-encompassing; she felt as if she had been working all day, not like she had just given a baby a bath.

She fell into bed; David squeaked in surprise. She gathered him into her arms, pulling his warmth to her chest like she just wanted to suck him into the empty void between her lungs. He grabbed at her and started sucking on the diamond-shaped buttons of her dress. He was teething, she remembered absently. She propped her pillow up under her head so she could look at him. Almost a year old now, and he was still as bald as a granny apple. It was unfair to him, she knew, but she found herself looking for Paulie in his doughy features.

Would there ever be anything of her dead husband in her child? His laugh, maybe, or his habit of saying the exact right thing at the right time?

It wasn't right. She had imagined so many things, so many different futures: Paulie and David at the park, tossing a football back and forth; David's first day of school, something neither home-schooled Thalassa or Paulie had ever experienced; David going to him for help with his homework, the birthdays they would celebrate, the girlfriends they would embarrass, the grandchildren who would have Thalassa's Gramarye eyes and the middle name Paolo. All of it. She'd wanted all of it. That's what she had signed up for!

How could he be dead? How could she have to face this alone, without him, without his easy smile and his adoring eyes? How could she wake up every morning and not have him there, wondering if she was happy?

Thalassa Koontz. A widow at nineteen.

"I'm not ready for this," she whispered to her baby, who looked up at the sound of her voice, like perhaps he could hear her screaming, still in the silence of her own head. She felt thin and brittle and stretched as taut as a tightrope.

"Mama," he said, the sounds squishy and indistinguishable in his mouth, and reached out to touch her bracelet.

Without even thinking about it, she slipped it from her wrist. It came easily, almost as if it knew, widening enough for her to slide it over the heel of her hand. David held onto it for a second, like he wasn't sure why he wanted it, and then, experimentally, he began to gnaw on it.

She gave him a dry kiss on the forehead. "You're going to need that," she told him, and he looked at her solemnly. "To find me later."

 

*&*

 

Synthia woke the next morning with a cramp in her shoulder that instantly put her into a bad mood.

She opened the window above the kitchen sink to get a feel for what it was going to be like; the humidity and the clamminess curled around her curtains, and she grimaced, her mood darkening further. It was going to be a hot day.

She decided her best course of action was to take a walk while it was still moderately bearable outside, and hopefully she'd be back before her children stirred and yawned their hungry mouths at her for breakfast. Then, absently, she leaned over and picked a Nerf dart off the sill. Must have been from when -- no. It was still too early in the morning to think of the day Paulie died.

She changed into what passed for work-out clothes and went out onto the landing, pausing to flex her calves and her achilles tendons the way she always saw joggers doing on street corners.

Right outside her front door, where she imagined milk would be if people did such things anymore, was a baby carseat.

Such was her early-morning drowsiness and the pain in her shoulder that it took Synthia a long moment to comprehend what she was looking at, like those pattern squares in newspapers that didn't make any sense until you looked through them. (She'd never been really good at those, and neither had her kids -- none of them wanted to sit still long enough; they were always so obsessed with the big picture.)

Then, "Oh, my god!" she said. "It's David!"

She grabbed the carseat by the handle, and having no idea what else to do, took it back to the Koontz place, on the vague and wild assumption that for some reason, they'd mixed their apartment numbers up and forgot to take their baby with them. Then she remembered, with a flash of pain, that Paulie was dead and Thalassa probably didn't want to be disturbed. Careful not to wake the sleeping infant, she knocked on the door. It swung open easily at her first touch, creaking, not in an eerie, ominous way, because the lock wasn't broken and there was no sign of struggle, but as if it had simply hadn't been shut properly, like the owner was in a hurry.

She pushed the door open the rest of the way, and Synthia stared, unable to comprehend why the place was bare.

Nothing remained except the furniture: the same set that was in her own apartment. Gone was the crib, the stack of mail, the neat, tidy labels on all the appliances that Synthia had put there for Thalassa's sake. There wasn't even the ghost of a hint that somebody had been living there; the carpet was vaccuumed and the linoleum in the kitchen had been mopped clean. The fridge had been unplugged, and she hazarded a guess that it would be empty. Nothing stirred.

It was too much to take in, so her eyes flickered, against her will, down to the face of the baby she carried at her side. She reached over to pull the blankets back; his face looked flushed. Maybe he was too hot. Or maybe he just was that deeply asleep, trusting that when he woke up, his parents would be there.

Synthia couldn't say for certain, not then, but she had the gut feeling that she was looking at an orphan.

 

*&*

 

The next step was obvious.

Within six months, when neither hide nor hair could be found of Thalassa Koontz or her whereabouts, the courts of California gave official custody of David Grey Koontz to Synthia and Tyler Butz.

"That is so unfair," griped Mary, hiding behind her book. "It's like they were glad to be rid of him."

"One brother is more than enough," agreed Carrie, sniffing delicately and pulling the end of her braid out of the eighteen-month-old's reach.

"I don't have to share my room with him, do I?" asked Larry, giving his parents the fish eye.

"I think he's adorable!" declared Evangeline, who was absolutely ecstatic to no longer be the baby of the family.

"Mommy," said David Butz to Synthia without pause, as if he had, in that strange way that children grasp things that even adults can never get, understood what was going on. "I'm hungry."

 

*&*

 

David grew quickly, and before long, the difference between him and the other Butz kids was apparent at a glance.

Where Synthia's son and three daughters were all lanky, with thin, prominent features and rioting hair just a shade south of auburn, David was a good head shorter than them all; his face broad and his alert, bright eyes close together, his hair darker than the rest of them put together. It was like like looking at a tableau and asking, which of the above does not belong?

So despite Synthia's initial plan of leaving Paulie and Thalassa's star-crossed love story out of the equation, when the youngest addition to her family came into the living room one night long after lights-out, dressed in footed duck pajamas and trailing a security blanket, and asked, "Mommy, am I adopted?" she felt her story dry up in her throat.

"Well, duh," said Carrie from the other armchair, before Synthia could get to her sugar-coated explanation.

David had a tendency to react explosively to the smallest things, a trait he shared with Larry, so she was immensely surprised when he took the news in stride; then again, perhaps he was too young to really grasp the significance of having been left on the doorstep like a kitten, and the explosion would come later.

"You put Orphan Annie on for him too many times, Mom," her eldest daughter told her, peeling potatoes over the sink. "He knows when he gets the better end of a bargain. Of course, the full-out parental repression hasn't started yet," she added quickly, lest her words be taken for appreciation. "So he's counting chicks too soon."

"Aww, thanks, sweetheart," Synthia leaned over to kiss her forehead, which earned her an embarrassed grimace and a potato peeler waved in her face.

 

*&*

 

By the time their firstborn started high school and sprouted approximately six inches in two months, Mr. and Mrs. Butz looked around their apartment, then at their five growing children, then at each other, and said, "Hm."

They moved to a suburb that fell half-way between San Mateo and Blessing Springs, where the police of both cities assumed it fell under the other's jurisdiction, so real estate was cheap and crime was high, but there was room and the Butz children weren't growing up in each other's laps anymore, and Synthia didn't have to walk past the neighboring apartment and remember the beautiful young woman and the bright-eyed young man who left their child behind.

Sometimes, though she would rather die than admit it, Synthia felt she was a better mother to David than Thalassa could have ever been. This was her own mother talking, the self-afflicted martyr who wasn't happy unless she knew everything and everything was done her way, and this was her own self talking, looking at all the mistakes she had made when she was a new mother, and she hadn't been half as clueless as Thalassa -- or maybe she had been. It was the kind of thing that only became clear in hindsight.

She wouldn't ever know, though, so she had to content herself with the fact that as far as anyone could tell, David was happy and thriving, and with time, his siblings took to him.

"Are you reading him a bed-time story?"

Mary snapped the cover of her comic book closed, looking sheepish. "He asked me to," she said, in the tone kids use when they're pointing at each other and saying, he did it.

Synthia folded her arms. "From your comic books? Honey, don't you think you could find something a little more wholesome than Superman or Catwoman or something?"

Her eldest daughter widened her eyes at her, insulted. "This isn't anything like Catwoman!" She lifted her book, which was one of those weird ones that read right-to-left. "This is how comic books should be; I wouldn't read anything less to him. Besides, it's a good story. It's about this guy, his name's Apollo, right, and he's devoted to --"

"Let me guess. Justice?" Synthia waved it away; she'd taken a mythology course or two in college. "Just don't adle his brains, all right?"

"Don't worry, Mom," said Mary, who was more perceptive than people gave her credit for. "He won't end up to be like Larry. If I keep reading to him, maybe he'll grow up to be like Apollo Justice." She smiled and fondly stroked the cover of her obscure comic book.

Synthia felt a flush of bewildered pride, which wasn't uncommon in the Butz family. "If you say so."

"Well," Mary amended. "Minus the womanizing, hopefully."

"Now that I remember from mythology."

 

*&*

 

"David!"

He snapped to attention at the sharp, vehement hiss of Synthia's voice, thrown down the row of creaking plastic chairs to reach him. "For god's sake, roll your shirtsleeves down!"

"Mom!" David hissed back, in a much less developed indoor voice. "It's really hot and stuffy in here!"

The people in the row in front of them stirred, rustling to one another. Synthia couldn't imagine what bothered them so -- the families were arranged in alphabetical order, same as the graduates, and up on the podium they were somewhere in the P's. The excitement had worn off long ago. "It looks sloppy," she snapped, half in frustration with the heat -- which was making her own curls limpid -- and half in frustration with the people. The least she could do was make her children look presentable.

Keeping his gaze on the stage, like he really cared which bottle-blonde California girl with a pearl bracelet was getting her high school diploma, he very carefully added another roll to his crisp, white sleeves, which had already been pushed up to his elbows. Thunderclouds gathered over Synthia's head.

David escaped the instant the ceremony was over. She watched him weave out of her line of sight with a flutter of apprehension, knowing that when he found her later, he would be covered in dirt. He was at the age where boys liked to go digging for worms and newts and little brown-speckled geckos. She'd already said no to half a dozen pets he'd brought home in jam jars.

The girls and her husband wandered off, too, in the general direction of the food table (Synthia's stomach gave a very painful rumble in reminder; they had the right idea) and when her son and his best friend found her, she still had that grimace on her face, but it brightened and she moved to embrace them both.

"Hello, Mrs. Butz," said Phoenix Wright, once Larry was done showing off his diploma ("didn't imagine I'd ever get here, didja?" "I must confess there were moments when I got anxious." "Mom!")

"Hello, Nick. How are you doing?" The sympathy entered her voice before she could stop it -- his parents had been arrested and put in prison around Thanksgiving; the Butz had driven him down to the state penitentiary in Los Angelos to visit them at Christmas and again for their anniversary. She'd tried to impress upon him that he was welcome with the Butz any time -- after all, what was one other foundling? -- but Larry told her Phoenix had an independent streak and was keen on proving that whatever was wrong with his parents wasn't going to be wrong with him.

So it didn't surprise her when he just smiled blandly and said, "Just fine, Mrs. B."

She nodded to him. "Remind me again where you're going after this."

"Ivy University."

Larry grimaced prematurely as Synthia rounded on him. "And that's exactly where you could be going, too, young man, if only you had worked a little harder!"

"I worked plenty hard!" he whined, unable to believe she was bringing this up at his own graduation -- and in front of his friend, to whom getting into a top school was on par with breathing. Then he continued to bring up Pam and how it was best for the both of them if they went to the community college together, and there was plenty of time for an expensive school later, once he'd gotten a basic education.

Mrs. Butz and Phoenix Wright, the two souls in the universe who knew Larry better than he knew himself, cut their eyes at each other and, as one, snorted with pure disbelief.

 

*&*

 

When he was ten, Synthia took David to the courthouse and they talked for a long time with a lawyer, who invited them to come with him to his office uptown.

David liked the lawyer -- he had the Steel Samurai on his tie and the first thing he did when they entered the office was to announce that David was too big for the lollipops that were in the bowl at the edge of his desk, and gave him a whole chocolate mint instead.

"So why are we here today?" the lawyer asked his mother, settling his bulk into the chair next to her, so that David could spin around in the plush swivel chair behind the desk and play with his steel ballpoint pen.

Synthia knew he knew already, but she played along anyway. "My son has recently celebrated his tenth birthday. His father and I decided that he is now old enough to change his name." She was gratified to find her voice didn't shake at all. 'His father and I decided' was a euphemism for several nights of heated argument, in which Tyler told her, repeatedly, that they at least owed David the option of picking a name that didn't reflect who left him or who kept him.

"Aha!" the man smiled with warm understanding. "David Butz. Yes. Ah." He cleared his throat. "I see your dilemma." He rubbed his hands together, peering at them both over the rims of his reading glasses. "Well, you've come to the right man! I have the ability to grant your wishes! So tell me, young man, what do you have in mind?"

His mouth still smarting from the mint, David suddenly felt very silly, and looked down at his hands shyly.

When he said nothing, Synthia prompted him, "Go on. You were so adamant about your decision this morning!"

Mutely, the little boy shook his head, his mouth shut tight as a clam.

Taking pity on him, the lawyer waved it off. "Don't worry about it! A name's an important thing! Tell you what, you think about it for awhile, okay? I'll give your mom some papers, and when you've reached a conclusion, we can sign them then!"

"Thank you, Mr. Grossberg," said Synthia, seeing the relief on her adopted son's face.

"Don't fret. I wish you the best of luck on your endeavor, young man, whatever you may decide!" He stuck out his meaty hand for David to shake.

No one could ruin lawyers in his opinion after that.

 

*&*

 

With the same serious intent he used when he was selling chocolate boxes for school fundraisers, David went door to door in his neighborhood, carefully explaining his circumstances to his bemused neighbors and asking for their opinion. What should his name be?

"I don't get it," said Carrie, watching David traipse across the lawn towards the family across the street with single-minded determination. She put aside her college checklist to frown at her mother. "How come he gets to change his name? You never offered the choice to any of us."

Synthia answered primly, "Because he deserves the chance to choose for himself. Each one of you must learn to live with us and the names we gave you, because we're your parents and life's unfair like that. But he deserves to have something that's completely his own, something that he chose. I want to give him some control over his life."

But, when he finally told Synthia he was ready, and she took him back to Mr. Grossberg's office, the name he wrote down wasn't the one he had been intending to write, and certainly wasn't anything his neighbors suggested to him.

When he was done, Mr. Grossberg applauded him and handed the papers to his notary, who was a little older than Larry and had a glossy pin on her chest like the kind that airline stewardesses have that said her name was Mia, and she beamed at him, kind of like she was seeing someone else in his place.

"Come on, Apollo Justice," said his mother, wrapping her arm around him to kiss the crown of his head. He let her, because it was a special occassion, and he liked the way the name sounded in her mouth. "Let's go celebrate."

 

*&*

 

The following summer, the Butz family got an unexpected windfall -- Mr. Butz, who liked to call in to his favorite radio station regardless of whether or not he knew the answer to whatever trivia quiz they were hosting (his argument was that he lived in a free country and his ancestors -- to which he paid little attention unless he wanted to blame something on them -- had fought for the right to say whatever he wanted on a public radio, and if he was going to spend the rest of his life complaining about society, he might as well enjoy it) won two tickets to a magic show by complete accident.

The problem was: there were only two tickets and seven members of the Butz family, all of whom wanted to go, just to say they could.

"Have any of you even heard of Troupe Gramarye?" Synthia wanted to know, supervising her youngest daughter's attempt at ironing out her homecoming dress. The question was directed down the hallway to the family room.

"Vaguely," came a response from one of the other girls. "But mostly just on, like, the celebrity shows and stuff."

"The girl magician's hot," piped up Larry, and, as usual, went ignored. He'd dropped out of community college in the fall and was bumming off them, so his opinion counted for very little in the household anymore.

"According to their website," announced her husband, taking the kind of tone people use when they're quoting something they have in front of them. "They're taking the old world by storm and bringing life back to the stage, which all thought could not be awakened in today's technology-absorbed world."

"Scintillating," said Carrie, voice scathing.

"Nobody invited you," Synthia replied sharply, reaching over Evangeline and pulling the iron up quickly before it could burn the dress.

As there were two tickets, Mr. Butz suggested that he and Synthia go -- and have a night to themselves, just like the old days. Synthia squashed this idea.

"If you want to take me out on a romantic date, I want you to actually plan it," she told him tartly. "I don't want you to do it just because you happened to come by these tickets and supposed you could use them on your wife, if you had to."

Her husband made a meek noise in his throat. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and kissed his cheek. "I'm glad I was your first choice, honey. That was sweet."

In the end, Synthia wound up taking Apollo. Her reason was quite simple -- he was the only member of the family still young enough to not consider it a capital sin to be seen in public with his mother.

Secondly, Synthia was a romantic and had encouraged this trait in her children, under the impression that since it worked so well for her, surely it would benefit the next generation, who would know what to do with it long before she ever did. It backfired on her with Larry, who went through life with his head more in the clouds than anywhere useful, and she'd stopped doing so much of it. As a result, Apollo had never been subjected to a whimsical trip to the beach or the San Francisco zoo, and Synthia felt she owed him an experience like her older children.

She lived to regret it, of course. For more reasons than one.

Oh, the concert was fine. Crowded, of course, and Synthia and Apollo were put in a box way high up in the Colisseum Bowl with the logo of the radio station they won their ticket from draped in front of them, and plastered to every water bottle and foam finger they held.

No, the worst part came when the concert was over, and while the two of them were caught in the hoard of excited, clamoring people rushing for the exit in order to reach their cars before the rest of the rush, Synthia's quest to find a bathroom landed them in some strange, empty corridor, completely lost.

The corridor was low and thick concrete, like nobody had bothered to even attempt at making it interesting looking, so she assumed they were backstage somewhere.

"Mom," said Apollo, voice completely bored. "Come on. Let's go back. There's bound to be some by the entrance. This is the Colisseum."

"Wait, wait," she waved him off. "I hear a voice up ahead. Maybe they'll know." She sped up slightly, ready to call out, when a woman rounded the corner, her head turned in conversation with someone behind her. Her bright, prettily made-up face was alight with laughter. Synthia and Apollo stopped dead in the same moment, because it was the woman magician. The only female member of Troupe Gramarye. There was a national celebrity standing ten feet away.

They had only a split second to register this fact before she twisted her head around to face the front, and they got a good, up close look of her cornflower blue eyes.

Synthia's mind ground to a complete standstill.

"Thalassa?" Her voice came out an octave higher than usual. "Thalassa Koontz?"

At once, the delighted warmth in the magician's eyes vanished, and she flinched, her mouth forming soundlessly over Synthia's name in return.

Synthia regained the skeleton of her senses. "Thalassa Gramarye. Sorry. It's been so long, and this was the last place I expected to see you." She smiled, which took an enormous amount of effort, because her head was absolutely reeling, unable to process what was standing right in front of her. Who was standing right in front of her.

She'd always assumed ... she'd always assumed that Apollo was truly an orphan. That Thalassa had done the overdramatic newlywed thing, and followed her husband to the grave. And here she was, the star of a sold-out concert.

Then, when she thought things couldn't trip her up anymore, Thalassa turned her attention to Apollo, who looked highly intrigued by the whole thing. Who wouldn't be? Synthia thought as if from a long way away. To find out your mother knows ... your mother.

The true irony of the situation hit her with the force of a fire hydrant.

"Oh my god!" said the magician with Thalassa Koontz's bright eyes, clapping a hand to her heart. "Is this your youngest, Synthia? He's gotten so big!"

Synthia stared at her in horror. Mother and son meeting for the first time, and what on earth was she supposed to tell them? She'd lied to Apollo since the beginning, painting his mother to be a much better woman than she really was, so she couldn't just be like, "Oh, hey! By the way!"

At the same time, she was a mother, too, and if she was in Thalassa's shoes, she'd want somebody to tell her, "See? This is your offspring. He's not a mutant and you haven't permenantly messed him up by abandoning him. Would you like to know his name?"

Fortunately, she was saved the terrible choice by two things happening in quick succession.

One was Apollo, who suddenly exclaimed, "Dude! We have the same bracelet! That's so cool; I've never met anyone else who had it!"

He extended his wrist, exposing the eyelet bracelet that he'd worn every single day since he was deposited at the Butz's door, like he wore his skin. Thalassa's eyes flicked to it and grew wide, wider, and wider still, and flew back to his face, searching it wildly. The expression in her eyes told Synthia that she knew who she was looking at.

The second was the high-pitched cry of a little girl from the other end of the corridor, and her words, echoing down the cement hallway. "Mommy, Mommy!" she cried, pelting helter-skelter towards them. "You were fantastic!"

The girl dashed into her mother's arms. She was at least four years old, dressed in a cape that was too large for her and a top hat that fell over her eyebrows, and she had a very familiar grin -- Synthia had seen it almost every day when Apollo was her age. She knew what it was going to look like once that girl lost her two front teeth, too.

The girl kept on chattering, but both women were only listening with half an ear. They stared at each other, wanting to know if the other understood the gravity of what they were witnessing.

Until the day she died, Synthia Butz's greatest regret was what she did next.

"It was a good show," she said very faintly. "Come on, Apollo. It's time we got home. It's a school night, and as I recall, there's a matter of a messy room you'd promised you'd clean if I took you to this."

"Aw, Mom," protested Apollo in an embarrassed mumble, but he allowed himself to be led away, down the cement corridor, away from his mother and his half-sister.

Three weeks later, Thalassa Gramarye was dead. They showed the interview with her grieving, shifty-eyed father and her shell-shocked husband, and Synthia stared at the screen for so long that the watermelon she was holding slipped from her grasp, hitting the kitchen floor and rupturing, sending thick, red globs of watermelon flesh splattering across the linoleum and the cabinets.

 

-

| PART THREE: Apollo

 

 

The call came late at night, which didn't really bother anyone because the kids were all old enough by then that there was no such thing as a "bed time" anymore, so Apollo rolled his chair across the thick carpet of the study to reach the phone, which somebody had buried behind a few anthology volumes.

"Butz residence, this is Apollo," he said, grinning as, upstairs, he heard Evangeline shriek, "MOM! What if that was Alex? I don't want my thirteen-year-old twerp of a brother answering the phone!"

"Yes, is Synthia or Tyler there?" went the voice on the other end, accompanied by the buzz of what sounded like office activity in the background.

"Hang on one moment," Apollo said solicitously. He put the phone into the cradle of his shoulder and yelled, "MOM! DAD! It's for you! And no, Evangeline, it's not Alex! God, desperate much?"

"SHUT UP," his sister roared back.

His mother materialized at his side, smiling tolerantly. She removed her oven mitts and extended her hand for the phone. "If the timer on the oven buzzes, can you get it?" she mouthed at him, before putting the phone to her ear. "Butz residence, this is Synthia."

With an absent nod, Apollo rolled his chair back to the computer. Still, he kept one ear on Synthia's conversation, because he could tell by how strained her face became that it wasn't good news she was hearing, which was curious enough to warrant his full attention. She combed the ends of her hair with her fingertips, over and over again.

When she finally hung up, she stared blankly at the bookshelf in front of her for a long moment. When she turned, she caught Apollo looking at her with a question in his eyes.

A false smile lit her face. "It's okay," she chirped. "Did the timer go off?"

"Mom," said Apollo as gently as possible. "Did you know that when you're lying, you have a tendency to play with the ends of your hair?"

Synthia just looked at him for a long moment, and smiled sadly. "Can you go and fetch your father and your sister, please? I think this is something I need to tell the whole family."

 

*&*

 

The detention center opened at nine the next morning, and the Butz family arrived promptly fifteen minutes later. Both Mary and Carrie were in separate states, but they'd been left messages explaining the situation to the best of the avalaible knowledge.

When they were escorted in, Larry was already deep into an argument.

"I don't know how many times I keep on gott'n to tell you, man!" he bellowed from the other side of the plexiglass, color high on his cheeks. "I loved Cindy! I loved her more than my own breath! I wouldn't touch a hair on her head! Never! Not in a million years!"

"You're advised not to say anything until your lawyer gets here, Mr. Butz," said the detective already there, his voice amused and highly condescending, and very deep; deep enough to swim in. In the little room, he was towering, dressed all in orange like a caution sign at a construction site. He steepled his fingers, looking at Larry over the rims of his half-moon glasses. "But if you want to keep talking, by all means, I'm listening. All I need from you is a confession. That's the rules. You either confess, or you shut up. Do you understand?"

Larry, of course, wasn't good at following instructions.

"Mom!" he choked, catching sight of them behind the detective. "Dad! Guys! What are you doing here?"

"Detective Skye called us last night, son," said his dad. He and Synthia were holding hands, their lips white and pursed at the sight of their firstborn son in handcuffs. "Said that you ... that you had smashed your girlfriend over the head with ... with a statue?" his voice trailed off into a horrified whisper, half-denial, half-question.

"I didn't do it!" Larry wailed instantly. "Why does everyone think I did it? I wouldn't hurt her! She was my world!"

Evangeline cut her eyes to Apollo, and he gave his head a minute shake. Now would not be a good time to bring up the fact that Larry had said the same thing about at least a dozen girls before. It wouldn't look good -- and that was what it came down to. Saving what scraps of Larry's reputation they could, because something in the back of their minds told them that the truth was vague, insubstantial: if the proof and the first finger of blame pointed to Larry, his reputation alone would be enough to condemn him. Nobody would think to look further.

And that scared the hell out of him.

His sister's eyes turned down at the corners.

He opened his mouth to say something to her, or to Larry, or to anybody at all, when a voice from behind them cut them off.

"That's enough, Detective Gant!" the woman's voice was clear, like mountain air, and it was directed at the man in orange, whose face fell almost comically. "Leave him alone."

"I still don't know what part of 'you have the right to remain silent' your client doesn't get, Mia Fey," said Detective Gant cheerfully, as he squeezed past the four Butz, the defense lawyer in the pencil skirt, and her spiky-haired, pale-faced companion in the rather small conference room.

"Well, now he's my problem. Shoo, Detective. The pool is calling. Go, communicate with the chlorine." She shook her hands after him the way people do to fruit flies until he had closed the door behind him. Then she rounded on the Butz and frowned, taking in the matching strawberry blonde hair and thin features of Synthia, Tyler, and Evangeline and then moving to Apollo, who had dark hair, dark eyes, and a nice face except for the pimples. "Who are you?" she wanted to know.

"Family," piped up the man in the blue suit behind her. "Mother, father, brother, and sister."

"Why are they here? Nobody's supposed to talk to the suspect unless -- oh wait," said Mia Fey, understanding her companion's quirked eyebrow without needing it explained. "Our police are idiots. Never mind." She rounded on the three Butz who weren't under arrest and Apollo Justice. "Now, it's great to know my client has a supportive family and I envy you, truly, but right now I'd like to talk to Larry about Cindy Stone."

"He didn't do it," said Evangeline, knee-jerk.

The defense lawyer surprised them by smiling; a warm, almost grandmotherly smile that seemed a little strange on her otherwise young face. She looked like she had been born to smile for a great many people. "I know that," she said, so gently that everyone present instantly relaxed despite themselves, including Larry, who'd been pressed to the glass with a faintly suspicious expression. "And we're going to prove it," she tossed another one of those feel-good smiles over her shoulder to the man in the blue suit. "But in my experience, it's a little hard for people to be entirely forthcoming about the details of a grisly murder when their parents are standing right there."

"Oh," said Synthia. "Right. Okay. You heard her, guys. Marching orders. Honey," she added to Larry. "We'll see you soon, okay? Be strong. And don't put your face on the glass; you don't know who touched it last."

"Yes, Mom," said Larry, who had only really obeyed one person.

"Out of curiosity," said Apollo to the man in the blue suit. "What's up with your hair?"

Phoenix Wright rolled his eyes. "You'll understand when you're my age, kid."

 

*&*

 

By four o'clock in the afternoon the next day, Larry Butz was pronounced innocent of the murder of Cindy Stone.

"Are you kidding?" said Carrie over the phone, her voice disgusted. "I didn't even have time to get really worked up about it! Here I was, thinking I could at least take a couple days off from work on account of being suitably distressed and all. Not to mention how interesting I would suddenly be to Ned Cabit, down the hall."

"Well, I'm sorry Larry didn't kill someone," said Apollo, dry as dust. "I'm sure that must have been terribly inconvenient for you."

"Oh, you have no idea," said his sister, in that tone that suggested she was very grateful that Larry was innocent, but had to keep up pretenses lest someone accuse her of developing a personality, or, worse yet, a heart.

"What we should do is sent a really big thank you card to the Fey and Co. Law Offices," said their father, who had a big slice of rhubarb pie on a plate in his right hand as a kind of delayed reaction, ignoring his scowling wife, who'd been pulled aside by the doctor not half a year earlier and warned that Mr. Butz was getting old and should watch his cholesterol. He liked to eat pie when he was stressed.

"We should!" agreed Evangeline warmly. "They did an amazing job!"

"What do you mean by that?" Larry frowned at her. "Anyone with half a brain could look at me and know I was innocent!"

"I like lawyers," said Apollo, half-remembering Mr. Marvin Grossberg and his chocolate mints.

"No, you just liked Mia Fey because she had a double-D cup, at least."

Apollo flushed bright red.

 

*&*

 

He went into high school with both fists swinging. Having watched all four of his older siblings flounder their way through one at a time, he considered himself an old hat at this thing already.

Within his first semester, he covered all of those important high school things, just going straight down the line like he'd prepared a checklist before hand. He crashed a homecoming dance, he smoked a joint in the boy's bathroom on the third floor, he kissed an upperclassman girl and got beat up by her quarterback boyfriend, he had to call his mom and have her fetch him when he got too wasted one night to remember the number of the cab company, and he got suspended for three days for drawing profane graffiti in the girl's locker room.

Second semester, he was just bored.

"You should join a club or something," Mr. Butz suggested to him tentatively, finding Apollo in front of the bathroom mirror, apparently making lawn sculpture out of his hair (at least, that's what it looked like to Synthia.)

The boy considered this. "Okay," he shrugged, and went about trying to figure out if he had any interests worth cultivating.

Initially, the school choir had been extremely interested in recruiting him. Remembering the way Thalassa Koontz had sung to herself while doing everything, like the notes of a song could paint her into a scene she really wanted to be in, Synthia told him to go for it.

They found out rather quickly, though, that Apollo simply liked being loud. Volume he had no problem with, which Synthia supposed was a product of being the youngest of five children and constantly having to compete to be heard, and tone and note came secondary, if at all.

Drama club came sniffing around next, but Apollo didn't bother going to the auditions.

"I wouldn't be able to get past the fact everyone's just pretending," he told Mary, who'd called to try to persuade him down that path. "I don't really like lying, not even for a play. Besides, the spring production is a musical, and we all know how well that's going to go."

"Well, damn," sighed Mary. After college, she'd moved to the East Coast and fallen in with a bunch of chin-stroking thespians. She'd hoped she'd at least have that much in common with Apollo: he was her favorite brother, after all.

"You know, man, the debate team president just dropped out," offered his best friend one day at the beach. "They're trying to find someone to fill in. They need eleven in order to go to regionals."

Apollo bent down to fasten his surfboard's catch line securely around his ankle. "How come everyone always insists it's vitally important that we all join clubs?"

His friend shrugged, "Hell if I know why any of 'em do the crap they do in high school, brother. Enrichment or something. Hey, zip me up, will you? I want to catch some of those swells before the wind changes direction."

"Yeah, sure. Now why can't there be a surfing club? That I could get behind."

So Apollo Justice joined the debate team.

They won regionals by a landslide. To celebrate, Synthia said to her son and his best friend on the drive home, pick a restaurant, any restaurant, it's on her.

There wasn't much to say for the average teenage boys' taste in cuisine, she decided, as the three of them sat down at a picnic table in the park with several take-out bowls of noodles. The noodles were way too salty for Synthia's taste, but hey, as long as she didn't have to cook it, she wasn't going to complain.

By a feat of multi-tasking only achievable between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, Apollo managed to slurp up huge portions of his noodles and host a conversation at the same time.

"Yeah, yeah!" His best friend cut in, waving his hands desperately in front of Apollo's face to stem the stream of words coming out of his mouth. "I know, man. I was there, too! It was totally like a scene straight out of A Few Good Men."

"No kidding! I was all like, 'Here comes Justice!'"

Synthia turned away, smiling and leaving them to their jargon. She cast an idle glance across the park -- it was a nice day: the cold thaw of winter had finally snapped into spring. Several people were out jogging in shorts, mothers with strollers warning their children against straying too close to the Kitaki mansion, and the noodle seller they'd gotten their lunch from had a few more customers. As he dished up some broth into his bowls, he hummed away happily on his harmonica, and the notes carried across to her where she sat, where a confused sparrow tried to imitate the sound. He handed the bowls to the man and the little girl, smiling and chattering in a familiar way, like they were frequent customers.

The little girl lifted her head, laughing in a high, musical kind of way like breaking glass: the sound came flying out of Synthia's past to sucker-punch her in the gut.

She forgot everything else. Slowly, she rose off the bench to get a better look. The girl was several years older since the last time she saw her, maybe ten or eleven, but the curl to her hair and the clothes she wore were unmistakable -- the silk top hat and satin cape.

Apollo's half-sister cheerfully slurped up her noodles not a hundred feet from them. She bumped elbows with the man beside her, and he bumped her back. She reached over with her chopsticks to steal the fishcake off the top of his bowl, and he protested by tickling her under the chin until she squirmed away, giggling. The soft, besotted expression that came to his face left no doubt in Synthia's mind: this was her father.

It had been a long time indeed since she last thought about Troupe Gramarye. So many things about Thalassa had clicked into place after their encounter at Sunshine Coliseum, and the knowledge that she'd been next-door neighbors with a national superstar was still a little too surreal for her to swallow.

She hadn't told Apollo. During the Magnifi trial a couple years back, the one that had been on every news channel for a week, he'd come watch some of the coverage with her, and the entire time she felt as tightly wound as a guitar string, waiting for him to raise some kind of question to her. She didn't know what. "How come they look like me?" or something. But he hadn't, and every time they would mention in passing on the news that Magnifi Gramarye was succeeded by his disciples, Zak and Valant, and his granddaughter, Trucy, she would pull one of the throw pillows to her face and whisper, "And his grandson, too."

They'd come close to it, once. When they had first applied for a passport for him, Apollo sat for a long time with his birth certificate, and the papers legalizing his name change. Synthia watched him run his fingers over the faint indentations left by the signatures of his parents.

"If there's anything you want to know about them..." she had said, making him jump. He used to ask a ton of questions as a child, but they'd petered off as he'd gotten older, as if he thought they'd just been made up, right there along with Santa and the Easter Bunny.

"They were your neighbors, weren't they?"

"And good people," she said fervently. If young and a little clueless.

He looked at the birth certificate, and then back at her, and smiled. "Thanks." And that had been that.

As she slowly became aware how creepy she must look, standing there next to the picnic table, staring at a man and his daughter like they were ghosts, she also became aware that she wasn't the only one who was doing it.

Another man, sitting alone two tables down, had his eyes absolutely riveted on the two of them. He was too well-dressed to be homeless, but he had the same devil-may-care slouch to his posture, like he had all the time in the world to sit in the park and stare at pretty girls in magician costumes. His face was dark and thin, his beard neatly trimmed: Turkish, maybe, or Spanish. She felt like she should know him from somewhere.

His eyes tracked every movement Apollo's half-sister made, and his fingers stroked at a golden locket that hung in his throat.

Okay, she thought. I am sufficiently creeped out.

"Hey! Earth to Mom!" The blunt end of a chopstick found its way into her side and she jolted firmly back down onto the planet, twisting to scowl down at Apollo. "Where did you go just now?"

She rubbed the sore spot in her side. "Somewhere very, very peaceful, where one's son treats her with respect. I should take you there sometime. You might learn something. You guys ready to go?"

 

*&*

 

Detective Skye never called again to give her bad news, but Larry ended up in court again and again, for one reason on top of another. Synthia couldn't help but chew her thumbnails to the quick and think that she liked it so much better when Larry was just a class-clown and a lovesick puppy -- now she saw him on the evening news, standing in the backround in courtroom lobbies, while the newscaster threw words around like, "murder," like it had nothing to do with her son. Her silly son who had once walked in on a business dinner with Mr. Butz's boss wearing Mary's underwear on his head when he was eight.

It would make anybody lose their mind, and Synthia was sure her firstborn had finally cracked when he called her up one day in early February and said, "Hi, Mom. I changed my name. I'm Laurice now."

"That's nice, Larry," Synthia switched her cordless phone to one shoulder to free her hands. She was folding laundry. "Where are you living now? I called your home number, but it just rang and rang and rang until finally some weird Russian lady answered. Are you in trouble? You know you can always come home --"

"MOM," Larry interuppted. "Did you hear me? I changed my name! Don't call me Larry. I'm Laurice!"

"That makes you sound gay, honey," she told him, because Carrie wasn't there to do it. "And what do you mean, changed your name?"

"My name is Laurice Deauxnim," he replied seriously, but she caught the faint hint of love and pride in his voice: however weird it sounded, he plainly felt good about his choice and no amount of thinly-veiled sarcasm from her was going to change that.

An inarticulate feeling rose up in her, a remnant of the fear she'd felt when they'd legally changed Apollo's name. "You can't just do that without telling me!"

"Why not? You let David do it. You let him take the name of that ridiculous superhero from Mary's comics because you wanted him to make a future that was entirely his own. Why can't I do the same thing? Why can't I leave everything I was behind and start anew in a new direction, with a new name? Huh?"

Synthia's jaw clicked shut, because she couldn't argue with that. She twirled the ends of her hair around in her fingers.

Against her will, her eyes flickered towards the kitchen. Apollo stood in front of the fridge, a can of soda in one hand and the other holding a textbook open against his front. He was taller and lankier, longer at the leg and slouched in the shoulder, having grown fully into his teenage awkwardness. But where all her other children grew sullen and withdrawn -- all for very good reasons, Synthia knows, because she remembers being their age, even though she had to swallow her impatience with them sometimes -- Apollo hadn't reached that stage.

And, always a magnet to distress, he lifted his eyes just as she looked at him. He quirked an eyebrow in question.

But how could she answer him? How could she explain that her son -- the only son of her body, which didn't matter in the bigger scheme but became painfully obvious during scenes like this -- didn't want the name she gave him anymore? That he was cutting out his past and starting anew, without his mother, without his family?

She shook her head minutely.

"Did we raise them okay?" she asked her husband, later, as he bent over the sink to spit out his toothpaste. "Our kids, I mean. I never thought of ourselves as dysfunctional, but what if we did something wrong without knowing it? Or what if we weren't dysfunctional enough? Should we have fought in front of them more, showed them how grown-ups handle arguments, or --"

"Hey," said Tyler, very gently, putting his toothbrush down and taking her hands between his, so she stopped fidgeting with her hair. "We've always done the best we could for them. Whether or not we raised them right is for them to tell us."

 

*&*

 

His graduation gown was green, which was a choice he never did comprehend, considering green wasn't usually the color of choice for graduation colors, and it couldn't even be passed off as school pride because his high school's colors were blue and grey.

"I didn't even know suits came in red," his best friend commented when Apollo pulled his gown up over the top of his head. Out of the two of them, Apollo was the only one with something on underneath. They were waiting for his friend's girlfriend to bring him his clothes; due to having lost a beat with the quarterback over the outcome of their last season, he'd gone streaking up the aisle in the gymnasium right before the band struck up Pomp and Circumstance, right past everyone's parents. Apollo had been waiting for him in the locker room, and they'd thrown a gown over his head and hustled him into the procession just as it reached his letter, but he hadn't gotten a chance to retrieve his clothing. The entire way back, he'd kept up a steady stream of chatter to Apollo about the very pleasant breeze he'd had around his nethers the whole ceremony.

He was going to miss that. His best friend was going to Hawaii for college. Apparently they gave surfing scholarships. Who knew?

Apollo inspected his suit, which did look rather clownish now. "They're giving me a complex," he grumbled. "All the institutional greens and blues and greys. My family does it, too."

"Your family are all a bunch of redheads," commented his friend, as if to point out the logical reason why Apollo never really had anything red to wear as a child, since his clothes were mostly hand-me-downs.

"It looked good on me when I bought it," he said, as unbuttoned his cuffs and rolled his sleeves up to his elbows, mostly out of habit.

"It still does," said his best friend politely.

His girlfriend turned up at that moment, her hair alive with static from her own gown and a bundle of clothing in her arms. A man slouched in after her, and his expression became faintly forlorn when she made a distinct beeline for Apollo's best friend.

Apollo's face broke out in a grin, and in two strides, he was at his brother's side. "I think she's a little young for you, Larry," he commented, making Larry jump half a foot. "Besides, you're no longer avalaible. You wouldn't want to make a harlot out of her, would you?"

"I'm engaged, little bro," the older man corrected him mournfully, not even calling him on the 'harlot' remark. "It's absolutely the worst state to be in."

"You'll get over it," said Apollo with absolutely no sympathy at all.

Larry eyeballed him. "You've grown," he observed. It was almost a question.

Apollo grimaced, because it was true. Not that it would be obvious to anyone but him. Everybody cheerfully told him that he certainly was the shrimp of the family, wasn't he? What rankled him the most was that Larry was still taller than him by a considerable amount. He couldn't really be described as such, though, because he wasn't the kind of tall that made women's knees go weak by sheer process of having to look up at him, but more the kind of tall that came from being rolled too thin like bread dough.

Personally, Apollo had no idea what Larry had going for him -- still had going for him, rather, because he was going to turn thirty at the beginning of winter, and that was the end of the line as far as Apollo was concerned -- but whatever it was, he was probably stealing it from people like his little brother, who couldn't get a date if it was the last day on earth. Trust Larry to find a way to romance without having to do any of the work; back when he still lived with them, he always talked about some girlfriend in that vague, forgetful way that convinced the rest of the family that these girls, were, in fact, real. (If Larry had made them up, he would have remembered their names.)

"And I thought you weren't going to come," he said shrewdly. "I thought you were off in Japan, researching the branches of the Fa family or whatever for your next book."

"Fey. The book's on hold for the wedding," said Larry promptly, like this should have been obvious. "And I haven't seen you in ..." the math was apparently too difficult for him. "A long time, man." He bumped shoulders. "So. The youngest one is all grown up and leaving the nest."

"Any advice for me?" Apollo said gamely.

Larry threw an arm over his shoulder, going for a confidential whisper, "You know, man, I know you're never gonna admit it, but I know these things, and it's okay. I know some very nice people who went to college virgins. There's no shame in --"

"Oh, my god, I'm not listening to this," Apollo put his hand in Larry's face and shoved him off, wondering why the hell he'd ever missed him.

 

*&*

 

While packing up his room for college, he came across something interesting partially tucked underneath his reading lamp, and laughingly held it up to inspect it.

"Oh, wow, I remember this. Hey, Larry!" he called out the window to his brother, who was sorting boxes on the front lawn. Their parents were moving to somewhere smaller and more manageable, now that they had an empty nest. Synthia was starting to develop arthritis in her fingers, so she took more pleasure in standing at the kitchen windows shouting orders to everyone else. "Do you remember when Dad won those tickets to see a magic show? I still have the ticket stub!" He glanced down at it, frowning lightly. "Come to think of it, I wonder what happend to those guys. Troupe Gramarye."

"They disbanded," said his sister-in-law from the doorway. "Some dark, shady mystery with a murder and evidence forged to frame the remaining members -- they split right down the middle."

"Oh, sad," said Apollo, who remembered all that vaguely from the news -- his mother had been extraordinarily intrigued by the whole thing when it was going on.

"It was," agreed Franziska, unusually subdued. "Incredibly sad, the whole affair."

 

*&*

 

It didn't take long at all for him to come to the attention of his professor. With the self-consciousness of someone who'd grown up in a family whose surname had always attracted a second glance, he figured it was mostly because of his name, which -- he had to admit -- was hard to take seriously on someone who was a pre-law major.

When his professor called him in to see him after class one day, Apollo assumed he wasn't expecting anyone to show up -- that the "Apollo Justice" on his roll call was a hoax created by one of the frat houses. So he was surprised when he entered to find someone already there waiting for him.

"... and it turned out that it was the girlfriend who'd done it," said his professor to the visitor, obviously winding down on what had been a spirited tale, and too late into it for Apollo to make any sense of it at all. "Name was Dahlia. Sent ten thousand volts right through his body, and tried to blame it on the other guy! Talk about tough love. Man, those were some exciting times at Ivy University, let me tell you."

"Really? That's fascinating," said the man in the guest chair, his voice completely blithe. "I'd never heard that story before."

His professor caught sight of him in the doorway. "Ah," he said indulgently, straightening up. "Here he is now. Mr. Justice, there's someone I'd like you to meet."

The other man glanced up idly when Apollo closed the door behind him. He was long and kind of rangy, with an unshaven face and heavy eyelids, and he smelled powerfully of cigarette smoke and -- for some reason -- grapes. His dress shirt wasn't buttoned all the way, exposing the white undershirt beneath, and he was wearing sweatpants and flip flops. He looked like he'd just gotten back from the art department. Maybe they were going to subtly suggest Apollo switch majors to art instead: his teachers in high school always said he had a ridiculous eye for details.

Then he looked harder, found the familiar squiggle to the eyebrows and the half-buried light in his eyes, and recognition struck him like a two-by-four.

"Apollo, this is --"

"I know who you are!" Apollo blurted, unable to help the grin that spread across his face. "You're Nick Wright! Don't you have your own law office now? Um, criminal defense or something?"

"Not anymore," Mr. Wright said smoothly and without bitterness, arching an eyebrow.

Apollo was flustered. "Oh. Well, that's okay. I never really did thank you for what you did for my bother, did I? I'm sorry about that, but I think I was too young to really grasp what was going on. So, yeah, thanks, I guess."

"Your brother?"

He grinned. "Yeah. Larry Butz. He's a loser, sure, but he's no murderer, and everyone knows it, thanks to you."

All at once, he had Nick Wright's full attention; he sat up a little straighter and his eyes opened fully. His pupils flickered as his thoughts raced around. "But, of course," he breathed, with dawning wonder, like someone seeing something new in something they'd been looking at for a long time. "You're ... you're ...."

"David," Apollo provided helpfully. "David Butz. I changed my name, for reasons you might well imagine."

"Yes, I remember!" he laughed in delight. "I almost didn't recognize you; you grew out your hair! To think, Kristoph asked me to check out the youngest, brightest talent in Ivy University's pre-law program, and what do I find? It's a small world. Larry and I were best friends," he added for the bemused professor's benefit. "His was the first case I ever took."

"After all," Apollo prompted, "if something smells --"

"-- it's usually the Butz," Wright finished, smiling wide in a way that made his face look strangely bent and cracked, like he didn't do it too often.

In hindsight, that was probably the last time Phoenix Wright ever spoke to him without calculating every word, without measuring every expression, without smiling like he knew some great secret and enjoyed keeping him from it, without looking to some point beyond him like he wasn't really concerned with the here and now. They made jokes at Larry's expense and laughed at fresh stories, and later, Apollo would grow used to feeling like Phoenix was playing some great, elaborate poker game and every time somebody else lost, he plastered on that blank look, like, "oh, too bad," and let everyone else suffer the consequences, but not now. Right now, he was enjoying spending time with someone who was still a hero to him.

Right now, he was eighteen, and he hadn't yet learned to hate Phoenix Wright.

 

*&*

 

When he got through the doorway, he dropped his bookbag by the front door, on top of the sandals, next to the fake plant with dust gathering along its broad leaves.

He passed his father, who sat at the piano stool, staring blankly at the place where the pages of music should be, where there was nothing.

Synthia was seated in the dining room; the mail was spread out in front of her in a riot of ripped, ridged papers and an open checkbook. Evangeline was already there, her head in her mother's lap; her shoulders quivered. Her mother's hand stroked a gentle path from the crown of her head to the back of her neck, a hand both apologetic and comforting. He noticed, for the very first time, how spotted and pale that hand was. That was the hand of an old lady.

"You could have told us," said Apollo, rage making his voice eerie and blank and very quiet.

Synthia lifted her head slowly. She smiled. "I thought it would go away if I just rested," she explained, in the same voice she'd used to brush off all her illnesses before. "I thought it would go away."

He came in and took the other chair, getting down to their level. He looked his mother right in the eye and he asked, "How much longer do we have, Mom?" How much longer do we have with you? he asked with his eyes, with the constriction of his throat. And how many months of that time have you stolen from us, letting us waste it on other things?

She looked away.

His heart nearly cracked in two right then and there; in the light from the chandelier above the table, it was plain to see that her face was tired, drawn, and the same yellow of a Halloween squash.

 

*&*

 

Like Apollo, Evangeline had not gone far from home, and in the following weeks, he watched her take on a personality he hadn't even known she possessed.

She simply would not let Synthia make herself a martyr ("Mirror, mirror on the wall," said Synthia dryly. "We are our mothers after all.") She moved into the only spare bedroom at the Butz's new house, leaving room for Apollo to roll out a sleeping bag on the floor, and she saw that her mother's every need was catered to. She painstakingly went through the piled-up mail, she stocked the pantry, she kept the house neat and straightened up, because even though, personally, neither she nor Apollo cared what the house looked like, it was important to Synthia that she not let it fall into disrepair. As if a neat house meant she could fix her body up nice and neat too.

Apollo, in turn, took care of his father. Privately, they'd all assumed that it would be Tyler Butz who would have kicked the bucket first, due to his high cholesterol and his inability to take control of it; he soon learned that even Tyler himself had assumed it, looking through his life insurance plan.

It had been inconcievable, the idea of disease killing someone as strong-minded as Synthia Butz.

But dying she was.

The difference was distinguishable, even by the time Mary, Carrie, and Larry had arrived to find there was nothing to do but twiddle their thumbs and wait for the inevitable. Synthia's skin grew yellower as her liver deteroitated further; it sunk in on her bones, and she lost so much weight that she couldn't keep herself upright, and her husband took to carrying her everywhere, her arm around his shoulders, her body balanced around his substantial gut, like a middle-aged version of the carrying the bride over the threshold scene.

The time came much too soon for everyone's liking, and when they drove her to the hospital, all five children crammed into the back of the car, only to find there to be considerably less room than the last time they'd all done this. Synthia stood out on her front porch and looked at her house for the longest time. Her expression was heartbroken, like she knew it would be the last time she set eyes on it.

The day Synthia Butz died, Apollo was the last one to get to the hospital -- he'd spent most of the morning with Marvin Grossberg, too busy finalizing everything for when she did pass to notice Mary's text-message saying she was slipping away and would he hurry up and get over here, please.

"You're in pre-law, aren't you, son?" Mr. Grossberg asked as Apollo hastily stuffed the papers into his backpack.

"Um, yes, sir."

Mr. Grossberg took off his glasses, polished them absently with the silk scarf tucked into his lapels, and popped them back on. He cleared his throat, "I was wondering, if no one else had approached you yet.... ah-hem .... if perhaps you'd think about coming to work for me when you got your degree?"

Apollo paused, looking up at him in surprise. What he was going to do after college and law school ... he hadn't even thought of it.

And just as quickly, he knew one thing for sure. Robert Hammond, Diego Armando, Mia Fey ... all the lawyers who worked for Marvin Grossberg wound up dead.

"I'll think about it, sir. Have a good day." And he hustled out the door.

When he got there, everyone had already said their good-byes: Evangeline was in the chair right outside the hospital room, crumpled in on herself, crying. Her father stood beside her, his hands resting comfortingly on her shoulders. Larry, Mary, and Carrie sat with their backs to the wall, very pale and quiet. From what he could see through the half-open door, there was a man in a blue suit standing by Synthia's bed.

"Go on," said Tyler, noticing him standing there. He jerked his head towards his mother's room. "She wants to talk to you."

Apollo entered, and the man bent over Synthia looked at him for an uncomfortably long time, naked curiosity in his chiseled face. He was a very tall man, with frameless glasses perched ready on his nose and a rat's tail of blonde hair running over one shoulder. He looked very wine country, thought Apollo with a sigh.

"Is this him?" he asked Synthia with an accent that put him as far away from wine country as you could get and still be on the same planet. Apollo couldn't place it.

Synthia nodded, looking faintly confused, like she wasn't quite she where she was or what she had just been saying. He wondered if the stranger was a lawyer and sat down in the chair by his mother's bed, prepared to stare at him pointedly until he left.

The man stared right back, unaffected. "Interesting," he murmured, and his eyes flicked down, inexplicably coming to rest on Apollo's bracelet. Then he smiled at Synthia. "Thank you for your time, Mrs. Butz. You've been a great help to my investigation."

"Yeah, sure," said Synthia, looking kind of worried.

After the stranger left, Apollo turned to her and asked, "What was that about?"

"You know, I haven't the faintest idea."

She held out her hand and he took it, ignoring the IV taped to her wrist. "Um. How are you feeling?" he continued, a little stupidly.

"Bored out of my skull," she said, classic Synthia complaint. "They don't give you anything to do here but lie around and feel sorry for yourself."

"Have you talked to everyone else?"

"Yes," she said, her voice a little weaker now. Her eyelids drooped. "Make sure you look after them, okay? Sometimes I think you're the only responsible one I've raised."

"Don't be silly," he said, as strongly as he could. "You've raised us all right. We've all turned out fine, in our own way. You've been a good mom."

Her pupils flickered, trying to focus on him. "David," she began, and a husky note entered her voice in her desperation to communicate something urgent; she only used his birth name when she was scared or more serious than she could ever get. "David, there's something I need to tell you. Your mother, she -- your real mother, I mean, the one who gave you to me. You met her once. Your mother, she's still --"

Suddenly, Apollo didn't want to hear another word, and he leaned forward to press a kiss to her waxen cheek, silencing her. Whatever secret she was carrying, whatever it was that she had kept from him, it didn't matter. Not really. He'd had a chance, once, to ask, and hadn't taken it then. He didn't think it would do either of them any good to say it now. It wasn't what he came for.

"Mom," he said, softly but firmly, the way one speaks to children. The same tone she had used on him a hundred times; David, are you going to take the trash out sometime this century; David, roll your sleeves down; David, for God's sake, use a fork and a spoon, you're not a baboon; Apollo, do something about your hair, you look like a troglodyte. Apollo Justice, you can do anything, and I'll be behind you, cheering my head off, every step of the way, okay?

"Mom," he continued, but the firmness was gone. He could hear the tears in his own voice. "You're my mother. You'll always be my mother. Okay? Mom. Go to sleep now. Here, here's a kiss. It's a magical kiss; it'll make you feel better, like Tylenol, only without the dry swallowing. Okay?" He pressed another kiss to the other cheek.

Synthia sighed and gave his hand one long squeeze. She slid further down onto her pillows, head falling to one side, and Apollo thought she had fallen asleep right then and there, until the machines around her began to beep and he knew what had really happened.

He wasn't aware of rising to his feet. His head swum, his vision blurred, like he had been plunged underwater. He stumbled for the door. Two nurses slipped by him, quick as minnows. Evangeline took one look at his face and began to wail in earnest.

His father caught him before he got two steps down the hall.

 

*&*

 

After the funeral, there really wasn't much else to do but go back to school. Apollo took more credits than they suggested he could handle and graduated from Ivy University in two years; he became the second person in the history of the entire school to have done such a thing. They made him a silver plaque with his name on it and hung it in the admissions building.

Without preamble, he went straight into law school and graduated from there in two years, too. They took the plaque down and made him a new one, made of platinum this time and slightly bigger. There was even an article about him in the paper, mislabeled under the sports section because someone had fallen asleep at the printer's.

His father and Larry came to see him get his diploma. His sisters did not, though they did send him Hallmark cards. The last time they'd all been together was when they read the final rites over Synthia's grave.

Larry came in a new suit, his hair gelled flat for once. It was still strange to call him Laurice, so nobody who knew him ever did. He had a whole book series published under Laurice Deauxnim, written and illustrated by him, and success sat well with him. If Larry, the world's biggest loser, could find his own niche at last, well, then, there's hope for everyone.

Apollo's father came up to him after the ceremony and embraced him. "Your mother would be proud of you," he said, holding him warmly by the shoulders, and it might have been one of the nicest things anyone had ever said to him.

Apollo Justice was twenty-two years old, and he hadn't really changed much in four years. He still used entirely too much hair gel ("it's a style so old it's in fashion again!" he protested when Synthia had once told him he looked like some misshapen rock star from her childhood, and she flicked soap suds at him) and he still wore red whenever he could, just because he was the youngest of five and he liked being able to pull off a color the rest of them couldn't. He still hated heights and he still liked to shout and he still preferred sarcasm to conversation and, above all, he still thought lawyers were pretty cool and thought that maybe -- maybe -- he wouldn't mind being one.

He'd studied a lot of court cases, both local and international, and always, the feeling of satisfaction at the sentence nestled deep in his chest, where it mingled with half-faded memories of Mr. Grossberg and his Steel Samurai tie, of Mia Fey who refused to look at Larry's reputation and take it at face value, of Phoenix Wright who'd once played Nerf in the Butz house, and it was a good place to return to late at night, with only the glow of his reading lamp for company.

So that's how Franziska Deauxnim came to be at Half-Moon Bay one breezy day in January, standing up to the heels of her shoes in the sand. She shivered when a harsh breeze came rushing in off the waters and scanned the brave figures leaping in and out of the swell.

"I'll be right back, guys," said Apollo to his friends, dropping his body board up by the ring of seaweed that marked the breaker line and jogging up through the dunes to where his sister-in-law stood with a man who looked familiar in a vague, "I saw his face in a magazine once" kind of way. They both looked a little out of place on the cold, blustery beach, and he felt a little silly standing next to them in his body suit, salt water dripping from the ends of his hair and his nose. He felt good, though, relaxed in a way he hadn't in a long time, just something about the taste of salt water and popping up on a board just as a wave swelled under you. There wasn't much else like it.

When he came up to them, the man turned to Franziska and said something in a language Apollo didn't know. German, maybe, he thought, remembering that was where she was from. He was a little taller than Apollo and had silvery lines across his forehead and at the corners of his eyes. His hair was long, blonde, and coiled over one shoulder, a classic laid-back California surfer style, but Apollo didn't get the impression that was this man's scene.

He turned and fixed Apollo with an unapologetic, unblinking look. The feeling that he'd met him before increased. Where, though?

"Apollo," said Franziska. "I'd like to introduce you to Kristoph Gavin."

Apollo shook off his uneasiness and smiled, extending his hand.

The rest, they say, is history.

 

*&*

 

"Are you sure?" Apollo looked over his shoulder, dubious. He stretched up on his tiptoes to reach the drinking glasses on the top shelf, mentally chanting an old complaint about being short and wondering how Trucy managed. "It's not a very interesting story. It's a story about my mom and my dad, my brother and my sisters -- granted, they were adopted, but that's the extent of it. It's not very interesting," he said again, and scratched the back of his head, embarrassed by his own mediocry when he stood in the company of an international singer and the Gramarye heir.

"You're forgetting where we come from, Polly," Trucy admonished him, smiling her stage-bright smile. "To us, your 'not very interesting' is strange indeed. We never had your normal."

"Indeed," said the Lamiroir very softly, her hand pressed to her breastbone, like she was remembering an old hurt. "I should very much like to hear about your life, Apollo Justice."

Apollo looked at both of them and realized -- in one of those moments that felt like standing in the breakers and feeling a wave just swamp you under; you're still upright, but your whole body is floating and weightless and there's no air -- that he loved the way his nickname sounded in Trucy's mouth, and that Lamiroir had eyes a brilliant cornflower blue.

"Yeah, okay," he said, and sat down at the table.

 

 

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fin