I’ve given you my number, he says to Phoenix some late afternoon, the sun just sinking under the horizon for him and rising high for Phoenix. Why don’t you just text me instead of waiting for the exact hour to call?
I figured you wouldn’t answer, Phoenix says. In the background, dulled by distance, there’s a crash and a matching set of shrieks. I mean, you never answered any of my letters — jeeze, I gotta go, I have no idea what they’re getting into. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Miles.
Wait, letters, Edgeworth tries to say, but it’s to an empty line.
He’s in Germany for this work or that. Sometimes he thinks he knows as many details as Phoenix, which is a way of saying very few indeed; he’s heard Phoenix explain to Maya on more than one occasion that Miles is in Germany because of ‘things.’ But it is convenient enough for him, being this close to (not home at all) one of the von Karma estates, and especially the one that speaks of sacrificing summers for studies. It’s the house that he learned to navigate in the dark from nights waking up from nightmares and being too courteous to turn on the lights on his way to fetch a drink. It is not quite a home, not that it had ever been, with its distinct smell of tea and textbooks and its too clean, too old feeling — it had been a refuge, and certainly a shelter, but never quite a home. He revisits this kind of analysis when he pulls up to the gates, the wrought iron in swirling patterns and twisting columns. It’s unavoidable; after all, it was von Karma who taught him to think like this.
Franziska isn’t there. Edgeworth didn’t even half expect her to be there, not when she’s busy planting roots in every other country in the world, but it’s nonetheless a certain relief. She’s a brilliant girl, a friend, but nosier than she has any right to be. But without her, it is especially like following a ghost’s footsteps through a ghost’s past, all dust in the sunlight and echoes of his own footfalls. The many books are still all in their exact place, but it feels still like he’s invading on his own past life. The von Karmas were always precisely organized.
Letters, he says to himself, and he would have said the same to Franziska to see if her brows quirked with her typical recognition. He’s responded to every letter he’s received in his life, every one with a tight and plain signature at the end, and Phoenix has said — letters, he says to himself, and makes his way to the main office.
Some persons’ homes are centered around the kitchen, the family room, but in any von Karma estate there is an office and a library situated in the middle. There was a message to be found there, something that rises up into Edgeworth’s mind when he steps close to the elegant desk. Not work before pleasure, though of course that was true. He pushes aside a whole array of pens and handwritten notes and finds nothing. Work is pleasure, taught Manfred von Karma, and something in Edgeworth stings every time he remembers that he wholly agrees. He refrains from acting on soap opera dramatics, and so does not tip whole drawers out onto the wood flooring, does not throw papers behind him in a fluttering burst. He slides the drawers shut with a hollow thud and brushes off the knees of his pants when he stands up again.
They’re in von Karma’s bedroom. Edgeworth searches the whole house except that, some well-learned respect of space and status bubbling up years after the fact. He and Franziska used to play — for their definition of play, a very upright and serious thing — just outside von Karma’s door, as close as they could get to it without entering, like if they crossed a certain line they would be smote. Silly, as von Karma himself stayed mostly at his desk downstairs if he was home. Now when Edgeworth walks in he feels a prickle of electricity in his spine to make up for the lack of fanfare.
There’s a closed closet at the far end of the room, which, when he opens it, is still full of well-tailored suits and what few things von Karma had to wear around the house. (Talk to Franziska, he tells himself. But later.) Underneath, a row of boxes, labeled; ‘keepsakes,’ ‘books,’ ‘hers.’ ‘Letters.’ It’s locked, it’s tackily locked, a dollar-store padlock looped through the clasp and of course not a key to be found — Edgeworth loots the house until he comes up with a screwdriver, then forces that into the lock of the padlock until something pops out and he can twist what’s inside. The lock comes open with a light click.
You never answered any of my letters, Phoenix had said. Edgeworth is suddenly unsure that he wants to read these. A decade plus of Phoenix Wright, white envelopes stuffed into a box too small for them, maybe dripping with secrets and things not meant to be seen.
He does anyway.
He can rely on Manfred von Karma to organize even those things he does not like. They’re all in by date, marked by year, Jesus Christ, to think of the time von Karma must have put into this to keep it so tidy and never let it be known. He would be the kind to take a secret to his literal grave. Edgeworth takes the very first envelope. Miles Edgeworth, written twice, once in this distantly familiar and illegible scrawl, once in the neat hand of Phoenix’s father (he always signed permission slips and their daily schedules and other such necessities, and Phoenix once tried to make Edgeworth learn to copy that signature). The envelope was opened.
Actually, deer Miles. Spelling was forever far from a strong point with Phoenix.
Dear Miles, I’m sad that you had to move. I hope we can still be friends. Maybe I can visit you some day. From, Phoenix.
And a shaky crayon picture, ‘me and you,’ holding hands and smiling double-wide. Phoenix Wright, age 10.
That was One.
Four: Dear Miles, you’ve been gone one whole year now. It’s still sad. I had my birthday so now I’m 11. Maybe we can see each other for your birthday. That would be neat. From, Phoenix.
(Another picture, this time of Phoenix and Edgeworth in party hats. Phoenix was always a better artist than Edgeworth could hope to be.)
Nine: Dear Miles, we’re both twelve now but I still want to be your friend. I forgive you for moving away, because I don’t think it was your idea. Dad says you’re living with a new family now. I hope you like them. Maybe they have a little brother for you to play with. If you do, say hi to him for me. From, Phoenix.
(No picture this time. Phoenix was twelve, after all.)
Twenty-one: Hi, Miles. It’s Phoenix again. It’s pretty dumb of me to still be sending you these letters, I guess, but by now it’s like my hobby or something. That sounds bad. I mean that I like sending you letters, even if you don’t write back ever. I figure you don’t want to be friends anymore. Sort of childish, saying it like that, isn’t it? But maybe we can be one-sided pen pals or something. I still miss you, though. So does Larry, even if he’s an idiot and never says it. You can’t be going on about your elementary school friends in high school, after all. (Even if it seems sort of dumb to me. I don’t think you’d believe that crap either.) From, Phoenix.
Thirty-three: Hey, Miles. Sorry I haven’t been sending as many letters! Or you’re welcome, if you hate getting these. Just tell me and I’ll stop. But it’s been pretty busy around here. We graduate in a couple months and I’ve been all over the place doing college prep stuff. And don’t even get me started on the SATs, ugh, they’re so stupid. I sent in an application for Ivy U — I know, I know, don’t even start. I don’t really expect to get in or anything, but Dad said I should at least try. I thought maybe you’d go there for law with me if you were still here. I hear they turn out a lot of good defense attorneys. I want to go for art, you know, it’s really been my thing lately, in case you couldn’t tell, but I still haven’t given up on wanting to be a lawyer like you. Maybe I’ll figure out a way to make money doing that and I can come see you, yeah? Your friend, Phoenix.
(This one has a picture, like many of the others from Phoenix’s high school years. This one is a self-portrait of Phoenix, crooked grin and all, not perfect but reeking of raw talent. Phoenix wrote in the margins, ‘I don’t have a camera, sorry!’)
Thirty-four: I got in! I don’t have a single clue how but I got in! Haha, sorry, I just had to get that out. I have no idea why Ivy U picked me, but hey, I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. I’m just way excited. This is it, you know, Miles, this is that big moment where I’m like, I know what I want to do with my life and I finally get to do it. I guess you had that moment back when you were, like, six, though. I was always a little bit slow, huh. This is just really cool. I wish you could be here with me and Larry and we could have a party or a get together or whatever you want to call it and stay up all night freaking out over getting into our schools. Or not with Larry, whatever, I know you never really liked him, right. I just. Jesus Christ, Miles, I know I didn’t even know you that long but I miss you like crazy. It’s actually kind of weird even to me, you know? I think about all the things we didn’t get to do together sometimes, like complain about that crappy English teacher freshman year or roll our eyes at Larry’s dumb crushes or clap for each other when we walked for graduation, and it’s just really unfair. Is that selfish? I guess it depends if you’re have a good time where you are. I hope you are, man. I hope you made all the friends you could hope for and you don’t get hung up over missing your old elementary school friends like I do. Your friend, Phoenix.
(It’s a photo this time. Probably got a camera as a graduation gift. But there’s also a drawing, this in-motion picture of Larry Butz tripping over his own graduation gown on stage. Doodles in the margins of Phoenix in his cap, a nine-year-old Edgeworth swimming in a gown, a speculative adult Edgeworth smiling in the graduation uniform.)
There are forty-eight total letters from Phoenix Wright’s history. Miles Edgeworth reads all of them, carefully slipping letters from envelopes and then replacing them like he might be caught, later, and rapped on the knuckles for snooping. They’re some fluctuating tale of blinding, characteristic optimism and stubborn determination and heartbreaking hope. At the end, the time between each stretches longer and longer, the pictures included more desperately detailed. Some buried rage sparks in Edgeworth’s chest and throat, some indignant response to Manfred von Karma that he never properly had before because how dare he, how dare he keep these secret, how dare he stand as a wall between Edgeworth and Phoenix, how dare he ruin everything Edgeworth was —
But for a man who was trying to break a boy’s spirit, these letters are terribly well kept.
There is a last letter.
It’s me, Phoenix.
I don’t know if you remember me anymore, haha, but I remember you (erased, scratched out, started again) but I thought I’d just try one last time to get in contact with you. You know, for old time’s sake. I know I used to send these like it was going out of style, but college has kind of caught up to me and all, so, sorry.
I see you in the newspapers sometimes. Pretty cool. A prosecutor, huh? Must be really hard, all sorts of paperwork and stuff. But you were always good at that kind of thing — hence why Larry and I used to always try to get you to do our homework for us. It’s just kind of weird. I guess I always thought you’d wanted to be a defense attorney. Maybe I just remembered wrong or something, it’s been a long time.
I still miss you from time to time. Wow, that sounds really sappy when I put it down on paper. But it’s true, so there it is, I guess. You were always about standing up for the truth, right? I didn’t remember that one wrong. That’s why I wanted to get into law, after all. You stood up for me when no one else would. I just wish you could have been around longer to help me stand up for myself the other times I needed it. I guess you’re still standing up for the truth now, right? Just in a different way. You gotta have both defense attorneys and prosecutors, right? That’s how you find out what really happened.
It’s just … real weird. I always figured we’d go to college together and strike out into the real world side by side. Not when I was nine, I mean, later. I just always sort of imagined you’d come back. But you didn’t. I mean, obviously. Or I wouldn’t have to write you these letters, huh.
Anyway, I just thought I’d say hi one last time. I don’t really expect a letter back or anything, seeing as you haven’t ever done that before, but, well, I figured since you’re making it as a prosecutor and I’m in college now, one last try to get in contact with you couldn’t hurt. If you could just give me a reply, you know, even if it’s just to tell me you hate me or something, to leave you alone because jeeze I have sent you a ton of letters over the years I was kind of a creepy kid, huh, that’d be great. Just to make sure you haven’t completely forgotten who I am. Selfish, I guess, huh?
Anyway, that’s it. I’ll leave you alone from now on, Miles.
When Edgeworth moves to pick up the second sheet of paper that fell to the ground when he unfolded the letter, his hands are shaking. He doesn’t look at it. He looks at it.
It’s, of course, him. Years ago. Age 20, Demon Prosecutor, cocky and aggressive. And Phoenix still found the parts of him that were familiar — steel gray in the eyes, hair framing his face just centimeters from hiding it, shadows under the eyes and cheekbones. Something minutely defensive in all the angles. Something a little bit broken and reshaped, like a cracked bone that had been made to heal at an angle.
But in the picture, Edgeworth is smiling like he never did when he wore that jacket.
He puts the letter gently back in its envelope. The date on it screams at him; just more than half a year later, Phoenix Wright and Dahlia Hawthorne would see the courtroom. Maybe Edgeworth could have stopped that, had he gotten these. Could have kept Phoenix out of that sort of trouble.
But then, knowing Phoenix Wright, trying to keep him away from trouble is like separating a cat from its tail.
He puts the envelope back in its place, shuts the box gently. He picks up the whole thing (it weighs less than he feels that it should, less than it’s weighing on him, anyway) and carts it back to his car, leaves with only the discarded padlock showing he was ever there.
The picture, though, he keeps in his breast pocket. The picture he keeps close.
Phoenix, he types into his phone while his car rumbles to life. I promise to reply to any and every letter you send me, be it text, email, or letter. I’m sorry.
There’s no telling if Phoenix understands what he means, even when a few minutes later Edgeworth’s phone buzzes and reads: ‘Cool, I’m sending you holiday cards every chance I can get.’
Allow me to correct myself, Edgeworth writes back. Every letter you send me which isn’t horrendously tacky.
(He would keep them, all the same.)