“Sugar, Sugar… O that night in your embrace….”
A sparrow that had alighted in the potted bougainvillea hanging above Apollo’s front door cocked its head curiously at Athena as she hummed to herself. She took a single brass key out of her pocket and slipped it smoothly into the lock. With a turn of the knob, she pushed open the door and stepped inside.
“Gah, what a mess!” Athena exclaimed. She cautiously sidestepped a pile of papers and dust balls as she tiptoed gingerly into the apartment. She set the pet carrier on the floor by the door and put her hands on her hips as she surveyed the room.
Apollo’s apartment was small. Apollo-sized, she thought to herself with a smile. He had been renting a one-bedroom apartment on the far side of town. He moved into that apartment when he first started working at Kristoph Gavin’s old law offices as a rookie attorney fresh out of law school. She had asked him why he didn’t find an apartment closer to the Wright Anything Agency. He had shrugged and told her with a grin that he couldn’t be bothered.
“Actually, he can’t move out because of Mikeko,” Trucy had told her later that day. “It’s really hard to find an apartment that will let you keep pets around here. The ones that do let you keep pets are really expensive.” She pouted and crossed her arms. “Daddy won’t let me keep my doves and rabbits and snakes and parrots in our apartment either.”
Luckily Athena loved animals. After Apollo announced to everyone he would be staying in Khura’in, he touched Athena on her sleeve and asked her to take care of the very rare and expensive calico cat.
“Of course!” she had exclaimed, clasping her hands with joy. “Do you think he’ll like living with me?”
Apollo nodded. “Yeah, I think he likes you. You’ll get along.”
Most of the furniture in Apollo’s apartment was gone now. Simon and Mr. Wright had seen to that yesterday—well, Simon had. Mr. Wright had thrown out his back around lunchtime, leaving Simon to do the heavy lifting by himself. All that remained was a couch in the living room and the bedroom furniture. The movers would arrive later that afternoon to collect the rest of the heavy furniture. Then the apartment would truly be empty.
Athena slowly folded her arms. She had been over to Apollo’s apartment several times with Trucy over the months since they’ve known each other. One of those times, they had caused so much of a ruckus with their laughter that the neighbors had come over to ask them to be quiet. Now the echoes of her shoes clicking against the linoleum floor were the only sounds to be heard.
"Mikeko!” she cried. “Where are you?”
She chewed on her bottom lip as she walked towards the living room windows. The morning sunlight filtered in through the drawn shades. A light sheen of dust across the linoleum floor outlined the places his furniture used to be.
Apollo is really moving away.
Apollo had given her detailed instructions on how to take care of Mikeko while they waited for the bus at Tehm’pul Temple Plaza. “Change his water every day.”
“I know, Apollo.”
“And make sure you give him half a can of wet cat food. Mix in a half a cup of the dry cat food.”
“I know, Apollo.”
“And fluff up his bed before he goes to sleep.”
“I know, Ap—wait, huh?”
“And put his bed in your bedroom. He doesn’t like to sleep alone.”
“Apollo, you’ve spoiled that cat!”
“And spend at least half an hour in the afternoon playing with him. His favorite toy is the pink mouse with the bell inside.” He had given her the same familiar grin that she had become used to seeing every day. “He likes to play fetch.”
He’s moving away for a long time.
“Mikeko!” Athena frowned. “Where is that cat?” She clicked her tongue as she peered across the room. Still no cat.
Athena turned away from the window and found a box on top of Apollo’s worn brown couch. It was overflowing with Mikeko’s belongings: food, a cat bed, various cat toys, more food, and more toys. Simon had mentioned that he collected all of Mikeko’s things together after he had moved out most of Apollo’s furniture. She had no idea Apollo had bought so much for one cat.
“He must have spoiled that cat rotten,” Athena muttered to herself. She rummaged through the box and found the little pink mouse sitting on top of a red cloth bag. The red bag didn’t look like a toy for Mikeko.
Curious, she set the mouse down beside her and pulled the bag out of the box. There was something hard inside of it. The floral brocade woven into the cloth was instantly recognizable.
“Omamori,” Athena whispered to herself.
* * *
Apollo stared out the window in the back seat of the taxi he was sharing with Athena. Lunch at Eldoon’s Noodles had taken longer than he thought it would and they still had to escort their newly acquitted clients back home as promised. It was late in the afternoon when they dropped Jinxie and Mayor Tenma off in Tenma Town. The sun was quickly fading behind the green hills.
“I hope we never have another case like this again,” Athena said. “I think all this talk of yokai has gotten under my skin.”
Apollo didn’t want to admit it to the new girl, but she had a point. Just thinking about yokai scrambling around after dark was enough to bring shivers up his spine.
“You know, we never got a chance to go inside that souvenir shop back in Nine-Tails Vale.” Apollo turned to Athena. “Want to check it out before we head home?”
Athena shrugged. “Why not? I don’t know when we’ll be back, if ever. We might as well.”
Apollo tapped on the taxi driver’s shoulder and directed him to the souvenir shop on Yokai Lane in Nine-Tails Vale. The two lawyers sat in tired silence as the hum of the engine droned on. Eventually, the bumpy rural roads smoothed out as they entered the village.
The taxi’s brakes squealed as the driver pulled up to the entrance. “Is this okay?”
Apollo nodded. “This is fine. Thank you.” He fished out his wallet to pay the cab fare as Athena stepped out of the taxi and stretched her legs.
They walked shoulder to shoulder down the lane. A cool breeze whipped through the village as twilight descended. People passed by as they languidly enjoyed the evening air. Having heard about the verdict of the trial on the news, the villagers nodded to them and smiled as they passed. Athena and Apollo waved back.
“Wow, so this is what it’s like when you win a trial!” Athena grinned. “I could get used to this.”
Apollo raised his eyebrows and returned her grin. “Yeah, but the key word is win.” Apollo waved to a little boy shining a toothless grin at the young lawyers. “You can’t get used to people being this friendly to you if you don’t win your court cases.”
Athena snorted. “Who says I don’t intend on winning?” Athena punched a fist into her gloved hand. “Je gagnerai toujours!”
Apollo shook his head and smiled. “I don’t know what you just said, but as long as you believe in your clients, you’ll stand a pretty good chance in court even against the toughest prosecutors.”
Athena nodded. “Mr. Wright gave us the whole spiel.” She clenched a fist in determination. “I’m ready for it.”
Apollo smiled to himself. His new co-worker was pretty spirited. She was interesting, to say the least.
They found themselves at the entrance to the souvenir shop. “What kinds of things do you they have in there?” Athena asked.
Apollo opened the door for her. “I don’t know. Probably postcards, t-shirts, and snow…globes….”
Apollo frowned at the sight before his eyes. Athena’s jaw dropped.
“Are you sure this is a souvenir shop?” Athena said with a grimace.
Apollo looked around. “Yup. This is the place.”
The dimly lit souvenir shop was filled with religious Shinto figurines and charms. High shelves displayed various statues and trinkets. A small, elderly man sat at the front of the shop behind a counter.
“Welcome, young’uns!” the old man cried in a cheerful voice. “I was just about to close up. Glad you made it.”
“Hello, sir,” Apollo said, his eyes still taking in the multitude of trinkets. Not one snow globe was to be seen. “We’re here to buy souvenirs.”
“Where are the t-shirts?” Athena asked. “The mugs?”
“T-shirts? Mugs?” The shopkeeper’s laugh rang through the store. “This is Nine-Tails Vale, missy! We sell things to keep visitors to our village safe.”
“L-like charms,” Apollo said with a grimace. The memory of Jinxie slapping warding charms on his forehead was still too fresh in his mind.
The old man nodded. “We sell charms to seal inugami in jars, charms to keep the bakeneko at bay, charms to reveal a tanuki’s true form—“
“But what about mugs?” Athena asked with a pout painted across her lips.
“Oh come now, missy,” the old man chided. “You don’t have any need for things like that. Now what you need is this.” The old man reached under the counter and pulled out a small red bag. Apollo watched as Athena walked over to the counter.
“This is an omamori,” the old man said. He gently placed it in Athena’s hands. “My wife makes these for the temple. You know what omamori are, don’t you?”
“Amulets for good luck,” Apollo responded. Athena stared at the omamori in her hands.
The old man nodded. “We usually sell these up at the temple, but we get so many requests from tourists that we sell them down here, too.” The old man waved a hand towards the omamori. “It’s for good luck.”
“It’s got gold brocade!” Athena exclaimed. “It’s very pretty!”
“And it’s only $15,” the old man said with a grin.
“Only $15?” Athena grimaced. She turned to Apollo. “I haven’t even gotten my first paycheck yet!”
With a sigh, she handed the omamori back to the old man. “I think I’ll look around a little more.”
Athena disappeared into the tall shelves that spanned the souvenir shop. Casually stuffing his hands into his pockets, Apollo quietly approached the shopkeeper.
“Could I see that omamori, please?”
“Of course!” The old man reached under the counter and pulled out an omamori. This one was white with gold brocade.
“Uh, no, the other one,” Apollo said. “The one that she liked.”
The old man gave him a knowing look and exchanged the omamori. “Buying a charm for your girlfriend, are we? You know, we have omamori that grants the bearer good luck in love—“
“N-no, no!” Apollo blushed and waved his hands. “No, I…I just wanted to get her a welcoming present. We’re co-workers.”
The old man’s eyes brightened. “I remember you now! You’re the two young lawyers that defended Mayor Tenma!” He roared with laughter. “You young’uns did a fine job in court today. Saw it all on the news. An omamori like this will bring her all the luck she’ll ever need in court.”
Apollo’s eyes brightened. “Really? Thanks! Does that mean you’ll give me a discount on the omamori?”
The old man raised an eyebrow before laughing. He laughed a little too long and a little too loudly for Apollo’s liking.
“I guess that’s a ‘no,’” Apollo said with a sigh. He pulled out his wallet. “It’s $15?”
The old man nodded. Apollo counted out the bills as the man placed the omamori in a plastic bag. He handed it to Apollo.
“You don’t want one for yourself?” the shopkeeper asked.
Apollo hadn’t gotten his paycheck either, and he had just enough cab fare to get the both of them home. He was already going to be eating instant noodles tonight as it was.
“No thank you,” Apollo said. “Looks like I’ll have to make my own luck in court.”
Apollo clasped the bag tightly as Athena approached him from the aisle. “Are you going to get something?” she asked.
Apollo stifled a grin as he shook his head. “Nah. What about you?”
Athena pouted. “Everything here is overpriced,” she grumbled. “Besides, that omamori was really the only thing I would have wanted.”
Apollo shrugged. “Well, it is a souvenir shop for tourists. Of course everything’s going to be overpriced.” He motioned to the door as he surreptitiously stuffed the bag with the omamori into his back pocket. “We should probably get going anyway.”
With a wave to the shopkeeper, they walked out of the store. Two kids bounced a rubber ball across the street. A dog barked in the distance. Life in Nine-Tales Vale was much slower than the fast-paced city where they lived. To his surprise, Apollo found himself wishing he could stay a little while longer. Besides, his companion was pretty pleasant to be around.
Athena turned back to stare at the souvenir shop over her shoulder as they walked away. “Maybe we should have bought an omamori before the trial,” she said. She turned to Apollo and grinned. “Maybe we would have had an easier time against Prosecutor Blackquill.”
Apollo stared at his new co-worker as she chattered excitedly. He would be eating instant noodles tonight, but the grin on her face would be worth it when he surprised her with the omamori.
The cab ride back into the city was uneventful. The traffic along the highway began to peter out the longer they traveled, and eventually it was late enough in the evening that their taxi was the only one left on the streets. It was almost midnight by the time they arrived at Athena’s apartment. She had fallen asleep.
“Athena.” Apollo gently nudged her shoulder with his hand. “We’re here.”
Athena’s eyes fluttered open. “Huh? Oh!” She brought a hand to her cheek. “I fell asleep?”
Apollo laughed. He could barely make out her face in the glow of the streetlights. It was very late. “You must have been exhausted. We’ve had a pretty long day.”
“I’m starved, too.” Athena unlatched her seat belt and turned to him. Her eyes were very, very blue. “We make a pretty good team, don’t you think?”
Apollo shook his head to clear his mind. “…Huh?”
“We make a good team, you and I!” Athena grinned and punched her fist into her gloved hand. “I can’t wait for our next court case!”
Apollo sheepishly grinned. “Y-yeah. Neither can I.”
With a quick nod, Athena opened the cab door. “I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”
Apollo nodded. “Right. Have a good night.”
With a grin, Athena shut the cab door. It wasn’t until the cab arrived at his apartment and he had emptied his wallet of the last of his cash that he pulled out the omamori from his back pocket. He held it lightly in his hands as the gold brocade glittered in the neon light of the streetlamp. In the end, he couldn’t give it to her.
“Don’t be stupid, Apollo,” he whispered to himself. “She’s your co-worker. Give it to her tomorrow.”
He quietly walked up the stairs to his apartment as a lone cricket chirped in the darkness.
* * *
Startled, Athena looked up and found the wily calico cat perched insolently on top of the couch. He licked a paw and rubbed it along his cheek.
“Mikeko!” Athena cried. Setting the omamori down, she stood and slowly walked towards the cat. “Come on. We’re going to be roommates now. It’s time to take you back to my apartment!”
"Mrow!” Mikeko indolently licked his other paw and washed his other cheek. Athena slowly reached her hands out toward him.
“Good Mikeko,” Athena said in a sweet voice. “That’s a good boy. Now come along—“
“MROW!” Mikeko quickly jumped off the couch as Athena lunged at him. He darted off into the bedroom. With a cry of shock, Athena’s momentum led her crashing into the back of the couch. She landed with a thud.
Athena quickly stood and clenched her fists with frustration. “Ooh—!”
“That darn cat!” Widget cried. The little robot glowed red on her neck.
Grabbing the pink mouse, Athena ran around the couch and hurried into the bedroom. It was darker in that room; the shades were also drawn and they cast long shadows along the dusty floor. She carefully closed the door behind her before Mikeko decided to double back to the living room.
Athena sighed as she surveyed the bedroom. The floor wasn’t the only thing that was dusty; the shades were also covered with a light sheen of dust and the ragged remains of a cobweb wafted in a corner of the ceiling where a draft came into the room. A small bed that had been stripped of its sheets and a desk was all that was left of the furniture; the desk, too, was covered in dust. Various candy wrappers and torn pages from old comic books peeked out from under the bed.
Athena knitted her eyebrows in thought. Apollo was diligent about cleaning the Wright Anything Agency offices, but oddly enough his apartment was sorely in need of the same care. Maybe he had been working too hard lately. Maybe he was too exhausted to clean. When she thought about it, no one ever asked Apollo how he was doing because he always gave the same answer. Still, she felt a pang of guilt. They should have noticed.
“Miiiiikeko….” Athena used her sweetest voice as she paced the room. She jiggled the pink mouse in her hand. The bell inside tinkled enticingly. “Where aaaaare you, you spoiled little cat? Mommy Thena’s got your favorite toy!”
She walked over to the closet and opened the door. There was nothing inside but a single shoe, a broken hanger, and more dust. She shut the door with annoyance; there weren’t very many places a cat could hide in this room.
Athena turned towards the bed and, getting on her hands and knees, looked under the bed. Nothing but more trash…and….
“A present?” Athena squinted and saw a box wrapped in Christmas wrapping paper pressed up against the wall. Squeezing under the bed as far as she could, she tipped the box towards her with her fingertips until she could finally get a firm grasp. She inched back away from the bed holding the box in her hand.
Sitting on the floor, she dusted off the box and took a closer look at it. Little snowmen with coal for eyes and carrot noses dotted the blue wrapping paper. A nondescript white label on the top of the box caught her eye.
Athena frowned. A Christmas present…for her? Apollo had never mentioned he had gotten her a Christmas present. Without thinking, she hurriedly unwrapped the box and opened the lid.
A set of yellow headphones was inside.
* * *
“Headphones? Didn’t you have to wear headphones when you were younger?”
Athena had just taken a bite of her burrito. “Yeah, but those were a different kind of headphones!”
Apollo grimaced. “Athena…. Chew your food first.”
Stifling a laugh, Athena swallowed and wiped her lips with a napkin. “Sorry, sorry. Anyway, like I was saying: those were different. I need regular headphones, like the kind I can listen to music with.”
Two days had passed since Simon Blackquill had been acquitted. Apollo and Athena were sitting at a table on the sidewalk outside a Mexican restaurant not far from the Wright Anything Agency. It was noon and the bustle of traffic made it difficult to hear each other; still, it was better than being cooped up in the office. The warm sunlight felt good on his shoulders.
Apollo shrugged. “Then why don’t you just buy yourself a pair?”
Athena’s face fell. “There’s a pair of wireless headphones that I really like to use, but they’re out of stock at the electronics store.” Athena sighed. “Jogging gets kind of boring when you don’t have music to listen to for an hour.”
“An hour?” Apollo recoiled in shock. “You run for an hour?”
“When I have time,” Athena said with a grin. She took a sip of water from a paper cup. “If I don’t, I just sprint for 30 minutes.”
“Ugh….” Apollo set down his burrito. “I don’t know how you do it.”
“We can start running together!” Athena cried. “I’m trying to get Mr. Wright back in shape.” She leaned across the table with a mischievous look in her eye. “You know, Ms. Fey’s due back from her ascetic training in the spring. He needs to get back into shape before then.”
Apollo snorted. “Good luck with that. Mr. Wright’s been saying for ages that he needs to get in better shape.”
“Well, he’s not a young guy any more.” Athena fixed her eyes on Apollo and frowned. “But you are. You should take care of your body!”
Apollo laughed nervously as a bead of sweat rolled down his temple. “I-I’ll think about it.”
The rest of the day passed tranquilly. Athena had gone off to the courthouse to watch Mr. Wright’s latest case while Apollo stayed at the office to take care of some filing. Mr. Wright had gained a surge in fame after Prosecutor Blackquill’s exoneration and the office had been flooded with requests from new clients. With Christmas around the corner, however, Apollo hoped Mr. Wright would still have time to throw the annual Christmas party at the office.
When Apollo arrived at his apartment, he saw a box waiting for him on the porch. With an excited smile, he picked it up and let himself into the apartment.
“Mikeko!” Apollo set his bag down and kicked off his shoes. “Where are you?” Clutching the box to his chest, he vaulted over the back of the couch and onto the cushions.
Mikeko lazily walked out of the bedroom and stretched. He also jumped over the back of the couch and gracefully landed next to Apollo. Mikeko affectionately butted his head against Apollo’s arm.
“Hey, buddy,” Apollo said gently. “Look what we got in the mail.”
Apollo opened the box. He had ordered a pair of yellow headphones online. They had finally arrived.
He turned to Mikeko and held them up for the cat to see. “I should probably put these headphones in a new box, right?” Mikeko half-heartedly batted at them with a paw before rolling onto his side. After absently scratching the cat’s ears for a moment, Apollo stood and walked into his bedroom to look for a box.
He had noticed Athena’s broken pair of headphones in the wastebasket back at the office yesterday. She usually came into the office wearing headphones; that morning, she hadn’t. It turned out they were broken when she accidentally dropped them during her morning run to work. He had checked the electronics store on his lunch break that same day.
“Sorry, sir. We’re all sold out of that model,” the clerk said.
Apollo pursed his lips. “Hm. Well, do you know where I could find a pair?”
“You’ll probably have to order them online,” the clerk said. “That brand is pretty popular and it's probably sold out everywhere else, being this close to Christmas and all. It's likely that we won’t get another shipment in until after Christmas.”
Apollo ordered them that very day. Sure, Athena wasn’t the person he was supposed to give a present to; he was Klavier Gavin’s Secret Santa, of all people. Apollo didn’t understand why Mr. Wright had bothered to invite Gavin in the first place. Prosecutor Blackquill would be there, too.
“The more, the merrier, Apollo!” Mr. Wright had said with a laugh when Apollo questioned him about the guest list. “A Secret Santa gift exchange isn’t any fun when it’s just the four of us.”
Apollo grimaced. “Chief Prosecutor Edgeworth and Detective Gumshoe I can understand, but Prosecutor Gavin and Prosecutor Blackquill?”
Mr. Wright laughed again and patted Apollo on the shoulder. He walked away without answering him.
“He’s trolling me,” Apollo muttered. “He’s totally trolling me.”
It didn’t matter that he wasn’t Athena’s Secret Santa. After everything he had put her through during her trial a few days ago, she deserved more than just a pair of headphones. After everything the both of them had gone through over the course of the year, he had wanted to give her at least that.
Christmas Eve finally arrived. At 10:00 PM Apollo walked through the door to the office with two presents in his bag: a box for Athena and a smaller package for Gavin. Apollo had decided on a pack of guitar picks for the rock star prosecutor. It would be good enough.
He was the last person to arrive. The office had tinsel streamers running across the length of the room. Christmas music was blaring from a radio perched on the reception counter. Prosecutor Blackquill and Chief Prosecutor Edgeworth were talking quietly as they stood next to the television, both of them nursing a mug of eggnog. Mr. Wright was inside his office laughing with Detective Gumshoe and his girlfriend, a diminutive woman who wore glasses and had bobby pins in her short hair.
Apollo placed Gavin’s present on the floor next to Charley, who had been moved into the reception lobby and decorated to look like a Christmas tree. He stood and saw Gavin standing at the kitchen counter with Trucy and Athena. Apollo and Gavin’s eyes met. Apollo grimaced.
“Herr Forehead.” He snapped his fingers and grinned. “Fröhliche Weihnachten!”
Apollo’s shoulders drooped. “What?”
“He said ‘Merry Christmas!’” Athena said cheerily. She and Trucy were both dressed like elves in cute green dresses and fur-lined stocking caps. Athena’s hat had mistletoe pinned to the end of it.
Gavin pushed a warm mug of eggnog into Apollo’s hands as Apollo walked into the kitchen. “Achtung, we’ve been waiting for you to arrive.”
“Yeah, Polly!” Trucy placed her hands on her hips. “Daddy said we could start the Secret Santa gift exchange as soon as you showed up.”
“It’s time to get rockin’ around the Christmas tree, fräuleins.” Gavin put an arm around each of the girls as they walked out of the kitchen. “Drink that, Herr Forehead.” He pointed at the mug of eggnog and winked. “Do me a favor and loosen up a bit, ja?”
Apollo gritted his teeth as Gavin and the girls left the kitchen. What did those girls see in Klavier Gavin, anyway? He tilted his head back and finished the contents of the mug as fast as he could before storming out of the kitchen and into the reception room.
Mr. Wright walked out of his office wearing an oversized Santa costume. “All right, Apollo’s here! Gather around the Christmas tree, everyone. Let’s do the gift exchange.”
“You look ridiculous, Wright,” Mr. Edgeworth muttered. “The least you could have done was found a better fitting costume.”
“It was the last one at the costume shop!” Mr. Wright exclaimed as he adjusted the fake beard over his face. “And in case you didn’t know, Santa’s fashion sense is beyond reproach.” He shot him a grin from behind the fluffy beard and got into his Objection! stance. “I’m putting you on the naughty list, Edgeworth.” Mr. Edgeworth snorted and rolled his eyes before turning away.
“You’re quiet tonight, Apollo.”
He turned and found Athena standing behind him. Gavin had put a lot of bourbon in the eggnog. His face felt warm.
“Hi, Athena,” Apollo said with a lopsided smile. “Your costume is pretty cute—er, nice, I mean.” He shouldn’t have finished that eggnog so quickly.
Athena beamed. “Do you think so?” She twirled around and grinned. “Trucy and I picked them out for the party tonight.”
Apollo clutched his bag close to himself. The corners of Athena's present insistently jutted against his ribs. “Hey, Athena, I—“
Mr. Wright was waving a hand at them. Everyone was already gathered around Charley. “Come on, we’re about to start.”
Athena smiled and touched his sleeve. “Tell me later, okay?” She dashed off and took her place next to Mr. Wright’s side. Apollo sighed and slowly walked over. His face felt really warm. He finally sat cross-legged in front of the decorated plant.
The gift exchange went by quickly. Trucy received a new cape from Detective Gumshoe and Ms. Byrde (“I love it! It’s totally me!”). Mr. Wright received a red silk tie from Mr. Edgeworth (“Why do you keep trying to make me wear silk?”). Mr. Edgeworth got a new cravat from Mr. Wright (“Shall I add this to the pile of cravats you’ve given me every year for Christmas, Wright?”). Athena had given a case of weenies to Detective Gumshoe and Ms. Byrde (“Thanks, pal! It’s our favorite kind!”). Prosecutor Blackquill received a whetstone from Trucy (“Thank you, Wright-dono.” “No problem, Mr. Blackquill! I’ve got a ton of them that I use to sharpen my throwing knives!”). Apollo received an extra large bottle of styling gel from Gavin (“Just what I’ve always wanted, Prosecutor Gavin.”). Apollo finally handed Gavin his present (“I always knew you were a fan of my music, Herr Forehead! Shall I play a song for you right now?”).
Mr. Wright fished out a box that had fallen behind Charley. “Oh, we’ve got one more present.” The box was wrapped in plain brown paper. “It’s addressed to Athena. It’s from Prosecutor Blackquill.”
“Oh, Simon!” Athena grinned and took the box from Mr. Wright. “So you were my Secret Santa. I wonder what it is.”
Apollo watched Simon clench his jaw as he stood stock-still. Athena hurriedly tore the brown paper away and opened the lid of the box.
“Wow, Simon!” Athena pulled her present out of the box. It was a pair of yellow headphones. Apollo felt his heart sink.
“You told me you had broken your other headphones,” Simon mumbled. He folded his arms and turned away.
“Simon, where did you find these?” Athena’s grin stretched from ear to ear. “I thought every store in town was sold out.”
“The closest store that sold that particular brand was thirty minutes away.” Simon cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Just consider it thanks for all your hard—“
“Thank you, Simon!” Athena rushed over to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. “They’re just what I needed!”
“Ye gods, unhand me, woman!” Simon bellowed. “Have you no propriety?”
Athena turned her face up to him. “Thanks, Simon. I love them.”
Simon avoided her eyes and swallowed. “…Hmph.” After a moment, he let his eyes drift downwards towards the young woman. “…You’re welcome, Athena.”
Apollo loosened his tie and stood. The sound of the radio blared loudly in his ears—a little too loudly. He was suddenly tired.
Mr. Wright walked over to him. “Hey, Apollo…. Are you all right?”
“Y-yeah….” Apollo clutched his bag. “I think I’m going to sit in the other room for awhile.”
“Did Prosecutor Gavin spike your eggnog too?” Mr. Wright said with a smile. “He did that to everyone’s eggnog. At least he was smart enough to leave Trucy and Athena’s drinks alone.”
“Yeah. A real jokester.” Apollo put a hand to his head. “I’ll just be in the other room for awhile.”
“Awhile” turned into several hours. When Apollo opened his eyes, the room was quiet. Pieces of tinsel lay scattered on the floor. Mr. Wright was at his desk. The light from his desk lamp was all that lit the room.
Apollo’s bag clattered to the floor as he sat up. The box rolled out and stopped inches away from Mr. Wright’s desk. Mr. Wright looked up.
“Finally awake?” Mr. Wright chuckled. He stood up from his desk and leaned against it as he faced Apollo. “You missed the party.”
Apollo rubbed his eyes. “Looks like it.”
Mr. Wright folded his arms. “That bourbon must have hit you pretty hard. I gave Prosecutor Gavin a good scolding.” He smiled. “My junior attorneys shouldn’t have to spend Christmas hung over.”
“Well, the majority of Los Angeles does anyway,” Apollo said wryly. He rubbed his eyes. “I ought to get a cab back to my apartment. Mikeko’s waiting for me.”
Mr. Wright leaned over and picked up the box before walking over to Apollo. “You spoil that cat.”
Despite the throbbing in his head, Apollo flashed him a quick smile. “I know. Athena tells me that all the time.”
Mr. Wright paused before he handed him the box. “It’s still Christmas. You have all day to give this to her.” He gave Apollo a pointed stare. “I think she’d really like it, whatever it is. Just as long as it’s from you.”
Apollo clenched his jaw as he took the box from Mr. Wright’s hand. “Y-yeah. I guess so.” He stuffed the box roughly into his bag.
Mr. Wright walked Apollo to the reception room. “Be safe out there,” Mr. Wright said as he leaned against the doorframe. “I’ll see you after Christmas.”
“What about you?” Apollo asked. “Why are you working so late?”
Mr. Wright looked away and smiled. He had a wistful look in his eyes. For a moment, Apollo thought Mr. Wright looked younger, like the way he looked when Apollo had first seen him on television. “Not really working. Just hopped on the computer to wish an old friend Merry Christmas. Got caught up chatting about the old days with her.”
Apollo nodded. He hoisted the bag onto his shoulders. His head was still pounding. “Well, then.” He walked to the door. “Merry Christmas, Mr. Wright.”
Mr. Wright smiled. “Merry Christmas, Apollo.” He closed the door to his office.
* * *
Athena stared at the yellow headphones in her hand.
“Apollo,” she whispered to herself. “Why didn’t you give these to me?” First the omamori, now these headphones…. Was Apollo hiding anything else?
Athena let a little grunt of exasperation escape her throat. She needed to find Mikeko first. After that, she could look through the rest of the apartment as much as she liked. It felt wrong, though—she knew she was invading his privacy. But if he had trusted them enough to pack up his belongings for him, she figured Apollo didn’t think he had anything to hide.
“Mikeko!” She rang the bell again. “Mikeko, come on, boy. Where are you?”
Athena spun around on the floor and looked under the desk. A pair of eyes glittered in the dim light.
“There you are, Mikeko.” She held out the pink mouse. “Here. Come get your toy.”
“Mrow.” Mikeko didn’t move.
Athena scooted along the floor until she sat at the base of the desk. Mikeko mewed plaintively as Athena peered at the calico.
“What’s wrong, Mikeko? You’re not usually like this.” Athena sighed. She didn’t try to reach in to grab Mikeko. The more she thought about Mikeko’s behavior, the more she realized the poor cat was probably upset with all the changes to the apartment. After all, Simon did just spend all day yesterday emptying Apollo’s apartment. The apartment was as much Mikeko’s as it had been Apollo’s.
“You’re upset, aren’t you?” Athena said.
“Mrow,” Mikeko answered. Athena found herself wishing that she could understand the emotions in an animal’s voice the same way she could understand a human’s. There was really nothing to do but wait until Mikeko decided it was safe to come out on his own.
Athena sat cross-legged as she looked at Mikeko. She slowly realized he was sitting on top of something. It was a notebook.
“Mikeko….” Athena slowly reached under the desk. “I’m just going to take this notebook, okay? You can stay right where you are.”
Almost as though he had understood her, Mikeko stood and stepped off the notebook. He curled up right beside it. Athena took the notebook in her hand and placed it on her lap.
It was a plain, dusty notebook with a black cover. Athena casually flipped through the pages. All the pages were plain white and thicker than the pages in a normal notebook. She realized it was actually a sketchbook.
“Sketchbook?” Athena said to herself. She didn’t know Apollo liked to draw. She supposed it made sense—he liked comic books, and at some point he probably would have tried his hand at drawing. Sure enough, she came upon a few sketches.
Athena giggled to herself. “Not bad, Apollo.” Most of the sketches were of recognizable superheroes. Some were of large robots and gigantic monsters. They were rough sketches, but they weren’t entirely bad.
One of the sketches made her pause. It was a sketch of Mikeko.
“Hey, Mikeko.” Athena held up the sketchbook for the cat to see. “Looks like Apollo got pretty good at drawing you.”
“Mrow.” Mikeko placed his chin on his paws and stared at Athena. She continued to flip through several more sketches until she stopped at one particular sketch. She felt her breath catch in her throat.
It was a sketch of Mikeko asleep on the couch. He was curled up in the lap of a girl who was petting Mikeko as he slept. She had a smile on her face.
“It’s me,” Athena whispered.
* * *
“And we brought food!”
Apollo smiled as he stepped away from the door. “And I’ve got the movies. Come inside. I’m starved!”
It was March now. Outside his front door, the potted bougainvillea had sprung to life. Light green leaves sprouted from the dark stalks and purple flowers shyly dotted the plant. Spring was here.
Trucy and Athena bounded inside Apollo’s small apartment. Mikeko sat on top of the couch and switched his tail back and forth as he watched the girls chat excitedly.
“We got what you wanted,” Trucy said as Athena handed Apollo a couple of boxes of pizza.
“But we didn’t get anchovies. That’s just gross.” Athena slipped off her shoes and walked into the living room.
“You girls really don’t know what you’re missing,” Apollo said. He set the pizza boxes on the counter and walked over to the refrigerator. “Does anyone want anything to drink?”
“Melon soda, if you have it,” Trucy piped as she set a couple bags filled with snacks down next to the pizza. “And I know you have it. You’ve packed the fridge at the office full of it.”
“If you buy it in bulk, it’s cheaper.” Apollo took out a couple of cans of soda. “What about you, Athena?”
“I’ll have one too,” she said from the couch. She was petting Mikeko, who had crawled into her lap and was now lazily purring.
Apollo grabbed a third can before closing the refrigerator door. He handed a can to Trucy, who had already helped herself to a slice of pizza and was chewing away.
“What do you girls want to watch first?” Apollo opened his can and took a sip before sitting next to Athena and opening her can for her.
“Thanks, Apollo,” Athena said as she took the can from him. “Why don’t we watch the horror movie? I’ve wanted to see that one for weeks!”
“The one that Prosecutor Blackquill refused to watch with you?” Apollo said with a laugh. “If he was too scared to watch it, then that movie must be seriously creepy.”
“It’s not supposed to be that scary!” Athena cried. “He just thinks I watch too many horror movies.”
“You also said his samurai movies were boring,” Trucy said. She had inhaled her first slice of pizza and was dipping into the box for her second. “I think he’s got a grudge.”
“I didn’t say it.” Athena pouted. “Widget said it.”
“Which means you were thinking it,” Apollo said.
Athena clenched her fists and glared at him. Widget’s display turned to red. “You fell asleep during that samurai movie,” Athena said. “Widget just said what everyone was thinking.”
“Where is he, anyway?” Trucy pursed her lips before taking a sip of her soda. “I thought he was going to come over and watch movies with us.”
Athena stopped petting Mikeko, who mewed in protest. “He’s got some really big case he’s working on right now,” she answered. “I haven’t really seen him around, either.”
“Is he the lead prosecutor on the case?” Apollo asked.
Athena nodded. She seemed distracted. “Yeah.”
“He’s working with some new junior prosecutor that the Prosecutor’s Office just hired,” Trucy said as she wiped her hands. “Daddy says he sees her following him all over the courthouse.”
Athena’s face flushed red. “T-Trucy! Are you spreading gossip?”
Trucy’s jaw dropped. “W-what? No! I’m just telling Polly what Daddy said.”
Apollo laughed. “So you’re gossiping.”
“Hmph.” Trucy crossed her arms. “Well, I can’t help it if I find it really interesting that some woman is following Mr. Blackquill around.”
“They have to work together.” Athena gritted her teeth. “That’s all.”
Apollo placed his can of soda on the coffee table. “I get it now.” He pointed at Athena. “You’re jealous.”
Athena’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “I-I am not!”
“You are!” Apollo laughed. “You totally are. You got used to having your own personal samurai following you around everywhere. Now that Prosecutor Blackquill’s got his own shadow, you’ve become jealous!”
Athena grabbed a pillow and threw it at Apollo. “I am not!” she growled. “Simon can see whomever he wants to.”
“As long as it’s you,” Apollo said with a laugh. He dodged the next pillow that Athena launched at him. Mikeko decided that he’d had enough of the shouting and leapt off Athena’s lap. He curled up on one of the pillows that Athena had thrown.
“Ooh—! Just put in one of the movies already, would you, Apollo?!” Athena crossed her arms and stared at the blank TV screen.
Apollo chuckled. “All right, all right. I was just teasing you.” He knelt before the DVD player and removed a DVD from its casing. “We’ll watch your horror movie while the sun is still out. It’ll be less creepy that way.”
Athena grinned. “In that case…maybe we should wait until after dark to make it extra spooky!”
Apollo shook his head. “Remember what happened last time?”
From the kitchen, Trucy let out a tiny whine. “Y-yeah. Let’s watch it now and get it over with. I couldn’t sleep after watching that horrible movie!”
Apollo pressed the “Play” button on the DVD player. Organ music blared out of the TV speakers as a vampire bared a pair of bloody fangs. Apollo shook his head. “I don’t get why you like these movies.”
“It’s the adrenaline rush, Apollo!” Athena beamed as she stretched out on the couch. “Your heart starts racing and your palms get all sweaty…. Don’t you just love it?”
“Most people get the same effect from watching action movies,” Apollo said. “And speaking of action movies, we’re gonna watch my movie after yours.”
Trucy pouted. “Aw, but that means my movie’s last! Everyone always falls asleep during the last movie.”
Apollo stretched as he stood. “I promise I’ll stay awake for your rom-com, Trucy.” He took a seat on the far end of the couch as Athena stood and walked to the kitchen to grab a slice of pizza.
Recently their Friday nights had been like this. It started after Apollo adopted Mikeko. The girls came over to his apartment one day to visit the calico cat; they ended up ordering pizza and watching movies after that. Sometimes they would go to Athena’s apartment, where the furniture was more comfortable and there was room for Simon to stretch out his long legs. Sometimes they would be at Mr. Wright and Trucy’s apartment, where it was cluttered but comfortable. If Mr. Wright wasn’t out with Detective Gumshoe or Mr. Edgeworth he would watch a movie or two with them, but only when an action movie or a romantic comedy was on. Simon lived in the house that his parents had left to him and his sister; he would usually have a samurai movie or a Japanese animated feature-length film queued up and waiting for them by the time they arrived. Those nights were spent lounging around the kotatsu and snacking on wasabi peas while Taka tried to preen Apollo’s hair.
The evening wore on in its typical fashion. Trucy had covered her eyes with a pillow during the last half hour of Athena’s movie. Apollo and Athena were on the edge of their seats during the action movie. By the time Apollo put in Trucy’s movie, Trucy was asleep on the couch. She had curled up in the space between Apollo and Athena.
Apollo sighed as he rubbed his eyes. No matter how much he enjoyed his friends’ company, sometimes three movies in one evening was a bit much. He glanced at Athena, whose eyes were still glued to the TV screen. A love triangle was developing between the heroine and her two best friends. Wasn’t that how rom-coms always went?
Athena’s fingers absently stroked the top of Mikeko’s head. He was curled in Athena’s lap, fast asleep. He wasn’t bothered when Athena laughed every so often at whatever was happening in the movie. When she giggled, she had a habit of covering her mouth with one hand. She usually didn’t do that when she grinned. Maybe it was something she only did when she watched romantic comedies.
Quietly, Apollo leaned over and picked up his sketchbook and pen from under the coffee table; Athena had been too engrossed in the suitors’ confessions for her to notice. Well, he was bored anyway. He might as well sketch.
Drawing Mikeko was easy. He’d been drawing Mikeko for a while now, all in various poses—Mikeko stalking his toy mouse, Mikeko scratching his ears, Mikeko jumping onto the back of the couch. Drawing Athena wasn’t too hard, either—except for her eyes. He couldn’t get her eyes right. One line here and her eyes were too severe; several lines there and her eyes were too coy. Athena’s eyes, just like her, were somewhere in-between: where energy collided with tranquility, where joy was borne of grief, where experience met with innocence. He didn’t know where to draw that line. It frustrated him.
The movie was over. In the end, the heroine had chosen neither of her suitors. Even though Apollo hadn’t been paying attention to the movie, he felt a pang of sadness at that ending.
He closed the sketchbook as the credits rolled. Through the open window, the evening breeze carried the scent of spring flowers into the room. Apollo wondered how long these days would last.
* * *
Athena had been too busy staring at the sketchbook to realize Mikeko had walked out from underneath the desk. He curled himself into a ball in Athena’s lap.
“Oh, Mikeko,” Athena whispered. She gently placed a hand on top of Mikeko’s head. He flattened his ears and purred. He had finally decided it was time.
She rubbed the cat’s ears and sadly smiled. “What do you think Apollo’s doing right now?” she asked. It would be nighttime in Khura’in at this hour. Was he having fun? Was he tired? She wondered if he was eating well. She wondered if he was keeping his place cleaner than he had kept his apartment. She wondered if he was thinking about them.
Athena suddenly jumped when her cell phone rang. Mikeko protested with a muted growl, but stayed on her lap. She answered her phone.
It was Apollo.
“H-hey, Apollo!” Athena smiled. “I’m at your apartment right now.”
“Oh, you are?” He sounded tired, but otherwise fine. “How did the move go yesterday?”
Athena’s grin was so big she could hardly talk. “It went well. Simon was able to get most of the stuff out. Mr. Wright threw out his back again, though.”
“Uh oh.” Apollo paused. “Well, I’ll have to give him a call later to apologize for the trouble.”
Athena laughed. “Yeah. He’ll be happy to hear from you, anyway.”
They paused. Mikeko looked up at Athena as she held her breath.
“Thanks for…for taking care of Mikeko.”
Athena smiled. “No problem, Apollo! He’s sitting right here in my lap. I’m about to bring him to my apartment.”
Apollo paused again. “A-and, um, I wanted…tell…that I…*click* so maybe….”
“H-hey, Apollo?” Athena craned her head to one side. “I think you’re breaking up. I can’t hear you very well.”
“Oh! It’s probably…reception is….”
“Apollo!” Athena raised her voice. “Hey, can you hear me?”
“Hey Athena, I…*click* you—“
The line went dead.
Athena held the phone to her ear for a moment longer as her breathing quickened. Picking up Mikeko in her arms, she walked out into the living room; the reception might be better in there. She still had so many questions she wanted to ask him: the omamori. The present. The drawing. Why did he do it? What did it all mean? She began to dial his number, but paused when she received a text message. She scrolled through the display. It was from Apollo. Hesitantly, she clicked on it.
It was a short message, but it said all she needed to know. Athena smiled as she stared at her phone. Mikeko turned his eyes towards the young woman and mewed.
Turning to Mikeko, she sighed and put her cell phone back into her pocket. “All right, Mikeko. Let’s go home.” She placed the cat into the pet carrier. Mikeko calmly settled into the back as she latched the carrier shut. Grabbing the present and the notebook from Apollo’s old bedroom, she placed them together with the omamori in the box containing Mikeko’s belongings. Carrying the box under one arm and hoisting the pet carrier onto her opposite shoulder, she walked out the front door.
The potted bougainvillea swayed in the spring breeze. It was still early in the day. There was so much to do before the evening came, but there was no rush. Everything would happen in its own time, at its own pace.
Now standing on the porch, she placed her hand on the doorknob. Mikeko mewed inside the pet carrier.
—I miss you, Athena. Hope you’re well.
“I miss you too, Apollo.” Athena smiled as she gave Apollo’s apartment one last glance. “Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”
She closed the door.