Keeping track of the tricks is crucial to any magician. All of the steps have to be carried out properly and in order to ensure that the act goes off without a hitch---and Trucy's tricks always went off without a hitch.
List-making was a habit and hobby of hers that few knew about. From the time she was little, making lists was the best way she knew how to make things happen. Whether it was magic or her day-to-day business---or Daddy's business, for that matter---Trucy's pocket notebook and pen were invaluable tools reminding her of what she needed to accomplish.
The end of the year and spare pages left in her notebook were both coming to a close. Trucy revisited the first page of her notebook, the annual First List of the Year: her New Year's Resolutions.
1. Perfect disappearing act
2. Perfect sawing-Polly-in-half act
3. Get Daddy to clean his desk at least once this year
4. Make new friends at high school
5. Design new business cards for Daddy
6a. Convince Daddy to find a new Mommy
6b. Get Polly a girlfriend
Getting a new mommy had been on the list as long as she'd lived with Daddy, and a part of Trucy had resigned herself to the fact that this was an unrealistic resolution. Getting Polly to stop cleaning the toilet and go on a date seemed much more reasonable.
The operative word here being "seemed."
Polly was the least social twenty-something Trucy had ever met, or at least seen on daytime soaps. Twenty-somethings were supposed to go to concerts (and not complain about the volume), hang out in sports bars with pals (and not give the stink eye to everyone ordering alcohol and watching football at a sports bar), and go on casual dates with at least five people before deciding to Get Serious and settle down.
As much as she wanted to chalk it up to Polly's being a stick in the mud, Trucy knew why none of these proper twenty-something activities appealed to him. He was an old soul, more interested in soft music that calmed his nerves and an evening spent wearing ratty-but-warm pajamas and falling asleep to T.V. reruns of black-and-white films. Most of all, Polly was no casual dater. He was about as Serious as they come.
"Why don't you find a nice girl online?" she'd once asked him.
"Maybe I will one day," he'd answered from his desk, somewhere in the midst of piles of case documents Daddy was having him refile. "Meet a nice girl, settle down, start a family." Polly poked his head out from around a precarious stack to flash her a smile. "Not anytime soon, of course. I want to focus on my job for now, get myself established, have something to offer a girl."
Trucy wanted to throw her hands up in the air and groan, but she also wanted to cup her chin in her hands and coo. What an old fart. What an old romantic. Worst twenty-something ever.
Luckily, Athena, an almost-twenty-something, was part of the Wright Anything Agency now. She was way more fun than Polly. Athena cranked her music up loud, once had to be pulled off a table she'd climbed up to in the midst of cheering on a football game in a sports bar (three guesses who did the pulling), and was more than willing to gush with Trucy over hot celebrities and high school gossip.
Once they'd gotten to know each other better, Trucy couldn't help asking, "Why don't you have a boyfriend?"
Athena had stuttered and stammered more than Trucy expected and finally answered that she didn't have time to date while she was still getting used to being a lawyer. "One day, though!" she said, pumping her fist in the air. Trucy could spot the little tremor in her fingers as they balled into a fist. "The guys'll be all over me!"
Even with her little twitch, Athena's enthusiasm was no fabrication. Trucy laughed. Once Athena was seated at her desk again, she admitted that her best friend growing up had been the type of girl who attracted every boy's attention.
"Sweet, gentle, pretty---the whole nine yards." Athena spread her arms and sighed. I love her to pieces, but so not fair! Widget chirped. From the bathroom, just barely audible over the scratching of the toilet brush against the bowl, Trucy could make out Apollo's laughter. "You be quiet in there, Apollo!" Athena yelled. Naturally, Trucy thought, his chuckle hadn't escaped her sensitive ears.
"No offense to your friend, but girls like that drive me nuts." Trucy sighed and slumped over the desk, propping her chin up in her hands. Athena must have been talking about that girl who sang with Mr. Gavin at that academy festival. She'd certainly been beautiful, all dolled up in a dress like Lamiroir's. "She probably doesn't even realize how popular she is, right?"
Bingo, Widget answered. "Junie's always had her pick of guys, but she totally doesn't get it."
"So, whenever she liked a guy, it all worked out for her, huh? That's rough."
Athena seemed to consider this. "Well, when we were kids, Junie never really liked anybody. She was too busy being a model student and not getting into fights and stuff."
Trucy just barely heard a muffled comment from the bathroom.
"You know what, Apollo?" Athena yelled back. "We all know you got into fights as a kid, don't even start with me."
"So she's super popular, oblivious, and not even looking?" Trucy buried her face in her arms and groaned. She could name a few classmates like that.
"We-ell," Athena drawled, her Cheshire grin returning. "If the blushing and giggling is any indication, she's recently been bitten by the loooove bug."
It was impossible to keep a straight face when Athena was on a roll. Any ill will Trucy had held for this Junie girl dissolved with each bubble of laughter.
"Yeah," Athena said, heaving a dramatic sigh. Her voice rose when she added, "Seems she's fallen for a fine older man who's strong and kind andwonderful." She pointed her index finger into her mouth and feigned gagging. "She wouldn't think that if she knew how long he spends styling his hair and making snide comments about his gorgeous coworker's psychology-based courtroom tactics."
Trucy's eyebrows shot to her hairline. "Get out." She was pretty sure Polly had never kissed a girl, and here he was stealing the heart of Athena's super popular friend.
"Athena, quit spreading rumors already," Apollo said. Trucy nearly jumped when she looked up and saw him standing over them, toilet brush in hand, his face scrunched up the way it did when she blasted her Gavinners CDs on repeat. "Juniper seems pretty shy to me. She'd probably be mortified if she heard you gossiping about her."
Athena widened her eyes at Trucy and mouthed, O-M-G. "Are you blind, Apollo? She's totally into you. Like, she got to sing on stage with Klavier Gavin and mentioned it, like, once, but in that bombing trial, her testimony basically boiled down to 'Apollo is awesome.'"
Trucy thought she noticed Apollo shift a little bit, as if the thought pleased him.
"I'm telling you this as her friend." Athena stood and slammed her hands down on her desk with a wicked smile. "You are one lucky guy. I wouldn't give my blessing to any old loser who came calling for Junie, but I'll make an exception for you."
"Thanks." Apollo rolled his eyes, and---there it was again. Trucy was sure of it: that little straightening of his shoulders that gave away a more positive reaction to Athena's blessing than his sarcasm. "Mr. Wright asked me to run some errands once I finished cleaning the toilet. Is there anything we need other than paper towels and grape juice? And remember--" Here Apollo held up a hand in front of him like a stop sign. "My wallet is not bottomless. Necessities only, please."
"Bring us candy," Athena said.
"Chocolate," Trucy added. "With peanut butter."
"Ooh, and some cookies."
"Cupcakes are also acceptable."
"As long as they're double chocolate. That means chocolate frosting on chocolate cake, Polly."
"Yeah, no 'golden' cupcakes."
Apollo's nostrils flared as Trucy and Athena exchanged glances.
"Mmmm, cake," they said in unison.
Apollo threw his hands up in the air and walked out of the office without another word. Once the girls had a good laugh at his expense---one of their favorite activities---Trucy grabbed Athena's arm and dragged her away from her desk at towards the couch.
"Okay, time for a break from pretending to work," she said. "Tell me all about this Junie girl."
Long after Polly returned from his errands and Athena and Trucy had polished off the double chocolate cake, Trucy was still hanging on Athena's every word as she told story after story about her friend Juniper. The girls had been careful to lower their voices to conspiratorial whispers once Polly was back in the office, and he kept walking by trying to eavesdrop. Trucy could tell from the way his hair was practically puffing out like a cat's tail that he was anxious about their conversation. All the giggling and glancing in his direction must have tipped him off that he was the subject.
Finally, Trucy pulled Athena into Phoenix's office and shooed Apollo out to man the phones. Before he could squawk in protest, she shut the door behind them.
"Good thing Daddy's busy today, or we'd have to kick him out so we could have some privacy," Trucy said.
"We wouldn't really kick Boss out of his office, would we?" Athena asked before Trucy led her to one of the comfy chairs in front of her father's desk. She herself fell into his office chair, one that had seen better days and was on its third cushion.
"OK, so this Juniper is at the top of her class, student council president, very into nature and gardening, great singing voice, totally pretty, patient, loyal, and about a thousand other positive adjectives." Trucy folded her hands on the desk. "Of course, you're a little biased since you're friends, Athena. I have to meet her first to make sure she's right for Polly."
"Um, maybe I should be paying more attention to Apollo to make sure he's right for Junie," Athena said, flashing Trucy a peace sign.
"Don't be ridiculous. Why wouldn't Polly be right for her?" Trucy stretched her hands up over her head. "He can be a little cranky, but he's a good guy. The first thing he did when he started working for Daddy was to help me catch a thief who ran off with my magic panties. He didn't even get paid, but he was happy to do it."
Athena frowned. "Wait, he was happy to help a teenage girl he barely knew find her panties?"
"And anytime we go on a field trip---concerts, historical villages, wherever---he always buys me souvenirs if my allowance isn't enough to cover it. He bought us those sweets today, too."
"You do realize that if Apollo starts dating, his girlfriend will be his top priority when budgeting his extra cash, right?" Athena asked. Trucy crossed her arms.
"Of course I know that! And it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make if Polly is happy. My point was that Polly buys stuff for pretty girls."
"Girls?" Athena echoed, arching her eyebrow. "Plural?"
"Yeah." Trucy pointed at herself, then Athena. "And Juniper, soon. And sometimes Daddy. Noodles are expensive, you know. Mr. Eldoon says it's tough times and plays such a sad tune on his harmonica that I--"
The door swung open, and Apollo came in from the front office. Trucy was so startled she half-jumped up out of her chair.
"Hey! Polly, you're supposed to knock." She put her hands on her hips. "It's rude to just barge in like that."
"Well, excuse me, Princess," Apollo said, putting his hands on his hips, too. Athena looked back and forth between them and laughed. "Would her majesty mind cleaning up the cake plates so we can lock up for the night? I don't think anybody's coming to the office at 4:59."
Once he'd gone, Athena told Trucy that if she didn't know better, she'd guess they were siblings. "It's spooky how alike you are. No wonder you're so protective."
The three walked part of their route home from the office together. Apollo grumbled about being left out all day while the girls were goofing off. "You didn't even leave me any cake." Just as Trucy and Athena were getting ready to coo in sympathy, he continued with more annoyance, "And I know you were talking about me, and probably Juniper, too. Knock it off, okay?"
"I'm just curious, Polly!" Trucy said, grabbing his hand and swinging it back and forth. "I mean, aren't you? You have an admirer!"
"I have a friend." Trucy didn't need any special powers to see the blush creeping up Apollo's neck, even in the evening's dimming light.
"Okay, well, you need to make a decision, then," Athena said, a sharpness in her voice that had been absent all day. Apollo and Trucy both stopped, and Trucy could see her own surprise reflected on his face. "I'm not kidding, Apollo. I can tell Junie really likes you, so you can't lead her on. Either ask her out or make it clear that you just want to be friends. Got it?"
"W-wait a sec..." The blush had climbed its way to Apollo's cheeks and seemed intent on lighting up his whole face. "You're not messing with me?"
"Why would I mess with you?" Athena threw up her hands. "What possible reason do I have to drag Junie's feelings into a practical joke?"
Apollo seemed to ponder this for a while before rubbing the back of his neck and smiling.
"What's that face for?" Athena asked.
"W-Well, I've never had a...y'know, an admirer before." Apollo rocked back and forth once on his feet before composing himself and resuming his usual serious look. "I'll have to figure out what to say to her."
"Try 'hey, I think you're really awesome, want to go to dinner?'" Trucy said. "It's a classic."
Apollo elbowed her. "Yeah, well, this is my stop." He pointed down the intersection they were coming to. "I'll see you girls in the morning."
Once Apollo was gone, Trucy and Athena had another few blocks to go before they parted ways. They traveled in comfortable silence for a few minutes before Athena said, "Boys are dumb."
"Right?" Trucy said. "If Polly's little tells are any sign, though, I think he's more than flattered that your friend likes him."
"Oh, I can hear it," Athena said. "I don't think Apollo's ever been one to lie, you know? He's awful at hiding his emotions. I didn't even need Widget to make sense of that one." She put a hand up by her head and imitated Apollo's goofy smile.
"You know," Trucy said, tapping her chin, "it'd be so like Polly to quietly go talk to Juniper, and we'll just never know how it went down. Like, we won't get to see their awkward, blushy confessions."
"If he asks her out." Athena's smile waned. "I mean, he still might think they're better as friends."
"Yeah, but let's stay positive here." Trucy sighed. "You know, I still want to meet Juniper. Like, really meet her, not just the introductions from the concert. You should invite her over to hang out with us sometime, if she's in town."
"Hang out with us, you and me, or us, you, me, and Apollo? I can hear your true feelings, Trucy, you're not fooling anyone." Athena rolled her eyes, but there wasn't any exasperation in her voice.
They reached Athena's stop and parted ways, Athena promising to invite Juniper to visit sometime. A few minutes later, Trucy was home and boiling water for spaghetti. Her father arrived not long after, kicking off his shoes practically before he'd even stepped in through the door. After asking about his business---nothing serious, just catching up with some old friends---Trucy had a perfect segue to her next question.
"Today Athena was telling me stories about her friend Juniper, the one who sang at that concert. You and Athena defended her in court, right?"
"Yeah," Phoenix confirmed. "Nice girl. Very sweet." He nodded to himself, sprawling out on their couch. "She's going to marry Apollo."
Hanging out with Juniper ended up being delayed due to snow. The city wasn't hit particularly hard, but according to Athena, Juniper and her grandmother up in their suspiciously mountain-y woods were all but snowed in.
"I'm so glad to live somewhere where somebody else does the shoveling," Athena said, throwing herself into her desk chair.
"Yeah," Phoenix agreed. "Apollo's a good kid."
After shoveling out the office, Polly came back inside with the reddest ears and fingers Trucy had ever seen. She scolded him for not wearing a hat and gloves to keep himself warm.
"You can borrow mine for the next round," she said. At his blank stare, she added, "Mr. Eldoon can't get his stand out onto the streets because of the snow. 'It's a crying shame, Trucy-doll,' he said when he called."
So Apollo went out in Trucy's fleece hat and Phoenix's worn gloves to shovel out Mr. Eldoon. A few of Trucy's regular clients for Anything Agency Jobs called to request help with their sidewalks and stairs, which she forwarded along to Polly via text. Hours after he left to help one neighbor, he returned with seven shoveling jobs complete.
"Did anybody pay you?" Athena asked when he shivered his way to the couch and bundled himself under a stack of spare capes and magic tablecloths.
"I shoveled out the neighbor of a neighbor of a friend of Trucy's, and she invited me in for a plate of spaghetti and meatballs," he groaned, his voice muffled by the layers of warmth in which he'd buried himself. "They were all old, with stiff joints and white hair. I couldn't ask for their money."
Trucy exchanged glances with Athena, who was making an 'aww' face over at her desk.
"No more, though, okay?" Polly asked, sinking into the old sofa. "It's really cold out there. I need a break."
"Nobody else we know needs to be shoveled out, Polly. You're all set."
"Unless you want to go all the way up to Junie's," Athena said, shuffling some paperwork around her desk with the end of her pen. "She was going to come visit, but her grandma's house is all buried."
Apollo emerged from the pile of satin, his eyebrows pulled together. "Are they all right? They haven't lost power or anything, have they? And they're all set for food?"
"They're fine, Apollo, relax." Athena's eyes sparkled. "But I'll be sure to tell Junie you're worried about her." She pulled out her phone and waved it at him. Apollo heaved a sigh and fell back onto the sofa.
"You doing okay, Apollo?" Phoenix asked. "You still look really red." He crossed the office and leaned over the back of the sofa, grinning down at his junior partner. Phoenix put a hand down to feel Apollo's forehead. "I know it's your favorite color and all, but---" The teasing smile disappeared from his face. "Hey, you feel kind of warm."
"I'm fine, Mr. Wright." Apollo batted away the hand taking his temperature.
Half an hour later, the sneezing started.
"I told you to wear a hat when you first went out, Polly. You need to take better care of yourself," Trucy said, throwing the box of tissues at him. His hands barely covered his face in time to protect himself and catch it.
"Maybe it was the four hours of shoveling strangers' houses that did it," he grumbled back.
"Did you even eat lunch?" Athena asked.
"Not really hungry," Apollo said, punctuating his response with a hurricane of sneezes. Phoenix sent him home after that, insisting that he needed rest and that the three of them could manage the office for a few hours without him.
Once he was gone, Athena sent a text message to Juniper. "I wrote, Junie with three exclamation points, hope you're okay, Apollo was worried about you, suggestive winky smiley face, but he got sick and went home," she read aloud to Trucy. "Aaaaand send."
Seconds later, Athena's phone was buzzing.
Athena read the text and burst into laughter. In a higher, daintier voice, she read Juniper's response for Trucy. "Oh, no, Thena, is he all right? It is flu season, after all. Is anyone taking care of him? I hope he feels better soon, exclamation point!" Athena clicked her tongue. "Sheesh, she types all proper with capitalization and punctuation marks. When I said 'hope you're okay,' I spelled 'you're' u-r. She didn't even let me know bears hadn't eaten her out there in the mountains."
"I thought she lived in the woods and had a garden," Phoenix said from his office.
"It's not nice to eavesdrop, Daddy," Trucy called back. Her father soon appeared in the doorway between his office and the reception area.
"Tell her it's just a little cold and we're taking good care of him," he said to Athena. "Poor thing will worry herself sick if she thinks something's happened to Apollo."
While Athena texted, Trucy said, "Maybe we should take care of him, like Juniper said. I've never seen Polly sick before. We could check on him."
"He lives kind of far away, though, doesn't he?" Phoenix asked. "I mean, he either bikes here or takes the bus. In this weather, we'd be better off asking someone with a car if we can catch a ride. I guess I could call Edgeworth?"
"Hang on," Athena said, looking up from her phone. "If Apollo lives far away and doesn't drive, and he's not feeling well, didn't we just send him home alone in the snow?"
A quick call to Edgeworth later and Phoenix, Trucy, and Athena were piled into his red sports car traveling Apollo's usual route home from the agency. Edgeworth sighed loudly once a block while Phoenix looked out the passenger side window and Trucy and Athena scouted from the backseat.
"Really, Wright, it sounds like a little cold. I'm sure he managed to catch the bus and is home safely by now."
"Maybe Uncle Miles is right, Daddy. Because of the snow, Polly didn't bike in today."
"Are the buses running with any delays because of the snow?" Athena asked. That would suck, Widget added. "Apollo left, what, fifteen minutes ago? Twenty?"
"I haven't seen any buses go by since we got on the road," Phoenix said.
Edgeworth heaved another legendary sigh. "Wright." He took one hand off the steering wheel to point straight ahead. "Is that bright red popsicle standing at the bus stop your subordinate?"
Trucy could see Polly shaking well before they pulled up beside him. His eyebrows flew up when Phoenix rolled down his window.
"Mr. Wright! Uh, everybody. What are you doing here?"
"Bus running late?" Phoenix asked.
"A little," Apollo mumbled.
"Nobody else is out here," Athena noted.
"Bus running at all?" Phoenix asked.
"Not sure," Apollo mumbled.
At this point, Edgeworth pushed Phoenix back into his seat and leaned over towards the open window. "Would you like a ride home?"
"Oh, no, Mr. Edgeworth, I don't want to cause any trouble! You didn't have t-t-to--" Apollo sneezed three times in a row into his elbow.
Just when Trucy thought she'd heard Uncle Miles' most impressive sigh, he outdid himself. "Listen, Justice. Your boss may be a fool who lets his subordinate wait by himself in this cold for a bus that isn't coming, but I certainly am not." Phoenix gave an indignant 'hey' but went ignored. "Either I drive you home right now, or I call my subordinate, whom I'm sure would be happy to give you a lift in, or possibly on the back of, one of his ridiculous vehicles."
The horror on Apollo's face and the way even his antennae seemed to recoil told Trucy he knew which of the chief prosecutor's subordinates would receive a call if he didn't get in the car. "You wouldn't."
Without even a hint of a smile, Edgeworth replied, "Achtung, Mr. Justice," and rolled up the window.
Apollo couldn't sit in the middle because he kept sneezing, so Trucy and Athena put him on the end and squished close together on the other side of the backseat. Apollo gave Edgeworth directions to his apartment building. His voice had gotten much scratchier since he left the office, Trucy noticed, and his whole body seemed to droop.
They dropped him off in front of an old building, and Apollo thanked Edgeworth twice for the ride and assured Phoenix he'd be back in the office ready to work first thing in the morning.
"Stay home, you sound disgusting," Phoenix said brightly. "Don't need you getting mucus all over Charley, Apollo."
"What do you pay your employees, Wright?" Edgeworth asked, evaluating Apollo's apartment building with open horror.
"Junie, no exclamation points," Athena read aloud from her phone. "Apollo confirmed alive. Your, spelled u-r, man is safe with us. Send."
"Oh, good, it's nice of you to keep her updated," Trucy said. Edgeworth glanced at them in his rear-view mirror as he turned the car around.
"Mr. Justice's girlfriend?" he guessed.
"We're working on it," Athena said. "She's all upset about him having the sniffles. If it weren't for the snow, she'd probably be down here making him homemade soup with veggies from her garden, and knitting him extra blankets to keep warm."
"Ah, yes," Edgeworth said dryly. "Well, I can see where compassion and concern for his well-being would be attractive qualities to Mr. Justice."
"We're all very concerned, Edgeworth. That's why we called you," Phoenix said.
Twenty minutes after Apollo left the office, Widget said. Athena shushed it right before her phone went off. She read her text message and burst into laughter.
"What?" Trucy asked, and Athena tilted the phone towards her so she could see. She read Juniper's reply aloud for the car. "Thena, please don't call him my man, that's embarrassing! I'm relieved to hear that he's all right, though. The snow is supposed to melt enough that I can come visit you tomorrow. I'll be sure to bring Apollo some vegetable soup. Do you know if he likes onions?" Trucy shook her head. "Wow, she really does text grammatically correct."
"She sounds lovely," Edgeworth said, pulling up in front of the agency.
"Does Apollo like onions?" Athena asked.
"I saw him eat a salad with onions in it once," Phoenix said.
"And I saw him eat an onion ring once," Trucy said.
"Onions are OK," Athena narrated while she texted. "Send."
Apollo was in the office on time the next morning. He had a cold mask over his nose and mouth and had brought his own supply of tissues and Coldkiller X. Phoenix stared at him when he walked through the door and greeted everyone with a violent spasm of coughing.
"Are you trying to infect all of us?" he asked, shooing Apollo to his desk.
"I'm fine, Mr. Wright! No reason I can't stay on top of any new cases that come our way." Hack, wheeze, cough, sputter.
"I'm just impressed that you took the time to do your hair," Athena said.
"I can battle a little cold without looking like a hot mess, thank you very much."
Picking on Polly was less fun when every response to teasing triggered a cough attack. Trucy gave up on that after an hour or so. She had something else to look forward to, after all; overnight a little snow plowing and melting had made the roads travel-safe again, and Juniper was taking a bus into the city to visit as promised.
"I'm really looking forward to meeting her in person," Trucy told Athena after testing out a few new magic tricks on her. "I only really caught her name at the school festival."
"She's great. You guys'll hit it off no problem. Watch, you'll be mejores amigas by the end of the day!" Athena said. Well, after Junie and me, of course, Widget added.
The Cough of Death signaled Apollo's entrance into the conversation. "Juniper's coming to visit today?" Triple sneeze, short coughing fit, a whole bunch of tissues pulled and used noisily. "Wasn't she snowed in?"
"Not anymore. Good thing that storm didn't last long," Athena said. Trucy asked when her bus was arriving, and Athena said sometime around lunch.
"If you can't last that long, don't feel bad, Polly. You can go home if you feel sick," Trucy said.
"Why do you want me out of the office when she arrives?"
Trucy could always count on Polly to be skeptical. His response guaranteed that he'd tough it out until Juniper showed up. Though Trucy wasn't sure if he was in the best condition to impress her, it was Juniper she was looking to test. Any girl could sound sweet and concerned via text. A phlegm-y, mucus-y hack attack with half-gelled hair, live and in-person, was a whole different story.
Juniper arrived around twelve-thirty, and Trucy could see immediately why Athena had grown up a little jealous of her. The cold December air that ruined every good hair day and flushed every face to the grossest shade of red had teased Juniper's long hair into impossible-to-manufacture waves and given her cheeks a pink glow. Between her white coat and mittens and the way she giggled her hello to Athena from the hold of a killer bear hug, she was like the angel on the top of the Christmas tree.
Maybe Trucy should have let Polly go home and get his rest.
Juniper noticed him immediately, of course. Before she'd even taken off her coat, she was right by his desk and going through the large bag she'd brought with her.
"Thena told me you weren't feeling well yesterday. Are you doing better today?" Juniper fidgeted with the zippers of her bag.
"Much better," Apollo wheezed.
"He's way worse," Athena corrected cheerfully. "Like, four hundred percent grosser than when we last saw him."
"Oh, my! And you still came into the office today?" Juniper brushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear, and Trucy noticed that her cheeks hadn't gotten any less pink despite the warmth of the office. "You're so dedicated to your work, Apollo. But you can't forget to take care of yourself first."
Dedicated was an awfully positive way to spin stubbornness, Trucy thought, though Polly's readjusting his cold mask didn't hide the smile twinkling in his eyes. Had he really never picked up on this girl's crush? It was only visible from Mars.
"I brought you some soup," Juniper added, taking a few containers out of her bag. "I kept it in an insulated bag so it would keep for the bus ride..."
"You didn't have to do that! Thanks, though. Right in time for lunch," Apollo said. He hadn't brought a lunch with him that Trucy had seen, and she wondered if he were even hungry.
"Junie, you want to take off your coat and stay a while?" Athena asked. Juniper seemed flustered by the question and glanced at Apollo, who was busy opening up a container of soup and asking if it were microwave safe.
Under the coat, Juniper had on a green sweater dress that was so pretty Trucy wondered if it was handmade. Athena had said Juniper was a bit of a knitting whiz. When Apollo returned to his desk with soup heated in the office microwave, Trucy grinned.
"You guys look so Christmas-y," she said, pointing. Again, Juniper started--this girl was a little skittish, Trucy thought; wouldn't Polly's Chords of Steel scare her off?--and Apollo looked up from the plastic Eldoon's spork he was unwrapping. "Red and green."
"Hey, yeah. You didn't even plan that," Athena said. Not that it would be hard for Juniper to plan, Trucy thought, since Polly lived in red even when it wasn't seasonal. She didn't seem to have any tells to suggest that she'd planned her complimentary outfit, though.
"Funny coincidence," Apollo said, flashing Juniper a smile. She started toying with her hair again, her fingers twisting through locks as if they were yarn on her needles. He took his first spoonful of soup and sighed appreciatively. "This is great, Juniper. You made this yourself?"
"Oh! Yes. With fresh vegetables from our garden." Her fingers threaded faster now. What an antsy girl, Trucy thought with a wince. Her tells would be brutal in a poker game.
"I can tell. They've got a lot of flavor." From the congested delivery of that compliment, though, Trucy would bet that Apollo couldn't taste a single onion. "It really hits the spot."
"You're going to share it, right, Apollo?" Athena asked with a grin. "Looks like you've got yourself an extra bowl..."
Apollo tugged the extra container towards himself and shook his head at Athena over another heaping spoonful. Trucy was amazed that Juniper's fingers didn't get impossibly tangled in her hair.
How did a girl this pretty end up with a crush this serious on a dork this huge, she wondered. Well, one thing was for certain: Juniper's feelings were in sickness and in health. She'd passed her first test.
Trucy mentally checked it off her list.
Juniper had more tells than anyone Trucy had ever met before--playing with her hair, fidgeting with her sweater dress, crossing and uncrossing and recrossing her legs--and all of them pointed to Apollo. Trucy was getting dizzy keeping track of all her habits; usually Polly was even better than she was at noticing these things, but he didn't react at all.
Of course, right now he was still in a cold stupor. He sat at his desk eating Juniper's soup in slow motion while the girls curled up on the couch to chat. Athena recounted recent crime scene antics and courtroom victories, complete with impersonations of Winston Payne that put both Trucy and Juniper in hysterics. Trucy noticed how Juniper kept even her laughter ladylike with most jokes, but Athena's strangled Objection! was so dead-on that Juniper shrieked and had to clap a hand over her mouth, her eyes darting to Apollo.
Who, Trucy saw, had fallen asleep at his desk. His arms were crossed over his most recent paperwork, and his head rested on the overlap of his forearms. The steady rise and fall of his back gave away his slumbering breathing.
Athena noticed a few seconds after Trucy and grinned. "Aww, Apollo."
"Maybe we should wake him up and suggest he goes home to rest," Juniper said.
"Or," Athena said, jumping to her feet and going to her desk. She rummaged around in the top drawer and pulled out a black magic marker, popping the cap off. "We could have some fun."
Trucy snorted. "Oh, Athena, no. That's so mean," she sputtered between poorly-stifled giggles. Even without the laughter, her halfhearted protest would've reached Athena's sensitive ears.
"Just a little," Athena said, advancing on Apollo's desk. "Maybe some cat whiskers?"
Juniper was off the couch and standing in between Athena and Apollo in a flash. She spread her arms out the way the Pink Princess did in that one episode when she was protecting the Steel Samurai from the blades of his foes.
"Thena, stop. This isn't nice."
Not a single quiver in her voice. Her head was held high, and her eyes weren't darting everywhere, staying locked on Athena's face instead. Trucy was impressed. Even if "this isn't nice" was a kindergarten student's logic, Juniper actually looked like a judge-in-training right now, not like a leaf that might snap off in an autumn wind.
"Apollo works so hard, even when he isn't feeling well. He could've stayed home today to recuperate, but he chose to help others however he can. He puts the good of the firm--"
"Agency," Trucy corrected.
"--ahead of his own needs, even his very health." Juniper clasped her hands. "He's like a fiery marigold whose scent protects neighboring tomatoes from insects. I won't tolerate any unkindness towards him, even if it is just for fun."
After a pause, Athena said, "Junie, it's washable."
"I said no!"
Trucy leaned back on the couch's armrest. The way Juniper was acting now, it wasn't hard to imagine her as student council president--or as a judge handing down the verdict of truth. Trucy was just about to say so when she noticed Polly stirring. Though it was brief, Athena and Juniper had been sort of arguing, and they must have woken him up. His head was tilted up a little, and one eye was open and fixed on Juniper's back.
So he'd heard her defending him. In light of Athena's insistence that Juniper's feelings were real--a fact Trucy couldn't deny after a mere hour of observation--Trucy wondered what Apollo was feeling. His eye turned from Juniper to her as if she'd summoned his attention with her thoughts, and he held her gaze for a split second before closing his eye again.
If only Trucy could read eyes the way Athena read voices. She understood that Apollo didn't want Juniper knowing he'd overheard her--and that he expected Trucy to keep up the charade as well, which she would--but she hadn't been able to tell what he was thinking with his eye on Juniper.
Athena didn't seem to have noticed Apollo's being awake, though Juniper may have been obstructing her view. In any case, she groaned and dropped the magic marker back on her desk. Juniper relaxed with a little sigh and coughed.
"Hey, you okay? You're not catching Polly's cold, are you?" Trucy asked.
"No, no," Juniper said, reaching for the sunflower pinned in her hair. She unfastened it and brought it to her nose and mouth, inhaling deeply. "Sometimes I just need to catch my breath."
In the end, Athena put away the marker and, if his little snore a few seconds later were any indication, Apollo returned to sleep. Juniper stayed maybe half an hour longer before she had to leave to catch the afternoon bus home.
"Is it a long ride?" Trucy asked as Juniper was putting on her coat.
"Sometimes," she admitted, finger-combing her hair out of her face. "I have my knitting with me, though, so that helps the time pass."
Once she'd gone, Athena turned to Trucy and spread her arms wide. Her question was obvious.
"She's great," Trucy said. Her voice made it sound like it was harder to admit than it was. "She really seems to like Polly."
Told you, Widget chirped. "Speaking of whom," Athena added, striding over to Apollo's desk where he was still folded over his paperwork, "now I feel bad. Maybe we should make him go home."
Trucy crossed her arms. "Yeah, probably. That means waking him up, though."
As if her hesitation had summoned him, Phoenix emerged from his office. "It got quiet in here, so I assumed Juniper left. Sounded like you girls were having fun."
Athena toyed with her ponytail the way she did when she was happy about something. "Yeah, definitely. It's been way too long since Junie and I got together. Thanks for OK'ing her visit here, Boss!"
Phoenix laughed. "Invite her anytime! We're never too busy to have a little fun." Sobering, he cupped his hand over his mouth and leaned forward, whispering conspiratorially, "Don't tell Apollo I said that." The girls giggled.
Trucy figured her father to be the most relaxed boss in both the legal and talent representation worlds. The agency was more like an apartment with desks instead of beds, everyone's stuff everywhere. Trucy was always surprised that Daddy had never tried to meet someone and make their family bigger; if the past year or so were any indication, he liked having lots of "kids" to look after.
"Daddy, did you get a lot of work done?"
"You bet. I had a very long phone call with the Chief Prosecutor. Very important business."
"Catching up with Uncle Miles isn't work, Daddy."
"Tell that to Uncle Miles. 'Really, Wright, must you be so difficult?' His words."
Phoenix laughed again at his own impersonation of Edgeworth's vaguely European accent, which seemed to disrupt Apollo's sleep. He gave a half-snore, half-cough, still slumped over at his desk. The other three all turned towards him.
"Edgeworth was asking how he was doing," Phoenix said. "Big ol' softy. Wonder if he's told Klavier yet."
"Well, no big, flashy 'Get Well' bouquets have arrived, so I would go with 'no,'" Trucy said. Athena started to laugh but stopped herself when she saw that the Wrights were nodding seriously in response to that observation.
Wait, what? Widget asked.
"We were just trying to figure out how to wake up Polly and send him home," Trucy told her father.
"Oh, easy enough. Let's see." Phoenix strode over to Apollo's desk and stood over his sleeping junior partner. He seemed to evaluate Apollo for a moment before loudly clearing his throat. "Ah-HHHHEM!"
Trucy had seen Daddy's "lemon-scented ahem" in action before, but Athena jumped a mile, and Polly sat bolt upright in a fit of coughing and gasping.
"How're you doing, champ? Working hard or hardly working?" Phoenix asked brightly.
Polly wheezed something that sounded like 'You're such a dad,' but Trucy couldn't be sure.
Phoenix squatted down so that he was almost-eye-to-eye with Apollo. Trucy could see Daddy's teasing smile soften when Polly glowered at him with what little energy he had. "Why don't you head home, Apollo? Get a little rest. Don't come in tomorrow, okay? We can hold down the fort for a day."
Trucy expected Polly to argue, and he didn't disappoint, but his voice had become so garbled with illness that his protest-sounding sputters went especially ignored. A few more minutes of insisting that Apollo not come within "however far away you live from here" distance of the agency until he was better, and Phoenix was shoving him out the door. Polly looked especially pathetic in his worn coat, Juniper's containers of soup bundled in his arms.
"Want a spoon for the bus ride home?" Athena asked. Warm you right up, Widget added. Apollo either considered her offer or was suffering from illness-induced slowness of understanding, because he wavered in the doorway.
"Don't want to eat on the bus," he croaked finally. "Driver slams the breaks. Don't want to lose my soup."
"Lose your soup? Gross. If you're going to puke, Polly, get out of here!" Trucy shooed him off, catching Athena texting, undoubtedly updating Juniper, out of the corner of her eye.
Apollo closed the door more quietly than Trucy'd ever seen him do in his career with the agency. Phoenix rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"And here I thought you were sad when you were sick, baby girl," he said. "I've never seen Apollo so..." He gestured loosely.
"I know. He's usually so full of life." Athena tilted up her chin, evaluating her text down her nose. "'Junie, exclamation point! Guess who loves his'--in the quote-y things"--here Athena loosened one hand from her phone to curl and uncurl her index and middle fingers for emphasis--"'soup? Took it all home, shared none.'" Meanie, Widget added. "That's not in the text. That's just Widget."
Trucy and Phoenix each gave her a wordless thumbs-up. Athena sent her text.
"He really seems wiped out. I wonder if it's the flu," Athena said. Her ponytail drooped with sympathy. "I hope Apollo's not sick for the holidays. They're coming right up."
"Oh, jeez, you're right." For the first time, Trucy noticed the composure in Daddy's face crack. "I haven't even started shopping."
"He'll be better. Polly will get over this cold if it kills him," Trucy said. Something Athena said had struck her, though. The holidays were right around the corner, true enough. This would be the first time since Trucy came to live with Daddy that the agency had a real office full of people, too. Which could only mean--"We should have a Christmas party!"
"Christmas party?" Athena echoed. A smile stretched across her face. Par-tay! Widget added.
"Sounds like fun," Phoenix said, heading back towards his office. Trucy wondered if he were going to call Uncle Miles again, or maybe another friend. "If Apollo tries to come in tomorrow, tell him he has to plan the whole party himself and dress up as Santa."
"That's not much incentive for him to stay home, Daddy. You know how Apollo loves wearing red."
"Tell him we're buying Prosecutor Gavin one of those mistletoe headbands, then."
Athena's phone buzzed, and she opened up her text. With a smile to Trucy, she read, "'It's good that he went home to rest. He really seemed ill. Hopefully this bug doesn't last too long. I'm glad that there was something I could do to make Apollo feel better,' exclamation point! 'He works so hard.'" Athena shook her head. "Oh, Junie."
"Tell her we're having a party," Trucy said, bouncing on the balls of her feet. "Date T-B-A, but soon. Tell her she's invited."
It was a good thing Daddy kept the T.V. in the office, Trucy thought. While Phoenix was off chatting up a potential client, Athena had been manning the office alone until Trucy returned from school. When she walked in and dropped her backpack on the floor, Athena was sitting on the couch, glued to a rom-com on the heartwarming family channel.
"It's so stupid," Athena said in lieu of a greeting, her eyes never leaving the screen. "And I care so much!"
During the commercial, she caught Trucy up on the story--an athletic girl enrolls in a charm school to become more ladylike for Mr. Wrong, while her guy friend urges her to be herself, falling for her all the while--and Trucy found herself sucked in for the rest. Her homework sat ignored in her backpack.
When it was over and the dorks finally realized they loved each other, Athena stretched her arms over her head. "I should probably clean the toilet again."
"I'm sure it's fine." Trucy couldn't find the energy to start on her geometry. "What did you do today?"
Athena gestured to the T.V. "Movie marathon. I think there's still another one on after this."
An hour later, Phoenix found them still on the couch, engrossed in the story of how a horse brought a cowgirl and her city boy soulmate together.
"Homework?" he asked Trucy.
"They haven't admitted that it was the best summer of their lives and that they love each other yet, Daddy."
"No calls while you were out, Boss," Athena added.
"Is my toilet clean?" he joked. Athena and Trucy exchanged glances. "I wonder how Apollo is doing."
He was in the office first thing the next morning, as it so happened, still pale but much improved. He let Trucy use his bike to get from the office to school faster on a chilly morning.
"Helmet. Helmet!" he nagged, buckling it in place himself. Trucy rolled her eyes.
She was just on her way out when she noticed Apollo unloading his messenger bag, stacking Juniper's empty containers and a little red bag on top of his desk.
"Polly, what's that?"
His face flushed. In the quiet office, Trucy's question had attracted Phoenix's and Athena's attention. "I thought I--I should get Juniper a thank-you gift." Polly toyed with his hair. "She went to all that trouble bringing me soup--"
"Bringing it?" Athena echoed, reaching for the red bag. "She made it just for you, Apollo!"
Polly dove across the desk to retrieve the bag, but not before Athena had pulled out of it a little stuffed bear wearing a gardening hat and carrying a plastic watering can. She cooed.
"Aww, Apollo! Junie's going to love this. Of course, she'd love anything from you."
Phoenix watched a red-faced Apollo chase a hooting Athena around his desk a few times before asking, "Why are you kids here at seven-thirty in the morning?"
When Trucy returned to the office after school, Apollo and Athena were watching another movie on T.V., both of them with their arms crossed.
"Miranda, just tell him you love him already!" Athena complained.
"No, Athena," Apollo countered, "Juan hasn't realized that Miranda is the princess from the masquerade. If she tells him now, he'll reject her."
"Even though he loves her?"
"He doesn't know he loves her yet. He's so hung up on the princess that he doesn't recognize his feelings."
"Have you guys been watching T.V. all day?" Trucy asked, kicking off her shoes and tossing Polly's helmet back to him.
"I have," Athena said without a shred of shame. "Apollo didn't join me until Promise of a Lifetime."
Athena nodded. "It's a Wallflower Weekday, all movies about shy beauties who take a chance on unexpected romance and adventure." Trucy wondered how many times they'd seen the bumper advertising that marathon tagline. Apollo's really invested, Widget added.
"Hey, I cleaned the toilet twice," he squawked. "I'm allowed to kick back."
And enjoy a good chick flick or three.
Athena shushed Widget. Trucy went to Apollo's desk to inspect his gift for Juniper. The little bear was cute, and it looked like just the sort of thing Juniper would like. Trucy wondered how long it had taken Polly to pick it out.
"I figured I'd keep it here," he said, leaning over the back of the couch to face Trucy. "The next time I see Juniper will probably be the next time she visits you guys."
"It'll be at the Christmas party," Trucy said.
"The what, now?"
"Party, Polly. It's what fun people do with what are known as friends." Trucy gasped, putting the bear back in its gift back. "Decorations! We need to start getting ready!"
"Did you know about this?" Apollo asked Athena behind her.
"Uh, yeah, totally! Get with the program, Apollo." We're actually having a party?
"Yep," Trucy answered Widget. "Grab your wallet, Polly! We're going on an official agency business trip to the party store."
“I’m getting reimbursed, right?” Polly asked, pushing the cart Trucy and Athena were currently filling with red and green decorations.
Neither girl answered, though they gushed to one another about stockings and snowman cutouts.
“Which one should we get?” Trucy asked, holding up near-identical Let it Snow signs.
“Get both!” Athena said, clasping her hands beneath her chin.
“Et tu, Athena?” came from the back of the cart.
“WHOOOOA! ATHENAAAA, IS THAT YOU?”
Trucy just about jumped out of her skin as a non-Polly flash of red rocketed towards them.
“Robin!” Athena recovered from her surprise faster than Trucy and whipped out a smile. “And Hugh!”
From behind the petite girl in red, a tall boy with glasses and broad shoulders loped down the aisle, a basket full of Christmas decorations in one hand. He smirked. “Yo. It’s been a while.”
“Juniper’s friends,” Polly explained when Trucy turned to him. “Robin, Hugh, and, ah…” His hair antennae seemed to droop. “Is that Myriam?”
A cardboard box on the floor behind Hugh and Robin seemed to wiggle at his question. Trucy leaned over to get a better look.
“Sss-sss-sss—very astute of you.” The top of the box popped open, and two hands holding a camera shot out and snapped a picture of Trucy. She yelped in surprise.
“Myriam, we’re in public. Couldn’t you leave the box outside?” Hugh asked, adjusting his glasses.
“You expect me to quench the journalist instinct? As if!”
“What are you three doing here?” Athena asked.
“Helping Juniper plan a Themis alumni P-A-R-T-Y,” Robin answered, wagging her finger. “Juniper said she needed us to handle decorations.”
“More like she needed three idiots out of her hair while she plans a party by herself,” Apollo muttered. Athena elbowed him and said he didn’t have to sound so much like he related.
“It’s not exactly a formal alumni party.” Hugh flipped his hair. “More like select elite representatives of the judge and prosecution courses and the rising star of the defense course.”
The box stood up, arms popping out of holes cut in the front, one hand twirling a pen. “With media coverage from an elite alumna of said judge course.”
“So, the four of you are having a party,” Apollo said. Since noticing Myriam, his antennae hadn’t rebounded the way they usually did, Trucy noticed.
“Y-E-S, we are!” Robin replied, doing a little spin. “And it looks like you are, too!”
“Yeah, for the office,” Trucy said, glad she could finally jump into this conversation. “The Wright Anything Agency’s first annual Christmas party!”
“With friends invited, if you want to come,” Athena added, fidgeting with her earring. Trucy wondered if the Themis alumni party had made her feel left out.
“You should come,” Polly said. Trucy and Athena exchanged looks before turning to him with raised eyebrows. “We can combine our parties so Juniper doesn’t have to do all the work.”
It was only a split second, but Trucy noticed that Robin’s and Hugh’s eyes flickered to each other, and even the box seemed to turn towards them. Robin recovered first, splaying her fingers over her mouth.
“Don’t be fresh, Mr. A-P-O-L-L-O! We are shopping for decorations, after all.” Her eyes sparkled. “But I’ll let that one slide, since you’re worried about Juniper.”
Athena flashed Trucy a grin when Apollo wasn’t looking. So these three were allies on Juniper’s side. Trucy couldn’t say she was surprised; of course Juniper would have other friends who would know about a special someone. Still, this trio was an interesting bunch.
“Who wouldn’t worry?” Apollo mumbled, rubbing his wrist just below his bracelet. Trucy took Hugh’s shopping basket and dumped its contents into their cart. “Hey! If I pay for all this, I won’t be able to eat this week!”
“Oh, good, you got mistletoe,” Trucy said to the trio.
Robin giggled. “It’s not a Christmas party without it!”
“Who plans a big office party less than a week in advance?” Apollo grumbled, climbing the stepladder to hang twinkle lights over the doorway.
“More importantly, why don’t any of our friends have plans already?” Athena asked, handing him a second strand.
Trucy looked up from hanging ornaments on Charley. “Polly, you’re pretty good at hanging those lights. Color me impressed.”
“I agree,” Pearl said, frowning at the mess that was Phoenix’s desk.
“It’s nice of you to come help us clean the office, Pearl, but it doesn’t sound like a fun trip for you,” Athena said. She backed up to give Apollo room to get down from the stepladder. He eyed his work critically. For someone who complained about decorating as much as Polly did, he sure did take it seriously, Trucy thought.
“I don’t mind. I like to visit.”
“Besides, nobody cleans faster than Pearls,” Trucy said.
Apollo side-eyed her. “Yeah, but nobody makes a mess faster than Mr. Wright.”
“What was that about Mr. Wright?”
Apollo’s face flooded when Phoenix appeared behind him carrying pizza.
“Ooh, Boss, you are the best!” Athena did a little hop. Yum! Widget added. “I’ve totally worked up an appetite?”
“Doing what, pointing at things you want me to do?” Apollo asked.
Phoenix laughed and set down the pizza boxes on the recently-unearthed coffee table between the couches. “Gather ‘round, everyone. Now, I don’t have any plates, so just dig in with your hands. A little sauce never hurt anything.” One look at Pearl rolling up her sleeve and he added, “Napkins? Napkins?”
Over dinner, they caught up with Pearl on what she’d been up to in Kurain Village. A reporter was coming to do a piece on Maya, so the Feys wouldn’t be able to attend the party. Pearl expertly caught a drop of pizza oil with her napkin. “Mystic Maya says we’ll definitely come for Christmas, though.”
“That’s fine, Pearls, don’t worry about it.” Phoenix caught a splatter of sauce with his lap. “So that means, what, the four of us…”
“Uncle Miles and Tanta Franzy,” Trucy added, “Juniper and her friends…”
“And Simon,” Athena added. She blushed when everyone looked at her. “Well, he was free!” It only took an hour to talk him into it.
Phoenix counted on his fingers until he ran out. “So, eleven. That’ll be a little tight…”
Apollo had stopped eating his pizza mid-slice and had a full-blown perceiving stare fixed on Phoenix. Trucy watched her father flinch.
“Really tight,” he said.
“So, Chief Prosecutor Edgeworth is coming,” Apollo said slowly. “And Prosecutor von Karma. And Prosecutor Blackquill.”
Daddy looked around the office. “Say, you guys did a great job decorating! Apollo, did you do the lights? Nice work!”
“That’s not fair, Mr. Wright.” Polly pressed his lips together, a thin line that usually only surfaced in the courtroom. Phoenix sighed.
“Fine. Twelve. But no more—we’re really full at twelve.” Trucy could see both Pearl’s and Athena’s brows furrowing in confusion trying to think of the twelfth person when Daddy’s face paled. “Feeding twelve people. Uh, maybe we should do a potluck.”
“Ooh, tell Tanta Franzy to make her German chocolate pudding. And Uncle Miles can bring raspberry tarts.”
“I make a mean brownie,” Athena said. Boxed, Widget added.
“What about dinner?” Apollo asked.
“We’ll leave that to you, Polly.”
When the pizza was all but gone, there was a knock at the door. Trucy pulled her father’s wrist towards her to check his watch, her eyebrows knitting. “Who’s that at this time?”
Athena shot out of her seat and threw herself at the door. When she swung it open, Trucy caught sight of Juniper’s stunned face.
“Oh! Thena, I—”
“Junie, you made it!” Athena threw her arms around Juniper, who laughed into the crushing embrace. Trucy wondered if this were their customary greeting; Juniper handled bear hugs well.
Across from Trucy, Apollo had jumped to his feet as soon as he’d seen Juniper, but he didn’t seem to know what to do now that he was up. With a poorly-hidden smile, Phoenix tugged him back to the couch by the rolled-up part of his sleeve. Polly awkwardly sat on the arm rest.
“You said that it was an emergency and that you needed help.”
“That was before I knew Pearl was coming,” Athena said, steering Juniper towards the coffee table. “Doesn’t it look great in here?”
Juniper had only managed to undo three buttons on her coat, but Trucy could see a flash of red underneath and snuck a look at Polly. His attention was focused on Juniper’s face as she looked around the decorated agency.
“It doesn’t even look like the same office,” she said.
“Thank you,” Pearl said graciously. Phoenix chuckled.
“The lights look so beautiful over the door,” Juniper said. Out of the corner of her eye, Trucy could see Polly puff his chest out a little; putting the lights over the door had been his idea and handiwork. When Juniper finished unbuttoning her coat, Trucy finally got to see her outfit, a red sweater over a black pencil skirt. Athena had mentioned something about Juniper having an internship in the city. Trucy bristled at the thought of guys in whatever office Juniper was at hitting on Polly’s not-girlfriend.
“I can’t believe you invited your friend over to help us clean our office, Athena,” she teased.
“Hey, you invited Pearl!”
“Oh, it was no trouble to come by,” Juniper said, looking around for a place to hang her coat. Apollo got up again to take it, and she flushed. Trucy mentally sent Polly a high-five for gentlemanliness. “I intern down at the courthouse a few days a week, so it’s quite close.”
“Oh, yeah? How’s that going?” Phoenix asked. Trucy and Pearl slid over to make room on the couch, and Juniper took a seat, a smile lighting her eyes.
“It’s great! I’m getting a lot of experience. It’s so much better to be on this side of a trial. The judge I’m interning for is very encouraging. He’s serious about handing down the correct verdict…um, but very silly about everything else. He asked me something about weaving baskets underwater.”
Phoenix, Trucy, and Apollo exchanged a look.
“He probably loves having you around to keep him on track,” Phoenix said. Juniper gave a pretty little laugh.
Trucy offered her some pizza, but she said she would probably just head home and eat with her grandmother.
“It’ll be kind of late when you get back, won’t it?” Apollo frowned.
“I was going to stay with Thena if it took us long to clean up here, but since you’re all set, I can catch an earlier bus.”
Apollo offered to walk Juniper to the bus stop. “It’s late enough that you don’t want to be waiting by yourself.” He grabbed his jacket and briefcase. “I’m heading out anyway. It’s no trouble.”
She accepted his offer immediately. As soon as they were out the door, Phoenix asked, “Did you girls plan that?”
“A little,” Athena said. She pinched her index finger and thumb almost-together for emphasis. “I wanted to see him give her that bear…he outsmarted me again.”
“What do you think, Pearls?” Trucy asked. Pearl took a dignified sip of grape juice but couldn’t hide her blush.
“I’ve outgrown all that matchmaker stuff, Trucy! Although…the way they look at each other is awfully sweet.”
Phoenix threw his hands up in the air and got up to pack up the pizza in the office refrigerator. “You girls,” he said with a smile.
“You don’t sound too worried, Daddy.”
“It’s not scary when it’s not happening to me.”
Daddy insisted that Trucy be in bed by midnight—“You have school tomorrow!”—and she was, after one more run-through of her new and improved act for the Wonder Bar. Being in bed and going to sleep were two different things, of course. About a minute after she got into bed, her phone buzzed.
Athena had texted. Just txted junie she luvd her bear not 2gether yet apollo is dum
Trucy had to clap her hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter. Daddy may be a pushover, but he had batlike hearing and was on a serious education kick lately. When she heard no stirring coming from his room next door, she texted back.
We knew she would! What do u mean not 2gether yet?
After months of seeing Athena’s texting skills in action, Trucy wasn’t surprised at the speedy reply. He just walked her home n thnkd her 4 soup didnt say nething abt d8ing i told him this is srs!!!!
Did he reject her?
Then there’s still hope!!
I guess ok goin 2 bed gn trucy
Good night Athena!
Trucy let her phone drop to the floor—Daddy insisted on getting her the same “indestructible” model he had—and took a deep breath, willing herself to feel tired. So Polly hadn’t made a move yet. That was still a good sign. It meant at the very least that he was interested enough in the idea of dating her that he wasn’t rejecting her outright just yet. Alone like that would have been a perfect opportunity to talk, let her down easy. Of course, it would have been a perfect opportunity to ask her out, too…
Her eyes snapped open. Had Polly ever asked someone out before? Maybe. Trucy would bet that he’d never rejected anyone before, though, especially before even being confessed to. Was he waiting for a confession?
Well, she wasn’t going to sleep now anyway. Trucy leaned over the side of her bed to fish around in the dark for her phone. She texted Apollo, wondering if he were still awake.
How was ur walk w/juniper?
Might as well be straightforward. Polly’d see right through her anyway if she tried to be sneaky.
He was indeed awake, and as quick a texter as Athena. Wow, that was to-the-point. It was fine. I made sure she got on the bus safely.
Of course he would call her on it. Trucy ignored his sass in texts as much as she did in person. Did u talk to her?
Yes, about her internship and how she likes college so far. Not about what you want us to talk about.
Polly was absolutely no fun, right down to the proper-grammar texting. How could something that was so cute when Juniper did it be so lame when Polly did it?
A longer pause followed. Trucy’s fingers twitched along the edge of her phone while she waited for a response.
I’m not sure what to say to her. I’m still not convinced that she feels the way Athena thinks. Not really interested in making a fool of myself.
He was afraid of rejection. Trucy was as sure as if he’d said the words aloud. That was what was holding Polly back. So cautious, so afraid to take chances.
What a dork.
Everyone thinks u’d be a great couple. Just ask her!
The response came more quickly this time: Who’s “everyone”? Don’t you have school tomorrow?
Don’t u have work tomorrow? Trucy countered. If u like her, ask her out. Ur a nice guy, Polly. She won’t say no.
The response took so long Trucy didn’t think it was coming. She was just about to drop her phone on the floor again when the screen lit up.
Thanks, Trucy. Good night.
It took Polly that long for a little thank you? Trucy smiled, texted Good night back, and dropped her phone.
“Put. That. Away.” Polly punctuated his sentence with little shakes of the ladle he was using to stir punch. Trucy sighed.
“It’s Christmas tradition,” she said, not getting down from the stepladder just yet.
“Mistletoe isn’t only applicable to people you’re trying to set up with each other, you know,” Polly continued, leaving the ladle to put out the rest of the appetizers. He and Daddy had brought out microwavable treats and chips with dip; Athena’s brownies waited on her desk for dessert. Polly’s desk had been cleared to make room for food. “If Chief Prosecutor Edgeworth walks through that door, somebody has to kiss him.”
“I mean, he’s kind of hot for an old guy,” Athena said. She was trying to fix the office microwave, apparently by beating it to death with her bare hands. She slammed her palm against its side and it dinged to life, cooking the last thirty seconds of frozen mozzarella sticks.
“Yeah, it’ll be the icing on the cake for him when he gets to this party,” Apollo muttered.
Trucy lowered the mistletoe. “Hey, we’re going to have a lot of fun today, Polly. We can’t all be together on Christmas, so this is important.”
Apollo flinched. “I-I didn’t mean it like that, Trucy. I just…” He gestured loosely to the office. “This doesn’t seem like the Chief Prosecutor’s thing.”
“Neither does his flashy sports car of his impressive collection of Steel Samurai memorabilia, but people surprise you,” Trucy said.
“His impressive collection of what, now?”
“Maybe you can find another place to put the mistletoe, Trucy,” Athena said, putting the half-exploded mozzarella sticks on Apollo’s desk. He hurriedly put napkins under it, complaining of grease stains.
“Hey, we’ve got some handsome fellas coming to this party. I guess I was just really hoping to catch one under the mistletoe when he came in.”
Phoenix popped his head in from his office. “Hey, kids, how’s the setup going?” In spite of his cheery tone, his eyes remained fixed on the mistletoe still in Trucy’s hands. Apollo and Athena both laughed; even Trucy could pick up on her father’s twitches.
“Daddy, I was kidding,” she said, climbing down from the stepladder.
“Oh, I know.” He had visibly relaxed, though. “If you’re going to put it up, though, put it somewhere Edgeworth won’t get caught under it. He won’t like that.” He gestured to Apollo and Athena. “Leave it to the young people.”
Horror swept across Athena’s face. “Boss, I would never do that to Junie!” She put her hands up towards Apollo as if warding him off. Gross, Widget added.
“Thanks,” Apollo snapped. Athena’s surprise melted into guilt. If rejection was still on Polly’s mind, Trucy thought, Widget’s commentary wouldn’t do anything for his confidence. As angry as Polly had sounded to her, she was sure Athena had heard a tremor of hurt that Trucy knew his chords of steel were hiding.
“I’ll just stick the mistletoe in my panties,” Trucy said. Everyone seemed grateful for the subject change.
“That’s a good idea,” Phoenix said.
“Oh, yeah, a concealed weapon whose whereabouts only Trucy knows,” Apollo muttered. “Terrific.”
Trucy popped the mistletoe into her magic panties and showed the others how it had disappeared. “Ta-da!”
“Ta-da? Did we miss a trick?” There was no mistaking that vaguely-European accent. Trucy spun around towards the open office door.
“Uncle Miles!” she squealed, hugging him around the middle. Edgeworth lifted the wrapped dessert plate in his hands over her head to accommodate the hug, a little smile on his face.
“Miles Edgeworth, have you any intention of moving?”
Edgeworth sighed and nudged Trucy aside to enter the office. Franziska, carrying a covered cake container, and Blackquill, Taka on his shoulder, a rice cooker in his arms, followed.
“Tanta Franzy!” Trucy greeted her much the same as Edgeworth, and the hug clearly pleased Franziska.
“It has been too long, Trucy Wright,” she said, her voice quiet but not soft. Tanta Franzy was never soft, except when—“And you, Phoenix Wright.” She eyed him critically. “You look much better than you did the last time I saw you.”
Phoenix smiled and puffed out his chest, his attorney’s badge gleaming on the lapel of his suit. “I feel better, too. Thanks, Franziska.”
There was no bite behind her words, though. Edgeworth took her cake container and put it with his platter on Athena’s desk. Blackquill followed and put his rice cooker on Apollo’s desk. After a pause of gracing Phoenix with a somehow affectionately icy stare, Franziska turned her attention elsewhere. “Apollo Justice, you are looking extraordinarily pale. Are you still ill due to Phoenix Wright’s foolishness?”
“Uh, no, ma’am, I’m feeling much better.”
“Hmph. And…” She turned to Athena. “We have not met.”
“Von Karma-dono, this is Athena Cykes,” Blackquill said, unwinding the rice cooker’s power cord.
“Ah, yes, the reason you are alive today, Simon Blackquill.” Franziska cocked her head and evaluated him as he started unwinding the cord faster, tangling it up in the process. To Athena she added, “I am Franziska von Karma.”
“Nice to meet you,” Athena said, sticking her hand out to shake. Franziska raised her eyebrows. Ouch, Widget whimpered.
Once they were all inside and settled, Trucy offered the first guests appetizers. Edgeworth got out of his seat to look at the spread on Apollo’s desk.
“Good Lord, Wright,” he said, pulling a single microwaved mozzarella stick from its dish, a lifeline of burnt cheese tethering it to its neighboring sticks. Phoenix rubbed the back of his head and grinned.
“YOOOO! The fun has arrived!”
It was no surprise that the next wave of guests was led in by Robin Newman, twirling the skirt of a red dress that sparkled with every move. Hugh followed in a green shirt and black slacks, and a girl Trucy didn’t recognize, but assumed was Myriam from the box, came in wearing a red-and-green plaid dress. They’d clearly all coordinated.
Juniper came in last, looking her most unfairly beautiful yet in a plush white sweater and black pencil skirt. Her hair was swept to one side and teased into long, loose curls. If Trucy wasn’t mistaken, she was even wearing a little makeup around her eyes, gloss on her lips. Trucy suspected it had been a team effort, based on Juniper’s embarrassed smile and the way Robin was bouncing on the balls of her feet, not really containing excitement.
When Trucy looked over to see Apollo’s reaction, though, he had turned away and was focused on rearranging the dessert plates.
“We brought food,” Hugh said, holding up the shopping bag in his hand. The way his eyes had fixed on Apollo’s back, Trucy could tell he was equally unhappy with the reaction, or lack thereof, to Juniper’s entrance.
“You guys made stuff?” Athena asked, taking Robin’s bags from her and looking inside.
“We assisted,” Robin said.
“We supplied critical feedback,” Myriam added, following Robin and Athena to the ever-growing pile of food on Apollo’s desk.
“We taste-tested,” Hugh clarified, adjusting his glasses. “Cooked to perfection…and taste-tested to perfection as well.” Trucy wondered how Hugh would get along with Tanta Franzy.
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a flash of red. Trucy wasn’t sure how Apollo had snuck around her, but he was taking Juniper’s coat and shopping bags and saying something quietly to her. Trucy strained to hear what he’d said but couldn’t, though Polly and Juniper’s matching blushes and little smiles were pretty telling.
Hugh, Trucy saw, was also watching from where he stood nearby and seemed to agree with her conclusion. He nodded with approval and carried his food to Athena’s desk. Athena was gushing over every dish she pulled out of the Themis crowd’s bags.
“Garden salad, pasta salad, chicken salad, chicken soup, minestrone soup, fresh fruit, tuna sandwiches…Junie, this is crazy!”
“Bless you for bringing actual food,” Edgeworth added from the couch.
Juniper laughed, toying with her hair. “Oh, it was no trouble. Apollo said you might need a little something. He helped me with the grocery shopping and most of the cooking.”
Apollo froze at the closet door, his back to the room as he hung up Juniper’s coat. A split second later, she seemed to realize what she’d said and squeaked with embarrassment. A quick look around and Trucy could see that Robin and Hugh were as surprised as she and Athena. Myriam appeared to be taking notes on a pad of paper Trucy hadn’t noticed before.
Wait, what? Widget chirped.
“Most sensible of you, Apollo Justice,” Franziska said, crossing her long legs. Trucy often wished she had legs like Tanta Franzy’s, but Daddy never would have let her wear dresses that short anyway. “Realizing that an event Phoenix Wright planned would succumb to foolishness, you took charge of the situation. Quite commendable.” She stretched her hand out towards Phoenix. “A proper host would offer beverages, Phoenix Wright.”
Trucy couldn’t tell if Tanta Franzy had jumped in for Apollo and Juniper’s sake or was just speaking her mind as usual, but her input deflected the room’s attention. Chatter picked up among the guests, and all eyes were not on Juniper as she turned to Apollo, who smiled and waved an obvious don’t worry about it.
Of course, Trucy watched carefully.
Three days ago, Polly had texted that he didn’t know what to do, and Athena would know just from talking to Polly or Juniper whether something had happened. When had Polly made his sort-of move?
Her thoughts were interrupted when Klavier Gavin walked through the door, his arms full of bakery boxes.” Nice to see everyone,” he said with a dazzling smile. Trucy couldn’t help the little tremor in her knees. Mr. Gavin was too princely for words.
Ohhhh! Widget said. Athena slapped her forehead, the I get it written all over her face. “The twelfth guest,” she said.
“Thank you for inviting me, Herr Wright.” Klavier shifted the boxes in his arms, and Trucy zeroed in on his fidgety hands. His voice must have tipped off Athena; she glanced over at Trucy with an aww face. So Mr. Gavin was still a little nervous around Daddy.
“Apollo insisted,” Phoenix answered, which was half-true. It was a brush-off, and Trucy would have to give Daddy a talking-to later, but Mr. Gavin perked up at the response.
“Did you, Herr Forehead? Your last-minute text sounded so unwilling. I was sure the frauleins insisted.”
“I was so sure you’d be busy,” Apollo griped. Athena coughed what sounded suspiciously like liar, and Apollo elbowed her in the ribs.
If Klavier noticed, he made no sign. He looked around, admiring the decorations. “Ach, no mistletoe? Here I was, looking forward to that.”
“I have some right here,” Trucy said, plucking the mistletoe from her magic panties. “If you want it. It’s tradition, after all.”
Mr. Gavin smiled so warmly the corners of his eyes crinkled. It was like the sun coming out. Trucy had a hazy thought that maybe this was what Juniper thought whenever Polly smiled. Like a prince from a fairy tale. Mr. Gavin wouldn’t mind one bit honoring a Christmas tradition and giving a girl her first wonderful kiss.
Trucy was all ready to toss her panties aside—magic panties, of course—and attach the mistletoe directly to Mr. Gavin when Daddy’s hand clamped down on her shoulder.
In place of Trucy using the mistletoe on Klavier, her father snatched it away, earning himself—by tradition, Klavier was quick to insist—a peck on the cheek from his daughter. After that, Phoenix stuffed the mistletoe into one of the drawers in Apollo’s desk.
With all the attendees there, the party could officially begin. The members of the agency set about pouring grape juice and sparkling water into plastic champagne glasses and serving trays of appetizers. Athena and Trucy wove in and out of guests on the couch and folding chairs with tortilla chips, salsa, and queso, while Phoenix passed around fruit salad, leaving Apollo to burn his fingers on the mozzarella sticks. He carried a plastic knife to help guests pry their appetizers from their plate.
Apollo also volunteered himself to refill drinks. Trucy couldn’t help her little sigh. Daddy hadn’t been lying when he said that it was a tight fit. Twelve people really couldn’t fit comfortably in their office. Blackquill leaned against the wall behind Athena’s folding chair, Klavier sat cross-legged on the floor after offering his chair to Myriam, and Robin plopped onto Hugh’s lap as easily as if he were a chair himself. Apollo hovered between the couch and his and Athena’s desks, ready to refill or offer anything.
Trucy kicked off the conversation asking what everyone had been up to and what people’s plans were for Christmas. Easy conversation over snacks and drinks seemed to loosen up some of the more stoic attendees, and pretty soon even Franziska was smiling at Athena’s Payne impressions.
When Juniper talked about her internship with the judge, Trucy couldn’t help but notice how everyone’s attention stayed on her, barely even straying to food or drink. Daddy slouched in his chair, but the way his fingers curled into his palms reminded Trucy of his poker days, the big matches where only a few players were still in the game. Uncle Miles and Tanta Franzy looked more like actual siblings than ever, sipping sparkling water, their eyes locked on Juniper as she spoke. Uncle Miles had assumed Juniper was Polly’s girlfriend; Trucy wondered if he’d shared this impression with Tanta Franzy.
Trucy hid her smile behind her grape juice glass. What a funny little makeshift family they had, Juniper’s friends cloistered around her, Trucy’s honorary aunt and uncle sizing up a could-be-girlfriend for her honorary brother. If they started dating, she and Juniper would be like sisters, the way Trucy was with Athena. It was hard to believe just two years ago she and Daddy spent most of their time alone.
Once conversation started to peter out, Robin was the one to jump in with a new suggestion: “Games! Hide and seek, Twister, Never Have I Ever?”
“Where could you hide in here?” Edgeworth asked. “We barely fit as it is.”
“You probably need a Twister mat to play Twister,” Athena noted, her eyes drifting to the cabinet where the board games had been shoved during office cleaning and would cascade out if unleashed.
“Never have you ever what?” Franziska asked.
“We’re not playing that one,” Phoenix said hurriedly.
The “youngins,” as Phoenix called them did end up attempting Hide and Seek, though only so many people could fit under each desk, and the guests had to be warded away from anyplace where clutter had been stowed away. Red Light Green Light was next, which mostly involved Apollo telling Klavier his legs were unfairly long for this game and Klavier countering that it wasn’t his fault Herr Forehead had no balance. Mother May I was too easy when Juniper was “Mother”—she granted every request except Athena’s “May I take as many steps as I need to win?”—and too hard when Myriam took over and denied every request except Apollo’s sarcastic “May I take one step forward and two steps back?”
All the while, Phoenix, Edgeworth, and Franziska enjoyed the comfort of having the whole couch to themselves. Blackquill also hovered by them, though he watched the games intently and seemed pleased when Athena won. Trucy spied Daddy opening a bottle of his special grape juice when no one else was looking.
She wasn’t the only distracted one. Polly hadn’t been wrong when he called the mistletoe a weapon—only when he suggested that Trucy would be the one to use it. Robin had broken away from the group and swiped what Daddy tried to hide; the evidence now spun between two manicured fingers.
“Where did you get that?” Apollo asked, leaning away from Robin as he caught sight of the mistletoe with which she was oh-so-casually fanning herself.
“Where Trucy’s dad put it, of course. Your desk is no match for a real L-A-D-Y!”
Trucy wondered if Apollo or Juniper noticed that they were the only ones who looked about ready to break out in a cold sweat. Even Klavier’s nonjudgmental gaze flickered to them. As always, Trucy thought, ten steps ahead.
Robin may have had a goal in mind, but she didn’t go about it the way a lesser friend would have. She dangled the mistletoe over herself and batted her eyes. “Well?”
Athena cracked up as Robin waggled her eyebrows at everyone in the group. When her eyes met Hugh’s, Robin beckoned him over with one finger. Sighing as if her choice were obvious, Hugh leaned down to give Robin a peck on the lips. Myriam snapped a photo. Juniper smiled, clearly relieved to have attention off of her.
“Who’s N-E-X-T?” Robin teased, punctuating her syllables by pointing the mistletoe at Klavier, Trucy, Myriam, and Athena.
“You’d better hide that before Boss sees it,” Athena said.
“Or worse, Mr. Edgeworth,” Apollo said.
“Where do you suggest we hide it?” Hugh asked. Klavier smiled and held out his hand for the mistletoe. When Robin turned it over, he reached up and fixed it to the ceiling fan.
“In plain sight,” he said. “Now it’s like real tradition, ja?”
An even playing field. Not what Trucy had anticipated when she’d put the decoration on Polly’s tab, but it could work. Her outlook brightened even further when Polly said, “You do realize that you’re standing right underneath it yourself, right?”
Klavier leaned over to flash him a smile. “Ja, of course I realize it. You’re paying close attention, Herr Forehead. Could it be you were waiting for this opportunity?”
The whole office building shook with Polly’s adamant “No!”
Any chance of Trucy’s taking Polly’s place went out the window with that ruckus. Daddy’s eyes were locked on Mr. Gavin under the mistletoe. Rats.
“Your loss, Apollo,” Athena said with a dainty sigh. “I suppose if someone’s gotta take this one for the team, I—”
Mr. Blackquill seemed to travel by shadow, even in the sunny office. He hovered protectively behind Athena, and she let her sentence trail off. Trucy bit her lip to keep from smiling; Mr. Blackquill’s fingers drumming against his crossed arms and Athena’s slow shift from one foot to the other weren’t hard to miss. How had Athena kept such juicy gossip from her?
Trucy’s eyes met Polly’s, and his courtroom smirk told her he’d noticed, too. He rolled his eyes, and she giggled. The next time she had Polly to herself, she knew he’d be saying something about how you don’t see him trying to set her up. Comparing his situation to Athena. Accidentally admitting mutual interest in Juniper, in true Polly fashion. His power of perception might have given him an edge, but Polly had no poker face.
Mr. Gavin seemed to be at a loss standing alone under the mistletoe. He ran a hand through his hair and reached out towards Apollo.
“Your Christmas party needs you, Herr Forehead.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
Trucy had never seen anyone operate a camera as quickly or intently as Myriam Scuttlebutt.
After Tanta Franzy admonished Daddy for being a fool incapable of hosting even a foolish party (“Where did that whip come from?” Trucy heard Athena asking Polly), he went about setting up food for their 3 o’clock lunch. Apollo and Juniper helped put out paper plates and dishes as well as unwrap Juniper’s cooking.
Trucy filled her plate with salad and sandwiches and ladled a bowl of each kind of soup. Athena had told her that Juniper was quite a cook, and the aroma from today’s backed her up. Balancing the food in her lap proved not to be an option, so Trucy grabbed a seat on the floor beside Mr. Gavin.
After that, the only sounds in the office were those of everyone eating. Conversation and compliments to the blushing chef soon trickled in between chomps and gulps. Uncle Miles appeared resigned, though Tanta Franzy glared around the room with every undignified slurp.
Auntie Maya had always told Trucy that she had a separate stomach for desserts, and it was really the only way to live. After enjoying Juniper’s lunch, Trucy helped herself to Uncle Miles’ raspberry tarts, Tanta Franzy’s German chocolate pudding, Athena’s brownies, and a slice of black forest cake Mr. Gavin brought.
Robin propped her chin up in her hands and sighed, her wistful gaze scanning Trucy’s dessert plates. “Where do you even put it?”
Trucy wagged her fork at Robin. “A magician never reveals her secrets.”
Between light, tasty lunch options and rich, filling desserts, Trucy was ready to label the Christmas party a success. Even if Polly were too dopey to ask Juniper out today, progress was progress. She still had another few weeks before New Year’s.
Athena still had enough energy not to give up, it seemed. Once conversation had lulled into the just-about-ready-to-go point, Athena said, “Hey, you guys up for one more game?”
There were a few groans, but Robin licked her lips. “What game?”
Athena’s eyes flickered to a spot behind Trucy. “Musical chairs.”
Athena and Robin managed to coerce the “youngins” into one round of musical chairs. Blackquill sat by the radio, Taka on his shoulder. The bird didn’t make much noise outside of court, Trucy thought, though Polly sure kept his distance.
They put their desk chairs and a few folding chairs in a circle, Athena and Robin choosing their positioning with care. With a peace sign from Athena, Blackquill started the music.
“I haven’t played musical chairs since I was little,” Juniper said, clasping her hands behind her back.
“Yeah, me neither,” Apollo agreed. “Do kids even play this anymore?”
The music stopped, and everyone scrambled to get a seat. Robin and Hugh ended up squished into Phoenix’s desk chair.
“One of you is out,” Trucy said. “Judges?”
“Hugh is definitely out,” Phoenix said.
“I’m afraid not, Wright,” Edgeworth said, wagging a finger at him. “It’s certainly the girl.”
They both turned to Franziska, who tilted her head back to evaluate them. A crack later, and she was pointing her whip at the circle of chairs.
“Take your leave of shame, Hugh O’Connor,” she decreed. Phoenix gave a little fist pump, and Edgeworth sighed.
“Hang on, you guys,” Athena said, her words tumbling out. “Look up!”
The whole room looked up. There above Robin and Hugh, still hanging where Klavier had placed it, was the mistletoe.
Trucy almost laughed with surprise. Athena was too clever for her own good. This could be their last chance to force Polly into action.
Robin and Hugh didn’t seem to think anything of it and kissed again without complaint. Once Hugh left the circle with a spare chair—not the one beneath the mistletoe, Trucy noticed—Blackquill started the music again. The next few eliminations happened away from the mistletoe, sending Myriam, Trucy, and Robin to the sidelines. Trucy was sure Robin missed her chair on purpose to keep Juniper in the game.
When the scramble for a chair did happen under the mistletoe again, it was Athena and Klavier vying for a seat. Athena looked way too happy for someone who’d just lost a game, and Trucy couldn’t blame her. Before she could kiss Mr. Gavin, though, the music started up again. Blackquill was not-so-nonchalantly looking out the window, Taka’s beady eyes focused on Klavier, who went for a kiss on the back of Athena’s hand instead.
Not for the first time, Trucy thought how funny it was that Polly was always so cranky about things he ended up investing himself in. For all his griping, he was in the final three, his competitive streak preceding him.
Juniper looked pretty out of place between the courtroom rivals. Her eyes kept flickering to the mistletoe. Probably the only girl in the room—well, besides Tanta Franzy—who didn’t want to get caught under the mistletoe with Mr. Gavin.
The music played and played, much longer than it had for other rounds. “He’s building suspense,” Athena whispered to Trucy with a nod towards Blackquill. “Makes the players more antsy. Might cause them to miss a beat.” The only one who didn’t seem to mind was Mr. Gavin, of course, rounding the chairs with one hand in his pocket, the other snapping to the beat.
When the radio finally snapped off, it took Trucy a second to realize that the game was on; Blackquill’s psychology had clearly succeeded. In the time it took Polly to realize he had to move, of course, Mr. Gavin had slipped right by him to sit in the seat closest to him.
“Ack!” Apollo turned and went to sit in the remaining chair only to bump into Juniper trying to do the same thing. When he caught sight of her, Apollo stood again, relinquishing the chair. The Themis crowd whooped.
“That’s it for the agency,” Hugh said with a smirk. “Now it’s Themis versus prosecutors.”
“There were teams?” Athena asked.
“Didn’t Klavier go here?” Robin asked at the same time. She clapped. “Themis! Themis! Themis!”
Trucy half-expected her father to give Apollo a hard time for losing the agency’s shot, but Daddy’s eyes were fixed elsewhere, a crooked smile on his lips. She followed his gaze to the ceiling above Polly and Juniper.
Nobody said a word, but one by one everyone’s eyes moved up until finally Apollo and Juniper noticed. Klavier crossed his arms over the back of his chair and rested his chin on his wrists.
“It’s tradition,” he said lightly, breaking the silence. Polly shot him a quick look, though Trucy couldn’t see his expression, only his reddening neck. Juniper toyed with her hair, blushing just as much.
Before the lull after Mr. Gavin’s words ran too long, Polly leaned forward and gave Juniper a quick kiss. She leaned in to meet him halfway.
If Trucy had blinked, she might have missed it, but it had happened. A kiss. A kiss for Polly from a girl who though he was cool, which he was, sometimes, when he wasn’t being a huge dork.
Trucy was just about to offer Athena congratulations of the partner-in-crime variety when Robin broke the silence.
“JUNIPEEEEEEER! WAY TO GOOOOOOO!”
Chapter 14: Epilogue
Trucy loved her funny little family. Without a word, everyone started leaving in small groups to accommodate new romances. Robin and Hugh volunteered to escort Myriam to her part-time job working for a freelance photojournalist (Daddy’s face had paled when he asked if she liked the job and Myriam replied, “Reckon ‘course!”). Polly offered to walk Juniper to the bus, and Trucy was almost positive that their fingers intertwined as the door was closing behind them. Uncle Miles offered Athena and Blackquill a ride home. Trucy made sure to shoot Athena a “text me everything, gossip-hider” look, and Athena flashed a peace sign.
When Trucy turned from the door, Mr. Gavin stood beside her. “Thank you for inviting me, fraulein,” he said. “I had a wonderful time.”
“Me, too,” Trucy said, bouncing on the balls of her feet, very aware of how tall Mr. Gavin was. “I’m glad you could make it.”
He leaned forward, looking at her eye-to-eye, and smiled. “I wouldn’t miss it.”
How could Polly even stand seeing someone so handsome in court all the time? Trucy sighed.
“Ach, I have no mistletoe, but…” Mr. Gavin took Trucy’s hands and kissed the back of each one lightly. “Merry Christmas, fraulein.”
Trucy’s hands tingled long after Klavier left. The office seemed much quieter with all their guests gone. I have no mistletoe. Trucy looked over her shoulder to see that the mistletoe that had been on the fan was indeed gone. Daddy must have confiscated it when she wasn’t looking.
Where was Daddy, anyway? Trucy slipped on her jacket, ready to head home and sleep off that delicious lunch. The door to Daddy’s office was slightly ajar. He must have been in there.
“…fool” was the first word Trucy caught when she approached, though. In all the fuss of everyone leaving, Trucy thought Tanta Franzy had left with Uncle Miles. Daddy’s chuckle followed.
“Aw, come on, Franziska. It’s tradition.”
Trucy peeked in the office to see her father, one hand in his pocket, the other holding the missing mistletoe over his own head. He grinned at Franziska, the kind of goofy smile that suited him best. With a resigned sigh, Tanta Franzy grabbed the lapel of his jacket and dragged him down for a kiss. It was quick, though it lasted longer that Apollo and Juniper’s. Trucy backed away from the door.
She’d give them a moment of privacy, then make a lot of noise coming in to let them know the guests were gone. They could tell her then, if they wanted, or whenever they were ready.