“Take a left here and we’ve arrived,” Phoenix pointed vaguely out the window, causing Miles to step harshly on the brakes of their truck, jolting them forward as it screeched, so he could turn before they missed the road.
“Papa, you’re going to upset Alec before we’ve even gotten him checked in at this rate.” In the back seat, Trucy grumbled and held the rabbit cage close, sticking a finger through its thin metal bars in hopes her pet would be comforted by the gesture.
“Sorry, Trucy; it would help if I’d actually known where we were going this entire time instead of relying on a certain individual’s shabby direction skills.” He shot a glare at his husband, who merely laughed and tugged the blue beanie over his eyes.
“We got here fine, that’s all that matters. Now keep going a bit, we get to park close to drop off Alec and our gear before swinging back to find a normal spot.”
Indeed, although most of the spots closest to the fairgrounds were full, small signs littered the parking area labeled ‘drop-off ahead’ with bright red arrows leading them forward. On Phoenix’s instruction, he followed the road into the grounds themselves through a set of blue-colored gates, parking behind several cars currently buzzing about with the activity of children and their parents.
“Oh, I see Jinxie!” Trucy stuck her head out the side window and yelled a greeting to her friend, who jumped fearfully at the noise and looked around nervously until her gaze landed upon Trucy.
The young girl’s face split into a grin and she tugged at her father’s shirt sleeve, whispering something in his ear and skipping away before he could nod in response.
“Hey, Trucy, did you just arrive?”
“Sure did! I guess you’ve already gotten Jade checked in, right? Alec is so excited to see her again!” His daughter lifted her rabbit’s cage as high as she could so Jinxie could wave at the animal inside.
“Hello, Alec. Jade is looking forward to seeing you too.”
Jinxie hopped forward to keep pace with the vehicle as Miles edged it forward slowly. As the two girls laughed about going-ons in their respective schools, he took the time to look out his window at the surrounding area. Animal pens covered most of his field of vision, although he could see unusually small racing rings off in the distance. Those couldn’t be the horse racing rings; not only were they too small, but Phoenix had said there was a large region of the fairgrounds set aside for it with stages in the center for performances.
I really should see if there’s a map back by the entrance. Relying on Phoenix had been difficult enough for the drive; at least in the vehicle, his husband wouldn’t be suddenly swept away, leaving Miles lost.
As if the man had read his mind, suddenly he felt a hand on his, prying the fingers of his right hand off the steering wheel to intertwine them. Almost a year of marriage and the contact still left his ears burning, drawing out what was most surely a ridiculous expression of happiness on his face. But Phoenix grinned at him and Miles couldn’t help but squeeze the man’s hand as they sat in comfortable silence.
Soon enough, it was their turn to weigh Alec and give him a shaded spot next to Jade the rabbit in the ‘small animals’ pavilion. Miles stayed in the truck as his husband and daughter carried the cage over to weigh, tag, and return the furry mammal to her cage before coming back at a sprint.
“Ha!” Trucy yelled, slamming a hand on the door seconds before Phoenix. “Beatchya again!”
“No fair, you got a head start,” Phoenix whined. Not that you win even when she gives you a sizeable lead, dear.
“Sorry, Daddy, but if I’ve already called ‘race ya,’ then all’s fair. Them’s the breaks.”
The two buckled back up, quieting to catch their breath from the unexpected exercise. Miles put the truck out of park and turned around to slowly follow behind Mr. Tenma, who had waited for them to finish so he could lead Miles to ‘their spot,’ as his husband lovingly called it.
The ‘spot’ in question was a patch of grass located in between the ‘small animals’ pavilion, its associated showing ring, and the ‘pigs’ pavilion. He could see children laughing and walking through the different rows of farm animals, likely moving their equipment.
Already waiting in one area of the small glade were two young men in plaid shirts. Only the spiky V-shaped hair of one convinced him that the duo was Klavier and Apollo; they were dressed nothing like how he saw them in court. Both were wearing plaid shirts – Apollo’s was red and white, as if he’d covered himself in a picnic tablecloth; Klavier’s was purple, black, and white. The defense attorney also sported a blue bandana around his neck, while the prosecutor wore a wide-brimmed cowboy hat. Dark blue Levi jeans were tucked into two pairs of cowboy boots that looked… oddly familiar?
Miles stole a glance at Trucy. He’d thought before that her standard magician’s outfit looked odd, and he realized now that her normally white-heeled boots were instead white cowboy boots: not the obnoxiously long, sharp-toed, spur-included style boots, but short with a rounded toe. He hadn’t even known she’d owned them.
Now that I think about it, Jinxie looks much like they do… She was wearing pink plaid with light blue Levis and paler brown boots, and her braided pigtails were interwoven with the shide she always wore.
“Herr Wright and Edgeworth, Fräulein Trucy! Good to see you, as always,” Klavier took off his tan hat and waved it in greeting, earning him a stern look from Apollo. Some others setting up their own residence in the clearing looked over at the growing group curiously but didn’t say anything.
“Nice to see ya both,” Phoenix walked up and gave each man a firm handshake that they warily returned. His husband made both wince in his steel grip, and Miles was reminded how glad he was that Phoenix no longer played that particular strength-testing game with him.
Trucy ran up to give her half-brother and his companion each a warm hug. To his surprise, Jinxie also gave the attorney a hug, shy as she was even while doing it. Klavier simply received a small smile, and after more handshakes and nods from Miles and Mr. Tenma, the group was all reacquainted.
“So, what’s in the coolers, Polly?” His daughter lifted a lid curiously. “Only water in here… No soda?”
“Check the other one, Fräulein.”
It was lifted. “Ew, grape juice! Why is it all grape juice?!” She turned a judgmental finger towards the father responsible. “This is all your doing, isn’t it, Daddy?”
“Guilty as charged. We could use all the… er… What’s it called again, Miles?”
“Antioxidants?” He’d once given Phoenix a lecture about the boons of drinking grape juice – and wine, technically, but juice could be shared amongst everyone – since apparently his husband had been drinking it for years without even realizing its health benefits.
“Yeah, those. We could all use more of those.”
“Then it’s a good thing I’m here, fresh from the horse pens!” A chipper voice bounced over everyone’s ears, and Miles turned to see Athena wheeling along yet a third cooler. “Come one, come all; we’ve got lemonade, soda, and all sorts of stuff to rot your teeth out!”
“Athena!” His husband ran to give her a hearty hug. “Is Simon coming this year?”
“I think Blackquill is only coming for the actual competitions, but Simon Blackhoof is finally in his stall, healthy as ever.” Ah, yes, the Friesian.
More people came through, claiming their own land with those convoluted aluminum chairs Miles had never successfully unfolded. Athena noticed the growing crowd as well and spoke up, “Hey, Boss, maybe we should get everything set up before people forget just how big our group gets.”
Phoenix nodded and clapped his hands once. “Alright, everyone, if you would do be the honor of assisting me in getting our stuff outta the bunk, I’d be much obliged.”
The large group walked back towards the vehicle, Klavier staying behind to charm anyone who dared impose on their territory. Miles lifted the tarp covering the supplies and stared into the sudden abyss of the trunk bed. His husband and daughter had packed it all yesterday while he was still at work, so he hadn’t known the exact contents; he’d assumed it would be full of rabbit supplies, mostly, and a tarp for the ground. Anything else was irrelevant, except for the fact that now it wasn’t.
Fourteen of those same complex aluminum folding chairs that everyone else at the fair seemed to own were tucked into the back amidst the animal supplies. Unbidden, a conversation he’d had with a young thief years ago flashed in his mind.
‘Folding up all these chairs must have been a chore.’
‘Is that so?’
‘Don’t tell me, you’ve never tidied up folding chairs before?’
‘I’ve delegated the task to others in the past…’
‘Mr. Edgeworth… You should try doing some manual labor once in a while.’
‘Hmm… I’ll look into it.’
He had tried, of course, with the normal plastic chairs. It had taken several tries – the darn things were always unfolded opposite of how he expected them to be – but he could successfully maneuver those.
Sitting in the bed of his truck, however, was a completely different breed of folding chair. These were the ones with the small tray to place food and drinks on one side and a cloth utensil holder on the other, built of latticed aluminum pieces that bent to open up the cloth seat. It was something like a director’s seat, but infinitely worse.
He clenched the tarp and reached for Trucy’s rabbit feed, which was thankfully the closest item to grab. Each member took a turn of grabbing something, but they all simply dumped the items unceremoniously on the ground before returning for more. On his second trip, Miles did have to grab two of the chairs, but he simply placed them on the growing stack, ignoring how his fingers beaded with sweat.
Far too quickly, everything was removed from the truck. His husband pulled out the keys, but in a burst of inspiration, Miles placed his hand over Phoenix’s and tugged them away with a smile.
“Here, allow me. It’ll help me remember the parking areas, and I wanted to pick up a map from the entrance anyways.” Not a lie.
Phoenix nodded and gave him a peck on the lips, waving him off. Miles entered the truck alone, sparing only the briefest of glance to see how all the others easily popped open the elaborate seating devices, moving so quickly that he failed to understand the processes. It seemed so simple when they did it, and it likely was; why he struggled was a mystery even to himself.
He wasn’t about to become the laughingstock of the group from his ineptitude from this single regard.
They’ll be set up by the time I’m back, and the crisis will be averted for the time being. All I must do is find a way to not assist in setting up or bringing back the chairs for each day this week – only thirteen more times to avoid it. Easy. Nobody will be the wiser.
His fingers gripped the steering wheel tighter as he turned on the engine and drove away. I hope.
Parking was simple enough, and there were indeed brochures with maps enclosed at the blue gate entrance that an employee happily gave him. He tucked it into his pocket for the time being with the satisfaction that he would no longer get lost in the maze-like depths of the faigrounds.
Upon his return, the group had indeed set up the chairs in an unusual weaving pattern. Added to the mix were two familiar faces: Maya and Pearls. They, too, were in unusual garb: replacing their usual acolyte cloaks were a white and pink poncho, respectively, and underneath were matching purple-and-pink plaid shirts with faded overalls and those damn cowboy boots again. At least they still wore their magatamas over the ridiculous attire.
With them, they’d brought another three coolers, but these were full of junk food; Trucy was already sharing a bag of chips with Pearls and Jinxie.
The others – wait. Miles looked back at Trucy and nearly rubbed his eyes just to confirm he wasn’t seeing anything. When they’d first come to the fairgrounds, his daughter was wearing her normal magicians outfit: dress, cloak, scarf, hat, and gloves – although granted, she’d been wearing cowboy boots today.
Now that outfit was gone, replaced by yet another plaid shirt and Levi jeans combination. Her red scarf was the only thing that remained, although the blue-and-black shirt was the same coloration as her magician’s outfit. Had she packed the outfit in the bed of the truck or simply brought her magic panties along? Either way, the clothes had to have been prepared beforehand…
Thinking about it too deeply left his head spinning, so he decided to join the others without commenting on the outfit change. They were engrossed by a discussion on whether the linguisa the Feys had cooked last night would still taste good as hot dogs even if they were cold, at which Athena and Phoenix were making a fuss.
“The whole point of hot dogs is that they’re hot! I don’t want cold dogs!” Widget glowed red as they argued, but the two dissenters were eventually placated by the promise of a personal grill being brought tomorrow for freshly cooked ‘dogs,’ and it turned to its standard green hue.
“Hello, Miss Fey.” Miles pressed a hand gently to Maya’s backside, ignoring the unusual texture of the white cotton. “How has Kurain been treating its new Master?”
“Heya Miles – and call me Maya, or Pearly’s gonna punch you for me. With Sister Bikini’s help, Pearly and I have been making a few changes up in the village: getting people phones, reducing the severity of early training, that sort of thing.” Her eyes lit up. “The goat farm’s been going great, too.”
“Goat… farm? I thought you raised meat pigs?”
“Oh, she still does, Mr. Edgeworth!” Pearls came and gave him a hug. “And I’m still raising Bun-Bun. But there’s a lot of pasture up near the village that we never use because it’s somewhat isolated, and so the clan’s used it for goat breeding these past few years. It’s really neat; the milk goats are all so pretty!” She pressed her delicate hands to her face in awe. “And the baby goats, Mr. Edgeworth, they’re unbelievably adorable!”
“Yes, I’m sure they are.” Adorable and messy and difficult to take care of, like any other baby animal. I’ll stick with dogs, thank you very much.
The pseudo-neatness of the chair arrangement was rapidly demolished as people tugged them into the dappled shade of a large oak tree. It provided the only source of cover to the grassy area, and Miles quickly realized that as a result, despite its centrality on the map to most of the farms, only one other group who’d had the foresight to bring a canopy was still located in the area. Although it wasn’t terribly hot that June, anyone sitting in full sun would still break a sweat and burn their scalp after a few hours.
He settled into his pre-opened seat calmly, until his fears of the future caused him to lean towards his husband and ask, “Phoenix… When do we leave?”
“When do we leave?” The attorney repeated the question in a much louder tone and most of the group turned their heads, chuckling knowingly.
“Papa, we have to stay here all day, remember?” Trucy spoke as though it was obvious, and it seemed that it was – for all present except him. “Everyone showing has to feed their animals, make sure they have water, exercise them, clean the pens – plus we rotate taking care of the pavilions for different times during the day.”
His daughter recited the details without hesitation; she’d owner her white rabbit even during her years performing with Zak, but as he’d grown too old for tricks, Phoenix had let her keep the pet to show in the fair instead. This year marked her fourth showing him and potentially her last, as she was still unsure if she’d have time to practice with Mr. Whiskers while at college.
Miles chewed on his inner lip, lost in thought. Only Trucy waving a gloved hand in front of his face brought him back, and he remembered he’d asked a question. “Oh, er, right. We’ll be here for the entire week, then?”
“Don’t sound so glum; there’s plenty to do besides sitting around!” The Kurain master rubbed her hands together eagerly as she piped up. “Once the fair gets in full swing, there’s going to be so much good food: shaved ice, fried chicken, funnel cake, burgers, milkshakes, French fries, burgers, corn dogs, waffles…” The list rolled off her tongue and her eyes began to glaze over. “Did I say burgers?”
“And we can visit most of the animals, Herr Edgeworth. I’m sure you’d be delighted to meet my lovely Snookie, ja?”
“Careful, glimmer-boy, or your precious defense attorney might get jealous.” Ema Skye appeared suddenly behind him, pushing his cowboy hat down on his face.
“If he’s still going to tell people that Mikeko is his girlfriend, then I have no choise but to retaliate in kind.”
“I’m sorry, Klavier; that’s only out of habit, I swear!” Klavier ignored the Chords of Steel so the attorney turned to Ema, spikes drooping. “Please tell him that it’s only out of habit…”
The forensic scientist dug out an oddly speckled Snackoo from her satchel and crunched into it. “Hey, fop, you know your precious forehead gets all mopey when you ignore him.”
He opened his mouth to respond but was immediately Snackoo-ed. “Nope, tell it to him, not me.”
“Ach, fine, I can never ignore you for long, anyways.” Klavier pulled Apollo’s hand to his lips and kissed it gently. “Forgive me?”
“Blech, of course, fine,” the attorney pulled his hand away with a blush.
“Mr. Edgewo-woah!” Ema wormed her way past the two men to give him a firm handshake, but he pulled her into a hug as well. He’d been doing the same with everyone else all day – no reason to not do the same for her.
She returned the hug happily and leaned back. Her outfit of choice was green-and-white plaid with dark blue jeans and deep brown country boots. A bandana, duller red than Trucy’s, held back her bangs, her pink-lensed glasses placed on top of it.
Finally, he asked the question that had been on his mind for some time. “It’s good to see you, Ema… Might I ask why so many of you are dressed in that attire?”
“Oh, these? It’s scientific, of course!” She pulled down her glasses onto her nose. “The boots are easy to clean if you step in feces; the jeans are sturdy and won’t rip from constant movement; the shirts are cotton, so they’ll still breathe if it gets hot out. Bandanas and hats are useful for protecting your scalp from the sun as well.”
“Then why aren’t most people dressed up quite the same as you all are?” He gestured to a trio of young adults walking by, pulling a lamb on a leashed harness.
“We all agreed it’s better to have a separate wardrobe for this event, especially since we have uniforms during the actual showings.”
Trucy came up and reached for his sleeve. “It’s the principle of the thing, Papa! We all get to match and wear cute outfits!” She spun in a circle and motioned jazz hands at Pearls for emphasis. “Even Daddy changes out of his sweats during competition days – haven’t you seen the shirts in the corner of his closet?”
“Your father shunned me the first time I tried to organize it, so, no, or else I likely would’ve thrown it away with the other half of his poor clothing options.”
“I heard that!” Phoenix yelled from a few feet away, his back turned to Miles.
A small grin rose to his face and he coughed to hide it while Trucy and Ema hugged in greeting.
“Is Mary Louisa in her pen already?”
“Would I be here if she wasn’t?”
“Then what are we still doing here? Papa, let’s go visit Mary Louisa!”
“Ah, that’s… a cow, right?”
“Yes, it’s a cow, now come on!” His daughter pulled stubbornly on his arm; Ema ate another Snackoo, ignoring his silent plea for help.
“Ph-Phoenix…” He tried to say that Phoenix could go in his stead, but as his husband came over at the call, Trucy nodded eagerly.
“Right, Daddy can come too! C’mon, we’re gonna go visit Mary Louisa!”
“Oh, I think Maya wanted to take a tour of the different pavilions. Hey, Maya!” Phoenix motioned the spirit channeler over, who also grabbed Pearls on the way by wrapping an arm around her neck. “We’re gonna go through all the pens to look at the animals, wanna come with?”
“Yesyesyes, but we have to stop by Fletcher first!”
So they walked to the pig pavilion, the large group crowding through the chain link gate and walled-off walkways as Maya marched down the aisles, turning into one and proudly standing by a pen. In it were two pigs: one was pink with two thick black stripes, and the other was brown with floppy ears. A red metal pen divider split the area equally between the pigs.
“The striped one is mine, that’s Fletcher Bacon. He’s just a sweetheart; aren’t you, Fletcher? Who’s a good boy?” Maya leaned into the pen and her pig lifted his snout to bump against her face. “Yes, you’re going to be the most delicious bacon on someone’s burger, aren’t you? Yes, you are!”
It oinked happily, unaware of its future as a topping on her burgers.
“So cute! Can I pet him?” Maya nodded and Trucy reached out her gloved hand – was that fringe on the glove? Miles would have a talk with her about that – to pet the creature’s snout. Pearls joined in, and the three of them cooed over Fletcher as the other pig waddled over to eat food from its bowl, kicking sawdust in the air as it moved its stubby legs.
“Scientifically speaking, pigs can exhibit levels of intelligence and emotion similar to dogs.”
“Yeah, well, Fletcher still relieves himself where he sleeps half the time, so he’s just a biiig dummy. Man, he’s gonna be tasty.”
“How can you talk about a creature you’ve raised that way?” Miles wouldn’t want to raise a pig, but if he did, he doubted he’d be able to sell it. “Don’t you have any emotional attachment?”
“Of course I do.” Maya spoke softly, still petting her pig’s snout.
He walked over next to her and looked closer at it. The pig wasn’t ‘cute,’ in his opinion, but its eyes certainly seemed to hold some level of intelligence. Miles ate and enjoyed fine meat as much as anyone, but seeing the creatures alive was somewhat disconcerting. “Then how can you raise them?”
“Well…” The spirit channeler brought a hand to her chin in thought. “We know some humane butchers, and I know that I’m treating Fletcher well while he’s alive; the showing cane is only used for gentle taps, like rapping another person with a pencil eraser. I wash and feed and play with each pig, and they teach me how to take care of them better.
“Sure, it might be sad once I send him off, but someone was going to buy and raise him, and now I know that it was done properly. Plus, pigs are one of the most profitable meat animals, so you almost always earn beyond what you’ve spent to raise them.” Her voice lightened as she brought up money, and the three women stood up simultaneously from their crouch.
“Perhaps I can show you Snookie now, ja, Trucy?” Klavier grinned at Miles’s daughter. “She’s the fluffiest chicken you’ll ever see.”
At that, she was practically dragging the group back through the glade, picking Jinxie up along the way, and towing them to the ‘small animals’ pavilion. First, Klavier showed off his prized ‘splash Silkie bantam,’ Snookie, whose cluck sounded more akin to a whistle or chirp. She cheerfully preened her silvery-blue feathers as the girls all gave her their full attention.
Next to visit was Apollo’s Rhode Island Red rooster, Pollo, a few rows down. The rooster was far more skittish at the attention, and Miles couldn’t help but wonder if all the animals took after their owners to this extent.
Phoenix commented that Pollo had a split comb, much like Apollo’s own spikes, and at that the younger attorney shoved the group onwards towards the other half of the pavilion that housed the rabbits. Miles’s husband laughed as they went and nonchalantly grabbed his hand, swinging it as they walked. That man seemed to only love small contact even more as the years went on.
The three younger girls proudly displayed their bunnies and let everyone hold them briefly. Alec Azam was a white New Zealand, the staple magician’s rabbit, and he nuzzled Miles after sniffing his hand and recognizing him. Pearls owned a much smaller Mini Lop she called Bun-Bun, who wiggled her feet when Miles held her but curled up in Phoenix’s arms. I suppose that’s… charming… Last to whold was Jinxie’s Silver Fox, Jade, a black but dense-furred rabbit more in size with Alec.
He still considered them an unusual pet, but he knew that Trucy loved both Alec and Mr. Whiskers dearly, and they were at least easier to take care of than some of the other animals people walked about the fairgrounds.
Next was another walk through the clearing where Trucy asked Athena to show them Simon Blackhoof, and so they left Mr. Tenma alone to watch their gear. The smoky black stallion was as tall as Miles, its ears officially beating him in height whenever they flicked upwards. He and Phoenix stood back as the others murmured in awe of the steed’s toned body. Athena showed him off proudly, obviously just as close to the horse as she was to his similarly aloof namesake.
After Blackhoof, they walked around to the ‘steer’ pavilion, where Ema became much quieter as she greeted Mary Louisa in the dairy cattle section. The cow whisked her tail appreciatively as Ema pulled out another speckled Snackoo and fed it to her.
“Should you be feeding you cow chocolate?” Miles waved a finger at her, but the scientist looked back at him quizzically.
“These are Snackmoos, a special version I make from alfalfa and corn.” She fed another to Mary Louisa, who chomped half of it and left the other half for Ema to bite. “These are normal Snackoos,” and she dug into her purse to pull out the familiar chocolate-covered treat, which she then fed to the cow as well.
“Also, chocolate isn’t bad for cows like it is for dogs and cats,” Ema tagged on before Miles could object.
“Huh, weird. I thought chocolate was poisonous to all animals.”
“Daddy, humans are animals too, you know,” Trucy chided her father.
“There’s a lot of interesting scientific details regarding theobromine poisoning that we fail to understand due to lack of research, actually,” but before Ema could dive into a full-on speech, Klavier covered her mouth.
“How about we tour the ‘sheep and goat’ pavilion across the way? And Fräulein Scientist, licking my palm will not deter me; I have been, as you say, desensitized.” He released his grip and she frowned but stayed silent as they traversed the wide walkways and moved to the next pavilion.
Maya spun around with pleasure, pointing out the different goat breeds to Trucy. “All the white ones with brown heads are Boers; they’re the most common meat goat. This red one with Phoenix’s multiple chins is a Kalahari Red –”
“I do not have multiple chins, Maya! Right, honey?”
Miles thought of Phoenix lying in bed, scrunching his head further into his shoulders like a turtle whenever he tried to tell the attorney to get up early on a Saturday. “Hmm… No comment.”
“My own husband, disloyal; however will I survive?” Phoenix bemoaned his familial betrayal until Athena clapped a hand to his back and he yelped in pain from the unintended force.
“Cheer up – oh, sorry, Boss! But don’t worry; I don’t care how many chins you have, because I love working at the WAA.”
“You’re gonna make me go waa,” Phoenix grumbled, but Miles rubbed his back slowly and the attorney quieted, letting him listen once more to Maya’s breed explanations. She’d never mentioned anything of the sort during their time together; in fact, Trucy was the only one who’d ever talked about her animals, mainly because she now lived with him and he drove her to purchase rabbit food.
“– over here are dairy goats, as you can see from the sign. Woah, check out this beauty!” The girls followed Maya to one pen in particular and stood as close as possible while staying out of reach of the goat’s curious mouth. “This is an Alpine goat! Look at your adorable, beady eyes. What’s your name, hon?”
The goat simply bleated back, “Naaa… naa…” and tried to chew on her poncho.
“Mhm, I see.” She nodded in response. “It’s nice to meet you too.”
“Don’t tell me, it’s probably named Cabra or something else that just means ‘goat.’” Phoenix walked over next to her.
“No, of course not; it’s Nanna!”
Following his husband to get a closer look, Miles suddenly started. “W – it couldn’t possibly have told you that!”
“Sure she did; she said ‘naa-naa,’ just like Nanna! And ‘nanny’ is a term for a female goat so it makes perfect sense.”
“So… You’re just making it up, then.” The tone of Phoenix’s voice was enough to show he wasn’t impressed.
“Nope, it’s totally her name, no fingers crossed. And that one…” Her eyes wandered to the other goat in the pen with similar color, not separated by a divider the way Fletcher’s unknown companion had. “That one is Bill.”
“Ah, like a billy goat.” Miles tapped a finger to his temple. “Somewhat more obvious, but I suppose there have been worse names.”
“I hadn’t thought of that! He just totally looks like a bill, y’know?” The male goat’s rectangular-pupiled eyes stared soullessly back at Miles.
“No,” he and Phoenix both stated dryly in unison; surprisingly, Trucy huffed her cheeks at them.
“Daddy, Papa, you’ve got to learn to have some imagination.”
“That’s right, gramps!” A voice chirped from behind.
The noise was unexpected but familiar, and Miles couldn’t help the smile that rose to his face as he turned around. “Kay, is that you?”
“Who else calls you gramps? Except maybe that little lady right there. Hiya, Truce!” Kay wiggled her fingers in greeting to Trucy, who waved and smiled back.
“Did you meet everyone from the wedding, Kay? I recall Trucy saying she met you there, at least.” Phoenix glanced briefly back at his daughter, who nodded in confirmation.
“Sure did! This Yatagarasu is pleased to see you all once more,” the self-proclaimed thief bowed to Miles and his companions as they murmured their own greetings. She then pushed past them and hopped over the fence, into the animal pen with the two goats Maya had fawned over earlier. “And of course, I’m happy to see you two! How are my dearest Nanna and Bill? Did you miss me?”
It took a significant amount of self-restraing for Miles to not yell ngooh! from surprise, but Phoenix was unable to muster that control himself and yelped.
“Those are actually their names?”
Maya snickered. “Oh, didn’t I tell you? We keep a record of pedigree papers, so people occasionally purchase animals to raise from us.” She stuck a finger through the gate and Bill nibbled on it curiously. “Including Kay, who wanted some goats for FFA and happened to ask me to help name them.”
“Does everyone I know raise animals on the side? We live in Los Angeles, where are they all being kept?” Even Phoenix hadn’t been surprised once Maya had spelled it out, but Miles was still utterly confused.
“I don’t believe that Mr. Tenma raises any himself, Mr. Edgeworth,” Pearls answered the hypothetical question with a smile on her face.
“If you didn’t know I was here, I bet you still don’t know who else is!” Kay leapt over her pen to an alternate walkway and yelled down the side, “Oi, Seb! Come over here for a minute!”
Who else is left? Before Miles could think up a list of candidates, a cowlick popping up from above the rails like an exclamation point gave him his answer: Sebastian Debeste, who soon arrived pulling along the fleeciest sheep Miles had ever laid eyes upon.
It took some minutes of introducing – and several repeated names so Sebastian could keep track of each – until the group was settled once more. Phoenix, being Phoenix, almost immediately invited them to sit with their group in the pavilion ‘as usual,’ implying they’d been doing it for years, and Kay accepted the offer for herself and the young prosecutor. After giving Sebastian’s Romney sheep several pats, the girls allowed him to return the animal to his pen so they could walk back to the grass and sit.
Throughout the day, people would sporadically leave to check on their animals and partake in other menial duties; Miles and Phoenix simply relaxed in their folding chairs, drinking water while doing their best to stay out of the mid-afternoon heat.
Sometime around two in the afternoon, as the entire group was scattered in the shade of the oak tree, Miles noticed Trucy perk up suddenly, hopping from person to person and whispering something in their ear. She pointedly skipped him, and when he leaned to hear her whisper to Phoenix, they both looked at him and scooted out of his earshot.
After she’d talked to everyone – except me – she stood on one of the coolers and flourished, as though still in her magician’s uniform, and uttered a single phrase: “Poker time!”
In a flash, everyone was situated in four groups in a circle: Trucy, Pearls, and Jinxie; Apollo, Klavier, and Ema; Athena, Sebastian, and Kay; and lastly, Phoenix and May sat beside Miles. Mr. Tenma sat separately, taking a deck of cards from Trucy and shuffling them.
Before Miles could protest, Trucy spoke up again. “We do this every year, Papa; it’s practically tradition. Normally we have everyone take turns dealing but Mr. Tenma said he didn’t mind not playing, and that way we have even teams.”
“Teams? Isn’t poker normally played individually?” He had more than a few objections, but seeing how everyone else took her declaration in stride, it would be best to understand the situation before progressing.
“We did try to play it like that one year, but me, Daddy, Polly, and Athena had an unfair advantage because of our abilities, so we split into teams of four based on that. Now each time has one ‘lie detector’ and gets time to discuss! And everyone promises not to listen to other people talking, so it all works out.”
Staring at a sea of plaid shirts and country boots unlike any he’d ever seen, Miles realized he was encroaching on customs far beyond his control; all he could do was follow their lead.
“Then let us begin,” he stated as calmly as possible, hoping his sparse understanding of the game would suffice.
It did not, although Phoenix and Maya were very forgiving of his inability to completely block the nervousness from his voice that his husband’s apprentices could easily pick up. The game was a jumble of noticed ticks and poorly covered bluffs that resulted in the victory of the Apollo-Klavier-Ema trio; Phoenix was the best individual player, but they had the most cohesive team.
“Thank you for playing, Papa,” Trucy kissed Miles on the cheek after the game ended as though she’d been doing it her whole life and not only for the past few years. “We’re gonna go feed the animals, then we can go home, m’kay?”
“Yes, of course, dear. We’ll start packing up in the meantime.” He pushed her gently towards her friends, and the trio of girls walked to their rabbits. Those who had brought coolers rolled them away towards their own vehicles, leaving Sebastian and Kay to clean up the chairs.
He’d almost forgotten, despite sitting in them for most of the day. Even the once ‘rookie prosecutor’ grabbed and folded an aluminum contraption in a single, swift click. As he stood still, hoping nobody would notice his lack of assistance, Kay walked by him to grab another chair.
“Go get the truck,” she whispered without looking his direction.
“The… truck?” It was true that the vehicle still wasn’t there, but why bring it now?
A grumble escaped from her throat and she hissed back, “‘I’ll look into it’ my ass, so go!”
The lightbulb flickered to life in his head: she, too, remembered their years-old-conversation. Miles felt his face flush when he realized she was painfully aware of his ineptitude with so simple a task, but his gratitude overwhelmed the embarrassment.
He took the keys from Phoenix, who sheepishly thanked him for walking out to get the vehicle. As he paced the parking lot, plans began to formulate in his mind.
Obviously, the easiest excuse would be to volunteer to move the truck to and from the parking lot each day; however, the possibility remains that Phoenix may do so one day, or they may still require my assistance upon my return. A chance also remains that the chairs may need to be moved midday, and folding them makes them easier to transport.
Kay already knows, but she is the only one. If Sebastian found out, he isn’t close to anyone besides her so he wouldn’t tell. The one in the most danger of finding out is Phoenix, since he’s the most likely to keep an eye on me – but him or Trucy finding out would be the worst possibility.
His co-workers or any of his family’s friends, he could handle; at least there was a possibility of bargaining with them so they wouldn’t reveal it. However, the looks of surprise and pitying sympathy from his husband and daughter would simply be too much: they would finally understand how out of touch he was from the world they were so deeply engrained in.
No, their finding out was not an option. Miles unlocked the truck and slid into the driver’s seat, determined to make it throughout the week providing nothing but the perfect façade of integration into the FFA lifestyle.
Unsurprisingly, the next three days followed a similar pattern; most of it was spent lounging in the glade while the showmen tended to their animals as necessary. Several more games of poker were played, but although Miles’s team never one, Phoenix smiled nonetheless, so he didn’t mind the games too much. He even used the magatama once again and broke a singular lock on Pearls when she tried to bluff him.
Somehow, Miles avoided any events that would reveal his incompetence regarding the use of the chairs. Meanwhile, he did learn to operate the pulled coolers by watching the group, and discovered the use of ‘drink cozies’ – not the knit tea cozies he had back hom, but a synthetic rubber cover meant for soda cans.
He also discovered the importance of wearing casual attire after stepping in several piles of fecal matter and having some splattered on his clothes after another visit to Mary Louisa. On the first day the fair was opened to the public, he sported gray corduroy trousers and a plain white long-sleeve shirt with a red sweater vest; on his feet were a pair of older but sturdy black loafers. They were still nice clothes, of course, but they didn’t require dry cleaning like his suits.
All the animal showers were dressed differently as well today; fair days meant presenting the animals in the rings, and as such they were dressed in proper FFA showmanship attire: a white dress shirt, white jeans cuffed around brown boots, and a navy tie and jacket to complete the uniform. Today and tomorrow, everyone would be ranked according to a combination of their showmanship abilities and the qualities of the animal, and those ranks would be presented tomorrow for those who sold their animals on the last day.
“I’ve gotta go, Papa, it’s almost time for me to show off Alec!” Trucy swiftly gave both her fathers before jogging off to the ‘small animals’ pavilion alone.
“To the bleachers, Miles!” Phoenix began walking away from their spots in the glade, leaving Klavier and Apollo to tend to the group equipment while Athena stood watch over the linguisa sizzling on Maya’s personal grill.
“Bleachers? We’re not using the… folding chairs?” His eyes darted back to the seating abominations, a wave of relief running through him as his husband shook his head.
“Nah, they have seating for us. Now hurry or we’ll be late!”
Already in the seating area next to the showing ring were Mr. Tenma and Maya, one holding a cup of fruit while the other waved a corndog in each hand. The bleachers were shaded, enclosing a small ring several rows below with tables placed throughout and judges walking across the sawdust flooring.
Gum and other unsavory remains of past patrons were scattered throughout the seats, but their row was clean enough that Miles didn’t rush back to grab a blanket to sit on. Phoenix sat down without even a cursory glance at what could have been sticking to his old jeans and baggy t-shirt, simply patting next to him as a signal for Miles to sit.
Sit he did, and wait several minutes until the first round of FFA participants entered. He couldn’t pick out Trucy’s hair from the crowd of young adults all wearing the same clothing, but Maya gasped and he looked back, noticing Pearls in his second comb-over.
The process was quite boring; each participant stood with their rabbit in front of them on a table, standing stock-still as the judges came and examined each one. Some snippets of conversation passed between judges or from judge to participant, but nothing so loud that Miles could hear it. Bun-Bun wiggled slightly under the judge’s touch but no bunnies jumped out of anyone’s hands.
After the first group was completed, the second came out; neither Trucy nor Jinxie were in this one. Trucy was in the third, standing proud with her chin out, Alec calm as the judge held him. Jinxie was in the fourth, Jade just as composed as the other rabbits.
I wonder what criteria they judge on, Miles pondered as he watched a judge touch a rabbit and check for what he could only presume was muscle or fat. No emotions passed on their faces, and he had utterly no idea who was doing well or poorly.
The competition ended without much fanfare beyond the claps in between each round. By the time they got to the base of the now even dirtier bleachers, Trucy was waiting below alongside Jinxie and Pearls, bouncing up and down.
“You did well, sweetpea,” Phoenix kissed the top of his daughter’s head proudly.
“I just stood there, Daddy; Alec did most of the work.” She put one hand in Phoenix’s and another in Miles’s, walking happily between them as the group went back to their spot in the glade. By that point, everyone had returned to eat lunch, although Athena ran off with two hot dogs to share with Blackquill in the few minutes before her own performance with Blackhoof.
Clouds floated by lazily in the sky above, visible only through the dappled of the oak tree. Miles had technically still been on duty the entire week, but not a single work-related call had occurred. It was a tranquility unlike any he’d known for some time, and it left him feeling immeasurably content with how his life had turned out: he had not only a loving husband and daughter, but an entire network of close friends, people he was sure he’d never have met if not for Phoenix.
As irritable as the folding chairs could be, they were surprisingly… comfortable…
“Papa… Papa!” He awoke to Trucy’s voice calling out to him – not scared, although perhaps slightly irritated – and her hand on his shoulder.
“Hmm… Yes, Trucy?” His eyes blinked open and he rubbed away the sleep beginning to form.
“Daddy already got the truck; we’ve gotta pack up and go home now.” She hoisted him up with an arm and reached for a nearby folding chair.
Miles felt the blood rush from his face.
“H-Hold it! I, ah, er… I have to use the restroom!” Before she could respond, he sprinted away, still feeling her eyes on him as he ran to the closest lavatory.
After what he hoped was a reasonable amount of time to have spent in the bathroom, he came back out. Almost everything had been put away in his absence, and Trucy was putting Alec and his cage into the back seat of their vehicle. She gave him only a cursory quizzical glance but didn’t bring up the issue.
He was safe – or so he’d thought, throughout the rest of that day and all of the next. By the time she began cornering him on the last day of fair, there was nowhere to run.
“All done!” Maya pumped a fist in the air. “Sold for $5.25 a pound; not too shabby!”
“You did a great job, Mystic Maya! Even Mr. Judge seemed proud when he was doing the auctioning.” Pearls spun around with her, both of them elated at the thought of increased funds.
Everybody was sitting in the glade now, packing away their respective ribbons: Maya was the only one who raised an animal for meat, so she was the only one who sold hers. The rest had already been ranked and given prize money as they’d earned it: yet another fact he’d discovered was that most of them ranked consistently in the top ten each year, although none had yet earned Grand Champion.
Trucy shot a glance at Phoenix as she placed her white ribbon into her magic panties for safekeeping, and he nodded, a mischievous grin lighting up his face as they gathered everyone into a large group – Mr. Tenma and Blackquill staying behind, not wanting to participate – and headed for the carnival in the distance.
His husband ordered twelve full-day wristbands and suddenly Miles was in front of the register.
“$360 is your total, sir.”
The price made his wallet cry, but eleven pairs of eyes stared longingly at him, so he handed over the money. Slightly surprised at the large amount of cash, the woman took it and gingerly placed it in her till before sliding twelve neon orange plastic bands through the slot. Phoenix snatched them up and passed them out, everyone but Miles fastening them with ease.
Miles floundered for a few moments before his daughter came to his aid. “Hold out your wrist, Papa,” and she stuck it on loosely as he complied.
Over the next few hours, they crowded into ride after ride, each appearing less structurally secure than the last. Their wristbands lasted the entire day and gave them access to all rides, and nobody would let him sit out. He went on rides that dropped him from ridiculous heights, spun him in circles, tossed him about from side to side: even a ‘roller coaster’ that simply went in a constant loop-de-loop and a ride where the small cart spun as the entire ride rotated around.
He held Phoenix’s hand tightly for that last one, at least happy that he’d remembered to tuck away his glasses before entering the chaos.
Next came lunch, but with a friend like Maya around, that was no simple task. She walked them through each stand and surveyed every option before deciding that everyone should get something different and share with her. Again, he footed the bill, glad that he always carried copious quantities of cash on hand.
They brought their food back to a large picnic table and sat in the sun, each eating and sharing their food. Miles had purchased a turkey leg and deep-fried avocados – the healthiest option he could find amidst selections of grease and fat. Phoenix leaned over and took a bite of his turkey before Miles could tug it away.
“Are you not satisfied with your own meal?”
“Sharing is caring, dear. Here, you can have some of my churro.” His husband held out the sugar-coated dough in a manner suggesting it was meant to be appetizing.
“I don’t see why I should…” But Trucy caught his gaze from across the table and watched expectantly. “Hrrp!” Her suspicions had been roused enough; he needed to placate her, so he cut off his sentence and took a small bite.
It… wasn’t too terrible, he supposed. The dough was still warm, having been freshly made only minutes before purchase. Although it tasted strange in his mouth after a bite of grilled turkey, he couldn’t call it an unpleasant flavor.
“See? Good, right?” Phoenix grinned knowingly and began to shovel more funnel cake into his mouth in between bites of his churro.
“Now try this, Daddy!” Trucy held out a blue cloud of cotton candy, that same look on her face. He bit into it tentatively, not quite sure how one was meant to eat the spindled sugar; it tore away as she pulled back, leaving tendrils hanging down that he had to wipe into his mouth. Again, the flavor was unusual – almost entirely sugar, but there was some processed flavoring there that he couldn’t identify. All this carnival food was likely terrible to consume and Maya should pay more attention to her diet, but for a one-time treat, it was acceptable.
After lunch, they went back onto the rides, but blissfully kept to low-excitement ones as to not upset any stomachs. The Ferris wheel was a group favorite, and they rode on it several times in a row while enjoying some shaved ice as afternoon turned to evening.
Stadium lights flickered on as the night began to settle, but the crowds grew ever-larger as a night music festival began. Their group, however, was tired from a day of walking around, and decided to pack up.
“I’ll go grab the car,” Miles attempted to worm his way past the group, but his daughter stood in front of him, holding a hand out and shaking her finger the way he often would in court.
“Actually, dear father, I believe there’s something more important that you need to do first.” She pulled the closest aluminum folding chair from its spot and held it out. “I had my suspicions early on, but only recently were they confirmed: you’re avoiding these chairs. Normally you avoid anything outside your comfort zone – food, rides, animals – but as of today, everything besides this was accomplished! So, tell me, what is it about these that has you so spooked?”
Now the rest of the group was watching, none of them surprised at her statements. How long have they all known? Besides Kay, I suppose. The thief shrugged as he turned her way, a statement of ‘I didn’t tell them but of course they found out anyways.’
“I… I don’t know how to fold them.” There; he’d said it; now everybody knew.
“Is that all, Papa?” His daughter looked at him, eyes twinkling with amusement. “We’ll just have to do it together, just like all your other adventures today.” She pulled one of his hands and placed it on the chair, which he clenched tightly.
“I’m sorry for keeping this from you, Trucy. I was worried that you would be ashamed of my inability to perform such a simple task.”
“It’s okay – what’s important is that you’re trying.” She smiled. “That’s all I could ever ask for. Now count us down, everybody!”
As they gripped the folding chair, both with a hand on each side, everyone else smiled and began to yell out:
Miles pulled the ends of the chair together, face twisting in surprise as Trucy leaned back, removing her hands from the seat with a grin.