February 11, 12:45am
The email glowing on the screen and lighting up the office of the Wright Anything Agency was heartfelt - but deranged.
Nick! Come help me out! It's a crisis, man, and maybe I should have waited until tomorrow and just called you, but it's late and my girlfriend's asleep, and I don't want to waste time not asking you while I could be asking you. Anyway - Please! Come up to Sonoma next weekend so I can talk to you. Maybe Trucy could stay in Kurain? I'll buy you booze. It's a three-day weekend, so it's not like she'd miss school. Please, man? Edgey is coming. Salud! Dinero! Amor! Please! - Larry
It's a crisis, man, and maybe I should have waited until tomorrow and just called you, but it's late and my girlfriend's asleep, and I don't want to waste time not asking you while I could be asking you.
Anyway - Please! Come up to Sonoma next weekend so I can talk to you.
Maybe Trucy could stay in Kurain?
I'll buy you booze.
It's a three-day weekend, so it's not like she'd miss school.
Edgey is coming.
Salud! Dinero! Amor! Please!
Phoenix Wright pushed himself away from the desk and sighed heavily. He'd gotten used to Larry's appeals over the years, but they had never used to involve traveling further than Lomita or Koreatown. And honestly, since Larry had packed himself off to wine country six or seven months ago, they'd barely been in touch. And he'd started to hope that the man wouldn't need any further rescuing.
But he'd never intended to ignore a plea for rescue, either. And it had to be serious, if… Whatever. Don't really care.
He typed back, all in lower case.
either phone me tomorrow or buy my plane ticket.
Trucy had already gone to bed, and the apartment was dark, so Phoenix shut down the Little Old Computer That Could and padded off to sleep himself. So much for noodling on the computer to wind down. With luck Larry wouldn't call until after the sun had risen.
He didn't get a return call, but when he checked his mail in the morning he found a confirmation number and an itinerary. Hell.
February 19, 2:43pm
The former-attorney-now-god-knows-what stood outside the Schulz airport terminal, almost resigned. I'd forgotten how pretty it was up here, even when it's cloudy. I don't think I'm very eager to hear what Larry wants, though. And he never managed to tell me what his car looks like. He glanced at each of the approaching vehicles, weighing them against his knowledge of his friend.
A red Civic, kind of old. Could be, I guess? But no, it was driven by a woman with curly hair. A gleaming black livery sedan with tinted windows. A definite no. A Volkswagen bus with a sunrise painted on the side. I hope not. I so very much hope not. But his speculation was interrupted by a tap on the horn from behind the van, a sound which turned out to be coming from an aged, utterly unhip (but serviceable) Volvo. The vehicle swung up next to the curb, the driver's door popped open, and there was Larry, looking a little thinner and tanner, wearing that same orange leather jacket so ancient it made noises when he gestured. He was grinning and waving and talking already.
"Nick! Yo! Welcome to Sonoma! How was the flight in, dude?" Phoenix answered all of these (Larry, hey, thanks, fine) while they exchanged a quick, loud hug and Larry took his duffel bag and slung it into the back seat.
He had opened his mouth while getting into the passenger side and was about to protest, on principle, but was beaten to it.
"You don't even OWN anything breakable, dude. And hey, who had to come pick your ass up from the airport because you can't rent a nice breakable car?" The leaner man was smiling broadly as he glanced back into the rearview.
Well, his big mouth is in evidence, but he doesn't sound upset. And usually it's not hard to tell.
"Larry? What's this crisis I came up here for? You look pretty good, as a matter of fact."
"Aw, that can wait until evening, can't it?"
You tell me.
"Edgey's not even gonna get in for another two hours, and he'll rent something and drive himself (NOTE, dude, by the way) over the hill. In the meantime, I'll take you past the studio. You need to eat?"
"It couldn't hurt."
"Reach back under your bag then. This is the scenic route."
Phoenix did, a little apprehensively, and found an insulated lunch sack, not quite closed all the way. As he awkwardly pulled it around the side of the seat, though, something smelled good, and he unwrapped the tinfoil almost eagerly.
Will wonders never cease. A roast beef sandwich. A really good roast beef sandwich.
The blue car curved away from Santa Rosa, up into the pale green hills. The soft grey sky was almost mirrored by the dirty grey of the highway asphalt, and along the edges of the road were stretches of drier, yellower grass. It was incredibly relaxing, actually. Beautiful, in an indistinct way. Heh. I guess you CAN take a vacation from nothing in particular. He felt a little guilty when Larry's voice faded in, obviously already well-settled on a topic.
"...and Teresita's this awesome little town."
Good for me; at least I'm armed with the knowledge that Teresita is the town and not the girlfriend.
"I mean, it's outta the way. But the wineries keep the tourists coming, and buzzed tourists buy stuff, and we all hang on. Everybody's cool."
"Buy stuff" reminded him of what he'd wanted to ask.
"Larry, you mentioned a studio?"
"YEAH! Yeah, dude, that's where we're going first thing. Your jaw will drop, I promise."
"It looks like a little cottage somewhere in the south of France?"
"It looks like a freakin' garage. French cottages aren't conducive to big old fans and blowtorches, man. Nope, the beautiful in there, I provide." Larry shifted, very abruptly, into an exit lane that took them to a narrower road, pointed straight at one of the higher slopes.
"Teresita's just on the other side there. You don't get carsick, do you?"
"No. What is this, a deer trail?"
"It's the scenic route, man, over the top." Larry rolled both of the front windows down, poked a thumb at the nigh-antique CD player, and stepped harder on the gas, and the car began to climb the grade.
It was easy to fall into the landscape again. Pale grass, grey clouds, the occasional rows of grapevines. Big trees with their elbows bent. A rueful guitar flowed from the speakers and out into the afternoon.
Phoenix had craned his head to the right to follow the flight of a huge flock of crows when the car jerked to the left and crunched onto gravel. Larry had stopped in front of a low bungalow wedged up against a steep slope. A dented mailbox reading Lake Monster in metallic stickers leaned next to the road.
"You have to name a studio something, dude, and Butz wasn't going to be it."
"Fair." He followed behind, kicking a rock out of one sandal.
There was a huge metal door occupying most of one side of the building, but Larry unlocked a much more normal one on one of the short walls, then reached inside. There was the thunk of an industrial light switch.
"Nick, come on in! Feast your eyes!"
He stepped through the door - and his eyebrows rose. Counters ran around two walls, and another cut the space in half. Underneath them sat cabinets painted military-surplus green, a few with their doors half open. A couple of easels leaned against one wall, and metalworking tools (including the aforementioned blowtorches) occupied much of the counter space and the largest open corner.
But of course, the tools weren't the jaw-dropping part. Hanging from the ceiling, for one, was a fabulous water dragon sculpted in metal and at least twenty feet long, sinuous and sharp and shining in copper and cobalt. Flat landscapes - but in metal, too - hung on the walls. He couldn't help a delighted "HEY!" and a smile when he recognized one of them: there was the clouded grey sky (steel, maybe) countered by the darker and grittier grey of the road, itself framed by dry brush (brass) against the pale green of copper turned almost entirely to verdigris. He expostulated again when he saw, near where the road met the horizon, the oncoming face of a pale blue car. Some other kind of copper corrosion for that color, probably, but WOW.
"Larry. I'm not kidding you. These are AMAZING. I knew you could do metalwork, and I knew you painted, but..."
Larry was absolutely beaming. "You love it, right? That's why no detours. You had to come the hill way before you saw that one."
"I get it. WOW. So these are what the buzzed tourists buy?"
"Even better. These, Nick, are what the SOBER tourists buy. The drunk ones buy the jewelry, though." He gestured to a wooden case on the far counter, which turned out to contain a magpie's treasure of earrings, pendants, rings, and bracelets. Phoenix turned through the clinking pieces in the case, feeling a little like Sinbad. Even if these were just Larry's bread-and-butter work, some of them were better than good. His eyes caught on a robin's-egg blue bracelet with streaks of white along one edge and the dark outline of telephone poles, wires strung between them, on the other. He spun it between his fingers and found himself smiling again when a tiny red balloon, propelled by an invisible wind, appeared in the patch of sky.
"Larry, let me buy this one from you. Pearls has a birthday coming up, and even if it's a little big for her now..."
"No no no! For Pearly, just take it. It's a pleasure."
Phoenix felt extremely aware of his ratty jeans and sweatshirt and hat. "I can't do that. How much?"
"You're going to be like that? I'll tell you what. You buy a round tonight - you let me pick the booze - and I'll pack this to Kurain straight from here."
Phoenix winced slightly. "Your mailbox looks like a truck hit it."
"Ah, that's 'cause one did. I meant from here, town, here."
"Deal. And thanks. This is so much better than anything I was going to find her."
"Say, see anything you want for Trucy, for that matter? Or maybe Maya?"
"How much liquor am I going to be buying?"
"We'll see how much we need, man." Larry winked.
"Anyway...not right now. But I'll shake you down the next time I have one of THEIR birthdays to supply."
He returned to the jewelry case for a few minutes, turning up half a dozen things that would have been perfect for any of the girls, before remembering that the baubles weren't what Larry seemed to consider his best work. He began a circuit of the room, stopping at every piece hanging on the wall. A few looked like pop art, referencing comic books and magazines, and a few were colorful abstracts. But most of them were sincerely and beautifully representative.
Where in his screw-up friend's life had this come from?
He knew that wasn't fair. Larry had always been talented; he'd earned his art degree and he'd been painting, and sculpting little things like clocks, for years. He was just a flake, the sort of lovable loser whose stories far outnumbered his accomplishments.
Except now there was this. Whatever the issue with his girlfriend is, she'd better not be endangering his career now. Now he finally has one.
February 19, 5:58pm
To Phoenix's relief, the B&B Larry had set him up at wasn't overly kitschy. No ruffled pillows, at any rate, and no wicker furniture. There were a few grape-festooned statues that didn't seem to know whether they were from Ancient Greece, Renaissance Italy, or modern Guangdong, but those were mostly in the front yard. He was there only long enough, anyhow, to check in with the businesslike hostess, change his shirt, and drop his bag in his room; Larry had opted to stay out front and try to reach Edgeworth on his cell.
He tugged his hat down a bit as he stepped back out onto the dark wooden porch, and Larry waved.
"Edgey made great time, he's at the place already. Let's go, man, let's go! It feels like forever since we've all been in one room!" Don't really care.
Phoenix got into the car.
"The place" turned out to be a restaurant and wine bar (of course) even further down the hill than the B&B had been, and in the closest thing Teresita had to a downtown. A minor note of adrenalin had started to sing under his ribs, which was annoying, and so he took it out on his friend with some stupid wisecracks.
"Look, Larry, a traffic light. Who knew there was civilization in this valley?"
"You're an ass, Nick. Especially since we installed that yesterday, just for you."
Larry parked the Volvo, a little optimistically, and strode into the restaurant with a big smile. "Nina!"
He'd gone right past the actual host and stopped a many-earringed young woman wearing all black who was crossing the room. "How's the bartender today?"
"Magnificent, thanks, Monsieur Gauguin. Where's Amy?"
Amy might be the girlfriend. Awaiting corroborating evidence.
"She's at a thing in Sacramento this weekend. But I want you to meet somebody! Nick, meet Nina, most ruthless bartender in town. Nina, this is Nick Wright, we've been friends since we were kids, he's up from Los Angeles."
Nina was giving him (probably his outfit, really) the once-over with some very intelligent brown eyes. "Hi, Nick. You planning on running away from the real world like your friend here?"
That stung WAY more than it should, but Phoenix kept it back. How could she know? "Nah, I only thought I was an actor for a couple of years."
Larry interrupted. "Actually, Nina, our missing musketeer should already be here. About Nick's height-" He made a fluttering kind of gesture under his chin with one hand. "Wearing a-"
Nina's eyebrows flicked up in recognition. "The Grey Ghost is with you two, huh? Yeah, he's already here. He's in the other room. And that's called a cravat, professor, by the way. Go on back. I'll be right with you." Phoenix seriously considered stomping on his own foot, he was so annoyed with his sudden nervous discomfort. But sandals are not good for vindictive foot-stomping, and he followed Larry through a yellowy archway.
Edgeworth sat at a table near one wall, but he was still outright conspicuous. For one thing, even though he wasn't wearing one of his red suit jackets, he did have a black vest on over a white shirt so crisp it was reflecting more light than some of the halfhearted fixtures were throwing. And he still had that grey hair, which was still gelled into improbability. And he was, as memory said he should be, tall. And radiated a kind of chill.
Grey Ghost, huh? Phoenix scowled internally. I'm just as tall as he is, but none of the wait staff seem that impressed by me... He remembered all over again what he looked like - this persona was intentional, damn it - while Edgeworth leaned back in his chair like a visiting prince, half-focused on a glass of something a deep red, not having noticed them yet. And Larry was already wading between other people's tables like some kind of explorer navigating the Amazon.
"Edgey! It's been too long, man!" Larry grabbed Edgeworth's free arm in something that began as a handshake and ended up as and sideways across the table half-a-hug, while the prosecutor - whatever he was now - did his best in a split second to put his drink down without spilling it. Phoenix watched the high edge of the liquid swing in a circle around the inside of the glass, though indeed it didn't spill. And he glanced up from it to realize that his old rival had been looking at the same thing, and now was looking at him.
He decided to use Larry as a benchmark of effusiveness and just reached a hand out. "Miles." Then twitched his cap backwards on his head with his other hand, in case the net effect was sullen.
"Wright." Edgeworth responded not just with a handshake, but with a gracious nod of his head. But his tone of voice was hard to place. Detached but questioning? Cautiously friendly? Disappointed?
Well - whatever.
Nina appeared again as they were getting settled. "Gentlemen? Or Larry, Nick, and gentleman singular?"
"Or single?" said a blond waitress, passing behind her without looking. Edgeworth grimaced, which Nina registered. With eyes full of sympathy and a voice very much not, she said, "Ignore Cathleen. She really likes vests. That's why we had to give up the valet parking idea."
Edgeworth actually seemed to relax a little bit, and Larry smirked at Nina. "So what did we do to deserve tableside service from you? Don't you have something to go stand behind?"
"This isn't the typical company you keep. I'm waiting for both of them to shrink down, levitate over your shoulders, and start telling you what to do."
Phoenix blustered before he could stop himself. "Hey, who says I'm a bad influence?"
Nina turned and stared straight at him. "Right, Nick Wright, who did say that? You could be some kind of scruffy Franciscan under that nice beanie. Besides, sharp-dressed man and all?"
He realized, but without a retort at hand, that it really wouldn't be a good thing for her to keep going in that vein. Demon Prosecutor. And something about his expression must have been telegraphing STOP, because she switched directions almost immediately.
"Or maybe free will IS your problem, Gauguin. You, sir-"
"Miles here is drinking what is without question the best red we pour that doesn't require mortgage paperwork. Can I help you two catch up?"
"Sounds good." She walked briskly away, and Larry grinned again. If anything, he looked happier and more, well, alert, than Phoenix could ever remember.
"I like your bartender."
To his surprise, Edgeworth chimed in. "So do I."
"You like her because she makes fun of me."
It felt like the beginning of an awkward silence. Larry broke in, however, before the roots grew too deep. "I'm sorry you guys couldn't meet Amy this time. She wanted to meet you, too, she really did, but her work thing was for this weekend, and she HAD to go, and anyway she says hi!"
Somewhere near the end of that speech Nina had reappeared with a bottle - actually two, one already partially empty and no doubt where Edgeworth's head start had come from - and another pair of glasses. This time she left without saying anything. A waiter (not Cathleen) dropped off a trio of menus a moment later.
Larry snagged all three glasses, engaging Edgeworth in a brief staring match over his, and filled them to the top. "Down to business! I have a couple toasts to propose!"
Phoenix and Edgeworth looked at one another in a short circuit of uncertainly. This was always the weird thing about him. You think he's somewhere lost in his own head and he turns out to know exactly what's going on in yours. Not that I guess it's that hard, in this case .
"AHEM!" It wasn't a throat-clearing sound. Larry had just said "ahem." But he continued in a normal voice instead of a projected one. "First, to Mr. Phoenix Wright, recently hero to his city, his state, his country, and - um. And his solar system! Recently hero to all those things for his historical reintroduction of the jury system in California, followed by elsewhere!"
Followed by Nevada, Larry. Nevada was next. You've been there.
As a summary of recent events, it was kind of feeble, but as a toast it was good-hearted and, he admitted, appreciated. And it was nice to see Edgeworth raise his glass in what seemed like genuine respect before drinking. Phoenix smiled to himself, at least in a small way, and sipped at his wine. It was good.
"And secondly, to Mr. Miles Edgeworth, on the occasion of his move back from France to Los Angeles with his charming sister!"
"Cologne isn't in France."
He moved back with Franziska? When did that happen?
He remembered where he was and asked.
"Only three weeks ago. And it's not so straightforward as all that. I'll still be travelling often, but from here to there instead of vice versa."
"All the same, man! Cheers! Moving sucks, but your stuff made it to L.A.!"
That could have gone on forever, probably, but Larry made the wise decision to let it go there and just to take another gulp from his glass, and his old friends followed suit.
"And lastly, to Miss Amy Laura Hayes! A very fine model, freelance writer, and my fiancée!" The artist looked both smug and a little tense.
He's MARRYING her? Phoenix turned in his seat and gave Larry a Serious look. A bit like the ones I give Trucy, to be honest. He didn't look at Edgeworth, but he was sure that the other man was making a less challenging face that all the same was indicative of absolutely identical concern.
He was still holding his glass, and putting it down in this context would be rude enough that even Larry would notice. So he drank.
"Congratulations, man, but wow. Your email didn't say anything about that. Did you only propose this week, or-"
"Nah, it's been six weeks at least. I just wanted to surprise you in person!"
"Congratulations," said the serious voice opposite. "Very much so. And we definitely need to hear more about this, but perhaps we should put in our orders first." He pulled out a pair of wire-rimmed glasses and flicked open a menu.
Since when does he wear glasses?
Phoenix drew the remaining pair of menus across the dark, pitted wood, and slid one to Larry, who happily recommended roast beef sandwiches. He ended up being the only person who actually ordered one, though. A goulash kind of dish struck Phoenix as being more substantial (and more economical), and Edgeworth ordered something that sounded complicated.
Once the waiter had departed, Larry burst into speech again, explaining how he and Amy had met (she was modeling, clothed by the way, it wasn't like that, though life study classes already weren't like that, of course they knew that) and how well they got along (she was so relaxing) and how he'd proposed (at an old drive-in two towns over when they were showing Casablanca). Also that it was going to be a long engagement, which was at least less worrisome than it could have been. The conversation was going to have to take an uncomfortable turn soon, but Phoenix stalled the obvious interruption for a few minutes. There was something nice, at least, that he wanted to do on his friend's behalf.
"Larry, I know you have your cell on you. Do you have a picture of Amy's ring - wait, you DID make Amy's ring, right?"
"Of course I did!" Larry was beaming again. "Here!"
"Edgeworth, you haven't been out to his studio yet, but you need to make him show it off tomorrow. Look here. These things are incredible." Amy's ring was no exception. At first glance it looked almost like fabric, so carefully had the metal had been folded and smoothed into the shape of a notched ribbon, marked with a heraldic lion holding a small opal between its paws. It was part medieval splendor and part the bookmark in your favorite book. Phoenix hoped that she'd adored it.
Edgeworth's eyebrows shot up when he saw it, and he turned the phone sideways to make the picture expand. He almost looked touched.
Phoenix added a little splash of wine to the glasses and said, "I propose a toast to the Lake Monster." Edgeworth's eyebrows went up even further at that, and the modicum of sentimentality disappeared in favor of a WHAT look across the table. "That's the name of Larry's studio." The eyebrows stabilized and Edgeworth put the phone down decisively, lifting his glass instead.
"I second the toast, then, and I look forward to seeing the monster's den tomorrow. It's beautiful."
Beautiful was just a funny word to hear coming from Edgeworth, but it was absolutely fair, and Phoenix raised his glass just as high. Larry barely cleared his silverware with his, but he looked gratified. It was strangely adult on him.
They drank. And then Phoenix had to ask. "Look, Larry. So you're engaged. And that's great. And we'd be happy to be happy for you. But we're up here because your email said there was some kind of crisis. I mean, should you be engaged to her? Your life looks - really improved otherwise. Or is it a money problem, or-"
And Larry grinned like a gambler in a cowboy movie, like he'd been WAITING, and shoved his chair back a little bit, and said something stunning.
"Dude. I am so happy, so HAPPY, that you came up here. And Edgey too, 'cause I can hear you thinking everything Nick just said, in longer words. It proves to me what amazing guys, what amazing friends you are, always have been. I mean, I've yelled for help a LOT over the years. Nick, man, my life was literally on the line.
"But I'm FINE. I am better than fine. I'm making a good living doing what I've wanted to do since I was a kid. Though I guess without the laser submarine. I've got a good woman with me, a really good one. And she's my own age, not some twenty-year-old opportunist. I am as grown-up and as good as I've ever been and I ever want to be.
"I wrote what I wrote so I could be sure you'd come. You are FIRST RATE Mighty-Mouse-to-the-rescue guys. You're kinda, debatable, other times, though. When it comes to coming where people invite you."
Phoenix hardly knew what to think, and he risked a glance across to Edgeworth, who looked, for want of a better word, fascinated. Like a professor receiving an unexpected genius essay from a disorganized freshman. Except that he was also giving his napkin a nervous twist. This essay could go anywhere, you got the idea.
"You guys are both brilliant. I was never going to be as sharp as either of you. Wasn't going to happen. But I'm in a good place lately, and I owe you, and I wanted to say this. Today's my chance to be the smartest man in the room.
"Nick, Miles...both of you. GET it TOGETHER. Seriously!" His voice had gone from emotional to awkward and was now taking on an edge of anger. Not fury, but something beyond exasperation. "If I could fix MY life, you can fix yours! Nick, you look like a bum. You do. College kids on laundry day look more together. You're the guy who brought justice back, and you're a LAWYER, except you're NOT, because no one knows WHAT you've been doing with your damn SILLY agency. Your name is CLEARED, if you hadn't noticed. Get your BADGE back. Stop treating your CALLING like it was some kind of teenager PHASE and go BACK TO COURT! Where the people who NEED you are! When did YOU of all people just GIVE UP?"
Phoenix was poleaxed. Larry Butz was lecturing him. Telling him not to be silly, and telling him to grow up. His face slowly flushed, and the sweats and the sandals and the hat began to feel as heavy as upholstery fabric. He looked at the two other faces. Larry's may have been leaner, but it was sharper, livelier, than it was in any of his memories. Time was looking, bewilderingly, good on him. And Miles' face had gone the other way, a bit - the razor lines had blurred, slightly, into a look that seemed more inclined to listen. But he looked good, too. Phoenix imagined the view, to a third party, with his own unshaven face there, and autonomically bent his head to stare at the floor. This particular floor was made of a dark finished wood, but against his will he pictured the blond beams of the courthouse, and what his knee had looked like, in his peripheral vision, in blue wool. He'd been called out on his transformation dozens of times, but now, really, he felt ashamed.
Larry had moved on. His voice was a little gentler, but the things he was saying were just as bare.
"And you. Miles. Edgey. Man... man, you've had some sorrow in your life. Your dad was a good guy." Larry stopped abruptly to raise his glass to where the lights shone off of it. Phoenix had lifted his own glass an instant later.
Miles was a little slower, and the liquid in his glass wobbled more. And there was a pause stretched as narrow as a taut cord before he said, just, "Dad," and held the wine in the light for another moment before drinking.
They drank and put their glasses down then, and Larry started to talk again. "Miles, I feel like a bad guy saying this. But I'm not a bad guy. And I think you need to hear me say it. No one's telling you not to be sad about the sad stuff. But I don't think you let yourself be HAPPY about the HAPPY stuff, and sometimes when you're sad, it seems like there isn't a reason, not that anyone knows about, and I don't know what you DO with yourself all day long.
"When you stop working for the day, what do you even do? I'm sure you've got some really nice furniture, way better than mine, but who ever sits on it? What are you when you're not reading legal stuff at your desk?"
Miles' face had gone very, very hard.
"See. Look. I'm not scared of you doing that, okay? I'm not scared of you because I'm more kinda scared FOR you. Because you don't know how to look after yourself any better than Wright. And everyone who cares what happens to you is STILL freaked out, OKAY, because of the time you told us you were DEAD and we didn't have any reason not to BELIEVE you."
Miles gripped one arm with the other, and turned his head to the side. And the hard look wavered to one of hopelessness and back.
Neither the attorney nor the ex-attorney were able to speak now, and Larry finished his speech quietly and uninterrupted.
"I don't just want you to be all pissed and depressed. That wasn't the point. The point is that you both need, NEED, to live BETTER. Because you can, and you should, and you deserve to. And this is a challenge.
"I moved up here. I got the studio and my whole career launched. And I found Amy. Three things. And none of it just happened FOR me, you know? It wasn't JUST luck.
"So I'm challenging you. Like men."
Somehow the idea of getting told how to man up by Larry seemed almost plausible.
"It's Presidents' Day. I, hereby, invite you back up here for Thanksgiving. And before you each come back, I want you to do three REAL things to make your lives what anyone could tell you they should be. You don't have to move. I mean, Edgey just moved already. They don't have to be the same three things as me. But that's what I want. That's the crisis. That's what I want for my wedding present."
A long silence.
"And a toaster."
Phoenix lifted his head. He couldn't read the looks on either of his old classmates' faces. He bet they couldn't read his. But he said, after a pause during which his vocal cords rusted and refused to work, "...Yeah."
Larry was not looking for mumbles. "Is that a yes?"
"YES, it's a yes!" That came out louder than he had intended.
"GOOD!" So did that.
But one person hadn't yet replied, and Phoenix and Larry both looked at Edgeworth. Who made a gesture with one arm that wandered through the air, settled nowhere, and dropped back to the edge of the table. Who said, "God damn it. Yes."
Dinner was quiet. Phoenix turned over and over in his head what he'd agreed to. It sounded GOOD, but, said his inner cynic, of course it would. It was vague. It was benevolent and vague and optional really (no, said the inner paragon) and honestly frightening. But the circumstances meant that he'd have to follow through, because - because they'd all been nine-year-olds with funny hair together? His inner cynic got not even half a thought towards suggesting that was stupid before the inner paragon snapped that that was probably the least stupid part of his entire life. So he would...what?
Larry wasn't going to actually help. He'd be here in Sonoma.
And Miles would be...where he'd been for the last seven years or more. On the other side of the moon.
He would learn to drive. That sounded like a solid choice. He'd stop relying on Polly and on the LADOT and on the weather. He'd buy a used car.
He'd retake the bar?
That was a low blow, rattled his hyperactive language center, an inner cynic and an inner paragon were useful, but a rhyming inner Dr. Seuss was a nuisance (A SEUSSANCE!) - shut UP! I'm trying to think! The bigger, slower thoughts rose up into the silence.
I should retake the bar...
I'll retake the BAR...
The exhilaration that leaped into the last word came as a complete surprise.
He looked up, and straight into Nina's face. He hadn't even heard her come up.
She looked like she'd had some kind of big realization herself, which was weird. He almost asked if Larry had told her about everything, but she started to talk first. "Nick Wright. Nick Wright. I know who you are." She turned towards Edgeworth then. "Which means I know who you are. Even if you should have been the easy one." Then to Larry. "Gauguin, you should have told me."
Larry clearly didn't know how to reply, and her voice had lost its bantering tone. "Told you what, barkeep?"
"About your friends." She took a step back and glanced at all three of them. "Nick. Miles. It's an honor. I mean it."
She's what, maybe twenty-three? And I've never seen her before today. What's going on?
"I'm from Santa Monica. I moved up to NorCal for college and never left. But my dad's best friend, my godfather. He was LAPD. Harbor police. And he hated Damon Gant. Was scared shitless of him, too, and he wasn't scared of anybody, normally. So I remember Uncle Rob watching the Skye trial on television with my Dad and how impressed he was with you. He didn't like lawyers much generally. But he thought you were just a couple of kids, and he was crazy impressed. And grateful. Of course, I was in junior high and I thought you were cute but ancient. But since Uncle Rob can't thank you, I'd better do it." And she leaned over, and pecked him on the cheek, and then did the same to Edgeworth. Who didn't even give her a funny look. "And the wine is on me." She went back to the rows of bottles.
Phoenix stared after her for a minute. The inner cynic didn't want to believe he'd just received a cosmic attaboy from a sarcastic omen in four pairs of earrings. So he said, "Hey, Larry, does this mean I'm off the hook for the round we talked about earlier?"
"No! It does not!"
The trip back to the B&B was a bit fuzzy.
He remembered being surprised that Edgeworth was staying at the same place, and not at all surprised that the grey-haired man had disappeared pensively up the stairs almost immediately. His own room was on the ground floor, with a sliding door that led out to the garden.
After he washed his face, brushed his teeth, drank three tumblersful of water, and changed into his pajamas (really just sweatpants and a t-shirt, both with faded writing on them, and not too different from what he'd grown used to wearing in daylight) he'd recovered enough presence of mind to feel rather embarrassed about said pajamas. And about said daywear. He picked up his cell, wandered over in front of the glass door to give himself something to look at, and called Trucy.
She picked up in less than a ring, sounding perfectly cheerful and alert. "Hi, Daddy!"
"Trucy, you should be in bed. It's the middle of the night." With an adolescent daughter had come the ability to hear and recognize the specific silence that comes with an eyeroll.
"And that's why you're calling. Really. You could have woken poor hard-working Pearls."
"You haven't been to Kurain since December. Pearls isn't asleep any more than you are."
"Thanks for calling to say goodnight, though..." The voice was sincere, and he smiled a little to himself. She's such a good kid.
"Actually, I had something I wanted to tell you. I'm...I'm going to retake the bar. It's too late for February, so... that means this July."
Silence on the other end of the line.
"And I'm going to learn to drive."
"Have you been DRINKING?"
OUCH. He looked at the floor. "Yes, actually. Which is why I want you to tell Maya all about this conversation at breakfast tomorrow and to call me later so we can talk about it."
"I will." A pause. "But Daddy, if you're just drunk instead of serious, I'm going to be...really, really REALLY disappointed." He felt more embarrassed than ever, and he reached over to click the bedside lamp down to a low glow.
"Cross my heart."
"Good night, honey."
He beeped the phone off and looked up, and then saw something through the window that got his full attention. Someone was moving outside in the garden, late as it was, heading very quietly down the neat dirt path past the trees and towards a picnic table.
There aren't any trees shading that. Step out into the moon, why don't you, so I can see if I might need to call the police? He was glad he'd turned the light down.
It should have been no surprise when the figure beneath the trees turned out to be Miles, whose gray hair was practically white in moonlight.
Being moody, huh? Shocking.
He was a little surprised to see Edgeworth sit down at the table, since it had to have been damp and cold, but the body language was otherwise completely familiar. Miles shrugging his shoulders. Miles looking at the top of the table. Miles, looking up at the moon.
Back in the day, Phoenix knew, he'd have practically trotted out the sliding glass door to see if his old friend wanted to talk about something, anything. Back in the day, he'd have been very concerned. He watched Miles tapping his fingers together, lost in thought.
And he stayed exactly where he was.