Vera shuddered slightly as she took a deep breath and tucked her drawing pad under her arm, her mind consumed with fear as she stared out through the open door. It had been two weeks since she her trial ended, and she had been released from the hospital after almost dying of Atroquinine poisoning. Vera could still remember the promise she made that day after waking up: to finally stop hiding from the world and take back her life. As she looked outside now though, Vera could feel her mouth go dry and her heart started pounding harder. Just as she was about to give up, a gentle hand settled on her arm, drawing her attention.
“Are you okay, Vera?” Apollo asked, the concern obvious in his voice. He had been trying to encourage her to venture outside, and after two weeks worth of daily visits, today she had finally agreed. However, as he watched her now, Apollo worried that perhaps he was pushing her too quickly. He didn't want to frighten her more by rushing things. “If this is too much we can wait, Vera. There's no rush.”
“No!” Although Vera spoke softly, the amount of force in her voice surprised Apollo. Grabbing his hand tightly and pulling herself close to his side, Vera spoke again timidly. “I... I want to do this. Please. I'm ready now to go outside now, Mr. Justice.”
Smiling proudly at her, he put his arm around her waist to encourage her. “Okay, Vera. If you think you're ready... And I told you that you could call me Apollo.”
“O-okay,” Vera stuttered, surprised to feel her face redden a bit under his kind gaze and pulled away from him for a moment. There was something about him that brought out feelings in her that she had never felt before and that she had trouble understanding. They weren't unpleasant, just different. Not quite sure what to do with those feelings, she was quick to push them aside. Seeing the worried look in his eyes, she smiled tentatively in an attempt to reassure him. Clutching his arm again, Vera closed her eyes as she followed Apollo outside. The feel of the uneven ground was so different from the smooth floors inside her home and for a second her mind was seized with fear again. The outside world was dangerous and as long as she was outside, she was in danger.
Seeing her uncertainty, Apollo reached out and gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. “It's okay, Vera,” he whispered softly into her ear. “Open your eyes and look around. You're outside and nothing has happened. You can always trust me, Vera. I promise I won't let anything happen to you.”
Taking comfort in his words, Vera opened her eyes slowly and looked around. Despite the fact that she had lived in this area for a long time, Vera had spent most of her life hiding away from the outside world. This was the first time in a long time that she had really looked at her surroundings.
As the sun shone down on them, Apollo watched Vera carefully to make sure she was okay. He was pleased that the day was so nice and even happier as he noticed her start to relax. Still holding her hand, he squeezed it again softly, pulling her attention back to him. “Do you want to walk a bit?”
After pulling her free hand to her face and nibbling on her fingernail, Vera finally nodded. Together they then started to make their way down the street slowly with Vera staying very close to Apollo. The sights and sounds were all so new and frightening, but Apollo's firm grasp on her hand gave her the needed boost of confidence to persevere. As the time passed, Vera found herself able to relax more and enjoy the walk.
As a loud barking suddenly filled the air, disrupting the peaceful outing, Vera jumped up fearfully and huddled close to Apollo again, burying her head in his chest. Glancing worriedly at Vera, who was now trembling, Apollo wrapped his arms around her as he tried to comfort her. “It's okay, Vera,” he said, his voice strong and soothing. “That sound is just a dog's bark. There is nothing to be worried about. Promise.” Feeling Vera relax some in his arms, Apollo breathed a sigh of relief as he turned his attention from Vera for a second and scanned the area for the source of the disturbance and saw a woman walking her dog; an excitable collie who was now straining on the leash and barking at a nearby tree. Considering the situation carefully, Apollo turned his attention back to Vera as he finally came to his conclusion. “Vera, I have an idea, but I don't want to push you too hard your first time out. How are you feeling?”
Breathing deeply, Vera tried to collect herself enough to come to a decision and answer his question. Although still shaken by her experience, the feel of Apollo's comforting embrace and the understanding in his soft eyes gave her the necessary confidence boost to continue. Although Vera knew that the world could be a dangerous place, she had learned recently that hiding from it was not the answer. Besides, she knew she could trust Apollo completely. If he believed this plan would help, then she was ready for this. Vera's voice was barely audible as she spoke, “I'm okay... I trust you.”
Squeezing her hand reassuringly, Apollo smiled. “I'm going to go talk to that woman over there and if she's okay with it, I going to bring her dog over here.” Seeing Vera's eyes fly open at this idea, Apollo spoke again quickly, her hand still gripped tightly in his own as he tried to comfort her again. “You don't need to worry, Vera. We won't go any further with this than you're ready to. I promise.” Pausing for a second, Apollo frowned. “Are you sure you're okay with this? You don't have to do this if you don't want to.”
“...No...no, I'm ready.” Vera stuttered a bit as she spoke, but there was a determination in her voice that surprised Apollo. Her nervousness getting the better of her, Vera found herself unable to smile. Picking up her pad, Vera drew a smiley face to reassure him that she was ready.
“Okay,” Apollo smiled quickly as he dropped her hand and jogged over to where the woman was now. Vera watched anxiously as they spoke and Apollo played with the dog for several minutes, convinced that something bad was going to happen to him, but to her great relief, the conversation passed without incident and Apollo returned to her quickly with the collie by his side. Having calmed down quite a bit since the earlier excitement, the dog now sat by Apollo's side calmly and wagged his tail happily. Stroking the dog's head, Apollo turned to Vera. “Vera, this is Scooter. I talked to his owner and she says he is a very nice dog. He wanted to come over and say hello.”
“H-he's very pretty,” Vera said as she inspected the collie carefully. Although still nervous, she took a step towards the dog. “Hello, Scooter.” The dog wagged his tail faster in response to her voice, but Apollo kept a firm hand on the leash to make sure there were no sudden movements from Scooter that might frighten Vera. “Is it okay if I pet him like you're doing?” Vera asked, glancing up at Apollo.
Smiling kindly, Apollo nodded. “Go ahead. Let him smell your hand first so that he knows you're friendly.”
Following his instructions, Vera did just that. Moving slowly, Vera cautiously reached out to pet the dog's head, running her finger's over Scooter's silky fur. The collie's tail now wagged at full speed as the dog leaned into Vera's touch, causing a genuine smile to cross her face. “He's really nice!” Pulling out her pad, Vera started to sketch something furiously.
Apollo watched her curiously as Vera continued to draw on her pad. “What are you working on?”
“I-I want to draw Scooter. He's so pretty and nice. I want to make sure I have a picture of him,” Vera answered, her gaze shifting to Apollo for just a second as she answered his question before returning to her drawing. “Done,” Vera announced happily, finally setting aside her pencil. Kneeling beside Scooter, Vera showed the dog her sketch. “See, Scooter? That's you.”
Sniffing at the drawing, Scooter nudged it gently with his nose. Apollo chuckled softly at the scene in front of him, immensely pleased at how well Vera was doing. “I think Scooter approves.” Glancing over his shoulder to where Scooter's owner was waiting, Apollo let out a disappointed sigh at having to end this early, but he had promised Scooter's owner that he wouldn't keep her dog long. She had been kind enough to allow him to borrow Scooter temporarily and it wouldn't be fair to repay her kindness by abusing it. Besides, Vera had made incredible progress today, and it would be best to end this experience on a good note.
As though reading his mind, Vera asked, “Is it time to say good bye to Scooter?”
Nodding, Apollo responded gently. “Yeah, he has to go home now. Are you okay with that?”
“Yes, it's okay,” Vera said, giving Scooter a final goodbye pat. “It was very nice to meet you, Scooter.”
After Apollo had returned Scooter to his owner with an immense amount of thanks, Vera and Apollo headed back to the studio. As they reached the studio's front door, Apollo's cell phone started to ring and with a glance at the incoming number, he shot Vera an apologetic look and answered it. “Hey, Trucy.” Apollo fell silent for several moments as he listened intently. “Huh? You are officially not making sense.” After a few more moments of silence, Apollo sighed heavily, “I'll be over soon, Trucy. Let me finish up with Vera. I'll see you soon.” Finally hanging up the phone, Apollo started to explain the situation, but Vera spoke up first.
“... You have to leave?” Vera asked, surprised by the amount of disappointment welling up inside her at the thought of him leaving.
Apollo nodded slowly, the disappointment obvious on his own face. “I'm sorry, Vera. Trucy needs some help with something for her magic show and Mr. Wright is out of town until later tonight. If I don't go give her a hand, I'll never get any peace.”
Taking a step toward her, Apollo absentmindedly brushed a bit of her hair aside, causing Vera to blush at the feel of his fingers against her face and sending a rush of warmth through her. It was that new feeling again. It was both strange and yet comforting in some way.
Apollo suddenly seemed to realize what he had been doing. His own face went red as he pulled his hand away, much to Vera's surprise and disappointment. “I-I'm sorry, Vera. I guess my mind was wandering a bit.” Trying to bluff his way past his own discomfort, Apollo continued to speak, his voice suddenly quick and nervous, “So, I should be going I guess. Will you be okay?”
Not understanding his reaction, Vera drew a smiley face on her pad in a quick attempt to reassure him. “You'll come back tomorrow, right?” she asked shyly, already looking forward to the next day.
Apollo nodded. “Of course I'll be back. I wouldn't miss a visit with you.” As Apollo turned to leave, he hesitated. Turning back to face Vera, he asked, “How are you feeling after our adventure today?”
Surprised by the sudden question, Vera responded by drawing another smiley face. “I had so much fun. It was wonderful. Why?”
Tilting his head slightly, he smiled gently. “How would you like to go to Trucy's magic show tonight? I know you like magic and she's been bugging me to bring you anyway. I'd go help Trucy set up and then swing back here to pick you up. Of course there will be a decent crowd, so if you don't feel up to it yet...”
“I'd love to,” Vera responded quickly, her eyes shining and a rare smile on her face. The second of the day, Apollo was pleased to note. “I-I'd like to go see Trucy's magic. Will she use the Amazing Mr. Hat tonight as well?”
Rolling his eyes a bit, Apollo laughed, “I can pretty much guarantee that she will. Mr. Hat is one of her favorite tricks... she uses it all the time. So, you'd like to go?” Seeing Vera nod vehemently, Apollo grinned. “I'll be back in a couple hours to pick you up then. I'll see you soon, Vera.”
“Goodbye... Apollo,” Vera responded quietly before they parted. As she closed the door, Vera glanced anxiously at the clock. Although she didn't fully understand these feelings he caused in her yet, they were becoming more and more welcome. Smiling at the thought of seeing him again so soon, Vera knew these next two hours couldn't pass quick enough for her.