A/N: So... here's another chapter. I hope you guys enjoy it. Please leave me a review and let me know what you guys think. As things stand now, this story will probably only be a couple more chapters (if that), but that could change if I get decent feedback. On a side note, sixteen year old Pearl plays a large role in this chapter and refers to Phoenix as "Nick" and not "Mr. Nick" because I have trouble seeing older Pearl still using her childhood nickname for him, so that's an intended change in Pearl's behavior. Special thanks to Franzise Deauxnim at the Court Records forum for proofing this chapter. Enjoy!
As the electronic doors slid open, Vera took a shaky breath and pulled her sketchbook to her chest. Although her adjustment to the outside world had been slow and difficult at times, Vera had made a great deal of progress over the past month, so when Pearl and Trucy had decided to stop by the magic shop in the nearby mall, Vera had felt fairly confident when she asked to accompany them. Now as she stood frozen in place, Vera could feel her security fading fast. This had seemed so much simpler in the security of the office.
"Are you okay, Vera?" Pearl asked, concerned by the older girl's hesitation. After exchanging a worried glance with Trucy, Pearl spoke up again. "Vera?"
The more forward of the two, Trucy took a step towards Vera and tapped her softly on the arm to get her attention.
Although recoiling a bit at the unexpected touch, Vera managed to pull herself together quickly and focus her attention on Trucy and Pearl. "I-I'm okay," Vera responded sheepishly, forcing a smile. "I'm sorry for taking so long. Should we go inside now?"
"Are you sure?" Trucy asked cautiously, recalling Apollo's warning not to push Vera too quickly. Apollo had been rather uneasy when he heard about the girls' plans, but gave in when he had seen how excited Vera seemed about the prospect. A meeting with the first prospective client since Vera's trial kept him from accompanying the others, so he'd instructed Trucy to be careful while they were out, and to call if things went badly.
"Yes, let's go inside. I want to go with you guys," Vera said quietly, glancing over at Trucy. "Please?"
Trucy paused for a moment to examine Vera's face, waiting to see if her special talent triggered when Vera spoke. Sensing nothing out of the ordinary, she breathed a sigh of relief. "All right then," Trucy smiled brightly, clapping her hands together excitedly. Motioning to her companions to follow, Trucy skipped into the mall happily. "Come on you two," Trucy called over her shoulder to hurry her friends along. "Magic awaits!"
Chuckling softly at her friend's antics, Pearl commented cheerfully. "Let's go, Vera. There's no stopping Trucy when she gets like this and we don't want to get left behind."
Vera smiled gently and followed Pearl closely as they jogged over to Trucy who was tapping her foot as she waited for them impatiently. Although still feeling slightly overwhelmed by all the new sights and sounds, Vera found that she was able to control these feelings better. All the time spent working with Trucy, Pearl and especially Apollo over the past two weeks were definitely not wasted
As her thoughts turned the young defense attorney, Vera could feel a smile beginning to stretch across her face. She was surprised by how much she missed having him near her. His smile, his gentle voice... Vera's smile widened as she pictured him in her mind.
"Vera?" Vera jumped, her smile dropping away as Trucy's voice broke through her thoughts. Her eyes darted back and forth between her friends as her cheeks flushed lightly. Forcing Apollo from her mind, Vera forced herself to smile again as she spoke quietly. "I'm sorry. I guess I got a bit distracted. What did you say?"
Shooting Vera a concerned glance, Pearl asked, "Are you all right, Vera?"
"Y-yes, of course I am. Why do you ask?" Vera responded quickly.
"You just seemed off..." Pearl commented, her voice trailing off. Shrugging her shoulders, the young spirit medium finally smiled. "Well, as long as you're sure..."
"So is everything settled then?" Trucy chimed in after the awkwardness had passed, rocking back and forth impatiently. "The magic shop is only going to stay open so long."
Rolling her eyes at her friend's comment, Pearl turned to Trucy. "The magic shop won't be closing anytime soon, Trucy. Besides, there is only so long Vera and I are going to be able to stand being there while you fawn over all the tricks before we're bored," she teased.
"How can anybody get sick of magic?" Trucy asked in wide-eyed disbelief. "Anyway, we should still get going. I even managed to convince Daddy to let me buy a new trick today and I want to find the perfect one." As Trucy spoke, she began walking down the long hallway. Pearl and Vera followed closely behind.
"Really? I thought Nick said that you had enough magic tricks after you bought those three new ones last week," Pearl said, quickening her pace to keep up with her overexcited friend.
"Well, it did take some convincing," Trucy admitted with a grin. "Daddy finally agreed last night though."
Trailing behind the two younger girls as they talked, Vera stared into the windows of the shops, mesmerized by all the various items. There were objects of all different sizes, colors, and shapes. Never before had she seen so much variety in one place. As she passed one window, the display in a large dress shop caught her eye. Coming to a stop in front of the store, Vera examined the gowns. She'd never had clothes like these; after all, it wasn't as though she'd ever had any reason to wear such things when she'd stayed at home all the time.
As she stared at the dresses, she couldn't help but recall the other day, when she visited the Wrights' apartment with Apollo and Trucy. Phoenix's friend, Iris, had stopped by to go out to dinner with him, strictly as friends both of them had insisted, but Vera remembered well how beautiful Iris had looked in the long black dress she had worn and the way Phoenix's eyes had followed her around the room. Laying her hand on the glass, Vera examined the dresses carefully, unable to resist imagining herself in one of them. Would anyone look at her the way Phoenix had watched Iris? Would Apollo?
Her chest tightened and her face flushed at this last thought. She stepped back nervously, suddenly uncertain. Why had her mind drifted to him first and why did his absence suddenly feel so much more painful?
Although she couldn't understand what was going on between Phoenix and Iris, Vera could sense that there was more going on there than met the eye, no matter what they claimed. It was deep and special, on a level she couldn't even hope to comprehend yet, but right now she desperately wanted to be able to make sense of it.
Finding no easy answers available to her, Vera pushed these thoughts back and turned away from the shop to the direction in which her friends had been walking. When she failed to see them there, she suddenly became aware of the crushing loneliness and the unfamilarity surrounding her. A rush of anxiety flooded through her and her throat tightened as she opened her mouth to call out to her friends, but she could only manage a strangled cry. She closed her eyes and gripped her drawing pad so tightly that her fingers began to discolor in her attempt to control the rising fear.
"Vera! Vera! Are you alright?" The young artist stiffened as she heard a girl's voice call to her. Mentally forcing back the panic, Vera recognized the voice as Trucy's. Opening her eyes slowly, Vera peered into the worried faces of Pearl and Trucy.
"Are you okay, Vera?" Pearl asked anxiously, taking another step towards Vera. "We're so sorry! We thought you were right behind us, but when we turned around and realized you weren't there, we hurried back the way we came until we found you."
"I-I'm f-fine," Vera managed to say, her fingers finally loosening a bit around her notebook. Seeing the doubtful looks on both girls' faces, Vera managed a small smile and added, "Really, I am."
With the worst having passed, Trucy let out a relieved sigh. Glancing around the area curiously, Trucy asked, "So how did we get seperated, anyway? Things were going so well."
"Oh," Vera said, covering her mouth in surprise. She could feel her face redden again as her mind turned back to her thoughts from only moments ago. Her eyes darted back to the store window momentarily and sheepishly mumbled, "I just got a bit distracted by this store. Everything was so pretty..."
Stepping close to the window, Trucy stared at the display for a moment. "They are pretty," she agreed with a nod. Turning back to Vera, Trucy smiled at her as she spoke again. "Why don't we go inside then?"
"I think that sounds like a great idea," Pearl chimed in cheerfully, her eyes shining. "Those dresses are perfect for a date with your special someone, aren't they? Think about it. The music, the dancing and...him." Pearl's voice trailed off with an appreciative sigh.
Shooting her friend a sideways look, Trucy crossed her arms thoughtfully. "But I don't have a special someone and neither do you. In fact, Vera doesn't either."
"Yes, that's true, I guess," Pearl said, slightly peevishly. She wasn't fond of having her fantasies interrupted. "That doesn't mean we can't think about those kinds of things, though. After all, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before we all find that special someone. Right, Vera?"
Having listened to the conversation with interest, but with only mild understanding, Vera attempted to catch up with her friends. "A... A special someone? What's that?"
"Huh?" Pearl asked, confused by the question. Hesitating, she tried to collect her thoughts so she could think of the best way the concept to Vera. "It's... it's the person you're supposed to be with forever. It's the one you love, but with a love different then you might feel for a parent or sibling."
"So it's a person that you feel that special kind of love for?" Vera asked thoughtfully. She had never heard of such a concept before this. Was this the explanation for that special tie she'd sensed between Phoenix and Iris? Were they each other's special someone?
"Right!" Pearl confirmed happily. "Do you understand then?"
"I-I guess," Vera answered, not actually sure that she did understand. As she followed Pearl and Trucy into the store, she continued to turn the idea over in her mind, surprised that thoughts of Apollo came to her again. Shaking her head firmly in an attempt to clear it, Vera whispered under her breath thoughtfully.
"A special someone...?"