The treatments took their toll. The inotropes, ACE inhibitors, and cardiac glycosides made Annie tired, sick, and not able to care for herself. It was hoped that the coronary arteries were normal and the ventricles were functioning well despite the inflammation of her heart.
Auggie made arrangements for Annie’s personal things to be brought over to his apartment. He was going to look after her properly this time, and she was too weak to fight him on it. She slept much of the day, and Auggie often came home to a quiet apartment. He would remove his shoes after putting his things on the credenza, and he would make his way carefully across the floor to the stairs, ascending them into the soft, sweet air that surrounded her. He could hear her breath, even and calm, and it made everything about his apartment right. The detail in his surroundings that had been missing was the sound of her breath.
Smiling, he moved to his bed, sitting carefully on the edge, sliding his fingers across the sheets, seeking her. His hand touched her arm, outstretched on the mattress, and he followed it up to her shoulder. She was on her side, her knees pulled into her chest, the other arm tucked up against her body. Auggie felt her hair splayed out on the pillow behind her, and his fingers stroked the softness of it.
He heard her breathing change, but she didn’t speak. Auggie smiled. “Hello,” he said, quietly.
“Hi,” she said, the sleep heavy in her voice. “How long have you been here?”
“Just long enough,” he said.
“You were looking at me,” Annie said, “while I slept.”
“Hope you don’t think that’s creepy.”
“From you?” Annie traced his hand with her fingers. He waited for the joke, but nothing came.
“It’s not, is it?” Auggie focused his gaze toward her.
Annie couldn’t answer him directly, because she was caught up in looking at his face, his eyes, his love for her, and even more amazing, his utter care for her so obviously written there.
“Is everything okay?” he asked her, concern lacing his words. She was sitting there so quietly, staring at him, maybe keeping something from him that she didn’t want to share.
Her next words were formed through her radiant smile. “Everything is more than okay. I just woke up to the touch of a sexy blind guy in his bed.” Her grin was evident and catching. He returned it back to her with a chuckle, and then pulled himself back against the headboard, hugging her in under his arm. She draped her arm over his middle and leaned her head against his chest.
“You are going to be okay,” Auggie said to her, his conviction to the statement plain to hear. “And we are going to be okay.”
Auggie laughed out loud. “Now that is a good sign.” He sobered up. “It’s like you had forgotten how to eat. I was worried about you.”
“You gave me my appetite back. In more ways than one.”
Auggie winked at her. “Well, if you want to work one appetite, you’d best fortify yourself with the other.”
“I am. Now what’s say we figure out something to eat and then have a rousing game of chess. Or Braille Monopoly. Or Backgammon. I’ve got ’em all, name your poison.” He heard her laugh. He would never get tired of hearing that sound, here, in his apartment, with just him.
Just him. He had won her favour, in the end. Auggie. Dork, nerd, perpetual ladies’ man, which meant he was never forever one lady’s man. CIA officer. Cad. Blind.
She’d chosen him. She’d chosen to come home with him. To try again. And all because she felt the same amazing connection that he did.
“Well,” Annie said, “that sounds like quite a night.”
“I really know how to live it up,” Auggie said, pulling himself off the bed. “Shall we order in? Or I could run down to the Cantonese take-out. I could make you something, if you’re feeling brave.”
“Did Joan say anything?”
“Joan? Whoa, Annie, let’s get this food thing under control. You don’t need to worry about Joan right now. Okay? Joan is fine. You two can talk when you’re both ready.”
“I wanted to take Belenko down, Auggie. I wanted to fix things. Maybe if I fixed things--”
“Annie? Don’t do this. You don’t need to fix everything. It is not all up to you.”
“I don’t want what happened to them to happen... to you. I don’t want to hear about an explosion in Langley that takes down the people I love. I need to... make sure this doesn’t happen.”
“You did this with Wilcox. And look where that put you. You disappeared from the world. You think it is up to you to protect us. We have other people, Annie, good, trained, skilled operatives. We will get Belenko. And I told you,” Auggie turned to the stairs as he spoke, “the only thing you are allowed to concentrate on fixing is you. I’m not going to let you come to work with me, even in your head.” As he made his way down his stairs, he grinned. “Braille Monopoly, remember?”
Behind him he heard an exasperated sound like laughter and the word groan, and his smile deepened across his whole face. He was not going to let her worry herself to her death. She needed a break and that was the only route Auggie was going to take.
He heard her soft footfalls coming down the stairs and coming close. He faced her direction and gave her what he hoped was an encouraging smile.
“Can we go out? Like, not special, just... out?”
“Of course we can. I guess I can hold the tux this time.”
He felt Annie’s arms loop around him. “I wouldn’t be able to keep my hands off of you if you put that tux on.”
“Well save it for later, then,” Auggie said quickly, and kissed her a few times for good measure.
“I should probably change myself. You are looking pretty fine there.” She adjusted his collar and curled her fingers around the top of his vest.
“Well, I try.”
“I know, you look good enough for the both of us,” Annie giggled.
“Oh, so you were paying attention.”
“I’ve always paid attention to everything about you,” Annie admitted to him.
Auggie narrowed his eyes at her. He was going to say something and then stopped, thinking a moment.
“You don’t have to say it, Auggie.”
“It’s all about now, Annie. No regrets. Just now. Now, go get dressed. We can walk down and see what looks interesting. It’s nice out tonight, not too cold, no wind. A good night for a stroll.”
He listened to Annie retreat to the bedroom where she had hung the clothes he had had brought from her place. He hoped she would take his words seriously and leave the bad guys to Langley.
Fifteen minutes later they were walking out the front door and into the night. Auggie noticed the change in Annie’s body as they walked. Her posture became less slumped, her step became lighter, and every now and then, she would reach up to where he clutched her elbow, and she would pat or squeeze his hand, as if to make sure it was really there. She didn’t talk much, so Auggie worked his magic by making her laugh. If his only job was to make her laugh, he would put his every breath into it, he would give everything else up, and he would be content.
Annie stopped. “Sandwiches.”
“Sandwiches?” Auggie was puzzled. “You buried the lead there.”
“This place makes sandwiches.”
“Oh. And you want sandwiches?”
“I feel like I want sandwiches.”
Auggie shrugged with a well-placed grin. “Then we’ll have sandwiches,” he said, and followed as Annie led him into the little café. They took a booth in the front corner, behind the window, and the young waitress who came with ice water and tea also was able to scrounge up a Braille menu, which pleased Auggie. It didn’t happen in a lot of places, and when Auggie found a place that had one, as well as decent food, he felt compelled to give them his patronage.
Annie watched Auggie, having already decided on her order, as he perused the choices on his menu. His long fingers scanned quickly over the Braille, so deftly, so sensitively. She remembered the times he felt her skin, her features, and her every detail with those fingers in the same way. She had remembered his touch all those months she hid away from him, scared, angry, lost, and it kept her walking, kept her waking, kept her going. She’d been angry, at him, at herself for pushing him so far away. She had pushed him away to save both of their feelings, and everything had gotten worse, more convoluted. It was not supposed to be worse. As she watched his hands, she saw it was simple. Go with the heart. She followed his form up to his face. His head was tilted forward, his eyes closed, as he concentrated on his order. She stilled herself. She had turned him away, this man who had given everything for her, and would keep doing so, and he was still here. She wasn’t foolish enough to make that mistake again.
The server came and took their menus and their orders, and Auggie took a sip of his tea, ready to muse about the surroundings, but Annie spoke.
“I’m calling Danielle. Tomorrow. I’m telling her everything. I mean, everything I can. I’m scared, Auggie. I’ve hurt her. I will hurt her again with this. I can’t not tell her, but I know she won’t speak to me again. She may hang up on me.”
“I’ll talk to her if you want.”
“I don’t think you’re going to fare any better. She has wrath, Auggie. She probably won’t ever let me see the girls again. And all I’ve thought of is them, them and you, and--”
“Hey,” Auggie said, putting his hands, palms up, across the table. “You have me. It’s going to be okay. We’ll get through this one, too. Annie, you need her, especially now. She’ll come around. I’ve seen her up and throw you out of her house in her anger. She loves you Annie, she won’t turn her back on you. You forget that you are all she has for a sister, too. It goes both ways.”
He heard Annie take in a big breath of air and puff it out. “How do you always do that?”
“Have such persuasive pep-talks.”
“I’ve had a few myself.”
She squeezed his hands tighter.
“We’re making it through, Annie. It’ll get easier. Trust me on that one.”
“Did you ever want to give up?”
Auggie knew she meant the time after his injury, when it seemed like his life had ended and he could not find a way to live it in darkness. He hated to bare how scared, how angry, how frustrated, how absolutely terrified he had been those months after.
“But you never did.”
“I did a few times.”
“Drank a lot. Slept a lot. Cried a lot. Stayed in bed, kept myself separated from people I loved. Every day, I figured I would just make it through that day and then maybe off myself tomorrow. I just wanted to see if that day made it any better. After a while, I smartened up. Got myself together a bit, and put myself into the game again. And the days did get better. And the more I opened up to it, the more I learned, which made the next day easier to imagine without the idea of taking myself off the board.”
“And you’re still here.”
“And I’m still here.” Auggie gave her a little smile that travelled up from his mouth to his eyes. How he expressed so much from those eyes that didn’t see, Annie didn’t know; she just knew that everything inside her warmed from it.
“And you’re still here,” Auggie added, and leaned back as he heard the server bring their sandwiches. He could smell the French fries and the freshly toasted bread, the tomatoes and the pepper in a delightful blend of home cooked goodness.
“Sandwich is cut in half, it’s at your nine, and there are fries at your three. The ketchup is in the middle of the table, if you want it. Do you need anything?” Auggie could hear her taking up her utensils, just comfortably giving him the lay-out without any pretention.
Auggie felt the edges of his plate for a napkin, and, finding it, he unfolded it and placed it on his lap. There could never be enough napkins when one was blind.“I have everything I need,” Auggie said simply.