“I have the phone in my hand,” Annie said, and Auggie turned from his position on the couch. He had been leaning on the arm of the chair, the laptop beside him, the Braille display under his right hand, reading an article from a magazine. He thought she’d been sleeping. He sat up.
“I have to call her. I’m going to call her. I’m terrified.”
“Here.” Auggie held out his hand.
“Give the phone to me. Let me call her. You calling her from the dead is probably not the best way to do this. Then, you can take it from there.”
Auggie motioned for her to pass him the phone. From what he knew of Danielle, she was a bit flighty and emotional in comparison to her sister, who kept everything inside until she could talk it out.
“Come on. Give it to me, and then you can’t back down.”
Auggie felt the phone touch the back of his hand, and he flicked the screen and addressed it to call Danielle. He heard Annie turn and pace to the other side of the room. One ring… Annie paced back.
“Maybe she’s not home yet. Maybe she had to pick up the girls.”
Two, three rings. Auggie was trying to decide if he should leave a message to call him back when Danielle picked up.
“Hello?” She sounded puzzled. His name must be on her phone.
“Hi, uh, Danielle. It’s Auggie.” He took a deep breath. He’d been so wrapped up in Annie calling Danielle that he hadn’t even thought of what it was he would say.
“Auggie? Why… why are you calling me?”
“Well, there’s only one way I can say it, which I guess is to just say it. Danielle, are you sitting down?”
“Auggie?” He could hear the anxiety in her voice.
“It’s okay. Just… I need you to stay calm for a minute, okay?”
“Okay? You’re freaking me out a bit here.” She sounded like she was going to cry.
“Okay, well, Danielle. It’s okay. I have someone here that needs to talk to you. And you have to listen to her, please, for at least as long as it takes for her to explain. I need you to give her a chance, Danielle. Okay?”
“Auggie…” Danielle was obviously in tears; somehow, she already knew.
“Its okay, Danielle. I’m passing the phone to her now.” Auggie held out the phone toward Annie, who had stopped pacing and stood at his knees.
She took the phone from him and he waited for her to speak. He gave her a smile and held his hand out again. She took it and took a deep breath.
He could hear Annie’s sister’s voice through the phone. “No, don’t do this. Don’t do this!”
“Danielle, please, listen to me,”
“No, no! You’re dead, Annie. You are not talking to me right now. Put Auggie back on! Put Auggie back on!!” Danielle was in shock, she was panicking.
“Danielle, please, listen to me.” Annie said again, calmly. She was using her skills to talk someone out of a breaking point for her own sister. “I sent you that post card.”
“Annie, I waited for you. You sent me that postcard and I thought you meant you would come. All I had to do was look at the stars and know you were looking at them, too. That we are always sisters. And what the hell is this? Annie! You can’t be alive! You didn’t come home, you didn’t tell me any of this! How could you not tell me? Your own sister! You’re dead, Annie. I cannot do this.” And Auggie heard the phone click in Annie’s hand.
“Shit,” said Annie.
“Call her back. Call her back, Annie, until she answers. She will answer, Annie. She will. It may be a week from now, but don’t stop reaching out to her.” He squeezed her hand. “Call her back.”
He heard her hit the display on the phone and redial her sister. The phone rang and rang until the machine picked up. Annie tried four more times, and then there was a click, but no voice that Auggie could overhear.
“Will you just listen to me? You don’t have to talk. And if you don’t want to talk ever again after this… I’ll understand.”
And Annie started talking. She sat beside Auggie and her words came fast and without emotion, at first. Auggie kept his hand on her knee, his eyes closed, listening to Annie try to make her relationship with her sister a safe place again. As far as he could tell, Annie had her wish, and was allowed to just talk. She didn’t say anything she couldn’t, but she was cryptic enough in sister-talk that she was sure Danielle got it.
Auggie patted her knee and got up to give her the space she needed. Annie was crying now, and Auggie knew they were going to have a rough go of it, but that they couldn’t stop feeling the connection between them. They’d relied on each other for too long to have it end. Danielle might hate Annie for a while, but she was listening.
“Annie?” he said, “I’m going out for a bit.” Auggie pulled on his jacket and shoes.
“Where?” Annie sounded worried. She had reason to be, as CIA agents and Auggie’s old army buddies were picked off left and right.
“I’ll be okay. I’m just going out for a bit, pick something up.”
“Are you going to the office?”
Auggie made a face. “I don’t live at the office, Annie. I’m just going out. You need some space with your sister. And I need to get you the best tub of ice cream I can find for after because you’ll need it. And I hope your sister has some, too. Talk it out. Okay? I’ll be back.”
“Talk. Your sister.” He waved his hand to her to resume her conversation, and retrieved his cane, wallet, keys, and phone. Auggie slid the door open and gave her a wave and a wink as he pulled it shut, and she called out a soft bye. He turned and walked down his hallway, thinking about the way things were going. Annie was wounded and walking. She was strong, he’d known that, and watching her fight back against herself now proved it once again.
Auggie oriented himself at the sidewalk. He’d done the same thing. Everything had told him to sit back and give it up. But after he realized that wouldn’t ever make him happy, he figured forcing himself out of that place couldn’t be any worse.
He continued his walk, listening to sound cues and feeling the cues in the ground under his feet. He travelled across two intersections and counted buildings as he passed them. It had been so long since he could see, he didn’t think about the visual walk at all these days. He was comfortable with who he was, where he was in the world. A lot had changed in the years he had walked this walk, since meeting Annie.
He had not been as comfortable with himself then. He tried to be funny, but the truth was, he’d been scared. Scared to let anyone in, scared of his future, scared to be alone with his blindness. He’d stayed at work working overtime, not that he needed more money; he didn’t need a bigger home or to travel, but he was useful there. He was comfortable there. He was respected there.
He’d been blind for two years. He was still learning. He worked hard to be the best tech operative the CIA had ever seen, because he needed to excel, and so much had been taken from him. Proving himself in every way had been priority. He’d been still hopeful that he could maybe get some of his vision back with the hopeful work being done on stem cells. He’d been hopeful to get back in the field. Dreams dashed one by one. Ladies came and ladies went. None were really equipped to stay with him long term. He met Annie Walker, and she looked past that thing that he’d been trying to get past for two years in everyone else’s eyes. And the next thing he knew, his life changed again. He was in the field again. With Joan’s sanction. And the missions got bigger. He got more used to his life as it became more exciting and louder than the constant darkness he was living with. When he knew it was a dead dream that he would ever see anything again, and he gave Annie his car, he put sight behind him. It was something other people had. He had other talents and gifts and he started to realize that he needed to close the door on sight in order to open other doors.
One of those doors was Annie.
He found the door of the shop he wanted. He could tell it was the place because of the smell; sweet and fragrant. He stepped inside and the bell jingled. He didn’t want to walk in too far, because he knew there were displays everywhere. No-one spoke up.
“Hello?” he called.
“Hi.” A voice to his left.
He turned his body. “Hi. I’d like some flowers. Something to make a girl’s night. And don’t sell me yesterday’s flowers because I can’t see ’em.”
“I’d never do that, sir,” said the voice. “We have some beautiful orchids in.”
Auggie nodded. “Make me something with those.”
“Certainly, Sir.” The lady began moving around the shop, adding flowers to her bouquet as she went, and then she brought it back to Auggie.
“Can I see it?” he asked, his hands out. The women held it out to him and he gently touched the leaves and petals, breathing in the scent. It was a beautiful bouquet, and Auggie nodded with a smile toward the woman. “Thank you,” he said, grateful.
“I’ll wrap it up, then,” she said, and Auggie followed her voice to the counter to pay. His cane touched the counter’s foot, and he stepped up to it, feeling out with his hand. He paid the women and thanked her again, and left the damp, warm shop. He was heading back towards the little grocery store to pick up some ice cream and some wine when someone pushed past him, knocking him off his course and into an iron gate.
“Hey!” he shouted, as the footsteps sped off. People. Rude. Obnoxious. Cruel. He found the edge of the building with his cane and oriented himself again. He’d have a bruise on his hip by the time he got home.
He went to the grocery store, hoping his favourite employee was working this evening. It made life so much easier when someone knew what it was he needed from them. He hated having to ask for help, he hated having to look weak or lost or helpless. There was no two ways about it, Annie gave him ease and freedom and safety without it ever having been a big deal. It never ceased to amaze him how different she was to everyone else. How could Annie have ever thought she wasn’t perfect for him? He struggled through some days, getting frustrated at his limitations, angered by others’ treatment of him, and yet, every moment with Annie was simple. She made it so simple. A touch here, a comment out loud there, a description for everything without it being an obligation, and Annie had made the disability the most normal thing in the world.
He stood at the service desk, but no-one came to him. He turned around, wondering if anyone was even manning the service desk, willing someone to see him. He didn’t want to have to tap his cane loudly and holler. Sometimes that was the only way, and it sure got him attention quickly, but he hated to need to resort to what he thought of as a temper tantrum. If there was any other way to do this, he would gladly just go do it, but blindness just didn’t stop so he could get the impossible accomplished. It never relented, and so he had to work around it.
Just as he was preparing to search the desk for a bell, he heard soft shoes hurry behind him and around the desk.
“Can I help you?”
Auggie took a breath. Be patient. Just like you need from them. “Hi. Yeah, is it possible to have someone get me a bottle of red merlot and a tub of some fancy, overpriced ice-cream, maybe with chocolate in it, or fruit, or whatever women like in it?” He smiled in her direction, hoping his face still read as he intended. He hadn’t looked at himself in the mirror in so long, he wasn’t sure sometimes if he was giving his intended feelings in his expressions. Muscle memory is an amazing thing, however, and he usually didn’t have to think about it too much.
“Uhhhh. Certainly, Sir.” And she called for a stock boy to come, which then left him standing there awkwardly as they waited for someone else to come. He knew she had to stay at the desk, but a quick pop to the back of the store for two items wouldn’t ruin her job. He closed his eyes, leaning against the counter. This was one of those things that made everything so hard. He could, if he could see, just run in, grab the two things, run back out, and be home in a matter of minutes, driving in his Corvette. But instead, he stood waiting for some stock boy to finish loading a shelf and come. Then there would be a five-minute conversation about what it was he wanted, and then they would bring back about twelve items for him to choose. He just wanted to pay, and get back to Annie.
Suddenly, he had a weird feeling. He dropped his head, listening. Nothing. He turned to the female voice behind the counter. “Hey.”
“Is there anyone else here?”
“Right here? No. Just us. And here comes Zach. He’ll get what you need.”
Auggie could actually hear the girl gesturing to Zach, probably pointing and waving her hand in front of her eyes. He plastered a smile on his face and asked again for what he wanted. The stock boy hurried off, and Auggie felt that uncomfortable niggle in his chest again. He swallowed, and began to worry about Annie. Maybe it was something he could sense, hell, he sensed so many weird things when it came to her, it wouldn’t surprise him if he started to sense her emotions from miles away. He grew impatient for Zach to return, but finally, the stock boy came back with a $25 bottle of wine and a medium-sized tub of something called “Mega-Mocha-Loco-Choco” and he quickly paid for it, and tied the bag to the strap of his leather messenger, leaving himself a hand free to use his cane. He had returned to the street, turned, and started back home when his phone rang.
Joan Campbell, it told him.
“Auggie? Where are you?”
“I’m just heading home. Why?”
“Go straight there. I’m worried, Auggie. We’ve lost track of Belenko but… he’s here.”
“I can’t tell you anything more. Just, go home and await my call. Okay? Please, Auggie. I think you might be next.”
“We’ll get him, Auggie.”
Auggie felt dizzy for a minute. He needed to get home. He needed to get to Annie.