Annie’s voice roused Auggie from his slumber. He’d fallen asleep after Annie had left the car in a parking garage in the airport in Frederick and conveniently found them a silver compact SUV that didn’t scream anything but generic upwardly- mobile family-type.
“We’re coming to a motel.”
“Where are we?”
“And where are we headed?”
“I was thinking Connecticut. Maybe New Hampshire.”
Auggie smiled, his eyes closed, his head resting against the seat. “New England in the fall,” he said. “Aren’t you the romantic?”
“What?” Annie giggled. “I’m thinking in terms of safety and just laying low. Until we know more about what Belenko wants, where he is, and how to take him out of the game, I am not taking any chances.”
Auggie sighed. Everything seemed to weigh so much more, including the air around his shoulders.
“It’s gonna be okay,” Annie said, her hand resting on Auggie’s knee. “So... motel?”
Auggie turned his head in her direction and nodded once. He needed to get in touch with Joan, and he needed to send a message into cyberspace and hope it was read and answered by the one person that might have an upper hand in this whole affair. Then again, it could be a shot in the dark, which was all everything was, really.
“You’re tired.” Annie wasn’t asking.
“No, you’re the one who’s been driving the whole way. You must be exhausted.”
Annie smiled. “No,” she said. “I like driving.”
Auggie sat up a bit. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m okay. Auggie, I didn’t feel... I didn’t have an attack. When we were fighting? I should have needed something, I was pumping adrenaline like a cannon. Do you think...?”
Auggie smiled genuinely. “Annie. I don’t know. I do know I noticed. I was hoping...” Auggie turned towards her. “When we stop running for a while, I’m looking after you. If you’re recovering, Annie, I don’t want you to slip back.” He held his hand out. “Deal?”
Annie could have argued. It would have been pointless and just caused a rift that didn’t need to be, because he would still just do what he was going to do. She slid her hand into his. “Deal,” she said, softly.
Annie pulled the SUV into the motel parking. She grabbed her stuff and met Auggie at the front of the vehicle. In one swift move, Auggie’s hand left the hood of the SUV, was met fluidly by Annie’s hand, and followed her arm up to its familiar place in the narrow spot above her elbow. It was so natural between them, it happened without any conscious effort on either side. They headed to the motel office, where an older couple were watching television and playing a game of cards.
“Hi,” said Annie as they entered, the bell jingling.
“Hello,” said the man, placing his cards down, standing stiffly. “You folks interested in a room?”
“Yes,” Annie responded sweetly. “We’re on our way to Boston. Big John Prine concert, my husband and I are big fans. Decided to splurge a bit.” Annie smiled a toothy grin.
“She’s mostly doing this as a favour to me. I’m a bit nutty when it comes to John Prine,” Auggie said in an equally loveable voice. “We follow him all over.”
“Ha ha, well, yuh. So you want it for the one night?”
“Yes, please,” said Annie. She smiled at Auggie, and fingered a curl of his hair behind his ear, partly for show, partly because she felt the urge.
Auggie gave the information required. James and Patricia Simpson checked into motel number eighteen, and Auggie paid in cash.
“Come on, Jamie,” Annie said, snuggling into Auggie’s side, holding his arm with both her hands. “You two have a good night”
Outside the door, they reverted to sighted guide again to manoeuvre the stairs. They walked down to the last cabin and Annie opened the door, looking inside, stepping in ahead of Auggie. He moved in behind her, listening, waiting for her reaction.
“Two double beds along the right-hand wall,” she said. “Closet on your left. Bathroom at the end of the wall. Far side, there’s a mirror and a dresser and a television. There are two chairs, on your direct right, on either side of the window.”
“Sounds luxurious. I’m glad we sprung for the deluxe cabin.”
“Have a look around. I’ll go bring the car over.”
Auggie heard the door lock after she closed it behind her. She was definitely taking this seriously. He turned, his left hand reaching out to touch the closet door, his cane searching in front of him, though Annie had essentially assured him his path was clear. A blind man’s habit. He found the bathroom, noting there was an actual tub with a shower and not just a stall. Score one point, Annie was a sucker for a bath. He came back out and continued to trail the wall, finding the dresser and the television, an old one with a remote control stuck on the side with Velcro. He arrived at the far wall and met with a bedside table with a lamp on it. He moved around the bed, reaching out and touching the second bed and moving around it, too, where he found a second bedside table with a lamp, which he turned on for Annie’s benefit.. Back to the wall, he found the chair and the window with the drapes pulled across. At the second chair, he stopped, hearing Annie unlocking the door.
“It’s getting chilly,” she said, locking the door behind her.
“I wish I could think of some way we could keep warm,” Auggie said, keeping his face serious. “Nice cover by the way.”
“Knew you could sell it.” She turned to him, having set everything beside the door, and smiled at him. “Then, you can sell anything.”
“I’m just that good,” Auggie said. He could almost hear the smile cross Annie’s face, as she leaned forward and put her hand on his chest. The touch electrified him. The more he was alongside Annie, the more the old feelings of excitement for just doing what they did surfaced. And the fact that they were doing this together, working together, gave him more reason to give her a wicked grin.
“What?” she said, slyly, as if reading his mind.
“We’re good,” he stated.
He wasn’t sure if Annie got what he meant, that whatever they did, they did better as a team, but she stepped forward into his arms and he wrapped them around her, kissing her behind her ear, in her hair, on her neck. She pulled them back, and they met the bed, shrugging off their layers. He was quick at finding all the buttons and zippers to her wardrobe, and in between hers, he quickly worked at his own, needing to be able to make contact with their whole bodies, with no barriers, no walls, no curtains between them. They made love out of passion, out of need, out of desire, out of fear and anxiety, out of adrenaline, out of pure joy of being there, together, safe in each others arms after such a trial. There was no pretense. There were no awkward newbie moments, where things shocked or surprised. There was a true sense of peace and safety and trust as Annie laid against Auggie, his hand constantly trailing up and down her shoulder and her hair.
“I need you, Annie.”
“I know. I won’t let anything happen to you, Auggie.”
“No. I mean--” He moved his left hand over to search for her hand, and instantly he was rewarded as she found his first. He turned his face to her. “I mean, I need you. In my life.”
“You got me in your life,” she said, grinning, not getting how much he meant the words.
“No. I mean... I need you. I don’t want to go back to how it was before. Secrets and anger and... I’ll always be your friend, Annie, but I want that to be the lode stone of what is, well, essentially, us. I want all of it. With you. Well, obviously with you, why would I be telling you this here in bed if I was referring to someone else?”
“This is only the first stop.”
Auggie scrunched up his face at her in bewilderment. “What does that mean?” he asked.
“I mean, we have all the time in the world. I need to gain your trust back in full. There needs to be no suspicion between us.” She rolled over to face him. “I know it now. I need you, too. I need you and you need me. I’ve felt so alone without you in my ear, since I went dark. I felt so alone I didn’t want to reach out. And the more I didn’t reach out, the less I wanted to. It was a vicious circle. If I opened myself back up to you, the whole dam would break loose. I didn’t want to do that to you.”
“What you did was worse.”
“What I did wasn’t a great choice, either.”
“I know. But we already talked about that. It’s okay. I get it, Auggie, because I was the one to push you there.
“Do you remember when I got you to cover for me at the Smithsonian so my niece could have her class tour?”
“Boy oh boy, do I remember? Girl, I had kids using my cane as a light saber, I had several riding on my back, I had one kid who asked me so many questions about saber-tooth tigers and velociraptors I thought I’d need to start referencing Google.”
“You could answer him?” Annie never ceased to be amazed by the font of information that Auggie was.
“Well, up until he asked me if I knew, keeping speed in mind, who would survive an encounter between the two.”
Annie groaned. “Well, anyway, Chloe talked about you for weeks. And Danielle started hinting at me after that. How long I’d worked with you, how smart and fun you were with the kids. The usual big sister stuff. You made an impression on them. You make an impression on everyone. It’s a bit annoying, really.” The teasing was back in her voice.
“What else did she say?” Auggie was interested.
“She said she’d met you after, you know, when I didn’t have my passport in Scotland?”
“Oh, right. The Scotland Passport Ordeal.”
“She said... she said she was excited. Because she had this feeling.”
“A feeling.” Auggie pretended to think about it. “Like, a sister feeling?”
“I don’t know, probably,” Annie laughed, running her fingernail along his bicep absent-mindedly. “She said my voice changed when I talked to you. Or about you. She knew, when I thought I was hiding it from everyone. I couldn’t hide that from her, because she knows me like no-one else. She fought a lot of battles for me.”
“That’s what big siblings do,” Auggie said. “She loves you. This, I know. I heard her voice when I told her we’d lost you.”
“Well,” Annie said, not wanting to think about that part. “I really want her to love me again. But... I trust her more than I do myself. And she knew all about how I felt for you. I wish... I wish I had done things differently.”
Auggie’s fingers were touching her cheek, stroking the hair away from her eyebrow. “We can’t wish that. Because it’s not going to go back to that. We can’t change anything because it might not bring us to here, now. And this is the only here and now I want to be, right here, looking at you.”
Annie smiled. The rubble that had been the wall between them lay crumbled, only needing the broken pieces and dust to be swept away as their bond strengthened once more.
“We’ll get a move on early,” Annie said. “We should just sleep.”
Auggie grinned, stroking the strands of her hair. “Do you want this bed, or the other one?”
Annie turned and flicked off the lamp. “You’re funny, Anderson.”Auggie felt her return to snuggle into his side, and he pulled her close, both hands caressing her back, her shoulder blades. Talking was getting less hard the more they did it. He smiled, kissing the top of her head, wanting to administer affection to her for her sake and his own. Maybe they were figuring this out, after all.