Auggie counted stops as he sat near the front of the bus, in case the driver forgot to alert him when his stop came. He’d come this way before, he wasn’t worried about getting lost. As he got off the bus, he moved out of the way of other pedestrians getting on or off, and then he turned on his phone.
“Hello, Auggie. What is it?”
“Are you at home? Is Arthur there?”
“I am at home, and no, Arthur is still at the office. At least, he said he’s still at the office, and I can only hope he is. Where are you?”
“I’m two streets away.”
“Well, by all means, it’s just me and Mac here hanging out.”
Auggie smiled as he ended the call. He oriented himself in the proper direction and started off down the sidewalk, his nerves tweaked, his emotions deadened, yet heightened, his head obviously too fetched up with thoughts. He had to stop twice and re-orient himself as he went off-kilter, and that didn’t usually happen anymore. He reached the end of the sidewalk under his cane tip and turned ninety degrees, down the street that would take him to the Campbell’s house. He counted driveways and just as he reached their house, he heard Joan call out to him. He walked carefully up her drive and found her walkway and the steps.
“Come on in, Auggie. Someone is up and in a good mood.”
Auggie smiled, smelling freshly washed baby scent all around him. He stepped inside and closed the door, waiting for Joan to touch his hand to guide him to somewhere to sit. She took him to a rather comfortable easy chair, and as soon as he’d folded his cane and set it on his lap, he felt Joan lean close.
“Here. You should probably get to know Auggie, Mac. You’ll want to be connected to the world, and Auggie knows everyone. Auggie? “
Auggie, in a daze of surprise, somehow ended up holding onto the wriggling baby. He turned his face to Mac and smiled. He’d wanted children, but he hadn’t had one in his arms in a long, long time. He couldn’t even remember when it was last he’d held a baby. Was it before he was blind? Had he held any babies without being able to see them? His heart fell a little, until Mac cooed. Auggie grinned. Babies were still babies if you couldn’t see them. They still cooed and squirmed and hiccupped and slept with their fingers curled around your own. They still cried and screamed and laughed and learned, whether you could see them or not. Auggie carefully moved his arms so that the baby lay safely enfolded and then reached up gently with his right hand until it found the top of Mac’s head. He lightly fingered the baby’s soft wispy hair and then brushed the edge of his hand down Mac’s chubby, velvety cheek.
“He’s smiling right at you, Auggie.” Joan said softly, a smile broad in her voice.
“What can I say, I’m a natural,” Auggie said, as seriously as he could. The baby responded with a raspberry, which brought a bright smile to Auggie’s face.
Joan’s laughter quieted into a look of content, seeing her friend and her baby together. She would never actually tell Auggie how much she cared about him. He knew it. He knew she had always been in his corner. She had, when she met Arthur, felt that he had used Auggie poorly in his games of chess. Auggie wasn’t some crazy thrill-seeker. Auggie was a brilliant mind, and an eager body. Joan had seen that from the start. Auggie was a good manipulator, but he was a better secret-keeper. He could fool a lie-detector without fail. And then The Puma happened. And Helen happened. And Natasha happened. And then Iraq happened.
Arthur had felt bad. She knew it, but he couldn’t talk about it. He never really told her anything about how he felt. His attitude toward Auggie afterwards had been stand-offish. Business-like. He didn’t try to understand or know how things were now. He left that to Joan. He had given her the go-ahead to bring Anderson back in as head of her tech-crew. She knew Auggie impressed him, and yet, he’d never really given Auggie the dues that he’d deserved over the past years.
Joan herself had let her own guard down around Auggie. She accepted there was a different way of interacting with him, and she’d become closer to him, even letting her feelings and worries out so he could give her advice. She didn’t have the same relationship with him as with any of her other members of staff. He was her man; he was the one she could always bounce ideas off. He was the one, after reading Annie’s file, she would choose for this team that, if it worked, might be the best thing that came out of the DPD. And it had worked. It had worked in every way possible. Until it stopped working. So many things had broken. She saw the huge distance between Annie and Auggie, who had previously been able to read each other’s minds, they were so in sync. She’d noticed lately that the awkwardness and the gentle dance around each other had diminished ever so slightly. They were both trying. Joan had no time for this. She put them back together, sent them out in the field to see if they still worked together, and results were had. The bad guy talked, Auggie was Annie’s handler again, and they were back on their game.
Except Auggie was sitting here, with her baby in his arms, not knowing what to start with.
“You have a report?” Joan asked, knowing that was a decoy question.
“No.” Auggie stopped. He took a breath and turned his head, his face a puzzle of confusion. “Does any of this make sense? I mean, with Annie?”
“Do you mean Annie, or do you mean with you and Annie?” Joan moved over and sat on the arm of the other chair close by, waving at Mac as he reached out both arms to her.
“Annie, us, I don’t know. It’s like, Henry flipped a switch on her. She was so much different. She laughed and was close and she could be boisterous. And… we were good. We were good and then we weren’t. And I have no idea how that happened. She left. I know I…” Auggie rubbed circles into the chest of Mac’s fuzzy blue onesie. “I messed up. And then, when I was in Hong Kong… we couldn’t talk. Like, at all. She was gone then, I couldn’t find her.”
“You miss her,” Joan said softly.
“How do you really feel, Auggie? I mean, are you being honest with yourself? Especially with this… civilian? And then Hayley?”
“I’m using Hayley—“
“And I agree with that, Auggie. But your intentions truly were unclear to both of them.”
“I was alone.”
Joan leaned over and put her hand on his arm. “What do you truly want?”
“I want Annie.” There was a silence. “But when she came back… I told her we were okay. That we were good. I meant I wanted to start over. I had wanted to say more, I had things to say.” He dropped his head. “There are always things to say. They just never seem to get said.” He brushed the baby’s cheek again, as Mac began to fuss. “She’d already told me that she couldn’t be close to anyone any more. She’d already shaken me off. I had been waiting four months for her to work her stuff out and she came back with that.”
Mac let out a whelp, as if to punctuate Auggie’s frustration. Joan lifted him out of Auggie’s arms and Mac calmed back into a happy gurgling baby. Auggie pulled himself to the edge of the chair and leaned his head into the palms of his hands with his elbows resting on his knees. “I was lonely. I retaliated that same old way as I retaliated against being blind. It didn’t work for me then and it sure hasn’t worked for me now. And now, I don’t know, she’s so far away from me. I have kept all my promises to her, I begged her not to go off the way she did. I backed her and I supported her. And she doesn’t want any emotional attachments. I could almost see her in the dark, Joan. And now,” Auggie shook his head, his mouth a grim line, “I don’t see her at all.”
“I actually agree with you, Auggie. That fire that was in her seems gone. Now it’s a burning drive, without the spark.”
“Yeah. I could feel her looking at me with that spark. Now, I don’t know what I feel. Disappointment? From her, as well as me. Maybe I…” He stood, needing to pace, then feeling awkward because just moving to cross the room involved so many actions. He stopped and turned towards mother and son. “I didn’t over-read her, did I, Joan? I mean, I felt like she meant it. I felt so much from her.” He wasn’t sure what Joan was thinking, how she was reacting to his obvious anxiety. He waited a moment, and then raised his hands in a signal of defeat. “What do I do? I’m having a hard time moving on. I waited for her. I feel like I am still waiting for her.”
“I can’t tell you what Annie’s going to do. I can tell you that I see she is just as conflicted as you are. And I can tell you that she has begun to look you in the face again. And I can tell you that I have seen that same look on her face when she does look at you as she had when she met you. I can’t tell you that it’s going to be okay, Auggie. And time, well, time seems to just keep going without anything getting better, but I think you are doing the right thing by protecting her and us from Hayley, and, if you are serious, ditch the civilian.”
“Already done. She ditched me.” He grinned half-heartedly. “She couldn’t deal with a blind boyfriend, turns out.”
“Uh huh,” Joan said, eyeing him. That was rarely the case; Auggie was more capable than many men with 20/20 vision. “Well, be patient with Annie. I see her coming around. She’s not telling us something, Auggie, and that may be a big part of it.”
Auggie let his cane drop open, carefully retracing his steps back to the entry. Joan followed with the baby bouncing in her arms. She opened the door, putting her hand on his arm.
“Auggie. I’m here for you or Annie any time. Just promise me you won’t do anything rash. Annie is in a precarious place, and we need to be the support team she falls back to when she decides she is not alone.”
Auggie nodded reluctantly, turning and stepping down the stairs. Joan watched him make his way to the end of the drive, find the edge of the curb, and head back up the street. As she listened to the steady rhythm of his cane, she felt sadness. All that Auggie had given to the CIA, everything he had managed to arrange, pull off, and successfully close, had brought him loneliness, exhaustion, and blindness. And yet, he would give more, if it meant keeping Annie safe.