“Auggie!” Joan called out as Auggie headed out for the night. He stopped and turned, waiting for her to come towards him.
“How is Annie?”
“She’s...” Auggie’s voice trailed off. “I’m not sure, Joan. I honestly think she’s trying. But--”
“You’re not quite sure.”
Auggie closed his eyes, his face dropping a bit. “I wish I were. I wish I could just believe she’s okay, that she’s gonna be okay. She lied to me so many times, Joan.”
He felt Joan’s hand on his forearm. “You can get through this, Auggie. I’ve been rooting for you two, in case you haven’t noticed.”
“Yeah?” Auggie couldn’t help the smile that brightened his face.
“It’s a hard road. Lord knows Arthur and I have had our own times where I didn’t think we’d make it.”
Auggie grinned, thinking about the little baby that Joan and Arthur cuddled with at home on Sunday mornings, and the late night suppers they shared when one was held up late on an assignment or a mission in need. He knew Joan had fought hard to be at this happy place in her home life. And he knew how much happiness the Campbell house finally had settled upon it, after many a hard fight and nights alone by its occupants. It inspired him because he knew he and Annie had so much less to deal with that Joan and Arthur had, in so many ways. And Joan and Arthur and little Mack were winning the ever-ongoing fight that wanted to tear them apart. Not just winning, they were kicking some butt together as a team. Auggie loved that about his mentors. And he planned on doing the same, if only Annie would come back to him.
“You just need to keep wanting it. If you stop wanting it, if you stop loving her, if she stops loving you, then you have nowhere to go.”
“I will never stop loving her,” Auggie said quietly, adamantly. “I just can’t know if she feels the same.”
“I think she’s working that out. I hope she is. How about her condition?”
“She has another appointment on Monday, and I intend on finding out exactly what is going on and what can be done. Sometimes, things can be fixed.” Sometimes, some things can’t be fixed.
Joan, who had kept her fingers around Auggie’s forearm, gave it another squeeze and let go.
“There are a lot of new procedures, and she hasn’t been to a US doctor. There may be something new to try. And Auggie, let me know, please. If there’s anything I can do to help, call me.”
Auggie listened to Joan’s heels retreat and he turned back to the door out of the department. He had to stop for some things for Annie. She was sleeping at his place, having taken time off after Belenko had fled the scene of his latest crimes. She wasn’t tired, she’d said, but when he talked to her at noon, she had slept the whole morning away and was watching TV mindlessly.
“What do you need?”
“I can get it, Auggie.”
“You can, but you’re not going to, because I am. Now what do you need? I imagine you are still wearing my T-shirt and PJ bottoms, and you’ve probably put your hair all messy in a ponytail... You’re not fit to be wandering around out there. Relax, okay? Now. What. Do. You. Need?”
He stopped at the pharmacy. There was an older women working at the first counter, and he gave her a winning smile.
“Hi. I need some help, here.”
“Of course. What can I get for you?”
“I need to pick a few things up for a friend, and, uh.” Auggie stopped. He normally would have the clerk take him around and let him choose and feel the items he was looking for, but he was tired and he knew that Annie wasn’t picky tonight, and this sales assistant was probably more in-the-know anyway as to what Annie might need. He told her a general list, including shampoo and conditioner and deodorant. She rang him through cash and he thanked her for her help. Then he took a breath and continued on his mission.
He walked the block and a half to pick up some bananas, peaches, granola bars, and a healthy bottle of peanut butter. Annie wasn’t eating well, and she only picked at the food when she got it, so Auggie wanted to make sure there were some high-energy foods and some protein for her to snack on. His plan tonight was to order that pizza and watch a movie, and let Annie just be there, without any requirement from her. If she wanted to talk, that was good, and if not, that was okay. As long as she stayed. As long as she didn’t run.
That was another fear as Auggie left the small grocery store with yet another bag: that Annie would not be at his apartment when he came home. It was a bigger fear than he could even admit to himself, because there was such a great chance that it would be the case. He stepped along the sidewalk, the bags clutched in one hand, his cane swinging in his other.
As he reached the end of the block, a hand grabbed his arm.
“Hey, man, careful! You need some help?”
Auggie shook off the man’s hand. “No. I’m fine.” He was used to this happening every now and then, and it still jarred him every time. Someone grabbing you in the dark wasn’t something one expected.
“You’re at the street.”
“I know.” Auggie felt the frustration in his voice. “I’m okay.”
“Okay.” The man didn’t move. Auggie knew he now had an audience watch him as he waited for the audio alert to cross the street. If he messed up, he’d perpetuate the idea that a blind person was too inept to cross a road on their own. He had to prove it now to this curious bystander. He turned ninety degrees and stepped forward to the cut-out, feeling the edge with his cane. He took two steps back and reached out to the button for the cross-walk, which made a clicking sound to guide him. He found it and pushed it, stepping back to the curb. So far, straight forward. He could do this all the time without thinking about it, but as soon as he knew there was a doubter watching, he became self-conscious and more likely to make a mistake. He shook that thought out of his mind and waited for the alert to sound from the other side, keeping his direction right as he crossed. As his cane met the curb on the other side, he grinned to himself, and headed straight forward along his route. He wanted badly to yell, “Thanks, though!” to the faceless do-gooder, but he kept his comments inside. He heard people shuffling to get out of the way of his cane, terrified that he might hit them and they would therefore become visible to him. So many people took advantage of their notion that if they were mostly quiet, Auggie would not know of their existence. Auggie shook his head at many of them, who snuck around, thinking they were invisible. Stupid people. They were scared of his disability so they dealt with it by pretending he didn’t exist and then they didn’t have to deal with it.
He reached his building, hoping without admitting to it that Annie was inside. As he made his way down his hallway, he thought he could hear a television inside. He put the bags down and held the cane to his chest as he found the keyhole with his fingers and slid the key in. He picked up the bags and slid the door open, dropping them inside and pulling the door shut.
“Annie?” he called.
“I’m here,” she replied, as she moved toward him. He felt her hand close around his bicep as a welcome.
Well, that was a different greeting than Tash’s.
“Hi,” he said, his voice soft and light.
“How was everything?”
“Good. It’s all calm right now. Belenko’s underground, and we can’t do anything until we have him back on radar. Joan’s got a team working around the clock.”
“I talked to her today.”
Auggie folded his cane and put it on the credenza. He went back to the door and found the bags, taking them to the island. “You did? When?” He didn’t want to rush her or force her to tell him things. He preferred to let her open to him, now that he had prompted her to start, easing her along. It was almost just like turning an asset, except he felt his life with her was in far more jeopardy than when he was trying to turn someone to come in to Langley.
“On the phone. She wanted to come see me. I didn’t think that was right, this being your place, and all.”
“I wouldn’t have minded.”
“I guess I just wanted an excuse.”
Auggie stopped removing things from the bags. “An excuse for what?”
“Hiding. Joan doesn’t trust me--”
“Joan has your back, Annie. She always has your back. You don’t even know all the times. She has gone up hard against Arthur for you, Annie. All those times when he used you for his purposes within the agency, Joan defended you, Joan held her ground for you. You do not need to hide from her. She’s not after you, Annie. We all want you to be okay. Because as an operative, you are unparalleled. The CIA needs you, Annie. We all do. You need to get yourself okay, so you can do your magic. Now.” He changed topics. “I brought you some stuff here. Use what you want, if there’s anything else, let me know.”
He finally let out that breath he had been holding inside since he left work. “Any time, Walker.” Everything about her was what he needed. He needed her. He’d admitted it rarely to anyone, and he’d admitted it to himself first and then to her. And then they both forgot. The crap that people gave him out in the world, the roadblocks they set up for him, the pity and condescending behaviour they poured in his direction hit him every day, and not one part of that was Annie. He needed her for all different reasons, and very few of them were because he was blind. And yet, all the reasons she gave him to need her included her assessment and treatment of him. He would never be able to tell her how much it meant to him. And he didn’t have to, but he would, when the time was right. He would say all the things he needed to when the time was right. Some of those things had been started, and he was damned this time not to say them all. And this time, she seemed willing to just wait and listen. As long as she stayed. He needed her to stay.
He heard her moving the stuff, presumably picking it up and looking through things. He leaned both hands on the countertop and scrunched up his face in that nerdy way he knew would get her to laugh.
“I need pizza and mindless movies. Pronto. All this other shit can wait until we have some down time.” It worked and he heard her giggle. He moved around the counter with his hand extended, searching her out. He touched her arm and moved his hand up to her shoulder and then to her cheek. He felt her respond. She leaned in and clutched at his hand with her own. She wasn’t ready to release herself yet, but she was becoming less aloof to him now. She was starting to let him back in.
“You call in the pizza. I’m gonna take a shower and then I’m gonna come out and show you what a neck massage feels like when it’s done right.” He started across the room to the stairs.
“Auggie,” she laughed, “You don’t have to do that.”
“What?” He pretended to look surprised. “I think I do.”
“You spoil me,” she said softly.“Someone has to,” he replied in the same tone. Then he turned and felt for the railing, heading to clean up and put on something comfortable to relax in. He knew Annie couldn’t see the smile that crept onto his face as he climbed the stairs, but tonight, even though he would not be making love to her, and maybe not tomorrow or the next day after that, he felt like everything he wanted was right where it was supposed to be.