"Annie!" Auggie shouted from the bathroom. He wasn't even sure where in the apartment Annie was, so he went with what worked.
"What?" he heard her from somewhere in the lower level.
"Do we have any more boxes?"
"Yuh, just a sec!"
He waited, searching along the shelves again. He'd miss the pattern of the shelves in this bathroom. Every level was different and yet ordered, he never had to search for anything, ever. There was no clutter; everything had its distinct place. Keeping his life to a bare minimum of junk and knick-knacks and extra things paid off in a new way. Annie had thought it wouldn't take any time at all, because he didn't have scads of things to pack, but she was wrong. The boxes still filled quickly, and they started worrying that they'd run out.
He heard her moving up the stairs and around the boxes he had stacked neatly near the stairs.
"Here are two more medium sized ones. How are you doing?"
"I have no idea anymore."
Annie looked around the bathroom. "It's looking pretty good," she said. "I've got almost everything that can be boxed from the cabinets. Now I'm getting hungry and we have no plates."
"Well, that's easily remedied." He stood up, automatically brushing off his jeans. "I'm ready for a break anyway."
Annie stepped close to him, her voice laced with a laugh as he felt her hands ruffling his hair. "They'll think we've been tumbling around in bed all morning," she told him. He immediately put his own hands through his hair, trying to tame it a little.
"Maybe it's time for a haircut," he mused.
She kissed him in reply and took his hand, and led him around the boxes and down the steps. At the door, she handed him his jacket as he picked up his messenger bag, his cane, and keys.
They walked slowly, enjoying the fresh air and the new leaves on the trees as they passed the green spaces. Auggie didn't care where they were headed, he was just glad to be out of the confusion of the apartment. He knew it would only get worse before it got better, but he was hoping to get through it in one piece. He'd never thought about moving house. He'd dreamed it, for sure, but the actual process of it had not entered his mind. Especially not doing it blind.
Annie stopped, just as his cane hit a stair, and then she stepped up, letting him feel each step she took up. She opened the door and let him through. His cane hit the next door and he found the handle and he pulled it open, letting Annie through this time, taking her elbow again as she passed.
It smelled like toasted bread, onions, fried potatoes, and Auggie's hunger grew. He followed Annie to their usual table and sat down. Two years ago, this lunchtime restaurant didn't have a Braille menu, but Auggie's repeated patronage had brought around some change.
"Hi, Auggie," said the server. "Hi," she turned to Annie, obviously not knowing her name yet.
"Ellen, this is Annie, my fiancé."
"Hi, Annie, I've seen you in here, yeah. Nice to meet you."
"You, too," Annie said.
"You're engaged! Congratulations, guys! Here's your menu, Auggie." Auggie felt her lift his hand and slide the menu under it.
He smiled up at her. "Thanks, El."
"Be back in a bit."
Auggie heard Ellen hurry off and he turned to Annie. "I like to say that," he said.
Annie grinned at him. "What? Fiancé? I can tell."
Auggie laughed, slightly self-consciously. "Obvious, huh?"
"It makes me happy," she said, and she reached over and put her hand over the one he had been using to see if there was a glass of water on the table. He grinned at her. "Now," she said. "Do you know what you want?"
"Don't say me," she added.
"Why would you think I would be so saccharine as to say you," Auggie said, making a face, blowing off that he was about to say he wanted her. Which he had been going to. "I was so not going to say you."
"You know I'm rolling my eyes at you, Anderson."
"I gathered as much," he said, conceding to her.
They ordered and ate slowly, taking their time before heading back to continue the tedious job of packing. Auggie knew he most likely wouldn't be walking down to this eatery anymore, and he kind of missed the place already. It was familiar. He had become very attached to the familiar.
On the way back, Annie jumped in on Auggie's thoughts.
"Overwhelmed?" she asked, concern in her voice.
Auggie tried to give her a smile that said he was fine. She, of course, saw right through it. She reached up and put her hand over the hand at her elbow.
"We'll get through it," she said.
"I know," he said. "It'll be fine. Just a bit daunting."
"Just wait until James comes. He's a sturdy guy, he'll start moving stuff and we'll be left standing without anything left around us."
Auggie smiled again. "It's just the chaos."
"I get it," she said. "I do. I'm going to help you out as much as I can. I won't let you fall down the stairs or over a box of toasters."
"We have plural toasters?" Auggie asked.
Annie gave him the benefit of a chuckle before she again put her hand on his at her elbow. She didn't say anything this time and Auggie knew she understood everything he couldn't express to her. They walked along together, and Auggie thought about how so much of their connection was like his hand on her elbow: not talked about, not marvelled over, just automatic and natural. They didn't have to think about it anymore, it just was.
Auggie felt much more determined once they returned, and he finished the bathroom and started in the closet. Shirt by shirt he folded and boxed, pants, ties, sweaters, socks, and underwear. His suits went into suit bags, and he put his shoes in another box. Each box he labelled in Braille, writing the contents below the label with a Sharpie marker. He was letting himself be a bit lost in his folding and organising, not giving in to thoughts of the weekend ahead, and the mindless activity actually calmed him.
Annie startled him when she spoke, leaning against the wall, watching him for a second.
Auggie grinned and got to his feet, moving to her, his hand outstretched. "Ohmygod, yes." He felt her place the cup into his hand and he sighed audibly.
She sat on the seat along the wall outside the closet. "It looks so strange in here," she mused.
"Sounds strange, too," he added. "Empty." He moved over and sat beside her, putting his hand on her knee.
"I gotta go pick up Danielle," Annie said. "You gonna be okay here?"
"Yup. Go, get your sister." He patted her knee. He knew she was looking forward to seeing Danielle again. The girls had begged their mother to let them come visit Aunt Annie and Uncle Auggie, but Danielle had been tough, knowing they would be bored with the activity and would get in the way, but she'd promised that they would get to come see the new house once their aunt and uncle were settled.
Annie gave Auggie a kiss and pressed her hand on his shoulder before she headed back down. Auggie sat, listening to her get her things and slide the door open.
Uncle Auggie. It made him smile. He hadn't thought about the job of being an uncle very often. He hadn't taken it seriously. It had always warmed Auggie that Annie had such a sweet, close relationship with her nieces. He hadn't done anything more than send a gift and a card for the three nephews and the one niece he had. He'd only met two of them; his oldest brother already had two boys when Auggie was shipped home to his parents after Tikrit. He barely remembered them; that time had been too confusing for him to spend a lot of it with them. He sent them a card and a present at Christmas, and he never forgot their birthdays, making sure a card was picked out for each of the four kids, and run by him to make sure it was right before it was sent out.
Would it have killed him to Skype with them? Here he was, on Skype with children around the world, but his own family, he hid from. It had gotten so easy. At first, he blamed the job. Of course he couldn't tell them about his work, his travels, why he was out of country, why he disappeared for weeks on end. He couldn't take the time off work to visit because he was never off work. He'd never made the time. And then it had become habit, to not go visit. When he did visit, he only stayed a day or two, barely long enough to see anyone. He'd gone home when his first nephew was born, but when the second one came along, Auggie had sent a gift and put the picture he received of the new baby into the mirror along the wall, near where he now had his turntable. The baby had stayed one single frame image of a baby in his memory forever. He'd put all his energies into running around the world, gathering evidence to nab bad guys, and he'd nearly forgotten about the goings on in the Anderson families.
Nearly, until that bomb blast had sent him all the way back to Glencoe, where he'd struggled to come to terms with his new normal, where he'd closed himself off even more, not wanting them to see his pain or his struggles. After he'd gotten his feet back under him, had made his way back to DC, to Langley, to his own life, he continued that dark path of shutting them out. He'd gone back to excusing it on work, on the secret life of a spy. The fact was, that was no longer the reason. Auggie could bullshit about that stuff forever, he was able to deflect and create and distract, and he knew it. Instead, he still wanted to be the son they knew, the brother they beat up and taunted and teased, and he was scared to let them see he wasn't. He still wasn't comfortable interacting with his own family. He knew this was all his own doing. But shutting them out, he'd built a wall so that they couldn't see him. And the less they saw him, the less they were able to get used to his new normal. Even if they'd wanted to, they couldn't get comfortable with the idea because he had never let them. And then he blamed them for being awkward, for the whole thing just feeling staged and wrong and forced, and so the whole circle started again, Auggie stayed away because he didn't want to feel that way.
He finished his coffee and put the cup on the seat, making a mental note to remember to take it downstairs when he went, and then he went back to packing.
The plan had originally been that they would stay overnight here, and Auggie still hoped they would. The furniture wouldn't be going until Saturday and Sunday, and they could clean out a lot of the boxes tonight. Decker had borrowed a half-ton with a cap on it for the evening, and they hoped to make several trips before it got too late. Then, Annie and Auggie could stay in the near empty apartment for one last night. Auggie found the more the apartment sounded empty, the more easily he was able to start releasing it. It started to feel less like his home, and more like a transitional place, and he just wanted to feel comfortable again. He thought if they stayed, and it didn't feel like home, he would be able to come to terms with not being there anymore, and be more focused on where they were going to be. He wasn't sure about the situation Danielle had set up yet, but Annie had mentioned a hotel at the start. If they had their sisterly chats and got very excited about being together, Auggie knew he could be shunted to a hotel room before the two of them even got back to the loft. He was up against two women, two sister-women, and he knew he didn't stand a chance.
Their giggles announced them before they were into the apartment. Auggie readied himself on the back side of the island as the door slid open.
"Hey, Honey!" Annie said.
"Auggie!" Danielle cried out, and he heard her excited hopping from one foot to the other as she moved to him for an embrace. He laughed, holding out his arms. Just like her sister.
She hugged him tightly, and he felt nothing but affection from her. It made him smile, and it made him think again how silly, how stubborn, he had been to put that wall up between him and his own brothers.
"Well, you look a lot better than the last time I saw you," Danielle said. "And congratulations, ohmygod, Auggie, that ring is gorgeous!"
Auggie gave her a cocky grin, shrugging his shoulders. "You want a gorgeous ring, you give the task to the blind man. We know what we want, and we find it."
Danielle giggled. "You did a beautiful job," she said. "It's perfect, you've caught her exactly. You know her pretty well. More than I do, that's for sure."
"No, no, no!" Auggie said. "You, dear Danielle," he began, looping his arm through hers and taking her to sit in the living room chairs, "will be providing me with many stories of the years of history you two share, about our sweet Annie here. I want the juicy stuff. We got all weekend."
Annie stood at the island. "Oh, no, no, no! You both have work to do, Buster, no time for stories."
Auggie felt Danielle lean close so he, too, leaned in, listening.
"Don't worry, Auggie, I have lots of stories, she won't be around all the time," she whispered loudly, and Auggie laughed.
By the time James arrived, the trio was surrounded by boxes and smaller pieces of decor that had come down off the walls. They were hungry, and very grateful that Decker had picked up the pizzas Annie had called in an order for. After introductions, they all sat amongst the boxes in the living room, eating from the pizza boxes and talking plans for the move.
Auggie could tell that James was unused to the laughter and comfortable feeling of family. He understood, having felt the same way for a long time. He knew James had the capacity to become close, he'd heard the stories of Decker's care for the kids he coached. James was acclimatising back to people, to friends, to teamwork. He kept pulling James into the conversation that was mostly monopolised by the females, and when he heard Decker laughing a few times, he smiled to himself, glad. He felt like he needed to make sure things were okay for his friend, having instigated the man's return to his old life, his new life, back in DC. As Annie had told him, Auggie felt responsible for all his friends' well-being, he always had.
"Want any more?" Annie asked Auggie, taking another slice of pizza herself.
"No, thanks," Auggie said, sitting back, taking a drink of beer.
"Yeah, we should start moving stuff," Decker said, getting to his feet, heading to the sink to wash his hands. Auggie did the same.
Decker had parked in the loading area and he took the first boxes down to the truck while Auggie started moving boxes from the apartment to the end of the hall. Annie began carrying boxes and Danielle tracked down stray forgotten items as they moved things out of the way. The truck was filled quickly, and they all climbed into the cab, the sisters in the back.
The first trip to the house to a while, because both Danielle had to go around and have a look at everything with Annie. Decker checked the place out a little and then hurried back to moving the contents of the truck, to be joined soon by Annie and Danielle.
Annie caught her arm around Auggie's waist as she was heading out to the truck. "Okay?" she asked.
"Yeah. Give me a job, Annie; I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do, here." He'd just be in the way, trying to manoeuvre a box, a cane, stairs, unfamiliar terrain all while trying not to impede the others' progress.
"We'll bring the stuff in, and put it..." She looked at James putting a box on the floor to the right of the door, and she touched Auggie's arm, adding, "On the floor. Right here along the wall on the right of the door. You've got it all labelled, you smart planner, you. Why don't you take everything to its destined room? Then we won't have a huge big pile of stuff to deal with later. It'll already be sorted."
"You're a genius," Auggie said, patting her hand. "I got the house covered."
They worked as a team, and then James, Danielle, and Annie got back into the empty truck and headed back to the loft while Auggie continued to sort boxes into rooms. He was beginning to get a feel for the place, and he knew that the next couple of days would be difficult, but he didn't feel overwhelmed anymore. Everything happened in time. They were all there to help, and he would work through it the same way he'd worked through it today. Just like he worked through every day. He knew that thinking ahead to everything at once often brought on a huge bout of anxiety and the actual happening was not half as crazy or as chaotic as he had expected. Especially with Annie at his side. She grounded him nicely to the moment.
The previous owners had had cleaners come in to leave the house spotless for the new buyers. This had been a gift to them, and they both were more than grateful. Kenny had cleaned up from the work they had done, and though the house itself was closing in on a century old, it felt absolutely clean and new.
Auggie was coming back down the stairs from taking boxes to the bathroom when he heard the truck pulling back in. He'd put everything with a label that said bathroom on i in the master bathroom, knowing he didn't have enough of anything to fill two separate ones. He figured Annie and Danielle would sort out the additional stuff while Dani was here, and he was glad to let them do it.
"Hey," Annie said, as they came through the door with another load. "How're ya making out?"
Auggie moved out of their way. "Good, I think. How are we doing?"
"Well," Annie started, sounding less-than-enthusiastic. "It doesn't look like we've moved anything yet back there." She looked around. "Or here. You have everything in the rooms?"
"Yup," Auggie said, moving to the boxes they had newly deposited. "Chop, chop, get a move on," he teased her, his hands sliding over the box he'd located, reading the label on it and picking it up, heading down the hallway, keeping his hand in contact with the wall on the left. They were now halfway to no-where, they had no comfortable home to come or go back to, they were past the point of no return now.
He was in the kitchen when Decker came in, setting his box on the island.
"Here's a beer, Man, think we deserve one now."
Auggie moved to Decker and held out his hand until it came in contact with the bottle. He felt the top and then popped off the cap, putting it on the island.
He sighed, leaning against the island behind him. "So how are you making out?" he said, a laugh on the edge of his voice.
"Well, I think you have the easier of the two jobs," Decker said. "And I now know way more about drapes than I ever dreamed possible."
Auggie laughed out loud. "Aw, come on, James, you must have enjoyed a little of that."
"I had no idea what half of it meant," he said. "I mean, do you know what a swag is?"
Auggie shrugged, trying for serious. "Nope. All I know about are blinds."
He waited. He heard the start of a word, as if Decker had begun his sentence and then realised what Auggie had said. Auggie could not hold his face straight any longer, anticipating the reaction.
"Aw, Jeezus, Auggie."
He chuckled and took another drink of beer, letting his relaxed humour sit with James for a minute.
"Man, your life has sure changed since I knew you," Decker said somberly.
"Mostly for the better, Brother, mostly for the better." He turned and put his bottle on the island, finding the cap and pushing it next to it. James was quiet, contemplating this idea to himself. They heard the women coming into the kitchen and they turned in their direction.
"What's this? Break time?" Annie said, coming over and bumping Auggie with her hip, winking at James. She picked up the beer and took a drink, setting it back down in the same place with a sigh of contentment.
"Is this how it's going to be?" Auggie asked her, finding his bottle easily and taking a swig, as if daring her.
"This is how it's going to be," Annie replied.
"Aw," said Danielle to James. "Aren't they adorable?"
"Ho, yeah," Decker replied. "They're adorable all right."
Auggie smiled. He heard the laugh in his friend's words. "All right, enough of this-" He waved his hand in gesture to all of them. "Whatever this is," he finished. "I have a house to move into."
And so it began again, Auggie taking the delivered items to their respective places, and the other three lugging from the apartment to the truck and the truck to the house. The production lasted until about eleven and they all decided to call the night, so they'd be able to start early the following morning.
"You know Eric's friends?" Decker asked as they headed back to the loft.
"No," said Auggie. "It's gonna be a fun surprise."
"Great," said Annie from the back.
"Oh, now where is your sense of adventure. In fact, I hope your sense of adventure is totally tuned up, because I bet you will be somehow involved in a discussion about role-playing games." He grinned cheekily, and the two women looked at each other and groaned, laughing.
They took Danielle to the hotel where she'd reserved a room. Annie walked her to the front desk to check in and Auggie rested his head against the headrest.
"I appreciate this, Brother," he said.
"Ah, don't mention it, Auggie."
"Well, I couldn't do this without help. I hate to have to put too much on Annie."
"Hey, Man, you can always call on me. Right? Always. Even if I don't know what to do, you can count on me."
They were silent again, waiting for Annie to come back.
"I'm glad you're happy, Auggie," said Decker into the silence.
Auggie turned his head toward him. He smiled at his friend, not knowing if there was light enough to see there in the hotel lot. "I am."
"I... can see that. It makes me glad. I don't really get it, yet, but... I'm trying, Man."
"I know." He paused. "I need you, Decker. I need friends. I need people outside to have a normal life with. I've kinda realised how much I shut myself off in my life, since I joined the Company. I've missed out on a lot. Normal things. Stupid normal things. I want to do them so much, Decker. Like you said, there are things beyond the Company, things I do want to explore, but the best thing is, I can do both. You can do both."
Again, silence, and they heard Annie's footsteps approaching. She climbed in behind them, closing the door. "Home, James," she said.
"You've been waiting to say that all day, haven't you?" Auggie asked her.
"Yeah," she admitted, a grin in her voice.
The room around them was hollow. The ornamentation and wall art had come down, and some was stacked along the wall downstairs. All the clothes were emptied from the closet. Even the bureau sounded hollow, somehow, from where Auggie sat.
"Feels so weird," he mused to Annie, who was brushing her teeth and walking back and forth from the bathroom to the bedroom.
"I know. How are you doing?"
"I cannot wait until it's over."
"I mean, about this place?"
"I've been here a long time."
"I know. A lot has happened here."
"Yeah," Auggie said. "But it's time. I'm ready to move on, Annie. We need a new place for memories together. Somewhere fresh. This place... This place served me, in every way. It was perfect for me. But it's not perfect for us. That house, that's perfect for us. I'm looking forward to this. I can leave this place behind now. It was right for me to be here, it has good bones, it was easy for me to live here after I came back home from Iraq. But now, I can take that a step further. I have another... I have a set of eyes," he smiled at his own correction, "to give me a little help, so I can move forward. I am looking forward to this."
Annie climbed next to him, hugging close to him. "There is one thing I'll miss about this place."
"Yeah, what might that be?" He turned to her, reaching up, trailing his finger along her collar bone.
"I'll miss how hot you look every time I watch you open that loft door," she growled.
He laughed, and he threw her back on the bed. "We can install one in the bedroom," he said, kissing her passionately. This would be their last night in B7. He wanted to go out with a bang and an echo.