"Wow," Annie said.
Auggie turned his head, breaking out of sleep. "What?" he mumbled.
"It's like sleeping in a warehouse," Annie said.
"It was a warehouse," Auggie muttered to her, rolling over, draping his arm over her.
"It's bright over the bed. You don't have that thing hanging there. It's sunny."
Auggie smiled. "Woke you up, did it?" he said softly, nuzzling her neck.
"You're right, though. It totally feels strange in here."
They allowed themselves a brief bit of time to just lie there, being in the apartment for the last morning. Auggie's fingers absent-mindedly stroked Annie's shoulder. The calm before the storm, he thought to himself.
"What time is Eric coming?" Annie asked.
"I told him to call before coming. I think he said he'd be here around nine."
"Good," Annie said. "Plenty of time for getting ready and getting something to eat. Don't want to go without some energy."
"Speaking of, is the coffee packed?"
"No. Why don't you go get a shower and I'll make some."
"I think I packed everything."
"Oh, well, that's okay, because I have stuff in my overnight bag. Just a sec, I'll get it." She climbed from the bed and Auggie sat up, listening to her move across the room and returning back to the bed. The sound of a zipper and some rummaging and then Auggie felt a small bottle appear in his hand.
"Shampoo... soap... and a razor. Oh, and your deodorant. And your brush. You are some lucky, Buster, to have such a thoughtful and well-planned woman by your side."
"Don't I believe it," Auggie said, leaning forward, finding her for a kiss.
Decker arrived first, and parked behind the building. He'd picked Danielle up at her hotel and Auggie hoped to hell she'd talked his ear off, because he needed that. Annie greeted Decker with a warm hug, and they all set to work as soon as Eric called and let them know he was on the way. They began taking boxes down to the lobby, and James took some of the easier furniture to manage.
As soon as Eric pulled into the loading zone, he set introductions in motion. Auggie shook hands with Red and Volter as they were introduced to him, and they all started working to get Auggie and Annie moved before the weekend ended.
The process worked well. James and Eric were able to manoeuvre the furniture down the lift and they got as much as they could into the cube van. Eric was a master of space packing, he could look at the area and the objects to go in, and mentally calculate the best way to fit each piece in like a puzzle. Annie commented at one point that had the spy game not worked for him, he could have got a job at a port, packing containers.
Once the van was filled, Decker, Auggie, and Danielle climbed in Annie's car with her, Eric, Red, and Volter took the van, and they all headed across town. Auggie secretly thought how mundane it all was, four spies, a black SUV, a white cube van, and the only bureau they were taking down was a heavy walnut one. He smiled. It was wonderful.
Unloading was a different story. Auggie didn't want to get in the way, so Annie and Danielle started piling the boxes into the alcove near the stairs for him to take upstairs, and they began working in the upstairs bathroom, unpacking the boxes that had been brought the night before.
Auggie could hear the grunts and instructions for moving various pieces into doorways as he carried box after box upstairs. He took the drawers out separately from the bureau and took them up so the piece of furniture would be lighter to carry. He heard them slide his Braille wall art along into the corner, carefully keeping the blanket that protected it tucked over every corner. It comforted him to know it was there in this house. All his things would be there. It would be strange to become accustomed to the house, but such a great comfort in being surrounded by the familiar at the same time.
Eric helped him to pick up the now-empty shell of the bureau and moved backward up the stairs, allowing Auggie to walk facing forward to feel the steps with his toes as they climbed. After they were at the top, it was simply just to be steered along as he carried the load to the bedroom.
"We're getting your stuff, too, right, Annie?" Eric called to her in the next room.
"Yeah, we can go over there and get it tomorrow. I want Auggie's stuff here the most. I haven't got as much, and I/m not as worried about it." Annie appeared in the doorway as they stood in the hall.
"Yeah, but we have the van. We may as well get it all. I mean, assuming you aren't using it there... as a... you know..."
"No," Annie said. "We're cleaning it out. It's just an apartment," she said.
"Well," Eric said, looking around. "You're going to have a lot of empty space without it. Just saying."
"You're right, Eric," Annie said, reaching out and patting him on the arm. "We can use that stuff here. We have more than enough space and who wants a guest room without a bed, right?"
"I don't," Danielle said from the bathroom. "I'm not sleep on your floor when I come."
"Nobody's sleeping on the floor, we'll get the bed and the other stuff from my storage unit."
"We're going to make this place a home," Danielle said. "Not a place you stay. You both need a home to come home to.
"Big sisters," Auggie said with a smile, turning, following the wall to the stairs. Barber was ahead of him, laughing.
"You're in for it, you know, Dude," Eric said over his shoulder.
"Oh, I know," Auggie sighed, resigned to the idea.
The next trip, Eric drove the van and took James, Red, and Volter back to the loft with Annie's keys. Annie and Danielle continued setting up parts of the house they could, moving down to the kitchen to start working on the cupboards and drawers. Annie explained to her sister exactly how to put the plates and bowls away. Danielle admired the shelving, and admitted she wouldn't mind the arrangement in her own kitchen. Annie leaned in, showing her sister a picture on her phone that she'd taken of the cupboards in Auggie's apartment.
"Can we try and get this as close to that as we can?" Auggie heard her say as he made his way back upstairs to hang his clothes and organise his closet, and wait for the van to return. He smiled to himself. She would make sure.
Auggie was just finishing getting his clothes put away in the closet when he heard the van once more unloading and moving heavy object back up onto the verandah and in.
"We left Decker and Volter at the loft. They were taking apart the bed and moving the fridge and stuff," Eric said, pulling in a chair. "They were talking about Warcraft when I left."
Auggie grinned. What he wouldn't pay to listen in on that conversation.
"I will admit I may have prompted it." Eric slid the chair a little so it would be out of the way. "You know... just to get the ball rolling. I hated to see an awkward silence. Poor Decker, he really looked at me with gratitude as I left."
Auggie laughed. "You are torturing the man," he said.
"Aw, Dude can handle it. It's good for him."
Auggie followed Eric back to the door. "Anything I can help with?"
"Uh, no, we got this load, Auggie." Eric climbed into the back of the van. "Oh, wait, here's the bar stools, I'm passing them out to the bottom of the steps, okay?"
"Thanks, got 'em." Auggie said, finding the stools and folding his cane, sticking it in his back pocket and taking the stools to the top of the stairs and then in through the door.
He found the island in the kitchen and slid the stools into their place. He kept one hand on the seat for a moment, his other hand on the island. Annie and Danielle were talking about Danielle's business, which she'd left in the care of her assistant. Auggie listened to their conversation for a minute. Annie was so different than a year ago. But she was so similar to the woman he'd fallen in love with years before, and the easy relationship she was enjoying with her sister right now mirrored the relationship she'd shared with her sister before. He rubbed his finger back and forth on the countertop and then pushed off, heading back along the wall to the front door.
"This isn't gonna fit in this door," Eric was saying. "Hey, Auggie, man, is that patio door wider?"
"You're asking me?" Auggie said.
"Well... uh, yeah. It's kinda your house, Dude, I thought you'd know."
Auggie tried to keep a straight face. He was not sure if he managed, he couldn't see Eric's reaction.
"I'll have a look," said Red, running around to the side of the house.
"They're wider," Auggie said. "It's a double door."
"Ah, I knew you'd know," Eric said, his voice giving away the grin he had tucked away there.
"Yeah!" called Red. "They're double doors!"
"Thanks, Red!" Auggie called, turning.
"No problem," said Red, moving past him down the stairs. Auggie had spoken a few times with Eric's friends. Of the two, the one named Volter was the more approachable one, or at least the one that seemed to have some sort of understanding of the non-gaming and non-superhero world. Auggie had no idea if that was his last name or a nickname, but he did know that he was not going to ask. In the van, Volter and Red had been having a conversation that Auggie struggled to discover if it was about real life or the game. His decision kept swinging as the conversation moved along. He wondered if Eric was holding back on joining in. However, again, Auggie kept quiet. The Red fellow was tall and moved fast. The Volter fellow was a big guy, and could lift pretty much anything. He was not going to risk upsetting the Zelda world they were living in.
"Here, Auggie," said Barber. "These are your trays. They're almost piled on top of each other. Some didn't fit inside the rim. Do you want to take them all?"
"Can I? I mean, are they manageable?" He moved down the steps and put his hand out, stepping forward to Barber's voice.
"I think so," Eric said, holding them out so Auggie could feel to see if he could take them all at once. "You can take them however you want."
Auggie took the trays and turned back to the stairs, again feeling out with his foot. He carefully climbed each step, keeping his hip in a light contact with the railing. The door was propped open, and he moved straight through it, only brushing the door frame with his knuckles. He headed straight down into the kitchen, where he slid the trays onto the counter, and Danielle made room.
"We're hungry," Annie said.
Auggie raised his wrist and popped open his watch, feeling the hands. "Yeah."
"Picnic?" Danielle asked.
Auggie narrowed his eyebrows. "We don't have anything."
"You're kidding me, right?" Danielle asked, touching his arm. "Do you possibly think that a caterer would come to any event where there was no food planned without planning some food?"
Auggie pretended to be chastised. "No," he said, meekly.
"Good. Because I happened to bring a sizeable picnic basket and a cooler. I'll go set something up, and as soon as the van comes back the next time, we'll have a break."
"She's a big sister and a mother, Auggie. I wouldn't mess with her."
Auggie laughed. "Yes, but have you seen Eric eat? And there are two more of them. Did you think of that?"
"Oh, don't you worry," Danielle said, poking him in the chest as she passed.
When the van had returned again with all four men, Danielle had a nice little spread out on a blanket on the verandah. Annie gave Auggie a run-down and then made him a paper plate and gave him a napkin. He sat on the stairs, leaning against the cross-tie of the railing, and listened to his friends. The day was warm, the birds were singing. The sounds of traffic and industry were muffled out by the trees around the property. This wasn't a moment in time. This was how things were going to be. He ate a piece of cheese and leaned his head back, closing his eyes. He heard Annie move beside him, sitting down.
"It's really pretty hard to believe, isn't it?" she said.
"I'm trying," Auggie said. "It's funny how it's as hard to believe something good has happened to you as it is to believe that something bad has happened to you. Some things just take time getting used to." He lifted his head and opened his eyes. "But I couldn't be happier than I am right now."
Annie tucked into his side and he put his arm around her, careful not to upset the paper plate on his knees. "This is it," she said. "After all that crap we endured, it's way easier to know now we are in the right place."
Auggie nodded. "It makes it even more amazing." He turned his head. "Barber?"
"Hey-oh!" Eric replied from up on the verandah.
Auggie couldn't stop the grimace that automatically crossed his face, but as this was not a professional workplace, he let it pass, though he heard Annie laughing. He turned to her and raised his eyebrow, and then turned back to Barber's whereabouts. "How much is left back there? How many more trips?"
"We still have the fridge, the dishwasher, and a couple of the bigger things. All the boxes are here now. Then we can start at Annie's. You guys need a table. Actually, you guys need a barbeque."
Auggie raised his eyebrows and shook his head. "Everything we need and it's a barbeque that you've deemed the most important?"
"Well, yeah, come on, Auggie. Perfect place like this, summer coming up, a verandah. I'm expecting you and Annie to be hosting barbeques all the time, which I will of course, be invited to. Hey, I'll do ya one better, I'll even do the grilling."
"Uh, thanks, Barber," Auggie said.
Auggie was never quite sure how much Barber was pulling his leg, and how many times he actually was serious. At first Barber just seemed to say whatever awkward thought came into his head, but over the years, somehow, thought Auggie, he kind of got the feeling Eric was taking the piss out of him.
They had a pleasant picnic and then got back to work, unloading the van one more time. Chairs, sofas, the television, every piece was moved and carried by the guys and placed near where they were to stay. The house was beginning to sound less hollow, but there was much more to manoeuvre and Auggie was starting to feel overwhelmed at the mess that lay unknown around him. He wasn't sure what he should do; moving around the house was difficult, he didn't want to get in the way, he didn't know how to help.
He was standing by the patio doors, next to the stove, listening to the activity, his hands resting on his cane, when Annie moved close.
"Hey," she said.
"Hey," he said back.
"What a mess," she said.
"I see that," he replied.
"They'll make one more trip and then they'll help us move my stuff. At least then we have enough to put in two bedrooms and two bathrooms."
Auggie already had a sort of lay-out in his head, and when he spoke his ideas to her, she was, as usual, for the most part in total accord with him. There were a few things he acquiesced to, but they'd mostly agreed. Auggie had shaken his head, pursing his lips to cover a smile, as he'd tried to glower at her.
"We can't be this in sync," he'd said.
"We always were this in sync," she'd replied.
There was no denying that.
Now, she put her hand over his and squeezed, holding them there. "We're getting there," she said. "One step at a time. We're doing awesome, just so you know. I didn't think, when we started today, that we were going to get this far. Your nerds may talk in foreign geekspeak but they can move a house like nobody's business."
"Hey, they're not my nerds," Auggie objected. "They're Eric's nerds."
"Yeah," Annie teased, "But Eric is your nerd, so they're yours by default."
"I'd like to offer up some opposition to that."
"But you can't. Face it, Auggie, like I told you before, you, my darling husband-to-be, are the leader of the dork brigade. Smart lot, but very strange."
"But you'll still marry me, even though?"
"I wouldn't have it any other way," Annie said, giving him a kiss.
"Oh, hey, sorry guys," said Barber, not noticing or just embracing and accepting a little PDA by his boss and his fiancé. "I was just wondering, do you want us to take the bed upstairs now and put it together, or after? 'Cause we can do it now, like, Volter said he can put it together no prob."
"Yeah, yeah," Auggie said, waving Eric back. "That's great. I appreciate."
What he wouldn't do to be able to put his own bed together as easily. But he stopped that thought. He wouldn't give the rest of this up to be able to do that. It took time and a little bit of humble gratitude and appreciation for good friends, but he wouldn't give any of it up.
"Come here," Annie said, taking Auggie's hand, and he moved along with her out the double doors onto the verandah. She let him find the railing with the back of his hand holding his cane, and they moved together down the stairs. He let her lead him down the grassy slope that wasn't as steep as he thought it would be and then she stopped, placing his hand up on a tree.
His hand felt the rough, craggy bark. "This is an ash tree," he told her.
"How do you know that so fast?" she asked him, sounding slightly incredulous. "All you did was touch the trunk1"
"Annie, all I ever do is touch stuff to know. Also, was an Eagle Scout, remember? Characteristics of foliage and fauna and all that. An ash tree has this kind of trunk. It's got clefts and it feels like tree scales. Moss sometimes grows from between them. Listen." Auggie pointed a finger upwards. "It's tall, and wide like a tent over us. I can hear the leaves over there, there's a branch that canopies down, isn't there? They do that. You said there's a willow over there somewhere?"
"Yeah, to the left. It drapes down, too."
"Great shade spots for the sunbeaters," Auggie mused to himself.
"There are twigs everywhere under here."
"Yeah, they do that, too," Auggie smiled. He took a deep breath. He felt calm again. And it excited him to think that when he was tense or anxious about work or Annie on a mission, that he could come out here whenever he wanted, and he could listen to these trees above him and know that it would be okay.
After that, Auggie just let everything happen around him. He listened to the banter, he listened to Annie and her sister remember things from different homes they'd moved into, he heard Decker's calm exasperation with Volter, who had decided that James's silence was that of agreement on every subject he brought up. Auggie grinned, noting that the gamer arranged it so that he and Decker carried things in as a team. At one point, James had said, "No, I don't know the game you're talking about," which only incited Volter to give him a complete run-down on it. After that, James went back to being quiet, only giving out instructions when he had to.
At around seven, after a load had been brought from Annie's apartment, which she had pretty much cleaned out and packed up anyway, she and Danielle took her car to go pick up several pizzas. Red and Volter were upstairs putting Annie's bed together in one of the spare rooms.
Auggie had helped them get the refrigerator and the dishwasher into place, though he wasn't certain how much help he'd been. But the kitchen was starting to feel like a kitchen, maybe even like his kitchen. The fridge was humming in the corner, and Barber christened it with a six-pack of beer.
Auggie was heading to the front door again, ready to move some more things out of the way so they could move the long, low credenza from the side wall of the loft to the office. James followed behind and moved to the far end of the piece of furniture. Auggie slid the red chair over and side stepped an end table of Annie's. His foot encountered a small object and he twisted to keep his weight off of it, but his balance shift caused his hip to hit something hard, and Auggie felt himself in slow motion bouncing off of whatever it was and losing his balance altogether. He flung his hands out to grab anything to break his fall or hold him up, but only felt something smack against his forehead as he hit the floor.
His first reaction was to swear, and try to right himself and sit up. He turned, sitting, pulling his knees up as he felt a wet trickle on his eyebrow.
"Shit," he said again, hearing someone scramble over to him.
"Hey, Man, you okay?" It was Eric. "My hand's right out in front of you, Man." Auggie reached up and came in contact with Eric's big hand, and was hauled back up onto his feet.
"Jeez, Auggie, are you all right?" Decker said from somewhere on his left.
"Thanks, Eric," he said, humiliated. No, he wasn't humiliated. He was livid. He did not want to fall on his face in front of Decker. The man was just starting to get that Auggie was no invalid in any sense of the word. He'd started to realise that Auggie was as capable as anyone. But he'd just witnessed blindness at its most humiliating.
"Yeah, you're bleeding, there, Auggie," Barber said. "Should probably patch that up."
Auggie reached up and felt the warm blood running down into his eye. He swore one more time and then felt for a chair. Finding the back of the red chair he'd just moved, he sat.
"Can you get me something to mop this up?" Auggie asked.
"I have a first aid kit in the van," Barber said. "I'll just go grab it."
"No, it's okay, I just need a tissue or something." Auggie was adamant that this was nothing. But he had a burning feeling in that place above his eyebrow, and though he pressed against it, he couldn't find the shut-off valve. He heard Eric hurry out the door and then the sound of the van door slamming and Eric's footsteps thudding back.
Decker said nothing the whole time, but Eric talked enough for all three of them. He sat beside Auggie, whose humiliation kept him silent. "Okay, Dude, I have some antiseptic towels here, I'm just gonna clean you up. You know, this isn't as bad as it looks. It seems to have hit a main; you're bleeding more than you're actually cut, there. Here, hold your finger out. Here's some antiseptic cream. Put it on there. Good. You don't need those good looks anymore anyway, Dude, you got your woman."
Auggie rolled his eyes and quirked his mouth in a slight grimace.
He heard Eric unwrapping something and then another swab at his forehead and Barber put a butterfly closure to keep the cut closed.
"Here, wipe your eye and side of your nose, Man, or Annie will think Decker beat the crap out of you while she was gone."
Auggie was still too angry at himself to laugh. He should have been more careful. He knew this place was a trap of chaos, he knew he wasn't geared to manoeuvre with ease and safety here. Not yet. Probably not for a while. And they'd all seen this massive crash-out. He hadn't had one of these for a long time. He knew Barber had witnessed a few smaller ones, and Barber had learned to ignore and also to prevent in the first place. But he was still Barber's boss. He still wanted to keep some semblance of grace and ability.
"Ah, don't worry about it, Man. You don't think I haven't whacked the hell out of my head on things? I'm like, eight feet tall. Well, no, that's an exaggeration, I lie, I'm actually six-foot-four, but I may as well be eight feet tall sometimes, because I forget that I'm taller than I should be. We all got our crosses to bear. We all run into shit sometimes. I can't help being tall, you can't help being blind. Why don't you go clean yourself up? We'll see if we can't manoeuvre this son-of-a-bitch in there by the time Annie gets back."
Auggie stood, silently thanking Eric, making his way down the hall to the bathroom.
What he heard behind him both irked his pride and touched his heart.
"Poor Auggie," James muttered.
"No, don't worry about him, Man. Dude gets around like he's set with full-body radar. It's just gonna take him a bit to get this place down. Man, I thought I was in for something when I first walked into his office, I didn't know how he was going to be a good boss. He showed me pretty fast. Don't feel sorry for him, Dude. Look around you. Auggie's got it made, Man. You never saw him in his old place, but if you saw him in his natural habitat, as I like to think of it, you know, we all got 'em, if you saw him there, you'd never know Auggie can't see. You'd never guess it. Really. He won't run into things in a few days, he's too stubborn to not have it mapped out to his memory. Really. Trust me on that one. Don't underestimate that man."
Barber. Of all people. Eric Barber was his biggest champion. He finished washing his face and then took a deep breath, and then went back out to put things right.
Annie and Danielle returned shortly, just as the two men had managed to get the large piece of furniture along the wall of the office. The smell of pizzas filled the house when they opened the boxes on the table they had brought from Annie's. Danielle made a path around the table and Annie had just brought in a bunch of napkins with she saw Auggie's forehead.
"Oh God, what happened, Auggie?" she said, peering up at him.
"Little wrestling practise with some of the furniture." He rubbed his knee and then his elbow. "It won."
Annie pressed her hand on his cheek and then she leaned up and kissed him. "I'll kiss it better later," she whispered.
Sometimes, even an accident was fortuitous, thought Auggie with a grin.
"You'd better get some pizza," Annie said, "because Eric is already on his second piece."
"I'm a big boy," said Barber, his mouth full.
They worked for a few hours more, and then they finally admitted exhaustion and got their stuff together to go home. Except Auggie and Annie were home, but they had no amenities set up, so Danielle convinced them to come back to the hotel room with her. Auggie was too tired to argue and all he wanted to do was sleep anyway, so after locking everything up and setting up the plan for the following morning, they drove back to let Decker pick up his car, and then headed back to the hotel in Annie's car.
Auggie took a couple of painkillers for the headache he had swarming behind the cut on his forehead, and passed out in the bed in an adjoining room to Danielle's. Annie stayed next door with Danielle for a while, letting Auggie get some sleep, before she snuck in and tucked herself in beside him. She worried about him, but it would soon all be over, and they could start being comfortable in the house that Annie already had grown to love.