Auggie cracked open a beer from the fridge. He'd come home late, and Annie was still not back. He knew she was securing a deal in the guise of a buyer for the Smithsonian but she had been still calling Joan in from New York when Auggie checked out for the night.
He'd debated going to Allen's with Barber, but in the end, he called the car service and went straight home. It wasn't the same as going home alone to his old apartment. It was going home, to wait for Annie to come home to him.
Decker was holding his own. He was lying low, just playing his part, establishing himself as a club member so that suspicion would not be raised. He checked in twice-daily with Auggie, and everything was quiet. Quiet, except for the brawl he'd gotten into the day before. He told Auggie he needed to show his loyalty straight off, in the yard. Now he had a big fat bruise and a black eye and his jaw hurt a bit, but, he told Auggie, he was in, and he'd earned some respect. This would help them in the end.
Auggie walked along the wall to the living room, turning left at the alcove to cross the room. The remote was exactly where it was. He clicked on the television and sat to drink his beer.
Decker getting sucker-punched in the eye was an example of why Auggie had known James was the man for the job. Decker's dedication to his mission was hard fact, and he definitely had no problem looking out for himself. But it didn't make the environment Decker was in any safer. Besides the threat of Belenko, the gang violence and gunrunning was enough to get Decker into trouble.
But for now, it was calm in Corpus Christie, and Decker had three phones and three different numbers by way of contacting Auggie. For starters. Auggie took a swig of beer, focusing on the programme on TV, flipping through until he found something worth paying attention to.
The house felt big without Annie there. Auggie could feel the difference, he could feel the size of the empty house around him. He thought back to Annie's cat, which had gone to California with the Brookses, since they owned her in the first place. The cat had merely taken up residence in Annie's quiet apartment because it was tired of being dressed in clothes and chased around the house but two little girls. A cat would be another life in the house, to make it seem less lonely. And they could leave it safely for a day or two and it wouldn't even care.
Auggie sighed. He clearly was getting carried away. He wasn't someone who wanted or needed a pet. He'd had family animals growing up, but no time for them at all as an adult. They were a pain, a lot of work, and hairballs. And here he was, wondering if chatting with a cat while he waited for Annie to come home would be a good idea.
And yet, if he and Annie had kids... they'd need pets. Kids should have pets; kittens to love, dogs to play with.
Auggie shook his head. He was getting carried away now for certain. He checked his watch. He was hungry, and he wasn't sure if Annie would be back any time soon. He knew she would be tired, she was running an op that had taken longer than the twenty-four hours it was planned. He wondered if she was en route. She usually called him when she was on her way home, and talked to him until the battery on her phone died, or she fell asleep. It had become routine. Auggie always loved those quiet moments between them, they reminded him of how they had really gotten to know one another at the very start of Annie's career with the Agency, when Annie was on an op, sitting, waiting, and Auggie was her link to everything.
Auggie got back up and went back to the kitchen. He hip-checked the edge of the table as he passed it. Still not quite perfect, he thought, but that was how it was. He ran into stuff. He did it a lot. It barely registered with him anymore, but he wanted to make it a rare thing in his own house.
For reasons unknown, Auggie was thinking about Billy's parents. It had frustrated him when Parker had come to him, and not only because just seeing her again set off a heap of emotions he didn't want to dredge up, but because the money that was paid them for their beautiful son's life stopped coming. And while he'd been able to fast forward their compensation before they lost their house, how many more people's families weren't so lucky? It had frustrated him then, and it frustrated him still.
Until he'd gone back to Iraq to face his own dæmons, he'd had a difficult time thinking about his fellow soldiers, about the war, about how they came home, if they came home. He had chosen to move on. And then Billy's parents happened, and then the opportunity to be a Battle Buddy had come up, and somehow, after talking again with his fellow soldiers, and giving his Purple Heart to a child playing soccer, he had started to find it easier to talk to vets about their time away and their return home. Not comfortable by any means, he'd much rather talk about a game of baseball then how sometimes the sound of thunder shifted him back for a tiny moment into a place with voices, hot sand, and the impending feeling of something coming.
He was okay. He'd come home slightly worse for wear, for sure, and had so much to deal with, but he had it good in comparison. There was too much injustice about the business of war. He wondered if there was any way at all he could try to make some of it right for any of the families, like Billy's, that had no son or daughter to thank for their service any longer. If he could get the ball rolling for the compensation for Billy's parents, then why couldn't he try with others? This thought had been flashing at him off and on for a while now. He knew that if he took it to Joan, she would frown at his working out of department, but she would understand his need for it. She would put a word in if she could, but it was not her department, either. He'd have to make the trip downtown. That, in itself, was an ordeal and a half, getting in to talk to anyone that could make any headway. He had his ins, in all truth, but it didn't make the process much easier. And since he had to keep his own job covert, it was a fine line of how much information about his own career he had to draw out.
Auggie put his dishes in the dishwasher and took his beer back to the living room. He switched the channel to the weather and sat back in against the sofa.
His phone rang.
"Incoming call from: Helvetica."
He smiled, feeling more cheerful already. Barber had been right, he mused somewhat dejectedly, Auggie did get cranky when Annie was gone for too long. "Annie," he greeted her happily.
"Hey, Auggie," she said.
"You sound tired."
"I'm more worn out than tired. I've been on the go."
"Are you on the go home?"
Auggie smiled, swinging his hand out to find the sofa again. He settled back with the phone in one hand and his beer in the other.
"I'll be back in DC in about an hour."
"Can I come pick you up?" he asked. When he heard her laugh, he shook his head, making a face. "You know I mean the service," he said.
"I know exactly what you meant, and I'll grab a cab, Auggie. I just want to come home. To you."
"I'm here waiting," Auggie said. "I'll even draw you a bath when you call me when you're in the cab. So save some battery for that."
"Oh, Auggie, you don't even know how fabulous that sounds. I've been doing this wrong the whole time."
"Me, too," Auggie said. "So what did you see?"
"Well, the usual stuff, you know. But there was this wonderful women I saw on the street, she must have been about seventy years old or more. She was pretty striking, actually, she was wearing beautiful colours and her hair wrapped in a bright orange head scarf and she was getting people to join her in dancing."
"She was telling people they don't celebrate the joy that they feel inside. They bury it in tight work spaces and stuffy suits. She wanted everyone to take a moment and forget that stuff and just dance."
"And was there music?"
"Yes, it was coming from a patio, it was pretty catchy."
"And did you dance?"
"I did not," she said, the smile in her voice. "I didn't want to draw attention to myself. But I felt it inside."
Auggie smiled to himself. That in itself told him everything.
They talked for another twenty minutes, until Annie said she would save the last of her battery.
When he hung up, Auggie felt more centred. Annie would be home, and they would be together for the weekend. There would be their Skype calls to Italy in the morning, and according to the weather channel, the weather was supposed to be warm and sunny. He loved to wake up with Annie on the weekends when he could feel the sun pouring in the window on their eastern-facing bedroom, and they could just lie-in and revel in every part of it. So much for wanting to fill his empty weekends with overtime at the office, he chuckled to himself. He surely felt different about weekends now.
Auggie woke to feel the sun warming the room. He had Annie tucked into his chest, and his arm draped over her. He didn't know how they always managed to entwine themselves without getting pinched nerves or aching necks, but when he felt her breath against his neck, he knew she slept as soundly as he did. He dipped his head a little until his lips came in contact with her forehead. He kissed her there, and turned his head a little to rest the side of his face against her hair. He never wanted to move from this spot.
Annie's bladder disagreed. He felt her slowly come up from sleep as she became conscious of her surroundings and of Auggie.
"Good morning," she mumbled, a groggy smile evident.
"Good morning," he whispered into her ear.
"Hmmm, I have to get up," she said, sliding out of his arms and heading to the bathroom. Auggie smiled, thinking about the night before. It was as though they actually could not stop touching each other when they were together, and that didn't take long to escalate when given the right conditions.
Annie returned as Auggie moved to sit on the edge of the bed. She sat beside him and took up his hand.
"I was kinda thinking we could go for a drive today. I know that they're not so much fun for you, but... I just want to go to the beach, Auggie. I need to get away from the city. From land."
Auggie was going to object at first. He hadn't planned on going anywhere, really, and she was right about car-trips, he found them tedious, monotonous, and exclusive. But Annie wanted to get away, he could hear it in her voice. And it wasn't about him now, because he was a partner, and he absolutely needed to learn to give up some of his control.
"I'll tell you what, I'll do whatever you want, as long as you do all the driving, and I get to pick the radio station." He winked at her.
"Then, when we get to the river," Annie said, "we can both dance like that woman in her bright colours."
Auggie laughed. "I will say no more," he said. "Go prepare your Italian," he patted her knee. "I'm getting a shower. You make the coffee, and I'll make the eggs."
"Scrambled?" Annie asked with a grin.
"That's how they all end up, so I'm gonna say yes."
She giggled and kissed him before heading out the door.
Annie had wondered around the house three times with her tablet, showing viewers in three different homes parts of their new house. Auggie almost thought she'd show Violet, too, but she held back. The two Italian girls were told that the house was open to welcome them any time they wanted to come to the U.S. The Americans were told that if they should want a tour of the Smithsonian or the Capital building, they would have both a tour guide and a place to stop over. As they invited them, Auggie imagined people filling his home with voices and laughter. He imagined the chaos of visitors. He'd never done this sort of thing as an adult, but he remembered how it was as a kid, visiting, or more likely, being visited upon. Travelling with five boys was not really something any sane parents would do on a regular basis.
Auggie waved good-bye in the direction of the tablet Annie was holding up, and she ended the call. He sometimes felt frustrated with this Skype method of communication, just because he missed so much. He wanted to see how well the kids looked, he wanted to watch their faces, and though Annie did a hell of a job for him, feeding him visuals both live, and filled in after the calls were finished, he felt like he wasn't able to connect with the younger children at all. Violet was the biggest mystery, he could sometimes hear her noises or cries or giggles, if he was lucky, but if she was sleeping, or stayed quiet, or even cranky, he missed everything. And Alessia. That was a whole other story. The little girl was often overwhelmed with the attention or the excitement over the Skype call that she clammed up, shy and silent. Auggie knew that the way she had communicated with him was not through speaking. It sometimes broke his heart that he couldn't be close to her, to feel her little hands on his arm.
"You miss them as much as I do, don't you?" Annie said, leaning on her hand, her elbow on the back of the sofa.
"Maybe more," he said.
"I don't see why we can't work something in," Annie said.
Auggie smiled at her, holding out his hand. "We'll see them again soon."
She squeezed his fingers. A smile.
"Are you sure we have everything?" Annie said, looking at the car.
"We have as much as we can put in here, Annie." There was not a lot of space in the Corvette, that much he remembered. "You have the picnic stuff, towels, swimsuits, sunscreen? A hat? I don't know, but you're blonde, you need sunscreen. I imagine you're a burner."
"You got that right," she admitted.
"What is it we're doing? I mean, should I wear something else?"
"You look perfect the way you are. It's beautiful out. We can take a stroll, maybe check out the water. Maybe we'll find a lake on the way, take a swim... Maybe we'll find a little fish 'n' chips stand. Or maybe we can climb a hill and find the wind. What you have on is perfect."
Auggie shook his head with a grateful smile. He knew no matter what they did, they would do it together, and it would be completely enjoyable. She just made it so.
"What are you wearing?" he asked, curious, reaching his hand out.
"I have on a sundress. It's yellow."
"Yellow," Auggie said, clearly imagining in his mind's eye as his hand touched her arm, moving up to her shoulder. "Are you wearing sensible shoes?"
"Aug-gieeee," she groaned.
"Annie?" Auggie said, his grin sneaking over his face.
"I'm wearing practical shoes," she admitted to him.
"Let me feel," Auggie said, bending over, his fingers searching for her foot. She put her toes out into his hand. He traced the shoe, a neat little flat with a good bottom on it, and he grinned, standing. "What can I say, I'm impressed."
"You don't think I run around everywhere in heels, do you? I mean, what did you think I had on in Sardinia?"
"Oh, I imagined you wore stilettos everywhere we went," Auggie said. "Didn't you?" He kept his face serious, maybe even puzzled.
"Come on," she said. "You have your phone? Your cane? Sunglasses?"
"Check, check, check. Let's go, go, go," Auggie moved past her, feeling for the door handle of the car. He took off the messenger bag and set it down in the ample foot room of the passenger side and sat down in the low seat.
"Door," Annie said, letting him know to keep everything inside the frame as she shut it.
The drive wasn't as bad as Auggie had worried it would be. The Corvette gave him the feel of the road beneath him, and while his bones didn't appreciate it as much, the rest of him did. He listened to the rumble of the engine for a while, and then he turned on the radio. The wind combed his hair, the sun touched his head, and it wasn't as boring as he'd imagined it. He chalked it up to not being totally enclosed in a car. He could smell the blossoms of the new flowers, the freshly mowed lawns, the fresh of the trees; he could hear the sounds of the tires on the road, the pavement, the chip seal, the patch spots, gravel. Auggie almost wondered if Annie was taking the tactile route to wherever it was they were heading. It sounded too stupid so he didn't frame the thought to ask her.
"There's a blue Camaro coming up behind us, catching up fast. Two racing stripes over the length of it."
Auggie tilted his head, not knowing what to do with that information.
"It's okay," Annie said. "Total civilian. Young guy, I think. Looks like a hot shot."
"Well, show him how a woman drives a Corvette," Auggie said, anticipation building inside.
Annie reached over and patted his chest, and he felt the car increasing in speed over the asphalt. The car moved out to the left, passing. Auggie heard the strange reflection of sound from their own car engine as they passed another car.
"He's pulled out, too, he's passed two cars. He's directly behind us, but he can't pass," Annie sang.
Auggie grinned to himself. He would have been doing the same thing. Annie wasn't driving at a ridiculous speed, they were in a Saturday state of showing off their cars, and Auggie secretly loved it. He was proud of Annie behind the wheel of any car, and if he couldn't be the one behind the wheel any more, then he felt right about being with Annie as she raced the Camaro along the highway.
"We got him," Annie said. He's taking the exit. We win!"
Auggie laughed at her enthusiasm. She slowed the car to a reasonable pace and then she, too, decided at the next exit to leave the highway. The smells in the air increased as they headed back through the side roads.
The sound around Auggie briefly closed in, the sound of the engine reflecting back at him on all sides, and then it was open again.
"Was that an overpass?" Auggie asked.
"You got it," Annie replied, and Auggie grinned. This was getting too easy.
"Shit," Annie said.
"What?" Auggie asked.
"Um... I just kinda went though a red light. And there were cops. And I can see them in the rear view mirror, turning around. Hang on, Hun," she said.
Auggie, puzzled, grabbed onto the inside of the door, unsure what she was going to do. Low to the ground as they were, tight turns were easily manoeuvred, and Annie made one to the right.
"Dirt road," she explained. "They didn't see us turn."
Auggie felt the car slow and then turned again, and Annie then did a U-turn and waited.
"Okay," she said. "I saw them go by out there. We lucked out."
Auggie shook his head, a smile playing on his lips. "Life of crime," Auggie said. "I'm not sure I want my car put into such criminal activities."
Annie's hand was on his cheek, and she kissed him, giggling. "You love this," she said.
"Yeah. I do," Auggie admitted.
They hit the road again, and any time there was something different to see, Auggie knew about it. He knew there was an osprey flying above them in big circles. He knew there was a church with a giant steeple. He knew there were kids eating ice-cream on the sidewalk. He knew there was a house that was painted lilac and purple.
"Auggie, you might not believe me, but it's the truth," Annie said, her voice ringing with laughter. "There was a man walking a goat. It was on a leash!"
"A goat?" Auggie asked.
"A goat!" Annie wailed. "Little nubby horns, beard, hooves, a goat!"
"Was he old or young?" Auggie wanted to know.
"What," Annie said, almost hysterical with laughter. "The goat?"
"No, not the goat!" Auggie said. "Why do I feel like I'm talking to Barber—the man, was the man walking the goat old?"
"He was probably maybe sixty."
"So it's not some trendy thing," Auggie said. "I thought I might be missing something. Well, I guess it's good he's got someone to exercise with. But we are not getting a goat, Annie."
Annie, in reply, snorted in laughter.
Auggie had not ever anticipated this kind of day, not for a long, long time. He'd almost become reclusive; other than spending all his time at work, he stuck pretty close to home otherwise. It just had become habit. But since knowing Annie, he'd gone to baseball games, hit concerts, tried new restaurants, and learned how to enjoy things he'd written off for himself as a blind man. That was one thing that Auggie had always gotten out of dating. A partner took him out of his comfort zone, guided him through the unknown. Annie had always taken this two steps further. Joan had even admitted to him that she'd paired Annie with Auggie to take him out of his comfort zone. She'd seen that his circle of comfort had become painfully small since he'd come back from Iraq, and somehow, Joan had seen Annie as one to break some of that down.
The drive took them along the river and then Annie decided they needed an ice cream.
"I don't do well with ice-cream, Annie," Auggie stated as she pulled in to a lot.
"No worries, Auggie, we'll get yours in a cup, and we'll have heaps of napkins. This place even has a picnic table, so we can sit over there. I can't pass by an ice-cream stand. Besides, they painted this one pink and blue, and you truly do not want to ask me to pass right on by this." The engine roared and then fell silent.
"Oh, no, in that case, I don't dare." Auggie raised his hands in defeat, chuckling, hearing Annie's seatbelt click.
He pulled his cane from his messenger bag and got out of the car. Annie met him immediately and he took her elbow as they walked along the crushed gravel under their feet.
"One step," Annie said, and they stepped up onto the wooden platform in front of the ice-cream stand. Annie read Auggie the list of flavours and they took their time deciding. Annie had a cone, and she took the bowl and spoon for Auggie and they headed over to the picnic table.
Annie placed Auggie's hand on the table and he found his way into the bench seat across from her.
"This is good," Auggie said, appreciative of her suggestion.
"There's always a way around it, Auggie, when there's ice-cream to be eaten."
Auggie laughed. Feeling the ice cream on his tongue, and the sun on his shoulders, and hearing the sounds of the kids and the other customers at the small stand, Auggie once again marvelled at what this woman had done for him.
"So," she said. "I know we agreed to go quietly, and I knew we agreed to keep it small, and I still agree to all that... but I really think we should start planning this wedding."
Ice-cream always comes with a talk, remembered Auggie, smiling at his beautiful fiancé across the table. He prepared himself as well as any good husband-to-be and got ready to start talking.