"I'm really nervous, Auggie," Annie said, brushing her hair for the fifth time.
"Look, Annie, you need to do this. And I'll go with you if you want me to."
"No, I think this one I have to do on my own. But thanks." She stopped, walking over to where he sat on the end of the bed, listening to her get ready.
Annie was going to meet her mother for lunch. It had been a process to get this far.
Danielle had kept it a secret for a long time. But Annie had put off coming to the decision to talk to her mother, to let her know her youngest daughter had not died in a car accident in Germany. She'd let it slide through the long, beautiful weeks she spent with Auggie the previous winter. She'd let it slide after Auggie had proposed, and they started house hunting.
Once the house was in their hands, she put it off by busying herself with the move. But Danielle had other plans. She had pushed Annie to tell her, she had threatened to tell if Annie didn't.
"I think she's been disappointed and lied to enough in her lifetime," Annie had replied.
"This is worse, Annie. She thinks her daughter is dead. No matter how much shock it will be..."
"What am I supposed to tell her?" Annie asked. "I think the shock would kill her. And then how do I explain what I've been doing, where I've been? She's better off not knowing."
"Annie. You know she'll find out. Katia and Chloe can't keep it a secret; she's coming down in three weeks. What if we conference it? I can be the voice of reason."
"You always were," said Annie, bitterly.
"If you don't tell her, I will," replied Danielle. Annie knew that was her trump card. Danielle had kept all Annie's secrets, all of them except three. Those three, two of which were in their school years, she had warned in advanced that she would tell. They had all been things that, in the end, had needed to be told, and Annie had been grateful that her sister broke her trust, after a lengthy time of being angry. This time, no matter who told their mother, it wasn't going to be better.
In the end, Annie knew that she needed Danielle. Her mother wouldn't believe it was her, and Annie needed her own sister to vouch for her life. She agonised about whether she should come clean about her career, about why she had had to hide. She asked Auggie what he thought, and when he told her only she could know if it was right to tell her mother about the CIA, she fell back into the notion that maybe she could just sweep it under the rug. She debated telling her mother that she had been put in a witness protection plan after witnessing a murder, that she'd been living in Vancouver in safety. But she was tired of trying to make up stories to cover stories, and as she didn't have a relationship with her mother to destroy in any case, she figured she would just tell the truth, or at least, a much redacted truth.
So then came the debate on how to do it. Showing up at her mother's house was not something she felt she could do. Calling her out of the blue was out of the question. In the end, she thought about Auggie. He'd helped her call Danielle, and as hard as that had been, it had worked.
"I'll be right here, hand around yours," Auggie had told her. "Whatever you do."
And so, Danielle organised to time to call her mother to talk about her trip to visit them in California. She connected the call to Annie's number as well. Annie had sat, her hand tight in Auggie's, waiting for the phone to ring, and she jumped when it did. He squeezed her hand as she'd put the speaker on.
"Okay, Annie. I'm dialing. It's going to be okay," her sister had told her. "I'm right here."
"So am I," Auggie whispered.
"Hello?" A voice Annie had not heard in years, since she had first come back to DC to work at Langley.
"Hi, Mum," Danielle said.
"Oh, Danielle, darling! I'm just making a list of things to bring. Tell me, do the girls like to shop now?"
"Yes, they sure do, Mum, they would spend me out of house and home, if I let them. Chloe is always heading to the mall with her friends."
"Well, wonderful, I have some gift cards that seem to just sit here and—"
"Mum?" Danielle had interrupted. "Can... Can you sit down?"
"What is it, Dear?"
"Just... sit down for a minute. I want to tell you something."
"You're worrying me, Dani."
"I need to tell you something about Annie."
"Annie? What do you mean?"
"There's really no easy way to tell you."
"Dani? Please just say what you are going to say."
"Mum, Annie's alive."
"She's not dead, Mum. She's here. She's on the line with me right now."
"It's true, Mum," said Annie. "I'm here."
The pause continued and then, "What are you playing at, Danielle? This is a horrible prank to play on your mother!"
"Mum?" said Annie. "She's not lying. I'm alive, and I'm in DC with Auggie."
"Auggie?" Mrs. Walker had met Auggie at Annie's funeral. He'd given her his condolences for her loss, when he'd been introduced by Danielle. She had known Auggie had worked with her daughter, and knew they had been a couple for a while, but she'd never met him until that day. "What are you saying? Why did you put us through this? Danielle? When did you know this? How long?"
Danielle had tried to calm her mother's accusing tones. Annie sat back, feeling like she had failed her family. Danielle couldn't tell her mother, only Annie could tell her mother. So, Danielle gave their mother the reasoning to meet with Annie, to at least hear her out. Annie had decided she'd best let some of the shock wear off and gave her mother a few days. Danielle persuaded her mother to meet Annie, and Annie let her mother name the place and time.
Her mother had agreed to dinner in the city shortly before she was to leave for California. If it all went badly, she could run off to her first-born and see she'd at least raised one properly adjusted daughter.
"It's going to be okay," Auggie said again, hearing her picking up and then putting down what Auggie assumed were pieces of jewellery. Repeatedly. "You look fine," he said.
She turned back again. "You're just saying that," she said. He smiled sheepishly and shrugged one shoulder.
"Look. No matter what happens, Walker, you come back home when it's over, and I'll be here, and everything will be okay." He stood up, reaching up to clutch her shoulder. He wanted to show her how much he loved her and supported her with every measure he could. "I love you, Annie Walker."
He heard her take a breath, steeling her nerve. "That's all I need," she said.
"You probably shouldn't take the Corvette," Auggie said, scrunching his eye.
"Oh, God, no," Annie said. "That's all I need to do, pull in in that cherry ride, hey, Ma, not dead, just a spy!"
Auggie laughed and then became serious again. "It'll be okay. And if it gets bad, treat it like an op. Go in, complete the mission, and get out. Don't let her take you down, okay?"
"Yes, Captain," she said. "Okay. This is it. I guess I'm off."
Auggie walked with her down the stairs and she stopped at the door, turning to him.
"I'll be here," he assured her. "You got me."
She nodded. "If I don't come back—"
"I'll send in an extraction team," Auggie assured her. She leaned in and gave him a peck, squeezed his shoulder, and was out the door, leaving Auggie to wonder with each minute after what could be happening as she met with her mother.
Annie's mother was no monster. He'd known that as long as he'd known Annie, and then Danielle. She had to be some kind of strong, moral woman to raise such strong, capable daughters. He'd known in the brief meeting he'd had with her at the false funeral, that she grieved for her daughter, that her pain had been real. Annie had felt she was the unruly daughter, the black sheep, but Auggie knew that her mother saw things in Annie that made her special to her, just as Danielle was.
Auggie had a deep belief that Annie and her mother would come to some sort of peace. Any mother given a second chance with her daughter would surely not let that slip by. And yet, Auggie found himself checking his watch, pacing away moments, and checking the texts on his phone more times than he would care to reflect on.
He couldn't keep his focus on the television or his computer, so he instead headed to the kitchen to make himself something to eat.
Annie had made so many allowances for him in their home, in their kitchen, he always tried to be grateful for it. Sometimes it was hard, because two people do not always get it right. He'd search for something and it would not be where he thought it was. The next question was, were they out of it, or was it somewhere else? Did a utensil or appliance just get left on the countertop, or was it put back into its proper place? It was frustrating, to say the least, having to look for something that wasn't lost. He tried hard not to take it out on Annie. His resentment was not intended for her. Or at least, he tried not to let it be. She hadn't done this whole thing before. It wasn't her habit. Nor should it be, he thought, but yet, it had to be, for the household to work. He'd caught himself one night only last week becoming annoyed with Annie for putting the ketchup in the cupboard instead of the fridge door. He was angry at her and then he was angry at himself. People did that. Put things in different places. He had to work around it. The world was not catered just to him, he had to remind himself of that sometimes. Give and take. He'd apologised. He told her it would happen again, that she would move something or misplace it, and that he would probably get angry. But that it was never to be the end of the world, they would work it out. It wasn't her fault, it wasn't his fault. A disability had to be accommodated together, and Auggie knew that she was working with him and not against him.
Auggie knew they were lucky. As much as they were up against, they had so many things that no-one else had. They had a bond that spoke louder than the small things, and even louder than the big things. If he couldn't find the pepper, big deal, in the larger scheme. She had eyes. She always could see it almost before he had to ask. And if anyone could diffuse that frustration that built in him so strong, so fast, it was Annie. He always would remember that day they spent in Barcelona when he was jumped and he lost the case. He'd gone into what could only be described as blind panic, not knowing if he would be attacked again, if Annie was being hurt or taken. That, along with his frustration at loosing the case and trying to free his cane from its tangle around the iron rail had overflowed his level of coping.
And then Annie. Cool, gentle Annie, her hands on his face, her forehead on his, as if peering into his eyes, letting him see her calm. It was like a cool rain immediately on his inner anguish, giving him an anchor to hold until the world righted itself. He had had a few moments like that in rehab, like the time he'd walked out into traffic, and never had he had them diffused the way Annie had been able to do it.
So a misplaced bottle of ketchup, or a pair of shoes that only tripped him and didn't injure him, he could let those things go. He could see the bigger picture and he knew that it was the most beautiful thing to behold.
"Text message from: Annie Walker."
Auggie moved to the island and picked up the phone, swiping across it with two fingers and tapping the app twice. Civilian phones didn't need codenames now that they were almost married. He still kept her other phone number listed under Helvetica.
"Messages: Text message: Annie Walker. Seven-twenty-two pm. We are still here."
Well, thought Auggie. They were both still there. Alive. Capable of texting. That seemed positive.
He finished the leftover lasagne Annie had sealed and labelled in a container on the second shelf from the night before. It tasted better the second night, oddly enough, and Auggie contentedly put his dishes into the dishwasher and cleaned up. He wiped the inside of the microwave, knowing the tomato sauce spattered as it heated. He knew it wouldn't be perfect, it couldn't be perfect, but he tried to get as close as he could.
He gathered together the garbage, thinking he may as well do his manly duty, as Annie had suggested to him. He didn't mind the walk down to the end of the gravel driveway and back. They'd already had a paving salesman stop in to ask them if they wanted to get the driveway paved. Apparently it was a rarity to have such an archaic thing as a gravel driveway, and Auggie decided against the upgrade, after consulting with Annie. He liked it the way it was.
He headed down through the trees lining both side of the road. He knew that there was a house through the wooded enclosure on the right side as he was walking down, but he didn't know if it could be seen through the trees.
At the end of the driveway, he placed the bags in the bin on the right hand side. They had been warned about crows and raccoons, so they had put a large wooden box at the end of the road because they couldn't be home to put garbage out directly before a pickup.
A bird flitted along from tree to tree as he walked back towards the house. He smiled. It kind of reminded him of being young, climbing trees, pretending to be invisible to everyone and everything but the birds. He'd liked being in the woods. He'd escaped from his brothers many times in the solitude of the woods in Glencoe. He'd enjoyed the camping part of Eagle Scouts, where they learned to track animals and what berries a person could eat and what they could not. He had excelled in all those skills. Maybe he could figure out what kind of bird that was. If it would sing, he might know.
He reached the house and veered to his left, walking around the small garage. He knew there was some wood there, stacked against the side of the building, with a tarp over it, but he wasn't sure how much, or how it was stacked. He wanted to be able to carry it into the house when it came time for the cooler evenings to creep in. He figured he could probably relocate a good portion of it to somewhere on the verandah on the side of the house so they didn't have to go so far to keep the fire going in that robust little stove. He found the tarp and he leaned his cane against the garage, and then worked on untying the bottom corner.
As he was doing this, he heard thumping footsteps. Not heavy. Just quick. He stopped, cocking his ear. The sound got louder and then it stopped.
"Oh, hey," said a kid's voice. A boy, Auggie presumed.
"You the new owner?"
"Yup. I am." He stuck out his hand and leaned out a little, to invite the kid closer. "Auggie Anderson."
"Auggie?" the kid asked, shaking Auggie's hand. "That's a weird name."
The hand was small. The kid may have been about nine or so.
"I agree," Auggie replied. "What's yours?"
"Toby. Less weird. And where do you come from, Toby?"
"Just over there."
"I saw your car."
"The blue one?" Auggie asked him.
"Yeah. It's pretty cool. Is that a Corvette?"
"Yes. You got it right, that's what it is."
"My Dad likes Corvettes. He saw yours. He said you were either some old guy having a midlife crisis or you were a kid trying to prove himself."
Auggie grinned shaking his head. "And? Which do you think?"
"Well," said the kid. "You don't look that old. I mean, maybe the same age as my Dad. So I don't think you are either."
"Good observations," Auggie said.
"Yeah so I threw my Frisbee in the footpath there, and now it's gone. You didn't see it, did you?"
"I can guarantee you that I did not see it," Auggie replied. "Why would you throw your Frisbee in a footpath? It needs space to fly."
"Yeah, but I'm an only child and I have no-one to catch it," said Toby.
Auggie nodded. "I can see your situation," he said.
"My Frisbee is green. If you see it, can you put it on that rock? I'll keep checking. Maybe if you find it, maybe we could play. Then I'd have somebody to catch it."
"I'm pretty sure I probably can't."
"Sure, it's easy. I can throw real good."
"I'm sure you throw very well, Toby, but I don't see really well. Or, at all, actually. So catching it would be a real show-stopping coincidence."
"What do you mean? Like, you're blind?"
"Bingo! That's it."
"Really?" Auggie could tell the boy had come to stand very close to him, inspecting him for signs of blindness.
"Really," said Auggie.
"So... are you lost? How do you find your way around?" Toby's voice was moving, Auggie could tell he was looking around at the size of the property and driveway.
Auggie laughed. "No, I'm not lost. I know exactly where I am." He turned around and felt along the side of the garage, locating his cane. "And I find my way around with this."
Auggie nodded. "Okay."
"So. You married?" asked Toby, and Auggie broke out in laughter again. Kids. He'd always loved a good old straightforward talk with a kid.
"Getting there. September wedding."
"Nope. Sorry. No kids for you to hang with."
"Darn," said Toby, sounding disappointed. "Do you have any pets? Like a dog or something?"
"Darn. I was gonna ask you if I could walk it."
Auggie knew he was gradually becoming a let-down to the kid's expectations. He waited for the kid to make a connection between him having a Corvette and being blind, but the kid never went that far.
"Sorry, Kid," Auggie said.
"Oh, well. I guess I'm doomed."
Auggie chuckled. "I don't think you're doomed, Toby. You'll just have to go further down the street."
"Yeah, there's a kid, Oliver, who lives a few houses up, on the other side of the rode, but he's not allowed to play on weeknights."
"That's too bad. I feel for ya, Kid."
"Oh, well. I'll keep hoping."
"I'll keep my fingers crossed for you," Auggie said, nodding very seriously at the boy.
"Well. Thanks. See ya!"
And before Auggie knew it, the footsteps carried the kid back from where he came. He shook his head, grinning, and then went back to his task of checking out the wood pile.
About an hour later, Auggie was sitting down with a beer to check his email when there was another text from Annie saying she was coming home. It didn't say what her mood was, or if she had been successful or dutifully dumped by her mother. So Auggie continued to worry, though he tried to tell himself it was foolish.
He heard the car approaching the house and he stood and went to the door. He leaned against the screen door, listening to her turn off the car and climb out. The car horn bleated as she hit the lock button on the key fob. She closed the door, and her heels clipped as she made her way to the stairs. He stepped out, holding out his arms, and she moved directly into them, pressing against his chest. He held her tightly for a moment, and then he wrapped an arm around her and found the door handle, and then walked inside with her tucked against him. They sat down together, and Auggie took up her hands. Her expression would be there for him, as well as in her voice.
"She's not happy."
Auggie tipped his head to the side and narrowed his eyes. "We knew she might not be."
"No, she's not."
Auggie heard the emotion in Annie's voice. He squeezed her hands. "But it's done, Annie. She knows now. It's in her court now. You don't have to have it hanging over you any more."
"I know." She wiped at her eye with the back of her hand, not letting go of Auggie's for a second.
"Is she still invited to the wedding?" Auggie asked, attempting a tiny bit of levity. "Wait, does she know about the wedding?"
Annie sighed. "I told her. I told her everything I could tell her. I told her I'd told Danielle not to say anything. I told her we went away, to get our lives together in order. I... I told her everything I could legitimately tell her."
"And she heard you."
"Yes. I made sure she heard me."
"And?" Auggie was dying to know the full outcome.
"And. She told me she would take everything into consideration. That she feels betrayed all over again. Like I'm my father."
"You're not him."
"In her eyes, I'm just like him."
"Give her time." Auggie let go of one of her hands and pressed it against her cheekbone. "Annie, this is better. It's going to get better. You have Danielle and the girls on your side. She's going down there, you know she's going to rant it out to your sister. And Danielle is going to be on both your sides, because she loves you both. Your mother is simply going to have to accept this, and get back to being your mother, or she'll refuse to see you, in which case, you aren't any worse off than before. Give her a little time, Annie. Let the shock wear off. Her daughter was dead. Now she's not, it turns out she's a spy, and she's getting married to her handler. That's a lot for someone to take in at once."
"Her blind handler at that. We couldn't go any bigger, Annie, for shock value. Let your sister work her family magic. I have a very strong feeling your mother won't turn down her invitation. Even if just to come try and run some of the preparations, just because she needs to control something in your life." And if she does, we'll welcome her."
"We will. Of course. Together, Annie. We're getting married, right?"
"So no matter what, you have me. No matter what. And I stand by you, and your mother will just have to deal with it. Either she wants to see you happy at last, or she wants to be selfish and spiteful. And I don't get that feeling from your mother, I don't. She loves you, Annie."
Annie took up his hand still holding hers and traced around his fingers absent-mindedly as she listened to him speak softly to her.
"And so do I," he said, pulling her close, resting his chin on her head as she tucked in under it. He held her tight, listening and feeling her heart beating. Then he smiled, and kissed her hair. "And I have a request for you. If you happen to see a Frisbee lying around, it belongs to the kid next door, who inevitably will want to play a game with me because we don't have a dog."
There was a pause. And then Annie leaned back, looking at him, her one word coming out in a very puzzled tone.