"That wasn't so bad," Annie said, taking the tea mugs to the kitchen, while Auggie chose some music to go with their delayed lunch. "What on earth did you do?"
Auggie feigned ignorance, shrugging as his fingers traced along the record albums.
He heard her walking back and he turned as her arms encircled his waist. He wrapped his own around her, and rubbed her back.
"You did something," Annie accused him, gratefully.
"I just told her how it is."
"Uh-huh. Well, I'll tell you, Auggie, she didn't take her eyes off of us the whole time. When we were putting the stuff away? I think she was cataloguing every move we made."
"Well, it's darn good we work so well together, right? No faults, there!"
"We do," Annie said, happily. She had seen her mother watching Auggie, watching how they interacted, how they put the things away and made their home workable for the two of them. She was proud of how she and Auggie impressed her mother. She knew they had. She had watched as her mother accepted each moment a little more, understanding where Annie was in her life, where she was in Auggie's life. Annie left it to her to understand where Annie was in her mother's life.
The whole thing had been so awkward and yet, when it was over, and Annie's mother nervously hugged her daughter and her future son-in-law at the doorway, every one of them felt good about the way things had turned out. There was a lot more work to it this way; that was why it was called working it out.
Auggie took her hand and led her to the kitchen island to finally have their lunch. "She loves you, Annie. She loves you a lot. She worries about you. You give her good reason, you know. I think you always have. She doesn't want to lose you. And she did. It's gonna take some time."
"I don't think she'll ever trust me again."
"Give her time. You'd be surprised what people are capable of."
"I'm never surprised at what you are capable of. You can win anyone over."
"Ah, I should have been a diplomat," Auggie said.
"How many assets did you turn with that charm?" Annie said.
Auggie just smiled and winked at her.
They ate in silence for a while and then Annie sighed. "I'm really glad that's over," she admitted. "Thank you for pushing the issue."
"That's one of my jobs," Auggie said.
"You have a lot of jobs," Annie teased him.
"I'm a busy guy," Auggie replied.
Auggie was not progressing towards the gym the way he wanted to be. They were renovating the hallways in parts of the building once again. He'd happened upon sawhorse roadblocks, plastic sheeting, staging, and various other unknown entities. Shortcuts turned into scenic routes without the scenery. Any sign indicating whether to pass or not were irrelevant. He was without a clue at one point how he should proceed when someone gave him an arm and put him back on track. Langley was supposed to be his territory, and yet, another renovation to the old building threw him well off his game, and he didn't like it one bit. He didn't trust the laser cane to give him the tactile warnings he needed to be sure of his own safety in the nightmare that was Langley Under Renovation. When he finally made it to the gym, he was mentally exhausted from the entire journey and had to sit on a bench in the tiny locker room for a moment, gathering his wits. The punching bag took an extra hard beating shortly thereafter.
Auggie was grateful when a one of his colleagues offered to walk with him back up through the maze of uncertainty. He was feeling less than enthusiastic about his day the longer it dragged on. When he got back to the DPD, Joan called him into her office. He stopped at his office to drop off his bag and trade canes, and then he walked the route to Joan's office, wondering if Annie was already to London on her latest mission for Joan.
She'd left early that morning, and Auggie had gotten up with her. He made her coffee and toast and, half asleep, sent her off to catch the five-thirty plane. He missed her the moment the cab pulled out of the driveway. It did not escape him that he missed her, nor that he had never felt this way about anyone that left his bed at four in the morning. The space on her side of the bed seemed almost to roar at him like a vacuum.
He also had to admit, but to himself, not to Eric Barber, that Barber was right. He was crankier when Annie was out of country. He checked his attitude as he stood in front of Joan's desk. He knew she could read his face if he showed any slightest annoyance.
"I need you to go through the servers today," Joan was telling him. "Email addresses are being compromised again, and I don't want mine to end up on WikiLeaks. Is there anything you can do to give us double encryption until we can catch who's doing it this time?"
Auggie inwardly groaned. He was feeling twitchy and stifled today for some reason, and the idea of sitting in front of his computer keyboard, encrypting emails and tracking foreign online traffic was a tedious job for his mind when his body wanted to move. However, tech skills were his forté, and his claim to fame, so he took the job and headed back to his desk, hoping someone would be around with a coffee order very soon.
Deep in concentration, Auggie sipped his coffee, listening to his headset and reading the Braille display. He'd been working for hours when his phone rang.
"Anderson," he said, stretching his free hand.
"Is this the sexy Anderson who helps me fix my office computer when it goes on the fritz?"
Auggie lit up at the sound of Annie's voice. "Walker! I take it you're in London?"
"Just landed. Wanted to hear your voice."
"I was thinking the same thing," Auggie said, a smile from pure happiness on his face. He slid his hand along in front of his keyboard display, locating his stress ball. His hands took twice as much stress as everyone else's, and he felt it.
"I might do some window shopping," Annie said. "While I'm waiting around for this."
"Window shopping? Anything in specific you're looking for?"
"There could be something I need for an upcoming event."
"Well, when you find it, you'll know. Don't worry about it. Whatever you choose will be perfect to me. They all look the same."
Annie laughed. "You certainly put that into perspective," she said.
"Just trying to make it easier for you. I mean it, Annie. I know you want the perfect dress and you want a bit of fairy tale, but I don't care what you're wearing when you say your vows with me. I just need to feel you there beside me and I'm the proudest, happiest man in the world. But I know it's important to you. Do what feels right."
"You just don't want to get between a woman and her perfect wedding dress," she said.
"Oh, yes I do," he deadpanned.
"I love you," Annie said.
"Back at you, Annie Walker."
"I'll call you later," Annie said and Auggie hung up feeling much less tense than he had all morning. She did that for him. It was about time he married her.
Joan checked in with him twice more. Eric Barber brought him his lunch order and reminded him twice to eat it. He'd remembered what it was like before Annie had come to work with him. He worked. That was what he could do, and he did it to perfection. To distraction. His life outside work suffered but he built up his pride and self-confidence within the walls of Langley.
Now, Annie had given him pride and self-confidence outside those same walls. He was letting himself take on more of that life and he was letting himself enjoy it. He looked forward to things, he took joy in going places with her. Even the barbecue that Eric had given them was being used, and Auggie couldn't remember if there had ever been a time where he'd just entertained guests for the enjoyment of it. He'd always gone out with people for drinks. It was all so impersonal. He'd been impersonal.
"Hey," a voice filtered through the words on the computer screen in his ears. Auggie pulled the headset down and turned to the door.
"Yo," he said, waiting.
"Auggie? You heading out soon?"
"Yeah, I am, actually. I've about finished here."
"How about a run?"
"You mentioned to me before about wanting to try this tether thing. I'd like to try it. I need to burn off some steam and you look like you could use it, too."
"Yeah, really, why, you think I'm not serious?"
"No... uh, sorry, yeah, that sounds great." Auggie was impressed at his friend's growing adaptation to him, and even more so when the other man stepped over, took up Auggie's hand, and put a soft cord into it.
"Well, come on, then, shut 'er down and let's head out. We can go from your place; I have my gear in the car."
Standing out on the sidewalk in Auggie's subdivision, the two friends worked at trying to figure out how to best get a stride going. Auggie's stride was longer, but James's was faster, and it about evened up. However, the tether did not keep Auggie from pulling away from Decker, or bumping into him, and once, he stumbled right off the curb and skinned his knees. James had to straighten him out by shortening the line between them and keeping the backs of their hands actually touching as they each held the cord wrapped around their palms, moving their arms together as they set their stride.
It wasn't easy. Auggie worried about dips and potholes in the pavement, and though James made sure Auggie was protected from any traffic, Auggie still tensed up when a car passed them. He knew they couldn't run on the sidewalks, with the graded dips for the driveways that would throw him off in their unevenness, but the street still seemed far from adequate for their needs.
"Maybe we can find a track or a trail or something," puffed Decker, trying to keep in sync with Auggie and look out for anything that might trip him up. "Sustained running... I'm getting way too out of shape... unless I'm being chased by someone with a gun."
Auggie laughed but said nothing. He listened to their feet hitting the ground in unison, felt the contact with the ground, his heart pumping in his chest, his breath sweeping in and out of his lungs in rhythm with the pounding of his sneakers on the street. It wasn't the same, it was never the same. But this felt good. He wasn't sitting still, he wasn't being cautious, and he wasn't holding back. It was the same feeling that came out of it. The exhaustion that had threatened to slow him up was filtered down and swallowed up by the feeling of movement and strength and freedom. He wasn't tagging onto someone and stumbling for a foothold, he was in charge of his pace and he was safe from impediment. If this was how running would have to be, Auggie was okay with it.
They slowed up and Auggie asked for their bearings as they bent over, catching their breaths, their hands on their knees. Auggie made a little circle, keeping close to Decker, but still moving. Decker kept an eye on him just to make sure he didn't go off the curb again or into the stop sign they were close to.
"You ready to go back?" Decker asked.
"Yeah. I'm beat already. We're gonna need some work here," Auggie said, holding out his hand for the tether.
Decker grinned at his friend and then laughed, stepping over and placing the end of the cord in Auggie's outstretched hand.
"I'm definitely gonna need a beer when we get back," he said, and Auggie agreed wholeheartedly as they readied themselves and started off slowly back home, picking up their pace as they fell back into their stride.
It was two in the morning on Sunday. Annie was on her way to the U.S. again, and, as was their usual habit, Auggie was talking her home.
"I'm practicing for the five K," Auggie said.
"What? What five K?"
Auggie let her think on that for a second and he grinned when she figured out what he meant. "You were running with James?" she asked eagerly.
"We tried it. We had a few incidents. I don't do anything without a few incidents. But all in all, Walker, I think your suggestion was pretty dead on. We're a good running match."
"He seemed okay with it. He's less weird about me now, Annie. I can't say that I'm not relieved about that. I really knocked him on his ass with that one."
"Yeah, well, anyone can see you're quite okay."
"Well, not me," Auggie said.
"So? Are you dying to tell me about a dress or what?"
"I might be. I might just be bluffing, too."
"Always the bluffer," Auggie mumbled. "I can't wait for you to be back here beside me. This bed is huge, the other side is wayyyy the hell over there."
"I'll be there soon. We can have a nice breakfast in bed. I think I have another three hours to go."
"Call me when you land," Auggie said.
"I'll do better. You'll wake up with my arms around you."
As true as her word, Annie was there beside Auggie when he woke up. He'd only half-woken when she'd slipped into bed, so comfortable was he with her presence. He pulled her close the second time he awoke and kissed her hair, her cheek, her ear, her mouth.
"Shall we have breakfast in bed," he whispered, "or should we have dessert first?"
He heard her giggle sleepily. "You know how much I love dessert," she murmured, turning toward him.
"Ahhh, that smells so good, Walker. When did you learn how to make food smell good?" Auggie sat up, feeling the tray Annie was setting down beside him and then the bed as it depressed when she sat down.
"Watch it, Buddy," she said. "My domestic skills can turn off and on to suit." She pulled herself onto the bed and close to him, reaching to the tray. "Strawberry coming," she said. "Hulled to perfection."
Auggie wouldn't have let anyone feed him anything before Annie. He wouldn't trust anyone to do something like that. But Annie, Annie took the stickers off the apples, took the stems off the strawberries, and never held out a portion too big. It took him a while to succumb to her offer, feeling embarrassed to make a fool of himself in front of her, only to realise that he couldn't. She never saw him that way.
"I got you a present," Annie said.
"You did?" Auggie said, turning his face to her.
"I did." His hand was picked up and then laid back down on top of something he could not recognise. He brought the other hand over to look closer, trying to puzzle it out. It felt like canvas or something like a tent fabric covering something foam. Disc-shaped, he decided. There was a flap in the top and something hard inside.
"Any guesses?" Annie said. "I'll give you a clue. Your little pal Toby is going to be your happiest little friend ever."
"Is it a Frisbee?" Auggie asked, completely perplexed.
"It is. Here, look," Annie said, excited. She put his hand exactly where she wanted to show him a switch that turned on a triple beep and a break, repeating. "You can play with Toby!"
Auggie wanted to smile at her exuberance. But his heart was sinking in his chest. She was excited because he could participate in something that had been impossible, and all that struck him was how adapted things had to be for him to be able to do something so simple. Finding a beeping kid's toy should not have been a challenge. It shouldn't beep out a constant reminder that he needed more help than a kid.
"Don't you like it?" Annie asked, all of a sudden sounding unsure.
Auggie shook away the dismay he realised may have crept onto his face, and replaced it with something more suitable. He hoped. "Where'd you find this?"
"Portobello Market. Auggie?"
Of course she could read him better than a lie detector. He smiled at her and pulled her tight to him. "It's great. That kid will never know what hit him. Actually, no, that will probably be me. Won't this beeping drive you nuts?"
She nuzzled her nose against his cheek. "Back yards are for noise, darling," she cooed into his ear. "It can't all be chess and Donkey Kong."
"I don't play Donkey Kong anymore," Auggie said, pretending to be offended.
"Only because they haven't made it accessible for the blind," Annie teased him right back.
"Yeah, you're probably right," Auggie said, kissing her again. "So you think I should get into Frisbee, huh?"
"Off running with James, Frisbee with the neighbour's kid, you're turning into the perfect suburban husband."
"Except I don't drive the big SUV," Auggie said.
Annie stopped. "What's bugging you? What does this mean?" She tapped the back of his hand, which rested on the Frisbee.
"I'm just... amazed at you, that's all. You always find the ways around everything for me."
"Hey, you lead the way, I'm just taking notes."
"I love you entirely too much and yet not enough," Auggie said quietly.
"You make it sound like that's a bad thing," Annie said, trying to lighten the mood again.
Auggie smiled genuinely this time, and Annie ate the last of the strawberries before telling him she'd done so.
The morning was always the nicest time of their weekends. They were able to Skype chat with two of the children from Italy and then Annie decided she needed to go back to sleep for a while to be rested enough for work on Monday morning. Auggie worked on tidying the kitchen after she climbed back up the stairs for a couple of hours of sleep. He was clearing the tray they'd had for breakfast and he once again brushed over the oddly distinctive Frisbee. He set it aside, not wanting to think about the special circumstances for Annie's excitement over her purchase. This was one instance where Auggie didn't want to be set apart and distinct. He went back to cleaning, carefully filing the dishes into the dishwasher, order as always. He ran his hand along the counters, along the island, making sure he'd gotten every last piece of cutlery. He wiped them down and checked everything one more time. He came across that damn Frisbee again. He picked it up and made his way to the patio doors. He closed them quietly behind him and stepped carefully to the stairs, locating the railing.
If a kid could do this, surely Auggie could. Surely. Right?
Throwing wasn't the hard part. He listened to the sound of the beep carry off over the air and loop down somewhere in front of him, slightly to the right. He rolled his head back, knowing this was not going to be the fastest paced practice run anyone ever had, and then he set his jaw and made his way tentatively across his law toward the sound. Finally, after sweeping his hand through the grass left and right, it hit the canvas disc and he stood up, resetting his bearings. He could hear the breeze in the trees, the different leaves either rustling or shooshing, and he could hear the way the house blocked the sound of everything else. He aimed for somewhere near the corner of the verandah or the tree in front of it, and then made his way to retrieve it.
Well, at least if the kid threw it, he could find it for him. Almost as good as that dog the kid asked about.
Mindlessly, Auggie pitched the Frisbee, hoping every time that it wouldn't land in a branch above, beeping incessantly until the battery gave out. Each time, he moved off in search of it, feeling his pride aching as he tried to figure it out in his solitude.
Annie had moved out onto the verandah, leaning against the post, holding a cup of tea. She watched Auggie quietly, knowing now why he'd withdrawn, knowing there were some places she couldn't go with him. Knowing there were many things he had to work out for himself. When she finished her tea, she set the cup down against the wall of the house and called out to him, moving down the stairs.
"Hey, Slugger, want a catcher?"
Auggie was momentarily taken aback. He waited for her to approach him and she rested her hand on his arm when she got to him.
"Come on," Annie said. "You can catch this."
"I can't catch anything," Auggie said, turning, following her movement across the lawn.
"You can catch this," Annie said.
Auggie heard only her belief in him in her voice. She never once thought he couldn't do this. She bought it so he could play a game of it with Toby next time. It was because she believed in his abilities.
She primed him, she set him up, she cheered and laughed at her own throws, she took all the pressure away from Auggie and his own struggle to catch it just once. Locating it on the ground was getting easier, but in the air, he still didn't have it timed just right.
Annie assured him he was getting closer. He could hear the sound as it sailed up and then cut back down. After what felt to Auggie like three-hundred tries, he caught it. He was so amazed, it didn't register that he had it in his hand right away, until he heard the whoop from Annie, and then the sound of her cheer hurrying towards him, her arms grabbing around his neck.
"I told you!" she said. "And you don't believe me enough, Auggie Anderson. My hunches are always correct."
Auggie laughed. "You always do have the best hunches," he said, grinning at her.
"We should probably try a few more times, just to make sure you have it down," Annie said.
"Bring it on," Auggie said, and he reached out as Annie moved off, playfully slapping her bottom before she was out of reach. He laughed out loud as he heard her giggle.
"Ready?" Annie called.
"Never!" Auggie replied, listening hard.
"Incoming!" Annie called out, and Auggie turned his ear, reaching out, calculating the sound and the distance and the angle. Two fails, and then two catches right in a row, and Auggie was starting to feel like he'd figured out a method. He was basing the sound on where the Frisbee was, when he should have put the Frisbee ahead of the sound by a fraction of a second. Also, if he swung his head from side to side, he could get a better read on what side of his body it was on and where it was curving to.
They were worn out from running and laughing. Auggie had missed running into one of the trees by the merest of measurements and Annie slid on the grass like she was sliding into base at one point, but a couple of hours had passed and Auggie no longer felt like simple child's toy had beat him. Annie sounded winded and Auggie felt like he had worked out. There was nothing childish about that.
"Go get Toby," Auggie said, as he and Annie lay in the hammock to catch their breath. "And tell him the game is on."
Auggie couldn't see the look of absolute faith and love on Annie's face, but when she touched his cheek and squeezed his hand and he knew it anyway.