To Seek The Next Handhold (A Season Seven)

Chapter Thirty

THURSDAY

“I am so glad I’m heading into the office today,” Auggie said, buttoning up his vest and then turning and following the wall back to the doorway of the bedroom. Annie was sitting on the edge of the bed, ready to follow him downstairs.

“I’m rethinking my two days off,” she replied as she stood up, stretching.

“Oh, you’ll have fun,” Auggie said, following the guide of the wall to the stairs and down. “You think you won’t right now, but you will.”

“And how do you know this?”

“I know everything,” Auggie quipped.

“Of course, how could I forget that?” Annie groaned as Auggie laughed, reaching the bottom step. He turned, catching her in his arms as she made to step from the bottom stair, giving her a quick kiss and stroking her hair, nearly meeting her eyes with his own.

“It won’t be as bad as you’re expecting,” he said calmly. “We only have a couple of days of this. Really. And it’s not going to be anything bigger than how we want it. It’s too late for them to mess it up for us now. We are having it how we want it.”

“Will you be able to get off at a decent hour?” Annie asked him as they moved to the kitchen.

“Which translates to will I please come home and rescue you in case you are in trouble. Yes, I will come home as soon as possible. I’ll throw everything else at Holman.”

Annie smiled. “I’ll make it worth your while.”

Auggie raised an eyebrow. “Well, in that case, I may leave a bit early.”

“Just remember my mother and sister will be here when you get here,” Annie said, patting him on the chest.


“Did you get anything out of that thumb drive?” Auggie asked Joan as he delivered a report of a closed operation from that morning.

“Nothing I can comment on,” Joan said.

“Joan, I got your intel...”

“And it’s still above your clearance,” Joan told him.

Auggie rolled his eyes.

“I promise you, Auggie, as soon as I can, you’ll know everything I do.”

“It can’t be that crucial,” he said.

“That’s all I can tell you right now. Now, go, before I have to have you escorted out.”

Auggie grinned a tiny bit. He raised up his hands. “Okay, okay. I’m going.” He turned, pointing the laser cane toward the doorway, and sticking the earpiece back in his ear. He left the office and walked down the ramp to the bullpen, wondering what all the secrecy could possibly be about. This man was clearly paranoid, surely the intel would prove that. Except, it was starting to look to Auggie like it did the opposite.

As soon as he stepped back into the office, Barber and Holman stopped talking.

“Yeah,” Eric said, seeing the frustration on Auggie’s face. “She wouldn’t tell me, either, and I was the one who broke the encryption.”

“You?”

“Yeah. And they wouldn’t let me even read it. I was hustled out of there faster than you could say conspiracy theory.”

“Damn, what is it all about?” Auggie wondered, finding his chair and sliding into it.

“I don’t get why you’re not in the loop.”

Auggie turned his head slightly toward Barber. “Don’t remind me. I mean, I went and got the intel. Shit. I knew I should have gotten more information from him. I wish I’d had him tailed. Am I slipping? I should have put you out there to follow him. I thought he was a crackpot, though,” he rationalised to himself. “I got a feeling...” Auggie took a deep breath. “It doesn’t add up.”

“Do you want me to do some digging?” Eric asked.

Auggie thought for a moment and then scowled. “No. Joan will absolutely shut us down with no-where to hide. I have to trust she’ll let me in when it gets the clear, and it will, because it’s all fantasy, the whole thing.”

“Maybe... maybe you’re just stressed about the wedding,” Eric tried. “Maybe it’s nothing and it’s blown out of proportion.”

Auggie glared in Barber’s direction. “Are you saying I’m freaking out?”

“No, no, of course not, Auggie. Well, maybe a little bit. Oh, I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

Auggie was confused. “What? Which will be fine.”

“The wedding?” Barber said, hoping he chose right. He wasn’t sure anymore either.

“Of course the wedding will be fine. It will be because I have my future mother and sister-in-law at my house right now, putting up an obstacle course and enough flowers to dizzy a man, as well as saying god-knows-what to Annie and making her crazy. It’s all fine.”

“Oh. Right. Yeah, that sounds... good, Auggie.”

Auggie turned fully toward his friend and Best Man. “I’m sorry, Man. I don’t know where that came from. It’s going to be fine. Annie and I set up boundaries. It’s too late to go overboard. I hope.”

“Look, Dude, I can handle this stuff here, I can get Holman to look over that other code later, and we’ve got Hogan down looking through that hard drive we brought in this morning. Why don’t you go home and check on Annie?”

Auggie thought about the work he had for the day. Nothing was crucial to time, and anything that came up could be taken care of by Eric.

“Yeah. I think you may have the idea there,” he said. “Maybe I will.”

“Go. Have some wine. Supervise the construction. Check in with Annie. You’re on the same page. It’s all yours, Dude. I’ll see you tomorrow, and tomorrow night I’ll get you so liquored that it won’t matter what they do to your yard.”

“You just mean I’ll fall down by that point whether I trip over something they moved or not,”
Auggie remarked.

“Pretty much.”

Auggie smiled for the first time since the morning. Clearly he’d made the right choice in his Best Man with Eric. The man who had infuriated him at the beginning had become his friend. He wasn’t sure when it had happened along the way, but Barber had become a trusted confident and a good and caring soul to him.

“Okay,” he said, and for a moment, Barber was surprised that Auggie had agreed so easily.

“You found the right woman, Auggie. That’s all that matters.”

Auggie stopped for a moment from gathering his things. Then he smiled at his friend. “Thanks, Eric.”


“You’re home early,” Annie said as Auggie appeared on the deck of the side verandah. She hurried over to him to embrace him and give him a kiss.

“I couldn’t stand being away from you any longer,” Auggie said. He lifted his eyes toward the yard. “What have they done here?”

“Don’t go anywhere without your cane,” Annie advised him. “It’s not really set up yet, either. I told them to at least leave it until tomorrow. Imagine if it rained or something.”

“It will still be perfect, even if it does,” Auggie said, turning to her, putting his hand on her cheek.

Annie smiled. He was perfect to her at this very moment. He was all she needed. Everything would be fine; it was all worth it because he stood there beside her.

“Come on,” she said. “Can you handle three Walker women at the same time?”

He grinned cheekily. “I’ll give it a soldier’s go,” he said, and took her elbow.

It wasn’t nearly as bad as either of them had projected. Instead, Auggie was thrilled to hear stories of his bride-to-be’s childhood, her stubbornness, the antics she and Danielle had come up with, much to the despair of their parents. He mostly sat with a huge smile plastered on his face as the women reminisced and told tales, often forgetting he was there. Annie brought him a beer and told him that her mother and sister were going to make supper for them.

“What did we do to deserve this fine treatment?” Auggie said.

“I think everything has been forgiven.”

“Cakes, flowers, and wedding dresses seem to have that effect on your folk,” Auggie said, and Annie rolled her eyes and swatted him lightly.

When they were done sprucing up the yard, Annie’s mother and sister started off in the kitchen. They both appreciated the structure and common sense of the kitchen layout, and Annie’s mother was intrigued by the tactile bumps and other devices that assisted Auggie in his kitchen.

Auggie had noticed a tiny change in Annie’s mother the longer he was around her. She had started out cold, with something like a hidden interest bubbling underneath, toward her daughter. The same woman as Annie had described to him. And yet, he had seen more there. He knew Annie hadn’t come by her smile and her strength by mere chance. Now, with the addition of Danielle, who just took over and didn’t give awkward moments a chance to even sprout, their mother came close to forgetting the long history between them and just be the mother that raised two strong, beautiful women. There was no CIA, no anger, no hiding, no secrets in that house for now.

There were some glorious, spicy smells, though. Auggie’s mouth watered and his stomach rumbled as they worked away in the kitchen, their laughter and joking continuing from outside. They chased Annie out of the kitchen several times and she perched on the sofa beside Auggie, half leaning over the back of it to watch them. Auggie loved it. He loved it for her. She’d been under too much stress. Again. She needed her family, he knew she needed her family. She just needed them in the right way, and so far, they’d stepped up and done just that.

“So, why won’t you tell us where you’re going?” Danielle asked. “I mean, it’s not like we’re going to follow you, but it would be nice to know what part of the world you’re in.”

“I’ll send postcards,” Annie said.

“You’ll Skype with us, little sister,” Danielle instructed. “I need details. And absolutely no plane crashes this time.”

“What plane crashes?” asked Annie’s mother.

Danielle looked at Annie with an embarrassed look of shock and laughter rolled into one.

“No plane crashes,” she said. “It was just a scare... one time... a long time back.”

Annie knew her mother didn’t let that one roll off so easily, but to her credit, she said nothing more about it. Instead, she smiled at Annie and Auggie.

“Danielle, let the couple have their secrets. We’ll know soon enough. We will have pictures to look at and stories to hear. Right?”

Annie looked puzzled, but Auggie answered for her. “Definitely. You guys will get the stories.”

“Yes. We promise.”

Danielle eyed Annie, who just smiled.

“And the postcards,” Auggie added, when no-one had said anything more and he didn’t catch the glances.

Annie squeezed his hand, and he waited until someone changed the topic, not knowing what was happening between the others. Danielle appeared at his right, and picked up his hand and placed in it a beer bottle. He smiled up at her, and she patted his shoulder.

“You guys deserve this,” she said, before returning to the kitchen.

“Don’t you love their house, Mum?” she asked her mother as she picked up her paring knife again.

“It’s absolutely beautiful. Not too small in case you guys have a family. Not too big, either.”

“She’s hinting she wants more grandchildren,” Danielle clarified.

“And that’s you hinting about nieces and nephews,” Annie said.

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“We’re taking it as it comes,” Annie said. That was a topic that was far to laden with layers to discuss right now with anyone but Auggie.

“You’d be great parents,” Danielle added.

“Well, you should see Auggie play Frisbee with the neighbour’s kid,” Annie said with a grin, and then told them both about Auggie’s new little friend.

“Nothing surprises me about you anymore, Auggie,” Danielle said.

“Well, I’m not really very good,” he said with a grin. “So don’t be too impressed. I play about as well as any blind guy.”

“Auggie, frankly, I don’t know any blind guys who actually play Frisbee, so yes, I’d say I’m impressed.” Danielle spoke lightly, but she meant every word.

“Ughh, gaw, Danielle, when is this food going to be ready?” Annie begged. “You’re killing us over here.”

“All good things come to those who wait,” retorted Danielle. “Which you two should know by now.”

“I feel like we’re being roasted,” Annie said.

“I hope something’s being roasted,” Auggie said, squeezing his eyes shut and sniffing the aroma from the kitchen.

“Are they always like this?” Mrs. Walker asked her eldest daughter.

“As far as I can tell,” Danielle said, slicing an apple for their dessert.

“Maybe I should go get a shower and try to make it to supper without eating my own arm,” Auggie said, getting to his feet.

“I’m coming with you,” Annie said, hurrying behind him up the stairs. They both missed the look Danielle shot her mother.


FRIDAY

The work day barely registered with Auggie. He threw himself into his work, decoding encryptions mindlessly, but couldn’t recall any distinction from one moment to the next one. Eric brought him coffee, and then a smoothie, and then a sandwich. Joan sent him home early. She placed her hand on his arm as he turned to go.

“Auggie, congratulations. I’m so happy for you and Annie.”

Auggie smiled. “It was you.”

“Me? Auggie, I only gave you an operative.”

“Joan, you gave me Annie. You told me you put us together on with a purpose. And you kept us together, even when we didn’t want to be together. You saw what we didn’t.”

“How do you think I’ve gotten where I am? I always have to stay one step ahead of everyone. And you, my dear Auggie, are as transparent to me as a glass of water. Maybe no-one else, but you never fool me.

“You’re special to me, Auggie. I don’t tell many people that. Especially people I work with. I’m glad, after all we’ve been through, that you’re here. On my team.”

“Motherhood has made you a bit mushy,” Auggie said. He didn’t mind teasing her a little. As she said, they had been through a lot together over the years. She had never failed him. Even when he thought she had, she had stayed true to him as a friend and as a boss.

“You’re still coming, right?” he asked when she hadn’t replied.

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Joan said.


Instead of going to the airport and being in the middle of so much confusion, Annie and Auggie simply stayed home for the afternoon. They would all meet for a reception supper in the dining hall of the hotel where the Andersons were staying. It was Auggie’s parents’ treat to the couple, and to Annie’s family.

Auggie was nervous about being around his entire family at once. It still felt strange to be blind among his family. It wasn’t a world he was used to, since he was around them so little. In the life he’d had with them, he was fully sighted, fully functioning, and no-one acted strange around him.

Annie was nervous to meet Auggie’s family. It overwhelmed her that there were so many. She was used to it just being a small enough family to fit around a supper table. She’d talked to Auggie’s mother on the phone and Facetimed with her, but she’d never met any of them. She loved their son and brother so much; she didn’t want to disappoint them.

At six o’clock, they stood just outside the dining room, gathering their inner calm, knowing they were there together, their strength travelling through the connection they shared. Auggie’s hand on Annie’s elbow. Annie touched that hand, holding hers over it for a moment.

“Here we go,” she said.

“I’m ready,” replied Auggie.

They marched forward, and the tables seemed to stand up and swell them in like a wave. Hands, arms, hugging, holding, kisses, hands clutching, shaking. Voices, familiar voices without faces. Smiling faces, Danielle’s face supportive, holding her sister’s hand by virtue of her being there. Annie and Auggie let it roll over them, their gratitude for the love coming in apparent, though each was as confused by the moment as the other. Annie’s hand returned to touch his, and he never had to search for her elbow when he had let go to hug or shake a hand.

Auggie’s mother took a full look at her beautiful daughter-in-law-to –be, and embraced her. “Hello at last,” she said.

Annie felt a love and strength in the woman that nearly took her breath away. This woman had seen a lot, had taken a lot, and had borne much. Her joy at having another daughter in her brood was apparent on her face. Her absolute adoration of her son was also very obvious, and it extended to Annie.

“He loves you,” she told Annie. “I’ve never heard him speak of anyone so strongly. Not ever. And even with all his secrets, his love for you was never hidden, Annie. We never talked enough lately, but we heard it loud and clear.” She looked at all her sons. “They’re a bit overwhelming, but you’ll get through it,” she said with a confident smile.

Auggie felt a hand clap on his shoulder.

“Dad,” he said.

“August.”

Auggie could hear something like pride and happiness in his father’s voice as he spoke.

“You sure picked a rose, Son. Not sure how you managed that, given your circumstances, but I’m impressed.”

“Thanks, Dad.” Auggie couldn’t help but smile, and he decided to bridge some of the space between them and leaned forward to embrace his father.

“I haven’t always agreed with your choices, August. But this time, I think you’re definitely doing the right thing.”

“That means a lot, Dad. It does. It’s finally all okay now.”

“I’m glad,” said his father. “It’s all I ever wanted for you, was for it to be all right.”

“I know.”

His father clapped his hand on Auggie’s shoulder, and the moment passed over them both. Auggie wanted it to not only be okay, he wanted his father to be proud of him again. He wanted his father to see the home he’d made with Annie, and the good things he’d become with her. He didn’t realise his father had never stopped being proud of him, had wept with pride for him. If Auggie had known this, he might have understood his father more.

Annie was seated to Auggie’s right, and she kept a low running commentary on the layout of the table, the seating arrangements, and how envious she was of his sister-in-law’s hair, and the size and state of his nieces and nephews.

When she needed to pass some pertinent information to him that struck her as funny or otherwise entertaining, she’d lean in, and, kissing his cheek or touching his hair, she’d whisper it as if it was instructions on locating his silverware. He had to keep from laughing out loud, but everyone could see that the two were entertaining themselves just fine. Annie was stepping into Auggie’s blindness with him so that he wouldn’t be left alone in a moment that was almost entirely visual. Auggie wasn’t sure if it was something intentional that she was doing, or if it just happened, the way everything had just happened with Annie.

The children, who all begged out of their seats before anyone was near finishing a plate or a glass of wine, had moved off to the other side of the room, still within the doors of the private dining area. The Anderson kids eagerly interrogated their new in-laws. Tanner and Seanie were close in age to Chloe and Katia, and after the initial awkwardness, seemed to be getting along just fine.

They ate and drank, getting to know one another. Annie took notice that her mother seemed to be enjoying herself, chatting with Auggie’s mother. She was an outgoing woman, like Danielle, and she loved to talk about anything and everything that was the going topic. Annie sat and watched her mother, seeing her again as the woman that made the best of their nomadic lives as they were growing up. Seeing her as a woman with her own life, a woman that had given so many parts of herself to her daughters. She was glad Auggie had been insistent on Annie forgiving her mother and letting the same thing happen in return. She was glad her mother was going to be there tomorrow. She looked over at Danielle, who smiled at her, that big sister smile that said that everything was right with the world and it would all be okay.

“It’s going much better than I had anticipated,” Auggie said.

“They seem to get along,” Annie said. “No-one’s told us we’re making a horrible mistake. The kids aren’t screaming.”

“Nobody’s given you pity glances?”

“Danielle gave me some envy glances. She thinks you’re a catch.”

“She does, huh?”

“No pity, Hun. Everyone is happy for both of us.”


“That doesn’t sound wild at all,” Auggie said to Annie as he pulled a t-shirt over his head. “There’d better be booze, Annie, or it’s not a proper bachelorette.”

“There are about six bottles of wine down there, and Danielle has snacks. I’m still full from that meal. Besides, I don’t want to be hung-over tomorrow. I want to be sober and remember every beautiful thing.”

“I don’t plan on drinking much, either. I’ll leave that to the kids,” Auggie said with a grin.

“Let loose, Hun. Did I get you that t-shirt?”

He felt the front of it as if to make sure. “Yes. You have a habit of finding me soft t-shirts. I think it’s because you always steal them.”

“I borrow them,” Annie corrected.

“Right. Borrow. Okay, well, you have fun. I’ll get back before two. I’m not going to stumble in here in a state at seven a.m., I’m beyond that.”

“I doubt Danielle will let you in the house. She’ll make you sleep downstairs. You know, tradition. I’ll try to get her out of here.”

“No, tell her we don’t do anything traditional. Tell her I won’t see you before the wedding. I promise.”

Annie grinned at him, and shook her head. “I won’t let her keep you from me, don’t worry. Traditions are for people who like to travel a straight path.”

“I haven’t travelled a straight path in almost eight years,” Auggie said. “I always veer off-course into the most interesting places... and people.” He stepped forward, finding her shoulder, sliding his hand up to her cheek and guiding himself in to kiss her.

She followed him down the stairs and glanced out the window. “Eric’s here,” she said. “Go, have fun with the boys.”

He turned back to her, kissing her again. “I love you, my wife of tomorrow.”

Annie’s smile brightened her face completely. “I love you, my husband of tomorrow.”

She opened the door as Auggie pulled on a jacket. Eric had crossed to the stairs.

“Hey, Eric. Look after him for me; I want him back in one piece.”

“I don’t think I could keep him from you, Annie. In pieces or otherwise. Ready, Man?” He bumped his hand against Auggie’s as Auggie reached the bottom step.

“For tonight? Not in the least. For tomorrow? Been ready for years.”

Eric turned to Annie and saw the indescribable happiness on her face.

“Then let’s get to it,” he said.

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