Annie picked up Auggie's hand and placed the glass of red wine in it, then took her own in hand and sat beside him on the sofa. Auggie picked the remote control up from its usual place and turned on the television, searching for the DVS button to switch on the Described Video. He told Annie that she didn't need to leave it on when she watched, because he knew it could get annoying. Instantly, the narration filled in the empty spaces between the dialogue and music that everyone could hear, and Auggie could see in his mind what everyone else was seeing onscreen.
"It must have been strange, turning that on at first," Annie said, taking a drink of her wine.
"You kidding? It's still strange. I don't watch a lot of TV. I only got this one because someone made fun of me for having such an ancient model, and I realised my guests might appreciate something a bit less antiquated. And if I'm somewhere else, no-one else has that on their TV, so I'm just not that used to it. So, yeah, every time I turn that on, it feels foreign. At first. Once I'm watching something, I forget about it, it's just normal after a while. It's weird for you, though, isn't it? I know it can be distracting."
"No, I can get used to it," Annie said. "I think it would be useful while I'm doing something else and am just using a TV for background. I used to do that a lot in college."
"Yeah," Auggie said. "It's good for that, especially if you can see. If I loose myself in the sound of the TV, I'm down to three for doing other things," Auggie said. "But I get the concept."
They had come home from their last appointment in a buzz of anticipation and energy. Auggie had made tacos, and Annie had looked up more real estate online, to see if they were missing anything. There had been three listings that looked interesting enough to share them with Auggie, but even just reading the full information was enough for them to veto each one. Every time, they came back to the little house hidden off the road, and the things that made it special.
Auggie took a sip of the wine. "There're still things that take me by surprise," Auggie said. "Even after all this time."
"I bet," Annie said, peering at him.
"I knew this apartment before. I mean, I saw it. I lived here since I started working for the CIA. When I came back, I had it kinda... retrofitted. I didn't want to move, because I already knew my home."
"This is going to be all new..." Annie mused, understanding him. "It's like letting go of one more sight, isn't it?"
Auggie nodded his head. She had expressed it exactly. He felt her hand press on his knee and he smiled back at her, grateful.
"It's worth it, though," he said, more confidently. "I think we should put a bid in on that place."
"Why not? We wanted a house that suits us. We wanted something for a family. We wanted something different. We want to get married. Why should we wait to see if there's something else?
Only because we're afraid of leaving our comfort zones, really. And we are always stepping out of those when we're together. And we're together forever now, so why not? Why not now?"
He heard Annie's glass clink down and then she took his glass from his hand and set it down, too. Then she wrapped her arms around him and pulled herself in to him so tightly he thought she'd crack her own ribs.
He laughed, his own arms around her small frame. "I take it you're on board?" he chuckled.
"I don't want to say how much I want it, in case we're outbid or something is wrong with it," she said.
"How about, I call Kenny Travers tomorrow and he can come over to take a look at it. He was my contractor when I did this place over. And he was also in boot camp with me."
"Of course he was. I'm sure he owes you three more favours for something," Annie said, putting the wine back into Auggie's hand.
"No," Auggie grinned. "I think we're pretty much even right now," he said. "I guess I'm going to have to work on that."
"Do you think he'd come Monday?" Annie asked.
"I'll call him in the morning. We'll know for sure what we're dealing with, and then we can make our bid accordingly." He reached up and found her chin, cupping her cheek. "Okay?"
He felt her nod. "I'm ready," she said. "I was scared before, but... I think I'm really excited now. I'll try not to be too excited, though, Auggie. It might fall through."
"Yup. And then we have to keep believing that it's right, and that something even better will come."
She shook her head. "I can't imagine something even better. But I'll contain my excitement."
"You don't have to contain anything," Auggie said, dropping his hand and taking another sip of wine. "I love your enthusiasm."
Auggie had a good chat with his contractor friend on Sunday morning, and Kenny Travers said he'd make a special trip for Auggie to check the house out but Auggie had to take him out for drinks later.
"Are you coming?" Auggie asked.
"I don't want to break my heart if it's a bad showing," Annie said. "You go ahead. Find out. I'm going to call Danielle and then I'm going to go for a run. And then, if you want, I'll come get you from your carousing later."
So Auggie had Kenny come over and pick him up and they headed over to the house to meet with the real estate woman at two. Auggie knew he wasn't much use as Kenny thoroughly made his tests and assessments. His friend looked through the paperwork and tested the soil and the water himself. Auggie was impressed with how thorough he was, and he knew Kenny would not try to rip Auggie off. If anyone should be nervous of being taken, it was the realtor. Auggie leaned on his cane, listening to Kenny asking Morag question after question. The two of them went into the basement and Auggie reached out and touched the wall, sweeping his cane in front of him, walking around a little to get more of a feel for the layout around him.
Annie wanted this. He'd come a long way with her in the past year, from barely getting along to buying a home and being engaged to her. A lot of work had gone into it and it was worth every bit of pain and struggle, just like it had been for so many things in his life. This house might be another one of those things, if they set their hearts on it. He might have to learn some things about home management and care. He'd have to learn to look after a home, like his father had, but without the benefit of actually being able to look. He was sure he could do it, though, and Annie obviously had faith in him, or she wouldn't be so eager.
He moved to the left, across the open floor, and felt with his hand along the wall until he found the door to take him to the verandah. He unlocked it and stepped outside, feeling the breeze shifting along around him. He paced the deck of the verandah and learned its dimensions and size. The verandah wrapped around three sides of the house, and along the back, in the middle of the length of it, was another set of stairs, where the back door let out into a presumable garden. Auggie moved along the wall and found the door, as he had mapped in his head correctly, and then returned along it, around the corner, back to the side door, which had probably been added later, when the walls had come down inside.
Why had they done such work to this house? Obviously, Auggie thought, entering back into the house and locking the door again, they treasured it. And obviously they'd hoped to pass it on to their son. A hard thing, losing the one child that you counted on carrying on your legacy. Had they kept on keeping up the house after that devastation?
Auggie heard voices and he turned expectantly as Morag and Kenny came in.
"Auggie, Man," said Kenny.
"Yeah, Kenny, what'd you find?"
"A little swampy at the back lot but it doesn't seem to be any problem for the foundation. It's pretty tight down there, I don't see any wet spots and this time of year we'd see them. I checked the windows and the pipes. The water heater is old, should be upgraded, but it's not rusted out or anything. I don't know how much insulation in it, to be honest, you'd only know from living in it, whether it stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter, but the way the windows have been made to keep the original, you have all the right lighting for both seasons, so it should be bright and no draughts. The heat is electric, but there's a woodstove that will need a new pipe just here along this wall, Auggie, you may have found it on the tiling?"
"No," Auggie said. "I didn't." In his head he heard the bell ringing SOLD. A wood stove. His grandparents had only had a wood stove. Auggie loved the heat and the smell and the crackle of a wood stove, and he imagined that it would captivate him even more now. Annie had neglected to tell him about the stove. He wondered why. Maybe she didn't want to give him too much to hope for. Maybe she didn't care for wood stoves. Maybe she hadn't even noticed. He knew that was a lie to himself, she was a spy, of course, she had noticed. She didn't know his grandfather had taught him how to stack the kindling so the air could pass through it and keep the flames going until the hardwood was hot enough to stay lit. She didn't know that he'd become the best campfire starter in Eagle Scouts.
He turned, moving to the middle of the wall, his cane coming in contact with iron and a stone tile apron. He reached out and felt the cold heavy stove, and his mouth quirked up in a lost memory of his grandmother telling his grandfather that the youngest boy was the quietest so that he could listen to the learning he was always doing. If only she could see all the listening he was doing these days, he thought. He reached up, following the stove pipe back to the bricks of the chimney in the wall, then returned to the front of the stove, his fingers following its sturdy shape, finding their way to the door handle. He twisted his wrist and cranked the door open and then smiled, shutting it again. It made the same sound, that sound he remembered hearing at three in the morning at his grandparents' house, of his granddad going down to stoke the wood stove, the creak and clank of that old stove door.
He realised again that he was being watched. He stood straight and turned back to them. "So there's nothing to report that will take us by surprise?"
"Minor details, Auggie. Nothing earth-shattering, if I'm completely honest. I mean, I figure you'd want something done about that kitchen, the way we did your apartment?"
"Yeah, I will definitely want that, Kenny, and you're my man."
"That island is granite. But I could file off those corners. They're not sharp, but it's not a problem to round them off some. It's got good potential for somebody, Auggie. Nice little family home."
"Damn it, Kenny, you were supposed to tell me it was a money pit and that it was sinking in quick-sand and there is an alligator in the well or something."
Morag laughed at that, and Auggie shook his head. He stepped forward to thank her, and she patted his hand as she shook it. "I'm not worried about trying to sell this place, Mr. Anderson, so I can honestly tell you that I think this house is one that has been well taken care of. And I look forward to hearing from you."
She locked up behind them and they returned to their vehicles. Auggie remained lost in thought until Kenny was parking at the bar. He took Kenny's arm and let him steer him to an empty table.
"I wasn't lying, Man," said Kenny, as he poured them their first mug from the jug. "Really, not a lot wrong with it. May need some insulation down the road, but my guess is, it was all re-insulated when it was rewired. How'd you find that little gem?"
"Annie found it. Or were you referring to Annie? Because she works with me, that's how I found her. And she found the house online. I probably would have passed that one right over, from the photo."
"Oh, on-the-job romance, I'll drink to that." Kenny took a swig and set the mug down. "Well, you seem to not let the gems get away," he said.
"How much work would it take you to make it safe for a blind man?" Auggie asked, taking a drink from his own beer.
"Three weeks, tops. Probably not even that. How long did your apartment take? Two weeks, I think. I still have the same three guys I call on, they'll do 'er up for you."
"Yeah, well... Annie and I will make up our minds and then if we do put in our bid, this couple still has to accept it, right? We can't go too low-ball. And I don't want to be in some bidding war where the price skyrockets and then everyone pulls out." He shook his head. "This is crazy, man. I did not think this was going to happen this quickly."
"Sometimes you have to just leap," Kenny said. "Come on, drink up, we have a whole other pitcher here."
"Hi," Annie said, sticking out her hand.
"Hi, Annie, it's nice to finally meet you, I've been hearing about you all day, and I feel pretty close."
Annie laughed. "How many of these did you boys have?"
Auggie tried to peer up at her blearily. "Don't worry, I wasn't gonna drive," he said.
Annie rolled her eyes and sat beside him. "We'll put some food into you, you'll be as good as new," she said, winking at Kenny. "You're not driving, either, right?" she asked Auggie's friend.
"No, no, don't worry. Cab's on its way. I'll come in the morning and get the car. Thanks, though."
Auggie thanked Kenny, and told him he'd be in touch. He gratefully took Annie's elbow and let her lead him out into the late afternoon air. He centred himself over his feet, trying not to let the ground tilt. It was hard enough to stay balanced sober, but Annie kept his equilibrium intact as she carefully guided him to her car. She hadn't brought the Corvette, it was safe in the storage unit, waiting for their next excursion, and Auggie was silently glad, because he was worried about the sickness factor there was in a ride in that car with Annie at the wheel.
"Mexican?" she asked him as she climbed in beside him. He pulled apart the cane and folded it, and then fumbled with the seat belt.
"Make it Indian and I'll pay," he said.
"You pay and I'll make it worth your while."
"I believe a deal has just been struck," Auggie said, and leaned his head back against the seat.
She pulled in and got them a couple of coffees at a drive-through, and Auggie felt his head clearing already. He hoped he didn't get groggy, because he got very accident-prone, and post-liquor afternoons often ended up in that state of mind.
"So, I take it you guys still get along," Annie said, giving Auggie her elbow as they headed into the restaurant.
"Yeah, he's a good guy. He said he'd bring his team around to re-do the kitchen for us if we take it."
Annie placed his hand on the back of a bench seat and Auggie slid in, absent-mindedly checking out the surface of the table. He folded his cane and laid it on the bench beside him as their waitress moved in to leave them menus and pour them each a glass of water.
"So," said Annie. "Guess she didn't notice that white cane." She took his menu and placed it under hers, and then proceeded to give him a run down their choices.
"So? Tell me what he said, I'm afraid to even ask."
"It's all good, Annie. He said minimal work, some kitchen renos for me, you know, and some cosmetic work. It seems to be all working in our favour. For the first time."
"First time?" Annie asked. "I'd say the day Joan assigned me to you was our first in our favour."
The waitress came to take their order and their menus. Auggie was feeling much more clear-headed, and he was feeling downright happy by the time he was digging into his curry.
"So I guess it's all a go," he said. "We'll call her tomorrow and put in our bid and then we'll wait. And then try to ignore our anxiety about the whole thing, you know, the easy part."
"What's the hard part?"
"There is no hard part," Auggie said, shrugging at her, giving her his best grin. "We just keep on this trajectory, one day at a time, together, and it's going to be fine."
"I'm sure it will not be this easy all the time."
"Nope. I wouldn't be very real if I thought that. It's going to get downright frightening and downright maddening at times. All of it. And I'm game to do it anyway. Because no matter what, Annie, I want to be with you. I'd rather go through hell with you than be placid without you."
"I guess you're really going for it," Annie said.
"You bet. There's no time like the present. We've both made bigger mistakes, I think. This one isn't one. And I think we should actually set a date to get married."
"Wow." Annie gave a burst of surprised laughter. "Now it's happening fast. What brought this on?"
"Well, I mean, it goes without say that when a fella gives his gal a ring," Auggie smirked at her, not able to contain himself, "they usually set a date to actually be married."
"Do I get to choose?" Annie grinned.
"Obviously. My part in the whole event is over. That's all the guy gets. Nice proposal, wear a suit on a given day, and don't get too drunk in front of the guests. The rest is all for the women."
Annie laughed. "Yeah, that doesn't seem fair," she said.
"Yeah, but for whom?" Auggie asked her and he heard her giggle. He took a deep breath. "You don't want a big... wedding... do you?"
"Not really," Annie said. "Do you?"
"Do I look like a big wedding kind of guy?"
"Oh, thank God," Annie said. "I mean, you have a big family, and I don't know any of them, and just the idea of having your family and my family and people from work that aren't really from work, and my mother. Booking churches and stuff. I remember doing all that with Danielle."
"Maid of honour?" Auggie asked.
"Yeah. That girl can get pretty flighty about flowers."
Auggie laughed. "I don't doubt it."
"September..." Annie said, a smile in her voice. "I'd like it to be in September. And I would like Danielle to be there."
"I think both ideas are absolutely perfect. Now, did I leave anything? Did I miss anything big?"
"Just a piece of chicken and I already ate it," Annie admitted. "I didn't want to tell you."
Auggie laughed out loud. "Stealing from a blind man," he said. "You have no shame. For that I may just not know how to work the debit machine with my card and need you to step in and help with yours. We can both play that card."
"I'm playing the card that we do whatever we have to do to get out of here and go home, Mr. Anderson, because I have a debt to pay, and you are looking spectacularly appealing right now."
Auggie's smile crinkled his eyes. He waved his hand in the air and called, "Cheque, please!" as he heard her laughter.
Auggie was surprised Annie wasn't tired the next morning. He sure was. Annie had taken inspiration from Auggie's television and had provided Descriptive Video for everything she was doing as soon as they got in the apartment door until they were folded in each others' arms, warm and moist and dozy in Auggie's bed. Auggie had laughed at her creativity, and then he wondered why no-one else had come up with that before. Now, as he lay on the bed, hearing Annie getting out of the shower and getting dressed, humming to herself, he wondered where her energy came from. He surmised it was because of the point that she'd not been intoxicated halfway through the previous day without having a proper recovery.
And then he remembered the house. He sat up, wiping the sleep from the corners of his eyes.
"Morning, Soldier," Annie said as she moved over beside him. The smell of Jo Malone Grapefruit soothed his sense of smell and he reached over, his fingers touching her shoulder, moving up, along her collar bone to her neck. His hand pressed up against the back of her head as he pulled her in for a kiss.
"I could get used to this," Auggie said.
"I think you already are," laughed Annie.
Auggie swung his legs over the edge of the bed, pulling the leg of his lounge pants down over his knee where it was caught, and stretched. "Okay," he said. "Ready?"
"Ready." Annie passed him his phone and he smiled, shaking his head. She must have had it in her hand the whole time. He put it on speaker and closed his eyes, feeling Annie's fingers sneak around his and return the squeeze he gave them.
Morag answered on the third ring.
"It's Auggie Anderson and Annie Walker," Auggie said. He could feel a sense of dread and also a sense of excitement. He didn't want to lose this house now. He wanted to sit next to the wood stove in the dead of the winter, listening to the crackle of flames with Annie. He wanted to enjoy the evening with a cup of coffee out on the verandah while Annie read him the news. He wanted to be able to step outside without having the world bearing down on him. He wanted the time to think and rest and have a different pace. He wanted to share that with Annie, and he wanted to share it with kids. He imagined a swing set out back. He imagined a bike on that long driveway. He imagined a future far more in that split second than he'd dare let himself imagine in years.
"I knew I'd hear from you, but I hadn't expected it first thing. Do you have an offer for me?"
"We do," said Auggie, and tightened his hold on Annie's hand.