Summary: A Sequel to In the Dark. No real plot to this one, just two people getting to know one another on a different level. I wrote this originally for myself because I wanted to know what happened when Auggie and Annie woke up together after “In the Dark”, but some kind friends have encouraged me to post it. I also find I want to refer to some things that surface here in the stories I am working on now. Hope you enjoy. Reviews and constructive criticism are always welcome.
Category: Covert Affairs
Genre: Spy Thriller
Word Count: 8300
Morning, Fun and Food
Auggie awoke to the knowledge that there was a woman in his bed. Not a woman, which wasn’t an unknown phenomenon, but the woman. The woman he had wanted for so long — Annie Walker, woman extraordinaire. His Annie, who felt and smelled delicious. Annie, who said she loved him. Annie who didn’t care that he was blind, and who did care when he’d been so sick. Annie, who breathed quietly, curled against his chest and belly. Was it possible to burst with happiness? He felt as if he were about to find out.
Annie stirred. Some change in his breathing, some tightening of his arms had roused her. Her first thoughts were of him. He’d been so ill when she first arrived, so in need of care and affection.
“Auggie, are you all right? She tried to turn to face him, but he held her tight against him.
“Annie, did you mean what you said before we slept?” His question was low and intense. “You weren’t ‘being kind’ because of what Joan told you?”
“No, how can you think those nasty words ‘being kind’? And yes, I meant every word I said, and I will be glad to repeat myself. I love you, August Anderson, with all my heart. I’m yours for as long as you want me. I love you when you’re healthy as a horse and tossing me around the exercise mat. I love you even more when you’re half-dead with exhaustion and still worrying about me. You are so danged lovable.” She squeezed the hand that was stroking her hip and thigh, “I expect to have to hold those other witches off with a club. Now, will that do you for now?”
Auggie released her and rolled onto his back, half choked with laughter. “Yep, that should keep me at least until we get a shower and some food. And, just so you know, I feel the same about you.”
Quick as a cat, she flipped over and straddled him. Her strong thighs clamped his hips as she glared down at him. And a fat lot of good that does, she thought. “Damn, what is it with men and that word. Say it, Auggie! If you love me, say it!”
“Christ, Annie; I love you with everything that’s in me!” It came from some deep, desperate place inside him. “Would you understand if I said that given a choice between having you and having my sight back, I’d take you every time.”
Totally undone, she collapsed on his chest. Between her sobs, he heard, “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, I’ve done it again. I’m such an idiot. Auggie, I never meant to hurt you.”
“You didn’t, sweetheart, you didn’t.” He soothed her while he stroked the tangles from her long, silken hair: the beautiful honey-colored hair that he could never see. Somehow, he didn’t care anymore. To hold her next to him was enough.
Auggie’s deft and tender attentions soon dried her eyes and drove all coherent thoughts from her mind. She had enjoyed Ben’s hungry, demanding lovemaking, but Auggie caressed and teased and tempted with an adept and caring touch. He brought her to the edge of wild implosion and then eased her back to eager wanting. He touched her in ways and in places she had never imagined as erotic centers. It took all her strength not to scream aloud and drive her nails into his back.
When he whispered, “I need to be sure. Tell me that you really want it, Annie; show me, sweetheart”, she moaned aloud and thrust her pelvis hard against him.
In time, passion was spent and they lay exhausted but happy among the tumbled ruins of the bed.
Eventually, Auggie stirred and said, “At the risk of sounding ungallant, I’m starving. We should shower and get something to eat. What time is it?”
“I haven’t any idea,” Annie said. “For that matter, what day is it?”
“Is there light in the windows?” he asked.
“Yeah, it’s filtering through the blinds, but it doesn’t tell me much, except that it’s not night.
“For your information, Miss Walker, the sun rises in the East and sets in the West.”
He stood up. His long, lean body gleamed with sweat. She liked the view. Beautiful, tight buns.
Auggie moved to his bedroom window and put a hand against the glass. “West,” he pointed at the window. “Still cool.” He moved on to the big bay window that lighted his living room and touched it. “East; warm. I conclude that it is morning. Now, if we only knew the day and time? I could boot up the computer and check Greenwich Mean Time and do the calculations, or maybe, call the building Super and ask, but since we’re desperate…” Auggie picked up his watch from the bedside table and flipped it open. “Remind me, and someday I’ll teach you how to tell time.”
“Auggie!” Her tone was decidedly dangerous.
“It’s 10:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, August 28, 2011.”
She swung and clipped him on his scared shoulder.
“Ow.” He rubbed it and turned toward her with such a pained expression she felt terrible. “It’s not fair to blind side a blind man.” His mobile mouth turned down.
“You are such a faker! You stand there just the way God made you and complain about a pat on the shoulder. You’re lucky I don’t hit you where it would really hurt!”
His laugh washed over her, but he covered his male parts with both hands and turned away to find a robe.
“Go and shower, woman, and get going on some food while I clean up in here.
“Food.” Annie’s mouth started to water. “Steaks.”
“And hash brown potatoes.”
“And toast and coffee.”
“No.” Annie said. “Juice, or milk, or tea. You drink enough coffee at work. It’s bad for you.”
“We’ll thrash it out later.” He didn’t want to argue. “Annie, I hate to be a nag, but could you put things in the bathroom back pretty close to where you find them – please?”
“Why don’t we shower together, and then it won’t be a problem.”
“Honey, if we get in that shower together, we’re apt to end up in serious danger of starvation.” He leered in her direction. “You. Go wash. Cook.”
When Annie came out of the shower, the soiled sheets had disappeared into the hamper. The bed was perfectly made with military style corners and fluffed pillows exactly centered. Annie’s nightgown was neatly folded at the foot.
“Augs, I think I know what you can do, and then you totally confound me.”
“Sorry, Annie. I like things orderly. Just ask poor Barber. I’ve reamed him out often enough. I was pretty much raised to clean up after myself. With a houseful of boys, you had to have order or you’d end up with total chaos. Then the military sort of demands it, and when you can’t see… I realize it doesn’t make me any prize to live with.”
“Darlin’, I know women who would kidnap you, if the word got out. Most men are total slobs.”
He was denied the pleasure of watching Annie get dressed, so he headed off to the shower.
Annie made a huge meal. They ate every scrap and wiped their plates with the ends of the toast. Auggie insisted on doing the dishes. “You cooked,” he said; “I wash.”
Annie sat at the table with a last cup of cinnamon-scented tea and watched him at work. He cleared the table, stacked, and rinsed their dishes with the same even-paced, well-thought-out motions he used in the office. While not especially fast, it was remarkable efficient. Soon the dishwasher was loaded and running. When he finished, Auggie put both hands in the small of his back and stretched.
Annie stood and put her arms around his waist. The memory of something Joan had said stirred, and she ran her fingers lightly up and down his spine. “Back ache, babe?”
“Just stiff from too much sitting.” Auggie sighed, “I should go work out.”
“How about a back rub instead?”
“You would really do that for me?” He sounded amazed.
“Of course I would. I thought we were clear on this. I would do a great many things for you, Auggie. As my college roommate used to say, ‘No shame, jus’ ask.’ She was from Hawaii.”
Auggie delighted her with one of his engaging, room-brightening smiles. “Okay, I’m asking. A back rub would be great. And yes, it does ache. Never quite forgave me for some of the things that happened to it in Iraq. Where do you want me?”
“How about the window seat in the living area? It should be warm there.”
“Sounds good. I’ll get towels.”
Mid-morning, a Long Story Finally Told
While Auggie brought towels and carefully spread them over the seat cushions, Annie poured extra virgin olive oil into a glass bowl and warmed it in the microwave.
Auggie had pulled off his shirt and stretched out, face down. “Olive oil?” he asked when she approached. Even she could smell it.
“Hey, if it’s good enough for the steaks, it’s good enough for you. Best I’ve got at the moment. I’ll pick up some real massage oil next time we go out.”
“Which could be never, if it were up to me. Olive oil is fine.”
She spread the warm oil across his back and shoulders and noticed once again the handsome Special Forces tattoo that ran boldly down his spine and the tracery of fine surgical scars on his left shoulder. The closures had been beautifully done with tiny stitches that left only thin, white ridges against the darker tones of his skin. Still, there were more of them than she had thought.
“Auggie, how many times did they operate on your shoulder?”
“If you don’t count what they did at the ‘CASH’ to stabilize it, three, I think.”
‘You think! Don’t you know? And what’s a ‘cash’?”
“’Cash’ is Army slang for Combat Support Hospital – CSH. That’s where they take you if it’s close enough to reach in that first golden hour. Otherwise it would probably be a ‘FAST’ – Forward Surgical Team. As for the other, I’ve never been real sure whether it was one or two at Landstuhl. I was pretty much out of it for the first couple of weeks I was in Germany. By the time my memories are clear, I was already in an upper body cast.”
She dug her fingers into the knots of muscle at the base of his neck and along his spine. Gradually, as she worked, she could feel them begin to relax.
Auggie groaned in pure pleasure. “Feels so good, sweetheart. Please don’t stop.”
“I won’t.” She griped the base of his skull and massaged deep and slow, worked down the column of his neck and out across his shoulders.
Everyone in D.P.D. knew Auggie had been blinded in Iraq, but apparently only Joan had any idea exactly how much he had been through. He never said a word about it. She put some strength into working on his right shoulder, dug under the blade and moved the joint. He seemed to enjoy it.
When she moved to his left, she hesitated. “Auggie, how much pressure do you want here? I don’t like to hurt you.”
“Right under the two longest scars, it’s a little sensitive, but you’re not going to hurt me. Go ahead.”
“Darn it! How many times have I hit you with all I had – my right fist to your left shoulder? We were only working out. Why didn’t you say something?”
“Annie, my love, a fight is a fight, be it practice or for real. Never let your opponent know where he can hurt you, and if he lets you see his soft spot, hit him there – often and hard. If I let you pull your punches in practice, you’re likely to do it when the fight’s real. And that’s not good.”
She ran the warm, oiled heels of her hands in long, firm strokes along his rib cage then pulled in to follow the spine down to its base, hesitated a moment and then repeated the stroke.
He grunted in low, light gasps. “If I could only purr,” he mumbled. “Keep that up long, and I’ll be happy to tell you where the missile silos are located.”
“I don’t really care about missile silos. I’d like to know more about what happened to you? You’ve watched over me for two years. I thought we were close, and now I wonder if I ever knew anything about you.”
“Annie, we all have our war stories. Field ops, soldiers, intelligence analysts — pretty much everybody that we work with has their personal drama. I can’t see boring my friends with the messy details of how I ended back up at D.P.D. I haven’t been hiding anything from you on purpose.”
“Then finish your story. I care about the ‘messy details’. Whether you had one or two operations in Germany, you clearly had more when you got back to Walter Reed, and somebody did beautiful work. Tell me about that?”
“Okay, if you want; details as follows.” He hesitated for a few seconds. “The fine scaring is thanks to Harrison. Dr. Quinton T. Harrison, Neurosurgeon and arrogant bastard, but damn good at what he does. At Walter Reed, the orthopedics docs looked at my old X-rays and did a bunch of new studies. They concluded they could give me better mobility in the shoulder if they went in again. Before I let them schedule the surgery, I asked for a consult with Harrison. I knew I wanted a neurosurgeon, and from what I could gather from guys on the ward he had worked on, he was the best.
“My request went through, and he refused to see me. I knew what he thought when he saw my records. The IED left me with a major concussion, and I was blind. He thought I was going to ask him to open up my head and try to fix my eyes. But he was wrong. By that time, I pretty well knew that I wasn’t going to see again. I asked to talk with the Hospital Commander. He gave me a few minutes, and I explained what I wanted. I guess he spoke to Harrison, because he was steaming when I was led into his office. It took a while to get past his anger, but I finally made him understand that what I wanted was as much sensation back in by left hand as he could manage.”
“Auggie, your hand? You need it!” She ran her hands down the hard won muscle in that arm and massaged the long, capable fingers.
“You think? It didn’t take me too long to figure that one out when I realized that both the index and middle finger were numb. Anyway, Harrison eventually understood that I was basically a computer hacker for the government, and what I needed was good sensitivity in both hands. I explained that with some special hard and soft ware, I thought I could keep on in that line of work, but I had to have full use of my left hand. He’s never done anything exactly like that before and took it as a challenge.
“They scheduled a marathon surgery. The orthopedics guys went in and did their thing, and then Dr. Harrison took over. They tell me his work was brilliant, and he insisted on closing. That lovely lacework back there is all his. He even cleaned up some of the rough ones from earlier cuttings.” Auggie shrugged his left shoulder. “By the time the post surgery swelling started to go down, I could feel sensation coming back in my hand. He was as pleased as I was. I believe I’m written up in a medical journal somewhere as Patient 231.
“The rest is a long, boring tale of waiting to heal, followed by grueling physical therapy conducted by a bunch of sadists tougher than any drill sergeant, plus training in how to manage when you can’t see.” He half-turned, almost as if to look at her. “Good enough?”
“Thank you. It probably wasn’t easy to bring all that up again, but I’m glad I know. It’s a part of you that I want to share.”
Auggie’s back was relaxed and pain free for the first time in days, and Annie had changed from deep massage to long, relaxing strokes. They were quiet, talked out for a time. Annie was lavishing the sort of caring attention on Auggie that had previously been only an undefined longing in his life. Gradually his eyes closed, and he slipped into a deep, peaceful sleep.
When his regular breathing told her that he was at rest, she lightened her touch and let it gradually drift to a stop. She got up quietly and found a light blanket to cover him. She watched him sleep for a while, enjoying both the strong character and old-fashioned sweetness that his relaxed face showed. Somehow she had been lucky enough to find that rarest of commodities – a truly good man.
She moved as far away as the apartment allowed and used her cell phone to call Danielle and let her know that she was back and safe with Auggie. She promised she would be able to tell her more about her living arrangements in a few days.
Afternoon, a Special Gift
While Auggie slept, she quietly began preparations for their evening meal. She had brought a whole roast chicken, and was chopping up part of it to make a fresh chicken salad when the chopping knife slipped from her grasp and clattered onto the marble countertop. Auggie’s hearing was acute, and he was instantly wide awake, but years of field work make him careful.
Without stirring, he sampled the scents in his apartment. The rich odor of chicken was strong and mixed with it came the scent of Annie’s perfume; he relaxed. He sat up, stretched and said, “Annie?”
“In the kitchen, Auggie. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“You shouldn’t have let me go to sleep on you. How long have I been down?
She glanced at his big wall clock with the raised digits. “About an hour. I thought you could use the sleep. I was just getting a head start on dinner.
Auggie quickly touched his watch. “It’s only 2:10 p.m. Wouldn’t you like to do something? Maybe go for a walk? I’ll call down and ask Beauford what the weather’s like.” Beauford was the doorman for the apartment complex.
“Wouldn’t it be easier if I just looked out the window?”
Auggie ducked his head in a wry grin. “Yeah, why don’t you do that? Sorry, I’m not used to having eyes around.”
Annie walked to the window, and pushed it open. A warm breeze swept in and refreshed the room. It brought the scent of lilacs from the apartment gardens. “It’s a lovely afternoon for a summer Sunday stroll. I need to finish the chicken salad first, and change into something decent.”
“I seem to be pretty well marinated in olive oil, so I’ll catch a shower and put on something other than sweat pants, while you finish the salad.”
Annie completed the salad and came into the bedroom in time to watch Auggie dress.
“I can feel you watching me,” he said from where he stood in front of his clothing rack. He had already put on sharply starched and pressed jeans and a snowy white T-Shirt. He ran a hand along the rack of shirts. They were divided into dark blues on the right and lighter blues on the left. His whole closet was divided neatly into sections: pants, shirts, sportswear, coats and jackets. Each section was preceded by a Braille labeled divider. Within the sections, it ran from the darkest colors on the right to the lighter ones on the left.
Colors were limited to black, grays, blues and creams with a few white shirts at the far end, along with four dress suits – each with a Braille label. Even if something got misplaced, it would probably blend well enough to get by.
Auggie fingered the texture of three of the lighter blue shirts and selected a crisp cotton with short sleeves and an open collar. Annie took a summer beige and off-white two piece ensemble from her bag, Auggie tucked the shirt into his jeans and opened a drawer to take out a handsome belt of tooled leather with a silver Special Forces buckle. He threaded it effortlessly through the pants loops, buckled it and asked, “Will I do?”
“I might do a little something with your hair, if that’s okay?”
“Sure, glad of the help.” He pointed in the direction of a set of military brushes and combs on the dresser and sat down on a bench so she could reach him easily.
She brushed his dark hair until it gleamed and combed it as neatly as the unruly curls would allow. “You could use a trim,” she said and kissed the back of his neck.
He pulled her around into a proper kiss, and whispered in her ear. “Tonight I’ll brush your hair, but if we don’t go now, it’s gonna be too late.”
Annie gave her lip gloss a final check and caught his hand. “Come on, handsome, let’s go.”
Beauford’s smile was wide and happy when he saw Annie with Auggie. “You folks make a mighty fine lookin’ couple,” he told them. “It’s a grand afternoon. Enjoy your walk.” Beauford had looked after Auggie ever since he moved in. If the morning was rainy, or very cold, or the ground was icy, he always called up to alert him before he left for work. He liked the sightless ex-soldier, who always had a pleasant word, and Auggie’s generous Christmas gratuity meant a better holiday for his family.
Auggie touched two fingers to his forehead in a quick salute, while Annie thanked Beauford and gave him one of her lovely smiles.
Auggie’s apartment complex was in a nice neighborhood, and he knew it well. He swung his cane in lazy sweeps before him as they meandered side by side past upscale boutiques mixed with small family groceries and professional offices. The sidewalk was separated from the roadway by a wide green strip and everything was in a late summer burst of exuberance before the first frost.
Auggie was happy to idle along as Annie window shopped. He enjoyed the rich medley of scents and sounds his remaining senses brought him.
Suddenly Annie stopped and caught his arm. “Wait, Auggie. I want to look at this; it’s so beautiful.”
Auggie obligingly stopped and waited patiently, his hands clasped atop the long, white cane. When Annie sighed with longing, he asked, “What is it, Annie? Something you really like?”
“It’s a beautiful, double strand necklace of freshwater pink pearls. This shop specializes in pearls of all kinds. I’ve looked at similar ones before. It’s called a matinee necklace. One of those things on my someday wish list.”
“Why don’t we go in and look at it?”
“No, why waste the clerk’s time. I couldn’t possibly afford it.”
“It doesn’t cost anything to look. Does the shop appear to be very busy?”
Annie peered in through the display window. “Well, no, actually. There’s only one customer, and she seems to be leaving.” Auggie heard the door on his left open and the quick footsteps of someone walking away.
“In this economy, I expect they’re glad to have anybody come in and look. Come on.” He took her elbow and gave a little tug in the direction of the door.
Annie reluctantly led them into the store. The saleslady was quick to greet them. “Good afternoon and welcome to Priceless Pearls. How may I serve you?”
Annie opened her mouth to say, “We’re just …,” but before she could finish, Auggie spoke up clearly and firmly.
“The young lady would like to see the pink pearl matinee necklace you have in the window, please.”
“Certainly, sir.” She hastened to the display window.
“Auggie!” Annie hissed.
He smiled and ignored her.
The saleslady could see that Auggie was blind, and did her best to make it convenient for him. “I’ll display it here on the counter, if you could step over.” She tapped her nail several time on the glass counter top, and Auggie moved to stand in front of the velvet covered display space. He towed a blushing Annie along with him.
“My name is Evelyn,” the saleslady said. She was a handsome woman in her middle years with short, silver streaked hair. “I am delighted you have made such an excellent choice. These are unusually large nine millimeter freshwater cultured pearls with a marvelous light peach color and a beautiful luster. They have a triple AAA rating, which is quite rare, and are all perfectly round with very few irregularities. Our necklaces are carefully matched and drilled by our own certified jewelers. They are strung on a double strand of pure pink silk and double knotted between each pearl. The clasp is a Tiffany style in white gold and diamond chips. And we have a special this week. If you buy the necklace, we will include a pair of matching post earrings at no extra cost.” She paused. “What else may I tell you?”
“That was most helpful, thank you,” Auggie said. “May I touch them?”
“Certainly, sir. If I may…?” She took Auggie’s hand very lightly between her thumb and first finger and guided it to the pad where the necklace lay.
Auggie’s touch was delicate, his long fingers scrupulously clean and the nails short-clipped and well groomed. He let his fingertips glide over the smooth luster of the pearls without lifting it from its display space. “They feel lovely. The necklace length is …, just under two feet?”
“Wonderful, sir. Yes, twenty-two inches to be exact.”
“What do you think, Annie?” Auggie asked. “Do you like it?”
“Oh it’s gorgeous. They are perfectly matched and the color is so beautiful.”
“If I may say, sir,” Evelyn spoke up. “They would look so attractive on the young lady. She has the type of lovely fair skin that would set them off perfectly.”
“Ah, thank you, Evelyn.” Augie turned to Annie and captured her in that unfocused gaze that somehow conveyed warmth. “What do you say, Annie? Would you like to have them?”
“Auggie, of course I would like them, but I can’t possibly afford them.”
“I would very much like to buy them for you, if you permit?”
“Auggie, I can’t let you do that. You can’t afford them either. The price will run almost three thousand dollars with tax and duty.”
“Hold on a minute, Annie.”
Auggie turned to the waiting Evelyn, pulled out his billfold and extracted a platinum credit card. “If you would be kind enough to run my card and give me a moment with my friend…”
“Certainly, sir.” Evelyn took the card from his outstretched hand and stepped to the cash register at the front of the store.
Augie turned back to Annie, who stood still in shock. “Annie, love, I don’t want to embarrass you. If you like the necklace, please let me make you a gift of it? It would give me a great deal of pleasure.”
“Auggie, I … I don’t understand…”
“Perhaps I could explain later, at home?”
“Are you really, really sure you should do this?”
I am, I want to, and it won’t break the bank,” he assured her.
“Well, I don’t exactly know what to say, but … yes, yes. I love them! Thank you.”
Evelyn was back with a smile on her face and in her voice. “Priceless Pearls is most happy to accommodate you, sir. In fact, we just got in some magnificent Tahitian black saltwater pearls, if you would like to examine them.”
“Possibly another time. If you would just ring up the necklace and earrings? And can you put them in a nice case for her? I’d appreciate it.”
“Not a problem, Mr. Anderson.”
She had gotten his name from his card – an excellent salesperson. The store was lucky to have her, he thought. Hope she makes a decent commission.
Evelyn produced a lovely, pale blue, velvet case and carefully draped the necklace and the pair of pink pearl earrings inside, then wrapped it in several sheets of delicate, gold-veined tissue and placed it in a handsome shop bag. She filled out the charge slip, attached it to a small clipboard and placed it and a pen in Auggie’s hand.
He smiled one of his warmest smiled at her and said, “No offense is intended, ma’am, but sad experience had led me to a firm policy. Not everyone is as honest and charming as you are. Annie, if you would just check for me….?”
She had done this before with bar tabs and restaurant bills, but nothing in such a scary amount. She checked over the charge slip carefully before guiding Auggie’s hand to the signature line. He signed and was given his card back.
“I hope you will enjoy this lovely piece, Miss,” Evelyn told Annie. “And thank you, sir. Please feel welcome here at any time.”
“Thank you, again. You are a credit to the business. I hope they appreciate you, ma’am.”
Auggie had been raised with fine, almost elegant manners, Annie thought. While he was never coarse and rarely rude to anyone who didn’t heartily deserve it, you just weren’t as aware of it at work. Could the youngest kid in what sounded like a rowdy family become a cold war spy and a hot war warrior and still be a Southern gentleman? Apparently so. Annie wished she had known his mother.
When they had left the shop and drifted on down the walkway, Annie finally found her voice. “Auggie, thank you so much. This is just incredible.” She lifted the bag and looked at it with wide, wondering eyes. “I never imagined you would give me something so precious and lovely. I’ll always treasure it.” She put her hand over his where he held her elbow and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“Augs, I know it’s rude to ask, but I always thought you were just living pretty much paycheck to paycheck like the rest of us. Clearly, that clerk was impressed after she ran your card; Tahitian black pearls are about as costly as they come. Are you some sort of stock market genius or something?”
Auggie laughed. “Far from it, hon. More like dumb but lucky. It’s another of those long, boring stories. Let’s just enjoy our walk, and when we get home, I’ll go over it for you, if you still want to know.”
“Okay.” What else could she say?
When they passed by a drugstore, Annie insisted on going in to get massage oil and a few extra toiletries she needed. Auggie was content to sit on a nearby bench and enjoy the late afternoon sunshine while she made her purchases. Just being with Annie gave him a sense of deep inner peace that was too often missing from his present life.
When Annie came out with her purchases, he suggested they head back to the apartment. “And you have done enough cooking for one day,” he said. “Let’s stop at that little deli just before you get to the apartment block and pick up something to go with your chicken salad. Mr. Moretti makes these huge artichokes stuffed with some sort of mix of mushrooms and shrimp and wild rice that you have to taste to believe. And he has a fantastic dipping sauce to go with them. I’ve been known to buy two and call it supper.”
Annie agreed, and when they got to the deli, they couldn’t resist adding to the order. They got a pint of an Italian pasta salad filled with tiny fresh tomatoes, bits of salami and feta cheese, and Auggie added a bottle of a good Australian Chardonnay. Moretti made his own ice cream, and Annie was as delighted as a kid when he gave her a taste of a double dark chocolate with marshmallow streaks through it. Auggie asked for a half-gallon. Again he used his credit card to pay and this time signed without asking Annie to check. He had been doing business with Mr. Moretti for a long time.
Auggie had started out of the store with their purchases when Mr. Moretti caught Annie’s arm and whispered, “Dat’s a good man. You look like a nice girl. You treat him right, yes?”
“I’ll do my very best, Mr. Moretti,” Annie said and hurried after Auggie.
When they were out of sight of the deli, Auggie, whose hearing was acute, grinned. “Embarrassing, isn’t it? All I can say is, he means well. He’s a fine old gentleman who worries about all his regulars.”
“I’m glad you have such wonderful friends, Auggie, and I intend to do all I can to follow his orders.”
The shadows of evening had gathered by the time they were back in Auggie’s place. When they entered, Auggie turned to a wall plate set with switches and touched one that lit the apartment living and kitchen areas with a warm and cheery glow from recessed lighting.
Evening, Dinner and Details
They put the wine to chill in a tub of ice, and Annie set the table with the thick paper plates and tough plastic forks and spoons they had gotten at the deli. Neither of them wanted to do many dishes tonight, although, Auggie did get down two fine crystal wine glasses. The spread of fresh chicken salad, stuffed artichokes, and Italian pasta salad along with artisan bread and butter looked delicious.
“Do you think we’ll ever get caught up on the meals we missed,” Annie asked, “or will we just go on pigging out indefinitely?”
“As long as you go on cooking and Mr. Moretti stays in business, I vote for piggin’ out – at least until you finish all that ice cream.”
“I’m beginning to sense, August, my lad, that you are not very good about eating regularly.”
“Um, maybe.” He shrugged. “A lot of the time it just doesn’t seem that important.”
“Or by the time you get out of work, you’re too darned tired to care?” Annie added. “You stop by the tavern and have a couple beers and a slice of pizza or some nachos. A friend brings you home, and you fall in bed to get up and do it all over again the next day because somebody somewhere needs your help.”
Auggie’s shoulders slumped. “It’s my job; it’s what I do so I feel like I’m still some use in the world.” He paused and then offered a small defense. “I do make myself food sometimes after work. I keep the basics on hand, and I can cook a simple meal, but it takes time and thought. Sometimes it’s more effort than I want to put out.”
“I’m not scolding you, babe. I know I’m guilty of luring you out for beer and pizza way too often and then getting you home late.”
“Don’t worry about it, Annie. I’m a big boy. There are dozens of ways to get food if I need it.”
Auggie took a deep breath and raised the subject that had been on his mind constantly for the past weeks. “This seems like as good a time as any to deal with the elephant in the room, Annie. We’ve been dancing around it long enough. It’s hard when you can’t see the reaction on somebody’s face, but… here goes.”
“Annie, I love you, I want you, I need you. Will you come and live with me? I know Danielle has asked you to find your own place, and it’s both difficult and expensive to find decent housing in Washington. If you thought you could put up with me, live with all the hassle of a blind man, nothing in this world would make me happier than to have you move in with me.”
“Jeeze, Augs, I thought I had. You said ‘come home to me’, and when I arrived on your doorstep Saturday, in my mind, that was what I was doing. But then you didn’t bring it up, and I wasn’t sure if you really wanted me to physically move in. You’ve lived alone here for some time now, and you have everything organized so that it works for you. I can understand that having me here could cause real problems. Are you sure you’ve given it enough thought? I know what I want, and that’s to be with you.” The intensity in her voice left no doubt as to the truth of her feelings.
“Thank God! You live here now.” The happiness in his face made her heart turn over. “It’s just a question of picking up your things from Danielle’s. I’ll let the building manager know, and make security give me another set of keys for you. Remind me to show you how the lights work. Sometimes I forget, and there is no need for you to have to feel your way around in the dark. Guess you will need the whole lecture on how to live with a blind companion too – you know: don’t move the furniture without telling me and don’t drop your gear where I have to walk. We’ll get to all of that later.”
Auggie was suddenly bubbling over with everything he had wanted to say for so long. Eventually he realized it, and slowed down. “Now, why don’t we eat before all this great food I keep smelling spoils? We can start making plans after. I have something I want to bring up to you.”
“Yeah, Mr. Anderson, you have some ‘splaining to do in a lot of areas, so let’s open the wine and lubricate our vocal cords.”
They ate well, put away the few leftovers and disposed of the trash before settling with the last of the wine in the living room. Auggie went to his sound system and brought up a light orchestral piece on low as background music. He settled in what, from the wear on its glove leather upholstery, appeared to be his favorite chair. Annie pulled the matching footstool close and sat down facing him. She put one hand on his knee to maintain contact between them. He covered it with his own hand and sighed softly in contentment.
“Okay,” Annie told him, “you called first dibs, so what was it you wanted to bring up to me?”
“I’ve been thinking for a while of buying the adjoining apartment. There are only the two; we’d have the whole floor to ourselves. I know a good architect, and an old Army buddy has a small construction outfit. We could take down the dividing wall and modify the new place to suit you. That way you’d have your own bath and not have to worry about misplacing something or whether I’d strangle myself if you hung your hose in the shower. There’d be plenty of closet and storage space for your things. You should have your own safe, too. About all I want is more computer space. We could get my stuff out of the living area and set up a system for you as well. You could bring any furniture you want, or we can buy new. It would be up to you. What do you think?”
“I think my mind is about boggled. I was thinking I should offer to share the rent on this apartment. With its great location, it must cost the earth, and suddenly you are talking about buying the adjoining one, at what – half a million. Who are you really, Warren Buffet, George Clooney?”
His laugh was so filled with amusement and affection she felt weak. “Honey, you can’t share rent on this apartment. I own it. Well, there is the annual association fee and taxes and insurance, but no rent. The agency bought it for me as part of the agreement when I came back to work in D.P.D.”
“Clearly, there is something wrong with my negotiating skills,” Annie said bitterly. “I settled for a starter salary.”
“You’ll learn,” Auggie said with a grin. “As for the adjoining apartment, the couple who had it moved out last month. She was expecting, and I leased them a nice cottage in Cleveland Park I own. I paid three months rent on the place here and asked the management to hold it for me. When it became clear you were going to have to tell your sister what you did for a living, I knew you were likely to need a place to live. I hoped you might want to be somewhere close to me. Have to say, I’m glad it turned out the way it has.”
Annie shook her head, her beautiful brown eyes wide with astonishment, and then she realized that Auggie couldn’t see her puzzlement.
“I’m sorry, babe, but every time you open your mouth, I get more confused. Did you inherit from a rich relative, find gold in the mountains of Afghanistan, or rob the Grand National Bank of Iraq? You say you don’t play the market. Where does all this property and money come from?”
“Well, to answer your questions yes, no, no and sort of, but maybe I had better start at the beginning.”
“Sounds good, why don’t you do that?”
“Okay, first off, we grumble, but the agency does pay a living wage, at least at my pay grade. Then I have my military pension. When you lose your sight in the line of duty it’s considered a total disability. It’s not exactly a princely sum, and, for a lot of guys who are a hell of a lot worse off than I am, it should be more, but it comes every month.
“When I was in places they consider a tad dangerous to your health, I got something called hazardous duty pay. There isn’t a lot to spend extra money on in most of those places, so I got in on the ground floor of a couple of young electronics startups and one internet company I thought showed promise. I got lucky, and they skyrocketed.”
“So you are a stock market genius.”
“By no means. I’ve bought stock in three new outfits since then. One went belly up, and it will probably be two to five years yet before the other two show significant dividends. They’re in the green energy field. I try to put my money where it has a chance of helping other ex-military. But, the strange part comes next.”
“You have a way of making all of this sound so reasonable.”
“Honestly, Annie, it is. Really, it just sort of happened, especially this last. They had just shipped me back to Walter Reed, when my father’s oldest brother learned he only had a few months to live. He was a life-long bachelor and had no direct heirs. They held a family meeting, sans moi, and divided everything up. Uncle Hugo had done well in life, and, according to Dad, had the first nickel he ever made.
“My brothers got property or an interest in one of his businesses. Their kids got cash in the form of college trust funds, and there were a few other bequests. But they all decided that his portfolio of rock solid stocks and bonds should go to poor blind Auggie, presumably so I wouldn’t end up with a tin cup selling pencils in the street – or even worse, living with one of them. I knew nothing about it until he died. I tried to refuse, but the dang will was ironclad. It was kindly meant, I know, but still….”
Annie understood how it must have prickled Auggie’s newly earned pride in his independence to have such a gift thrust upon him. She stood and eased onto his lap. He accepted her slim but firm body eagerly. She leaned against his shoulder and let one hand tease the soft curls that tickled the back of his neck.
“Anyhow,” Auggie went on, “the old gentleman was a sharp investor. Even in today’s market, the dividends roll in every quarter. I just bank it for the most part. I try to give the family decent gifts at Christmas and for birthdays, graduations or whatever comes along.”
“But, Augs, there must be things you want for yourself?
“Ah, Annie, get real. What do I have to spend it on? I have no use for a flashy car, or a boat or an airplane. Not much use in going on luxury vacations when you can’t enjoy the view. I spend some on a few pieces of good sound equipment and keep a fast computer with a couple of special accessories. Even good music is relatively cheap, and the Library of Congress lets me borrow Braille books for free, or I can get them on disc. I don’t need a super-wide, LED screen TV with Blu-Ray and 3-D; although, when you move in I expect we will get something along that line. Mostly the darn money just builds up in the bank and earns interest. So you see, I could afford to give you the pearls.”
“And you can afford to buy a choice Washington apartment to make me happy and comfortable?
“To be honest, I could buy it outright, but at today’s interest rates, it would be a lot smarter to take out something like a five or six year mortgage at a fixed rate and not make that big a draw on the principal. That’s what I did with the Cleveland Park house. An older Korean War vet in Walter Reed wanted to sell it to buy an annuity for his wife. I got Dad to co-sign with me, since I wasn’t that good a risk just then, but I’ve paid it off.
“In the interest of full disclosure, I also own a building with ten apartments on the outskirts of Georgetown. It was pretty run down when I bought it cheap. The buddy I mentioned fixed up the apartments there; he ripped the insides out and put in all new plumbing, wiring, fixtures, the works. Then he put on a new roof and cleaned the exterior brick. A disabled Special Forces guy with a grounds company landscaped the place. I’m told it looks good. I rent only to military or ex-military, and have never had any problems with the renters or the community. Once I pay the live-in super — another ex-G.I. and his wife — take care of maintenance and pay my property manager’s fees, it brings in around nine to ten thousand a month. I can use that to pay off the apartment here.”
Annie snuggled deeper in Auggie’s grip and kissed the notch at the center of his breastbone. “Well, I guess that explains it. You just accidentally got rich, and none of your friends or co-workers know a thing about it?”
“Well, Joan and Arthur know about it. You have to disclose your financial status to the higher ups, so they won’t think you are in the pay of Lower Slobovia or High Dudgeon.”
“Little did I know when I began my campaign to lure you into my clutches that I was angling for such a rich catch,” Annie teased.
“You have your fish well hooked, ma’am, and he’s not even fighting the line. So, what do you think about the other apartment?”
“I think we should get my stuff and try it out for a month at least before you make any big commitments. You may hate having me in the middle of your life, day and night. You can’t know for sure. Can you hold off that long?”
“I can, but you’re wrong. I’m not going to change my mind. I just hope that you won’t.”
Annie ran her tongue around the coils of Auggie’s ear and then caught his lower lip between her teeth to tug gently.
“You are beggin’ for trouble, girl!” he told her as he gathered her up in his arms and stood. Without putting a foot wrong, he carried her into the bedroom and deposited her on the bed. “Bet you didn’t know I could do that.” His grin was wide and pleased with the effect he had caused.
“Auggie, I fully and completely believe you can do anything you set your mind to.” Aware that he couldn’t see her outstretched arms, she caught his belt and pulled him down to her.