~Two Days Before~
Danielle Brooks couldn't help the smile that graced her features. Hmm... I wonder...
Looking at her Messenger inbox, she replied:
This is spur of the moment. Considering whom I am getting this from, I shouldn't be surprised. I'll be there as soon as I can. Michael will stay with the girls. See you soon.
Auggie walked into his closet. On his second shelf alongside the right wall in the furthest corner, he reached for the worn, cedar box. Originally, it had been his grandfather's.
When Grandpa Anderson had got word that his youngest (and favorite) grandson was at Walter Reed after a sudden injury, he was the first family member to arrive at Auggie's bedside. He took the news of Auggie's blindness hard, although, it didn't take him long to recover. He was a soldier, Auggie was a soldier too. Their family was military and law enforcement; they all knew the risks that came with keeping their families, communities, and country safe. Somehow, Grandpa knew he'd be okay.
It was a couple weeks after he'd been sent back home. Grandpa met up with him at rehab to see how he was progressing. After a long, strenuous session with an overly peppy O and M (Orientation and Mobility) instructor, Grandpa had placed the old, cedar box in his hands. Auggie ran his hands over the top of the lid. Grandpa was an expert carpenter, he specialized in decorative wood burning. He had sanded the box before engraving Auggie's name on the lid. After, he applied a special stain on the wood that had epoxy combined in the formula. The words his grandfather spoke to him the day he passed the box onto him replayed in his mind.
Your grandmother gave me this box to store the letters she'd written to me while I was deployed during the Vietnam War. When I came home, I used it to hold mementos and trinkets that marked big moments of my life.
One of the greatest things to happen in my life has been the opportunity of being your grandfather. The last thing that I will put in this box is the hope that it will mean as much to you as it did me. The last thing I put on this box was your name, Auggie.
Don't let what happened hold you back, Son. You're an Anderson, Andersons fight back. When life deals you something bloody, you deal it back with your head high and shoulders squared. Promise me, Auggie, promise me, that you'll never stop fighting.
"I promise, Grandpa." he whispered as he fingered his dog tags. He was scared that he and Annie might not get the chance to have the life he'd been dreaming about. He'd go through hell and high water before he stopped fighting for his dream, for Annie.
Annie lay on Auggie's sofa. He wouldn't let her go back to her apartment. She was too tired to argue with him. The fact she didn't have the oomph to do so alarmed her. She didn't want to stay in his apartment with just the two of them there. There were multiple reasons why. One, she wanted to wait to seal the deal with him before sleeping with him again. Two, she was too much of an emotional mess to keep her head straight. Three, she could feel her body giving her all the signals that she wanted him something desperate tonight.
Closing her eyes, she could still feel the lingering sensations of his fingers tenderly trailing, ghosting over her body from the last time they'd slept together. He treated her as though she were a sacred, priceless jewel. She knew he desired her just as much as she did him. She also knew it wasn't safe for her to be alone with people out on the hunt for her. She just didn't know how to explain that to Auggie.
I don't want him to think it is because I think he can't protect me. I know, better than anyone, how capable and dangerous he is. The bad guys should be worried about Auggie getting to them more than the other way around. I don't want him to take it the wrong way. I still haven't talked to him about us...waiting.
His voice pulled her out of her thoughts.
"Annie? Are you still in the living room on the couch?" he asked.
"Yeah, I'm here." she said as she stood to meet him.
He shook his head, "Stay seated, Annie. I'm coming to you."
How does he do that with me?
She had a feeling he was about to say something important. She reclaimed her seat and watched as his muscular body came closer to hers. She was certain he could hear her heart pound faster. Her attraction and desire for him made her body tingle in anticipation of his touch.
He has no idea how much sway he holds over me. I've gotta get a hold of my raging hormones.
Auggie seated himself beside Annie and reached for her hand. She accepted, causing a large grin to appear on his face.
"Annie, we were so busy earlier, I wasn't able to get these for you. Since my proposal was extremely unconventional last time, I was hoping I could make it slightly more conventional. Mind you, it is only slightly." he explained as he dropped down on one knee.
Annie couldn't say anything due to her overwhelming happiness. Smiling, she wiped away some of the tears that broke through.
"Annie, would you grace me by wearing my name, until I can get you a proper ring, as a symbol for the whole world to see that you and I are each other's? Would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?" he asked as he placed the tags in her hands.
Fingering the engraved name on the tags, her voice raw from crying, she answered, "A million times 'yes.'"
"I take it that by your answer those are happy tears?" he asked.
"They couldn't be anything else, you goose." she laughed as she bent down to hug him.
Auggie held her tightly against himself and stood up. His strong arms held her about two inches off the ground.
"I thought Barber was the only one amongst our company who gave hover hugs." Annie laughed.
"Anne Catherine, I am full of surprises." he whispered.
Annie saw the mischievous sparkle in his eyes. "What else do you have up your sleeve, Auggie?"
"That, my dear, you'll just have to wait and see." he replied. Annie was certain the gleam in his eyes grew double fold.
"I seriously hate surprises." she whined.
"You didn't mind it so much your first year with the Company when got you a cake and arranged for the bullpen to sing for your birthday." he retorted.
"That was different, it involved cake." she replied.
"And this won't?" he asked with a smirk.
"Eventually...but I have to wait for the wedding day." Annie sighed dejectedly.
"Speaking of waiting for the wedding day..." Auggie said with an awkward grin.
"Yeah, I've been wanting to talk to you about that. I haven't found the words to be able to verbalize it." Annie agreed.
"I want you, Annie, more than anything. Tonight, I also want to be with you. However, I also want to start our new chapter off right. Besides, if we wait, I think that our wedding night will be better than the first time. We have been through so much since the last time. We are different people now. I think we deserve to give each other a fresh start, in everything." Auggie explained.
"I am in complete agreement." She smiled, "Auggie, don't take this next thing that I have to say the wrong way, but I don't think it should just be you and I, alone here, tonight. It's not that I think you're incapable of keeping me safe, but rather the exact topic of what we just discussed." she said.
A knock on the apartment's door drew their attention. Auggie laughed, "Although we have grown more as individuals, somethings never change. I always come prepared." He walked to the door and said to Annie, "Close your eyes."
Annie rolled them before complying.
"Annie, I said to close them, not roll them!" he called.
"They are closed, Dearest. How do you always do that?" she asked. Oh no...I already know what he will say. I can't believe after all this time, I asked that.
True to her suspicions, as he opened the door, he gave his typical quip, "Some people call it a sixth sense, I prefer to call it a fifth."
She laughed and tried to say, "Auggie, you're incorri-"
She was cut off by a joyful and extremely familiar female voice, "ANNIE!"
Annie opened her eyes and her jaw dropped. She spread her arms wide and prepared for the impending hug. "DANIELLE! Oh, Auggie, this is what you had up your sleeve, isn't it?!" Annie giggled as she and her sister wrapped their arms 'round each other.
"I will neither confirm nor deny that claim." he said with a shrug.
"Auggie told me that he was going to have a female house guest and needed someone to come and stay with you guys." Danielle smiled.
"How long are you going to stay? Did the girls come?" Annie's excited words tumbled out.
"I am my own boss, so work isn't a problem. No, they still have school, remember? Michael took some time off work to spend with them." she informed.
Jumping into the conversation, Auggie asked, "How's that going?"
"We have our good days and our bad days just like anyone else. But, thanks for asking." she replied.
"We all make mistakes, and we all need second chances." Annie commented.
Auggie knew what she was referring to- that night with Helen. The thought still filled him with guilt. Words that he had spoken to encourage Annie echoed in his head: We can't go back in time. All we can do is move forward.
Taking a deep breath, he vocalized his agreement with Annie, "Yes, all we can do is forgive and move forward."
Annie walked over to him and tucked her hand into his, silently telling him: It's okay. I already forgave you. I know you forgave me too. You're not alone.
Danielle furrowed her brow. Glaring at the silver dog tags around Annie's neck she asked, "What's with the tags?"
Annie tossed her hair to the side and smiled, "They're my engagement tags...at least until we get the ring."
Danielle rushed for the two of them. "Finally! After five years! Chloe and Kat will be so excited! Auggie, they asked me a long time ago when could they call you 'Uncle Auggie'. I am going to tell them when I call them in the morning that they can now! When are you two going to tie the knot?" she asked breathlessly.
"Hold your horses, Sis. We haven't even been able to talk about that yet. Plus, we're in the middle of a case. I don't think we'll be able to even think about wedding plans until after it's over. I do know this much, I want a chocolate cake, a sheath wedding dress, and a very small ceremony. Just us, your family, Auggie's family, the Campbells, Marj and her family, and Barber." Annie stated.
"I agree with you, however, you should be warned, anything involving my family turns into a sizeable shindig. Also, we should invite Sañtos, Jared and his family, the Evans, and Vanessa. Marj would never forgive you if she didn't get to drag Vanessa along. She is determined to set her up with Barber." Auggie said.
"Yeah, I had that in mind with Vanessa already. I automatically categorized her in Marj's family. I can't believe I didn't think about Sañtos, Jared's family, and the Evans!" Annie said as she smacked her forehead.
"I feel like I have missed out on a lot within the last year and a half. Who are all these people? When did you and Marj start hanging out again? What case? Wait, can you even talk about your case?" Danielle asked.
"Sañtos is a neighbor and good friend of mine. He has great taste in company for drinks and conversation." Auggie answered.
"That latter description sounds a lot like someone I know." Annie said.
Danielle decided to play along in the familiar banter of her sister and future brother-in-law, "I wonder who that could be? Is it Dr. Scott?"
"Danielle, you wound me." Auggie scoffed.
"I don't think much can hurt your schmarmy personality, Auggie." Danielle laughed as she patted his shoulder in a friendly manner.
"As far as the others go, Jared is also a friend of Auggie's and his usual driver. The Evans are friends of ours and the Campbells. Vanessa is Marj's sister-in-law." Annie answered.
"You have friends everywhere, don't you?" Danielle asked.
"You have no idea." Annie smiled.
"Believe it or not, I probably have more of an idea than you guys have given me credit for." Danielle replied.
Annie didn't miss the twinge of hurt in Danielle's eyes. She changed the subject, "As far as Marj is concerned, I caught up with her a week or so ago. She is actually helping us on the case we're doing."
Danielle's interest piqued, "So...you guys seriously aren't working with the CIA anymore?"
"In the sense that we are not employed by the CIA anymore, that is accurate. However, we, as well as a friend of ours, and our boss, still have connections within the CIA and abroad. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the people there keep tabs on us." Auggie said.
Danielle gasped, "Oh my!"
"I think the persons whom Auggie is talking about is actually in the singular. If I'm correct, that person can be trusted." Annie said with a look of confidence to affirm her sister.
"Can you tell me anything about your case since you're not directly involved with the CIA?" Danielle asked.
Annie squeezed Auggie's hand, their equivalent of a questioning glance to each other. Auggie squeezed back twice, to put into words, "Go ahead, Annie. Danielle can be trusted."
Annie inhaled deeply, "Joan, our boss, found out there is a large sex ring in the area. Marj and her sister-in-law, Vanessa, are helping me go undercover to bust some of the women that go to Marj's self-defense class she teaches. I went to my first session tonight as my cover. Joan is going to loop in a contact of ours within the FBI to help."
"Wow. A sex ring? Annie, you had better be careful." Danielle whispered.
"Danielle, I am certain that Annie is the only person who can do this. She has...well, I can't tell you everything, but she has done a lot of things that qualify her for this." Auggie said in hopes to boost Danielle's confidence.
"Well, I don't know about you two, but I am utterly exhausted." Annie yawned as she stretched her arms.
"You ladies take my bed, have a sister slumber party. I claim the couch." Auggie said.
"Alright. G'night, Auggie." Danielle said as she kissed his cheek. She whispered into his ear, "Thank you, for keeping my baby sister safe. Thank you, for loving her and letting me come this week. I am still getting over what happened when she was dark, but I am very grateful to be here." she said as her eyes formed tears.
"It is my pleasure, Dani. I am glad you were able to come." Auggie replied. He was getting choked up himself.
Annie wasn't sure what was said between her sister and fiancé. She did, however, have a strong hunch of what was briefly discussed.
"Good night, Auggie. I love you." Annie said before kissing him.
"Good night to you too, Future Anderson." he grinned.
Auggie was awakened by the sound of footsteps pattering across his linoleum floor in the kitchen. They almost sounded like Annie's. These footsteps were slightly heavier than Annie's were. It wasn't in a way that indicated too much body weight, rather the type of steps you'd hear from someone who was quite tall. He was six foot and a half inch tall; Danielle, in comparison to himself, was about five foot ten. Annie was the shortest out of the three, even though she was still considered tall for a woman at her height of five foot six.
"Good morning, Danielle." Auggie groggily called out to her.
She slurred,"How'd ya know it wa' me?"
Auggie was certain he'd never used his sixth- sense-fifth -sense joke with Danielle before.
Upon hearing it, Danielle rolled her sleepy eyes and replied, "It's waaaayyyy too early in the day for your jokes, Auggie."
He grinned as he groggily ran his fingers through his hair,"It is never to early in the day for one of my famously, infamous blind jokes, Danielle. Anyway, they're already working their miracles."
"What does that mean?" she asked with a snort.
He smiled, that was the same unimpressed, sarcastic snort Annie gave him. Must be a family trademark. "When you first spoke to me the sleep was so strong in your voice that your words slurred. After my brilliant quip, you once again sounded like a civilized human."
He suddenly felt the uncomfortable twinge in his gut when Annie was about to retaliate.
"How mature of you, Danielle." he grunted. It had to have been Dani. Annie is still asleep.
"That wasn't me." Danielle replied.
No wonder I got that feeling in my gut again.
"Annie, you know better than to do such things to your poor, helpless, blind fiancé." he said in a tone dripping of mock indignation.
"You are far from poor and helpless. I have seen you run circles around sighted guys numerous times. Besides, I had to defend my sister's honor."
"There are many things I can do better than sighted guys." Auggie said with a suggestive glint in his eyes.
At that, both women smacked his shoulder.
His perfect silhouette could be traced behind the long, transparent window curtains. She couldn't help but admire it. He was hers anyway.
"Darling, why do you ignore me?" she sang out.
"I am not ignoring you. How could I ignore a beautiful flower such as yourself? You, my doll of a wife, are far too brilliant for one to ignore." he said as he turned in her direction.
Slinking her long legs, she approached him. He pulled her to himself. His body language claiming her as his most adored possession.
"What is wrong? You know it isn't good to allow worry lines to scar your beauty. It is sacred to me." he said breathlessly into her ear.
"Do you think they know, Darling? Do you think they have any idea how deep this goes? They have no idea how he truly died." she said with a forlorn look in her black eyes.
"You have played your cards expertly. They will never connect that... unfortunate happening with us." he reassured her.
"I hope you're right." she replied with a kiss to his cheek.
He ran his hand through her shoulder length auburn hair. "I am always right. No need to doubt now. With my wealth and your brains, we are unstoppable. It is unbelievable to me that old windbag was able to teach you anything."
She laughed, ruefully, at his words. "I am too. Nonetheless...I was his favorite."
He locked eyes with her before kissing her.
"If we are able to collect the latest pieces Giles informed us of, I think we'll be able to close everything down."
She smiled with pleasure, "I am ready to retire."
"I am ready for you to retire as well, Lovely. I know of the perfect place tucked away in the Indian Ocean." he whispered into her ear.
"Perfect." she cooed.
"Not nearly as perfect as you." he said with desire.
"Oh, Lawrence...you spoil me." she giggled.
"I much prefer my name over the pseudonym we conjured." he said in scorn.
Placing a hand on his freshly shaved face, she comforted him, "Very soon, I will devise a way for Trevor and Kayla Mattis to die."
The woman glanced at her temporary ID. She was looking forward to ditching the disguise. The black hair wasn't her style. It won't be much longer.
Kelly Mark picked her phone up. She hated the thing. Yet, it was necessary to be at Bennett's beck and call. There were two very good reasons for why she continued to be the woman's lap dog and snitch. One, the money was the best she'd ever gotten. Two, her life depended on it. She knew too much to be able to walk away without making herself a target.
She hated the line of work she was in. She hated the looks of betrayal she constantly received. Yet, she knew she deserved much worse than those haunting glares. I don't know if I'll be able to continue doing this.
Sighing, she answered the phone, "Hello?"
Bennett replied, "Did you have Giles contact Pierce?"
I hate myself. "Yes, he is looking forward to the twins... especially when I told him they behaved like virgins."
"Did you contact the collector for our little gem?" Bennett questioned.
"There was no need. Giles expressed great interest in her. He has a thing for blondes. He has money; I am sure he'll be more than happy to meet whatever price we offer." she said.
"Mark, you continue to impress me. Leave for ten a.m. You'll find an old sewer behind the large pine tree in the park near the library Under the sewer lid, you'll find your money." Bennett informed.
There was no need to reply. Bennett hung the phone up.
Eric Barber turned the corner past the library. He was fairly certain he caught a glimpse of Vanessa Tyler as he approached the park. Despite the chilly, late winter air, the weather was pleasant. The bright, blue morning sky had beckoned him out of his apartment. He took the time to go for a walk and grab a coffee from his neighborhood café.
"Eric? Is that you?" a voice called out to him.
He turned around and felt all rationale leave him. Don't be dumb this time.
"Hey! I thought I caught a glimpse of you when I walked by the library. What are you doing out so early in the day?" he asked as he took a sip of his coffee.
"I was at the library looking for some books on ASL." she explained.
"Were you able to find any? What's ASL?" he asked with a quizzical expression.
"Yes, they're in my backpack," she said as she hooked her thumb in its direction on her right shoulder, "American Sign Language." she answered.
"Oh, I've only ever heard of it referred to as 'sign language.'" he commented.
"That's the case for most people. I was there a few weeks ago. I am still in the very, early stages. Anyway, most countries have their own signed languages just like they also have their own oral languages." she explained.
"That makes since. So, isn't ASL just signed American English?" he asked.
"No, from what I have learned and am still learning, ASL is its own unique language. It's got its own syntax and grammar. Around ASL revolves the beautiful, thriving world of Deaf Culture." she said.
"Sounds like a great opportunity to learn and absorb a new language and culture." he said thoughtfully.
"It is. However, I've still got a lot to learn. There's a Deaf woman at my church that has been giving ASL classes. She invited me at our last service to go to a party with some of her friends. She said that I was her most interested and enthusiastic student, so she wanted to give me hands on experience. I don't know if she intended to make a pun there or not, because ASL is literally hands on." she giggled.
"I can see why." he commented.
"By the way, the outfit looks good. You also smell really nice today." Vanessa complemented.
"Thanks. You're not bad yourself." he complemented in return.
"Would you like to go with me to the park? I can show you some of what I have learned already." she invited.
"Totally." he said, nauseating excitement building in his gut.
Five minutes later, they found a bench to sit on. Vanessa explained what she understood of ASL to him. She taught him how to sign his name. She couldn't help but laugh, he was trying so hard.
They're fun, however, didn't last long. Barber jerked straight when he caught sight of a familiar form across the park behind the pine tree.
"Look over there at the pine tree. Don't make any movement or eye contact. Does that person look like Kelly Mark to you?" he asked as he pointed towards the pine tree.
"Yes... unfortunately." Vanessa sighed.
"What is she doing?" Barber asked with squinted eyes.
Lowering her head, Vanessa placed her hand over her eyes. The position moved the winter sunlight out of her direct gaze.
"She is pulling something out of the ground."
Barber nodded in acknowledgement of the find,"Yeah, it's a duffle bag."
"Should we approach her?" Vanessa asked.
"No. That would blow our cover and make things really bad. I'll contact Joan." he answered.
"You have any plans today?" Vanessa asked while toying with one of her curls.
He tried to think of how Auggie would tell him to answer that question. Think quick and be confident, Man. You got this.
"Yes. Going to get brunch with you after I call Joan." he said with a smile.
Vanessa smiled back, "We could go back to that place you got your coffee from. My friend works there. I am told her boyfriend, who runs the place, makes the best waffles in town."
"Sounds like a plan to me." Barber replied.
Arthur's large brows shot up at Joan's grunt of interest. The person on the other end of her conversation must have said something important. Their talk didn't last long.
Joan placed the cell back on the kitchen table and took a sip of her tea.
"What was that about?" he asked her.
"Barber. He went out this morning and ran into Vanessa Tyler, Marjorie's sister-in-law. They were at the park talking, when they spotted Kelly Mark, one of the women involved in the sex trafficking ring, retrieve a large duffle bag from behind a pine tree."
Arthur motioned with his hands in similar fashion to that of a college professor. "I hate to state the obvious, but it most likely was money in that bag."
"I agree with you. By the way, have any of your friends found information on Hayden Wilcox?" Joan asked with one perfectly shaped, raised brow.
"Not much, but, they did discover Henry had a mistress. The woman's name is not known. My sources said she most likely hailed from Paris. There are rumors he had a child by her four years before Sana had Jai." Arthur informed.
"We already knew he cheated on poor Sana with a younger woman. Him having multiple affairs doesn't surprise me one bit." Joan whispered.
Arthur saw the familiar flash of pain in his wife's blue eyes. Due to some of his former undercover work, and work in general, she suspected him of cheating on her many times. She would cry and beg him to reveal the truth. He couldn't bring himself to do it all those years ago. He thought it would have brought about her death. Looking back, I wish I would have read her in. At least, our marriage might not have died during those stressful years.
Things started looking up for their relationship when Mack was born. He gave them something to look forward to again. He was the symbol of their love and commitment to each other.
He inhaled deeply and pulled another layer of the onion known as their marriage back, "Joan, there was more to that comment you made than the obvious. I am not Henry. He ACTUALLY cheated on Sana, multiple times, and did many other low, dirty things. I never did, and never will do those things to you."
Hurt and anger etched her face. She tossed her fair head to her left shoulder and crossed her arms. She was thinking, analyzing his words to separate the facts from her feelings.
She closed her eyes and turned her head back to face him. The exhale she gave was so deep, Arthur could see her nostrils flare. She opened her endless, azure eyes to look him in his, "Arthur, I know you didn't. I'm sorry for implying a comparison to you and Henry. You are, always have been, cut from a higher cloth. I know the things you did in the past were to protect me. I appreciate and value your care and concern. I'm also thankful that in the last year and a half you have been honest and upfront with me. Thank you, Arthur."
He laid a strong hand on her shoulder and drew her into himself. She fit perfectly to his body. She had always been the missing piece. When he held her this way, he felt the fractures of his heart from the life he never had with Teo, AnnaSophia's death, the trust he broke in Teo, and Teo's death slowly heal.
"I love you, Joan." he whispered.
"I love you, Arthur." she replied.
Annie protested being able to return to her apartment to get more of her things. Auggie refused to let her go. Danielle yanked Annie's keys from her and said she would go and get everything. Annie finally relented and gave Danielle her apartment address.
After Danielle walked out the door, Annie quietly laid a hand on Auggie's shoulder. He seemed rather frustrated by her antics. When he got worked up, sometimes he wasn't as aware of his surroundings. She didn't want to frighten him.
"Auggie? What's wrong?" she asked.
"Your determination to go out there and get potentially spotted by those people who are after 'Amber Truesdale.' Joan didn't think they'd actually target you, Annie, but they have! It would be reckless to go out there and get yourself kidnapped...or worse! Please, just stay here with me until we get this mess cleared up." he placated.
"Auggie, you know I can take of myself." she whispered.
"Annie, don't you think out of all people I know that most?" he defended.
"Of course. It's just that..." her voice trailed off.
"It's just what?" he demanded.
"Auggie, I don't do good under lock and key. I never have. I don't do good staying stuck somewhere when I know I have the ability to do something to stop the bad guys." she answered.
Hurt furrowed his brow. Anguish laced his voice, "Is that what I am to you? A jail cell? Can't you see I am just trying to protect you so WE can stop the bad guys together? You promised you wouldn't put work before me anymore, Annie."
Annie turned away from him. He never could see how his protectiveness came across as controlling. She didn't say anything.
Auggie's nerves were shot. How did their morning go from great to horrid in just a few hours? Annie's silence wasn't helping matters.
He took a few steps toward where he heard her voice last. She sounded like she was in front of the credenza. What he wasn't expecting to find was a small suitcase. He reached out to balance himself- to no avail. He unfortunately, wasn't the only casualty; he heard three or four things fall down with him. He wasn't sure where any of the items were.
Why was the suitcase there, anyway? Annie knows not to leave her things in the way.
He stretched his arms out to find the suitcase. He was surprised at how close it was to his feet. It felt like Annie's suitcase she always stored in her car trunk for emergencies.
No wonder she was so set on leaving. She wasn't planning on coming back.
Annie watched Auggie fall. She watched him inspect Danielle's overnight bag that she'd forgotten to pick up last night. Danielle hadn't even brushed her teeth yet for the day. When her sister was out of her element, it usually took her awhile to gather her bearings. She would have to gather them much faster so Auggie wouldn't break a leg. By the confused, hurt look on Auggie's face, she had a pretty good idea of what he was thinking right now.
Parker packed her suitcase without telling him. Then, she left him behind.
Annie dashed over to him. Wrapping her arms around him, she looked him square in the eyes. He might not be able to see her gaze, but she knew he would feel it. "Auggie, I already know what you're thinking. That's not my suitcase. I know it feels just like mine, but that is because Danielle and I have a matching set. She forgot to not leave her things in your way. I'll remind her when she gets back. I'm not Parker, Auggie, I am not going to leave you behind. You and I both know that when I did it was because I felt like I had no other choice. I did what I did to protect you."
"Yes, however, like I told you back then, the idea of taking Henry Wilcox down was a power trip for you." he said pointedly.
"Yeah, it was. But, you also said you thought it was hot." she replied.
His face softened. "Yeah, I still do. You said that you did what you did to protect me, Annie. Can't you see that is all I am trying to do for you? I can't chase down the bad guys the same way I used to. At close contact, sure, I stand a chance. Tracking them down online, I can stop them, especially when I am working with you. After I lost my sight, I learned I can't do everything on my own. Neither can you, Annie." he said tenderly.
Annie's shoulders slumped, "I know. My heart condition makes it all too real. It's hard to accept. I guess I forgot that you understand that feeling better than anyone."
Auggie reached for her, "Yeah, I do, but, your condition is reversible. Mine isn't. I want to be able to help you reverse yours, Annie.
I know that you feel like I'm over-protective and controlling. I'll admit, I am over-protective, but I have never tried to control you. It might have come across that way, and I'm sorry it did. I don't have the greatest history with my communication skills in interpersonal relationships. I'm trying, though, Annie, I really am. Besides, has anyone ever been able to control you? You're a wildfire, Annie Walker. Don't ever let anyone put it out. You light up my world."
Annie wiped her tears away, "Thanks, Auggie...for everything. It does come across controlling sometimes. I think that if we keep on talking and being honest with one another, we'll see the other's motives more clearly. I'm sorry for arguing with you."
He gave her a weary grin, "It's alright. I just don't want to give the bad guys a chance to nab you. I can keep you safe here. If you're out there where I can't hold you close, where I can't hear you, then I can't see you and know you're okay."
She placed her hand on his cheek, "Auggie, you have always seen me and protected me better than anyone. I don't plan on going anywhere. Due to my stubbornness, when someone tries to help me or protect me, I automatically feel like they're trying to control me."
"I know the feeling all too well. I'm sorry I made you feel that way." he replied.
"I'm sorry I allowed my stubbornness to blind me from seeing your heart in wanting to keep me safe. No pun intended, there." she laughed.
"Well, you're not the only one with an overly developed stubborn streak. We just have to make sure we don't allow our determination to help each other hurt each other like we did last time. I find my over protectiveness increased when you came home." he admitted.
"Yeah, that was part of why I pulled away. I had been alone for so long that any attention felt smothering. I think my perception was skewed, but it bothered you that I was more independent, didn't it?" she asked.
He furrowed his brows before he answered, "I wasn't bothered by your independence. I was, still am, proud of all you accomplished. Honestly, a woman who is confident in herself and her abilities is a beautiful thing. You're a rarity, and I never want to do anything to hamper that about you. You made me feel like you didn't want me anymore when you said you didn't want any emotional attachments." he answered.
"I didn't think I deserved to have you in my life anymore. I knew I'd hurt you by shutting you out for the majority of those four months. I thought that by shutting you out, I would protect you from being hurt again. I felt like I'd given you the impression that I only wanted you for what you could give me and not just because I wanted you. I didn't feel worthy of your love. I was...am...a killer after all." she cried.
Auggie wiped her tears away, "No, Annie. You're not a killer. You're a warrior. You always have been. You are worthy of my love. I was hurt, but I understand why you did what you did."
"I love you, Auggie." she said.
"I love you too." he replied.
"You ready to get off the floor?" Annie asked.
"That sounds like a great idea. What all fell?" he questioned.
"Uh, lemme get a better look...cane, wallet, keys, and earbuds." she answered.
"All of which aren't easily damaged or broken. That's a relief." he sighed.
Annie gathered the items and placed them back in their places on the credenza. She put her hand in Auggie's and helped him get his balance. In need of a change of scenery, they walked out to the balcony connected to Auggie's bedroom. Hand in hand, they enjoyed the early morning together. About thirty minutes later, Danielle's voice called to them from inside the apartment. Auggie entered his bedroom and told her where they were.
"Okay, I am going to put Annie's things on your bed, Auggie." she informed.
"Sounds good to me. Annie, did you hear your sister?" Auggie asked.
"Yeah, that's great." she answered before yelling her thanks to Danielle.
"I think it is still too soon in the day for us to start yelling. My neighbors will end up reporting me." Auggie laughed.
"You're probably right. Let's go on back inside. Danielle is probably ready to invade your kitchen." Annie said.
"Hmm...I think it would be better if I made breakfast. I am the host after all." he grinned.
Annie was fluent in many languages, including "Auggie-eez." She didn't make a comment on his real reasons for why he preferred to cook, and he loved her for it. That was the one of greatest things about Annie for Auggie. She understood him without him having to state the obvious. What he had really been implying was: Danielle doesn't know where things go and how I need them to be. We can avoid a bunch of frustration and awkwardness if I just do the cooking.
Annie squeezed his hand as they walked into the kitchen. A signal to let him know Danielle was already brainstorming something to prepare.
"Danielle, Auggie said he would make breakfast. Would you like to go and help me make wedding plans while he gets it ready?" Annie offered.
Auggie smirked. Brilliant plan, Walker. She could never refuse helping you plan our wedding.
Danielle wasn't buying it just yet, "I thought you said you couldn't even think about that until after your case."
"It's true...but since you're here and catering, decorating, baking, cooking, and organizing are in your department, I figured I should bounce ideas off your expertise." Annie explained.
Danielle's ego was stoked. She lowered her arms to her side as she announced, "I'm glad you finally came to your senses! I have been planning your and Auggie's wedding for years now! Come on, let me fill you in on them!"
Laughing, Annie leaned into Auggie and whispered, "Wish me luck."
Auggie chuckled, "This time, you might actually need it."
Danielle smacked her forehead when Annie told her about the Suitcase Incident.
"I'm so sorry, Annie! How could I be so dumb?!" she huffed.
"Hey, it's hard when you're in a new place in general... especially when you have to make some adjustments to your habits. Trust me, I have had to learn a lot too. Welcome to the kindergarten levels, Grasshopper." Annie said with a dramatic bow.
"Thank you, Sensai." Danielle replied with a bow of her own.
"Anytime." Annie said as she briskly waved her hand.
"Annie, why didn't you guys let me cook? When we would hang out together in the past, you two always begged me to cook. What changed?" Danielle questioned.
Annie looked her sister over to assess her feelings. She didn't appear offended, just genuinely curious.
"Auggie felt since he is our host be should prepare breakfast." Annie answered.
"Allow me to read between the lines here. I already forgot about leaving my stuff around without informing Auggie. If I went into kitchen and moved things around, he would have a hellacious time trying to find things when he went back." Danielle said with a raised brow.
"Exactly." Annie said with a nod.
"Why didn't he just straight out say that?" Danielle asked.
"Some things you'll learn about your soon-to-be brother-in-law, Dani, is that he is fiercely independent, hates to put other people out for any reason, hates to draw unneeded attention to himself, is extremely private, and tremendously giving. All those factors combined means he didn't want to make you, his guest, have to work or create an awkward situation that would give him attention or possibly offend you." Annie explained.
"Well, some things he will have to learn about his soon-to-be sister-in-law is that I don't pity him in the least, have never felt put out by him at all, am a quick learner, and will do whatever I can to help in whatever way I am asked." Danielle stated.
Annie's heart warmed at her sister's words.
She smiled, "I am sure he'll see that the more he's around you and your family."
"Don't you see, Annie? You two are my family." Danielle giggled as she ruffled her baby sister's hair.
"Aww, thanks, Dani. Stop that! You know I hate it when you do this!" Annie barked the last few words.
Auggie stepped into the bedroom where the women were. "Hate what?" he laughed.
"She hates it when I ruffle her hair." Danielle replied.
"Oh, no, Danielle. You have no idea what you just did." Annie said in melodramatic fashion.
Danielle puckered her lips in order to keep herself from bursting in laughter at her sister's ridiculousness. "Please inform me of what I just unleashed from Pandora's box." she said.
Annie didn't have to answer. Auggie had already made his way to Annie's side and began ruffling her hair. Danielle rolled over in a fit of giggles. When she came back up for a breath, Auggie had released Annie.
Auggie managed to look in Danielle's general direction, "Thank you, so much, for that insight into Annie's top secret, high priority list of pet peeves. I knew many of them already, but the hair ruffling is a new one I am excited to have been able to add.
Now, ladies, I have a breakfast of toasted bagels and fruit slices awaiting you. There's also another pot of coffee on. Do not make your chef wait. Let us proceed." he said as he pointed his finger in the direction of the kitchen.
He let the women exit the bedroom first. Danielle leaned down to Annie's ear and whispered, "I can see why you two fell hard for each other. I am glad you guys were able to work through your problems."
Annie nodded, "Yeah, I am too. We still have more healing to do, but we are much better. Thanks, Dani."
Danielle wrapped her left arm around Annie's shoulder, "No problem, Kiddo."
~Later that Afternoon~
Annie's phone vibrated on Auggie's kitchen table. She looked down to see who the incoming message was from.
Joan: Where are you?
Joan: Just the two of you?
Annie: No, Danielle is here too.
Joan: Well, even though I don't like this, it seems as though she will be privy to some information I am about to tell you in person. It is too important to share over a call or digitally. Arthur and Mack are with me. Be there in twenty.
Annie: Danielle has always been able to piece together bits of information that I have tried to keep from her. With us being..."self-employed" is how I'll put it, I think she deserves to know more about what's going on in my life. You, as well I, know better than anyone how much hiding the truth causes relationship damage.
Joan: Fine, you're right, Annie. Gotta go. See you soon.
Annie: Thanks, Joan. See you soon.
Auggie was cordial with Arthur, but maintained a distance. There were many things that still had to be said between the two men and now wasn't the time or place. He sensed that Arthur picked up on that. It made some of the respect he'd lost for his mentor begin to bud again.
Annie read the tenseness in Auggie's body language when Arthur entered the room. After Joan gave him Mack though, he calmed a bit. Danielle thought the little boy looked exactly like his mother.
"I'm glad he does." Arthur laughed "Could you imagine a one year old with these eyebrows?" he asked as he motioned to his thick brows.
Annie's eyes widened when Auggie actually laughed at something said by Arthur.
"No one should have to suffer life with those eyebrows, Arthur. Which side of your family do you get them from?" Auggie asked.
Danielle was surprised that Auggie knew what Arthur looked like. They must have known each other before the explosion.
Auggie had been stoic around Arthur ever since he came home from Tikrit. Things had gone from bad to worse when he discovered Arthur had agreed to keep the truth about Helen from him. Hope stirred in Arthur's chest. Maybe things between will get better between us.
"Unfortunately, it was my poor mother. She was addicted to her grooming kit." Arthur answered.
"I can imagine. Oh, man...I feel bad for your grandma when she was in high school." Auggie said while bouncing Mack on his leg.
Annie was nervous to hear what information Joan had to share. Joan cleared her throat and asked Arthur to tell what he'd learned.
He began, "Some of my contacts have been doing some digging for me to find more information on the name Auggie found. Not much is known on our elusive friend." He said with air quotes before continuing, "What they were able to find was that during the early years of Henry's marriage to Jai's mother, Sana, he had an affair with a woman who most likely was of Parisian heritage. It was rumored she had a child by Henry who would be about four years older than Jai. Nothing else is known about the mistress."
Annie scrunched her forehead, "Son or daughter? Hayden is a rather unisex name."
"The sex of the child is unknown. With the high likelihood of Henry having a secret descendant makes your apprehensions all the more valid, Annie." Joan said.
"Now, I knew he had at one affair. The fact he had at least two is news to me, yet not surprising. That guy sure got around. I don't understand how Sana was able to stay with the schmuck as long as she did." Auggie said, shaking his head in dismay.
"That was the jerk you took care of." Danielle stated with her eyes downcast to her feet and arms crossed over her chest.
Joan's voice raised slightly, "How did you know that?"
"Wasn't too difficult. About six months before the announcement of Henry's death, Jai had 'supposedly' 'died' in a 'rock climbing accident.' Henry had been a well known public figure for the CIA. Annie's 'death' was only four months previous Henry's. When I learned the surface reason for why Annie faked her death, I connected the dots." Danielle explained.
"Annie, are you certain you're the only spy in your family?" Arthur asked.
"Sometimes I wonder..." she sighed.
"What are your apprehensions, Annie?" Danielle asked.
Auggie felt Annie grab his hand. She didn't want to answer that question. He did for her, "She is concerned that Hayden Wilcox is trying to bait her out to get revenge for Henry."
Danielle's face paled. Shaking her head, she forced herself to be steady. "That's scary."
"Yes, it is. But, I have already told Annie we will keep her safe and help her." Auggie replied.
"I trust these guys with my life, Danielle. They won't let anything bad happen to me." Annie said reassuringly, although she herself doubted how safe she really would be.
"I know they will." Danielle whispered.
"You used to be so fidgety after I read you in on my career life. Why are you so chill now?" Annie asked.
"Before, I never knew where you'd be going, how long you'd be there, or who was helping you. Now, I know all those things." Danielle answered.
"I guess that's why they say hindsight is 20/20." Annie commented.
"Only 'sight-ists' say that." Auggie said with a pointed look.
"On that note, Joan, Mack, and I will be making our way back home." Arthur stated.
"You guys weren't here very long. Why?" Annie asked.
Joan replied, "Because, it is still too early in the day for Auggie's blind jokes. See you guys tomorrow at 5:30 at my place."
In typical Campbell fashion, they quickly and quietly left without another word.
Danielle looked between Annie and Auggie, "Are they always like that?"
"You have no idea." they said in unison.