Don't Let Go
She hadn't thought anything of it when he called her early one Saturday morning and called in a favor. He needed a ride – and company – if she wasn't doing anything that day, and he had it on good authority that she was not. She had agreed sleepily, assuring him that all she had to do was throw some clothes on and she'd be over. He told her to take her time.
It wasn't until Annie Walker was half way to her best friend's apartment that she realized that he'd never said where they were going. He'd simply said they were.
Annie parked her little red car outside of Auggie's building and stepped out into the freezing air. The wind whipped around her, tugging blonde strands from the ponytail that she'd tossed her hair into and she pulled her scarf up over her nose. Snowflakes landed against her eyelashes and stuck.
The building was a bit warmer and she quickly jogged up the stairs, thinking that it would be quicker and warmer than the lift that Auggie had been complaining about since the cold snap had hit. Not only was it slow, he'd said, but now it made the most horrible noise that made him think it was going to go crashing down at any second. Annie shuddered as she heard it moving on the other side of the stairwell and was inclined to agree with him. Best to stay away from frozen cables.
Auggie answered the door quick enough that he must have been ready for her. "That was quick," he said in way of a greeting.
"I told you I just had to throw some clothes on," she answered, eyeing him carefully. He was more bundled than his usual multi-layer attire.
He moved to the couch and pulled a long, wool coat from where it'd been draped across the back. "I hope you dressed warmly."
"You're not planning to be outside in this weather, are you?" Annie asked as she moved towards the window. The snow wasn't sticking yet, or even falling enough to do so for some hours yet, but she certainly didn't want to be out in it for any length of time.
"Well we have to go from the building to your car and into the place we're going."
"And where is that?"
Auggie flashed her a grin and felt around for his cane that was folded next to where his coat had been. "Now that's no fun."
"It's also no fun to be driving all over the city with a blind man giving vague directions," she responded, only a hint of mirth in her voice. He'd gotten her to enjoy the rain, but he would not –could not – force her to find any sort of fondness for the cold. That was beyond even August Anderson's charm.
"Point taken," he laughed as he shrugged the coat on and buttoned it. "You ready?"
"Not till you tell me where we're going."
"The big one?"
"I have to buy Christmas lights. I think it's a little dreary in here, don't you?"
Annie glanced around the apartment and opened her mouth to respond before catching the grin that was slowly stretching itself across her friend's lips. She glared at him, not caring that he couldn't see it. "Seriously."
"Seriously we are going to the mall, and after that you'll see." He opened the door for her. "Ladies first."
She moved past him with a frown, tennis shoes padding softly against the hard floor. "You're incorrigible."
"Why thank you, Annie dear."
The mall was busy in the nearly-Christmas madness. Auggie held onto Annie's arm a little tighter than usual – not that she was complaining – and almost looked like he regretted his decision to go to that particular mall. Tourists as well as locals filled the levels and children could be heard screaming and laughing in all corners. Auggie grimaced slightly at the auditory overload.
"Your idea," Annie reminded him as he clung tightly to her. "Which way?"
"Towards the middle."
"Are you kidding?"
"Completely serious." He paused and felt at a cell phone attached to his belt. He grabbed it and popped it open. "Hey. We're almost there. Just got to make it through the crowds." There was a pause and Annie cocked her head in question. "Yeah," Auggie answered the mysterious person on the other line. "They ready? Good. We'll be right there." He hung up and titled his head towards Annie. "Let's go. We have people waiting on us."
They moved through the crowds until Annie saw a tree peeking up form the center of the mall. She glanced between Auggie and the tree as they moved continuously toward it, his white cane tapping carefully in front of himself so that he wouldn't run over any small children or decorations. He stopped when it hit the wall that surrounded the ice skating rink in which the Christmas tree was the center decoration of. A grin spread across his face. "Ice rinks have such a distinct smell."
"What? Sweaty socks and trees all mixed together?" Annie asked with her nose turned up.
She turned so sharply, so suddenly, that she nearly took Auggie off his feet. Katia and Chloe raced forward, wrapping their arms around their aunt with such force that she would have followed him if he had fallen. "We knew you'd come!" they announced in full excitement. They turned to Auggie and attached themselves to him in turn.
Danielle approached, looking somewhat sheepish. "Sorry for all the secrecy. I know how much you love ice skating, and I was kind of worried if we out-right asked you that you'd turn us down."
Annie glanced out to the surprisingly empty rink. "I would have," she admitted in awe. The ice was smooth and glistening, not having been tainted by multiple small and large blades scraping and racing across it. It was pure. It was, though she'd never admit it, rather beautiful,
"Danielle said you had some bad experiences as a kid," Auggie murmured in her ear.
"Broke my jaw," she answered with a glare in her sister's direction.
"A ten-year-old cut her off," Danielle explained and Auggie nodded.
"Why is it empty?" Annie asked, wondering why no one had explained the obvious strangeness in the busy mall.
"I had a couple favors to call in," Auggie answered as if it explained everything. Annie knew that was all that she would get right then – probably ever – and didn't press it any more.
Her shoulders slumped as she realized that she had no choice in her near future. Two sets of wide, childish eyes peered up at her, pleading "Please, Annie?" with all the innocents that her nieces could muster. Auggie gave her a reassuring smile that said he'd gone to a lot of trouble to put this together, and Danielle gave her that look that said she'd never let her live it down if she chickened out then.
"Fine," Annie grumbled and nearly plugged her ears at the shouts from Katia and Chloe. She turned to Auggie. "So what do you plan to do while I'm out there breaking all four limbs?"
"You kidding? They have my size here."
Annie stared at him, blinking rather dumbly. "You're going ice skating?"
"Besides the obvious fact that you can't see where you're going."
"And that stops me from doing so much," he answered with a grin. "Anyway, I happen to know this very pretty lady that is always kind enough to offer me an arm for guidance."
"Auggie, we'll kill each other."
"We'll be fine." There was such sincerity, such certainty in his voice that Annie had no will power any longer. She tugged him towards the benches and asked his size, offering to bring the skates back to him.
Ten minutes later Danielle was skating along side her squealing daughters and Auggie was leaned up against the wall, waiting for Annie to muster the courage to take the first step out. He sighed after his questions on her readiness were met with an uncomfortable silence and began feeling his way to the opening. He ignored her protest and felt the change in flooring as he toed his way over the lip of the rink. He turned, feeling the whole way at the side, and reached a hand out to her. "Trust me," he murmured.
Annie had no chance. She grabbed his hand and he pulled her out. "Don't let go," she whispered.
"I won't," he promised and very slowly they began to edge their way around the rink. They moved very slowly, obviously passed multiple times by their excitable companions. Still, Annie was skating and Auggie had a firm grip on her hand. Not once in the hour they had the rink for did she fall and not once did he let go of her.
After the hour was up and the manager had to open it up for the public, Annie led Auggie off of the rink. The kids and Danielle could deal with the crowds, but they opted for a break. They fell down to the bench laughing, fingers still laced tightly together. Annie wondered briefly if they were frozen that way. She looked up towards the glass ceiling and let out a sound of pure enjoyment.
"What is it?" Auggie asked, smiling.
"I wish you could see it," she whispered, leaning up against him.
"The tree's in the middle, right? And you can see the snow starting to fall heavy outside and it's sticking to the glass up on the ceiling. It's so pretty."
"I thought I'd heard you say that you didn't like the cold and the snow," Auggie laughed. He turned as he spoke, his breath hot on her cold ear. It sent chills up her spine.
"And now you do?"
Annie smiled. "Maybe."
"What's the sudden change?" he teased.
She stared at him, her honey-colored eyes wide with sudden realization. Slowly she sat a little straighter and her lips brushed his. When she pulled away she feared for a moment that he wouldn't react, but he leaned forward and they met again, longer this time, and stayed that way until they had to pull apart. Annie blushed. "Maybe there are better memories attached to it all now," she murmured.
Auggie grinned and nodded in satisfaction with the answer. He squeezed her hand and they sat there, fingers intertwined, until Danielle and the kids were ready to go.
A/N: I don't remember if the big mall in the DC area has a skating rink, but I'm sure it does. It's been several years, but if anyone knows, feel free to let me know. If it doesn't, just use your imagination =P Oh, and can you tell I'm ready for winter and all that that entails? We got snow down here in Texas... three times? I think, last year. It was amazing. I know that's not that big for those of ya'll up north, but for us down here it was very exciting. I'm looking forward to repeating it again this year and I'm certainly ready for the heat to go away.
Please review. You know I'm an addict, and the bunnies need their cookies.