Chapter 4 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 to fix up the apartment here 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.