Annie drove with the windows down along the Pacific Coast Highway. Auggie remained mostly silent with his headphones in his ears. Occasionally he would lean his head back on the headrest and close his eyes. The silence wasn't awkward and for that, Annie was grateful.
She was happy Auggie agreed to come with her. She felt like it would be a good idea for both of them to get away from things for a while, but she was nervous handling Auggie. Her people skills were definitely a little rusty and she worried that she'd inadvertently say something or do something to hurt him.
They were nearing the town of West Lake, where Annie's grandparents had a small cabin. Annie loved it there. The memories of long summer nights with her grandparents warmed her heart. After her parents died when she was 10, her grandparents stepped in and raised her. Their deaths, 8 and 9 years ago, left her feeling adrift. She was alone in the world without a tether, until she met Danny.
Annie shook her head to clear her mind. She pulled off the highway and into the parking lot of a local grocery store.
"We're at O'Malley's Market. Thought we should stock up on some food."
Auggie nodded and unbuckled his seatbelt. He smoothly exited the car and came around to her side. She bumped his hand and then felt him latch on to her elbow.
Inside, she grabbed a small cart and began walking up and down the aisles.
"I'm not much of a cook, I'm afraid."
"Whatever you want is fine with me."
Annie noticed Auggie's lack of enthusiasm, but decided not to comment on it. "Okay, I'm gonna stock up on frozen dinners and maybe some hamburger patties?"
Annie moved slowly up and down the short aisles grabbing various items. At one corner, she noticed two teenage girls giggling and whispering. She felt dread in the pit of her stomach when she heard one say, "Look at the guy…I think he's blind!"
She looked over at Auggie, but his expression was unchanged. In his uncanny way, he turned to her and said, "It's okay, Walker. I'm not upset."
"Okay." She proceeded to the checkout and paid without further incident.
They got back on the road and began the final leg of their journey. Annie debated whether or not to bring up the grocery store incident, but decided against it. She figured if Auggie wanted to talk, he'd talk.
"You're quiet." He said.
"I know. I'm nervous."
"I guess you've never spent a weekend getaway with a newly blinded CIA agent?"
She laughed. "And I guess you've never spent a weekend with a widowed, hell-bent on vengeance, rogue assassin?"
She chuckled at herself, but soon realized Auggie wasn't laughing. "Walker, I don't like that."
"C'mon Auggie. I was trying to be funny."
"I know, but there's truth in that. You think of yourself as an assassin?"
"I don't know. I don't have to label it..whatever it is. I know what I'm doing—what I have to do."
Auggie was silent, but Annie could tell from the tightness in his mouth he had more he wanted to say.
"We're here." Annie pulled the car up the drive, parallel to the house. "Let me take you inside and then I'll grab our things."
"No. I can help." Auggie barked.
Annie was a little taken aback. Obviously she had mistepped. "Yeah, okay. I could use a little help with the heavy lifting anyway. I got a case of beer." She watched a smile spread on Auggie's face and was relieved.
"A case? It better not be some girly beer." He trailed his hand along the car until he was at the trunk.
"No complaints here." He smiled as he located the case and hoisted it easily out of the trunk. "Okay, you steer, I'll carry."
After they'd made several trips, everything was inside and they stood together in the entryway of the small cabin. Auggie held his cane tightly.
"You want me to give you the basic layout?"
"Okay, to your left is the main family room. To the right is the kitchen. There's a hall way straight ahead. The bedrooms and bathroom are off the hallway."
Annie moved into the kitchen and began putting away the groceries. She kept an eye on Auggie and watched as he slowly made his way around the family room, touching pieces of furniture. After a few minutes, he found the big bay window that overlooked the lake.
Annie walked over and stood next to him. "The lake."
"What does it look like?" He touched the glass.
Annie studied his long, masculine fingers. Her hand twitched with the urge to touch him. "Um, it's kind of foggy right now. Like a smoky mist on the water."
She watched him close his eyes and swallow. "You want me to show you your room?"
"Yeah." his voice was thick with emotion. She tapped his hand and when he grabbed her elbow, she escorted him to the master bedroom with attached bath.
"This bedroom is big." He commented.
"You're the guest and I wanted you to have the private bathroom."
He raised one eyebrow but said nothing.
"I'm gonna go unpack and change. Then maybe we can crack into the snacks."
"Yeah, sounds like a plan."
She walked to the doorway. "Auggie, I'm just gonna say this, so don't be mad, okay?" She swallowed as he turned and faced her. "If you need help, just give a shout, okay?"
"Yup." He answered as he headed to the bed to retrieve his bag.
She left and walked down the hall to her room, wondering if she'd been too hasty in insisting on this trip. Who was she to decide what Auggie needed?
Two hours later, Annie sat outside, next to the fire pit nursing her beer. She'd checked on Auggie after she'd unpacked and found him sound asleep in his room.
"I'm on the back deck." She ran to the door and opened it for him. As he passed her, she realized that he'd showered. Her mouth went dry as she took in his appearance. His still wet, slightly shaggy hair curled at the ends. He had on some kind of black thermal long-sleeved shirt and dark jeans that hug off his slim hips. The scent of whatever shampoo he used was arousing to her—like the ocean and the woods combined.
"You okay?" His head was tilted slightly to the side.
"Fine." She led him to the other chair by the fire.
"You built a fire? How long was I asleep?" He laughed.
"A while. "
"Sorry about that. I'm not the best company."
"I think you're just fine. Here, have a beer."
He smiled and reached out. She watched his throat move as he swallowed. "Thanks."
He sat back in the chair and exhaled deeply.
"Auggie, can I ask you a question?"
"About this?" He gestured to his eyes.
"Oh, um. No, it's something else."
"How much do you know about me?" She didn't know where that came from, but suddenly she wanted the answer.
Auggie looked a little startled. "Um, well, I know all about your husband…."
"You know more, don't you?"
Auggie vacillated for a second. "Yeah, I do."
"Pretty much everything til you went off the grid six months after Danny died. You covered your tracks well, by the way. Who taught you hacking skills?"
"If you read my file, then you should know."
"Were you going to tell me?"
"Tell you what? That I read your file?"
"I thought that you would have known that. You've been recruited by the CIA, Annie. Believe me, they've thoroughly vetted you."
"They? How did 'they' become 'you'?"
"Are you spying on me?"
Auggie rubbed his hands over his face. He decided the truth wasn't the right decision right now. "No! But I am a CIA operative, or I was. I don't know what I am anymore, but I am still CIA and they weren't going to let me go on this little field trip with you without knowing all the facts."
Auggie waited, listening intently.
"Well, turnabout is fair play."
"Oh, I think you get me meaning."
"You want to read my file?"
I figured I'd just get the information first hand."
"We're gonna need something stronger than beer."
Annie smiled despite herself. "I brought Patron."
"I know. I think you should go get it."
Annie scurried off to the kitchen. Auggie stood up and stretched. He had a feeling he was about to cross a line in the sand with Annie and things would never be the same afterwards. He turned when he heard the sounds of glasses clinking together.
"Shotglasses. One's from Niagara Falls and the other from Graceland."
"Graceland please." He felt her put the small glass in his hand and then downed it immediately.
"We didn't even start the 'question and answer' portion of the evening yet."
"I know. I needed to get ready." He smiled at her and then sat. "Okay, Walker. What do you wanna know? Should I start at the beginning?"
"No. That's too cliché. Um, how about you start with your last mission."
She watched darkness pass though his features. "You mean the one that ended up with me in the dark?"
"It was a chemical. It burned my right eye. I had treatments and surgeries for it. It was getting better, but then the left eye—the healthy eye, started to deteriorate."
"Why would that happen?"
"Who knows? It's some sort of 'sympathetic response'."
"I know it's a weird word to describe it. Basically means what happened in my bad eye started happening in the good one."
"Why couldn't they stop it?"
"They tried, but my body rejected the treatment. The nerves just eventually died."
"Why did it happen suddenly back at The Spa?"
"Oh, that was an extra bit of fun. I almost forgot about that. Blood clot. It detached my retinas."
"Jesus, Auggie. I know it's cliché to say, but I'm sorry. I'm really sorry."
Auggie said nothing but dropped his head. He held out his shot glass. "I'm probably gonna regret this. I haven't had any alcohol in a while."
"We'll take it easy, promise." She refilled his glass.
"Well, how about we start at the beginning….when did you join the CIA?"
Two hours later, the fire was dying and they were both tipsy. Annie noticed that Auggie was much more relaxed talking about his early days in the CIA rather than the unfortunate recent turn of events.
"I'm cold." She shivered and stood.
"Yeah, I think we should grab some dinner. Maybe that'll sober me up a little." Auggie stood and unfolded his cane. Annie noticed his lean a little to the left.
"I'm okay. I just never did this in the dark." He chuckled as he stepped forward. "Where'd you go?" He reached out and Annie seamlessly stepped into his waiting hand. She walked them back inside.
"Here, you sit. I'll get dinner." She touched his hand to the back of the stool at the breakfast bar.
"I feel like I should help."
"We're having hot dogs. It only takes one person to operate the microwave."
Auggie barked laughter. "You know, you're making this very easy on me, right?"
"Why? Was it supposed to be challenging? I thought the whole idea of coming here was to relax."
Annie walked slowly around the around the counter until she stood next to him. The scent of him was driving her mad and she itched to run her fingers through his hair. He held out his hand for her. She slid her hand into his warm, strong palm. He pulled her closer and then put his hands on her arms and slowly moved them up until he held her head gently.
She stared into his dark brown eyes. Despite being slightly off-focus, they seemed to smolder with heat. She was about to speak, when he moved toward her. The contact of his lips on hers made her head swim. He kissed her gently, with reverence and then pulled back.
"I've been waiting to do that since the first day I met you."
She was still caught in his spell, still unable to form a coherent thought. Her head spun with the magic of the moment and she decided for a little while, it was okay to forget what brought them together in the first place. She leaned in and gently touched her lips to his again.
Auggie stood and pulled her against him. His strong arms slid down her back and encircled her waist. She felt her own hands fist in his shirt, pulling at him, trying to get closer. She felt like she was diving deep, never needing air. All she wanted was to stay in this moment, locked with Auggie. Finally, they broke the kiss and Auggie stepped back.
"Hmm." She whispered.
"Did you….was that…."
"Take me to bed."