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Chapter 1: The Mud Pit "WE‟RE GONNA TURN THE BANK ARENA INTO A GIANT MUUUUUD PIT!!!" The voice on the loudspeaker drowned out the sound of revving engines, heavy metal music, and the raucous crowd. The smells of diesel, sweat, beer, and French fries permeated the damp evening air. It was summer, and the monster trucks had come back to Trenton. Cameron gazed with admiration at the display before her. The truck was painted a shocking shade of hot pink and polished to a high gloss that reflected the faces of the spectators. Its fenders were decorated with yellow and black zigzag stripes, and the name "Ti-Grrrl" was emblazoned in silver across the hood. A blond Amazon in a leopard-print bikini and work boots – Ti-Grrrl‟s driver, no doubt – was draped provocatively across one of the massive front tires, licking her lips for the camera and enjoying the collective hoots and catcalls of the assembled men. The three young, grubby-looking guys next to Cameron were particularly enthusiastic. "TAKE IT OFF!" bellowed the skinny one in the red hat. "SHOW US YER MELONS!" The one with the shaved head though that was pretty damn funny. His high-pitched giggling was punctuated with little snorts, and he had to stop and spit on the grass in exhaustion when he was done. The one with the goatee and acne scars turned to Cameron and added, "Hot „bout you, baby? You got anything to show us? C‟mon!" His beer breath nearly knocked her over. He made little kissy noises, which set Giggles McSnorty off again. Her hand moving to the small can of pepper spray in her pocket, she fixed him with the cold state Chase referred to as her "come-wither look." "Whoa!" Red Hat exclaimed in an uncanny Keanu Reeves impersonation. "I don‟t think she likes you, Chopper." "Boo-frickin‟-hoo," Chopper sniggered, belching weakly. The three of them moved off, tittering and punching each other in the arm. Cameron heard a deep, familiar voice a few yards behind her, and nearly jumped. "Awwwwww, somebody smeared estrogen all over a perfectly good truck. That‟s women for you. Where‟s the damn lace dust ruffle, for Pete‟s sake?" Cameron spun around. "House! I didn‟t think… I mean… I wouldn‟t have… You said you were meeting with the drug rep from HaliMed tonight." House sipped at the red plastic cup of beer in his left hand. "Did you know the word „gullible‟ isn‟t in the dictionary? Really! Look it up!" He chuckled at her pursed lips. "Ol‟ Lou and I have what you call an arrangement. He FedExes me his samples and literature. I learn more from the literature than I would from the stupid sales pitch his boss makes him give all his customers. I ORDER his products because they‟re actually GOOD. He gets to take his boyfriend out to the best restaurant in Princeton on the company dime. I get to skip my evening clinic hours and a department heads‟ meeting. The boyfriend stops shaving for a week and carries a cane to the restaurant so that when Cuddy calls to check up on me the maitre d‟ covers for me without even knowing it. Greg‟s at the rally, all‟s right with the world." Cameron paused to digest it all. "Well, it‟s a lie. But it‟s a good lie. It keeps everyone from being miserable. And the other department heads probably really appreciate you not being there." She shrugged. House‟s face lit up under the bill of his trucker hat. "You‟re catching on! Wait... „on‟… You‟re not ON anything, are you? Dipping into the mind-altering meds in the sixth-floor storeroom?" She re-tightened her ponytail. "My new Powerbook runs OSX AND Windows. I figure I can do the same. Shut down my own operating system, and boot yours up for a few minutes. It‟s scary, but I think it works." "So?" He raised his eyebrows. After a moment, he raised them again. Then again. "So, what?" "So. You. Trucks. Mud. Explain." She squirmed a little under his scrutiny, awkwardly shuffling her feet. She kicked some dirt over a few stray cigarette butts, then tamped it down with her running shoe. Looking up, she finally answered. "I had a good time last year. It was more fun than I expected. A lot more. And then, I saw the ads last week, and since I knew you wouldn‟t be here for me to get in the way... I‟m not stalking you or anything! And they even had a girl truck this year." He stage-whispered conspiratorially, "It‟s not really a girl truck. I got a peek up her tailpipe." She tried vainly not to smile. "I figured you would." She lookeda round at the other trucks. "Do you think she can beat The Crushinator?" "WHOA!" Red Hat yelled as he and his pals wandered around from the other side of Ti- Grrrl. "Your girlfriend‟s got a boyfriend, Chop!" Chopper gave a low whistle. "He ain‟t her boyfriend, he‟s her grandpa. Hey, baby, Grandpa won‟t mind if you come play with us!" (Giggle. Snort. Spit.) Cameron felt a strong arm snake around her waist, pulling her back. She found herself pressed against House, the heat of his body burning into her through his Black Sabbath T- shirt. She forced herself to breathe normally. Dammit! After everything that had happened – and everything that had NOT happened – between them, how could he still have the power to affect her like this? "These losers bothering you, Mama?" House asked, resting his chin on her head. The vibration of his voice tickled the back of her neck and did funny things to other bits of her. "Whatcha gonna do, hit me with your cane?" Chopper taunted, prompting some sort of seizure from Giggles. House stepped forward, handing Cameron his beer and making as if to do just that. "Gimme a reason." Cameron folded her arms and made her voice sound even more serious than usual. "Last fall he hit an NRA chapter president so hard with it he went into liver failure. Is that what you want?" There was a long silence. Making the "Whatever" sign with his thumbs and forefingers, Chopper led his retinue away toward the concession stands. Her pulse slowing down, Cameron turned back to House. "You didn‟t have to do that. I don‟t think they would have done anything." He drained his beer in one gulp and grinned widely. "But it was FUN! And NOBODY calls me „Grandpa‟ and gets away with it. Not unless she‟s wearing white cotton panties, red lipstick, and a big smile." Cameron rolled her eyes. "I think the show‟s starting." They ambled off toward the stands. After a minute, House spoke up again. "Sooooo… you going to Wildwood this fall? That‟s the really BIG show." "Of course. You?" "Is the Pope Catholic? Does Wilson iron his T-shirts?" She chuckled. "See you there. It‟s a date." She stopped, embarrassed. He looked at her, a flicker of – SOMETHING – in his eyes. She co...[Message truncated] Chapter 2: The Call 9:00 p.m. Robert Chase sat slumped in his usual chair at the conference table. Moonlight reflected on the empty white board, and the glow of his laptop‟s screen turned his face a bluish hue. He tapped idly at the keyboard, flipping back and forth between a Word document and a game of online Scrabble. His heart wasn‟t in either one, ad he was sure his opponent could tell. <ambyrsylph6> u still there <Dr_Robert_Chase> yeah <ambyrsylph6> no vowels? u cn 4feit lolol <Dr_Robert_Chase> 2 u‟s He blinked rapidly and took a swig of cold coffee. One finger idly stroking the mouse pad, he nudges our letters into place. <ambyrsylph6> whats lupus <Dr_Robert_Chase> an autoimmune disease <ambyrsylph6> GTG boyf just got home. A popup informed him that ambyrsylph6 had forfeited the game, putting his player rating up one point. He pictured her applying a fresh coat of black lipstick for her "boyf," maybe adjusting her nose ring and smudging her black eyeliner a bit. Only a Goth girl would spell "amber" with a "y." He closed the browser window and turned back to the document. Before he could think of anything to type, his phone vibrated. The most excitement I‟ve had all day, he thought. "Hullo?" "Rob, it‟s Dinah." He tensed slightly at the sound of the firm but feminine, New Zealand- accented voice. "I didn‟t wake you, did I?" "Hi, Dinah. No, it‟s only…" he glanced at the clock. "9:03." "Listen, Rob, is the foreword done yet? The publishers really want it by Monday." He looked at the computer screen and did a quick count. Nine lines. "Yeah, it‟s almost done. I‟ve just got to do some pruning and a quick proofread. You‟ll have it by Monday morning." A new tension crept into Dinah‟s voice. "You KNOW how important this is to us. To Joe and me both. If there are any more delays…" "This isn‟t exactly easy for me either, you know." He instantly regretted snapping, but he was so very tired. "What can I say about him? You knew him better than me. Why don‟t you just write it and I‟ll sign it or something? Send me a copy of his eulogy." "They want it to come from YOU. You‟re not just his son; you‟re a respected doctor in your own right." He could hear papers shuffling on the other end. They want to include that paper you did on the leprosy case. Rob, Joe wants to say hi." He could hear muffled voices and some kind of scuffling. Then, a child‟s voice came on. "Hi Rob!" He couldn‟t help smiling. "Hey, Joe! Are you helping Mummy?" "No! I just had a bath! Can I tuck you in?" "Over the phone? How‟re you gonna do that?" "I put a blanky over the phone. Night-night Rob!" Chase turned the computer off and drained his coffee cup. Dinah came back on the line. "Thanks, Rob. Call me as soon as you finish. I‟ve got to go get Joe out of the fish tank. „Night!" He crammed the phone into his pocket and closed his laptop. He was zipping it into the case when Wilson stopped at the door. "Chase? Did you get a patient?" Wilson looked at his watch, then back up. The bags under his eyes were worse than Chase‟s. "Nah. Just catching up on paperwork. Too quiet at home. You?" "One of my patients came into the ER. I‟ve got her on 1 of Ativan and 10 of Compazine and she still vomited so hard she tore a hole in her esophagus. They just got her up to a room, so I‟m heading out." He sighed heavily. A game of loserball with House (loserball was their own proud invention, carefully designed for minimum physical exertion for either seated player) would have been perfect right now. But House was out having REAL fun. "You want to get a beer? Sparky McGoolihan‟s doing a bogo on imports this week." Chase hesitated. A "bogo at Sparky McGoolihan‟s" sounded like something out of a Douglas Adams novel, but it must be better than sitting alone not writing. Chapter 3: The Parking Violation "MY BIKE!" Cameron‟s heart pounded for a moment at the sound of House‟s bellow. She swallowed, forcing the unwelcome panic back down and deliberately breathing through her nose. You‟re OK. You‟re OK. House hobbled ahead of her at double speed toward the chain- link fence at the edge of the muddy parking lot. "SOME @#)$**#®+ STOLE MY DAMN BIKE!!" She could see a chain and padlock hanging through the mesh of the fence. The chain had been cut through. Actually, there were several. As Cameron puzzled that one over, a security guard with a scraggly ginger moustache ambled toward them. "What‟s the problem, sir?" ("Sir" sounded an awful lot like "Dude.") "The problem is," House spat out as he yanked the chain out of the fence, "that "SOME @#)$**#®+ STOLE MY DAMN BIKE!!" Ginger licked his lips and pulled a wad of paper out of his back pocket. Ruffling through it, he dully intoned, "License number." House edged closer. "If I‟m gonna file a report, it‟s gonna be with the cops and not an… IN-security NON-guard." Nonplussed, Ginger started intoning license plate numbers from a list. "That‟s mine! That‟s my bike!" House interrupted after four numbers. Ginger yanked a paper out of the stack and poked it into House‟s chest. "Cops took it. Took all of „em." He rolled his eyeballs up in his head by way of pointing to the "No Parking" sign bolted to the fence above him. "You can pick it up in the morning at the address on the ticket. If you pay the fine, of course. Yep, they been crackin‟ down pretty hard lately. Use to be you could park anywheres around here and the most you‟d get is a warning, maybe a twenty-dollar fine. That‟s why I always take the bus. Well that an‟ not havin‟ a car. Them deer are getting‟ bolder every year. Jumped right through my windshield like she wanted a ride to Hoboken. Man, I thought I was gonna…" Cameron couldn‟t stand the man‟s rambling any longer, and House was staring incredulously at him as he toyed with the chain in his hand, obviously considering its potential use as a weapon. She snatched the ticket out of Ginger‟s hand. "House, come on. I‟ll drive you back to Princeton." She turned and headed for her car. After a minute, she heard House‟s cane tapping behind her. "What, did you get here half an hour early and park in the Girl Scouts and Hall Monitor‟s section?" She shook her head and rolled her eyes. "Yes, Yes, I did. I hope I didn‟t forget to hang a box of Samoas on the mirror." In the car, House muttered and grumbled as he fiddled with the seat lever. "Who was in here last, Gary Coleman?" She drove in silence, trying not to catch his bad mood. Her heartbeat was back to normal, at least. She was used to his general grouchiness by now, but real anger was something she still had to work on. If only you could get back all the time you‟ve wasted being afraid. He picked up the paper and turned on the dome light to read it. "Fifty dollars! Dammit. Hey, Dr. Cameron, you ever broken into an impound lot late at night? Lots of fun. You‟ll have to be the one over the fence, but I‟ll give you a boost. It‟s the secret doctor initiation they never tell you about at med school." Forcing back a smile, she replied dryly, "Sure. God forbid you should actually pay a fine for parking illegally. What‟s the country coming to?" He snorted. "I bet you carry a ruler so you can measure how far away from the curb you are. And drive around the lot three times looking for the perfect pull-through spot. Girls." He pulled out his phone. "Lou. House." There was a moment of silence. "OK, LARRY, then. Jeez, you knew who I was talking about. What‟d I have for dinner? Uh-huh. Uh- huh. End cut? Sure. Bleu cheese dressing? You‟re making me hungry, Larry! Uh-huh. With strawberries? Good, good. No public displays of affection, right? I don‟t want to have to explain anything to the dragon lady…not that there‟s anything wrong with that. Gotcha. See you next year." Chuckling, se turned onto the highway, carefully merging into oncoming traffic. "You‟re really got this lie worked out, haven‟t you? You and „Lou‟ sound like the French Resistance planning an attack on Nazi headquarters. Boys." "Merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative." She frowned, racking her brain. "Wait a minute, isn‟t that from „The Mikado?‟" "What, you think all I listen to is Britney and Christina? Gilbert and Sullivan in da hizzouse!" They watched the signposts go by in companionable silence for a while. "My mother had all the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas on vinyl. The deluxe boxed set with all the dialogue." His voice had gotten quiet and introspective. She wondered if he had taken a pill when she wasn‟t looking. "She used to play them on half volume when she had migraines. A dark room, a cold cloth, and „The Mikado‟ for distraction." He shook his head. She put on her left signal and passed a moving van. "My college roommate played the cello. She was in the pit orchestra and had all the shows memorized. She‟d wander around at night humming the songs until I had to go study in the bathroom. But she always gave me free tickets. " "You were scared back there. What‟s up with that?" She squirmed at the sudden change of subject. "I was just… startled, that‟s all. If you need a ride tomorrow, just let me know." He toyed with the window button, rolling it up and back down and inch at a time. Throwing his head back against head rest, he sang lightly under his breath. "There is beauty in the bellow of the blast, There is grandeur in the growling of the gale, There is eloquent outpouring When the lion is a-roaring, And the tiger is a-lashing of his tail!" He looked back over at her out of the corner of his eye. She was smiling again. He continued the bouncy little tune. "Yes, I like to see a tiger From the Congo or the Niger, And especially when lashing of his tail! There is beauty in extreme old age-- Do you fancy you are elderly enough? Information I'm requesting On a subject interesting: Is a maiden all the better when she's tough?" She pushed down on the accelerator. He stole a glance at the speedometer as the dial crept up to exactly one mile over the speed limit. She‟ll get there, he thought. Give her time. Chapter 4: Sparky McGoolihan’s Sparky McGoolihan‟s was nearly deserted. Wilson and Chase were seated in one of the booths along the side wall, comfortable ensconced in high-backed wood benches. The atmosphere hadn‟t decided if it was "Fake Irish Pub" or "Authentic Irish Pub." There was a lot of weathered wood and signs with Gaelic writing, and two college-age girls were strumming guitars and singing on a dais near the back - folk/rock with a Celtic twist and U2 covers. Two bottles of Grolsch and two of Guinness sat between them on the plank table. Apparently BOGO was an acronym for "Buy One, Get One." Wilson toyed with the cap of his empty bottle and wondered what he was doing. "You‟ve been hanging around with House so long," he told himself, "that you‟re no longer capable of carrying on a pleasant conversation with a normal person." Not that Robert Chase was any more normal that he should be, not if hospital gossip was to be trusted. "What‟s the prognosis? On the patient you admitted tonight?" Chase‟s voice broke through his reverie. "Oh." He shrugged. "Could go either way. I can‟t give her the chemo I want to because of her heart condition." He cracked open the second bottle. Was he really getting to the "Two‟s My Limit" age? Chase nodded and looked around at nothing in particular. "You wan to play some darts?" "My eyes are too blurry." Was that a polite enough way to say he didn‟t like darts? "A game of pool?" "Pool, or snooker?" "Snooker?" Hazy memories of what seemed like proper pool‟s illegitimate step-cousin, played in a smoky London pub during a semester abroad, mingled with the half- remembered taste of pickled eggs and warm hard cider floated in his head just long enough to make him have to stifle a shudder. Chase smiled. "We‟ve got both in Australia, but I never learned pool. Y‟know, I bet even House is having a better time than us tonight, at the dreaded drug rep dinner." "Yeah. I wonder how Larry‟s doing." He wondered if he managed to keep a straight face. He‟d be at the truck rally with House now, if he hadn‟t had to meet with Julie. He‟d never been so relieved to be called away to an emergency. Schadenfreude went so well with German beer. An hour and a basket of Sparky‟s fish and chips later, Chase was heading down Bundren Ave., a few block away from home. He‟d known it was time to leave when the two girls had segued from "With Or Without You" straight into "Danny Boy." Despite the name, Sparky McGoolihan‟s was obviously someplace to go to sit and be horribly depressed. On impulse, he pulled into the parking lot of St. Jerome‟s. He said a quick prayer for Dr. Wilson. Whatever he was going through, he hoped keeping him company had helped. For some reason, instead of turning the car back on he pulled his laptop out of its case and turned it on. While t booted, he looked up at the white statue of Jerome over the door. Patron of orphans. He couldn‟t help laughing. "Paging Dr. Freud," he said aloud to the empty car as he started to type. My father took me to visit his surgery when I was seven years old. There was a man in the waiting room, his arms covered in pink and white scales. His fingers were so swollen he could barely hold his cane to go in and be examined. I couldn‟t have pronounced "psoriatic arthritis" if I‟d tried. I saw the same man out shopping the next summer, and I barely recognized him. "You‟re Dr. Chase‟s boy," he said. "Your Dad‟s a hell of a doctor." And he was right. Chapter 5: The Shopping List Cameron sat in the car for fifteen minutes after she called House to let him know she was waiting outside his building. She was just reaching for her phone when he appeared out of nowhere, making her jump. He tossed a backpack and motorcycle helmet into the back seat and flopped into the front rider‟s seat. He looked rougher than usual. "You OK?" she said. "Sure. You?" "I‟m fine." "Well, that‟s settled. C‟mon, let‟s go! Chop chop! We should‟ve been on the road fifteen minutes ago!" "Right." She bit her tongue. "We‟ll have you on your bike in no time." She should have known nothing could be THAT easy. The drive from Princeton to the impound lot in Trenton normally took about half an hour. But traffic was heavy, and both House and Cameron were tired and a little grumpy from staying out too late at the rally the night before. And then, there were the stops. "Coffee," House grumbled. "Sure," Cameron muttered, casting here eyes around for a likely drive-thru. "Doughnut shop. Four blocks east." "East? Is that left or right?" "It‟s EAST." "Do you SEE a compass on the dashboard?" "Left, left." A few minutes later, he stopped her as she was ordering the coffee, leaning over the steering wheel and calling into the takeout window. "How old is the coffee?" The thickly-bespectacled kid in the window (He looked so young Cameron felt sure he was standing on a box to reach the cash register) blinked a few times. "I don‟t know," he croaked. "If it was made more than half an hour ago, we‟ll wait for a fresh pot." They waited for a fresh pot. House spent the time folding his parking ticket into a small origami frog. Then he set it on the dash. When he pressed down on its hind end and then let go, it hopped around. Cameron washed the bug guts off the windshield, sputtering slightly when a stream of washer fluid sprayed back through the open wide window. When two large, steaming cups sat in the cup holder, they set out again. As they neared the edge of town, House spoke up again. "Did you have breakfast? Let‟s get doughnuts." If she hadn‟t been driving, Cameron would have done a double-take. "We were just at a doughnut shop." "The doughnuts there are lousy. There‟s a place on Cornwall Street that‟s better than Krispy Kreme." Once again they waited while a fresh batch came from the fryer. Blissed out on grease and sugar, House leaned back in his seat. "You don‟t eat while you drive? What kind of American are you?" "I ate early." House fingered the granola bar wrapper in the top of the wastebasket, and exclaimed with mock relish, "Mmmm, flaxseed. Bam! Take a right up here. The pet store closes early on Saturday and I need some rat chow." "I thought you just ate." "The rat jokes are SO last week. All the cool kids have moved on to spitefully picking on my constant use of spilt infinitives. Did you just call me „Miss Daisy?‟" "I, um, said, „The windshield‟s still hazy.‟" She quickly turned the wipers back on. At the pet store, he hung his cane on the side of a shopping cart, leaning on the cart as he headed toward the rodent department. Cameron couldn‟t resist looking at the gerbils and fluffy hamsters, and, after asking a nearby employee if it was all right, reaching in to pet the lop-eared rabbits. She didn‟t even mind when the big, fat one bit her wrist. Apparently it was one of those places that encouraged people to bring their pets along to pick out their own stuff, because a pair of mismate beagles, dragging an older woman by their leashes, jumped up on her for a good sniff. Flinging a five-pound bag with a picture of a rat dressed like a chef on the front into his cart, House rolled his eyes. "So are you Snow White, Dr. Doolittle, or Uncle Remus?" Cameron scratched the smaller beagle under the ears before the owner dragged it away. "What, not having dumb animals hate you is some kind of character flaw? If you ask me, the only thing dogs ever did wrong was allowing themselves to be subjugated by a lesser species." She couldn‟t help thinking of Prince. An oversize chocolate lab, he was the one she had always turned to, growing up. Solid and warm, he would lie patiently for what seemed like hours as she‟d cried into his beautiful brown coat before he‟d start nosing at her to come and play. He‟d been the best listener she ever knew, and the reassuring thump of his tail against the floor under her bed had lulled her to sleep many a night. After the angina took him, she‟d felt more alone than ever. Back in the car, House stuffed the kibbles, along with some tartar-control rat snacks cleverly named "Ro-Dent," into his knapsack. Feeling like she was involved in some kind of scavenger hunt, Cameron asked," Where to now?" He looked at her like she had three heads. "The impound lot in Trenton. That IS why we‟re here, you know. And buckle your seat belt." Chapter 6: The New Patient Saturday clinics ranged from busy to barking-insane-busy, depending on the season and the phase of the moon. People were either not sick enough for the ER but too sick to wait until Monday, avoiding their regular doctors but not wanting to admit it, out-of-towners visiting the university, unable to get a new prescription over the weekend... whatever. Somehow they all ended up in the clinic when Dr. Foreman‟s turn to cover Saturday morning rolled around. Worse yet, he‟d forgotten to bring his own coffee. The coffee in the clinic tasted like Juan Valdez‟s back sweat. He tossed his full cup into the trash, picked the top chart off the stack, and headed into Room Five. "Mr. Elmore? I‟m Dr. Foreman." The elegant-looking man seated on the stool usually reserved for the doctor looked up but made no move to rise. The chart gave his age as fifty-one, but he looked closer to forty, even with the salt-and-pepper hair and hooded eyes. He was casually but stylishly dressed, down to loafers which screamed "expensive" in an Italian accent. Foreman shrugged and sat down on the exam table. "I understand you‟ve been having some burning and discharge." "Gonorrhea. My doctor in New York gave me some antibiotics, but they didn‟t knock it out." He crossed his legs gingerly. "Which antibiotic? Floxin? Levaquin? Cipro?" "Cipro. That‟s the one. I finished it a few days ago." "Uh-huh." Foreman made a note in the chart. "Do you know what kind of test he did? Did he do it right there in the office, or send it to a lab?" "He didn‟t do a test. I‟ve had it before." He smiled. "They say every moment‟s pleasure is purchased with an equal moment‟s pain. Sometimes it‟s a real bargain." Foreman coughed hurriedly. "Well, possibly you‟ve got something else. We‟ll do a gram stain here - look at the discharge under a microscope - and also send a urine culture to the lab. If it‟s chlamydia, or a urinary tract infection, Levaquin should take care of it." Foreman rummaged around in the cupboard and found the sample containers he needed. "I‟ll also do a quick prostate exam, just to be sure." Mr. Elmore sighed and stood, undoing his belt. "Any chance that hot mama in the tight pink outfit is free? She can have my prostate on a plate if she wants it." Foreman shook his head. "Dr. Cuddy is the Dean of Medicine. Let‟s just get the exam over with, shall we?" Elmore got a faraway look in his eyes. "Dean, huh? You think I‟m too old to enroll in med school?" Chapter 7: The Fire After much grumbling, House paid his parking fine and claimed his motorcycle. Cameron was proud of herself for keeping firm, and refusing to go to a bank to get 100 rolls of pennies to pay with. She wasn‟t 100 percent convinced he had been serious about paying that way, but with House, you never knew. She had to wonder how many of the errands he‟d dragged her on that morning had been an attempt to put off "knuckling under to the man," as he‟d put it, for as long as possible. When the attendant unlocked the chain holing his motorcycle, he ran his hands over the chrome, checking for nicks and scratches, muttering something about a pound of flesh. Or maybe it was "pound YOUR flesh," Cameron thought with a shudder. "Thanks for the ride, Dr. Cameron," he said as she handed him his knapsack. "Don‟t forget to get your ticket for Wildwood in advance. Or maybe…" She would never know what he was about to say. He was interrupted by another attendant, who jogged around the corner, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. "Hey, is that your blue Sundance out front? „Cause I think it‟s on fire." He disappeared around the corner as quickly as he‟d come. "On FIRE?" Cameron squeaked. "Did he say…" She turned and followed the first attendant as he ran to join his partner, House bringing up the rear. Was he coughing or laughing? Sure enough, there was a definite cloud of smoke wafting from under her hood. Her heart sank as she watched the two attendants put the small fire out getting enough soot and fire- extinguishing foam on their coveralls to cover the Jackson Pollock pattern of grease that had adorned them before. As she reached for her phone to call AAA, she reflected on what a nice weekend it had promised to be as she‟d set out for the show on Friday night. She had to swallow hard as she retrieved everything but the registration and insurance cards from the glove compartment. House and the two attendants were chatting about the souped-up lawnmower race one of them was riding in that night when the wrecker arrived. The driver, whose shirt declared his name to be "Skip," took a look under the hood while he was attaching her car to his truck. He closed the hood patting it gently. He frowned and shook his head as he walked gravely over to her. "I‟ll take her to the garage and have a closer look, but I wouldn‟t hold out much hope. I‟ll do everything I can, but I think it might be better to start looking for a new car." He patted and squeezed her shoulder, his calloused hand surprisingly soft. House seemed impressed, and he elbowed her arm as Skip hopped back into his truck. "See? THAT‟S how it‟s done." "What?" she asked. "Never mind. Say goodbye to Blueberry." He head snapped up. "How… how did you know her name was…" He rolled his eyes. " You don‟t even remember calling out to HER when you heard SHE was burning up? When a woman‟s car is on fire, it‟s a perfectly overpowering impulse." As he limped away, she could hear him muttering again. "Jig and amble…lisp…nickname God's creatures… Hey, you guys got a spare helmet back there? An unclaimed one or something?" Ten minutes later, Cameron was speeding toward Princeton on the back of a motorcycle, a knapsack full of Chef Rat‟s Premium Rodent Science Diet on her back, and a lime green helmet bearing a picture of Minnie Mouse in bondage gear on her head. Chapter 8: The “Dear Jim” Letter Wilson pulled up outside the rambling Victorian house he and Julie had called home. He looked up at the uncurtained second-story windows of Julie‟s studio, but couldn‟t see any movement inside. Maybe she wasn‟t there, he thought hopefully. He pulled into the driveway, still amazed at how automatic some actions still were, even when they were no longer a part of your life. Motor memory. He pulled a stack of flattened cardboard boxes from the back seat and climbed the weatherbeaten steps of the wraparound porch. The top step still wobbled. There was a piece of folded paper tacked to the door frame, right under the mezuzah. He set the boxes down and pulled it off. It was some of Julie‟s homemade paper, and he could smell the familiar scents of jasmine and sandalwood. The paper was filled with Julie‟s barely-legible scrawl – it had been a running joke with them that her handwriting was more doctor-like than his. He felt a brief stab of bitter jealousy as he wondered how long it would take the other man to learn to read it. But the letter itself filled him with nothing but relief. Jim, I‟m sorry I pushed you into meeting yesterday. I‟ve never seen you so relieved to be paged before, and if anyone knows what someone looks like when he‟s relieved to be paged, it‟s me. I can see that it was too soon. Or too late, maybe. Anyway, I won‟t do it again. I like that you‟d be happier to pretend we never met and erase the whole thing, and that makes me sadder than anything else. I wish we had stayed friends. I think that‟s really what I wanted the most, to be your friend. We let the sex and the romance get in the way of that. Maybe someday we can come back to it. I hope so. After you left last night I meditated for an hour and did a Tarot spread for us. The King of Swords came up over your significator, and the Hanged Man over mine. Need I say more? OK, maybe I do. It means both of us have other things we need to be doing right now. So I won‟t try to call you again. I‟ll be gone all day, so you can get whatever you want out of the house without my negative energy messing you up. I‟ll get a lawyer like you said, (even though I still think they‟re poisonous) so you won‟t have to talk to me. Love, peace, and healing, Julie Chapter 9: The Picture Chase‟s phone rang as he was locking his car door in the parking garage. After spending all morning writing, he‟d never been so happy to head to his weekend clinic rotation. "Hullo, this is Robert Chase," he drawled as he pressed the talk button. "Rob, it‟s Dinah. I got the foreward, and it‟s brilliant. Thanks for getting it to me so quickly." "No problem. Listen, Dinah, I‟ve got to run…" "Your Dad would be rally proud." His mouth went a little dry. The same old thoughts echoed through his head. Why should I care? Why am I bothering? Why do I owe this woman anything? But what was he supposed to say? "Er, thanks. Give Joe my love. I‟ve got to go. Bye." He stuffed the phone into his pocket and headed for the clinic. Foreman was sitting at one of the desks, filling out charts. He glanced up, his eyes lingering for a moment on the large Starbuck‟s cup in Chase‟s hand before turning back to his paperwork. "Busy day?" Chase asked, slipping his lab coat on. "Uh-huh." "Anything interesting?" "Not really." Foreman shrugged. "Had a kid with a toothpick stuck in his wrist, trying to make a sundial watch. Mom was afraid to pull it out „cause it looked like it was in a vein." Chased sucked in through his teeth. "Ouch!" He took a large swig of coffee and idly wondered why Foreman seemed to be licking his lips a lot. With a few minutes to go before his shift started, he sat opposite the neurologist and flipped through a few charts. His mind wandered back to Foreman‟s illness, when his father had paid a visit. Though he‟d had more important things to think about at the time, it hadn‟t escaped his notive that the two men didn‟t seem to be very close. Was it just the circumstances? Was it worth asking? "Hey, Foreman?" "Yeah?" Silence hung like a corpse on a noose for a moment or two as Chase tried to size up the level of impatience – or was it annoyance? - on his colleague‟s face. He decided to play it safe and not ask any personal questions. "You, uh, want the rest of my coffee? I don‟t think I can finish it before it gets cold." "You sure? I haven‟t had a decent cup all morning." "Sure." He pushed it across the desk. While Foreman attacked his charts with renewed energy, Chase pulled the envelope out of his pocket again. Unfolding the sheet of paper inside, he smoothed it on his lap. One one end, there was a crude outline of Australia, almost completely filled with the stick-figure image of a boy holding what was either a soccer ball or a half-baked chocolate chip cookie. There were a lot of wiggly blue lines in the middle, and on the other end was a silhouette of the U.S. (Or a giant trout, maybe) with a taller stick figure wearing a stethoscope. "JOE" was painstakingly traced under the boy, and "ROB" under the man. If sending the picture had been shameless emotional blackmail on Dinah‟s part, it was working. If not… well, it was working anyway. He knew he‟d do anything for the boy, even if it meant writing twenty pages of complete BS about a man he didn‟t particularly care for in order to get a book published. He folded the paper and tucked it back into his pocket. "Hey, Doc!" Half the people in the room turned around to look at Mr. Elmore standing in the entrance to the clinic. He seemed to realize the pointlessness of yelling "Hey, Doc" in a hospital, rolled his eyes, pointed in Foreman and Chase‟s direction, and said, "Okay then. Hey, Doctor… Doctor Prostate!" Foreman stood up. "Doctor Foreman. Back from Urology? That was fast." Elmore smirked. "Not as fast as this girl in Singapore. She… never mind. They rushed me out of there pretty quick. What does," he read from a sheet of pink paper, "„Nonspecific, idiopathic urethritis and prostatitis mean?" The hairs on Chase‟s neck stood up, and he exchanged a glance with Foreman. "Nonspecific" and "Idiopathic" were House‟s favorite words, because they usually meant some other doctor wasn‟t as smart as he was and couldn‟t figure out the root of the illness. Was this what House‟s "Spidey Sense" felt like?" Foreman finished Chase‟s coffee. "Do you have a few minutes to wait, Mr. Elmore? There‟s a colleague of mine I‟d like to call. He may have some suggestions." The patient shrugged. "What else is there for a man in my condition to do on a Saturday night?" Chapter 10: Three Backstories, Part 1 Sydney, Australia, 2002 The moment Rowan Chase walked into the restaurant he spotted her at their regular table in the back. As always, he couldn‟t help smiling. And then immediately frowning. And then shaking his head and smiling again as he made his way toward her. Along the way he nodded at the familiar restaurant staff. Dinah MacKenzie was a striking woman. People always used the word "striking" rather than "beautiful," although the latter wouldn‟t be exactly incorrect. Black hair fell loosely to her shoulders, dark blue eyes stood out in her tanned face, and her long, muscular arms and legs were flattered by her light summer dress. She looked up as he approached, flashing large, white teeth. "I ordered you the salmon. Trudy said it was fresh today." They kissed briefly before he sat, carefully unbuttoning his suit caot and flipping it back. "I‟m late, as usual," he offered with a shrug. "The damn lab was..." She waved her hand. "How many times do I have to tell you not to apologize for being late? It gives me a chance to chat up the cute busboy." "You‟re old enough to be his…" "…slightly older sister. Watch it, Doc. Oh, here we go. Brilliant, I‟m starved!" The waitress set their food down and left. They wordlessly tucked into their salmon for a few minutes before Dinah set her fork down. "Rowan, we‟ve been seeing each other for a year now, and working together for two. You know me better than anyone ever has, and I‟ve never been more in love in my life. And the thing is, I‟m pregnant. Are you going to eat all your rice?" The salmon had turned to ashes in his mouth. He‟d stopped listening halfway though whatever she‟d been nattering on about, because the blood pounding in his ears was drowning her out. Whenever a woman started a speech like that, there could only be one possible end. She wanted to break it off, she‟d found a man closer to her own age, she felt guilty dating the man who was technically her employer, she‟d accepted a job back in her native New Zealand, and he was never going to see her again. Well, fine. A clean break was best, no hard feelings. "Of course. No hard feelings," he said, his voice devoid of any feelings at all, hard or otherwise. The tone of voice he used with difficult patients. "Why would there be hard feelings? If you want the rice, don‟t give it to me." "Rice?" "You‟re miles away! I asked if you wanted your rice. Did you at least hear the part about me being pregnant?" She shoveled half his rice onto her own plate. "Er, no. I didn‟t." "Better get your hearing checked. Any road, you‟ll have to find a new nurse practitioner fairly soonish. I‟ll have Lindsay put in some calls to agencies, and I‟ll contact the placement office at my old school. It‟s perfectly natural to be scared, you know, as much as I know you hate to admit it." She squeezed his hand across the table. "Yes, well," he managed, keeping his voice and face neutral by old habit. "Yes. Well." "Dinah, you know I don‟t exactly have the best track record. You know how badly I failed with Cynthia and Robert. Robert in particular. Even if I could manage to not fail a second time, I‟m not sure if I deserve another chance." She slammed her fork down on the table, making a few drops of water slosh out the top of her glass. "Dammit, Rowan, what makes you think YOU get to decide what you deserve? So what if you haven‟t earned a second chance? You‟ve bloody well got one, if you‟re not too bloody scared to bloody well take it!" At first it felt like a cough, then a cramp. All of a sudden he was laughing in spite of himself. "You must promise to always keep making me remember why I fell for you in the first place." He said, as soon as he got control of himself. "Because I‟m always right?" "Yes, because you‟re always „bloody‟ right. Let‟s get married. What‟s the worst that can happen?" "‟What‟s the worst that can happen?‟ Remind me to write that down in my secret diary as the most romantic proposal a girl ever got. I‟m thirty-eight years old and pregnant for the first time, and I‟ve just eaten both our lunches. Isn‟t that bad enough? You‟d better call Robert tonight." He shrugged and tore a roll open. "Why tonight? Why should he want to hear from me tonight instead of next week, or next month? If I was him, I wouldn‟t want to, either." "And that‟s why you‟re going to do it tonight. I‟m going to have to keep you on a tight reign, Mister. Euchh, this coffee‟s terrible! I‟ve got to fight to keep it down, and it‟s too weak to fight back." "Let‟s go, then. It seems I have a phone call to make." Chapter 11: Three Backstories, Part 2 Leopold, Pennsylvania, 1987 “Bible belt,” said Johnny, holding the envelope up to his purple turban. “Bible belt.” The girl pulled her feet up onto the couch, tucking bony knees up inside her nightgown. All the other fifth-grades thought Johnny Carson was lame and bragged about staying up even later to watch David Letterman, but she liked Johnny. He was like a kind old grandpa. Besides, she was pushing it being up this late. Johnny opened he envelope. “What holds up Oral Roberts‟s pants?” Ed McMahon thought it was pretty funny, and the girl laughed right along with him. Not too loud - she didn‟t want to wake Uncle Jeff up. She wished Aunt Crystal would hurry up and forgive him so he could go back home. And as soon as she head Dad and Mom pull in the driveway, she‟d have to switch the TV off and bolt back to bed before they got in the house. They‟d been gone all day, but Uncle Jeff said not to worry, so she tried not to. “Ben-gay.” She knew what Ben-gay was. Mom put it on her wrist when it got twisted that time. Ed was laughing already, and he hadn‟t even heard the question. “Why didn‟t Mrs. Franklin have any children?” The audience went wild, but the girl on the couch didn‟t get it. She didn‟t have time to wonder about it, because she heard the car in the driveway. She got the TV off, but she didn‟t make it to the bedroom in time. Dad left the door open and just stood there, looking at her. She started to breathe faster. He had a big red mark on his face, and a bandage around his left hand. “Why aren‟t you in bed?” His voice was really, really low. She could barely hear him, but she knew what he was saying, and she knew she had to answer quickly. “I had to go to the bathroom” “You should have gone before you went to bed. How‟s your uncle supposed to sleep with you prowling around the house?” “Where‟s... is Mom in the car?” He didn‟t say anything for a few minutes. He just looked at her, his closed mouth moving up and down like he was chewing something. Besides the usual smell of Pall Malls, she could smell beer and gasoline. He was really, really mad this time. “Karen didn‟t make it.” Karen was Mom. But Dad never called her Karen when he was talking to her. He always said “your mother.” “What do you mean? She didn‟t make it where? Where were you going?” “She just didn‟t make it.” He was louder now, but he wasn‟t yelling yet. She knew she should stop, but she had to find out where Mom was. “I don‟t understand. Where‟s Mom?” Now he was REALLY mad. He stomped across the room, his muddy work boots tracking all over the floor. Now Mom was going to be upset, too. She tried to back up into the bedroom, but she couldn‟t get the door open. “SHE‟S DEAD, ALL RIGHT? YOUR MOTHER‟S DEAD! WE WERE IN AN ACCIDENT, AND SHE‟S DEAD! ARE YOU HAPPY NOW? DID I SAY IT RIGHT? YOU‟RE SO MUCH SMARTER THAN ME, YOU HAVE TO TELL ME HOW TO SAY MY WIFE‟S DEAD?” She knew she wasn‟t supposed to cry, but she couldn‟t help it. Her stomach hurt. She felt like she was underwater, and like she was going to fall down, all at the same time. “NO!” She yelled back. “Mom‟s not dead! She‟s not dead!” “Oh yeah? You father‟s a liar now? You think I‟m gonna lie about my wife dying? Well, if she‟s not dead you can go outside and wait for her.” He grabbed her arm, hard, and pulled her across the room. She tried to pull away, but that just made him pull harder. Finally, he picked her up and carried her out to the front porch, where he threw her into the upholstered glider. She curled up into a ball and pulled the cushion over her head, but she could still hear the door slamming and locking behind him. She didn‟t know how long she‟d been lying there, crying until her throat felt like the time she‟d choked on a peach pit, before she heard the door open again. Uncle Jeff sat down beside her. She knew it was Uncle Jeff because he smelled like Viceroys instead of Pall Malls. She heard him open his beer can and take a long swallow. “I‟m so sorry about Karen, kiddo. She was a great Mom.” She sat up. “She really is...” she couldn‟t finish. Her throat hurt too bad to talk. Uncle Jeff nodded, and she just sort of crumpled up against his arm. He gave her a big hug. “You can‟t blame your Dad. He‟s just been through the worst day of his life. And you an‟ me is all he‟s got left, kiddo. We‟re gonna have to take care of him. Your sister isn‟t gonna come home, not with the baby.” She wasn‟t listening to him anymore. The dog jumped up on her other side, and she threw her arms around his big, strong neck. Chapter 12: Three Backstories, Part 3 Princeton, 2000 “Brightly dawns our wedding day; Joyous hour, we give thee greeting! Whither, whither art thou fleeting? Fickle moment, prithee stay! What though mortal joys be hollow? Pleasures come, if sorrows follow: Yet until the shadows fall Over one and over all, Sing a merry madrigal!” House shifted in his Adirondack recliner, making his leg hurt even worse. In the process, he also knocked over the crutches leaning against the side and the drink resting on the arm. Grabbing for the crutches and the drink made his ear buds fall out, his Discman fall into the damp grass, and the Mikado CD pop out. He‟d been reading about the portable digital music player coming out next year – well, not so much “reading about” as “drooling over,” and planned on getting one as soon as they hit the shelves. Until then, he was forced to wear an uncomfortable jacket to his best friend‟s wedding to hide the bulky Discman. He picked up the player and CD, but left the glass where it was while he popped another pill into his mouth. Surely the pharmaceutical company didn‟t REALLY expect him to wait four hours? He started the CD on a new track; Felicity Palmer's rich contralto offering much more sympathy. “Alone, and yet alive! Oh, sepulchre! My soul is still my body's prisoner! Remote the peace that death alone can give My doom, to wait! My punishment, to live!” Something vaguely Stacy-shaped stepped between his eyes and the sun just as the medication was kicking in. It sat down in the next chair and set a glass of lemonade on the arm of his. Well, then, it probably WAS Stacy. He turned the music off, pulled the earbuds out and looked at it again to make sure. Dark hair, dark eyes, nice rack – yep, that was her, all right. “Too bad more people from the hospital weren‟t able to come,” she carefully said. “Able? They‟re able, all right. But they also all know how the blushing bride was b*ning the groom while he was still married to the last Wilsonette. Sure, we‟re all casual and forgiving here in the twenty-first century, but that doesn‟t mean we‟re gonna stand around and throw rice like they‟re a couple of high school sweethearts. Or birdseed, or whatever it is hippies throw to keep from thinning out the pigeon population” If possible, her voice was more even and measured than before. “Jim is your best friend, and I know he‟s glad you came. You‟re happy for him, aren‟t you?” He rolled his eyes, put his hand over his heart, and adopted a stagey English accent. “Stacy, I am welling over with limpid joy! No sicklying taint of sorrow overlies the lucid lake of liquid love, upon which, hand in hand, Wilson and Julie are to float into eternity!” “I thought Dr. Cuddy would be here…” He couldn‟t help a bitter chuckle. “Dr. Cuddy is a different story. She‟s not here, because I am. She‟s got a pair of brass ones, all right, but they‟re not THAT big. Besides, the whole hospital staff wouldn‟t have fit into the Garden of Granola Delights, or whatever this is supposed to be.” The backyard of Julie‟s Victorian house was hung with garlands of flowers and dried herbs. There were incense burners scattered around, decorations invoking the imagery of every imaginable Eastern religion, a chuppah made of some kind of hand-dyed batik fabric, and several of Julie‟s art students in varying states of “creative” dress, one of them plucking at a battered mandolin. Stacy shrugged. “It‟s what they wanted. Are you getting tired? Maybe we should have brought the wheelchair. I can go home and get it…” He looked her square in the eyes, saying nothing, until she trailed off. Only when she was quiet (fingering the rectangular bulge in her purse he wasn‟t supposed to notice with yellow-stained fingers he wasn't supposed to nitice either - how stupid did she think he was?) did he speak, even more flatly than she had. “You‟d like that, wouldn‟t you? Granted, it‟s not quite a baby carriage, but it‟s the closest you‟re going to get, isn‟t it?” She pursed her lips for exactly one second. “I‟m going to go talk to Jim‟s parents. They brought pictures of their last vacation in the Catskills.” As soon as she was gone, he pulled a small bottle from the other pocket of his lumpy jacket and poured the contents into the glass of lemonade. Alcohol-free wedding, indeed. This woman was going to be a bad influence on Wilson. As if on cue, a Wilson-shaped object appeared in the chair the Stacy-shaped object had occupied. “I‟m pretty sure those pills aren‟t supposed to be taken with vodka,” the object observed. “The bottle says they shouldn‟t be taken with nagging, either. Wait, was it “nagging” or “antihistamines?” I think I left my Merck manual in my other suit.” Wilson silently nodded, settling back into the chair. “So, she makes you feel „funny,‟ huh?” Another nod. “Funny ha-ha, or funny strange?” “House, if I ever need anyone to make me feel „funny strange,‟ I know where to find you and your references to Cuddy's brass gonads. Have some cake; it‟s got flaxseed in it.” “Only if you can get that mandolin kid to play something decent. You think he knows any Hank, Jr.?” Chapter 13: Weak in the Knees Chase and Foreman sat in an exam room with Mr. Elmore, ostensibly taking his medical history. But at the moment they were far more interesting in the things that would never make it into the official file. "..and of course Superman and Lois was her favorite. It always is." He shrugged with the air of a man talking about the weather. "But mmm, could she fill out that Robin suit. So, one night, she brings out the biggest, juiciest, most incredibly..." A sharp voice cut through the narrative - the voice of a woman who had obviously been standing there long enough to get the thrust of the story, as it were. "What is going on in here? Dr. Foreman?" A change came over the patient more quickly than Chase could say, "Huh?" Elmore‟s brown eyes sparkled like something in a Tiffany‟s box, a Cheshire smile curled his mouth, and his voice dropped nearly an octave and took on the slightest hint of a Louisiana drawl. "Well, hello." he intoned in Dr. Cuddy‟s direction. "That is the most exquisitely tailored lab coat I‟ve ever seen." His eyes were riveted somewhere between the waist and collar of said garment. As he stood up to greet her, the paper cover slipped off the exam table, carrying him with it onto the cold, hard linoleum below. "G----mn, my knee!" he cried, clutching at his injured leg. Then he went very, very quiet, his eyes very, very wide. Cuddy‟s heart skipped a beat. As much as she wanted to focus on the patient, she couldn‟t stop thinking about how little money was available to settle a lawsuit right now. The she realized he was looking up her skirt. "Get him to a room," she barked as the door swung shut behind her. ------- Just about the time Cameron figured that the vibration of the bike had rendered her permanently numb from the waist down, they pulled into the parking lot of a diner on the outskirts of Princeton. She nearly fell over as she stepped onto the gravel, her knees turning to jelly. Jelly that had been left sitting out for a few days in a hot kitchen. But, damn, it had been fun! Having given up on questioning House‟s plan of activities for the day, she merely hobbled behind him into the diner. Either he was used to the feeling by now, or his regular limp masked the jellyknee effect. She crawled into the nearest booth, setting Minnie on the cracked maroon vinyl seat beside her. Was it only yesterday she‟d set out for the truck rally? It seemed like weeks. And now here she was, picking what felt suspiciously like bug guts out of her teeth and hair, sitting across from house (of all people!) and listening to a middle-aged Greek woman in a lacy apron reading lunch specials. "...with coleslaw. And an extra dill pickle." House finished. "And Droopy Dog here will have...?" "Er, soup?" she managed. "The soup sounds good. Thanks," she glanced at the waitress‟s name tag, "Patty." Patty bustled off, leaving coffee and water behind. "Great, now she‟s gonna think you‟re a stalker," said House as he poured the sugar. "Are you just tired, or in mourning for Bwoobewwy?" She pushed herself up in her seat and shook her head. "Tired. I guess it‟s about time I did the grownup thing and went to a dealership this time. I‟m probably caught up enough on my loans to get credit." "Lemme guess. A pink VW Beetle. Or... a pink Mini Cooper? Maybe a pink Humvee? „Road Rage Barbie‟ is supposed to be the hottest toy this Christmas." "I saw an ad for a Toyota dealership in Lawrenceville, with good deals on used Priuses..." The inevitable snort came a beat than she expected. "Of course. You‟re gonna save the world one mile at a time. Free baby seal with every tune-up. The pollution from the factory alone..." She couldn‟t help herself. She knew better, but she just couldn‟t help herself. "You think just because one person can‟t fix the whole environmental problem, we shouldn‟t do ANYTHING? I know it‟s a drop in the bucket. But I have to drive one way or another. Why not do what little I can? Have you ever heard of the Serenity Prayer?" He knitted his brow for a minute, chewing on an ice cube. "Is that the one that ends with, „Good G-d, let‟s eat?‟" As if on cue, Patty arrived at the table, a tray balanced on her solid-looking hip. The smell of the bean soup made Cameron forget all about cars, pollution, and even House. He seemed equally distracted by his massive cheeseburger. "You kids and your philosophy," she chuckled as she refilled their cups. "My old man‟s name was Aristotle, and he couldn‟t tell sophistry from skata. Gimme a call, you want pie." She ambled off, shouting something incomprehensible to the counter man. Much later, around a mouthful of sandwich, House concluded, "It‟s the „wisdom to know the difference‟ part that bites you and me in the @ss, huh?" Before she could think of a reply, his pager went off. He pulled out his cell phone and punched a few buttons. "This is Dr. House. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Did you run... yep. It‟s just a simple... you already did? What color‟s the discharge? Cool! Right. Right. Did you measure it? No, I don‟t think you should, I was just curious, you Antipodean pervert. OK, see you in a few. No, I‟ll do it." He punched another button, and Cameron felt the tingling sensation in her leg again. No, wait - it was her pager vibrating. She looked back up, and House was talking into his phone as he looked her in the eye. "Dr. Cameron! We have a patient! Meet me at the hospital, stat!" He hustled out, leaving her to pay the bill. She barely made it to the bike in time. Chapter 14: Sunday At 9:00 Sunday morning, Mr. Elmore underwent surgery to repair his shattered kneecap. The procedure was uneventful save for the patient‟s comments, as the sedation was taking effect, that the lack of white stockings on nurses was a direct cause of the health care crisis, and that if anything went wrong his remains were to be donated to the Kinsey Institute. At 10:15, Dr. Cuddy drafted a memo to the Risk Management office, detailing Mr. Elmore‟s record as a successful litigator, recent appointment as an editor of the Princeton Law Review, and the circumstances of his injury on hospital property. Next, she contacted Admissions and instructed them to admit him to Dr. House‟s service at the end of his 24-hour recovery period. Then she zipped her computer back into its case and asked the clerk to bring out the black Ferragamo pumps in a size 6. At 10:30, House and Wilson outlined the rules of Water Loserball. Gary‟s Gym, in the basement of an old, converted high school, was on the shabby side but had better handicapped access than the shiny new health club near the hospital. And practically nobody else came to swim on Sunday mornings. Wilson reluctantly agreed to the dunking penalty, in exchange for the no-pantsing rule he was pretty sure House really wanted as much as he did. At 10:45, Foreman dreamed he was luxuriantly sinking into a Jacuzzi full of cinnamon latte. The hot liquid felt so good on his aching back, he knew he‟d be able to sit hunched over as many charts as the clinic nurse could throw at him. As the steamy cinnamon smell filled the room, the surface of the coffee began to bubble and foam until the latte had turned into cappuccino. The sweet, tan foam formed into stiff peaks, rising, falling, and undulating until they took on the form of Miss Halle Berry herself, dressed in a white silk robe and sipping delicately from a chipped Blue Willow cup. “Coffee, Eric?” she whispered, perching on the edge of the tub. At 11:00, Chase slipped out of the crowded Mass at St. Jerome‟s. He had figured, correctly, that it would be easier to slip away before Communion without being noticed more easily than at the sparsely-attended early service. He wasn‟t quite ready for that yet. Apparently the early Mass was also in Spanish, a large portion of the congregation being either recent immigrants or nostalgic ones. At noon, Cameron turned off her treadmill and pulled up the hem of her new Tye-Grrrl T-shirt to wipe the sweat from her face. She entered the exercise time in her workout journal, wondering as she did every day why she bothered. A shower and a flaxseed bar later, she picked up the printout with the directions to the Toyota dealership in Lawrenceville and the keys to her rental car, spending only a moment picturing the look on House‟s face if she indeed showed up the next day with a pink Mini Cooper. Chapter 15: Women and Men Monday morning found House and his team assembled to discuss Mr. Elmore. House was being more petulant than usual, annoyed at having his time wasted on a case that was beneath his abilities. As they ate the muffins Foreman had brought (he tended to bring healthier food than the others when it was his turn), he filled them in on the patient‟s history so far. “We got cut off when he fell, but I‟d already drawn a bunch of blood.” “Right up her skirt?” House asked wistfully, crumpling his muffin cup and throwing it in the general direction of the wastebasket. “You think he‟s just got good aim?” Foreman ignored him. “The surgery went well; he should be awake and alert this afternoon.” “Groovy. Dr. Cameron, you can finish his history then.” House noticed Chase and Foreman exchanging wary looks. “What? Care to share, boys?” Chase lost the game of eyeball chicken, sighed, and slouched in his seat. “I‟m not so sure that‟s a good idea. This particular patient has some… issues with women. He was a four- star general in the Sexual Revolution, and for him the war never ended.” House snorted. “Oh, come on. So he looked up Cuddy‟s skirt. Who hasn‟t? We‟re not gonna handle him – or Dr. Cameron – with kid gloves because Cuddy‟s covering her a**. Although she might want to look into that of another patient falls under her.” Cameron chimed in. “I‟ve treated dirty old men before.” There was a moment‟s silence as everyone tried not to look at House. Cameron coughed and busied herself with her coffee mug. Chase shook his head. “The difference is, he‟s succeeding. In a hospital bed with his… little friend in trouble, he‟s managed to get dates with two nurses. The nursing manager had to change the floor rotation. I‟ve never seen anything like it.” “Okaaaaay, Cameron runs the labs, Chase gets the history, Foreman does the exam. I never thought I‟d have to line my staff up in order of femininity. Any other symptoms? Foreman checked his notes. “Burning eyes…” House scrawled on the whiteboard. “He shouldn‟t have looked up there. Makes you wonder what happens if you touch.” “He‟s been taking Restasis for chronic dry eyes,” Foreman rebutted, “but his prescription ran out when he moved a few weeks ago.” “We‟ll leave it up there for now. That way when we get the labs back and find out it‟s just one of the rarer forms of herpes, we can still get the satisfying feeling that our duty has been done.” “House?” Chase asked as soon as the others had left the room. “I need a few days off next week. I‟ve, er, got family coming to visit.” House looked at him for just a moment longer than was necessary, then nodded. ----- Cameron was on her way to the lab when she heard someone call her name. She turned to see a thin young girl wearing a T-shirt and baseball cap with the hospital logo. She looked vaguely familiar… “Dr. Cameron, it‟s me. Alex. I was in here about six months ago.” “Of course!” It all came flooding back – the young model with the intersex condition, the mysterious cancer, the incest and ineffectual call to CPS – a hard week for them all. She pulled the girl to a nearby bench. “How are you feeling? What are you dong back here?” “Dr. Wilson asked me to come visit the cancer kids‟ camp. I‟m all done with chemo, and I‟m doing a lot better.” She was, if possible, a little thinner, and the professional-looking makeup job couldn‟t hide a slight pallor and dark circles, but she did indeed look healthier than the last time she‟d been at PPTH. “I had my treatments as Sloan-Kettering. I got my picture taken with Lance Armstrong. You probably don‟t read „Seventeen,‟ or „Teen Vogue,‟ but it was in there.” Cameron hugged the girl‟s slight frame to her own. “I‟m really glad you came.” “I wanted to talk to you without seeing that son of a b---ch you work for.” “Dr. House found your cancer. He saved your life. I know he‟s hard to take…” Alex shook her head dismissively, pursing her impossibly full lips. “My doctor at Kettering treated two other girls with the same condition last year. If he hadn‟t found it, someone else would have. Listen, I wanted to tell you I‟m not living with my Dad any more. My Grandma lives in New York, and I stayed with her during chemo. I still don‟t think it‟s his fault,” she waved a hand to stop Cameron‟s interruption, “But it‟s just not good for us to be together. And I wanted to say thanks, „cause talking to you helped me figure that out.” Cameron swallowed hard. She was NOT going to lose it here in the corridor. She fussed a little with her armload of charts, trying to think of something to say that wouldn‟t sound completely idiotic. “Uh, I, I know… Alex?” The girl had stood up suddenly, back ramrod-straight, her eyes riveted on something at the end of the hall. Cameron jerked her head around to see the disheveled figure of Dr. House in a similar position about twenty feet away. She felt the need to swallow hard again. In some dim corner of her mid she could hear the gunfight music from an old Western movie. Slowly, like a ballerina, Alex lifted both arms in front of her small body, palms facing the floor. Suddenly her hands flipped upside down, two perfectly manicured middle fingers pointed skyward. Then, she spat. Noisily. It echoed off the tiled walls, a huge blob of spittle landing on the floor halfway between the two standing figures. House smiled darkly. He raised his cane in front of him like a Crusader‟s sword, and then elegantly bowed over it. Straightening, he limped away, whistling the theme from “Rocky.” Chapter 16: The “Dear Robert” Letter There was a small room in Chase‟s apartment, somewhere between a large closet and a small alcove. He‟d planned on using it as an office, but when he found it was easier to flop on the couch with his laptop it had become a storeroom. Late at night, he decided to clean it out in anticipation of Dinah and Joe‟s visit. Maybe he'd put some of his personal things in there to give his guests more room in the bedroom. He found himself mostly repacking and restacking boxes - it was mostly old textbooks, anyway. Mostly. At the bottom of a pile in the very furthest corner, was a plastic shoebox, neatly labeled "Mum." He set a box of old clothes down on top of it. Then he picked it back up, reached underneath, and pulled the shoebox out. He took the lid off, then put it back on, set the box on a shelf, walked away, turned, walked back, and took it back down again. A few minutes later, he was seated at the kitchen table, a bottle of beer and the box in front of him. He took a long swallow and opened it. The familiar pictures were all there. Mum as a cherubic little girl on her show pony, a blond and sylphlike teenager in pink satin and pearls at some formal dance, a nervous-looking society bride in a meringue of a white Lacroix gown, and a smiling but tired-looking young mother in stiffly posed family portraits. The pictures stopped in her late twenties. He could remember her refusing to be photographed, hiding her face or snatching the camera away. It had worked - there were no pictures of her with a red nose, puffy eyes, or a blotched complexion. Or holding a gin and tonic. At the very bottom he found what he only then realized he had been looking for. Across the yellowed envelope, in his mother‟s erratic handwriting, were the words, "To Robbie. To be opened only if you‟re thinking about having children." Draining the bottle, he opened it and read. Dear Robbie, I know you hate it when I call you Robbie, but I can‟t help it. The older you get, the harder it is to talk about things. I think it‟s because the things you want to talk about are more important. You know I was eighteen when I married your father, and nineteen when I had you. I was a spoilt, stupid kid. Which means I thought I was smarter than Mother and everyone else who told me I was a spoilt, stupid kid. I shouldn‟t have married your father, but I was a stupid kid in love. Mother should have tried to stop us, but I think she was happy to have me off her hands. She told your father, "I just hope you can handle her better than I can," like he was adopting me or something. I think part of me just wanted to get away from her. But I was in love, too. Head over heels in love with a tall, dark, stranger - a man of mystery from behind the Iron Curtain, complete with exotic accent. But from old money before the Revolution, and a brilliant doctor with a bright future. So I could be a rebel in my own mind without marrying below Mother‟s standards. Everybody would be happy, right? But I was miserable. I don‟t know what I expected, but I just felt so alone all the time. Even when your father was home he was so quiet. We‟d go for days without saying anything but "Good morning" and "Good night." When I did talk to him he didn‟t listen, or he‟d find a reason to leave. Maybe wives were quieter in the old country. And then there was the postnatal depression. They didn‟t call it that then, though. They called it "being a bad mother," or "being lazy and spoilt." I used to lock myself in the bathroom because I just couldn‟t stand listening to the baby cry. And that made your father hate me even more. He disapproved of me more than Mother ever did. That‟s why I ran away. I call it running away because that‟s what it felt like. You were about a year old. I packed your bag and mine and I ran back to Mother. I figured even living with her was better than where I was. But she said I couldn‟t come back. I was a failure and a disappointment, and if I was determined to embarrass her in front of everyone, at least she wasn‟t going to help me do it. She‟d set up a trust fund for your education, but that was all I could expect. So I went back to your father. He never said a word about it. I didn‟t know if he was showing me that he forgave me or if he just hadn‟t noticed I was gone. (Years later, an old friend of your father‟s told me that when he was a kid in Communist Czechoslovakia they weren‟t allowed to talk at home because his mother lost it when the police took his father away and she was paranoid they‟d come back. He always had to behave perfectly. But by the time I knew any of that, I was already a drunk and a divorcée on top of being a bad daughter, wife, and mother. Too late to fix any of it.) I went to AA for a while when you were younger. You probably never knew that. But it embarrassed my mother and your father, too, so I stopped going. I went to the doctor and he gave me some pills to help me quit drinking, but all they did was make me throw up a lot. So I stopped going to him as well. But what I‟m getting at is, at AA they told me that if a kid‟s needs - physical and emotional - don‟t get met by their parents, they use their own kids to meet those needs. They can‟t help it. That‟s what our parents did to us, and it‟s what we did to you. And if you can‟t figure out a way to fix it, you‟ll do it to your kids too. So please, Robbie, think twice before you have any. Love, Mum. P.S. Also, my grandparents were first cousins. Maybe it‟s bad genes. He packed the letter and pictures neatly back into the box and wondered for the hundredth time about the wisdom of getting close to Joe and Dinah. The publishers of Rowan‟s upcoming posthumous autobiography were bringing her to the rheumatology conference his father had attended every year, to speak about the book. She hadn‟t wanted to come to the States, and as close as New York, without bringing Joe to meet him. The shopping list was easy: milk, cereal, biscuits, fruit juice, extra towels (he‟d even found ones with soccer balls), and a few kids‟ games. But what would it be like actually having his little brother around? And could he get over the shameful feeling of jealousy that Joe‟s needs, as Mum had put it, seemed to be met in a way his own never had been? Chapter 17: The Volunteer Cameron was at the conference table whittling away at a pile of paperwork when Foreman came back from lunch on Tuesday. He flopped into a chair and opened a Neurology journal. “I saw the new car. Cute. How‟s she handle?” “Good,” she replied without looking up from the chart she was updating. “Cameron?” “Yeah?” “Why are you wearing a necklace made of macaroni?” She sat up, her hand going to her chest. “Oh. That. I‟m volunteering at the kids‟ cancer camp.” Foreman heaved a huge sigh, pushed himself out of his chair, and went over to the coffee maker. He poured slowly, collecting his thoughts. “Listen, Allison, are you sure that‟s a good idea?” She stuck her much-chewed pencil behind her ear. “Yeah, I think so.” He sat back down, leaned across the table, and looked at her until she met his eyes. It was a skill he‟d worked on since he was a kid, and it had never failed. Grandma called it “the snake charmer look.” “Eric… I know you and House think I‟m too sensitive when it comes to children, and that it makes me less effective. I wouldn‟t use either one of you as a gauge for appropriate levels of sensitivity, but I‟d be an idiot if I didn‟t at least consider the possibility that you had a point.” She stood up and got a bottle of water from the fridge. “So, am I supposed to just never look at a sick kid again? Or do I keep trying?” Foreman hesitated for a minute, leaning back in his chair. Then he shrugged. “Building up immunity to sick kids? Let me help you. I‟ll volunteer, too, and we‟ll watch each others‟ backs. I catch you caring too much, you catch me caring too little,” he stuck his tongue out and made a cutting motion across his neck, “and we‟re out of there, even if it‟s the middle of the arts and crafts show.” Cameron smiled. “Deal.” She sat across from him. “Any progress with Elmore?” He shook his head. “He‟s having a lot more post-op pain than we thought he would. I drew more blood this morning if you need it, but he‟ll be out of it on pain meds for the rest of the day.” She picked up his file and spread it out on the table between them, along with the legal pad on which she‟d taken notes in the lab. “I‟ve run smears for every STD in the book. All negative so far, which is a minor miracle if half the history you and Chase took is true. Do you think he‟s just bragging?” “With so much at stake? I doubt it. Wilson doesn‟t think there‟s any cancer, but if all the blood work comes up zeroes we can run him a CT.” He picked up the legal pad to read the list of tests, but stopped when he saw a large doodle in the margin. “Is that… Mickey Mouse? With handcuffs on?” Flushing, she snatched the pad away from him. “There‟s a lot of down time in the lab.” As she watched him laugh, he could see a light bulb go off in her head. Her brow furrowed, and her mouth dropped open ever so slightly. “You were totally going to volunteer anyway, weren‟t you? You knew about the arts and crafts show. And you played Santa in Pediatrics last year. You‟re such a manipulative… Stop laughing!” “Okay, okay!” He bit his lip. “Yeah, I thought about volunteering. But it‟ll still be fun to do it together. And House has to give us the hour off every afternoon, which‟ll make a nice change from this case. Okay?” “Okay. Thanks, Eric. I mean it.” She stood up and headed for the door. “I‟m going to go check on our patient. I‟m sure he‟s harmless on morphine.” He called after her. “Better button up your lab coat, just to be sure.” Chapter 18: Haysie and the KKK Wilson pulled his tie off, undid the top button of his shirt, and ruffled his hair up with his fingers. It was still seven o‟ clock at night, he was still in his office reviewing budget forms, and his neck still hurt. But he felt at least a little more confortable. "Excuse, me, stranger. I was expecting to find Dr. Wilson here. Maybe you know him - neatly pressed fellow, about so high?" The woman in the doorway raised a hand a few inches above her own head. Wilson leaned back in his chair. "Right now I wouldn‟t know him if I saw him. Come on in, Haysie - you can help me finish up the camp budget." Alana Hayes, one of the best chemo nurse on Wilson‟s staff, smiled and sat down opposite him, setting a stack of files on the crowded desk. She‟d only been on the staff a year, but he‟d come to appreciate her boundless energy and enthusiasm as well as her considerable skill. And he‟d found out recently they shared a lot of taste in books, especially F. Scott Fitzgerald and Oscar Wilde. (Ever since he‟d heard the rumor that he and House were a couple, he wasn‟t comfortable discussing Wilde with too many people at the hospital.) As she had last summer, "Haysie" (as the kids on the Onco ward called her) was running the kids‟ cancer camp. "Is that the Form 10?" She took the spreadsheet from his hand. "I should‟ve had this on Dr. Cuddy‟s desk last Friday. The figures look right, though. Is Laurie going to be OK to volunteer? I saw you got called in to the ER with her over the weekend." Wilson shook his head and rubbed his eyes. "I don‟t think so. Even if she felt up to it, I don;t want her getting sick in front of the kids. No point worrying them. Haysie?" "Yes?" She looked up at him over the Form 10. "Why do you have KKK written on your folder?" She blushed and scribbled out the offending letters. "That‟s what the kids have started calling it. „Cause, you know, „Kids‟ Cancer Camp‟ starts with three „K‟ sounds. I‟m just glad the sheets on the ward aren‟t white or we might be in for some pranks. Maybe we should call it something else next time." Wilson smacked himself in the forehead. "I totally never thought of that. You‟re right " Alana laughed softly. "Kids pick up on a whole lot more than we do. But I shouldn‟t include you in that „we.‟ You picked up on that neuroblastoma when the ER docs wanted to admit the guy to the psych ward. Maybe Dr. Hose isn‟t the only diagnostic whiz around here." Wilson shrugged. "It just didn‟t look like schizophrenia." Alana cocked an eyebrow. He stood, stretched, and went over to the small fridge in the corner. He pulled out two cans of soda, set one on the desk, and opened the other carefully, holding it away from his clean white shirt in case of spray. "I started out med school planning to go into psychiatric medicine. I‟ve been interested since I was a kid." No need to go into detail about the crash course the entire family had taken. Alana coughed uncomfortably and shuffled some papers around. "I had a call from Mrs... er, Julie today. She wanted to recommend one of her students to help with the art fair, since she can‟t make it herself this year." "Was that her being tactful, or are you being tactful on our behalf?" He smiled halfheartedly over his soda can. "I‟m fine with her coming back this year if she‟d like to. I don‟t do the hands-on stuff at the camp anyway; all I do is sign the Form 10's and provide moral support. She did a great job, and there‟s no reason not to di it again." "I‟ll tell her that." She stood up and smoothed out her pink scrubs. "Now go home. Or go bowling, or go see Snakes on a Plane. You stay here much longer and your face‟ll freeze that way." "Snakes..." he trailed off as she headed for the door. She turned and grinned. "On a mother----in‟ plane!" The only sounds left were the ticking of the wall clock and the squeaking of her pink Crocs on the linoleum. Chapter 19: Newsflash, Chase – It Ain’t the Coffee "Ladies and Gentlemen, we would like to announce the arrival of United Flight 850 from Los Angeles, California." Recognizing the number of Dinah's connecting flight from Sydney, Chase gulped down the last of his coffee, winced, and headed through the knot of waiting strangers to the gate. "It's only for a few days," he told himself again. "You can handle it." He'd been trying to pinpoint exactly what was bothering him (a specific dread being easier to cope with than a vague one, even if it was worse) and he had it narrowed down to the top three possibilities: 1. Pressure from Dinah to make some dramatic statement of forgiveness and acceptance of his father 2. Even more bad, old memories being dredged up 3. Being personally (rather than just medically) responsible for other human beings Once he saw the two of them step through the doors behind a group of loud, sweaty students, he forgot all three. If it was possible to fall in love at first sight - something that always made his eyes roll in disbelief any time he'd been dragged to a chick-flick by a sentimental date - then he was sure this would be what it felt like. Joe (his brother, no less; it still hadn't really sunk it until now) was like one of the cherubs on a dimly remembered Sunday school card, with enormous, irresistible blue eyes that immediately met his in recognition. Something (probably the rotgut airport coffee) made his stomach tighten a little. And then there was Dinah. It was obvious where Joe had gotten his looks, a thought he was trying desperately and failing utterly to repress. Distraction was just as good as repression, though, and the four-year-old bundle of adorable launching itself at him was a perfect one. He knelt down to hold it at arm's length. "You CAN'T be Joe. You're too big!" "I'm LITTLE!" he protested. "YOU'RE big! That's how come you're my BIG brother." "Oh, okay." He looked up at Dinah, who had caught up to them. "Hullo." She smiled, the tension draining from her face. "Hullo, Rob. It's so good to finally meet you in person." She ignored the hand he stretched out as he got to his feet and pulled him into a warm hug. His first impression was that she could easily take him in a fight with arms that strong. "Joe!" she yelled over Chase's shoulder. "What did I tell you about wandering off?" They reached out in automatic unison, each grabbing one of the boy's hands. "I wasn't wandering." Chase shook his head. "If you wander off here in America, you're liable to run into a grizzly bear. Or Dr. Cuddy. Pretty scary either way. Let's go get your suitcase, and then we can go get supper. Are you hungry?" The boy nodded, his eyes growing impossibly wider. He solemnly held up a tiny, empty airline pretzel packet as evidence of his condition. After a long meal with lots of questions and answers between the two brothers (Joe's favorite food? Fish and chips. Robert's favorite thing about the States? Snow at Christmas. Joe's favorite football team? He Adelaide Crows. Then of course Dinah was called on to demonstrate the haka, the native Maori dance that New Zealand teams used to intimidate their opponents.) they started the hour-long drive back to Princeton. A few minutes of watching the highway lights go by soon had Joe nodding off in the back seat. Dinah turned around and pulled a blanket over him, "Dobrou noc," she said softly. He sleepily repeated the words back to her. She turned back around and sighed wearily. "Was that Czech?" Chase asked. "Yeah. 'Good night.' I want him to have a sense of where he comes from. Robert, are you sure you don't mind us invading like this? We can stay at an hotel easy enough." He shook his head. "You're family." He was surprised to hear himself say it, since he'd never been entirely sure what the word was supposed to mean. But it sounded good, and he meant it. "And you'll be off to New York in a few days." "That's good. Robert, I can't tell you how much it means to me, the way you've been with Joe. He's been just bursting to get here ever since I told him. He was driving the flight attendants bonkers with 'Are we almost there?'" She laughed, and he couldn't help joining in. He added "Contagious laughter" to the list of clichés that were making sense. "I'd love to see your hospital, too, if you wouldn't mind. The facilities sound amazing from what you've said, and besides, it's where you probably spend most of your time." He shrugged as he changed lanes. "I'm not a workaholic. I know that's rare in the medical profession. Laziness, I guess." Dinah shook her head. "I'll stick with 'rare.'" "I'd be happy to show you around." He looked at her out of the corner of his eye. She was blinking slowly and stifling a yawn. "Why don't you close your eyes and get some rest? The New Jersey Turnpike by moonlight's nothing to write home about." "I think I will." He heard the click-thump of the seat reclining, and then silence. Long after he thought she was asleep, she murmured, "Robert?" "Yeah?" "Nothing. Wake me when we get there, will you?" "Sure." "Dobrou noc." "Sleep tight." Chapter 20: The Deal Mr. Elmore was sitting up in bed when Foreman and Cameron came to check on him the next morning. He seemed more alert, although his breakfast had barely been touched. “I know the wallpaper paste is terrible,” Foreman quipped, picking up the chart, “but rumor has it there are some oats hiding in there if you dig deep.” “Are you one of those „laughter is the best medicine‟ types?” Elmore replied testily. “Me, I‟ve always believed medicine was the best medicine. Anyway, Nurse Ginger is bringing me some brioche when she starts her shift. She promised.” His eyes twinkled. “Ginger- snnnap!” Foreman shook his head. “You‟ve had some powerful IV antibiotics. But our tests so far,” he nodded at Cameron and her stack of lab reports “Have still been inconclusive.” Following Foreman‟s gesture, Mr. Elmore favored Cameron with a slow smile and a tone like watered silk. “I can‟t believe any detail could have slipped past those keen, penetrating eyes. Dr. Cameron, I would be delighted to place myself entirely in your hands.” Seeing Cameron swallow, Foreman jumped back in. “Are you still having groin pain? And how about the knee?” “My knee is killing me.” He said wearily, turning reluctantly back to the male doctor. But the funny thing is, my OTHER knee is starting to hurt, too. You think it‟s just from being laid up like this? Bless you, dear.” The last was addressed softly back to Cameron, who had applied a fresh ice pack to his injured knee. “Ow!” he exclaimed, turning back to Foreman as the latter poked at his good one. “What is this, good cop/bad cop?” “Sorry,” Foreman replied brusquely, making a note in his chart. “We‟ll be back later on with some more tests. Dr. Cameron, dear?” They headed back to the conference room, Cameron as usual scurrying to keep up with the longer legs of her male colleagues. “I wonder how Chase is doing. He never talks about his family.” “Neither do you,” Foreman noted. “What do you think about the joint pain?” “Could be osteoarthritis, made worse by inactivity. You think we should get an X-ray?” “Depends.” “On what?” Her brow furrowed. “On how far we‟re prepared to push House into it if HE doesn‟t think it‟s significant.” By that time they‟d reached the conference room, where House was pouring vinegar into a latex glove he held fr away from his body. “What are you…” Cameron began, but House cut her off mid-sentence. “Quick!” He tied the glove shut, shook it up, and thrust it at her. “You can run faster than me. Throw this over the railing onto Wilson‟s balcony. Stop googling you eyes and shut your mouth before the flies get in. Hurry! It‟s gonna blow!” She snatched the glove from him and dropped it into the trash can, latching the cover tightly. There was a “POP” as the vinegar and baking soda in the glove expanded and burst. The can wobbled slightly. Foreman quickly turned to the coffee maker, unsuccessfully stifling a snort. House shoved a pill into his mouth, muttering “Spoilsport” around it. “So, what‟s the scoop on Cuddy‟s boyfriend, the lascivious lawyer? And which one of you is gonna play Chase today? Do the voice, do the voice!” “Still negative for STD‟s,” Foreman began, “Though this guy might have bred a few new strains of his own for all we know. No lesions in the urethra. He‟s having some acute knee pain…” “What a baby.” House interrupted. “They cut his knee open and all he can do is whine about how much it hurts.” He rubbed his own leg. “The other knee.” Foreman corrected. “You want to add it to the list?” “What the he11, you‟ve earned it.” House tossed him a marker. As Foreman walked up to the whiteboard, he started singing. “Foreman‟s movin‟ on up, to the East Side, to a deeeluxe… Okay, okay. No taste in music, the pair of you. X-ray the knee.” He got up and shuffled off toward his office as Foreman stalked out. Cameron caught up to him just as he was flopping into his chair. “House? Wilson told me you play the piano.” “Wilson says a lot of stuff. Especially to pretty girls. Did he tell you what color underwear I‟m wearing?” He stuck a finger in his waistband and peered inside his jeans. “Just as I suspected.” “One of the kids at the KK… I mean, the cancer camp needs someone to accompany her at the show later this week.” She spoke more quickly, trying to keep pace with his eye- rolling. “This girl was on the fast track to Juilliard when she lost a lung. Alex spent days talking her into performing something, but now the piano player‟s dropped out. Come on! Don‟t you think you should try to make it up to Alex a little?” As soon as it escaped her lips she knew she shouldn‟t have said it. Desperately trying to boot up “House logic” midstream, she floundered on. “Scratch that. I know you don‟t believe people owe each other that kind of thing. But you have the opportunity to prove to her that all men aren‟t total b-st-rds, even thought they act like it sometimes, and…” She gave up. “And if you do it I‟ll help you prank Dr. Wilson. Baking soda bomb, fake pager call, whatever.” She clutched her stack of papers to her chest and waited. “Deal.” He sat his chair back up straight and rubbed his hands together. “So, this „girl‟ is a friend of Alex? Is she a tenor or a baritone?” Wondering just how deeply she was going to regret this whole thing, Cameron thrust a book at him. “I helped them pick out the music. Can you practice with her at lunchtime tomorrow?” “Sure.” He nodded. “And when you‟re doing the monthly supply order, get some surgical glue. We‟re gonna need a big tube of it four our little project.” Chapter 21: The Music Critic House sat at the keyboard, the room dimly lit except for the piano lamp. He set his beer bottle on a coaster on the edge of the music shelf (always gotta keep the resale value in mind) and took out the book Cameron had given him at work that day. He chuckled at he looked at the title. Selections from Gilbert and Sullivan, Volume 1. “Holy s---t.” he said to himself. “I‟ve created a monster.” “Eek, eek,” Steve McQueen chirped in agreement. He thumbed through the book quickly. He didn‟t look at the two pieces she‟d marked, but he was intrigued by the fact that it was a new book, but several pages were dog-eared as if the corner had been turned down for future reference but then straightened back out. Turning to the first one, he laughed out loud. Constance‟s waltz from The Sorcerer told a story that seemed a little bit too familiar. He took a long swig, then launched into the gentle three-quarter tune, singing the young woman‟s melody down in his own register. “Dear friends, take pity on my lot, My cup is not of nectar! I long have loved - as who would not? - Our kind and reverend rector. Long years ago my love began So sweetly, yet so sadly, But when I saw this plain old man, Away my old affection ran - I found I loved him madly.” Steve climbed off his wheel and tilted his little head. House continued. “I know not why I love him so; It is enchantment, surely! He's dry and snuffy, deaf and slow Ill-tempered, weak and poorly! He's ugly, and absurdly dressed, And sixty-seven nearly, He's everything that I detest, But if the truth must be confessed, I love him very dearly! Oh, you‟re everything that I detest but still I love you dearly, You‟re all that I detest – I love you dearly!” He finished his beer, then looked over at Steve. “Sixty-seven, my arse. You want another one?” The rat took a long drink from his own bottle, which House interpreted as a "yes." He flipped to the next creased page, which turned out to be King Gama‟s introduction from Princess Ida. He cleared his throat over the bouncy march style of the opening bars. “If you give me your attention, I will tell you what I am: I'm a genuine philanthropist; all other kinds are sham. Each little fault of temper and each social defect In my erring fellow-creatures, I endeavor to correct. To all their little weaknesses I open people's eyes; And little plans to snub the self-sufficient I devise; I love my fellow creatures - I do all the good I can - Yet everybody says I'm such a disagreeable man! And I can't think why!” At this point Stave was practically nodding and saying, “Hey, sounds like someone I know.” House attacked the second verse with renewed vigor. “To compliments inflated I've a withering reply; And vanity I always do my best to mortify; A charitable action I can skillfully dissect; And interested motives I'm delighted to detect; I know everybody's income and what everybody earns; And I carefully compare it with the income-tax returns; But to benefit humanity however much I plan, Yet everybody says I'm such a disagreeable man! And I can't think why!” He lifted his fingers from the keys and paused, waiting for a signal. “Eek, eek, eek!” Steve called from the top of his water bottle. He dropped his hands back down and aimed for the big finish. “I'm sure I'm no ascetic; I'm as pleasant as can be; You'll always find me ready with a crushing repartee, I've an irritating chuckle, I've a celebrated sneer, I've an entertaining snigger, I've a fascinating leer. To everybody's prejudice I know a thing or two; I can tell a woman's age in half a minute - and I do. But although I try to make myself as pleasant as I can Yet everybody says I'm such a disagreeable man! And I can't - think - WHY!” He looked over at the cage, ready for his standing ovation. All he could see was a long, pink tail sticking out from under a pile of wood chips. “Everyone‟s a critic. You want pizza? I could use some pizza.” Chapter 22: The Fall Around the same time House was serenading his pet rat, Chase was standing in the doorway of his bedroom, watching Dinah tuck Joe in for the night. The boy was completely worn out; he'd been fighting sleep for an hour. It had been a long day spent exploring Chase's Princeton. They'd walked around his neighborhood, eaten at his favorite restaurants, watched the rowers on Lake Carnegie, and spent two hours in the arcade next to the grocery store. Joe had an uncanny knack for video games; it seemed to come pre-packaged with any child born after 1990, as far as Chase could tell. Dinah had been sure to steer them toward the kid-friendly games. Even with Joe's tiny legs he'd beaten his older brother's pants off at Dance Dance Revolution. By the time they'd planned what to do the next day and eaten way too much Ben & Jerry's, the little guy was rubbing his big blue eyes and yawning. Dinah switched off the bedroom light, and the two of them walked back to the living room, flopping in unison onto the sofa. Dinah picked up the TV remote and turned the set on, adjusting the volume to a low level. "I keep hearing how great American TV is," she said, tucking her long legs up under her. "I don't watch much." Chase replied. "The cop shows are good, but the medical dramas are completely out of touch with reality. I don't even know what half the channels are." Dinah kept flipping channels, lingers a few second on each one before moving on. "Looks like all reality shows. Or paid adverts." "Like TV back home is so much better," he snorted. "What've we got there - 'Neighbours?'" "Hey, I LIKE 'Neighbors!'" she protested with a laugh. "Plus," she continued, batting her eyelashes like a teenager, "it's full of cute boys like that Billy Campbell." "Naaah, he was a big poofter." He went into the kitchen and got two bottles of iced tea from the refrigerator. When he came back, the MGM lion was doing his thing on the wide screen. "What's this?" Dinah grinned up at him, taking the bottle he held out. "Thunderball. It's my second- favorite James Bond movie." He looked at her, not trying to hide his surprise. "I didn't know girls liked 007 movies!" He sat down and took a long drink. "I'm impressed." "Well," she shrugged, "it depends on the beefcake factor of the leading man. Connery, Brosnan - I'm there. Moore, Dalton - not so much." "What about Lazenby?" "He's the home team. The only Australian Bond." Mock-seriously, she added, You've got to support him, whether he's good or not." They watched the whole movie, debating the scientific merit of the gadgets, laughing at the outdated hairstyles, rooting for the hero in the fight scenes, and groaning at the double entendres in the dialog. By some weird kind of gravity, they both ended up in the center of the sofa. "Do you think I was being too careful? About the games, I mean." She spoke very softly. He hadn't known she was capable of any kind of self-doubt. He looked at her questioningly. "I mean, I know he'll be exposed to violence and sex sooner or late. Probably when he starts school next year. Is it wrong to try to shelter him just a little longer?" He shook his head. "I see a lot of incompetent parents come through the clinic. You're definitely not one of them. I say trust your instincts." She smiled, reached out, and squeezed his hand. It was still cool from holding the tea bottle, but it made his feel warmer somehow. "Thanks, Robert. Sometimes you just need to hear you're doing OK, even if you already know it." After a second or two, he pulled his hand away and raked it through his hair. "You think you could tell that to Dr. House? I don't think he's heard that one." "I'll crack him over the head if he doesn't start treating you right!" She stood up and stifled a yawn. "I'd better be off the bed myself. Another big day tomorrow." The next day, after a long breakfast, the three of them went to a preseason soccer game at the university. Joe stood up in his seat between them, cheering his little head off. Chase had spent the car trip explaining the difference between Australian and U.S. rules, but Joe didn't seem to care. Afterward, they had a leisurely picnic in a green area near the athletic fields. Completely restored, Joe worked off his meal running around and rolling down a small hill. Chase couldn't help remembering the look on his mother's face every time he came home with a grass stain on his clothes, but it didn't diminish the fun of watching his brother, and listening to Dinah fill him in on all the kid's exploits on the playground back home. They laughed so hard they didn't notice him climb onto the bike rack until they heard him fall off. Chapter 23: The Winner "Dr. Chase!" The pretty, red-haired nurse at the clinic desk greeted him with a smile. Keeping her eyes on his face, she bent over the desk to rearrange some papers, making sure her scrub top gapped at just the right angle. "What brings you down to the salt mine today?" He smiled back, albeit a bit tight-lipped. "Hi, Denise. Can you do me a favor and get me an exam room and a suture kit? My kid brother's got a bit of a cut on his arm." Dinah's face was pale as she carried Joe into the exam room, his own face buried in her shoulder. She set him on the table and took away the T-shirt that was pressed tightly against his left arm. There was a large spot of blood on it. She bit her lip and tossed it into the wastebasket. Chase was already pouring Betadine gently over the gash on his brother's forearm." "You're being a really good patient, Joe. Thanks, Denise." He nodded at the nurse as she handed him a tray. "Now, I want you to hold your Mum's hand and take a big, deep breath. Now breathe out… good! OK, I'm going to make your arm a bit numb. Did you ever have your foot fall asleep?" The boy nodded. "Just like that. And then I'll stitch up this cut quick as you please. OK, a little sting like a bug bite. You're doing great." He tossed the used Lidocaine syringe into the sharps container. Looking up at Dinah, he gave her what he hoped was a reassuring look before picking up the forceps and suture needle. "Will I have a scar?" a tiny voice asked. "Why? D'you want one?" Chase deadpanned. "I don't think your Mum would like it. Better wait until you can get a real one on the football field." He set to work, focusing on each movement of his fingers to keep them from shaking. "Did you know I got a prize for needlework at doctor school? They let me sew my own graduation gown. I'm about half done, kiddo." Dinah brushed her son's hair out of his eyes. "You're doing great, Joey. And Rob's doing a brilliant job. Just lie still a bit longer." In a few minutes, the wound was closed and covered with a gauze bandage. Chase turned around to put the tray and supplies on the counter. While his back was turned, he let out a long, ragged breath and wiped the sweat off his forehead. He grabbed two packets of Tylenol - an adult does and a children's one - and opened them into his hand. He tossed the adult does into his own mouth and did a House-style dry swallow. Then he filled a cup of water and turned back to Joe who was now sitting up with his legs dangling off the edge of the table. "Here, mate, just take these two acetaminophen…" "Paracetamol," Dinah broke in with the name used in Australia. "These two Paracetamol. Drink up - that's good. How do you feel?" "Fine." Dinah wrapped her arms around the boy, pulling him tightly against her until Chase thought his eyes would pop out of his little face. "If you ever, EVER, do something like that again…" Chase coughed. "Hey, since we're here, you want to go and see where I work?" House, Cameron, and Foreman were carrying on what to unfamiliar ears would have sounded like a donnybrook, but what Chase recognized as a normal differential diagnosis session. House was jabbing fiercely at the white board with his cane. Foreman threw his hands up in the air and made a snorting noise. Cameron was waving a piece of paper in House's general direction, her ponytail shaking like a wind sock. Chase cleared his throat in the doorway, and the three arguing doctors turned and looked, suddenly silent. It was all Chase could do to keep from reaching for his phone to take a picture of their google- eyed faces. "Hullo." he tossed off casually. "I'd like you all to meet my brother Joe, and his mother, Dinah. Dinah, Joe, this is…" "Wait, let me guess," she interrupted. "Dr. House, Dr. Foreman, and Dr. Cameron." She pointed at the appropriate face for each name. "It's… nice to meet you," Cameron managed. Then she looked down at Joe. Chase immediately remembered the looks his female grade-school chums had given the class's pet bunnies. She immediately knelt down and beamed on him. Between the two of them, it was like watching a fawn-eye contest. "Hi, Joe! My name's Allison. Do you want a cookie? Or a lollipop?" She didn't notice House's immediate hiding of the candy dish. "Is that OK?" she looked up at Dinah. "Be my guest." Dinah watched, bemused, as Cameron and Joe repaired to the coffee counter to peruse the cookie selection and giggle. "Now look what you did, Chase. You went and made Cameron all broody. She's gonna be breaking into the nursery and stealing random newborns next. " House looked back and forth between Chase and Dinah. He did it a few times before Chase took his hand from her elbow and moved a few steps away. "Sooo, what part of New Zealand are you from, Delilah?" "That's Dinah." Chase interjected. "Right. I'll remember that, 'cause it rhymes with…" "Auckland," she cut in. "I'm impressed. Most Yanks can't tell an Enzedder from an Aussie." "It's your close vowels that give you away." He looked her up and down. "Right." She glanced at the white board. "You've got a Reiter's patient?" She looked around at the four pairs of eyes frowning at her. "Reiter's syndrome. That's what he's got, right? Reactive arthritis. Penile discharge with prostatitis, burning with urination, knee and back pain, conjunctivitis - that's what you mean by burning eyes, right? Has he got any mouth ulcers? Chase felt like his team had just scored a winning goal. He was tempted to break out into a haka. He put his hand back on her elbow. "Dinah's the best rheumatology nurse around." House stared at them a full minute, and then thrust his cane at the white board, pushing it toward the wall on its silent casters. "Come on," he barked in Dinah's direction. "Come on, Jocasta." He nodded at Foreman and Cameron. "Jody, Buffy, come on. Come on, Wombat. Come on… uh… Wombat, Junior." With that, he stalked away down the corridor toward Mr. Elmore's room. Dr. Cuddy stood by the patient's bed, a clipboard in her hand. She had on her PR face, while Elmore's expression was one of utter infatuation. He seemed to be simultaneously assuring her he had no lawsuit plans and inviting her to Martha's Vineyard for Labor Day weekend. They both turned toward the door at the sound of House and his mob. Cuddy's relief made a sharp contrast to Elmore's annoyance. House limped up to the bed and whipped the top sheet away. "What the hell… what is that kid doing in here?" the patient sputtered. "Those interns get younger every year. It's all the damn AP courses they're offering in public school these days." House reached for the hem of Elmore's gown. Dinah thrust Joe into the little bathroom and slammed the door just as House yanked the gown up. "See that?" he pointed at a certain portion of the patient's anatomy. "The little pock marks are called balanitis circinata. Those knee X-rays back yet, Foreman? Of course not. Add some blood work - sed rate, HLA-B27, and rheumatoid factor." Cuddy took a deep breath and pulled the sheet back down, careful not to touch the patient. "Allow me to apologize for Dr. House," she said through a practiced smile. "He's, er… he… " She turned away and called out, "You can come out of the bathroom now, little boy!" House continued. "Cameron, check for mouth ulcers." He sat down on the edge of the bad as Cameron, glaring daggers at him, slipped gloves on, gripped Elmore's jaw firmly, and inserted a finger in his mouth. Since he had a captive audience, he went on. "Reiter's syndrome is a disorder that causes three seemingly unrelated symptoms: arthritis, conjunctivitis or redness of the eyes, and urinary tract signs. If you like big words, you can call it a seronegative spondyloarthropathy. Don't try saying that with a mouth full of cocktail onions. It's a kind of arthritis that happens as a reaction to an infection that starts somewhere else in the body. It's usually caused by the Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria. But we didn't find the kind of antibodies hanging around in your bloodstream we would have if you'd had," he glanced over at Joe emerging from the bathroom, "Uh, an affliction of the naughty bits." Cameron pulled her finger out. "Three small ulcers." "Ironically enough," House continued, "you probably got it from bacteria in undercooked meat. Yes, kids, a man who's spent his entire adulthood courting every STD known to medical science, laid low by a medium pork chop. Makes you think, don't it?" As he limped past Chase and Dinah, he muttered, "Oedipus." Chase did a double take. "What did you say?" "I said, 'Your Eminence.'" As the sound of House's cane on the linoleum faded into the distance, Mr. Elmore turned back to Cuddy. "Who WAS that?!?" Chapter 24: The Liar The afternoon Mr. Elmore was transferred to the orthopedic ward, House's prescription ran out. With the taunting words "NO REFILLS LEFT" burned into his retinas, he paged Wilson to meet him at the hospital pharmacy next door to the clinic. He tapped his cane against the floor in a habanera rhythm while Wilson wrote a new script. Slowly. "What are you writing over there, your personal manifesto?" he grumbled. Wilson's pen paused. "You don't want me to rush, and have you end up getting Vasotec by mistake, do you?" He took a sip of tea and handed the finished paper to the nervous- looking pharmacist. "Hey, did you hear the news? Chase is totally doing his stepmom." House backed away slightly, waiting for the spit take. He was disappointed when Wilson only swallowed hard, but the look on his face as the hot tea burned his throat was almost as good. "What?" "Okay, so maybe he's not doing her yet. But he's gonna. They were all over each other like diaper rash." He tapped his cane harder. DUM! da-dot-dot-DUM! "Not that I blame him. Hubba hubba, if you know what I mean. Still…" "Here you go, Dr. House," the pharmacist squeaked. "All set." "I have to get back to my patient," Wilson said. "Call me when you have pictures. Or video." He began to walk away, then turned around. "Oh, and thanks for helping Karen out." After a moment of House's blank stare, he added, "With the music." House waved him away, then ambled back toward the elevator. He was about to open the orange bottle when he heard a page that made his ears pr1ck up. "Dr. Krupke, please report to the clinic. Dr. Crawford, please report to the clinic." He jammed the bottle into his pocket and walked faster. Krupke and Crawford were the code names used to call Security and Youth and Family Services, respectively. No sense hanging around for the scene. But all of a sudden the scene was in front of him. A huge, bearded man who looked to be in his late thirties was trying to get into Exam 3. A younger woman with impossibly blond hair and a glazed look hung loosely from one of his arms. Standing between them and the door was Cameron, one hand on the doorjamb, the other in her pocket clutching the emergency panic button everyone carried during clinic duty. Her lips where white and pinched enough to disappear into her face, giving it an alien look. House edged backward around the corner where he could see without being seen. Unfortunately he couldn't hear much, either. After what seemed like hours, Hospital Security arrived, talked to the couple, and eventually led them away. A pink-clad nurse whispered a few words in Cameron's ear, then went into the room while a guard waited outside. Cameron hurried away, running smack into House's chest as she turned the corner. "I'm sorry, I… " She stood there for a minute, her mouth hanging slightly open. She swallowed hard and blinked a few times. He took her elbow and steered her into another exam room. He pushed the door open with his cane, since his free hand was having a hard time holding onto the violently shaking arm in its grasp. He pushed her into a chair, where she sat looking at a spot on the baseboard and shivering. Filling two paper cups with water, he set them on the desk along with two pills from his new bottle. He pushed one of each toward Cameron and swallowed the second pill himself. She met his eyes, pushed the pill back toward him, and drank the water in one long swallow. "Take the afternoon off." She shook her head. "I want to finish Elmore's paperwork. And do some research for my article. I'm fine, really." He sat down, leaned back, and took the second pill. "I was right. Which unfortunately means I was wrong." He tilted his head. "Or, depending on your perspective, I was wrong. Which unfortunately means I was right." He shrugged. "However you look at it, the really important thing is that I was right." "If this is a riddle, it's not very funny." She got up to refill her cup, draining it again before filling it a third time and sitting back down. She pulled her lab coat more tightly around herself. "I was wrong about you not being able to lie. Which means I was right about something else I asked you a long time ago. You lied to me, and I chose to believe it. There's a three-alarm blaze in those pants." She looked down again. "So? Everybody does it, according to you. OK, fine. Does it make you feel better to be right?" "No." After a few deafening ticks of the wall clock, he continued carefully. "Maybe you should…" "House, I'm dealing with it." "Why don't you…" "Why don't you play golf any more?" He chuckled. "You're trying to change the subject on the King of the Subject Changers?" She shook her head. "Seriously. You could do it. They have carts, and caddies. Most of the weight goes on your left leg. But you don't." She stood up and paced back and forth. "We make lives for ourselves the best we can, ones that we can live with. Maybe they're not the kind of lives anyone else would want, but we can live with that. We p1ss people off with them sometimes, but we can live with that, too. But sometimes something reminds you of something bad, something that's not so easy to live with. Some of us end up losing it in the hallway, and some of us end up never playing golf again. It's like… it's like herpes." House raised an eyebrow. "You deal with it. But it doesn't go away, and sometimes it hits you hard. I'll be okay." She swallowed. "Good enough to do paperwork, anyway." He stood up and exhaled deeply. "And okay's enough?" "Maybe. Maybe it's all we get." He pushed the door open with his cane and made the "after you" sign. "If you buy me a Snickers on the way up to the office, I'll tell you about the time I rode a moose." One corner of her mouth turned slightly upwards. "I guess that's worth seventy-five cents." He whistled brightly on the way back to the elevator. She recognized the tune, and the words her old roommate had sung over and over came back to her mind. See how the Fates their gifts allot, For A is happy; B is not. Yet B is worthy, I dare say, Of more prosperity than A! Is B more worthy? I should say He's worth a great deal more than A. Ever joyous, ever gay, Happy, undeserving A! If I were Fortune (which I'm not) B should enjoy A's happy lot, And A should die in misery That is, assuming I am B. But should A perish? That should be, Of course, assuming I am B. But condemned to die is he, Wretched meritorious B! Chapter 25: The Big Thing The night before Dinah and Joe were set to leave for New York, they all sat up late on the balcony outside Chase‟s apartment. They ate a bucket of chicken wings, told corny jokes, played games, and talked about everything but the next day. By nine, Joe was fighting to keep his eyes open while they made up a story about a giant chicken who ate the entire hospital and then laid eggs full of pills and bandages. “Did she have any brothers and sisters?” Joe asked, yawing? “”Course she did,” Dinah replied, stroking his hurt arm. “How many?” he curled up more snugly between them. “Er… eight.” Chase supplied. “What were their names?” Dinah closed her mouth tight, but couldn‟t suppress a laugh at Chase‟s befuddled expression. “Uh, Mary. And… Diego, and, er, Gregory, Allison, Eric… Lisa. Oh, and Wilson, of course, and…” Dinah broke in with a whisper. “You‟re off the hook; he‟s asleep.” She put an arm under her son and began to lift him. “Thank God. The eighth one was gonna have to be Robert. Here, I‟ll do it.” He picked Joe up and carried him inside and into the bedroom. Laying him down gingerly, he pulled off his shoes and pulled a light blanket over him. Joe woke slightly, just long enough to turn onto his side and snuggle into the pillow. Chase stood watching quietly for a few minutes, not thinking much of anything, just enjoying the moment. When he got back outside, the takeout bucket, napkins, and empty glasses had been cleared away. Dinah was leaning back in the glider, eyes half closed. She smiled as he sat down beside her. “You‟re brilliant with him, you know. Your patients are pretty lucky.” Suddenly embarrassed, he scoffed, “Nah. At work they‟re lucky if I don‟t strangle „em with their own IV tubes. I had an idea.” “Yeah?” “Why don‟t you let me drive you and Joe to New York tomorrow? I know you‟ve already got train tickets, but it‟s a short drive. And I haven‟t been to the city in a long time. It‟d be fun.” She smiled. “It would. Thanks.” Her eyes clouded over for a moment. “As long as you don‟t feel you have to. You‟ve done enough already. I wouldn‟t even be going if you hadn‟t helped with the book…” “Ask anybody,” he interrupted, “and they‟ll tell you I don‟t do anything unless I feel like it.” “All right, then. I‟m glad. I know Joe will be, too.” They sat for what seemed like hours. The moon was a pale sliver, like a dried fish bone, and the light breeze carried the smell of the newly-cut grass next door. The noises of passing cars were few and far between, and he could hear her breathing beside him although he could barely see her in the dark. He hadn‟t drunk any coffee tonight, but his stomach felt the way it had in the airport. From out of nowhere he heard his own voice. “Dinah? I think I… I mean, I think…” “Yeah. Me, too,” she said, very softly. “And I don‟t know what to do about it.” He turned to look at her. Her eyes were fully open now, and her hands were shaking as much as his own. Haltingly, he leaned toward her. And then it happened. The kiss started out slowly, softly, like a whispered question. Then it grew into a sure, swift answer. When she broke away, they both struggled for breath. “Oh, God, Robert, I‟m sorry.” “Why? I‟m not.” “I shouldn‟t… “ He flopped back against the cushions and raked his fingers through his hair. He turned his head toward her and reached out for her hand. She took his, squeezing it firmly. “Okay,” she said, catching her breath, “first we list the problems. In no particular order. I‟m going back to Australia in a few days, and you‟re staying here.” “People move. I did.” “There‟s Joe to consider. I don‟t want him to get confused, or hurt.” “Neither do I. We both love Joe.” He hadn‟t said it aloud before, but he‟d known it for a while now. There was no jealousy or resentment. “As much as we‟d like to think it doesn‟t, what other people think has an effect on us. Dr. House, for one. I know you care what he thinks, you care a lot, and he saw, and he thinks it‟s wrong. He called me Delilah, for Pete‟s sake, and he…” He squeezed her hand back until she stopped talking. “He just doesn‟t like you because you beat him to the diagnosis,” he said with a smile. He continued, more seriously, “Dr. House does not run my life. Yes, I admire him, and I respect him. But he doesn‟t always know best, any more than you or I do.” She sighed, and almost seemed to crumple a little. She looked down at her sandaled feet for a long minute, and then looked back up. “And then there‟s the big thing. The really big thing. You know, The Big Thing?” “Oh. Yeah. That big thing.” She let go of his hand, and he rubbed his eyes until he saw spots. “Robert, I could never live with myself if you ever started to feel like you were a substitute.” He really, really wished she hadn‟t said it. Maybe he‟d imagined it. Maybe he could pretend he hadn‟t heard. “I don‟t. And I can‟t look that far ahead. I never have. I never could.” She coughed and brushed something out of her eyes. “We should…” “We should give it some time. We should both do some thinking about it. We‟ll go to New York tomorrow, and we‟ll have fun, just like we have all week. And we‟ll keep in touch, and I‟ll come to visit you in a couple of months. Maybe by then… “ He trailed off. “Yeah,” she said. “Maybe by then.” She pulled him into a tight hug, one hand pressing his head firmly against her shoulder. Then she got up and hurried inside. He lay back on the glider and stayed awake for a very long time. Chapter 16: The Cricket Has Landed 9:00 a.m. The morning of the camp arts show, House met Cameron at the door to the conference room. More precisely, he blocked the door to the conference room. "Where‟s your cell phone?" "At home on my dresser, just like you said." His eyes twinkled. "Then we‟re go for Operation Jiminy." He shuffled out of the way, allowing her to pass into the room. "Okay, we‟ve only got a few minutes before Foreman gets in. Now, what are you going to do at PRECISELY ten o‟clock A.M.?" She rolled her eyes and sighed. "I‟m going to ask Wilson if I can borrow his phone. House, why did I have to leave my phone at home? And why won‟t you tell me what the rest of the prank is? Is he going to get hurt?" House frowned for a moment. "Maybe. I don‟t know." He waved his free hand around in the air. "A little. Maybe. Probably not. Are you gonna back out on me now?" She pulled a coffee filter out of the box too quickly, sending a half dozen or so fluttering to the floor. Kneeling down to pick them up, she replied, "Maybe. I don‟t know. Probably not." He adopted a resigned tone. "Okay. Fine. Make poor little Carol go out on that stage with one lung and no piano. He parents are here, you know. And little Alex will have to go on hating anyone with a Y chromosome. Even herself, poor kid. And all because you were afraid of hurting a big, strong man like Wilson. I‟d better go tell everyone you..." "Stop it!" she exclaimed. "All right, all right. And it‟s Karen, not Carol" She measured a scoop of coffee carefully into the filter basket. "Well, now that THAT‟s settled," he continued, "You had to leave your phone at home because Wilson will ask you why you want his, and I want you to be able to tell the truth. And I want him to believe it, which he probably will coming from you. It‟s all about deniability. The less you know, the better. Once you‟ve got the phone, then you ask him for the banner stand. And then?" "Then I follow him..." "At a discreet distance." "...at a discreet distance, to make sure he doesn‟t get someone else to do it. And then I hightail it out of there." She poured exactly two quarts of water into the coffee maker. "Aren‟t you going to change?" She looked down at her own crisp, white PPTH logo T- shirt, the same kind all the camp volunteers wore. Then she looked at his wrinkled black one with the faded orange letters reading, "Hogwaller Ramblers." He out his hand over his heart and moaned, "Oh, poor little Carmen and her one lung and no piano..." he chuckled as she flounced out, then he got his mug and loomed over the coffee pot, nodding his head in time to the drips. 10:01 a.m. "Thanks," Cameron smiled nervously as she took the phone from Wilson. "I‟ll bring it back to you as soon as the outdoor part of the show is over." "Sure," he said. "I‟ll be in the lobby, helping Cuddy schmooze the sponsors. By the time you get there, I‟ll NEED an interruption." "There‟s... one more thing you can do," she added hastily, poking at the hospital lawn‟s neatly-manicured grass with her toe. "Can you bring the banner stand from Storage B to the lecture hall? It‟s behind the door, I think." She smiled. "Anything to put off the schmoozing a little!" "Sure," he said. "See you in a little while." As he ambled toward the building, she quickly dialed House‟s cell number. After a few rings, she started off after Wilson, whispering "Don‟t turn around. Don‟t turn around." over and over. Finally, House picked up. "Blueberry Mama, this is Cripple One. Report." "House? I‟ve got the phone. I mean, of course I have the phone, or I‟d be Wilson." She paused to collect herself. "You know what I mean. Anyway, I have the phone and I‟m following him into the building." There was a crackle at the other end, then house‟s exasperated voice. "How can you be such a GIRL? Use the damn code!" She sighed deeply. "Ma Bell is in the bag, and the Cricket has landed. Okay?" She snapped the phone shut and resumed pursuit 10:03 a.m. In his office, House held the receiver a minute, looking at it. "She was supposed to say „Blueberry Mama out.‟ Why do I even bother?" He pressed the hangup button on the cradle, then dialed another number. "Cripple One to Pink Angel. Report." He listened, nodding. "Roger that. Cripple One out." He pushed himself slowly out of his seat, wincing slightly as he reached for his cane. The book of music on his desk was open to the Act 1 finale of "Patience." He grabbed the book and limped out into the hall, singing idly to himself as he ambled down the corridor. "I hear the soft note of the echoing voice Of an old, old love, long dead. It whispers my sorrowing heart, „Rejoice, For the last sad tear is shed.‟ The pain that is all but a pleasure will change For the pleasure that‟s all but pain, And never, oh never, this heart will range From that old, old love again." Chapter 27: The Sun and I 10:08 a.m. Wilson walked through the empty basement kitchen into Storage B, the rarely-used room that had been allocated for the camp‟s supplies. He briefly wondered who had left the door open as he reached behind it to get the banner stand Cameron wanted. He groped around fruitlessly for a minute, then pulled at the heavy door. The banner stand was in pieces on the floor. With a sigh, he bent down to pick them up as the door swung shut and locked with a loud "Thunk!" He sprang to his feet, but was too late. At first tentatively, then with more and more force he pulled at the door handle, rattling it until his fingers hurt. "Damn, Damn!" He banged at the door, yelling, "Hello! Is anyone there?" There was a rattling noise from behind the galvanized metal shelves that divided the room in half. Then, a woman carrying a milk crate full of art supplies stepped out." "Jim?" "Julie?" He swallowed hard. I was one thing to think about her and see her in his mind‟s eye. But it was another thing altogether to see her in the flesh. Her copper braid hung down over one shoulder of her PPTH shirt, nearly to the waist of her multicolored peasant skirt. Her glasses had slipped down the bridge of her nose; maybe that‟s why she was looking at him so oddly. "I was just getting the tempera paints for the demonstration. Did I do that to the door? I‟m so sorry, Jim. Maybe if we both try... " She hurried over to the door and pulled along with him. When their hands brushed together, she jumped slightly, dropping her crate and sending paint flying from the plastic bottles inside it. They both stepped back, staring at the red, yellow, and blue splatters covering each other‟s clothes. He laughed first. But only just. Julie tried to wipe the paint off her glasses, but succeeded only in smearing more blue across her cheek. Soon they were both sniggering like preschoolers. "Oh, my God," she managed. "It‟s just like..." He finished for her. "The Great Batter Battle." He waggled a rainbow-colored finger. "I still can‟t believe you turned that mixer on me. Cake batter all over my new suit." "Well, I couldn‟t believe you were being so stuffy! You deserved it!" "Oh, I deserved it? Your student really freaked my parents out!" "I can‟t help it if they don‟t appreciate face tattoos. Or cheek piercings. Or..." "Or speeches about legalizing..." She giggled. "OK, inviting Seth to the rehearsal dinner was a bad idea. But you didn‟t have to get all that frosting in my hair. Oh, Jim, I‟m so sorry." He smiled ruefully. "All that matter now is, how are we going to get out of here?" She reached for a roll of paper towels from the shelf. "It‟s OK, Haysie said she‟d come looking for me if I wasn‟t back with the paint in time. Slip a „Help‟ note under the door and she‟ll see it. 10:15 a.m. In the lobby, House spotted Nurse Hayes on the way to the lecture hall. Without making eye contact, he held up his hand, meeting hers in a soft high-five as she passed. On his way to the elevator, he spotted Cuddy pushing Mr. Elmore‟s wheelchair. "Dr. Cuddy, can I consult with you on a most urgent official hospital matter regarding sick people and the various treatments we perform upon them for an exorbitant fee?" he shouted. "Excuse me for a minute, while you look those over," she said, handing a stack of papers to the patient. "What?" she said, meeting House by the elevator door. "You are so totally going to the Vineyard, aren‟t you? You naughty, naughty girl." Her cheeks turned as red as her camisole. "I am not! I‟m putting him on retainer. For some strange reason," she said, throwing her hands up in mock confusion, "we just can‟t seem to have enough lawyers around here. Now go tickle the G*d-damn ivories while you‟ve got fingers to tickle with." She turned on a black Ferragamo heel, not seeing the tongue he stuck out at her. Elmore saw, though, and raised two fingers to his forehead in a Boy Scout salute. 10:20 a.m. By the time she got to the lecture hall, most of the kids and their parents were already there. She waved to Alex and Karen, who were introducing Foreman to an elegant older woman who had to be Alex‟s grandmother. Both girls waved back, flashing long, elaborately painted fingernails. House sat at the piano thumping out chords as a knot of little boys eagerly shouted out the words to "Barnacle Bill the Sailor." She doubted they had known the song at all before they‟d met House. He looked up, spotted her, and jerked his head in a "C‟mere" gesture. She picked her way through the crowd as people started to take their seats. "Took you long enough. Your friend Heidi Klum, Jr. over there refused to turn pages for me. She said if I was so smart I could figure out how to do it myself." She chuckled. "Move over." She perched on the three inches of piano bench he grudgingly left her. Normally she would have hated being in front of a huge roomful of people like this, but she was surprisingly comfortable. She clapped with everybody else when Haysie stepped up to the lectern and turned on the microphone. "Good morning, everybody! I hope you‟re all having as good a time as I am today. We‟d like to start the program with a song from one of our junior counselors. She‟s an eight- month survivor, and one of the best singers I‟ve ever known. Let‟s have a big hand for Karen Murphy!" Foreman elegantly handed the girl up the steps to the stage. She nodded at House, the light picking up the silver threads in the silk scarf wrapped around her head. He started playing a low, softly pulsing accompaniment. Karen‟s voice may not have been as strong as it had been before the surgery, but it spun out effortlessly into the beautiful, ethereal melody Cameron remembered from The Mikado. "The sun, whose rays are all ablaze With ever-living glory, Does not deny his majesty; He scorns to tell a story! He won't exclaim, „I blush for shame, So kindly be indulgent.‟ But, fierce and bold, in fiery gold, He glories all effulgent! I mean to rule the earth, As he the sky; We really know our worth, the sun and I!" Cameron almost forgot to turn the page, but caught it just in time. House nodded to her, taking his eyes off the page just long enough to meet hers for a moment. He smiled quickly, and she couldn‟t help returning the gesture. She felt better than she had in a long, long time. She looked up at Karen, blinking hard, then out at the audience. Wilson was now in the back of the room, looking disheveled and paint-stained, but oddly content. "Observe his flame, that placid dame, The moon's Celestial Highness; There's not a trace upon her face Of diffidence or shyness: She borrows light that, through the night, Mankind may all acclaim her! And, truth to tell, She lights up well, So I, for one, don't blame her! Ah, pray make no mistake, we are not shy; We're very wide awake, the moon and I!" The End.
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