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What House's Mother Didn't Tell Him
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By Auditrix

Author’s note:

 

This is a companion fic to the House Ficblog at http://housemd.blogspot.com .  It directly references the infarction story (links at the Guide to the House Ficblog.)

 

It will probably make more sense if you’ve read the blog first, but you could always give yourself a little suspense by  reading this first and then go back and reading the blog….

 

 

 

 

What House’s Mother Didn’t Tell Him

 

Rating: G

 

Special thanks to Sy Dedalus, superbeta

 

 

 

 

 

“Now, you’re sure you’re – you’re sure you’ve got everything you need?”

 

“Yes, James, thank you. I’m going to be fine.”

 

“All right.  But promise me you’ll call if you need anything.  6:15 – that’s not too early, tomorrow morning?

 

“No, I’ll be ready.”

 

Wilson stood in the entry for a moment and looked around.  Her suitcase was still standing right where she’d left it this morning, next to a couple of grocery bags.  It didn’t feel right, just leaving House’s mother off at his apartment all by herself like this, but she’d insisted.  House had been completely useless today and had backed her up, and even Debbie had started taking her side.

 

“All right, then.”  He started to leave but stopped in the door.  He stood there, awkwardly, his hand on the back of his neck, unsure of how to say good-bye; a handshake was much too stiff, but her posture screamed please-don’t-hug-me, so he settled for a quick, rueful smile. 

 

She smiled as she gently rested her hand on the doorknob.  “Good night, James, and thank you for everything.  I’ll see you in the morning.”

 

He nodded.  “Good night, Mrs House.”  He picked up his dripping umbrella and started down the hallway towards the elevator.  He looked briefly over his shoulder before he turned the corner.  She had already closed the apartment door.

 

 

 

Inside the apartment, the lock clicked as Nancy House closed the front door.  She turned the deadbolt and paused, the palm of her left hand resting against the door.  She closed her eyes and bowed her head, resting her forehead on her left hand.  Her right hand was still gripping the doorknob.  Her knuckles were white.

 

She stood there, collecting herself, before she straightened up.  It was eight o’clock, and there was much to do.

 

She looked around the apartment.  Her gaze fell on the open piano.  She found herself drawn to it. The lid was open, Gregory’s music sprawled where he’d left it.  She resisted the urge to flip through the music and see what he’d been working on. 

 

The keys were glinting cheerfully in the lamplight.  She brushed them lightly with her fingertips and played a couple of notes; she was in the mood for a little Chopin herself.  But she knew if she sat down to play, she wouldn’t be able to stop.

 

First on her list:  phone calls.  If she could find the phone.  This was her first time in Gregory’s new apartment, the one he’d taken after he and Stacey had split up, so she didn’t know where anything was supposed to be – although when Gregory was involved, knowing where something was supposed to be sometimes wasn’t much help.  She flipped through the detritus on top of the piano.  Books, music, mail…

 

An ashtray.  Her eyes narrowed.  She picked it up and walked it to the kitchen.

 

She found the phone back in the living room.  How long had that been off the charger?  Hopefully she could still make a few calls.  First:  Mark.

 

“Hello?  Yes, thank you.  Yes, I’m back at his apartment tonight.  Much better, they were able to move him to a regular floor today.  Yes, he’s able to talk – oh, I know, but I really do like him better this way.  Mm-hm….

 

“Well, they don’t know.”  She took a deep breath.  “They’re going to have to do another operation.  Yes, I thought so too, but –“-- she tried to remember what they’d told her – “-- in the first one, they were able to save the whole leg, but there was damage to some of the muscle.  In the right thigh.  On the front, I think.  Anyway, there was so much damage that they’re going to have to do another operation to take out the damaged muscle.  Tomorrow.  Yes.  In the morning….

 

“I can’t tell.  You know how he is.  I think he’s still coming out of that business with his kidneys.  And he won’t say anything, but he’s still in a lot of pain, I’m sure of it….

 

“No, I don’t think so.  I wanted to stay longer and he wouldn’t hear of it.  I know, but that’s just how he is.  Yes, I reminded him of that, but…

 

“No, not yet.  But the doctor who’s doing the operation tomorrow?  He said Gregory will have to be in rehab for at least three weeks before he goes home.  No, that’s what he said.  It is going to be terrible… well, yes, the staff, but don’t you think it’s going to be terrible for Gregory, too?  He’s going to go mad….  I’d like to come down at least once during that time, and maybe you could come up sometime too?  Discharge?  Oh, that’s a good thought.  If he’ll agree to it….

 

“But it’s still too early for all that.  Yes, I will.  I will, I promise.  I’ll tell him you called.”

 

She chuckled softly.  “No, I’m not going to tell him that.  All right, Mark, I’ll keep you posted.  Good night.”

 

A couple of quick calls to friends – Hi, it’s Nancy, I just wanted to check in, Gregory’s doing much better – and that was that.  She hunted around and finally managed to return the phone to the charger.

 

The next order of business was to tidy up a bit.  The apartment hadn’t been touched since Gregory left it Monday morning.  The air smelled stale, and it was pretty easy to tell where he’d been camping out. Her original plan had been to get the apartment spick-and-span – and get the fridge and freezer stocked before he was discharged.  Now the task wasn’t quite so urgent, but still…

 

She cracked the windows, top and bottom, to get a breeze going and freshen up the air a little bit.  Outside, the rain made a soothing gentle splatter on the pavement.  As she adjusted the blinds, she noticed that the dust had a brownish tinge.  He’d been smoking indoors.

 

She reminded herself quickly that it was his place, and he was allowed to smoke indoors if he wanted to, he was a grownup.  She hadn’t allowed it in her own house and had always sent the three of them outside – after she’d quit, she couldn’t stand the smell of it.  She knew Stacey hadn’t allowed it inside either.

 

Her mind flashed back to that first night, Tuesday night, when they were driving back from the hospital.  James had patiently explained the whole scenario to her one more time as they rode in the dark.

 

They’d fallen silent for a while.  She’d had one more question that had been weighing on her mind, and at last she’d asked it.

 

“Do they know what caused the clot?”

 

James sighed – he’d obviously been waiting for that one.  He fixed his eyes on the road.

 

“They don’t know,” he finally said.  “There are clotting disorders… but they tend to run in families, and Greg doesn’t seem to know of any in your family.  They’re going to get a hematologist – someone who specializes in blood disorders – to take a look after they get him stable, but…”

 

He glanced over at her and sighed. “He’s been cutting way back… but the best guess right now is smoking.”

 

She looked out at the road.  “Thank you.”

 

 

Nancy pressed her lips together at the memory and looked down at the brownish dust on her fingertips.  That was where she’d start.

 

She wheeled her suitcase into the second bedroom.  It looked like Gregory was setting up some kind of study in there.  He’d hung his diplomas and set up a computer but not much else; it looked like he hadn’t finished unpacking yet.  His old couch was there; she used it to set up her suitcase.  She changed her clothes and put her rings in her little jewelry case.

 

And then she got to work.  She stripped the bed and washed the sheets, loaded and ran the dishwasher.  She picked up the clothes and books and newspapers.  She pulled a bucket and a bottle of Murphy’s Oil Soap from the grocery bags, made a steaming hot pail of cleanser, and started wiping down the blinds.  At least there weren’t any curtains to clean.

 

When she was done with the blinds, she emptied the ashtrays and dunked them into a fresh bucket of cleaner.  She put the sheets in the dryer and started a load of towels. Back to the living room: a fresh bucket of cleanser for the baseboards and trim, dusting the shelves, dusting and polishing the piano… She had no idea what to do with the stacks of books, so she just dusted on top of and around them and moved on.

 

Her rush of energy started to wane and she realized she was cold  – the windows were still open and it was getting chilly outside.  But the apartment was smelling much better.  She’d have more time on Saturday – and more time after that, it seemed.  Three weeks….

 

But she wasn’t going to think about that right now.  She closed the windows, washed her hands and face, brushed her teeth and hair, and changed into her pajamas.  It was almost ten.  She was tired, and she knew she needed to get to bed soon, but she wasn’t quite ready to sleep yet.

 

She wandered back out into the living room.  She could feel anxiety about the next day pressing on her mind, and she wasn’t ready.  Maybe she could find some music on the radio – that and something to read….

 

The something to read part was easy, but the music was harder than she’d anticipated.  She walked over to the stereo – at least, she thought it was the stereo – and quickly found herself utterly baffled:  she had no idea how to turn the thing on, much less tune the radio or play a CD. 

 

She gave up and turned to the television.  She’d found the remote while she was dusting, so she stood in front of the TV and started to click.  News, rerun, news… She was almost out of the local channels when something snagged her attention: white coats.  A doctor show.  Probably that ER show that some of the other teachers had been nattering about, the one with Rosemary Clooney’s nephew.  She didn’t want to watch it – hospitals had completely lost their entertainment value – but she found herself unable to click away.

 

A very handsome doctor with a roguish twinkle in his eye – that must be What’s-his-name Clooney, the one her colleagues were so hot for.  He was talking to a beautiful nurse with perfect hair and makeup – she looked like she’d stepped right out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting.  Nancy had to admit, this show was pretty easy on the eyes so far.

 

The handsome doctor looked up and said something snide, and the Pre-Raphaelite nurse said something mildly admonishing.  The camera cut away to another doctor.

 

A doctor limping down the hallway, leaning heavily on a forearm crutch.  On her right side.

 

Nancy’s stomach lurched. 

 

The other doctors didn’t seem to like the limping doctor very much.  As she made her way down the corridor, the nurses turned away as if they were hiding.

 

Nancy stared.  The limping doctor said something to the handsome doctor, the handsome doctor said something vaguely insolent, the limping doctor said something withering and limped away with her crutch; the handsome doctor said something cruel, the Pre-Raphaelite nurse gave him a look that was about one-sixteenth token how-could-you and the rest goo-goo eyes, and Nancy House covered her mouth with one hand and snapped the TV off with the other.

 

Her hand shook as she put the remote back on top of the TV.  She felt physically sick.  She turned from the screen.  It’s just a TV show, she told herself.

 

She looked towards the piano, but she was too agitated to even sit at the bench, and the realization only upset her further.  That’s enough, she frantically told herself, stop it! It’s just a TV show!  She stood in the middle of the room, struggling to regain her composure, her hands pressed to her face, her breathing deep and ragged, her heart pounding….

 

The phone rang. 

 

She jumped and cried out a little, startled.  The phone kept ringing.  She hesitated – should she answer? – and her alarm grew as she realized, yes, she should answer, it could be Gregory, it could be James – oh God, it could be James calling from the hospital…. The phone kept ringing.  At least she knew where it was.  She hurried to the kitchen and picked up.  “Hello?”

 

“Hello?” the caller said. 

 

Nancy felt disoriented for a moment – the voice was not what she was expecting at all.  A woman’s voice, but not Stacey’s; a tentative voice, obviously not calling from the hospital; and at ten o’clock at night?  Probably a wrong number. Nancy started hardening herself to tell the timid voice exactly that. 

 

The caller sounded just as disconcerted.  “Um, I’m trying to reach…Gregory House?”

 

What? Who was this?  A sales call? “Doctor House isn’t able to come to the phone at the moment,” Nancy coldly replied.

 

“Oh. I’m… I’m sorry to have disturbed you.”  The caller sounded sincere. Nancy felt even more confused – this was no sales call.

 

The speaker hesitated, as if she were preparing to say something difficult.  “May I leave a message?” she finally asked.  There was a hint of bravado in her tone.

 

“Uh, sure.  Let me just find something to write on….” Nancy rummaged around.  She was still perplexed, but at least this homely errand had gotten her mind off… other things.

 

“All right, I’m ready.”

 

“If you could just let him know that Eileen Abney called – that’s A-B-N-E-Y, and my phone number – “

 

“Wait,” Nancy interrupted, “wait….”  She put down her pen.  She knew that name – she knew that name – she sifted through her memory….

 

And found it.  Eileen.  That sweet young woman, that friend of Gregory’s who’d seemed to come out of nowhere.… She’d met Eileen, met her at.... Nancy’s heart caught in her throat.  She shoved that part of the memory away and focused on her surprise and delight.

 

 Eileen!  This is Nancy House! I’m not sure if you remember me or not…”

 

“Oh, Mrs. House, of course I do!”  Eileen’s voice sprang to life.  “How are you doing?”

 

“What a surprise to hear from you!  How are you?  Are you still upstate?”

 

“No, I took a job about a year ago in Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg….”

 

“Oh, really?  Doing what?”

 

“Oh, the usual, a little of this, a little of that….” She started describing the three or four singing jobs that almost added up to a living.  As Eileen talked, Nancy slowly walked from the kitchen to the study-in-progress.  She didn’t turn on the lights.  She lifted her suitcase off the old sofa and sat down, curling up in the corner with a pillow, and listened with half an ear to Eileen describing teaching, solo work, choirs….

 

“….so that’s what I’m up to,” Eileen finished.

 

 “So, Harrisburg… it’s not that far from Princeton, is it?  Have you….?”

 

Eileen’s voice grew guarded.  “Actually, it’s almost three hours away.  I’ve found that Pennsylvania’s one of those states that’s much bigger in real life than it looks on the map.  And I haven’t seen Greg in… in about two years, maybe.  We…  we haven’t talked much, I guess we’ve fallen out of touch.  For a long time I wasn’t sure I even had his phone number; I got this one by calling 411.  I was just calling… to update my address book.”

 

Nancy’s eyes started to burn.  Was this yet another friendship Gregory had thrown away?

 

“Well, his address I can help you with right now.  Are you ready?  Okay: 101 Cleveland Street…”

 

Eileen read the address back.  “Oh, he’s moved!  Thanks, Mrs. House.  So, Greg’s not around?  I’m sorry I missed him.”

 

“I know he’ll be sorry to have missed you, and I’ll certainly let him know you called.  But…”  Nancy hesitated; should she tell her?  Gregory would be furious, but… but maybe she’d send a card or something….

 

“Eileen, I’m sure you’re wondering what I’m doing answering Gregory’s phone….”

 

Eileen didn’t say anything.  Nancy took a deep breath and plunged ahead.

 

“Gregory’s not home.  He’s in the hospital.”  She heard herself saying it, heard how useless it was, and forced herself to explain:  “As a patient.”  She felt her eyes starting to burn again and blinked.  Stop it, she told herself, stop it!

 

“Oh no.  Oh, I’m so sorry.   What…?”

 

“It’s his leg.  I… He had a stroke in his leg.”

 

Eileen’s tense silence spoke clearly: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

 

Nancy tried again.  “His friend James called me on Tuesday morning, right before I left for school…his leg had been hurting for days, and they’d taken him to surgery, and James said I probably should come, so I flew in that afternoon…” She swallowed, blinked, and pressed on.  “James picked me up at the airport and took me straight to the hospital.  They’d done tests the night before and called him – called James – to look at it – James is a cancer doctor –“ Nancy strangled a sob – “they thought he might have cancer—“

 

Stop it! she told herself, but she couldn’t stop herself anymore.  She started to cry, weeping into the phone as she choked out the story to Eileen – the clot, the threat of amputation, those two horrible days when Gregory was too sick to pick up a spoon, too sick even to talk, more operations, weeks of rehab….

 

She could only hope that Eileen was able to understand her, between her crying like a silly child and her making a complete mess of the medical stuff.

 

Eileen waited patiently until Nancy had finished her tears and her story.

 

“Oh, Mrs. House. I am so sorry to hear this.  Please, tell me, is there anything I can do?”

 

“I don’t know…. Greg is going to be in the hospital for so long… and he won’t let me stay…” Nancy broke down again in bitter tears.  Eileen’s silence was strangely comforting.

 

She sniffled as she pulled herself together.  “…He won’t let me do anything.”

 

“That Greg,” Eileen said lightly.  “Shame on him.  Can you tell me what hospital he’s at?”

 

 “Princeton – Plainsboro Teaching Hospital.  Do you need the address?”

 

“Only if you have it handy.  Doesn’t he work there?”

 

“He still does.  Hold on.”  Nancy fished in her purse and pulled out a brochure.  “Here… “ She read the hospital’s address and main phone number.

 

“Thanks, Mrs. House.  Um… how long are you in Princeton?”

 

“I leave on Sunday.”

 

“I’ll try to get back in touch with you before you have to leave, then.  But in case I can’t, may I give you a call at home sometime?”

 

“Sure.” She whispered her phone number to Eileen.

 

“Thanks.  I’ll try to call tomorrow….”

 

“He’s in surgery tomorrow,” Nancy said automatically.

 

“Oh, yeah, thanks for reminding me.  I’m sorry to have kept you for so long.  Please tell Greg I called?”

 

“I promise.”

 

“Thanks.  I… I’m so sorry to hear about this.  Please tell him I’m thinking about him?”

 

“I will.”

 

“Thank you, Mrs. House.  I’ll be thinking of you both tomorrow, okay?”

 

Nancy felt tears coming again.  “All right.”

 

“Good night, Mrs. House.”

 

“Good night.”

 

The click as Eileen disconnected, and Nancy was alone again.

 

She stared at the phone and felt her hope deflating.  

At first she’d thought Gregory would be happy to hear that Eileen had called, but two years with no contact?  He’d probably just shrug.

 

Eileen hadn’t even known that Greg had moved. 

 

Nancy threw the pillow across the couch with frustration and stomped off to the kitchen to hang up the phone.

 

She thought back over what they’d said.  She felt a catch in her throat as she realized that Eileen had promised nothing, not even a phone call or a get-well card.    Not that that meant anything, but….

 

She replaced the phone in the charger.  At least she’d be able to tell Gregory that Eileen had called.  Maybe some good would come of this; calling her back would at least give him something to do as he… recovered.  She walked over to the pen and paper on the counter – and cried out in frustration and anguish.

 

She’d forgotten to take Eileen’s phone number.

 

She hurried to the dryer and pulled out a sheet.  She dragged a blanket and a pillow off the bed and headed off to the sofa in the study.  She wrapped herself up in the sheet and the blanket, and, squinting through her tears, set her travel alarm for five-fifteen.  She squeezed a pillow to her chest as the tears came back, then used it to muffle her sobs as she cried herself to sleep.

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