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by Nomad1328

The first time he remembers it happening, he was eighteen. His father had all the right connections. Greg House was a shoo-in for the Air Force Academy- despite the marijuana possession, despite all the detentions and the suspension (just once), despite the fact that he’d taken his dad’s 1965 Mustang out joyriding and smashed it into a tree. After that, his father stood over him while House sweated and worked to put it back together for two months afterwards. House wished he’d totaled the damn thing. At 18, three years later, he’d clutched the academy acceptance letter in his hand, twisted his lips and felt it as he stood staring at the car, the cover thrown haphazardly towards the back. The red paint glinted under the sodium lights of the Camp Pendleton base housing complex. Piece of crap car. He took a look up at the dark house. Simple housing, but almost the best the base had. Benefits of rank. He never wanted to see it again.

They wouldn’t be back for another two hours. Marine Corps Officer's ball. He could be gone by then. He could be halfway to Las Vegas. He’d already made an appointment. It could be done. He’d do it.

He’d thrown the cover off, stuffed the acceptance letter in the back pocket of his jeans, threw his backpack in the passenger seat, and climbed into the red Mustang. One stop later near Riverside, almost midnight, he met his appointment in the parking lot of a 7-11. He handed over the keys. In return, he received another key, smaller, and looked towards his new ride. He’d parked right next to it, recalling the photo he’d seen on the bulletin at MWR. The guy, a jarhead PFC with less facial hair than House and a lot more muscle, handed him $400 and a dime bag of weed. House had smirked, “Thanks man.” Then he’d been glad to get the hell out of there. It wouldn’t take John House long to see the red Mustang being driven around on base. The PFC wasn’t intelligent enough to figure out the scam and he’d be shaking in his boots in front of the Major’s desk not a week later, swearing he didn’t know. John House’s son would be in New Orleans on his 74 Norton, playing his way into a blues band, and auditing classes at Tulane.

Twenty one years later, House sighed, shook his head, recalling the tickle that began almost as soon as he’d headed towards the car that night and increased all the the way to Riverside, before dying away into satisfaction as he navigated midnight streets to Las Vegas. It was the same tickle that had started when he’d thrown his clubs into the back of the car that afternoon.

But it was just golf.

Once, when he was 22 and just finished with pre-med, he’d entered into what he’d deemed as a quarterlife crisis. He knew what he could do, what he should do. He’d taken the tests, passed the tests, been admitted to medical school, offered money even. He wouldn’t have to pay a dime. But he’d hoarded money for five years, outwardly scraping by, while putting away thousands of dollars for no apparent reason. He felt unsettled, incomplete.

He took the bus home from work that night. It was summer, raining, and the humidity had made him feel like he weighed an extra fifty pounds. He was lethargic, exhausted. The bike was long gone, having been smashed by a stiff-necked driver two summers prior. Crandall had already taken his car to Boston so House had been forced to take the bus for the ten miles back to his ratty apartment. He struggled to keep his eyes open as the bus bumped and splashed along rainy streets.

At the second stop, an elderly black guy had stepped onto the bus, his cane holding fast to the puddle-laden rubber mats. He smelled like cigars and leather and sat in the seats adjacent to House, looking forward at first, chewing gum. Then he’d looked at House, scrutinizing him through squinted eyes with bushy gray eyebrows sitting above thick-rimmed glasses. His dark skin shimmered with rainwater that he allowed to run down his face and into the collar of his shirt. House had looked back at him, frowning and uncomfortable.

“You goin’ somewhere important?” the black guy mumbled, gruff, pushing his glasses up on his head.

House shook his head. “No. Going home.”

“You should go somewhere important. Somewhere good. You look important. Too important to be here.” The bus rumbled onwards. More people got on, but the seats between House and the old man remained empty. “Get out of here,” the man said. “Before you get old. Like me. Go to… India… or something.”

“Sorry?” House shook his head, having been caught in the words and the rumble of the bus and sloshing puddles of rainwater. “What did you say?”

“This is my stop.” House watched silently as the man left, limping through the rain.

Its times like those, seconds flickering in reality’s wavering curtain, that he wonders if this isn’t some strange dream. It happened hundreds of times before. Perched on the edge of an event, an itch begins deep in stomach, moving upwards and sending the hairs up on the back of his neck. Realization dawns in blue irises, an upturned eyebrow, a turn on his mouth. He wonders, with a twist on his lip, if these seconds aren’t some sort of signal for him, some sort of flag raising, signaling strands of fate and maybe giving a clue as to which he should choose. It was times that the feeling resolved into an event that really made him question reality. They made him look around for the cameras, pinch the skin under his nails. He was a fetus, dreaming of a life. He was on some sort of strange reality show, where he was the main character and everyone he knew was just a character. A month after graduation, House had already been checking into flights to Bombay, but he hadn't been sure he would go through with it.

Three weeks after the bus ride, House was hefting his backpack off a plane in Varanasi.

House shook his head, rubbing his thigh. No reason for this buzz now. No reason at all. It was just driving golf balls. He needed the practice. He needed the release. Stacy was being bitchy lately. Wilson was out of town. The charity tournament was in a week.

It wasn’t always major decisions when it came to him. Sometimes it didn’t make sense. Sometimes, it happened and nothing came out of it- or less than the expected. It’d come full force when his dad had left for Vietnam the second time. He’d watched with all the military wives and their brats as the groups of men waved from the railing of the carrier. He knew, for a fact, his dad wouldn’t be back. Six months later, House and his mother had met John at Bethesda. It was just a busted leg, some burns. No big deal, John assured them. It was fine. No more flying though. He’d be piloting a pen and a desk now, with a purple heart pinned to his jacket. No big deal.

When House had gone to Johns Hopkins, after a year in Asia, he’d felt the same buzz. He was afraid of what it meant by that time. Could be good. Could be bad. He’d never been more successful than at Hopkins. The music scene in Baltimore was almost as good as New Orleans. He got published at Hopkins. Then he got kicked out of Hopkins. Buzzkill.

House thought back to the day before. What had he done? Pulled a muscle? It was tight. He rubbed his leg one more time, grabbed three drivers and the empty bucket, and headed towards the range. He waited patiently as the kid in front of him filled his bucket. House filled his own and headed towards number 8. His lucky number.

House laid two of the drivers down on the turf, setting the ball behind them. His foot was a little numb. Pins and needles. He shook it out, put a ball down on the tee. Lined up his body, feet shoulder width, shoulders square. The sun was in his face and he squinted, then looked down at the ball. He rolled his shoulders once, relaxed, lined up again. His torso twisted, legs in place, club impacting the ball, sending it effortlessly through the air.

By the time the ball hit the 200 yard mark, House didn’t care where the ball had gone. He was on the ground, having fallen on the clubs he tossed on the turf. The white golf balls had spilled, rolling out onto the green range, into stalls to the right and left of him. The sound of his body hitting the clubs, the balls spilling, the buzz in his head all intermingled into a single ringing tone. He clutched his thigh, gasping, rolling to his left. Eons passed in a moment. And then it was over and he sat up, confused, the buzzing in his ears, the hollow in his stomach still there, but the pain dissapating as fast as it had come. A drop of sweat dripped onto his hand from his brow. This wasn’t right.

Trying to ignore the tremble in his extremities, he stood, collected his clubs, leaving the spilled balls to others using the range. House took a short step back towards the car, testing his leg. Still tight. Usable. The hairs were standing on the back of his neck.

“Hey.” It was the kid that had filled up his bucket before House. He’d seen him fall from two stalls away and reaped the benefits of the extra balls. “You okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“My uncle fell down like that when he had a heart attack. I thought maybe you had a heart attack at first. But my uncle is…”

“I’m fine,” House said. “Left you lots of balls to hit though. So go hit’em already.”

The kid nodded, but watched as House turned back to his car. Yeah. It was fine. But maybe he’d go to the clinic. Just in case.

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