House needed to think. Big time!
He found that he was at loggerheads with
himself. Not a pleasant place to be, especially when the figure-eight argument
inside his own head kept coming back to James Wilson and the nasty premonition that James was going to be badly hurt, just
because he was who he was.
Gregg had tried walking the corridors to
do his thinking, but his ingrained habit of using the corridors for lurking rather than retrospection or introspection …
or both … put a damper on the process. A single circuit of that area had
started a fire-burn in his leg that would not be stilled, so he searched for other methods of finding sanctuary. He returned to his office and the big-red-ball-tossing. Five
minutes after that, all three ducklings were back there, gathering in the DD Room, full of ideas, personal insults and ineffective
debates. He had a feeling he was about to be intruded upon by all three, and
he did not want to be bothered. He rose from his chair with a pained grunt and
shouldered through to the corridor again. He could feel their stares burning
a hole in the middle of his back when he swept past their door.
He was beginning to feel some hunger,
but his stomach was in much the same turmoil as his brain. The cafeteria
and its general confusion and clanking around did not tempt him. He could eat
when the more important things were taken care of, so he headed instead to the men’s room for a pee. Maybe in there …
But while he stood in front of the urinal
emptying out, two other staff members chose that particular time to charge in like the FBI on a drug bust and drop their zippers
on either side of him. Both doctors kept up a clinical banter with accompanying
splashes on porcelain that had him rolling his eyes. He shook off the last of
his own droplets, hunched backward for a moment, and zipped up again. He washed
his hands thoroughly in very hot water, grabbed his cane and left again.
The elevator was empty when he boarded. He leaned into the side grab rail with a grimace and shifted all his weight off the
leg. Took a Vicodin and sighed. Reached
out the cane and jabbed the button for the ground floor. Inspiration had finally
Gregory House went straight to the clinic’s
sign-in desk. Did his own signing in; 2:45 p.m. by his watch. If anyone was looking for him, where was the last place on Earth they would consider checking? Yeah! Right! Clinic! He scrawled his name and picked up the nearest clipboard. There were thirteen names on it. That number of morons should
keep everyone else out of his hair for a couple of hours if he dragged it out. Shouldn’t
be too hard to do! His leg hurt like hell, even after the Vicodin took the edge
off, and he was conscious of feeling very tired. Hide in plain sight. He didn’t need his whole brain to deal with these idiots, most of whom wouldn’t know a baby
aspirin from an M & M.
His first two patients were a middle-aged
woman with her elderly mother. He sat down on the wheeled stool and turned a deaf ear.
They talked, whined, complained about their aches and pains and each other, and House didn’t listen. One of them should have to endure the pain he had to put up with every day of his life! They’d have something to bitch about! He ignored them
both and wrote out a prescription for the least invasive pain medication for which a prescription was necessary. In the meantime he thought about James and his little brother and the beautiful bronze kid who would probably
end up breaking their hearts. And his!
Mama and daughter thanked him profusely and departed. He rose from the
stool and hobbled to the door, caneless, and proceeded to look for the next victim
on his list.
An hour later, the middle aged guy from
the waiting room was the tenth name on the clipboard’s list. He hopped
up onto the examination gurney and bared his chest while Gregg held a stethoscope over his heart, then took deep breaths while
Gregg switched the scope to his back. His pulse, House discovered, was normal.
The blood pressure cuff was the largest one in the basket on the automatic machine. Gregg
wrapped the cuff and then turned the machine on with a flourish. The thing rumbled
and gasped, filled itself up for the first of three five-minute-interval run-throughs.
The guy was silent and Gregg was too. He ran the guy’s numbers through
the computer as the machine did its job. His brain was working in multi-layers,
only a small portion of it concentrating on BP guy’s appointment.
The rest of his thoughts were back again
on the second floor, wondering what else James Wilson might have offered to Roger and his friend. Perhaps the keys to his new car? His safety deposit box? The pin numbers to his savings and
checking accounts? Would he turn over his Master Card? Visa? James Wilson’s nature was to trust people. It was as built into him as his soft brown eyes and caretaker’s soul. House
hesitated to interfere in family matters. He’d known of more than one instance
where a well-meaning friend had tried to give another friend a warning about a philandering relative, only to be soundly rebuffed
and a longtime friendship ended abruptly. Gregg knew Wilson
was not like that, but if his worst suspicions were realized, he would have to find another way. Snark and insults were fairly normal in a close friendship. Stepping
over the line and giving Wilson that kind of grief, however,
was something else entirely.
Gregg poked numbers on BP Guy’s medical
file and filled in the totals as they came up. His BP was stable now, and no
changes in medications were indicated. He wrote up refills for the guy’s
prescriptions and handed them over. When the machine finally shut off, he unwrapped
the cuff and told the guy he was free to go.
Another hour and fifteen minutes
and the clinic would close for the day. The snotty noses and the whiners and
complainers had proved a very effective distraction for the rest of his mind to wander abroad and contemplate his thoughts. No one had to know that he was in possession of any compassion at all. Not Wilson, not Cuddy, not the kids; no one. And no one had
any idea of the garbage that continually churned in his mind.
That was the way it should be. He could ride it out for another hour and fifteen minutes. Bring
on more of the great unwashed! Push the pills and laugh at the idiots
Soon he could hitch a ride home with Wilson. Then he would call
for some Chinese, sprawl on the couch, have a beer or two. Tend to his fucking,
aching leg … alone … and no one hovering over him! Swallow more Vicodin. Get some sleep. He could not believe
how tired he was right now … or how scared!
He was back in his own office, in his ergonomic
chair. Both feet on the floor, but the achy right leg stretched out, both hands
cradling it. “Huh?” He
released his grip and straightened quickly.
stuck his head inside the door, gauging the mood. Lethargic. He stepped inside and walked over to the desk. House did not
look up. He looked absolutely spent. “Cuddy
told me you were in the clinic all afternoon …” It was not
a question, exactly. But it was!
“She saw me? I thought she had meetings today.”
“Yeah … but she seldom walks
around with her eyes closed …”
“Har-de-har. Good one, Wilson, but lame. Can you think of a better place I might go if I didn’t want people to find me? Except for Hawkeye Cuddy, that is?”
“Well … no … I guess
not. You were actually hiding in the
“I thought I just said that.”
“What have you got a bug up your
ass about? I just asked a question.”
“Yeah, I know. So ask somebody else. Are you soon ready to take me home? I’ve had about as much of this place as I can take for one day. I’m tired, I’m hungry, and my leg hurts like hell.”
“Yeah, I can tell. You’re not sick too, are you?”
“Now why the hell would you ask me
that? No I’m not sick. I just
need some down time. Alone.”
“Your wish is my command. So if you’re ready, let’s go!”
pulled the Chrysler Pacifica into the underground garage on East Side Drive and stopped a stone’s throw from the elevator
entrance. One look at his friend, slumped on the seat across from him, told James
that to drop him at the front entrance and expect him to get out curbside and hobble up even the two easy steps to his front
door, would be cruel and unusual punishment. “Shall I go along up with
you?” James asked softly.
House already had his door open. “No. I’m fine.”
nodded and prepared to leave. “All right … see you tomorrow.”
House nodded. “Thanks,” he said. He’d already turned away.
watched him go, knowing there was nothing more he could say, but certain his friend was deeply troubled about something he
was not ready to talk about. The elevator door closed behind Gregg House as Wilson sat and watched. When
it was gone, James put the car in gear and pulled out.
“You’re welcome …”
He stood in the doorway of the spacious
living room and surveyed the space he had previously called his den: manly dark
furniture, heavy hunter-green draperies, brown Pergo carpet. It wouldn’t
take much to turn it into a bedroom for Jules and Roger. It would accommodate
the wheelchair very easily, and it was handy to all the downstairs rooms, including the bathroom. A ramp leading from the garage to the kitchen would be easy to reinstall.
He’d put one in for Gregg years ago when his friend was still wheelchair-bound right after the infarction. He’d dismantled it when Gregg didn’t need it anymore, but he could certainly
do it again.
James had at first thought, after Julie
left and took all her personal belongings with her, that he would put this house on the market and get rid of it once and
for all. He’d owned it for thirteen years, and it had survived three marriages,
a sunroom and garage addition, and two ambitious remodeling jobs. It was time
to turn it over to a new family which might have better luck at keeping things together.
But now … now … he was glad
he hadn’t listed it. Roger needed a permanent place from which to rehabilitate
himself and learn to walk again. With a little luck, and after he got to know
Jules a little better, he might come to understand the young man’s interests, and perhaps find him a job. After the passage of time, Roger might find a means of self support also.
He had once been, after all, qualified as a teacher. Funny how long it had been since James had even given that fact
a thought! Perhaps he could finally get his certification and actually be a teacher
after all these years. If he hadn’t forgotten how!
Jules was staying with Roger at the hospital
tonight. They couldn’t get enough of each other. But tomorrow evening he would invite Jules out here, perhaps coax him into helping move the guest room
bed down here and put the heavy sofa bed in the living room. It would be a simple
proposition to make them both at home and at the same time offer them privacy. They
would need that. When Roger was finally discharged from PPTH, he would still
need to return periodically for physical rehab, and this house was fairly accessible to Princeton;
only fourteen miles out. Ridge Road opened directly onto Route 206 South, a straight
shot to the hospital.
James did not want to get ahead of
himself, and of course he would have to find out from his brother and his brother’s lover, if that arrangement was okay
with them. He did not intend to force them into anything, but having Roger back
in his life again after so long was a possibility that made his heart sing. It
would be nice to regain the closeness they had shared as kids. James sighed and
turned the lights out in the den. It was late and he was weary. He could use a shower and a good night’s sleep.
The enveloping darkness turned his thoughts
abruptly back to Gregory House. Abruptly!
Like a gunshot exploding suddenly, jarringly, through a quiet night.
He was not “fine”. He could not remember the last time he had been “fine”. “Fine”
was nothing more than a buzz word in his vocabulary; calculated as a warning to chase off anyone who might move in too closely,
try to treat him like a cripple. It was okay if he called himself that. But that designation by anyone else served only to make him retreat further into his
own isolated world. He had told Wilson he was “fine”, but Wilson
knew he was not, and he knew Wilson knew he was not; but Wilson had got the hint, and so here he was, alone again. He’d ordered Chinese, but it sat on his stomach like a stone.
The leftovers were parked on the coffee table in their boxes, stinking up his living room, making him wish Wilson were there to share it.
The beer he’d washed it down with only made him belch like a St. Bernard.
He finally went back to the bathroom, leaned over the toilet and threw it up into the plumbing. So much for $7.88!
Tonight was just another in a long
progression of barely tolerable nights filled with idiot TV shows, soggy food, too much booze and too much pain. Just one more night that saw him collapsed on the couch with the palm of his hand folded over the cramping
muscles in his thigh and his face set into a grimace.
Tonight he could think of nothing
to help distract him, and he had to go it alone because his fear and pride in refusing to be pitied overpowered even the sting
of the pain and the terrible need for someone to just hold him. His need and
the ability to voice it were so distant from each other that to try to ask anyone for simple companionship seemed an alien
aspect that glued his tongue forever to the roof of his mouth.
Friday nights were black holes in his existence;
long dragging hours of nothing. If his leg had been a bit more stable, he might
have gone to one of the neighborhood bars just to get out of the house. But tonight,
it wasn’t worth the hassle. Tonight, if jostled, he would probably go on
his ass. He did not need more pain on top of that which he already had. He thought of Wilson,
rattling around in the big empty house out on Ridge Road
and making plans to convert one of the rooms to accommodate Roger and Jules … probably the den. Gregg could not help move furniture, but he needed the contact with his friend. And he needed to dispel some of the misgivings he had about Roger and Jules encroaching on James’s
life. Yeah! Definitely the den! He
wished he had not been so abrupt with Wilson earlier, but
sometimes what came out of his mouth had nothing whatsoever to do with what was in his heart.
He hated feeling needy, but he was indeed.
He fished his cell phone and the Vicodin
bottle out of his jacket pocket and punched in the familiar number, dry swallowed a pill.
Wilson answered on the third ring. “Yeah … Wilson …”
I thought you needed some down time … alone.”
“I’m a lying bastard! What are you doing? Measuring the den
for the bed from the guest room?”
“How the hell did you know?”
“I’m psychic. Wilson?”
“Can I come over?”
“Sure.” There was no hesitation, and House’s guilty conscience spiked.
“How about if I come over and pick you up?”
“I can drive, dammit!” There came the snark again, no matter what he did …
“I know. But it’s cold, and your leg is a bitch. Give me half
an hour and I’ll pick you up out front.”
“Okay. I have a six-pak … want me to bring it?”
“Nah, I got beer here.”
“See you shortly.”
“Wear your jacket! Like I said, it’s cold out!”
was laughing softly when they broke the connection, and it was music to Gregg’s ears.
Alone tonight he would not be!