up and moving by 6:00 a.m. Daylight was just beginning to quicken to the east,
and the shadows of night were lifting around the edges of the den where Gregory House still slept. Wilson tiptoed to the bathroom for a shower,
knowing Gregg was a light sleeper, and doing his best not to wake him. He’d
glanced over at his friend a few minutes before when his inner clock forced his eyes open.
House looked as though he hadn’t moved all night, and that could only be good news. Wilson had always known, from the nights
he’d spent on Gregg’s couch, and that one night with him in his bed, House’s leg almost always had him awake
long before this. Wilson
pursed his lips, gratified. The moist heat must have helped to the point of staving
off the pain, at least for awhile, allowing House to get some extra much-needed sleep.
He let the water run long and hot, rinsing
his body in relaxing comfort, loosening muscles that had been cramped with tension.
He raised his face to the hot stream and let the water cascade down across his eyes, nose, mouth and chin; on down
across his chest, belly and legs. He could feel the final vestiges of his bout
with the urinary infection finally melting away with the cascade of the water, and he felt cleansed of it at last. Wilson took a deep breath and held it for
a moment, arching his back and working his head back and forth on his neck, feeling the nerves along his spinal column working
free also. ‘God,’ he thought, ‘you don’t appreciate good
health until you don’t have it for awhile …’
And that quickly, his consciousness snapped
back to Gregg House.
shut down the water and grabbed a towel from the towel bar right outside the shower stall.
He ran the thick terrycloth through his heavy mop of auburn hair, toweled off his shoulders, then anchored the ends
around his waist and stepped out onto the bathmat. Even when Gregg was far away
from his thoughts, he wasn’t! James
wiped a circle of condensation off the lav mirror with the palm of his hand and peered at his face in the small oval which
appeared there. He was scruffy. “House-like”. Wow! He thought briefly about letting
his beard grow for the weekend, but the silly thought only brought visions of “Olsen Twins” back to his consciousness,
and he figured he’d had enough of that this week! He didn’t flip
open the case of his Norelco because its buzz would probably wake Gregg. Instead,
he took out a can of Barbasol and a toss-away razor. He lathered his face and
shaved quickly, rinsing the sink when he’d finished. He turned from his
ablutions, hung up the bathmat and opened the bathroom door quietly. Gregg’s
jeans and jacket, hanging from the hook, brushed the side of his face at the movement.
As soon as the door opened, the heavenly
aroma reached his nostrils and submerged all of his senses in fantasies of domestic bliss.
He shook his head, smiling. Some things never changed.
Wilson hurried to the kitchen in his white
towel, where House, still in sock feet, tee shirt and boxer briefs, sat perched on one of the kitchen stools watching the
drip coffee maker do its little gurgling act. His cane hung from the edge of
the counter, not far from his right hand. “Morning!” he said in the kind of grumpy-scratchy falsetto he often
used when torturing the ducklings. “Don’t you look lovely?! You remind me of Baby New Year!”
“Morning, smartass!” Wilson replied cautiously. “I tried not to wake you…”
“I know,” House said smugly. “And you made twice as much noise being quiet.
You sounded like a herd of elephants. It would have been easier to sleep
through somebody whacking at a tree trunk with a chainsaw!”
“Well thank you very much. Remind me next time to put ‘Wipeout’ on the stereo for you!”
“Good idea. Or ‘Wooly Bully’ …”
“Well, now that you’ve taken
your first potshot at me for the day … to what do I owe the honor of coffee brewing?”
“Well,” House replied, “since
it was too damn noisy to sleep anyhow, and since I couldn’t get into the bathroom to pee or anything, and since trying
to climb your steps to the second floor would be like trying to climb Mt. Everest, I thought I’d make you some coffee. Keep you occupied when it was my turn to go in there and drain the lizard …
choke the chicken … squeeze the snake … whatever … You don’t mind, do you?”
frowned; rolled his eyes. Where the hell did he come up with this stuff?? “Don’t let me hold you up!”
House slid off the stool and grabbed his
watched him move out of the kitchen in the direction of the bathroom. House’s
leg was weak, painful and unstable. Wilson
could tell from the way he walked. He sighed.
The moist heat had gotten Gregg through the night, but as a solution beyond that one small respite, it had failed miserably.
When the coffee maker stopped perking and
Wilson crossed to it to remove the grounds, he saw something
on the counter he hadn’t noticed before. The bottle of Vicodin stood there
where House had left it. Wilson
took a closer look. The prescription refill was down by almost half, and he knew
for a fact that House had just had the bottle topped off!
picked up the Vicodin bottle and cradled it in his palm. Staring at it sadly,
he turned it end-over-end between his fingers and then set it back on the counter where he’d found it. House would come for it when he left the bathroom and returned to the kitchen for his coffee.
had been intending to pour himself a cup also, and then take a few minutes to dash upstairs and change into old clothes while
it cooled. He’d been going to call Billy and Vince and ask to borrow their
muscle power for a couple of hours; get the den ready for Jules and Roger. Now,
all contemplation of that had fled. House was back in his thoughts again, scattering
his senses and messing with his guilty Jewish heart.
House and his pain; House and his Vicodin. Thoughts like these had crowded all others away
so many times recently that Wilson could not concentrate on
anything but his friend and the painful, nagging disability. He remembered House
telling him one time that the Vicodin didn’t make him high; didn’t make him stoned. It made him neutral.
lets me do my job. And it takes away my pain!”
remembered the bet, and the week of detoxification which now seemed so long ago. He
would never do anything like that to Gregg again!
His friend’s desperation had driven him to divert his agony by smashing his fingers with a heavy wrought iron
pestle: his physician’s fingers … the fingers of a concert pianist
… and being grateful for the broken bones which had been the result. It
was frightening then, and now it all came rushing back. House was overmedicating
again and sooner or later the deadly stuff would destroy his kidneys and probably his life.
took a deep breath, leaned back on his stool and stared toward the bathroom door. The
water was running. Gregg was in the shower.
The shower floor was smooth, and when splashed with soap, became slippery. If
House fell in there, he could be badly hurt. James got up and left the coffee
maker, the Vicodin bottle and the kitchen, and padded to the bathroom door, listening to the sounds of running water. “House? You okay in there? That shower gets pretty slippery when it’s soapy …”
There was a pause, then the hollow sound
of Gregg’s voice from within. Exasperation personified. “I know, Mommy. I’ve showered at your house before,
Mommy. If you want to be useful, go upstairs in the bottom drawer of your dresser
and grab the socks, shorts and tee-shirt I left here a couple months ago.”
“The clothes I left here the time
we went to the Penn State
game … last October. You do remember the Penn State game, don’t you?”
“Unhh … yeah …”
“So get my stuff out of your bottom
drawer, willya? Never mind jeans. The
ones on the back of the door are clean enough.” The water shut off abruptly
and Wilson heard the shower curtain snick back. “Your damn stair steps don’t agree with my leg much …”
thundered up the steps and rummaged in the bottom drawer of his dresser. It was
all there, just as House had said it was.
the hell … ?*
Julie must have told House that his stuff
was there. He certainly hadn’t. He hadn’t even known about it. Sometimes
his friend’s powers of recollection made him feel like a dunce in comparison.
Wilson grabbed the clean socks, briefs and tee-shirt
and hurried back downstairs with them. Knocked on the bathroom door and then
handed them over into a long-fingered hand that reached through for them. “Give
me a second and I’ll go get your shoes …”
“Yeah … well hurry up! You gonna call Vince and Billy?”
“Unhh … yeah … how’d
“You said so last night. So move it! It’s getting late early today. And while you’re sitting around doing nothing, pour me a cup of coffee, will ya, Mom?”
felt himself bristling. “I haven’t had a chance to get dressed myself
yet, dammit! Get your ass in gear and go pour your own coffee! You crippled or something? ”
“Ohh … Mommy’s
getting mad! Good one, Mommy! Later
The bathroom door went closed again and
the drift of laughter that escaped from within it reminded Wilson
of his father’s teasing taps on the back of his head for not paying attention when he was a kid. He could feel himself doing a slow burn, just like he used to do all those years ago, but knew it wouldn’t
do him any good. He turned away from the bathroom door and went to the den for
House’s shoes; parked them beside the bathroom door and ran back upstairs for those old clothes he’d promised
himself a half hour ago.
returned to the kitchen in a raggedy tee-shirt, old jeans and a pair of moccasins with no socks, House was dressed in the
clean clothes James had brought down for him. On the counter in front of them,
two cups of coffee were waiting and a dish filled with chocolate chip cookies were placed between. House looked at him with a grin on his face, giddy with juvenile one-upmanship, and ready for any kind
of silly argument Wilson might condescend to. House was digging in the pockets of his jeans, scattering a pile of small miscellaneous items in front
“Coffee’s ready, Mommy …
aren’t I thoughtful?” he said sweetly, and at that moment Wilson
could have throttled him.
“Where’d you find the cookies?” James asked conversationally, watching the smallish
mound of junk accumulating on the counter.
“Pantry. Where do you think? I remember where Julie used to keep all
the goodies.” Meanwhile, the counter was beginning to overflow with “minutiae”. Wilson saw a half-dozen salted peanuts, some pocket change sticky with salt, a few
brightly colored M&Ms, also salt-covered, two tiny screws, a crumpled dollar bill, two AAA batteries … and a small
smattering of Vicodin. Salty Vicodin!
“Are those your meds?” Wilson asked incredulously. As he watched, a few more peanuts, a few more M&Ms and another Vicodin joined
the pile. Wilson
felt thoroughly chastised for his suspicions earlier.
“Yeah. Sometimes I dump some in my pocket in the morning when I get dressed. Especially if we have a nasty case
going. Your point is?” House looked up, frowning. He picked up his coffee cup and took a sip.
swallowed hard. “In case you walk off without the bottle? I didn’t think you ever forgot anything. Ever! I never knew you carried pills around in your pocket like that. Is that why?”
“Yeah. Sometimes I leave in a hurry without my jacket … and the bottle.
Didn’t you hear what I said? When I do that, it usually leads to
pain. I learned the hard way not to take liberties with the pain. Okay?” He took another sip of coffee; bit into a cookie.
Dunked what was left, downed it all.
“Oh.” Wilson counted in his head the ratio of
pills still in the bottle against the ones on the kitchen counter, and swallowed again, convulsively. He had thought …
House was looking at him skeptically, smirking. He had probably left the bottle on the counter on purpose; knew what his friend might
assume. Testing; always testing. “You still don’t really trust me
much with those, do you, Jimmy?” Wilson
could hear the trace of hurt in his friend’s voice.
is not a test!” But today it was.
“No,” he answered honestly. “You scare me. I know you need
to manage your pain, but those are some serious meds, House …they’re dangerous … and I don’t think
I could stand to lose you. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“It means everything to me, Jimmy. But I’m a big boy. I might not
act like a big boy sometimes, but I am. There are some things you can’t
help me with. This is one of them. Sometimes
‘looking out for the cripple’ is a waste of your time. And mine.”
House’s eyes dropped to the
little pile in front of him. He started to stuff everything, except for the screws
and batteries, back into his jeans pocket. “Drink your coffee. Have a cookie. Then go call Vince and Billy!
“I aint getting any younger!”
Vince Crane and Billy Travis arrived together
in Billy’s worn-out Ford Taurus. The car had been new the same year of
Gregg’s infarction, and Vince had been on Billy and on him about trading the thing in before it left his ass sit somewhere. Billy admitted he’d been thinking about it for awhile, but still he hedged. He was one of those people to whom a car had a distinct personality, had its own pet
name, and was part of the family. You didn’t just “trade in”
a family member, and “Nellybelle” still ran great, thank you.
The two men came in through the garage
lugging a case of Miller Light, a bag of questionable “man-groceries”,
two bottles of Captain Morgan and a case of Pepsi.
It was going to be an interesting day after all the lugging was done. They
dumped everything in the kitchen and joined Wilson and House
in the den.
Vince was still uncomfortable around
Gregg, and still sick with sorrow about the damage to their friend’s leg, to which he’d never become completely
reconciled. House always handled Crane’s hangup with grace and an unusual
amount of humility (for him), knowing it made Vince almost weepy. Therefore,
he did a minimum of walking around, and kept the cane mostly out of sight. Out
of sight, out of mind.
The furniture rearrangement took three
of them an hour. They left the double bed in pieces in the den, at the same spot
where the old sofa bed had been, with the mattress and box springs leaning against the wall.
They had first lugged the ponderously heavy old sofa bed out the door sideways, twisting and turning to force it to
go through. Gregg House sat across the room at the desk with his legs propped
up on its surface, running off at the mouth and in general, holding court and criticizing every move they made. No one paid him the least amount of attention. When they took
the big leather recliner and inched it past the doorway into the living room, he followed them out and stood against the wall
with his arms crossed, his cane hanging off a forearm, the bad leg crossed gingerly over the sound one.
With everything settled into a workable
arrangement, Vince Crane appeared at the top of the stairs with his arms loaded with sheets, pillows and blankets. “Here’s all the stuff that came off the bed, Jimmy. You
gonna make it up now, or do we get to stop for a beer first?”
From the doorway, Wilson and Travis paused
and stared up at him. House squinted across the room with a look of concentration
as though Wilson’s next words held the fate of the world
in his hands. “Well, the worst of it’s done. All that’s left is putting the bed back together, arranging the furniture, and doing the cleanup. I think a beer right about now is an excellent idea.”
House nodded. “Yeah,” he said solemnly. “Sounds good. That was hard work. I’m tired. Get us all a beer, willya, Jimmy?”
pursed his lips and sighed, along with a demonstration of his patented eye roll. “Yeah,
House … like you really put the muscle to it this time!”
House pouted. “Yah. All that manly grunting and power-surging really
did a number on my leg. I’m exhausted!”
Upstairs, Vince Crane winced visibly. “Damn it, Gregg … could you please … not …”
They gathered in the kitchen for the next
hour, laughing, catching up with each other’s lives, and reaffirming their long friendship. Wilson filled Vince and Billy in on his
plans to put up his brother and friend until the two of them were able to get back on their feet, so to speak, and give them
what support he could until they could get their lives back together.
“Do your folks know about Roger yet?” Vince asked.
shook his head. “No. I haven’t
called them. I know I should, but I’m still a little overwhelmed myself,
and I really don’t want to traumatize any of them until Roger looks a little less emaciated, and has a chance to be
discharged, move out here and begin to be a little more … normal.
“They also need some time to digest
the fact of Jules. It’s not that they were completely in the dark about
Rodge’s sexual orientation, but I don’t want to hit them over the head with it either. Tom would probably be fine with it … but Mom and Dad … I’m not sure. It won’t be long before I tell them, because if I don’t soon, I’ll be in all kinds of
trouble … but not just yet.”
When Travis, Crane and Wilson got up to
return to the front of the house to finish with the furniture placement and cleanup, House begged off and sat at the table
by himself. Wilson
looked back at him questioningly from the doorway to the dining room, but House gestured him on with an impatient waggle of
his hands. Wilson
shrugged and followed Travis and Crane.
When they were gone, House went to
the refrigerator for another beer. He leaned down and rummaged among the contents,
found hamburger, onions, greens for a salad, and a multitude of condiments. He
piled all of this on the counter, pushed the empty coffee maker out of the way, and proceeded to start lunch. He parked his cane on the edge of the counter and pulled across the same stool he’d perched on that
morning to use again. He found a couple of bowls, a spoon, a fork and a sharp
knife. He diced the onion finely and put part of it aside for the salad. Carefully, he prepared the hamburger in one of the bowls, mashing it meticulously
with both hands.
wasn’t the only good cook in this outfit, dammit! He knew he was laying
himself wide open for all kinds of teasing later, but he proceeded anyway, knowing he could handle their barbs with verbal
cannonballs of his own. No problemo!
It was the aroma that drew them back.
When the three friends descended once again
upon the fragrant-with-cooking-smells kitchen, Gregg House was lifting the lid of the frying pan on a whole crowd of succulent
cheeseburgers, sniffing their pungent aroma and holding up thumb and forefinger in an “OK” sign before lowering
the lid again and turning down the burner beneath. A covered pot of doctored
Campbell’s baked beans simmered slowly on the back burner.
The salad was in the bowl on the counter, buns were in the warmer, plates and silverware on the side, and salad dressings
and condiments spread within easy reach.
“Holy jumpin’ buckets of catfish!” Vince Crane exclaimed happily, and his sentiments were echoed twice more from the
friends behind him.
Gregory House was nothing if not smug,
but he was venerated and welcome to it when all four of them dug in and made short work of his culinary efforts.
Not one disparaging remark followed
that Saturday lunch.
Vince, Billy and Jimmy even did the dishes
while Gregg sat at the table and drank a beer with a strange smile stealing across his face.