He was not in the mood for the classics. Not tonight.
Play the lighthearted stuff that would take his mind off his suffocating dark mood; turn his thoughts away from the
black cloud that persisted in hanging over his head and making him feel like some sort of alien in his own mind.
I feel like crap for some reason …*
His incredibly long fingers noodled around
over the keyboard in search of all the fluffy-assed melodies that kept hiding there.
The ones that still eluded him and made him concentrate to uncover the strains that still bounded away, just out of
reach. The music he searched for was in his head somewhere … songs of love and moonlight and hoo-ha-hay and “happily-ever-aftering” that made
every view of the world look a little like Camelot. Or Oklahoma
… “a bright golden haze on the meadow”. Like Kismet … “No other love have I …”
“Midnight … not a sound from the pavement …”
His hands splayed on the keys and
he was in the South Pacific: “This Nearly was Mine”. And Oliver: “Where is Love?”
Was there a theme emerging here somewhere? If so, what was it? The songs he was
playing were not the ones he might have chosen, but melancholy things, and mournful, that dripped from his fingertips like
medicine from an eyedropper. He could feel their mocking nature; breathe their
hopelessness, as undisciplined as his sudden turn of mind, mutating into the fear of everything he’d ever tried to turn
away from, but from which he could never find an escape. The piano was not his
His right foot had been too long upon the
sustain petal. Pain was moving steadily
up his leg, into his knee, to settle in his damaged thigh.
It was the pain that broke the spell. His hands dropped into his lap, fingers smarting from their unrelenting assault on
the keys. That was not music he’d been playing. It had been his frustration coming out. The anger and the
fear and the doubt assailed him over his own misgivings about two young men whose motives he could not read. Jules’ purposes here were still a mystery, and his blind suspicions were digging at his consciousness.
From the sounding board above his
bowed head, the Vicodin bottle mocked him.
He looked up, reached a hand and
snatched it down, tipped off the lid and dry swallowed one. Then another. The escalating pain in his leg mocked him also.
He tried to ignore it, but it was no good.
For the first in a long time, Gregory House
felt an uncertainty about his own abilities beginning to creep into his consciousness.
He had no clue in the world upon which to pin his suspicions about this kid. Or
that kid. Nothing! But the misgivings that flooded his mind with doubt would not let go, and in his heart and his mind’s
eye he saw James Wilson getting hurt. Physically hurt? Perhaps an even deeper hurt: Wilson’s innate propensity to trust everyone unconditionally, gone bad.
Jimmy! I have nothing to offer but my own foreboding … the stupid fear
that something really rotten is going to happen … and sweet Jesus …not
you! … I can’t cause you to doubt the love of the brother you haven’t seen for so long! … but I’m
afraid I’m going to lose you either way!*
He rubbed at his leg, but the pain was
unrelenting this time, not all of it physical.
Billy Travis was on his lunch break. Nancy had packed him
leftover lasagna in a good-sized Tupperware bowl. He’d nuked it and scarfed
it down like a hungry hound dog. God, that woman could cook! He just had to marry her, and that was all there was to it! He
smiled to himself. Nancy
was no pushover. She might have something to say about that!
The third floor was quiet and his
staff was around and about, doing their jobs, doing him proud. He’d visited
Roger and Jules on his lunch break the past two nights, finding them in the dayroom at 3:00 a.m. both nights. He ignored the elevator and took the steps down one floor, coming out in the hallway about a dozen steps
from the dayroom entrance.
They were there, as usual, Rodge in the
wheelchair and Jules on the settee at his elbow. Roger was nodding a little,
and Jules’ hand was on his upper arm, caressing it gently as the other man drifted off into a restless sleep.
Travis walked across the floor like a giant
black shadow, soundlessly on size-thirteen tennis shoes. His brow was knit at
their positions in proximity to each other, and he eyed Jules with a silent question.
Jules inclined his head, inviting the huge
RN closer and Billy lowered himself by the smaller man’s side. “His
legs hurtin’, mon,” Jules whispered. “Even with the meds and
massage. Maria knows he’s beginning to feel the differences the PT is making
in the muscles and tendons. But he’s having trouble sleeping tonight, and
the two jerks in the room … they keep bitchin’ him out. So we come
out here. Night nurse give him something for sleeping. When he goes to sleep, I will stretch out on the sofa.”
Billy curled his hand and touched Roger’s
cheek gently with the backs of his fingers. “His temperature seems fine
to me. I’d hate to wake him up just to stick the oral thermometer in his
mouth. How long ago did she give him the meds?”
“Not quite an hour ago. He’s been restless, but I think they’re working now.”
Billy nodded agreement. “Looks that way. Jules, he’s going to have a lot
of pain as he works on strengthening his legs, but he’ll get through it. If
he’s anything like his brother, then he has a spirit and a determination that rivals a damn wolverine! You wouldn’t think it to look at him, but I’ve known Jimmy for of whole lot of years, and I’ve
seen what he can do. Gregg House? I
think Gregg gets around as well as he does, partly due to the jackass stubbornness of your friend’s brother. Jimmy grabs on like a bulldog and won’t let go. He bullied
the hell out of Gregg and wouldn’t let him quit.” Billy pulled a
chagrined face for a moment, and then shrugged. “He may do the same thing
with Roger. Just thought I’d warn you!
That little tidbit of information shall, of course, remain sacred between you and me … dig?”
Jules blinked. Then winked. “Dig, Dude!” He said.
Billy Travis made no further comment about
the two men hanging out in the dayroom at all hours of the night. They’d
done it before and they would probably do it again. The second floor wasn’t his domain or his responsibility. When his lunch break was over, he said a whispered goodnight and took the stairs back to the third floor.
Jules looked after him speculatively.
James Wilson unlocked the back door and
stepped into the kitchen. He threw the car keys on the table, turned on the light
in the downstairs bathroom and turned on the hot water full force. He hurried
upstairs for clean underwear and a comfortable sweat suit, then came back down, stripped and stepped into the relaxing heat
of the hot spray.
What a day! He was tired beyond measure, and the thought of stretching out somewhere flat and getting a little extra
sleep, seemed almost orgasmic. He was surprised at himself for thinking that. Julie had been gone for … what? … three weeks now, give-or-take, and he
had not missed her; had not even given her absence more than a passing thought, except when her name had come up in casual
He must be slipping! He’d gone on the prowl again almost before the ink was dry on his first two divorce decrees. This time, however, not so! No carnal
thoughts, no urgent desire, no wet dreams, no itch that needed scratched, and not even a mild urge to troll the bars or linger
near any nurses’ stations … or even Debbie in Accounting. His sexual
fantasies were down, his erotic imaginings under control, his cock flaccid.
What the hell did that mean? He must really
be getting old!
James stepped out of the shower and dried
off with the same towel he’d used early that morning. God, it felt good
to just languish. He pulled on his old, navy blue sweat suit, tossed the towel
in the hamper and padded barefoot out to the kitchen in search of a snack to take along on his quest to flop somewhere. He could feel the beginnings of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, and he
thought again about the strange influence Gregory House had upon his life. Only
recently had he given any thought to dragging food along to bed with him. Gregg
had gotten him started on that untidy habit, and it was all his fault! He rummaged
through the refrigerator and came up with a handful of baby carrots and a dill pickle.
He placed them all on a small paper plate, turned out the light and retreated to the old sofa bed that now occupied
the living room. He flopped down, set his goodies on the coffee table and grabbed
the TV remote. In one motion, he lifted his feet onto the coffee table, scooped
up the paper plate and flicked on the TV.
And the enigmatic gentleman was back in
his thoughts again! He wondered what House was doing at this hour. It was pushing 11:30 p.m., and there were no messages on the answering machine. Evidently Gregg was holed up at home and determined to keep his own counsel the rest of the weekend. Wilson knew his friend
seldom initiated a phone call unless he wanted something, but once in a blue moon he would deign to touch base when James knew he was troubled about something and requested that he check in.
me if anything changes …*
No word. Nothing. Blank spaces
looming with zilch to fill them in! Wilson
crunched on a carrot and flipped the channel changer on the remote. “Vast
Wasteland!” Some things never changed, even after the passage of forty-something
years. He set the thing on ESPN2 and muted the sound. Another annoying habit of House’s, and the realization that he was doing the same thing in stark
imitation, hit him over the head.
He was surprised he’d said it out
His bed felt hard tonight. The sheets, pillows, quilt and blanket were in wild disarray around him and there were no comfortable positions. He’d left the lamp on the bedside table dimmed to its lowest setting, and its
glow cast gray shadows of the room’s furnishings pale against the far wall. The
room was warm tonight, thanks mostly to a slight break in the weather, and there was no wind whistling in the eaves to heighten
the sensation of chill.
His outer clothing, shoes and socks
were dropped haphazardly on the floor, far enough away from the bed so that he would not accidentally become entangled in
them if he must get up in the middle of the night. He lay spread-eagled atop
the bed covers in tee shirt and briefs.
He was lonely. He was worried. And he was in pain. The Vicodin he’d swallowed a half hour before had not yet dulled the ache, and the throb extended
from his knee all the way to the middle of his back, making him nervous and restless.
He tried a glass of scotch a couple of hours ago, after he began hitting more cracks than keys on the piano. Two swallows later it was nauseating him. Sometimes booze
worked like a charm; other times it did just the opposite. Tonight had been the
night of opposites. His restless mind played morbid scenarios inside his head
and mixed it all in with snatches of rational thought until he could not separate them anymore. He finally let it all run wild until he pressed the heels of his hands hard against his eyeballs and turned
the visions into a frenzied cascade of color that burst outward against a dreamscape horizon.
He thought of Stacy and their few years
of happiness until it all fell apart in accusation, bitterness and frustration, and their harsh words to each other could
no longer be forgiven or reconciled. It had hurt.
More than the leg! It was the beginning of the end of trust.
He thought of his parents and their Nomadic,
insane lifestyle that dragged his younger self all over the globe in the name of national security, to never have a real “best
friend” or a momentary feeling of “home”. Only discipline and
regimen, which he’d shucked forever on the same day he moved permanently out of their latest base housing cracker box.
He thought kindly of Lisa Cuddy and their
brief liaison during their whirlwind college years when everything was truth or dare, and she had shared his bed and his wild-oats
days, and then come to him one day in a panic over a missed period. She’d
been a week late, but the guilt and tension had killed their short love affair. To
this day they still circled each other like two bull elk in rut, still guarding against one another, although the competition
had mellowed into a grudging friendship that neither of them could ever define if their lives depended on it.
He thought of Roger and Jules and their
love and Roger’s illness and the “something” about them that bothered him greatly and made his mouth go
dry whenever they met. He wondered if the young men felt the same way about him. As if that mattered! And yet it did,
in a way, because one kid’s lover was also Wilson’s
Groaning, he rolled over onto his
left side and dragged the reluctant right leg over on top the left. The fingers
of his right hand found the scar and began to caress the remaining muscles gently, trying to coax away the soreness and the
bone-deep hurt that, even after all these years, still made him want to scream sometimes.
And he remembered Wilson’s soft hands upon him earlier in the week, carefully
kneading, rubbing the skin in soothing circles until he began to relax under Wilson’s
caring touch, causing him to feel like a wet dishrag, lulled into painless stupor. Comforted
and comfortable. And he thought of James and how well the smaller man fit right
here on this big bed next to him, and how under those circumstances he did not mind at all if James Wilson looked out for
and comforted and protected him. Wilson was the only person
in the world who could do this without fear of being pushed away permanently.
He remembered Wilson’s look of worry that followed him into the elevator earlier tonight when he’d
dropped him off and then continued on home. “Call me if anything changes!”
Wilson had said. And as usual, he’d thrown a careless “yeah, okay” … or something
like that … over his shoulder and had not looked back. Of course he hadn’t
called. If he knew James, his friend would not expect him to call. He was just leaving the connecting door of possibility and chance unlatched. It was (of course!) part of their understanding of each other.
Gregory House rolled over again, onto his
back, and let the damaged limb ease down onto the mattress. From here he could
reach the bedside phone. James answered quickly on the fourth ring, just before the machine picked up.
“Hello?” (He probably hadn’t looked at the caller I. D.)
House? What’s wrong?”
The mild voice honed to an edge.
He paused and let the silence lengthen
“Then … what?” Tension
and worry so thick you could cut it with a knife.
“I need you.”
“Give me half an hour …”
The phone went dead.
House hung up … lay back on the pillow
and stared at the ceiling.