Author's Note: This is a spin-off from my story July 17th. This is the chapter included in that story and the start of this story—Cuddy's week at the beach. House isn't mine and neither are any of the lyrics/epigrams included herein. Thanks Marti for the beta!
Princess cards she sends me with her regards
Barroom eyes shine vacancy, to see her you gotta look hard…
And don't call for your surgeon, even he says it's too late
It's not your lungs this time, it's your heart that holds your fate…
Didn't you think I knew that you were born with the power of a locomotive
Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound?...
And your strength is devastating in the face of all these odds…
--Bruce Springsteen, "For You"
She refuses to go to Atlantic City because gambling is a terrible affliction from which her father suffers, yet she finds no harm in spending the weekend before the fourth of July in a nameless seaside town playing the fake slots in the aptly titled "Fantasy Island." She tells herself that she is winning these gifts for her nieces and nephews—that this isn't her father's problem.
No, she sits at the fifteen-point-ticket slots (not the progressives—she hates the progressive slots), and puts in the requisite three-quarter maximum. She plays the max because she knows that putting in less will result in her kicking herself in the ass when she hits a jackpot with two coins in the damn machine.
She smiles at several children who rush by with bunches of yellow tickets in their hands. The man next to her smiles at them and hands one of them a twenty so they can refill their arsenal of quarters. He shakes his head and puts three more quarters in the machine. He watches her stare at his children.
"What we do for our kids," he comments before she realizes she's staring. She turns away.
"Yeah," she mutters (she doesn't have any kids—what we don't do for our children).
She pushes the lighted buttons and wonders why she's here. She's like House hiding from clinic duty. She's hiding from her responsibility. She's on vacation; she doesn't justify herself to anyone.
"How long have you been playing those slots?" The chatty man next to her asks.
"How old are your kids?"
"Fifteen and twelve. They're with their father."
His mouth frowns sympathetically. She wants to laugh at her lies and his fake sympathy (it's good it's fake, since her story is after all a lie. She wouldn't want real sympathy to go to waste on her)
"What's your name?"
She shakes his hand without taking her eyes off the spinning wheels. The machine is aptly called "Wheels and Deals." When it lands on three of the jackpot icons, her mouth opens.
"I hit the jackpot," she murmurs.
"Can I use that as an excuse to buy you a drink?" Joe asks from next to her.
She glares at him and ushers over one of the teenage boys who work at this arcade.
"Excuse me. I hit the jackpot. I need my winnings."
She stands possessively by the machine while the boy goes to get her her receipt. Joe presses his advantage.
"C'mon. We can celebrate your jackpot," he tells her.
She smiles and leans down. Her face stops in front of his.
"Go screw yourself. And this is the closest view of my breasts you're ever going to get," she hisses.
His smile fades and hers grows. The kid comes back with her check—15,000 points.
"Congratulations," Joe tells her.
"Thanks," she replies and stand up to leave.
When she is almost through the door, Joe shouts to her.
"I own a Rolls!"
She smirks when she turns around to look at him. Sparring practice with House has prepared her for this.
"What are you compensating for?"
The door swings shut behind her.
"I hope his kids heard that," she whispers to the air.
It's one o'clock when the MASH marathon ends and she decides it'd be a good idea to go to bed. She can feel the headache growing in the back of her mind and she hits the bed with a thump. She can't remember if the doors are locked or if it even matters. Her spine tingles as she relaxes.
And that's when they come. Not the men who want to put her in the asylum or the demons she feared as a child, but the thoughts that permeate her mind before her descent into sleep. They're incoherent and jumbled, never seeming to make sense, but always seeming important.
She doesn't know, but she thinks that sanity's a fine and overrated ideal and that people are all insane. Infirm. Ill. Sick. What we do to one another, she muses. War is just utterly against every bit of common sense humans should have. Rape, murder…this world spins and she carries on because what else can she do? Perhaps that is why she entered medicine. Saving people, not destroying them.
She reminds herself that she was once going to enter law. She interned for a summer with a lawyer and went to trial, but it was a murder case and the key witness was a child. And…
She watched the child's eyes on the stand. The cross examination was relatively soft, but still. A child. She remembers wondering, Oh, Lord, why do we subject our children to this?
The answers are varied, but she settles on the conclusion that even our desire to protect our children is not greater than our desire for the truth.
She rolls over to stare at the glowing clock. Her Bose radio plays piano adagios because she accidentally left her CD collection containing Dylan, Henley, and Springsteen sitting on her kitchen counter at home. She could use some of Dylan's easy-going guitar, Henley's loving lyrics, and Springsteen's sultry, scathing voice. She wants the indictments of rock singers not the pardons of dead composers.
"Why can't I get a guy who plays decent guitar?" She murmurs into her pillow.
There's House whose fingers stroke piano keys and heal dying patients. He wouldn't have the patience for a temperamental guitar (and guitars do not live in symbiosis with the minor key). There's Wilson whose delicate hands would never hold up to the abuse of a guitar and its pick (he'd strum out loving harmonies and support, but he could never take the center stage). There's Foreman who's too full of street-cred to play a soulful ballad (there'd be too many angry shouts.) Of course there is Chase, who seems like he could be in a boy-band (she doesn't want boy-band! She wants a real man!)
She can't sleep, so she props her elbows up on her pillows. The windows are open and she can hear moving water. She knows it's the bay because it's closest to the house, but she feels romantic and decides that it's the wind from the ocean carrying the sound of crashing waves to her bedroom window.
She slaps the pillow with a force unbeknownst to her. A siren screams through the night and she's the only one who can hear it. She gets out of bed without a second thought, slips on her pink slippers, and ignores her robe.
By the time she reaches the street, she doesn't remember walking through the house and thinking this was a good idea. She's in her boxer shorts and tank top (she likes to feel young when she sleeps). She starts walking. She doesn't know where and she doesn't particularly know why, but she walks. Because walking is the only thing her body acquiesces to do at the moment.
It's a shuffle, then a scrape, shuffle, scrape that keeps the rhythm and her soul basks in the grittiness of imperfection. Glossed over piano compositions are nice, but nothing compares to Springsteen growling about making love to Crazy Janie on some unknown shore. Or to Dylan shouting melodically how does it feel? And of course, there are Henley's lines that echo forever in the head of her, a doctor. Someone's going to emergency; someone's going to jail. She settles for the sounds of her slippers on pavement.
She crosses empty streets and travels four blocks in the dark. She climbs the gray-planked stairs and makes her way onto the beach. The moon pulls the waves and gravity's suddenly more than just a necessity. It's beautiful.
Her slippers end up tucked behind the bench and she makes her way down onto the beach. There are waves crashing and seagulls sleeping, but the ocean reminds her she's only mortal.
She plops down on a tract of sand where the waves can just barely lap at her feet. They tease her and beg her, but she refuses to wade into the deep. She's fine being isolated, thank-you-very-much.
There are no stars visible because there are city lights. Humans and their long affair with electricity. She'd rather gaze at God's holy creations.
There's much to think about and she'd rather not do it now. She concedes that she could have any guy she wanted, as evidenced by her encounter with the rich man at Fantasy Island. She has brains, beauty, and a good deal of strength. She wants someone, though, but she doesn't know whom.
She pulls her knees to her chest and clasps her arms around them. It's her safety pose and she searches for a comforting thought. She lands on it relatively quickly.
This isn't her father's problem.