Stacy had never wanted to live in an apartment. House had never wanted to commit to the purchase of a house. He didn't want the mortgage and the weekends of gardening, new shingles, and biannual organization of the garage. And of course, he got his way. Stacy stepped back, conceded, tried in yet another way to keep the relationship alive.
Cuddy's house was what Stacy had wanted and House knew this. It was a woman's house with buttery yellow walls and lavender tiles. On the tables were lace runners, scented candles. House was sure Cuddy never accidentally stepped on a beer bottle cap from the night before or threw away something that made the whole house smell by morning. Stacy and Cuddy were tight and House came home several nights a month to a sticky note on the bathroom mirror telling him Stacy had gone to Cuddy's for dinner or for a movie that he wouldn't see with her.
"Maybe you should come with me some time," she said, demurely.
"I avoid her all day," he snapped.
"You like her," Stacy said. "Maybe if you told her once in a while, you could stay out of that clinic,"
And so, House went to the small house that Stacy coveted at 5:30 on a Sunday evening. Stacy was not with him, called away to work several hours before. He scratched his head and rang the bell. It was too long of a wait. He could hear her on the other side, hurrying to get to the door, stumbling. He heard the cat meow.
She opened the door and stared at him with big eyes.
"What's wrong?" she asked. He couldn't blame her for the reaction. She probably thought he was on the outs with Stacy or something was wrong with the patient du jour. House never called first.
"I was going to go running," he said. "Do you want to come?"
She didn't gawk at this change of heart or point out that he lived seven miles away and drove over and she didn't ask if it was Stacy's idea. She just agreed.
"Yeah," she said. "Let me change."
She left the door open for him but he didn't enter. He stayed on the porch, on the woven mat by the door looking into the living room. It was thick with afternoon sun. She was fast, coming out in tight, yet modest clothes, manufactured to absorb sweat. They both usually ran with a walkman but he'd left his at home and he saw Cuddy glance at hers, untouched on the table by the door.
Cuddy had a route, of course, all runners did but he didn't ask her what it was. He just started running. Her neighborhood was nice, maintained, and quiet. There were squares of green grass – bicycles leaning against garage doors and the smell of Sunday dinner wafting through open windows.
She let him run ahead of her; she let him set the pace. He was aware of her behind him and she kept up with him even when he started to push himself. He ran farther than she usually did but by the time they were both ready to drop, her house was in view. He was sweaty and she looked just as sticky as she fumbled to unlock her door with the key from beneath her mat.
"I'll get you a bottle of water," she said, and moved through the now dark hallway to the kitchen. She was back with two bottles, one already half gone. He drank his greedily and she did the same, only the threshold of the door between him. She didn't invite him in.
"See you tomorrow," he said, and walked away. She watched him navigate the path to the sidewalk, she watched him get into his car and drive away, after rolling all of the windows down.
House didn't understand why work friends turned into actual friends. House was happiest, he thought, with no friends at all. His real friends were small, white, and blessedly predictable. Wilson was his friend, though. And he found it was, for the most part, easier to be indifferent to he colleagues and employees if not directly nice to them.
He'd had friends once, but they all followed Stacy – they became Mark's friends then, leaving Gregory and his unfortunate accident far behind. Maybe when Mark ended up in a wheelchair, they'd left him too.
It was Wilson who suggested House not spend Thanksgiving alone, drunk and sulking.
"Like I want to punish myself by spending time with your wife," House had said, stomping his cane down like a little boy might stomp his foot.
"She's, uh, going to her parents in Connecticut," Wilson admitted.
"And you're not," House stated. "Can you even cook a turkey?"
"I'm going to Cuddy's," Wilson said.
"No way," House said, shaking his head emphatically. "Besides, I like to drink and brood my holidays, not sulk,"
When Wilson came by on Thanksgiving, House was ready.
"I thought you didn't want to come," Wilson teased.
"Then why are you here?" House said. Wilson shrugged. "There isn't anything good on TV anyway,"
"And you're hungry," Wilson said.
"Shut up," House said, locking his door, and imagining the bottle of scotch and piano he was leaving behind. He'd spent many evenings alone at his piano in the last month, as the snow forced him inside. But earlier he'd sat down and his fingers couldn't settle on what to play, except to plunk out the jeopardy theme.
House was quiet the ride over. It wasn't a heavy, foreboding silence – just quiet. He fiddled with the radio and watched the windshield wipers brush snow from the glass. His cane was laid out across the back seat and when Wilson slammed on the breaks at a yellow light (a light House would have sailed through), it slid to the floor.
Cuddy's house looked warm and inviting with the lights coming through the windows in the dusk. It had been a couple years since House had a warm, well cooked Thanksgiving meal.
"I should have brought something…" House muttered, getting out and pulling his cane awkwardly with him. Wilson went to the trunk and pulled out a bottle of pinot grigio.
"I already signed your name," Wilson said. House smiled victoriously and rang the door bell over and over again until Cuddy flung it open in a beige apron holding a wooden spoon.
"Stop that," she said, already looking overwhelmed.
"Hi," Wilson said, holding out the bottle.
"It's from the both of us," House said. Cuddy rolled her eyes and walked back toward the kitchen to tend to her meal.
In February, the heat goes out in House's building. He calls Wilson who tells him no, flatly, and the idea of going to Cameron, Foreman, or Chase is laughable at best. The idea of a motel room flitters through his mind, but House is nothing if not miserly. He decided to go back to the hospital and find an empty bed. Instead he finds Cuddy.
"You know I have a guest room," she said.
"Ha," House says dryly.
"You can just sleep in one of the beds," she said. "Unless, of course, you want to be admitted to the hospital in which case I can notify your insurance company."
"Fine," he said. He follows her car with his own. The brake failure light has come on, one of the tail lights is out, and the heat doesn't work there, either, but the car is only for days it is too snowy to ride his motorcycle. House wished he could just make a fire and put on lots of sweaters and stay home, but the cold hurt his leg. It hurt bad enough to sleep in Cuddy's guest room. She parked in the garage and he parked on the street and she waited for him with the garage door open. They went in through the door in the kitchen. Cuddy pulled off her high heels and carried them down the hall to her bedroom. House was helping himself to the contents of her fridge when his cell phone rang. It was his super, telling him that the problem was fixed and the apartment was once again inhabitable. House waited for around five seconds before heading for the door. He was almost out of it when Cuddy called after him.
"My heat is back on," he said.
"Thanks Cuddy, for your offer anyway," she supplied, crossing her arms.
"All that and more, I'm sure," he said, slamming the door behind him.
Cuddy got in a car accident two and a half blocks from the hospital and walked to the hospital with a broken arm. It was late and cold out and her car would probably be towed but it hurt too much to wait around for the police. She might have, if she'd hit another car but it was just black ice and a telephone pole.
House took the x-ray and reset the bone without comment. Finally, he looked her over. She was shivering even though she'd had plenty of time to warm up.
"Are you in shock?" he asked.
"What happened?" he asked.
"My car…" she shook her head. "My arm hurts,"
"You're going to get a cast in two minutes when the nurse comes back," House assured her.
"I want you to do it," she said, loudly.
"Cuddy," he said, and sighed. "Fine,"
Putting on a cast was tedious which was why it was a nurse's job, but he gave her a plain white cast and talked to the police and drove her home.
"I feel weird," she said, in the car.
"That is the delicious sensation of Vicodin, but don't get used to it, because it's my thing. You have big hair and big boobs and I have Vicodin,"
"And being a jackass," she said.
"Hey!" he said, smiling. "Nice,"
"At least it's my left arm," she said, leaning her head against the window.
"Here we are," House pulled his car into her driveway. She clumsily opened the door and swayed a little on the walk to the door. "Wilson is going to come over in the morning and straighten out your car."
"Thanks," she said. "Really,"
"I'll bill you," he promised.
House had driven by her house sixteen times in the last three hours. He'd taken his car because it was far less inconspicuous than the motorcycle, but it was a warm, dry night and he had all the windows down. Right now, the tape deck was playing the Stones, Brown Sugar, but he had it low enough so that he could hear the noise but not make out what it was. It was for company, something to distract him.
He was about to make a huge mistake.
It was why he hadn't stopped, turned off the ignition, gotten out of the car. A mistake was all it could be. A chemical imbalance, dehydration, heat exhaustion, temporary insanity. In fact, he would turn around and drive home immediately.
One more time around the block, and then home.
He answered his cell phone without looking at the screen.
"You're kind of creeping me out."
"Cuddy," he said, trying not to betray his surprise.
"I need to go turn on the sprinklers but I'm kind of worried if I step outside, you'll put me in your trunk and drive to New Mexico or something." she said. He could hear her chewing on something and when he rolled by the house, she was at the front window, staring at his car, pushing back the sheer curtain.
"My fiendish plan revealed." he said.
"But on a serious note, should I call the cops?" she asked. He put on the breaks and shifted into reverse.
"No," he said. "I'll be right there."
When he did park the car on the street, she was already sitting on the front steps in beige shorts and a white t-shirt. She was barefoot and had two cold beers. She handed him one and he carefully lowered himself down so he could sit next to her. She waited for a while to see if he would say anything, but he didn't.
"I heard about Cameron and Chase," she said.
"And we all thought those crazy kids could make it last," he said, nudging the corner of the label loose.
"Do you think one of them will leave?" she asked.
"No," he said. Chase needed the job too badly and Cameron would stay on principle but he didn't say this and he didn't want to talk about his fellows with her.
"Good," she said. "You have a good team."
"Yep," he said and took a swig of the beer. It was Coors Light, not something he'd buy but he didn't complain. Her hair was up and he could see that she was sweating slightly, at the very base of her neck. Her legs were smooth and white. Her toes were a pale pink with a little white flower on the largest toes. He could see the tip of a receipt coming out of her pocket. He could see that she was wearing a blue bra underneath her shirt. He could see that she had already washed off her make-up from the work day and was now fresh faced and freckled.
"House?" she asked. "Are you all right?"
"No," he said. "Surprise!"
"Stop," she said, putting her hand out and almost touching his knee, but she didn't. She looked away. "Just say what you need to say,"
"I can't…" he laughed, nervously, and rubbed his face. "I can't not think about you,"
She looked at him closely, searching for lies on his face. He tried to school his features into neutrality but was pretty sure he just looked like he was squinting a little.
"Do you want to go inside?" she asked. "I have some ice cream sandwiches,"
"Okay," he said. During his drive, his hours of cruising, he'd planned it all out. He'd get out, eventually, and pound on her door. She'd open it and he would grab her and kiss her and then he would have her in the way that he wanted. But she'd thwarted that already. Inside the house was stuffy and he saw several fans on, moving he warm air around. In one of the back rooms he could hear music on low, maybe the television, but the kitchen was bright. The ceiling fan was on and the windows were open and he could hear crickets chirping from the bush just below the window outside. She opened the freezer and handed him the treat. She ate hers standing over the sink, as single women do. He let most of his melt over his hand.
"Cuddy," he said, and his voice was low, like it was getting caught in his throat.
"I don't know what you want me to do," she said, running water over her hands and wiping them on the dishtowel. "I can't be your booty call,"
"You saying booty call is currently the highlight of my night," he said, smiling. She shook her head, laughing. "I know how to get sex,"
"And while I won't claim that isn't one of my goals, it isn't about screwing, anymore," he promised.
"What is it about, then?" she asked, leaning against the counter.
"I want to take you on a date," he said.
"Excuse me?" she asked.
"A nice restaurant, uncomfortable clothes, the works," he said. "Will you go on a date with me, Cuddy?"
"With you?" she asked.
"If anything, it promises to be unique," he said.
"Fine. I'll go." she said, quickly. "I'd like to see you be nice to me for a while."
"Okay," he said. "Good, I'll just go now and see you later…"
"Why don't we just have it now?" she asked. "We've already had drinks and dessert."
"Kind of white trash," he muttered.
"We both know that taking me to a fancy restaurant wearing a suit is just setting your self up to fail." Cuddy said, dryly.
"Maybe," he conceded.
"Sit down, take your drugs," she said, opening the refrigerator and pulling out a loaf of break and a carton of eggs. "I like breakfast, so that's what I'm going to make."
"Whatever woos you," he said. Soon the sound of eggs frying on a pan filled the kitchen. She handed him a carton of orange juice concentrate and pointed to a high cupboard where he found a curved glass pitcher.
In the backyard there was a round table and four chairs. Here they ate their food and drank their juice. In the middle of the table, she lit a citronella candle that burned in a tight coil of thick, yellow wax. House made the choice to keep his mouth shut, to not pick a fight. Cuddy had flipped the eggs in the pan in the air without breaking the fragile yolks and he'd been impressed.
On the other side of the fence he could hear a dog barking. Occasionally, a car drove down the quiet street on the other side of the house.
"I can't stay the night," he said, suddenly.
"I didn't invite you to," she said, pouring herself more juice.
"What will we do next time then?" he asked.
"Our second date," he said.
"A movie. A romantic comedy," she said.
"I hear the new Die Hard is definitely geared toward women."
"It's getting late and your patient has an early surgery," she said. House did not offer to help clean up. They walked through the house and ended up on the front porch.
"Sorry I stalked you all night," he said.
"Don't disappoint me again, House," she warned. "This is your only chance to do this,"
"We'll see," he said, walking toward his car.
He drove around her block three more times before heading home.