Answering the same questions over and over from relatives and family friends that she hadn't seen in years isn't how Allison Cameron would have chosen to spend her Saturday evening, but she wouldn't have missed Sam's graduation for anything.
And if it took being asked 'have you met any handsome doctors?' once every eighteen point two minutes, it was worth it. She was so proud of Sam. She and her younger brother had always been close, but they had only grown closer as they left their childhood and grew into adults.
Cameron always knew how hard he tried; at everything he did. And as many times as he fell short, she always believed some day his perseverance would pay off in a big way. And now it had.
Sam had graduated at the top of his class while earning his Masters' Degree in Chemical Engineering and had already accepted a research and development position with a large pharmaceutical company in Chicago.
Cameron, finally being left alone for a moment, sipped on her glass of traditional red party punch as she watched her father, for probably the sixth time in the past two hours, proudly stride up to whoever Sam was talking to at the moment; slap his arm around his son's shoulder and declare how proud he was of him. And on at least four of those occasions Allison had caught Sam searching for her in the crowd just so he could give her one of their knowing glances.
It's easy - and proper - to boldly exclaim your pride over your children on their graduation day. It's just what is done. And this family had that act down so well Cameron figured they could no longer separate it from reality.
She didn't really doubt that her parents were proud of both her and of Sam in their own way. But children don't learn from what their parents tell them. They learn from what they see them do. And she and Sam had grown up watching their parents to go great lengths to appear to others to be something they were not.
Robert and Patricia Dunbar and their two lovely children had their acts together. Or that's the way it always appeared from the outside. Cameron and Sam knew different.
"Allison, dear?" she heard her mother calling from behind her.
Cameron had been cornered by a second cousin who she'd embarrassingly forgotten the name of and who was boring her with digital pictures of her kids on her cell phone.
"Well, it was good to see you again," she smiled and lightly touched 'Andrea's' shoulder then turned towards her mother as she walked towards her with two strangers in tow.
"You remember Dr and Mrs Stevenson, don't you?" her mother said with a strong emphasis on the word doctor.
Cameron smiled politely, "No. I don't believe I do."
"Oh sure you do, Allison," her mom chuckled out as if a little embarrassed, "They lived down the block from us when we lived over on Jefferson."
"No, I'm sorry I don't. But it's nice to meet you."
"Paula and I count money at the church on Mondays together," her mom said with a hint of pride in her voice and facial expression.
"Uh huh," Cameron responded, trying to act interested.
"And Dr Stevenson has a private practice over in Rockford."
"I see," she nodded extending her hand to the older gentleman, "it's nice to meet both of you."
"Allison is working in a very prestigious department of diagnostics at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital in New Jersey. You know, at Princeton University?"
Her mom never neglected to leave that little detail out when speaking about her, especially to anyone who she thought had any status in the community.
"Ah, well I'm impressed," Dr Stevenson said smiling at Cameron.
"Well, it's just a fellowship," she politely explained while her thoughts easily slipped to House.
"Congratulations and good luck," he returned.
While Patricia and Paula started to discuss their social plans for Monday, and Dr Stevenson scanned the crowd for better conversation, Cameron turned and started looking for Sam. Once she spotted him, she made her way towards him and tapped him on the shoulder opposite the one she was standing next to.
Sam looked directly at her and said with an unimpressed grin and a tilted face, "Lame."
"You really did earn that Magna Cum Laude didn't you?" she said as she reached up to ruffle his shaggy brown hair.
Sam spread the widest and proudest smile across his face.
"Hey, I've had all the 'have you met anyone?' questions that I can take for one day," as her fingers gestured to quote 'have you met anyone' with her eyebrows raised and sarcasm on her features.
"And I've already ran into everyone I wanted to talk to. Which was all of about four people."
"Tell me about it," he quickly agreed.
"So," Cameron drew out, "tomorrow? Breakfast? Nine o'clock? The usual?"
"I'm there," he grinned again.
Sam towered over her. He had ever since he grew at least a foot the summer before his sixteenth birthday. He was clearly built like their dad, but had the soft features of their mom.
Cameron reached up and gave Sam a hug, "I'll always be proud of you," she whispered.
"I'll try not to be too hung over," he yelled after her as she walked away then caught the disapproving glance of his mother.
Cameron sat alone in a vinyl, cracked, red booth at a diner sipping on the worst cup of coffee she'd had in months. This was the classic greasy spoon. Complete with cigarette fumes wafting over from the section they tried to designate for smokers and the constant clattering of plates, glasses and silverware being placed on tables or dumped into the bus tubs and the hissing of cold, wet objects being thrown on a hot grill.
They had starting coming here after Cameron had moved out of the house and into the dorm on campus. It was an obvious choice since they offered all-you-could-eat pancakes for three dollars and ninety-nine cents from two to four o'clock on the weekdays. It was the only place she could afford to take her little brother.
Here they could get away from the cosmetic fantasy that was their family. This is where they'd meet when Sam was about to bring home a D on his report card, when he didn't make the basketball team, or on the rare occasion that he'd gotten detention for fighting at school. They both knew going home would include either the 'we're so disappointed in you' or the 'what will others think of you' speech and they'd come here to avoid going home for as long as possible.
And the support was a two-way street. While Cameron never had trouble with discipline or grades, there were so many expectations put on her but she rarely felt she met any of them.
While she waited for Sam to arrive, the strongest of memories that invited themselves in, rudely and unwanted, were those associated with Blake, their marriage, and his fight with cancer.
There'd been a lot of secrets shared between her and her brother here.
"Alli!" Sam hooted from the other end of the restaurant as he walked through the doors.
"Hey Sammy," she drew out with an ornery grin. Ever since the eighth grade when Sam felt he was finally a 'man' he refused to be called Sammy.
He plopped down in the booth opposite her and slid halfway in with a creaky squeak.
"Breakfast is on you."
"Hey, I don't start for a month and I'm flat broke."
"You're always broke," Cameron grinned.
"Well, this time I really am, and will be for the next several years," Sam answered rolling his eyes.
"Tell me about it," she laughed lightly.
Sam took no time leaning in, just like he'd done a hundred times before when there were secrets to be told, "How's the boss?" he mumbled as if he was on a top secret mission and someone from across the room might actually be trying to read his lips.
"Bossy," she returned, failing to convince Sam he wasn't getting any more than that.
"Uh huh," he responded knowingly, sitting back in his seat while nodding his head with eyebrows raised, "I bet he is."
"Grow up, Sammy," she returned with annoyance but the grin on her face was giving her away.
"At the risk of jinxing it, I'll just say things are going okay. The detox seemed to take and we're taking things one day at a time."
The pestering look disappeared from Sam's face, "That's good enough for me."
"Because all you have to do is say the word and I'm in New Jersey giving this guy a real reason to limp."
"Tough guy," Cameron said as she regretfully took another sip of her drink.
"Don't get the coffee," she choked out.
"Why is it every time you come here you order the coffee thinking this time it might actually be good?"
"No idea," she laughed lightly.
They spent the next two hours catching up on each other's lives. They'd always kept in contact over the phone and over email but for the past few months she had been distracted with work and with House and Sam was busy working on his thesis. They had a lot of ground to cover.
Four stacks of pancakes, half a pound of bacon, three glasses of chocolate milk and barely a quarter of a cup of coffee between them later they stood outside in the parking lot hugging their good-byes.
"You take care of yourself, Alli."
"You too, Sam."
A couple of tears welled in Cameron's eyes while she watched her baby brother drive away. She couldn't be more proud, and she knew nothing could ever come between them.
With a piece of toast hanging out of his mouth, House pulled on his jacket, grabbed his backpack and helmet and headed out the door. Spring had taken its time coming to New Jersey this year but today was promising to be one of the warmest days they'd seen in months. He couldn't wait to climb on his bike and take the long and completely impractical route into work.
Walking into the conference room, he saw Cameron's laptop on the table and her jacket over the back of the chair. When she hadn't returned by the time he'd prepared his cup of coffee and sorted through his mail, he suspected Cuddy had recruited her for clinic duty since they didn't have a case.
House stopped by Wilson's office for no good reason other than he enjoyed bothering him in the mornings when he knew he tried to get his paperwork done. Something that House wasn't familiar with.
"I see Cameron's back in town," Wilson offered since he didn't have any new gossip to share.
"Guess so," House answered distracted by the bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit lying on Wilson's desk.
He caught House's eyes locking onto his breakfast like a vulture locks onto its dead prey, so he quickly wrapped the sandwich back up in its crumpled and greasy paper and put it in his top desk drawer.
"Nice," House grumbled.
"There's a cafeteria downstairs. Go get your own," Wilson said in a drawn-out tone that sounded like he'd said those very words hundreds of times before.
"Kill joy," House mumbled as he walked out of the office leaving the door open only to piss him off.
Downstairs, House quickly scanned the assignment board then walked into Exam Room One, gave the patient an annoying glance and took the chart from Cameron. He scanned it for details and announced, "Lactose intolerant.
Switch to soy. It's great for menopause."
House then shifted his eyes to Cameron, "need you," and without further explanation he disappeared as quickly as he'd appeared.
He leaned sideways against the reception desk impatiently drumming the end of a pencil on the countertop while watching the exam room door.
Cameron excused herself as she walked out and took her time to make an unnecessary stop to drop off her patient's chart before acknowledging House's stare.
"Good call Sherlock, except she's not going through menopause. She's only thirty-five years old." She wandered towards him pulled her lab coat open and placed her hands firmly on her hips but no gesture of annoyance could mask the grin that she was fighting to hide.
"And by the way, hello." She punctuated tilting her head slightly to one side.
"She will be soon enough," he shot back.
"And now she's in there…"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," House said with his eyes closed in one of his annoying ways of shutting others up, "we've got work to do." He jerked his head towards the hallway then limped through the clinic lobby doors and towards the elevator while Cameron followed.
"You missed me, admit it," she teased while looking ahead, hands sunk into the pockets of her lab coat, watching the elevator doors come between them and everyone else in the hospital.
Of course that was a rhetorical suggestion since House would never admit to any such thing.
"We need to sort through the pile of applicants. Cuddy is bitchy that I haven't hired anyone to replace Foreman yet."
Silence commanded the space between them until the light moved from floor two to floor three and she finally turned to him and offered, "Well, I missed you."
Work had developed an intriguing new dimension ever since he and Cameron had crossed the lines of their employee-employer relationship.
Cuddy had taken the news better than expected. Her initial reaction was to squeal about how inappropriate it was to be sleeping with a subordinate until those unsightly masculine veins protruded from her neck, but she got over it when she realized it was a small price to pay in exchange for keeping House and Cameron employed in her diminishing Diagnostics Department. A department - House quickly reminded her - that brings in more than seventy-five percent of the donor dollars given to the hospital.
But Cuddy's response was no more serious than a Dean of Medicine's obligatory reaction since their relationship really came as no surprise to anyone after they had gone through House's detox together. House suspected that Cuddy still felt a bit guilty over suspending him, but the board had given her no choice and in the long run, it had gotten him off of the Vicodin. But House kept that particular guilt card in his hand for later use.
House's new pain management regiment was keeping things tolerable, and while his addiction to the escape that the opiates offered still taunted him, the low-dose Naltrexone kept the physical urges to use at bay.
Cameron picked up the file on House's desk and absently flipped through the dozen or so resumes.
House walked up behind her, noticing the shine in her hair as the sun filtered in through the window blinds. She wore it down more than she ever used to but he never commented on how much he liked the change.
He surprised her when he, as quietly as he could with a cane and a limp, stepped into her space causing her to catch her breath.
"I might have missed you a little," he said softly by her ear.
House sensed her body tense in anticipation of what he was about to do. He let her imagine for a moment before he pulled her hair slightly to the side and placed a kiss on the delicate curve between her shoulder and neck.
"Might have, huh?" She laughed softly then returned her attention to the resumes.
"But like you said," she turned on her heel and quickly shifted both eyebrows up and then back down, "we've got work to do." She walked past him, into the conference room and sat down in one of the empty chairs.
By late afternoon, they'd narrowed the candidates down to three resumes. That didn't include the one applicant that Cuddy had already scheduled for an interview before consulting House.
"You're coming over tonight?" He questioned as he lifted his jacket off of the coat hook.
"Being gone for the weekend really put me behind at home," she answered half looking away from her laptop but keeping her attention on what she was doing there.
Cameron spent most of her time out of work at House's apartment. While things evolved, his place is where they had always gone so it just kind of stayed that way. Everything so far about how things had progressed had the same sense of ease about it which, for House, had been unexpected.
He'd envisioned Cameron to be the pandering and needy type that always wanted to do annoying things for him but it hadn't turned out that way at all. She was surprisingly independent. And the independence she seemed to be feeling at the moment wasn't amusing him.
He'd missed her softness while she was away. Nothing about House's life was soft before Cameron got so close to it. She was gentle and caring but she could be as much of a slouch as he could be when it came to taking care of the apartment or spending an entire Saturday on the couch watching a Tick marathon on the Cartoon Network. Granted there were a lot of her soft things around his place now, but it just wasn't the same as her being there.
"I could come over to your place for a change?" He offered.
"Sure," she clipped out, still concentrating on her laptop.
He shrugged on his leather jacket and held his helmet up high enough for her to see over the monitor.
"I brought the bike today," he said as if coaxing a puppy with a biscuit.
The clicking of her fingernails on the keyboard stopped immediately as she slowly lifted her eyes from what she was doing.
"This can wait," she said quickly clicking her mouse no less than three times before shutting things down.
House knew she couldn't resist the bike. Sometimes he wondered if he'd be half as cool in her eyes without it, but he quickly dashed those thoughts from his mind. He did have it. And he looked hot on it; especially with Cameron on the back.
She shoved her things into her bag then shoved her bag into his backpack. House slung his pack over his shoulder while Cameron threw her jacket on and took the helmet.
"You're so easy," he smirked and held the door open for her.
Cameron smirked back without saying a word and they headed for the parking lot.
The sun was bright and warm as she strapped House's helmet on. She hated seeing him ride without one but this opportunity was just too long in coming. The weather had kept them from riding for at least a month and even then the sting of the cold air took the fun out of it.
But today was perfect.
House climbed on first, lifting his right leg up and over the gas tank. He clipped his cane on and adjusted himself on the seat before starting up the engine.
He gave it a good rev and coyly smiled over at her. Cameron smiled back.
She put on his backpack and climbed on.
She wrapped her arms low around his waist and shifted into him. There were so many things about riding on the back of his bike that she loved, and this was one of them.
She hoped he wouldn't try showing off his self-proclaimed 'uber riding skills' but she knew better than to say anything. House called his own shots - that was clear. She chose her battles and this wasn't going to be one of them. So she held on tight and enjoyed the ride and the warmth of the spring sun warming her shoulders.
She had really missed him while she was away. Especially since she'd spent the time away from him with her parents in the home she'd spent the later part of her childhood in. She'd changed so much since med school, moving to Princeton and especially while working for House. She just wasn't the Allison Dunbar that her parents had tried to mold her into so many years back. Over time she started to feel like a stranger in a strange home on the rare occasion that she'd visit. Her thoughts frequently went to House when she felt like she no longer belonged there.
Things had been going surprisingly well for them. She knew there was still a lot to him that she had no idea about but she also knew it was the same for her. Neither of them had tried to uncover the other's histories and so far, the level they were at at the moment, it was working for her. And by all indications, it seemed to be working for him too.
She knew there would come a time when dangerous territories would have to be explored, but she wasn't in any hurry to get there. She suspected House just assumed he knew everything about her so she let him believe that, for now at least.
In the now, the mediocrity of every day life, they were real and honest with each other, and that was enough. But their time together had been fairly short, less than six months, and she knew this sort of blissful ignorance wouldn't last forever.
When House took a left on Spring Road, she knew he was taking the long way to her place. She hugged her arms around him tighter than they had been and he soon opened up the throttle and they practically flew down the straight and open stretch of road.
They could ride like this for the next hour and she wouldn't mind. And they did.