A Chance Encounter

As he walked into the bar, the man ran his right hand through his rapidly thinning hair. It annoyed him to think that when he'd started working where he worked now – a mere nine years ago! – he had had almost a full head of hair.

Maybe his mother was right. Maybe the job was too stressful for him. But damn! Just going to work every day was exhilarating. He changed people's lives on, literally, a daily basis! There was no other job he could ever think of that would be better.

He picked a seat toward the end of the bar. He wasn't quite sure how he'd ended up coming down to New Jersey to help prep for his boss's visit, but it did give him a chance to get away from the hustle of the job for a few days.

He looked to his right, searching for the bartender. His eyes fell on another man, roughly his age, but looking much worse. His face was scruffy, his hair unkempt, his eyes bloodshot. He looked at the man, counted four empty shot glasses and at least half a dozen empty beer bottles in front of him.

He didn't know which was more shocking – the fact that this man was apparently so drunk, or that the bartender kept serving him.

Then, the other man took out an amber bottle. He unscrewed the lid, tipped out two pills, and dry-swallowed them. He recognized those pills – he'd had some himself after his surgery seven and a half years before. He also knew that taking them with alcohol was a very bad plan.

Hoping to be a Good Samaritan – and also knowing that his boss, his right-hand man, and his wife would all expect him to – he went over to the other man. As he got closer, he saw an ID tag attached to the man's shirt, identifying him as a doctor.

"Hi," he said. "I was going to come over here and just mention that mixing those pills with alcohol isn't a good idea, but I see you're a doctor, so…"

The scruffy man looked up at him, squinting against even the dim light of the bar. "Do I know you?"

"I don't think so," he replied.

The other man continued to look at him. "You look familiar, though. Have you ever been hospitalized?"

"Yeah, but not around here," he said. "My boss is on TV a lot, though. You might have seen me behind him a time or two."

"That must be it," the other man said. "Care to join me in drowning my sorrows?"

"Honestly, I think you may have drowned your sorrows enough for both of us," he snarked. "Maybe you should consider something a little lower octane."

Stroking his stubble, the other man considered it. Then he shook his head. "Nah. Old number seven is my best friend tonight. Hey! Charlie!"

The bartender appeared from the back room. "Bottle of Jack, and a two-liter of Coke, please!"

He shook his head, but said, "You got it, Doc." He pulled both from under the counter and plunked them down as the scruffy man turned his attention back.

"So, you work around here?"

"No," he replied, by now having sat down next to this study in alcohol abuse. "I work down south of here – I'm a government employee, came up to prep for my boss coming up this weekend."

The other man snorted, as if demonstrating his contempt for the government. "Psssh. Must be nice for your boss to have somebody he can actually count on."

"Well, I do my best…"

He continued, as if not even hearing. "Three employees – three! – who were completely reliable. I'd never tell them that, don't want to give them big egos. But all of them – the most reliable employees I've ever had – all quit on me!"

His voice grew soft. "But one… I don't know. I don't know if I can keep doing this job without her."

He could sympathize. "Yeah, I had an employee like that once, too. She was the greatest. She kept my life organized, made sure I got to everything on time, made sure that I didn't make an ass of myself… and I just never appreciated her. One day, she came up to me and told me she quit. I didn't think she was being serious, but when I came in the next day and she was gone – well, it kind of hit me like a ton of bricks. I quit myself, not too long after that… the job just wasn't the same without her."

The scruffy man looked at him. "So, what did you end up doing?"

"Oh, I married her."

A bloodshot stare laced with amazement greeted him. "You married her? It was simple as that?"

"Oh, no. It was two years, and a long, hard-fought battle at work before that, but we ended up realizing that we had been in love with each other for years, and got married."

The scent of Jack Daniels escaped as the other man sighed. "I wish it was that simple for me."

"It could be."

"No, you don't understand. She had a thing for me once, but I wrote it off as a simple crush – I'm her employer, she's twenty years younger than me – you know, things like that. But now, now that she's not around anymore, I realize just how much I cared for her, how much I needed her. And you know what? I'm not the type of person who cares for or needs people. I hate people. I hate social interaction. But ever since she's been gone, I feel like there's a hole in my heart that I can't fill on my own."

A single tear trickled down his cheek and was absorbed into his scruffy beard. Straightening himself up, he wiped his face off. Composing himself as much as any drunk person could, he said, "I've got to get home. I've got work in the morning, three employees responsibilities to handle…"

Not having had a drink yet, he stood up quickly. "You're not in any condition to drive yourself. I'll drive you."

As he drove the scruffy looking man home, he heard basically his life story. He was a doctor, raised in a military family, had had a catastrophic injury a few years ago. Apparently, he was not just a doctor, but a brilliant, world-renowned one.

He pulled up in front of the other man's apartment. "Thanks," he said, unsteadily getting out of the car. Then he paused.

"You know, I don't think I ever formally introduced myself. My name's Greg House. I'm the head of the Diagnostics Department at Princeton-Plainsborough Teaching Hospital."

He looked back at Dr. House. "You know, I've heard your name before. It came up in discussions a few months back, about filling certain positions."

He stuck out his hand. "I'm Josh Lyman, Chief of Staff to President Santos."

Dr. House shook his hand. "That's why you looked familiar."

Josh laughed. "Yeah, I get that sometimes."

He stopped. "Seriously, don't take your employees for granted. If you really care about her – what's her name?"

"Allison."

"If you really care about Allison, let her know. God knows I wasted enough years with Donna that I wish I hadn't."

Josh stopped. Pulling a business card out of his jacket, he handed it to Dr. House. "Good luck with everything. Give me a call if you ever need somebody to talk to – I'm rarely available, but hey, you might get lucky."

House took the card. "Thanks. And thanks for the talk."

He turned away, and entered his apartment, as Josh drove away into the night.