"THE BITTER ANGEL OF EAST SIDE DRIVE"

- Chapter 11 -

"All Things Considered …"

Maggie Kincannon removed her hearing aids in the bathroom and set them on the counter next to the washbowl. She showered, changed into fresh clothing and combed her close-cropped silver hair. She picked up the hearing aids and took them back to the kitchen where they belonged. Put them back in the drawer of the telephone table.

It was getting along toward late afternoon.

While her hands still lingered on the tabletop, she felt the vibration and heard the ringing very faintly. If she had walked into the living room instead, she would have missed the call. She reached into the drawer and slid one of the little instruments into her right ear.

Picked up the receiver.

"Hello?"

The person on the other end of the line was Paul … Dr. House.

"Hi Maggie … this is Gregory House …"

No shit!?

"It is?"

"Yeah. I want to extend an invitation …" Didn't sound like an invitation. Sounded more like a direct order!

"To what?" Don't give away any military secrets.

"To dinner. Wilson's cooking. You see, I hurt my hand, and I can't do any heavy lifting for quite some time …"

You're such a wiseass!

"When?"

"This evening. You wanna come or not?"

More orders?

"Shouldn't you be resting?"

She paused, thinking. He must have just come home from the hospital. He had to be sore, and probably hurting all over. Maggie was tempted to grab the binoculars … check him out.

But no …

"Why? I don't walk on my hands. Don't walk on my feet right now either …"

"Unhhh …"

"Please."

Actual manners? He wanted something then. She grinned. She couldn't help herself. She was pretty sure what it was … "Would you like me to bring anything?"

"Just yourself."

"Who else is coming?" Check out the rear ranks.

"Just you."

"Oh." Suspicions confirmed! "Well thank you, Dr. House. What time?"

"'Gregg'. Say … in an hour. Is that enough time?"

"Sure. Thanks … Gregg." She was smiling, and she was certain he could hear it in her voice. Like a challenge.

They rang off without any of the niceties usually involved in telephone etiquette.

xxxxxxxx

6:30 p.m.

Maggie knocked on the door of Apartment Eight.

James Wilson, handsome, boyish and slender in brown slacks and tan turtleneck, opened the door and stood back with a smile.

"Come into my parlor," said the spider to the fly…

She stepped inside, feeling right at home in black dress jeans and white blouse. She looked across the room and met the steely gaze of the beautiful man in the black wheelchair. He looked strained, vulnerable; the same way he'd looked after he'd come home from the hospital the last time. His injured hand was swathed in white, and he held it against his chest protectively. In spite of herself, Maggie's heart went out to him.

"Doctor … House? Gregg? How is your hand? I see it's bandaged rather firmly. And you're not able to walk, are you?"

Gregory House was in sweats; dark blue, a color most wonderfully suited to his slender frame. The right leg rest of the wheelchair was raised level with the floor, and a pillow was tucked beneath his knee. He was definitely hurting, but trying to mask it.

He did not answer right away, and she continued to look around the room she had seen so many times from across the street. It was a study in elegant masculine disorder, and the baby grand was beautiful, even more exquisite than it had first appeared through the binoculars. House must certainly be a virtuoso to have an instrument such as this in his possession. It was a shame he would not be able to play it tonight …

"I'm sore," he finally said. "But it'll be okay soon. It sucks, but them's the breaks."

"How is Suzanne?"

"She's sore too," he said. "But like me, she'll be okay."

"That's good."

The conversation ground to a halt. Wilson had gone into the kitchen.

"I'm the only guest, huh?"

"Yup."

"So, I'm in the hot seat, right?"

"Yup."

"Figured that. What would you like to know?"

When she said that, Wilson walked in from the kitchen with a tray of iced tea and an assortment of snack items on a plate. He set the tray on the coffee table, lowered himself down very near the black wheelchair. He placed his hands discreetly in his lap, and Maggie wanted to tell him it was okay to reach out and take Gregg's sore hand into his own.

With considerable restraint, she didn't.

"We were talking to the McGruders," Wilson began. "They told us Luke saw you at the front window of your apartment with … binoculars?"

"They told you right," she said without compunction. "It's a very interesting neighborhood."

"Oh … I have no doubt," Wilson agreed silkily. He was obviously playing "devil's advocate" for House. "Have you been observing … long?"

Maggie smiled, getting into the spirit of the game. "Just about long enough," she said noncommittally.

"What does that mean?" House growled.

Maggie caught his eye and held it, not angrily, but with determination. "Gentlemen, why don't we come to the point? I'm an old broad … retired … in a strange city … no real friends … and way too much time on my hands. My late husband's binoculars sit there on my windowsill most of the time … and one day I got curious." It wasn't exactly a lie.

"If you're wondering what I've been up to, I'll tell you honestly … and most of it has nothing to do with what the McGruders might have told you."

She looked from one serious face to the other. They seemed a little puzzled, a little apprehensive.

"I created a fantasy world … populated by fantasy people I could see from my living room window. I gave them names … histories … jobs … families. I named Luke "Scooter", because that's what he did; he scooted."

"Luke has told us …" Wilson began.

"I know. He and his Dad and I had a chance to talk for a minute or two in the hallway outside Nancy's … sorry … Suzanne's … apartment. Suzanne's name was 'Fancy Nancy', by the way. Silly, but fun. She's a pretty girl, and I'm glad she will be pretty again."

"I see."

House was letting Wilson do all the talking again. His blue eyes bored into her forehead like laser beams. "And Luke?"

"Oh yeah, 'Scooter'. I started watching him and his friends down in the street during his 'Soda-Can-and-Potato-Chip-Gang' days.

"And I saw you!" She pointed an accusing forefinger directly at House's face, "lower the boom on him and his henchmen a couple of months ago. I also saw the way Scooter … uh … Luke … really loves the hell out of you now."

House frowned, unable to keep quiet any longer. "You were privy to that?"

"Uh huh. I was watching out the window when it happened."

"Niice!"

"Well, I didn't think it was very nice! I saw them hurt you … and I was scared shitless for you!"

"You were?"

"Well, yes. I'm a nurse … and I couldn't figure out how a small bump like that could injure you so badly. But I figured it out after awhile. You have nerve damage, don't you? No strength in that leg. And chronic pain. Of course they hurt you!"

House looked decidedly uncomfortable. He did not like to talk about this. He looked at her warily, considering. His answer was brief. "Yeah. Right on all counts."

"What are you taking for it?"

"Vicodin."

"Strong stuff! Now your hand is screwed up too … and you can't walk. Why don't you switch the cane to your other hand?"

"Old shoulder injury. Wouldn't work."

"You're pretty much screwed, huh?"

"Pretty much …" The corners of his mouth were finally lifting.

Maggie smiled back, and suddenly found that these two men … real or fantasy … had become very important to her. Maybe they would become her first "real" friends in New Jersey. She hung her head for a few moments, then looked up at both of them in a shy manner that took about twenty years off her age.

"Would you like to know what your names were?"

They looked at her with question marks in their eyes. Curiosity warring with trepidation.

They were just beginning to understand what she offered them. Free of charge. She could feel their affection for one another hanging in the air between them, and it gave her reason to wish for a fresh chance at a future of her own.

A real one!

"You!" She pointed to Wilson of the chocolate eyes and soft voice. "Your name was 'Richard' … 'Richard the Lionhearted' … because you are, you know … and it's nice to see I was right. Every move he makes, you have his back. You keep him safe, and he knows! And he knows why!"

Wilson smiled and dipped his head, letting the moppy bangs fall over his forehead in embarrassment. He was such a little Geekledork!

"And you!" She smiled at Gregory House's wonderfully animated face, and as she did so, set free the sweet fantasy surrounding his aura, allowing it to fade forever into the realm where dreams flew on the wings of Pegasus … and time stood still.

"You were 'Paul' … because if I had had a son, his name would have been 'Paul'. I would have been kind of proud if he'd been something like you. I hope the two of you don't mind, and I hope you're not offended. I saw what the two of you have … and someday I'd like to have it for myself again …"

Their smiles widened. House's eyes were sparkling. Part of it was pain.

"No. We don't mind." Wilson again. His gaze locked onto House's, and she could see the harmony that united them. "We're rather flattered, Maggie. Thanks."

"Sure," she said. "You're welcome. And for what it's worth, it might be nice if you held his hand and massaged it lightly between his fingers and very lightly over the back … I imagine it's throbbing pretty badly by now …"

She did not say, although she was thinking it: If you're gonna massage his behind, wait 'til I leave!

They stared at her.

She grinned. "I can be trusted with a confidence, you know. I'm happy for both of you."

The air between the three of them cleared in that moment … forever.

xxxxxxx

They laughed like old friends as they retreated to the kitchen to share in the preparation of hot dogs on the indoor grill, frozen French fries in the oven, and Bush's honey baked beans simmering on a back burner.

And Budweiser beer. (They'd seen her tee shirt earlier and thought maybe …)

They were right!

They had supper in the kitchen and then retired, with fresh cans of beer, to the big living room with the sweet baby grand piano. Gregg promised to play for her once his hand had healed.

He and "Jimmy" sat comfortably the way she'd first seen them: snuggled up together on the couch. Wilson gently caressed Gregg's injured hand, and Gregg leaned back against him, drowsy and relaxed almost to the point of ecstacy.

Together, like old friends, they watched some boring TV and told some lame jokes about college days and co-workers at the hospitals in which they'd served.

Maggie spoke lovingly of Arthur and their home in Harrisburg. Jimmy confessed that he would be moving in with Gregg in the very near future.

Thank you Lord!

They lifted their Budweiser cans together and drank to all those wonderful things …

Just like old … real … friends.

The End

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

49