Cuddy heard the hard rap of wood on wood on her office door a split second before it opened. She didn't look up.
His steps were soft on the carpet, but distinctively his -- one heavy and one light. If she hadn't been paying attention, she wouldn't have even heard the sound of the rubber tip of his cane making contact with the floor.
"I knocked," he said.
"Barely." She glanced up. He was holding a small white paper bag. "That doesn't look like a completed employment form."
"I'm still interviewing candidates."
Cuddy shook her head. She'd already heard enough complaints about the gaggle of potential fellows who seemed to be everywhere, each wearing a number rather than the standard hospital ID tag.
"It's unprofessional," Simpson had complained the first day the candidates showed up.
"It's House," Cuddy had said. It was the only explanation she could give. She'd sighed. "It's up to him to decide how to run his department. Within reason."
"Just keep them away from my department," he'd said.
Cuddy was the one who had to clear them with security, who told the lab techs to give them access, who got them parking passes.
"It's not like they're costing you anything," House had said. "Free labor -- until I make a decision. Just think of the cost benefit analysis."
Cuddy had just rolled her eyes.
Now House stood in her office again, at the spot he always seems to favor at the center of the room -- at the center of everything. He held out the paper bag. "Peace offering."
Cuddy didn't take it. Didn't even put down her pen. "What is it?"
"It's harmless." He didn't lower his hand. He watched her face for a reaction, and she wasn't sure what he expected to see. "It's a bagel."
She shook her head. "No thanks."
"Whole wheat," he said, "fat-free cream cheese. No one else is going to want it."
She shook her head again, but her stomach growled and House smiled.
"I knew it." He lowered the bag and stepped forward, took a seat. He leaned his cane against her desk and stretched his legs out. "You realize that fasting for a day doesn't actually bring you atonement, right?"
He took the bagel out of the bag. It was cinnamon raisin, not whole wheat, and she could practically see the richness of the regular cream cheese as it oozed out from between the sliced halves when he took a bite.
She looked down at her paperwork and tried to ignore the smell. "It's not just fasting," she said.
"You don't even belong to a synagogue," House pointed out.
Cuddy almost asked him how he knew, but decided she'd rather not know.
"Aren't you supposed to be observing your candidates?"
"I've got them reviewing possible cases." House took another bite. Cuddy heard him chew, heard him swallow. Her stomach rumbled again and she knew without even looking that House heard it. He probably even enjoyed hearing her suffer.
Cuddy shook her head. "It's not about services either."
She sighed, looked up at him. He shoved the rest of the bagel in his mouth. She thought of her grandmother's silver shabbat candlesticks, the soft challah her grandfather bought downtown on his way home from work every Friday, her mother sitting next to her at the long table, the mezuzah that had been passed down from one generation to the next, moving from the door at some small house in Poland, to her great-grandparents' house in Detroit, to her grandparents' door in Birmingham -- and that now hung in her sister's house.
"Tradition," she said, and shrugged.
She waited for the comments she knew would come -- that she was a fool to believe in anything, that traditions were nothing more than ancient superstitions passed down through generations, that Marx was right and religion was the opiate of the masses. She saw the disbelief flash across his eyes for a moment, but then it was gone.
House stood, tossed the empty bag in her garbage can. He turned and walked away, the uneven steps on the carpet moving across the room again. "If I see Tevye, I'll tell him where to find you," he said, and closed the door behind him.
She assigned herself afternoon clinic duty. Keeping busy helped her forget her hunger, even if it did nothing for the headache that had been building behind her right eye since ten o'clock.
House was wrong. She'd intended to go to services. There was a synagogue on the way home. She's even been there a few times, though only for weddings or the occasional holiday. She usually saw a few familiar faces when she was there -- other doctors, one or two regular donors to Princeton-Plainsboro -- but she never stayed for long, always ducked out after the service to finish up one more piece of paperwork, or to check up on a patient. Or House.
It was still light out when the clinic closed, but there were budget requests on her desk, and she looked them over. Wilson left her an update on the grant proposal he'd submitted to help finance the addition of radio frequency ablation to PPTH. He has already started informal talks with a young doctor he wanted to join the staff as the hospital's newest specialist.
When she heard a knock at the door, she was surprised to notice that it was dark outside. She glanced at her watch, and saw it was nearly eight o'clock. She waved to the figure on the other side of the glass. "Come in," she said.
The man who walked through was young, with dark hair. She could see a dark shirt and a loosened tie under his lab coat. Number Ten, she thought, reading the tag hanging around his neck, then shook her head. She knew she should use their names, even if House wouldn't, then realized she couldn't remember his name.
She wondered if he'd drawn the short straw and been elected to come to her with everyone's complaints. It wouldn't do any good. She would just give him the same answer she'd given to Simpson. It was House's department. This was his decision to make.
He walked across the room, carrying a white paper bag. it was slightly bigger than the one House had earlier.
"Dr. House said to give you this," he said.
She hesitated just a moment before taking it. It was heavier than she expected. She watched his face while she opened the bag, then caught the aroma from inside, something savory, rich. She looked away from him and reached inside. There was something warm inside and she pulled it, folded back the waxed paper. Turkey, cheese and dressing seeped out from between slices of grilled rye bread.
Number Ten was halfway across the room again when she looked up. "Wait," she said, and he stopped, turned back to her. "Did Dr. House make you pay for this?"
He shook his head. "No. He just told me to pick it up."
Cuddy smiled. "Thanks," she said, "and tell him thank you too."
Number Ten stood there looking at her. She wondered what House had told his candidates about her, whether Number Ten was trying to decide if some comment was a lie or the truth. She expected him to say something, but he didn't, just nodded and slipped out the door.
She didn't take a bite at first, but breathed in the smell. She moved her budget papers to one side of the desk, so they wouldn't be splotched by the grease. She took two napkins and a pickle out of the bag and then flattened it and placed the sandwich on top.
She wished she had candles. She wished she knew the right prayers. She hesitated for a moment, covered her eyes and repeated the only prayer she remembered. "Barukh atah Adonai," she whispered. She almost expected to hear the echoes of her grandmother, her mother and her sisters, but there was only her voice. "Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam."
She knew it wasn't the right day. It wasn't Friday. It was long past sunset. Her grandmother would have frowned if she'd seen the sandwich -- meat and cheese mingling into one. Her grandparents weren't kosher, but they maintained a few dietary restrictions -- maybe out of habit more than anything else.
All of Cuddy's memories of shabbat all seem to revolve around her grandparents' table.
Her parents hosted their own dinners for a few years after Grandma died, but once Grandpa followed her a few years later, it always seemed like there was something else, something more exciting to do. Dates or football games or long weekends up north.
Cuddy hadn't gone to services regularly since she was sixteen. By college, she'd stopped going altogether, telling herself that her class load didn't leave her with enough time. Then came med school and her internship and residency. So many other things that seemed more important.
But two years ago, she'd been at her sister's home, as her oldest niece was making her way through the fast for the first time. Walking into her sister's house, she'd seen their grandmother's candlesticks, had watched as Jane stocked the cupboards and refrigerators with food for later. Jane had sworn off services even before college, but found herself drawn into her local synagogue once her own children were born.
"It's different when you have kids," Jane had told her. "I want them to know where they come from, to be a part of a community."
Cuddy had nodded, and hugged Lizzie, commenting on how tall she was getting. She told her that they'd all starve together. "Moral support," she'd said, then she and Jane told old stories of the holidays when they were growing up, of the way their younger sister taunted them with peanut butter and candy.
The next night, she'd helped set out the spread of bagels and three kinds of cream cheese. Lizzie had walked past her to the refrigerator, pulling out the lemon meringue pie Jane had set aside. Cuddy had heard her sister laugh as she took the pie and cut into it without another word.
Cuddy had taken her own slice and let the taste linger in her mouth. It was her mother's recipe, rich and sweet and tart and she could almost imagine herself back in her mother's kitchen. She'd found herself studying her niece, seeing something of her mother around her eyes, saw Jane's shy smile reflected on this different, younger face. And Cuddy had found herself longing for something she didn't have, wondering if it was too late.
Last year, she'd had a brief moment of hope -- faint blue lines on a pregnancy test -- and she hadn't wanted to take a chance. She'd eaten normally. It hadn't mattered. A week later came the cramps, then the miscarriage.
This year, she'd had no plans, no one to share the day with, but found herself preparing anyway, avoiding the kitchen, rescheduling a lunch meeting. "Asher kidishanu b'mitz'votav v'tzivanu." She faltered on the words for only a moment, surprised at how easily they appeared from her memory.
House was right. Atonement couldn't be earned just by fasting, or by prayers. She remembered her lies to him, remembered the way he looked when she took away his Vicodin. Remembered the lies she told in court.
First acknowledge your sins against others, the rabbi always said, then make reparations. As we hope others forgive us, we are expected to forgive others. She wondered if House had ever asked for forgiveness. Maybe he thought no one would ever give it. Not to him, anyway.
"L'had'lik neir shel Shabbat."
Maybe House didn't believe in asking for forgiveness. It's not what we say, he always argued, it's what we do. She took a breath, caught the aroma of the sandwich again.
"Amen," she said, and opened her eyes. Maybe House was right. Atonement had nothing to do with fasting. Maybe it really is what we do, not what we say that matters. At least she hoped that was true for his sake. Then she smiled, and took a bite.