The Elle Word, Chapter 1

House

Monday. She was walking down the hall with Cuddy. I couldn't help but notice her. It was the hair. It was long and wavy, a nice shade of brown with natural blonde highlights. It hung in shimmering waves down to her butt. I couldn't get a good look at her butt; the lab coat covered it up. I didn't remember seeing her around the hospital before. I know I would have remembered that hair. I wanted to run my fingers through it. They stopped in front of the elevator and I quickly limped over.

Staring directly at Cuddy's chest, I said: "Good morning, Cuddy. The girls are looking spectacular today." I glanced at the stranger and saw a glint of humor in a pair of big blue eyes. "And who's this, your new assistant?"

I stage-whispered to her: "They never last. Start looking for another job now."

Cuddy's face tensed up: "House." That tone could drop a man at forty paces.

I looked innocently at her and waited her out.

She sighed: "Arielle Kaplan, this is Dr. Gregory House. Try to stay out of his way or he'll hurt you with his cane or his tongue. I'm not sure which is worse." Arielle's mouth twitched a little; she seemed to recognize my name. Well, I do have a reputation around Princeton.

I shocked Cuddy by sticking out my hand to shake Arielle's. It was worth it to see Cuddy's mouth drop. Arielle took my proffered hand and we shook. Her hand was tiny; it was completely engulfed by mine. She looked me straight in the eyes and said: "Nice to meet you, Dr House." I didn't want to let go of her hand. It was warm and felt really nice against mine. I looked into those big blue eyes and was reminded of a calm cool lake. A person could drown in those eyes.

I dropped her hand and quickly returned to my usual snarky self: "My tongue doesn't hurt if you let me use it the right way. I could demonstrate for the both of you later on in my office if you'd like." I let the left side of my mouth curl up.

"Oh, Gawd, House. Don't you have anything to do? A patient, clinic duty, something?" The elevator finally arrived and we all got in. I decided to ride with them to see where they were going. I stood behind them and they spoke as if I wasn't there.

"Arielle, I'm sorry you had to be subjected to Dr House in your first hour on the job here."

"That's OK. I'm familiar with Dr House's reputation. After all the crap that Thornton put me through, a few sexual innuendos aren't going to phase me."

The elevator stopped at the 4th floor and they got off. Arielle turned and smiled at me as they walked away. She had a lovely smile. I punched the button for 2 and rode back down to my office.

The fourth floor housed the lab and the main pharmacy. So they were heading to one of those places. I ran the name Thornton through my brain. It was somewhat familiar, but I couldn't quite place it. The elevator stopped on my floor and I hobbled down the hall to Wilson's office.

The door was unlocked so I barged in as usual. Fortunately for me there was no patient. Wilson was working on his paperwork. I plopped down on his couch. He glanced up with a questioningly look. I tapped my cane on the floor a few times. He waited me out.

I broke first: "So who is the good-looking woman with Cuddy this morning? They got off at the 4th floor. Big blue eyes, long brown hair, good handshake."

"You actually shook someone's hand?" Wilson stared at me in disbelief.

"Yeah, get past that. Who is she?"

"Well, did you get a name when you were shaking her hand or were you too busy staring at her funbags?"

"She had on a lab coat, didn't get a good enough look. Her name is Arielle Kaplan."

Wilson smiled in recognition. "Ah, she's the new pharmacist. She's coming over from Princeton Memorial Medical Center."

I frowned: "Why is she leaving there? That's a fancy for-profit hospital and I know for a fact their employees make more money than ours."

He chuckled: "Well that's a story that I'm surprised you don't know."

I waited for a minute, then said: "Well, are you going to tell me? The name Thornton came up. Who is he and what happened?"

He laughed this time: "You are really curious about this. It's a new puzzle for you. Well you can buy me lunch and I'll tell you. Or you can find out on your own."

I got to my feet: "Well, I can just google it and find out."
"You go right ahead. But then you'll come back to me for all the juicy details that you can't find on the Internet."

His laughter followed me as I walked out of his office.

Arielle's turn

I walked down the hall towards the main pharmacy with Dr Cuddy.

"So that's the famous Dr House, huh?" I asked her.

She replied: "Yes, that's him. Try to stay out of his way. We lose more employees because of him. He makes nurses and lab techs cry. Patients complain about him endlessly. I have more lawsuits because of him than any other entire department."

"And you keep him on because he's brilliant and solves cases no one else can."
Cuddy smiled: "Yes, that's it in a nutshell. Just be forewarned; now that he has met you, he may seek you out to bother you for a while until he gets tired of playing with his 'new toy'."

Suddenly I felt nervous: "Why would he bother me? And what would be do?"

She explained: "He may want to annoy you because you're new. He'll want to see if he can get to you." She looked at me and noticed something in my face. She stopped quickly and turned to face me.

"He won't hurt you physically. I don't mean anything like that. He likes to engage in verbal combat. If he does, give it right back to him. Don't treat him with the respect you might give any other doctor. If he steps on your toes, feel free to kick him in the nuts. He can only complain to me about it, and I'll just laugh at him. When he snipes at you, just snipe right back."

I felt a little bit of relief. He didn't seem like the type that might get physical, but you never know. I don't like to take chances after all that happened at Princeton Memorial. Verbal sniping I could handle or so I thought.

We walked into the main pharmacy and headed right to the director's office. I hadn't talked to the director since my interview, so I was a little nervous. But Tom Kirby seems friendly enough. I was replacing their previous oncology pharmacist who had moved to Tucson. I am board certified in both oncology and pain management, so Kirby is quite happy that I'm coming to work here. I hoped that the rest of the staff felt the same way.

Cuddy left me with Kirby and told me if I needed anything to let her know. I thanked her, and then Kirby and I got down to brass tacks. I would be working out of the oncology satellite located on the 6th floor. The 6th floor pharmacy satellite took care of the adult cancer patients and the 5th floor satellite took care of the pediatric patients. I would be responsible for double-checking all the chemo protocols, appropriate dosing and supervising the technicians who actually prepare the chemo bags. I would be working with one other pharmacist, Susan Chen, who is board certified in oncology, but not in pain management. We also had two technicians working in the satellite with us. I had not met them yet. Before we headed up to the 6th floor, we talked in his office for a few minutes. He let me know that he admired what I had done at Princeton Memorial, that it had taken a lot of guts to do what I had done. He knew it was tough to be a whistle-blower and he hoped that no one here would give me a hard time about it. If I had any problems, I should let him or Dr Cuddy know immediately. It had been all over the papers, so I knew there was no way to keep it a secret. I just hoped that no one would harass me about it. I just wanted to be able to hold out here for 6 months. I thanked him for his concern and promised to let him know if I had any problems.

We headed up to the 6th floor so I could meet everyone. Susan Chen was a slender Asian with long black hair. She seemed really nice, as did the two technicians: Miriam Garcia and Bonnie Thompson. Then Tom wanted to introduce me to the physicians that headed the oncology and the pain management departments. I explained that I already knew Chris Guskiewicz from Princeton Memorial. Chris & I worked together for 4 years until he left 2 years ago to come to PPTH. He had told me that he was tired of the cutbacks at PMMC that were made simply to increase profits for the corporation. When PPTH's former head of pain management retired, he applied for the position and got it. I had run into Chris once or twice around town and he told me that he was much happier at PPTH. Chris' office was right here on the 6th floor so we stopped by to say hello. He had heard I was coming and he was quite happy to see me. We chatted for a few minutes and he said he wanted to have lunch with me later in the week so we could catch up. I agreed, saying I would call him later for a definite day.

Kirby wanted to introduce me to the head of the oncology department so we headed to the elevator and rode down to the 2nd floor. As we walked down the hall from the elevator, I noticed an office with the words: "Gregory House, M.D., Dept of Diagnostic Medicine". I could see the man himself sitting at his desk, busy on the computer. I averted my gaze and hurried on. Next to his office was a glass-walled conference room. I noticed 3 people inside sitting around the table. On the other side of the conference room was a door bearing a sign: "James Wilson, M.D., Dept of Oncology."

I thought: "Oh, great. I'll have to pass by Dr House's office anytime I need to see Dr Wilson." This didn't sit with me well, but I figured I would be able to avoid Dr House or at least ignore him as much as possible.

Tom knocked on Dr Wilson's door and waited until we heard his response before we entered. Tom pushed the door open and motioned me in front of him. I entered the room and met the eyes of the man sitting at the desk. He rose to greet me as we entered. He had a boyish look about him and beautiful brown eyes. He smiled and extended his hand to me: "Hi, I'm James Wilson. Nice to meet you."

I smiled back and shook his hand: "Arielle Kaplan. Very nice to meet you."

He motioned for us to sit. Tom and I sat down on the couch. Dr Wilson sat back down at his desk. "I'm really happy that you are going to be working with us. Your credentials are outstanding and Chris Guskiewicz can't say enough great things about you. He tells me you are terrific working with the patients on their drug regimens."

I could feel myself blush and stammered that it was very nice of Dr Guskiewicz to say all that.

Wilson went on: "He wouldn't say it if it wasn't true. He admires your compassion for the patients and your skills. If you don't mind my saying so, I'm very impressed with your ethics after all that happened at PMMC."

I interrupted him at that point: "Dr Wilson, if you don't mind, I'd like to downplay that as much as possible. I'm sure people know about it, but I don't really want to talk about it. It was a really tough time for me and I don't want to be constantly rehashing it. I just want to move forward with my new job. I hope you understand."

He nodded thoughtfully: "Of course."

There was an awkward silence for a moment. I broke it by asking Dr Wilson about his patient load. He responded quickly with statistics of how many patients were seen weekly, and what types of cancers they had.

I asked him what he expected from me. Some oncologists like to merely diagnose the patient and let the pharmacist completely decide the drug regimen to use. Others prefer to make the decision about drug therapy themselves and have the pharmacist calculate the correct dosage based on the patient's age, weight, renal function and other parameters. Some doctors decide on a case-by-case basis how involved the pharmacist should be with a particular patient. Dr Wilson explained that he preferred to decide on the particular drug regiment himself and have the pharmacist work out the calculations and adjust the dosages according to the patient's condition. That was fine with me.

Dr Wilson was very happy that I had dual certification in oncology and pain management. Pain management is extremely important with cancer patients. If they are in pain, they do not have the strength to fight their illness and get through the chemo and radiation treatments. Proper pain management is very time-consuming, and Dr Wilson was looking forward to my help with this issue. He wanted me to speak with the pain patients, work up a plan for pain management and run it by him so that if the plan was agreeable to him, he could just write the prescriptions. It would save Dr Wilson a lot of time so that he could focus more on the oncology treatment side. Dr Guskiewicz saw many of the oncology patients, but he also saw non-cancer pain patients. The number of patients he saw was staggering and growing all the time. If I could help the oncologists with the cancer pain patients, it would help alleviate Dr Guskiewicz's patient load. Glancing at Tom, Dr Wilson mentioned his hope that one day the pain management pharmacist would be a full-time position and not just a sideline of the oncology pharmacist. I could see Tom nodding thoughtfully.

This excited me. I enjoyed doing pain management and would love to do it full-time. I'm sure my face showed my excitement as Dr Wilson gave me a big smile as he explained that the hospital was converting a former janitor's closet into a small office for me. It was small, he emphasized, but it was my own office for seeing the pain patients. Tom was allowing me 2 afternoons a week to see patients and we would talk about expanding those hours as the need grew.

I was overwhelmed. My own office! Tom had not mentioned this to me. I looked at Tom for confirmation and he said that they had wanted it to be a surprise.

I grinned: "Wow, this is such a surprise. I'm really excited about this. Thank you for giving me this opportunity."

We chatted some more about my duties and then Tom and I departed from Dr Wilson's office.

We walked back to the elevator, which meant we had to pass Dr House's office again. I didn't look directly at his office, but, with my peripheral vision, I could see him stare at us as we walked by.

The rest of my first day went by quickly. I was shown my little office. It was big enough for a bookcase, desk and 2 chairs for patients. It was being painted and carpeted today and would be ready for me later in the week. They even let me pick the paint color. I selected a nice soft pastel blue that would be relaxing for the patients and navy carpet to complement the walls. I could bring in my own pictures for the walls or they had a selection that I could choose from. I decided to bring my own after I got settled in. After lunch, I spent the afternoon learning the computer system. Every hospital seems to have a different system so I knew it would take me a couple of days to get it under my belt. I got a good start today, but would need a few more days to complete my training.

The day went well and I felt good. I left PPTH with a spring in my step and headed back to the motel where I had been living for the last 3 months. This Saturday, I was finally moving into my new apartment and I couldn't wait. I was so sick of living in the motel. It had no kitchen and I was tired of eating out for every meal. I was looking forward to cooking again.

The landlord had primed the walls, but hadn't painted yet. He had hurt his back and was unable to finish. He agreed to knock off one month's rent if I would paint the walls myself. I jumped at that opportunity. I was happy to save a month's rent and he was paying for the paint anyway. He told me I could pick my own colors as long as they were 'reasonable'. I choose a sunny yellow for the kitchen, a light blue for the bedroom and off-white for the living room.

Once at the motel, I changed into some sloppy clothes and stuffed my hair up under a baseball cap. Then I headed out to my storage unit. I grabbed a few boxes marked "kitchen" and loaded them into my old Honda Accord wagon. The ladder and paint supplies were already in the back. I thought that every night I would take a few kitchen boxes with me and unpack them. That way, the kitchen would be set up by Saturday. I planned on painting the living room first, then the kitchen and the bedroom last. I didn't think I could finish the whole apartment this week painting just a few hours a night. So if I finished the living room, I could just unload all the furniture in there and sleep on the futon until I finished the bedroom. I had to order a new bed anyway and it wasn't going to be delivered for a couple more weeks. So I would be sleeping on the futon until then anyway. I was satisfied with my plan. I pulled up in front of the building and was happy to find a spot right in front. I carried in the kitchen boxes and set up my boom box. I pulled out a bottle of scotch and some paper cups. I planned on toasting my apartment later tonight after I got some work done. Then I walked back out to get the ladder and the paint supplies. As I was heading back to the door balancing the ladder on my shoulder and the paint in my hands, I saw 2 men entering the building. I called to them: "Hey, could you hold the door for me, please?"

House

I spent the morning on the Internet, googling 'Arielle Kaplan', 'Thornton' and 'Princeton Memorial Medical Center'. The story came back to me as I read. It had been in all the papers as the news broke about 8 months ago. Henry Thornton was the director of pharmacy at PMMC and Arielle had been one of his staff pharmacists. Arielle had discovered that Thornton was diverting drugs to pocket the profit and substituting counterfeit products. His drug of choice was Epogen. There was a lot of money to be made on the black market with Epogen, especially with athletes. Cancer patients often end up with low blood counts because of their disease. They are given Epogen to boost their blood counts so that they can continue to receive chemo in order to get well. Arielle had noticed that the cancer patients' blood counts were not rising after receiving their Epogen shots. So they couldn't get their chemo and some patients died as a result. Then she noticed that while Thornton was on a month long vacation, the Epogen seemed to be working again. Patients' blood counts were rising. Then he returned from vacation and within 2 weeks, it seemed as if the Epogen had stopped working again. Arielle was suspicious, so she smuggled out a vial of Epogen and had it tested at her own expense. The Epogen was fake. She called the FDA to report her findings. They started a quiet investigation and all trails led to Thornton. After a while, her name came out as the whistle-blower. Strange as it seems, she started having problems at work. You would think people would be happy to see this madness stopped, but I guess most people hate a narc, not matter what she is squealing about.

I found another article where Thornton was also charged with witness intimidation. It seems he hired a man to intimidate Arielle so that she would not testify. That article didn't go into a lot of detail; it said she had been physically assaulted and her dog was killed. The man had been charged with deadly assault and put in prison for the maximum sentence. Then he gave up Thornton as the man who hired him and they reduced his sentence by half.

I glanced up as someone walked past my office. It was Arielle and Tom Kirby and they were heading towards the elevator. Kirby must have taken Arielle to meet Wilson. She would be working directly with him so that made sense. I followed their progress with my eyes, but she didn't glance my way. I continued my google search and found another interesting article. Arielle had filed a civil suit against PMMC for harassment and unlawful job termination. That was surprising. I was amazed that Cuddy had hired her since she had a pending civil case against another hospital. That type of situation usually blackballed a person from being hired elsewhere.

I leaned back in my chair pondering all of this. Wilson had told me to go google and then come back to him for the juicy bits. So I got up and headed towards his office.

I walked onto the balcony and glanced into his office. He was alone at his desk. I carefully hopped over the wall and walked into his office.

He looked up as I entered and smirked at me: "Find anything interesting?"

"Oh, yeah. There is a wealth of information out there. I got the gist of it. Now tell me the dirt. What's up with the civil lawsuit and why did Cuddy hire her with that going on?"

"Cuddy told me that she felt the civil lawsuit was justified. The hospital allowed employees to harass Arielle about the incident. I think the corporation hoped she would get frustrated and quit. When she didn't, the acting director of pharmacy gave her such a poor performance review that it triggered her termination. Prior to that, she had always had stellar reviews. So it seems that it was done deliberately to get rid of her. She was branded a troublemaker. She uncovered and reported a drug-diverting scheme, which basically saved patients' lives at the risk of her own. Now she's suing for back pay and punitive damages. It seems reasonable to me and it did to Cuddy so she hired her."

I tapped my cane on the floor for a minute, pondering what he had told me.

"What about the assault? The article didn't say much except that she was physically assaulted and her dog was killed."

"Ah. I know a little bit about that. Thornton hired a thug to go after her. The guy watched her for a few days and when her fiancée went out of town, he broke into her apartment while she was sleeping. Her dog attacked him and he stabbed the dog to death. She ended up with a concussion, broken wrist, separated shoulder and 4 broken ribs. That much I know for sure. There is a rumor that there is more to the story. She had to have surgery after the attack."

I interrupted: "Well, yeah. She had a broken wrist and separated shoulder. They probably had to put Humpty Dumpty back together again."

"That's not the part of the body she had surgery on. The rumor I heard is that she had rectal surgery."

"Oh Christ, the guy probably raped her!"

Wilson nodded: "Yeah, that's what I think. And to top it off, her fiancée broke it off with her about a month after the attack. Some say he couldn't handle the fact that she was raped or maybe he just couldn't handle all the publicity about the case. I'm sure it caused a major upheaval in their lives. I don't know for sure that she was raped, but it seems like it. You know they wouldn't report it in the papers to protect the victim. That's why they just printed the part about the physical assault."

I nodded glumly. I always hate to hear rape stories. Rape seems to suck the very life force out of the victim. If it were true that her fiancée left her because of it that would make it doubly hard. "So you think it's true?"

He nodded: "I have a pretty good source."

I shook my head: "Well, that sucks. Such a pretty girl, what a waste."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Well, you know she's totally damaged now. Emotionally and probably physically as well."

"You don't know that. She puts on a pretty good face if she is. Have you had a conversation with her other than your little encounter at the elevator?"

I admitted that I hadn't.

"Well I spoke to her for about 45 minutes. She doesn't seem damaged to me. She is very excited about her job here. We surprised her with expanded pain management duties and her own office. She seemed absolutely thrilled."

"Does she seem needy? She may be your type. You should ask her out."

Wilson smirked at me: "Maybe I will. After all, like you said, she is very pretty."

I stood up: "Careful. She may sue you for sexual harassment. She already has one lawsuit going. If she wins enough of them, she might make enough to retire on."

Wilson rolled his eyes at me. "Are we still watching WWF tonight?"

I opened the door to the balcony and turned to look back at him: "Of course. You're springing for the Chinese food too." With that last comment; I headed back to my office.

I sat at my desk and took out my PSP. While killing trolls, I pondered what Wilson had told me about Arielle. She had really been through some rough stuff. This morning, she had come across as being confident. She had looked me in the eyes and I saw the smirk on her face when I made the comment about my tongue and what it could do. I had enjoyed my encounter with her this morning and that surprised me. She was really pretty, but there was something more about her. I couldn't put my finger on it. I liked the smile she gave me as she left the elevator.

I sighed as I was finally killed on level 3 again. I know what it's like to have something horrible happen to you, something that you had no control over. You do feel damaged afterwards. I know I've felt damaged for years after all the crap my father gave me. And I was so out of control with that whole situation with my leg. I told Stacy what I wanted and she went behind my back and had enough of my leg muscle removed that I became a virtual cripple. She may as well as had my whole leg amputated for the shape I'm in today. I'd probably be in less pain if it had been amputated. Not that I would admit that to anyone. I hate looking at my scar, but it would be worse looking down at a stump everyday. I knew I was damaged. That's the main reason I keep pushing people away from me. I don't need any more damage done to me. If you open up to people and get close, then they can hurt you. Keep them at arms length and you might be safe from further harm.

Hmmm, Wilson said Arielle would be doing pain management. Maybe I should go see her and find out what she would recommend for me. That might be fun. I'll give her a week or so to get settled in and then go see her.

I started another game on my PSP while I waited for General Hospital to start.

I managed to get through the whole day without having to do any actual work. I marked it as a very successful day. Wilson came by around 6PM and said he was ready to leave. We walked out to our cars together. He followed me to my place. There was a green Accord wagon parked in my usual spot. I was irritated at having to park further away. I limped to my front door and Wilson caught up to me. I unlocked the outer door and entered the foyer. As I was unlocking my apartment door, I hear someone yell to please hold the door. Wilson obliged, of course. He stood there holding open the outer door as a short person carrying a ladder and paint cans approached. Then I heard a slightly familiar voice say: "Thanks for holding the door." Then I heard a sharp intake of breath and "Dr Wilson? Do you live here?"

I turned to see Arielle, dressed in painter's overalls and a baseball cap covering her beautiful hair, standing there with a surprised look on her face as she stared at Wilson.

Wilson shook his head: "No, I don't live here, but he does." He pointed at me and she glanced my way.

With a surprised look on her face: "Hi, Dr House. Well, I guess we're going to be neighbors."

Arielle

Boy, was I surprised to see that it was Dr Wilson holding the door for me. I asked him if he lived here. He doesn't but Dr House does. Great. After trying to figure out how to avoid him at the hospital, I was going to be living across the hall from him. This was going to be a long 6 months. Dr Wilson pushed open my apartment door for me while I was struggling with the ladder and the paint. I walked in and set everything down. They followed me inside.

Dr House glanced around at the empty apartment: "So do you moonlight after hours as a painter or what?"

"No, I rented this place. The landlord hurt his back and couldn't finish the painting. So he told me if I painted it myself he would give me a free month's rent. Seemed like a good deal to me. I want to try to get as much painted as possible because I'm moving in on Saturday. Want to help me?"

He snorted: "Yeah, right. In case you haven't noticed, there's a cripple here."

I smiled at him: "You're not a cripple. Besides you don't paint with your leg." I looked directly into his eyes so that he would know I meant it. He glared at me, but I maintained eye contact and he broke away first.

"Yeah, well, I have a tough time standing for long periods. So don't look to me for help."

I shrugged: "You could sit down and paint the baseboards for me."

Dr Wilson laughed: "She's got you there, House."

He snorted and started poking around the place. It was already 7PM and I wanted to get started working. So I began to unroll the tarp to cover the floor. I was hoping to get the prep work done tonight, and if I were lucky, I could do the cut-in part of the painting. Then tomorrow I could just roll the room. But if I didn't get these guys out of here, I wasn't getting anything done. I turned around to find that Wilson had taken off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. He asked: "What can I do?"

I was kinda surprised by this. "You don't really have to help. I was just teasing Dr House. It's very kind of you to offer, Dr Wilson, but I'm sure you guys have other plans this evening."

"We're going to watch WWF, but it doesn't come on until 9PM. I have some time. And Arielle, when we're out of the hospital, call me James or Jimmy. Or at least just call me Wilson. Drop the doctor part, OK?"

"Hmmm, OK. Wilson. If you have time and you really want to help, you could take the end of the tarp and stretch it to the far corner for me and I'll work on this end." I tossed him one roll of tape and I took the other. I felt rather shy about all this. It was one thing to snark at House. Cuddy basically gave me carte blanche to do that, but I would be working with Wilson and I didn't know how to handle this appearance of friendship. After being screwed over at PMMC, I was leery of making friends at the hospital.

Meanwhile, Dr House had wandered into the kitchen. "Hey, you've got a bottle of Glenlivet here. Nice. How does a pharmacist afford this kind of scotch?"

I answered him: "By sipping it very slowly."

I heard him chuckle. "Are you sharing?"

Wilson growled: "House! You have your own scotch across the hall."

He whined: "Yeah, but I'm down to the blends. I'm out of my single malts."

"Well, you should have hit the liquor store on your way home."

I was amused at the bickering between them. They were like an old married couple. I wondered how long they had been friends.

I turned towards the kitchen: "Dr House, there's some paper cups on the counter. Why don't you pour us all a shot?"

His face lit up and I was rewarded with a smile. Wow, he was handsome when he smiled. I couldn't help smiling back. Maybe he would be OK outside of the hospital. It'd be nice to have a friendly neighbor. Maybe we could watch TV together or I could make him dinner once in a while. I had lost so many friends that until tonight I hadn't realized just how lonely I had been. Then I reminded myself not to get my hopes up. These guys had probably heard all about my problems and I doubted they would want to get too friendly. If Wilson hadn't been nice enough to hold the door for me, they would be inside House's apartment watching TV right now.

I looked up as House held out a cup of scotch to me. I brushed away the tired cobwebs from my mind, put on a smile and took the cup from him. Then he handed one to Wilson and raised his own cup.

He queried: "A toast?"

Wilson replied: "To Arielle, and your new apartment. We hope you will be happy here."

I smiled at him: "Thank you. And I say, life's too short to drink cheap scotch." I raised my cup to the both of them and then slugged it back. They followed suit. I love that pleasant burn as the first shot of scotch slides down my throat. The 12-year old Glenlivet was smooth and warm and I immediately wanted another shot.

I held out my cup to House and, putting on a silly cockney accent, said: "Pour us another, luv."

He gave me a slow grin and imitated my accent: "Certainly, missus."

He poured us each another shot. I sipped this one. I wanted to savor it. I needed to work tonight and I didn't have time to get drunk with these guys. I hadn't eaten yet and I knew that if I had more than 2 shots I would be well on my way.

"Sorry I can't offer you a seat, but after I get all moved it, I'll invite you over for a proper drink."

House gave me the once-over: "Do you cook?"

I nodded: "Yes, I like to cook actually. I've missed it these last 3 months."

"Why?"

"Oh, I've been living in a motel. It doesn't have a kitchen, so I've been living on take-out. So I'm really looking forward to cooking again."

House frowned: "Why were you living in a motel?"

Wilson growled at him: "House." It sounded like a warning, like he was trying to shut him up.

I shrugged: "I needed a place to stay for a while. It was my best option at the time." It was a non-answer and I knew he knew that. But I'd hoped it would make him drop his line of questioning. I quickly asked him why he wanted to know if I cooked.

He answered: "Cuz I like to eat."

"I'll keep that in mind."

I finished my scotch and set down the cup. Then I went back to work on the tarp. Wilson went down to the other end of the room and worked on that section. House continued poking around in the kitchen. I could hear him shuffling through my pile of CD's.

I thought of something he could do which would save me some time. I starting digging in my bag and found my screwdriver. I turned to the kitchen and said: "Hey, Dr House, there's something you could do to help me. Could you take off all the faceplates from the light switches?" I extended my hand with the screwdriver to him.

He stared at it: "What do I get if I help?"

"I'll make you a nice dinner when I get moved in."

"One dinner for each faceplate."

Boy, he is either really pining for a home cooked meal or he's even lonelier than I am.

I figured, what the heck, and said: "OK. Just keep count. Here's a baggie to put the plates and screws in." He grabbed the screwdriver and baggie from me and I turned back to work on the tarp.

He continued to shuffle through the CD's: "I'm going to put on some music first." I nodded.

He put on my Stevie Ray Vaughn CD. It was a collection of his best stuff and it was very upbeat. Dr House made a good choice. The music started blasting and we all kept working. Wilson and I got the tarp spread out and taped down and House took off all the faceplates in the living room. He let me know that there were 8 of them and 2 of those were doubles; therefore I owed him 10 dinners.

I said: "OK. Do you want them to be all dinners or would some breakfasts be OK too? I make great French toast and blueberry pancakes."

He looked like he was going to start drooling and quickly agreed that it would be 10 meals. I smiled and said: "No problem. Ten meals it is."

He checked his watch: "Hey Jimmy, it's 8:30. We need to order the Chinese and get ready to watch WWF."

Wilson said: "Yeah, OK. Arielle, is there anything else we can do?"

I replied: "No, I'm good. I just need to start painting now that it's all prepped. Thank you both for your help. I really appreciate it."

They started for the door and suddenly House turned around. "Did you have dinner?"

"No, but I have a peanut butter sandwich in my bag. I'm good. Thanks anyway, Dr House."

He limped over to me, put a finger under my chin and tilted my head up to look at him. He had the most amazing blue eyes and his finger felt electric under my chin. "Like Jimmy said, you can drop the doctor part when we're not at the hospital. Just call me House."

I answered softly: "OK. House."

He gave me a little smile. It reached his eyes and I knew he was being sincere when he asked: "We're ordering Chinese. Tell me what you like or we'll just surprise you."

"Hunan chicken would be nice."

He removed his finger from my chin. The spot felt warm and tingly for a few seconds after it was gone. "We'll come get you when the food arrives."

All I could do was nod, and he turned and walked out of the door.

House

Jimmy and I walked into my place. I headed into the kitchen to grab the Chinese menu. I yelled to Jimmy: "What do you want tonight?"

"Hot and sour soup, General Tso's chicken."

I picked up the phone and dialed. I ordered everyone's requests and got some beef lo mein and spicy jumbo shrimp for me. I was really hungry.

Twenty minutes later, the food arrived. Jimmy got the door and paid. He brought the bag over to the coffee table and I started unpacking it while he went to get Arielle.

I heard him bang on her door and shout "Food's here." He returned without waiting for a response. Jimmy headed into the kitchen and came back with 3 beers and paper plates. Chopsticks came with the food so he didn't bring utensils. I was sitting on the right side of the couch and Jimmy plopped down on the left side. I heard Arielle walk in and pause. I turned to see what she was doing, just standing there. She was staring at the piano. I leaned back and tapped her arm and said: "Hey. Sit down and eat. Got you a beer over here." My eyes returned to the TV. I heard her walk into the kitchen and the tap went on. Guess she was washing her hands. After a minute, she walked back in and came towards us. Jimmy and I were sprawled across the couch and I guess she didn't want to ask us to scootch over, so she knelt on the floor by the coffee table. She grabbed a plate and started loading it. I was eating my shrimp straight out of the carton. I paused eating for a moment while the fight got exciting and she snagged one of my shrimp.

"Hey, no stealing my food."

"I thought we were sharing."

"Not the shrimp. Mine." I growled at her.

She stuck her tongue out at me.

"Hey, don't stick that out unless you intend to use it."

She smirked at me. She was still holding the stolen shrimp in her chopsticks and she proceeded to slowly lick the sauce off of it. Then she would suck it just a little and go back to licking it. Jimmy and I sat there, slack-jawed, just staring at her. It was incredibly sensual and I was imagining that tongue licking elsewhere. Finally she bit the shrimp with a loud crunch and that shook us out of our stupor. She smiled, knowing the effect she had had on us. There was a loud thump on the TV when one of the wrestlers hit the mat really hard and we turned our focus to the screen.

We ate and drank in companionable silence. At a commercial break, Arielle got up and thanked us for dinner and said she needed to get back to work.

I said: "OK. See ya around." I didn't get up and walk her to the door. Always the gentleman, Jimmy did. Arielle gave me a little squeeze on the shoulder as she walked by. It was an unexpected show of affection and I didn't know what to make of it. Her touch was warm and I could feel it for minutes after it was gone. Jimmy walked her to her door. Then he came back and dropped onto the couch. We stared at the TV.

At one point Jimmy said: "It will be interesting for you having her as a neighbor. You might get fed well."

I grunted: "My luck, she'll be a lousy cook. And I'll have to suffer through 10 meals with her. Wonder if she can make coffee? It'd be great to get coffee in the mornings."

Jimmy snickered: "Coffee in the morning, sugar at night."

I grinned: "Yeah, that would be really nice."

We watched the rest of the match. Wilson took off around midnight. He commented as he was leaving that Arielle's light was still on. I shrugged, guessing she was still painting. I poured myself a scotch and opened my front door. I wanted to see her before she left. If the door was open, I figured she would poke her head in. I sat down at the piano and started playing some Mozart. I was so lost in the music that I didn't hear her come in. Suddenly I felt a presence nearby and I opened my eyes.

She smiled shyly. "Your door was open. You play really nicely. I just wanted to listen for a little bit."

"You play, don't you?"

She nodded. I patted the bench. She came over and sat on my right. Arielle touched the keys gently, lovingly. Very softly, she said: "I've missed having a piano around. Can I come over and play yours sometimes? I mean, if it doesn't bother you?" She seemed incredibly shy with her request, completely unlike her earlier sassy personality.

I nodded: "Play something for me now."

"OK." She ran through some scales to warm up. Then she said: "This was the first classical piece that my mom taught me. I always thought it was a lot of fun."

Then she started off. The tone of the piece kept changing. First it was light and airy, and then it became serious and plodding. Then it changed again to a really playful melody. It was a strange piece. I had never heard it before.

She ended with a sudden flourish. She didn't look at me but I could see a small smile on her face as she fingered the keys.

"That was an interesting piece. I've never heard it before. What is it?"

"It's called 'Kurious Geschichte', or 'Curious Story'. I just loved it when I was a kid. It was so silly and different."

"Did your mom teach you to play?"

She nodded still fingering the keys. "Yeah, I started when I was four. I picked up the guitar when I was 8. Guitars are more mobile, easier to carry around, but the piano is really my favorite."

"Why is instrument mobility important?"

"When you move a lot, it's hard to take a piano with you."

I nodded. "My dad was in the Marines. We moved almost every year. Some places we had a piano, others we didn't. I guess I took up the guitar for the same reason. It would be there if there wasn't a piano. Was your dad in the military? Is that why you moved a lot?"

She shook her head slowly. "No. Um, my parents died when I was 10. So I spent the rest of my childhood in foster homes. I was only allowed one bag and my guitar, so I had to travel light."

"You had no other family to take you in?"

She shook her head again. "No. My aunt and uncle were killed in the same car crash. They dropped me off at summer camp and they were headed to Daytona Beach for a week. On State Road 40, a logging truck blew a tire and swerved into their car. There was no way to avoid the accident. The car exploded and they all died. My aunt was pregnant at the time too, and we were all excited about that. I have no other family, so I ended up in foster care until I was 18."

She closed her eyes and a shudder ran through her body. She continued talking so softly that I could barely hear her: "These last 6 months remind me of that time. I had no place to live and no job. I didn't know what I was going to do. I rotated staying with my friends for a while, but I didn't want to keep doing that, although they were all willing to put up with me. I didn't want our friendship to be a burden." She let out a harsh laugh. "I don't have that many friends left after all of this. Something like this happens, you find out how your real friends are. Anyway I found a cheap motel and moved in there for the last 3 months. I'm so grateful to Dr Cuddy for giving me a job, and now I'll have an apartment so I feel like I'm getting my life back together again."

She stroked the keys again.

"Geez, why am I telling you all of this? I must be boring the heck out of you. I'm sorry to have bothered you. Thank you again for dinner and for helping me over there."

She looked very embarrassed as she rose from the bench. I grabbed her hand before she could run away and she actually trembled at my touch.

"You already thanked me once. That is sufficient. I enjoy your company. And, yes, you can come over and play the piano. Just call first to see if it's a good time or not. Do you have a phone yet?"

"I just have my cell now."

"Let me give you my numbers." She pulled out her cell phone and entered my home and my cell numbers as I rattled them off. "I tend to not answer the land-line so start leaving a message and if I'm here, I'll pick up." She nodded. I pulled out my cell and punched in her cell number. "Let me know when you get a land-line, OK?" She nodded.

"I better go. It's pretty late."

I nodded and stood up, retrieving my cane where it had rested next to the piano. I walked her out to the stoop.

She turned and smiled shyly at me.

"Thank you, House. You've been very kind."

"Hey, don't let that get around. I have a reputation to uphold."

She smiled. "Your secret is safe with me." I watched her walk to the car and waited outside until she drove away.