A/N: Some fluffy romance – just the thing for the holidays. This story is set in the summer, just to bring some warmth for you guys shivering away in the cold. Yes, the OC is Australian – how corny is that? But hey, they always say: write what you know. If only. He he he.
Breakfast 1 – Breakfast in the morning
Saturday the first
Pancakes and an extremely large coffee was what he needed, House decided. He'd woken up starving because food hadn't played much of a part in the previous evening: just work til late and a couple of scotches when he got home. But still, the case was solved, the patient on the improve and he'd slept well.
It was Saturday and he had the weekend off, but there was no way his kitchen could support pancakes. Possibly not even coffee, remembering how he'd had to scrape out the last bit of sugar from the jar during the week.
He could make a trip to the market for ingredients or visit to the local café.
Choice, what choice?
In an unexpectedly good mood, he hummed as he dressed and even though the café was only a couple of blocks away, headed off on his bike.
By the time House got to café, it was the late morning rush and the only places left were at the communal table. That was almost enough to make him leave and go elsewhere, but his leg was hurting and his stomach let out a loud growl of protest. Pancakes! Now!
There was plenty of room at the table, only one occupant in fact: an attractive woman sitting with a pot of tea and a plate of croissant crumbs. In her mid 30s with her mousy blonde hair pulled back in a casual pony tail and reading glasses on her nose, she was absorbed in the newspaper article she was reading. Despite the many available chairs, he sat down right next to her.
Emma looked up, aware of an invasion of her personal space, especially given the amount of spare seats at the table, but went back to her newspaper without really looking. She'd been saving the newspaper for Saturday breakfast ever since it had arrived in the mail a few days ago. Nothing was going to spoil this special treat.
House placed his order with the waitress and then turned to the table. Sections of a newspaper were spread out around the woman, so he grabbed the arts pages, unfolded them and settled down to read. Way to keep on top of the news, House thought, as he realised the first article was a feature about a movie that had been released two months ago.
Emma looked up over her glasses at the sound of the newspaper being shaken open. She took a better look at the guy who had had taken the seat next to her. He obviously walked with a cane, as it was now hanging off the table between them. He was scruffy, yet, she had to admit, quite attractive. But attractive or not, he had opened and was reading the arts section of her newspaper, pages she hadn't even looked at yet.
She tried to make eye contact and find a way to politely indicate that the newspaper wasn't as communal as the table. Failing to catch his eye, she decided to let it go. It was only a newspaper after all and it wasn't like his reading it wouldn't remove the words from the pages.
But still, to be on the safe side, Emma surreptitiously gathered the remaining parts of the paper closer to her. She also couldn't resist another look at her table companion. He'd donned reading glasses similar to her own and there was no ring on his left hand. She'd put him about ten years older than her, somewhere between forty-five and fifty, and the biceps rounding out the sleeves of his t-shirt were yummy indeed. Stop it, she told herself, perving at breakfast is wrong. Although she wasn't quite sure why.
House peered sideways at his table companion. He realised she'd been checking him out, but had deliberately pretended not to notice.
He checked the date at the top of the page, the paper was two weeks old, but that still didn't excuse two-months-out-of-date news. Dumping the arts section with a dismissive grunt, he grabbed the general news pages from right next to Emma and started reading, finally realising the reason for the strange news coverage.
Hmmm, he thought, this might be fun.
After flicking through the first few pages, his breakfast arrived, so he folded the paper to the crossword page at the back and turned to the waitress as she put his plate down on the table.
"Could I borrow this? Thanks." Without waiting for a response, House reached over and grabbed a pen sticking out of the waitress's apron pocket.
The waitress looked taken aback, but then just shrugged and walked away.
House turned back to his breakfast and started filling in the first clue in the crossword.
Emma looked up again. He was doing her crossword! She had to say something now.
"Excuse me," she smiled politely at him, trying to catch his eye.
He looked up at her, raising an eyebrow in answer, putting the pen down and picking up the maple syrup bottle. Emma was momentarily startled by his piercing gaze. She'd always loved that look of one arched eyebrow.
"Um…" she stumbled, momentarily discomforted. She had to shake her head slightly to recover. "Sorry, but that's my paper. I don't mind if you read it, but please don't fill in the crossword – and…" her anxiety rose as she watched him pouring syrup while he looked at her, the sticky mess spilling over his plate and on to the table and – of course – the paper, "…please don't get syrup on it!"
House nonchalantly put down the syrup and picked up his fork, stuffing his mouth with pancakes. With his other hand he grabbed his napkin and very deliberately and exaggeratedly wiped the spilled syrup off the newspaper, folding it with overstated carefulness and placing it back where it had been.
Emma watched his movements and decided she'd never actually seen someone be so completely sarcastic without speaking before.
"So I'd guess," he said through a mouthful, "from the fact that you are possessive of a newspaper that features out-of-date movie reviews and a lead story about the prime minister's slavish adherence to US foreign policy, that you are an Aussie. Oh, and the accent too."
Emma was shocked and it showed clearly on her face. She'd been in the US for a month and no one ever guessed where she was from right away. They always, always guessed English first, especially since she'd lived in London for a while and had an English lilt to her accent. Her shock at his perceptiveness replaced the strong sense of irritation he had provoked.
House looked at her. He'd surprised and possibly annoyed her but he loved that he'd got a reaction. Also now that he could see her face properly he realised she was really quite pretty. The pancakes were good, but now breakfast was really looking promising.
"I give you an A plus," Emma said eventually getting over her shock. "No one ever guesses right first time. They normally go with English first."
"And don't you just love that." House knew only too well how much Australians hated to be mistaken as English, being that he often did it deliberately to annoy Chase.
She smiled again, he was … irritatingly charming. Probably worth meeting.
"I'm Emma, Australian as charged."
House had stuffed his face with another huge forkful of pancakes.
"Grruh," he mumbled in answer through his mouthful.
"Gary?" asked Emma. Occasionally she had trouble understanding American accents, especially if the person was speaking with a mouth full of food.
House swallowed. "Greg."
"Greg, right. Like the Brady Bunch." Emma cringed inwardly, not sure why she added that.
"Uh, r-i-i-ght," he said giving her a quizzical look. "I never had sex with Mom Brady, but yeah, Greg."
She laughed, thanking his quick wit for saving her embarrassment.
"So Emma-the-Australian, what are you doing in my neighbourhood?" House asked, turning his attention back to his pancakes.
"What, this particular street, or the country?" Emma poured the remains of her pot of tea into her cup.
"I was offered a job lecturing at Princeton, it was a good opportunity, and thought it might be fun to live in the US for a while. Been here about a month." Emma summarised. She took a sip of her tea. "And in terms of this neighbourhood, I live just down the road and round the corner a bit. So what about you – a local?" Emma enquired, interested in knowing more about her curious table companion. "Neighbourhood I mean," she clarified.
"So been here a month…" House ignored her question and put on his deductive tone, "…and still getting the newspaper sent over from home. Adjusting well to the ex-pat life then?"
Emma's smile froze while she decided how to respond to that. Actually, all morning she'd been feeling a little emotional. The package in the mail with her mother's careful handwriting had been both a blessing and a curse, relieving and sharpening her homesickness all at once. Until that morning, she had been planning on making a day of it: reading the paper over breakfast, then taking the bottle of wine her mum had sent to the park with a good book. She'd still packed the wine and a blanket, but hadn't made a final decision about her plans – wondering if her melancholy was better suited to a bath and soppy DVD on the couch.
"My mum…" she began, feeling a little defensive.
"Oh, no let me guess, this is fun," House was on the scent of a puzzle. "Your mom sent you a care package from home with the newspaper. But… she wouldn't just send a newspaper all this way. What other goodies did you get?" He continued eating his pancakes but was also closely watching her face. He could see she wasn't entirely comfortable with the conversation but she also wasn't telling him to fuck off, so that was a positive sign.
"Candy, chocolate biscuits – I mean cookies – wine, the usual." Despite her discomfort with the topic, Emma was happy to be talking to someone new, someone who didn't work at the university. She still wasn't sure about the tone of the conversation, but beggars couldn't be choosers, she decided.
House finished his breakfast. "So are you the type of person to gorge yourself on it all at once, or are you all restrained and able to make it last?"
Emma flushed a little, wondering if her answer would give too much away about herself.
"I got the package on Wednesday and I saved the newspaper for breakfast today," she admitted. "It just seemed like the right thing to do." She couldn't really explain why she'd waited to herself, let alone anyone else. But she certainly wasn't telling him about the entire packet of chocolate that didn't last even an hour after she'd opened the mail.
"Four days, huh? That's admirable restraint."
"What about you?" Emma asked, trying to return to her earlier question about him.
"Oh no, I'm a 'read the newspaper right away' kind of guy. Can't let the latest…" he glanced down at the paper and chose a headline at random, "…drought statistics get away from me."
Emma smiled, he was very amusing. She made a spontaneous decision. "How do you feel about Australian shiraz?"
"Is that a kind of marsupial?" he asked.
Emma's heart sank. She wasn't a wine snob, but there was no way she was sharing a fantastic bottle of wine from home with someone who didn't know plonk from Grange.
House watched her face fall and couldn't help himself from feeling a little stab of sympathy for her.
"It's ok, I do know what shiraz is. We call it syrah here. I even like it."
"Well, once you're finished your coffee, I was planning to go to the park with my bottle of wine. I'd be happy to share. And I might even let you help with the crossword."
"Can I do the sudoku?" he asked.
"Sure." Emma felt almost light-headed about how reckless she was being.Inviting a total stranger to join her for the afternoon, she thought, what would mum say? But when she weighed it up against sitting in her lounge room alone and took another look at those blue eyes, she decided. Bugger off, mum.
The afternoon passed quickly, lazily. Their conversation was easy and they'd even spent quite a bit of time in silence working on their separate puzzles.
They both now knew the basic statistics of each other, no real details, but had found each other's answers intriguing enough to keep talking. She knew a great deal about obscure pop culture and had a fondness popular music that he had adored making fun of. She'd asked him what he did for a living and following his answer asked him if he enjoyed it. He didn't think anyone had ever asked him that before and he wasn't entirely sure how to answer her. But he gave her points for asking – most people followed up with some ridiculous story or request to look at a rash.
A couple of times she'd asked for help with a crossword clue. He'd asked her to look at the sudoku, but she'd admitted she had 'no head for numbers'. That had caused a fuss when he'd wanted to know how she'd become a professor of business at Princeton when she couldn't count. She'd defended that her speciality was leadership and then they'd debated the maths skills of leaders in both the real and fictional world ranging from Shackleton to Spock.
Then his mobile had rung. He had to go into work. Emma just nodded understandingly, then boldly asked for his mobile phone. At first he didn't know why she would be asking for it, assuming she needed to make a call of her own. But then he watched as she programmed in "Emma the Australian" and her phone number. He smiled and gave her a wink as he walked away.
Emma hummed a tuneless song to herself as she folded the blanket and started for home. Perhaps this whole moving to New Jersey thing hadn't been a bad idea after all.