Balcony Grown

James Wilson had always loved to cook. As a little boy he would sit on the kitchen counter and listen with rapt attention as his mother explained what she was doing. At her side, he'd learned to separate egg whites from yolks and how to sift flour properly. Every Saturday they would try out a new recipe together. It didn't have to be complicated or overly ambitious. Just so long as it was something they'd never tried before. Some of the recipes were horrible but some became staples in the Wilson household. A favorite dish of both, and one that he would carry with him into adulthood was macadamia nut pancakes. They'd first tried making them on Valentine's Day when he was ten years old. It was a morning he'd never forget.

Cooking would come to be one of the few activities that kept him sane whenever his life would spiral out of control.

Moving out of the house he'd shared with his wife, Wilson had lost a lot, but he'd also gained his freedom from an unhappy marriage. And that was worth the loss of closet space and a large bathroom any day. In retrospect, those things seemed trivial compared to an unhappy, punishing life.

But as his "temporary" stay at the motel stretched from weeks to months, the real ramifications of his move began to hit… close to home.

The walls were thin and the bed's comforter scratchy, but those were perks compared to the fact that his new room contained only one, small window. The worst, however, was the lack of a functioning kitchen beyond a microwave and mini-fridge. Staying at House's place may have been less than relaxing, but at least he had access to a stove there.

When he'd moved into the hotel, Wilson had thought he was taking a step towards freedom and a new life. But he very quickly became aware of the fact that he'd stepped from one prison to another. And this one didn't even provide him with the stress relief of a kitchen to cook out his problems in.

He'd gone from carefully preparing chicken Parmesan and stuffed peppers to frozen burritos and pre-made refrigerator-able sandwiches.

And that put him at rock bottom. Officially.

Walking through the grocery store one night after work, Wilson looked at the fresh produce, spices, and everything else the various aisles had to offer. All of the ingredients were so tempting, and the oncologist couldn't stop himself from imagining the different dishes he could make with them. As he headed over to the coolers filled with a vast array of frozen entrees, he couldn't push down the wave of depression suddenly engulfing him.

As quickly as he possibly could, Wilson grabbed what he'd come for and made his way to the self-check out register. By ringing up his own groceries he'd been able to spare himself a few accusing (and sometimes sympathetic) looks from the female clerks. But on his way to the counter, a display of boxes on the end cap of aisle twelve caught his eye.

The shelves were covered in rectangular boxes bearing a colorful picture of spaghetti and fresh herbs growing in little pots. Above the tiny plants were the words "Gourmet Chia Herb Garden," and across from that, the box read "Fresh herbs at your fingertips year 'round". Picking up the kit, Wilson flipped it over and read the back. By the time he'd finished scanning the glossy cardboard, he'd found out that it contained everything he needed in order to grow fresh spices for the low price of twenty-four dollars and ninety-five cents.

For some reason, he wanted the small garden despite the fact that he really had no use for fresh, homegrown herbs. He just couldn't see how the wonderful taste of fresh basil would mix well with "heat and stir" pasta primavera. Despite that fact, he just couldn't bring himself to pass it up.

When he arrived back at the hotel after his shopping trip, the oncologist gathered up his groceries, brief case, and jacket. The Chia Herb Garden was left on the passenger seat for tomorrow. He simply couldn't bring himself to take something that was supposed to grow into the dungeon that was his room. No, he had higher hopes for the tiny garden.

And so, as he made his way into work early the next morning, Wilson gathered up the glossy box along with the rest of his things. Because of the hour, he didn't have to worry about running into House or anyone else that would ask questions. Everyone else currently in the hospital didn't know him or was too tired to care.

Stepping into the early morning air, Wilson, with shopping bag and watering can in hand, sat down on the floor of the balcony off of his office. Carefully opening the box and spreading its contents out in front of him looking over the various items. He pretty much understood what he had to do, but he still picked up the directions just to be safe.

While the thin paper said to place the small pots indoors by a window, he saw no reason why he had to. The weather had been warm and temperate lately, and if it were to storm, he could always bring them inside. It just seemed wrong to keep a garden indoors.

When it came to planting the seeds, there were "growing sponges" instead of dirt. And unfortunately, the sponges needed to be pre-moistened. Shaking his head at the obstacle, Wilson placed the sponges in the provided terra-cotta pots and soaked them in water. Watching the water bubble as it was absorbed into the porous material, Wilson could only hope that a few minutes of soaking would be enough to be considered pre-moistened.

Ignoring the sponges for the time being, the oncologist read through the rest of the directions. For some strange reason, the kit came with six different packets of seeds but only four pots. Since he wasn't actually going to be using the herbs, it didn't really matter what he planted, but he chose his favorite four anyway.

With the seed packets for sweet basil, curled parsley, chives, and cilantro ripped open, Wilson pulled the still soaking pots towards himself. After carefully pouring the excess water back into the small watering can, the oncologist picked up one of the seed packets and shook it over one of the pots. As the tiny seeds spilled across the black sponge, he couldn't help but feel calm and relaxed. It wasn't cooking, but it was a step in the right direction. Gently placing the marker that read "cilantro" into the pot, the man carefully set the newly planted herb aside so he could repeat the process with the other three.

It didn't take long to finish the tiny garden, but as he poured water over the tiny planters, he couldn't believe how relieved he felt. Lining the four terra-cotta planters along the sunniest side of the balcony, Wilson thought of his mother and her love of fresh basil. If he couldn't use the herbs, maybe she could. Or maybe, if House were desperate enough for food, he would let Wilson use his kitchen to cook dinner.

Either way, it was a very small step towards cooking again. And for now, that was enough.

Squeeka Cuomo's Notes

- Originally written for Round 2 of the lj community Wilson Fest (Prompt: What does Wilson grow on his balcony?).

- Also written for the lj comunity user alphabetasoup (S is for Surprised).

- Quack: My beta. My goddess. I couldn't do this without you. Your dedication amazes me. Thank you so much.