A/N: I intended this as a story in three parts, but I like ending it here. If that is unacceptable to any of you, you can let me know how you feel.
Thanks to those who helped: Timbereads; Niicelaady; AThousandSmiles; Jesmel, and Kate J.
This story is for Sharp2799.
And just like that, you're nothing to him.
Not a marble sculpture for his lobby or the fetching underling he never had the chance to "hit." You're not the yin to his yang or the Abbott to his Costello. Your kiss is not on his lips, and you're not his one-in-a-million girl.
The stale taste of the lollipop lingers on your tongue. You remember the red and green swirls of the candy as you licked. The flavor? Peppermint. His was Bubblegum.
But he won't remember it.
Amnesia? It's a bad soap opera storyline, although you suppose that "bad soap opera storyline" is an oxymoron.
Besides. This is no joke. This is your life. This is his.
Was it only at lunch that he guided your hand to his cock under the tablecloth? You crossed your legs and squeezed to nullify the ache pulsing between them while stroking his erection through his jeans. The lust as his eyes passed from his Reuben to your body was only a part of the story. When you tipped your head up for a kiss, leaning against the car outside the restaurant, tenderness materialized, softening the sharp blue of his eyes. His prick was hard but his lips were sweet.
In the parking lot, you planned a trip to the carnival. You were prepared to share your cotton candy for a price, and now this:
A wayward car and a heroic gesture and you must remember this … as time goes by.
Now you could be anyone.
You sit by his hospital bed, your thumb traversing the foothills of his knuckles.
Foreman and Wilson look at you askance.
There must be something in the way you stake your claim, something in the way you grip the arm of the chair that reminds them: You're the one who decorated House's office with candy canes, once upon a time.
They keep their distance.
In sleep, he loses his edge. His face unclasps. Years topple like dominoes and he softens.
You stare at the lashes fanned out against the pallor of his skin and study the blue veins of his arms where you know needles have been. Scars line the inside of his arm where he split his own flesh with deft swipes of a razor blade. You picture him carving with surgical precision. With a fingertip, you trace the evidence of pain and abstain from wincing on his behalf.
Vision blurs, but you blink yourself back.
It's just a severe concussion. An aligned closed fracture. There's no gross structural damage and the worst-case scenario is transient mental status alteration and post-concussive syndrome from the neuronal shearing.
The harm is peripheral compared to a nicked artery and a hole in the side, the souvenirs of being shot.
You swipe his iPod from the pocket of his pea coat and play Two of Us by The Beatles on a constant loop.
You wait for him.
You've waited from the moment he watched you walk into his office for the job interview.
"Don't know what you've heard, but this is a fellowship," he says while Wilson cracks his knuckles in embarrassment. "The word 'fellow' kind of implies that the applicants have wobbly bits."
"So you either expected a guy named Allison or you didn't read my CV." You clasp your hands in your lap.
"You said I had an interview with Cameron," he turns to Wilson with narrowed eyes, staring at him until he looks away. Turning back to you, he continues. "If I'd known you look like you, I would have worn my blue shirt."
Wilson clears his throat, puts in a word. "House." To you, he offers an explanation. "It's just his way of saying you're pretty."
You ignore him. "Sick people want to get better, not ogle their doctor."
"Most want to do both." House bends his head to study your resume, squinting here and raising his eyebrows there and finally looking up. "Looks good," he says simply. "But you're here because he thought I'd like you."
House cocks his thumb at Wilson.
He flicks his eyes up and down your body, cloaked in its neat blue suit. You wait for him to see what you have to offer.
No one has ever looked at you like that: as if he could reach inside and find the one true thing that others bypassed.
Ignoring your inquiry, he tosses cheese ball movie lines to Wilson, while keeping his eyes fixed on yours.
"You complete me." His voice carries and you absorb the words even as they bypass you and head for his cohort. Does Wilson get that he's being used as a comic foil? He is the Head of Oncology after all.
House offers you a conspiratorial smile.
You feel like a beloved book. One he's always had but misplaced. He plucks you from the shelf, dusts you off, and opens you up. He can't turn the pages fast enough.
You can't look away.
"You make me want to be a better person," he tells Wilson matter-of-factly while feigning the need to sneeze theatrically. You love how he delivers a line, the nuances and the way he bites off the last word.
A flustered Wilson: "House! I … don't know what to …"
"You can go now." House dismisses his sidekick. "You've served your purpose."
You hear the scrape of a chair and a moment later Wilson's hand crosses into your line of sight.
"I think you're hired," he says as you shake distractedly.
The office door closes behind him.
Once Wilson has gone, it's just the two of you in the quiet of the room. He lifts his bad leg up to rest on his desktop and swings the left one up to join it.
"Have we met before?" The words are blunt.
It's not a question you prepared for when considering this job interview.
"I don't think so…" You hear the hesitation in your voice. Have you? You'd remember.
And yet you'd know him anywhere.
His desk separates the two of you but his eyes pull you closer. The low pitch of his voice makes you feel like you're pressed against him. It makes you want to whisper.
"It's just…" He waves the thought away.
Say what you need to say.
And at Mayo, I … You should be talking up your qualifications.
This is no ordinary interview.
"What do you know …" you ask him, "about me?"
"Let me just consult my Magic Eight Ball to confirm the conclusions I've drawn." He reaches for the device and holds it up for you to see, and then studies it. "I'm a rational man."
A moment later, he looks up. "I was right. I … know you. You're a good fit."
For a moment, you both sit in comfortable silence. You feel a smile forming on your face. Smiles have been strangers for such a long time.
"What's your favorite song?" he asks. His gaze falters and dips to the top button of your suit.
"Depends on the day," you reply. "And if you know me, you shouldn't have to ask."
"The Rolling Stones. 'Wild Horses.'"
He picks up an oversized tennis ball from his desk and fondles it. He's like a smoker craving a cigarette, something to do with his hands. You watch his fingers as they restlessly toy with the … toy.
Finally, he asks, "Why?"
You think. Lyrically, the song could be better. It's the thing about the Stones. The songs that resonate are so good you forget that the words are disappointing compared to the whole effect.
"Themes of loss and love and yearning, evoked through simple chords, and a chorus that says everything that needs to be said in a sentence where for Shakespeare it might take a whole play," you respond plainly. "That's why."
His face registers surprise – and something else. "At first glance I might have guessed Maroon Five but I knew there was more to you than meets the eye."
"How about you?" You ask. "What's your favorite song?"
He puts down the ball and plays silent chords on the edge of the desktop as if it were a keyboard.
"The Beatles. 'Blackbird.'"
When he looks up at you, it's as if you've already kissed, your eyes closed, surprised to find so much inside each other.
You await his explanation.
"Healing. It's implied. And this line: 'All your life you were only waiting for this moment to arise.'"
You close your eyes and open them.
His use of your name, the name you inherited from Tom, it draws you further in.
"You … work for me."
You think of the rally.
If it wasn't for Monster Trucks, you might not have fallen for him. It was House the man, not House the Head of Diagnostics who'd invited you. Beneath your do-no-harm, procedural approach to life and medicine, he had spied the capacity for fun. You had buried that part of you with Tom.
What struck you during the first year of knowing House was the way he viewed the world from behind a pane of glass. At the rally, you saw who he could be. There, with you, he could have been anyone. Even with his cane, he blended in.
You remember the hot exhaust enveloping the pair of you as Grave Digger blasted past, rearing on its fat, engorged wheels. The bellowing engines were deafening and he practically had his tongue in your ear when he gave you the play by play just to penetrate the noise. Outside on the grounds, your all-access pass bounced between your breasts as you walked side by side. The cotton candy was an afterthought: First there was ice cream. House had Superman.
That night you were friends. Possibility bloomed.
Now it has blossomed.
The past few months with House have extended the dynamic begun at the rally way back when. A deceptive ease marks your talk, but there's the matter of desire.
You know what is to come.
You argue about the number of dates you've had. He counts the night the two of you went out for drink and he persuaded you to bet on games of pool.
"Do you play?" he asks, sipping bourbon.
You trace the rim of your glass with a finger and lick off the salt.
"My brother taught me the fundamentals," is all you say. Never mind that he gave you a cue stick for your high school graduation gift.
House stands, gesturing at the table, where tanned college men with polo shirts and Princeton sweatshirts congregate.
"Do you want to dance, or do you want to dance?" He extends his hand and your fingertips touch. What would it be like to spin across the floor only to be pulled back hard up against his chest?
Maybe it's the way he pulls off the Pierce Brosnan accent or maybe you're tired of living under the radar.
"Let's dance," you say, and the University elite makes way for a cripple and a misfit.
You catch the cue stick he tosses and promptly drop it, while the college guys laugh.
"Damn," you say. "Sorry!"
"Bet you hold it like a girl," House speaks loudly enough so that anyone near the table can hear.
You swivel to look at him, chin resting on the end of the cue.
"I'll take that bet," you challenge under your breath.
He's good, but you're better. After the first game he slowly applauds in admiration, and then he pulls you back to the bar to huddle.
"We can take them."
"The Red Army. Who do you think?" He tosses his head in the direction of the frat boys.
"They haven't done anything to us," you quietly point out.
"They're idiots. Isn't that reason enough?"
"So we should steal their money? Play them?"
"They'll never miss the money. Wait a minute. You weren't a member of the Sisterhood in college, were you?"
"I've never been a joiner," you remind him in all seriousness.
"That's right. You probably would have tattled on their ancient torturous pledging rituals."
"Okay. I'll play. But at least buy them a round."
"Like that's going to happen. Your conscience, your guilt money."
He plays the hotshot, and you do the aw-shucks routine, but between his backswing and your swerve shots, the pair of you wipes out a fraternity's worth of bangers without breaking a sweat.
That night, he bums a cigar from a guy in a football jersey. Between games, you and House slip outside, passing the stogie back and forth like contraband.
"You're paying for my chemo," you say, and as soon as the words are out you gasp. But too much time has passed. You're allowed to make a joke.
By then, you've both had a couple. You count the money you've won from the coeds, House fanning it out like a deck of cards.
It's cold outside. Steam clouds from his mouth and out into the night. Your bra is useless; the taut tips of your nipples poke from the thin cotton of your shirt. He stares, leaning against the building in the moonlight and flicking the cigarette away. And then he pushes off the wall and his hands cinch your waist. You are yanked up against him and pinned to the brick exterior of the establishment. His fingers whisper up your rib cage and over your small breasts as if under his touch your nips could bloom like buds.
"Didn't know you were a shark," he says, pressing into you until you feel his largeness bulge against your abdomen.
He has always been bigger than life … and yet all too human.
"Let's go back in and clean up," you suggest, lightly pushing at his muscular shoulders with reluctance. "I picked up a copy of 'The Thomas Crown Affair,' the Steve McQueen version. We can go to my place and watch it."
You smile up at him and lead him back inside.
House is still asleep. The hard musculature of his arms stretched out on the sheets is in contrast to the soft hairs as your hand lightly strokes his skin.
In the Beatles song, John and Yoko are Sunday driving, not arriving, probably because they stopped roadside for some good love while living their freewheeling life. The two of them light matches, lift latches, and write letters on his wall. Very romantic, you think.
The little moments add up and before you know it, there's something going on, never mind if neither of you knows just what.
Seeing him makes you giddy. You remember happiness and something inside breaks apart with a burst of joy.
You contain yourself where you can.
On his birthday, you show up with cupcakes, sparklers, and firecrackers. A winsome "Happy Birthday" seems passé.
On the drive over, you roll down the windows and turn up Ryan Adams until pedestrians stare. You sing along with the first track, and drum on the steering wheel at stop signs. To be young is to be sad is to be high. You toss your hair and view the world through your Ray-bans. This is what it's like to be alive.
You step on the gas.
As an afterthought, you pull into Amphora Fine Wine and splurge on a chilled bottle of Moet & Chandon Brut Vintage. Thanks to the Big Bang, House was born. You'll raise a glass to that.
You've dressed in jeans and an Eric Clapton tee, size small.
Standing on his stoop, you hear notes leak from inside where he's playing Chopin: an etude, not a waltz. Says a lot about his state of mind, you figure, picturing his elegant fingers spread out on the keys, the span of his hands descending as the sound of a chord hovers in mid-air like something bittersweet and then drifts away forever.
At your knock, the music stops abruptly in a minor key creating dissonance. A moment later, he opens the door a crack. As always, the interior of the townhouse is dark with its wood and leather, its earth toned paint and dim lighting.
His eyes are glassy blue pools as he views you from his six foot two inches.
From the tumbler on top of the piano and the partial bottle of Marker's Mark, it's clear that "happy" and "birthday" are not synonymous.
"The good stuff," you say about his choice of beverage as you shift the bag of supplies into your other arm. "When did you start hitting it?"
"The instant I remembered what day it was and from whom I could expect a visit. Could have at least worn your birthday suit for the occasion." The door opens wider and you are at eye level with his clavicle.
At the inches of liquid in the bottle, you observe, "It's half-empty, so I'm guessing you figured it out a while ago."
"I see it as half-full, but then I'm an optimist." He leans, lackadaisical, against the doorway, arms crossing his chest.
"That's you all right. Think you can handle carrying this?" You dump the brown paper bag of fireworks in his arms, and go back to your car for the cupcakes and bubbly.
At the site of the label, he snorts.
"Champagne is for sissies."
You brush against him as you head for the kitchen.
"It's for me. Didn't think you'd be celebrating. Why don't you like birthdays?"
"They remind me of my dad. It's his fault that I was born."
"You'd rather not have been?"
"Oh, no. My life is great. I can't even give you a piggyback ride."
"That something you aspire to?"
"Your legs wrapped around me always sounds good," he says candidly, with an offhand shrug.
"That can be arranged, as soon as we date, and for that, the ball's in your court."
"Doesn't this count?"
"It might if I were an invited guest. Besides, let's not think of today as your birthday. Today is something to celebrate because you didn't stick a knife in an electrical circuit and die. You managed to get through one more day without being shot. I'm ... glad you're alive," you say.
"You're a piece of work," he says. "Not being dead as a reason to celebrate. Mind if I get drunk?"
"Be my guest. Your house, your poison. But, alcohol affects performance, and you never know. Sometimes I'm easy. Happens when you least expect it."
He takes one more swig of the spirits while you stick candles in cupcakes, wandering into the kitchen and leaning against the counter to watch. He swipes a finger full of white frosting and before you can scold him, he extends it to you.
"Open, sesame," he commands and when you part your lips, he thrusts his finger inside your mouth. You lick off the sugary substance, tongue lingering on the whorls.
"You have pretty hair," he slurs, chin propped on one hand as he watches you scrape a wooden match against its box and tip the flame to the wicks of the birthday candles. "Your hair smells good." Shaking the match, you extinguish the flame and lean across him to toss it in the garbage disposal.
Heat radiates from his body as you straighten and his hands find the space between hipbone and rib cage, where your waist indents like punctuation.
"Have you ever tried bourbon? This stuff is bottled by taste, not age, and the top is sealed with red wax. Sexy."
Your head wags, negative.
"Taste this. It's..."
He stops talking and takes your face in his hands, running his fingers over your cheekbones and down your jaw and then tilting your chin, drawing you in and scorching your mouth with a slow-burn, alcohol-ignited kiss. At first he toys with your lips, exploring with infinite patience. And then he's greedy, forcing your mouth open beneath the insistence of his and swirling his tongue around yours. He sinks his teeth into your lower lip; his left thigh nudging your legs apart enough so his hand fits at the apex of your jeans. The warmth of it is infused into your secret skin.
The whiskey is the real thing, you think, feeling the edge of the counter digging into your kidneys as he allows more of his weight to push against you. The hairs of his stomach and chest are soft beneath your hands as you slide them under his tee.
The very next thing, he's lifted you up on the counter so you can straddle him, and then he backs away, holding you, your legs tight around his waist.
It's not quite a piggyback ride, but it's close.
Your hands cling to the back of his neck, and you shake with laughter before he sets you back down on your feet.
"Clapton pales in comparison," he announces, staring at your breasts and by osmosis, your T-shirt featuring Eric.
"To whom?" you ask scornfully.
"Me. Have you ever heard me go down on a guitar before?"
"It's a sight I'd like to see before I die, that's for sure."
"Jimi Hendrix, Richard Thompson, Terry Kath. Those are the guitar gods you want on your shirt."
"What's wrong with Clapton?"
"Next to the aforementioned deities, he's just dust in the wind."
"You think so?"
Like Elaine on "Seinfeld," you give his shoulder a playful shove. For a moment he stands with arms by his sides, lowering his chin and looking at you. And then his lips curve and he shoves you back. You fall onto the couch, laughing until you ache. The unbearable lightness of being, you think, as he lowers his body down until its weight covers you like a quilt. The cushions sink with your bodies as he touches your face, cupping it, so close you see a question in his eyes. His mouth touches down.
Later he disappears into his bedroom, returning with bottle rockets.
"You know those are illegal in New Jersey," you caution. You picture a tiny jail cell, orange jumpsuits, and the two of you hunched on a crude bench side by side.
"And you know me well enough to know I don't care. These are Phantom Whistling Bottle Rockets with Stars and Report, not just any fireworks. These have a reputation. They travel high and finish with, and I quote, 'an explosion of stars.'" He gives you a "pretty please" look. "It's my birthday."
"Maybe Tritter has the night off," you joke, loosening up.
After a while, you go outside and light the bottle rockets. As they blast off whistling and whooshing and spreading colored confetti across sky, you laugh and sip a tumbler of champagne. He's quiet, watching you. You feel his eyes on your body, and there's a gravity that descends.
The sky darkens.
After the snap, crackle, and pop of the fireworks, you light sparklers, waving them like batons as swirls of fire light the dark. You form constellations
He turns to you.
"What's your name again? You know how bad I am with names."
Your eyes hold his as a smile crosses your face.
"Allison, you idiot," you say.
With the tip of the sparkler, he burns your name into the black velvet of the night. The yellow memory lingers as you close your eyes, your name suspended on the insides of your lids.
Time stands still and all that's left is the two of you. Hovering on the horizon is the prospect of love.
"I want more than this," he says, grasping your wrist. The sparkler drops to the sidewalk, still fizzling.
"Okay ... but tomorrow you won't. Tomorrow you'll push me away. Keep me at arm's length."
"I don't think so. And even if I do. Makes it interesting."
"Makes it painful. If you want more, start with baby steps. A date."
"What we've been doing is better than dating. It's fun."
With a sudden movement, he reaches for the front of your jeans, grasping the denim and pulling you close. The snap pops open from sheer force. His kiss is like meringue, light and insubstantial. It leaves you wanting more but you like less because then there's the build up. Desire pools in the pit of your stomach as he outlines your mouth with a fingertip and then makes an imprint with his lips, pressing in. Your mouth opens beneath his and you feel his tongue uncoil, stroking yours and then pulling back.
He's a tease. But then he means it. This. You hear the hiss of your zip and warm flesh sliding down your belly and lower still and then, oh hell.
Not yet. Not yet.
You want him sober.
He does what he's told.
You start to date in earnest.
Your phone rings the night after his birthday. It's him. There's a lecture at the University, a Freudian scholar. He'll take you – if you agree to go with him to a trebuchet expo in New York.
"Isn't that just a 10 word for catapult?"
"These contraptions could fling 300 pound projectiles at the speed of light. Well, that's an exaggeration but who wouldn't want to see crap hurled through the air by propulsion? It's like Letterman dropping watermelons from the tops of skyscrapers. Did you know that occasionally, disease-infected corpses were flung into cities in an attempt to infect the people under siege?"
"Medieval biological warfare from the sound of it," you say. "Okay. I'm in."
You stare at his face. It's better than a Van Gogh or your favorite TV show or anything on the New York Times Bestseller list.
Foreman and Wilson go for coffee and sandwiches.
Drowsily his lids flutter and two blue pools scan your face. His lips curve upwards as he surveys you.
"Who are you?" he asks in a sleepy, sexy voice.
He loves you with a possessiveness that takes your breath away, as if you are a part of him he lost somewhere along the way and now you are found and reclaimed.
But it's the way he holds you afterward, stroking the length of you and molding your shape to his that tells you all you need to know. His strong arms have you clasped where you belong, next to him, touching. In the dim light, his face is beautiful. It's long and expressive, and he moistens his bottom lip with his tongue, a familiar gesture. The same blue eyes that once stung now melt and beneath his chest his heart beats against your ear, steadfast.
You curl into each other and stay that way.
"I'd do it again," he says, and kisses the sweat off your neck and the hollow of your throat.
House pulls you closer, until your foreheads touch. "My life. You give it meaning." His voice is steady and there's no schoolboy emotional display.
He says what he needs to say.
"I'd go through it all over again for this. To find you."
This is what you know, as his lips gently move over yours:
The world doesn't end.
And neither does this: whatever is between you.
You could be anyone.
The collar of your black pea coat brushes your stubble as you sink down on the cold wood of the picnic table, glancing around the jogging park. Here you're one of many, part of a crowd, your sneakers barely touching the ground as you run, if only you could run.
Today is ordinary – not that you're an expert on the subject. An early spring chill descends on the late afternoon, and sharp sunlight casts long shadows on the green lawn. The special effects of Mother Nature render the trees into grotesque creatures with knotted, gnarled trunks.
You glance up at a nearby beech tree, the one with the initials of two lovers carved into its bark, thinking of Plato's theory of the ideal. In his world, ideas were more real than things. The guy thought that objects were a reflection of a higher truth. The beech, then, is distinct from the abstract form of Tree-ness. So says Plato, you think. Moron.
You consider your leg, with its ravished tissue and rivulets of dead flesh. It's hard to think about the abstract form of Leg-ness when the real thing hurts like hell.
Pain is the higher truth. It trumps the idea of a perfect, healthy leg.
An overweight jogger slumps past, gasping. His fingers are clubbed, you notice, and tiny red veins crisscross his florid face. You write him off.
Not long for this world.
A scrawny man with a concave chest and orange-tinged skin is a blip, he moves so fast. The guy must subsist on a diet of rabbit food: raw carrots being the main course. You feed Steve McQueen better than that. (You're still puzzled by the fact that you own a pet rat.) Emaciated as Iggy Pop, a marathoner passes the picnic table, the muscles of his calves bunched up. Needs Vitamin blank for his cramps.
And so they come: Able-bodied gallopers, streaking by like … well, to get the metaphor right, it depends on the athlete. Some run in a pack like feral dogs, with gritted teeth. Others are as loose-limbed and gawky as ostriches. The long distance runners in sprint mode remind you of salukis, bred for speed and grace.
You feel like Peter Sellers in Being There, living vicariously. Limping like a three-legged dog to the park to look on as strangers jog. I like to watch. Face it: you're a voyeur. Not the dirty old man, peeping Tom, sexually perverse variety, but the kind who likes to trespass on average Joes or Janes – normal civilians – armed with the knowledge that you don't fit the mold.
Shoving your hands in your pockets, you fiddle with your iPod until you find the song you want. The buds are already in your ears. I know this much is true, you think as you turn up the volume on Peter Gabriel:
I don't remember; I don't recall. I've got no memory of anything at all …
There's nothing like a little theme music.
And then you see her.
A girl runs toward you dressed in black Lycra loping like a gazelle. Her form is heartbreaking; her gait is steadfast.
She'll go the distance.
If she were a horse, you'd bet all you had on her. As she closes in, filtered sunlight from between the trees baptizes her in a soft golden glow, a benediction. Her running attire isn't black after all: It's a shifty shade of green, iridescent. As she approaches, she turns into a woman, slender as an adolescent but feminine, with a slight rounding of hip nipped into a narrow waist. Small breasts push against the clingy material of the leotard. She's so fit you can see space between her thighs. If she sat down on the picnic table and opened her legs, you could see more of her, places you'd like to touch and kiss and fuck.
You know you know her. You know she somehow lives in your blood and your bones.
It hits you.
She's the one from Wilson's photograph, the lab rat. And it comes back to you. When you first awoke from the concussion, she held your hand, touched your brow. Acted like a widow, a wife.
There's wisdom and sadness and a quiet resilience in her eyes as she reaches the part of the path that passes the table. She looks straight at you, and her face perceptibly softens.
You like her. You don't need Wilson to know the truth of the matter, as warmth fills your chest. A flame that never really went out flickers anew.
And then it happens. Her New Balance running shoe meets the end of your cane and down she goes. She sprawls on the packed dirt path so hard she skids a little like a baseline runner.
"Ouch," you say with a grimace. "That had to hurt."
Most people would spring back up, embarrassed by the indignity of a fall. She just props her chin on her arm and looks up at you with a grimace of pain and a four-letter word.
You hope it's the fall and not seeing you.
"Hi," she says through gritted teeth. "Think I bruised my patella."
"My cane is sorry it crippled you," is what comes out of your mouth.
"How about you? Are you sorry?" She seems genuinely curious.
Sorry for what? You wonder. This one is all about subtext.
"Feeling bad changes nothing. It won't fix your knee."
Still, you stand and stiffly take the two steps from table to prone hotty, helping her up.
"You already know this, but I'm Dr. House. I … work over at the teaching hospital." You jerk your thumb in the general direction. "To me it feels like we've never met."
She steadies herself by placing a hand on your bicep.
"I'm Allison. 'Dr. Cameron' to immunocompromised kids. In my spare time, I'm an advocate for endangered species and I like to make stuffed animals out of recycled materials."
Humor touches her voice as she gauges your reaction to the information.
"You're right. I don't have any spare time."
You help her over to the picnic table and she sits.
"Let me take a look at it." You indicated her knee, and she dutifully pulls the material up so you can see. You rotate her patella. "That hurt?"
"Oh no. Feels like foreplay," she says flippantly.
"Careful. I can't remember the last time I got some and here I am with a view of your naked knee. Who knows what this could lead to?"
You examine her chin where gravel is embedded and scrape the dirt off by licking your thumb and brushing it across her skin.
"There's a cut. Needs to be cleaned."
"Guess I should run with a first aid kit strapped to my waist instead of a fanny pack," she says with a smile. You step back and sit down beside her.
A bluebird lands in the branches of the beech and you watch its nervous twitches until a jogger with a dog runs past and it flits away, a blur of color.
"Thanks. That was nice of you," she pulls the fabric back down to her ankle.
"You're welcome. Don't tell anyone. You'll ruin my reputation as a misanthropic bastard."
"You're not a misanthrope. You're just House. If Wilson gets anywhere near you, plug your ears. You with memory loss is his wet dream."
You like how she says whatever comes to mind, and the way she delivers sexual innuendo while looking like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.
"Sounds like I'm his hobby. Maybe he should take up knitting," you propose.
Cameron laughs. "That would be a healthy choice, but I doubt he'd go for it. That fall was a sign that I put in my miles for today. Want to … grab a drink? I could use one."
You take in her kind, clear eyes and unquestioning acceptance of the man you apparently are.
"Okay … but I drink the good stuff. Up for a walk with a gimp?"
"To your place? Only if you don't use me as a crutch. I can't even keep myself on my two feet."
The townhouse is across the park and she seems to know the way. You can see her breath as it enters her and comes out as a puff of smoke that drifts away into space.
If you were blind and your face had been scorched by fire, you would give her your hand and let her lead you. And once you were home, she would trace the scar tissue and kiss the ravaged flesh and the two of you would lean into each other.
But this isn't Jane Eyre and your mind has once again wandered miserably off course.
She steers you back to the present moment.
"They're like an infectious disease," she says, tugging your sleeve like a little girl and pointing out the explosion of tiny blue flowers dotting the lawn of the park. "Forget-Me-Nots. Yesterday there were just a few. Now look at them."
"It rivals teen acne. Should we call the CDC?" You joke.
"You'd look good in a wetsuit." Your shoulder hurts from leaning into your cane and you stop walking and consider her. Hands loosely on her hips, she tilts her head up at you, an endearing quirk. Sweat has dampened the tendrils of dark hair that frame her face. Adornment seems beside the point when it comes to Allison Cameron. She doesn't need makeup or lingerie or jewelry to make a statement. All you need to know is in the way she holds herself, with poise. All you need to know you find in her steadfast eyes where so much life pools into blue-green. "Then again, you'd look good in sackcloth and ashes."
Sentiment doesn't factor into your observation. It's a statement, uttered matter-of-factly. You'd like to see her in jeans and a man's dress shirt too.
Maybe you already had. But that was the advantage to this amnesia business. You'd get to see it for the first time.