The paved road quickly gave way to gravel then dirt and grass as House veered off the path, up over the hill, the music keeping time to the slap of his feet. At the top House slowed and bent at the waist, his hands gripping his knees as the sweat poured from his forehead stinging his eyes. When he was younger House would wonder why sweat made your eyes burn but crying didn't. House now knew the properties of sweat, the interaction of salt water plus dirt and oil just as he understood the way the lactic acid caused his muscles to burn or the way the endorphins surged through his system as he reached the top of a particularly steep hill. It wasn't always this way.
"Gregory John House! You get back here right this second young man!" John House's words hung on the air as Greg raced own the street, the thin leather of his Chuck Taylors kicking up clouds of Carolina red clay underneath his feet. He was just curious. He didn't break anything. If his father hadn't come home early from his field problem he wouldn't have found his son belly down on the floor of the living room with pieces of the family's vacuum cleaner laid out on the floor in front of him. He had never even heard the door open.
Greg's lungs burned as his thoughts raced in time to the pumping of his feet. His mom always encouraged his curiosity. She was proud of him when he figured out how things worked and fixed them for her. But his father; his father wouldn't even listen to him as he tried to explain what he was doing, that he had his mother's permission to fix the machine. He just felt the sting of the slap and heard the sound of the screen door as it slammed shut behind him. With each step he imagined he was stepping on his father's head, slowly the anger left him as he collapsed on the side of the road his tears mixing with the sweat on his face.
"All right men, take your marks get set…GO!"
Greg's arms and legs pumped as he pulled ahead of the pack. He had been in his new school for three months and had arrived in time to take the school's annual physical fitness assessment. While Greg complained with the other boys in his class secretly he looked forward to the test. The final event was a one mile timed run. He had done well at his old school, winning the school's fitness award. This time though it wasn't an award he wanted. The school's best runner was an oversized jerk named Jacob Hanson. In Greg's first week Jacob and his buddies had welcomed House to the school by pinning him up against the lockers.
"Give me your lunch money!"
"Go to hell!"
They got his lunch money that day and the next day as well. When Jacob and his pals weren't beating House they walked by him in the halls sneering New Guy at him making it sound to all around as though being the new kid was some sort of communicable disease. It made for a lonely existence.
Three laps down. Greg could see the back of Jacob's head. He pumped his legs making up ground inch by painful inch. It was close, each boy refusing to give any ground.
"You gonna run Cross Country this year?"
"My dad wants me to play football this year. Says it looks better to schools and stuff."
"That sucks man. If I were you I'd tank the try-outs and join the team later."
"Your son would get a top rate education at Hopkins."
Greg sat stiff backed on the chair, the collar of his dress shirt digging painfully into the back of his neck. For a half hour he had sat there while his father stared as yet another college recruiter make yet another pitch for Greg to run at yet another university. He father said nothing, just silently appraised the man sitting in front of him. Greg knew that look, the one that said somewhere in some checklist that made sense only to himself John House was finding this man lacking.
"I'm concerned about Greg going to school across the country. There are plenty of good schools that he could attend here in California. The coach from Cal was here last week. I suspect he is going to offer Greg a place on his team."
"I understand your concern Major House. I have a son Greg's age myself. It's always hard to think of them leaving home and going so far away. The fact is with Greg's talent and grades he probably has received interest from most of the top school and truthfully he could go to any and do very well but Greg tells me he is interested in attending medical school. Johns Hopkins has a pipeline program for students of Greg's caliber. Undergraduate then medical school. He would get the chance to attend one of the best medical schools in the nation and not to mention the chance to run for one of the top colleges."
"Paging Dr. House…paging Dr. Gregory House…JESUS CHRIST GREG WILL YOU SLOW THE HELL DOWN!"
House slowed to a light jog then a walk. He removed his headphones as his friend Colby raced to catch up with him. Gasping and panting the other man hung onto Greg's arm fighting to put much needed oxygen back into his lung.
"I've been running after you for a half mile," Colby wheezed.
"And if I wanted to talk I would have stopped a half mile back."
"Don't you think you should be getting back? Bidding starts in an hour."
"I've got time. It goes alphabetical. It'll be at least 4 minutes before they get to me."
"Explain to me again how someone as smart as you can be such a complete idiot? You know as damn well as I do that after the class leaders they will call the top students. Imagine how it will look when they call Greg House and shocker…you're not there."
"Give or take 10 minutes."
House placed his headphones back on his ears, "Good, time enough to do four more miles."
"I'm thinking of asking Stacy out."
"Stacy the lawyer?"
"No, Stacy the topless dancer. Yes! Stacy the lawyer."
"She shot you."
"True, but then she took off and it took me a good ten minutes to catch her."
"Ahh I see, most men chose mates based on looks or personality. You chose your partners based on fleetness of foot. Very primitive, just like our ancestors did it."
"Works better than flowers."
"House you have to at least try."
House sat hunched over in the wheelchair his hands rubbing the area where the thigh muscle had been removed. He looked up at his friend. His eyes were bloodshot and unfocused.
"Fuck you Jimmy." His words were slurred, "Fuck you and the high fucking horse you rode in on. Come in here all fucking high and mighty and expect what? That I'm going to jump up and run a fucking marathon!"
"You have to at least try. Your leg is still healing. You need to work to strengthen it, to regain some of what was lost in the surgery."
"It doesn't fucking matter! It's all gone now and nothing you say or bring me," House picked up the pair of running shoes Wilson had placed on the table, "will ever make it the same. It's all gone! Now take these," House threw the sneakers at Wilson's head, "and get the fuck out of here."
House shook the sweat from his hair as he hunched over hands on thighs. His lungs burned and his legs felt like rubber but House delighted in the pain. It was for House a pleasure too long denied. The hospital was six miles from the park and as House picked up a light jog a cadence his father's Marines used to sing played in his mind, "One mile no sweat…two miles better yet."