A/N: Written for the Friday night O/C Challenge on the Fox Forum; prompt: water. A little light and fluffy, but I hope you enjoy. My first attempt at writing first-person House!
The morning that I woke up and found that my eyes had started to turn yellow was the morning I decided I needed to do something about it – about my leg. As careless as everyone likes to think I am with my own health, I'm not an idiot. I knew the Vicodin would eventually crash my liver; I just wanted to keep going for as long as I could.
It seemed like "as long as I could" had just run out.
I went to see someone, a physical therapist, because I needed expertise in that area. I had to make it so I could take fewer pain meds and, unfortunately, I knew that meant strengthening my leg.
I chose hydrotherapy from the options he presented, mostly because it seemed like the easiest choice. Sitting in an over-size hot-tub with a bunch of other cripples felt a hell of a lot simpler than the treadmill or yoga or other stupid choices he suggested. Sure, there'd be a few incontinent oldies in there with me, but I decided to try not to think about that. Besides, one of the key benefits of being a doctor is top-notch medical insurance. So I chose the newest, most expensive facility available. I might have to swim in old people's pee, but at least it would be rich old people's pee.
It wasn't too hard at first. Pretty much what I thought it would be. A large pool, hotter than I expected, and some fairly easy stretching exercises. If doing this meant I could strengthen my leg and keep up a reasonable dose of Vicodin then I wasn't too unhappy. And with all the other damaged people around, I didn't feel too uncomfortable about baring my scar in my swimming trunks.
I didn't tell anyone.
One morning I had to go to the pool earlier than I usually would because of a patient I had to check in on. That's when I first saw her.
She had on a sunshine-yellow, one-piece bathing suit with a large daisy printed on it, right between her breasts. She was average height, fit, but curvy and voluptuous. Her hair was a rich caramel-brown, tied back in a ponytail for the pool, and her eyes matched: velvety brown. Oh, and she had a six-inch-long surgical scar running along her left arm, centred on her elbow, and from the exercises I watched her do, that was clearly why she was there.
A strange thing I noticed right away was that she had one hairy armpit and one shaved one. But then, as I watched the movement she had in her left arm, I realised that whatever her injury was, her left elbow wouldn't bend enough to allow her to reach her right armpit with a razor. I thought it was funny and kind of cute that she'd continue to shave just one armpit knowing she'd be lopsided.
She laughed and smiled with her therapist but frowned in concentration when she did her exercises. Her face was like an open book, I could read exactly when she was happy with her progress or frustrated by the lack of it.
From then on I tried to get to the pool around the same time each day.
We started off by acknowledging each other with a smile. After a few days of running into the same person in that sort of environment, you kind of had to do that at the least. I found her extremely attractive. She alternated between the yellow swimsuit and a blue striped one, but I liked the yellow one best. Both of them were one-pieces and I really wished she'd wear a bikini, but then I figured you probably didn't wear bikinis to physical therapy.
For a couple of days I waited out the front of the aquatic centre after my session, waiting to see her in her normal clothes as she headed to work, but I never saw her. Maybe she used a different entrance.
I asked around, casually as I could, but people clammed up, even the receptionist at the swim centre made a funny face when I asked. I figured it was the usual paranoia, especially at a place like this – rich people don't like other people knowing their business. Perhaps it was the fact that I only ever saw her in the pool, and that she unknowingly resisted my attempts to find out more, but I found myself becoming more and more obsessed with her.
Yellow swimsuit girl started appearing in my dreams. Like Venus in the half-shell, Botticelli's visions became my own. Nothing too explicit, but my mind imagined those breasts that were always hiding behind that thin layer of lycra, and I would wake up feeling frustrated and keen to get to the pool, to see her again for real.
It was bizarre, but I found I focussed more on my exercises, even while I was trying to watch her. It was like I thought she'd be watching me too, so I had to prove that I was doing my best. Almost as a side benefit, I'd noticed my leg was definitely improving, it didn't hurt as much in the mornings and I'd gradually been able to cut back my Vicodin.
One morning we found ourselves next to each other in the pool. We'd done our therapy and were both just spending a couple of minutes stretching out and relaxing before heading for the locker rooms.
"It's funny how you get used to the heat, isn't it?" she asked me.
I was surprised; I honestly didn't think she'd speak to me. Despite my secret desires I figured our smiling acknowledgements would be as far as it would go. After all, I'm nothing if not a realist. She was young, attractive and not too badly injured. I'm old, grizzled and maimed.
"Sorry?" In my surprise, I'd missed her question.
"The heat of the pool," she explained, waving a hand over the water. "I remember in my first session I thought it was too hot and almost fainted. But now I don't even notice it."
I nodded, not sure what to say. Everyone who knows me would be surprised by that. But despite my wisecracks and banter at work, I'm actually not very good at talking to women. Especially when I'm outside my comfort zone. And floating in a swimming pool, almost naked, with my wrecked thigh on display, surrounded by other cripples, definitely qualifies as being outside my comfort zone.
She kept talking, seeming oblivious to my nervousness.
"I guess you get used to the whole thing, don't you? I mean, some of the injuries here I couldn't believe when I first started, but now I hardly even look. Don't you think?"
She turned to me and gave me a smile. It was a friendly, open look, not necessarily flirtatious, but I could read something in her eyes. She was interested. In me.
"What happened to your elbow?" I asked her. Then I cringed, wondering if that was an appropriate question.
She didn't seem fazed.
"Fell off a horse. I was trail riding and my horse stepped on a tree branch that flicked up and hit him on the stomach. He reared and I hit the ground. Landed on a rock on my elbow. Shattered my…" she paused in thought, "...radio something-or-other joint."
Superior radioulnar joint, I thought. But I didn't want to talk medicine.
"Sounds painful," I said instead, already knowing it would have been.
"You could say that. And now I am the bionic woman," she said jokingly, flexing her arm out and bending it again. "I have a plastic elbow joint." She paused, looking at it. "You'd think being bionic would be better. But no. This is all I can do."
She straightened her arm and I could see she could only get it about twenty degrees off completely straight. And when she bent it, it was just past ninety degrees. All up she had around seventy degrees of movement.
"You don't think about how many things you need an elbow for," she said. "Getting dressed. Putting on a bra. Making the bed. Washing your hair."
At that last comment she put her hands above her head to demonstrate how her left hand couldn't reach the top of her head, so she wasn't able to rub shampoo into her hair. The move exposed her armpits to me, the hairy one and the shaved one. She suddenly seemed to remember that, and dropped her arms, blushing.
The blush was so endearing I couldn't help but smile.
"What about your leg?" she asked me.
"Oh." I paused, not sure what to get into. How much detail to share. I decided to go for minimal. "I had a blood clot that damaged my thigh muscle. It had to be removed."
"Do they make bionic thigh muscles?" she asked, and I could tell she was kidding. It was a nice change from sympathy.
"No, I'm afraid not. Steve is one-of-a-kind."
She smiled at my lame joke. "How long ago?" she asked, and I knew it was because she could tell my scar was well healed in comparison to her own and most of the others around us.
"About six years," I said.
"Oh." A shadow crossed her face and I could tell she was thinking about her own injury. "My therapist says I should only need to do this for another four weeks or so."
"You probably will. I probably would have been a hell of a lot better if I'd done this when it first happened. But I didn't, so here I am now."
She smiled at me, kind of sadly, and I wasn't sure if she was sad for herself or sad for me.
"Well, I'd better get going," she said, moving away from the ledge we'd been leaning against and heading over to the steps. "See you tomorrow?"
I liked that she'd asked the question. I figured it meant we'd talk again. "Sure," I said, smiling back.
After that, we managed to catch up for a quick conversation following our sessions each day. It was always small talk, nothing personal, but she'd often give me one of her fabulous smiles, and on some days those smiles would get me through the day. We talked about our respective progress with therapy: she continued to work really hard and I continued to…well…do what I was required to do.
I always let her get out of the pool first so I didn't have to show off my scar too much in front of her. But one day I was really feeling the pain and I desperately needed a Vicodin. She'd given me that smile and got out of the pool and I followed, a couple of steps behind. She heard me and turned back, slowing her steps til she was alongside me.
"So, what do you do when you're not training for the hundred metre sprint?" she asked. I loved her sense of humour.
"Well I…" Just as I was going to answer, my thigh cramped. I was wet and the floor was slippery, but I would have lost my balance in hiking boots on shagpile carpet. It was automatic, a reflex, but she was the closest thing to me and I reached out to save myself from falling. I pulled on her arm, hard. Her left arm.
She cried out. And I'm sure it was a reflex, but she pulled her arm away, twisting it to her in agony and losing her balance in the process.
We both hit the tiled floor, in a tangled sprawl of limbs. Our respective therapists came running, separating us and endeavouring to sort everything out. Through a cloud of pain and embarrassment I watched my therapist massage the cramp from my thigh, while hers tested her arm, making sure no damage had been done. Another guy, one I hadn't noticed before, came rushing over too. All in black, muscled and brawny, I guessed he must be her boyfriend. Figured.
Finally, after the therapist nodded, brawny guy helped her up and led her away to the locker rooms. The therapist had decided that there wasn't anything seriously hurt, but before she turned away I could see the tears of pain that had tracked down her face. She didn't look back.
I did that. My stupid, wrecked thigh did that. Amazing how the medical text books never listed it as an infarction side effect: makes women cry.
I almost decided never to go back. But it had been making a difference and I knew that I couldn't stop. Or I could, as long as I was prepared to start counting my days. Instead, I decided to go later in the day, figuring I'd miss her and her regular early morning appointments.
She was wearing my favourite yellow swimsuit when I saw her again, a couple of weeks later. I walked into the pool area and almost turned around and headed straight back to the locker room, but my therapist was waiting and I knew it would be completely obvious.
She didn't smile at me or look at me the way she had used to, just seemed really focused on her exercises. So I followed her lead and did the same thing.
At the end of our sessions, I felt kind of nauseous when she actually did swim over to me, just like she always had.
"Are you okay?" she asked quietly, leaning up against the wall of the pool and kicking her legs out in front of her gently – a mirror of what I was doing.
"I should be asking you that," I said with a grimace.
"I'm fine. Sorry – I wanted to check you were all right afterwards, but I…" she paused, "…had people waiting."
"That's fine. I'm fine. I hope your arm was okay." I was embarrassed, I wanted to change the subject, but I didn't know what to change it to. Maybe she just wanted to clear the air and then never talk to me again.
"It's fine. Today's my second-last session actually." She smiled at me and I'm sure I wasn't imagining that she looked a little sad.
"Yeah, look." She demonstrated the range of movement in her arm and I nodded – she'd made impressive progress. That's when I noticed: both her armpits were shaved. I've never been a fan of underarm hair on women, but I had to admit I was a bit sad about its loss – it was something special about her, a small asymmetrical detail, something I knew that most people probably didn't.
"So I see," I said and I knew she could tell what I meant. She blushed a bit and smiled shyly.
"I'm Belinda," she said, holding out her hand. "I figure it's about time we exchanged names."
"Greg," I answered, taking her hand and shaking it. I knew that I'd be revisiting the feel of her soft skin against mine, even for just that brief second.
I figured that it might be worth taking a risk, putting myself on the line. What did I have to lose?
"I kind of think I owe you after all that…" I waved my hand airily, not wanting to describe it. What would I say? After all that…clumsiness? Ineptness? Pathetic-ness?
"So, maybe I could buy you breakfast?"
"Oh, I can't today…" Her face actually fell. She looked genuinely disappointed. That buoyed me.
"How about tomorrow? We can celebrate your last session."
"I'm going away tomorrow, for…uh…work," she said hesitantly.
"Oh." Suggesting a third option would sound a bit loser-ish. "That guy your boyfriend?" I asked. I figured it was better to know than not know.
"Who?" She looked surprised.
"The hunk of meat in the black t-shirt over there." The one who'd rescued her when she fell over. He was sitting in exactly the same place again and I hadn't failed to notice that he'd sat to attention when we'd shaken hands.
"No, he's not my boyfriend." She smiled mysteriously, but before I could ask anything further she interrupted. "What sort of music do you like?"
I gave her a puzzled look. "Why?"
She laughed a little, but looked away. Her feet made little splashes in the water. "I just figured we'd covered movies and TV and the weather, but we hadn't got to music yet."
"Oh. Well…" I didn't really want to answer. She was putting me in my place, setting me back on the straight and narrow. Small talk was as much as we were ever going to share and I shouldn't have gone and got ideas above my station. I pushed off the pool wall and swam around her.
"I've got to head off, sorry, got to get to work. Good luck with the final session tomorrow," I said, knowing that I wouldn't be seeing her again. I'd be skipping therapy tomorrow.
But I'd come back the day after. Probably.
A few days later I was in the conference room with the team. All three of my fellows were sitting around the table making it very obvious they didn't have any work to do. Did they have to be so blatant about it? There are so many ways to make not being busy look busy. They still had a lot to learn.
"Who's that?" I looked over Kutner's shoulder at the glossy gossip magazine he was reading – typical. A photo had caught my eye.
"Brandy Churchill. Apparently she's Madonna's latest protégé. She's hot."
"Who?" Taub asked. Also, typical. "Is she that chick with the kids? And they kissed at the awards?"
"No, no, no," Kutner corrected. "She's much classier. More alternative than pop music. She's kind of like a cross between Nina Simone and Michelle Branch. Her last album was really underground, but now she's suddenly famous. I've got both her albums, they're cool."
I took a second look at the woman in the photo. I tried to mentally replace the long caramel tresses with a pony tail and the figure hugging red evening gown with a yellow swimsuit. The woman in the photo had a wrap over her arm, so there was no scar visible, but I was almost sure. Belinda?
"That her real name?" I asked, as casually as I could.
"Nup, it's Belinda Churchill," Thirteen supplied. We all gave her a look. "What?" she asked defensively. "You're not the only one who reads that crap. Besides, Kutner's right, she's hot."
The small groan from Kutner said it all.
I just smiled.
"She certainly is," I said under my breath.
"She's just started a world tour," Kutner said, going back to the magazine. "Going to be playing here in a couple of months."
I nodded, again, cool as a cucumber – as always.
"Don't you people have something to do?" I asked. They all looked at me blankly. Yup, they had a lot to learn. "Go make me look good. Do some clinic duty or something."
They grumbled, but rose from the table and headed off to do something vaguely productive. I sat down in Kutner's recently vacated chair and read through the article, my smile growing. She'd recently been in a horse-riding accident. Had been doing intensive therapy to make sure she was ready for her world tour. Her fans were all anxious about whether or not it might have been cancelled because of her injury. Some of them had been trying to get up close and personal to make sure she was okay.
The black-clad guy must have been her bodyguard. That's why he'd sprung to attention when I tripped her. For the past few weeks I'd been flirting with a rock-star chick famous enough to need a bodyguard. How cool was that?
I went back into my office, feeling somehow a little brighter. It still didn't mean I'd be seeing her sunny yellow swimsuit at the pool anymore, but I knew something about her that hardly anyone else did, not even the gossip magazine. For a while, she'd had one shaved armpit and one furry one.
An envelope on my desk caught my eye.
Inside was a small piece of pale pink paper, a handwritten note in purple ink.
Good morning. Took a while for my people to track you down, but eventually your therapist cracked. A doctor huh? You kept that quiet. But then, I guess I kept a few things close to my chest too. Sorry I didn't see you on my last day at the pool and get to find out what sort of music you liked. I wondered if you might like this concert. Maybe we could have breakfast afterwards? B
I opened the envelope wider and two tickets fell out.
Brandy Churchill, Live in Concert. Her concert tour was called Time to Get Back in the Water.
I smiled. Indeed, perhaps it was.