A/N: Thanks to Openhearts for beta editing. For AThousandSmiles, who asked for a companion piece to You Could be Anyone.
This begins where it begins. It ends where it ends. It might start with a woolen blanket bandaging a spot of grass on a sunny day and two people sharing sandwiches wrapped in wax paper. This park is no man's land. Neutral territory. Switzerland, metaphorically.
It's the park where you go to begin again. Last time you came, she appeared. You reach for a Forget-Me-Not and eyeball it until it's a blur of blue. Beneath your body, the blue blanket is scratchy and sun-sodden.
If only life could be as simple as a chain letter of ants crawling toward a scrap of corned beef, a white worm of sauerkraut. They're goal-oriented bastards, you think, as you watch the ant parade.
This could be a day like any other day, a day pulled from a magician's hat, a day where you could be anyone. A body housed within another skin. With a leg as good as new.
You watch from a distance, as if the scene is a matinee and the picnic a flickering shadow on a movie screen. This is your life.
She stands before you, Ray-bans pushing back her hair, a picnic basket grasped in both hands. You squint at this vision as she settles down and breaks out the goodies.
"Remember me?" The smile fades as she realizes her words and winces. "Sorry. Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I used to work for you."
"The way Wilson tells it, 'weird' used to work for me, too."
"Wilson's an oncologist, not a psychologist."
"Could have fooled me."
She laughs. "I don't think so."
Her white button-down shirt blinds you. The tails reach her knees. It's over-sized. And familiar. A fly infiltrates your airspace with a drone and you flick it away as you fix your eyes on her.
"Didn't think you'd find me."
"Didn't think I'd lose you." She turns her face away and fusses with the food. "Besides, you're lying. You knew I'd find you. Wanted me to. Or you'd have chosen a different spot."
"Your knee. Still stiff?"
She nods, adjusting the big white shirt as she shifts to stretch her legs.
"Give it to me," you say, fingering the hem of the shirt.
"It's mine. You ... gave it to me."
"Yours, mine, ours. Semantics."
She reaches for the top button of the shirt and slips it from the button hole. You watch helpless as her slim fingers free the shirt and she slips it from her shoulders. There's a tee underneath, with the silhouette of a rock god emblazoned on it. The Clapton tee fondles her torso and tits and something else stirs within the recesses of your memory.
Fat bulbous clouds blotch the blue dome of sky. Sun anoints your shoulders and the back of your neck. A cool western breeze musses her hair. You study the arch of her foot, watching as she wiggles her toes.
A splinter of pain pierces your head and you feel cement-smacked, an impact, headlights, and the weight of a body landing on top of yours. Bottle rockets soar into the sky and she has you pinned against the wall of some dive. Memories return randomly and without warning.
She leans over you as you lie on your back, your eyes alternating between the wake of an airplane overhead and her gift box of a face. You miss more than your memory.
"House, are you in there?" Her voice is a toy.
You wish you knew.
She offers a sandwich, unwrapping the food and handing it to you. "Tell me about your first," she adds, dissecting a Reuben and excising the sauerkraut.
A cloud shaped like Idaho dangles in the sky above and boils in on itself. You cast for emotions, let out line, reel in. All you get is an empty hook.
"It was good for me. Guess I was a prick to her because afterward, she deflated with a whoosh."
The red cotton of your shirt is thin. There's the weightless warmth of her hand on your shoulder, and the music box of her laugh as she reacts.
She raises the sandwich until it's directly in your line of vision.
"A Reuben, House. Do you remember the first time you ever had one?"
"Is this a test? 'Cause I thought you were an immunologist, not a neurologist."
"No tests," she reassures, her elbow cocked as she unscrews the top off the thermos.
A faint aroma steals from its mouth: Mint and something else – not cinnamon, surely? Then again, why not? A world turned on its head and executing somersaults: that's your world since the accident. You're a cockeyed carousel. A carnival ride.
"My first was courtesy of my Opa. I was at Johns Hopkins and he came to visit me the week before he died. Said I was too skinny. We took the train into Manhattan and, at Katz's Deli, I had my first." You shift on the blanket. Rub your head. Hike up your bad leg and stretch it. "That's a day I'll never forget."
"Must have been some sandwich." Cameron takes a healthy bite of hers.
"The best. But that's not why it means something to me. It was what he said. Told me I was nothing like my father." Your eyes drift to the buds on a beech, remembering the busy deli where workers shaved hunks of pastrami and corned beef from fatty pink piñatas. "You know the expression 'the apple doesn't fall far from the tree?'"
She nods: yes.
"My Opa told me I was the exception to that rule. Told me I flew so far from the apple tree that I turned into an orange. Said he knew I was smart so I wouldn't need him to tell me that he meant it as a compliment."
She begins to speak: "According to Carl Jung-"
"Leave him out of it," you cut her off. "I hated my father. Felt good to have that validated. It still feels good."
A cloud sails across the sun and the day dims. A duck waddles past the two of them toward the pond.
"Your turn to be picked apart," you say, studying her as shadows contour her cheekbones. "You were a late bloomer. Wore braces until you were sixteen. When you turned into a beauty, you were oblivious. In college, you dated a cliché, some pre-law frat boy quarterback. You ... lost someone. Your dad?"
She frowns. "My father is off-limits. Let's talk about sex."
How Freudian, you think.
"How do you feel about prostitution?" She continues.
"A change of subject. Means I hit a nerve. Asking about sex? Must have hit a raw one."
"Evading the subject. Means you're afraid," she challenges.
"Means it's a stupid question," you return her look. "How I feel about sex is irrelevant. Unless you're asking me to have it. With you. If that's the case -"
"No. It's just – we've played this game before."
"Didn't know this was a game."
"You tell me who you think I am. I ask you questions. You walk away. Those are the rules."
"I'm lying down." You state the obvious, pointlessly.
She stands up, one arm akimbo, her face bemused. A small smile and furrowed brows as she takes you in. And then she lowers the Ray-bans.
"I don't know if this is going to work," she says.
You want it to.
Pain fractures your thoughts and she's a ghost of Christmas past. There she is, hair pulled into a tight bun, pale and makeup-less, eyes red-ringed. And there she is again. Extending a slender arm to shake your hand. Did you take it?
"I love you." You see your lips form the words. What does it mean? Is that her hand, proffering folded greenbacks? Her smile, so knowing, nearly sly?
You see her in a lab coat, approach her from behind. It's so real, her heat, and the buttons of your jacket graze her hair.
Memory returns randomly and without warning.
She bends over you, concern etched on her face. "You okay?"
You catch your breath as the pain recedes. The memories remain.
"You know we work." An irrefutable fact.
"We work," she agrees quietly. "But I need to know you know it."
"The shirt. Put it on again," you say as it all comes flooding back, this time free of pain.
So she sits down again, slipping her arms into your white button-down shirt.
The Day Before
After the drink at your place, you didn't know when you'd see her next.
She had perched on the piano bench while you treated her knee with antiseptic and her thirst with alcohol. For your ministrations, she offered thanks while sipping a glass of red, and you couldn't tell what was more maddening: her beauty or her poise.
Encased in shimmering green Lycra, she was an ornament, the kind your Mom used to wrap in tissue paper and store in a shoebox for Christmas.
"We should do this again," you said as you felt up her leg under the guise of doctoring.
"Can't wait. It's not every day I get to trip over your cane and fall on my ass," she answered back, taking the fingers of your hand where it had come to rest on top of her thigh and, after a slight hesitation, letting go.
"It's not like you set out to cause bodily harm." Your hand dropped to your side and you shrugged. "It was an accident. According to Elvis Costello, they happen."
She absorbed your words as you dressed her knee with gauze, eyes following your fingers as they secured the bandages.
"What happened isn't a bumper sticker," she said with an edge to her voice. It was your turn to look away. You studied the black keys of the piano, detoured to the place where material hugged her stiff nipples.
You met her eyes and read her mind. No longer was she referencing the mishap in the park, that Lucille Ball pratfall over the tip of your cane, or the Bogie and Bacall repartee that followed.
"My head. My memory. My problem." Before you knew it, the words were out there, as if you were programmed to be an asshole.
Abruptly, her face shut down and she pushed off the bench. "So if anyone worries about you, if anyone cares, it's a copyright infringement."
"The accident happened to me. I'm the one living with the consequences," you said.
"But not with the memories," she voiced quietly. And then she studied her hands.
"Unless . . ."
Click, click, click. Slides of her face as it looked when you awoke from unconsciousness, this stranger who gripped your hand as if it was her own flesh.
"Unless . . ."
Time stopped, as, from lowered lashes, she looked you in the eye. Behind the color blue you saw bodies tangled and your fingertips remembered her skin.
Images popped like flashbulbs: the inside of her knee where you kissed it, the high arch of her foot and a French pedicure, the tendons of her neck tightening as you grasped her legs and parted them. Oh, fuck. Strawberry fields, nothing is real. Or is it?
"We never..." you waved your hand between her body and yours, "Did we?"
"Still believe that your memory is your problem? Yours alone?" She tugged the material down over her knee, over the abrasion. It would leave a scar.
"You're evading me."
"And you're provoking me. I have to go."
"So, we should do this again," you repeated as she turned her back on you and headed for the door.
Neither of you set a date.
She stretches out beside you on the blanket, elbow planted on the ground, face propped in her hand.
"You used to work for me." You throw that back at her, an easy pitch.
"And what if I want you to ... work for me now?"
Her smiles holds secrets and surprises. "Depends on what you mean by 'work.' I don't do windows. Or make house calls."
"I hate work metaphors," you say, ruffling the grass with your restless fingers.
You look around at the park: tree tops sway, the duck climbs from the pool and waddles your way, ants find a home on a corner of the blue blanket. You look at the remnants of sandwiches and the ant parade. And she is in the picture, perfectly in focus.
You want to kiss her. You don't have far to go. Take her wrist and pull her down. You know you want this. You know you do.
"This works for me. At least it would if there was Scotch in that thermos instead of," you sniff the steaming contents and make a face, "herbal tea brewed by organically-minded witches. And if this was an arcade instead of a park. And if you were wearing," you eye her jeans and the long white shirt, "shrink wrap."
A spotlight of sun touches down and just like that she's the star of your show.
You roll toward her. She meets you halfway. Up close, her face is luminous. You brush a crumb from her mouth and your fingertips linger, following a path to the hollow of her throat.
She breaches the distance, touching her mouth to yours, holding your face as the kiss deepens, hot and slow. There is nothing more to know.
This is your life: It's hers.
You know who you are.