The steps are concrete, each one with a sharp edge highlighted with a line of white paint, and Wilson forces himself not to reach out for House's arm and steady him as he takes the five steps up to their row in the stadium.
House puts his weight on the cane and ignores him. Well, almost. "These are the best seats you could swing? Halfway up, behind the visitor's dugout?" He pauses for just a moment before making his way into the row and to their seats. "I thought you were treating the kid's mother. You'd think he'd be a little more grateful."
"As grateful as you are? You've got free tickets, and you bitch about where you're sitting."
"They're ten bucks each." House pulls a twenty dollar bill out of his pocket. "If I pay you for them, will you let me bitch?"
"If you pay for the beer, I'll give you the first three innings without comment."
House looks at Wilson. He's wearing dark glasses and his favorite Gravedigger hat. His eyes are hidden and Wilson can only guess at House's mood.
"Seven innings," House finally says.
Wilson recognizes the tone of House's voice, the lightness of it behind the complaints. He turns away. Out on the field, the Thunder are warming up, throwing the ball from first base to third, then to home. The catcher whips it to second base as if some runner was trying to steal a base, then the second basemen flips it back to first.
"Six innings," House says.
Wilson sees Rodriguez now, at the edge of the dugout. His uniform makes him look a little older than he did when Wilson first saw him in his office. There, standing next to his mother while Wilson discussed treatment options, he'd looked lost, confused. A child forced into an adult's world. Here, he's in his world, his cap pulled down low over his face, chewing on a wad of something Wilson hopes is only gum.
"Five," House says.
Wilson nods. "Five." He snatches the bill from House's hand before House can change his mind. "I'll just hang onto this for now. For safekeeping."
"You don't trust me?"
Wilson raises his eyebrows.
"Fine," House says, "and pick me up a hot dog while you're at it."
Wilson rolls his eyes, but gets up and heads to the booths back on the main concourse. He gets two dogs for House and one for himself, adding a spoonful of pickle relish to his so House won't steal it.
The Portland players are just taking the field when he gets back to the seat. House is leaning back, his face turned toward the afternoon sun. "At least the minor leagues haven't forgotten about day games," he says.
"Last time I suggested catching a day game in Philadelphia you whined that it was too hot," Wilson points out.
House holds out his hand and Wilson gives him a beer. House drinks down nearly half of it before Wilson settles down next to him.
"I do not whine," House says, "and this is light beer."
"It's all they had. And yes you do."
"I bitch." House takes one of the hot dogs from the tray. "Occasionally, I moan. On a good day, I'll rant. There's a difference."
"Whining is annoying, for one."
Wilson shakes his head. "Still not seeing a difference."
"Whining serves no purpose."
"And bitching does?"
House raises his glass. "Got you to go get me a beer, didn't it?"
Three innings in and the Thunder have taken a one-run lead. The stands are only half-filled despite the fact that the team is leading in the conference.
"Double A baseball," House says. "Half the guys out there are lucky to get this far. Maybe another third will make it to Triple A. Maybe, maybe -- if the right guy gets hurt or a manager gets desperate -- two of these guys will see time in the majors."
He gestures with a half-eaten hot dog toward the infield where Rodriguez is filling the gap between second and third base. "Your guy, for instance." He takes a bite of the dog. "Utility infielders are a dime a dozen."
"They're still trying to find the right spot for him," Wilson says. "He's only 18. He'll get better." It's why his mother moved east with him, to give him some stability so he could concentrate on his skills and moving up the ladder. The cancer diagnosis hadn't been part of the plan.
The crack of a bat hitting the ball echoes through the stadium, and they watch as a line drive finds the spot between second and third. Rodriguez jumps left toward the gap, and stretches out his glove, but it slips past him.
House shakes his head. "But will he get faster?"
"My beer's warm."
Wilson ignores him, just takes a sip of his Coke.
"You got pickles on my hot dog."
Below them, Portland's got the field. Trenton is at the bottom of its batting lineup, ahead by two runs with two outs and a runner on second.
"The sun's too hot," House says. "I'm getting a sunburn."
Portland's pitcher stretches, winds up, throws. Strike one.
"These seats are so far from the field, I need a telescope to see the plays."
Wilson sighs. The pitcher throws again. Strike two.
"My butt's gone numb from these crappy seats."
Another pitch. Ball one.
"You know, I never liked any of your wives."
"Yeah. I kind of knew that already."
The pitcher paces the mound for a few moments before he places the ball carefully in his glove and wraps his fingers around it.
"Baseball's boring," House says.
The pitcher winds up, throws. Strike three.
"End of the fifth inning," Wilson says. "Free bitching time is over."
Seventh inning stretch. House flags down one of the vendors and yells out for two bags of chips.
"I'm stuffed." Wilson holds up his hand. "I couldn't eat another thing."
"Who said either bag was for you?"
House tears open the first bag. On the field, two recruits from the stands are waddling around in padded suits, attempting to wrestle. On the river beyond the outfield, Wilson watches boats go by -- speed boats, cruisers, the occasional sailboat headed out to the ocean.
Summer's more than half over, and this is the first time he remembers being outside for this long. When he was a kid, he never wanted to be indoors. There was always something better to do -- sailing, riding his bike, climbing a tree, exploring the woods that divided their neighborhood from the rest of town or pickup games with his brothers and some of the other boys down at the school's ball field.
He turns to House. "You played ball when you were a kid, right?"
House nods. "Little League, when we were at a base that had a team."
Wilson tries to imagine House back then: gangly arms and legs, a baseball cap pulled down over his eyes, probably arguing with the coach and the umps over every play.
"Pitcher?" Wilson guesses.
"That's what my Dad wanted," House says. "I liked catching better. You can see everything that's happening."
Wilson smiles. "I wanted to pitch, but they made me play in the outfield."
"I would have done the same thing." House turns to him. "After all, I've seen the way you throw."
The game's decided by halfway through the eighth inning. The Thunder are up by three runs, and Portland doesn't have a decent hitter. Wilson says something about heading out so they can beat traffic, but House shakes his head.
"Let's wait," he says.
Wilson leans back. The lights are coming on now as dusk settles across the field and the shadows grow longer. It's nearly dark by the time Trenton takes the field at the top of the ninth.
Portland manages to put two guys on base, but can't deliver another hit and strands them there. The game ends with Trenton winning, 5-2.
Wilson stands up, but House puts his hand on Wilson's arm, pulls him back down.
"You were the one bitching about how crappy the seats are," Wilson points out.
"They are," House says, "but I can take it for another five minutes."
House's glasses are in his pocket now, and Wilson can see his eyes. He's reminded of watching House as he waits for the victim of some practical joke to show up, or of waiting for some test that will prove he's right.
Moments later, Wilson hears the boom of a cannon, and turns toward right field. A bolt of light is streaking up the sky and explodes into a spray of green.
Fireworks. Wilson had forgotten. House hadn't.
The first rocket is followed by another one, bursting into red and white, then a flurry of small shells that explode along the horizon: white, blue, green, yellow.
"Guess minor league ball is good for something after all," House says.
The show only lasts a few minutes, but when the lights come up again, House is grinning. He pushes himself up and nods to Wilson.
"Now we can go."