For nearly two days, just after Greg turned five, Blythe thought she was pregnant. For a very short time, she gave herself in to dreams - unreasonable dreams of holding another baby in her arms, of a little girl with curls and bright eyes, of dolls and tea parties, of Greg leading his baby sister by the hand.
Or a little boy with John's stocky build, who would tag along after Greg on every adventure.
Then the dream ended.
By the time Greg was 10 years old, Blythe had packed up everything that remained of those dreams as if they were just another bad base housing assignment she wanted to forget. Rattles and teething rings and Greg's toys. She left them with her sister. Better to leave them behind, she'd thought. She had enough real issues to deal without clinging to something that would never happen.
By the time Greg was grown, she dreamed instead of seeing him happy, of finding the person he would spend his life with, so he would never be alone, Sometimes she even dreamed of a grandchild - a boy with Greg's restless curiosity or a girl with his quick mind. Maybe one of each.
Blythe never told him of these dreams. She never asked when he was going to settle down, when he would get married, have children. Greg had always done things his own way, and she was certain he would find his own way in his own time when it came to this. Through five years with Stacy she kept her silence, hoping that he had found what he needed.
When Greg got sick, she buried those dreams again, and concentrated on ones that seemed far more important - of seeing him safe, of seeing him walk again.
By the time Stacy left, she only dreamed that one day she'd see Greg smile again.
But all it took was one phone call to James on a warm early autumn day to bring every foolish dream back into the light.
She'd only called James after Greg hadn't returned her calls for two days.
"It's nothing important really," she'd told James. "I just wanted to let him know I was going to be in New York for a few days, and thought it would be nice to stop by for a visit."
"You know how he gets when he doesn't want people interrupting his privacy," James had said.
Blythe thought she heard a woman's voice in the background. "Sure," the voice said, "but he wants people to protect his privacy."
James had paused for a moment. She could hear the muffled sound of his voice and pictured him standing there with his hand over the mouthpiece, talking to whoever was with him. When he spoke again, his voice had brightened. Blythe could picture him grinning. She guessed that there was some private joke or game of one-upmanship going on between James and Greg that they'd never tell her about.
"You know," he said, "Greg's been spending a lot of time with Lisa Cuddy lately."
"His boss?" Blythe asked. "Some special project at work?"
"No, it's not for work."
He was quiet for a moment, as if he was giving her time to consider just what he was saying. It didn't take her long to catch up.
"Oh," she said. Lisa Cuddy's face pulled itself from her memory. Dark hair, blue eyes and a quick wit that somehow kept pace with Greg when they were in a room together.
Blythe had never spent much time with her, but she remembered sitting in Dr. Cuddy's office alongside John while she carefully explained the treatment Greg had asked for that horrible time a few summers ago. And James told her once that she was the one who finally got Greg to come to John's funeral.
"Oh," she said again. She remembered seeing Dr. Cuddy smile at one of Greg's jokes when her back was to him, and she thought no one could see.
"How long have they been," Blythe asked, "spending time together?"
"A couple of months."
It took her a few moments to imagine Greg with anyone, and she shook her head as she realized how much she'd come to settle for an idea of him being alone. No one should be alone, especially Greg.
Then James chuckled, interrupting her thoughts. "Cuddy has a daughter, you know," he said. "Her name is Rachel. She's almost two years old."
He paused again, and the picture in her imagination shifted into something completely new - from Greg alone, to Greg surrounded by something like the family he'd always deserved.
"I can give you her address, if you want it," James said. "Maybe you could surprise them."
Blythe wasn't going to actually do what James suggested, of course, but she took the information anyway. It might be useful someday, she thought. Maybe she'd visit them one day for a special event. A birthday or a holiday.
She wasn't going to barge in just because she was nearby. John would have just laughed at the idea, or said she was being silly and sentimental.
She wasn't going to just stop by. She wasn't.
It didn't make sense.
But hours after she'd hung up the phone, she was still thinking about it. She didn't remember the first time she'd met Dr. Cuddy, but knew it was sometime in those first days after Greg got sick. Blythe had been too worried about Greg at the time and Dr. Cuddy had been one of those people that blurred into the background. All she saw was Greg in that hospital bed, pale and weak. James had done his best to explain what had happened to Greg's leg, but everything else seemed like a blur.
After a few days, as Greg began to recover, she noticed more of what was happening around them - noticed that Greg's doctor brought her coffee just the way that she liked it, and the way John liked his, noticed how she'd sit with them and answer any question they had.
"His recovery won't be easy," Dr. Cuddy had told them. "He's going to argue about everything, because he thinks he's right about everything."
"Of course, he usually is," she'd continued, "as I'm sure he'd remind us if he was here."
Blythe remembered smiling, for the first time in a long time. "You've known him for a while, I take it."
Dr. Cuddy had almost seemed lost in thought. "A long time," she'd finally said. "First time I met him, he told me I was making a mistake."
She'd looked down, then up at Blythe. There was some new glint of light in her eyes. "Depends on your point of view."
Lisa Cuddy had been there after Greg was shot, the same confident expression, no matter what else was going on. Greg had seemed to trust her judgment, so Blythe and John had as well.
And now ...
Blythe found herself staring into space, trying to picture her with Greg, imagining Greg happy and settled, imagining him moving on to some life that she'd always wanted for him.
It was silly, she knew, letting herself pretend that she knew anything. Letting herself be caught up in girlish dreams. John would say that she was being foolish. But John wasn't here.
If John was here, she wouldn't have just decided on a whim to join her sisters in New York for a long weekend.
Blythe loved John, but John loved his routines. He liked to see everything planned and organized. Arrangements were made. There were lists, which were always followed. His ways made sense to her once too, each time they had to pack and move to a new base. Meals were served on time, even after he retired. John continued to rise every morning at 6 a.m., long after his duty days ended.
Even in that last year, there were schedules to keep - filled then with tests and doctor visits instead of flight times. He'd kept track of them in his notebook, each item written in blue ink, even as his writing scrawled across the page in signs of the weakness taking over his body.
In the days after he died, she maintained their routine because it seemed easier. But slowly, she fell out of it - a late lunch one day, martinis with some friends on another day.
She'd loved her life with John, but now she was making her own life, and the rules were different. She let herself do silly things, like call friends for no reason, or to take trips on a whim.
Or to daydream, apparently.
Blythe realized she hadn't even asked James anything about how long Greg had been dating, or just how serious they were. But then, she reminded herself, Greg was always serious once he made up his mind. She hadn't even asked what the little girl's name was. But she wondered if her hair was dark or light. She wondered whether she was starting to talk.
"No." Blythe shook herself free of the daydream and headed for the bedroom. She still needed to pack. And Greg's life was none of her business these days - as long as he was happy. It was up to him to decide when he was ready to share this news with her.
But maybe Dr. Cuddy wasn't serious. They probably needed time to figure out things for themselves.
She went into the guest room. The suitcases were stacked against one wall in the back of the closet, and she turned on the light. The bare bulb lit up every corner, even the shelves where she had stashed mementos and keepsakes: photo albums, scrapbooks, some of Greg's trophies and even a few of his favorite things from when he was a boy.
She picked a medium-sized suitcase, then paused with her hand over the light switch, looking at the shelves.
"No," she told herself. "This is silly." She turned off the light and closed the door.
"This isn't coffee."
"No, it's not." Cuddy grabbed the mug out of House's hand. "And it's not your tea either."
"So where is mine?"
"In the kitchen, if you make it yourself. You know where everything is."
House looked for a moment like he was going to make a comment, but closed his mouth as she stared at him over the top of the paper. Cuddy still wasn't used to this side of him, the part that held back on his first instinct to strike out. It didn't always happen, but when it did, it still took her surprise.
House pushed himself up and headed into the kitchen. He left his cane leaning against the end table and used the back of the couch, a ladder back chair, the door jamb and the wall to steady his steps on his way into the kitchen. She'd seen him do the same thing at his own home, where every square inch was familiar and comfortable. She hoped this meant he was growing comfortable here too.
The first time he'd come to the new place, he'd stood at the door, surveying the floor like a mine field with unexpected rugs or toys waiting like booby traps. He still kept clear of Rachel's room as much as possible, with its rockers, stuffed animals and bits of tea sets that spilled down from her table.
Cuddy sipped at her tea - a blend she'd first tasted in Singapore and tracked down to an importer in New York once she'd returned home. At first, she saved it for special occasions, but it tasted best on mornings like this: bright autumn sun spilling through the window and onto the light-colored carpet; no cases for House to obsess over or ethical dilemmas for the two of them to argue about; the paper's different sections splayed out on the coffee table, some jazz that House picked out was playing on the stereo; and Rachel played on the floor beside the couch, her favorite toys all within reach.
A few months ago, Cuddy had told everyone - including herself - that she already had everything she needed with Lucas and Rachel and her job. She was certain that the doubts that still plagued her would disappear, and that everything would be easier in the future. She just needed time to adjust, just as she'd broken through to connect with Rachel after she first came home. Everything would be perfect, soon.
But that night - early that next morning, rather - covered in dirt, with plaster dust in her hair and her fingernails broken by concrete and wood, fighting back every instinct that told her to keep out of the dark holes beneath the the wreck of a building, she realized she was wrong. Nothing was easy. Nothing ever would be, not if she made the wrong decision now.
She didn't want to find herself living with the wrong decision.
So she'd made the hard decision instead.
It wasn't as if things had gotten easier since then, but they'd seemed somehow right, pieces falling into place and leading to a future she thought she'd lost.
And sometimes, it almost did seem easy. Like now. She sipped her tea, and heard House in the kitchen, the sound of water pouring from the kettle into a mug, the clinking of a spoon against porcelain, the rhythm of his steps as he crossed the floor to the refrigerator and the door opening and closing.
Rachel sat on the floor, pushing the buttons on her favorite toy - an old Blackberry that Cuddy had yanked the batteries out of and given her after Rachel had stolen hers once too often.
Rachel seemed to sense Cuddy's gaze and turned to her. She smiled and held out the phone.
"You, Mama," she said.
Cuddy grinned. Rachel had started putting together a few words in the last months slowly finding her way through language.
"For me?" she asked. She pulled Rachel up onto the couch beside her and placed her hand over Rachel's, feeling the warmth of her skin.
"Hello?" she asked into the silent phone. "No, I can't come now, I'm busy with Rachel." She tickled Rachel's tummy, and felt the joy deep inside when Rachel giggled. "What?" she asked, "OK." She held it out for Rachel. "It's for you," she said.
Rachel held it to her own ear. "Busy," she repeated, shaking her head. She looked over at House as he walked back into the room and placed his own tea on the table.
"You," Rachel said, and held out the phone to him.
"Take a message," House said.
Rachel stared at him for a moment, then put the phone to her ear. "Busy," she said again.
When the doorbell rang, Cuddy couldn't quite hold back the groan of disappointment. Unexpected calls or visitors on Sundays were rarely a good thing. It meant someone needed something signed or approved. Or maybe it would be one of House's team with some new mystery that would pull him away.
Rachel must have learned that too. She climbed onto Cuddy's lap. "No," she said. "Mama stay."
"If you ignore them, they'll go away," House said. "That's what I'm going to do."
"It could be important."
"Then they would have called."
"They probably know that you have a tendency to turn off your phone," Cuddy pointed out. She tried again to put Rachel down.
"Probably just some religious nut," House said.
"It's Sunday morning," Cuddy pointed out. "The religious nuts are probably all in church praying to save your soul."
"They should save their their breath."
When Rachel wouldn't let go, Cuddy just held her tight as she stood, shifting Rachel's weight around to her hip to carry her across the room with her as the doorbell rang again. She opened the door and blinked against the bright sunshine.
"Hello, Dr. Cuddy."
Cuddy couldn't say that she didn't recognize the woman. She'd seen her too many times. But in the past, their first meeting always seemed to be during some emergency. During those times the woman had always seemed smaller somehow - the lines on her face deep and defined. She seemed younger now, bathed in sunlight rather than the fluorescent lights of a hospital room.
"Is my son here?" Blythe House asked, though from her tone it was clear she already knew the answer.
Cuddy nodded, still not sure what to say. She stepped aside to make room, and Blythe waved to the taxi driver idling at the end of the driveway. She then picked up a small suitcase and carried it inside, pausing only for a moment to smile at Rachel before she continued on, as if she knew exactly where she was going.
Cuddy closed the door behind them and followed Blythe into the living room. She watched as House, sprawled out on the couch, looked up. His eyes widened as he saw his mother.
"What are you doing here?"
"You didn't return my calls," she said.
"I never return your calls." House swung his legs off the couch. "You've never just shown up before."
He pushed himself up and crossed the few feet between them.
"First time for everything," she said.
House leaned down to hug her. He pulled her close and Blythe went up onto her toes as she stretched her arms around his shoulders.
"If you'd returned my calls you would have learned that I was hoping to visit for a few hours before I meet your aunts in the city," Blythe said. "Aren't you going to ask how I knew where to find you?"
"No, because you've always been able to find out anything you want," House said, "and because Wilson probably squealed."
"James is a good friend," Blythe said, "to both of us."
She let him go then. They were both smiling. She turned to Cuddy.
"Forgive me for just barging in, Dr. Cuddy," she said. "I was afraid that if I called from the airport, he would have run for the hills."
"No, of course he wouldn't have," Cuddy said. "He probably would have taken the bike."
Blythe laughed. "You're right. That's much faster."
Rachel wriggled in Cuddy's arms, and Cuddy put her down. Rachel trotted off into the room and settled herself in near the couch again. The rest of them stood there, looking at each other. Cuddy knew what she should say - what she'd say to any other unexpected visitor - but Blythe's appearance had her mind so full of questions she wasn't quite sure which one to ask first.
"We have tea," House finally said. "Would you like some?"
"That would be nice, Greg. Thank you."
Cuddy wasn't sure if House offered to make it because he was being nice, or if he was looking for an escape route. Possibly both.
Blythe watched Greg make his way to the kitchen first, her eyes studying his steps as if she could read something in the way he carried himself. Her eyes had the same intensity that Cuddy had often seen in House's face, which made it seem like he could see through every lie.
Cuddy reminded herself that Blythe had spent a lifetime looking after Greg - from close up and at a distance - and had probably taught herself a long time ago how to understand the things he never said. It was a skill she wished she was better at.
"Please," she finally said, and nodded toward the living room. "Make yourself comfortable."
Cuddy led the way into the living room, and picked up House's discarded newspaper from the couch. Blythe took the wingback chair near the window and watched Rachel play. Cuddy wondered if she noticed the dust bunnies under the bookshelf, and the cushion stained by Rachel's juice. She was surprised to feel a jangle of nerves in her stomach. She had faced down insurance executives and multimillionaires without blinking. But a meeting with House's mother seemed impossible to face.
Rachel looked up at her as she took her seat, and Cuddy gave herself a moment to brush a lock of Rachel's hair out of her eyes to help settle her nerves.
Start with what was simple, Cuddy thought. Small talk. Work your way from there.
"When do you have to be in New York?" she asked, but when she looked up at Blythe, she was surprised to see an uncertainty on Blythe's face. It reminded her of the look on House's face whenever he was caught in some flimsy lie.
"We were supposed to meet for brunch. I told them my flight had been delayed." Blythe shook her head and looked away.
Cuddy leaned forward. "Why did you -"
"Because I'm a silly old woman with silly romantic ideas," Blythe said. She looked at Cuddy, finally, then down at Rachel. "And because I think my sisters gave up on Greg a long time ago."
"But not you?"
There was a slight smile on Blythe's face as she looked up. "Never."
Cuddy heard House in the kitchen, his steps moving across the tile floor back toward the living room. "Me neither," she whispered.
"Good," Blythe said. Cuddy thought she saw tears in her eyes, but Blythe blinked them away. Her eyes were clear when House handed her a mug of tea.
"Cream, no sugar," he said.
"Perfect," Blythe said. "Thank you."
Blythe sipped at her tea, and Cuddy remembered again the different times she'd seen House's mother, times when Blythe had sat quietly, just watching and listening, but seeming to hold some inner strength Cuddy had never defined.
Cuddy had always assumed that House had taken his stubborn nature from his father, either because of the military discipline or - just as likely - as a reaction to it. Now she saw the strength Blythe must have given him, time and time again, just by quietly believing in him when no one else did.
"I hope you don't mind," Blythe said, and put her mug on the table. She picked up a small tote bag from the floor. "I brought her something."
She unzipped the bag and pulled out a small teddy bear, well worn, but clean, a fresh lilac colored ribbon tied around his neck.
House muttered something and covered his face.
"This was Greg's, when he was a little boy," Blythe said. "He took him everywhere. He called him Mr. Teddy."
"See, this is why I don't tell you anything," House said.
"Quiet." Cuddy reached across and took the bear from Blythe. He was light brown, with fur that curled out from his body. His eyes were blue. "I think it's sweet."
She held it out to Rachel. "See what Greg's Mama brought you?" she asked.
Rachel's eyes wandered from Cuddy to House, then back to the bear, and finally to Blythe.
"His name is Mr. Teddy," Blythe said, ignoring House's repeated groans.
Finally Rachel took it from Cuddy.
"Can you say thank you?" Cuddy asked.
Rachel looked at her, and Cuddy nodded toward Blythe. Rachel looked back at the bear.
"You," she said finally.
Blythe smiled. "It's my pleasure."