Cuddy was mustering all the strength she could to will herself not to dig in the garbage.
She was throwing away a teabag when she saw them – the photos. House's mother had sent a big envelope earlier in the week that had sat on the counter for days. Cuddy didn't want to pry, but was curious about what was inside. Now she was dying because she saw the corner of a letter peeking out underneath a stack of photos lying on top of the trash. The top photo, the only one visible, was of a teenaged House standing with some other high school boys in track shorts and a jersey, sweaty and smiling. She had already bent her head practically into the can to look at it more closely, and was now fighting the urge to fish the rest out.
House must have opened the letter this morning, when she had already gone to work. And now he was at the hospital late with a new case and she knew she could just look and never be caught… But what questions would she have then that could never be asked without admitting she'd been so snoopy? She finally decided to just stop obsessing and be an adult. She grabbed her phone and called him.
"1-800-sexy-doctors. Do you need a house call?" House's voice was flirty, but distracted. His mind was working over the puzzle. Cuddy decided to cut to the chase.
"Why did you throw those photos away?" she asked, right out of the chute. House paused.
"I didn't want them," he answered.
"Did you ever think that maybe I'd like to see them?" she replied.
"My mom sent a bunch of random old photos, Cuddy. They're nothing," he replied.
"Well, I want to pull them out of the trash and look at them," she confessed. "Can I do that?" House paused again, then laughed.
"I'll be home in an hour," he told her, "No need to get off to my yearbook picture,"
"House," she pressed him for an answer.
"Yeah, fine," he said finally. "I don't care."
"Thanks," she said, delighted to have the permission. "Bye."
"Wait a minute, missy," he chided. "No 'I love you, House-y?' No 'When will you be home my hunk of man flesh?' All you want is to rifle through my past?"
"House!" she scolded, eager to concentrate on the photos. "Bye!"
"Bye," he said, chuckling a little.
Cuddy bee-lined for the trash can and saw Rachel watching her pull the stack of photos out. "Don't dig in the trash, Rachel," she told her. "Mommy's just doing it this once," she informed her.
"No no no no no no no," Rachel replied smiling.
Cuddy picked her up and plopped on the sofa with her, photos in hand. Rachel pointed at House's face in the track photo that lay on top and said "How-s." Cuddy smiled.
"Yup, that's House," she said. She looked at the photo more closely now, no longer hindered by the dark of the garbage can nor her feelings of guilt. He was a kid. Smooth face, open smile. His eyes still held the intelligence and suspicion that were him, but he appeared more carefree and easy. He looked happy and yet was surrounded by people – a weird juxtaposition to his anti-social nature. She flipped to the next one: House's mother – an infinitely younger version – was smiling and holding a baby.
"Baby!" Rachel exclaimed.
"Yeah! That's a baby! That's House," Cuddy explained.
"Baby How-s!" Rachel corrected.
"Baby House." It seemed like an oxymoron to Cuddy. She stared at that baby, trying to find any connection to the man she now knew. There was very little to connect them, not even the crisp blue of his eyes because the photo was in black and white.
The next photo was hilarious. He was in a tuxedo next to a teenage girl in a poufy dress, posing for the traditional prom photo. He was smiling, but Cuddy noted the way his eyebrows crooked up at the inside, the same way they did now when he was worried or surprised or whining. She could feel the awkwardness of the moment and laughed out loud.
She then flipped to a photo from his medical school graduation. He was flanked by his parents, standing in a cap and gown with the doctoral stole draped over his shoulders. Here was the bridge to now – an image of House with one foot in the boyish handsomeness of his youth and one foot in the jaded but dashing look of today. His smile was halfhearted next to his beaming mother and stoic father. His diploma was tucked under his arm and his other arm hung at his side. He looked at the camera and one could almost see him internally rolling his eyes at all the hullabaloo. Yet, his pride shone through the cracks in his apathetic shell – a glimpse of actual tooth peeking out of his smile, an eyebrow slightly arched.
There were some other random ones – a yearbook photo, a few of him as a child on family vacations. Cuddy had to get Rachel ready for bed, though, so after quickly rifling through them, she scooped up her daughter and laid the photos on her bedside table to scrutinize more fully after books, bath, and bed. House's life trajectory would take some concentration.