"Mom, I'll be there in twenty minutes," I say, the earpiece in my ear, the cell phone in its holding place to my right.
"Alright. I'll be waiting for you outside," she says. She hangs up.
I sigh slightly as I pull the earpiece out of my ear. We haven't spoken for a few weeks. I don't want to deal with her right now, but Rachel asked about her so I bit the bullet and called her about a visit with Rachel. I'm not going to deny Rachel time with her grandmother because she and I had a fight.
I look in the rear view mirror to check on Rachel. She's swaying side to side in her car seat, her brown bangs swaying slightly as she hums and looks at the passing trees outside the window. House is sitting on the opposite side of Rachel, looking out the window and tapping his hand on his knees in time with the tune Rachel is singing. I think he feels my gaze on him because he turns his gaze from the window to meet my eyes in the mirror. I quickly turn my eyes back on the road after I see the flash of light blue. I drive in silence for a while and then sneak a look back at House. He has his head turned back towards the window, but I can tell from the tilt of his head that he's tense about something. I breathe air through my nose. I'll deal with that later. After I drop off Rachel.
"Mama, look!" Rachel says as she stops humming. She points out the window at mom's house and says, "Grandma's house!"
"Yes, sweetie. It's Grandma's house." I pull into the driveway smoothly and shut the engine off. "You ready? Let's get out."
"Okay," Rachel says, fumbling with her seatbelt.
House reaches over and unbuckles Rachel's seatbelt. He lifts her out of the car seat and unto his lap, avoiding his right leg. He opens the car door and steps out, using the door for balance as he puts all his weight on his left leg and lifts Rachel into his arms. Once he's fully outside the car, he sets Rachel on the ground and reaches in the car for his cane.
"Grandma!" Rachel says as she spots mom on the porch steps. She runs over to her.
"Hello, my sweetie!" Mom says as she gets up from where she was sitting. She leans on her own cane. Rachel runs right up to her. Mom reaches down and strokes Rachel on the cheek. She looks at me.
"Hi, Mom," I say.
She doesn't say anything else, but I see her surveying me, surveying House, surveying the distance we are standing apart from each other.
"Thanks for letting Rachel visit," I say, pushing the words out of my mouth. "I'll pick her up Sunday evening, around 5."
She nods. "That's fine." She looks down at Rachel and smiles. "Let's go into the house, Rachel. I have a nice, healthy lunch prepared just for you!" Rachel scrunches up her nose but runs into the house just the same. Behind the screen door, she turns around and waves at me, waves at House. "Bye, mama! Bye, House!" She turns and runs further into the house towards the living room.
I can feel mom's eyes burning a hole in my head, and though I don't want to, I meet her gaze. I force a smile. "Bye, mom. I'll see you soon."
She nods, her eyes still surveying me and House. She walks slowly into the house. I shake my head slightly as I watch her walk away. I turn to get back in the car, and I see that House is already in the car, in the passenger seat. I get in the driver's seat, put on my seatbelt, and start the engine. I pull out the driveway and start to make my way down the street. I sneak a look at House in the mirror, and, to my surprise, I find his gaze waiting there for me.
"We need to talk," he says.
My breakfast burrito is half eaten, the coffee lukewarm and even more tasteless than it was when it was steaming hot. Cuddy drinks her tea and picks at her salad. I eye the way she's pushing her salad around the plate.
"You know, starvation isn't going to make that ass of yours any smaller, so I suggest going back to, oh I don't know, eating." I say, hating how I notice that even her wrist seems thinner than before.
She glares at me, her blue eyes flashing, but they soften almost immediately. She knows I'm right.
"I know. You're right. I'll start eating better. I just…I have a lot on my mind lately," she says, wrapping her hands around her mug.
"Do you care to share what's been on your mind with, oh, I don't know, the man who's sleeping next to you practically every night?"
She looks up at me and studies me. Her eyes run over my face, as if weighing whether or not to finally say it, say something. That's it. I'm losing patience. I can't wait for her to talk anymore. This is insane. She should be paying for my therapy if she's going to add this much stress to my life. I take the offensive.
"Cuddy, if you don't tell me what's bothering you, I can't fix whatever it is I'm doing wrong and if I'm not doing something wrong, I can't hire someone to take out the person who is doing something wrong. Either way, throw a man a bone here. I'm in therapy, remember? How much more strain do you think I can take? Unless you hand me a truckload of Vicodin, you need to start talking now, cuz I'm …"
"What would you do if something happened to me?" She asks suddenly, cutting in.
What? What the…
"Would you look after Rachel? Would you at least come to see her, make sure she's okay?"
My mind goes blank and I feel my mouth getting dry. Is she sick? Is this a test? Is this what Arlene asked her? Is she hiding a CAT scan that she got behind my back? I purposefully gulp once, and focus my eyes on hers.
I don't know the right thing to say when she won't tell me what's wrong.
"Cuddy…" I start. I see her waiting for me to continue, but I see flashbacks of what we went through with her last health scare and I have to shut my eyes for a second. I open my eyes again, look at her with as much conviction I can muster and say softly, "You know I would." I can't promise her that I will, but I have to trust that she knows me well enough to believe that I would to everything in my power to try. I would try to. I would try.
Cuddy's brow is furrowed again, and she reaches her hand out across the table and rests it on my hand. She strokes her thumb across the back of my hand.
"I know," she says. "Thank you."
"Is that what Arlene nagged you about?"
She takes her hand away from mine and looks at her cup of tea again. "That, and other things." She says. She takes a deep breath and looks up at me, her chin in that angle I know well. I know that she's decided to tell me now, tell me everything.
"Let's go home. We should talk somewhere private."
I nod, grab my cane, and stand up.
She gets up, too.
As we pay for our food at the counter and leave the diner, I feel Cuddy smack my butt as we walk towards the car. A little surprised, I turn to look at her. She's still serious and a bit too solemn for my liking, but she's half-smirking as well.
"Don't worry," she says, as she runs her hands over my shoulders which have tensed into knots. She rests her arms around my neck. "I'm not sick. I'm fine. Rachel's fine. Mom just…she…we got into a huge argument about a month ago and she made me think about some things."
I rest my hands lightly on her waist. "About me?" I ask.
"Yes," she says. "About you, about me, about where this relationship is going, about…whether you can handle me, Rachel, our life together." She steps closer to me and hugs me, her reaching up on her tiptoes to rest her cheek against mine. "About whether you'll stay when things get hard or complicated," she whispers.
I feel my heartbeat accelerate and I feel my mouth getting dry again. My mind is threatening to go blank again, but I manage to find my voice. "Didn't you know you're stuck with me?" I say. "I'm damaged goods, so there's a no-refund, no-return policy," I say, bring up my right hand to cradle her head against mine.
I feel her laugh lightly. She pulls away from me and starts to walk towards the car again. "Come on, let's go home. I'll give you the play by play on my fight with mom and…we need to talk some more because…there's something I want to run by you about Rachel."
I nod. "Okay." What else can I say?
I follow her to the car and get in.