Dirty Dancing is one of those movies that I can watch over and over again and never get tired of. This fic was inspired by my sister - not because she's ever been in a situation like this one, but because she's the world's #1 fan of the late, great Jerry Orbach (Jake Houseman).
The pain is hot, and it's everywhere. Billy sits beside her bed, wiping her face and holding her hand, but Penny's vision is clouded by pain that his face is just a blur. He's talking to her, but she can't make out the words over the fuzzy white noise in her head. She can still feel the phantom touch of that terrible doctor's rusty knife.
Then she hears Johnny's voice and wants to focus on his face, but her sight is swimming and when she tries to make it stop, she's hit by a wave of nausea so intense that she almost throws up. She doesn't notice when Baby immediately turns and runs full-speed out of the cabin. But she does notices when, all too soon, she returns with her father. Penny squeezes her sweaty hand around Johnny's. She knows Baby's father is some kind of doctor, but what if he goes to the police? Or tells Max?
His voice is strong and authoritative, and the fuzzy white noise in her head dies down at the sound of it. "Clear out, please, clear out," he says, and Penny feels helpless as Johnny and everyone else files out of the cabin. A new flurry of dread rises in her stomach when the door bangs shut and she's left alone with him. Just like with the last doctor.
She can still hear Billy beating on the locked door, shouting threats and curses, desperate to get in.
The doctor pulls up a chair next to her bed, and Penny looks at him warily. What was his name again? She's so distracted by pain right now that she can't even remember Baby's last name. It must be Jewish, because most people at Kellerman's have Jewish names. Another reason why she and the rest of the dancers didn't fit in. Houseman. Wasn't that it?
Dr. Houseman leans over her body, and she skits away from him as much as the narrow mattress will allow and tries to close her legs, but it hurts so much that she cries out. "Yes, I know, I know that hurts," he says quietly, and then she feels his hands on her, examining her. She cries out again when he touches her stomach, but she doesn't try to move away from him. His hands are gentle - so unlike the man who did this to her - and cool against her sweaty skin. Even through her confused, pain-muddled mind, Penny wonders at that. They're in a cabin with one lazy fan and no air-conditioning on a sweltering summer night, but the doctor's hands are cool.
Penny's eyes flick all over the room while Dr. Houseman treats her, trying to focus on anything except what he's doing. He's calm and sure of himself as he works, and that helps her relax. After a few minutes, she realizes why he's so familiar. He was the man Penny danced with at her first samba lesson, back at the beginning of the summer. She had almost forgotten - how many dance lessons has she taught since then? - but the more she looks at his face, the more it comes back to her.
She had chosen him for her partner out of all the men at that lesson. He was old enough to be her father, but he looked good for his age, lean and dark-haired. He had chuckled when she said, "He's the boss on the dance floor... and nowhere else!" But he never once leered at her, like so many men that age did. He was a gentleman. Had his hands been so steady and cool when he danced with her?
Penny wonders vaguely if Dr. Houseman knows she chose him for her samba partner. He probably thinks she just picked him at random. Then she swallows and reminds herself that he's a prominent doctor, and she's a nobody, a drifter lucky to get a job as a dance instructor. He probably doesn't remember dancing with her at all.
Later, after he's done, she shuts her eyes and lies back on the rumpled pillows with a shaky sigh, no longer in any pain but sore and tired. Dr. Houseman is still in the chair beside her bed, and she can feel his eyes on her, but she's startled when he puts one hand on her forehead. Penny thinks he must be checking for fever, but then he moves his thumb, just barely stroking her hair. He's ... comforting her. A few tears leak out around her closed eyelids.
"All right," he says quietly, "you'll be all right." She listens and nods as he gives her instructions about taking care of herself and says that he'll be back tomorrow to check up on her. But all the time, she can't think about anything except that hand resting on her forehead. She knows Dr. Houseman doesn't expect any payment, or else he never would've treated her in the first place. He's done; he should get up and leave. But he isn't.
Penny's relationship with her mother had been going sour for years before she was thrown out. Even when she was a little girl, her ma had never been affectionate. Penny can't remember her ma ever touching her like this. And Penny never even knew her father. She used to wish for a pa for Christmas when she was a kid, the way other girls wished for dolls or roller skates, but Santa never brought her one. There have been some men who were sweet with her and stroked her hair like this, but Johnny is the only man who's ever touched her just to comfort her, touched her without expecting something in return - until now. As Dr. Houseman keeps stroking her hair, she wonders sleepily if this is what it feels like to have a father.
He tells Penny to come see him if she needs anything and then turns away to write down the name of his cabin. She knows she should be grateful - he's so discreet and so kind - but she just about cries when he takes his hand off her head.
Johnny and Billy come back in after the doctor leaves, their faces full of relief, but she's too tired to listen to them. She listens to Dr. Houseman's footsteps as he leaves the cabin, until they fade away.
Penny smiles as she drifts off to sleep. She knows that he's an important doctor, and she's nobody, not even a blip on his radar. And he's almost certainly forgotten that he danced the samba with her at the beginning of the summer. But still, it was nice, getting to pretend, just for a little while, that she had a father.