Part IV: Mayfield
Chapter 4: The Last Stage
It's what Mom's sister Julia, rolling her eyes, calls 'one of those days': all rush-rush, now-don't-argue, get-in-the-car-honey. Mom is late already when she comes to pick Rachel up from school.
"Nana is taking care of you this afternoon," she says as she pulls out of the school parking lot rather sharply.
"Oh, no!" Nana is awfully fussy about food, and she says she can't play any of Rachel's 'fancy, modern' games, and she's all uptight about homework. "Why can't you stay at home with me?"
"I'm picking Wilson up from Mayfield, sweetie," Mom says, glowering at the red light and tapping the steering wheel with her fingertips.
"Can't I come along?"
"I don't know how long it'll take. He's being released today - that means that he doesn't have to go back."
"Is he gonna stay with us?"
Mom smiles at her in the rear mirror. "Just for a few days."
That's good. Wilson cooks good stuff, and he likes playing with her. That reminds Rachel of her original problem.
"Can't I wait at Louisa's place?" Louisa doesn't care what Rachel eats, and she's a lot more trusting than Nana. She believes Rachel when she says that she has no homework. It drives Mom crazy, but she's too polite to tell Louisa that she's fallen for the fibs of an eight year old.
"I really can't impose on Louisa anymore. Besides, I have no idea whether she's there or not - I think it's her book club afternoon. You'll be fine with Nana."
No, she won't, but Mom's tone indicates that it's no use arguing with her.
When they get to the apartment, Nana is already ensconced in the kitchen drinking the inevitable cup of coffee. "That's a really foul brew you keep, Lisa," she says by way of greeting. "Hello, Rachel dear."
"I don't drink much coffee at home," Mom says absently. "How did you get in?"
"Lisa," Nana says with a laugh, "you've always kept your spare key in the first place a burglar would look for it. One would think that certain events would make you more safety conscious, but no!" She says 'certain events' with the emphasis that she always uses when she's talking grown-up stuff that Rachel isn't supposed to understand. It drives Mom crazy in a not-so-good way; it usually ends up with Mom in a really foul mood or all thoughtful and no fun. And it doesn't take being a grown up to realise that most of the time Nana is being mean to Mom. Like now.
Mom shrugs off her coat. "He didn't break into my house; he drove into it."
Nana looks all ready to counter with another snide comment, so Rachel intervenes. (She's seen how Julia does it, by drawing their attention to her presence. If they don't want her hearing their grown up talk, they have to change the topic.) "Who drove into our house?" she asks loudly.
It works: both of them turn to her, Mom looking slightly ashamed. "Oh, this drunk guy who drove his car into our house in Princeton. You've heard the story," she says.
Nana takes her cue from Mom. "So, Lisa, what matter of importance is it that allows me to look after my granddaughter today? A meeting - or a date?"
That's ridiculous, because Mom doesn't date - which is one of the things Nana nags her about. When they go to her place for Thanksgiving, Granddad's birthday anniversary or Hanukkah, Nana invariably picks on Mom, saying she should try to be more like her sister Julia and find a 'nice, steady man' or a 'father-figure' for Rachel. If Julia isn't there to intervene, it ends with Mom smiling that stuck-on smile of hers that means that she's about to combust and Rachel getting an extra-long goodnight story at bedtime, because Mom doesn't want to go back downstairs to where Nana is waiting to pick on her some more.
So Rachel chips in once again. "She's going to Mayfield to pick up Wilson."
Apparently that wasn't a good thing to say, because Mom breathes out heavily, while Nana perks up.
"Wilson? Wasn't that his friend's name? And isn't Mayfield the name of that - that institution for nut cases?"
"Yes, Mom, James Wilson is a friend of mine from Princeton, and yes, Mayfield is a psychiatric institution," Mom says with her take-a-deep-breath-and-count-to-ten mien.
Nana looks really shocked, not pretend-shocked like when she's needling Mom. "Lisa Cuddy, have you gone completely insane? You've done this before - taken in a meshugener who wrapped you around his little finger - and see where it got you! See where it got your daughter! Don't you, ever, learn from your mistakes?"
Rachel can't remember any madmen, and although Mom can do all sorts of funny yoga bends, there's no way she could wrap herself around someone's finger.
"He wasn't a lunatic, and you liked him, too!" Mom counters with more vigour than she normally displays towards Nana.
Nana backtracks skilfully. "That shmendrik was a real charmer, and I don't blame you for falling for him, but do you have to do it again?" Rachel would love to know who they are talking about, although what this has got to do with Wilson coming over to stay is a mystery to her.
"Mother, I am not doing it again!" Mom says, raising her voice. "Wilson is a friend, nothing more; he's staying for a few days until his place in New York is ready, and then he'll be gone; he's a sweet, harmless man, not a mass murderer."
Nana gives her one of her looks and says testily, "Yes, yes, and the other one was 'the love of your life'. Lisa, you can't keep dragging crazy men into your daughter's life."
Mom stems her hands in her hips. "So someone I've known for years - who isn't crazy, by the way - is 'unsafe', but the guys Julia wants to set me up with, whom I don't know at all, can't possibly be crazy, abusive or paedophiles, right?"
Nana isn't impressed at all. "You have shown that you are no judge whatsoever of men, regardless of whether you've known them for twenty days or twenty years, whereas your sister's friends are a nice steady bunch. You attract crazy people, Lisa. You like them." She looks at Mom over the rim of her glasses. "Phone the loony bin and tell them that you're sorry, but you can't make it."
"Sorry, I'm not having this discussion," Mom says. "I'm going to get Wilson now. Are you going to look after Rachel while I'm gone?"
"I'm not enabling you in this," Nana says with equal determination.
"Then I'll take her with me. Rachel, go get a book to read and come."
Rachel looks from one to the other, but neither Mom nor Nana show any sign of backing down, so she wheels her chair to her room and claws Harry Potter Movie Wizardry from the shelf - it's all about how the movies were made and it has tons of pictures from the ones she isn't allowed to watch yet. Suddenly she isn't all that enthusiastic about accompanying Mom to Mayfield; Mom isn't going to be in a good mood after having Nana get in her hair. It's a new record for them - normally Mom manages to stay calm and 'diplomatic' (that's what Mom calls ignoring Nana's jabs) much, much longer.
When she wheels herself back into the hallway, Mom is waiting with her coat. Seeing the book on Rachel's lap reminds her of something. "What about your homework, young lady?" she asks.
"No homework," Rachel tries.
Mom rolls her eyes, picks Rachel's school bag off the floor where she left it and opens the front door. "You don't have to wait for us, Mom," she calls back into the kitchen where Nana is still nursing her cup of coffee. Then she gives Rachel's wheelchair a nudge.
"Bye, Nana," Rachel calls. Then she wheels herself out. Mom follows her, slamming the apartment door shut behind them.
"You always tell me not to do that," Rachel can't help pointing out.
"Sorry," Mom says, but it's automatic. She isn't really listening. She works off her frustration by thumping Rachel's wheelchair into the boot of the station wagon and slamming the car doors too, but by the time she slides behind the steering wheel, she's calm again. She gives Rachel a quirky look. "Guess you're coming along after all."
When they arrive at Mayfield Mom nearly blows her top again. There are five long steps leading up to the front door - and no ramp, just a blue disabled sign with an arrow pointing towards the corner of the building and a notice saying, 'Wheelchair access 500 yards'. The path leading that way hasn't been cleared and is covered in about two inches of snow. Mom says a word that's strictly prohibited in school, and looks down at her questioningly. She holds out her arms so Mom can pick her out of the wheelchair and carry her up the steps. Mom places her on the top step and runs back down to get the wheelchair.
"You aren't going to be able to do that much longer," Rachel remarks as Mom places the wheelchair in front of her and helps her get back in it.
"I know, I know - I'll get lumbago, and then we can have wheelchair races down the road together."
Inside, Mayfield doesn't look anything like the hospitals Rachel has been in, nor does it smell right. It doesn't have that clean, medicine-y smell, it's a lot more cramped, and there aren't so many people rushing around. After registering at the desk (and complaining about the absence of a ramp, much to Rachel's embarrassment), Mom pushes her to the elevator, stabbing the button viciously.
"This hospital is strange," Rachel says as they drive up to the fourth floor.
"It's not a real hospital," Mom explains. "It's for people with mental disorders. If something is wrong with the brain, the patient needs special doctors, and Mayfield is one of the places just for that."
"Can't the doctors in normal hospitals do that? You told me they cut into brains in your hospital too."
"Okay, maybe I didn't explain it well. This is more like a rehab, like the one you went to after your accident. This is a brain rehab."
On the fourth floor Mom wheels her out of the elevator to a double door, where she rings a doorbell. A male nurse comes to open the door, locking it behind them again. That's really odd, because in school the teachers aren't allowed to lock any doors so one can escape in case of a fire. What'll happen if there's a fire here, now?
They're in a big room, bigger than Rachel's classroom, but nowhere near as cheery and bright. People are sitting around in small groups or by themselves. A man is pacing up and down agitatedly; a woman on a couch is making low moaning sounds, largely ignored by the group of elderly men playing cards next to her; another woman is standing by the window talking to the room at large, but no one seems to be listening to her either. It's creepy.
"Dr Wilson's in his room, packing," the nurse says, gesturing down towards a corridor at the end of the big room, and Rachel is relieved when they reach the doorway to the corridor.
The door to Wilson's room is slightly ajar. Mom raps on it before pushing it open. Wilson is standing in front of his bed, closing a suitcase that's lying there.
"Hey, Wilson," Mom says. Then her face falls - leaning against the window is a tall, lanky figure. "Pete," she says shortly.
"Ah, Cuddy," Wilson says. "Hi, Rachel." He rubs the back of his neck.
"Hi, Wilson," Rachel says automatically. Mom gets upset when she doesn't greet people.
"Umm, House ... ," Wilson gestures towards Pete, "didn't realise you'd be coming."
Pete's eyes roam over Mom, then he musters Rachel without greeting her. That's good because then she won't have to greet him in turn, and Mom can't even accuse her of being rude. She doesn't like saying hello to near-strangers, and she isn't sure she likes Pete. He's okay, but not nearly as nice as Wilson, and the last time she'd seen him, he'd been a real grouchy-bear. She and Mom had driven somewhere in the middle of the night to pick him up, and he'd fought with Mom, and in the morning she'd been all sleepy and grumpy because she hadn't slept enough, and she'd still had to go to school! Pete had been bad-tempered at the breakfast table, and Mom had been angry and sad at the same time.
"Wouldn't have made a difference if I had," Pete says to Mom, "because I would have come anyway." He and Mom are staring each other down, the way Mom and Nana sometimes do. It looks like she and Pete aren't friends any more. "I came to say goodbye to Wilson. I'm leaving tomorrow."
"Oh," Mom says, looking surprised and not really happy. "Off to Seattle?"
"No, London. Consulting at Guy's and possibly teaching a few classes at King's College."
"That's ... great!" Mom says brightly, but Rachel can tell that she doesn't mean it. She turns on Wilson. "You didn't mention this."
"I, uh, ..." Wilson scratches his eyebrow with his thumb. "Does it make a difference?"
"No!" Mom snaps. "No, of course not." She fidgets around with Rachel's wheelchair.
"Mo-om!" Rachel says, annoyed.
"Sorry," Mom says. She twists her necklace instead.
"If I'd known you were coming," Wilson says to Rachel, "I'd have saved you some cake."
"Sorry," Mom says again, this time to Wilson. "My mother was supposed to look after her, but ... "
She trails off, biting her lip, and Rachel realises with horror that Mom is on the verge of crying. That can't be - Mom never cries. Never, ever. Rachel feels hot and cold at the same time. What is she supposed to do? It's all Nana's fault for yelling at Mom and picking on her. Wilson and Pete are staring at Mom, too, with interest. They've probably never seen her cry either. They'll think Mom's a cry-baby, when she totally isn't!
"Nana yelled at Mom," Rachel says, glowering at the two men, daring them to make fun of Mom. She can't really say that Nana yelled because of Wilson - she knows instinctively that Mom wouldn't want Wilson to know that - so she says the other thing that comes to mind, the thing Nana was insinuating all the while she and Mom were arguing this afternoon. "She says it's Mom's fault that I can't walk." She isn't supposed to know that, but at least it isn't rude towards Wilson to say it, so she figures it'll be okay.
Until she sees Mom's face.
"That's ... that's ridiculous!" Wilson says to Mom. "Your mother is crazy."
Pete shifts his stance. "No, it's not. It's true," he says without any inflection.
"House!" Wilson yells.
Mom sucks in a sharp breath. She looks bad, like the time she had a tummy bug and upchucked for two days. Maybe she's sick. Rachel wishes she could have spent the afternoon with Nana.
Pete looks at the floor. "She shouldn't have dated me. She knew I was insane and an addict and emotionally screwed up."
Mom dated Pete? No way!
Wilson stems his hands into his hips. "So that makes it Cuddy's fault that you drove your car into her house. Great, House, just great! Lay the blame at her door, absolve yourself from all responsibility, go on wreaking havoc in everyone's lives!"
Wasn't it some drunk who'd driven into their house?
"That's not what I said," Pete (or is it House? Rachel is confused) says, raising his voice too for a moment. "What I did is entirely on me and would have been heinous even if no one had got hurt, but Lisa is to blame for exposing her kid to a madman. Blame isn't something that comes in a quantum-like portion that can be absorbed in its entirety by one person. There's usually enough to go round, and then some to spare."
"Can we ... drop the topic?" Mom suggests, looking significantly in Rachel's direction.
"She obviously knows more than you think she does," Pete remarks, looking at Rachel appraisingly. She scowls at him. She's lost track of who he is and what he did or didn't do, but she's pretty sure that he's the reason why Mom is looking so sick.
"Fine," Mom says, drawing herself up, tossing her head and looking marginally tougher again, "but that isn't what my mother meant. She doesn't blame me for dating you; she rather liked you. She blames me for being too stubborn to move out of that house after you crashed into it - and she's right about that. She and Julia both begged me to move somewhere else, leave the memories behind, start afresh, but I had to prove to everyone that I wasn't going to allow you to chase me away, so I stayed. If I'd listened to them, we wouldn't have been in there when Hurricane Irene hit Princeton."
"That's right," Pete says cheerfully. "You'd have sold the house to some family with three kids who'd all be dead now, and you'd feel so much better for sacrificing them instead of your daughter."
"If I'd sold it, maybe someone would have noticed ...,"
"Noticed what the construction engineers didn't see when they examined the house after the crash?" Pete mocks. "Don't be ridiculous! Feeling guilty about what happened to the kid isn't noble; it's narcissistic. It's based on the assumption that your little fart causes an earthquake in Chile. Next you'll be all, 'Oh, it's so my fault that he crashed his car into my house!'" He says this in a high falsetto, but neither Mom nor Wilson smile. They stare at him in silence.
Pete stares back, the grin fading. He groans. "Oh, seriously! What convoluted logic makes you responsible for my insanities?"
"You just said yourself that I shouldn't have dated you!" Mom points out.
"Because you're responsible for her," he jerks his head in Rachel's direction, "not because you're in any way responsible for me. Oh, I get it; this is the 'I should never have dumped him' guilt trip, right?"
"No, it's the 'I should never have dated a vulnerable guy who can't deal with a break-up' guilt trip," Wilson says with asperity, "and I think she may have a point there."
Pete straightens himself. "You know what I like about Christianity?" Mom and Wilson look as confounded as Rachel feels. She hasn't understood a thing these past ten minutes. "It's the idea of free agency, the notion that people make their own choices and can be called on them." He looms over them like a gnarled old tree. "I wasn't your marionette. Feel free to regret having dated me, but don't ever assume that either of you made any choices for me. I drove my car into your house, I nearly killed Wilson, I nuked my hippocampus. Those may have been crappy choices, but they were all mine."
He pushes past Mom and Wilson to the door. From there he looks down at Rachel. "I'm - sorry about your legs, kid," he says.
Rachel has no idea what she's supposed to say; normally she's supposed to smile and say, "Oh, that's okay," when someone apologises, but she isn't sure whether Pete/House is apologising, and if so, then for what. Besides, she really, really doesn't feel like saying that anything is okay to this odd person. He's a sight worse than Nana, the way he talks to Mom. So she says, "I need the bathroom," instead.
That draws the faintest of smiles from Pete. He gives her nod, and then he's out of the room and down the corridor. Mom and Wilson stare after him, and then Mom collapses on the bed, burying her face in her hands.
"What a god-awful day!" she moans. "What the hell was that?"
"I think," Wilson says cautiously, "that he just absolved you for dumping him."
"Wonderful - that makes my day!" Mom says in the voice she uses when she doesn't mean it. "Too bad I'm not a Catholic." She sits up and rolls her shoulders stiffly. "Did he just leave without saying goodbye?"
"Well - yes," Wilson says, placing a hand on her back.
"Great! He's going to England, I may never see him again, and he can't even say goodbye! What the ...!" And Mom says a word that Rachel and her classmates may never, never use. "Well, I guess I deserved that, but that doesn't make it any the more pleasant. I wish ...,"
But Rachel doesn't care anymore what Mom wishes. She wishes she had her stuffed rabbit, her bed, a long goodnight story and a very long cuddle with Mom, but for the moment she'll settle for less. "Mom, I really need the bathroom. Badly."
On the way back home, while leafing through her book, she asks the question that's been bugging her for some time now. "Wilson, why'd you call Pete 'House'?"
She'd thought at first that maybe Wilson had got confused - he was in a brain rehab after all, and Mom says that people with brain problems are often confused - but Mom hadn't corrected him once when he'd called Pete 'House', nor had Pete.
Wilson, riding shotgun, squints over at Mom to see whether he may answer. Mom doesn't say anything; she just keeps looking straight ahead at the traffic, so Wilson ventures, "Because that's his last name - House."
"Is it, Mom?" Rachel asks doubtfully.
"Yes, honey, that's his last name," Mom says glancing at Rachel in the rear-view mirror. She interprets Rachel's expression correctly. "Why shouldn't it be?"
"Because he said it was something different when he came to our place the first time." She can't remember what he'd said he was called, but it hadn't been House. "He doesn't look like House." She doesn't really remember what House looked like, only that he'd reminded her of a pirate. Pete doesn't look like a pirate.
"She - remembers House?" Wilson asks Mom in a low voice. "After all this time?"
"I believe that my mother, with her semi-veiled attacks in my presence and constant diatribes about him in my absence, has done a lot to create pseudo-memories," Mom answers Wilson. Then she raises her voice so it carries better to the back. "He is House; he looks different because he's older now and he shaves. He used to have a lot of stubble."
"So why'd he pretend not to be House?" She's certain about that; she remembers Mom walking in on her and Pete while he was quizzing her about House, pretending that he had no idea who House was. "And he didn't remember the pirate cartoon!" There, that's solid evidence! She's absolutely sure that she got the cartoon from him, although she has no idea from where she has that unshakeable conviction.
Maybe Pete is just pretending to be House to fool Mom and Wilson - like Barty Crouch pretending to be Professor Moody.
"He didn't remember me either," she adds. That isn't good evidence, as she knows. She's changed a lot, and lots of people who knew her as a baby don't recognise her, but most of them say things like, 'Oh my, Rachel, how you've grown! I'd never have recognised you!' Pete, however, had treated her like a stranger.
"It's complicated, honey," Mom says, which means that she isn't going to give Rachel an explanation.
Rachel pouts. It's always 'complicated' (Mom's favourite) or 'difficult to explain' (Julia's favourite) or 'not the sort of thing you need to know at your age' (that one is Nana's favourite).
Looking in the rear-view mirror again, Mom relents. "He's lost his memory, so when he was with us the first time he didn't remember he was House. And he didn't recognise any of us."
Okay, she knows all about that. It's like Gilderoy Lockhart's memory charm.
"How'd that happen?" she asks. "Did he have a sickness?" The things that happen by magic in the wizard world tend to be caused by sickness in the muggle world.
"No, he had an operation. He had two metal rods put in his head, and then an electric current - you know, the stuff that makes our lamps light - was sent through the rods into his brain. It erased his memories, like wiping chalk off a blackboard."
That sounds pretty much like an obliviate charm, but she knows better than to say so aloud. That would just make Mom point out that magic doesn't exist (as though she didn't know that - she's not a baby!) and tonight, instead of reading a decent goodnight story, Mom would drag out one of the many books about the human body that she's bought for Rachel, with nasty pictures of eyeballs and muscles, and try to explain the brain to her. She considers asking why Pete had that operation, but thinks the better of it: once Mom gets started on medicine, she doesn't stop that easily. It's better not to set her off.
So she returns to her book, looking at the pictures of how they film Quidditch scenes in front of a green screen - which is sort of cheating, isn't it? She decides to strike the Barbie doll off her birthday wish list - Mom won't get her one anyway - and put a wand like Hermione's on it instead.
Wilson's latkes are better than Nana's. "Want another one?" he asks from his position at the stove. Rachel nods. She's glad he's come down from New York to visit them again, even if it's only for a day; his food is so much better than what Mom cooks.
Mom returns with the mail. She tosses two envelopes into Rachel's lap. "Here, Christmas cards for you," she says. "Check who they're from, please."
That's so that if Rachel didn't send them a card, she can still do so, because apparently you have to send a Christmas card to everyone who sends one to you. Rachel sincerely hopes that she's written cards to the senders of these two, because Mom insists that she write a 'personal greeting' in every card, which makes writing them hard work. Not that Mom buys Christmas cards for Rachel to send; she gets ones that say 'Season's Greetings' because they're Jews. Rachel thinks it would make more sense for her to send Christmas cards to those of her friends who are Christians, and that they should send her the non-Christmassy Christmas cards, but Mom says that it would be asking too much of everyone to figure out what religion everyone else belonged to.
"This one's from Conrad," she says. She has no idea why Conrad sent her a card; they don't talk to each other unless they have to. "Do I have to write him one? He's stupid, and if he tells the others about it everyone will say I'm in love with him!"
"No," Mom says absently. "I think this is the return one for the one I sent his parents. His dad works with me." She turns to Wilson. "Do you want to stay the weekend? We'd love to have you, so if you don't have to return tomorrow ..."
"I don't have to return till Monday, but aren't you going to your mother's place? It's Hanukkah, after all," Wilson says.
"Not this year," Mom answers. "We've decided to stay here and have some quiet family time together."
"Well, if you're sure," Wilson says. Then he frowns. "Quiet family time? I thought you were going to raise Rachel in the Spirit of Judaism." He sketches quotation marks.
"That was before the Spirit of Judaism in the form of my mother told me she'd call Social Services to get my daughter taken away from me."
"Wow! Did she really ...?"
Mom shakes her head. "No, it was just an empty threat. But I'm fed up."
"So, why'd she want to call Social Services? Aren't you feeding Rachel kosher? Or is it the lack of a father figure, without whom she'll turn into a hardened criminal by the time she's twelve?"
Rachel wants to giggle, but since she caused the last epic fight between Mom and Nana, she keeps her head down low and opens the second card. The envelope is fat and when she tears it open, a brochure drops out along with the card. The card has a picture of a reindeer on it, with big round eyes. There's a string dangling from the card. She gives it an experimental tug, and the reindeer sticks out its tongue. It's funny.
As she pulls the string a few more times she half listens to Mom saying, "She figured out somehow that I'd been seeing House. We had a bit of a fight."
Rachel is glad Mom doesn't snitch on her. It was all her fault. Last weekend, when they were at Nana's place, she'd gone to Julia to ask about House, because she felt awkward asking Mom. Usually, Julia is pretty cool about everything. But when Julia heard that she'd met House, she'd called Rob, and then there'd been absolutely dreadful yelling and shouting; and Nana, hearing Mom and Julia and Rob, had come to join in. Even Rob, who never lost his temper, had been yelling at Mom.
"The last time you had dealings with that maniac, he nearly turned my kids into orphans! Lisa, if you have the slightest bit of sense, you'll stay away from him. Otherwise, stay away from us!"
Upon which Mom had grabbed her and packed her into the car.
All in all, she prefers not to think about last weekend, so she picks up the brochure instead. It looks boring; just some place with old houses and churches. On the inside, however, two pictures are circled with a thick red marker. The rooms in the pictures look vaguely familiar. She deciphers the captions:
The Divinity School in the Bodleian, which was used as the Infirmary in the Harry Potter films.
The Great Hall, Christ Church, which was replicated to create Hogwarts Hall.
"Cool!" she breathes. "Mom, can we go there?"
"Where, honey?" Mom asks, peering over.
She reads the caption on the brochure. "Oxford. It says they made the Harry Potter movies there."
"That's in England. It's too far away, I'm afraid. Anyway, I'm pretty sure they shot most of the scenes in a studio."
"There's a Harry Potter theme park in Florida; maybe we can go there sometime."
'Maybe' and 'sometime' are not good words. They mean, 'not anytime soon'. Rachel scowls at her mother. "You went to England this year. Threetimes!"
"That was for work," Mom says hastily.
"Three times?" Wilson says. "Three times? I didn't know that. I'd like to have your job."
Mom blushes furiously. "Shut up, Wilson!" she says. She turns back to Rachel. "Who sent you that, anyway?"
Rachel opens the card. "Pete," she says after a moment.
Mom goes very still.
"Wilson's going," Rachel adds.
Mom holds out her hand for the card. "Gimme!" she orders. Rachel hands it over reluctantly. "'Hey, Rachel,'" Mom reads. "I'm in England now, and I live close to the places where some of the Harry Potter stuff was filmed. Come on over when Wilson comes, and he can take you around. Pete'."
"See?" Rachel says.
"What the hell is this?" Mom says to Wilson.
"Ummm, I have no idea. An invitation?" Wilson suggests.
"For whom and for what?" Mom snaps.
Wilson pinches his nose at the top, where it joins his face. "Well, it could be what it seems at face value, an invitation to Rachel to come and see the delights of Oxford."
"He doesn't live in Oxford."
"No, but it's a mere hour away from London," Wilson says. "Or, this being House, who is both obsessive and unpredictable, it could also be a covert invitation to you to come and spend the rest of your life with him."
"But in all likelihood, he's just messing with your head," Wilson concludes.
"Probably," Mom agrees, rolling her eyes.
"What's that mean, 'messing with your head'?" Rachel asks.
"It means that he's having a joke at my expense," Mom explains tight-lipped.
Rachel can sense her visit Hogwarts, the real Hogwarts, receding into the far, far future with every word that Mom and Wilson exchange. "No!" she says forcefully. Mom and Wilson stare at her. "No! He sent me the card, not you. If he was joking with you, he'd have sent the card to you."
"Sweetie, he knew I'd read the card. That's how - how he does things. It's a game to him."
"No," Wilson says unexpectedly. "He doesn't involve children when he plays his head games."
"Excuse me!" Mom says. "You were the one who told me how he treated Rachel like a dog getting house training."
"He wasn't playing games then. He was trying to act like a parent. Other parents prepare their kids for admission tests, so he was doing the same. It worked, didn't it?"
Propping her elbow on the table, Mom leans her forehead on the palm of her hand. "So why is he inviting Rachel?" she asks Wilson.
Wilson shrugs. "Atonement?" he ventures. "He blames himself, you know."
"He doesn't believe in atonement. He believes that you have to live with the crap you caused. He considers apologies or deeds of atonement an easy way out."
Mom and Wilson are going to keep on talking, discussing this thing, instead of getting everything ready for going to England, so Rachel interrupts. "Why don't we go over there, and then ask him why he invited me?" That makes so much more sense than sitting here wasting time trying to figure out why Pete wants her to come to England. Who cares, anyway?
Mom taps a rhythm on the table with her fingers. Then she looks at Wilson. "Are you going there?"
"Actually - yes. He invited me to come and see him, and I have a week off at Christmas."
Mom raises her eyebrows. "What does Nolan say? I thought he considered you two toxic to each other."
Wilson spreads his palms out. "Nolan says that like any prescription drug, what is beneficial when administered as prescribed, can be lethal when overdosed."
"Christmas," Mom murmurs. "That's kinda short notice."
"Is that your only objection?" Wilson asks.
"No, I have about twenty others!" Mom snaps. "This man is driving me crazy. He dumps me - twice! - , won't talk to me for weeks, and then, out of the blue, he invites me to visit him."
Rachel can't let that stand. "He invited me, not you."
"Even better!" Mom says morosely. "He invites my daughter while ignoring me completely."
"Last time he handled it the other way round - courting you while ignoring your daughter. Didn't work too well, so I guess he's learned from his mistakes."
"Which he can't remember." She traces patterns on the card with one finger, her tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth. Then she discovers the string and pulls it, frowning when the reindeer's tongue lollops out. "He's so immature!" she says.
Rachel doesn't know what that means, but it doesn't sound like a compliment. She figures she'd better rise to Pete's defence if she wants to go to England. "I think it's funny," she says defensively.
"Well, if he's managed to cater to your taste, that's okay then, isn't it?" Mom says. A moment later she shakes her head, laughing shakily. "God, that could have come from my mother! I'm sorry, Rachel. Of course it's cool, and it's nice of him to send you a card you like. I was just ... grouchy because he out-manoeuvred me."
"What does that mean?"
"'Caught me by surprise, did something I didn't expect.' What the hell do I do?" she asks no one in particular.
"I can go with Wilson, and you can stay here. Then you don't have to do anything," Rachel offers in the way of a compromise.
Wilson doesn't look enthusiastic, but Mom looks amused. "Then Nana will definitely set Social Services on me." She tips her head at Wilson. "Why aren't you telling me to stay away from him? You think I'm toxic for him."
Wilson sits down too, props his elbows on the table and interlaces his fingers. "I'm just accepting the inevitable, cultivating my inner Zen. You," he unlaces one finger to point it at her, "intended to go from the start, otherwise you'd have taken the card and thrown it straight in the trash."
They play at staring till the first person blinks until Mom lowers her gaze. "What do you think?" she asks Wilson. "Is he - serious about this?"
"What do you mean by 'this'?" Wilson asks in turn. Mom doesn't answer; she plucks her lip. "Look, I have no more idea than you do what he means by sending Rachel the card, but I don't think he means to hurt you. He says he's in therapy in England. Voluntarily."
"So'm I," Mom mutters. "It's not the miracle cure it's made out to be."
"It's big - for him."
Mom mumbles something unintelligible as she gets up and stomps out of the kitchen. Rachel and Wilson stare after her in silence.
A moment later there's the pling of Mom's computer booting, and then Mom calls from the living room, "Wilson, when's your flight?"
Wilson grins at Rachel and raises his right hand for Rachel to high-five him. The boys in her class do that sometimes; normally she thinks it's ridiculous, but on this occasion it's the right thing to do. Wilson calls to Mom, "It's a British Airways flight on the twenty-third around eight p.m. from La Guardia."
"And the return flight?"
"Hang on!" Wilson gets out his Smartphone and scrolls around in it.
The return flight isn't that important, Rachel decides. Mom always says one needs to 'set priorities'. "Wilson?" she says.
"I think your latkes are burning."
A/N: So, we've reached the end here. I want to thank everyone who had the patience to read all of this and took the time to leave a review. If you found the ending abrupt/unexpected/unsatisfiying, let me know and I'll try to explain why I think this is a good place and way to stop.
If you've been reading and liked the story, please let me know. (I'm enabling anonymous reviews for the story for a few days.) I put too much work into it to be able to fool myself into believing it was worth it just for my own pleasure ...