House was so engrossed in his game of Minecraft II, he didn't even bother to look at his phone before answering it.
"Speak," he said, cupping the phone between his chin and ear, still playing the game.
"So he lives!"
House frowned, paused the game.
"Hi Mom," he said dutifully.
"Is it too much trouble to call your dear old mother once in a while?" Blythe said.
"Sorry. I've been swamped at work. It's been a. . ."
"I'm just teasing you," she said brightly. "I know how busy you've been with your new girlfriend and that adorable little girl of hers."
House looked forlornly at the lifeless, untouched side of his bed. Cuddy's side.
"Yeah," he said. "Busy."
"I'm just so happy that you're happy," Blythe said. "You know I always get a little melancholy this time of year. Knowing that my only son is happy gives me such peace."
It was the three year anniversary of John House's death.
"I know," House said. "How are you hanging in there?"
"I'm good," Blythe said. "In fact, I'm better than good. Can you guess why?"
"Just kidding. Why?"
"Because I just booked a ticket on the MegaBus for next weekend. If the mountain won't come to Mohammed, Mohammed will come to the mountain."
The phone slid from his chin and dropped to the bed. He hastily picked it up.
"Wait! You're coming to Princeton?"
"Don't sound so upset about it!"
"I'm not, Mom. It's just. . .unnecessary. I told you I was coming to visit in the spring."
"You always say you're going to come visit me and then you never do."
"Well, it's unnecessary. The ticket is non-refundable. Already booked."
"Mom. I told you I'm really busy. I'm not sure I'll have time. . ."
"You can't take one weekend out of your busy schedule for your old mother?"
"It's not that I don't want to. It's just that. . . "
"You know Greg, I'm 77 years old. The next time you see me might be at my funeral."
"Are you sick?" he said, aghast, straightening up against the headboard. "Is everything okay?"
"Nothing like that. I'm fine. For now. But I want to see my son while I still can."
"Okay Mom. Just tell me what time to pick you up from the bus station."
"Good, it's settled!" Blythe said, cheerfully. "And by the way, Greg, if you and Lisa are living together, I won't be scandalized. I'm a lot more modern than you think."
"We're not living together, Mom," House said.
If only she knew.
"Then let's have her over for dinner on Saturday night, okay? I'm dying to meet her. What does she like to eat? I'm cooking."
The next day, House lurked quietly in Cuddy's office, watching her mark up some paperwork, waiting for her to acknowledge him.
"What is it?" she said, finally. "I'm busy."
There had been a slight thaw between them in the two months since House's sham of a wedding, but they were still barely on speaking terms.
"I need a huge favor," House said.
"No," Cuddy said.
"No? I haven't even asked yet."
"When you want insanely risky medical procedures, you just blurt it out. The fact that you're asking for a 'huge favor' must mean that whatever you want is banned in 50 states."
House looked at his feet.
"It's not professional. It's personal."
That got her attention.
"We don't have a personal relationship anymore," she said, looking up. "You and your mail order whore assured that."
"Oh that's funny," House said. "I could swear you were the one who dumped me."
"Whatever allows you to sleep at night."
"I don't sleep at night," House muttered. "Not anymore."
He gave her a pathetic look, but she was unmoved.
"Pity," she said.
"About this favor . . ."
"Alright, just spit it out already."
"My mom's coming into town next weekend. And she wants to meet you."
"Why would your mother want to meet your ex girlfriend," Cuddy said, pointedly.
"She, uh, thinks you're my current girlfriend," House said.
Cuddy's mouth dropped open.
"House! Why would you lie to your mother like that?"
"I didn't lie. I just . . . withheld information."
"Well, looks like she's going to get all the information she needs this weekend."
House fiddled with his cane a bit.
"That's the thing. I was hoping she wouldn't have to find out."
"I don't want to . . . disappoint her."
"I'm sure you've disappointed her many times before. She's probably used to it by now."
As soon as she said the words, she regretted them.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly. "That was a low blow."
"And not completely inaccurate," House said. "It's just that. . . my father died three years ago yesterday and she's feeling a little blue. And my mother said, and I quote: 'Knowing that my only son is happy gives me peace."'
"Wow. And I thought Arlene was good with a guilt trip," Cuddy chuckled.
"She wants you to come for dinner on Saturday."
"Not happening," Cuddy said, shaking her head.
House looked at her, clenched his jaw a bit.
"Fine," he said tersely. And turned to leave.
Just as he got to the door, Cuddy sighed.
"You had to put up with my pain in the ass mother when we were dating. The least I can do is fake it for one night with your saintly mother when we're not."
"Really?" he said, happily.
"Yeah, but no funny stuff, House. Don't use this as opportunity to try to get back together."
"The thought couldn't be farther from my mind," House said.
She squinted at him.
"What should I bring?" she said.
Cuddy stood in the hallway of House's apartment, staring at the door, already regretting her decision.
It was absolute madness to try to pull this off. She and House could barely stand to be in the same room together, let alone pretend to be a loving couple again for a whole evening. And she wasn't even that good of a liar.
But what was done was done. Blythe was making rock cornish hen.
Much to her surprise, Blythe answered.
She was about 30 years older than the one picture that House kept in his apartment—Cuddy knew it was an old shot because the colors were faded and Blythe was dressed in outmoded clothing (wide-legged pants and a bright floral scarf in her hair)—but she was still just as pretty.
She really was a lovely woman, Cuddy had to admit—fine-boned with eyes almost as expressive as her son's.
She caught Cuddy off guard by enveloping her in a big hug.
"You're as stunning as Greg said you were," she said, holding Cuddy at arm's length to inspect her.
"Thank you," Cuddy said, smiling. She couldn't help herself—she felt genuinely flattered.
House approached them, a dish towel slung over his shoulder, already looking a bit sheepish, as so many adult men did when they were in the presence of their mother.
"Hey," he said, nodding at Cuddy.
"What? You're not going to kiss your girlfriend hello?" Blythe said. Then to Cuddy: "I told Greg that I wasn't some old stick-in-the-mud."
Turning a bit red, House limped over to Cuddy and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.
"Thanks for doing this," he whispered in her ear.
Blythe rolled her eyes a bit, clearly unimpressed by the chaste display.
"Alright, you kids," she said. "Go make yourselves comfortable in the living room. I have to check on my hen."
And she started toward the kitchen.
"Let me help you," Cuddy said, following her..
"Don't be silly. What's a mom for if not to cook dinner for her only son and his beautiful girlfriend?" Blythe said. "Go! Sit!"
And she shooed them toward the couch.
Cuddy and House exchanged a look, then sat down stiffly next to each other on the couch.
There was a conspicuous amount of space between them, so Cuddy, trying to hold up her end of the performance, scootched closer to him.
"She's very sweet, House," Cuddy said, gesturing toward Blythe.
"Thanks," House said.
"How did you happen?" she cracked.
House shrugged, smiled softly.
"One of life's great mysteries," he said.
"And she's such a domestic goddess, too," Cuddy said, in slight awe. "I bet she made your bed and did your laundry for you when you were growing up."
"Actually, she did," House admitted.
"I must've been such a disappointment to you," Cuddy said drolly.
"Yeah," House said, with a tiny trace of bitterness in his voice. "You were the one who disappointed me."
They looked at each other. Then Cuddy picked an Us Weekly up off the coffee table.
"I thought you stopped reading this tabloid crap!" she said, an attempt to change the subject.
"Not mine," House said.
"The whore's?" Cuddy said, dropping the magazine like it was hot.
"She doesn't. . . she's never here, Cuddy. I don't see her. My mother must've bought it at the bus station."
Cuddy gave him a skeptical look. Then picked up the magazine again, flipped the pages.
"Ooooh, 'Who Wore it Best?' I love this page."
She pointed to two starlets, both wearing the same dress.
"Okay House. On three: Left or right? One, two, three. . .Left!"
"Right," House said, at the same time.
"Really?" Cuddy said, incredulously.
"The one on the left looks like a lesbian," House said.
"Why? Because she has short hair?"
"I thought you liked lesbians."
"Lipstick lesbians. Not look-like-dude lesbians."
Cuddy shook her head in mock disgust.
"Okay," she said, pointing to another photo. "One, two, three. . .. right!"
"Left," House said.
"You've got to be kidding me? Her boobs are so fake it looks like she has two beach balls stuffed in her bra."
"Hey, don't knock beach balls," House said. "Some of my best friends are blow-up dolls."
"Men are pigs," she said, swatting him a bit.
"Not every woman can be as genetically blessed as you," House said.
And she swatted him again, but more tenderly this time.
From the kitchen, Blythe watched them, smiling.
"Dinner is served!" she said.
They did small talk at first, which was easy. They talked a bit about the renovations to the hospital, about the upcoming election, about some snooty PBS show that both Blythe and Cuddy watched on TV.
Then Blythe took Cuddy's hand and said, "So tell me how my son was able to win your heart."
House looked mortified.
"Mom, don't embarrass her," he said.
"She's not embarrassed. All women like to talk about when they fell in love with their man, right, Lisa?"
"Uh," Cuddy took a gulp of her wine.
House looked at her.
"The thing is, Mom, there's something I need to . . ."
"Well his eyes of course," Cuddy said, quickly, cutting him off. "He's got dreamy eyes."
"That he does," Blythe said, smiling proudly.
"And his brilliance. That was intimidating at first, I must confess. But I love matching wits with him. It's like playing tennis with a pro."
"You're not exactly an amateur yourself," House said.
"And I loved—love—how fearless he is. If he believes in something, he goes after it, no matter what the consequences. There aren't many people who live their life that way. House has total integrity."
"And his motorcycle," Blythe said, her eyes twinkling. "Don't forget his motorcycle."
"Yeah. And that, too."
"Did you ever ride him?"
Cuddy almost choked on her wine.
"Him. . .or her. . . I forget what gender men call their motorcycles."
"My bike is an inanimate object," House said. "And Cuddy is a chicken."
"I am not! I'm a mother. I can't do reckless things."
"Translation: She's a chicken."
"You should ride with him," Blythe said, knowingly. "There's nothing sexier than being on the back of a man's motorcycle. All that raw power between your legs."
"Mom!" House said, shocked.
Blythe shrugged: "Or so I've heard," she said, innocently.
Then she turned to House.
"Okay, your turn, Greg. How was Lisa able to win your heart?"
"Besides the obvious?" House said.
"Yes, yes, she's a babe," Blythe said, in a gruff voice that was supposed to approximate her son's. "But why did you fall in love with her?"
"Because she's. . .amazing," he said finally, looking at Cuddy.
"Strong, fearless, smart, funny, sexy. . . She's. . .everything."
Cuddy looked down at the table.
"That's sweet," Blythe said, beaming. "And I noticed that you both said 'fearless.' It must be so great to have each other in your respective corners."
"It is," House and Cuddy said softly, in unison.
After dinner, they retired to the living room for coffee and dessert (Cuddy tried to beg out but Blythe would hear none of it) and Blythe turned on the oldies station and sat on the couch and began knitting a child's cap.
"For Rachel," she explained.
At one point, Nat King Cole's Unforgettable came on the station.
"Ooooh, your father and I danced to that song at our wedding. And your father said, 'This will always be the most unforgettable day of my life.'" Blythe said, dreamily. "Remember, Greg?"
"No Mom. I wasn't there," House said.
"I mean. . .I was sure I had told you."
House smiled fondly.
"Just kidding. You've told me many times."
"Dance for me," Blythe said, smiling at him, closing her eyes and swaying a bit to the music.
House rolled his eyes.
"Mom. You're so sentimental."
"What's wrong with that? Dance for the old lady."
"News flash: I'm a cripple."
"You can walk, you can slow dance," she said.
The corners of his mouth flinched into a tiny smile. Then, with a theatrical sigh, he stood up, held out his arm for his mother.
"Care to dance," he said, bowing.
"Not with me, silly. You and Lisa! I'm knitting here."
House stood frozen, not quite knowing what to do.
Once again, Cuddy to the rescue.
She popped up, folded herself into his arms.
"I'm so sorry about this," he whispered in her ear.
"I don't mind," she said, and she rested her head on his chest, inhaling that familiar smell.
From the couch, Blythe watched them happily.
"I don't think I've ever seen a more perfect couple," she said.
It was late—past 11. Cuddy said that she really needed to go home.
"This has been such a treat," Blythe said to her. "I only wish we could spend more time together. Any chance you could meet me for coffee tomorrow? Greg claims he has a patient, but I think he just wants to get away from his meddling mother."
"I have a meddling mother at work, too, Mom. Goes by the name of James Wilson," House said. "And I really do have a case." He turned to Cuddy. "Tell her."
"He has a case," Cuddy said, truthfully.
"Do you have to be at the hospital tomorrow too?" Blythe asked her.
"Uh, not technically," Cuddy said. It was her natural inclination to tell the truth. Especially to sweet old ladies.
"Perfect! So you can meet me for coffee? I'm just dying to spend some more time with you."
"Uh. . . sure?" Cuddy said, wrinkling her nose.
"I'll call you tomorrow and we can settle the plan," Blythe said, giving Cuddy another warm hug. "I can't tell you how happy I am that you're in my Greg's life."
Cuddy gulped a bit, looked at House.
"Mom, I'm going to walk Cuddy to her car," House said.
"Of course!" Blythe said. "And I'm going to take these creaky old bones and get ready for bed."
She waved good bye, as House led Cuddy into the hallway.
When they got to her car, House jammed his hands in his pockets.
"I owe you. Big time," he said. "Like I'll-be-your-clinic-slave-for-a-month big time."
"It was fun," Cuddy said. "Your mother is great."
"Yeah," House said proudly. "She is."
Cuddy looked down.
"Tonight was actually pretty special to me," she said.
"Yeah," House said. "It was special to me too."
There was a slightly awkward silence.
Then House said, "We can make up some excuse about tomorrow. You can say that Rachel is sick."
"I actually want to have coffee with her!" Cuddy said, surprising herself. "I can ask her embarrassing questions about your childhood. Like, did you wet the bed?"
"Only after I hit puberty, if you know what I mean," House said, with a wink.
She shook her head and laughed.
"Good night, House."
"Good night, Cuddy."
He opened the car door for her and she got in. Then, on impulse, she took his hand through the open window. As she drove away, her hand slid from his palm to his fingertips until she had to let go.
"So tell me what House was like as a little boy," Cuddy said.
She and Blythe were at a downtown coffee house. Blythe had taken a cab. Her plan was to explore the city, maybe check out the museum after coffee.
"He was wild as a little one," Blythe said. "Always curious about everything! Always disappearing to explore some hole, or abandoned shed, or to climb a tree. At one point, I actually considered putting him on a leash."
"You too?" Cuddy said, dryly.
"As he got older, he loved to take things apart—appliances, radios, you name it. When he was seven, he performed an autopsy on our family cat."
"I hope the cat was already dead," Cuddy joked.
"It was," Blythe said, chuckling. Then she got a bit nostalgic: "He was a happy little guy. So cute with his floppy hair and his big blue eyes. No one could resist him—certainly not the female half of the population."
Cuddy paused, took a sip of her latte.
"Do you mind if I ask you: How did he . . .turn out the way he did?"
"You mean wonderful? Magnificent? Perfect?" Blythe said.
Cuddy looked down.
"Yeah, something like that," she said.
Blythe smiled wryly.
"I'm just kidding. I know he can be difficult. I guess a lot of that stems from his relationship with his father. John was very, very hard on Greg."
"Was he. . .abusive?" Cuddy said, not sure if it was appropriate to ask.
"Did John hit Greg? Yes, I'm quite sure he did. Many times. Although I never saw it. I guess I was in denial a little bit. But the abuse was more of a . . .psychological nature."
Cuddy looked at her.
"You don't have to tell me this if you don't want to."
"No, I want to," Blythe said. "A lot of this stuff I've been holding inside for too long."
"I think John was very jealous of Greg," Blythe said. "At first, I think it was the classic jealousy: He was jealous of all the attention I paid to his son. But by the time Greg was 10 years old, he was already reading and comprehending things far above John's level. Above either of our levels. No one tells you how challenging it is to raise a genius. And Greg was restless, rebellious, fiercely independent. John felt a need to harness him."
"Which is almost impossible," Cuddy said.
"Exactly," Blythe said. Then she smiled sadly: "Let me tell you a story about the kind of thing John did to Greg. When Greg was very young—five or sex—he had this teddy bear he loved. He named it Goose, for reasons I'm not quite sure. He took Goose with him everywhere: To sleep, to school. He even brought him to the dinner table. Goose was so tattered, I had to stitch him up and patch him many times. One day, John decided that Greg was too old for Goose."
Blythe pursed her lips, clearly recalling something terrible.
"That part is normal. A lot of fathers don't want their sons to cling to a stuffed animal like that. But it was what John did that was so . .. despicable. He made a bonfire in the backyard and he told Greg to throw Goose into the fire. Greg cried and screamed and ran to me for amnesty. But John insisted. He didn't just want Greg to give up Goose. He wanted Greg to be the one who destroyed him."
Blythe closed her eyes tightly.
"So what happened?" Cuddy said, gently.
"John was stubborn as a mule—they both were. John said that Greg could either burn the teddy bear or stay out in the yard all night. Greg held out for as long as he could. He'd had no dinner. He was exhausted and scared. He was shaking. It think it was 4 am before he finally threw Goose into the fire."
Cuddy shook her head, appalled.
"Why on earth would John make him do such a thing?"
"He said it was time for Greg to put away foolish playthings and become a man. He was 7."
"God, poor House."
"I know I should've done something. But. . .that's not the way I was raised. My mother obeyed my father. We were traditional. A military family, too."
"You don't have to explain anything to me."
"No, I do," Blythe said. "I've never forgiven myself for that night. And for other things, too. Things I'd rather not recall."
She shook her head, as if trying to shake away a bad memory.
"After that, things were never the same again between John and Greg."
A few months into their relationship, House had confessed to Cuddy that John House was not his biological father. She wondered if John knew this—if not explicitly, perhaps subconsciously—and if it had contributed at all to the abuse.
"Greg has always been afraid to love things," Blythe was saying. "I'm not sure if it stems from that day. Or from moving around so much as a child. Or because of the way his father treated him. Whatever the case, he's always been wary about opening up his heart—even before his . . .injury."
Then she gave Cuddy a warm smile.
"That's why I'm so happy that he found you, dear. He loves you so much."
"Thank you," Cuddy said.
"You know, I spoke to Greg last Christmas," Blythe said.
(Cuddy had a flash to the previous Christmas. House was excited to show Rachel A Christmas Story on TV. "Here comes the best part," he said, just as Flick stuck his tongue to the frozen poll. "I triple dog dare you!" Rachel and House had gleefully run around the house yelling at each other, for weeks after.)
"And you know what he said to me?" Blythe said. "He said, 'Mom, I've never been happier in my life.'"
Cuddy felt a tear form in her eye. She blinked it away.
After coffee, Cuddy offered to drive Blythe to the museum.
"That's unnecessary, dear," Blythe said. "You've already taken so much time out of your day. I'll take a cab."
As always, Blythe wouldn't take no for an answer.
So Cuddy put her in a cab and gave her a long hug goodbye.
"I've enjoyed this so much," Cuddy said.
"Me too," Blythe said, her eyes twinkling. "Maybe the next time I see you will be at your wedding!"
But before Cuddy could protest, the cab zoomed away.
Just then, one of the employees of the coffee house—skinny jeans, plaid shirt, Clark Kent glasses—came rushing out onto the sidewalk.
"I think these are your friend's!" he said, out of breath.
She looked down: Blythe's reading glasses.
"Shit," Cuddy said. "She literally just took off in that cab."
"Oh," the kid said, not quite knowing what to do.
"Give em to me," Cuddy said. "I'll make sure she gets them."
She propped the glasses up against the closed door, assuming House wasn't home.
But he must've heard her footsteps. He opened the door.
"I thought you were at the hospital," Cuddy said.
"Patient is stable," House said, with a shrug. "What are you doing here?"
"Your mom left these at the coffee shop," she said, handing him the glasses.
"Thanks," he said.
They looked at each other.
"You wanna come in for a sec?" he said, cocking his head toward the living room.
"Maybe for a few minutes," she said, following him inside.
"How was breakfast with Mom? Did she bore you to tears?"
"No, we had fun. We talked a lot about you. And. . .your father."
For a second, he looked alarmed.
"You didn't say anything, did you? She doesn't know that I know."
"I didn't say a word," Cuddy said.
"Thank you," he said.
"He sounds like he was a real jerk, if you don't mind me saying so."
"Put it this way. He made Arlene Cuddy seem like June Cleaver."
"You know what the last thing your mother said to me was?"
"I'm terrifed to ask."
"'Maybe the next time I see you will be at your wedding.'"
"Real subtle," he said, smiling.
"I will say," Cuddy said. "That spending all of this time with your mother, it. . ."
"It what?" he said, his eyes widening.
"It reminded me of why I loved you so much." She looked up at him. "Why I still love you."
"I still love you, too," he said, a little too eagerly, stepping toward her.
"I know you do," she said, literally taking a step back. "I just need to . . .think. All of this, spending time with your mother, talking about your past: It's been very emotional for me."
"Take all the time you need," he said. "I'm not going anywhere."
"I know you're not," Cuddy said. "Ill-advised hooker weddings, notwithstanding."
He stood there, sheepishly. Not knowing what to say.
"C'mere," she said finally, holding out her arms.
And they hugged.
She rested her head on his chest, just as she had the previous night when they danced to Unforgettable. And then she looked up at him, and they were kissing—because it was instinct, because it was who they were.
And House's hands were in her hair and on her back and his tongue was probing her mouth and he was beginning to unbutton her blouse, devour her neck, when a key turned in the door.
"Mom!" House said, jumping away from Cuddy hastily.
"Blythe!" Cuddy said.
Blythe covered her eyes, mirthfully.
"I didn't see anything! I didn't see anything!" she sang.
"I thought you were going to the museum!" House said.
"I must've left my reading glasses here," Blythe said. "I'm blind as a bat."
"No, you left them at the coffee house," Cuddy said. "That's why I came over."
"I'd lose my head if it wasn't attached to my neck," Blythe said, with a chuckle.
"I should really. . .go," Cuddy said, feeling her face growing red.
"Don't leave on my account," Blythe said.
"No, I . . . I need to go pick up Rachel."
"Okay, dear. I hope you to see you really soon."
"Have a save trip home, Blythe," Cuddy said.
She turned to House.
"Call me?" he mouthed.
And Cuddy nodded.
That night, as Blythe was driving home on the MegaBus, she made a phone call.
"It worked!" she said, into the phone. "Everything went perfectly. Exactly like you said it would."
"Tell me everything," Arlene Cuddy said. "And spare no details."