Friday, June 17, 2005

2:37 AM

I blink and look around.

I'm slumped in my chair. The TV's on, my drink's on the end table, and the bowl of cereal is still on my lap. I carefully lift the bowl -- amazing it didn't hit the floor -- drink the milk, and set the empty bowl aside.

I blink again. Maybe I should just go to bed.... I lean forward and gasp -- my leg -- dammit, dammit, my leg -- I catch my breath, lean back, and reach for the Vicodin. I shake out two pills and swallow them dry. I'm still paying for that trip up to the roof.

And for today. I feel like I've been body-slammed against a brick wall -- and again and again. Stacey getting all testy when I tried to say something nice about her guy. Elation when the solution slid into place. Frustration when Mark refused the trigger challenge. Stacey telling me to just give it to him anyway, like it was nothing. And then throwing that stuff in my face about how my not browbeating Mark meant I wanted him to die...

No. No.

I shift in my chair. Stacey doesn't know me as well as she thinks she does. Suddenly I'm thinking of the teacher, Wilson's "cousin", the one with the tapeworm, the one who refused treatment because I couldn't prove she had what I thought she did. Didn't I treat her the same way I wanted to treat Mark -- didn't I respect her decision? I wasn't planning to hold her nose and force the med down her throat. I can only solve the puzzle, I can't make people make the right decision.

"When you're scared, you'll turn into me," I told her. Where did that come from, anyway?

Of course, Chase came up with that idea about the x-ray, so I didn't have to watch her die of her own stupidity.

But then, I wasn't her romantic rival. Or she didn't think I was. I rub my face. Even if it was true -- even if I really had been secretly crossing my fingers that Mark would die -- what good would it do me? Stacey had left me before she'd ever met Mark. It isn't that she loves Mark more -- it's that she doesn't love me.

Stacey doesn't love me.

I know that now.

And because I love Stacey, and because Mark is a decent guy -- a better guy than I am, and because that murderous jealous part of me isn't the one calling the shots... because I could do the math -- Mark could get really bad before the results of the genetic test came back...

"He'll never forgive you," I warned her.

"He'll forgive me," she insisted.

And so I did it. I deked the Musketeers (good thing it was only Chase at the foot end of the bed) and stuck that needle in his thigh. And then I stuck another needle to collect the urine sample by suprapubic tap. And I made it look like it was all me. Stacey got to clasp her hands and act all concerned in front of Mark. Maybe Mark will forgive Stacey, but he sure as hell won't forgive me.

But it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. It wasn't all for nothing. Swirling the test tube, willing the reagent to do its little reagent thing, turning on the light to speed the reaction, waiting for the kids to leave before I sagged against the table.... I was right, and Mark was going to live. And he has only me to thank for his continued ability to hate me.

The kids scuttled out of the lab, tripping over themselves to start the glucose and the hematin. I hung around late. After dinner, the thunderstorm finally started. I went down to the floor to see how things were going. I stopped by the nurses' station to look over the chart, and then turned around towards Mark's room... just in time to see him taking Stacey into his arms as she slipped onto the bed, curling up next to him, spooning him as he caressed her....

Guess the treatment was working. Great.

I drifted to that certain spot by the door, behind the pillar, where I can look in without being seen. I lurked there for I don't know how long as the rain kept coming down and the darkness fell.

"Dr. House?"

I turned. It was Cameron.

"How's he doing?" she asked.

In other words, how are you doing? I wasn't in the mood for fending off nurturing, so I turned back to the room.

"Never better," I finally said.

She didn't leave. I turned around to send her on her way and saw her gathering herself. "I thought" -- she took a deep breath -- "that you were too screwed up to love anyone." What? "But I was wrong.

"You just couldn't love me.

"It's good...." She nodded a little, with a faint little brave smile. "I'm happy for you."

She turned and walked away. I watched her go. I knew that brave face; even if it was just a silly, ill-advised crush, someone had still liked me enough to extort a date out of me, and now she was walking away. And I understood that brave face -- how much it hurts when the one you love doesn't love you. That "couldn't" nagged at me, though -- was she just protecting herself by clinging to that couldn't, because it lacked the clear-sighted rejection of didn't?

But one mess was enough, so I turned back to the room, where the woman I loved, who'd proved to Cameron that I was capable of love, was snuggling contentedly next to her husband.

Finally, I turned away from the tableau of matrimonial affection and headed off down the hallway.

I can't love Stacey.

But I do love Stacey.

Do I like Cameron?

Could I love her?

Do I love her?

But even if I did, it doesn't matter now, does it? She's moving on. Just like Stacey's moved on. Leaving me behind.

Enough of this stupid fruitless rumination. What time is it, anyway? I check my watch. I could still sleep, I think I'm still drowsy enough.... I haul myself out of the chair, grab my cane, and head off to the bedroom. On my way to the bathroom, I take off my watch and toss it on the dresser, and, out of the corner of my eye, vaguely notice the cardboard box that's still on the dresser. For the thousandth time, I make a mental note to take it to the dumpster on my way out in the morning.

Shoes off, pants off, and finally I'm easing myself into bed. I click off the light. Sleep starts coming, but part of my brain is still fighting, still thinking, still holding on to the sight of Stacey curled up in Mark's arm.

Once she curled up like that under my right arm.

I push the memory away, but another takes its place -- Stacey in the morning, smiling drowsily; my turning her crucifix around, her laughing and ordering me to shave. Working late on a case, knowing she was working late too, meeting her for dinner at nine. Shrimp scampi at Caffè Spoleto. Cameron looking down at her corsage -- it's beautiful -- Cameron laughing at the monster truck rally -- that was amazing! -- snatching her cotton candy back.... Grocery shopping with Stacey at midnight, slipping extra things into the cart -- anchovies, zweiback, clam juice, Count Chocula -- just to make her mad. Gre-eg, she'd say in that hint of a drawl, put that back! And she'd put the chocolate cereal back and hand me a box of some virtuous Healthy Flakes stuff that looked like bedding for a hamster.... stealing kisses in the cereal aisle....

Sleep is coming quickly, I'm drifting away, my mind is finally letting go, when suddenly one more memory pops up, a voice: so! tell me about Stacey -- Eileen's voice? What? where did that come from? -- and then sleep takes me....


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