Saturday, July 09, 2005

1:50 AM


People really annoy me sometimes. After Stacey interrupted me I was out of sorts for the rest of the afternoon. So I took it out on the clinic patients. I left straight from the clinic, so I didn't have to sit through listening to Things One, Two, and Three -- or, to be more specific, Cameron -- yammering about the meet-and-eat for the new house staff. Went home and got a snack; went back out to get some groceries and other supplies. Got back home, put everything away, channel surfed for a while, finally got bored with it, turned off the TV, and put some Beethoven on the CD player.

I've poured myself a drink and I'm heading for my chair. I set the glass down on the side table. But I don't sit down. I stand there, thinking, and then go back to my bedroom.

I still haven't thrown that box away. I pick it up and head back out to the living room. I settle in my chair, the box in my lap, and take a drink.

I don't open the box.








I dropped the money into the soda machine. My Coke thudded down to the tray.

I popped the tab, leaned back against the wall, and stared at the machine. What had I gotten myself into? Why was I spending my afternoon off dragging some punk med student’s crying girl all over the hospital, even bringing her to one of my favorite secret hiding places? Why wasn’t I just pointing her in the direction of the bus stop, giving her a gentle push, and going about my business?

Well, she was here now, and I still had no plan. Maybe when I got back in there, she’d have gotten herself back together and I could put her on the bus. I fed five dimes into the slot, tried to remember what she drank, and realized I had no idea. Didn’t girls drink diet? That didn’t seem right, though. I remembered her ordering decaf coffee, back at the pancake restaurant, and hit the button for a Sprite. I bought some candy at the other machine and went back into the lecture hall.

I passed through the wing and stepped out onto the stage. I looked, and looked again.

Eileen was gone.






What -- ? I looked around again, and heard a little muffled gasp from the side aisle. I followed the noise, spotted Eileen’s bag wedged behind a desk, and found Eileen herself huddling on the stairs that ran between the desks and the wall. Her coat was draped over her lap and she'd buried her face in it, her shoulders heaving as she wept.

Guess we weren’t going for the bus, then. I left the Sprite on the desk in front of her bag, went to the other side of the hall, and tried to look over my applications, but between the too-small desk and the knowledge that I wasn’t alone -- and that my companion was sitting on the floor sobbing into her overcoat --I was too distracted.

I put my applications away and shuffled through the index cards where I kept notes on our current cases. Boring, boring, boring. I wasn’t anticipating any trouble; the second-years should have everything under control, and if they didn’t, I wasn’t on call. I stuffed the index cards back in my pocket and looked across the room. Eileen still hadn’t surfaced.

How long did it take girls to cry, anyway? This whole situation was so weird, so awkward, I couldn’t sit still any longer. I got up, paced around a little, thought longingly of the cigarettes in my jacket pocket, played with the rubber band around my index cards, and finally gave up. I took off my white coat and threw it over a desk.

There was a decrepit old piano off to the other side of the stage. I usually didn’t touch the thing unless I was desperate (especially after I’d discovered that the housekeepers were on to me and had been sneaking in to listen) but I’d been desperate frequently enough over the last three years to have gotten used to its quirks. I pulled out the bench and sat down.

What did I want to play? What could I remember? My memory flashed back to long-ago recitals – my shiny shoes, my mother’s voice urging Gregory, dear, don’t be nervous, just pretend you’re all by yourself….

I put on the practice pedal. A few chords and scales, a few phrases, and soon I’d almost forgotten that I wasn’t alone. I started a Beethoven sonata, tentatively at first – I wasn’t sure how much I remembered – but my memory spread its wings, and I was soon utterly absorbed in the music, not noticing my flubs and mistakes.

Memory carried me, and I made it through the whole sonata. As I approached the end of the third movement, I began to remember that I wasn’t alone. I took a peek over my right shoulder. Eileen, red-eyed and sniffling, had picked herself up off the floor and was perched on a desk, a few seats behind.. She was holding her drink in one hand and rubbing her eyes with the other. When she put her hand back down, her face was solemn, distant. I quickly looked back to the piano as I played the last chords.

She didn’t look like she was ready to talk yet, which was fine because I had no idea what to say to her and it didn’t look like it would take much to set her off again. I thought for a moment and started a Joplin piece, something quiet but not too tristful.

We made it through the second section without any fresh tears; that seemed like a good sign. I took the repeat and took another peek at her. She was starting to smile faintly. Good. I turned back to the piano.

A repeat of the main theme, then on to the last section, the repeat, and finally the end. I heard Eileen sliding out from behind the desk. I started playing a few random chords and snatches; I still had no idea what I was going to say to her.

“Dr House?”

I kept on playing.

“Thank you.”

I nodded a little. “You’re welcome. Hope I guessed the drink right.”

“It was just right. Thank you. And thank you for – for bringing me – ” Her voice started choking up again. Great.

I kept my eyes fixed on the music desk and started another piece. “Abney, if you start crying again, I’m going to charge you a dollar.”

She sniffled, and chuckled a little. “Okay.”

She waited a minute before she spoke again. “I suppose I should tell you… what was going on.”

I made a face. “God no.”

“You don’t want to know why I was making a fool of myself in front of everyone in the cafeteria?”

“Not interested,” I replied.

“Seriously?”

“Seriously. And if you try to tell me, I’m going to charge you another dollar.”

“Are you really that hard up, taking money from a starving student?”

“Not hard up. Just… not interested.”

“So if you’re not interested, then why are we here?”

I kept playing. “You weren’t making a fool of yourself.”

Eileen didn’t say anything. I glanced over my shoulder. She was looking at the floor.

“I should let you get back,” she said.

No, not yet! I thought, but I couldn’t think of anything to keep her there. I swung my right leg over the piano bench, then the left, and watched as she gathered up her coat and bag. I stood up and put on my lab coat.

“No,” she said, “you don’t – if you could just tell me which way to the shuttle stop –”

“Can’t do that. I have to get you good and lost on the way out.”

“Why? So I can’t find my way back? This really is your secret hide-out, isn’t it?”

So I can’t find my way back…. My stomach dropped. This was it.

When I put Eileen on the bus, I’d never see her again. Why did that bother me so much? I’d figure it out later. For the moment I was trying to figure out a way to stretch out the distance between the lecture hall and the bus stop: to stop the moment.

“You can come back. Just you, though.” I opened the door for her. She stepped through; I put out the lights and followed her into the corridor. I checked the lock and stood there for a moment, facing the door, my hand on the doorknob.

“This afternoon… were you and Kopp just having a spat? Are you… still together, or…?”

She didn’t say anything at first. I turned to face her. I couldn’t tell if she was offended or just surprised.

“Is this a trick question?” she asked. “You said if I told you what happened I’d have to give you a dollar.”

“This one’s on me.”

“Why do you want to know? You’re not going to hassle Dave, are you?”

“About this? Not unless you want me to.”

“Please, don’t.” She looked away. “But after today… no, I doubt we’re getting back together. I think… I think this is it.”

“Oh. Well. Um… I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” she murmured. She turned and started trudging toward the main hallway.

“Abney…” I followed her. She stopped and turned back. “Eileen. Wait.” How could I possibly put this? “Listen, I…can I take you out sometime?”

She looked appalled. Damn it, I shouldn’t have blurted it out like that -- I tried to explain before appalled became enraged. “Not like a date. Just… you know. Going out. Getting together. I don’t know, for ice cream or something.”

She was still looking at me like I had three heads.

“Because otherwise we won’t see each other again. Unless you start dating another med student.”

She still looked astonished, but she seemed to be softening.

I floundered on. “Of course, if you did, then that would be good for me, because then I’d have something to negotiate with….”

“What are you talking about?”

“Our pact. You know. The one where you don’t tell anyone about the practice room and I leave Kopp alone. But now that you and Kopp are kaput, you don’t care if I tease him or not. And now you know where my secret hiding place is. You have all kinds of stuff hanging over my head. I have to stay on your good side.”

She smiled a little. Her eyes were still red and puffy.

“So what do you say? Not a date. Just getting together, go bowling or something like that. Come on, Eileen.” I stopped and grinned. “ 'Come on, Eileen…' ”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, I’ve never heard that one before. Really, is that the best you can do? I thought you, of all people, would be able to come up with something better than that.”

“ 'We are far too young and clever….' ”

“I mean it. Bring that song up again and you have to pay me a dollar.”

I reached for my wallet.

“And I won’t go bowling with you,” she added.

I smiled and put my wallet away. “So if I stop, that means that you have to go bowling with me.”

“Well, not tonight – ” she broke off. “That is not what I said. ”

“What? Is it too weird, to do something with your ex’s evil overlord? Tell me the truth this time.”

“I always tell the truth,” she snapped. “And yes. It’s weird.”

“You wound me, Abney. Why should it be weird? You break up with Kopp, you break off with anyone else you know who’s even remotely connected with him? Is that it?”

“I wasn’t planning on going bowling with any of Dave’s other friends.”

“I’m not his friend. And we’re not on the same rotation, so right now I’m not even his tyrant resident.”

She thought for a moment. “...Okay, I guess so. But not tonight. Actually, I can’t do anything until January.”

“For someone who just dumped her boyfriend you sure filled up your calendar in a hurry.” I nodded toward the hallway. “Come on – ” I chuckled at her little angry-face – “Abney.”

We walked down the basement hallway. “So what are you doing all month?”

“Let's see, I’ve got the recitals, and then I’ve got final exams, and then I’m going home for Christmas --” She stopped suddenly, thought for a moment, sighed, and ran a little to catch up with me.

“What was that?”

“Oh, something else for my things-to-do list. Dave was supposed to come home with me for Christmas; he was going to drive. But now that's off, so I need to find a ride.”

“Kopp was coming home with you for Christmas?”

“I can’t tell you. I don’t have any singles.”

“I can break a bill.”

“No, my wallet’s in my backpack and I don’t feel like getting it out.”

"Where's home for you?"

"Briony. Why?"

I thought for a minute. The rotation calendar wasn’t out yet, but… “There is a chance… that I might be driving home for Christmas this year. Briony's on the way. If I get the time, I’d be happy to give you a lift."

“Thanks, but that’s okay. I know a couple of people who are headed that way, and I can always put a note up on the ride board. We get out the weekend before Christmas, so the timing... Thanks, though."

“Okay.” I nodded. Made sense; of course she'd want to drive home with one of her friends, and to get out of town as quickly as possible.

“Oh, wait.” She reached in her backpack and pulled out a couple of red flyers. “Here. Would you like to come to one of the Christmas recitals? See, there’s one in the evening and one on Sunday afternoon.”

“Depends. Are you having cookies again?”

“We are at the evening performance. Tell me what kind you like and I’ll try to make sure we have it.”

“Bribery?”

“Clout. I have connections.”

We stopped in front of the stairwell door. “I’ll take these, but only if you put your phone number on one of them. You have to tell me where to find you, so we can go bowling in January.” I handed her a pen; while she was writing, I scribbled my own phone number on a prescription slip. “Here.”

She held the paper in the air and squinted. “Oh, no! I can’t read it!”

“My, we’re a witty pair today.” I took the slip back and rewrote the number in inch-high block printing. “There. If you can’t read that, I can fix you up with an optometry student.”

“Please, no setups. I’ll just go to the drugstore and get a pair of readers. Maybe I can get one of those granny chains, too, with the colored beads, so I can wear them around my neck.” She squinted again through her imaginary glasses. “PRN. What’s that mean?”

“It means ‘as needed.’ So call me ‘as needed.’ I’m serious about that ride.”

She nodded and put on her coat. I handed her her backpack and we went up the stairs. As we pushed back out into the corridor, I glanced around, just to make sure, but there was no sign of Kopp, or of anyone else on the long list of people I wanted to avoid.

“Hey, Abney, I’ve been wanting to ask you…”

“Hm?”

“What do I have to do to get another bag of that candy?”

“You mean those marshmallows? Go to the store. I think I got those at Sav-Mor. But I think it’s just a seasonal thing, I haven’t seen them since Valentine’s Day.”

“Oh, good. So I’ve got a couple of months.”

“To do what?”

“Think of a new way to extort another bag out of you.”

“Well, geez, if that’s the way you’re going to be about it, I’ll just send a horse’s head next time.” She looked around. “I have no idea where we are.”

“You will.” I pushed the door open, and we were in the atrium outside the clinics. We went through the sliding door and I nodded to the right. “See, it’s over there.”

“Thank you.” She looked at me. “You should go inside, you don’t have your coat on.”

“What do you call this thing?” I flapped my white coat.

We walked on to the bus, dodging the puddles and the grey slush. “All right, this is it. Now, you’re sure you’re okay?”

She nodded. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

“All right, that’s enough. So long, Abney."

She smiled and got on the bus. She stopped at the top of the stairs; I saw her look back before the driver closed the doors against the wind. I stuck my hands into my pockets – it was cold out – and walked on toward the main entrance.

Just before I stepped into the revolving door, I heard the bus rumble into gear. I looked up. It pulled out and started up the street. As it passed, it looked like someone was looking out the window. Was that Eileen? waving? I couldn’t see for the late afternoon glare against the glass. I watched the bus drive off toward the university campus, turned, and pushed my way back in through the revolving door.









I lift my head off my hand. My left hand's still resting on top of the unopened box. I reach for my drink and take a sip.


I should just throw this box out. I'm never going to see her again. But what good would it do? In my mind's eye, I see her so clearly.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So did you ever see her again, House? It seems like you miss her. Dont you think she'd like to hear from you?

July 28, 2005 10:59 PM  
Blogger Broken_Shadow said...

^__^ Tee hee. I love House. Great show, great fan blog!

--Sunami Silverblade

August 03, 2005 1:03 AM  
Anonymous Auditrix, your humble author said...

Anon., Sunami, -- thanks for stopping by :)

Anon: for question one, yes. As for the second question... that's a good one....

August 03, 2005 1:42 PM  

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