Thursday, March 23, 2006

11:36 PM

A note from your author:

OK, I fibbed. Here's a little something I've had on deck and finally got a chance to post.

House has been reminiscing here and there about Eileen, a woman who came unexpectedly
to visit him in the hospital after the infarction. (There's a complete list of Eileen chapters in the right sidebar.) He'd met Eileen during his residency and found himself interested in her. Things were complicated, though, for House was... well, House, and the life of a resident is not easy. Eileen was significantly younger and -- worst of all -- was dating a medical student whom House was supervising at the time.

They bumped into each other a few times that spring, but House didn't see Eileen again until a November afternoon when their paths crossed again. Eileen had just broken up with her med student and had found herself without a way out of town for Christmas. House offered her a lift. He had his own issues at the time and wasn't looking forward to his own visit home, so he was pleased when Eileen ended up accepting the ride, and even more pleased when Eileen promised to get back in touch after the holidays. Eileen kept her promise -- and House found himself wondering what he'd gotten himself into....

I can't sleep.

I can't sleep. Again.

I rub my right leg again as if it's going to help. It does, a little; kind of like rounding your tax bill up to the nearest dollar helps reduce the national debt a little. Maybe I could practice intentional breathing and picture tiny pink clouds of healing. Maybe that would help. A little.

I prop myself up on my elbow, turn my pillow over, and lie down again. The logical thing to do would be to take another Vicodin; it's right on the nightstand. But every time I think about turning over and reaching for the bottle, I think about Cuddy looking at me, her big green eyes dripping regret: "It was saline. I gave you a placebo."

Dammit, Cuddy -- why? Why did you do that? All you did was just take something else away from me. And my leg still hurts. It still hurts.

Why doesn't anyone believe me? It still hurts.

And if this is what it's like now, it would have been ten thousand times worse in a few months, a few years -- whenever Stacey finally got fed up with me and "got lonely" again.

"Get a hooker. Anything." I tried it Wilson's way. God, how utterly pathetic. Paula came and went and here I am, alone again. I can lie here and admit it -- yeah, I miss Stacey -- and my leg's still going to hurt.

"I hear... bowling is more fun than stalking." I smile a little to myself. Wilson was pulling my chain, of course; bowling's out until they come up with some kind of crip league. And as for being more fun than stalking, I doubt it. The stakes are higher in stalking so the satisfaction's proportionately higher. But for short-term satisfaction, Wilson's right -- bowling's the way to go. Nothing like flinging a weight down an alley at a pile of pins and knocking them all kaplooey.

I think about how I went bowling in med school, especially those first couple of years before clinicals really got going. Duckpins, mostly, at that really ancient place not too far away from school.

I managed to make it a few times when I was a resident, too. My first year, one of the Chief Residents tried to get us all to go together once a month -- so we could "bond", I suppose. After he left, a few people kept it up in second year and I came along, but I was there for the beer and the bowling, not for any bonding. By third year, I wasn't bowling very often, and the few nights I went I was bowling alone.

Until that January.

Before I knew it, the plan was set. “See you next Wednesday!” she chirped. And that was it.

I hung up the phone, wandered back into the living room, and picked up the game again. I’d just the fourth level when it hit me: I was taking Eileen Abney out.

Was I going on a date with her?

Did I think it was a date?

Did Eileen think it was a date?

What had I gotten myself into?

I brooded over the question for the next week: mulling it over as I drove back and forth to work, fretting as I watched a popcorn bag pirouette and swell in the microwave, struggling to find a way to diagram the problem as I sat in Friday Grand Rounds, ignoring the presenter…. I tried to devise a model of the problem and came up with something like a Punnett square, but had to stop myself from crumpling the paper and flinging it to the floor when I calculated a 50 percent chance that the evening would end in disaster.

On Sunday afternoon I found myself drinking beer, trying to watch hockey, and finding myself thinking about Wednesday instead. A 50 percent chance of disaster – bad odds, but then what did I want to have happen? What would success look like?

From my past dating experience, I figured getting through the evening without being slapped would be a good start. And beyond that…. I looked down at my beer bottle and the label I’d been peeling off, and dragged my attention back to the game.

It was a long three days, and I almost didn’t make it; my pen-tapping, finger-drumming, and increased general irritability that week had made me more unpopular than ever. Even Hirsch had been sending dirty looks in my direction. Barras finally snapped on Tuesday evening as we toiled away in our carrels. He stopped his dictation, flung down his papers, and wheeled around in the office chair. House,” he snarled. “It’s great that you’re quitting, but you know, there are samples of the nicotine gum down in the clinic. Go down there and get yourself some. Or let me write you a scrip, or go out and get yourself a smoke. Just do something, or I swear to God, you will not live long enough to enjoy not getting cancer.”

I made it to Wednesday afternoon without getting shoved down the stairs and managed to escape shortly after report. Back home, I had enough time to get a shower and cook dinner before heading back out the door and into the cold to go get Eileen.

She was ready and waiting, peeking out a window by the front door of the campus center. Her long coat flapped in the wind as she ran down the steps and across the walk. I frowned as she skidded a little on a patch of ice. She caught herself and hurried up to the car. I reached across the seat to open the latch. She shivered as she dropped into her seat.

“It is so cold!” she exclaimed, and then gave me a sheepish look. “I suppose you’re going to make fun of me now for saying something so obvious.”

“Yes, especially since you haven’t seemed to learn something equally obvious about the strong correlation between cold and ice. Seriously, if you don’t want to go bowling, we can do something else, you don’t have to resort to giving yourself a concussion. Of course, if you want a tour of the emergency room….”

“No, that’s quite all right. Why do you keep thinking I don’t want to go bowling?”

I took a deep breath. I simply didn’t know how to answer her question, and thinking about it made me uncomfortable, so I just drummed my fingers on the steering wheel. I was already on edge, and there was something different about Eileen that I couldn’t quite place. I looked over at her again: hat, hair, coat, that knowing little smile that meant she knew I was looking at her….

“Where’s your backpack?” I asked abruptly.

“I didn’t bring it. What, did you think it was surgically attached or something?”

“Seemed to be,” I grunted. “Or at least sewn to your coat.”

“I could see why you’d think that, but I thought I’d leave it at home tonight. I wasn’t planning on studying between frames or anything like that.”

“You would have been disappointed if you had. My turns don’t drag on too long.”

“I didn’t think they would. Those gutter balls don’t need too much in the way of math, do they?” She snickered as I scowled at her.

“Just for that, I’m not going to go easy on you, Abney.”

She smiled smugly, her nose in the air. “I appreciate the warning.”

The college town’s cultural amenities included not one but two bowling alleys. I’d been to both, and had decided on the one on the edge of town, out towards the mall. It was a newer place, self-consciously retro – sparkly turquoise plastic and all that -- so it was a little bit cleaner, not as smoky; that would probably please the little diva. And it was farther away from the hospital, which pleased me. I didn’t know if any of the other residents bowled, and I wasn’t in the mood to find out.

It was a slow night, so we were able to get a lane right away. Eileen got her shoes on first and came over to wait while I laced mine up. She chuckled a little to herself.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Nothing. Your feet just look so big in those shoes.

I stood up. “You know, it’s a good thing you’re so easily amused. You’ll still have fun and won’t cry when the scores get posted.” We walked over to the ball racks. “Oh, look, there’s a pink one, just for you!”

“Hm?” To my disappointment, she didn’t even look up. She’d walked straight to a rack and was eyeing her choices.

I knew where this place kept the balls I liked, so I found one pretty quickly. I turned around. Eileen had chosen a ball and was testing the grip. Satisfied, she looked up. “Ready?”

We headed over to our lane and put our stuff down. “You first, Abney.”

“Thank you.” She nodded regally and walked to the end of the lane. As she waited for the pins to set, I found myself turning to the same question that had been vexing me all week: was this a date? Did I want it to be a date? If not, then why did I had I been so upset when she hadn’t called? Why had I pressed so hard for this date/outing/whatever-it-was?

There were so many good reasons for this not to be a date. She was young, she was probably still on the rebound, she was only going to be around for a few more months, and she didn’t seem interested in me. And she definitely wasn’t my type – I tended to be more interested in tall and sexy than short and cute.

But as she paced back from the foul line and stood for a moment, getting ready, I had a good view. Her jeans and sweater weren’t tight, but I could still get a nice sense of the curves of her waist and ass, especially as she took the first step, the second, faster, the ball swinging back, and three four five…. the ball swinging forward, leaving her hand; Eileen standing up straight, watching the ball rumble down the lane. The clatter of the falling pins -- all ten of them.

She turned, grinning, and came back to the settee as her score appeared overhead. “Your turn!”

“That was beginner’s luck, wasn’t it?” I asked.

“It would be if I were a beginner. But I practiced over break, so that just makes it a strike.”

I took my first throw and cursed under my breath as the ten-pin and its two obstinate neighbors stayed upright. To my relief, I made the spare, but Eileen had the high ground just from of that strike. I came back over to the settee.

“You practiced for this?”

“Well, yeah.” She hoisted her ball. “I figured it’d be more fun if I were actually ready.” She concentrated, stepped off …. and threw another strike.

The look on her face was a little too calm. I stared at her as she walked back. “You brat!”

She shrugged. “Okay, so I practiced a lot.”

I grabbed my ball from the return. “What, slow funeral season?”

“Not at all! I actually did very well this winter. But a funeral in the morning, a shift at the grocery store in the evening… that left me all afternoon to go bowling.”

I shook my head, sent my ball down the lane, and seethed as the seven-pin teetered and recovered its footing to form an ugly split. Eileen choked back laughter when she saw my face as I stalked back to the settee.

I pulled my ball off the return. Some of us didn’t have three weeks off to do nothing but practice bowling in the afternoons.”

“You know, you’re right. Do you want me to take it easy on you? No? I didn’t think so.”

There was no way I was going to pick up the spare. I tried to pick off the ten-pin and failed. Back at the table, I frowned as I watched the scores tally. That open frame hadn’t helped me at all, especially when Eileen’s two strikes had given her such a big advantage.

“I can’t believe you practiced,” I said. “No wonder you were so hot to play.”

“Bowling was your idea. I just wanted to be ready.” She picked up her ball and headed to the foul line.

Her streak didn’t last – she finished her next turn with an open frame – but any moping over the is-this-a-date question was forgotten as I struggled to catch up. A couple of splits for Eileen, a strike for me, and by the eighth frame I was getting close.

But not close enough. I slouched against the ball return and watched my chances shrink as she threw another strike.

I hoisted my ball, headed over to the lane, and concentrated. I really needed a strike. I stepped forward and threw… and made it. I was still in the game.

I swaggered back over to the settee. “Don’t start gloating yet, Abney.”

“Oh, don’t worry about me,” she said with a smirk. She lifted her ball, headed off to the lane, and threw a strike.

I grabbed my ball off the return as she got back and got ready to throw. If I got a strike, I could pull ahead.

I didn’t make it. I left four pins. As Eileen watched from the settee, I picked up the rest of the pins on the spare. But it wasn’t enough, especially when Eileen took another strike on the next frame. She finished me off with her bonus throw. I stared as the final scores went up -- it hadn’t occurred to me that she might win.

I turned and looked down at her. She had her lips pressed together, trying to keep from bursting out laughing.

“Best two out of three?” she finally asked.

The scores were really tight on the next game. I was warmed up and throwing more accurately, but Eileen was still having those annoying little runs of strikes plumping up her score. I sighed as I watched her start the eighth frame, stepping forward, making her throw… The ball rolled down the lane and six pins clattered to the floor.

Something wasn’t right. Her throw was accurate, and she should have made that strike, but she didn’t. She picked up her ball and headed back to the lane. I watched her carefully as she made her second throw. Four pins teetered, but only three fell. She was getting tired.

I thought about it as I squinted down the lane. I had at least seven inches of height on Eileen, was throwing a much heavier ball, and had a set of free weights in the corner of my bedroom.

I was going to pull this off. I sent the ball down the lane and was rewarded with a strike.

Eileen made her next spare, but it wasn’t enough – I made my spare as well, and finished her off on the last frame. We watched the scores tally. I’d just made it.

Eileen was a good sport and played the third game, but I took that one handily to win our little tourney. I took her ball in my left hand and we headed back over to the ball racks. “Too bad, Abney. All that practice for nothing, unless you were just taking it easy on me.”

She sat down on the bench and started untying her bowling shoes as I stepped out of mine. “Oh, it wasn’t for nothing. I had fun, and I think I made you sweat, or at least work a little. But don’t worry, you came by it honestly. I always play to win.”

We traded in our bowling shoes. Back at the bench, Eileen sat down and started putting on her own shoes.

“I wonder…” she said. “What would you have done if I had won that second game?”

I yanked on my shoelaces. “What do you mean, what would I have done?”

“Just that. Would you have shaken my hand and said ‘Great game, Abney,’ or would you have demanded three out of five, and then five out of seven, and made me play again and again until you finally won, even if my arm was falling out of the socket?”

“Nobody cares what the loser does. What would you have done?” I stood up.

“Oh, I don’t know… maybe taken an ad in the paper? Not really. But I would have thought about it.”

“So do you expect me to hire a skywriter? I’m too cheap for that, but maybe…” I looked around the counter to the snack bar. The lanes were full now, so the snack bar was only going to get more crowded and smoky, and I wanted something a bit more substantial than pretzels and watery Cokes and cold plastic chairs.

I turned back to Eileen. “…Maybe I’ll ask if you want to go get something to eat.”

She smiled. “That sounds great.”

to be continued


Anonymous Namaste said...

Sounds like an interesting evening, Doc. Just avoid the cheese.

March 13, 2006 9:52 PM  

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