Chapter Eleven - "Top of the World"
House walked out of the hospital and started to head toward Lydia. She was sitting in the driver's seat with the window down and singing along with a Billy Joel tune coming from the car stereo.
“Uptown Girl, she's been living in her white bread world.
As long as anyone with hot blood can, And now she's looking for a downtown man… ”
“That's what I am,” sang House quietly. Lydia jumped and put her hand to her mouth.
“You scared me half to death,” she said clutching her chest with her other hand.
“Sorry, it just seemed like the appropriate time to join in,” House said. He walked around to the passenger side of the car. “I like your choice in music,” he said as he got in.
“It's a CD that Annie put together; various pop music of all sorts.” She handed House the case. “Here's the playlist.” While he recognized all of the artists and most of the songs, there were some he wasn't familiar with.
“Billy Joel to Barbra Streisand to Lady Gaga; that's quite an eclectic mix.”
“Do you want me to turn it off?” Lydia asked.
“Nah, leave it on; I'm always up for expanding my musical tastes from the sublime to the kinky. So, how did the search for hearth and home go? And how about the kiddieland job? Never got the chance to ask you about that."
“I think we were discussing more important things,” said Lydia shyly. She put the car in reverse and pulled out of the spot. “The job interview went well. In fact, they kept the woman who was next to interview waiting, while they spoke more intently with me. There are two other people coming in tomorrow morning, and then they will make a decision about who gets a second interview.” She shrugged he shoulders. “I'll just have to wait and see.”
“Any other prospects lined up?” Lydia made a right out of the parking lot and headed to Otto's to get House's bike.
“No, not yet. I have several resumes out there, but with budget cutbacks in all the school districts, not many places are hiring. Where I went today was a private school, in fact.” House nodded.
“I hope at least they are offering you a decent salary. Private schools are notorious for lowballing what they pay,” he said. As she pulled up to the red light, Lydia put on the indicator for a right turn.
"It's within the range I had set for myself as being acceptable. I have money put aside that my ex couldn’t get his hands on. I’d be in an even better position if I didn’t have to split the proceeds of the house with him; the house that I bought and paid for." House suddenly realized she was heading toward Otto's without asking directions.
“How do you know where you're going?” he asked looking around. Lydia smiled.
“I figured out that the car comes with built-in GPS. I looked up Otto's address, and plugged it in. Plus, I just have to do the opposite of what I did to get here earlier in the day.” The light turned green and as she completed her turn, a soft voice said, ‘Go straight 5.1 miles.’ “I kept the volume low enough so it doesn't drown out the music.” House looked at her curiously.
“So, why did I have to give you step by step directions before?” he asked.
“I wanted to see if you knew your way around.” House shook his head.
“I think you just like the smooth and mellow tone of my voice.”
“There's that and I hadn't found the GPS yet.” Lydia quickly glanced over at him and smiled.
“How'd the living quarters hunt go?”
“Not as well as we hoped. We saw two places today, three yesterday and two on Saturday. All of them were either too small or too expensive. I arrived Thursday night, but Annie had come here three weeks ago. We're staying with friends of ours.” Lydia shook her head. “She's been looking before I even got here. Unfortunately, nothing has come up.” She reached down to take a sip of the soda resting in the cup holder. She offered the can to House and he took a drink as well. "Everything is still being negotiated as far as money, including child support. But my ex has already made it clear that if I have someone living with me, he wants the amount to be lessened, assuming that person would help me take care of the kids.” House looked at her incredulously.
“Even if there's no hanky-panky going on? Even if it's his sister?” Lydia nodded her head. “That's crazy. Has he forgotten it's his little tadpoles that helped procreate these kids? Who’s your lawyer? Bozo the Clown?” He saw the look on her face and wished he had kept his mouth shut. He knew he could talk freely around Lydia, but she seemed quite overwhelmed right now; he had the feeling there was something more on her mind.
“I have an excellent lawyer; Annie’s doctor recommended him, and when heard our story, he’s lessened his fees for us. It’s not like I don’t have any money… I do. But there were expenses through the years that I wound up paying for, not him. I inherited money from both my parents and grandparents; there’s also a business my grandparents owned that I get money from every year. It just seems like so much of it was eaten away by medical expenses for everyone over the years. There are education accounts put aside for the children, and I used some of the money to make the move here. Of course, the lawyer fees are an ongoing thing." House could see that she was fighting back tears. He was going to tell her to pull over, but they were so close to Otto's; he figured it would be best to park there and let her get it out.
“Can't you go back to court and renegotiate with the bastard?” Lydia put on the left turn indicator.
“Nothing has actually reached the court as far as final dissolution of assets or the custody arrangement for the children.” Lydia’s voice took on an angry tone. “I know he doesn’t give a damn about the children; he’s seeking some sort of custody just because he knows it would drive me crazy to think of them with that uncaring bastard.” She took a deep breath. “Right now, I just want to get the kids here and have some place stable for them to live. I got a call from the moving company today. The furniture is arriving tomorrow, a day early. I don't have any place to tell them to put it,” she said sounding desperate. Lydia made the turn and spotted a parking space a few doors away from Otto's and pulled in. She put the car in park and reached in the middle console for a tissue or napkin; the tears were beginning to flow. “I know I could rent a storage unit, but that costs more money and the kids wouldn't be in their own beds and… I'm not taking care of things very well.” House moved toward Lydia and put his arm around her.
“Slow down,” he said. “I think you missed a few spots on the Game of Life board.” She leaned into him, wrapped her arms around his neck and started to cry full force. House began to feel very uncomfortable.
“I think this is where I’m supposed to say something to make you feel better. Too bad I’m not skilled enough in acting like a human being to make that happen,” he said wryly. He thought for a moment he had gotten her to laugh; but if he had, it quickly dissolved back into tears. He let her just hold on to him while he gently rubbed her back. He became aware of the song playing. He could tell it was Streisand, but he wasn't familiar with the song; the lyrics, however caught his attention.
With one more look at you, I could learn to tame the clouds and let the sun shine through.
Leave a troubled past and I might start anew. I'll solve the mysteries if you're the prize; refresh these tired eyes.
With one more look at you, I might overcome the anger that I learned to know. Find a piece of mind I lost so long ago.
Your gentle touch has made me strong again…and I belong again.
For when you look at me, I'm everything and more that I had dreamed I'd be.
My spirit feels a promise, I won't be alone.
We'll love and live more love and live forever.
With one more look at you, I'd learn to change the stars and change our fortunes, too.
I'd have the constellations paint your portrait, too; so all the world might share this wondrous sight
The world could end each night… with one more look at you.
Now, it was House's turn for tears. He fought them off as best he could; he wanted Lydia to calm down and not worry about him. Leave a troubled past and I might start anew. I'll solve the mysteries if you're the prize. It was like someone had crawled inside him, reached down into the hidden recesses of his psyche and ripped open his gut. My spirit feels a promise, I won't be alone. He wanted this more than anything he ever wanted in his life. Yet, hovering in the background was a black cloud of doubt. House kissed the back of Lydia's head. He felt her start to pull back away. She picked her head up until they were making eye contact. Lydia saw a tear that rolling down House's cheek; she brought her hand up to his face and gently brushed it away.
“You were listening to the words of the song, too,” she said. House nodded.
“I don’t believe I’m even listening to this song; I usually mock pop stuff like this. But here I am going all emotional on you.” House shook his head. “I don't…I don't know how to respond to this, to what I'm feeling. I said when I was at Mayfield that I was sick of being miserable,” he said. He looked down, not able to look directly at Lydia. “I'm feeling things and reacting in ways I thought… I was incapable of. All you had to do was tell me that you loved me… and now I believe that anything is possible.” He picked his head up and met her eyes. “I'm just still afraid I'm going to do something to screw this up, something to hurt you. You've had enough people do that; I won't add my name to the list.” Lydia reached up and cupped his face in her hands.
“Did you listen to yourself? Did you hear what you just said? You don't want to hurt me. You never said one thing about not wanting to get hurt yourself. I was your first concern; that doesn't sound like a miserable self-center bastard to me.” House closed his eyes, shook his head and smiled.
“What… planet are you from? ‘Cause no Earthling's ever been able to make me feel like this.” He opened his eyes and saw the twinkle back in hers.
“Make a right at the moon, thirty-trillionth star on the left,” she replied.
“It figures, I fall in love and it's a long-distance romance,” he said. Lydia laughed and leaned forward to kiss him. She traced the edge of House's right ear with the tips of her fingers, sending a shiver down his spine. She pulled away, but he wanted just to hold her.
"Come here… I need to feel you against me right now.” Lydia leaned forward, buried her head in his neck and snuggled in.
“I'm sorry I lost it before. There's just so much happening so quickly. I handled everything when my parents were ill; when I had no one I could lean on, I just focused and did what needed to be done. Now that I have you, I feel it's OK to be normal and let my frustrations out.” House leaned his head down and started to nestle his face into her hair.
“I think on the Richter emotional scale of one to ten that today would be a twenty-plus. Letting off a little steam is probably a good idea.” Lydia sat up straight and started to wipe her eyes with the tissue she found in the console.
“You're not smoking at the ears,” she said. House had a sly smile.
“Nope. I'm saving that for later.” Her eyes widened.
“Oooh, that sounds good.”
“I was hoping you'd like it. C'mon, let's go get some food before we both collapse. That would sort of put a damper on the evening.” Lydia smiled, put up the windows and turned off the car. They both got out and Lydia hit the clicker as she crossed in front of the car and joined House on the sidewalk. He held out his hand to her and as Lydia took it, he pulled her in close and gave her a kiss.
“I love you,” House said with a smile. Lydia was also smiling.
“I love you, too.” House put his arm around her as they started off down the street to Otto's. When they neared the door, Lydia said, “Greg, would you mind if we didn't eat here?” House shrugged.
“No problem; there are plenty of other places around. There's a good Italian restaurant, there's Thai… ”
“No, the food from here is fine. I meant could we take it to go back to your place? We've been surrounded by people all day and keep getting interrupted; I just want to have some alone time with you. Sooner rather than later.” House winced.
“Does that mean I'm going to have to cancel the wiener schnitzel cooking demonstration I arranged for tonight? I thought some of the smells of home might enhance the romantic mood for the evening.” House pulled open the door to the bar. Lydia stopped and put her hand on her hip.
“Cancel it right away. One, I don't need anything else to enhance the romantic mood for this evening; and two,” she stepped inside the door, “I can't stand wiener schnitzel.” House's mouth dropped open as he smiled.
“Oh, snap,” he said as he followed her inside. “You are a rebel at heart.” Lydia looked up at the ceiling and began to whistle innocently as they made their way to the bar.
“Hey, it's about time you showed up to get that thing out of my way. I was going to take the next offer I had for it.” The person who spoke was the bartender. He had his arms folded across his chest and a stern look on his face.
“How many offers have you had?” asked House.
“None. Who'd want that piece of crap?” He quickly looked at Lydia. “Excuse the language, miss. That's what being around this guy will do to a person.” House was looking down at the bar, clearly uncomfortable; but he figured now was as good a time as any to start trying to join the human race.
“Mike, this is my girlfriend, Lydia. Lydia, Mike. His father was Otto.” Mike looked surprised as he extended his hand to Lydia.
“Nice to meet you,” he said. Mike looked at House. “I didn't know you had such good taste.” Lydia looked down at the bar as she shook Mike's hand. She then glanced over at House.
“I think I'm the one with the good taste,” she replied. Mike looked a little taken aback. He laughed and shook his head.
“If you say so. I never argue with a lady.” He looked at House. “What can I get you?”
“A couple of menus,” said House as he sat down on a bar stool. “We're taking some food to go.” Lydia sat down on the bar stool to his right.
“No problem.” Mike reached behind the bar for two menus. ‘One for you,” he said as he placed the menu in front of House. “And one for the lovely lady.” He placed a menu in front of Lydia. “Can I get you something to drink?”
“Just water, please,” said Lydia.
“Water for the lady. And you?” Mike said addressing House.
“Nothing for me,” House said studying the menu. Mike shrugged.
“Suit yourself.” Lydia opened the menu and started to look it over. It was the typical bar/pub fare, but it all looked good to her right now. “Here you go.” Mike place a tumbler with water, several ice cubes and a slice of lemon in front of Lydia. “Do you know what you want or do you need a minute?”
“I'm ready,” said Lydia as she closed the menu and looked at House. He looked up from the menu and gestured for her to go ahead. “I'll take the turkey melt sandwich, the one with the melted mozzarella and garlic bread.”
“OK. Fries, onion rings or frings?” Lydia thought for a moment.
“Frings. I'll get the best of both worlds that way.” Mike smiled.
“Good choice. And you?” he said looking at House.
“I'll take the same thing, only with the steak tidbits. And I want them mooing.” He closed the menu and handed it back to Mike.
“Steak tidbits on garlic bread, rare. And frings.” House nodded. “OK, give me about ten minutes and you'll be all set.” Mike smiled as he took Lydia's menu from her. “Is there anything else I can get you?”
“The food, as quickly as possible?” Lydia requested. “I'm starving,” she explained.
“I'll put a rush on it just for you.” Mike left to go back into the kitchen area. Lydia picked up her glass and took a long drink. She savored it as it soothed her throat which was a little sore from crying. As she set the glass back down on the bar, she became aware of the fact that she was being stared at. She turned to her left and saw House, resting his chin on his upturned palm, his elbow on the bar. He had a smile on his face and a devilish twinkle in his eyes.
“Hey, lady; come here often? 'Cause I swore I saw you in here this afternoon.” Lydia gave a little flip of her head.
“I don't talk to strangers,” she said pretending to ignore him. House tilted his head to one side.
“Then I guess I should introduce myself.” He reached over, turned her face back toward him and kissed her.
“I like your way of saying ‘Hello’,” Lydia said. House stroked her face several times, just staring into her eyes.
“I wish I had known you twenty or so years ago; back when this happened to me,” he said, resting his other hand on his right leg. “I would have lost my leg… but I would have gained a measure of humanity.” Lydia looked horrified at what House said. She opened her mouth to speak, but couldn't find the words. House looked away. “I always said that humanity was overrated. But, I've figured out that the people who believe that, are the ones who don't have any.” Lydia reached over and took his hand.
“No, Greg. You have humanity in you. What you did at Mayfield was proof of that. You tried so hard to reach Annie for me, to bring her back to me. People without humanity don't care; but you cared enough to not only try and help Annie, you tried to help Freedom Master. And by helping him, you helped her. You gave me my best friend back.” House shook his head.
“I nearly killed the guy,” he said ruefully.
“I told you back then; your efforts were misguided and crazy, but you have a good heart. That's still true. It always will be.” She looked away for a second. “I just don't understand why you say you would have lost your leg. I never would have tried to force you into that decision.”
“No, I would have forced myself into that decision. If I thought it gave me the best chance of sticking around to be with you… I would have done it.” Lydia looked confused.
“But you weren't willing to do it for Stacy.”
“Stacy loved the part of me I let her know. She never knew the truth about my father, never knew or asked why I wanted to become a doctor. I never let her see me cry. I never let emotions that were that deep be seen. Never talked about the past. I kept wounds scabbed over with a bandage on them. I was afraid that if she saw what a piss-poor example of a human I'd be after losing a leg, I’d lose her. Ironically, as it turns out, I kept the leg and lost her anyway.” House had been staring at the floor. He rubbed his eyes and looked at Lydia. “Can I have some of your water?” Lydia handed him the glass. He took a long drink, almost emptying the glass. He set it back down on the bar. House could see that she wanted to say something, but was having a hard time.
“Greg, do you regret not giving Stacy the chance to deal properly with your leg?” House shook his head.
“We gave it a chance. I reacted the same way to losing part of my leg, as I would to losing the whole thing. It just didn't work between us, mainly because I never let her in. She would tell people that I was pretty much the same before and after the operation; but that wasn't true. She didn't know what it really did to me. She didn't know me. But that was my fault.” Lydia now took a drink of water and finished the glass. She set it down and turned to look into House's eyes.
“So, I guess I’ve convinced you to take the bandage off and let the scab get some air?” House smiled.
“Yeah… I’m picking at it now as we speak.” Lydia slid off her bar stool and leaned over to kiss House.
“Hey, none of that stuff in here,” said Mike approaching with the food. “I run a respectable establishment.” House and Lydia, just inches apart from each other, smiled. Lydia moved back to her seat.
“I think the health department would disagree with you,” House said, giving him a look.
“Well, then, I'll just take this back,” Mike said picking the plastic bag with the food up from the bar and turning to the kitchen.
“No!” Lydia said desperately. “”Your wings were delicious at lunch today.” She didn't want the food to go anywhere. The aroma had reached her nostrils and she was even hungrier than before.
“Lunch and dinner here? What better endorsement do I need?” Lydia looked over at House and saw that he had a “Yeah, right” sort of look on his face.
“What's the damage?” House asked taking out some money. Mike looked down the bar to where a customer was motioning for him. He acknowledged them and then turned to House.
“Nothing. As long as you promise to bring this breath of fresh air in here again,” he said looking at Lydia. House rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, tomorrow,” he said grabbing the food bag. Lydia smiled and extended her hand to Mike.
“Well, it was nice to meet you, Mike."
“You, too… Linda?”
“Lydia.” Mike repeated. He turned her hand over and kissed the back of it. House looked at the scene with obvious annoyance.
“Where's my bike?” he asked.
“Out back where you left it.” House nodded and started to walk away. Lydia quickly caught up with him.
“Aren't you going to say ‘Thank you and Good-bye?’” she asked quietly. “He was nice enough to give us our dinner for free.” House let out a sigh.
“I usually don't.” Lydia gave him a look. “Oh, all right.” He held up the food bag and said, “Thank you and good-bye.” He turned to Lydia. “Happy?”
“Yes. Good-bye.” she called to Mike. Mike waved as they walked out the door. Once outside, Lydia took the food bag from House.
“I think it would be better if I put this in the car with me. You're talented, but balancing this while riding your motorcycle might be a little too much.” House walked alongside her silently. He looked mad or annoyed, Lydia couldn't tell which. “What's wrong?”
“Does that happen to you all the time? You're introduced to a guy and he immediately starts flirting with you? First Wilson and now this guy.” Lydia's mouth fell open and it quickly turned to a smile. She continued to walk down the street and started to giggle. House looked at her with annoyance.
“What the hell is so funny?” he asked sharply. Lydia stopped walking and turned to him.
“You. You're so cute when you're jealous.” House looked stunned.
“Me? Jealous? Of what… him?” he said gesturing back toward Otto's. “Of Wilson? A three time loser?” Lydia gave him a knowing look. House let out a sigh. “OK. I'm not jealous of the barkeep. Being overly charming is how they keep their tip jar filled. And Wilson? He's like a little lost puppy. You just want to take him home and paper train him.” Lydia laughed and began walking again.
“Do you know what I like about Wilson? That he's your best friend and puts up with you and watched out for you until I could come back into your life.”
“So now it's your turn to put up with me?” Lydia rolled her eyes.
“I guess so,” she said letting out a sigh. They arrived at Lydia's car; she hit the clicker to unlock the doors.
“You are brave; you don't know the half of what you're in for,” said House straight-faced. Lydia opened the door and placed the food on the passenger seat.
“I can't wait to find out,” she said with an impish look on her face. She was startled by the sound of a ringing phone. Lydia pulled her phone out of her purse. “It's Annie,” she said.
“Meet me down at the driveway next to Otto's,” House said quickly. Lydia nodded and answered the phone as she got into the car; she immediately put it on speaker. House continued back to Otto's to grab his motorcycle. If it weren't for the fact that he was still limping, someone would say there was a spring in his step. He turned down the driveway by Otto's and made his way to his bike.
Happiness. House was always wary of it. He didn't know that he sought it out, as much he was curious about it. What did it feel like to be happy? Really and truly happy, knowing you haven't lied, you haven't held anything back, and you have laid everything out bare; House had the feeling he was on his way to finding out. He reached his bike, put his helmet on, placed his cane in its holder, and started his bike. He slowly eased the bike forward until it was at the end of the driveway. There Lydia was waiting for him, still talking to Annie. She smiled as soon as she saw him and indicated for him to lead the way.
This. This is what it feels like to be happy. He wanted to kick himself for being afraid for so many wasted years. But, then maybe he wouldn't have found it anyway; not at least until he met Lydia. House pulled out; he forced himself not to drive too quickly. However anxious he was to get back to his place, getting pulled over would not make him very happy. He wanted nothing to ruin the rest of this evening.