Chapter Six - "Balancing on the Scaffolds"
House's eyes needed a minute to adjust from the brightness outside Otto's Sports Grill to the dim atmosphere inside. He squinted as he looked at the clock behind the bar; one-fifteen in bar time, five after one to the rest of the world. House never understood the point of bar time. Even really drunk people knew the clock was set ahead to try and get them out of the place at actual closing time, so what was the point? House realized he was avoiding looking for Lydia. He wasn't sure if he was afraid she wouldn't show or afraid if she did. His eyes moved along the row of booths against the back wall and finally spotted her in the next to last one on the left. Moving forward in the direction of the booth, he was surprised at how nervous he began to feel, like a kid on their first date.
“Hi,” House said arriving at the booth where Lydia sat. She turned her face upward to him and smiled.
“Hello, stranger,” she said. House leaned down and gave her a kiss, then sat down on the bench opposite Lydia. The waitress came over immediately.
“Hi, folks. Can I get you something to drink?” House gestured for Lydia to go first.
“I take a Budweiser,” she said. House gave her a look.
“A nice German girl like you ordering a Bud? That's like an Englishman ordering tea and asking for Lipton.” he said.
“I'm slumming,” she explained with a smile. House nodded and also smiled.
“Make that two,” he said.
“Bottle or tap?” the waitress asked.
“Bottle's fine,” House said. “And an order of wings. Hot.” The waitress nodded and left to place their order. “Figures you’d be slumming; it follows the precedent set at Mayfield when you stared making out with me.”
“That was a monumental step up, believe me,” Lydia said shaking her head.
“I’ll take you at your word,” said House. “Sorry for just ordering, but I haven't had anything to eat yet today. I want to keep my head clear in case my team suddenly forgets how to be doctors.”
“How is your patient doing?” Lydia asked. House winced.
Better. I was able to figure out the source of the pain, now I just have to figure out why it's happening. At least I know which medicine can give some relief.” House looked down at the table. “She understands dealing with pain better than I do… mainly because she actually deals with it rather than trying to hide from it.” The waitress had arrived with the bottles of Bud.
“The wings will be ready in a couple of minutes,” she said as she placed the bottles on the table.
“Thanks,” said Lydia. She studied House for a moment. “So, what's her secret?” House looked across at Lydia.
“The woman… your patient. What's her secret for dealing with pain?” House frowned.
“I never asked her directly. I probably should.” He picked up his bottle and raised it toward her. “Prost!” Lydia looked at him in surprise.
“Prost!” she said in return. Both took a drink and Lydia spoke as soon as she had swallowed hers. “How do you know the German word for cheers?”
“I took the Evelyn Wood speed reading adaptation of Rosetta Stone. I can have complex conversations with you now. Of course most of what I say can get me sued; but that's true of when I speak English, too.” He took a drink from his bottle. “I never mentioned this when we first met, but I spent some time in Germany as a kid. Picked up the language through native speakers. Did that in all the countries we went to. My dad was in the Marines. I spent time in a lot of different places.” Lydia looked surprised.
“So did I. My father was in the diplomatic office. We were in Holland, China, Japan, Egypt, and the United States. So many different countries. It was fun at first; but then, when you realize that just as you are making friends, you have to leave, it's not so much fun anymore. I suppose if I had some brothers or sisters, it would have helped a bit, but I'm an only child.” The waitress came over and placed plates and napkins on the table.
“Food's coming right out.” she said. House nodded.
“Yeah, I don't have anyone who shares my DNA hanging around. At least not that I know of.” House twirled the neck of the bottle between his fingers. "Interesting that you and I had the same experience as kids. It puts you in a certain frame of mind for the rest of your life,” he said.
“In what way?” asked Lydia. House began peeling the label off his bottle, leaving the scraps in a pile.
“You always feel like you never get the chance to form any real relationship, friendship or otherwise with anyone. And the few times that you do, one of you is going to get ripped away because someone got transferred and any kind of trust or connection you formed is gone. So later in life, you don't bother trying or you go for the ones you know will fail.”
“A self-fulfilling prophecy,” Lydia noted. “I'm surprised you're telling me this. You must trust me.”
“I'm surprised, too.” House hesitated for a moment then looked into her eyes. “You scare the hell out of me.” Lydia looked taken aback.
“Because you came back to New Jersey after leaving your husband and one of the first things you do is look for me. I don't know whether to be flattered or terrified.” Lydia was clearly stunned.
“You make me sound like a stalker,” she said. House nodded.
“That's what I told Wilson you were. He saw us in the lobby at the hospital and wanted to know all about you; I didn't feel like talking, so I told him I met you at Mayfield and now you were stalking me.” Lydia clasped her hand to her forehead.
“Who is Wilson? And how many states am I wanted in?” she asked. The waitress arrived with the food.
“Here you are. Enjoy.” House reached over, grabbed a wing and started to eat. It took a second for him to realize Lydia was staring at him. He put the wing down and wiped his mouth with one of the napkins.
“Wilson is my best friend. He's a doctor at the hospital. Don't worry, I told him the truth; you're only wanted in New Jersey.” He started to pick the wing up again when he saw that he was still being stared at. “I told him the actual truth. We met when you came to visit your friend and we…connected.” House tried to take a bite when he realized Lydia was still looking at him. “I swear that's what I said.”
“‘Connected.’ A very interesting choice of words.” Lydia reached over and picked up a wing.
“Why, what would you have said? I met a nut job in a psych ward who almost killed a fellow patient?”
“No, I would say I met an intelligent, caring, funny, slightly crazy man… that I fell in love with.” House stopped chewing and watched as Lydia took a bite of her wing. She took her gaze away from her food and returned his look.
“OK, I was going with the idea of flattered, but now I'm headed straight to terrified.”
“Look,” House said as he put down his food. “You were in an unhappy marriage and maybe me being a patient there gave things a dangerous, edgy thrill you weren't getting at home.” He looked down at the table. “I'm a screwed up, self-centered bastard. That's what I'll always be. I'm definitely not your kind of guy.” He grabbed his beer bottle, took a swig and closed his eyes.
“Funny… I think we are a perfect match.” House opened his eyes and shook his head.
“I think the English-German translation thing isn't working so well,” he said taking another drink. “Unfortunately, this kind of subject never came up while I was in Germany, so I never learned the phrase ‘really bad idea.’” Lydia shook her head.
“I understood you perfectly well, I just disagree with you. Because what am I, but a screwed up, self-centered bitch who married a man she didn't love just to have him fill a need? And have children with him, even. How many people do you know like that?” House thought for a moment.
“One,” said House thinking of Cameron. Lydia leaned back in the booth.
“Please be serious,” she begged.
“I was, actually.” He picked up his wing again, but then put it back down. “You thought you were doing the right thing to get you through seeing your best friend disappear before your eyes. I know I'd probably do something stupid if I thought I was losing Wilson. Correction… I have done stupid things when I thought I was losing Wilson.” Lydia smiled, leaned forward and took a drink.
“Well, at least we are in agreement about our best friends.” House nodded. “My only consolation in what I did, was that Ben, my ex-husband, also married me for the same reason.”
“He told you that?” House asked. Lydia interlocked her fingers and rested her chin on her hands.
“We both knew that what we had was a sham. One night when he was actually in a reasonable mood, we sat and talked. He was the one who came out and admitted it first. He told me that while he always liked me, as far as being Annie's friend, he was never attracted to me in a romantic way. His girlfriend had broken up with him because he was obsessed with Annie's problem and his temper, and he didn't have the inclination to spend any time on looking for someone else. He saw I was in need of emotional support and knew I was vulnerable.” Lydia took a long drink of her beer.
“And he never came to see her,” House noted.
“He used to. At some point, he saw the situation as hopeless and stopped coming. I couldn't abandon her like that. I actually went into labor with my son while I was visiting her. I think I set some of the patients back in their recovery when that happened. Ben is seven and Elise is four. You saw Ben when you came to my house that night.” Lydia smiled as she remembered the visit. House shook his head.
“I shouldn't have done that. Somehow I imagined it was just you and your husband. That maybe I'd be able to convince you to leave him. For what I don't know.” House said ruefully. Lydia reached across the table for House's hand.
“If I didn't have my children, I would have left him.” House's eyes widened as his mind took in what Lydia had said; now he was really scared. He dropped his head, closed his eyes and remained silent for quite a while. Lydia could sense a change in his demeanor. He pulled his hand away from hers.
“Well, at least I know what I have to look forward to with you,” House said with quiet anger. “You'll put up with me being a self-centered son-of-a-bitch for just so long and then you'll dump me for the first guy that looks like a white knight, even if he turns out to be a jerk.”
“Is that what you think of me? That I would do that to you?” asked Lydia. House took a drink and set the bottle down hard on the table.
“Didn't you describe yourself as a screwed up bitch a little while ago? Now all of a sudden you're not? I guess it's that Anglo-Kraut translation thing again.” Lydia had her hand up to her mouth trying to compose herself.
“I was talking about myself with my ex-husband. I didn't love him and when he stopped seeing Annie, I didn't even like him anymore.” She wiped away the few tears that had fallen. “I could never feel that way about you. I know what kind of man you are. I saw enough of it at Mayfield.”
“What you saw was a pathetic excuse for a human being. I broke rule after rule, nearly killed someone and screwed around with a married woman.” It was useless for Lydia to hold back her tears; House's last words hurt her deeply.
“And despite that, I wouldn't trade you for anyone. I know who and what you are. You are far from perfect; so am I and I accept that with no reservations.” House was looking directly at her as she spoke. He looked away, surveying the room and slowly began to shake his head.
“I can't do this… it’s not going to work.” He grabbed his cane, slid out of the booth and very quickly stood up. Lydia looked up at him, her eyes clearly showing the pain she felt.
“Please don't… ” she began. But she couldn't finish what she was saying; for House had slid onto the bench seat next to her, wrapped his arms around her and gave her a long, passionate kiss. When he pulled back away, Lydia was looking at him with a mixture of extreme confusion and extreme happiness.
“I was trying so hard not to let you get to me. Again. But I couldn't do it, I couldn't push you away,” House said quietly. Lydia smiled.
“That's because I am really good at pushing back.” House nodded.
“It's the Fraulein in you,” he said. She laughed, but quickly stopped as House leaned in for another kiss. This time it was Lydia who broke contact.
“You know we're in a very public place,” she said. House looked around.
“Yeah, and I don't suppose they have a dark, quiet room where no one will find us.”
“And someone from your team may call,” she reminded him. He looked pained.
“That would really cramp my style. And piss me off besides.” She laughed and reached up to stroke the back of his head. The hair hadn't finished re-growing around the wound he received at the crane collapse.
“What happened to your head? How did you get hurt?” Lydia asked. House took a deep breath.
“I don't know if Cactus News Network carried anything about a crane collapse in this area a few months ago, but I got dragged into helping at the site. I was taking care of a woman trapped under the rubble and when they tried to free her, there was a second collapse and I got hurt. I was in a medically induced coma for weeks. There was a third collapse and that got my boss, Cuddy. She's in a vegetative state in a rehab center.” He stared down at the table as his mind wandered. What would he tell Lydia about Cuddy? If he went by Wilson's take on things, there was nothing to tell. Yet, he felt the need to mention her in detail. House felt no longing or regret; just guilt that it was Cuddy who was on a permanent mental holiday and not him. But if it had been him, he wouldn't be sitting here with Lydia. And no amount of guilt over anyone was going to make him give that up. He was so deep in thought, that he didn't notice the waitress standing by the table.
“Can I get you another round?” she asked.
“Yeah, that'd be a good idea,” said House. He looked up and saw that Lydia was looking at him intently. “I don't even know your last name. What moniker are you going by these days?” Lydia smiled.
“Well, I was Lydia Harris when we met, but I’ve had my name changed back to the name I was born with, Lydia Strohman. I was concerned at first how the children would react to their mother having a different last name than them, but they are fine with it. In fact, since my son has my ex’s name, he wants to change his name entirely.”
“How are they taking things?”
“Very well,” said Lydia. “Ben, my ex, was never close to them. He was always away on business and never made much effort with them. But, they adore their Aunt Annie, and she them. They are so thrilled that they will be living with her. Right now, Annie and I are staying with friends, but we're apartment hunting already and as soon as I find something, the children will join me.” Lydia saw the faraway look in his eyes. “Are you OK?” she asked as she took his hand.
“Yeah. At least I know enough about you to look you up on Google,” he said.
“Now who's being a stalker?” Lydia teased. House looked away for a moment. For some reason, he felt the need to talk.
“I think I'm going to give you the condensed story of my life and then I can fill in the details as time goes by.” Lydia nodded as the waitress arrived with the beers.
“Here you go. Do you need anything else?”
“No. We're fine,” said House. He slid Lydia's beer over to her. “Sure you're ready?”
“Yes, of course.” He told her the events of his life in a very typical Greg House kind of way. Some things had her laughing; some things horrified her. From traveling around the world with his parents while his father served in the Marines, to being thrown out of medical school, to establishing the Diagnostics department at PPTH, to meeting Stacy, to his leg, to his Vicodin addiction and all the other things he tried to deal with the pain, to Amber and Kutner, to discovering the man he called "dad" wasn't really his father, to Mayfield, to the crane collapse, to everything in between including his twenty or so year obsession over Cuddy, although he left out most of the details on that chapter of his life, to most of the scenes that played out while in the coma. When he was finished speaking, he waited for Lydia's reaction.
“I can't believe it,” she finally said.
“That you were willing to risk your life like that. When you had a woman you loved and who loved you in return. There's so much more to you than any one part. You were going to leave all that behind? You could accept dying?” she asked.
“I would have rather died than gone through the hell I've experienced.” House picked up his bottle and took a long drink. “I live with intense pain every day. I wasn't the easiest person to be around before this happened; now… ” Lydia took his hand.
“You know, it's never too late to become the person you were meant to be. I'm not saying big, life-altering changes, but people can adapt to their circumstances.” House shook his head.
“One of the things I've always believed is than people don't change; they just become more of who they really are.” Lydia studied his face for a moment.
“I'm guessing that's because you don't like change; you had too much of it in your life from an early age. But, if you changed from the way you were before the problem with your leg, to the way you are now, what's to say you couldn't change again? Or at least stop stagnating in self-pity.” She squeezed his hand. “Please understand, I'm not asking you to change. I fell in love with you the way you are, who you are. Why would I want to lose that person? Asking you to change… would be insane.” House looked at her for a long moment, then pulled her to him for a kiss. When they parted, Lydia thought she saw tears in his eyes. “Greg, what's wrong? What did I say?” House decided to get it over with… he launched into the twenty-plus year history of Gregory House and Lisa Cuddy in detail, including their off and on flirtations, Dr. Nolan urging him to go after a real relationship, the details of his hallucinations while in the medically induced coma and Wilson's opinion of the Cuddy situation.
“I did everything I could to do the right thing, to be what she wanted. And in the end, I screwed it up.”
“But, that was just something you imagined; that wasn't real. And as far as real life, I happen to agree with what Wilson said about her. He gives very good advice,” observed Lydia. House looked at her like she was crazy.
“No, Wilson has three ex-wives. Getting relationship advice from Wilson is like getting acting tips from Paris Hilton.” Lydia laughed. She saw that House had a very sad expression on his face and decided to do something about it.
“Well?” she asked. House looked at her quizzically. “Diamonds or pearls?” He could see a playful twinkle in her eyes. He figured he might as well go for it; the atmosphere could use some lightening up.
“Pearls, the mountains, green, you voted for Obama, and since you voted, it means you are a citizen of this country.” She smiled broadly, leaned over and kissed him.
"Five for five,” Lydia said. Suddenly, a phone began to ring; it was Lydia's. She looked around, searching for her phone. Locating it, Lydia said, “It's the lawyer handling the custody arrangement for the children. Excuse me, I have to answer this.” House stood up and let her leave the booth. He watched her as she made her way to the door of the building. He sat back down, put his head into his hands and thought, what the hell am I doing? I know I'm going to mess this up, but she's willing to take the chance that I won't. And even if I do screw up, she's willing to help me fix it. He reached for his beer and took a long slow drink. As he set the bottle down, he realized that while he had never felt this good about his life, he was also scared he was taking the final step over the edge. If he couldn't make it work with this incredible woman, then… He slowly became aware of the Van Morrison song playing on the juke box.
“I've been travelin' a hard road, lookin' for someone exactly like you.
I've been carryin' my heavy load, waitin' for the light to come shinnin' through.
Someone like you makes it all worthwhile, someone like you keeps me satisfied.
Someone exactly like you.”
House managed a slight smile. Maybe… maybe this time… Now it was House's phone ringing. He looked at it disdainfully. Work.
“I take it our patient is ready to audition for ‘So You Think You Can Dance’?” House asked as he answered the call.
“Far from it,” said Chase. “She started running a fever and vomiting. Now she's hallucinating. She says she feels like she's jumping out of the window in her room, that she can feel herself falling. Oh and there's a circus going on in her room. She can see the dancing elephants and poodles on the wall.” Lydia came back to table and sat opposite House.
“Damn… and I'm missing it,” House said. He saw their waitress and motioned for her. “I need these wings to get legs. And the check,” he said after she came over. The waitress nodded, picked up the plate and walked away.
“She seems to be having some kind of reaction to the Neurontin,” said Taub.
“Either Chase swallowed a chipmunk or our connection is getting crossed with the Desperate Doctors of New Jersey,” commented House. The waitress returned with the boxed up food and the check. House looked at the check quickly and indicated that she should wait. He stood up, pulled some bills out of his pocket and handed them to her. “Thanks,” he said.
“Wait a minute, did you just pay for lunch?” asked Wilson. House rolled his eyes.
“When did we get a party line at the hospital?” he asked.
“You're on speaker,” said Wilson. “And answer the question.”
“Yes, I did and I'll discuss it later.” House gestured to Lydia to head toward the door. She grabbed the food and started walking. “Back to the patient. Put a hold on the next doses of Neurontin and Vicodin. They're interacting and the effects of the Neurontin are being magnified. Once Ringling Brothers has pulled down the big top and the fever and vomiting are gone, we can bring the Vicodin back in.” House and Lydia stepped outside.
"Where is your car parked?” she whispered.
“Not here,” House said. Lydia looked confused, but sensing House’s urgency to get back to the hospital, she didn’t question him.
“I’ll drive you,” she said.
“House, where are you and who are you talking to?” asked Foreman. House glanced sideways at Lydia.
“I'm with my new friend from a web site I found called Bodacious Bavarian Beauties.” Lydia looked at him in horror. “And I'm on cloud nine.” She smiled as House ended the call.
“Aren't you afraid they are going to ask questions?” Lydia inquired.
“They can ask,” said House. “And I can choose to have selective hearing.” House reached up, put his arm around her and kissed the top of her head as they arrived at her car. “Sorry for the quick exit. Everything OK on the legal front?”
“Yes, thank goodness. You know,” Lydia said as they stopped walking. “I told you that I fell in love with you at Mayfield, but I haven't actually said those three little words to you yet.” House leaned back against the car. “And you haven't said them to me.”
“Sell high, buy low?” he asked. Lydia put her hand on her hip.
“That's four words,” she said. House looked away from her. She reached up and very gently turned his face so that they made eye contact. “I love you,” she said. House looked away again.
“I… I'm sorry. I can't. That’s not the way I want to say it,” he said. House saw the disappointed look on her face. He got off the car and moved over to her.
“It's OK,” Lydia replied. “I understand I’m being very forward… ”
“Fraulein?” House interrupted. “Ich liebe dich,” he said which was German for 'I love you'. She looked at him in amazement and broke into a huge smile as she threw her arms around him. She pulled back away from him just enough to give him a kiss.
“Your German is fantastic,” she said as she pushed the clicker for the car.
“Danke,” he replied. House didn’t want the moment to end, but he knew they had to get going. “I hate to break this up… ”
“I know; get in so we can get going.” Both of them climbed into Lydia’s car and drove off to the hospital.