Fate or Folly
Written June 2006
Synopsis: House interferes when Cuddy meets a man on a dating website.
Disclaimer: The characters within are property of Heel & Toe, Shore Z. Productions, Bad Hat Harry Productions, and other corporations. No infringement is intended.
“We have a new case.” House uncapped his marker and separated the whiteboard with a horizontal line. The top half he labeled ‘then’ and the bottom half ‘now’. “Patient is a white female, age twenty-nine … for about the last ten years. She presents with a complete personality change.”
“You mean mood swings?” Chase asked.
“No, I mean a complete personality change. Her baseline mood is typical of a woman. So let’s write that on the board.” Under the ‘then’ title, he wrote ‘cranky bitch’ in big letters. Cameron rolled her eyes. “Her mood now is the opposite.” He began writing on the bottom half of the board. “Happy, cheerful, pleasant, and h-o-r-n-y.”
Foreman chuckled. “What?”
“Well, she used to be a cold fish. Now she’s out shopping for matching bra and panty sets, particularly of the black and lacy variety. Victoria won’t have any secrets left if she keeps it up.”
“Is this a real case?” Cameron asked suspiciously.
“Yes, it’s real. Differentials, people.”
Chase frowned, still puzzled by House’s case. “For a good mood?”
“This is a personality change. It’s completely unlike her. Her friends are very concerned — at least they would be if she had any friends.”
“Okay, I’ll play your little game,” Foreman said. “Drugs. Heroin or amphetamines, even nitrous oxide.”
“While her daily dose of caffeine has increased significantly, her tox screen was clean.” He knew that was true; he’d plucked a hair from her head ‘on accident’ and tested it on someone else’s tab.
“Bipolar disorder or manic depression,” came Chase’s suggestion.
“Could be lack of oxygen or a brain tumor,” Foreman added.
House lazily traced over the letters of ‘bitch’, making them bolder and bigger. None of his team’s suggestions sounded very likely. Cuddy would never consent to a brain scan anyway. Satisfied with his artwork, he looked at his staff. “Okay, here’s the plan. Foreman, you have A through H. Chase, I through P. Cameron, Q through Z. Find me everything that has personality change and/or mood swings as symptoms.”
The two men stood, but Cameron remained seated, staring at House.
“Better hurry up, you don’t want the boys to get done first.”
“Happiness is not an illness, House.” She got up and walked out of the conference room. House sat in her chair, fingers steepled against his mouth, eyes fixed on the white board. He became lost in thought, the words blurring on the board. He didn’t even hear Wilson come in.
“What are you doing?”
“Finding my zen center.”
Wilson read over the text on the white board. “You’re seeking a diagnosis for Cuddy’s good mood?”
“The ‘bitch’ part gave it away, huh?”
“You’ve lost it. Why can’t she just be happy?”
“Because she’s too high strung to be happy. Didn’t we have this conversation already?”
“House, I’m serious.” He sat in the chair next to him. If it had been a real medical problem, he wouldn’t think twice about it, but House was completely preoccupied with Cuddy’s happiness — for no real reason. It didn’t make sense.
There was silence for so long that Wilson almost got up and left. Then House finally spoke, very slowly, as if testing the words for their truthfulness. “She met someone online, on one of those stupid doctor-only dating websites.”
“You hacked into her computer again, didn’t you?”
“It’s not like she picks difficult passwords!” He sighed at Wilson, who looked like he was about to reprimand him. “She doesn’t know who he is, or what he looks like, and yet she’s … attracted to him.”
“So it’s risky, completely unlike her. She doesn’t take chances. I mean, he could be one of those doctors who tries to kill his patients and then brings them back from the brink of death so he looks like a hero.”
“I’m going to pretend for a moment that you’re doing this because you’re worried about her and not because you want her to be miserable.” House cast him a sidelong glance. “Cuddy is smart, she’s funny, she’s attractive. But she is also a workaholic. She runs an entire hospital. Having any other relationship has got to be close to impossible. But this guy, apparently he said all the right things. He probably understands her and what she’s going through. Maybe it’ll work out, maybe it won’t, but while it’s good, just … let her be happy. She has everything she wants out of life except for that.”
House’s reply was quiet. “When she finds out who he really is, she might not be happy.”
“So maybe he’s a complete idiot, or maybe he’s not even a doctor. But just maybe he’s the One. Her soul mate. The only man on the planet who could possibly understand what she has to put up with every day — which includes you, by the way.”
“Her soul mate,” he repeated, pronouncing each syllable distinctly. “That’s a funny thing coming from someone who’s been divorced as much as you.”
Wilson bristled. “I haven’t found mine yet.”
“Well, at least you’re getting laid on your search.” He stood up and stretched. “I’ve got to go; General Hospital is going to be on soon.”
“You know, if I didn’t know you better, I’d say you’re jealous.”
“Good thing you know me better,” he replied as he walked out of the room.
Wilson picked up the eraser and removed the word ‘bitch’ from the white board. “Yeah … you’re jealous.”
It was nearing eleven on a Tuesday night, but Cuddy wasn’t tired. She consistently got up at five o’clock, even on the weekends, and sleep was a rarity with her schedule. Talking to Steve had changed all of that. Sleep was even more of a rarity now, but she didn’t mind. In fact, she enjoyed the late nights and the conversation. She enjoyed him most of all.
Steve had brought out a side of her that she didn’t realize existed. As a result, she found herself telling him things that she would normally keep to herself. None of her admissions bothered him; in fact, he had shared a few of his own. His honesty was his best quality, and the way that his words flowed implied that he was intelligent and witty. She must’ve come across as the same because there was never a lull in their conversation.
LisaMD: Do you believe in fate?
McSteve: Fate as in the opposite of coincidence? That everything happens for a reason, to further your preordained destiny, that kind of thing?
LisaMD: I take that as a no.
McSteve: To some extent, maybe, but I think we have ultimate control over what happens. Why do you ask?
LisaMD: The day you sent me that first instant message, I was about to cancel my account. I’d even hit the button to cancel, but they brought up another screen.
LisaMD: If you hadn’t taken that first step, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
McSteve: I almost didn’t send you that message.
LisaMD: Why not?
McSteve: I’m sure I come across as being very straightforward and bold. Talk to anyone I know, and they’d probably tell you the same. But when it comes to the way I feel, I’m not that secure. I’m not that open.
LisaMD: Wow. You sound exactly like me. My male alter ego.
McSteve: You think so?
LisaMD: The resemblance is uncanny, but it requires further study.
McSteve: Have dinner with me. That should provide lots of study time.
Cuddy stared at the screen. Dinner? With Steve? She’d always thought about meeting him, but a part of her figured she never would. It was a cyber fling, a school girl crush, one she enjoyed immensely but never thought would evolve into anything serious. She found the prospect both frightening and exciting.
LisaMD: I suppose that would be the next step, wouldn’t it?
McSteve: So clinical. Friday night, 8:00?
McSteve: Pick any place you want, price doesn’t matter. I get the impression you’re worth it.
She put her face in her hands and gave a little screech. She needed to get a new dress, new shoes, a full body wax… “Oh, God,” she muttered, “I’m not ready for this.” She bid goodnight to Steve, turned off the computer, and sat in the darkness for a moment. The anxiety was going to drive her crazy over the next few days. Her lips curled into a smile. But it was a good crazy, a good anxiety.
She had a date, a real, honest to goodness date.
Wilson checked his watch for the third time since entering the elevator on the second floor. The ride probably took ten seconds, but it was ten seconds too long. His wife was going to kill him. Little pieces of him were going to be found in random locations all over the tri-state area if he didn’t get home in time for their anniversary dinner. He had promised, “No excuses,” and that had been a bad promise to make.
“Hi, James.” Cuddy’s greeting was full of cheer, bordering on the side of giddiness.
He held the door open for her, and they walked outside together. There was a bounce in her step, and she was humming to herself. He grinned. “Well, you look like a kid on Christmas morning.”
“Looking like a kid on Chanukah morning doesn’t really have the same effect. So what’s the occasion? And don’t worry, I’m not going to blast it over the hospital PA system.”
He could see her struggle with keeping it a secret, but excitement won out. “I have a date.”
He liked the lilt in her voice when she said it, and he wished House hadn’t already ruined the surprise by barging into his office this morning and announcing that Cuddy had lost her mind. “Really? Anybody I know?”
“I don’t know. He’s a doctor. I’ve never met him.”
“Yeah,” she said, punctuating it by a giggle. “It’s not that I haven’t been on a date before, but…”
“He’s special, and you want to make a good impression.”
“I like him, James. I really like him. And it’s so stupid, I mean, I don’t even know what he looks like or if he’s taller than me or if he still has all his teeth. But you know what? I don’t care. I’ll just wear flats and order soup.”
House’s cynical nature had rubbed off on him, although for a different reason. He didn’t want to see her hurt. “What if it doesn’t work out?”
The question gave her pause. “Then it wasn’t meant to be. But I hope it is.”
“Lisa, listen to me. Any guy would be lucky to have you. Just be yourself … and promise me you’ll give me all the details on Monday morning.”
“Okay, I promise.” She got into her car and gave him a little wave before driving off. He watched her go. He was happy for her, glad that she was taking a chance. And to hell with House and his stupid suspicions. He still didn’t understand why he was so distressed over her relationship. Let her fall in love and get married. She’d probably make a great wife.
“Wife!” he shouted and looked at his watch. So much for hearing about the date on Monday. He’d be dead by then.
House skidded his car into a parking space and cut the ignition. He didn’t want to do this, but he didn’t have a choice. Or at least not a viable one. The grand facade of Sorrento was visible in his rear view mirror. It was a beautiful building, surrounded by blooming magnolia trees. Its location was discreet, away from the blazing lights of the city, the perfect place for an intimate date. His stomach lurched at the thought.
He looked at his watch. 8:12. Not bad timing. His ‘Vette was a beauty with speed. Of course, that just meant he had to proceed a little sooner than anticipated. With a sigh, he limped to the entrance by way of the handicapped ramp and stepped inside. He was glad he’d had the foresight to wear a suit jacket and tie; while he wasn’t as dressed up as most of the patrons, at least he looked presentable.
He greeted the maitre d’ with a nod. “There’s a woman here, Lisa Cuddy, or at least she’s supposed to be here.”
“Follow me, sir.” A woman wearing a white blouse and black skirt led him to the dining area. House looked around appreciatively. Planters were everywhere, green and vibrant, and he felt like he’d just stepped into a jungle except for the wooden parquet floor that shined beneath his feet. Each table, whether for two people or eight, was lit by two candles in silver sticks. It was a small establishment, not enough seating for more than seventy-five people, which probably contributed to its long waiting list.
One wall of the indoor seating area was composed almost entirely of windows, and the view from every angle was magnificent. Diners overlooked perfectly manicured gardens that surrounded a koi pond. It didn’t look like New Jersey outside, more like France or England. In fact, House felt like he’d traveled to a different place all together.
Until he spotted a familiar woman at one of the window-side tables, her back to him. “Here you are, sir,” the hostess told him, and he nodded his thanks before sliding into the chair across from Cuddy.
“Hello,” he said for lack of something witty. He picked up the menu and skimmed the inside flap. “So what looks good?”
She stared at him blankly for a moment, and he wondered if she didn’t recognize him in a suit and tie. Then her eyes widened, her brows rose, and her jaw dropped. It was like her entire face was being stretched out, distorted. “House?” She looked at his hands. “What are you doing here?”
“No. No, no, no. You have to leave.” Her gaze shot over her shoulder then back at him. “How did you know I was going to be here? Did you–” She glared at him. “Stop reading my email!”
“I–” She snatched the menu away from him, and he grabbed it back, feeling like a child fighting over a toy. “Oh, don’t get your panties in a twist.” He paused thoughtfully. “Are you even wearing panties?”
Cuddy sighed. “Please. Go. Away. As you already know, I’m waiting for someone, and if he sees you here, he’s going to leave.”
“How do you know you aren’t waiting for me? I could be your mystery date.”
“Yeah, like you would even think to say half of the nice things he says to me.”
“You don’t know what he looks like.”
A smirk appeared on her face. “His last email to me said he would bring me a white rose. Seeing as how you’re not bearing gifts, you’re not my date.”
Now it was his turn to sigh. This was the hard part, what he’d been resisting all night. “That wasn’t his last email, Cuddy.” He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a wrinkled sheet of paper which he had folded in half. He passed it to her without a word.
There was a tremor in her hands as she took the paper and opened it. It was an email sent to her inbox from Steve. Lisa, something’s come up and I’m not going to be able to make dinner tonight. My timing is horrible, and I hope you haven’t already left your house. I am so sorry. I’ll make it up to you, I promise. Cuddy pressed her lips together and read the words again. The mail was sent at 7:45 that evening, 15 minutes after she’d already left. She’d had no warning … and if it hadn’t been for House, she’d still be here, alone, waiting.
Pleased by the arrival of the second guest, the waiter came by and introduced himself as John, though House figured it was probably spelled Jean or something equally fancy. “Could I interest you in something to drink?”
House looked at Cuddy, who was still staring at the email. “How about a nice Chardonnay? Which vineyard do you prefer?”
That got her attention. “What? No, that won’t be necessary, we’re not–”
“We’ll take a bottle,” he insisted, giving her a look. “Trust me. I tip better than she does.”
John walked off with a forced smile, and Cuddy glared at House once again. “What are you doing?”
“Look at this place. You need reservations months in advance to get a table, and you got one in three days? Sounds like you called in a favor.”
She shifted in her seat. “Two favors.”
“So you might as well stay here, plaster a smile on your face, and tell your two favors how wonderful the food was in the morning.”
She hated to admit it, but he was right. If she didn’t have dinner here, she’d be blacklisted for sure, and the couple that had been bumped by virtue of an ‘overbooking error’ would be even more furious. “Fine … but you’re buying.”
He scoffed at her, but to her surprise, he agreed. “Fine, but with your appetite, it’ll probably set me back a month’s pay. I’ll have to resort to prostitution to make ends meet.”
By the time the main course was served, Cuddy’s mood had improved, and she’d nearly forgotten about Steve standing her up. It probably had a lot to do with the wine, a velvety French vintage that tasted like heaven, but she couldn’t discount House’s behavior. He had worked hard to keep her mind elsewhere, and his efforts were effective. She realized more than once that she was actually enjoying herself. Would her date with Steve have been nearly as entertaining? House was a good conversationalist, funny, and, if she looked really hard, a little charming; would Steve measure up in person? And why was she even wondering about him now? Steve obviously wasn’t interested in her.
With the bill came reality, and Monday morning things would be back to normal: House, as acerbic as ever, cracking jokes about her cleavage as if he’d never saved her from embarrassment and misery. Come to think of it, he hadn’t said anything about her breasts all evening, and she glanced down to make sure they were still there.
“How’s your leg?” she asked gently as they walked out of the restaurant. She hadn’t noticed him swallowing any pain killers. “Think you’re up for a quick trip to the gardens?”
He nodded his assent, and she took hold of his left arm to guide him down the ramp. She was sure he didn’t need the extra assistance and steeled herself for any comment to that effect, but he said nothing. Her touch was light, her grip loose. She didn’t want him to think she was coming on to him, but she needed the contact. Especially tonight, when all of her hopes and expectations had come to a crashing halt.
The wrought iron gate was open, a smooth dirt path leading the way to the back of the property. They walked in tandem and in silence. There were no outside sounds except the distant grumbles of cars leaving the parking lot. She’d admired the gardens from inside the restaurant, and outside they were even more beautiful. If she had the time, energy, and creativity, she would’ve loved to have something like this in her own backyard.
House went straight for the koi pond. The fish were swimming gracefully in their habitat. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a saltine he had taken from the dinner table. He crumbled it up and spread it over the water.
“Please tell me you did not just feed the koi Vicodin.”
He chuckled. “A cracker, Cuddy. Although if you’d authorize it, I’d love to test the effects of Vicodin on fish. I’ve got a great abstract planned for JAMA.”
She stood beside him and watched the fish kiss the surface in search of food. “Thank you, House,” she said after a while, never meeting his gaze.
“You came all the way out here, half an hour from Princeton, to tell me that my date wasn’t coming. And then you spent the rest of the evening helping me to forget that fact.” She looked at him then. “So thank you.” Her lips curved upward. “But stop reading my email.”
He rolled his eyes, limping over to a nearby bench and swallowing a Vicodin without water. “I’m surprised you haven’t invested in a smart phone yet.”
“I was in such a rush to get here, I forgot it.”
“So it’s not really his fault, it’s your fault.”
“Why are you coming to his defense? He stood me up, remember?” She sat next to him, sandwiching her purse between them to resist hitting him with it.
“He didn’t stand you up. Evidently something came up and he couldn’t make it.” She glared at him, and he scoffed. “Okay, fine, he stood you up.”
“You know, I liked you better when you weren’t being an ass.”
“Yeah, but when the full moon’s out, I turn into WereHouse again.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out another cracker. “I’ll let you feed the fishies.”
“What did you do, rob the condiments? You got salt and pepper shakers in there too?” She accepted the saltine anyway and returned to the pond.
“Never pass up a chance to get something free.” He waited until her back was to him before opening her purse and perusing the contents. His eyes widened, and he removed a string of six sealed condom wrappers, still connected at the perforations. “Whoa. I bet if Steve knew he was gonna score, he would’ve shown up.”
“Hey!” She snatched the packages and her purse and glared at him again.
“Were you planning an orgy with poor Steve?”
“My parents used to tell me to wear clean underwear anytime I left the house, just in case.”
“So you’re wearing underwear?” He clicked his tongue. “Shame.”
“The point is,” she continued, voice heavy with annoyance, “always be prepared.”
“So you were preparing for a wild night with Steve and five of his buddies?” His voice rose to a falsetto. “Come on, boys, ride the Cuddy train.” He snorted. “Now see, that just screams porn.”
“I didn’t have time to tear them apart, I just grabbed them out of the drawer.”
He took the wrappers back and squinted at them. “Wow, you haven’t had sex in years.”
“Give me that.” She looked at the expiration date which was two years ago. “Okay, so maybe I was a little hopeful.”
“And by hopeful, you mean desperate. Do you even like this guy, or were you just looking for pity sex?”
“Yes, I like him. I did like him.”
“He stood me up! Why do you keep forgetting that fact?”
“He seemed pretty apologetic in the email.”
Her jaw hung open, quivering as she tried to say something. “You’re unbelievable. Suddenly you’re the world’s expert on dating? When’s the last time you had sex?”
“No, don’t answer that. I don’t want to know.”
“If you’re looking for an end to your dry spell, I’m sure I could round up a few candidates.”
“I wasn’t looking for sex! I was looking for…”
“Love?” he teased.
She shrugged one shoulder. “If I’m lucky.”
“Some day, you’re going to be indisposed — by indisposed, I mean naked and sweaty — when you get called into the hospital, and you’re going to have to quit your activities — and by activities, I mean having wild monkey sex — to come in. Maybe it’ll be bureaucratic garbage, maybe you’ll need to save a patient, but whatever it is, something’s inevitably going to come up. That is the nature of being a physician. So how do you know that something didn’t come up with Steve?”
“That he was indisposed with … his wife?”
“No doctor in the state of New Jersey is going to risk castration by double crossing you.”
She grinned. “I believe that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
“Hey, I’m not stupid. I’ve seen you with a scalpel.” He tapped his cane on the ground. “So … second chance?”
“Why do you care whether or not I give him a second chance? Oh, wait, I know. If I get laid, I’ll stop giving you clinic duty.”
“Not on your life.”
“Okay. You want to know the truth?”
“No,” she replied. “I can live without your latest insult.”
He chuckled. “And what an insult it would have been.”
End of Part 3