A Dinner Party
House's newest fellow, Tony Crane, had in the three months he had been working at Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital managed to alienate everyone from the night janitors to the Chief of Medicine. Crane was fully in agreement with House's motto - everybody lies - and added to it one of his own - everybody (except Tony Crane) is an idiot. He lived by this second principle. In a different period in history, there would have been a better way to deal with an intelligent but obnoxious person like Tony Crane. He would have been exiled to some isolated cave somewhere, supplied with ink and parchment, and left to live the life of a hermit. Then after many years had passed, somebody would be sent to gather his writings and bury his bones. He'd probably have been revered as a saint.
Crane was unable to occupy himself when the Diagnostics Department did not have an interesting case. Previous fellows read medical articles, put extra hours in at the clinic, answered House's e-mails, even did crosswords or Sudoku puzzles. They did not require a constant audience. They did not spend their spare time in Wilson's office, ignoring Wilson's many, increasingly obvious hints that Wilson had work to do and didn't want to chat.
Crane's current story was about an argument he had with Max, a street person who regularly panhandled outside the hospital. Max was of the opinion that Oprah Winfrey was the Whore of Babylon. Crane disagreed and demonstrated that the panhandler was wrong using pure reason and logic. He appeared to think that Wilson might take Max's side, and felt compelled to repeat all his main points to Wilson as well.
"I told him that Oprah may have been living with Steadman outside of wedlock, but that for a person to be a whore technically there also has to be some sort of monetary exchange or at least barter going on."
"I'm having a patient conference with Dr. Hammond in half an hour. I really need to review his notes."
Crane nodded, but did not let up. "She's also American, not Babylonian or Iraqi."
"It's a very complicated case. It requires careful concentration. I can't concentrate while you're here talking to me."
"There may be Babylons in the U.S.; in fact, I know there's one in New York, but Oprah doesn't come from there."
"Will you please leave so I can get on with my work?"
"This won't take a minute. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking Babylon is just a metaphor for a consumerist, celebrity-worshiping America that has abandoned its faith. Let me tell you how I demolished that argument. I was brilliant!"
Wilson stood up. "You don't know what I am thinking. What I am thinking is that if you don't leave, I am going to call security and have you carried out. Then I am going to raise a motion at the next board meeting to have you dismissed. And I'll tell you right now that that motion is going to have a lot of support!"
"I'm leaving." Crane got up and strolled towards the door. "There's no need to threaten me. And by the way, House asked me to give you these." He tossed a set of keys on to Wilson's desk.
The patient conference went well. Hammond, Wilson and the patient agreed that her best chance was in being part of a clinical trial at Columbia University. Wilson made some phone calls to get her in and then went to the hospital cafeteria for lunch. After he purchased his chicken salad, Wilson went to sit across from Gregory House, who was eating French fries.
"Hello, House. If you have to send one of your lackeys to do your errands, "Wilson said, "Please send Lum. I like her."
"Are you sure you want to say that out loud? Cuddy might hear."
"Why not? Lisa likes her too."
"Threesome in the offing then? Can I join?"
"It's a bit early in the marriage to be going the full orgy route yet. Seriously, don't send Crane. He's the most irritating person in the hospital, possibly the state. I wouldn't have believed that there could be someone more irritating than you, but there he is."
"Yes, but it's the irritation that produces the pearl," House said. He looked solemn, as if he were quoting a famous ancient sage.
Wilson was sure he was making it up. "Which one of us is the oyster? No, don't bother answering. I've got a consult in five minutes. Here are your keys back." He put the keys on the table and slid them towards House.
"Keep them yourself," House said, "or find someone else to take them. Someone responsible. Someone who'll check in if I don't show up for work and don't answer my phone, even if it's raining or snowing, even if I pissed him off the day before. If you can find someone you trust to do that, give him the keys. Until then, keep them."
He got and walked away from the table, leaving Wilson with his empty tray and set of keys. Wilson pocketed the keys, and then took their trays to the stack by the cafeteria door. Detaching himself from House wasn't going to be easy.
Wilson stopped in at a grocery store to pick up the ingredients for pasta primavera and a container of gelato, and then headed home. Marta, the nanny, was waiting at the door, in a rush to get to her night class.
"Emily is watching a DVD in the living room. I gave her some carrot and celery sticks to snack on, so she should be good until dinner. Bye."
After popping his head into the living room to say hello to Emily, he changed into jeans and a t-shirt. Then he went to the kitchen to prepare the meal. He was glad that Emily was occupied in the other room; a small child around sharp knives and boiling water made him nervous.
Wilson was still unclear about his role in Emily's life. When he had been dating her mother, his role had been clear. Emily was Cuddy's daughter and she was the one to make the rules and to discipline her, if discipline was required. As the boyfriend, Wilson entertained Emily while Lisa made last minute adjustments to her appearance before a date, occasionally gave Emily small, inexpensive presents with Lisa's prior permission, and listened while Lisa bragged about Emily's accomplishments. Perfectly straightforward. When he moved in, things had changed again. Sometimes Lisa's meetings ran late into the evening, and Wilson was in charge of Emily. Then he saw himself as a babysitter, invested with quasi-parental authority only until the real parent returned. Now, that he and Lisa were married, he wondered where he fit in. Did Lisa and Emily want him to act as a real father, or would that be going too far? Until he knew where the boundaries were, Wilson was treading very carefully.
Everything was ready. As soon as Lisa came home, he would put the pasta in boiling water and steam the vegetables. One of his colleagues had written an article for a medical journal and he had promised to review it for him before he submitted it for publication. He took the article from his briefcase and joined Emily in the living room. When Lisa came in he could tell that her meeting had not gone well. She looked stressed. He got up and hugged her. She followed him into the kitchen.
"Probert has pulled out," Cuddy said. "We were counting on him in our budget projections. We're going to have an emergency meeting tomorrow to figure out how to deal with it. Unless we can find alternate funding, there are going to be cuts - serious cuts."
"I thought Probert had already signed the papers and made a firm commitment."
"He did, but he's going bankrupt. He can't give the hospital money he doesn't have."
Instead of the pleasant family dinner that Wilson had planned, Lisa and Wilson spent most of the evening discussing the funding problem.
The next day rumours about impending cuts had already begun to circulate, and the staff was on edge. Cuddy and Wilson met in her office for lunch rather than the cafeteria so that no one would overhear their conversation. Technically, Cuddy should not have been telling her husband what went on at the board meeting, as he was a departmental head. However, she knew that Wilson could keep a secret better than anyone else she knew, and talking to him usually calmed her and helped her think more clearly.
"How did the board meeting go?" he asked.
"It didn't go too badly actually, now that we've all had time to absorb the initial shock. We're going to be asking the department heads for a list of potential areas where savings can be made. Paula had some good ideas for fundraising, but they'll all take time to organize. Raymond Lynch knows a couple who run a charitable foundation. They might be willing to step in and take over Probert's commitment on an interim basis, until we can arrange something else."
"So we might be able to avoid the budget cuts."
"Not entirely, but they could be a lot less drastic than I feared, if this couple comes through for us."
"What do you know about them?"
"Raymond Lynch said that he has family money in a big way, but they live modestly and give away most of the income from their family trusts to charities of various kinds. They are keen on charities that help families. They support programs for low-income families, after-school recreational programs, and daycare centres for single mothers. A hospital is a bit out of their usual area of operations, but they have ties to the Princeton area and Lynch says that if we can put forward a good case, they'll be receptive."
"Lynch is arranging a meeting with them. We thought that because there so family-oriented, we could have a dinner party. We'd invite Raymond and his wife Rachel and their son and the Berendts over for dinner."
"Peter and Michelle Berendt."
"Is Michelle Berendt's maiden name Vass?"
"I don't know."
"I think she's my ex-wife," Wilson said. "Michelle dated Peter Berendt after we divorced. I didn't know they got married. Maybe it's not her; maybe it's another Michelle. What does she look like?"
"I don't know. I've never met her."
"Ask Lynch about it. We need to find out for sure. If it's her, it would be better if she doesn't meet me or know that I work here. If she sees me, it will jeopardize the funding."
"You told me that you were on good terms with all your ex-wives."
"She said she forgave me, but how could she really? I betrayed her. I had no idea what betrayal felt like until Julie was unfaithful to me. I knew our marriage was already over, but it hurt like hell anyway. It must have hurt Michelle a lot more because she still loved me; she still thought our marriage could work."
Cuddy had never seen her husband so upset. Wilson had risen from his chair and was pacing her office. He rubbed the back of his neck, a sure sign that he was under stress.
"The worst thing is that I did it on purpose - to make her accept a divorce. It was intentional. How could she forgive that?"
"It was a long time ago. If it's the same person, she's married to Berendt now and has a life with him. I'm sure she has forgiven you."
"Just find out for sure if it's her. If it is, I can't meet her."
"She and her husband will be touring the hospital. If they decide that they want to contribute, they'll probably drop in on a regular basis; that's how their charitable foundation operates. You are not going to be able to avoid her, so it would be better that she finds out in advance that you are working here rather than springing it on her later. "
"This is a disaster."
Later that afternoon, Lisa Cuddy went to her husband's office. Cuddy told him that Lynch had confirmed that Michelle Berendt was the former Michelle Vass. Wilson accepted the news with fatalistic resignation.
"I knew it was her. I'm going to cost the hospital its funding. I'm so sorry, Lisa."
"You're blowing things out of proportion. I've asked around about the Berendt Foundation, and it's important to them that their money is well spent and goes to worthy causes. Michelle Berendt is not going to let the fact that you cheated on her twenty years ago influence her decision. She's going to look at the excellent work we do at PPTH and decide based on that."
Wilson did not respond.
"I told Lynch that you and Michelle used to be married when you were in college. He doesn't think it's a deal-breaking problem and neither do I. He's going to talk to Michelle and Peter and let them know ahead of time. If it's fine with them, we'll go ahead with the dinner party. It'll be a bit awkward for you both but we're all adults; we can get beyond that."
When Wilson still did not answer, she tried another tack.
"When you see her, you can apologize. You can let her know that you're sorry you hurt her. "
"I've got a lot of paperwork to do," Wilson said, refusing to look Lisa in the eye. He pulled a file from the stack on his desk. "I've got to get to it, and I guess you have to get back to your meeting."
Wilson dreaded the dinner party, which was duly arranged for early the next week. Lisa hired a caterer for the evening and asked Marta to babysit Emily. Every time she mentioned a detail of the planned evening, Wilson's anxiety level rose. Terrible, melodramatic scenarios played in his head. Sometimes he pictured Michelle, looking precisely as she had done when they broke up, slapping him across the face like some wronged woman out of a black-and-white movie. In another scenario, the Berendts behaved pleasantly throughout the meal and then suddenly Michelle stood up and said "We could not give a penny to any organization that would employ someone like James Wilson. The hospital will go bankrupt and it will be entirely his fault." Wilson knew that his thoughts were absurd and ridiculous but he could not get them to go away. To his annoyance, Lisa wanted him to talk about his feelings, when all his experience taught him not to discuss his emotions. Other people did not really want to hear what he felt; it just bored them or made them feel uncomfortable.
It showed Lisa Cuddy's desperation that she decided to go to House with her concerns about Wilson. Wilson and House had been friends for years, but she thought that House took advantage of Wilson's friendship and demanded too much from him. When she went to House's office, he was talking to Rosemary Lum, one of his fellows. She waited until Rosemary left with a list of tests to perform, and then spoke to House.
"I'm worried about James. Has he told you about the dinner party we're having for the Berendts?"
"He hasn't said a word to me, but fortunately I have other sources of information. The grape vine tells me that she is one of Wilson's many exes."
"Yes, she's his first ex-wife. James is very upset about meeting her again."
"So who says he has to meet her? He can have a convenient case of mono or appendicitis. I'll even write him a doctor's note."
"He can't avoid her, House. If she and her husband decide to make a donation, they are going to want to meet the department heads and visit the hospital regularly. They are very hands-on managers."
"In what way is this my problem?"
"I would think wanting to help someone you call a friend would make it your problem, but if that is not enough I'll remind you that without the Berendts' money this hospital will have to make some very serious cuts. You may not appreciate it, but I've been protecting the budget of your department. Do you want me to defend you in the future? Without my support, I don't think your department will last very long."
"You're so sexy when you're threatening me."
"Talk to James. We both need your help."
Talking to people about their feelings was not very high on Dr. Gregory House's list of favourite activities. It ranked about the same as having bamboo shoots shoved under his fingernails. Still, what had to be done had to be done. As usual, he walked into Wilson's office without knocking. Wilson was buried behind an even larger pile of paperwork than usual. He could not have amassed such a pile on his own. He was probably doing the paperwork for half of his department.
"Hello, House," he said. "I'm busy."
"I can see that. How would you like to pick up a pizza and a movie tonight?"
"It's short notice. Lisa's expecting me for dinner."
"Doesn't she take Emily to that mother daughter skating class on Thursdays?"
"Is it Thursday? If it's Thursday, I guess I could come. "
"Good, I'll pick up the pizza and I'll let you choose the movie. Nothing black-and-white though."
Wilson chose Arthur Hitchcock's Vertigo. It was a good thing that he had seen the movie four or five times before; otherwise, he would not have been able to follow the plot. Thoughts about Michelle kept intruding. He had behaved very badly toward her; seeing Wilson again would be very painful for her. He took a long swallow of House's beer and leaned back on the couch.
"Lisa and I are having a dinner party on Monday."
"I heard that."
"My ex-wife Michelle is coming. I don't think you ever met Michelle. She is a truly good person. She's married to this guy Peter Berendt. I only met him once. He seemed nice enough."
"Probably not truly good though."
"Probably not. Most people aren't. I'm not, for example," Wilson agreed. He felt a bit off balance and realized he was probably drunk. "So would you like to come to the party? You and a date. I'll fix you up with Margie in Accounting. You'll like her; she breeds Irish sheepdogs."
"Do you want me to come?"
"I want you to come."
"What about Cuddy?"
"She'll want you to come if I tell her that I want you to come."
Wilson had had too much to drink to drive home, so he slept on House's couch again. He woke up too queasy to eat anything but he made scrambled eggs, orange juice and coffee for House. He did the dishes before rushing home to change for work.
House always woke up in pain. It took a while for the Vicodin to kick in. He sat on the couch with his sore leg elevated while he drank a second cup of coffee. He wondered what Margie looked like, and why Wilson thought the breeding of Irish sheepdogs was so desirable a quality in dining companions.
House picked Margie up in his Corvette outside the hospital. Margie was a cheerful soul with a great deal of hair dyed an unrealistic red piled on top of her head in an unruly heap. She was fair-skinned, chubby and had beautiful green eyes. Her low-cut velvet dress matched her eyes and was covered in dog hair.
"I'm so excited," she said, grabbing House's arm and nearly sending the car off the road. "Peter Berendt is a hero of mine. He does so much good."
"Yes, but is he a truly good person?"
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I've been told by a reliable authority that Michelle Berendt is a truly good person. If Peter Berendt were a truly good person as well, that would be terrific. All the truly good people should stick together, shouldn't they?"
"I guess so." Margie found this conversation confusing.
"Yes, they should stick together and leave us perfect bastards alone."
Cuddy had convinced Wilson to take an Ativan to reduce his level of anxiety. Wilson was hovering in the kitchen getting in the way of the caterers, and Emily was downstairs with Marta in the tiny basement that Cuddy had converted into a rec room. She answered the door and ushered Margie and House into the living room.
"I asked you to come a little early. The Lynches and the Berendts will be coming in about fifteen minutes. I'm going to try to drag James out of the kitchen. Would you see if you can calm him down a bit?"
House prowled around the room while Margie sat primly on the sofa. Wilson came in to greet them with a ghastly artificial enthusiasm, like a soon-to-be-hanged man trying to put his executioners at ease.
"I should give you the house tour, but I think you've both been here before, though maybe not while I've been living here. It hasn't changed much. I should probably wait until everyone is here anyway. Does anyone want a drink?"
House had a scotch and Margie a white wine. Wilson couldn't drink because of the damned Ativan (which wasn't working anyway), so he had a mineral water with lemon.
"The caterers made little appetizer things. They're very good really. Cream cheese and suchlike."
Wilson was talking very fast. The last time House had seen him so agitated was when he had dosed him with methamphetamines. He strode back into the kitchen to pick up a tray of appetizers.
"Lisa will be right out. She's sending some appetizers down to Marta and Emily. Have you met Marta, Emily's nanny? She's planning to go back to school to be an x-ray technician. I think she'll be very good at it. She's got loads of patience. Patience with a 'ce' not a `ts'."
"I met Marta once when she was dropping Emily off at the hospital. She does seem very nice," Margie said politely.
Her own level of anxiety rose in response to Wilson's obvious nervousness; it was contagious. Lisa Cuddy was probably hiding in the kitchen just to avoid catching it. This did not seem fair to her.
"I think Lisa probably needs some help in the kitchen," she said and left taking her glass with her.
The doorbell rang and Wilson grimaced. The full horror of the evening was about to begin.
Michelle Berendt had the tiny, perfect figure of a ballerina. Her sleek black hair was styled in an elegant chignon. She wore a smart black dress with a string of pearls and very high heels. She was pale and her lips were very red, as if she playing the part of a vampire. Her husband was almost as tall as House but more solidly built. He had been a football player at university. The Lynches, who had arrived at the same time, looked respectable but bland next to this striking, charismatic couple, and their son, who was about fifteen, seemed awkward and shy. House glanced at Michelle. So this was what "truly good" looked like.
Cuddy had made Wilson take another Ativan. The two were standing together, playing host and hostess.
"Who's ready for the house tour?" Cuddy asked.
Everyone except Michelle wanted to take the house tour. House decided to forgo the tour as well and talk with Michelle. He could always snoop around later, on the pretext of using the bathroom. Michelle immediately sat down on the sofa and slipped out of her shoes.
"Excuse me," she said. "These shoes are awfully uncomfortable. My husband is so much taller than I am that I have to wear them, just so I can talk to him without developing a crick in my neck."
House took a seat beside her.
"So you are the famous or should I say infamous Gregory House. Whenever people from your hospital get together, they always talk about you. It's quite a public service, being such a good topic of conversation. Otherwise, everyone would have to talk about weather or football."
"So what do they say about me?" House wondered whether she was flirting with him. Maybe he was flirting with her.
"They say you are brilliant but self-destructive - the usual tortured genius. Is that true? I hope not. It would be very boring if you were the usual tortured genius."
"The genius part is pretty accurate, but tortured is not how I would describe myself."
"How would you describe yourself?"
"Most people prefer a pretty lie to the ugly truth. I don't. I would call myself a keen observer."
"I'd call myself a pretty keen observer as well, "Michelle said. "Do you want to know what I see? I'll tell you and you can confirm my impressions. When I look at the photographs, I see Dr. Cuddy's parents, her brothers and sisters, and her daughter, but none of James's family. I don't think that James had anything to say about the purchase of this sofa, which is brand new, and I'm sure he dislikes that picture over the mantelpiece. I don't see anything at all of him, but Dr. Cuddy said that he's been living with her for two years. What does this tell me? It tells me that he's just a guest here. There's nothing to hold him down. One day he's just going to float away from her, the way he floated away from me. Do you think I'm right?"
"Wilson wants you to forgive him. Do you think you can tell him you forgive him?"
"I do forgive him. We were wrong for each other. If it hadn't been for his affair, we would have made each other miserable for years before I would have admitted it. I've answered your question, now answer mine. Do you think I'm right?"
"As a reward for your honesty, I'll tell James I forgive him right away. I will whisper it in his ear, which will make Peter very jealous. He loves being jealous."
"Wilson also said that you were a truly good person. Are you a truly good person?"
Michelle laughed. "I don't think James is a very keen observer, do you?"
After Michelle whispered in Wilson's ear, he calmed down remarkably and the evening became more relaxed. Margie had a little too much to drink, and her complicated and messy updo fell down, revealing a glorious waist-length mane. Raymond Lynch began to tell a series of increasingly off-colour jokes, while his wife turned pink in embarrassment. Michelle flirted with all the men, even the Lynches' son, and jealous Peter defiantly flirted with all the women. While they were eating dessert, Marta brought Emily up to say good-night, and she kissed Cuddy and Wilson before going to bed. As they were sipping after-dinner liquors, Peter announced that the Berendt Foundation's lawyers and accountants had looked into PPTH and had decided that it was a well-run organization. Consequently, the Foundation had decided to make a one-time donation of five million dollars. The dinner party, which had begun so dismally, was now a celebration.
The next day, Wilson brought House and his two fellows coffee and doughnuts.
"Is that all you've got for me?" House asked.
"What else should I have?"
"My keys, of course."
Wilson took House's spare set from his pocket and tossed them to House.
"You do have another set, right?" he asked.
"In my sock drawer," Wilson confirmed.
"Okay, Lum, Crane. One of you is going to have the privilege of keeping a spare set of my keys. This is how we're going to decide who...."
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Legal Disclaimer: The authors published here make no claims on the ownership of Dr. Gregory House and the other fictional residents of Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. Like the television show House (and quite possibly Dr. Wilson's pocket protector), they are the property of NBC/Universal, David Shore and undoubtedly other individuals of whom I am only peripherally aware. The fan fiction authors published here receive no monetary benefit from their work and intend no copyright infringement nor slight to the actual owners. We love the characters and we love the show, otherwise we wouldn't be here.