Chapter 19: Attribution Issues
Chase's disgrace and Lisa's downfall combine to contribute to the termination of Pete's activities at Philadelphia Central. Chase, soon back at work, wouldn't have minded continuing their weird partnership, but his new boss, bent on lasting longer than Lisa did, shows little flexibility and hardly any inclination to compromise on … anything, really. Radiology remembers that there's such a thing as a schedule and a waiting list, the lab insists on paperwork in exchange for blood work, and all of a sudden it isn't just Chase who has to approve of spinal taps and liver biopsies, but Chase's boss as well, a spineless twerp who shows a tedious tendency to refer Pete and Chase to the dean. There's just no way Pete can work like that, so he stops trying.
He briefly considers expanding his cooperation with Foreman in Seattle, but quickly discards the notion: Seattle is not close enough to Philadelphia to help him out in a major way, and Foreman is as much a stickler for rules as Chase's annoying boss, though his reasons are different. Foreman doesn't use rules in order to evade responsibility, he believes in them in a way that neither Chase nor Lisa do, and the older he gets, the less he is prepared to bend or adjust them to suit the diagnostic process. It's a real pity, because the man is undeniably talented. He'll probably end his career as the highly respected dean of some major hospital or other, but for Pete's purposes he's a dead end.
This doesn't turn out to be the deal breaker that he feared it might be with regard to the length and duration of his stays in Philly. An unexpected opportunity presents itself: Allison Cameron of PPTH's diagnostic department asks him to work with them. He goes to the initial meeting with few expectations, but comes out of it pleasantly surprised: after months — years! — of countering his requests for information on his former patients with every bureaucratic obstacle imaginable, Allison Cameron suddenly eyes him with benign approval.
Turns out that she has heard of his and Wilson's marriage. She cherishes the romantic notion of furthering the rights of gay couples in general, and Wilson's marital bliss in particular, by offering Wilson's spouse opportunities to spend time close to Philadelphia. It's no end irritating to have her squeeing just because he's in a gay marriage; if anyone knew the now archaic meaning of 'gay', they'd realise that his marriage is nothing of the sort. According to Chase, however, Cameron has been fan-girling for him since Day One, only going into hiatus when her superficial feminist kicked her innate fan girl in the butt, hard. Still, Cameron's attitude towards rules is fairly flexible and she's willing to take on his paperwork — what other consultant can boast of having the head of a department as his informal PA? — so he endures the bullshit she spouts about compassion and empathy in patient care with a stiff upper lip (or with a scathing comment, as the case may be).
As a result he manages to divide his time almost equally between Bristol and Philadelphia. Well, not quite, but he's getting there. There's just so much familial bliss that he can take before he needs a round of communicative austerity, Gavin's unchallenging conversation, and jazz or blues with the Bristol crowd.
It's not like he is needed in Drexel; sometimes he feels that he's being tolerated because everyone is too charitable to tell him that he's a complete cop-out in every respect. Neither Lisa nor Wilson are strong on charity, but in their drive to 'do what's best for darling Joey' they're prepared to go out of their way to be nice to him. If he were a kid, his report card would read 'Peter has achieved basic skills at such-and-such' (this kid sucks at what he does) or 'His performance satisfied our expectations' (because we didn't have any) or 'He has shown a good attitude in trying to improve' (but didn't actually make any progress).
He knows he's an utter failure when Lisa volunteers to take Joel to his swimming class the next time Wilson goes off to shag Melanie. She says that it's a good opportunity to get Rachel to go into the water, because Rachel doesn't want to flounder around with other crippled kids anymore, but it's obviously a ploy to ensure that Wilson doesn't freak when he finds out that Joel hasn't been to his swimming class again. There's no way that Lisa can enjoy an outing to the swimming pool with two kids, one of whom tries to kill himself by slipping on wet tiles or throwing himself into the deep end of the pool whenever she turns her back on him so she can get the other one, the disabled one, into her swimsuit.
Nevertheless Pete is grateful for her attempts to keep the peace, grateful enough to accompany them to the pool and keep an eye on Joel while Lisa gets Rachel ready for swimming. In fact, he even goes so far as to squeeze Joel into his bathing shorts, shower him after the event, and get him dressed, arduous tasks that the bugger resists with all his might.
During the lesson Pete sits by the poolside with a soda, 'checking out the chicks in bikinis' (as he tells Rachel when she asks what he's going to do while they're in the pool), while Lisa participates in the swimming class, chatting easily with the other moms and dads. Joel socks some other kid who gets in his way on the mouth (her dad kindly pretends it was an accident when Lisa apologises profusely, turning on the full wattage of her charm and cleavage) and Rachel cavorts next to the group, her movements about as graceful as those of a roach caught in a puddle, but proud as punch that she can swim better than the toddlers.
Afterwards, at dinner, the little squirt is too tired to be a nuisance, while Pete pacifies the bigger squirt with his cooking. Lisa tells him that, yes, by the standards of other parents, he may be a failure, but by a child's standards he's doing just fine, and isn't it Joel's standard he's trying to live up to, not those of the other parents who he despises anyway? He informs Lisa that she may not be a brilliant doctor, but that her experience and expertise should more than suffice for the sub-standard stuff she needs to teach. With such pleasantries they manage to get through the first weekend without Wilson. And through the subsequent ones, because as often as not, Wilson takes advantage of Pete's presence in Philly to spend a night in Boston.
When Wilson is around, the programme is somewhat less strenuous. On Saturdays everyone goes to the synagogue, unless Lisa is too busy, in which case Wilson and the kids go, while Lisa goes in to work. That gives Pete time to go for an extended run. Wilson and Lisa share cooking chores, so all he has to do is 'supervise' the kids in the yard or take Joel to an indoor play centre. It isn't exactly rocket science. During the week it's even easier, because Esther takes the brunt of everything from diapers to tantrums. All things considered, he's coping. He'd even go so far as to say that he's capable of attaining an acceptable level of proficiency. … Okay, maybe not.
His first educational project is teaching Joel his name. He develops a system of incentives and rewards, sacrifices an afternoon of his precious time – he even sends Esther away, so that the atmosphere of concentration and learning isn't disrupted by outer constraints such as meals or afternoon naps – and is ready to present his results to Wilson when Wilson returns from work.
"Kid," he says to the boy when Wilson is seated and ready for a demonstration, "who is Greg?"
Wilson's eyebrows rise. "Greg?"
"Shurrup! Don't distract him." Pete hisses at him. He turns back to Joel, enunciating clearly, "Show me Greg!"
Joel's face lights up and he chortles, grabbing Pete's index finger and pulling him into the kitchen where he jiggles up and down excitedly, pointing to something on the shelf.
"'Wow!" Wilson says from the doorway, grinning widely. "What a success!" He goes to the shelf, takes the jar of cookies down, and gives one to Joel. "Here, have a 'Greg'. Guess who's changing the bed sheets if you upchuck tonight?"
"Why 'Greg'?" Wilson asks later. "Why not … ?"
"'House' is practically a term of abuse."
"What about Pop or Father or … . You probably know the word for father in ten different languages."
"Twenty, more likely," he answers absently. "He can call me 'father' in any language he likes when he feels that I deserve the appellation."
"A-ha," Wilson says. "In your opinion, what requirements does a parent have to fulfil in order to 'deserve' to be called Dad or Father?"
Pete doesn't deign to answer. It's easy for Wilson to radiate confidence: there's little doubt that he fulfils all requirements.
"Why not 'Pete', like the Cuddy girls call you?" Wilson asks presently.
Pete sighs, rubbing a hand over his face. "Because Peter Barnes is a myth. He doesn't exist. I'm Gregory House, formerly board-licensed physician, born in Lexington, Massachusetts in 1960. We're not raising that kid to believe in myths."
He senses Wilson staring at him. "Isn't that what you always wanted, that I acknowledge my past?" he barks.
"It's not as satisfying as I thought it would be," Wilson admits. "Is there no one else who calls you Pete?"
Lisa and Rachel are the only two people in the US who still call him 'Pete'. Maybe Lisa prefers to live a lie (and maybe he's happy to let Lisa believe in a lie), but it's her own free choice. She could follow Wilson's example if she liked; after all, she knows the truth. In England, the Bristol crowd, cottoning on that he isn't called 'Pete Barnes', but not really sure who or what he is, have stopped referring to him by name altogether. The verbal contortions they go through in order to avoid calling him by an appellation that they fear might cause offence are mildly amusing. (He supposes he should inform them that they're free to call him Greg.) Only his landlord Gavin, oblivious to his current identity status despite the fact that mail addressed to 'Gregory House' lands in his letterbox regularly, still resolutely calls him 'Pete'.
Oh, and he sees himself as Pete. It's the name everyone used when he woke up with retrograde amnesia after his electroshock therapy, it's the name that he connects with his first memories, it's the name with which he had to make do the first three years of his personal era, the era pEST(post Electro-Shock Therapy).
Nevertheless, he isn't merely the sum of his present memories. The person he is today was shaped long before he woke up in a British clinic bed, with bright lights flashing in his eyes, low voices conferring in the background and no memories of his personal history of the past fifty years or so.
"We could symbolically bury Pete Barnes — or burn him, if you prefer," Wilson suggests.
Pete swivels around to stare at him.
Wilson is serious. "That would give you closure, you know. You'd ritually say farewell to the past and, uh, welcome the present."
This is exactly what he doesn't need: New Age mumbo-jumbo disguised as rites of passage. Besides, who or what is 'Gregory House', if not the past? "And how do you picture this rite? Ritual sacrifice of infants under a new moon at a crossroad?" he asks bitingly. "Seppuku in Central Park?"
Wilson shifts uncomfortably. "You probably have invalidated papers of Peter Barnes — his passport or driver's license — somewhere. We could burn them, maybe at the Mayfield Open Day. I'm sure Nolan would —"
He manages to talk Wilson out of making a big deal of his return to 'Greg House' — if that's what it is. That doesn't mean that Wilson isn't interested in the Open Day. He wants to go because this year's event is special: Nolan is retiring and the Open Day is an unofficial farewell, so to say. Besides, according to Wilson there'll be tons of kids' activities, so he intends to drag Joel there with him. Pete privately thinks that taking Joel is a crappy idea, because Wilson won't be able to have meaningful conversations with Joel tugging at his hand, whining when he's tired, and wanting to participate in activities that are meant for kids five times his age, but that's Wilson's headache.
He rethinks his stance when Wilson mentions that he's taking Rachel there too; it isn't just a crappy idea, it's utter insanity.
"What do you think Rachel is gonna do there?" he snarls at Wilson, waving the flyer advertising the Open Day at him. "Bouncy Castle? Kids' Rodeo? Dance to music played by the Rolling Raccoons?"
"Rolling Raccoons?" Wilson asks, diverted.
"Do you love rock 'n' roll music? The Rolling Raccoons, former Mayfield inmates united by their love for music, will fulfill your every need. Book us for weddings, anniversaries, and business occasions," Pete reads aloud before balling up the flyer and tossing it at Wilson.
Wilson straightens it out on the coffee table. "Ah, now I remember. Chase plays with them, or used to play with them before they went commercial. They used to have some other name — Mayfield Madmen, I think. May have been bad for business. … I'll find something for Rachel to do. I can't not take her; she'll think it's because I don't love her."
"I do love her. … She's having a rough time."
"That's a non sequitur."
"One wasn't meant to follow on the other. The first statement corrected your erroneous assumption about my feelings for Rachel; the second explained why I feel the need to include her in our family activity. I'm sorry if I was too fast for you and two causally unconnected statements overtax your brain."
It's interesting that Wilson isn't citing his usual reason for dragging Rachel along to whatever brain-rotting activity he has planned for Joel, namely 'giving Cuddy a break', even though she could definitely do with one. She is overworked (which isn't exactly news) and underpaid (which is definitely a first) in her new job; her employers are hoping for miracles, but Lisa is no god. Chris Clark's abrupt departure from her life hasn't exactly helped matters. Perhaps Rachel is having a rough time in the wake of Lisa's career change and relationship fiasco, but that doesn't explain Wilson's sudden surge of parental responsibility towards her.
So that evening Pete goes downstairs, ostensibly to smoke on Lisa's deck, but actually to sound her on what is going on. It's dusk, but the temperatures are still a comfortable 75° outside. Lisa is on the deck with her computer, her face illuminated by the screen, an extension cord snaking across the deck from the living room. She has a glass of something-or-other, probably lemonade, in front of her and is typing as though bugs would bite her fingers if she slowed down. In the yard Rachel's swing creaks slowly and ominously. She can't be reading; it's so dark already that he can barely make out the swing set.
He throws down cigarettes and lighter on the table and pulls out the chair next to Lisa's. Lisa automatically shuts the laptop and rises; it's something between a ritual and an unspoken agreement that when he comes to smoke on the deck, Lisa departs. Some days he smokes not because he craves the nicotine, but because smoking ensures him solitude. Today, however, he doesn't want solitude; he wants information.
"Stay," he says, pushing the cigarettes to the middle of the table where they are out of his reach to show that he isn't going to light up.
Lisa sits down again. "You want something to drink?" she asks.
There's never any alcohol in the entire place, upstairs or downstairs, the occasional bottle of wine that Lisa used to keep on the premises for Clark having disappeared along with him, and ever since Lisa put Rachel on a diet, she doesn't stock soda anymore either, so he shakes his head. Lisa nods and opens the lid of her laptop again. The screen lights up immediately.
"Why is Wilson feeling guilty?" he asks abruptly before she can immerse herself in her work again.
"Is Wilson feeling guilty?" Lisa asks back, not even looking up from her screen.
He leans forward and flips the lid shut on her fingers, but not too hard. Lisa scowls as she extracts her fingers from between cover and keyboard, but pushes the laptop aside. "Okay," she says. "Spit it out."
"On Saturday he's taking Rachel to the Open Day at Mayfield."
"So? He spent months there; is it so surprising that he should want to meet up with his former carers and give Nolan a fitting send-off?"
"That doesn't explain why Wilson offered to take Rachel as well as Joel. If he takes both of them, there's no way he'll interact with anyone there. He said she's having a rough time, but she's always having a rough time. What has he done?"
"Nothing. ... But he's right; Rachel's school life has just hit an all-time low."
Lisa leans slightly towards him and lowers her voice so that it won't carry to the swing set. "Her class went on an excursion the first week of school and she wanted in. It's the first time they've been on more than an overnighter; it was a whole week in Washington and Chesapeake Bay. I said, fine, and offered to go with them, but the teacher didn't want that. Neither did Rachel. She wanted to be like the others. Her teacher said she'd handle everything, wake Rachel on time, make sure she catheterised, and so on, so I explained everything to her, gave her the file with Rachel's care instructions, and hoped for the best."
Lisa falls silent. He can picture it: the teacher overconfident and ignorant; Lisa doubtful, but unwilling to hover; Rachel sick of being the focus of curiosity and pity.
"What went wrong, bladder infection?"
Lisa blows air into her hairline. "I'd told the teacher that Rachel needed extra time in the morning for her bowel programme, but I guess she thought I was being overprotective and not strict enough with Rachel — or maybe she didn't think at all. I don't know. She woke Rachel half an hour before the others the first morning, not one hour as we'd agreed, and that wasn't enough. Rachel didn't have a bathroom to herself, so when the others knocked on the bathroom door and insisted that she get out, she interrupted her bowel programme. She didn't dare tell her teacher what happened — for fear of getting the others into trouble, I think — and the teacher didn't enquire about her hygiene programme. Same thing the next morning."
"Great!" he says. "The teacher is a moron."
"Yes," Lisa agrees quietly. Her tone says more about her state of mind than any rant could have done; she's fuming. "At midday, in the bus on the way to someplace, Rachel's bowels caved. She was mortified to the bone, had a complete meltdown, and insisted that I pick her up. Seems that her classmates had a few choice words to say about the smell before the teacher managed to get the situation under control and Rachel out of the bus. The teacher was apologetic, but basically said that Rachel should have told her that she couldn't get her bowel programme done. Now Rachel is refusing to go back to school. She's been at home since Monday."
It's Wednesday now. Rachel isn't about to turn into an illiterate. He shrugs. "So what's the problem?"
"She can't stay at home forever!"
"Esther's there to look after Joel. She can keep an eye on Rachel too. It's not like Rachel can run away."
"Nice!" Lisa says, not amused at all. "That's what we're doing this week. I got a sick note from her paediatrician, but he says Rachel can't avoid situations like that forever via sick notes. He won't give her one for next week."
"Make Wilson write her a sick note. As I said, he's feeling guilty about something, so he'll do it."
"A sick note from an oncologist?"
"Who's to know that she doesn't have cancer?"
Lisa seems to give the idea some consideration. But then she shakes her head. "Her paediatrician is right. We have to deal with this some other way."
"Her school insists that she come back immediately, after what happened?" he asks. That seems over the top even for the elitist school that Lisa selected for her sprog.
Lisa leans back tiredly. "I'm getting mixed signals from them. Her class teacher, the idiot who mucked it all up, isn't insisting on anything, but she's young and carries no clout. She is busy downplaying her own role in this so that the school administration doesn't roast her for being an irresponsible goose. I told the school administration about Rachel's feelings after the bus incident, but they chose to believe her teacher's version of events in Washington, which probably featured an overprotective mother and a hypersensitive, spoilt kid. The school has a thing about regular attendance: they didn't take too kindly to her absence before the summer vacation. Besides, Rachel is in the school percussion group. They have rehearsals all through next week, and the first competitive performance the week after."
"Competitive percussion playing?" Pete asks, chuckling. "What do they do, throw cymbals at the other groups?"
"Think 'Glee'," Lisa advises, "with drums instead of singing. It's up and coming, and Rachel's school has good chances of winning some championship or other; I forget which one."
Lisa obviously doesn't care a dog's turd for her kid's career in music, so Pete still can't see the problem. "So, they'll have one basin banger less. The world won't come to an end."
"Apparently it will. The percussion group leader, an overzealous music teacher, has informed me that rehearsals are of the essence and that Rachel is 'endangering the success of the group'." Lisa flicks a dismissive hand.
"And we care, because?" Pete prompts. This is ludicrous on twenty different levels.
"We don't, but the thing is that this guy has made snide asides about Rachel's attitude in front of the percussion kids. They — and their parents — take the competition very seriously. Some of the parents have called, ostensibly to ask how Rachel is doing or to apologise for their kids' behaviour on the bus, but actually to persuade me to get Rachel back to rehearsals. If they lose that stupid competition, then no matter what, Rachel will be blamed. It's ridiculous, because all the teacher has to do is give Rachel's solo to some other kid; she isn't so talented that someone else couldn't learn to play it in a week."
"Why aren't you busting his balls?"
"Regretting Rachel's absence and indicating that it considerably lessens the group's chances of winning the competition isn't a punishable offence, even if the inference is clear."
"Okay," Pete says. "I get the picture. How's Mayfield supposed to help?"
"No idea. The outing gets Rachel off my back so I can get some work done — if 'crazy percussion teacher' or 'insistent school administration' don't bombard me with phone calls."
"Switch schools," he advises.
"Pete, it's September! It's much too late to find a new school for Rachel."
He isn't conversant with the intricacies of school admission policies, so he'll have to take her word for it. With the right incentive (money), however, any school can be brought to its knees. The question is whether Lisa has the financial wherewithal at the moment to gently persuade a reluctant school administration to take her crippled cutie. Not his problem, though.
He rises and wanders to the swing set. Rachel is lying on her back, eyes closed, swinging gently, wriggling her torso every now and then to keep the swing in motion. He leans forward to pull her earbuds out.
"Hey!" she says indignantly.
"Heard about your tribulations."
"My what? Never mind. … I don't want to talk about it."
"Neither do I, but your mom is wetting her pants with worry."
Rachel gives him the stink eye. "I don't care. None of your business." She starts replacing her earbuds.
Okay, that's a pretty accurate summary of the situation: it is none of his business, and whether Lisa is worried or not isn't Rachel's problem. He tweaks the earbuds out of her hands, gives them a tug to disconnect them from her MP3-player and holds them out of her reach. "I'm making it my business. How is Wilson involved in all this?"
"Guy who lives in the apartment above yours. You may have noticed him coming and going every now and then."
Rachel smiles reluctantly. "He isn't involved. He has Joel; he doesn't need to look after me."
Okay, sibling rivalry. Not unexpected, but also not connected to the problem as such. "Then why is he bothered?"
"No idea. He thinks Mom needs support because Chris up and left, but that's stupid, because Mom managed fine before she dated Chris. He feels bad about Chris leaving."
That isn't the impression Pete has gotten: it seems to him that Wilson is relieved that Chris has left the scene, a sentiment that he doesn't find surprising insofar as he pretty much shares it. This conversation isn't helpful at all. The whole evening has been a waste so far. He has been inundated with information that he could well do without, but he's no closer to figuring out why Wilson is on a guilt trip than he was a few hours ago. He's beginning to doubt his own perception.
"Can I plug in again now?" Rachel asks with an air of bored irritation.
"Nope. What would need to happen for you to go back to school?"
"I don't want to go to school again, ever!"
Pete huffs impatiently. "I got that. I'm not interested in what you want. I want to know your price. How much?"
"No school," Rachel repeats, now impatient herself.
"You haven't got the hang of bargaining yet, lady. You name your price, I name what I'm willing to pay, and we meet somewhere in the middle."
Rachel finally cottons on, thank goodness! "You're gonna give me money to go back to school?"
"Or some other thing that you want – provided I'm in a position to give it to you."
Rachel stares at him, the cogs in her head whirring visibly. But in the end she says, "I just wanna stay at home." She covers her eyes with her arm.
"Jeez!" Pete grouses, throwing the earbuds into the nest swing. "You're no fun."
Lisa, back at work, barely looks up when he returns. "Any luck?"
"No," he mutters. "She says Wilson feels bad about Clark absconding at the altar."
"He didn't leave me standing at the altar! I refused him when he proposed."
He ignores her, straddling one of the chairs and rolling the lighter along his knuckles. Why would Wilson feel guilty about Clark? It was a win for him.
"But," Lisa says, propping her chin up on one hand, "I think Wilson is feeling guilty because Joel has two parents (three, if you count Amy) while Rachel only has one. He made a pretty tactless remark about it just before your wedding, and he's been self-flagellating ever since. While Chris was around it looked like Rachel might win the father stakes for once, but now that that race is run, Wilson is back to feeling bad about Joel's windfall, so he's trying to make it up to Rachel."
Pete considers this. "Rachel has a bio dad."
Lisa's chuckle is mirthless. "Simon? … Let's agree not to count Amy or Simon. Then Joel is one up on Rachel."
Pete sucks in his lips and blows them out with a plop. "You're counting me as a full parent." Before Lisa can protest that he is a full parent, he continues, "And you're not counting Wilson's impact on Rachel's life. He's more of a parent to her than I am to Joel."
"Look, this isn't about crunching numbers. Wilson's feelings about the situation aren't an exact science. If his impression is that Joel has a clear advantage, then —"
"You're wrong," Pete says suddenly. "Wrong about Wilson's motives. You're right about it not being about the math of the situation."
He sees his mistake now; it's the same one that he made with regard to Rachel's school attendance. The clue to getting Rachel back into school isn't making Rachel see the situation differently, but the school. Similarly, the clue to Wilson's behaviour towards Rachel isn't something that's happening to Rachel, but something that is happening to Wilson, and that would be — Melanie!
He rises and swings the chair out from under him, turning it back to the table before heading back to the house. In the doorway he pauses. "You wanna give me the number of Rachel's school?"
"Pete, it isn't your problem," Lisa says with finality. "And I definitely prefer dealing with them myself. The last time you 'dealt' with them, I ended up donating a new set of outdoor tables and chairs to the school."
"Suit yourself," he says. He knows where to find Melanie's number, at any rate.
|Previous Chapter||Chapter Index||Next Chapter|