There were no stars out; a cool breeze blew off the water, carrying the sting of brine and creosote. Lisa Cuddy sat in the sand, working her toes deeper into the coolness, her
arms wrapped around her knees.
The beach was merely a long stretch of paleness in the dim light of the houses behind
her, and no one else was here; the holiday weekend was nearly over and most of the
crowds had already packed up and headed onto the turnpikes, back to whatever nine to
five jobs awaited them on Monday morning. She looked out over the water and the
waves, enjoying the susurration of them as the sound seeped into her mind, and worked
like white noise against the ongoing frantic spin there.
So much to think about, always. But here, along the quiet of Monmouth far from the
madding crowd, away from the torments of time and tenure and trouble; away from
patients and physicians, away, away from her own bete noir . . . peace. If only for a while.
Lisa knew she’d have to pack up soon, and would make the two AM drive along an
uncrowded highway, getting to the hospital in enough time to go straight to work. It was
getting a little harder these days to pull it off, but still, she could manage.
It was always a thrill to still feel a little sand between her toes in her pumps.
Lisa saw the thin white ribbons of phosphorescence curling on the caps of the waves,
glowing eerily at the crest before the crash, disappearing into the dark water, the roll of
the surf a never-ending rhythm. From her earliest classes she knew the salinity of her
blood matched that of the sea, and that the pull of the moon on the tides pulled her own
cycle just as surely, just as regularly. It would start in two and a half weeks in fact,
Unless she got pregnant.
Her appointment was for three on Tuesday, and part of her despaired the drill even now.
Same cheery banter from Doctor Kane, same cold procedure, same hollow assurances.
Another fifteen hundred dollars for a conception that MIGHT happen. Two attempts
hadn’t and now . . .
She sighed, and reached for her sandals, shaking the sand out of them, then fished in her
purse for her car keys.
They weren’t there.
Lisa took a breath and started a quick careful search. Her purse, the blanket, the
surrounding sand, the parking lot, all yielded nothing. She fought her sense of panic and
tried to think logically, retracing her steps twice, but neither trip turned up anything, and
by the time Lisa had made her way back to the sand, she knew she was going to have to
Her car insurance could send someone out, but they’d take forever, especially on a
holiday weekend, and she’d have to pay for the new key as well. Lisa gritted her teeth
and closed her eyes. She could see her spare set, hanging on the hook by the back door,
so clearly there that she wanted to grab them. Who to call?
Not Jimmy—he was out at his parents in the Hamptons this weekend. Not the Bernsteins;
they were great neighbors, but both Mame and Howie were over seventy now, and not
good at night driving . . . crap. The only one she thought MIGHT be able to get into her
place and out to the beach was the one person she didn’t really want knowing she needed
But at the same time—it was either call House or pay an outrageous fee for a taxi now
and coming back for the car later. Lisa scowled, utterly unthrilled with either of her
Sighing harshly, she reached for her cell phone.
* * *
By the time she caught sight of the headlights sweeping into the parking lot it was nearly
an hour and a half later, and cooler. She warily watched the taxi swing past her car and
stop. As House unfolded himself from the back seat, Lisa frowned in confusion. He
ducked his head back in to pay the driver, and straightened up again, his sardonic smile
beaming out, unexpectedly white in the dim lights of the parking lot.
Lisa crossed to him, her expression tempered with relief. “I thought you’d be here on your Carrotsaki. Keys?”
“Not so fast,” House chided, jingling the pocket of his blazer and eyeing her blatantly. “To
answer your question, I could have ridden out here, probably, but the leg wouldn’t have
taken kindly to the ride back. Forty miles one way is pushing things a bit, but doubling it
would be a very big no-no at this juncture. Nice shorts.”
This last was delivered in a low and somewhat sincere tone; startled, Lisa looked down at herself, then up again at House. She shrugged. “Thanks.”
“So this is where you come to escape . . . “ House mused, looking over the rise of the
dunes, and the wooden boardwalk extending between them towards the dark water. The
tufts of sea oats stood sentinel on the highest peaks, and Lisa turned to follow his line of
vision. She knew she should have been annoyed at having to give this away to him;
House hoarded this sort of personal information, banking it away in his memory. But the
look on his face softened her irritation.
He WAS doing her a favor.
“One place I come,” she amended, brushing a strand of curly hair from her face. “One of
“Liar.” House’s tone was soft, and a little sad. Lisa shifted, caught between arguing and
sighing. Instead, she moved away from him and looked out over the water again, taking a
tiny pleasure in watching a long wave break in a sweep along the water’s edge. House
spoke again. “You go on vacations and trips, Cuddy, but this is the ONLY place you go to escape your troubles. Let’s see if it’s worth it—“
So saying, House confidently began to hobble along the boardwalk, his cane thumping on
the wooden slats underfoot, making them echo. Alarmed, Lisa moved after him. “House!
For God’s sake, it’s the beach—nothing unusual here, all right?”
“Wrong. If this place has had you enthralled for years there has to be something more to
it. You’re obviously anxious for us to leave, therefore we’re staying a while.”
“Greg!” In exasperation, Lisa trailed after him, her momentary gratitude fast evaporating.
House sped up, walking between the dunes and down to the end of the wooden sidewalk,
the breeze blowing his hair a bit. With the thumping, Lisa was reminded of some sea
captain pacing the deck of a ship. She trotted behind, shifting her straw tote and purse to
her other arm.
“Not bad,” came his comment. “I can see some of the charm—uncrowded, not too
polluted . . . “ As if to mock his words a plastic shopping bag blew by; House waved his
cane and snagged it, fishing it off the wood and crumpling it in one hand. Lisa sighed.
“It’s seen better days,” she admitted, moving to stand beside him. House made a
noncommittal sound deep in his throat. For a long moment they stood together, and
Cuddy felt something odd in House’s posture; something new in the set of his shoulders.
Looking up she realized he wasn’t slumping.
“You like it.”
“Maybe,” he admitted honestly. “It’s been a long time since I stepped on a beach.” The
flat pain in his voice hit her unexpectedly, and in Lisa’s mind flashed a fantasy slideshow
of House, from curly-headed child to reckless pre-teen to lanky young adult, all of them
walking easily, running across the sand, long muscled legs and flat stomach, with grins
and noses protected by a cap of zinc oxide.
She bit her lips, and slipped her arm around his free one; he didn’t look down, but his
answering squeeze was quick.
“It’s not the most stable of surfaces.” That came out before Lisa could stop herself;
House rolled his face toward hers and made his ‘duh’ expression at her. She rolled her
eyes in return, “BUT, if you’re willing to hang on to me and the cane, we could . . . “ she
trailed off, leaving the invitation open.
House straightened his head and seemed to consider it.
Then with a grunt, he planted the cane off the end of the boardwalk and stepped down,
into the sloping sand. Lisa tightened her grip on his bicep and stepped down as well,
trying to brace him. He gave a short laugh. “The downward direction isn’t bad. Right or
Cuddy pointed with her chin towards the right, towards the more level side. There were
dunes here, but the spaces between them were wider, and the areas flatter, like little
arenas. House willingly walked with her several yards, until the walkway was nearly out of
sight, and only a few lights twinkled along the curve of the horizon where the coast met
the dark water.
“Nice,” House upgraded his assessment, taking a deep breath. “I miss the bikinis of
“—I’ve still got—“ realizing she’d said too much, Lisa clamped her mouth shut, but House
flashed her a grin, his chin low and his smirk almost sweet.
“Oh yes, now there’s a nice thought. Lisa Cuddy, sandy bottomed bikini babe. It’s a
damned shame Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital doesn’t do a pinup calendar. We
could have you in a little pink number draped over the MRI.”
“Why stop there?” she groused back. “We could get Foreman to pose in a red Speedo, or
maybe Cameron and Chase playing volleyball over the Coma Patient.”
House laughed silently, his shoulders shaking, and Lisa felt proud; it was a hell of a coup
to make Greg laugh about anything. He glanced over at her, and his look was sly but
gentle too. “Jimmy—you know he’d be so slathered in sunscreen he’d look like a basted
A snort escaped her, and House reached over to tug at her tote, pulling her beach
blanket out. He spread it out in one of the little natural alcoves in the high dunes, so that
they were protected from the wind on three sides with only the open view of the ocean in
front of them. Giving in with good grace, Lisa helped House sit, rubbing his leg briefly as
he settled in, resting the cane on top of the sugary-fine sand.
House gave a soft sigh, the air escaping in as he turned his gaze back out towards the
water. Lisa watched his profile in the dim light as she sat next to him on the old quilt.
“So . . .” House began, and that was when Lisa knew she was in trouble.