Wednesdays were, usually, a bad day of the week. House was either frustrated because we hadn't cured the patient yet, or bored because we had. He was also tired, and it was too long for him to just wait until the weekend. This Wednesday was particularly bad, because the case was simple except that the patient had lied to her first doctor. House was angry that the case hadn't been worth it.
We sent the patient home that morning. Foreman had been in the clinic ever since to avoid House—he'd been the one to bring the case to House's attention in the first place. And Cameron had taken the case notes somewhere else to write them up. House was off bothering Cuddy or Wilson, so I stayed to do the crossword and man the office, should anyone stop by looking for House.
I will always be thankful that I was the only one there when she arrived.
I saw her approach along the hallway, heading confidently toward our conference room. She looked familiar, something about the way she walked, but she wasn't a patient, because they were always a little nervous about interrupting a doctor. And she wasn't anyone who knew House, because they were always a little nervous, too. She walked straight through the door and smiled at me.
"You're Robert Chase, aren't you?" she said, getting straight to the point with barely a pause to breath.
I was startled that she knew me, because I didn't know her at all. But also because she was Australian. I hadn't heard my name in that accent in months.
"Yes," I said slowly. I tried to work out who might have sent someone from home to track me down. I was sure I didn't still owe anyone any money.
She stepped forward and held her hand out. I stood up to shake it and took the chance to check her out better. She looked like my aunt Mary: they both had the same short, wavy hair. And her eyes were the same grey that dad's mum's had been. The way she looked at me seemed to freeze time, until she took a deep breath.
"My name's Carla Preston," she said. "I'm your sister."
Robert Chase was not as I had imagined him. I had not spent a terribly long time drawing a mental picture, and looking at him I couldn't even remember what I had expected from our first meeting. He was taller than me, his eyes were a bit green, and his hair was straight, but those physical differences were superficial. He looked familiar, and it felt familiar standing near him.
I dropped his hand and took a seat at the glass table. He fell back into his seat without looking at it and pushed his newspaper away. I waited for him to say anything that might let me know what he thought. I had had months and a whole plane trip to America to think about it. But he didn't try to say anything coherent.
"I was sorry to hear about your dad," I said. Then I winced.
"How did you find me?" he asked, thankfully ignoring my comment.
I had the answer all planned out. "I always knew I was adopted," I said, before the speech failed and I had to work to remember what I needed to explain. "I decided to track down my parents and found our mother's death certificate. We have the same birthday. From there I could find our father's details. I called his wife. She wasn't very pleased to me hear from me."
It wasn't nearly enough for the situation, but hands had started shaking and stopped speaking before the nerves reached my voice. Robert grinned at me. It was just a short flash of teeth, but I was pleased to have made some connection with him. I'm sure his stepmother is an okay woman, but she hadn't endeared herself to me, or apparently, to Robert.
"You came all this way just to say 'hi'?"
He managed to sound reasonably laid-back, but I saw the twitch in his fingers.
"I'm visiting an aunt in New York," I said.
He sighed, relieved, and smiled, a little bit embarrassed. I waved it off.
I was about to make a joke about having a fall back plan in case he turned out to be ugly, but he saw something through the glass behind me and leapt to his feet. A harsh, rough looking man limped through the door with a cane. He looked at me like I was some form of mould that had grown on the chair in his absence, then glanced at Robert and smiled. Robert looked taken aback.
"Robert, a guest!" the man said, he sounded delighted and maybe a bit suspicious, too.
Chase almost choked on his own tongue. The girl noticed it. She looked less relaxed when I had held my hand out to her. But she shook it firmly. She looked like a little, curly version of Chase. I wondered where she had come from. Chase was looking scared like he does before I do something brilliant. He stepped forward: protection.
"House, this is Carla Preston. She's not a patient. Carla, Dr Greg House, my boss."
You don't sound very proud of me, Robbie. I'm wounded.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Carla," I said. I tried out my welcoming voice; if people think you're nice, they think you're gullible. I'm a little rusty, but it worked to make Chase look very nervous. "How do you know Chase?" I asked.
I narrowed my eyes. She glanced sideways at Chase. Smart girl.
"We have mutual friends," she lied.
"She's my sister," Chase said.
Way to ruin the suspense. At least she was upfront about telling him. Unless that was part of the scam. She'd take watching.
"She just showed up? Out of the blue?"
Carla nodded. Chase nodded.
"And you know for sure she isn't scamming you?"
Chase rolled his eyes. Carla shrugged. Points for her, although I didn't really doubt her story it at all. Who'd lie to say they were related to Chase?
"I get to do a blood test!"
It was worth it for Chase's scowl. Carla was nervous. Just the way I like them. There was another questioning glance at Chase. Chase nodded. I walked over to the drawer to rummage for the things I'd need.
Chase unbuttoned his cuff. Nice arms. Horrible shirt. Good vein. He wanted to the tie the bandage himself. I rolled my eyes and didn't make it spitefully tight. He should thank me. He just scowled as I watched Carla strip down to her tank top. She had much better taste in clothes and even nicer arms than Chase. But a weak vein. Possibly low in iron; I'd check.
I held the vials up to the light. Blood just looks red under natural light. I shook them at them.
"Hmm. Should probably run it through a machine or something."
I'm sure Chase rolled his eyes at my back as I left. But it was just to impress his sister. I know he could never leave me. I wondered what Cuddy would say about the tests.
Robert looked daggers at his boss as he left. He rubbed his arm below his bandage and lowered himself back into his chair.
"He's a bit of a character," I offered.
Robert cracked another brief grin.
"He's usually just a bastard."
I grinned at the bemused edge to his voice, but it quickly faded when Robert didn't perk up. He was just staring at the corridor where his boss had disappeared. I leant across the table and cuffed him on the shoulder. He shook himself and smiled properly.
"Do you want to get lunch?" he asked.
I automatically looked at my watch. It was past one o'clock, but I didn't feel at all hungry.
"Is the cafeteria good?" I asked.
"Better then you'd think," Robert said.
He pushed himself off the table and I followed him through the corridors. The cafeteria was better than I had expected from a hospital, and the food looked edible. It smelled appetising, too, and I looked forward to using it as a distraction from parts of the conversation we'd have to have.
Robert found a table at the back of the room in a spot that let him keep watch over the door. I slid my tray in opposite him, dropped into the chair and tried to think of an opening gambit.
"Where did you grow up?" Robert asked.
"Melbourne," I said. He rolled his eyes to say that was obvious.
"Footscray," I clarified. He grinned again.
"What?" I demanded.
"Westie," he said, but he didn't really mean it.
"I made it out. You?"
"South of the river," I said. "Nice." I couldn't manage the level of scorn my classmates had used to describe the rich people; Robert didn't sound proud.
That's what we discussed as I ate my way through a plate of some sort of cream pasta: which schools we had attended, what we remembered about the Ash Wednesday fires, which Shakespeare play we had studied in English. It was superficial and polite; all we had to do was fill the silence and Robert was good to talk to. Perhaps that was the doctor training. He did seem permanently on edge, but I thought that that might just be having to deal with his boss.
He paused in the middle of telling me about the clown who had knocked himself unconscious at his sixth birthday party to check his pager. He smiled strangely at the message.
"We're twins," he said. He looked up at me, his expression tense, obviously waiting for my reaction.
I grinned. It was a relief to know for sure. Without that question still open, we'd be able to have whatever we made of our relationship, if we decided we wanted anything at all. And, of not, at least we'd met each other. Suddenly it was easy. The flow of the earlier conversation settled into comfortable silence. Until I ruined it.
"What about your– my– our mum?"
I was waiting for her to ask about mum. It comes up eventually. I got used to sympathetic looks I got from people. And people asking, 'Was it cancer?' as if they knew what that would mean. I got used to saying 'yes,' too, because it's easier, and feeling bad about being ashamed of my mum. I still didn't know Carla at all. But I never considered not giving Carla the whole truth.
"She drank herself to death."
Carla was good to talk to; she just nodded in the right spots as I told about the last fight and mum trying to hide the suitcases so dad couldn't leave. Mum cleaned the whole house from top to bottom after he left, and for three weeks it was the best it had ever been. She even came to footy training on Saturday. Then everything slowly slid apart and I was left trying to hold onto the pieces.
"How old were you?"
"Nineteen. I dropped out of the seminary. Dad said he'd support me though medicine. Here I am."
It didn't come out nearly as nonchalant as I had been aiming for, but Carla let me get away with it. That was a blessed relief.
"And they never once said anything?"
"Not to me," I said with a shrug.
But I owed her more than that, and I knew it.
"Maybe," I said. I drew the memories out. "They talked about having another kid once or twice. But they had decided, just one. They had a good son. Dad used to say that, say it was enough."
I began to hate him again, which was strange, because Carla didn't seemed phased by the news at all. I could tell by the set of her shoulders. Mum had looked exactly the same whenever I was upset that dad hadn't come home. She would put the worry away and think about other things.
Carla shrugged shoulders. I said the first thing I thought of.
"Mum asked for you once."
The memory returned surround sound without warning. It was on one of the early mornings, when she was sober enough to know what was happening, but not awake enough to need a drink yet. Her bedroom got the morning sun, and I would check in on her before I got myself breakfast. She looked straight at me and spoke more lucidly than she had in months.
"She asked for her baby back. I thought she meant me. I felt bad because I was a teenager. But she said, if you couldn't have dad, she wanted her baby back."
Carla bit her lip and closed her eyes. I couldn't tell if it was for me or for mum, but I didn't really care. I picked up my fork and prodded the wilted lettuce leaves I'd abandoned.
"We need a new topic," Carla said, after long enough for me to push all the lettuce to one side of my plate and spread it out again. Her voice was flat, and tried to get back some of the ease of the small talk.
"Do you have a boyfriend?"
She tried to look indignant for a second, then she gave up and just sighed.
"Good," I said. "I'm not sure I'd be good at the big brother stand over thing."
"You're sure you're the older one?" she asked, grinning.
"Of course. I'm better looking."
Carla began to laugh so hard she couldn't say anything in response. I chalked that one up as a win.
"I should get older sibling rights as compensation," she eventually managed to say.
"All right, you can be the pretty one," I told her.
She smiled brightly at me.
I grinned back.
I had a sister.