When Foreman walked in at three p.m. on the dot, the preschool classroom was bright, colorful, tidy, and completely empty. Foreman had expected House to be late, but where were Dylan and the new teacher? He was just about to go to the administrative office to complain when the door swung open and a forty-something gray manatee of a woman entered with Dylan in tow.
“There we are!” she over-enunciated, voice stuffed full of chrome. “All done with the bathroom. And here’s someone you might know.” She gently but firmly pushed Dylan forward.
“Hi, Dad,” Dylan said, with absolutely no affect to his voice. Still pissed about that morning’s enforcement of the no-cartoons-before-preschool-even-if-House-is-watching-them rule, then. Ah well.
Foreman replied, “Hey, kiddo,” and was not at all surprised to see Dylan turn away and head to the opposite side of the room. The boy had inherited every single one of House’s stubborn genes, and there had to be a good ten thousand of those.
Manatee Woman – Foreman stopped right there. He refused to fall into House’s habit of sticking everyone with ridiculous nicknames. Foreman had a better grasp of basic manners than that. Ms. Bandura stretched out a hand, gesturing him toward one of the tiny blue chairs.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. House,” she said, looking more like a sea cow than ever.
“It’s Dr. Foreman,” he replied and tried to make himself comfortable.
Ms. Bandura gaped a little, but seemed to try to cover it up by fussing with her chair as she sat. “Oh. Certainly. House is Dylan’s mother’s name, then?”
Foreman smirked. House may have carried Dylan inside him for nine months, but he resisted the “mother” title the way feral cats resisted baths. So, of course, Foreman felt a smug sense of pleasure every time it came up. “In a manner of speaking.”
Whatever Ms. Bandura’s next words would have been were swept away in the tidal wave of argument rolling down the hall and to the doorway of the classroom. “No, Mr. Buttinsky,” House was insisting vehemently, “you’re my ride, not my wife, so stay out of it.”
“But, House,” Wilson replied, in the “I am the voice of reason” tone that set Foreman’s teeth on edge. “As a father, I’ve been through this before; I can help you. When a new teacher joins the classroom mid-year, of course she’s going to have some questions, but it’s important to –” His attempt to follow House into the room was rebuffed by an elbow to the chest.
“Sit!” House snapped, pushing Wilson back into the hallway. “Stay! There’s a good dog. Don’t try those eyes on me; I’ll swat you with a rolled-up newspaper.” One last shove and a swinging door, and House was in the room and Wilson was not. “Gah. Let a guy pick out and pay for your kid’s preschool, and suddenly he thinks he’s part of the process.”
As Foreman watched, House’s eyes swept over the room, taking in Dylan peacefully playing with a toy in the corner, Foreman waiting ever-so patiently, and finally Ms. Bandura. “You,” House declared, pointing at her. “Make with the real person chair now. Unlike some people, my manly frame can’t be contained by the Lilliputian furniture in here.”
Ms. Bandura scrambled to retrieve the one adult chair from behind her desk; Foreman shook his head at House. “You’re off your game, old man. I think there was an insult in there but can’t find it behind the lame. Bad case?”
Rubbing his forehead in obvious frustration, House dropped into the chair Ms. Bandura provided. “I need an immunologist on my team, and my hard-ass boss Cerberus is guarding the budget like the hound of hell she is. Think withholding sex would work?”
“You’re in a position to withhold sex from your sister? Yeah, you can move out tomorrow.”
“Not me.” A sneer stretched across House’s lips. For a guy who dished out the sarcasm like breathing, he sometimes had difficulty distinguishing sincerity from sarcasm in Foreman, even after all this time. Foreman loved it.
“I’ll twist Wilson’s arm for him to withhold,” House continued. “Fortunately, he’s really into the limb-twisting thing, so that can tide him over during the enforced celibacy. Two days ought to do it, don’t you think? I’ll get my immunologist, and Cuddy’ll have Jimmy-boy chained to the bed again in no time.”
Foreman had long ago built up his mental shielding to ward off any and all images of Wilson and Cuddy alone together. Too much pale skin, too much estrogen-testosterone crossover, too much... He slammed up the shields again. “House, as much fun as it always is to speculate on the color of your sister’s dominatrix outfit, we’re here to talk about Dylan.”
“True.” House turned to Ms. Bandura, who had settled at the table with a slightly shell-shocked look. “Your show – put it on the road.”
“Um,” she replied. “And who are you?”
“Dylan’s real father. Chop-chop, let’s go.” House’s flicks of impatient scorn were more agitated than usual – case must have been particularly urgent. And yet he’d shown for this hastily scheduled parent-teacher conference anyway. Huh.
“This is Dr. House,” Foreman explained.
Bandura’s eyes had gone almost completely circular. “Oh. I was under the impression that both parents would be here.”
Foreman resisted the urge to smack his head (or the sea cow’s). They hadn’t had this much difficulty with any of the other staff at this preschool. A strongly worded note of advice would be going to the school director immediately after they got out of here.
“Hm,” House said, shifting forward to stare Bandura down. “I’m not up on my basic math, you know, being a doctor and all, but I seem to recall ‘both’ means ‘two.’” He pointed to Foreman and then himself. “One, two. That is the order the numbers go in, right?”
Shifting in her small seat, Bandura took a deep breath and seemed to collect herself. “Yes, of course. I was simply wondering if Dylan’s mother would be joining us as well. With a subject of this importance, all the adults who nurture and influence Dylan’s life should be present.”
House jerked a thumb over his shoulder toward the door and ordered Foreman, “Go let him in.”
“Me?” Wilson was House’s remora, not Foreman’s. “Get your lazy butt up, and do it yourself.”
Grasping at his thigh, House said flatly, “Ow, ow, my leg.” He was so going to pay for that later, but Foreman didn’t have time for a stand-off now, either.
Wilson had better not have gone far, Foreman thought as he crossed the room. I don’t want to have to – He snatched the door open and was startled when Wilson practically fell through the doorway.
With a quick sheepish smile, Wilson hurried to a chair directly across from Ms. Bandura, between House’s seat and Foreman’s. “OK, OK,” House said impatiently. “Wilson gets his wish, and the gang’s all here, so let’s talk about my boy.”
“What about Dylan’s mother?” Ms. Bandura asked, and good God, was this woman dense. Foreman opened his mouth to reply but House beat him to the punch.
“You want Dylan’s primary female influence, then Priscilla here –” House nodded sharply toward Wilson, whose preemptive ruffle-smoothing smile was already so firmly fixed he didn’t even react to the female name – “is going to have to suffice.”
Wilson reached a warm hand across the table, and damn, Bandura was almost blushing. Foreman rolled his eyes.
“I’m Dylan’s uncle, James Wilson. It’s a pleasure to meet you. You’ve taken on quite a challenge, filling in for Ms. Tsampouna in the middle of the year like this. I admire that.”
“It’s a wonderful class and a wonderful school,” Bandura replied, holding onto Wilson’s hand a fraction of a second longer than politeness would require. “I would’ve preferred to get to know the children and their families a little better beforehand, but under the circumstances, I had to jump right in and get started.”
The director had been extremely vague about exactly what the circumstances were around the previous teacher’s abrupt departure, saying only that it had nothing to do with her in-class performance or conduct with the children. House had spent more than one evening since then speculating, but Foreman had tuned him out after the lesbian llama farm conjecture and left him to his own devices.
“So, what did you want to discuss today?” Wilson prompted.
“Ah.” Bandura straightened in her chair. Finally, Foreman thought. He was anticipating a request to move Dylan up to the older children’s class. Obviously, having same-age peers was important, but given how smart he was, it would make sense to –
“After observing Dylan over the past week,” Bandura continued, “I have some serious concerns I wanted to make you aware of, and suggest you reach out for help.”
What? Foreman glanced at House, who looked as confused and pissed off as Foreman felt.
“I’m sorry?” Wilson stammered.
“I think we have to seriously consider the possibility that Dylan is developmentally delayed.” Bandura nodded, managing to look professional and pitying at the same time. Bitch.
House was halfway out of his chair; Wilson reached over and tugged him back down. “You think he’s retarded?” House asked. “Are you retarded, or just deaf, dumb, and blind?”
“No, no. I don’t mean cognitively delayed; I mean socially delayed.”
It was Foreman’s turn to jump in. “Socially delayed?”
“It’s my opinion,” Bandura said, as she folded her hands on the table and molded her soft-cow facial features into something approaching stern, “that Dylan most likely has Asperger’s syndrome.”
“What?” House bellowed. Foreman noticed that Dylan gave them a quick glance and then returned his attention to the electronic toy in his hands. No surprise – he heard louder ranting during Sunday brunch.
Bandura was reaching a gentle hand toward House, and hoo boy, that was not going to fly. Foreman was hard-pressed to keep from smirking as House pulled back as if she was thrusting a hissing snake at him.
“We’re doctors; we know what the syndrome is,” Wilson said, interposing himself between Bandura and House. “What we’re confused about is why you think it applies to Dylan.”
“It’s natural for family members to have some sort of denial about the development of their children, but I can assure you –”
House swung around toward Foreman, grinding out, “This is your fault, you know. You’re the emotionless icebox.”
Eh? That was the game House wanted to play? Fine. Foreman could play as well as anyone. He crossed his arms, emphasizing the size of his shoulders and trapezius muscles. “Me? What about you? Everyone knows advanced paternal age has a direct correlation to the incidence of autism. I’m thinking it’s your decrepit, feeble genome that’s to blame here.”
Eyes wide, Bandura was waving her hands nervously. “Gentlemen –”
“Feeble?” House pushed off with one foot, and managed to get his chair to roll right behind Wilson’s and up into Foreman’s personal space. “You’re calling me feeble? I can whip your butt from here to next Tuesday, so let’s take it outside, you limp-wristed frigid fish.” Two firm pokes to Foreman’s chest later, Bandura looked like she might be having a mild stroke.
Still glaring at House, Foreman took a peek over at Wilson, who had his eyes raised to the ceiling. “Just to be one hundred percent certain,” Wilson sighed, “you guys are kidding, right?”
The finger still stabbing Foreman’s sternum slid across to his right nipple as House moved to turn the “confrontation” into an embrace, arm around Foreman’s shoulders, cheek pressed to the top of Foreman’s head. “Of course,” House replied, and Foreman couldn’t help grinning.
Wilson turned to the gaping teacher, who looked like she couldn’t decide whether House or she had been the one to lose touch with reality. Foreman could empathize with that, although in this case it was definitely not House.
Dylan had come over from the other side of the room and was winding himself around House’s free hand. “Gug, are you and Dad going to have sex now?”
The use of the baby name for House surprised Foreman more than the question. Concerned, he leaned across House to look into Dylan’s eyes. “What’s up, little man?”
Dylan looked wistful and unsure, very different from his usual assertive self. “Can I sit on your lap?” he asked.
“Sure.” Foreman pushed House away and settled back, creating plenty of room for his son. Letting go of House’s hand, Dylan climbed up and cuddled against Foreman’s chest, hands moving as always to stroke and twist Foreman’s tie.
House leaned down to catch Dylan’s eye. “Why would you think we’re going to have sex now?”
“You were touching him,” was the quiet reply, and the lavender silk on Foreman’s chest rippled. Bandura looked like she wanted their attention, but something much more important was going on over here.
“Foreman and I touch each other even when we’re not about to have sex.”
Eyes wide, Dylan pulled away slightly to look at them both. “Seriously?”
He looked so like House in that moment that Foreman had to chuckle. “Dylan, yes. You never noticed?”
“I guess not.” He ducked his head and flipped Foreman’s tie backward and then forward again. “Can I stay here?”
With a gentle flick to Dylan’s chin and nose, House got the boy to look up. “We’re going to be talking, not playing. You’d probably have more fun with the toys.”
“I’m OK,” Dylan said, and cuddled closer to Foreman. Foreman adjusted his arms to keep Dylan steady and then turned his focus back to the meeting.
He nodded to Wilson to pick it up again. They had places to be.
“Let’s go back,” Wilson said soothingly to a still-flustered Bandura, “to the question of what led you to conclude that Dylan’s on the autistic spectrum. We in his family haven’t seen anything of concern, so that’s where the disconnect is.”
“I’m not an expert on this,” the teacher began, provoking a snort out of House. “However, at my last school there was a girl with Asperger’s, so I did some reading. Dylan does seem to meet the main criteria of limited play interests and lack of social interaction.”
As House snorted again, Wilson’s brows drew together in confusion. “As I said before, we haven’t seen that.” Foreman shook his head in agreement. Of course this silly person’s conclusion was incorrect, but he was starting to feel intrigued about the mystery of how she could think it. He decided to let Wilson take the lead; the man suffered fools a lot more gladly than either he or House could manage.
“So,” Wilson continued, “what specifically makes you think Dylan has an issue?”
“One feature of Asperger’s is an extremely deep knowledge of a single subject: dinosaurs or parrots or trains. With Dylan, it’s anatomy. As just one example, when we sing ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,’ he sings, ‘Cranium, clavicles, patellae, and phalanges of the feet’!”
House leaned forward to stare at Bandura with his Goggle-eyes of Disbelief at Profound Idiocy (trademark pending). “Doctor,” he said, pointing to himself. “Doctor.” A thump on Foreman’s chest. “Doctor.” A hand waved in Wilson’s direction.
Smiling, Wilson clarified, “And his aunt’s a doctor, too, so he’s had a lot of exposure to medical terms, including anatomy.”
Bandura looked only the slightest bit mollified. “That may be, but –”
“Cuddy was a doctor,” House interrupted.
Wilson’s chair caught on the carpet as he tried to turn toward House, protesting, “She’s still a doctor!”
“Who spends more time with rules and regs than patients. Face it; you’re married to a paper pusher.”
“Who went to medical school and therefore has more than enough knowledge of anatomy to have taught Dylan to sing the song as, ‘Cranium, clavicles, patellae, and phalanges,’ exactly the way she taught Robert and Allison.”
“Ha! You agreed that she’s a paper pusher. She’s going to be pissed when I tell her what you think of her doctoring skills.”
Eyes widened, Wilson insisted, “I did not agree!”
“Did too,” House replied smugly.
Wilson turned to Cuddy, brown eyes wide and doe-like (and damn, she really needed to stop applying female terms to her husband). “I didn’t, hon, I swear.”
She patted him on the shoulder and at the same time stole a bit of pepper from the salad he was preparing. “It’s OK. I know you tried to defend my professional honor.” The pepper was sweet and delicious. “Even though technically you did agree with him.”
Foreman and House both laughed, rich harmonized chuckles that warmed Cuddy’s heart. She’d thought for many years that her brother would spend the rest of his days as a lone wolf, snarling and snapping at anyone who even tried to draw close. It’d turned out he’d been waiting for someone to snap back, give him a few nips on the ear. They had a pretty good pack going, Foreman and he... With even a pup to keep things lively, she added, as Dylan thundered past her, Allison in hot pursuit.
“Dylan! That’s mine!” Allison was protesting, but if the sneaky smile Dylan graced his parents with was anything to go by, possession was about to become more than nine-tenths of the law.
The two of them took a lap around the kitchen island and then and out the sliding door to the backyard, Wilson calling after them to shut the door and then undercutting his own authority by closing it himself.
“So,” she said, turning toward the kitchen table where House and Foreman were sitting, “once you’d cleared up the anatomy issue, everything was fine?”
“Not exactly,” Foreman replied. He stretched forward to grab his beer from House’s hand, then relaxed back into his chair. “Next she declared he had ‘limited play interests’ because he fixates on one toy in the classroom.”
That was odd. Cuddy had seen Dylan play with just about everything in the stocked-to-the-gills playroom downstairs. “Only one?” she asked.
Foreman nodded as House fiddled with the label on his beer bottle, head bowed. Suspicious.
“The handheld for Tommy Turtle’s Arizona Adventures,” Foreman replied, prompting knowing groans from Cuddy and Wilson. Tommy Turtle was an obnoxious twit with insipid adventures set to the world’s most annoying theme song, but he was universally beloved by preschoolers. Robert’s Tommy phase had been sincere, and blessedly short-lived, but Cuddy suspected Allison’s adoration had been less about the character and more about driving her mother bananas. It had not been a good omen for the teen years.
“It turned out,” Foreman continued, “that someone had promised Dylan a two-day trip to Hershey Park if he finished all twenty-eight levels.” All eyes fell on House, who switched from avoidance to glaring defiance. “And since the game’s been banned from our apartment, he was using every free minute at preschool to work on it. Hence the obsession charge.”
Cuddy shook her head. “House, what in the world possessed you to bribe him to do that?”
“It’s for Dylan’s own good,” House said, thumping his beer bottle down on the table for emphasis. “Setting a challenging but achievable goal is the way to inspire disciplined pursuit of achievement.”
Holy moley. “You sound like Dad!”
House’s glare deepened. “No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do,” Wilson interjected, “and suspiciously so. What’s the real reason?”
The greens in the salad Wilson was tossing flipped higher and faster as he stared House down. His invisible lasso of forced truth wasn’t as strong as her mother’s – thank goodness – but it was powerful enough on close-to-confession occasions like this.
House harrumphed and gave in. “Davis’s kid is an idiot.”
“What does your neighbor –”
“The kid wants to finish Arizona Adventures but he’s too stupid to figure out how to get past Admiral Armadillo, so I told Davis I’d get him the solution.”
Foreman regarded House with what Cuddy recognized as his most stern you’re-not-getting-away-with-anything expression. “In exchange for?” he asked.
Kicking back in his chair, House gestured to Cuddy for another drink. She passed him her open bottle – getting warm anyway – and fetched a fresh one for herself from the refrigerator.
“I can’t be doing this out of the goodness of my heart?” House continued.
“You?” Foreman asked. “No.”
House looked around the room as if for support, or an escape, but they were all simply waiting. With a huffy sigh he said, “Cheat codes for Super Babes from Mars.”
Wilson’s eyes widened as he passed the salad bowl to Cuddy to be placed on the table. “The game that has actual –” He looked around furtively, no doubt for the kids, before whispering, “porn in it?”
“Yeah. Which you can only get to if you shell out an extra eighty bucks, or you have the cheat codes. Hence the deal.”
“House,” Cuddy groaned. He’d matured since having a child of his own, but apparently not by as much as she’d thought.
In an eerie echo of their dad, again, House waved a pointer finger back and forth, taking in all three of them in its arc. “Might I remind everyone that Dylan is learning valuable academic and character skills here?”
“So that you can watch porn!” Wilson really was adorable when he was aghast, Cuddy reflected, not for the first time.
Foreman’s expression was every bit as disapproving. “Straight porn.”
Cuddy rolled her eyes, but House was smiling smugly. “Porn with Max Pinga.”
Wondering who that was, Cuddy looked to her husband, but he seemed as lost as she was. Foreman, on the other hand, clearly recognized the name and appreciated it.
“No. Can’t be. He retired!”
“This was his last project.” House took another swig of beer, and then tilted the bottle cheerily in Foreman’s direction. “And those in the know say they’ve got footage from his first project, too.”
“When he was twenty?”
“Yeah-huh,” House said with a grin.
Eyes growing distant, Foreman rocked back in his chair. “Wow.”
Bonding over ‘adult entertainment,’ how lovely. Cuddy pulled the stockpot from the pot rack and handed it to Wilson to fill for the spaghetti.
“Excuse me,” Wilson said as he ran the water. “Can we get back to the ‘using your child to obtain porn’ part of the discussion?”
“What’s porn?” a quiet tenor asked, and Cuddy turned quickly toward the voice. Robert had slipped into the kitchen without them noticing, the heavy tread of his enormous sneakers hidden under the sound of the faucet.
“Nothing!” she and Wilson chorused, and from Robert’s wince she could tell the tone had been a little overly harsh. She ran a comforting hand across Robert’s blond hair to compensate, and her sweet boy smiled at her.
“Porn is a term for images adults like to view as part of sexual arousal.”
Her hand tightening involuntarily, she snapped at her ass of a brother, “House!”
Robert glanced at his uncle. “Oh. Ew.” Shrugging, he turned toward Wilson and said, “I’m hungry. Can I have some of the meringue cookies?”
Wilson’s face reflected Cuddy’s own relief that the subject had been dropped; he said smoothly, “It’s almost dinner time.”
“Please?” Robert pulled away from Cuddy and leaned in toward his father, eyes wide and pleading. “They’re small, and I’ll share with Allison and Dylan.”
Wilson opened his mouth, closed it, and turned back toward the stove to adjust the pot of water over the burner just so. “Ask your mother.”
Wonderful. Now the wide blue eyes of adorableness were trained on her. “Why do you always make me be the bad guy?” she demanded of her snake of a husband.
“It’s the role you were born to play,” House contributed, but she refused to even look his way.
With a smile and another stroke of Robert’s hair, she handed down her decision on the matter of the cookies. “It’s up to your father.”
Robert mutely turned his angelic beam on Wilson again, who wiggled and squirmed liked the trapped weasel that he was.
“I... Well... Cuddy?”
Now they both had beseeching liquid eyes, but she had learned in the crucible of the House household how to show no mercy. “You taught him that look,” she said sternly to Wilson. “Don’t come crying to me now.”
Getting no help from a smirking House and a mildly indifferent Foreman, Wilson let out a resigned sigh and finally, finally said it. “No.” Cuddy smiled indulgently at him. A reward might be in order later.
She could tell by the slight curve of his lips that he’d picked up that intention in her expression. Mmm.
“But Dad –” Robert whined.
“You can have some after dinner,” Wilson said briskly, pulling dishes from the cabinet. “Go get Allison and Dylan, then come in and wash up.”
After only minor pouting and foot stamping (learned from the other Peter-Pan-never-grow-up supposed adult male influence in his formative years), Robert trudged out the sliding door.
As soon as the door clicked, Wilson turned back toward House. “Don’t think you’re getting away with it.”
House raised an eyebrow; Cuddy shoved him sideways in his chair to get him out of the way of the setting of the table she and Foreman were executing around him.
“Hey, I only had one of the meringue cookies,” he said as he threw an elbow in Cuddy’s way just to be an ass, “and that was over an hour ago.”
“No,” Wilson replied, throwing spaghetti into the pot and stirring with unusually brisk strokes. “Using Dylan to get you porn.”
“He doesn’t know it’s for porn! He’s just having a fun, relaxing time with his game.”
The strainer banged into the sink. “Being hyper-focused on an activity to the point your teacher thinks you have Asperger’s is not ‘relaxing.’”
“You didn’t have a hobby when you were a kid?”
Cuddy interrupted the glare-down with the most sensible of questions. “House, why didn’t you just finish the game to figure out how to defeat the Armadillo King?”
“Admiral Armadillo,” Wilson corrected.
Cuddy was not a smack-upside-the-head person, which was too bad, because that interjection really deserved it. “Not the point.”
“A game for a preschooler?” House scoffed, tilting back to balance precariously between the table and the kitchen island.
Foreman shoved him back to stability, clearing a path around the table, and pointed out, “You practically pushed Dylan off the chair taking over Putt-Putt Joins the Circus.”
“That game is rigged!”
House was clearly winding up to go off on another tangent; Cuddy was starting to wonder if they’d ever finish the conversation. She began, “So why –”
Making the conversational leap with her, House finally explained, “Twenty-eight levels with the Tommy Turtle theme running every second? I’d go crazy.”
Foreman shook his head and plucked the empty beer bottle from House’s place. “So you’re willing to let our son go insane instead.”
The kids trooped in at just that moment, and Cuddy directed them to the mud room to wash their hands.
“He likes the theme music,” House replied. Foreman kept shaking his head and pulled out the wine opener. Cuddy passed him one of their better bottles of Shiraz and set the wine glasses on the table. Water had already been poured; salad and garlic bread were already out; Wilson was dishing out the spaghetti. Cuddy sat, a warm sense of relief and happiness filling her. This was a pretty good life she’d been able to make for herself.
She ran a hand down Wilson’s arm as he settled her plate in front of her, and then leaned up to plant a kiss on his affectionate smile. Even House’s pantomimed gag of disgust added to her contentment – and if he thought she missed his stealthily given pat to Foreman’s leg, then he was nowhere near as bright as he thought he was.
Curls bobbing, Dylan climbed into his booster seat and looked across the table to House. “What were you talking about?”
“House,” Wilson warned as he set down the last plate and helped Allison with her napkin.
Dylan asked, “What’s porn?”
“Images –” House began, but Cuddy and Wilson both cut him off with a louder admonition of “House!”
“Stupid boring adult stuff,” Robert said while reaching for the garlic bread.
Cuddy was about to chastise Robert for using the word ‘stupid’ (he didn’t have to pick up every conversational trait of his uncle) when she realized that his phrasing was probably the best way to get the kids to drop the subject. Yep, she confirmed, looking into their faces; no curiosity at all. Excellent.
She was still going to make Wilson have The Talk, Part Two with Robert tonight.
“Actually, Dylan,” Wilson said as he finally settled into his chair, “we were talking about our meeting today with your teacher, Ms. Bandura.”
Fork halfway to his mouth, House paused and shot Foreman a horrified look. “Can you imagine that woman in porn? It’d have to be shown on Discovery Channel.”
Ignoring Foreman’s snickering, Wilson continued, “I was confused because Ms. Bandura said you didn’t have any friends in the class.”
“Yeah,” Dylan replied. “The spaghetti tastes funny.”
“It’s whole-wheat spaghetti,” Cuddy explained, grinding parmesan onto his dinner for him. “With Uncle Wilson’s homemade marinara sauce. You had it here a few months ago, remember?”
Wilson’s proud smile faded a smidgen when Dylan remarked with a curled lip, “It’s funny. Not like House’s spaghetti at home.”
“Ours is an old family recipe,” House declared as Foreman admonished Dylan to eat his dinner anyway.
Wilson regarded House with surprise that seemed only slightly less than Cuddy’s own. She hadn’t paid much attention to her mother’s culinary efforts, but she didn’t recall any sauce as fresh and hearty as Wilson’s. “Really?” Wilson asked. “Your mother –”
“Well, the Newman family, anyway.”
Cuddy groaned at the joke; she should’ve seen that one coming. But Dylan was smiling happily at House’s broad grin, and Foreman seemed to be barely stifling his own amused smile, and she certainly couldn’t begrudge the three of them their shared moment. Bonding over jarred spaghetti sauce was certainly not the strangest thing about her brother’s family, and like so many other peculiarities, it worked for them.
She reached out toward her daughter and tucked a lock of hair behind Allison’s ear, unperturbed when Allison didn’t pause in the cutting of her spaghetti.
“Dylan, I’m confused by what your teacher said,” Wilson said, picking up the earlier thread of conversation. “You’re not friends with anyone in your class?”
Dylan shrugged. “I like Allison and Robert better. The kids in preschool are not so fun.”
House fixed a steady intense look on Dylan; Dylan shrugged again. “OK, they’re idiots.”
Smirking, House picked up his wine glass. “That’s my boy.”
“Wait, wait,” Wilson interjected, waving a hand through the air as if to bat away House’s misanthropy. “You used to have play dates with Lance. What about him?”
“He moved away.”
“Oh.” Wilson thought for a moment. “What about Macon? You’ve mentioned her more than once.”
Dylan’s face screwed up in disgust. “I used to like her. Now I don’t because she wants to kiss me.”
Allison nodded in what was clearly sympathy; Cuddy did her best not to show her amusement.
“Oh, I see,” Wilson said seriously.
“That’s gross!” Dylan protested, half-standing as Foreman stroked his back. “Girls don’t kiss boys.”
Wilson nodded. “At your age, that’s perfectly natural –”
“Boys kiss boys! That’s how it works!”
A chuckle escaped from Cuddy’s mouth, but she covered it with a cough. Of course he’d think that; he was a perfectly sensible boy, and what else would his home life have implied?
Foreman’s hand had moved from Dylan’s back to his hair, and he was rubbing the boy’s head affectionately.
“Some boys like girls to kiss them,” Wilson pointed out. “Your Aunt Cuddy kisses me.”
“That’s different.” Dylan’s fork twisted back and forth as he tried to twirl his spaghetti around it. “You’re married. And uptight and into mindless conmorfity.”
“Yeah, that. You have to let her kiss you.”
Wilson rolled his eyes at House, who ignored him in favor of more garlic bread. “Thanks for teaching him that one. Actually, Dylan, I like it when she kisses me.”
“Seriously?” Dylan’s expression and tone were a perfect imitation of House’s, right down to the jaw drop.
“Yes,” Wilson replied, reaching for the salad bowl. “And before I got married to your Aunt Cuddy, I liked it when other girls kissed me.”
Dylan’s fork clattered on his plate. “Eww!”
“That’s my boy,” House repeated, ignoring yet again Wilson’s exasperation.
Allison had straightened in her chair and was regarding her father with an affronted expression. “You kissed girls who aren’t Mommy? No, Daddy, that’s cheating!”
House’s mouth opened, and Cuddy immediately slumped in her seat to stretch her leg as far as she could under the table and kick him in the shins.
Wilson had turned toward Allison and taken her hand in his. “Before I married Mommy, honey. Stop glaring at me, House. Before.”
Cuddy kicked House again, and thankfully he shut up. Robert had been quiet during the exchange, but his eyes had an assessing gleam in them. He could obviously tell there was an undercurrent to the conversation.
Maybe The Talk, Part Two and Part Three tonight for Robert.
“You never finished telling me what happened with Dylan’s teacher,” Cuddy said as she handed Wilson another dry dish to put away.
He tucked it into its spot with the other dinner plates and tried to recall where they’d left off in the story, but Foreman beat him to the punch. “We discovered she’s an idiot,” he growled, scrubbing at a saucepan with more vigor than necessary.
Wilson smiled as Cuddy teased, “It’s so sweet when couples start melding into one personality.”
“Just because I can identify a buffoon doesn’t mean I’m turning into House,” Foreman said, and raised his soap-covered hands as if displaying irrefutable evidence. Given that House had fled from the table with the children and was currently “supervising” the watching of a Disney cartoon in the basement... maybe it was pretty good evidence.
“I wouldn’t say Ms. Bandura’s a buffoon,” Wilson said – he’d think it, but he wasn’t going to say it. “She’s new, and working on limited information. Better to raise a red flag than to let a serious problem go unchecked.”
Foreman grunted; Cuddy handed over two dry wineglasses. “So, is there a serious problem?”
“No, fortunately.” Wilson absent-mindedly rubbed a spot off one of the glasses as he put it away. “We were able to explain everything Ms. Bandura had seen. Dylan’s deep knowledge of anatomy was due to the four of us being doctors.”
“And his ability to think instead of simply parroting simple melodies and eating paste,” Foreman said indignantly.
“Well, that too.” The flow of dry dishes had slowed, so Wilson busied himself with wiping down the counters. “Fixation on one object for play was House’s doing, as you heard, and lack of friends in the classroom was a combination of recent moves by Dylan’s friends and some learned arrogance.”
Foreman rolled his eyes and handed the last pot to Cuddy, but didn’t say a word.
Amused by his own cleverness, Wilson continued, “In fact, that’s what I told Ms. Bandura; that Dylan doesn’t have autism, he has AFS.”
“Arrogant Father Syndrome,” Foreman replied with a groan, while Wilson was still savoring his moment. Hmph. Annoying. Which was another good descriptor for both Dylan’s fathers.
Then Cuddy smiled at him again – she’d been so gorgeously relaxed this evening; it warmed his heart – and leaned up to kiss his cheek, and the irritation melted away. “Scoff if you must, Foreman, but AFS accounts for all the symptoms Ms. Bandura observed.”
“Except the last one she said: lack of eye contact.” Foreman leaned back against the kitchen island and crossed his arms.
“No, I think that one is his fathers’ fault, too,” Wilson replied. At Foreman’s deepening glare, he laughed. “We couldn’t figure out during the teacher conference why she thought that, but after our conversation at dinner, I think I’ve got it.”
He waited a moment to build the tension. Cuddy broke first. “And?”
“Based on all the evidence available, my diagnosis is...” Another few seconds’ pause just for fun, and: “Dylan has a crush on his teacher.”
Cuddy smiled; Foreman’s face contorted in distaste. “Her? She’s...” He seemed to be casting about for the right word. After more grimacing and a slight shudder, he said, “Old.”
“She’s probably younger than House,” Wilson pointed out.
“I had a crush on my grandmother’s best friend when I was about five,” Wilson shared. “She was wonderful; I thought the sun rose and set on her. Every time I went to see my grandmother, I’d beg to go visit Minnie. We had to go to her house because she was bedridden.” He noticed Cuddy looking at him strangely. “What?”
She shook her head. “That vignette says so much about you, hon. Don’t ever tell it to House.”
Foreman interjected, “Dylan does not have a crush on Bandura.”
Wilson brought himself back on track with the conversation. “I really think he does, but he doesn’t understand it. As he said at dinner, in his world boys kiss boys, not girls. So he’s confused, and probably a little bit embarrassed, and feeling shy around her anyway due to the crush. It’s not surprising he won’t look her in the eye.”
“Are you saying he’s ashamed of being straight?”
Wilson hadn’t thought of it in exactly that way, but given how well Dylan had absorbed House’s scorn of “mindless conmorfity,” it was a distinct possibility. “I don’t know,” he equivocated, “but some reassurance that his feelings aren’t unusual would probably be good.” He heard a heavy tread on the basement steps and smiled. “Counteract the effects of the AFS.”
“You talking about me again?” House asked as he emerged into the kitchen.
“World doesn’t always revolve around you,” Foreman said sternly.
“Got mathematical proof for that?” House hip-checked Foreman on the way to the fridge, pulled the tin from off the top and tossed it to Wilson, who opened it happily and passed the meringue cookies around.
Foreman and House squabbled amiably for a few minutes, and Cuddy got in a few good shots, and then the kids came clamoring for cookies. As Foreman hoisted Dylan up to reach the tin that House was holding teasingly out of reach, Wilson reflected that as chronic conditions go, AFS wasn’t such a bad one to have. Kept things lively, at the very least.