"Come to my parents' for dinner," said Wilson without ceremony.
House looked up and cocked his head. "Did I miss the proposal?" he asked. "Am I wearing your letter jacket from now on in?"
"I have to go to my parents' house for dinner tonight," said Wilson, ignoring him. "They're still mad at me about the divorce. I want a buffer."
"So ask Cuddy," said House. "Isn't she your not-my-girlfriend?"
"I did," Wilson said. "She's busy."
"Ooh," said House. "Second choice. You wound me." He placed his hand over his heart and opened his eyes wide.
"Then you'll come?" asked Wilson.
"Sure," said House. "You're asking me home to meet your parents. How can I miss that?" He fluttered his eyelashes.
"You already know my parents," said Wilson, but his smile was clear and lit his face.
Wilson's parents lived in a building filled with old people. The neighborhood was classy and bland (identical white single families lining the quiet street, punctuated at the corner with a quiet apartment block dotted with wheelchair ramps), the grounds were classy and bland (manicured hedges and carefully groomed plots of hostas and begonias), the corridors were classy and bland (coral walls, mauve doors, interchangeable landscape prints hung tidily every 15 feet down the corridor, matted in slightly different shades of coral and mauve). Wilson's parents acted like they were desperately trying for classy, though they could pull off bland.
"James, Greg, welcome," said Wilson's mother, bustling up after she buzzed them in. She kissed Wilson on his cheek, reached for House, and then paused warily.
House completed the gesture, grasping her hand and leaning forward to kiss the air beside her cheek. "Mother Wilson, I'm so grateful to you for having me for dinner," he said warmly.
She looked at him with an expression torn between pleasure and nervousness. "You're always welcome here, Greg," she said. "You're such a good friend to my boy."
Wilson just raised an eyebrow and grinned at him. "Mother Wilson?" he asked. "What happened to 'Karen'?"
"Last time you were cranky that I wasn't on my best behavior," protested House. "I'm just trying to behave to your exacting standards."
"Come in," said Karen. "Can I get you a Coke?"
While Wilson's mother puttered around the kitchen, House sat at the table, leg stretched out before him and cane hooked over the back of the seat. Wilson wandered over to the fridge. "Coke?" he asked. "Or," peering into the fridge, "um, orange juice or milk?"
"Milk would be appealing, but unlike your people, I prefer my dairy beverages with actual lactose," said House. "Coke, please."
Wilson brought the Coke and two glasses over to the table. "You know Lactaid tastes exactly the same as regular milk," he said.
House jerked his chin. "Yes, and Fakin' Bacon tastes exactly like pork." He patted Wilson's hand. "It's the little lies that let you survive in a goyishe world, I understand."
Karen brought a plate of cookies and sliced strawberries over to the table. "Dinner will be ready in about twenty minutes," she said. "I should probably go wake up your father, soon. I think he's fallen asleep in front of the television again."
Wilson took another swallow of Coke and set the glass down. "Can I help you with anything?" he asked.
House pasted a mournful look on his face. "I wish I could make the same offer, but" he waved expansively at his leg. "Alas, I am prevented from contributing to the fullest extent of my desires."
Wilson smiled angelically at his mother. "House would be happy to help, as well. He can peel carrots, or fold napkins. Or anything else that can be done sitting down. Preferably something unpleasant and difficult."
Karen looked askance at House. "Don't worry about it, Greg. But thank you very much for offering." She turned to her son as if relieved to be looking away from House's sincerely helpful expression. "Could you set the table? I'll go get your father."
"Sure," said Wilson, as his mother got up. "Milcheigs or fleischeigs?"
"Brisket," she said. "And put out bowls for soup." And she hurried out of the room, sneaking looks at House as she went.
"I can't believe you've cowed my mother into submission," said Wilson, as he opened up the left-hand cupboard over the stove and pulled down some dishes.
"You wound me," said House. "She has nothing but great sympathy for my plight, and only wants me to be happy."
Wilson snorted. "She has nothing but great fear for your rudeness, and only wants you to be quiet."
House waved a hand dismissively. "You say latke, I say potato," he said. "Speaking of which, what's for dinner to go with our brisket?" He hauled himself up and went over to the stove. "Chicken soup with matzoh balls? Knishes? Borscht? Cholent? Challah?" He lingered over the last word, filling the initial constant with phlegm.
Wilson lifted up the lid of the soup pot and inhaled the steam. "Smells like Mexican garlic," he said. "And I saw a caprese salad in the fridge. Sorry to disappoint you."
House scowled. "My meal isn't going to be ethnically pure?"
"If it helps, I think the soup is made with the blood of Christian babies," offered Wilson.
"Ah, much better," said House, returning to his chair with a tiny smile.
Pictures of Wilson and his brothers lined the dining room mantle. Photographs of the three of them together stopped when the youth who was clearly Wilson looked about 16. One photo showed Wilson, priggish in a prep school tie, standing between a laughing older boy in a Ramones T-shirt and a sulking preteen in a scruffy down vest. Three almost identical pictures formed a centerpiece: an adolescent boy in profile leaning earnestly over a lectern, shiny white skullcap and striped prayer shawl framing an acne-pocked face. The pose, setting, and lighting identical in each one, with only the faces changed.
House pointed to a blank spot on the wall next to a photograph of Ramones Boy in a tux, standing under a canopy beside a white-gowned woman with masses of red curls. "Your picture's come down already, Jimmy?" he said.
"For God's sake, House," Wilson started, but his father cut him off.
"Exactly," he said, slapping his fork down on the table. "How many times is that now that you've ruined a marriage, a vow before God? I'm beginning to think we should just make one of those amusement park photos with a blank space in the bride's face that says 'your name here'."
"Bennett," said Wilson's mother firmly. "Not now." She didn't look at House.
"Avoiding the subject as ordered, Karen," he said, and turned a falsely bright smile toward House. "So, Greg, how are things going for you? Saved any lives lately?"
"Have you met any nice young ladies?" added Wilson's mother.
"And driven them away with your winning personality?" said Wilson's father.
House barked a startled laugh, then smoothed his face back into faux-sincere lines. "How could I meet a nice young lady when I'm so hopelessly devoted to your James?" he asked, turning doe eyes on Wilson. "He's holding out for me to convert, but I'm not sure I'm ready for that level of commitment." He leaned conspiratorially towards Karen. "There's that little matter of a surgery, you know," he said in a loud whisper. "Snip-snip. Now that's love."
Wilson kicked him under the table. On his bad leg.
"Fuck!" said House, in a moment of real pain. And then, as it passed, "Ow! Beating up on cripples? What's next, girls with glasses?"
Karen beamed at her son. "Such a good boy," she said. "Let me get you some dessert."
"What? Why is everyone picking on me?" said House.
Smiling, Wilson got up to help his mother clear the table.
"Have some rugelach," said Bennett.
"I don't like them," said House, snippy like a nine-year-old.
"I know," said Bennett, and House snarled.
"It's lovely to have you here, Greg," said Wilson's mother, and she almost made eye contact as she poured him a cup of coffee.