Thanks to HousePiglet for going above and beyond beta duty.

James followed his parents up the gravel path and into the restaurant. They took a table in the middle of the room, and James folded his long legs into a chair, crossed his arms on the table and rested his chin on them. He didn't speak, even when his mother started her inane chatter to the waiter, about the beautiful weather, the scenery, the lovely atmosphere of the restaurant.

He only barely responded to a direct question, when the waiter mentioned there'd be a piano player coming on soon.

"James likes music, don't you?" his mother said.

"Yeah, Ma."

He failed to mention that listening to some old fart grind out Beethoven on a baby grand wasn't exactly his idea of a good time. He failed to mention that this entire stupid trip wasn't exactly his idea of a good time. It didn't matter.

His parents ordered cocktails and James got a Coke, which arrived warm and flat fifteen minutes later. The place was nearly full by then and James couldn't understand why. The place didn't even take advantage of its most alluring trait, proximity to the crashing seaside. When the tables on either side of him began loud, obnoxious conversations, James wrinkled his nose, allowed his expression to descend into full-on pout and then…

Then the piano player arrived.

James's eyes snapped to the man as soon as he walked in the door. The piano player was a gaunt tall man, with long arms and legs that made James, in all his teenage growth-spurt awkwardness, feel positively elegant by comparison. He was in his mid twenties with a sullen expression and the look of a man who was more dressed up than he wanted to be. The knot of his tie was large and uneven. His wrists stuck out of his black suit jacket.

The piano player walked to the bar, caught a little hell from the bartender, then stepped up onto the small stage and took his seat behind the piano.

The bartender cleared his throat and introduced the piano player, the name drowned out by drunken applause. The piano player gave a little smile, but it wasn't a happy one.

The crowd took the smile as a cue to clap a little louder instead of what it was clearly meant as.

Fuck you.

James laughed a little.

The piano player cracked his knuckles loudly, in a way that set several people's teeth on edge, and began to play a slow bluesy riff.

Slowly, the conversations started up and soon no-one was even paying attention to the piano player, except for James. It was the mood the piano created, not the actual music, he realized.

The piano player didn't look at anyone as he played. He kept his face tilted down as his fingers trailed along the keys. After a moment, James noticed his eyes stayed closed even as the tempo of his music sped up.

"James, don't stare," his father said.

He put on a shocked look. "I'm not."

"You are," his mother said.

"He's on stage. I'm not staring. I'm watching."

"You look goofy. Stop it." His father tossed a menu over to him. "Order something."

"I'm not hungry," James said, tilting his head to the side and leaning his cheek on his arms.

"You should eat something," his mother said.

"Don't pout. Order something."

His father had spent the majority of the trip telling him not to pout. James ordered something.

He ate it slowly, pushing three bites around his plate for every one he put in his mouth. If he sat up straight he could glance at the piano player through his eyelashes and no-one accused him of staring.

Sometimes the piano player opened his eyes and glanced at his audience. Once he threw a look at James and James's breath caught in his throat. He took a drink of warm Coke and ignored it.

When the piano player's set ended, James interrupted his parents' deathly dull discussion, excused himself momentarily and hopped up from the table.

He followed the piano player, pausing only a second at the swinging kitchen door before putting his head down and pushing through, past a few waiters and a dishwasher, outside.

The back door opened up on a few feet of cement patio, complete with an overflowing dumpster and beyond, down a hill, the ocean crashed wild and beautiful under the moonlight.

The piano player lit a cigarette and breathed in the smoke with a sigh. James let the door close behind him with a slam and the piano player looked up.

James's stomach churned, threatening to bring up bad, room temperature pasta as he realized he had no idea what he was going to say.

"You're good," he said after a moment, biting his lip and wishing for the day his voice would stop breaking.

The piano player glanced up at him, a confused look in his eyes. "Thank you?"

"You're real good."

"Thanks."

James looked to his feet, then glanced up. "Is it fun? Playing piano?"

"Beats hustling pool."

They stared at each other for a moment, James feeling sicker and sicker and wishing the piano player would lower his arched eyebrow.

"Can I bum a smoke?" James asked.

The piano player got a little amused look, but took a case from his jacket pocket and took out a cigarette. James was pleasantly surprised when he stuck the butt in his own mouth, lit it, took a drag and then passed it to James.

James held the cigarette for a while, staring at the lit end. It was hand-rolled, and damp with the piano player's saliva.

"Nice beach," the piano player said suddenly.

James jumped. "Yeah, I guess."

"It's nicer down by the water," the piano player said. "I usually go for a walk down there between sets."

James nodded. When the piano player hopped off the edge of the patio and took long strides toward the water, James followed automatically, wondering as he moved if maybe the piano player wanted to be left alone.

At the water's edge they were out of view of the restaurant, and the piano player tugged off his tie, stuffing it in his jacket pocket. They stood apart, James with his hands in his pockets and the piano player stooping to pick up a handful of rocks and throwing them one by one into the surf. The water sprayed up occasionally, feeling cool on James's warm face.

"You're right," he called, over the sound of the waves.

"About what?"

"The beach..." James flushed at the piano player's intent look. "It's nice."

The piano player smiled, knowingly. "Yeah."

They stood in silence, long enough for James to regret wearing nothing but a t-shirt.

"If you're not going to smoke that, can I have it back?" the piano player asked.

James looked down at the smoldering cigarette. He'd taken a puff or two but frankly he didn't like the taste. He passed it back, shaking a little when his fingers grazed the piano player's.

"You okay?" the piano player asked.

"Cold."

"You should go back inside."

James looked down at the sand and toed a hole. "Yeah."

"I've got another set in a few minutes."

"Cool."

The piano player dangled the cigarette from his lips as he removed the tie from his pocket and attempted to put it back on. His moves were clumsy and the knot ended up backwards, showing the wrong side. The piano player cursed, pulled the knot off and removed the cigarette from his mouth, blowing smoke into the wind.

"Need a hand?" James asked.

The piano player tossed the tie to him and James ran it through his fingers as he stepped closer. With a shy smile he looped the tie over the piano player's head and slowly tied it.

"Boss said he'd dock my pay if I showed up without one again."

James nodded, not really hearing. He tightened the knot and looked up into the piano player's eyes. They both smiled.

"How old are you?" the piano player asked.

"Eighteen," James lied.

The piano player smiled wider. "Sure."

"I'll be eighteen," James amended, "on my birthday."

"Which birthday?"

James's face fell. "My eighteenth birthday?"

The piano player laughed. "You're cute," he said, flicking the cigarette into the water. "But I'm not up for getting my ass kicked by your father. How old are you really?"

"Fifteen."

"And I'm twenty-five and I need this job too much. Sorry." The piano player took a step back. James's hands hung a moment in the air, before sliding down into his jean pockets.

He followed the piano player back up the hill, through the kitchen and back into the crowded dining room. The piano player disappeared behind some lingering talking people and James slid back into his seat. A waiter had cleared his half-eaten dinner.

His dad raised an eyebrow at him.

"You fall in?"

"Yeah, Dad," James said, rolling his eyes. He folded his arms on the table and slid back down on top of them. "I fell in."

That night he had hot squirmy dreams about pianos and blue eyes.

He woke up sweaty and gasping, his mother knocking on the door.

"James?"

"Yeah, Mom," James said, rolling over onto his stomach and pulling the blanket over his head.

The door opened slowly.

"Your dad and I are going down to the beach. Can you meet us there soon?"

"Yeah, sure."

When the front door slammed, he ran to the bathroom and took a long shower, leaning his forehead against the cool tiles.

He pulled on his beachwear before grabbing a towel and wandering down the coast toward the beach. The Wilson summer home was right on the shore, a short walk along rocks and grass to sand, and beyond that the boardwalk.

James found his parents' blanket and took a seat in the sand. For a few hours he watched the swimmers come in and out of the water, running in the sand and sprawling out in the sun.

"Wanna go swimming?" his mother asked.

"No," James said, grabbing a comic book out of his mother's beach bag and laying it open.

"You sure?"

"Leave him to pout," his father said as they waded into the surf.

He watched his mother and father splash in the water, read the comic book, lay back on the sand to bake in the sun and watched the clouds go by and then…

Then the piano player walked by.

James sat straight up, eyes following the man down to the water. For a moment he was absolutely sure it wasn't him, but then the man turned, showing his profile, and James jumped up off the blanket, running towards him. He passed his parents as they left the water.

"Thought you didn't want to swim," his mother called as he pushed past, feet skidding in the sand.

"Yeah," he said.

"We're going home for lunch. Catch up when you can," his father called.

"Yeah," he repeated, a little louder, the water up to his waist as he pushed forward into a strong crawl.

James followed the piano player through the water, panting to keep up with his long, sure strokes. James couldn't tell if the piano player could see him and if he'd even recognize him if he did.

They swam out past the breaks, then switched directions, moving parallel to the coast, back towards James's family's beach house until they reached an inlet, a few yards of sand below a sheer drop of several feet. There James lost track of the piano player's body and trod water, glancing around for the tell-tale signs of someone splashing through the waves.

James sighed, recognizing too strong of a current and fighting against it towards the shore. With a sigh he pulled himself onto the sand and sat there panting.

"Are you following me?"

James jumped, glancing up. The piano player flopped down on the beach next to him, his tan muscles shown in the bright noonday sun.

"Are you following me?" the piano player asked.

James shrugged. "Sort of."

The piano player smiled. "Why?"

James looked down, picking up a handful of sand and scattering it. "I wanna know your name."

The piano player laughed. "Why?"

James shrugged again.

They sat in silence for a moment, listening to the water and the wind and the birds. James pulled up a fist full of grass that had grown in the sand and threw it into the water.

"Are you playing tonight?" James asked suddenly.

"No," the piano player said. "Tomorrow. Afternoon."

"We're leaving tomorrow."

"Too bad."

James smiled.

The piano player stood up, stretching his arms above his head and walking back into the water.

James followed, stretching out his hand. "I'm Jimmy," he said, cringing almost immediately as the childish nickname left his mouth. "I mean James," he corrected. "My name is James."

The piano player took his hand and shook it, then cocked an eyebrow, said one word and pulled him forward sharply. James's feet slid out from under him and he fell face first into the water.

When James climbed back to his feet, gasping for breath, the piano player was nowhere to be seen. James didn't care. He laughed and dove back into the cool ocean water, aiming for the beach, each stroke repeating the word the piano player had said.

Gregory. Gregory. Gregory.

That night he faked a stomach ache and went to bed early.

He dozed on his bed, lips forming the name over and over again. When his parents turned in, he put on his shoes and climbed easily out of the bedroom window.

He sprinted down to the beach, laughing in the cool salty night air. Reaching sand he skidded to a stop and breathed deep, feeling his heart beat hard and heavy in his chest. He was barely aware of a pool hall down the street, past the boardwalk, and he walked towards it, telling himself he wasn't going to get upset if his search proved futile or if he couldn't even find the place.

He did. The sign blinked on and off in random time, but James couldn't read the cheap neon.

Stepping into the doorway, James was overpowered by a wave of heat, noise and cigarette smoke. He walked slowly inside. A few pool tables sat under low hanging lights. A few men wandered between them and bar along the right side of the room.

"Hey, kid." A tall broad-shouldered man in a faded jean jacket approached him. A bouncer, James realized. "You lost? What do you want?"

"I was looking for a friend," James said, and then…

Then he caught sight of the piano player.

"Gregory!" he called, and saying it felt just like he thought it would.

Gregory looked up, pulling away from his position bent over the pool table. The eyebrow went up again. He strode across the room. "What's this?"

The man looked down his nose at James. "This a friend of yours?"

"Oh yeah." Gregory slid his arm around James's neck, pulling him close. "This definitely counts as following me," he whispered. Gregory's breath was warm in James's ear. James grinned. Gregory's arm stayed taunt, forcing him close as they crossed the room. Gregory accepted a pool cue from a man who looked confident, like he was winning. "This is my buddy, Jimmy. Mind if he watches?"

"James," James said.

"Yeah, James." Gregory pulled him close again, speaking low in his ear. "Do you have any money?"

James's mouth opened, but before he could speak, the man laughed loudly, exclaiming, "I don't give a shit, Greg. Let's play."

James perched on a stool. Gregory looked good, leaning far over the pool table, his t-shirt riding up. He missed a few shots, talking the other man into betting an extra five dollars. Here he winked at James. "James will cover it, right?"

James nodded.

A few shots later Gregory started winning. His opponent stopped laughing, his face growing red. By the time Gregory sank the eight ball, the other man looked ready to kill someone.

"Double or nothing?" Gregory asked innocently.

The man scowled. "I'll be back," he said, walking over to the bar and starting an argument with the bartender. Gregory smiled smugly to himself, picking up a bottle off the table behind James and taking a long drink.

"Was that…you know?" James asked, his voice pitching conspiratorially low, "Hustling?"

"Uh, no. That was, you know, losing."

"Oh… but…oh." James thought a moment. "But you made him bet more."

"Well, I didn't want him to know I was losing. I wanted him to be afraid I was hustling him."

"But, what would you have done if you hadn't won?"

"Played double or nothing. Just like I am now. Don't worry, I'll win now." Gregory set the bottle back on the table and ruffled James's hair. "You're my good luck charm."

James couldn't help smiling.

"Oh," he said.

"Do you play?" Gregory asked, indicating the table.

"No."

Gregory handed him a stick. "You do now." Casually he began retrieving balls from the various pockets and dropping them into the rack. He squinted down at them, swapped a few around until he liked the configuration then rolled the whole mess down the table and removed the rack.

"It's regular eight ball rules, call your winning shot. You can break."

James looked at his pool cue, then at the table. "Um, huh?"

Gregory handed him the cue ball. "Hit the ball. Try to hit the other ones. Don't hit the eight ball. That's the black one."

James mimicked the position he'd seen Gregory take and tapped the ball. It rolled slowly to the far end of the table and gently struck the lead ball, causing the others to drift out of shape. James scowled.

Gregory smiled. It was a kind smile, possibly the first kind smile he'd ever given James. James looked up, catching the tail of end of it, but not quite understanding.

"It's okay," Gregory said, swiftly re-racking the balls and grabbing the cue. He broke easily, the cue ball hitting the lead ball with a loud crack and exploding the balls all over the far end of the table. "I'll teach you."

They swapped turns, regardless of who scored, and, though Gregory explained the rules, they didn't bother with stripes or solids.

James started by aiming at any nearby ball, just hoping he managed to hit it with the cue ball, but Gregory soon stopped that, making him look beyond that to the shot involved. By the time Gregory's previous opponent reappeared, James had a pretty good idea of which ball he should be trying to hit, even if he rarely sent it where he wanted it to go.

The man slapped his wallet onto the pool table.

Gregory looked at him like he was something scraped off his shoe. "Double or nothing?" he asked.

"I don't have double," the man said. "This is all I got."

"Get lost," Gregory said, tossing the wallet at the man's chest. "I'm playing with my friend Jimmy."

Fear clutched in James's stomach. "It's okay…" he started.

"You gotta give me a chance to win my money back."

Gregory showed no fear. "No way. I've given you chances all night. Get lost."

The man raised one meaty fist and took a step forward. James's hands tightened into fists, sweaty and cold. Gregory deftly drew the pool cue up between the man's legs. The man crumpled over, grabbing his groin, and Gregory raised the pool cue above his head, just as the bouncer snuck up behind him. James wasn't precisely sure how, but the bouncer got Gregory pulled tight against his chest, the pool cue at his throat.

"He started it," Gregory gurgled.

"They always start it. I told you no fighting." The bouncer rolled his eyes and released Gregory.

Gregory scowled, stepping away and rubbing his throat. "So, I'm not allowed to defend myself?"

The bouncer pointed the cue at Gregory. "I told you, no fighting. I told you, start fighting again and I'll throw you out. College boy like you can't figure that out?"

Gregory looked down at the man on the floor, heaved a mighty, put-upon sigh, grabbed his jacket off the table and stepped over him, careful to drag his back foot against the man's back.

The bouncer swung over to James, still pointing the pool cue.

"Who are you?"

"Nobody," James squeaked.

"How old are you?"

"Eighteen?"

"Sure," the man said, gesturing towards the door with his thumb. "Out!"

James fled.

He caught up with Gregory in the street, adopting a quick, puppy dog trot to keep up with Gregory's long stride.

Gregory glanced at him. "Is there something you want from me?"

"No."

Gregory stuck his hands in his jacket pockets and considered the street. "Do your parents know where you are, James?"

James considered the question carefully. "My parents," he replied after a moment, "know exactly where I am. In my room, in my bed, asleep."

Gregory laughed. "Want to get something to eat?"

James nodded.

Gregory tilted his head down the boardwalk and led James to an all-night truck stop.

They took seats opposite each other in the red vinyl booth. Gregory flirted with the waitress, an older blond woman with her hair piled in curls atop her head and a frowning, pinched face. He ordered a hamburger and a huge plate of fries. James got a Coke, which arrived, warm and flat, fifteen minutes later.

"So, exactly who the hell are you?" Gregory asked, after the food arrived .

"Nobody." James looked down into his Coke.

"Nobody? Just some kid who keeps trailing after me like I'm the first thing you saw coming out of the shell?"

"Nobody," James said. "Who the hell are you? Just some piano playing pool-hustler with a knack for getting into fights?"

"Only during the tourist season. I'm working my way through med school."

"Cool."

"I guess." Gregory picked up his burger and took a bite.

They sat in silence a while. The humidity blowing from the kitchen made them both sweat, enticing them to remove their jackets and run hands through their hair.

There were no truckers in this particular truck stop, and no other patrons either; just the tired looking waitress, who occasionally disappeared into the kitchen to talk to whoever banged pots and made food. James's soda was sickly sweet and he left it half full, the straw sticking out at an angle. Gregory ate heartily and intently, as though someone might take his food away.

James folded his arms and rested his chin on them. He sighed.

"Bored?" Gregory asked, swallowing the last of the hamburger.

James's head popped up immediately. "No."

Gregory laughed at James's earnest look. "I gotta pee," he declared, rising from the booth. "You pay."

James picked up the check and glanced at it, comparing the loose change in his pockets to the number at the bottom. Then he glanced at Gregory's jacket.

When Gregory re-emerged from the bathroom, the bill was paid and James was trying to find the inside pocket of Gregory's jacket to put the thick leather wallet away.

"Whatcha doing?" Gregory asked.

"Nothing," James said, hastily sticking the wallet into his own back pocket. He handed Gregory his jacket and they walked out of the truck stop down towards the beach.

The moonlight made the sand glow white and perfect, already erased of all the footprints from the day's tourists. Gregory and James made a long, easily defined trail against the fresh landscape. The wind blew suddenly, spraying sand into jeans and hair and eyes. James raised his hand against the airborne sand, but Gregory dropped suddenly onto his butt.

James looked down at him. Sitting, Gregory was a lot less intimidating. He sat too and the wind died again, leaving only the sound of waves crashing again and again into sand.

Gregory stretched his long arms over his head and lay back, looking happy and content. James brought his knees to his chest and curled his arms around them.

"What do you like more, Jimmy? Boys or girls?"

"It's James," James said.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Answer the question."

"I dunno. Girls?"

"Have you ever been fucked?"

James looked pointedly down at the sand.

"No."

"Then how do you know?"

"I guess I don't." James threw a handful of sand. It bounced in the wind, scattering. "Girls are more fun to kiss."

"That's not even true." Gregory glanced at him as if he were an idiot. "Girls may be more fun to fuck, but boys are more fun to kiss."

"That hasn't been my experience," James said quietly.

Gregory laughed. The sound bounced in the wind, scattering. "Then you haven't been kissed right."

"I have."

"Nope. Not by someone who really knows what they're doing."

This sounded like a line to James, but when nothing happened, when Gregory didn't slide an arm around him or tilt his face up towards him, James just muttered, "Oh," and lay back on the sand, looking at the stars.

"What exactly do you want from me, James?" Gregory asked, rolling to his side and propping his head up on his hand.

"Just…you know…what happens next."

"You have no idea what happens next."

James shrugged. Slowly, he reached out, intending to touch Gregory's face.

Gregory pounced, batting the hand away, pressing roughly against his side, one warm, heavy hand resting on the fly of James's jeans.

"Feel good?" Gregory asked.

The question was drunk and wet in James's ear and he made little, "Ah," noises in the back of his throat. It did feel good. Too good. James realized in terror he was about thirty seconds from ending the night a lot sooner then he'd like.

"Ah…stop…Gregory."

"But isn't that the fun part of teenagers, hmm?" The hand pressed down hard, sliding just a little.

James's face burned hot and terrible. He squirmed, wondering why he wasn't pushing away. "I'm…stop… ah."

"Making them come in their jeans?"

He would never, ever, ever live this down. His face would be red until he turned 102. It was just a hand and it was barely touching him, but it was warm and insistent and most importantly, it belonged to somebody else. He unconsciously arched up into the touch, biting his lower lip.

"Please, Gregory, stop," he whined, not even caring about the high-pitched tone his voice broke into.

Gregory stopped, pulling away and sitting up. He reached into his jacket pocket, produced the cigarette case and lighter and lit up, blowing smoke into the wind.

James gasped a while in the night air, relief flooding through him.

When Gregory settled back down next to him, but with a good six inches or so of distance between them, James's pulse was just about back to normal. He lay on the sand, watching the smoke from Gregory's cigarette glide across the dark infinity of space, clouding the stars. The sand cradled him like a mattress and he burrowed down in his jacket, and somehow, with Gregory next to him, fell asleep.

He awoke when the ocean deposited a wave across his feet. He sat up suddenly, blinking in the bright sunlight reflecting off the water.

"Gregory," he said.

"Hmm."

He looked down at Gregory, hiding his face from the sunlight to sleep a few more minutes.

"Gregory, I have to go."

"Hmm."

He looked up the beach, saw nobody.

"Gregory, wake up and say goodbye to me."

"Hmm."

James looked out to the sunrise over the ocean, then back to Gregory, asleep, one arm flung over his face. He knelt down beside Gregory's body, moved the arm, placed a steadying hand on his stomach and kissed him.

For a moment all was still.

Just as James's head started to spin from breathing in Gregory's expelled breath, Gregory's tongue pressed soft and insistent into his mouth. A hand reached up to cup his face, sliding over his ear and into his hair, and James leaned into it, nuzzling Gregory's palm.

They parted slowly, James astounded to discover he had Gregory's bottom lip between his own.

"James, are you trying to cop a feel?" Gregory asked, indicating the hand, once on his belly, now sliding down so that James's fingertips brushed just below Gregory's belt.

"I have to go," James said.

"So go."

James leaned forward for another kiss, rolling now, Gregory's arms around him, hands grabbing his butt.

"I have to go."

"So go."

Rolling still, until the ground was hard beneath him and Gregory was hard above him and his lips felt numb from the kissing.

"I have to…"

"Go."

James slid out from underneath Gregory's long, lithe body and ran, gasping and panting. Ran until the sand turned to hard grass and rocks. Ran until he saw the window he'd left unlocked and slid to it, pulling up the latch, pushing through, feet first. He dropped his coat and toed off his shoes and leapt onto the bed, rolling over onto his stomach and pulling the blankets over his head.

He took a deep breath. He took another.

His mother knocked on the door.

"James?"

"Yeah, Ma?"

The door opened slowly.

"Dad wants to get an early start. Can you get up and help pack?"

"Yeah, sure."

Packing to leave the summer home was easy; no need to put any thought into the matter. He followed his father around with a trash bag, and helped clean out the refrigerator and close the storm windows for the year. The hot, tight feeling in his stomach refused to go away, even when he smeared the last of the peanut butter onto the heel of a loaf of bread and ate it quickly.

Packing up his room consisted of throwing all his all his clothes—dirty, mostly, and filled with sand—into a trash bag, knotting it securely and tossing it into the back of the car. He didn't have any souvenirs, James realized with a start. This was the first year he didn't collect seashells.

He had one unmeant memento. Gregory's wallet rested, fat and comfortable, in his back left pocket. When he got into the back seat of his father's station wagon, he felt it suddenly, hard against his butt.

He told his Dad they needed to go back to the restaurant and, oddly enough, his Dad obeyed, even when James refused to give him any details. They drove steadily away from the freeway, his father grumbling about traffic, his mother asking pointed questions he didn't answer.

He told them to stay in the car. James's father shot a glance at him in the rear view mirror and James looked back. His father's face showed concern and James thought perhaps he should smile reassuringly. Instead he opened the door and got out.

"What the hell is wrong with him?" He heard his father ask his mother, as the door slammed shut.

"He's just that age," his mother said.

Alone, he climbed the steep uneven trail from parking lot to restaurant. He heard the piano from outside the door. It wasn't played quite as well as the first night he'd heard it, rather like the piano player might have been tired, nursing a hangover.

The lunchtime crowd was just leaving, and James stepped back as soon as he entered the front door to allow a couple, happy and drunk, to exit. He approached the stage quietly, watching the piano player's head move softly back and forth. He smiled a little and removed the wallet from his pocket, tucking it securely into the tip jar.

The piano player looked up at him. James smiled. Gregory smiled. The music continued to play. James backed slowly to the door and raised his hand in a wave goodbye. The piano player winked.

James walked slowly back to his father's car, climbed into the back seat and almost immediately fell asleep.

That day and that night and the next night and the night after he had hard gritty dreams about being pressed down into sand. The dreams faded when he awoke, grew less vivid the more he slept then decreased in frequency, until he only had them once every few months or so.

Years and years passed and James became a fine upstanding man. He became a doctor, and then a specialist in oncology. He was good at his job.

By the day he began his new fellowship in a New Jersey teaching hospital, he was just barely James and mostly a man named Dr. Wilson. The woman who led him around was pretty enough, with a snarky, confident manner, and brazen, sexy wardrobe. He was interested and paid extra close attention to her, following her through the glass hallways, and then…

And then he met the Head of Diagnostics.

He stared at the man for a moment, which was alright as everyone else in the hall was doing the same. The man yelled at the woman who'd been so kind as to show him around about something he or she had failed to do, James wasn't sure, and then swung his gaze to James.

James gaped.

The man looked down at his shirt, wondering if he had spilled something on it. His eyebrow went up when he detected nothing, and he looked back at James.

"Have we met?" James asked.

The Head of Diagnostics shook his head. "Don't think so."

James stuck out his hand. "My name is Jimmy," he said, and almost immediately cringed as the childish nickname came out. "Wilson," he corrected.

The man took the hand and shook it. The grip was firm and even.

"Gregory House."