1959

Blythe holds the baby close.

"Shhhh," she whispers. "It's OK."

Greg's cries quiet to whimpers. "Shhhh." She places one hand against his head, the feathery wisps of hair soft beneath her fingers.

John sits beside her on the blanket. He leans in close, circling one arm around Blythe's shoulders. He's in shirt sleeves, his uniform coat on the blanket. There's a cool breeze coming off the ocean, but the humid summer air still feels thick all around her.

"Shhhh," she murmurs.

Johns leans down and touches Greg's hand. Greg's fingers curl around John's index finger. "Look Greg," John says, "look at the lights." He points out at the night sky and the flash of colors in the black out over the water.

"John, he's just a baby," Blythe says. "He can't see fireworks."

But the baby stops fussing and seems to follow the line of John's hand, out away from his mother. Another rocket explodes and he blinks as the sky turns bright.

------------

1966

"That's not fair," Greg says. "Steve's dad said I could go with them."

"And I say you can't." John picks up the newspaper. "You were supposed to clean your room. You didn't."

"I'll do it now," Greg says.

"Too late."

"John, it'll be all right if he goes," Blythe says. She's standing in the kitchen doorway, waiting for the water to boil. Six fresh ears of corn sit on the counter, ready to go in the pot. "It's only once a year."

Greg smiles when she speaks up. She tries to stop herself from smiling, but can't quite. "He'll just have to clean both his bedroom and the living room tomorrow," she says.

"The boy needs discipline," John says. "Actions have consequences." He puts down the paper, looks Greg in the eye. "You'll remember that next year, won't you."

Greg looks down at the floor. He doesn't say anything.

"Won't you," John repeats.

Greg nods. "Yes sir."

John sends him to bed after supper, when it's still light out, when they can all hear the sounds of children yelling in the streets, the pop, pop, pop of firecrackers.

Greg sits on his bed and stares out the window. He sees kids on bikes. There's a sprinkler on across the street and Jenny and some other girls take turns running through it.

He sees the driveway two doors down, where Steve's family packs their station wagon just before dusk. They back out onto the road and turn left, towards the park.

There's a knock on the door and Mom opens it a moment later. She walks in and sits on the bed beside him. "I'm sorry, honey" she says, and hugs him. "We'll go next year, I promise."

Greg nods.

When it gets dark, he hears the distant boom of the first round of fireworks. He stands at the window, looking down the road, toward the park. High above the trees, he catches a glimpse of red in the sky.

---------

1973

"Where did you get these?"

Greg pulls a box out of the bag. All the writing is in Japanese. He studies the characters, but can't make them out. He's learned to speak a little of the language, but the writing is confusing.

"My brother got them from some guy off base. He let me have some." Nate snatches the box back from Greg and from the other boys who have gathered around him in one corner of the empty school playground. "If you want to watch, you have to pay."

Greg glances around the group. He knows most of them will do whatever Nate wants. Nate's dad is the base commander. Nate always has the best stuff, first. He can buy whatever he wants at the NEX. Nate is captain of the junior high basketball team. His brother is co-captain of the football team.

Greg hates Nate, but he wants to see fireworks.

He puts his hands in his pockets. "I don't have any money." He spent his allowance on guitar strings.

"Get some," Nate says.

Greg knows better than to ask Dad for money. Dad would just lecture him again about how he needs to learn how to save up for things he wants. Maybe Mom would give him some.

"How much?"

"Five dollars, U.S."

Greg shakes his head. "That's a lot." That's more than Mom will give him, anyway.

"Where else are you going to see fireworks tonight?"

Greg knows he's right. They all know that he's right. Nate's father decided there wouldn't be any display on the base this year, something about cutting costs, Dad had said.

"How do I know these are any good?"

"Trust me," Nate says.

"No." Greg sees one of the other boys nodding his head. "If you want our money, we should get a guarantee they'll be worth it." He reaches into the bag, pulls out the biggest one. "Light this one now," he says. "Prove it."

"Why should I?"

Greg shrugs. "Because if you don't, we're going to tell everyone that you've got nothing but crap." He holds out the package again. "Come on. Prove it."

Nate takes it back. "I don't have any matches."

"I do." Another boy steps forward. Greg recognizes him from school, but doesn't know his name. He's in tenth grade. He holds out a crumpled book of matches.

Nate looks at him, looks at the other boys. He takes the matches. "One," he says. "Just one. You have to pay for the rest."

He unwraps the firework from its plastic, and places the cone on the ground in the center of the basketball court. They all step back as he lights it.

The fuse fizzes for twenty seconds, then thirty. Then there's a bang, and the rocket blasts up from the pavement, climbing for fifteen feet before it explodes into colors: red, green and yellow against the blue of the afternoon sky.

--------

1998

"Why did we come here, anyway?" House leans forward and swats away another mosquito.

"You were the one who wanted to go somewhere with music and fireworks," Stacy reminds him.

"This isn't music," House says. "It's 'pops.'" He should have known better than to trust Bonnie to pick the place, but she had sworn that Philadelphia was the place to go.

"She likes Philadelphia," Wilson had said.

"I don't," House said. "If we're going to spend hours stuck in traffic, at least we could have gone to New York."

"I have to work tomorrow," Stacy had said.

"You can sleep in the car."

With the vote three-to-one against him, House had given in. Now he's regretting it.

"Oh God," House says, as the orchestra launched into a medley of John Williams' film music. "If they play anything from 'Cats' I can't be held responsible for my actions."

"If they play anything from 'Cats,' I'll need more beer." Wilson reaches into the cooler and digs out two bottles. He hands one to House.

"Shhh," Bonnie says.

House rolls his eyes, but Wilson elbows him in the ribs and he doesn't say anything, just takes a drink.

He lies back on the ground, feeling the hard surface of ground beneath him, the grass turning dry and yellow from the midsummer heat. The sky has gone from a pale blue, through shades of gray and is turning dark. He turns his head to the right and sees a sliver of orange beyond the skyline from the setting sun.

The orchestra moves into the familiar opening of Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" and then Stacy is there beside him. She lies on her side, her elbow on the ground, her head propped on her hand.

She places her other hand on his chest, her fingers splayed out over his ribs, over his heart.

"Thank you," she says.

"For what?"

"I know you didn't want to come, so thanks for only bitching for half the day, rather than the entire day."

"I wanted to go somewhere with you," he says. "It could have been worse."

Stacy leans toward him, speaking so softly House can barely hear her over the noise of the piccolo trilling away in the bandstand. "It was important for Bonnie that she and James find more that they can do together."

"They can have a divorce together," House says, and Stacy covers his mouth with her hand. She glances back toward the front of the blanket where Wilson and Bonnie sit on separate sides of the cooler.

"Be nice," Stacy whispers into his ear. She puts her head down on his shoulder, and House wraps an arm around her body. Her breathing slows until she breaths in time with him, their chests rising and falling together.

House turns to kiss her as the concert ends, then they both look up as the first fireworks explode, red and white against the dark blue of the night sky.

-------

2007

"What are you doing out here?"

House glances over at Wilson in the dim light. He's wearing his lab coat, but his tie is loose.

"Waiting," House says.

"More tests?" Wilson lets the door close behind him and walks across the roof.

House nods. "Cameron would have finished that biopsy hours ago."

"Cameron doesn't work for you anymore."

"Neither will this moron for much longer at the rate he's going," House says.

Wilson shakes his head, but doesn't argue. Not everyone is cut out to work with House. Most people aren't. He sits next to House, both their backs against the hard brick wall.

House turns to look at him. Wilson works holidays for only one reason. "Your patient dying? Or already dead?"

"Dead." Wilson puts his head back against the wall, crosses his arms across his knees. "Twenty minutes ago. I'm waiting for the paperwork."

"You don't actually have to attend every death personally, you know," House points out.

Wilson shrugs. "You don't actually have to run all your own tests either."

House looks out at the evening sky, a nearly full moon keeping the blue from turning completely black . He can see one star to the north, struggling to be seen against the haze of street lights. He can hear the hum of the air conditioning units on the other side of the building, the roar of traffic in the street below. He hears the screech of tires as someone slams on the brakes.

"You could wait inside," Wilson says after a few minutes. "It's air conditioned in your office."

House nods. It's been a hot summer, and the air is humid, holding tight to the water from yesterday's rainstorm. His skin feels sticky, and he brushes away a drop of sweat making its way down the side of his face.

"And there are no stairs in your office," Wilson points out.

House nods again, but doesn't say anything.

Wilson is quiet again for a moment, then looks at House. "So why are you here?"

House hears a faint boom, looks out across the roof, over the parking lot, past the campus. He points north, to the flame of red against the darkness. "That's why."