He's nineteen years old and he's a widower.

Except to be perfectly honest, James isn't even sure if he's allowed to call himself that— he and Miri aren't actually married. Weren't actually married. His throat closes up for an instant before the baby in his arms starts to fuss, and so he diverts his attention, rocking the way all the women in the maternity ward had been doing the week before. It must be somewhere in the realm of right because Beck goes quiet, curling against James's chest. The blanket James had wrapped him in who-knows-how-long-ago trails over the edge of the bed and onto the floor.

The apartment is almost embarrassingly in need of a cleaning. Dishes are stacked along the edge of the sink, on the counters. When James touches shelves, his fingers come back dusty. The reason he's still holding Beck is because he has no idea how long these sheets have been in use, and he doesn't have a crib. He doesn't have a playpen, a bassinet, a highchair. He has a worn-out copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting, six packets of formula, and a pile of clothes he and Miri picked out a month ago. But Beck's been wearing the same thing for two days straight, because that tiny shirt folded on top of the dresser still has the indents of her fingertips on it. She had pressed it to her face, then to her stomach, still round as the moon, and laughed.

Then he remembers: Miri is never going to laugh ever again.

Suddenly Beck jolts out of his calm stupor and begins to cry. "Shh," James says, rocking again, but it doesn't seem to be doing anything as Beck's face goes steadily red. "Shh, shh, shh—" He tries to bounce the baby (—his baby—) and grab for the bottle he had made an hour earlier, but it isn't soothing, Beck keeps crying, and his fingers manage to knock the half-full bottle onto the carpet. A milky white stain leaches its way beneath the bed even as James curses much too loud, and Beck cries even louder, and he curses louder still, but he keeps rocking back and forth, over and over. His glasses are skewed on his face. Beck's cries sound choked. James can feel his hands shaking around the blanket, but he can't find the will to get up. So instead he sits there on the bed until the sky begins to go dark, until Beck wears himself out from crying and falls into a gentle sleep, until his eyes start to burn from the endless hours he has been awake.

He's a father. He's a widower, maybe. He's disowned. He's everything his parents hate to see.

But mostly, he's so fucking alone that it's hard to breathe.

.

James doesn't go to work a month straight, so he's pretty sure he's fired. The days blend together, though, so it's a little hard to tell if it's really been that long. Beck is awake half the night, sleeps part of the day, and generally refuses to adhere to anyone's schedule but his own. Only some of the counter is covered with dishes (why put them away when he's just going to pull them out in an hour? What a fucking waste). The dryer is broken; James lays their clothes out to dry on the floor and steps over them when he walks, if he doesn't forget.

"Hey," he says to Beck one day. The TV is on but muted, the way he usually keeps it. Everyone's voices sound too loud otherwise, too earnestly cheerful and bright. It makes him a little sick. "Hey. Could you maybe stop needing formula? Because it's a little expensive. Thanks."

Beck blinks at him from the floor. He's lying on top of damp button-downs, clenching the fabric in his tiny hands. A burble of noise makes its way out of his throat. James nods. "Yes, I know. How ridiculous."

He's been steadily working his way through the five thousand dollars still left over from when he first left home. It won't run out for awhile yet. So he's fine. The TV is the only electronic he keeps on constantly, just because it's nice to see that other people's lives are still spinning on even while his has ground to a halt. The light bill is almost none; the water bill is just a smudge higher (who really needs showers, when the only place you go is the grocery store just down the street?).

Beck wriggles on the floor, his nonsensical sounds becoming more urgent, irritated. James bends down and scoops him up, settles him outward on his hip. He has no idea if you're allowed to carry babies this way, but Beck screeches at his shoulder and can't stand being cradled for longer than a few minutes. The clothes are all mostly dry, but he can't summon the energy to pick them up, put them away. It's like the dishes; why bother?

That's pretty much all his life is, now. Why fucking bother?

"Shh," James says automatically when Beck begins to squirm. He walks over to the couch, lies down, and stretches Beck out on his stomach. His son blinks at him, confused, all dark eyes and wispy dark hair and tan skin and Miri.

James shuts his eyes, and then on second thought just takes off his glasses. They drop somewhere on the floor as the world goes blurry. "Better," he says. Beck is now a washed out smudge; James pats him on the back. "Better."

.

This is what his dreams consist of:

His mother leering over him and whispering, I told you so.

Beck sobbing in the middle of their empty bed, encased in glass and unreachable.

The light dimming from Miri's eyes.

Father clapping his shoulders, saying, We're so proud.

Beck sitting in between his grandparents, mutually held, and then fading away to nothing while he yells and no one turns to listen.

Miri's voice, singing at him from the dark.

But the worst is, always, the one that plays on repeat:

At his parents' house, Beck in his arms, shaking with heat and fever. "I need the hospital," he tells the guests, every time, and they all turn blank eyes on him. "My son's sick, look at him, please—"

But they only laugh, laugh until the sound roars in his ears. "James," his mother says, appearing from the blur of the crowd. "You don't have a baby. Don't be silly."

"Mom," he starts, only to glance down at the suddenly empty cradle of his arms; his lungs to begin to burn from the long moments he does not breathe. "Mom, he was just—"

"I know," she says, although his mother has never done anything of the sort. Then she takes him by the wrist and, to the endless laughing of the rest, begins pulling him back to the place where he started from.

.

He wakes up most nights with screams still caught between his clenched teeth, with Beck sleeping soundly beside him. James can recall with the sharpness that most people recall good jokes his high school science classes, the college prep courses he took each summer. Every human being is a perfect genetic mixture of their parents; it goes part and parcel with sexual over asexual reproduction. So in the middle of the night he finds himself leaning over Beck and tracing the slope of his forehead, the curves of his miniscule shoulders. Until he had his own, James had no idea babies were so— small.

He searches everywhere on Beck for Miri. That's the easy part: the color of everything is hers, the dark skin, black hair, brown eyes. He is much too recessive for that, all blond-and-blue, perfect American cliché. But sometimes he thinks that maybe Beck's nose is lined the same as his; maybe their eyebrows make the same arch, their eyes the same tilt at the corners. Or maybe he's just fucking insane. That's becoming more and more of a reasonable option.

Can insane people recognize their insanity? Or is that what makes them insane, the inability to do so? That they go around thinking they're normal? His mother used to push him away from the staggering men on the street corners when they went to town, who thrust plastic bags and cups at them fora little change. James can remember wondering why his mother didn't give them anything— why she didn't give them a chance to explain why they needed it.

James can see himself now, crouched on the corner, Beck swaddled in his arms. How many people would walk straight past? How many people would let him rot?

His parents would.

"Shh," James says, when Beck cries in the night, and he makes himself shake off the thought. The bed is too big for him and a baby. Miri is not curled on her side, she isn't draping an arm and a leg over his shoulder as though she can't bear to be apart. "Shh, hey, hey," he says every time Beck startles awake out of dead sleep. There's crying and wailing, hours of it, usually, before James can think beyond it any more.

He wonders if Beck can feel what's missing, too.

.

Altogether, he had eighteen years with his parents. He and one and a half with Miri. But when he closes his eyes, her face is the one stamped there like an icon; Mother's eyes are hazy, Father's face smooth and blurred. His childhood is a series of snapshots, but he can lie at night and stretch out memories of Miri to last for hours. Sometimes he thinks they would go on forever if he let them.

Miri threw herself into his life, a tsunami of force that etched her into his brain, his veins. Logically, he knows that it was nothing more than six hundred days at the very most— but that's a lot when there's someone there for each of them to tear down your world and build a new one from the rubble. She snorted when he used summer as a verb, called him an ass when he wondered out loud how hard it would be for the people lined up at unemployment like a long stretch of waifs to get jobs if they really, truly tried. "I hate you sometimes, white boy," she would say, and then laugh to the sky. The curls of her hair trailed over her throat more beautifully than the finest diamonds. "Live a little or die of a heart attack. Your choice."

He did choose; for a year and a half, he lived. The same just can't be said for her.

.

"'Scuse me," says a woman with neon leggings and the stench of hairspray surrounding her, blocking his way out of the grocery store. "Would you like to be saved?"

James doesn't reach for the flier she offers. "I wish," he says, even while without meaning to he thinks: Glory to God in the highest. Beck whines in his arms, reaching up to try and catch the slant of a fluorescent light between his tiny palms.

The woman smiles, not deterred at all. "Don't you want the best for your baby, there?" she asks. James can imagine her, right then, laughing with her own children, and her husband, and probably a dog and cat, too. Her face is round and pretty. She grins at Beck, touching his hair softly.

James jerks away. "I'm leaving," he says. The boxes of formula crash into each other inside his plastic bag as he turns, stumbling through the double doors.

"Jesus saves!" the woman calls after him.

Not quick enough.

.

"You're such a little weirdo," James informs his son. Beck is lying on the floor, apparently entranced by the motion of the ceiling fan. "What is wrong with you?"

It's probably a sign of some kind of problem that he routinely talks to Beck as if the baby can fully understand him, can comprehend anything coming out of his mouth. But it's either that or silence, and James just can't deal with that. The TV-voices still sound too fake to his ears, to the point where he doesn't even turn the thing on any more just so he doesn't have to stare at their painted-on smiles. Another bill down.

James wishes it was time to sleep. When he wakes up every morning, there's a half-second when his mind's still fuzzy and he can hear Miri breathing, slow and steady, beside him. And even when he has to realize that it isn't true, the pain that cuts him back into pieces is still worth the sheer joy when he can let himself think for such a miniscule instant: She's back.

Beck starts to fuss on the floor. James watches him silently, cross-legged on the ratty couch. Miri picked it out. Said she liked the pattern: faded roses. "Calm down," he says. Beck's noises turn frustrated, and he wonders how long until the babbles will shape themselves into words. It would be a nice distraction, at least. "You're fine," James says, louder this time. Beck pauses, finds his eyes. "You're fine," he repeats, staring at his son, and Beck waits one long moment before relaxing against the carpet, finally at ease.

"Hey," James adds, an afterthought. "I love you, okay?"

But Beck is already kicking his legs, absorbed in the ceiling fan again.

.

When he lays Beck down on their bed already fast asleep, James has to press his tongue to his teeth just to stop the words from rolling out: Now I lay me down to sleep— I pray the Lord, my soul to keep…

Even though Beck has started sleeping better, longer, he himself still stays up half the night, all night. Looks out the window, catches hints of constellations behind grit and smog. Miri is up there, somewhere, watching him, watching Beck, watching them live their sad versions of lives, but in the end that thought makes him feel more sick than comforted. What the fuck did he go to Sunday school for thirteen years for?

And should I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take…

"I believe," he whispers into the thick dark air. It almost chokes him to say it, almost short-circuits his mind to think— What God would do this?

From a dozen feet away, Beck makes tiny, pre-crying noises. James finds that he barely has the energy to pull himself away from the window. Aren't you supposed to let babies cry it out? His head is pounding; his temples sting with sharp pain. It feels like he's sunken into a block of ice. He wants everything motionless, because why is the world still spinning when Miri is no longer in it?

But he makes himself move. He makes himself walk, step by step, over to Beck, and scoop him into the cradle of his arms. He makes himself rock, over and over and over, until Beck's breath is a sigh against his chest. He makes himself be gentle laying the baby down again, makes himself summon what seem like his very last reserves of energy to fumble with a bottle for morning.

In the kitchen, paused and still shaking from the effort of going through the motions, James wonders fleetingly what would become of him if he didn't have Beck. He decides just as quickly that he doesn't want to know.

.

Beck wakes up screaming and continues in that vein for the entire day. James feels his eardrums bursting by noon; images of banging his head against the wall take up his mind. "Please be quiet," he whispers into the baby's hair, but there's no response beyond another round of shrieks.

This is what he realizes in the two seconds of blessed silence between each scream: If he didn't have Beck, he would still have Miri.

.

He's a horrible fucking person, basically.

"It's not like I'm… blaming you or anything," he says to Beck, slipping the bottle into his mouth. Beck's hands come to rest on his wrist, brown eyes fluttering closed. James swallows. He thinks of Miri, her stomach so swollen with pregnancy that he had to help her stand. He thinks of blood staining starch white hospital sheets, bright poppies of color beside her suddenly sallow skin. His throat goes so thick with tears he's never cried that for a moment, Beck jolts with the shakes of his arms.

He steadies himself, murmurs, "Sorry" to a baby who cannot understand. The bottle is half-empty, although James is sure he's only just sat down. He does that sometimes: watches Beck for what seems like a few minutes, but when he looks to the clock, it's been an hour.

Without Beck, what would he have that was proof of Miri? Her jeans and T-shirts, which he still hasn't washed because sometimes they still hold the softest hint of her smell? Her books, half in Hindi that he cannot for the life of him translate? The one photo of her, because they could never save up enough for the camera she had wanted for when Beck was born, that they'd paid five dollars for at a carnival she'd dragged him to? The one photo, because he thought back then that there were still decades left for him to take more?

Beck starts squirming; his bottle is empty. James cannot count the number of times he hasn't burped him right, thought he wasn't hungry any more, made him cry harder by sheer accident. How the fuck is he doing this? How does he know he isn't screwing up the only thing that draws him out of bed in the morning? What the hell would Miri think of him now?

He imagines, sometimes. When Beck is crying and he can't soothe him, when his face goes red and nothing is calming anymore. Imagines Miri leaning over and lifting him, singing the same tunes she had to her stomach for months. Pressing him to her chest, the way she'd gotten to for the few slow seconds before life came crashing down around him.

It ends the same, though, because much as he'd like it not to, reality always wins out: He and Beck, alone in a room. He and Beck, alone.

.

Sometimes, James thinks of this: his mother laughing as his father kissed her cheek. The sound of their housekeeper singing Spanish pop songs while she dusted. Father clasping his shoulders before he gave his valedictorian speech. How Mother's hands folded in her lap as she sat in a pew. The sunshine reflecting off the jewel-blue water in their pool, midsummer.

But in the end, all James can really see is this: Miri spinning round and round on the carpeted floor, belting out music in a voice so rich it makes the air shimmer. Getting kicked out a department store after she convinces him to lay down with her on the soft, bleached-white beds. The stars that shine even through a layer of grit and smog in the deepest part of evening, and the voice that traces the constellation's stories. Small slim hands in his. The tilt of her jaw when her words flow in a language his parents would scoff at an American speaking. Miri in the morning, sleep-tousled and yawning. Miri sitting cross-legged on the countertop, reaching out to fling her arms around him and almost falling off. The soar of her laugh. The shine of her eyes.

Or, more simply:

James sees Miri.

.

"Look," Miri had said, gasping. Her pulse fluttered at the base of her throat. "Look at him."

Their baby, cradled against her. James had touched the top of his head, and never could remember feeling quite so reverent before. The doctor smiled, gloves soaked in blood. Too much blood.

"My little one," Miri murmured against Beck's temple, then froze. Her mouth opened wide.

The doctor sprang into action before James knew what was happening, a strange kind of dance that seemed much too prepared. "Lay down!" he ordered, spreading her legs again, but Miri was already screaming.

.

He's so fucked.

There is exactly $102 left in his bank account. Five grand to just over a hundred. He has no job that he knows of. He only got the old one because Miri had vouched for him, had danced into the coffee shop proclaiming that she found another server all by herself. Beck is crying. Miri's few pieces of jewelry catch the light every time he glances at the side table. He's broke. He has a baby to take care of. He doesn't have his wife (except she wasn't). His lover (too simple a word). His Miri (but she was never really his, only her own). Beck's mother.

(It's the only thing that fits.)

James can remember coming to California by bus, which in actuality was a really ridiculous way to travel there from Massachusetts. That's the fuzziest time in his life— running away, but before Miri. Running away, but without knowing why, only that he could breathe so much easier the farther away he was from home.

.

He's giving Beck a bath in the kitchen sink when he stops and says, "How do you feel about grandparents?"

Beck blinks, splashes warm water. James feels his throat burn. "They would help," he says, to convince himself more than anything else. His limbs feel weighed down by water, like he's been swimming just beneath an ocean for months, only able to break the surface for a few bare moments.

He has not spoken to his parents since… since the day before he left, the day before he turned eighteen. There was a party planned for the next afternoon, despite the million times he'd told them that he did not want it. That he would scream if he had to listen to one more conversation about the stock market and his future. That he was still not quite sure if everyone else lived their lives like this.

"Poor little rich boy," Miri had mocked, trying to make four cups of coffee at once on a malfunctioning machine. She had managed it; she expected no less of herself.

James lifts Beck up from the water, dries and dresses him without thinking about it. If only he would stay like this forever, just a little squirming thing that needs his physical care more than anything else. He lays his son on the floor, flips on the ceiling fan, and almost goes to pick up the phone before remembering that he has not paid the bill since— however old Beck is, now.

Most people can divide their lives neatly: the one instant that changed them, that pointed them in a whole other direction. That was Miri, would always be Miri, could be no one else but her, singing slow songs at a fast-paced tempo just so she could dance, trying out every name in the world for the baby that turned, slow and steady, just beneath the seam of her skin. But now there is nothing but Beck. James wonders how strange it is that sometimes he can stare at Beck for who-knows-how-long, because he is nothing less than half his mother, living proof that she wasn't just a fantasy— and he wonders how strange it is that sometimes he will let Beck cry too long, lie alone for an hour on the carpet, because the truth of it is that him being born changed everything. Without meaning to in the slightest, Beck divided his life into thirds: before Miri, with Miri, after Miri.

.

This is what he swears to a God that's getting hazier every day: He won't ever let on to Beck that there never should have been an after.

.

The next day, he takes a shower in water so hot it scalds his skin, then gathers Beck in his arms and traipses to the grocery store where the cashiers have for so long given him looks filled to the brim with pity. He buys enough formula and food for a few days (down to ninety dollars), asks for change in quarters, and finds that he has to hesitate before punching in the number at the pay phone just outside.

"Hello, you've reached the Oliver's. To whom would you like to speak?"

They've gotten a new maid, then, one without an accent. "Lillian, please," he says, setting his plastic bag on the cold concrete and anchoring Beck more securely to him.

"And may I ask who is calling?"

He swallows, and then without thinking strokes the side of Beck's arm, because as long as Beck still exists, everything is real. "James," he says, wondering how his absence has been explained away. "Just tell her it's James."

"One moment, please."

There's a lull of static, like the worst kind of limbo. He looks to Beck, who is staring, wide-eyed, at surroundings he's never been in before. Suddenly James can feel his heartbeat jump to triple-time, terrified that he isn't exposing Beck enough, isn't showing him anything but the inside of a too-dirty apartment and a too-bright grocery store. Aren't babies supposed to get stimulated, to develop their brains? Has he already fucked up past the point of no return?

"James. Hello."

His hands clenches involuntarily on the phone. "Mom. Hi."

There is no fanfare in this, no oh my goodness what on Earth happened to you, because even though James has not heard her voice in, God, almost two years— his mother will never have anything less than a perfect poker face. "What brought this call on?" she asks, lightly. Wondering. He can see her arching her brows, leaning against the fine polished wood of the table the hall phone sits on. He doesn't have a phone. He doesn't have a house.

James looks to the ground and bounces Beck just slightly, half hoping and half dreading that he will start to cry and force his mother to ask. "I need— Mom," he says, trying to explain something there isn't a word for. "Mom, my— oh God." It takes everything in him to keep from letting Beck slip from his arm, because this is the woman who held his hand in crowded stores and mouthed affirmative action at his father when they met his pretty black school teacher and gives money to their church and believes in a God that took Miri away from him; this is the woman who got him into the very best schools and told him to pray for answers and rolled her eyes when the maid's Spanish songs reached her ears and he can't fucking do this. "I'm sorry," he finishes, backing away already, ready to simply drop the phone when the dial tone sounds, "never mind, I shouldn't have— I'll get a job, okay, I'll be fine, just— just never mind, Mom, okay? I'm really f-fucking sorry."

Silence. When James looks down, searching for his bag, he can't find it. Stolen. Formula and ramen noodles. Who the fuck else needs that?

"Please don't use that language," his mother finally says, then: "James, I—"

He slams the phone back into its cradle. Beck whines, fingers scrabbling over his arm. "I know," James says, as the wind blows so hard it burns his cheeks. He steps to the side, and begins to head back to home. "I know."

.

He only thinks about it once. There's a social services place few blocks away; he could go late at night. Hand them Beck and make them promise he'd get a good home with nice people, which he would, because didn't everyone want the babies? Didn't everyone want to pretend they were always part of the family instead of grafted in, a late addition?

He's at the store again. People recognize him from earlier and watch, half-worried. He doesn't care. Beck is on his shoulder, head lolling with sleep. Beck's tired. He should get home. Barely ninety bucks, right? He could buy what he's standing in front of right now, more formula. Or he could get a ticket on the next bus for himself back to Massachusetts (no chance of a plane, ha, no way in hell). He would keep a piece of Beck's hair, probably, he thinks. Beg a picture off someone at social services. He would forget Miri. Tuck her away in his mind and never take her out again, because really, what a year and a half in the whole grand scheme of things?

It would be so easy. That's all. His parents would be glad they didn't have to keep making up stories about his absence. They had enough influence to get him re-accepted into Yale. He could take the tests again, live at home, finish his degree. Everything he was supposed to do before that one stupid thought kept growing, gnawing, taking over his brain: This can't be right.

He could make it right and it would all be okay.

But the thing is, he was right: normal people didn't live like that. Normal people didn't use hundred dollar bills on a daily basis and throw dinner parties on a rotating schedule and laugh about the help's accents behind their backs. Normal people worked in coffee shops and fell in love. Normal people fought over budgets. Normal people had babies and got their hearts broken, not always in that order. He's normal now but not really, because he still has a choice— he could go back to not-normal. He could go back to smiling at all the wrong things. He could go back to dancing stiffly with blonde girls in pastel dresses. He could go back to learning from books instead of from the people he talked to.

He could go back.

"Oh, wow."

James turns. A little girl, maybe eight or nine, is staring at Beck. She touches the bumps of his knuckles, fisted in James's shirt, and grins. "He's so cute. Did you adopt him?"

This is what he remembers, under the sharp glare of fake lights: his arms feel empty when Beck isn't in them. Miri told him stories about singing with her mother in a jazz club when she was a teenager, and her eyes always went dreamy. She could cook anything they had into a meal, whenever they needed it. Beck can roll over, again and again, and he has absolutely no idea when that started.

"No," James says to the girl, as Beck wakes up with a start. He grabs a box of formula and fits it into his arms. "He's mine."

Really, he wonders, was there ever a sweeter phrase?

.

Uptown, Downtown really has got to be the most ridiculous play ever written, but still, James sits through it. He watches Beck say corny lines with absolute certainty, dance like he wasn't spawned by a man who can barely waltz, and sing so often that James almost has to leave the auditorium; that's how much Miri there is in him.

It's a little ironic, anyway, the backdrop of the play: rich versus poor, love versus money. James is more than sure that all these kids think those things exist only as fodder for writers, extra drama. He has to wonder, though, if Beck realizes that he's playing the part of his mother. That things like this happen, even if it doesn't always end with a musical number and a smile.

Oh God, he thinks as the curtain goes down to thunderous applause, even though the phrase has rung hollow for more than fifteen years. I can't believe I thought of leaving you.

Miri had laughed, once, in the middle of their shift at the shop. "You're so dumb," she'd said, rolling her eyes. She hopped onto a cleared table, skirt sliding up. "You're not that awesome, okay, doll? Having shit doesn't make you awesome."

For once, James had been upset at her comments, at her truth. "Why put up with me, then?" he demanded from his perch at the register. "Why even bother if I'm such a privileged ass?"

She laughed again, head dipping back. "You don't mean it," she had said, gifting him with a smile that made him copy it on instinct. "When push comes to shove, sweets, you're amazing."

In the dark auditorium, applause petering out around him, James blinks. Maybe one day he will be able to look at Beck without thinking, somewhere inside him, Miri. Maybe Beck only lives in that godforsaken RV because he began to realize that for every time James could not get enough of watching him, there were a dozen more times that it hurt like hell to do, because the memories never went away. Maybe eventually he'll tell Beck about his grandparents, and maybe one day Beck will be Beck and decide to screw with their heads by visiting with his pretty, pale girlfriend.

James stands up when the lights come back on. It takes a while, but Beck eventually stumbles out from backstage. "Hey Dad," he says, tugging his shirt back into place. "What's up, did you like it? Did you see Sophia Michelle? Dude, was Tori's zombie face creepy or what?"

"Excellent play, yes I did see her, and yes, it was rather creepy now that you mention it," James rattles off. Beck rolls his eyes.

"Me and Jade are going out after the cast party, alright? So I won't be home until, uh, yeah."

"'Uh, yeah'? Is that military time?" James asks mildly. Beck gives a sheepish smile.

"You know I'm the one keeping her out of trouble, we'll be fine," he says. He runs a hand through his hair, smiles for real. "Yeah?"

James makes him wait for a moment, then nods. "Fine. Have a good time."

The smile blossoms into a grin. Just like Miri's used to. "Awesome. 'Bye, Dad." Beck claps his shoulder, turns around and heads back to his friends. James raises a hand in goodbye, although he won't see. But it's Beck, you know? He deserves it, anyway.

.

"Hey," Beck says one day, Jade's head in his lap. Why they're up at the house, James has no clue, though he's beginning to suspect it's because he's just been grocery shopping. "Why do we have that piano, anyway?"

He points at the grand piano that sits in the alcove off the living room. James shrugs, returning to the paperwork spread across the coffee table. "Your mother always wanted to learn to play."

There's silence. "Weird," Beck says, dovetailing Jade's, "You want me to show you how?"

He looks down at her, bemused. "I didn't know you were good at the piano."

"I know how. Didn't say it was good. Keep up."

"Yes ma'am," Beck says, mock-saluting, and Jade hits his shoulder. They drag themselves up and over to the piano that James had bought when Beck was too young to remember, just graduated from a college he'd actually worked himself into. And maybe he has to listen to half-assed attempts to playing songs for the rest of the night, and maybe it interferes with his reports on programming malfunctions in the new line of Pearpads, but to be honest, James really doesn't give a damn.

Miri would have loved it, is all. And that's more than a good enough reason for him.


a/n: wow. okay. this was finished mostly because Ophelie23 reminded me of it and is probably the only one who legit cares about my ~intricate back story.~ i still didn't actually get in anything before miri died, but i hope it's enjoyed all the same; this can be considered, i guess, expansion on my other fic, "where we started from" (although i did change some things). this one, well, it deals with lots of different issues and so i don't know how i feel about it yet. comments/questions/likes/dislikes are appreciated, because idek. why do pianos always end up playing parts in my fics? hmm.