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Losing Your Audience

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A hand on a waist, guiding, steering towards the door. The almost mistaken press of a body up against the curve of a hip. The look, not returned, not acknowledged.

Ringo worked out what was happening a long time ago. He hadn't seen it in Hamburg, granted, but then he wasn't with them very much. He would see them on stage and that would be it, just putting on a show, John larking about for the audience.

But then they asked him to join and he was stuck in a van with them for three weeks; a birds eye view.

John was always touching him, tapping him, flicking his ears to get his attention. Ringo didn't know, at first, how Paul could stand it, but then he learned that maybe Paul did more than stand it - maybe he liked it.

When he wasn't doing cruel impressions of disabled people to make Paul laugh, John was touching him. Ringo once saw him physically poke Paul in the eye in order to wake him up because he'd dozed off and left him unamused for a few moments. It reminded Ringo of the cat they used to have, Charlie, who would chase the bottoms of his long trousers or nudge at his face in the mornings to wake him up for his food. It was relentless. And repetitive. And sometimes frankly embarrassing.

Once, when they were a few years in and he'd learned almost all of John's hopeful, needy signals, Ringo had to physically stop him from giving the game away.

"Aren't you staying for a drink?" John had asked, watching Paul get his jacket.

"I'm meeting Jane in town; we're going dancing."

An over-active chorus of 'ooooh!' from George, tuning up his guitar and Paul laughed.

"But you said last night that she was going to some 'do."

"She canceled it," Paul said, shutting the piano lid and searching his pockets for his keys. "See you in the morning, lads."

He said it without looking up, mind already in the car, down the street, waiting for Jane. Ringo saw John about to open his mouth and - not thinking - put his hand in the curve of John's elbow, physically holding him back. "Let him go, mate," he said.

He meant let him go out, let him see his girlfriend, he'll be back in the morning. But when John looked at him, it occurred to Ringo that maybe he'd meant much more than that, without thinking.

If he'd have been the sort of man who was afraid, he might have worried briefly for his pearly whites. But he knew John didn't fight, not without booze in him and not with people he trusted not to up and leave him. Ringo was one of those such people; dependable, that's what his mother called him. It was why John had never had a cross word with him, not once.

"Aye," John eventually said, eyes flickering down. Ringo watched them go, wondering what they were seeing. "Stupid little red head bitch."

"We'll go out, mate; call Cyn and Mo and go the flicks, give the girls a thrill."

John mustered up a smile for that one, clicked back into jokey mode and patted Ringo on the head. "Good idea, son; you get the girls, I'll get the thrills."

It went on after that, of course; Ringo wasn't sure if he'd expected it to stop with one word, one stupid little phrase. John still did his best (unconscious) impression of a puppy and Paul still (consciously) ignored it. He didn't hate him - could never hate Paul - but it made him like him a bit less, slowly, carefully, distaste dripping in like water through a crack.

Then when John found Yoko, Paul lost his dog.

"He's always tapping at her, trying to get her attention," Paul said once. "It's disgusting. Has he forgotten we're here?"

'I'm here, not we're here,' Ringo wanted to correct, but didn't. He watched the way John let Paul leave the studio without a word (hardly noticed him go) and caught the casual look back Paul gave as he walked through the door.

Nothing, he thought, packing away his things, hurts like losing your audience.