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A Million Suns

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"Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles!"
--Ed Sullivan, The Ed Sullivan Show, February 9th, 1964

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The boy looked a lot like Paul McCartney from behind.

Really young Paul McCartney, though. Pre-Quarrymen, even. The gauntness wasn’t quite there yet, let alone the pronounced cheeks and overgrown hair. Jean knew comparing the boy sitting two rows in front of her to late-1950s McCartney probably wasn’t the most productive way to spend her first Intro to World Politics class, but it was syllabus week, and besides, his hair was just the right amount of thick and dark. Even his beige jacket looked like it had come straight out of England.

No one else in here looked quite as interesting. There were a couple of girls with dyed hair, but that was hardly out of style nowadays. A girl with a vintage red Make America Great Again tee shirt, and a guy with the same phrase tattooed on his upper bicep. But then again, that was hardly out of style these days, either.

“All I’m saying,” the guy next to him was going, leaned over his desk with both arms bent in their stoner sweatshirt sleeves, “is we’re all agreed these people are dangerous, right? They already stopped letting them in. Everyone in Congress voted for it. You think that many people can be wrong?”

Jesus, thought Jean. She wanted to hear what the other boy was going to say – wanted him to turn his head, at least, so that she could get a better look at his face – but her own partner was staring at her.

“Jean?”

She shook her head, turning back around. They were supposed to talk in pairs for a minute; there was a debate going on in Congress about forcibly banning Islam in America, and the professor, a thin fifty-something-year-old woman with a short pixie cut of hair that could only be described as prickly, wanted to know their thoughts. “Yeah?”

The girl sitting next to her also had a pixie cut, and it was a strange lavender color, somewhere light and fluffy that landed in between purple and pink. Her name was Agnes. “I was saying how I’m against it. The whole banning-a-religion thing. It’s unconstitutional.”

Jean managed a smile. “Don’t tell me you’re a fundamentalist.”

“I am in this case,” she said stubbornly. “There’s a lot of crap in the Constitution, sure, but freedom of religion is in there for a reason.”

Jean had definitely sat down in the right area of the lecture hall. It was a popular class, and apart from a series of scattered loners (including herself, honestly), the room was sprinkled left and right with gaggles of conservative-looking preps. Guys with fratty crewnecks, girls with portable Starbucks mugs and stickered laptops. Jean didn’t consider herself a very judgmental person, but she knew judgmental people when she saw them.

Here, though, she was sitting next to a nice girl named Agnes with pink hair. And speaking of views, she had a Paul McCartney lookalike to keep her boredom at bay.

“All right, come on back,” called the professor – Mickey, as she had told them all to call her – gesturing for them all to quiet down. “What did you all come up with?”

A few hands went up, one of which belonged to the boy with the red cap a couple of rows in front of Jean. Mickey paced around for a few minutes, surveying the sea of hands, and then called on him.

"Say your name first," she added, "I want to try to learn everyone's."

"Silas Faring. And I was just saying about how I feel like it's basically common sense at this point," he said. He had a thick voice, smooth, but some sort of hidden edge in the tone made it hard for Jean to listen to. "Like, obviously we all want equality, that's not what I mean -- but after 9/11 and the riots last year in Michigan, we've got to be thinking in terms of what's viable."

Agnes groaned and sank a little lower down in her chair. "Fucking Silas," she muttered.

Jean looked over at her. "You know him?"

"He's my half-brother."

"And what is viable, Mr. Faring?" Mickey asked him. "In your opinion, I mean."

"Kicking them out," said Silas. "All of them. It's not their country anyway. I mean, I know nobody wants to say it, and I get that, but it's just the best option at this point. We need to think about our safety first."

“Jesus,” Jean muttered. She looked over, but Agnes said nothing; she was glaring at Silas from behind.

Mickey made a little humming noise, to indicate she understood him. Her lips were very tight. "That does seem to be a popular opinion these days," she said. "What about your partner? What did you think?" she asked, addressing the other boy now directly. "Remember, say your name first."

The boy sat forward.

"Uh, my name's Paul," he said, and Jean felt her heart nearly stop.

His voice.

It was Liverpool, through and through -- and the funny thing was that she wouldn't have even known Liverpool if she hadn't known that voice. It wasn't just British, it was Paul McCartney British -- the same lilting quality, the same deep curves around the words.

And his name was Paul.

She whipped her head around to look at Agnes again. Agnes had been looking ahead at Paul, who was speaking -- what he was saying, Jean couldn't have said, she was no longer taking in anything but the accent -- but when she saw Jean turn around, she glanced back at her.

"What?" she whispered.

"Do you not see it?" Jean knew her voice came out sounding high-strung, but she didn't care. "Or hear it?"

"Hear what?" Agnes was smiling, still, but she looked confused.

"Jesus, look at him. It's--" She stopped, because the words sounded so crazy, but then said them anyway, in a low whisper. "It's Paul McCartney."

Agnes blinked, staring at her. The confusion was still there.

"I know it sounds crazy," said Jean, "but—”

"Who's Paul McCartney?"

Jean stopped. "What?"

Her first instinct was that the other girl was playing a trick on her, but Agnes looked perfectly genuine -- still a little confused, only mildly interested.

"Paul McCartney?" Agnes repeated. "Who's that?"

Jean felt her mouth hanging open just a little, and she closed it, to feel less stupid. Then she said, "You're kidding, right?"

"Why would I be kidding? Is he an actor or something?"

"No. Well, yeah, I guess a little bit, but -- you honestly don't know who he is?"

Agnes shrugged.

Jean knew Agnes was waiting for her to explain, but she looked around the room, watching the faces of the other people in the lecture hall. Nobody else seemed at all surprised -- a few people were texting under their chairs or staring into space, and some were watching Paul or raising their own hands in response, but nobody was wide-eyed or pale or jumping up and down. Even Mickey seemed awfully at ease.

“What the fuck,” she whispered.

Agnes elbowed her. “What?”

“Paul McCartney, the musician,” she said, turning again to face Agnes. A sudden new urgency had taken hold of her, and she could hear it in her own voice, and she didn’t know why. “The Beatles. You’ve never heard of the Beatles?”

“I’ve heard of beetles. Lower your voice a little.”

Jean shook her head. She could think of nothing more to say, and she could tell Agnes was barely listening anymore anyway; Mickey had called on somebody else now, and the discussion was moving on.

She kept watching Paul – it was hard to keep her eyes off of him, more out of perplexity than anything else. He turned his head to the side a couple of times, to glance around or to reach down for his backpack, and these brief instances confirmed everything, cementing the idea even further into her mind. He had the exact same rounded eyes and arched brows, the same curved nose, the same small lips. And he looked very young, maybe even a little younger than her, and she was a freshman.
For anyone to not know Paul McCartney when they saw him – any single person, let alone a lecture hall full of people – was ludicrous. Jean had grown up on him. Him and all the Beatles – she had never had a particular favorite, but her moms would have little debates over their own (Paul and Ringo), they’d play Revolver and Sgt. Pepper on shuffle while they cooked, they’d even given Jean a tee shirt once from a concert they had gone to together as teenagers in the late nineties. It was one of their first dates. Everybody knew the Beatles – they were referenced constantly in movies and interviews, in everyday conversations, their songs were played all the time on the radio. Paul McCartney – at least, the only one she had known of until now – had died before she was born, but she had heard stories and seen the footage of the national memorial, the concert Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison had put together in his honor, just a few years before they too had passed away. She’d seen photographs of the streets after the death of John Lennon. She had never been obsessed with them or anything, but they cropped up in life in so many forms and at so many times, the way all important things did. They were worldwide.

Maybe she was hallucinating. Maybe it was somebody who just looked and sounded very similar to Paul McCartney, or maybe there was nobody there at all, maybe she just hadn’t had quite enough coffee this morning and now she was starting to drift into some daydream…

But every time she thought this, he would turn his head or raise his hand to say something new, and her doubts would dissolve all over again.

She spent most of the lecture glancing down at the clock on her phone every few minutes, waiting for Professor Mickey to dismiss them so that she could go and talk to Paul, to see if it was really him. She missed a lot of the rest of the discussion, except to note that Silas Faring raised his hand a couple more times, and each time he seemed to have something to say to make Agnes’ cheeks redden even further – whether from embarrassment or from anger, Jean wasn’t quite sure.

But when the lecture did come to an end, she felt frozen. She scrambled all of her things together and then sat still in her seat, watching helplessly as Paul gathered up his things and started making his way over to the aisle, grinning at a couple of people on the way as he passed them. He was so close.
It was less to do with the fact that it was him, and more a matter of not wanting to be wrong. The only thing more ridiculous than a room of people not recognizing a famous musician was the idea of a famous musician’s resurrection from the dead in the form of his own once-teenaged self. She knew she was wrong – there had to be some rational explanation, some reason to explain that she was wrong – and she didn’t want to be that girl who freaked out some guy for no reason the first week of her freshman year.

And yet. She had to know.

She took a deep breath, made her way down the row – and was stopped in the middle of the aisle by Professor Mickey.

“Hello,” said Mickey.

She sounded – and looked – friendly, but Jean felt immediately anxious. She saw me glancing at the clock, she knew I wanted class to be over.

“Hello,” said Jean. Behind Mickey’s shoulder, Paul was lingering near the door of the lecture hall, chatting with a couple of other guys.

“I’m Mickey,” said the professor, “and you are?”

“Jean Carlisle. I’m a freshman.”

“Well, welcome.” Mickey smiled. “As I pointed out a couple of times, I make it a point to learn everybody’s names, and I just thought I’d come over and introduce myself since I don’t think you really said anything during class.”

“Right,” said Jean. It was true, she hadn’t raised her hand once. “Sorry. I usually talk more, I was a little distracted.”

“Oh?”

She hesitated. Paul was about to leave the room – and yet, wait. Here was an authority figure, and better yet, an adult. Mickey looked like she was in her fifties – that was even a little older than Jean’s parents, and they had both been alive at the same time as the Beatles. Mickey seemed friendly enough, and genuine, and she was a professor, which meant she had to be smart and cultured. What better way for her to check?

“Well,” said Jean cautiously, “you know the boy – he was sitting a couple of rows in front of me? Next to the ‘Make America Great Again’ guy?”

“Ahh.” Mickey grinned knowingly, lifting a finger. “Say no more.”

Jean exhaled in relief. She knows. Thank God, she wasn’t crazy.

“All I ask,” said Mickey, “is that you flirt on your own time and not while I’m talking. Sound good?”

It took a moment for Jean to realize what she meant. “Oh – what? No,” she said hurriedly, “I didn’t mean – not like that. No flirting. It was – it was just, didn’t he look like Paul McCartney to you? Like, a lot? It was uncanny.”

Mickey stared at her for a moment, then shrugged a little and shook her head in apology. “I can’t say I know the name,” she said. “I’m not exactly up to date on all the teen heartthrobs these days.”

Not these days, Jean couldn’t help but think. He was a teen heartthrob, like, almost a century ago.

“You’ve never heard of him?” she pressed, trying hard not to sound frantic. “From the Beatles?”

“Is that a band?”

Jean shook her head. Behind Mickey, Paul was leaving the classroom, disappearing into the crowd of students milling around in the hallway.

“I have to go,” Jean managed, “I’m sorry.”

And without waiting for Professor Mickey to reply, she hurried past her, down the aisle, and out of the lecture hall. She didn’t look back.
She was worried for a moment that she’d lost him, but there he was, several paces ahead of her, in the hallway outside the door. His friends had left him and he was walking more slowly now, reading the club posters and ads on the walls as he went.

“Paul?” He didn’t hear her at first, so she swallowed to clear her voice a little and said it again. “Paul?”

He turned around. Now she got her first look at his face head-on, his whole self, and she felt a chill run down her spine. He was wearing a plain sweater, not a suit or anything like what the Beatles had worn in their early days, but his face – it was like looking into a living photograph. She felt cold.

“Yeah?” he said. He stepped off to one side so that the flood of people leaving the classroom could pass them by, and she followed suit.

“Sorry, it’s just–” She could feel herself blushing. “I know it’s kind of stupid,” she said, “but you look so much like Paul McCartney.”

He blinked.

She wasn’t sure what to say. “It’s nothing,” she said quickly, “I don’t–”

“I am Paul McCartney,” he said plainly.

Something coursed through her, something not as clear-cut as fear, but not far away from it, either.

I am Paul McCartney. She could think of nothing to say.

He was doing something in between a smile and a frown – it was like a smile, really, only his eyebrows were knitted together in confusion. “Do I know you?” he asked.

“Sorry,” she said again, “I just–” She closed her eyes, shook her head, and opened them again. “The Paul McCartney, I mean,” she said, looking straight into his eyes, pronouncing every word with extra meaning. “Like from Liverpool.”

His face brightened. “I am from Liverpool! How did you know I’m from Liverpool? Are you from England?”

“Of course not.”

“Sorry,” he said flippantly, “it’s just that I don’t meet a lot of Americans who’ve even heard of it.”

“Everybody’s heard of Liverpool,” she insisted. “Because of you, because of–”

She stopped, midsentence, at the look on his face. It was the same look of confusion he’d been wearing for the entire conversation, but only now for some reason did it register with her.

He didn’t know, either.

Nobody in her world politics class knew who Paul McCartney was. And neither did Paul McCartney himself.

“Listen,” she said, starting over, “can I talk to you?”

He blinked. “What, now?”

“Anytime.” The phrase any time at all popped into her head, and she shook it away, annoyed with herself. “Yes. Now.”

“I’ve got a class starting.”

“What class?”

He was smiling just a little bit – less at the conversation itself, it seemed, and more, a little, at her. “History of popular music.”

“Jesus Christ,” she said.

“What?”

“Nothing. Can you meet me after?”

“Where? And why?” he added, almost as an afterthought.

“It’s a lot to explain,” she said helplessly. “Can you meet me at Pence Library at five? I’ll put my number in your phone.”

A grin broke across his face. She couldn’t remember when he had last broken eye contact with her. “I don’t even know your name,” he said.

She exhaled. This isn’t happening. “It’s Jean,” she answered. “Jean Carlisle.”

She hadn’t noticed him taking out his phone, but he must have, because he handed it to her now. She thought about scrolling through his contacts to see if there were any other famous names she would recognize, but he was watching her, and she thought better of it. He waited patiently while she entered her number, then took the phone back and pocketed it.

“All right, Jean Carlisle,” he said, smiling that awful old painkiller smile. “I’ll see you at five.”

 

She had a couple of hours to kill before five, so she left the hall and started to wander. Her sister, Mae, had made this huge deal out of exploring back when she had gone to her first year of college, and she was trying to push the same habits onto Jean now – “Jean, I know it’s not your thing,” she had told her, “but you’ll be surprised how much fun it is, finding all the best little study spots and coffee shops. Meeting new people in random ways.” But she was right, exploring wasn’t Jean’s thing, so instead she found an empty bench on the square and pulled out her phone.

The square wasn’t really a square of streets or even a central part of Cavern City itself, but rather a great lawn in the middle of campus filled with crisscrossing sidewalks, benches, and trees people used for hammocking. All of the surrounding halls were visible, but it was still big enough that once you found a place to sit by yourself, you didn’t really have to worry too much about being bothered.

She dialed Cassie’s number first. Of her two moms, Cassie was the more adamant Beatles fan, not to mention the more likely to pick up in the middle of a workday.

She answered on the sixth ring, just when Jean was starting to think about hanging up.

“Jean!” She sounded flustered, but then again, she always did.

“Hi, Mom.”

“I didn’t think I’d be hearing from you so soon after we dropped you off.”

“What little faith you have in me,” said Jean, smiling.

“Oh, come on, you know what I mean.” Her voice was cutting in and out a little bit, and there was a roaring in the background, some loud and continuous sound that fell somewhere between thrumming and thrashing.

“Mom, what’s that noise? Where are you?”

“Oh, is it interfering? Sorry, it’s the rain. I’m painting the house.”

Jean failed to see the connection between the two sentences. “Are the windows open?”

“And all the doors. I want the rain-smell to settle in with the paint while it’s drying. I know it’s silly and not realistic, not actually, but it’s a fun thought – and it’ll help me believe there’s a little more nature in the house. If I think it, it’s so, right? The placebo effect.”

“The placebo effect,” Jean agreed.

“Anyway, kid,” Cassie went on, her voice still coming and going in patches, “how was your first day?”

“It’s still going on. But it’s good. Um–” She stopped, suddenly cautious.

“What, Jean?”

“Nothing. But I thought you’d think it’s funny – there’s a guy in my world politics class who looks just like Paul McCartney.”

She realized halfway through saying it that she didn’t really expect anything. Not anymore, not at this point. Calling her mom was a last-ditch effort, the final test this strange dream had to pass before she gave in to it, and of course it was going to pass. Of course it was.

“Paul who?” asked Cassie.

“Indie actor,” said Jean dully. “You wouldn’t know him.”

“Huh. Hey, have you talked to Mae recently?”

Her heart was sinking; she was barely even in the conversation anymore. “Not since I got here. She sent me some pictures of D.C. last week, though.”

Mae had graduated from college that spring, and about a month ago she had taken an entry-level job at an incumbent Senator’s reelection campaign in D.C. She was far more into government and politics than Jean herself would probably ever be – Jean was only taking one politics class, after all, and even that was only so that she could fulfill a requirement. But Mae was all about it – she had posters of her favorite politicians all over her walls at home, and she had been coming up with mathematical ways to calculate likely race outcomes for at least the past ten years.

“Yeah, I got those too,” said Cassie. “She’s really gonna kick some ass there, I bet.”

“Yeah,” said Jean quietly. Mae always did.

“Hey, you too, okay? Kick ass this year.”

“More so than other years?”

“If you kick as much ass as you usually do, you should be fine.” She was smiling, Jean could hear it in her voice, even with the storm blurring in around the edges of her words. “I gotta go, though, Jean, before I get paint all over the phone.”

“You haven’t already?”

“Well, that goes without saying,” Cassie said confidentially, “but any more and Dana’s gonna kick my ass. I love you, kid.”

“I love you, too.”

Once she had hung up and put her phone away, the world felt quiet. She still had another hour before five and she didn’t have any real homework to do yet, this being syllabus week, and she certainly wasn’t going to use her time and energy wandering all around and getting lost somewhere else on campus, so she decided to go ahead to the library. If nothing else, she could find a table and mess around on the Internet for a while before Paul showed up.

The Internet.

She started to walk faster. How had she not thought of that before? Forget Cassie, the Internet was the final test, the ultimate place she could check. Right now, everyone else was crazy. But if the Internet agreed with them, then maybe the crazy one was really Jean.

She made it across the square and past a few more buildings, then trotted up the stone steps of Pence Library. She heaved open one massive double door, felt the warm outside air cede to air conditioning as she wandered past a modest café and information desk, and began combing through rows of desks and shelves in the main hall.

The library was mostly empty, it being only the first week of classes, but she could picture it filling up later in the year. There were lanes and lanes of long tables and pillars with outlets for charging, magazine shelves, computer pods and walled-in classrooms, reading rooms, microprint rooms, folio rooms. The main area was too open, so she kept walking further into the shelves until she had found a free table in the nonfiction section, not far from some windows overlooking State Street and some more of downtown. She slung her backpack off and onto the floor and pulled out her laptop.

The beatles, she typed first. Several results came up, all having to do with insects. Classifications and diagrams, extermination companies and pesticides.

Paul mccartney, she tried. Nothing. George harrison. John lennon. Ringo starr.

She gave up and sat back. Absolutely nothing. Bullshit results – random people’s social media accounts, other famous Johns and Georges.

That settles it, she thought. Either I’ve gone nuts, or the world has completely forgotten about the Beatles.

Or she was dreaming. That could be it, she reasoned – a very bizarre and unusually long and lucid dream.

Feeling like an idiot, she tried pinching herself a couple of times. She had never pinched herself before in her life, but she was desperate, and there was no better time to try. She supposed she could try thinking about other things, but there was nothing else to think about…this was ridiculous, this was impossible, and she couldn’t stop thinking about it until it made sense.

Maybe if she took a nap. If this was a dream, maybe a nap would wake her up in real life, and if this was real life, it would at least help to clear her head a little, prompt her to think more rationally. She shut her laptop, brought her backpack up onto the desk as a pillow, leaned down into the lumpy fabric, and closed her eyes.
She could probably use the extra sleep anyway – she hadn’t gone out much during welcome week, but her roommate, Erica, had gone partying almost every night, and even though they were practically strangers Jean still felt bad somehow about going to sleep before she got back. She had shared a room with Mae growing up, and some of her old feelings and habits must have stuck with her, because going to sleep with a noted absence in the room just didn’t feel right for some reason. Around three a.m. was Jean’s cutoff – she would text Erica, good?, and if Erica replied, she would go to sleep. If she didn’t, Jean would stay up until she did. Last night she had been up until around two-thirty, surfing course catalogues and watching Fawlty Towers online…come to think of it, she did feel pretty drowsy…

“Jean?”

Her head jerked up from the table.

Paul was there, grinning that same stupid grin he’d been grinning when she had seen him before. Of course, she had forgotten – Paul was the charming one, wasn’t that right? Every teenage girl’s favorite Beatle. Now, goddammit, she could kind of see why.

“Hi,” she said.

“Kind of an old-fashioned name,” he said, sitting down across from her. It felt weird being across the table from him, like they were about to conduct some sort of business transaction. He set his backpack down on the floor.

“My sister’s name is Mae with an ‘e,’” said Jean, “so it could be worse.”

“It’s not a bad thing. I like Mae with an ‘e.’ And Jean,” he added quickly. “Your parents must be old-fashioned people.”

Jean shrugged. She considered her parents more retro than old-fashioned – they weren’t at all nostalgic for anytime before the twenty-first century, but she did often hear them talk fondly of the time she’d been born, back when it was still legal in most states for women to live together as romantic partners. Before they’d had to hide, to introduce one another to their neighbors as roommates. By now, certainly, it did seem old-fashioned.

“In some ways,” she said levelly, “I guess they are.”

He was smiling so much. It seemed so natural, so easy, for him to be friendly – to be casual. She wished she could feel more like that.

“So,” he said, “are you going to explain what it is about me that freaks you out so much?”

“I’m not freaked out.” Which was stupid, because yes, of course she was.

“Yes, you are,” he said.

“Okay, but I’ve got a good reason to be. Listen,” she said. “I’m not really sure how to phrase this.”

He shrugged, waiting.

She sighed. “This is going to be a little confusing – but I’m really confused, too, so just bear with me. And please don’t get up and leave right away, because I swear this isn’t a joke. But either the rest of the world has gone crazy or I have, because…” She took a deep breath, let it out. “Because you’re one of the most famous people in the world, and nobody else seems to remember but me.”

He stared at her. The smile had diminished but wasn’t entirely gone; all that was left was a nervous fragment. “What?”

She bit her lip. “You’re Paul McCartney from Liverpool, right? You’re a musician. All through the sixties you were a member of this band called the Beatles. You guys were an international phenomenon. I know it sounds crazy,” she said, not bothering to keep the desperation out of her voice, “but I grew up listening to your music. Everybody did – at least, I thought everybody did.”

He shook his head. “You’re fucking with me.”

“Please, I’m not. Why would I? Honestly tell me, why would I make this up?

“The sixties? Are you saying I’m, like, a reincarnation, or–”

“No,” she said. “I’m saying you’re him. Exactly him.”

“But I’ve never heard of…” He couldn’t say he had never heard of himself, so he shook his head again, looking lost. “Them. What’s the band’s name again?”

“The Beatles.”

He wrinkled his nose. “Weird name for a band.” He pulled out his phone. “You’re sure that was a thing?”

“Googling it won’t help, I already tried. Either they never existed or the world spontaneously forgot about them. But either way, I don’t know what to do – I mean, maybe it’s all just some weird dream of mine or something, but I knew your face. Like, instantly. And I knew you were from Liverpool.”

“Anything else?” He wasn’t convinced yet.

“Um…” This was when being a more hardcore fan would have come in handy. She wracked her brain, trying to think of all the random anecdotes Cassie had told her throughout her childhood about the Beatles. Several occurred to her, but they all had to do with the Beatles all together as a band – she didn’t know any random facts about Paul’s childhood that she could impress him (or, more likely, creep him out) with.

“Well, I don’t know if this’ll help,” she said finally, “but I know the other people in the band. John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison? Do you know any of–” She stopped mid-sentence at the look on his face.

“George?” he repeated. “George Harrison?” He looked stunned for a moment, and then the smile broke over his features once again. “Was he the one who put you up to this?”

“No,” she said quickly, trying not to sound too excited. Thank God. Thank God, there was something. Here was something. “No,” she said again, “but you know him? You know George Harrison?”

“We rode the bus to grade school together,” he said. “How do you know him?”

“I don’t,” she said, exasperated. “He’s famous, remember? Like you?”

“Huh.”

He folded his arms and stared at her, his head cocked to one side. She couldn’t help but think very briefly of a few videos she’d seen of early live Beatles performances, things Cassie had shown her, in which almost every song would feature Paul flicking his head sharply to one side at least once while he sang. Ear straight down to the shoulder and back up again. Like a tic.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I just don’t know. If you are telling the truth – and I’m not saying I believe you, but if you are – I suppose it seems like George would be the next person to talk to.”

“It seems that way,” she agreed. “You’re still friends, right?”

“Of course we’re still friends.” He pulled out his phone and dangled it in the air, grinning yet again, and then started to dial in a number.

“Lucky for you,” he said, “I know just where to find him.”

Chapter Text

"George quoted Bob [Dylan] like people quote Scripture."
--Tom Petty, Rolling Stone magazine, 2002

----

 

As it turned out, just where to find him was a traffic stop on the other side of town. Neither Jean nor Paul had a car, so they caught a cab together from Pence Library, and as they were getting into the back Paul told the driver, “Corner of Karn and Washington, I think, in Belhurst.”

The driver didn’t question him, but Jean did. “You think? Don’t you know where he lives?”

“Oh, he doesn’t live there.” Paul was looking down at his wristwatch.

“So…,” Jean prompted, feeling annoyed at having to ask for clarification.

“So, we’ll just find him there. If we get there on time.” He knew he was confusing her, but he only looked at her and grinned, so she decided not to give him the satisfaction of asking.

It felt strange – barring the fact that she was sitting in a cab now with Paul McCartney, which was already strange – to be in a cab at all, watching downtown fade out into actual neighborhoods outside the window. She had only moved in a week ago, but she hadn’t thought about how in that time she hadn’t once left campus, hadn’t seen any of the rest of the city. It was disappointing in some ways as they left behind them the old architecture and sprawling lawns of campus and the clustered cafes and shops of downtown, only to be replaced by a land of strip malls and near-uniform neighborhoods, but it was also somewhat refreshing. Calming. It looked more like the area Jean was from, Ajax, about forty minutes outside of Cavern, and there weren’t so many college kids.

“Did you live around here?” she asked Paul absently, still looking out the window.

“Yeah,” he said after a moment. God, that accent. It was too much. “Moved here when I was fifteen.”

“From Liverpool?”

“Yep.”

She hadn’t thought about that – how he’d gotten here. If Paul was alive, now, in the twenty-first century, and so was George – assuming it was really George – did that mean John and Ringo were, too? And if they were, what if they were still in Liverpool? Why the hell weren’t Paul and George in Liverpool? If they were going to reappear somewhere in the world as teenagers, she would have thought it would be there.

“Why’d you move?” she asked.

“My dad got a new job. I didn’t mind it really, though, ’cause I met George.”

“Plus all the girls here dig your accent,” she said, without really meaning to.

He laughed. “How’d you know that?”

She shrugged. She could have guessed that even if she hadn’t known who he was.

The cab started to pull over, just as Paul spotted a bus approaching them from the other side of the street. Cavern County Public Schools was painted on the side in black block letters, along with the number 910.

“Hey, that’s it!” he exclaimed, unbuckling in a hurry. “That’s the one!” He pushed open the door and got out without paying, so Jean rolled her eyes, thanked the cabdriver, and gave him a twenty before following.

The intersection was not a busy one; they had entered a residential neighborhood, and there were few other cars around as the bright yellow bus pulled to a stop at the sign. The doors folded open, and a handful of kids spilled out, mostly elementary kids and a few who looked older. Not one of them was familiar, and Jean glanced over to Paul in confusion, but he wasn’t looking at her. He was jogging over to the bus, and as soon as the last kid was off, he headed up the steps, gesturing at the last second for Jean to follow.

Following Paul up the steps, it took Jean a moment to realize what was going on. She looked over the rows of seats and saw no one who looked remotely like George Harrison, and then next to her she heard Paul saying, “Hello, George!” so she turned around, and there he was.

In the driver’s seat.

He didn’t look old enough to be a bus driver; he barely even looked old enough to be a senior in high school. His hair was dark, the same shade as Paul’s, and short – shorter than she was used to seeing it in photographs. He was grinning widely – his mouth had a way of stretching for length, of going for the biggest possible smile while somehow still seeming perfectly natural – and he got up from the seat for a moment to clap Paul on the back by way of greeting.

“Wasn’t expecting to find you here,” he said.

His accent, just like Paul’s, was unmistakable. Dana used to make fun of it sometimes, saying it always sounded like he had something taking up space in his mouth, but Cassie liked it, and so did Jean.

“Hi, Paul!” chorused a few of the kids on the bus. Jean gave up and knitted her eyebrows together, staring at all of them with open disbelief on her face.

“Who’s this?” asked George, looking at Jean.

“This is Jean–”

“Jean Carlisle,” said Jean, barely even hearing Paul. “I’m in Paul’s politics class.”

“Ah, politics,” said George, reaching over to shift a lever and bringing the bus into gear. The bus began pulling away from the intersection and continuing on through the neighborhood, and Jean had to grip the first pleather seat with one hand to keep her balance. “And here I told him that wouldn’t be any fun.”

“You’re – sorry – you’re a bus driver?” At least in this case her confusion was somewhat credible. She couldn’t walk onto a bus full of people and say, You’re a musical legend, how are you alive? but she could definitely say, You’re a sixteen-year-old kid, how are you driving a school bus?

“Ah, not if the administration asks,” said Paul, grinning.

“What’s that mean?”

“Well, George here wasn’t having such a great time at school – and Bernie, the old bus driver, wasn’t having such a great time driving the bus every day. So they worked out a deal this year,” Paul explained. “Most days – whenever George isn’t up for class – he drives the bus himself. That way his folks think he’s at school, Bernie gets paid, and George here has got himself a vehicle.”

“Gas all paid for, too,” George added. “I’m living the dream, really.”

“That’s…” Jean blinked. “That’s actually really smart.”

“George is really smart,” Paul said proudly. “He just got some awful teachers, is all. Otherwise he’d be over at Mensa, wouldn’t you, George?”

“Sod off.”

“He’s touchy about his genius,” Paul told Jean confidentially. She had never heard anything about George Harrison being a genius, but he didn’t particularly seem to agree with Paul anyway, so she decided to go along with it.

George turned a corner sharply, so sharply that several of the kids were abruptly shifted down where they sat. Jean was holding onto one of the seats, but Paul was thrown into the empty row he had been standing next to, disappearing behind the pleather and then reappearing a moment later with a look of mock annoyance on his face. The kids in the first few rows burst out laughing.

"Sorry,” said George, “did I get you there?”

“Sod off.”

“He’s touchy about my bus driving skills,” George told Jean.

He pulled over again and pushed down the lever to open the bus doors, and a bigger trail of kids dismounted, leaving only five or six left on the bus.

“So,” said George as they pulled away from the curb, “did you all just come to say hi?”

“Wanted to introduce you to Jean,” said Paul. “Isn’t she great?”

“Oh yes,” said George, “it’s been a grand thirty seconds. I’m George Harrison, by the way,” he added to Jean, as though that was a sentence that could ever end reasonably with by the way.

“It’s nice to meet you,” she said weakly.

“Can we go to your house when you’re done?” Paul asked George.

“Sure.”

It only took him around fifteen minutes to drop off the rest of the kids. It turned out he had something of a habit of taking sharp turns every once in a while or speeding over speed bumps, just to make the kids laugh, but he was actually a very good driver when he wasn’t messing around. On the main roads when other cars were around he would go slowly, almost to the point that Jean would get impatient.

Once the last kids had gotten off, saying goodbye to George and Paul and Jean on their way out, Paul asked if he could drive, and George let him and started trying to climb on top of the rows of seat backs. Lying down, he was tall enough to balance his body over three seats, and Jean thought it looked fun, so she climbed on top of the seats on the other side of the aisle to try. Paul flicked through a few radio stations before miraculously finding one that was playing music, and the music was pretty shitty and kept crackling in and out, but he turned it up to blasting volume anyway and started to drive faster, trying to throw George and Jean off the tops of the seats at every corner. The most he succeeded in doing was rolling them around, but they always managed to catch themselves before they fell, until he braked very suddenly at a stop sign and they were both sent tumbling down to sprawl across the seats and the floor of the bus. It was a wonder they didn’t ever get pulled over.

By the time they pulled up in front of George’s house, all three of them were laughing, and Jean had gotten so used to the blaring music that the air around them felt suddenly voided as soon as Paul turned the bus off.

They parked the bus right in George’s driveway. “I think you caught my arm pretty well on that last one,” George told Paul as they got out.

“It was retribution,” Paul said. “Throwing me into that seat before, it banged my spine a little.”

“Funny, I didn’t know you had a spine.”

Paul reached over to thwack him, and George dodged it just in time.

Rather than walking over to the front door of his house, he unlocked the side door by the drive, a thin white wooden door with a screen in front of it. Then he walked in, kicking his shoes off in the entry, and Paul and Jean followed.

George’s house was small but not cramped; in ways, it kind of reminded Jean of her own family’s house. Knotted cloth rugs lay over the wooden floors of narrow hallways, and there were a few cheap framed paintings on the walls. He led them past the bathroom and a room that looked like the kitchen, up a steep flight of stairs, and into his own room. It was square with a low, slanted ceiling – the roof of this house; this must have been the attic – and the walls were papered with musical icons spanning the last century. Most of them were old; the grandeur of the music industry had been fading out pretty steadily over the last couple of decades, and it was no secret that society had largely lost its enthusiasm for it. George’s taste apparently went way back; he had posters of Chuck Berry, Woody Guthrie, Janis Joplin, Carl Perkins, Eric Clapton, and – by far the most featured person on his wall – Bob Dylan.

“Subversive,” Jean commented. It was hard to find places where posters like these were even sold anymore, and here George’s room was covered with them. She felt calm for the most part, but confusion kept building and multiplying inside her. So Bob Dylan had really happened, Janis Joplin had really happened. Where did the Beatles fit in, if not on this wall?

“Georgie? Never,” said Paul.

“You’re a Dylan fan?” she asked George.

His facial expression didn’t change, but his tone of voice conveyed mild surprise. “Are you?”

She shrugged. “I just know a couple songs. ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ ‘Mr. Tambourine Man.’ My mom’s a pretty big fan.” She was starting to wish she’d listened to Cassie a little more as a kid, gleaned a little more knowledge.

“He was a genius,” said George, with a reverence in his voice she hadn’t heard from him yet. His eyes seemed suddenly engaged; she hadn’t even realized that they were disengaged before, until now. “I mean, if you just listen to the lyrics, it’s poetry–”

“Ah, don’t get him riled up about Dylan,” Paul broke in, “we’ll never get out of here. Listen, speaking of music,” he said, “Jeanie’s got a bombshell for us, George.” He flopped back to sit on George’s bed, just as George sat down on the floor. Feeling too tall now in the small room, Jean followed suit.

George was watching her expectantly. Suddenly she didn’t want to say anything, didn’t want to tell him. Even though she had only met him half an hour ago, something about George struck her as a little more grounded than Paul – maybe in his composure, or the way his facial expression rarely changed unless he was actually affected by something. He seemed like he was of this world, like he made sense, and even more, like he was thinking things about the world that she would never have a chance to know unless he spoke them aloud. He was going to think she had lost it – hell, even she sort of felt like she had lost it.

“It’s going to sound weird,” she said.

“I’m listening,” said George.

“He’s all ears,” put in Paul.

George shot him a look but offered no other response. Jean tried not to smile; George’s ears were kind of big, and she got the feeling this wasn’t the first time Paul had made that joke.

“Well…,” Jean started carefully. Her eyes flicked away from George and down into her lap, but then it didn’t feel right not to be looking at him when she said it, so she looked back up again. “Nobody else seems to know or remember – including you, I guess – but you’re…” She tried to think of a good way to say it, and her gaze landed again on George’s wall, on the posters. “You belong on that wall.”

George raised his eyebrows. “In my dreams, maybe. Is that all?”

“No, I mean – I mean actually. You’re George Harrison. You were in a band called the Beatles, in the sixties, with Paul here and two other guys. You were hugely successful – you were from England, but you came to America eventually, you went everywhere, all around the world. I don’t know what happened, but up until a few hours ago, everybody knew who guys were. Everybody.”

George stared at her.

Paul was grinning. “Isn’t it good?” he asked George, as though Jean had just told a funny joke.

“I’m not messing around,” said Jean desperately. “I’m serious. Paul, you don’t believe me?”

He shrugged, looking away from her now. “I mean, she did know we were from Liverpool,” he told George, “which was kind of weird. And she knew who you were. I figured you’d met.”

“We haven’t met,” said George. “At least, I don’t think we’ve met.”

“For Christ’s sake,” said Jean. “I’m telling you, everyone knows your songs. ‘All You Need is Love,’ ‘Here Comes the Sun,’ ‘Hey Jude,’ ‘Yellow Submarine,’ ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’. None of this sounds familiar?”

George shrugged. His face was blank.

“Shit,” muttered Jean.

“Wait,” said Paul suddenly. He was frowning. “What – what was that last one?”

She looked at him. “‘When I’m Sixty-Four’?”

“Yeah, how does it go?”

“You know–” She tried singing, briefly, a line from the chorus. “When I’m sixty-four…” Then she stopped, shook her head, and tried to remember how the song started. “Um – when I get older, losing my hair, many years from now…”

Paul was still watching her, his face losing a little of its color. She kept going.

“Will you still be sending me a valentine / Birthday greetings, bottle of wine? / If I’d been out ’til quarter to three, would you lock the door…”

Paul joined in then, almost in a whisper. “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four.”

Her heart was hammering. “You do know it,” she whispered, her throat dry. It felt like a revelation. “You know it.”

He stared at her. “How the hell did you know that song?”

How the hell did you know it? she wondered. “I told you,” she said, and she surprised herself with how calm and level her voice sounded. “You’re famous.”

“What was that, Paul?” asked George. He had reached over for a guitar sitting on the floor in the corner of the room, and now he began plucking it a little, softly and absentmindedly, with his fingers.

“It’s a – it’s a song,” said Paul, kind of stupidly. “I wrote it in high school. I’ve had it in my head for a while, never did anything with it. Or…” He blinked, staring at Jean. “Maybe I did?”

“In another lifetime,” George supplied.

“So you do write songs,” Jean pounced. “So you are a musician? And you, too?” she added to George. She had been watching his fingers on the guitar strings without realizing it.

“I mean, yeah,” said Paul. “But we’re not – you know, we’re not first-rate, we’re not what you’re describing.”

“Maybe you will be,” she said quietly.

There was a pause in the room, and the words sent a chill down her own spine – she hadn’t even known she was going to say them. Was that what she was doing? Bringing back the Beatles, resetting history?

George gave the guitar a rest for a moment. “D’you know any more songs for us, Jean?” he asked, sounding curious.

She swallowed. “Plenty,” she said dryly, “but none that I think you’d know. You wrote them all in your twenties, most of them when you were already famous – and a lot of them, I think, Paul co-wrote with John.”

“Who’s John?” Paul asked.

Who’s John. To have Paul asking her, Who’s John.

“John Lennon,” she said. “He’s got to be the most iconic one out of all of you. No offense,” she added, as an afterthought.

“Iconic, how’s that?” asked George.

She shrugged. “Funky glasses. His girlfriend, Yoko Ono. And, I don’t know – a bunch of things.” There was a simple answer, of course, but she wasn’t sure if she could even tell them.

The assassination. The fact that John Lennon had been shot dead on the street in 1980. Of course, all of the Beatles had ended up dying at some time or another, but John…The way some people saw it, in addition to it being so gruesome and unexpected, his death had been the closing of one age, the beginning of another. There were the sixties, Beatlemania, psychedelia, civil rights, change and war and peace and love – the band’s breakup – the seventies, when they were all working on solo careers, and John Lennon was doing “Imagine” and “Give Peace a Chance” and talking all the time about peace while the government struggled to sort out the mess that was Vietnam. Then the death of John Lennon. Then the eighties, the nineties, the turn of the century. Reagan and the economy and Bush and Afghanistan and terrorism and Make America Great Again. They had never gone back.

Obviously a lot of that, even most of it, had had nothing to do with Lennon at all. But it was still there, and his death for some reason felt to her like a benchmark, a wall between national sentiments.

She shook her head and shrugged again. “I don’t know,” she repeated quietly. “A lot of things.”

Paul and George exchanged glances. She hadn’t meant to sound cryptic, but they all knew that it had come across that way.

Then Paul said knowingly to George, “I think she means he was the cute one.”

Jean burst out laughing.

“What?” said Paul.

“Nothing. Nothing at all.”

She tried to compose herself, but she couldn’t stop smiling.

After a moment George straightened up, lifting the guitar off his lap and placing it gently back on the floor next to him. “All right,” he said, sitting forward and looking from Jean to Paul and back over to Jean again. “If the man’s so damn iconic, maybe we ought to have a word with him.”

Chapter Text

Unlike with George, finding John was easier said than done. Jean had already tried Googling him, after all, and nothing had come up. She didn’t know either of his parents’ names or what school he might go to, what neighborhood he might live in – forget neighborhood, she didn’t even know what country he lived in. She knew from Cassie that John had been the first of the Beatles to be in a band, and that the Beatles had actually grown from that band, but she couldn’t remember what the band was called, and even if she could, it might be called something different now. If he was even in one. If he even existed.

“It’s hopeless,” she said finally, after they had brainstormed for a while, sitting back against the base of George’s bed. “We’ve got nothing.”

George got up off the floor without saying anything, strolled over to the door, and left the room. They could hear his footsteps trotting down the stairs.

“Where’s he going?” Jean asked Paul.

Paul shrugged. “Bathroom? Hey, who’s the fourth guy?”

“What fourth guy?”

“This – this band you keep talking about,” he said – almost eagerly, Jean thought. Like the word band made him excited. “You said there were four of us?”

“Oh. Oh, yeah.” She rubbed her eyes and shook her head; thinking about Ringo only deepened her feeling of dejection. “I’ve got even less of an idea of how to find him,” she said. “His name’s Ringo Starr, but it’s like his stage name. I’ve got no idea what his real name is. Richard something, I think.”

Paul nodded and sat back. His gaze had drifted a little, and he stretched out now before bringing his knees loosely up to his chest, staring into space.

“What?” she asked him.

“What?”

“What are you thinking about?”

He shrugged. He had picked up George’s guitar sometime in the last twenty minutes, and he was fiddling with it now, the same way George had been earlier. “Just what you were saying,” he said. “About the band. Were we…Were we any good?”

She felt something inside her relax a little, soften. He really had no clue. Who he was, what he could do. She got up and sat down across from him on the bed, criss-cross applesauce.

“You were revolutionary,” she said. “You all were.”

She could tell he was apprehensive about looking too happy, but he smiled at that. “Really?”

“Yes,” she said, and meant it. “You changed the way people thought about love, about music, about the world. About each other. I mean, a bunch of other people did, too – but you were such a huge part of it.” She shook her head. “I don’t really know what this is – what’s happening. I mean, if we were to find John and Ringo – if you guys were to start, like, making music again now, if you wanted to – I wouldn’t want to, you know, set anything up wrong, or spoil anything. Or get all your hopes up and then have you end up sucking this time around,” she added, and Paul laughed.

“Well, we could try it,” said Paul fairly. “I mean I’d be up for trying it. If I get along with everyone. And if they’re good. I know George is good.”

As if on cue, George came back in through the doorway. He was holding a phone book.

“Right, so we know the name,” he said, smiling, “let’s look up the number.”

“Smart lad!” Paul applauded him.

George dropped down onto the floor and flipped through the book until he got to the Ls. “Oh, wow,” he remarked.

“What?” asked Paul.

“Nothing. ’S just, I wasn’t expecting this many Lennons in the state…Charles Lennon, David P. Lennon, Julia Lennon…”

“How many are there?” asked Jean.

“Six.” He dug a cell phone out of his back pocket and started to dial.

“What are you doing?”

“What’s it look like?” He grinned, and before she could answer, he was talking again. “Hello, Charles? Hi, listen, is John there?” He paused. “That’s all right. Thanks anyway, Charles,” he said, his tone fond and friendly, before hanging up. “Well, don’t just stand there,” he said to the others. “Have I got to call all six?”

Jean and Paul took out their phones.

“You take Julia and Michael,” Paul told her, “I’ll take care of R.W. and Samuel.”

Jean nodded, already dialing Julia’s number into her phone. It rang a few times and then went to voicemail, so she dialed Michael Lennon’s in next.

“Yo,” he said in an American accent. “Mike here.”

“Um, hi,” she said, turning away from Paul and George and covering her other ear so that she could hear, as they were both on their own phones now, too. “I’m looking for John.”

“Wrong number, sorry.”

Her heart sank. “His last name’s Lennon, do you have a brother or anything who–”

The man had already hung up.

She sat back. “Well, that hit the ground pretty quickly,” she muttered. “Any luck on your ends?”

George was shaking his head, but Paul was still on the phone with somebody. A grin had spread across his face.

“All right,” he was saying. “All right, sure. The Otter Theatre, tomorrow at eight – we’ll meet up? Do you need me to – all right. Yeah, right on. Bye,” he said after a pause, and there was more smile in the sound of that word alone, bye, than Jean thought she had ever seen on anyone’s actual face.

“You found him?” she asked.

Paul shook his head, the grin still stuck there. He looked satisfied with himself. George rolled his eyes.

“That was–” She grabbed the phone book to look. “Samuel Lennon, right?”

“He’s probably got a daughter or something,” George said.

“He most definitely has,” Paul agreed.

“What’s her name?”

“Anna.”

Now it was Jean’s turn to roll her eyes. She couldn’t think of anything to say, but luckily she was saved from having to say anything by the sound of her phone ringing. It was an unknown number from their same area code, and she picked it up right away, waving at Paul and George to shut up so that she could hear.

“Hello?”

“Hello?” It was a woman’s voice; she sounded pleasant enough, almost playful, even. “I missed a call from this number?”

“You–” She frowned, and then it hit her. “Are you Julia Lennon?”

“Yes,” said the woman. “Who’s asking?” She didn’t sound angry, only curious.

“My name’s Jean Carlisle,” said Jean. “I’m looking for John Lennon. Are you by chance related to him?”

The woman was silent for a moment. “John Lennon,” she repeated, her tone of voice a little altered – though to what end, Jean couldn’t have said. Maybe she sounded flustered, or maybe it was something else. “He a friend of yours?”

“Not exactly – do you know him?”

There was another pause on the other line. “I’m sorry,” the woman said then. “I can’t help you.”

“Ma’am, are you sure you don’t–”

Click. The woman had hung up.

Jean took the phone away from her ear, stared at it for a moment, and then sighed. “No luck,” she told Paul and George, trying to keep her voice from sounding heavy. “It’s no use.”

“He’s got to be around here somewhere,” said Paul, “hasn’t he? I mean, if me and George are?”

“Maybe we’ll meet him whether we’re looking for him or not,” said George. “You know, with fate.”

Jean didn’t believe much in fate. To her, anything related to the idea of cosmic destiny was a fantasy born of fortune cookies and two-bit psychics’ shops. Under the circumstances, though, she let it slide.

She sat back against the base of George’s bed and rubbed the palms of her hands into her eyes. She hadn’t realized how tired she was until now, now that it was hitting her. She had gone to bed late and woken up early practically every day since getting here, whether for class or for something orientation-related, and now she could feel it all catching up.

"You look tired,” said George, in a tone of voice that suggested that he knew it was a terribly obvious thing to say but was saying it anyway.

“I’m sure we’ll find him,” said Paul, “if he exists.”

“Yeah,” said Jean, “I know.” How was it that she cared so much about this – that she felt so much like it mattered – when twenty-four hours ago none of this had been on her mind at all?

“Here,” said Paul, “we’re not going to accomplish much tonight anyway–”

“Not with that attitude,” said George.

“So let’s talk about something else, huh? Maybe if we clear our minds of it a little, we’ll have some space to think and we can work it out tomorrow.”

“What do you want to talk about?” asked Jean dully.

She felt stunted, blocked – here she had found George Harrison only a few hours after finding Paul, and now she was halted at John Lennon, probably the most interesting Beatle of all. She knew they would try again tomorrow or the next day or some other time soon, knew that Paul and George were beginning to believe her and that that alone already counted as progress, but what more was there for them to try? Without John, without Ringo, none of this would work – was this the story? Her magically finding two of the Beatles and then having nothing else happen?

“Let’s talk about you,” George suggested.

“How come?”

“’Cause it feels odd, sitting here going on about all this wonderful stuff me and Paul never did. Feels wrong.”

Jean hadn’t thought about that – the idea that she existed here as much as they did, and not just as an intermediary. “Um, okay,” she said. She didn’t like talking about herself and wouldn’t normally do it often – it was less to do with her being shy and more a matter of not wanting to have to skirt around the fact that she had two moms. They had warned her about it since she was a kid, warned her about letting anything slip, about how they could both be arrested and taken away if anybody found out.

“Okay,” she said again, reluctantly. “Well, I grew up in Ajax. I’m middle class…”

Paul and George laughed nearly simultaneously at that.

“What?” she demanded. “You asked for information.”

“And that was the first thing you thought of about yourself?” said Paul.

“I was just trying to paint a picture of my life, okay?” She glared at him, at both of them. “Look, I can stop if–”

“No,” Paul cut her off, “no, don’t. What about your interests? What do you like?”

“What is this, a questionnaire?”

“Well, since you already know everything about me and George.”

She stared at him as if to ask, Really? and he stared straight back. As if to say, Yes.

“Okay,” she said. “Um…”

Starting college, she’d been asked about her interests a lot recently, and she never really gave a straight reply. Drawing was always the first thing she thought of, but it seemed like such a second-rate answer, especially compared to all of the active political stuff Mae spent her time doing. Jean had thought about trying to go into something business- or politics-related – she had no reason to think she’d be bad at it – but she couldn’t stomach most of the other people in those classes. How Mae had managed to get through four years of pretentious future millionaires with ego problems, she would never know.

But of course, right now she wasn’t talking to some stranger at an orientation event, or her academic counselor, or a judgmental neighbor. These were Paul McCartney and George Harrison, and suddenly she realized that of course she could talk about her drawing. She never gave anybody a real answer about this, but there was a real answer, and there was simply no reason not to own it.

“I like drawing,” she said.

“You mean logos?” asked George.

Jean shook her head. “No, real drawings. And paintings. Of people and landscapes and everything – everything I see.”

“Give the girl a little credit, George,” said Paul in mock offense.

It hadn’t been an unfair conclusion to draw. Funding had been sucked entirely out of the arts in recent years – they didn’t teach it at all in public schools anymore, to leave room for classes in business and Bible study, and it was actively discouraged as a career path. Creative writing had been dwindling for a long while now as Jim Truebold, the President of the last eight years, had steadily mounted restrictions over what could actually be said or implied in print; music was on its way out for much the same reason, and visual art, what Jean really cared about, had been the first to go. For the most part, logos were as far as anybody really got anymore.

“Way to pick a shaky thing to be passionate about, Jean,” said George in mock disapproval, threading his fingers pointedly through the guitar strings and then letting them go with an abrupt twang. She smiled.

“I’ll do my best to be passionate about economics the next time around,” she said.

“Can we see some drawings?” asked Paul.

Jean hesitated. She did still have her backpack, downstairs in the entry to George’s house, and inside the backpack was her sketchbook…But only Mae had ever seen her sketches, and she had just met Paul and George, no matter how famous they were.

“I…”

She stopped, suddenly, at the feeling of her phone vibrating again in her pocket. She dug it out: it was Mae. “Sorry,” she said, getting to her feet and trying not to look relieved at an excuse to change the conversation. “My sister’s calling. Be right back?”

They waved her out of the room; Paul was already reaching over to try to tug the guitar away from George.

Jean trotted down the narrow staircase, waiting until she was on the lower landing before picking up the phone.

“Mae?”

“Jean!” Mae was breathless; it sounded like she was walking somewhere at a fast pace. Then again, she always sounded like that over the phone, now that she lived in D.C. more than ever. “You’ll never guess what I just found out.”

It had to be something political. Mae had no personal life to speak of, wasn’t invested enough in other people to care this much. Anytime she sounded this excited, it was something political.

“Truebold is running,” Mae said. “Jim Truebold. He’s running for office.”

Jean was dumbfounded. “For – for President?”

“Yes.”

“Against Kerry Walter?”

“Yeah.”

Kerry Walter was the senator whose campaign had hired Mae out of college. Truebold was the President already, had been for two terms now, and a lot of underground liberals – like Jean’s parents – had been hoping the country would pivot back with the new election. Not back to liberalism necessarily, but back to being reasonable, back to what it had been around the time Jean had been born – smart people with experience running against other smart people with experience, compromising, setting forth rational policy ideas, and not whatever crazed shitshow the political field had become in the years since. With Kerry Walter in particular, many of them had seen hope – here was someone people might actually listen who, who wasn’t afraid to try to change things back drastically, to work toward giving human rights back to Muslims, back to immigrants, back to gay people, back to everyone.

“But that’s illegal,” Jean said, finally finding her voice.

“I know.”

“He can’t do that.”

“I know.”

“How can he–”

“People love him too much.” She sounded livid, Jean realized, in contrast to Jean’s own voice, which was hoarse with panic. Mae loved politics, in spite of everything wrong with it, and she was too angry to be panicked. “No one’s contesting it. No one’s going to contest it. Maybe a few years back they would’ve, but they’re all too afraid of him now. And a lot of people think we need him for another term. They think there’s too much danger right now with deviance in America, and we can’t risk letting in some crazy liberal like Kerry Walter, not when the right people are finally on top and we’ve finally got everybody on the ropes–” She stopped, and Jean could tell she was on the verge of crying. “Like with FDR,” she said then. “We were at war and nobody wanted another president anyway, so they just kept him on.”

Jean remained silent, standing there in George’s living room, seeing everything around her and yet registering nothing. Nobody was around, no parents, no siblings. Upstairs she could hear the faint strumming of George’s guitar.

“But he’s so…” She shook her head. “Mae, he wants to be able to imprison anyone who disagrees with him. He actually wants that to be a law.”

“I know.”

“He’s talked about torture. Internment camps, for Christ’s sake.” It sounded ridiculous when she said it aloud, like she was talking about something out of some other country, or a storybook, even.

“I know.”

“He still has to run a campaign, right? I mean, Walter, she still has a chance?”

“Yeah, he has to. Technically. I mean…I just don’t know, Jean.” The fury had subsided just a little, and she sounded tired. “So many people like him. I don’t know why, but they do. So many people.”

Jean had no idea what to say. She thought briefly of Silas Faring, and all of the other kids she'd met who were like him -- who were their parents, and where were their homes? Where did they come from, that they seemed so full of hate?

She could remember, vaguely, the first time Truebold had been elected. She had been nine or ten. A brief swing of rationalism had followed the Turningpoint Election and Make America Great Again, and Dana and Cassie had grown hopeful that things would all go back to the way they had been before, but then had come Truebold. The family had only waited a month after the election before moving. The criminalization of homosexuality to its current extremes was still just a thought at the time, but they had all known it was coming, had all known they would need to relocate before anybody who knew them turned them in. If they waited, Dana had explained, they would only look suspicious when the time finally came. Cassie had moved out for a while.

“I think,” said Jean finally, swallowing to clear her voice and trying to sound a little more confident, “Walter’s campaign will have nothing to worry about. Not if you’re a part of it.”

They both knew these were fairly empty words in actuality, but when Mae spoke, she sounded appreciative. “Thanks, Jean.”

Suddenly a thumping noise sounded from the floor above her, followed by a call: “Oy, Jean, get up here!”

Mae heard. “Gotta go?”

“Sorry,” said Jean. “I’ll talk to you later, okay? Love you.”

“Love you.”

She hurried up the stairs and found Paul and George clustered together, standing up now and looking together down at the cell phone in Paul’s hand. The guitar lay alone on the small bed, practically forgotten. Both Paul and George wore serious, pale expressions, although it was a little more striking on Paul, as his face didn’t normally look like that. And instantly, without having to ask, she knew.

“Truebold.”

Paul looked up. “How did you know?”

“Jean knows everything, it seems,” said George dismissively.

Paul barely even heard him; he hadn’t cared about how Jean knew, not really, his attention was still on Truebold. “But it’s–”

“Illegal,” said Jean. “I know.”

George flopped back onto his bed and picked up his guitar again. He started playing some sliding, high-strung tune that Jean wasn’t familiar with, and that she suspected he was making up on the spot, up and down across all of the frets and strings, quick and anxious at first and then slower, becoming gradually a song infinitely sad and full of grace, and Jean and Paul listened, because there was nothing at that moment between any of them that could have been said with words.

 

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, they found no further clues as to the whereabouts (or existences) of John and Ringo, but the furor over the presidential campaign of Jim Truebold was such that they often forgot all about them. Students organized demonstrations in protest downtown and at the Square, which were then picketed by equal or greater numbers of students and faculty who supported Truebold. It was on every news station, it came up in every casual conversation, every phone call. Professor Mickey dedicated an entire class period to a debate over the legality of Truebold’s reelection campaign, but it quickly lapsed into an impassioned conflict over the morality of his policies themselves.

“For the last time,” Silas Faring said, “he’s not extreme. Maybe thirty years ago he would’ve been extreme, but that was then. This is now.”

Agnes couldn’t keep her hand down. “I’m sorry, Silas,” she blurted out, practically before Mickey had even called on her, “but what’s the difference? Morality doesn’t change over time at all. Some things are just wrong, and making it out as a matter of ‘national safety’ and ‘what the times call for’ only distracts people from what’s really being done.”

“And what is being done?” Silas fired back.

“What’s being done? People’s rights are being violated, people are getting starved and killed and nobody’s answering for it, people are being separated from their families and forced out of the country.”

“I like her,” whispered Paul, nudging Jean in the shoulder. He had started sitting on her other side, a couple of seats down from Agnes, since they’d met.

“You like everyone,” Jean whispered back, barely even paying attention to him; she cared about what was being said, and she wanted to say something herself, she just wasn’t sure what. She knew she wasn’t as quick or as eloquent as Agnes, but she still had to throw in her own voice, to add some support to what Agnes was saying.

So much of their politics class had become a ceaseless war of semantics between Agnes Ferrera and Silas Faring. Mickey did all she could to keep them away from each other’s throats, but more often than not Agnes was the one who walked away feeling frustrated, as Silas always, without fail, had the most support from his classmates. Jean wondered what it was possibly like at their house.

“Even if that were the full story–” Silas began.

“What more is there to know?” Agnes cried. “What could possibly make any of that okay?”

“Settle down,” murmured Mickey at the front of the class, more out of duty than interest; Jean could tell she was as interested in the war as everyone else in the room.

“Even if that were the full story,” Silas repeated loudly, “you really think all of that is Truebold? One man? That’s just unrealistic.”

Jean raised her hand, but she didn’t wait for Mickey to call on her before she spoke.

“Of course it’s not just Truebold,” she said, “he’s just the easiest place to see it. He’s a racist and a sexist and a homophobe and more, and he’s so obvious about it, in the things that he says and in the laws that he passes – everything is just hateful. There’s no honest goodwill in anything that he does, anything. And we all bear that – we’re all responsible for that – we elected him, both times, and we’ve supported him, and we elected every senator and every Congressman who ever helped him push his ideals. The problem isn’t just with him, that would be too easy, it’s with America, it’s with all of us. Nobody wants to admit they have hatred and bigotry in their hearts – but when they elect a man like Truebold, when they stand behind the things that he says, they make it so obvious. They give those feelings a personification that makes them seem real and valid to other people, and then other people respond with those same feelings. The problem is way bigger than Truebold, but he is what gives the problem a credible voice, and that’s what people have a problem with. Supporting him means we support all of it. That’s why we can’t elect him again.”

When she stopped talking, Paul and Agnes were staring at her, and only then did she realize that that was the first time she had willingly participated in class, let alone talked for so long and with such firmness in her voice.

A moment later Silas came up with some bullshit argument, and Agnes came up with some subjective rebuttal, and the two of them started going at it again – with a few others occasionally chipping in on both sides, more often than not on Silas’ – until suddenly, all too quickly, the period was over.

Mickey stopped Jean on the way out of class for the second time that semester. “I think that was the most I’ve ever heard you say at a time, Jean.”

“That’s the most I’ve ever cared about something in this class,” Jean replied.

Immediately she felt horrified at herself – had she really just said that? And to a teacher? It had been automatic, she hadn’t even been aware she was thinking it first.

“Oh my god,” she said instantly, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean–”

Luckily, though, miraculously, Mickey was smiling. Thank God. Any other professor would have fried her on the spot, but here was merciful Mickey, smiling.

“You’re fine,” said Mickey, “you’re fine. At least you’re honest. And I’m glad when students who are only taking this for a requirement start to care a little. That’s why I teach politics, and not history or science – because it matters to the world, Jean. How much you care.” She was looking straight at her and really weighting her words, Jean could tell, like she wanted Jean to hear her. “Even if you haven’t got the slightest interest in politics at all, it’s your civic duty to force yourself to take an interest. If only long enough to cast a vote.” She smiled then and started walking down the aisle toward the double doors, and Jean followed. “Although something tells me that won’t be a problem for you.”

“I definitely plan on voting,” Jean said, “don’t worry.” She would be eighteen this next election, which meant it was going to be the first one in which she could vote. It seemed like it would be ridiculous not to.

“I’m glad to hear it,” said Mickey. “And in more casual news, I see you’ve become friends with that boy you pointed out the first day?”

“Oh,” said Jean quickly, “yeah, we’re friends, but we’re not–”

“I ship it,” said Mickey unexpectedly.

Jean blinked. “Um – thanks, Mickey.”

They were outside in the hallway now, and Mickey was turning off down the corridor. Jean lingered behind, splitting off to leave the building.

“Go get ’em, Carlisle,” Mickey called over her shoulder, without looking back.

Jean suppressed a smile. “Thanks, Mickey,” she said again, but she wasn’t sure if the professor even heard her.

Paul and Agnes were waiting for her outside, chatting at the bottom of the steps. She jogged quickly down to join them, and they started off as a group toward the Square. Autumn was beginning to settle into campus, and Jean focused on crunching leaves under her feet as they walked. Paul and Agnes were talking about vegetarianism – Agnes was vegan – but Jean’s mind was still back in the lecture hall, with Professor Mickey, with Silas Faring. Silas Faring, with his plaid shirts and farm jeans and his Make America Great Again caps. It was still hard to believe he and Agnes had ever lived in the same house. What did a kid like that even do in his spare time?

Her phone was ringing; she pulled it out and held it up to one ear, tuning out Paul and Agnes. “Hello?”

“Jean?” It was Dana. She sounded uncharacteristically upset – not tearful or anything, but her voice was trembling just slightly, and Jean could tell. Dana was a controlled and tense person in general, and she grew even more controlled and tense when she was upset, because she had to fight that much harder to keep her voice steady.

“Mom?” Jean slowed down. “Is something wrong?”

“Jean, something’s happened. Cassie…”

“Is she okay?”

“She’s fine,” said Dana quickly, “she’s just upset. I don’t want you to worry–”

“No one’s hurt or anything, right?” Jean had stopped walking now entirely, and Paul and Agnes had stopped too and were staring at her with concern. It felt like a silly question to ask, a too-quick conclusion out of some stupid melodramatic movie.

“No,” said Dana.

Of course not, of course not. Jean exhaled. Everything’s fine.

“Then,” she asked, “what happened?”

“Someone – painted something.”

“What?” It took a moment for the meaning to reach her. “On the house? What does it say?”

Dana drew in a sharp breath. “Just – a slur. It doesn’t matter. But the whole neighborhood’s seen it.”

“Jesus, Mom.” Her heart was pounding. “Are you going to–” She couldn’t say the word move, couldn’t. “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“Does Mae know? About the–”

“Yes. I just got off the phone with her.”

“I’m coming,” said Jean.

“Jean, don’t.”

“I am.”

“It’s not–”

“I have to see Cassie. Okay? And you. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Jean–”

“I love you,” said Jean.

She could hear Dana sighing on the other line. “I love you, too. So much.”

The so much only solidified Jean’s decision to go – Dana rarely told Jean she loved her at all, and the emphasis felt unnatural, even meaningful.

“What’s going on?” asked Agnes, the instant Jean had hung up the phone.

She shook her head. There wasn’t a straight way to answer, not without telling them about her parents…She knew, based off of Agnes’ hatred of Silas and everything she said during lecture, that she wouldn’t even blink before accepting the information. But Paul…Would he care enough? Was he safe enough?

She didn’t want to have to sort it all out, not right then. “Some dick in our neighborhood,” she said vaguely. “Threatened my parents.”

Paul looked stunned. “What? Why?”

“They’re just not super popular in the neighborhood. It doesn’t matter.”

Agnes was staring at her. “Jean–”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said again, more forcefully this time. “Listen, Agnes, do you have a car?”

Agnes bit her lip. She looked hesitant, but something in the expression on Jean’s face must have hammered something in for her, because after a moment she nodded. “We can take my dad’s.”

“Should we catch a cab to your house, then?” asked Paul.

“You don’t have to come,” Jean told him, “honestly.” In fact, she wasn’t even entirely sure whether she wanted him to or not – she considered him her friend by now, and it might be good to have somebody there with her other than Agnes and her parents, but all of that was assuming she could trust him – and that was too much for her to think about right now.

“I know,” he said, with infuriating certainty. “I want to.”

His face looked so earnest. She didn’t want to want him to come, but there was still a part of her that couldn’t help it.

She rolled her eyes, giving up. “Fine.” She still didn’t explain, though – who knew, maybe he would change his mind or something along the way. Yet even as she thought it, she knew the mere idea was ridiculous.

Agnes insisted that they wait for her to pick them up rather than going with her to her house to get her car, so they idled in a library for about half an hour, studying a lot more than speaking. At least they did a very good job of pretending they were studying. Jean didn’t feel like talking much, and to his credit Paul seemed to understand that, because after a while he began amusing himself with a yo-yo from out of his backpack and didn’t look over at her at all unless she spoke to him first, except for once.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

She shrugged. “No.”

Paul nodded and went back to his yo-yo.

Jean was just starting to kick herself for forgetting about George’s bus – they could have left right away if she had only remembered – when Agnes pulled up outside and honked. Her dad’s car was a beaten pickup truck with torn seats, and it didn’t seem to fit Agnes, but Jean could have pictured Silas driving it in a heartbeat. Agnes must have lived somewhere rural, maybe out in the farmland that made up the eastern outskirts of Cavern. There was dirt spattered across the windshield and sprayed up under the wheels.

None of the stations were playing music, and nobody wanted to listen to the news, so they drove the half hour over to Ajax in relative silence. Jean gave Agnes directions, and Paul occasionally tried striking up weak conversation by pointing out random things passing by outside the window. Who ever knew there were so many cows out here? I wonder why you notice airplanes so much more during the day than at night, or is that just me?

When they got into Ajax, Jean told Agnes to take them to the police station. She didn’t want to run into her parents quite yet, didn’t want Paul and Agnes to see whatever had been painted on her house – and besides, Dana had sounded busy with Cassie over the phone and may not even have called them here yet. Not that the police were likely to do anything about it anyway, but it was worth trying.

Jean walked in first, followed by Agnes and then Paul. A flood of air conditioning washed over them as soon as they entered, and then they stopped, because there was already something going on.

“‘Disturbing the peace,’ is that what they’re calling it?"

The man was facing away from them and laughing; he had a chalky, affronted voice that scratched in the back of his throat. A voice Jean knew. Where had she heard that voice before?

"See, now you’re just making things up!” the man cried.

“Will you shut the hell up? Or do I need to add that you’re resisting arrest?”

“Kiss my ass, please. I beckon you.”

The man was several feet away from the door, with an officer on each side of him, each with a hold on one of his arms. They were hauling him away as he spoke, but apart from his bitter words, he was putting up no resistance.

“Wonder what’s up with him,” Paul remarked, putting both his hands in his jacket pockets.

Jean felt cold. She started dumbly forward, one step, then another.

“John Lennon?” she said.

She wasn’t even sure he would hear her, but at the sound of his name, the man twisted back around to face her. He couldn't have recognized her, but he grinned anyway.

“Sorry, dearie!” He wrenched one arm free long enough to lift a hand and salute her, and then one of the officers grabbed it again, tugging him more harshly away. “Love to talk,” said John, “but I’m a bit under arrest at the moment.”

Then the two officers led him through a door on the other side of the desk and into some other part of the building, and he was out of sight, just like that.

Chapter Text

"When two great saints meet, it is a humbling experience."
--Paul McCartney, 1968, note on Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins

----

“That was him?” Paul nudged Jean. His eyes were wide, and he was staring at the door through which John had just left with the officers. “Jean. That was really him?”

“Sorry,” Agnes broke in, “I’m confused. Did you know that guy?”

Jean inhaled sharply; for a moment there she had forgotten to breathe. She was lost for words – it was too much, too much.

“Ma’am?” The officer at the front desk had cocked his head and was watching her. “Can I help you?”

She made her way toward the desk, her mind racing, with Paul and Agnes following her on either side. What now? Did she ask about John or her parents? Should she even ask about her parents?

“Um, there was an act of vandalism,” she began, “in my neighborhood.”

“I see.” The officer plucked a pen from a swirly metal pencil case next to his computer, then rotated in the chair toward a legal pad and began writing something down. “Do you know who committed the vandalism?”

“No,” she said faintly.

“What happened, exactly?”

“Someone painted something on my parents’ house. A slur, I think.”

The pen stopped to perch over the paper, and the officer looked up to watch her. There was something in his eyes that was probing her, something she didn’t like. “What type of slur?” he asked cautiously.

She stared at him. A feeling of unease dropped into her stomach and spread there, like ink.

“Um–” Her voice faltered. “Um, I don’t know exactly what it said.”

“Has a slur ever been used against your family before?”

She knew what he was asking – he wanted to know if they deserved it, if they had earned whatever word they had been called. If they were gay, or foreign, or interracial…Any answer to that question would be a forfeit in and of itself. Why the hell was she even here? Dana was smart – if going to the police was the smart thing to do, then Dana would have done it. Jean could have kicked herself.

“What are you asking?” asked Agnes.

“I think the young lady knows what I’m asking,” said the officer, still looking at Jean.

“You know what,” she said slowly, “never mind. I overreacted.”

The man stared at her. “Any…deviance in your neighborhood,” he said, “is probably something the police should be aware of. Don’t you think?” His voice was very quiet.

Deviance. “Yes,” said Jean, “but I haven’t even seen it myself, I probably just overreacted. Thank you. But never mind.”

Paul seemed to take this (correctly) as a cue that the subject needed to change. Stepping forward to shift the focus of the conversation away from Jean, he asked the officer, “Pardon me, sir, but who was that man they just led away?”

“I’d like to know that myself,” Agnes muttered, but Jean and Paul ignored her.

The officer’s gaze slid from Jean to Paul, and then down to the paper he had been writing on. Then he shrugged, crumpled up the paper, and tossed it away. “Disturbing the peace? That guy?”

“Yes.”

The officer turned back to his desktop computer, rapidly losing interest in the conversation. “John Weston Lennon,” he said dully. “No, Winston – John Winston Lennon. Finished his paperwork just now.”

“What’s he done?” Paul looked oddly invested, for someone who had never even met John before.

The man glanced up at Paul with only his eyes, his body and face still entirely disinterested. “He a friend of yours?”

Paul looked unsure of what to say, so Jean jumped in. “Friend of a friend,” she said quickly.

Jean could tell from the corner of her vision that Agnes was staring at her, but she said nothing. She could explain later – if it was even the best decision to explain at all. She hardly knew Agnes, and for all she knew, the girl would think it was all crazy.

Then again, it was going to be hard to leave here and not want to talk this all over with Paul right away.

“I’m sorry,” said the officer, who didn’t seem sorry at all as he returned his gaze to his computer screen. “But I can’t discuss his crimes with you. It’s confidential.”

“Confidential?” Paul started in disbelief, but Jean cut him off.

“Can we see him?”

“You’re not family,” said the officer, “so no.”

The conversation felt like it had hit a dead end. Agnes kept trying to make eye contact with Jean, who kept looking at the police officer and pretending not to notice. The officer was paying attention now only to his computer, until he realized a moment later that the three of them were still standing there and lifted his gaze once again, raising his eyebrows this time.

“Was there anything else?” he asked dryly.

A sinking feeling settled into Jean’s stomach. “No,” she muttered, turning away. Paul looked like he desperately wanted to keep pressing the officer, but she met his eyes first and gave a minute shake of her head. They made their way out of the fluorescent air-conditioned station and into the street, where the sun was beginning to set, spreading orange light over the tops of the buildings.

As soon as they were back in the pickup truck, Agnes turned in the driver’s seat to face Jean. “Did you know that guy?” She twisted around to look at Paul in the backseat. “Both of you?”

“Friend of mine,” said Paul.

“My ass,” said Agnes shortly. “You didn’t recognize him, Jean did – but as soon as she did, you seemed like you knew who he was. What’s with that? I’m not starting this car until you answer,” she added.

Paul and Jean exchanged glances, and then Paul shrugged.

“Hey,” he said, “if she thinks you’re off your rocker and you lose a friend, it’s no skin off my back.”

Jean sighed. He was right – why should Paul care if Agnes knew?

Turning back to face Agnes, she said, “He is Paul’s friend. They just haven’t met yet.”

Agnes frowned. “What?”

“For God’s sake, Jean,” Paul broke in, “you’ve always got to phrase it in the most cryptic way possible. Look, Agnes,” he said, “apparently there’s this big band, or there was anyway, back in the sixties, and now the whole world’s forgotten about it. I was a part of it, and my friend George, and that fellow in there, too. Jean recognized us, and now she’s trying to bring us all back together – or something.”

Agnes closed her eyes for a moment, as though she was trying to process it all. When she opened them again, she said, “I assume you’ve got a valid reason for believing her?”

“She recognized us,” Paul said again, “that’s three of us now, she knew our names – and she knew this song I’d written that I hadn’t ever shown anybody.”

Agnes’ eyebrows were knitted together. Slowly she said, “You know, she did say something weird, that first day of class – she said she recognized you. And she acted like I should have recognized you, too. Like you were famous.”

“Because he was famous,” said Jean. “They all were. It’s just that – for some reason – I’m the only one who remembers it now.”

Agnes shook her head, then looked back over through the windshield, at the lights of the police station across the parking lot. “So that guy–”

“His name’s John Lennon,” Jean said. “He’s one of them. We were looking for him and thought we’d hit a wall, but…that was him.”

Agnes blinked. Jean fully expected her to start laughing, or to get angry with them for playing a trick on her, or at least to shake her head again in disbelief. Something.

Instead Agnes demanded, “So you’re just giving up?”

Jean stared at her. “What?”

“The universe has pulled itself together for half a second and done something magical for you,” Agnes said plainly. “You find the guy you’re looking for, and that’s it? You’re just going to fold and drive away?”

Jean secretly admired her sudden determination, but she was also a little annoyed. “Well, what am I supposed to do?”

Agnes paused for a moment, then seemed to reach a decision. She pushed open her car door and walked around the wide front of the trunk, and when she reached Jean’s side, she held out one hand to Jean. In it she held a small chain with the key to the car.

Jean frowned. “What are you–”

“Take it,” Agnes said simply. “Go to your parents’ house and deal with your crisis. I’ll keep watch here and call you when he comes out.”

“Agnes, that could be hours. If he even comes out tonight at all.”

“So,” she said, “I’ll get myself some good old police station waiting room coffee.”

“I don’t think that’s a thing,” said Paul helpfully, from the backseat.

Jean shook her head. For some reason she still felt resistant to it – taking Agnes’ dad’s car and leaving her here by herself. And like she had been thinking before, if either one of them was going to find out about her parents, she would rather have it be Agnes than Paul, even though she still couldn’t have entirely said why.

“You’re not changing my mind,” said Agnes. “I’ll call you right away, I swear. Now go.”

Jean was still hesitating, so Paul pushed open his own door, came around, and grabbed the keys out of her hand. “For Christ’s sake,” he said, and then slid into the driver’s seat himself and shut the door.

Agnes was still smiling, standing there on the pavement outside the car, and Jean still felt lost. “Why?” she asked Agnes, as Paul turned the key in the ignition and she felt the old truck thrum to life beneath and around her.

Agnes shrugged. “I like helping,” she said.

Then they pulled away and left her alone in the police station parking lot, waving at them as they went.

 

It was nearly dark by the time the truck pulled into Jean’s driveway, but the word on the garage door was so glaring and thick that Jean felt sure she would have seen it there even if it had been midnight. Fags. It was done in red spray paint, and before it had dried some of it had dripped down the door in thin stripes. It looked a little like blood in the darkness.

Jean shut the car door behind her and started heading up the drive, trying to look straight ahead so that she didn’t have to see either Paul or the word, but when she reached the front door, Paul hadn’t followed her.

She turned. He was standing in the middle of her yard still, staring at the word on the garage door with a strange look on his face, caught somewhere between horror and a failure to understand.

“Come on,” she said wearily. Her voice was quiet, but there was no other sound on the block that could have kept him from hearing.

“Are your parents–?”

“Yes.”

The answer left her before she was even conscious of thinking it. She was too tired, too tired not to trust Paul. This was Paul, so she trusted him. That was it.

Before she even had time to wonder if she had made a mistake, Paul asked in a hoarse voice, “Who would do something like that?”

“I don’t know. Come on.”

She pushed open the door without knocking, and at first seemed to find the house empty. The lights were off, and she could hear the heater running, but everything else was still. For a moment, everything looked like it would on a normal night, back in high school, Jean coming home late after being out with friends – the wooden floors all covered in mismatched knotted rugs, the frozen smiles of old black-and-white movie stars lining the walls behind plastic frames, the cat-shaped cuckoo clock ticking on the wall. The house was modestly sized, and it had always seemed to Jean to open up in the darkness – probably because Dana always cleaned everything extensively at the end of the day. The openness now seemed less inviting than usual, and instead eerie, unsure. Then she heard hushed voices coming from down the hallway.

“Mom?” she said, drawing closer, and at once the voices stopped.

Cassie appeared in the opposite doorway, the one that led into the kitchen. She was wearing paint-stained jeans and a loose jacket that had once been red but had somehow faded into orange a little with time – Jean recognized it instantly as Cassie’s sleep jacket, her rainy day jacket. But Cassie didn’t look sleepy.

“Oh, Jean,” said Cassie, and then Jean was there in the doorway with her and they were hugging. Jean breathed in the smell of the jacket, and even though she had only been at college for a few weeks, it suddenly felt like years. Cassie smelled like home, and yet at the same time none of this felt like home at all.

“I’m sorry,” whispered Jean.

“It’s okay.” Pulling away and looking over Jean’s shoulder, Cassie asked, “Who’s this?”

Paul was standing alone in the hallway, and to his credit, he didn’t look awkward at all. “I’m Paul McCartney,” he said, and held out his hand for her to shake it.

She did, managing a smile. “It’s nice to meet you, Paul. I’m Cassie.”

The whole exchange sent a momentary current of something through Jean’s heart. She felt warm and sad all at the same time. There had never been a moment up until now when she had wished more strongly that the rest of the world could only remember – and if not the rest of the world, if nobody else, then at least Cassie. Jean liked the Beatles as much as the next average person, but Cassie loved them. The number of times she had talked about Paul to Jean – and now here he was, in the flesh, shaking hands with her, and she didn’t even remember.

Cassie led them into the kitchen, where Dana was sitting at the table there, her head leaning into one hand as if she had a headache. At the sight of Jean she stood up, smiling a little, and pulled Jean into a hug.

“This is Jean’s friend, Paul,” Cassie told Dana.

“It’s nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” said Paul.

“What were you guys talking about?” asked Jean, lingering near the table but not sitting down. She wasn’t sure if she was supposed to sit down. “Before we came in?”

Dana and Cassie exchanged glances, and there was a certain weight there that Jean recognized instantly. Dana, of course, was the one to answer – Dana always took the reins on things like this, things that mattered.

“Nothing really,” she said. “Just what we’re going to do next.”

Doesn’t sound like nothing to me, Jean thought. “What are you going to do next? You’re not going to move, are you?” She hoped that they didn’t, and then a moment later she hoped that she did. She knew this home, this neighborhood, she loved it here – but she also didn’t want to feel anxious all the time, knowing that her parents were living in a place where people knew about them. They were probably thinking the same thing.

“We’ve been talking about it,” said Dana.

“Probably not too far,” Cassie added quickly, “just to the other side of town or something like that–”

“Nothing’s been decided yet,” Dana cut her off. She sounded a little terse.

“Oh,” said Jean. She shifted where she was standing. She wasn’t really sure what to say, and she knew Paul must have felt even more awkward than she did. “You could move to Cavern City,” she said then, brightly. “You’d be closer to me, and it’s far enough from here that you wouldn’t know as many people.”

“I did suggest that,” said Cassie, glancing over at Dana.

Dana shook her head. “It’s just a lot to think about, Jean. If someone reports us here, it might not matter where we move – they know our names, so changing addresses might not even help.”

“So you’re going to stay?”

“I don’t know. Can we even talk about – who is he again?” she asked, looking straight at Paul but addressing Dana. She sounded exasperated and didn’t exactly come across as friendly, but Paul didn’t look offended.

“He’s a friend,” Jean jumped in before Paul could say anything. “We can trust him. Right?” she asked Paul.

“Sure,” he said, as though that should have been obvious.

“‘Sure,’” Dana mimicked him. “This is serious, Jean. It’s our lives.”

“Mom,” said Jean, stunned. “I said we could trust him.”

“Fine.” She waved her off. “But look, I’m sick of being the only person around here who takes these things seriously. It’s exhausting.”

“Day, we all take it seriously,” said Cassie, but she sounded more tired than argumentative.

“I know, but just – Jesus. I don’t want to have to be the one pointing out the facts and making the hard decisions all the time. I’m not the bad guy here, I’m just trying to protect you guys and somehow it always seems to come off that way.” Her hands were on her hips now and she was looking back and forth between Cassie and Jean; Dana wasn’t the type to avoid eye contact when she was confronting people.

Jean didn’t want to argue with her, not when she had just gotten here, and Cassie never wanted to argue with anybody, so neither one of them ended up saying anything. After a moment Dana sighed and said, “I’m going to sleep. Goodnight.”

“I love you, Mom,” said Jean softly.

Dana gave in and pulled her in for a hug. “Thank you for coming.” She said it into the hair that fell over Jean’s ear.

When they pulled apart, Cassie said, even more quietly than Jean had, “I love you, Dana.”

“I love you, too,” Dana muttered without turning around, and then she was gone from the room.

Cassie smiled weakly at Jean and Paul. “She’ll come around,” she said.

“You both will,” said Paul unexpectedly.

She looked at him. “What?”

“I mean you’ll come around to each other,” he said. “Right?”

There was a moment’s pause, and then she smiled. Her eyebrows knitted just slightly and she smiled as though she hadn’t seen him at first, but did now. “Right,” she said. “It was nice meeting you, Paul.”

He nodded. Then Cassie hugged Jean goodnight – “Turn off the kitchen lights when you go up, all right?” – and headed out and down the hallway toward her and Dana’s room.

Jean realized then that she was hungry, and that in fact neither she nor Paul had had any dinner, so she rummaged around in the fridge until she found some Styrofoam containers of leftover Thai food, then led him out of the kitchen and up the narrow staircase so that they could eat it in her room.

She expected it to feel strange stepping back into it, having been gone at school, but it didn’t – perhaps she hadn’t been away long enough. It felt nice actually, natural, seeing the squashed twin mattress on the floor in the corner, the wooden dresser with all of the old makeup and nail polish she never used anymore, the dark sea-blue walls covered in her own paintings and sketches. Paul halted a moment in the doorway when they walked in, staring around in awe.

“Jesus, Jean,” he said. “These are really good.”

She felt herself blushing and tried to stop, annoyed with herself. “Thanks.”

“I mean honestly.” He paced around the room a little, stopping to gaze at what seemed like every single scrap of drawing paper and canvas. Her charcoal sketches, her watercolors. She had paintings up of every house and apartment building she had ever lived in, of Dana and Cassie and herself and some old friends from her childhood, of random barns and fields she’d caught glimpses of through the car window. “You do everything,” said Paul, and his voice was full of reverence. “I had no idea. It’s incredible.”

She felt a warmth inside of her then, a love not for Paul but for herself, for her room, spurred by Paul. She loved this room. It was where she felt talented and, even more, where her talent was of consequence. The rest of the world, it seemed, could have cared less about art, about drawing and painting and probably Jean herself, but here, this room, was where art was everywhere. She thought suddenly of George’s room, of the walls covered in posters of musicians, and wondered if he felt the same way.

“Thanks,” she said again, meaning it a little more this time, and then she sat down on one end of the mattress, leaving room so that he could do the same. He sat down across from her and she opened the Styrofoam box, handing him a fork, and together they started in on the day-old pad Thai.

“Are your parents going to be okay?” Paul asked her, after they had been eating for a few minutes and the gnawing feeling of hunger had subsided.

Jean shrugged. “They always are, I guess,” she said. “They’re both pretty freaked out, I think, and since they’ve got different personalities it comes out in different ways. But they love each other. They’ll be fine.”

“Do they fight a lot normally?”

She thought about that for a moment as she chewed. “As much as anybody,” she said finally, once she had swallowed. “Like I said, different personalities, so they’re bound to clash a little bit every now and then. Mostly, though, no. Cassie doesn’t like fighting, and Dana thinks it’s a waste of time except when she really cares about something.”

“That’s a good perspective, I reckon,” said Paul.

“What about your parents?” she asked. “Do they fight?”

He laughed. “As much as anybody,” he said, echoing her words. “But I had a good childhood, you know, it’d be ridiculous to complain.”

That was good to hear. She realized now that she didn’t know anything about any of the Beatles’ backgrounds – if they had grown up rich or poor, if they had any siblings, what their parents were like. She and Paul talked for a while over the leftovers, trading off stories about their families and friends and their lives growing up, and sometime after midnight they both started drifting off. It wasn’t until Paul’s eyes started to droop in the middle of his own mumbled sentence that it occurred to Jean that maybe she should track down some blankets and make him his own makeshift bed on the floor, but she was so tired and it was so dark and there was room enough for the both of them on the full, anyway, and Paul didn’t seem to mind. A moment later he was completely asleep, lying on his back on one side of the mattress with his head still tilted in her direction.

She hesitated just half a moment further, but then the urge to sleep overpowered her and she gave up, laying her own head down on her pillow. If Paul had any problem with sharing a bed with her, he could take it up with her in the morning.

 

In fact, Paul never made it to morning. He jolted awake several hours later, inexplicably energized and thinking about Agnes.

His first thought was actually that, fuck, he had fallen asleep in the middle of talking to Jean – but then he saw Jean lying next to him on the mattress, facing away from him, her upper body lifting and falling in a steady rhythm as she breathed. The room was dark – maybe one of them had turned off the light at some point, or maybe it hadn’t been on to begin with. Either way, he moved slowly as he got up from the mattress, careful not to make any extra sounds so as not to wake Jean, feeling his way around in the dark until at last his fingers closed around the doorknob.

They had never heard back from Agnes. They had left her there at night, with no car and possibly no money, unless she’d had some on her already. And no food. He felt even guiltier remembering how quickly he and Jean had gone through that pad Thai, not having had dinner before they’d driven to Ajax. As he padded quietly down the stairs in his socks, he wondered whether it would be rude to grab some food now from the fridge or something, to take there for her, but decided against it. He didn’t want to make a bunch of noise in the kitchen, and they could easily get food somewhere as soon as he picked her up.

He had seen Jean leave the key ring on a hook by the door in the entry, so he grabbed it now on his way out, closing the door quietly behind him. Then he jogged down the front steps and slid into the driver’s seat of the pickup truck. It wasn’t until he turned the key in the ignition and saw the time light up on the dashboard that he realized what time it was: just after four-thirty in the morning.

There was no way she would still be there, he thought as he pulled back out of the driveway. She must have gone somewhere else by now. Nobody just loiters in a police station parking lot until four-thirty in the morning. Still, he felt he had to check anyway – it was all he could do, really, and he felt this strange feeling of anticipation, like something was going to happen and somehow he knew it was important that he be there. He couldn’t have fallen back asleep if he’d stayed in Jean’s room; he knew even now that he would have just laid there in the darkness, shifting around, staring up at the ceiling and wondering what it was he was missing.

He thought there was no one in the parking lot when he first pulled in, but then he saw her, sitting on the curb next to another figure in a green hooded jacket. When he parked the car and got out, he saw that it was another girl, younger than them, with two light brown braids coming down on both sides of her shoulders. They were lumpy and had hair sticking out of them at random angles; it was as though the girl had been sleeping, and had only just woken up. Her skin was very clear and she wasn’t smiling.

“Hey,” yawned Agnes as Paul walked toward them. She didn’t stand up. “He hasn’t come out yet. Thought you’d be sleeping.”

“I thought you’d be sleeping,” he shot back. “Why didn’t you call us? We didn’t mean to leave you here all night.”

She shrugged. “It hasn’t been that bad. I’ve got company.”

Paul looked at the girl in the green jacket, who had been staring haggardly up at him and showed no sign of wanting to speak. “Hi,” he said doubtfully. “I’m Paul.”

She nodded once, letting her head hang slightly forward and then picking it back up again. Her look said, I’m done with this bullshit, and nothing else. Then she reached into one of her jacket pockets, pulled out a small index card that had yellowed along its crease, and handed it to Paul.

He unfolded it. In hand-scrawled black pen it read, PAUL MCCARTNEY.

He looked at her and frowned. “Did Agnes tell you?”

The girl didn’t answer, and Agnes shrugged, as if to say, Don’t look at me.

“Who are you?” Paul asked the girl.

The girl looked over at Agnes, who handed him another index card: PILGRIM.

“Pilgrim?” he said. “That’s your name?”

“’S what I’ve been calling her,” said Agnes. “She’s not very informative.”

“Do you know her?”

“No. She’s nice, though. Keeps me awake.”

“How’s that?” asked Paul, again doubtfully. So far he hadn’t seen the girl do anything other than sit there and pull out an index card.

Again Agnes shrugged.

“Okay,” said Paul, deciding to give up for the moment, “well, I came to relieve you, Agnes. I can’t sleep anyway, and you must be exhausted, so I thought we’d switch places. You can take the truck back to Jean’s house and sleep there, and I’ll keep watch here for John.” Glancing sidelong at the other girl – Pilgrim? – for a moment, he asked offhandedly, “Do you know John, too?”

She cocked her head and gave him a look that could only be described as flat and fed up, as if to say, Are you fucking kidding me? The “fucking” included. Everything about her exuded teenage apathy, the exact sentiment of why-did-you-people-wake-me-up. It struck Paul as a little uncalled for.

“It would be nice to get some sleep,” said Agnes thoughtfully. She looked perfectly awake, but exhausted at the same time; her eyes were red-rimmed and baggy. “Are you sure you wouldn’t mind?”

“I’m here, aren’t I?”

She looked over at Pilgrim. “Would you mind?”

That same flat look was still in the girl’s eyes. She gave no answer, verbal or otherwise.

Agnes sighed. “All right,” she said, getting to her feet. He handed her the keys, and she clapped him on the back as she passed him, walking slowly to the car. When she turned it back on, the headlights startled Paul, but not Pilgrim, who made no effort even to shield her eyes.

As the pickup truck rumbled out of the parking lot, Paul turned toward the girl, knowing there was some question he wanted to ask but having no idea how to phrase it, but she was standing up and brushing off her jeans. She put both hands in her jacket pockets and started walking away across the darkened parking lot.

“Hey,” he said, “where are you going?”

One hand emerged from the jacket, and she turned around only briefly, just to flick another folded index card in his direction. He stepped forward to pick it up off the grainy asphalt and unfolded it, wondering whether she would ever want any of these cards back, and read:

JOHN LENNON.

“Hey,” he shouted, looking up, but she was already gone.

 

He sat down after twenty minutes of pacing, and about an hour later he began to get bleary-eyed. Cars rolled one by one into the parking lot and officers headed inside, but he kept off to the side, and nobody asked him who he was or what he was doing. Lights came on up and down the street, and gradually the sky rose from its deep black into a flushed dark blue, and then the sun was visible all at once through distant suburban trees and cracks between the buildings, and the air was cold and pink. Paul’s head was numb and he was shivering, and the world was beginning to blur when the door finally opened and John Lennon came out.

He was with a woman – not an old woman, but she looked much older than she was because she had pulled all of her hair into a very tight bun behind her head. She was dressed nicely and scowling, steering John toward an Audi parked near where Paul was sitting.

Paul got up slowly, waiting for his limbs to reawaken, as though he and John knew one another and therefore he expected John to stop and recognize him. As though he had been waiting, and now the two of them were meeting up as planned.

And John did stop, as soon as he reached him.

The two of them stared at one another. John didn’t look tired, despite having spent the night in the police station, but he did look a little amused. Paul blinked hard against the early morning sunlight, his eyes thick and gummy and his mouth tasting sour, and tried not to think about what he must have looked like.

“Hello,” he said.

John looked him over. “Hello yourself.”

The woman had stopped walking, too, but for her it was more a matter of confusion. “We haven’t got any money,” she told Paul briskly, and started trying to tug John away toward the Audi. He didn’t move.

“I don’t want any money,” said Paul tonelessly.

He knew now was the moment that he was supposed to explain everything to John, to tell him about Jean and the Beatles and George and whoever the hell the fourth one of them was. To say, Come with me, trust me, we’re going to be brilliant.

But for some reason, what he said instead was simply, “D’you play the guitar?”

John stared at him for a moment.

Then he smiled. An open smile, with his teeth and his eyes and his spirit. A smile that said, Come with me, trust me, we’re going to be brilliant.

“I’m probably better than you,” John warned him.

Paul grinned. “At talking, maybe. But I can play.” It wasn’t the best comeback in the world, but he was only just waking up, after all.

“You’re a kid,” said John.

“You’re a kid, too.”

“I’m older. I can tell. Plus I’ve been to prison now,” John added.

“Jail,” Paul corrected him. “They’re different.”

John grinned.

“For God’s sake, John,” the woman insisted, “do I need to take the guitar away?”

“All right, Mimi!” He sounded annoyed, but he extended his right hand to Paul. “I’m John,” he said.

Paul shook it. “I’m Paul.”

“John,” the woman started again.

“Mimi!” Shaking his head with irritation, he dug a phone from his pocket and handed it to Paul. “Well, don’t just stand there,” he said.

Paul keyed in his number and then handed it back.

John glanced over him one last time while he pulled open the passenger door of the Audi. Mimi had already closed her own door and was waiting inside with a look of serious impatience, drumming her long fingernails against the steering wheel.

“You’re too young,” said John, “honestly.”

“And you’re too cocky,” Paul replied. “Honestly.”

John shook his head again as he shut the car door, but he was also smiling, just a little bit, as the car started up and pulled away. He was trying not to show it and he was actually very good at not showing it, but Paul could tell easily – more than easily, reflexively. He hadn’t known he could ever feel this comfortable reading somebody he’d never met before.

And suddenly, out of nowhere, he felt alive. The Audi pulled out of the parking lot and began disappearing down the street, and Paul was alone in the lot and he felt awake and relieved and electric. He had been thinking about everything Jean had said about him and John, about the songs they were supposed to write together someday and the successes they were supposed to have, but it wasn’t even the songs and the fame and the concerts he was thinking about right now. It was that feeling when he and John had first made eye contact, when they’d shaken hands. Like he had existed in two places at once, and like someone new he hadn’t known about before now existed inside of him, too. He knew almost nothing about John – in a few ways he even disliked him already – but he also felt like he had found some important new link within himself, nothing real yet, just some small possibility – like by meeting John, by allowing that possibility, he had accomplished some goal he’d been speeding toward for years but had never even known he’d had. It felt like a triumph.

He pulled out his own phone now as the Audi disappeared into a land of stoplights and strip malls. The morning was crisp and pale, the sky was watercolors. He had to get back to Cavern to tell George about this, to play the guitar, to play the guitar, to feel the neck of the guitar and the strings under his fingers. He dialed Jean’s number and took in a deep breath of clean air and kept breathing, in and in and in, filling his lungs with morning while he waited for the sun to arrive.

Chapter Text

“John had his thing, and Paul had his, and together there were two different things all together. But they fit.”
-–Billy Preston

----

 

“I can’t believe you didn’t wake me,” Jean kept saying. “I can’t believe you.”

“Relax,” said Paul, “it’s not like I knew he was going to come out then. I was thinking about Agnes – who doesn’t seem to mind any of this nearly as much as you do, by the way.”

They were making the brief road trip back into Cavern City, with Agnes in the driver’s seat. They had stopped for lunch on the way out of Ajax, and now it was early afternoon and Paul and Jean were both feeling awake enough to bicker with each other about John Lennon.

“I’d be a little more sour about it, seeing as how I was the one who waited up for him all night,” Agnes admitted, “but I don’t really know anything about him, so it’s harder to care.”

“You’ll meet him anyway, I’m sure,” Paul told Jean.

“Has he texted you yet?”

“No. But he didn’t exactly strike me as the text-you-right-away type.”

“Three day rule?” she said dryly.

“Oh, shut up.”

In spite of the crossness, though, he did seem happy, underneath everything. Jumpier, lighter. He was looking out the window the whole time they were speaking, automatically arguing with her but not paying true attention to the conversation, not really.

And it made Jean happy, too. She had wanted to be there to meet John, sure, but what was most important was that Paul met him, and now he had.

Three down, she thought. One to go.

It was a Friday and both Jean and Paul had afternoon classes, but neither of them wanted to go, so Paul directed Agnes to George’s neighborhood. After she’d pulled up in the drive behind the school bus, he said, “You can come in, if you want. George is plenty friendly, you’d like him.”

She hesitated. “I – I would,” she said, “but I really need to get the car back. My dad’ll be wanting it.”

Jean had forgotten all about the fact that the truck wasn’t really Agnes’, but her father’s. “Tell him we said thanks, okay? I don’t know what else we would’ve done.”

Agnes nodded.

Jean hadn’t noticed when they were driving, but Agnes looked very pale, almost sickly. After coming back to Jean’s house, she had slept pretty late into the morning, but no doubt she had still been deprived of a few hours. She hadn’t talked for a lot of the drive, and now there was something in her face like restrained worry, or even panic.

“Are you okay?” Jean asked her, leaning back into the car. Paul was already up the drive, almost to George’s front door.

“I’m fine,” Agnes said. “Tell George I said hi. Or not, you know, since I don’t know him.”

“I’ll tell him,” said Jean. “Talk later?”

Agnes nodded, and then she put the big truck in reverse and pulled away, out of the drive and onto the street.

Inside, they didn’t have to look far to find George, who was baking in the kitchen. He was a very neat person – Jean had noticed that before, in his room, and she could see it again now in the way he had arranged all of the ingredients on one counter, careful not to spread the mess to the rest of the kitchen. He was dressed for school, his shirt even tucked into his pants, but it was barely one o’clock and here he was at home, baking. Carl Perkins was blaring from the record player; Jean had heard muffled traces of it from outside, and the volume skyrocketed as soon as they opened the door and came in.

Paul didn’t look at all surprise. “Hi,” he called to George, but his voice was drowned out and George didn’t turn around from the counter.

Paul walked up behind him and shouted in his ear: “HI!”

George turned to face him, grinning pleasantly. “Hi!” Then his gaze landed on Jean, and he exclaimed something else, but Jean couldn’t hear.

“What?”

“I said it’s you again, hello!”

Paul had walked over to the record player, which was on a small wooden table in the adjacent living room, and he turned it down now to a more comfortable volume. “He used to play it louder,” he told Jean, “but the damn neighbors kept calling the cops on him.”

“I didn’t know record players could go up louder than that.”

“You’d be surprised,” said George.

Paul walked back over into the kitchen and sat down at one of the tall chairs on the other side of the counter, and Jean did the same, watching George begin tipping a dry white mixture into a bowl of what looked like thick brownish cream. “No bus today?”

“Well, I did go,” said George, “but Bernie was driving. We’re afraid the board’s onto us, y’see, so we’ve got to cover our tracks every once in a while.”

“You went to school?”

“Just got home.”

Jean looked at her watch, just to be sure. “It’s one-oh-five.”

“I never said I was a model of perfection, did I?” He looked at her, then from her over to Paul. “Anyway, where have you all been? I’m not the only one who’s supposed to be in school, you know.”

“We drove to Ajax,” said Paul, before Jean could say anything. “You know that Lennon fellow we were looking for?”

George looked up, his posture straightening and his whisk pausing in the bowl. “You found him?”

“Yeah, and can you guess where?”

“Ajax,” said George swiftly, in a bet-you’ll-never-guess-how-I-knew sort of tone.

“County jail,” said Paul.

George raised his eyebrows. “Our man’s a criminal? What did he do?”

“Funny you should ask that,” Jean said crossly, “because Paul didn’t.”

“It didn’t come up in the natural course of conversation,” Paul said, speaking mainly to George, who had resumed his whisking but was still paying rapt attention to the both of them. “But he’s all right. I wouldn’t call him friendly exactly, and he’s a little older than us. He’s kind of cocky.”

“Remind me again why we want to be friends with him,” said George, smiling a little.

Jean opened her mouth, ready to defend John to the both of them, but to her surprise Paul spoke first. “Just trust me,” he said. “He’s good.”

“You didn’t even hear him play,” Jean heard herself say, more out of bemusement than skepticism.

“Just trust me,” Paul repeated.

George bent down to pull a burnt-metal baking sheet from one of the cabinets, and started taking handfuls of dough, rolling them into little balls, and arranging them on the sheet. “You know,” he said, “if the two of you are going to want any of these, you’ve got to contribute a little.”

They obliged. Jean liked baking, had always enjoyed doing it, especially with other people (baking with Cassie in particular was always the most fun, although Cassie always left the kitchen looking like a tornado had hit it), but she had never been very good at it. Luckily, by this point George had done all of the hard work, and all she needed to do was try to keep her balls of dough from being too big or too lumpy. The dough held together well and left her hands feeling sticky and smooth.

“Paul,” George said suddenly, “you’re doing it all wrong.”

Jean frowned and looked up, but then she saw what Paul was doing: rather than making balls, he was shaping the dough on his side of the metal tray into the figure of what looked like a stick man.

“I beg your pardon?” Paul sounded offended.

Jean thought George was going to criticize the fact that Paul was making a dough-man at all, but he didn’t. “His head,” said George, “you just gave him a random lump of dough. The chocolate chips are there for a reason, here, look–”

He stepped over beside Paul and momentarily took over, reshaping the dough so that it looked less like a random ball and more like the head of a person, peering up at them through twin chocolate chip eyes.

“There’s an art to it, you see,” he explained to Paul.

Paul crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the kitchen counter. “Oh, is there?”

“Yes. It’s very subtle, see, so I wouldn’t expect–”

“Oh, wouldn’t you?”

“Not from you, no, I wouldn’t.”

Paul grinned.

“I’m sorry,” said George, “but when something’s got to be said, it’s got to be said.”

Paul flicked a fingerful of dough into George’s face. It landed on his left cheek, a mere couple of inches away from his eye. George didn’t wait an instant before retaliating with a somewhat bigger wad of dough, which smacked Paul right between the eyes, on the bridge of his nose, as if George had been aiming for a target.

That set them off. Jean doubled over in laughter despite herself, and as he laughed Paul scooped another hand into the half-full bowl of dough, aiming for George’s shirt this time. After a few rounds of this one or another of them hit Jean, who had no choice but to join in, flicking sticky bundles of chocolate chips left and right until the three of them had nearly emptied the bowl.

When they had finished, the kitchen area around them was spattered with dough, from the counters to the cabinets to Jean and George and Paul themselves. Paul had a gob of it stuck in his hair (yet somehow, even despite this, the bastard still managed to look frustratingly good), and there was a line of flour skewed across one of George’s shoulders. They had used up maybe a third of the dough. Jean hadn’t seen a kitchen this out of sorts since Cassie had tried taking over Thanksgiving a few years back.

Paul looked around in disapproval. “George,” he asked, “do you always keep your kitchen this messy?”

“Don’t make me start again,” George warned him, but he was smiling.

 

Jean didn’t see Agnes again for a few days after that. She was absent the next day in Intro to World Politics, and when Jean texted her to ask where she was and if she wanted to meet up for dinner, she didn’t respond. Jean wanted to seek her out at her dorm to see what was going on, but over the course of the next couple of days she kept getting swept up in things Paul and George were doing.

She was trying to avoid meeting George along his bus route with Paul these days, partly because the cab fare to his neighborhood was expensive and partly because she was determined to attend at least a few of her afternoon classes this semester, but somehow most afternoons still seemed to find her either at George’s house or in Paul’s dorm. She met George’s sister, Louise, and his brothers, Harry and Peter, in passing – they always seemed to be coming and going somewhere or another – and his parents, who were miles friendlier and more welcoming than Jean would have expected from anyone. Sometimes they baked or played board games or drove around town, but far more often than not, an evening would find Paul and George huddled together over their guitars, writing a song while Jean sketched quietly on the other side of the room. She didn’t mind not being involved – in fact, she liked it, as it gave her space to focus on her art. Watching Paul and George sitting here, creating something new and interesting with every minute they spent together, it would have felt foolish not to try and create something of her own. She had never had friends who’d understood so fully the need to make art before.

The day after finding John in Ajax, Jean was walking across campus and wondering whether she ought to go by Agnes’ dorm when her phone rang. It was Cassie.

“She came around, Jean,” she said. She sounded fresh, flushed, excited. “Dana did, she agreed. We’re moving to Cavern City.”

Jean wasn’t sure whether she should feel excited or skeptical. “She did? I thought–”

“Yeah, you know, me too, but we talked it over a lot, and we think it’s a good idea. It’ll be nice to be so close.”

When Jean met up with them at their new Cavern apartment later that night, Dana did seem a little tense, but then again, tense was Dana’s resting state of being. Jean decided not to think too much of it. She recruited Paul and George to meet them there and help paint the walls, which they did with a lot more vigor and zeal than she had been expecting. Cassie in particular was instantly charmed as soon as she saw the school bus pull up and park on the street block outside, and the subsequent few hours of semi-productive paint-flinging only cemented her approval.

“I like them,” she told Jean while the two of them were alone at one point in the kitchen, melting sugar in a frying pan to make homemade caramel. They were going to drizzle it over a bowl of popcorn that waited, freshly made, on the counter. “Barring the fact that they’re not very good painters, I like them.”

Apparently, when painting a wall, the thing to do is to paint in neat rows so that everything looks smooth and blended once it’s finally dried. Conversely, George painted in great sprawling spirals, taking occasional detours to outline little scenes carried out by stick figure people, and Paul had seemed to delight in trying to find every possible brushstroke, from sideways streaks to straight-on blotches. It had taken them a while, but they’d gotten the wall covered. They ended up taking the caramel popcorn and watching an old movie on the floor (as there was no furniture in the apartment yet), and all spending the night there. George dropped Paul and Jean off at their classes in his bus the next morning.

It was later that same day that Jean saw Agnes. She was walking down the sidewalk near the Square with her back to Jean, but Jean recognized in an instant her backpack and short, cotton-candy hair.

“Agnes!”

If she heard her, she didn’t turn around.

“Hey, Agnes!”

She started jogging to catch up to her, and as she got closer she realized that Agnes had actually started walking a little faster since the first time she’d called her name.

When Jean reached her at last and stopped her in her tracks, she saw why.

Agnes had an enormous black eye. The term “black eye” even seemed inaccurate in implying that it was confined at all to her eye, when really the bruise seemed to take up almost the entire left side of her face. At the top of her forehead, near her scalp, was a deep ugly cut that stretched back into her hair, as though she had hit her head against something.

Jean felt her breath leave her for a moment, and her heart dropped into her chest. “Agnes,” she said, lost for words.

“Hi,” said Agnes, not looking directly at her.

“What happened? Who…What happened?”

“Nothing.” Agnes kept walking, and Jean fell into step alongside her without thinking.

Jean was so stricken that for a moment she couldn’t think at all; there was nothing in her head but the image of Agnes’ face, bruised and awful. She felt even worse thinking about how she had wanted to go to Agnes’ dorm the day before, but had been too busy throwing paint around and eating caramel popcorn with Paul and George and her parents. She had had a fine couple of days – but what the hell had Agnes been going through?

Then she remembered the last time she had seen Agnes, and the pale, panicked look on her face as she’d driven away in her father’s truck. Almost as though she had expected something like this, something terrible.

“Agnes,” she said quietly, “did your dad do this? For taking the truck?”

Again Agnes didn’t look at her. “Doesn’t matter. It’s done now.”

“It does matter,” said Jean. “It matters to me.”

“Not to me. Honestly.”

“Well, it must, if you haven’t been answering my texts for the last two days.”

“Because I knew you’d react like this,” said Agnes finally, turning to face her. There was something in her expression that looked sad, but also strangely at peace, in tune with the sadness. “You’d try to treat it like some big deal. Of course I knew it was going to happen, but I made the decision anyway. I knew, but I wanted to help, so I did it. It’s that simple.”

Jean thought again of George’s bus, of the fact that really the truck hadn’t been their only option at all. “But if we’d known–”

“Jean,” Agnes cut her off. She was looking at her plaintively, with an expression that said, I love you and I’m being honest here, so just listen. “I appreciate the concern, truly. You’re a good friend and I thank you for it. But being concerned won’t help. My life isn’t going to change. If I freaked out every time my dad went off on me, I’d never have a normal moment.”

Jean stared back at her, trying to decipher her face and the things she was saying but failing. She didn’t understand that. She couldn’t pick and choose what parts of her life to care about and be impacted by, especially not if one of those things was being hit by her own parent. She couldn’t see herself getting used to something like that, no matter how many times it happened.

“So he does that a lot?” she asked finally. “This wasn’t the first time?”

Agnes shrugged. “Won’t be the last, either.”

“What about – I mean, does he hit Silas, too?”

Agnes opened her mouth to answer, but before she could, their conversation was interrupted by the sight of Paul coming toward them up the sidewalk. He was wearing a lopsided cap and a button-down shirt and jeans, and he was running.

“Hey, Jean! Hi, Agnes!”

He made it a few more steps before the pocket of his backpack folded over and several books spilled out across the sidewalk – apparently he had forgotten to pull up the zipper. He stumbled to a halt, crouched down and hurriedly scooped them back inside, and then jogged the rest of the way up to Jean and Agnes.

“He texted me.” The words spilled out of his mouth instantly, almost before he’d even reached them, and then he was about to say more but was stopped at the sight of Agnes. “He – what – Agnes, are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” said Agnes.

Jean had barely even processed what Paul had said, and internally hoped for a moment that he would leave. She wasn’t sure how much of this Agnes wanted to share with Paul…But then again, she wasn’t sure how much if it Agnes wanted to share with Jean herself, either. And Agnes had seemed like she’d wanted to abandon the topic of conversation. Maybe it was a good thing that Paul was here now to change it.

“Are you sure?” asked Paul.

“Tripped on the stairs,” said Agnes. “Who texted you?”

“What?”

“You said someone texted you,” said Agnes patiently. “Who?”

Only now did this piece of information really reach Jean. “Wait,” she said, looking from Agnes over to Paul. “John? Did John text you?”

The smile had left Paul’s face as soon as he’d seen Agnes, but a hint of it flickered back now, if a little uncertainly. “Yeah,” he said. “He wants to meet up. I’m on my way to my dorm right now to get my guitar, then I’m catching a cab to his house.”

“A cab?” Jean repeated. “To Ajax?”

Paul shook his head. “He doesn’t live in Ajax. He was just there for the night, it turns out – he lives in Cavern, not fifteen minutes from here.”

“He was right under our noses this whole time,” Agnes interjected, in a deep, exaggerated detective’s voice.

“Hang on,” said Jean, already reaching toward her pocket for her phone, “I’ll call George–”

“No,” said Paul suddenly, “I’ll – I’ll text him later. I think I ought to go alone. Don’t want to overwhelm him.” As he spoke he kept walking, already moving past Jean and Agnes.

Jean felt her shoulders slump. “I still have to wait to meet John Lennon?”

Paul shrugged, but he was grinning. “Sorry!” he called, picking up his pace a little to start jogging away again.

“Are you going to tell him?” she called after him, certainly loud enough for him to hear, but he didn’t turn around.

She turned back to face Agnes, who had pulled a peach out of somewhere in her backpack and was taking her first bite into it. She wasn’t sure what to do now – as far as Paul and John went, it sounded like she just needed to await further developments, and in terms of her conversation with Agnes, she knew they couldn’t go back to what they had been talking about before.

For some reason, though, despite herself, she still felt like she should say something. “Promise you’ll tell me,” she said quietly, before she could stop herself. “If you need anything, or if anything gets – you know – bad. You can always stay with me.”

Agnes looked at her. “Thanks,” she said, and Jean could tell that she meant it. “Really.”

Jean nodded.

“Now,” said Agnes, “no offense, but can we talk about something else?”

Jean gave a small smile. “Sure,” she said. “Could you go for some bubble tea?”

“Always,” said Agnes impassively around the peach.

As they started off down the sidewalk, Jean stuffed her hands in her jacket pockets. It was late September now, and Cavern was in that pleasant, still mildly warm phase that allowed and encouraged warm clothes but didn’t require them. It was Jean’s favorite part of the year – leaves coloring through and starting to come down, and getting to wear her favorite clothes, light boots, long jeans and thin jackets.

“What are you thinking about?” asked Agnes.

Jean shook her head. “I’m just…impatient, I guess,” she said finally. “Part of me is just happy that any of this is happening at all, and excited that it’s come this far. But it’s also the very beginning, and if it’s going to happen at all close to how it happened last time, there’s so much great stuff ahead…” Sgt. Pepper and Revolver flashed through her mind, and Rubber Soul, and the movies and the concerts and the fans, the travel, the few interviews she’d seen of them on tape, all four of them laughing and talking so naturally, like friends. But she looked at Agnes, finishing off the peach and looking understanding but still generally blank, and of course she couldn’t say any of that. “And now that I’ve got the ball rolling,” she said at last, “there’s nothing for me to do but sit back and wait. And hope we’re able to find Ringo soon,” she added as an afterthought. “I just feel inactive. And now John’s here, we’ve found him, but Paul’s right, we shouldn’t overwhelm him and I don’t want to get in the way – I mean after all, when they first met in real life it’s not like there was some strange girl in the room talking about fate.”

“This is real life,” Agnes reminded her.

“Right. I just meant–” She gave up. “You know what I meant. It’s just frustrating.”

Agnes reached up to wipe a line of peach juice from her chin. “Those rock stars,” she said reproachfully to Jean. “You introduce one to another, and suddenly they can’t be bothered with anybody else.”

 

John’s house was nice – more so than any of Paul’s other friends’ houses, and more so than Paul had honestly been expecting. It was set apart from the other houses in its neighborhood and sat comfortably on the corner of Reed and Menlove, in a neighborhood that wasn’t fancy exactly but definitely ranked among the more polished parts of Cavern. The yard was well trimmed and cared for, and there were several windows facing the street from the first and second floors, all stacked together in rows, some with plants in the sills. It was the first thing Paul noticed when he saw the house from the street.

He paid the cabdriver and made his way across the yard. It struck him that this seemed like one of those houses where you’re not supposed to walk on the grass and should really take the sidewalk around instead, but he didn’t think of it until he was already halfway across the lawn, and by that point he didn’t care.

He knocked a few times, hoping it would be John who answered. It wasn’t.

Mimi glared down at him over the rims of her spectacles. “You’re that idiot who was panhandling outside the police station, aren’t you?” she said. She had opened the door maybe halfway, just enough for her to fill up all of the space between it and the frame, blocking his way inside. As though he were about to barrel past her without asking.

“I’m not an idiot, ma’am,” said Paul, with as much respect as he could muster in the moment – for despite the woman’s seemingly permanent scowl, there was still something about her that he thought he ought to respect. “And I wasn’t panhandling.”

“Only an idiot would panhandle outside a police station.”

“I wasn’t–” He stopped midsentence, seeing John trot down the stairs behind her.

“Hullo, Paul,” said John, paying Mimi just enough attention to pry the doorknob away from her and open the door widely enough for Paul to come inside.

“Hullo, John.”

He thought it would be rude to walk straight past Mimi when she didn’t seem very welcoming, but John beckoned him in impatiently, so he stepped inside anyway, awkwardly sidling his guitar case past her as he did. She looked him over as he came in, and for the first time he felt overly conscious of his untucked shirt and dirt-flecked old cap.

“John,” she said, “you should really be focusing on cleaning up your act in school, not associating with all of these new…sorts.” She said it straight to John, as though Paul wasn’t even standing there.

“I know he’s not on the list, ma’am, but he’s with me,” John said in some mocking tone that wasn’t his own, not even glancing back at her as he hurried back up the stairs. Paul understood he was meant to follow and did, thankful to be out of the line of fire that was Mimi’s eyesight.

“Don’t mind Mimi,” said John as he led Paul up the stairs and into his room. It had posters of old musicians on the walls, just like George’s room, but it was bigger than George’s room and less organized. The posters were patchier in the way they were arranged, as though some had been moved around or taken down over the years, and the bed was unmade, with an acoustic guitar resting on top of it. John sat leisurely down and picked up the guitar immediately, and Paul sat across from him in a chair in front of John’s desk, setting his own case down on the floor and reaching down to undo its latches.

“She always like that?” he asked conversationally.

“Like what?”

Surprised that he’d asked, Paul hesitated. “You know–”

“I don’t know,” said John. “That’s my aunt you’re talking about.”

Paul frowned, but then he saw something in John’s eyes that locked it all back into place for him. It was a joke.

Lifting his guitar carefully out of its case, he asked, “So she’s not your mother, then?”

“Well, she can’t be both, last I checked.”

“Where’s your mum?”

“What’s it to you?” said John, staring at him. “I don’t even know who you are.”

Paul blinked. He had forgotten – forgotten that John had barely any context even for knowing him, that all of these questions would probably seem prying. “Right,” he said. “Right, sorry, I just – my mum died a few years ago, so I was just – I was just wondering.”

John stared at him for a moment longer, an unreadable expression on his face. Then he went back to tuning his guitar, turning the knobs slowly and delicately, one by one. “She’s fine,” he said. “Lives a few blocks down from here. I stay there sometimes on the weekends.”

“We tried calling all the Lennons in the area,” said Paul, almost without thinking. “Couldn’t find her or your father or anyone.”

“Mimi’s last name is Smith.” His hands had paused on the guitar, and now he looked up at Paul again and frowned. “Are you going to explain all of this, then? Why you were looking for me?”

“Right.” Paul cleared his throat, suddenly uncomfortable. This was the part he hadn’t been looking forward to – since getting here, he had started to wonder whether it might have been better after all to bring along Jean and George, just so that he’d have someone around to back up what he was saying. “I’ve got this friend, see, this girl Jean.”

“The girl who recognized me,” said John.

“At the police station. Yeah.”

“I figured I must’ve gone out with her or something, but she didn’t look familiar.” He frowned. “Did I go out with her?”

“No,” said Paul quickly. “No, you’ve never met. She…” He trailed off, realizing suddenly that he had absolutely no idea how to phrase this.

“What?” John grinned. “Don’t just sit there slack-jawed. If we’ve never met, how did she know who I was?”

“It wasn’t just you,” said Paul. “She recognized me, too, the first day of college. It was really weird, actually. And she knew I was from Liverpool.”

“You’re from Liverpool?” John perked up a little, his shoulders straightening. “So am I!”

“Yeah.” He knew John was probably expecting him to be surprised, but he couldn’t summon up more than a smile. “Yeah, that’s part of it.”

“Part of what?”

Paul shifted a little, adjusting the guitar over his legs. “Jean told me we used to all know each other – me and you and my friend George, and this fourth fellow we haven’t found yet. We were in a band together. In another lifetime or something, she said it was in the sixties. We had the same names back then and we looked the same and everything, and everyone in the world knew who we were and remembered us – until the day she met me, and then when she tried telling other people no one seemed to remember.”

John was grinning with delight, as though he had told a good joke. “You’re pulling my leg.”

Paul gave a small, nervous laugh. “It’d all make a lot more sense to me if I were, trust me.”

“So we’re the same people. Reincarnated or something.”

“That’s what she said.”

“What about the other people? Our – y’know, our original selves.” He said “original selves” with his eyebrows raised, an element of playfulness still in his voice.

“I don’t think I asked,” said Paul. He had finished tuning his guitar and started playing it idly now, sliding his fingers absently up and down scales. He did this often when he started playing to get reacquainted with the instrument, to slip back in. “Dead, I suppose. We’d have all been old by now.”

It was a weird thought, but one he was surprised hadn’t occurred to him before. Looking across the room at John, he tried picturing an elderly version of him and couldn’t.

“Huh,” said John. “D’you know any Elvis?”

Paul blinked. “Sorry?”

“Elvis.” The look in his eyes was as though he was waiting for Paul to not know, waiting for him to slip. “As in–”

“Presley, yeah. Sorry,” he said again. “Is that it? ‘Huh’? You don’t want to demand some proof, or kick me out for being mad, or–”

“It doesn’t matter,” said John.

“What?” How could it not matter?

He shrugged and said it again, simply. “It doesn’t matter. Before, if this is all to be believed, we were the same people as we are now. Same spirits, same things we care about, right? You were into the guitar before you ever met Jean, and if you hadn’t met her you’d still have been into it anyway, right?”

“Right,” said Paul slowly.

“And I’m into it anyway, too. It doesn’t matter if we met each other before, and if we’re meeting each other now because of fate or magic or whatever the hell else. We’ve met now. If music is what we do, then we may as well fucking do it, isn’t that right?” He was still wearing that same grin, the grin that seemed to be testing Paul. Waiting for him.

And as much as Paul hadn’t completely understood at first, it made sense. What did it matter if they had known each other before, in some previous life? They were here now. They were back now.

Starting right now, it was all forward.

“It is,” said Paul. He could feel a smile starting across his own face. “That is right.”

John was looking at him expectantly. “So?”

“So?”

“Elvis? D’you know anything?”

“Oh. Oh, yeah.” The idea of not knowing Elvis was ridiculous to him.

“Chuck Berry?”

The smile widened. “I love Chuck Berry.”

“So play something,” said John.

Paul raised his eyebrows. He played the first thing he thought of, which of course was “Johnny B. Goode” – he always got into the song when he played it, singing included, and John looked so pleased as he was playing that he joined in a bit in the middle, playing his guitar along under Paul’s. Paul held back just a tad when he got to the solo, not wanting to come across as too extreme, but still explored the guitar enough to make it clear that he knew his way around it. When he was done, he struck a definitive final chord and sat back, waiting for a reaction.

John was smiling; Paul could tell instantly that he was impressed. “You like rock ‘n’ roll, then?” asked John.

“Oh yeah,” said Paul, “it beats what they’re putting out these days.”

“You a purist or something?”

“No,” said Paul quickly, “not at all. It’s narrow, I think, to rule anything out based on when it was made or who made it…But music’s got less fire now, I think. At least the last decade or so, it must’ve started a few years after the Turningpoint Election. Like people are still trying, but they’re not really feeling it so much anymore. At least not in what you hear on the radio.”

“When you hear anything at all on the radio,” John supplied.

“That’s a good point.” The good stuff was out there, John was right, it just didn’t ever get any airtime. Even the bad stuff barely got airtime. The restrictions were starting to become too much, just like they had for art and literature in the past few years, and many people simply didn’t want to put in the effort anymore. Radio stations focused solely or primarily on music, particularly non-polemical music, were starting to become outdated, like bookstores or video galleries.

“D’you think–” Paul started hesitantly.

“What?”

“I mean, d’you think that should change anything? In terms of us, you know. Playing guitar, writing songs – I write songs,” he added quickly, “I dunno if you do. But playing guitar, and looking for the fourth guy from the band, if you want to do that.”

“You mean, the fact that music’s going out? And the fact that if we aren’t making propaganda songs, we won’t get played anywhere?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you think it should?” John asked. “Change anything?”

“No,” said Paul staunchly.

John grinned. “Good. Me neither. They can shove the propaganda up their asses for all I care.”

Paul returned the smile, not even sure why he had been concerned about that – after all, John didn’t exactly seem like the type of person who regularly knelt to authority.

“All right,” he said, “so I’ve played for you. Now let’s see what you’ve got.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Oh yeah.”

His eyes still locked with Paul’s, John reached back behind him across his bed. When he straightened up again he was holding a worn composition notebook, which he tossed across the room. Paul caught it narrowly and opened it to the most recent page, which had been marked by the presence of a thick ballpoint pen.

“Song I’m working on,” said John. “Care to help?”

His handwriting was messy, but Paul could make it out. Lyrics were scrawled across the page, crossed out and reordered here and there, squished beside or beneath their corresponding chords. To someone else it might have looked like a mess, but it was a form Paul knew by heart and could decipher easily; his own songwriting notebook in his school backpack actually looked very similar. The title was written at the top: “Hello Little Girl”.

“I can try,” he said. “Play me what you’ve got so far?”

“Sure.”

He started in on the song. It was better than Paul had been expecting, and he had been expecting it to be good. John’s singing voice, it turned out, was similar to his speaking voice – breathy and quick, with a very distinct Liverpool accent. It was a somewhat low and fairly energetic song, and it didn’t take Paul long to get the hang of it; when John hit the second verse, he started to harmonize, and John watched him with something that looked like approval as the two of them sang.

Once they had finished, Paul told him to play it again, and this time stopped him a couple of times in the middle to offer suggestions about lyrics and chords. He was worried at first about taking it upon himself to critique John’s work, and he could tell that John was wary of it too, but within a few minutes they were passing the notebook back and forth between them, and John was even asking him for more.

“Are you sure it’s not imposing on what you’ve written too much?”

“No, you bloody idiot, here, shut up and tell me what you think about this last verse–”

It was then, with John passing the notebook back across the space between them to Paul, when a small card dropped out of it and to the floor.

In the interest of tidiness, Paul bent to pick it up, and he thought nothing of it until he was about to slip it back into the pages of the notebook. Then, seeing it more closely, he could tell that the edges were a pale, aged yellow, and that it had a deep crease as though it had been folded many times over in the past. Without asking John, without even thinking at all, he unfolded it and read:

RICHARD STARKEY

He knew that handwriting, the crunched-for-time scribble of the black ink pen. Looking back up at John, he asked, “Who’s Richard Starkey?” He didn’t mean for his voice to carry so much weight, but it did, they both heard it.

“I dunno,” said John. He seemed largely unconcerned. “Is that yours?”

“No, it just…” He trailed off. Jean’s words were back in his head, clear as day: Ringo Starr, but it’s like his stage name…Richard something. “Fuck,” he muttered to himself. “Pilgrim.”

“Sorry?” John’s eyebrows had furrowed together in the middle. “'Pilgrim'? What's that supposed to mean?”

Paul shook his head. He was already reaching down to pull the phone from his pocket. “I’ve got to call Jean.”

Chapter Text

"I'd like to end up sort of unforgettable."
-Ringo Starr

 

----

Jean was at a debate viewing party with Agnes when she got Paul’s phone call. The university’s politics clubs would often host viewing parties for national television that had to do with politics, and since it was election year there was one going on for practically every debate. The conservative clubs were the largest and densest on campus, and the particular viewing party Jean and Agnes had found was by contrast very small and poorly attended. A total of perhaps ten people were scattered among the desks, eating pizza and chatting a little off and on during the commercial breaks. One girl was typing furiously at a laptop on her desk, two monstrous textbooks balancing across her lap.

“See,” Agnes said to Jean during one of the commercial breaks, “this is fun. Didn’t I tell you this would be fun?”

“I never said it wouldn’t be fun,” Jean argued. Agnes was getting involved with the club and had wanted to go to show her support, and Jean had gone along partly for that reason and partly so that she would sound a little more knowledgeable about the election the next time she spoke to Mae on the phone. Though still behind, Kerry Walter was currently a lot closer in the polls to Jim Truebold than anyone had been expecting, and as a result Mae was always riled up about some detail or another and could go on ranting about it for hours.

They were sitting in a small lecture hall near Jean’s dorm, watching the debate on a projector and eating pizza somebody from the club had ordered. Practically every time Truebold spoke, he would say something inflammatory or prejudiced, and in response someone in the room would call out something insulting or throw a slice of pepperoni at the screen in protest. Jean was actually quite enjoying it, especially since she wasn’t going to have to be the one to pick up all the pepperonis.

“I did think the Islamophobia would be a little more veiled,” Jean commented. Truebold had spent much of the program basking in praise from reporters and taking questions from moderators regarding his recent motion to completely ban Islam in America; it was progressing through various legal stages with surprisingly little resistance (a few years back there may have been more, but by now if there was any left it was invisible, buried under a collection of steadily mounting silence), and many of Truebold’s supporters saw it as the latest in a long series of presidential triumphs.

“You expect too much of America,” Agnes told her.

It was then that her phone started to ring. She picked it up quickly and moved outside and into the hallway just as the commercial break was ending.

“Hey, Paul.”

“Jean,” said Paul. “Hi. Listen, I’m at John’s house and I think we just found another one of those index cards.”

“What index cards?”

There was a pause for a moment on the other line. “Agnes didn’t tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

Another pause. “Is she there with you now?”

She crossed quickly back over to the door to the lecture hall, leaned in, and hissed: “Agnes!”

Agnes turned around, blank-faced, and Jean beckoned her out into the hall.

“All right,” Jean said, putting Paul on speakerphone, “What the hell’s going on?”

“I’d like to know, too, for the record,” said a slightly quieter voice on Paul’s line. Jean recognized it instantly, and faster than she would have imagined possible a chill chased down her spine.

“John?” she asked.

“Hello,” said John in a friendly tone.

“Hi, by the way,” Agnes put in, “I’m here also. I’m Agnes.”

“Agnes,” said Paul, “tell John here and Jean about that girl you met.”

“You met her, too,” said Agnes. “I thought you’d tell them.”

“You talk to Jean all the time, I just figured you–”

“Whatever,” said Agnes. Clearly she didn’t want to return to the subject of why she hadn’t talked to Jean for the first few days after they’d found John. “I was waiting for John at the police station and it was around two, three in the morning. I was just about to fall asleep, and this girl showed up and sat down next to me. I didn’t see where she came from, and she wasn’t with anyone else. She looked pretty sleepy, like she’d just woken up, only it was the middle of the night. She just sat on the curb and didn’t say anything, but I guess something about her being there just made me feel like I was awake again, and she had a few index cards with her – one for Paul, and one for herself.”

“What do you mean,” said Jean, “‘for Paul’?” Her heart was hammering. How had they not told her this before?

“It had his name on it,” said Agnes. “She handed it to him when he sat down, no explanation. ‘Paul McCartney’.”

“She gave me another one, too,” Paul added, “after you left, Agnes. Said ‘John Lennon’ on it.”

On the line with Paul, John didn’t comment on this. He asked, “What was the girl’s name?”

“She called herself ‘Pilgrim’,” said Agnes. “That’s all.”

“How was this not the first thing you told me?” Jean demanded. “Forget telling me about John – no offense, John–”

“Some taken,” John said.

“–Why did no one tell me about a creepy girl named Pilgrim who knows who all of you guys are? I mean, did she say anything?”

Agnes shrugged. “I was too sleepy to care, honestly. She didn’t say anything the whole time I was with her.”

“Same with me,” said Paul.

“Not anything?”

“Not anything.”

“Maybe she’s mute,” Agnes suggested.

“Or maybe she just didn’t feel like talking to us,” Paul said. “She certainly seemed ornery enough.”

“‘Ornery,’” John mimicked, his voice still coming through slightly more quietly on the other line. It was clear he was sitting somewhat away from the phone.

“All right, shut it,” muttered Paul.

“Right,” said John, a little more loudly this time, “are we all good and prepped now? Can we get to the actual reason we called, or are we going to sit around swapping legends about the mute girl all afternoon?”

“Right.” Paul cleared his throat. “Well, John and I were going through this notebook of John’s and we found another one. An index card. Pilgrim’s handwriting.”

“We don’t know she was the one who wrote them,” Agnes murmured, but her voice was absent, and if they cared at all about this point no one said anything.

“What did it say?” Jean asked.

“‘Richard Starkey,’” said Paul.

“Oh my god.” She said it quietly, as though she was still thinking, which she was. She knew the name, of course, as soon as she heard it. She could have kicked herself for not remembering it sooner. “Oh my god, that’s Ringo.”

“Our fourth man,” Paul echoed. “I figured.”

“Have you checked the phone book?”

“We’ve hardly had time,” said John flippantly, “what with Paul tripping over himself to get to his phone and call you.”

“Well, check it,” she said abruptly. “Hopefully we’ll have a little more luck this time. We can meet up, then, and look for him – if,” she cut herself off, slowing down, “I mean, if you all want.” She wasn’t even sure why she said it, because even she sort of knew that this was going to be done whether they wanted to do it or not. And she knew that they would want to do it anyway.

“Relax, Jean,” said Paul, much to her relief but not to her surprise. “We’re already on our way.”

 

They agreed to meet up at George’s house, as Paul didn’t care about missing his afternoon class and luckily neither Jean nor Agnes had any afternoon classes to skip to begin with. John drove himself and Paul over in Mimi’s car without asking, and they beat Jean and Agnes there by about half an hour.

Paul’s plan had been to dig into George’s phone book as soon as they got there, but he was distracted the moment George’s mother opened the door by the fact that he had forgotten to call ahead to say that he was coming.

“Oh,” he said brightly. “Hi, Louise.”

“Hello, Paul.” She smiled.

“This’s my friend John. Is George home?”

“In his room.” She had already stepped aside to let him in. George’s mother and father were the type of people who were automatically welcoming; they didn’t need forewarning or excuses, they needed only to know your face to be glad to see you.

“Thanks,” said Paul, slipping past her. “My father gives his regards.” He didn’t actually – in fact Paul’s father rather disapproved of George, who in Mr. McCartney’s opinion was a little too witty and wore leather jackets too often – but he figured it was a polite thing to say.

Upstairs, George was sitting on his bed with his legs crossed, his guitar in his lap and an open notebook in front of him. He was fiddling around with the strings, but he stopped and looked up when Paul and John walked in.

“So you’re John,” he said.

“You’re George?” John asked. “You’re just a kid. He’s a kid,” he repeated, turning to Paul. “I thought you were young and this kid’s even younger.”

“I’m not that much younger than you,” said George.

“Like hell you aren’t.”

“Well, in the grand scheme of things.”

“In the grand–” John stopped midsentence, noticing the posters on the walls. They appeared to catch him off guard a little but he tried to look casual, apprehensive even, as he took a moment to survey them. “You like Dylan?”

“Freewheelin’ s my favorite,” replied George.

John looked at him and nodded just a little, as though the idea of George in itself was beginning to grow on him. He sat down in the chair and faced George’s bed, leaning back as comfortably as if the room and the chair were his own. “Mine too,” he said. “All right, let’s see what you’ve got.”

“What I’ve got?”

“Yeah, what do you know?” He considered for a moment and then said, “How about ‘Raunchy,’ can you play ‘Raunchy’?”

“’Course I can,” said George.

John waited. When George only stared at him, he asked, “Well, are you going to?”

“What is this, an audition? How about you play something for me?”

John arched an eyebrow. “I haven’t got to prove myself to a fifteen-year-old.”

“If you’ve got nothing to prove, then do it,” said George easily.

John gave a small half-smile that already Paul recognized – it was a smile for sure, but also hard at the edges, a challenge. It was gone as quickly as it had come. “All right,” he said, “give it here.”

George handed the guitar across the bed, comfortably but still with a great deal of care. It wasn’t a particularly expensive guitar, in fact Paul was fairly certain he’d gotten it secondhand, but he kept it well, and in all the time he’d owned it he hadn’t gotten so much as a scratch on the wood. Paul watched John’s face as he took the cheap guitar for any sign of judgment or contempt, but there was none, and he handled it as respectfully as if it were his own.

There was no warning before John started to play. As soon as the guitar was somewhat settled in his lap, he struck a single, loud, confident chord, a brazen G, and started to sing.

“Oh, dirty Maggie Mae–”

Paul grinned as soon as he started, and George smiled, too. It was an old Liverpool song, they all knew it. John heavily exaggerated his accent as he sang, and from the first line he sounded more like a parody of a nineteenth-century British sailor than what he really was, a twenty-first-century immigrant to America. They let him get through the first couple of verses alone, and when he hit the chorus they both joined in, accent and all.

“For she robbed so many a sailor – and skinned so many a whaler – and she’ll never shine in Paradise Street no more!”

It was a long song, but John stopped it there, grinning as he handed the guitar back over to George.

“Your turn,” he said.

George took the guitar, but before he could start playing, they heard footsteps coming quickly up the stairs. The door swung open and Jean leaned in, one hand on the doorknob.

“Guys, hi!” She was a little out of breath.

“Hello,” said John, “are you Jean?”

“Yeah. I know who you are,” she said unnecessarily. Addressing them all, she went on, “Listen, I looked up ‘Richard Starkey’ on my phone on the way over here. He’s on drums tonight at the Cavern City Music Club. His band’s only on until ten, though, so we’ve got to go now if we want to see him!”

“Imagine that,” John remarked passively, looking over at Paul. “She found Richard Starkey on her phone on the way over here.”

“Yeah, I don’t see any phone books out in here – way to be productive, guys,” said Jean, already turning to hurry back down the stairs.

They all exchanged glances and then got up almost as a unit, starting to follow her. George put the guitar automatically down on his bed, but John picked it up again and caught him by the arm before he had left the room. “Hey,” he said, “you’re not getting off that easy.”

George glanced at the guitar and then back up at John. “What, right now?”

“You can play it on the way over. Come on.” He clapped him amiably on the shoulder, handed him back the guitar, and hurried down the stairs after Paul.

Out on the sidewalk in front of George’s place, Jean was standing with Agnes and scanning the street. “Shit,” she said as Paul and the others caught up behind her.

“I tried to get him to stay,” said Agnes, shaking her head. “The guy was a bit of an asshole. Said five’s too many people anyway.”

“What is it?” asked Paul.

Jean turned around to face him. “The cabdriver left.”

They didn’t seem to react at all. “That’s no problem,” said George, “we can take the bus.”

“There’s a bus stop near here?” asked John.

George was already walking back down his own driveway. “You didn’t see it coming in?” he called over his shoulder.

The bus was partially hidden now behind trees at the back of the drive, but it still would have been impossible not to notice, the yellow distinct even in shade. A smile spread across John’s face as he put the pieces together.

“Fantastic,” he said.

“George drives it to school sometimes,” Agnes explained to him as they walked over.

He looked sidelong at her with his most winning, inquisitive smile. “Hello, by the way,” he said. “I’m John.”

“I’m Agnes.” She stuck out her hand, and he shook it as they walked without breaking pace.

“Agnes, you’re very pretty, you know that?”

“Thanks,” she said. “I’m also a lesbian with high standards.” She skipped past him then and hopped lithely onto the bus.

Paul shook his head mockingly at John. “Harsh,” he said. John stuck out his tongue at him.

Paul ended up driving so that George would be free to play the guitar. Jean and Agnes stayed up front to keep Paul company, and George followed John, who led him all the way to the back of the bus. There were many rows between them and the front, but since the bus was empty apart from the five of them, the distance felt a lot less divisive. Paul pulled off onto the main road with the radio on mute (the only station coming through clearly was a daily government broadcast anyway), and he and Agnes and Jean listened in as soon as they heard George start to play.

“Raunchy” was a twangy Bill Justis song from the fifties and for a song that sounded tricky in theory, it was even trickier in practice. George played it comfortably. Not as if he had been programmed to do it, not as if he had been practicing this exact song every day for a year, just as if it was one of the functions of his hands, handling this guitar, as if he had earned every drop of the ease with which he played it. He wore a look of focus as he played, looking mostly at the instrument itself, relaxed but concentrated. Every single note was perfect.

When he finished, John looked him over with approval and then looked over toward Paul at the front of the bus. “Where’d you find this fellow, anyway?” he called, smiling.

“He just sort of popped up one day, I can’t seem to shake him!”

“I’m in, then?” George asked John.

He had already been in, and they all knew it. “’Course you are,” said John. “Anyway, you and Paul already know each other, right? I’m the one who should be asking if I’m in or not.”

“You’re all in,” said Jean decisively, bending over her cell phone without looking at any of them. She was texting Mae, who was still watching the debate and kept sending her updates. “No use beating around it.”

“It’s lucky I found you all,” said John, looking around at them all, even though George was really the only one sitting near him. “My other band left me a bit high and dry.”

“Other band?” asked Paul from the driver’s seat.

“Yeah, the Quarrymen. We got run out of a few clubs – for our image or for not being religious enough or some other bullshit. They all started quitting. The last two left about a month ago, I’ve been solo since then.”

“Run out of clubs?” repeated George.

“Yeah, you know, a few. Most places won’t book you anymore unless you’re singing about God or American values, and – well,” he said, smiling, “I’m not American, for one thing.”

“He meant was it anything dangerous?” asked Agnes.

John shrugged. “No more than average, I suppose.”

“What he means is he lives a wild, roguish life of intrigue and outlawry,” Paul explained.

“When I’m not eating home-cooked meals with my aunt, that is,” John clarified.

“Well, that goes without saying.”

Jean heard everything they were saying peripherally, but her attention was absorbed in her phone. She didn’t normally do this when she was hanging out with other people, but she was still listening to what they were all saying, and besides, Mae was unstoppable.

He’s not as prepared as kerry, she texted Jean, talking, of course, about Truebold. She was sending her practically a live commentary.

Jean knew this already, having watched a good portion of the debate with Agnes. She would have known it even if she hadn’t been watching. Truebold never prepared for anything – to his supporters, it was one of his charms, the fact that he was unrehearsed and therefore down to earth and straightforward. To political traditionalists like Mae, it was less charming and more simply baffling. Does it matter? she sent back. He never prepares and he always seems to come off well anyway.

Kerry’s getting some support but not enough, truebold’s applause is way louder, and they keep heckling her.

Who does?

Dumbasses in the back row. They were going to clear them out but truebold said to keep them, said they’re exercising free speech.

Free speech. Jean never would have thought that anything that sounded so simple could be made so problematic. From the way it sounded up-front, the things Truebold went on about – free speech, American tradition, patriotism, community and family values – all sounded like good things, uncomplicated things. It was only once you paid more attention to the type of person he was that religious values started looking more like professional exclusion, and American tradition more like isolationist racism. But nobody did look that closely anymore. All the people who had used to look closely and criticize him, during his first election or even his second, had long since been worn down, discouraged by others or demoralized by their own efforts or both.

It’s almost like it’s no use, Mae sent back. She sounded desperate, even in text. In order to make sense to his supporters kerry has to respond to his arguments, but his arguments are so stupid, how can she respond to him without being on his level?

Jean could think of nothing to say. It was an old conversation; she was surprised Mae even had the fervor to keep going with it, as though there were hope. I’m sorry, she texted her.

“We’re here!” Paul called out, bringing her back to her present setting as he pulled up to an intersection in downtown Cavern. It was dark by now and the whole street was lit up with shops, a few restaurants, a 7-Eleven, a historic movie theatre with CAVERN flashing in bright red bulbs down the side, and the Cavern City Music Club, a smaller establishment next to the theatre with a modest entrance and the acts of the night spelled out in black block letters above it. Tonight it read, MAC THORN…CATFISH…TOMMY AND THE TORNADOES.

Agnes looked over at Jean and raised his eyebrows. “‘Tommy and the Tornadoes’?”

“I’m telling you, it’s him,” Jean said.

“Who? Tornado Tommy himself?”

“His drummer,” Jean told her, barely suppressing a smile. “Try not to swoon.”

“Oy,” Paul called back, “get off the bus! I can’t stick around here forever, I’ve got to park.”

Jean, Agnes, John, and George hurried single-file down the steps of the bus, just in time for the light to turn green. The bus rolled away and they were left on the sidewalk, facing the giant block letters and a teenager with braids sitting behind a small ticket window. The music club and the theatre shared a ticket window since they were right next to each other, and the girl inside, dressed in the ironed black slacks and a crisp button-up black shirt, clearly worked for the theatre.

“We’re all for the music club,” said Jean in a rush, as soon as they were close enough to the glass for her to hear them. “Tommy and the Tornadoes.”

“Five dollars each, please,” said the girl. Admission to places like the Cavern City Music Club was getting cheaper with every passing year, as public interest in music declined and would-be customers stopped coming out for steeper prices. They managed to fork over twenty dollars between the four of them, the girl handed them their wristbands, and they crowded inside near the end of a song.

The lights were very dim and dusky, and most of the people inside were sitting at round coffee-variety tables that had been scattered throughout the room. There were a few other kids who looked school-aged, but also a lot of older adults, people in their thirties and forties and older, people who had been alive long enough to remember when more people had cared about this sort of thing. Here out of nostalgia or hope or maybe worse, maybe both.

The tables were actually mostly full, but George managed to spot a free one near the back and they hastily claimed it. “Didn’t know they’d draw such a crowd,” Agnes remarked as she sat down, taking off her small black purse to rest it in her lap.

“The Tornadoes are pretty popular, they play here a lot,” George said over the music. “Mac Thorn’s the real custom crowd-pleaser, though, all he sings about is God.”

Jean looked over at him and raised an eyebrow. “You come here often?” she asked dryly.

“Paul and I come a lot when the good bands are playing,” he said. “It’s not too often, but it’s often enough. There are a lot of Thorn’s types.”

“Sounds boring, if all he sings about it God,” said John absently. He was leaning a little to one side, craning his head to get a look at the band. They had stopped at the end of the song and were moving around now, adjusting equipment and making jokes with the crowd. Ringo was nowhere to be seen.

“I don’t think so,” said Agnes.

Jean looked over at her in surprise. “You’re religious?” She didn’t know why she was surprised – it seemed like practically everyone was religious these days.

“I’m atheist,” said Agnes, “but I don’t think God is boring.”

“Well, sure,” said John with an air of dismissal, “but we hear about God all the time. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather hear about something more fun every once in a while.”

Agnes didn’t look over at him when she answered; she was still watching the stage. “I don’t know what I’d rather hear,” she said. “I don’t think I could say until I’d heard it.”

Jean waited for John to reply, but he didn’t entirely look like he wanted to. Luckily for them all, a smattering of applause and started up around them, punctuated by a few whoops of appreciation, and they looked up to see two young men jogging out onto the stage. One of them stopped in front of the main microphone and adjusted it just a little to fit his height, casting a charming grin upon them all and saying, “Sorry for the delay, folks. We’ve got one more song if that’s all right.”

As the crowd cheered their approval, the second young man took a seat behind the drum set. He wasn’t unattractive but he was peculiar-looking in a way that was hard to put into words – something about his long, pointed nose, or the way his long eyebrows rose together plaintively in the middle. It was easy to picture him sullen, hard to picture him angry. He exchanged a glance with the man in front – Tommy – and then began abruptly to play the drums, rocketing the band forward into the song, and upon the instant he looked happy. His smile was different from John’s smile or Paul’s or even George’s – while their grins were sometimes a little deeper, more halting, or even devious, Ringo smiled like a child, with open delight. Jean’s heart leapt to see him.

The crowd was nodding along to the music, a mediocre pop song that many of them seemed to be familiar with, but everyone at Jean’s table was watching only the drummer, catching whatever glimpses of him they could through the crowd and the other members of the band. He was still grinning broadly, the whole way through the song, looking more engaged at times even than Tommy. He was doing more than keeping pace. He was more than the backbone of the music, more than the heartbeat – there were times that Jean thought he was the heart itself. He gave the music rhythm and spirit, gave it kick.

When they got to the chorus, John started laughing, the way people laugh at things they can’t believe. Jean looked over at him and he was grinning with a delight that mirrored Ringo’s, as if it were infectious, still watching the stage. “He’s good!” he exclaimed, unnecessarily. “Jean, you were right. He’s good!”

Paul showed up about halfway through the song. There wasn’t a seat free at the table so he just stood there behind John’s chair, panting a little from his rush to get in, watching the stage with his mouth open. At one point he laughed a little, too, and Jean saw him exchange glances with John and then George. The expression on all of their faces was plain to read: Ringo was it.

As soon as the song was over, their table erupted with applause; John and George even stood up next to Paul as they clapped. The other tables clapped politely and returned to their conversations as Tommy bid them all goodnight and the band started heading backstage. As soon as they started disappearing down the steps of the stage, Paul was off, shouldering his way hastily but politely through groups of people and around tables, making a beeline for the door to the backstage area. John and George looked at one another and shrugged before following after him, and Jean and Agnes lingered behind. Their eyes met.

“Should I follow them?” Jean asked. Something about the whole situation seemed to be stopping her.

“No,” said Agnes. “Come on, let’s get a soda. We can wait for them outside.”

Chapter Text

A guy in a Cavern City Music Club tee shirt stopped Paul short at the door to backstage. “Musicians only,” he said.

Paul tried to look past him, but the guy stepped over, blocking him. “If I could just–”

“Musicians only.”

Maybe he thought Paul was trying to stir up trouble, like the people John had mentioned running into at some of his other gigs. “I’m not going to cause any trouble,” said Paul earnestly. “I liked them, really.”

The guy squinted at him, looked him over. “I’m sure you liked them fine,” he said.

Paul waited. “So?” he prompted him. “I don’t even need to see all of them, if I could just talk for a moment to Ringo–”

“Who?”

Paul hesitated, struggling to summon up Ringo’s real name in his mind. “Richard Starkey. The drummer.”

“Ritchie? Why?”

“I liked the performance,” said Paul, impatient.

The guy looked like he was about fed up with Paul, but luckily John stepped up next to him then, followed quickly by George. A look of recognition passed over the music club guy’s face.

“John!” he said, clapping John on the back. “You’re not on tonight, are you?” Making the connection after a moment, he looked over at Paul and George and then back again at John. “D’you know this kid? Says he wants to talk to Tommy’s drummer.”

“Yeah, sorry, he’s with me. He’s a little lacking in the social graces,” John said, smiling.

“Hey,” Paul cut in, “shut it.”

“You see what I mean?” John said to the music club guy, shaking his head in mock disapproval. “It’s all right, Harry, we’ll only take a moment.”

All of the guy’s earlier hesitation was gone. He opened the door, let the three of them file one after another inside, and shut it swiftly behind them.

The lighting was just as dim backstage, but there was only one hallway to follow, and it would have been apparent which way to go even if John hadn’t been leading the way. Within moments they were in a cluttered space full of amps, instruments, and other equipment, where a handful of musicians – Tommy’s band but also a few others, most of the people who had played that night – were milling around, talking and gathering up their things.

They found Ringo by himself in a corner near the door, rummaging around in a backpack. Bent over the bag, he didn’t see them at first, and even when John cleared his throat he didn’t look up. George bent down toward him and said in an affable voice, “Hello there.”

Ringo looked up, startled. “Hello,” he said.

“What’s your name?” asked George.

“I’m Ritchie,” he said. “What–” He stopped, frowned, clearly recognizing something in George. His voice. “Hang on,” he said, “are you from England?”

“We all are,” said John, chiming in. “We came here to America just for you.”

“Ha, ha,” said Ringo. “Where in England?”

“Liverpool,” chorused John and Paul, almost simultaneously.

Ringo frowned. He looked between the three of them again. “Do you know Tommy?” he asked. “Or Vic? Is this a joke?”

“’S not a joke,” said George in a calm but dignified sort of way. He held out his hand, and Ringo shook it, if a little dubiously. “I’m George Harrison.”

Ringo looked from George over to Paul and John.

“Oh, I’m Paul McCartney,” said Paul with a little wave. “I’m George’s friend.”

“And I’m John Lennon. I’m Paul’s friend,” added John.

“John and I aren’t friends yet,” said George helpfully.

“No, not quite yet,” John agreed.

“Oh.” Ringo nodded and smiled as though this was great new information for him, not ironically at all, and finally pulled out what he had been looking for in his backpack. It was something enormous and lumpy wrapped in wax paper, and he started peeling back the paper to reveal a sandwich so stuffed with chicken and vegetables that it was practically falling apart. “Do you all play here?” he asked them. “I don’t think I’ve seen you before.”

“John has, but we all haven’t,” said George.

“But we will,” added Paul.

“You think we will?” George asked Paul sidelong.

“Oh yes. We quite enjoyed you all,” Paul added, speaking to Ringo now, “you and the Tornadoes, I mean.”

“Did you!” The smile widened around the sandwich. “I’m glad,” said Ringo with his mouth full.

“Your drumming,” said John, nodding. “It was really all right.”

“Thanks,” said Ringo. He looked pleased. “Are you all a band, then?”

John and Paul and George glanced around at one another. None of them said anything; the answer was probably closer to yes than it was to no, but saying it out loud would make it official. And it would speak for all three of them, when they hadn’t entirely talked about it amongst themselves before. They had barely even had a complete conversation amongst themselves before – John and George had only just met. They had been so swept up in the search for Ringo that they hadn’t even all played together as a group yet. It felt unnatural, even now, to call themselves a band simply because they all knew each other now.

Despite this, Ringo seemed to take their silence as a yes. “What d’you call yourselves?” he asked.

“One step at a time, Ringo,” said John soothingly. “So many questions, you’ll give yourself a sickness.”

“The point is,” said Paul, “we wanted to know if you’d join us.”

Ringo stared around at them all, chewing an enormous bite from his sandwich. He was smiling a little in disbelief. When he finally swallowed he said, as though they had just reached the end of a good mutual joke, “No thanks.”

It took a moment for the words to reach Paul. He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t been expecting them, but after so many successes, and with so much ease, it was a bit of a startling halt. Of course, he realized now, it made sense. Ringo wasn’t just going to say yes, right off the bat. It would have been too good to be true.

John shrugged. “I can’t say I blame him,” he said to the others. “I wouldn’t’ve joined us either, if I were still in a band.”

“Thanks for the offer,” said Ringo to them all, in a voice that was fair and a little apologetic, “but I’ve got a good thing going here, and I don’t really know who you all are. Not that I’m not sure you’re all fine people, of course.” He shoveled the last bite of his sandwich into his mouth as he spoke, then crumpled up the wrapper and dropped it in the trash.

John was unfolding a piece of paper in his hands. It was creased and dark purple, and Paul recognized it as the music club’s weekly schedule; he must have gotten his hands on a copy from one of the tables. He scanned it over and then looked up at Ringo expectantly. “Next Friday, then,” he said.

“Sorry?”

“Next Friday. You and the Tornadoes. We’ll come back and convince you then.”

Ringo gave a polite, wary smile. “No offense, mate, but the Tornadoes are good. I don’t think you’ll convince me.”

“We’ll try, then,” said Paul.

“I suppose,” said Ringo. He zipped his bag up again and slung it over one shoulder. “I can’t stop you from trying.”

Tommy came up to them then, with a couple of the other guys from the band. “Hello,” he said friendlily to Paul and John and George, and then, turning to Ringo, “You ready to go?”

Ringo nodded. “Sorry to have to run,” he said to the others. He adjusted the strap of his bag over his shoulder, picked up his drumsticks from the chair his things had been sitting, and then he was gone, following Tommy and the rest of the band out the door. He glanced back at them only once as he rounded the corner into the backstage hallway, and then he was gone.

Most of the other band by now had cleared out already or were finishing packing up their things. Paul had expected to feel empty, but instead he felt strangely hopeful. So Ringo wasn’t with them yet. There was no doubt in Paul’s mind that he would be someday, and likely someday soon.

“He’s right, you know,” he said to John and George. “We can’t exactly call ourselves a band if we’ve never even practiced together, or written any songs.”

“I’ve written songs,” said John, sinking down to sit on the chair that Ringo had just left.

“You know what I mean. Band songs, songs we’ve done together.”

“Paul,” said George suddenly. “You and I’ve written a song. You remember?”

He did remember. They had tried writing a few together, as a matter of fact, but he knew the one George was talking about because they had collaborated on it more than they had on anything else. They had written it a little less than a year ago, after school one day in Paul’s living room. It was good – at least, Paul had thought it was good – but they hadn’t ever done anything with it, and in terms of its development, it still had a ways to go.

“It’s just one song,” said Paul haltingly.

“Any song is just one song,” said George.

“It needs a lot of work.”

John shrugged. “So let’s work on it now.” He jumped to his feet, as though newly energized by the idea. “If it’s shit, I’ve got a whole notebook full of others we could try,” he pointed out.

Paul grinned. There was no point in resisting – John had shown him one of his own songs practically as soon as they had met. There was no reason Paul shouldn’t show him one in return. “All right,” he said, “but we need guitars.”

“I’ve got mine on the bus,” said George.

“There’s probably another around here we can use,” said John. “George, you go and get yours and we’ll look for a second.”

Paul tossed George the keys and told him where he’d parked the bus, and then he followed John out of the backstage area and down the hallway a few yards, into another small back room full of equipment. As far as Paul could tell, it was all electrical stuff, cords and keyboards and amps, but he indulged John and helped him look. The room was cluttered and he had to lift things up or move them around to get a proper look, taking his steps carefully to avoid stepping on anything.

“Are you sure we can practice here at all?” he asked John. “We won’t get kicked out?”

John shook his head. “They’re closing soon, but people are in and out of here all the time. Musicians, management, maintenance workers. We won’t be the only ones around, but we won’t be taking up any of the real musicians’ space, either.”

Paul bent down to peer behind one of the amps. “How often do you play here, then? Ringo – or Ritchie, or whoever he is – didn’t know you.”

“I haven’t been by in a few weeks,” said John. “I played here with the Quarrymen a lot, and then by myself a few times after we split up, but–”

“Little hard to carry a solo rock’n’roll act?” Paul guessed.

John looked over at him and raised his eyebrows. “For you, maybe.”

“Oh, go on.”

“I thought I’d try branching out a bit, finding other clubs. After I got locked up in Ajax” – he shrugged, facing away – “Mimi sold my guitar.”

Paul stopped and stared at him, motionless for a moment. “Really?”

He nodded, seemingly unaffected. “Got it back, though. My mum gave me the money. Oh, yes!” he exclaimed suddenly, reaching back behind the clutter and lifting up a hard black guitar case. He laid it on one of the tables, undid the latches, and held up the lid briefly to make sure there was one inside. “We’re in business.”

Paul straightened up in relief. “Any more back there?”

“You’re out of luck. Looks like it’s me and George playing alone today.”

“Ha, ha.”

He turned to leave the room and keep looking elsewhere, but just as he was about to leave, he felt something hard prod into his back.

He looked back. John was grinning, holding a second case now in his other hands. “I’m only joking, you know,” he said.

Paul smiled back and took the guitar.

“By the way,” he said as he followed John out of the room and back into the hallway, “you never did say why you were arrested.” He said it gingerly, hoping it wasn’t too personal a question.

“You never did ask.”

“Well, I’m asking now.” They had made it back into the other room, and he took a seat, brought out the guitar, and began tuning it. John sat down across from him and did the same.

“I went to play at a club there.” John sounded bitter even talking about it, but also casual, as though he was trying to seem too cool even to care. “Made a comment onstage. Fellow in the crowd took issue with it, brought it up with me later outside.” His gaze was fixed to the guitar in his lap and he was turning the small metal knobs slowly, gently. “Anyway,” he said. “Disorderly conduct, they called it. Just a lot of rubbish.”

“The fellow you were fighting,” said Paul. “They arrest him, too?” He couldn’t remember seeing anyone else brought in with John, back when they had seen him in the station.

“Not a chance. When the cops came he told them what I’d said, and they were more on his side than mine.” He hesitated and then muttered, still looking at the guitar, “To be fair, he probably pulled himself together a little more than I did.”

“Well, what was it you said?” Paul asked. “To make him so angry in the first place?”

“I thought I’d make a joke,” he said. “You know, to lighten up the mood. I’d told a few others and they all seemed warm to it. The first thing I thought of right then was, Truebold had given a speech earlier in the day, so I said I thought he’d been very down-to-earth, very eloquent.”

Paul frowned. That couldn’t be all. “Really? People took issue with that?”

“I know, I didn’t see it coming, either. I said he was very eloquent indeed, especially for someone who looks like Patrick Bateman dipped in grease.”

Paul felt his mouth drop open. He had heard a few negative opinions toward Jim Truebold in his life, scattered across the years, but always they were veiled, hesitant. Never this. “You said that?”

“First thing that came to mind.” He grinned. “Guess I could’ve read the room a little better.”

Paul paused a moment, letting silence settle between them. Then he sat forward. “Listen,” he said, “are we going to be doing – stuff like that?”

“Stuff like what?”

“You know.” He hesitated. “Political stuff. Controversial.”

“Jesus, Paul. We haven’t written a single song yet and you’re already–”

“I know,” said Paul. “I know. It’s just–” He had stopped tuning by now and his attention was gone from the guitar altogether, now focused entirely on John. “It’s better to know now.”

John looked back at him. For a moment, something about his expression made Paul expect the worse answer, the insane answer. But when John spoke he said plainly, “It’s just for fun, Paul. I just want to make music.”

Paul felt himself smile. He was surprised how much the answer relieved him, but then again, it made sense. These days it seemed like everything was political. Everything was charged with societal context, with religion, with hate and feeling and fear. Music was the one angle of his life that didn’t involve that. It was fun, plain and simple, and he didn’t want that to change.

“Good,” he said. “Good, me too.”

It was then that George came back into the room, lugging his own guitar at his side. “Paul,” he called, tossing him the keys before starting to drag over his own chair. “You didn’t tell me you parked up the biggest hill in town.”

Paul pocketed the keys. “You get a good workout, then?”

“You could say that.” He looked from Paul to John and back to Paul again. Then he sat down in his chair, bent down, and took the guitar carefully from its case. When he straightened back up again he said, “Well, we may as well start.”

It took them a few minutes to really get into the song. George remembered the guitar part the most clearly (not to mention he could simply play it the best), so he led, and Paul and John gradually felt out the chords they would need to support the rhythm. They were having trouble with the lyrics, so Paul found a napkin and a pen and scribbled down everything he could remember, showing it to George briefly and then putting it down in front of John so that he would know how it went. Paul and George sang the song together the first few times, and then, once John had gotten a hold of it, John took over lead vocals while the two of them harmonized. It was a slower song, simple and tender, and their voices fit together well over the guitar. They worked through it methodically, as a group, stopping frequently to sort out chords and harmonies.

“‘I’ll look after you’ – when do you come in, then?”

“We start with you, here, with the ‘ooh-wah’ – see?”

They were still getting acquainted with each other’s musical habits, or else they probably could have done it even more quickly, but barely half an hour had gone by before they felt like they had it.

“Should we run through it – the whole song, then, now?” asked Paul, and they were in agreement.

He knew it was good by the time they had reached the first chorus. Not good for a bunch of amateurs, not even good for their first song done as a group – just good, period. This pieced-together song he had written with George, casually several months ago with a single guitar, was now a fully animate thing, with three different parts and fleshed-out harmonies. George’s playing style was twangy and unique, it had character, and John sang well, not hesitating or shying away from the high parts. It was odd, John being so new, but they were somehow cohesive. When they all came together, they gave the song a presence of its own.

“In spite of all the danger / In spite of all that may be / I’ll do anything for you, anything you want me to / If you’ll be true to me!”

The last high note sat in the air between them for a minute as they let the last guitar chords fade from the air. None of them had been expecting it to sound that good, and now, looking at each other, they were unsure of how to react – nobody wanted to seem overly triumphant, but Paul could tell, just looking at each of their faces, that all three of them felt it. This thrumming within him, John and George felt it too.

“Weeknights.”

They all jumped at the voice – it had come from the direction of the door. It was a deep voice, one Paul almost recognized–

He turned and looked, and standing there was Ringo, holding a pair of drumsticks in one hand.

His other hand was in his jeans pocket and he was standing in the middle of the doorway. He wasn’t smiling this time, but looking at them much more seriously – as though some part of him was still watching them, still assessing what he had seen.

“Hello, it’s you again,” said John cheerfully.

He held up the drumsticks. “Left these behind, earlier.”

“What d’you mean,” asked George, “‘weeknights’?”

“I mean I’m sure as hell not quitting the Tornadoes to play with some band that’s not even established,” he said. “Especially not when bands are as rare as they are these days. The business is too rickety, that’s all there is to it.”

“‘Rickety,’” John repeated under his breath, grinning over at Paul. “He used the word ‘rickety’.”

“But I’ll play with you on weeknights,” Ringo told them. “If you three can manage it.”

Paul was on campus most weeknights, but he didn’t hesitate. Already he probably cared about this more than he cared about school, anyway. “I can manage it,” he said quickly, knowing the others would agree. George was off the bus by four at the latest on the days he even bothered, and Paul wasn’t sure whether John went to school in the first place.

“Right,” Ringo said, once they had all agreed. That huge grin split across his face again – it had been strange, seeing him without it for that entire stretch of time – and he nodded to them. “The band’s waiting, I’ve got to run.”

They waved him goodbye, and a moment later he was out the door.

The three of them sat in silence for a moment longer; Paul was aware that he was grinning widely, but he didn’t care. The success of the song had been followed so closely by the success of Ringo that none of them was entirely sure what to say.

“Well,” said George, “it looks like we’ve got ourselves a drummer.”

 

Jean and Agnes had left for ice cream once it had become clear that the boys would all be backstage for a while, and apart from a brief surprise encounter with George, who was jogging down the street with a guitar and barely paused to give them an explanation, they had no contact from any of them until around midnight. They were circling back around to the music club, each finishing her second cone of ice cream.

“My goal is to try all of the flavors before I graduate,” said Agnes, wiping a little melted chocolate cream from her chin.

“But they switch some of them out every month,” said Jean. “Sometimes they never have them again.”

“Then I’ll just have to go every month, won’t I?”

They stopped on the sidewalk at the sight of Paul, John, and George, all walking together out of the music club. Ringo wasn’t with them, but they looked happy – they walked with a distinct ease, always trading glances, talking with one another and laughing.

“Aw, look,” Agnes said, elbowing Jean lightly. “You musical matchmaker, you.”

Jean ignored her and waved to get the boys’ attention.

“Jean, Agnes,” George greeted them as the two girls joined their group and they all more or less fell into step together. He and Paul seemed to be leading the way down the sidewalk, direction-wise. “I hope you’re ready, we’ve got a lot of walking ahead of us.”

“We’ve got a lot of walking behind us,” said Agnes. “What were you all doing in there, painting a mural? We thought you were just going to chat with Ringo.”

“Not that we mind,” Jean added quickly. “We got some pretty good ice cream in the meantime.”

“We did chat with him,” said George, in response to Agnes. “He seems decent. Says he’ll drum for us.”

“On weeknights,” John put in, mimicking the sense of drama with which Ringo had spoken. George and Paul both laughed.

The walk back to the bus was indeed long – Paul had had to park it on a side street, a little out of the way of downtown – but none of them seemed to mind. They were wrapped up in conversation – sometimes it splintered off into groups of two or three of them, and sometimes all five of them were at it, firing opinions and jokes back and forth as they walked. The subject matter drifted quickly, and it wasn’t until they had gotten back to the bus that the topic of the band came up again.

Nobody got in the driver’s seat when they got on – no one had any ideas for where to go, anyway, and here was as good a place as any to talk. They sat facing one another, in a sort of circle on the ends of the seats.

“I think,” said John finally, after a lot of the old laughter and conversation had died down, “maybe we ought to come up with a name.” Off their expressions, he added, “We could use ‘the Quarrymen’ again, or we could change it, I don’t know what you’re all thinking.”

Jean stared at John across the narrow aisle of the darkened bus and felt something course through her. A thrill of something – excitement, maybe. They were serious about this, then, at least John was. A name. A name would make it official.

A name would make everything real.

“Jean,” Paul said, turning to face her, “what was it you said we were called? The first time we existed, or whatever?”

She hesitated this time, just slightly. It suddenly felt as though every other time she’d said it, she had only been blurting it out, but this time, here on this bus, she would be speaking it before all of them for real. “The Beatles,” she said.

John stifled a laugh. “The Beatles,” he repeated. “What, why stop there? We could call ourselves the Crickets, or the Cockroaches, or–”

“Actually,” said George suddenly, “I was thinking about that.”

John looked over at him. “Cockroaches?”

“No, the name. The Beatles. It’s a little plain all by itself, but I was thinking – what if we changed the spelling?”

Jean and the others stared at him, not quite following. In the darkness that had fallen upon the inside of the bus they could make out the lines of his face, the shadow of his hair, but not much else.

“How d’you mean?” asked Paul.

“Well, if instead of B-E-E-T-L-E-S we spelled it B-E-A-T-L-E-S – it’s a pun, y’see? Like the beat in music.”

Suddenly Jean realized – this was new to George, new to all of them. She had never spelled the word out for them, only said it aloud. Naturally they must have all assumed it would just be spelled like the bug. To them, this was a fresh idea. She bit her tongue and tried not to smile.

“Actually–” Paul hesitated, then started again. “Actually,” he said slowly, “I think I like that.” He looked sidelong at John, waiting for a reaction.

“Yeah.” John waited a split second and then grinned, seeming to give in. “Yeah, I guess that wouldn’t bug me too much.”

“All right,” said Paul, nudging him half-chidingly for the pun. She couldn’t make out his face in the darkness, but she knew from his voice and from his profile that it was Paul. “It looks like we’ve got ourselves a band.”

Jean exchanged glances with Agnes. She knew Agnes still didn’t understand exactly how Jean felt about all of this, but she could make out her face enough in that look to know that they were on the same page here. There were many things yet to sort out – Ringo, for one, didn’t even know about the name, not to mention he was still playing with the Tornadoes. And they would have to try practicing some more, and writing some more songs together, and somehow they would have to get in with the people at the music club so that they would be able to play in public. No doubt these all seemed like great looming obstacles to Paul and John and George, but Jean barely even felt the need to think about them. It would all be sorted out. They were on the right track now, they were the Beatles. There was no going back.

They kept talking and messing around on the bus far into the night before there was any thought of leaving. It felt like they were in a cave – indeed, in a cavern – hidden there in the middle of the bus, swabbed with shadows, the night deep and pitch-black all around them. That bus could have been anywhere. They were aware only of the sights and sounds of each other’s faces and voices, and of the sounds of the crickets outside, singing some long late-summer uproar in the grass.

Chapter Text

The graffiti artist arrived at midnight. This was how it went on the nights he came out, which were once or twice a month and becoming more often. He arrived in town at midnight and surveyed his destination, usually somewhere downtown or on campus, getting a feel for it, circling, seeing who was around. He would leave for a while, gather his supplies from wherever he had stashed them. Somewhere between midnight and dawn he would do his work.

He made small things, sometimes recognizable images. A child in a red raincoat in the bottom corner of the wall outside Pence Library. A deer frozen in time behind the theatre. For the most part, though, his style was abstract, swooping and angular, bordering on cubist, full of strange splotches and different colors that when thrown together made sense only to him. It was an unconventional style for graffiti, but then again, graffiti was an unconventional pastime. Cavern was more lax about leaving vandalism around than many other cities, but even so, more often than not his work was covered up within the week.

On the night of the second presidential debate, he found himself out back behind the Cavern City Music Club and decided to paint a mural. He had never done a mural before in his life and hadn’t been planning on doing one tonight; a mural was big, obviously, it took time and thought, and the time consideration in particular made it more likely that he would be caught by the police while he was making it. But there was an image that had been stuck in his head all day and even longer, something he had seen, and knew he might not see and understand again unless he set it out clearly before himself and before the city in paint.

He hung around with his backpack in the shadows behind an adjacent building for much of the early night. The graffiti artist was tall and very thin, and he looked like he belonged in a black-and-white photograph somewhere, mostly because there was more shade about him than color. His skin was fatally pale, his hair and eyes darker than cacao. He wore dark form-fitting jeans and a black jacket and, absurdly, sunglasses, even though it was night. In this way, in his visual shadiness, he made a terrific loiterer, as he blended in almost seamlessly with the shadows.

He watched the bands trickle steadily out the back door of the music club, watched them mingle with their audiences and then filter away. Maintenance people and managers wandered in and out but mostly out, smoking cigarettes, heading toward their cars. The graffiti artist was unzipping his backpack and was about to start when the door opened one last time and three more guys came out, all talking, one of them carrying a guitar. They spoke in odd accents, British accents. It took the graffiti artist a moment to realize why that was so peculiar – the bans on immigration. No one left America anymore, and no one from other countries came, at least not in the few years that had passed since the ban. Accents were sifting away, a little more with every year.

They headed around toward the front of the club in the alley between the two buildings, and in doing so they passed directly by the graffiti artist, mere feet away from the shadow in which he sat, motionless as a statue, with his backpack. He could have reached out and touched them. He didn’t flinch or shrink away, knew they wouldn’t see him. He was practically a shadow himself after all this time.

“It’s a clever name,” one of them was saying as they came closer. His voice was airy, almost like chalk. He had a long nose and almond-shaped eyes, and shadows had been cast over his face and through his hair in the darkness. “I wish I’d thought of it.”

“Next time, John,” said one of the others. “You’ll get your chance to be clever, I’m sure of it.”

“Well, thanks, George. Means a lot.”

They walked by the graffiti artist then, straight past him. The third started to say something else as they went, but the graffiti artist didn’t notice what it was because at that very moment John glanced straight in his direction and their eyes locked. John didn’t seem surprised to see him there, didn’t seem curious about the loiterer or his backpack, didn’t say anything to the others. He winked at the graffiti artist, tipping his head at him in a friendly silent greeting, and then all three of them were gone.

The graffiti artist hadn’t known how to respond to John, but luckily he was wearing the sunglasses, which sort of shielded him from having to respond anyway. He waited half an hour to make sure the police weren’t coming, and in that span of time nobody entered the club and no one came out.

He checked his watch, dug the spray paint out of his backpack, and went to work.

The mural took him all night. He worked steadily, for hours, breaking concentration only to grab more spray paint from his bag or to hide from people walking nearby, but gradually it began to take shape. He had never done one this big before and it felt like an exhibition, a declaration. By dawn his limbs were aching, but he had a complete image, a portrait, and there wasn’t a square inch of the wall that wasn’t marked with paint. He stepped back in a daze until he felt the grafted brick of the adjacent building and looked at his new wall, fingertips stained with color, an empty spray can dangling at his side. The mural was of a girl in a green jacket, a little younger than him, wild hair furling out around her, cold eyes boring down upon the back alleys of the city, index cards twisting away from her hands.

He left his signature, S.S., in the corner. Then he snatched up his backpack again and was gone.

Chapter Text

"What does it mean when a person is such a pacifist that they get shot? I can never understand that."
--John Lennon

 

----

 

The circus came through Cavern about a week before Halloween. In the couple of weeks that had passed since meeting Ringo, the boys had been meeting up most weeknights to practice in whatever combinations they could muster – often all four of them, usually at least three, almost always Paul and John if nobody else. Jean joined them sometimes, sketching in the corner of the room, but the four of them seemed like they were coming to understand one another in a way that she wasn’t, and she was usually only peripherally involved in their conversation. Maybe it was a boy thing, or a Liverpool thing, or a musician thing. Maybe all three.

Sometimes she brought Agnes along, but Agnes was becoming increasingly involved with the liberal politics club at school, and was less available with every passing week. The club had only two other consistent members, and neither of them (if you listened to Agnes) were motivated enough. They were too wishy-washy with their ideals, too compromising with their plans. Agnes wanted to change that. She would stay out late at the library designing posters and dreaming up slogans.

“You should meet Mae,” Jean told her once as they were walking out of Mickey’s lecture together.

“Who?”

“My sister, Mae. She works in D.C. You’d like her.”

Agnes’ eyes lit up. “D.C.? Can I, for real? How often does she visit?”

Never, actually, was the answer. Mae had moved at the beginning of the summer and hadn’t been back once – she had been taking on more and more as Kerry had grown more popular, and by now she was working sixty hours a week. Jean was lucky if they even had time to Skype.

“I’ll keep you posted,” she told Agnes.

Later that night she got a text from Paul with a picture: a poster, duct-taped to a wooden telephone post and beaten with rain. The words were smeared but still legible: A MAGICAL MYSTERY AFFAIR – COME ONE COME ALL TO THE MAGNIFICENT END OF DAYS CIRCUS – FLAME THROWERS SWORD EATERS AND THE GREAT MAGICIAN MERLIN HIMSELF – ONE SPLENDID NIGHT – SPONSORED BY MESSRS. KITE AND HENDERSON $10 AT THE DOOR.

It took a moment for her to remember what it was about the poster that struck her as familiar. The Beatles had had a circus song. Something about a trampoline and a dancing horse…and Mr. Kite, Mr. Kite and the Hendersons. She could have sworn she had known it better before, but for some reason she could barely put her finger on it now.

She shook away the thought and texted Paul back, I don’t get it.

He replied almost instantly: It’s this Saturday, you coming?

Why Paul wanted to go to a circus was beyond her. Circuses had been out of fashion even back in the days before the Turningpoint Election, and a lot of the things they featured – lion tamers, knife throwers, clowns and acrobats – gave Jean a nameless uneasy feeling more than they amused her.

She was about to text back, but just as she began to type, he started calling her. She picked up.

“‘End of Days Circus’?” she asked, not bothering to hide her skepticism. “Really?”

“I know, it’s a little melodramatic. Probably a Halloween thing. So, are you coming?” asked Paul, without missing a beat. It was as though the name thing had gone right over his head. “You can ask Agnes if she wants to join, if she’s not busy with all her club stuff.”

“You’re really going?”

“Me, John, George. Even Ringo’ll be there, he said Tommy and them are going anyway.”

“He’s letting you call him Ringo now, then?”

The nickname had bemused Ringo for a while, but it was so catchy – not to mention fitting, given the rings he was always wearing – that Jean suspected it was beginning to grow on him. She had even heard Tommy use it at the music club a couple of times.

“Yeah.” Paul laughed. “I think he’s even coming to like it.”

Jean let out a long breath through her teeth. She knew he was waiting for her answer about the circus, and if everybody else was going, it might actually be fun, especially if she could manage to get Agnes to come. “Well,” she said, “I guess if it’s a whole affair…”

“It is. It’s an entire affair.”

She allowed herself a small smile. “Fine,” she said. “I’ll come.”

“Terrific! I’ll see you Saturday.”

He hung up. Jean sighed, shook her head, and dialed Agnes’ number.

 

As it turned out, Paul was right – the circus was an entire affair. More of an affair that Jean could remember ever having seen put together for a circus. Since it was on a weekend, they were able to take George’s school bus to get there, and the area was so packed with cars that it took them fifteen minutes just to find a patch of grass big enough to park on.

The circus had been set up at the fairgrounds, a barren and scarcely used field just outside of Cavern and across the street from a small-scale private airport. The rows of cars extended all the way to the main road, and as the group hopped out of the bus and drew closer, they could make out the cluster of giant circus tents rising up from across the grounds, their deep scarlet fabric flapping a little in the late October wind. Each had ANDUVAY’S CIRCUS printed in dark block letters along the outside.

“Anduvay’s Circus,” George read aloud after hopping off the bus. His hand was raised up to his brow, shielding his eyes from the setting sun as he looked out across the fairgrounds. He turned to Paul. “What’s this ‘End of Days’ business you’ve been building us all up for?”

“That’s what it said on the poster!”

“Likely story,” said John.

As they came closer, winding their way down rows and between cars, the circus’s main attractions became clear. There was an unlit Ferris wheel in motion, gyrating slowly as its passengers took turns surveying the city from the compartments. Rows of food stands lined the dirt paths, where vendors were selling hot dogs, lemon shakeups, elephant ears. Painted signs and chalkboards advertised the attractions inside each tent: MISS SPECTACULAR THE FIRE EATER – SPIRO THE SWORD SWALLOWER – MERLIN THE MAGICIAN.

“Is this weird to anybody else?” Jean asked as they drew closer. They were all there except for Ringo, who was arriving separately with Tommy’s group and was going to text them to meet up.

“A woman who can eat fire?” asked John. “No, I see that every day.”

“I don’t mean the acts, I mean the fair itself.” She couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was about the whole thing that seemed unusual to her, but there was something, she was sure of it.

“This isn’t a fair,” said Agnes, “it’s a circus.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Circuses travel around in caravans. Fairs are local things that happen every year, and they’ve got rides and things. They’re more fun, in my opinion,” she added.

“This has rides. It’s got the Ferris wheel.”

The Ferris wheel still hadn’t been lit up yet – apparently it wasn’t yet late enough at night – but it remained the most striking part of the circus by far. It was stalled at the moment, gradually unloading people and letting new riders up the metal steps and onto the contraption.

Agnes looked up at it and was unimpressed. “That’s the Cavern City Fairgrounds wheel,” she said. “It’s owned by the city, I think. They leave it there ’cause it’s the only ride that’s too big to move after they shut down the fair every year.”

Now it was Jean’s turn to look up at the Ferris wheel. She pictured it there year-round. Dry fallen leaves on the floors of its compartments, then later a kaleidoscope of gears and support beams buried under snow.

She turned back to face Agnes in curiosity. They had reached the circus now and the boys had already zeroed in on their junk foods of choice – John was at the cotton candy stand, while Paul and George were pooling spare change for lemon shakeups – but Agnes seemed uninterested. “How d’you know so much about fairs and carnivals and stuff?” she asked.

It was a moment before Agnes answered. “I used to spend whole weeks at the fair during the summer,” she said. “My family grew livestock – cows and chickens, you know. We showed them here most summers when I was a kid.”

Jean stopped, struck suddenly by something Agnes had said. “That’s it,” she said.

Paul and George were milling back their way down the path with their lemon shakeups. She looked at the shakeup in Paul’s hand as she said it, remembering ones she’d had in the past – like lemonade only much sweeter, and so cold, so refreshing, so nice on a hot day. The late October air shifted against her skin, and she pulled the ends of her sweater sleeves over her hands.

“What is it?” Agnes asked her.

“It’s so late in the year,” she said. “Circuses and carnivals and fairs, those are summer things. You don’t think it’s weird they’re here so late? I’ve never heard of Anduvay’s Circus,” she added, as though that meant anything. She was from out of town, after all.

“Maybe they just keep traveling until it gets cold,” Paul said with a shrug.

Jean shivered. “It’s already cold.”

“Clearly not too cold for people to come.” He looked around, clearly more preoccupied with the spectacle than with anything else. The looming striped tents, the flashing colors and lights coming on as the sun went down. “I don’t know who Mr. Kite and Mr. Henderson are,” he said, “but they must have a lot of money to be able to put together something like this.”

They wandered around as the sun went down, watching people play the games and ride the Ferris wheel. They met up soon also with the Tornadoes, including Ringo, who had made it his goal of the night to track down the best cotton candy the place could offer, thereby making himself the subject of much ridicule from all of them.

“You’re wasting your money,” Paul said. “You know it all tastes the same, right?”

“You’re not going to find any variance from brand to brand,” John added. “Even the pink and the blue taste the same.”

“Do they?” No one had been addressing George, but George spoke up anyway, listlessly twirling a prize yoyo he had picked up from the ground. “I’d never noticed.”

“Maybe you all just haven’t found the right cotton candy yet,” said Ringo stubbornly.

The rest of them exchanged glances and shrugged him off. There would be no reaching him.

The tent shows all started at eight, so around seven-forty-five they picked one at random because although it had quite a long line, it still looked shorter than the lines for most of the others. “Pardon me, sir,” Paul said to the guy standing in front of them in line, a gangly fellow in a red tie, “which tent is this?”

“Some kind of regurgitation act,” he said. “I think sword swallowing.” Then he shrugged. “I just didn’t want to wait in line for any of the others.”

“Not a man of very much character, are you?” asked John.

The guy smiled wryly, recognizing this as a joke. “I’m afraid not,” he said.

They reached the front of the line a few minutes later, handed the ticket man a few dollars each, and ducked under the flaps of the tent one by one to get inside. Jean was struck instantly by how small it was – the crowd of people, rather than being seated anywhere or set up in bleachers, was simply standing in a thick circle around a slightly raised wooden platform. The platform was marked off from them by velvet ropes, but nothing else, and the crowd was so thick with people that Jean could barely make it out from where she was standing. She felt suddenly claustrophobic – the tent was hot and packed, and the walls were very close.

Everyone around them was chatting, but not enough that they couldn’t hear one another. They moved away from the open flap as a group and found a place to stand near the other side of the tent, though the space was so full that it was hard for Jean to keep track of the rest of them or even to see if they were all there. She could see John and Paul on one side of her and George on the other, and she could only assume that the others were nearby.

“John,” asked Paul as they waited for the show to start, “why didn’t you invite Cyn? We could’ve finally met her.”

“Cyn?” Jean repeated. She had to raise her voice a lot to be heard.

“John has a secret girlfriend,” George told her. “Cynthia.”

“John! You didn’t tell me that!”

“I was going to, if we ever had a one-on-one conversation,” he replied.

Jean couldn’t exactly feel stung by that. He had a point. She didn’t like being around John without the buffer of other people, and during the weeks that had passed since she’d met him she had done her best to avoid it. It wasn’t that he was intimidating or unfriendly or anything.

It was just that sometimes she couldn’t look at him without seeing blood on his shirt.

“All right,” she said, swallowing. “We’ll get to that first thing.” She left the promise intentionally vague – first thing next week, maybe, or first thing in November.

“Looking forward to it,” said John.

“Hey,” Paul cut in, lifting up his phone to show them all the time. “It’s eight o’clock. Where’s the show?”

They all craned their necks to look over the shoulders of the people in front of them at the platform, but there was nothing there to see – until suddenly, almost as if in answer to Paul’s question, something seemed to break out not ten feet away from them in the crowded circle. The quick thwack of fist against body, a few shouts of alarm and of anger. The crowd shifted instantly and Jean was propelled forward, bodies pushing against her from every side – including, if involuntarily, John and George.

“Hey, back the hell off!”

“You back off! Jesus!”

The crowd was shifting, coming alive, but through the rows of onlookers she caught a glimpse of the skirmish: two guys, animated, shoving each other, back and forth almost too quickly to keep their own balance.

One of the guys was white and the other was black. Please don’t let that be what this is about, thought Jean, but then the white guy spat out the evil word and she thought, shit.

Once the word was out, they were on each other. The crowd, which had made no effort to pull either man away from the other before, erupted into a chorus of cheers, stomping their feet, yelling. The evil word came out again. Again. The two men were taking turns slamming their fists into one another, and as the crowd moved around and felt itself drawn into the kinetics of the fight, Jean caught a fleeting glimpse of the white man’s face, his clothes. The red tie. It was the man who had been standing in front of them in line.

“He really wasn’t kidding about having no character,” she heard Paul say, but the shouting all around them was escalating so rapidly by now that she could barely hear him, let alone pick out the direction from which his voice was coming. “C’mon, let’s get out of here.”

John, for one, wasn’t listening. He pushed through the throng of people, closer to the center of the commotion, shoving people out of the way until he was right there with the two men. Jean followed him, though she couldn’t have said why – instinct? Trust? Or the fact that he was the only one out of their group that she had managed to keep track of when the crowd went off the rails?

“Hey, get him already, Jimmy!”

“Yeah, pound him!”

It was impossible to tell which one was Jimmy, as each man seemed equally invested in pounding the other into the ground. The man with the red tie had cracked his lip and now had a dark line of blood reaching down to his chin, but he was slamming his fists again and again into the other man until finally the other man buckled and bent down a little toward the ground.

John grabbed Red Tie by the arms and yanked him back. He was shouting something. “Hey, mister!” was what it looked like. “Listen, hey, listen, mister, just calm the fuck down already – you want me to sock your eye out? I will – hey–”

The man shoved him away, just in time for his opponent to jerk back up and deck him again across the face. Red Tie stumbled back, winded, and then out of nowhere Jean noticed George had emerged on the opposite side of them from her and was frowning.

“Hey,” he said, with a disturbing amount of calm for someone so close to a fistfight, “what’s going on?”

He had barely finished asking the question when someone’s elbow caught him sharply across the face and he stumbled back. His dark hair flicked into his face and he reached up to hold himself by the cheek, looking more stunned than in pain. Jean felt her own hand clap over her mouth.

It was as though the blow to George triggered something. Instantly, the fight was no longer just the two men in the middle of the tent – it was all of them. The shouting picked up as everyone crammed inward to get their own punches in. Jean could see a couple of familiar faces – Agnes – Tommy – far off in the crowd, making desperately for the exits, and she tried to follow them, but they were quickly lost from her in the sea of faces, and everyone was so tightly packed in and moving so much that she could barely move in a single direction without getting blocked. It didn’t help that it was so dark in the tent, and most of the faces that weren’t right next to her were obscured in a sea of shadows. She couldn’t even call out to anybody over all of the shouting.

She had lost all of them except for John, who was fighting now head-on with a stocky man wearing a KEEP AMERICA GREAT cap. The man was at least a head taller than John, but John was surprisingly nimble and was able to duck away from most of the blows.

“John!” she shouted. He didn’t hear her. “John!”

He glanced over at her but didn’t seem able – or willing? – to break away, so she reached in and tugged him firmly away from the man in the cap. The man had been aiming to hit John and tried to redirect his fist to her instead, but she slipped quickly into the rest of the crowd with John, and a moment later he was gone.

“Hey!” John was shouting at her over the din. “I was going to teach that guy a lesson!”

“Jesus Christ, John, leave it!”

Her heart was pounding. She didn’t have time to care about John now, or whatever had compelled him to join the fray. It wouldn’t occur to her until later to call it a riot, but after all, that was exactly what it was. She just wanted to get out and find the others.

Gripping John by the arm to avoid losing him, she wove through the crowd, making her way back to the tent flap they had come in through. They slipped outside, and she gasped in the fresh air as though she had been underwater – and then stopped, right in the doorway of the tent, dead in her tracks.

In a matter of minutes, the circus had fallen apart. The other tents were quickly emptying as well, and a few fights had broken out outside – less free-for-all than matters had been back inside, but still, violent and impassioned. Where had it all come from? Frozen, she looked around and saw people of all races, all genders, all fighting. Some were looking around desperately for people they knew or running for their cars. In the center of all of it, almost as if in a stretch of cheerful mockery, the Ferris wheel had finally been lit up and was turning.

All of her breath was gone. “Jesus,” she said faintly.

“Not quite,” John muttered. “C’mon, let’s go and–”

Before he could finish the sentence, something caught his attention just out of sight, in the narrow row between their tent and the next one over. Jean turned to see what he was looking at, and there stood George, not ten feet away from them, backed against one of the heavy fabric walls.

She opened her mouth to call out to him, but John shushed her, and slowly, together, they walked closer.

Another man was with George, red-faced and sweaty, standing very close.

“Take it easy,” George was saying, with an impossible levelness. His nose was bleeding just a little bit – probably, Jean realized, from the accidental hit he had taken back in the tent. “All I meant was that it’s very unfortunate, that’s all.”

“Unfortunate, huh?” the man mimicked him. “Where’s that accent from?”

George didn’t answer.

“U.K., right? You an immigrant?” The man was standing less than a foot away from George. He wasn’t much taller than him, but there was something commanding about him, something aggressive about the way he was standing. John began drawing closer, and Jean followed close behind him. “What’s so unfortunate about it to you?”

“That we can’t all put aside our differences for ten minutes to watch a bit of sword-swallowing,” George replied, not shrinking away. “It’s a little pathetic, I think.”

“Oh, I intend to see some sword-swallowing.”

Then they saw it – the flash of metal in the man’s hand. Raised up a little now, near George’s face. Tilting slightly in the circus lantern-light.

“You want to swallow this sword?” The man leaned in closer. It was a pocketknife, very small, very sharp. George swallowed, looking not at the knife but into the man’s eyes, as though waiting to see what would happen if only for the man’s own sake. Jean felt her stomach churn coldly deep inside of her. “Come on,” the man said very quietly. “Your throat will barely feel a thing. Let’s see how easily it goes down.”

“Oh, well, that’s no good.”

John had walked out from behind the tent and was standing there with them now, a couple of feet away from the man. Jean felt herself exhale as a new horror came over her body. Numbly, she followed him into the alley.

“What?” the man asked. He was scowling.

John wore a stone cold expression, devoid of any empathy – it was a little disconcerting – but his voice when he spoke was as normal as ever. “George doesn’t eat knives anymore,” he said. “He’s trying to cut steel out of his diet.”

The man stared at him for a minute. Then he took a couple of short, quick steps, away from George but toward John. He jabbed the knife up into John’s face and John’s head flinched instinctively back, just far enough to avoid getting nicked.

“You want to take his place, then? I don’t care,” the man added, “you people are all the same to me. Or should I just do all the work myself?”

He flicked the knife suddenly toward John’s face and John shoved him sharply away, which awakened a new anger in the man’s eyes. He aimed for John again with the knife, and then, before she knew what she was doing, Jean yanked John harshly away and stepped between the two of them. The knife stopped an inch away from her face.

Jean was breathing hard, her eyes locked with the man’s. He looked unsure of what to do.

“Go on,” he said to her, “get out of here.”

“I’m not moving,” she said. “You wouldn’t hurt a woman, would you?”

She already knew he wouldn’t. Not here and now, not in a knife fight. Men like him hurt women in other ways.

He cast one last look at John and then at George, then shook his head, shouldered past Jean, and hurried away. Jean thought she heard him muttering something as he went past, but couldn’t tell what it was. He didn’t look back at them before disappearing into the thinning trickle of people rushing out of the circus.

At long last, Jean felt herself take in a deep breath and let it out. She looked over at John, who looked angry more than anything else, like he wanted to chase after the guy, and then George, whose expression was unreadable for the most part but wide-eyed and pale. She had thought he’d looked normal, before, but now she realized that he must have been standing very stiffly, because only now did he seem to start to relax back toward his normal posture.

“George,” she said, “are you okay?”

He nodded, looking not at her but at the ground. Then, a moment later, he looked up and gave a very small, dry smile. “It’s lucky you all showed up,” he said. “John was right, my doctor would kill me if I started eating knives again.”

 

They found the others not much later, gathered in another one of the alleys between tents. The Ferris wheel had stopped turning by then and the tents had all emptied, most of the fights and the rioting had fizzled out, and the circus-goers who remained were all gradually finding their way out. Paul, Ringo, and Agnes were standing together in a cluster.

“Thank God,” said Agnes when she saw them, pulling Jean into a hug.

“Where’s Tommy?” asked John.

“Headed out with the Tornadoes,” said Ringo.

Jean pulled away from Agnes and looked over at him. “You’re not with them?”

He glanced down at himself as if to assess the fact that he was still standing there, physically in front of them. “I’m with you, aren’t I?” he asked simply.

She managed a smile. It didn’t feel like a definitive moment, but it was one she was glad for, all the same. “I guess you are.”

They caught each other up on what had happened as they started to head back toward the field they had parked the bus in. Agnes and Paul and Ringo were all unhurt, and hadn’t run into very much trouble getting out of the tent – as soon as the commotion had started, they had all grabbed hands, including Tommy, but none of them could find Jean or George or John, so they had ended up getting out without them. They had just been trying to decide whether to keep looking here or to go and wait in the bus when the other group had found them.

“I guess we had it easy compared to you all,” said Paul. He was walking close to George and had been ever since he’d learned what had happened – George had sworn he was fine, and Paul was gradually doing a better job of not looking too concerned, but he still didn’t seem to want to leave George’s side anytime soon.

“I wouldn’t describe it as an easy situation from any angle,” said George.

“You’re sure you’re all right, though?”

“I’m fine,” said George, sounding almost exasperated. “I promise, I’m not getting stabbed anytime soon.”

“Maybe we ought to learn how to regurgitate swords,” Paul suggested. “Just in case it might ever come in handy.”

“Listen to you talk long enough and I’ll regurgitate anything,” John said, grinning, and they laughed.

It was ridiculous that they could all still find it in them to be good-humored after something like that had happened, Jean thought, but she couldn’t help it – she laughed too.

They were just reaching the exit of the circus when she noticed a cluster of people standing over near one of the food stands. Her gaze lingered on them just for a moment to see whether or not they were fighting, but they weren’t – in fact they all seemed to be in rather good spirits. It took her a moment to realize that two of them were people she recognized.

The two men from the tent. The ones who had started the fight, had started the entire riot. Standing together and talking, even laughing.

Jean stopped in her tracks. She wanted to go over and talk to them, to say she was glad they had sorted everything out – and then she saw the stack of bills in the third man’s hand.

He was counting out money and handing it to each of them.

Forgetting the others, she stalked over toward them. “Hey,” she said sharply, “what the hell is this?”

The three of them exchanged glances and then looked over at her with dubious smiles, paternal smiles, as though she were a child walking in on a grown-up conversation.

“Jean,” she heard someone call behind her, probably Paul, “hey–” And then the others were there, too, assessing the three strangers in front of them.

“What?” said Ringo. “You two’ve made up?”

“They haven’t made up,” said John scathingly. “They’re con men – who the hell are you, anyway?” he demanded of the third man. “What’s this all about?”

The third man, the one holding most of the money, was tall and wearing a pinstriped suit and a bowler hat. He hesitated a moment as his two comrades looked at him to see what he would do. Then he smiled, took off the hat with a flourish, and said, “Hadwin Anduvay. At your service. These are my associates, Jimmy” – the man with the red tie – “and Charles.”

It was peculiar to see Jimmy and Charles now, where there was a little more light and space – because actually neither one of them looked injured at all. They had been going at it full force back in the tent, but now neither one of them had so much as a black eye.

“Anduvay!” John repeated. “You run the circus?”

“At your service,” Anduvay said again.

Agnes was frowning at Jimmy and Charles. “You guys don’t look hurt at all,” she said.

“Stage-acting,” Charles explained. “Comes with practice.”

It took a moment for the meaning of this to sink in, and even longer for Jean to realize why they seemed so comfortable with telling them – there was nothing that they could do. It was a traveling circus, one night only. They could call the police on them, but if they came back to the fairgrounds here the very next morning they would find nothing, no trace at all of Anduvay’s Circus. Comes with practice. They were comfortable with this, they had been doing this for – well, who knew how long?

“So that’s it?” Paul asked. “You make up all these stories about attractions you don’t have, and then as soon as you’ve got everybody’s money, you whip yourselves up a riot so you don’t have to do any real work?”

“I’d say we do work,” said Jimmy defensively. “I’ve worked harder at learning how to be a racist dick than I have at anything else in my life.”

“Besides,” said Anduvay, “people pay us for entertainment. You can’t say we don’t deliver.”

“Oh sure,” said George evenly, “I was very entertained a few minutes ago, when some nationalist had his knife to my throat.”

Anduvay waved him off. “We very rarely encounter any serious injuries or death,” he said lazily. “People just want to let off a little steam, that’s all. After all, none of this would work if people didn’t already have all of this in them. We don’t deal with a lot of serious stuff, but when we do, it’s the people who do it. Not us.”

“That’s convenient,” John snarled. “Absolve yourself of any of the blame, say it’s the people’s fault. You’re willing to risk starting it all up, that’s good enough for me.”

“Oh dear,” said Anduvay in an exaggerated mocking tone, “this plucky kid thinks I’ve got no conscience! Dear me, I don’t know how I’m going to cope.” He took a step closer to John. “Go on,” he said quietly. “You’re angry? Take it out on me.”

John was breathing hard. His hands clenching up at his sides. He looked like he really wanted to.

“Nothing’s stopping you,” said Anduvay.

“John, don’t,” said George tiredly. “It’s just what he wants. You’ll only be a part of the whole big sick thing.”

John stared into Anduvay’s eyes for a moment longer, then shook his head and turned away. “Bastard,” he muttered. “Couldn’t take me anyway.”

They had hit the impasse and passed it – clearly they weren’t all going to fight, and there was nothing else there for them to do. The group of them began walking away, and Anduvay called after them, “You’d better drop that attitude fast if you want to get along in this world, dears! Hate is where the money is. There’s simply nothing else for it.”

They did their best to ignore him as they started making their way back across the now-barren parking field, although Jean could tell that John still wanted to run back and do something. The next time she glanced back, the trio of circus criminals was gone.

An overwhelming sense of exhaustion came over her and over all of them as they stepped one by one onto the school bus a few minutes later. Not one of them had spoken since leaving the circus and Jean was done with it, so done with it. She wanted to call Mae, but what was there to say? You could only mock the state of things in the country so many times before the conversation no longer went anywhere. The worst part about it was that although she had never in her life seen so much violence up-close and in person, she still felt as though she had seen nothing new.

“Some circus,” said George finally as he turned the key in the ignition and the bus came to life beneath them.

Jean pressed her face against the glass windowpane, watched the tents coming down in the distance, and whispered, “Some circus.”

Chapter Text

“You know my temperature’s risin’
And the jukebox is blowin’ a fuse
My heart’s beatin’ rhythm
And my soul keeps singing the blues
Roll over Beethoven
And tell Tchaikovsky the news!”
–Chuck Berry, “Roll Over Beethoven,” 1956

----

 

The next day Jean checked the paper, and sure enough, Anduvay’s Circus was gone. It was mentioned only in a small article off to the side – the circus had been a one-night-only event, and some fighting had broken out, but no one had gotten seriously hurt. Apparently some of the circus’s equipment had been damaged, and the city had offered them a modest sum as an apology and an indication that the circus would be more than welcome to come back in the future.

“Those slimy assholes,” Agnes said when Jean showed her. They were sitting across from one another at a small table in a coffee shop on campus, each with her laptop up, supposedly doing homework but really just scrolling through news. “They got even more money out of this?”

Jean could only nod. Her throat was still thick from the night before. The people running all around her, pushing at one another, too many bodies within the small tent to count. John and George outside, and Paul, and Ringo, and Agnes. “Cavern City must be pretty damn stupid,” she muttered.

“Speaking of stupid.” Agnes picked up her laptop for a second and turned it around, angling it for Jean to see. On the screen was a news article: TRUEBOLD THREATENS THIRD PARTY VOTERS IN UPCOMING ELECTION.

Jean couldn’t manage more than a halfhearted “Ugh.” She had already seen a couple of articles along the same lines. To be fair, the threats hadn’t been very explicit on Truebold’s part; part of her thought this was just media sensationalism, trying to drum up more tensions. There was probably more heat coming from Truebold’s supporters than from the man himself.

“I can’t wait for all this to be over,” she said.

“You’re kidding yourself,” said Agnes, turning the computer back around and setting it down on the table.

“Yeah, I know.”

She tried pulling up the essay she had been working on for her first-year writing class, but found herself staring at a blank page, watching the little line blinking softly on the empty document. She didn’t care about the essay, any more than she had cared about any of the other essays she had been assigned this entire semester. Lately even the world politics class had been doing more to discourage her than to inspire her. She didn’t know how she was ever going to pick a major, when she couldn’t even manage to feel passionate about her most interesting class.

She sighed and minimized the document again. Then she looked up and over her laptop at Agnes, who was bent over the table and staring at her own screen intently.

“What are you working on?” Jean asked curiously. “You’ve been hunched over like that practically all afternoon.”

Agnes looked up, and for the first time all morning Jean detected a gleam in her eyes, an excited tenseness in her face. “A protest,” she said. “I’m organizing a campus protest with the rest of the politics club.”

Jean blinked. “By the rest of the politics club, you mean–”

“Francine. Yeah. But we’re trying to get teachers involved, too, we’re asking everybody. Mickey said she’d come.”

“What are you protesting?” It sounded like a dumb question when she said it aloud, but she couldn’t think of anything else to say. And it might not have been a dumb question, she reasoned with herself – even when you think it’s obvious, you should always know the specific thing people are protesting.

Agnes didn’t make fun of her for asking. “Truebold’s candidacy,” she said. “He can’t run for a third term, it’s unconstitutional. Everybody knows it. We’ve just got to speak out, you know, make our dissent heard.”

“You know – just playing devil’s advocate, here – Truebold’s not so crazy about dissent,” Jean pointed out. “If he wins–”

“Who cares if he wins? I’ll feel this way whether he wins or not. And I’ll dissent whether he likes it or not,” she added.

Jean wasn’t sure how much Truebold would care about a handful of college students led by a purple-haired girl dissenting in some town in the middle of nowhere, anyway, but she didn’t say this. It wasn’t like she liked Truebold very much, herself, and Agnes was her friend.

“When is it?” she asked.

“Next Friday,” said Agnes. “We’re starting at five P.M. in the square.” She scanned Jean’s face, clearly trying not to look too hopeful. “You’ll come?”

Jean smiled. “I’ll come,” she said. “Of course, I’ll come.”

 

That Friday, a week before the protest, was the Beatles’ first show at the Cavern City Music Club.

Organizing the show had been a group effort. John had been the one to hook them up with the gig, since he already knew the event manager at the music club, and Ringo had persuaded Tommy and the Tornadoes to let the Beatles open for them in place of Mac Thorn. Jean had taken it upon herself to design posters for the show, which she then photocopied and posted on corkboards and street posts all over town with the help of Paul and Agnes. She was actually very proud of the design, a watercolor of the four boys’ faces featuring the event information printed to one side in neat inky black, and she kept the original for herself. Then on Friday, George swung around town, picking them all up and helping them load their equipment onto the school bus, and they headed downtown as a group.

It was one of the first truly cold nights of the year, and they hurried from the bus to the music club in practically a run, heads ducked down, hands jammed into their jacket pockets. George, John, and Paul were all lugging along their guitars, which made things considerably more difficult.

“You had to park a million miles away, George?” muttered Paul as they rounded a corner.

“Sorry,” said George, “we’ll just take your bus next time.”

They were all grinning, though, even Jean was grinning – she could feel the cold wind against her teeth, but she didn’t care. They made it to the club at last and piled inside, breathing into their hands and rubbing them together to regain feeling. The show wouldn’t start for another hour and the space was calm and quiet, with different small groups of people chatting around the coffee tables.

“Look at all these squares,” said John, looking around at everybody: all quiet and practically motionless, all sitting. “Thought this was a music club.”

“John,” Jean hissed. “They’ll hear you.”

“Why should I care if they hear me? You don’t think they look like squares?”

The people themselves looked fine – it was the atmosphere itself that gave the place a feeling of being subdued. The coffee tables, Jean thought. But at the few shows she had seen here before, though – mostly Tommy and the Tornadoes – people did get more energized if the band did well, clapping their hands and nodding along to the music, smiling. This was the reaction she was hoping for tonight.

“Go on,” she said, “you guys had better go and get ready.”

The boys all nodded. John looked as cool and collected as ever, and George was smiling a little nervously, but Paul looked openly excited, his shoulders tensed and his eyes glittering. Ringo looked at peace and happy, more entertained by Paul’s excitement than by anything else. The four of them headed for the back as a group, and Jean and Agnes stayed back to get good seats before they started.

“D’you think they’ll be any good?” asked Agnes, as soon as the boys were gone and they had sat down.

“Of course I think they’ll be good.” Even the question felt ridiculous.

“But have you ever heard them play before?”

“More times than I can count,” said Jean. “I’ve heard them play more than they have.”

“Not them,” said Agnes. She jerked a head toward the backstage door up front, through which John, Paul, George, and Ringo had just disappeared. “Them.”

“I…” It was a question she hadn’t considered before. No, she realized – she had listened to Paul and George jamming on their guitars at George’s house after school, and she’d heard Ringo play with the Tornadoes, but never had she heard this group, the four of them, these somehow-reborn Beatles together as a band. “I guess I haven’t,” she said.

“So they could be bad this time around,” said Agnes, perfectly matter-of-fact. “Or maybe they get really good down the line, but since this is before they’re famous, they’re not good yet.”

“God, stop,” said Jean, smiling a little, “you’re making me anxious.”

Agnes shrugged. “I’m just trying to make things a little more interesting,” she said. “This is all pretty boring if we already know they’re going to be good. After tonight we’ll have heard them, but right now it’s still – what if?”

“Okay, what if I ignore you for the rest of the night?”

Agnes waved her off. “Fine, fine. But you know you’re wondering it, too.”

They waited and watched as more people filed through the door and took their seats at the tables. Harry, the club employee who moved equipment around and frequently acted as a kind of bouncer for the backstage door, came up to them at one point to say hi and to slip them a couple of free beers. (“If anyone asks,” he told them, “I thought you were twenty-one.”) Around seven-thirty they started seeing various combinations of Beatles and music club employees ducking out onto the stage to set up equipment: strangers hooking up cords, plugging in amps and testing the microphones, Ringo setting up the drums with the help of a girl in a black shirt who seemed like she already knew him. He shot Jean and Agnes a cheerful wave when he saw them watching him, and then disappeared back behind the curtain again shortly afterward. Jean caught one glimpse of Paul and George standing off to the side together, George holding a guitar and tuning it with his eyes on Paul. Paul said something Jean couldn’t hear, George laughed, and moments later the two were out of sight again, back behind the curtain. Gradually the music club filled up, and at about eight-fifteen the lights dimmed and a squat little announcer in a suit came out onto the stage with a microphone.

“Good evening, everybody!” he called out, and the crowd answered with polite applause. “Welcome to the Cavern City Music Club. We’d like to thank our sponsors, the University of Cavern City and the Dale Bridge Fruit Company, and all of you for coming out and supporting us tonight. We’ve got a great show for you tonight, Tommy and the Tornadoes are here–” He stopped, smiling as the audience clapped and a few people toward the back whistled, and then quieted them with a gentle wave. “Unfortunately, our opener, Mac Thorn, was unable to be here tonight.”

A few people in the crowd exchanged whispers; looking around, Jean saw more people looking deflated than she would have expected. A couple of people toward the back got up quietly and started to leave.

“But,” the announcer added quickly, “we’ve found a great replacement for you all. They’re a new local band and they’re featuring the drummer from the Tornadoes, our very own Mr. Richard Starkey. Ladies and gentlemen” – he waved his hand toward the closed curtain, already backing away – “the Beatles!”

The rest of the crowd clapped politely, and Jean and Agnes whooped and stomped their feet as the curtain drew away from the stage, revealing the band. They wore jeans, old shirts and leather jackets, not the suits that had been their trademark back in the sixties, but the lineup of all of them together with their instruments was still so striking that it sent a chill down Jean’s spine. All of them grinning like idiots, George standing with his guitar at one microphone and John and Paul clustered together with their own guitars at the other, Ringo at the back in the middle of the stage with his drum set, sitting there with a stick in each hand. This was the last moment that they still hadn’t played together publicly, as a band, the last moment that they were still just four guys who shared music as a hobby. Jean felt momentarily electrified. Wait, she wanted to say, you have to wait, I’m not ready.

Even the four guys looked a little nervous – maybe they were thinking the same thing that she was. George and Paul exchanged a glance, then Paul and John. It was clear they were all waiting on a cue, and then John nodded to Paul, as if to say, Go ahead.

Paul started to sing.

“I’m gonna tell Aunt Mary!”

No, it was hardly singing. It was screaming.

“’Bout Uncle John!”

A guitar chord from George, harsh and loud, so loud.

“He said he had the misery but he got a lot of fun, oh baby!”

They were off. George was going nuts on lead guitar, alive with a spirit that Jean didn’t think she had really seen from him before, and Ringo was slamming into the drums as though trying to bring the song to life with sheer force of will. John was grinning as he played his own guitar, glancing over at Paul every few seconds with an incredulity that mirrored what Jean herself felt. And not only incredulity – pride, somehow. John and Paul had practiced together, but he must not have known Paul could do this either, there must have been some part of him right up until now that was still wondering whether this would completely tank. But Paul was howling into the microphone as if his life depended on it, as if trying to channel the very soul of Little Richard itself, and playing his bass guitar at the same time. All the excitement they had seen in Paul’s eyes prior to the show, it was audible now, exploding out of him in a voice that was high and shrill and scratchy and strong.

“Yeah, we’re gonna have some fun tonight – have some fun tonight – everything’s all right–”

But it wasn’t just Paul. It was all four of them, together, joined in the same rhythm, the same tune. The sound was so complete that Jean couldn’t imagine taking a single one of them out of the picture and having the same song, the same feeling. Everything was turned up loud – she and Agnes were sitting in the front, and up here the music was deafening – but the four of them managed not to lose track of each other, they seemed to know instinctively where the others were in the song and how to blend into that while still maintaining their own sounds. The song was what was really on the stage, and each of them was somehow a part of it.

Jean looked over at Agnes, who was watching the stage wide-eyed, her face completely pale. Agnes’ lips moved, but she spoke too faintly to be heard over the song at all, and Jean got the sense that she was only speaking to herself anyway.

All four Beatles were grinning by the end of the song, any trace of nervousness gone from their faces.

“Oooh, baby – some fun tonight!”

Ringo rolled through the drums one last time, George struck the final note on his guitar, and the song was over.

What followed was an unnatural silence, and it took Jean a moment, looking around, to see that the room was dumbfounded. That song had been louder and more energetic, more excited and sure of itself, than anything the Tornadoes had done here before, not to mention a lot wilder than anything from Mac Thorn or the other pop singers like him. The Tornadoes did call themselves rock, but the Beatles’ performance had felt like another genre entirely.

Then Jean jumped to her feet and started clapping.

Agnes quickly joined her, and a moment later, to Jean’s immense relief, many of the other tables were clapping and cheering along with them, some of them even rising to their feet.

“Oh, good.” Paul laughed into the microphone. “We were worried for a second there.”

“You were worried,” John told him, smirking.

Jesus Christ, thought Jean, you’d think they’d done this a million times.

They launched into their next song: “Johnny B. Goode,” again with Paul singing the lead. She couldn’t believe the confidence with which he sang, raspy and strong, straight into the microphone. The next song, “Roll Over Beethoven,” sounded just as excited but was sung by George, who also surprised her: she didn’t understand how someone could sound so enthusiastic but look so collected at the same time.

“Well early in the mornin’, I’m a-givin’ you the warnin’, don’t you step on my blue suede shoes–”

Here was George, who had never been up on a stage before in his life, grinning as he sang and played his guitar, glancing around the crowd with a level look in his dark eyes, as though he was lucky to be here and they were lucky to be here and everything was just as simple as that.

“Long as she’s got a dime, the music will never stop!”

And she didn’t want their music to stop. None of them did, she could tell – there was clapping and cheering after the first couple of songs, and after that it seemed like the cheering was practically continuous. Jean and Agnes were on their feet their entire time, and so were most of the other tables, clapping and shouting and dancing in the spaces between the tables. It was more dancing and singing, more music, more combined expression and enthusiasm and movement, than Jean had seen in one place for practically as long as she could remember. This was it, she knew. No question was left in her head – they needed to keep doing this, the world needed to keep hearing this, feeling this.

“Just let me hear some of that rock and roll music!” Paul was back on vocals again.

It felt almost surreal when they finally stopped, at the end of “Rock and Roll Music,” and started slinging off their guitars. Paul saluted the crowd as Ringo stood up from behind the drum set, and John gave them all a cheerful wave. He spoke into the microphone over the ongoing applause: “Thanks again! We’re the Beatles – I’m John, that’s Paul, this is George, and Ritchie.”

“Ringo Starr!” Ringo shouted back over the applause.

John grinned. “All right, Ringo. Ringo Starr.”

They waved a little more and cleared off the stage as a group, taking their guitars with them. The announcer came back on as soon as they were gone. He looked a little harrowed, but he was smiling.

“Well,” he said. He sounded a little breathless. “What did you all think of the Beatles?”

It was an unnecessary question, because the crowd still had not stopped applauding. Jean and Agnes and many others were still on their feet. A lot of them hooted and hollered their approval in response to the announcer’s question.

“All – all right,” he said. “Glad to hear it. We’ll take about a fifteen-minute break, and then we’ll be right back with Tommy and the Tornadoes.” He hesitated a moment and then seemed to give up and added, “Featuring the drummer from the Beatles, our very own Ringo Starr.”

Jean and Agnes both cracked up laughing.

Harry let them slip backstage while no one was looking, and they found the boys in the back equipment room, all laughing as they packed up their things. At least John, Paul, and George were packing up their things, and Ringo was sitting in a hard black chair, drinking something out of a thermos.

“What’s in the thermos, Ringo?” asked Agnes.

“Water!” he replied. “Plastic kills the environment, you know.”

Paul was badgering John about the show. “Go on,” he said, “admit it! You never got that kind of reaction with the Quarrymen.”

“Oy,” said John, “the Quarrymen were good.”

“But that good? That reaction, John?” Paul gave him a knowing look. “Come on.”

John looked at him for a moment and then gave in, smiling a little. “Well, if you’re going to get pushy about it.”

“Come on!” Paul said again, pushing playfully against John’s shoulder. “That was terrific.” He turned to George. “Wasn’t that terrific?”

“It was decently terrific,” said George, smiling as he clipped shut the metal fastens on his guitar case.

“Decently terrific, he says!”

“It was entirely terrific,” Agnes told them. “Ringo, did you hear that announcer guy at the end? Said the Tornadoes would be featuring Ringo Starr, the drummer from the Beatles.”

“I heard him.” Ringo was grinning.

“Wonder what Tommy’ll think about that,” said George.

“Who cares what Tommy’ll think about that!” whooped John. “We’re going to the top, boys, you hear me? To the top!”

“To the top!” the others chorused.

“To the toppermost of the poppermost!”

“To the toppermost of the poppermost!” they echoed, starting to laugh.

“All right,” said Ringo, “I’ve got to get back out there if I don’t want to get fired from my other band.”

“All right, go on, Ringo.”

“Yeah, go nuts out there, Ringo.”

They clapped him on the back, and then filed back out into the club themselves to watch the Tornadoes. The energy that had filled the club during their performance hadn’t faded, and everyone remained standing throughout the Tornadoes’ show, dancing and clapping along to the music. A few times girls came up to John, Paul, and George, asking them to dance, and John, Paul, and George always said yes. Ringo, invigorated, was drumming with his usual heart, and with the music pounding in her ears Jean felt herself laughing more than she had in years. She had never danced in front of people before, had never really liked it, but somehow, all of the sudden, she did.

Near the back of the music club, toward the end of the night, a thin redhead named Eric stumbled out the back door with his girlfriend, a dark-haired girl named Judith. Reeling with alcohol, he stopped in the frigid alley and said, “Where can I puke?”

Judith looked around and saw only the wall, a mural of a girl in a green jacket scattering index cards. She knew who the girl was. “Just puke here,” she said. She supported him by the shoulder as he leaned over and retched against the bottom of the brick wall.

“I’ll tell you what,” he said as they slowly started walking away, “soon as I’m sober? I’m figuring out where I can buy their music.”

“The Tornadoes?”

“The Beatles.” He said the word as if he believed in it. “The Beatles, Judith.”

“All they played were covers, Eric,” she said. “I don’t think their music is sold anywhere.”

“Then I’ll convince someone to start selling it. I’m serious.”

Judith rolled her eyes. She guided him out of the alley and back onto the sidewalk. “C’mon,” she said. “Let’s get you home.”

 

John was the one to hail the cab that night, at four in the morning, outside of another club right at the edge of downtown. The six of them were practically alone on the sidewalk, all leaning into one another for support, arms around each other’s shoulders in various combinations. They felt warm enough inside from the alcohol that the cold didn’t bother them as much as it had earlier on in the night. The streets were scattered here and there with sleepy loners and drunken couples, the stoplights had all switched to blinking yellow. The orange-and-black checked cab pulled over to the side of the otherwise deserted street, and they all piled as a group into the backseat except for Agnes, who sat up front with the driver.

None of them could remember where they’d parked the bus. “Damn,” said John, yawning. He was on the verge of falling asleep. “Near the music club?”

“Corner of Rogers and Dunkirk,” George giggled. He was wide awake and in excellent spirits, slumped between Paul and the side door of the cab.

“Look at you!” John exclaimed. “Remembering and everything.”

“I’m a terrific rememberer.”

“Oh, are you?”

“When I want to be. I’m the remembererest of them all.”

“You’re definitely remembererer than I am,” said John, and they dissolved again into laughter.

The cab dropped them off in front of the bus, and they all piled on board, quick to get out of the cold. Agnes, who hadn’t had a drink in several hours, slid into the driver’s seat.

“Agnes,” said George, “you sure?”

She glanced him over. “Well, you’re sure as hell not going to do it.”

“It’s a bus,” slurred Ringo. “It’s big!”

“Look at you,” John said to Ringo, “using your words.”

“I’ve driven big trucks before,” said Agnes. “Trailers and stuff, it can’t be that different. Why did you think I stayed sober all night?”

George looked to Paul, who shrugged. “It’s your bus,” he said. “Your illegally misappropriated bus, anyway.”

“All right,” George said to Agnes, dropping back into one of the seats. “Suit yourself.”

“Any bus advice?” she asked, strapping on her seatbelt and looking down blankly at the gearshift. She was so small that her feet could barely even reach the pedals.

“Don’t crash. Bernie would kill me.”

Agnes actually turned out to be a surprisingly capable bus driver – perhaps even better than Paul, considering how recklessly Paul liked to drive. It also helped that there were practically no other cars on the road at this hour of the night. She dropped John off first outside his aunt Mimi’s house, then swung through campus to stop in front of Jean’s dorm. Jean had fallen completely asleep, her head resting heavily on Paul’s shoulder.

“Rise and shine,” Paul said into her hair. “Your chambers await.”

“Mm.” She sat up, rubbing her eye with the base of her palm. “Home?”

“Yes, home.”

“Great concert. So great.”

“See you tomorrow, Jean.”

She wandered off the bus, and Agnes stayed parked on the side of the road, watching as Jean crossed the lawn toward her building. The bus didn’t pull away until Agnes saw the door swing shut behind her.

“Ringo,” she said, turning around, “where do you live?”

Ringo told her.

Paul glanced over at him. “Really?”

“What d’you mean, ‘really’? Bugger off.”

“Sorry,” said Paul. He was instantly red in the face. “Sorry, Ringo, I’m just a drunk bastard.”

Ringo lived on the opposite end of town from campus, in a neighborhood called the Shells, for no other reason than that it was clustered around a road called Shell Street. Shell Street was an industrial part of town, with a few factories punctuated by restaurants and clubs that nobody really went to. The street was lined by dim lamps that had been placed too far apart to really keep the area very bright, and the smell of the air was rotten with soot and coal fumes. They passed a few people on the street as they were driving, hanging out in alleys or lingering against the sides of brick buildings, a lot of them staring at the school bus as it went along, as though wondering what it could possibly be doing there. At four in the morning, it would have been a fair question. Neither Agnes nor George nor Paul knew their way around, so Ringo directed them through the streets until they had gotten to his place: a cramped-looking apartment complex squatting against the side of another building, the curtains in every apartment drawn and the entire building dark, the outside walls peeling with plaster.

None of the others were very sure what to say. Paul had never been to the Shells before, had always been told by his father that he should stay away because it was a shifty part of town. For crying out loud, his father didn’t even like him hanging out in George’s neighborhood.

“I’ve never had a friend from the Shells before,” he said finally, stupidly.

Ringo was already on his feet. “Well, now you do,” he said, his tone cheerful as always, and he hopped off the bus before anyone could say anything more. Just like with Jean, they watched him until he was inside, and then Agnes pulled away from the curb and navigated them out of the neighborhood by memory.

“All right,” she said then, “what’s the plan? George? You next?”

“We can drop off Paul,” he said. “Then you. I’ll be sober enough to drive back by then.”

She looked at him doubtfully. He did seem pretty sober, but Agnes wasn’t the type to take chances. “Really?”

“Sure. What else are we gonna do? Park a school bus in front of your dorm all night?”

“All right, I see your point. Paul’s place it is.”

They headed in the direction of Paul’s house, weaving their way through a few other neighborhoods around Cavern City along the way. They were about ten minutes away when Paul spotted a lone figure walking along the side of the road, a young man, shoulders squared, his hands in his pockets. Paul recognized the young man’s build even from behind, his hair, his leather jacket and jeans.

“Stop the bus,” he told Agnes.

“What?”

“Pull over. It’s John.”

Chapter Text

"That guitar is okay, but you'll never make a living with it."
-Mimi Smith

 

----

 

John looked over as soon as he saw the bus, recognizing it, and he rolled his eyes and continued walking, his guitar case handle in one hand, bumping with every few steps against his leg. He didn’t stop walking even when the bus pulled over and George hollered his name out the window, so Paul jumped to his feet, got off the bus, and jogged up the street to catch up with him.

“Hey,” he said, grabbing John by the arm. “What gives?”

John stopped walking but didn’t look at him, only rolled his eyes again. “Aren’t you home yet? Your bedtime was ages ago.”

“Knock that off,” said Paul sharply. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing’s the matter.”

“Clearly something is.”

“Well, clearly I don’t want to talk about it,” John snapped. “Are you really such a meddling prat all the time?”

“No,” said Paul, “only when my friends are being secretive assholes.”

“Who said I was your friend?”

“Oh, shut up. Do you know how stupid you sound?”

They stood there facing each other in silence for a minute, shivering in the glare of the bus’s headlights. Paul felt himself clench up inside with anger, and he clamped his teeth together to keep them from chattering. It was so cold, and he cared so much.

“What happened?” he asked, more quietly this time. “Why would you walk this far? It’s freezing.”

“Nothing happened, all right?” John still wasn’t looking him in the eye. “I just decided I’d rather sleep at my mum’s tonight.”

Paul frowned, and then it hit him. “Did Mimi kick you out?”

John didn’t answer. Still looking at the ground, he let out a harsh, forced laugh, and crossed his arms to keep warm. His face was twisted into an awful smile.

Paul felt something inside of himself crack, just a little bit. “C’mon,” he said, “George’ll drive you.”

John shook his head. “No. I’d rather walk.”

“Why?”

“I’d just rather walk, all right?”

“All right,” said Paul, “then I’ll walk with you.”

He headed back over to the bus, stopping at the bottom of the steps.

“Will you drag that idiot back here already?” asked Agnes. “We’re letting all the cold air in.”

“You guys go ahead,” Paul called up to her. “I’ll walk him home.”

“Really?”

“You need backup, friend?” asked George.

“No, that’s all right. But thanks.” He thought of something then and jogged back up onto the bus, just long enough to lean across the aisle and grab his own guitar out of his seat.

“Call me, then,” said George, “when you do need a ride?”

“Don’t worry about it.” He waved him off, already hurrying back down the steps of the bus. “Just get to sleep. It’s fine.”

Agnes shrugged. “Call the police if you freeze,” she said, and then the bus doors folded shut, and the massive yellow vehicle pulled away from the sidewalk.

Paul walked back over to John, who was still standing there a little further up the sidewalk, staring at him. Suddenly Paul was afraid, for a moment – maybe he had done the wrong thing, maybe he was being intrusive, maybe he should have just left John alone.

But John hadn’t kept walking. He’d waited for him. And besides, the bus was gone, it was too late now to change his mind anyway.

“That was stupid of you,” said John crossly.

“Then at least you’re not the only stupid one here.”

They walked side by side for a minute with their hands in their pockets, muscles stiffened against the cold. They were on one of the residential streets near downtown, full of old wooden houses lined up next to one another, flanked with trees. The leaves had nearly all fallen by now, and their branches were all but barren.

“Has she kicked you out before?” Paul asked finally.

“No. She’s been a pain in the arse before.”

“What did she…”

“No nephew of hers is going to be out at all hours of the night, playing trashy rock music and drinking himself stupid. It’s a goddamn waste of everybody’s time.” He paused a moment and then repeated it. “Goddamn waste of everybody’s time.”

“She should see you play sometime,” Paul told him. “I bet that’d change her mind.”

“She has. She’s even told me I’m decent.” John laughed. “Just that it’ll never get me anywhere.”

“Well, she’s wrong,” said Paul immediately. “You heard us tonight, you saw how all those people loved it. We’re going to the top, you said so yourself.”

“Toppermost of the poppermost, yeah.”

“I’m serious.”

“It’s stupid, Paul.”

“It’s not stupid. You’re being stupid if you think it is. A room full of people get to their feet and cheer for you and believe in you – not to mention me, George, Ringo, Jean and Agnes, we all believe in you–”

“God, now you just sound sappy,” said John, but he was smiling, just a little bit.

“And you’re going to throw in the towel because of one critic? You already knew Mimi didn’t approve. Someday she’ll hear all of us play together, and she’ll understand. And even if she doesn’t, it won’t even matter, because the rest of us do.” He knew this probably sounded stupid, because of course the approval of his friends didn’t mean at all the same thing as the approval of his aunt, but it was all he could think of to say.

John didn’t speak for a moment, and when he did, he didn’t look over at Paul, he just kept his eyes on the sidewalk. “What am I supposed to say now?” he muttered. “‘Thank you’?” He said the words hesitantly, quietly, as if they would have been ridiculous, and Paul knew at once that they weren’t a question, that that was him saying it.

“You don’t have to say anything,” said Paul.

“Good.”

“Good.”

They walked a few minutes further, and then Paul said, “You know, I’ve got an aunt, if you’re in need of one. I’ve actually been trying to get rid of her. We could trade.”

“You reckon?”

“Yeah. Her name’s Florence. She’s rude to company, but that’s manageable, it’s just a matter of not having people over. And you’ll get used to the way she smells.”

John raised his eyebrows. “I’ve got aunts other than Mimi, you know.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. The Stanley sisters, my mum’s one of five. They used to trade me around, I think I’ve lived with all of them at some point or another.”

“Oh,” said Paul. He paused for a minute, unsure of what to say. “So, you wouldn’t have any interest in Florence, then.”

John smiled thinly. “Mimi was just tired,” he said. “You can keep your rotten aunt.”

They walked for another fifteen minutes or so until they got to Julia Lennon’s place, a modest but nice-looking old house near the edge of downtown. It was very dark, but even in the darkness Paul could tell that it was painted with vibrant colors, cake-yellow with bright red trimming. He stopped on the sidewalk at the edge of the lawn.

“Right,” he said, “golden slumbers, then.”

John frowned. “What?”

“Oh, um.” He rubbed at one of his eyes, too tired by now to think straight. It was nearly five in the morning. “It’s from an old poem, never mind. It means goodnight.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said John.

“What do you–”

“If I’m sleeping here, you are, too.”

“I can just walk to campus,” said Paul, “it’s really not a big deal.”

“I know you’re not this idiotic,” said John. “Every minute you spend dawdling out here is another minute we’re not both inside. Come on.”

Paul took a single, tentative step forward. “Your mum–”

“She’s very agreeable about boys she doesn’t know crashing at her house out of nowhere. I mean, look at me,” John added, raising an eyebrow, even starting to smile a little bit.

Paul paused for just a moment longer, then gave up and followed John across the lawn to the house.

John hesitated for a moment when he reached the front door, and then knocked.

For a few minutes there was no answer. No sounds from inside, no lights turned on in the house. John was just starting to lift his hand to knock again when they heard shuffling inside, and then the door cracked open, and a woman in a nightgown was standing there. Julia Lennon was slender and pretty, with very curly dark hair, and right now she was blinking at them from inside the darkened house, squinting through baggy eyes. Paul had met her once before, briefly, when he and George had come here to practice. He knew she was nice, very sociable and friendly when you talked to her, but he still felt intrusive, being here at this hour of the night without even knowing her too well.

Julia frowned at them through the crack in the door. “John?” she asked. “Is that you?”

“Hi, Mum.” John hesitated and exhaled sharply, as though worried she might say no. His breath fogged and evaporated in the air in front of them. “You remember Paul?”

“Yes–” Her gaze flickered between them, landing on Paul. “Yes, hi, Paul, how are you?”

“Good, thanks. Hi,” Paul added. He was never sure what to call her. He didn’t want to call her Mrs. Lennon since whoever Mr. Lennon was, he certainly didn’t hang around here anymore, but she had never told him to call her Julia, either.

“Is it – is it okay if we sleep here tonight?” John asked. “We were in the neighborhood, and–”

“Oh, of course. Of course.” Julia spoke rapidly, as though trying to hurry up before they changed their minds, and she pulled open the door to beckon them inside. “Everything’s all right, then?”

“Everything’s excellent,” said John, walking inside at once and sidling his guitar case past the doorframe, gesturing for Paul to follow him. “We played our first show tonight, at the Cavern Music Club.”

“Did you?” Julia must have been exhausted, but still she managed to stop in her tracks, her face lighting up with pride. “Oh, John.” She pulled him into a hug, and said, when she released him, “You have to tell me when your next one is, so I can come and see you.”

“All right, definitely.” John’s face had split into an open grin. “Definitely,” he repeated.

Once they were all inside, Julia pulled the door shut behind Paul and started heading down a side hallway away from the living room. “Here,” she whispered, “I’m sure there’s room for you with the girls–”

“Oh, Mum, no,” John said instantly, “don’t wake them up. We can take the living room.”

“Are you sure?”

“’Course.”

“I can make up the couches a little–”

“No, go back to bed.” He hugged her again, tightly close to him, and said into her shoulder, “I’m sorry for waking you.”

“Never apologize, John.” She smiled as they pulled apart. “You’re sure you don’t need–”

“I don’t need anything, Mum. Go to bed.”

“All right.” She looked over at Paul again, still smiling, and then back at John. “Goodnight,” she said.

“Goodnight.”

She headed back down the hallway then, disappearing into one of the few rooms that branched off of it. Paul looked to John for direction, but John wasn’t looking at him, was already sinking down onto one of the two couches in the living room. They were mismatched, John’s red and plump and the other one tannish and velvety, but they looked more or less equally comfortable and they sat at a right angle to one another, cornering in a small wooden coffee table. Paul set down his guitar, sat down on the other one, and bent over to untie his shoes.

“The girls?” he asked John. “You’ve got sisters?”

“Half-sisters. Bobby’s their dad, he’s probably around.”

“Oh.” Paul was curious, wanted to ask for more context, but he decided against it. He set his shoes down next to the couch and brought his feet up, lying back onto the cushions. “Has Mimi got a husband?” he asked then, out of curiosity.

“Did have,” said John. “George, back in Liverpool. He was all right, you know, he’d give me bars of chocolate, take me out sometimes on day trips for fishing and baseball. Died of a hemorrhage when I was thirteen.”

“I’m sorry,” said Paul quietly.

“Don’t be. Wasn’t your fault.”

They lay there in the darkness for a moment, among the shapes that would have made up John’s mother’s living room during the day: colorless shelves full of indistinguishable books and DVDs, magazines across the coffee table, a record player on a stand, a banjo leaning against the windowsill. In the morning Paul would wake up and the room would be full of color, everything would be real and would exist, but for the moment it was all equal, all dark.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked, quietly, into the darkness.

“About what?”

“Any of it.”

John groaned. “It’s five in the morning, Paul,” he mumbled.

“Yeah.” A pause. He was right. Even Paul could barely keep his eyes open. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Don’t make me kick you out on the street.”

He got the message.

“G’night, John.”

“G’night, Paul.”

Paul was mostly sober by this point, and he lay awake in the darkness until he could hear the light steady breathing of John on the other couch, and it seemed like mere moments later that he, too, was asleep.

 

Paul awoke to kitchen sounds: the clinking of pans, a whisk in a metal bowl, the sound of something sizzling. The lights in the living room were still off, but sunlight had begun filtering in through the blinds on the windows, and the kitchen, right next to the living room, was glowing. Paul rolled over and blinked a few times as his gaze landed on John, standing alone in the kitchen, prodding at bacon in a pan with a pair of metal tons.

“Morning,” said Paul.

“Morning,” said John.

Paul looked around for some indication of the time, and he spotted a round orange-painted clock up on the wall, reading just past eight-fifteen. “You always wake up this early?” he asked John.

“When the people sleeping near me are snoring that much, I do.”

Paul’s eyes were a little seedy from sleep, and he rubbed them until they were clear, sitting up on the couch. He got up and made his way over to the kitchen, where a stack of plain pancakes was waiting on a plate, and John was forking the pan full of bacon onto a folded paper towel.

“I didn’t know you cooked,” said Paul.

“I don’t really,” John said quickly, “I’m just better than Mum. I once saw her pour hot tea into a stew.”

Paul raised his eyebrows. “Better not to take chances, then,” he said.

“Exactly.”

Julia’s family woke up gradually over the course of the next couple of hours, starting with a man introduced to Paul as Bobby Dykins, who was well-dressed and had slick hair combed neatly back away from his face. He was carrying a briefcase and seemed to be on his way to work, and he grabbed a couple of slices of bacon and a pancake on his way out. He looked as though he were about to leave, but then suddenly decided against it and turned back to face John.

“You know, you really oughtn’t be waking your mother up like that at all hours of the night,” he said quietly, stepping toward John, his face hardening. “She cares about you deeply, John. You can’t only be coming by when you’re drunk and Mimi won’t have you.”

“Mimi would’ve come around,” said John. “And I come by other times, too.”

“I’m just saying. She loves you. You can’t be taking advantage,” said Bobby, nodding curtly as though he had just offered John some solicited piece of wisdom, and then he was out the door, one crisp slice of bacon still in his hand.

The door swung shut, and John rolled his eyes and said nothing about it.

Julia came out not long after that, and was so thrilled that John had cooked breakfast that she put on a record – one of Paul’s favorites, as it turned out, Carl Perkins. She started dancing and beckoned them to join her, first John and then Paul, twirling them around the living room, laughing and singing along. Two young girls wandered out from the hallway shortly after this began, rubbing their eyes – they had their mother’s curly brown hair, and neither of them could have been older than ten or eleven.

“Julia,” John said to the taller of the two girls, waving hello, and then turning to the smaller girl, “hi, Jackie. This is my friend Paul.”

The little Julia and Jackie mumbled their hellos. They both bypassed the dancing in favor of leftover pancakes.

After the dancing and chatting with Julia and the girls had all died down, around ten or eleven, Paul was helping wash dishes as John wiped down the counters in the kitchen, and he said, “Guess I should go ahead and call George, then.” He posed it as a statement, but really they both knew it was a question.

“What for?” asked John.

“Well, I reckon I ought to get out of your hair, yeah?”

“It’s Saturday,” said John. He tossed a handful of crumbs into the trashcan and dropped the cloth he had been holding on the counter. “You’ve got something better to do?”

“Better than what?”

Paul switched off the sink faucet and turned to face John. John was watching him, arms crossed over his chest.

“Songwriting,” said John. “We’ve got the whole day, haven’t we? And we’ve got our guitars here, anyway. May as well write something.”

Paul felt a smile beginning to spread across his face, despite himself. In some ways he was still reeling from last night, remembering how it felt singing in front of that crowd with John and the others and playing the music, the music.

“May as well,” he said, and he followed John out of the kitchen to get their guitars.

 

Eric Daniels stood in the morning fog in front of the North Cavern Music Store, rubbing his gloved hands together to keep warm. Judith was standing next to him with her arms crossed, wearing a buttoned overcoat to match her dark hair. It was fastened up the front with shiny black buttons.

“You’re wasting your time,” she told him, for the fifth or sixth time that day. “And even if you weren’t wasting your time, we didn’t have to get here half an hour before the place even opens.”

“You didn’t have to come here at all,” Eric reminded her. “You could easily have stayed at home. And why are you being so negative about this, anyway?”

Judith frowned, looking down and scuffing the sidewalk a little with the toe of her boot. “I just didn’t like them very much.”

“Were we even at the same show? I haven’t felt–”

“That alive in years. Yeah. You told me.”

Eric rubbed his hands together again and pulled back his glove to check his watch. It was seven-fifty. This was the only music shop left in Cavern, one of the few left in the entire state. Hell, in the country. It was a wonder it was even still running. If this place didn’t work out, Eric didn’t know where else he could go. “Where is this guy?” he said aloud, bouncing a little on the balls of his feet.

“You’re too anxious,” Judith told him. “It doesn’t even open until eight, right?”

Eric was about to answer when he noticed a man in a suit shuffling toward them down the sidewalk, a thick folder of papers tucked under one arm. He had dark hair, short and neatly brushed, and a sort of restrained look about his face, and he was very nicely dressed, with shiny black shoes and a crisp tie. He looked nicer than Eric would have expected from the owner of a local music shop, and yet this was the man who stopped in front of the glass door of the shop and fumbled with his keys for a moment before pushing one into the lock.

“Good morning,” he said politely to Eric and Judith as he opened the door.

“Hello,” said Eric, following him closely inside. “Are you the owner?”

“I am – if you would excuse me, we’re not quite open yet, if I could just have ten minutes–”

“Have you got anything by the Beatles?” Eric interrupted, ignoring him entirely.

They had followed the man inside and to the front desk, where he was laying down his stack of papers and starting to take off his coat. He looked tired. “Who?”

“The Beatles.”

“I’m afraid I haven’t heard of them.” He waved a hand dismissively toward the narrow rows of CDs and old records that made up the store. “We’ve got plenty of Mac Thorn, if that interests you.”

“It doesn’t,” said Eric firmly.

Judith rolled her eyes.

“Well,” said the storeowner as he hung his coat up on a hook on the wall, “I’m very sorry I couldn’t be of more help.” Judging from his tone of voice, that was to be the end of the conversation. He unlocked the cash register and started turning on the prehistoric desktop computer system that took up much of the front desk.

“No,” said Eric, “you’ve got to start selling the Beatles. You might not have them now, but you’ve got to get them. Trust me.”

The storeowner looked up at him and frowned, clearly caught off guard by his level of certainty. “Who are they?”

“A rock band,” said Eric. “They’re local.”

“Nobody makes rock music anymore,” said the storeowner staunchly, returning his attention to opening up the registers. “Perhaps you’re unaware, but people hardly make music at all anymore. I admire your fervent attempt at marketing, but you can tell your friends they’re better off quitting while they’re still on the ground.”

“That’s exactly what I told him,” Judith said, nudging Eric in the arm. “We’re sorry to have troubled you.”

“No,” said Eric. He wasn’t moving away from the front desk. “No, we’re not. Listen, sir – what’s your name?” he asked suddenly, for although there was a kind of elegance about the man that made it feel not unnatural to call him sir, he still wanted to know his name, to talk to him person-to-person.

“Brian Epstein,” said the storeowner.

“Brian Epstein,” said Eric, “they aren’t my friends, I don’t even know them. I just heard them play last night, at the Cavern City Music Club. I’m telling you – you’re saying music is on it’s way out, but I’m saying music doesn’t go out until they go out. And they’re never going out.” Even after they died, he had a feeling that they wouldn’t go out, but he didn’t say this out loud. He knew the look Judith would have given him – in fact she was giving it to him now anyway.

Brian sighed. “Have they got any records out?” he asked reluctantly. “Anything?”

Eric frowned. He had never heard anyone refer to music in terms of records – it was so old-fashioned. “I’m not sure,” he said.

“Probably not,” Judith supplied helpfully.

“Listen,” said Eric, “just give them a shot. Check the music club’s schedule online. If you’re not doing anything the next time they’ve got a show, you should go. You’ll see what I’m talking about.”

“All right,” said Judith, “you’ve said your peace.” She tugged him gently away from the front desk by one arm. “Now let’s go, already.”

“They’ll sell out!” Eric called back to Brian as they left. “I guarantee it!” And then they were both out the door, leaving Brian alone in the shop.

Brian frowned, watching as the couple hurried off down the street. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen someone that enthusiastic about a band. Even the few artists who actually managed to be successful these days enjoyed only moderate popularity – sure, most people said, sure, I’ll listen to them. But nobody went around campaigning on behalf of bands they didn’t even know.

He shook his head, sat down, and reached below the cash register for his ledger. The store had been doing dismally, there was no getting around it, and he expected to be closed by the end of the year. Belatedly, he wondered whether he should not have been so short with the red-haired man; maybe the fellow would have bought something if he’d only stuck around a little longer.

No one at all had come into the store by nine-thirty, when the bell jangled against the glass door and a police officer strode inside, holding a cup of coffee in one hand.

She was tall and clean, her blonde hair pulled back into a neat ponytail, and there was a certain sharpness about her features that gave the impression that she was always zeroing in on someone. She had come in here a few times before. She was out to get Brian for reasons unknown to him, and she would sometimes come in on her way to work or between shifts, telling him all of the reasons he ought to be worried about his job.

“You’re still here?” she asked today, grinning at him across the empty store.

He straightened up a little, stiffening in his seat. “Good morning, Officer Hanley.”

“A good morning, indeed,” Hanley agreed, strolling across the store, running her hand along the tops of some of the CDs. “Know why it’s such a good morning, Brian?”

He bit the inside of his cheek, then made himself stop. “Why?”

“You hear about the proposal they drafted in Congress?” He had, but she said it for him anyway: “Banning the sale of all music not approved by the government. You’ll be out of here by the end of the year.”

“You’ll be happy to know I’m likely to go out of business anyway,” Brian told her. He wasn’t worried about the proposal, didn’t have any energy left to worry about it. He already wasn’t allowed to sell music that mentioned sex, drugs, or alcohol, which severely limited his options as it was.

“That’s good.” Hanley had reached his desk now and leaned across it, her hands on the desk, her face a few inches from his. “I’m done having queers working around here, anyway,” she whispered.

Brian sat stiff in his chair, frozen. He didn’t look at her as she pulled away, didn’t say a word as she crossed back over across the music shop.

“I’ve got to get to work,” she said to him over one shoulder. “I’ve got a real job, y’see, I just wanted to say a quick hi. Can’t wait to raid this place one of these days.”

The door opened again, the bell jangled, and she was gone.

 

In northern Minnesota, many hours and a few state lines away from Cavern, a boy was sitting alone on a small metal bench in the grass just outside of town. An empty two-lane road a few feet away, and farmland spreading out on all sides of him, spent harvests, fields of once green-golden crops turned ashen yellow with the coming onset of winter. He had a backpack on his back, and a battered guitar case on the ground at his side, and not much else. The wind ruffled his curly brown hair and chilled his skin inside his coat, but he didn’t seem to mind it.

A Greyhound made its way up the road eventually, slowed to a halt in front of the bus stop.

The boy waved it away without moving from his seat on the bench. The bus shut its doors, drove away.

The girl in the green jacket was sitting with him on the other end of the bench, now, although she hadn’t been before. She looked at him sidelong, then jerked her head with what looked like a tinge of annoyance in the direction of the retreating bus, as if to ask: You’re not going?

The boy shrugged, reaching into his coat pocket for a cigarette. “Not yet,” he said.

Chapter Text

“Suddenly someone is there at the turnstile
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes…”
-The Beatles, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”

 

----

 

It was on the Sunday following their first show at the Cavern Club that they finally tracked down Pilgrim. Paul, John, George, and Ringo went back to the music club as a group to try to arrange a date for their next show, and as they were coming out of the back door into the alley behind the building, they noticed at last the mural that had been painted there, the brown-haired girl with the index cards.

“Hey,” said Paul, frowning up at the mural and stopping in his tracks, “it’s that girl.”

A pale young man with dark hair was crouching in the alley next to the opposite building, holding a camera up in front of his face. The camera was boxlike and top-grade, shiny black, it looked like some of those really artsy ones that weren’t even sold anymore. He appeared to be snapping pictures of the mural, but he stood up as soon as the four of them came outside, as though they had just caught him in the middle of a crime.

“Hello!” said John brightly. “I recognize you, you’re the graffiti artist!”

“What?” The man laughed unconvincingly and started packing the camera into a black case. “No, I’m not.”

“Graffiti artist?” Ringo looked from the dark-haired man to the mural and back again. “That graffiti there?”

“Yes,” said John, at the same moment that the man said, “No.”

“Oh, come on,” John said to the man, turning to face him and tilting his head. “Do we look like cops to you? It’s really good. I mean that.”

“Yeah,” Paul added, “we’ve got a friend who’s an artist. She’s good, too. We could introduce you.”

The man slung the strap of his camera case over his shoulder and straightened up, still not quite looking at any of them in the eye. He lifted a pair of dark sunglasses he had been holding and put them on, which helped a little to obscure his gaze. “Sorry,” he muttered. “It wasn’t me.”

He started trying to walk past them, and that was when John stepped in front of him, blocking his way.

“Hey, man.” The graffiti artist tried sidling past him, but John blocked him again. “C’mon. Don’t–”

“You’ve seen her before, haven’t you?” John pressed him. “That girl you painted. Who is she?”

“I don’t know, all right? Now can I–”

“No,” said John firmly, “you can’t.”

“Listen,” the man said helplessly, “I don’t know her. I swear. I’ve just – seen her places.”

“Places like where?”

“Around, I don’t know! On the street, around the corner, between buildings, on buses. She just kind of shows up and then she’s gone.” He cocked his head, fixing John now with a look of annoyance. “Now can you just back off?”

John didn’t back off. “Listen,” he said, “what’s your name?”

“Stuart.”

“Stuart, I’m John,” he said calmly. “And we’ve all seen that girl before, too, and we’re just as confused about it as you are. But you’re the first stranger we’ve met in weeks who even knows who she is, so unless you play music – do you play music?” he asked suddenly, halting mid-sentence.

Paul had been thinking the same thing – that maybe this guy was another band-mate, some extra guy Jean hadn’t mentioned, or hadn’t remembered.

“I used to, a little.”

“What kind?”

“Bass. Look, I don’t anymore, I’m not crazy.”

“Right, you’re just an artist,” George supplied helpfully.

The graffiti artist – Stuart – scowled.

“So you used to,” John said. “Are you any good?”

“No. And I don’t appreciate being asked all these questions when I don’t even–”

“Were you passionate about it?” John pressed him. “Anything?”

Stuart glared at him. “No,” he said firmly, “all right? I’m an artist. That’s it.”

John took a step back at last and crossed his arms over his chest. “All right, then, graffiti artist,” he said. “What else do you know about that girl you painted?”

“I told you,” said Stuart shortly. “Nothing.” He shoved past John, a little more forcefully this time, and started off down the alley toward the street. They couldn’t really blame him, thought Paul – he would have been upset if he had been cornered by four strangers in a back alley, too. It hadn’t occurred to him before now, but the group of them together must have looked pretty intimidating, even if they hadn’t meant to.

John, though, seemed like he meant to. “Hey!” he called after Stuart.

“Aw, leave it,” said Ringo, waving one hand dismissively.

But John wouldn’t. He stalked after Stuart and caught him by the arm, twisting it so that Stuart turned around again to face them and let out an involuntary yelp of pain.

“Listen,” John snapped, “I’m not gonna ask you again.”

“John,” said George, in a voice that was calm but full of warning. He had stepped forward instinctively and took hold of John’s arm now, starting to pull him away. “We’re on the same side, right?”

“If we’re on the same side, why does he keep trying to run away? Listen, mate,” he added, directly to Stuart this time, “what kind of game are you playing, anyway?”

“Go fuck yourself,” Stuart replied.

“That’s it–”

Red in the face with anger, John reached back one fist and was about to clock the graffiti artist across the face when–

“JOHN!”

Paul threw out an arm, blocking him, and pointed – and upon seeing what he was pointing at, an instant involuntary hush fell over the five of them, their gazes all fixed on the same figure.

Pilgrim had appeared at the end of the alley.

For a moment they simply stood there, staring at her, unsure of what to do. “Oh,” whispered Ringo. “You fellows weren’t kidding.”

She was slouching against the side of the brick building, one jacketed shoulder leaning into the part of the wall where Stuart had painted some of the index cards, although she didn’t appear to be paying the mural any mind. It may as well have been a blank wall, for all she seemed to care. In fact she was hardly even paying the boys themselves any mind – she was watching them attentively, but she didn’t seem to give a single care whether John punched Stuart or not. Her arms were crossed over her chest and she looked, as always, a little annoyed, as though one of them were forcing her to be there.

John stepped instantly back, away from Stuart, his eyes on the girl.

“Pilgrim?” asked Paul.

Without moving from the wall, she tipped her head just slightly toward him, not enough for it to be called a bow, but enough to indicate a confirmation that yes, she was the girl Pilgrim, this was her. There was a look of prompting in her eyes: All right, I’m here, now what do you want?

“May we speak with you?” George called across the alley, without flinching.

“Or to you, rather,” John added under his breath.

The girl was standing a good distance away, but she seemed to hear him anyway. She mimed an exaggerated impression of laughter, doubling over and guffawing silently, waving him off as if he were simply too funny. It was the most expression any of them had seen from her so far. An instant later it was gone and she straightened again, resuming her glare.

Paul drew a little closer toward her, followed by the others. Stuart joined them – more out of curiosity, it seemed, than anything else.

“Caught you on a bad day, have we?” Ringo asked her. She said nothing, so he added, “Or is every day a bad day for you?” to which she responded with vigorous nodding.

“I say we call her ‘Pil’ for short,” John said emphatically.

“I say we call you ‘Pil’ for short,” George replied.

John turned to Pilgrim. “Can you really not speak?” he asked her.

“C’mon, John,” Paul protested, scolding him, although he wasn’t really sure why.

“What? I think it’s a fair question.”

“It’s not a very useful one. Listen,” he said, speaking now to Pilgrim directly, “are you even willing to answer our questions at all? The only other time I saw you, you just disappeared. No offense."

Pilgrim said nothing. Strike out, thought Paul. Pick a new question.

He was trying to come up with something to say when Pilgrim at last jerked her head, somewhat reluctantly – a frizz of golden-brown hair flipped back over shoulder – and turned to start walking back toward the mouth of the alley, where the shadows opened up onto the street. Paul exchanged glances with the person standing nearest to him, George, who nudged him, prompting him forward. They followed her as a group out of the alley and onto the street.

“Are we sure she meant for us to follow her?” Stuart asked Ringo in a hushed whisper, in the back of the group.

“No,” Ringo replied, “but I got the feeling Paul didn’t want her to up and vanish again.” He glanced over sidelong at Stuart. “You don’t really have to be here anymore, you know.”

“I know,” said Stuart. “But I’m curious now.”

Ringo considered this and nodded. “Not having to be somewhere, but being too curious to leave, that’s something I can understand.”

“I’m so glad to have a friend,” said Stuart dryly.

“No need to get prickly. I just meant I’m sorry we were menacing you and everything.”

Stuart scoffed. “You couldn’t menace me in a heartbeat,” he told Ringo.

“John, then.”

“Well, John’s a different story.”

It was midday, and the street was full of college students wandering between classes and men and women in suits and office clothes taking their lunch breaks. Girls and guys in backpacks heading down the sidewalk in packs, sitting out on benches with their laptops propped up on their knees, hurrying across intersections in front of stopped cars, lingering in the doorways of fast food restaurants and beckoning their friends inside. Parents pushing children in strollers, leading them by the hand, by the leash. Leading animals by the leash too, dogs tugging at their collars, nipping up at passing strangers. It was a scene they were all used to seeing in Cavern in the early afternoon, but to Paul, up in the front of the group, the streets seemed fuller than usual today. Was downtown always this crowded? Or was it because today he had a girl to be chasing?

He couldn’t decide if Pilgrim was a magical entity or simply a fast walker – she didn’t look like she was trying to walk quickly, but somehow without effort she was far ahead of them, and she kept slipping in and out of sight.

“We’ll never catch up to her at this rate,” complained Ringo.

“Maybe not at your rate,” John called back over his shoulder. He was starting to speed up a little at the front of the group, jogging every few steps, craning his neck over the shoulders of passing strangers in order to keep his gaze locked on Pilgrim. He had never met her before – in fact Paul was the only one of them who had, excluding maybe Stuart – but he seemed nonetheless to be gaining motivation. But he was also grinning, so it could have been that he just thought this was fun.

Ringo frowned. “I can never catch any slack from you people,” he muttered.

“Typical.” Paul shook his head while elbowing past an old woman coming out of an Italian restaurant. “Spends all his time slacking, and then he asks for slack from others.”

“I do not slack.” He let out a laugh as he said it, because he already knew they were only teasing – out of the group of them, Ringo, a member of two different bands, was probably the one who slacked the least, and they all knew it.

“What’d you do last night, Ringo?”

“Slept.”

“What did I tell you?” Paul sent a sympathetic glance back at Stuart as he followed John around a sharp corner and onto another street. “The man’s bloody hopeless.”

Paul and John both laughed, but George was still looking ahead, scanning the sidewalk for Pilgrim. John had been the one to lead them around the corner, and the rest had followed without question, trusting that this was where she had gone. But this street, while busy, was a little less crowded than the one before it, and it was impossible to pick the girl out from the thinning crowd.

Paul cursed. “Have we lost her?”

George’s eyes widened, and he pointed ahead of them, toward the next intersection. “Up there. By Ashwood.”

She was facing away from them, as she had been the entire time, but they could make her out from behind by the wild hair and green jacket. She still looked as though she wasn’t hurried in the slightest, but she was coming up on a red pedestrian light, and she wasn’t slowing down. No cars seemed to be coming, but a few other people were clustered on the corner at the edge of the crosswalk, waiting for the lights to turn so that they could cross. Pilgrim kept walking.

“Oh my God!” John exclaimed, feigning shock.

Paul joined in. “No.” He shook his head vehemently. “No, it can’t be.”

“She couldn’t–”

“You don’t think she would jaywalk?”

“She wouldn’t dare!” cried George.

Up ahead of them, Pilgrim walked into the street. No cars came, and she made it to the other side a few seconds later without incident.

The boys let out collective, over-the-top gasps in mock astonishment.

John shook his head in admiration. “If you thought this girl was impossible before, kids–”

“It’s all well and good that she doesn’t care for the laws of time and space,” said George, “but when it comes to disregarding traffic laws, I think that’s truly bold.”

“It’s un-American, that’s my opinion,” put in Paul.

The pedestrian signal lit up just as they reached it, and they had to weave through the throng of other people starting to cross the street in order to get ahead of them. Somehow in the commotion they managed to lose Pilgrim yet again, and Paul was just about to suggest slowing down or perhaps trying a new strategy – for instance, threatening to punch Stuart again – when he caught sight of the green jacket out of the corner of his eye, in another alley they were passing.

She was walking more slowly now, and he stopped automatically, staring after her without thinking to say anything to the others. She glanced back only once, the first time she had glanced back at all since leaving them. She looked almost anxious, but Paul could have been wrong about this, never having seen her anxious before. Her gaze met his for a moment, and although she didn’t shake her head or wave him away, there seemed to be something guarded about her, something in her eyes that walled herself away from him and almost begged him for distance. He frowned, not quite understanding, and then she reached the end of the alley and turned out of sight.

“Paul?” George had stopped a few yards ahead and was looking back at him. “What is it?”

He didn’t know what to say. She had looked so tense for that one moment, it almost made him want to lie, to tell them all to stop following her. But she hadn’t told him explicitly to go away, and back at the music club, it had seemed so much like she’d wanted them to follow her. He wavered for a moment with the four others watching him, unsure of what to do.

Finally his curiosity won out, and he gave in. “It’s her,” he said. “She went this way.”

John acted instantly, striding back toward him past George. “Well, what are we waiting for?” He started forward into the alley, but Paul caught him by the arm.

“Wait. I…” Paul bit the inside of his lip, then looked up at John. “I think we should go slowly,” he said.

“Why? You think her fading footprints can tell us more than she can?”

“Just trust me.”

Paul took the lead this time, heading down the alley with the others behind him, and he knew that he had been right when he started to hear voices a little more than halfway toward the other end. The alley opened up onto a break between two small parking lots, each belonging to a different restaurant on the opposite street, and ahead of them they could only see a staggering of parked cars between here and the next cluster of buildings. Somewhere in the next parking lot, though, a girl was speaking, and speaking angrily.

“I just don’t get why you go and do stuff like this when you know you’re not supposed to–”

Paul held up a hand as he reached the end of the alley, signaling the others to stop – which was unnecessary, as they had all heard the voice, too. They pressed back against the brick outer wall of the building, safely out of sight, straining to listen.

“You put on this whole act, like you don’t care about anything, but meanwhile I’m out here trying to live an actual normal life. And then all of the sudden I’ve got to deal with you and your fucking revolutions.”

Paul exchanged glances with the person nearest to him, which again was George. None of them knew whether the girl talking was Pilgrim or not, because none of them had ever heard Pilgrim speak before.

“She can’t talk,” John whispered as a reminder, as if he had read Paul’s mind.

“We don’t know she can’t talk,” Paul whispered back.

“Well, I don’t think it’s her.”

Shushing him, Paul ducked down, beneath the level of the hoods of the parked cars, and began moving slowly but quietly out from behind the wall. He felt a couple of the others, likely John and George, following behind him to get a better look. They stayed out of sight, behind the cars, but they were able to peer around them enough to get a look at what was going on the small parking lot.

Pilgrim was standing several yards away from them in the middle of the lot, facing another girl. This girl was around Pilgrim’s height but looked a little older, closer to her twenties, and she wore a black overcoat buttoned tightly up the front. Her hair was similarly dark and fell in neat curls over her shoulders, much better cared for than Pilgrim’s hair, which was frizzed with static and stuck out in all directions. She looked overall more polished than Pilgrim, actually – not that that would have been difficult, given the fact that Pilgrim looked perpetually like a sleep-deprived tenth-grader.

“It’s pathetic,” said the dark-haired girl in the overcoat. So it was, then, this girl who was talking. Perhaps John was right, thought Paul, perhaps Pilgrim couldn’t talk at all.

“I mean,” the girl continued, “here I am with a real job, a real apartment, a real boyfriend – don’t give me that.”

Pilgrim had been making air quotation marks with her fingers every time the girl said “real.” Now she gave in, stuffed her hands in her jacket pockets, and stood stiffly, her shoulders squared. She didn’t appear to notice that Paul or any of the others were there.

“And where are you staying, anyway?” the girl asked her. “Under an overpass somewhere? You sure look like it. You’re so thin and – and – mangy,” she decided at last. “You ought to spend less time handing out index cards and a little more time taking care of yourself.”

Pilgrim shrugged. She was, Paul realized, very thin.

“And you know the whole silence thing won’t work on me,” the other girl continued, crossing the parking lot now, walking closer to Pilgrim. “I don’t care if you’re mute or fucking Anne of Green Gables. I know you can understand me, and I know you understand that you’re going to get us both in trouble if you keep this up.”

Pilgrim rolled her eyes.

“Don’t give me that,” the other girl said sharply. “Jesus. You’re incorrigible. I’ve half a mind to take you out right now.”

At that Ringo stood up automatically. He stepped swiftly out from the alleyway and cried, “Hey! Get away from her!”

Pilgrim hardly reacted at all, except to roll her eyes again, but the other girl turned away from her to face Ringo. She looked at him with her eyebrows raised, as though he were a child.

“‘Take you out right now,’” Ringo repeated scornfully, shaking his head, “you’ve got to be kidding me!”

Paul rose from behind the parked cars at the same time as George, and they were quickly followed by John, who had been crouching behind the bumper of a Ford pickup with his mouth open.

“Relax,” said the girl. “Don’t you have a factory to be working at or something?”

“That was very mean,” George told her. “You’re terribly unfriendly.”

“I’d be perfectly happy to show you what it is to be truly unfriendly,” the girl replied, stepping toward him.

Pilgrim, in turn, stepped toward the girl. She wasn’t quite blocking her path, but she was fixing her with a look that seemed almost like some kind of warning.

The girl straightened, scowling. “I’m afraid I’m quite late, anyway,” she said. “We’ll have to save this for some other time.” With one black-gloved hand, she pulled back the heavy sleeve of her overcoat enough to be able to read the watch around her wrist. It was fashionable, from what Paul could see, with a rim that looked like gold. “Yes,” she said, folding the sleeve back over the watch, “my boyfriend is waiting for me.”

“Your boyfriend?” repeated John, not bothering to hide his disbelief.

If the girl was miffed, she didn’t show it. “Unfortunately. He’s quite idiotic. More so with every passing day.”

“I’d say it was a pleasure meeting you, but it entirely wasn’t,” George said.

The girl pursed her lips. “Likewise. If all goes well” – she shot a meaningful look over at Pilgrim – “I’ll never see you again, anyway.”

She slipped her hands inside her deep pockets, gave one curt nod to the rest of them, and then walked back across the parking lot toward the street on the other side of the next building, her posture straight, not looking back even once. She was wearing black knee-length boots to match the rest of her outfit, and they clipped over the uneven asphalt as she walked.

Ringo turned instantly to face Pilgrim. “All right, then, what was that all about?” he demanded.

Pilgrim, as usual, was silent. Over by the alley, John looked over at Stuart, who was still standing there, leaning against the brick with his arms crossed. “Why are you still here, anyway?” John asked.

Stuart shrugged, then reached into one of the pockets of his dark jacket and pulled out an index card. He showed it to John: STUART SUTCLIFFE. “She gave me this a while back,” he said offhandedly, as though it didn’t matter, before tucking it back in the pocket. “Didn’t want to say anything ’cause you seemed so worked up, before. But I think I’ve a right to be a little curious.”

Meanwhile the others were still questioning Pilgrim – or trying to question her, anyway. She was as silent as ever, which was becoming a source of increasing frustration for Paul, George, and Ringo.

“Just tell us what’s going on,” Paul insisted. “How do you know who we all are, and who was that girl, and was it you who resurrected us – or whatever? Anything – I know you don’t talk, but you could at least write it down on one of your little index cards.”

Pilgrim let out a quick sigh – it was more of a huff – and then she turned and began walking away from them, toward the edge of the parking lot, in the opposite direction from the one the other girl had taken.

“She’s just leaving!” George exclaimed.

“Well, she can’t just leave,” echoed Paul, disappointed.

“Although I’d leave, too, if I’d had to look at your face for that long.”

“Oh, shut it.”

Ringo jogged over to catch up with Pilgrim. “All right,” he said, and to all of their surprise, she actually stopped and waited, staring at him with a look of tolerance but obvious impatience. “Listen,” said Ringo earnestly, “we didn’t mean to all attack you with questions at the same time. We’re only confused, because you’re so enigmatic and that other girl came off as so evil.”

“Very evil,” Paul agreed. “Very conniving.”

“She was right about you being thin, though,” Ringo said to Pilgrim. “Why don’t you spend the afternoon with us, and we can all get some lunch?” He looked around at the others. “We’re not doing anything, are we?” he asked them.

“Not a thing,” said John.

“Ironing my shirts,” said George, “but other than that.”

Ringo turned back to Pilgrim. “You don’t have to tell us anything if you don’t want to,” he said. “But we can get you some food, if nothing else.”

Pilgrim gave him a look that was hard to decipher: distrust, maybe, or defense. Like she didn’t believe he was telling the truth, or like she was offended that he thought she couldn’t get her hands on her own food.

Then, just as he was about to tell her to forget it, she let out another huffy, impatient sigh. She cocked her head at him expectantly. The look in her eyes this time was plain: All right, then, which way should I go, already?

A grin spread across Ringo’s face. “All right!” he exclaimed.

“Terrific,” echoed Paul. “What’ll we do? Hamburgers?”

“Sure, hamburgers,” said John.

“Should I call Jean?” asked George.

They all hesitated a moment. There were already so many of them, after all, and any more people were bound to make things even more overwhelming – although overwhelming for Pilgrim or for the boys themselves, they couldn’t have said. Most likely both. But then again, this was Jean, and none of them would have been here at all, if not for her. And she and Pilgrim still had yet to meet face-to-face.

“Yes,” said Paul finally. “Yes, of course. Call her.”

Chapter Text

"We've got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant. You can't just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it's going to get on by itself. You've got to keep watering it. You've got to really look after it and nurture it."
-John Lennon

 

----

Jean was on the phone with Dana when she got the call. She had been hearing less and less from Dana and Cassie recently, probably because they had plenty of their own stresses to deal with – Dana’s employers had started questioning her after the move, wanting to know why she had felt the need to leave her old neighborhood, and Jean got the feeling that Cassie’s unwillingness to confront any issues directly was doing nothing to help their feelings of being strained. Jean didn’t mind the lack of communication entirely – she had had a lot going on herself recently, with the Beatles and Agnes and midterms, and at least half of the blame for not calling fell to her. She was glad George’s call interrupted them, because she had been looking for an excuse to get out of her latest argument with Dana.

“All I meant was that I think Mae would appreciate an invitation,” Jean was saying. She was pacing the square, one jacket-insulated arm clutched over her chest, stiffened against the cold. “She’s always there for Thanksgiving.”

“I know, Jean, but she’s so busy anyway, I’d feel bad bothering her…”

“You wouldn’t be bothering her. It’s one phone call.”

Dana was silent for a moment. When she spoke, it was as though she hadn’t heard what Jean had said. “I feel bad even bothering you,” she said, kind of quietly.

“You’re not bothering me.” She stopped walking for a moment as the hesitation in her mother’s voice reached her. “You sound ridiculous,” she said. “It’s like you don’t want to have a Thanksgiving at all.” Too late, she realized that this probably sounded harsh, but she didn’t take it back.

Dana didn’t respond right away. “Jean…”

Jean frowned. “Wait, you’re not serious.”

“I just don’t know if it’s such a good idea this year.”

“What’s wrong?” Her head, all of the sudden, was hot with confusion. No Thanksgiving – what did that even mean? “Are you and Cassie–”

“We’re fine. This is coming from both of us.”

“Are you sure?” Jean’s moms often made decisions that ostensibly came “from the both of them,” but in real life they almost always came from Dana.

“Yes. I really don’t want to worry you, Jean, it’s not a big deal. We’ve just had a few people around the neighborhood asking us questions and – and we’d just rather not take any unnecessary risks. If you get my meaning.” Dana sounded a little firmer now, now that it was all out in the open.

Jean was standing at the edge of the sidewalk now, one arm still over her chest, her shoulders still hunched. Only now, the cold was beginning to reach her. “I don’t,” she said.

“What do you–”

“I don’t get your meaning. I think that’s stupid.” She knew that this counted as lashing out, probably, but at the moment she didn’t care.

“Jean, please. I can’t take this from you, too.”

“So Cassie is on my side?”

“There aren’t sides!” Dana sounded exasperated. “We’re all on the same side, Jean! That’s the whole point!”

“You’re just freaked out because you don’t feel safe!” Jean said, and then she turned away from the sidewalk, toward the lawn, because a couple of girls walking by had glanced over at the sound of her raised voice. “But you’re never going to feel safe, no matter what, so we may as well at least – ugh, hang on–” Her phone was beeping. She pulled it away, saw the incoming call from George. “I’ve got another call, Mom, I’ve got to go.”

Dana sighed. For a moment Jean thought she might explode, or just hang up or something, but she didn’t. Instead she said, “I love you, Jean. I know we don’t understand each other sometimes, but I really do love you.”

“I know,” Jean said. In her mind she added, That’s what makes everything so hard. “I love you,” she told Dana, and then she hung up, took a breath, and switched over to George. “Hey.” She hadn’t noticed how tired her voice sounded until just now, now that she was talking to a new person.

“Hi, Jean,” said George. “Are you free?”

“Free for what?”

“We were thinking hamburgers,” he replied. “Unless you’ve got Agnes with you.”

“She eats veggie burgers. And she’s not with me, anyway.”

“So you’re free for that?”

“Right now?”

“Sure, right now.”

“Sure, I’m free for it,” she said, beginning to walk in the direction of downtown. “I’m on the square.”

“Perfect,” said George. “You can meet us at Five Guys. Also, we found Pilgrim.”

“What?”

“Pilgrim,” he said. “You know, that girl everyone’s been going on about. We found her.”

“The mute girl.”

“Well, I wouldn’t assume anything–”

“The girl from the mural. With the index cards?”

“No, our other friend called Pilgrim. Sorry,” he said then, correcting himself, “John says I shouldn’t call her a ‘friend.’”

“Jesus, George!” It was just now hitting her. She couldn’t believe this wasn’t the first thing George had said when she’d picked up. Starting to speed-walk, she hissed into the phone, “Are you free for hamburgers? I mean, way to get around to it!”

“Well, I’m around to it. Are you coming?”

“Yes, I’m coming!”

She had come off as snappy, but in truth she was excited. George probably knew that, and she realized it herself as she made her way through the dry autumn-flushed colors of the square, toward the intersection that marked the edge of downtown. She hadn’t even met Pilgrim before, had only heard about her from Paul and Agnes – about what she looked like and about the cards, those index cards with all of the boys’ names on them. Pilgrim was the only other person around who seemed to know who the Beatles really were, who might even have remembered everything Jean still remembered. To come face to face, finally, with the only other person who might remember, who might have answers – Jean tried not to let herself get too hopeful, but inside her there was an inkling of hope that finally, today, some part of this might be solved.

She saw them as soon as she walked into the burger joint, all sitting together around a table at a rounded corner booth. On one of the ends was a dark-haired boy Jean didn’t recognize, and on the other, a girl whom she recognized instantly from the mural. The untamed mess of hair, the green jacket. It was Pilgrim.

“Jeanie! You made it!” Paul waved her over, grinning widely. “This is Stuart” – he pointed at the dark-haired boy, who waved at her a little awkwardly – “and that’s Pilgrim.”

“We’ve been trying to get her to crack a smile,” George said amiably.

“It’s not working,” said Ringo.

“Not yet,” added John. He leaned slightly across the table toward Pilgrim and smiled. “Right?”

The girl rolled her eyes. The look on her face was one of paramount disinterest and even little disgust.

“C’mon, Jean,” said Paul, “sit down.”

Pilgrim made no effort to make room for Jean, but Stuart scooted over a little politely, so she took a seat on the end of the booth next to him. Then she looked across the table at Pilgrim, who was watching her now with a look of expectant annoyance. The kind of look that said, Okay, so I’m here. Now what?

Jean swallowed. “Um, I’m Jean,” she said. “It’s nice to meet you.”

Pilgrim gave her a sarcastic little salute, then flicked an index card up between two fingers so that Jean could read it. PILGRIM, it said. Jean hadn’t noticed that she’d been holding it before.

“It’s a weird name, ‘Pilgrim,’” Jean said, frowning at the index card. Now that she was here, she didn’t know how to begin, so she was just going with whatever came to mind first. “Where does a name like that come from?”

“It’s Welsh,” John interjected. “Can we skip ahead to the real questions?

“It’s a perfectly real question,” Jean argued. “How many people do you know who call themselves Pilgrim?”

“You’re the only Jean I know. Doesn’t mean we have to make a whole conversation out of it.”

“Fine.” She glared at John, then turned back to face Pilgrim, who was tucking the folded index card back into the pocket of her jeans. “Okay,” she said. “I don’t really know where to start, I’ve got so many questions, but I guess – you knew who all of these guys were without ever having met them, and I did, too.” She hesitated. “Well, except for–” She turned briefly over to face Stuart. “Who are you again?”

“I’m a graffiti artist,” Stuart said plainly. “I’m here for curiosity’s sake, really, don’t mind me.”

She shook her head and turned back to Pilgrim. She didn’t have time to be curious about Stuart right now, not when Pilgrim was right in front of her. “Okay. I guess I shouldn’t assume anything, so first of all, are you willing to tell us anything at all?”

Pilgrim only shrugged. It wasn’t a yes, but Jean figured it wasn’t a no, either.

“Okay, I guess we’ll pick our questions carefully, then.”

“How’s ‘yes or no’?” Paul asked Pilgrim. “Since you’re not super talkative – would that work for you?”

She looked at him and bobbed her head very far back and then very far forward, in an exaggerated gesture of yes.

“All right, Pilgrim, yes or no,” said John, “why are you so ornery all the time?”

“Ignore him,” Jean told her. “What I really want to know is…” She swallowed. Pilgrim was watching her, waiting. “Do you remember?”

Pilgrim made no response, gave no sign of understanding. She only continued to watch her.

“You may need to clarify that one, Jean,” Paul advised her.

“The Beatles. I mean the real ones,” Jean said, lowering her voice a little. “The ones from the sixties, the ones it seems like everybody in the world except for me has forgotten. The albums, the concerts, the movies. Do you remember that? Was that all real?”

Nobody spoke as they waited for Pilgrim to answer. Jean was almost aware of her own heart beating in her ears – she hadn’t been aware how much she had been hinging on this question, and the unspoken other question that went along with it. If it wasn’t real, am I just crazy?

Pilgrim glanced away and sighed, as though the question of whether or not she remembered were severely inconveniencing her. She didn’t look as though she was going to be any help and had given no indication thus far that she ever would be, and Jean was ready to give up and move on to whatever her next question was.

But then Pilgrim looked back up at her, and their eyes locked, and the girl nodded, not sarcastically but in fact perfectly seriously, yes.

Jean felt herself exhale. She hadn’t even realized she’d been holding her breath. “Oh, my god.” She smiled, then laughed. “Oh, my god. Thank you. Two months now,” she told Pilgrim, “I’ve thought – thank you. You know the music and everything? You remember them?”

Pilgrim nodded again.

“Well, this is weird,” Ringo remarked, leaning back in his seat.

“Are there others who can remember?” Jean pressed, not looking away from Pilgrim for an instant. “Is there anyone else?”

“What about that girl you were talking to in the parking lot?” asked Paul.

“I wouldn’t say Pil here was doing any talking,” John muttered.

Jean whipped around to face them. “What girl?” she demanded.

“Right, I may have forgotten to mention this on the phone,” said George carelessly. “Pilgrim has a friend. Dark hair, very put-together–”

“And even less pleasant than Pilgrim here,” added John.

Pilgrim held up a finger for them to wait, reaching into her jacket for another index card. Then she pulled it out and held it up for them to see: JUDITH.

“Ah,” said George pleasantly. “Her name was Judith.”

Pilgrim nodded, then rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue in an expression of great disgust.

“You dislike this Judith,” Stuart noted.

She nodded yes.

“Not surprisingly!” Paul exclaimed. “Look,” he said to Jean, “the girl was awful to Pilgrim. Insulting her, threatening her–”

Pilgrim shook her head, rolled her eyes again.

“Fine, we’re all quite sure you can take care of yourself,” said John dismissively, “but this is a little beside the point. The question was, who else remembers what you and Jean remember? And incidentally, what’s with all the index cards? And can you teleport?”

Pilgrim was shaking her head, and had been for most of the time that John had been talking. She leaned over the table and pressed her forehead into her palm, as though she had a headache. With her other hand she held up a single index finger.

“One?” Jean asked. “As in only one question?”

Pilgrim nodded.

“I can’t pick one,” said John, and turned in his seat to face Paul, deferring. “You pick one.”

“George,” said Paul, “you pick one.”

“Well, I’ve always thought Ringo--”

“Shut up already,” Jean said impatiently, waving for them to be silent, “I’ll ask her.” She had almost too many questions to decide herself, but there was one that was sticking with her, and one that the boys -- who couldn’t remember anything about themselves, who didn’t know anything about before -- probably wouldn’t have thought about, or even cared about. But she did -- she more than cared about it, she saw it as essential. “Pilgrim,” she said, “is it all going to happen again the same way it did before? The way I remember it?” She meant the albums and the tours, of course, but she also meant everything -- the way the band had broken up, the way their lives had all gone.

Her head still held in one hand, Pilgrim glanced around the table at them all, her expression as passionless as ever. Her gaze lingered for just an extra split-second on Stuart and then on John, but her face was unreadable.

Then she turned back to Jean and shook her head.

Jean felt her own heart rate quicken. She had seen Pilgrim glance at John, and she knew what this meant, or at least thought she did. “So it won’t be the same?” she pressed, trying hard not to sound too eager. “There’s a chance it could all go differently this time?”

“Careful, Jean,” said John, “she might know as much as you do, you know. She could be taking us all for a ride.”

Jean knew he was wrong. Pilgrim knew what was going on, she so obviously knew. “Sure, John,” she said, hardly even listening. Pilgrim was nodding to what she had said before, about things going differently this time around.

Paul, meanwhile, looked troubled. “Anyway,” he said, “isn’t it bad if things don’t go the way they did before? Weren’t we really successful that time, or -- or something?”

Even after having known him for two months now, this still threw Jean off sometimes -- to have Paul McCartney facing her plainly, and asking her something like this. It was actually a good point, and not one that she had thought of before -- of course, this might have spoken to her own morbid preoccupations, but her first thought had been of John.

“Oh, right,” she said. “Pilgrim--”

“It doesn’t matter,” John interrupted. “Look, she clearly doesn’t want to answer all of this, and I’ve said this before, right? It’s not like someone up in the heavens wrote a script, and now we’ve all got to follow it. It doesn’t matter if we were successful before, if we were good before. We’re good now.” When none of them responded right away, he prompted them: “Yeah?”

He was right. A chorus of “yeah”s rose up in answer, followed by silence. They all looked around at each other.

“All right,” said Stuart, because somebody had the one to ask the obvious question, “if we’re not going to interrogate her, then what are we going to do with her?”

“Who says we have to do anything with her?” asked John. “She’s her own person, isn’t she?”

Pilgrim cocked her head, as if to say, He has a point.

“Of course she is,” said Paul, “but that girl Judith did say she’d been sleeping under an overpass.”

“She said she looked like she’d been sleeping under an overpass,” George corrected him.

“Well, she does, a bit,” said Stuart. “No offense, of course, Pilgrim.”

Pilgrim waved him off, if a little sarcastically.

“I feel like we can’t just abandon you,” Paul said to Pilgrim. “You know, if you’re -- if you’re homeless, or -- or something. I mean, it’s fine if you are,” he added quickly, “but we can--”

Pilgrim was already shaking her head, more vigorously this time. She started to stand up.

“Aw, don’t leave,” Paul started to protest. “I’m sorry I said you might be homeless--”

“And we’ve got more questions,” added Ringo.

“Not that she’s likely to answer any of them,” John muttered.

Pilgrim waved them off. It was the sort of gesture that seemed to tell them not to worry, to stop overreacting. She pointed to all of them, collectively, seated at the table, and then back at herself, and shook her head.

“You and us,” Jean said. “Not friends?”

Pilgrim rolled her eyes, pulled out a pen -- from her jacket? From nowhere? Jean didn’t see -- and scribbled something down on one of the napkins from the plastic dispenser, shoved it across the table toward Jean, and then turned abruptly and walked out of the restaurant without looking back. Practically as soon as she was out of the door, she was gone -- as usual, there was no tracking her down, no way of seeing which way she had gone. It was as though they had all lost sight of her for just a second, somehow, and now it was too late, there would be no finding her again.

Only then did Jean look down to see what she had written on the napkin:

NOT DONE.

 

The week passed. There were no more meetings with Pilgrim, no more index cards; apart from the mural behind the music club, none of them saw her or her likeness anywhere in town. The excitement of having finally met her in person began to fade, and was replaced, for Jean at least, by the old frustration: She had just as many questions as she’d had before, if not more. Who was Judith? Were there more of them? And what did Pilgrim think was going to be different this time around?

“All I really want to know is whether she’s magical or not,” Ringo remarked, playing cards Thursday night in the basement of Pence Library with Jean and Agnes. “I don’t understand how that isn’t everybody’s primary concern, personally.”

“Magic doesn’t exist,” said Agnes, who had opted out of the card game in favor of her laptop. The protest she was trying to organize was scheduled to happen the next day, and she was privately and constrainedly terrified that nobody was going to come.

Jean stared across the table at the young Ringo Starr, scratching the stubble on his chin while consulting his fan of cards. “I used to say the same thing,” she said dully.

“I wish I could magically make people show up tomorrow,” said Agnes. “Can that happen?”

“We’ll all be there,” Ringo told her. “So you’ve got at least, what -- five, plus you and -- what’s the other girl’s name?”

“Francine. Although she might be backing out. Francine’s a total dope,” Agnes said, not for the first time that night.

“Okay, you and Francine. Stuart said he might come. So that’s eight already!”

“Are the Tornadoes coming?” she asked hopefully.

“Um.” Ringo hesitated. “Well, Tommy is. We’re trying to get them to come around.” Seeing the look on Agnes’ face, he added quickly, “And they’re already warming up to it! So that brings you up to, you know, fifteen or twenty -- and that’s only people we know.”

This was a very generous estimate of how many Tornadoes existed, let alone how many were planning on coming to the protest, but Agnes appeared to let it slide. “Oh, God,” she moaned.

“Maybe people from class will show up!” Jean pointed out.

This actually might have been realistic. Agnes had told Professor Mickey that she was organizing the event, and to their surprise, Mickey had actually made an announcement about it to their world politics class the day before. Jean had tried to read everybody’s faces -- some people had definitely been confused, and some even a little angry, but a few had been neutral. Maybe these people were receptive to the idea, but not showing it outwardly. Who could tell?

Mickey, seemingly entirely ignorant of how her students were responding, had been very enthusiastic. “I really hope to see you all there! Not to be a boring professor or anything, but extra credit to anyone who writes a paragraph about it afterward!”

Now, in the library, Agnes buried her face in her hands. “Right, people from class. ’Cause all I need is Silas out there heckling everybody with his friends.”

“Silas wouldn’t come,” Jean said, although she wasn’t entirely sure of this. “I know he can be a dick, but he’s still your brother. Half-brother,” she amended, before Agnes had the chance to correct her.

“He might. Especially if his friends want to. I’ve just got to face it,” said Agnes. “Even if twenty people did show up, there’d be way more people counter-protesting and booing us from the sidelines.”

“You never know. Maybe they won’t care enough to boo you,” Ringo pointed out. “Maybe they’ll just ignore you.”

Agnes glared at him.

Ringo seemed to realize that this would be even worse, and quickly returned his attention to the cards in his hand. “Sorry.”

Jean sighed, looking across the table at Agnes. She wanted to say something reassuring, but she couldn’t shake the concern herself that nobody might show up. Hardly anyone had indicated any interest, and most of the people who had had been their friends. Protests hardly ever happened before -- in the couple of years following the Turningpoint Election, some of them had turned violent, and even the ones that hadn’t had resulted in little or no real change. People had all sort of come to the understanding that there was no point, nothing to be done. Jean had done all she could to help Agnes with this one -- put up posters that were later torn down, sent a text to Dana and Cassie that had gone without a response -- but she couldn’t help it. She wasn’t looking forward to tomorrow, either.

“Let’s aim for thirty,” she told Agnes. “If thirty people come, it’ll be a success.”

“They won’t.”

“We don’t know until we’re there, remember? It’ll be okay,” she told her, smiling, hoping it was true.

Agnes smiled weakly across the top of her own glowing laptop screen. “I hope so.”

 

Mae had gotten used to leaving work through the back. The campaign team for Kerry Walter was very small and had a good number of members who were young, around Mae’s age, and usually they would all leave together, walling each other in as a group. As soon as the polls had started looking close, people had begun gathering outside of Kerry’s campaign office most days, carrying signs, shouting things, getting in the face of anyone who tried going in or out. Mae wasn’t sure what it was about being in a group, because you were no less likely to get heckled or yelled at, but she somehow felt safer nonetheless knowing her friends were around her.

Or as close as she had to friends, anyway. It wasn’t that social life was a struggle for Mae, it was just that it was a bit of a backburner concern. The people she knew from the campaign – Aileen, Josh, Claire Sheridan, Mitt Greenwood – they were all nice to her, all forthcoming people, all around her age, give or take. They were familiar faces, and she knew their daily habits and the ways they dressed and talked. But she never accepted their invitations to hang out or to grab drinks after work. There were simply too many other things for her to be doing.

In these moments, though, she did appreciate them. Clustered together on the landing before the back door, about to break free, glancing around at one another, wondering who would dare to go first.

“Maybe if we waited another hour,” Mitt suggested, half-grinning, as though it were a joke. Mitt might have been the one Mae liked the most -- he was a good worker and a very good friend -- but he came from a family of weasels, she thought, and some of it had rubbed off on him.

“What a drag of an idea,” she said.

“Your laptop’s here. You’ve got something better to do?”

Outside they could hear the crowd, moving around, shouting things. It was impossible to tell from in here, through the narrow window with the blinds drawn, how big it was today.

“There’s ramen waiting for me at home,” said Mae. “Authentic chicken-flavored.”

“What a character you are.”

Aileen, in the end, was the one to make the decision. “We’re wasting time,” she said. “If we spent every day worrying about this sort of thing, we’d never get anything done.”

“If you look at the polls, we’re not getting anything done anyway,” Josh pointed out.

“Ha, ha.” Claire’s voice was flat with sarcasm, but she slipped her hand into his anyway.

“Ready?” Aileen asked them, asked all of them.

Mae swallowed, nodded. Aileen pushed open the door in one quick motion, and together as a group the four of them barreled out into the night.

The crowd was bigger than Mae had expected on a weeknight, but not the biggest they’d seen this campaign. It was hard for her to tell how far back into the street it went, but immediately it seemed like there were people all around her, thrusting signs into her face. Without realizing it she had linked arms subconsciously with Josh and Aileen, and she stiffened against the crowd and tried to focus on them, on her friends, on their shoulders pressed side-by-side into hers amidst the mob. She could tell these strangers were speaking to her, some even shouting -- she could see their lips moving, could see the veins in their necks -- but she couldn’t make out any of it, it all blurred together into one angry buzzing wall of sound. In a way this almost helped -- she didn’t need to think about what they were saying, didn’t need to get angry herself, needed only to keep walking, to keep pushing onward and through them, all the way back to her apartment, to her home.

This was what she was thinking when she heard the gunshot.

For a moment the blur was drowned out, and Mae was aware of nothing but silence -- she couldn’t process what was happening. Had that happened? Had somebody shot off a gun near here, or a firecracker? She felt her mouth fall open, her vision blur. If she just kept walking -- but she couldn’t keep walking, because Josh wasn’t moving and because Aileen seemed to be tugging her back -- tugging her down -- tugging her nowhere at all. It was only when Aileen’s arm slipped back through hers, limp, and Aileen hit the ground, that Mae realized what had happened, and she felt her throat go completely dry.

“Aileen!” The others had seen, too. “Aileen!”

She couldn’t scream. A part of her, most of her, still didn’t believe Aileen had been shot, even as people started scattering away and Aileen collapsed back onto the sidewalk, a flower of blood beginning to bloom in the middle of her starched white shirt. Aileen looked stunned -- she was trying to speak, but Mae couldn’t hear her.

“Mae,” Josh was saying, gripping at her arm, “Mae.”

“We have to help her,” Mae started to say, but then another shot sounded, ripping into her eardrums. More people screamed this time, and she followed Josh, allowing him to pull her away from the building, away through the crowd, away from Aileen still lying there on the asphalt. Claire and Mitt were with them still, and Mitt took Mae by her other arm as they ran. Mae tried to look back at one point to see Aileen, to see what had happened to her, but the crowd had already shifted into the space where they had just been, covering her from view.

 

Many hundreds of miles away, the Greyhound stopped again in Minnesota.

The boy was back tonight, sitting on the wooden bench with his legs crossed inelegantly and his guitar case leaning against the bench next to him. It was dark in the cornfields all around him, and he could see the stars spread out overhead. He didn’t know what hell was going down in the Capitol, knew only that it was time for him to leave.

The bus driver hardly slowed down, expecting to be waved away again, and had to pull to a quick stop when the boy stood up from the bench. The doors folded open, and the boy looked up from the grass and asked, “New York City?”

“Not hardly,” said the driver. “But we make stops in Dearborn, Toledo, and Cavern City. Any of those, you can connect.”

“All right,” said the boy. “Thanks.”

He climbed onto the bus, paid the driver in an assortment of twenties and fives, and made his way toward the back. He took a seat by the window, staring out at the pitch-black fields, and made to set his guitar down next to him, but a girl in a green jacket was sitting there, watching him with her hands folded neatly in her lap.

“Aw, I was gonna put my guitar down there,” the boy said.

The girl took an index card from one of the pockets of her jacket and tried handing it to him. He didn’t take it, only read what was written.

“That’s not my name,” he said.

She raised her eyebrows.

“What?” He laughed. He had a throaty voice, hoarse and friendly. “It’s not. But thanks anyway.”

Pilgrim rolled her eyes, got up, and left the bus. She had only come as a courtesy. She had better things to do, anyway.

Chapter Text

"She breaks down and cries to her husband,
'Daddy, our baby's gone,
Why would she treat us so thoughtlessly?
How could she do this to me?'"

-The Beatles, "She's Leaving Home"

 

----

 

A series of answering machine messages left later that night:

“Mae, what’s going on? We saw what happened on the news. Me, Paul, Agnes, everybody. It wasn’t someone you knew, was it? Please call me back.”

“Mitt, it’s your father. Please call me.”

“Hey, Aileen. Just making sure you’re okay. We love you, honey.”

“Mae. Where are you? Are you okay? It’s Dana. Cassie and I saw what happened, it was all over TV. Why didn’t you call us? Why didn’t Jean call us? Have you talked to Jean? Please, we’re really worried about you. Really worried. I don’t know if I can take this anymore. I just. I don’t know if I can. Please pick up the phone, Mae.”

“Hi, Agnes. It’s Sean – Sean Hathaway? You might not remember me. From our math group, earlier this semester. Anyway, I heard about that protest thing happening tomorrow and that you were putting it all together. What time does it start again?”

“Mae. It’s Cassie. I think you should talk to Dana. Or, I don’t know. Somebody should.”

“Aileen! It’s Emily! Listen, we all get that you’re brave and super cool and everything for moving to the big city and changing the world – but jeez! The anxiety is too much for us to deal with. And by ‘us’ I mean me and Marissa, since pretty much everyone else has ditched us since graduation. They haven’t shown the body on TV or anything, but it doesn’t sound good. They’re talking about riots and stuff. Hopefully you’re just back at your apartment and you’re too wrapped up in Friends reruns to even know any of this is going on, but I thought I’d call anyway. If you called all of this quits and took a redeye back to Chicago tonight, none of us would blame you. We wouldn’t even complain – hell, I’d pick you up from the airport and take you out for Steak’n’Shake. A birthday-cake milkshake, on me. Love ya.”

“Hey, Jean, it’s Mae. I’m fine. Can you drop by Dana and Cassie’s and check on them for me? Tonight, if you can. They’re not answering my calls.”

 

The protest had begun even before Jean and Agnes got there.

It was scheduled to start at ten in the morning. Agnes wanted to get there early, of course, to make sure that everything was ready.

“But eight o’clock?” Jean moaned as Agnes dragged her out of bed. Agnes didn’t have a key to her room, but Jean’s roommate, Erica, had left the door ajar when she’d gone out to take a shower.

“It’s not eight o’clock. It’s seven-twenty.”

“You say that as if it makes it better. It’s not gonna take us forty minutes to walk to the square.”

“With getting dressed and everything? You never know.”

Jean sat up at last and glared at her. “What is ‘and everything’? All I need to do is get dressed!”

“You never know,” Agnes repeated firmly. She had a thick armful of variously shaped and decorated signs with her, and she looked oddly determined, standing there in the early morning light, dutifully trying to balance them all under her arm.

Jean groaned, stood up, and walked over to her dresser.

Her secret hope was that the more annoyed she seemed on the outside, the less nervous she would feel on the inside. Annoyance suggested resilience, even indifference. Her heart was hammering and her skin felt uncomfortably cool, but she was trying to convince herself otherwise.

She got dressed, grabbed her jacket and her purse, and followed Agnes down the five flights of her dorm building. Agnes hadn’t mentioned seeing anybody outside on her way over, but then again, her way over had been at about seven in the morning. By the time they got to the square, though, it was seven-forty-five and a modest handful of people was milling around at the steps of the Graduate Building, where Agnes had told everybody to meet.

Agnes nudged Jean as soon as they noticed them. She whispered, “Do you think they’re–”

“Wait about two minutes and ask them yourself, Agnes.”

Once they got a little closer, Jean actually recognized a couple of them: a girl and two or three guys, she couldn’t remember their names, but she knew she had seen them before, sitting in a generally quiet cluster toward the back of Mickey’s politics lecture. The girl smiled nervously when she saw Jean and Agnes approaching.

“Hey,” she said, and then looked at Agnes’ armful of signs. “Looks like we’re in the right place.”

“You’re early,” said Agnes. She sounded confused and delighted.

The girl shrugged. “Better to be early than late, right?”

Agnes had been struggling to keep all of the signs together, and she tried adjusting them now, but several of them only toppled pitifully to the ground. She knelt to pick them up again, and the girl helped her, taking one sign for herself and handing a few more to the boys she had come with. This was much to the relief of Jean, who had been eying the sign situation anxiously ever since they’d left her dorm. The boys took the signs and then ambled off a few feet and started taking turns trying to skateboard down the steps in front of the Graduate Building.

“Thanks,” said Agnes to the girl.

“No problem. I don’t think we’ve really talked before,” the girl said, holding out her hand, “but I’m Sarah. I’m in–”

“Mickey’s class, yeah! I remember you.” Agnes shook her hand. She seemed nervous too, now, as if the girl’s demeanor had rubbed off on her somehow. “You’re the girl who always gets up to sharpen her pencil when Mickey tells us to talk in small groups.”

“Okay, not always.”

Agnes giggled. “Kind of always. Who even still uses those old-fashioned pencils, anyway? Don’t you have any mechanical ones?”

“The regular kind last a lot longer,” said Sarah. Her voice was defensive, but she was smiling.

“The lead is replaceable, you know!”

“Okay, okay. You’ve made your point.”

Jean had been standing awkwardly next to Agnes, watching the exchange, and she picked this moment to interject, “I’m Jean, by the way.”

“Right!” said Sarah, turning to face her. “Sorry, hi! You sit with Agnes and that other kid, the cute one–”

“Paul McCartney,” said Jean helpfully.

Sarah smiled broadly, obliviously. “Right, that’s it. When he shows up, anyway,” she added. “You’ve all become kind of truants lately.”

“I’m not a truant!” Agnes protested.

“Okay, you two, less so. But that Paul guy, it’s like he skips class more days than he makes it.”

This had become very true. Paul was still trying to be a decent student – as long as his parents were paying for school, he’d said to Jean many times now, he may as well learn something – and he still turned in his assignments, studied for tests when he had the time. But he was definitely slipping, and he’d skipped many recent lectures in favor of meeting up with John or George to practice or write songs.

“He’s in a band,” Jean explained to Sarah. “It’s sort of running away with him.”

“Band?” Sarah’s face was blank. “You mean like Orchestra?”

“No.” Agnes seemed excited, suddenly. “A real band, like they used to have in the old days. And it’s just regular fun music, too. Rock music.”

“Rock?” Sarah laughed. “The poor guy ought to start coming back to lecture. Someone’s told him by now that no one sells that stuff, right?”

“They’re going to,” Agnes insisted. “Him and these guys he plays with, they’re really good.”

“Paul McCartney,” said Sarah doubtfully. “Paul from Mickey’s lecture.”

“Yes! They’re playing tonight at the Cavern City Music Club,” said Agnes. “They’ve opened a couple of times, for Tommy and the Tornadoes mostly, but tonight’s the first one they’re headlining. You should come. You’ll see what I’m talking about.”

Sarah smiled back. “Well,” she admitted, “I guess I’m never going to believe you otherwise.”

Agnes paused for a moment and then asked, very conversationally, “So – you think he’s cute?”

“Who, Paul?” Sarah shrugged. “Sure, but – well–” She looked as though she wasn’t exactly sure how to phrase it. “He’s not exactly my type,” she said finally.

Agnes smiled. “He’s not mine, either,” she agreed.

Jean was getting the sense that this conversation could carry on very productively without her and, indeed, that it probably should. She cleared her throat politely and then said, “Speaking of Paul, I think I’d better go wake him up, just to make sure he doesn’t sleep through this whole thing.”

“Well, I wouldn’t expect him to be awake this early, anyway,” Sarah pointed out. “It’s only eight.”

Jean smiled at Sarah and then turned to Agnes. “You know, you should keep talking to Sarah,” she said pointedly. “She seems like a very reasonable person.”

 

Paul lived in Mayfield, a dorm just a few minutes’ walk past Jean’s and about fifteen minutes away from the square. It was one of the few buildings on campus that had been left alone during the renovations of the last few years, and as a result it retained a classic look that Jean much preferred over the modern blandness of her own dorm. A vine-strangled structure of charred brick, it stood sunken into the many leaf-piles that had been raked up against it.

She didn’t even have to go up to Paul’s room to find him. In the little lounge on the first floor of the building there was a single couch pushed back against one wall, and he was sleeping on it, his legs folding awkwardly over one of the armrests. George was asleep on the hard floor next to the couch with no blanket or pillow or anything, but with his eyes still and motionless and his hands folded neatly over his chest, he looked as comfortable as if he were lying on a king-sized bed.

“Oh, great,” said Jean when she walked in. “Two birds with one stone.”

Paul’s face squinched into a frown, and he opened his eyes. “Stoned?” he repeated, mumbling through his sleepiness. “Are you stoned, Jean?”

“Not hardly.”

George opened his eyes and looked up at her from the floor, his hands still folded. “Good morning,” he said pleasantly. “Did you hear back from your sister?”

They had all been watching the news together the night before, and Jean had panicked a little in her rush to call Mae. She had gotten Mae’s voicemail, though, and tried calling both Mae and her parents after she’d gotten it, but none of them had answered. It had been a long night, though, and they’d probably just all gone to sleep. After the protest was over today, Jean would go over to Dana and Cassie’s for a few hours to talk. The important thing was that they could all stop worrying, because Mae was safe.

“She’s fine, yeah,” said Jean. “Thanks for asking.” She almost said, It wasn’t her, but decided against it. Because even if it wasn’t Mae, it was someone.

“I bet a lot of people will turn up,” Paul said. “At Agnes’ protest, you know. Because that happened.”

Jean had been wondering about this, too. It wasn’t at all unusual to see violence on the news these days, and this wasn’t even the first time that someone had been killed in the midst of a pro-Truebold rally. But this was election season, and it was the first time someone had deliberately opened fire against a group of people campaigning for a different politician.

“Well, we’ll see,” she said. “There are a few people there already.” She nudged George’s leg with the toe of her shoe. “C’mon.”

The two boys got up as if with great effort and started stretching.

“Don’t act so melancholy,” said Jean crossly. “Agnes was pounding on my door a whole hour ago, you know.” Only then did it occur to her to ask, “Why were you two sleeping in the lounge, anyway?”

“Paul forgot his room key,” said George, at the same time as Paul said, “George lost my room key.”

“He’s right,” said George, “I s’pose I must have misplaced it last night when I gave it back to him, somewhere between my pocket and his hand.”

“I don’t recall that happening,” said Paul.

“Well.”

“My room’s too far, anyway,” said Paul dismissively. “We just saved ourselves some very arduous walking.”

“Your room’s on this floor.”

“But it’s all the way at the end of the hall.”

“All right, all right,” said Jean. “Either way, you’re closer to the entrance this way and you’re both already dressed, so we should probably get going.”

“The thing doesn’t start until ten,” George pointed out.

“That’s what I said,” said Jean.

They left Mayfield as a group, Paul and George tugging on their jackets against the late October chill in the air. They stopped at a bakery on campus on their way, and Jean bought a white paper bag full of muffins and croissants for them all to share on their way over.

“I bet Ringo isn’t even awake yet,” George pointed out as they left the bakery. Paul had assumed control over the bag and was rummaging through it, looking for the chocolate croissant he had asked for.

“John either,” he agreed.

“Well, it’s lucky for them they don’t live on campus,” said Jean. “Tommy and them, they all said they’d come, right?”

“Said they would,” said Paul. Successfully locating the croissant, he passed the bag over to George. “Tommy’s driving them all over around lunchtime. Ringo too, I think. Said they wanted to practice in the morning.”

“They’re probably just hung over,” George remarked, carefully selecting a lemon poppy-seed muffin and handing the bag to Jean.

“What about John?”

Paul shrugged. “Well, you know. If Mimi’ll give him a ride.” He sounded terribly unconcerned.

“She’s got to,” said Jean, indignant.

“I don’t reckon Mimi’s too much into all that protest stuff – her being an upstanding citizen and everything. But John’s smart, he can make something up. He’ll be there,” Paul assured Jean.

George stopped walking suddenly. They had just rounded the corner of Pence Library, and all at once the square was in full view – and it was completely full of people.

Jean stopped in her tracks, followed immediately by Paul. She felt her head go a little light.

People had gathered all over the square in their coats and boots, sipping coffee out of cardboard cups, talking. The area wasn’t quite overflowing, but there was a sizeable crowd there, and definitely a bigger crowd than any of them had been expecting to see.

Paul leaned back a little and stuffed both hands in his pockets. He let out a breath of air.

“Well, all right then,” he said.

Jean could feel her breath draining from her body. It was like in photographs she’d seen of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam protests in the sixties, and the early election rallies from her parents’ days, back in the 2010s. Only it was right here, in front of her. It was real. Many of them even had signs: UPHOLD DEMOCRACY, read one, and another – TRUEBOLD’S HAD HIS TURN.

“Where’s Agnes?” she heard herself ask, and then a megaphone clicked.

“Hi, everybody!”

The voice was Agnes’. She sounded about as cheerful as she always did, but her voice was lined, understandably, with a trace of nervousness. Jean looked around for a moment, trying to follow the voice to a location, until Paul nudged her and pointed: Agnes was standing on the steps of the graduate building, holding a megaphone that was practically as big as her whole head. She was grinning, and her cotton candy hair kept flipping into her face in the wind, but she made no move to brush it away; it was as though she didn’t even notice.

“I’m really happy about this turnout,” Agnes continued. “Assuming you aren’t all here to heckle me.”

“Only some of us!” someone in the crowd called out, and a few people laughed.

“My name is Agnes Ferrera,” said Agnes, “and I’m a freshman here. I’m the one who organized this” – several people cheered – “along with Francine Jenkins, who isn’t actually here right now. Um.” She cleared her throat into the megaphone by accident, then reached up finally, embarrassed, and tucked her hair back behind her ear. It was getting a little longer these days, starting to grow out of its pixie cut. She looked like she wasn’t sure how to continue.

“You’ve got it, Agnes,” Jean whispered, far back at the fringe of the crowd with Paul and George, “you’ve got it.”

Agnes looked up at the waiting crowd and started again.

“I’m pretty young. I’m the same age as, or younger than, most of the people here. Political protests haven’t really been a thing during my lifetime – people don’t want to do them because they’re scared of one thing or another, or because they think they’re pointless. Some people even think protesting is treasonous. I was raised in a household where having different ideas meant undermining America, even though I thought having different ideas was what made America great in the first place.”

Several people in the crowd were nodding; a few made mutters of agreement.

“But this year,” Agnes continued, “I think I’ve seen this country undermined a few too many times. We have all our music being censored by the government. We have a president trying to claim a third term without saying why – a president, in other words, transitioning into the role of a dictator.”

A silence fell over them all after she said this, and Jean felt her heart begin to pound. She could practically hear it. Agnes had just denounced President Truebold, publicly – she’d compared him to a dictator – on a megaphone, even! She could be arrested. Maybe they all could – Jean realized suddenly, her thoughts turning over madly in her head, that she didn’t know any of the city’s rules when it came to public protesting. But her thoughts were on Agnes – Agnes, who on top of everything was known among her friends to be gay. What if something happened? What if someone were here right now, watching her, profiling her?

But Agnes kept talking. “Within the past few months alone, Kerry Walter and her supporters have been threatened, teased, harassed, and insulted on a regular basis. Last night, that harassment turned explicitly violent with the murder of Aileen Montgomery, which I’m guessing is the reason why many of you are here. We need to stand up, in the name of Aileen and in the name of America, and set a precedent for more protests to come. We need to shield ourselves from censorship, if just for today, and put an end to the hateful circus of exclusionism that has taken over our community.”

“Hateful circus.” Paul nudged Jean. “Wonder where she got that one.”

Jean gave a half-smile and looked around at the people gathered here on the square, many of whom were nodding vaguely. How many of them had been in the circus that had come here that day? How many had taken part?

“I know there are some adults here who have probably been to protests before,” said Agnes, “and I’m so thankful to all of them for being here.”

Someone in the crowd let out a joyful whoop of appreciation, and a few people laughed. Jean looked in the direction of the whoop and couldn’t help but smile when she saw Mickey, her professor, holding her sign up high in the air and grinning. KICK HIM OUT ALREADY, her sign read. Seeing it sent a fresh, warm wave of confidence through Jean, and apparently also through Agnes, who continued talking with a new smile on her face.

“But for those of you closer to my age,” she said, “it might seem weird for me to be up here saying all of this. Or even scary.”

She took in a deep breath – Jean could even hear it through the microphone. She leveled them all with her stare and smiled.

“But I’m not scared,” she said, “because I know the things that I believe, and I believe them without any reservation, not even reservation for fear. And you all don’t have to be with me on that. But I hope you are.”

Jean yelled out in agreement at that, and she wasn’t the only one. The crowd was cheering, finally, and waving their signs – practically all of them. Jean even recognized some of them as the ones Agnes had been struggling to carry across campus that morning. And the people were all shouting out in appreciation, their faces flushed, arms straining under their signs.

Agnes had done it. The whole thing was in motion.

Jean had never really been sure how protests were supposed to work – after all, she’d never been to one – but Agnes must have known, or else she was good at figuring it out intuitively. She started a series of chants that the crowd of people quickly began echoing, and after a while, she announced that she was opening up the microphone so that other people could come up and talk about what they were thinking. Once someone else was talking, Jean tried pushing her way toward the front of the crowd to talk to Agnes, to congratulate her – but once she got close, she saw that Agnes was already talking animatedly to the girl they had met earlier that morning, Sarah. Jean smiled and turned back. She didn’t want to interrupt.

Once she got back to where she had been standing with Paul and George, she saw that Ringo had joined them, along with a man Jean was sure she recognized, but couldn’t come up with a name for.

“Hey,” she said slowly, after she’d finished hugging Ringo. She was looking at the other guy, and it was coming back to her. “You’re the guy from the music club! The one who always lets us sneak in through the back!”

“Harry,” he reminded her. “And you’re Jean.”

She blushed. “I’ll remember next time,” she promised.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Harry in a tone of mock offense. “I know we must all look the same to you people.”

“Oh, come on.”

“I’m kidding,” he said, smiling. She smiled back.

“So, what about the Tornadoes?” Paul was asking Ringo. “Didn’t feel like coming?”

“A couple of them were here, I’m not sure where they went. Tommy couldn’t make it,” said Ringo. “Brian, you know, the bass player, gave me a ride – and then I ran into Harry here on the way in!”

“I’m sure glad I ran into someone,” Harry remarked. “I was ready to come here all by myself.”

“You’ll have to tell Agnes,” Jean told him. “That’ll make her day.”

“I’m pretty sure her day’s already made,” said Harry, looking around at the crowd that surrounded him. A girl Jean didn’t recognize had taken over the microphone and was standing in front of the Graduate Building, talking about the Constitution.

“Yeah,” George agreed, “this place really filled up.”

Jean opened her mouth to reply, but before she could get the chance, she felt a hand on her shoulder. John was there, quite suddenly, breaking through the crowd of people and panting as he finally stopped in front of them, with one hand on Jean’s shoulder and one on George’s.

“Hello!” he exclaimed. “I haven’t missed much, have I?”

“John! You came!” Jean felt her face break into a grin without her meaning it to. She was warming to John lately, and starting to forget whatever it was that had made her so hesitant around him in the first place.

“’Course I came.”

“How did you get here?”

“It’s this mythical thing,” said John, “called a taxi.”

“Right.” Jean blushed.

She couldn’t believe it – John was here, and all of the other Beatles, even Harry from the music club. And Mickey, of course – and Sarah – and so many other people too, strangers, all here, all supporting the resistance to Truebold, supporting Agnes. Jean’s heart swelled with the thought of it.

Their attention soon landed back on the girl speaking at the Graduate Building, who handed the microphone off a few minutes later to a boy waiting in line. The event quickly fell into a rhythm – people kept handing off the microphone, taking turns telling stories and leading chants, and people in the crowd came and gone and lifted their signs and cheered and chanted along. A lot of them were taking photographs and videos with their phones. They went all the way until Agnes’s planned ending time with no trouble – the police showed up at one point, and Jean kept expecting them to step in and break everything up, but they didn’t do anything other than stand there. At one moment, out of the corner of her eye, Jean saw a figure standing far off at the opposite end of the square – instantly, she knew it was Pilgrim – and the girl was not a part of the protest, wasn’t holding a sign, wasn’t smiling. But she was there. Jean blinked, the crowd shifted, and she was gone as usual. It was as though she had never been there in the first place – but of course, Jean thought, she had.

 

None of them knew how or why it happened, but when they got to the Cavern City Music Club later that night, the place was packed. Jean didn’t know if it was the result of energy brimming over from the rally, or the turnout of random fellow protestors they had mentioned the show to throughout the day. Or maybe rumors had simply spread after the success of their last show with the Tornadoes. Maybe it was some combination of the three.

Whatever the reason, they got to the music club and could barely fit inside for the number of people there. The tables and chairs had even been cleared away from the main area, leaving behind what now looked like a dance floor. Jean couldn’t believe it. The music club managers were really putting their faith in The Beatles if they had any idea that their music could get people to try out dancing – although maybe they had simply needed to move the tables, in order to make room for all of the people.

“Look at this!” exclaimed Paul, as soon as they got inside.

John squinted around the club, feigning bafflement. “Look at what?”

“Oh, shut up.”

Jean could practically feel her heart humming. She hardly ever found herself in crowds, and this was already her second one today. It was strange seeing so many other people from Cavern all around her at the same time, students and couples, all grinning, all buzzing with anticipation. For a moment, almost out of nowhere, she felt more joined with the rest of the city than she ever had before.

The boys headed to the back to start setting everything up, and Jean and Agnes hung out near the stage with Harry, who was wearing his black CCMC tee shirt. Agnes kept glancing around the club and trying to act casual about it.

“Looking for someone?” Jean teased her.

“Wouldn’t you?” replied Agnes. She wasn’t frowning exactly, but her forehead right above her eyebrows was tightened into a thin, flat line.

“Did you guys get to talk a lot more?” Jean asked. “Earlier, I mean.”

Agnes shrugged. “Not too much, before I started – you know–”

“Preaching to the masses?” Jean suggested.

Agnes pursed her lips. “Right. But she seems nice. She’s from California.”

“Oh.” Jean wasn’t sure how to react. “Wow.”

California had been on shaky terms with the rest of the country for longer than Jean had been alive. Of course, Truebold had had everybody laying down the law a lot harder over there since the last failed secession, but rumor had it that there were still movements of rebellion circulating secretly out west, churning unseen out where the deserts bent to meet the ocean. It was hard to get in or out of California these days, and Jean didn’t meet a lot of people who were from there. In this part of the country, nobody did.

Agnes stiffened suddenly, and Jean followed her gaze to see the blonde girl, Sarah, walking inside the music club. Sarah looked around with wide eyes as she slowed to a stop near the doorway, as though whatever all of this was, it wasn’t what she had been expecting.

“Go get her,” said Jean.

“You’re not–?”

“I’ll be fine,” she said. “I’ve got Harry!”

“You’ve got me?” Harry asked her, and then he turned back to face Agnes and grinned. “She’s got me,” he agreed.

Agnes smiled. “Okay,” she said, and she moved away from them and into the crowd, in Sarah’s direction.

Harry looked a little puzzled, watching her go. “Hey,” he said, lowering his voice and leaning a little closer toward Jean. “Is she…” He trailed off.

“What?” asked Jean.

He smiled. “Never mind,” he said, and if he had been about to say anything else, he didn’t get the chance. A moment later, the lights dimmed, and the music club manager came out onto the stage with a microphone.

“All right,” he said. “I’d just like to welcome everyone here to the Cavern City Music Club. We’ve got a great show for you all tonight – the Beatles are here–”

Almost instantly the crowd erupted with cheers and applause, drowning him out completely. Jean and Harry exchanged a glance in surprise – clearly, more people here recognized the band than either of them had expected. For a moment Jean wanted to ask, ridiculously, if they had all suddenly remembered what she already knew – Hey, she wanted to say to Harry, how lucky were we to catch them the second time around? – but she bit her tongue and held it in.

“All right,” the music club manager said again. His face was a little flushed, and he was beaming. “It seems like you’re ready to hear them. I won’t waste any more time up here – please welcome the Beatles!”

He left the stage, clapping a couple of the boys on the back as they jogged out from the sidelines to take over. Ringo took his place behind the drums, and John, Paul, and George joined him in front of three separate microphones, each one of them holding a guitar.

“Hello there,” said George into his microphone, adjusting it a little with one of his hands. A few people from the crowd shouted “hello” back to him.

“There are so many more of you here than last time,” Paul told the crowd brightly, which sent a bubble of laughter rippling through them.

“It’s all Ringo,” John explained.

“They can’t get enough of me!” shouted Ringo from back behind the drum set.

“I don’t blame them,” said Paul, and then he and John exchanged a glance.

They looked over at George, who nodded and giggled a little nervously before focusing his attention on his guitar. Jean was used to seeing this by now – the way George was all collected when he played his guitar, calm without being totally serious, the way he was attentive to it, respectful of it.

Then George struck the first chord, and launched into a song that sounded like Chuck Berry. It was odd – a few months ago, Jean would never have known a Chuck Berry song when she’d heard it, but the boys had days when it was practically all they listened to. Paul sang the lead:

“Oh Maybellene – why can’t you be true – you done started doing the things you used to do!”

He was the best singer out of all of them, Jean thought. Of course, they were all good – although she hadn’t heard Ringo sing anything yet – but she liked the way Paul’s voice got thick with emotion, the way he screamed into the microphone. He looked so unthreatening on the outside, so friendly and thin, and yet he could open up his mouth and sing like a giant.

They went through a long series of songs that Jean knew by now, all covers – Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis. Jean had never seen such a wild crowd. The music club was packed to capacity, and it seemed to her that hardly anyone in the whole room sat down all night. Jean danced with everyone around her – with Harry for a lot of the night, with a few of the Tornadoes who were around to see the show, with Agnes and Sarah a couple of times when she ran into them. She jumped and kicked and let people twirl her around, and twirled other people around herself. She completely lost track of time; the music club had given the Beatles a bigger slot this time around, and they played more songs than she could keep track of.

It was at the very end of their set, once they had already played pretty much everything, that they stopped to introduce themselves. Jean was standing in a group in the middle of the crowd by then, with Agnes, Sarah, and Harry.

“We’d like to do one last song tonight,” Paul said into the microphone, after introductions had been made.

The crowd floundered a little in disappointment; Jean caught a few awws.

“Oh, it’s all right! It’s a good one!” John told them, laughing.

“This is a song we wrote,” Paul said. “None of the other ones were, but this one is – so let us know what you think – and, uh–”

“And don’t forget,” John cut in, “I’m John Lennon, this is Paul McCartney, that’s George Harrison over there on lead guitar, Ringo Starr on drums – and we’re the Beatles!”

Jean felt her heart kick a little inside of her. A new song? A song they’d written! She craned her neck to see the stage over the shadows of the moving crowd.

Paul shouted out: “One, two, three, FOUR!”

Jean felt a hand clap to her mouth as the music started. “Oh my god, no way!” she shouted out, but her voice was inaudible over the crowd and the music. She knew what the song was going to be, even before Paul started singing. How could she not have known it? How could anybody here not know it?

“Well, she was just seventeen!"

Jean felt a tide of some foreign emotion rise up in her heart, and without any warning or precedent she suddenly felt like she might cry, her spirit was so close to bursting. Agnes was grinning at her, asking something – “Are you okay?” She was laughing. They both were. Yes, Jean was okay, she was so okay. Jean sang along to the song as Paul sang it, and she could tell Agnes was watching her as her lips moved in time to the lyrics: No, I’ll never dance with another – since I saw her standing there!

“Have you heard this song before?” Agnes asked her, giggling, over the blast of the speakers.

“In another lifetime,” Jean cried. “In another lifetime!”

 

In the very back of the room of dancing people stood a man with dark skin and pale hair, wearing a modest but respectable suit. He wasn’t dancing – not because he disliked dancing, but because doing it in public made him feel awkward and obvious. It was better not to risk it.

The boys were British, then – he hadn’t realized. They sounded like they were from one of the smaller port cities, Liverpool or somewhere like that. When they’d first started talking, his nostalgia for home had won out and he’d thought, Oh, all right, I’ll give them a chance – for England’s sake only.

But they’d been terrific. He didn’t think he was able to believe it, and yet here they were. The one bit of resignation he’d been able to cling to throughout the set was that they were only playing covers, but here they were now, playing an original, and even this was terrific. The amount of spirit there – the passion, the love for what they were doing – was inescapable. Everybody in the crowd was picking it up.

Brian Epstein included.

He had to pick them up, he decided. Before anybody else did. Not that there would be a ton of competition out there, the music industry these days being what it was. But these boys had to go further than local, their music had to be spread. Especially in these discouraging days – who wouldn’t need them, who wouldn’t benefit from something like this? Brian wasn’t in the business of taking charge of bands, he didn’t do anything more than sell old CDs – but if no one else around was going to manage this band, this band, then for God’s sake, he’d do it.

That dumb redheaded kid had been right.

 

“Look what you’ve done now,” Judith told Eric as they walked side-by-side down Bangor Street, arms crossed, figures hunched in the late-night gloom.

“I’m glad for it,” Eric insisted. He had been beaming like an idiot all night long.

You won’t be for long, Judith wanted to say, but didn’t.

 

When the show was finally over, Brian Epstein struggled to make his way through the crowd and up toward the stage while the mass of people flooded past him and spilled out onto the street outside. Among them were Jean, Agnes, and Sarah, who congregated on the street corner at the intersection just outside the music club. Harry had stayed behind to direct people away from the backstage area, where he’d said the boys were likely to be swamped.

“Well?” Agnes was grinning at Jean.

“That was amazing.” Jean was breathless. She didn’t want to say too much in front of Sarah – since the whole I-remember-the-Beatles-from-another-lifetime thing wasn’t the greatest way to make a first impression on everybody she met – but she tried censoring the appropriate thoughts for Agnes. “I couldn’t believe they did that last song.”

“You did seem pretty wowed,” said Agnes.

“Had you heard it before?” Sarah asked her. “You looked like you were singing along.”

Jean hesitated. “I, uh – I’m friends with them. So I’ve heard them practice it before. Anyway,” she added quickly, returning her attention to Agnes to avoid too much more questioning, “it was amazing, seeing them all together as a band – since, you know, uh, I’ve only heard them play separately before. I think my mom would’ve loved it.”

This had occurred to her during the show, when they’d started doing “I Saw Her Standing There.” Normally Cassie was the big Beatles fan between her parents, but “I Saw Her Standing There” was one of Dana’s favorite songs of all time – which was weird, Jean had often thought, because it was so peppy and fun, and Dana could be so restrained. It had shot a bolt of sadness through her, wishing so badly that Dana could experience this, yet knowing she wouldn’t recognize it even if she heard it.

As soon as she mentioned her aloud, she thought of both of her parents and remembered: Mae’s voicemail from that morning. Can you drop by Dana and Cassie’s and check on them for me?

“Shit,” she said.

Sarah was staring at her with a look of puzzlement. “Did you say your mom would’ve loved–”

“Yeah, uh, big rock’n’roll fan,” Jean said distractedly. “Listen, I forgot, I told my sister I’d drop by my mo – my parents’ house,” she corrected herself, looking again at Agnes. “I should go, but will you tell them all I loved it if you see them?”

“I’ll tell them,” said Agnes.

“Thanks.” Jean grinned. She wished she could have stayed around to see what else the night had in store – the boys would probably go out dancing somewhere, and maybe she could get Harry to come along with them – but it wouldn’t have been fair to Mae. She waved goodbye to Agnes and Sarah, then rounded a corner and, by a stroke of pure luck, was able to flag down a cab.

Now that her parents lived in Cavern, it didn’t take long to get to their apartment. The cabdriver dropped Jean off outside, and she hurried up the steps and thumbed the doorbell, hoping it wasn’t too late at night. They never minded if she woke them up at ridiculous hours – Cassie was often up strangely late or strangely early anyway, and even Dana would never hesitate to counter Jean’s fears of intrusion. You’re our daughter, she’d once said, you can wake us up anytime, anywhere. Besides, if I could wake up for you ten times a night when you were a baby, I can certainly wake up for you now.

But this time, nobody answered. Jean paced a little on the narrow landing in front of the steps before ringing the doorbell again. No lights flickered on behind the curtain-drawn windows, no footsteps came approaching from down the hall.

Probably the doorbell itself was broken. It was a new apartment, after all – Jean didn’t know what was around here that still needed fixing. She rapped her knuckles sharply against the wood and called hesitantly through the door, “Is anyone home?”

She tried calling Cassie, but the phone rang a few times with no answer. Cassie didn’t always answer the phone anyway. She called Dana, who always answered the phone, without fail, but this time it didn’t even ring. An automated message sounded in Jean’s ear.

The number had been disconnected.

The surface of Jean’s skin was starting to feel cold. Anxiety rose in her like a sickness, but she forced it gently back down. What would Dana do right now? Dana would say, There must be an explanation.

“There must be an explanation,” Jean whispered.

She tried the doorknob, and to her surprise, it was unlocked. It swung open easily, before she could even think about what she was doing.

The apartment was empty.

She made her way in, still holding her phone down at her side. The place was completely quiet, and in the darkness everything still looked the way she remembered it from the last time she’d had dinner here: the bookshelves, the furniture. She made her way down the hallway, toward her parents’ room.

“Dana? Cassie?”

She wanted to call Mae, but she didn’t. She could call her in a minute, once she knew what was going on.

She was ready to knock on the door of her parents’ room, but when she got to it at the end of the hallway, she found it already open. She took one step inside, then another. It was very dark, but she could already tell it was empty. She looked around, and that was when she saw the drawers of both her parents’ dressers sitting wide open. All of the clothes inside were gone.

Chapter Text

"We're trying to sell peace, like a product, you know, and sell it like people sell soap or soft drinks. And it's the only way to get people aware that peace is possible, and it isn't just inevitable to have violence. Not just war -- all forms of violence. People just accept it ... [but] We're all responsible for everything that goes on, you know, we're all responsible for Biafra and Hitler and everything. So we're just saying "SELL PEACE" -- anybody interested in peace just stick it in the window. It's simple but it lets somebody else know that you want peace too, because you feel alone if you're the only one thinking "wouldn't it be nice if there was peace and nobody was getting killed." So advertise yourself that you're for peace if you believe in it."

-John Lennon, interview with The David Frost Show, June 14th, 1969

 

----

 

Jean didn’t know what she was doing. Her thoughts were nowhere – her mind was bobbing back and forth without them, a heavy disc ratcheting in her head. She left her parents’ room and checked the bathroom, checked her own room, both untouched since the last time she’d seen them. She didn’t know what she was doing when she stumbled back to the living room, to the kitchen, and rummaged through the tax bills and documents that had been left as a mess everywhere. The only thing she was thinking was that surely, if they were gone, they must have left a note. They must have.

But they hadn’t. There was nothing.

She took out her phone – her instinct, of course, was to call them – and then put it away. She had called them, only a few minutes ago. She put one hand on the dining room table and gripped it hard as a black tide of nausea rose in her stomach.

Maybe the trash can, she thought. She stepped on the pedal, the lid popped up, and there it was – a note. Or what looked like a note. It had been haphazardly crossed out, like an idea that had been later reconsidered, but she could read what was underneath.

 

Jean and Mae–
The two of us have done a lot of talking. We love you so, so, so

 

And that was it.

That was all.

She felt something brimming in her chest and in her head, something thick and red and hot. She folded the note in half and squeezed it tightly in her fist, so tightly that her nails bit into the skin of her palm. Then she stuffed it into her pocket, walked unsteadily to the front door of the apartment, and shut it hard behind her.

Her head was buzzing and empty. She walked down the sidewalk away from her parents’ apartment, and her steps grew faster and harder as she went. She knew she ought to call somebody, a friend, and several names shot through her head – Agnes, Paul, Harry, George – but she couldn’t attach faces to any of them. The only faces in her head, the only real voices, were Dana’s and Cassie’s and Mae’s. Everything else seemed like second-rate fiction.

She stalked out of her parents’ new neighborhood in Cavern, the neighborhood she and Paul and George had helped them move into only a few weeks ago, and kept walking until she had left the cramped houses and apartment complexes behind her and reached a park at the edge of a shallow patch of woods. Her head blared more with every step she took. The park was deserted at this hour of the night, and she was so filled with fury and confusion and desperation at that moment that she couldn’t have said why she stormed across the cracked asphalt of the parking lot and stopped walking and shouted one word and that word was PILGRIM.

Nor why the instant she spoke the word, the girl was standing there.

Still as a rock, at the other end of the parking lot. Staring at her.

The look in Pilgrim’s eyes was unbelievably hard. More than hard, it was serious: something Jean wasn’t used to seeing from Pilgrim. Ordinarily she looked heavily irritated and sometimes tired, but never this collected, never this grave. Her eyes were sharp and unblinking. Her hair, ordinarily a wild dust-cloud around her head, was pulled back into a neat ponytail. For once she looked perfectly awake, perfectly ready, and her gaze leveled with Jean’s in a way that sent fear rolling in cold furls down Jean’s neck.

Don’t be afraid, she told herself. It’s just Pilgrim.

But who was Pilgrim? Just what?

Jean was breathing hard. It was the only sound in the night, apart from the occasional blurred rush of a car in the distance.

“I want answers,” she said. “No more beating around the bush. You need to tell me what’s going on.”

Pilgrim sighed; in a gesture that almost looked rueful, she reached back and tightened her ponytail. Then she looked back up at Jean, and she nodded.

 

Jean didn’t call Agnes or any of the Beatles. At that moment, oddly, she didn’t care about them. Her parents were missing. They’d packed up and run away without even leaving her a note. She didn’t care at this moment about Paul McCartney or John Lennon or whatever weird curse had made the rest of the world forget about them. All she wanted was for Pilgrim to hand her an index card that read DANA AND CASSIE CARLISLE, and for her parents to appear right there, as though summoned, and hug her and tell her it had all been a dream. But even as she sat down across from Pilgrim, she knew that that wasn’t how this conversation was going to go.

They were sitting at the Five-n-Diner, the only quiet place around here that was open this late at night. Jean had come here before for late-night fries and milkshakes after parties and shows at the music club. Now, she faced Pilgrim across a red Formica table in the corner and tried to figure out what to say. She’d borrowed a pen from one of the waiters and given it to Pilgrim so that she could write on napkins.

“Okay,” said Jean. “What are you, first of all? Because I don’t think you’re human.” It was a strange accusation, but she didn’t care. She was tired, and she was done with not saying things outright.

Pilgrim stared at her for a minute, as though she were trying to decide what path to take here. Then she raised her eyebrows briefly as if to say, I should hope not, and picked up the pen. She hesitated just a moment longer over the napkin and then wrote:

FATE.

“Fate?” Jean frowned. “You can’t be. I know you’re not, like, Fate itself.”

Pilgrim shook her head, added an “A” in front of the word. A FATE.

“Like the Greek Fates? From mythology?”

Pilgrim shook her head again, more adamantly this time.

NOT A HUMAN LEGEND. NO GOOD WORD FOR IT. JUST A FATE.

She seemed like wanted to move on from the definition, so Jean asked, “That Judith girl. Is she a Fate, too?”

Pilgrim nodded yes.

“Are there any others?”

Pilgrim hesitated here, and a look passed through her eyes that Jean didn’t know how to interpret. She tilted her head from side to side, as if to say, It’s complicated, and then shook her head no.

“I don’t believe you,” said Jean. “You looked like you were about to say yes.”

Pilgrim bit her lip, let it go, and wrote: ONLY ONE.

“One more?” asked Jean. “Who are they? Why haven’t we met them?”

Pilgrim picked a new napkin off the stack, wrote OFFLIMITS in big capital letters, and then set that napkin aside, as though she might need it again later.

Jean sighed. “Okay,” she said. “So, the Beatles. Coming back from the dead, coming back out of time. How did that happen?”

Pilgrim looked at her in confusion, as if to say, You haven’t figured that out yet? Then she pointed to herself with a jerk of her thumb.

“You brought them back,” said Jean blankly.

Pilgrim nodded.

“Why?”

This was where things started to look more difficult for Pilgrim. She leaned back in the booth and gestured at nothing, as though trying to explain something that could never be explained. For the first time, Jean caught a flash of real emotion in her eyes, just for a second. It looked almost like desperation.

Then she wrote:

ANGRY @ JUDITH. WANTED TO TRY

A long pause. Her pen motionless over the napkin.

TO HELP.

And then:

NEVER DONE IT BEFORE.

“Never done what?” asked Jean. “Brought back the dead?”

Pilgrim shook her head and pointed at the word HELP.

“Oh,” said Jean softly. “Got it.”

THOUGHT PEOPLE NEEDED TO COME TOGETHER OVER SOMETHING. EVEN JUST ONE THING. IT WASN’T MY PLACE. DANGEROUS & AGAINST THE RULES & JUDITH MAY KILL ME I DON’T KNOW. BUT

Another pause. Pilgrim shook her head and kept writing.

SHE CAN’T STOP ME. FUCK IT AT THIS POINT YOU KNOW? I JUST NEED TO SEE IF IT CAN WORK.

“Um,” said Jean. “Why were you mad at Judith?”

I’M ALWAYS MAD AT JUDITH.

“Okay, sure, but you’re not always wiping the world’s memory and bringing pop rock bands back out of history.”

Pilgrim shrugged, ripped a new napkin off the stack.

TRUEBOLD.

Jean frowned down at the napkin. It hadn’t escaped her, the weird parallels between Jim Truebold’s reelection campaign and the Beatles’ reappearance – that these two huge things were both happening at the same time, that one was tearing people apart, while the other was – what? Bringing people together? So far, the only people the Beatles had done anything to bring together had been maybe a few concert-goers within the city of Cavern.

“You can’t tell me Judith is responsible for–”

She stopped mid-sentence, because Pilgrim was already writing again.

SHE ISN’T

Pilgrim exhaled sharply, as though trying to work through a difficult problem. Then she crossed out the words “SHE ISN’T” violently and wrote: WE BOTH ARE.

Jean had no idea what to say. Even barring the fact that Pilgrim and Judith didn’t exactly seem like collaborative spirits, she didn’t know how to react to the idea of Pilgrim being involved in Truebold’s success somehow. She may have brought the Beatles back, sure. But did that make her exactly a friend?

WE DIDN’T DO ANYTHING, Pilgrim wrote then. WE NEVER DO. THAT’S THE DEAL. BUT I’M JUST

She shook her head.

SICK OF IT. I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE. She straightened up a bit after writing that and rolled her eyes at herself – looking, for a moment, like her cynical self again. I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW STUPID

She crossed it out.

WE JUST GOT INTO AN ARGUMENT.

“So, what,” said Jean, “she backed up Jim Truebold and you were all, ‘Fine, I’m bringing back the Beatles’?”

Pilgrim shook her head. Jean could tell from her expression that it was hopeless – there was no way she was going to be able to explain everything that she wanted to. Thankfully for Jean, she kept writing anyway.

DIDN’T BACK HIM UP. ANYWAY THE PROBLEM ISN’T TRUEBOLD IN THE FIRST PLACE, IT’S EVERYONE, IT’S EVERYWHERE. LIKE IN THE CIRCUS. She shook her head again. I CAN’T EXPLAIN IT ANYMORE.

She set the pen down on the table.

“Okay,” said Jean. Her thoughts were racing. “Okay.” Even if Pilgrim was done talking about this, she still wanted her to explain more – but what could she even ask? It was like going to a math teacher and having them ask what your question was, when your question is simply How do I do everything?

“Wait,” she said. “Pilgrim. Why can’t you talk?”

Pilgrim’s gaze was cold again – already she was receding into the impenetrable shell of irritation that she normally occupied. She pointed at the earlier napkin, still sitting there, that read OFFLIMITS.

“Okay,” said Jean. “But why are you telling me all of this, suddenly? Why now?”

Pilgrim stared at her for a second, then reluctantly picked up the pen again.

YOU ASKED.

“I asked before.”

Pilgrim tilted her head. And Jean thought of the parking lot where she’d closed her eyes and shouted Pilgrim’s name, and she thought: Oh.

Pilgrim hadn’t told her earlier because she wouldn’t have believed any of this earlier. But this time Jean hadn’t simply happened upon her; she had called her forward with a purpose, she had practically summoned her. Not even practically, Jean realized – it was what she had done.

“Okay, one last question. That’s it,” she said. “My parents. They’ve gone off somewhere. Do you know where they went? Or why? Or when they’re coming back, or how I can contact them, or – or anything?” She tried not to sound too helpless, but at this point that would have been impossible.

Pilgrim fixed her with a look that could almost have been construed as sympathy. Almost.

Then she wrote: THEY’RE SAFE. BUT YOU WON’T SEE THEM AGAIN FOR A WHILE. THAT’S ALL I KNOW.

Jean stared down at the words, waiting for their meaning to really reach her. It didn’t. She shook her head and looked back up at Pilgrim. “There has to be something I can do,” she said. “There has to be.”

Pilgrim reached into one of her jacket pockets. She rummaged around a bit and then she pulled out the cards, of course, just as Jean had thought she would. DANA CARLISLE and CASSIE CARLISLE. It all seemed almost too ridiculous to be true.

Pilgrim pushed the cards across the table to Jean, and Jean understood: It wasn’t help, wasn’t anything too substantial, it was only an offer. Carry them with you, and maybe they’ll find their way back to you.

Jean took the offer. She would have taken anything. She grabbed the cards, read them over a few times, and then folded them along their creases and slipped them carefully into the pocket of her jeans.

When she looked up again, Pilgrim was already out of the booth, walking away across the diner. She checked her watch as she pushed open the door – Jean hadn’t noticed her having a watch – and then she was gone, out into the night, almost as though she had somewhere to be.

 

Pilgrim was kicking herself all the way across town. She knew she had told Jean too much. Anything, of course, was too much. And she’d given her those cards – but then again, recently it felt like Pilgrim had been handing out cards left and right. John, Paul, Ringo, Stuart – she was beginning to lose track of who had theirs and who didn’t.

Not that she cared anyway, she reminded herself.

The cards were more than pieces of paper. They were responsibility. Pilgrim had known about responsibility, once, and maybe back then she’d given a damn or two. Not anymore. She’d keep emptying the jacket until there was nothing but thread left in its pockets.

She stalked off downtown in the direction of John Lennon’s neighborhood. She was already running late, but she felt like walking anyway – an old habit for her, a human habit. Walking was burdensome and time-consuming, but it didn’t tire her out as easily as her other ways of getting around did, and it was good for when she needed to think through a problem. Like now.

None of this was anything that she hadn’t anticipated, of course. Except for that last conversation with Jean. That whole encounter had been a fuck-it-all sort of approach, even for Pilgrim, and that had been her approach to everything these days. Making acquaintances. Introducing herself to people – to people, as if she were going to just casually get along with them.

And, of course, resurrecting the Beatles.

She was sick of the plan, sick of awful and twisted things happening just because they had to. Who said they had to? If she had the power to stop them, then she might as well try.

She turned onto the street she had been heading for, and saw them: two figures, female, walking together along the sidewalk.

She was just starting to walk faster when suddenly somebody grabbed her jacket collar from behind.

The person jerked her roughly back, and she nearly fell over. She shoved her assaulter away from her and spun around. Of course: there stood Judith in her black coat, fists clenched, glaring at her. Pilgrim glared back.

Of course, she thought, you beat me here.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” said Judith.

Pilgrim gestured angrily back at Judith, reminding her that she wasn’t supposed to be here, either.

“I came,” said Judith tersely, “to make sure you didn’t show up and wreck everything.”

This was all wrong. Judith was the one who was about to wreck everything. Not her.

“This is the way it has to be,” said Judith firmly. “You know what our job is. We let things run their course, right? We bear witness.” She paused. “Anyway, you drew this lot yourself when you decided to let the past show up at the present’s door and repeat itself. If you want everything to happen again, it’s going to happen again.”

Pilgrim shook her head. She started to turn, to catch up to the two women walking up ahead – they were getting ready to cross the street – but Judith grabbed her by the arm and gripped it, hard. Pilgrim was good at slipping away from most people, but not from Judith.

There must have been something in her eyes that made her look as desperate as she felt, because Judith softened a little when she looked at her again. “Look at you,” she said quietly. “They’re turning you human again. They’re making you soft.” For a moment something almost like compassion flickered across her face, but then it was gone, as quickly as it had come.

Pilgrim shook her head, her lips clamped together and her face pinched to keep from crying. Her head was hot and feverish; she felt like she was going to vomit.

Up ahead, one of the women was starting to cross the road. She was skipping up ahead of the other one, laughing about something–

“Poor emotionless Pilgrim,” Judith murmured in her ear. She was holding her with both hands now, and Pilgrim was struggling uselessly to break free, even though she already knew how this was going to end. “You stone-faced teenage idiot.” Then she said, in a voice that sounded a lot more grounded and genuine “You know this doesn’t bring me any pleasure.”

It was bitter and true. Judith was cold and cruel and careless, but she wasn’t downright evil. She was doing what she had to do – what she thought she had to do. Just like Pilgrim.

“Better get back to yourself, Pil,” Judith was saying. “You used to know better. I’m trying to help you. I just don’t want you to end up like Cass. I know you don’t believe I mean it when I say that, but it’s true.”

The headlights appeared as they had both known they would, and up ahead, the car came. It came very quickly. Then it was all over.

 

Nobody saw or heard from John for four days. Ringo was the one to find out what had happened, flipping through the obituaries in the Cavern City Times. They all took a cab over to his house together, deciding without needing to talk about it that the bus would attract too much attention. There were cars parked out front along the sidewalk and people moving silently around, talking in whispers, all of them dressed in black. Hardly anything was said all day, by any of them. Nobody knew what to say, and their voices hurt too much when they tried.

A few nights later, John showed up at Paul’s dorm. His face was hard and unmoving. He said, “You said your mum died a few years back?”

Paul’s throat was full. He nodded.

They never ended up going up to Paul’s room. They stayed out on the stoop in front of the dorm until morning.

Chapter Text

"Oh who did you meet, my blue-eyed son?
And who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman, her body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded in hatred
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall."
-Bob Dylan, "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall"

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For the entire group of them, everything seemed to move in slow motion for a while. Weeks passed. John drew back into himself for a while, and when he finally emerged, he seemed more hardheaded, skeptical of everybody around him and easily angered. The one person he consistently didn’t seem to mind being around was Paul, which made sense, when the rest of them thought about it.

Meanwhile, more and more people were coming to their shows at the music club, and Brian Epstein, some record-seller guy who’d approached them after that last show, was trying fruitlessly to hook The Beatles up with some sort of producer so that they could try making an album. So far nobody wanted a rock ‘n’ roll group, which was to be expected.

They heard nothing from Pilgrim or Judith for a while, although they did meet somebody new. After one show at the music club, a group of them went outside – George, Harry, Agnes and Sarah – and found a guy leaning back against Stuart’s old mural in the alley beside the building. He was a kid like them, barely eighteen or nineteen. He was thin with scruffy-looking brown hair and was smoking a cigarette, a battered guitar case leaning up against the brick wall next to him.

“Hi there,” said Harry.

“Came out for some fresh air?” the boy asked. His voice was scratchy and amiable.

“Yeah.”

He lifted the cigarette briefly. “Sorry to be clogging it up for you.”

George was staring at the boy intensely. “Don’t worry about it,” he said in practically a whisper. He folded his arms over his chest and then unfolded them, peering at the stranger all the while. “Do I know you from somewhere?”

“Y’ever been to Minnesota?”

“No.”

“Then I can’t say you do. I’ve never been to England myself, either, although I’d like to someday.” The boy went on, “Did you know they’ve got just about the oldest folk songs in the world over there? In England and Scotland and Ireland and all of those places?”

“You look so familiar,” said George.

Sarah looked at Agnes, trying to exchange a clueless glance, but Agnes was watching George with a focused frown of puzzlement. She exchanged it with Harry instead.

The stranger grinned easily. “Maybe we met in another life,” he said then with a shrug.

George didn’t laugh. “What’s your name?” he asked.

“That’s been a matter of some dispute lately, if you can believe it.” He smiled then and said, “Bobby. Although I’ve been thinking about changing it to just Bob.”

George shook his head and frowned – there was something about this, he could tell, that just wasn’t sinking in for him.

Did you know,” the guy went on, “there’s this girl who’s been pestering me about it lately. Can’t seem to give it a rest.”

“Girl?” said Agnes. “What girl?”

“Oh, you know,” said Bobby, and then he glanced around aimlessly until his gaze landed on the larger-than-life mural painted right behind him. He giggled, then turned back to face them. “What’re your names, anyway?”

“I’m Agnes Ferrera,” said Agnes. “This is Sarah Parkinson, and Harry – um, Harry–”

“Meltzer,” Harry said, smiling, and shook Bobby’s hand. Glancing back at Agnes, he added in a tone of feigned hurt, “And I thought we were starting to become friends.”

“Oh, whatever.”

“I’m George,” said George to Bobby. “Harrison. It’s nice to meet you.”

They shook hands. Looking into this kid’s eyes, George knew there was something there that he was missing. He’d seen this guy before, he was sure of it, and yet he couldn’t place it.

Then they let go of each other’s hands, and the feeling was gone.

“You’re the one who was playing guitar tonight,” said Bobby.

“Well, three of us were playing guitar,” said George, smiling.

“Sure. You were the best, though, I thought.” He didn’t look like he was trying to flatter him, only like he was saying what he thought.

“I’ll tell John you said that.” George gestured to the guitar case. “Do you play?”

“Yeah. I’m not so into rock ‘n’ roll yet, though. I’m a folksinger,” Bobby said with a touch of unmistakable pride.

“A folksinger?” George repeated. “And what sorts of folks do you sing about, then?”

Bobby laughed. “Oh, all sorts! I’d sing about me, I’d sing about you. I’d sing about people I’ve never met before and only heard stories about and I’d sing about people I’ve only met in dreams and other lifetimes.”

“What’s all this stuff about other lifetimes?” asked Agnes suspiciously.

“I’m a dreamer, I guess,” Bobby said. He’d come to the end of his cigarette, and he flicked the stubby end of it to the ground. “I’d better be on my way,” he said.

“Are you from around here?” asked Sarah.

“No, just passing through. I’m on my way to New York City. Gonna knock ’em right off their feet,” he added.

George felt himself smiling. “What makes you so sure about that?”

He shrugged again. “I keep running into all sorts of angry people,” he said. “I never would’ve believed people could get so angry. And they’ve knocked me off my own feet a few times, so I feel like it only makes sense.” His face broke into another grin. “My turn’s comin’. I can feel it, sure as anything.”

“Well, I don’t know, but I hear you about the angry people,” Agnes muttered.

“Has that circus come through here yet?” Bobby asked curiously, crossing his arms. “If it hasn’t, you folks are in for some kind of treat.”

“It has,” said Agnes tiredly. “George here nearly got himself stabbed.”

Sarah’s jaw dropped open. “What?”

“She exaggerates,” George said quickly, and conjured up a smile that was almost convincing. “A fellow was going to teach me how to sword-swallow. It was all very benign.”

“They’ve been making their rounds all over the Midwest, it seems,” Bobby remarked. “Made the mistake of stopping by one myself, back in Wisconsin. I should’ve known better, I always thought circuses were weird.”

“What happened?” asked Harry.

“Guy came up, asked me who I was voting for. I said, ‘Why, you gonna shoot me?’ He pulled out a gun–” He bent over then, laughing as though he’d just told a terrific joke. “I mean, I just can’t believe that. What were the odds he actually had a gun? I mean, where’d he even get that? Why’d he bring it in the first place?” He shook his head. “Anyway, I ran. That was the last time I went to one of those things.”

“Jesus,” said Sarah. She was frowning and looked stunned. “I had some friends who tried to get me to go to that. Sounds like I didn’t miss anything too fun.”

“I’ll say,” said Harry.

Bobby ground the ashes of his cigarette into the ground under his scratched-up shoe. He looked like he was about to leave when the back door to the alley swung open and Ringo wandered out, followed by Jean, Paul, and John.

“Hullo there,” said Ringo, and waved at the stranger as the door swung shut behind John.

Jean stopped a foot away from the doorway and froze. Sarah and Harry didn’t seem to notice at first, but George did, and he could tell that Agnes did, too – in fact she’d been watching Jean as soon as the door had opened, waiting to see how she would react to seeing this man.

She went pale right away and stopped walking, cocking her head to one side. “Come on,” she said to Bobby. “You, too?”

“Me too what?”

“Why don’t we just make a party out of it at this point? Round up the whole gang?” She sounded endlessly exasperated, and she looked up at the mural of the green-jacketed girl on the brick wall and shouted, “Come on, Pilgrim, call up everybody! Don’t forget Janis Joplin and the fricking Beach Boys!”

Bobby looked from Jean to George. “Is she all right?” he asked.

George ignored him. “Jean,” he asked, “what’s going on? Who is it?”

“You mean what is it?” Bobby corrected him knowledgeably.

“No, dumbass,” said Agnes. “He’s talking about you.”

“I already told you. I’m Bobby. Or maybe Bob.”

“Definitely Bob.” Jean shook her head, then looked over at Sarah and Harry, as though just now remembering that they were there. They were both staring at her with a mixture of concern and confusion. “You guys should clear out, okay? We’ll find you inside.”

“Absolutely not,” Harry began, but Paul was already pulling the back door open again and pointedly ushering them through it. Sarah looked bewildered, but allowed herself to be shepherded back inside the music club, and after receiving a few meaningful glances from a few of them, Harry reluctantly followed her in. “You’re explaining this to me later in detail, Jean Carlisle!” he called, right before the door closed shut behind him.

Only now that they were gone did George realize that Jean was staring at him. There was a sort of horrified clarity beginning to form in her eyes. “Wait a moment,” she said. “George. Tell me you recognize this guy.”

George frowned. Why him? Why not any of the others? “I thought I did,” he said, “at first. But now – I don’t know.” He shook his head. “No. I don’t.”

When she spoke, her voice sounded practically pleading. “You have posters of him on your wall.”

“That’s a little strange, friend,” said Bobby affably, clapping George’s shoulder.

“For Christ’s sake,” said Jean, “that’s the only reason I even know what he looks like. It’s Bob Dylan.”

“Hey,” said Bobby, “I kind of like that. Did you come up with that?”

“You can keep it,” Jean snarled at him. “It suits you.”

“Wait a second,” said Agnes. She was staring at the ground, and she spoke so slowly that at first none of them heard her.

“Could someone explain to me what all’s going on?” asked Bobby. “I wouldn’t want to put anybody out or anything, but as long as it’s me we’re talking about, I think I’ve got a right to know.”

“We have to go to George’s house,” said Jean. “I know those posters were there. They can’t just be gone.”

“Wait,” said Agnes again. She spoke no more loudly this time, but a little more decisively, enough that they all turned to look at her. She was staring at the ground with an intense focus, as though struggling not to let go of a certain thought. Her lips were moving in a whisper, and after a moment of silence they were able to make it out:

“Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me…”

Jean’s eyes widened, just as Agnes looked up.

“Bob Dylan,” said Agnes then, and her voice was quiet but firm. “I remember.”

 

None of them were quiet sure how to proceed, so they did the first thing Jean could think of: They took the bus to George’s house. Agnes sat dumbfounded the whole way over in the seat across from Jean; she kept repeating snippets of the same few songs to her and asking, “That was Bob Dylan, right?” – as though convinced she’d mixed him up with some other famous musician.

“It’s a weird feeling, right?” Jean asked dryly.

“This is so cool,” Agnes whispered. “I mean I still don’t remember the Beatles, I don’t think, but it feels like I’m kind of in on something now.”

“How is it you suddenly remember? You, and none of the others?” She wasn’t asking Agnes directly so much as she was just wondering it out loud.

Agnes shrugged. “Spending so much time around you?” she guessed, and grinned. “Maybe I’ve caught a bit of whatever you have.”

She was joking, but Jean didn’t laugh. It wasn’t the silliest idea – and it wouldn’t have been the most nonsensical thing to happen within the last few months.

They reached George’s house and went up to his room to investigate. All of the Bob Dylan posters were gone, but there were still no blank spaces on the wall; they’d just been replaced by posters of Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder. Only then did Jean realized how relieved she was that there were still posters up on his wall at all – if all of the others had been gone in addition to the Dylan ones, she might have gone into full panic mode.

“Yes,” said George in a convinced-sounding tone. “This is how it’s always looked.”

“You’ve got a good collection,” said Bob Dylan, surveying the poster-decked walls. “Although I’m a big Woody Guthrie fan, myself.”

“I dunno if he would’ve fit,” John muttered.

The room wasn’t big enough for all of them to stand around in, so they filed back out of the house and spent the rest of the night wandering around downtown Cavern. It was a fun night because Bob was fun, and they got to know him a little. There were a lot of things to be confused about, but they of all people had plenty of practice in putting aside confusing things in favor of having fun.

At one point they ended up at Wrigley Park, a small grassy plot of land with just enough room for a playground and a baseball diamond, and Agnes and Paul got everybody into a baseball game using a fallen tree branch and a beat-up tennis ball they’d found in the bushes. After a while, tired, Jean left the diamond and made her way to the swing set, where she kicked back and forth idly until Bob came over to join her.

“So,” he said, “you’re the big prophet, huh?” He sat down on the swing next to hers.

“Ugh,” she said. “Don’t call me that.”

“You got a cigarette?”

“No. Smoking kills,” she added.

“Does it really? Hey, you really think I’m gonna be famous?” he asked eagerly.

She leaned back far in her swing, grasping onto the chains so that she didn’t fall off, and closed her eyes. “I couldn’t really care either way,” she said. “I don’t remember signing up to be everybody’s goddamn fortune teller.”

“Take it easy,” said Bob. “I don’t know how often these English guys pester you about it, but I only just met you and in my opinion you’re being kind of rude.” He spoke in quick, full sentences whenever a real thought occurred to him, as though he needed to trail it closely in order to make sure it didn’t get away.

Jean knew he was right. “Sorry,” she said. “Yes. I do think you’re going to be famous.”

“Not with these guys, though? I’m not a Beatle too?”

She scoffed. “No.”

“Well, that’s good,” he remarked. “I liked them and everything, but I sort of prefer doing my own thing, I think.” He waited a moment and then asked, laughing as he said it, “So are you gonna talk about it or what?”

She looked at him. “Talk about what?”

“Whatever’s on your mind. I don’t think I did anything.” It somehow sounded self-conscious and accusatory at the same time.

“You didn’t.” She sighed. “It’s that girl Pilgrim – I don’t know if you knew that was her name, but you know who she is. The girl from the mural, the one who was asking you about your name or whatever.”

“Pilgrim,” he repeated. “Cool name.”

“Well, she’s not a very cool person,” said Jean huffily. “She’s the one who threw me – threw all of us – into this whole confusing situation, and she just keeps making it more and more confusing and hardly explaining any of it. And it’s like I’m supposed to just go along and trust her and expect her to be the good guy, when really I’m not sure that she’s the good guy or the bad guy at all. She let my parents leave, and she won’t tell me where they are. For God’s sake, she let John’s mom die. I haven’t seen her since that happened.” She stopped; the more she talked about it, the angrier she felt, so she shut up and glared down at the mulch.

Bob sat next to her in silence for a while. They watched the baseball diamond, where Ringo and George had started racing back and forth across the pitch-black field under the moonlight. George won the race, and Paul whooped from the sidelines, “That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, look at them go!”

“I don’t know if it’s her fault either way,” said Bob. “She probably doesn’t know what she’s doing any more than the rest of us do. She’s just got more of a peek behind the curtain, so to speak. Life’s always been shitty – people die every year from the dumbest things, people tear each other apart from the head down and from the feet up and from the inside out, they rip each other’s hearts out at circuses. I’d seen people doing stuff like that long before I ever knew there was a girl in a green jacket out there hiding index cards up her sleeve. We’re not gonna get anywhere by cussing out this Fate girl or whoever she is, or wondering why crazy stuff happens. All we can do is try to help, however we can as just people.”

Jean didn’t know what to say to that. For a long time she said nothing, watching the dissipated baseball game without really watching it – thinking, getting close to something…

“That’s it,” she whispered.

“Come again?” said Bob mildly.

“People. That’s why she brought them back – they’re people. There’s a chance–” She shook her head. Her heart was pounding. “It sounds stupid, but I think there’s a chance they can try to bring people together just by playing music. Pilgrim can’t do anything herself, she needs us to do it for her. To make people listen – I mean, music is love, it’s confidence, it’s adventure. It’s fun. With all the new censorship laws, people aren’t getting any of that. But if that sort of thing can’t unite people, then what can?”

“So, what?” said Bob. “You’re gonna spread their love to the whole wide world? What radio’s even gonna play them? It’ll be against the law.”

“What radio’s gonna play you?” Jean shot back.

He didn’t look ruffled. “I’ll figure it out.”

“Well, we’ll figure it out, too,” she said staunchly.

Bob smiled. “Okay,” he said. “Good luck saving the world using rock ‘n’ roll and all.” He scratched the toes of his shoes in the mulch until he slowed to a halt, then hopped off the swing. “I’d better be getting on to New York City.”

“You’re not staying?” She was surprised at how disappointed she felt, even though she’d only just met him that night.

“No, I’ve got my own things to get to out there. But I’ll see you again, I’m sure.” He grinned. “Y’know, once we’re all rich and famous.”

“You all, sure,” said Jean. “I don’t know about me.”

“Oh, I don’t know, I think you’ll be fine.” He tipped an imaginary cap at her. “See you the next time around, Jean.”

“See you.”

She watched him retreat across the field and back into the scattered late-night lights of downtown, which quickly swallowed him whole.
After a moment Paul, George, and Ringo came jogging across the baseball diamond toward her, with Agnes and John trailing behind. “What gives?” called George, sounding disappointed. “He left?”

“’Fraid so.” She waved him off, pretending she hadn’t felt exactly the same way, and told him what Bob had told her. “He’ll be back, don’t worry.”

“He was quite the guy,” said John, looking admiringly in the direction in which Bob had disappeared. Like George, he’d taken to Bob a particularly great deal in the last few hours. “I’d be surprised if we’d seen the last of him.”

“You two have a good chat?” Paul asked Jean.

She nodded. “In fact,” she said, “I’ve got an idea.”

She reached into her back pocket for her phone. She was going to help, that was her idea – in whatever way she could, as just a person. She was going to call Brian Epstein and tell him that she would do anything she could, whatever was necessary, in order to make sure that the Beatles were a success as that as many people as possible would someday hear their music. And if all went well, that someday would be soon.

When she took out her phone, she could barely believe it.

Brian Epstein was calling her. She laughed.

“What is it?” asked Agnes.

“Nothing. Never mind.” She picked up. “Hi, Brian?”

“Hello,” he said. He sounded polite and nervous and very British, the way he’d always sounded on the few occasions she’d spoken with him. “Listen, are you with the boys?”

“Yes."

“I’ve got good news,” he said, and then amended: “Well, great news, actually. I do believe I’ve found you all a producer. He’s got a studio about an hour outside of town. Wants to bring the boys in to make an album.”

“Really?” Jean pressed the phone more tightly against her ear, and felt her face break into a grin. “That’s terrific!”

Ringo nudged her and whispered, “What is it?”

“Yeah, what is it, Jean?” echoed John.

She ignored them and asked Brian, “When does he want to do it?”

“As soon as possible. He said he’s got open studio time this Thursday. I wouldn’t pass this up if I were them,” he added. “In fact I already told Mr. Martin – that’s his name – I already told him they accepted.”

“Oh, they accept, all right,” said Jean assuredly. “They’re nodding at me right now.”

Paul opened his hands to her in a gesture of bewilderment.

“Yeah, Jean,” whispered John, and mimicked the same gesture.

“Very well. I’ll call again tomorrow to work out the details and that sort of thing. I’m very tired tonight as it is,” he added haltingly. “It’s a great victory for all of us, of course, but I’ll be getting to sleep now.”

“Right. Yes. We’ll talk to you tomorrow, Brian.” Then she hung up and looked around at all of them, unable to keep the grin from spreading freely across her face.

“What was that exactly, Jean?” asked George.

“Yes, Jean,” said John. “What was that exactly?”

“That was Mr. Epstein,” she said.

“We’d gotten that far,” said Agnes.

“Right. Sorry.” All disappointment at Bob Dylan’s departure was now completely forgotten. She felt excitement swelling up in her heart as she looked around at all of them, the same way it always did when she knew some great new chapter in the Beatles’ lives – in all of their lives – was just about to begin. Everything may have still been confusing, and she may have still been mad at Pilgrim (wherever she was hiding these days), but maybe she could forget that for just a night after all. She swallowed the joy down for just a moment longer and said, “How would you guys like to make your first album?”