They arrived on the island in the middle of the night, and it was another hour before the taxi driver found the house near Puerto de la Cruz that Klaus and Astrid had described in their letters. None of them recalled the last time they had slept, but George had only to see the sports car standing outside for him to fall in love and beg Klaus to be allowed to drive it. They took off and then Ringo succumbed to exhaustion and fell asleep. Which left Paul finding himself alone with Astrid Kirchherr for the first time ever.
She looked different. Her blonde hair was long now, and she wore a pastel coloured summer dress instead of the sleek black jeans and sweaters that had been her trademark look in Hamburg. For a second, it occured to him how weird it was that she used to wear black all the time when Stuart was alive, only for her to stop doing so now, but that was a stupid thought. It wasn't as if she was a widow, was it?
Still, Stu was the reason why he didn't quite know what to say to her. What was there to say? "I wish I hadn't been so hard on your boyfriend?" That wasn't true. George Martin would have never given them the time of the day if Stu had still been in the band. There wouldn't have been any singles, and there'd be no album now. They'd brought two copies along for Klaus and Astrid, because Paul hadn't been sure the album would be released outside of Britain, and there it was, lying next to the record player Klaus had brought from Germany: number 1 now in Britain, just before they left, and he still couldn't quite believe it, even though he'd hoped for it to happen so much that he'd have even prayed if he hadn't given up on all that after his mother died. And it wouldn't have happened if Stu had still been with them, dragging them down with his mediocre bass playing. So how could he be sorry for pushing and pushing for Stu to leave?
He was sorry Stu was dead, of course. He hadn't wanted that to happen; never that, just for Stu to be far away from John - from the band. And Stu had been. Had decided to go back to being a painter and remain with Astrid in Hamburg. Happy endings all around, until Astrid told them the news of Stu's death, and Paul, never short of words, had felt utterly lacking in anything sensible to say, just as he did now.
"You all look like something the cat dragged in," Astrid said in her slow, accented English that made her sound a bit like Marlene Dietrich. She frowned. "He has not been feeding you well, your new manager?"
"Nah, we're just dead tired, is all," Paul replied with a smile, inwardly grateful she'd taken the initiative and reminded of Klaus saying that Astrid was the existentialist version of the motherliest mother who ever mothered. "There's been one tour after another and then the album, but it's nothing like old Kochschmider and the Indra, you know. Eppy's been great. He was the one to say we should all go on holidays now."
Which had been necessary, true enough. Paul loved being on tour, he loved the studio, and now that press interviews and radio appearances were coming in thanks to the ever industrious Brian Epstein, he found he enjoyed them, too, but all the same, at this point he was really looking forward to two blessed weeks just lazing it out in the sun. That's why he'd jumped on the casual reference in a letter from Germany that Klaus Voorman was housesitting his parents' new vacational abode in Teneriffe. He'd immediately written back in a way that left Klaus, generous soul that he was, with no choice but to invite the lot of them.
"I'm glad," Astrid said, and sounded as if she meant it. In fact, she'd never given Paul reason to assume she resented their success now that Stu was dead, or that she held him giving Stu a hard time against him. That she wondered sometimes why he was alive instead of Stu, unlike - but Paul wasn't thinking about that. John had been drunk and on pills when he said that, that was all.
"How's Muttchen doing," he asked Astrid, "and Horst?"
Muttchen , otherwise known as Rosa the restroom lady, had been his favourite person in Hamburg. She'd reminded him of his aunts, in the no nonsense, brisk way she dealt with drunks, pimps, whores, love lorn students and seamen looking for a brawl alike, never letting what was literally the shittiest job in Hamburg get her under, and she'd liked him, too, letting him and Dot stay at her houseboat when Dot came to visit. As for Horst, they probably owed the bouncer their lives once or twice. Horst had a reputation on the Reeperbahn; he'd ended his boxing career because he'd killed a man once, and nobody messed with someone he'd taken under his protection.
"I don't know," Astrid said, sounding somewhat surprised about his question. "I haven't seen them again for - I don't go to the Reeperbahn now."
For some reason it had never hit Paul the way it did now: the social divide between their German friends. On the one hand, there were Astrid, Klaus and Jürgen, not only students but children of grand families, with parents who could provide you with flats in Paris or houses in Teneriffe. If they'd been English, they'd been as far above them in terms of class, as, say, Mr. Brian Epstein. On the other, there were Muttchen and Horst who were on the Reeperbahn not for entertainment but because they worked there, and who probably wouldn't have been likely to interact with the likes of Klaus and Astrid at all if not for the Exis taking a fancy to the Beatles.
Figures John would end up close to Astrid and Klaus, not Muttchen and Horst, an exhausted, irritated and somewhat spiteful part of Paul thought. Figures he'd be the one to end up close to Brian Epstein.
"You could say hello now and then, could you?" Paul said before he could stop himself. "They always had time for you."
Astrid looked at him, and the candles she and Klaus had decorated the house with were flickering down, leaving her face in far too many shadows. He shouldn't have snapped at her, he thought, ashamed. She probably didn't go to the Reeperbahn because she didn't want to remember her and Stu there, and at any rate, you liked whom you liked. He was about to apologize when she asked, out of nowhere: "Why didn't John come with you?"
It was then that he remembered what being photographed by Astrid had felt like. It had been flattering at first; how could it not have been, with a pretty girl pointing her camera at you, even if it was clear from the get go that she fancied Stu, and after him probably liked George best, and then John. But after a while, and especially once she actually showed them some of her photos, it felt like she'd made them into characters in a play she was creating, and you couldn't be sure whether she was wrong or right in what she thought you were like, and whether she saw too much or too little of what went on with you. He'd posed less for her than any of the others because while this intrigued him, it also made him profoundly uneasy.
"Well, someone's getting free holidays in Barcelona," Paul said as nonchalant as possible. "I told him he was missing out the black sand. There's black sand here in Teneriffe, right? I really want to see that. It sounds so cool."
Unfortunately, Astrid wasn't the easily distracted type. "Barcelona?"
"Eppy invited him along. Our manager, you know. We don't have the money to pay for trips like that yet, but don't worry, we will. Did you know you can earn money with writing songs, not just playing them? I didn't, but they told us we'll get our own firm for song rights, Eppy and George Martin. That's our producer. He's dead posh, but a good bloke, and really keen on more records. We did this one in a day, did I tell you that?"
"Barcelona," Astrid repeated, as if he hadn't spoken. Fuck it, Paul thought, and decided he was too tired to put up more effort.
"Yeah," he admitted gloomily: "Barcelona."
He fished out a cigarette from his pockets and, remembering his manners, offered it to her, while already searching for another. He really needed a smoke right now. She accepted, but unfortunately his lighter didn't work, so they had to use one of the candles, and then it turned out he'd given her the last cigarette he had because things had been too hectic to buy new ones at the airport. This really wasn't his day, or night, for being smooth. Astrid inhaled deeply, regarded him and then said thoughtfully:
"I've been there."
Of course she had. He remembered the villa her parents lived in. She probably had seen every larger continental city at least twice.
"It is fascinating to visit," Astrid said, dragging the syllables out in Marlene fashion, fas-ci-na-ting, "but not to stay for long." She handed him the cigarette, and he took a puff, then returned it to her. "Too... what is the word? Too much repression. Oppression?"
This was not what he'd expected to hear, in any sense. "You don't say," he commented, feeling awkward, uncouth, petty and relieved at the same time.
"It is a fascist regime, Spain," Astrid said. "You live in fear all the time for thinking and feeling what you do. You can't speak out. I don't think John would like that. To live in this way."
He hadn't thought about General Franco and what kind of political system Spain had, but it figured Astrid would have. Still, Paul doubted that she was actually referring to John's passion for free speech right now as she shared her cigarette with him once again.
"Well," he said slowly, "who'd want to live like that, really? But I guess a lot of people don't have a choice about it. So you wonder, sometimes. What it's like. I'm sure John does."
"Teneriffe belongs to Spain as well," Astrid observed. "So you don't have to wonder. You're right in the middle of it."
"Maybe I am," he conceded and decided this was enough double talk at three in the morning, or was it four by now? He didn't even know whether he was just imagining things. It could very well be that Astrid didn't mean anything but what she said. That she was talking about living under a dictatorship and not - and not.
"One in four men is homosexual," the beat poet they'd backed up for some performances in Liverpool had told them last year, "that's what science has found out." They'd looked at each other and joked around, because what else could you do, being four? You couldn't seriously wonder. Except that of course you did. Especially once you acquired a new manager who was, unquestioningly and without the shadow of a doubt, homosexual.
"I'm beat," he said, meaning he was too tired to continue the conversation, but Astrid, whose vocabulary of English expanded and shrank at the oddest times, misunderstood and stubbed out the last of their cigarette.
"Not everything is about competition and losing, Paul," she said in a low voice.
Or maybe she understood all too well. That was the thing with Astrid. You never could be sure.
"I'm sorry," he said abruptly. "About..."
Stu dying, he meant to say, being a bastard sometimes, being jealous and petty instead of being cheerful and generous like the man he wanted to be, the man he had most people convinced he was. Most people, but not Stu's girl who was also the Hamburg which shaped them given female and beguiling form. Existentialist mother indeed.
He didn't say any of it. It just wasn't his way.
"...us worrying you and Klaus by arriving late. We just couldn't find the right way, you know. Sometimes you can't. In the dark. But then you get there."
The corners of her mouth quirked. "Indeed you do," she said, with a nod towards the open window, and only then did he realise the rumbling noise outside coming closer were the muffled engines of Klaus' car, which probably meant he and George were returning. Paul frowned.
"George is driving without lights," he said, grateful to be distracted by a concern that had nothing whatsoever to do with Barcelona, John, Stu, Brian Epstein, or himself.
"I suppose he thought we were already sleeping and didn't want to wake us up", Astrid suggested. "Those car lights are very bright."
"It's risky to drive like that. He could crash and break his neck," Paul said. "He shouldn't drive at all at his age."
Astrid raised her eyebrows. "I thought you were the same age. He says he's only nine months younger, Georgie. And you are under age as well, are you not?"
"Not for much longer," Paul retorted and caught himself yawning. He'd tell George to be more careful another time, he decided. Maybe he could still catch some sleep before the sun went up. "Twenty -one in June, and it'll be the party of the year, I promise. You're invited, if you can make it to England."
The door opened. Klaus and George tiptoed back into the house, realised Paul and Astrid were still awake and joined them.
"Klaus says we'll see the black sand tomorrow," George said excitedly. "I'm bringing some back for John. I bet he'll kick himself for going to Barcelona instead."
Out of the corner of his eyes, Paul observed Astrid giving him a wry smile.
"I don't know," he said slowly. "Barcelona sounds pretty cool, too. For a visit. And then it's road dust again for the four of us anyway."
"Good old English dirt," George agreed, and chatted with Klaus and Astrid some more while Paul finally let exhaustion and darkness catch up with him.