George pushed the drapes away from the window, looking down on the group of press and fans that eagerly waited for the beloved band to depart from their hotel. The glass fogged when his breath blew against it in a sigh. Another day of interviews and a conference and then off to another city. What fun.
He pressed his forehead against the chilly window. As much as he loved being in the group, he really wished for more days off.
"George, aren't you going to eat?"
He turned his head to their manager, standing at the table and already dressed and groomed, as the rest of the boys shuffled through the hotel suite. They all looked exhausted; hair ruffled, pajamas still on, eyes half-closed. Brian looked at them with mild sympathy. He knew that they had been overworked and that their energy was slipping as the week went on.
George followed them to the table, where breakfast was laid out.
"What are we doing today again?" John asked as he took his seat.
"Press conference in three hours, an interview with a magazine at 5, and then we're leaving at 8 if we can make it out that early," Brian said.
They wrinkled their noses in disgust. The conference was bound to take up most of their day and by the time they could escape the crowded hotel, they would probably be rushed off to the interview with little time to rest.
"I know," Brian said. "You don't enjoy any of that, but after the conference you can come back here and have a kip."
"And how long is the conference going to be?" Paul asked, mouth full of cereal.
"I'll try to get it short as possible, but I can't make any promises."
George looked down at his bowl of cornflakes, stirring it around with a pout on his face.
"Look up boys." Brian patted George's shoulder before stepping away. "Only a few more days and we're back home."
It did nothing to cheer George up, only make him - and, he assumed, the other three - long for the end of the week even more.
"I was talking to a bird last night," John mumbled once Brian was out of the room. "She told me there was going to be a crowd at a club downtown tonight."
"When?" Ringo asked, ready to make plans that didn't involve reporters or cameras.
"It starts at 7," John mumbled. "Lasts until after we're out of town."
They all slumped further in their chairs.
"Why tell us that?" Paul said, scowling. "You got our hopes up."
"I didn't want to be alone in my misery."
"I wish we could skip at least the interview," George mumbled.
John stared at him. He lowered his spoon and eyed George hard. George furrowed his eyebrows.
"Why don't we?" John asked. "We've done enough for everyone, might as well get some time for us in before we leave."
"How're we going to skip an interview? Eppy would throw a fit," Paul asked.
"Well, how would you skip school as a kid?" John said. "We'll just pretend we're too sick to leave the room after the conference. Eppy will cancel the interview, and we'll sneak out later."
"But we're leaving tonight," Ringo said. "We have that dumb performance across this country tomorrow evening. We'll still have to be on the plane at eight."
John rolled his eyes, evidently upset that the others weren't catching onto his full plan. "Not if we're sick enough. C'mon, Eppy felt bad enough about getting us in so late last night, he's not gonna pass up on a chance to let us lay in."
"But how are we gonna convince him we're all sick?" George asked. "What if he calls a doctor and finds out we're faking? And won't it be suspicious all of us get mysteriously sick?"
John leaned back in his chair, eyes glazing over as he thought.
"Give him a minute," Paul said, spooning more cereal in his mouth.
The other boys finished their breakfast and John's went soggy as they waited for the guitarist to speak up. He continued to sit as they tidied up, arms crossed, one leg balanced across the knee of the other. His eyes never lost the watery look, and his body never budged until he finally opened his mouth.
"Not all of us have to be sick. What does it take for Eppy to cancel something?" John asked.
"If it's short notice and nothing else can be arranged," Paul said from the sink. "He always tries working something out - he says sometimes half of the Beatles are better than one, but sometimes four is what they want."
"Usually can't split us up, kicking and screaming," Ringo said.
"Exactly. We're always passing colds onto one another anyways." John stood and walked to stand between George and Paul. "So if this radio is wanting an interview from all us and half us can't be there while the others refuse, they'll just cancel."
"And who'll be the sick ones?" Ringo asked.
John put his arms around Paul and George. "I'm thinking the kids."
Paul rolled his eyes. "Why us?"
"Because I've seen Mal practically eat out of George's hand before. He won't let anything happen to our youngest. And Paul is the cute one, if a radio doesn't have him, they won't see the point."
"Thanks," George mumbled sarcastically.
John shrugged. "And Ringo and I will refuse to go anywhere without you two."
The four of them exchanged a contemplative look.
"It wouldn't hurt for us to have a night off," Ringo said.
Paul pressed his lips together. "It's still lying - to Brian."
"I'm not happy about lying either, but it'll be a nice break, don't you think?" John said.
"Let us think about it," George said.
Brian and Mal stood outside the door of the boys' dressing room, waiting to hear about the security that would be offered. From inside, the roar of a large crowd of press could be heard already asking questions. John and Ringo listened to Brian and Mal refuse to answer any of them, smiling to themselves as the press was met with snide comments.
"I think we're rubbing off on them," John said with an ear pressed to the door.
"Knew it would happen someday," Ringo mumbled.
Meanwhile, Paul and George were in their own conversation. They kept their voices down for fear that they could be heard through the door and over the voices of the press, by men whose attention was elsewhere.
"Do you want to do it first?" Paul asked, leaning forward over his knees to nearly touch heads with George.
"Why do I have to do it first?"
"Well, we can't do it at the same time, can we? That'll be suspicious."
"I don't think it really matters."
Paul sighed and rested back on the loveseat. He caught John and Ringo's attention, bringing the older boys to his side.
"Are you going to do it?" John asked.
Paul shrugged. "If we can figure out how."
"What'd you mean?"
"Are we supposed to be sick at the same time?" George asked.
"I don't think it matters," Ringo said.
"Told you," George muttered.
"Just don't make it overdramatic," John said.
"We've already planned that part out," George said.
"Then get a move on! We don't have all day."
They dispersed to their original spots in the room. Ringo picked up a magazine, John sat closest to the door to eavesdrop, and Paul and George shared a look of encouragement and a nod of agreement.
It took a minute before the noise from outside died down and the door opened.
"Ready boys?" Brian asked, clapping his hands together and smiling down at the pouts. His smile faded. "It won't be too awful."
They all rose, Paul glancing at George, who stood slowly and put on a mask of misery. The young guitarist walked straight up to Brian and Mal, an arm wrapped around his middle, while the others walked into the then empty hallway.
"Brian," he mumbled to their manager, whose face was overcome with concern and slight disappointment. The rest watched from outside the door.
They spoke quietly, but Mal and Brian were buying whatever story George was giving them. Mal reached down to press his hand to George's forehead and shake his head, still looking sorry. They asked him a question and George nodded and received a pat on the back. He was led out to the hallway and to John.
"Keep an eye on him, will you?" Brian asked.
John nodded, and Brian seemed grateful for the compliance. They boys knew very well that their manager really didn't like losing control of any situation. Any time he could get any of the boys (especially John) to cooperate was a small victory.
"Not feeling well?" John asked George.
George shook and lowered his head.
"He said it just hit him," Brian said.
John wrapped an arm around his shoulder. "Is he okay to do the conference?"
Brian nodded. "If he starts feeling too poorly we'll excuse him."
The boys looked at George in fake sympathy. John kept his arm around him as they walked down the hallway, to the waiting press.
The conference was not as long as any of them expected, but still too long for any of their likings - especially George, who was fantastic in his performance and even drew the press's attention to his faked illness. The boys could practically hear Brian wince when a reporter asked about his health and wished him a speedy recovery. They felt a bit bad about putting their manager through so much stress, but they pushed it to the backs of their minds until the end of the conference.
Mal stayed close to George as they walked out of the building, keeping the boy at his side to offer a little more protection from the bright flashes of the cameras and loud screams of fans. The rest of the boys trailed behind with Brian.
"You can all rest when we get back to the hotel," Brian said, nervously fidgeting with his bag. "We'll play the evening by ear."
The drive to the hotel was almost unbearable. No one spoke and most eyes were on George, who kept up his act. He curled up against the door and tried to look sick, although he wasn't too sure how. He closed his eyes and pretended to drift asleep.
"Not you, too," Mal said.
Paul shrugged and kept quiet. Brian put his hand to his forehead, eyed him critically, and then put his other hand to John's forehead.
"What're you doing?" John asked, turning his head away.
"You don't feel warm," Brian said, ignoring John. "You and George didn't eat anything out of the ordinary, did you?"
"No," Paul said, putting on a strained voice. "Maybe it's just a bug. It might go away by tomorrow."
"Neither of you feel off, do you?" Mal asked Ringo and John.
They both shook their heads. Brian sighed.
"Is George feeling any better, do you know?" he asked.
"I think he was feeling worse," Ringo said.
Brian looked at his watch and frowned. Paul buried his face in his pillow to avoid looking at him. Mal put his hand on his back in comfort.
"I suppose you boys won't be able to make the interview this evening," Brian said. "You and George get as much rest as you can. John, Ringo I'll see if you they'll accept two Beatles for an interview. We'll see later this evening if you're well enough to leave tonight."
Paul peaked out and nodded. Brian and Mal left, leaving the three boys alone.
John sat on Paul's legs. Paul turned his face back into the pillow.
"We're close," John whispered. "They won't accept just me and Ringo."
"What if they do?" Paul asked, voice muffled.
"Then we'll pitch a fit," John said.
Ringo grimaced. "Brian's already on his last nerve."
"He'll give in easily."
"But do we have to have a tantrum?"
"What else do you suppose we do?"
"Talk to him? Like adults?"
Paul tried pulling his numbing legs out from under John.
John stood just long enough to let Paul curl his legs up. John flopped back down.
"I still feel bad about this," Paul said, sitting up.
"It'll be alright," John said. "What Brian doesn't know won't hurt him. He probably feels good about giving us a day off."
"I know, but I don't like lying to him."
"We're entitled to a night for ourselves."
"We already did the press conference," Ringo said, though he sounded like he was trying to convince himself more than Paul.
He pulled a carton of cigarettes from his trouser pocket, patting the other for matches. Paul tossed him the box that was sitting on the nightstand.
"We didn't completely blow today off," Ringo said.
He took a drag of his cigarette, blowing the grey stream of smoke to the side. The box of matches went back to the nightstand, next to the ashtray. The carton went to John.
"Brian would understand." John slipped a cigarette in between his teeth and dug in his pocket for his own matches. "One interview isn't too important."
Paul shrugged. A cigarette was pressed into his hand.
When John and Ringo left Paul's room, they found Brian sitting on the sofa, phone in front of him. He wore a heavy frown and the boys hesitated to take a step further.
"Everything alright?" Ringo asked.
Brian looked up at them and smiled. It was forced and it made them even more hesitant to move forward.
"You're getting a night off," Brian said. "The interview was cancelled."
"They didn't want us?" John scoffed and turned to Ringo. "I've told you we're not important to the group any more. I say we split up and make our own group."
"Lennon and Starkey. It'll be fab."
Ringo hid a laugh. He looked back over to Brian.
"Is that... alright?" he asked.
"It's won't break us," Brian said, shaking his head. "It's one interview. You boys needed the rest anyways."
John smiled. "Are we still leaving tonight then?"
Brian ran a hand through his hair. "I doubt Paul and George will be feeling well enough for it. They're fairly miserable."
"Is it that big of a deal to leave tomorrow?" Ringo asked, fiddling with his rings.
Brian shrugged. "We'll make it."
He didn't look too confident or happy with the change of plans. Ringo and John shared a look and inched their way into George's room.
Mal brushed George's fringe to the side. The young man opened his eyes, blinking up at their road manager.
"Are you feeling any better?" Mal asked.
George propped himself up on his elbows. "A little, I suppose."
Mal smiled at him. "Good. We have dinner, if you want to eat. I suggest you do."
George sat up and rubbed his eyes. "I'll try."
He was starving. After pushing away lunch that day, his stomach was about to cave in on itself. He felt betrayed. No one told him he would have to fast for the plan.
Mal lead him out of the room and into the dining area. Ringo, John, and Paul were already sitting down. Ringo and John were talking about their Lennon-Starkey plan, trying to weasel a response out of Paul. The bassist just sat there, though, poking at his food and giving them half-hearted chuckles. George wondered if he wasn't hungry from guilt filling his stomach because he himself had lost his appetite once he remembered the plan in full.
"Out entire debut album will be at the top of the charts," John said to Paul. "It'll be fab."
Paul smirked but didn't look up. George took a seat across from him.
"Tell George about the plan," Ringo said.
John jumped into a narration of a conversation that happened hours earlier. George didn't listen and watched Mal approach Paul, trying to urge him to eat. Paul put a fork full of roast beef in his mouth and chewed it slowly. Mal's hand rested on his head for a moment.
"We'll be fab," John said, finishing his story. "It'll all be fab. We'll be the fab two."
"I bet," George mumbled.
He picked at his own food. It looked bland and cool. Neither Ringo nor John had eaten much of their own meals.
"We'll check on you four later," Mal said. "We might call a doctor if you don't feel better by tonight."
"You don't have to do that," Paul said, wrinkling his nose. "We'll be fine."
"Let me and Brian judge that," Mal said and was out.
They all waited a few seconds, holding their breath to make sure he was gone.
"We're free," John said with a smirk.
"It really worked?" George asked.
Ringo nodded with a hint of a smile. "Brian doesn't want to move you tonight. He said tomorrow will be just fine."
"Then we'll be hungover," Paul said, perking up a bit.
"Then you won't have to fake anymore," John said.
They all smirked.
"When should we leave?" Ringo asked.
"Soon," John said.
Paul looked at his watch. "It's already 7."
"We'll tell them we're all turning in early tonight," John said. "We can get out in a couple hours. The party won't end until morning."
"How are we gonna get there?" George asked. His insides churned with worry. "If we get noticed, we're fucked."
"We'll go out like how we usually do," Ringo said.
"We don't need Mal and Eppy holding our hands," John added. "We've gone out before."
George looked back to his dinner. It looked slightly more appetizing.
"Do you think there'll be a lot of birds?" Paul asked, smirking.
"Of course," Ringo said. "And they'll be the best!"
"Is it a high class party?"
"Sort of. We won't be the only celebrities if that's what you mean, but there won't be any champagne either."
"Will the security be tight?"
"If they're smart."
George took a bite of a roll, listening to Paul and Ringo's exchange. John elbowed him.
"Excited? It's been awhile since you've been out."
"C'mon, Georgie, what's the worst that could happen? Brian finds out? He'll get over it. We're not children."
"Well, three of us aren't," Paul said.
"Shut up," George said. "You're nine months older than me."
Paul shrugged. "Whatever you say."
"Whatever I say? You really are only nine months older."
George couldn't fight a smile. He forked a piece of roast beef and shoved it in his mouth, finally feeling hungry again.
The boys giggled as they walked up the stairs. They clutched at one another's sleeves, peeking behind corners and moving slowly but clumsily. The adrenaline from sneaking back in the hotel heightened their sensations but they were too excited from the party to react well enough.
"Take off your boots," John whispered.
They collapsed on the stairs. They were on the floor, and as a precaution - a technique also used when they left - they took off their boots for fear they could be heard from inside the rooms.
"Shh..." Paul hushed Ringo when the latter started laughing too loudly.
Paul couldn't contain his own mirth, though. They fell onto each other in a fit. John's hand came down on their heads. Hard.
"Control yourselves," he hissed, smirking.
George pushed himself up, tucking his boots under his arm. They held onto each other again, and John lead them out of the stairwell. They were buzzing with nerves as John pulled out the key.
George recalled a story he read in school about a man and an eye and a heart. The man had opened a bedroom door so slowly, able to hear his own heartbeat, and spent an hour trying to be quiet enough to not disturb the sleeping man on the other side of the door.
John slowly opened the door, sliding it an inch a minute.
"Hurry up," Paul urged.
John glared and pushed it open the rest of the way. They stepped in and held their breath. The hardest part would be sneaking past Brian's room, connected by a door at their immediate left.
George grabbed a handful of John's suit. His mouth was dry, and his palms were sweaty. He felt John tremble slightly under his jacket.
A light turned on.
The man in the story had been found out in the end.
They were momentarily blind.
When they blinked away the pain, they looked to the source. Outside of his room, Brian stood, arms crossed over the suit he still wore from that day.
The boys were too petrified to say anything.
"Sit," Brian said.
They all shuffled to the sofa.
"I heard you leave," Brian said. "You're not very quiet."
It was easy to tell when Brian was mad. He lost his professional, posh accent, and it was replaced by a more scouse one. It wasn't as heavy as theirs, but it was suddenly very obvious where he was from.
"I don't understand," he went on. "You're grown men. You're all adults. Why on earth would you pull such a stunt? We're set back in our schedule and lost an interview. We didn't have much time we could afford to lose and you've managed to..."
Brian cut himself off.
The boys bit their lips, played with their nails, concentrated on the carpet. Their faces went from a pale fright to red embarrassment.
"Explain yourselves," Brian said.
"Come on. Speak up."
Ringo, Paul, and George looked to John, who bravely met Brian's eyes.
"We're tired of this," he said. "We're shoved in these monkey suits and paraded around the world. We barely get any time for ourselves anymore. When we're not on tour, we're recording or fucking filming or doing a fucking press conference. There's bleeding cameras on us all the time. We're tired."
Brian's glare softened.
"There's not enough time to do everything we plan," Ringo said.
"We just wanted some time off," George mumbled. "We don't get much of it anymore."
"It wasn't the best way to do it," Paul said. "But we had to. We're sick of everything. We didn't mean to hurt your feelings or anything. We just… needed time for ourselves."
Brian uncrossed his arms.
Nothing was said. The hotel was too quiet for the Beatles to breathe. The air was too thick.
"People expect too much from us," George finally said.
It was the final blow. Brian sighed.
"Go off to bed," he said, defeated.
Brian cut Paul off. "Go. You have a big day tomorrow."
They stood and shuffled off to their own rooms. No one made eye contact. No one spoke.
Brian remained in the sitting room, hands in his hair.
George rolled over when his alarm went off. He batted at it until he managed to turn it off.
"How'd you sleep?"
He turned to Ringo, who was already sitting up.
"Terrible," George mumbled.
He felt he only got a couple hours of actual sleep. They had returned to the suite too late to have ever gotten a good night's sleep, but with the guilty conscience -
He forced himself up.
"We can sleep on the plane at least," Ringo said.
He swung his legs over the side of the bed. He only wanted to stay in bed for a few more hours and try to sleep. His eyes were sore, and his head ached. There wasn't enough energy in his body to make it through the day.
Ringo looked like he hadn't slept at all. Bags were heavy under his eyes along with dark smudges. He was frowning.
The door opened, slowly. Paul peaked his head in. George was not surprised with how he looked.
"Let's get going," he said, though George could barely hear him. "We have to leave soon."
He left the door open when he walked away. George and Ringo got up, sighed at each other, and headed for the sitting room.
John and Paul were already sat at the table. Breakfast was laid out, but they weren't eating. A dozen hotel staff were bustling around the room, laying out suits, readying for the band's departure, and speaking to Brian.
Brian didn't look any different. His hair was combed back as normal. His suit was free of wrinkles. He spoke like a professional, and George could hear his posh accent sound as it usually did.
George focused on the floor when he walked past.
The four of them sat silently, picking at their breakfast.
"Does anyone know what time we're leaving?" Ringo asked.
"No," Paul said.
"Brian hasn't said a word to us," John said.
"Can you blame him?"
They turned around. Mal stood at the counter, mouth set in a heavy frown.
"No," Paul mumbled.
"Is he really pissed?" George asked.
"Mostly disappointed," Mal said. "As well as Neil and I."
The boys lowered their heads. Paul pressed his lips together. Ringo rubbed the base of his fingers where his rings usually laid. George out his hands on his knees. John furrowed his eyebrows and opened his mouth.
"But this isn't the first -"
"Before you go on," Mal said, raising a hand to silence John. "Let me talk. You boys are adults. We understand that. But, you're still young, and it's our job to protect you. We - especially Brian - feel responsible for you. And you know how much Brian loves you. You know how he cares for you.
"He thought that you boys wouldn't lie to him to sneak out to a party like teenagers. He expected better from you and to carry on like the good soldiers you usually are. He understands you're tired. He doesn't like pushing you, but it's out of his control. This is what everyone is demanding of The Beatles. The world doesn't care about George, Paul, John, and Ritchie. Brian tries finding a middle ground to remedy that. He plans everything out, and yesterday, you four blew it.
"You boys deserve a break. There isn't a single person here that doesn't think that. But sometimes, you have to get through honest work before you actually get one. That's how this world works."
"But we always work -"
"I know. We all know. We work with you. We're with you every step of the way, watching you do all this. It's incredible that you've managed to be the biggest band in history. We're proud of you four - immensely so. It comes with a price, though. You can't ask for all of this without paying your dues."
John kept his mouth shut, but glared at the table. Mal pretended not to notice the fire burning in his eyes still.
"Now, hurry along," Mal said. "You all have to be out the door at 9 o'clock."
He left to take care of confused staff trying to carry instruments out. Mal knew that George, Paul, and John liked having an acoustic close by and three were already deemed as being the emergency instruments.
John rose from the table. He stormed off to his room, slamming the door. It was barely heard over all the commotion.
"He's just tired," Paul said. "I don't think he slept all night. He was upset with himself."
George looked over the suite. It was starting to lose all evidence that they had ever stayed there. All empty glasses and full ashtrays were carried off. Tables were wiped clean. Furniture was straightened.
"I'm getting dressed," Paul said, rising. "I'm not hungry."
"Me either," George and Ringo mumbled together.
They avoided eye contact with everyone as they trudged to the sofa and picked up their clean suits (Paul grabbing John's as well). It would be a long morning that couldn't end soon enough.
George and Ringo hardly spoke while they dressed and took turns in the bathroom. They tried tidying the room, but eventually gave up knowing that room service would be there to do later.
George stood at the mirror, combing his hair and avoiding the reflection of his own eyes. Ringo slid past him.
"Do you mind… ?"
George stepped aside so they could share the mirror. Ringo quickly combed his own fringe and then shook his head. George never understood the point of it. Maybe it actually made a difference. Maybe Ringo was just being silly.
Ringo turned to him.
"What're you laughing at?"
"Me?" Ringo playfully shook his fist. "I wear rings for a reason, lad."
George laughed again. It was short-lived humour and a second later, they were back to following their solemn routine.
"Do you think Brian is ever going talk to us again?" George asked.
"He has to. Unless he stops being our manager."
"Think he wants to stop being our manager?"
"No. It was just one stupid stunt we pulled last night. If that's enough to make Brian quit, he wouldn't have put up with all our abuse this far."
George played with the teeth on his comb. "I feel bad about last night."
"I thought we would be able to get away with it," George continued.
"Would getting away with it have made you feel better this morning?"
Ringo slipped his comb into a pocket inside his jacket.
"Brian would at least be speaking to us now," George said. "We could have told him at a better time."
"And just prolong the anger?"
"We have to share a hotel room with him now. We could have told him after got back home."
"I've already thought about that." Ringo shook his head. "I don't think it would have made that big of a difference."
He stepped back out of the bathroom, leaving George to deafening silence.
They were silent leaving the hotel, in the car, in the airport, and on the plane. Brian kept busy by looking over papers, trying not to look bothered. The boys avoided looking at him.
"We won't land until early afternoon," Brian said, speaking up once they were in the air.
He stood in the aisle, the boys' seats on both sides of him. They were forced to look up at him. There wasn't a trace of anger or disappointment or any other severe emotion on his face.
"And there's still a train to take us to the hotel," Brian continued. "You boys didn't touch your breakfast this morning. Will you be alright with waiting to eat until you get settled into the hotel room? There's always catering on the train."
"We'll be fine," Paul said. "We're not hungry."
They looked back down. Brian walked past them to his own seat. They could hear him talking with Mal and Neil. He carried on a normal conversation of business and straying to personal lives. They all seemed normal, like nothing had happened.
It was too much for the boys. Guilt gnawed at their guts and burned their cheeks. It made their fingers restless and heads too heavy to hold up. Embarrassment at their own childish behavior froze their chests and spun their minds. They couldn't stand the others acting as though nothing had happened.
John shot up. He sat up on his knees, turned around the men in the back.
"We're sorry!" he shouted. "We're sorry we lied to you and ruined the plans."
Ringo followed suit and popped up over the back of his seat.
"We're sorry we snuck out."
Paul was next.
"We're sorry we pretended to be sick to get out of the interview."
George only peaked over his seat, but his voice was loud enough.
"We're sorry we lost all the publicity just because we wanted to go to a party."
The men were startled to silence. They stared at the three boys' faces and the one moptop.
"What about worrying us?" Brian asked.
"We're sorry for that, too," Paul said. "We're sorry for everything last night. We're sorry we acted like spoiled brats and children and were selfish."
"I think that explains your actions very well," Neil contemplated. "Spoiled brats."
George sunk back down into his seat. He could hear Brian sigh.
"Boys, come back here," he said, voice gentle. "There's no need to shout from across the plane."
John and Paul slid out from their seats. Ringo nudged George out and down the aisle. They sat across from Brian and Neil and in front of Mal.
"Boys," Brian began. He ran a hand through his hair, disrupting the front curl that always fell across his forehead when he was stressed or drunk. "Do you understand?"
"What we did wrong?" Paul asked.
"Why we keep you on such a tight schedule and in a hotel room."
"Not really," Paul mumbled.
"You're working right now," Brian said. "And we need to make sure you stay working for years to come."
He looked to Neil and then Mal. "Can I have a moment with the boys?"
They nodded and rose. It wasn't much privacy, only being on the other end of the cabin, but it was enough. Brian leaned over the aisle.
"That means doing all the publicity you can and not being mauled by fans - or worse. We can't keep an eye on you when you're running around a strange city by yourselves. Who knows what could have happened last night?"
"We thought it through," Ringo said.
"I know you can handle yourselves back home, but being somewhere completely different worries me. What would you have done if there was an emergency?"
They were quiet.
"What would have happened if you were lost or if fans chased you through the streets? You wouldn't know where to go. I thought about this for hours when you left."
"We didn't meant to worry you," John said. "We didn't… I didn't know you would care that much about us being alone."
"I assume it was all your plan?" Brian asked.
"I care very deeply for you boys. If you weren't aware then, I should be apologizing as well."
"I think we all thought you were more upset about the schedule," Ringo said.
"Well, I am upset about the schedule. It took weeks of planning, and there was never really a backup for if anything went wrong." Brian shook his head. "But that didn't matter at two o'clock this morning. I wanted you boys back safe and sound so I could yell at you."
They chuckled half-heartedly.
"And I was worried all day, thinking you two worked yourselves to death," he added, looking at George and Paul.
"John said it should've been the youngest who faked ill," Paul said.
"It doesn't matter who said what," John said. "We're all in trouble now. Besides, it was you who worried Eppy first."
"George was actually the first -"
"I was forced to do it!" George protested.
"You didn't need much convincing, Harrison. We're all coming clean, you can stop the innocent little boy act."
"But it was fine yesterday, Lennon?"
"Boys! Are you done?"
"Yes," they all chorused.
"The point is, I was worried more than I was mad, but we have catching up to do. When we land, we need to get settled in quickly. There won't be time for dawdling. We'll be in a hurry tonight. We're supposed to have been in the city for a night already. You boys could have slept in."
They were all still exhausted and blinked heavily.
"See what happens when the plans change?"
"Yeah," they mumbled.
"Go on back to your seat and take a kip. We won't be landing for a while."
The boys stood and walked back to their seats, chests feeling a lot lighter. They sat and curled up as Mal and Neil passed them, feeling hands brush through their hair before they fell asleep.
The hotel room was quiet. The only sound was faint snoring and a Western film on the television, turned down almost completely. Half-burnt cigarettes laid smothered in ashtrays and magazines were abandoned on the floor.
Brian turned off the television and grabbed the throw blankets that laid across the chairs and sofas. He covered each sleeping boy sprawled out on the furniture.
They looked so peaceful and childlike. Their long hair fell across their faces, untidy and tangled. George curled around Paul, resting his head against the bassist's shoulder and taking one arm captive. Ringo leaned into Brian's touch when he brushed his fingers across his fringe.
Brian made sure they looked warm enough and turned off the standing lamps. He stopped in the doorway on the way to his own room, his hand hovering over the light switch for the wall lamps. He looked at his boys one last time, taking in the innocent sight of them all sleeping together in the dim lighting, and flipped the switch.