As Mike sat at the table sipping his coffee, he reflected that being blind part of the time had its perks. And now that he knew the guys did what they did – taking care of him when he couldn't see – was out of love and not out of a sense of obligation, he found himself able to relax and see those perks.
Like right now. He was twenty-four years old – and he'd long forgotten how soothing it was to hear another voice reading aloud. He was re-discovering that this morning as he sat at the table listening to Peter's deep voice reading the newspaper to him.
Peter finished the world section and helped himself to a cup of tea before he began to read the next one.
Inhaling, Mike grimaced as the distinctive aroma hit his senses. "How can you stand that stuff?"
"It's like coffee – an acquired taste," Peter chuckled. "Only I acquired a taste for leaves instead of beans!"
"Poor you," Mike teased, and they both laughed. Then Mike tilted his head. "Micky and Davy must've finished clearing. I can't hear them."
"Yeah, they went out to the beach awhile ago." He heard the paper rustle. "Okay, local headlines."
"Okay." Mike leaned back and listened to the usual politics and squabbles. He asked Peter to read two of the articles, and learned that the mayor was taking flak for his slow response to the earthquake rebuilding. He learned that the slumlord who was being investigated was not Mister Babbitt.
And then, Peter read the headline: "Circus Coming To Town".
Mike sat up. "Hey! Wasn't that train we passed yesterday a circus train?"
"What do you have in mind?"
Mike began to smile. "Circuses sometimes will hire grifters – men to help them set up."
Peter was quiet for a moment, then he pointed out, "But they don't hire blind men to set up."
Mike felt his face fall as disappointment bloomed in his chest.
Almost instantly, he felt Peter's strong fingers close about his wrist. "We'll find some way, Michael."
"I know. I just--"
Peter squeezed. "We will."
Mike sighed. "Okay."
A second, gentler squeeze, and Peter released his wrist. "Felt like I'd kicked a puppy, there," he muttered.
Mike blinked. "What?"
Peter chuckled. "When you're blind, your eyes are constantly wide. They make you look really young."
"Oh, great." But Mike was laughing.
Ten minutes later, Micky and Davy returned. Before Mike could say anything, Peter said, "Hey, guys? Wanna go to a circus?"
Pop's Arcade and Circus was setting up when the Monkeemobile pulled up. Mike got out of the car and blinked, the sunshine harsh on his returning vision.
As Peter got out of the driver's seat, he noticed Mike's expression and wordlessly handed him a pair of sunglasses.
Mike slid them on with a grateful smile and looked up at the Big Top. "So I'm guessing we find the manager's office."
"It'll be in or beside the Big Top," Micky said. "Probably around the back." He made a "come-on" gesture and started heading that way.
The others followed him and when they were nearly there, Mike asked, "So how do you know where the manager's office is?"
"Most circuses are laid out the same," Micky answered distractedly. "I used to work in a circus when I was younger." He broke into a smile. "Here we are."
Micky pushed the door open and saw the office was empty. "Let's look in the Big Top."
As they walked into the tent, Davy frowned as Micky began to hum. A few steps forward, and humming turned into soft singing.
"It's great, it's terrific, it's the best show on earth--"
Davy stopped in his tracks, his jaw slowly lowering.
The others turned to him. "Davy," Mike asked, frowning.
"Circus Boy," Davy breathed.
Micky's shoulders stiffened.
Davy stepped forward, eyes on Micky. "I'm right, aren't I? That's how you know so much about--"
"May I help you gentlemen?"
The Monkees turned to see a slightly older man with dark hair fix them with a piercing stare.
Mike stepped forward. "Are you Pop?"
"I am Victor," the man said. "What do you want with Pop?"
"We're, ah..." Mike rubbed the back of his neck. "We're looking for work."
"Then you can leave," Victor said. "There is no work to be had. We can not afford to pay more performers."
"We're not performers," Peter put in. "Well...not circus performers. We're here to see if you need any grifters."
Victor's mouth opened, but an older gentleman walked up behind him. "Victor."
His mouth closed and he inclined his head in a gesture of respect, backing up.
"You must pardon Victor," the older gentleman said. "I am Pop. You said something about grifting?"
Mike nodded. "We're in between jobs at the moment. We saw you were in town and thought we might give y'all a hand settin' up."
"That's very kind of you," Pop said. "You say you're in between jobs. What do you do?"
"We're a rock and roll group, sir," Mike said. "The Monkees."
A growl was all the warning Mike had before a knife sailed through the air and took his hat off his head, coming to rest in the post behind them.
"I knew it!" Victor roared, readying another knife. "As if driving us broke wasn't enough, you've come to gloat?"
"What?" all four Monkees gasped together, even as Peter checked Mike's head for injury. Finding none, he clapped a hand onto Mike's shoulder and stepped away.
Pop, meanwhile, clamped a restraining hand onto Victor's wrist. "That's enough."
"But you heard him! They're--"
"Enough," Pop said, glaring into Victor's eyes until the younger man looked away with a groan.
Then Pop looked at the startled Monkees. "Our box offices have been steadily going down," he explained. "Because the young would rather attend rock and roll concerts."
Mike winced. "I get it. Well, thank you for your time."
"Boys." When he had their attention again, Pop asked, "Have any of you worked putting up a circus before?"
"They haven't," Micky said. "I have. I can teach them what they need to know."
"So will we," Pop said. "If you'll be here at 6 AM tomorrow, you'll be put to work."
"Thank you!" Mike grinned, shaking Pop's hand. "You won't regret this!"
Behind him, Davy grinned as well even as he pulled Mike's hat from the post and handed the knife to Pop.
Peter's eyes fluttered open and he rolled over, looking at the clock.
He frowned and rolled onto his back. He sat up and his frown deepened. "What are you doing?" he hissed. "I gotta be up in three hours, I can't --"
His eyes widened. "I don't know. Is that even possible?"
His eyes flicked to the dresser. "Are you sure?"
Getting out of bed, Peter padded to the dresser and opened the large but shallow bottom drawer. His fingers found a latch and his eyes widened again as he uncovered a false bottom.
Filled with jewelry and other things. "Oh," he breathed. "Gloria...."
He nodded and lifted a cameo pendant. "This one?" His dimples shone as he grinned. "Your favourite, huh?"
The grin faded as his fingers found the chain rusted. "Can't use this... hang on." He replaced the false bottom and pushed the drawer back in. Then he found his smallest strand of love beads, the one he'd worn for many days on end.
It was only the work of a moment to untie the necklace. With the soft rattle of beads hitting glass, Peter dumped the beads into a small decorative ashtray they used to hold change. He slid off the peace symbol and replaced it with the cameo.
Then he swiftly re-strung a little over half the beads and tied the shortened necklace securely around his own neck, making sure it was loose enough not to choke him but secure enough that it would neither break nor move around too much.
Peter broke into another sunny grin. "You're very welcome. Let's see if this will work tomorrow. But for now – I have got to get some rest."
He got back into bed and smiled as his fingers touched his suddenly-tingling cheekbone. "Thank you," he whispered. "Good night."
Five AM, Davy reflected, came too bloody early. He shot a grin over at his roommate, amused that even notorious morning person Peter was dragging.
When Peter left the room at 5:05, he was carrying his boots and belt. Davy chuckled as he smelled coffee starting two minutes later. Davy then padded over to the dresser to get his socks and a clean t-shirt.
He froze as his eyes landed on a large metal peace symbol lying abandoned on the dresser. Davy frowned – that medallion hadn't left Peter's neck since he'd fallen in love with it about six months ago.
Davy's frown only deepened as he ran a finger through the small amount of love beads in the change tray. That was very unusual.
He hurriedly dressed and headed out, drawn to the kitchen like a moth to a flame. "Oh, that smells good. Tinned scones?"
"Canned biscuits, yeah," Peter grinned as he flipped the sausage in the pan. "No time for scratch this morning."
As Peter bent to pull the aluminum foil from the bottom drawer, Davy caught a glimpse of the altered necklace and his eyes widened.
It was now a choker made of love beads with a strange antique cameo resting in the hollow between Peter's collarbones.
"I'm – ah – I'll go get the others."
Peter smiled warmly and began to lay out foil squares to wrap their breakfast for the road. "Thanks, Davy. I appreciate that."
Davy escaped up the stairs.
And Peter frowned after him. "Huh. I think he found the bits of the necklace." Then he chuckled as he moved back to the stove. "Don't worry. He'll get over it."
At exactly 6 AM, the Monkeemobile pulled up at the circus. The four – still munching on the last of the sausage biscuits – piled out of the car and headed toward the Big Top.
"Ah!" Pop laughed, seeing them. "You are here – and on time! There, go work on setting up the sideshow and performers' areas."
Micky nodded. "This way, guys."
As they followed, Davy was frowning again. The weirdness of these entire last few days was getting too strange for him, and his head was starting to hurt.
They'd taken five steps when a sudden stumble and hissed curse alerted them all to the fact that Mike had lost his sight again – at the worst possible time.
Peter guided Mike to a row of bleachers and sat him down. "I hate this, Pete," Mike growled. "This thing is keeping me from doin' my fair share!"
"Come help us when you can," Peter said. "What?...you will? Thanks!"
Mike opened his mouth to ask, but then felt two small, cool hands encircle his. "Who's there?"
They squeezed, and Peter said, "She has trouble talking. But she'd like to sit and hold your hand awhile."
"Well...okay." The hands squeezed again, and Mike smiled. "Are you pretty?"
Peter laughed. "She is. Hey, I gotta go. Come when you can, okay?"
"Okay. Hey, what's your name?"
"Gloria," came a whisper so soft he barely heard it.
"Hi, Gloria. I'm Mike."
She squeezed his hand.
"Hurts to talk, huh? Okay, Gloria, I'll talk to you, then." And he did. He told her who he was and what he and his friends did.
She listened, squeezing his hand occasionally. And once, she chuckled at the turn of phrase he'd used.
"Hey," he said, beaming. "My sight's starting to return. I'll be able to help soon!"
His hand was squeezed and laid onto his lap. It was patted gently, and then her hands stopped touching him.
"Hey, no, you don't have to stop," Mike protested. "Gloria?" He frowned. "Gloria?"
Only silence met his ears. The dark curtain parted, and he turned to look at his companion.
Only to find himself alone. "Huh," he breathed. "Shy one, ain't she?"
Then he went to find the others and help.
Mike hadn't been working side-by-side with the others for very long when he heard Victor's voice boom, "If you are going to work, you can not be lazy!"
Mike blinked as Victor was suddenly – and nearly literally-- in his face. "I saw you over there! Sitting by yourself – doing nothing! I should tell Pop to fire you!"
Frowning deeply, Mike opened his mouth to reply to that, when Victor was literally spun around to face a visibly furious Peter.
"I am sick of your assumptions," Peter said in a low, dangerous voice. "He is not lazy. He has a medical condition and for that little bit, he couldn't see! Leave him alone!"
Victor huffed and stormed off. Mike looked after him, his frown deepening further.
Victor had said that Mike had been sitting by himself.
But Mike had been sitting with Gloria.
When lunchtime rolled around, Mike frowned to see Peter and Victor in animated discussion with Pop. He was so engrossed, he nearly failed to register that a lovely dark-haired woman had silently sat down next to him.
When he registered it, he smiled warmly at her. "Gloria?"
She chuckled. "Susan," she corrected gently. "I'm Pop's daughter."
"Oh! Well, nice to meet you. What's that about?"
Her smile fled. "Victor wants you fired. He has a lot of pull with my father. Your friend is a very articulate debater, though."
"He's kind of had to learn how to paint pictures with his words," Mike sighed.
Surprised, Mike searched Susan's face. Finding only genuine curiosity, he smiled at her and used Peter's words from earlier. "I have a medical condition that renders me blind about half the time."
"Oh!" And there was no pity in her eyes. Only shocked grief. "I'm so sorry! You're blessed, then, to have such close friends!"
"I know," Mike said sincerely.
The discussion ended with Victor storming off. Pop put a hand on Peter's arm and said something that made Peter nod. Then they separated and Peter walked over to Mike.
"Well?" Mike asked.
"Well," Peter said as he sat down one bleacher level lower than Mike and accepted the sandwich passed to him. "We still have a job. We finish today and stay through rehearsal tonight and tomorrow. The first show is tomorrow night."
"And Victor?" Susan asked.
Peter smiled at her and swallowed his mouthful of food. "He and Pop reached an understanding. Sort of."
Susan winced. "Meaning he didn't agree, couldn't make Pop agree with him, and stormed off in a snit."
Peter stared at her, then turned to Mike. "She's good."
"Pop's daughter Susan," Mike explained, and Peter nodded as comprehension lit his eyes.
Susan shook her head. "Is Victor threatening not to perform unless Pop gets rid of you?" At Peter's nod, she shook her head again with a sigh that seemed to come from her toes. "Today gets better and better." She stood. "I'll to talk to him."
As they watched her walk away, Mike looked over at Peter. "So."
"Tell me about Gloria."
"What do you want to know?" Peter took another bite of his sandwich.
Mike tilted his head. "Primarily why nobody but you seems t'be able to see her."
And Peter choked on his sandwich.
Eyes wide with alarm, Mike eased down one level till he was even with Peter, and pounded the coughing man on his back. "Sorry bout that, Shotgun," he said once Peter had some control. "Didn't mean to shock you."
Peter's eyes were huge. "You... You can't see her? Even when you can see?"
"No, Peter. I can't."
"I mean, I knew you could barely hear her..... when the tape isn't running, I mean--"
Mike gasped. "Tape? Wait.....Gloria?" His eyes widened again. "Gloria Russell?"
"You mean to tell me that you can see.....hear...."
"And touch," Peter said softly.
"The Chanteuse? You can interact with the ghost in the Pad?"
"She held your hand all through your last blind spell," Peter pointed out.
Mike frowned. "She's here?"
Peter nodded. "She is. Sitting here, actually." He gestured, and Mike turned there.
"I poured out my heart to you. I thought you were real."
And, very softly, he heard, "Am real."
Mike jerked backward as if she'd slapped him. "Peter...."
"It hurts her to talk to other people," Peter said. "She said she's sorry."
"How come you can talk to Peter and not to us?" Mike asked.
"She says I'm sensitive," Peter said as he blushed a little.
Mike found himself smiling. "Yeah, Shotgun – you are that."
Micky and Davy walked up at that point, and the four went back to work.
That evening, back at the Pad, four tired Monkees held a pow-wow. They were trying to figure out ways to help Pop's Circus.
Peter was contributing twice as many ideas as the rest of them, prompting Micky to tease: "Your brain finally turned on?"
"Something like that," Peter chuckled, shooting a quick wink at Mike.
Where is she? Mike mouthed.
Peter patted the chair arm in reply – at an angle that only Mike could see his fingers were a few inches above it.
Micky went to bed early, exhausted from the physical work.
Peter's eyes suddenly widened. "Hey, Davy! Did you happen to get Susan's number?"
Davy frowned. "Course I did – why?"
Peter began to smile. "Let me borrow it." Once Davy had turned it over and headed to the bedroom, Peter crossed the room and picked up the phone.
"What's up, Shotgun?" Mike asked.
Peter finished dialing and turned a huge smile onto Mike. "Gloria's got an idea."
Susan loved Gloria's idea, and told Peter she'd call in the morning, after she'd had a chance to run it by Pop.
Mike woke blind the next morning. He made his way down the stairs and sensed someone standing there. "Hello?" he asked, reaching toward the person.
After a long moment, he felt two familiar cool hands sandwich his one.
Mike smiled. "Hello, Gloria," he said softly. "Hey, one for yes and two for no, okay?"
A single tap on his knuckle made him smile.
"So -- everyone still asleep?"
Two taps, and Mike realised what he'd said. Chuckling, he amended, "Is everyone but me asleep?"
And he heard her chuckle as he felt a single tap.
A single tap and a definite giggle.
Now, Mike was chuckling. Then he sobered. "Hey -- I know talking hurts, but I don't understand. Why Pete and me?"
Straining to listen, he heard softly, "Kind hearts... won't try...hurt me....make me go."
"Hey, that works both ways, right?"
A single tap, and Mike smiled. "Good. Then we'll get along just fine. Hey, do you become visible to Peter?"
That surprised Mike. "Huh! He just sees you, then." At her single tap, he shook his head. "Always knew he was special."
One tap, and he heard her soft chuckle.
And the phone rang.
Mike followed the sound -- with Gloria helping him adjust course before a collision with a table -- and picked it up. "Thanks, Gloria. Hello?"
His face lit. "That's great news, Susan! Yes, I'll tell him! Yes, yes -- we'll see you then!"
He hung up and tilted his head, hearing a footfall. "Peter?" he asked when Gloria didn't release his hand.
"You've got your blind posture," Peter said. "How'd you know it was me?"
"Right, woke up blind," Mike grinned and turned to face him, holding up the hand Gloria was holding. "But I've got company."
"I see that," Peter chuckled. "Who was on the phone?"
"Susan," Mike grinned. "We've got the green light. We have to be there at eleven to set up."
"Fantastic!" Peter cheered. "I'll wake the others and tell them. This is really going to work, Michael!"
Mike heard Peter's heels ring on the staircase and asked softly, "Do you think this will work, too?"
The single tap on his knuckle -- with no hesitation whatsoever -- made Mike smile.
"This is madness!" Victor bellowed. "This will never work!"
"It will," Pop said calmly. "It will!"
Peter spread his hands. "Look, Victor. I know you don't like us because of what we do--"
"Oh, it is more than that!" Victor growled. "Pop, these men are con artists and liars!"
"Those are strong words, Victor," Pop said.
"They are true!" And before anyone could say or do anything, Victor sent a knife flying toward Mike – who was sitting on a stool playing his guitar softly.
The blind man heard Peter's wordless cry of horror a mere instant before he felt air brush his cheek – followed a split-second later by sharp pain. He cried out, both hands flying to his cheek.
Victor's eyes were huge with shock. "It....cut him!" he gasped. "But – but any man will move when they see a knife coming toward their face! It is involountary!"
"Except Mike's blind half the time!" Peter snarled over his shoulder as he ran to Mike's side. The others were already there. "Now do you get it?"
Victor turned stunned, huge eyes to Pop. "Pop....I...."
Visibly furious, Pop pointed at him. "You." His voice was low and utterly cold. "You will not be performing today. Or any shows for two weeks. If they press charges, you will have no support from the circus."
"....adrift?" Victor gasped.
"But with us," Pop nodded. "But throw at anyone outside of performance or practice again and you will be truly cast adrift!"
Victor lowered his eyes. "Yes, Pop."
"Now get out of my sight!" Pop roared, and Victor spun and tried to exit with his dignity intact.
Pop walked over to the Monkees. "How is he?"
Davy's fingers were brushing the involountary tears of pain from Mike's cheeks as Peter's nimble ones finished cleaning the wound and started bandaging it. It was Micky who looked at Pop and replied, "Superficial. It won't need stitches and we don't think it'll leave a scar."
"P—" Mike began, then winced as his cheek pulled.
"Shh," Peter said. "We're here, just--" He froze, blinking down at his hand as Mike's hand was suddenly laid in it. "'One for yes and two for no'? What--?"
But Mike chuckled as he squeezed Peter's hand once.
"Oh," Peter chuckled, then sobered. "Mike – did you hear what happened?"
He squeezed once.
"Do you want to press charges, lad?" Pop asked.
Mike thought that over.
Suddenly, everyone visibly startled as a cry of pure terror erupted from Victor's dressing room.
At it, Peter looked around and realised he couldn't see Gloria. And then, Mike was smirking as he squeezed his answer into Peter's hand.
"He says 'no'."
No matter how many times Peter asked, Gloria would not tell what she had done to Victor.
But whatever it was had been bad enough that the knife thrower remained pale and silent for many days.
The circus took to the three rings under the Big Top at precisely 6 PM, to a packed house. During the intermission and again when the show was over, the Monkees performed.
That had been Gloria's idea. Since the young ones loved music, use the music to draw them. Once they saw the circus, she theorised, the old magic would ignite.
And she was right. They may have come for the music – but the spectacle of the circus wove its spell and they were enthralled.
Pop asked the Monkees to play all five shows, and they agreed.
When their time in Malibu Beach was up, the Monkees declined the offer to tour with the circus. "There's loads of local bands out there," Mike said. "Give them a chance to shine."
"We will never forget this," Pop said as he shook hands with each of them and then paused, laying his palm on Micky's cheek. "You have never been forgotten. You will always be circus folk."
Micky grinned. "We all are, now."
"Aye," Pop grinned. "You all are. Until next year, boys."
"Save our spot?" Micky teased.
"It is yours when we are here," Pop said seriously. Then he boarded the train, and the four waved as it pulled away.
"So," Davy said. "Let's go home – we've some things to discuss."
"Like what?" Peter asked.
Mike looked over at Micky. "Like the little matter of someone hiding a good chunk of his past."
Micky groaned and dropped his face into his hands.
This promised to be an uncomfortable night.
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