The parade was grander than John could have imagined.
At the very front, leading the charge down the Champs-Elysées, was a neatly marching block of Hitler Youth and Girls’ League participants from the Paris region. Each crisply uniformed child carried a banner on a pole - a black swastika on a red background with metallic gold tasseling. Behind the children was a brigade of infantrymen - low-ranking grunts, but French, and therefore important to show the people of the city. They goose-stepped in perfect lines and saluted when they passed the enormous painted banner of Himmler’s face hanging from a building. Next came the marching band, consisting entirely of brass and drums, playing one nationalistic anthem after another as the parade made its way past the screaming throngs.
Bringing up the very rear of the parade was Oberst-Gruppenführer John Smith, hero of the Reich and model of Schutzstaffel dignity. And beside him was SS-Helferin Juliana Smith - hero’s wife, active defector into the Reich, and female Schutzstaffel. She looked almost terrifying today, John thought. She was in her black skirted uniform, with her hat just so upon her severely styled hair. When she raised her right hand for a demure little wave - nothing dramatic, just as Goebbels had ordered - she was waving a tight black leather glove.
John himself was to nod politely as the Mercedes convertible followed the rest of the parade, so he did. Goebbels wanted him to look at once personable but serious, and John was doing his best. The people lining the street were separated from the actual parade by Waffen-SS with rifles at the ready. There were elderly women waving Nazi flags, little children saluting with their tiny arms. There were women shrieking with glee and men applauding. Thousands and thousands of Parisians, here in their multitude, adoring the children and the infantry and the marching band and the hero.
“Oh, my nose itches,” Juliana said quietly from beside John, and he snorted a little laugh. She couldn’t itch it right now, he knew. She’d have to take off her leather glove and scratch at her face in front of everybody, and she couldn’t do that. John sighed a little as he stared at a little girl in the crowd who looked just like his daughter Amy.
Buggy . He’d called Amy Buggy for years, because she’d had an odd fascination as a toddler with ladybugs and ants. She’d moved past the obsession, but he still patted her between the shoulders sometimes and called her Buggy .
Amy had wanted to come into New York, but John had left. He resolved to see her as soon as he possibly could, to take her out for ice cream sundaes with loads of chocolate syrup and sprinkled nuts. Someday, he’d spend good time with Jennifer again, when Jennifer was ready. But Amy - Buggy - wanted her father, and her father needed to see her very soon.
The little French girl along the road grinned widely when John made eye contact. He nodded, just like Goebbels had told him to do.
“John. John, look . Look over there.”
Juliana’s voice was suddenly frantic, suddenly urgent and fearful, and John trained his eyes to where she was looking. Then he saw her.
She was standing in a powder blue wool coat, her blonde hair cropped neatly around her chin. She looked younger than ever - eleven, maybe twelve? Perhaps even a bit younger than that. She was alone, surrounded by the enthusiastic French. Her eyes were cold, almost burning in their frigidity, and John hissed down to the driver,
“Stop. Stop the car.”
“John, no,” Juliana insisted, but before she could stop him, he had hopped out of of the shiny black Mercedes and was stalking quickly toward the sidewalk. The Waffen-SS guards looked confused, and the crowds screamed louder than ever, but John just reached forward and crooked his leather glove.
“Come here, Cameron,” he said sharply. The smiles on the people around Cameron Seagram slowly vanished as they realized how irritated the Oberst-Gruppenführer was. The parade had been halted; Juliana was in the car behind John. Cameron calmly stepped into the street, staring up at John. Her voice sounded more childlike than he’d ever heard it as she asked quietly,
“You’re John Smith?”
Then he realized it. He realized that this might be the first time Cameron had ever laid eyes on him. She’d been a little older in the world where he’d met Juliana, where they’d been shot. She’d been much older in his world, where she’d brought Juliana death records from an atomic blast that had never happened. Space and places were fluid, it seemed, but the timeline of one single iteration of a life was linear. He had seen Cameron as a young teen, as a grown woman. Now he was seeing her - certainly not for the first time in his experience - as a child. When she’d shot him in his house, did she already have a memory of this parade? When she’d come into Juliana’s workplace with death records, was she thinking of today?
“Why are you here?” John asked, his voice feeling dry. Cameron just blinked and said,
“He sent me. The Man in the High Castle. He said it was important that I see you like this.”
“Like what?” John snapped, and Cameron’s little face seemed confused. She glanced up and down his form, then back to the car, her eyes settling on Juliana.
“That’s your wife? Juliana Crain?”
John’s breath caught a little, and he just nodded. The crowd behind Juliana had gone quiet, held back by the Waffen-SS guards, so John lowered his voice and murmured,
“I’m only married to her, Cameron, because you ripped me away from the first family I had and practically shoved Juliana into my arms. Then you shot us and moved us and told us we had to get married. Did you know that? Did you know any of that?”
Cameron’s eyes flashed. “He isn’t lying, then. Hawthorne.”
John scowled, but before he could say anything else, Cameron leaned closer, her bobbed blonde hair wisping around her face in the breeze.
“He said I needed to see you like this, because this is the happy ending. This is the story that ends the right way. And I have to get you here… I have to make this happen.”
John gulped. “Well… you do. You will.”
He should hate her, he thought, not at all for the first time. Instead he glanced around at all the people staring at him, and he mumbled,
“Salute me and give me a good Sieg Heil, Cameron.”
She furrowed her brows but stepped back, and she raised her arm in a Nazi salute and cried,
“Sieg Heil,” John replied calmly. He jerked his chin back toward the crowd, all of whom had joined into a communal salute-and-chant. He nodded crisply at the crowd and stalked back to the car, and when he climbed in and signalled to a Waffen-SS guard that the parade could start again, Juliana plastered on a smile and hissed,
“What the hell was that about?”
“We’ll discuss it later,” John answered sharply. “For now, smile and wave, Juliana. But look dignified in doing it.”
John was jolted awake by the sound of a telephone ringing. He immediately blinked himself to rights and hurled himself from bed, knowing that a phone ringing at one in the morning was probably something very important. He dashed through the suite to the little desk against the wall where the phone was, and when he picked it up, he said in a gravelly voice,
“This is Smith.”
His heart stopped, or at least he thought it did, if just for a moment. John’s eyes welled heavily at once, and he said quietly,
“I’m sorry… it’s late there. I don’t know the time difference,” said Amy’s little voice, but John insisted,
“N-no, sweetheart; it’s… I don’t mind. How are you?”
“I saw you on the television just now,” Amy said, almost proudly. “Jennifer didn’t want to watch, but Mother put it on for me. The parade in Paris. I saw you in the car. I was happy to see you, even if it was just on the television.”
“Oh, Buggy.” John shook his head and said roughly, “I’m going to take you out for ice cream sundaes as soon as I come home, okay?”
“Okay,” Amy said happily. There was a pause, and then she asked, “Could I get a banana split?”
“You can have whatever dessert you want, Buggy; I’ll find it for you,” John promised. He felt an actual tear well over his eye then, and when he glanced up, he saw Juliana leaning against the living room wall, her arms crossed and a sad look on her face. She turned to go, but John held up his hand to stop her. He cleared his throat and asked Amy, “Does your mother know you called me, Amy?”
There was a long pause, and John chuckled a little as he pretended to scold her.
“Are you making secret calls, Buggy?”
“I figured you probably pay the phone bill,” Amy reasoned, “and I figured you wouldn’t mind. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” John licked his bottom lip and asked, “You think Jennifer will come to the city when I get back?”
“I can try to convince her,” Amy said hesitantly, but John immediately burst forth,
“No, Amy; that’s not your job. Your job is to… to come to Manhattan and eat banana splits, okay?”
There was another long pause, and then Amy asked, “Will Julia - I mean, Juliana - be there?”
John looked up to where Juliana stood, looking away and chewing at a fingernail, and he said quietly to Amy,
“It’ll be just how you want it, Buggy.”
“I like her,” Amy said firmly. “Maybe it can just be you and me for the sundaes, but I want to see her again. Julia. Juliana, I mean. I like her. She’s very nice and very pretty.”
“Amy, who are you talking to?”
Helen. That was Helen’s voice in the background. When Amy didn’t answer, John heard Helen bark,
“Give me the phone, Amy. Hello? Who is this?”
“It’s just me, Helen. She called me,” John said, as gently as he could manage. Helen sighed audibly over the phone.
“Well, it’s the middle of the night there and she has homework to finish. She’ll see you when you get back. Nice parade, John. I mean it.”
“Thanks. Can I tell her goodnight, please?” John’s stomach hurt all of a sudden, and then he rushed to say before Helen could hand the phone over, “Helen? Tell Jennifer I love her, please.”
“Okay, John. Here, Amy. Finish it up; that’s an transatlantic call and it costs a fortune.”
“Hello?” Amy’s voice was back, and John shut his eyes tightly as he told her,
“Go finish your homework, okay, Amy? I’m glad you liked the parade.”
“I’ll see you soon for sundaes,” Amy said, her little voice almost tragically desperate. For a moment, John simply couldn’t answer, but finally he nodded to himself and said in a cracked voice,
“G’night. Love you.” There was a click then, and John hesitated for a very long moment before he finally hung the phone up. He stared at it as Juliana stepped up beside him, and then he reached to slip his hand into hers.
“She made me leave them,” he whispered, and Juliana nodded.
“I know you love me, John, but you only meant to marry me in a world where they didn’t exist. You never meant to leave them with divorce papers. I know it.”
“She was just a child today,” John said in disbelief. He turned his face until his eyes locked on Juliana’s, and he shrugged. “We’ve seen parts of her life that she hadn’t lived yet. She’s seen world we’ve never known? How much is out there? Is it all just… endless lines criss-crossing, changing direction now and then, and…”
His head hurt, all of a sudden, from pondering such a weighty sort of idea. He gulped and squeezed at Juliana’s hand, and he shut his eyes.
“Today, as a child, she told me that the Man in the High Castle told her that it was critical you and I get to this point - married, powerful. When Cameron was older, she was on a mission to achieve that. And when she was much older, she brought you proof that it had always been necessary. This… this … us. You and I together, married, in the positions we’re in now… for some reason, it’s vital. It’s the only happy ending.”
“Then, John,” Juliana sighed, “let’s make it the happiest ending we can. Let’s go back to bed.”
Author’s Note: Sorry for the break in updates; we are doing home renovations that are eating up my writing time. Please do take a moment to leave a comment if you get a quick moment. Thank you!