CHAPTER TEN

The midday sunlight filtered through the stained glass flowers of my new bedroom window. I was dying to explore the rest of the house. Gather each and every clue to John’s life that would let me into his psyche. Aunt Mimi coughed politely from downstairs. If she caught me snooping through John’s bedroom that would be the end of my stay at Mendips.

I caught a glimpse of myself in the floor-length mirror. Woof. My skirt was limp and muddy, my bangs limply framed the deep dark circles under my eyes. No wonder Mimi had turned me away at first. I straightened my posture, picked lint off my sweater, and swept some life back into my hair.

For months I had been imagining exactly how I was going to meet John. It was going to be perfect. I would wait at the top of the stairs and listen to Mimi and John in the living room talking about their day. And then as soon as Mimi would tell him about the new lodger, I would ascend the staircase like some kind of sex angel. My blonde hair cascading down my red and black lace gown and my fingertips barely grazing the bannister. I would stop in the entranceway of the living room and I would say something confident and unforgettable like, ‘And here I am. You must be the nephew.’

“Hello,” I practiced my best low and sultry voice. “You must be the nephew.”

Being sexy was harder to grasp than I thought. I rolled my shoulders back and tossed a little hair to the side.

“Hello.” I crossed my legs in slow motion, showing off my calves as I swooped them over. “You must be the nephew.”

Hmm. That seemed good. But I didn’t know. I wasn’t attracted to myself or anything so how would I know what was right?

Suddenly, my reflection in the mirror shook as the front door slammed shut. I rushed to my window and ripped open the curtains. There was Aunt Mimi opening the front gate, her hair tucked underneath a pillbox hat, a jacket draped around her shoulders.

Aha! Finally! I had the big old empty house to myself to explore and poke around. John would still be at the college of art until four. I had a few hours to explore before getting ready for my big banister cute meet. Everything had fallen into place.

I tore out of my room, one skip and I was at John’s bedroom. The door was shut. My heart clenched at the sight of it. He was going to be this close to me. In only a few hours. I knocked at the door. I don’t know why. There was no reply.

I twisted the nob and opened the door. The room was empty.

A sweater tossed unto the bed, a crumpled shirt on the floor. There was a distinctive smell. The same weird smell that had filled the double-decker bus on the way into Woolton. Lennon’s room was overpowered by it, whatever it was.

I stepped inside. As soon as my foot hit the floorboard in the doorway it creaked loudly. I jumped and twisted to check behind myself. No one was there.

John’s room was teeny tiny. One bed and one small little wardrobe with clothes bursting and dripping out of it. The bay window took up an entire wall of the room. In 2109 you would not even see an American closet this small. I mean, how did he do anything in here besides stand?

Creased papers and open books littered the carpet. It was as if he would start reading one, then instead of placing a bookmark in it, he would set it randomly on the floor face open, completely forget about it and then start reading another.

I stepped gingerly around the mess like navigating a minefield. Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll was tucked halfway under his bed. Its pages were the most worn and fluffy of all the books.

Above his bed, he had hung up a few drawings and I couldn’t help but smirk. Most artists want to display their prettiest work. But this John guy had made an entire collage of grotesque and weird monsters all hastily scribbled like a small child. Dogs with extra legs and a crooked skeleton. One of the drawings he had written on, “A dream you dream alone is only a dream.”

“What a weirdo.” I laughed aloud.

On the far corner of his bed was the guitar. The guitar. The Gallotone Champion acoustic. Again, I looked around as if someone were watching me. I guess I was feeling the freaky stare of Thorne on the other side of the mystery live stream. And he certainly wouldn’t approve, but I had to touch that guitar. Every ounce of my musical history soul was screaming. I had to touch it.

I plucked it from its spot and played the first bar of “Please, Please Me”. The song that would have been written in that very room. I exhaled through a little ‘O’ in my mouth. Too much. I was defiling it with my stupid pig-song non-talent. I set the guitar back, careful to leave it just as I found it.

I stared at it, imagining it slung around John’s shoulders.

“Hello,” I said with the sultry tone. “You must be the nephew.”

After poking around John’s room, I stumbled my way downstairs and into the kitchen.

“Ugh, what is that smell?” I said to myself as I entered the kitchen. On the stove was a big silver pot full of boiled fish heads and fish parts. The entire bottom floor smelled like boiled fish guts and cat urine. This was even worse than John’s room. I pulled my sweater sleeve over my nose and tried to ignore the fishy carnage that was soaking in the pot.

On the far wall was a bright yellow cupboard. The perfect thing to pilfer through. I skipped over and flung open the doors to find all sorts of delightful vintage Liverpool essentials. I shuffled through the containers and cans examining their labels and unique artwork.

Suddenly I gasped and drew my fingers back rapidly. I had almost touched a bottle of cleaner. I knew this old cleaner had PCMX in it. So crazy. I mean, they used to sterilize their surgical instruments with this stuff until the mid-half of the 21st century. Then with all the body-mods and regulators we developed an allergy or intolerance to the stuff, making us pass out quicker than any other anesthesia. That was a close one. One whiff of that stuff, and I would’ve been unconscious until John got home.

I returned a can of beans onto the high shelf, my fingertips barely slid it into place when suddenly footsteps echoed down the drive. Mimi home already? She hadn’t been gone more than twenty minutes. I leaned to look out the kitchen window, but I didn’t see Mimi. Instead I saw a boy walking down the driveway wearing a big brown coat and carrying a paper grocery bag on his shoulder. He was absent-mindedly singing to himself, with a very familiar voice.

I panicked. I wasn’t wearing my slinky red dress or lipstick even. I had been walking since before sunrise and I looked horrible. HORRIBLE. One big muddy, stinky, swampy mess. Nothing at all like how I had imagined or practiced or planned.

All logic and reason left my brain. I gasped, climbed into the cupboard, and shut myself inside.

  The back door of the kitchen squeaked open.

“Yakety Yak!” he belted out and then added a facetiously low, “Don’t talk back.”

The paper bag cracked as it hit the counter, followed by loud and jovial whistling.

What have I done? What have I done? What have I done? Why didn’t I sneak out of the kitchen when I heard him coming? Why did I ever leave my room? Why did I just climb into a freaking cupboard?

I pressed my fingertips on the opening of the cupboard ever so slightly. Trying not to make any slight noise at all, I opened the door a slim crack, wide enough for me to peek through.

The boy stood with his back toward me unloading groceries from the rustling paper sack. His thick wavy hair greased flat on either side, looking somewhat of a mix between a cocker spaniel and a duck’s backside. His tan coat was oversized and overworn.

My heart was pounding so hard I pressed my palm into my chest to get it to stop. Shut up! Shut up! He might hear you!

An orange cat jumped on the counter next to him, pawing at the bag.

“Hey, go on with you! This isn’t for you,” he said, nudging the cat away with his wrist. 

The sound of his voice made me duck down a little. That same old Liverpool accent. All the documentaries and interviews that I had seen while recovering from my body armor mod. And here was that billion-dollar voice standing some odd feet away from me. The low nasally tone and everything, only without the static of an old recorder and the age and exhaustion from fame.

“Alright, alright. You win this time. But we mustn’t let Mimi find out, mustn’t we?”

John leaned on the counter with a bit of chicken in his fingers. The cat tiptoed to his hand, sniffing gingerly, then held his thumb with her paws as she dined. He rubbed behind her ear, his long nose almost touching hers.

Four o’clock, my ass, Thorne. It wasn’t even lunchtime.

I gingerly shut the door. There wasn’t much I could do but hold my breath and wish him away. Please leave. Please leave. How long would I be trapped in here? Maybe I could reach that bottle of PCMX and put myself out of my own misery.

Suddenly, his heavy footsteps trotted across the kitchen floor. I watched in horror as the cupboard door swung open. Game over. I was face to face with a young John Lennon, the orange cat in one arm and a box of Rice Krispies tucked under the other.

He saw me and startled so bad that he jumped at least a foot in the air. The cat screeched and clawed up his chest, leaping from his grasp by roundhouse kicking him right in the face. The cupboard door swung shut on its hinges.

I felt it. Exactly what Greggs had said, like two parts of my chest had become a polarized magnet pulling apart deep inside. The timeline had split. I stared at the yellow door, slowly realizing what had just happened. I cupped my nose with both hands. Well, that was it. We had met.

The cupboard door squeaked as Lennon cautiously pried it open. He stared at me, his eyebrows raised in total shock. His thick eyelashes blinked in confusion.

“Oh. Hello!” I said as cheerfully as ever.

What?” He let out a breathy laugh. “You almost scared me to death! Not all of us have nine lives you know.”

“I’m so sorry.” I tucked my hair behind my ear. I could have barfed right there in that cupboard.

“Who are you? And what on Earth are you doing in there?” he asked with an amused twisted grin on his face.

“I’m just— I’m a lodger.” I said, my throat constricting on my words.

“Mimi’s renting out the cupboards now? Not very accommodating of her,” he said, putting the Rice Krispy box on the shelf above my head.

“Well, yeah, you know.” I was in awe. Stupid awe. I didn’t even know what I was saying. He wasn’t supposed to be home until four! I was seriously under-prepared for this run-in. Snap out of it, Emmeline! You have a mission! Seduce him, for Galactica sakes!

“Y-you must be my nephew,” I blundered.

He made this open-mouth smile, like a silent laugh. “It’s possible. I have aunts all over the place. Woolton, Edinburg, Birkenhead. We’re quite infested with aunts at the moment.”

My nose wrinkled. I had bungled the mission already. And Thorne was watching every single miserable second from a hotel room down the road. I grabbed the shelf and pulled myself out of the cupboard. As soon as I stood to meet John’s eye, his expression softened. I smoothed my blonde hair over my shoulder.

“Oh,” he said quietly. He quickly broke eye contact and turned away, retreating to the paper sack on the counter.

“What’s ‘oh’?” I asked.

“It’s a letter in the alphabet between ‘N’ and ‘P’,” he said without missing a beat. “Don’t they teach the alphabet in American schools?”

I stammered, trying to come up with a reply.

“That is an American accent, isn’t it?” he asked, emptying the last items from the bag. “Or do you have a tongue injury or something?”

I had read before that he was quick-witted, well no kidding, this guy was dragging me behind in the dust.  “I’m from California,” I finally squeaked out.

“Ah. Hollywood. I’ve always wanted a film star for an auntie.” He gave me a nod over his shoulder. “What are you doing on this side of the ocean?”

“I have a summer apprenticeship,” I said. “They sent me to Liverpool.”

“That’s some miserable luck.” John faced me and leaned against the counter.

I was still stumbling and bumbling through the conversation. My vein-chilling fear of the botched first impression was shifting into irritancy and I heard myself blurt out, “Why aren’t you at school? You should be at school.”

“Aha, so Mimi has spies watching me from the cupboards! Naughty, naughty,” he said, shaking a finger at me.

“I’m not a spy,” I said, pulling my shoulders to my ears. “I just figured you were probably a student because… of your age.”

“I am a student.” He lifted off the counter. “When I feel like it.”

“Right.”

“I never feel like it,” he said as he passed by me toward the door.

“That’s not good.”

He shrugged a shoulder. “Do what you want and make no apologies is what I always say.”

“Yeah, sounds like you,” I said.

“Now how do you know what I sound like if you’re not a spy?” John squinted at me with a playful suspicion. Then he gave me a tight closed-lip smile and picked up the cat. “Nice meeting you Auntie Hollywood.”

He curtsied with a coy, little bounce, then turned on his heels and exited into the day room.  

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