I never got another chance to talk to John for the whole rest of the day. He took off after our bumbling encounter, only stopping by his book scattered room to gather his guitar and leave. Thankfully, he didn’t notice that someone had been in there, touching all his stuff.
I was muddy and humiliated and the last time I showered was one hundred and sixty-some years in the future. I slipped into the bathroom, imagining the hot water down my back and on my face. I needed it after my awkward chance first impression with Lennon. Time to reset.
When I stepped into the bathroom, my hands slapped onto my thighs dejectedly. A single tub sat against the tiled wall. Are you actually kidding? Not even a shower! What do you mean? Showers are invented by 1958, I wasn’t in the 1700s or anything!
I sighed heavily. Fine. At least it was something. It took me a good while to figure out how to twist the little nobs on the top and plug the hole with the stopper on the chain. Once I had the thing finally filling up, I took off my blouse.
Wow. How unattractive was this bra? Like two silky traffic cones. Why were they so pointy? Who would ever have breasts this shape? Absurd.
I could see the little freckle speck where the surgeons had inserted my IND. Was Thorne watching this? Because I’d rather not have this recorded for all time and history.
“System override. Camera off.” I said as quietly as possible.
Great. Now I only had fifteen minutes to wash up before my IND sent a location alert to Thorne. How relaxing. I slipped out of the rest of my stinky and unattractive undies then tumbled into the bath.
I rested my head against the porcelain lip of the tub. It wasn’t a shower. But it still felt nice to be clean. Any kind of clean. I welcomed the water by dipping down and letting it lap against my neck.
Day one and I already found myself floundering. And where to go from here? Man, the council had really screwed me up. If my original timeline had been accepted, I would have been able to enroll as a student. But now that they’ve plopped me here right before summer vacation, I had to keep up an internship lie.
I lifted my leg so I could hear the tinkling sound of the water being disturbed. Plus, I liked the feel and look of the little droplets dewing on my shin. I could get used to this if I had to, I guess.
Splunk. I dropped my foot in and brought my knees to my chest. How was I going to get on the campus and stalk around without suspicion? I could get a part-time job or a real apprenticeship. I wouldn’t want an actual commitment, though. Unless it had something to do with John.
Suddenly, there was a muffled whack from the other side of the bathroom door, loud enough that it jolted me upright.
“Get up.” Mimi’s voice bellowed.
“What?” I heard John’s voice whine. “I dropped somethin’!”
“I know what you were doing,” she said. “You were trying to get an eyeful through the crack of that door.”
John shushed her. “No, I wasn’t. Keep your voice down. You want to rattle the whole house awake?”
My mouth dropped open and I hunkered into the tub, watching the wooden bathroom door, and listening.
“I will not have you conducting such a shameful behavior in this house. I don’t know what kind of a thing you are picking up at your mother’s, or what you do when you’re out, but I will not tolerate it here in the least bit.”
“Go on with you.”
No return argument. Things grew quiet as John’s footsteps retreated down the hall.
“Now you want to wear your specs.” I heard Mimi say from the other side of the door.
I had to cover my mouth, trying not to laugh. This was strangely… perfect? What else could that mean? He must be attracted to me. Even a little bit. And every little bit helps.
I rested my head back on the lid of the tub. Not only was that a confidence boost with the mission, but now he had given me a great idea for how to meet him at art school tomorrow. If he wanted to see me naked, then fine. I would make it happen.
I sat across the desk from Lennon’s painting professor, a grubby little man with a thin mustache.
“I’m afraid we’ve already done our human anatomy still life for the year,” Professor Barrell said.
I cleared my throat, anxious to get out of the weird smell of his office. That same smell. What was this chemical smell? I hated it. It lurked in every single corner of 1958 Liverpool and each new cloud was worse than the last.
“Isn’t there some way we can revisit the section?” I asked, with an awkward high voice. “I’m only allowed a work-study here for the summer and I desperately needed to add this to my modeling resume. I was wondering if you couldn’t oblige me in any sort of way?”
Was that even how they talked in the 1950s? It sounded wrong. I was probably wrong. Barrell pinched his mouth with his fingers and stared at me for an uncomfortably long time, his eye muscles tense in concentration.
“Well, I do suppose there is a way you could help me today,” he finally responded, leaning forward. “Our subject this week is ‘woodland wildlife’ and I’ve just had a splendid idea. A former student of mine has brought me a piece that I think could really bring this idea to the canvas.”
I shrugged and smiled. “Great. Wonderful. I would be the happiest glad to help in any way you need.” Or whatever the Galactica you would say to that in the late fifties.
Barrell gave me a curt nod. “Follow me.”
I followed him to the art room, which was about twice as small as I had expected. And three times as colder. I grimaced, thinking about how long I would be standing there with everything hanging out in the freezing classroom.
But my fears were both silenced and changed as Barrell brought out what he had referred to as ‘the prop’. A full deerskin. Only its legs and head taxidermized, staring lifelessly at me with black marbled eyes.
“And… what do you want me to do with this exactly?” I asked, still trying to keep up my fake happy voice, but it was gone. Totally gone.
“You know,” Barrell said bringing the carcass around his shoulders, the deer head resting on his. “I thought you could wear this up top like this. And then maybe we can capture the sense of life better.”
“You want me to… wear a dead deer on my head? And that’s going to… capture the sense of life?” I had to repeat it because I wasn’t even sure what I was hearing myself.
“I think it should be very Avant-Garde,” he said his eyes doing that little squinty hard thing again. “And you can sit here on this log…” Barrell started rolling a full-on tree stump right to the center of the room.
“Oh goody, you have a random log in your classroom. Of course you do.” A thousand regrets raced through my mind and punched me in the face. “Do you want me to… Should I take off my clothes before the students get here? Or is it better to disrobe in front of them?” I realized how deranged of a question that was, but if a striptease was going to get Lennon to give up his band then a striptease it was going to be.
“Oh no, no, no. That’s quite alright,” he said. “You sit here. And you can keep that lovely little dress you have on. That’s fine. You look stunning.” Barrell grabbed me by the shoulders and sat me on the log.
“So just the deer carcass? No naked painting? Are you sure?” I asked, sort of wanting to run away as quickly as possible.
“Hmm. What an anxious little model you are,” Barrell said, with a weird lingering touch on my arm.
“Alright. Yeah. The dead deer. I can do that,” I said, shaking him off and grabbing the prop by it’s tough little hairs.
As Barrell walked away, I positioned the stuffed head over top my Bardot bun. Huh. Which was worse? Meeting John inside of a cupboard and scaring him half to death or having John stare at me for a couple of hours while wearing a dead animal on my head. What kind of imagery would he associate with me?
I sat on the stump as the art students began to fill in. A few gave me and the deer a weird look, but no one said anything or questioned it. I was going to have to be sitting still on this uneven stump with this weird-smelling deer fur on my head, so I wiggled around a little to get my blood moving before I had to be all frozen.
The classroom was quiet, and no one had even started painting. Just a sniffle or a whispered friendly sentence here and there. Everyone filed in all crisp and clean, like children of the corn.
And then there was John.
“Twenty points for the buck awarded to Her Royal Highness!” his chipper voice boomed through the awkward obedient silence. When he caught my face under the deer’s head, his expression beamed in surprise.
“Auntie Hollywood! Is that you?”
I gave him a pained grin. I really didn’t want him to see me in anything less than sexy circumstances, but now I was realizing that those circumstances were few and far between.
“Love the hat. Where did you get it? Buck & Co. Hatters?”
A couple of girls giggled at his comment and Barrell cleared his throat loudly. “Lennon,” he said in a warning tone.
John gave me a small thumbs up and trotted to an easel in the back of the room. The energy of the whole room had ignited. Everyone had sulked in with somber faces but after John arrived, smiles and happy chatter peppered the room.
Barrell introduced me, his weird idea of a still life representing a deer and gave me the green light to hold as still as possible. As I took my position, I made absolutely sure to look over my shoulder and make eye contact with John. A position that I was determined to hold for the next couple of hours.
When John saw that I was looking right at him, he tilted his head and put on the cheesiest stretching grin I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, it made me snigger and that caught Barrell’s attention.
“Emmeline, if you could,” he said. “Try to face forward.”
“Mmmmmkay,” I said in an annoyed sing-songy breath. Come on, I couldn’t even look at him? What about our hours of staring into each other’s eyes? Well, at least I could hope that he was staring at me the whole time.
Barrell set himself in the corner of the room with a newspaper. I tried to hold my position for as long as I could, but it was impossible knowing my subject was right there one glance away. And he was good at making it impossible. Not even ten minutes in, there was a distinct rhythmic tapping from his easel.
An irritated classmate groaned. He was one of the only ones who hadn’t cheered up at John’s presence. He was almost twice his size, at least his jutting Adam’s apple was the size of John’s fist.
“Mate. Can you not?” His voice was unbelievably deep and intimidating, it made me tense up.
“What?” John responded with more tone of a statement than a question.
“Tap your foot on the side of your easel like that,” he said.
“Much obliged,” John said, imitating his deep voice perfectly and provoking more chuckles from the other students.
I slightly turned my profile so I could see him. He caught my eye again and pulled a face, sticking his bottom lip out with his tongue and crossing his eyes. That time I snorted.
“Lennon, stop,” Barrell said setting his newspaper on his lap.
“Whatever you’re doing to our model,” Barrell looked over the reading glasses on his nose.
“I was just painting her, sir.” Lennon shrugged with his palms by his chin, smiling innocently.
Barrell gave him a hard frown and returned to his paper.
I turned my head forward, this time with a weird scrunchy grin on my face that I couldn’t help. Again, the uncomfortable silence. The shushing of several paintbrushes on canvas. The rattling of a newspaper page and then John’s voice yawning forcefully.
He had no problem telling everyone what he thought about Barrell’s class. For a minute, I fantasized about him attending one of Thorne’s classes. I think I would have really liked that. Thorne would have finally met his match. John would be sure to give him a piece of his mind about the meaningless violence involved in time travel.
There was a loud ticking sound from the clock above the door. I only knew that was the sound of a clock because my grandmother had one as a novelty. She kept it in her front room and taught me what each of the little dashes and hands meant.
Suddenly, the silence was broken again with a short bursting giggle from John. I tried to get the quickest and easiest glance, but all I saw was him with his arms crossed at his easel. Another giggle. This time louder. Upgrading from a short “hee hee” to a little longer of a “ha ha ha”.
Then this uncontrollable loud blasting laugh. Everyone flinched. Adam’s Apple guy jumped so high his brush flipped up his canvas. He growled and slammed the brush into his little glass of water.
The hysterical laughter kept rolling this time. A couple of other students caught their own laughs as John continued to bust his gut. And I was right there along with them. I didn’t even know why I was laughing, but suddenly he had me laughing wearing a grotesque floppy deer on my head.
“Stop it! Stop that!” Barrell pushed his arm through the air as if he were deflecting the laughter away from him. Then he stood and marched his way to John’s easel. “Lennon!”
“I’m sorry, I can’t help it.” John said, cutting off mid-screaming laugh. “I think it’s Miss Hollywood in that deer shawl. It makes me feel all giddy and nervous inside. Hoo hoo!”
I beamed and blushed a little, although at this point, I knew John was being full of it.
“Alright,” Barrell said, with his hands on his hips. “Let’s see what you’ve done.”
The professor picked up the loose canvas and turned it around to scrutinize it. I saw it over his shoulder. It was a quick black and white sketch of a busty deer wearing a fur coat and winking. He slammed the canvas back on the easel.
“Pen. This isn’t the right medium,” Barrell said, sounding both annoyed and unsurprised. “You should have consulted me.”
“But sir, I have insulted you every day this term.”
Barrell who was clearly not a fan of wordplay jabbed his finger toward the door. “Right. Get your things and leave.”
Without another snark remark, John slung his guitar over his shoulder and headed for the door. Inside myself I felt the bubbling panic of my plan flushing down the toilet. He was leaving and I was still stuck on a log.
“John!” I called out.
He stopped in his tracks and twisted to look at me. So did all the other students.
“Don’t leave,” I said.
Everyone in class exchanged glances of concern. It was bad enough for one student to be talking back to a teacher, but now this model in front of the class challenging his discipline? I think I had just blown the whole decade’s mind.
John gave me a curious smile. “That’s alright, Miss Hollywood. I’ll gladly leave.”
I squinted an eye. “You were trying to get kicked out, weren’t you?”
“Ta!” he said with a wide grin. He pushed on the door and scurried out. Leaving me stuck under a dead deer.