“May I remind you that you only have one summer to secure a proposal from John and break up his band?” Thorne spat at me from the grungy armchair of his hotel room, which was a dingy little cave with horrible yellow wallpaper.
“Yes.” I pulled the collar of my sweater to get some air. This room was muggier than the pub and that was saying a lot.
“And may I also remind you, that if you do not secure a proposal. Or break up the band. You are expected to terminate him.”
“And may I furthermore remind you, that if you do not secure a proposal, if you do not break up the band, and if you fail to terminate him… then I will do it for you. You understand?”
I took in a deep breath, my chest in a clench. “Yes.”
“Then choose your next actions very carefully,” he said leaning forward and pointing to his open palm. “Because as of today… The Beatles are still in full force of becoming famous!”
“The Quarrymen,” I said.
“Excuse me?” Thorne asked through his teeth.
“Um, they’re called ‘The Quarrymen’… named after John’s high school… Quarry Bank Grammar School…See, they won’t become ‘The Beatles’ until 1960 Hamburg. Actually, funny story there. Did you know that—”
“I don’t care if they’re called ‘The Philharmonic of Liverpool’ they’re not going to be a band! And they’re not ever going to become The Beatles!”
“Okay. Yeah.” I coupled my sweaty hands together.
“You have less than a hundred days to break up the band,” Thorne said, sitting on the edge of his seat. “If for any reason. Any reason at all, I find that this mission is compromised. Then John Lennon will be terminated, in order to protect the timeline.”
My mouth flattened into a line. There were so many reasons why the mission was already compromised, but I wasn’t about to get into it. John was a snarky little bitch, but I didn’t want to live the rest of my life with his blood on my hands.
“Do you understand that?” he asked.
“Yes.” I said, hissing the ‘s’ on the end of my word.
“Then get rid of the band,” he said, dismissing me with a nod.
Thorne followed me to the door. Slammed it behind me and loudly slid the chain lock in place. I sighed heavily. This partner of mine was the main stressor. If it weren’t for him, I could trash the council’s requirements and go at my own pace. Flirting John out of his band was already hard enough without being on the end of Thorne’s virtual leash.
The sun had almost set. I had no choice but to walk back to Mendips and regroup. As I walked past the rustling green trees and mothers calling their children inside, I found myself withdrawn and less involved with enjoying the oddities of the past. I had to think this out. How in the world was I going to get John? And how would I know if I had him?
An idea came to me. I got to Mendips, struggled to shut the heavy gate, then zipped through the kitchen and up the stairs past the grey cat. My bedroom door gently clicked shut and then I took one of my cardigans and stuffed it under the crack, just to be sure that no one would barge in on me or any peeping Johns would catch me with futuristic technology.
I activated my IND and asked aloud, “How did John’s first wife know that he was interested in her?” I couldn’t think of a more accurate way to tell if I were on the right track or not.
The answer appeared on my screen.
“Cynthia Powell knew that John had developed feelings for her the day he serenaded her with the then-popular song, ‘Ain’t She Sweet’.
“Okay,” I sighed to myself. At least, I had something tangible I could look for. But how would I get him to sing me that song? And then how do I get him to give up singing altogether?
I felt drained after my terrible interactions with both John and Thorne. My IND powered off and I curled into bed. Putting off the impending doom until tomorrow.
The next morning, I saw John on his way out, shutting the gate behind himself. I rushed to meet him. And I mean rushed. About halfway down the street, he saw me running right at him, he stopped dead in his tracks. His eyes wide.
“Hi,” I said panting and hopping to fix the back of my heel that was all folded in from putting my shoes on in a hurry.
“Hi…” he said with a half-laugh. “Hold this, will you?” Suddenly, he thrust his shoulder bag and guitar into my arms, almost knocking me onto the sidewalk.
“Wait a minute,” I said. John didn’t wait, he began to unbuckle his belt. “What are you doing?” I asked, slapping my hands over my eyes.
“Mustn’t let Mimi see me drainies,” he said cheerfully, letting his nice crisp slacks fall to the sidewalk. Underneath were a pair of tight, tight dark jeans, with rolled cuffs. I stared at him completely stupefied as he stepped out of his clean-cut trousers and stuffed them into the shoulder bag in my arms.
Then complete and utter awkward silence. I could tell by John’s dancing eyes he was wondering why I had chased him all the way down the street. Either that or he was weirded out by how I was staring at him. Okay. It was probably the staring thing.
“So, John, how are you?” I finally asked.
Birds chirped in a nearby tree. I held my breath and smiled. Not this again. “Just fine?”
“Fine is fine. And that’s what I am,” he said, giggling. I wanted to shrink into the floor I was reliving the nightmare conversation with the AI Lennon in the train car.
“… And how are you, Miss Hollywood?” he added.
I was so relieved that he had continued the conversation with me that all that came out was a high-pitched, “Good!”
He laughed. “’Good’? Well, that’s fine, Miss Hollywood. You’re good and I’m fine and that’s fine and good.”
“I guess that’s right,” I said. He gave me a small smile, his lips pressed together tightly. I gestured to the guitar on his back. “Do you usually bring that with you to college?”
“Ah, well…” He turned his head to his guitar. “Generally, yes. But today, I’m bunkin’ off lectures. That’s just between you and me, alright?”
“Oh.” I wasn’t surprised but disappointed. “Well, what are you doing instead?” I asked.
“Some of my friends, they’re skipping too and we’re going to have a group practice,” he said. “I have a group, you see.”
I perked up like a dog that just heard the grocery gofer bot enter the house.
“Can I come with you?” I asked, my over eager words blasting out like a cannon.
John tilted his head. “Aren’t you Barrell’s dear deer model?”
“He’s not expecting me today,” I quickly reassured him.
“Oh.” John resituated the guitar on his shoulder. “Well, you can come along then. I don’t mind. We could always use a bit of an audience to practice on.”
No, actual way! I bounced on the heels of my feet.
“Great!” I practically shrieked. Well, at least I felt like shrieking it deep inside me. This was it! The inner sanctum. The real treasure. I could figure out the inner workings of the band and then destroy them. Wow. I had never felt more like a super villain.
“Do you have any money?” John asked. “For the bus?”
“I forgot to bring it with me,” I said. Which was true.
First of all, how inconvenient to have to carry around actual physical paper and metal coins when you want to purchase something. And second of all, I love the way the Liverpudlians said ‘Bus’. It always made me crack a smile and want to repeat it under my breath. Boose, boose, boose.
John scratched the back of his head. “Alright, then. It’s a bit of a walk, but not long. We’re just going to my mum’s house.”
“Oh, really?” I asked, with my fingers to my lips. I was a little surprised that his mother would allow the band to rehearse when they were all supposed to be in school. But then again, was I? I read that Julia wasn’t much for rules and I was dying to see John’s relationship with her play out in front of me.
As we walked, John asked me half a dozen questions on the widest variety of subjects. How are the American cinemas? What’s it like to be draped with a dead dear? Do you think extra-terrestrials exist and if so what sort of animal do you think they most resemble? I was beyond delighted. This was the most I had ever gotten in with him. He called me “Hollywood” or “Starlet” the whole time, but still! That walk to Julia’s gave me actual hope. Not only that maybe I could get this to work, but maybe if I had to go through with a marriage, he was at least funny, and we could be friends.
“John, can I ask you—”
“You want to know why I don’t live with my mum,” he said, as if he had been anticipating the question the entire walk.
“I’m sorry,” I said, cupping my hands under my chin. “It must be a complicated situation.”
“There’s nothing complicated about it,” he said. “Me dad pissed off when I was a baby. And mother couldn’t cope with me, so I was moved in with my Auntie when I was five.”
“I’m sorry,” I said again, not knowing what else to say. “That must have been hard on you.”
“Mm. Not really.”
His apathetic shrug was almost convincing. Almost. I knew historically, of course, how he really felt. I could recite every painful lyric of the song he wrote about his mother abandoning him.
“She’s the one who taught me to play actually. Introduced me to Elvis Presley and all that,” he said.
I already knew about that, but still managed to give him a solid, “Oh, really?”
“We get on.” He shrugged. “I think you’ll like her too.”
We reached Julia’s place. I could see how this was the “more common part of town” as Mimi had once called it. Julia’s home was nestled into a row of small and battered houses.
John knocked on the door and stuffed his hands into his pockets scuffing the surface of the porch with his shoe. I tucked my blonde hair behind my ear and tried to look presentable, whatever that means.
The door swung open and a petite and beautiful auburn put her hand on her fist.
“Excuse me, madame,” John said in a low resonating voice. “Have you heard about the wonderful new Hoover model? This one of a kind handy dandy little model does it all. The tile, the rug, the drapes and the family dog.”
“And the ice box?” she asked without missing a beat. “And the ceiling? And the cooking?”
“For fifty quid it will replace ya. Go to work for you. Bathe your kiddies. And kiss your man goodnight.”
“Get in here,” she said with a sharp smile on her face. She wrapped her arms around his neck and drew him into a tight embrace. “What have I told you about knocking, love? Just come on in. You’re always welcome here!”
When Julia saw me, her eyes formed into cheerful little crescent moons. “Ah, who’s this?” she asked with a laugh. “You’ve brought a girl to group practice, have you?”
“Surprise, surprise,” John said.
“This your steady?” she asked, a mischievous brow raised.
“Rockers don’t steady,” John said with his nose wrinkled. “This is my mol.”
I looked at them both with an uncomfortable grin. They might as well have been speaking a totally different language. “…What?”
Julia extended her petite hand. “I’m Julia,” she said.
“Emmeline.” I took her hand gratefully.
“Emmeline?” she asked. “Well, that’s a German name isn’t it?”
“American,” John said, unabashedly sticking a cigarette in his mouth in front of his mother.
“American! We have a real Doris Day on our hands! Well, then you will love John’s group, because they play real, American rock n’ roll.” She winked at me.
“Skiffle,” John said from behind his cigarette.
“Come on in. The boys are waitin’ for you.” She grabbed me by my elbow and led me inside, hugging me close.
Julia led us into the kitchen where two other teenaged boys huddled together at the table. The kitchen was teeny tiny. I had seen 2109 play kitchens bigger than Julia’s. But it smelled warm and delicious. A pot of beans boiled on the stove.
“Miss Hollywood meet the Quarrymen,” John said sweeping his hand out to the boys.
I had to refrain from covering my mouth or squealing out loud. Little baby George Harrison! He was so young and so cute, with his serious dark features. He hadn’t even grown into his face yet. He was still a freaking child.
“George is our lead guitarist.” John pointed to each member seated at the table. “This is Colin on drums.”
The drummer was a boy I didn’t recognize. But I came into the mission with those expectations. The Quarrymen would go through a handful of drummers before finally signing on a young man they called, “Ringo”, thus completing the “fab four”. They were not to be completed for another four or so years.
“And John Lennon is lead vocals and rhythm guitar,” John said pointing to himself.
“Ah, nice to meet you John Lennon,” I jested extending my hand for him to shake.
Julia walked over with a large plate of food. “I’ve made beans and toast for everyone,” she said with a peppy kick to her voice.
“Where’s Paul?” John asked, looking around the table.
Little mini George held up his finger. “He had to help his Dad, but he’ll be ‘round right after finishing up.”
John curled his mouth into a cartoonish frown and growled.
“Go easy on him, Johnny,” Julia said, sweeping around the side of him and putting another plate of food on the table. “I feel so sorry for Paul. He’s lost his mother hardly a year ago. Now how would that be?”
Hearing her say that made my spine go numb and I plopped into a chair as quick as possible to relieve the strange feeling. Julia herself only had a few weeks left to live. Glass wall, Emmeline. Just like Dr. Greggs said. Put them behind a glass wall.
John sat next to me and did something that I could not ignore. He put his arm behind my chair and leaned toward me. I could feel my eyes spark.
“Pass me the toasties there, would ya?” he asked.
Was this it? I mean, this was very clearly, a twist and lean, no question about it. This is exactly what Que did for me the night he left. I handed him the plate of toast and John scooped food mercilessly into his mouth, none the wiser to my little insight.
The blonde kid that was introduced to me as Colin, eyed Julia at the stove and then leaned over to John. “I don’t know if I can set up the drum kit. The front room is pretty small.”
“Set up what you can,” John said, still inhaling his mother’s cooking.
Colin’s mouth twisted and he sighed. “We could still be using the Shotton’s air raid shelter, if you hadn’t rammed a washboard through Pete’s head.”
I choked on my beans at that. There was that anger issue I had heard so much about.
“Want to join him?” John asked him calmly. “A drum kit through the head wouldn’t be as pretty, now would it?”
Footsteps approached and a young dark headed boy appeared around the corner. “Sorry, I’m late.”
“The prodigal son!” John cried with his arms outstretched. “You’ve come back to me.”
I honestly thought that I would be horribly intimidated to meet Paul McCartney. But there in 1958, my first impression of him was that he was a round faced kid with better eyebrows than me.
Paul stood at the edge of the table. Julia placed her hand on his arm, like she had done with me at the front door. She must have been that kind of person. The one that feels comfortable with everyone and makes everyone feel the same in return.
“Would you like some beans and toast, love?” she asked him.
“Oh,” Paul put his hand on his stomach. “Thank you but I’m terribly full, I just had bacon butties with my Dad. Thank you, though.”
Something that I found strange was that when Paul talked, he sounded like he tried to lighten his Liverpool accent. Which was a funny contrast to John, who lived in the nicer area of town and was being constantly scolded by his aunt to use ‘better English’, yet he seemed to pack on the working class accent just to spite her.
Paul’s eyes danced around the table until he made eye contact with me. “Hello. Who’s this?”
“That’s Emmeline,” Julia jumped in. “She’s from America.”
“Really?” Paul asked in all excitement.
“We love America. Don’t we boys?” Julia prompted while putting a pot into the sink.
“The movies are good,” Colin said.
“Coca Cola,” George offered.
“The music is so much better in America!” Paul chipped in. “I really love American music. It’s the only music I listen to!”
“And Elvis. Ah.” John cupped his hands to his cheeks and pretended to fawn like a fangirl, which brought out a hardy laugh from Julia. He jumped from his chair and shook his hips. “Elvis is the king! He’s the king, baby! And not just the music, you know? The whole persona. He’s larger than life! But still someone you could share a pint with. I bet if we ever met, we’d be mates straight off.”
“Yeah… Unless you offend him by dethroning him and loudly voicing your anti-war sentiment,” I said quietly to myself, but not quietly enough.
“De-throne Elvis?” John scoffed, followed by a chorus of laughter from the other boys. “No one is going to dethrone Elvis. He’ll always be the king. Biggest name in music from here till whenever.”
“Yeah, maybe. That could happen this time,” I said with a shrug.
The boys got carried away talking about American music from the fifties. Some I knew right off the bat and others I had no idea what they were talking about. I decided the best course of action was to remain silent in my seat so that I didn’t slip up and say anything that would be out of decade or out of place.
But there was something else throwing me off. I couldn’t get rid of this lump at the top of my throat. A red fiery lump that I couldn’t swallow. Some moments I could ignore it and then other times it made me so uncomfortable I wanted to jump out a window.
I kept trying to swallow my toast around it, but it hurt too much. And not to mention that the burning was crawling into my nose and watering my eyes.
“Right. Let’s get to practicing,” John announced.
Everyone was ushered into the small little parlor of Julia’s house. Julia herself, slid a couch up against the wall so that Colin could have more room for his drum set. Seeing that couch all piled against the other furniture so that her son’s band could practice in her tiny little room made me wonder how Julia and Mimi were even related, let alone sisters.
Suddenly, I felt a drop of wetness form around my nose. I touched it and examined the clear discharge. What in the Galactica is this? A bodily fluid was actually dripping out of my nostrils.
“I’m going to go powder my nose,” I awkwardly spat out with my hand over my face.
The Quarrymen were dead silent as I excused myself with a weird little dip through the door and into the kitchen. I stopped myself after only a few steps and rubbed my nose with the edge of my sleeve. As soon as the boys thought that I was out of earshot they exploded into harsh whispers all directed at John.
“When are you going to claim your bird, ay?” One of them asked, I’m not sure which one.
“Steady, lads. Steady,” John responded with a mock sea captain’s voice.
“Clearly, she fancies you!” I think that one was Paul’s light voice. “What are you waiting for?”
“I know what I’m doing,” John said. “It’s all about the chase. The anticipation.”
“That’s bollocks. I wouldn’t waste any time like that,” Colin said.
“You ain’t pleasured a woman in your life, poppin’ off before she’s ready.”
The others giggled at John’s wise crack. My chest expanded as if it were full of helium. So, he was interested in me all along! He was playing coy. Hard to get. But he wasn’t hard to get. I had got him. There he was admitting it to his friends.
I pumped my fist and whispered to myself. “Yes, yes, yes, yes!”
Pure energy was exploding out of me and I ran and skipped back into the room. The boys had formed a half-circle around John who whipped his head in my direction as I came bursting into the room. He pushed the other boys away from him.
“Watch it with them drums,” John said, as he nudged Colin. “You’re always comin’ in too early.”
The other boys laughed helplessly.
“Smart arse,” Colin grumbled.
I sat on the awkward pushed in couch next to Julia. As John put his fingers on the neck of his guitar, I crossed mine hard in my lap. Ain’t She Sweet, Ain’t She Sweet, Ain’t She Sweet, I begged him in my mind. They played a Buddy Holly song. I huffed. Alright. Not yet. But I was one step closer.